Tag Archives: activities

Travel | Top tips for being a happy camper

img_2335I’ve always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn’t matter how stressed I’ve been over the years, or how frustrated, I’ve always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it’s purest form. Over the years I’ve spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I’ve stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I’ve done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world’s finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.imageThere’s something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you’re heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can’t wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it’s a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It’s easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It’s funny and it’s become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I’m a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there’s something about open space that just heals me.img_2333Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we’ve had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others’ jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I’ve had boils down to the same factors whether we’re raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors – it’s the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you’re sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again – I never used to think I would enjoy it but it’s now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it’s a great way to explore the world around you when you’re travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it’s just the weather that gets better!image

What makes the perfect camping experience?

Tent

This is definitely something you want to invest in – buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you’re going to a festival – if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won’t be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales – I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips – it’s huge and easy to put up, and it  was reduced to less than half price when I got it.

Camping spot

Choose your pitch wisely – there’s nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you’re trying to sleep that you’ve camped on a 45 degree slope or there’s a massive rock right where you’re laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn’t find a better spot – it’s absolutely bloody awful. Don’t do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.

Food

Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don’t be put off by the thought of it. There’s nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.image

Location

There are some incredible places to camp in the world – under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.

Price

Camping is a great way to travel if you’re on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive – there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you’re planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.

Timing

Always look out for the skies above you – I’ve been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There’s nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.image

Company

The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip – no matter what goes wrong you’ll still make it an experience to remember.

Happy camping!

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Slovenia | Exploring the Primostek countryside with Big Berry

imageOne of the highlights of visiting Big Berry is getting a real taste of the Slovenian lifestyle against the incredible backdrop of the untouched countryside that lies just beyond the camp gates. My week was spent there visiting several local producers of beer, gin, oil and chocolate amid visits to viewpoints, hidden lakes and abandoned mills. We took breaks for delicious meals made from local ingredients including some of the best trout and carp I have ever eaten, fresh from the river that runs through the camp itself. I even had the opportunity to take a peek into the past when I visited an old fashioned Slovenian home to see how the people of years gone by would have lived, and the crafts and memories that remain.imageimageIt hit me when I was there, just how hard it is these days to find a landscape that is actually untouched and undamaged by commercialisation. There are few places left in this world you can truly escape the modern world and step back in time into a completely natural landscape where green forests and clear rivers stretch as far as the eye can see, and eagles soar across the sky. It sounds like something out of a movie because we just don’t get a chance to see this very often without a fast food restaurant or some kind of brand getting in the way. But Eastern Europe is a very different matter, the Balkan countries just seem to have escaped the commercialisation that has dominated so many other places in Europe. There are still so many wide open areas you can get lost in and that makes them very precious to the modern day traveler.imageimageWhen it comes to local producers, Primostek and the nearby villages are a wealth of smaller companies that pack a punch with top quality products that kept me fed and watered throughout my stay. Everything from fruit, cheese and bread, to gin, wine and beer. There’s plenty to keep your stomach full and a smile on your face knowing your stay is supporting the local companies, plus you get a chance to see the process behind the products. All of the companies allow for tours to see how their food, drink and even body products are made during your stay, which is a great way to meet the local people and see another side to Slovenia.imageimageMy favourite tours had to be Berryshka – the liqueur and chocolate makers – and Vizir Pivovarna – the beer producers. The owners of both were so welcoming and took the time to talk us through the whole process of creating the products as they took us on a tour of the factory/brewery, before enjoying a tasting of the products. For me, the highlight of Berryshka was tasting the unusual lavender chocolate, a new product, and tasting their liqueurs served in a chocolate cup. Just delicious. Vizir Pivovarna had a great range of beers and were happy to explain the differences to a non-beer drinker, my favourite ones were definitely the dark beer and the stronger 10% beer they produce. Another huge highlight was getting to eat at the home of the delicious apple juice producers, Lamut, where we enjoyed a home cooked feast of fresh carp and trout washed down with apple juice, wine and a lot of Rakea.imageimageDuring the visit we also took the time to walk around local vineyards and taken some stunning views from the mills and local beauty spots. It was great being shown around by the team who knew all the best places to see and best things to do. If you’re staying at Big Berry, I would recommend getting out and exploring the local producers and seeing more than just the camp, get a real taste of this part of Slovenia and you’ll fall for the beautiful location just like I did. I mustn’t forget my favourite activity, on the last day we went rafting down the river and I don’t even have the words to describe how much fun and just how breathtaking the views were.imageimage

Have you been to Slovenia – what was your favourite part? Does the wide open landscape appeal to you? Have you visited local producers on other trips?

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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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Vang Vieng – A place for badly behaved backpackers

imageDropped off at the side of a dusty road in Vang Vieng after the most traumatic journey through winding, mountainous roads, I won’t lie and say my first thought wasn’t “oh God this place is a hole.” It looked like the back end of nowhere and it was blisteringly hot – grabbing our bags we walked towards the centre to find a place to stay. After checking out several and consulting with our Lonely Planet and Google Maps to get as close to the centre as possible. We finally ended up staying at Viang Vilay Guest House. It wasn’t great, but it was cheap and we didn’t plan to be in the dorms much. We ended up in a giant 30 bed dorm that was spread across three rooms in open plan style – it worked in our favour because after the first night everyone else moved out into private rooms and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Plus we were right in the centre of everything, right next to the tubing station, and we were paying less than anyone else we knew, which quite frankly is the only important thing when booking accommodation in Vang Vieng.

From the moment we arrived, we could see it was a dusty ghost town and we wondered where the hell everyone was. At around 6-7pm it became clear, as the tuk tuks rolled in with some of the drunkest people I have seen in a while, that everyone had been off on the river tubing. Now I apologise in advance, this isn’t going to be the most cultured of my posts but hot damn this was a fun few days, and if you like a good party, you’ll love tubing! Vang Vieng turned out to be an awesome time for us because there were so many people we knew there – some from travelling Thailand, others from the slow boat and some even just from Luang Prabang. It was a great reunion and everyone was in a party mood – you can’t really go to Vang Vieng if you don’t want to party. I have to question those older couples who were clearly just on holiday there when other than the Blue Lagoon and a couple of caves, there isn’t really much else to do, but each to their own. It’s not even a very welcoming place as you can tell that the people who live and work there can’t really stand the drunks and have a very low opinion of us – they were really rude from the moment we arrived – but who can blame them when we show up and get wasted.imageIn terms of food, I have to be honest and say the food in Laos disappointed me and everywhere I tried it I just found it tasteless and overcooked. So I gave up in the end and enjoyed a tasty spicy pizza at Milan Pizza (lots of spacier variations are available if you fancy that kind of thing) and lived off baguettes from the stalls in the street – it was cheap and I was hungover a lot of the time so it was perfect for lining my stomach for tubing. I keep teasing you with mentions of tubing but you’ll have to wait for my next post for my tubing guide. Instead, let me tell you about the lovely part down by the river where you can chill out on decking with your feet dangling in the water and the sun beaming down on you. It’s such a perfect place for relaxing in the day, and apparently attracts a lot of ladyboys on a day out, who were all enjoying posing for photos. I would really recommend heading down there at one point or another for the afternoon, there is also more accommodation including bungalows down there. For bars in the evening, Jaidee’s is good for chilling out and getting a little freaky or head to Sakura and the Irish Bar for free drinks and partying after tubing.

If you’re looking for something to do, the main two things we came across were visiting caves and the Blue Lagoon. The caves were supposed to be a couple of kilometres some thought we would walk and get some exercise but it was definitely further and the heat was ridiculous. We finally arrived and paid to go in, after being told to go through so we would find the Blue Lagoon, we that never happened. We got lost in the caves, one of us nearly lost her shoes and the head torches they gave us were useless! We ended up having to try and retrace our footsteps out the same way because we couldn’t find anyway through the caves – there was devotedly a moment when I thought I would never see daylight again – around the time I tripped and hurt my foot. If you visit these caves (which are signposted from the river) wear proper shoes because there is climbing involved, take a better torch because the ones they give you are terrible, and be brave – I have never been in caves that dark before. It was like a scene from a horror film!imageThe Blue Lagoon was much better but definitely wasn’t where we were told it was – get a tuk tuk or hire quads as it is quite far and the road is pretty bad for a scooter. It’s so worth the trip, the whole section of water is a rich blue colour from the calcium pigments and looks beautiful. There are loads of rope swings, high points to jump off into the water and sunbathing spots – it may have taken ages for us to get there but we were so glad when we finally did. You’ll probably want a few hours there to relax and jump around so indulge your inner kid and take along your friends for a fun afternoon getting over your tubing hangover before starting all over again. If you’re too hungover to make it that far, there’s a whole series of restaurants that have Friends playing on repeat all day opposite Jaidee’s which is great when you feel rubbish and it’s as humid and hot as it was when I was there. You don’t notice the heat quite so much when tubing as you’re out on the river and cool off in the water, but in the town it’s a very intense heat that leaves you with little energy to take part in other activities on offer like rock climbing – we really wanted to do this but it was too hot while we were there.

Have you been to Vang Vieng? What did you think of it and would you go back? What else did you get up to whole you were there? 

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Stargazing on NYC’s High Line

IMG_4969Having now visited New York several times, my family and I have now had the opportunity to explore slightly off the beaten track. Having seen all the main sights and been to a few shows, we now have the time to check out some of the lesser known sights or to join in activities in newer parts of the city. One of these is the newly-opened High Line which is “a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side.” It wasn’t high up on our list of priorities until my sister spotted that they were holding amateur stargazing sessions on Tuesday evenings.

nyc1After reading that, we couldn’t resist and joined the Amateur Astronomers Association for their Tuesday night session at the West 13th and 14th Streets section at dusk. Amazingly, despite New York probably being among the worst cities for light pollution – this section of the High Line was actually dark enough to see loads including a beautiful view of the New York skyline. An amazing way to see the city and certainly one experience I haven’t had before.

One of the astronomers had come along and, using his own equipment and own time, had set up two telescopes to look at different sections of the night sky. One of these was focused on the Moon, and was so clear you could make out individual craters, and the other on Jupiter, which was particularly clear on this night. Both spectacular views and amazing to have the equipment available to look up close at them, and for free! It was also amazing to have an expert on hand to answer questions about the equipment, planets and stars in sight. I managed to spot Sirius – the brightest star in Earth’s night sky – which was just beautiful and on such a clear night barely seemed the billions of light years distance from us it must surely be.We had a brilliant time and despite it being a late decision to go along, it turned out to be one of the best things we did on the holiday, and certainly the most memorable for the whole family. If you live in New York, or plan to holiday there soon, definitely try to check it out!IMG_4970

What have you spotted in the night skies? Have you been along to one of these sessions?IMG_4971