Choosing a car-free holiday has a reputation for being expensive, so I’ve put together some tips for travelling cheaply without a car.
I personally believe that travelling by public transport is the best way to see a country. In the UK, it’s pretty easy to organise and plan, but it can be expensive. I’ve never owned a car, so I’ve gotten used to travelling by train and coach.
Saving money when travelling by public transport is more than just the ticket price. This guide talks about saving money on food and sightseeing, too.
Coaches are cheaper than trains
Generally speaking, you can get a coach ticket from Megabus or National Rail for less than the equivalent train journey.
Also, they don’t always take longer than the train. There’s an assumption that coaches will take a lot longer than going by train or car, but this isn’t always the case. Check journey times before you travel and also see where the coach station is compared to where you need to be.
Coaches in London normally stop in Stratford or Victoria, so if you’re going to attractions close to these stations than it can be easier and quicker to get the coach directly there.
My husband and I travel with a Two Together Railcard. It means that whenever we travel together, you save 1/3 on the ticket price. It costs £30 but we easily save that in just one or two journeys.
The first time you apply you need a passport photo each, but after this they just reuse the same photos.
There’s lots of others, if you’re disabled, aged 18-25 or over 60, there’s a railcard for you which will save you 1/3 of the ticket price. National Express also offer similar cards for just £10 for the year!
I always travel to airports by train or coach. Read more about why I think travelling by public transport is more convenient for your holiday.
Book in advance!
I can’t stress this enough, and I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to it, but you need to book in advance to get the best prices on UK public transport, especially for long trips or trips in and out of London.
National Rail permit you to buy tickets three months in advance. In my experience, it’s not like aeroplanes and the price never goes down closer to your journey date. Have you seen this happen? Let me know in the comments because I’d love to hear more about it!
Use 2 for 1 entry with your train tickets
If you’re visiting an attraction in and around London, you can download a voucher from the rail company to get 2 for 1 entry!
Ben and I used this for entry to Kew Gardens when they had their orchid display on. There are LOADS of trips on there, including the Dungeons, Sea Life Centre, walking tours… There’s pages and pages of fun things you can get 2 for 1 entry to.
You can check them out here.
Pack your own snacks
It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that once you are on a train you need to eat everything in sight.
I always take a water bottle and cereal bars as a minimum but sometimes I’ll pack sandwiches and fruit as well.
The prices between the train platform and on the train itself are similar, but there’s less variety on the train so I’d recommend buying anything on the platform if you can.
Just be careful when you put bags in the overhead storage if you’ve bought hot drinks. Don’t do what I did and drop a water bottle from overhead onto a cup of cappuccino. It makes a lot of mess, the train guards definitely don’t like it and it makes the carriage stink of coffee for the rest of the journey…
Split your train tickets
Some apps were designed to help when travelling cheaply without a car.
Use an app like Trainpal to easily split your tickets and save money.
Split ticketing is where your journey is broken down into smaller parts that are cheaper than the overall price of the journey. You don’t need to get on or off the train at each stop as your tickets still cover you for the full difference.
When you sign up to Trainpal you usually get a voucher and they run little games through the year where you can win vouchers for £2-£20. They’re free to enter all in-app, like spinning a slot machine, but you get more turns if you share the app with friends or on social media, so that’s what they get out of it.
If you’re still just dreaming about travelling further than your home town, read about the Free Virtual Travel Events so you can explore from your own home!
Sometimes first class is cheaper
First class tickets can vary across the different rail operators. On the Great Western Railway you get a sit down meal, on Northern trains you get a caterer who brings tea and snacks to your table and with Greater Anglia you can occasionally get a cup of tea and biscuit with your ticket.
Do they offer value for money because of their ‘free offerings’? Not really. But you do get a comfier seat, more space, definite access to a plug socket and generally fewer children making noise.
When you buy your tickets, check the first class option because it’s often cheaper than standard fare. I haven’t found any reason for this, so if you know why this might be let me know in the comments!
Travelling cheaply without a car with the London Underground
Pay with your normal contactless bank card! You don’t need to order an Oyster card anymore.
You have to remember to scan in and out of each station with the same card to be charged accurately. Transport for London will review where you’ve been and automatically charge you the correct fare, whether that’s for one trip, a day ticket or over a week.
It can only do this if you use the same card each day! So, pick a contactless card and stick to it.
You can use the same system on the Thames Clipper ferries, too.
Check cashback sites
You can make travelling cheaply without a car easier by using cashback sites when you buy your ticket.
Raileasy, Trainline, Megabus and National Express are regularly on cashback sites, so it’s worth checking Top Cashback etc before booking a journey. You could get around 2% of your ticket price back by doing this.
You can book any rail journey through any of the UK train operators, which means you can use the Greater Anglia website to book tickets all over the UK, even if it won’t be them transporting you.
This means that if any of the operators have a cashback option then you can use it.
Using Local buses
It’s easier to plan national journeys when thinking about travelling cheaply without a car.
The prices for local buses vary widely throughout the UK. In Norwich, a day ticket is £5.00 if you buy it on the bus!
In contrast, Wakefield has a free circular bus taking you through the town and past both train and bus stations.
When I lived in Nottingham, I hated the trams there because they’d installed them on pedestrianised routes so I was always walking in front of them by accident! They have a bell which never gained my attention quickly enough, but they use their horn when they get really angry!
Now though, I love when cities I visit have trams!
What are the bus prices like where you live?
I hope you found all these tips useful and will start putting them into practise when travelling cheaply without a car. Remember as well, that there’s no petrol or car parking charges!
Are you new to travelling by public transport? Or are you a seasoned traveller? Let me know in the comments or get in touch with me on Twitter!