Paper Airplanes: Plastic Free Travel on a Budget

In honour of Earth Day/Week recently, I thought I would do my part and talk about something I tried to actively practice earlier in the year. For 2 and a half months I travelled around Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia and one of my missions upon embarking on this trip, was to try and live and travel as sustainably as I could on a backpacker budget.

Now, here comes a massive disclaimer – I am very aware that it would have been more sustainable full-stop if I just didn’t go on this trip. The carbon-footprint I accumulated alone, I am sure, makes this post seem incredibly hypocritical. However, in a world where nothing any of us does is 100% right, I will accept the fault in taking a 14-hour trip across the world. It was a trip I had been longing to do after finally graduating. Nobody is perfect, and I try to do small and big things in my day-to-day life to offset things like taking flights – hence this post. So, I guess that disclaimer is a bit of a ‘I accept the criticism, I am fully aware of the problematic nature of taking flights, but give me some credit, I am trying to do the right thing, please don’t hate on me too much’.

Disclaimer aside, here I have listed out some of the things I did and invested in out on my travels in order to either reduce my single-use plastic consumption or travel sustainably. Hopefully, if anyone is planning a trip or just trying to make some differences at home, it might provide a little inspiration.

 

  1. Take a reusable water bottle and reuse/fill up bottles
    Out in Asia, tap water is a total no-go, so it is no surprise that single-use plastic bottles were the standard, and for me that was pretty heart-breaking. At home, I pride myself on having a stainless-steel water bottle which I try and take wherever I go, including on my travels. I kept this bottle with me at all times and at any opportunity I could find a fountain at an airport, in a restaurant or at a hostel I was first in line to fill it up to save me from buying a bottle. Not only this, but my stainless-steel bottle actually keeps the water cool, which is a massive bonus. Sadly, sometimes buying water bottles were inevitable, and when I did have to do this I made sure I bought as big a bottle as I could carry so I was only buying one, and I reused it wherever I could along-side my own bottle, ie. filling it up any day I could at hostels.

My stainless steel bottle is from Chillys – for sure worth the investment…  

Top tip: Sometimes hostels specify if they have water stations so you can tailor your trip to staying at those, or equally if a hostel provides breakfast, cash in on filling up your bottle/ several bottles at breakfast so you are stocked up for the day.

2. Packing cubes not plastic bags
I wouldn’t just advise packing cubes because they’re more sustainable, but also just because they changed my packing game, FOREVER. Essentially just fabric zip-up cubes you can pack all your clothes in, it kept my backpack organised and stopped me putting everything in plastic bags etc. I made sure I even had one dedicated to dirty or wet clothes, they cost next to nothing and can be used trip after trip, or even at home to keep underwear or socks organised.

3. Safety razor
One of the biggest things I felt guilty about at home fell to the fact I had been using handful after handful of plastic disposable razors. It’s all very well having a reusable water bottle, but the bathroom and beauty cabinet is where a lot of plastic hides. Not only would travelling with 2.5 months’ worth of razors be a rubbish thing to lug around, but it’s also just horrendous for the environment. After doing a bit of research and watching a lot of YouTube review videos I took the plunge and switched to a metal safety razor. I can’t lie, it terrified me, and still to this day the look of it is a little intimidating as I felt like I was for sure going to end up a bloody mess. However, this was one of the best sustainable swaps I made. Not only does investing in this razor and the blades cost a fraction of the price of buying disposables in the long run, but it means no more throwing out plastic razors and the bonus, it gives a super close shave (no major blood disasters yet). It takes a little getting used to, but I am so here for it.

A safety razor kept my pins looking pretty smooth round the pool 

4. Refuse straws/ take own metal straws
In places like Indonesia I was pleasantly surprised to find I was not once given a plastic straw. All were either paper, metal, bamboo, glass or biodegradable which was so wonderful. Even a couple of places in Thailand did offer biodegradable straws, however, on the whole places like Vietnam or Thailand are a little slower to jump on the hype. To counter this, the best thing you can do is simply to refuse the straw. You don’t really need one, and if you need to give your drink a stir, ask for a (metal) spoon or use the end of your own cutlery. Otherwise, think about investing in some metal straws, I always have one in my bag and at home, simple and easy.

5. Switching to monthly contact lenses
Admittedly I did this just before I left for Asia and so had a lot of daily ones to use up on my trip. However, I have now made the switch from daily to monthly contact lenses. Not only is it more cost effective and for me personally, has made my vision better, but it also stops you throwing away the plastic casing and the lenses every day, much better for the planet.

6. Refuse plastic bags
Pretty simple, but I’ll say it anyway, you can carry that keyring souvenir or that bottle of vodka without a bag just fine, don’t accept a plastic bag and if you need a bag, bring your own!

Drinks at hostels were metal straws and cans of mixer, not plastic!

7. Solid shave/shampoo/shower bars
Along with my safety razor I also took a solid shave cream bar out with me. This saved me taking a can or plastic bottle or tube, and actually worked incredibly well and lasted my entire trip. Bit of a mess and a faff to store, but if you invest in a metal case or just wrap it in something waterproof you are pretty good to go. One thing I wish I had also taken with me were some solid shampoo and shower bars, but sadly classic me didn’t get around to ordering in time before I left. However, I have used the Lush solid shampoo bar before and highly recommend you invest, you need barely any to get a lather and means you don’t have to buy the plastic bottles all the time.

8. Do a little beach clean wherever you go
Pick a couple of things off the beach as you leave, not too much effort and makes the beach nicer for you and for the next person, easy.

It’s a mad plastic world out there, but the tides are changing. We can all do a little bit that collectively will make a huge difference, so I hope this provides some inspiration! 

Travel Tips: Best of Berlin

Still reeling from the most gorgeous holiday we had in Berlin last month, I thought I would do a little write up of all the places and ‘attractions’ we visited (in-between all of the eating and drinking we did). So here is your rough guide to the places we went, a little bit about them, and some tips about the best times to visit or if you need to book. The best part about all of these places is that most of them were totally free and within relative walking distance of each other, I can’t recommend you visit this city enough.

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Brandenburg Gate
Located in the district of Mitte, the Brandenburg Gate is a hugely impressive 18th century monument which has become the site of major historical events throughout its existence. As you will find with many of Berlin’s much loved tourist spots, it’s totally free and is located within walking distance of the Reichstag and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, so if you plan your trip right, you can do all three in a morning/ afternoon. There are bits of information dotted around the gate, but if you are really keen to learn more about its history, there are plenty of tour-guides walking around the gate offering free tours in many different languages, so hop on one if you have the time.

Reichstag Building
The meeting place for German parliament, this impressive building has a lot of history, and now boasts an impressive glass dome which offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding cityscape. Great news for students and those trying to travel on the cheap, it is totally free to go and visit. But a word of warning, to visit requires prior registration on their website and I would really recommend booking a slot way in advance. We tried booking on a couple of days before and there seemed to be little-to-no slots available. After reading online that it is possible to sneak onto some slots on the day, we took a chance and arrived in the morning, but were sent over to a huge queue of people who had obviously thought the same. In the end we gave up on the idea of waiting and so only saw the outside, however I know it is definitely worth the visit and worth the effort of registering a few weeks prior.
You can register to visit and book a time slot here – just make sure you read all the terms about what you need to bring on the day 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The 200,000 square ft site is covered with 2,711 concrete ‘stelae’ at different heights across the sloping ground. Just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate this was by far the best thing we saw on the trip. The uneven blocks are supposed to create an atmosphere of confusion and unease. The memorial is completely free to get lost in for a while, and whilst at first I couldn’t think of how a load of blocks could be that interesting or impressive, once walking around you really get a sense and a feeling quite unlike anything else. It’s hard to describe, but it is a really effective memorial and can’t recommend you visit it enough.

Topographies of Terror
Based on the site of buildings used as the SS Reich Main Security Office, and the headquarters of the Gestapo, Topographies of Terror is an outdoor exhibition and indoor museum, which also runs alongside an old part of the Berlin Wall. The permanent exhibitions tell you all about the institutions of the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office and the crimes they organised. Documents and photographs display how the Nazis rose to power and evocative personal accounts of those involved. It’s a really interesting exhibition, and once again totally free – but it is quite lengthy and requires a lot of reading, so I’d recommend visiting when you’re fresh and ready in the morning rather than when you’re a bit tired from all the exploring later on.

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Check Point Charlie
The best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Germany, Checkpoint Charlie pulls thousands of tourists every year, which is exactly why I wouldn’t recommend you put this stop as a priority on your list. As many of the guidebooks say, Checkpoint Charlie is now a total tourist trap and so the best advice I could give you is to walk past in en route to other attractions. It is swamped by so many people you can barely see the checkpoint, surrounded by built up modern buildings such as a huge McDonalds right behind it, and a pricey cheap looking ‘museum’ across the road made us sure we didn’t want to hang around. A quick rubbish picture and we made our way elsewhere, you’re probably much better off reading up about it than wasting much time here.

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East Side Gallery
One of the most famous galleries in Berlin, open-air, and totally free, is the 1316m long East Side Gallery. Murals painted directly on the remnants of the Berlin Wall by artists from all over the world pulls millions of tourists every year and it’s easy to see why. The paintings document the feelings of many after the Wall was finally brought down, expressing hope for the future. They’re super impressive, but I’d recommend you go later in the evening or super early in the morning to have a better chance of taking some uninterrupted pictures.

Jewish Museum
The largest Jewish Museum in Europe, the Jewish Museum was one of the first places people told me to go and visit when I told them I was taking a trip to Berlin. If anything, the building itself is beautifully designed and visually stunning. You first make your way through the ‘Axes’ exhibition, divided into three different areas to symbolize three paths of Jewish life in Germany. The most impressive features of the building have to be the Garden of Exile and the Fallen Leaves installation, both extremely powerful and well thought-out. Our only disappointment was that the real pull of the museum, the reason we were told to visit, was the permanent exhibition, which happened to be closed for reconstruction and won’t open again until 2019. Whilst the museum was impressive, I feel we definitely missed the main attraction. That being said, if you’re visiting on a sunny day, the gardens and courtyard at the back of the building are a lovely spot to grab some lunch and bask in the sun as you mull over what you have just walked around.
It’s only €8 for a standard ticket or if you’re a lucky student, then you can get in for a mere €3 

TV Tower
Situated in Alexanderplatz, the TV Tower standing at 368m is the tallest structure in Germany. It serves as a home to several radio and TV stations, but its main pull for tourists is its floor at 203m, offering a view across the whole of Berlin. Take a trip up here to admire the breath-taking views whilst sipping on a beer or a cocktail from their rotating sky-bar and restaurant. Best advice I can give you is to book a visit to the tower in advance. In a bid to save money, we found out that getting tickets on the day are cheaper, and we could also apply a student discount. However, after arriving and seeing the queue to even get to the ticket office was over and hour and we had a flight to catch, we decided to settle for having a wander around outside. For the sake of spending an extra €7 we could have arrived, skipped the queue, and been up there enjoying a pint without any hassle, so bare it in mind when planning.
Fast track tickets are €19.50, or its €15.50 on the day, with an offer of 20% student discount, all prices can be found here

Markthalle Neun
As already mentioned in my previous post about budget food in Berlin, if you find yourself in Berlin on a Thursday night, head over to Markthalle Neun in the heart of Kreuzberg for their famous food market. In a beautiful hall covered in fairy lights and a buzz of people, the market is filled with a huge variety of food and drink stalls, where your only problem will be deciding between them all. There is something for everyone, where the vegan, vegetarian and meat-filled options are endless. One minute you may find yourself tucking into some tasty tapas, the next a decadent cheesecake, or tempting tacos and sugar soaked churros. We opted for some octopus dumplings, a fresh calzone and a naan wrap filled with marinated cheese and pork. Wash this all down with a large glass, (or bottle), of wine from one of the many bars and soak up the atmosphere.

Beer, Burgers and More: Budget Berlin Food

With a budget even tighter since graduating, a lust to travel and a love of food and wine is hard to satisfy sometimes. But early this month I took a trip to Berlin in search of an adventure. Expecting to see some amazing sights, the biggest surprise turned out to be the Berlin food scene. So much choice, all incredibly delicious, and the best part, stupidly cheap. If you are heading out there I highly recommend making the time and effort to search out some good food, here are just a few suggestions we tried out to wet your appetite!

Burgermeister

Previously a literal toilet, Burgermeister is the perfect joint to pick up a cheap, greasy and totally delicious burger. Their takeaway-style restaurant has a simple menu, from a classic cheeseburger, to those who want to up their game and tackle a burger filled with double meat, double cheese, bacon, BBQ sauce and jalapeños. A selection of fries, cheese fries or chilli cheese fries are also the perfect accompaniment, all washed down with a beer costing no more than €2.20, what’s not to love? Their most expensive burger is a mere €7.30, but the rest weigh in around the €4/5 mark this the perfect cheap and cheerful meal. We went there for dinner on our first night after arriving early evening and one burger and a beer each left us feeling pretty stuffed!

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Curry at the Wall

Whilst spending a few days in Berlin, it seemed almost wrong to not have at least one currywurst experience, but of course, we were searching for the best. After seeing a few sights, hungry for some lunch, we set to googling for the best place in the Mitte area, which led us to Curry at the Wall. At first glance, it looks like any other fast food place (and to be perfectly honest this was the only place we had currywurst, so it might have been just that). However, Curry at the Wall quite uniquely has a view of part of the old Berlin Wall from just across the road, and once you’re done eating there, you can walk across and wander round the Topographies of Terror exhibition, right in front of the wall. Tourist attractions aside, for €7.90 you could get a plate of their traditional currywurst, chips, and a beer, and despite my scepticism it genuinely tasted really nice and filled us up for the rest of the afternoon for sightseeing.

Sushi Cube

I was always under the impression that good sushi would always be expensive, until we found Sushi Cube after a morning of sightseeing. With a huge amount of choice, (usually red flag for me) it took us a while to narrow our options down, luckily they provide their own set ‘menus’ to help you decide. Labelled 1-10, each menu was a plate which had a selection of different sushi dishes and a side of a spicy miso soup, with prices ranging from €4-6. We opted for one of these plates, and then picked two other smaller dishes, but with 8 California rolls costing no more than €3, you could easily create your own cheap feast, and we were stuffed by the end. Not to mention you could pick up half a litre of wine for a very reasonable €7, (and cheap decent wine is pretty much the way to my heart).

Rissani

This was our absolute goldmine find for delicious food on a tight budget. Tucked away around the corner from a strip of amazing, good value restaurants is Rissani, the falafel and kebab restaurant of dreams. Having read that you could pick up a falafel for a mere €2, we headed down with the expectation that if we weren’t full after this, we would head to another place we liked the look of further up the street, but how mistaken we were! Ample choice on the menu, our eye was caught by their special ‘sharing plate’, boasting that it featured all its most popular dishes on the menu and for only €9, we took a gamble which paid off massively. Within 5 minutes we were handed a huge plate stacked with falafels, hummus, kebab meat, chips, salad, halloumi, wicked hot spicy sauce, tangy garlic sauce and some soft warm pittas on the side. Needless to say, we were totally stuffed by the end, and at €9 for our entire dinner, it meant we had some money to go grab a couple of drinks up the road, total bargain.

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Santa Maria 

Lunchtime meal deals, a total saviour for anyone on a budget and Santa Maria provided just that. Colourful and inviting, they offer a variety of Mexican delights with meat, fish and veggie fillings. Their lunchtime meal deal boasts either tacos, burritos or quesadillas with a beer for between €7-9, but you can also swap your beer for one of their traditional margaritas for an extra €3. Come on a Tuesday and all their tacos are €1.50, and happy hour means margaritas are a mere €5. Perfect lunch stop, although I’d recommend a burrito over the tacos, I opted for the chicken tacos and as flavoursome as they were, I would have liked some salad/cheese or sauces to go with, whereas the burrito was full to the brim and totally delicious.

Markthalle Neun

If you find yourself in Berlin on a Thursday night, make sure you clear your dinner plans to head to Kreuzberg for their famous food market. Kicking off at around 5pm, this beautiful hall hosts a huge variety of food and drink stalls, your only problem will be deciding what to have. Playing the tactical game, we scoped out all the options before deciding we would order one thing at a time and share so we could try as many things as possible. We opted for a weird but wonderful spicy pork and marinated cheese wrapped in a naan, octopus dumplings and some fresh calzone/ pasty mashup (which only cost €4!). All washed down with a glass of wine (in a real glass might I add) from one of the many bars dotted around the venue. There is something for everyone with endless vegan, veggie and meat filled options from tapas to cheesecake, or pasta to tacos.

Zola’s Pizzeria

Our last meal was spent at Zola’s, a busy restaurant tucked in a cute courtyard serving up the freshest and most delicious pizzas around. Every pizza is made fresh and cooked for no more than 90 seconds in their wicked hot traditional pizza oven, and if that doesn’t entice you enough, Zola’s actually made my boyfriend claim that was the best pizza he had ever had. A small menu means quality is kept, with just enough options to make you double think before you order.

Thrifty Travel: Dublin

 

It always seems to be the way, your lust for travel is much bigger than your bank balance, you feel like you deserve a holiday but your budget says more ‘camping weekend in the back garden’ than it does ‘trip abroad’.

But there are so many ways you can still get your holiday fix without breaking the bank, my first example, Dublin. Granted this won’t be your standard getting a tan, sipping on margaritas style holiday, however if you are up for a bit of culture, a little adventure, and lot of Guinness, Dublin is a great place to spend a few days and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. So here is my guide to Dublin, what to see, what to do and all on a student budget.

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Travel

Flights

Being from the South West, travel is sometimes a bit of a nightmare, and crucially, extremely pricey. However, flights to Dublin are pretty cheap.

From Bristol to Dublin the flight is almost under an hour and by booking only a couple months in advance, a return ticket cost us £59. Having a quick search online this price seems pretty standard and even when I looked to book for as early as next week the prices seem to stay the same, only varying by £10 or so.

So flights are relatively cheap, but use price comparison sites like SkyScanner or Kayak and you can keep an eye on flights and buy them at the best price. Another massive tip is to try and book flights which mean you arrive to your destination early, and depart late, that way you can make the most of your trip by having a good proportion of the day on your arrival and departure to play with.

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From the airport

Fortunately, Dublin airport is pretty close to the city centre and we found it worked out quite well to hop on a coach which took us directly onto O’Connell Street. For a small €12 we had a return ticket which we could use at any time to get us back and it took us straight to the heart of Dublin within 25 minutes.

Day to day

So, if you really want to save money and you are staying in somewhere pretty central then there is no better way to experience the city for free than walking from place to place. In general, much of the tourist attractions in Dublin are fairly close together and so walking shouldn’t be a problem.

Although we stayed pretty central, (if we knew which way to walk it would have only taken us about 20 minutes to walk to the centre), Dublin has a super easy and fast tram system that I would encourage you all to take advantage of. For less than €5 we had a return which got us to the centre in 5-10 minutes and once there, we walked the rest. Taking the tram made life so much easier, it’s really simple to understand and felt a lot safer when we were coming home after dinner and drinks out. They also run stupidly regularly. If you’re staying for longer than a couple of days it also might be worth investing in a ‘leapcard’, they sort of work like oyster cards where you can top them up with money and scan it at the tram stop.

Warning: It is super easy to fall into a false sense of security and think that it is not worth buying a tram ticket because there are no barriers or officials on the trams 24/7. However, ‘tram security’ do regularly hop on and check your tickets and issue fines for not having one, which is seriously not worth it when a return costs next to nothing.

Accommodation 

Airbnb have it pretty sorted. For a whole flat only a 5-minute walk to the Guinness Factory and a 10-minute tram ride into the main centre between 3 of us we found a place for £64 each for 2 nights. Airbnb was super handy as by talking to our host we could check in early and check out late and had the entire flat to ourselves. Because Dublin is a major city, there are literally so many places listed on the site so you can go mega cheap and just hire a room in a house, or splash out more and get an entire apartment. But I would look at these as early as possible as all of the good ones can get booked up quickly.

Another cheaper alternative are hostels which are dotted all around the centre at the fraction of the price of a hotel.

Food and drink  

Food and drink is probably the only thing I would say requires a bit more of a ‘splurge’, but that still doesn’t mean you can’t save a few pennies here and there.

If you do what we did and get yourself an Airbnb, you are already setting yourself up to save some money since you will normally have a kitchen in an apartment. If you’re in even more luck like we were, your host might provide some tea or coffee and smaller bits like cereal, and then your breakfast is sorted. If not, it will cost you much less to buy some bread and some cereal than it will to eat breakfast out, and if you are in mega saving mode you could even make packed lunches.

But in general we found it quite easy to have a bit of early morning breakfast at the apartment, head into the city and start sightseeing and then grab some brunch/lunch from a local café. Dublin is full of hundreds of restaurants so grab a couple of guides or just wonder round and there is something for everyone. On our first night we had some really reasonably priced tapas right in the centre of temple bar, and on the second we knew we wanted to have some traditional Irish Stew so went fully traditional and had it in the Brazen Head, Dublin’s oldest pub.

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All in all, food can be as cheap or as expensive as you want to make it, the only thing you might need to give on, is if you’re partial to a cheeky pint. Now granted, since we were only staying for a couple of nights we didn’t take the time to branch out and try and find some cheaper places to drink and stuck to the good old Temple Bar area. But you can imagine my face when I asked the bar tender for two glasses of red wine and he replied ‘€15 please’. This is coming from a girl who wouldn’t pay anymore than £7 for a whole bottle back at home, though. That being said, even a pint of Dublin’s world famous Guinness set us back €6.80, and my poor housemate paid €6.30 for the pleasure of a traditionally cheap and cheerful Bulmers.

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Smiling through the pain and savouring every last drop.

So if you’re planning on drinking on your trip my advice would either be bite the bullet, or if your stay is a little bit longer than ours was, have an explore outside of the main tourist traps, prices might be a little cheaper!

Attractions

Top tip: If you are a student TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE, most of the places we went to offered a student discount (so make sure you bring your student card with you), and it makes a lot of difference.

Free:

Trinity College: Dublin’s famous university is free to enter and have wonder round, it’s a really impressive building and has some beautiful grounds. You can also pay for a guided tour which if you’re interested in its history might be a good idea.

Temple Bar: A vibrant and bustling section of the city filled with traditional Irish pubs, restaurants and gift shops. Enjoyed best in the evening where you can drop into one of the many pubs and listen to some live music.

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Grafton Street: If shopping is your thing, then head down to Grafton Street, Dublin’s main shopping area. Filled with well known brands and independent stores it would be quite easy to spend a whole afternoon there. We also visited just to feel like we were part of the Ed Sheeran song.

Paid:

Guinness Factory: So worth the tour if not only for the fact the brewery is AMAZING. The tour is self guided and not only offers a student discount but you can also get cheaper tickets if you book at certain ‘off peak times’. You work your way through 6 floors of the history of Guinness from how its made, to their advertising. Your ticket also buys you a sample and lesson in how best to ‘experience’ Guinness as well as a free pint at the end in their impressive skybar which gives you views across the whole of Dublin. Student ticket: €18 Adult Ticket: Anything from €14-€20 depending on the time you book for and how early in advance you book!

Top tip: So we might have just been lucky, but stick around the skybar for a bit, quite often people get to the top and don’t want their free pint, or are under aged and so hand their free coupon to people who want it – in the 45 minutes we were up there we got offered an extra 4 free pints (but maybe we just looked like poor students who needed it).

Christ Church Dublin Cathedral:

Founded in 1028 this beautiful cathedral is worth an explore. At ground level the building boasts stunning stain glass windows and an impressive organ. But explore further and you can take a walk through the medieval crypt featuring a mummified cat and rat discovered in the cathedral’s organ and Ireland’s first copy the Magna Carta.

€6.50, Adults, €5, Students

Dublin Castle:

Yet another remarkable building, and a place you can save some money on too! Dublin’s castle is a great opportunity to see how ‘the other half’ lived as you walk around drawing rooms with beautiful ceilings and great halls bigger than your house. You have the option to take a guided or self-guided tour, with the guided you get to see the Viking Excavation and Chapel Royal, so if that is something that peaks your interest it might be worth spending the extra €3. However, for just a peak round the state apartments and exhibitions, it’s a little cheaper to go with a self guided tour. The castle also has some lovely grounds where you can sit and enjoy a bit of lunch.

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Top tip: You can actually download a free app which gives you an audio tour of the state apartments, saving you spending the extra for a guided tour.

Guided: €10 Adults, €8 Students
Self Guided: €7 Adults, €6 Students

Kilmainham Gaol Museum:

This was one of my favourite attractions we visited over the three days. Open from 1796-1924, the Gaol is now open to the public to take a tour round and witness the place where many prisoners of the Irish Civil War and leaders of many rebellions were held. Holding everyone from political prisoners, child thieves and murders, the well informed tour guide shows you some of the most harrowing and impressive features of the building. Getting to actually walk into the cells prisoners spent years of their lives and stand in the room some men and women spent their last nights’ in was such a weird and interesting experience and I fully recommend you take the trip over.

They do recommend that you book your tickets in advance, not only because the tickets are slightly cheaper but also because it gets extremely busy, we were very lucky to get there first thing and squeeze in on an early morning tour, but booking online would be a good idea.

Online:  €8 Adults, €4 Student
Walk-in: €9 Adults, €5 Student

So in 3 short days we managed to do a lot, but Dublin is filled with so many more wonderful museums and boasts a lot of fascinating tours. Dublin is a great cheap get-away for culture lovers and guinness drinkers alike, and I hope my lengthy post also saves you a euro or two!

 

Lessons from Abroad: Costa Rica

Last summer, after over a year of saving hard, team West travelled for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Costa Rica. To say it was an adventure would be an understatement. We were staying in a super rural part of the island, the roads should have come with a warning that they may be unsuitable for anyone with a nervous disposition, and we spent our days sharing sun loungers with the local iguanas. However, it was genuinely one of the most fun and exciting holidays I had ever been on, surrounded by the rainforest and its wildlife, amazing food and the most welcoming local community.

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The holiday came at one of the most perfect times for me personally. After finishing an exciting but really tough first year at university, moving away from home, and working super hard at my job, two weeks away from civilisation to explore and relax was just what I needed. And while we were away this phrase came up a lot: Pura Vida.

Pura Vida, is one of the most commonly used phrases in Costa Rica. Used as a greeting, farewell, to let people know you’re doing well, or just to say thanks etc. In its simplest translation, Pura Vida, means ‘pure life’, but it is also similar to sayings such as ‘real living’, ‘full of life’ or even our favourite Disney phrase ‘Hakuna Matata’. And like the Danish have taken Hygge, using it not only in its literal sense, but also as a basis for their way of life, so too, has Pura Vida become a way of life for the people of Costa Rica, which is something I think we could all learn from.

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To Costa Ricans, Pura Vida means that no matter what your situation in life is, someone could always be less fortunate. They believe that no matter how much or how little you have in life, life is too short to worry about it and that we should just live it as optimistically and fully as possible.

And wouldn’t the world be a much happier place if we didn’t worry about how much stuff we do or do not have, and instead appreciate our lives for what they are. And the Costa Rican people seem to have it pretty sorted. They have no standing army, (and haven’t since the 50s), they are one of the most valued environmental destinations, with a quarter of the country consisting in protected forests and reserves, and they have one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world. They live healthy, balanced lives, with respect for nature, one another and themselves.

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Even just being there for two weeks I felt I began to understand this deeply ingrained value more and more. Half way through the holiday, the internet at our apartment stopped working for an entire week and as more time went on, the less fussed I seemed to become. I was enjoying time with my family, seeing some of the most amazing views I have ever experienced and really understanding how fortunate I am to have the life I do.

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So one of my first lessons from abroad, is Pura Vida. Appreciation, optimism, and living life for the now. And so I here I am sharing my lesson with the rest of the world (or just my parents, who make up 85% of my page views). But I feel like in the interesting and sometimes scary time we are living in, some lessons from places and people who seem to be keeping pretty happy and out of trouble, couldn’t hurt.

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Much Love x

My Week With No Internet

 

It’s enough to make people breakout in a cold sweat, riddled with nerves. You cry ‘what am I supposed to do all day’ and despair how you could ever live without it. Internet. The all-mighty wifi. So freely available to us in this technological age it really is hard to imagine life without it.

We check our phone when we wake up like we would a daily newspaper. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, E-mails, Messenger, Snapchat etc. then we can finally go about our daily routine, showering, brushing teeth and eating breakfast (while refreshing all theses apps and flicking through again). We live in a time where it is quicker, easier and more common to get a hold of our friends on WhatsApp, or where we find out the worlds biggest breaking stories through Facebook or Twitter rather than watching the news.

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The internet is amazing, connects us in so many ways and gives us access to a universe of knowledge, but we all fall prey to being wired up so much, we see life through a computer screen. I know I struggle to feel at ease when I don’t get to check my messages every half hour, we all do. So while on holiday this summer with my family the wifi unexpectedly went down for a few days, I like many, felt at a loose end, here is how my week went…

 

Day One

Mid-morning the internet suddenly stopped working. This initially caused only little panic as the wifi was pretty shocking here, and so it wasn’t uncommon for it to stop working for half an hour or so.

It got to lunch time and nothing was happening. This was followed by asking each of my family members several times if theirs was working ok, which it wasn’t, and even having a conversation with the people living in the same apartments if they were having the same issue.

Then came the obsessively switching on and off the wifi, forgetting and then re-joining the network, turning on and off my phone, walking round the complex to see if anywhere had better signal, but to no avail, it was truly RIP to my beloved wifi.

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Day Two

Day two of wifi-gate started much the same as day one ended, obsessively connecting and reconnecting with the hope that if I did it enough times it might give in and work.

My dad laughs and claims he wanted to set us a challenge to go without wifi anyway, and jokes that he asked the apartment owners to cut the cords just for his amusement. However, this was no laughing matter, as I had undoubtedly lost my Snapchat streaks with my housemates and that was a tragedy in itself.

More attempts to reconnect are made throughout the day, but less frequently than the morning, my detox had begun and I was starting to accept my fate. I even turned to reading an old fashioned book, shock horror, which I began and completed in one afternoon.

 

Day Three

The morning check for wifi was becoming a ritual just as checking Facebook once was, my friends back home had probably filed out a missing persons report by now, as it was uncommon for us not to speak for a day, let alone 3.

But then I went about most of the morning and afternoon barely touching my phone, knowing it wasn’t worth checking for internet, it was left to the side while I went about my unconnected day.

It still played on the back of my mind when I would finally have wifi that I would have so much to catch up on, but it then became sort of accepted that there was nothing I could do but wait and yet another book was started and finished within a matter of hours.

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Day Four

Still no sign of my beloved, and even dad who laughed at first is getting agitated that he can’t read the surf reports or check us in online for our return flights. Reduced to family card games such as rummy or uno would I ever see an end to this torture?

After despairing again this morning, my phone got left for the entire day, untouched and forgotten, it seems my detox is taking an effect as I am not breaking out in a sweat every time I think of all the notifications and emails I’m missing out on.

 

Day Five  

Yet again my phone was left on its own for the entire day, knowing there wasn’t much point in trying anymore.

However, although I had become less dependant in wanting to check my phone every two minutes, getting to day five in this traumatic experience, we were starting to get stupidly fed up with not being able to google things we couldn’t remember like the name of a random Argentinian football player (Diego Maradona btw) or even check the weather for tomorrow.

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Day Six

It was our last day in tropical paradise, and how bitter sweet it seems, the internet magically began working as we began our departure.

I’d like to say I had detoxed so much that this didn’t phase me, but I, like so many would, spent a good hour catching up on emails, Facebook messages, Instagram notifications, etc. etc. Which may beg the question, had I really learnt anything?

I can safely say I won’t be going a week without wifi again any time soon, but as I returned to England, and quite shortly after, to uni, I did feel time away from the connected world had done me some good. I learnt the universe would not implode if I didn’t hit refresh every minute, and that being on holiday was supposed to be about disconnecting and it shouldn’t matter if I have internet or not. But most importantly, I learnt how to have a bit of switch-off time at home. Dad (and many others) call this ‘mindfulness’. Every day, I have a 20-minute walk to uni, and in those 20 minutes I turn off my internet. I might have some music playing, but other than that I have no contact with anything or any one for 20 minutes to uni and 20 minutes’ home, I am alone with my own thoughts, I can look at the beautiful sunset or sunrise around me and I can just, for those 20 minutes, remember that the world does not need to revolve around my phone.

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If you stuck with me for this long, then I applaud you, it was a lengthy one! This sort of came out of avoiding revision and trying to be more productive with my time when I’m not doing uni work, so where this is not a promise to be posting more regularly, it is a promise to myself to make use of my time doing things that I enjoy or are productive.

I hope you all had a wonderful 2016 and move into 2017 ever more positive as I am.

 

Much Love x