So we all want to travel, right (at least, I know exactly one person who has never wanted to travel, and that's my grandmother, and she is curmudgeonly and 90 years old)?
It's exciting, it's different, it's exhausting in the most wonderful way, and it's where you do so much of your learning and growing— especially in your twenties.
Except, it doesn't always seem in reach. We add up the cost of hostels, flights, train journeys, eating out everyday and begin to think that it might never happen.
So, you'll be really glad to know that it's not at all the case. I thought I'd share with you how my husband and I backpacked around the UK last August as grad students and newlyweds without exploding our bank account.
Some things you should know before we get started:
- We travelled during literally the most expensive season— festival season, where places like Edinburgh double or even triple their prices.
- The UK is one of the most expensive places in Europe to backpack.
- We're from Canada and the exchange rate when we travelled was more than double, i.e., we needed over $2 Canadian just to get £1— that's atrocious, and meant that a basic coffee was costing us over $6. This is not ideal, friends.
- We travelled for 10 days, flying out of Toronto, landing in London, and from there covering Oxford, Stratford, York, Edinburgh, Inverness, the Isle of Skye, and Glasgow— flying home to Toronto from Glasgow.
- All prices will be listed in Canadian dollars, with the final total converted into USD as well.
- Inverness— $112/2 nights
- Glasgow— $135/1 night (an actual small hotel called The Acorn Hotel).
- Edinburgh— $265/3 nights (festival season, what did I say)
- Oxford— $72/1 night
- London— $48/1 night (did you ever think you would see London as the cheapest of anything?)
- $2074.92 round trip/2 people
- BritRail Pass— $796/8 days unlimited travel, 2 people
- Bus from Gatwick into London— $30.75/2 people
- One way Greyhound bus to Toronto from Waterloo— $26/2 people
- London Underground— $48/2 people, round trip from city centre to hostel near Hendon Station
- Roughly $325
- Bodleian Library Tour— $29/2 passes
- Isle of Skye day tour— $190.82/2 passes
- Personal spending money— $50 each
Total: $4252.49 in CAD // 3,255.44 in USD
1. Accept hostels. I cannot even imagine how expensive this trip would have been had we insisted on staying in hotels all the way— I would guess at least an additional $1000. Was that last night we spent in the hotel amazing? Oh hell yes. But the nights we spent in hostels were such an integral part of the experience. It was different. It was fun and interesting, we talked to interesting people, and got to experience a kind of culture that wouldn't have been available to us in a standard hotel. But friends? Bring yo' earplugs. Seriously.
2. Don't eat out everyday. There were a few things that were an essential part of the trip we had to get: a proper fish and chips, a full English breakfast, a pub meal at The Eagle & Child, and a quick sip at The Elephant House. We had about one coffee/tea a day in a cafe almost exclusively to get the free wifi to assure our parents we hadn't died.
But otherwise? It was grocery store all the way, and honestly, this might have been one of the best parts of the trip. We got to try all kinds of things we had never seen before, explore what's normal and familiar to the people living there, save a metric crap ton of money, and have some really amazingly gorgeous picnics. In case you're interested, the meal at The Eagle & Child was fantastic, the fish and chips at Skye incredibly overpriced and not very amazing, as way The Elephant House.
3. Explore on foot. On this trip we walked over 20kms every single day, and I wouldn't have it any other way. We saw things we never would have seen from a speeding car or bus. We got to experience the sounds and smells, talk to the people, stop to look at posters and shops, art, and ancient buildings. And the best part? It's free. We slept like babies, got to spend beautiful days in the sun, and generally had an amazing time. Protip? Bring good shoes, mate.
4. Avoid tourist crap. There are so many ways we could have added hundreds of dollars onto this trip. Castle exploration being the number one. I might be a huge Debbie Downer in saying this, but abandoned castles are abandoned castles. We were able to explore the area around both Edinburgh Castle and Eilean Donan Castle for free, still got to see the beautiful sight, and saved over $50 per person per tour.
The one thing we did do was a small-bus tour of the highlands out to the Isle of Skye which was incredibly worth it because a) we were not old enough to rent a car and b) the tour guide was the best part. He was knowledgable on 352 different subjects, funny, and über considerate. Thanks Michael!
5. Find the amazing free things. Hands down the best parts of the trip were our epic hike up Arthur's Seat— a dormant volcano just outside Edinburgh's downtown core— picnicking in the Princes Street Gardens, exploring random neighbourhoods and parks, museums like the National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland (most of which are free in the UK, by the way), wandering the grounds and buildings of Oxford University, and checking out the free parts of festivals like the International Book Festival.
What is your favourite way to stay frugal while travelling? Have any great secrets? Share the love in the comments!
Curious what we packed? Check that out here.
Interested in seeing more photos from our epic trip? Here.