I’ve noticed a lot of people have been travelling through the UK, I assume trying to take advantage of what’s left of the summer weather and breezy autumn temps before winter comes roaring into Northern Europe. However, it seems that some budget backpackers in the UK are feeling the squeeze because of Britain’s high cost of living. Here are a few “cheap travel UK” tips and suggestions for your next tour – file this away and keep it in mind. Otherwise, you might just starve.

Food and drink

  • Pubs are some of the cheapest places to eat – and yes, most of them have salads and vegetarian choices, it’s not all steak pies with chips. See the specials board as you can usually get a really good deal.
  • Along a similar line, most restaurants run an ‘early dining’ special. If you can get a seat sometime between 5-7pm, you can get two-for-one deals, freebies, and good discounts. If you don’t see anything on the main menu, just ask – sometimes there is a regular specials menu they don’t always put out.
  • As with many countries, a few jars and a night on the town in the UK can quickly blast through even the sturdiest travel budget. Check out BYOB restaurants (though watch your corkage fees), and if you must go to the latest, hippest night club, pace yourself with those £6 cosmopolitans.

Travel and transport

  • Public transport it is! Be sure to investigate travel cards or transport cards for big savings. For example, the Oyster Card in London can save you about 50% on all travel and pays for itself in one trip.
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  • While those black cabs may look like a wonderful tourist experience, you’ll pay dearly for it, especially in cities outside of London, believe it or not. Avoid taxis at all costs.
  • There is usually more than one type of transport to get around, so check out the cost differences between train travel, bus, and flying. For flights, booking far ahead is best, whereas bus/rail carriers seem to post specials around two-three months prior to travel. Always check the carrier website itself (not the aggregators, whom I’ve had limited success with) for the latest specials, especially the National Express East Coast who always seem to be running a promotion. Never book trains last-minute; if you do, expect whopping walk-up fares like you see with airlines.

Shopping and souvenirs

  • Want to bring home some whisky or Pimms for a friend? Skip the speciality stores and just head for a grocer. The prices are far cheaper and the selection isn’t that far different. When you’re travelling the UK, the same goes for food: shortbread lovers, this means you.
  • Maybe I’m biased because I’m based here, but the UK has Europe’s best collection of tawdry, mass-produced souvenirs. Do you really need that <insert item name here> that is produced in bulk and has a cheap “Scotland” sticker slapped on the front? Skip the impulse buys.

Know where to go

It pays to get out and explore because, well, there is more in the UK than London

While all of these tips apply wherever you go (because everywhere can be expensive), it pays to get out and explore because, well, there is more in the UK than London. Here’s a couple of suggestions:

  • Manchester – with a mad nightlife scene and Europe’s largest concentration of university students, you’re bound to have a good time (without starving).
  • Cardiff – often overlooked, but Wales is a lovely alternative option. You can spend your whole trip walking in the outdoors – for free!

Ask a local

My last tip is an important one and a tip I use all over the world, not just for cheap travel in the UK: ask a local. Give your followers a shout on Twitter or Facebook and ask for discount suggestions. Sometimes there is a local magazine or tourist brochure with coupons that is easy to miss, so don’t ignore the advice you can get from the folk who are on the ground.

What are your tips for not starving and Cheap UK travel?

Photo by timparkinson

Your thoughts on "How not to starve while travelling in the UK"

  • Andy, Great ideas. Also don't forget the supermarket. You can purchase whole roasts or pies and a pre-packed salad very cheaply. Then go and find a spot to sit and watch the sunset (in the summer) with a bottle of wine (also purchased from the supermarket).

    on October 13, 2009 at 5:24 am Reply
  • I would add that British candy bars make great presents for friends at home. Cadbury and others just make such delicious treats, I always stock up when I'm over there.

    on October 13, 2009 at 7:29 am Reply
  • Ok - all this talk of food is making me very hungry!

    on October 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm Reply
  • Basset's jelly babies ... sigh ... We made good use of the pub chain Whetherspoon and their pie and a pint deals for a lot of five quid lunches and dinners.

    on October 13, 2009 at 8:37 am Reply
  • Great tips! I've been leery of traveling to the UK because of the cost of living, which I know is dear. But with tips like these, maybe even a backpacker with the lightest of wallets can make a go of it!

    on October 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm Reply
  • If you're staying in a hostel or anywhere with self-catering facilities, even if it's just a microwave, you'll find that all the supermarkets do great ready-meals, even a full Indian or Chinese selection. Grab a few beers from the off-licence and you've got a restaurant meal without the cost.

    on October 15, 2009 at 7:39 pm Reply
  • Like Nora, I've always been leery of attempting travel in the U.K. because of prices. These are helpful tips that I'll have to revisit if we go there. Maybe now I'll be more likely to put it on the wish list!

    on October 19, 2009 at 8:51 pm Reply
  • Absolutely. The UK was one of the places we found self-catering to be cheaper than eating at restaurants. In quite a few places -- with a little hunting around -- it was cheaper to eat out (and save yourself the dishes). But in the UK, supermarkets have so many good quality ready-to-eat meals that it works. Fruit was surprisingly expensive, especially compared with fare from a market, if you're lucky enough to have one nearby, as we were in St Albans.

    on October 20, 2009 at 9:35 am Reply
  • Great tips, it brings back memories of my working holiday years in the UK. If you are from Australia or the Euro zone 2009 has never been a better time to travel in the UK. The pound is the weakest it has been against the AUD in 30 years.

    on October 26, 2009 at 8:08 am Reply
  • Awesome tips. I was afraid of the pound for a long time, and it kept me from visiting the UK. But I finally ventured to London last month and... well, I wish I could say it wasn't as bad as I'd feared! These tips would have been killer to have. But next time, I'll be equipped. Thanks!

    on October 28, 2009 at 12:01 pm Reply
  • The cost of living in UK is outrageous, as i know through living here for 28 years, but there are good places to find cheap food and drink. Supermarkets are nearly always the cheapest around, with certain special deals dotted about.

    on December 8, 2009 at 4:18 am Reply
  • Go to UK chain Waitrose just before they close on a saturday and you'll get prepackaged meals (caeser, scotch eggs, veggie curries, etc.) that normally sell for 3 to 4 pounds for 50p! you'll have to eat them within the next 3 or 4 days but the two of us ate like a king and queen for 3 days for an average of 2 pounds per person a day! C'mon, you can't beat that :)

    on February 24, 2010 at 5:00 am Reply
  • This is a really interesting article for me as I am from England and have always wondered what it’s like for foreigners to travel in the UK. I suppose the closest I have been to this would be living on a budget in my student days but only in regards to food and accommodation. Certainly is a great list of tips and would be interesting to read the feedback about this from real travelers.

    on March 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm Reply
  • There are quite a few bakeries (and also those located within major supermarkets) that slash their prices down dramatically after 6pm. Great bargains to be had! Most self catering cafes located inside big supermarkets (such as Tesco) also have good deals on meals for under 2 pounds.

    on June 6, 2010 at 10:21 pm Reply
  • In my experience there are still many short and long term employment opportunities for youth traveling in the UK. This is a perfect option to maintain a reasonable living standard and also involve yourself in the local community. Regardless of the economic status I vouch that some types of positions remain in demand. It is important that you research and increase your employment opportunities if you plan to travel extensively; this is and has been for over 30 years a way of life for many seasoned travelers and expats.

    on July 13, 2010 at 1:13 am Reply
  • If you ever in Birmingham and fancy a sit down meal why not visit a Balti Restuarant. Balti is from Pakistan. It is a curry dish that is served in a dish and is eaten with Naan bread. Being Muslim the Balti restaurant does serve alcohol. However, you are permitted to bring your own wine or beer to drink. It is popular of eating out on a budget.

    on October 10, 2011 at 3:25 am Reply
  • Great ideas everyone, thanks for adding them :)

    on October 10, 2011 at 8:44 am Reply
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