Travel on a budget

Totally broke but desperate to go travelling? You don't have to raid your family's life savings. With a bit of forward planning and budgeting it's possible to travel and have fun on the cheap.

long and winding road

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Get discounts

Don’t be afraid to ask for discount wherever you go: shops, restaurants, attractions, tourist sites… everywhere. Say something like, “do you offer discounts for students/young people” etc. You can often get money off just by being under 26 – especially in European museums. Just tell them your age and whack out your passport to prove it.

Or get yourself a discount card from STA travel (the International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for students, or the International Youth Travel Card (IYIC) for under-31s) before you go. Costing £12 each, these cards can get you money off anything from hostels and tours to magazine subscriptions and even Lonely Planet guides.

Find cheap flights

If you know how to use a search engine you know how to find cheap flights. Skyscanner is good for comparing flights if you know exactly where you want to go and when. However, if you’re flexible on the date or location google flights will find your cheapest option.

Other cheap ways to travel

  • Coaches – are slower (and potentially smellier) than trains, but can be significantly cheaper.
  • Car shares – can save you loads of money as you only have to chip in for petrol. You can find lifts around Europe on car-pooling websites.
  • Drive across the States – by delivering someone else’s car. Companies such as Auto Driveaway need drivers to relocate their vehicles across the States. You’ll often get a full tank of gas and an allowance. However always read the small print first to make sure you’re eligible, as some companies have age restrictions as well as a USA citizens-only rule.
  • Hitchhiking – is free, but some countries have laws in place to prevent pedestrians walking on motorways and busy roads, so check before you stick your thumb out. Hitchwiki has some great tips and advice.
  • Overnight trains – a place to sleep as well as a way of getting around – no brainer!

Cheap accommodation

There’s no need to rough it to keep costs down. There are loads of cheap accommodation options all over the world:

  • Camping – Take a tent and you’ll never be homeless. If you’re in a holiday destination there’ll be a campsite somewhere. Ask at the tourist office for details.
  • Hostels – Cheap hotels usually offer a mix of shared dorms and private rooms. Most of the time you can just turn up and get a bed in a dorm, however for popular destinations or during peak season it’s best to book in advance.
  • Hotels and motels – Don’t rule this option out as too expensive. Motels can be better value than youth hostels (especially in the States) and hotels often have special deals for out of season or mid-week.
  • Couchsurfing – This is where you sleep at a stranger’s house – not a friend of a friend or a distant relative, someone you’ve never met. Just think of all the wonderful (and weird) people you’ll meet.
  • Air BnB – Rent a total stranger’s house or flat to stay in. This can be cheap, especially if there are a few of you to share the cost, and locations are worldwide.

Wherever you stay it’s a good idea to check their trip advisor reviews first.

Cheap food

Eating out every night will make your cash disappear faster than your glass of sangria. So to make it stretch buy food and drink from a supermarket and make your own meals instead. Then you can justify a blow-out meal at that local fish restaurant or famous pizzeria.

City tours

If you want to check out a city but can’t afford a hop-on/hop-off bus trip you can often find a walking tour for free. You’ll be expected to tip your guide at the end but it doesn’t have to be loads. As long as you pay what you can afford or what you think they deserve everyone will leave with a smile on their face.

If this isn’t your bag and you fancy going it alone, buy or borrow a map and guidebook and create your own tour.

Ask people for tips

The best way to find the cheapest eats/sights/transport/bars/clubs etc is to ask around. Ask staff at your hotel or hostel, your tour guide, your friends before you go, the bloke you get stuck next to on the plane – everyone.

Not only will most people be happy to share their bargain-hunting experiences you’ll often get top tips on places to avoid too.

Work as you travel

If you plan to do this it’s best to do your research before you go. Summer jobs can be found at seasonworkers. Or you could try WWOOFing, this is where you work on an organic farm in exchange for food and accommodation. You don’t get paid, but you’ll come away with new skills and a new experience under your belt.

You can usually do the same in hostels: get food and board in return for cleaning or working front of house.

Of course, if you’re willing to chance it you could also find jobs as you go.

We’re sure you have loads of tips for budget travel too – let us know in the comments below.

Picture of a long road by Shutterstock

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Updated on 29-Sep-2015