This is a great way to have a low-cost holiday. The simplest option is to house-sit for friends or relatives while they go away – you get cheap accommodation and they know their home is secure. Or, if you can find a mutually convenient weekend, arrange a swap.
Staying at a property you already know, or hosting people you know at yours, is likely to be more relaxing than swapping with a stranger, but there are websites dedicated to matching homeowners with house-sitters they might never meet. These often include homes abroad, too. They charge a fee – typically about £100 a year. The Guardian has a partnership with a site that lists lots of UK homes (guardianhomeexchange.co.uk).
She says: “Owner members include their personal details when registering, while sitter members go through a mandatory ID check, and all listings go through an approval process before they go live on the site.”
She has travelled the world looking after cats and small animals, and frequently stays in London, saving herself hundreds of pounds each time. She recently stayed in affluent Pimlico for two weeks at no cost.
Sleep under canvas
Camping has become more expensive as sites add facilities but it is still one of the cheapest ways to see the UK.
Choose campsites that have access to lakes and rivers so you can swim. Picking one where you are allowed to make fires to cook on, or have barbecues, will keep children entertained and reduce costs.
Online platforms advertise places where you can stay, but you may get a better deal booking direct. (The same with holiday lets, car hire and so on.)
See if friends and family have equipment you can borrow. Or consider Tentshare, a UK website that enables people to rent out their tents and camping kit. This could also help the environment (the site says an estimated 250,000 tents go into landfill each year).
A family tent can cost upwards of £400, but renting one at Tentshare costs about £60 for a weekend. You pay a deposit upfront, which will be refunded as long as the equipment comes back undamaged.
It is free to list your items for rent on Tentshare and you choose how much to charge. The site takes a 15% cut of any booking fees you make.
Many businesses are open to haggling, and it is definitely worth trying when booking a holiday. Which? says you may be able to save money by haggling with your travel agent or calling a hotel directly.
Work for your holiday
William Pointing from the website Great Deals Made Easy suggests volunteering as a way to get free accommodation and a change of scene. He says: “You could perfect your gardening, writing or even cooking skills while often getting free food on top of the accommodation.” However many places will ask that you sign up for a couple of weeks.
Website Worldpackers lists opportunities for volunteering in the UK and beyond. Conservation Working Holidays provides masses of information on courses, events and volunteering roles in the conservation, countryside, wildlife and ecology sectors.
WWOOF is an international organisation that operates in the UK. It assists volunteers who want to learn about organic farming and self-sufficient lifestyles. In return for helping out at a farm and family home you receive free accommodation and food.
Check out the local council website for the area in which you plan to stay. These usually list free events and activities.
Use social media to do the same – community pages will advertise fairs and other events that might be on while you are visiting. Search the internet for forums, reviews and recommendations for lesser-known places to visit. At English Heritage’s website, you can see its free-to-visit sites.
If you do want to treat yourselves to paid-for attractions, buy cheaper advance tickets where available.
Check out comparison and cashback websites, which can be good for getting money back on all sorts of purchases including holidays. Among the biggest are TopCashback and Quidco.
My VIP Rewards carries discount deals for a range of businesses of all sizes, including holiday firms. It costs £3.99 a month to subscribe, but there are decent savings. At the time of writing, Lancashire Holiday Lets and Ribble Valley Holiday Homes were offering 10% off. The code LOVESAVING1 gives you a free month’s use of the site and app.
The JamDoughnut app offers prepayment gift cards to use online, in-store or on the phone, and earn reward points. Once you have received £10-worth of points, you can take out the cash.
At the moment you can get 2.5% cashback from Lastminute.com, 8% on Airbnb, and 15% from National Express coaches.
Check your credit cards, too. Many will have offers for travel and holiday-related purchases, while some do cashback.
Reward points for supermarket shopping and credit cards can also be used to make big savings on travel, accommodation and even meals out.
Nectar points can be spent on stays at some hotels, while Tesco Clubcard has a huge range of partners that accept vouchers, including holiday firms and attractions. You can use Clubcard vouchers to buy a railcard.
One of the big costs that can get overlooked when planning a break in the UK, is the price of getting to your destination. With petrol prices at record highs, this will be a serious part of your spending if you plan to travel by car.
Don’t forget to fill up near your home because service stations on motorways tend to be (a lot) more expensive. Use PetrolPrices.com to plan where to fill up.
For train travel, check if your journey qualifies for GroupSave before splashing out on a Railcard – if you do not already have one. You might find you can get a saving without an upfront cost.