Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays

frugal holidays

Mr Shoestring and I work hard all year. We scrimp and save and live a frugal lifestyle to make sure bills are paid and no debts accrued. One thing we insist on, however, is at least one vacation a year.  We know we can go on our frugal holidays!

Building it into our budget

Building a holiday fund into our budget is important to us. We don’t run a fancy car, have lots of nights in the pub or wear designer clothing. Because of this, for the last few years we have managed two holidays every year. It depends what your priorities are and this is what we like to do.

A Welsh idyll

However, we still can’t afford a luxury 5 star hotel in the Maldives. We have our holidays but they have to be within our means. For several years we have spent a week in Wales at an organic smallholding, staying very cheaply in an old but comfy caravan. We mostly self cater (always treating ourselves to some superb Welsh lamb and other local produce) and have a great week walking, wild swimming and perusing the interesting towns and villages nearby. This costs us around £350 for the week, including accommodation, food and transport.  You can see our gorgeous Welsh home from home here.

We generally also have a holiday abroad and have found all inclusive works well.  However this is more expensive. So if the all inclusive package holiday doesn’t suit your budget, what other frugal holidays are there?

My cheapest holiday

Years ago,  I hitch hiked through France and into Spain with my then boyfriend. We stayed in the most basic campsites en route and occasionally pitched the tent in a random field. We once slept behind a pile of rocks on a motorway as we were dropped too late to find another lift. I wouldn’t recommend that! This holiday cost barely anything, but would I let my daughters do it? NO WAY! I mention it just to prove you can have some kind of break away on the tightest of budgets. Instead of hitching, I would get them to explore Interrailing. This seems still to be a great way of travelling in Europe. There is an interesting article about the pros and cons of Interrail here.

House swapping

I have done house swaps several times in France and in Spain. The big advantage is that your (usually comfortable and well-equipped) accommodation is free. In addition, someone is looking after your house as well. However, you do still need to get there. We drove to France and Spain. The latter was a long journey with relatively young children and we did need to stop over at a cheap hotel on the way, which obviously added to the cost. However, there is no reason you can’t house swap in your own country, especially if you live somewhere generally popular with tourists. I used a now defunct house swap organisation aimed at teachers, but there are many, many on the internet these days. This is a good option for families.

A disadvantage of house swapping is the amount of work that goes into getting your house ready. You need everything to be very clean and tidy, and your house needs to be in good decorative order.

Sun £9.50 holidays

Each January the Sun newspaper runs its £9.50 holiday promotion. You collect 10 tokens from the papers and can book a 3 or 4 night holiday for 4 people for (in theory anyway) £9.50. In fact. as this article from Money Saving Expert explains, they generally cost more than this, but are still very good value and worth investigating.


In case you think I have gone barking mad (geddit?), this means Working On Organic Farms. If you are in good physical and mental health, you can volunteer to work on farms throughout the world in exchange for your bed and board. You do need to pay a subscription to the host country’s WOOF organisation and your own travel costs. However, this can be a great cultural experience and you are likely to make many friends from around the world. Tom and Liza, who own our lovely Welsh smallholding, take in WOOFers every once in a while.


Camping as a family is probably the cheapest holiday option of all. However, it can be expensive to buy all of the gear to start with. You will need a large tent, inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags, lights, a gas cooker, and utensils like kettle, pots, pans, plates, cups, etc. as a minimum. I would also go for a fold up table, a wind break and some comfy chairs. A friend insisted on camp beds, a fridge and a loo as well! If you are going to go away regularly you will soon recoup the costs as generally campsites are so much cheaper than other forms of accommodation.

If you are camping in the UK you all need a decent set of waterproofs! You are at the mercy of the weather. We had some fabulous camping holidays when the kids were young. However, If I am being honest, we also baled out of two. One because of continuous, heavy rain and the other because the winds were so bad our tent almost got blown away!

We bought our tent in the sale at the end of the summer and managed to pick up some other bits second hand. We even managed to pick up some gear on Freecycle. Overall, camping is a great frugal holiday choice for families.


Years ago, I belonged to the Youth Hostels Association. YHAs were always an excellent frugal option for accommodation. It was basic and you had to do some jobs to stay in them, such as clean the loos or sweep the stairs. They appear to have moved on apace and now the YHA prices are for private rooms similar to hotels, with much of their accommodation upgraded. However, they still have some more traditional dormitory hostel accommodation. Their Brighton hostel is advertising rooms from £11.85 a night.

I had a look at hostels more generally as an option for frugal holidays. Some of the foreign language students have used them to stay in places such as London and Cambridge. They are super basic but cheap. You share a room with a lot of strangers, not all the same sex. Sometimes they aren’t as clean as you might ideally like! However, if I was young and travelling on a budget I would definitely do my research and give some of them a try. You can stay in a dorm at a backpackers hostel in Birmingham, with free breakfast, from £13 a night.  More information  on frugal holidays in the UK and abroad can be found at Hostel World.

Become a house sitter

This is one I would love to try! Offer to look after someone’s house and pets for free and you can stay in their house for nothing. Trusted House Sitters can put you in touch with those who would like their pets and accommodation looked after. There are opportunities worldwide. According to the promo video, it is possible to families, couples or solo travellers to do this. You do have to pay your own travel costs, however, and obviously love animals.

So – my ideas for frugal holidays in a nutshell. What are yours? Have you ever house swapped or what is your experience of camping?

21 thoughts on “Think you can’t afford to go on holiday? Ideas for frugal holidays

  1. I love Athens.
    Booking easyjet from Edinburgh 6 months in advance when flights come out a return can be had for £60.
    Favourite hotel Attalos hotel twin room balcony in heart of Athens 60 euros for a twin room so cost of holiday £250 ish Eating is cheap yogurt n fruit , kebabs simple salads.
    Have also stayed in budget Cosmos hotel twin £24 euros a night so around £10 a night each total cost £130, is further out but on metro line Less than 10 mins at 1.40 euros each way.

  2. There’s a lot to be said for staycationing if the costs of going away on holiday will blow your budget or cause you to go into debt. We do this quite a bit for various reasons, not all of them financial ones. You do need to be disciplined about not getting sucked into normal routines and obviously you miss out on the change of scene and horizon which is quite an important part of the value of going away somewhere but you have no travel hassles or expenses, the place you are staying in is equipped with everything you need and you can guarantee a clean bathroom and kitchen and comfortable beds! We like to plan a few longer day trips than we would normally undertake and try to be outside and away from phones and emails as much as possible. I work from home so I have to make sure I change the ansaphone message to say I am on holiday and set up an “out of office” response on my email before firmly shutting the study door and leaving it shut but it works for us. A week spent like this can be very restorative especially if you are really tired or frazzled. You are also very unlikely to end it with a purse full of holiday debts and a garden populated by dead plants that you couldn’t water in that hot spell that arrived just after you took off from Heathrow! E x

    • Some excellent reasons for a stay cation, Elizabeth. I Think we should all try this, enjoying the things that are close by that we never get round to seeing. We have a museum of buildings not far away and yet it is decades since We went there.

  3. Some excellent ideas here, Jane. In May we house (and cat) sat for my daughter in Shropshire. It is a lovely county and although we have been many times there is a lot of it that we hadn’t seen as we’ve never been ‘on holiday’ there before. It was a fab, cheap option and we will certainly do it again.

  4. I can’t think of anything really enterprising, Jane, but we used to do house swaps when our boys were young. A very good idea, but as you say, it means a lot of work beforehand, making sure that one’s home is guest-worthy!
    Also, especially if you live in a very nice area (as we fortunately do) I would suggest staying put and just enjoying one’s own home and area. Treat it as a real holiday – prepare for it, get the housework done, the clothes laundered, even save for it, and then have lunches and/or dinners out, visit art galleries and museums if that is your thing, visit your local bowling green, they will often let beginners have a ‘go’, visit a zoo or other attraction, have a picnic somewhere in the countryside, visit an historic house or garden. And then return to a clean and tidy home after having had supper in a nice local pub or restaurant.

  5. I haven’ tried it, but I hear staying in student Halls off Residence when they’re away for summer is a cheap alternative to Youth Hostels as well.
    Generally you get your own room, though the bed might be just a single, or if you’re lucky, a small double.
    I don’t know what happens about bedding though, as students normally have to bring their own, though there is sometimes an option to purchase a bedding pack (mostly aimed at students coming from overseas) which might be available.

  6. Retreats!.
    Pluscarden abbey near Elgin is fantastic!.
    Have been a few times.
    Run by monks , but they stress you do not need to have any religion, just wan,t to step back from fast paced world.
    Wonderful accommodation overlooking mountains. Males and females seperate accommodation.
    Monks supply bread cheese milk honey eggs at no cost.
    There is a kitchen to cook own food.
    Was an amazing away from it peaceful long weekend.
    Helped in kitchen garden when there, helped me de stress.
    Listening to morning Gregorian chant wonderful.
    I have no religion.
    No charge at all!. But they accept donations.
    Notice at enterance read donations are voluntary, we provide this freely. If you wish to donate a few pounds is suficient, any more will offend. We do accept food we could use to feed guests!.
    Was like being in a nurturing cocoon!.
    Have also been on a retreat in the borders was also lovely, forget name.

  7. Yep, actually I,m overdue escaping there!. Great for recharging batteries!.
    Couples do go but need to sleep in seperate acommodation, single rooms. Not en suite but bathroom with deepest old fashioned bath ever!..

  8. Food I took I left!. Home made bread , home made butter cheese n honey. Their own oats for porridge n honey . Yum. Guys eat with the monks simple vegetarian, ladies not allowed why we have a kitchen stocked with lovely organic food!.

  9. I would really like to go to a retreat. I am actually a very sociable person but when I was working full time I used to take myself off to a spa every now and again, always on my own so that I didn’t have to talk to, or consider anyone else. It recharged the batteries very nicely.

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