I love to travel - for work and pleasure - but as an early-stage freelancer who’s still building their business, I do have to keep my eye on the pennies each time I venture overseas. London is one city that’s top of my frequent visit list but unfortunately is also one of the most expensive to visit. So as a freelancer, how do I keep things affordable?
Thanks to cheap flights with Norwegian and Gatwick airport now on the Oyster card, it’s easy to get there, but to do it cheaply you have to plan ahead and be super organised – and be willing to let go of a few luxuries for the sake of saving a couple of pounds here and there. But don't worry, it's not a drag, you can still have fun!
Please note though that this doesn’t include any accommodation costs - I’m lucky to have friends to stay with in London - it's more focused on how to you can shave a few pennies off your daily budget and not finish up at the end of the week thinking, woah where did all my money go!
1. Batch your travel
There’s no doubt about it, getting around London ain’t cheap, so where possible, batch your travel to a set number of days. I always aim to keep 1-2 days free of travel costs and stay local – hence avoiding the £6.40 daily Oyster top-up. Alternatively, opt for the 7-day travel pass from the get-go and make the most of the week!
The Tube is a stellar way to get around but avoid peak times if you can – it’s less stressful, less sweaty, and you can enjoy reading your free Time Out London in comfort.
2. Know your cheap food spots (and visit the supermarket for snacks)
London has an amazing selection of restaurants, cafes and bars, so it can be very tempting to dive in and end up with a hefty bill. Thankfully there are numerous cheaper options where you can grab a hearty lunch for under £5 – my favourite is EAT, where a medium soup, fresh bread roll and butter is only around £4-£5. Their selection rotates daily so even if you go several days in a row, you won’t be stuck with the same two soups.
Pret-A-Manger is great for sandwiches on the go, and if you have a little more to spend, Itsu and Wasabi are good for Japanese-style meals on the go. And being the UK, some of the little local sandwich joints will do a mean bacon roll for around £1.80-£2.50 – though your hips might not thank you for indulging in this each day!
Waitrose, M&S and Sainsbury's are great supermarkets with a variety of options as well – and perfect spot to grab your bottle of water (50p) and some snacks. My favourite snack to pick up are Nakd Bars, healthy little nuggets of joy that fit in your handbag, only 75p in Waitrose and often there’s a deal of 2 for 1 at any of these locations.
Oh and be careful when visiting Soho – the food options here are insane and I basically wanted everything I saw while walking through there (and let's not even mention the shopping!), so if you really want to keep the budget tight, maybe best to avoid this area all together - though this might be tough, it’s a very cool area to check out.
3. Drink tea instead
Coffee culture is truly entrenched in London life so it’s easy to get swooped up in it and want to buy a coffee each day. This however is also an easy way to rack up quite a spend, especially if you’re buying grande lattes. Tea however is often cheaper – only £1.95 for a pot of tea at Costa Coffee (including herbal teas) and you'll get more than one cup of tea from that so it’s pretty good value for money. Pots of tea are often quite reasonable at more hipster cafes too, one of my faves is Ask For Janice in Farringdon.
Of course, buying tea at the supermarket and making it at home is the cheapest option but when you’re out and about, there will be times you need to sit and chill for a minute or wait before a meeting, so this works out to be a great alternative to the cappuccino.
If you’re really keen, Waitrose offer free (yes, that’s right) tea and coffee in their stores for Waitrose members – though there’s often quite a queue.
4. Give up booze
Coming from Berlin where alcohol is cheap, London is particularly expensive for drinks – think at least £5 for a pint – so after a few that really adds up. I suggest giving it up all together while in town, or opt for buying a bottle of wine at the supermarket and enjoying that at your own accommodation instead.
Lucky for me, I’ve given up alcohol for the moment, so it wasn’t a showstopper for me – I’d rather use that £10-£15 for a visit to a museum or a lovely lunch with friends instead.
5. Go to meetups or arrange your own!
Since I’ve seen many of the well-known sights of London before, when I visit now I’m all about the startup/digital meetups and ways to network/meet new people instead. There’s a whole host of events on in London, just check meetup.com, all the major coworking spaces, Google Campus London and Facebook/Twitter.
As my time was limited, I opted to set up my own via the Buffer Slack community! It was great to reach out to the Buffer London community and meet IRL :)
Bonus: Don’t forget to treat yourself!
All this focus on saving money can be a little frustrating at times so because of this, it’s super important to have a couple of fun things planned into your schedule. With all that money you’re saving on your daily budget, make sure you put a little aside for 1-2 nice dinners with friends (around £15-£25) and this will make it all worthwhile. There’s loads of amazing Indian restaurants to visit which are very affordable – plus Indian really is a must-do while in London anyways! So authentic and delicious :)
Visiting London can be an affordable and fun experience as a freelancer on a business trip. You just need to do a little forward planning and not lose yourself in all the shiny pretty (and delicious) things there! :)