How to Afford Travel in the UK

Everyone knows that the UK is notoriously expensive; budget travellers and backpackers avoid it, and even UK residents don’t travel around all that much because of the cost. Although I’m originally from the UK, I’ve never held down a full-time job here and because I’ve been away for so long, I don’t own a car. I am well and truly outside of the British economic circle and have only my savings from teaching in Taiwan to rely on.

Brighton Downs Afford Travel in the UK
Walking on the Brighton Downs. There’s plenty of Great British countryside to walk around.

So how am I able to afford to travel in the UK?

This is the question that all of my friends have been asking me over the past month. If you want to travel the UK on a tight budget, know this: you’re not going to be getting luxury, you’re not going to be getting rustic either, you’ll only be getting basic. But, budget travelling in the UK is possible. Here are my five top tips and tricks for how to afford travel in the UK.

1Take the Megabus

Megabus is a low cost bus service that has routes between major cities in the UK, and even a few in Europe. It’s a favourite with uni students travelling to see friends in other university towns because fares can be as cheap as £1.50. The further in advance you book, the cheaper the ticket will be. In my recent escapades up north, I took the megabus from Liverpool to London for £3. However, the bus journeys can be long, passengers are often messy, and there can be stops inbetween.

Megabus Afford Travel in the UK
Megabus is one of the cheapest coach services in the UK.

2Couchsurf, or Crash a Friend’s House

Sleep for free and make new friends whilst doing it. Couchsurfing is a great way to connect with other travellers and open-minded people who are often willing to host you if you are travelling through their home town. Couchsurfing isn’t for everyone and it involves a lot of flexibility, but free accommodation is a valuable thing in the UK. When hostels are usually around £15 per night and hotels not cheaper than £30, a free bed or couch saves a lot of money. Couchsurfing gets mixed reviews, but I’ve never had a bad experience, and have found all of my hosts and surfers to be generous and exuberant people.

CS house Afford Travel in the UK
Luke attempts to pull down a notoriously stiff blind in a couchsurfing host’s living room where we’re sleeping that night.

Crashing at a friend’s house isn’t an option for everyone, but fortunately for me, growing up and attending university in the UK means I have friends scattered all over the country. Contact old faces and ask them if they’re free; I find that often people aren’t worried if you want to bring a sleeping bag over for a few nights, especially if you bring a bottle of something with you.

Liverpool apartment Afford Travel in the UK
The view from my best friend’s apartment in Liverpool. Pretty swanky!

3Cook your own food

This sounds a bit crazy I know, but you are stung if you eat out in the UK. It’s the opposite to Asia where everyone eats out all the time; here, everyone eats in. Buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter instead of a pre-packaged sandwich, and pack your own lunch box. If you’re couchsurfing or staying in a hostel, then there’s a kitchen for you to use, so use it! Cook up pasta, veggies, cous cous, or whatever, in bulk so that you can reheat and eat the next night too.

Pepper Piperade Afford Travel in the UK
Pepper Piperade is a super quick and easy dish to cook up with only a few ingredients and one pan.

4See things for free

The best thing about travelling in the UK is that a lot of sights are free. The National Trust, which sometimes charges and sometimes doesn’t, has some incredible sights under its belt. On our trip up north we visited Bolton Abbey for free and spent an afternoon walking around the grounds. If you’re in London or another city, there are usually free museums, art galleries and markets around too.

Bolton Abbey Afford Travel in the UK
Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire is a great place to walk around for free.

5Go up North

Going up North doesn’t mean things are cheap, but prices are generally tend to be a little less than down in the South. Most tourists tend to dive straight for London and other really expensive historic towns, like Oxford and Bath, but the North is also full of historic towns and sights for travellers. There is a common misconception that “it’s a bit grim up North,” but in fact this really isn’t the case at all.

Leeds Town Hall afford travel in the UK
Leeds is more beautiful than you think. Here’s the Town Hall, near to the city centre.

Travel in the UK doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s certainly not easy, but if you can follow these five strategies then you will definitely be able to keep costs down and travel further. It’s also important to try and travel slowly, so that if you have to spend a whole day on a bus it won’t mean you miss out on a day out somewhere cool.

Have you travelled in the UK? How did you keep travel expenses down?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

8 thoughts to “How to Afford Travel in the UK”

  1. Couchsurfing in the UK is so common nowadays. A lot of my friends hosted many foreigners and showed them around. It’s a great option for everyone visiting such expensive cities as London or Manchester.

  2. Nice tips Charlie. I love travelling around England whenever I am back there. It’s a shame rail prices tend to be expensive. You can get discounted fairs if you can book far enough in advance online- I used to use the Train Line website and sometimes got some really cheap deals. And you can’t beat a nice countryside walk for a free day out in the UK. When we lived in London we used to use a website called Walking Club (not sure if I can leave links on your blog but you can find it by googling Saturday Walker’s Club). You can do the walks independently- just click on the ‘walks’ section and then ‘200 free walks’. We had some amazing days by following their walking routes. They give all the directions- you print them out and don’t even need a map. I probably sound like I have some connections to them- I don’t, I just enjoyed so many amazing countryside and coastal walks by using their directions. :-)

    1. Thanks, Joella :) Yes, rail prices are really bad, even with a railcard they’re expensive. I also use the trainline to search for tickets but usually find it’s a couple of quid cheaper to then find the service provider (i.e. like Southern Rail) and buy the ticket on their website because there aren’t usually booking fees. The interface on the trainline is much better though.

      I didn’t know about this walking website, I’m definitely going to check it out as I live in Greater London currently. Sounds fantastic, I love a good walk! Thanks for the tip.

  3. Great tips, Charlie! We have found all of these to be true. Except we have been using Airbnb and doing housesitting instead of couchsurfing, mostly because we usually travel so last minute and we haven’t had much luck with couchsurfers being able to accommodate us at the 11th hour (which is fair enough!). While Airbnb isn’t free, these kinds of options that involve staying in someone’s home are fantastic for being able to self-cater, as you mentioned, as well as saving on other incidentals such as laundry. It’s also great to meet locals and get their advice about the good (and cheap-er) places to go.

  4. Also good tips! How are the prices for Air bnb in the UK? I’ve actually never looked, as usually we get a CSer far enough in advance (because of course we can live at home in the UK for the most part). You’re totally right, and often you can get really good advice from locals too – they usually know some of the cheaper places to eat out as well!

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