When you’re planning a trip, it’s easy for the costs to start mounting up. From booking flights and trains, paying for food and drink and a place to stay, and then you have to think about what you’re going to do while you’re there. It’s easy for trips to get very expensive when you’re booking on to every tour of activity going, but sometimes we just need to get away and see somewhere new on a budget. Whether we’re travelling with our families, or backpacking with friends, it’s easy to let a lack of money get in the way of having a good time but it doesn’t have to be that way. Keeping with the theme of a previous post – “How I Afford to Travel So Much” – I’m sharing more ways to make travel as affordable as possible and to turn it into a reality for you. I get so many questions about how I manage to do so many activities when I visit a new place so I’ve decided to create one big bumper post all about the best way to find free activities to keep you entertained and to help stretch those pennies as far as possible when you hit the road. Whether you love street food or private jets, there’s no denying that we all love a bargain and stretching our money as far as possible, so here are my best tips.
The internet is a wealth of information when it comes to these things – when I lived in Melbourne, I always checked the Time Out website to see what free activities were on in the city when planning my days off. From exercise classes, to festivals and even live music – the website covers everything and you find some real gems. I’ll definitely be checking out Time Out Hamburg now I’ve moved over here. Also look for newspaper websites for what’s on listings, local blogs and community sites and their social media for any good suggestions – the newspaper I work for at home offers a What’s On listings section/gig guide/cinema listings which are updated every Friday. I love reading blogs just like this one to see what amazing freebie experiences there are in every new place – I actually find getting creative about visiting a place makes it much more memorable than just visiting the sights everyone knows.
Why spend money on walking/bus tours when you can get them for free? As I discovered thanks to a friend of mine, Sandeman’s New Europe tours offer free walking tours across lots of European cities which are absolutely fantastic and best of all, free of charge! They are run on a tipping service instead, which means you can go free, or you can just tip whatever you can afford. These tours are genuinely some of the best I have done anywhere in the world thanks to the enthusiasm and excitement of the person running the tours – I tried them in Amsterdam and Berlin and loved the experience both times.
Talking to people is the best way to get the most up-to-date and often less reported side of what is going on in a city – talk to the people running your hotel/hostel, talk to the waiter in the restaurant, the people in the tourist information center, random people you bump into on the street. You’d be amazed what you will find out, like the time I discovered you could hire bikes for free in Fremantle and I went for a full day of bike riding adventures with new friends or when I discovered you could do free wine tastings on a visit to Swan Valley.
Head into nature
Nature is free, so make the most of it. Whether you’ve got kids or you’re with friends, why not head to the beach for a day of fun in the sun, or check out a hike, go wandering in the woods, or even head down the river. When I lived in Melbourne, I made it my business to head out to a different beach or on a hike in the woods on every day off I had (read my Melbourne beaches guide here and read my places to escape into nature around Melbourne). I paid weekly for my travel card so it cost me no extra to hop on a train to a nearby town. It was a free way to get a lovely day out. When I was in Sydney, I loved doing the Bondi to Coogee walk on a sunny day and it didn’t cost me a penny! Living up in Darwin, my boyfriend and I would pack the car up and head off camping in a national park every few weeks, it was free and a lot of fun to explore. Nature is the best resource you have when it comes to free activities, so next time you think you’re bored, even just head out to lay in the sunshine with a book and tell me that’s as boring as staying in your hotel.
Hostels are fantastic for free activities and, even better, for free activities! Often they’ll organise walking tours and free food nights in the bar/restaurant, and it can be a great way to meet new friends. At a backpackers, everyone is on a budget so there’s no embarrassment about being the one to suggest going to the free “wine and cheese night” or joining the nightly volleyball match in the hope of winning some free beers. It’s a lot of fun and you can even win some great prizes – I won a pass for the New Zealand Kiwi Experience backpacker bus and my friend won a Whitsundays cruise! Join in the competitions and take part in the activities, and there is nothing wrong with taking the free meals if you’re strapped for cash.
Open to the public
You’d be amazed at how many attractions are actually free entry and these are things you should really make the most of – from art galleries to museums and libraries, I even went to Sydney Observatory when I was in Australia and had the best time, all for free. In London entry to the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the V&A is free, as are lots of others and these are all a day out. When I was living in Melbourne I had the best time exploring the National Gallery of Victoria, which puts on the most amazing exhibitions. Always look to see what kind of mini-events are being held at these for children which are often free of charge. I never used to think I was that interested in art, but since visiting galleries all over the world and museums to match, I absolutely love them.
Always check out council websites and any tourism offices for good information regarding free transport – I found out by accident that there was a free shuttle bus running the length of Sydney CBD but it made a hell of a difference when it came to getting around. Plus on Sunday’s all travel was capped at $2.10 in the city including ferries which saved you a heck of a lot of money on a day trip to another beach like Manly. Sometimes it’s possible to get a free travel card to try out when you arrive in the city which is perfect if you’re just there for a weekend, it’s best to ask tourist information for the best deals of search online.
There are a surprising number of these about for those who are on a serious budget, Lentil As Anything in Sydney and Melbourne is a great example. You go along and order food, all lentil-based but fantastic cuisine, and at the end you pay what you can afford, so it is accessible for everyone. There was even live music when I went along and it was lovely to see everyone – rich and poor – supporting a good cause and all eating together. Check online and read the papers to find out about these.
Enter competitions & social media deals
Want some freebies and have a bit of time to kill? Entering competitions is a great way to get access to great deals and fun activities. A friend of mine spends time every morning entering any competition she can find and she always wins great prizes for her kids. Look in local newspapers/radio stations, check online and ransack social media for every place you visit. I’ve managed to win photo shoots, free drinks, free food, tickets to a Hello Magazine party and even a Kiwi Experience bus pass through a hostel competition. If you’re on Twitter (follow me here) check out the #freebiefriday hashtag or #winitwednesday for some great deals and usually all you have to do is retweet.
Why not check out these posts for more specific ideas for free activities:
- Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia
- 10 free things to do in Sydney | Australia
- Travel | My ultimate tips for backpacking on a budget
- My top five ways for exploring a new city
- Eight ways I ALWAYS manage to save money on my trips | Travel
- How to get that luxury 5* experience on a budget
Planning a trip – what are your favourite free activities when you visit a new place? How do you cut costs on activities and save money for the things you really love?