Travel more, spend less: top holiday money-saving tips

Published by Holly Thomas on 31 August 2018.
Last updated on 31 August 2018

Camel infront of pyramids

Travelling is often top of the bucket list for the newly retired, but while you might have all the time in the world, you might not have the money. Here we meet some readers who have sussed out how to travel without breaking the bank

Maria Keehan, 61, has been travelling all over the world for the past three years, without paying a penny for accommodation.

Her husband died nine years ago and, after five years, Maria traded in her quiet life living in a cottage in County Limerick in Ireland for an extensive travelling expedition as a petsitter. So far, Maria has been to 16 countries, including Australia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, using TrustedHousesitters.com. She has taken care of cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, fish and even a turtle.

“Petsitting has allowed me to travel extensively, and that wouldn’t have been an option if I had to pay for accommodation. I have stayed in some fabulous homes. One in Cyprus took my breath away. It had marble flooring, countless bedrooms and an enormous swimming pool. I also get to drive some very posh cars if the owners allow me.”

Maria, who used to work as a medical receptionist, is careful with her money and sometimes has a little help from the families she sits for. “People can be extremely generous. One family left me a case of wine. Others leave lots of essentials, so you have a nice starter pack.” Maria says her novel approach provides an exciting way to travel. “Not only do I get to experience new places, I’ve met some wonderful people, many of whom I’m still in touch with. My next jaunt is to Italy. Who knows what that will bring?”

Maria Keehan (above) has travelled to 16 countries, including Egypt, thanks to petsitting

Protect your trip

More than a million holidaymakers suffered travel chaos last year after Ryanair announced it was cancelling 20,000 flights because of staffing problems. Shortly after, Monarch collapsed, leaving 860,000 passengers high and dry.

If you are booking a package holiday, check it is ATOL protected. ATOL is the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence – a government-backed scheme. When trips are ATOL-protected, you are guaranteed to get your cash back if the travel firm you booked with goes bust. If you’re already abroad, the scheme will ensure you can complete your holiday and travel home as planned. For more information, visit the Civil Aviation Authority’s website at Caa.co.uk.

If you are booking your flights and accommodation separately, make sure you have a travel insurance policy covering ‘end supplier failure’ or ‘travel abandonment’. This protects you if a company you have booked with goes bust.

Travel insurance is also vital in covering you for the cost of any emergency medical care while you are away, or if any of your luggage is lost or stolen.

Buy your policy as soon as you book your trip, in case unforeseen events force you to cancel. If you are travelling frequently, buy an annual plan, which will cover you for a year and any number of trips. See page 21 for travel insurance cost-cutting tips.

Petsitting isn’t the only way for you to get free accommodation. If you own your own home and it is in the sort of place that people will want to visit, it’s worth looking at marketing your home on a home-swap website. Upload a description and pictures of your home, and, once you see a potential home you would like to stay in, you can message the owner to offer a swap.

Richard and Pauline Andrews started house swapping in 2014. The pair have a contemporary four-bedroom home in Thame, Oxfordshire, which they say is in constant demand through the home swap website LoveHomeSwap.com.

Richard, 68, says: “Our first swap in the Loire valley was with a couple who had already completed 25 swaps, and this gave us great confidence in the process. Next we spent a month in New Zealand, which cemented our confidence.”

“With a home swap, we can take friends and extended family at no extra expense”

Richard, who worked as a chartered surveyor before retiring, adds: “Since then, we have been to France three times, Holland, the Isle of Skye and Thurso in Scotland, London, New Zealand, South Africa and Switzerland, and in the coming months we are going to Australia, Germany, Holland, Ireland and New Zealand.”

Richard and Pauline, 65, say that, aside from the free accommodation, they enjoy the use of a car and access to larder ingredients, which saves on having to stock up on food staples every holiday. “It all adds up,” says Richard. “And you get so much free and useful advice, especially in the numerous conversations before the swap takes place. We usually have quite a rapport before a trip. We also like the ability to take friends and extended family at no extra expense.”

Love Home Swap says 25% of its users are retired.There are lots of other membership-based websites that allow you to arrange swaps for homes around the world, of any size, including Homeexchange.com and Homelink.org.uk. They have search filters to help you find exactly the type and location you want.

Richard and Pauline Andrews (above) have house-swapped to many far-flung destinations, including Cape Town

You will need to find dates that suit both swappers and be comfortable with having strangers in your home. Make sure you let your home insurer know in advance – some policies will exclude theft or accidental damage if you allow other people to stay in your home.

Some sites acknowledge that a ‘classic swap’, where someone comes to your house while you go to theirs, won’t always be possible. So some sites offer the option to swap for points. You can use these points another time to stay in another home for a trip of your own. Users rate and review each other, which helps get a clearer picture of the homes on offer. Richard says: “There’s a huge level of trust involved, but as long as everyone respects a home as their own, the concept is fantastic.”

In the case of house sitting and house swapping, you still need to pay for flights. So even if you’re offered a dream pad in Malibu, you will need to get yourself there.

Gail and Graham Jenkins (above) got a bargain to San Francisco

Top money-saving tips

Check deals carefully Comparison sites focus on the cheapest fares, but these may involve long stopovers or multiple stops.

Delete your browser history Do this when you are researching flights, and use private browsing, as prices can rise based on the number of times you revisit a particular website to check fares.

Stay ahead of the sales Sign up to airline and holiday comparison site newsletters and alerts so you’re ahead of the game for flash sales, discounts and special offers.

Lounge for less A one-off pass to an airport lounge could save you money, as the shops and restaurants charge eye-watering premiums. A day pass can set you back as little as £13.50, so it’s worth investigating. Check out No1lounges.com.

Use a travel credit or debit card Organise your holiday finances with a credit or debit card designed for overseas use, which you can pay off online or by direct debit from your UK bank.

Currency card It’s also worth considering getting a pre-paid currency card for the different countries you will be visiting, which you can top up online from your UK bank account whenever you need to.

However, some travellers have found ways of getting bargain flights. Graham and Gail Jenkins, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, love to travel now that they are retired. Graham, 64, searches high and low for the cheapest flights. “For a special trip to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, we decided to go to San Francisco,” he says. “I came across a great newsletter from Jack’s Flight Club (Jacksflightclub.co.uk), which scans for the best discounts, hidden offers and even error fares. We bagged return flights for £300 each in the end. I couldn’t believe how cheap they were.”

The pair, who worked as tax inspectors before retiring, are also dedicated to getting bargain accommodation through Airbnb, where people rent out their homes and second properties to holidaymakers.

Graham says: “The trick is to find a place that has very few bookings and then you can haggle on the price by contacting the owner and stating what you’re prepared to pay. They would rather have something rather than nothing. I email what we are prepared to pay and have negotiated a 50% discount in the past.”

Graham adds: “If you are away and are in need of last-minute accommodation, we found a great app called Hoteltonight.com. We got some real bargains on it when we were travelling around California.”

Janet and Darrill Moore, both 72, don’t pay flight or hotel costs when they go on holiday. The couple have been caravanning for 37 years, but now that they have stepped back from running family businesses they have been going on as many as 14 trips a year.

Janet says: “Caravanning is an excellent way to see the UK and beyond, and it’s such great value. There is, of course, an initial outlay to buy a caravan. But you make your money back quickly when you factor in the savings. You can pick up a secondhand caravan for around £5,000.”

The pair, from Bournemouth, Dorset, love to visit the Cotswolds, Yorkshire and Scotland in their caravan. “We also go to London at the beginning of December each year to take in a show and see the Christmas lights. We stay in a site in Crystal Palace, south London, which last year cost us £90 for five nights. You might not find a hotel for one night in London for that price. It’s incredible value.”

Janet and Darrill also venture to Europe regularly. “We love France and, being retired, we can travel on the ferry at the cheapest times. We always book through The Caravan Club, as you get a much better price. The club has sites all over with great rates. We have even been skiing in Austria – the caravan was warm as toast. You really can go to all sorts of places in a caravan.”

Janet loves to cook and, with a small freezer in their caravan, they can take home-cooked food with them.

“I pack up meals in portions, so that we just take out what we need,” she says. “It saves a fortune in restaurant bills. Another money-saver is being members of the National Trust (£108 a year for a couple). Once you’ve paid the annual fee, entry to attractions is free. We can take our two labradors with us, which saves on kennel fees too.”

‘We book early to get cheap cruises’

A cruise might seem like an expensive luxury, but experienced cruisers have lots of tricks to snap up the best discounts. Lesley and Harry Loades (pictured above) have been on dozens of cruises – and have already booked up their 2019 holidays. Lesley, 58, says: “Cruises can be expensive, but if you know the right tricks you can bag a real bargain.”

The pair, who live in a retirement village near Bath, Somerset, swear by booking early. “We travel with Saga, which offers up to 35% discount if you book far in advance,” says Lesley, who worked as a civil servant. “Even better, we moved to a retirement village last year that has an affiliation with Saga, which means we get a further 20% off.

“For a 30-day trip to Canada (including Vancouver, pictured above) in 2019 – which is to celebrate my 60th birthday – we paid around half the price. Before the discount, it would have been £6,500 each. We paid just over £3,000 each after deductions.”

Lesley and Harry, 83, highlight that the beauty of being retired means you can plan ahead. “You can be as flexible as you need to be to find the right deal,” says Lesley. “And with all-inclusive cruises, once you have paid the bill, you don’t need to spend any more unless you want to go shopping, have treatments in the spa or go on excursions.

“There are always lots of things to see and do on board, which are included in the price. On our last cruise we went to the Mediterranean and there were Spanish classes on top of all the normal things such as deck games.

“It’s during these types of activities where you end up meeting people.

One of the best things about cruises is the friends you make. We have made some fabulous friends on our travels.”

Sign up to receive newsletters from cruise companies to get early notice of trips. All-inclusive might seem budget-blowing, but weigh up all the extras and it might be a better deal after all.

HOLLY THOMAS is a personal finance journalist who was the money editor of the Daily Express and has written for The Times, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Financial Times and Mumsnet.

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