How to travel like a princess (on a pauper's budget)

August 3, 2017

It is no secret that this princess likes to travel - in fact, it has been noted that I always seem to be away.  It is also a well-known fact that in true princess style I don't like to "slum" it and camping is certainly not for me.  What is a secret is HOW I manage to slope off for a few days here or a weekend there without spending a king's ransom. 

 

I lost my father to cancer at a very young age - I was 6, he was just 29!  When I reached the same age, I was acutely aware of how young it was and how I hadn't really started living life, as he probably hadn't.

 

So from that moment on, I vowed to live my life to the full, in his honour.  My own cancer diagnosis has only served to strengthen this decision.

 

Obviously there are financial limitations but if you constantly say "I can't afford it" then you will never leave your town, let alone the country.  There is a big world out there to see and it is possible to see it on a budget. But you know me, budget doesn't have to mean skimping completely, it's just a case of shopping around and prioritising.

 

So here they are, the Princess's top tips for travelling without rendering you a pauper.  These are not meant to be prescriptive but just illustrate how it is possible to travel little and often and not break the bank:

 

Destination and length of trip

 

The first point to note is that my travel destinations are usually European, involving short haul flights (or even train) of not more than four hours in duration.   Less time to travel equals more time to spend in the destination...

 

I also don't tend to go away for a long time - 2 weeks is too long for me - I am ready to come home after 10 days, so that is generally my maximum.  

 

However 4-5 days or a long weekend, Friday to Monday is just the perfect length for a trip.

 

I am fortunate that I am not usually travelling with my little princes, so I am able to travel in term time thus avoiding the inevitable price hikes during school holidays. 

 

Transport

 

 

You may groan and shudder but the likes of EasyJet and Ryanair do what they say on the tin.

 

Put yourself on their email list so you get advance notice of their sales - yes, they have sales - and special offers.

 

As soon as flights are announced, check out the cheapest destinations and dates and choose according to your availability.

 

I have been to some places I wouldn't have ordinarily considered, just because the flights were reasonable, and they are hidden gems.  Bordeaux is one example: I fancied France so worked my way down the EasyJet destination list. Bordeaux was the first I looked at and for the dates I wanted, the flights were £30 each way - done deal!  

 

The earlier you book flights, the cheaper they tend to be, so think ahead, book early and know you have flights in the bag and a trip to look forward to, even if it is 6 months hence.  

 

The next tip for budget airlines is don't pay for any additional extras - there is no need to choose your seats, unless you have ridiculously long legs and require the emergency exit seats - not a problem I have!. 

 

Speedy boarding is an unnecessary cost.  It was useful when seats weren't allocated so you could charge onto the plane and nab the seats you wanted but not now seats are allocated.

 

Don't pay extra for hold luggage - if you are going away for a weekend, you really don't need more than a carry-on suitcase - you couldn't wear more than this in 2 or 3 days anyway!  Plan in advance what you will wear daytime and evening bearing the following in mind:

  • pack additional layers in case of cooler weather and waterproofs in case of rain.

  • take a jacket or coat that will work for both day and night (like a leather jacket).

  • take a pair of comfy shoes for sightseeing during the day and a smarter pair (or heels) for the evening , both of which will match all the clothes you have packed.  

  • choose clothes which mix and match - I normally take black and white clothes with one accent colour - so only 3 colours of clothes in total!

  • ladies, take just one handbag, or better still, just use your jacket pockets for phone and money, what else do you need? Avoids the risk having your handbag stolen!

Consider buying an annual travel insurance policy so you aren't tempted to purchase the airlines offered insurance which are often overpriced.

 

When you arrive at your destination airport, take an airbus or rail shuttle which will often be cheaper than a taxi. It may take a little longer but you will get a good feel about the country and town/city you've to which you've flown as you approach from the outskirts. 

 

Once you've reached the location, use public transport as it's often very good value (especially compared to public transport in the UK) and research whether there is a card which will allow unlimited travel during your stay.

 

If you have the energy to explore on foot, this is a great - and cheap - way to get around as you see so much which you may miss by being underground and you may stumble on some real gems off the beaten track.

 

Accommodation

 

After air travel, accommodation is the next biggest cost when going away...but it doesn't have to be. 

 

I am a great advocate of Airbnb and although I have only been using it for 3 years, have rarely stayed in a place which didn't meet my exacting standards - only 1 out of the 10 properties I have stayed in springs to mind.  The best by far was a designer apartment just off the Old Town Square in Prague.

 

When researching Airbnb properties, use the filters to help you find the best property to meet your needs. Also check reviews from people who have stayed there previously - not just of the property but also of the person who is renting it out. 

 

My preference is for entire property but a cheaper alternative is to rent a room in someone's home. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing this on my own but if you're a couple or even a group, it's safety in numbers. 

 

Airbnb usually works out cheaper than staying in a hotel and gives you the feeling that you are living in that location rather than being a tourist, which I really like.  

 

Hotels can be expensive but you can find rooms for a fraction of the price on booking websites like booking.com, hotels.com or lastminute.com. Be careful though, as often the rooms will non-refundable and may come with restrictive terms.

 

In France, I have stayed in some quite charming 2* hotels - they can be quite shabby but always clean and full of character, down to the old guy propping up the bar drinking his body weight in brandy!

 

Budget hotel chains like Travelodge or Ibis Budget are basic but you know what you are getting and they are always clean and modern in my experience. 

 

If you have booked yourself a standard, basic room in a fairly decent hotel, it is always worth asking at check-in whether there is any chance of a room upgrade. If there are nicer rooms available, you may get bumped up for a small additional charge or, if you're really lucky, nothing!! 

 

Eating and drinking

 

If you have opted for Airbnb accommodation, you now have a temporary home in your holiday location, and you could save money and buy food in rather than eating out. Many European cities and towns have market days or large covered food markets which I love to mooch around and buy produce which I may not be able to find at home. 

 

When I stayed in a charming Airbnb apartment just off the Ramblas in Barcelona, I shopped at the Mercado de la Boqueria, buying some delicious fish, meats and cheeses and created little tapas platters to enjoy with local wines. Once I had eaten at home, I would explore the bars and clubs in the area.

 

If you are staying in a hotel, opt for room only as the breakfast is often extortionate cost and disappointing (in my opinion, I am not a fan of hotel breakfasts). They can also be restrictive in terms of timing, serving breakfast ridiculously early - who wants to get up at 8am on holiday? Instead, venture out of the hotel and find a café where breakfast will be a fraction of the cost of the hotel breakfast.

 

If you are eating out, then my money-saving tip is to combine meals so you eat two rather than three meals in a day.  My usual routine is to get up late morning (10-11am) and rather than eat breakfast, I prefer to have a decent brunch, then treat myself to an ice cream or a cake during the afternoon to keep myself going before eating dinner in the evening.  

 

Drinking in Europe can be quite a lot cheaper than drinking in the UK - stick to local brews of beer and locally-made wines or spirits as they will be better value too. 

 

Also, you could buy a bottle of your favourite spirit in the duty free shop at the airport for drinking in your hotel room or apartment before you go out.

 

Money and spending

 

If I am going to Europe, I will set myself a daily amount to spend and only order the exact amount of currency.  Whilst away, each day, I put that amount of money into my purse, leaving the remainder in a room safe (if there is one) or locked safely in my suitcase. If I have money leftover from the previous day, that is a bonus. This way, I budget and spend accordingly.

 

I take a debit and/or credit card for emergencies or for ad hoc, impulsive purchases (most cities have a Zara and purchases will usually be made).

 

I always choose to pay in the local currency rather than GBP, as banks will usually give a better exchange rate than given in the country. 

 

Any currency left at the end of the holiday can then be spent in the duty free shop or, if Euros, will be a bonus float for my next trip to a Eurozone country.

 

Pre-book attractions 

 

Visiting the sights and monuments in a foreign city can be expensive but not if you do your research beforehand.  Buy a guidebook or borrow one from the library and plan what you want to see and where you want to go.  Look at websites and determine whether there are cheaper times of the day or week to visit. Often there are discounts just for pre-booking online before you travel rather than buying tickets on the day. 

 

Tripadvisor is a great resource and should not be overlooked. By reading other travellers' reviews of sightseeing attractions, you may find that paying for certain areas of an attraction is a waste of time and the free of charge areas are just as, if not more, interesting. 

 

Planning like this avoids any disappointment when you are there and often you will avoid long queues too! 

 

If you prefer to be more spontaneous, you may be lucky enough to receive a used ticket from someone who is leaving the attraction which will afford you free entry. 

 

Check whether there is anything like a freedom or tourist pass for the city you are visiting - these give you access to a number of popular sights and attractions and usually work out very good value. 

 

 

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