Remembering the South of France

In the depths of this deep freeze that is Winter 2014, I find myself reminiscing about this time I went to the south of France.

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I was only there for 4 days visiting my aunt and uncle who had temporarily settled in a small hill village called Sablet.

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Vacationing in the south of France is truly like being in a movie. Driving around in the sun, buying wine straight from the vineyards, eating croque monsieur (pretty much a ham and cheese grilled sandwich) … heaven.

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P1050301_2We visited an ancient Roman Theatre in Orange… the highlight for me, a (then) student of Greek and Roman Studies!

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Provence is full of of absolutely gorgeous cities and buildings! None is more beautiful than Avignon. The Papal Palace is the singularly most impressive building I’ve ever seen. My facts are rusty, but basically there was a period of time where this French guy disagreed with the Pope in the Vatican and said, “I’m Pope now!” and built a palace for the French papacy in Avignon. Though he didn’t do the greatest job with the papacy, he did a fantastic job with the palace.

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P1050524_2If I could, I would go back tomorrow. Anyone feel like paying for my ticket to France?

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Budget Travel Tips: 8 Desperate Ways to Finally Afford that Trip

Times are tight. I know it, you know it, we ALL feel it. Many people are opting out of travel altogether. So the question looms: is it still possible to travel on a tight budget?

I would argue that it is almost not.

It isn’t uncommon to see tips on travelling on a budget such as these from Reader’s Digest. Even though these can be valuable for a novice, comfortable traveller to cut down a bit on the overall cost of vacationing, they do not remedy the fact that travel is too expensive for most people these days.

So there’s nothing to do but give up, lock yourself in a dark room, sit in a corner, listen to Coldplay and sulk about your immobilizing debt that prevents you from experiencing life, right?

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That completely depends – how badly do you want it?

If you want it bad enough here are 8 things to consider to maybe, actually, potentially make travel a possibility for those with the dark cloud of financial hardship raining overhead.

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1. Convenience and Comfort? Ha!:

If you have the luxury of being time-and-place-flexible, there are sometimes affordable deals to be had!

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Flying to cool places

Do your research. Look at multiple airlines and their options, check out the budget airlines and where they fly. What time of year is cheapest? Peak-season travel is sickeningly expensive, so look at off-peak flights.

Try Skyscanner– they will give you a good idea of what the cheapest available options are, but do your own poking around too!

Bring only carry-on luggage (preferably a backpack!! For the reasons, see this post). There are many budget airlines in Europe and the UK, but they often charge a significant fee for checked baggage.

IMPORTANT– Speaking of budget airlines: be wary of them! Some do not have assigned seating and will OVERBOOK their flights ON PURPOSE in order to make more money (*cough* Ryan Air *cough*), and they count on the fact that someone won’t show up or will be late. ARRIVE EARLY, and be aggressive when boarding. You’re welcome.

One of the biggest expenses when travelling is food. The best way to cut down your food budget is to grocery shop rather than eat at restaurants or pubs. In the UK, for example, many shops have a £3 “meal deal” where you get a sandwich, bag of chips and a drink. Not the healthiest way to sustain yourself abroad, but certainly one of the cheapest!

2. Scrap Your List of Destinations:

If you have considered travel, ever, you probably have a mental list of the top places you’d like to visit. Murphy’s Law demands that these will likely be the most expensive places to get to. Throw it out. Embrace the possibility of new places!

For example, Brussels is somewhere I never expected to go, but I enjoyed it! (Not exactly a dirt cheap example, but the best personal one I have!)

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If I hadn’t gone to Brussels, I wouldn’t have seen street art like this:

What?

What?

Or this:

WHY?!

WHY?!

If, during your travels, you are lucky enough to find yourself nearby a more expensive destination that you MUST see (for example, Paris is a popular and pricey place to lust after), then spend as little time there as possible. 2-3 days is sufficient to explore a city-centre by foot.

3. Terrible Transportation:

Direct flights are lovely, but awful meandering ones are generally cheaper. Decide how much savings your time and physical comfort is worth (if you can’t bare the thought of embarking on a 1-2 day flight-hopping spree when the direct flight is 8-hours or less, you don’t want it badly enough).

Also, flights that leave at horrible times like 4am are generally cheaper than pleasantly-timed flights.

"Friends Fare" is a thing in the UK... if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

A “Friends Fare” discount is a thing on UK trains… if you have 3 friends. No more, no less.

If you are ‘on the road’ and travelling from city to city, there are multiple options available to you (especially in Europe). There are flights, trains, coaches and…. BUSSES. Pick the bus that takes about ten times longer to get to your destination than any other method of transportation, and it’s likely the cheapest.

I once took a city-style bus in England from Exeter to Poole (a distance that should take less than 2 hours by car, but took over 5 hours by bus – with no stops!!! How is that even possible?!). City-style bus means NO TOILET… again, with no stops. It was an excruciating journey. This should be illegal – but at a fraction of the cost of the train, it was the only option in my range of affordability.

When in a location, WALK EVERYWHERE. Transportation within cities is so expensive, especially to and from airports. Use it as little as possible.

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!

You can find some of the most beautiful places just by walking!
Arthur’s Seat Summit, Edinburgh

4. Travel with a Buddy:

Try to find a friend to go with that is in the same situation (or at least very open minded). This can be a challenge, but in the end you can both save money than if you were alone. Of course, the simplest reason for this is room-sharing, but also watching each other’s backs.

The biggest savings when travelling with a buddy (and I hate to say this) is HITCHHIKING. As a woman, I would never hitchhike alone. As a snobby person, I would never hitchhike at all. If you play it safe, however, you can get far on very little money. A friend of mine recently admitted their travels included a lot of hitchhiking, and this warmed me to the idea. Use common sense and be picky – don’t put yourself in a situation where you feel unsafe, and don’t hitch at night! Check out these tips.

5. Consider Long-Term Travel:

Find work, meet people, couch surf, move on.

For positive and real-life tales of SUCCESSFUL long-term EXTREME budget travel, check out the supremely cool Wandering Earl! He’s much more experienced at all of this than I am!

Earl, wandering.

Earl, wandering. My lil’ bro met up with him on his travels and he’s apparently a really cool guy 🙂

6. No Partying OR Partying for Board:

Choose one of these things. If you have all of your accommodation booked in advance, no alcohol, no partying. If not, choose bars and clubs with no cover fee, and then meet as many people as possible to find an available couch!!

I have never partied to find a place to crash... it sounds dangerous.

I have never partied to find a place to crash… it sounds dangerous.

7. Forfeit the Tourist Attractions:

CN Tower, Toronto: $32- $89cnd

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Eiffel Tower, Paris: €15

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

I thought seeing it from the ground was good enough!

Big Ben, London: £15

This is not the tower of London, but it's a nice picture.

Maybe that doesn’t seem like much, but these admission prices could also be your food budget for a day or two! Save it for when you’re rich.

8. Hostels vs. Hotels:

Hostels can be hit or miss. Again, do you research! I use hostelworld.com and have never been disappointed. Look the cheapest available of course, but use the Internet to check where the hostels are located so you aren’t booking something in the middle of nowhere.

A small but very good hostel.

A small but very good hostel.

Normally the more beds in a dorm the cheaper it will be per night… so mentally prepare for 12 other people ruining your sleep schedule, coming to bed at 4am, getting up at 6am etc. Bring earplugs.

Don’t assume hostels will be cheaper than hotels. Of course, they normally are, but when my lil’bro and I recently went to Paris, we booked a one-star hotel, as it was cheaper than Parisian hostels. There’s an option on Hostelworld for hotels.

It’s very important before booking a hostel to read some of the customer reviews. Hostelworld is great for accurate reviews! If the reviews terrify you, don’t book the hotel. It’s usually fairly obvious when someone has just had a bad experience, ie. noisy streets on a weekend (duh), people drunkenly having sex or masturbating in the same dorm, loud snoring – these things aren’t the hostel’s fault. Bring earplugs. BRING EARPLUGS.

Check for bedbugs when you arrive, then forget about how awful the rest of it is.

HOW DOES THAT SOUND?

Does thinking about these things give you a tingle of excitement? Or does it inject fear and bitterness into your beautiful dreams of travel?

Do YOU have what it takes to be an extreme-budget traveller?

Enjoy your travels, be they desperately budget or gloriously comfortable, because travel is the best and most enjoyable education.

We’ll Always Have Paris: A Brief Vacation with a French-Hater

There’s a wee little French city that has been the destination for romantics and shopaholics alike for many a decade. It’s called Paris – maybe you’ve heard of it?

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Like many others before me, and many more to come, I have had an obsession with going to Paris ever since I was eleven years old and was growing into my appreciation for all things adult, romantic and materialistic.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

In my recent adulthood, however, I have heard things that have marred this dream and given me a dose of reality (probably a good thing). Paris stinks, it’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s expensive, Parisians are rude, the Eiffel tower costs your first born child to walk up it, lots of people try to scam you, the whole city is a tourist trap. All these things put Paris a little further down on my list of places to go before I die, but when presented with the opportunity to go, I wasn’t going to say no!

S'up?

S’up?

Having freshly moved to Lyon (him) and Edinburgh (me), my lil’bro and I decided in December 2012 that the following June we would meet in Paris for a few days to see the city. Oh, and also OUR FAVOURITE BAND. Muse. For me, this was going to be the perfect mini-vacation! Paris, Muse, and my brother – who I hadn’t seen in almost a year due to our recent voyages.

Check out the reflection in lil'bro's glasses!

Check out the reflection in lil’bro’s glasses!

The only problem was, in those 6 months, lil’bro developed a deep, lingering hatred for the French. Mostly this was due to the lack of communication, organization, desire to be efficient and a general attitude of malaise within any French bureaucratic system. For example, in order to get a bank account, he needed an address. In order to get an apartment, he needed a French bank account – a conundrum that was a pain to resolve. My favourite story was lil’bro’s attempt to apply for medical insurance. He went multiple times during posted office hours to the office where this was to be done only to find it closed with a posted sign saying “Fermé sans raison” <Closed for no reason> (this may, however, be an exaggeration born from frustration – a trait that comes from my Mother’s side of the family. NOTHING she EVER says is accurate).

Well, I arrived in Paris; still hopeful that it would be everything I wanted it to be.

Within the first few hours I was scammed out of €5 (my fault for being naïve and too nice), was an intended pick-pocket victim (best anti-theft device ever: giant box of tampons at the very top of your bag), hit-on by a Moroccan guy (which made me uncomfortable because his Dad was right there), and harassed by aggressive panhandlers on the train. Whatever, I thought, I’m in PARIS!

Yay! We're in Paris!

Yay! We’re in Paris!

Omg, I don't f***ing care!

Omg, I don’t f***ing care!

When I finally arrived at our 1-star hotel (really not that bad for what we paid), I hunkered down to wait for lil’bro to arrive in a few hours. Then the lightning storm happened. If I typed out everything that occurred in the next twelve hours this post would more resemble a novel, so I will summarize using bullet points:

  • My side: Lightning storm knocks out Wi-Fi, my phone stops working, no way of finding out that lil’bro’s plane has been delayed – hours of worrying what’s happened.
  • Lil’bro’s side: plane late, phone dead, address for Paris hotel on phone, discovers bag was left in Berlin. Bag has phone charger, Muse tickets, plane ticket back to Canada. F**k.
  • Airport says to call next day with hotel address so bag will be delivered, lil’bro skeptical about French promises.
  • Lil’bro asks for computer access to get hotel address since he has no idea where to go, none available. Random girl takes pity on him (he’s adorable) and he uses her personal phone to check hotel address.
  • Lil’bro waits for bus to get to metro, empty bus passes many waiting people. Next bus is LAST bus, not everyone fits on, lil’bro is skinny and angry, gets on bus.
  • Bus takes him to metro, doesn’t know which metro to take, guesses. Guesses RIGHT, happens to find map, miraculously finds hotel. Hotel front door is locked, yells outside for me, I hear him, let him in. He’s safe, sweaty, four hours late and PISSED OFF. It’s 2am.
  • Next morning, call airport, takes 8 tries. They can’t deliver bag after all, but bag is now in France and no longer in Berlin. We TELL THEM we will come pick up bag at airport, they agree.
  • Get to airport, bag has been put on flight to Canada. Has the flight left? No. Go get the bag then. Eye rolls. Agrees.
  • Finally get bag. Lil’bro’s hatred for France has tripled.

Able to relax at least a little, we go wandering around the downtown core and, to be fair, it’s pretty beautiful!

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

Sacre Couer Cathedral, our favourite building.

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Sacre Couer

Pantheon

Pantheon

Palais du Luxembourg

Palais du Luxembourg

I would definitely come back to Paris, but perhaps not until I have a bit more means, seeing as it’s difficult to find even a shot of espresso for less than €3, let alone any decent affordable food.

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We had some trouble getting to the Muse concert too. It was rush hour and people were squeezing themselves onto the metro to the point of overflow. Of course, the trains won’t leave if the doors can’t close, and lil’bro and I were completely exasperated by these people who were more concerned with getting on the train than allowing it to leave, thus causing everyone else to be delayed. It got to the point where station staff had to pull people off and man the doors while they closed.

But, of course, THIS made it all worth it!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Muse! Muse, Muse, Muse!

Cool floating lightbulb :)

Cool floating lightbulb 🙂

Muse was flawless; their set-list was literally a copy-paste of my personal list of favourites. Chuffed to bits!