Simon Calder: Budget travel is back - but don't let on to your friends

My sister Penny does not mind you knowing that, shortly before Christmas, she went shopping in the discount supermarket Lidl. A fellow shopper was evidently less comfortable about the location: when the woman's mobile rang, Penny heard her tell the caller "I'm in Sainsbury's".

Had you called me at 10am on Thursday, I would have answered, truthfully, "I'm in Stanfords." I was perusing the shelves of the world's biggest map and travel guide shop, in London's Covent Garden, to gauge some responses to the fact that our entire nation finds itself in reduced circumstances.

Budget travel is back – but we may need some help to remember how to do it. Leafing back through the cheap travel guides of the Seventies, it emerges that much advice was written for a gentler, more innocent age.

"If you're about to go through the barrier and you realise your passport is out-of-date, keep cool and say nothing. It's amazing how often immigration officials fail to notice." So said the first edition of the Travellers Survival Kit: Europe in 1976. A few years later, as sterling endured yet another crisis, Alternative London invited travellers to improve the exchange rates in their favour by pointing out "English 2p pieces work in most French Space Invaders machines; 5p pieces work as 1DM in German vending machines."

The current crop of low-cost travel guides does not deliver such radical advice for impecunious Brits. I turned to 1001 Smart Travel Tips from Fodor. Some were helpful, such as a reminder that the cheapest way to travel short distances between US cities is often the "Chinatown bus"; through fungwahbus.com you can find a New York-Boston trip for $15 (£10.70).

"Numbers" books are all the rage. My eye was caught by 747 Things to Do on a Plane. Tip 660 is a prank involving hurling a toilet roll to watch it unravel from one end of the plane to the other; Don't try this on a flight shared with sky marshals.

Lonely Planet had a smart idea for travel refugees seeking to escape the recession – a book called Flightless: Incredible Journeys without Leaving the Ground. And the man who first demonstrated how to enjoy long-distance travel assisted by a minimum of cash and a maximum of non-prescription drugs was Jack Kerouac.

In 1947, in the depths of the post-war recession, Kerouac set off on an epic, pharmaceutically assisted journey across an America struggling to come to terms with a new, more tolerant identity. In 1951 he wrote up his excursion through a beautiful, fractured nation in three weeks, fuelled, Kerouac claimed, by nothing stronger than caffeine in his system (others have attributed his high productivity to amphetamines).

In the absence of a computer, he adopted the unusual technique of typing on sheets of tracing paper that he taped together to form a continuous scroll so that he would not have to stop. As far as I know, he never unravelled the resulting manuscript along the length of a 747.

If you feel like an Incredible Journey without Leaving the Ground, head for Birmingham. The city's Barber Institute of Fine Arts has staged a geo-cultural coup as the first place in Europe to host the original Kerouac manuscript; you can see it up to 28 January. His words have not had the global impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they sear the soul – such as the first time he sees the West Coast:

"Out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness of the late afternoon of time."

If you are inspired to visit the city, see today's Travel by Numbers on page 17. But if one of those figures – 337 for the price in pounds for a British Airways return to San Francisco – doesn't add up from your point of view, then you could find yourself shopping for a holiday in a discount supermarket.

This month Aldi became the first to offer holiday breaks along with your shopping. It provides low prices in return for limited choice; only one hotel, the Melia Benidorm, is featured on Spain's entire Costa Blanca. How will the middle classes on a cheap holiday to Benidorm respond when phoned while abroad? Probably with "I'm in Tuscany".

On the road with a good guide

As you trim back your holiday spending, the very last thing you should economise on is the guide book. The more informed you are about the culture and history, rail network and tipping customs of your destination, the richer the experience you will have. Even without tips on fraudulently using British coins in foreign coin-slots, guidebooks can save you a fortune. And, if a travel guide helps reduce the environmental impact and social transgression of the traveller, your hosts will be happy, too.

Today, we celebrate the work of the hard-pressed guidebook writers by introducing a new column, which you will find today on page 13. In it, authors researching for the Footprint guidebook series will contribute each week from a location somewhere on the planet. The series could have only one possible name, inspired, of course, by Jack Kerouac and his long roll of manuscript: On The Road.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power