Stopover in Dubai: Cheap things to see and do

Dubai is known as a playground for the rich and famous, so it’s no surprise that it’s also perceived as hugely expensive. While Dubai definitely can be hard on your pocket, it doesn’t have to be. If you’ve got a stopover in Dubai and you’re looking for cheap things to see and do, this is the post for you. Whether you’re looking for culture, food, entertainment or nightlife options that won’t break the bank, I’ve got you covered.

  1. TAKE AN ABRA RIDE ACROSS THE DUBAI CREEK (COST AED3/ US$0.82)

stopover in dubai things to doThat’s right – it costs less than a dollar cross the Dubai Creek on a traditional abra – a small boat like a gondala – and it’s a great way to see the contrasts of old and new Dubai. It’s also really beautiful around dusk if you choose to go then. For this price, you share with other passengers, but if you want the whole thing to yourself, you can do that for AED60 (USD16) – or less if you’re better at bargaining than I am.

  1. EAT SOME INSANELY GOOD PAKISTANI FOOD (COST AED15/ US$4.08)

For Dubai residents, a trip to Ravi’s in Old Dubai is something of a rite of passage. In a city bursting with five star hotels, the humble picnic tables and chairs can be a welcome sign of authenticity. Pakistani cuisine tends to pack a punch, so it’s not for the faint hearted, but for lovers of spicy food, it’s a taste sensation. It’s also extremely budget friendly. If you order your own food Western-style you can expect to pay AED15-20 per person – that’s four or five dollars – but it’s much more fun to order a few starters and main courses together and share.

  1. HIT THE BEACH (FREE!)

stopover in dubaiAlthough it can be difficult to spend time on the beach in the sweltering summer months, visitors coming to Dubai between late September and April can soak up the sun at one of Dubai’s public beaches. If you want to have a few drinks or some food while you’re at it, Barasti is a popular beach bar close to Dubai Marina that can get a little crazy on weekend nights but is a perfect spot for sunbathing during the day.

Read: What to see and do on a long weekend in Marrakech

  1. Get Lost in Dubai Mall(FREE)

When is a mall not just a mall? Well, when it has an aquarium (with sharks), an ice skating rink, world-class sculptures, a traditional-style ‘souk’ area, and so much more going on. Located right by Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountains (more on that below). The Dubai Mall is about so much more than shopping – it’s an experience! It’s the ideal place to window shop, and a great place to kill a few hours if you’re visiting in the hot summer months when outdoors options are off-limits.

  1. EXPLORE EMIRATI HISTORY AT DUBAI MUSEUM  AND AL FAHIDI FORT(COST AED3/ US$0.82)

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Dubai before oil was struck? It’ll cost you less than a dollar to find out. You can explore desert life, what Emirati homes looked like, and find out about everything from Arabic coffee, to agriculture, to military history.

  1. Snap a selfie at burj khalifa and WATCH THE SPECTACULAR DUBAI FOUNTAINS SHOW (FREE)

    stopover in dubaiDubai is, of course, home to the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa (Burj is the Arabic word for tower, and Khalifa was one of the Abu Dhabi Sheikh’s who bailed Dubai out during the recession). Don’t miss the opportunity for a cheesy selfie! It’s located right next to the Dubai Fountains, where an amazing fountain show is set to music every half hour after dusk.

If you’ve got money to spend, you can go up to the 123rd floor and watch the show from above at the bar, but on a backpacker’s budget, the view from the ground is still pretty amazing.

Read: 48 hours in Bristol, England

  1. GET SPOILED AT ONE OF DUBAI’S MANY LADIES’ NIGHTS (FREE)

stopover in dubai things to doSushi and bubbles at the Ritz Carlton, darling? Just one of the many Ladies’ nights in Dubai where women are offered complimentary drinks. After a long day of exploring all Dubai has to offer, treat yourself to a cheeky free drink. Find out which hotels are running offers on the nights you’re in town by checking the Time Out Dubai listings.

Ready to get going?

These tips should be more than enough to keep you busy on your visit to Dubai without breaking the bank. And if you’re an expat thinking about moving to Dubai, check out my post comparing life in Dubai to life in Doha.

Have you got other tips for cheap or free things to do on a stopover in Dubai? Let me know in the comments section.

ABOUT KATIE

katie-harrington-ireland

I’m a 29-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.

The Ultimate Guide to a Weekend in Morocco

Travellers looking for an exotic weekend away just a stone’s throw from Europe should look no further than Morocco. This North African country is located a mere 15km from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar, but with Arab, Berber and European influences, it feels like another world.

French and Arabic are both widely spoken in Morocco, and most of those in the travel industry speak a smattering of English as well. I thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with locals that included snippets of all three languages.

This post will take you through everything you need to know for a stopover in this majestic country, from where to stay to the best dishes to try, and the best things to see and do.

READ: 21 Arabic phrases you need to know

Where to stay

ultimate-marrakech-guideIf you want to soak up Moroccan culture and stay somewhere incredibly affordable, book into a Riad in Al Kasbah. Riads are small, traditional guest houses, most with just a handful or rooms, run by locals and decorated in traditional Moroccan style.

I stayed at Riad Bjoujna, a lovely little spot with just seven rooms that cost me just €25/night. It has rooftop terrace that captures the sunshine and a plunge pool if you fancy a quick dip. On the ground floor, daylight streams through to an indoor courtyard where you can have breakfast, or chill out in the classic Arab-style majilis (a sitting room with low, comfortable couches).

Al Kasbah is a popular tourist area that is famous for its street food. Located within the old city walls of the medina, close to the old mosque and walking distance from the souk.

FOOD AND DRINK

Almost immediately on arrival, you’re bound to be offered a glass of Moroccan tea. A mint tea made with water boiled in the teapot over a stove, it is usually sweetened with a cube of sugar. Remember that the teapot is going to be hot after coming off the stove, so use the tea cosy!

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Morocco’s most well-known dishes are kofta (skewers of minced lamb, beef, or chicken), couscous (steamed semolina  which can be served with vegetables or meat) and tajine (tender meat stewed in an earthenware pot). Don’t worry if you’re a fussy eater, these meals are full of flavour but they are not usually hot or spicy .

Must-do activities in MOROCCO

1. TAKE A HORSE AND CARRIAGE RIDE AROUND THE MEDINA

explore-medina-marrakechThe Medina of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates from 1072. It’s  home to a number of landmarks, including the Koutoubia mosque, which is over 1000 years old, the souk and on old Islamic university called Midersa Bin Youssef.

If you want to see as much of it as possible but you’re short on time, a horse and carriage ride is a pretty magical solution. The horses are friendly, beautiful creatures that look extremely well cared for.

2. BECOME A SHEPARD!

irish-travel-blogBy the side of the highways outside Marrakech, goats climb the Argan trees to eat their fruit. It’s quite an incredible sight.

On a pitstop between Marrakech and Essouira, one of the goat herders let me take a photo with one of the baby goats, and even put his scarf on me to finish out the shepherdess look!

He asked for some money in exchange for taking some pictures and on the advice of my tour guide I have him MAD50 (€4.68).

On a second stop on the road to Essouira, we visited a cooperative where we saw how the nuts found in the fruit of the Argan Tree are harvested and turned into soaps and beauty products.

3. PLACE YOUR BETS AT CASINO DE MARRAKECH

things-to-do-in-moroccoThe Casino de Marrakech is an elegant old-school casino with a good mixture of machines and live games.

I turned up hoping to play in a €50 poker tournament, but unfortunately they were playing a €250 game that night, which was a little too rich for my blood, so I just played a few hands of BlackJack and went on my way.

Technically it’s against the rules to take photos in a casino, but I snuck this one just to show you!

4. INDULGE IN A LUXURIOUS MOROCCAN HAMMAM

must-do-marrakechAs I mentioned after my last hammam in Istanbul a couple of months ago, being washed by a stranger is a surreal and kind of beautiful experience. There are lots of choices in most spas, but I recommend going for a traditional Moroccan Bath.

You’ll be brought into a steamy, marble room and rubbed up and down with black Moroccan soap. You’ll be given a few minutes to lie there and relax, before being scrubbed all over with a deeply exfoliating mitt that removes all your dead skin.

Then it’s a quick shower and the obligatory cup of Moroccan tea and you’re on your way again, feeling blissfully relaxed and incredibly soft-skinned.

5. EXPLORE THE SOUK AND FIND HAGGLE FOR COLOURFUL SOUVENIRS

things-to-buy-in-moroccoVisitors to Morocco are absolutely spoilt for choice. Ladies can choose silver and gold jewellery or a leather handbag, while men can go for a traditional Arab dagger!

If you’re decorating your home, there are beautiful ceramics, rugs, and lamps to choose from. A silver tea-pot and glasses for Moroccan tea are souvenir essentials! For the foodie in your life, don’t miss out on the opportunity to pick up some aromatic spices.

If you want to read more about the fabulous souvenirs you can pick up in Morocco’s souks, click the link below!

READ: 7 must-have Moroccan souvenirs

6. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE HISTORIC PORT OF ESSOUIRA

img_5309The Port of Essouira is known as Africa’s Windy City, and it lived up to its name on the cold and blustery November day that I visited on.

There is an old  castle at the port complete with cannons looking out over a rugged shoreline. It’s where the Khaleesi’s scenes from Game of Thrones in Season 2 and 3 were filmed. I’m sure it has a fascinating history of its own, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to learning about that on this trip.

Essouira gets good waves, so it’s known for water sports.  It also has a medina of its own, and inside you can find a good selection of restaurants and lots more street vendors ready to sell you their wares. Learn to say a polite but firm no if you’re not interested in what’s on offer; in Arabic “La, shukran” means “No, thank you”.

7. SNAP A PHOTO OF THE IMPOSING KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE

marrakech-mosque-eveningThe Koutoubia Mosque looks down over the other buildings in the medina, with the tower standing at 253 feet tall.

Unfortunately non-Muslims can’t go outside, but it’s well worth a walk around the outside to snap a quick photo and see the plaza.

It was built by the Almohad’s between 1184 and 1199, who torn down the mosques build by the previous rulers because they considered them to be heretics.

MONEY MATTERS

souk-medina-marrakechThe currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). For reference, MAD100 is equal to €9.38 or US$9.90.

It is totally normal to bargain as you make your way around the souks, starting at about 50% of the original asking price.

Make sure not to be taken advantage of, but remember that those last €4-5 you’re haggling over probably mean a lot more to them than you… there’s no need to go hardball.

Getting there

Reasonably priced flights from Ireland and the UK to Marrakech are available with Ryanair. I booked about a month in advance and paid €110 for my flights. If you’re flying in to Marrakech, the international airport is about 15 minutes away from the city.

A taxi from the airport to the Medina should cost MAD100-150 (€9-14). It will cost more in the evening, advance booking is highly recommended as there is no taxi rank at Arrivals, and taxi drivers will expect you to have the right change.

To get to Essouira, you can book a day trip through your Riad.

So that’s all from me on a weekend trip to Morocco. This first quick visit barely scratched the surface of this truly majestic country. There is so much more to see and do, and I can’t wait to go back!

Have you been to Morocco? Leave me a comment with a recommendation for my next trip. Would you like to go?

About katie

katie-harrington-ireland

Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”

 

 

7 must-have souvenirs to pick up in Morocco

Morocco is a vibrantly colourful country. From the gorgeous gold-fringed abayas [long loose dresses worn by Muslim women] in pink, teal and blue on sale by the old mosque to the mosaics that adorn many of the buildings, the country never misses an opportunity to transform the blandest of items into something beautiful.

Morocco is a ridiculously affordable country to visit, and yet somehow I have managed to spend a small fortune on souvenirs and gifts. As I was travelling with hand luggage only, my best Tetris skills came into play whilst packing for the journey home!

Bargaining with sellers is normal, and my experience is that the friendlier you are, the more likely they are to give you a decent discount. Friendly negotiations can be had over a glass of Moroccan ‘whiskey’ – there’s no need to go hard ball. To get an idea of what you should be paying for items you want to pick up, your best bet is to ask a local, like the staff where you’re staying.

Read: 21 Arabic phrases you need to know

Here are my top tips for things to pick up during your visit:

1. Silver jewellery

At the Port of Essouira I met a well-travelled hippie with an Afro and a “peace and love” outlook who swore to me he never
smoked weed. That wasn’t the only fast one he tried to pull on me. In the back room of his small shop, he showed me beautiful silver BerBer bracelets. He told me the best price he could give me was MAD270 (€25) for one, but then tried to charge me MAD1,000 (€93) for three.

Poor as my math skills are, I pointed out to him that he should be giving me a discount for buying three, not upping the price, and he was caught out. Eventually, I came away with three beautiful bracelets for MAD500(€46).

I’m told it’s probably not pure silver, but they are lovely nonetheless and at just over €15 a piece, I think it would have been optimistic to expect that they would be.

katie-harrington-travel-blog

2. Argan oil hair and beauty products

Argan oil is a natural beauty product that comes from the fruit of the Argan tree. It’s deeply moisturising, and can be used on the face hair and body. Products made from the oil are used to make everything from soap to hair conditioner, and to help with everything from chapped lips to strengthening nails.

It seems like whatever your beauty needs are, there is an Argan oil product made for the job.

katie-harrington-travel-blog

3. Moroccan tea pot and glasses

You’re likely to drink your own bodyweight in Moroccan tea over the course of your visit. It’s a herbal mint tea, not quite as sharp as peppermint, usually made with water boiled in the teapot over a hob, and sweetened with a cube of sugar. The tour guide who dropped me from the airport to my Riad told me they call it Moroccan whiskey.

A silver teapot and a set of matching glasses are essential Moroccan souvenirs. I paid MAD200 (€18) for both at the souk in the Marrakech. This is the ideal gift for the tea-lover in your life (which in my case is me).

katie-harrington-travel-lifestyle-blog

4. Decorative kitchen ceramics

If you’re on the hunt for something to brighten up your mealtimes, look no further. The colourful kitchenware on display at Marrakech’s souk is bound to add a splash of fun to dinnertime! When I’m a proper grown-up with my own kitchen, I will most definitely be investing in some of these pieces. For now though, my mealtimes too often consist of a Subway meal deal to justify splashing out on such lovely crockery!

knowing-katie-morocco-souvenirs

5. Elaborate rugs and carpets

I’m not going to lie, there were times in Morocco when I felt like I was in a real-life version of Aladdin. The luxurious ornamental rugs and carpets that were flying around most certainly added to that feeling.

A word of caution here: be careful about your currencies. A friend purchased a carpet thinking he was getting a phenomenal
bargain, only to realise he had missed a decimal place when he was figuring out what it would cost him in his head, and ended up paying ten times more than he intended.

Unfortunately, I never found my magic carpet, but I’m holding out hope for next time.
moroccan-souvenirs

6. A golden lamp

Continuing with the Aladdin theme, miniature golden lamps just like the one the Genie popped out of can be found in Morocco. If you’ve got room in your luggage for something more substantial than a pocke
t-sized souvenir, there are stunning Arab-inspired lamps and light fixtures.

The traditional Moroccan style can leave rooms lit quite dimly, but also gives them a slightly majestical feel.

travel-morocco-souvenirs

7. Leather bags

Toward the entrance of the souk, you can find anything and everything thrown together in side-by-side stalls, but as you delve deeper into the labyrinth of alleys, you can find more specialised areas focusing on one type of product, like jewellery or leather. There is an overwhelming variety of colours and styles, from weekend travel bags to cowgirl style fringed handbags.

Toward the back of the souk, you can actually visit the tanneries where the bags are made.

travel-morocco-souk-souvenir

So there you have it – those are my top seven choices for souvenirs from Morocco. Which are your favourites? And what did I miss out on? Leave a comment below and let me know.

READ: 5 things you must do in Istanbul

About Katie

katie-harrington-ireland

Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”

 

5 must-do experiences in Istanbul

I’m not going to lie – I was a little bit nervous about my latest trip – a visit to Istanbul. It was only about six weeks after the recent military coup after all. There were very few tourists around during my visit, but there was no trouble at all while I was there.

Turkey is the ultimate East-meets-West experience. The architecture is a mishmash of European and Arab-influenced styles, the majority of the people are Muslim but very few of the women were burkas or even abayas, alcohol is freely available and the city has a vibrant nightlife.

The Turkish people I met (with the exception of one taxi driver who ripped us off) were friendly and had a great sense of humour. They laughed along with our jokes and made plenty of their own.

Cruise along the Bosphorus Strait

The Bosphorus Strait divides Istanbul between East and West. Uniquely, the Eastern side of the city is considered Asia while the West side of the city is European. By the port, dozens of tourist agents will try to entice you to take their private cruises. Make sure to take one of the larger ferries which hold large groups and are significantly cheaper for a broadly similar experience.

The cruise offers incomparable views of Istanbul’s skyline, as well as glimpses of the city’s history. You can choose between two hour and six hour cruises; while the views on either side of the river are truly beautiful, we took the two hour cruise and I would say that was exactly the right amount of time to relax and take in the autumn sun without getting bored.

At 13 Turkish Lira (€3.68) per person, this was undoubtedly the best money I spent during my trip.

Stroll down Istiklal Cadessi

Istiklal Cadessi, which means Independence Avenue, is a lively pedestrian street close to Taksim Square.  Although the area has been the scene of a lot of controversy, during my visit the area was packed with shoppers and people going about their daily lives with little sign of any controversy.

The street is home to high street shops, local brands, a beautiful church, an ambassador’s residence, coffee shops and restaurants. It’s one of the areas that really highlights Istanbul’s East-meets-West culture; the architecture along the street is mostly European, but Arab influence is also apparent.

Indulge in a luxurious Turkish bath

Lying on a white marble slab being bathed and massaged by a stranger was a bizarre but beautiful experience. It’s an unusual situation to find yourself in as an adult, being washed by another adult (outside the context of a relationship), but it was an oddly comforting feeling.

I decided so splash out on this and booked an appointment at the Cow Shed in Soho House Istanbul. This was a truly five-star experience – Soho House is an elegant, classically-styled private members club, fitted out with rich mahogany furnishings. The spa was decadent and serene, with friendly staff and beautiful interiors.

Wearing just a pair of bikini bottoms, I was told to lie down on a the marble slab, which dipped slightly in the middle. Warm water was poured all over me, bubbles were lathered all over my body and I was scrubbed using a traditional kese or mitt to exfoliate my skin. Then, the lady washed my hair.

I spent 300 Turkish Lira (€85) on my massage, and while you can have similar experiences at less opulent prices, I don’t regret it for a second. After  my bath was finished, I was offered a cup of lemon ginger tea and given time to relax in the spas luxurious environs before moving on to get my nails done.

Play dress up at the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar is Istanbul’s largest market. It’s a labyrinth of alleys with more than 20 entrances, so if you see something you really want buy it, because the chances that you’ll find your way back to that stall again are slim. I recommend learning to say “no” in a way that’s both friendly and firm before you visit. You can find almost anything imaginable at the bazaar – Pick up a Turkish tea set, a rug, or a vast array of clothes, toys, souvenirs, Turkish Delight, teas or other food and herbs.

I imagine it’s normally a lot busier than it was during our September visit, but after the military coup that took place in Turkey during the summer, there were very few tourists around.

If you’re feeling a little silly, there’s a stall where you can dress up as a Sultan or Sultana and have your photo taken. We came across this almost immediately on arrival, and we burst into fits of laughter as we tried on the outfits and had a series of photos taken with musical instruments, weapons and other props. This was so much fun and makes for a great cheesy tourist shot – I recommend it.

For 80 Turkish Lira (€22.66), we got three printed photos and a CD with all of the photos saved on it.

Explore the majestic Blue Mosque

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a trip to the Blue Mosque, which are beautiful inside and out. Ladies dressed in Western clothing will need to borrow an abaya to wear if you’re going inside. There are booths where these are available free of charge. The mosque has beautiful stained glass and low hanging chandeliers. To get the best view of the outside of the mosque, visit the rooftop seafood restaurant at Seven Hills Hotel for panoramic views of the Blue Mosque, Hajja Sophia and the Bosphorus.

Are you signed up for Air BnB? Click the image to get $35/€30 off your first booking.

air-bnb

Vivid memories of Vietnam

Backpacking in Vietnam

It’s hard to believe, but in February it will be seven years since I had my first experience of travelling in Asia – a visit to Vietnam in 2010 when I was 21. At the time, I was teaching in Abu Dhabi, and I went on this trip with around 12 other teachers during a two-week mid-term.

We started our journey in Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon, travelling from there to the Cu Chi tunnels and the Me Kong Delta, before travelling back up the coast through Nha Trang and Hoi An, before arriving in capital city Hanoi for our flight home.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit  lots of other countries since then, but few have such an incredible combination of awe-inspiring things to see and do.

Unmissable Vietnam experiences

Crawl through the Cu Chi tunnels

One of the reasons Vietnam won the war was because they had a secret labyrinth of underground tunnels that they used to communicate with each other, launch attacks and live. A section of the tunnels have been enlarged for Western tourists, but are still no more than a metre tall.  Our guide set us a challenge – to crawl through 100 feet of the tunnel, but with the option to bail at every 20 foot mark. It was dark, uncomfortable and claustrophobic in the tunnels, with no opportunity to turn back, and most of us left after 40 feet – with a few of the more determined going to 60. It was unbelievable to think people spent years on end in them.

While we were there, our guide educated us on some of the torture instruments and guerrila tactics used by the Viet Cong, and we were given the opportunity to shoot a cow dead with an AK47 – we passed on that!

Row through the Me Kong Delta

Having hired motorbikes (and in my case, a Vietnamese man to drive my motorbike), I set off toward the Me Kong Delta with some of my friends and an English backpacker we met over breakfast that I invited along. At the delta, we rowed down streams lined with Asian foliage, befriended a python and watched as the catch of the day was fried in front of us. The outstanding memories of that section of the trip was the English guy. We hit it off and as my friends made their way back to Ho Chi Minh that night, he and I stayed on at a town near the delta where no one spoke English and we could only order food by pointing at the noodles we wanted. And it turns out, you’ll learn how to use chopsticks pretty fast when forks and knives aren’t an option!

Visit the War Remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh

The first thing you see when you go in are colourful pictures painted by children depciting peace, love and harmony. From there on in, it’s a harrowing couple of hours reading about the impact of the decades-long Vietnam war. After a lifetime of hearing about the war from the American media, seeing the human impact on the lives of the Vietnamese people was a massive eye-opener. Inside, exhibitions depict shocking photos of the war with graphic details on the use of Agent Orange and other American attacks, while outside airplanes and army tanks from the war are displayed.

Party till dawn in Nha Trang

I spent three days in Nha Trang, sipping cocktails and lying in hammocks during the day, partying till dawn at night. My memories of this spot are a fantastic, fun-filled blur: This was back when I still drank alcohol (hard!) and I danced the nights away, skinny dipped at 4am, smooched someone on the beach and had the time of my life. Just thinking about it brings a warm, nostalgic smile to my face!

Get some bespoke tailored clothes in Hoi An

Hoi An is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been. Lanterns are strung up throughout the town, giving the place a romantic, oriental feel. Hoi An had the best food I tasted in Vietnam, and we stayed there for a few days because it’s most famous for tailoring (there are about 300 tailors there and it’s a tiny little town). I had three beautiful dresses made – one of which I still own and love today – if only it still fitted! After the hectic time we had partying in Nha Trang, Hoi An was the perfect antidote, colourful and totally relaxed.

Have an adventure in Halong Bay

As the holiday was drawing to a close, we took a final trip – a night in Halong Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site. Many of the sights we had seen were beautiful, but the bay was breathtaking. We organised to spend a night on a boat out there in the ocean, to be followed by a day of activities including kayaking, swimming and snorkelling. Unfortunately, our kayaking trip went slightly awry when my friend B and I accidentally sank our kayak and got conned out of loads of money by men who were holding our passports. But that’s another story.

It’s amazing to be able to think back after this long and have such incredible memories – and these are only the major highlights. The only other country I’ve visited that had a silmilar impact on me was Kenya. Have you been to Vietnam, or would you like to go? Leave a comment! Or connect with me on Facebook or Instagram. I want to hear from you!

5 things to do in Leicester… (If you really must go there)

This post outlines some of the highlights of my recent visit to Leicester. Like any major city, there are some fun things to see and do. Honestly, though, if I could give you just one tip for a trip to Leicester, it would be this: Don’t bother, choose somewhere else.

That may seem harsh, but it’s fair. As British cities go, Leicester isn’t the friendliest, the atmosphere is somewhat intimidating and it’s not a particularly pretty place. It strikes me as an old industrial town without a whole lot else going on; a city full of chippers and pound shops.

After two or three bad experiences over the course of the weekend, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, and no desire to ever come back. There were several incidents with taxi drivers who were rude, drove badly, didn’t speak English, didn’t know where they were going and/or brought us to the wrong place, as well as a rowdy and intimidating crowd at our hotel that spoiled an evening. They’re small things on their own, but they left me with a bad impression of they city.

Of course, we made the best of it, and still had loads of laughs over the weekend. I promised you some highlights, and I shan’t let you down. If you do happen to find yourself in Leicester for a weekend, here are some of the best things to see and do:

1. Visit the National Space Centre

Mars-River-Leicester-national-space-centreI never would have guessed Leicester would be to the fore of British space exploration – but it is! The University of Leicester has been at the centre of Britain’s space programme since the field of research began, and in 2001, the National Space Centre was opened to educate the public on what happens beyond our little planet. It’s very engaging and interactive, and would be ideal for children.

The planetarium is awe-inspiring, with the entire history of our universe broken down dramatically, but in a way that it is very easy to understand. There’s a scale model of the International Space Station, a Mars Rover (the robot used to explore Mars) you can try to control, a simulated journey as an astronaut and much more. Entry is £14 for adults, which seems very reasonable.

 

 

2. Have a flutter at Leicester Race Course

Katie-harrington-blogThe whole reason for our trip to Leicester was to go to the races, and I have to say this aspect of the weekend was lots of fun (and not just because I walked away up £80). The sun shone and we got properly dressed up for the occasion. We chose a £27 package, which included seating in the premium stand, three drinks and a £5 food voucher. This was excellent value, but despite the sun, it was a bit chilly, and we slightly regretted not choosing the £50 package which would have given us seating indoors, and included a three-course meal and table service for placing bets. Check out the photos on my Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

3. Chill at St. Martin’s Tea and Coffee Merchants

Leicester-st-martins-tea-coffee-shopSt Martin’s is one of the nicer areas we came across in Leicester, and this quirky café was an off-the-beaten-path haven on a sleepy Sunday morning. This place is everything an independent café should be – the tea was fantastic and the staff were friendly, book shelves in the corner are stocked with reading material and board games, and the walls are decorated by framed paintings from a local artist. The hardwood floor is beautiful, and the mismatched furniture and comfy old couches give the place a bit of a hipster vibe. I could easily imagine myself whiling away afternoons playing scrabble here. Skip Costa and the other chains in favour of this spot!

 

 

 

4. See some sport

Dan-Carter-all-black-rugby-racing-metroIf there’s one thing Leicester seems to do well – it’s sport. In addition to the races, this weekend saw Leicester City FC thrash Swansea with a 4-0 win, while the Leicester rugby team lost their match to Racing Metro 92. Given Leicester City FC’s unprecedented strong season, it’s a good time to see a game. Excitingly, we met the Racing Metro team at East Midlands Airport, where I managed to snap a photo with former All Black rugby legend and world-renowned number 10 Dan Carter.
If getting some sport in is a priority for you on a weekend away, book for a weekend when a home game for either team is on.

 

 

 

5. Cap it off with a cocktail

Pornstar-martini-mocktails-There are plenty of decent bars to be found in central Leicester. Revolution offers dozens of different flavours of shots, as well as their famous Pornstar Martini (pictured). Marz is home to a classy cocktail bar on the ground floor, and a low-ceilinged underground dance floor downstairs. The Terrace is extremely popular; it was almost impossible to move downstairs but a bit more relaxed upstairs. It would have been nice to find a decent traditional English pub – after a chilly day at the races some of our group were lusting after open fires and hot whiskies, but we didn’t find any this time around (though I’m sure they exist in Leicester!)

So there you have it. There are worthwhile things to see and do in the city, but I won’t be back in a hurry. A solitary weekend isn’t usually enough to get the full picture – am I being unfair to Leicester? Or is just not a tourist spot?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

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[Review] Brussels to Doha in Business Class with Qatar Airways

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have my first experience of travelling in Business Class. And not just with any airline either – I was onboard with the opulent, award-winning Middle-Eastern airline, Qatar Airways.Unless you’re a celebrity or high-powered business-person, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Here, I’ve broken down some of the highlights of my Qatar Airways Business Class experience.

Once onboard

katie-harrington-qatar-airways-giorgio-armaniThe first thing you notice onboard is the level of individual attention you get. With just a dozen or so passengers in Business Class, the Purser greets each individual warmly and personally. The cabin crew greet you by name, and treat you like a superstar. Once seated, you’re served a beverage, and your first little surprise is that the flight kit your eye mask and flight socks come in is branded Giorgio Armani, and comes with an intoxicating travel-sized perfume and body lotion from their Si collection. Already, my expectations are exceeded.

The rich middle-aged people sitting near me smiled indulgently as I took photos of everything from the perfume to the bowl of warm mixed nuts I was served before take-off – they knew I wasn’t a regular around these parts.

The safety announcement

katie-harrington-qatar-airways-safety-videoThis isn’t a specifically Business Class thing, it’s across the board, but I wanted to give a mention to Qatar Airways’ safety video. The airline sponsors Barcelona FC, and rather than create a standard, boring safety video that nobody pays any attention to, they’ve put quite a lot of effort and imagination into creating a different kind of video starring the Barcelona players and their own cabin crew.

The players demonstrate the safety features from the football pitch, the subs bench, the crowds and other settings, while a commentator highlights important instructions. I was really impressed with this and thought it was a great way to engage people in an important topic that many people ignore.

The food

katie-harrington-qatar-airways-business-classRather than doling out food to everyone in one go as happens in Economy, the crew ask you before take-off what time you would like to have your meal at. It’s a small touch but it’s a great touch that once again makes you feel that little bit special! I really enjoyed the Arabic mezze I had for starter, although the hummus may have lost a little of it’s flavour at altitude (did you know that flying impacts the flavour of food?). The main course of chicken and veg was simple but tasty, and the dessert of ice cream and berries was delicious. Although I don’t drink alcohol, I felt the occasion called for some bubbles, so I ordered what turned out to be a very enjoyable glass of Qatar Airways’ sparkling grape juice, So Jennie.

 

Sinking in to the comfort

imageI was delighted to be seated in the very first row in a window seat. Most of the solo travellers seemed to have been given this option, while the middle seats were given to couples who might have wanted to sit together. The seat reclines fully without encroaching on the person sitting behind you. I sat up straight while I was reading, reclined a little for maximum relaxation while I watched the latest Hunger Games movie, and lay down flat for a nap mid-way through the flight. The level of comfort was incredible, and I didn’t even realise until after the flight that those chairs have a massage button too! I’ll know for next time.I don’t know if Qatar Airways have totally caught up with Emirates yet in terms of in-flight entertainment, but it’s very close. The bathrooms were much more luxurious, with shaving kits and toothbrushes left out for passengers.

 

 

Destination reached

I was almost sad that my flight was only six hours long, but I was totally reinvigorated by the time we landed in Doha. Since my least favourite part of any flight is waiting for all the slow coaches to get their hand luggage and get off when the plane touches down, I loved strolling off the plane without any queueing. I was directed straight to the Business Class Lounge, where they have an immigration counter with no queues, so there was zero stress upon landing.

Overall, it was an incredible travel experience, and one that I hope I get to do again in the future.

Have you ever travelled in Business? Or even First Class? What was the highlight of the experience for you?

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25 reasons I’m in love with Galway

Shortly after I moved home to Ireland in December 2015, I dashed off this post about things I love about Galway. I just rediscovered a more in-depth post I wrote on my old blog on the same topic, so I thought I would share it. Don’t forget to leave a comment with your favourite things about the Town of the Tribes.

Monday at the Galway Races: The Galway Races are the highlight of the city’s social calendar and Monday is the highlight of the races for Galwegians. Before the Dubs arrive down flashing the cash and the poseurs start circling the Champagne Tent (or the Fianna Fail tent in days gone by), Galwegians get together to exchange tips, have a tipple and catch up on another year gone by. It has all the craic of the rest of the week but without the pretentiousness of the latter days and half hour bar queues.

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Pic via Barnacles Budget Accommodation on Flickr.

Eyre Square: Eyre Square is the first impression people arriving to the city by train or bus get, and that’s no harm whatsoever. It’s a beautiful green area smack bang in the middle of the city that means different things to different people; On a sunny day you’ll find a totally laid-back atmosphere with kids kicking a football or throwing frisbee, groups of students eating ice cream and rolling “cigarettes”, while envious office workers grab twenty minutes outside over lunch.

Salthill: It’s a little bit noisy and a little bit tacky in places, but on the odd occasion when we do get a bit of sun, Salthill is the first place that springs to mind. Whether you want a leisurely stroll along the Prom, a whirl on the Waltzer, a game of giant chess, a wander through one of the numerous casinos or for the very brave a dip in the ocean; the smell of the sea air and the atmosphere of family fun in Salthill is a huge draw for Galwegians and tourists alike.

The Saw Doctors: Together more than 25 years now, the Saw Doctor’s have eighteen top 30 singles including three number 1s. On one level, the Saw Doctor’s are just a really good country-rock band with a cult following. On another level, a close look at Saw Doctor’s lyrics over the last two and half decades gives a reasonably comprehensive modern history of Galway and Ireland: coming of age, doubting religion, recession, emigration, disappointment, hope and friendship. A lot of their most popular songs are lively – maybe even a little raucous – but my favourites are the ballads they wrote about love.

Shop Street: Shop Street is the epicentre of Galway city life. The pedestrian street bursts with the energy of shoppers, tourists, students, buskers, workers and families. A mixture of high street shops, somewhat kitch tourist spots, street entertainment and leading on to the popular pubs of Quay Street – it is a veritable melting pot of life and culture.img_1614.jpeg

The Guard: If you haven’t seen Galway based film the Guard already, stop what you’re doing right now and buy, rent or download it. Now watch it and come back to me. From the writers of In Bruges, it stars Brendan Gleeson in another dark comedy following a small-town cop as he attempts to deal with cocaine smugglers, prostitution, a dying mother, a gay colleague moved down from Dublin, a couple of murders and a ‘Yank’ over from the FBI just for good measure.

Supermacs: What separates Supermacs from every other take-away? I don’t know. But they have the best chicken burgers in the world and the best taco chips. Inexplicably, Supermacs also tastes better in its home county of Galway than any other place in Ireland. [Edit: My Mac keeps auto-correcting Supermacs to Supremacy – both are basically correct)

Ladies Day at the Races: Okay so as I said above Monday and Tuesday are the locals favourite days at the Races, but I’d be lying if I said we weren’t a bit drawn in by the glitz and glamour of Ladies Day. It’s all about the dress, the accessories, the hat, the champagne for this Lovely Girls Competition. Horses- what horses? Today is all about the style!

Galway Girl(s): Galway Girl is an incredibly popular song, and Galway girls are a very popular species. Known for having a sense of humour and ability to laugh at ourselves, the way we speak our minds, our good looks and of course, our modesty, Galway girls are a welcome addition to any night out.

Christmas Market: While summer in Eyre Square is all about ice cream and frisbee, winter in the Square brings with it the Christmas Market, ideal for picking up stocking-fillers and trinkets. Pick up local products like seaweed skin care products of delicious fudge. And of course after a good mosey around, there’s no better way to finish off the day than with a stop off at the beer tent– to keep the cold out.
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The Roisin Dubh: The Roisin is the epicentre of all things alternative in the Galway music scene. As well as live gigs, there are regular comedy nights, headphone discos, open mic nights and more in the infamous pub.

The Omniplex: This one might just be personal to me, but back in the day before the EYE opened and everything was in 3D, the Omniplex was where my secondary school friends and I took our first unsupervised trips into town. While the early days were innocent, in later years these trips involved quick trip to Lidl across the road with notoriously bad fake IDs. In we went to an over-18s film armed with a bottle of cheap paint-stripperish vodka to go with our large cokes.

The Arts Festival: The Arts Festival is a world famous explosion of colour, theatre, puppetry and sound. Over two weeks the festival features the Macnas parade and shows for all ages and tastes. Tens of thousands of people attend hundreds of performances over 14 days. The city comes to life with crafts, street theatre (even more than usual), drama and dance, confirming Galway’s place as the true capital of culture.

Fairytale of New York: The best Christmas song of all time was written about Galway Bay. When it gets to mid-November and you’re pissed off because shops have been playing Christmas songs since Halloween, this is the one that’ll bring a smile to your face and get you singing along.

Street Performances: One man bands, human statues, balloon artists, unicyclists, break dancers – you never know quite what you’re going to find walking down Shop Street and through the Latin Quarter but wherever you see a semi-circle of onlookers go and join them for a few minutes of free entertainment.katie-harrington-irish-blogger-galway-buskers

The Corrib: The Corrib is a beautiful river flowing right through the heart of Galway. There’s something very soothing about watching the fishermen nearly thigh high in water over the Salmon Weir Bridge stand still for what seems like hours on edge to get the catch.

Michael D Higgins: He’s an intellectual, a cultural theorist, a political scientist, a poet, a champion of social justice and human rights and now he’s our President. His origins are Clare and Limerick but Michael D has long been Galwegian by choice. We couldn’t be prouder to claim him for our own. My favourite MDH quote has to be on the Dail floor; in response to “We can’t all be intellectuals like you, Deputy” was when he said “No, but you can aspire to be”. The man has got style.

The sing-songs: There’s no sing-song like a Galway sing-song. Whether it’s your Aunty’s 60th, a lock in at the local or sitting above the rock face at the back of Laurel Park, it always ends the same way. You’ve got two good singers that know the words and hold everything together while the rest drink and dance and join in for the chorus. Sure you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Film Fleadh: Directly before the Arts Festival comes about, Galway hosts Ireland’s leading film festival over six days. It brings together film buffs, directors, actors and critics from all over Ireland and the world in a unique, intimate setting. The central goal of the Fleadh has remained unchanged over the 24 years of its existence – to bring film makers and audiences closer together. For any lover of film and the Arts hitting Galway for the end of the Film Fleadh and the start of the Arts festival is pretty much heaven.

Claddagh: There are few Irish girls who don’t have a Claddagh ring, usually given to them by a loved one. Originating in the village of Claddagh just outside Galway the heart symbolises love, the hands symbolise friendship and the crown represents loyalty. As time has gone on, the Claddagh ring has also become a symbol for pride in Ireland and pride in Galway.image

Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop: Located on Middle Street, Galway, one could spend hours if not days mining for treasures in Charlie Byrne’s new and second-hand bookshop. From crime novels to college texts and everything in betweeen, Charlie’s is the ideal place for a mooch if you’ve got an hour to kill. It’s all but impossible to leave without buying something. The place is a book-lover’s dream.

The Rest of the West:  Much as Galway has to offer in itself, the city is also a gateway to the rest of the West. Croagh Patrick, Donegal, Connemara, Achill Island, Rossespoint, Sligo town and the Burren are just a few of the most beautiful places in Ireland, each with their own charms, and they’re easily accessible from Galway.

The Bog: Now you may not think of the bog as the ideal day out, but for those of us that grew up in rural Galway it’s a place full of memories. Sure, we bitched and moaned at the time, but looking back now it’s all sunshine, sandwiches, sitting on top of a trailer and laughing. And where else can you get a tan and and get toned up in the space of a week 100% free! Important note to family members: Please don’t take this obscure outburst of nostalgia about the bog as an offer to actually go there this summer!

Galway Bay FM: Back in the day before we all had iTunes plugged into every aspect of our lives (I’m talking 2003, people) a fundamental aspect of teen sleepovers was the tunage – and the requests played – on Galway Bay FM “It’s the late night love hour, with Corrine Gavin” Every week without fail she played Sinead O Connor’s ‘Nothing Compares to You’, usually with a cringe-inducing dedication like ‘That one goes out to ClaireBear from Jay who says he’s so sorry he didn’t text her back after school, he ran out of credit but he still loves her forever’… Ah, it was a simpler time!

The people: Ultimately, if you have to sum up what’s special about Galway, it comes down to the people. The city is home to Galwegians, students, artsy types, tourists, alcoholics, poets, musicians and many more. There is an atmosphere in the city that is difficult to describe – that’s what happens when you fill a tiny, historic city with people from all walks of life. If you don’t believe me… just come and see for yourself.

Have you been to Galway? What did you love most about it? If you are Galwegian, what are your favourite things about the place?

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook, and I’m also trying to get more involved with Twitter! If you want to know more about me, click here.

*Throwback! This post was first published on my old blog Oracular Spectacular in 2012. I’ve made some edits to it before reposting here.

 

10 magical quotes about travel

If you’re passionate about both words and travel, the chances are you and I would get along well.

This post looks at what some of the world’s most famous writers have to say about travel, adventure and discovering new cultures. They show how much we can unearth through experience – how our own eyes and ears and memories can often teach us things we can’t learn any other way.

Don’t forget to send this to your favourite travel buddy as inspiration for your next trip, pin your favourite quote, or share these quotes on social media.

1. “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” – Terry Pratchett

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2. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

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3. “She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.” – Roman Payne

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4. “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life.” – Bill Bryson

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5. “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” Pascal Mercier

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6. “We wanderers, ever seeking the lonelier way, begin no day where we have ended another day; and no sunrise finds us where sunset left us. Even while the earth sleeps we travel. We are the seeds of the tenacious plant, and it is in our ripeness and our fullness of heart that we are given to the wind and are scattered.” – Kahlil Gibran

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7. “When one is traveling, everything looks brighter and lovelier. That does not mean it IS brighter and lovelier; it just means that sweet, kindly home suffers in comparison to tarted-up foreign places with all their jewels on.” –  Catherynne M. Valente

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Looking for great accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices? Check out Air BnB. Join with this link to get a US$35 discount on your first stay.

 

8. “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” katie-harrington-irish-travel-blogger

 

9. “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” 

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10.  “We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.” – Jeremy Glass

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I find these quotes really inspirational, I hope you do too. They make me want to quit my job right now and just hit the road! Which is your favourite? Leave a comment.

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook!

 About Katie

irish-travel-blog
Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”

Are you signed up for Air BnB? Click the image to get $35/€30 off your first booking.

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20 thrifty travel tips: Wanderlust on a budget

katie harrington thrifty travel

Last week, in a conversation with my brother and a friend, I commented: “It’s so easy to travel cheaply these days.” They looked at me like I was insane. When I followed it up by saying I think everyone should take a holiday once every 12 weeks, I thought they might punch me.

I truly love to travel, and I make it a priority. I put together some of my own top tips for travelling on a budget, and I asked other top travel bloggers to contribute theirs. I hope it will inspire you to start planning your next trip, and see that you can afford to travel.

1. Volunteer abroad: Paige Ramsey Moody over at Wanderlust & Dogs says: “Volunteer with a non-profit that includes travel in their work. Sometimes travel will be free or cost very little. You get to see the communities from the inside and get to know people while you’re helping them.”

2. iTravel: Use your smartphone to its full potential. If you don’t have one – invest. It’s your music, your camera and your connection to the world. Download Whatsapp or Viber to keep in touch, use apps like XE Currency for conversions so you don’t get ripped off, and make sure to set up online banking before you leave in case of any emergency. Log on to the Lonely Planet site and get travel tips. Never use 3G or 4G abroad, it’s a massive ripoff – log on at a hotel or coffee shop.

3. See what’s free: Most cities have a range of things you can do for free, like visiting certain museums or art exhibits, historical sites and gardens. Choose one or two free activities to do so that you can afford other activities and sights that can cost a lot of money. Check out this list of 101 free things to do in London, or the Lonely Planet’s top 20 free things to do in Dublin. Read on the beach or in the park, soaking up the atmosphere around you.

4. Stagger your costs: If you want to go away at the end of April, book your flights in February and pay for your accommodation in March. That way, by the time your holiday rolls around, all you need is spending money. Your holiday will cost less the farther in advance you book, and you’ll feel the hit less when you spread the costs out.

Thinking about signing up for AirBnB for your next trip? If you use this this link you’ll get a US$35 discount on your next trip and so will I – win, win!

5. Use the Air Asia ASEAN pass: Jyotsna Ramani from Wander With Jo offered this advice for anyone travelling in Asia: “This awesome pass is practically all you need for traveling within Asia. Air Asia has excellent connectivity and the pass covers over 140 routes across Asia, so once you buy the pass it is pretty much set and forget. If you are flexible with your dates and places you want to visit – then, this is the perfect opportunity to explore at practically 1/4th to 1/10th of the actual air fare cost.

“Basically you have 2 categories: The first is where you can buy 10 credits for MYR 499 (Approx $115) which is valid for 30 days from first flight. The second is where you can buy 20 credits for MYR 888 (Approx $215) It’s valid for 60 days from your first flight booked using the pass. Most flights cost just 1 credit per way, so you can actually pretty much book 10 flights around Asia for JUST $115 .”

6. Be brazen: If your mother, father, and siblings all usually buy you something for your birthday, ask them to club together and get you a travel voucher for the same amount. My mama would usually pay for me to get my hair done for my birthday while my dad is more likely to give me cash (men!). While both of those gifts are very much appreciated, the combined cost would definitely buy me a flight from Ireland to a European destination.

7. Take a detour from the tourist trap: Adam Lukaszewicz at Getting Stamped says: “Avoid eating at restaurants close to big tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower for example. The food is always over priced, and usually not as good!

8. Save on souvenirs: Okay, this one is a little hypocritical of me since I have piles of art, fridge magnets, figurines, candlesticks and who knows what else from all over the world piled up in my bedroom back home. Nevertheless, taking lots of photos and making them your memories is a much better idea than stashing lots of souvenirs away. When you are tempted, buy something meaningful that will help you remember the trip, not something mass produced. Something that has a specific use, like a bag or wallet is a good idea if you can get a lot of use out of it. Make sure you buy something small that won’t break in transit or put you over your luggage weight.

9. Pack better: Choose clothes that are versatile and can be worn during the day, out to dinner in the evening, or to any attractions you’re planning on visiting. Many religious and cultural sites will have a dress code, so be mindful of that. Always pack more underwear than you think you’re going to need. It only takes up a small amount of space and you may end up very grateful for it. As my mother would say: “Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it”. That only applies to underwear though, in a travel context. For everything else, less is more.

10. Cut out some small luxuries: If you saved just €5 every week (that’s one beer or two coffees), you would have €260 at the end of a year. That’s flights and accommodation for a weekend in Prague, Rome or Amsterdam* – for pocket change! If you up that to saving €10 every week (Netflix instead of the cinema, cook at home instead of a takeaway on Friday night) you’ve upped your budget to €520 – meaning you can afford to extend your holiday by a few days, or go somewhere a little more exotic.

11. Travel with work: If your job involves travelling for conferences, meetings, or training, make sure you tag on a weekend at the destination for exploring. Put yourself forward for out of town opportunities. You’ll have to pay for your own accommodation for any additional nights you choose to stay, but your company will likely still pay for 100% of the flights – sweet.

12. Fly for less: Patti Reddi of The Savvy Globetrotter says: “A good way to save money on flights is to sign up for email newsletters, email alerts and certain Twitter accounts that find airfare sales and mistake fares. Some websites such as www.airfarewatchdog.com allow you to set email alerts for when there is a low fare between two cities of your choice.
“Twitter is a great resource for finding really cheap flights, especially time limited airfare sales. Twitter accounts that tweet airfare sales include @theflightdeal, @airfarewatchdog, and @secretflying.”

13. Use your network: When I decided to take a trip to Kenya, I got in touch with friends-of-friends of mine who live there that I met while I was living in Dubai. I was hoping we could go out for dinner some night and I could get the inside scoop on what to see and do from them. Not only did they do an amazing job of showing me around, offering handy tips and inside info, they offered me their spare bedroom for the nights I was in Nairobi, and helped organise my trip to the Masai Mara. I saved a fortune on accommodation and had a much better trip as a result.

14. Soak up the suburbs: When I visited New York City in 2006, I was still a student and totally broke. I stayed in Brooklyn rather than Manhattan, and saved a fortune. On top of that, I felt like I got a feel for authentic NYC, not just Fifth Avenue and Time Square. With the subway, it was still very easy to see and do things in Manhattan, and we spent most of our time there.

15. No fly zone: Instead of immediately choosing air travel and looking for connecting flights, see what cities you can reach by bus or train. You can inter-rail most of the way around Europe. Night buses are famous with backpackers in Vietnam; you sleep onboard and in a mere 14 hours of slight discomfort (shots of whiskey/sleeping tablets optional), you’ve gone halfway across the country. Bonus – you don’t have to pay for accommodation that night.

16. Sleep tight: Nicole Geri quit her full-time job to travel, and she has road-tripped around the US as well as visiting Australia, Indonesia and Canada. She saves money by finding alternatives to expensive hotels. Nicole says: “Traveling can be expensive, but certain parts of it don’t have to be. I often skimp on where I’ll sleep at night by couchsurfing, staying in cheap hotels, hostiles and even sleeping in my car.”

17. Travel off-season: Booking flights and accommodation around Christmas, the summer peak, around public holidays or when schools are off is always going to be expensive. If you’re flying Ryanair in Europe, there’s also a huge difference between flying on a Tuesday morning and on a Friday evening. Be as flexible as possible and you can save hundreds of euro.

18. Eat like a local: When you’re strolling down Koh Soang Road in Bangkok, go for Pad Thai. Famished in Florence? Try the spaghetti. In New Delhi, go for a curry (although not from a street stall unless you want to experience the famous Dehli Belly) Trying out local restaurants that local people are eating at is very likely to be the cheapest and tastiest experience of local cuisine.

19. Avoid airport expenses: A badly planned trip to the airport recently cost me dearly. I didn’t leave myself enough time to use public transport, so I had to get a taxi (30). I didn’t eat before I left so I spent 10 on an admittedly delicious pulled pork sandwich and 3 on tea. And I was bored during my time at the Duty Free, and I ended up buying a skirt (45). Before I set foot on the plane, I had spent almost €90. Ridiculous. Eat a decent breakfast so you’re not tempted to pay outrageous airport prices, leave well on time and bring a decent book to read at the gate, so you’re not tempted to hit the shops.

20. Figure out transportation: LeAnn Brown of Economical Excursionists says: “Most major cities have travel passes.  If you are there for several days, these SOMETIMES are a great deal.  They can give you discounts on public transportation, discounts into local attractions and often discounts on featured restaurants.

“Figure out the public transportation.  Sure, it may take you twice as long to get somewhere riding a bus than taking a taxi, but it may also only be $2 per person.  What I just saved now gets me some great souvenirs (or maybe an extra afternoon gelato?) instead of having to waste it on a cab. Most major cities now have apps as well that make figuring out public transport a breeze.”

So there you have it – with a little planning, thrifty travel has never been more manageable. Where’s your next trip going to take you? Do you have any budget travel tips? Leave me a comment.

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*Assuming you’re based in Europe

Looking for great accommodation at incredibly reasonable prices? Check out Air BnB. Join with this link to get a US$35 discount on your first stay.

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