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! 

What they don’t tell you about graduate life

Since graduating from university in July this year, life for me has been a bit of a confusing rollercoaster. Filled with relief I finally finished uni, joy I never had to write another History essay again, and terrified that now I was no longer under the academic safety blanket with no job, and no clue what on earth I was going to do with my life. I can’t speak for all, but I know for a fact that no-one quite prepared me for how weird this time would be. So, I suppose this post is my small attempt at saying I think a conversation should start about how, while life as a graduate has its undoubted perks, it also holds a lot of struggles that I wasn’t quite expecting and that we need to talk more honestly about it. This isn’t all light-hearted, but I do hope at the very least this makes some of my fellow graduates feel less alone.

  1. Whatever decision or path you take, it’ll always feel like the wrong one
    Whether it be jumping straight into a grad-job, picking up a panic, (or not so panic), masters or taking the year out, what no one tells you is that whatever you do, it always feels like you picked the wrong path. I decided to take a year out to relax, do some travelling, get some experience, and work out what the hell I want to do with my life. But almost none of my friends have done that; most have gone straight into jobs, gone back to uni for their final year, or started a masters. I have never doubted myself so much as to whether I should have taken a different route. I know many of my friends who have chosen different paths to me have waves of feeling the same. Ultimately, no one told me that I just have to take a step back and realise no choice is the right choice, and that’s totally fine too.
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  2. Being at home has major plus points
    Washing day at uni was always a drag, and coming home from a day on campus to remember you have no food in the house was the worst thing in the world. Being at uni has made me totally appreciate how good I have it at home. My washing is always done, food is always in the fridge, I’m not wearing 50 layers of clothing to save the heating bill, and for the time being, I am living rent free. It won’t be much more time before that all ends, so I am fully on team parent-appreciation-society in the meantime. I don’t think I say it often enough, but my parents are the best.

 

  1. Life is a lot lonelier than you realise
    Suddenly moving out from living around the corner from your best friends, seeing course mates on campus every day, or even having relatable experiences, like essays to discuss, just seem to disappear. Since moving back home I felt like I didn’t have anyone in the same position who seemed to be going through the same feelings that I could talk to, and that was super isolating. As much as my parents are amazing and supportive, they didn’t quite understand why I just felt like crying a lot of the time even though I have a part-time job and plans to go travel. There was genuinely no real rhyme or reason to any of it. This period of life is super confusing to go from high stress and deadlines to suddenly nothing at all. For whatever reason, it just meant that if anyone asked what I was doing with my life, if I watched an episode of Bake Off, or just couldn’t find my glasses, I’d cry. Not ideal.

 

  1. The world is completely your oyster
    You’ve got a degree, no one can take that away from you now. So even though every decision you make may not feel like the right one, the beauty is you HAVE the decision. If I want to get a job I can hustle and apply to loads. If I want to take time out, I can book a flight. Although I may not be able to snap my fingers and have my dream job, or have the money to go travel, the only thing that matters is I have all this time and all these opportunities in front of me which is part of the whole reason why I worked so hard at uni in the first place.

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  1. You cannot rely on Instagram to give you the full story
    With our generation, it is so easy to open Facebook or Instagram and feel like everyone is #livingtheirbestlife, totally happy, and doing exactly what they want. But honestly, I am never going to post a photo of me crying mid-dissertation, or of me pouring my 100th pint of the day behind the bar, or even when I get my 3rd rejection of the month from an internship that would have barely paid my travel expenses. My point being, we only post the highlights, and so while everyone might appear to be living like life is peachy, remember it’s only for a moment, and often reality is a little more complicated than a perfectly filtered square photo.

 

The left is an actual image of me post-20 minute breakdown in the toilet close to my dissertation deadline, the right image is what I posted on Instagram instead. 

  1. You’ll be even more careful with your money
    Gone are the days of that juicy student loan, and now those Friday night beers are totally self-funded. If you’re like me and trying to save for travels, then suddenly happy-hours are a lot more important, birthday cards start to look a lot more ‘homemade’ and a night in with Netflix seems a lot more tempting than a night on the town. Every penny counts in the grad world as you’re either saving for travelling, saving to move out, or just straight-up trying to stay afloat in this new scary adult world.

 

  1. Everything is, and will be OK
    I’m fairly sure people do tell you this about grad-life, but it’s worth hammering in anyway. Everything is, and will be OK, even when it feels like it’s not. Things work themselves out, you will find the money, you will find a job, you will finish that masters, you will have an amazing time traveling, and you will see your friends.

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.

Try This: Fuss-Free Overnight Oats

For the last year or so I have been OBSESSED with overnight oats. Super quick and easy to prepare, this delicious twist on your morning bowl is basically porridge, but soaked over night to create a creamy, cake-like texture and means when you are in a rush in to get to lectures or work, your breakfast is already sat in the fridge waiting for you to enjoy.

Just like porridge, overnight oats are also super versatile, with a simple base you can adapt and add different flavours and toppings to mix up your mornings and satisfy your tastebuds.

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Overnight Oats – The Base
Serves 5ish – Depends how big you like your portions!

Ingredients  
1 cup/ 100g Porridge oats
1 heaped tbsp Nut butter (Almond, peanut, cashew etc.)
1.5-2 cups / 375-500ml Milk of choice (Almond, coconut, soya, rice etc.)
2-3 tbsp Chia seeds
2 tbsp Honey/maple syrup
1/2 cup / 125ml Any thick yoghurt- (Optional, it makes it thicker and creamier but if you’re on a budget its not an issue to skip!)
1 tbsp Vanilla extract (also optional, I literally never have this at uni but it’s nice if you do)
Pinch of salt

Method:
1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined
2. Add more milk depending on how thick you want your oats
3. Place in any sort of jar/container/tupperware and whack it in the fridge. Its best left over night but if you can’t wait that long and fancy it for dessert after dinner, around 2 hours should give it time to set enough!

 

 

At uni I put mine in a big tupperware container and take out as much as I fancy in the morning, but alternatively to give yourself even more time you can portion them out into individual pots. That way you can also make lots of different flavours or add your toppings before so you don’t even have to think!

Variations:
You can do SO much with overnight oats to tailor to your individual tastes.

Toppings:
First off, you can change your toppings every day, my choice is normally a banana, or a handful of raspberries and blueberries. But you can also add granola for some crunch, seeds, nuts, coconut flakes and literally any fruit that you can get your hands on.
Top tip: I can’t afford too much fresh fruit at uni so I buy bags of frozen raspberries and then defrost a handful in the microwave for 30 seconds.

 

 

Flavouring:
The easiest way to mix it up is to use a different nut butter or different kind of milk to give you that variation in your life so you don’t get bored, but the ‘world is your porridge-oat’ in terms of stepping up your flavour game. My all time favourite is adding a spoonful of cacao powder (or just regular chocolate powder), and tadahh you have chocolate overnight oats! Add banana and you’re looking at banana, chocolate and peanut butter oats, the perfect combo. Add grated carrot, cinnamon and chopped nuts to get a carrot cake flavour for a morning ‘treat’, or go one step further by having cheesecake for breakfast by adding cream cheese, some lemon zest and then your choice of fruit! For any protein fiends out there, you can also get your fix, add a scoop full of your favourite protein powder and you have super-charged your morning oats with minimal effort.

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So fill your boots, (or your fridge), with delicious, fuss free overnight oats to get you going faster in the morning and see you through till lunchtime!

 

Try Here: No. 1 Polsloe

Tucked away on the corner of Polsloe Road, No. 1 Polsloe is a hidden gem where locals and students alike can’t get enough. If you aren’t in the know, it’s probably because most have been keeping this tiny café a secret from you so we can grab the Instagrammer’s dream window spot, or any spot for that matter, it’s always packed with hungry brunch loving exonians!

And it comes as no surprise that No. 1 Polsloe is always as full to the brim as their artisan coffees, this café is calm, cool and cost-friendly. Their food is seriously top-notch, with delicious options for meat-eaters, veggies and vegans a-like, you are spoilt for choice, and there is something for everyone. From American-style pancakes, to eggs royale, hearty soups and health bowls to the classic avo-on-toast, all the food is made with high-quality ingredients and a lot of love.

 

But your options don’t just stop at food, No. 1 Polsloe offer an amazing range of locally sourced, fresh barista coffees, delightful milk alternatives, decadent milkshakes and fresh juices. This is not forgetting their interior of beautiful flowers, fairly lights, local art and funky furniture is a sight to behold, (and will make your Instagram feed look incredible).

It’s hard to believe with its well-established fan base, slick service and affordable food my hangover dreams are made of, that this café is only just over 2 years old, and thriving every day. They have also already hosted a number of exciting sell-out evening events such as creative workshops for silver rings and festive wreaths, and the ‘world’s smallest Christmas market’!

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No. 1 Polsloe has well and truly won my hungover heart, to the point I’m not sure I want to spread this worst kept secret of a gem anymore, I’ll never get a table! Having moved just around the corner from the café for my final year at uni, I am sure I shall frequently be there hiding away to forget my dissertation meltdowns and indulge in some of the best brunch around.

 

 

5 Eco-Conscious Brands To Watch

Making more ethical and eco-conscious choices has been something I have been working on and becoming more aware of over the last two years. Simple things such as making more ethical food choices, being more conscious of the amount of food waste and general waste I produce, and working to reduce my plastic usage.

It seems that the world has also started to take note, more and more big name brands and small independent companies are priding themselves on producing ethical products or managing their waste more effectively.

This post is a shout out to a few brands and companies doing their bit to help the planet, whilst also producing some amazing products!

Toast (Beer) 

Beer lovers rejoice! You can now drink to your hearts content whilst also supporting the reduction of food waste. With the realisation that 44% of bread is wasted, Toast made it their mission to produce an ale using unsold loaves from bakeries and unused crusts from sandwich makers. In every bottle there is a slice of surplus bread – and better still, ALL of their profits are given to the charity Feedback to help tackle food waste.

So far they have saved over 6000 kilograms of bread, and are a fast growing and pioneering brand of conscious living. Their hierarchy in dealing with the surplus bread is Reduce, Redistribute, Brew, meaning that even before they use the bread to make their beer, they try to see if what they have collected is suitable to give to food redistribution charities first.

http://www.toastale.com/

Bees Wax Wraps 

Having only just discovered this company, I am now SO excited to share what Carly and Fran do. Everyone has at least one roll of cling-film or tin-foil in their home, constantly wrapping sandwiches, trying to preserve last nights leftovers can produce a lot of unnecessary plastic use. Enter handmade brand, Bees Wax Wraps, 100% natural made from cotton, bees wax, pine resin and jojoba oil, these wraps act in the same way as regular cling-film. Place over a bowl or wrap round a sandwich and the heat from your hands helps mould the wrap and makes it seal.

But wait for the best part, they are completely reusable AND biodegradable. Once you have used a wrap, you can give it a wash in some cold water and soap and its good to go again, and after a month stick them in the oven to re pasteurise and its like they’re brand new! I am definitely looking at investing in a few, and with such beautiful and funky colours, lunch will never be boring again!

https://www.beeswaxwraps.co.uk/

Pela

If you own a phone and admit to being as clumsy as me (or just don’t want to take the risk with your £400 phone) you will inevitably own a case, and like most of the population, it will probably be plastic. Traditional cases are made with a lot of plastic which contain toxins and are chucked away once we get bored of the design, meaning they sit in the ground or ocean for potentially thousands of years.

Pela have created a set of phone cases which not only protect your precious phone, but is also 100% compostable, BPA free and non-toxic, so you can save the world even when you’re taking a selfie.

https://pelacase.com/

Antibad

A friend I used to go to college with has been interning for this brand for a while and if you are a fashion lover, this is the place for you. Antibad are an online store and magazine which brings together sustainable clothing and accessories to challenge fast paced fashion and promote that sustainability can also be stylish.

From vegan bags to bamboo bras there is something for everyone. The website launches on October 1st so keep an eye on their social media and sign-up to their newsletter for offers and information.

http://antibadstore.com/

Chilly’s

The pinnacle of plastic use and waste comes in the form of plastic bottles. America throw away over 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. It is a huge waste of plastic, super damaging to the environment, not to mention it actually costs us lots of money. Chilly’s is a water bottle brand which aims to reduce single-use plastic bottles with their stainless steel ones.

The bottle is expertly designed to keep your drinks cool for up to 24 hours and hot for 12. With so many beautiful and stylish designs, you will want to be seen with this bottle, let alone that you’ll have that warm fuzzy feeling that you are saving the planet while you hydrate.

https://www.chillysbottles.com/

There are so many more wonderful brands out there but here was just a handful for you to check out if you want to do your bit for the world, enjoy!

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

Caring is Cool, and so is Voting

Well, today is the day. And yes, sorry, I am going to be another one of those people who add to the noise on social media and write about today’s General Election.

I haven’t posted anything online up until this point. In all honesty, as much as I try and stay educated on the matter as much as possible, I don’t know enough about politics and parties to start a debate in person or on social media, much less would I want to, as 9 times out of 10 you are arguing with a person that isn’t going to change their mind and suddenly vote a different way because you gave them a statistic. I also hold very strongly, that people should make their own minds up, look at the evidence, and vote for a party they truly believe in.

And so this is not a ‘vote for this person’ sort of post. This is a ‘whoever you want to vote for, just make sure you go out and vote’ post. Today is an opportunity to exercise your right to have your voice heard, and even if it ends in a result you didn’t wish for, you can have comfort in the fact you DID vote and that your vote DID matter. It has been a bit of a mental year for the world, and I know that the last few months have been a terrifying time for all of us, and while sometimes we feel so helpless in situations such as these, the one thing you can do that is guaranteed to make a difference, is vote.

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So wether you’re voting for ‘the many, not the few’, a ‘strong and stable leadership’ or anything in-between, make sure along with that decision, you also make the decision to actually vote.

I realise this might be a bit like white-noise to all of you at the minute, with everyone and their dog shouting politics at you over the last few months, so to lighten the mood a little, here are some General Election ‘facts’ for your entertainment.

Ladies, June 8th is important

104 years ago, on the 8th of June 1913, Emily Wilding Davidson died. She was an active suffragette who spent her life fighting for women to have the right to vote. She went to prison, endured horrific force-feeding and even hid in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster during the 1911 census so she could list her place of residence as the ‘House of Commons’. On the 4th of June she stepped out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby holding a suffragette scarf, was struck down, and died 4 days later. Emily Davidson died fighting for my right to vote, for the women of future generations right to vote. Voting is a right that thousands of other women had to struggle to obtain and today, the 8th of June marks the anniversary of Emily’s death. So ladies, honour the fight that these women had, and make your voice heard, it was only 89 years ago that universal suffrage was even made law!

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^ How being allowed to vote makes me feel ^

 

Why Thursday? 

Turns out, that until 2011, voting on a Thursday was not law, it was just a customary tradition. Many have claimed that Thursday was chosen to try and reduce the numbers of drunk and disorderly voters, since pay-day was traditionally Friday. This was also to avoid voters from becoming influenced by ‘conservative-leaning brewers’, the same as a Sunday was off the cards due to a possible influence from a ‘liberal clergy’. Regardless, the last General Election not to be held on a Thursday was way back in 1931, and unless there are particular special circumstances, it is now law that they are held on a Thursday.

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Liquid Courage 

Following on from ‘drunk and disorderly’, it is actually acceptable to have a few pints before voting, and polling staff can’t actually turn inebriated voters away. However, it isn’t the best idea to get Saturday-night blackout drunk, as if you appear incapable to vote you will have to answer a series of questions to prove you are capable, fail, and you get sent away to sober up.

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So maybe just the one pint then.

Can I bring a friend? 

So guess what, dogs are allowed to come along to the polling station with you! Well, so long as they don’t disrupt the vote. Look out for the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations to get your fix of politically active furry friends.

X marks the box 

So it turns out, although your voting slip will ask you to put an ‘X’ in the box of your chosen candidate, you can actually put pretty much anything. As long as your voting intention is clear, your vote will still be counted, even if its a tick or a smily face. So you could get creative this year, but it might be better to be safe than sorry.

 

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So whatever you do today, spare 5 minutes to get down to your polling station and make your voice heard!

Much Love x

Naughty but Nice: Black Bean Brownies

The weird ingredients continue… more legumes in chocolate based treats, stop messing with what is already good I hear you cry! But I guess at the end of the day I just really like cooking, especially if it’s a bit out there, and bonus if it’s something healthy that tastes so good!

So I present to you, black bean brownies filled with a raspberry chia jam for good measure. The black beans are packed with fibre, potassium, vitamin B6 and actually help to lower cholesterol in the blood. Chia seeds in the jam are literally full of everything good from omega-3, protein, antioxidants, calcium to loads of vital vitamins and minerals. Also, if you use cacao powder in this recipe, it is full of antioxidants, iron, magnesium and calcium – but I realise both chia seeds and cacao powder are expensive, so regular unsweetened cocoa powder will still do the job!

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Once again for anyone who suffers from allergies/intolerance this recipe is completely gluten and dairy free as well as being vegan so almost everyone can enjoy!

I had a major issue with sourcing canned black beans at the time, so had to buy some dried ones and cook them first, which is totally fine, it just takes a LOT longer to make – so if you can, find the canned stuff.

Black Bean Brownies with Raspberry Chia Jam
Gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, low-sugar

Serves: 6 ish (or 12 if you use small ‘cupcake’ cases)

Ingredients:
For the brownies:
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp of Cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder)
½ cup oats (40g)
¼ tsp salt
⅓ cup maple syrup (75g)
¼ cup coconut oil, melted (40g)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup extra dark chocolate baking chips (140g) (optional!)

Raspberry chia jam:
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries (140g)
1½ tsp brown sugar
1 tbsp chia seeds

Method:
For the jam:

  1. Microwave the raspberries for 1 minute and then mash them all together
  2. Add the sugar and microwave for another 30 seconds then stir in the chia seeds then place in the fridge to set for at least 3 hours or over nightIMG_0972.JPG

For the brownies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’c and line a muffin tin with muffin cases
  2. Combine the beans, cocoa powder, oats, salt, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, and baking powder in a food processor and blend until smooth
  3. Stir in the chocolate baking chips.
  4. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of batter in each muffin case, put 2 teaspoons of raspberry chia jam on top of each mound of batter and then divide the remaining batter among the muffin cases to cover the jam
  5. Bake on the bottom rack of the oven for 18 minutes.
  6. Let cool completely and then transfer to the fridge for at least 1 hour to firm up.

And then they are all ready to go! Packed full of goodness, but just gooey and delicious as regular brownies (and everyone knows raspberries and dark chocolate are just the best combination!!).