How to travel on a budget

People we know often wonder, and if you’re reading this blog maybe you’re wondering yourself, how we are able to travel so often. People often assume that to travel so often we must be rich.

How to travel on a budget

I need to stress this because it is important – we are not rich. And we have never been given a wad of money by rich parents or anyone else to go travelling with.

There are three key elements in what allows us to travel so often:

    1. We have decided travel is important to us so we prioritise it and do without other things that aren’t as important to us. (I’ll be doing a blog in more detail about this later).
    2. Even though we both work full time we utilise our time off as best we possibly can so we are able to travel as much as possible throughout the year. (I’ll also be doing a blog in more detail about this later).
    3. Experience has taught us how to book cheap trips and we are very skilled in how to find the cheapest way to travel (Keep reading. I’m going to tell you how we do this).

How to travel on a budget

Booking a holiday cheaply requires effort and flexibility. You need to be prepared to do a lot of digging to find the cheapest way to travel and an open mind on the best way to do it.

Before we book each trip we spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer researching flights and accommodation to ensure we are getting the best deal possible.  

Here’s our top tips on how to travel on a budget:

How to book cheap flights

Look at different dates

Spend a lot of time searching airlines. Skyscanner has some really good features for those who can be flexible with dates. If you pick “whole month” for your departure/return options, you can see the cheapest flights every day of a month. Even leaving/coming back a day or two late or early can save a lot of money. If you’re even more flexible, you can click “cheapest month” at the top to see if your dream holiday destination is much cheaper to visit at a different time of year.

We did this recently for our upcoming trip to Korea and Japan. We had wanted to visit the last weekend in September but a look at other dates showed us that weekend was more expensive than others. Turned out it was Chuseok, a huge Korean holiday. We saved hundreds of pounds by visiting a few weeks earlier.

Fly out from a different airport

Look at your options flying out from a different airport. Our nearest international airport is Glasgow but Edinburgh Airport is a 45 minutes bus journey away and offers lots more budget airline options. London Stanstead Airport has loads more flight options and we can fly there from Glasgow on Ryanair for as little as £15. Look at airports beyond your nearest one. Is there a bigger airport you can fly to quickly and cheaply that offers way more flights that work out cheaper?

Last year we wanted to go to Athens but when we looked at flights from Glasgow and Edinburgh it didn’t look like it was going to be possible: there were no cheap flights. Then we looked at Stanstead. We found a Ryanair flight from Stanstead to Athens which cost £48 and Ryanair Glasgow to Stanstead was £10. Bingo.

Fly into a different airport

Look at your options flying into a different airport. Is there an airport near your destination that is cheap and straightforward to get to on a bus or train? Last year we picked Dresden as the destination we wanted to spend Christmas in; we were enticed by the Christmas markets and cool sounding Neukoln neighbourhood. Just one problem – no cheap flights to Dresden. Cheap flights to Berlin though, and Dresden was a two hour cheap bus journey away. Sorted.

Explore different routes

Explore different routes to reach your chosen destination. If you limit yourself to direct flights there and back you may end up spending more. Think about major airport hubs that have a lot of flight options like Amsterdam and Dubai.

Last year we were invited by a friend to visit Beirut. We had already figured out a reasonably priced way to get there as we wanted to visit Greece too and there were cheap flights from Athens to Beirut with Pegasus Airlines. But getting back from Beirut to the UK was a problem. There didn’t seem to be any reasonably priced options. It took us a day of pouring over airline websites to find a solution: Beirut to Istanbul on Aegean Airlines, Istanbul to Stanstead on Pegasus Airlines and Stanstead to Glasgow on Ryanair. We discovered this by thinking about major cities in the vicinity of Beirut that may have more flight options which is why we looked at Istanbul. This wouldn’t have come up as a suggestion on Skyscanner.

From the three points above, what I am trying to stress is for the cheapest flights you need to be prepared to put effort and research in, think outside the box, and be as flexible as possible.

Just take hand luggage

The vast majority of the time we just take hand luggage when travelling – if we’re flying with a budget airline that doesn’t allow free carry on luggage, we definitely just take hand luggage. Be strategic with what you pack – only pack the things you need. If you absolutely can’t do it, just take one suitcase between two.

Search incognito mode

Oh, and always search for flights (and accommodation) on incognito mode so those airline websites aren’t taking notes on the flights you’re looking for and raising the prices.

How to book cheap accommodation

Keep it simple

The realisation that all Paul and I need from holiday accommodation is a clean room with a roof over our head has saved us so much money on our travels. Don’t get me wrong, we stayed in some truly grotty places in our backpacking days but the places we stay in now are not prisons cells, they’re just small and practical while still being comfortable. To give you examples, here’s some of the places we’ve stayed on our recent trips to Dresden, Thessaloniki, and Prague.

Airbnb is a cheap option

We usually find airbnb to be cheaper than hotels, particularly if we’re travelling in groups of more than two.

Look at hotels on Topcashback

However, it is always worth checking cashback sites like Topcashback, as hotels websites often have really good cashback and Airnbn isn’t on it. Hotels can work out cheaper this way.

Look outside the city centre (in a good neighbourhood)

Don’t just look at accommodation right in the city centre. I’m not talking about those too cheap be true hotels you see on Expedia that turn out to be in another town entirely – sometimes the coolest neighbourhoods and best places to stay in a city are not in the centre. Examples of really cool neighbourhoods we’ve stayed in are Strenschnze in Hamburg, Isola in Milan and Exarchia in Athens.

Consider a hostel

In our backpacking days we often stayed in hostels but we rarely stay in hostels now. While I feel our days of staying in really grotty hostels are over (I feel we’ve paid our dues!) I am up for exploring slightly nicer more bespoke hostels in the future. When I was searching for accommodation in Tokyo, this one piqued my interest. If you’re on a really tight budget though, hostels are useful as many of them have kitchens where you can cook your own food.

As with flights, take your time to have a good look at all the options.

When we’re there

What helps me and Paul travel on a budget is that we don’t have lavish tastes. We’re more dive bar people than style bar people. We tend to go out for one nice restaurant meal and grab cheaper bites to eat the rest of the time, like pizza or whatever the local food is. We tend to have a big breakfast that keeps us going for most of the day and a dinner later. If we’re in a hotel we stock up on the free breakfast, if we’re in an airbnb we go to the nearest deli, or supermarket (the supermarkets in Europe seem to be so much nicer than the ones in the UK) and have a continental breakfast of bread, cheese, and cold meat for Paul. I’m not telling you not to splurge on expensive meals every night if that’s what you love to do. It’s all about prioritising what you spend your money on.

No need for a shopping spree

We also don’t feel the need to buy an entire new wardrobe before we go on a trip. The clothes we have will do. Unless there are things we don’t have that we need specifically for our holiday.

So that’s it! There’s my top tips on how to travel on a budget. Do you have any tips I’ve missed out? Please list them below.

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