I been asked a lot recently how I find trips and how I do it on a budget. There’s no doubt about it, I love a wee bargain!
I could have written a VERY long post on this subject but I’ve settled on sharing the apps and websites I use the most when planning and travelling.
How I decide on a destination
One of the questions I get asked most often is which places are on my bucket list. Well the simple answer is everywhere and anywhere. I don’t have a long-term travel bucket list plan, in-part because there are plenty of places in the world that aren’t on my radar yet but I have no doubt these are the places that will be the most memorable.
Thanks to the power of the internet, algorithms push a lot of travel special offers my way and I admit to taking the clickbait and having a nosy at the offers.
Travelscoop. appeared on my Facebook recently. I hadn’t heard of them before but they a digital travel brand. who highlight good travel deals from cheap flights to discounted package holidays. They also promote travel-related competitions and publish money saving travel tips.
Current offers on Travelscoop include; British Airways return flights from UK to Budapest plus 3 nights B&B in a 4 star hotel for £109 pp and UK return flights to Reykjavik plus 3 nights B&B in a 4 star hotel for £289.
I spotted a trip to the Azores departing in February on Travelscoop – £230pp for all inclusive 5 star hotel in Ponta Delgada including return flights from London.But I didn’t fancy a week lazing by the pool. So instead, I booked the flights that were part of the deal, sorted 3 self-catering houses across the island of Sao Miguel and hired a car for £150! No doubt I’ll write about the Azores holiday in a future blog (eventually!)
A firm favourite if you have a destination in mind to find the best/cheapest flights. But you can use Skyscanner for inspiration too. Here’s how..
And the Skyscanner car hire search feature is pretty great too. I hired a rental car from Dublin airport for a whole weekend for just €17.
Deciding when to go
I don’t have children so can avoid travelling during UK school holidays when prices shoot up and ports and airports can become a bit frantic.
I book my time off based on the trip rather than the other way round. I’m lucky to work for an organisation that doesn’t mandate when holidays must be taken. Sadly mandating holiday windows is a practice remains all too common even in 2019 in the UK.
I like exploring during “shoulder season” – when the chosen destination is not too hot or too cold nor too busy nor too quiet. I recall one particular VERY cheap long weekend in Bruges which seemed to good to be true…well it was, we went when it was a national holiday and all the museums were closed! So its definitely worth a quick check of national holidays before you go!
In contrast, when visiting Moscow, I was delighted to find out that certain museums were free admission because it was a Historical and Cultural Heritage of Moscow day! The staff were perplexed that I kept trying to hand over unwanted cash!
Sometimes you can hit a travel jackpot. With a bit of clever planning around public holidays, my 18 day trans-siberian rail adventure used just 9 days annual leave.
And I’m already planning for next year…here’s How to have 35 days off in 2020 using just 15 days annual leave
My kind of tourism – the more random and unusual, the better.
I use Atlas Obscura both or inspiration before I travel and when I’m on the move, as long as I have an internet connection, I can go on to the website and it will find quirky places to visit nearby.
Atlas Obscura is a website that brings together a global community of explorers, who have created a giant list of the world’s more curious and unusual places and foods —18,404 of them and counting.
You can create an account and keep a note of places you’ve been and places you want to visit as well as typing in a destination to show random places to visit nearby. And if you find somewhere that you want to share with others you can add your very own contributions to the website for example, I recently added the Mustard Museum in Cologne!
How I avoid getting lost (most of the time!)
I’m less frightened than I used to be of getting lost in a foreign country. Yet knowing how to get from A to B when travelling solo and when tired is a great comfort to me.
Maps.me is a simple downloadable offline map app, free to use and really simple and easy. I download maps before I go places – no need to rely on sketchy WiFi and I can bookmark my accommodation and all those quirky museums and monuments and find the category search particularly useful e.g. when needing that elusive ATM/post office/toilet*.
*Note: it’s not always perfect – I did end up going round in circles at a metro station outside Moscow much to the amusement of the locals and kept pointing at the map on my phone and saying Metro? Metro? I hadn’t figured out that the Metro was in fact above ground and not in the underpass with a dead end. In fact the ticket lady was so amused, she gave me a free ticket and told me to go, go and had a burly security guard escort me and my battered red suitcase in the right direction!
. Rome2Rio searches any address or point across the world and shows you the options to get from A to B. I was introduced to it by an inspirational 72 year old lady on my epic London to Sydney road trip. It’s available as an app and a website.
Here’s how it works – say I wanted to find out the quickest way to get from my house in Scotland to Interlaken in Switzerland, I type in my origin (or select “use current location”) and destination.
Using the internet abroad – VPN
The internet can be a bit temperamental when travelling abroad, not least because so many countries censor the internet so accessing sites such as Google, Facebook or WhatsApp can be impossible.
There is an easy way round which is to download a VPN app. Basically a VPN connects your smartphone or computer to a server and allows you to browse the internet using that sever’s internet connection. If that server is in e.g the USA and you are in China, it will appear as if you are in the USA and you can access sites that the Chinese government has blocked.
There are a load of VPN apps out there but the one has worked consistently for me through the ‘Stans’ and China is Monster VPN and the best thing is it’s free!
But, assuming you haven’t bought a local sim card, finding good WiFi can still be tricky. The best places for WiFi tend to be shopping malls and McDonald’s! Sometimes an upmarket hotel lobby can be a reliable option but can require a degree of blagging. I’ve found that the posher the hotel, the less likely they are to ask you who you are and why you are there so go 5 star and smile confidently at the staff!
Delays are inevitable
The more you travel the more you’ll experience delays and cancellations. I was travelling home from Beijing to the UK via Moscow with pretty horrendous food poisoning when I was pulled out of the transit queue in Moscow and told my flight to London was cancelled and I would be transferred to the later flight. Facing a 7 hour delay at Moscow airport with food poisoning was pretty miserable, I was a bit delirious and passed out on a lounger chair. It was only as I was heading to the gate for the later flight 7 hours later that I noticed there were sleep capsules available for hire by the hour!!
So next time you’re stuck at an airport kicking your heels – take advantage of the airport free WiFi and check out sleepinginairports.net/ to find quiet spots for a cheeky snooze!
Share your travel tips!
These are just some of the tools in my travel drawer but I’m always keen to learn and share, leave a comment with your favourites below!