Snapshot of Dawlish, Devon

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Located in the UK near Exeter on the south coast of Devon, Dawlish is a brightly painted, extremely small, sunny stop on the coastal railway.

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P1040650_2P1040652_2 Though not necessarily a town worthy of “primary destination” status, if you’re in the area (or riding the train along the coast), it’s a cute wee place to have a quick walk around.

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P1040682_2P1040686_2P1040670_2 Down the centre of town is a river that doubles as a kind of bird sanctuary.

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The infamous Dawlish black swans.

The Dawlish black swans.

This ugly guy.

This magnificent dude.

And don't you dare disturb the river! Cedric patrols vehemently.

And don’t you dare disturb the river! Cedric patrols vehemently.

There’s a small possibly that Dawlish actually exists in a portal in time, where once you ascend from the raised train station platform, you step back several decades. My limited evidence:

Not so latent racism and misunderstandings of racial prejudices. I was too afraid to take a picture of the store that sells only golliwogs.

Misunderstandings of racial stereotypes. I was too afraid to take a picture of the store that sells only golliwogs.

Dated insistence on a product's "stylishness" to entice skeptical buyers.

Dated insistence on a product’s “stylishness” to entice any skeptical buyers. Also, holy cheap prices!

Certainly a curious place.

Has anyone else been to Dawlish? Did you see a different side of it?

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.

Penzance and Marazion: Home of St. Michael’s Mount

In Cornwall, England, you can find the most wondrous places.

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At the Southwestern most tip of the island that is Britain resides a town called Penzance. Larger than most seaside towns, Penzance lacks the dated and tacky tourist arcades and pseudo show-gardens like its smaller counterparts (for example, Exmouth, Dawlish and Teignmouth – more on them another time!).

Penzance High Street

Penzance High Street

It has a more actually-lived-in feel, which I prefer to the ghosts of seaside towns past. Penzance is a strange blend of English and ‘tropical’. There are palm trees everywhere! It’s an odd phenomenon. It felt wrong, but somehow right.

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And of course the beach was fantastic. Long and sandy, very characteristic of Southern England.

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

High tide, so no beach at the moment!

There is, however, something that makes Penzance extra-special. The next town over, called Marazion, is the home of the fantastic St. Michael’s Mount. Marazion is within walking distance of Penzance – though I would recommend taking the bus if you are on a schedule!

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The Mount is another plateau (somewhat similar to Tintagel) that rises from the sea just off shore. It is accessible on foot at low tide via causeway. At high tide the only way out is by boat. Why would you want to go out there? Because there’s a castle on it!

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Due to its unusualness and its stark beauty, the Mount has been used for myriad things dating back to the 5th century, including army barracks, a monastery, and a wonderfully defendable castle.

The castle on the Mount

The castle on the Mount

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The views from atop the castle were stunning.

You can see the submerged causeway!

You can see the submerged causeway!

The gate.

The gate.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

The gardens have a separate entry fee, which we skipped.

When I visited the Mount in the spring of 2012, they were setting up to film a movie called Mariah Mundi and the Midas Box which is due to be released in 2013….

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The old-time style set.

The old-time style set.

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The coolest part about the filming was watching the amphibious bus/terrestrial boat ferry cast and crew back and forth from the set to the mainland.

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We were blessed with excellent weather for our day trip to Penzance, but I think that even with grey skies, this spot should be on the list for anyone travelling in the UK!

On the train-ride back to our home base, a man was playing harmonica and his dogs were singing along. Oh, Cornwall!!

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http://www.stmichaelsmount.co.uk

Into the North: A Trip to Stonehaven

"Friends Fare" train ticket to Stonehaven

“Friends Fare” train ticket to Stonehaven

Friends are wonderful things. Though I had my initial difficulties connecting with people in Edinburgh, I did make some beautiful, fun, and interesting friends who will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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One friend hails from Stonehaven – a wee place north of Edinburgh, close to Aberdeen.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven - home of the deep fried Mars bar!

Stonehaven – home of the deep fried Mars bar!

For one glorious weekend, she invited three of us to her home. The best part (other than 24/7 girl time) was having access to a car.

To anyone who has experienced the feeling of freedom you have with a car – especially in the vast countryside – after the confinement of a city and the limitations of public transportation, is it not one of the best feelings in the world?

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We just drove.

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 Along the way, my Stonehaven friend made sure we saw the important local places, like Dundee and Aberdeen.

Dundee beach

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Broughty Castle

Broughty Castle

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

A cool old building - part of which has been cleaned. I didn't know they did that!

A cool old building – part of which has been cleaned. I didn’t know they did that!

The absolute highlight, however, was Dunnottar Castle right near Stonehaven.

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 Dunnottar Castle’s dramatic clifftop location, sea views and extraordinary level of preservation are astounding. A seriously special spot!

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So well preserved! Especially since some of it dates back as early as the 1400’s

P1090679P1090687P1090673 This magnificent ruin is Scotland’s entry in the “8th Wonder of the World” competition! If you are impressed by these photos, vote for Dunnottar Castle here: http://www.virtualtourist.com/8thwonder “Jutting out into the North Sea, the former residence of the Earls Marischal is most famous for holding out against the might of Cromwell’s army for 8 months to save the Scottish Crown Jewels.”

I am so lucky that I was able to do this wee trip simply because of friends! I can, without a doubt, say that my favourite parts of Scotland are in the north. Summertime in northern Scotland has no parallel, and these photos are just a meagre testament to the breathtaking beauty of this part of the world.

Conquering the Law (But not Actually): A Day Trip to North Berwick

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North Berwick (pronounced bear-ick, like Derick) is a seaside village East of Edinburgh. Boy do I like my seaside visits! Again accompanied by my Canadian companion, Ky, we ventured out of the city limits to seek the serenity of the sea.

Most British seaside towns I’ve seen – which is a fair few – follow one of two “themes”. Either they are attraction-based (arcades, manicured beaches, piers and waterfront boulevards), or they are functioning fishing villages. North Berwick seemed to be a fusion of the two.

It was strange for me to see the used, worn fishing equipment, boats and run-down waterfront row houses next door to two golf courses, the Seabird Centre, sailing lessons off the beach and a children’s play area.

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Sailing school!

Sailing school!

North Berwick has two beaches, each with it’s own wee off-coast island. In the spring and summer, you can join a boat tour out of the Seabird Centre that takes you out to these islands, which are apparently rich with wildlife.

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On the eastern-most beach, there is a man-made sea pool!

On the eastern-most beach, there is a man-made sea pool!

North Berwick has two golf courses, which is two too many for such a small town!

North Berwick has two golf courses, which is two too many for such a small town!

A unique landmark of North Berwick is the Law: a steep, high hill (or “Scottish mountain”). The Law was the shape of a very large pimple. This area of Scotland has quite a few such mountainous zits; whiteheads when it snows.

The Law from the beach.

The Law from the beach.

Anyway, the Law is a popular conquest for local hikers – though Ky and I couldn’t muster the motivation to follow in their footsteps (as my title hopefully suggests; I have a bad knee after all!)

North Berwick is a beautiful place to go explore – the beach is fantastic. Ky and I found a “Historical Glen-Walk” path that held such gems as an old house with a tree growing out of it, and some ruined cottages.

Yup, it's growing right outta there.

Yup, it’s growing right outta there.

"YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME PUNY HUMANS" - Nature

“YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME PUNY HUMANS”
– Nature

P1080888Close to town, we discovered an old graveyard complete with a big ruined church. It was supposed to be gated shut, but since none of these things are regulated in the UK, we found a way in anyway.

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Inside we saw a GHOST! No, it's just me.

Inside we saw a GHOST!
No, it’s just me.

The best part of the day, however, was our lunch at Buttercup Café.

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The café was located in the front room of a converted row house, where the living room would have been. There were about six small tables squished into this space. There were four servers. FOUR. They all looked to be no more than 80lbs apiece soaking wet; with their toothpick wrists they seemed only able to bring one item at a time (two-handed) out of the kitchen. Coming from the service industry myself, and often I handle a sixteen-table section on my own, it was hilarious watching four girls struggle to serve six tables between them.

They were all lovely, and I’m hoping, since it was a weekend, that they were in training.

While heading back into the city, Ky and I realized we’d finished our first list of places to visit.

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Where should we go next?