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My top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne

IMG_2025As a backpacker who has now lived in Melbourne twice, I’ve loved getting out and exploring the city and far beyond. Not being much of a city girl, I’ve noticed Melbourne really has a fantastic balance of modern built up areas interweaved with beautiful sprawling parks that really help to make the skyscrapers feel less claustrophobic and imposing than they do in English cities. It’s easy to wander around the city and quickly find yourself leaving the busy streets behind to get lost in lush, green woodland. Having lived in both South Melbourne and Southbank, I’ve been lucky enough to live with Albert Park right on my doorstep – a perfect place to run around the lake of an evening, or to gather with friends for barbecues or to watch the Grand Prix. Just behind sits the Royal Botanic Gardens, huge endless parks that stretch across the city with all kinds of treasures tucked just out of sight of the city.IMG_2059Fancy getting a bit further out of the city? There are so many amazing places right on your doorstop in Victoria that it would be a shame not to! Here are my top 5 places to escape into nature around Melbourne:

Wilson’s Promontory National Park

Just a couple of hours drive down to Mornington Peninsula and you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world. Wilson’s Prom has everything from forest and mountain, to marshland, river, beaches and even sand dunes! You’ll want a weekend to explore at your own pace so pack up the camping gear, the beers and bring your best mates for a weekend you won’t forget. Definitely don’t miss seeing the view from Mount Oberon Summit, sunset from the beach at Tidal River campsite and The Big Drift sand dunes.IMG_2627

Great Ocean Road

The absolute must-do when you go to Melbourne – Great Ocean Road is a perfect road trip to take with your buddies and is perfect whether you’re on a budget or fancy a big blow out. There are plenty of luxury escapes to take your breath away, or do like my gang and just pack a tent, hire a car and take advantage of the many free things to see and do. There are so many hikes, beaches, viewpoints and more to explore – don’t miss Bells Beach during the surfing competitions, Twelve Apostles at sunrise, the Round the Twist lighthouse if you’re a 90’s kid. Camp in Cape Otway National Park for an amazing experience and take a break from driving at Loch Ard Gorge for spectacular views. On your way home, take a detour through the Grampians National Park!IMG_2024

The Grampians National Park

A perfect trip to do on your way home from Great Ocean Road, you can see the highlights in 1/2 days. Taking you up into the mountains, don’t forget a jumper for that fresh mountain air. Stay in the Hall’s Gap campsites, they’re perfect for a campfire and nice and sheltered from the wind. Don’t miss the Pinnacle viewpoint – take the walk through the canyon – the Balconies, and Mackenzie Falls for those perfect photographs.12809706_10153417103997617_2184495225173723966_n

Dandenong Ranges National Park – 1,000 Steps

One I only ticked off my list last week, this national park is easily within reach for those without a car as you can get the train from Flinders to Upper Ferntree Gully and then walk from there. It takes just a few hours to get out there and complete the walk so perfect if you just fancy spending an afternoon in nature. The 1,000 Steps are the big attraction and although they’ll definitely have you huffing and puffing, they’re not as daunting as they sound. You’ll see runners of all shapes and sizes taking them on over and over again as they sprint up and down. Pack a picnic to enjoy at the top then take a different path down to enjoy a different pace of walk.IMG_2103

Phillip Island

The last one I had to tick off my list, I was so excited to finally be visiting Phillip Island to overdose on nature, especially seeing wild penguins down by the shore. One that can be done in a day either by organised day trip or by just hiring a car with your mates and heading off independently. Home to some seriously beautiful beaches and even a Grand Prix circuit, there is plenty to explore and it is a perfect day escape from city life. 17634702_10154322029987617_6507020851842610414_n

This post previously featured on Wild Melbourne – see the original post here.

What are you favourite places to escape into nature around Victoria? Can you recommend any other places across Australia or the world?

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Travel | My ultimate tips for backpacking on a budget

imageFor months on end you slog your guts out working crummy jobs to save as much money as possible. You while away the hours stacking shelves or getting groped as you pull pints in some bar, always thinking of the paradise waiting for you. After working a job you thought would never end, you’re finally handing over your uniform and catching that flight to the other side of the world. The dream is finally becoming a reality and already you never want it to end, so how can you keep it going as long as possible? It all comes down to the money – all us backpackers say “if travel was free, you’d never see me again” and I can tell you it’s true. Travellers are always looking for the best ways to cut corners and make sacrifices so we can have just one more adventure, just one more day in paradise. We’d rather sleep on someone’s floor for a week than stay in a hotel if it means spending another week living a life of complete freedom and excitement. When you’re starting out on your travels, it can be difficult to know how to save money and where you can cheat to make your cash last that little bit longer. After 18 months of travelling solo and backpacking across Asia and Australia – one of the cheapest and one of the most expensive places to backpack in the world – I think I’ve picked up some good techniques for saving money. After all, I planned to go for a year and managed to keep going an extra six months AND came back with lots of money saved! Here are my top tips for backpacking on a budget:

PREPARE

  • Before you go, make a short term sacrifice and give up everything to save. I worked five jobs before I went which was bloody hard, but it meant I saved £10,000 for my adventure and went nine months without working.
  • Work in different types of jobs to get experience – I made sure I had recent bar work and nanny work on my CV which scored me instant jobs in Australia.
  • Invest money in getting a good quality backpack – it will save you a lot of money on lots of cheap replacements later on.
  • Don’t waste money on buying “travelling clothes” and accessories, it’s much cheaper to buy them along the way – keep packing practical and useful.
  • Spend money on items that will last you – things like solid shampoo can be a great way to make more space in your bag and will last for ages so you don’t have to constantly buy bottles of shampoo.

TRAVEL

  • As soon as you know when you aim to be flying somewhere, start looking at flights and get an idea of how much they will cost. You can get apps to track the cheapest flights to your destination and Skyscanner is great.
  • Hitchhike – not something I have done but some of my friends travelled the length and width of Australia safely like this and had an amazing experience.
  • Don’t be surprised by visa costs – they can be pricey and you always need to budget for them in advance to avoid being caught short.
  • Be flexible – most backpackers don’t mind what day they travel on, hell they usually don’t know what day of the week it is. This can save you a lot of pennies if you’re happy to delay travel to save money.
  • Don’t pay for expensive buses and trains – often they’re no safer and a lot more boring than travelling with the locals. You haven’t travelled until you’ve been on a bus with goats and chickens!

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STAY

  • Try Couchsurfing or similar options for a chance to stay with the locals for free, you get a more authentic experience and free digs!
  • Work for accommodation – it’s an option available in most hostels and can be a great way to cut costs getting a free bed for just a few hours work.
  • Visit family and friends – no matter how loosely related people are always welcoming to visitors and want to help out. A few nights in a proper bed with  family meal can do a world of good for a backpacker.
  • There are websites that look for house sitters for while homeowners are away – free accommodation, plush homes and potentially even food thrown in.
  • Camp – there are so many amazing locations around the world to camp and get closer to nature, if you pack your own tent you could save a fortune in hostels!

EAT

  • Find a hostel with a free breakfast or free/cheap dinners, it can make a world of difference to your budget if you are getting one free meal a day.
  • Street food – trust me it is the best way to cut costs and it’s easily the tastiest food on offer. Check the stalls for hygiene and don’t eat food that has been sitting out, but most of it is cooked to order in front of you.
  • Save eating out in restaurants as a treat for with friends – having that attitude will make you appreciate it more and will save a lot of money.
  • Prepare your own dinners and live off instant noodles – its an easy way to save a lot of cash if you want to splurge on rock climbing or a boat trip.
  • Go veggie – I barely ate meat when I was in Australia because it is quite expensive and you can’t keep it for long in a hostel. I saved a lot of money and felt really healthy.

DRINK

  • Be prepared to sacrifice your favourite drink. I had to give up wine and cider in Asia and lived off cheap beer and spirits to save money.
  • Scrimp on quality to get drunk – goon is disgusting but it does the trick, so do the $5 bottles of wine in Australia, good for pre-drinking before heading out.
  • Don’t waste money on bottles of water – keep on with you and fill it up at water points – unless you’re in Asia and water bottles are the safest option.
  • Take advantage of backpacker bars and cheap deals, enter competitions and try to win booze – it’s worth embarrassing yourself for a bucket.
  • Skip the lovely coffees and smoothie bars when you’re in the cities – do you really want to waste precious money on a drink that is gone in seconds when you could save it for your next adventure?

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ACTIVITIES

  • Whether you’re in Asia or Australia – trips can quickly add up. It’s important you research and ask around to get the best deals. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
  • Think carefully about what trips you want to do, some trips will often double up on experiences so by not going on one you won’t be missing out.
  • Look for group deals and discounts, often you can save a lot of money by getting a group of mates together and filling up seats on a boat/bus.
  • Go independent – often the trips are expensive because they use specially-chartered boats/buses etc, going it alone by hiring a car with your mates, or paying a fisherman for the day can work out a lot cheaper.
  • Take advantage of free activities – whether you’re in a national park or a city, there’s endless free things to do. Check the newspapers/online for free activities in the cities or ask at your hostel. Or head out into nature and go hiking or exploring waterfalls for the day.
  • Why not check out voucher code sites like DealsDaddy for bargains when shopping – that way you can save your money for other fun activities?

WORK

  • Working along the way can really help keep your money topped up – whether you stop and work a more permanent job in a bar/restaurant, shop or something else.
  • Run an online business – whether you’re a good writer, blogger, coder or social media expert, there’s loads of jobs you can work freelance around your travels and earn good money
  • Teach English, it’s fantastic money in the right job, I have friends working in Dubai and they earn a fortune and have their accommodation paid for.
  • Find a job that helps you travel – whether it’s a career that takes you around the world or just work for a tourist attraction. One of my friends worked on a catamaran that cruises around the Whitsundays for months – her dream job!
  • Woofing can be a great way to support organic farming in the country you are travelling while getting free food and accommodation. If it doesn’t appeal, there are lots of other volunteer organisations that might be able to take you on in exchange for room and board.

Like this post? Why not vote for me as the best budget travel blogger of 2016? It takes two seconds and all you have to do is follow this link. Thanks!

Looking for other ways to cut costs? Check out VoucherShops. Or, in case couch surfing, eating veggie or fruit picking gets boring – there’s always the chance you’ll marry a millionaire or get a royal flush in the World Series of Poker!

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Travel | The worst offenders to plane etiquette

1937094_424379561084959_4293932723902172390_nFlying has always been my favourite way to travel. I love the excitement of stealing away in the middle of the night to catch a flight to somewhere exotic. I love the hustle and bustle of airports and people watching in departures as I try to guess where everyone might be going. You might think I’m crazy, but I even love long-haul flights when you can spend hours eating, drinking wine from the free bar and watching all the movies you missed in the cinemas. I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve soared through the air in my 26 years, but I’ve clocked up a hell of a lot of air miles in that time and had some interesting experiences along the way. From the time the pilot was forced to do an emergency landing in the Seychelles because there was something wrong with the plane, to the time my dad mixed up the flight times and we ended up at the airport before it had even opened on Christmas Day.

I’ve been lucky and never had any really bad flights considering how much I have travelled, but we’ve all been subject to those really awful passengers – the ones who make everyone’s life hell for those hours in the air. As I said, I’ve always been a bit of a people-watcher and sitting in the airport is one of the best places to do it. I love grabbing a drink in a bar and watching as everyone hurries past to catch their flight – you can tell instantly the problem passengers who will drive those sitting in their vicinity crazy over the following hours.11822581_384058798450369_6691757134935381958_n-1

 

So who really are the worst offenders?

Lads on tour

Usually late, usually drunk, always loud. Whether its lads or ladies on tour, it’s bloody annoying to be stuck sitting in a crowd of people headed for a festival or party holiday when they behave like school kids. It shouldn’t have to be spelled out for adults but throwing things around the plane, shouting and screaming at each other, and being drunk and mouthy to other passengers is not okay. I remember being on a flight to Hideout Festival in Croatia and seeing other groups acting like this – I was embarrassed to be among them. It’s possible to have fun and have a laugh while being respectful of everyone else and it starts by not getting drunk in the airport and holding up the plane.

Latecomers

I can’t deal with people who are terminally late, it drives me crazy. I’m always on time and I never understand people who can justify holding other people up. I don’t mind when people are late the odd few times, but when it is every single time and you are impacting on other people’s lives it is just rude. When it comes to flights, I understand there are extenuating circumstances sometimes, but often you see the people who stumble on to the flight last and can just tell they weren’t paying attention to the announcements, to their flight time or to anything other than the bar. When you fly, it isn’t much to ask that you get yourself to the departure gate on time. It’s important to realise that every second you hold up the plane, is impacting on every passenger’s connecting flights, transfers and delays. Every second you waste at the bar is time that could mean missing your flight altogether, or could even mean the flight missing it’s departure window on the tarmac.

Snoring snoozers

Just like screaming children, there is always a deafening snorer on board the plane. The one who snores so loud they wake themselves up and glare around the plane to see who was making the noise. People can’t help being a snorer, but if you do snore really loudly, it might help to try a mouthguard when you’re on board to allow the other passengers to get a little shut-eye during the flight.

Germ spreaders

Something that often can’t be helped but always grosses me out. One thing I hate about flying is breathing the recycled air as it is pumped out of the air conditioning over and over again during a long-haul flight. It’s made even worse when you can hear someone snuffling and sneezing a few seats over, all those germs flying around the plane and being pushed through the vents into your lungs. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies where some horrible epidemic is spread in the course of a flight, or maybe I’ve just boarded too many planes completely healthy and then felt horrendous a day later. It’s never nice being that person who is ill on a plane – been there and it’s horrible – but it’s also not great to be the person who is being sneezed over in a confined space.

Screaming children

We all know that feeling of doom when we’ve paid out half a month’s wages for that flight across the world and two minutes in a kid behind us starts screaming. I do understand it can be difficult to travel with children sometimes, when they’re bored or tired or their ears hurt and their natural response is to cry or scream. But I didn’t pay a small fortune to sit in a confined space for 14 hours with a screaming child in my ear. My parents travelled with me from when I was barely a few months old and never had instances when I screamed or cried for the whole flight, I just happily played or slept through the journey. Likewise, the baby behind me on my flight back to London was peaceful and quiet the whole journey – I didn’t even know he was there until we left the plane. It is possible, and it makes everyone’s life a bit better.

Impatient flyers

The ones who just can’t wait for anyone and jeopardise everyone’s safety in the process. This is a real pet peeve of mine – I can be pretty impatient but when it comes to travel I’m pretty chilled. It really frustrates me when you see people walking around the cabin when seatbelt signs are on, when you see people on their mobile phones when they’ve been told to turn them off and when you get people grabbing their bags and queuing to get off the plane before it has even reached the terminal. The safety measures are in place for a reason and by ignoring them you put everyone at risk because you simply can’t chill out, wait and read a book.

Panicky passengers

Those flustered flyers who freak out at the first sign of turbulence, over-think everything and hog the attention of the air stewardess when you’re trying to call them over. I totally understand that some people are nervous flyers, but there’s a difference between the ones who are genuinely fearful and the ones who are just attention-seeking and need someone to tell them to get a grip. My mum is a bit of a nervous flyer but only if you draw attention to it, if I distract her with wine and movies she is absolutely fine and actually enjoys the flight.

What was your worst plane experience? Are you guilty of any of these? Can you think of any other offenders on flights?

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Travel | Feel at home when you travel with Homestay

Treehouse, Costa RicaI’ve been travelling since I was barely a few months old and throughout a lifetime of travelling I’ve collected endless precious memories of exotic sights, sounds, smells. From a young age one of my favourite memories was always of getting to know the locals, whether that meant being taught to fish then barbecuing up the catch of the day with them, watching morning prayers and being blessed by priests or drinking rum on the beach. Getting to know the true culture of a country is only possible by spending time talking to and living with the locals – seeing the world through their eyes. When I was backpacking across Asia and Australia solo, it was just as important to try and have a truly authentic experience alongside all the fun and games that comes with backpacker culture. I don’t choose one over the other, I think we have so much to gain by experiencing both when we travel. The more I experience of one, the more I crave of the other.Mountain Home, Zakopane, PolandThinking back over the last 18 months, some of my most incredible memories come from the experiences I had when I truly immersed myself in the culture of the amazing countries I was exploring. When I got lost in the old town of Phuket and stumbled into a famous artist’s gallery where I spent the evening talking art and painting with his daughters. The time when I spent a week living with a group of Thai Rastafarians who taught me about their favourite jazz musicians and how to crack coconuts. When I was almost adopted by an incredible woman who treated me like a daughter, introduced me to all her friends and taught me all about the ruins of temples dotted around her city. In Vietnam, the elderly gentleman who told me all about what it was like to live through the Vietnam War and how his family survived. Crossing oceans and desert to outback Australia, the amazing friends who helped me cope with three months of farm work with lazy days at the river and long nights laying in a ute under the stars. I feel so lucky to have experienced such things.Temple, Gianyar, IndonesiaThen I heard about Homestay – an alternative accommodation choice to hotels and hostels where guests rent a room in the home of a local – sounds amazing right? It offers you a totally different experience and a chance to really experience the culture, and daily life in the area you visit. Homestay.com is running in over 150 countries globally, with 25,000 live hosts ready to welcome guests and some incredible accommodation opportunities just waiting to be explored. While many of my friends have recommended trying out Couchsurfing or Airbnb for a more authentic experience when travelling, I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try any of these schemes. But already Homestay has proven popular with solo travellers and backpackers who want to take the opportunity to try something a bit different and experience some magnificent properties around the world. I love the idea of getting away from hotels, which can feel so impersonal, and hostels, which can sometimes be overwhelmed by backpackers who are more interested in getting drunk. This is a great way of getting to enjoy a night in your own room, while getting to experience the life of the natives.Lakeside Retreat, Halifax, CanadaThere are so many amazing affordable options worth exploring, including a traditional Balinese house just steps away from Pulagan Rice Field UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its very own family temple for just $14 a night. In Costa Rica, travellers can stay in a treehouse surrounded by flowers and fruit orchards in the hills of San Antonio de Escazu from just $71 a night. Or stay on an organic farm in a jungle village in Northern Thailand where they grow everything from bok choi and lemongrass to longan and lychee, and guests can learn the art of Karen weaving, bamboo rafting and bathe in waterfalls for $29 a night.Romantic Villa, Mykonos, GreeceFor those who fancy testing their sea legs, there is even an option to sail from one Greek Island to another on a 50ft yacht with Steph and Andy, and their two ship cats Puss and Fluff, for $213 a night. Or if you really need to get away from it all, you can experience that real millionaire lifestyle for the tiny price tag of $169 a night when you stay on your own 75,000 sq ft private island of Zopango, Nicaragua. Head to a lakeside retreat in Halifax, Canada, to experience a one-of-a-kind home with stunning scenic lake views from $64 a night, or New Zealand offers a converted barn overlooking Mount Taranaki, an active volcano, from $73 a night. Mountain lovers will be in their element  with the wooden chalet awaiting guests in Poland from $23 a night, at the base of the Tatras Mountains it draws skiers, mountain climbers and hikers all year round.  16th C Artist's Cottage, Avignon, France

What an amazing experience to stay in any of these unique locations – I’d love to try out Homestay on one of my next trips across Europe. If you fancy doing the same, click here to book online.

Have you tried staying with the locals – what your best native experience? What was the most unique accommodation you have ever stayed in?

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Travel | My top 5 adventure experiences for South East Asia

14214_10152623575027617_4481321525533640505_nEvery traveler is different – some are happier laying on a beach and relaxing through their summer holidays and others just aren’t happy unless they’ve got adrenaline coursing through their veins. I like to think I’m a healthy mix of both, I love lazy days with a book by the pool but I also cannot resist the urge to get out there and explore the world in exciting new ways. I’ve taken full advantage of the amazing opportunities to take part in everything from white water rafting and snorkelling, to hiking and abseiling since I’ve been travelling and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You see, no matter now hard I try to be a beach bum all my days, I just get bored and have to get moving. I love activities that get me outside and get me excited about the landscape – you’re more likely to find me camping in the outback under the stars than living it up at a five star hotel. Perhaps that’s why I always have a story to tell, because I get bored with playing it safe and the one thing that really gets my endorphins flowing is adventure. So I thought it was about time to share with you my absolute favourite adventure experiences from my travels in South East Asia:

Kayaking through the jungle in Khao Sok, Thailand

This was without a doubt one of my favourite experiences from Thailand, and worth every penny. Khao Sok is an incredible rainforest in the centre of the country that so many travelers miss because it is slap-bang in the middle between Suratani and Phuket. Trust me, if you like hiking to waterfalls and clambering through the jungle it is perfect for you, with a huge array of trips and experiences on offer. Some of the trips overlap a lot and some are a little pricey, but the one that is 100% worth it is the overnight trip to the lake. This trip takes you out for two days filled with safaris at sunrise and sunset, jungle hikes and a caving trip (see below) plus a night spent in a bungalow floating on a raft that has been built on the reservoir in the centre of the National Park. It’s an amazing trip to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I have been and one of the nights I will never forget. It’s not part of the trip but my friends and I couldn’t resist borrowing a couple of kayaks scattered around the raft so we could row out on the lake to watch the sunrise and hear the jungle waking up. It was absolutely incredible – one of the most peaceful moments of my entire life – at least until we heard wild elephants crashing around in the undergrowth! Not to be missed.11250993_10152789719267617_287437721692320808_n

Hill Tribe Trekking in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Up in the North of Thailand I had an amazing opportunity to really understand the hill tribe culture when I took part in a three day trekking trip through the Chiang Mai countryside, led by our amazing tour guide. He took us on a hike across the fields, villages and jungle of his homeland, proudly talking about the history and ways of his family, who we later met, along the way. It was a really valuable experience to see firsthand how they live and support themselves while getting a chance to really explore a landscape that couldn’t be more different to the beaches and rainforests of the south. We walked through forest fires, past rice fields and met friendly village children along the way. At each stop, our amazing guide cooked up a fantastic feast of local dishes all made with ingredients sourced within the village or from others nearby. It was amazing to watch as the meals were prepared, before we bedded down for the night in little huts with roofs made of dried leaves. The trekking was medium difficulty – a bit steep in places but suitable for all levels of fitness – and well worth it for the chance to spend a night camping by a waterfall. I was less impressed with the elephant ride that was on offer at the end of the trip, but I chose not to take part in this, instead feeding the elephants with sugar cane I bought elsewhere. I also took the opportunity to educate the other travelers on why I was choosing not to ride – and they in turn decided not to.

Caving in Khao Sok, Thailand

Part of the trip to the lake I mentioned above, this was an amazing experience all by itself and one I’m so glad I had the opportunity to try. When I hear caving, I think claustrophobic spaces and feeling my way in the dark. Don’t get me wrong, that’s exactly what it is but it’s not something I would have ever chosen to do so it was great to have it as part of a larger trip so I could try it out. We hiked through the jungle to these huge caves and following our tour guide, Mr A, into the darkness with nothing but a tiny flashlight in my hand, we started to make our way through this incredible cave system. Full of huge spiders, bats, and giant frogs that had never seen the outside world, the caves weren’t immediately appealing but once you looked beyond the creatures lurking within, you started to see the majesty of the structures. As we moved further through the caves, it started to get wetter until we actually had to step into a mini river that was flowing through the caves – in pure darkness other than the tiny light from the torches we wandered through the watery trail stepping further and further until we were wading through and the water reached as high as my chin. It was slippery and dangerous – good old Thailand health and safety – it was exciting and fun to be shrieking through the darkness with the A-Team. We knew we were in good hands with our tour guide and we were right – it was an awesome experience and I would really recommend it.1533715_10152703029457617_5153880471880315554_n

Canyoning in Da Lat, Vietnam

Canyoning was the one trip that everyone across Asia talks about. Long before you even set foot on Vietnamese soil, you’re hearing about Da Lat and the amazing trip that has you abseiling down waterfalls, rock climbing, sliding through rapids and free jumping from up to 18m. Pretty awesome right? I knew a long time before I went to Vietnam that I would be going to Da Lat and I would be doing this amazing day-trip. High up in the mountains, you get to see a completely different side to the country and this epic day of adventures is a fantastic way to see the stunning countryside. At just $20 and with lunch included, it’s easily the biggest bargain adventure trip I went on in South East Asia and one that will really give you that adrenaline rush. Just be sure to book through one of the two main companies that offer the trip – ask at Da Lat Central Hotel – because there have been serious injuries/deaths of people who booked with less experienced companies. This trip is not for the faint hearted.

Mountain biking in Dalat, Vietnam

I’m not much of a biker chick, before I went to Thailand I hadn’t actually been on a bicycle for ten years but they are right when they say you never forget. One of my favourite ways to get around in Thailand was by bike, especially when exploring the temples. Da Lat is the perfect place to explore by bicycle, with beautiful rides around the huge lake, places like the Crazy House to explore and lots of waterfalls and beautiful places just a short ride away. The mountainous area means the rides aren’t as easy as you might hope, the hilly landscape is hard going on your legs for the novice cycler, but that didn’t put us off. We braved crazy storms for a bike ride along some ridiculously hilly roads to check out some nearby waterfalls. With four of us it turned into a bit of an adventure as the heavens opened and lightning crashed across the sky. I would really recommend exploring this cute little town by bike, it’s the best way to really experience the landscape and a perfect way to work up an appetite before heading to the markets for dinner.

What are your favourite adventure activities from Asia? What trips would you recommend abroad or in the UK?

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Travel | Stepping back into my old life with fresh eyes

10486213_10153380797622617_6969181813338259486_n-1On Friday, I sat back at my old desk, in my old office, back doing the job I was doing before my whole adventure began. For a split second I could have easily been fooled into thinking the last 18 months never actually happened, that it was just my overactive imagination daydreaming about abseiling down waterfalls, sunset romances and sandy beaches. I wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea for me to return to my old job when I headed back to the UK – sure it was convenient and in my actual industry. But it could also have been so easy to slide back into the rut I was in before I left – that painful, stressful and lonely place I was in. It wasn’t all down to the job, but a lot had changed in my office and combined with the break-up of my nine-year relationship, life became pretty miserable. I found myself at my lowest point, but even when I was frantically climbing the walls in an attempt to stop from being buried under the remnants of my old life, I still couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was only when I hit breaking point that I could finally see a way out, losing so much so quick helped make things seem incredibly clear – it was time to go.

So after such an abrupt decision to leave in such a rocky state of mind, you can imagine how strange it felt to be back among the stacks of newspapers after two years away. But sitting back at that computer, I couldn’t have felt any more different to how I did two years ago, it was like my whole perspective had shifted. Back then I was a workaholic who was driving herself into the ground working five jobs and stressing about giving 110% to each, now I’ve realised how that goes and it doesn’t end well. This time I’m in control of the situation, I’m working the hours that I want to work and working freelance means not taking on a ridiculous workload that will leave me overwhelmed. I’m not going to lie, I’m still a workaholic and get called that all the time by friends and family, but I like to think I’ve learnt my limits. It was so refreshing to be able to work in the office and feel happy, to truly enjoy journalism and the construction of a story instead of worrying about covering 100 stories at once. Just like it was refreshing to come back to this town without stressing over a relationship that had run its course. I’m back to basics now, just focusing on me and doing the job I loved – just the way it should be.1924125_10153380769882617_7066957380580364048_nTravelling is incredible in so many ways, but what is really invaluable is what it leaves you with days, months or even years after you have stepped off the plane. Perspective, knowledge and an understanding of the way you want to live your life – not the way anyone else thinks you should be living it. I came back with all three of these and it made me determined that I would not get caught up in work while I was back, it is important for me to earn money for my trip around Europe and my return to Australia, but it is more important for me to enjoy my time here and to make the most of the opportunity to see all the people I have missed so much over the last 18 months. It can be so hard to come home after travelling – I had read about it so many times and spoken to friends just after their return, but you never understand unless you experience it. I now understand the struggle, the heartbreak that comes with leaving so many memories and amazing people behind you, the pangs when you’ve left a piece of your heart on the other side of the planet. The difficulty in adjusting to the life you left behind, to the friends, the family who have moved on and yet stay entirely the same, unchanged. That moment when you step back into your time capsule of a bedroom to be met by the unblinking eyes of the past staring down at you from the photos on your wall.

It’s not easy to fit into a life that has moved on without you and yet stays strangely, and even irritatingly, familiar. But we do it because deep down, this is home. It doesn’t matter how far we travel or how many amazing things we see, a part of us is always here in this funny little town filled with charity shops and old age pensioners. I didn’t have to come back, I came back because I wanted to and because I missed my family, my friends and my home. So many can mistake travellers coming home and finding it difficult to readjust for them not actually not wanting to be here, that’s not it at all, it’s just a culture shock and we need time to adjust. That first intense burst of excitement of seeing everyone can soon fade as reality hits and between job-hunting and bad weather it can soon feel like a bit of an anti-climax to be here. For me, I feel like I never even had a chance to really enjoy that first moment of seeing everyone again because I was ill for the first two weeks of being home and couldn’t really make the most of it, only now am I starting to feel a bit more settled.12670585_10153273974532617_8029664788022203933_nBut what needs to be understood by the traveller returning home is that it is okay not to feel at home in the place that you once couldn’t imagine a life outside of. It’s okay to always feel a sense that you shouldn’t be here, that you no longer belong here. It’s called growth, it means you’ve changed and grown as a person in your time away and it just means that you take up a little bit more space in the world, perhaps this town you once called home can no longer contain the person you have become. Likewise, what needs to be understood by those welcoming home the traveller is that this is no longer the person you waved off at the airport – they still look the same and share all those amazing memories with you. But something deeper has shifted, something stronger than personality or opinion, their very core has been shaken by all that they have seen and experienced. So don’t put it down to them being a wanky traveller who can’t stop talking about their gap year, perhaps it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s more that their whole world has changed and if that’s not something to talk about and share with the people who mean the most to you, I don’t know what is.

How did you find returning home from travelling? How did travelling affect you? Did you struggle to settle back in at home?

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Melbourne | Living on the Edge at Eureka Skydeck | Australia

imageAs the clock ticked down on my final days in Melbourne, it struck me that there were still several things I had yet to do before leaving. All those touristy things we want to do but simply forget once we start working and life gets in the way. Well working 12 hour days six days a week definitely cut back the amount of time I had to give to such activities, but I was still determined to give it my best shot. So when the birthday of one of my best friends was approaching, I thought how better to celebrate than with a trip up the Eureka Skydeck to see our beautiful city twinkling in the moonlight followed by a night of cocktails by the river. We met at Ludlow’s, a bar along the river where loads of our friends who worked there were celebrating the boss’ birthday with drinks and food. The crowd that work at the bar are great, such a friendly bunch and they definitely know how to party. The company actually owns part of the Skydeck and when they heard we were going up there that evening, the bosses gave us free tickets to both the Skyjack and The Edge – we couldn’t believe it! It was so lovely of them and we really appreciated it. Normal prices at $20 for entrance to the Skydeck Experience and a further $12 for The Edge.imageWe walked over to the entrance and were given a warm welcome by the staff to ushered us into the lifts which carried us a whopping 285m above ground in just 38 seconds! No wonder my ears were popping. The fastest elevator trip in the Southern Hemisphere took us directly to the dizzying heights of the Eureka Skydeck – and I wasn’t sure how well this was going to go down. Heights have never bothered me in the slightest, but the birthday girl suffered terrible vertigo as we had found in the Grampians and I hoped she was going to be able to enjoy it. We walked around the Skydeck where we experienced Melbourne sightseeing at its finest, the whole city was alight and glowing against the dark skies. It was beautiful – take your breath away beautiful. I was so glad we hadn’t come up during the day, but also wondered what it would have been like to witness this spectacular view at sunset. We had an incredible 360 degree view of the Melbourne skyline thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows. From the top it is possible to see Albert Park Lake, Port Phillip Bay, the Dandenong Ranges and beyond. There are also 30 viewfinders around the Skydeck, so you can take a closer look at some of Melbourne’s favourite landmarks such as the MCG, Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.imageAfter exploring the platform, we decided to enjoy a nice glass of wine with the view over the city – it really was a breathtaking sight. We all had to take a minute to breathe in the fact that this was our home, we lived in this amazing city. It was one of the moments I really found a true appreciation for how lucky I am. Then our buzzer went and it was our time to check out the second stage of the experience – The Edge – a glass cube that projects from the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower and suspends visitors almost 300 meters high above Melbourne. A world first, it gives you a chance to stand over the city and really experience the view from a whole new perspective. Now I know that it might not appeal to those who are scared of heights but with me were two of my best friends who were both nervous about the experience and worried they couldn’t cope with the height. Both came out with huge beaming smiles on their faces and not a hint of shaky legs. Even if you hate heights and ca’t usually deal with them, don’t write off this experience because my friends coped well and were so glad they had given it a chance. There really is no other way to see Melbourne like it and I will always remember seeing Melbourne twinkling below me.

For more details about the Skydeck Experience, prices, opening times or The Edge, check out the website for more details.

Have you been up the Eureka Skydeck? How did you find The Edge? What other top Melbourne attractions could you recommend?

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Melbourne | Exploring the Grampians | Australia

imageMaking the most of the four day weekend, we couldn’t resist extending our Great Ocean Road trip by visiting the nearby Grampians National Park on the recommendations of good friends. Just a couple of hours north west of the coast are three amazing national parks for adventurous and outdoorsy types to explore to their heart’s content. As three girls who love adventures and miss camping trips, we were excited to spend another night camping in a national park, and were excited to have two other friends joining us for two days of exploring the bushwalkers’ paradise. We headed to Hall’s Gap, which was packed with families, to meet our friends who had already found us a great camping spot at the Plantation campsite. It was a lot wilder than the previous night but a great campsite and nicely sheltered from the wind by Mount Zero.imageWhen we arrived during in the late afternoon, we quickly set up camp before heading up Mount Victory to explore some of the lookout points. We drove straight up the steep and winding road – not a fun experience for our friend who suffers from terrible vertigo and happened to be driving – until we reached the Reeds Lookout and The Balconies. It was a perfect place to start our time in the Grampians because it gave us a nice and easy 10 minute walk to the summit where we found the most incredible 360 degree view of the national park from Victoria Valley and Lake Wartook, to the Serra, Victoria and Mt Difficult mountain ranges. The endless empty space was breathtaking. Such an astonishing experience to see nothing but empty space and to breathe that clean mountain air after being in the confines of Melbourne for months. Afterwards we took the easy 2k walk to the balconies to see more incredible panoramic views of Victoria Range, Lake Wartook and Mount Difficult, a perfect location to spend that misty afternoon.imageWe were instantly reminded of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales for those of us who has previously visited Sydney, but the Grampians felt so much wilder and vaster in comparison. As we headed back down to our campsite for dinner, we were excited to spend the next day exploring the other viewpoints. (Check out Planet Camping for equipment.) Back at the campsite, we rustled up a quick dinner of salad wraps with cider. Very basic but we were glad we hadn’t bothered with the excessive set-ups and barbecues those around us were having – we preferred to spend our time having drinks and building a campfire of our own. The five of us (Shoutout to Absolutely-Scootsie) went off collecting wood and rocks to build our fire and our dedication paid off – we ended up building a fantastic fire that kept blazing for around six hours in the end. We sat round with ciders and toasted marshmallows and slices of bread on the fire, it was so much fun! There’s something about getting back to basics that really brings out the best side of everyone. Later, as the other fires around us died down, several others from the campsite came to join us and have drinks. We all ended up pretty drunk and had a hilarious night together.imageThe next morning we all woke up later than planned but eager to start the day’s hiking after a breakfast in Hall’s Gap. After some delicious bacon and eggs, we started driving up the mountain again for an amazing walk we had seriously underestimated. We were to take on The Pinnacle on the advice of our friends – there are two options to enjoy the walk by taking an easy route from the Sundial Carpark, or the challenging hike through the Grand Canyon from Wonderland Carpark. I would seriously recommend the hike – we went for it not knowing about an easier option but were glad we did. The climb through the gorge was incredible and although hard work, was so rewarding when you finally reached the top.imageMake sure to take plenty of water, we took three bottles but it was a hot day and we wished we had brought more with us. We hiked all the way to the very top of the Pinnacle before taking a different route down and rejoined back at the Gorge. We also followed some silly Canadian lads who ended up getting us lost by not following the path so we ended up rock climbing down the last part of the walk. It was brilliant fun, but make sure you pay attention to the paths. By the end of the walk we were knackered but felt amazing – it was lovely to get some real exercise in such beautiful surroundings. In the end we covered around 8km through the routes we took, so it’s well worth it.imageAfterwards we were excited to be heading to Mackenzie Falls to cool off after the hike. At the bottom of a steep 2km train down the cliff, a spectacular view of the water cascading into a deep pool awaited us. Fine rainbow mist sprayed across the faces of those descending the slippery steps as the reached the floor of the gorge. It was a beautiful sight and one that would excite the mermaid in all of us – it definitely had one guy excited as he slipped off his shirt and dived into the water for a photo right under the waterfall. We were disappointed we hadn’t brought our bikinis although I’m not sure you’re actually supposed to swim there, and the water was bloody freezing! We dipped our toes in and watched the water for a while before heading back up the steep steps.imageWe finished the day by heading to what is supposed to be one of the best lookouts in the Grampians – Boroka Lookout. It offered a stunning 180 degree view of Western Victoria, overlooking Halls Gap and Lake Bellfield, and only a tiny stroll from the car to the viewpoint. It was beautiful but I found it hard to really enjoy this on as there were far too many people dangling themselves precariously from the rocks for the perfect photo. It was pretty annoying having to wait ten minutes for a simple photo because there were so many people in the way, and personally I did think the Reed Lookout was far more breathtaking. But Boroka is definitely worth a look! It was the end of an amazing trip and we were all exhausted after a busy couple of days of hiking, camping and having way too much fun. It was time to head back to Melbourne, but we left with huge smiles on our faces and amazing memories with great friends. Our weekend could not have been any better and I’m still grinning now just thinking about it. We’ve already started planning the next trip!image

 

Have you been to the Grampians National Park? What was your favourite part? Can you recommend any other Australian national parks?

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Melbourne | Art & blogging with Andy Warhol & Ai WeiWei | Australia

12801410_10153322204992617_812625605486026040_nI wrote a post last week about how social media really affects your travelling experience by bringing you closer to people you might never have crossed paths with otherwise. Well the other week I had the perfect example of this when I finally had the opportunity to meet up with someone who has been supporting my travels every step of the way. Starting out with a few comments on my blog and a passing tweet or Facebook comment, we soon started chatting regularly, providing each other with a wealth of travel information and a listening ear. I love the way we became much like modern-day pen-pals, always keeping in touch along our independent journeys through Australia. Finally the day came when we found ourselves in the same city and couldn’t resist meeting in person for a day of art, culture and chatting blogging, Amy and I headed to the National Gallery of Victoria for the incredible Andy Warhol and Ai Weiwei exhibition.1622071_10153879755861093_7085872547509599261_nThis major international exhibition has brought together the works of two of the most significant artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It explores the huge influence of Warhol and Weiwei on modern art and contemporary life, focusing on the parallels and points of difference between the two. The NGV exhibition presents more than 300 works, including major new commissions, immersive installations and a wide representation of paintings, sculpture, film, photography, publishing and social media. As described on the website: “Presenting the work of both artists, the exhibition explores modern and contemporary art, life and cultural politics through the activities of two exemplary figures – one of whom represents twentieth century modernity and the ‘American century’; and the other contemporary life in the twenty-first century and what has been heralded as the ‘Chinese century’ to come.”12803150_10153322204432617_4795580638982975734_nWhether you know a lot about art or not – and I admit that while my interest and curiosity continually finds me poking around in galleries, I actually have very little knowledge about art – this exhibition is fantastic. I was so impressed with the cross-cultural diversity of the pieces and the way they made poignant comments on society, offering great similarities over huge periods of time. The historical significance and the cultural significance is the part that really interested me, learning about how these stunning pieces reflected the politics and state of society at the time of making. And how these beautiful installations were still so accurate decades later – it really highlighted how our concerns in society can become timeless, that they may appear in lightly different forms but essentially boil down to the same issues. Ones that particularly stood out were concerns over mass-production and commercialisation as it took over the world, others included communication – from the basic right up to social media, and another that really interested me was the mass production of food and whether we can trust those who provide us with it.12802700_10153322204922617_6607751453238181792_nI loved learning about Ai Weiwei, while Andy Warhol is someone everyone knows of, I hadn’t yet come across Weiwei and it was a fantastic opportunity to learn about his history and his life’s work. He was a fascinating man and I’ve actually found a documentary about him on Netflix that I’m looking forward to watching to find out more about him. I was really impressed with the interactive nature of the exhibition, it was brilliant to be able to get involved with some of the installations, to experiment with making your own pop art and to have all of your senses targeted by the pieces. It was easily the most diverse exhibition I have seen yet and it really appealed to all ages – I saw people of all ages and backgrounds there taking in the sights and sounds of the pieces. It was great to see such a mixed crowd and really showed the wide appeal of this exhibition, that it was something all could relate to and understand, that it spoke of issues still so poignant in our modern day society.12794576_10153322205037617_2327204439043988776_nSome of the highlights definitely helped draw in the crowds as the exhibition was also featuring a brand new suite of installations from Ai Wei Wei including an installation from the Forever Bicycles series, composed from almost 1500 bicycles; a major five-metre-tall work from Ai’s Chandelier series of crystal and light; Blossom 2015, a spectacular installation in the form of a large bed of thousands of delicate, intricately designed white porcelain flowers; and a room-scale installation featuring portraits of Australian advocates for human rights and freedom of speech and information. All fascinating pieces with interesting motivations behind them – definitely ones to make you think. Plus you’ll get to see classic pieces from Warhol including the famous Campbell’s soup paintings, his own self-portraits and the images he made of Marilyn Monroe and various other famous faces. The exhibition is running until April 24th, so there’s just over a month left to check it out – at just $26 entry I’d call that a bargain for getting to see some of the most famous pieces of modern art and some of the most current pieces by an internationally renowned artist. It’s well worth a look, and there are also a huge range of special events, tours and talks happening in the evenings including the popular Friday Nights at NGV. Find all details at the website.10391817_10153322204927617_2833230169451327107_n

Have you been to the NGV’s Warhol Weiwei exhibition – what did you think? Can you recommend any other galleries in Melbourne, or across the world?

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Magnetic Island | Bush walking and Barbie cars | Australia

imageAfter all the fun and games of Fraser Island and Whitsundays, we headed straight off to Magnetic Island – now this was the one we had no idea what to expect of. We had heard nothing about the island and weren’t sure if it would bring us a relaxing time or fun filled action. A bus and a ferry ride later, we arrived at Base Magnetic – which turned out to be easily the best and most beautiful Base hostel I have yet seen. It was stunning, the dorms were little six bed cabins set right on the shoreline and next to a swimming pool, with nothing but space – something which is normally rather lacking in hostels. Scattered around the grounds were loads of hammocks and comfy chairs for chilling and sunbathing, with the beach just in front. Our first evening was spent watching the sunset with a cold beer in hand and making new friends, including a huge group of Canadian girls who we spent most of the three days with and ended up being reunited with in Cairns as well! Our first night was hilarious, filled with silly drinking games, delicious food and a lot of laughs.imageimageThe next morning, the two of us decided to head out and explore the island, we went bush walking on a trail that started our side of the island and took us way over to one of the other bays past a great viewpoint. It was a pretty hot and sweaty hike, but well worth it for the view (see top pic) and the swim at the other end, plus we got to see some of the national park along the way. It took us a few hours to hike, but was well worth doing – just make sure you set off as early as possible to avoid the intense heat of the day. And keep your eyes peeled for Aussie nature highlights like the wild koalas that cling to the trees along the trail. That was a pretty special sight, being within touching distance of wild koalas and getting the infamous koala selfie, even if we were due to visit the koala sanctuary the day after. There’s just something so much more special when you seen an animal in its natural habitat. The landscape is just beautiful on Magnetic Island – from the crashing waves around the base of huge rock faces, to the dense bush and scrubland you trek through to reach from one side to another. The beauty of the island speaks for itself and I love that it isn’t a place that tries so hard – there is no expectation of what you have to do when you arrive. There are a huge range of activities on offer, but no pressure to take part in these organised trips, it’s more about going off on your own and exploring the island.imageimageOur final full day on the island was the best by far, we ended up teaming up with the Canadians and hiring jeeps (it’s usually supposed to be Barbie cars but we had too many people and didn’t get there early enough) to explore the island. First off we started at the koala sanctuary where we enjoyed a champagne breakfast and meeting lots of different animals from lizards to parrots. The food was delicious and we all filled our plates – typical backpackers! Afterwards, we were taken to meet the koalas and to have our photos taken with them. They were gorgeous, fluffy and oh, so soft. They smelt like eucalyptus and clung on for dear life, it was so adorable, and I was glad to be contributing towards helping rehabilitate them and up the numbers in the wild, but to be honest it wasn’t as good as the one we had seen in the wild the day before. The rest of the day saw us heading off to some of the best snorkelling beaches where we took our masks and snorkels into the water to spot fish, small sharks and more diving amongst the coral. A few hours of sunbathing were followed by a quick pit stop at the bottle shop to buy some wine for the sunset, before heading to West Point to watch it set over the ocean. It was the perfect end to an amazing day with new friends and I haven’t even told you about the best bit yet!imageimageEarlier in the day we did something amazing – my favourite part of the whole day. The girls had heard about a butterfly walk, completely natural and undisturbed by tourism. We parked up on the side of the road and walked into the woods to find ourselves surrounded by hundreds of stunning blue butterflies who swooped around our heads as the branches they perched upon swayed in the breeze. It was magical and like something out of a fairytale – as you walked through they were everywhere and I don’t think I have ever seen so many butterflies in one place before. Definitely worth visiting – just ask at the hostel and they’ll direct you. All in all, Magnetic Island was a seriously unexpected pleasure and I’m so happy we went, it was the biggest surprise of all of our destinations because we had so little idea of what to expect. I know many miss it out because of time constraints or funds on their trip up the East Coast but I would seriously recommend making sure you squeeze in a couple of days there! After one more tipsy night together, we all parted ways knowing we would be reunited in just a few days in Cairns.imageimage

 

Have you been to Magnetic Island – what was your favourite activity? Where did you stay? What did you think of the Koala Sanctuary?

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