My 2017 Travel Roundup

Friday, 15 December 2017

I don't really make new years resolutions but at the end of last year, I was adamant that 2017 was the year I was going to start traveling more. I never could have imagined, however, just how much I would achieve in this past year. I have been on some of the most incredible adventures from squeezing trips abroad into my weekends when I had a job to get back to on Monday morning, visiting some dream destination that I never thought I'd actually see and a monster three month trip at the end of the year which basically changed my life.

Apart from getting to see the world, this years travels have done so much for me as a person you wouldn't believe! I was scarred to do anything at the start of the year and by the end of it, I was gallivanting around South East Asia all alone and loving every single second of it. This year,  I managed 12 trips in all, 29 flights, 6 all day bus journeys and only two minor meltdowns along the way! and here they all are:

Gdansk | POLAND | More: here & here
My first trip of the year, although it was only overnight, was a pretty big deal for me. When it actually came around, I didn't really want to go; it was -19 degrees at night, I'd never stayed in a hostel before and I was going with a complete stranger who I'd met on Facebook but I knew I was going to have to push myself if I was going to do this travel thing. Turns out it wasn't so bad. It was pretty cold, yep but I really enjoyed seeing a new country and spending the weekend seeing what Gdansk had to offer!
Hamburg | GERMANY | More: here & here
The boys invited me along on the first lads holiday of 2017 which was alot of fun! We did a couple of big nights out at the Reeperbahn and once I had managed to get them up and out of bed, we got to see a few of the local attractions as well.
Marrakech & Essaouira | MOROCCO | More: here, here, here & here
 Being invited on this trip with Much Morocco was a bit of a pinch me moment; I had always wanted to visit Morocco, Marrakech especially! As well as wandering around the souks, Jemaa El Fna Square and doing a cooking class, I also got to see some real life tree goats whilst we were driving to Essaouira which was another life goal ticked off of my list! 
Porto | PORTUGAL  | More: here
Selena & I got on so well the first time that we decided to take one more trip before she had to go home to Canada. This time we decided on somewhere warm: Porto. All I want to mention from this trip is the pretty blue tiles that decorated buildings around the city and Portuguese tarts. So many Portuguese tarts.
Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi & Halong Bay | VIETNAM | More: herehere & here
Going to Vietnam was a huge turning point for my style of travel. It was my first budget holiday but you know what, I really enjoyed staying in hostels and eating street food - would you believe I'd been to Asia twice before that and never eaten any street food?! I love south east Asia but I would say Vietnam is one of my absolute favourite countries there. Two weeks just wasn't enough.
Schladming | AUSTRIA | More: here
  Another summertime trip to Austria although this time there was much less snow and much more kaiserschmarrn - yum. I did alot of things that scared me that week; zip lining, biking up a mountain and another cable car but I left Austria feeling rather pleased with myself having given them all a go!
Santander | SPAIN | More: here
I had never heard of the Camino before this trip but since then, I have seen it being mentioned here there and everywhere! Whilst I didn't walk the whole thing, I really enjoyed seeing a different side to Spain. As usual, the food was a huge highlight of this trip for me; the hearty mountain stews were perfect for refueling along the way.
Catalonia | SPAIN | More: here
This month was literally crazy. I had three back to back press trips and I had just found out that I was being made redundant as well. What better way to spend my last working month than using up my leftover holiday in sunny Spain?!
Menorca | SPAIN | More: here
This was a really lovely week that felt much more like a holiday with friends than it did a press trip. We were in the country for a blogging conference but spent the rest of the week exploring what Menorca has to offer and taking a day or two to completely chill out around the pool.
Disneyland Paris | FRANCE
Andrew and I hadn't been back to Disney for a few years and I had just lost my job so lets just say this was the best birthday present ever! We love Disney so much; just how happy and carefree it makes us both feel; plus it was great to spend some time together before I left for my big trip.
Kuala Lumpur, Yogyakarta,  Canggu, Bangkok, Perhinthian Islands, Penang, Langkawi, Krabi, Chiang Mai, Pai, Phi Phi & Singapore 
 This trip was more than I could ever have imagined; leaving the UK on my own was nerve wracking to say the least but it turned out to be the most amazing adventure. I had spent months planning and had it worked out literally day by day but as soon as I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, the whole thing went out the window. I wanted to hit up 8 different countries but I only managed three (and a half - the volcano scared me away from Bali). I was only meant to spend 4 days in total in Malaysia but I ended up staying for two months, one of which was spent just in Kuala Lumpur; I would have stayed even longer if I hadn't booked return flights! Hardly anyone had mentioned it on their itineraries when I was reading blogs beforehand but it was the cheapest place to fly into and within days, I very unexpectedly fell in love with the place.
 Although I haven't written much about it yet, I have a couple of posts in the pipeline which I am super excited to share with you all over the next few months!

 The Hague, Utrecht & Rotterdam | THE NETHERLANDS
Somehow I managed to squeeze in one more trip abroad this year and left for The Netherlands two days after I got home from Asia. After a 15 hour flight home, I was pretty pleased that we were getting a ferry over rather than another flight and as usual, Stena Line were on point with their food, service and comfy cabin rooms! This five day trip with the girls was a little colder than I was used to but certainly lots of fun and very tasty which seems to have been a running theme throughout the year!
What will 2018 bring?
Whilst I did some amazing trips and also some pretty lovely stay-cations in London as well, alot of them were on a very tight budget; I only spent £74 all in on my weekend in Poland! I've come to love budget travelling but if I were to win the lottery tomorrow, there is one place that I would love to splash out on and that is the Maldives - somewhere I wouldn't even attempt on a budget! I'd also love to visit Japan, & India next year which are maybe a little more attainable on my current budget! 

Who knows what 2018 will bring. I certainly didn't think I'd have the guts to go solo backpacking at the beginning of the year and I also didn't think I'd be finishing it as a single woman for the first time in my adult life so these days I'm all about just seeing where it takes me! Hopefully to somewhere far away and exotic!
 *In collaboration with Lottoland

Theres more to Catalonia than just Barcelona.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Well known for its consistent heat, the man made beach and of course Las ramblas, you can see why Barcelona is a very popular destination, but there is also lots to see outside of the city center. If the hustle and bustle of this busy city can get a bit much, especially when your in holiday mode, I've put together a list of things to see and do that are all within an hour of the madness so you could easily pop out for the afternoon or even book in an overnight stay if you fancied.

Visit Monstraat
Whilst mountains aren't usually something I would recommend for fun, in fact I really thought I wasn't a fan of any mountain activity (apart from eating), I really enjoyed my day in Monstarrat. Firstly, it was the first time I've been up to the top of a mountain and it was hot so that gave the whole afternoon a whole other edge and secondly, the train ride up there was an experience in itself, I felt like I was on a real life thunder mountain in regards to the mountains and the views (not the crazy rode part) At the top, we took a walk around in the sunshine, watched a school boy choir sing in the huge monastery, had a local lunch and then got the train back to the station. 
Segway ride in Sitges
Segway tours are such a fun thing to do. With the sun out, our evening tour was still pretty warm and a great alternative way to see a place. Don't worry if you've never done it before, I hadn't but our guide was great and went through it individually with each of us before we set off; plus our route was super simple although there was some time to play sound once we got to the park. It's really easy, although riding a segway can actually get pretty exhausting too so an hour was the perfect amount of time.

P.S. I was told that a building site on the seafront was the beginning of ME Barcelona  so soon that'll be another reason to visit Sitges.

Beach club in Vilanova
Vilanova is a very quiet seaside town but as you venture out along the harbor, once you pass all of the yachts, you'll find La Daurada beach club at the end. This is where we had our welcome party and we were all told to wear white in traditional beach club fashion. Starting upstairs, we grabbed a glass of cava and drank it on the balcony before finding the cocktail bar and grabbing a seat downstairs on the beach front. There we watched the sunset which was really quite impressive. The sky changed from clear blue through an incredible range of oranges and reds whilst the live band played.

  • Drink wine in Vilafranca

If you're a wine lover, then this is the one for you. Vilafranca is the wine capital of Catalonia and we did lots of wine related activities during our day there. Firstly, there is the Vinseum where you can learn about wine culture if that's your kind of thing and of course it ends with a glass of wine. We also went to the most beautiful vineyard for lunch (the restaurant there was called Mas Rabell) where we were served 5 courses each paired with a wine. The food felt like there was a lot of thought put into it; each dish was very tasty and well presented too. Lastly, we went up to the bell tower of Santa Maria church whee you can see sweeping views all around. You have to book in your visit but you can opt for the sunset and with a glass of wine visit for just €5. Cheers!

See a human tower in Terressa
Human towers (or castellers) are a traditional spectacle in Catalonia and upon seeing my first one I can confirm they are very impressive. Time you're visit right and you'll be able to catch a public display that happens over most holiday and festivals but if not, like us you can go and watch the local team practice. Minyons de Terrassa, who we went to see were the first team in Spain to build a tower 10 people high. Pretty impressive!
Human towers are tradition in Spain & last night we watched the @visitaterrassa team train 😮 #BCNmuchmore #costabarcelonaweek @Spain_inUK
*Thanks to Costa Barcelona Week for hosting me


Monday, 23 October 2017

I arrived in Bali a little bit broken. Twelve days of non-stop partying as well as making some major life decisions had taken its toll on my body and I was starting to get ill. I only got to bed an hour before my flight the night before; going to bed at 6am was a terrible idea, hindsight eh? so apart from waking up for some instant noodles, I slept the whole way to Bali and woke up tired and disorientated in a new country. Basically, I was in a bit of a state and I needed to sort myself out. Luckily, I was heading to Sukhavati retreat for the next three days and they did just that for me.
I didn’t really think too much about going to a retreat on my own when I booked it in but after the week I had had, it was the perfect place to reflect on what had happened and being there alone gave me the time to just think and really understand what being on my own felt like.

Being picked up from the airport was part of the package and after a very comfortable hours drive, we had arrived in paradise. My time at Sukhavati started with a facial and foot massage in my villa; which was pretty amazing by the way. I've never had treatments in my own space before but it really added another level to the luxury of it; laying on my own bed with the sound of the pool and birds outside, not to mention it was probably the best foot massage I think I have ever had.

The villa was very similar to the one I stayed at in Ubud last year although it was much bigger and this time I had the whole thing to myself. It had a private pool, a huge outdoor sofa area at the front and an incredible outdoor bathroom out the back so I lived in my bikini for three days and didn’t leave unless I really had to (aka going to the spa).

Although there was the option to have dinner brought to the villa, I decided to use meal times as another opportunity to leave the room. There were only a few of us staying at the resort which meant we could all go hours or even days at a time without seeing another else so each night we all sat together and ate at one table which I thought was really lovely - we all got to know each other pretty well over the few days.

It was here, talking to everyone on the first evening that I realised that this retreat wasn’t just about staying somewhere nice and being pampered; people actually came here to get better. A few of the guests were on some kind of starvation day which the doctor had prescribed for them and they were telling us how much the felt better for it. Those of us eating had delicious vegetarian meals each time. This one, beetroot curry, a dahl, quinoa, pumpkin and spinach which was full of goodness and was one of my favourites of my stay. It was just the kind of food I was craving after eating Nandos almost every single day for two weeks back in Kuala Lumpur.
Mornings at the retreat started with early yoga on the terrace, followed by breakfast; which I ate in the villa both times. It was so amazing just getting out of bed, opening the big doors of the villa and sitting down to eat by my private pool. 

After breakfast on my first day, it was my turn to meet with the doctor. I was a little bit worried he was going to put me on a food cleanse but luckily he didn’t. He did however do something which completely amazed me. He asked to feel my pulse and held down on my write for a few minutes. From that he told me that I had disrupted menstruation, which he was right about; he also said there is a stiffness in my back and that I have problems with my digestion. Three things are that really affect my everyday life; I just sat there in shock. He must be a wizard.
A few hours later, I was booked in to have three Ayurvedic treatments that he had prescribed for me; Abhyanga, Body stamping & Shirodhara and they were completely out of this world. Abhyanga is an oil massage but it was different for two reasons, firstly, I was completely covered in oil which the Dr said was important for penetrate the skin and help flush out toxins but also, this massage was done by two people. A couple of times, I caught myself thinking how on earth is she doing that before I realised there were actually four hands rather than two. The next treatment was described to me as body stamping and involved the two therapists using bags of compressed herbs to push more hot oil into my joints.

The last treatment, Shirodhara was just other worldly. I had read about it online and didn’t really understand the benefits of running hot oil over the forehead but once I had experienced it I changed my mind. I laid there for 15 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness; it was a little bit like having an out of body experience. I remembered having conversations with people back in Kuala Lumpar as if it was really happening. It was really strange but totally amazing and I felt so relaxed afterwards - I'd definitely recommend it if you get the chance. 

Back at the villa, I had a couple of hours to relax before dinner and just to process my day. Even after just a few hours here, I was totally relaxed and feeling very spiritual, ready to take on the world again.

Check out their website at Sukhavati retreat

*Thanks to Sukhuvati for hosting me. All comments are 100% my own

Two days in Yogyakarta, Java.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

After getting myself so settled in KL, I was a little bit scared all over again when I arrived in Java. I got there late the night before so after heading straight to bed, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself in the morning; although that didn't take long to change. I sat down for breakfast and the next thing I know, another girl sits down opposite me with her banana pancakes, puts her tea down on the bamboo tables and knocks the whole lot over me. She apologised like crazy and that's how we ended up making plans for one of my favourite days of travelling so far. 

After we had finished our pancakes, we walked out on to the crazy main road in search of the Sultans palace. With only a hand drawn map, I still have no idea how we got there but we did before heading off to the water castle too. Obviously looking a little bit confused, a local man offered to walk us there. I was a little unsure of him at first, if someone had done that in England, there would definitely be some kind of ulterior motive but there wasn't. He took us through a residential area and said goodbye at the gate of the water castle. 

After doing all the local stuff, Clarence wanted to go and see Prambanan temple and she wanted to get a public bus there. Normal, anxious, UK me would not have even thought about it but I followed her up the stairs to the bus stop and bought a ticket without a second thought. Neither of us had any idea where we were going but most of the time, people were shouting directions at us before we had even told them where we wanted to go, they must get a lot of confused tourists. 
Prambaran is one of two very famous temples in Yogyakarta and obviously, it was pretty incredible we arrived half an hour before closing so we didn't have too much time but it was great to see the temple at sunset. Every few minutes whilst wondering around the ruins, we had crowds of school children coming up for photos with us, I now know what it feels like to be a z-lister.

When we finally found the bus stop again afterwards, it was doubly crowded and took twice as long in the evening traffic but I still felt super calm. We were both comfortable with each other by now; one minute we were chatting, the next staring into space with exhaustion and after that we were falling asleep on each other. By the time we got back, it was dark and late so we went to pick up some take away Chinese and ate it together back at the hostel.

The next day I got to do what I came to Yogyakarta for; Borobodur; but this time I was on my own and I was definitely not going to attempt six buses so I booked myself onto a private minibus to and from the temple. I ended up with the front seat so I had my own space and my own air con and it was great.

Borobodur was just as magical as it looked in the photos and I was feeling pretty happy with myself to be there. I had actually flown across the world, on my own and was at a temple that I never thought I'd get the chance to see IRL. I took half an hour to just sit and take it all in, again as the sun was setting; it was another one of those moments for me.

I hardly spoke to anyone all day and it was actually really cool. To go out and explore and not need to rely on anyone. I wanted to leave early so I could look at the market on the way back to the car; so I did, I spent far too long looking at all the Batik clothes and then I left. I hopped straight back in the front seat of the car, put my headphones in and fell alseep, before being dropped off right outside my hostel. 

5 Safety Tips for Flashpacking South East Asia

Friday, 1 September 2017

Whilst travelling to South East Asia is one of my absolute favourite things to do, it can be a very daunting experience, especially if it's your fist time doing so. Not only is it a long way away from home but arriving there, whether it's into a big, crazy city or a small island without any mobile signal, can be a huge culture shock (that's kinda one of the reasons I love it there so much.)

There is a whole different way of life from what I know here in the UK and whilst that means that there lots of new people, places and food to experience, it also means that there are different things to look out for and think about when keeping yourself safe so here are some tips and some things I like to do to keep myself reassured when I'm there.
Hidden Emergency Cash
The whole experience of having money stolen from you whilst you are out exploring a new place is bad enough; but the aftermath of being left with no money is also not very nice. If you are away from your accommodation on a tour for example, you were probably going to need it for food, water and transportation back so it is always helpful to have a secret stash on you that you can use in emergencies like this.

I also try to take as little cash as possible in my wallet on a day out. Just as much as I think I'll need and a little more I'd say, that way, if it does get stolen, I haven't lost too much. Apart from that, I find it very reassuring to keep one larger note easily accessible, on my body just in case. I'd either put it in my shoe or tucked away in my bra but whatever works for you.
Online Protection
Using the free wifi from hostels, coffee shops and airports when you are traveling around South East Asia might seem like the obvious thing to do when you need to get online but doing so makes it very easy for your online world to be hacked into. With access to personal information, someone can very easily ruin a trip, so installing something like Kaspersky Security Cloud is a great way to protect yourself online.

Having security means that any information input to a website when buying a plane ticket or booking accommodation for the next few days for example is kept safe. Also, things like passwords and other personal information such a private messages and data is protected against hackers; and because it is cloud based, you don't need to worry about it taking up precious memory on your laptop. More space for photos!
RFID blocking cards
Card skimming, also known as electronic pick pocketing, can be done from a distance and can result in credit card fraud and stolen identities. By just walking past you in the street, someone can skim all of your personal information from the credit card in your pocket. Passport and driving licence also have these chips in them FYI.

RFID stands for Radio-frequency identification and RFID blocking cards interfere with the radio waves, blocking the frequencies so that any information held in the RFID chip can't be read. They are pricey for a piece of plastic (I got mine as a gift but they were £8) but once you have them, they just slot into your wallet, in front of the important cards and could save you a lot in the long run.

Know Where You're Staying
This helped me out many times when I was in Vietnam and is something I wish I had thought about the year before when I was in Bali with Andrew. We were staying in a luxury resort but it was down a long, one way road and most of the taxi drivers hadn't heard of it before. If we had had a business card on us, they would have just been able to Google the address and take us there but as it was, we didn't and Andrew spent most of our taxi ride directing the driver which way to go. So this year, when I went backpacking through Vietnam, without Andrew (I have no idea where I'm going most of the time), I made sure to take a business card from the hostel out with me so I could just pass it to the driver and have him take me back.
Try To Blend In
Whilst I was very tempted to pack some of favourite holiday clothes and elephant shorts from my last trip (I snuck them in as pyjamas in the end), I think it is much more important to dress safely than fashionably when you are travelling alone. Instead of a bright pink co-ord that I might have packed if I was going on holiday with Andrew, I opted for a simple grey t-shirt dress so as not to draw too much attention to myself when wandering around the big cities on my own.

It's obvious that I'm not a local, of course, but I'd rather try to look like an expat that knows what they are doing than a tourist who can be easily taken advantage of.
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