Thursday, 26 June 2008

Poor But Happy; awaydays and holidays

I travelled more this year than I have for ages, all on the cheap.
Getting there. In the UK going by coach is the cheapest option. Megabus, the Kwiksave of intercity travel (http://www.megabus.com/), cover most major UK cities and prices start at £1 each way plus 50p booking fee. National Express (http://www.nationalexpress.com/) have introduced Funfares which start at £1 each way, with no booking fee. They cover a few places that Megabus don’t, there’s no booking fee, and at some destinations they drop you in a more central location than Megabus do. The knack with both services is to book early. In 2005 Megabus had a ‘sale’ from September to December where travel was free and you just paid the 50p booking fee. Hopefully they’ll repeat this. I had one short holiday (4 nights in Manchester – Glasgow - Aberdeen – Perth) and four weekends away (Liverpool – Newcastle – Bristol –Leeds). Travelling by coach instead of train I saved around £104 or £2 per week (15 minutes). For UK destinations not on the cheap routes of the firms above, check local coach firms. I visit relatives in Somerset about 3 times a year and use Berry’s coaches (http://www.berryscoaches.co.uk/). They do a period return for £18 while the train is about £40, a saving of £66 a year, or £1.27 per week (10minutes).
As a bit of a stop press, just in time to head off my incipient piles, Megabus have started running trains on some routes, £1 each way plus booking fee. See http://www.megatrain.com/.
Outside the UK, coaches still work out cheap. Eurolines, (http://www.eurolines.com/) are worth a try for shorter individual trips in Europe, especially if you book late. They also do 15 and 30 day passes that let you travel between many European cities, from about £135 in low season, or less if you’re under 26, but it’s actually a shit deal because they don’t let you book the different legs of your trip before you leave, so it’s hard to plan your holiday or sort accommodation.
I’ve never flown. I’m not scared of flying, I’m just scared of crashing (© Jim Bowen 1979). For those who do fly, these sites have been recommended to me for cheap flights; www.easyjet.com , www.cheapflights.co.uk, www.ryanair.com . Mile for mile, air travel creates about 25% more CO2 emissions per person than car travel (6). You can get the info you need to feel suitably guilty at this site; http://www.chooseclimate.org/ . You’re always going to need travel insurance abroad but if you’re a Brit and you travel inside the EU make sure you fill out form EHIC from the Post Office so you can use the State health service where you’re going.
Staying there. Hostels are good if you don’t mind roughing it a bit. Try www.hostelbookers.com which doesn’t charge a booking fee or www.hostels.com. A reliable bet is the Youth Hostel Association (http://www.yha.org.uk/ ). It’s £15 a year to join and you’ll easily save that on a few nights’ stay. Life membership is only £200, which is a bargain providing you don’t get hit by a tram tomorrow. There’s no age restriction despite the name and membership entitles you to discounts on hostels worldwide. Accommodation is mostly in dormitories so bring earplugs if you want a good night’s sleep. YHA prices in rural areas and Scotland (http://www.syha.org.uk/) come out at about £12 - £14 per night. In big English cities prices are closer to those of cheap B & Bs so I often stay in those instead. You can find B& Bs for about £20 - £25 per night. Try http://www.findmeabnb.co.uk/ , http://www.bedandbreakfast-directory.co.uk/ , or best of all http://www.a1tourism.com/ . On my holidays I stayed at a mix of B and Bs and hostels and saved about £120 or £2.30 per week (17 minutes) against the price of pukka hotels. If you fancy camping http://camping.uk-directory.com/ lists sites in Britain.
Daytrips. The Megabus timetable can be a bit limited, sometimes making it impossible to fit a trip to a particular city within a single day, but if you mix and match with National Express Funfares you can usually still manage it e.g. travel there on Megabus and back on a Funfare. Check your local library for a copy of the AA’s Days Out Guide. For a DIY guide to most towns in the UK try http://www.knowhere.co.uk/ , although it can be a bit out of date. Contact the local tourist office in advance for free maps and guides. Take sandwiches. This year I made the most of the Megabus sale and had daytrips to Swindon, Brighton, Winchester, Cardiff, and Birmingham for a total of £4. I also had days in Coventry, Bath, Cheltenham, Cambridge for a total of £8 with National Express. At a rough estimate the same journeys by train would have cost an average £15 each, a total of £135 against £12 saving £123 or £2.37 pr week (18 minutes).
Festivals. Music festivals are great for a weekend away but the big ones have got really expensive, so investigate some smaller festivals. The last few years I’ve gone to the Truck festival outside Oxford (www.truckfestival.org/index.php) . It cost around £30 for the weekend compared to £110 for Glastonbury, saving £80 or £1.54 per week (12 minutes). The bands weren’t that well known but that doesn’t bother me – I had a better time than I probably would have at Glasto. Other good small festivals are TMF (http://www.tmfonline.co.uk/ £16 for 1 day) and Endorse it in Dorset (http://www.lgofestivals.com/ 3 days for £55). Find out more at www.efestivals.co.uk .
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