Warning: This blog post’s purpose is not to solely provide entertainment, but to present a realistic breakdown of expenses spent on a trip. The goal is to help create ideas on how to cut back, help set expectations, and to see how my money was spent based on airfare, lodging, transportation, attractions and meals.
I went to the UK back at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013. It was the very first international trip that I had ever planned! It is a good trip to breakdown on here since I had so little money (for such a big trip) to travel with at that point. If you really are bound and determined, you CAN make it happen!
Here’s a look at the dates we had our trip for reference.
12/30/12 – Flew out of DFW
12/31/12 – Arrived at LHR (London Heathrow) after a layover in Frankfurt – midday
1/1/13 – 1/3/13 – 3 Full days in London
1/4/13 – Day trip to Oxford from London
1/5/13 – Day trip on to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath from London
1/6/13 – Train to Cardiff, spent night there
1/7/13 – Day trip to Tongwynlais and Caerphilly from Cardiff, then train back to London
1/8/13 – Bus ride to Inverness, Scotland
1/9/13 – Full day in Inverness and Dores
1/10/13 – Bus to Edinburgh
1/11/13 – Full day in Edinburgh
1/12/13 – Bus back to London
1/13/13 – Fly out of LHR back home
William and I purchased the majority of our plane tickets with miles. This was before I knew anything about how they worked or how to use them…..I simply knew they existed. Somehow, my dad and I had struck up a conversation concerning them, and he offhandedly mentioned, “Oh, I have about 100,000 miles about to expire with American Airlines.”
After expressing my disbelief and bravely offering my services to put them to good use, my dad told me I could use them as long as I paid for any of the other fees. This conversation had occurred over a year before this London trip, so I used 25,000 miles to fly round trip to New York to visit one of my best friends, Juan, the previous year. We then applied the other 75,000 (probably a bit more) points towards London. We were short by a few thousand miles, and after all of the taxes and fees were factored in, it cost about $600.
Cost of airfare per person: $300.
These were the days before I knew about Airbnb, and William didn’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where we had to share a room. We definitely could have found a better accommodation looking back. In London, we stayed at the Easy Hotel. There are several locations across London, but the 2 we have experience with are the Kensington and Paddington locations. They were essentially EXACTLY the same. You get a bright orange “room” with a mattress surrounded by wall on 3 sides. There is a little patch of floor that allows you to get into your tiny bathroom that may or not may have hot water in the shower. When I first saw the room, I didn’t know whether or not I wanted to laugh or cry. William thought it was hilarious and we never spent time there anyway, so it worked out fine.
These hotels on average cost about 40 pounds a night, which roughly was about $60. We spent 8 nights in Easy Hotels.
We also stayed in one cheap hotel near the train station in Cardiff for about $40 (can’t remember the name) for one night. Breakfast was included.
In Inverness, we stayed at the cutest Bed and Breakfast called The Quaich. It’s close to the main part of town, the host was very kind, and the breakfast delicious! I also learned at this breakfast the proper way to eat a boiled egg in Scotland with a spoon. It was about $40 a night including breakfast. We stayed here for 2 nights.
Finally, in Edinburgh, we stayed at a terrible guesthouse (can’t remember name). Firstly, there was NO ONE THERE when we arrived at our check-in time. We both didn’t have international calling plans, so we walked down the street and found a local barbershop that let us use their phone to call. It turned out the poor guy had gone to the hospital after having an asthma attack. We had to wait for 30 minutes before he arrived to let us in. I know health comes first, and that’s a very legitimate excuse but it was still inconvenient that only this one person could help us.
The guy did feel bad and upgraded us to a room where we would have our own bathroom (originally supposed to share one). The stay was fine.
The main problem I have with this place though, is that they double charged us for our stay and never fixed it. When I got home, I saw both of the charges on the credit card account. I tried emailing and calling, but could never get in touch with anyone.
I probably could have been more persistent, but I eventually just gave up on getting that money back. We had stayed 2 nights here for about $60 a night after all taxes and fees.
In total, we spent about (or should have without the extra charge) $720 on lodging for 2 people.
Cost of lodging per person: $360
After reviewing the official London transportation website, it looks like things have changed slightly since I was there. However, my advice will be pretty similar. First of all, journeys on buses and the Tube are more expensive if you are buying an individual, single ticket every time. The locals use something called an Oyster card to pay for their fares. This is a card you can load money onto, or buy certain passes and have them connected to your card. At the London Heathrow airport, you can purchase an Oyster card for just 5 pounds and from there, take the Tube straight into the heart of London. You could also turn your card back in at the end of your stay, and get the 5 pounds refunded.
Your fare price will also change depending on what zones you are traveling to and from. You can take a closer look at this map here.
I did all of the math for William and I based on our itinerary using the chart of fares, and it made the most sense for us to buy a week long pass that we activated on 1/1/2013, valid only for zones 1-2 (I feel like ours may have just been zone 1, but this is not an option anymore. More details on passes here). London Heathrow is actually in zone 6, but it is the only place outside of zone 1 that we needed to get to/from. So we just paid as we went with our new oyster card to our hotel inside zone 1 on the 31st. Keep in mind also, that even though we did several day trips and a night in Wales, we still needed to use the Tube every day to get to and from the special buses, tours or train stations.
A week long pass in just zones 1-2 is currently 33 pounds. With that converted along with the other times we used the Tube, we probably spent about $65 per person on transportation in London.
William and I also used buses in Wales (to Tongwynlais, Caerphilly, and back), Inverness (to Dores and back), and throughout Edinburgh. In total, this probably ended up being about $15 per person.
We also booked most of our longer local travel through Megabus.
- London to Inverness (about $20 per person, 14 hour route)
- Inverness to Edinburgh (about $5 per person, 4 hour route)
- Edinburgh back to London (about $15 per person, 10 hour route)
The other bus we booked was a special bus that literally just went from London to Oxford round trip for a day without any stops in between. I can’t remember the name of the company, but this was about $20 per person.
So in total, on buses outside of London, we spent $75 per person.
Finally, we did take a train round trip from London to Cardiff as a splurge. There were buses available, but this was the cheapest route available by train and William really wanted to try one out while we were there! Per person, our train travel round trip was about $60.
Drum roll please…….In total on ALL transportation, big and small, we spent about $200 per person. For 2 weeks.
William and I did pretty much everything we could possibly fit in, but a lot of the sightseeing was free.
For those things that aren’t free in London, they most likely are covered under the London Pass. You can buy a 1,2,3,6, or 10 day pass. We decided to buy the 3 day one because it would save us the most money in the end. It was about $80 per person, but when you consider that certain attractions, such as the Tower of London, are like $30 alone, it adds up quickly.
You can also add an Oyster transportation option into your London pass, but when we went, it wouldn’t save us as much money.
We paid for other attractions just at the gate (or bought tickets online), as well as booked an undergrounded haunted tour in Edinburgh. We also booked a full day tour that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. Admission to Windsor Castle and Stonehenge were included, as well as the transportation and lunch for $90 per person.
So for attractions, we spent about $250 per person in total.
This is where we REALLY cut back.
Breakfast – For breakfast in London, there was a Sainsbury grocery store down the street a few blocks. This store would always have something called a 3 pound meal deal. For 3 pounds (about $5), we could get a sandwich or some pasta, a bag of chips and a drink. Breakfast was included in Wales and Inverness at our hotel/b&b. Breakfast Total per person: $55.
Lunch and Dinner – We basically ate at KFC and McDonalds for every meal, because everything else was so expensive. Therefore, our meals totaled at about $5 per person per meal. We did branch out every once in a while, so we don’t feel like the trip was “wasted” or ruined. Food isn’t my biggest priority when traveling anyway though.
We ate at a traditional British pub and a Chinatown restaurant in London, as well as a really local neat pub in Dores, Scotland where we tried Haggis.
Total per person for Lunch and Dinner combined: $150.
Total spent on food per person for the whole trip: $205.
So the grand total is……. $1,065 per person for EVERYTHING.
Keep in mind this does depend on your priorities. Time is a priority you have to pay for. If you don’t want to take a 14 hour bus ride, it will cost you. Better meals and local fare will cost more. Taking taxis or renting a car will cost more.
But all I really care about in the end is experiencing and seeing the city I’m in. I am pretty much willing to do anything to get there. And William and I had an AMAZING time on this trip!
If that still sounds like too much for a 2 week trip across the UK, keep these tips in mind.
- I did splurge on some meals
- I could have bought groceries
- I could have waited to have all the miles I needed for airfare (reducing the cost per person by $300)
- I could have earned hotel points and had free lodging (reducing the cost per person by $360)! Or
- I could have used Airbnb, alltherooms.com , or stayed in a hostel to cut back on lodging costs
- I could have taken a bus instead of a train to Wales
- I could have cut out certain attractions
In the end, if you want to get there, you can do it! Do your research, plan in advance, save those points. And I’m always glad to help.