Over the years my travels have taken me to some of the world’s most expensive cities, including Venice, New York City and Oslo, yet, I visited all of these places, and many more on a very limited budget. Here are my tips on how to travel solo on a budget.
Dine where the locals eat
It goes without saying, book a table at a restaurant opposite at a popular tourist attraction and you’re going to be paying premium prices. Instead, find out where the locals dine and you will save yourself a lot of money. One site that will help you with finding where the locals dine is a collection of guides called Spotted by Locals. Also, search on your favourite search engine the destination you’re visiting and you will find an abundance of food blogs written by locals.
Sign up for deal newsletters
While planning your next trip, sign up for emails that offer you deals and special offers. Travelzoo, Money Saving Expert, and Groupon are just a few that spring to mind. Rather than using your normal email address, create a separate free email account that you can access on your smart phone or tablet, so you can check out deals as you travel.
Register for loyalty programmes
This only really applies if you’re going to be flying regularly. On my first round the world trip, most of my flights were with Singapore Airlines, so, I signed up to their KrisFlyer loyalty programme where you redeem miles online for flights and upgrades on the airline.
Most airlines have their own loyalty programme, so sign up after you’ve book. You’ll also find that the majority of hotel chains offer a loyalty programme so you can save money and receive special offers. After all, it’s free to join these programmes, so why not take advantage?
Watch out for single person supplement
The dreaded single person supplement is the bane of most solo travellers. To get around this I only book into a hotel that offers prices per room, rather than per person. When you book a package holiday with a tour operator there is a high chance that you will have to pay the supplement, so, think about booking a separate flight and accommodation, but just make sure that you are financially protected should the airline, or accommodation provider go bust.
Booking with a credit card at an ATOL registered travel agency is the best way to go about this. If the worst happens, they have to fly you back home.
Purchase bulk transport tickets
Do your research. On most public transport systems you’ll often find that buying single, or return tickets are much more expensive than purchasing 2, 3 or either 4 day tickets. Visit the local tourist information office and find out what the best options are for you. For rail tickets in the UK (not sure if it applies elsewhere) I always buy two single tickets, and I book well in advance to get the best rates – I’ve never paid more than £25 for a return journey from Leeds to London.
Avoid using taxis because these will be considerably expensive, and, you’ll get ripped off.
If you’re planning to visit a lot of tourist attractions, find out if the tourism board offers a combined ticket, and keep a look out for offers where you receive free public transport. When I visited Oslo in 2007 I purchased a two-day Oslo pass, which gave me access to museums, but it included free use on the local bus and tram services. The perfect way to sightsee and get around.
Create a packed lunch from the local market
Prior to visiting popular tourist areas, plan ahead and visit a local market to buy yourself some goodies to eat through the day, you’ll save a fortune. While visiting Venice, visit Rialto market and buy fresh meat, bread and fruit. Find a great spot to sit down overlooking the Grand Canal. You can eat reasonably cheaply even in the most expensive cities.
This is common sense really, but book your trip outside of the peak times of the year, which are the school holidays, July to August and bank holidays. Where possible book flights during the week, rather than flying over a weekend.
Booking in advance is always a good idea, especially with flights; because they rarely get cheaper the closer you get to the departure date. Keep a look out for religious festivals and large events, which will also increase the price of your travel and accommodation.
Cheaper accommodation options
Hostels are a cheap option when travelling, and a growing number of hostels now offer single rooms if you do not like staying in a dormitory. Another option is renting a room or studio apartment on the likes of Airbnb, which sometimes works out cheaper than staying in a hotel.
There are tons of hotel booking websites out there but my personal favourite is Booking.com. If you are flat broke, then you could use a website like Couchsurfing which is a community of people who make their sofa or spare room available for travellers, for free. Other options include Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), where you help out on an organic farm in return you receive free accommodation and food.
Use social media
Finally, social media is a great way to find deals – just ask on the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Use the search functionality to find deals, or, follow tourist boards, hotels, local businesses and writers in the places you’re visiting.
Social networks are also a great place to ask for recommendations, and if you use hashtags this will help you get noticed by people who are knowledgeable about what you’re searching for. Search for people on Twitter, but, search on the destination – what you will find are people who are authority figures in these places, and will be happy to help you out.
I hope this guide has helped you travel solo on a budget.
Rhätische Bahn In the Swiss Alps. Photo: Brian Opyd