Saturday, 5 July 2014

My 14 top tips for seeing cities on a budget.

Eagle-eyed blog/twitter/Instagram followers may have noticed I have been doing a lot of travelling this year, particularly over the last couple of months. In fact, I feel like Handbags and Cupcakes has almost become a travel blog, with the occasional recipe thrown in every once in a while for good measure. #yearabroad4eva

You may also have wondered, oh astute ones, how I have managed to travel so much as a full-time intern and student. Aka pauper.

Well, over the year I have become rather adept at budget travel. I've mainly been going on city breaks as a) they're easy to reach by public transport, and b) that's where my friends have been. (Obvious tip number 1: stay with friends and family for free!)

In just a few months I've been to too many cities to count, from Prague and Salzburg to Paris and Venice (and you can read about most of them on my travel tab.)

I have completely and utterly fallen in love with travel. I get so much joy from seeing the sights, exploring new places and discovering unknown corners of the world. Well, unknown to me anyway. In my opinion travelling is so interesting and enriching and an extremely worthwhile way to spend your pennies.

Being poor (well, it's all relative. Obviously in comparison to a lot of people I'm extremely rich and very privileged) needn't mean you can't have a good time on a city break.

So my dears, here's what I've learned and the tips I want to share so you, yes YOU, too can have lots of fun on your budget travels.

1. Buy food from (super)markets

There's no two ways about it, people: you need to kiss your Michelin-starred restaurant dreams goodbye and make friends with the local supermarkets and, probably even better, markets. They're a million times cheaper than restaurants, and depending n what country you're in, the chances are they'll have some pretty good stuff.

For lunch, perhaps, grab yourself a fresh in-store bakery sandwich which will probably be as tasty as those from the brasserie round the corner, without quadrupling the price merely to have it brought to you on a plate. And who doesn't love a good picnic?

2. Find free loos 

All this restaurant/café avoidance does create one problem though: where can you go to the toilet? Obviously you don't want to pay for public loos so what's a gal to do!? Well I've become pretty adept at finding free loos - aside from eateries, I've found department stores and shopping centres are often good options.

When it comes to using restaurant/café facilities without buying anything, I've developed three techniques:

        a) You just walk straight through, confidently, as if you have nothing to hide and are perhaps going to sit down afterwards.

        b) You ask if you can use the loo. Even when flashing your most charming smile and most twinkly eyes, they'll often say no (particularly in Paris, grrr). The next step is to adopt puppy dog eyes and say "Pleeeease, it's urgent!" and hopefully the waiter will then take pity on you, not want to ask for more details and kindly let you relieve yourself.

        c) Wait for someone to come out of the loo. You know in places where they have codes on the loo doors, the combinations for which are usually found on the receipts? Yeah, there's a simple way around this one. Just wait until someone else comes out and swoop in before the door shuts behind them. Sorted!

3. Speaking of going to the loo, always carry hand sanitiser, as you may find the loos you manage to use ain't the cleanest of facilities.

4. While on the subject of handbag esssentials, I'd advise carrying as many water bottles as you can and always keep an eye out for water fountains to refill!

5. Walk everywhere

Walking is the absolute best. It's a free activity, it's good for you and in my opinion, it's the best way to see a city. However, make sure you have stops. If you don't take time to sit down and rest your feet every few hours you'll burn yourself out and collapse in a heap. Trust me. I've been there. That brings me nicely on to...

6. Find a free walking tour. My fave free walking tour company is Sandemans. They're absolutely fantastic (I've done a fair few!) and are offered in loads of cities round the world. Check 'em out... you won't regret it! However...

7. Wear comfy shoes

Shoes that rub are a sure-fire way to ruin your day. (That rhymed, yay!) So painful, and it'll completely spoil your plans. If you do decide you can't take another step though...

8. Grab yourself a free bike. Boris bikes (London), Vélib (Paris), Villo (Brussels, even Noris bikes (Nuremberg) - most big cities have a bike-hiring service, and usually the first half hour at least is free. Often you can take a bike out for half an hour, go for a little pootle through the city, dock it at another station and take out a new one for another half hour. And if you're confident enough to manoeuvre yourself through the traffic, cycling is a lovely way to explore more of a city than you can do on foot.

9. If however you do think you'll need to use public transport, be sure to research it before. You may find special weekend travel passes that'll save you money.

10. While I'm on the subject of pre-travel research, check out free museums. I personally am not a huge museum gal, but I like to go and see them as they're often incredible buildings.

11. The same goes for castles and palaces in my book - the exterior is often more impressive than the interior. You usually have to pay for entry but marvelling at the outside and gardens is totally free!

12. Find free wifi

You can pretty much always count on Starbucks and McDonalds for free wifi, and you don't usually need a password (but you often need to accept some terms and conditions first.) Department stores, museums and other chain restaurants are good too. I can usually be seen loitering outside, fiddling on my phone, cheekily using the free wifi wherever I can. Hey, a gal's gotta Instagram, right!?

13. Keep an eye out for free tasters

Who doesn't love a free sample? I like to think of myself as a bit of a freebie-finding fiend, ever on the look-out for a bread taster or moisturiser sample. It's hard to specify particular places for freebie-finding, but department stores (always head to the food hall), big supermarkets and health food shops are usually good options.

14. Treat yourself once, and go for lunch not dinner

If you can afford to, and considering how frugal and thrifty you've been the rest of the time, why not treat yourself to one meal out and really enjoy it? By eating out at lunchtime you can usually take advantage of special lunchtime deals and should be able to have a lovely meal for much less than it'd cost at dinnertime.

And hey, don't get too hung up on whether you're rich or poor, just enjoy what's around you. What are your top tips? I'd love to hear them. Happy travelling!


  1. Great post! Pinning for when I (hopefully) travel around Europe.


    1. Thanks Gwen. Enjoy your (hopeful) travels! x

  2. Amazing tips Rachel! I always have hand santiser and tissues in my bag after a year of Italian toilets (hole in the ground, thank you very much). I'll keep these in mind next time I'm out and about! xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua Italy

    1. Thanks Lucy! I totally feel your pain on the toilets ha ha. x

  3. This list is like the bible for city travellers! I'm so glad you wrote this. I'm thinking about going away for a week somewhere soon, you seem to have been to a lot of amazing places recently, is there anywhere you would recommend?

    Beth x

    1. Thanks so much Beth! Hmmm well I particularly liked visiting northern Italy as it was completely new to me. I went to Bergamo, Venice, Verona and Desenzano, and you can read about each under my travel tab if you like. If that doesn't tickle your fancy do let me know and I'll recommend somewhere else. How exciting! X

  4. Great tips! Definitely will be needing some of those! :) Love it xx

  5. Great post for the frugal traveler, Rachel :) I can't think of a single thing to add! xxx

  6. These tips are brilliant! Especially on the toilets! I think more people need to take note of the walking too; you see so much more if you walk as well as it being a free mode of transport. Great post! :)


    1. Thanks Abbie... I'm glad you agree :) X


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