Everyone deserves a break now and again, but the sheer costs of flights, accommodation, and actually enjoying yourself can place a holiday firmly out of reach for those of us on a more modest budget. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to take a holiday without astronomical expense that involve neither hitchhiking nor caravan parks – here are our tips for taking a trip without draining your savings.
Book cheap flights
Well, yes, obviously booking cheap flights is the key to keeping your costs down. But how do you slash the price of what is usually the most expensive factor of your trip?
First of all, book in advance – last-minute getaways are all well and good, but tickets rarely go down in price the closer you get to take-off. The one exception is when there's a chance to fill vacancies or cancellations last minute – the excellent lastminute.com is your best bet for impromptu excursions, but otherwise it pays to plan things out early on.
Don't just go direct to an airline or travel agent – use a price comparison site like the highly-recommended Skyscanner, or one of Google's lesser-known tools, the very useful Google Flights. Comparison sites like these come with the added bonus of identifying the cheapest days to fly – there are no set rules on this, and it will vary from week to week, but the day you fly out and back can earn you some big savings – just one less day away could save hundreds when flying the whole family.
Budget airlines are, of course, subject of many a horror story, whether it's lost bags or no legroom – but you could find issues with just about any flight operator in the world. When there's no spare cash to cover snobbishness, budget airlines will get you there just as well as any other – you might just need to spend a little longer stretching your legs when you get off the plane!
Finally, one great tip: if you've ever been puzzled as to why you can't find the same fantastically-priced flight when you go back for another look, you can rest assured that you're not just imagining it. If a flight is getting a lot of searches, prices will increase – it's a bit of a scare tactic, to get you to book quickly before it goes up again. Very sneaky!
Sites do this by storing browser cookies relating to your previous searches, but there is fortunately a very simple way around this. Using private or incognito browsing modes, which don't track your search history or store cookies, will see you get the best prices every time. Just hit Command+Shift+N in Google Chrome, or Control+P in Firefox or Internet Explorer, and you'll be well away.
Hotels aren't the only places you can stay when you're away, which is fortunate when even budget hotels, with less than stellar facilities, can still rack up big bills in some parts of the world.
Couchsurfing.com is a popular resource for global travellers – it's a social network of people either looking for, or offering, a place to stay while on the move. If you're not looking for luxuries but love the idea of a local guide and friendly faces to meet, it's a great way to find free accommodation. It's usually only acceptable to stay for a few days, rather than a week or two, and it's not a great choice for families – as the name implies, there's a fair bit of sleeping on sofas – but for single travellers or couples exploring together, it's a fantastic way to see a different side of any destination. Just stay safe – only stay with people who have plenty of testimonials from happy houseguests!
A slightly more upmarket option than Couchsurfing is Airbnb – a site that lets people around the world open up their homes for guests to come and stay. The experiences on offer range from just a spare room, to a traditional hosted B'n'B, a managed hotel-style flat, or the complete run of someone's home while they're away for a week – the space, the facilities, and the availability of your host all depends on where you book! It's not free, but you can stay in some truly amazing flats and apartments around the world for ridiculously cheap rates, and be as private or as social as you please.
Finally, hostels are another great option for somewhere to stay on the cheap. Facilities are a little more basic than a hotel, but the price will be much lower to match – and hostels on the higher end of the scale, which offer smaller rooms that could be ideal for families, are a far cry from the 'youth hostel' dormitories you might immediately think of. Hostelworld is a very handy resource, so start searching!
Work your way around the world
Although most of us go away on holiday to get away from work, Workaway is a great way to experience the world in a totally different way to any other holiday. If taking a break is more about getting away and seeing something new than it is about relaxing poolside, then volunteering your time with a non-profit, working on a ranch, or helping out at a guest house in return for room and board could be the perfect choice for your travels.
Don't fear missing out
Skydiving, bungee jumping, jetskiing, guided tours of every amazing attraction your chosen destination – amazing experience, definitely, but the cost really does add up. At the end of the day, a lot of these things can be done almost anywhere in the world – so are they really worth it?
So ditch the expensive activities, and go off the beaten track. Explore the local landmarks yourself, and check Tripadvisor for any hidden gems that aren't in the brochure – you'll be able to go at your own pace and experience the culture like a local, rather than being led by the hand, and you'll pay a lot less for the privilege.