Tag Archives: family

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

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

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

My experience

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

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

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

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

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

Holly’s experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coping with your au pair job:

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can you do to protect your home?

For city breaks/summer holidays:

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

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For the long-term travellers:

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

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

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

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Fairytales & Legends Day | Norfolk

imageOn Sunday, I had a chance to live out all the dreams of five-year-old me. I was helping out a friend by working an event she had organised in the town where I live – Fairytales and Legends was right up my street, a day filled with Disney princesses, superheroes and dragons. First of all, serious kudos goes to my friend Abbie Panks who organised an absolutely amazing event that filled the town with families and countless excited children in fancy dress and face paints. It was an amazing feat, especially if you know quite how many other responsibilities she has that take up huge amounts of her time. I was so excited to be a part of the event – let’s be honest, anything that gives me an excuse to wear a pink crown and lots of glitter is automatically awesome – but this was such a fun day.imageI was dispatched straight away on important glass slipper and treasure placement, followed by princess liaison duties – yes I will be updating my CV accordingly. And then was sent off as an escort for Batman, Captain America and Spiderman for the day. Essentially I was a bodyguard for Batman, I was mistaken for Captain America’s girlfriend and spent the afternoon preventing Spiderman from being rugby tackled by kids high on e-numbers and groped by some rather forward grandmothers. It was absolutely hilarious. Later in the afternoon I also managed to sneak some photos with the princesses and hung out with Olaf and the girls from Frozen, plus had a lovely chat with the Fairy Godmother. A pretty good day in all! I won’t chat on any longer – instead enjoy some of my pics from the day.imageimageimageimageimageimageimageimage

Did you go to the Fairytales & Legends event – what did you think? Which is your favourite Disney princess?

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Santorini | A night at Kamari’s Open Air Cinema | Greece

imageOne of the things you simply have to do if you visit Santorini is spend an evening at the Open Air Cinema in Kamari – it’s an incredible way to experience sunset on the island and see the latest movies at the same time. When I was invited along to review the cinema I was so excited for the experience, it’s something a bit different to do of an evening and a great family activity. My family and I love going to the movies whether it’s the latest comedy, something a bit soppy or the old classics, and we couldn’t resist a visit. I actually had my first open air cinema experience when I was in Australia and couldn’t recommend it enough – it’s just such a wonderful way to experience your favourite movie and take advantage of the good weather. Our movie of choice was the newly-released Disney remake of Tarzan, a movie we’d all been keen to see as big Disney fans.

We caught two buses to get from Perissa to Fira, and then on to Kamari, arriving a bit early so we had time for dinner. Stopping at an amazing fish restaurant, Zorbas Taverna, in the village, we couldn’t resist the freshly caught sea bass, which was genuinely one of the tastiest fish I have eaten, it was served with saffron rice and a fresh Greek salad. The wine was delicious and the service was quick, we were very impressed by everything, especially when they presented us with a complimentary dessert as we left. For a pre-cinema dinner it’s lovely, just be sure to allow enough time to walk to the cinema with a full stomach, it’s about a 15 minute walk up and out of the village. Be sure to arrive in plenty of time to join the queue before doors open at 8.30pm, seats are first come first served so you want to be there on time to secure the centre rows. The cinema itself is absolutely beautiful, like a modern-day amphitheatre surrounded by trees and with high walls that do a good job to block noise from the road.imageWhen you arrive you queue to get in and purchase your ticket which costs 8 euros, then usher in your loved ones to find seats – whether you prefer deck chairs at the front or the slightly more upright at the back. If you’re chilly, blankets are provided and there is a very well-stocked bar at the back offering wines, beers, cocktails and all kinds of snacks. One thing I loved about the cinema was the atmosphere, everyone is chatting away before the movie starts, enjoying cocktails or wine to a background of 1920’s music. Then once the film starts up everyone falls silent, lost in the setting and the screen. The surround sound is incredible – trust me, when your dad is as deaf as mine, that’s important to make sure he enjoys the film as much as we do. Over the years, as technology advanced and theatres became less used, many across Greece were converted to make way for the cinematic era and now have become a big part of Greek life. This was clear from the sheer number of locals and travelling Greeks who were enjoying the show.

Tarzan was amazing, such a fantastic remake of a great film and we were all gripped from start to finish. They threw in a few breaks for those needing to pop to the loo or restock on drinks. But I think for all three of us, it was our second visit to the cinema that was the real highlight. Being there for two weeks, we couldn’t resist returning for another show as we had so much fun the first time. This time we headed to a screening of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 – who could honestly resist while in Greece? It was one of the best film screenings I have ever been to. Not only were we watching the Greek antics on screen but we revelled in the amazing Greek families chuckling along at the movie and voicing their agreement with some of the funnier moments. The whole thing was hilarious and an absolute highlight of our final days on the island. Trust me, if you’re looking for something a bit different to fill an evening on Santorini, this is the perfect answer and an experience you don’t want to miss.image

Have you been to an open-air cinema? When travelling, do you tend to look for evening activities or prefer to relax?

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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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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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Birthday thanks, love and celebrations

imageI wasn’t very excited for my birthday. Now if you know me well, you’d know that’s pretty odd for me, I’m the sort of girl who likes to celebrate her birthday by going big with all the people I love, I’m the sort of girl who likes to stretch out her birthday for weeks and even months. So for me to not be excited for my birthday, that was a bit strange. My birthday fell a week after I was due to arrive back in the UK after 18 months of travelling the globe – a year ago I was celebrating in Melbourne with good friends and without knowing, in the place I would come to love the most in Australia. I had a birthday/leaving party in Melbourne the weekend before I flew which was amazing – everyone dressed up in shit shirts and celebrated with me in my flat in Melbourne – two incredible friends I met in Asia even flew over from Adelaide especially for the party. I couldn’t have been more touched by the amazing turnout and the effort people went to, it really showed me what incredible friends I have found since travelling, and especially in Melbourne. So returning home and leaving that all behind has been hard, I’m not great with goodbyes and it kind of put a damper on my excitement for celebrating.13263704_10153507465677617_489101414685350076_nFor the first time in my life, I woke up feeling completely unexcited about my birthday. Not a feeling I’m used to, but I think the fact that it was supposed to be a day of celebration really highlighted that some people who really mean the most to me were on the other side of the globe and wouldn’t be here to share the day with me. It’s one of the hard parts of coming home from travelling, suddenly you feel a world away from the people who have been your entire world for the last few months. But I’m not a girl to sit around feeling sorry for myself, so instead I got up and made a delicious batch of fluffy pancakes. Then the messages started rolling in, and the phone calls and the texts… It was overwhelming to see how many amazing people both here in the UK and scattered cross the world, in Asia, Australia, Europe and even South America took the time to message me and wish me a happy birthday. People I hadn’t spoken to in almost a year were messaging to find out how my travels were going, or to see how I was celebrating the day. Again, the effort people went to really touched my heart and made me realise how lucky I am to have made such incredible friends with such amazing humans since I’ve been travelling.13178557_10153502015042617_9220132387357246480_nNot just since I’ve been travelling, but far beyond that, the people I’ve known since I was a little girl, the people I’ve grown up with and the people I’ve studied alongside.It turned my day around, hearing from so many wonderful people on this day and made me realise how lucky I am to have made so many amazing connections in my life. How lucky I am to be so loved. So many float through life and miss out on so many opportunities for friendship and love, I feel so grateful that I have found so many throughout my life and to constantly be surrounded by so much love. I’m so astonished by some of the longest standing and greatest friendships I’ve found – many of them were ones I expected to fizzle out as our paths separated and headed in different directions. So many of these friendships have been the most unexpected and perhaps that’s what makes them so precious to me, the fact that they could have so easily been missed along the way. I’m the kind of girl who falls hard for people, whether it’s relationships or friendships – if I feel that spark with someone I’ll very quickly make them a huge part of my life. It’s meant that I’ve been hurt in the past by people who took advantage of that, but it doesn’t mean I’ll ever give it up. If you ask me, the only way you ever discover those real friendships – the ones you’d do anything for – and the relationships that really touch your soul, is to fall hard and hope they catch you.12524420_10153417099822617_1368577783249818291_nSo now, as I sit here on the evening of my birthday with a belly full of Greek barbecue and prosecco, with the long weekend stretching ahead of me, I’m reenergised and ready to celebrate. A weekend filled with some of the most precious souls in my life and celebrating everything we have accomplished. My past 18 months of solo travel and everything I have experienced along the way, for my friends it’s new studies, apartments, houses, relationships and even engagements. After so long apart, its more important than ever to take a long hard look at how far we have come. I know so many people are funny about getting older, about getting closer to 30. Well I’m officially 26, closer to 30 than I’ve ever been and yet instead of feeling like it’s something to dread, I want to celebrate every single moment, every thrilling moment of the years that have led me to this point. The passion, the bravery, the fearlessness and the jokes that have kept me laughing and happy to my very core. Even the moments that made me lose my breath, the moments that scared me beyond belief, the moments I thought I wouldn’t come back from, every single one brought me to this point of my life. And if that isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is. So with that, let’s raise a glass – to everything I’ve survived so far and to all you angels who have pushed me to keep on going. I can’t thank you enough.

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Darwin | I left my heart with the Dingos | Australia

imageThis post has been a long time in the making. I’ve started writing it about a hundred times and scrapped several copies. It’s just hard to know where to start, to even begin to find the words to describe the amazing group of people that have made your Australian experience complete. But it seems appropriate to post this at Christmas, a time when we are all thinking about family. I’ll be honest and say that when I planned my trip I was really excited about Asia and New Zealand, but saw Australia mainly as a place to earn good money in-between as I was only expecting to stay five months. I didn’t really have many expectations for the country as I didn’t really know enough about it despite knowing so many travellers who have been here. Arriving in Sydney, visiting Melbourne, and then travelling the East Coast was amazing and I wouldn’t trade a second of it, but I couldn’t help feeling like I hadn’t yet seen the real Australia, it was just partying your way along the beaches. But then I arrived in Darwin, it was hot and dusty and full of outback attitude. People drove around in pick-up trucks and there were drunk aboriginals laying in the streets, if you did anything that went against what was normally socially acceptable you’d just hear the locals cry “well fuck it you’re in the Northern Territory now, everybody does what they want”. It was clear from the start that anyone who lived there did it for the lifestyle – different to other parts of Australia, everyone just worked to pay for having a good time. There was no reason not to go out on any night of the week and the weekends were sacred.imageimageI was staying at Dingo Moon Lodge – which was great on the surface in the sense that it had a pool and wifi, free laundry and breakfast. But beyond that it was a bit of a dump, riddled with bed bugs and the owners were awful. They would spend hours in the office screaming at the staff – my friends – for nothing and often would come in and throw away people’s possessions from the washing line or the kitchen for no reason. But you know what they always say, it’s not the places you stay or the things you see that make the experience, it’s the people you meet along the way. I’m a firm believer in this and it’s one of my main reasons for travelling – I’m a journalist at heart and I’m driven to talk to people, to discover the world around me through people’s stories. I want to know where they’ve been, their annoyances, their loves and deepest desires, I want to know what makes them tick and I want to know where they’re going. So it makes sense that Darwin is where I met the most diverse and beautiful group of people yet in the whole of Australia, that this is what made my experience and my time at Dingos quite as special as it was. As the title of this post says, even now, nearly two months later and hundreds of kilometres further into the outback, my heart is still with the Dingos who are now scattered across the world with some in Melbourne, Sydney, Asia and Europe. But no matter what the distance, I know that all of us feel the same.imageimageSo how did it all start? Well as I said in my job hunt post, a group of us all rocked up at around the same time and formed a pretty close-knit group as we hunted for work, but over the next week or two even more dingos arrived and became a huge part of our group. We were ever changing and ever growing, but all accepting as people from all over the world came to join our ranks. It was great to be surrounded by so many people from so many countries and one thing I loved was that there were actually very few English there. I was constantly surrounded by French, German, Irish, Swedish, Aussie and many more accents – this is what I came travelling for! Being in the hostel with so many incredible people meant I had a family right from the start, and other backpackers will know that in the right hostel you quickly become very close to those around you. You cook together, you eat together, drink together, work together, party together and sleep together. Before you know it, they’ve become the biggest part of your life and you can’t remember what it was like without the family around you. It’s a pretty special experience to go from being a solo traveller to feeling like you have the biggest family in the world but it seems to come at exactly the right time. It’s easy to forget that even when you’re travelling people are going through their own personal dramas and we had our fair share. We had everything from relationships, and even engagements, that were taking place with thousands of miles between the couples, we had work stresses and money worries, depression, we even had one guy who was fighting to get residency so he could stay in Australia with his child. But the important thing was that with our dingo family, not a single person went through anything alone. And I tell you, the day our friend got his residency approved was a big day of celebrations for everyone there, it meant the world to each and every one of us because we had been there every step of the way.imageimageSure we partied a lot and some of the great memories I have are of nights when we were all drunk and rampaging the streets of Darwin or attempting to find our way home from a rave with one token naked guy. But there are also so many special memories of us all just hanging out, chatting shit and putting the world to rights. I lost count of how many nights were spent sitting around a long wooden picnic bench that we were just waiting to collapse beneath the weight of us all, drinking Whispers and laughing at one thing or another. Or the times we would cook up feasts for groups of us in the kitchen, or laze around the pool catching some rays. The times when we would scrape ourselves out of bed for the free breakfast and attempt to make conversation before heading back to bed until a normal hour, or those mornings when my roommates would wake me up by playing “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” for the millionth time. Those nights getting ready to go out when we would have the tunes playing and would make stupid music videos in the dorms or have photo shoots, the nights when I would finish work at 10pm and get thrown in the pool fully clothed as I walked in the gate. The days spent making up crazy competitive games with the boys in the pool, or attempting to climb the trees in the yard. All those spoon sessions, Sunday Sesh BBQ’s, surprise birthday parties and don’t forget the time Robin got my name tattooed on his bottom! Then there were the chilled nights when we would all veg out in the dorm watching various different movies but would all have to stop every five minutes to show each other something hilarious. Starting up art club when we were hungover and needed to colour something in mindlessly, or sunset walks to the park or beach, and midnight runs and workouts on the esplanade. My head, and my heart, are about ready to burst from all the memories.imageimageSo here it is, my attempt to conclude a post that I don’t even think I have done justice to. I want to thank every single member of the dingos – whether you were there from the very beginning or you came in right at the end – for being the best friends a backpacker could ask for. For picking me up when I felt down and for being as excited and happy about everything as I was the rest of the time. For making me laugh until it hurt, for making me dance until I could no longer stand, for making me party until I dropped. Everything about you made my Darwin experience more than I could ever have dreamed of, and for that I am grateful. Most of all, I want to thank you for making me fall in love with this country – you made me see the real Australia and you made it harder to leave than any other place has since I started travelling. And if ever there were a time to talk about #squadgoals I think this is definitely it! Here’s to three months of going full bush like never before – best three months ever! For the travellers who have moved on to Asia or returned home, good luck and see you again! For those who are working their way down to Melbourne for our huge Dingos reunion, I’m counting the seconds until I see you again.image

 

Have you found an incredible traveller family like the Dingos? Which place stands out in your memory because of the people you met along the way? 

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Backpacking | 10 things I really missed on my first Christmas in Australia

imageI’m just days away from my one year travelling anniversary and I’m not going to lie, I’ve missed some pretty important things in that time. From birthdays and anniversaries, to my sister’s graduation, and my best friends making huge life changing decisions about their careers and love lives that force them to move across the country. The world doesn’t stand still when you jet off to the other side of the world, it’s easy to forget that life as you knew it carries on and the people you leave behind continue to grow and change. And it’s okay, most of the time, because we’re so damn distracted by the beauty and epic nature of the travelling life we have chosen, we kind of forget about what’s going on at home. We have our moments when we get a rush of homesickness as we sit in a hostel hallway on the phone to mum and dad, or catching up with our best friends over FaceTime – and we do, we really do feel it. But then, more often than not, that fleeting feeling is gone, dancing away on a warm breeze like it was never there. You see, it’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that our life as a backpacker is all about living in the present, and pining for what once was just doesn’t have much of a place here. Yes we all have days where we wallow and we miss home, but you’ll notice those were the days when we didn’t have much on, when we were a bit bored and allowed ourselves the time to think of home uninterrupted.

There will always be certain times that bring up a wave of emotions for backpackers – perhaps it’s the birthday or the anniversary of the death of a loved one, perhaps it’s a certain holiday or something happens at home. For others it can be as simple as the first time they spend Christmas away from their families on the other side of the world. I’ve seen countless articles posted on backpacker Facebook groups lately about all the awesome things about spending Christmas in Australia but I wanted to talk about the other side of this experience. It’s not rosy and lovely for everyone who is away, and I think it is important for backpackers to realise that it’s okay if they don’t have an amazing time. Everyone at home always thinks we’re out here having the most incredible time 24 hours a day, and most of the time that is true, but there are rubbish bits as well. There are times when it rains, we feel like crap, get ill, break down and have rubbish moments just like we would at home – and when we have to spend the holiday that is all about family half a world away from everyone we love most, it can be a bit pants. Every moment is what you make it and while some people will have the time of their life celebrating this Christmas away from home, others will find it a little harder.imageI had no idea where I would be spending my first Christmas away from my family, I didn’t know who I would be with or what I would be doing. For all I knew it could have been anything from a BBQ on the beach to a homemade roast with friends – the reality will be a little different. You see, I’m still living and working in the outback to get my second year visa. I took this job knowing full well it would mean spending Christmas and New Year away from my friends, mainly because I was so desperate to make sure I had my visa days sorted early and could really relax for the final five months of my first year. I don’t regret that decision because I only have six weeks left to work out here and then I will be reunited with all of my amazing Darwin and East Coast pals, and we will more than make up for lost time. But in the meantime that does mean I’m feeling a bit lonely this Christmas and because I’m not surrounded by all my closest friends it’s making me think of what I’m missing out on at home. I’m pretty close with my family and between them and all my friends at home, we have a mountain of Christmas traditions that I know I’m missing out on. But don’t worry, there’s no chance I’m going to let it ruin my Christmas in the outback because when on earth will I ever get the chance to experience this again?

10 things I really missed about a UK Christmas:

1. The build-up: from the UK’s Christmas adverts to Christmas shopping and finding the perfect present for someone special. From hearing festive songs played in the supermarket, to planning the food for Christmas Day and the countdown to finishing work.
2. The weather – it’s rubbish, cold, wet and miserable outside. It’s dark at 3pm and much as we all complain about it, that’s part of Christmas. It gives us an excuse to wear extra sparkle when it’s dark outside and that chill in the air gives all the more reason to get all snuggled up inside.
3. Nights spent drinking and laughing with friends in boiling hot pubs with steamed up windows, not thinking about work the next day or how cold it is outside.
4. Family traditions – putting up the Christmas tree and decorations with my dad while we blast the Christmas songs, festive baking with mum, a trip to Winter Wonderland with my sister, the Royals on Christmas day.
5. Family gatherings – when family from all over the country get together for a day of food, wine and fun at their annual Christmas party. A chance to catch up and have everyone together.
6. Festive food – the mince pies and puddings, the roast lamb and beef, Yorkshire puds and roasties, and cheeseboards, oh god, the cheeseboards. It’s too hot out here to really gorge like we do at home and the stuff they sell just isn’t the same.
7. Christmas TV in the UK is great – from soap specials to period dramas like Call the Midwife, comedy shows like Gavin and Stacey and The Royle Family, classics like The Snowman and all those great movies from Elf to Home Alone and Cool Runnings.
8. Christmas jumpers! What is Christmas without wearing the worst jumper you can find, or a snuggly onesie that makes you look like a reindeer, or great big wooly socks? It’s just not the same on a bikini.
9. The actual day – getting drunk with your family, seeing the surprise on someone special’s face when they open their gift, the aftermath when you can’t move because you ate so much…
10. The bit when your head feels like it’s going to explode – too many people, too many parties, too much food, too many hangovers – you’re almost glad to see the back of the holiday season.

imageimageI do have to just add to this post that I did still have a pretty fun Christmas thanks to some really good friends I’ve made here in Charleville and a huge thanks to them for not leaving me alone. I ended up having a turkey roast at a friend’s house with her family, spent the day enjoying drinks followed by two Christmas parties. Boxing Day followed with more drinks with friends and a party at the Bowls Club with everyone in town and a lot of fun was had. It was better than I could ever have expected and that’s all down to the wonderful people in this town who have made me feel so welcome.

What’s your favourite thing about a UK Christmas? Have you had a lovely Christmas? What was your first Christmas away from your family like? 

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Travel | Top tips for maintaining relationships at home while travelling

imageSome friendships break at the first sign of trouble – perhaps a boy gets in the way, or the distance becomes too great, or it’s just not as easy peasy when you’re not in the same class at school together. What it comes down to is often laziness when your lives start taking you in opposite directions, a shame, but often it is the best way to cut down your friends to the ones who really deserve to be on your Christmas card list. I’m talking about the ones who will pick you up in the middle of the night when it all goes wrong, who will sit out with you until the sun comes out talking about life and setting the world to rights. Those soulmates that you know you just can’t live without, whose voices appear at the end of the telephone line at the slightest sniff of trouble and scream with excitement at any tiny piece of good news. They’re the ones you want around and they’re the ones who stick by you even when you make a life changing decision to jet off across the globe without any idea of when you will return.

I won’t lie to you, it’s not easy to maintain friendships and relationships over Skype and Whatsapp, many just won’t make it. But the world we live in makes it easier than ever to keep in touch and there really isn’t any excuse for not showing the people you love how you feel. Often I find friendships like these fall into one of two categories – there’s the ones you speak to all the time, whether it’s just a like or comment on a picture on Facebook, a long old chat on Whatsapp, or FaceTiming once a week to update each other on all the gossip. Then there’s the friendships that seem untouched by time, the people you don’t speak to for weeks, even months on end and yet you know that you could call on them any time of day for help, or even just a chat. Both types are just as important and I know my best friends fit into both of these categories and all of them are just as important to me while I’m out here, as I hope I am to them. When it comes to family, there’s nothing more important than letting them know you are safe and well, and for you to know the same about them. Trust me, if you’ve ever had drama while travelling or felt unsafe at any point, you’ll know the first thing you want to do is call home.image

 

So how can you keep these friendships and relationships alive?

Compromise is key
They have to understand you are travelling and that you won’t always have good wifi or the time to be on the end of the phone or message 24/7, just like you have to understand that life at home goes on without you and that family and friends have lives and jobs too. Try and organise a time that suits both of you to Skype or message, that way everyone is happy.

Flexibility helps
Sometimes you just need to talk to the other person even though it’s the middle of the night, sometimes you’re upset or things have gone wrong, or you’re just plain homesick. Other times, your best mate’s cat might have died, or his girlfriend dumped him – perhaps they need to talk. Or there could be a family crisis that doesn’t fit in with your free time for skyping. Be flexible and open to talking when it doesn’t suit, it might be necessary.

Be honest
If something the other person has said or done has annoyed you, just come out with it. You know how they always say married couples shouldn’t go to bed on an argument? Well it’s the same principle even when you’re thousands of miles apart. Often they don’t even know you’re annoyed but just saying it out loud can ease the problem.

Make the effort
There’s no debating – relationships are built on the effort you make and the time and love you put into them, if you can’t be bothered to call and catch up or to listen to their problems every now and again then you can’t expect them to return the favour. Friendship and family are a two way thing, let down your end and you can’t be sure the other end will still work.

Don’t forget the small gestures
Sometimes it can just take a thoughtful tweet or Facebook message to make a person’s day, things like wishing them a “Happy World Elephant Day” because you know it will make them smile. Or sending them a message to say how proud of them you are for passing an exam or coping with something big by themselves – remember to do the small things.

Don’t go changing
Travel has a huge impact on your life and you can’t deny it changes your priorities, but don’t let it change who you are as a person. Remember the people who were with you from the start and don’t forget to value them even when you’re swept up in meeting new people and making new friends.

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Have you lost touch with friends at home? What’s your preferred way of keeping in contact with friends and family? Do you prefer to message all the time or save it for a big catch up?

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