After having spent the best part of a year as a British girl living and studying in the vast land mass which is the United States, I found myself with a new appreciation of both the smallness of England, and the relative ease with which us Brits can leave our shores.
Yes, we may moan about the weather constantly, but for comparatively little expense it is possible for us to travel to different climes. The rise of low-cost airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair in the past decade has enabled us to venture abroad with unprecedented simplicity, and with so many different nations on our doorstep, I sought to capitalise on the UK’s location and see where I could get to for minimal money.
I therefore set myself a challenge: to find out where I could visit in Europe for under £100, with £50 being allocated for flights and £50 for accommodation. I even found booking my trips to be quite exciting – inputting random destinations into the websites of low-costs airlines and seeing if the end price fell within my budget (I’d popped back home to visit my parents at this point, who have little in the way of entertainment at their house). After probably too long spent in front of a computer screen I settled on three destinations – I would visit Copenhagen in October, Dublin in November and Berlin in December.
Flying out of England for £50 is something which is undoubtedly very doable; however I’ve learned that there are certain things to do to make it even more so. Low-cost airlines tend to offer the best fares in advance, so if you’re willing to book your trips a good few months ahead you can snag a great deal. The cheap flights do, however, tend to be the ones at slightly anti-social hours, and if like me you’re hardly what would be described as a ‘morning person’, be prepared that you might have to bite the bullet and drag yourself out of bed at some un-godly hour in order to save pennies.
Many airlines do, however, like to tag on extra charges which aren’t always apparent until you’ve gone through most of the booking process. Most tend to charge between £10 and £20 each way for cabin baggage, but this is a cost which can be easily eliminated if you only take hand luggage. Many airlines have also changed their policy in the past few years, meaning one item of hand luggage now really means one item of hand luggage. Cabin crew members tend to take quite a stern tone with you if you try and take on a previously allowed additional handbag, laptop case, or sometimes even your very newly purchased duty free shopping. Thankfully though, the size allowances for your one bag tend to be quite generous, and you can always wear a ridiculous amount of clothing to travel in, something which means you go through customs resembling the Michelin man, but which will save you valuable suitcase space.
For those unfamiliar with low-cost, “no frills” airlines, be prepared that they are just that. Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, is famed for his proposals for a ’standing room only’ section aboard his company’s flights, and this, coupled with his recent suggestion that customers should pay £1 to use the toilet whilst airborne, gives you some sort of idea of the ethos behind the airline.
This having been said, Ryanair and others serve a purpose, and (for the most part) they serve it well. They allow us to wave goodbye to the motherland, and after spending a few hours on a plane arrive somewhere completely different, and frequently for less than the cost of a pair of jeans. Bargain.
Staying in hostels also helps to keep travel costs down. Eli Roth may have done the travelling community no favours with his 2005 film, but for the most part hostels are brilliant, and can provide excellent opportunities for meeting people, seeing the world and saving money. There is thankfully a wealth of information available online about hostels across the globe, meaning that you can research places you’re thinking about staying, and read what past guests have to say about them.
Hostelbookers.com is a brilliant resource, as on this website past travellers rate hostels based on a number of factors such as location, safety, fun and cleanliness, with the place then being given an overall rating. This has often proved invaluable for me as a frequent lone traveller, as I have been able to select places which others have informed me will be both safe and sociable – where I can meet lots of new people, but the right kind of new people and not axe-wielding maniacs.
So, with my cheap flight and accommodation successfully booked through the wonder that is the internet, I set off to my first destination: Copenhagen. A beautiful city nestled on the banks of the Oresund, Copenhagen is small enough to be traversed on foot, and I spent a good chunk of time wandering along the harbour side and through the streets and simply soaking in the Danish atmosphere.
Perhaps the most picturesque area is Nyhaven, which translates as ‘new harbour,’ and has a definite nautical vibe to it. Sailing boats bob up and down on the surface of the water, and a large anchor commemorating the sailors who lost their lives in World War II marks Nyhaven’s entrance. Brightly coloured restaurants line the waterfront, making it a beautiful spot to sit and sample traditional Danish fare whilst watching the world go by. Even during the chilly autumn evenings the eateries still exude a buzzing atmosphere, and restaurant staff provide customers wishing to eat al fresco with blankets to protect them from the cold. If my guidebook is to be believed, Nyhaven is also close to Edvard Eriksen’s iconic statue The Little Mermaid who sits on the harbour side; however during my trip she was vacationing in Shanghai as part of the World Expo, meaning that I regrettably missed out on a lot of generic tourist photo opportunities.
Something which was even more regrettable was that the unavailability of many famous Danish landmarks seemed to be a recurring theme on my trip. Tivoli Gardens, a theme park famed for its beauty and magic, which served as an inspiration for Disneyland, was also closed during my visit. Like a disappointed five year old child, I gazed through the locked gates at the delights which lay within, feeling slightly perturbed that my sojourn to Copenhagen appeared to coincide with the time that the city was at its least tourist-friendly (Tivoli opened again just days after I left, needless to say I felt somewhat slighted).
Thankfully though, there are plenty of things to do in Copenhagen, so much to my inner five-year old’s dismay, I opted to acquaint myself with Danish culture and visit Denmark’s national gallery, which at the time was hosting an exhibition by Bob Dylan (He paints? Who knew? Apparently the Danes) and the Rosenborg Castle.
Probably not the best lager in the world, but refreshing and delicious nonetheless, Copenhagen is also home to the Carlsberg brewery, which is open for self-guided tours. If the Carlsberg tour doesn’t whet your appetite, try sampling another Danish delicacy: the Danish pastry. Innumerable bakeries selling these gems can be found around Copenhagen, and I spent several hours munching on them in a café reading my book, telling myself the calories didn’t count because I was eating them to educate myself.
If, following one too many Danishes, you discovered a sudden urge to exercise, Copenhagen is a very cyclist-friendly city, with cycle lanes being a familiar sight on most streets. During the summer months you could also opt to exercise in Havnebadet, Copenhagen’s lido situated on the harbour side. Of course when I was there it was closed.
Rich in history and culture, Copenhagen is a lovely city to spend some time in. While I seemed to be quite unlucky with the timing of my trip and so missed seeing some tourist staples, I nonetheless had a fantastic time exploring a new place and at £100 for a foreign vacation, it’s kind of hard to grumble. I would advise perhaps checking out the city in summer time though, or at least not in October, to give yourself the best chance of enjoying all Copenhagen has to offer.