Since I was a little girl I was always captivated by the idea of riding in a hot air balloon high above some beautiful country – gazing down across animals grazing on the Serengeti, or the strange buildings of Cappadocia. It always seemed such a magical way to experience a country, to feel the hush that breathes over the land at sunset or sunrise as you cruise across the sky. It was a bucket list item and one I planned to tick off one day, but never did I dream I would be doing it when I booked my trip to Sri Lanka. Planning the trip, I was keen to get a little surprise in there for the boyfriend to celebrate his birthday which had been the month before. So busy working all the time, we hadn't had the opportunity for a big celebration so I wanted to really spoil him by sharing an experience we wouldn't forget in a hurry. I've never been the kind of person who cares that much for physical presents, what I really love is sharing an amazing experience with someone I love and seeing their face light up with excitement.Sri Lanka Ballooning invited us along to try out their epic sunrise ballooning experiences and we jumped at the opportunity to see both Sri Lanka's incredible landscape and the Cultural Triangle from a unique viewpoint. Central Sri Lanka is made up on a beautiful combination of wild jungle, misty mountains and huge lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. It's a spectacular sight from the ground but an almost ethereal sight from the air and one that is sure to take your breath away as you gaze down on elephants roaming freely, birds soaring over the jungle and monkeys swinging from the trees. Despite the early hour, the locals come running out of their homes when they hear the rush of the gas to cheer and wave as you glide effortlessly over the trees waiting for the sun to creep over the horizon.We were picked up before the dawn chorus had even begun and made our way by minibus to a nearby field where a group of shadowy figures were already hard at work preparing the balloon for take-off. Excitedly, the group of around 16 people were abuzz as they waited to board the craft. Found in Dambulla, the company are based in the middle of the Cultural Triangle and are surrounded by some of Sri Lanka's oldest and most treasured sights including ancient towns and several UNESCO World Heritage Sights. This cultural centre is a real highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka – I'll be posting in full about the best ways to experience the area – and how better to experience it than from a completely different perspective? Operating for over a decade, Sri Lanka Ballooning is owned by chief pilot Justin Patrick Moore, an Englishman who I was keen to meet after reading about his amazing experience of flying hot air balloons around the world for over 30 years – think everywhere from the North Pole to Australia. He has led an amazing life and after falling in love with Sri Lanka, he made it his second home and set up the company which allows him to live his dream life and fly daily over the incredible landscape. With each day starting by witnessing the sunrise over the mountains and champagne at the end of each flight – who can blame him? Interestingly, the company has been a real trailblazer for Sri Lanka – being the first hot air balloon company to host a wedding and a skydive mid-flight, featuring on TV several times and offering some very memorable surprises for birthdays and engagements.I can't recommend the experience enough, it was without a doubt the most memorable part of our already incredible month in Sri Lanka. We were both completely taken aback by the beauty of the country that had already inspired us daily, but this was a moment I really fell in love with Sri Lanka. As a couple, we're already lucky to have had some truly amazing experiences together, but this is one that will remain the most romantic and special yet. We both touched down on the ground and instantly wanted to be back up in the air again, it may have been our first hot air balloon ride, but it certainly won't be our last. A huge thank you to Sri Lanka Ballooning and their amazing team for giving us such an unforgettable morning.
Have you been in a hot air balloon – what was your experience like? Have you always dreamed of going in a hot air balloon – where would you like to experience this?
Last year was a busy one – a lot of travel, a lot of living and a lot of changes. It was an amazing year full of highs and lows, but in the midst of that it was hard to feel settled and to live my best life. I finished the year pretty exhausted from the constant movement, ill as all my adventures caught up with me, and eager to make some big changes for the year ahead. Now don't worry, it may be January but this isn't one of those "New Year, New Me" posts – instead of some health kick, I'm focusing on making some big lifestyle changes that will hopefully bring me happiness in 2018. I'm looking at the long-term rather than some quick fix. What's prompted all this? Well I've been travelling for over three years now and in that time I've done and seen a lot, but now I'm craving some stability and a different way of travelling, and of living my life. So what changes am I making this year?
Now I don't believe in diets, but I do believe in lifestyle changes and improving diet. I am focusing more on what I put in my body and some of the ways I can really feel my best. I remember when I felt healthiest and happiest during the year and it was when I was road tripping Western Australia and was eating purely vegan/vegetarian for months on end. I had endless energy and as soon as I stopped that diet I was exhausted all the time. I'm already eating vegetarian most of the time, but I've been incorporating more vegan food into my diet and it's making me feel great. I'm excited to move into my own place into a few months and then there will be nothing but vegetarian food in my cupboards. I don't do this because I don't like meat – my choice is based on the fact that I feel better when I don't eat meat, and the fact that I just don't think a meat-heavy diet is sustainable without damaging the environment. Likewise, I haven't forbidden myself from eating meat if I do want to, I don't think diet should be about restriction – more about introducing more things that are better for you like my mostly vegetarian diet.
I've already cut out as much dairy as possible from my diet – choosing soy, rice or coconut products instead which has helped my eczema-prone skin no end. I absolutely love the Alpro with Coconut instead of yoghurt, and always switch regular milk for Rice Milk as it's far more sustainable than Almond Milk. My favourite post-gym breakfast at the moment is Lizi's Granola mixed with Alpro and lots of fresh blueberries and raspberries, the granola is absolutely delicious and packed full of protein, fibre and all the goodness you need post-workout, plus its low sugar. Fancy a snack? I'm the worst for picking up the wrong things to snack on, so Soul Food Collective sent me some of what they think I should be filling up on and I'm more than impressed. This entirely fair trade, delicious, natural and organic range is just what you need to keep you going during the day, and oh my goodness they are the perfect snack. My favourites are the Amarena cherries and raspberries coated in dark chocolate and I always make sure I have a packet in my bag to stop me from snacking on the wrong foods. When it comes to dinners, I actually prefer using tofu and Quorn as meat replacements, the more I have eaten them the more my tastebuds have changed and I enjoy the texture of meat less.
I'm so happy to be back in a gym. I signed up as soon as I arrived back in the UK and I'm there most days now to attend classes or hit the gym. After travelling constantly for three months and indulging over Christmas, it feels really nice to be back in a routine and to challenge my body, to feel the aches that means you've pushed yourself further. I have always been a bit of a gym bunny when I get going but travelling makes it hard to keep up a routine when you're never in one place long enough. I love yoga, pilates and running, but I miss the weights, the machines and the challenges of classes when I'm on the road. I don't consider myself out of shape at the moment – my focus is more on getting stronger and building my energy levels. Also, adapting to British weather, I need all the help I can get in staying warm!
I'm focusing on trying to be active every day but in different ways. A couple of days a week I'm attending classes such as body combat (my fave!), yoga, or zumba depending on what my body is craving. On the other days, I'll either head to the gym and do my own HIIT workout or have a weights session. One thing I can tell from this is that I love variety and I get bored if I do the same thing every day, so on the days where I just don't fancy the gym, I like to get outside and either run or do huge walks on the beach or in the woods – perfect for when you need to blow away the cobwebs. Looking for new workout ideas? Why not try your hand at winter sports such as indoor skiing?
Encouraging yourself to get active in January is a lot of work, so it's important to invest in yourself and to get some nice workout clothes that you are excited to put on even when it's cold outside and you want to stay in bed. I have the comfiest workout leggings and sports bra from Australian brand Cotton On Body and they are genuinely the best workout clothes I have ever had plus very budget friendly. I'm lucky to have a sister who works as a personal trainer so I'm always getting her cast-offs when it comes to exercise gear and she recently sent me two (almost new) sets of trainers! It's definitely helped me to get in the right mindset for working out and working hard! This gorgeous sports bag from Hunkemoller Doutzen Sports range has helped the most, I was in need of a new gym bag and this one is fantastic – it's huge and has plenty of space to fit all my workout clothes, shoes and even swimming gear in. Plus the cute floral design helps make it feel really feminine and pretty, just what I need after a sweaty gym session. I'll also be using it as a weekend bag from time to time as it's the perfect size for taking away with me.
As someone who spent much of Christmas/New Year feeling very poorly with the flu, and who spent much of their month in Sri Lanka with food poisoning, it's been a rough time for my body. I've spent a lot of the year working too hard, working long hours, partying too much and not giving myself time to heal. I've been the sickest I've been in a long time and yet I haven't stopped or taken time out, it's a problem when you live a lifestyle like mine. I'm not very good at stepping back and looking after myself, but since being home I am focusing on my health so much more. I'm making sure I exercise daily, that I eat as healthy as possible, that I'm sleeping for long enough and deeply enough. And I feel so much better for it. When I had the flu recently, instead of pushing myself to get out of bed and make myself worse, I wallowed and I allowed myself time to get better. It was frustrating and went against all of my instincts but it worked and I feel so much better now. I'm also making decisions to adjust my diet and lifestyle based on information that has surfaced during a long course of treatment for an ongoing skin condition that is finally being taken seriously. After it being brushed aside all my life by doctors and myself, 2018 is the year of healing.
This can come in so many forms and all of the above can also be included. But in this case I want to focus on how I am putting less pressure on myself, how I am changing my habits and giving myself space to breathe. I'm taking more time for myself lately, more time to do the things that make me feel good like reading a good book, or spending a day in bed watching Disney movies when I'm having a rubbish time. I'm giving myself the time to pamper and treat my body well, to indulge and invest in myself by actually taking the time to appreciate myself. Lately I've really been trying to focus on appreciating the people around me, telling them what they mean to me and making the effort to get in contact with friends I haven't spoken to for a while. Caring for my support network is in turn caring for myself – you get out of it what you put in. Most importantly, I'm making plans for the future, that for the first time in a long time actually revolve around staying put and settling for a while. Last year was one for moving constantly and pushing myself, this year I want to focus on what makes me really happy and that is being closer to friends and family, having more of a base that can become my home, exploring different ways of fulfilling my travel needs and letting my relationship grow.
I'm a self-confessed workaholic. When I have a job, it tends to take over everything and even during the times when I don't and I'm travelling, I end up giving all my time to this blog like when I spent ages redesigning the whole thing from scratch while I was in Australia. For so long I've been taking jobs for convenience and money due to travelling, rather than focusing on my skills, interest and qualifications. Now my brain hurts from lack of use and I'm craving the chance of having job where I finally get to use all three – I'm in the process of applying for jobs and for the first time in a long time I'm focusing on quality. This year is the year where I develop my skills and really use my brain instead of running myself into the ground for a job I don't believe in.
What changes are you making this year? Are you focusing more on your health, your relationships or your career?
Ever since I started my own adventure in Australia travel, I've become passionate about sharing advice for others to do the same. I don't know a single traveler who has paid a visit to the Southern Hemisphere and who hasn't fallen in love with the climate, the culture, the incredible landscape and the people. Australia has a certain charm I haven't yet found elsewhere, perhaps it's something to do with all that vitamin D! Whatever it is, it sparks something, from the backpackers heading over for their working holiday visa, to the families or retirees eager to see the famous sights, to the ones who drop everything and decide to emigrate.
But planning a trip to Australia can be pretty intimidating with the sheer enormity of the country and so many activities and things to see. Where would you even begin? Well take it from someone who spent two years over there and still didn't have time to see everything she wanted – if you try to take on the whole country you're probably going to lose. However, if you're smart about planning your trip – you will get to see the side of Australia that will stay with you long after the plane hits the tarmac at home.
No matter what trip you are planning – there are always ways to cut corners, to save money and to ensure you really make the most of your time in the country. Here is my ultimate Australia travel guide with all my best tips for saving money and time along the way!
This is key to your whole trip because Australia is a big place and you need to make sure you plan effectively to make the most of your time. You also have to consider the flight time which takes up two days at either end of your trip.
TWO WEEKS: If you can't get much time away from work and only have two weeks to see the country then you should focus on the East Coast. Fly into Sydney and see the sights, then take two weeks to explore the delights of the Great Barrier Reef and the beaches of places like Byron Bay and the Whitsundays. Two weeks is a bit rushed but if you choose carefully where you want to stop along the way, you'll have a great trip.
THREE WEEKS: Three to four weeks gives you ample time to really savour the East Coast, you could fly into Cairns and start by working your way down the coast, then hit Sydney. After a few days soaking up the sights, you could continue and drive to Melbourne taking in the Great Ocean Road along the way. It's a fantastic road trip and a great way to see half of Australia in just a few weeks.
FOUR WEEKS: You could take the above trip and spend more time exploring the East Coast and doing all the incredible activities available. Or, if you fancy going a little more outback, you could road trip the West Coast from Perth to Darwin. It's a little more wild, rugged and less touristy. Think epic campsites and experiences like swimming with whale sharks.
LONGER: You are living the dream, hopefully you have a budget to match! The world is your oyster if you have a longer time frame to play with, you could even buy a camper van and end up road tripping the whole way around the outside of Australia or driving through the centre. Get creative and explore at your own pace.
Australia travel is expensive, there's no denying that and your budget will have a huge impact on the kind of trip you take. But it doesn't mean going with a smaller budget will ruin your trip – it just means getting creative with the way you travel.
BACKPACKERS: I have lots of posts on budgeting as a backpacker see here, here and here. But my best advice to you, is either go on a shorter trip and then make the most of budget hostels, free food available at these, and the great deals when you book a bulk trip. I booked my whole East Coast trip a a package and it took ALL the pressure of planning, I could just relax and enjoy, plus I saved almost $1000 and was gifted some freebies such as meals and even a boat trip for booking as a package. Or, another option is get the working holiday visa and go for a year – stop and work along the way, Australia doesn't seem so expensive if you're earning $$$.
MID-RANGE: If you've saved up a fair bit but want to be smart with your money and cut corners where possible, this one is for you. Look for budget accommodation options - you can get private rooms in hostels, couch surfing or house-sitting websites can be great ways to save. Know that Sydney, Melbourne and the East Coast are expensive, want to save money? Then avoid them – you don't have to go there to really experience Australia, you could go outback and hire a camper (or a car and then camp) as an initial expense, then save by cooking all your own meals and not paying for accommodation. Plus, if you head out into nature and make the most of the national parks instead of expensive organised trips, you save a hell of a lot of money.
LUXURY: If you've been waiting a long time for this trip and have a big budget to work with, you really do have an amazing time ahead of you. I would recommend experiences such as swimming with whale sharks on the West Coast, plus trips to Whitsundays, Fraser Island and Great Barrier Reef on the East Coast. Hiring a car/camper is a great way to experience the country – you really haven't ever enjoyed driving as much as you will enjoy cruising along the big open roads of Australia. You could even do the big one and head to Sydney for New Years (expensive but once in lifetime) and then recover in the quirky cafes of Melbourne. Plus why not head to South Australia and enjoy the wineries and amazing restaurants along the tasting trails near Adelaide and Margaret River? If you can afford to fly between every destination then you could squeeze a lot more into your trip.
For anyone craving adventure, look no further than the East Coast to get your pulse racing. From white water rafting, to diving, bungee jumping and skydiving, there is something to excite all crazy souls. You can even be stranded on a desert island and stage your own version of Castaway!
You wouldn't necessarily think of Australia as a place for foodies, but it's more than just barbecues! Head down to Tasmania or South Australia for endless wineries and tasting trails to explore and try all of the amazing local produce and see Australia travel take on a whole new meaning. From local honey, cheese and chocolate, to seafood, wines and ciders – you're in for a treat!
You're definitely in the right country, it just depends if you're craving the famous beaches and tanning your bod on the likes of Bondi Beach and Byron Bay over on the East Coast. Or do you prefer having endless stretches of beach to yourself, of not seeing a soul for days on end, camping on the beach and swimming in the ocean at dawn? For the latter, head West for a totally different Australia travel experience.
Australia is packed full of incredible nature and national parks and depending on how long you have, you can easily explore several. If you fancy fresh forests leading to amazing ocean views – head to Victoria and check out The Grampians, Great Ocean Road, Wilson's Promontory National Park and Philip Island. Head up to Queensland for the tropics and some amazing jungle/forest. Fancy something a bit more wild? You should hit up the West Coast for a vast collection of national parks from deep, red dusty gorges and canyons, to hidden pools in the mountains and endless coastline. Or, head up to the Northern Territory for my favourites - these are wild and untouched, dangerous and outstandingly beautiful, don't miss Kakadu, Litchfield, the world-famous Uluru, Nitmiluk and many more.
For most of the sights, you'll be heading to Sydney for the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, Bondi Beach. Then cruise on up the East Coast for the likes of Whitsundays, Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island. You'll want to go central for Uluru and then head down to Victoria for a peek at the 12 Apostles.
Wow, this post turned into a bit of an epic but I had a lot of information to share with you all! For anyone who is planning a trip to Australia, or has just been inspired to do so, you're in for a hell of a time. But don't let anything stand in the way of your perfect trip, spend plenty of time planning and you'll really make the most out of every second and every penny. Want information about a specific place/trip in Australia? Search the name in the search panel to the right of this post and you'll find any information I have about it. And if you aren't planning a trip just yet, take a look at the amazing Australia holidays sale here – I can't stop eyeing up these amazing trips and would give anything to be in Australia's sunshine again.
Have you been to Australia - what was your highlight? Lusting over Australia - where would you like to go? Planning a backpacking trip, what inspired you?
When you think of Indonesia, as a travel destination, most people think of Bali, to the point that few travellers venture out of the Bali, Lombok and Gili Islands region - yet there’s so much more to squeeze out of Indonesia.
Today, we’re going to look at the city of Jakarta, which is the capital of Indonesia, known for its incredibly good-natured and positive people all bursting with optimism as the capital city industriously develops.
The chances are, if you’re heading to Jakarta, you’re probably not going there because it’s on your travel bucket list; it’s probably because you have a connecting flight or perhaps a work engagement. Indeed, many tourists treat Jakarta as an entry and exit point into Indonesia, passing on the treats the city has to offer - but if you can spare 48 hours to explore this quirky city you’ll find that it may be crowded, loud, and busy - but it definitely isn’t boring!
If, on the other hand, you’re planning to stay in Jakarta long-term, then the first thing you’re going to want to do is find an apartment to live in, which can be difficult given the language barrier; this is where sites like https://rumahdijual.com/jakarta-selatan/ can come in handy, as you can use Google Translate to translate the page and see exactly what you’re getting - which is way more convenient than traipsing around real estate agents.
Similar to Kuala Lumpur, shopping in Jakarta is a huge pastime, with several prestigious malls and street markets alike. If you head down to the district of Menteng, you’ll find a famous flea market which has a range of goods from arts, crafts, textiles and food; just bring comfortable shoes as the market is over half a kilometre long. If you’re looking for a more fancy mall experience you might want to head to https://www.forbes.com/sites/bishopjordan/2017/01/09/top-shopping-malls-jakarta/#741a7fb410c6 for more insight.
The Thousand Islands are considered part of greater Jakarta, meaning, if you’re looking for some beach time in order to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city - you don’t have to venture too far from Jakarta to find natural beauty, peace and serenity.
Just a few hours outside the city centre you’ll find beautiful beaches, covers and inlets that are a million miles away from the chaos and congestion of Jakarta. The best way to explore the islands is to take a boat tour that allows you to island hop.
This tower is the most famous monument in Jakarta that symbolises the independence of Indonesia, declared in 1945, after years of Dutch colonial rule. The tower is located in Merdeka Square, which translated, means ‘freedom’. Head to the observation deck at the top of the tower on a clear day to get tremendous views across the whole city.
Indonesia is made up of over 17,000 islands and is split into 26 provinces. Therefore, it’s unlikely you’ll even scratch the surface of this immense country on a trip here, but for an overview of the highlights head to Taman Mini Indonesia Indah or Beautiful Mini Indonesia.
This park is arranged according to province where you’ll find models of traditional homes and learn about the local traditions, costumes, and diverse ways of life across the country. This is a great place to come with children and offers an interesting way to get your bearings and understand the geography of this vast country.
Ragunan Zoo is a place you’ll find over 3,600 species spread out over 185 hectares of land. You can find Komodo Dragons and Orangutans from Indonesia along with a variety of species from other parts of the world. The zoo is also home to an array of indigenous flowers and plants. The zoo is closed every Monday, and the top tip is to wear plenty of insect repellent when visiting.
The beach within Jakarta is called Ancol Beach, which consists of a strip of golden sand that is technically free to walk on - but requires payment to enjoy facilities such as sun loungers; there are also a number of swimming pools along the shore as well as other attractions including SeaWorld and a waterpark.
This is another great choice if you’re travelling with children.
Dunia Fantasi is Jakarta’s version of Disneyland and fans of Disneyland may find many parts of it surprisingly familiar. Whilst it doesn’t really compare to the likes of Universal Orlando, it’s well worth a visit. There’s a Main Street, as well as a Puppet Castle, and you will find a variety of rides including the Niagara Flume (great to cool down on a hot day).
This textile museum is one of the less visited museums in Jakarta, however, it is well worth the trip if you are interested in fashion or textiles as you’ll get the chance to learn more about traditional Indonesian weaving and fabric painting techniques.
The museum has just over 2,000 pieces on show including some famous Indonesian batik items. There are also a range of antique looms displayed as well as a very pretty garden which hosts plants used to make dyes for the fabrics. One thing to check out, are the taster classes where you can learn how to make Batik art work.
Found in Taman Sari is the area of Glodok which is essentially Jakarta’s Chinatown.
It is the largest Chinatown in the country and one of the biggest in the world; having started out in the Dutch Colonial Period. Today, it’s a range of temples, markets, and shops where you can stroll around and admire the traditional Chinese architecture. It also has a famous electronics centre which is one of the largest in Jakarta. The other thing to look out for are the traditional medicine shops, that have a range of weird and wonderful remedies.
Atlantis Water Adventure is a vast water park complex that’s perfect for cooling off on a hot day. The park has eight areas and you will find a large wave pool in addition to a variety of fun slides and pools for various age groups. This is a great family activity that offers a more fun and relaxing side of Jakarta away from the hustle and bustle of the city center.
I'm really excited to be sharing this post with you guys today, because not only was it a real highlight of my Sri Lanka trip, but it was also what sparked the inspiration behind the trip. Although Sri Lanka has always been a place that really ignited my imagination, it had slipped to the back of my mind and wasn't really on my list of priorities. But when an email from the team behind Diyabubula Hideaway dropped into my inbox, suddenly Sri Lanka shot pretty quickly to the top of my must-travel list. Talking about the creative atmosphere, the beautiful and historical location, the nearby national parks where hundreds of elephants gather – read more about this here – my imagination was captured and I couldn't stop talking about it. My boyfriend was curious and eager for our holiday not to end, so he decided that we were going to Sri Lanka after we left Australia, my dreams were becoming a reality and we couldn't wait to explore this whole new world. Diyabubula Hideaway was the perfect place to celebrate the halfway point of our month in this amazing country and we couldn't have been more grateful for a chance to spend a few days in this wonderful, natural, creative space.Normally I would write quite in-depth about the property, but to be honest, I think the pictures speak for themselves. The place was absolutely beautiful from the second you walked through the gates, lush green vegetation adorning every building and inviting you to breathe in the fresh air and the sights and sounds. It was magical, with every luxury you can imagine, plus the freedom and the independence to explore at your own pace with a team who would work around your plans to provide you with the finest food and service. We stayed in an overwater villa which was absolutely stunning and reminiscent of the treehouse experience I had dreamt of when I knew I was coming to Sri Lanka.The rooms were peaceful and luxurious with a huge bathroom and walk-in closet, an enormous bed overlooking the balcony where we would watch monkeys play. We were quite lucky to experience all weathers when we were there - both glorious sunshine and one evening a torrential rainstorm which was quite magical to watch through the windows, and to fall asleep to the sound of raindrops drumming on the roof. The room also came with a small kitchen with basic amenities and a lounge area downstairs.Found in central Sri Lanka, in a town called Dambulla at the edge of the Cultural Triangle, the accommodation is the creation of renowned Sri Lankan artist Laki Senanayake who designed the place as a hideaway to compliment his water garden. With just five villas available at this luxury lodge, it defines "boutique luxury" and offers each guest the finest pace to escape from the busy cities and to explore the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.With some of the country's oldest temples, ancient cities and astounding national parks right on your doorstep, there is so much to do in the local area and the helpful, and attentive staff can organise transport and guides for you. If you're less interested in the area and more in a creative escape, you're in the right place as artist Laki actually lives at the property in his own minimalist space. Each evening guests are invited to join him at his place for an amazing light and music show he has created himself, and to spend the night in discussion with the artist himself.I was so disappointed to find out Laki was away travelling at the time of our visit as I would have loved to have met him and to have heard more about his vision. But we still had the pleasure of exploring his quarters and enjoying the amazing sculptures dotted around the property, plus his amazing light show each evening. If you're a creative type yourself, this could be the perfect opportunity to indulge in creating your own art as I've heard Laki loves his visitors to try their hand at creating during their visit.Overall, an absolutely amazing stay that treated us to the ultimate luxury at this beautiful boutique lodge, and some well-needed peace and tranquility. After weeks of travelling non-stop and throwing ourselves into all of the activities, it was lovely to take some time to just relax and to have somewhere so peaceful and beautiful to do it. A huge thanks to all of the amazing staff who were so welcoming and who really made our stay at Diyabubula Hideaway a pleasure.
The rooms have different rates available – for the water villa we stayed in you can have half board for 200 euros a night or full board for 220 euros per night. (There are not many restaurants nearby and the food at Diyabubula is amazing so I would recommend full board) Or, if you fancy trying the tree house or bamboo grove, you can have half board for 180 euros or 200 euros for full board. All of these prices are for a double rather than a single. I personally think this accommodation is worth every penny and will make your stay in Sri Lanka even more magical. I really cannot recommend this place enough and although I received gifted accommodation in this case, all views remain honest and all my own. Click here for more info and to book.
Would you like to stay at Diyabubula Hideaway? Can you recommend any other accommodation in Sri Lanka? What are your priorities when booking accommodation?
Now that I'm back in Europe, I'm excited to be focusing on a whole new way of travelling for the next year. I won't be revealing all of my plans for the year yet, but I'm planning to be based over this way for at least the next 12 months and during that time I'm so excited to have the opportunity to explore more of Europe's charm. I've loved exploring Asian culture for the last few years, but after spending so long in Australia, I'm craving the heritage and the history of Europe. I'm thinking endless rolling hills, quaint little villages in the shadows of mountains, castles at every turn and crystal clear lakes, from the markets of Germany to the spas of Budapest, the stunning countryside of Eastern Europe and the beautiful rustic villages of Italy. There is so much to explore and I've yet to see so much of it despite my endless travelling since a young age, Europe is vast and offers so many different ways of travelling from those long summer holidays on the beaches to weekend city breaks to month-long escapes on the rails.
Something I've been ever more interested in since my time in Australia is the idea of living on the road. Van life has become hugely popular over recent years and after spending months living out of a car down under and road tripping across Australia – I can understand why. When I first met my boyfriend, he was the proud owner of an awesome van that we had hoped to travel together in, but sadly it wasn't meant to be as it broke down before we could get started, but we finished the trip by car and still had an epic time. Ever since, it's been our dream to have another van together and to have time to explore Europe, among many other places, by road. Now I'm always on the lookout for new road trip ideas that will inspire my next set of travels and Europe is filled with epic road trips that are just waiting to be ticked off your bucket list.
One of my absolute dream road trips, this one was made famous by Top Gear after the boys took on the challenge of driving it and Jeremy Clarkson claimed it was the "best road in the world." This unforgettable journey along The Transfagarasan Highway will take drivers 150km round endless curves and alongside steep drops as they pass over the Fagaras mountains in Transylvania, Romania at more than 2,000 metres. The trip doesn't come without a few risks, many large sections of the road have no barriers protecting those brave enough to take it on from the steep 1,000ft drops. The highway is closed during winter, drivers are advised to check weather forecasts and brakes of the vehicle before taking this one on.
Norway has captured my imagination for a long time and I could scroll through Insta for hours looking at the beautiful fjords and picturing myself there. One for the thrill-seekers, the Trollstigen route in Norway’s Rauma region – also known as Troll's Ladder – features 11 tight hairpin bends, steep drops to get the heart racing and a twisting route that is sure to get your legs shaking. Travelling through the mountains, drivers have endless places to stop and take in the epic views at viewing platforms overlooking the 1,050ft-high Stigfossen waterfall. At just four miles, it's a short one but you want to allow a few hours to make the most of sightseeing stops.
I'm looking forward to exploring more of Germany this year and one road trip that just seems too cute and magical to miss is the 220km stretch from Würzburg to Füssen, travelling along the Romantische Strasse. Passing fairy-tale castles, a Medieval wine village and breathtaking natural wonders as you pass into the foothills of the Alps - this one is definitely one for the photo album. Apparently best during spring, summer and autumn to best enjoy the Alps. For Disney-lovers, there is also the The Alpenstrasse, or Alpine Road, which takes you through meadows, mountains, lakes and straight past the iconic Neuschwanstein Castle which inspired Walt Disney to build Cinderella's castle. This trip takes between three to eight days and also take sin Munich and Salzburg.
Can we just talk about how bloody incredible Iceland is? I can't believe I still haven't been there but every day I'm dreaming up new additions to my perfect trip and the latest is an epic road trip covering the 800miles along Route One. Taking anything between a week and 10 days, this trip will leave drivers speechless as it starts in Reykjavik and takes in an incredible landscape filled with volcanoes, lava fields, waterfalls, hot springs, geysers and even deserts. Plan for July or August and book a 4WD car for the trip.
The perfect place to fall in love, with each other and with the country's stunning landscape – from beautiful coastline to rugged cliffs and driving through the remnants of Greek temples and Roman ruins. Whether you choose the Amalfi Coast of driving through the hills of Sicily, you're in for a treat as you enjoy villages that will feel like you've stepped back in time and views that will leave you speechless. Don't forget to indulge in the local food and lots of gelato. Fancy something different? Try the Great Dolomite Road which takes you up through the mountains for Northern Italy and away from the usual tourist traps.
After seeing so many beautiful photos, I can't resist a look at the fabled Swiss Mountains and there's an amazing alpine road that will take you on the ultimate winding journey through the amazing scenery. The Klausen Pass is where the Klausenrunnen takes place every four-five years and is a spectacular way to see the country. Or, try the Furka Pass, a dangerous winding road that puts drivers to the ultimate test as it passes through the Alps.
If you ask me, this post needs a few more beaches in it so why not check out the Estoril Coast Drive, a beautiful drive that takes travellers all the way from Lisbon to Sintra. Perfect for slow travellers and those on a budget, the trip takes in the vastly underrated coastline of Portugal and give you plenty of opportunity to hit the beaches.
Have you road tripped any of these countries? Where would your dream European road trip take you?
I don't know about you guys, but I like travelling at any time of year and I'm not one to let the winter stand in my way. If you're anything like me, January always gets me thinking about hopping on a plane and jetting off on an adventure. This year I'm spending my first January in the UK in three years, using the time to reminisce about my favourite trips and to plan my next exciting move. Over the years I've spent my summers and winters travelling all over the world, regardless of seasons and unworried by the weather. Some of my favourite trips have been Christmas spent in New York or on the beach in Mauritius, or those winter jaunts around Europe exploring a new city, and road tripping around Australia. My motto has always been "travel smart" because by doing so, you can avoid some of the most common problems associated with winter travel. By preparing and spending some time on your planning, it really can make all the difference to your trip and ensuring you have the best possible time. I've teamed up with Slater & Gordon to talk all about some of the most common issues travellers face during the winter months, and how best to avoid them.
The bane of every traveller's life, but sometimes unavoidable if the weather is just too bad as it was recently with snow storms in New York for some people to make it home. Now if the weather is unsafe, it is totally understandable to cancel flights - but the best thing as a traveller is to be prepared. My best advice, always try and book an early morning flight as your aircraft will usually have arrived the night before and won't be delayed, also, the weather is normally much clearer in the morning and gets worse throughout the day. You may well just miss the worst of any storms and still make it home for dinner. It's always a good idea to have a good travel insurance that will cover any weather-related cancellations in extreme circumstances, and I would recommend just having a little money set aside in case there are any problems. I understand there were a lot of problems with people who couldn't afford to stay longer in New York being stuck there in the airport for a few days - sometimes the airlines will put you up in a hotel or provide some support but it's always helpful to have a bit of cash for emergencies. Remember it is not the fault of the airline, they are trying to keep you safe. Be flexible and work with them, communication is key. Be open to different travel options if your route is just not available.
I have always wanted to go on a skiing or snowboarding holiday, winter sports always look amazing, and while I'm sad I haven't yet had the opportunity they are definitely staying on my bucket list. I have friends who have always been sworn beach bums until they die, until they went on a skiing holiday and now they head for snow over sea every single year and love every second. But what if things don't go to plan? Winter sports are physically very challenging and when you introduce ice and snow to the equation, accidents can happen. It's awful if you are hurt while travelling, after spending so long planning your trip it is the ultimate disappointment to be struck down. I had a similar thing happen to me when I was in a bus crash in Cambodia just days before a long-awaited yoga retreat - I was devastated. The most important thing to do is to ensure you have a good travel insurance that is comprehensive and covers you for all your activities. There is no point getting insurance for a skiing holiday if it doesn't actually cover you for winter sports! Plan ahead and make sure you are covered for all medical treatment - you never realise how important it is until you don't have it.
I love road trips. They are one of my favourite ways to travel - check out my guide to planning the ultimate road trip here. I don't see why you shouldn't be able to indulge in a road trip at any time of year. Canada is fantastic to road trip, or if you want something closer to home why not head to Europe to drive from city to city, or head up to Scandinavia. Absolutely gorgeous, but don't forget to take into account the weather beforehand - all of these come with their own harsh conditions, from icy roads to heavy snowfall and it's best to be prepared to prevent your trip from being ruined. Make sure your vehicle is weatherproof - whether you are taking your own van to camp in, or you're hiring a car - you need to make sure the tyres are appropriate for the conditions. Pack a box with warm clothing, a torch, gloves, jumper cables, a windscreen scraper and lots of de-icer – just in case. Take the roads slow and plan your route according to weather warnings so you can avoid the worst of it. If the weather is too bad, find a hotel or somewhere to sleep for the night and start afresh in the morning when it is safer.
Recently there were huge snow storms in New York and weather warnings to stay inside and to avoid getting caught out in it – when you travel during winter there is always a chance you may face weather like this. The best way to deal with it? Accept it and plan ahead as best you can. You can't fight Mother Nature, so don't let it ruin your trip, just adapt. Plan ahead by keeping an eye on weather alerts for the area, if the weather starts getting worse then make a decision on whether to rearrange your trip (if you have this option) or to go ahead. If you're already there, you need to make sure you restrict your activities to ensure your own safety. If it's snowstorms you face then you need to be sensible and to stay warm, sudden floods can be dangerous - stay inside and follow advice. Icy conditions can be slippery and unpredictable - make sure you have shoes with good grip and that you only go as far as you feel safe - a fall on the ice can leave you in hospital and that's the last thing you want on holiday. Overall message? Be smart, be safe and don't be too stubborn to admit defeat.
How else can you avoid winter travel dangers this season? Have you faced any winter travel nightmares?
One thing I really loved about Sri Lanka was that it wasn’t just beaches and cities, there was a whole other side to the country, a wild, rugged jungle waiting to be explored. With plans to explore not one, but three national parks along the way, I was excited at the thought of staying in the depths of the jungle with wild elephants and leopards hiding just beyond the boundary lines. So I was very excited when Wilpattu Treehouse invited us to come and stay with them for a few nights while we explored Wilpattu National Park up in the north-west of the country. We arrived at Wilpattu after around five hours on the buses travelling from Habarana in the Cultural Triangle and found Wilpattu to be tinier than we had imagined. With just one street heading off the main road, there are limited accommodations aimed specifically at those visiting the park. When planning your trip, you wouldn’t need much time in the area, just one full day for a safari would suffice, with a day set aside before and after for travel times.
This sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938 and lies just 188km away from the capital, Colombo, with Wilpattu Treehouses situated just a minute’s drive from the park entrance. Visitors to the area can take full or half day jeep safaris in the park through several companies, where they can spot the likes of the Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar and mongoose. The park is also fantastic for birdwatching and has an interesting array of flora scattered amongst the dry, dense jungle which couldn’t be more different to that of Yala’s National Park. February to October is considered prime time to visit, however, we visited in late November and had amazing sightings of most animals plus perfectly fine weather. If you are arriving by public bus as we did, ask the bus driver to alert you when you arrive as you could easily miss the tiny town. Jump off the bus and grab a tuk-tuk which should cost no more than 400 rupees to drive you the 7km to the edge of the National Park where the treehouses can be found.
Now I want to take a moment to just point out that out of all the places I review and visit, whether I pay for them myself or are gifted accommodation, it is very rare that I am disappointed. I don’t write fake reviews or compromise my views for free stuff, I pride myself in being completely honest because otherwise what is the point in sharing my views? So when I am left disappointed by a place, I will also share my experiences with you so that you can make an informed decision over whether to visit during your own trip. In this case I was gifted three night's accommodation, but have remained honest in my review.
In the case of Wilpattu Treehouses, I was left a little disappointed by our stay. I had been looking forward to staying there from the beginning of our trip and saw it as a great way to round off our time in the country. However, from the moment we arrived, I could tell it wasn’t to be quite the experience I had anticipated. We arrived at 3pm to find our room was still being cleaned which wasn’t a problem, we relaxed in the lobby with a fresh lime juice until our room became available. We were excited to check out the treehouse as we could see it through the trees and bushes across the yard, it would be overlooking the rice paddy just as I had hoped. After seeing images on Booking.com and the company’s website, I was eager to have a look inside. When we made our way upstairs, on first impression we were delighted with the room which was all wood finished as a treehouse should be. We had a lovely big balcony overlooking the rice paddy, a big comfortable bed to lounge on and a lovely little bathroom with a luxurious looking shower. The website had promised luxury so this is what we were expecting and we were instantly happy with our room, but upon closer inspection we found a few issues.
The hasty cleaning after the previous guests had left late had been less thorough than it should have been, leaving us with a filthy fridge and even mouse droppings on one of the beds! We also noticed that there wasn’t really a view from the balcony as the branches from the trees completely blocked any real sight of the rice paddy. And as the afternoon drew on, the mosquitos became rife but with no mosquito net in the room and gaps by the door, we were both bitten to pieces despite using bug spray and a room repellent. We later realised that the mouse droppings had not been the fault of a stray mouse but of a regular to the room who would run around the beams at the ceiling while we sat in bed. The creature would even scamper across the room leaving droppings in the bedroom and bathroom every time we left as he searched for crumbs. I could find it cute and outdoorsy except we left the room for less than an hour for dinner, and came back to find droppings on the bed and across the floor which we had to clean up.
We also had an issue with several chipmunks and small squirrels who would run across the same beams in the evenings looking for food. We had stayed in many jungle locations by this point and can definitely appreciate the nature, but we know it is not necessary to have issues with animal faeces being found around the room. Later we also had problems with the shower, which despite just the two of us thing showers once a day, started to flood and the water would take a long time to drain. When I mentioned to the staff, I was told to clear the drain myself and if it wasn't fixed someone would be sent to check it in the morning, but no-one ever came. During our three night stay, the rooms were not cleaned once, leaving us to tidy up the animal mess left behind and to deal with a shower that would not drain. Due to the remote location, there are no restaurants around so visitors to the site will be limited to eating meals at the accommodation. These are cooked onsite by the staff and include a mixture of Sri Lankan and western breakfast, and a three course dinner with vegetarian options available. While the food was certainly good enough to survive on, it was also some of the blandest and most uninspiring food I have eaten in Sri Lanka. I was disappointed by how tasteless the meals were after eating some delicious meals since being in the country at much cheaper accommodation.
My real disappointment stemmed from the fact that Wilpattu Treehouses claimed to be luxury accommodation on their website but that the food, service and accommodation was definitely not luxury quality. The staff were lovely, but they do need to work on making their guests feel a little more welcome, and they really should have more knowledge about the bus timetable for those arriving and leaving the area. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my experience of staying in Wilpattu on the very borderline of the national park and I really cannot complain about being so close for our safari. It was a beautiful treehouse and a fantastic location, very convenient for your safari stay and truly magical to return from a day of spotting leopards and wild elephants to still hear them from your balcony. We also really loved the next-door neighbours who were having a family celebration while we were there and it was lovely to hear the music throughout the day. I just found that the disappointment over some of the less desirable features of Wilpattu Treehouses outweighed the positives for me. We stayed in the deluxe triple room, and I felt the £95 a night price (Booking.com) was far too expensive for what I could not consider a luxury stay.
Have you been disappointed by a luxury stay? Or by any accommodation on your travels? Tell me about your worst travel accommodation experience?
Whether you're more of a homebody or you're travelling every opportunity you get, there's something we're all guilty of in the UK and that's not seeing enough of our home turf. The UK has so much to offer in the way of travel and better yet, it's all just waiting to be discovered right on your doorstep. I'm definitely one of these people who has so much left to discover in my own country instead choosing sunnier climes in far off lands, but being back in the UK has really got me excited about making the most of this time before jetting off again. Better still, this time I come with my German boyfriend in tow and while he's travelled all over the world, he had never been to the UK before visiting me. Cue the perfect opportunity for me to discover my home country all over again and enjoy playing tourist and tour guide as I show him around. As soon as I knew he was coming over to visit, I started excitedly planning a trip that would give him the chance to see all the major landmarks as well as squeezing in a visit to some of my favourite places along the way.
I've always loved London - it's a great city to visit and explore - and ever since I was a kid I've spent endless weekends there with my family and friends visiting the sights, going to gigs or theatre shows, and partying it up. But it has been a long time since I visited and actually just played tourist instead of heading there with a packed schedule and no time to just experience London. This trip would be different as all I was planning for us was to experience London and all it's charm in just 48 hours for my boyfriend's first taste of England. Now sadly, the trip wasn't quite what we had hoped for but due to unavoidable circumstances - we were both sick with that horrible flu/cold bug that was going round and the trains back to Norfolk faced huge delays due to a storm. Despite this, we both still had a good time and loved exploring the city - it was a great first visit for boyfriend who got to see all the sights with his own eyes, and for me it was a lovely chance to rediscover the charm of the city.
Of course it wouldn't be a visit to London without riding the tube and ticking off the major sights - pick up and Oyster Card, a day travel card or just use Paypass on your bank card and tap your way around the city. Most of the main sights are centred around the Circle Line and it is pretty easy to navigate if you know where you want to go. There are lots of maps/tourist suggestions for sightseeing tours and you can either do it yourself, join a tour or try one of the hop on/hop off buses. We chose the tube and started with Buckingham Palace, then ticked off Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Kensington Gardens and a few others along the way. We also took the time to stroll along Southbank, Embankment and around Oxford Circus/Carnaby Street and around Camden and a few other areas.
Top tip: Pick your route to see the highlights in their best light - seeing Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament can be lovely at night when they're all lit up, and Soho is a great area for the evenings.
My favourite thing to do when I'm in London – to indulge my foodie side – and while there are endless amazing restaurants to visit, I'm also a street food girl at heart. There's nothing I love more than going to the markets – my favourites are Camden Market and Borough Market – and indulging in delicious, freshly prepared foods, cocktails, smoothies and much more. We visited both markets while in London and gorged ourselves on pasta dishes, burgers, vegan and Caribbean inspired meals and lots of juices and hot mulled cider. Definitely not a good place to start a new year's diet, but if you feel like really treating yourself, it's possible to do it on a budget and pass a morning by browsing the stalls.
Top tip: Go early to Borough Market and beat the crowds, plus get your food at its freshest! Then head to Camden Market later in the day to browse the amazing stalls, pick up some food and then indulge in a cocktail at the bars.
Let's be honest, London is quite the fashion mecca and there is no end of shopping to be done. Whether it is boutiques, high street brands, quick vintage stores or the high end stuff you're after - London has it all. Personally I'm much more interested in the high street shopping around Oxford Circus or the vintage stores which can be found scattered all over the city. I've found my favourite shops around Camden, Shoreditch or Brick Lane areas but there really is something to suit all tastes so it's worth spending some time doing a bit of research before your trip and exploring while you're there to discover the greatest treasure troves.
Top tip: Wear comfortable shoes and have patience - London shopping comes with a lot of walking and a heck of a lot of people, you should be prepared and a bit of pre-planning could really help fill your shopping bag.
One thing we didn't have time for but is always a bit of fun – spend a few hours doing something a bit cheesy and seeing a different side of London. If the weather is a bit rubbish or you're looking for something else to do, why not take a ride on the London Eye, or head to the London Dungeon? It's a bit of fun and great for entertaining kids of all ages - even the ones that never grew up. I remember visiting the London Dungeons with my family when I was a kid and having so much fun, it was brilliant! The best thing is that you can always get discount tickets and money-off vouchers online so don't pay full price - I actually got sent money off vouchers through Booking.com when I booked a hotel for us to stay in.
Top tip: If you don't fancy one of these attractions, why not look on Groupon or other money-saving sights for cheap deals for afternoon tea at one of the fancy hotels, or boat tours along the Thames?
Any excuse for a beer! One of the things I love most about the UK is a good, old English pub. I missed then when I was away – the smell of ale, the heavy, dark wood furniture, the huge beams inside and the roaring fires during the winter months. Pubs are a huge part of English culture that you don't get elsewhere, so there's nothing better than huddling by the fire to warm up with a local ale, a warming red wine or whiskey when you visit. I always try and play a few pub stops into every trip and always like to try different ones - this time we popped into one near Carnaby Street and a few around Camden and Kensington where we were staying.
Top tip: If you have a day free, a good crew of mates and fancy a challenge, why not try a pub crawl? We used to do a great one when I was at university all around the Circle Line with lots of games along the way and a drink at every stop.
This was without a doubt the best activity we did while we were in London – despite both of us being ill and exhausted we both turned into little kids once we climbed on to the ice. I love ice skating and during the winter London has some fabulous rinks in beautiful settings to enjoy. I've seen the one at the Natural History Museum in previous years and always wanted to give it a go, so when I was invited along to try, I couldn't wait to get out on the ice. In the shadow of my favourite museum, the trees surrounding the rink are dotted with fairy lights with a beautiful carousel in the background. Truly magical. Sadly the rink has now closed until October, but there are others in London to check out if you fancy a skate.
Top tip: Although we went in the afternoon, I thought the evening would have been even more magical when the lights were more visible in the trees. Be sure to wrap up warm against the wind.
Whether you love musicals, theatre, comedy or dance – London will have a show to delight and entertain you. Over the years my family have ticked off so many musicals and we always love heading to London for another. We actually went to the city just before Christmas to see the new Aladdin show which was amazing and an absolute dream come true. Previously we've seen the likes of The Lion King, Mamma Mia, The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and many more. There are always new shows opening and we've also seen The Woman in Black which was very spooky and had the audience on the edge of their seats. It's worth getting tickets just to check out some of the beautiful theatres and I highly recommend booking an evening's entertainment.
Top tip: Look online and ask at ticket vendors for last minute seats for discounts, or even visit the theatres just before the shows to see if any tickets are being resold - you might get a bargain! Plus online, you can often find cheap "dinner and a show" tickets.
After travelling all over the world and sometimes paying a small fortune to visit museums and sights in new cities, I can tell you we really are very lucky to not only have such incredible museums in London but that they are all free! So often people hear the word museum and think of something boring but London really takes education and puts a whole new spin on it. Think exciting exhibitions that really ignite your imagination and bring science, history and culture to life. get bored looking at displays? Head to the Science Museum for a truly interactive experience where you can take part in experiments and become a scientist. Like animals and a sucker for David Attenborough? The Natural History Museum is my fave one to visit and is filled with awe-inspiring sights, amazing history of both animals and people and some really cool exhibitions - even ones about dinosaurs! And if you love a bit of culture, fashion and art, the Victoria and Albert Museum is for you - think beautiful, epic and amazing exhibitions that will make you see art in a whole new light.
Top tip: Arrive early to beat the queues and to give yourself plenty of time to explore - it's easy to spend all day in these museums!
I love live music and no matter what your taste, London has a vibrant and exciting music scene just waiting for you to explore. I used to arrange my visits to the city around gigs and have previously seen some epic artists perform life from Fatboy Slim and Basement Jaxx to Major Lazer, various jazz and acoustic performers and even a ska band. There are countless venues all over the city, so it's best to look online for tickets and to find something that you love, but my favourite venue for gigs is definitely Brixton Academy. Elsewhere, I've loved DJ sets at clubs like XOYO and Fabric, and found great random little gigs in bars around Camden.
Top tip: if you find yourself at a loose end one night in London, look online and find tickets to any random gig, I did that and ended up at a ska gig at Dingwalls in Camden - it was an amazing night!
Sometimes it's nice to just have a mooch around some of the cuter little areas, to get some nice photos and to see how some of the locals live. I always really love wandering around Notting Hill, Camden, Shoreditch and Portobello Road Market – grabbing a coffee here, or brunch there, taking in the cute little houses and sights. It's also worth checking out Hampstead, Greenwich and Hoxton for cool areas to explore that offer a bit more of London's unique personality.
Top tip: Make your way from one neighbourhood to the next, coffee in one, brunch in another head to the markets in the next - it's a great way to see what London is all about – diversity.
Whats your favourite thing to do in London? Is there anything else first time visitors should try and squeeze into their trip?
Ireland is a country that has always held my heart. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in Ireland thanks to a boyfriend whose family was Irish, visiting each year for weddings and family events, I quickly fell in love with this beautiful country. I'm not sure what it was that charmed me so much – the people, the culture, or the endless rolling countryside and rugged cliffs that drop down to the ocean. Perhaps it was the beautiful wedding we went to at Waterford Castle and danced all night at, maybe it was the pubs we walked into that were filled with live music and laughter, or perhaps it was the days we spent walking on beautiful southern beaches. All I know is that Ireland charmed me long ago and has forever stayed close to my heart. Read my post on Seven Things I Love About Ireland. Since travelling, I have so many Irish friends that I have met all over the globe, and each one has always welcomed me into their lives with open arms. Now, it's been almost five years since I was last over there and it seems far too long for someone who used to visit twice a year! Now I dream of returning and road tripping the country.
After spending so much time in Australia on the road, I've really discovered the magic of a road trip and the wonder of waking up somewhere new each day. Having the independence to explore at your own pace and to find hidden treasures along the way that you never could have dreamed existed. It's a freedom unlike any other and one that every traveller should experience at least once in their life. For those who don't have the time to dedicate to a huge Australian road trip, why not start smaller and explore a country like Ireland that lies right on your doorstep? Not only is it just an hour's flight from London airports but the actual island is small enough to enjoy in a matter of days whether you try and cover as much as possible, or just focus on the things that drive you to explore.
A new e-book created by Chill Insurance provides the perfect guide to planning your trip, whether you're interested in history, art, music, food or family fun. The guide offers advice on what sights you don't want to miss out on when exploring, which could help you plan the perfect road trip. History buffs will want to ensure they make a stop at Dublin Castle, the Rock of Cashel and, of course, Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone. While arty types might prefer to spend time in Dublin where they'll find the National Gallery of Ireland, the Sphere Within A Sphere sculpture, and just a few hours drive away, the Limerick City Gallery of Art. Family trips can centre around attractions like Dublin Zoo, or head outside and island hop around the beautiful Aran Islands before heading into the darkness of Doolin Cave. There are no end of ways to see the real Ireland, one that will draw you back to visit again and again as it did with me. I did a bit of research to discover some of the best road trip routes to really take in some of Ireland's most beautiful spots and picked out four of the road trips I would absolutely love to do.
For Star Wars lovers, this could be the perfect route for you, taking in the rugged cliffs and moody skies that provided the stunning backdrop for the story of the battle against the Dark Side. Road trippers will travel from from the Southern Peninsulas of Cork and Kerry, past the cliffs of Clare, to Donegal's Northern Headlands taking in otherworldly landscapes along the way. Now you too can follow in the steps of the Jedi taking in magnificent views of the Atlantic.
The true legend of Irish road trips - this stunning route takes in some of the most well-known sights between Belfast and Derry-Londonderry. This is one trip to take your time on with the whole Atlantic coast dotted with sandy beaches, fishing villages, gorse-covered valleys and beautiful clifftop paths. With cute little villages and plenty of pubs along the way, it's the perfect place to pick a few gems to explore each day at your own pace. Give yourself the time to get out of the car and really take in this epic landscape, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of this legendary land.
Flying into Dublin and after a taste of Ireland's unspoilt shores? Imagine untouched beaches, stunning coastline and delicious seafood as you make your way along the east coast down towards Cork. Take a step back in time to one of the most ill-fated voyages to depart these shores by learning about the Titanic, spend your days walking on the endless beaches and be sure to work up an appetite before visiting villages famous for the freshest seafood straight off the boats.
Looking for inspiration for your trip? Well look no further than your favourite TV show and spend a few days exploring Northern Ireland, home to more Seven Kingdom locations than anywhere else in the world. If you're obsessed with Game of Thrones, how better to peel yourself away from the screen than to see the place that inspired some of the most beautiful scenes? Stretching across 330 miles and taking three days, the trip takes in sights including the real-world Westerns, the lush Riverlands which lie side-by-side with the Iron Islands, the Dothraki Sea and Winterfell.
These are just four routes that I would love to road trip, but it doesn't stop there. Depending on what most inspires you to travel – movies, whiskey, walking, food, history – there really is a different trip for everyone. For such a small place, Ireland is a very diverse destination and visitors have the luxury of being able to design a trip that will ignite their passions and their love for the country. You can find more inspiration for planning your perfect road trip here.
What's the best road trip you've done? Have you been to Ireland - what was your favourite place? Can you recommend any places to visit?
Back in the UK now, I'm loving pouring back over photos and memories of my time in Sri Lanka as I write up post after post about my experiences there. I always enjoy reliving every moment so much when I get home, getting to share everything with you guys is incredible because it means I get to experience the joy all over again. But sometimes, there are some memories of a place that make you shudder to recall them, those moments that hurt your heart when you think back to them. This was one of those days, but I must add, the only day I had like this while travelling in what was a truly amazing country. Read my guide here to everything you need to know before you travel to Sri Lanka. But what is important, as a travel blogger, I pride myself on my honesty and giving you guys information that is authentic and genuine so you can plan your own travels, and part of that is telling you about the bad experiences as well as the good ones. So what happened?A late afternoon safari which promised me the sight of 100 elephants, a dream come true for a gal like me who has always loved these beautiful, gentle creatures, turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. We'd been staying in the Cultural Triangle, deep in the centre of Sri Lanka, in a tiny town called Habarana, where I had been drawn to after reading about the amazing history, culture and natural wildlife. Our wonderful host recommended we go on safari to a nearby national park where we were told you could see over 300 elephants at one time - it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn't pass up. During the dry season (July to October) Minneriya Wildlife Sanctuary sees herds of hundreds of elephants gathering for what has been called the 6th greatest wildlife spectacle in the world by Lonely Planet. Arriving in November, we weren't sure if we would be lucky enough to witness such a spectacle but when we came to Habarana we were encouraged to go on the safari where several people claimed we would see at least 100 elephants. So we went, but we were not prepared for what we would see.
The magic and beauty of nature faded as the engines revved, each jeep vying for the best spot.
Driving around the national park was amazing to begin with, we had a great driver who really cared about the animals and could tell us so much about them and their habitat. Different to other national parks we had visited, this one offered vast open plains leading to huge lakes in the distance. As we drove the winding paths in our jeep, we could already see huge herds of elephants dotted across the plains, and our guide stopped so we could watch them from a safe distance. We spent three hours on safari in the park, watching various groups of elephants before they all came together to form one use herd as they made their way over to the lake. An absolutely majestic sight and one I won't forget in a hurry, but sadly for all the wrong reasons.Throughout the afternoon, it had not been a calm experience where we could all peacefully enjoy these creatures from a distance benefitting both us and the animals. Instead there had been countless jeeps racing, overtaking each other and generally terrorising the animals as they competed for the best spot. The groups of eager tourists in many of the other vans were noisy and had little respect for the animals as they cheered and shouted in the back of the jeeps. We even saw several cars which had been allowed to drive the muddy tracks despite not having four wheel drive and posing a danger to both the visitors and the animals. I was glad to see that our driver seemed not to be like the others and was keen to hang back and watch the animals from a distance rather than crowding them like the others.
However, one good driver doesn't make up for the rest.
As everyone was driving over to the lake, the elephants were getting more agitated about protecting one of the babies as they walked through a crowd of jeeps. It wasn't long before one adult became so stressed that she charged the jeeps who didn't seem to understand they should move out of the way! The elephants made it over to the lake and all the jeeps started to drive round to the other side, but then one of the 2WD cars got stuck in the mud, panic ensued as the elephants spotted it and became aggressive. You could see they were terrified and started to charge the vehicle to try and protect the herd - also terrifying for the group in the car. Other jeeps rallied round to protect the jeep while others pulled the vehicle out of the mud, but in the process the jeeps revved engines and blared horns to scare off the elephants. It was a downright disturbing experience, terrifying and stressful for the animals. Absolutely horrible for me to watch and to be a part of as an animal lover, and each second that went by it just got worse.Eventually the car was freed and the elephants were scared away, we told our driver we wanted to leave. We'd seen enough. I was dumbstruck by what had happened. As we drove out of the park our guide told us a bit of background to the park, he told us how these 2WD cars were allowed into the park - understandably the locals had to make a living even if they couldn't afford the right equipment - however this meant that what we had just witnessed was a regular occurrence. Almost on a daily basis these 2WD cars would get stuck and a similar event would happen with the elephants becoming stressed, agitated and frightened by tours. Even worse, our guide told us that within the last few years, one of the jeeps had actually reversed into a baby elephant and killed it which was the reason why the elephants had become so aggressive and nervous around the cars.It was a pretty traumatic experience, and I can't imagine what those poor elephants go through each day. They live in a national park and should be some of the lucky ones being protected from harm, but if you ask me, a lot more needs to be done to protect these animals. After volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, sanctuary founder Lek Chailert always said we all have the power to make a change by raising awareness so by writing this post, I hope it will inform each and every one of you to make a conscious decision to not support this kind of tourism unless you know the animals are being properly protected. I didn't know what to expect before I arrived, but by sharing my experiences I can hopefully help make a change by letting my readers know what happened.
Have you experienced a safari like this? How do you feel about the protection of elephants across Sri Lanka, and Asia? Would you be put off another safari?
My first trip to Sri Lanka has brought with it some very exciting blogging opportunities, and the first of these was a really luxurious treat and welcome to this amazing country. I was invited to be the first blogger to visit and review the beautiful Dickman Resort - an adults only, luxury resort which has been hailed the first gay-friendly accommodation of its kind in the country. I was thrilled to be invited to somewhere so forward thinking and all-accepting, and couldn't wait to see what the visit had in store. In the heart of Negombo, the resort is ideal for anyone just arriving or about to fly out and the staff pride themselves on giving the very best welcome or farewell to Sri Lanka. As we pulled up to the resort we were given the warm Sri Lankan welcome as we were invited inside with fresh passionfruit juice and a tour of the property, before being seen to our room and told to relax and enjoy.Our room, the Purple Suite overlooked the pool area and gave us a lovely view across the courtyard while still being tucked away neatly to give as much privacy as we wanted. Perfect for a travelling couple, the boutique resort is the perfect place to mingle with the staff and other travellers, or to give yourself complete privacy and alone time. Week-to-week the crowd changes - when we arrived it was many individual gay travellers but when we left there were several couples both gay and straight. But Dutch owner Mr Dickman make sure everyone feels welcome, always stopping to chat to everyone who is staying there and to make sure they have everything they need. Travelling with my boyfriend, we couldn't have felt more welcome and it really was the most romantic few days. A perfect place for a couple to holiday together, the rooms are pure luxury and have everything you never even realised you deserved from gorgeous outdoor rain showers to a four poster bed, fresh fruits and background music to set the mood.After more than 48 hours travelling across Malaysia and Indonesia, it was the greatest pleasure to climb into the comfiest four poster bed and finally catch up on sleep. Waking up feeling refreshed, we headed to breakfast where we were greeted with fresh juice and delicious coffee, platters of fruit, omelettes, dhal, sambol and more - their tasty nod to both Western and Sri Lankan breakfast. An absolute feast, the meal was the perfect way to start the day and it was lovely to eat overlooking the beautiful courtyard with chipmunks running up and down the trees and birds calling overhead. A perfect place to spend a few hours reading, writing, or indulging in your favourite holiday pastimes, there are endless hidden corners and comfy spots to find a pew to while away the afternoon.Spend your days relaxing by the pool with amazing staff on hand for everything you need from towels and magazines to fresh watermelon, all of them so friendly and kind. Head to the shaded courtyard to lay in the hammock and read, or make yourself comfortable on one of the colourful couches and while away the afternoons. Just up the street are no end of restaurants, bars and shops if it takes your fancy to go for a wander, or talk to the staff and order in your meals for complete comfort. The staff can arrange for spa staff to pick you up and whisk you away for massages and spa treatments at a moment’s notice and are happy to arrange transport if you wish to visit any sights.
It was a complete pleasure to stay at the Dickman Resort and a perfect way to start our Sri Lankan adventure, if you’re looking for a luxury treat then this is the one for you. Just 30 minutes from the airport, it’s a great way to relax into your trip after a long flight. Start your holiday the right way by booking in for a luxury treat here.
Have you stayed at any gay-friendly resorts around the world? Tell me - what is luxury to you? Have you been to Sri Lanka?