Five tips to make travel more affordable

Travel is not an easy habit to sustain. In fact a lot of travel writers have blogged about how behind all the glamour – the postcard sunsets, the pictures of them in front of famous attractions and the extreme sports – have come at a cost.

That cost is a lot of time and hard work. Sure, some people do get breaks, and others come from privileged backgrounds. Take Mollie Bylett, for example, who has managed to get offers from travel companies and tour operators to travel the world. The same goes for The Broke Backpacker and the sponsorships he has.

But they didn’t get there by sitting in front of the television and twiddling their thumbs. They had to work for it, and build a strong portfolio and following before any company even looked in their direction. Sure, they’ll have had lucky breaks. But doesn’t the saying go ‘you make your own luck in this world?’

Whilst you may be sat in an office, or completing tasks on a shop floor, don’t forget, that many travellers have been there and done that, too.  The difference, perhaps, is that they’ve found out different ways to save themselves money and maximise their pay packets.

So here are five ways I recommend to make travel more affordable.

1) Ditch the travel agents

I’m not going to mince my words – travel agents are a rip-off. The dawn of budget airlines and price comparison websites has seen plenty of travellers ditch the commission-hungry travel agents in favour of a bit of DIY booking.

Traditionally, travel agents have always added commissions to the holiday packages that they offer, as well as additional charges like credit card fees, for example. They are a high turnover, low margin industry, so every penny counts.

The idea is that you’re paying for the service you receive. After all, the store overheads and staff wages cost money, and they have to find a way to cover that whilst still making a profit. So the cost, in effect, is passed on to you, the consumer.

But what the internet has done is remove the middle man, well, in some form. If you use sites like Booking.com, or Hotels.com then that middle man remains in some capacity. But the advantage of them not running a physical operation is that costs are lower and those savings are reflected in the prices they are able to offer.

But you can go directly to flight operators – namely budget ones – and most hotels have their own websites you can book through. This can also make things a little cheaper as well.

The other day I booked return flights from Manchester to Milan and three hotel rooms for nine people for three nights in the city centre in April. It cost £150.73 per person, and the rest of the lads I booked it for were surprised at just how cheap it was. That’s because they were naïve to the online booking game.

It’s no surprise, really, when the likes of Thomas Cook and Thomson are prevalent on the UK high street. Speaking of Thomas Cook, I went ahead and searched on their website, as well as the Co-Operative Travel’s, for the exact same holiday I booked just days earlier. Not surprisingly, they were a lot more expensive than what I managed to find.

The Novotel Milano Nord Ca Granda was in the vicinity of Milan city centre, but isn't close enough to be anywhere near as practical as we'd like. Despite the location, it cost £93.27 more than what I sorted via Ryanair and Hotels.com.

The Novotel Milano Nord Ca Granda was in the vicinity of Milan city centre, but isn't close enough to be anywhere near as practical as we'd like. Despite the location, it cost £93.27 more than what I sorted via Ryanair and Hotels.com.

And here is a city centre hotel, found on the Co-Op Travel website, on the same dates and with the same number of rooms for the same number of people. The difference? Oh, just £132.67 per person.

And here is a city centre hotel, found on the Co-Op Travel website, on the same dates and with the same number of rooms for the same number of people. The difference? Oh, just £132.67 per person.

It pays to do it yourself.

2) Pay later or pay a deposit

One advantage that travel agents do it that they have a deposit booking facility. This means that you can put down a bit of money towards your package holiday in the sun to begin with and then pay the rest of incrementally, with a set deadline for full payment. Most places usually ask for £100 or ten percent, whichever is lowest. Some travel agents actually offer this service on their websites now.

But that isn’t the only way you can put off paying for a holiday. Most of the big hotel booking websites such as Booking.com, LateRooms and Hotels.com offer a ‘pay later’ service. Often this involves a slight increase in the price, a few pounds here or there, but it allows you to pay the cost of the hotel upon arrival or departure. This is a great tactic to secure a low price, or a room in a hotel that you think is likely to be fully booked by the time you actually have the money to pay up front with.

Here you can see an example of different payment options on Booking.com. Paying up a non-refundable fee up front can save you money, though the pay later offers flexibility - albeit at a greater price.

Here you can see an example of different payment options on Booking.com. Paying up a non-refundable fee up front can save you money, though the pay later offers flexibility - albeit at a greater price.

3) Budget!

A calculator can come in handy when budgeting travel money.

A calculator can come in handy when budgeting travel money.

This may seem like an obvious tip, but you could budget for an upcoming holiday, and predetermine your spending money. I often get asked how many ‘spends’ I’m taking away with me by my friends when I go away with them, and it’s hard to truly estimate just how much you’ll need off the top of your head.

But if you do some research beforehand, look at ways you can save some cash and allocate specific amounts of money to certain areas. You should find that it works out cheaper than you thought.

Things like city passes can work out cheaper to get you into plenty of attractions, and usually double up as public transport tickets, too. Budgeting for food and drink can also prevent you being tempted by more expensive options, because by knowing just how much money you’ll have left and how much you’ll need for the rest of your trip should encourage you to stay within your means.

Also, don’t forget to give yourself some emergency funds. Not everyone will stick to a budget, or a cost may arise that hadn’t previously been considered. If you have money in reserve for these things, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

4) Travel light

Suitable luggage to accompany you on a Ryanair flight.

Suitable luggage to accompany you on a Ryanair flight.

One of the greatest frustrations of booking with budget airlines is their astronomical costs for hold luggage. Sometimes, the cost of adding a bag to your bill is actually more expensive than the flight itself.

Ryanair charge from £15 each way for a 15kg bag and £25 for a 20kg in low season, and from £25 each way for a 15kg bag and £35 for a 20kg bag in high season. In fact in some instances, you can end up paying £90 return for a 20kg bag, and that’s not a good way to keep costs low.

But they do let you take a regular-sized piece of hand luggage on board, as well as a smaller one – closer to a rucksack than a small suitcase. If you can cram all your stuff into those two things, and abide by the liquid regulations – which prevents you from taking liquids of over 100ml through security – then there is no need for hold luggage.

Or if there is a group of you travelling, you could always split the cost of one bag and use that for liquid and heavier items.

5) Try Airbnb

The outside of some Airbnb offices.

The outside of some Airbnb offices.

Airbnb was founded in 2008 after roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia were struggling to afford rent for their loft in San Francisco. As a remedy, they made their living room into a bed and breakfast, accommodating three guests on air mattresses and providing them with homemade breakfast.

And so the idea was born – people renting out their houses, or parts of their houses, to other guests. Not only did this generate some extra money for the hosts, but they were able to save guests money as well.

Today the site is a lot bigger than it was seven years ago, and they offer locations in over 190 countries.

When I was searching the other day, I came across a penthouse apartment in Valletta, Malta next June for £19 per night. It wasn’t a pricing error, nor was it a typo. Just a tag representative of the value for money that opting to go down the unorthodox route of booking somewhere found on Airbnb can give you.

If you’ve got an open mind, then going for somewhere on Airbnb can be much more wallet-friendly than hotels, and maybe even hostels, too.