Tag Archives: luxury

Travel | 10 luxuries every traveller should splurge on

14516492_10153883783422617_652777156361461700_nWhether you’ve won the lottery and live that luxurious lifestyle we all dream of splurging on champagne and yachts, or you live penny to penny, trying to work out how many days you have to live off lentils to afford your next flight. All us travellers have something in common – a passion to explore all four corners of the globe in our own unique way. Some do it with a backpack and others with a private jet, but no matter what style we choose, we all deserve a little treat every now and again. After travelling solo for three years around the globe, I’ve lived a poor backpacker lifestyle, I’ve been a flashpacker with my nice little suitcase, and I’ve been lucky enough to see some serious luxury. But throughout all types of travelling across Europe, Asia and Australia, I’ve realised there are some key items every traveller should think about investing in if they plan to live this lifestyle in the long term. It may seem crazy to splurge on some of these things at the time, but by spending more and investing in yourself and your travels, you could save much more in the long term.

Luggage

Now I’m not saying pay a fortune for the latest matching designer luggage set, instead take a look at the things you rely on most and think long-term. If you live out of a backpack, spend a bit more to get one from a well-respected company with strong materials and a more streamlined/intelligent design. I bought an amazing one which doubles as a suitcase from Osprey that has been a fantastic investment.14632961_10153834001527617_5767082447313156092_nIf you prefer more glamorous travel, look at the aesthetics of your luggage but choose a classic style that will stay in fashion for years to come. Think about materials and perhaps choose a hard case that is lightweight and easy to manage. Lastly, why not pick a set with a suitcase, mini-weekend case and hand luggage?

Technology

Travelling long-term or regularly? If you work while you travel like I do, think about investing in a good quality laptop or tablet that will support your work and allow you to easily complete it on the move. Love to read or listen to music? Why not treat yourself to a Kindle and save yourself lots of space in your bag by not taking books, or an MP3 player to store your endless supply of music for all moods.14523115_10153840005047617_4481383336454260593_nMy must-have investment items are definitely my collection of chargers/adapters – I have a power pack that will charge my phone, iPad and iPod while on the move, it has saved my trip so many times, and a multi-country charger with various additions that will allow me to charge everything I own anywhere in the world. Neither were that expensive but they have both saved me a lot of hassle and time tracking individual chargers down later on.

Insurance

This one is pretty obvious but you’d be amazed how many people scrimp out and go for the cheap options instead of investing in something that could save their life and their possessions. I have an annual insurance policy that covers me for absolutely everything including watersports, snow sports, extreme activities, all my personal items from loss and theft, medical treatment and care plus a lot of other things including problems with transport when travelling. Luckily I haven’t had to claim anything yet and haven’t had to use it – and I hope it remains that way – but the knowledge that I have it there gives peace of mind to both my family and I.14708107_10153842197842617_334781896553787209_n

Clothing

Now I’ve always preferred to buy clothes as I travel for convenience and because I love to shop, but there are some items it is worth investing in and spending a little more. Whether you’re a fashionista or just need specific clothing for activities like hiking/camping or climbing/snow sports, it’s a good idea to get items that will last you a long time. For instance, I work out a lot so I always try to choose workout clothes that will also work for hiking trips and in materials that are suitable for all temperatures/exercises and will last long-term.16830801_10154209457697617_3572110742311591218_nI also love to party and to wear cute outfits, so while I always pick up bargains on the road, I have a few key items that I spent a bit more money on because I wear them almost daily depending on where I am. These include my leather jacket, jeans, bikinis, a big heavy jumper and a thick shirt – all of these get worn so much that I like to make sure I buy things I really love that make me feel good when I wear them and it evens out all my Primark bargains.

Equipment

If you regularly take part in extreme sports, camp or take part in other activities that require a lot of equipment then it’s a good idea to buy good quality materials and brands that you know will last you around the world and throughout your trip. Sometimes it’s work looking at second hand items which might still be in excellent condition for a better price than those available brand new.14720564_10153865035367617_6410758111454019500_n-1


Even if you’re living on a serious budget, don’t be afraid to invest in yourself and your travels. After all, this is a lifestyle you have chosen and you should be proud to support yourself with items you really need, it’s a choice that will help build your future as a traveller. Planning a trip to Tokyo? For a real taste of luxury, look no further than luxury hotels in Tokyo.

What are your favourite investments in travel? Can you recommend investing in other luxuries?

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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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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?

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Travel | 5 cruises that will satisfy the adventurer in you

14264056_10153770394817617_8465574241067378914_nCall me a free spirit. Call me crazy if you want. But I’ve always been a spontaneous traveler. I remember the days when I would book a holiday months in advance and wait impatiently for it to creep round for two precious weeks of escapism and there was nothing wrong with that. It was my life for a long time and for many it is the only way to live around a full time job and family. But what really gets me going is spontaneous, unpredictable, exciting, adventurous travel. The thought of picking up and taking off in a heartbeat, waking up in a different city where no-one knows my name or my story. The is why I’ve always preferred travelling independently and not going on organised trips where everything is planned out – they can be great and I have friends who have raved about them. But for me, at this moment in my life, I need crazy wild adventures. I know there are so many out there like me, and I know how important it is to find ways to make travel as adventurous as can be, so when Planet Cruise asked me to write about my dream cruise experiences, I couldn’t resist thinking of ways to incorporate my adventurous side with an organised trip.

Lucky for me, Planet Cruise are a company that really does cater for everyone and they have a huge range of cruises on offer – from the coastline of the UK and the fjords of Norway, to the romance of the Indian Ocean and the sparkle of the Northern Lights. There is sure to be a trip that sets your wanderlust a wandering! For me, I wanted to focus on the cruises that really push boundaries, that would take me to far off climes and exciting new landscapes while giving me the opportunity to see them from a very different vantage point than that of an airplane window or a coach. So what are my top 5 cruises that will satisfy the adventurer in you? Well you’ll have to read on to find out!antarctic-penguins-dive

Antarctica

The ultimate for any traveler – this one is a serious bucket list item. Imagine reaching the ends of the earth where there is nothing but ice and penguins. To see a world almost untouched by man and vastly undiscovered. It looks so magical and really would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m a big nature lover and I think it would be absolutely breathtaking just to see this raw landscape with my own eyes, to see the ice walls, the spiralling snow and the bare land.galapagos-bay

Galapagos

As I said, I’m a serious nature geek and the Galapagos contain some of the most incredible creatures including one of my favourites – giant tortoises! I have a rescue tortoise living in my garden and am pretty attached to him, so the chance to see a giant version of him roaming free on these volcanic islands would be amazing. Plus a chance to explore with experts on the animals and environment would be a fantastic learning experience. A perfect place to step back in time while experiencing all the comforts of the modern age on board a ship.mombasa-kenya

African River

Imagine cruising down the Nile spotting hippos and crocodiles as you weave your way through Ancient Egyptian history. As someone who still remembers so clearly being fascinated by the Egyptians as a child, this would be an incredible experience. Seeing with my own eyes all those famous icons, the pyramids and the Sphinx that previously I had found among the pages of history books. Plus getting to experience an African safari would be the ultimate bucket list item.glacier-bay

Alaska

This breathtaking and captivating landscape sounds like one of the most exciting yet with a whole range of ways to experience this unique part of the world. This time your cruise will take you through glacier walls, allow you to sail alongside whales and experience the midnight sun. In a place where wildlife outnumbers people, there is no better place to see moose grazing on the fresh grass, eagles soaring and humpback whales breaking the water’s surface. With no fewer than 10 national parks to explore, there is no end of amazing sights to witness. And there’s be a huge range of activities available on and off board – you can experience everything from helicopter rides and dog sled rides to whale watching, forest ziplines and much more.santarem-brazil

South American River

A luxury cruise in South America would give travelers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Lima and more on a Peruvian river cruise. Along the way there would be amazing sights along the Amazon with pink river dolphins, caiman, giant otters and many more unique local species. Step into Charles Darwin’s shoes by then extending the trip to include the Galapagos cruise experience as well.south-africaNow if that doesn’t get your adventurous taste-buds tingling, I don’t know what will – I know these trips would be enough to get me excited! Any chance to see such amazing creatures as penguins, giant tortoises and pink dolphins in the wild would be beyond my wildest dreams. And getting to explore everything from the icy, barren landscape of Antarctica to the lush, green Amazon and the dry, dusty shores of Africa would be an amazing experience. All these cruises, and many more, are available at Planet Cruise.

Have you been on a cruise – where did you go? How was your experience? Where would be your dream cruise go?

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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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Health | The budget spa experience you have to try

13510960_10153587157897617_7263956946886594826_nI’m pretty good at living on a backpacker’s budget now, but sometimes you just fancy a bit of luxury. I’ll never be the kind of girl who wants to spend thousands on an expensive getaway when I could make my money spread a bit further and still treat myself. For me, the real luxury is being able to escape and live well for longer instead of enjoying a short blast of freedom, but not everyone has the option of taking a year out to go backpacking, nor does everyone like the idea of budget travel. Now I’m back in the UK, I don’t plan to stop travelling and until my return to Australia, I’m breaking up my time with trips away. Before I went away, my mum and I used to have regular spa days together, every few months we would head away for a day of complete rest, relaxation and a heavy dose of pampering. Both working stressful jobs, it was lovely to just have a day where we didn’t have to think about work, or anything else other than where our next massage was coming from. I really believe in the importance of looking after your own health and well-being by keeping fit, eating well and allowing time to really relax and recuperate. Visiting a spa is a great way of really giving you a day off from life, a chance to turn your phone off and really get some space.

I’ve posted about this spa experience before but I still can’t believe how many people don’t seem to know about the amazing deals available. Even when you need a day of pure indulgence, there is always a great offer that can help you get the most out of your money. So, what am I on about? I’m talking about Aqua Sana Spa at Centreparcs, now it may not be the first place you think of when you start planning a spa retreat but perhaps it should be. I’m not usually one for chains but in this case I’m happy to make an exception for such an amazing experience, I have yet to find a spa that rivals the quality I’ve found there, and trust me, I’ve done the research. We always go to the Elveden retreat, which is our closest, and I convinced it’s the best one after experiencing the Sherwood spa and finding it a bit lacking. Surrounded by woodland and beautiful countryside, even the drive there is relaxing, and from the second you walk in the door you are being endlessly pampered by the amazing staff there. We always say it must be a wonderful place to work, so relaxing. We always check out the deals available at the time on the website, but usually end up paying around £100 each for a full day in the spa, with breakfast and lunch included, and a luxury treatment.IMG_6553This time, we went for the Brighten and Glow spa day for two, which gave us the chance to try out the Elemis skin brightening facial and luxurious Frangipani hot stones massage – and yes, it is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. I love that the treatment pampers every bit of your body and uses only products not tested on animals and using minimal parabens – it’s much better for the environment and it’s much better for your health. Before our treatment, we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the Vitale cafe where we indulged in pastries and coffees before hitting the spa. We had a few hours before our treatments so we decided to start with a swim in the outdoor heated pool, this is always such a treat when the weather outside is rubbish. We stood with the high pressure jets massaging our necks and floated around the empty pool before heading into the steam rooms. Now this is the bit that sets Aqua Sana apart from all other spas I have experienced, it offers 15 different spa experiences including a range of steam rooms with essential oils and herbs from all over the world and saunas. My favourite rooms are the Japanese Salt Steam room, the Balinese and the Indian steam rooms – I just love the gentle floral aromas and they really feel like they’re doing your skin good. You can rinse off afterwards with one of the multi-sensory showers to rejuvenate your skin and refresh before checking out the meditation room or zen garden.

When you’re taken through to your spa treatment, the ladies give you a completely relaxing experience tailored to your skin type and preferences. They’re extremely attentive and some of the best beauty treatments I’ve had have been at the Aqua Sana, with sensitive skin like mine it’s important to have a therapist who listens. The whole experience is utterly luxurious and you come away feeling like a new woman, my skin felt like a newborn baby’s and my muscles were finally relaxed after two years of hostel beds. After a tasty lunch, it was time for a waterbed nap – always a highlight of the day – especially if you can score one of the bigger outdoor beds which are especially nice when you’re wrapped up in your complimentary robe. Throughout the spa, there are several stations where you ca reapply products throughout the day and test others, sometimes the therapists will also bring round products for you to try which is lovely. Everything is thought of when you are at the spa, you don’t spend a single second thinking because everything is already as special as it could be. There are limited numbers allowed in the spa, which really helps to keep the exclusive feeling as some just come for a morning or afternoon session.IMG_6625One top tip not to miss out on during your visit, the Discovery Sessions are something I had never attended until my most recent visit but are something I wouldn’t miss in future. These short sessions take place periodically throughout the day and led by a beauty therapist, they teach you about the Elemis and Decleor products and how to apply them. As a big beauty product lover, this was a good excuse to try out some of the other amazing products they have to offer. But it also meant we found out about an amazing deal on a Decleor multipack of products – normally selling at over £50, it was reduced down to £19 with further discounts for attending the session. It was an amazing deal, so I treated me and my mum to a pack each – we would never have known about the dramatic price reduction had we not been in the session, so they’re definitely worth attending for discounts on the ranges. All in all, it was a fabulous day, and long overdue as a birthday present to the both of us. If you ask me, you can’t beat a mummy-daughter day spent eating delicious food, being pampered and relaxing on waterbeds. Click here to book your spa experience at Aqua Sana, or to read more about what treatments are available.

Can you recommend any other luxury spa experiences for those on a budget? What’s your favourite spa treatment?

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London | A RustiKo Italian feast in Soho

imageGoing out for dinner has always been one of my favourite things to do. It doesn’t matter whether it’s street food in Bangkok, a luxury three-course meal in a fine-dining restaurant or a stuff-yourself-silly night at the local steakhouse. I’m always open to trying new foodie experiences and I’d always much rather that than a night of partying, money much better spent if you ask me! Especially when it comes to supporting independent and local businesses, I’m not really one for chain restaurants and would always much rather eat at restaurant that isn’t mass-producing its food. Give me fresh, local produce and a creative means of cooking any day. It’s not just the food – although that is a huge part of why I love it – it’s also the social experience of trying new foods with friends or loved ones, of sitting around a table and eating together. I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to meals, growing up it was always the one time of day my family all sat down together with no TV or other distractions to eat and catch up on what we had all been up to. When you’re living such busy and different lives, I think it’s important to really take this time together. As a backpacker, getting to know people always seems to be done over dinner and a few beers, eating together is once again the thing that brings us all together of an evening.imageLondon is a city full of chain restaurants and well known brands, but for me, this just doesn’t do it when I have a weekend away. I’d much rather peruse the food markets and explore quirky little restaurants with a lot more personality for a bit of a unique experience. I was invited along to review RustiKo Soho, a new independent Italian restaurant in the heart of Old Compton Street, just a stone’s throw from some of the best theatres in London. As we walked up to the restaurant, we were excited by the cosy look of the place, the quirky, candle-lit interior, and a funky blues playlist we could hear muffled behind the windows. I was promised “the vintage Soho experience” from an evening there and I can’t say I was disappointed, we were made to feel so welcome from the second we stepped in the door. The size and the decor gave it such a friendly vibe, more like you had hired out the whole venue for your friends than the formality of a restaurant. Every bar stool was already taken by those enjoying the fantastic range of prosecco, classic and twisted cocktails, as we were escorted to our table. I loved the rustic vibes of the restaurant, it was just my kind of place and I could only imagine the other levels would deliver more of the same.imageOne glance at the menu showed me we were in for a treat as we struggled to choose our favourite dishes, there was so much choice and so many of my favourite dishes. Despite having limited numbers of dishes on the menus, every single dish on there sounded fabulous and there was definitely something for everyone. The waiters were incredibly helpful with suggesting wines to go with the dishes and offering recommendations for combinations of dishes. In the end, we started with the garlic chilli shrimp and polenta chips to start, with some garlic pizza bread. It was the first time I had tried polenta chips but they were delicious, and the garlic pizza bread was a huge hit with that super melty, delicious cheese. My favourite had to be the delicious garlic chilli shrimp – one of my favourite dishes to have as a starter – I was so impressed by the flavours and spice, it was perfect and I’ll definitely be ordering that again.imageFor our second course, we spent ages choosing our dishes, but in the end we couldn’t resist the lobster linguine and the gnocchi. Now gnocchi is a dish that I’ve had a lot of disappointment over in the past, I’ve had the sad looking potatoey lumps slapped on a plate several times and decided it wasn’t for me. But finally, we tried a gnocchi that was tasty and had the perfect texture, the dumplings were cooked in a tasty mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and basil sauce that was perfect for my vegetarian sister. The absolute highlight was my lobster linguine, a dish that I have loved for many years, I couldn’t resist seeing the chef’s take on it. This time it was half a lobster cooked with cherry tomatoes, spring onions and a brandy sauce, even now as I write this my mouth is watering at the memory. It was a deliciously rich dish full of flavours, but the chef had combined them so perfectly that they didn’t overtake the delicate taste of the lobster. It’s a fine balance and there’s nothing worse than a seafood dish that overpowers seafood with strong flavours, the brandy was a perfect accompaniment. I was so impressed with the quality of the food, and the portion size, we were left stuffed and couldn’t even manage dessert!imageWatching the other patrons, I couldn’t resist peeking at their food and was excited at the sight of the juicy steaks, the light pasta dishes and the small plates (piattini) that were perfect for sharing. The couple next to us were loving their meal and really recommended the dishes, particularly the rib-eye. Showing the diversity of Soho, the restaurant was filled with a real range of people, it really showed how it was perfect for all occasions whether it was a family meal, a romantic dinner for two, or cocktails with the girls. Even better, after dinner, we were taken downstairs to explore the newest addition to the restaurant, the newly-opened basement bar, The Shed. With a real vintage Soho feel, the bar is a perfect place to relax with a drink after dinner, or to spend an evening with good friends. Just a small bar, it has a really exclusive feel as you walk down the spiral staircase to see cute wooden seating, bookshelves and quirky little decorations. I loved the swing music soundtrack and it went perfectly with the amazing look of the bar. There were already a couple of groups down there enjoying a few drinks and I noticed, that although the place felt busy and bustling, it was never so loud that we struggled to hear each other. RustiKo had managed to find a perfect balance between atmosphere and the foodie experience, and the result was just lovely. It really was the rustic Italian experience nestled in the streets of Soho, and I can’t recommend this hidden gem enough. Book your table now.image

Have you been to RustiKo – how was your experience? Can you recommend any other independent restaurants? What’s your favourite Italian dish?

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Travel | Finding your travelling zen when things get hectic

1779237_10152889526062617_1883271848075944006_nIf you take a look at my Instagram, it’s easy to think I spend all my time lazing on beautiful beaches, swimming in stunning waterfalls and eating amazing foods. And I do spend a good portion of my time doing that, hell I’m a lucky girl! But there’s no denying that there is a stressful side to travelling that many don’t realise and when you’re going it solo the pressure is even greater to organise and cope with every last detail without having anyone else to pick up the slack. Now I must admit, I thrive on organising everything myself, but even I have had my moments when I wished someone would deal with all the paperwork, booking flights and buses, making sure I’m where I need to be in plenty of time. It gets exhausting, particularly when you are travelling in places like Asia where you are constantly moving between places. During my five months in Asia I had plenty of stressful situations to deal with, from getting hopelessly lost to being robbed, even bus crashes. It wasn’t all bad, and I dealt with every single one of these situations on my own – I’m very proud of that because it is an achievement in itself. But over the last year I’ve found several ways of coping when things get too much and I need to clear my head.

Break it down

When everything is getting kind of crazy and you’re feeling swamped with organising travel from one side of the country to another – stop, take a break and break it down. Make a to-do list with everything from packing and booking flights/buses, to visas and snacks. That way you can tick things off your list one-by-one until it’s all done without worrying you’ll forget something in the hubbub.

Pick the perfect soundtrack

Set a few hours aside one day to organise a few playlists on your phone or iPod – trust me you’ll be grateful later on. Download all our favourite tunes whether they’re fresh out or old classics, now organise playlists for different occasions. Make sure you have a chilled out one for calming you down when you get frustrated, a zen one for sending you to sleep and drowning out transport noises as you sleep, a loud dance one for when you’re exhausted but you have to stay awake to catch an interconnecting flight, and a nice reggae one for the ferry rides as the sun is setting – you are on holiday after all. Trust me it makes a huge difference to your mood and mindset when travelling.

Slow it down

Whichever country you might be in, if you don’t speak the language and are surrounded by people who are speaking Thai, Cambodian or even Spanish, at breakneck speeds, it can be intimidating and frustrating. Don’t be afraid to ask them to slow down and explain again if you don’t understand, it can make all the difference to your journey if you misunderstand a “shortcut”.

Sleep whenever and wherever

I’ve had to take all kinds of crazy journeys since travelling – the worst was a 50 hour bus ride with a crash in the middle. My best advice to you, train your body to sleep whenever you want it to. It’s easy to use deep breathing techniques and meditation to calm yourself and lull yourself into a sleep. Whether it’s a deep one or a light one, it will make a difference to you when you’re travelling for such a long time. Not only does sleeping through the journey make you more alert when you arrive, it also makes the journey seem to go faster.

Give yourself a day off

Travelling between places every few days or weeks is exhausting and sometimes the moving around and repacking gets a bit too much. When it does, you shouldn’t feel bad for taking a day off from travelling. Have a day where you stay in bed and watch Netflix, or go for a massage, or go and eat pizza instead of the local food. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need to recharge your batteries for the next round.

Buddy up

Another alternative when you’re feeling like organising is too much effort, why not team up with other travellers? There are more solo travellers than groups or couples, and so many of them must understand exactly how you’re feeling. Why not pair off, or form a small group for a stretch of the journey? I did this several times and it was great because we all took it in turns to organise something and contribute to the group in different ways. The extra support can really help to give you the drive to organise for yourself again the you break free.11705089_10152949578167617_1809591757151796856_n

Feeling like you need a break from it all? If you ask me, the best way is to find a little piece of heaven to separate yourself from the stresses of life. I travelled to Italy years ago and have been longing to go back ever since, so how dreamy would it be to stay in one of these luxury villas owned by Scent of Sicily Villas? There are a huge range of properties on offer, many feature their own private pool and are just metres from the beach. For those who thrive on the arts and culture of a new country, there are a collection of historical villas that offer a taste of times gone by and the secrets that lurk in the past. While for those who fancy bathing the style and architectural elegant of Sicily, head the west of the country to experience the enchanting Baroque buildings of Marsala. And for those who prefer wild landscapes, secluded accommodation in a more traditional style, look no further than the Pantelleria collection. If you’re in need of some travelling zen, why not check out these stunning villas for the perfect, relaxing getaway.

How do you find your travelling zen when you’re on the move? What helps you chill out when travelling gets a bit much?

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Backpacking | 35 luxuries you really appreciate when you’ve been backpacking for a while

imageThere’s no doubt about it, backpackers may give it the bigg’un about how few items of clothing we need and how we can survive with just a bar of soap instead of all those luxury beauty items – it’s true, most of the time when you’re on the road you realise you need very little luxury to have the time of your life. But there are times when every single one of us craves a treat, misses some of those home comforts, or just doesn’t want to share a room with seven other people! We all get pushed to our limits in order to keep travelling for as long as possible, and often we don’t realise how much we have sacrificed in order to extend our trip, to make our money last and to keep going just that little longer. I know I’m guilty of it as much as the next person and can remember several times where I have sacrificed staying somewhere nice for an absolute hole just so I can save those pennies to do an awesome boat trip or yoga retreat. I like to weigh things up and instead of ever turning down an experience, I just see which I would rather have – more often than not, a luxurious night in a big, comfy bed with a hot shower is the first to go. But then there are those times when I just can’t stand the thought of staying in another dorm, listening to someone snoring as I lie awake knowing I have to get up in a few hours. Those times when all I crave is space to unpack my bag and some time on my own – we all feel like that sometimes, and it soon becomes all we can think about.

I’ve noticed in my ten months travelling that there are some things that just stay in my mind, things that I perhaps never fully appreciated until I came away. Particularly recently, because I’ve just moved into my own place as part of my new job and have all my food provided for me – I’m suddenly living in more luxury than I have for nearly a year. And it’s really making me realise how grateful I am for even having the opportunity to go away and experience other cultures, to be both deprived and enriched at the same time as I learn to truly value what I have. So in the spirit of being grateful, and of dreaming of far off luxuries – here’s my list of 35 things you really learn to appreciate when you’ve been backpacking for a while:

  1. Personal space – whether it’s the crowds in Asia or just finding room for your bag in an Aussie hostel.
  2. A good night’s sleep – either you’re up all night partying or someone is getting up early to catch a flight.
  3. Your mum’s cooking, or your dad’s, just those comforting foods that remind you of home.
  4. Supermarkets – nothing beats a good supermarket, 7/11s in Asia, IGAs in Oz, they just don’t measure up.
  5. Your own room – being able to shut a door on the world at the end of the day is such an amazing feeling.
  6. A double bed – oh god after battling dorm life, top bunks and all the rest, starfishing is just heaven!
  7. Shampoo and conditioner for your hair type – not just half empty bottles you found in the dorm shower.
  8. Clean kitchenware – in a hostel kitchen shared by 40+ people this can be a rarity.
  9. Finding all your food in the fridge where you left it, no milk missing, or beers stolen.
  10. Sitting on an actual sofa and watching TV – the first thing to go when I left, but perfect for hangovers.
  11. Having wifi all the time, and being able to rely on the connection.
  12. Having phone signal all the time!
  13. Having your hair cut, or your bikini line waxed by a woman who can speak English.
  14. Being able to plug into sockets without using adapters.
  15. Not pulling out coins from six different countries every time you pay, then having to sift through them.
  16. A quiet night in – can’t believe I’m saying it but sometimes it’s all you crave instead of another night out.
  17. A whole wardrobe of clothes to choose from instead of wearing the same outfit, yet again.
  18. A really good roast dinner – sorry but I’ve not found one yet other than back home.
  19. Christmas in the UK – nothing beats it.
  20. Showering without wearing flip flops.
  21. Not being woken up by the sound of someone having sex below you, or above you, or next to you.
  22. Good chocolate – it just doesn’t taste the same overseas, especially in hot countries.
  23. Not having the scars, scratches and bruises that come with traveller’s legs.
  24. Actually having a night out where you look glossy and groomed instead of sweaty and scruffy.
  25. Having your washing done for you instead of having to wait for a hostel washing machine to be free.
  26. Not being eaten alive by mosquitoes, bed bugs, sand flies and whatever else wants to eat us.
  27. Being up-to-date with every detail of the lives of those you love. Being able to be there for them.
  28. Being able to talk to your best friend on a whim instead of dealing with such a huge time difference.
  29. Hot showers. ‘Nuff said.
  30. Simple foods like beans on toast instead of all the spicy curry in Asia.
  31. More exciting foods instead of living off beans on toast and instant noodles.
  32. Being able to buy your alcohol from a supermarket pretty much all the time instead of bottle shops.
  33. Not having sand at the bottom of all your bags and shoes.
  34. Not having permanent flip flop tan lines.
  35. Having a car and not having to rely on public transport.

imageAll of these are things we talk about longingly about with other backpackers over long nights by a fire on the beach, over beers by the swimming pool, or when we meet other travellers. But as much as we talk about how amazing it would be to have a nice long, hot shower with luxurious products before getting into a huge double bed in a private room, we also know we wouldn’t give up this life for the world. That these bed-bug infested rooms and long nights out are worth every second. That the feeling of sand between your toes and those moments when you catch two people at it in the bunk next to you aren’t all part of the experience. That we’ve never felt freer and happier than we do right now. And that every sunset and sunrise brings new excitement into your life at the prospect of what is to come. Home comforts are great, but nothing beats adventure. If you fancy a little luxury and want to leave the kids at home, why not check out the adult-only holidays available at Tropical Sky?

What at home comforts and luxuries do you miss when you’re away from home? Do you like to treat yourself every now and again when backpacking? 

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Whitsundays | My deep blue dreams came true | Australia

imageWhile in Airlie Beach we couldn’t miss out on one of the most well known trips on the East Coast, the one everyone talks about and the one you’re definitely not supposed to miss out on – Whitsundays. We had been looking forward to this one and after Fraser Island our expectations were high. Now I’ll be honest from the start and say that our trip was still fun and amazing, but it was a bit of a disappointment and nowhere near as good as Fraser. This was completely out of the hands of our guides, unfortunately the weather was a bit temperamental and pretty cloudy when we were out on the boat – unavoidable and such a shame as the weather before and after our trip was amazing. We left the harbour in brilliant sunshine and arrived back to a gorgeous day. It was just that bit in the middle – you know, the trip itself – where unfortunately clouds filled the sky and it even rained on us at points. We were heading out to the open ocean with Powerplay, which apparently is one of the most expensive cruises you can book but we luckily got a big discount for booking our whole East Coast trip as a package.imageWe chose Powerplay because it was not only a smaller boat – a catamaran – with a smaller crew and amount of guests, but it also offered a touch more luxury. It was our treat after living in some questionable hostels on the way up the east coast and we really wanted a smaller group for a different experience to that of cruises like the Clipper which is basically a booze cruise. Nothing wrong with that, and we know lots of people who have had an epic time on the other boats, but this time we just didn’t really fancy that type of trip. It was a good decision because our group for Whitsundays was one of the most diverse yet, with people ranging in age from 18 to around 45, but all a great laugh and it was brilliant to be teamed up with two girls from our Fraser Island trip for more fun. The boat itself had a mixture of private and shared sleeping quarters, we had booked a private room and after months of hostels I can’t tell you how amazing it was to have a door to shut on the world while we slept – even if it was just a little cubby on the boat. The double bed cabin came to $435, but as I said, we paid a lot less thanks to booking our trip as a whole. The rooms were great – a perfect size and with some of the comfiest beds ever – between that and the gentle rocking of the boat, we slept like a dream. Inside there were sofas and the kitchen, outside there was plenty of deck to sunbathe (we wish!), whale watch or play cards, while up at the front there was a hot tub – this was what swung it for us! imageThe first day was spent powering out to sea towards our first snorkelling site. Now I know that some, like myself, get seasick and can be put off the thought of a boat trip while travelling. I heard a lot of people on the other boats, including the Clipper, were getting sick thanks to the waves but on Powerplay barely anyone even felt sick. I had taken Travelcalm with me just in case but didn’t even use it the whole time, there was just one section where a few of us felt queasy because it became a little choppy – so I really wouldn’t let these worries put you off. When we arrived and dived into the water, we were instantly surrounded by fish of all colours, shapes and sizes at one of the best dive sites in Whitsundays. The seabed was covered in bright and colourful corals, and we spent a couple of hours there exploring and racing the fish. Afterwards, it was time for tea and biscuits on the boat as we headed to our dock for the night with a fridge full of cider and wine. A night of drinking games, cards and lots of fun followed, with a early start to power off towards Whitehaven Beach where we were all on the lookout for Johnny Depp who we knew had been spotted nearby filming the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.imageI’m not going to lie, this day was a bit of a disappointment after all the hype. It was completely overcast and even started raining on us when we stood on the beach – not the image I had in my mind when people describe Whitehaven! We took the standard photos, gave ourselves a scrub down with the sand – which is the finest you will find in the world and leaves you with baby soft skin – and went manta ray spotting in the shallows. When the winds and rain started up, we sheltered under a tree before given in and playing the old classics like 40/40 in to keep warm! It was an anticlimax but I know I’ll definitely do the trip again to experience Whitehaven in glorious sunshine. Luckily, what happened back on the boat more than made up for any disappointment. Throughout the Whitsundays, my one recurring thought was that I simply had to see a sea turtle. Until now I had see countless dolphins and whales, fish of all kinds and even sharks, but no turtles! Back on the boat, suddenly our skipper cried out “sea turtle!” And knowing full well how much I wanted to swim with one he said we had to dive in, minus stung suits because this was our one chance. I took no persuading and dived straight in to the water while Mark ran to grab a mask and my camera, I swam out to the turtle and was within touching distance of the creature. It was everything I dreamed of and more, I even gave him a little high five! I swam with him for as long as I could, knowing I was getting further and further into the jellyfish waters – I could see the little buggers everywhere around me and could feel the itchy stings all over my body. But it was worth it.imageThat night, we were celebrating the end of an awesome trip and an early birthday for Mark – it was actually the next day but naturally we had cake, all got a bit drunk, went fishing for squid before watching one of the girls eat it raw. Then finished up the night in the hot tub looking up at the stars – not such a disappointing trip after all! The two things we wanted were sea turtles and the hot tub – so it seems it was actually a pretty great trip. I would really recommend choosing Powerplay – the guys are amazing, great fun and really do give you the best trip. One of my close friends is also working on Wings which is a very similar trip, if you fancy trying that one out.image

Have you been to Whitsundays? Which boat did you use? What was your highlight?

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