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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cook 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.
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.
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.
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?