How to hack your way to cheap, peaceful holidays in 2024

How to hack your way to cheap, peaceful holidays in 2024

The global thirst for travel and new horizons remains undiminished, with an estimated 1.3 billion international trips taken in 2023 – a third more than the previous year. It is a trend set to continue: one of the UK’s largest tour operators, Tui, is set to take more than a million extra passengers on holiday this year. And this despite the economic backdrop of a cost of living crisis.

Those who could afford to travel last year did, perhaps cutting back on discretionary spend elsewhere. The cost of living has also influenced our travel choices – Abta, the travel association, forecasts that the value-driven market will continue in 2024 and that, overall, people will book cheaper accommodation, while the popularity of all-inclusive holidays continues to strengthen.

A more serious complication for travellers in 2023 was heat – it was the warmest year on record. While that may not necessarily have brought sunny skies to a week by the sea in Cornwall, it had more serious implications for drought-prone parts of Europe, where extreme heat created tinder-like conditions for devastating wildfires.

It is too early to tell whether last summer’s record temperatures have influenced subsequent booking behaviours, but the travel industry trend forecaster ForwardKeys anticipates that it will do so significantly in the long-term: “Predicted temperature rises [will] reduce summer demand in hotter destinations and increase the attractiveness of traditionally cooler regions.”

So whether you want to get ahead of the curve, stay out of the extreme heat, save money or simply see places you had previously never considered, these travel hacks will help you on your way this year…

Second, third, fourth and fifth cities

Town of Volosko on Opatija Riviera colofrul view, Kvarner bay of Croatia
Volosko on the Opatija Riviera colofrul view, Kvarner bay of Croatia (Photo: xbrchx iStockphoto via Getty Images)

City breaks have soared in popularity in the past year, overtaking beach holidays according to Abta’s latest “Travel Trends” report, outpacing the demand for fly-and-flop twice as fast according to ForwardKeys.

However, some European cities are now feeling the pressure of overcrowding – and it is often the capital. Take Amsterdam, which, in 2023, launched a campaign to discourage nuisance tourism with adverts targeted at young British men. This year, the canal city will raise its tourist tax to 12.5 per cent of overnight accommodation costs. Paris, meanwhile, plans to triple its visitor levy ahead of the Olympic Games this summer.

Barcelona, Venice and Dubrovnik, while not their countries’ capitals, are popular hubs and each is weathering the excesses of overtourism, bringing in measures to limit arrivals. This spring, Venice will become the world’s first city to impose an entry fee – a charge that will apply to day visitors on peak days. It will also limit tour group sizes to 25.

For each city in which crowds sully the view and impede on residents, there is one, if not several beguiling alternatives. Rotterdam is closer to the UK than Amsterdam and can also be reached by train or car ferry. Marseille is an evolving port city and Valencia has an old town, Mediterranean beaches and paella, plus the new Axel Hotel, coming to the buzzy Carmen district this year.

Of course, Valencia is not technically Spain’s second city – but it is a phrase that might be widened to include overlooked alternatives. Whether it is Nancy, Naples or Aarhus, these cities might have a similar – or entirely different – feel to the capital, thinner crowds and often, cheaper costs.

Plus, you will usually have a more authentic experience: dining alongside locals where you might have to rely on a translation app or helpful member of staff rather than a laminated, English-language menu; breezing through smartphone-free galleries and museums; finding one-of-a-kind shops; and relaxing in a local park.

An increasingly popular way to reach second cities is by train, with the bonus of being able to stack up several breaks. Byway Travel offers itineraries from a long weekend in Marseille (from £564pp) to 12 nights exploring Croatia’s coastal cities and islands (Zagreb, Mljet, Mostar, Split and Dubrovnik, from £1,454pp).

Dupe destinations

Blue hour of Paros island in Greece taken with long exposure showing lights shining in the sea during smmer night.
The Paros skyline at dusk (Photo: PFE/Getty)

Dream holiday destinations can come with a prohibitive price tag, draw unwieldy crowds or, in the age of social media, seem overly familiar.

This has fuelled the rise of so-called “dupe” destinations: swapping obvious venues for somewhere with an equivalent aesthetic is a growing trend, according to Expedia Group’s “Unpack 24” report. It says that its top five “dupes” all saw global holiday searches more than double year-on-year. Among them are Palermo as a stand-in for Lisbon, Paros acting as doppelganger for Santorini and Pattaya as a fraternal twin with Bangkok.

While TikTok may be blamed for bringing an unsustainable influx of arrivals to villages or beauty spots, it can also highlight countries previously untapped by British tourists. Among the favourites highlighted on the app in 2023 were Albania, the Philippines and Slovenia.

Online travel agent Loveholidays suggests swapping the long-haul tropics of Hawaii for the closer, verdant volcanic island chain of the Azores, where five nights’ self-catering at the Quinta de Santana on São Miguel costs from £431pp with flights from Gatwick.

Cool-climate holidays

Summer 20233 saw heatwaves, wildfires and floods ravage many European holiday favourites; Rhodes, Corfu and Tenerife were among the places worst affected.

A report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre anticipates that a temperature rise of 3°C or 4°C will reduce the number of summer tourists by almost 10 per cent in southern coastal regions and raise demand for northern coasts by 5 per cent.

European transport comparison and booking site Omio has seen an increase in bookings for travel in Nordic coutries in the past four years.

Delfshaven is a borough of Rotterdam on the right bank of river Nieuwe Maas, in South Holland
Delfshaven is a borough of Rotterdam on the right bank of river Nieuwe Maas, in South Holland (Photo: Achim Thomae/Getty)

Last summer, Intrepid Travel was among the tour operators noting an uptick in bookings for cooler destinations. It told i in July that its Iceland trips had experienced a 35 per cent increase in bookings compared with June and that Hungary has recorded a 73 per cent increase year-on-year.

In its report on travel trends for 2024, Responsible Travel suggests that, for some, big summer holidays may switch to winter sun or Lapland adventures.

Families seeking European sun might delay their annual summer break to October half-term to avoid extreme heat. Destinations that are still warm in October include Lanzarote (average highs of 26.8°C), Cyprus (26.7°C) and the Algarve (23.2 °C).

For summer beach breaks, travellers could veer towards the white sands of Scandinavia’s extensive and varied coastlines, Germany and Poland’s Baltic Sea resorts, or the Frisian Islands strung alongside the North Sea shorelines of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.

While these won’t always be the cheapest holidays – for instance, you will find high-end fashion boutiques on the German island of Sylt rather than buckets-and-spades kiosks -you will usually find a profusion of campsites, often with the benefit of being able to arrive by car ferry to ports such as Rotterdam and IJmuiden.

In the Netherlands, Kennemer Duincamping de Lakens is tucked behind the sprawling sands of Bloemendaal Aan Zee, west of Amsterdam, and has summer pitches from €37 (£32) with access to a playground, sauna, wellness centre, restaurant, supermarket and EV charging points.

Shoulder season

Costal path with Hydrangeas, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
A coastal path in Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal (Photo: font83/Getty)

Travelling in the off-season is set to grow in popularity. In Abta’s annual “Holiday Habits” report, it highlighted a trend for year-round travel, with spring most popular (48 per cent of respondents said they planned to travel in spring this year), followed by summer (46 per cent), autumn (45 per cent) and winter (28 per cent).

So-called shoulder-season shoppers are driven by value, with the cost of holidays dropping considerably outside of peak periods such as the school summer holidays – prime times are May, June and October. Many travel companies are reporting growth in interest for long-stay winter holidays of three weeks or more in top destinations such as Spain.

ForwardKeys has revealed that post-pandemic flexible working arrangements are also influencing travel patterns, with hybrid workers choosing cheaper travel times to work remotely.

Cost-conscious holidaymakers might switch the big annual family trip from July or August to winter sun over the Christmas window in an affordable North African destination such as Egypt, Tunisia or Morocco.

Abta is also reporting growing popularity for October half-term trips, though with a much smaller window, increased demand is likely to push up prices. Flights to the Canary Islands in the last week of October have nudged up to £900pp in the past two years. More palatable prices can often be found in late-season Greece – which is now running into early November rather than October – and Spain.

Even shifting horizons subtly can cut costs – for example, opting for a summer break over the August bank holiday and into the first week of September rather than the in-demand last week of July. For example, a week’s all-inclusive at the Protur Palmeras Playa Hotel near Alcúdia in Mallorca falls by almost 25 per cent, from £915pp with flights on 20 July to £736pp with flights on 31 August, through Tui.

For those inclined to travel in peak weeks, travel agency Barrhead Travel hints at unlikely destinations: it says that family pricing for Dubai was “very attractive” between June and August (when the emirate often had temperatures in the low 40°Cs) last summer. A week at a four-star hotel, including flights, costs around £880pp in late August this summer.


Image of Soca river in Slovenia, a popular travel destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers
Soca River in Slovenia, a popular travel destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers (Photo: Hans Henning Wenk/Getty)

Likely to have been fuelled by the pandemic’s restrictions is a growing desire for paths less trodden. Abta reports that the number of “holiday neophiles” looking to try something new is increasing, borne out in the growing popularity of alternative summer beach destinations such as Albania. Ryanair reported record advance bookings for its new routes to the country’s capital, Tirana, that launched at the end of last October. Return fares from Stansted start at £30.

Responsible Travel has similarly recorded growing interest in the Balkans beyond Croatia, with enquiries for trips to Albania (up 71 per cent since 2022),

Bosnia (up 70 per cent) and Serbia (up 59 per cent). Straddling Europe and Asia, Georgia is also coming into focus – Responsible Travel has seen enquiries for holidays to this Caucasus country up by 37 per cent since 2022, with neighbouring Armenia up 52 per cent.

One of Intrepid Travel’s new tours last year was an eight-day expedition around Bosnia-Herzegovina (from £1,231pp excluding flights) taking in Sarajevo, Mostar, rafting the icy-cool, jade-green Neretva river and a visit to Kravica waterfall.

Responsible Travel’s hot tip for this year is Slovenia – enquiries have risen by 125 per cent since 2022. This compact nation – almost a quarter of the size of Scotland – wedged between Croatia, Italy, Hungary and Austria, packs in a sliver of Adriatic coast, Alpine peaks, sparkling glacial lakes, forests and spa towns.

A self-drive, eight-day tour around some of its natural wonders, from Lake Bled and Triglav National Park to Isola and Piran on the coast, costs from £695pp with B&B accommodation and car hire, excluding flights.

Faded favourites

France, Brittany, Dinard, Point Passion Plage Dinard, view of Plage d l'??cluse, the main beach of Dinard and and stylish villas at Pointe de la Malouine
Passion Plage Dinard, France (Photo: Manfred Gottschalk/Getty)

In a similar vein to the resurgence of seaside resorts such as Margate in Kent, Europe’s forgotten coastal towns are also seeing a comeback from their heydays of more than a century ago.

Setting your sights on these pre-loved wonders could also mean you go against the flow of tourists to beachy mainstays such as the Balearics. Highlights in Europe include Dinard, Étretat, Deauville, Trouville and Le Touquet in France, Heiligendamm and Binz in Germany, Ostend and De Haan in Belgium and
Cascais and Estoril in Portugal.

Today, while many tourists flock to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast honey pots, consider Opatija on the edge of the Istrian peninsula in the Kvarner Gulf near Rijeka. This 19th-century Viennese playground once favoured by Emperor Franz Joseph I is lined with Habsburg-era villas, pretty gardens, spa hotels and rocky emerald coves.

First Choice offers a week’s B&B at the Hotel Admiral in Opatija from £743pp with flights from Gatwick on 24 June.