I may have been living on a budget since arriving in Australia, but travelling through Asia, there was something I never scrimped on. Even when we've given up all our worldly possessions in favour of a super-saver life on the road, we all have to admit that there are times when all us backpackers dream of a little luxury. One thing in particular I miss since being down under is massages - back in the UK my mum and I always made sure we had a little spa break booked in to treat ourselves. Both working pretty stressful jobs with constant deadlines, it was so nice to have a full day dedicated to relaxation and pampering every now and again. Even when I couldn't afford a day at the spa, I'd often have an evening dedicated to facials, manicures and pampering at home. It's important to look after yourself and to allow yourself the time to really unwind. So when I arrived in Thailand, I was over the moon to realise quite how cheap and incredible the massages were - I'm not gonna lie, at one point I was getting one every day for a week until I realised I was getting addicted. You really notice the difference as a traveller, especially when you're sleeping on rubbish bunk beds with springs in your back, or when you're spending all day walking the streets of Bangkok or up all night dancing at a party in the jungle. Trust me, that leaves your with sore feet and a few too many knots in your shoulders, plus, if you've just left a stressful job and life behind, it's nice to treat yourself and not break the bank.
Travelling across Asia, you really start to notice the similarities and some of the differences between the massages you experience - you really become an expert in knowing when you're getting a good massage or when you're getting one from someone who has no idea what they're doing. I actually walked out on two massages because the masseuses clearly had no idea what they were doing and were starting to hurt my feet - but that doesn't even make a dent in how many incredible massages I had over the five months I spent travelling Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. The further afield you go, the more you get to experience slightly more unusual types of treatment which are often quite an experience in themselves. In this post, I'm going to focus on five main types of massage I experienced while in Asia - I'm sure there are many more but these were the most incredible and the ones I would seriously recommend you try for yourself when you pass through Asia.
Foot/Neck Street Massage
It wouldn't be a trip to Thailand without at some point experiencing a massage on the street as you watch the world go by and let the craziness of Bangkok wash over you. I love to people watch and this was a great place to do it after a long day of walking around the city. It was heaven to slip into one of these comfy chairs while a Thai man or woman massaged your feet, or shoulders. At only around 150 baht (around £3) you can't really go wrong can you?! My favourite place to stop was right next to a little bar that always had live music playing and it was usually the perfect accompaniment to the massage.
Now this one is an acquired taste - some don't enjoy this vigorous massage and prefer something more relaxing but Thai massage has a great effect on the body. I always left a Thai massage feeling invigorated and revived, and it is great if your muscles feel tight from lots of activities - a bit like a deep tissue massage. I personally wouldn't have this one very often because I found that sometimes my muscles ached afterwards because it was quite rough compared to other types of massage, but if you get the right masseuse it can be amazing! This one cost around 400 baht (£4) when I was there.
Full Body Oil Massage
My absolute favourite is the one with coconut oil - this was my special treat every few weeks. I loved the way the oil felt on your skin as you were massaged and it stopped the massage from being as rough as in Thai massage. Plus the smell of the oil was just divine, your skin felt incredible afterwards because it was so soft. My favourite coconut oil massage was the very first one I had where I lay on a platform facing the ocean just after sunset on a tiny Thai island, it was beautiful watching the clouds go all shades of pink and blue as the sun slipped further below the horizon and the waves lapped against the shore. This one cost 5-600 baht (£10-12) depending on where you were.
Four Hands Bliss Massage
This one was a pretty unique experience and one I couldn't pass up. When I was in Cambodia, I stayed at a yoga retreat where they offered this type of massage and I was urged to give it a try. Two specially trained massage therapists would mirror each other's movements and rhythm on your body to overload your sensory capacity and send you into deep states of bliss and relaxation. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I'm so glad I tried it, at just $20 USD it was a bargain! Many came out of this massage in a real daze they were so overwhelmed by the sensations, I personally found it very invigorating and was bouncing off the walls!
Blind Shiatsu Massage
Another experience I will never forget was my hour spent with Leab at the Cambodian retreat, he is actually the person who massages Angelina Jolie at a five star hotel not far away when she visits the country, but I got to experience the deep tissue massage for just $15 USD. This was just one week after a bad bus crash left me limping and in serious pain throughout my legs and especially in one knee. I didn't even tell Leab about this but in seconds he could tell where the pain was and set to work, we barely spoke as his English wasn't very good, but his hands were an absolute miracle. They made an incredible difference to the pain and stiffness in my legs, I walked out of there not limping for the first time in over a week. The whole experience, just being in his peaceful presence was so healing and I was gutted when it was over! If you ever get a chance to experience type of massage - do it!
Even just writing this I'm desperate for a massage - the last eight months of working and partying flag out, plus three months in the bush, haven't done much for my knotted shoulders and aching back. My mum and I are already planning a mother-daughter spa day for when I return, and I can't wait for it after working what was probably one of the worst jobs of my life. If you don't already have a spa day planned or can't spare the time and money to try these Asian delights - why not put aside some money each week and treat yourself a little closer to home? You could check out Urban Retreat's Moroccan Hammam experience at Harrods which offers a centuries old full body experience to purify and revitalise the body and soul, including exfoliation. Anyone who's tempted to book a massage after reading this post should have a look around and definitely consider treating themselves!
Tell me about your favourite spa experiences - were they in the UK or abroad? Have you tried these massages - what did you think?
* this post was a collaboration with Harrods
So after three amazing months of living and working in Darwin, it was time to move on and get my regional work done - I was determined to get that second year visa signed off so I could come back and do it all again. I had been hoping to move down to Tasmania or hit up Western Australia, but then a job came along that I just couldn't turn down. More about the job itself in another post, this one is going to focus more on what it was like to live in an outback town in Central Queensland, if you like, a real Aussie experience. I arrived in Charleville after a full 24 hours of travelling by car, plane, train and bus took me from the Top End, out to Brisbane and then nearly 800km west. As the 12 hour bus ride ticked by, I dozed between spurts of gazing out the window as we drove further and further away from 'civilisation' and further into the bushland that dominates the centre of Australia. It was a strange feeling to not only be so far away from home, but to be so far away from the family I had created along the way. It was actually the first time I had been entirely alone in Australia, despite having been here for around six months. A pretty empowering and terrifying feeling at the same time, this feeling was something I had missed from travelling solo - that thrill and adrenalin rush you get when you know you can only rely on yourself if it all goes wrong.I arrived at around 7.30pm to a pitch black town, just a few useless streetlights were dotted around. I was the last person on the bus and the bus driver jokingly offered to take me back to Brissy if I was having second thoughts, but I laughed, hauled my bags off the bus and prepared myself to meet the people I would be working for. This week my three months will come to an end, and with three months of working in the Northern Territory, I've learnt a lot about what life is like in the outback. So if you're thinking of doing the same to get your visa signed off, or just for fun, read on to find out what you need to know about bush life. Here are 18 things you learn from working and living in the Australian outback:
Have you ever worked on the Australian outback? What kind of work did you do? Where were you based for it?
If you read last week's post on my top city break destinations, you'll already know that New York is a city I've fallen in love with over and over again. I'm a child of the Sex and the City generation and a lover of classic movies set in the Big Apple, both have given me such a romanticised view of the city that I never thought it would live up to my expectations. But after travelling there four times I can assure you that on every single trip it has surpassed my dreams, and my expectations to bring me a whole new experience. My most recent trip there, in April 2014 was by far the best trip yet and was actually a big decider in me going travelling solo. I had just gone through the roughest few months of my life and out of this came the push to book a family holiday to NYC, getting away gave me perspective and space, and seeing the bright lights of a whole new country gave me the excitement of something new.I suddenly realised that this holiday had made me happier than I had been in months, in every aspect of my life, and while I had already had ideas about going travelling, this was the moment I realised that I had to make it happen. I needed that feeling of excitement and boarding a plane to last, but this time I needed to get away and not know when I was coming back. There's something about the feeling of getting totally lost in a place that is awesomely inspiring and even now, I just love the idea of escaping from the norm and discovering a new place and way of life. It may sound cheesy, but getting excited about a holiday to New York gave me hope that I would get past this horrible time in my life, it helped me remember a time when I could be happy and gave me a determination to reach that once again.Each time we've been there, we've crammed as much as possible into our five days or a week, the perfect amount of time for an NYC city break or holiday. Staying close to Times Square has really helped that as so much is within walking distance and you can tick a lot of the great sights, and great eats, off very quickly. Going there for the first time? It's difficult and often overwhelming when trying to plan what to squeeze in and what to leave out - so here is my list of the top 10 things you have to do/see when in New York:
There are a million and one things you can do in New York City and there are always new parts to discover, I can think of countless other things I could recommend for you to check out. But on a first time visit you are always working against the clock to fit everything in and still have fun without rushing. All of these trips, activities and experiences are well worth the time spent on them, no matter how touristic they may seem. You'll always be hard-pressed to squeeze everything in so make sure you choose the things you want to see and do the most - if you just fancy a shopping trip then why not head to Tiffany's before shopping your way down Fifth Avenue? Or go vintage and check out the amazing range of markets scattered across the city. There are no end of museums and art galleries from the most prominent to the quirky and unusual, and, if your budget allows it, why not splash out on a helicopter ride across the city? There are so many ways to experience and fall in love with New York City and even after four trips there I know I'm not done - bring on the next trip!
What's your favourite thing to do in New York? Are there any attractions you wouldn't recommend?
I've been lucky enough to travel all over the world from the moment I was born thanks to my parents, I think travel must be in our blood because at just 18-years-old my father decided to leave his home country of Mauritius and board a plane to England. Since then he hasn't stopped travelling with my family and is always planning his next holiday whether it's to America or somewhere in Europe. We've travelled to Mauritius just twice in my lifetime, and I think we're long overdue for a visit, but each time I've discovered yet more tropical beauty that lies on its shores. Mauritius is the ultimate honeymoon destination - it's gorgeous, white sandy beaches are perfect for sipping cocktails and watching the sun go down. But the fun doesn't stop there, why do honeymooners have to have all the fun? Mauritius is actually a great destination for all travellers, packed with culture, incredible food, music, dancing, colour and history. And the beauty of it being so tiny is that you don't actually need very long to explore the whole island. My last visit to the country was when I was 16-years-old, and I was eager to return to visit my family who live in the capital, Port Louis, many of them I hadn't seen for almost a decade! It was a great opportunity to catch up with my gran and cousins, plus I had ready made tour guides who knew all the best places to eat and shop!
While in the capital city you simply have to make a visit to the Central Market - the perfect place to stock up on fruits and vegetables while seeing the market sellers in full swing. It's a great glimpse into the culture and how better to enjoy it than by sampling some of the local delicacies - my favourites are a snack of Dholl Puri (street food) washed down with a refreshing milky drink of Alooda. A short walk to the harbour is worth it in the heat, and be sure to take a look at the colonial-inspired buildings along the way. Don't forget to check out the replica of the dodo, the country's now extinct bird at the Mauritian Museum, and finish up in the Chinese Quarter for a look at the impressive food displays and dinner.
Just outside the city you can easily escape the hustle and bustle by heading to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden for the day. Here you can see all kinds of tropical plants including the famous giant lily pads, visit giant tortoises up to 200-years-old - so amazing! Plus deer and fruit bats. The Labourdonnais castle in the grounds is worth a visit and don't miss out on a rum tasting session at the distillery. Then pristine sandy beaches await, and where better to try your hand at fishing, which is popular with the locals. Sugar plantations line the roads and back in the botanical garden you will find the remains of the first Mauritian sugar factory.
You simply can't miss a visit to Chamarel, where the unique coloured earths sparkle in the sunlight - a phenomenon on it's own. I can't help but marvel every time I see it. Follow this with a peek at the country's religious background as you visit the sacred lake of Grand Bassin, where Hindus gather every year to celebrate the festival of Maha Shivaratree. Monkeys roam wild around the grounds - but be careful, my cousin and I were chased last time! Just a couple of miles away are the tea plantations and factories where you can sample the different varieties, before heading to Black River Gorges National Park where the Mauritian kestrel can be spotted. See where the mountain meets the sea at Le Morne Brabant, an area that has been declared a world heritage sight by the United Nations. And be sure to visit one of the many waterfalls.
Being a tiny island itself, you forget that there are several other small islands surrounding Mauritius, each of these can make great day trips - Trou aux Cerfs and Ile aux Aigrettes in particular. One of my favourite memories from our last trip to Mauritius was a boat trip to Trou aux Cerfs where on arrival I promptly fell out of the boat and soaked myself and everything I owned. The trip improved when I helped the fisherman catch a fresh lunch of fish and shrimps to be barbecued on the beach. It was the perfect tropical island and so untouched.
One of the things I really love about Mauritius is that is has such a cosmopolitan culture and that so many different groups meld together so well. You'll find locals speaking a mixture of English, French and Creole, which makes it easier to understand if you don't particularly speak one. All across the island you see a mix of religious denominations from Punjabi and Hindi to Tamil and Chinese, my family are Tamil but when I visited I had a chance to experience all aspects of the culture which was great. Music plays a huge part in the culture so be sure to enjoy a performance of the national dance, Sega! It goes well with seafood and a few rums in my experience - the lively dance will have even the most shy on their feet. I remember when we spent Christmas Day in Mauritius and ended up in a busy restaurant filled with music and dancing, plus some amazing lobster! Be sure to enjoy the food in all its flavours - they vary a lot from the traditional Indian and African food, instead offering a blend of all of these flavours that put the street food in a league of its own! It's a perfect place to travel whether you fancy a romantic break with your other half, a backpacking culture tour or a family trip. Wow, after writing this I'm about ready to book a flight - how about you? If you do fancy a trip, why not contact The Flight Centre.
Have you been to Mauritius? What was your favourite part? What other tropical paradises do you have on your travel list for 2016?
City breaks can be a great way to escape everyday life for a while without breaking the bank and without sacrificing too much of that precious time off work. Not all of us are as lucky to travel full time, and who doesn't need a well-deserved break from work every once in a while? I've always been more of a beach bum than a city girl, but it's great to check out the cultural centre of a country as you're passing through it because I always find it gives such a different impression of the country. Plus it gives you a good excuse to give in to the tourist inside you - to do and see all the things you've read about. My parents love a good city break and are always jetting off for a mid-season getaway; in the last few years they've been to Venice, Rome, Athens and Barcelona - I've got a bit of catching up to do when it comes to Europe! But luckily my readers come from all over the world so I thought for my list of top city breaks I would take a look at some of my favourite cities from across the world - so whether you're based in America, Europe, Asia or Australia - there'll be one nearby for you to check out.
Of course, a particular favourite in the UK. London is a bustling, vibrant city packed full of things to do, and for me, lots of people to see. I studied near London and love returning there to visit friends and family. Plus it's a great place to go shopping, visit one of the amazing museums, go to the theatre or spend a day at one of the fantastic markets. When I'm at home, I usually end up heading to London pretty regularly and never run out of new experiences - check what's on listings as there are always free events going on! If you're wanting to make a full weekend of it and want to experience somewhere new to stay. Why not try somewhere like the Rosewood hotel? Based in Covent garden, it oozes luxury and acts as a perfect luxury getaway (take me there now!).
One of my favourite cities in the UK even though I have only been twice - I last visited years ago with my boyfriend and had the most amazing weekend. It's a beautiful city and I love that it's right by the sea - my perfect kind of city. It has a more relaxed feel than London and is full of quaint little boutiques and independent shops when you head to the Lanes. There's some fantastic restaurants and hotels there, and I loved staying in a beautiful boutique hotel overlooking the sea when we went.
I went to Rome years ago on a school trip where we visited all the stunning historical monuments; walked around the Coliseum and threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, we pounded the streets drinking in the culture, practicing our Italian, and stuffing our faces with pizza and ice cream. I've always wanted to go back since, it's a beautiful city and a perfect one if you love your food and culture, there's just so much history waiting for you. Just remember to take good walking shoes as you'll be out all day!
I went on holiday to Malta two years ago and totally fell in love with the country - it may be tiny but it's a fantastic place to visit. Being so small you can work your way around the whole island by bus and experience every part of Maltese culture. We took a day trip to Valetta, the capital city, and loved the day we spent wandering a round the adorable little streets, around the harbour, and eating Maltese desserts from a cute little bakery in the square outside the library.
Sensing a theme here? One of the main reasons I love to travel is the food and the choice of Brussels was a great one for that. My mum and I headed here for a weekend of chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate to celebrate my 18th birthday. I loved the city, it was so beautiful and the buildings were just stunning. You could walk the streets for hours just looking around and I lost count of the amazing restaurants. It's such a cosmopolitan city that you can eat food from all over Europe in the same street!
The ultimate in city break getaways, New York has everything and more to offer. It's a magical city and one I've fallen in love with over and over again, I've actually been there four times and still not run out of things to do. Beyond all the usual touristy activities, there's endless restaurants to gorge yourself at, neighbourhoods within the city to explore, shopping to be done and experiences to have. I'm writing a full post on New York that will be going up over the next week make sure to look out for that if you're planning a trip!
Easily one of my favourite cities in the world - it's a total culture shock, it's brash, rude and extremely cheeky, you're always in for a good time there and there is so much to see. Amazing historical monuments, beautiful temples scattered across the city, shopping centres and markets packed with everything you could imagine, a nightlife that will keep you going until sunrise. And the food, oh my god, the food. It's dreamy and spicy, it's exciting and unexpected. Fully expect to spend most of your time scouring street food stalls and eating the world.
Fancy something a little less mainstream? Head to Vietnam where one of the prettiest little cities awaits. Set upon a river, but just a few kilometres from the beach, the city has everything you could want including an incredible, rich history that lies on every corner waiting to be discovered. There are a fantastic range of shops, and plenty of opportunities to get clothes made specifically for you. Plus the food is amazing, totally unlike the food elsewhere in Asia - it brings a range of different flavours and textures to the table.
After three months living in the outback, I've never been more excited at the prospect of returning to a city. I'll be flying to Melbourne in nine days and I can't wait to experience the hustle and bustle again. Plus Melbourne has so much to offer - not only is it right by the sea but it's full of art and music and a quirky attitude that I love. I'm looking forward to exploring and discovering all the little treasures that lurk around the city, I can't wait to shop and be able to do city activities again like going to museums and the cinema, going to clubs and bars that don't close at 11pm, being able to use public transport and never being far away from a shop - trust me you really appreciate that stuff after living in the Australian outback!
What is your favourite city and why? Which ones should I visit? Have you visited any of these - what did you love about it? Any cities you wouldn't want to visit?
When I was born, I was a little unexpected. For a start, I was a "mistake". My parents were expecting a boy when suddenly out popped this little girl that looked a bit like Mowgli from The Jungle Book and couldn't sit still. From the start I was a very independent child, unlike my sister who had to be sat on my mother's hip at all times, I was running around and causing havoc from the very beginning. I was going to be called Jack until this creature who was very obviously a "Lucy" arrived. It makes me wonder, if I had been born a boy what would have been different - would I still have become a journalist and quit my job to travel the world? Would I still have an unhealthy love for cheese and wine? Or would I be a completely different person? I feel like my entrance into the world helped set the tone for the rest of my life, which so far has taken some pretty unexpected turns. I remember when I first announced to friends that I was coming travelling, some were shocked I was giving everything up and going it alone. Others, who knew me well, were unsurprised. More than one of them actually said they kind of expected something like this from me, that I'd always been a bit of a free spirit even when I was working full time and in a long-term relationship. I guess not much has changed about me since then, I just cast off all the shackles that were keeping me tied to one place so that I could experience total freedom for a while.
Growing up, I was always more of a boy's-girl than a girl's-girl, I always had my gang of close girlfriends but would always find myself spending more time with the guys. Back then I struggled with the bitching and "girl talk" that came with one particular gang and it kind of put me off female friendships a bit. I've never had any interest in people who want to talk about others negatively - I love the kind of people who want to build each other up and celebrate each other. But then some amazing women came crashing into my life that changed all that - I'm a very lucky girl to have a pretty special group of female friends both at home and on the road and they have completely changed my opinion. My friends at home are these amazing, creative, independent and exciting women who have an opinion on everything and will stand by you until the end. They're the kind of women who will never make you feel bad about yourself, won't make you judge other people and won't make you feel insecure. Instead they bring light into your life, and colour, lots of it. A night with them is well spent whether you're debating over a glass of wine, setting the world to rights over dinner, or dancing like fools in the club. They're wild women, they're passionate and have dreams. They don't sit around waiting for a guy - they go out and work hard to earn their own money and they make their own dreams come true. They're fearless and bold, they're brave and they inspire me.While nothing will ever replace those incredible creatures that keep cheering for me and supporting me even when I'm the other side of the world, I've met some pretty amazing souls since travelling as well. The kind of women who make you feel like you can take on the world and do anything you set your mind to, the ones who will be your cheerleaders, who will be your shoulder to cry on, your tough love when you need it and the kind of women you will be friends with for life. I feel like when you meet people travelling it is so different to making new friends at home, it's like you see their soul laid bare from the very beginning and people aren't afraid to dive in the deep end. I've lost count of the amount of times I've met these beautiful characters who have laid their cards on the table from the first day and by the end of it we've been declaring our love for each other. People aren't afraid to be exposed, if anything they're more willing to be themselves no matter what. I love that, I love when people are unapologetically themselves. It's refreshing to meet people who are fearless in expressing their ideas and opinions, who don't try to fit in with any crowd or way of thinking. They're free spirits and wild women and they're everywhere. I saw a quote the other day and it really summed up what I'm trying to say in this post:
There is no competition between wild women. Their spirits are too free to be caught in a tiny space of envy. Instead they dance together and allow the good to flow abundantly amongst each other.
I love this. This is something to be celebrated. Not just among women, but I wanted to use this excuse to focus on the incredible women I have met in my life. We should always make it our business to be as wild and free as the world will allow - to follow our hearts and to dream big. And, even more importantly, we shouldn't allow envy or jealousy to make us judge the achievements of others. At the end of the day, life is tricky sometimes and we all need a bit of help and support along the way, we should do our best to give this to all the women in our lives because we never know when we'll need it returned to us. To all those who live their lives meekly and afraid of what others will say - stop. Live loudly and proudly, be excited and passionate and chase what you want out of life. Be one of those women that inspires you, be one of those women that inspires others. Whether your free spirit travels the world, creates something amazing or loves with great abandon - go full throttle on life and you'll never look back with regret. I've spent the last three months living in the outback and it's made me more grateful than ever before for my tribe: the girls here in town who have got me through, the girls across Australia who have kept cheering me on, and the gang at home who have been a ear when I needed to vent. Every single one of you have kept me inspired, supported and excited about life even after the toughest day at work. Thanks to you, I made it through. So I'll end on this note, make it your business today to think about the women in your life, the ones who are wild and free and inspire you at every step. Let them know what a big part they play in your life.
Have you got an amazing gang of girlfriends? How have your girls inspired you?
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As the former editor of This Festival Feeling, and an avid festival goer - my mind never strays far from the topic. I've now spent over a year backpacking around Asia and Australia, but haven't yet been to a festival! It seems shocking behaviour for the girl who managed to attend seven festivals in the year before I came backpacking and several more in the years previous to that. I just love festivals, from the amazing music and locations to the creativity and stunning art pieces, to unusual theatre performances and fantastic characters you meet along the way. It's like entering another world where you can be anyone you want to be and everyone is just as welcoming, happy and beautiful as the people you meet when travelling. Perhaps that's why I haven't been too upset at missing festivals so far, because the travelling experience is much like living in a festival every single day, but I have to say, after a year I am getting a bit antsy. It's this time of year, once Christmas is out of the way, my mind always turns straight to festival season and which ones I'm going to be attending. This year is no different, I know that there are many amazing Australian festivals going on while I'm working in the outback which is annoying timing - I've missed the annual Falls Festivals and will be missing Rainbow Serpent in a few weeks. But instead of moping, I'm looking at which ones I will be able to do. Just a week or two after I arrive in Melbourne the St Kilda Festival will be happening which sounds like a fantastic celebration of music, arts and culture - plus it's free!The team at Icelolly.com have asked me to write about my dream holiday destinations of 2016 to be on with a chance of winning £1000 towards the holiday and an Olympus Pen E-PL7 camera which would be the most incredible prize. These cameras are amazing and I've loved the idea of getting one for a while - not always practical for a backpacker who is living on a budget - and the £1000 towards further travel would be an incredible bonus. After reaching my one year anniversary of travelling and making the decision not to return home but to keep travelling and exploring the world around me, I started to think about my next year on the road and where I will end up. Of course all plans are always open to change as a backpacker, we are known for our habit of changing everything at the drop of a hat, but that's one of the luxuries we gain when giving up everything to travel. I love the freedom that comes with this lifestyle. At the moment I have a vague plan that I will be returning home to England in May when my first year Australian visa runs out, it will be perfectly timed so I can spend my 26th birthday with my friends and family at home and I can't wait to see everyone. After spending a couple of months at home catching up with everyone and heading to a few festivals, I will hopefully have a bit of money put aside for a little jaunt round Europe to visit some amazing friends I've met since travelling and see their home countries. Places like Paris, Berlin, parts of Holland and Denmark could all be on the list and I'll be backpacking the whole way. I'm hoping all this works out and I have enough money to really make this happen.I know my whole life sounds like a holiday but it really will be nice by then to have a break from Australia and to get back to European culture for a little while. One thing I will really love is heading to a few festivals because the UK and Europe really has that amazingly creative and quirky style when it comes to festivals that I really love. After going to Hideout Festival in Croatia a few years ago and having the most amazing time, I was keen to explore some other great festivals in Europe but never had the time/money to do it. If I won the £1000 I would use it to visit two top festivals on my list: EXIT Festival in Serbia leading to the new Sea Dance Festival in Montenegro, followed by Sziget in Budapest, Hungary. Nestled in Eastern Europe, they are countries I've wanted to explore for a while and around the festivals I would use the time to see as much as possible. The multi-award winning EXIT Festival took the title of Best Major European Music Festival at the EU Festival Awards in 2013 and it's easy to see why, held annually at the Petrovaradin Fortress I would argue it has one of the most incredible locations for this huge range of acts to perform. People from around 60 countries around the world flock to the festival grounds each year to watch the magic unfold and that's what I love, the diversity of the people you will meet along the way. I love that EXIT has a unique purpose behind it after starting as a student movement fighting for peace and democracy in Serbia - that is what festivals are all about.By taking part in the EXIT Adventure, you get the opportunity to attend two award-winning festivals across two countries in 10 days. I would get to party in this incredible fortress in Novi Sad followed by the stunning Jaz Beach in Montenegro - last year over 300,000 people attended. The festivals have previously hosted acts including The Arctic Monkeys, The Prodigy, Emile Sande, Andy C, Skrillex, Soul Clap, Bondax and many more - all acts I would love to see live! And the best thing about all of these, is that there would be plenty of time to arrive at the festival beforehand so I would be able to explore the fortress and the catacombs that lay beneath, to find out about the amazing history and the ghosts that lay down there. History lines the streets of this part of Northern Serbia where one building still holds a cannonball jutting from its walls where if was fired back in 1849. For the beach bum in me it would be wrong not to enjoy one of Europe's best Danube beaches before heading to Fisherman's Island for some fish goulash, the local delicacy. And with four daily markets across the city, I wouldn't be able to resist a browse before heading to Laze Telečkog for some local live music. After a busy week exploring Serbia, Jaz Beach will be the perfect place to relax, this underdeveloped area will be great for unwinding and enjoying a whole other set of acts performing in the same place huge acts like the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Madonna and Lenny Kravitz have previously played.Then it would be on to a destination that has been on my bucket list for a long time - Budapest, Hungary. With Sziget Festival seen as the Hungarian jewel in Europe's festival crown, it is an event that is often compared to Burning Man - one of my ultimate dreams to attend. Getting to combine one of the countries I most want to visit with a festival is a fantastic opportunity to see the city in two very different lights - first of all a cultural and historical context followed by seeing how they really party. With countless stunning buildings to visit and view from Parliament to the Basilica, I can tell that just walking the streets with be an experience in itself but with plenty of walking tours on offer it will be a great way of learning more about the history that lies right in front of you. There's so many amazing museums to explore and I have to admit, I love a museum, especially the quirky ones that teach you about a history you never knew existed. I love a good trip to the spa and after three festivals I think I'll be in need to some TLC so I'll be heading to Szechenyi Baths and Pool for a visit and a chance to relax. All these amazing activities will take place around the iconic Sziget Festival which will take place on an island in the middle of the Danube river featuring a huge range of acts from hard rock to dance, this year's line-up so far includes Bastille, Bloc Party, Bring Me The Horizon, Chvrches, John Newman and Kodaline. The line-up is amazing but for me the real draw would be the activities on offer and the huge range of art from The Hands of Unity to the Magic Field, the landscape is transformed by these beautiful structures.To say I'm excited talking about a trip like this is an understatement - writing this has made me miss festivals more than ever and I can just imagine the amazing experience that would come with this trip. From the people you would meet and the things you would see, to the culture you would experience along the way. It would be the Eastern European trip of a lifetime and the winner would get an opportunity to capture every single moment with an amazing camera to share it with everyone who came along for the ride. The beautiful thing about blogging is that every single one of you who reads these posts would be there with me experiencing everything along the way, so let's hope I get lucky and win so we can make this trip a reality! I have to nominate another three bloggers to write about their dream trip so I choose: Chelsea of Loving Life in Wellies, Steph of Big World Small Pockets and Nick and Amy of What the Pho Podcast - enjoy guys!
Where would your dream trip take you? Are any European music festivals on your bucket list?
One of my biggest addictions, both in travelling and in life, is jewellery. I come from a fashion-loving family - my mum is a bit of a hoarder when it comes to clothes and always buys one in every colour. My sister on the other hand works as a fashion buyer and only deals with the finest of clothes and the snootiest of brands. I've always loved clothes but I'm more about finding something quirky and unusual than about spending a fortune - when I came travelling I was made for spending my days in bikinis and my nights in floaty tie-dye creations. The colours and the materials were the things my dreams were made of - from elephant print hareem pants to brightly patterned dresses and floaty tops with colours rolling into each other. I have a serious love of brightly coloured and patterned clothes - to the point that often I'll struggle to find items that will go together in my wardrobe. Packing to come travelling with just a 65l bag was a toughie and I was torn between wanting to take everything and nothing at all with me - a big part of me was keen just to start over with fresh clothes and a new attitude. I ended up taking a bag stuffed with clothes and threw most of it away when I hit the shores of Thailand - realising the markets were packed with gorgeous colours and fabrics was just too tempting for a girl like me.As my travels went on, I stocked up here and there, buying things that inspired me from bags and bracelets to tops and dresses. I even had some amazing gifts from friends including a yoga pal of mine who picked out some of my favourite trousers of all time - great taste! I loved the way my clothes reflected my state of mind and they perhaps showed the biggest outward change other than the smile on my face - finally I didn't have to play at being smart or 'fashiony' - I could just dress as scruffy as I wanted and nobody cared. Basically it was like embracing the festival version of myself every single day - we're talking bright colours, tassels, patterns, glitter and FUN. And we all know how much I love the festival version of myself. However, it got to a point when I knew I had not long left in Asia and that I would still have to send a lot of my clothes home before hitting up Australia - I had to stop shopping for clothes and to stop filling up my already overflowing backpack and start finding other ways of collecting mementos. I chose jewellery - my other great love. From rings and bracelets, to necklaces and earrings, Asia is packed full of amazing, quirky jewellery that will appeal to all tastes. Before I knew it, my arms were full of bracelets and my ankles full of anklets, but when it came to arriving in Australia I decided it was time to shed several of them and to make a fresh start in this new land.For ages at the beginning I couldn't afford to shop - living in Sydney for a month then partying my way up the East Coast meant I had little dollar to spare on frivolities like clothes and jewellery when there was goon to be bought. Plus, as many of us backpackers would say to each other - we often wore the same thing on five nights out in a row because we were always with a different crowd and no one would know the difference. But by the time I arrived in Darwin and was earning a good wage from my two jobs, I started to get the itch to shop again. Trying to save as much money as possible - I limited myself to charity shops like Vinnie's (which actually had an amazing range of brand new clothing in top condition). But when it came to jewellery I just couldn't resist the stalls down at Mindel Markets, one in particular is held by Embella which quickly became one of my favourite jewellery brands of all time. Started up around seven years ago by Sally, who started making jewellery at seven years old, the brand is a unique design and jewellery business. Originally starting up in Victoria, Sally and her husband Ross toured the festivals with Embella products before taking a motor home on the road for six years, eventually ending up in Darwin where they fell in love the lifestyle. It's a brand that was made by travellers for travellers and I love the way the pieces reflect the feeling of being at one with the world around you. My favourite piece is my Earthgirl anklet ($49), pictured above, which never leaves my ankle, but I couldn't help my addiction to their rings and bracelets as well. Most importantly, I love that I have a special sterling silver piece of jewellery that will stand the test of time to always remind me of that special time in Darwin and all the people who I loved there. It's a brand that is made for girls who feel most at home with their toes in the sand and their heart in the waves.The other brand that has got me all excited is one I have stumbled across since I've been in the outback - I just happened to see something online about Wanderer Bracelets and I loved the idea behind them so much that I wanted to share them with you guys. A perfect gift for any traveller, or something special for yourself - I actually bought myself these two bracelets as a Christmas present and something to celebrate my year of travelling solo. The initiative was started up by a guy called Ben who quit his job, sold everything and moved to Bali in his twenties - a guy after my own heart! Driving up into a jungle village one day, he met Made and his neighbours who were incredible artists but didn't make enough to support their families. Their partnership sparked an international movement which sees them selling the bracelets to people all over the world. They are supporting an entire community while creating jewellery out of white buffalo bone - an all-natural sustainable source which also helps fight the ivory trade. All amazing reasons to support such a fantastic business. But even more special, you can get a bracelet engraved with custom coordinates of a place that is special to you - for me, it was the coordinates of my home in Norfolk, UK. It's something special that will always mean that my heart is where my family and friends are at home, even if I'm the other side of the world. As I said, a perfect gift for a traveller and so affordable at around $22 each. And I couldn't resist getting the mermaid tail bracelet to go with it, because let's face it, I'm definitely a mermaid. A perfect brand for travelling souls that know their heart will always remain firmly at home.
What do you think of travelling fashion - are you all about the tie-dye and elephant pants or do you prefer something more formal? Have you found any great boho jewellery ranges? What do you prefer as a memento of your travelling times?
Christmas and New Year are definitely some of those times when people really start to think about their relationship status - a bit like the post-Christmas bloat, it's something that hangs over every festive party and moment under the mistletoe. It can suck a bit to be single at Christmas, to not have someone special to keep you warm and to get you that extra special present. But it can also be great to be single at Christmas - you don't have to feel guilty when you sit there and eat an entire cheeseboard in one sitting then spend the night farting in bed, and no awkward decision about whose family you'll spend the day with. When it comes to New Year, this was my first as a single girl for nine years - which seems crazy to me. Basically as long as I've been old enough to go out drinking I've been in a relationship, more than a third of my life. And it was a good relationship, a great one in fact, but 2015 was all about the start of something new, about taking control of my life and doing something for me. I broke off my relationship and left to travel the world solo, a year later I should be heading home but have decided I'm not ready for my adventures to finish yet. Last December 31st I was surrounded by good friends and spent the night celebrating with my other half. But this year, it felt right to celebrate independently after the year I've had. I've conquered all sorts and I've done it all by myself, so I was more than happy to be a single girl as I took my first steps into 2016.
This time of year it's easy to get caught up in the romance of the season - all those engagement rings popping up on my newsfeed, all those cute couple photos in matching Christmas jumpers, and all those New Year kissing photos. We're blasted in the face with the expectation and the pressure to be in a happy relationship or left to feel like failures, but I have to ask, isn't it more important at this time of year to be looking inwardly and thinking more about the relationship we have with ourselves? New Year is always a great time to look back over the year as it comes to a close - at what we've achieved and suffered, learnt and lost over the last 12 months. We're all planning and making goals for the year ahead, but so many are setting goals, more like ideals for where they see themselves in 12 months. They're thinking about things like relationships statuses, job goals, having their own homes. All of these are great in their own way, but why not take the time to think about how mentally healthy and happy you are. Two Christmases ago I took a two week break from work and from life - I finally had headspace to think and after the two weeks was up I realised I didn't want to go back to that life. That was when I realised that how I was working and living was not making me healthy or happy - it was time to plan an escape and my next moves. That was when I began saving, when I bought a plane ticket. A year later, I hopped on that plane and never looked back.
It's not the answer for everyone and I'm not saying this to tell you to go do the same. Travel might not be your way of healing but starting 2016 on your own could provide you with a good opportunity to really look closely at your life. Are you happy? Are you on your way to achieving what you want out of life? If not, why not? This is your chance to claim 2016 as your year to work on you - do what I did, step back and reassess. Our goals change as we grow as people and sometimes the ones you set a while ago will no longer fit the person you have become - if you no longer want something why work towards it? Evolve your goals and you will find happiness in working towards what you truly want. If a job no longer makes you happy, look elsewhere and find one that does. Feel like work is taking over your life? Take a step back and explore your passions in your free time. Unsure whether a relationship is still giving you what you need - make a change, end it or go in search of something new. It doesn't matter how trapped you feel, even if it feels like there is no way out, there always is. But you have to be willing to make the first move - once you've taken that first step it turns into the easiest and most natural thing in the world, but first you have to take a leap of faith.
It can be a huge change that all your family and friends talk about, or it can be something tiny that just makes a world of difference to you. Either way, having the courage to examine your life and really think about where you want it to go can be simultaneously the scariest and most valuable thing you do this January. Why? Because it will help give you focus and goals for the year ahead - to find the happiness you've been searching for. 2015 was my happiest and freest year yet - it was so amazing that I skipped my flight home and chose to stay and carry on for as long as possible. I'm looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings - I'm just hoping for more happiness, the love of many new friends I have yet to meet and even more opportunities to follow my passions. Most importantly, I'm not sitting around and waiting for life to happen to me, I'm out there making it happen for myself.
Have you made any New Years resolutions? What are your goals for this year? Is travel in your plans for 2016 - where are you heading?
I've had so many lovely messages over the last few days celebrating my decision to stay in Australia instead of returning home on my pre-booked flights and cheering at my just having four weeks left in the outback before rejoining my friends. I've had several messages from friends asking for advice on blogging and how to get started, and I've lost track of the amount of people who have contacted me to ask for advice on travelling, going it solo and help with planning itineraries. It's amazing to think I started this blog just over two years ago and at the time barely anyone read what I was writing, much less wanted to know what I had to say on any of this. I feel so proud at how Absolutely Lucy has grown in that time and am still completely overwhelmed by the support of all my readers every single day. It's been pretty spectacular to experience this year's travelling independently but what has made it all the more special was sharing every step of the journey with you guys. Being able to immortalise all of my memories on these webpages and to share my highs and lows with every single one of you. You may not realise it but every single like, share, view and comment has meant the world to me over these last 12 months, it was the encouragement I needed to keep writing, to keep on travelling even when times were tough and I felt homesick.
Now some of you may remember around a year ago I couldn't stop talking about something called the UK Blog Awards - it's a great awards ceremony that is organised annually to celebrate the blogging community. Covering every genre of blogs, there is a chance for writers with followings of all sizes to be recognised for their hard work and dedication over the year by a group of industry professionals. It's an honour to be a part of something that is still so new and yet is making huge waves in the industry. Last year I entered for the first time and saw huge success as I was shortlisted and awarded a Highly Commended for the Travel section - just six months after transforming Absolutely Lucy into a travel blog. In true backpacker style, I was actually travelling Asia when the winners were announced and never had the opportunity to collect my award which is still in London at a friend's waiting to be collected! But I was overwhelmed with the fact that I had been chosen, it felt amazing and actually came at a time when I was losing my enthusiasm for blogging, to say it reinvigorated me was an understatement.
Now it is that time again, I've entered the Travel section once again and I'm asking each and every one of you guys to vote for me (it only takes two seconds!) so that I can stand a chance against the incredible bloggers also listed. There's some serious talent and some bloggers I really admire listed alongside me and although yes, I would obviously love to win, it's amazing to even be considered amongst these other bloggers. Last year there were around 5,000 entries and I made the shortlist - how on earth that happened I will never know, but I'm hoping some of that luck and some of those amazing votes will happen again this year and will start my year off amazingly! If you have spent the last year enjoying, reading and sharing my posts, if you've been wanderlustin' over my travel pics and if you've been inspired to travel the world yourself - it would mean the world if you would take two seconds to cast a quick vote for me. Click the link below to head to the webpage and cast your vote - make sure you select the TRAVEL section - and thanks so much for your support!
VOTE FOR ME
Wow, I can't believe 2015 is finally at an end. It's been a hell of a year and I still can't quite believe I didn't dream some of it. It's safe to say, this has been the best year of my life yet and I am happier than I've ever been before - if you knew how I was feeling at the end of last year you'd realise what an incredible change a year has had on my life. I ended 2014 with my life totally up in the air, I'd just quit a good, steady job, I'd put all my money into a plane ticket to the other side of the world, and I'd just broken off a nine year relationship. Pretty dramatic eh? So although I was beyond excited about my plans for travelling across Asia, Australia and New Zealand, I was also questioning whether I had made the right decision, whether I could really do this. Whether I could do this all by myself. I had a bit of a wobble in the airport over a glass of wine when I read all the amazing messages of support from friends and family, but then I realised it didn't even matter if it all went tits up - I had the best people at home to pick up the pieces. Knowing that gave me all the strength I needed to realise it would all be fine and I was going to have an incredible adventure. So that was exactly what I did. In just five days it will be a year since I boarded that plane and set out on the trip of a lifetime, which should have been ending in just a few days but instead is still going strong with no real end in sight.
In the last 12 months I've been through so much - I've met the most incredible people and seen the most beautiful things, I've stayed up all night to watch the sunrise in the most amazing places, I've faced my own mortality and I've realised so much about myself and what I want out of life. It sounds cheesy, but getting away from life as I knew it has really taught me a lot about the way I want to live my life and it definitely doesn't fit into any boxes society has carved out for me. The last 12 months has been about breaking all the rules, setting new ones and living the dream. Looking back, all the pain leading up to my decision to travel was more than worth it now because it led me to this part of my life and I wouldn't trade this for the world. I've never felt freer and being trapped at home while I raised the cash to come and do this was totally worth it because I have appreciated every second since then all the more. I feel so incredibly proud of myself for doing this all alone - it's the first time I've done anything truly independent of friends, family and a boyfriend so that is a huge achievement and it has been the biggest boost to my confidence. I know now that if I can survive a year of travelling solo and not only smash it, but have the most incredible time, then I can do anything!
I've done so many amazing things in the last year; from racing round Bangkok in tuk tuks to trekking through jungle to waterfalls, I've volunteered with elephants and gone hill tribe trekking in Northern Thailand, I've partied insanely hard down on the Thai islands and eaten copious amounts of curry and pad Thai. I've swam through caves and kayaked out on a lake in the centre of a 180 million year old rainforest at sunrise, I've hiked up to a temple to watch the sun rise over Phuket, I've bartered at markets and lived my days in tie-dye, I've clung to my friend as we raced around on motorbikes and persuaded friends not to ride elephants. I've spent two days on a slow boat to Laos singing annoying songs, I've swam through waterfalls pretending to be a mermaid, I've gone bowling in weird places in Laos and been tubing with a load of nut cases as we drank our way down the river bars and created chaos. I've fallen in love with Vietnam from the history to the food, I've been on cycling tours, visited waterfalls, worked out on the beach, explored markets, had clothes made for me, abseiled down waterfalls and jumped off cliffs.I've seen the beauty in rural Cambodia and the genuine kindness of the locals, I've been healed by yoga, meditation and the beautiful people around me, I've been pampered and massaged by experts, I've learnt all about a history I never knew happened and I've watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat. I've celebrated my 25th birthday surrounded by friends old and new in a brand new country, I've realised what Australia has to offer, I've seen cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Darwin and I've travelled for two months with another person. I've seen what the East Coast has to offer; I've 4WD around Fraser Island, I've swam with sea turtles on Whitsundays and been white water rafting, I've kayaked with dolphins, surfed in Byron Bay and been whale spotting, I've cuddled a koala and fed a kangaroo. I've found the best travelling family a girl could ever ask for and spent three months partying and raving my heart out with the best friends you could find. I've experienced the outback in Darwin and seen the Northern Territory. I've travelled solo across the country to live in the bush and work alone for three months.
Don't get me wrong, it hasn't all be amazing - there have been rough bits too. But as one of my best friends always says, "you take the rough with the smooth". There have been times I've been scared and felt horribly alone, when it's all gone wrong and I didn't know what to do. I've been robbed by taxi drivers and had to punch my way out of an argument, I've had to look after more than one friend after they were attacked in the most unlikely places, I've had to look after another friend when all of her money was stolen out of her bank account by someone we thought we could trust, and I've faced my own mortality three times. It's not all smiles and sunlight when you travel and in particular those three serious crashes left me pretty shaken up. Until that point I think I always thought in the back of my mind that everything would be okay and that I was invincible but suddenly I realised that it could all come to an end quicker than you can say bye. But all of these experiences have taught me quite how important it is to live every second like it's your last. I always have done anyway, but now it seems even more important than ever. I've realised that even when you're thousands of miles away from your friends and family that there are people, good friends you meet along the way, who will come drop everything and come running to save you. And most importantly, I've learnt how to save myself and not rely on anyone else to do it for me.
2015 has been a year of growth, a year of triumph and success. I've never been prouder of myself for all I've achieved, and I've never been more excited about what the future holds. I've already changed my plans countless times and instead of heading home in a few days like I was supposed to, I'm staying in Australia to keep living the dream. I've already made travel plans for the following 18 months and I can't wait to start living them. Instead of being the end of an incredible year and the beginning of reality kicking in, I've made this my reality and it feels like just the beginning of another incredible adventure. It might be egocentric but I don't really care, this last year has shown me how amazing, strong and brave I am and it seems only right that someone who possesses these qualities would want to take on the world - so I shall. Thank you all for being with me every step of the way and I hope you'll be sticking around for the long haul as we've got a long way left to go!