Whether you’re backpacking alone or traveling en masse with family, vacations can get expensive.
There are many ways to keep your wallet tight – without compromising on enjoyment. There’s no need to buy high-end gear or stay in a four-star hotel when there’s a lot of fun going on wild camping or joining an organization as a volunteer.
How to save money on vacation
Whatever your passion – be it steam trains, birds or folk festivals – volunteering gets you free entry and is usually rewarding. A man I met by a canal told me that volunteering for the Canal and River Trust saved his life by giving him purpose and the calm of the water.
WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a great approach to rural life. Check with your local wildlife trust or RSPB reserve for cheap or free walks or events.
Interested? Choose from our list of the best volunteering organizations in the UK countryside.
Join the bird community for cheap accommodation
Many of the UK bird observatories offer the opportunity to see bird life and also offer very affordable accommodation. Located in scenic coastal locations, the observatories have dormitories or private rooms, usually with a kitchen where you can cook. They’ll all be ‘cheep’.
True wild camping is a noble pursuit in Scotland, NOT illegal in England and Wales provided you have the landowner’s permission, and it’s free. If you need facilities, a campsite can be cheap – if you choose carefully, bring your own lighter and food and avoid costly hotspots. If you are walking, check backpacker prices. See pitchup.com.
Check out our list of the best places to wild camp in the UK, then start planning your trip with our beginner’s guide to wild camping.
Are you going with family? Check out our top tips for cheap family camping.
Leave the car and ride a bike
With fuel prices sky high, there’s never been a better time to ride a bike. Toss a tent in your pannier, hop your bike on a train, and off you go on an adventure that won’t cost the earth. UK Campsite has thousands of pitches to choose from; decampsite.co.uk. Or join the Camping and Caravaning Club for £45 and get discounts on their 1,300 pitches.
Keep an eye out for train travel hacks
Go to a split ticketing website like Tickety Split (ticketysplit.trainsplit.com) and they will calculate the cheapest combination of tickets for your trip and then book them for you. National Rail’s Cheap Fare Finder lives up to its name. Advance tickets offer huge savings, while Rover tickets are great for exploring an area in a day or more. railrover.org. A variety of National Rail rail tickets are available for different age groups and for friends/families traveling together.
Stay in a hostel or cabin
For something more luxurious than camping, try hostelling. The Independent Hostel Association has over 400 places; Independenthostels.co.uk. The YHA and Hostelling Scotland operate over 200 cabins whilst the Mountain Bothies Association has around 100 cabins which can be used free of charge for an annual fee.
Planning a trip? Check out our guide to Britain’s best bothies.
Look for a bargain kit
Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail in canvas shoes and slept under a shower curtain, while Guardian Country diarist Harry Griffin took up rock climbing using his mother’s clothesline. I can’t advise recklessness from my privileged, employable position – good boots in dangerous terrain, for example, can save your skin – but not all gear is essential. While fast-drying clothing is important, I often prefer old and worn technical textiles to expensive ones. And while some brands make kits that really last, others don’t. Look for bargains on eBay and charity shops.
Enjoy simple, free pleasures
Perhaps we all have memories of simpler golden days, or remember someone who would pedal for hours into the country with just a sandwich. Now we are involved in traffic, conspicuous consumption and digital ambush, these experiences are difficult. But gone forever? Maybe not.
Rockpooling and bird watching remain free, as does lounging under a tree. When I see children busy catching crabs off a pier and people bivouacking under an old tarp, I have to smile – they are creating the good old days to come.