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Before we had a little girly to think about, hubby and I liked to plan a sneaky getaway every once in a while rather than waiting for the annual holiday to roll around. Obviously, this was always a city break on a budget and we would squeeze these breaks in over a weekend, usually booking off a Friday (or even half a day depending on flight times). It meant we had a little trip to look forward to, a couple of days break, without eating into our annual leave entitlement too much and without breaking the bank.
Though we unfortunately don’t have any trips planned for the near future, I was helping my sister plan a holiday with her boyfriend the other day and realised that I could actually save them more money by planning and booking it myself, than if they booked through a travel agent.
So this post will be a compilation of my travel related money saving tips and how we get the best deals when we are planning a trip away. Here’s how to plan a city break on a budget!
The greatest tip I can give you for saving money on flights is flexibility. This is true for spontaneous city breaks as well as planned long haul ventures – be prepared to be flexible with your dates and with your departure airport.
The first thing I do when planning a city break is head to Skyscanner. They have a great search function whereby you select your departure airport (we always go for Bristol and include nearby airports – Bristol has the greatest selection of flights but the tick box ensures Cardiff is also picked up if they have any good deals) and rather than choosing a destination you can choose ‘Everywhere’.
You can choose specific dates if necessary, but you can also search anytime, or a specific month.
We always search anytime and everywhere and that gives us the cheapest flights.
There are other similar flight price comparison sites out there, but none I find as good as Skyscanner so it’s always my first port of call.
The way these budget airlines tend to make up their money is with all the ‘optional extras’. Checking a bag into the hold can be a costly addition, as can pre-booking your seats. The only time we pre-booked our seats was when we went to Australia – obviously you don’t want to risk a flight that long not sat together… but almost every other trip we’ve taken together we’ve never pre-booked our seats and always managed to sit close to, if not next to each other.
Keep your fare as low as possible. You don’t need to check a bag into the hold, especially if you’re only away for a long weekend. A carry on bag is more than sufficient with a little clever packing – we’ve taken a weeks holiday without checking in a bag, it also means you save time either side of your journey as you don’t have to go to baggage reclaim.
is the first place I’ll check for accommodation when planning a city break. They have different rates – a saver rate (usually the cheapest) and a flexible rate (free cancellation right up to the date of your booking), unless the saver rate is substantially less I always go for the flexible rate. The flexible rate allows you to cancel if you find a better deal later on and you don’t have to pay until you stay.
Before booking anything though, I always go to the hotel direct to ensure it isn’t cheaper. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not worth saving a few pounds at the sacrifice of booking.com’s flexible rate. Always worth a look though.
Airbnb is the site I’ll head to if Booking.com hasn’t found anything cheap enough. For a weekend break, I don’t want to be spending more than £150 (absolute maximum) for two nights, so if Booking is looking expensive, I’ll do a search here instead.
Airbnb is a great site and we’ve found some good deals in the past, but it can be very hit and miss. If you’re looking for accommodation during a big event hosts like hotels, hike up their prices big time and sometimes I begrudge paying the same as I would a hotel for someone’s spare bedroom.
However, there are some hidden gems waiting to be discovered – especially if you’re going to a big city. You can often find a great apartment for half the cost of a small hotel room in the same area.
I’ve mentioned before that research is key to planning any trip. Tripadvisor is great for finding restaurants at different price ranges and there’s often hundreds of reviews to sift through. Bloglovin is another great place to look – search the tag for the city you’re going to and you’ll find other people blogging about their trip and sharing nuggets of information about where to go and where to avoid. It’s also worthwhile scouting out the area nearby your hotel on googlemaps and then going to the restaurants website/facebook page and looking at their menu. This will give you a better idea of the standard prices in the area that you’re staying in.
Something that hubby and I will often do is head to the supermarket when we get there and stock up on essentials. Things like bottled water, croissants/pain au chocolate for breakfast, crisps and chocolate to snack on and sometimes (depending on where we’re going/what we’re doing) wine/beer to drink in the hotel.
Spending £10-15 on food/drink like this saves you a lot of money – your breakfast is sorted so that’s one less meal to think about and say you’re going to a gig or a busy event, predrinking in the hotel (like the good old days) saves you money on expensive drinks when you get there and also queueing/fighting to get to the bar.
Another thing we do to save money – and also because it’s convenient really, is grab a fast food lunch. Street vendors and burger chains are always going to be cheaper than a sit down meal and will often fit better into your day – especially if you have a busy day of sightseeing planned. Save money on your lunch and you’ll be able to go somewhere a little extra special in the evening.
The centre of any city that gets a lot of tourism is always going to be more expensive. We found this to be particularly true in Amsterdam. Central pubs were more expensive compared to a little pub we found off down a random side street.
We also saved money on our drinks by ordering the local beer. In Amsterdam if you ask for a beer you’ll likely be served Heineken which is more expensive, if you ask for the local beer (in this case Bavaria) it will likely be cheaper.
It’s a point I’ll always come back to but research before you go. Bloggers especially always seem to know how to get a good deal or a free activity. If I hadn’t searched bloglovin I wouldn’t have known that the Bundestag in Berlin was free – or that you have to pre-book before you go, so that would’ve been a disappointment when we got there.
Likewise with Basel, I wouldn’t have known that you could use your booking confirmation to get free travel from the airport or that you could do the river crossing for free either.
You can often make great savings by pre-booking, particularly in larger touristy cities who offer city passes. Pay in advance you can save a considerable amount compared to what you’d pay when you get there.
For example when we went to Amsterdam we pre-booked the Heineken brewery tour and paid about £10 each, yet a friend who recently visited said she didn’t go because it was €20.
CASHBACK – whatever you’re buying online, always check if you can get cashback first. You can’t usually get cashback on flights, but you can on booking.com so it’s always worth doing. The payout can take a 6-10 weeks, but if you do it on every transaction you make online, it’s surprising how quickly those small amounts add up.
Always have a quick search for a promo code to get you discount on something you’re ordering/booking online or a printable voucher for an attraction/restaurant. Never be ashamed to use a printed voucher! Just think the money you’re saving can go towards your next trip!
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I started Katie Saves while on Maternity Leave to document our adjustment to living on less. Now back in work - I blog about all things money with a little life organisation thrown in for good measure. Join me!