My Ultimate Guide To Budget Travel | Money Saving Hacks
Updated: Jul 8, 2020
After travelling on a (very) tight budget for nearly 4 years now, I've picked up quite a few tips and tricks that I swear by, no matter what kind of trip I'm on. It would take an age to do separate posts on each and every hack I have up my sleeve and so I've compiled them all into one giant post here for you; grab your drink of choice, it's a long one!
I'm a huge believer that travelling cheap doesn't mean you should have to miss out. Choosing to skip the main attractions or never visit your dream city because it's on the expensive side just isn't how I roll, and so these tips are practical, every day hacks about how to keep the price down whilst also enjoying yourself as much as possible.
Trying to keep cheap starts from the second you first look at a destination, and then spans all the way through booking it, getting there and how you go about your days once you finally arrive. I've tried to cover all areas of travel within this post, without being too obvious, so that it really is my 'Ultimate Guide'. Anyway that's enough rambling from me, let's get on with it!
The Golden Rules
Remember that flights are a one time cost, accommodation/ spending is daily.
A lot of people think that finding a budget holiday starts with going somewhere that offers cheap flights from their home country, but that isn't always the case. Going somewhere further away or somewhere slightly more expensive to get to, that has a lower cost per night in accommodation/ per day when you're there, may end up being a cheaper holiday overall compared to somewhere with bargain flights, but is much more expensive once you arrive. Make sure you weigh up both of these things when booking.
Search for flights/ accommodation in incognito mode.
Use a VPN.
Flights are different prices depending on where you are in the world, usually at their very cheapest if you're in the country that you're initially departing from (especially when booking one ways). A VPN will set you back between £1-4 per month and will ensure you always get the best prices possible; it's also great for things like Netflix and streaming, to make sure you can watch TV from back home no matter where you are. I can personally recommend the companies Private Internet Access and Surfshark.
Fly carry on only.
The easiest way to keep a flight cost as cheap as possible is not to pay for any check in bags. You can travel for any amount of time using a 40L bag and doing a bit of washing once a week.
Check all comparison sights.
Flexibility on date or location is the ultimate way to grab a bargain, especially using 'everywhere' functions. Check out this post where I talk in full about how to use the SkyScanner function to keep prices as low as possible.
Sign up to error flight sights.
Some airlines will do flash sales in order to get rid of empty seats, or sometimes sights will just simply glitch and show prices way cheaper than usual. There are multiple companies out there that monitor these things for you, as well as general travel deals, and will email you to let you know what they are, and how long they predict you've got to get it booked before prices go back up. I'm signed up to Jack's Flight Club, Holiday Pirates, Secret Flying and Scott's Cheap Flights which are all fab.
Book at specific times.
The cheapest time to book flights is really far in advance, or roughly 4-6 weeks before you fly. Waiting any longer than this will do nothing other than see prices soar.
On our America trip we took 6 flights in total, and booked 0 seats. We only had 1 flight where we were sat apart.
Don't book your seats.
Booking seats is an unnecessary extra cost that you can should try to avoid. Obviously if you need to be next to someone for any reason then this is different, but if you're just doing it so you can be sat next to your mate, don't bother! Nine times out of 10 your randomly selected seats will be close to, if not next to, each other anyway.
Use Ryanair's Cheap Fare Finder.
For European flights this tool is a god send. Check out this post to find out how it works.
Sign up for price alerts.
If you're wanting a specific set of flights on specific dates, sign up for flight alerts for a while before booking. If you're planning your trip in due time, you can monitor the price via SkyScanner for a while and they'll tell you a few times a week if the prices are going up or down. This is a fab way to wait until your flights go a little cheaper, allowing you to snap them up at the perfect time.
Travel in off season/ shoulder season.
Summer holidays are notoriously way more expensive than any other time however 'winter breaks' are becoming more and more common. Whether you're heading on a Christmas Market weekend break or escaping for some January sun, winter is quickly becoming another season that can break the bank. This is why 'shoulder season' is the best time to head abroad. Check for the "in between months" at whichever destination you fancy and head on over; for example traveling to Europe in March-May or September/ October -when it's not really hot yet but not freezing either- is the perfect time to save some £££ while also getting some pretty decent weather.
A few snaps of our beautiful Riad in Marrakech
Sundays are cheapest.
The cheapest day to stay in a hotel is a Sunday as it's the least common day people tend to want. Because of this, a weekend break Saturday- Monday will work out way cheaper than a Friday- Sunday, but you'll get the same amount of time to explore as well as only need 1 day off work. So if you're book a trip for any amount of time, try and work it around a Sunday night!
Haggle your way through AirBnB.
You will get way more bang for your buck staying in an AirBnB than you will in a hotel so I will always check here first, but did you know it's also possible to haggle? You can message the Host and try to negotiate a lower price, which is particularly effective if it's coming up to your travel date as they will just want to get SOMEONE staying at the property if possible- less money is better than no money. I've haggled my way through a few cheeky discounts for a while now, but last year a blogger I absolutely love called How Many Holidays wrote out a really good template on how to do it if you're a beginner, it's written way better than I could ever attempt so read all about it here.
Search for discount codes.
If it's a hotel you want, then make sure you search for discounts available before booking. Hotels.com are notorious for having discount codes floating about, or use things like Booking.com to book regularly and receive your 'Level 2 Genius' rating. This can give you anything from free breakfast, free room upgrades or 15% off your total on selected properties.
Stay in hostels.
My absolute favourite kind of accommodation to stay in is a hostel. No, they're not like the horror film, and no, they're not the same as homeless hostels. They're actually just really clean, safe, sociable, and usually very cooly decorated places that allow you to stay in the heart of any destination for as cheap as chips. Use Hostelworld to book to ensure the places you're staying in are right for you, as they have a great rating and review system.. My favourite hostels I've ever stayed in are The Baxter Hostel in Edinburgh and the Auberge NOLA in New Orleans. I'm also really desperate to stay at Isla Roots in Colombia one day, if you need any recommendations!
Try a free accommodation sight.
Yep you read that right, completely free! If you want to try something a little different, there ARE ways to stay in a new place for no money at all. Use Nomador to stay in someone's house while they're away and house/ pet sit for them as well as exploring somewhere new, or try Couchsurfing for an authentic travel experience with a local.
Staying in an AirBnB in Lisbon got us way closer into the city centre than a hotel could have
Compare all websites.
Just like with flights, not all hotel websites will pick up on the same deals. Make sure to check out the big players like Trivago, Hotels.com and Booking.com, as well as directly through a hotel if they have a website, to ensure you're getting the best price possible. For a more luxurious hotel option try Mr & Mrs Smith.
AirBnB is not the only home rental sight.
There are so many small holiday rental sights that we don't hear about as well as other big sights that get forgotten behind the fame of AirBnB, don't let them get all the fun! Use HomeToGo to compare over 1,000 worldwide sights for the best apartments, cottages, villas and all kinds of home rental options for your holiday.
Use Staycation.co for last minute weekend upgrades.
A great option for if you just need a spur of the moment break. Staycation.co offers a sort of 'package' style deal for your weekend in either London, Paris or The Riviera for a majorly discounted price. The way it works is that on Wednesdays at 9am, the deals for that coming weekend get released. They'll be for specific (and pretty fancy) hotels around the area you select, with lots of extras on top. The hotel itself may be on Trivago etc for lets say £80, where as it could be on Staycation for £105 but with a room upgrade, spa access, prosecco, pizza, a city guide and breakfast included, or something similar. How amazing is that? It's ran on a first come first served basis though and you have to be up for something pretty spontaneous, but I think that's quite exciting!
Pretend it's an occasion.
A great way to get a nicer place to stay for no extra cost, is to say it's a birthday/ anniversary/ engagement getaway etc. Some hotels won't care, some will offer upgrades for a discount, but lots of hotels will upgrade your room or offer free drinks at the bar etc to celebrate with you in hopes of a good review. Take advantage!
Free things to do: Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest and Sky Garden, London
When You're There
Do your research.
Read blogs, watch videos, flick through some guides; Try and find out as much as possible about the place you're going to. Places may be cheaper at certain times -like during the week or before/ after certain times of day- and if they are, you need to know! There are so many blog posts and videos about the best cheap/ free things to do in cities too, I even have posts on here for places like Lisbon or Budapest. You can search for things like happy hours, discover 'cheap eat' restaurants or find out admission fees, all of which will help keep your price down. It's also the best way to make sure you don't miss out on anything cool while you're there.
Use the kitchen.
One of the biggest expenses on holiday is eating out. Now I'm not saying cook EVERY meal, (discovering a country's cuisine or sitting in a nice restaurant by the sea have got to be some of the highlights of a trip) but just make sure you're staying somewhere that has a kitchen of sorts, so that you at least have the option to stay home for a meal or two.
Avoid airport transfers.
Okay so sometimes if there's a few of you, splitting a cab works out pretty cheap anyway; but if you're traveling solo/ in a small group, stop forking out for the £30 taxi into the city centre! Airports have got some of the best transport links around, just purely because so many people need them, and so public transfers to cities are usually cheap and often, and are also a great way to avoid any big city traffic.
Free/ Cheap Walking Tours.
Walking tours in general are a fab way to get your bearings in a new city and get a feel for the place as a whole, but when they're free as well- what more can you ask for?! I've done a few really good ones in my time but I can definitely recommend the Legends Of Bruges Tour (free) if you're over in Belgium, or The Original Ghost Walk Of York (£6) if you want a bit of a laugh while in the UK- our guide was honestly hilarious!
Get Breakfast Included.
This is the easiest way to save money. Stock up on as much food as possible at breakfast to avoid paying for a big lunch, and nab some bananas etc to throw in your bag to snack on throughout the day for 0 money. We've even made sandwiches out of continental breakfasts before and taken a picnic for lunch!
Use offline maps.
Data charges can be a nightmare while abroad. Luckily some companies include travel bundles where you can use your internet for free or a small daily charge, but some countries still charge per MB no matter what (we learnt this the hard way in Morocco). Obviously there are sim card options, but they still cost. If you only need the internet for navigating/ social media then you're best bet is to use WiFi where possible and then download maps for offline use. Maps.me is a great app that allows you to download maps anywhere in the world, or you can use the Google Maps offline feature. Both of these options still allow you to track where you're going and enter in new hostel/ restaurant locations for an easy route, completely free of charge.
Clifford's Tower, York during the Ghost Tour we took
Lunch prices are cheaper than dinner.
If you want to dabble in cooking while also tasting the local cuisine: try eating out at lunch and cooking at dinner, rather than the other way round. Lots of places will have lower prices or set lunch menus during the early afternoon rather than later on at dinner time, providing a cheaper way to try the local dining experience and treat yourself with a little less guilt.
Check attraction tickets online/ in advance.
Some places will charge more for entry on the day, others will offer online discounts. Have a browse around to see if you can save some money before you go. Online/ advance tickets also usually give you skip-the-line entry (we bought a ticket to The Book of Kells in Dublin whilst stood in the 2 hour queue, and managed to skip straight ahead 15 minutes later) so it may be worth buying them anyway. Also another top tip- when comparing prices for day trips/ tours etc, make sure you double check in the details to see if entry to the attractions/ parks etc are included- one tour may look cheaper but if you have to pay entry when you arrive it may not actually be the case!
Drink less booze.
We all love a good holiday night out especially when staying in social hostels, and of course you should go out for a few drinks with your new pals, but booze gets very expensive very quickly. It can take you from only having spent £15 that day to over £50 or even more. The trick is to drink more local beers than imported vodkas, and keep drinking to a minimum where possible. We either take the 'little but often' approach by going for 1 or 2 in the afternoons, or try not to drink at all for a while in order to fund a night out. Also- trying to sight see/ recover in a dorm bed with a hangover is something you will want to avoid, but you'll definitely learn that the hard way!
Choose local food.
This is an easy one- local food means no import tax, making it cheaper. It will also be much fresher and nicer, plus tasting local dishes is one of the best bits about travelling!
Public transport is cheap but walking is cheaper; Those little £2/3 trips a couple of times per day will soon add up. We have a rule- if we're not in a mad rush and the walk is less than 45 minutes, we're walking! It's also a really fab way to get a proper feel for a place. You experience so much of daily life in a place when walking through it rather than jumping on a bus at one tourist spot, and jumping off at another.
It sounds ridiculous but staying somewhere for a longer period of time can end up cheaper over all than a short trip. Trying to cram all the big attractions and restaurants in as quickly as possible is a sure way to make your per-day budget more expensive. Travelling slower means you can fill days with beach stays or free walks, doing the odd attraction here and there, and spending less money. Most accommodation also gives a discount if you stay for a bulk amount of days too, so even better!
And that's all I can wrack my brain for at the moment, although I'm sure there's a few things I've missed off! Hopefully some of these li'l tips and tricks will help save you a penny or two, they've definitely gotten me a few bargains over the years!
Do you have any cheap travel hacks that you absolutely swear by? I'd love to know! Meg x
*Airplane photo not my own*