Tag Archives: lifestyle

Travel | Planning your Northern Lights adventure

nl-spitsbergenWe’ve all got those places on our bucket list, the ones that fire up our imagination and lose us in daydreams when we’re at work. Mine is already never-ending, but there will always be certain places on there that stand out as ones that would be totally unforgettable. I’ve written about my top choices many times but this time it is more poignant than ever – by the time you read this I will be down in Tasmania. Going from Bali to Cairns, then down to Tasmania is around a 30 degree drop in temperature and don’t get me started on the humidity. It’s going to be a brutal shock to the system – so why am I doing it? Because it is exactly now that the Southern Lights are in full force with some of the strongest bursts seen in a long time. I only discovered that the Southern Lights were actually a real thing round a year ago and vowed I simply had to see them with my own eyes. You’ll already know how desperate I am to visit Iceland and see the Northern Lights, but spending so much time in the Southern Hemisphere due to my travels I’m a bit restricted on opportunities. So I thought I’ll put Iceland on hold, but the Southern Lights are an absolute must-see while I’m down here – that way when I finally get to Iceland I’ll be able to say I’ve seen both!

Now I hate repeating myself and always want to bring you guys fresh new posts – so this time I’ve worked with Best Served Scandinavia to help you plan your trip to see the Northern Lights. There are so many different ways to experience them that it’s important to find the perfect trip just for you.nl-tromso

Where to see them?

When you talk about the Northern Lights, everyone’s mind jumps straight to Iceland but it’s not the only place you can see this natural phenomenon. Heading up towards the Arctic Circle, you can also glimpse the famous green glow in the skies over Norway, Sweden, Finland or Greenland. You can even see them in Canada and Russia! Each of these places will die you that same opportunity to see the Lights but to perhaps get a little off the beaten tourist track and will give you the opportunity to visit somewhere a bit different. The best time to spot the Northern Lights at their brightest is between September and March as the darker and longer nights make them clearer to the naked eye.nl-thingvellir-national-park

Where to stay?

Once you’ve narrowed down a place, it’s important to make sure you book a place to stay as early as possible. As you can imagine, resorts get booked up pretty quickly and if you want to score a night in one of the luxurious lodges with hot tubs and a glass roof to watch the lights from your bed, you better lock in the dates quick. I know when I eventually get to go, I would want to go all out and experience all the amazing luxuries that come with the Northern Lights trip. I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about staying in an igloo with a glass roof at so I can watch the Lights from my bed, or a snow hotel, or a safari camp like this one, or even a treehouse! There are so many incredible options available and you could even combine different ones to really give yourself some once in a lifetime experiences.nl-lapland

What kind of trip are you after?

It’s also important when planning to decide what kind of trip you’re after. Are you taking your partner for a weekend of romance under the Norther Lights, or are you in the mood for a luxury spa experience, or are you a bit of an adventure seeker like me? There are so many other amazing activities you can try out around light spotting, it’s a good opportunity to fill your days with amazing memories as well as your nights. Depending on which country you choose there are options like dog sledding, horseback riding, visiting the Blue Lagoon, visiting volcanoes and waterfalls, sightseeing palaces and cathedrals, cruises and much more. It’s worth bearing that in mind when you choose the country you want to visit.nl-horizontalOnce you’ve made all the big decisions, it’s time to jet off and just enjoy your trip. Pack some warm layers and a good camera to capture the magic of every last moment – this will be a holiday to remember for years to come. If you need any help organising your trip to see the Northern Lights, look no further than Best Served Scandinavia to answer all of your questions and help you plan the perfect trip.

Have you been to see the Northern Lights, or the Southern Lights? How was your experience – can you give any tips for a first-timer?

image7-1-1

London | Affordable luxe dining at Island Grill

island-grill-copyI’m so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad – I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I’m passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.island-grill-barAs we arrived at the restaurant, you can’t help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you’ve read my review from Cottons, you’ll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn’t fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening – the perfect balance.imageWe kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef’s passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn’t recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.imageFor our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn’t have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn’t want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.imageApologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven’t come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you’re heading to London, or you’re already living there, I can’t recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it’s extremely affordable! It’s not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.

Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?

image7-1-1

Travel | How travel can be the greatest healer for heartbreak

13912473_10153669362822617_8683319907628436864_nFirst of all, I want to thank all my lovely readers for their messages and emails lately. Especially to those who have pushed me to publish this post – it was the hardest one to publish for a very long time. It’s amazing to get feedback on the posts I write and I feel honoured that so many of you come to me for advice on everything from travelling to relationships. It seems incredible to think this blog started out as a hobby and now it brings me close to people all over the world who are going through the same things, and who are inspired to do the same things I have been. One of my most popular posts has been drawing a lot of new readers to my blog lately and I’ve had a lot of requests to write more personal posts, it’s something I’ve shied away from for a while because although I’ve had a lot to write about, sometimes it is difficult to find the words. But one topic that comes up again and again is “how do you cope with heartbreak?” It’s ironic that this keeps coming up so often when I’ve just had a fresh wave of this to deal with, but when better to talk about it?

Having your heart broken hurts. There’s no getting away from it. Even if you try to squash it down and pretend it’s not happening, it always comes back and hits you with a fresh wave of pain. I remember being in such physical pain after I had my heart broken the first time, my heart actually ached and I couldn’t get away from it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Now after this past week, I’m feeling that pain all over again and I remember how hard it was to cope with the first time. It’s that hopeless feeling when you know there’s nothing more you can do and you can’t help but blame yourself. Last time it was in no way my fault, I had no regrets, but this time I can’t help but feel I could have stopped this happening even though I’m sure that’s not true. Heartbreak makes you question everything you thought you knew, including yourself. I hate that, that feeling that you can’t trust your own decisions, that you should have done something to stop it happening. It hurts more than anything I’ve ever experienced and there isn’t a painkiller strong enough to numb it. So right now, I’m officially worn out. My heart hurts and I’ve lost a lot of my fight and the excitement I had for life. But don’t worry, it’s not permanent – I’ve survived this before I sure as hell will again. I’m never one to mope for long and I’m already planning how I’m going to deal with this – two words, Bali & Australia!14191987_10153748497077617_2176329870460161678_nOne thing I’ve noticed about myself – and I’m not sure what this says about my psychology – is that when things like this happen, when a relationship breaks up or things don’t turn out the way I expect, my first instinct is to leave. When my nine-year relationship broke up and left me broken-hearted, my first thought was “I have to get out of here” and just like that, I booked a flight to the other side of the world. Just like now when I’ve just had my heart broken all over again and it’s pushed me to book those flights and get back out there. It’s an easy decision to head off into the unknown and I’m never scared at the prospect of travelling solo, let’s face it, it couldn’t be more painful than what I’m going through at home. It’s something I still love about being a backpacker, that if things don’t pan out – in relationships, work and life – then there was always the option to pack up and start again somewhere new. Perhaps that makes me sound flighty, or like I give in too easily, but I think actually it’s because I know when things are a lost cause. I know when I’m done.

I’ve come to realise over the years that I have a pretty good gut instinct and that I can always trust it when it comes to making decisions. I know we’re expected to stay and struggle through the hard times, that it will build character and something greater will come out of it in the long-run. Well I’ve done that, I’ve done it at work, in life, and in relationships. And yes, sometimes it is true, but also sometimes things are just lost for good and there is no saving them. The trouble is identifying whether there is anything left to fight for and knowing there is nothing wrong with just letting go. For me, I knew there was nothing left for me in my hometown both work-wise and relationship-wise so it was a no-brainer to start a new life somewhere else – it wasn’t running away, it was the best decision I ever made. Likewise now, I ended up booking my flights to Bali and then back to Australia and have less than a week until I leave, it’s not about escaping, it’s about going back to my real life after this tiny break.14184308_10153755995597617_4288620605281792800_nMy point is, we’re made to feel that running away is wrong and that it is lazy or cowardly to cut ties and leave. But actually, I think it can sometimes be the hardest and strongest decision to make. To be strong enough to cut a toxic friendship or relationship out of your life is hard and you’re brave for doing it. To cut and run from a job that is wearing you down is difficult and scary if you don’t have a back-up, but this is how some of the most successful people have built an empire. To pack up your life into a backpack and move to the other side of the world where you don’t know a single person is incredible. And for me, this was the biggest healer of all. Pushing myself far, far beyond the limits, taking myself out of my comfort zone and jumping in the deep end. Travel well and truly healed my heartbreak – it made me rely entirely on myself, it made me put my own happiness first, it taught me skills and scared me shitless. It brought countless new souls into my life – the kind of people that set my world alight and bring happiness into my world that I never knew existed. It gave me life-changing experiences that turned into stories, into memories that will last a lifetime. It gave me love, a much greater love for myself and for those around me.

Considering how much travel has given me, I don’t see it as running away to be leaving again. I see it as running towards the life I should be living. For those who have contacted me lately to ask how they can know whether they should choose a relationship or travel – I can’t tell you what to do. All I know is that travel has taught me more than any relationship ever has, it has introduced me to a life where I put myself first and where I’m driven by my needs, not empty wants. I may have less stuff than I have ever had, but my heart is fuller than ever and my head is full of thoughts that revolve around my passions, my ideas, my inspirations. Not about boys or worrying about others. It may sound selfish to some but after living for so many years always thinking of others before myself, it’s refreshing to really see the world laying just ahead of me. No baggage. No stress. This is what travel teaches you, this is what healed my heartbreak, realising that you can only live for yourself and not to keep others happy. And realising how short life is, and how huge the world is – that sure puts things in perspective for you.14232413_10153748468992617_6321713972258996034_nSince having my heart broken I’ve traveled solo through 12 countries, covered three continents and am actually about to hit my 30th country. I’ve built a whole new career around a passion, I’ve sacrificed one phone, one camera and a lot of dignity. I’ve had epic wild nights out, long days at work, healed myself both inside and out on multiple occasions, nearly died three times, made so many incredible friends, been extremely badly behaved at times, and helped others through some pretty tough stuff, I even fell in love which I really didn’t think was possible. I’ve been happier than I’ve ever been and discovered what I’m capable of, and what I’m not, and although my favourite word will always be YES, I’ve not been afraid to say no. In fact, I’ve not been afraid of any damn thing because life is for living and I’m doing just that. I’m a completely different person to the girl who went away to Thailand two years ago, and I’ve never been happier or stronger. So don’t you try and tell me that travel isn’t the greatest healer for heartbreak – I know it has changed my world. Let’s just hope this time it will heal my heart as well as it did the last time.

Has travel helped heal your heartbreak? Tell me about your experiences. What are your best cures for a broken heart?

image7-1-1

Travel | My favourite ways to keep fit while travelling

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

Muay Thai

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

Yoga

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

Running

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

Cycling

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

Trekking

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

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

image7-1-1

Vietnam | A trip to beautiful Halong Bay

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

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

image7-1-1

England | Norfolk is named the classiest county!

IMG_6296It doesn’t matter where you travel around the world, or how long you are gone for, there’s nothing like coming home – especially when your home country has just been voted the classiest county in Britain! It’s easy to forget when you’re dealing with the humdrum details of everyday life how amazing and beautiful the place you live actually is, but going away and gaining some perspective can really help you to see the place with fresh eyes. I’ve always loved Norfolk – I’ve never been a city girl, give me empty, wild beaches and endless fields filled with wild flowers any day of the week. I’m no Wordsworth, I’m not going to get all poetic describing the beauty of the countryside, but I am going to tell you just why I love my home. Growing up in Norfolk might seem boring to some who have had a busy, exciting, city upbringing, but for me there was no better way to grow up than with all this space. My parents were all about turning the television off and getting outside – weekends were spent running wild at the beach or exploring the woodlands in my wellies. It was normal to spend a day feeding lambs at Park Farm and quite frankly, we grew up knowing where our food came from.1395181_10152241296757617_6831031842061651982_nIt’s normal for us Norfolk folk to spend Christmas with the Royals and to have chats with them as you handed over bunches of flowers. As The Telegraph says, “it hardly needs Sandringham to give Norfolk the cachet of a superior address”, but it is pretty cool to know that Wills and Kate are living just down the road from you. (Although, I will get more excited when Harry moves in.) Whether you love or hate the Royals, it’s hard not to value them when you see them through the eyes of other newer countries – they just don’t have an institution like it and it makes you realise how wonderful it is to have these traditions. You might find it all a bit quaint and sickly sweet, but there’s something really lovely about living in a place where village fetes and May Day events are key events in the calendar, when it’s not “fashionable” to have afternoon tea, it’s just tradition. We have church fundraisers every week and we love a flower festival, you might think it sounds boring but actually what comes with this is an amazing sense of community I just haven’t found elsewhere.IMG_6249I’m so lucky to know so many amazing people across Norfolk through growing up here and working for the newspaper – every single one contributes so much to making this the top county. We don’t always get the best rep – yes, the accent isn’t that great and it’s pretty flat here – but we also have a landscape like no other. Travelling around the world just made me see the beauty in our wild cliffs, our endless moors and marshes, and the lush green forests that are just teeming with life. It’s the perfect place to get lost, and that’s what Norfolk has over bigger cities, In London you can get lost because you don’t know anyone but here you can truly lose yourself. In Norfolk, you could go whole days without seeing another person and there is a real charm about being able to disappear in nature. Head to the Broads for a lazy day on the river as swans cruise past, look no further than the Burnhams for seriously lust-worthy cottages and check out the cute little coastal villages to feel like you’ve stepped into a 1950’s postcard. Trust me, my own beach hut is proudly painted in blue and pink candy stripes.10570513_10152241296287617_8397770108899813722_nIt’s always easy to slag off your home town and I know the people of Norfolk can’t help themselves sometimes, but it’s also important to see things clearly. Travelling really helps give you some perspective, when backpacking across Australia I couldn’t help but laugh at the wonder and excitement my Aussie mates showed when I told them about my home. When I describe how I lived just round the corner from a castle that has stood there almost 100 years (with real turrets!), when I describe the untamed, wild coastline and the countless festivals that go on right under our noses. It’s so different to the brand new city of Melbourne, to the dry dusty landscape of the Northern Territory, and the manicured beaches of Sydney and the East Coast. Yes Australia is beautiful and exciting, but we have history and something completely different to offer, something we should be proud of. So good work Norfolk for representing so well and putting the other counties in their places! If that wasn’t a good reason to come home, I don’t know what is! If you haven’t already been – it’s time you came and saw what you’re missing!IMG_6149

Which part of Norfolk is your favourite? Share your favourite memories of Norfolk. Which county is your favourite, and why?

image7-1

Travel | Stepping back into my old life with fresh eyes

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

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

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

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

image7-1

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

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

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

image7-1

Melbourne | Partying at St Kilda Festival & White Night | Australia

12742849_10153297889262617_2785038916657325425_nOne of the things I love the most about Melbourne is that there is always something going on. It’s a lively city full of hidden gems and quirky, unusual events and I’ve already lost track of how many unexpected treats I’ve found since exploring the city. From the tiniest little food festivals to the Mardi Gras-esque street parties, there is always something new to discover and where better than to prime your taste in Australian music than by attending St Kilda Festival? Australia’s largest free music festival, the event showcases a range of the country’s national and local talent on huge stages set against the natural beauty of St Kilda’s beach. The event attracts over 400,000 people each year and this year took place on Valentine’s Day, which also just happened to be right in the middle of three of my friends’ birthdays. A perfect time to celebrate.12729295_10153314611102617_352570379247041229_nGetting the whole gang together, we headed to St Kilda in the afternoon where we couldn’t wait to check out the huge range of performances set to take place across ten stages that day. Now we all know by now how much I love my festivals – whether they’re free or expensive, dance or reggae, camping or day events. I love them all and can always find something special at each of them. St Kilda Festival was great – a huge event that has obviously proven a great success by the crowds that poured through the streets. The performances I saw were great and the crowd were clearly enjoying themselves, who couldn’t with a main stage set against the backdrop of the ocean as the sun was setting? My favourite part of the event definitely had to be when I went down to the beach to sit and watch the sun set while listening to the performers on the main stage.12742176_10153314610592617_2808402488505373794_nBut much as we did all enjoy ourselves that day, I couldn’t help but feel the event could have done with being better organised for the of us who aren’t from the area. Being new to Melbourne, and especially to St Kilda, I found it very difficult to navigate between and even locate some of the stages and actually only ended up getting to watch performances on two of the ten stages because it took so long to find our way through the crowds. I saw little to no signs around to direct us and whenever I stopped to ask stewards they seemed to have even less idea what was going on than I did. Very late on we finally found a map of the area, but we had missed most of the things we had really wanted to see. After speaking to a few friends who went along to the event separately to us, it seems they shared some of our experiences and felt the event was a bit over-crowded. Regardless, we still made sure we had a good time, a few ciders in the sunshine and a lot of laughs.9861_10153314609857617_117124694456852418_nJust a few days later, it was White Night and the whole city was abuzz again as Melbourne CBD prepared to put on the biggest show of colour, light and music. Bigger and better than ever the radio and TV stations promised us, so after a quick drink with a friend in St Kilda, I couldn’t resist heading into the city to meet friends for a good look around at the projections. Despite spending six hours wandering around the city, I never actually saw a single one! But don’t worry, we had the time of our lives walking around and discovering the huge range of musical talents hidden around every street corner.12728787_10153314615482617_7942346077139755604_nWe actually ended up sticking around Flinders and Melbourne Central areas as every time we walked down the street we got sucked into watching another epic performance turn into a huge street party with people of all ages dancing in the streets. It was amazing and the atmosphere was electric, it kept me dancing my heart out until 6am despite being completely sober and starving hungry. I was so impressed with the quality of the performances and how diverse they were, on one corner we watched as an incredibly talented acoustic performer mixed DJ skills with guitar and even a touch of saxophone while talking to the crowd throughout. Then just down the road, a DJ had the whole street dancing and further along a fabulous group started a fiesta in the shopping mall with their Mardi Gras vibes. It was a fantastic night and even though I didn’t see what I set out to see, I found some fantastic performers along the way.

Have you been to either of these events – what did you think? Does your city have great local music events like these?

image7-1

Relationships | 20 things that made me realise I’m in love with my life

image1After writing last Friday’s post, I really got to thinking about my life now compared to a year ago and how happy I am. To put things in perspective, this time last year I was living it up in Thailand with a bunch of great mates and partying my arse off. Now, I’m writing this from my new home of Melbourne while my roommate snores his head off, and yet, I think over the last two weeks I’ve reached new levels of happiness I didn’t think were possible. So I decided to start a list, of all the moments I’ve had recently that have made me feel grateful to be alive and happy I made the decisions that have led me to this point. Because, if you read my last post – you’ll know that this Valentine’s Day I’m taking the time to celebrate being single, independent and the happiest with myself I’ve ever been. Forget giving out roses and chocolates, I’m taking the time to think about and be thankful for all the things that are giving me the rosy glow of happiness.

So what has made me realise i’m in love with my life?

  1. Finally achieving something that has been my goal from the very beginning of travelling – I’m living abroad and settled in one spot of my choosing, and Melbourne is a city that I really want to build a life in.
  2. Coming home – arriving in Melbourne to a huge, warm welcome from so many of my closest Darwin friends meant the world after three months alone in the outback. They are the family I have while I’m thousands of miles away from my own.
  3. I’m technically homeless and jobless right now, but it doesn’t stop me walking around with the biggest smile on my face.
  4. I’ve finished working in the worst job of my life and smashed it, got my second year visa and haven’t gone insane – I really can cope with anything!
  5. I’ve just spent three months going to the gym every day and am probably in the best shape I’ve been since before I came travelling – I feel healthy and fit, such a great feeling for a backpacker.
  6. The other night, I actually chose to stay in instead of hitting the clubs, instead I sat on the balcony and blogged for hours as the sun was setting – getting to indulge my passion and not being afraid to turn down a night out shows I’m confident in what I want to do.
  7. I no longer feel even that slight tummy pinch of nervousness when I go somewhere new – now I’ve been travelling so long it is just excitement at change.
  8. Linked to above – I’ve never felt more confident in my abilities to travel solo, make friends wherever I go, and to handle this shit.
  9. The other day, I made a new friend and was telling him about my travels and my life – through his reactions I got to see myself through someone else’s eyes and realise how awesome my life is. Sometimes we forget to really appreciate what we are doing as a whole.
  10. Since being in Melbourne I’ve actually started to make more effort to not look so homeless after Darwin and the outback’s more relaxed style – but I’ve really realised how much I prefer myself without make-up after six months of barely wearing it. I love that I’ve reached a point where I feel confident and happy without it.
  11. Despite six months off make-up, I can still do a perfect winged eyeliner on my first attempt punches the air
  12. This blog is smashing it right now – shortlisted in the UK Blog Awards, working with amazing brands every week, and a huge response from readers old and new. So great to see it take off in such a big way after all my energies.
  13. I’ve ticked off so many amazing things from my bucket list in the last 12 months, many of them I didn’t even know were on there! And I finally got to swim with a sea turtle!
  14. I’ve made a decision that I’m so happy doing what I do, that I’m not stopping after the year-mark. I’m not taking a gap year and heading home like some, I’m turning this into my lifestyle and have travel plans for the next year already!
  15. I’m also reaching a point where I know in the next six months I will be happy to return home for a short while to reconnect with friends and family – a sign of contentment that I am happy to return to the place that forced me to leave.
  16. My head, and my heart are filled with amazing memories of sights, sounds, tastes from along the way, the people I’ve met who have changed my world and my beliefs. I feel so grateful to have experienced so much.
  17. I’ve had quite a few messages lately from readers who have said that my blog, and my life, is inspiring. I’m not sure whether I agree, as I think this is something that anyone could achieve, but to regarded as inspiring is something that in turn inspires me every single day to carry on and to keep writing.
  18. I’ve realised that I’m nearly 26 years old and I have not a single regret – i’m not sure there are many people in the world who can say that. I feel so happy with every decision that I have made because it has led me to this point and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
  19. My values have changed – I realised since arriving in Melbourne and being surrounded by shops and every convenience, that I simply don’t need any of this stuff. Far more precious to me than the latest from Topshop are the memories I’m making.
  20. I’m excited for the future, but I’m not stressing or worried about anything – I literally don’t have a care in the world. I’m just excited to see what comes next and totally accept that whatever happens will happen. For a girl who used to worry about and organise everything, this is a huge change.

So there we go, the 20 things that have helped me realise why I’m so in love with my life and if you ask me, that’s by far the most important love you will have. Whether you were in a relationship or not this Valentine’s, take a moment to think about whether you are happy with yourself and your life – its something that is so easily brushed over in the busy day-to-day. Why not take 15 minutes out of your day to make a list like this one about all the positive reasons you are in love with you life, and why you are happy with your lot. You might find that actually you have a lot more love for the way things have turned out than you think – or it might just highlight a change you know you need to make! Either way – take the time to love yourself, your life and everything in it.

Tell me what you love mot about your life – what are you most thankful for? 

image7-1