A phrase that is often quoted in my household is “holidays aren’t a money-saving exercise,” which my dad famously said during a family holiday to Crete. While perhaps not the best approach to take while working from a student budget, he makes a fair point. We don’t scrimp and save all year to go on holiday to then not spend any money – that defeats the point.
Having new and exciting experiences on holiday is exactly what we save for, and more often than not, that requires spending a bit of money. That does not by any means suggest that a large budget is necessary for having a good time away. On the contrary, I’ve found that in a lot of cases, my smaller budget has pushed me to do things and have experiences I would not have had otherwise, which I wouldn’t change for the world. So, here are my tips for having the best student-budget holiday possible.
Walking on city breaks has been the best choice I have made, as it allows you to have a holistic experience of the real nitty gritty of the place
For many people, some things are considered essential spends on holidays. The drinks and ice cream fund, of course. Souvenirs, naturally. However, the one that baffles me the most is transport. Yes, you need something other than your legs to get you from your airport to your hotel in most cases, but even this can be done more cost-efficiently than the standard taxi. Cheaper experiences I have had are a shuttle bus in Cyprus, a tube attached to the airport in Berlin, and a 5 euro coach journey in Rome – all of which have certainly added something of an adventure to my trip.
Transport on holiday, however, further extends to actually going to see the sites you came for. In my experience, walking on city breaks has been the best choice I have made, as it allows you to have a holistic experience of the real nitty gritty of the place. It taught me that Rome is not just the Coliseum, but a place where people live, protest, and practice religion. It taught me that Berlin is more than its famous wall, but a home to anarchist communes and post-USSR apartment blocks. It taught me that Bled is more than a beautiful lake, but colossal mountains and Alpine cottages.
Walking on holiday has lead to uncountable experiences that I could not have planned into an itinerary, and I am a true believer that you cannot say you have seen a city if you have only seen the tourist attractions. Should you choose to accept this challenge, Google Maps is your best friend; it works offline, and it is easy to bookmark locations so you have everything you desire pinpointed on a map.
If you must use public transport, look in advance to see if it is possible to pre-book for discounted tickets
Obviously, I understand that walking everywhere is not possible for everyone. Other options include bike hire, an option that is great for your wallet and perfect for a short break as it allows you to get from A to B far more quickly than walking. However, if you must use public transport, look in advance to see if it is possible to pre-book for discounted tickets, for example a three day pass, which may be cheaper than buying tickets individually on the day (and saves a lot of confusion at the ticket office).
If you opt for the famous tour bus, shop around. There are often many companies operating within the same city, with some offering cheaper options. During my time in Rome, I compromised and went on a “Night Tour”, a far cheaper option than the standard, with the added magical experience of seeing the city at night.
One of the biggest suggestions I can make is to plan. Plan, plan, plan. For many attractions, booking in advance not only makes entry cheaper, but also means less time sweating in the queues and more time exploring. Online there are many cheap and discounted options, and you will be surprised how many places are free, or discounted for students. For example, in Vienna all museums and art galleries are free to those aged 19 and under, and in Rome all attractions are hugely reduced for EU students under the age of 25.
Staying in accommodation with kitchen facilities while Interrailing and further when holidaying in Rome saved me a huge amount of cash
A skill some of us have developed at university is cooking. Staying in accommodation with kitchen facilities while Interrailing and further when holidaying in Rome saved me a huge amount of cash, and by no means undermined my experience. Not only does it give you more time to explore the area, but you still experience eating local foods.
In my opinion, one of the greatest experiences of a new place is adjusting to their supermarket system, and can be a true test of your limited language skills. Luckily for me, during my trip to Rome my boyfriend went on most of the supermarket journeys. As a self-professed “morning person”, he spent the hours before I awoke scavenging for our breakfast and lunch for the day, leaving me lucky enough to awaken to the smell of fresh, Italian bread; which, I can assure you, is no Kingsmill 50/50.
Not everyone has a “morning person” in their life, and food has to be bought sometimes. So, make use of that magical encyclopaedia in your pocket – TripAdvisor. The angels at TripAdvisor do all the hard work for you, letting you see whether a restaurant matches your dietary requirements and food budget before you get there. The best places are often off the beaten track, and never in tourist areas, where food is overpriced and of a far lower quality. The trick is to think like a local, and do as they recommend.
If you want to have a great experience on holiday without breaking the bank, plan ahead as much as you can (but not so much that you prevent stumbling across hidden gems in your walks). The key here is not to go away as a tourist, but as a person, seeking new experiences.