Whether you’re backpacking or flash-packing, getting value for money when you’re travelling lets you do so much more, and gives you a certain sense of satisfaction. Good value doesn’t always come from the cheapest deal, mind you – no point paying less money if that bus often breaks down. The trick is to measure quality against price, and to think creatively. If you’re going exploring, can you share the cost of cheap car hire with fellow travellers, for example, instead of paying for a coach trip? And if you fill up on that nice restaurant’s lunchtime deal, you’ll be getting the same quality for a third of the price you’d pay in the evening.
Hopping on the bus
Bus is typically the cheapest way to get around a country, but it often also takes more time, so you should weigh its cost against needing to spend more on accommodation because you’ve wasted a day getting there in the first place. Look for rail passes and see if they actually work out that much costlier than the bus. If you have long legs or get motion sickness, the £20 you save by taking the bus instead of the train may not represent very good value at all. That said, in many countries you can’t beat the bus for a cheap and often sociable trip, especially if you’re travelling through interesting scenery.
Cheap train travel
Eco-friendly and, if you play your cards right, easy on the wallet, rail is often the best way to explore a country. Resources like The Man in Seat 61 and the Thomas Cook international rail timetables make planning your rail journeys in advance pretty easy. Navigating some countries’ ticketing systems can be more of a headache, especially when they have “special” prices for tourists. Be unafraid to enlist local help if necessary.
In Europe, InterRail, Eurail and BritRail passes let you travel around the continent’s rail network for a fraction of the individual ticket costs, and often give discounts on other services in your destination countries. It usually works out cheapest (and most eco-friendly) to take the train as near as dammit to wherever you want to explore, and then hire a bike, car, or take local public transport once you’re there.
When not to skimp
Many overnight trains have seated options as well as couchettes and sleeping berths. Most travellers only need to spend one night travelling upright for eight hours to get their fill of it for a lifetime. Unless you’ve an uncanny knack to sleep soundly anywhere, in any position, travelling this way too often can make you exhausted and spoil your trip. This is especially important if you’re unwell. In fact, it’s worth keeping some money aside especially for this, because comfort is far more important than cheapness when you’re travelling sick. You’ll get well much faster if you’re travelling overnight in a good private bunk than if you’re huddled on a plank.
Walking, cycling, & hitch hiking
You have to be fairly fit to see a whole country using the first two methods, and hard as nails for the last to be anything but unwise. Unless hiking or cycling is your passion, accept that you will need to pay for motorised transport sometimes, or you’ll find yourself limited. By the way, hiring a motorbike or scooter can be fun, but take a good look at the roads and traffic, and be honest with yourself about your skills, before you choose this option.