Since I’m British, I have traveled around the UK a lot over the years. I own a car, but since I started backpacking there was just no need to insure it anymore, so now when I arrive back in the UK for periods of time, it sits on the drive. The fact is, it’s much cheaper for me to use public transport or get a ride with a friend than it is to pay for petrol, tax and insurance. I come from Manchester, which has an excellent tram system. The UK has an extensive public transport network and when I fly home I know that I can catch the cheapest flight to any UK airport and get to Manchester via a train or a coach.
Trains- In the UK there are various different companies running the long-distance routes and the regional routes. The best websites to check for train timetables and fares are National Rail or the Trainline websites.
Prices vary according to the distance of travel, the time of travel and the train company you are travelling with, but if you try to book a peak train to London with Virgin Trains at the last minute, you might be quite shocked at the price.
If you’re travelling long distance, train travel in the UK can be quite expensive compared to other countries if you don’t plan in advance. To get a cheap ticket, try to buy an Advance non-refundable ticket online a few weeks before you go. Make sure you don’t miss your train though, as you won’t be able to use it on the next one.
You can choose to collect your tickets at the train station when you book online- I usually do this because I have been known to forget to put my tickets in my bag!
Generally trains are cheaper if you travel off-peak, i.e outside of commuting hours. If you can be flexible about times, then you’ll find it easier to get a good deal. Very early trains and last trains can often be cheaper, and sometimes you’ll find weekend fares to be lower. So try to be flexible if you can.
If you’re planning a return journey, it can be cheaper to buy a return ticket. This isn’t always strictly the case though. For instance, on Virgin Trains, if you are able to purchase 2 advance non-refundable singles, it can be cheaper than a retur ticket. I often book trains with Virgin Trains, and I like their Best Fare Finder.
If you plan on making a lot of train journeys within the course of a year and you’re aged 16-25, it’s a good idea to purchase a railcard for £28. It’ll save you a lot of money in the long run. You can use your railcard on trains throughout the UK, as well as on the Heathrow and Gatwick Express trains. The Heathrow and Gatwick trains are the fastest way to get between central London and the airports.
Coaches- Megabus and National Express are the two cheap options for traveling by bus around the UK. Megabus are the cheapest option with prices starrting at £1. A coach from Manchester to London, for example, costs around £10. National Express have more comfortable coaches, but are sometimes a little more expensive. They offer coaches to a wide number of destinations throughout the UK as well as UK airports. You can get even cheaper fares and discounts with National Express if you have a Coach Card- to purchase one you need to be aged between 16 and 26 or a full time student. There are also various companies offering coach tours around Britain.
Flying- For cheap domestic flights around Britain, look at some of the cheap airlines such as Ryanair, Flybe, Bmi Baby and Easyjet. Now I had my rant about Ryanair in my post ‘Don’t mess with Ryanair: How my bags cost me more than a flight from Bali to London‘ but they are undeniably cheap if you are just travelling with carry-on luggage and you play to their rules. Generally with these airlines, the earlier you book, the better the price you’ll get. You can get some very good deals that are sometimes cheaper than train fares if you are traveling long distances.
London Tubes- There are a number of options for purchasing tube tickets. You can pay in cash at the ticket machines in the tube stations, use a pre-paid Oyster Card or buy a Travelcard. If you plan to be traveling around a lot each day in London, the second two options are your best bet. An Oyster Card is pre-paid topup card that is valid across all zones and calculates the cheapest fare for all your journeys in a single day. A Travelcard is a paper card that is valid for 1 or 7 days and can be purchased for different zones.
Buses- There is a good bus network in the UK and local buses are run by different companies. You can usually hop on a bus in any town or city and purchase a ticket from the driver. Usually you buy a single ticket, but some buses offer return tickets, day riders and week-long tickets if you plan to travel the route a lot.