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Student travel: holiday hacks when you’re on a budget

Unwinding from exams, seeking some sun or following your Instagram-inspired wanderlust... It's great to get away - and even better if you can escape on a budget.

Whether you’re going on a cultural city break, a beach holiday or travelling during your gap year, there are plenty of ways to travel for less and still have a great time.

Our travel guide is packed with planning and money-saving hacks.

How to find cheap flights

The Skyscanner website or app is a good place to start when looking for cheap flights. You simply put in where you're travelling from, where you're going and when.

You can then cut down the results by departure time, airline, airport and whether you want a direct flight or one with a stop or two - it's usually cheaper if you're prepared to take a longer, indirect route.

Skyscanner prices include an estimate of mandatory taxes and charges, but not additional fees for things like baggage or use of credit cards.

Alternatives include Kayak and Momondo. Kayak shows you days with cheaper flights depending on where you’re flying to, and then lets you narrow down results by price - useful if you're on a budget. And Momondo lets you search for the cheapest flights for your dates.

Travelling in Europe: take a train instead?

If you don't like flying - or you prefer a more scenic journey - you can travel to plenty of places in Europe via train.

To travel to a European city by train, hop on the Eurostar and then change - unless you wish to stay in a Eurostar destination, of course (that's Paris, Bordeaux, Brussels and more - now including Amsterdam, a new one for 2018).

Travelling by train will almost always take more time than flying. Where it takes longer than a day, you'll need to book overnight accommodation or take a sleeper train. Factor this in when comparing prices.

But if you fancy ticking off a few different countries in one trip, it might work out cheaper to buy an Interrail pass - our guide compares interrailing prices and ticket options.

Want some train-spiration? Look at #traintravel posts from around the world on Instagram or browse beatsflying. For something a little more far-flung, take a look at the windowseatproject in India.

How to book bargain accommodation

You've got a few options when sorting out where to stay. Don't assume a certain type of accommodation will automatically be the cheapest or most expensive. Airbnbs can work out cheaper than a hostel, while hotel room costs can be cut with a bit of savvy searching.


Staying in a local’s home comes with its advantages, such as having access to a kitchen - great if you want to cut costs by making your own meals rather than going out.

There are often cheap and central deals to be found, especially if you're travelling in a group, that can work out more economical.

When booking accommodation, have your wits about you. Most listings will be perfectly safe and will live up to your expectations, but - unfortunately - holiday booking fraud exists. 


If you want the cheapest accommodation possible, on the other hand, you could try finding a hostel - listings website Hostelworld is the biggest.

Hostels often offer a range of rooms for different prices. If you don't mind sleeping with a bunch of unknowns, sleeping in a dorm room is usually dirt-cheap. This is a good option for solo travellers but, equally, might be good if you’re travelling in a large group.

If you really value or need your personal space, look for a hostel that offers private rooms. They're often cheaper than hotel rooms, but you still get that hostel buzz of adventure and community.

Don't assume a hostel will be basic or poor quality - you only have to check out the HOSCAR awards winners to see that's not always the case!


If you prefer feeling a little more looked after, a hotel comparison website like can help you find hotels or serviced apartments. But shopping around can cut your costs. 

Free and cheap things to do on your trip

It's worth doing some holiday pre-planning when going on holiday - to avoid overspending, or missing the best bits.

If you're holidaying on a really tight budget, here are some tips on finding cheap or free things to do:
  • Seek recommendations: Ask family and friends who’ve already been there, or download the Spotted By Locals apps for tips from local residents of cities.
  • Find a free walking tour: These can be a great way of finding your bearings in a city. Sandemans offers free walking tours in 19 cities - just pay what you can afford at the end.
  • Look for cheap museums and attractions: most will have free sections alongside paid entry exhibitions, or you’re asked to donate what you can - but a day spent immersing yourself in some history and culture usually doesn't need to cost much.
  • Use TripAdvisor: A go-to resource for finding things to do and traveller reviews so you can avoid splashing your cash unnecessarily. The site also gives an indication of how pricey things are to help you manage your budget.
One thing to bear in mind with TripAdvisor is that some reviews may be less than genuine. Reckon you could spot a fake TripAdvisor review? 

Get your spending money sorted

While it's sensible to take some local currency with you when you're travelling, we'd recommend not entirely relying on cash. It’s hard to recover if it's lost or stolen, can be awkward if you need several currencies in one trip - and it's tricky to pinpoint how much you'll need.

But don't use your normal debit or credit card abroad either. Many come with nasty fees on foreign spending.

Consider getting a specialist debit, credit or prepaid card that won't sting you for overseas spending - compare overseas spending charges from challenger bank apps Monzo and Starling against more well-known banks likes Santander or TSB:

If you are looking to exchange currency, here are some tips on getting the most for your money:
  • Don't exchange money at the airport: Exchange rates at airport bureaux de change are often poor.
  • Shop around: Different bureaux de change offer different exchange rates, so you could get more bang for your buck by donning your research cap. It's quick and simple to do, too - just get a quote from a few different providers with the money you want to change up.
  • Pay for foreign currency with cash or a debit card: Using a credit card will likely involve charges, as credit card providers will typically treat the purchase as a 'cash advance' and charge you a fee.

Take out travel insurance

Travel insurance is designed to cover minor or major mishaps while you're travelling abroad, from trip delays to medical care. It's very risky to travel without any, and could leave you massively out of pocket if something bad happens.

If you're taking more than one trip over a year, an annual multi-trip package could work out cheaper than buying single-trip policies. 

You might also consider backpacker insurance if you're travelling to a few different countries in the same trip over a fairly long time. It's usually only required for trips lasting 60 days or longer, but with some insurers it's 30 days.

You should also make sure you have a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). This gives you the right to access state-provided healthcare while on holiday in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.

Holidays are a great way to escape from the stresses of everyday life, but you still need to be conscious of your health. Don't forget medication and booking in any essential travel vaccinations before you travel..

Your consumer rights when booking a holiday

Even the most meticulously-planned holiday can turn into a headache if things go wrong.

But you do have certain travel rights, which means that you may be entitled to compensation or a refund if there are problems with your flight or accommodation.

Bon voyage!

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