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A Perspective: Europe On A Budget

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Dawson, a rising junior at George Washington University, about his recent travels to Europe on a college-student's budget. He was absolutely fascinating sharing his experiences and I can only hope that this post captures your attention as it did for me!


Destinations traveled:

  • Manchester, UK

  • Paris, France

  • London, UK

  • Southern UK

  • Dublin, Ireland

Budget: Very affordable!


Alex traveled with friends and cousins on a three week journey. This was definitely a younger crowd on a budget. Europe is typically an expensive trip but they made it work!


Their first budget-friendly option was choosing airfare. They had a number of flights and had used Air Lingus, Easy Jet and Ryan Air. "You get what you pay for."


As for getting around the towns, they primarily relied on their feet and public transportation. They jetted around by bus, tram, metro, "The Tubes" in London. He cautions that it is a culture shock and one should definitely have experience with public transportation. "A few lines in London were shut down when people fell on the tracks and died. Too many people on the platforms waiting to board." He did mention that there is a new line in London named the Elizabeth Line, which was a great experience. Air conditioning, safer and roomier.


They did rent a car for Southern England, using Sixt. The service was "ok" having booked through Travelocity. They had reserved a mini-van, by US standards, but were rented a much smaller vehicle. "(The vehicles are) stick shifts! Most of the cars are manual and twice as much money to rent an automatic." Noted!


I found it absolutely fascinating that they had stayed in a few hostels and Air B&B's. (I've seen the movie "Hostel" and let's just say I had a distinct impression about what it would be like to stay in a hostel in Europe). Their goal was to say in the cheapest places possible so they could enjoy their destinations. "You get what you pay for. Not the best quality but viable."


"The youth hostels felt 'like camp'. You would stay in a room with random people." There were 4-5 public showers and toilets for the entire building. Bedding is typically bunk beds. He said maybe 50-60 travelers in each hostel. "Hostels forces you to meet people that you wouldn’t regularly meet." He met a fellow traveler from Italy and made friends, visiting pubs in the area. Social Media is a great way to keep in touch and now he has a place to stay when he visits Italy.


"In Dublin, (that hostel) was a scary one. The Apache Hostel located in the middle of the Temple Bar district." He reiterated that a hostel is a great way to meet people. This particular hostel was a bit sketchy. "You had to get a key from the pizza shop, go in a side door in an alley." Sounds interesting!


The Air B&B's were of similar quality and definitely budget friendly. "At one B&B I sat on the bed and it broke!" You definitely get what you pay for. In rural Ireland, they had an entire house to themselves with their own bedroom. His face lit up as he talked about a visitor at this property. "We had a cat that hung out with us!" He cautions to reach the reviews about the Air B&B you're looking at but also the responsiveness of who owns the property in case there are issues.


For dining, they grocery shopped a lot for budget reasons, which he highly recommends. We chatted about how it's eye opening just to see all of the different foods, especially the "international foods" aisle with US foods. (I know on my personal trips that my family visits a grocery store to pick up snacks for the rooms and try new foods.) He did mention one restaurant in particular; a Greek restaurant in Bath, UK. It was some of the best food he's ever had and was a highlight of the trip.


Itinerary Highlights:

Manchester, England. After an overnight flight they were pretty jet lagged. They took the day to relax, adjust to the time zone, and he visited an old church that his family had come from.

The Louvre, Paris
The Louvre, Paris

On their second day they flew to Paris to spend two days. Highlights included the Louvre Museum, Champs-Élysées (shopping and dining on a busy avenue), Arc de triomphe, and Le Grand Magasin (a massive department store). They had plans to hit the Musee d'Orsay but so much travel in a short time period, well, they were exhausted.

Le Grand Magasin interior, Paris
Le Grand Magasin interior, Paris
mirror selfie at the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles
mirror selfie at the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles



For their second day in Paris, they split up and went separate ways. One group went to Versailles while another drove to Normandy. Versailles has a lot of walking and he recommends a full day just for it. He spent 2 hours there for the palace (Hall of Mirrors) and 1 1/2 hours in the gardens. No trip to Paris is complete without visiting the Eiffel Tower. His recommendation on Paris is to spend plenty of times for breaks. He had a picnic in the French countryside.


Une tartine (typical French breakfast item) and a latte at Terminus Nord, Paris
Une tartine (typical French breakfast item) and a latte at Terminus Nord, Paris
Interior of the 2000-year-old Roman Church at Dover Castle
Interior of the 2000-year-old Roman Church at Dover Castle

The next stop was London. They hit a few bars in the Soho district. He visited Dover Castle and saw the White Cliffs. They also drove to Bath to see Stonehenge. Highlights included Bath Abbey, the Roman Baths (the water works still work!). They split up for lunch and he took the time to explore the city square, fighting off pigeons. He walked the city and emphasized that he "likes to live like a local". He fell in love with Bath and witnessed the most beautiful sunset that can only be described as Heaven.


View over Bathwick Meadow, Bath
View over Bathwick Meadow, Bath
St. Dunstan's Church, London
St. Dunstan's Church, London

Overall in London, they hit the main travel spots: The Tower of London, Sky Garden (a huge building and obviously a garden), and Saint Dunstan Church. This was a church that was, in his words, "bombed out" in World War II. "It’s overgrown with plants and became a park. Some walls are still standing. Right in the center of old town London." At this point, they were getting pretty tired. St. George's Castle was closed but they did see Windsor Castle. They wrapped up with St. Paul's Cathedral. Westminster Abbey was on the list but never made it there. They did see Windsor Castle. St. George Chapel in Windsor Castle was closed. The Queen Mary's Dolls' House was made for a princess. He mentioned a super long queue to wait and see it but it was worth it! A 3 story dollhouse with water, electric, gramophone, but all mini. He was impressed!

View of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
View of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

Their next stop was a quick flight to Dublin, getting in super late. They arrived at their hostel at 2:00am and decided to hit the pubs at 3:00am. Oh to be young again! Dublin is best described as an active city in the bar neighborhoods. The next day they parted and ventured out on their own. He toured the city, went to St. Patrick's Cathedral. He went to a market and, again in his words, lived like a local, finding a park: St. Steven's Green Park.

A man setting up to propose to his wife in St. Stephen's Green Park
A man setting up to propose to his wife in St. Stephen's Green Park

It was a very crowded family park with a mall next door, so he grabbed lunch and ate in the park. His "strategy" is to pick a direction...and walk! While in the park he was amazed as he watched a street performer on a 10 foot unicycle juggling fire. He loved looking at all of the architecture as you never know what you will see. He also stopped at Trinity College and compared the vast differences between the university he attends.

Sunset over the Liffey River, Dublin
Sunset over the Liffey River, Dublin

The Epic: Irish Emigration Museum was very interesting. He was very drawn to the experience for the immigrants and recalled that the experience was very sad in the first portion of the museum. Then, the second half was a positive aspect as to what they've done/achievements and how the culture impacts us today. An example is American folk music and how it is impacted by Irish Music. He stopped in at The Church Bar, which was a church converted into a bar. He also stopped at a club called The Cellar Bar with traditional Irish dancing. Another stop was Dublin Castle. He is fascinated with Irish history and learning everything he could about the area.

View from the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland
View from the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland

The group headed south and stayed in an Air B&B. Stops included a visit to Blarney Castle where one must kiss the stone! The grounds were pretty even though it was rainy. It’s so green in the country. So lush and green.

Valley in the Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Valley in the Ring of Kerry, Ireland






Another stop, the Ring of Kerry (4-5 hour drive around a peninsula). He saw gorgeous mountains, sheep farms, crops. They drove along the coast and the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean was simply incredible. They also saw the Cliffs of Moher which is where part of Harry Potter was filmed, finding the fourth horcrux.


Sign of Free Derry, Derry
Sign of Free Derry, Derry

They stopped to visit Derry, mentioning that a show called The Derry Girls is filmed. They walked the same street. The characters are a mural on a building downtown.


Center of Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland which was inspired by American civil rights. A very cool "Free Derry" museum about civil rights. Derry is a very catholic town. The Bog Side (“Free Derry”). He had an awesome tour guide, Phillip, at the Derry Walls. Fantastic. Walls have been up since 1600. Again, fascinated with history in general, he learned about the history of the city and religious fights. There were also a lot of IRA signs in the area.


Tunnel in the Castle Ward property, Armagh
Tunnel in the Castle Ward property, Armagh

Another stop was the Titanic Museum in Belfast, a well-done museum that is by far the best one he's visited.




He also stopped at Winterfell Castle (stayed there and walked around at night).

Winterfell castle from the Game of Thrones se
Winterfell castle from the Game of Thrones se
Prison cell where Grace Gifford famously last spoke to her husband, Joseph Plunkett, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin
Prison cell where Grace Gifford famously last spoke to her husband, Joseph Plunkett, Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin

Returning to Dublin, they went to the Kilmaiham Jail. Lots of executions in the 1960’s.


He was lost in Dublin. His phone died! Luckily, he was able to figure out how to get back. He walked to a bus stop, unsure which one to get on, but thankfully he boarded the right one. His advice: have good spatial awareness! If you have no paper map you need a way to navigate that is not reliant on your phone. "What do you do if signal drops?"


Alex, what were your top 3 things you liked on this trip? - Jen


  1. Bath city.

  2. Picking a direction and wandering/walking. Follow your vibes.

  3. Talking to locals or other people you meet on the trip.


Alex, what were your 3 least favorable things on this trip? - Jen

  1. Manchester airport. Security was bad. They checked EVERYTHING. So strict and arbitrary.

  2. Watch the jet lag and how much you do on day 1.

  3. No A/C in a lot of Europe.

"Alex, would you recommend this itinerary?" - Jen

"Hands down, 100%!" - Alex


Alex, it truly was a pleasure interviewing you!

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