This woman took 10 holidays in a year for £1,700 – and she’s revealed how
Love travelling but hate the cost? We caught up with a woman who went on 10 holidays in a year for just £1,700 to find out what her secret is!
Everyone loves a holiday every now and again. But sadly, thanks to the cost, affording to do it more often than 'every now and again' can be a bit tricky – especially as a student.
However, in pretty spectacular fashion, one woman has proved that travelling the world doesn't need to cost the earth.
When Chelsea Dickenson (or 'Chelsea Travel', as her friends like to call her) heard the startling statistic that the average Brit spends £3,418/year on holidays, she decided to set herself a challenge: use 2017 to go on as many holidays as possible for half the average annual spend.
It's fair to say that Chelsea exceeded expectations by going on 10 (yes, TEN) holidays in a year. That works out to just £170 per holiday!
We were so impressed, that we simply had to get in touch to find out how she managed to go on so many cheap holidays in just 365 days.
Learning to love bargain travel
For many of us, the thought of spending hours finding the best deals is enough to need a vacation in itself. After all, it's not that easy to get cheap holidays – although the fact that we list the best travel deals certainly helps!
So, how did Chelsea get into bargain holiday hunting?
Not long after uni I started working as a production secretary for ITV, which involved booking a lot of travel for presenters, crew and guests.
Other people described it as 'tedious', but I quickly realised that I really enjoyed doing it – especially when working with a really tight budget!
That said, Chelsea was no stranger to travelling before she graduated. In fact, although she hadn't quite honed her money-saving skills as a student, she did manage to squeeze in a couple of trans-Atlantic trips during her time at uni.
I remember finding a flight to Atlanta for £280 on the eve of getting my second Student Loan allowance in first year and booking it on the spot! Fortunately I have mates out there, so at least there was some logic to it all...
I also used my first year loan to book flights to New York to work at a summer camp – though I did just about recoup that money from my pay.
Even for a savvy shopper like Chelsea, though, she couldn't manage all of that on her Student Loan alone.
A part-time job definitely helped too, otherwise I don't think I would have eaten that year!
The rules of the cheap holiday challenge
Energised by her professional experience of booking cheap travel, and shocked by the statistic reporting that the average Brit spends £3,418/year on holidays, Chelsea decided to turn her 2017 into a challenge.
She wanted to go on as many holidays as possible in one year, all for a grand total of £1,709 – half the supposed average annual vacation spend.
To make things even more interesting (and presumably to stop herself from counting 20 day-trips to Brighton as 20 holidays), Chelsea laid down some ground rules:
- She had to go on at least 10 holidays
- Trips must be two nights or more and two must be five nights or more
- Only use 28 days of annual leave
- At least three continents
- At least one flight must be business class.
Sound daunting? A bit. Sound fun? Definitely.
Let's see how Chelsea got on in her pursuit of a year of maximum holidays for minimum costs.
The cheap holiday challenge
Chelsea started off her year in pretty respectable fashion: a three-night break in sunny Valencia with her boyfriend, James, to escape Britain's bitter January weather.
This set her back £169.72, including £62 for flights (easyJet), £32.72 for accommodation at Gatwick airport and £75 for the hotel in Valencia.
Chelsea found the airport accommodation on the comparison site AMOMA (which has since gone out of business), while the deal on the pad in Spain was on Hotels.com.
While these prices already made the trip good value for money, Chelsea had her hotel room in Valencia upgraded free of charge, too!
All she had to do was email the hotel ahead of her visit saying how much she was looking forward to her visit, and that it was a “special occasion” (technically not a lie, as a holiday is a special occasion), and the hotel took care of the rest. As Chelsea says, “you might be surprised at the results”.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Remember the rule that said Chelsea had to visit at least three continents in 2017? Well, by February, she was already two thirds of the way there.
Conveniently enough, a friend of Chelsea’s decided to celebrate her birthday with a four-day trip to Dubai – the perfect opportunity to tick off another continent.
She then got what she described as a “reasonable apartment” via Booking.com for £184.
Excluding spending money, her four-day jaunt to Dubai cost Chelsea £463.83. Not nothing, but a lot less than most people would have paid for the same trip!
Chelsea’s clearly a huge fan of getting cheap flights through comparison sites, but what about the rumours that they’ll bump up the price if you search for a flight/hotel and then go back to the page later?
Cookies? Yeah, they’re real. When booking, I always use a private browser just in case!
Thanks in part to its high taxes, Denmark is a notoriously expensive place to visit. It’s for that reason that it’s even more remarkable that Chelsea managed to get her two-night break in Aarhus for just £43.33 (no, that’s not a typo!).
Admittedly it might be tricky for anyone else to replicate this bargain break – Chelsea was able to stay with a friend in Aarhus, so she only had to fork out for flights.
But visiting somewhere with such a high cost of living raises an interesting question: how does Chelsea save money on things to do while she’s away?
Stay away from TripAdvisor and get chatting to the locals! They’ll know where all the cheap and cheerful places are, and you’ll discover more about the area you’re in.
I’d also recommend staying in an apartment with a kitchen so you can buy some breakfast and keep your money for lunch and dinner.
If you want to eat out somewhere fancy (and why not, you’re on holiday after all!), check to see if they have a set menu for lunches instead.
Wise words, indeed.
After going abroad in January, February and March, Chelsea had to wait until May for her next break. Tough life, eh?
In what can only be described as definitive proof of the luck of the Irish, the ferry operator Stena Line announced a flash sale for St Patrick’s Day just as Chelsea was booking a trip to Dublin with her mum. With her details already to hand, she nabbed her ferry ticket for just £4.
Chelsea’s mum took her car, and she estimates that they used about £10 worth of petrol getting to and from Dublin – so that’s £14 in total for travel.
As for her accommodation, she paid £65 to book a hostel via Hostelworld.com, bringing the cost of the trip to £79. Unfortunately, this was where Chelsea’s thrifty ways came back to bite her in the behind.
The hostel was pretty dire. It had good ratings in general, but I’d opted for a private room (which they’d called a ‘suite’ on their website) and it was just bizarre.
Massive room, mismatched furniture and a cracked toilet seat… I felt like I was on the set of a horror film!
Surprisingly enough, given that Chelsea is so committed to keeping costs down, this was a rare blip.
I’ve always said that I wouldn’t stay somewhere just for the price, so I was a bit gutted about that one.
But in general, I don’t put the price before the experience. I’m all about value – not just saving money.
On to June, and Chelsea returned to her one-holiday-per-month routine. This trip was something of an oddity, in that it was one of the few that she actively tried to fit in during the challenge.
I knew that I wanted to go to Benidorm at some point as my boyfriend’s grandparents go twice a year, every year, and he’s always wanted to surprise them. I thought it would make a good video at the very least!
However, I didn’t quite imagine that it would be the place we’d end up flying business class to…
Yes, that’s right – month six, and Chelsea could finally tick ‘at least one business class flight’ off her to-do list!
Flying with British Airways, she managed to get business class flights to Benidorm for £216.
That’s a hell of a lot more than it would have cost to fly in economy, but given that Chelsea had to fly business class at least once, and many short haul flights don’t usually have the option to do so, it’s about as cheap as you could wish for!
What’s more, business class tickets don’t just get you a seat at the front of the plane. Chelsea also got access to the BA lounge at the airport (including free alcohol), priority boarding and a four-course meal during the flight.
Of course, Chelsea needed somewhere to stay while she was there, and using Booking.com she found a hotel for three nights for £72. All in, the trip to Benidorm set her back £288.
When you’re working to a budget, holidaying in the UK can often be the cheapest option. So it only makes sense that Chelsea decided to keep her passport at home for at least one trip during her cheap holiday challenge.
Once again travelling with her boyfriend, James, Chelsea picked up a train ticket to Margate for just £13.30 (you’ll need a railcard to get prices like this) – but it was the accommodation where she made the real saving here.
Leaving her search for somewhere to stay until the very last minute, Chelsea went to Airbnb in pursuit of a bargain. She found a flat and promptly got in touch with the owner to ask if there was any leeway on the price.
As it was so close to the weekend, and the owner was just pleased to have someone paying something for the property for the two days, Chelsea was able to get her two-night stay for £25.
That’s a weekend break on the coast, in July, for just £38.30! Seems as though leaving things to the last minute can pay off sometimes (no, not essays).
When we asked Chelsea which of the 10 holidays was the best value for money, her August stay in Paris came out on top. And when you read her response, it’s easy to see why.
The best value trip would definitely have to be the 14 nights I spent in Paris looking after a cat. Cheap flights are one thing, but getting your accommodation for free? That’s incredible.
Free accommodation. For 14 nights. In Paris. In August. Hats off to you, Chelsea! But how did she do it?
Chelsea found her three-bed house (located just 10 minutes from the city centre) on Nomador. Nomador is an international house-sitting service, where members offer a stay in their home to anyone willing to look after it while they’re away.
This can often involve pet sitting, which is how Chelsea ended up looking after Biscotte the cat for two weeks.
There’s no membership fee, and despite being a little nervous about what to expect from the experience, Chelsea happily reports that the home was lovely and that Biscotte was easy to take care of.
So we know the accommodation was a huge success, but how did Chelsea get there?
My train to Paris was only £50 as I used Eurostar Snap. It allows you to select a date and whether you want to travel in the AM or PM, and then they allocate you what’s available! For £50!
As her accommodation was free, the total cost of Chelsea’s Paris trip was – you guessed it – £50.
And it’s not as though she spent a ton of money on things to do, either. When explaining that you shouldn’t feel as though you need to tick off everything on a tourist checklist (as she says, “most major cities have free walking tours“), Chelsea dropped this pro tip:
The Eiffel Tower is cool, but when you’re up it, you can no longer see it!
Get the photo outside and then head to Galeries Lafayette, a department store in the centre of Paris which has a huge roof terrace that costs absolutely nothing to get on.
We need to jump forward a couple of months to October for Chelsea’s next trip. But even with Halloween fast approaching, there was nothing spooky about her holiday in Gdańsk – other than the scarily low prices, right guys?
Chelsea’s trip to Poland, strangely enough, was to catch up with a friend who lives in Manchester. With flights so cheap (£16 with Ryanair), and accommodation far from pricey (£33 per person through Booking.com), it actually cost less for them to meet in Gdańsk than in Manchester.
Having spent just £49 on her flights and accommodation, Chelsea was able to penny-pinch on things to do without compromising on quality, too. The cost of living in Poland is fairly low, meaning she could drink glasses of Prosecco for just £2 a pop.
Into December, and with time and money quickly running out, Chelsea flew to Romania for holiday number nine of the year. But she didn’t visit Bucharest – instead, she ventured to the opposite side of the country to stay in Timisoara.
It sounds like an odd choice, but as always seems to be the case in this challenge, there’s method to the madness. Here’s what Chelsea had to say when we asked her how she decided where to go on each of her trips:
I kept a very open mind. Skyscanner allows you to not only search for ‘everywhere’ as your destination, but also ‘cheapest month’, so sometimes it was literally just a case of looking where was going cheap.
That’s why I ended up in Gdańsk and Timisoara – which I’m so glad about, as they were both great destinations.
Chelsea’s bargain break in Romania is all the more impressive given that she’d recently read a report saying that the cheapest two-night Christmas market getaway in Europe was to be found in Riga, Latvia, at a cost of £252 per person.
That figure accounted for the cost of things to do, but even when Chelsea factored in everything that she did in Romania, her total spend was still only £184.20 (£55 for flights and hotel) – though it probably helps that in Timisoara, you can get a pint of mulled wine for £1.
New York and Miami, USA
Last, but by no means least, Chelsea’s final trip of the year saw her tick off continent number three with an eight-night stay split between New York and Miami.
Departing on 16th December and returning on Christmas Day, Chelsea got her flights for pennies (not literally, of course) and was still able to get back to her parents’ house for Christmas lunch.
Return flights to New York set Chelsea back £358 (booked through Carlton Leisure), and she paid just £32 to fly from the Big Apple to Miami. But with the trip staggered across a couple of cities, a lot of accommodation needed sorting.
Using LoveHomeSwap, Chelsea and her boyfriend bagged a two-night stay in an Emmy award-winner’s $1.7 million apartment for just £45 each. Ordinarily these services require you to let someone else stay in your home (not possible for most renters) to keep the cycle going, but if you watch Chelsea’s New York vlog below, you’ll see how she managed to play the system.
Following two nights in New York, Chelsea flew to Miami. Her first three nights were spent in a Homestay for a total cost of just £40, and for another £40, an Airbnb was their home for the following two nights.
Chelsea spent her final night in Miami – and the final night of her epic challenge – in a swanky beach-side hotel, because… well, why not? It only cost £66 for one night, and it still didn’t take her over her budget!
Even with one last night of luxury, the cost of flights and accommodation for the eight-night trip to New York and Miami totalled just £581.
The cost of 10 holidays in a year
So now we’ve recapped Chelsea’s amazing year, let’s remind ourselves of those prices:
- Valencia: £169.72
- Dubai: £463.83
- Aarhus: £43.33
- Dublin: £79
- Benidorm: £288
- Margate: £38.30
- Paris: £50
- Gdańsk: £49
- Timisoara: £55
- New York/Miami: £581
Now, the more mathematically minded of you might be thinking: “Hey, wait a sec. She had to get all of her flights and hotels for less than £1,709, and those figures add up to over £1,800?” Well, you’re right… kind of.
What these prices don’t account for is cashback. Chelsea says that she always tries to book her flights and hotels through TopCashback, and it certainly seems to pay off – over the year, she earned a whopping £112.73 in cashback!
Perhaps more significantly, though, is that when you deduct the money made from cashback from the total cost of the flights and accommodation, you’re left with £1,704.45! Yes, Chelsea completed her challenge with a fiver to spare!
Chelsea’s top tips for saving money on holidays
Chelsea is right up there with some of the best money savers we’ve ever come across, so we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask for her top tips for saving money on travel.
As you might imagine, she had a few suggestions. But for her, one stands out above the rest.
Noted. But don’t let a flight’s price tag lure you in – according to Chelsea, remote airports can turn out to be one of the biggest hidden costs of a holiday.
A lot of cheap flights fly into tiny airports ages away from the city centre. Stockholm is a great example of this as flights to Skavsta airport are always so cheap, but it’s 100km away from the city centre!
I always look on Google Maps to see how far the journey is, and then toggle to the ‘public transport’ option to see what the journey is like. A quick Google should tell you how much it costs.
If you’re keen to avoid a lengthy transfer from the airport to where you actually want be, Copenhagen, Lisbon and Riga all come highly recommended by Chelsea.
And speaking of hidden costs, what about those pesky exchange rates that eat into your holiday spend? Does Chelsea have a way of saving on travel money? Of course she does.
I always used pre-paid travel cards now. I use WeSwap which allows you to swap your currency with other travellers for a better rate.
They also have an instant swap option which I’ve found gives the same rates as what you’d get elsewhere, but with the added bonus of being able to instantly transfer your money via the app.
There are no transaction fees and it’s also free to withdraw over £200!
So many tips! But if you’re still after more, don’t worry – Chelsea’s next project could see her helping you to get a bargain holiday of your own.
I’ve started getting a lot of requests for help when booking, so I’m going to start a weekly ‘travel clinic’ to show ways of getting a great value trip.
I’ve also got 4 trips planned already, including a 10-day jaunt to Tokyo where our flights only cost us £258 each!
Since we interviewed her, Chelsea’s been on the up and up, rebranding as the Cheap Holiday Expert, expanding her YouTube channel and even launching a site for sharing your referral codes – perfect for funding your next trip away!
Get ready for a tips overload – here are 23 ways to cut the cost of your holiday.