Australia | My ultimate budget guide for a month on the East Coast

11745765_1147415768609240_7957452483586575087_nThere’s no denying the East Coast is a huge draw for young travellers heading to Australia. With its white sandy beaches, epic party spots and the Great Barrier Reef on your doorstep, it’s become something of a rite of passage for backpackers. For first-time travellers, it’s a perfect place to start out with all the familiarities of home but a damn sight more sunshine and fun trips to do. There’s no better place to make friends in Australia and many of the people I met on the East Coast actually became some of the best friends I have found since travelling. There’s so much fun to be had along the way with Fraser Island being a huge highlight for me, but don’t forget Whitsundays cruises, skydiving, white water rafting, surfing in Byron Bay and all the rest. The list of amazing trips and things to do is endless, and it can become a bit daunting when you first start thinking about planning your East Coast adventure, it doesn’t take long for things to get very expensive! The East Coast will without a doubt be the most expensive part of your time in Australia – why? Because you’re spending weeks partying non-stop and going on incredible trips – don’t worry, it’s worth every penny! But there are lots of ways to cut costs along the way – it just takes careful planning. So how do you go about budgeting for your trip?11224855_10152949576367617_5464624702726152160_n

How long does it take?

First of all, you need to decide how long you’re going to spend on your trip – whether you’re squeezing it in just before a flight home or have endless time to stop off along the way. I took five weeks to complete the trip, starting in Sydney and including one final week in Cairns. This seemed a perfect amount of time to fit in all the trips we wanted while still getting some downtime to relax between the nights out. I’ve had friends do it in two or three weeks, but they all wished they had longer to do it. Likewise, I’ve known a lot of people who, instead of booking a whole trip in one go, have figured it out along the way and stopped off in places to work. After asking a lot of travellers I met along the way, the consensus was that four weeks was the optimum time to take travelling the East Coast. 

It’s important to work out what your budget will allow for, to work out who you’ll be travelling with and how long you want to spend at each stop. Also, think about whether you want to do it during peak season, we did it during winter and still had amazing weather, and met lots of people – but it did make the trip cheaper overall. If you’re travelling with a big group there may be less flexibility on time and costs, but you may also manage to get great group discounts if you all book together. If you’re travelling as a pair, or alone, you get total freedom over every stop and can just decide on the spur of the moment to hitch a lift with anyone you meet along the way which can work out a lot cheaper. Even booking as a pair will wind up being cheaper overall than booking individually as they’ll often throw in extra meals/trips for free or discounted rates. Speak to a travel agent when you’re looking to book and ask for their best offer, then visit three others from different companies and ask for their best offer. Ask them if they can beat the previous offer!11898942_10153005074437617_7025964837598304311_n

Where to stay?

There are lots of different accommodation options from camping and couch surfing, to hostels and hotels, but by far the best option is hostels when you’re on the East Coast. They’re the best place to meet people and get further discounts on food and trips. I saw the very worst and the very best of hostels on the East Coast – from the bed-bug infested and the filthy to the luxurious chalets and en suites. The best way to find the best of the best – ask other travellers you meet along the way for up-to-date reviews and cheap deals.

  • Cheapest hostel: Gilligans Backpackers Hotel & Resort at £14/$25 for 10 bed dorm
  • Most expensive hostel: WakeUp Hostel in Sydney at £22-26/$38-45 a night
  • Favourite hostel: Base Backpackers Airlie Beach Resort at £19/$33 for a six bed dorm
  • Least favourite hostel: BUNK Brisbane at £14/$25 a night for a 20 bed dorm
  • Average bed: £18/$31 a night

TOP TIP: Always ask at the travel desk – often backpackers run it and they’re just as keen to get you the best deal as you are to find it. They’ll often give you huge discounts and throw in extra free meals or the odd night’s free accommodation.

Total: £360/$635

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How to get there?

There are lots of options available, from flying and organised bus trips, to renting a car, hitchhiking and hop-on hop-off Greyhound. On a tight schedule and without much money to spare, I’d recommend the Oz Experience Greyhound pass which costs just £213/$375 to travel a whopping 3150 kilometres at your own pace, it’s actually cheaper now than when I used it, so even better value! It does mean one or two long journeys by bus but it does give you the luxury of sleeping through them rather than having to drive and skip nights out. Before booking I really wanted us to drive the East Coast, but now I’m glad we didn’t, it would have been significantly more expensive and we would have missed out on meeting a lot of people if we had a camper van instead of hostels. Camper van hire starts from around £40/$70 a day but you also have to factor in fuel and insurance costs – it just depends on your budget and the experience you want. Internal flights are available if you’re on a very tight schedule and need to travel quickly between Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns for trips, but I wouldn’t recommend them unless you have only two weeks for the East Coast.

TOP TIP: Always go prepared on Greyhound – take warm and cool clothes as the temperature can be unpredictable and there’s nothing worse than shivering for a whole 12 hour bus journey. Take a packed lunch/dinner, the rest stops can be pretty grim for snacks and this will save you a lot of money. Don’t rely on the wifi on the bus as it’s pretty rare that it will work well for the whole journey.

Total: £213/$375 for Greyhound

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What to do?

The whole of the East Coast is chock-full of amazing trips and things to do, and there is a huge list of once-in-a-lifetime experiences you simply cannot miss out on! During my five weeks I swam with sea turtles, kayaked with dolphins, went whale watching, diving, white water rafting, drove 4WDs around a desert island and saw the Great Barrier Reef with my own eyes. It was incredible and definitely not something you want to scrimp on. Trips you don’t want to miss:

If you can’t fit all these in or just don’t have the money – narrow it down to the main ones (Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, Whitsundays and Diving). There are plenty of other cheap, or even free, experiences to enjoy along the way!

TOP TIPS: Always look for trips that include free meals and shop around, often the travel agent next door will try to undercut the first one you go to. Also, enter competitions! They’re held at every hostel along the way and you can win some amazing trips – we won a Whitsundays cruise and a Kiwi Experience bus pass for New Zealand in one night!

Total: £1,470/$2,590

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What to eat/drink?

Food and drink can quickly blow your budget way out of control – it’s important not to get carried away, but also not to miss out by being too tough on yourself. You’ll meet all kind of travellers along the way – some are living off instant noodles and goon, others are surviving from one budget backpacker deal to the next. You need to work out what is realistic and try to balance your own meals – we flitted between eating out, taking advantage of backpacker hostel deals and cooking our own meals during our five weeks. Something to consider is going veggie, if you’re looking to cut costs this is a great way to do it. Meat is expensive in Australia and I’d much rather spend that money on activities or alcohol, I found it cheap and easy to eat healthy as a vegetarian in Australia. Just make sure to stay healthy – no-one wants to get ill on the East Coast!

  • Cheapest backpacker meal: instant noodles at 30p a pack!
  • Best hostels for budget backpacker meals: Wakeup Hostel in Sydney and Gilligans in Cairns from as little as £2.50/$4.50, or even free if you buy a drink!
  • Cheapest home-cooked meal: veggie pasta £2-3/$3-4
  • Best budget group meals to make: beach BBQs, fajitas, pasta
  • Average cost of goon: £7/$12 (Golden Oak 4l)
  • Cheapest bottle of wine: £2.50/$4.50 (Whispers)
  • Cheapest beer: £3/$5 (Tooeys stubble)

TOP TIP: Head to the backpacker bars and take advantage of the drinks deals, free breakfasts and food deals. Group together in hostels to rustle up a meal and find the costs cut hugely by sharing. Enter competitions and win drinks for you and your mates!

Total:  £200/$350 for food (based on spending £10 a day when not on trips with meals included) For alcohol it totally depends on how much, and what, you drink!11222133_10152951499637617_5982267502697766247_n

So how much will it cost you?

I’ve budgeted generously here and know lots of people who have done it on a lot less, but if you want to go all out and enjoy every amazing trip – you can do it in £2,000/$3,500. With a budget of £2,500/$4,400 you could easily drink every night and squeeze in even more trips along the way – likewise you could cut back even more on trips, food and drink to spend less. It sounds like a lot of money but when you see what you get for it, it quickly becomes clear this is a once in a lifetime trip, and one you want to do well! Nobody wants to regret not going diving on the Great Barrier Reef or not taking the catamaran to Whitsundays. If you’re on a tight budget, just prioritise the things you really want to do and cut out some of the less important trips/stops – you could easily cut this budget down to around £1,800/$3,100 this way. Every backpacker is different, but it’s important to find the right trip for you and to make your experience the best it can be. Talk to travel agents – their job is to make your backpacking dream a reality – and don’t forget the goldmine backpacker Facebook pages that hold a wealth of travelling experience and advice within them. Need any tips? Leave a comment with any questions and I’ll help you plan!11168431_10152928893202617_9101439380460830205_n

What was the highlight of your East Coast trip? How much did you spend along the way? What tips can you give other backpackers?

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Australia | It’s tax back time and I’m celebrating!

imageI write a lot about budget travel – about how to make every dollar and very pound stretch that little bit further and how to make the most of what you have. Because that’s what we backpackers do, we make every penny count towards the incredible life we build on the road. I know people who have slept in parks, lived on instant noodles and even taken up questionable jobs to make ends meet and to keep the experience going just a little longer. We all do what we can, I’ve been the poorest I’ve ever been in my life while travelling and still managed to keep my dream alive instead of heading home. Those are the moments that define us, when travelling stops being easy and things go wrong, when you don’t know how you’ll afford a bed for the night or how you’ll pay for food for the week. This is when we really have to work for our travelling dream and damn, do we work. I’ve worked some of the hardest and most demanding jobs of my life since travelling, I’ve given them every hour of the day, every last bit of energy I had, and then some. I’ve worked two jobs when everyone else was partying, and in one job I was treated the worst I’ve ever been by another human. But it was all worth it, just to stay one more day and keep it going.

Whether you agree with us backpackers being able to claim back our tax or not, you need to realise that we don’t just do it on a whim. These claims come after a year of working our asses off and often being treated like crap – without any control over what was happening. Now I’m not saying all employers are like this in Australia – some are incredible and give you amazing opportunities, but there are also a lot who take advantage of the fact that we are travelers. The ones who give us no hours at all or refuse to give us time to sleep and when we ask for a day off, threaten us with the sack, or the ones who refused to pay friends of mine after they had completed the work. The fruit picking farmers who take advantage of the fact that you’re desperate for that second year visa by forcing you to work for an unfair wage, refuse to sign you off because they don’t like you or even try it on with you. My own experiences with farm work were pretty dire, I’ll talk about that more in a later post, I’ve had landlords refuse to pay back bonds and stop returning my calls. And don’t get me started on the hostel owner from hell who used to scream in the faces of my friends who worked there and treat them like dirt on his shoe. My point is, we as backpackers get messed around when we’re over there. I know it’s not the only side of the story and there are lots of businesses who have been messed around by bad workers who were backpacking, but after my experiences I don’t feel guilty for one second for claiming every cent back.

So when it comes to this time of year and you start getting those reminders through about claiming your backpacker tax back, oh boy do you smile. Because now more than ever, you realise how it was all worth it when the money you’re getting back will pay for your entire West Coast trip. Considering how much I managed to see and do while I was in Australia – a month in Sydney, six weeks on the East Coast, four months in Darwin, three months in central Queensland for farm work and three months in Melbourne – I also managed to work a lot. If you’ve worked in Australia and claimed your own tax back at any point, you’ll understand why I feel like I’ve had a bit of a windfall and am grinning from ear-to-ear. All that time when I was getting overtaxed for my sales job has paid off because now I can see it like an extreme savings scheme that has just paid out. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I already have a nice pot of money, plus my savings, waiting for me when I return and that I can start planning my incredible West Coast road trip straight away. There’s something very satisfying about paying for your whole trip yourself – I’m always proud of the fact that I’ve funded my entire adventure despite what some people might think. But it is lovely when you get a bit of a bonus like this, it’s like a pat on the back for all your hard work in making your dream come true. Because let’s face it, we all dream of winning the lottery, of picking the right scratch card or just getting plain lucky and coming into just enough money to pick up and take off without a second thought.image What’s that quote? “If travel was free, you’d never see me again” and how true that is, if it wasn’t for the expense I would have probably traveled the entire way around the globe by now. There are so many countries on my bucket list but I know the one thing standing in my way right now is money, without it I’m just not free to achieve all I want in life. The truth is, when it comes down to it I don’t need much. These days I carry my life on my back and don’t have expensive tastes – I’ve spent much of my travelling time sleeping in wooden huts and travelling with the locals. The problem is that travel does add up when you’re jetting all over the world. Even if you’re staying in budget accommodation and eating from street markets, to keep it going for any length of time you’re talking thousands and if you have a taste for the more luxurious then you better start stacking the notes. Everyone at home has been talking about winning the lottery lately, it’s like some new version of the American Dream – as if a windfall would answer all of our problems and take us off to a new life of utter freedom. And who’s to say it wouldn’t, these days money spells freedom and that’s all any of us really want, freedom from the mundane, working life, freedom from the rubbish weather at home and freedom from expectation. Money buys you an escape, and therefore buys you freedom.

That’s why getting this tax back is so amazing and why it makes such a different for travelers – because it means that instead of the dream being over it can extend for just that little bit longer. For me, it means going back to Australia with dollar in my bank, enough to fund the next exciting part of my travels. For others, it means months of travelling Asia or South America, a boost to your New Zealand fund or even a chance to travel Europe. So many travelers I know are so grateful to get their tax back because it means they can continue living their dream just that little bit longer before returning home, to reality. It gives us freedom to continue living the backpacker life for as long as possible, and to make the most of every cent before we go back to a life of saving and living for payday. If you haven’t already applied for your tax rebate – why the hell not? I worked for about nine months of my first year and I’m getting more than the average tax back of around $2,600 – so it’s definitely worth doing. Don’t be put off by the paperwork – it doesn’t take long and it’s more than worth it for the cash! Either head to the Australian Government website to claim it back independently (super easy) or go through TaxBack.com if you want someone else to do the legwork for a small charge. Either way – don’t miss out on claiming back your money because you’re lazy – that’s your next travelling fund right there!

What are you spending your tax rebate on? How did you claim back your tax – can you recommend a way? Have you claimed from other countries?

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#CancerConversations & becoming a Big C Ambassador

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Today I’m really excited to announce that I’ve just taken on the role of Social Media Ambassador this summer for a local cancer charity, The Big C. I’ve written about the charity countless times before in my role as a journalist in Norfolk, but now I’m going to be even more involved in their summer campaign #CancerConversations by blogging for charity and I’m so excited to be involved with such a great local cause.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love to talk. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me I have the gift of the gab, that I’m the kind of gal who could start up a conversation with anyone. Even more so, I love to listen – I love to hear people’s stories, to know where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Two traits that are incredible important, both as a traveler, and in life – these have taken me through a career as a journalist, into travel blogging and has helped me no end in my world travels. Communication is what we humans live for, and yet sometimes it can be so hard to talk about the things that it is most important to discuss, whether relating to our feelings, or even more importantly, our health. For someone who is so vocal about everything else, I sometimes really struggle to talk about very personal things – so often I am listening to the problems of others and find it tricky to slip in what I’m going through. Travelling has changed that, I’m more open than ever before about what is going on in my life and try my best not to bottle things up anymore.

Keeping with the theme of conversations, I’ll always remember a string of interviews I had a few years ago while working as a journalist in Norfolk. It started with a former teacher of mine who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, then there was the chap who came in with his wife and their baby daughter who had just been given months to live after doctors found a brain tumour. All of these brave individuals were doing their bit to raise money and awareness of the disease whether they were going to survive or not – they were inspiring and fought the illness every step of the way. But then there were the tributes – talking to the families and friends who were left behind after several startlingly young people died of the disease very suddenly. Hearing them describe their mothers, brothers, daughters and uncles as these vibrant individuals was hard, very hard. It was heartbreaking and brought a tear to my eye more times than I can count and really made me realise how short and unexpected life can be. Even now, after years of journalism, these are the interviews that stick out the most in my mind, and in life, these conversations will stay with me for the rest of my days. Teaching me the value of every second we have on this Earth and making the absolute most of it, now that’s all I dedicate my life to after giving up life as I knew it to travel the world.imageWhen it comes to health, I’ve always been lucky and had a huge support network of friends and family I could go to about anything. This makes such a huge difference when you actually have a health scare, just knowing you have people to talk to about it, just knowing you’re not alone and being able to seek help can change your whole experience. It’s sad to think there are people out there who feel they have no-one to turn to in these situations, or who wouldn’t feel comfortable seeking the help they are entitled to, but there are so many like this. Just recently, I’ve had two uncles hospitalised in a serious condition, one of which was put on life support, and saw how our entire family came together despite being spread across three continents. The beauty of phones, email, Skype and even Whatsapp made it possible for us all to keep in touch across five different time zones and brought us closer together. But if you have no-one you feel you can turn to, it could be such a lonely and terrifying time to go through something like that. I think guys find it harder to open up about health issues so it’s essential for campaigns to help them discover the support that’s available to them.

This is why The Big C have launched their summer campaign, #CancerConversations which is aimed at those across Norfolk and Waveney who are not taking advantage of the free cancer support available to them, men in particular. The team behind The Big C said: “Chaps – don’t bottle up your cancer health issues. We can help support you through your treatment! We have a range of free services we can offer including: financial support and welfare advice, counselling services, pharmacy support and complementary therapies.”  It’s so important to get the support you need while going through something like this, I know so many people who couldn’t have coped with going through cancer alone. A lot of these services were not available when my grandmother died of oesophageal cancer around a decade ago, but even then we were grateful for any help to deal with the condition. Now anyone going through the heartache and suffering of coping with this disease, or supporting someone through it, has a wealth of free services at their fingertips! If you’re a woman reading this, why not take the time to make the men in your life aware.1563

Where can you get help?

With free support centres in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston and my home of King’s Lynn, there are plenty of places to start if you’re seeking help. Join one of the cancer support groups to share experiences at the Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn Centres for men who are living with and beyond cancer. These provide an informal, non-judgmental, open environment where men can support each other.

A range of free welfare advice is available with a specialist adviser, helping you sort the practicalities so you can concentrate on getting better. Information on benefits, loans, housing, employment issues, travel expenses, childcare, blue badge applications, help with form filling and much more is available.

The Big C also provide a range of complementary therapies in the Big C Centres. If you are a cancer patient, you and one carer can have up to six sessions each of reflexology, massage or reiki. There are also relaxation classes and nutritional workshops available, contact your nearest Big C centre to book.

Available for both you and your family, free counselling is a more structured form of support which may be appropriate when things seem so overwhelming that your usual ways of coping don’t appear to help. Up to six sessions can be arranged for each patient and carer.

For more information about these services, contact one of the following centres:

Norwich – 01603 286112 or cancer.information@nnuh.nhs.uk
Great Yarmouth – 01493 855297 or yarmouthcentre@big-c.co.uk
King’s Lynn – 01553 818737 or kingslynncentre@big-c.co.uk
The Louise Hamilton Centre, Gorleston – 01493 453100

Click here to go to the website – and here to find out more about the #CancerConversations summer campaign

Have you used any of these services – how have they helped you? Tell me about the strangest or funniest conversation you’ve ever had.

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Wireless Festival, BBQs and summer reunions

13590372_10154252356975320_729683975418578408_nThis one is a little later than the usual Monday morning post, but I make no apologies – I was off having far too much fun at the weekend and that’s what this blog is all about! My weekend was filled with festival fun, barbecues and sunshine – the perfect English summer weekend and a great excuse to be reunited with a lot of old friends I’ve missed so much since I disappeared off to the other side of the world. After a ridiculously long two-and-a-half years since we last saw each other, I was finally reunited with five of the six girls who made my university experience incredible. Each one of these special humans, and one more who sadly couldn’t make it along, were with me through every high and low, through every horrible exam and every drunken night – we started together and we finished it together. This might not sound that incredible to you – I know what you’re thinking, everyone makes friends at university and goes through the same things – but the difference is we graduated five years ago. We’re scattered all over now working different jobs, living different lives and following different dreams, and with me travelling the world, it’s not easy to keep this friendship going. We work hard at making sure we stay in contact, at being there for each other when times are tough and at organising reunions when we can, but it’s not easy to see each other as often as we would like.13592821_10157086175820655_1765592331929799551_n So when we finally do get to meet up, it’s a whirlwind of a weekend filled with catching up, dancing the night away, making beautiful memories to carry us through to the next reunion and maintaining the connections that make this group special. Why am I writing about this? Because I used to know so many groups of friends at university who I know no longer keep in contact, I too have friends from school who have fallen by the wayside as our lives grew in opposite directions. It’s hard to keep friendships alive when you’re on the opposite side of the world, heck it’s hard enough to keep them going when you live two hours down the road from each other let alone in a different time zone. We all grow up and we all create this amazing life for ourselves but it’s often difficult to make space for everyone, so it’s important put in the extra work to keep it going with those special individuals. It is actually possible to still keep those university and school friendships going five, ten, twenty years down the line and to preserve what was special about them from the start – it just takes time, patience and a lot of love.13615069_10157089350700655_3137137395394220610_nThis weekend’s reunion was at Wireless Festival – we went along for the Saturday when Chase and Status were set to headline, with the likes of J Cole, Wilkinson, Krept and Konan, Craig David and many more performing. With a few of the girls living in London, it was a perfect opportunity for a girly sleepover and to bring along some other old friends we hadn’t seen for a while. It was also a good excuse to relive some of the fun we had when we organised a huge weekend trip to Parklife Festival in Manchester a few years ago – any excuse for good music, ciders in the sun and a lot of fun. I was really excited because I hadn’t actually been to Wireless Festival before and you all know how much I love my festivals – this would be my first one in almost two years as I didn’t manage to squeeze in any during my travels! Our hostess lived not far from Finsbury Park so we stopped off there to glitter up and get ready – there’s nothing more fun than getting ready with your girls – then headed to the festival grounds. Despite the masses of people attending the festival we easily found our friends and made our way into the park without having to wait more than a few minutes. A well established festival, I was impressed at the speed of service on the gates and at the bars later on, it was clear the organisers knew what they were doing and had made every effort to ensure everyone had a great day and didn’t waste time in queues.13619822_10157089349005655_2306554507262899929_nWe were excited to see Chase and Status, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen them live now but they never disappoint, and I couldn’t wait to see Wilkinson again. After spending the last two years travelling Asia and Australia, one thing I had really missed was good drum and bass and the fantastic UK electronic acts, they just have a much grittier sound than the house I hear everywhere over there. I more than got my fill after about ten minutes of standing near the Smirnoff stage which had some incredible music coming from it from the very beginning of the day. I meant to head back there later on but completely forgot as we stumbled across more great acts. It’s always tricky trying to manoeuvre your way around a festival and several stages when you have a group of around 10 people to keep track of, but we did a pretty good job. We made it to all of the performances we wanted to see – for me Wilkinson and Chase and Status were the absolute highlights, both dropping their classics Afterglow and Blind Faith to ecstatic screams from the crowd. But I know my girls were also seriously loving J Cole and Krept and Konan earlier in the day. We were a little disappointed that Craig David was just doing a DJ set instead of performing, but at least it meant we didn’t mind when we couldn’t get inside the tent because there were so many people crowding the entrances.13612114_10153616640412617_3033065007156393811_nWireless is a fantastic festival, if you’re not really into camping and don’t want to venture far out of the city, it’s a perfect event to try. It was really easy one for all of us to get to despite coming from all over the country and it was great being able to get day tickets so you could choose which acts you wanted to see and fitted around work. Also, despite attracting so many people to Finsbury Park, the festival never once felt overcrowded or too busy, which I have previously found at other events where there wasn’t enough toilets or space to accommodate people in some of the tents. We also managed to get a great spot in the crowd for every single performance except Craig David, which was a huge plus with so many of us and so many shorties in the gang – there’s nothing worse than not being able to see over the crowd! There was also a much better selection of food on offer and much cheaper drinks than I had expected – ciders were just £5 each – which made a huge difference to the day. I can’t stand when you go to an event and have already forked out a lot of money for a ticket, then have to spend a fortune on bog-standard drinks and mediocre food.13626536_10157090774585655_6456116625256186478_nWireless is also a great event to go people-watching at – I spotted one of my favourite rainbow bloggers, Lulutrixabelle, there looking fabulous as usual. Lots of my girls bumped into random friends they hadn’t seen in ages, and I know there were quite a few celebrities in the crowd that I completely missed. The day finished with an amazing show by Chase and Status rounded off nicely with fireworks, we managed to escape the crowds and make our way home easily which was great, we didn’t fancy getting stuck on the tubes as thousands wandered out of the gates. It was a perfect weekend and was made all the better by the fantastic weather – I had been worried I would be forced to wear wellies but the rain stayed away and it was so warm the whole time. The next day, after the long drive home, I even spent the evening at a barbecue with some other old friends before finally making my way home to my bed. There’s no better feeling than your own bed after a festival whether it was a cheeky day one or a full weekend of camping. For someone who much prefers the full weekend festivals, I was glad to ease myself back into them with a cheeky one-dayer, especially when it was filled with some of my favourite people.

How was your Wireless Festival experience? Which was your fave performance of the weekend? Are you going to any other festivals this summer?

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Health | The budget spa experience you have to try

13510960_10153587157897617_7263956946886594826_nI’m pretty good at living on a backpacker’s budget now, but sometimes you just fancy a bit of luxury. I’ll never be the kind of girl who wants to spend thousands on an expensive getaway when I could make my money spread a bit further and still treat myself. For me, the real luxury is being able to escape and live well for longer instead of enjoying a short blast of freedom, but not everyone has the option of taking a year out to go backpacking, nor does everyone like the idea of budget travel. Now I’m back in the UK, I don’t plan to stop travelling and until my return to Australia, I’m breaking up my time with trips away. Before I went away, my mum and I used to have regular spa days together, every few months we would head away for a day of complete rest, relaxation and a heavy dose of pampering. Both working stressful jobs, it was lovely to just have a day where we didn’t have to think about work, or anything else other than where our next massage was coming from. I really believe in the importance of looking after your own health and well-being by keeping fit, eating well and allowing time to really relax and recuperate. Visiting a spa is a great way of really giving you a day off from life, a chance to turn your phone off and really get some space.

I’ve posted about this spa experience before but I still can’t believe how many people don’t seem to know about the amazing deals available. Even when you need a day of pure indulgence, there is always a great offer that can help you get the most out of your money. So, what am I on about? I’m talking about Aqua Sana Spa at Centreparcs, now it may not be the first place you think of when you start planning a spa retreat but perhaps it should be. I’m not usually one for chains but in this case I’m happy to make an exception for such an amazing experience, I have yet to find a spa that rivals the quality I’ve found there, and trust me, I’ve done the research. We always go to the Elveden retreat, which is our closest, and I convinced it’s the best one after experiencing the Sherwood spa and finding it a bit lacking. Surrounded by woodland and beautiful countryside, even the drive there is relaxing, and from the second you walk in the door you are being endlessly pampered by the amazing staff there. We always say it must be a wonderful place to work, so relaxing. We always check out the deals available at the time on the website, but usually end up paying around £100 each for a full day in the spa, with breakfast and lunch included, and a luxury treatment.IMG_6553This time, we went for the Brighten and Glow spa day for two, which gave us the chance to try out the Elemis skin brightening facial and luxurious Frangipani hot stones massage – and yes, it is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. I love that the treatment pampers every bit of your body and uses only products not tested on animals and using minimal parabens – it’s much better for the environment and it’s much better for your health. Before our treatment, we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the Vitale cafe where we indulged in pastries and coffees before hitting the spa. We had a few hours before our treatments so we decided to start with a swim in the outdoor heated pool, this is always such a treat when the weather outside is rubbish. We stood with the high pressure jets massaging our necks and floated around the empty pool before heading into the steam rooms. Now this is the bit that sets Aqua Sana apart from all other spas I have experienced, it offers 15 different spa experiences including a range of steam rooms with essential oils and herbs from all over the world and saunas. My favourite rooms are the Japanese Salt Steam room, the Balinese and the Indian steam rooms – I just love the gentle floral aromas and they really feel like they’re doing your skin good. You can rinse off afterwards with one of the multi-sensory showers to rejuvenate your skin and refresh before checking out the meditation room or zen garden.

When you’re taken through to your spa treatment, the ladies give you a completely relaxing experience tailored to your skin type and preferences. They’re extremely attentive and some of the best beauty treatments I’ve had have been at the Aqua Sana, with sensitive skin like mine it’s important to have a therapist who listens. The whole experience is utterly luxurious and you come away feeling like a new woman, my skin felt like a newborn baby’s and my muscles were finally relaxed after two years of hostel beds. After a tasty lunch, it was time for a waterbed nap – always a highlight of the day – especially if you can score one of the bigger outdoor beds which are especially nice when you’re wrapped up in your complimentary robe. Throughout the spa, there are several stations where you ca reapply products throughout the day and test others, sometimes the therapists will also bring round products for you to try which is lovely. Everything is thought of when you are at the spa, you don’t spend a single second thinking because everything is already as special as it could be. There are limited numbers allowed in the spa, which really helps to keep the exclusive feeling as some just come for a morning or afternoon session.IMG_6625One top tip not to miss out on during your visit, the Discovery Sessions are something I had never attended until my most recent visit but are something I wouldn’t miss in future. These short sessions take place periodically throughout the day and led by a beauty therapist, they teach you about the Elemis and Decleor products and how to apply them. As a big beauty product lover, this was a good excuse to try out some of the other amazing products they have to offer. But it also meant we found out about an amazing deal on a Decleor multipack of products – normally selling at over £50, it was reduced down to £19 with further discounts for attending the session. It was an amazing deal, so I treated me and my mum to a pack each – we would never have known about the dramatic price reduction had we not been in the session, so they’re definitely worth attending for discounts on the ranges. All in all, it was a fabulous day, and long overdue as a birthday present to the both of us. If you ask me, you can’t beat a mummy-daughter day spent eating delicious food, being pampered and relaxing on waterbeds. Click here to book your spa experience at Aqua Sana, or to read more about what treatments are available.

Can you recommend any other luxury spa experiences for those on a budget? What’s your favourite spa treatment?

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Travel | My favourite ways to keep fit while travelling

imageIt can be hard as a backpacker to keep fit and healthy when you’re constantly moving between places. That transient life of late nights and long bus journeys doesn’t always translate to the bohemian vegan lifestyle you imagine for travellers, instead there can often be far too many beers and dirty 7/11 toasted sandwiches. It’s easy when you keep moving between different groups of people to give into every treat meal and to lose track of what you’re putting into your body. But, at the same time, it’s more important than ever, because let’s face it, no-one wants to get ill when they’re travelling. Eating the wrong things, not getting enough sleep, drinking too much and not exercising is the perfect way to ruin your immune system and leave you vulnerable to whatever bugs are being passed around. If you’re travelling in Asia, this can be even more of a problem when even the water and the food you eat could be carrying all sorts. If you want to be a smart traveller and keep going for the longest time, while still enjoying yourself and not feeling ill, it’s important to look after yourself. I’ve written posts before about healthy eating and staying fit on the road, but this time I want to focus on some of my favourite fitness experiences I’ve had since travelling.image

Muay Thai

When I work out, I like to finish up completely exhausted and to feel that I have worked every single muscle in my body. After trying boxing back in the UK, then Thai boxing, Muay Thai, when I was passing through Hua Hin, in Thailand, I can safely say I have never had a workout that has left me so satisfied afterwards. Martial arts are great because they really do work every part of your body, they test your body in different ways and with so many different types, there really is a martial art for everyone. I love the focus you get as you perfect the moves, and the way you can quickly develop skills if you show dedication. In just one morning session, thanks to my amazing trainer, I had mastered several of the basic moves and had completely re-ignited my passion for working out – after weeks of partying it, this was no easy feat. One thing Thailand comes with is some amazing gyms, they may be basic but damn, they get the job done, and they come with some incredibly dedicated trainers who will push you until you get the results you were after. When I was taking boxercise classes back in the UK, I noticed the quickest changes to my body I have seen with any type of exercise and was impressed to see even the areas which can be more difficult to train were becoming more toned and a lot stronger. I could totally understand why so many people decide to take on week-long or even month-long intensive courses while they’re travelling, I would love to have done the same, but sadly had too many other trips planned and not enough time to stay put.imageMartial arts are a great workout choice for travellers, whether male or female, it’s a great full body workout that only needs a gym and a few pieces of equipment, it is also perfect to try in Asia where there are specialist centres on every corner. It’s a fantastic workout for building confidence and perfect for solo travellers who appreciate knowing how to defend themselves – it may not ever be necessary to use but can give great peace of mind when you’re on your own. For those who want to feel strong and need a workout that takes them further than the usual yoga and running, this is perfect for building muscle tone and for pushing your body. It’s just what you need to give you focus when you travel and to pull you out of that backpacker slump. If you need to lose weight and get healthy again, it’s a good opportunity to learn new skills while doing so, and will really help boost your immune system – it’s hard to get ill when your body is fighting fit! If you fancy trying martial arts, wherever you are in the world, why not join Martial Tribes – it’s a social hub for all martial arts and fitness enthusiasts to connect. image

Yoga

Always popular with travellers, yoga is a fantastic way to keep lean, fit and toned while travelling, but it also can be a great way to stay grounded. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of your life, but taking the time to practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness can really make you focus on appreciating every second. I spent a life changing week at Hariharalya Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and I don’t think I’ve been the same person since. The week of peacefulness was just what I needed to take me from the lowest time I’ve had travelling, to one of the highest. Just days before I had nearly died in a bus crash, I was injured, aching and completely exhausted, but a week of nourishing my body and my mind with health, rest and gratitude gave me what I needed to love travelling again. Whether you take part in a retreat, take a quick yoga class or just follow tutorials on YouTube with your own mat in the sunshine, yoga is so freeing when you travel. It means taking a moment out of your busy day to reflect, then clear your mind and to stretch out your body. Just what all us backpackers need after rubbish hostel beds and overnight bus rides. It’s worth having a look online and around where you’re staying for free classes – I took part in an incredible sunset yoga session on a beach on Koh Lanta, Thailand, completely for free thanks to another traveller who wanted to share his knowledge with the world.image

Running

Running has become my go-to workout – no matter where I am in the world or what facilities are available, as long as I have my trainers in my bag and a sports bra to strap the girls down, I’m good to go! I love cardio workouts, I like to feel like I’ve exhausted myself and pushed myself further than the last time, so when I’m travelling, running is a great way to both experience the location and to stay fit. When I was in Asia, I’d get up early to run on the beach or around the city before the heat grew too fierce – beach running has always been my favourite because the sea is always such a perfect distraction and perfect for cooling off after. In Australia, I loved running – the country is made for runners with such a big focus on fitness. There’s endless beautiful trails, paths and places to explore while you’re working out. Particular highlights were runs along Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, Noosa National Park coastal walk, around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney and Melbourne, and those sweaty runs along Darwin Esplanade in the dark. There are so many amazing places to go running, you’d be a fool not to!image

Cycling

I have a confession, before I went away travelling I had not been on a bike in about a decade. I used to love riding my bike as a kid, but just lost interest as I grew up and had no real reason to ride, but you’ll be pleased to know they are right when they say “it’s like riding a bike” – you never forget. When I was in Asia, bikes were terrible quality but cheap to hire and a perfect way to explore the countries at your own pace. I cycled around stunning old ruins in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, Thailand, I cruised around Da Lat, Vietnam, exploring waterfalls, and through the Cambodian countryside in Siem Reap with friends. It’s a fantastic way to see the country, you just see so much more when you cycle past the world than you would from the back of a tuk-tuk or motorbike plus you can stop whenever you want to explore. If you’re not as confident on a motorbike, cycling can be a great – and much safer – alternative, just keep your wits about you when you’re on busy roads. In Australia, there are so many beautiful places to cycle and explore – one of my favourite days in Melbourne was spent mountain biking around the trails in a beautiful reserve.image

Trekking

You walk a lot as a traveller and it’s easy to forget that this in itself is a great workout. Whether you spend a day walking around exploring a new city, hiking through the jungle to waterfalls or climbing a mountain to watch the sunrise – it all counts. This is actually one of my favourite ways to workout because it doesn’t actually feel like a workout, you’re so busy looking at the amazing views or spotting creatures lurking in the woods or diving into waterfalls that you don’t realise how much you are burning. I loved huge jungle hikes in Khao Sok, Thailand, we’d be covered in sweat and chased by monkeys, but it was all worth it when you reached the stunning gorge or lake at the end of it. I had friends who climbed huge peaks in Nepal or Bali and said it was the highlight of their trip – getting outside and getting active can be one of the best ways to experience a country. In Melbourne, I spent a weekend camping at Grampians National Park with friends, we spent two days hiking to viewpoints, climbing through gorges and walking through forests – it was incredible.image

How do you like to keep fit when you travel? What are your favourite fitness experiences? What martial arts workouts can you recommend?

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Travel | Collect moments, not things: The art of the travel journal

11150847_10152762051527617_3820638610166569824_nWhen you’re travelling, something you realise very quickly is what is important to take away from every stage of your journey. When all you’re carrying around with you is a 65litre backpack with your whole life compressed into it, that doesn’t leave much space to pick up things along the way. It becomes so much more important to store away all the precious memories from all the places you visit and the things that you see. For me, it’s always been more important to capture the emotions, the colours, smells and tastes of each moment rather than actually having some cheesy souvenir from a market stall. The only real souvenirs I have now are clothes and jewellery I bought along the way, and a dinky little carved elephant from the sanctuary where I volunteered. It seems a poor representation of the incredible 18 months I’ve spent exploring extraordinary countries and the amazing sights I’ve seen. I have nothing physical to link me to the beautiful souls I met along the way, and yet I still feel so inextricably linked to them no matter what the distance, all because of the memories in this little diary.imageAs I said my goodbyes to friends and family before I left to go travelling, there were gifts and cards wishing me well on my journey, but none meant as much as the one from my workmates. They had clubbed together to buy me a few little goodies, including a beautiful little travel journal to take with me and write all my memories as I traveled around the world solo. The red patterned leather book was the perfect place to store every thought, feeling and experience as I set out on my adventure. It was such a thoughtful gift, and one I treasured as I traveled across Asia and Australia, writing in it became a nightly treat as I reminisced over the day’s events. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to the delights of reading actual books instead of screens and hand writing notes, there’s something so beautiful about actually holding something in your hand rather than sending an email or downloading an e-book. I love blogging, it has been a huge part of my travelling experience and I would heartily recommend any traveler keep a blog so they have an easily accessible journal to store their memories and photographs that they can share with the world. Doing so has meant sharing every beautiful experience with friends, family and countless strangers through the internet, it’s been amazing to know I could help other travelers by advising them on locations I had already visited.18237_10152752290777617_375494848472286630_nBut, as amazing as blogging is, there is still a lot of my world and my heart that I don’t share on www.absolutelylucy.com. For my own sanity and privacy, it is important to me to have a part of my life that is separate, and that part is even more special to me. That’s the part that is hidden in the pages of my travel journal, of the book that is just for me, filled with tales of love, hopes and dreams, of the experiences that are etched on my soul and the stories I simply cannot repeat. Whether you’re a writer, an artist or a musician, creative souls have a need to express their big ideas and as a traveler, the exposure to so many amazing places and people is the perfect driving force for putting pen to paper. For me, writing was addictive when I was away, I just couldn’t write fast enough to get all my thoughts out. Some people struggle to spend time alone, but I can’t help wondering if that is actually because they don’t have a satisfying way of expressing themselves when they do. I craved time alone to write both in my travel journal, and on here, it was therapeutic and even writing the tiniest details would often work as a catalyst for creating the posts that you ended up reading. It was amazing how much one would influence the other, often I would start writing in my journal, then halfway through I would have to grab my laptop and start typing a new blog post to share with you guys. Travel is inspiration in its purest form.11224543_10152762050452617_3879807044485580878_nAfter working as a journalist, it was so freeing to be able to spend my days and nights writing purely for myself, the more I wrote, the more the words flowed on to the pages. It’s addictive. Even as the moments were happening, I was experiencing them as I would write them on the page, always thinking of how I would immortalise every person I met as though they were a character in a story I was writing. I loved that feeling, and I feel lucky to have experienced a world that excited me enough to write like this. But whether you write for a living or you just want to keep a momento of your travels, keeping a travel diary is such beautiful way of storing your memories and keeping them close to your heart when you move on. You just don’t get the same experience when you clutch your laptop close to you as you remember those you left behind, but there’s something comforting about having a little book that is just for you. It doesn’t have to be words, I knew so many travelers who incorporated music, art and poetry into their own books, each inspired in different ways to create something, a memory of each stage of their journey.11223868_10152762052357617_6382879823733307420_nI’ll always remember a friend, Phoebe, who I met in Pai, Thailand, who had started holding “art club” with new friends as she traveled around. She was a beautiful soul who traveled with a tiny collection of paints, pens and gathered a group around to create something amazing together in the pages of her little journal. This way everyone had to contribute something and years later she would look at it and remember every single person who was there. When I was on the slow boat between Thailand and Laos, there was a woman who used her artistic skills to capture each moment – she actually started to sketch and paint the scene in front of her as a group of us played games and chatted. Her work was beautiful and it was incredible to see the finished piece against the live scene, our trip is now captured forever and it’s all thanks to her amazing talents. Another friend of mine wrote a mixture of poems and prose inspired by the place he was in, he loved to read aloud to us in the evenings and share the words he felt compelled to write. And I’ll never forget the guy I met who said art and words were not his forte but said each place had a song, a sound that was distinctive, he spent his time trying to capture the essence of each location in music, in lyrics he created. The results were beautiful.imageI still have my travel journal from my first 18 months of travelling, it sits proudly on my shelf which I’m surprised doesn’t bow under the weight of all those memories. With just a few months at home and a few trips around Europe planned, my thoughts are already on preparing for my return to Australia as I sort out visas, tax returns and insurance. But something that had slipped my mind until the team at Pen Heaven sent me a beautiful hand made leather travel journal by Laurige to be my “trusty companion to help with all my creative thoughts, memos and notes.” Made by French artisans, my journal arrived in a stunning deep red, with Absolutely Lucy embossed in gold lettering on the bottom right corner. It was the ultimate in luxury for a writer, and gives me the perfect place to keep track of every precious travelling moment. The journal makes the perfect gift for a traveler, because no traveler wants something they cannot take with them – what’s the point in leaving things locked up in storage? This is something personal that they will treasure forever, even more so because the leather case is refillable – you can replace the writing paper within as it runs out and start afresh for each voyage. At £47 it is a little pricey for a journal, but as a gift that will never grow old, it is perfect for any adventurers in your life, a timeless keepsake they will treasure forever, and a perfect place to store their big ideas. It’s available in a range of gorgeous colours and you can choose whether you prefer lined paper for writing, or fancy getting creative with plain paper. I’ll be using mine to write all those beautiful memories, and to make big plans for the future.

Find the full range of Laurige products here to order your personalised travel journal.

Have you kept a travel journal – what does yours mean to you? How do you keep track of your memories? Do you regret not keeping a journal?

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Lifestyle | How travel can impact how we view our success

10978699_10152600274507617_6471040226942334722_n (1)It’s now been a month since I touched down in the UK after 18 months of travelling. That’s nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it feels like a painfully long time since I last saw my Melbourne home, and the people who make it so special to me. I keep having that moment when people ask how it feels to be home, and I think to myself that home feels 3,000 miles away right now. That’s the hard part of being a traveler, leaving such big pieces of your heart all over the world that when you do finally come home it can feel a bit empty. That’s why so many struggle to deal with the comedown from travelling. I’ve had it much better than most – I’ve come back and walked straight into a great freelance job that works with my schedule, and I’ve instantly started planning trips away with family and friends, knowing my plan is to travel long-term again from September. It makes it much easier to know my situation is temporary, because after a year and a half of utter freedom, the thought of being tied down to one place gives me chills. It’s been quite easy for me to slip into the life that I’m living now – after working flat out in Melbourne, I finally have time to relax and catch up with friends. I have time to recuperate from the effects of long-term travel and I can still earn a good wage while I do it.

But as you guys will know, I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic, so it’s difficult for me to adjust to this lifestyle after pushing myself 110% in all of my previous jobs. Especially being back in the UK, I’ve noticed this incredible pressure since I arrived home and I’m not sure whether it’s coming from my own mind or society. My whole attitude to life was much healthier when I was travelling – I was relaxed and focused on having an incredible travelling experience rather than how much money I could earn or how many extra hours I could work. My priority was earning enough to live comfortably as a backpacker, so it never became more important than living my life. Before I went travelling, work took over my life in an unhealthy way and it was this that really pushed me to focus on something else that made me happy – travel. Since travelling, my bank account has been both the fullest and the emptiest it has ever been. But even when I was broke, I always found a way to make ends meet and to survive, even then I was happier than the times I was sitting on a stack of savings. So when I had learnt to live happily on so little, why do I find myself feeling this constant need to achieve since being home?10922497_10152558346202617_5171818434093257311_nI don’t know whether it is just in my own mind, or whether this is a common feeling for travelers returning to the UK, but I constantly have this feeling that I haven’t done enough. That I haven’t worked enough hours, that I haven’t sent enough emails, that I haven’t got enough views on this blog, and that I haven’t seen enough places in the world. I find myself plagued with worries that time is running out and I just don’t have enough left to achieve everything that I want to do in life, that the success I have isn’t quite enough. It’s such a strange feeling, but one I remember from before I went away. While travelling it was pushed out of my mind by the happiness of living life in the present, by the success of achieving everything I did on a daily basis. So why have these feelings all come rushing back now I’m in the UK? It’s easy to forget that everyone has insecurities, and it can be hard to identify our own. I never realised before I went away that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to enjoying success. Instead of relishing and enjoying the moment, I constantly push on to achieve the next thing, to push the next boundary. I love that about myself because it has driven me to make some huge changes in my life that led me to travel the world solo, and to leave a life that made me miserable. But at the same time, it can leave me feeling like what I do will never be enough.

While I was travelling, I focused on nothing more than living in the moment. I focused on the beautiful sunsets, the laughter at work, the nights we won’t remember – I lived every second and everything else came after. I never stressed about work or money, just knew I would always figure it out. I didn’t think about blogging, just enjoyed the natural progression of reminiscing about my experiences and writing them on the page at my own pace. Put simply, life came first. But since being back, I find mentally that I’m struggling to keep it this way. I’ve managed so far, but can always feel the pressure and stresses of thinking about money, stats and figures. It’s true the UK is very financially driven when it comes to success, and I can only think this is mirrored in the way we view our own successes. I’ve only noticed this because I have been away from it and had to reintegrate myself, but how many others are left to feel this way without an escape? It’s just so easy to get sucked into worrying about money and how successful you are when there are constant reminders of how much we are failing. Every time I look at a magazine or newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV, there is a stark reminder that there is so much I haven’t yet achieved, so much that I’m behind on.10993459_10152648999737617_4577910484438127599_nI shouldn’t feel this way, in the last few months I have had countless successes that I need to learn to just celebrate. I worked as a sales manager and built my own team, ended up as the highest paid manager in my last job. I was a finalist in the travel section of the UK Blog Awards two years in a row. I have made it onto a list of the top 15 travel bloggers of 2016, and I’m even being featured by other bloggers I love as one to check out. I have another huge success tucked up my sleeve, but that one will have to remain a secret for now. All this, and yet I still feel that craving for more, it’s soul destroying at times, endlessly frustrating. I just don’t understand why I feel it so prominently when I’m in the UK compared to Australia, or Asia, does the distance really chip away at these feelings so much? Perhaps it’s just something I’m better able to control when I travel, because it just becomes so much less of a priority for me, instead I use this drive to achieve great things in real life as well as on the screen. I guess when I’m in the UK, I use my laptop as a means for escape, by working on this little world I have created at www.absolutelylucy.com I can be transported to the worlds I have left behind. Work has always been the one escape for me when I don’t want to deal with my feelings, so perhaps it’s just my way of coping with coming home.

Speaking to some of my fellow travelers on the Girl vs Globe Facebook group, I found I wasn’t the only one who has suffered from these feelings. Ro Lee, who blogs at The Travel Captain, said: “Having lived in both NY and Dubai, you’re bombarded with constant reminders of how “important” financial success is. But as I’ve approached my mid thirties, I realize that true success is a measure of the strength of your relationship with others. Helping others succeed is equally important or “lonely at the top” is a saying which holds very true.” While Yoanna Guerra-Cuevas, who vlogs here, added: “After doing some travel around Europe and living in Spain for a few months, my whole mindset has changed. In Spain they have a saying “no pasa nada”. It basically means everything will be okay. I learned to stop worrying about expectations to succeed and just worry about being happy.” Amrine Obermueller Quint, who blogs at Dancing Around The World, said: “I think that if you’re feeling the pressures then sooner or later you just have to realize what is right for your life and try not to live it based on how everyone else tells you to. It took me about 10 years to figure that out…but here I am, so happy that I finally know how I want to live my life.” Great advice ladies, time I took a leaf out of your book and stopped stressing. Every time I start to feel like this, I’ll think back to that traveler mindset and ask myself What Would Traveler Lucy Do? (WWTLD)

Have you felt the pressures of home closing in after returning from travelling? Do you find it hard not to slip into old ways? How does your traveler mindset differ from your home mindset?

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London | A RustiKo Italian feast in Soho

imageGoing out for dinner has always been one of my favourite things to do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s street food in Bangkok, a luxury three-course meal in a fine-dining restaurant or a stuff-yourself-silly night at the local steakhouse. I’m always open to trying new foodie experiences and I’d always much rather that than a night of partying, money much better spent if you ask me! Especially when it comes to supporting independent and local businesses, I’m not really one for chain restaurants and would always much rather eat at restaurant that isn’t mass-producing its food. Give me fresh, local produce and a creative means of cooking any day. It’s not just the food – although that is a huge part of why I love it – it’s also the social experience of trying new foods with friends or loved ones, of sitting around a table and eating together. I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to meals, growing up it was always the one time of day my family all sat down together with no TV or other distractions to eat and catch up on what we had all been up to. When you’re living such busy and different lives, I think it’s important to really take this time together. As a backpacker, getting to know people always seems to be done over dinner and a few beers, eating together is once again the thing that brings us all together of an evening.imageLondon is a city full of chain restaurants and well known brands, but for me, this just doesn’t do it when I have a weekend away. I’d much rather peruse the food markets and explore quirky little restaurants with a lot more personality for a bit of a unique experience. I was invited along to review RustiKo Soho, a new independent Italian restaurant in the heart of Old Compton Street, just a stone’s throw from some of the best theatres in London. As we walked up to the restaurant, we were excited by the cosy look of the place, the quirky, candle-lit interior, and a funky blues playlist we could hear muffled behind the windows. I was promised “the vintage Soho experience” from an evening there and I can’t say I was disappointed, we were made to feel so welcome from the second we stepped in the door. The size and the decor gave it such a friendly vibe, more like you had hired out the whole venue for your friends than the formality of a restaurant. Every bar stool was already taken by those enjoying the fantastic range of prosecco, classic and twisted cocktails, as we were escorted to our table. I loved the rustic vibes of the restaurant, it was just my kind of place and I could only imagine the other levels would deliver more of the same.imageOne glance at the menu showed me we were in for a treat as we struggled to choose our favourite dishes, there was so much choice and so many of my favourite dishes. Despite having limited numbers of dishes on the menus, every single dish on there sounded fabulous and there was definitely something for everyone. The waiters were incredibly helpful with suggesting wines to go with the dishes and offering recommendations for combinations of dishes. In the end, we started with the garlic chilli shrimp and polenta chips to start, with some garlic pizza bread. It was the first time I had tried polenta chips but they were delicious, and the garlic pizza bread was a huge hit with that super melty, delicious cheese. My favourite had to be the delicious garlic chilli shrimp – one of my favourite dishes to have as a starter – I was so impressed by the flavours and spice, it was perfect and I’ll definitely be ordering that again.imageFor our second course, we spent ages choosing our dishes, but in the end we couldn’t resist the lobster linguine and the gnocchi. Now gnocchi is a dish that I’ve had a lot of disappointment over in the past, I’ve had the sad looking potatoey lumps slapped on a plate several times and decided it wasn’t for me. But finally, we tried a gnocchi that was tasty and had the perfect texture, the dumplings were cooked in a tasty mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil sauce that was perfect for my vegetarian sister. The absolute highlight was my lobster linguine, a dish that I have loved for many years, I couldn’t resist seeing the chef’s take on it. This time it was half a lobster cooked with cherry tomatoes, spring onions and a brandy sauce, even now as I write this my mouth is watering at the memory. It was a deliciously rich dish full of flavours, but the chef had combined them so perfectly that they didn’t overtake the delicate taste of the lobster. It’s a fine balance and there’s nothing worse than a seafood dish that overpowers seafood with strong flavours, the brandy was a perfect accompaniment. I was so impressed with the quality of the food, and the portion size, we were left stuffed and couldn’t even manage dessert!imageWatching the other patrons, I couldn’t resist peeking at their food and was excited at the sight of the juicy steaks, the light pasta dishes and the small plates (piattini) that were perfect for sharing. The couple next to us were loving their meal and really recommended the dishes, particularly the rib-eye. Showing the diversity of Soho, the restaurant was filled with a real range of people, it really showed how it was perfect for all occasions whether it was a family meal, a romantic dinner for two, or cocktails with the girls. Even better, after dinner, we were taken downstairs to explore the newest addition to the restaurant, the newly-opened basement bar, The Shed. With a real vintage Soho feel, the bar is a perfect place to relax with a drink after dinner, or to spend an evening with good friends. Just a small bar, it has a really exclusive feel as you walk down the spiral staircase to see cute wooden seating, bookshelves and quirky little decorations. I loved the swing music soundtrack and it went perfectly with the amazing look of the bar. There were already a couple of groups down there enjoying a few drinks and I noticed, that although the place felt busy and bustling, it was never so loud that we struggled to hear each other. RustiKo had managed to find a perfect balance between atmosphere and the foodie experience, and the result was just lovely. It really was the rustic Italian experience nestled in the streets of Soho, and I can’t recommend this hidden gem enough. Book your table now.image

Have you been to RustiKo – how was your experience? Can you recommend any other independent restaurants? What’s your favourite Italian dish?

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Vietnam | A trip to beautiful Halong Bay

11263156_10152789718277617_6876131025164693250_nTravelling through Vietnam was one of the most exhausting stints of backpacking I have done, but one of the most rewarding. It’s an incredibly beautiful country with such a rich history, but I seriously underestimated how huge the country is and quite how long it would take to travel between places. I spent almost every night on overnight buses or trains, just trying to grab a few hours sleep before exploring the next stop on my journey. Read about how I managed to see Vietnam in 2 1/2 weeks. One of the truly amazing places I was lucky enough to visit, but sadly didn’t have time to write about in full at the time, was the breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site, Halong Bay. Including around 1,600 tiny islands and islets, with towering limestone cliffs scattered across this stunning seascape, it’s one of the places that remains etched on my memory. You know how some places just take your breath away, how some places are just so spectacular that you can’t believe you were one of the lucky ones who got to experience it first hand? Well Halong Bay was like that for me, I got to experience it with an amazing group of people from all over the world from the comfort of our own little cruise.11266462_10152789772667617_2663953592848547660_n11070949_10152789765032617_239983065223812444_nI’ll be honest and say that the name of my cruise company has slipped my memory now, but there are endless numbers of companies to choose from. From the ultra luxurious to the backpacker party boats, there’s something for everyone. I was a bit bored of backpacker partying, so I plumped for a mid-level boat with all the comforts I needed and none of the rabble. I was excited at the thought of witnessing this beautiful place with a group of adults who just wanted to appreciate natural beauty and relax rather than chugging beer. I wasn’t disappointed, the boat was amazing, so well-equipped and comfortable for the cheap price. I shared a cabin with one other woman and we had our own en suite bathroom, it was a perfect size for the two of us and there was lots of space up on the main deck and in the cabin for us to spend the rest of the days. The inside cabin came with a well-stocked, although expensive, bar, dining tables and even a small club set-up at one end for entertainment. Up on deck was our favourite area, lots of space for sunbathing, taking in the view and relaxing.11009109_10152789763827617_4078149230160823855_n11329990_10152789718307617_2680379706561751748_nWith so many different types of cruises, come just as many options for entertainment during the trip. I chose a two day, one night trip around the bay that took us on a cruise all around the stunning islands. The first day we spent the afternoon exploring some of the most incredible caves I have seen yet, Surprise Cave, in Bo Hon Island, is absolutely huge despite seeming quite small at first glace, as you step further into it’s hidden depths you are met with an enormous cave system full of twists and turns. Our guide took us on a walk around the caves, pointing out strange rock formations that have been given nicknames over the years as light poured in through tiny cracks and crevices in the rock. It was an amazing sight and a real contrast to the stunning openness of the rest of the bay. You’re really struck by the vastness of the landscape when you come out of the caves to find a panoramic view across Halong Bay. After we made our way back to the boat, we were treated to a Vietnamese cooking class where we made our own fresh and friend spring rolls ready for dinner. It was messy, good fun as we watched the demonstration and then tried our hand at making our own rolls, with both vegetarian and meat options available.11143494_10152789718237617_480855464583478058_n11150784_10152789764887617_4287145996265943834_nThat night we enjoyed a feast of delicious Vietnamese dishes as a group, it was lovely to sit around with so many different types of travelers. Some were couples on a two-week holiday, others were backpackers who were part-way through a year-long trip, others were travelling the length of the country. It’s easy to get stuck around backpackers when you stay in hostels, it can be refreshing to meet different types of travellers and hear about their experiences as well. The evening was spent drinking beers and watching the sunset from the top of the boat – a perfect end to our first day in Halong Bay. I woke bright and early the next day and got to see the sun come up over the Bay, is was so beautiful and peaceful. No-one apart from the workers and fishermen were up yet and I felt like I had the whole Bay to myself – that blissful moment of pure stillness is how I remember Halong Bay. Then it was wake-up time for everyone else because we were all going kayaking around the Bay, I shared a kayak with one of the other ladies on the boat and we had a hilarious time trying to manoeuvre our boat around the islets. It was lovely to spend some time out on the water and it was amazing to explore the floating market and village near where we docked – it’s just amazing to witness how these people live out on the water in their little huts. Such a simple lifestyle in such a stunning setting, I felt so lucky to experience just a taste of their lives as we waved at them from the kayak.11140073_10152789718447617_1288152903033423786_n11167977_10152789718337617_8050975412757218929_nOnce we rowed our way around the islands, we couldn’t resist jumping into the clear, fresh waters for a swim under the morning sun, it was a shock to the system but the perfect way to start the day. After breakfast, we took a slow cruise back to the harbour, ending our trip with a smile. It was such a well-needed break from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi, and the stresses of travelling after a rocky start in the country. Getting out to sea was a perfect way to show you why you were travelling, why you had ventured across thousands of miles to do this – for these incredible natural sights, for the people you meet and for the amazing experiences you have along the way. Whatever you do, don’t miss a visit to Halong Bay – you won’t experience anything like it anywhere else.1524651_10152789718367617_3879816317198010925_n

Have you been to Halong Bay – tell me about your experience. Can you recommend any cruise companies? Have you been to a bucket list location?

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