$79 per day in London requires some self-control in spending, but does not restrict you as much as cheaper daily budgets. It is a nice in-between of extreme budget travel and middle-road travel.
Note: When I budgeted $79 per day in London, one pound was equal to $1.20.
Instead of skipping amazing experiences for the sake of budgeting, these tips will help you become conscientious of your spending so that as much money as possible can be dedicated to activities.
Here is a fancy visual for you on how I spent money during my three weeks in London.
Most of my spending was on entertainment, like museums, day tours, movie nights, etc. This is great! Why do people travel? To adventure and create memories, of course! I don’t regret spending a single dime under this category, and neither should you.
Transport is unsurprisingly the second largest category. My plane ticket was a steal at $241, thanks to STA Travel‘s student fares and additional discounts. Public transportation within London is pricey, drastically increasing this category. Although I could’ve saved money by exclusively traveling by bus or by foot, it was much more convenient to travel by tube.
Accommodations came in at a close third. My hostel, Palmer’s Lodge at Willesden Green, was a steal for London. Located in Zone 2, I stayed in a female-only dorm. A free daily basic breakfast included cereal, toast, and a croissant. It certainly helped cut my food costs. I also stayed with a friend for a few nights, allowing me to further cut costs.
Food, one of my favorite subjects. I am quite proud of how little I spent in this category. I was able to cook meals in my hostel, which dramatically cut costs. Sainsbury’s offers a 3 meal deal, which is perfect to pack lunch for a day of touring. It includes a sandwich, drink, and side (chips, vegetables, or fruit). When I did eat out, I split my meal (and the cost) or ate during lunchtime when meal prices are nearly half off. I could’ve spent less if I hadn’t bought coffee and cake several times or bought so many snacks (somehow I accidentally brought home a whole pie one day).
Miscellaneous was way more than expected, mostly due to a hospital visit. Although medical care in the UK is free, my taxis there and back were not. Laundry at the hostel was pricey. I also wasted money by purchasing wifi. First I bought seven days of underground wifi. It was only five pounds, but I rarely used it because there’s no wifi in the tubes themselves and not every tube station has wifi. Oops. Then I purchased seven days of FONO wifi. Despite promising widespread access throughout London, I was less than pleased with its availability and cost. It was 24 pounds well wasted.
How I Cut Costs in London
- Buy the Oyster Card. The card caps your daily transportation around Zone 1 and Zone 2 at 6.40 pounds. The Oyster Card can be purchased at any kiosk in the tube station. It is a super simple process! Purchasing the actual card costs money, but the amount is refundable when turning in the card at the end of your trip.
- Take the tube from airports. Do not buy the overpriced express trains from the airports. Do as the locals do — take tubes and buses to get around, even when traveling to and from the airport.
- Take the bus. Buses cost nearly half of the cost of the metro.
- Walk. Many attractions are closer than they appear. If possible, only use public transportation at the beginning and end of the day.
- Find accommodation in Zone 1 or Zone 2. Public transportation costs dramatically increase if you have to travel outside of the city center. I stayed in Palmer’s Lodge at Willesden Green and enjoyed my stay. If you have friends in London, ask them for a few nights stay. I stayed with a friend for three nights for the cost of a few small gifts.
- Find a hostel which includes breakfast. These hostels usually cost a couple pounds more each night, but you will save money in the long-run by cutting out a meal each day. Just make sure you actually take advantage of the free breakfast!
- Don’t end up in the hospital. Although health care is free, not spending money on the taxis, etc. would have saved me over $50. Let’s be realistic though — there is no way to prevent this. Be sure to budget money in case of an emergency!
- Do not purchase WiFi. Instead, use the free WiFi in many museums and restaurants.
- Visit the free attractions. There are hundreds of free (or really cheap) things to do in London. Go do them. They are amazing.
- Buy the London Pass. If you would like to see several paid sides, check out if the London Pass is worth it for you.
- Cook at the hostel. Buying groceries will set you back around $50 per week, depending on how much you eat. I spent a lot less. Past residents also tend to leave leftover groceries when they check out. Look for those as well!
- Eat out during lunch. Eating at local restaurants is one of my favorite parts of travel. Ordering the lunch special will usually cut the bill in half! Try to find restaurants about five to ten minutes away from mega-touristy sites.
- Order tap water. Be specific and ask for tap water, which is free. Otherwise the waiter will give you a fancy and expensive water bottle. Try to stick to water when eating out because coffee, tea, and other drinks are quite pricey.
- Pack a lunch. Bring reusable containers with you and eat in a park or at a museum’s cafe. Most museums will allow you to bring the food inside as long as it stays unopened in exhibitions.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Not only does it help cut plastic, but most hostels have a water source available for its guests. Fill the bottle up in the morning before setting out for the day and never have to purchase an overpriced bottle of water again.
- Stay longer. I visited London for three weeks. This allowed me to take my time visiting attractions and, most importantly, spread out costs. I naturally broke up my expensive days doing (and spending) a lot with inexpensive days spent wandering aimlessly and occasionally sipping coffee in a cute cafe.
- Buy the grocery stores’ meal deals. Most grocery stores offer some form of a meal deal. They usually include a sandwich, snack, and drink and cost around five pounds. It is a steal for typical UK prices. Packing a lunch is still cheaper than purchasing the meal deal, but if you’re feeling lazy (as I often did) pop into a Sainsbury’s or other store and purchase one of these.
- Take a day tour with Golden Tours. These are incredibly high quality tours for comparatively inexpensive prices.
- Purchase discounted tickets. Students and seniors will find the most discounts, however there are occasionally family discounts or pack discounts (purchasing entrance to several attractions at once). Nearly every attraction can be booked online at a discounted rate.
- Participate in a free walking tour. I participated in the Old City of London walking tour by Free Tours By Foot and it ranks as one of my favorite experiences while in London. Not only was our tour guide, who closely resembled Adele, incredibly knowledgeable and witty, but the tour moved at a nice pace. It was leisurely to the point I was not sweating, but also not so slow I was tripping over my feet. The stops included a generous amount of time for photographs and note-taking. Finally, we were shown some of the best, historical, and quirky spots in London!
How You Can Save Even More Money
- Stay downtown. By having your accommodation close to all the sights you want to see, you will be able to walk or take the bus every day instead of paying for expensive metro rides. It is worth a few pounds more each night.
- Eat fast food or at chains. It was not until the end of my stay in London that I realized how delicious British fast food and chain restaurants are. For some reason I refused to eat at these places when I did eat out, but I missed out on good budget food.
- Get a SIM card. Avoid the ridiculous WIFI prices. If you purchase the London Pass, there is an offer for a free SIM card during your stay. I did not realize this until the end of my trip, so I do not have experience with it. Since it is free, I’d say it’s worth a try. Otherwise, SIM cards are not terribly expensive.
- Shop at Poundland. This is the UK’s version of dollar stores. Everything is one pound, or just about. They have food, gloves, toys, souvenirs…just about anything you can think of!
- Bring snacks. Everyone needs a little pick-me-up mid-day. Instead of spending money at a coffee shop, buy snacks at the supermarket and bring them with you for the day.
London is an expensive city, but there are ways to spend more on what you want to spend money on. My tips are not comprehensive, but hopefully they guide you towards the budget side of travel.
How do you save money in London?
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