Five Budget Travel Tips to Save on Long-Term Landscape Photography

Five Budget Travel Tips to Save on Long-Term Landscape Photography

“Let’s go to New Zealand!” Ka-ching, that’s a pretty chunk of change to shell out, but travel has become comparatively more affordable than ever before. If you are considering extended travel to invest in your landscape photography, you can save a ton of money without turning vagabond.

By long-term travel, I mean longer than a few weeks on the road. I’ve been location independent for the last four months, and though my first month in Iceland dealt a heavy blow to my checking account, during the last three months in the U.K. I’ve been spending the same, and sometimes less, than I would be spending with an apartment in the U.S.A.!

Especially if you’re traveling for landscape photography, these tips won’t involve much sacrifice, and a few of them will provide more flexibility so you can invest more time in your craft.

1. Don’t Eat Out

Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Whoever perpetuated the concept was certainly not a photographer. When meals compete with sunrise and sunset shoots, that decadent $15 dinner isn’t so tasty if you can only think of missed photo ops.

Unsurprisingly, food is one of the easiest ways to save money. If you tend to book B&Bs, your breakfast is probably covered. Lunch is easy to get by on some protein bars, leaving the most expensive meal of the day: dinner.

Avoid eating out for dinner as a rule. Unfortunately you won’t usually have access to a fridge, so it’s impractical to stock up on perishable groceries. Instead, treat the grocery store like a dinner buffet. It’s fun and ridiculously cheap if you stick to budget grocery stores. Over the last four months, I averaged $3–$5 for a three course meal.

Pasta dishes at ALDI

Fancy pasta. Not shown: my own personal carton of Icelandic Skyr with passionfruit and mango.

If you’re headed for the U.K., here are my top picks rated by price and tastiness:

  1. ALDI - The holy grail of serving-sized anything with no couponing nonsense. Couscous with falafels and moroccan hummus? Toffee trifle for dessert? I often walk out of ALDI happier than I do after dinner at a fancy restaurant that someone else paid for.
  2. Lidl - Basically a U.K. version of ALDI with a bakery. Lidl has almost the exact same foods and layout as ALDI, but I don’t find their ready-to-eat options as tasty.
  3. SPAR - Technically a convenience store, but in the evening their ready-to-eat items, like pies and pasties, are ridiculously discounted. I often walk out with my own steak pie for a couple dollars.
  4. Co-op - I have yet to meet a town of any size that didn’t have a co-op. Unfortunately, they tend to be the more expensive option.

Sticking to budget grocery stores has had some unintended upsides. Combined with all the hiking, over the last four months I’ve lost weight and toned a bit. Thanks to earlier, smaller meals, I tend to sleep and feel better.

Europeans in general eat smaller portions than Americans, so it can be difficult to adjust at first. Train your body by timing meals consistently; go for a protein-filled breakfast, light lunch, and light dinner earlier in the evening than you might be used to. You just might knock out your health goals while capturing amazing images.

2. Shop in the Evenings

Especially if you want to score some baked goods, don’t shop for dinner prematurely, but wait until after 4 p.m. By then, many grocery stores with bakeries and ready-to-eat options will mark items down to get them sold. Jam-filled donuts for half price? Score!

3. Reduce Recurrent Expenses

Flights are expensive, but over the course of a couple months they make up a comparatively tiny portion of your expenses. So by all means do your best to save on flights, but focus your efforts on recurring expenses like your hotel and car. I’ve put together a guide on how to get exceptional car rental rates.

Rental car in Snowdonia National Park

That car definitely looks better in Snowdonia National Park at $15 a day.

4. Don’t Book in Advance

It’s difficult to overemphasize the value of a flexible itinerary when traveling for an extended period. The freedom to shift your next destination by a day or two to accommodate weather without cancellation fees is priceless. More than half of my landscape portfolio would not exist if I didn’t have the flexibility to revisit locations.

Mam Tor in the Peak District

When I saw the forecast for snow in the Peak District, I didn’t have to cancel any reservations to catch it. I relocated to Sheffield so I could easily visit the location a few times for scouting and the shoot.

Especially if you’re traveling out of season, don’t book your accommodations in advance. Wait to book your next stay till the day before or the morning of your arrival. It may sound risky, but more often than not I land fabulous options at spectacular prices.

In four months of travel throughout Iceland and every corner of the U.K., I haven’t yet been stuck with a pricey stay. Live life on the edge!

5. Book Direct

Are you booking in a popular location and can’t find something you like in your price range? Before you give up on the location, find a property you like that’s just outside your budget, then text the property for their direct rate.

The major online booking sites like Booking.com and Airbnb take a significant commission, typically around 15 percent of the reservation. Most properties can take payment directly and will offer a more attractive rate.

Because you won’t get instant confirmation and might have to arrange for payment over the phone, it’s not nearly as convenient as booking online. But if you’re booking a couple days in advance, it may land you a nice place at an affordable price. I tend to save 7 to 20 percent on reservations, especially when booking more than one night.

St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, England

I couldn’t find anything nice in my budget near St. Michael’s Mount, but I found an affordable B&B in Penzance by booking directly. I was able to spend three days just a few minutes away, and after five visits to St. Michael’s Mount I landed a shot I’m really happy with.

The major downside to booking a couple nights directly is that you’re locked into an itinerary, and that 9.6 rated property may not be everything you hoped for. My favorite way to compromise is to book one night online, then after arrival I mention my interest in extending the stay and ask if they can offer a reduced direct rate. That way it’s less risky; if you really like your B&B and the location, you extend at a better rate. If not, no harm done!

Be Patient and Live Life on the Edge

These tips could probably be summarized in two phrases: be patient, and live life on the edge. For someone who used to plan every aspect of a trip months in advance, it’s a nail-biting experience to be without a room and food until the day of. But with some practice, my fingernails have grown back.

What are your favorite ways to save on travel for landscape photography trips? Share your tips in the comments.

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6 Comments

Robert Teague's picture

Aldi and Lidl are both German companies ...

Yes and SPAR is dutch and coop is swiss.

Peter Stewart's picture

This is a valuable tip about accommodation. I've lived solely out of hotels/short term rentals for the past 5yrs and one thing I've learnt is never to book more than a few nights somewhere before you turn up and find out its an utter hellhole you want to vacate immediately. Best thing is to book a couple nights online (I use hotels.com for the free night per 10nights accumulated), then if I like the hotel, negotiate a fee directly with them instead. Only thing is, this tends to work more in your and their favour if its a small hotel or family run guesthouse. Usually with larger hotels or chains, booking online tends to have much cheaper rates.
You can ignore all of this advice though if your budget extends to the likes of the Hiltons/Intercontinentals/Sheratons etc.

Peter Stewart's picture

also....damm I miss those jam filled doughnuts they have in the UK :)

Exactly. It seems booking more than 2 nights is often the recipe for landing "that BnB" you're just dying to move on from. 😂

I think that pasta has gone bad now