Tag Archives: holiday

Bali | My bumper guide to getting a bit #EatPrayLove in Ubud

IMG_2178It’s taken a while to get to my final Bali post but here we are, and what better to write about than my time spent in the incredible jungle haven where Julia Roberts famously found love again in Eat Pray Love? Ubud is the spiritual centre of Bali and if you’ve visited the island without setting foot in this jungle paradise, you honestly haven’t seen Bali. It was so different to every other place I visited while there and it was easy to see why so many expats had now chosen to call it home. Easily my favourite place on the island, Ubud is the perfect place to relax and really look after yourself for a while, especially if you’ve just come from partying in Seminyak or Kuta. I won’t lie, I had been indulging a lot and partying pretty hard over there and on Gili T for a few weeks so I was more than ready for a rest and a chance to try out the alternative, yogi, health-food lifestyle for a while.IMG_2188

Planning your day trip

Earlier in my stay on Bali I had taken a day trip with a friend to Ubud where our taxi driver took us to visit the Monkey Forest, the Tegalalang Rice Paddies and Tegenungen Waterfall – as you’ll see from some of the pictures in this post, they are all worth a visit! Ubud is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and while it takes you away from the sandy beaches the island is famous for, it offers something even more beautiful instead. The best way by far to explore the island is by motorbike which you can hire for almost nothing, but we found as there was a few of us it worked out pretty cheap to do a taxi as we managed to strike a deal for around 250,000RP for the day – the average day taxi costs around 3-350,000RP. Our driver was great and told us a lot about the different places we visited, plus it meant we could have a nap in the back of the car instead of driving all day. We visit from Kuta, if you do this make sure you set off extra early to beat the traffic as it gets pretty hectic mid-morning onwards.IMG_2182These three attractions are the most popular and well known for Ubud, plus they are great to combine even if you are just visiting for the day as they are the perfect distance from each other so you don’t have to rush. I absolutely loved the rice paddies – you do have to pay to get in but it is worth it if you go early and pretty much have the place to yourself. We spent a few hours doing the sweatiest hike I have ever done across the fields which stretch as far as the eye can see. We joined a farmer for a cool refreshing coconut and played his musical instruments with him as we chatted with some Swedish guys we met. After, we headed to the Monkey Forest for a wander around an amazing temple that reminded me of King Louis’ in The Jungle Book, monkeys scamper around the forest climbing on tourists and stealing food. It was pretty cool, but oh my gosh I still haven’t got over my fear of monkeys so I was squealing a bit – especially when one stop a water bottle from my friend and started to stare him down!IMG_2183Finally a refreshing dip in Tegenungen Waterfall was a perfect end to the day – it was absolutely beautiful and a perfect place to be for sunset. Despite being quite busy, there was still plenty of space to swim/get photos/relax, and it is well worth paying a little bit to get up to the top! We drove back to Kuta in rush hour traffic which took ages but it was a great day, well planned and we had spent about six hours on the road and visiting the sights. We probably spent around 500,000RP altogether for the taxi, entry to the sights and meals for the day which is equivalent to around £30 – you could probably do it for a lot less if you went by motorbike.IMG_2179

Where to stay?

At the end of my trip, I couldn’t resist joining some friends for a few days in Ubud. It’s a bit cheesy but I really fancied a Julia Roberts experience – some yoga, some healing, some jungle life and some time to figure my next move out. Our friends had booked into the brand new Ons Hostel which they raved about, so I booked in to join them. On arrival with two other friends, myself and one of them were checked into a 14 bed dorm with no-one else in it! The place was so new they were just building up custom but it meant we had the whole place to ourselves. Imagine whitewashed walls, clean fresh dorms with the comfiest beds, luxury bathrooms with rain showers, a swimming pool with an area to sit and eat the freshly made pancakes and omelettes made to order for breakfast. It was like staying in a hotel – absolute luxury. I can’t recommend staying there enough. It is positioned the other side of the Monkey Forest which although separate from the centre of Ubud, it gives you a lovely walk into the centre and a chance to see a different side to the area. Check out this HotelsCombined blog on the 7 Best Value Hotels to Relax in Bali to complete your Bali experience.IMG_2280

Where to eat?

I would really recommend dining at Laka Leke restaurant one evening – our hostel was just down the road so we gathered all 20 of our friends and booked in for the night’s entertainment. The food was incredible, I had a traditional Indonesian curry which was mouth-wateringly good, and as we ate we watched a live performance of the Kecak and fire dance. It was a very interesting performance and there are several others they perform on different nights if you fancy something different. I believe the restaurant will also do pick-ups from your hotel/hostel if you are staying further away. Other favourites of mine included the amazing selection of vegetarian restaurants – I can’t name them all here but there are so many that offer really high quality food. Also, the tiny Warungs – my favourites were the really small, local family run ones who would treat you like a daughter and cook you the best meal from scratch.IMG_2269IMG_2268

Where to yoga?

Everyone talks about Yoga Barn when it comes to Ubud, but after reading up, it sounded like there were a lot of people complaining about having to join huge classes of 60 people. As a bit of a beginner, I wasn’t sure that was for me. But I did spot that Ubud Yoga Centre was just down the road so I signed up for a Bikram Yoga Class at the centre instead. It was cheap and the centre was really lovely, all brand new and very high quality. The class was hard and the heat was a lot to take, but I gave it my best shot and really enjoyed the class, it was lovely to have a good stretch out. Afterwards I was exhausted and spent the day sunbathing.IMG_2277

What to do?

You may have already seen the main sights, but there’s lots more to do around Ubud. Your best bet is to hire a motorbike as we did and go off exploring local temples, rice paddies and villages for the day. We had a great day visiting local craftsmen, getting lost in the rice paddies barefoot in the pouring rain as we tried to find waterfalls and being blessed at the temples. We asked at our hostel who gave us a booklet of all the best places to visit and we worked out way through as many as we could cram into a day. Some to add to your list would include the Elephant Cave, Puri Saren Royal Palace and the Blanco Renaissance Museum. Also, if you get time, the Campuhan Ridge Walk is totally free and looks really beautiful – sadly I didn’t get time.IMG_2276If you fancy sticking closer to the centre of Ubud, don’t forget to check out Ubud Market for some of the best shopping I found in Bali. And head to one of the many salons for some cut price beauty treatments – my friend and I each had a massage, manicure/pedicure and facial for 200,000RP – just £12! And if you’re a bit of a bookworm like me, make sure you take advantage of the many beautiful, relaxing places to snuggle up with a book and a fresh juice – either at a bar or your hostel. If you’re planning a trip to Ubud and need help – let me know by leaving a comment below!IMG_2275

And if you’re heading off on your first backpacking trip – don’t forget to enter my competition to win a backpack to store all your precious possessions!

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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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My bumper guide to Bali – where to stay and what to do?

img_2180From lush tropical jungles to endless white sandy beaches with huge crashing waves, Bali has been described as paradise many a time and after just days on the island it was easy to see why so many expats have made it their home. From snorkelling with sea turtles to visiting temples and perusing the markets, there is no end of amazing sights to explore – it’s just finding the time to cram them all into your trip. Planning a holiday in Bali is no simple task – despite being a small island in Indonesia there is an incredible range of things to do and see – but lucky for you, I’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to! Whether you’re a beach bum, a culture craver, a surfer-type, an adventure seeker, a spa dweller or a nature lover, the perfect trip is waiting for you in Bali. I went to meet a friend I met in Australia for a week of partying and catching up before I headed back to Australia, but that one week turned into nearly a month of fun and exploring this amazing island. So if you’re struggling to plan your trip to Bali, this post will take a look at the best places to stay to get the most from your holiday.img_2190First of all it’s important to think about what you want from the visit – do you want to go all Julia Roberts and find your centre, focus on a health-filled yogi experience, or do you want to party all night and bake on the beaches all day? Do you want to explore monkey-filled jungles or take on the famous Bali surf? For just one island, Bali has a lot to offer and it’s easy to get carried away in exploring more “popular” parts and miss out on a slight different or more unique experience. Plan your trip well and you could have an experience that takes your breath away and stays with you for life. I know that my trip to the island is one that I will remember forever, the best trip ever with one of my best friends doing what we do best – living the craziest, wildest, cheekiest life we can.img_2243

Where to stay?

The beauty of Bali being an island is that everything is fairly close together and it is an easy place to travel around if you fancy a more well-rounded trip. With so many different areas to explore it would almost be a shame to stay in just one place during your stay. Even after spending a month on the island, there was still so much left to see so it’s important to be selective and focus on the trip you really want rather than rushing your experience. After all, island life is all about enjoying the sights, sounds, tastes, and pleasures of life.

Stay to party

Seminyak and Kuta are the partying home of Bali, wild nights out, cage dancing, lethal cocktails and all kinds of crazy fun. For the best music to dance to try La Favela in Seminyak, for crazy drunken fun 18-30 style head for Kuta, and don’t forget the gay clubs in Seminyak if you really want to dance until the sun comes up. Check out my review of Grandma’s Hotels here. Or if you’re after a hostel, you can’t go wrong with M Boutique Hostel – one of the best I’ve stayed in across Asia. You may also check out these 18 Best Value Hotels To Party in Bali  compiled by HotelsCombined for more ‘party and stay’ ideas in Bali.

Stay for surf

Kuta, Caangu and Uluwatu are the key places for surf depending on how experienced you are. Stay in Caangu for the full surfer lifestyle in this chilled out beachy town. There are surf camps, lessons and help available all over for beginners.

Stay for yoga/health

Where else other than Ubud, head to the leafy paradise to find your centre, channel Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love and to eat all kinds of delicious vegan, vegetarian, healthy goodness. You’ll rejuvenate your soul with yoga at The Yoga Barn and Ubud Yoga Centre and come out new woman. Check out brand new hostel – Ons Hostel, with a pool and free breakfast, plus huge, clean dorms and great owners – it’s a perfect place to stay in the shadow of the Monkey Forest.

Stay for island bliss

Head to Gili T and Gili Air if you find Bali too busy and crave peaceful island bliss. Tiny islands just off the coast of Bali, they’re amazing for a visit and well worth a few days. I stayed at Gili La Boheme Sister which was fantastic but I’d also recommend Gili Castle which was just around the corner and hugely popular – both are party hostels and good for meeting people but not the place to stay for a relaxing holiday.img_2207

Here’s my top 15 experiences you don’t want to miss in Bali: 

Uluwatu Temple

One of the best places to witness a spectacular Bali sunset, this Balinese sea temple is bound to take your breath away. Perched on top of steep cliffs that tower 70m above the Indian Ocean, the temple features stunning Balinese architecture and is one of six key temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars. It even overlooks the daily Kecak dance performances which gives visitors a perfect opportunity to experience traditional Balinese culture in a truly magnificent setting.

Tanah Lot

Slightly further along the western coast of the island, Tanah Lot offers the perfect combination of Balinese culture set against Indonesia’s wild landscape. Another sea temple, it feels completely exposed to the elements as huge waves crash on the shore and against the visitors who come to pay their respects at the temple. This temple is the perfect place to watch the sunset and to really understand why so many fall in love with Bali’s raw, natural beauty.

Monkey Forest

Of course it wouldn’t be a tropical holiday without a trip into the jungle and where better to get a taste than in Ubud? In complete contrast to the beaches of Bali, Ubud is full of lush jungle vines and at it’s heart is the incredible Monkey Forest. Like a scene from The Jungle Book, it captures your imagination as monkeys climb and leap from branch to branch. While the ancient temple brings the culture of years gone by to life in front of you.

Tegalalang Rice Terraces

One of the most iconic images of Bali – those incredible rice terraces that stretch on forever with their vibrant beauty. You may have seen the picture a thousand times, but trust us, nothing compares to having that sight in front of your eyes, to the intense humidity, and the sweet, earthy smell. Be sure to try and head there early before the hottest part of the day and you’ll beat the crowds. Don’t let the heat put you off walking around this incredible landscape, you’ll find more beauty awaiting on every corner.img_2181

Swimming with sea turtles

Surrounding Bali and neighbouring Gili T and Gili Air is the most incredible coral reef that is just teeming with life and waiting to be explored. Grab a snorkel and head down the beach or hire some diving gear and go further out for some of the most incredible sights. Swimming with sea turtles is a must while you’re on the islands, hire a boat on Gili T and head off for the day to all the best spots. Make sure to pack an underwater camera!

Island paradise on Gili T and Gili Air

Just a short boat ride away is Gili T and Gili Air – two island paradises that will provide a perfect escape from Bali for a few days. Much quieter and with none of the busy traffic that plagues Bali, they provide a perfect refuge to kick back and relax with your loved ones. Those spectacular pictures of Indonesian sunsets you’ve been setting as your screensaver at work? Head to the beaches and you’ll get a chance to witness them with your own eyes. Truly breathtaking.

Tegenungen Waterfall

It’s not a trip to a jungle paradise without waterfalls and luckily Bali has plenty to choose from but by far the most spectacular is Tegenungen. Just a short distance from Ubud, this one is worth arriving early for to avoid the crowds. Take your swimsuit and dive into the fresh waters, swim into the cave behind and stand underneath the powerful waters as they plunge off the side of the cliff. You can even climb up to the top of the waterfall for a small fee – it’s well worth it for stunning waterfall photos.

Mount Batur

Get into full adventure mode by taking part in the sunrise trek to the summit of this active volcano for an incredible sunrise. Hike up in the cover of darkness to watch the first rays of light stretching across Bali. Towering 1,717m above sea level, climbing the third highest peak in Bali is the highlight of many traveller’s Bali experience. Nearby there are also hot springs to relax in after the climb.img_2209

Surf’s up

Bali is renowned for it’s incredible waves and attracts countless surfers each year who just can’t get enough of the landscape and the lifestyle. Whether you’re just a beginner or have been surfing for years, there is a perfect beach for you. Kuta, and Canggu are popular areas for surf camps aimed at those just starting out but also have some pretty big waves to challenge the more experienced. Uluwatu is a haven for experienced surfers who dare to take on the crashing waves.

Seafood at sunset

Imagine a beautiful island beach wedding at sunset, live music and fresh seafood. Perfect right? Head to Jimbaran for the evening and you’ll experience the romance and luxury of Bali on a budget with great food and free entertainment as the sun slips below the horizon.

Nightlife and a foodie’s heaven

Bali is infamous for it’s nightlife and while the club scene may not be for everyone, there is a huge range of ways to entertain yourself of an evening. From foodie heaven, to raging clubs/bars in Seminyak and Kuta, to beach parties in Canggu or live music and cultural performances in Ubud – you’ll never be at a loss for evening entertainment.

Yoga in Ubud

It wouldn’t be Bali without a reference to Eat Pray Love, but Ubud truly is an amazing place to find your centre. Where better to try out some yoga classes than in a beautiful studio overlooking endless lush, green jungle before heading to one of the local restaurants for a fresh fruit smoothie?img_2211

Exploring the countryside on motorbike

By far the best way to see Bali and to experience the real way the Indonesians live outside of the towns. Witness the true beauty of the local people and countryside as you explore the island at your own pace, you never know what hidden delights will be waiting for you.

Pamper at the spas

Asia is well-loved for it’s food, and for the amazing massages. It wouldn’t be a trip to Bali without indulging and the best thing about Bali is it caters for all budgets. Whether you’re a backpacker or a luxury traveller there is a spa for you, treat yourself after a long day of exploring the island.img_2154

What was your favourite Bali experience? Can you recommend any places to stay?

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Travel | 15 reasons you should road trip across Bulgaria

imageSometimes you meet people and you get that feeling that this is just the start of a big adventure together that will span years. This summer, almost 18 months after we first met in Thailand, I was reunited with my favourite squad – The Pioneers – in Bulgaria. We were thousands of miles away from where we first broke all the rules, had all the fun and forged a lifelong friendship but nothing had changed. Amazingly with very little planning, a reunion came together and before we knew it, we were sitting in a bar in Sofia, Bulgaria, together ahead of a week-long road-trip around this amazing country. imageYou know those friendships where you don’t even need to speak for months on end, but when you finally see each other everything just slots back into place? Well that’s these guys, to the max. We all have such different lives that take us to opposite ends of the globe, but when we saw each other again it could have been just another day in Thailand. In true pioneer-style, we decided to go a little off the grid, all being true travelling souls we weren’t made to stay in a resort, we wanted to explore a new country together. It was actually my second time in Bulgaria, but eight years on I was looking forward to seeing how it had changed.imageSo what was our plan? We decided to spend one night in Sofia to give us time to catch up before picking up our hire car the next morning and starting the drive towards Plovdiv, stopping off at a few sights along the way including the Seven Rila Lakes, we then spent a few days exploring Plovdiv before finishing our trip with a night out in Sunny Beach. imageConsidering we only had five nights together, we crammed a heck of a lot in and saw a lot more than I managed to see eight years ago. Plus we got to have an amazing road trip experience along the way which has given me enough laughs to last a lifetime! Very unlike my first trip to the country, this one gave me an amazing opportunity to really see the beauty of Bulgaria set against it’s communist past, it was an interesting contrast and I’m so glad I had the chance to experience Bulgaria in this way.image

So why should you road trip Bulgaria?

  1. It’s cheap! If you’re looking for somewhere to explore on a low budget, Bulgaria is the one for you, its cheap to fly to, it’s cheap to hire a car (especially if there’s five of you – it was just £30 a day for us), food is cheap and it’s cheap for accommodation. I barely spent anything during our five-day trip and still had an amazing time.
  2. The roads are amazing – seriously, compared to the UK, the quality of the roads is fantastic and it’s pretty easy to navigate your way around. Most of the time the roads are empty so you’re free to enjoy driving through the countryside.
  3. The cities aren’t very busy so actually if you stayed in one place for a week you might find yourself a bit bored, it’s a great opportunity to see a few cities and the Black Sea.
  4. Who doesn’t love a road trip with their buddies? Old school tunes, too many snacks, laughing until your stomach aches…
  5. Something always goes wrong – we managed to get the car clamped within the first hour of having it – it was hilarious and made for a great story!
  6. There’s such a range of places to stay in – we used AirBnB which was fantastic for Plovdiv and Sunny Beach – we ended up with a lovely apartment in a resort with two pools for our last day and it was still cheap as chips.
  7. Plovdiv shouldn’t be missed and you have to road trip to get there from the airport – it’s a beautiful centre of culture, architecture and the food was great.
  8. The countryside is amazing – endless rolling hills and fields of green with the stark contrast of old abandoned communist buildings – it’s a sight worth seeing and one I haven’t seen anywhere else.
  9. Seven Rila Lakes – these glacial lakes are one of the biggest attractions on the Balkan Peninsula and one not to be missed. It’s a beautiful place but sadly when we went it was so foggy we could barely see the chair lift taking us up the mountain let alone the lakes. Still an incredible experience and one you need to road trip for.
  10. The people in Bulgaria are very guarded to begin with, but talking to them really shows you that once you make the first move they are filled with warmth and hospitality. Travelling around gives you the opportunity to meet Bulgarians from across the country and to really understand the culture.
  11. Random experiences – if we hadn’t road tripped to Plovdiv and decided to go to a club called “Pasha” one night, we wouldn’t have had the chance to watch rapper Ice Cream perform live – it was seriously one of the most hilarious nights out ever.
  12. Trying out Bulgarian culture, as you can see from the pictures, we decided to go full Bulgarian and dress up for a photoshoot! It was so much fun and gave us a chance to get into full character – I was a Bulgarian bride with a full headdress that probably weighed more than me.
  13. Gelato – you wouldn’t think it but Bulgaria is big into ice cream and we’re talking really good ice cream – head to Plovdiv and try ALL of the flavours. I was pretty obsessed with the mango, and couldn’t resist the Nutella!
  14. The road trip experience – there’s very few people in this world that I could spend 24/7 with but this gang is definitely one of the groups of people I can. You get such a different experience when you’re all in the same car, in the same beds, and living every second together. It takes a level of being comfortable together that you only get with travellers.
  15. Sunny Beach – it’s still as disgusting as it was when I went there eight years ago, a total resort party town, but you simply have to do it for one night when you’re in Bulgaria. If only for the laughs and the stories you’ll have to tell after. I can’t repeat most of what happened there but we definitely had an entertaining time.

imageimageimageStill don’t know if Bulgaria is for you? Well neither did I, but I’ve visited twice now and and had the most amazing trips. It’s not the first place that comes to mind when you plan a trip to Europe, but that’s part of it’s charm – the fact that is isn’t as touristy as places like Amsterdam and Barcelona. Here you can still get a taste of European charm untainted by Starbucks and McDonald’s on every corner, you can still get lost in the winding streets, cultural sights and incredible countryside. I can’t recommend it enough for a budget road trip.

Have you been to Bulgaria – how was your trip? Which country has been your favourite to road trip?

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

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

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

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

What kind of trip?

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

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

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

Be realistic

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

Don’t forget

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

Don’t let budgeting put you off

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

This post was a collaboration with Auto Advance.

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

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Travel | 10 ways to make long-haul flights bearable

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

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

10 ways to make long-haul flights more bearable:

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

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

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

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

What can you do to protect your home?

For city breaks/summer holidays:

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

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For the long-term travellers:

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

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

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

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Bali | Luxury on a budget with Grandma’s Hotels

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

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Seminyak

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

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

Grandma’s Plus Hotel, Legian

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

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

Spa time

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

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

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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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Slovenia | Luxury living at Big Berry lifestyle camp

imageEastern Europe has been on my must-see list for several years, there’s something about it’s wild, untouched beauty that really appeals to me especially when so many places in Europe are so overcrowded with tourists. I’ve long since wanted to travel to Romania but haven’t yet had the opportunity after travel plans changed this summer and I found myself meeting friends in Bulgaria instead – more to come on that in a later post! But when I was invited to Slovenia on my first travel blogger press trip, I was beyond excited to experience the country for myself and at the hands of those who know the local area best. I was invited to stay at Big Berry, a new luxury glamping lifestyle camp on the banks of the river Kolpa in Primostek and the first of its kind in the country. Big Berry embraces the concept of enjoying total luxury for the whole family while getting back to grass roots and really experiencing the Slovenian countryside.imageimageI was lucky enough to be staying in a gorgeous mobile home which has been specially designed to satisfy every need and want – the design was sleek and absolutely beautiful offering complete luxury and the opportunity to enjoy self-catering if wanted. Sleeping six, the cabin gave me plenty of room to myself and I even had my own private jacuzzi – total luxury after staying in hostels for the week beforehand. Waking up in the morning, I could step into a stunning rain shower before heading to the terrace for breakfast which was hand-delivered each morning. Filled with local produce, from fruit and yoghurt to eggs, milk and bread, it was a perfect way to start the day as the sun shone over the Kolpa river. Just across the water was the Croatian border, giving you ample opportunity to swim between the two in the cleanest, purest water you can imagine. If you’re after a complete digital detox, this is the perfect place for you and I relished the chance to get away from a screen and to really experience life in the Slovenian town, but it also provides great communal areas perfect for working online which could be well suited for the digital nomads among us.imageimageMornings would start with a workout to get the blood racing – a former Slovenian boxer led the classes out on the grass overlooking the river, a perfect setting. Then later there was plenty of time to explore and relax in the grounds by swimming in the river or reading a book on the comfy sunbeds scattered around. There’s also volleyball, bikes and canoes available if you fancy something a bit more active. The team behind Big Berry hope to give visitors an authentic experience of the Bela Krajina region by showing them how the locals live, giving them an insight into the Slovenian past and present with visits to historical houses, beauty spots and local producers to try everything from cheese and wine, to oils, beer and chocolates. There’s a packed schedule available to visitors who want to get to know the area and to fully experience local life, or for those who want to just relax and take it in at their own pace, there is total freedom to dine and explore independently.imageimageThe camp, which will be open from May to September from next year, is perfect suited to families who want to get outside with the kids and explore somewhere new – the camp is very safe for young children with plenty of space for them to run around. It would also be perfect for couples who fancy a romantic weekend away in the countryside – trust me there’s nothing more romantic than watching the stars sparkle over the river from the comfort of your own hot tub. At 200 euros a night, it provides you with all the luxury you want while allowing you to get back to basics and to enjoy a simple few days enjoying Slovenia in its purest and most beautiful form. Plus being right on the Croatian border, it gives you a good opportunity to explore two countries in one trip if you’re flying into Zagreb like I did. Check out my upcoming posts for more information about the trips available while staying at Big Berry. You can find more information about Big Berry and planning your trip to Slovenia here.imageimage

Have you been to Slovenia – what did you think? Does the Big Berry concept appeal to you? Tell me about your favourite luxury getaways.

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