Spending hours daydreaming about travelling this summer but don’t think your bank balance will cover it? You could save £100s on your holiday with these tips.
Cheap holidays are every student’s dream, but they can be difficult to come across. Trying to get your Student Loan to cover flights, accommodation and spending money takes some serious money-saving savvy – but don’t worry, we’ve done the hard work for you
We’ve put together the ultimate list of ways you can bag a cheap holiday abroad without breaking the bank.
So grab your pals and your passport – it’s time to get holiday planning!
How to get a cheap holiday
Find cheap flights
It’s likely that one of the biggest expenses of your jolly holiday will be flights, meaning they can be real a deal breaker.
Don’t fall for the rookie error of just typing “cheap flights” into Google and going for the first thing that comes up. Take your time, check multiple flight aggregators and compare prices.
Skyscanner and Momondo are both great options for scoping out the best deals available, and both have handy features to indicate if you’d save any cash by flying on a different day of the week – a great option if you’re able to be a bit flexible!
If you’re looking to go pro on finding the cheapest flights known to man, check out our expert tips for students.
Check your luggage allowance
The most common blunder that can leave you financially stung is hand baggage allowance.
Your bargain £30 flight to Paris for the weekend can suddenly double in cost if you don’t stay within the limit. Make sure you know the deal or you might end up having to pull a stunt like this!
If you’re worried you might’ve gone a bit overboard with the multiple outfit changes, invest in some luggage scales to check you’re safely within the restrictions. They’re a godsend, trust us!
Watch out for in-flight extras
If you’re flying with a budget airline, you might find your bargain flight prices are quickly dwarfed by a mounting list of extras to fork out for.
Some extras (such as the privilege of choosing your own seat or boarding the plane first) you’ll just have to suck up and learn to live without.
In other cases though, like food and earplugs, you’re much better off just bringing your own. While you’re not allowed to take liquids over 100ml on a plane, it’s not a coincidence that they sell alcohol miniatures aplenty in duty free (just sayin’).
You can also take your own food through security, so stock up before you go to avoid extortionate prices.
Try coach or train travel instead
Is flying your only option? If you don’t mind a longer haul and you’re not travelling too far, it’s definitely worth checking out trains and (dare we say it) coaches.
Megabus can get you to various locations across Europe such as Belgium, France, Germany or the Netherlands – sometimes even leaving you with change from a twenty!
Check out offers on the Channel Tunnel and ferry crossings too – you never know where you could snap up a bargain.
Similarly, you could just make travelling all part of the holiday fun and go interrailing across Europe. Check out our guide to interrailing on a budget.
Wangle cheap travel insurance
While insurance might seem like a luxury you can’t afford on holiday, you’ll be kicking yourself if you end up with a ski-holiday induced broken leg and zero coverage.
At the very least, you should always make sure you’ve got a valid European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which is free, so there really is no excuse – just apply online.
However, this card will only cover you for basic health treatment within the EU, so it’s really not a replacement for insurance. You might think it’s going to add on big bucks, but choose wisely and you’ll only have to shell out a few quid.
We’ve got the lowdown on how to get cheap student travel insurance as a student.
Check out private sales
If you’re looking for a little bit of luxury in your life but can’t afford the hefty price tag, have a gander at some private sales websites.
You will have to sign up for these websites though and they won’t appear on price comparison websites, but even finding one good deal makes it well worth the hassle.
Warning: Although you can find a great deal on secret sale sites, it’s worth being wary of inflated RRP prices on these sites. It’s easy to get sucked into a deal that says your hotel was £2,000 for four nights and is now £300, but do you really believe that?
Be open-minded about accommodation
We all love the luxury of staying in hotels (coming back each day to a neatly made bed and swan-shaped towel? Yes please!) but is it really worth the cash when there are so many alternative options these days?
Often you can get way more bang for your buck if you get a private let from Airbnb, and renting a room in a shared flat through Airbnb can be a great option if you’re travelling solo (just make sure you do a bit of research into who you’ll be sharing with!).
It’s also worth noting that you can actually haggle on Airbnb! Rather than booking straight away, try messaging the host first and seeing if there’s any movement on the price. Your chances of success will be better if you’re booking close to the time of your stay, as budget travel expert Chelsea explains in our podcast.
If you’re on a serious budget, a bit of couch surfing can work out great, and is a nice opportunity to make friends with locals.
Or, if you’re prepared to invest a little more time into your search, you could even bag yourself free accommodation! That’s what Chelsea did as part of her mission to go on 10 holidays in a year for half the average Brit’s annual vacation spend – read about her cheap holiday challenge here.
Do take some care with private rentals though; make sure you check out the reviews of a place first and always use trusted sites.
Brave your fear of hostels
If the idea of staying in hostels still conjures up images from dodgy horror movies, it’s time you got over it!
Sure, you’ll have to forgo some luxury. But hostels are a great option for your holiday and (for the most part) they’re clean, safe and a great way to make friends with other holiday-goers.
If sharing a bunk room with strangers is what’s putting you off, it’s worth knowing that most hostels also have the option of private rooms, and they’re normally much cheaper than a room at a hotel.
Sites like HostelWorld or HostelBookers are a great place to start, letting you compare various hostels across the globe.
Top tip: Search for the best prices on the comparison sites above and then check the price with the hostel direct – sometimes it can work out cheaper, or they can offer you a discount as they won’t have to pay commission to the comparison site!
Travel with friends
No holiday of a lifetime would be complete without your bezzies to share it with you. So be sure to pack them; they can probably bring the cost down too.
Sharing rooms and booking in groups will often lower costs – or even better, if you’ve got any friends living abroad, just crash at theirs!
A small side note: We wouldn’t recommend recruiting any old acquaintances to come on holiday with you just to keep costs down. If you don’t get along swimmingly this can have a disastrous effect on your time away – stick to friends you know you’ll travel well with!
Turn off your data roaming!
There’s nothing worse than making a point of resisting the temptation to Instagram every meal on holiday, only to find out when your bill comes through that you’ve clocked up a hefty hundred pound bill anyway.
Depending on where in the world you’re holidaying, forgetting to turn off your data roaming can have frightening implications!
Smartphones, for all their wonderful traits, are like black holes for data as apps will be rattling through your allowance even when you’re not actively using them.
That said, if you go for a cheap one month SIM only plan with a good data allowance, you may be able to get away with leaving your roaming on while you’re away (as long as you don’t mind having a different number while you’re out there!).
Check your passport
It’s all very well knowing your passport is safely stowed in your knicker drawer, but have you checked it’s still in date?
Not only will you be unable to travel if your passport is expired, but many countries will refuse you entry if there’s six months or less left before you need to renew.
Renewal fees jump massively if you need a short turnaround, so avoid any nasty surprises by making sure you have this covered well in advance!
Don’t snub package holidays
Booking a holiday can be a complicated game, especially with all this comparison stuff and having to pull all the components together.
Make sure you check out package holidays too – Thomson and First Choice generally being the… first choice. You could find package holidays are a hell of a lot cheaper and these deals are not to be sniffed at!
You’ll be amazed at how much you can save by opting for an all-inclusive package, particularly if you’re heavy on the indulgence, as your meals and booze are included in the price!
Some companies such as Invasion even run student specific package holidays, so you can be sure you won’t be surrounded by holidaying pensioners, either.
Be smart about travel money
So you’ve counted out all your pennies and put together a holiday spending budget, meaning you can relax with the knowledge that you won’t run out of cash. Right?
Wrong. When it comes to splashing the cash abroad, there’s a whole lot more to think about than just how much you’ve got in your bank account.
While some people prefer to exchange currency before they leave, this doesn’t always ensure you get the best rate. And if you lose cash, most travel insurance policies will only cover you for a small fraction.
Nowadays, there are a whole slog of handy prepaid cards and app-based bank accounts that are free to use abroad (unlike normal debit cards) so they’re super convenient for travel (you can even disable them yourself using the app if you lose your card at any point).
Once you’ve set your holiday budget, you can pop the balance on your prepaid card and keep an eye on your spending using your smartphone. Check out our guide to the best prepaid cards for more info on how to use them.
And for more on how to get the best rates as well as tips for spending abroad, check out our travel money guide.
Do your research before you go
Ok, we know it’s a holiday not an exam. But swotting up before you go to a new destination can pay dividends.
Buying a phrasebook or downloading a language app so you can learn a few key phrases is not only respectful towards the locals you’ll be interacting with while you’re away, but it’ll also help ensure you don’t get ripped off by looking like a clueless tourist.
With some language under your belt you can speak to people you meet to get restaurant and sightseeing recommendations you wouldn’t otherwise find out about. Check out our guide to learning a second language for free for tips on how to brush up on the cheap!
Also invest in a guidebook (Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books are some of the best) and plan which key attractions you want to visit and how much they’ll cost – sometimes you can save money by booking tickets online in advance.
They’ll also highlight which areas are the tourist hotspots (where prices are highest) and which areas offer better value for money.
Hit up the pound shops
Bits and pieces like travel accessories and toiletries can really add up, so if you’ve a fair few things to buy before you go, get yourself down to the pound shop!
Do remember to be smart with these stores though, and don’t fall for the common misconception that if it has a £1 price tag on it, it must be a great deal.
For example, hand sanitiser might only be 50p in the chemist, but it’s £1 in the pound store.
Sun cream from pound stores can be a goer, but you need to be a bit cautious. Make sure it comes with a UVA sticker and has a high enough SPF (15 is the recommended minimum). If there’s no expiry date on the bottle, put it back on the shelf!
Book in advance
When’s the best time to book a holiday? It’s an age-old question, and there isn’t just one answer.
If you’ve got set dates and a set destination in mind, booking in advance is almost always going to be your best option.
However, if you’re pretty flexible on dates and even location, then keeping an eye out for any last minute deals might pay off. You’ll need to sign up to the relevant newsletters and keep tabs on some Facebook pages to snap these deals up when they come available, though.
Also bear in mind that for peak dates in the summer holidays, it’s highly unlikely anything will become cheaper the longer you leave it as these dates are most in demand.
For flights, the first four months of the year are often the best time to book, especially during the January sales. Also avoid flying out on Fridays (the most popular day) and try unusual trip lengths (not seven or 14 days) for the best prices.
Get cheap travel toiletries
You won’t want to lug massive bottles of shampoo and conditioner around with you, and if you’re flying with hand luggage only, any bottles over 100ml won’t be an option anyway!
Avoid spending over the odds on travel-size toiletries (we all know these are a complete rip-off – no matter how cute they look) by picking up a pack of empty minis for a few quid, decanting what you need into those.
Don’t forget to label them though, or you’re bound to find yourself brushing your teeth with shampoo at some point!
Download free travel apps
There’s an app for pretty much everything you could ever want these days, so it’s worth doing a bit of research to find which ones will be of use to you.
Of course, there are the obvious perks of Google Translate. Now you can even photograph text and have it translated instantly, so you can tell the waiter to keep their English dinner menu, thank you!).
Google Maps is also a godsend, as you can now download maps of your area in advance so you don’t waste data when you’re out and about.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a foodie, Foursquare is also a great addition to your app collection as it finds bars, cafes and restaurants in your surrounding area that are rated by locals and other Foursquare users.
Think TripAdvisor, but minus all the bogus certificates and awards – Foursquare’s users tend to be younger, meaning the ratings are much more reliable for other young travellers.
Another great idea is to download free tour guide apps for where you’re travelling to. Organised tours can cost a bomb, and apps like Pocketguide let you walk at your own pace, learning all about your holiday location along the way – without forking out a penny.
Be flexible with dates
So you’ve probably heard this one a zillion times before, but being flexible with when you travel really will help you snag all the best deals.
Try and stay off-season with your bookings – that means steering clear of school holiday dates, bank holidays and half-terms too, as tour operators will really hike the prices then.
Oh, and these are the time when there’ll be lots of screaming children around, which nobody wants.
The cheapest times to travel would be holiday days themselves, as few people want to travel on New Year’s Eve or Christmas day, for example… but it’s worth asking yourself, do you either?
If you’re the kind of irritating so and so that can fall asleep anywhere, it makes sense to book an overnight flight or crossing.
Many operators will slash prices at inconvenient times, but if you reckon you could sleep through the apocalypse, you’ll still end up with a decent night’s kip anyway.
Try a staycation instead
With our post-Brexit-vote currency going haywire of late, there’s been a rise in popularity of ‘staycations’ in the UK rather than jet-setting somewhere abroad.
There are so many great places to visit on this fair isle (we’re four countries in one, right?) so you’ve got plenty to choose from!
Rather than travelling abroad, why not think about travelling somewhere nice domestically instead? At least you won’t have to exchange your cash before you set off (although don’t hold your breath for good weather).
Take student ID
It might not be the first thing you think to pack, but your student card can still work its magic when you’re abroad – especially when it comes to museums, galleries and other tourist attractions.
£12 will get you a one year TOTUM/NUS Extra card, which not only gets you heaps of discounts here at home, but (since March 2016) now also comes with an ISIC internationally-recognised student badge. This means you can take advantage of discounts on your hols, too.
Earn money on holiday
So we’ve covered how you might save money on your holiday, but why not earn some cash too!
One way of doing this is to take up a summer job somewhere warm – there are loads of jobs out there for holiday makers from club reps and bar work to something as big as teaching English abroad (although admittedly this kind of crosses the line from holidaying to emigrating!).
Otherwise, you can make cash while you chill on the beach by trying out one of these nifty tricks, or if you’re one of these adventurous holiday makers, why not make some money while you walk?
Need some travel inspo? Chelsea went on 10 holidays in one year, including Miami, Dubai and Valencia (all for under two grand!)