23 ways to save money on holidays
Spending hours daydreaming about travelling this summer, but not sure if your bank balance will cover it? Don't worry – with these tips, you could be saving £100s on your next holiday.
Cheap holidays abroad might seem difficult to come across, but you'd be surprised by the travel deals you can find if you know where to look.
And, luckily for you, we've done the hard work for you.
We've put together the ultimate list of ways to go away on holiday on a budget, so you can enjoy the sun and sea without sacrificing too much of your Student Loan in the process.
23 ways to cut the cost of your holiday
Here are the best ways to save money on your trip:
Buy cheap flights with price comparison search engines
Flights are often the biggest expense of your holiday. But don't fall for the rookie error of simply searching 'cheap flights' on Google and going for the first thing that comes up.
Take your time, check multiple airlines and compare prices to find the ones that offer the best value for money on flights.
Skyscanner, Momondo and Google Flights are great websites for finding the top deals available. They have handy features to indicate if you'd save any cash by flying on a different day of the week – a good option if you're able to be a bit flexible.
Keep an eye on our student deals page for flash sales on airline tickets. These can sometimes involve flights for £10 or less.Flying will substantially increase your carbon footprint. Where possible, travel by coach or train, or check if your airline uses sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
Keep within the luggage allowances
The most common mistake that adds money unnecessarily to your holiday is going over the hand baggage allowance.
A bargain £30 flight to Paris can suddenly double in cost if you don't stay within the baggage weight and size limits. Read the airline's flight T&Cs carefully, or you might end up having to pay a fine or wear the contents of your suitcase instead.
And if you're worried you might've gone a bit overboard with packing, invest in some luggage scales to check you're safely within the restrictions. They're a godsend, trust us.
Avoid extra in-flight costs
If you're flying with a budget airline, you might find your cheap flight prices are quickly dwarfed by a growing list of extra costs to pay for.
For example, you might decide to pay extra to book a seat, so you can guarantee that you'll be able to sit with your friends and family.
In other cases, purchases like drinks, food and earplugs can easily be avoided if you make sure to bring your own. While you're not allowed to take liquids over 100ml on a plane, it's not a coincidence that they sell alcohol miniatures aplenty in duty-free (just saying).
You can also take your own food through security, so stock up on sandwiches before you go to avoid extortionate prices. Plus, since most airports have water fountains, you can also bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
Travel by coach or train instead of flying
If you don't mind a longer journey and you're not travelling too far, it's definitely worth checking out trains and (dare we say it) cheap coaches instead of flying abroad. It's also a great way to cut your carbon footprint as flights emit a ton of CO2.
Particularly if you're going on a trip to France or Belgium, check out offers on the Channel Tunnel and ferry crossings. You never know when you could snap up a bargain.
And you could actually make travelling part of the holiday fun and go interrailing across Europe. We've got a guide that can help you go interrailing on a budget.
Get affordable travel insurance
Insurance is an essential cost on holiday – you'd be kicking yourself if you ended up injured on a skiing holiday with zero coverage.
At the very least, you should always make sure you've got a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or its post-Brexit replacement, the UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). Like the EHIC, the GHIC is still free, so there really is no excuse – just apply online.
The EHIC and GHIC will cover you for state healthcare within the EU and Switzerland, allowing you to access treatments for free or at a reduced cost. Keep in mind that an existing EHIC or new GHIC card can't be used in Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. However, in Norway, you can use a UK passport to get healthcare that's medically necessary, such as emergency treatment.
The cards aren't replacements for travel insurance. You might worry it'll be expensive, but choose wisely and you'll only have to shell out a few quid.
We've got the lowdown on how to get cheap student travel insurance.
Find deals on private travel sales
If you're looking for a little bit of luxury in your life but can't afford the hefty price tag, check some private sales websites.
You will have to sign up for these websites and they won't appear on price comparison websites, but it's worth spending a little extra time to check them as you could really cut down your overall holiday costs.Although you can find a great deal on secret sale sites, be wary of inflated RRP prices. It's easy to get sucked into a deal that says your hotel was £2,000 for four nights and is now £300, but do you really believe that?
Book low-cost types of accommodation
We all love the luxury of hotels (swan-shaped towels on freshly made beds each day? Yes, please), but is it really worth the cash when there are so many cheaper accommodation options available?
Often, you can save money by booking a place to stay on Airbnb – particularly if you haggle on the cost. Rather than booking instantly, contact the host first and see if the price is flexible. Booking closer to the time of your stay will improve your chances, as cheap travel expert Chelsea explains in our podcast.
If you're on a seriously tight budget, couch surfing can save you a lot of money, and it's a great way to make friends with locals.
Or, if you're prepared to spend a bit longer searching, you could even bag free accommodation. That's what Chelsea did as part of her mission to go on 10 holidays in a year for half the average Brit's annual vacation spend.
Do take some care with private rentals though – always check the reviews of a place first and only book through trusted sites.
Stay in hostels
Granted, you'll have to forgo some luxury, but hostels are a great option for your holiday and (for the most part) they're clean and safe. Plus, like couch surfing, they're a great way to meet other holiday-goers.
If you're put off by the idea of sharing a bunk room with strangers, it's worth looking into getting a private room in a hostel – they're usually still much cheaper than hotel rooms.
We recommend searching for the best prices on these comparison sites and then checking the price with the hostel directly. This can work out cheaper, or they can offer you a discount as they won't have to pay a commission to the comparison site.
Travel with friends for group-booking discounts
No holiday of a lifetime would be complete without your best friends to share it with. And travelling with them as a group can bring the cost down too.
Sharing rooms and booking in groups will often lower costs – or even better, if you've got any friends living abroad, you can crash at theirs.
But we wouldn't recommend recruiting any old acquaintances to come on holiday with you just to keep costs down. If you don't get along swimmingly, this can have a disastrous effect on your time away – stick to friends you know you'll travel well with.
Turn off your data roaming
There's nothing worse than saving huge chunks of money on your summer holiday, only to clock up a hefty hundred-pound bill on your phone contract afterwards.
Between 2017 and 2020, your data would've cost the same in the EU as it would at home. But since Brexit, UK operators have started to re-introduce roaming charges. It's best to check with your provider before going abroad to see how much it would cost to use your data abroad.
Smartphones, for all their wonderful traits, are like black holes for data as apps will be rattling through your allowance even when you're not actively using them.
That said, if you go for a cheap one-month SIM-only plan with a good data allowance, you may be able to get away with leaving your roaming on while you're away (as long as you don't mind having a different number while you're out there).
Check your passport's expiry date
It's all well and good knowing your passport is safely stowed in your underwear drawer, but have you checked if it's still in date?
Not only will you be unable to travel if your passport has expired, but many countries will refuse you entry if there are six months or less left before you need to renew.
Renewal fees jump massively if you need a short turnaround, so avoid any nasty surprises by making sure you have this covered well in advance.
Book bargain package holidays
Planning a holiday can be complicated, especially with the need to compare prices and pull all of the trip's components together.
Make sure you check out package holidays too, with First Choice generally being one of the... first choices. Some package holidays can be a lot cheaper than trips where transport and accommodation are bought and paid for separately.
You'll be amazed at how much you can save by opting for an all-inclusive package, particularly as your meals and booze are included in the price.
Some companies such as Intravelr even run package holidays for young adults, so you can be sure you won't be surrounded by holidaying pensioners, either.
Get cheaper travel money
It might be tempting to think that you just need to pop to the Post Office to exchange currency and your travel money's sorted. But, alas, there are a few more things you'll need to consider if you want to save as much money as possible on your holiday.
For starters, it's important to bear in mind that if you lose cash, most travel insurance policies will only cover you for a small fraction.
To avoid this issue, we recommend looking into app-based bank accounts that are free to use abroad (unlike normal debit cards). They're super convenient for travel and you can even disable them yourself using the app if you lose your card at any point.
Once you've set your holiday spending budget, you can add the balance on your prepaid card and keep an eye on your spending using your smartphone. Check out our guide to the best prepaid cards for more info on how to use them.
And, for more tips on how to get the best currency exchange rates, as well as tips for spending abroad, check out our travel money guide.
Learn about the local area and language before arriving
Doing some research before you go to a new destination can save you lots of time, money and heated debates on what to do when you're there.
Before going on holiday, try using a language app to learn some key phrases in the local language of the area you'll be staying in. Not only is this respectful to the locals, but it could also help you find out from the people you meet there which places to visit nearby.
Check out our guide to learning a second language for tips on how to quickly brush up on your skills.
It's also worth investing in a guidebook (Rough Guides and Lonely Planet books are some of the best) and planning which key attractions you want to visit and how much they'll cost – sometimes you can save money by booking tickets online in advance.
Travel blogs are another goldmine of information, and are free to read. Just make sure the articles you read are updated recently – you don't want to be reading out-of-date information.
Guidebooks and travel blogs will also highlight which areas are the tourist hotspots (where prices are highest) and which areas offer better value for money.
Buy travel necessities in pound shops
Travel accessories and toiletries can add up in cost. If you have a fair few things to buy before you go, get yourself down to your local pound shop.
Do remember to be smart with these stores though, and don't fall for the common misconception that if it has a £1 price tag on it, it must be a great deal. For example, hand sanitiser might only be 50p in the chemist, but it's £1 in the pound store.
Sun cream from pound stores can be a goer, but you need to be careful. Make sure it comes with a UVA sticker and has a high enough SPF (15 is the recommended minimum). If there's no expiry date on the bottle, put it back on the shelf!
Or, if you don't feel confident buying sun cream from the local pound store, try your local supermarket instead of chemists (which tend to charge the most).
Book your holiday in advance
Wondering when the best time to book a holiday is? It varies, but if you've got set dates and a set destination in mind, booking in advance is almost always going to be your best option.
However, if you're pretty flexible on dates and even location, then keeping an eye out for any last-minute deals might pay off. You'll need to sign up for the relevant newsletters and keep tabs on some Facebook pages to snap these deals up when they become available.
Also bear in mind that, for peak dates in the summer holidays, it's highly unlikely that many options will become cheaper the longer you wait as these dates are most in demand.
For flights, the first four months of the year are often the best time to book, especially during the January sales. Also, avoid flying out on Fridays (the most popular day) and try unusual trip lengths (not seven or 14 days) to find the best prices.
Buy cheap travel toiletries
You won't want to lug massive bottles of shampoo and conditioner around with you. If you're flying with hand luggage only, any bottles over 100ml won't be an option anyway.
Avoid spending over the odds on travel-size toiletries – we all know these are complete rip-offs, no matter how convenient they are to buy. Instead, pick up a pack of empty mini bottles for a few quid, decanting what you need into those.
Don't forget to label them, or you might end up brushing your teeth with shampoo at some point.
Download free travel apps
There's an app for pretty much everything you could ever want these days, so it's worth doing a bit of research to find ones that help you cut the cost of your holiday.
Of course, there are the obvious perks of Google Translate – including photographing text and having it translated instantly. This can help you avoid accidentally buying the wrong things, as you can translate menus and product labels in shops.
Google Maps is also a godsend, as you can download maps of your area in advance so you don't waste data when you're out and about.
Foursquare is a great addition to your app collection as it finds bars, cafes and restaurants in your surrounding area that are rated by locals and other Foursquare users. It's a bit like TripAdvisor, but its users are generally younger, meaning the ratings are more reliable for other young travellers.
We'd also recommend downloading free tour guide apps. Organised tours can cost a fortune on holiday, so you can save loads of money by using apps like Pocketguide that let you walk at your own pace, and learn about your holiday location along the way.
Be flexible with dates
Being flexible with when you travel can help you find the best deals for your holiday.
Try to stay off-season with your bookings. That means steering clear of school holiday dates, bank holidays and half-terms, as tour operators will really hike up the prices then. Plus, these are also the times when there'll be lots of screaming children around, which nobody wants...
The cheapest times to travel would be national holiday days, as few people want to travel on New Year's Eve or Christmas Day, for example. But it is worth asking yourself: do you either?
Travel during the night
If you're blessed with the ability to fall asleep anywhere, it makes sense to book an overnight flight or crossing.
Many operators will slash prices at inconvenient times, but if you reckon you could sleep through them, you'll still end up with a decent night's sleep, while saving a good amount of money – ideal.
Try a staycation instead of going abroad
Rather than jetting off abroad, it's worth looking into keeping it more local and going for a 'staycation' instead.
There are so many great places to visit on this fair isle (we're four countries in one, after all) so you've got plenty to choose from. You could consider a city break, or something super chilled like a cottage in the countryside with your friends.
At least you won't have to exchange your cash for a different currency before you set off (although don't hold your breath for good weather).
Take your student ID with you on holiday
Not only can you use your student discount to book your holiday, but your student ID could also help you save money while you're there.
It might not be the first thing you think to pack, but your student card can still work its magic when you're abroad – especially when it comes to museums, galleries and other tourist attractions.
£24.99 will get you a one-year TOTUM membership. The membership includes a digital International Student Identity Card (ISIC) card and can get you heaps of discounts here in the UK, and also while you're abroad.
You can also opt for a TOTUM membership that comes with PASS ID (which can also be used to prove your age). This is particularly useful when you're travelling, as it means you can avoid using (and losing) your passport or driving licence as ID while you're out.
Earn money on holiday
Now that we've covered how you might save money on your holiday, here's how you can earn some cash too. The best way of doing this is by taking up a summer job abroad or even doing a gap year to make it a longer-term trip.
There are loads of jobs out there for holidaymakers, like working as a club rep and doing bar work. Working at an American summer camp is another popular choice. Or, you could even take on a longer-term role like teaching English abroad (although admittedly this kind of crosses the line from holidaying to emigrating).
You could also consider working in hostels, as well as staying in them (but we recommend trying to secure the jobs before you leave the UK). Or, you could have a look at the working holiday opportunities on workaway.info.
And, otherwise, you can make cash while you chill on the beach by trying out one of these passive income ideas. Or if you're quite an adventurous holidaymaker, we know of plenty of ways that you can make money while you walk.
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