Sometimes when people think ‘budget travel’ they just think about getting a cheap hotel or a good deal on flights, but it’s about a lot more than that. It’s very easy to get lost in the excitement of your holiday countdown and forget that there’s a lot you can do in the run up to your trip that can prevent your bank account from being unnecessarily drained. The 10 points you’re about to read are my pre-trip commandments that I always follow. It’s amazing how much money you can save from even the smallest of things…
1. Set A Budget
Before you go away, you should think about your budget; once you’re away, restraint can go out of the window. Now, I’m not suggesting you deprive yourself – if I want an extra Mojito while I’m away, there’s no way I’m not going to get one – but you should always be aware of exactly what you have to spend.
I went abroad with Tom last year and we didn’t have a budget. We literally bought a bunch of Euros and went away and spent whatever we wanted. By the end of the trip we had no Euros left and we had to start using our bank cards which meant we got endless bank charges slapped on us when we got back. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way!
The key thing is, be realistic – firstly, about what you can afford, and secondly about what you’re going to need per day. Obviously, your daily budgets won’t be set in stone, but it’s a good estimate. Plus, if you do less on one day, you can just carry that money to another day where you want to do more and vice versa.
Try and prioritise activities that you want to do and see how much they cost. Look at the average food and drink prices of the place and take these into account as well. You just need to plan it out which can be a little tedious but trust me, you’ll thank your past self once you’re actually away.
Not sure where to start? Download my basic budget template here.
2. Think Ahead & Book In Advance
With a holiday, we can all have a tendency to procrastinate the less exciting bits:
“Booking a train? Yeaaah, that can wait till nearer the time”
“Parking? Meh, I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it”
“Entrance tickets? You can buy them on the door so I’ll just get them there.”
Why would you want to spend time booking trains when you could be out holiday shopping or watching Netflix? It’s not a fun task, but it’s an essential one that can save you stacks of cash. For example, have you seen train fares and the difference in price if you book even a month in advance?! I lived in London a couple years ago and if I bought a train from Kings Cross to Newcastle in advance, it could cost as little as £15-20. If I’d have bought that very same ticket on the day I was travelling it could cost up to £70. We’re not talking about a few quid here, we’re talking about a dinner-followed-by-drinks level of savings.
95% of the time, if you organise tickets or transport online and in advance, you’ll save yourself a lot of money. Just try and be on the ball by sorting anything you possibly can before you start packing your bags.
3. Do Your Research
Rule No.1 of budget travel: never accept the first option without looking elsewhere first. Doing your research is massively important because you really can find some great bargains. If you see a hotel that you love the look of, great – but don’t book it on whichever site you found it on without checking others first. For example, some hotels (usually chains) can offer discounts if you book direct through their site. Sites like Trivago are good to check out because you can compare prices for the same hotel across different websites to help you find the best deal. Beware, if you’re browsing for hotels and frequently return to the same ones, the site will log your activity and increase the price for you, so remember to always use private browsing.
Make sure you don’t just search from ‘price low to high’ when looking for accommodation either because although you may want to go somewhere on the cheap, that doesn’t mean you want to stay in a squat and contract Ebola (yes, there are places that bad out there)! Filter by reviews and guest ratings as well to see what people are saying and then you can decide if you’re getting a good deal. Does the price include breakfast? Is the WIFI free? Do they offer free parking? Remember, ‘Budget’ doesn’t just mean cheap, it means value for money.
You can do research about the place you’re going to as well! Check out local transport links so you don’t have to get taxis everywhere. Go onto TripAdvisor, look for restaurants and filter by price so you know what’s in your price range, or see if there’s fun activities that are cheap to do (or better still free!) Knowledge is the best weapon you have in the fight to save your cash!
4. Check Your Dates & Times
What you need to ask yourself is: when do I want to go away, and is that date negotiable? Obviously if you’re going away for a birthday or anniversary then it won’t be, but if your dates aren’t set in stone, it’s worth checking other dates out. If me and Tom had gone to Greece just a week later, it would have cost us £300 more!
If at all possible, it’s best to avoid the school holidays because, prices skyrocket, but if that’s your only availability, it’s still worth checking other dates around that time. Fridays are an expensive day to travel because it’s just before the weekend, so if you can, check other dates mid-week and the cost should go down for you. It’s the same with flights or trains; an early morning flight or a late train may not sound too appealing, but if it’s a large saving it could be worth it. If you’re driving, try and avoid rush hour so you’re not stuck in traffic for hours with your engine running! Just the difference of a couple of days, or even a couple of hours, could bring you savings so it’s something to be aware of.
5. Make A Packing List
A lot of people can’t be bothered with lists, but I love them – especially when it comes to holiday packing. Packing for yourself can be hard enough, but when there’s two of you and you’ve got cases out, clothes everywhere and you keep forgetting where you’ve put things, it’s not an easy experience! ‘How can making a packing list save me money?’ I hear you ask… well, if you remember to take everything you need, you won’t need to buy things once you’re gone.
Packing without a list is confusing; you can’t remember if you packed something or not, but you’ll be damned if you’re unpacking the whole case again to check. You can find very comprehensive packing lists online, so you could just print those out as a starting point and check things off as you put them in your case.
6. Find Promo Codes & Discounts
It’s easy to forget about promo codes and discounts, but they’re great little things. If you’re buying things for your travels online, just search for discount codes for that website. It is a bit of trial and error because sometimes they don’t work, but it’s always worth a try! Also, if you’re a student, see if they offer a student discount, or they may give you a certain discount if you sign up for their newsletter (you can always unsubscribe later!) Check if you shop in-store as well, because usually stores sites aren’t particularly open about the discounts they offer – they aren’t going to advertise them to you because they obviously want you to pay full price. If you don’t ask, you don’t get!
I’m a big fan of Groupon for pre-holiday purchases, especially when it comes to pampering. I got a full manicure and pedicure shellac at a beauty salon in Leeds for £16!! It normally costs at least £20 for hands alone! If you want to treat yourself to prepare for your holidays, it’s a great website to look at. You can even find an actual holiday on there as there’s usually deals for cottage stays or spa breaks at a fraction of the original price.
7. Sales = Save
Who doesn’t love a good sale?! Sales are a great way to buy great stuff and save money, so you need to keep an eye on when they’re happening. If you’re going away in September, remember there’s a bank holiday at the end of August! Hit the shops and try and get some bargains in advance! You could even buy a few bits at the end of summer sale and hold onto them until next year. It’ll be a lot cheaper for you to get them now.
There aren’t always sales on, but if you’re subscribed to some newsletters, they’ll make you aware when they’re happening so you can get in on the action early! Don’t just buy things for the sake of buying them though – I’m guilty of this. I’ll see something and I may not be sure about it but I think ‘Well, it’s in the sale’ and I buy it and never wear it. So even though the item was in the sale, for me, it’s actually been a waste of money!
8. Packed Lunch #throwback
You’ll literally feel like you’re back at school, and you may think it feels a bit sad, but putting a packed lunch together is definitely the way forward. If you’re travelling somewhere and have a long journey ahead, you’re going to need to eat, and stopping at services or buying food at the airport costs a small fortune. Usually the food isn’t that great anyway, so why spend £5 on a soggy baguette when you could make something much nicer yourself? If you can’t be bothered with making up something on your own, you could even grab a £3 meal deal from Tesco and take that with you. Fill up a couple of bottles of water to take with you as well and Bob’s your uncle!
9. Run Your Food Down
While we’re on the subject of food, make sure you run your supplies into the ground before you go away. If you’re going away for a week on Saturday, don’t go out and buy a bunch of fresh food on Thursday because you won’t finish it before you leave. It sounds like a basic thing to say, but when you’re in your day-to-day routine, it can slip your mind and you’ll just go ahead and buy your usual shop. You don’t want to have to throw all that food out when you get back because it’s gone off – plus it’ll stink!
You won’t want to come home to nothing, so make sure you have some dried food in that’s easy to make it (because, let’s face it, the last thing you want to do when you get back is cook), or buy some dairy products with a longer date that will still be fresh. Literally, the week before I go anywhere for a prolonged period, I’ll just live hand-to-mouth with food and even buy things on a daily basis so I can make sure nothing will be left to go off.
10. Final Sweep
The day has come! You’re off on your holidays and life couldn’t be better! It’s all very exciting and I’m usually beside myself with giddiness. But before you lose your head completely, screw it back on for a final sweep! Before you rush off, take some time to go around your house/flat and check everything one more time. The money-saving part comes in checking you’re not leaving anything on that shouldn’t be.
These days, your WIFI is constantly on – you don’t even think about it. But when you go away you’re not going to need it, so turn it off. Make sure all your appliances are turned off, make sure your heating timer hasn’t been left on, make sure all your lights are turned off etc. Bills aren’t cheap so you don’t want to leave things on and pay for them while you’re away; there’s also the safety element as well, remember!
So, there you have it – my Ten Commandments of pre-trip money saving. If you add the savings from each of these points together, you’ll probably have a nice pot of money that you can use on your next adventure! Some things you may have already know, but hopefully there’s a couple of tips that you’ll find useful! If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them, so drop them in the comments!