As refreshing as it can be to leave the country and travel somewhere new, travelling abroad can end up being quite expensive if you aren’t careful. Without much further ado, here are my top tips for travelling abroad on a budget.
Book in advance
Perhaps the most obvious, but equally the most important tip to saving money is to book in advance. Booking further in advance will help you save on transport costs and you have a wider choice of accommodation to choose from, including cheaper options.
In most situations, it’s safe to say that the further in advance you book, the better. Flight costs often drastically increase in days leading up to the flight, meanwhile, the bargain tickets can be found when you book at least 2-3 months in advance. If you need to pre-arrange time off work, then this should be done before you book flights and accommodation, just to be sure.
If you plan to fly to your destination, I highly recommend trying out Google Flights. Unlike most other flight finder tools, this one is incredibly quick to load and has flexible search parameters. For example, you don’t have to limit yourself to a particular airport in your search, you could input London -> Italy and it would consider flights from all London-based airports to all airports in Italy.
If you’re not sure where to go, you can leave the destination empty and see a map of all the possible destinations, along with the cheapest ticket prices for the dates you provided.
On the other hand, if you’re set on a particular destination but your schedule is flexible, you should check out the calendar which shows the cheapest days to travel on.
Alternatives to flying
If you’re travelling a short distance within Europe, such as from the UK to France, you should consider travelling by train or coach. While the journey time will be substantially longer than by air, ticket prices are usually much cheaper - especially if you’re booking close to the time of travelling. Most airlines recommend arriving at the airport 3 hours before your flight to allow time for going through airport security, but this isn’t necessary if you travel by train or coach.
For finding train and coach tickets, I’ve found GoEuro works very well, even if it’s a little slow at comparing prices. GoEuro compares options for flights as well as train and coach, so you can get the whole picture of your available options before you book.
As mentioned before, booking in advance is important if you don’t want to be limited in choice. Hotels are the traditional choice for a holiday, and as such there are many websites dedicated to comparing hotel prices. Ultimately, it’s often best to book directly with the hotel. Hotel comparison websites typically charge a fee when you book through them, so hotels either charge less or offer other incentives (such as free breakfast) when you book directly.
If you’re travelling solo and are looking to save on accommodation costs, hostels can provide excellent value for money. Not only will you pay less, but hostels often provide facilities such as kitchen areas where you can prepare your own meals and save on pricey restaurant outings.
Another option to save on accommodation is with Airbnb. Airbnb lets you book a house or rooms from a private landlord, and it’s one of the biggest networks of its type, so you can often find great deals. If you’re planning a trip during holiday time, make sure you book well in advance because Airbnb locations tend to get booked very quickly.
The last thing you should do is change your currency at an airport bureau de change, because you won’t get a good conversion rate. Similarly, don’t be tempted to use your regular UK credit/debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM, as you will likely be spiked with similarly poor conversion charges from your bank and/or the ATM operator.
One of the more cost-effective ways to obtain foreign currency is to use a specialist debit card from Monzo, Starling or Revolut which offer highly competitive conversion rates. These cards are best used for card payments directly in shops, as you’ll pay the current exchange rate with zero fees. If you do these cards at a foreign ATM, be aware that they impose limits on the amount you can freely withdraw each day, after which you’ll pay a small fee. For more about Monzo, Starling and Revolut, @abdulf wrote this blog about these next-generation banks.
If you’d rather go old-school and get cash from a bureau de change, it’s better to do this beforehand in the UK. High-street locations such as M&S, Sainsburys and Tesco all compete with each other, so you can often get a better deal. To compare your options, I recommend using a tool such as that provided by money.co.uk.
Holidays are almost always expensive, but hopefully your next one will be slightly less expensive after reading today’s blog. Have you learnt anything new? Have you used any of these tools before? Would you recommend any of them to others? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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