Monday, 27 March 2017

FLIGHT HACKING - How I got a £280 USA return during Easter Holiday

Do you have more time than you do money? Do you want to visit a new city en-route to your next destination? Well, read on! This easter I was determined to get to the USA for less than £500. Mainly because I'd stupidly been looking at flights months earlier and seen them for about £300, and I didn't want to pay the extra just because I was booking later. Warning though, this process can take a while to work out the best flights, it's a lot of trial and error!

Anyway, to start with I went to kayak.com and searched for the location and dates I wanted, trick though is to be as flexible as possible. So I have put +/- 3 days to be as flexible as possible.



I then scrolled down quite far and on the left-hand side under 'Stopover Airports', I changed the time to at least 5 hours, this ruled out the quick stopovers. You then have to unclick the box 'Hide 14,267 longer flights'.



Then back at the top, the first option shows the departure from STN to BOS via Copenhagen using Ryanair first then Norweigan air. For the return, the option showed Norwegian Air to Olso then Ryanair to Oslo. I went directly to the websites themselves (Ryanair and Norweigan Air respectively) and managed to get it down from £428 to £280 by playing around with the number of nights I want to stay in each place. This ended up being 1 night in Copenhagen and 2 nights in Oslo. Perfect for me as I've always wanted to visit Denmark/ Norway!

Remember, you will have to play around the dates to find the best options.



If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll try to get back to you ASAP!

Happy travels x

Sunday, 8 January 2017

To (airbn)B, or not to Airbnb?

Okay, that pun didn't quite work, sorry. But give me some credit, Airbnb doesn't really rhyme with anything... Anyway, back to the point.

Ryanair has a sale on and you've realised you can bag a return flight to Krakow for £10. There's one problem though, the only hotel you can afford is a million miles out of the city centre. You give up, resigned to the fact it will all be too expensive and there are no other options right? Wrong. Give airbnb a try.

The first time I ever used Airbnb was back in September 2015 in Orlando, Florida. I aid $20 to sleep on somebodies couch... Ouch! But it was a far better alternative than the $200 minimum hotel bill I would have otherwise footed. Since then, I have used in Florence and Rome, as well as on my most recent trip to Poland. Let us get started, the pros, and the cons:

Pros:
  • Price: Not only are Airbnbs cheaper than hotels in general, they have the potential to make your whole experience cheaper. As houses/ flats, most come with a kitchen of some description. I will note though that in Europe this tends to often be limited to a hob and microwave, I have only come across a few with full ovens. This means you can buy food from a nearby supermarket and cook some nights if you want to reduce your costs even more. In addition to this, unlike lots of hotels, all of the airbnbs I have used have free wifi too.
  • Privacy:  Ok, so this one is a bit questionable, but I'll explain that in the con section. On the whole, being able to rent the whole house gives you more privacy than in a hotel because you can come and go without worrying about maids coming in or the front desk watching your every move!
  • Friendly hosts: I have never had a bad experience with a host. The level of contact really varies depending on each host. Some hosts I haven't even had to meet as they have a lock box organised, whereas others have shown me around, how to work the heating and even given me advice on things I can do in the area and the best places to eat/ drink. Most recently my fantastic host in Krakow even gave us a bottle of wine as a present as Harley had mentioned that it was a belated birthday trip! Charming! 
Cons:
  • Prices/ Extra-fees: Okay, so while I mentioned how cheap they are, I must say that for a solo traveller they are not always the most cost-effective method. Yes, if you insist on total privacy/ your own room then it is likely Airbnb will be your best bet. Otherwise, I find hostels are still cheaper. Not only this, if you are travelling in a large group, be careful because sometimes when you go to check-out you will see though the house can hold 10 people, there is an extra charge per person per night over 5 people for example. Or, they may have crazy fees in case of damage to the house. I looked at renting a place to go surfing in Torquay and if we had any noise complaints we would have been fined £800. 
  • Accessibility: Arranging to meet your host can be a pain in the butt - especially if you do not have internet on your phone in the country you are visiting. If your plane is delayed, how are you going to get in contact with them to ensure they are not waiting around for you? In that respect, having a 24h hotel reception takes a load off your mind. I would definitely hesitate to book a month long interrailing trip using airbnb for example if I only planned on staying in each city a few nights each. It takes effort to message your host/ be organised like that! I hate sticking to a schedule oops. But if you were booking it to use as a villa for a week, for example, it would be perfect. 
  • Privacy: A few months ago a PostSecret card went viral. It stated 'I swap hidden camera sex videos with other Airbnb hosts.' It understandably caused quite a ruckus in the online community and raised all kinds of questions over Airbnb's privacy. While I think it would be easier to pull this off in an Airbnb, I think it should be remembered that there have been endless stories of this happening in hotels too, especially given even more people have access to those rooms. In all likelihood, I'm sure this is a tiny minority of hosts! I do though think there is more chance of encountering a camera in Airbnb properties for security purposes. At the end of the day, this is somebodies home, of course they are going to be concerned about it just as a hotel has CCTV in their lobby. All I can say is exercise caution I suppose! 
  • Social side: Personally I love hostels and Couchsurfing for the social side of it. Airbnb lets me down in this respect. Of course, it's impossible to meet people when you are stuck in a house alone! Even a hotel you stand a chance of meeting others at breakfast for example, but this is removed with Airbnb. It really depends on the type of holiday you are looking 
Overall, I must say, it all depends on the type of holiday you are looking for! For my trip to Poland with my boyfriend it was the perfect option for us. It was cheaper than alternatives, let us book last minute, and gave us the privacy we wanted. However, as a solo traveller, I would not recommend it unless you are desperate as I find it removes my favourite part of travel - other travellers! If you're lucky though and you decided to go for a room in a shared house you may getting a cracking host and have a wild time, but I am yet to experience this personally.

If you do decide to use Airbnb, please sign up through my link below. I have not been paid to write this article but since I've gone to all this effort to write a review of the website (woe is me) then use this link and it'll help me get money off in my travels next time! (As well as money off for you). 
www.airbnb.co.uk/c/scarlettm6

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Here's some examples of Airbnb's from my recent trip to Poland:
We had some real gems on this trip. Of particular note was our accommodation in Gdansk. While we had a few issues with construction works, the place itself was such a cute and warm abode we felt right at home.


In Warsaw the place we rented was precisely the opposite of our Gdansk choice. Yes, it was clean and cheap, but it was very sterile and clearly never actually lived in. It seemed like a businessman's quick retreat instead. Certainly not as nice or quirky as the others but practical in that we didn't have to meet the owner to pick up or drop off the keys.
Photo taken from Airbnb.
In Krakow the flat was great too. Perfect location, good-sized kitchen/ dining room, a pull-out sofa bed etc. And honestly, I've never used a better shower in my life. It just had so many options and even an inbuilt radio, is it weird that it was my favourite thing about the flat? Haha. As I mentioned earlier, the host also left us a bottle of wine!

 
Photos taken from Airbnb.

Finally, the last location we stayed was in Wroclaw. It turns out it was actually an apartment bloc. From the looks of it, nobody ever lives in the apartment we stayed in, rather several of the apartments in the block are rented out on airbnb through an agency as we could use the reception desk 24/7.

 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Round-up: 2016.

Well, 2016 has been a rollercoaster of emotions hasn't it?! Asides from the catastrophic global political situation (don't get me started on this), on a personal level, much has changed in my life. In one year I went from graduating Warwick University to being accepted at my dream institution - Oxford University - and with this, I picked up my life and moved from Leamington Spa to the grand ol' city of Oxford and had to remember how to ride a bike/ how to avoid dying of frostbite while cycling around late at night. At the same time, it often felt like it was just one bad piece of news after the other - from my nan's constant battle with cancer to my mum's Parkinson's diagnosis, it has often been hard to stay optimistic but I try. 

In terms of travel, 2016 has been a crazy year too. 

To start off the year I spent a week visiting Milan, Florence and Rome for my friends 21st birthday. While I didn't rate Milan much, I absolutely loved Florence and well Rome? That's my favourite city in the 'west', I'd been before and was desperate to take Matt as it's filled with endless beauty.

Top posts: Budget for 6 nights in Italy & Florence!


Next, after waiting in line freezing my butt off, I bagged a £49 return flight to Thailand and couldn't pass up an opportunity to finally learn to dive! I had tried both previous times I had been in Thailand - the first time I didn't have the money, and the second time I even pushed my flight back 2 weeks to make space for it but fell ill and was told I couldn't go into water again for up to 3 weeks. So, after much debate, while crying about my bank balance I took the plunge and dove in (excuse the pun!)



One week after I returned from Thailand, I flew to Toronto and spent a week and a half chilling in Ontario with my sister before I set off on a Couchsurfing adventure across the USA for two months. I visited Washington D.C., Burlington (VT), Conway (NH), Boston (MA), Portland (ME), Acadia NP (ME), New York City (NY), Stamford (CT), New Haven (CT), Princeton (NJ), Newark (DE), Philadelphia (PA), Baltimore (MD),  Chicago (IL), Las Vegas (NV) & Death Valley NP, Yosemite NP, San Francisco and Los Angeles (CA). After I then stopped via Calgary in Canada on my way home for a week to meet up with a guy I met in Thailand and we road-tripped round Banff National Park together.

Overall, this was my favourite summer trip to date. It was the most spontaneous - I could go where I liked, when I liked so long as I could bag a lift using facebook or megabus, and could find a place to rest my weary eyes on Couchsurfing. I also felt the most sense of adventure as I never knew who would be hosting me next or the places we would go. Would they take me with them? Would they leave me to do my own thing? Would we cook together? Would they kill me? See, endless excitement! Haha. I joke, it was an amazing time and everyone I met was incredible. 


Just a few of the places I slept while Couchsurfing!

A few trip highlights from the USA!

Highlights from Canada!

I also ventured to more of the UK. I went to Exeter, watched Cheese-Rolling in Gloucester, witnessed the chaotic Bonfire Night in Lewes, Sussex, saw friends in Bath with a stop-off at the Stonehenge on-route and visited places around the Oxford area such as Blenheim Palace.  


Finally, and just 2 weeks ago now, I finally got round to visiting Poland for a week. As a belated birthday gift, Harley and I went to Gdansk, Warsaw, Krakow & Wroclaw to visit Christmas markets and check out the sub-zero temperature. Needless to say, I prefer a little warmth on my vacation! But it was beyond what I had imagined, beautiful cities, attractive people and great food - I feared Harley would turn into a pierogi, to be honest. Blog posts are vacant here I'm afraid, being lazy lately!


Anyway, I have had some wild trips this year and I cannot wait to see what 2017 brings. Right now after my Oxford graduation my future is pretty uncertain. It could see me working towards a law degree, or I may just pack up all my things and go on a round-the-world trip, or go and teach English in Nepal... who knows! But that's where the fun lies.

Hope you all have a cracking New Year and 2017 brings you happiness.
Thinking of your adventures always,
Scarlett xx

Monday, 5 December 2016

Michaelmas Term Excursions - My new home

I'm afraid there won't be much advice in the next few posts, but rather photos and a small description of places I've ventured during Michaelmas (Autumn) term over the past 8 weeks. From Lewes in Sussex, to Bath in Somerset, I've finally been exploring more of what the UK has to offer me; something I've been meaning to do for the longest time.

Firstly, I'll focus on Oxford, after all, this city is my home base for the next year and the place I have spent the majority of my time. I still, however, feel like a tourist here as Oxford continues to dazzle me and I find more and more every day that I grow to love. I shan't lie and say I am enjoying the university experience (the course bores me, the reading list is endless, it's a very lonely place and I resent the lack of nightlife), but the city captivates me regardless.  I could spend endless hours wandering in and out of the colleges and parks, still noticing something new every time. 

The one thing I will say too is that even as a member of the University of Oxford, owing to the strict collegiate system it's often difficult to look round colleges if you're not a member there or it's not 'public opening hours'. It often feels awkward asking the porters if you can enter and I am still uncertain if signs such as "no public entrance" apply to me or not - yes I am a member of the university, but no I'm not a member of the college, I lie in-between. That said, you never know unless you ask - some are more friendly than others. One of the advantages, however, of being a student is that in the larger more famous colleges that usually charge (such as Christchurch and Magdalen), I can get entrance for free and can typically bring up to three guests with me. The same applies for other university buildings such as the Sheldonian Theatre, but while I get free entrance to the botanical gardens, my guests have to pay - this is the only place I've yet to encounter that does this mind you. So, if you're ever looking to explore, hit me up and I'd love to show you around.

My favourite is Magdalen college, it has a really beautiful scenic walk out back, and even has a deer park! Unfortunately I don't have any good photos of the deer (though there are about 50 of them!) as I usually only carry my iPhone on me. A few famous Harry Potter scenes were filmed in Oxford too, before they decided to replicate the locations in London for expense reasons. 

Here are a selection of images from my various journeys around Oxford:


           Christchurch Dining Hall - 'Great hall' in HP.  Matriculation outside of Radcliffe Camera

Sheldonian Theatre
Natural History Museum - Winter frosting on my bike-ride to class.
View from the top of the Sheldonian Theatre looking over Weston Library.
Magdalen College.
Magdalen College, my favourite.

Magdalen College.
Magdalen College walk through the gardens.

Below to the left is again Magdalen College while the right-hand photo is of the Divinity School, the filming location of Harry Potter's infirmary. 
  

Queen's College.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Transport costs


Journeys I took:
- London to Toronto: £220 - Wowair
- Toronto to DC: $16 - Megabus
- DC to NYC: $1 - Megabus
- NYC to Burlington: $1 - Megabus
- Burlington to White Mountains (return): $10 - Couchsurfing host drove
- Burlington to Boston: $22 - Megabus
- Boston to Portland: $25 - Amtrak
- Portland to Acadia: $10 - Couchsurfing guests drove
- Acadia to NYC: $30 - Couchsurfing guests drove
- NYC to New Haven: $16 - MTA North
- New Haven to Stamford: $7.50 - MTA North
- Stamford to Princeton: $33 - MTA North, then metro then NJ Transit
- Princeton to Philadelphia: $9 - SEPTA
- Philadelphia to Newark: $1 - Megabus
- Newark to Baltimore: $1 - Megabus
- Baltimore to NYC: $5 - Megabus
- NYC to Chicago: $15 - Megabus
- Chicago to Las Vegas: $117 USD/ £88 - Frontier Airlines
- Las Vegas to Death Valley: $5 - Hostel guests drove
- Death Valley to Yosemite NP: $7 - Hostel guests drove
- Yosemite NP to San Fransisco: $0 - People I climbed mountain with drove
- San Fransisco to LA: $33 - CA Shuttle Bus
- LA Union Station to Riverside: $13 - Metrolink
- LA Riverside to Anaheim: $7 (student) - Metrolink
- LA Anaheim to Union Station: $7 (student) - Metrolink
- LA to Calgary: £113.50 - United Airlines
- Calgary to London: $463 CAD/ £270 - Westjet Airlines

Journeys I didn't take but paid for:
- NYC to Cleveland: $10 - Megabus
- Cleveland to NYC: $10 - Megabus
- Baltimore to Richmond: $1 - Megabus

Overall:
- Buses/ Trains: $285 USD/ £214
- Flights: £578
= £792

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Tell the world I'm coming home.

I’ve never felt so emotional about a trip ending! While I’m excited to see friends and family back home, this has honestly been one of my favourite trips. The free-spirited adventure, the lack of plans, the surreal days and endless nights; it’s been one hell of a journey this summer. I’ve stayed with eighteen amazing hosts, and experienced unbelievable generosity. Just as I thought I’d had the world’s best experience, something else would amaze me.

I’ve had a student drive me six hours in one day so I could see the White Mountains, I’ve had another take me cliff jumping into a quarry with Mennonites sat watching us, I’ve been welcomed into friendship groups and toured with six French boys for a week, I’ve had strangers buy me dinner, share their food, their lives and open up their homes to me. The world is a beautiful, generous, gorgeous and wonderful place – don’t believe all you read in the paper. The world is filed with endless hope. To those of you that have hosted me reading this - Thank-you so much for making this time amazing - shout out to Matt, Sophie, Thi, Rob, Orpheus, Sanka, Malcolm, Marc, Lang, Anthony, Ivan, Barry, Gio, Siri, Andy, Scott & Ryan + the Frenchies! 

So the trip highlights?
I’ve had a few close friends actually get very bitter about this adventure of mine, and while jealously is an ugly thing, I’d like to remind everyone every trip has its highs and lows. I won’t pretend every second was amazing. There were times I wanted the ground to swallow me whole – from walking for 10 minutes in 47 degrees heat and wanting to collapse, to being cat-called every 5 minutes while walking along the street in New York, to falling off a couch drunk and damaging my back and having to venture to the doctors. Some days I have just laid in bed, or on my hosts couch and binge-watched Orange in the New Black. I failed miserably at archival research too, producing nothing of use. The things I did have that were useful, then disappeared when I lost my iphone at the airport – along with a whole bunch of my photos too.

Meeting up with Adam again, who I met at the start of my trip in Thailand, was a great end to this trip, and made it feel like I’d come a full-circle. Banff National Park in Canada was gorgeous, and I hope to finish a post on it shortly.

For now though, I've got to head back to reality. I came home to nine books to read, an interview with a law firm next week to prepare for, insurance claims to make for my trip to the doctors and a lost iPhone, accommodation to hunt down in Oxford and the next trip to plan! To help me get over the post-travel blues I'm going away again mid-September for a weekend to the Peak District with 5 friends! I'll write about that too, so keep posted :).

For now though, over and out.
Thanks for following, keep posted for updates of all the places I missed out writing about!
Scarlett xoxoxo.














Monday, 29 August 2016

What to do in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Banff national park is b-e-a-u-tiful. Winding through the endless peaks of the Rocky Mountains was a phenomenal experience and one I highly recommend! Banff is just over an hours drive from Calgary, or you can use a few different bus companies - Greyhound is the cheapest at around $30 CAD return, else it's a $121 adult return from airport with Banff Airporter. The only problem with this however, is that it's super hard to get anywhere once inside the park! So it's best to rent a car/ motorbike/ even bicycle if you're feeling super brave. 

For entry fees (and camping fees) to the National Park itself check out this website here. For us, as 2 adults, it cost $19.60 CAD and latest till 4pm the next day. 

Lake Louise
We didn't leave Calgary till about midday, and picked up some snacks for our road trip along the way along with an amazing Tim Hortons - boy have I missed that place! Our first stop was Lake Louise, the most stunning emerald glacial lake you’ve ever seen. It’s named after the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria/ Prince Albert - Princess Louise Carolina Alberta – an able artist, sculpture and supporter of the feminist movement. Right next to it is Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise, a stunning hotel that will set you back $254 CAD if you book far in advance for the cheapest room but up to $539 CAD per night for the gold experience. There are several restaurants in the proximity of the hotel too, sure to set you back a few bob!

We chose to go canoeing on the lake, though I can't say that was particularly cheap either! It's $85 CAD per hour, or $75 CAD per half-hour. While you could get to the back of the lake and back in half-an-hour just about, for the extra $10 its worth keeping it the whole hour and taking it easy. Unfortunately for us, the weather was abysmal, it was raining quite a bit and was rather cold, but it was still enjoyable and a great experience. Each canoe holds either 3 adults or 2 adults and 2 small children, read more about it here. There are several other cheaper/ free options though, many hiking trails such as climbing Fairview Mountain, or Devils Thumb for example, or mountain biking trials too. Of course in the winter there's snowboarding, skiing, ice skating, ice fishing etc. 






Driving Loop
After Lake Louise, with crappy weather and little improvement in Adam's back (which somehow was causing him total agony out-of-the-blue), we decided to go for a drive to see more of the Rockies/ check out the scenery. Adam told me the drive would take about 3-4 hours, but somehow tragically miscalculated the route and it actually took closer to 9 hours. This was a huge shame as it meant it got so dark we couldn't actually see the scenery... Oops! Adam drew the route we took below, included the 'you slept from here to here' sign hahah. I didn't feel very well myself either, and we had drank too much wine the previous night and so I was knackered. As I said, I didn't miss too much though as it was so dark by this point! But what I did see towards the start of the route was gorgeous. Some photos attached below, including Kootney National Park. 



Road-tripping.






Johnston Creek
On Sunday at 3pm we headed back to Banff to visit Johnston Creek - it flows through a canyon and joins into the Bow River. There are several waterfalls and there is a constructed path along the side of the waterfalls that connects the lower and upper falls and is well sign-posted. It took about 45 minutes to get to the Upper Falls with a 215m-elevation gain. After that you can keep going onto Creek meadows or the ink pots, but Adam told me they weren’t really worth it. Apparently you can even ice climb in the winter! In the lower falls you can also go right next to the waterfall, but it requires queuing for a little bit, I recommend it if you have the time though.


You can see the queue in the background for the waterfall entrance
Inside lower falls

Upper Falls
Crawled into a cave...
Lake Minnewanka
Lake Minnewanka translates to Water of the Spirits in Nakoda, again it is a glacial lake, and one of the longest in the Rockies. Had we known in advance, we would have looked into scuba diving in the lake, apparently it's quite a popular activity! Of course Adam and I got our Open Water Certificate earlier this year in Thailand, and I'm desperate to use it somewhere else. It's 1450m above sea level, maximum depth of 100m, all dives are altitude cold water dives with varying levels of visibility. I found a website that had other dives in the area too, it's just such a shame that you need your own equipment, though I imagine you could hire it somewhere nearby. 



It also has tons of wildlife nearby it, and I was lucky enough to FINALLY see a bear! And not just one bear, but three bears... A mama bear and her two cubs. All the cars were pulled over on one side of the road and it turns out it's because they were all taking photos of these bears. I've been to so many places this trip where I was supposed to be able to see bears, but hadn't been lucky enough to see one yet, but of course just as we had decided to give up locating one, and drive out of the park, we saw them! Super adorable. It's a shame I couldn't get a good photo of them though :(.


Anyway, it was a wonderful weekend with wonderful company, and I really hope to come back one winter and check out the ski season and also to actually do some hiking! Unfortunately this time I had a bad pain in my side Saturday, and Adam had terrible back pain all weekend so we couldn't do much on that front, hence the drive around instead. 

So long Banff, you were stellar. xoxo