12 Tips to Travel Europe Cheaply

One of the things I’m most smug about is that time I went on a 2-week vacation for only €200 (flights and accommodation included). Yup. It’s not so much that I hate spending money, but I want to get the “maximum” experience for what I paid, as well as save money for fun things in the future.  I used to believe travel was too expensive for me, but luckily over the years I’ve learned a few tips to make your money last longer..

(1). Don’t just look at flights – train, bus, boat or rideshares are great options.

Find flights on Skyscanner and be open to flying at “weird” times of day.

Flixbus is a discount bus company, offering over 400,000 connections a day between European cities (warning: it isn’t always on time, so embrace “slow travel” and keep your schedule flexible. However, I went from France to Italy for €7, so it’s a fair price).

London to Istanbul map
Just one of the routes I’d love to try..

A 1-month InterRail ticket is a great investment: you have unlimited use of the train network in 33 countries in Europe. For route inspiration, see this articlee. If you’re a deep sleeper and want free accommodation, you could even catch an overnight train and sleep onboard.

For some destinations, boat journeys might be cheaper than flights, e.g, Ibiza. Walk-on tickets shouldn’t be too expensive, but you could always carpool with others to reduce your costs.

Rideshare groups online and apps like BlaBlaCar are like “smart hitchhiking“. The app lets you see drivers passing through your destination or people planning a long car journey. Usually, you contribute some money toward fuel, and the more people in your group, the cheaper (and possibly safer) this could be.

(2). Travel off-season, at night, and on weekdays.

Summer is generally the most expensive time to travel. Flights and accommodation will be waaay cheaper and less crowded in “off-peak” months, and sometimes there’s even a price difference between Wednesday and Friday. Take overnight buses and red-eye flights to save even more money.

(3). Pack light.

Avoid bringing and paying for unnecessary bags, and if possible, just bring carry-on luggage. It’s also great not having to haul clunky bags up endless metro stairs and through cobbled streets. I’ll never forget my journey with a 30kg bag through Paris. What a workout. NEVER AGAIN. Packing light is an art you learn over time, but some general tips:

  1. Quality, not quantity. Bring one good pair of comfy shoes that you can wear to any activity. Bring an all-weather jacket. Bring light clothes that “go” with everything – not once-off outfits.
  2. Do laundry: ring just a few days supply of clothes, and stay in hostels/hotels with laundry facilities (a friend always brings fishing wire, and hangs her clothes to dry in her room rather than pay for the dryer).
  3. Leave your hairdryer, towels and things at home. Most hostels/hotels supply these.
  4. Don’t bring expensive things like your laptop. It takes up space and is likely to get stolen. Most hostels have computers you can use for free/very cheap, and if not, there are always cafes. I once did a college essay in a hostel cafe and the guy next to me was negotiating a business deal. You won’t be the only one!
  5. Make a “packing list” and pack in advance. This makes sure you won’t forget the essentials (and end up buying them when you get there), or panic-pack random, unnecessary things.

(4). Stay in hostels – or Couchsurf.

Stay in cool parts of town near to all the main sights, for like €10-€20 a night. If you’re uneasy about staying in a shared room, look for an all-female dorm or find a “quiet” hostel, as opposed to a “party hostel”. Read reviews on hostelworld before booking. I’ve met some incredibly interesting people just by striking up conversations in the common areas of hostels, and this is actually one of the parts of travel I most enjoy. Bonus: hostels generally have free or cheap activities like game nights, group dinners, or bar crawls. Couch surfing is an app which lets you find “hosts” with couches you can sleep on. There are also Facebook groups like “Host a Sister”. Be careful, though – someone I know once went to stay with a “naturalist” host. She thought that meant he loved nature, and was shocked when she got there and discovered everyone staying in his place was naked all the time. But it was still a good (and free) trip!

4 Best hostels in Rotterdam - Weekends in Rotterdam
There are also some ridiculously cute hostels out there! Source: Weekends in Rotterdam

(5). Hang out with other cheapskate travellers.

I’ve seriously met the most interesting people while travelling. I met an artist who’d have a lot of love affairs, someone banished from their home country, a guy building his own startup, and lots of cool, witty people who were also trying to travel as cheaply as possible. 3 of the 4 nights I was in Amsterdam, I went out with random people I chatted to earlier that day, and they always had great tips on cheap or free things to do. Other ways to meet people include Couch Surfing social events, meetup.com, Facebook groups like “Solo Female Travellers” or ones specific to the destination. Look at Erasmus student pages for that city if you are a student and want to find a cheap/free party or event. You could use apps like Tinder or Bumble to meet locals with cool recommendations – but you might get mixed results!

(6). GO ON ALL THE FREE WALKING TOURS.

Most hostels offer/will connect you with free tours, and you could look online for more options. A standard walking tour is a good way to learn some history and see where all the main sights are, while special interest walking tours also exist (Harry Potter/franchise, street art, architecture, food tours, etc). The content of a free walking tour is usually exactly the same as on a paid tour. You should give the guide a tip but this is still much cheaper and more personal than a bus tour. The tour guides are usually super helpful and full of great tips. Yes, I was a tour guide one summer myself!

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Berlin Street Art tour is 10/10

(7). Keep your food costs low.

Bring your reusable mug or water bottle and fill up when you can. Consider staying in a hostel with a kitchen and fridge space. Buy some groceries – it’s usually the same price (or if you’re from an expensive country like me, cheaper!) than doing groceries at home. Cook a simple meal and bring the leftovers in your tupperware the next day -you could check out a free local park and make it a picnic!

(8). Look for public transportation deals.

Public transport is usually much cheaper than “tourist” transport. You can usually get a 3-day, weekly or monthly pass, and save a lot of money. Some regional transport deals might exist: for example, in the region of France I studied abroad in (Provence), you could get a “Cartreize” card at the local bus station for €5. Once you had this, you could use any of the bus lines in the region for €2 per day once you had it – it was worth queuing up for! You could take multiple buses in the same day and pay just €2, which was amazing. The same journeys in Ireland would cost €10-€20 each.

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Just one of the scenic towns we visited for €2/return! 🙂

(9). Visit less tourist-y destinations & get out of the capital.

THIS is a big one. Major tourist destinations and capital cities always attract large numbers of tourists, meaning they become crowded and expensive. If you go somewhere with fewer tourists, prices are generally lower. If you visit a capital, why not go to a nearby city or town for a day or two? You get two experiences, and it’s usually cheaper. Make your way to another destination. For example, I flew to Tallinn, Estonia (€19 flight) before heading on to visit friends in Finland. (€7 boat). Tallinn was BEAUTIFUL, and I would love to go there again! Aside from my Finnish friends, no one had ever recommended it to me, and there were few tourists. It’s has a beautiful, fairytale Old Town, lots of free/cheap museums, and a very cool hipster district, Kalamaja, with tons of affordable restaurants, galleries, and interesting post-Soviet architecture.

(10). Change your lifestyle.

I think travelling is one of the most enriching and fun things you can do, and it isn’t always feasible to do it once you have kids or get older – so do it now! Obviously, not very many of us can travel full-time, but there are a few things you can do. Re-evaluate your spending, and try to save money in your day-to-day life. Why spend extra on groceries when you could save up and afford a trip? Sublet or AirBnb your room/apartment when you are away travelling. If you can, arrange some time off between your work contracts and use that time for slow-travelling or a short experience abroad.

(11). If you want to stay abroad for a few weeks/months, volunteer or get a seasonal job.

I know, I know, you don’t want to work on vacation – but if you want a longer stay, it’s unavoidable. Try things like Workaway (a website where “projects” can host “workaway-ers”/volunteers. Typical workaways include some kind of volunteer/NGO project, working in a guesthouse/hostel, farm/animal-related work, outdoor/renovation projects. My personal favourite would be working with llamas or sled dogs – both are options!) or WWOOF (World Wide Organic Farming – I ain’t cut out for farm life, but just putting it out there!).

These are fun experiences that let you get to know the region. If you’re a native English speaker, you could also consider Angloville, working in a kid’s language summer camp (lots of jobs in this, even if you have no experience), working in a resort/hotel, or being a summer au pair (like a nanny. I did this and it was a very cool experience, but it isn’t for everyone!).

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This beach was around a 15-minute walk from the house when I was an au pair 🙂

(12). Take any chance to move abroad – a new base gives you a chance to really explore another country.

If study or doing your internship abroad is an option, do it. Not only will you get to know the host country, you can visit nearby countries must more easily and quickly than if you were at home. If you go within Europe, you can get “Erasmus grants”: money from the EU to take a semester/internship abroad. For example, I studied abroad in France (yeah I know I’m being this girl) and the student room I rented was literally HALF the price of my room in Ireland, plus I got Erasmus money every month – it was way cheaper than staying home! If travel is really your passion, consider getting a “remote” job which will allow you to work from anywhere. Tip: keep your work laptop in your carry-on. A friend of a friend’s luggage (which contained her work laptop) got sent to the other side of the world. Not ideal.

I hope these tips were helpful and that I’ve motivated you to travel more in the future.  Even if I had a lot of money, I would still probably choose to stay in hostels (maybe I’d get a private room, but I’d still stay there!) and do free activities just because I enjoy it so much. The people are cool, you see a less tourist-y side of the city, and some of the best things to do are free anyway – like the Louvre in Paris, walking the Red Light district in Amsterdam, and visiting the Colosseum in Rome. And you can do a lot for a small amount of money. Just look at this travel vlogger who tries to spend only $10 a day in some destinations – he manages to have a great time even in expensive cities like Oslo.

Me sleep-deprived but chilling at the Colosseum in 2016. €25 flight and €12 hostel. My friend and I split a €4 bottle of wine. Good times 🙂

So that’s all. Share your tips for travelling cheaply in the comments! Also, what’s the most underrated place you’ve been to? What destination(s) do you recommend to everyone? I love hearing about travel so feel free to share 🙂

Studying in Ireland Vs France (Aix-en-Provence)

When I studied abroad in France, there wasn’t much info online, and I was really surprised by how different it was from my home university. I wanted to share some tips and hopefully give you an idea of what to expect!

Background info: I did my degree in University College Cork, Ireland, the Hogwarts-y place pictured here. In 2017-2018 I studied abroad in a public university in Aix-en-Provence, the sun-soaked French city on the right. This post will focus on differences between the university experiences – I’ll talk about Aix/Cork as destinations or cultural things another time 🙂

uccvsaixenprovence

Basic Differences

France is definitely cheaper

Irish undergraduate students pay €3170 a year in fees (it used to be free, sheeple! It increases a little every few years). In France, fees are around €200/year, and other costs are also lower. At CROUS (university restaurants) you could get a hot meal for only €3.25 , and the dorms were less than half the price of Irish student accommodation! However, Aix is the second most expensive city in France. Things like groceries and household products are definitely more expensive than in other French cities.

Student Accommodation

The French dorm or “Cité U” I lived in was not “aesthetically pleasing”, and I shared a tiny kitchen with 35 people. We had one working gas-ring and no seating, so once your food finally heated up you rushed back to your room to eat alone lest you have to talk to your neighbours.

When you're in a hurry and this happens... ~ Finnish Nightmares
Source: Finnish Nightmares

However, it was MUCH cheaper than Irish student accommodation at around €270 a month for a single room/ensuite bathroom. Irish student rooms START at €500, and I have a friend who pays €900. Although facilities are better, Ireland is much more expensive. Since most EU students get Erasmus funding to study abroad, doing a year abroad usually works out cheaper than staying in Ireland. If you’re prepared to do A LOT of paperwork, apply for the CAF (Capitations Allocations Familiales) social benefit, which gives French students money to pay rent. 

Academic stuff

Assessments.

I’m not sure if it’s just the classes I did in France, but we hardly ever got essays, group work or projects! The focus was on end-of-semester exams and “Oral exams” where they give you a topic and you have some time to plan a speech/presentation about it.

Exam stress & Repeating exams/Passer le rattrapage

In Ireland, professors try to avoid failing you if possible. You have to pay €200 for each repeat exam and if you fail that, you need to repeat the year (€7000).  However, in France, it seems like everyone repeats an exam! International students weren’t allowed to repeat exams so I was afraid of failing. Once, I went to an exam but my name wasn’t on the list. The exam-supervisor said “you can try doing the exam but it’ll probably get lost. You should just repeat!” This is something they would never say in Ireland!

In Ireland students expect everything to be well-organised, and to get support from the uni. During exams, they give out free candy and snacks in the library, they organise mindfulness workshops, and even installed napping pods.

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My friend enjoying a nap instead of helping me with a group project! 🙂

Dealing with professors

In Ireland, most professors answer their emails quickly and have offices at the university you can visit if you have questions. In our French university, professors didn’t seem to answer emails, didn’t have offices and seemed to work from home whenever they weren’t teaching. Seems fine, but we didn’t know this, and spent a lot of hours wandering the building in search of our tutor! Oh, my, God. That tutor. International students are assigned a tutor who must sign all their paperwork. She NEVER turned up for meetings and didn’t email us to say she wasn’t coming!

Tip from a French person: if the professor ignores your emails, find out what classes they teach and wait outside. LIE IN WAIT. Many students seemed to do it. My tutor frequently walked off saying “ce n’est pas possible!” while we were talking, but we got there.

Campus Life

“Commercialisation”

This is something I hadn’t thought about before talking to international students. In Ireland, companies run promotional events on campus. There’s a hair salon on campus, food trucks, and all kinds of stalls. Some people criticise that the university is run more and more like a business – but an advantage is that the university has connections with a lot of companies, who often provide student internships, as well as class events, workshops, speeches or practice assessments/interviews. French universities seem to be more philosophical and idealistic.

UCC Students' Union - UCC RAG WEEK 2020 | Facebook
Source: UCC Student’s Union

“Student culture”

In my home university, there are 100+ free student societies with weekly events, everything from debating, drama, political or charitable associations to Anime and Harry Potter (yes, they play Quidditch). Gaelic sports, basketball, hockey, scuba diving, surfing, the list goes on. During Fresher’s or RAG Week there’s usually musicians, comedians, even a bouncy castle on campus.

At least in Aix, there weren’t that many student activities. I hung out at a language exchange and a local church organised cheap dinners for students. Why don’t more churches offer godless people like me free food? Other than that, we made our own fun. And drank a lot of cheap wine.

Irish students “like to party”.

~ To say the least ~. Ireland is known for its sesh (party) culture. This is either a great or a terrible thing, depending on your personality. The university hires “Student Community Support Officers” to patrol the city centre and student neighbourhoods, helping drunk-ass students get home and minimise damage (mainly to clam down the local families who literally hold vigils against the students) – they even give ya free flip flops if you can’t walk in your heels!

In Aix-en-Provence, there sure are people qui aiment faire la fête, but they aren’t as numerous, and the city centre is very quiet most week nights. Twice, my international friend group were the only people in the bar. It’s also very chill – Irish girls wear so much makeup and get really dressed up to go out, but in France it’s more relaxed, which I liked.

Be prepared for how quiet the dorms are. People value privacy and aren’t overly social. If someone makes noise after 10pm, they call building security. It’s a big change from drunk Irish people singing outside my window at 3a.m. every night.

Ferret Running Away GIF - Ferret RunningAway Running - Discover ...
My neighbour when I said “bonjour! ca va?” in the hallway

 

“Only in France”

“Competition” to get in to classes

In Ireland you register for classes online, and you’re almost guaranteed there will be “space” for you. In Aix, I didn’t study any of the courses on my original “Learning Agreement” plan; some got cancelled, or only took students doing a certain major (“filière), etc. Don’t assume you can do these courses just because they’re in the catalogue. There were also nowhere near enough spaces in the Francais Langue étrangère classes. We had to physically go and race to the front of the room to reserve spaces. If you need certain courses to pass your degree – I don’t think I could recommend Aix to you, unless taking an extra semester to get enough credits is an option. I know several people who needed to do that.

My advice: be open-minded about what courses you take. Take something that interests you or that isn’t available in your home university. I took some pretty random courses like “Language and the brain” and “Medieval Art History” just because they had spaces.

The Middle Ages | Classical Art Memes | Know Your Meme

“La Sélection”

This is something that I had never heard of before going to France. Until 2018, as long as students passed their Bac (French high school exam) they could study whatever degree they wanted, no “points” needed or no entry requirements. This is a nice ideal – education is really open to all, and I like that you have another chance if you didn’t get good grades in school. However, the disadvantage is that classes are crazily overcrowded, and professors fail a VERY HIGH percentage of students in order to reduce numbers (one class I was in failed 70% of students! That would be unheard of in Ireland). There’s really a sense of having to compete for your right to study here, whereas in Ireland professors want students to really feel they “got their’ money’s worth”, i.e, lots of resources, workshops, guidance, etc. On se débrouille!

The best University memes :) Memedroid

In 2018 President Macron wanted to change the system to control university entrance, e.g, for high-demand degrees, you needed higher grades. It’s already like this in Ireland (comment if it isn’t like this in your country – I feel that’s the standard way!), but..

Les Francais LOVE to protest.

This is something that will seem REALLY CRAZY to non-confrontational Irish people. Ireland is basically the corporate wild west of Europe, known as a tax haven with labour laws that favour corporations. France, however, really values worker’s rights, protecting the 35-hour work week, and work-life balance. People have a revolutionary spirit and frequently protest to defend their rights. Riots, trains on strike, air traffic controllers on strike, you name it. Ideologically I support their right to strike, but when the cleaning staff in my building went on strike, they locked our kitchen for 1 month and I was FILLED WITH RAGE! You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.

Hangry Boi Does A Nomm - Meme
Me eating fruit and rice cakes for dinner every day for a month

University students also partake in this. When the government tried to introduce Loi Vidal (sélection), students erupted in protest. Toulouse university closed around February due to protests, and didn’t open again. This meant no exams. International students weren’t allowed to repeat exams/years and I needed those damn credits. “Jeunes Communistes” started handing out flyers about occupying the university (“le blocage“), and I was STRESSED.

I know, I know, you’re going to say I should have supported the protests and put aside my selfish need for credits. The capitalist system makes us too invested in our own success to help others. I know. BUT I WAS PANICKING.

Luckily for me, the exams were only a few days away and protests in Aix were under control.

WERE!

I went for my exam at 8a.m on Monday and they had OCCUPIED THE ENTIRE UNIVERSITY. The protesters had barricaded themselves in.

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Security stopped them occupying the library – so fortunately we could use library and outdoor space to do most exams. All exams were delayed, but only 1 got cancelled. Doing exams in small spaces meant lots of “teamwork” i.e, cheating happened.

Then the university lost our exam-papers in the fracas that was the revolution, so our amazing grades never got recognised. (I’m serious! The one exam I did well in got lost!) All that time spent studying seemed pointless, I could have been in the park drinking wine!

This situation would have been unimaginable to me before studying in France. I admire their idealism and I definitely think Irish students need to protest more (especially about fees), but my #1 Tip: If you’re going to France, be prepared to embrace the chaos. There seems to be some kind of disruption almost every year, the Yellow Vest riots in 2019, student protests in 2019 (“student sets himself on fire in protest“), le blocage in 2018, election protests in 2017…

I was very stressed about this at the time but in retrospect, I didn’t need to be – my home university was very understanding. I did just 1 repeat exam in Cork and got enough credits to move on to the next year. Just roll with it.

L’ADMINISTRATION in France will make you cry real tears.

I’m sorry, but someone has to warn you. The French administration system and way of organising things involves A LOT OF PAPERWORK and avoids using technology as much as possible. Expect many paper cuts. My home university warned us about this and said “don’t worry about it, it’s part of the France experience!“.

GIF Adventure Time, cry, crying, depressed, fetal, sad GIF - Viral ...

Examples: I’ve queued at one window to get a piece of paperwork, then gone to a second location, queued to get it stamped/signed, then brought it to a third location to be checked, then back to the first, to queue again to submit the paperwork. It also took 7 weeks, lots of paperwork and numerous visits to different offices to get my student ID. I’m sure this is less confusing and frustrating for a French person who’s familiar with the system, but if you are a foreigner in France, be prepared for administration-related stress.

My favourite incident was when the university lost all my records. I asked how this could happen and insisted they look again. The lady said: “vous n’existez pas, madame!”,

yeah, that comment did cause an existential crisis.

#2 Tip: if you submit/get any paperwork, make a copy and keep it in a folder. Bring this folder every time you have to deal with l’administration. For sure, they’ll ask you for something you NEVER imagined you’d need. Charming the admin staff to get stuff for free or get them to bend the rules does not work like it does in Ireland.

Conclusion

Overall, I feel the main differences between French and Irish universities stem from the fact that Irish students pay a lot more money to study, and so expect a great student experience, with high-quality services. The universities also operate with very different values.

Despite l’administration, I have great memories of the year I spent in France. I made a lot of new friends, visited beautiful places, and had a wealth of unique experiences. It definitely made me more organised, mature and open-minded. I would recommend studying abroad to anyone, especially if you’re a shy person who needs a push to get out of your comfort zone. However, I would caution you to keep things like l’administration and credits in mind if you choose a French university.

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One of the beaches near Aix-en-Provence

Hopefully this post has given you some useful insight and tips if you are considering studying in Ireland or France in the future.

Have any of you studied/lived abroad? What differences surprised you?

Is the university system in your country different from what I described?

Share your experience in the comments and feel welcome to ask any questions, especially if you need tips on moving to Ireland (or Aix!) 🙂

 

The Aisling Books are PERFECTION in Irish Literature

omgwacaToday I’m going to fangirl about one of the best-selling Irish book series of all time – “The Aisling Books”, by authors Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen. These books don’t get the praise they deserve, in my opinion, and are often disregarded as “chick lit” (as if being “chick lit” disqualifies a book from being culturally significant or commenting on the burning issues of the day – how many classics are actually just “dick lit” about one man’s daily struggles and the zeitgeist he lived in?)

The first book; “Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling” (OMGWACA) was published in 2017. An instant bestseller, it was followed by sequels in 2018 and 2019, with at least 2 more to come. If you aren’t from Ireland, you probably haven’t heard of this series, and that’s because its loaded with so much Irish slang and pop cultural references that it’s kind of unintelligible to someone unfamiliar with the country (I’ll probably write a phrase about Irish slang, and this book will feature heavily!).

The premise is pretty simple: Aisling is a small-town girl who commutes from her family farm in Ballygobbard (a made-up village, but literally every Irish village is called Bally-something) to Dublin every day. She has been dating John, a local hurling player, for for 7 years – but he still hasn’t proposed! She still has to sleep in the guest room wearing pyjamas she borrowed from his mother when she stays over! She decides to strike out on her own and learns there’s more to life than getting married. It’s kind of an anti rom-com, but has the same light and fun humour. It’s a book about finding yourself and letting go of other’s expectations, while staying true to what makes you “you”.

What’s really the selling point though is the main character, Aisling. She’s an “archetypal” small-town Irish girl with a great sense of humour. She is a little innocent/naive (and often misunderstands situations) and kind of old-fashioned, but extremely practical and sensible. The authors imagined this character after living in Dublin for a couple of years and noticing that they seem to meet the same “type” of country girl everywhere. They started a Facebook group for “Aislings” to share their humour, which attracted such attention that they decided to write a book about a character inspired by the stories. Which means..

OMGWACA could be a Case Study for Book Marketers.

Seriously. A friend (who actually works for The 2 Johnnies podcast, another great pillar of modern Irish culture!) and I discussed how OMGWACA built amazing fan loyalty before it was even published. The character, her quirks and the many hilarious anecdotes she shares are inspired by real people’s posts in the OMGWACA Facebook group. She is literally an amalgamation of the fans – could this be any more relatable? Before it was even published, there were already 10,000s of fans dying to see themselves reflected in print. It’s no surprise the book quickly become one of the best-selling books in Irish history. And to celebrate the release of the third book, bookstores in Dublin even held an “Aisling Day“, with free copies for anyone actually named Aisling!

It “speaks” to Irish identity.

Only In Ireland on Twitter: "Good luck with that 😂😂☘… "
Only in Ireland!

Irish people spend a lot of time talking about Irish identity, culture, and things which would “only happen in Ireland“. Since so many Irish people live abroad, there’s a lot of demand for nostalgic media – the Aisling Facebook group has members all over the world, but A LOT in Irish immigration hotspots.

As in every other country, we watch a lot of American TV and global pop culture is getting more and more “standard” and sterile. People were PUMPED to see something so uniquely Irish get published – it’s one of few books where you can really see “Hiberno-English” in print.

This is a NEW voice in Irish literature.

Think about any canonical works of Irish literature you have read. Chances are, they were written by rich white men, brooding around Dublin and crafting stories which corresponded with British sensibilities regarding what constituted “quality” literature at the time (think James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde) or they were grim, bleak, depressing accounts of tortured artists suffering pain and poverty in dysfunctional smalltown Ireland (think Angela’s Ashes, Dancing at Lughnasa, anything by Patrick Kavanagh, John Montague, even Edna O’Brien..).

Nothing wrong with that: those are also important stories, but they aren’t the ONLY stories. The 2010s have seen Irish female writers rising – Sally Rooney’s outrageously popular Normal People is just one example (here are some more!). Aisling is an energetic “rural voice“, literally a “small town girl in a notions world” – a voice that hasn’t been thoroughly explored in Irish lit before.

These books make women feel ~seen~.

The Aisling books are brimming with joy, positivity and open-mindedness, even in grim situations.”If you don’t know an Aisling, you are an Aisling”, and almost every situation she encounters is similar to something I or someone I know has experienced. It’s refreshing to see such everyday problems represented in literature, and Aisling is RESILIENT. She picks herself up after a breakup, a great loss, losing her job.. There really is a sense of “you can do anything” here.

Of course, the books have to be commended for their handling of “The Abortion Issue“. In 2017, when the first book was published, abortion was still illegal in Ireland (it was legalised up to 12-weeks by national referendum in 2018). It was so daring to address this in a mainstream book, and I LOVED that Aisling found out someone she didn’t “expect” had had an abortion. This really encouraged dialogue and drove the point home that abortion doesn’t “happen” to one particular kind of person.

If you haven’t read this book, and you have any connection to Ireland – READ IT!

AND SHOCKING BUT DELIGHTFUL NEWS – THEY APPARENTLY TRANSLATED THIS BOOK IN TO GERMAN??

I don’t know how that would be possible as literally every sentence has slang and some kind of Irish insider joke, but I’m eager to read it! I like that they kept the setting, character’s names and many other things the same, but I’m curious to see how they translate the jokes.

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght

People who have read this book: who do you want to see starring in the movie? I feel John could be played by literally any GAA lad but I definitely do not want a well-known or glam actress to play Aisling – she doesn’t have those kind of notions about herself!

Are there any books like this in other countries? What’s the equivalent of an “Aisling”? I’m very curious so please feel feel to share 🙂

 

 

 

3 Fiction Recs: Black American Perspectives

Last month, Amistad Press launched a campaign to “blackout” bestseller lists, encouraging readers to buy more books from black authors. I grew up in Ireland, a country where people feel we already know a lot about American culture – most TV shows are imported from the US, and so many Irish people spend time working stateside – but sadly, very few of us really understand what a big issue racism is in America today! I decided read a few recent books by black American authors, and while there are 1000s to choose from, here are 3 I got through this month and would highly recommend:

homegoingHomegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This one is first on the list for many reasons. It is simply one of the best books I have read, as well as a thorough education in the many ways Black people suffered in both the USA and Ghana, a former French & British colony.

The book begins in the 1700s in Ghana, and follows two sisters who become separated. One is the concubine of a British colonial chief, and the other is shipped to America as a slave. The book follows their descendants up to the present day, and reads like a connection of interwoven short stories. It’s beautifully written, and is incredibly well-researched, without seeming like a history lesson.

I think this should be #1 on your list as it really helped me to understand the “lesser known” aspects of American history – for example, “free” black men were often falsely arrested or given ridiculously long prison sentences, because the government wanted to exploit their labour and make them work in treacherous mines where they were chained together 24/7. A “Fugitive Slave” law was introduced which allowed “slave catchers” to capture and sell undocumented black people from the North. Social discrimination, violence, interracial relationships, and the drug epidemic are well-explored.

The author has so much compassion for the real people who lived these awful experiences, and I was emotionally invested in almost every character. In Ghana, her characters include women kidnapped by enemy tribes, a mixed-race man who comes from two worlds but belongs in neither, a “cursed woman” whose father cooperated with the European colonialists, an African teacher who has to teach a European curriculum, and many other narratives often forgotten. This book explores unimaginable cruelty yet was unputdownable. The ending is moving, hopeful and resilient. PERFECTION. If you read just one book from the list, it should be this one!

suchafunageSuch A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

This is another great recommendation. “Such A Fun Age” will really appeal to any 20-somethings, unsure where their career is going, and outlines a very concrete example of a “white saviour” narrative in the age of social media. It’s a lighter read than other books with the same themes, but presents A LOT of discussion points.

The book opens with Emira, a 25-year-old black woman with two jobs and no direction. The book begins with a security guard refusing to believe she is a nanny, and accusing her of trying to kidnap the toddler she cares for. An onlooker records the incident on his phone, and reaches out to Emira, encouraging her to make it go viral.

I feel I would completely spoil this book by explaining very much more, but it explores assumptions, as well as race and class dynamics. It really delves in to different value systems and perspectives, how at odds different people in American society are with each other, and provides solid examples of how discrimination and white superiority manifest themselves today.

thecuttingseasonThe Cutting Season by Attica Locke

This one is a little different to the other two, and I haven’t seen it on any other BLM rec lists. It’s not tied to one genre – it’s essentially a murder mystery, but also a drama, and literary fiction which explores black experiences in both the past and present.

The book follows Caren, a black single mother who is the manager of “Belle Vie”, once a plantation, but now a tourist attraction (do people in America really get MARRIED at former plantations? REALLY?), mainly staffed by minimum wage and migrant workers. Caren’s mother was a servant to the owners of Belle Vie and her ancestors were enslaved there – although she’s friendly with the owners, clearly, there’s a lot of generational and historical trauma here.

THEN. The dead body of an illegal worker is found on the plantation, an employee is missing, and Caren’s daughter seems to know something she won’t admit. As Caren starts to unravel the story of the murder victim, she finds herself trying to solve two murders – including the controversial disappearance of one of her own ancestors. Different narratives on the past make things even more complicated, and a BIG TWIST at the end clarifies something I suspected all along.

I got through this book very quickly – the setting in an “antebellum” plantation in Louisiana is so immersive, and I loved how well the author explored Caren’s complicated relationship with it. This book drew on the plantation’s horrendous slave-driving past, but also its unethical practices in the present, and raises a lot of questions about how labourers are treated in America (summary: not great). It really reflects on history and how it affects the present, blending historical and modern fiction, which is a rare achievement.

I decided to limit this list to just recent books set in the USA, but if you’re interested in reading more black perspectives, I’d recommend Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams!  The protagonist is so hilarious and quirky that I thought it would be a comedy in the beginning – but it goes on to discuss such important topics, from racism to sexual violence to abuse and mental health. For biographies I’d really recommend the amazing 12 Years A Slave by Solomon Northup and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs. And although I’ve read 2 of her other books, I still haven’t gotten around to Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but it looks AMAZING.

So, that’s all for today. Did you read any books to “blackout” the bestseller lists? If anyone has any recommendations for me please share, I’m always looking for more! 🙂

 

If You Loved “Normal People”, Check Out These Edgy Irish Novels

“Normal People” by Sally Rooney is arguably the most widely-discussed book in Ireland today – and not just because of its sex scenes! Normal People filled a demand we never knew was there: the demand for fresh, scathingly honest stories about being a young person in Ireland today. Read on for 5 recommendations for Irish novels with fresh perspectives on the often uncertain, but undeniably ~interesting~ years known as our 20s.

 

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Src: Goodreads

 

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

This debut novel from 27-year-old author Naoise Dolan shot to the top of the bestseller list when it was released in April. The novel follows Ava, a fresh college grad who jets off to glitzy Hong Kong to teach English. Although its angsty narrator may be likened to the characters in Normal People, this book is entirely unique in its very philosophical exploration of post-college life. Ava’s unstable sense of self, anxiety and pain complicate her affairs and she inevitably becomes entangled in a love triangle. A thought-provoking read about how we define ourselves, others, and the world around us, Dolan has consolidated her reputation as one-to-watch on the Irish literary scene.

 

Red Dirt by E. M. Reapy
Src: Goodreads

Red Dirt by E. M. Reapy

 

The grittiest book on this list, Red Dirt is the dramatic story of three 20-something drifters fleeing recessionary Ireland for Australia in 2008. At times bleak, this novel explores the hardship and pain of “Tiger Cubs” who found themselves coming-of-age in a shattered economy. The novel combines familiar images of fruit farms and raucous parties with shocking violence and even a murder – a raw read, this book takes a new perspective on the immigrant experience, the distances we travel to find ourselves, and how we relate to the people we meet along the way.

 

Tender by Belinda McKeon
Src: Goodreads

Tender by Belinda McKeon

 

Catherine, an insecure college student in 1998 Dublin, is instantly enamoured with James, a charismatic photographer who seems to embody the brooding artist aesthetic. However, it isn’t as simple as boy-meets-girl – James doesn’t love her, and is struggling with his sexual orientation in an Ireland where homosexuality isn’t yet accepted. This book perfectly captures how it feels to fall in unrequited love, and explores the mistakes we make growing up – painful and awkward as they may be. The book has also been praised for its treatment of mental health, and the “fine line between helping someone and hurting them further”.

Stir Fry by Emma Donoghue
Src: Src: Goodreads

Stir Fry by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is the acclaimed author of “Room” and one of Ireland’s most internationally known authors – however, her debut novel “Stir Fry” doesn’t get the praise it deserves. Set in the ‘90s in an unnamed Dublin university, the novel follows Maria, an awkward and shy “culchie” trying to settle in to life in “The Big Shmoke”. When Maria’s enigmatic older roommates reveal that they are in fact a lesbian couple, the innocent girleen starts to question her values and treads doubts about her own sexuality. Published at a time when homosexuality and divorce were not yet legal in Ireland, this is a timeless and relatable story about first love, friendship and finding yourself in a new city.

 

Asking For It by Louise O'Neill
Src: Goodreads

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

 

Asking For It was a breakout hit for acclaimed Irish author Louise O’Neill. The book has been adapted for the stage and rights have been sold to adapt this poignant, topical novel in to a TV series. The main character is a “popular” and “bitchy” 18-year-old girl in small-town Ireland, who is raped by members of the local GAA club. The situation escalates as the community side with the team and her reputation is destroyed. An uncomfortable and piercing read about a fragile small community, this story of an unsympathetic protagonist becoming a victim was extremely timely and essential reading for anyone who wants to understand rape culture in Irish society today. 

I’m sure there are a lot more great books by Irish authors – if you have any other recommendations, share them in the comments below!

Also: If you have any recommendations for funny/uplifting books by young Irish authors, I’d love to hear from you – I’m hoping to write a couple of posts about these! 🙂