28 February 2013

Travelling the UK on a Shoestring


The UK is just like any country in western Europe in terms of costs and the typical tourist daily budget. The country isn't cheap to travel around, and cities like London certainly don’t stretch the budget. However, as a British citizen I've learnt a few tricks of the trade on how to travel this island whilst saving the pennies. 

Accommodation

Accommodation is a big expense in any European country, but as many as you may know; there are tricks to make it a lot cheaper. Firstly, there are hostels which are supposed to cut down on costs; however the ones in the UK, especially London, don’t really come that cheap. For some reason the UK hostels charge you extra if you aren't a member of the Youth Hostel Association (YHA), so if you are travelling in the UK for a while then it may be worth investing in an YHA card which can be bought online (maybe in the hostels as well) and it can last for one to five years. Other suggestions are to try the budget hotels such as Etap or Travelodge. Sometimes these aren't that cheap, but they often offer a £45 a night deal which beds three people in one room. They are basic, but convenient. 

Travel

Trains are one of your biggest expenses in Britain. If you aren't a UK citizen then an interrailing pass may be worth the price, however you often have to reserve a seat with these tickets as well, otherwise you could be stood up for several hours. To save a bit of money make sure you don’t book on the day. Prices may even be half as cheap if you book just the day before. However, there are other options to explore this country on a budget, which include bus/coach travel, with companies such as the National Express and Megabus. These can be booked online, and although they do take longer than the train, they are so much cheaper!

I wouldn't recommend hitchhiking in the UK; it isn't that common so I don’t know how much luck you would have. However, this country is great to cycle in and many roads have designated cycle lanes and paths. London offers a scheme called Boris Bikes where you can rent a bike and then return to any bike slot in the city. They are easily found throughout the capital and they allow you to see more of the city and on a cheaper cost. If bikes aren't for you then when in London head for the tube (London underground), or the buses which are even cheaper. I recommend investing in an Oyster card, which is a prepaid travel card to use on London's buses and tubes and can often save you money rather than paying for each individual journey. If in London for a few days then buy a tube ‘day ticket’ as this will also be cheaper.

Food and Drink

Restaurants can range from cheap to expensive all over the UK. Pubs are a good bet for cheap food, and the meals can be good, no matter what the stereotype about British food says. The chain of Weatherspoons (a toned down chain pub found in city and town centres) also offers cheap meals. Expect local drunks in there at lunchtime but that’s what you get from £2 pints of beer. For lunch time style meals head to Boots or Tesco. Boots is a pharmacy/beauty store where you can buy make up and any kind of toiletry, but they also do ‘meal deals’. For around £3.50 you can buy a lunch type meal (sandwiches, salad, pasta pots with crisp/chocolate/fruit/cake and a drink). I often buy these for lunch and they are great price and common to buy in the country. Tesco express, which can be found in most town and city centres, do a similar deal but cheaper, but also less choice.

For making your own food, this can be done really cheap. Compared to Japan, I've found UK food is really cheap and there is a lot of choice! We have huge supermarkets and therefore a huge choice of bargain food. Find a supermarket and you can cook a good meal at a low cost. Drink wise, you’ll find cheaper drinks in supermarkets, but if you want to go out then head to a pub or a Weatherspoons for cheap beer.

Sightseeing

The sightseeing costs can vary from city to city in Britain, but in London a lot of the most popular and most sought out spots are free. For example: the British Museum, Science Museum, History Museum, Hyde Park, St Pauls Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, V&A, Tate Modern and many more hotspots are all free. Some of the museums ask for a donation but you can easily look around and not pay a penny. Places like Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and Big Ben are best enjoyed from outside, so no need to pay the costs to go in. If you want to see a musical or a show in London, then go to the ticket offices very early on the day of the performance, as they sell front row seats for £10 I believe. But it is first come first served.

Apart from London, the costs of sightseeing spots can vary. The beauty about travelling in the UK is that many of the tourist sights tend to be buildings (e.g. Big Ben, Oxford University) or some kind of natural sight (e.g. the Lake District), therefore allowing you to save on any entrance fees. It may be worth investing in an international student card, which can be bought from the internet and often pays for itself with the amount of discounted ticket prices you can get.

These are the main costs for any traveller I would argue. In terms of shopping, prices can range ridiculously in any city centre. Cheap clothes can be bought at supermarkets and the high street store Primark. For more expensive attire you’ll find many shopping arcades in the city centres. The UK certainly isn't cheap, but once you know a few of the tricks then you can enjoy this country a lot more without demolishing your wallet too much.

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