Travelling on a budget often means making compromises to keep costs down, but there are many exciting destinations, particularly cities which are notoriously expensive. Moscow is tempting and any city in Scandinavia or Switzerland can be a desirable getaway, but they are also unlikely to be friendly on the wallet.
This doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be avoided however, just following a few simple guidelines will enable even the thriftiest traveller to make the most of the attractions these cities have to offer.
Budget travel and saving money starts at the planning stage, through the booking stage and throughout the duration of the trip. Researching the destination, transportation methods to and around the city, best times to visit, accommodation choices, restaurants and attractions will all impact on the cost of the trip.
Booking in advance will almost certainly save some cash, flights, trains and hotels all generally offer better deals weeks or even months in advance. It is possible to sometimes find late deals for accommodation through price comparison sites, providing rooms hotels haven’t been able to sell. However, it can be hit and miss, to be certain of a great deal, it’s still advisable to book early.
Solo travellers or couples feeling particularly adventurous could try booking only the first night and then spend the first day looking for better deals. There is an obvious risk involved, but as the saying goes; fortune (and the budget) favours the brave.
Couchsurfing will suit the most intrepid seeking a cheap place to lay their head.
Choosing the time to visit can also make a significant difference, avoiding specific events such as festivals (unless it’s the reason for your interest), or school holiday periods. Travelling at off-peak times such as out of season or flying mid-week especially early morning can save precious cash.
Travel guides and magazines about the intended city will often include price guides to accommodation and restaurants, including reviews which can help build a list of good value places to eat, drink and enjoy the culture. These can be invaluable for budget planning.
Research currency options early too, if having cash on arrival is important, check the commission and exchange rates and opt for the best. However, ATMs can be a good choice, the exchange rate is the one fixed by the bank and although a charge is usually applied, provided withdrawals aren’t made too often it can work out cheaper.
Credit cards or those with prepaid options can also be held in reserve, and are useful for emergency purposes. Some even offer rewards, providing points for flights etc. or cash back on purchases, keeping expenditure down further for future trips.
On arrival, visiting the tourist information office for the city is an advisable first port of call. They can provide useful advice on cheap, but high quality places to eat and visit, transportation and local events or festivals.
Many cities now have visitor cards providing reduced or free transport around the city, as well as free or discount entry into attractions and cultural buildings such as museums or art galleries. These handy cards can save visitors, especially families a small bundle of cash and are usually available to buy from the tourist information office with several options depending on the length of the stay.
In some cities they are also offered with additional benefits such as free access to swimming pools and even discounts in restaurant.
The tourist information office will also be able to provide information on walking tours around the city, many of which are free and often start outside the office. These are a great way to discover the main attractions with guides that can also be useful sources of information on good value places to eat and visit.
Major cities often have an app which can also act as a valuable guide to the city. The best ones are connected to local restaurants with reviews and price guides, check to see if there is one available prior to travelling.
Choosing an apartment with self-catering facilities can be a good option for the more independent, providing of course they can also rustle up something more than beans on toast. The biggest bonus is that when cooking seems too much like a chore, all that money saved can be spent in a good restaurant.
Purchasing food when self-catering means shopping around, just like back home. Supermarkets are usually the best options for bulk purchasing, they often have offers available and shopping in the evening will mean fresh produce is further discounted.
Local markets are great sources of value, not just for fresh food but souvenirs and other local goods, so make finding out when the market is held a priority. The tourism office will have this information.
Public transport should be utilised as often as possible, it’s a cheap way to get around, some cities even have free shuttle bus services, make use of them.
City centre bike hire is another good way to get around, cheap, avoids congestion in busy cities so can be relatively quick, is good exercise and a great family activity.
The bottom line is budget travel doesn’t necessarily mean doing without, just being sensible, planning carefully and making the best use of the good value attractions, which even the most expensive city has to offer.