Okay, I know. Travelling ‘on a budget’ might not sound like a particularly glamorous proposition. It might summon images of toenail clippings in hostel showers, 20 hour bus journeys with no air-con, and 20p packs of noodles in a grotty kitchen. Yum.
But one person’s idea of ‘budget travel’ and another’s can be quite different. As a millenial type living in London with an alright-ish salary, I do have some disposable income. But it’s not a huge amount, and not enough to feed a serious travel addiction through the eyes of a luxury traveller. So I found myself exploring the idea of budget travel that isn’t gap-year backpacking – and embracing it.
Over the past year, I’ve visited places that might be considered expensive (Iceland, Stockholm, Canada…) while spending comparatively little to friends who’ve done the same. I haven’t missed out on must-do activities, haven’t stayed in hellholes, and have eaten a couple of decent meals along the way too. And all, as I consider it ‘on a budget’.
This guide isn’t about complicated ‘travel hacking’ methods or extreme penny-pinching; but budget travel tips for the ‘average’ traveller. So if you’re looking for easy ways to travel more and spend less in style, I’mma share what I’ve picked up along the way.
This post contains affiliate links, marked with an asterisk (*)
General Budget Travel Tips
1. Sign up for newsletters/Whatsapp alerts
Not like, all of them, though. No point opening up that SUPER DISCOUNT email from a luxury tour operator just to be offered £50 of your three grand booking. Ones I find useful are: Jack’s Flight Club, Holiday Pirates.
2. Avoid peak travel season
Obvious is obvious, but if you can avoid travelling in school holidays or over Christmas, avoid it, because everything’s usually more expensive!
3. Use cashback
When booking activities for my Iceland trip, I managed to get £15.60 cashback on a £130.11 spend! The key sites are TopCashback* and Quidco*, and I always check which one has the best % rate before I use them (reason being, you can only get cashback via one referral site).
4. Be a member
5. Check your insurance
Travel insurance never seems useful or important til you actually need it; then it becomes vital. Shop around, and take it out as soon as you’ve booked a trip as it could cover you for some unforeseen circumstances that might result in you having to cancel before you travel. Travel lots? Definitely worth looking at an annual policy.
Saving Money on Flights, Buses & Trains
When it comes to my budget travel adventures, it almost always started with a flight… (or a long-ass coach journey)
6. Be flexible
Travelling mid-week is often cheaper than at weekends – something you can do with just a Monday/Friday off work. If you’re flexible, you can compare dates across a whole month using Skyscanner for the cheapest fares.
7. Explore your options
Kayak Explore is my ultimate cheap flight finding tool, and I can usually be found browsing it wistfully in my lunch break
8. Compare prices
Where to start when you’re searching for cheap flights? I like to compare prices on Skyscanner, as I’ve found it to be the best flight search engine, but also sometimes check in on Momondo.
9. Consider new-to-you destinations
If there’s a £9 each way flight to a place you’ve never really considered, just go for it! I never would have thought of Hamburg or Bucharest as ‘must-visit’ places originally, but loved exploring them.
10. Search in incognito mode
I always forget to do this, and actually haven’t noticed a huge difference…but it’s pretty common advice to search in an incognito browser to find cheap flights. Or clear your cookies before searching the same destinations/routes.
11. Look at indirect flights
If you’ve got time, but not money, going via somewhere else might bring your flight cost down by more than you’d think.
12. Check for hidden extras
Luggage is the main one – most budget short-haul flights include only hand luggage, some don’t even include hand luggage as standard at all (lookin’ at you, RyanAir).
13. Book your trains early
Travelling by train? Advance fares are released around 12 weeks in advance, which is when they’ll be cheapest
14. Consider coaches
Alriiight. Stop rolling your eyes. Sure, they take longer and can definitely be a bit grim – but can offer a HUGE travel saving for the sake of an extra hour or two’s travel time. National Express and Megabus have both contributed heavily to my budget travel efforts. (And my ability to sit still for long periods of time…)
15. Check your transfer options
The most-advertised ways of getting to and from the airport may not be the most cost-effective. For example, the Gatwick Express costs £19.90 for a single at Victoria station; but a Southern Rail train will get you there for £8.30 off-peak (£14.70 peak). So for the sake of 10-20 minutes extra on the train, you could save nearly £12.
Airport coaches are another option, starting at a few quid per journey. And make sure you’ve done your research on how to get from the airport to your destination at the end, to save panic-jumping into a cab.
Luggage & Packing Tips
16. Travel light
If your flight’s hand luggage only, you might have to streamline your packing to avoid extra case charges. It’s actually really easy to do on a weekend city break; and I managed to do a 4 day winter trip to Iceland with just my Cabin Zero bag.
17. Save on miniature toiletries
Instead of buying mini versions of stuff you have already, grab some travel bottles* and decant the products you have at home. It’s cheaper in the long run AND better for the environment.
18. Check your weight
Carry on with that doughnut, cause I’m talking about your luggage here. Grab an affordable luggage scale* to avoid the paranoia that your case will be 3lbs overweight and you’ll spend all your taco money before you’ve even passed through security.
19. Buy before you travel
Not applicable in all cases, as some countries sell things you’ll need cheaper than in the UK. But do your research – as an example, it was hella cheaper to get some thermals from Amazon* than in Canada or Iceland.
Finding Cheap Accommodation
20. Secure a great hotel deal early
I always like to book somewhere as soon as I’ve ordered flights, finding a budget hotel or great deal on booking.com with free cancellation. That way, I can still consider other options but have a fallback option still – just make sure you note down the last date to cancel.
21. Stay in hostels
Even if you don’t think hostels are ‘your thing’, they’re not all the grotty student stereotype most people fall back on. Spots like The Generator, Equity Point and St Christopher’s Inns are making hostels grown-up friendly!
22. Check out AirBnB
The more ‘adult’ version of couchsurfing, if you haven’t heard of AirBnB*, where have you actually been?
23. Try house sitting
Something I’ve not done myself, but travel pals recommend Trusted Housesitters for this.
24. Book direct
Sites like booking.com and Expedia are popular for those looking to save on travel, but if you contact the hotel, they might be willing to give you a slightly lower rate for booking direct.
25. Consider the location
Amazing! A cheap, lovely-looking hotel…that’s 20mins walk and half an hour train to get into the city centre, where a day’s pass for travel will cost you almost as much as you’re saving anyway. For some people, it’s worth it, others it isn’t – work out how much travel time you’re willing to factor in.
26. Where you can – walk!
Walking is one of my fave ways to explore a city anyway, as it makes me feel like I’m a part of the destination’s throbbing, pulsing lived experience; not just passing through. Plus, it costs ZERO monies (unless your sandal strap breaks and you have to buy a new pair, obv.)
27. Use public transport
If you’re in a sprawling metropolis, or your feet are sleepy from pounding those pavements, walking EVERYWHERE might not be viable. So go as the locals do!
28. Save on travel with daily/weekly passes
Plan in advance where you’ll be headed, and work out if it’s cheaper to pay for journeys ad hoc or to buy a time-limited travelcard.
29. Avoid hailing a metered taxi – use Uber, Lyft or a local minicab office
London’s an example of this, I once got a black cab to do a journey I usually make by taxi, and it was double the price!
30. Consider an Uber Pool
If you’re not in a rush, using Uber’s ‘Pool’ option can save money on travel; and I’ve had some great chats with local Pool-ers when I’ve been in big cities.
31. Hire a bike
If you’re comfortable with cycling, bikes are a great cost-effective way to get around and see loads in a day. Plus, free exercise that doesn’t even feel like you’re working out!
Free and Cheap Travel Activities
32. Take a free walking tour
Okay, these aren’t quite free as it’s decent to leave a tip, but they’re far less expensive than fixed price tours for those travelling on a budget, and local guides will have plenty of advice and recommendations for the rest of your stay.
33. See what’s free
There’s usually plenty of free things to do in cities; and even paid-for museums and galleries often have certain times where the entrance fee is waived, so plan around these times.
34. Book in advance
If there’s something you’ve got your heart set on doing, book in advance and there’s often a saving to be had vs buying at the door.
35. Check for deals
While I wouldn’t advise planning a budget travel trip around whatever Groupon deals you can find, if there’s something specific you want to do, check trusted providers like GetYourGuide, Expedia and…well, Groupon…to see if there are any ticket deals.
36. Consider a tourist pass
If you’re keen to check out lots of museums and attractions, it might be cheaper to get a tourist pass for the day/weekend. Some will include transport, as well as discounts. Weigh up where you want to go with what the pass offers.
37. Find a cheap guidebook
Guidebooks can be a costly purchase for just a few days on a city break – but there are cheap ways to get your hands on the goods. If you’ve got Kindle Unlimited, you can find Lonely Planet guides to download for free; charity shops often have them on the shelves; or borrow for free from your local library.
38. Check out local websites and blogs
Plenty will have listings for free/cheap events and offers going on around the place you’re visiting.
Eating & Drinking on a Budget While Travelling
I’m a big fan of eating out – which is why it’s something I always try and do at least a few times on a trip. But going out for every meal on a long trip can really add up. Here’s how to eat on a budget when travelling, while still enjoying the local tastes.
39. Cook (at least some of) your own meals
Obviously not ALL of them, because eating out is one of travel’s biggest joys. But eating on a budget in countries like Iceland can be pretty hard, so I chose to cook most meals in my hostel kitchen, and treating myself to a couple of affordable lunches.
40. Make a packed lunch for day trips
Sandwiches on the go can be super pricey, but making up your own and having a cute lil’ picnic is one of my fave ways to lunch.
41. Weigh up breakfast options
If they’re not included as standard, hotel breakfasts can be pricey. Either see if there’s a good advance deal, pop out to a better-priced local café, or just buy your own supplies from a nearby supermarket.
42. Stock up at the hotel buffet
I mean, don’t go crazy with 17 muffins, but if you’ve got a breakfast buffet, sneaking a couple of rolls (and some cheese…and meat…), cakes and pieces of fruit makes for a decent enough snack/lunch.
43. Look up places to eat before you go
When I don’t do this, I end up eating wherever I stumble – usually not the best value for money spot. I don’t plan out every meal, but I like to get a list of places I’d like to try, so I can choose/check what’s near. Marking them on a Google map helps with this!
44. Take advantage of lunch deals in cities
When I was eating on a budget in Stockholm, I found that there were some great lunchtime deals that finished as late as 4pm. So I could enjoy some local restaurants for quite a bit less during the day, with a supermarket/super-budget option in the evening.
45. Embrace street food
One of the cheapest ways to try out local delights, street food is my fave for eating on a budget when travelling.
46. The best food deal at the airport…
I always grab a Boots £1 sandwich or two for the plane/when I arrive at my destination. Saves loads on pricey airport meals!
47. Try local drinks
Local beer and wine can often be cheaper than imported international brands. So you can totally afford to get tipsy.
48. Take a reusable water bottle
Obviously check you can drink tap water first, but this is a no-brainer way to save money AND the environment instead of buying bottled drinks.
50. Consider extra costs
Especially in the States, tips/service might not be included on the bill, or you might need to pay for water rather than getting tap. Getting to know the customs and expectations in a country regarding tipping is a smart idea!
Saving Money on Souvenirs
Some budget travellers will probably tell you not to bother with souvenirs as they’re an ‘unneccessary’ cost – but whether it’s snacks for the office or a magnet that looks a LITTLE bit like a willy, most of us like to take something home from their travels.
51. Shop around
When it comes to buying souvenirs, shop around and avoid stalls/shops right outside primary tourist hotspots.
52. Check out where the locals shop
Particularly when it comes to food or drink souvenirs, you can definitely get a better bargain in a local supermarket, rather than buying a ‘branded’ pack of sweets or bottle of wine from the tourist attractions.
53. Avoid the airport
Airport souvenirs are usually way pricier than they’d be in-destination, so grab your souvenirs before heading for the plane.
Money/Spending: Travel Credit Cards, Currency Cards
54. Find the best credit card for you
I don’t actually use credit cards for certain reasons; but I can totally see the benefits. Find one with great conversion rates, and make sure you only spend what you can afford. If you’re a regular traveller, it might also be worth looking at ones that offer air miles, hotel points…etc.
55. Don’t want a credit card? A pre-paid currency card is a great option
I’m a Monzo gal, but have also used Revolut when travelling. They have better exchange rates than my debit card, and don’t charge for using them abroad (unless you’re withdrawing from an ATM over a certain amount per month). The apps are also super handy for keeping track of your spending, converted to your own currency.
Technology: Travel Apps & Communication
56. Take advantage of WiFi
Whether you’re in a restaurant, bar, hotel or just a city that had the GENIUS idea of city-wide WiFi (love you, Nashville), take advantage of free internet wherever you can so you don’t rinse that data.
57. Download Citymapper
Citymapper is an absolute LIFESAVER for me when I visit a new city.
58. Download Google maps to view offline
If you’re on a WiFi only vibe, it can be super costly to switch on your mobile data to load a map. Luckily, you can download a Google map of the area you’re in – I like to ‘star’ all the places I want to visit on mine, to make navigating easier.
59. Check your phone plan
Many operators now offer data roaming within your contract in certain countries. If you’re outside this or yours doesn’t, look into local sim card options to avoid massive charges
60. Communicate via WhatsApp
If you’ve got data/WiFi, save money on phone calls on texts by using WhatsApp or a similar messenger programme to keep in the loop.
61. The most important tip? Weigh up what’s important to you…
Often, when travelling on a budget, you need to compromise a little. Whether you go mega-cheap on accommodation and cook your own meals so you can see the sights in Iceland; or avoid the paid attractions so you can splash out on a Michelin-star meal at an iconic restaurant, working out what your travel priorities for a destination are before you go will make sure you can travel on a budget AND see the things you want to!