25 ways to save money when you travel

Travel isn’t the cheapest hobby – but be savvy and you can conserve your cash. Here are our top wallet-friendly tips on where to go and how much money you can save...

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1 Take public transport

Shun taxis and expensive city tours: utilise the globe’s great public transport instead. Not only are the likes of ferries, trams and trains cheaper, greener and more sociable ways to travel, they often verge on the iconic (see our list, below). Avoid riding at rush hour, though otherwise your top experience is the locals’ daily commute.
Sample saving: £12.81
• Bangkok river cruise: around THB700 (£13)
• Ticket for the Chao Phraya Express ferry: THB10 (19p)

2 Sign up to everything

Make sure you’re first to hear about last-minute deals and sales. Register for airline alerts and tour operator newsletters; sign up for travelzoo, Groupon and Wanderlust's Hot Offers newsletter; ‘like’ your favourite companies on Facebook and follow attractions on Twitter.
Sample saving: £3,350 per couple
• Ten-night tailormade Chile trip, Abercrombie & Kent: £11,160 for 2
• Same trip, via Wanderlust’s Hot Offers newsletter: £7,810 for 2
• And don’t forget Wanderlust subscribers get a £50 off voucher on top tour operator trips!

3 Volunteer

Yes, it can cost a lot to help people. We found one two-week volunteer trip to Thailand priced at £750, excluding flights and food. But altruistic adventures don’t have to be pricy; sites such as Independent Volunteer list opportunities that you can arrange directly with needy organisations, and which don’t cost a fortune to join. Also, as volunteering often involves staying in one place for longer, it can be excellent value. And then there’s the feel-good factor, which money just can’t buy.
Sample saving: £1,404
• Two-week small-group Ecuador tour: around £1,500
• Conservation placement with Fundación Fauna de la Amazonía: US$160 (£96) for two weeks

4 Travel light

Avoid low-cost airline baggage fees by travelling handluggage only – just ensure that your bag meets the airline’s dimension restrictions (the stingiest are 40cm x 30cm x 20cm) and weight limit (often 10kg). For extra space, consider wearing a Rufus Roo multipocket jacket (from £29.95). If you must bring hold luggage, book it online in advance and weigh it with travel scales before leaving for the airport so you don’t get caught out (Ryanair charges £10/kg excess baggage).
Sample saving: £90
• 15kg hold bag, booked at airport, in high season, return flight, Ryanair: £140
• 15kg hold bag, booked online, in high season, return flight, Ryanair: £50

5 ride a free bike

City bike schemes have spread since the first formalised one launched in Copenhagen back in 1995. Now there are over 500 of these schemes worldwide – from London’s Boris Bikes to Montréal’s Bixi, Warsaw’s Veturilo and Buenos Aires’ EcoBici. The most densely used is the Public Bicycle in Hangzhou, China, where for a deposit of CNY200 (about £20) you can ride for an hour for free, with any additional hours costing the equivalent of around 10p (before ramping up to a whopping 30p per extra hour after four hours). Read the rules: some city bikes are not economical for day-long jaunts. But many are a great, green means of getting around.
Sample saving: £40.60
• Full-day bike hire, Paris: around €50 (£42)

• Vélib’ one-day pass, Paris: €1.70 (£1.40); first 30 mins free, extra costs every 30 mins thereafter

6 Stay on a couch

Stay in other people’s homes, for free – and potentially make a local friend too. There are hosts around the globe who are keen to put up travellers, all in the name of cultural exchange. Networks include couchsurfing.org (100,000 cities worldwide), bewelcome.org (worldwide), servas.org (14,000 members in 130-plus countries), globalfreeloaders.com (strong in UK and Australia) and hospitalityclub.org (largely Western Europe). Do read feedback on hosts before staying with them.
Sample saving: £149
• Two nights, three-star hotel, Paris: £149* (*Post Office City Costs Barometer 2013)
• Two nights couchsurfing: free

7 Book an apartment

Opting for an apartment means you can cook your own meals, do your own laundry and lounge in your own living room. You might be able to squeeze in more people (to reduce costs); you might even get extras, such as free Wi-Fi or access to a DVD collection. As well as commercial rental companies, there are sites such as airbnb.co.uk, roomorama.com and wimdu.co.uk that offer private flats and homes, many of which are quite unique. Housetrip.com reckons its apartments are, on average, £20-30 a night cheaper than staying in an equivalent hotel, and offer much more, from free bikes to dossiers full of local recommendations.
Sample saving: £80
• Two nights, three-star hotel, central NYC: £355 (*Post Office City Costs Barometer 2013)
• Two nights, housetrip.com Times Sq apartment, NYC: £275

8 Crack car hire

Follow a few rules to get the best deal on car hire. Book early – ideally up to six months ahead, but certainly before you arrive; check out comparison sites for available deals. Buy excess insurance from a third party, not the car rental company, and if you hire a car several times a year, consider an annual policy.

Don’t hire a satnav – the free Navfree app turns your smartphone into a GPS for 30 countries; you download data in advance, so won’t incur roaming charges. And if you’re heading for Australia, New Zealand or North America, consider car or campervan relocation companies: they often need to move vehicles between cities, so offer rentals at dirt-cheap prices, albeit with some caveats – see websites rvrelocations.com and imoova.com for options and examples.
Sample saving: £347.80
• One-week campervan hire, Adelaide-Sydney: A$644 (£350)
• Four-day campervan relocation, Adelaide-Sydney: A$4 (£2.20)

9 Fly on the right day

Flexibility is key. The cheapest flights tend to be those on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, early in the morning, outside school holidays, on competitive routes. Also, the cheapest fares might only be available if you stay more than two nights (or over a Saturday night). When you book matters too. Research by Skyscanner has found that, on average, the best time to book is five weeks in advance, though it varies by destination – it reckons three weeks out for Greece, 13 weeks for Turkey. Various algorithms can cause flight prices to fluctuate on a daily and even hourly basis.
Sample saving: £188
• Domestic US flight booked one day in advance: US$702 (£422)
• Domestic US flight booked 54 days in advance: US$390 (£234) [Based on research by airfare search engine CheapAir.com]

10 Pick up a pass, perhaps

Travellers will be offered a profusion of passes to most well-established destinations– for everything from public transport to city attractions (museums, galleries, etc). Do not blithely assume they offer the best value, however. Some are no-brainers; for example, with a Zone 1 single on London’s Tube costing £4.70, it would be madness not to buy a travelcard or Oyster. However, some need more consideration. For instance, the Paris Pass covers entry to 60 attractions as well as a Seine cruise, hop-on/hop-off buses and public transport, and it enables you to skip many queues – but with a two-day pass costing €112 (£94), you’d need to pack a lot in to make it worthwhile.
Sample saving: Potentially lots
• Tokyo-Kyoto return train ticket: Y27,040 (£160)

• Seven-day Japan Rail Pass: Y28,300 (£161)

11 Get online for free

Why pay for going online? Look for free Wi-Fi in cafés (eg, most branches of Starbucks), libraries, hotel lobbies and airports. Download the free Wi-Fi Finder app, which pinpoints the nearest spot with gratis web access; activate its offline mode before you travel to avoid roaming charges.
Sample saving: £12
• Wi-Fi, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York: $19.95 (£12) a day
• MOMA, New York: free

12 Swap your house

Avoid hotel costs entirely by doing a house swap. There’s usually a fee (expect £25-110 a year) to list your property on a swapping website; you can then search for potential exchanges. You usually get more than free digs – some swappers include use of their car and bikes. Try sites such as homeexchange.com, homebase-hols.com, homelink.org.uk and lovehomeswap.com.
Sample saving: £2,082
• Average amount saved by members per swap, according to Love Home Swap: £2,202
• Love Home Swap fee: £120

13 Beat lowcost fees

Most low-cost airlines don’t charge you to check-in online (and most don’t charge you to check-in at the airport). No surprise: Ryanair does both – it charges £14 return to check-in online, and a whopping £140 return to check-in at the airport. The only way to avoid these fees altogether is to purchase one of Ryanair’s promotional ‘free check-in’ fares.

Paying by credit card generally incurs a fee (eg easyJet charges £10 per payment plus 2.5% of the transaction), although if your flights cost over £100 you may deem the cost worthwhile for the extra financial protection a credit card provides. Ryanair (£14) and easyJet (£10) also charge for paying by debit card; Flybe and Jet2 don’t. Finally, you can’t take liquids through security, but you can take food: pack a picnic to avoid having to buy pricy snacks in departures or on board.
Sample saving: £140
• Airport check-in, Ryanair: £140
• Online check-in, easyJet: free

14 Know your rights

Knowledge is power. For example, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is free, despite scam sites claiming otherwise. A US Electronic System for Travel Authority (ESTA) costs $14; avoid sites charging a £30-or-more ‘processing fee’.

Also, know your rights in case of flight cancellations and delays; there are rules for flights departing from EU airports or flying to EU airports on an EU airline. For example, in cases where it’s not the airline’s fault (weather, security scares etc), if your flight is cancelled, you’re entitled to a refund or transport to your destination plus meals and hotels. For delays, depending on the distance of your flight and your wait time, you’re entitled to meals; for delays over five hours you can get a refund if you don’t travel.
Sample saving: £24
• Unnecessary EHIC ‘processing charge’: £24
• Real EHIC cost (ehic.org.uk): free

15 Wild camp

Pay nothing to sleep in awesome places. Wild camping is possible in many spots, as long as you’re sensitive to your surroundings; try Scotland, Dartmoor and Scandinavia – where it’s legal and there’s loads of empty space.
Sample saving: £70
• Double with view of Glencoe, Kings House Hotel: £70pn

• Wild camp, Glencoe: free

16 Befriend the locals

Get tips from taxi drivers (they know everything). Ask shop assistants and policemen where they eat – or try eatwithalocal. socialgo.com, to arrange dinner with locals. Hotel concierges may defer to well-worn tourist traps when dishing advice; avoid these and save a fortune.
Sample saving: £117
• Dinner and show at Moulin Rouge, Paris: €180 (£150)
• Dinner and concert at Les Trois Baudets, Paris: around €40 (£33)

17 Choose a ‘basic’ trip

Some companies offer cheaper versions of their standard tours to appeal to budget travellers. These tend to use public transport, stay at more basic accommodation and have fewer inclusions, in order to keep the costs down. Bonuses of these types of trip include an increased level of local interaction as you negotiate bus networks, sleep at homestays and have more free time for your own exploring.

For example, archaeology specialist Andante runs a great-value Bare Bones programme; G Adventures offers both Classic and Comfort options; Intrepid Travel has three levels of trip: Basix, Original and Comfort. It’s always worth asking a tour operator to price up a trip as a Tailormade option (if available) – this can sometimes be cheaper than a group tour.
Sample saving: £213
• 15-day Scenic Vietnam, Original trip, Intrepid: £735
• 15-day Vietnam Discovery, Basix trip, Intrepid: £522

18 House sit

Score free accommodation by looking after someone else’s home – and often pets. Networks such as trustedhousesitters.com list opportunities around the world; for a fee (£52/year), you can create a profile, browse potential housesits and contact the owners. Housesits might range from a two-week stint at a dog-and-cat household in the Yukon to a month caretaking a small farm in Turkey. They’re a great way to save while living like a local, plus walking a dog will get you speaking to your new neighbours too.
Sample saving: £1,012
• Average two-week house rental: £1,064* (*Trusted Housesitters estimates average accommodation cost of £76pn)
• Two-week housesit: free, plus £52 annual fee

19 Use a free guide

Across the globe there are volunteers, enthusiasts and language-learners willing to show you around their neighbourhoods for free. You can find gratis guides everywhere from New York to Melbourne and Buenos Aires. Do a web search or check out local tourist boards or hostels. Alternatively, join a pay-what-you-like tour – for example, Free Tours By Foot offers guided walks in 12 cities (mostly US) that have no set price, you just pay what you feel appropriate.
Sample saving: £19
• Melbourne Cultural Walk: A$35 (£19)
• Melbourne Greeter tour: free

20 Travel off-season

It pays to be somewhere when everyone else isn’t. Hotels drop their rates; flights are cheaper; attractions offer deals; there are fewer other tourists. The off-season may even offer better – or at least more dramatic – weather or equally good wildlife and sightseeing. For example, most safari-goers flock to the northern Serengeti in July and August for a chance to witness the Great Migration, but there’s great game here year round – and thus deals to be found. Shoulder periods (the bridge between low and high seasons) are often great-value: almost ideal weather but without peak prices.
Sample saving: £293pn
• Sayari Camp, north Serengeti, high season: US$968pn (£583)

• Sayari Camp, January-March: US$484pn (£290) for second and subsequent nights

21 Manage your money

Be brainy about banking. Use the best card while you’re overseas: top pick is Halifax’s Clarity Credit Card, which doesn’t charge cash withdrawal or foreign exchange fees. If buying foreign currency, check travelmoneymax.com for an hourly updated bureaux de change comparison. Never buy currency from the airport before you depart – rates are rubbish.
Sample saving: Around £5 on a £100 withdrawal
• Halifax Debit Card: around £5 (spend penalty: £1.50; load: 2.75%; withdrawal fee: £1.50)
• Halifax Clarity Credit Card: free (spend penalty: none; load: none; withdrawal fee: none)

22 Find cheap hotels

Hotel rack rates can be hefty. So don’t pay them. Try bidding for hotels at priceline.com – you submit your desired location, star level and price (start low); you’re notified if a hotel accepts your offer. Priceline reckons you can save up to 60%. Or use lastminute.com’s Top Secret function, which offers savings of up to 35% on unnamed hotels.
Sample saving: £43pn
• Four-star Radisson Blu, Edinburgh: from £90pn
• Unnamed four-star, Edinburgh, via lastminute.com: from £47pn

23 Hire kit

Quality binoculars, telephoto lenses, down sleeping bags, lightweight tents – these are expensive items to buy for one trip. So, if you can’t beg or borrow kit from friends, hire it. Companies such as trekhireuk.com loan outdoors essentials; lensesforhire.co.uk offers a selection of camera equipment.
Sample saving: £1,177
• Canon EF 100-400mm lens to buy: £1,279
• Canon EF 100-400mm ten-day hire: £102

24 Prebook airport parking

It is always cheaper to book airport parking in advance – even if it’s only an hour in advance. Try comparison sites: if you need accommodation the night before your flight, check ‘with-hotel’ parking deals – these can be excellent value.
Sample saving: £86
• One week’s parking, Heathrow, paid at-gate: £132
• One week’s parking, Heathrow, booked in advance (purpleparking.com): £46

25 Save on malaria tablets

Malaria tablets are usually far cheaper online – though ensure you buy from a reputable website. Also, keep a note of jabs you’ve already had, so you don’t pay for unnecessary boosters. Research your destination before you visit your GP so you know what vaccines are needed and can refuse any that aren’t.
Sample saving: £26.39
• 23 Malarone tablets (supply for a two-week trip), Boots: £79.98
• 23 Malarone tablets, avonpharmacy.co.uk: £53.59

Main image: Euro banknotes and coins, Shutterstock

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