How to Travel the UK on the Cheap

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The UK is one of the most expensive countries in Europe — and if you’re planning a trip, you might be daunted by the cost of transportation within the UK.

But it is very possible to travel the UK for cheap!

Since settling in Chester, I’ve found a host of ways to save money on transportation.  And all of them have one thing in common:

BOOK EARLY.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re traveling by train, bus, or air — booking early will nearly always save you money, and booking last minute will always be exponentially more expensive.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are some ways to save money on different kinds of UK transportation:

Cheap UK Train Travel

Train travel in the UK is incredibly romantic, and you can easily watch the scenery go by for hours — bright green hills, sheep, newly plowed fields, tiny villages…it’s my favorite way to travel the UK.

Most of the time, it’s also the easiest and fastest way to travel — though not the cheapest.  I even take trains to airports, where one line goes direct to Manchester Airport as well as the Manchester airport parking.

If you’re not a UK resident and planning on traveling lots of long distances in the UK by train, look into a Britrail Pass.  If you’re just booking occasional journeys, read on.

Check the Megatrain and Virgin Train sites first for absurdly cheap train routes.  These two sites tend to promote the same routes.

Next, no matter which destination you choose, check out The Trainline’s Fare Finder — it will show you the cheapest tickets for various dates and times.  Either way, booking on The Trainline is usually cheaper than other sites.

On all the aforementioned sites, you buy tickets online, then use the same credit card to retrieve your tickets at the station.

What to know: Be flexible on stations.  I was looking for Chester-Edinburgh round-trip fares and couldn’t find anything for less than an astounding £150.  Then I found out that there are cheap fares on Megatrain from Warrington Bank Quay to Glasgow, a short trip from Edinburgh.  I had never heard of Warrington Bank Quay, but it’s only a few stops away from Chester!

I paid normal fares from Chester to Warrington and from Glasgow to Edinburgh — but from Warrington to Glasgow, the longest part of the journey, I found a super-cheap £9 fare.

Cheap UK Bus Travel

The thing about bus (or coach) travel is that you need to evaluate the positives and negatives.  Yes, bus travel can be much cheaper than the train, but it can also take a lot longer, and most find it less pleasant (though all the coaches I’ve seen have been immaculate).

I usually book a coach when traveling from Chester to London.  The fastest trip is five hours (while the train takes 2.5 hours and costs at least three times as much).  To me, five hours on a bus is definitely doable, while 11 hours to Scotland is not worth it.  I may have managed a 32-hour bus journey in Southeast Asia, but I have no intentions of repeating that here!

First, check out Megabus for the cheapest fares of the bunch, then check out National Express for cheap fares but more convenient times.

What to know: Again, book as early as possible, especially on Megabus — they even have £1 fares!  Also, keep in mind that you must wear a seatbelt at all times — it’s UK law.

Cheap UK Air Travel

I wouldn’t recommend air travel in the UK most of the time — the sheer act of flying requires so much more time and effort, that it’s not worth it.  But it can be useful for exceptionally large distances, like London to Aberdeen or Inverness.

My go-to flight search engine is Kayak because it’s the best.  Be sure to check airline sites as well for unpublished fares.  Budget airline Easyjet has several domestic routes in the UK.

What to know: Budget airlines usually fly at inconvenient times from out-of-the-way airports.  Take this into account and make sure you have someone to drive you, or you’ll be paying through the nose for airport parking.  I’m lucky to have a friend who lives super-close to Heathrow so that Heathrow airport parking is never an issue for me.

Creative UK Travel Options

None of these float your fancy?  There are a few other options.  Rideshare sites are growing more popular in the UK.  My friend Dylan swears by hitchhiking.  And you could also do Britain’s most intimidating walk: Land’s End to John O’Groats (also known as walking from Great Britain’s lower left corner to its upper right corner.)

One thing that I’d love to do: rent a narrow boat in Chester and travel by the canals in the northwest, going through canal locks and everything!

The one thing you should NOT skip to save money in the UK? Travel insurance! I never travel with it and it will save you a lot of money if something happens on your trip. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Any more tips for cheap transportation in the UK?  Share in the comments!

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