8 ways to make the most of your travel budget

Travelling can be expensive, there’s no bones about it.

The good news is that this doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of ways to make sure you’re getting the best value for money.

Being able to travel often is a balance of finding ways to get away that don’t cost the earth and being willing to explore off the beaten track.  A budget trip doesn’t mean going without, rather it’s all about trying new things, getting out of your comfort zone and learning what the locals love.  Some of my best travel memories come from discoveries we’ve made over the years that we might have missed if we’d opted for the easy (and more expensive) option.

As it’s always better to share, I thought I’d put pen to paper and offer my favourite ways to make the most of travelling on a budget.  Here’s my top eight;

1. Be flexible with travel times

Think outside the box when it comes to when you want to travel. My other half is a teacher, so we’re often limited to school holidays – which can be pricier, especially when it comes to getting away to the sun. Our solution? Make the most of less popular times of year to travel. We love visiting northern Europe in the autumn half term, which usually falls at the end of October. Flights are cheap, cities are less crowded and you can enjoy the stunning displays of copper-coloured foliage that this time of year brings.

Make the most of off-season prices in June and September and delight in exploring without the crowds if you want to head to southern Europe. April and May are fantastic for city breaks as you can spend all day on your feet without sweltering or needing to pack your thermals. And try to book well in advance to make sure you get the best prices.

Want more suggestions for off-season travel? Try my city guides to Vienna and Bratislava for some autumnal inspiration.

Bratislava, Slovakia, city skyline

2. Bag a bottle

Something that stacks up pretty quick when you’re away? Bottled water. A few Euro here and there on every trip soon adds up. If you’re happy with tap water, grab yourself a travel bottle and top up for free in hotels and airports to save a pretty penny (that I like to consider a contribution to my beer and pastry fund). I’m obsessed with my Platypus bottle that has traipsed around Europe with me for the past couple of years. It folds completely flat and rolls up to squeeze in a handbag or pocket when empty, but can hold enough to keep me hydrated on a day’s hiking.

Platypus collapsible water bottle

3. Ah, the Easyjet cheap flight finder

Not limited exclusively to Easyjet – most budget airlines have online tools to help you find their best value flights. If you know when you want to travel, use a cheap flight finder to pick your travel dates and set your departure airport – then let it suggest the best value for money flights available at that time.

It’s a novel way to solve the age old problem of “where should we go next?” and can throw up some suggestions you might never have otherwise thought of.

Find the Easyjet cheap flight finder here, Ryanair route map here and Norwegian’s low fare calendar here.

Wing of Ryanair aircraft

4. Don’t pay for baggage!! (unless you can help it)

Max out your hand luggage, and carry everything with you if you can. It might not work for everyone, or for longer trips, but you might surprise yourself with how much can be carried in your hand luggage allowance (check with your airline first, as this can vary).

If you need to take more, consider buddying up with your travel companions (easier, admittedly, with a partner than with mates) to share the allowance for checked in bags. Share a suitcase half and half – and remember that for most airlines you can carry up to 20kg, which coupled with your hand baggage allowance might be more than enough.

5. Plan your whole journey

I love an irresistibly cheap flight. But before you get overexcited and grab your wallet, take a few minutes to plan your whole journey, including the cost of travel to the airport and parking if necessary.

It might cost more to fly from your local airport, but if you can get there by public transport, or get a lift (and offer lifts in return to your kindly lift-giver) you might find your travel costs far less overall.

Don’t forget to consider alternative travel options too – Eurostar, long-distance coaches, and road trips by boat or Eurotunnel can be amazingly good value. And slow travel can be a fantastic way to soak up the atmosphere and see more of the world as you travel along at ground level.

6. The best things in life are free

I know, it sounds cliché. But it’s so true. Exploring the streets of Paris? Free. Watching the sun set over the Mediterranean in Korcula? Free. Meandering around the canals of Bruges? Free. I could go on.

I love to walk and get a feel for a place more than checking into museums and attractions. But if that’s more your cup of tea than mine, it pays to do your research. Many museums and galleries in London are free, the Prado in Madrid is free provided you arrive after 6pm, or 5pm Sunday (it’s a great way to spend an hour or two before seeking out drinks and tapas) and if you’re under 26 or a student (it’s always worth carrying your student card with you) you’ll find you’re entitled to a discount in most continental galleries and museums. Check prices and opening hours in advance and work out how to squeeze in a visit at the right time.

Gamla Stan - the old town of Stockholm, Sweden

7. Don’t dismiss hostels

The budget travellers friend, hostels often can’t be beaten if you’re looking for a bed for a bargain price.

But don’t underestimate them if you don’t fancy spending your trips in a packed dorm full of snoring Australian’s on a gap year.

Some of the larger hostel chains, such as Generator, now offer high-quality accommodation in locations that can’t be beaten. There’s dorms if that’s your thing, larger private rooms that are ideal if you’re travelling with a group of friends or private, ensuite double rooms that are great for couples or families. I like the laid back atmosphere, the friendly staff and no-fuss approach of hostels which feels perfect for shorter trips.

My favourites? Generator in Paris can’t be beaten for quality, no-frills accommodation in a city where the hotel market is decidedly dicey. And for tapas lovers, the Oasis Hostal Toledo, Spain, has a secret roof terrace with stunning views, lovely cafe next door and beautiful double rooms with French windows opening onto the cobbled street outside.

Find out more about where you can find these views in my guide to 24 hours in Toledo.

View from Oasis Hostal Toledo in Spain

8. Branch out for breakfast

If you’re booking hotels through a comparison site, such as booking.com, chances are you’ll be able to choose whether or not to include breakfast in your booking.

Now, if you’re staying in a more expensive location, and can manage three plates of food before 9am, book the breakfast! Fill yourself up and save on snacks later. My personal record: four full plates in the Comfort Hotel Malmö, a stunning hotel in Sweden’s glorious third city, that included hot options and hot waffles.

But, if you’re in southern Europe, think twice before you click ‘add’. For the 5 or 6 Euro it’ll cost for a hotel buffet, you could enjoy a coffee sitting on a sun-drenched cafe terrace watching the local market set up, and follow it with an irresistible buttery pastry from the bakery down the road. It’ll probably cost you less too.

Emmerys bakery for breakfast in Copenhagen, Denmark

If you’re visiting central and eastern Europe, supermarkets tend to be considerably cheaper than at home and we’ve enjoyed going to town on juices, granola and fruit for little more than a euro or two a day. It’s a great choice if you’re staying in an airbnb, and even better if you’ve got a terrace you can eat it on.

Rookie error: Don’t carry a bag of granola around Croatia for a week. You’ll be finding bits of granola in your clothes for weeks to come. I learned the hard way…

So there’s my eight top tips for making the most of travelling on a budget.  What are your suggestions?  Have you found any fantastic things to do for free, or recommend any great budget options?

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8 ways to make the most of your travel budget

Why I run when I travel

I wasn’t born a runner.  I never even tried until I was in my late teens, and the bug never truly bit until I was in my early twenties.

Now, I could wax lyrical about why I love to run, but that isn’t what you’ve come here to read about.  Instead, I’d like to share why I run when I’m away.

Running is part of our routine when we’re away. The way we shape our trips has evolved over time, but somehow carving out half an hour or an hour, early in the morning, seems to have become a constant.

There’s a certain magic to being up and about before others are.  In a city, you’ll get the streets to yourself – or get to share them with only a few.  Without crowds in your way, your eyes pick out details you would not otherwise have spotted, your senses become sharpened.  You find streets, passageways, invisible at other times.  You follow your feet.  Visiting Munich a few years ago I found myself sharing the cobblestones with an incredible team of handymen transforming the city’s largest department store into a festive delight, decked with trees and lights.  Walking back into the city later, at breakfast time, the transformation was complete.  I was the only one who saw what went on behind the scenes.

Wrought iron gateway in Toledo, Spain

 Then there’s the light.  The time of year doesn’t matter, although the best light will be found at different times in different places.  In Toledo, as my feet fell softly on the stone beneath them, the rising sun cast a soothing glow over the misty fields below the city walls.  In Stockholm the days are short in winter, and capturing the dawn is a way of life for the Swedes.  Unlike elsewhere, people are out at first light going about their business.  The warm colours of the painted facades in the old town came alive as the sun peaked above the horizon.

 In southern Europe, the smells are just as provocative.  In any French town, get up early on market day.  Watch the streets come alive with vibrant colours and alluring fragrances.  Cut flowers, fresh baked bread just out of the oven, sweet pastries, pungent herbs.  There is no happier place on earth than the winding passageways of Annecy in the French Alps, on market day.  As you slip past, lithe on your feet, your mind doesn’t have time to take in everything it can see, but it can take in everything you can smell.  Breathe deeply, and enjoy.

City gate in Carcasonne, France

 It’s fresh first thing.  Exploring during the summer months can be hard, with a hot sun beating down on you.  On an August morning, it’s cool under the trees and by the water.  It’s an excuse to get up and out.  In Hvar town, you can follow the Riva through the old town harbour and beyond.  Sheltered by umbrella pines and out of the glare of the sun, you catch the breeze by the water.  It’s hot, but it’s not unbearable.  Following Ivana Vucetica brought me to a deserted cove, with sand under my feet.  Me versus the world, just sea and sky, blue and bright.  It’s the moments you run for.

Running on the Dalmation coast of Croatia

 Your feet take you places you could not otherwise go.  On city streets, it’s the curious cut-throughs and alleys that take you to hidden squares, secret gardens.  Peep through doorways in Catalunya into the courtyards beyond.  Canal towpaths, where tree roots burst through the banks and paths making it treacherous by bike, are made for trail shoes. Under the shade of the Plane trees lining the Canal du Midi it’s tranquil at dawn.  Mountain paths can feel heavy going on hike, but you feel light on your toes first thing.  The views reward above and beyond anything else.  Running gives permission to be inquisitive, to find the road less trodden.

I don’t run to get faster, burn calories, for kudos or to meet goals.  I run because I explore, and exploring is more than just visiting a place.  It’s about throwing yourself in head-first, finding out what makes somewhere tick.  Changing the way you see a place changes how you see a place.

 And I’ve seen good things.

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Why I run when I travel