London is one of the greatest cities in the world but also one of the most expensive. That is why doing your research is vital when traveling on a tight budget. There are a number of areas where you can costs and save money, it just takes a little pre-planning and creativity but believe me the payoff is well worth it! London is one of those cities’s you get hooked on want to return to over and over again. It is filled with history, culture, architecture and beauty and you don’t have to spend a small fortune to enjoy what the city has to offer.
Your two biggest expenses are going to be your airfare and your accommodations. There are a couple ways to save money on your airfare. First, when you travel there are three travel seasons, peak season, off season, and shoulder season. Of course the cheapest time to travel will be during the off season but remember it is the “off season” for a reason. It falls during the winter months so the weather may be an issue. However if you don’t mind the cold or rain, the off season may be just right for you. The peak season falls during the summer months when the kids are out of school and the weather is nice but you will pay a premium for this nice weather since this is the most expensive time to fly. The shoulder season falls during the spring and fall months. The weather can go either way, sometimes is warm and summer like, other times it is cool and chilly, but the fares are descent so it’s kind of a happy medium between the peak and off seasons. If you travel during shoulder season try to get as close to peak season as your budget will allow. This way you will get a good fare and as well as the best possible weather.
You are going to want to stay away from big name hotels and focus on privately owned hotels, guest hotels, bed & breakfasts and apartments. Most people automatically rule out apartments assuming they will be too expensive but you can get some really good deals that are much cheaper than staying in a hotel, especially if you will be traveling with someone else who will be paying for their own expenses. Stay away from accommodations that rent per person, per night verses just by the night or week. Paying per person can add up fast especially if you are traveling with your family and you have to pay for each family member.
With a price per night accommodation, its one price and you’re done and if you are sharing a room with someone who will be paying for themselves you will be splitting the cost with them which will save you money. Also to save on expenses look for a place that includes a free breakfast or in the case of an apartment, you could pick up a few groceries and make your own breakfast before heading out for the day which would save you money. You could also have dinner in the apartment upon returning in the evening which would save you from having to eat out and would help save even more. The less you eat out the more you save.
When booking an accommodation look at its location on Google maps to make sure it is in a location suitable to your needs. It is near an underground (subway or tube) station. Is it close to or easily accessible to the train station if you will be using the train? You should also look at the reviews to make sure it is in a good area or that there is not a re-occurring complaint about it. Keep in mind there will always be someone who won’t be happy with it so don’t freak out about a couple of negative feedback’s but if there is a re-occurring theme you may want to pay attention to it. On Google maps you can use the street view option to look around the neighborhood. You can move up and down the street so you can get an idea of what the area looks like, what shops and restaurants are nearby. Remember the official accommodation websites are going to only show you the best pictures and views. By using Google’s street view to check out the area you will get the real picture.
Guest Hotels – are very similar to bed & breakfasts. They just have more rooms. They usually include a full breakfast, have no elevator and can be either en-suite or not so make sure you know before you book.
Bed & Breakfast – are a great option when traveling on a budget. You can find some great deals, they include a full breakfast, they are prices per night and rooms can come in either en-suite or with a shared bathroom so again if you want your own bathroom make sure you are booking an en-suite room. Not all bed & breakfasts may offer them so make sure you check. If you do have to share a bathroom and you have never stayed in a B&B before, it’s probably not as bad as you think. It’s not like the entire house is sharing one bathroom and you will be standing in line outside the bathroom door forever waiting for your turn to get in. Which is how I pictured it my first time. There is usually a bathroom on each floor for the occupants of that floor and there will only be two or three rooms (usually) per floor and they may not all be filled. Remember this is a B&B not a hotel; they will only have a small number of guests at one time. They won’t have an elevator so keep that in mind when you’re packing. Staying at a B&B is like staying with friends, you get your own bedroom, you see everyone at breakfast, chat around the breakfast tables and then your off to explore the city. It’s comfortable and homey.
Apartments – are a great option. Not only are they fun to stay in because it gives you the feeling of living like a local but also by having a full kitchen you can stock up the fridge and save money by eating meals at “home.” You can also keep plenty of cold drinks and snacks around which will also save money. Apartments are also rented by the night or week verses per person.
We found a nice double studio apartment near Paddington train station for $725 for a 6 night stay in mid May (2014). For a hotel at the same time prices are running about $931 and up. Keep in mind this does not include a kitchen which will save you on your food expenses.
Your sightseeing expenses can add up really fast if you’re not careful. Entrance fees to popular tourist sites can be fairly high, for example it will cost you $31.10 to get into see the Tower of London and $25.52 to see Hampton Court and if you are paying for more than one person that adds up quickly . While there may be a few of these on your “must see” list look for other less expensive but just as interesting things to see and do. For example the British Museum, one of the best museums in the world (in my opinion), is free. Don’t forget the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace which takes place daily during the warmer months and every other day during the winter at 11:30 am, it is quite a show you won’t want to miss and it’s free to watch. You can visit the Houses of Parliament and if you reserve ahead you can even sit in and watch the antics during a session of Parliament. There is a long list of museums and galleries that are free as well. So do your research before you go, plan out your daily itinerary, it’s ok to be flexible but by having a pre-planned itinerary it will save you time and money.
When figuring out your food budget it’s usually safe to assume it will cost you about the same as if you eat out at home and then just to be sure you may want to add a little cushion to the budget. There are plenty of places to eat in London that won’t break your budget. There is no shortage of fast food restaurants. Deli’s are also a great option for a good meal at a reasonable price and there are plenty of “mom & pop” style places to eat. My favorite thing to do for a meal is grab a couple of sandwiches from the deli and have a picnic in the park. London has some spectacular parks and it’s a great way to take a break especially if you are traveling with kids. Take a small inflatable ball or Frisbee with you and let the kids unwind for a while in the park.