Whether you’re travelling alone as a backpacker or en masse with a family, holidays can be expensive.
There are plenty of ways to help keep the purse-strings tight – without compromising on enjoyment. There’s no need to buy high-end equipment or stay in a four-star hotel, when there’s loads of fun to be had wild camping or joining an organisation as a volunteer.
How to save money on holiday
Try some volunteering
Whatever your passion – be it steam trains, birds or folk festivals – volunteering gets you in free and is usually enriching. A man I met on one canal told me volunteering for the Canal and River Trust had saved his life by giving him purpose and the tranquillity of water.
Interested? Pick from our list of the best organisations to volunteer with in the British countryside.
Join the birding community for cheap accommodation
Many of the UK’s bird observatories present the chance to see cracking avian life and offer very economical accommodation, too. Located in picturesque coastal sites, the observatories have dorms or private rooms, usually with a kitchen so you can cook. They’re all going ‘cheep’.
Real wild camping is a noble pursuit in Scotland, is NOT illegal in England and Wales, provided you have the landowner’s permission, and is free. If you need facilities, a campsite can be cheap – if you choose carefully, bring your own fire fuel and food, and avoid costly hotspots. If you are on foot, check for backpacker rates. See pitchup.com.
Going with the family? Check out our top tips for cheap family camping.
Ditch the car and ride a bike
With fuel prices sky high, there’s never been a better time to cycle. Throw a tent in your pannier, take your bike on a train and you’re off on an adventure that won’t cost the Earth. UK Campsite has thousands of sites from which to choose; ukcampsite.co.uk. Or join the Camping and Caravanning Club for £45 for discounts on its 1,300 sites.
Look out for train travel hacks
Head for a split-ticketing website, such as Tickety Split (ticketysplit.trainsplit.com), and it will work out the cheapest combination of tickets for your journey 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 fantastic for exploring an area in a day or longer; railrover.org. A host of National Rail railcards is available for various age groups and for friends/families travelling together.
Stay in a hostel or bothy
For a little more luxury than camping, try hostelling. The Independent Hostel Association has over 400 places; independenthostels.co.uk. The YHA and Hostelling Scotland run over 200, while the Mountain Bothies Association has around 100 huts, free to use for an annual fee.
Planning a trip? Check out our guide to Britain’s best bothies.
Search out bargain kit
Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail in canvas shoes and slept under a shower curtain, while Guardian Country Diarist Harry Griffin started rock climbing using his mum’s washing line. I cannot, from my privileged able-bodied position, advise recklessness – good boots on hazardous terrain, for example, can save your skin – but not all kit is essential. While quick-drying clothes are important, I often prefer old and threadbare to pricey technical textiles. And while some brands make kit that really lasts, others do not. Look for bargains on eBay and in charity shops.
Enjoy simple, free pleasures
Perhaps we all have memories of simpler golden days, or remember someone who would pedal off into the countryside for hours with just a sandwich. Now we are snarled up in traffic, conspicuous consumption and digital ambush, those experiences are difficult. But gone forever? Maybe not.
Rockpooling and birdwatching remain free, as is whiling away time beneath a tree. When I see kids absorbed in crabbing off a pier and people bivouacking under an old tarp it makes me smile – they’re creating the good old days to come.