How to Travel and Not Spend a Fortune

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Catherine Tilke

Money Savings Advice Best Places to Travel on a Budget in the UK

For most holidaymakers, 2020 was a write-off. Pandemic? Check. National lockdowns? Check. Bans on international travel? Check.

Thankfully, a return to normality is in sight as countries across the globe slowly start to roll out

vaccines and roll-back on restrictions.

But, if, like many of us, the last year has left you cautious about big spending, you needn’t worry about that getting in the way of a well-earned break.

Below, we’ll help you decide how much you can afford to spend on your trip, how to narrow down your search and how to piece together your ideal break without breaking the bank.

In Brief:

  • It’s time to pack your bags (at last!)
  • You don’t need to splurge to enjoy travelling

In This Guide:

  • How much should I spend?
  • Setting your boundaries
  • 10 tips to save on your travel
  • Stretching your budget with kids in tow

How Much Should I Spend on Holiday?

How long is a piece of string? It’s possible to blow huge sums of money on holiday or scrape through a getaway a much smaller budget. When it comes to agreeing on the average cost of a holiday, even the experts can’t quite agree.

According to Nationwide’s 2019 Consumer Spending Report, people spend an average of £855 per person per holiday. Meanwhile, Evolution Money puts the figure higher- around £4800 for a family of four to spend two weeks away, or £1200 per person.

Whichever one is closer to the truth, we know that holiday spending forms a good chunk of many people’s annual budgets. In 2019, Brits made nearly 59 million trips overseas to go on holiday, and it’s estimated that holidaymakers splurge around a quarter of their disposable income for the year on getting away.

This is probably a better approach to working out your travel budget than using set figures because it’s easy to adjust to your personal circumstances.

Think about how much you have left to spend after your monthly essentials. This is your disposable income.

For example, if you earn £1600 per month, and after all your major expenses (rent, bills, council tax, insurance, transport, groceries etc.), you’re left with £350, this number times three (three months out of 12 = quarter of your annual disposable income) would put you roughly in line with the average holiday spending for your income bracket. In this example, you have £1050.

Not sure what you can do with £1050?

Check out these basic (though not exhaustive) budgets for holiday ideas for £1000 to see how one fairly modest budget can be worked three different ways:

Solo Travel: 10 Days Budget Break in the Maldives (May 2021)

Visa- Free

Jabs -  None (if you’re coming straight from the UK)

Airfare -  £596 with Turkish Airlines

Accommodation – 10 nights at the Moodhumaa Inn (rated 9.8/10 on Booking.com), with Breakfast £251

Local transport -  Public ferry from airport to Guiraidhoo Island (return ticket) £36

Food and drink (based on Numbeo’s estimates of local/budget restaurants, and two mid-range evening meals) - £66.08

Two beginners’ scuba diving sessions - £86 with Manta Divers

Total - £1035

While there might not be any honeymoon bungalows overhanging the ocean on this itinerary, it’s still possible to holiday just a stone’s throw from some of the best beaches in the world with a modest budget.

Travelling as a Pair: A Week in Barcelona (May 2021)

Visa- £136 for two

Airfare -  £55 per person with Vueling/Ryanair

Accommodation – 7 nights at the 4* Negresco Princess, £583, with breakfast

Local transport -  Aerobús bus from the airport to city centre, £20.40 (return)

Food and drink (based on Numbeo’s estimates of local/budget restaurants, and two mid-range evening meals) - £218 total

Sagrada Familia & Park Guell Tickets with Barcelona Card and ‘Off the Beaten Track’ bike tour- £34

Total - £1081

Get to know the city as you travel on foot and eat like a local- without scrimping on digs.

Single-Income Parent & Two Kids: 10 Nights in Crete (August 2021)

Visa - Free!

Airfare -  £208 total with Correndon

Accommodation – Stay a stone’s throw from the beach in a private apartment in bustling Heraklion for £460

Local transport – Return taxi to airport, £32

Food and drink (based on Numbeo’s estimates of local/budget restaurants, two mid-range evening meals, and eating breakfast at home) - £200

Palace of Knossos entry (with return bus ticket) and Banana-boating for 2 with Kreta Surf: £99

Total: £999

Make your money go further by staying minutes from the beach- endless entertainment for kids.

Think About Where You’re Willing to Save

One of the key things to do when planning a holiday on a budget is to keep an open mind about where you’re going and what your holiday will look like.

However, it’s also important to set boundaries from the get-go. The whole point of going on holiday is for you to enjoy the experience and hopefully come home again feeling refreshed!! So, if your budgeting plan involves self-catering while you’re away, but you hate cooking... you have a problem on your hands.

Think about what’s most important to you on holiday and where you’re willing to compromise on comfort. This will be different for everyone. If you’re not fussed about where you go, that makes things easy. Is a self-contained seafront villa with a pool a must? That’s fine. Just don’t expect to be a stone’s throw from the beach on Mallorca’s west coast and stick to your budget. You could still rent a six-bed villa further inland or find your dream beach bungalow and stay on-budget by travelling further afield.

Remember, almost anything you need to relax and enjoy your holiday is do-able on a budget, but it's important to outline the things you consider non-negotiable to make sure you enjoy every moment!

15 Top Tips for Travellers on a Budget

Once you have an idea of what your essentials are, check out these tips on how to make your money go the extra mile when shopping for your travels:

1 - Keep an Open Mind

Be prepared to consider destinations you might not usually consider.

On average, one-third of a holiday budget goes towards the accommodation and one third towards the airfare- so both of these factors can help you make savings if you look for cheaper alternatives to your usual. Go into your planning with an open mind, and you’ll be ready to snap up deals that might not have been the obvious choice.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that just because somewhere is a long way away, it’s off-limits.

Check out this comparison of three two-week breaks in different destinations- you may be surprised.

Sample Holiday Budgets+

  France: Cannes & Arles Czech Republic: Prague & Cesky Krumlov Thailand: Bangkok & Ko Samui
Visas Free! Free! Free!
Essential Jabs & Medication - - -
Insurance £12 £12 £24
Airfare £200 £120 £450
Return Airport Shuttle £150 £25 £30
Accommodation (3*+) £700 £570 £200
10KM Taxi Ride £17 £9 £8
Mid-range restaurant meal & alcoholic drinks £25 £26 £19
Full day activity e.g. boat trip, hiking £70 £30 £30
Cultural Excursion e.g. museum or art gallery £5 £11 £12
       
Total for 2 people £2,738 £1,634 £1,838
Total for 4 people £5,476 £3,267 £3,676
       

+Based on: Two weeks, within 5km of city/town centre or major tourist attractions, on cusp of peak season, eating 3 meals per day at a budget local restaurant with two nights per week at mid-range end restaurant (3 courses plus 2 alcoholic beverages per person); two full-day excursions per week; one cultural excursion per week; 4x 30-minute taxi rides per week. Sources: Numbeo; Trivago; Superdrug Travel Clinic; Skyscanner.

Do your research and use comparison sites, such as Trivago, Agoda and Booking.com to explore your options. If all-inclusive is your jam, Holiday Pirates is a great search engine for hand-picked deals, too.

Hint: If you know your dates but aren’t sure where to go, search using Skyscanner and put your destination as “Everywhere”. It will show you the cheapest destinations for your dates.

2 - Pack Well

Remembering to travel with everything you need will save you money.

It’s always better to buy things like sunscreen, toiletries, and electrical converters at home, where you won’t be ripped off by tourist prices and know where to shop for the best deal.

Read up on the weather so you’re not caught unprepared by things like chilly nights, and check whether you’ll need extras such as insect repellent.

After packing like a pro, don’t forget to put your liquids in your suitcase before you reach the airport!

3 - Don’t Forget Hidden Costs

There are always extra costs involved with travelling that it's easy to overlook but can soon drive you over-budget.

Lodging Fees: Some hotels (especially in the US) don't include local taxes in their rates. If it's your first time visiting a country, check whether any rules such as this application before you book.

Mobile Use: Check with your provider whether you can buy an extension for your destination or how much roaming charges are. It used to be the case that roaming charges did not apply in Europe, but now the UK has left the EU; there's no guarantee of this. Often, the easiest thing to do is buy a local SIM card for emergency use and stick to wifi for mobile data on your UK number if you want to stay connected.


Money Savings Advice Explainer. Find out more information about lodging fees by reading our short explainer article below.

We update all our guides regularly. If you are researching other ways to make and save money and we haven't got an exact guide that helps you, keep coming back as we update daily.


Foreign Exchange: There are a few cards on the market which allow you to withdraw money or use your card abroad fee-free. Barclaycard Rewards and Halifax Clarity charge no fees on foreign spending or withdrawals but are only available to eligible customers. Monzo's bog-standard debit card is fee-free in the EEC and offers fee-free withdrawals up to £200 per month elsewhere.


Money Savings Advice Tip

When you arrive at your destination, skip the bureau de change and head straight for an ATM. Airport BDCs often charge premium rates as they have a captive audience. Even if your card has hefty withdrawal fees, you'll likely be better off taking out any cash you need for taxis and tips in one lump sum via an ATM..


4 - Travel Out of Season

By basing your travels on where is out of season, you can save big bucks. While not every destination is suited to off-season travel (hello, monsoons!), many places still have loads to offer when the crowds subside.

Travelling off-season can be tricky with school-aged kids, but it’s possible to find low-season destinations in the tropics and southern hemisphere just as prices start to skyrocket in Europe. 

Travel blogger Ashley Nitransky over at Tour Calender has compiled a calendar for different destinations’ low seasons, to make finding your next budget-friendly destination easy.

5 - Consider Alternative Accommodation

Airbnb’s are typically cheaper than hotels and also give you the option of self-catering if you underestimated the cost of eating out. They can also be a great way to get to know a place, as you’re more likely to be in a residential area and so have the chance to ‘live like a local.

Throughout much of Europe, monasteries and convents also offer discounted accommodation..and because many of these buildings are hundreds of years old, they are often very close to the city centre or historical quarters. Check out Monastery Stays for a directory of options in mainland Europe.

Hostels offer great value for solo travellers or groups who don’t need top-notch facilities or maximum privacy. It’s often possible to stay right in the centre of town for a fraction of the price than if your were to stay in a hotel, and if you’re backpacking, it’s a great way to link up with fellow travellers.  Hostelworld has a wide selection of budget hotels worldwide.

For the more adventurous, Couch Surfing is a great way to meet locals and save money (it’s free); just be mindful that your host has welcomed you into their home, and you’ll need to respect their house rules!  

6 - Find Free Things to Do

From free walking tours to hiking, free museum and landmark ‘scavenger hunts’, it’s possible to enjoy your destination without splashing the cash with a little creativity.

Checkout FreeTour for a global directory of free walking tours, or check Google for free gigs, festivals and talks coming up in your area.

7 - Head Off the Beaten Track

Rather than looking for a hotel on the main thoroughfare, consider staying in a more residential area...or visit a country with a lower cost of living- you could save on flights by avoiding tourist traps at peak season, and might also find many other activities cheaper, too.


 


8 - Child-Free? Consider a Working Holiday

If your idea of the perfect getaway is enjoying the great outdoors and immersing yourself in the local culture, a working holiday could be perfect for you.

All around the world, small businesses and farms offer travellers’ food and board in exchange for work.

WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) pair volunteers up with organic smallholders. You’ll get to learn about sustainable agriculture (through simple work on the farm) and meet people from all walks of life, and in exchange, you’ll receive free food and accommodation.

Workaway has a similar setup but covers everything from pet-sitting to community care projects.

9 - Be Flight-Savvy

Use a flight comparison site such as Skyscanner, Momondo or Kayak to find the best deals for your destination.

Beware of seemingly brilliant deals which leave in the middle of the night (meaning you’ll need pre-flight accommodation) or from airports miles away from the city centre, meaning you’ll have to shell out for transport.

It’s extra-important to check this info in your destination, too- being stranded in a foreign airport waiting for the first bus is not the ideal way to start your trip! 

10 - Don’t Skimp on Essentials

It’s easy to overlook travel insurance when you’re planning a holiday. Who wants to think about broken legs or tummy bugs when you could be researching the best wine-tasting tours?

Nonetheless, it’s vitally important.

Not having travel insurance or recommended vaccinations can not only be a major inconvenience if your bags go missing or your flight is cancelled; it can literally be life-saving.

And while it might seem as though you’re saving money by skipping insurance, if you’re unlucky enough to get injured, you could end up in serious financial distress. For example, if you were to break your leg without insurance in the US, your bills could run as high as $30,000.


Money Savings Advice Explainer. Find out more information about the different types of travel insurance by reading our short explainer article below.

We update all our guides regularly. If you are researching other ways to make and save money and we haven't got an exact guide that helps you, keep coming back as we update daily.


How to Budget When Travelling with Kids

Travelling with kids can come with its own budgetary challenges, but it is possible to do without spending a fortune!

1 - Take Advantage of Kids Clubs

When choosing your accommodation, check whether there’s a kids club. Lots of resorts and all-inclusive hotels offer free entertainment for kids. Not only is it great value, but it also leaves you with plenty of time to soak up the sun in blissful peace and quiet.

2 - Pick Destinations with Free Entertainment

Don’t worry; I’m not talking about kids clubs again…if you’re not into resorts, you can still find accommodation with free entertainment at hand (although there are no enthusiastic supervisors included in this option, I’m afraid).

Look for a place close to the beach or with a pool or garden for endless outdoor fun and games. Paying a visit to local markets, local artisans workshops or simple activities such as bike rides and fishing are all affordable, hands-on activities for kids who needn’t break the bank.

3 - Opt for All-inclusive or Self-catering

With extra mouths to feed, the bill for eating our can quickly rack up. Limit the damage by opting for self-catering, so you can switch between home-cooked meals and restaurants, or choose an all-inclusive destination, so you won’t have to dip into your pocket again once you’ve arrived.

4 - Dole Out Spending Money on Day 1

Give kids any spending money on day 1 of the holiday and make it clear that they need to manage their own budget for any shopping or extras. You’ll hopefully spare yourself from much pleading as you pass by tourist traps and ice cream vendors and (bonus) encourage the kids to think about managing money.

5 - Spend Time Getting Your Head Around Local Transport

If there’s a crowd of you, you could make significant savings by hopping on local transport. Kids often travel at a heavy discount- and sometimes for free. It’s also a great way to see more of your destination and get a taste of local living.

And that’s it, folks. You should now have everything you need to squeeze the most out of your holiday budget like a pro! With a little bit of planning and an open-minded approach, you’ll have your bags packed, ready to set off on for dreamy days away before you know it.

Money Savings Advice Author Catherine Tilke

Catherine Tilke

Catherine is our specialist financial news journalist. With over 7 years of experience and a raft of contacts in the financial world, she prides herself on delivering the most relevant and up-to-date financial news for our readers.

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