Travel Cost Breakdown From Our Time in the UK and Ireland

People say to us all the time “Wow, how can you afford to travel for six months?” Travel can be expensive and, as long-term travelers, we are always very aware of our costs. Since we finished traveling in the United Kingdom and Ireland some time ago we are going to share actual numbers from our trip so you can get an idea about long-term travel costs in these generally expensive areas.

Our travel budget has one simple strategy. Write it down! If you write down every single purchase and expense while traveling – and know your spending limits – you will always know where you stand.

Molly examining trip expenses in our travel notebook

Molly calculating trip expenses in our travel notebook

Writing it down will keep you from forgetting that $2.00 coffee or falling into the ‘How much was lunch last Thursday?‘ trap. Keeping track will also allow you to do one of my favorite things: Data analysis! I broke down all of our expenses for the 32 days we spent in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland into five cost categories. These categories are lodging, food, entertainment, transportation, and miscellaneous. We use the Currency app by Jeffrey Grossman on our iPhone to convert all of our costs to USD.

Lets lay out the big number first. Our average total cost of travelling in the UK and Ireland turned out to be $131.43 per day (or, just under $66 per person per day). We have each made our $66 dollars go pretty far. In most cases we have had our own private room, eat out for lunch, pay for museums/entertainment and travel to a new location about every 4-5 days. The one expense not factored into the UK/Ireland numbers above are our flights from New York to London via Iceland. We budgeted intercontinental flights separately and will talk about these costs at the end of our trip. Travel costs for this post reflect all local travel throughout Ireland and the UK including one flight, two train trips and numerous bus trips. Every item adds up and the chart below shows how our daily costs were divided, percentage-wise, among our categories:

For our ‘once in a lifetime’ around-the-world trip we are not looking to set any records for traveling inexpensively. If you enjoy couch surfing and eating ramen noodles i’m sure you could spend less. We happen to be spending a significant amount of our budget on awesome vegan food. (Vegans – go to London, you won’t be disappointed!) We are personally traveling to see all of the great sights and experience all of the wonderful (vegan) cuisine. The occasional $15.00 entree does not have to break your entire budget if you leave room elsewhere.

It should be noted that Molly and I aren’t big drinkers. We did seek out local brews/wines/ciders wherever we were, but we purchased them from grocery stores. I think we only went out to a bar once (to watch the Chelsea vs. Manchester United soccer game while we were in London), but they happened to be pouring the cheapest cider and beer I’ve ever seen. In other words, if you plan to go out drinking all over Europe, you should adjust your budget accordingly.

Our ‘miscellaneous’ category is almost non-existent. As long-term travelers, we do not have much extra real estate in our backpacks or our budget. This means that we almost always say no to souvenirs. We have a week of clothing which we wash and only replace when needed. Our few miscellaneous purchases have been things like a beard trimmer, stamps and postcards, batteries, etc. And we are not carrying any solar-powered waving Queen Elizabeth figurines home with us in our bags.

As a result we have made our money go far. We spend almost two entire weeks in London which is one of the most expensive cities you can travel to. Dublin can be costly as well. There are places in the UK and Ireland which are more budget-friendly that we also traveled to such as Liverpool, Glasgow, and Derry. If you are willing to venture away from Dublin and London to some smaller cities you can find some great deals.  AirBnB has been one of our favorite resources to find an affordable place to stay. In most places we found that $50.00-$60.00 per day is a reasonable target for a private room.

Eating, sleeping and traveling will encompass the vast majority of your expenses. This is especially true for vegans who want to experience all of the great food in London (parts #1, #2, and #3), and Dublin, and Glasgow! Entertainment costs may actually be lower in the UK and Ireland when compared to other countries. Most major museums in the UK are free and there are a ton of affordable options. Check out our post on affordable activities in London, or our post on affordable options in Dublin, or our post on an affordable and different day in Glasgow.

I can recap the entirety of this post for you in three sentences (for those who aren’t interested in the numbers): Don’t let the strength of the Pound and Euro against the dollar scare you off from traveling to the United Kingdom and Ireland. There is plenty to do and see and eat for a budget traveler. Just be aware of the numbers and you’ll be fine!

Now get to traveling!

Street Art in East London – Alternative Walking Tour

The Alternative London Walking Tour was a highlight from our trip to London. It is a tour that features the diverse culture and history of London’s East End all revolving around street art. A shout out to Abby Bean who recommended this tour to us and covered it on her blog – A (soy) Bean.

What is special about the art in East London is that there are incredibly intricate pieces, may of which are created with permission by the building owner, done by artists from all over the world. One such example is this piece by Belgium artist ROA:

Crane, ROA, Artist, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Crane by ROA in London.

ROA is well known and his works can be found all over the world in large scale. London is home to a few outstanding examples of his work. The Crane by ROA above was painted by hand in about eight hours according to Keir, our tour leader. That’s a fast brush.

ROA painting in London, Alternative Walking Tour

Painting by ROA in London. Not 100% sure what animal this is.

Many people associate street art with quickly scrawled tags and property damage. I think the pieces above and below break from these assumptions. There are a number of artists around the world such as ROA who look to elevate the art form and enhance the setting where it is found. Just look at this ‘Elephant Octopus’ mural recently completed by Alexis Diaz.

Alexis Diaz, Elephant Octopus mural, London , Alternative Walking Tour

Alexis Diaz mural in London. Looks like an Elephant Octopus to me.

This meticulously crafted piece is catching eyes in an alley just off of Brick Lane. I thought it was one of the more impressive pieces I have seen on our trip – in a museum or otherwise. These larger scale pieces you see above were created with permission from the owners of these buildings. Not all street artists have this luxury. They may look for other ways to quickly, and illicitly, display their work. A personal favorite of mine were the works of Invader, or, Space Invader.

Space Invader, London, Alternative Walking Tour

A Space Invader piece in London. Looks like this one lost a fight.

Invader uses ceramic tiles to enliven walls all over the world. Many of his pieces are inspired from the pixelated aliens from the game. The example above seems to have fallen victim to a chisel removal attempt. Others of his work are of larger scale and certainly go outside the box.

Space Invader, Star Wars, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Star Wars Space Invader in London.

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This actually exists on the side of an office building in East London for Star Wars (and Space Invader) fans everywhere to enjoy. Pieces from Space Invader are fairly common once you know where to look for them! Other artists also have signature techniques.  DALeast is an artist who also falls in this category.

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by DALeast, London

DALeast, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

DALeast Mural, London

DALeast’s technique is instantly recognizable and translates perfectly to this format. I think that the surrounding setting is also a huge part for these pieces. Would they have the same effect in a gallery on a unblemished white wall? They certainly stand out in the city on their huge wall-canvases – much like this piece by Martin Ron.

Martin Ron, Mural, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Martin Ron, London

This mural by Ron is beautiful and also has a message. The animal in the lower left hand corner being pointed at by the huge hand is a badger. Did you know that there is a Badger cull going on in England right now? I didn’t until this mural started that debate in our group. Help do your part to stop this atrocity by signing the petition HERE. The goal of Ron’s piece is to get a message across, but other artists are pushing the physical medium farther. Vihls has a technique that does just that.

Mural, Alexandre Farto, Vhils, London, Alternative Walking Tour

Mural by Alexandre Farto (AKA Vhils) in London.

The depth created in this work by Vihls is stunning. His technique involves first plastering the whole wall and then physically removing parts of the wall (often using a jackhammer) to create an image with great depth. This portrait looked very realistic in person. Seeing his work up close in real life is quite different than looking at the picture above.

The Alternative London Walking Tour is pay what you wish. Whatever you choose to pay, you will get good value for your money. Just make sure you sign up in advance on the website. There is a rich world of art in London outside of the museums that you may walk right by if you don’t know where to look or what you are looking at. I found it quite liberating to see wonderful works in the open air instead of behind a rope line in a museum or gallery. In a museum you need some luck to be featured prominently. To be noticed on the street? Only talent and some passers-by. Our guide, Kier, is an artist himself and shared his knowledge of the local art scene and the provided insight into pieces throughout the tour. He really brought the art to life for us and opened our eyes to street art even beyond London. (Even the NYTimes is noticing that street art is news-worthy. Shortly after our tour they posted this article about New York street art!) We heartily recommend Alternative London if you are ever in London for a few days.

Prior to this tour we were already noticing pieces from other cities on our trip. I will post some others that caught my eye soon. In the meantime, you can read some more about London! Please check out some of the great vegan options in London in our series of one, two and three posts!

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #3

Dan and I have been in Dublin now for 4 days, but we still haven’t finished our write ups about London! Traveling is so time consuming! This will officially be our last London food post.

If you missed parts #1 and #2, feel free to review before reading part #3 below!

We had heard good things about 222 Veggie Vegan from a few people so we trudged all the way out to West Kensington to try the vegan buffet for ourselves. They proclaim themselves as London’s favorite vegan restaurant. Well, Dan and I can definitely confirm that they are London’s best vegan food deal. Lunch is an all-you-can-eat buffet for 7.50 GBP.

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan

222 Veggie Vegan buffet

Molly sampling the 222 Veggie Vegan buffet

222 Veggie Vegan - my first plate

222 Veggie Vegan – Molly’s first plate

Dan and I each had two big plates! So good and such a nice diversity of dishes. Our favorites included this bread/vegan quiche dish that tasted so good, the lentil loaf with baked tomato on top, the greens with cashews, and many others! So much food! Worth the trek, for sure.

The next day we headed to London’s oldest vegetarian restaurant for a late lunch. Food for Thought has been in the exact same spot in Covent Garden for over 40 years. The neighborhood is now super fancy. It was actually really amusing to see this old school, hippy-type veggie place on the same block as some fancy clothing stores! We headed downstairs to the eat in area and got to sample two delicious vegan mains, which come with a plethora of salads on the side. See the pictures below!

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Food for Thought - Malaysian curry

Food for Thought – Malaysian curry

Food for Thought - chana masala

Food for Thought – chana masala

That Malaysian Curry, you guys… So good. And the price isn’t too bad. For the main dish and all those sides it is 8.40 GBP for each one.

On Saturday we headed to Portobello Market to experience that madness. And madness it was. Packed with people. Tourists, mostly. But there were some nice surprises awaiting us.

Vegan churros!

Vegan churros!

That’s right! Once you fight your way past the antiques (and who really cares about those anyway), you get to the food portion of the market. We were walking the stalls and I saw a sign for vegan churros! The chocolate sauce they offered was not vegan, but sans chocolate sauce, they were delectably vegan. They were not, however, cheap. That cup of about 12 small churros was 3.50 GBP, or about $5.25. A terrible deal, but VEGAN CHURROS! Besides, we already knew where we were going to lunch and we knew it would be cheap and plentiful so we indulged.

The Grain Shop - super cheap for tons of food

The Grain Shop – super cheap for tons of food

It may be hard to tell from the picture above, but The Grain Shop really fills that container! This is a large container which Dan and I shared for lunch. The Grain Shop only does take-away, so we had to search for a park to eat in, but I believe that overflowing container (if you get it without the lid they will just stuff as much in there as possible) costs 5.50 GBP. Not all of the options are vegan, but they will happily tell you which ones are and then stuff your box with whichever you fancy. I will admit the food wasn’t the most flavorful, but it was filling and pretty healthy. Oh yeah, and affordable!

Dan and I made it to inSpiral Lounge twice for food and once for drinks while we were in London. It’s in a nice location, right across Regents Canal from the Camden Lock Market (which is where Cookies and Scream is located.)

inSpiral Lounge

inSpiral Lounge

InSpiral Lounge has all the trappings of the perfect place to hang out. Free wifi, vegan meals, snacks, homemade kale chips (with plentiful free samples), drinks, and a view. Below is the food we ate in our trips to inSpiral, not including the raw cheesecake I had, and the beverages we had with a friend there that went unphotographed (bad blogger!)

inSpiral Lounge - delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge – delicious vegan pastries

inSpiral Lounge - vegan spanakopita

inSpiral Lounge – vegan spanakopita

 

inSpiral Lounge full vegan English breakfast!

inSpiral Lounge – full vegan English breakfast!

So, that is my final roundup of all of our vegan eats in London. It is possible to eat tasty vegan food in London and not break the bank. You simply just have to limit your meals out. We have really saved the budget by cooking dinners and eating breakfast and dinner in every day instead of at restaurants. Lunch is generally cheaper at restaurants than dinner as well. But I have been happy to be able to support vegan places as well and enjoy the tasty food! It’s all about balance, no? Until next time!

London Eye Alternatives: Tower Bridge and ‘The Monument’

If you have ever visited (or have considered visiting) London, you have likely heard of the London Eye. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine a well-funded science project including a 27-story bicycle wheel with a line longer and more aggravating than LA freeway traffic. Or just look at the picture below.

London Eye

London Eye on a cloudy day 

It is beautiful to see the view of London from the top but the cost of £19.20 (about $30 US dollars – or a dollar a minute) may be too much for some.  Thankfully there are a number of alternatives that give you a similar experience with fewer tour groups.

Enter: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

“The Monument” is the tallest free-standing column in the world.  This was enough of a draw for me and the gorgeous 360° view of the city was simply a bonus.

Buyer beware: there is no elevator. You will need to walk up the series of 311 stairs pictured below. It’s not so bad.  There are periodic windows along the way which make the trip slightly more interesting than the stairwell experience of your friends’ Manhattan walk-up apartment.

The Monument, Stairs

Molly climbing ‘The Monument’ stairs

When you do make it you should expect to see views similar to those pictures below.

** London skyline spoiler alert**

View from The Monument, "Walkie Talkie Building" under construction

View from The Monument, “Walkie Talkie Building” under construction

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Overall, The Monument is a unique experience which many tourists seem to be blissfully unaware of.  It only costs a few dollars (Adults £3; Student £2) and you can take your time and quietly enjoy the view.  We went early in the morning and there were only between 2 and 6 other patrons at the top while we were there.  Upon our exit there was a small line beginning to form.

Our next stop was the iconic and much-ballyhooed Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes a couple of interesting videos on its construction.  The exhibit also highlights the evolution of bridge construction techniques over time and has information on famous bridges from around the globe.  If structural engineering and bridge history don’t interest you, perhaps the scenery will.

** Another London skyline spoiler alert**

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

While notably more crowded than The Monument, the Tower Bridge was a lovely stop for beautiful views directly over the River Thames. At only £8.00 for regular admission it is a real bargain, since you can stay for as long as you like. As an added bonus, your admission grants you access to the engine rooms to the draw bridge.

Tower Bridge engine room

Tower Bridge engine room

Is the view of the city from either The Monument or the Tower Bridge better than the London Eye? You aren’t as high up and you are substantially farther East, but you still have an excellent vantage point.  Are the lines and price much better? Absolutely.  At either location you can ask about getting a ‘joint ticket’ which will allow you to visit both sights for a discount. It is well worth it to package both sites together.  They are within a short walk of one another and will take you directly past The Tower of London as you go from one to another.  Make sure you check out All Hallows by the Tower on your way. This is the oldest church in the City of London and has a a historic crypt and a number of historical artifacts. Admission is free and you might even get to hear the organ being played.

2013 Pricing Information for Tower Bridge and The Monument

The Monument and Tower Bridge joint tickets: Adults £9; Students £6.20

Monument Only: Adults £3; Student £2

Tower Bridge Only: Adults £8.00, Students £5.60  

Picture of the Day: Stairs from within the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Big London Vegan Food Post, #2

When we last left you all we had just experienced the wonder that is Westminster Abbey for free (by accident!). But food consumption continued to happen all around the date of our breaking and entering. We have pretty much limited ourselves to one meal out a day in order to protect the budget. Somehow this still means that we have a trillion places to post about from our time in London so this is part 2 of 3 of the London food posts.

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Thali

Diwana Bhel Poori House - Dosa

Diwana Bhel Poori House – Dosa

The day after Amico Bio we had lunch at one of London’s many vegetarian Indian restaurants, Diwana Bhel Poori House. Unfortunately because of our super-busy day we missed the window for the lunch buffet so we had to order off of the menu. The prices were still good. The two meals above cost us a grand total of $23.15. The only problem with this meal was that a few hours later Dan’s stomach started to hurt. I felt fine. I fixed the problem by feeding him pepto-bismol (brought from NYC in pill form) and waiting a few hours. All better.

From lunch (but before Dan’s stomach started hurting) we hopped on the tube and headed down to Brixton where Ms. Cupcake lives.

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake

Ms. Cupcake store interior

Ms. Cupcake store interior

What an adorable storefront. We chose 4 cupcakes to take home (we were still full from lunch). I think somehow the picture of the 4 cupcakes we took home got lost, but use your imagination. We took home a banoffee (banana toffee), a chocolate split (chocolate cake with vanilla frosting), a Ferrero Rocher (exactly what its name is in cupcake form), and a strawberry-coconut. I was partial to the banoffee and strawberry-coconut, Dan loved the chocolate split, and (don’t hate us!) neither of us was very interested in the famous Ferrero Rocher cupcake. I’m not a huge chocolate person, and Dan just didn’t really like it. But Ms. Cupcake has a mouthwatering array of cupcake flavors on her website, so maybe we are just bad at choosing flavors? It is possible.

The day of the Westminster Abbey adventure we went to lunch at Tibits. Tibits is delicious. A full buffet of vegetarian goodness with everything clearly labeled.

Tibits food boat!

Tibits food boat!

Tibits - buffet including dessert

Tibits – buffet including dessert. Molly’s plate

Tibits - buffet deliciousness

Tibits – buffet deliciousness. Dan’s plate

Tibits was one of our favorite meals in London. It is in an exceptionally fancy and touristy neighborhood and the price of the meal reflected that. I think this may have been our most expensive meal in London! But it was really good. And it was the only time I got to eat sticky toffee pudding while we were in London. I’d say that it was worth it, but if you are on a tight budget definitely go at lunch (cheaper per kg) and be careful with how much you pile on that plate.

The last place I will talk about in this post is the only place we went to more than once while we were in London. And it isn’t even a vegetarian restaurant. And we happened upon it entirely accidentally. It is Scoop.

Scoop

Scoop

Scoop is a gelato store. But Scoop is special. They label all of their gelatos and sorbets with the possible allergens that they contain. So dairy and eggs are marked on all of the items that they are in. And the dairy and egg-free sorbets are vegan! There are a bunch of vegan options and they were pretty much universally delicious.

Scoop - chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop – chocolate, melon, and strawberry

Scoop - chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

Scoop – chocolate, passionfruit, and melon

We also asked if their cones were vegan and we got the okay on the cones, so we indulged. Those two giant cones didn’t come cheap – 4 gbp for 3 flavors (about $6) – but they were delicious. The first time we went to Scoop it was a freak 94 degree day in London. There is probably nothing better than ice cream on a hot day and this fit the bill perfectly. And Dan gets to keep a little bit of Scoop with him throughout the rest of the journey as he dripped a bit of the chocolate flavor on his sneaker and the stain won’t come out! I guess this is one food memory that we will have with us for a while.

Come back soon for the final London food installment!