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! 

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!