Have a great city, beach or career break on a budget without lowering yourself to stag-infested city centres, Brit-packed beaches or over-tramped backpacker trails.

If you're craving a break but feeling the squeeze, don't panic. It is possible to travel on a budget without compromising on quality. By following a few simple rules and choosing your destination wisely you can still get away and avoid the middling crowd.

Rule one: Be flexible on dates. Travel mid week and outside of school holidays if at all possible.

Rule two:
Sign up for newsletters and be the first to hear about special offers. Ryanair (website: www.ryanair.com) sends regular e-mails giving subscribers the chance to book the cheapest flights before anyone else, as well as special members-only flight offers. Travelzoo (website: http://uk.travelzoo.com) sends subscribers a weekly Top 20TM newsletter featuring fantastic deals compiled from hundreds of companies' sales.

Rule three:
Research, research, research. Use as many travel comparison sites as possible to vastly increase your chances of scraping a rock-bottom deal (see below for our favourites). Check out the offers of travel agents in your local high street; they're often desperate to compete with the online agencies and will put in that extra effort to get you a deal. Finally, try booking your flight and accommodation separately through the no-frills airlines and specialist hotel comparison sites.

Rule four:
Choose your destination carefully. While there's something to be said for simply going to wherever the flights are cheapest, if you get there and find it costs £6 for a pint, it's not exactly going to do wonders for your bank balance.
Here are our top destinations for budget city, beach and career breaks:

City break

Splurge on flights; save on spending once you get there. 

Eastern European cities such as Budapest are good options but avoid the unfortunate places popular with rambunctious hens and stags. Decide what you want out of your holiday and go somewhere you can get it cheap.

If culture is your thing, head to Glasgow or London for free entry to many fantastic museums and galleries. Madrid hosts three of the world's greatest museums: Prado Museum (website: www.museodelprado.es), Reina Sofia National Art Centre Museum (website: www.museoreinasofia.es) and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (website: www.museothyssen.org). Entry usually costs €6 for each museum, but with a Passeo del Arte card you can get into all three for €14.40. Plus, they're all within a ten-minute walk of each other, so you save on transport! Tip: entry to the Prado and Reina Sofia museums is free on Sundays.

For bargain shopping try New York. Return flights for around £250 can be still be found, and by staying in a hostel for around £18 per night you can take advantage of the strong exchange rate to stock up on clothes from the numerous designer outlets. To save even more on accommodation, kip for free in the home of a generous stranger from www.couchsurfing.com.

Exquisite gastronomy on a budget can be hard to find, but Istanbul provides a fantastic array of Mediterranean fare, mezze, international cuisine and of course, Turkish coffee, all within reach of no-frills airlines. There's also stunning architecture and cheap accommodation.

Beach break

Go for longer for better value. 

A two-week break can cost only a little more than one week. For example, two weeks in Africa's Cape Verde in early October will cost you around £750 with Thomson Plus, whereas going for seven nights will save you only about £150. Sounds expensive, but once you're there you can get a three-course meal for a little over £10 and a beer or glass of wine for under £1.

If Africa's a little too pricey try Croatia, for around £300. The difference between 10 days and one week on the Dubrovnik Riviera in early October is only about £5 (booking through www.travelsupermarketcom). So you see, more is less!

All-inclusives are worth considering too. Once you've forked out for the trip, holiday spending is kept to a minimum. And, when you've slept and eaten to your heart and wallet's content you can escape the confines of the resort to explore, or simply laze on the beach with ‘free' drinks on tap.

For a cheaper version of your usual beach holiday, choose Portugal instead of Spain, the Black Sea in Bulgaria instead of Italy and Brittany instead of the south of France. All are noticeably cheaper but still offer beautiful beaches and the same fair weather.

Career break

Earn while you learn.

Career breaks require a little more investment than holidays or travelling (make sure you have enough money to cover yourself both on your trip and when you get back) but with some clever planning you can combine the trip of a lifetime with something that'll look great on your CV.

Use the time to gain new skills. Take a course with TEFL (website: www.tefl.com) or TESOL (website: www.tesol.org) and spend a year teaching English in places such as Asia and South America. In addition to a wage, schools often provide accommodation and will sometimes throw in flights for their new teachers. For something a little more physical, train to be a ski or snowboard instructor with SnowSkool (website: www.snowskool.co.uk) in France, Canada or New Zealand.

It's also possible to get work visas for Canada, New Zealand (ages 18-30) and USA (ages 18-38), and a number of companies offer specialist services including visas, bank accounts and help finding a job (see below).

Volunteering is a great way to take a break and give something back. You don't have to fork out a fortune to do it either; volunteers are needed right here in the UK. If conservation's your thing, go to the The National Trust (website: www.nationaltrust.org.uk). To work with kids, try the Children's Country Holidays Fund (website: www.childrensholidays.org.uk), which provides holiday camps and breaks for inner-city children who have been victims of violence, abuse, poverty and bullying, allowing them to be children again.

Recommended travel comparison sites
Kayak: www.kayak.co.uk
SideStep: www.sidestep.com
Cheapflights.co.uk: www.cheapflights.co.uk
skyscanner: www.skyscanner.net
Lastminute.com: www.lastminute.com
travelsupermarket.com: www.travelsupermarket.com

Recommended budget flight sites:
World Travel Guide: www.worldtravelguide.net/flights

Ryanair: www.ryanair.com
easyJet: www.easyjet.com
Zoom: www.flyzoom.com
Cheapflights.co.uk: www.cheapflights.co.uk
Wizz Air: http://wizzair.com 

Recommended budget accommodation sites:
World Travel Guide: www.worldtravelguide.net/hotels
LateRooms: www.laterooms.com  
halfpricehotels.co.uk: www.halfpricehotels.co.uk
CouchSurfing: www.couchsurfing.com
The Hospitality Club: www.hospitalityclub.org

Recommended career break sites:

Gap Year for Grown Ups: www.gapyearforgrownups.co.uk
The Career Break Site: www.careerbreaksite.com

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.