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March 24, 2014

15 budget bus companies to check out on your next trip to Europe

 

 

The cheapest way to travel across Europe is definitely the bus. In terms of comfort and ease of travel, nothing beats interrailing across Europe but if you’re on a tight budget, then taking the bus in Europe can offer some amazing cost savings.

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Whilst offering excellent fares some of these bus companies featured offering a very high quality service- you can expect reclining seats, extra hold luggage, free wifi, sometimes they offer you free tea or coffee and you also have charging points at each seat.  If you have any bus companies to add to this list, please leave a comment below as I will be constantly updating this page and will credit you. Cheers!

 

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1.Megabus

The starting fares can be ridiculously cheap: If you’re looking to go from London to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam then look no further than the Megabus where you can book yourself a seat for as little as £1 ( 50p booking fee) Other destinations being served by Megabus from London include now Ghent, Rotterdam and Cologne so it’s definitely worth checking them out.

Plus if you are travelling across the UK and especially if you’re looking for the best deal to getup to Scotland from London, do checkout Megabus.

 

2.National Express

Talking about travelling across UK on the cheap, National Express also has a very impressive network across UK with ‘funfares’ as cheap as £1 if booked in advance. Plus if you are visiting London, Manchester, Bristol or Birmingham, your ticket gets you 2 for 1 tickets in some leading visitor attractions like Legoland in Manchester or Madame Tussaud’s / Tower of London in London.

3.Eurolines

London-Paris bus route is fiercely competitive so it’s definitely worth shopping around. Eurolines offer advance fares of £38 return at the moment plus allow for 1 piece of carry on luggage and 1 hold luggage.  If you’re looking for an all inclusive bus pass , then Eurolines is a great network covering 41 destinations in 21 countries. Price varies according to the season you travel. In low season: €320 to €465 in high season. ( 30 days, Adult)

 

4. IDBUS 

Another recent rival on this route worth checking it is IDBUS, subsidiary of SNCF. IDBUS are offering currently deals from London to Lille for as little as £8, London to Paris for just £16, London to Brussels is £29 while London to Amsterdam costs £33. The IDBUS comes with free-wifi, plug point at each seat plus reclining seats. (I hope to be posting a in-depth full review of IDBUS soon on the site)

 

5. Berlinlinienbus 

If you are heading to Berlin, definitely worth checking out the excellent Berlinlinienbus where you can secure fares for as little as €9. Destinations served include Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, Paris and London etc. On board services include stewardesses on long national lines, free daily newspapers, luggage service, check-in with mobile devices and the latest state of the art coaches that offer great comfort. 

 

6. Mein Fernbus

Another German bus company that has take advantage of Deutsche Bahn losing their monopoly over the German transport network is Mein Fernbus where you can sample fares like  single from Zurich to Munich for €15 or Dresden or Leipzig to Stuttgart for €22 one way

Features of the service include free Wifi, reclinable chairs with at least 70cm legspace, air conditioning, toilet, snacks and drinks (sodas or beer are around  €1.50 mark)

 

7. ADAC Postbus

ADAC Postbus is the marriage of two German giants – ADAC & Deutsche Post who have created a nationwide bus service that offers an alternative low cost travel between 24 of Germany’s largest cities.

You book online via ADAC-Postbus , via a Deutsche Post office or direct from the driver.

Buses are equipped with three point safety belts, free WLAN and electric plugs for charging devices.

Fares?

Booking in advance you can  book a one-way ticket from Munich to Stuttgart from €11, or a trip from Cologne to Berlin from €28 or Cologne to Hamburg from €19

Bikes can be taken along for just 10€ – stowed away in the luggage hold.

Top Germany bus tips

In some cases the bus can be cheaper than the train in Germany plus faster- for example the BerlinLinienBus coaches that take you from either of the two Berlin airports or from the central bus station straight to Dresden Hauptbahnhof (main station) or Dresden-Neustadt station takes as little as 2 hours and, if you book early, you get the € 9 fare.€18 regular price, €20 if purchased on the bus.

If you’re visiting Bavaria, do check out the Bayern Ticket which gives you unlimited travel any day, till 3am and covers between one and five people. It costs €23 for one person plus a further €4 each for up to four more people. The price for five people is just €39-really is one of the best deals in Europe.

8. Simple Express

If you’re looking to heading out to the Baltics and Russia from Germany, looking no further than the excellent Simple Express which covers Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Prices start from €3. Book early because the 3 euro special price applies to the first 5 tickets bought from the internet per departure.

To give you an idea, their Berlin to Warsaw service takes 8 hours with standard fares of just €18 while an overnight coach journey from Riga to St Petersburg takes 12 hours and costs just €23.

9. PolskiBus

If you’re hitting Poland then definitely check out the legendary PolskiBus.com : Travellers can take advantage of 16 lines linking 20 Polish cities and five European locations. You can expect luxury, double-deck Van Hool Astromega coaches which are equipped with reclining, leather seats, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning and toilet. In addition, on the way from Wrocław to Kraków each passenger receives free refreshments: hot and cold drinks, sweet buns/croissants, cookies and water. Amazing. Ticket prices start from 1 zł + 1 zł per booking.

10. Onnibus

Further north if you’re visiting Finland then do check out Onnibus. Booking in advance you can get fares from Helsinki to Tampere and Turku for as cheap as €3.

11. Swebus

Other companies to check out include Swebus where you can go from Oslo to Copenhagen for as little £35 and journey takes around 9-10 hours.

12. Student Agency Bus

Do check out the excellent Student Agency bus service. 7 years ago, I checked out their Prague- Cesky Krumlov route ( as little as €4 one way) and back then, it had reclining seats, free Czech newspapers plus free refreshments like hot chocolate, coffee or tea.  Don’t let the name fool you-anyone can travel on their network. You hop from Prague to Vienna or Budapest for as little as €16 one way.

13. Westbus

Another company to check out for the same route and also for getting around Austria is Westbus. Vienna- Prague to Budapest is €22 one way, Salzburg-Munich €9 or Vienna to Zagreb for €29 while Salzburg to Prague is just €29.

14. Alsa

Spain’s bus services are provided by a host of bus companies whose routes comprise an extensive network. The biggest of the Spanish bus companies is ALSA which operates an extensive network of bus routes throughout the country including international routes to Andorra, France and Portugal. Definitely for many routes in Spain alone, Alsa offers major cost savings when you compare the prices with trains. Plus they have a bunch of excellent money-saving offers like when visiting France from Spain, you can get 50% off your ticket if you book more than 30 days in advance. For bus travel in Spain, the same offer of 50% stands if you can book a mammoth 120 days in advance. Both these type of advance tickets are non-refundable and cannot be changed, once booked.  They also have an app which avoids the problem of trying to print your ticket.

 

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15. Busabout

Last but not least, if you’re looking for an alternative network to getting around Europe, do checkout Busabout.

Am a big fan of their service- great destinations, friendly guides and they drop you off at the hostel ( work with a great network of hostels )

They offer a range of options including their popular ‘Hop on and Hop off’ network which serves 9 countries and 34 destinations. Prices start from  €485. For more about Busabout, do checkout my earlier in-depth review of the Busabout experience.

March 11, 2014

Is teaching abroad compromising your holiday?

 

In the past three years I have become addicted to travelling – cramming my backpack to the brim with clothes and a battered Lonely Planet book, disappearing for a few months at a time and exploring some amazing places. All pretty standard stuff really.

But this summer, when I applied to teach English in China for a month, I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

Would teaching in one place for a month give me as good an experience as if I were to just see the country by myself?

Where?

Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China

How?

There are lots of organisations that offer teaching abroad placements – I went with AIESEC, a student run organisation.

Getting to grips with the culture

Although travelling for an extended period of time is guaranteed to give you an insight into a country’s culture, nothing beats living in a foreign country for giving you a taste of the culture. Living in another country means that you are rapidly immersed in another way of life – for me this meant sleeping on a wooden board every night, eating rice for EVERY meal (I cannot stress how much rice I consumed) and going to the toilet in what can only be described as a hole in the ground.

A wooden bed...it really is as uncomfortable as it looks!

A wooden bed…it really is as uncomfortable as it looks!

 

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, always rice!

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, always rice!

 

If I hadn’t been thrown head first into Chinese culture, I may never have come across such weird and wonderful food…

 

Who's hungry?

Who’s hungry? 

Turtle soup, anyone..?

Turtle soup, anyone..?

or mastered such fashionable headwear ….….nor would I have learned the dance to Gangnam Style.

Any self-respecting traveller knows that if you really want to get to know a place, you should get to know the people –there really is no substitute to interacting with locals for understanding the similarities and differences between cultures. Teaching a class of Chinese teenagers not only helped improve my own confidence and communication skills, but educated me in terms of contemporary Chinese culture- I’m sure that if I had gone to China just to travel I would have picked up basic Mandarin for ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, but I doubt I would have learned the cheesy Chinese chat up lines and hilarious insults that the kids were desperate to teach me!

Teaching the children about my own cultural norms was a window into their own beliefs and lifestyle- they wanted to discuss everything, from politics to pop stars. By talking to the same students every day, I got to learn a huge deal about Chinese culture, not by being shown the ‘best bits’ by a tour guide or museum placard, but by talking to the people who actually lived there!

Travelling and Sightseeing

I have to admit that when I was teaching, I was sometimes very frustrated about the fact that I was stuck in one place. Here I was, over 5,000 miles away from home, and instead of scouring every inch of the country as fast as I could, I would be teaching and living in the same school for a month. I started my internship feeling claustrophobic, thinking that by taking a teaching job, I had limited my experience to one region of China.

In reality, this couldn’t have been further from the truth!

In 8 weeks I managed to visit Dubai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Beijing, Singapore and parts of the Phillippines – once I had paid the initial cost of a flight to China, internal flights and stopovers meant that I could continue my travels within Asia relatively cheaply.

The impressive skyline of Guangzhou

The impressive skyline of Guangzhou

temple

Buddhist temples

 

The Phillippines... paradise

The Phillippines… paradise 

 

Costs

Although the cost of living in Asia is substantially lower than in the U.K, the start-up cost of getting there is always hefty (around £650 for a flight if you are really savvy). Some companies will pay you for teaching (I received just under £550 for a month’s teaching), so it’s important to remember that you are going for the experience, and not to make money.

With many teaching internships, accommodation and food is often covered by the partner company, and so all you really need to think about is funding any travelling afterwards.

Was it easy?

Easy is NOT the word I would use to describe my teaching experience in China. Although my contract guaranteed that I would receive a week’s teacher training, the school didn’t provide this and my first day compromised of being pushed into a classroom of 30 children, with the advice being only to ‘teach’. Looking out at the classroom to see 30 blank faces staring expectantly at me meant I had to improvise  pretty quickly, and after a few hours of panicked ad-libbing I soon got the hang of teaching. Since returning to the U.K, I have spoken to a few friends who taught abroad on similar teaching programmes offered by different agencies – it seems that a lot of them were given a great deal more training than I was, and so I would recommend researching the reputation of your employer to make sure you get the best deal.

 

Dabbling in martial arts with my class

 

I absolutely loved teaching English in China, and my experiences taught me that you don’t have to always be on the road to see a country- I saw and experienced so much of Chinese culture during my stay. Teaching in a foreign country allows you to develop confidence as well as invaluable skills, so this is one trip I’d definately recommend!

My 5 tips for teaching abroad

 

1.) Do your research

There are plenty of organisations that facilitate teaching abroad, but from my experience some deliver better training and pay better wages than others. Don’t just work for the first company that you come across! Research the company you are interested in working for, read recent reviews and accounts written on forums, and talk to somebody that has already taught abroad if possible.

Go Overseas is just one website that offers reviews of teaching and internship programmes.

2.) Read the small print

Are you a volunteer or a paid teacher? How many hours a week are you contracted to teach? Is food paid for? Before signing a contract, make sure you know what you are agreeing too!

3.) Prepare!

If you’re a little on the shy side and  are considering teaching abroad, I would definitely recommend doing a small amount of preparation before you leave for your respective country, as there really is no guarantee that you will be trained, or even have time to plan your first set of lessons! Prepare an ‘about me’ presentation to introduce yourself to your first class so that you aren’t stuck for ideas during your first lesson – and remember to include lots of pictures of your home friends and family!

If you are stuck for ideas, British Council offers free online teaching rescources which are a great starting point for lessons.

 

4.) Be prepared for anything!

Although you may be hired as an English teacher, the school you are working for may expect you to help with extracurricular activities – art, dance, football, you name it. Be prepared to get involved with these activities, and remember, just because you couldn’t draw at school doesn’t mean you can’t teach drawing now!

 

5.) Embrace the experience

Teaching abroad can sometimes be overwhelming or challenging, but my best advice would be to just try and enjoy it. Overcoming the challenges will the good memories that you remember once you return home!

February 20, 2014

You’re invited to Lonely Planet’s first ever global Twitter chat!

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A very exciting announcement to share with you all!

To help celebrate the launch of Lonely Planet’s top 10 best value stays for 2014, I am very excited to announce that the BudgetTraveller is joining forces with the Lonely Planet to help co-host their first ever global Twitter chat on Thursday, 27th February, 4-5pm (GMT) and 8 – 9am PST. 

Everyone is invited and can be involved in this unique event!

We will be discuss money-saving travel tips, exceptional value accommodation and finding out about your favourite budget destinations. The most creative and inspiring tweeter will win a bundle of LP guides!

How can you take part?

1) Follow the hashtag #LPchat on Twitter on 27th Feb ’14 from 4-5pm GMT/8-9am PST
2) Questions will be ordered Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. To answer Q1, begin your tweet with A1. For Q2, A2 and so on.
3) Add #LPChat to all of your tweets during the twitter chat, so others including Lonely Planet and myself can see what you’re saying.
4) Bring your best travel tales and tips!
One week and counting till the 27th February, 2014. 4pm GMT. Keep the date aside for the diary, grab your popcorn, tell your mates to join in the fun!
I look forward to chatting with you soon!
Terms and conditions are as follows:
Terms and Conditions: Entrants must be  13 years old or over. Judges’ decision is final. Promoter: Lonely Planet Publications Ltd of 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TQ, UK. The winner will be notified via direct message and public tweet on Twitter. The winner must claim their prize and provide and address for delivery within 7 days of being notified, otherwise the judges may select another winner. Prize: A pack of 4 Lonely Planet Shoestring guides, as chosen by Lonely Planet, valued at £76.96.

 

January 7, 2014

Top 9 travel apps to download for 2014

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My iPad is my go-to entertainment device whenever am travelling. Without it, I am pretty lost.

That my happiness depends on one device is pathetic, but I have to admit…there are SO MANY cool things you can do with an iPad or any tablet device nowadays.

You can listen to your favourite music in one place, read your favourite magazine or blogs, play games, plan your trips, check the weather in your destination, watch movies or TV-there are hours of fun to be enjoyed with this device. Perfect for those long trips and hours stuck in transit or at an airport.

So in time honoured tradition followed by bloggers, I’ve compiled a list of my ….top 9 travel apps ( in no order, all are great) to download for your iPad, iPhone or tablet device.

PS: Scroll down to the bottom…and you will find a special bonus cool app to checkout that you may not have come across.

Love to hear your feedback on must downloadable apps for the iPad-comments and tips please.

Flipboard app

Flipboard

 

1. Flipboard ( £ Free )

I love the Flipboard app for turning my social network feed and news sites I follow into a flippable digital magazine. Flipping brilliant.

 

bloglovin

Bloglovin- Cool app that allows me to read my favourite blogs in one place like Adventurous Kate’s ! Woohoo for technology!

 

2. Bloglovin ( £ Free )

Want to follow all your favourite blogs ( including mine) in one place?

Following the death of Google Reader, Bloglovin has become my go to news-reader app to keep track of stories of all my favourite blogs in one place.

 

Duolingo- free language app

Duolingo

 

3. Duolingo: Learn Languages for Free ( £ Free )

If like me one of your new year’s resolutions was learning a new language then you should download Duolingo: Learn Languages for Free, a clever app where you can start learning Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian or English.

First few lessons are nice and easy- you’ll start off matching words with pictures, hearing what they sound like and saying words into your phone or tablet.

The app also has a “gamification” element , including a trumpet that celebrates your advancements, earning XP (experience) points and hearts, and keeping track of your progress.

 

4. Prizmo ( £ Free )

After every conference or networking event, I usually end up with a heap of business cards. Now I’ve discovered a cool free app called Prizmo (for iOS) ( or use HandyScanner for Android) which turns your phone into a portable scanner, allowing you to scan travel documents, receipts, business cards or hand-written notes and sketches

Naturally, you don’t carry around a flatbed scanner with you to digitize documents, receipts, business cards or hand-written notes and sketches.The app also enjoys features like “optical character recognition,” which will make the text editable and searchable with very good accuracy (though not perfect). Prizmo can detect words in more than 40 languages (10 are built-in) Cracking app.

Dots app

Dots

 

5. Dots: A game about connecting the dots ( £ Free )

For those hours lying idle in an airport or at a bus station, they are few games that I found that more addictive than Dots- it’s a simple puzzle game – trace lines and boxes of dots of the same colour on a grid and score points. It’s fun, addictive and relaxing.

 

6. Vivino Wine Scanner ( £ Free )

Do you enjoy a good glass of red wine on your travels?

Thankfully turns out a lot of other travellers do too. Now thanks to this new cool app called Vivino wine lovers can share their discoveries.

All you have to do is take a photo of the label of the wine you’ve just enjoyed and Vivino scans it and creates an entry where you details the price and your thoughts. You can then search for wines by several parameters, or just view what your friends are drinking. A great way to explore a destination-cheers!

 

Napster

Napster

 

7. Napster ( £10 a month )

Music plays a big part during my travels. They are pretty much the soundtrack to my trips. Gone are the days where I had to lug my CD’s or tapes around. Music is now digital. I’ve binned my Mp3 player and gone one step further- I recently have become a huge fan of the Napster app.

While I don’t own any of the music that’s download via Napster in terms of choice,  I do have an amazing music library to choose music from- 20 million tracks in total.

Presented with such a huge choice can be daunting so when I am not sure what music I want to listen to, then there’s always Napster ‘s Artist radio option. If you type in an artist’s name you like and press the radio button, Napster unearths similar tracks and artists for you. It is a great way of discovering new music. To use the mobile app, you need to cough up £10 a month. However with the option of downloading songs and listening to them offline, great sound quality and a fantastic music library to dip into-it’s money well spent.

 

8. World Around Me app ( Lite version – Free. Paid version- £0.99 )

Augmented reality apps are all the craze now and few are more cool and slick than the WAM- World Around Me app. Once you’ve downloaded the app you can discover a whole bunch of useful stuff for you, based on your gps- nearby restaurants, banks, bars & pubs, cafes, clothing stores, doctors and gas stations.

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Or you can just simply type into the ‘search’ box what you are looking for. I love good coffee so I popped into the search box ‘coffee’ and it immediately pulled up a bunch of coffee places in Funchal.

World Around Me- Augmented Reality Apps

World Around Me- Very cool augmented Reality Apps

Some good recommendations there- ‘O Calhau’ is a favourite of mine in Funchal. What I love about the app is gives you a rough estimate of the distance of the cafes from your position.

Once you click on the name of the cafe, besides the distance it also gives you the physical address, phone number and website.

Also, you can find reviews by locals below.

This is a really handy app that I recommend you try on your next trip. foursquare is still my go-to app for discovering places while I travel. However the augmented reality layer of WAM makes it much easier to see where things are in relation to you which is a functionality missing in Google Maps.

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9 Triptease ( £ Free )

The thing I love about Triptease is how via it’s army of travel teasers, it curates great travel experiences and via fantastic photography turns them into truly visual experiences. Once you open this app up, you are hooked. Your iPad never looked cooler. This is the perfect app for the armchair traveller.

Free movie download app

Free Movie Downloader App

 

My bonus tip is Video Downloader Pro app ( $3.99 ) where you can download movies from Youtube, Vimeo and watch them on your iPad during your travels. Just download the app and search for films, programmes in the search box. Once the show or film pops up you’ll find a pop-up come on your screen with the option to download the programme. Later, you can find the downloaded programme in your ‘files’ section.

I love watching my cooking programmes so via the app from Youtube I’ve managed to download the whole series of Rick Stein’s travels in India, few of Bourdain’s ‘No Reservations’ episodes plus a few full length movies like Crocodile Dundee.

 I hope you enjoyed my list. Love to hear your feedback and recommendations. Please comment below with your suggestions. Thank you.

December 20, 2013

Don’t Be A Mug! How To Avoid Being Robbed in Barcelona

 

Given my recent misadventures in Barcelona and being robbed TWICE, I asked local blogger and Barcelona expert Duncan Rhodes who has survived 5 years without being mugged….to give BudgetTraveller readers some tips about how to avoid being robbed in Barcelona. Take it away Duncan…

Inspiring architecture, fantastic flavours, action-packed nightlife, year-round great weather and a billion awesome things to do any time of day… from beach volleyball and open-air vintage markets when the sun is shining to street parties, fiestas and carnivals when it goes down… the pros of Barcelona have been gushed about in many a travel feature and on many a website (including mine! More info below). But are there any cons to life in the glittering, glamorous capital of Catalonia?

Yep, and top of the list by far are the city’s ubiquitous pickpockets.

As Budget Traveller has discovered - twice - pickpockets are a huge menace in the capital of Catalonia, and many an unsuspecting and unprepared traveller has had their holiday ruined by a brief moment of carelessness. However, as someone who has lived in Barcelona for 4-5 years, without being pickpocketed once (despite several attempts), I feel well qualified to advise BT’s readership on how to avoid being a victim the next time you’re sunning yourself in this sensational city.

Here we go…

 

Avoid Danger Zones

Pickpockets operate foremostly on the metro, Las Ramblas, on the beach (especially at night) and in the Gothic District and El Borne. Basically anywhere where there are tourists. In fact my advice is not so much ‘avoid dangerous zones’, as that is all but impossible, but simply be conscious when you’re in one and turn the paranoia factor right up to 11. No one alert has ever been pickpocketed, and simply being aware when you’re in these areas will all but ensure that your possessions are kept nice and safe.

Protective hand over bag even when in fake sleep mode

Protective hand over bag even when in fake sleep mode

Avoid Classic Mistakes

Phone openly displayed on cafe table? Bye bye Mr. Nexus! Bag under table? Well at least you won’t have to carry it home. Wallet in loose/back pocket? Very charitable of you Señor Estúpido. Drunk on the beach? The story will be great at least… in five or ten years time.

I’ve heard a million tales of robberies in Barcelona and 99% of them fell into the above categories. Here are some more specific tips to avoid the above.

- Never leave anything valuable on a surface at any time. Keep your valuables in your front/safe pockets.

(Ninja-level bonus tip. If you do have to carry your phone in your back pocket, wedge it in sideways so that it sits tightly at the bottom of the pocket).

- Always keep bags zipped up at all times.

- When entering a crowded area or danger zone, switch bag from back to front, or tuck under arm, so you that noone can tamper with it without you seeing.

- A bag unattended, typically left under chair = stolen bag in Barcelona. Either keep it on your lap, between your legs where you can feel it, or – another ninja-level tip – stick your leg, or a the leg of your chair, through the strap… so that no one can run off with it without yanking you.

- On the beach or in the park, use your bag for a pillow when you sleep.

Other less common, but not infrequent, occurrences are bag/phone/camera snatchers… ie. the robber rips the valuables from your hands and does a runner (sometimes on a bike or moped). Girls should wear their bags across their body/shoulder, and expensive cameras should not be held loose in the hand but with a strap around the neck.

Don't even think about it

Avoid Scams

I’ve had people try to run scams on me twice in Barcelona. The first was a drifter type who handed me a nightclub flyer about a supposed Brazilian theme night… and then proceeded to teach me to dance Brazilian style by repeatedly kicking my leg. I instantly realised this was a distraction technique – sure enough his hand was in my wallet pocket – and I was able to push him away. I also saw this being worked on a drunk tourist near the beach once (so I guess it’s a common one) and was able to warn him of the danger. The second was a bit more intimidating as a group of muscular guys, who were either gay – or thought I was gay – surrounded me and started dry humping me. It was a tough choice to defend either my assets or my wallet/phone!! But once they realised that I realised what they were really after, they soon left me alone and I escaped… my dignity somewhat violated, but my pockets 100% intact.

Hands off thief you're messing with the wrong spear handler

Another one that guys have to watch out for are the prostitutes on Las Ramblas. They often surround drunk guys and sidle up to them with wandering hands… it can be a struggle to shrug them off but just because you’re not interested in their services, doesn’t mean you won’t end up paying them everything you’ve got!

In general whenever you feel body contact with someone on the street be very very suspicious. It’s not a bad idea to carry all your valuables in one place, so that you can use one hand to protect them, and the other to protect yourself or push any would-be thieves away. It could even save you a dry humping!

Girls watch out for guys trying to steal your bikini tops

Girls watch out for guys trying to steal your bikini tops!

Damage Limitation. Carry Only What You Need

Being robbed hurts a lot less when it’s just a few euros that go missing. If you’re going out drinking at night, leave your passport and camera in the hostel, and consider taking out any unnecessary cards/keys etc. from your wallet. Girls… please please please don’t go out with a strapless bag full of all your stuff! Generally foreign girls exploring the nightlife stand out like a sore thumb in Barcelona and for sure the thieves will notice you… especially if you are in a big group. Do whatever you can to avoid carrying a bag… those mojitos are strong and chances are you’re going to get drunker than you expected! I would personally suggest instead of a dress and bag go with jeans/shorts/hotpants and pockets.

That’s it from me. I hope this article helps at least a few people avoid Barcelona’s bad guys and enjoy the city without any mishaps. For tips on the more pleasant sides of Barcelona do mosey on over and check out my travel guide, Barcelona Life, where you’ll find reviews of the best restaurants, bars and clubs, district guides… and even the odd bit of cultural insight!

Bonus reading… I’m also the editor of Urban Travel Blog and penned my perfect weekend guide to the Catalan capital right here.

December 18, 2013

Visiting Edinburgh? Rent a short-stay apartment

If you’re looking for happiness while vacationing in the UK, Edinburgh should be a city that figures high on your list.

The city came 2nd in a recent survey of cities with the best quality of life. There are so many unique experiences that this city can offer to a tourist. Best festival in the world, beautiful mélange of Victorian and Georgian architecture, great pubs on every corner , superb seafood ( Fishers in Leith!) and then you have this beautiful extinct volcano right in the middle of the city which you can climb to the top of and have a breathtaking panoramic view of the city.

It’s interesting how your perspective changes when you don’t visit the city as a tourist. My perspective is quite unique. I lived in Edinburgh for almost 8 years. Revisiting the city recently in September was for me like meeting an old friend. Revisiting the old pubs I used to frequent with friends. Hanging out in the very same Starbucks café on the Canongate that used to be my ‘office.’ Coffee still sucks but the view is great of the Christmas shop and the Canongate Kirk across the road.

I wanted to stay somewhere central too. The perfect location would be the Royal Mile. Touristy? Yes. It’s not too bad, especially in Autumn and winter. An apartment would be perfect. Somewhere I could stay for a week and have my own personal space. Do my own work. Cook. When you spend 8 months on the road a year, it’s always great to have a place with a kitchen where you can cook your own food,

So after checking out a few sites, via FlipKey  I found a 2 bedroom apartment on Blackfriars Street just off the Royal Mile.( Roughly in the middle of the mile)

Location

The flat is just a few doors away from one of my favourite bar/restaurants in town-Blackfriars , where you can sample delicious ribeye, chips with a proper bearnaise sauce.

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Plus a few hundred yards down the Mile, I could pop into my favourite chippy- Bene’s ( in picture, where you can also sample that unique Scottish speciality- the deep fried mars bar )

Plus there’s a Tesco convenience store down the road in Holyrood and another one on South Bridge: all within a 5 minute walking radius, so you’re in a great location.

 

What’s it like inside?

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The flat inside was perfect.  At the scheduled time of arrival I was greeted by the owner, Lolanda who gave me a quick orientation of the flat and its facilities. Perfect.

Bright and lots of light-view from the kitchen

Bright and lots of light-view from the kitchen

Flat was warm and cosy, fully carpeted. Rooms had large double glazing windows which let in a lot of light so even on the odd dreich  day, the place did not feel depressing.

 

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Kitchen was fantastic and a nice size with all the modcons you would have in your own home kitchen- fridge, freezer, electric cooker, oven, microwave and kettle. There was a nice large table in the centre that could be extended to seat 6 people.

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Lolanda was very thoughtful and left some essentials in the cupboard –salt, sugar, pepper, tea, some rice, spices, pasta and some cereal packets. This attention to detail makes such a big difference to your stay especially if you landed at the flat after a long day of travel. Fresh towels were provided for both rooms which is another nice bonus. Toiletries and soap were provided in the bathroom which had a pretty decent shower.

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The rooms

Two bedrooms. First bedroom has two single beds. Lots of light. Very comfortable.

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Second and main bedroom overlooking the street had a double bed in which I slept in.

There was a light and a table beside each bed. Plus a plug point to recharge your phone and gadgets. Both bedrooms had a large cupboard with lots of hangers to hang up your clothes.

The living room has a very comfortable sofa which I would sink into. It has a nice sized plasma screen TV with all the Freeview channels.

Nice extras

There is also a DVD player and a nice selection of DVD’s for guests to watch a movie. Other things I liked about this apartment was the excellent wireless internet connection. Superfast and signal was strong in all parts of the flat. They also have a separate room with a washing machine , place to dry your clothes plus an iron and ironing board.

Cost

Electricity, gas bills were included in the price. The total rent for the 6 days was £300 which comes out to be just £50 per night, based on 2 people staying. (Note that these prices were off-season. Cost can be significantly higher in peak season)  Based on 4 people staying, the price goes up by just another £50. So it’s a terrific deal for the location and the space.

Any drawbacks?

I couldn’t really pick fault with this flat. It was clean. Comfortable. Great location. Nicely equipped. Plus extremely great value for money.

On my next visit to Edinburgh, I would happily stay here again.

Disclaimer: Please note that I was a guest of Flipkey but the views expressed here are entirely my own. 

December 10, 2013

Avoid Ryanair & Airbnb? 5 tips for first-time visitors to Paris

 

My intern Amy Woodyatt’s latest post is about the pitfalls a first-timer can face when attempting to enjoy Paris on a budget….

When my boyfriend and I planned our mini break to Paris we envisaged a weekend of relaxed sightseeing, culture and romance in Europe’s city of love. It was just a shame we didn’t think about the price tag..

As the cheapest of travellers, preferring adventure to luxury, we figured that our student budget would cover us for the weekend, as long as we planned ahead. We weren’t planning on eating in expensive restaurants, or staying in posh hotels, we reasoned and Paris has so much to do for free, we’d be fine!

Our first mistake was to fly Ryanair, who kindly positioned their ‘Paris’ airport 100km out of the city. The money we ‘saved’ on cheap flights was promptly spent on a coach into the city centre.

Ryanair, rookie error.

Like many spendthrift budget travellers before us we logged on to airbnb.com to find a cheap place to stay, as accommodation in Paris is notoriously expensive. Despite the Ryanair hiccup we remained smug, confident that our plan to rent a room in a Parisian apartment instead of a hotel or hostel would save us a bundle.

And it would have done, had the hostess we planned to stay with that week not cancelled our accommodation on THE DAY OF ARRIVAL. Far from being as organised and spendthrift as we planned, we were now stuck in Paris with no accommodation, no Internet to look at hostels, oh and NO MONEY to pay for them, as airbnb still held the deposit for our cancelled accommodation.

It was going from bad to worse. It was cold and getting dark. There was no other option.

I rang my mum and begged her to book us the cheapest accommodation she could find, which, last minute, was close to €100 a night.

So much for Paris on a budget.

Despite living as economically as possible -

Walking everywhere…

..Visiting free attractions like the Louvre and Notre Dame…

 

Enjoying the artefacts..

Enjoying the artefacts..

 

...reenacting a Disney classic..

…reenacting a Disney classic..

..Looking at and not walking up the Eiffel Tower…

Who says you need money to enjoy the Eiffel Tower...

Who says you need money to enjoy the Eiffel Tower…

 

 

…and eating €3 rotisserie chickens from Carrefour for every meal (not really how I imagined I would be being wined and dined in the city of love)…

Nothing romantic about eating chicken on the street...

Nothing romantic about eating chicken on the street…

 

…the cost of living took its toll.

We had spent our weeks budget on 3 days of emergency accomodation, and ultimately had to get a coach home rather than wait another 4 days for our flights.

Paris is certainly a beautiful city, but a difficult place to live in when you’re down on your luck.

Of course, my experience was the result of every kind of worst case scenario.

My top tips?

1. Avoid Ryanair

2. Plan! As much as I love seeing where the road takes me and booking last minute accommodation depending on my mood and location, in expensive cities, such as Paris, Venice or anywhere else that has a reputation for getting busy and full, book ahead. It might feel like you are restricting yourself, but there is nothing worse than being forced to pay over the odds for a crappy hotel.

3. Take a smart phone! Don’t get me wrong, nothing frustrates me more than tourists that seem more concerned with documenting their travels than experiencing them – you know the ones I mean, the ones who would prefer to Instagram a cityscape (Note from Ed: Guilty! ) than exploring the city or who will update their facebook so much you wonder whether they are actually having as much fun as they say they are. Whilst I’d recommend some time apart from social media when you are travelling, at least so you can properly experience the place you are in, having a smartphone with internet capabilities can save a lot of stress and anxiety when a situation goes south.

4. Make sure you take a stash of emergency Euros. It sounds like common sense, and I feel patronising for even saying it, but seriously. You never know when your cards are going to fail on you and when you’ll need quick cash, so pack a few wedges of notes into various bags and pockets and you’ll never go wrong.

5. And finally… relax even if things go wrong.
Despite everything going wrong, I still enjoyed my holiday in Paris. Even if things don’t turn out as you’d hoped, you can still have an awesome time, and sometimes the best holiday stories can come from the most stressful times!
Romance on a budget... cue bridge of locks

Romance on a budget… cue bridge of locks

 

October 17, 2013

House Sitting 101: Or How to Travel the World for Free

Travellers-Bible

 

Last year my girlfriend and I spent nine months living in France, rent-free. We were house sitters which means we looked after other people’s homes and pets while they were away on holidays themselves. We took on four different house sits ranging from two weeks to five months, drank plenty of wine and consumed our weight in baguettes and cheese on a weekly basis.

It was a wonderful experience and it was incredibly cheap. Without the cost of rent, our only real outgoings were food and spending money. It meant we were able to live in France, a country we’d both wanted to live in for several years without having to go through the rigmarole of finding a place to rent and finding French companies that had job openings for two people who were the English-speaking equivalents of Manuel from Fawlty Towers. All in return for a few daily chores like walking the dog or feeding the cat.

 

What is House Sitting?

House sitting means looking after someone else’s home while they’re away. The reasons people get a sitter vary, but in most cases it’s because they have pets that need looking after and aren’t comfortable putting them into boarding kennels or a cattery.

Other reasons for getting a sitter include: having someone to collect the mail, having someone there to act as a deterrent to burglars and having someone there to make sure things don’t go wrong (e.g. the pipes freezing during winter).

 

Why House Sit

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Us house sitting in France

Anyone who’s ever travelled for more than a few weeks will know just how much the cost of accommodation adds up. In places like Western Europe, Australia and North America this can make travel and especially long-term travel seem very unaffordable. But house sitting is more than just free accommodation – as amazing as that is – it’s a unique travel experience that gets you living like a local in a proper house and usually with pets as well.

Towards the end of our house sit last year we were invited to attend the local repas de chasse; a six course meal of venison, wild boar, cheese and other delights thrown by the local hunting society. Jemma has blogged about it here so I won’t go into much more detail, but needless to say it was a wonderful experience and one we probably never would have had if we had been staying in a hotel, hostel or self-catering.

 

How to Find House Sitting Assignments

When we first started house sitting, we did everything to market ourselves to try and get more house sits; we built our own website, advertised, contacted expats living abroad etc. It was a lot of effort for very little return. These days we just tend to maintain memberships on house sitting websites like TrustedHousesitters.com who currently have around 500+ housesits to apply for. We’ve also built up some good relationships with people we’ve house sat for before and so are frequently invited back for repeat house sits.

 

Applying for House Sits

House sits can come and go in as little as a few hours, especially if they’re in luxurious locations (e.g. Saint Lucia) or otherwise very expensive cities like New York, Sydney or London. You can keep track of them via Twitter or email, but as soon as they go live it’s really a fastest first situation. (Of course there are plenty of house sits that don’t get filled as quickly, but it’s just worth bearing this in mind about the ‘dream’ house sits.)

Do

  • Have your profile filled out in advance: This means photos (as many as possible, especially ones of you with pets), a good description of yourself and as many references as possible. If you haven’t been house sitting before getting references may seem like a catch-22 situation but know that references from previous employers and landlords or character references can all add weight to your application.
  • Be concise: Brevity is the soul of wit after all. Get your first email into as few words as possible, mentioning first of all why you’re the right person for this particular house sit. Focus more on what you can offer the homeowner, not why you would love a free holiday. A homeowner may have several emails to get through and they’ll be trying to make a shortlist of the best people as quickly as possible. Make yours stand out and get yourself into that shortlist.

Don’t

  • Oversell yourself: Although it’s tempting to sell yourself as a handyman come gardener, don’t put this in if it isn’t true, and especially don’t add it in if the house sitting assignment doesn’t call for these skills. Nothing is more worrying to a homeowner than the thought of coming home to a new, unasked-for, set of shelves in the kitchen and a water feature in the garden.
  • Give up: Sometimes you just need to get that one house sit (and reference) under your belt to begin getting accepted for others. When we first started house sitting, we began by house sitting in Edinburgh (where we were living) to get experience before applying for the big ones abroad. Homeowners, we found, were a lot more willing to give us a chance if they could meet us first.

Good luck!

 

September 25, 2013

’48 Hour Guides to Germany’ now free to download!

Holocaust memorial, Berlin

Holocaust memorial, Berlin

 

It’s been 5 months since my trip to Germany ended.

 

Just getting off the plane in Edinburgh Airport today I was eavesdropping on a conversation between excited German tourists. I was standing in the queue with them for the airport bus to town. Listening to them yap away, got me dewy eyed and nostalgic about the trip and experience.

Suddenly I was back where it all began.

 

19th March, 2013, Hamburg

Excerpt from my 48 Hour Guide to Hamburg

 

Hamburg. 19th March, 2013. A bitterly cold winters day.

Getting off the plane at Hamburg airport while everyone was shivering in the sub-zero freezing temperatures, just listening to everyone converse in German sent a warm chill down my spine.

The alien tongue was an invitation to learn something new, to immerse myself in a different landscape and reality.

An invitation for adventure. 2 whole months of exploring a country and getting to know it’s people, culture, language, food and landscape.

 

So what happened next?

The remnant of the journey is now not just a tweet, an instagram and stuck in thoughts.

It is now a book.

You can read about all of my 48 Hour adventures in Germany by downloading FOR FREE my ‘48 Hour Guides to Germany’ from the German National Tourism website.

 

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Now that some months have passed, I have a better perspective of the whole trip.

Sometimes life is funny. You are so caught up in the moment that it often takes months before you realize the magnitude of what actually happened.

Looking back at the project one of the takeaways was that I have got to know the country a lot more better. There is so much rich diversity within this country in terms of it’s food, history, culturally and also it’s natural heritage.

The food is one great example of this amazing diversity- I savoured everything from the tasty and very unhealthy Bremer Knipp to the Swabian Spatzle and the Nuremberger Bratwurst.

Kolsch!

Kolsch!

 

Then of course each region has it’s own amazing range of beers.

If I had to stick my head out and say what my favourite beer then I’ll vote for the Kolsch from the Fruh brauwerei with Augustiner and the amazing Rotbier at Herr Engel’s Aldstadthof Hausbraurei in Nuremberg, my other favourites.

 

Seen from a train window- Wind Turbines, somewhere in a field in North Germany

Seen from a train window- Wind Turbines, somewhere in a field in North Germany

 

When I look back at the pictures , one of the things I miss is just sitting at the train window.

Enjoying the beautiful German scenery outside.

From lush flat green fields and wind turbines of the windy north to the beautiful Rhine, the fairytale medieval castles and forests of the south.

Deutsche Bahn is THE way to explore the amazing landscape of Germany.

Dusseldorf's Mediahafen skyline

Dusseldorf’s Mediahafen skyline

 

Then you have the stunning contrast of architectural styles everywhere: from the Gehry inspired futuristic skyline of Dusselfdorf’s mediahafen to the ‘Baderarchitecktur’ of Rugen and the half timbered villages of the south.

As you flick through the guides, you’ll also notice how affordable Germany is- beer was often cheaper than bottled water, tons of affordable and tasty snack ‘imbiss’ joints and excellent bakeries in each city I visited, I stayed at the excellent and comfortable Jugendherberge hostel network,  great value public transport network, tons of history and stories on every street corner for you to dip into plus the fact that many of the best museums in the country offer free and discounted entry on certain days of the month. This country is perfect for any BudgetTraveller.

 

Viktualienmarkt, Munich

48 Hours In Munich: Meet the friendly locals at Viktualienmarkt

 

Biggest takeaway is that contrary to the stereotype, German people are some of the friendliest and hospitable people I’ve encountered on my travels. If I had any questions or problems-everywhere I’ve been, people have been polite, courteous and eager to help.

So if you are yet to visit Germany, make sure soon or in 2014, you do make a point of visiting this beautiful country.

 

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‘48 Hour Guides to Germany’ are now ready to download for free from the German National Tourism Office.

For convenience, we’ve divided the book into 12 different chapters and mini e-books so you can download whichever destination you are interested in reading about.

Mata Hari, Stuttgart

Mata Hari, Stuttgart

 

There has been a lot of effort poured into this project since the trip ended,-more research and getting to know more about the places I visited, sitting down and writing the guides and then shifting through the 5000 photographs and pulling together the pictures for each guide.

Catharina Fischer from German National Tourism Office and her team have been amazing in putting my words and pictures together and helping create these guides.Thank you for this amazing opportunity!

I hope you , the reader and traveller, enjoy the end product and do use it for your future trips to Germany. If you have any feedback and thoughts to share, please leave a comment below or mail me at europebudgetguide AT gmail.com 

The journey also lives on through the images on Instagram and various interesting tweets from fellow travellers- please check the hashtag: #youthhotspotsgermany and join the conversation with your images and tweets.

 

+ Discover more youth hotspots and cool places to eat, things to do across Germany on their website , feel free to add your own and also do download their free youth hotspots app that is now available on the Apple Store & Android Store .

 

 

 

August 13, 2013

Visiting Portugal? Get 10GB of mobile internet data for €2.50!

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Cheap prepaid mobile internet access in Portugal? Check out this awesome deal with TMN

 

I seem to be on a roll recently, sharing with you ways of accessing cheap mobile internet when travelling abroad.

( If you missed earlier, here are my two articles on best prepaid internet sim deals in Italy and Germany  ) It really sucks having to pay silly amounts of money when accessing your emails, internet on your phone when travelling abroad ( been a victim of ridiculous bills in the past ) so I am committed to finding the cheapest ways for you to access mobile internet abroad.

I am in Portugal for a few weeks at the moment and discovered a great prepaid mobile internet date deal which any local or traveller can use if you are travelling to Portugal between now and 30th September, 2013.

Pop into the TMN store and buy a simcard worth €2.50

Cheap prepaid mobile internet access with TMN, Portugal

Carry some form of identity with you and address of where you are staying.

Once the card has been activated, text the word ‘NetVerao’ to number 12029.

Simple as that!

Within a few minutes, you are good to go.

If you have any questions about this tip, deal. Drop me a line below :)

Ciao

Kash aka ‘BudgetTraveller’

 

 

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