The Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Your Travels

In a time where the costs of just about everything keep rising, it’s ever important to know how to cut down on travel costs. Yes, you could just stop travelling but I’ll be the last person to recommend this as travel makes you rich in ways other than money. The good news is that you can still travel very affordably if you do your research and use certain tips & tricks to help you. And that doesn’t mean having to stay in shared dorms – this guide focuses on saving money without sacrificing much comfort.

As someone who likes to travel affordably and frequently, I want to share my top tips I’ve learned over the years of helping me do so. 

Planning an Affordable Trip

 

Flexible? Search flights to ‘anywhere’

 

Google Flights' Search Anywhere Functionality

This one is my top tip for affordable travel. The rise of flight comparison sites has given great power to the customer, but there’s far more to it than comparing airlines for a specific destination.

If you have a general idea of the holiday you want (e.g. somewhere warm in April or somewhere new for a city break) rather than a specific destination, you have the best potential of finding a bargain. The best flight comparison sites like Skyscanner and Google Flights have a “Search anywhere” option where you simply specify the departure airport and dates then look for the cheapest deals. With Google Flights, just leave the destination as blank.

More often than not, you’ll find a very reasonable range of destinations that suit your needs, sorted by cheapest flight. Some might be big cities, others tiny Ryanair airports you’ve never heard of. With a little research you can make a shortlist of suitable destinations and decide on the best one. 

It’s also worth toggling dates. For instance, if you plan on a long weekend break, check:

  • Friday morning to Sunday evening
  • Saturday morning to Monday evening
  • Friday evening to Monday evening

All of these equate to 1 day of annual leave but might uncover different cheap options and destinations.

My favourite resource for this type of search is Google Flights as, unlike Skyscanner, it lets you toggle departure and arrival times while searching “anywhere” for all destinations (who wants to fly back at 6AM on a Sunday?!). You can also see the results on a map which helps spot warm destinations more easily.

 

Pick affordable travel destinations

 

Brasov, Romania Panorama

Finding cheap flights is a great start, but often this isn’t the biggest part of your travel budget. For instance you can often find temptingly bargain flights to Oslo, but a beer in the capital will set you back £7-£10 (€8-€12) not to mention everything else. For the same price you can enjoy a luscious meal in Bulgaria or Albania, and these countries are by no means inferior travel destinations. Luckily there are plenty of outstanding countries where you can worry less about eating out, and on this website you’ll find plenty of recommendations for cheap travel destinations.

Some of my favourite cheap European destinations:

To avoid a hole in your wallet, there are plenty of good resources that give you an idea of how expensive a country is – I personally like BudgetYourTrip. Wish I had discovered it before booking a trip to Israel.

 

Find hidden gem alternatives

 

Utrecht Old Town

This is a key one (and the main reason I created this website!). 90% of people are drawn by friend recommendations and social media to the same few tourist hotspots also featured on all travel lists. By law of supply and demand, this greatly inflates the prices of accommodation, restaurants as well locals more often taking advantage of tourists. 

Yet the world is full of incredible places, often mere minutes away from the over-touristed destinations. So make the most of it! Here’s a perfect example:

  • Amsterdam is a wonderful but very touristy city with a reputation for very expensive accommodation. A 30-minute train ride will bring you to Utrecht, a compact alternative to Amsterdam with equally pretty canals, picturesque Dutch buildings and a tiny proportion of the tourists teeming the capital. Of course you can use it as a base from which to visit Amsterdam too, saving a considerable amount on your stay.

Same goes for basing yourself in Girona instead of Barcelona, Lucca instead of Florence or choosing Procida instead of Capri and Amalfi Coast.

Read more: Hidden Gem European City Breaks

 

Travel in shoulder seasons

 

Gran Canaria Rainbow

Unless you have a seasonal job or school-age kids, there’s no reason you can’t focus your travels in the more affordable shoulder seasons. In Europe, this means picking May, September or October instead of July and August – not only saving on travel costs but often avoiding the crowds and the stifling peak summer heat in Southern Europe. In other regions, shoulder season could mean the periods between wet and dry seasons, which are often perfectly still fine most of the time. 

Besides Google research, a good resource for finding shoulder seasons is WeatherSpark, which tells you the average temperatures and rainfall for any place in the world.

> Read more: Best warm destinations to visit in April

 

Search ‘alternative’ airports nearby

 

Airport in Azores

This one works best in Europe with small distances between cities and well-developed transport networks. And if you’re departing from somewhere like London, Paris or Frankfurt with lots of direct destinations on offer.

If you’re going to a specific city, you can sometimes find considerably cheaper flights to another city within an hour or two by car or public transport. From a recent personal example, flights from London to Krakow around New Year were being offered at well over £200 from London. Nearby Katowice, meanwhile, had flights for a bargain £60 return! Add the reasonable cost of bus/train to get to Krakow in 2 hours, and you’ve saved £120 per person. 

This “trick” might not be a good option for a short weekend break, but if you have more time you can even spend a day discovering the city you’ve landed in. More often than not, it can be a pleasant surprise. Well, maybe not in the case Katowice (sorry Katowice!). 

To do this, simply use a site like TravelMath which will tell you the nearest airports, then research a little in Google Maps to see how easy it is to get to your desired place.

 

Check prices in local language & different browsers

 

While booking your flights or rental car, it’s worth loading the site in the local language (use Google Translate to help), in a different browser or even changing your location if you have a VPN to the country you’re booking from.

Often you won’t find a difference, but airlines and rental companies have been known to discriminate based on where you are booking from or even which browser you use. For example, booking with a Colombian low-cost Viva Air I found a price difference between the Spanish-language and English-language sites:

Different Flight Prices by Language

It’s a dodgy practice but you can easily avoid it by double-checking.

 

Check accommodation prices directly with hotels

 

Sometimes, you might just find a cheaper deal by booking directly on the hotel website than on an OTA aggregator like Booking.com. I usually start research on the latter, then search the official site of the hotel I like. If they do have a usable website (admittedly many are awful) sometimes they’ll offer you a small discount vs 3rd party sites. This is because those sites charge a hefty booking fee of 10-15% so encouraging guests to book directly is a win-win for both.

Even if the prices are equal and the site is usable, do the right thing by booking directly. The hotel will benefit by not giving away booking fees, and they might give you little perks like a better room. Yes, prioritising direct bookings to 3rd party bookings is a real practice for some hotels.

 

Book directly with the airline

 

This might seem counter-intuitive as 3rd party travel sites usually offer marginally cheaper deals than the airlines directly. They try to make up for this with numerous upsells which you can easily avoid, but that’s not where the problem lies.

The problem is things don’t always go smoothly. If the airline changes the flight, the 3rd party might not even let you know. If the flight needs to be re-booked for whatever reason, good luck getting through to the booking company’s scarce customer support. And there have been many instances where people booked their holiday with a 3rd party site, the money went through but they were never actually booked. There’s a reason most of these companies have 1.5 star average ratings. Yes, they’re heavily biased towards the disgruntled but it happens more often than you’d think.

So while you may well get away with using 3rd parties, I recommend avoiding potential hassle and booking directly with the airline.

 

Get multiple-trip car insurance

 

Rental Car in Scottish Highlands

If booking car rental you’ll inevitably be asked if you want full insurance which often significantly inflates the full cost of your rental. I strongly recommend having comprehensive insurance but there is a much cheaper way of doing so.

If renting a car for more than 1 week per year, get 3rd-party multiple-trip insurance cover. It will usually cost the equivalent of a week’s worth of full insurance booked directly with the company.

Recently I was charged an eye-watering £1,140 by Europcar for lightly scratching the side of my car against some Welsh shrubs and the insurance company refunded the full amount within a couple weeks. The only caveat is you’ll still have to have the spare funds to pay the rental company before getting the insurance money.

I’m sure there are plenty of reputable options, but I use iCarhireinsurance which sets me back £43 (€50) a year with no excess fees.

 

Get multi-trip travel insurance

Similarly it’s important to be covered with insurance while abroad, especially in the longer, more exotic trips. It might cost a little extra initially but you’ll thank yourself when you lose valuables, your trip gets cancelled or if you get ill while abroad. In some countries (hello USA) the fees for health services can be ridiculous and the last thing you want is to worry about money when you’re in poor health.

If you travel more than once a year, multi-trip insurance cover is well worth the annual cost and is often surprisingly cheap. I’m not trying to sell a particular insurance but as someone with a talent for losing passports and phones abroad I can tell you travel insurance has more than paid for itself many times over.

Check for local car rental companies

Car rental comparison sites like RentalCars and AutoEurope are great, but they only feature companies they have an agreement with and often exclude local suppliers. In some destinations, local car rental companies are very reputable and offer cars for 30-60% less than the big international firms. Sometimes they even come with full insurance by default. 

This is where a little research comes in handy to separate the trustworthy local rental firms from the dodgy ones. I find TripAdvisor a good resource for trustworthy car rental recommendations which often features feedback from frequent visitors to your region of interest. Yes, there’s a scattering of Karen-like characters on TripAdvisor but generally it’s still more helpful than aggregate review sites almost entirely full of angry customer rants.

Pack light

 

Sunset & Land Cruiser at Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

You’ll be surprised by how little you actually need on your travels. And nowadays more than ever, being a light traveller really pays off. Most low-cost airlines introduced additional fees for larger cabin bags than can climb up to a hefty £30-£45 (€35-€42) per person per flight, that’s double for a return flight.

For a short weekend break, you can usually get away with bringing just a backpack with your essentials and a change of clothes. If you want souvenirs, duty free bags don’t usually count towards 1-bag policies and you can dump a couple of your own bits in there too to lighten the backpack.

Even for longer multi-week holidays, it’s perfectly achievable to pack your things into a cabin-friendly rucksack, using laundrettes once you run out of 5-6 days’ worth of clean clothes. Hostels and hotels will often have this service, or look for an Airbnb with a washing machine.

This will not only avoid checked luggage fees, but save you ample time dropping off and waiting for luggage.

If you do want additional luggage, add this when you book the flights. Companies including easyJet often increase the cost of large cabin bags if you decide to get it closer to the travel date.

Saving money once in your destination

 

Research local transport options

 

Bohol Jeepney Transport

Check for the most cost-effective ways of getting from the airport to the city. Sometimes, local buses and trains will get you there at half the price of the promoted “Express” transport in almost the same time. Case in point – Gatwick Express is 3 minutes faster than the “normal” train and costs 

In other places, pre-booking a transfer will save you £££’s vs getting ripped off by the opportunistic taxi drivers at the airport. 

 

Join a free walking tour

 

Free Walking Tour in Peru

On the first full day of your stay, I recommend joining a free walking or cycling tour. It’s a great way to familiarise with the city, get the perspective from locals and come back to anywhere you particularly liked. It’s also a chance to get local recommendations from the local guides and if you’re travelling solo, meet other travellers if you so desire.

OK, free walking tours aren’t actually free – a “tip” is rightfully expected at the end of your tour but it’s usually very reasonable and still fantastic value for what you get from it. 

Sometimes there are also foodie tour options which are great for discovering authentic local cuisine and uncovering cheap spots (that you’d otherwise walk past) that you can come back to later. These aren’t usually free but usually affordable and can include enough food to cover 2 meals.

 

Use Monzo & Revolut

 

Traditional bank cards charge a percentage + fixed commission for every transaction you make abroad, which quickly adds up over time. And that’s on top of any local bank transaction fees.

Monzo and Revolut are both app-managed cards you can order for free in minutes that each offer (at the time of writing) £200 / month of free withdrawals at the best possible exchange rates. So it’s worth getting both. If you tend to travel and withdraw a lot, you might consider getting the premium version for one of them which increases the commission free limit plus some other perks but calculate if it’s worth the extra savings.

 

Get an eSIM card

 

Depending on your phone contract and the destination, you’ll be charged a hefty fee for travelling abroad. So for longer stays it’s usually worth getting a local SIM. 

While the traditional go-to would be to purchase a physical SIM card, I’ve increasingly found that eSIMs offer the best value for roaming on holiday. Even better, you can purchase the eSIM ahead of time and save on queuing and sorting the SIM on arrival. You can easily switch between your ‘home’ SIM and an eSIM should you wish so, and just delete it from your phone when you’re back home.

There are plenty of sites offering eSIMs for just about anywhere in the world, including ones that work across multiple countries. I used Airalo and it worked out well, but I suggest you shop around for your particular destination.

If you do opt for a physical SIM card. Keep in mind that SIM cards are often overpriced at the airport so if you can, wait until getting into the city to buy one from one of the local mobile operators (often sold in local corner shops).

As part of the Brexit shitshow, UK visitors now have to pay a daily rate to use roaming in the EU as well. Most UK operators offer multi-day roaming bundles that will save you some of the roaming fees if you’re staying for 5+ days. 

 

Travel while you sleep

 

Peruvian "VIP" Night Coach, Puno

This one is particularly useful in bigger countries with longer travel distances, so the likes of South & Central America or Southeast Asia. Taking a train, ferry or a long-haul coach through the night means saving money on a night’s stay as well as optimising your travel time. By the time you wake up you’re already at your destination, hopefully not too groggy and ready to explore.

Of course you’ll rarely get the most comfortable sleep on trains and coaches, but even in the less developed countries the quality of the better “VIP” coaches is surprisingly good with some offering fully reclining seats similar to those on business class flights.

 


Need inspiration on an off-the-beaten-track travel destination? Use this Hidden Gem Finder to get a tailored recommendation for your next trip.

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