How to get away on a budget – home or abroad

Getting value for money on your holiday

Marcus Webb – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Marcus Webb | Independent Money Mentor

Editor of Delayed Gratification and independent journalist


Most of us look forward to a holiday each year – whether it’s a holiday in the UK, a city break or a sunny beach holiday – especially if you have children, as time together is precious. But holidays can be expensive. And so if you’re looking to get away for less, then here are some top tips for planning a budget trip – both in the UK and further afield.

Travelling in the UK

Getting there

Car travel can be expensive: driving from London to Aberdeen could set you back around £100 in fuel. This makes sense if you’ve filled your vehicle to the brim with fellow passengers, but for individuals and couples hopping on a bus is far cheaper. The same journey by National Express or Megabus can be done for around £30 – although I do appreciate that 13 hours on a bus won’t necessarily kick your holiday off with that frisson of romance and exoticism you’re seeking.

When it comes to trains, it’s often cheaper to buy a number of tickets between the different stations on your route rather than one ticket from start to finish, even though you're often on exactly the same train. Sites like TrainSplit will explain the details and can even do the calculations for you. And of course a plethora of railcards are available – for ages 16-25 and 25-30, seniors, couples, families, disabled people – at around £30 a year, which typically give a third off travel. Jump on a train from London to Aberdeen, and the railcard will have paid for itself before you reach Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Eating and drinking

Before you set off, it’s worth looking into getting a Tastecard which has 2-for-1 deals at chains like Pizza Hut, Zizzi and Frankie & Benny’s. Alternatively, grab a takeaway via ‘food-saving’ apps such as Too Good to Go and Karma. Both offer ridiculous discounts on unsold meals just before closing time.

Entertainment

If you’re looking to pass the time without breaking the bank, a lot of train tickets come with offers for cut-price attractions too – the 2-for-1 admission offer on tickets into London is particularly great. These offers are often so good it might be cheaper for those who drove to buy a train ticket they don’t actually use just to qualify for the offer. It’s also worth checking listings sites such as Time Out for free exhibitions, festivals and concerts – if you’re lucky enough to be in town for an opening night of an exhibition these might include a glass of wine or two. 

Sleeping

Whether it’s through an advance booking, a late deal, a limited-time promotion or a flash sale, many hotels offer direct discounts to customers. If you can find rooms cheaper on booking websites like Expedia and Kayak send an email to the hotel – many will match or even beat this price and may throw in an upgrade to boot.

If you’re after a night or two away and are flexible on where you go, HotelTonight is a great app that offers great discounts on last minute rooms. Check a number of places in the morning, bag a bargain and jump in the car/bus/train. Hostels are fantastic for solo travellers because they’re cheap and social; the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) has some spectacular UK properties to choose from,  including an 800-year-old castle). If you’re feeling adventurous, consider Champing: you can book an entire church to yourself while helping preserve the ancient building for future generations.

Going abroad

Getting there

Got any plans on Wednesday? Fly midweek to get the lowest fares and use price comparison sites like Skyscanner and Holiday Supermarket to bag deals on flights and holidays. The cheapest times to buy flights directly from airlines tend to be in the January sales, on Black Friday or straight after new routes go on sale. 

Keep an eye on HolidayPirates and Secret Flying for flight bargains (look out for catches, though – super-cheap fares often come with lengthy stopovers). One sure-fire way to spend money unnecessarily is to go over the baggage allowance, so pack carefully, and get your travel money from the high street and never at the expensive airport bureau de change. 

Eating and drinking

From menús del día in Spain to formules in France, the fixed-price lunch menus in restaurants often cost a fraction of the evening price. On city breaks it’s also worth travelling outside city centres to areas where local people actually live: neighbourhood eateries trying to earn a loyal clientele are usually cheaper – and better – than those paying high rents and scrapping for tourist dollars. 

Entertainment

It’s well worth checking international coupon websites such as Groupon for restaurant discounts in many cities, too. If you're travelling as a family and staying at a hotel, it’s worth paying a bit more for a place with facilities such as a pool or kids club. There’s no point in staying in a cut price room with nothing to do if you’re going to end up spending a fortune to stop the children going stir crazy. The local tourist board is also likely to be your best friend – often offering free tours and discounted entry to local attractions.  

Sleeping

The hotel booking websites that serve the UK also serve everywhere else and the same golden rules apply: compare prices (look out for city taxes and other small-print fees) and book early. Again HotelTonight is a good option for if you’re prepared to leave it late. 

There are lots of great finds on Airbnb, but the app’s ubiquity means that prices are often high. Instead check local tourist board websites for apartment rentals, which often work out cheaper, nicer and have the added benefit of not making a Silicon Valley millionaire that little bit richer.

Before making financial decisions always do research, or talk to a financial adviser. Views are those of our mentors and customers and do not constitute financial advice.