Saturday, 13 July 2013

How Can You Afford it?! (AKA - The Art of Funding Your Travel...)

MikeW splashing out on his bargain trip to Budapest at the Szechenyi Baths (source - author)

I have been getting myself a bit of a reputation, these past few years, among my friends, family and work colleagues.  The gadabout, the one flush with cash and the line everyone says (or variants of)..."you're always going on holiday!"  Granted, I do take a fair few trips here and there, particularly in the last three years.  Last year alone, I visited 7 countries and this year I have taken trips to 4 countries and with 2 more on the horizon before the year is out.  So, how do I do it?  Am I, perhaps, rolling in money...unfortunately not.  Do I have family to fund my trips?  Apart from a contribution to the 'Ice Cream Fund' or giving me money for my birthday and Christmas presents to put towards the costs of my trips, my family do not bankroll these adventures.  Are you selling your body, MikeW?!  Alas, what I would get for that would not get me the bus fare into Leeds!

What follows are a series of tips to help you save and build up some funds for your trips; whether that means blowing it all on one big trip to a long haul destination or doing what I have been doing these past couple of years, taking a series of short haul trips throughout Europe.  We live in tough economic climes and, as a budget traveller, I like to ensure I get the best value and make my money go further so I can get more from my trips and get to go on more trips too.

1. Cut Back!
One of the biggest ways I save money is by not going out every weekend partying, drinking, dining out or on expensive leisure activities such as attending football matches, owning and buying games for a Playstation of XBox.  For some people, this is a deal-breaker and I understand that.  However, I think a balance can be found.  Please do not misunderstand me, I like to think I have a fairly good social life, but to think I could save £50 from a night out on the tiles over the period of a month, would leave me with a hefty £200 to put towards flights, accommodation and spending money on my travels.  Can you economise elsewhere in your life?  For example, by finding a cheaper contract for your mobile or satellite television package.  Giving up a 20 a day cigarette habit would leave you with approximately £200 to spend per month.  Assuming you work 20 or so days a month and buy a £2 coffee every day, why not walk past Starbucks and save yourself £40 per month/£480 per year that you could put towards a trip abroad.

I find Martin Lewis's fantastic Money Saving Expert website a brilliant source of information, but particularly like his 'Demotivator' tool to help you reduce your spending!

2. eBay
Prior to my big backpacking trip to Australia and New Zealand, in 2005, I got into (by chance) buying and selling books on eBay, the Internet auction site.  I never made big bucks, but made enough in about 4 months to pay for my flights to Australia and New Zealand on Singapore Airlines.  So, hunt round your house, and get selling what you do not need or want anymore.  Remember the motto - 'Someone's trash is another's treasure'!  I recommend eBay and Gumtree as great places to offload your things.  Who needs stuff anyway?!  I firmly believe a fulfilled and fulfilling life is one filled with family and friends, not belongings.

3. Budget Airlines
You may not like the idea, especially if you like a bit of luxury when you travel, but one of the best ways to save money is to fly with one of the many budget airlines.  Ryanair, easyJet and the many others that dominate the European flight routes offer cheap and cheerful flights to a comprehensive range of destinations.  And when flying with these airlines, my recommendation is also that you travel light or you will face a number of charges for your luggage that the person taking a city break can easily avoid through some careful and clever packing.  My previous post on baggage (No Baggage!  Dare You Travel This Light?!) simply highlights how easy it is to travel with very few things.  By flying with a budget airline and timing your flight purchase right, some real bargains are to be had.  For example, my return flight to Krakow from Leeds Bradford Airport with Ryanair, last October, during the school holidays was a rather reasonable £29!  Budapest during the 2012 Easter holidays, a 'stonking' £52 return from Manchester.

4. Staying with friends
On 3 of my trips last year I stayed with friends.  Coincidentally, friends I had met on my travels previously in Australia and New Zealand.  I have extolled the virtues of staying with friends before from the viewpoint of having a local guide on hand to show you the best sights, bars and local dimension to your destination; but, these people can also (kindly) offer you somewhere free to stay.  I always make a point of taking a gift or buying dinner one night to thank the hosts, as I am extremely grateful (and humbled) that they let me stay in their homes and treat me as one of their own.  I too have done the same for the very same friends on their visits to me, here in Leeds!  If you do not have this option, I recommend staying in hostels or sharing the cost of accommodation with friends by renting an apartment.

5. Keep Costs Low
Staying in budget accommodation will dramatically reduce your trip costs, so take advantage of the places offered on HostelBookers and HostelWorld.  If you have a student card or an International Student Identity Card (ISIC) it can be used to get free or reduced entry into many of the best museums and art galleries in the world, as well as many other sights and attractions in the places you visit.  Try not to use taxis or public transport wherever possible; walking will not only keep you fit, you will see more of your destination and it is completely and utterly free.  Please, however, do not compromise safety to save a Euro or two by walking through an area that may present itself as dangerous or unsafe.  When eating out, make your lunches using bread and fillings from the local markets and supermarkets.  These are almost always cheaper than buying lunch.  Also, ask for recommendations for places to eat.  One big advantage of staying in a hostel, especially one where the staff are friendly and helpful is that they will sit with you for 5 minutes and, using a map of the destination, highlight all the places to eat and drink that offer the best value.

You too could marvel at the historic sights of Tallinn in Estonia (source - author)

6. Travel Savvy and Combine Trips
Taking a two centre trip can often save the plucky traveller a fair bit of cash.  Rather than take two separate trips to places combine your trips together into one big trip.  For example, last year I visited both Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania, flying into the former and out of the latter and connecting myself between them via a rather luxurious and cheap coach journey.  Or, you might find, a day trip is viable to another destination that interests you.  This May, I visited Tallinn in Estonia, but managed to squeeze in a day trip to Helsinki in Finland.  Having been shocked by the prices of everything in Finland's Nordic neighbour, Sweden in the previous month, I made sure I took all the food I needed with me for the day and only spent money on my boat journey across and a couple of coffees throughout the day.  Taking the trip separately would have involved an expensive hostel in the city and rely on me purchasing my foods and drinks there.

So, there you go!  Not a comprehensive list, but one that I hope will save you money and allow your cash to go much further.  It has worked for me and provides me with the opportunity to travel more and maximise my adventures.  Please let me know how you save for trips and add your tips to the comments section below!

Happy budget busting travel!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hostels and the Backpackers You Meet...

The Backpacker (Source -

When you travel, and especially when you travel solo, you are bound to meet a whole host of characters in hostels.  I have touched on this in previous posts 'The Freak Parade - Oddballs on the Road' and 'Embrace Your Fellow Traveller...'.  What HostelBookers have done brilliantly is sum up the 15 types of weird and wonderful backpackers you are likely to meet in hostels.  I would say I am a mixture of one with a dash of three, but I have got better on the packing front in the past couple of years.

The people you meet in hostels can be hit and miss.  I have stayed in some hostels that have been populated with the most irritating travellers imaginable and hostels where my fellow roomies, common room TV watching buddy and I have hit it off quickly and made the most of our time in the destination.  And, I think that is the key...for the majority of people the hostel is just a bed, a place to sleep while you explore the destination you are visiting.  Not many people choose to visit somewhere just to stay in the hostel; they are there to enjoy and savour the sights and opportunities a place has to offer, rather than to spend time with Steve, who has lived on and off in the hostel for 3 months, not seen a single sight away from the local bars and whos crowning glory is a scale model of the Colloseum constructed entirely out of beer cans he has drunk.

Check out the link below and see where you fit in: