This month I moved jobs and as a result had a little gap of time between leaving my old job in early August and starting my new job at the beginning of September. I was determined not to waste those weeks off and feeling that a photography trip was potentially doable I made the decision that I wanted to "solo travel" for the first time, something that I've always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity to. I picked Dublin as my destination for a couple of reasons, it was somewhere I'd always liked the idea of visiting (but could never convince my girlfriend to go with me!), friends that have been have all said it was a really nice place, and I knew it would be one of the cheapest places to fly to; another reason for solo travelling was that I wanted to fly by myself for the first time, which might sound a weird goal to want to accomplish but yeah, here we are... I had one rule that I was loosely sticking to: "as cheap as possible"!
In order to stick within my self imposed rule, the first thing I started to plan was the travel. I was pretty determined that I wanted to fly so I checked out flights on Google Flights that departed from Birmingham International (my nearest airport) to Dublin to find the cheapest days to travel as close to the weekend as possible. Ideally I wanted to be in Dublin before the Friday and leave after the Sunday or some variation on that theme. Google Flights is great in that you will get a choice of about 3 or 4 prices that are the "best price" for a round trip, although you can filter it for one way flights only. Initially planning to fly on Wednesday and return on a Sunday I found flights for about £32 return. To put that in context I spend £11.30 a day commuting to work and back, so I considered that cheap! £32 didn't include provision to bring a bag (and by definition: a suitcase) any larger than carry on hand luggage, but that is made clear to you on the search results. Before rushing into it I checked out a few other places; live departure boards for Birmingham New Street and how much ticket costs for various journeys would be, and National Express website, a few other travel providers e.t.c to check if there were any crazy cheap journeys I could book. Dublin still proved to be about the best value for money journey so I stuck with it for the moment.
Accommodation proved to be my first stumbling block. I used Agoda initially which is my go-to portal for booking accommodation usually. I'd already been told Dublin is expensive for accommodation and I struggled to find anything that wasn't a hostel for less than my threshold of £50 per night. Despite my "as cheap as possible" rule I didn't want to stay in a hostel, I wanted my own room preferably with my own shower (but would compromise on the shower part if necessary!) which might make me sound like a snob... maybe I am... but I just wanted my own personal space. I then scoured airbnb and didn't find anything cheaper, and checked out a few other portals: Laterooms (literally just before they went bust...), Lastminute.com, probably some others and couldn't find anything. So my solo travel plans were briefly shelved as I took a day or two to rethink it, and then, during a bored moment at work I checked out Agoda again and found a "small double room" in 'Hashtag Dublin Student Accommodation' well inside my threshold! It didn't look massively far away from the city centre, or the airport, and within connecting distance to local travel links so I booked it! I booked 4 nights from Thursday 15th, checking out on Monday 19th as that was the best value for money and covered my core choice of Friday, Saturday and Sunday for a total of £189 to the nearest pound! Well inside my threshold of £200!
Now that accommodation was sorted I needed to book flights! Before booking the accommodation I'd checked, again with Google Flights, that it matched up price wise with anticipated days of travel and the cost was no different. You can't actually book a flight direct on Google Flights so it put me through to Ryanair's website, but all the info I had already inputted was carried across. It was there that I added Priority Boarding and an extra case, I wasn't fussed about Priority but it was the first option to pick that included increasing your baggage allowance, and I wanted to up that as I planned on taking a case with me. The upgrade ended up costing almost as much as the flights and in total, the return flight to Dublin from Thursday 15th, returning on Monday 19th cost me £60 to the nearest pound. This was a little bit over my threshold if I'm being honest with myself, and I might have been able to wing it without a case but rather than push my luck I played it safe with an upgrade. I chose not to reserve seats and relied upon checking in by using the Ryanair app on my phone 48 hours before each flight and then having a digital boarding pass. Because I was flying alone I wasn't really bothered about where I sat and that saved me £8... the cost of a burger and a drink!
Next up I booked my train tickets, and for this I used trainline to find the cheapest times to travel and it was looking at trains that I worked out I could "split ticket" my journey. The cheapest I could get my one way journey was £10.40, with 1 change at Coventry, but by booking first a ticket to Coventry and then a ticket from Coventry to Birmingham International it bought the cost down to a total of £7.50? So to do the same journey but instead have 2 tickets instead of 1 I saved £2.90! "As cheap as possible" right?
I'd intentionally booked a late flight back from Dublin on the Monday not getting back until 10pm in Birmingham, to give me something of an extra day there, and I anticipated that I might struggle to catch a train back home from Birmingham late at night. I could potentially have made the last train at 10.22pm (which I actually didn't in reality so good job I thought ahead!) but not wanting to stress myself out, rushing through the airport to catch the last train I made the decision to book a room overnight in Birmingham, maybe grab a drink after the flight back to England! Again it was back to the ever reliable Agoda and I found a cheap £25 night stop over at Britannia Hotel in Birmingham city centre, a solid 6/10 rated hotel on Agoda but I fancied checking out how good (or how bad) it actually was so I took the punt; "as cheap as possible" I kept telling myself... It turned out to be a pretty shocking hotel but I wasn't bothered, I just wanted a bed for the night!
Dublin, itself, turned out to be a really nice trip. I planned ahead by doing a bit of research and had made a list of the few things I wanted to do; Poolbeg Lighthouse, the Museum of Natural History with it's dead zoo; an exhibition of taxidermied animals, the famous Ha'Penny Bridge and the Gallery of Photography amongst others. All of this required quite a bit of travelling around, and upon arriving in Dublin I bought a 'Do Dublin' travel card for £32.38 which gave you 3 days unlimited travel on any Dublin bus service. This alone covered the cost of a return trip to my accommodation from the airport, but I found myself using the tram (called the LUAS) more than the actual buses and the Do Dublin card doesn't cover tram journeys, so if you want my advice, get a Leap card; which is like a pre-paid travel card, like Oyster cards in London, which you can buy at the airport or from places in town because they will cover all Transport for Ireland (tfi) services, the LUAS and the buses. And it's a 40 euro fine if you don't have a valid pass... !
Food can be expensive in Dublin, but the local supermarket, Centra, is reasonably good value for money in the same way Tesco is in England and I found myself going there every day, especially as there was one round the corner from my accommodation. I survived off Hula Hoops and 2 litre bottles of water! But I did eat out at some really nice places, and none of them we're particularly poor, but to single out my favourite; Camden Rotisserie on Camden Street did an awesome southern fried chicken burger with sweet potato fries. Definitely go check them out if you are in the area.
And if you are into photography, make sure you pay a visit to John Gunn on Wexford Street who are still keeping the 35mm film dream alive! I picked up a roll of Fomapan 200 and a roll of Retropan Soft 320 but they have a really great selection and are all round good people.
So after all my planning, all my reading ahead, my first solo trip turned out to be a real good time. The people of Dublin were really accommodating, every cafe I went in to, every restaurant, the people could not do enough to make you feel welcome and look after you. I'm a reasonably confident person anyway, but I didn't feel at all self conscious of the fact that I was on my own or felt that I was treated differently. The weather was a mixed bag; it rained every day so be prepared for that, but I still managed to get a whole bunch of photos I was happy with. Here's a handful of my favourites:
Because the weather was moody and miserable on the Sunday, I took that day to photograph the street art located around the city, primarily around Auniger Street, Camden Street and surrounding areas. I'm building a nice collection of street art from European cities! And I spotted a bunch of things in Dublin that I thought we're pretty cool:
My next trip is already semi-planned; me, my girfriend and a bunch of friends are going to Kiev and Pripyat / Chernobyl in Ukraine in October (to be updated with a link after the blog post!) but I would definitely be up for planning another solo trip, maybe in the winter, maybe at some point next summer! I'm feeling that I need to go back to Scotland...