A SUNNY DAY IN WARSAW: Cold beer and vegan food

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Warsaw was great – I didn’t really know what to expect, but it’s a beautiful city with a relaxed atmosphere and lots of cool places for eating and drinking. What else do you need?

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We started our day in Warsaw at the Science and Culture Palace, which hosts lots of museums and other cultural hubs. You can go up this impressive building to get nice views over the city (tickets at 20 zloti per person).

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After taking in the view, we started walking towards the Old Town. We stopped for a quick drink at Aioli, a nice place for a cocktail on a sunny day (drinks looked amazing but were a bit watery). We then made our way to Novy Swiat (the Royal Way), a busy thoroughfare full of bars and restaurants.

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For lunch we stopped at Vege Bistro, a little vegan cafe that served delicious pirogi (traditional Polish dumplings). A meal for two cost 53 zloti (around £9).

The Royal Way leads to the Old Town, which was completely rebuilt after the second World War – about 85% of Warsaw was destroyed then. This is a beautiful area to wander around for a few hours, stopping to lounge in the sun at one of the many cafes.

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We found a great Belgian bar just off the Old Town. The Elephant Pub has a great selection of Belgian beers and is very nicely decorated. Perfect to recharge for a little bit.

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Our last stop of the day was Poznanska Street, which is full of cool bars and restaurants. We had pizzas at Vegan Pizza before heading back to the hotel.

What a nice day!

HOW TO DO IT:

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  • Go: We flew Wizzair, as they tend to have the cheapest options for Eastern Europe. The flight takes around 2h so it’s easy to go after work.
  • Money: Poland is really cheap. A beer costs less than £2, and you get a meal for about £5. Things are really good quality, so it’s the perfect place to indulge.
  • Stay: We stay at Mercure Grand Warsawa which was by far the best Mercure I’ve ever stayed at. We only paid £35 per night – bargain!
  • Food: Polish food is not traditionally veggie, but there are lots of veggie places around. We took recommendations from Happy Cow and were really spoilt for choice.
  • Train to Krakow: We took the express train to Krakow, which takes about 2h30. Tickets cots £7, and that even includes a free beverage! (shame on you, National Rail!) The train was great and the trip very enjoyable. You can spend the time gazing at the countryside outside or having a cold beer at the bar.

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FLYING ON THE CHEAP: Making the most of budget airlines

My friend suggested the topic for this post, and it got me thinking of when I first discovered budget airlines. This was when I first moved to Europe: I was shocked (shocked!) at how cheap flights could be. Back then I’d check out Ryanair for flights to no matter where, simply because they were so cheap.

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Those were the days when you could get free flights and simply pay the tax charges. Those days are mostly gone, but there are still plenty of good deals around. Here’s how I do my research for flights:

1. Search sites

I always start by looking at different search sites to get an idea on prices. Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo are my favourites. Each site has a slightly different set of options, so it’s good to browse around.

2. Know your airports

The thing with budget airlines is that they don’t always arrive at the best airports. Ryanair can leave you over an hour away from your destination and airport transfers can be expensive, so do your research and make sure to land somewhere convenient. Otherwise all your savings on the cost of the flight may end up being spent before you even get to leave the airport!

In London I tend to prioritise Gatwick where possible, as it’s the closest to my place and it’s cheap to get there by train.

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3. When to book?

This is the trickiest. I’m actually never sure on when to book my flights, but sooner tends to be better.

In theory you can get good deals if you book 3-5 weeks in advance as sometimes airlines do sales to make sure flights are full. However, if you’re travelling to European capitals for the weekend (which is often what I do), flights will always be full, so just book it as early as possible, up to about 4 months in advance (more than that and sometimes not all options are available).

4. When to go?

Travelling mid-week, during the day or off-season will get you a better deal. If this is an option for you, you’re in luck! But because I have a full-time job with a limited holiday allowance, this is simply not an option. But again if you book in advance this shouldn’t be a problem.

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5. Watch out for extra charges

As a rule, I always travel light. But budget airlines often have strict luggage policies and once you add £30 per piece of luggage each way you might as well travel BA. They are also generally less flexible, meaning that if you want to change your booking you’re better off making a completely new reservation.

6. Choosing airlines

There are lots of cheap airlines around, but it’s not always just about price. Here are some thoughts on specific companies I’ve travelled with, but really there are many more around and most of them are good enough:

  • Ryanair: I haven’t travelled with Ryanair in years, and honestly I don’t miss it. They are really at the bottom end in terms of service, but their prices can be tempting.
  • Easyjet: I fly a lot with Easyjet, as they seem to have the most options, and they are normally the cheapest airline other than Ryanair. Service is good, but flights at the end of the day are frequently a bit late as each plane does so many flights every day.
  • Norwegian: Norwegian doesn’t go to as many places as Easyjet (at least not from London), but when available they are great. Very good service and very good deals: £90 return to Stockholm, and return flights to New York starting from £250 (although it’s quite hard to get these).
  • Wizz Air: This is a Hungarian airline, and it’s a great option if you’re travelling to Eastern Europe. They have some amazing deals and go to unusual destinations like Ljubljana.
  • Icelandair: Icelandair doesn’t fly to many places, but it’s a great airline. If you’re going to Iceland, their holiday packages are the best. And they also have free stopovers (I said free!) in Reykjavik if you’re flying to America or Canada.

Happy booking!

TRAVELLING ON THE CHEAP: 6 thrifty tips to make the most of your holidays

People often ask me how I manage to travel so much. There’s no secret! Here are some of my tips on how to plan great holidays on a budget.

1. Book in advance:

Start booking everything about six months in advance to make sure you get cheap flights and that the best value hotels are available.

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2. Do your research:

Use Kayak or Momondo to find the cheapest flights – then book straight from the airline website. Find cheap hostels at Hostelworld or sign up for rewards programmes from hotel chains like Accor.

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3. Take someone with you:

Travelling in pairs is one of the best ways of saving money, especially with accommodation. Some hotels charge the same for one of two guests, so splitting everything between two people really pays off.

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4. Avoid peak season:

Summer holidays in Europe are the worst time for travelling as it’s much more expensive and most places are packed with tourists. Avoid June-August and you usually get better prices AND a better experience!

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5. Enjoy the free stuff:

Everywhere is different, but most places will have something free for you to do. London has free museums; Paris has amazing parks and squares; and you can find a free tour in most European cities (for a small tip). Make the most of it!

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6. Save on food:

When you’re travelling it’s easy to eat out three times per day. Find your local supermarket and make use of the hostel kitchen (if available) to make valuable savings. Then find a great restaurant for that special meal you will remember!

Get planning!