I’ve spent some time travelling in other countries and often struggle to find the cheapest methods of getting around, so to help any tourists coming to the UK I thought I’d start a new section sharing my top tips for budget travel in the UK. So, to start off – what are the cheapest transport options between cities for tourists in the UK?
One of the first transport options you’ll probably think of, trains run to all major cities and are generally quite convenient. However, it must be said that the rail network in the UK leaves much to be desired compared to other countries. In particular, there are often delays, some train stations are quite far out of town, and (a particular personal annoyance) in the south almost all routes go via London (expensive and inconvenient). On top of that, tickets are SUPER expensive. Therefore, personally I would usually look at other transport options before considering the train.
However, if you’re going to take the train here are a few top tips:
- Book in advance
Websites such as trainline offer big discounts compared to buying at the station on the day. If you are currently abroad it’s not an issue either, since you can chose to pick up the tickets at a station upon your arrival in the UK or even opt for mobile tickets for some stations. The further in advance you book the tickets, generally the cheaper they are.
- Consider booking each section separately
OK, quite difficult if you don’t know the UK train network very well, but if your route involves changing trains you sometimes find that booking each section of the route separately mysteriously works out cheaper… Here’s a good website to work out “ticket splitting” options for your route!
- Book off-peak tickets
At different times of day train lines charge different fares – in particular, travelling at “peak” times (generally, before 9:30 am or between 4:30 – 6:00 pm) not only are trains more busy but the prices go up, since this is the time most people are commuting too and from work.
- Book return tickets
If you’re planning to return along that route any time in the following month, you can book an “anytime return” ticket which is usually much cheaper than two single tickets.
My personal favourite, coaches are one of the cheapest ways to travel between cities in the UK. They are usually much more comfortable than regular public buses, much cheaper than trains, and some visit smaller towns en route – great for visiting somewhere in the countryside. Some particularly good companies are:
- National Express – slightly more expensive, frequent travellers in certain categories can buy a coach card for discounts, many coaches have WiFi, major hub in London Victoria (right in the city centre), website lets you plan routes (including changes) between all major cities (note: sometimes cheaper to book separately), mobile tickets available, usually run fairly direct routes
- Megabus – SUPER cheap (sometimes you see tickets going for 50p!!!), 10% NUS student card discount, no WiFi, website can’t cope with booking routes involving changes, tickets must be printed, usually have lots of stops at random small villages
Usually, they run different routes so you don’t get a lot of choice between the two – for example between Cambridge and Oxford the only option is Megabus (from £3), whereas the quickest route from Winchester to London is run by National Express (from £5). Just like trains, ticket prices are MUCH cheaper if you book in advance, and also you cannot buy tickets directly on the bus.
Just avoid – crazily expensive…
This might seem an odd option to mention for such a small country, but if you’re travelling from the south of England up to Scotland, you may find that flying is not only quicker but also cheaper – in the past I’ve managed to get tickets from Southampton to Glasgow for under £30! Even relatively small cities often have local airports, and there are also major international airports in cities like Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, etc. if you want to start your trip further North of London. Budget airlines operating in the UK include Flybe, EasyJet and Ryanair.
As you can probably tell, I’d generally highly recommend coaches over the train – unless you are travelling very long-distances, where the extra comfort of train travel could be preferred (my butt still remembers a 14 hour coach journey up to Newcastle as a 18 year old…). I haven’t mentioned privately hiring cars/ campervans since I have never done this, but if you have a valid international drivers licence these are also options to consider.
If you have any questions or need transport advice don’t hesitate to ask questions below!