Travel | What it’s really like to work as an au pair in Australia?

imageUnless you’re sitting on one heck of a trust fund or you’ve just won the lottery, Australia is pretty impossible to travel long-term without working. I worked lots of different types of jobs during my first year down under – hospitality jobs in a theatre and a bar, I got my hands dirty working on a farm, I even became a sales manager! Talk about variety, but one experience stood out above all the rest, for all the wrong reasons. You always hear about backpackers taking an au pair jobs while in Australia – for some it makes them brave enough to move over here having a job already lined up through an agency. For others, it’s a nice break from hostels and a chance to have your own room and live with a family for a while. It can be a great way to get childcare experience for those hoping to work in this industry, or in teaching, in the long run, but it can sometimes be totally different to what you expected.

My time as a nanny was without doubt the worst job I have ever worked in my life. I had never once underestimated the workload I would be taking on, the fact that I wasn’t that keen on children or what the job would entail, and yet I was still horrified by my own experiences. Saying some of it out loud to friends really showed me quite how much I put up with while I was there, and because of this, I wanted to write this post so that other backpackers travelling Australia will be a bit more prepared than I was. I’m not just going to focus on my terrible experiences, because that’s just not fair, I know several people who have had amazing experiences working as au pairs for really lovely families, but I also know some who have really struggled. This post is here to give you all the information so you can make a decision for yourself whether the job is for you, and to know what to do if it doesn’t work out.image

My experience

“I worked as an au pair for three months in Charleville – we’re talking 800km west of Brisbane – which was an incredible opportunity to experience real outback Aussie life. I took the job at the last minute when I struggled to find anything else and on first glance it looked like a good opportunity. It offered me $300 a week plus my own annex, food, gym membership and car/scooter access. I was looking after two boys (6 & 7) who were at school during the day, when I would have cleaning tasks to complete – I would get them ready for school and do drop-offs, then look after them after school, take them to their activities and prepare dinners. It sounded like the dream job for an au pair, but the reality was very different.

“I was never told that one of the children I would be looking after had special needs and with limited experience of looking after children I think this was vital information. This child actually turned out to be the most precious, he was loving and kind and sweet, and once we settled in he was great to look after. Saying goodbye to him was hard after several months together. The other child however, was spoilt, overindulged by his parents who were never there, he bullied his brother and was violent towards me. I don’t blame the child for one second, but the constant changeover of nannies in the home plus a lacklustre attitude to parenting hadn’t helped. Neither had the way his mother spoke to me, which he keenly imitated.

“Every day I would be kicked, punched, slapped, pinched and spoken to like I was worthless by both child and adult. I would be told I should be dead because everyone hated me, or that I was selfish and lazy. I worked 12-14 hour days dealing with every body fluid going, scrubbing, cleaning and cooking for the family and most nights I would finish late, sometimes several hours after I was supposed to finish.

“The family had no respect for their home, it was filthier than most hostels I have stayed in and they would constantly throw rubbish everywhere. Their menagerie of animals would leave trails of droppings across the floor and would piss on the carpets. One weekend, I had cleaned the house on the Friday and left it spotless, the family went on holiday that Sunday and left me to do a deep clean of the house. When I went in on the Sunday, there was rotting food laying all over the kitchen, there was rubbish everywhere, clothes scattered, shit on the floor, there was no end of filth in a house that had been pristine less than 48 hours earlier. It was this spiteful behaviour that became my daily life.

“There are some even worse things including abuse over social media that I won’t share on here, but I want you guys to understand, I worked my arse off for this family and was treated terribly. It makes me really sad that I never got to experience the amazing bond you can get with some families as an au pair, but I could have done no more to make that happen. Despite this, my outback experience was one I will never forget for the amazing people I did meet along the way, it’s just a shame my working life left so much to be desired.”image

Holly’s experience

Holly is an English girl I met while I was working as an au pair, she was a real rock through my three months there and helped keep me sane on many an occasion. She was also working as an au pair for a local family but had a completely different experience to mine. Read on to find out about her job:

“I found the job on Gumtree, I must have applied for around 50 nanny jobs in total and only two ever replied! The one I got and another one prior to that but decided this one was a better fit! I worked for a family in Charleville, in outback Queensland. I was only supposed to work there for three months but ended up staying with the family for over a year, and even moved towns with them!

“I didn’t get a very big wage which was the only thing I didn’t really like about the job, I worked from 7am till 9pm, six days a week so it was long days and very intense! I got $300 a week which doesn’t sound like much at all but I was quite lucky because my family paid for me to live in a house in town, I ate with them 6 days a week and they also provided me with a car and fuel (mainly for work purposes but I could use it in town socially) so the money I earned I got to spend on what I wanted.

“I looked after twin girls, they were five months old when I arrived and 17 months by the time I left, so I saw them change and grow up so much while I was there including crawling, first steps. I was pretty much their second mother, my involvement with that family was pretty intense. I cooked, washed, cleaned, fed, changed, bathed, shopped, played all day! Some days I had the twins just by myself which was hard work and other days the mother and I both looked after them.

“I honestly LOVED this experience. Charleville is so out of the way its not somewhere your average backpacker would’ve stumbled across but I’m so glad I did. I love the town and have made some great friends through it, and the bond I had with the family is one that I think will last a long time. Obviously not everything was perfect, things rarely are but on a whole I wouldn’t have changed this experience at all. At least I can say I’m prepared for my own children now. And I don’t think I ever would have done a lot of the things I have if I hadn’t come out here, I can’t say going to a rodeo or mustering cattle was ever high on my list of things to do but I did them out here!

“What advice do I have for other people interested in doing something like this? Say yes to everything! Life is too short to say no or be too scared, especially when you’re going to a completely new town by yourself. Just be brave and get stuck in! Enjoying yourself is the most important part!”image

Coping with your au pair job:

You might get lucky and have an amazing experience like Holly, or you might suffer like I did, but if things don’t turn out the best with your au pair job – here’s how to cope:

  • Try and have a Skype chat with the people you will be working for before you actually go there, it can help put your mind at ease and prepare you a little.
  • Make sure your job role is clearly outlined before you start – hours working, what your package (accommodation/food/transport) will include.
  • Nanny jobs can often be found on Gumtree instead of through agencies – this can be a good way of finding work. But make sure you vet them as much as possible beforehand – safety above all else and never go to an outback job without letting someone know where you’ll be.
  • Be prepared to work long hours and have a job that will take over your life, but also make sure you have boundaries and allow yourself to have nights completely off from the job.
  • Make sure you get your pay – don’t leave any outstanding when you leave as some will try to get out of paying you.
  • Make sure you get payslips and if you have to drive a vehicle for them, make sure you are insured.
  • Try and raise any problems – if you feel confident enough – with the family and see if they are open to discussion.
  • Don’t be afraid to say no – you’re an employer, not a slave.
  • If you’re somewhere outback, make the effort to get to know people in the closest town, don’t be stuck out on your own with a crappy job. My friends got me through three months of that job – I couldn’t have done it without them.
  • If you’re going very rural – check out this post I wrote on 18 things you learn from working in the Australian outback
  • If you’re in the outback or somewhere secluded and don’t feel safe, contact a friend or someone who can offer advice and get you out of there.
  • If you’re with an agency, contact them and raise concerns, see if they can transfer you to another family.
  • If you’re doing it for a second year visa and think you can battle through, see if you can stick it out, don’t risk finding an even worse employer and losing the hours you have worked.

imageIf you need any advice or have any questions about au pair work, leave a comment below or message me on Facebook or Twitter.

Have you worked as an au pair in Australia -what was your experience like? Where else in the world have you worked as a nanny?

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Travel | How to budget for a gap year and plan your trip

imageOne of the most common messages I receive from readers asks about how to budget for backpacking. I write about saving money and how to plan trips a lot on this site, but one thing I really want to focus on is how you can possibly know how much you will spend on a long-term trip. After all, at home you’ve been living month-to-month rinsing those paycheques dry until you’re watching the days creep by towards pay day. The thought of not having a steady income and relying entirely on your savings can be scary for some – so it’s important to budget correctly and plan realistically if you want to have the best time. I’m all about making the most of your money and every possible experience – I don’t want to miss out on a single trip, meal or massage. BUT, I aways manage to do it on a budget because let’s be honest – I’d rather keep travelling as long as possible than indulge in a week of full luxury.

So how do you budget for a long-term trip?

First of all you need to establish how long you want to travel for and where you plan to go – weighing up the cost of living/travelling in each country. For instance – travelling in Asia is the cheapest travelling I have found and I could easily do a year there on the money I would need for 5-6 months in Australia. But when travelling Australia I have been working along the way and earning a small fortune compared to what I could save at home in the UK. If you’re on a break from work and only have a month – perhaps consider Europe which although expensive is a great way to see a lot of countries in a very short space of time. If you’re looking to travel for six months on a tight budget, Asia is fantastic – you can see so many different countries and the cost of living well is very low. If you’re looking to work abroad and fancy doing a year abroad – why not go for a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand or Canada and try a combination of working and travelling?image

What kind of trip?

What are your priorities when you travel – are you looking for a full cultural experience of staying with locals? Are you planning to party your way around the world? Or are you a thrill seeker who wants to try every adventure trip going? You need to factor in the cost of trips/alcohol/food/living costs and be realistic. Always over-compensate – what’s that quote?

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

I couldn’t agree more – take as much money as possible by giving yourself enough time to save and cutting costs wherever you can (check out my top tips here). I worked five jobs for a year before going away the first time – it was worth every miserable second when it meant I saved £10,000, didn’t have to work for nine months and lived like a queen! I personally like a balance of cutting costs, partying a lot and adventure trips so I always think about how I can balance them. Sometimes I will stay in the cheapest accommodation possible and live off instant noodles so that I can justify an amazing road trip or island cruise. Other times I won’t be interested in trips and will spend all my money on cocktails and my own private hut on the beach. When I budget for my trip I take that into account and over budget my living costs. I always try and budget roughly £1,000 a month no matter where I am – then I know that in Asia I will hugely underspend which balances out in Australia when I definitely overspend, likewise with Europe I budgeted more because I knew I was travelling around a lot very quickly which costs more – best way to cut costs when you travel? Stay still for a while in a cheap place and just live simple.

Be realistic

We all have those times when we accidentally splash too much cash, when we shop too much in the markets or take our card on a night out then look at our account the next day with horror. I know I’m definitely guilty of that at home and since I’ve ben travelling – but it’s good to acknowledge it. If you admit you are possibly going to do it, budget for it and give yourself a cushion of cash to keep yourself out of the red.image

Don’t forget

Remember to account for any home costs while you’re away – if you’re still paying rent on a house or phone bills/credit cards you need to make sure you have the money available in the correct accounts at all times. You need to make sure you can afford to do this and don’t end up in more debt as a result of messing up your money or under-budgeting.

Don’t let budgeting put you off

Remember you will never have as much money as you would like. It would be great to live in that dream world where you have a constant supply to keep you going, but it may never happen. Don’t let that stop you from travelling – I know people who have gone away with £1-2000 for a long trip and who have just figured it out along the way. I always think the less money we have, the better we are with it. And always remember – there are so many amazing options for working abroad these days – those working holiday visas I mentioned earlier, see if your own current working company can transfer you abroad, study abroad, teach English around the world, volunteer, work for accommodation. The options are endless and there is always a way to make your travelling dreams a reality. I’ve been both the richest and the poorest I’ve ever been since travelling and I can assure you I’ve lived the dream throughout both. If you’re determined and committed to making it a reality, you will always find a way.

This post was a collaboration with Auto Advance.

Need budget tips for your upcoming trip – leave a comment below with any questions! What are your best budget tips for preparing for a long-term trip?

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Indonesia | Explore Yogyakarta, the soul of Java

imageWhen I travelled to Bali last month, I only planned to stay for a week but I fell in love with the Indonesian culture and the incredible landscape. A month later I only left because of my visa but I know for sure I’ll be back in the future to explore more of Indonesia in the years to come. There are thousands of incredible islands waiting to be explored and each come with their own incredible sights, customs and experiences just waiting to be discovered. From the jungles of Borneo to the beauty of the Gili islands and the wildness of Komodo Island – Indonesia truly captivates the soul. One area I would love to visit is Java, and when the team at Hotel Tentrum Yogyakarta asked me to write about my perfect trip there, I couldn’t resist the chance to share it with you guys. Yogyakarta has long been described as the artistic soul of Java and it’s easy to see why when it has combined the traditional Balinese culture with modern living. Now famed for its arts and culture, the city remains protective over its customs combining the new with the old.imageIf you’re planning a trip to the city, be sure to check out some of the incredible natural sights that lie all around, delve into the history of years gone by and indulge in the foodie highlights around the city. Don’t miss these top sights:

  1. Stand in awe of the magnificent Prambanan Temple, the 9th century Hindu temple is part of the Indonesia UNESCO World Heritage Site, being one of the largest Hindu temple architecture in Southeast Asia. Just 18km outside of Yogyakarta, it can easily be reached by bus and is well worth a visit.
  2. Just a short walk from Prambanan, the eerier Sewu Temple will leave you with chills as you walk around and attempt to uncover the mystery of this captivating temple. Be sure to explore every dark corner to discover some incredible carvings.
  3. Even for those who usually don’t hike or climb, the short hike to Mount Merapi is a sight that will leave you humbled as you walk through the leftovers of homes shattered by the 2010 eruption of the volcano.
  4. For a peek behind-the-scenes into the opulent world of a sultan, visit the Taman Sari Water Castle and explore the huge complex that used to be a former royal garden.
  5. Try Gudeg, the most famous dish in Yogyakarta, this unique Indonesian dish is a stew made from young jackfruit (nangka) with palm sugar, coconut milk, meat, garlic, and spices.
  6. Shop at Jalan Malioboro and Pasar Beringharjo for bargains when it comes to silver jewellery, food and almost anything you can think of. Barter with market stall holders for the full Indonesian experience.
  7. In total contrast to the temples and culture of Yogyakarta, head out for a day trip to Jomblang Cave if you fancy an adventure. Visit the ancient forests, try your hand at vertical caving and lots more. An astonishing natural sight, prepare your camera for some amazing shots.
  8. The cable cars at Timang Beach will give you a day off sightseeing as you travel suspended high across the bay and enjoy the beautiful sights.
  9. Fancy dosing up on a bit more local culture? The Ullen Sentalu Museum showcases a lot of old photographs, paintings, fabrics, old letters and statues that show Javanese culture.

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If that’s whet your appetite for a visit, why not take a look at these Yogyakarta hotel deals and start planning your trip? Have you been to Yogyakarta – what was your highlight? Can you recommend any places to visit?

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Travel | 10 ways to make long-haul flights bearable

imageWhen it comes to tropical holidays on those pure white sandy beaches – often it seems nothing but a dream to those with one great big barrier standing between them and paradise. Long-haul flights are either amazing or horrendous – every person feels a little differently about them but for so many they actually prevent them from exploring some of the world’s most exciting and beautiful destinations. I’ve always loved flying, since I was a little girl I loved the excitement of getting up in the middle of the night and stealing away to the airport, of watching planes taxi down the runway and eventually that moment when you take off to somewhere hot and sunny. But despite enjoying them for the most part, I will definitely admit long-haul flights are a slog and having several connecting flights can be a total mood-kill when you just want to be on holiday. In the last two years I’ve completely lost count of how many flights I’ve been on, both short and long-haul, and I’ve literally flown from one side of the world to another several times, so I’m getting pretty good at knowing what makes my life a little better when I travel.imageThe team behind Optrex are also pretty good at knowing what will help make that journey a little easier – when they heard I was flying to Bali they popped a little something in the post for me. Their Cloud Nine kit was just what I needed to get me through a long layover between flights in Dubai airport. The box came complete with a great little travel wallet to store all my important travel documents – the perfect size for your passport and money. To keep me entertained on the one flight there was a pair of headphones which block out noise from the plane engines and the departure lounges as I listen to my chill mixes and caught up on some zzz’s. For someone who normally just sticks to earphones, these were a great new addition to my hand luggage. Finally the highlight of the package – the brand new Optrex Warming Eye Masks – one of their newest products and one that I now swear by for travelling. I never would have thought of an eye mask as something useful for travelling but it was a total game changer on that flight to Bali. When you pop the mask on it instantly starts warming the skin around your eyes and soothes tired, dry eyes – as someone who suffers with hay fever, I could tell they would be great for easing the itchy feeling. The masks are perfect for sensitive skin and use Microsteam technology that is air activated, they’re available unscented or with a hint of lavender to help you sleep. I’ve been rationing the rest of the pack on my flights since to make sure I always have at least one mask in my bag for any long journeys.image

So many people actually let a long flight stand in the way of them seeing what’s on the other side of the world, when there are so many ways to make long-haul flights that little bit easier. Check out my top tips for changing your in-flight experience:

10 ways to make long-haul flights more bearable:

  1. Dress smart – the clothes you wear to the airport can change your whole experience. Always put comfort first – I usually travel in leggings because they’re much softer than jeans and they don’t wrinkle. Plus you can make them look much smarter with a nice top. Always take a scarf to block any drafty air conditioning on the plane, and remember to try and look a bit smarter – you’re more likely to get upgraded if you look the part. I always get cold when I travel so I always take a few layers with me.
  2. Home comforts – you’re going to be travelling for up to 24 hours with barely a break, things are going to get a bit gross. Always pack your toothbrush and toothpaste – it’s amazing how brushing your teeth can make you feel like a new woman. And I always pack face wipes and moisturiser so I can take my make-up off, or put it on. Plus the air on the plane is very drying so it can feel amazing to put moisturiser all over your face.
  3. Bring entertainment. Whether you take your laptop and work through the flight, a book to read or music to listen to, make sure you have something. Most long-haul flights come with in-flight movies and entertainment now but it still doesn’t hurt to come prepared in case those break or are unavailable – 24 hours is a long time to stare at the seat in front of you.
  4. Eat – I always treat travel days like treat days – I usually never know where my next meal is coming from and find myself bored and waiting around a lot so I just make it my business to eat as often as possible – my record is 12 meals in 24 hours. Calories don’t count if you’re on different continents.
  5. Head to an airport lounge for some pre-flight relaxation – if you’re going to spend the next 48 hours travelling, it’s nice to treat yourself a bit before. Lounges offer a perfect place to unwind, eat and pamper yourself before taking to the skies.
  6. Catch up on sleep – a lot of people struggle to sleep on long flights, the noise and lack of legroom can make it hard to relax enough to sleep. I know I usually end up either working or watching movies the whole way then end up feeling wrecked when I arrive. But a perfect chilled playlist on your iPod can change everything – I always make sure I have a few super chilled albums to listen to – my favourites are The XX and Lapsley at the moment and never fail to relax me enough for a good sleep.
  7. Organise yourself well beforehand. By making sure you have all your travel documents to hand, all your visas are in order and your airport shuttle at the other end is booked – you’re free to relax and enjoy the journey.
  8. Give yourself peace of mind by ensuring that your home and belongings are safely locked up at home – check out my guide for keeping your home safe when you travel.
  9. Don’t forget your manners and talk to the staff – airline staff get a bad rap when behind-the-scenes they do a very hard job. They are in charge of your in-flight experience and can make-or-break it for you, so throw a smile their way and chat to them – it can be the difference between a miserable and a great experience.
  10. Always remember, the journey is just as important as the destination – some of my greatest travelling memories have been the anticipation of the trip and the experience of getting there. Don’t get so caught up in the length of the flight that you forget to enjoy the pre-holiday build-up!

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What are your best tips for making long-haul flights bearable? What are your most important hand luggage items?

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Travel | Top tips for keeping your home safe while you travel

imageWhether you’re heading off on that much anticipated two week holiday or you’re heading off on a huge backpacking trip, it’s important not to get so carried away you forget to safeguard your home. So often it is the last thing we think about when we’re going away, but it is actually the time when our homes and our possessions are most vulnerable. With thieves getting smarter and so much of our personal lives being available for the world to see on social media, it only takes one bad egg to take advantage of your trip to line their own pockets. But as ever with travelling, planning is key and can save you a lot of time, hassle and money. So when planning your next trip, why not put some of these suggestions in action and see how much of a difference they make. You can spend as much as you like on a luxurious resort, but if you don’t have peace of mind that your home is safe, there’s almost no point in being there. Treat yourself to full relaxation on your next holiday by making sure you’ve done everything in your power to give yourself a good homecoming.

What can you do to protect your home?

For city breaks/summer holidays:

  • Make friends with your neighbours – they’re the best security watch you can get and they’re totally free (well, perhaps get them a box of chocolates to say thanks for watching the house)
  • Stay off social media. As hard as it can be to not boast pics of you sipping on cocktails in the Maldives, there have been several homes targeted by thieves who knew people were on holiday from social media.
  • Get a house sitter – there are lots of websites where you can get house sitters for any length of time – in exchange for a place to stay people will watch the house and any pets you may have. Or ask a friend/family member to do it.
  • Install a security system – good quality systems are available for all budgets these days and will offer 24/7 monitoring of your home and possessions. Check out this Panasonic Smart Homes System.
  • Make sure the building is secure before you leave – all doors/windows should be locked and make sure expensive items are not on display, you don’t want to tempt any opportunist thieves.
  • Don’t close all curtains and make the building look abandoned – it is very clear when no-one is home and it is most vulnerable. Instead use net curtains/blinds to block views into the downstairs rooms, leaving the main curtains open and making the building appear active.

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For the long-term travellers:

  • See if you can find someone to rent or live in the property while you are away. If you can’t find a renter, consider Air BnB (which will also generate income) or house sitters to make sure there is always someone at the property and that it doesn’t sit abandoned.
  • Ensure the building is secure before you leave – check all exits and entrances, all windows and doors for vulnerable points or anywhere that could be a target for thieves. Replace any weak joints/hinges that could become a problem in six months.
  • Making friends with neighbours or having a friend/family member who can monitor and check up on the building is a good idea whether you have renters or not.
  • Installing a security system can be a good way to instantly alert authorities or family if there is a problem and the property is unattended.
  • Place any expensive items that will not be used (i.e. cars/TV/computer) in secure storage so they are not left in an unattended house.
  • Make sure your house insurance/contents insurance is up-to-date no matter where you are in the world or how far away it all seems. It only takes a burst pipe or an opportunist thief to cause serious damage at your home and you want to be covered for all forms of loss.

Don’t suffer from FOBA (Fear Of Being Away) – get out there and enjoy your travels by doing all you can to protect your home while you’re away. Just as you padlock up your suitcase and buy travel insurance as a back up in case anything goes wrong – make sure you look after what’s waiting for you at home. Also, stay safe abroad by checking out my safety tips for travelling solo.

Have you been a victim of theft while on holiday? What security do you put in place at your home while you travel?

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Bali | Luxury on a budget with Grandma’s Hotels

imageOkay so my travels kind of ran away with me and writing has taken a bit of a back seat lately. The last six weeks since I left home have given me endless reams of adventures to share with you all, but I just haven’t had enough time to sit with my laptop and actually write. It’s frustratingly satisfying when your life is so full that you don’t have time to share it, but I can’t help but miss the process of writing and sharing every step with you guys. So I’m here, I’m back guys, and I bring endless amazing photos, anecdotes and reviews of all the fabulous places I’ve been over the last few weeks. I’m writing this from Sydney Airport, halfway between Cairns and Tasmania, but I want to take you back in time a few weeks to when I first arrived in Bali. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Grandma’s Hotels in both Kuta and Seminyak during my first week in Bali and I think it’s about time I shared my experiences with you. I was invited along to review the two hotels and I was excited to check them out – as part of easing myself back into backpacker life it was nice to start out with all the luxuries of a hotel but perfectly aimed at business or budget travellers.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Seminyak

We started off by spending a couple of nights at Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Seminyak and it was a perfect place to kick off my time in Bali. The hotel is perfectly positioned to enjoy all the bars, restaurants and nightlife Seminyak has to offer while also being right next to the beach. Despite being so close to several big clubs, the hotel is very peaceful and you wouldn’t even know that you were just down the road from some of the biggest nights out in the area. As we pulled up in the taxi, we were instantly impressed by the style and design of the hotel, unlike others on the street it looked almost as though it had been reclaimed by nature. The tropical greenery and vines wound through the walls and around the pathways throughout the building, it was such a unique look and I loved the way all of the interiors had been designed to fit with this natural theme. Combining natural jungle paradise vibes with a sleek, modern layout worked really well and set the hotel apart from the rest.

As we walked past the swimming pool and made our way up to our room, I was even more impressed by the high standard of comfort available for those on a budget. We had a twin room with an en suite, but doubles are also available, and my oh my, let me just tell you about the beds. Now beds are a big deal, especially when you’re a budget traveler or backpacker, all too often I end up sleeping on springs or some lumpy mattress! So laying down on this incredible mattress was an absolute dream – I almost didn’t get out of bed the whole time we were there! After spending a month in Bali I now know how often you get promised hot showers and actually find cold water running out of them, so the showers in the hotel were heaven – powerful and with endless hot water. The room was great, it had everything we needed and more, it was compact and well-designed so that it actually had those fun hostel vibes but with the privacy and comfort of a private room.image

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Legian

After a couple of nights in Seminyak, we moved to the Grandma’s Plus Hotel in Legian, not far away but in a whole other section of the popular stretch of Kuta. Streets lined with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants awaited us, this section was far busier but proves a big draw for travellers of all ages who want to relax or party on their holidays. This hotel is designed along a similar theme of jungle greens and staff welcome you in to the towering structure through a leafy pergola. This hotel is set around the restaurant where breakfast is served, with huge, high ceilings and trailing vines dangling from the rafters, it’s a beautiful place to start your day with a delicious breakfast included with the room price. You can choose from an Indonesian breakfast to Eggs Benedict and all plates come with fruit and treats from the bakery – a perfect meal to set you up for a day of sunbathing or exploring.

The hotel has the feeling of an oasis after stepping off the chaotic, busy street outside into the cool, calm atmosphere, it’s soothing. Again the rooms are of the usual high standard and came with all the amenities we would need during our stay, and the beds were just as comfortable as the ones I had just left behind at the other hotel. The only thing we did notice with this hotel was that there was a bit of street noise despite us being seven floors up, but understandably we the hotel was in the middle of the busiest part of Bali. I can’t fault the staff at both hotels, they were amazing and so helpful. Everything from moving us into our rooms to organising taxis and even trying to help me fix a SIM card for my phone. They made our stay go from good to excellent with their great attitudes and friendly manner.image

Spa time

While we were staying at the hotels, we were also invited along to try out their spas. At Grandma’s in Seminyak we headed to De Nyuh Spa and Salon for a full body Balinese massage – my first in the country – then at the hotel in Legian we went to Rehat Massage and Reflexology. Both spas were located within the hotel building, so super convenient if you fancy a pamper but aren’t ready to face the outside world yet. Both were beautiful designed and brought instant calm and peace to you as you walked in the door, the soothing music combined with the floral displays and the dark wood kept the spas cool and laced with gentle Balinese aromas. Having now had several Balinese massages, I can say that these two massages were actually two of the best I had while in Bali. If you’re staying at either hotel, I would really recommend visiting the spa for a bit of me-time – you’ll come away feeling like a new person and ready to really embrace your holiday.

Have you stayed at Grandma’s Hotels – how was your experience? What kind of accommodation do you normally go for on holiday? 

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Travel | Planning your Northern Lights adventure

nl-spitsbergenWe’ve all got those places on our bucket list, the ones that fire up our imagination and lose us in daydreams when we’re at work. Mine is already never-ending, but there will always be certain places on there that stand out as ones that would be totally unforgettable. I’ve written about my top choices many times but this time it is more poignant than ever – by the time you read this I will be down in Tasmania. Going from Bali to Cairns, then down to Tasmania is around a 30 degree drop in temperature and don’t get me started on the humidity. It’s going to be a brutal shock to the system – so why am I doing it? Because it is exactly now that the Southern Lights are in full force with some of the strongest bursts seen in a long time. I only discovered that the Southern Lights were actually a real thing round a year ago and vowed I simply had to see them with my own eyes. You’ll already know how desperate I am to visit Iceland and see the Northern Lights, but spending so much time in the Southern Hemisphere due to my travels I’m a bit restricted on opportunities. So I thought I’ll put Iceland on hold, but the Southern Lights are an absolute must-see while I’m down here – that way when I finally get to Iceland I’ll be able to say I’ve seen both!

Now I hate repeating myself and always want to bring you guys fresh new posts – so this time I’ve worked with Best Served Scandinavia to help you plan your trip to see the Northern Lights. There are so many different ways to experience them that it’s important to find the perfect trip just for you.nl-tromso

Where to see them?

When you talk about the Northern Lights, everyone’s mind jumps straight to Iceland but it’s not the only place you can see this natural phenomenon. Heading up towards the Arctic Circle, you can also glimpse the famous green glow in the skies over Norway, Sweden, Finland or Greenland. You can even see them in Canada and Russia! Each of these places will die you that same opportunity to see the Lights but to perhaps get a little off the beaten tourist track and will give you the opportunity to visit somewhere a bit different. The best time to spot the Northern Lights at their brightest is between September and March as the darker and longer nights make them clearer to the naked eye.nl-thingvellir-national-park

Where to stay?

Once you’ve narrowed down a place, it’s important to make sure you book a place to stay as early as possible. As you can imagine, resorts get booked up pretty quickly and if you want to score a night in one of the luxurious lodges with hot tubs and a glass roof to watch the lights from your bed, you better lock in the dates quick. I know when I eventually get to go, I would want to go all out and experience all the amazing luxuries that come with the Northern Lights trip. I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about staying in an igloo with a glass roof at so I can watch the Lights from my bed, or a snow hotel, or a safari camp like this one, or even a treehouse! There are so many incredible options available and you could even combine different ones to really give yourself some once in a lifetime experiences.nl-lapland

What kind of trip are you after?

It’s also important when planning to decide what kind of trip you’re after. Are you taking your partner for a weekend of romance under the Norther Lights, or are you in the mood for a luxury spa experience, or are you a bit of an adventure seeker like me? There are so many other amazing activities you can try out around light spotting, it’s a good opportunity to fill your days with amazing memories as well as your nights. Depending on which country you choose there are options like dog sledding, horseback riding, visiting the Blue Lagoon, visiting volcanoes and waterfalls, sightseeing palaces and cathedrals, cruises and much more. It’s worth bearing that in mind when you choose the country you want to visit.nl-horizontalOnce you’ve made all the big decisions, it’s time to jet off and just enjoy your trip. Pack some warm layers and a good camera to capture the magic of every last moment – this will be a holiday to remember for years to come. If you need any help organising your trip to see the Northern Lights, look no further than Best Served Scandinavia to answer all of your questions and help you plan the perfect trip.

Have you been to see the Northern Lights, or the Southern Lights? How was your experience – can you give any tips for a first-timer?

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Food | Talking oils and nursing myself back to health

imageI’ve been writing a LOT about travel lately, and while I still have so much to share with you all from my month travelling around Europe and now Indonesia, I thought it would be a nice time to take a moment’s break to talk about two of my other passions. Anyone who knows me will know that I’m a big foodie at heart and that I love to stay fit and healthy – combining the two is a big love of mine and something I dedicate a lot of time to when I’m not travelling. We all know how hard it is to keep it going when you’re on holiday – well apparently my life is a holiday but if there’s something I hate, it’s getting ill while travelling. I’m actually writing this when my body is a wreck – too much partying means I’m now popping Vitamin C and painkillers to stave off every illness going and I know exactly why. It’s because my diet has suffered since being in Bali – I haven’t been eating as many fruits and vegetables since being away, I haven’t been eating enough and half the time I’ve had an upset tummy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast here, but it does catch up with you! So now I’m taking a few days of good, healthy food, fresh fruit smoothies and good sleep to recuperate.imageA few days off partying and sightseeing has given me time to use my brain a bit and talk to people, quite a few of these conversations have naturally led to one of my favourite products and one that is widely available in Asia – coconut oil. I love everything coconut – from the meat, the milk and the water, to the oils and natural products created from them. It is lifesaver for a girl with skin as delicate as mine – coconut oil is one of the few things I know I can use liberally without causing rashes both to eat and on my skin – it’s so pure that it can do no wrong. And one of the lovely things about buying it out here, is not only that it is so cheap, but that it has no preservatives or nasties added to it – it’s pretty much as pure as you can get it without the “health food” price attached. Even when I’m in the UK, I try to make sure I drink as much coconut water as possible and use coconut oil on my skin, hair and nails – it’s definitely a lot more pricey than it is out here but it’s worth it. Even long before it became “fashionable” I knew the value of using oils instead of lotions and creams that were packed full of things I could be allergic to. Trust me, once you find that out the hard way a few times, you become very cautious about what you are putting on, and in, your body.imageIf you do struggle with your skin like I do, particularly with eczema and dry patches, it’s a really good idea to take a look at your oil use. I’ve always alternated the use of coconut oil with olive oils to get the best results – both in my food and on my skin. While both have amazing affects when you add them to your diet, I notice huge differences when I also apply them externally. Often before going to bed I will cover my skin in coconut oil, or will coat any dry patches in olive oil, then allow it to soak in. By doing it when your body is resting, it has so much more time to really soak in and work it’s magic, trust me – as someone who has suffered with these problems for years – nothing has ever worked better than simple oils on your plate and on your skin. It’s also great to combine the oils with a body butter, if you can find one pure enough, that way the deeper layers of your skin absorb the oil while the butter moisturises the top layers. I personally find The Body Shop’s argan oil or cocoa body butters work really well this way, plus they smell amazing!imageIf you followed my blog over the last few months, you’ll know that I holidayed in Santorini with my parents for a few weeks. Greece is a big favourite with my parents – they love the food, the culture, the landscape, and after years of holidays there I can only agree with them. It’s a fabulous country and particularly when you get down to the islands, each one is completely different but still maintains the charm and traditions of Greece. One thing I really love about Greece is their Mediterranean diet, I do think Greek food is one cuisine that I could happily live off for the rest of my days. Maybe less of the bread, but throw all the seafood, salads and wine at me! We were living off the most delicious Greek salads, and even Santorini salads, dressed in the simplest of dressings, just the very finest olive oils and vinegar – so good they speak for themselves! When it came to seafood, the simpler the better. I’d have sea bass or bream, or even snapper, dressed simply in herbs and drizzled with olive oil before being barbecued. It was some of the most delicious food I’ve ever had and yet some of the simplest. The Greeks sure know the value of quality over quantity – they would rather serve just three ingredients but the very finest quality and flavours than have a whole plate of tastes that don’t quite get your palate excited.imageAt home we use a lot of olive oil in cooking and preparing meals, so if you’re struggling to think of ways of integrating more good oils into your diet it’s worth trying out some of my favourites. Salads are an easy way to introduce olive oils to your diet – drizzle olive oil and either balsamic or white wine vinegar over your salad, and the beauty of salad is that it doesn’t just have to be boring lettuce. You can mix it up and try quinoa, pumpkin, cous cous, spinach and all kinds of other tasty treats. If you like seafood, you can’t beat a nice bit of salmon wrapped in foil in the oven for 20 minutes, drizzle oil over it and add chilli or paprika for flavour – serve with sweet potato fries or minty potatoes. And if you need a little something for the side, why not add roasted vegetables? Just chop up loads of veg in a tray then drizzle oil all over it and season, stick it in the oven and roast for half an hour or until soft – perfect side dish. Or if you’re just cooking for one – do what I used to do at uni, roast loads then keep it in the fridge for wraps – yum! If you want to learn a little more about the different types of olive oil and what to do with them – you should check out this great infographic from Jamie’s Italian. It tells you all you need to know about how to cook with different types of oil to get the best results.jamies-italian-olive-oil-buyers-guide_57320f2dda035_w1500

Or, if you’re feeling like treating yourself, why not click here to book a table at Jamie’s Italian and let the pros show you how it’s done?

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Travel | 20 romantic experiences every travelling girl should have

11062_10152623571112617_7178081394249079839_nI’m a bit of a romantic at heart, just like most girls I love being swept off my feet and can find something beautiful in the smallest gestures. When you’re travelling, it’s easy to be caught up in the romance of your very existence, the transient nature of your life brings romance to the simplest moments. With tropical temperatures, sandy beaches and stunning sunsets at every turn, Asia is the perfect setting for a travelling romance, while Australia provides the incredible landscape to get lost with your newfound love. Europe is just perfect for those warm summer evenings drinking wine together or exploring a city of culture, there’s romance of years gone by haunting the streets you walk. When you travel it’s easy to fall for people and to fall hard and fast, you get swept away by the romance, the freedom and the excitement of it all. Add in the ticking time limit of that plane ticket home and things can get pretty intense. The important thing for travelling girls to remember when things come to an end, is not to feel broken-hearted over the love you lost but to enjoy the memories of what you had. Every single perfect second of your time together whether it was just one night, a few weeks or months together. Those precious memories of your fleeting romance will stay with you in years to come and will shape your travelling stories.

When travelling I love meeting couples who met on the road, couples who have managed to make things work beyond travelling. I love seeing people in the grips of romance who cannot imagine a life without the person they just met two nights ago. It’s beautiful and pure, it’s love in it’s own right and even if it doesn’t last, it doesn’t mean you didn’t feel it at the time. I was lucky enough to meet an amazing couple  who have become my very good friends, they met while volunteering together in South America and now several years later they have traveled the world together. In Thailand, I met an Australian girl who was crazy in love with an English guy and two years later they are still travelling the world together. It’s amazing when you hear these stories and so lovely to know that travel doesn’t have to stand in the way of finding love. But for every success story, there are a hundred stories of heartache and of lost loves – so for all of these, here is my list of the 10 romantic moments you need to experience when you are travelling:

  1. Watch a perfect sunset with the most amazing person, hold hands and watch the sun dip below the horizon. Don’t speak a word, let the colours and the moment speak for itself.
  2. Get lost together – go off exploring somewhere new and don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path, getting lost can be fun it will give you more time to get to know each other.
  3. Camp out or lay in the back of a truck under the stars – some of the most romantic nights of my life were spent counting shooting stars with someone special.
  4. Go for a massage together – if you’re in Asia, this is a must. Cheap massages are the perfect way to spend a relaxing evening together. Try a foot massage for a less naked option.
  5. Go on a road trip together for a day, a week or a month. Nothing will teach you more about a person than spending 24 hours a day with them in a car but if you come out the other side, it must be special.
  6. Try something new together – snorkeling or diving could be an exciting first date, or try a cooking class, surfing lesson, wine tour, white water rafting. Sharing a fun experience can be an amazing way to bond.
  7. Teach each other something whether it is a language, a card game or a party trick. It’s amazing to have a beautiful memory of a person you met and to know that they taught you a new skill.
  8. Change your plans. When you’re a solo traveler, you’re always up for changing your plans if something – or someone – exciting comes along. So throw off your guard and give in to the moment.
  9. Have those really deep conversations where you share your soul with someone you barely know. The ones that leave you feeling like no-one has ever understood you like this before, or will again.
  10. Go skinny dipping, it’s cheeky, it’s silly and it’s fun. Let your inhibitions go and do something a bit wild, something a twenty-something who is travelling the word shouldn’t be afraid to do. It’ll be a great story one day.
  11. Have a date night – it could be dinner out or something wacky, but make the effort for each other, dress up and enjoy a little luxury together.
  12. Write a love letter, or receive one. There’s something so special about a hand-written note that you can keep forever. It can be a goodbye note you leave on his pillow on the way to the airport or a letter you send across the world.
  13. Make wild, crazy plans for the future. Lay in bed together talking about all the places you want to go and the things you want to do. Share the fantasy, even if you’ll never do them together.
  14. Be naughty – break the rules together. Take that how you will but trust me – it’s fun!
  15. Take cheesy cute tourist photos together as you explore a new city.
  16. Don’t listen to reason – so what if you live on opposite sides of the world? So what if you only have two days? Declare your love, fall head-over-heels and make those two days something to remember.
  17. Spend a holiday together – Christmas or New Year, even Oktoberfest! Celebrate something together and share a kiss at midnight in a foreign country – it’ll be one of those cute little stories that stay with you for life.
  18. Sit on the beach and watch the sun rise after an epic night out together, don’t stop until you’ve danced and laughed your heart out, then find some calm as the sea laps against the shore and the skies go pink.
  19. Have that moment when you look at this person and realise men aren’t all bad no matter how much you’ve been messed around, when you realise that you can love like this and you will again.
  20. Have an emotional goodbye at an airport. Every girl should walk through security with tears in her eyes at least once after a sad farewell to an amazing person.

imageDon’t get caught up in why it didn’t work, just make beautiful memories with that person and enjoy every moment of your time together. In twenty or thirty years would you rather remember bitter heartbreak from the guy you met on that beautiful Thai beach, or would you prefer to remember that night you held hands and watched the perfect sunset together?

Tell me about your most romantic travelling moments – what is your favourite memory? Which country holds the most romance for you?

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London | Affordable luxe dining at Island Grill

island-grill-copyI’m so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad – I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I’m passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.island-grill-barAs we arrived at the restaurant, you can’t help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you’ve read my review from Cottons, you’ll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn’t fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening – the perfect balance.imageWe kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef’s passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn’t recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.imageFor our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn’t have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn’t want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.imageApologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven’t come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you’re heading to London, or you’re already living there, I can’t recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it’s extremely affordable! It’s not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.

Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?

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