Exploring England on a Shoestring

There are many words we associate with England, from ‘history’ to ’roundabouts’ to ‘teapots’, but ask anyone who’s actually been to the old country and they’ll probably trump you with another: ‘Expensive’.

While it’s impossible to argue that England is a costly place to live – house prices, apartment rental fees and gasoline taxes are among the highest in the world – common perceptions that the whole country is a cripplingly expensive tourist trap are wide of the mark. At least, it doesn’t have to be pricy. With just a little prior knowledge, and some on-the-ground smarts, England can be an ideal shoestring destination.

Accommodation

We’ve already mentioned that living in England is a luxury that few Americans can afford… but finding a cheap place to stay during a short trip is a breeze. Fantastic cheap accommodation options include Bed and Breakfasts (also known as B&Bs), summer university houses, YHA youth hostels, camping sites and, for the more adventurous travelers, hospitality websites like CouchSurfing.

If you’re heading to London, bear in mind that it’s a particularly expensive place to stay… so do not base yourself there. Rather than lodging in the capital and heading out to see other sights, find a place to stay in the suburbs and commute into London. Or, even better, skip London altogether and go visit some of the country’s other incredible cities and natural wonders. A general rule of thumb with accommodation prices is that the further north you go, the cheaper the beds get – so a smart shoestring traveler might simply shun the likes of Bath, Hastings and Oxford and head to Liverpool, Newcastle and York instead!

Travel

For many tourists, the price of travel in England is one of the most unpleasant surprises during their trip. While there is no doubt that ticket prices for London Underground and the National Rail network can be ludicrously expensive, you can easily ease the pain in your pocket with just a little forward planning.

Within London, using an Oyster Card will ensure you never pay over the odds for  Underground train and bus travel, as it always charges you the cheapest possible ticket (e.g. if the price of all your single trips reaches a certain level, you will be charged for a day card – and no more) . However, with so many of the capital’s big tourist sights in close proximity, you won’t even need the trains, buses or (very pricy) black cabs to get around… you can either walk the pavements or hire bikes at regular stations instead.

If you’re traveling through the rest of the country, you can save significantly on train travel by booking more than seven days in advance – or save on it completely by trying to hitch a ride from a motorway (highway) service station. And if that doesn’t work, there are always the super-cheap intercity buses…

Attractions

For more than a decade, all national museums and art galleries have had free entry, so whether you plan to visit the British Museum in London, the TATE Gallery in Liverpool or the National Railway Museum in York, you won’t pay a penny. While other big attractions like the Tower of London or Warwick Castle do have an entrance fee, the regular appearance of ’2 for 1′ deals in national newspapers means they need not cost the earth. And if they’re still too much for you, well, there are plenty of other castles in England.

Food and Drink

You’ll be amazed just how affordable food in England is. If you want to eat out, you will find takeaway lunch deals from supermarkets and bakers for only a few pounds, while several pubs around the country offer hearty cooked dinners (plus a drink) for just a fiver… the same price of a portion of fish and chips!

And if you’d rather cook something for yourself, you can pick up incredibly cheap ingredients in budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl, as well as cheap alcoholic and soft drinks. Be warned, however, that this really is a case of getting what you pay for – so you might want to try the mid-priced Morrisons instead.

Shopping

England is a true mecca for shopping-lovers. Besides the fact that London is one of the world’s ‘big four’ fashion capitals, the country is also home to Europe’s busiest shopping street (Oxford Road in London), some of the continent’s most expansive shopping malls (including Bluewater and the Trafford Centre) and a great alternative fashion district in virtually every city (from Camden Market to Affleck’s Palace).

Most of all, England has some of the best value high-street fashions in the Western world. Home-grown outlets like ‘Primark’ and ‘T.K. Maxx’ offer fairly fashionable clothes at considerably cut prices (you will pay less than £10 for still-stylish shirts, jeans, bags and even shoes!), while you’ll even find unbelievably cheap clothes in big supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsbury’s (everyone can afford £2 for a t-shirt!)

If you can also restrict your souvenir shopping to big-name supermarkets and tourist information outlets (rather than the street vendors) you’ll find you spend surprisingly little on retail therapy during your trip.

In fact, follow our sage advice (and your own penny-pinching instincts) and you’ll find you spend surprisingly little… period.