Tips for Traveling the UK on the Cheap

My husband is a traveling guru/nerd. He loves researching and planning trips for months before they happen. Before every trip, even just trips back to Seattle, he creates a travel binder with our flight information, hotel reservations, maps, and other travel documents. He especially loves finding good deals to help our dollars stretch a little further. The more money we save -> the more trips we can take!

Before our recent trip abroad, Nick spent hours researching ways to see as much as possible while spending as little as possible. Here are our top five tips for traveling the United Kingdom on the cheap:

1. Fly into the cheapest airport in the region. The biggest travel expense with a trip abroad is the international plane ticket. Once you’re in the country or region, traveling from city to city is usually very affordable. For our trip this summer, we didn’t originally plan to visit Dublin. However, it was a significant cost savings to fly into Dublin versus London. Once we were in Dublin, we were able to take a quick ferry ride across the Irish Sea to our planned destinations. What was nice about this is that we didn’t originally plan on visiting Ireland. However, because tickets there were so much cheaper, we decided to stay a day or two and ended up really enjoying this part of the trip.

2. Use the London 2 for 1 pass. The London 2 for 1 pass is just what it sounds like, a pass that gets you a two for one discount to over 100 attractions, including tickets to the theatre. In order to use the program, visitors are supposed to present a day of railway ticket in addition to the 2 for 1 voucher for the specific attraction. However, there is a work around that allows you to use the voucher program without buying a rail ticket every day. You can buy a 7 day Travelcard, a public transportation pass, with the rail logo from a National Rail station. The card can be used on all forms of public transportation, so it’s practical, and it qualifies for the 2 for 1 program. However the pass has to be purchased in person at specific mainline railway stations in Central London, do not buy it online. To get this specific type of Travelcard, you have to get a railway photo id card, which is free. Bring a passport photo with you, so you’re prepared. It sounds like a lot, but it’s worth it when you look at the price of admission to major attractions like the Tower of London. Ignore my angry stare below, you’re not allowed to smile in passport pictures!

3. Purchase rail tickets as far in advance as possible. Often train tickets are available for purchase up to 12 weeks ahead of time. The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper it is. For example, an advanced ticket from London to Leeds costs about £20.  A day of ticket costs about £100, so buying this ticket in advance would save you £80! It makes taking the time to plan ahead totally worth it.

4. Use Airbnb to stay in a place with a kitchen. Almost everyone these days is familiar with Airbnb, a site that allows individuals to rent private rooms to travelers. The listings can run the gamut from whole apartments to rooms in small bed and breakfasts, or even rooms in personal apartments. Airbnb listings typically include access to a kitchen, which is a huge money saver. Nick and I both love trying out new cuisine, however when we travel we find that we can experience the culinary culture of an area without eating out for three meals a day. We buy supplies to make breakfast and some lunches at “home,” and then eat out for dinner. This allows us to splurge on our evening meals if we want without feeling guilty about ordering a bottle of nice wine (for Nick) or a fancy dessert (for me).

5. Take a bike tour on your first day in a city. In both Dublin and London, we scheduled bike tours for our first day in town using two for one coupons. The tours took us all over the city, with our guides pointing out and describing key attractions. These tours gave us a great overview of each city and allowed us to plan which sites we wanted to explore further.

While traveling abroad is never totally cheap, these tips will help make your trip significantly more affordable. Do you have any tips for traveling overseas? Share them, so I can start planning our next trip!


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