Solo travel is one of the biggest and fastest learning curves you can face in life. No matter how experienced the traveller, you are learning new skills every single day. I've now been travelling for over five years solo across 40+ countries, 5 continents and for over 5 years. Yet still, every day teaches me something new, and that's what I love about it, the constant challenge. Travelling solo for so long, is one of the achievements I am the most proud of in my life. I see every day how I use the skills I learned when I was first starting out, and the huge value it has brought to my life. Far more valuable life skills than I learned while I was at school, that's for sure.
One of my favourite things is getting to share the things I learned through this blog and to help add value to other travellers' lives. Every day I get countless messages asking for advice and solo travel tips. So I wanted to share some of the greatest skills I have learned along the way. But why is solo travel so great? There's something about going it alone that really challenges you in a way you won't have experienced before. As a result, you end up picking up skills you'll value for life.
The most valuable lesson I have learnt since travelling is to trust my instincts. At home we're easily swayed by society, manners and the opinions of others rather than listening to your gut. When travelling solo, your ability to read people and make decisions quickly can be a lifesaver. No more feeling unsafe walking by yourself, or getting ripped off by taxi drivers. By recognising these before they become a problem, you take care of your own personal safety without relying on anyone else. If that's not a skill, I don't know what is.
Read: The dangers of travelling solo as a woman
Travelling solo means it's all about you. You choose the activities, the food, the schedule, the people you hang out with. Making all your own decisions and focusing on only you really helps you learn what you love. If you take an instant dislike to someone in your hostel, you don't have to spend time with them. Want to sleep until noon in your lovely hotel? You can and no-one will complain. If you want to just go to the most Instagrammable locations and skip the museums, that's fine! Realising yours is the only opinion that matters really helps you to value your preferences and your own time. No matter how long the trip, applying this in your daily life becomes a lot easier after a solo trip.
Travelling solo really taught me a level of organisation like no other. It's exhausting and it's hard work when you're the only one who can take responsibility. You're organising flights, visas, transport, insurance, accommodation, activities - the list goes on. Taking control of all this really gives you a sense of ownership of your trip. You organise the way YOU want to travel and make the best decisions for YOU. It's made me much more aware of procrastination so I can stop myself wasting time and get focused. Now I'm productive when I need to be so I can really relax and enjoy when I want to.
Travelling solo really made me realise how little control I have over everything around me. You can't control flight delays, overbooked accommodation, or people waking you up in a hostel. I used to let things like this get to me, but I've now realised it really doesn't matter. I'm more patient with people because humans are frustrating and annoying and I can't change that. If you accept that travel will never go as planned and that's half the adventure, you'll be a lot happier. The more forgiving you are of others, the kinder you become to yourself.
I've written before about how travelling solo gives you confidence - but I'll never get tired of saying it. I'm never more body confident than when I live in a bikini and stop caring what people think. I'm never more confident and self-assured than when I know what I'm capable of in organising an amazing trip. When I know I can stay strong and calm in the face of a crisis. Basically I'm never more confident than when I'm using all of the skills in this list.
If you're travelling long term you'll quickly learn the value of packing smart. You can cram so much more into a front-loading bag and it will save you later on when you need something from the bottom. If you're just travelling short term and only have hand-luggage available, you have to use space effectively. While I've learned the best ways to pack a lot into a small space over the last few years. I also have a more realistic view of what I actually need versus what I want to take. I just pack essentials rather than getting swept up in what I might need but never actually use.
Read: How backpacking makes you more creative with your style on a budget
One of the most valuable things I've learnt from solo travel is the best ways of scoring a bargain. Cutting corners so I can spurge and treat myself when I want to. Instead of dreaming of private jets and luxury villas, I make them a reality by being a smart traveller and finding ways around huge bills. This mindset translates to every part of my life and means I know how to live, and save, on any budget.
Read: 8 ways I ALWAYS manage to save money on my trips
Long distance friendships are hard, there's no doubt about it. It's horrible to miss out on big moments in friends' lives and tough when you miss the people who mean the most to you. But travel and distance are also the best test for friendships. You really have to make the effort and to put the time into making each other feel loved from a distance. You also need to accept that your friends and family can't always drop everything for you. Just like you can't for them, it can be a big adjustment. But you soon learn who your real friends are, and which ones you really want in your life.
Read: Top tips for maintaining relationships at home while travelling
If you're backpacking solo, you'll quickly pick up some strength from carrying your bags everywhere. Living that outdoor life, you'll be fit in a way you've never needed to be before. Backpacking is a physical challenge, but I'm also talking about inner strength. Being able to mentally pick yourself up after a bad day. Picking up all the slack and coping when you feel lonely.
I always thought I was really good at taking care of me. Until I went travelling and realised I have a habit of letting myself reach exhaustion point. I would always try to see everything and do everything, even if it meant I had no time to just sleep. Travelling solo long-term helped me to recognise when I'm exhausted, or when I need to eat and I'm getting grouchy. Or when I just need to get away from people for a bit – I can be a bit of an introvert! You have to put your own needs first because no-one else will.
Read: How to find balance in your life as you get older
Travelling solo, whether for the weekend or for a year, means being alone. That's great if you love your own company, but sometimes we just crave people. You really have to step out of your comfort zone if you want to hang out and make new friends. It's not a big deal to make the first move, to invite someone for a drink or to take photos for other people but it can be super intimidating at first. You may have spent your life being warned that the world is a place to be feared or treated with caution. But travelling solo reverses all of that. It teaches you that a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet.
What has travelling solo taught you? Have you ever been on a solo trip - where did you go? What do you prefer - solo travel or group travel?
It doesn't matter how rubbish I'm feeling, I will always be that girl who walks in the door with her head held high and a smile for everyone. I remember when I've been at the lowest points in my life and I could barely muster up a half-hearted attempt, the effect it had on those around me when they weren't greeted with a beaming smile was huge. We often don't realise the effect we have on other people without even realising, whether it's a kind word here, or a smile for a stranger you pass in the street. That smile, that personal contact could really make the difference for their day and in turn for your own. Back at university, when we were buried in revision for exams and could barely see the light at the end of the tunnel - my housemate told me how she used to make herself fake laugh when she felt pants, eventually fake laughing gets so ridiculous it leaves you in hysterics. So we used to do this to cheer ourselves up when we were getting frustrated with our books – it's such a stupid funny memory but the idea of "fake it until you make it" has really stuck with me. That idea that wallowing does no-one favours and by plastering a smile on your face even when you feel a bit rubbish can actually have a positive effect on your mindset.
Now this attitude is great, but not much good if you don't feel that confident with your smile. Teeth are a very personal thing and I know so many people who hate their smile because of a crooked bite or discolouration. I've always felt very lucky that actually my teeth are probably one of my best features, I've been blessed with pretty straight white teeth. But after years of backpacking, and a more recent love of indulging in coffee, red wine and the occasionally drunk toke on someone's cigarette – I was a bit concerned my teeth were losing their whiteness. It was one of those things I had never thought about before, but then as I started to notice the brightness of my smile had diminished I started to think about getting my teeth professionally cleaned or products to whiten them. I always use whitening toothpaste but to be honest it doesn't seem to do very much on it's own, if you are feeling like your smile could be a bit brighter then perhaps whitening strips would be perfect for you.Whitewash Labs sent me a Nano Whitening kit to try out every night for two weeks and I've just finished the two week programme. So what do I think? Well to be honest, I wasn't sure at first. The first week of using them, I noticed no difference whatsoever, but in the last few days of using them, I've really started to notice a difference. My teeth look really fresh and clean, they don't have any yellowish discolouration and even the slight chip I have on one of my front teeth seems less noticeable than it was before! I was very impressed, not only with the result but also with how easy the strips were to use – nice and simple put the two strips on your upper and lower teeth, leave on for a hour then brush your teeth and remove any gel. You even get a special toothpaste, dental floss and mouthwash designed to enhance the effects of the strips. For £24.95 you get enough strips for two weeks which is plenty and will definitely show a real difference for your teeth, it's great value and something I would definitely do again in future.
Downsides of using the strips? Well I did find myself crazy dribbling the first time I used them – haha a lovely image, but once I was used to them that did go away. I did find I was having some seriously weird dreams about my teeth falling out but thankfully woke up to find that wasn't true. So really the downsides were pretty specific to me being a bit of a weirdo – to be honest I thought the strips were great for an at-home whitening kit with very little mess or fuss. They're easy to pop on in the evening while you're watching your fave programme and if you're on a diet, they're a great way to stop yourself snacking in the evenings as you actually can't eat while you're using them! They're simple and you do see a really great result after just two weeks. I can't really say how much whiter your teeth will get, because mine were pretty white to start with I think I would notice less of a difference and yet my teeth were noticeably whiter. Perhaps if you have even more discolouration you will notice a bigger difference. I would definitely recommend them if you want to improve on what you've got and feel more confident in your smile, but don't want to commit to a procedure. They would be great if you have a special occasion coming up like a wedding and you want to look your best, or if you just feel you want a bit of a top-up.
Like the sound of these? Click to find out more about the Nano Intensive Teeth Whitening Strips, or to order some of your own.
Have you tried the teeth whitening strips - what did you think? Do you love or hate your teeth? Would you try a whitening treatment?
*This post was a gifted review of punting in Cambridge
Is it just me, or do you always seem to miss the epic experiences that are right on your doorstep? I've grown up in Norfolk, nearby Cambridge and have spent many a weekend in the city. Years I've spent shopping in the centre with friends or relaxing at the pubs along the riverbanks. And yet, through all of these years I had never done one of the activities Cambridge is most famous for! Punting in Cambridge is a bit of a rite of passage for the area. Something we all have to tick off our local bucket lists.
If you've ever visited the city, or others like Oxford or York. You'll know that the Cambridge streets are steeped in history. The home of stunning architecture, the famed Cambridge University, winding streets, cute cafes and much more. It's a popular tourist destination for the UK. But even for those living in the countryside around it, Cambridge provides a beautiful hub for us to explore. I've always felt so lucky to have cities like this, and Norwich, right on my doorstep because they have a real charm.
Read: My favourite places to visit during UK summer
For years, I had always wanted to try punting in Cambridge. It's such a fun way to spend a sunny afternoon in the city, but sadly is one of those things I never got round to doing. For those who have never heard of it – punting is when you take a cruise down the river in a flat-bottomed boat. It's reminiscent of Venetian gondolas but with a flat boat instead of the curved style.
The boats are of Medieval design and are suited to floating in shallow water, so perfect for cruising around the city. Many of the Cambridge-based companies say the city is the one place to get the real experience in the UK. Some companies offer a chance to hire the whole boat and guide yourself, others offer rides with a chauffeur to guide the boat while you relax with your friends.
I was very excited when Scholars Punting invited me along to experience Cambridge in all it's glory. Even the temperamental British weather couldn't put me off enjoying a cruise along the river. It was March when we visited Cambridge and went punting – which is a risky time of year as you never know what to expect from the weather. Normally I would recommend trying punting closer to the summer months, from May to September would be ideal as the weather is much better. However, the prices do also increase during this peak season. If you're wrapped up well, it can also be great to try in off-season as you get an entirely different experience. The day we went, it was rather gloomy. It added a rather spooky edge to the sight of Cambridge University and historical buildings towering over the water. Big Harry Potter vibes if you're a fan of the later movies.
We had a fantastic guide, Max, and I really can't recommend him enough. He gave us a fantastic rundown of the history of Cambridge and lots of interesting facts about the buildings. We learned a lot about the different colleges and the prestigious line-up who attended the university. It was the perfect balance of fascinating history, great humour and some pretty entertaining punting anecdotes. Having a chauffeur was perfect as it gave you the chance to sit back and take in the views while snuggled under a blanket.
The tour started at the Quayside, just a 15-20 minute walk from the train station which takes you right through the city centre. It's worth booking ahead in the summer months as the tours get super busy and you wouldn't want to be disappointed if you have travelled far. Even during the colder months the river is still pretty busy, we were surprised at the number of boats out despite the grey day. Luckily the rain held off for long enough for us to enjoy the 45 minute tour which takes you a mile along the river and back again.
Whether you're a local or a first-time visitor to Cambridge, this tour shows you a very different and unique side to the city. Unless you're a student at the colleges, you are unlikely to have seen this side of the city before. The tour takes in a lot of private land that isn't open to the public as part of the college grounds. So you not only get to see the beautiful buildings in all their splendour, but the grounds that surround them as well.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was the stunning architecture of both the bridges and the colleges. It's amazing to learn about the history behind tiny details you can only see from the water. The weather may not have been perfect sunshine, but we really enjoyed doing the tour on a duller day. It meant the river was much quieter and the moody skies really added to the drama of the architecture.
Whether you're a couple looking to have a private tour. Or even a hen party/tour group that fancy a fun activity. Here's a fun day out that really shows off the city to it's best. Punting is one experience you don't want to miss out on. I'm so glad I experienced it and a huge thank you to Max for making it so much fun.
If you would like to book a tour or find out more, visit the website here. Don't forget you can make your trip extra special by booking some bubbly for the journey. I also hear the company may soon be introducing sushi tours which should be good fun. Just, if you're planning to propose, hold on to the ring tightly! We heard how many engagement rings are littering the bottom of the river!
Have you been punting – how was your experience? Have you been to Cambridge - what would you recommend?
*This Airbnb post is a collaboration with Schofields Insurance
The way we travel has changed a lot over the years, particular the move away from package holidays towards more independent travel. Most people these days arrange their flights and accommodation separately to ensure they get the best price and a trip that is perfect for them. I've always loved being an independent traveller. A huge part of this is taking the time to find quirky and unique accommodation to stay in.
I've been a huge fan of Booking.com over my last five years of travelling, but I still have yet to try Airbnb. Friends have raved about the website and the amazing locations they have stayed in all over the world. But why haven't I used it yet? I think my main reason is being a solo traveller, I'm used to falling back on hostels as a cheap option. But as I get a bit older and travel long-term, it's also really nice to take a break from hostel life sometimes. So for my upcoming travels – I think Airbnb is definitely something I want to try out myself.
Airbnb is becoming increasingly popular with solo travellers as a way of saving money by avoiding the extra charges for travelling alone. Around 74% of solo travellers are using it for exactly this reason. But are hotels suffering as a result? I teamed up with holiday home insurance company, Schofields Insurance, to find out more after they surveyed over 1,000 UK-based solo travellers aged 18+.
The survey revealed that 44% of solo travellers have stayed in an Airbnb. With 65% staying in hotels and just 18% in hostels. Out of those who had stayed in hotels, a whopping 78% had been charged extra for travelling solo. Of those choosing hostels, 35% preferred the communal living style, while 29% had chosen them based on pricing. It seems us solo travellers are far more money-savvy when it comes to booking our trips. If there is a chance to save ourselves from extra charges for being independent, then we'll take it!
Read: 8 ways I ALWAYS manage to save money on trips
I decided to ask my travelling friends about their experiences with hotels and Airbnb. I wanted to go beyond the statistics and get real-life experiences directly from real travellers. Would they choose one over the other? Is Airbnb all it's cracked up to be? I turned to Facebook and Twitter to find out what you guys had to say:
I hired a whole cabin by a lake in Ontario, Canada, last June, for three people. An absolutely amazing find with views to die for. The owner was nearby and on hand if we needed anything but basically told us to help ourselves and treat it as home! Cathy Keeler
I stayed in an Airbnb in Gdansk, Poland and it was the best choice for a group of four! Rather than being stuck in small hotel rooms, we had rooms, a huge living room and a kitchen. It would be so expensive and maybe even impossible to get such space in a hotel. It played such a big part of our trip. Cooking breakfast with Polish ingredients and playing drinking games in the living room. Or even hanging out when it was too cold outside. It wouldn't have been the same in a hotel. I'd always choose an Airbnb for groups! Kamila Zielinska of Kamz Online
Stayed in Verona, Italy. Absolutely gorgeous apartments, even better hosts! Akvile Stan
Have used Airbnb, in London, San Francisco and Paris, all good experiences and a bit quirky. In London we had a basement flat in a beautiful house on Clapham Common. In Paris a flat in the commercial area and in San Francisco a flat in the garden of an architect, lovely. It’s a very different experience from a hotel. We like the privacy. Ann Wells
I used it in New Zealand and ended up getting a villa on an avocado farm for £120 per night. It included a pool and hot tub also. Stunning and great value. Shane McDonald
It's normally my first option for accommodation and they have more character than the hotels I can afford. They're often in areas that have more personality. My favourite one was in New Zealand. We stayed on a vineyard in Marlborough. Once the tasting room closed at 4pm, it was literally just us there! Charlie Elliott of Charlie Distracted
Booked a Airbnb in Margaret River, Australia, very close to the ocean called The Beach Shack, it was epic! Dave Salway
I've only used it since having my daughter, Evie, in Paris and Prague and absolutely loved both apartments. With a baby it is so much more convenient than a hotel room. You have loads more space plus a kitchen. Ayla Warner of Mrs Ayla Adventures
Used it twice and I've had very positive experiences both times. Helpful hosts and it's so much cheaper than a hotel. It's lovely to have the flexibility of having a whole flat and to be able to cook for ourselves when we wanted to. You have a bit more space to really feel at home. It gives a taste of what it would be like to live in the place you’re visiting rather than just holidaying there. Emily Johnson
In the UK, I tend to go for Airbnb and haven’t been disappointed. I’m opting for it more abroad now so I don’t have to share a room with strangers and for better quality accommodation because hostels can be gross. I’ve been really happy with every Airbnb so far! I’ve stayed in some beautiful places and met some of the loveliest people from it! Hannah Talbot of Han Meets World
I've used Airbnb in Brighton and Lisbon, Portugal. Both were good experiences, I love the authenticity of a home compared to a vacuous copycat hotel. It's more personal, quieter and you get more freedom. Sunny Winter of Sunny Stuart Winter
I am a huge fan of Airbnb. We always look for an Airbnb first when staying away. Stayed in Rome, Paris, Budapest, Amsterdam. Also for weddings in England and for big houses for family get-togethers in places like Yorkshire, Bury St Edmunds and Bungay. We find if we stick to a super host then it’s always amazing! Kate le Serve
We’ve used it about 15-20 times and love it! One time we had a bad experience and Airbnb were good with helping us. Claire Jermany
I had a really bad experience in Medellin, Columbia, (amongst many other amazing ones). The host's dad came in who was 65+ and said in Spanish "that I should always make sure the door is locked because you never know who might come in." I had a shower and looked up to see two eyes through a one inch gap between the curtains and the wall. He was watching me naked from my private balcony through a small gap. I knew that I needed to get out.
I messaged AirBnb straightaway and they had a very good response time. They told me to get out of there and rang me every day until it was resolved to check that I was safe. They also deposited my money back immediately. I absolutely couldn't fault the response of Airbnb. Interestingly, the son was a Superhost with over 3,000 amazing reviews. I still love Airbnb, but I won't stay anywhere alone now. A sad thing to say in 2018, but true. Anonymous
My group of friends decided we should all go on a 4-day city break to Amsterdam. So we found an apartment we liked, reasonably priced, central, hot tub and contacted the owner. My friend was asked to do a bank transfer outside of the Airbnb site directly to the owner to secure our booking. Later we discovered it was quite a famous scam. My friend was so embarrassed her momentary lapse of judgement lost us nearly £1,000. While not Airbnb's fault, I was quite disappointed they didn’t investigate the user. Knowing that scammers operate on the site has made me dubious about using again. Hannah Streatfield
We booked an Airbnb for my sister's hen party in London. The place we eventually decided on looked absolutely gorgeous. We arrived in high spirits and the host met us outside, as soon as she opened the door my heart sank. The smell of smoke was overpowering. The carpets were dirty and it didn’t look anything like the photos. Windows were sellotaped together where there were cracks in them. The fire extinguishers wouldn’t have worked in a fire, there was even a toilet in the kitchen! I opened a complaint with Airbnb but because I didn’t complain within 24 hours of checking in they wouldn’t do anything! Anneliese Yaxley
Once in Boston, it was so cold the pipes were frozen and we didn’t have a working bathroom. Thankfully they fixed it swiftly! In our place in Brighton, we didn’t realise the bathroom was shared with the owner so awkward toilet run-ins. Kuala Lumpur recently was the worst, just filthy! Connie of Connie Consumes
I've only had one issue, when the host wanted to cancel the booking but said I had to do it so I wouldn't get a full refund. It was sorted out in the end, but she was not helpful at all. I definitely look there first as the prices are always cheaper and the hosts are normally great. Darren Groves
My stay in Budapest wasn’t so good as it was way too hot in the room and we couldn’t turn the heating down as it was centrally controlled. Jess of Enjoy The Adventure
We have used it in New Zealand and absolutely loved it. Has a much more homely feel than hotels. Just make sure you do your research on the property. Check out the hosts rating and reviews. Ella Morgan
Airbnb is the best travel app in the world, I've found some amazing gems, UK and abroad. It lets you dive in and experience the culture as if you live in a place. So cheap! I choose it every time! RayRay Ox
Have used Airbnb in Zurich, Rome and twice in Iceland and had great service in each one. They were all very personal. If anything they undersold their places online. I normally use them over hotels when I’m visiting cities or exploring. But if I want a relaxing break I’ll opt for a hotel purely because of the breakfast, bed making, 24-hour room service. A clean and minimal room is nicer to relax in. Jasmin Crerar
I've had some really good experiences with Airbnb's. I've used them mostly in the UK and have been really handy for when I was looking for a new home in Bristol as they're far homelier than a hostel, easy to find and not too expensive. The hosts have always been friendly, helpful with local knowledge and have genuinely cared for us whilst staying there. I now always check Airbnb if I'm going somewhere new to see what my options are. Zoë Harrison
I’ve stayed at Airbnb's in Brighton, Amsterdam and Reykjavik and all of them were lovely! I would look at the AirBnb options before looking at hotels because I’ve found them to be cheaper and more homely! Rebekah Chilvers
I used them all over Asia and would 100% rather stay in one over a hotel, it depends what you prefer, but for the amazing price you pay for them, you get so much more room and freedom then a hotel room! Jess Overland
I think that I will always prefer Airbnb. Just because you get to maintain a level of independence when you're in your own home. Also, it feels just more homely, especially when you've been travelling for a while and you've been living out of a smelly backpack for the last year. Grace Jones
We’ve had some good ones but also some absolute duds so ultimately still prefer hotels! I like having someone to deal with directly and the option of changing rooms if need be. Airbnb is always our secondary option - we don’t often cook while away so don’t need kitchen facilities and sometimes hotels are actually better value for us! Connie of Connie Consumes
I’ve only used it once via a friend when we stayed in London last September. It was a good property but still not sure I’d use it consistently over hotels/hostels - it’s just another option for me to look for accommodation. Emma Hart of Paper Planes and Caramel Waffles
Penny Fredericksen is a host in Queensland, Australia. She invites people to stay on her beef and grain farm for a real authentic, outback experience, right down to the kangaroos hopping around.
"For me it's more about connecting with people than staying in a flash hotel. I really liked my experience staying in an Airbnb. But I also thought that if I were the host, I could do better and cater for women who were solo travellers. I know that I much prefer to stay in little guest houses in Asia and decided to model my place on one of those guesthouses."
"Staying with me, is not your usual Airbnb experience. Like all relationships, good communication is a must. My guests are treated like a friend who is coming to stay for the weekend. I email more details and ideas for places to eat in the local area. Sending a drone video of my farm is a nice touch because most people want to see where they are heading into the bush. I am "selling" an experience rather than a room with a bed and breakfast.
My main customers are women and their daughters travelling overseas or just escaping for the weekend. My guests are not looking to go to their bedroom and not come out. They are made to feel part of my family and I hope that when they leave they understand a little more about living in the country."
Well much like the survey, it seems you guys are huge fans of Airbnb. Such a huge response, and I've loved reading all of your experiences. As with everything, there are some negative views and one-off bad experiences. But it seems that despite this, many of you wouldn't be put off using it again and most of you would choose it over a hotel.
So perhaps the hotel industry is seeing a hit from the sheer number of travellers who are looking for more than just a hotel. Not just solo, but also family groups and friends, who prefer a more unique and personal touch when they go away. I know I'm definitely interested in giving it a try. I'll be careful to do my research before booking, but I think I'd love trying something a bit different.
What do you think? Would you choose a hotel over AirBnb? What do you love about staying in AirBnb's?
Okay it's official, all the snow and grey skies is making me lose the plot. I actually can't deal with what has easily been the longest and coldest winter of my life. So to stop myself from packing a bag and jetting off to the other side of the world, I'm going to distract myself by blogging about what was one of my favourite recent travelling escapades. Back in December, the boyfriend and I decided to go to Thailand - his first Thailand experience and my eagerly awaited return to the country that started my solo adventure. Unfortunately the weather hit us badly when we were there, with Koh Tao being completely flooded - think knee-deep rivers where the roads should have been, crazy storms and the beach disappearing - so pretty dramatic! We decided after a short visit to Koh Samui to stay at a luxury 5* resort, we desperately needed to spend our last few days in Asia in the sunshine and on the beach, so after checking the weather for the whole country, we decided Phuket was our safest bet. I had actually been there three years before and stayed in the Old Town, where we were excited to visit, but this time I was keen for us to stay by the beach and explore more of the coastline.
Deva Patong Suites Hotel provided us with a home for the week and we had a great time staying there, we got a great deal through Booking.com and ended up paying about half of the usual room rate so even though we were treating ourself a bit to a proper hotel, we were still pretty well within our budget. Since it was our last few days of travelling, I wanted us to have a really nice room walking distance from the beach and all of the restaurants and nightlife. Now we booked in Patong - I will say that Patong is absolutely disgusting and overpriced. I personally would never want to stay there again, but it was perfect for this trip as it gave us great access to all the surrounding beaches and to great night markets for food. Our priority when we were staying there was to squeeze in all our last minute Thailand treats - shopping, food, massages, boxing matches and biking. Patong was a perfect place to do that and we even managed to see the International Grand Championships Muay Thai boxing match at the stadium on our first night - something I really recommend! Don't pay for the VIP tickets, you get a better view up in the stands. Read on to find out more about our motorbike adventures.
Phuket has to be one of the best places in Thailand to explore by motorbike - despite being a very touristy area, the roads are actually much easier to navigate and much less busy than I would have imagined. Basically it's one straight road to explore the coastline, and it's easy to pick up a tourist map from any of the travel agents around the area, or even your hotel. Boyfriend made sure to go find us a good bike to hire, after checking the prices at several places we found they all had a standard rate and we decided to go with our hotel. I studied the maps and worked out a route for us for the next few days, we were keen to get out of the busiest part and to explore some of the more beautiful, and more peaceful beaches. Trust me, if you're happy to ride a motorbike, it's the best way to really explore Phuket and to get away from the dreaded Patong. If you hate bikes, why not jump on the local buses? They're cheap and pretty reliable.
We spent around three days driving, sunbathing and exploring the beaches on one section of Phuket - from Kamala Beach all the way down to Rawai Beach taking in viewpoints and the coast along the way. There are lots of other routes you could choose, heading up North or over to the East, we decided to explore the South East of the Island. Read on for more about each place we stopped.
One of the cutest little areas - much more family-oriented than Patong and with a huge, beautiful beach with some of the clearest water I had seen in Thailand. Lots of little restaurants along the beach, much more holiday budget than backpacker, but nice if you fancy a treat, plus there are lots of great juice stalls on hand. And if you want to spend your money wisely, get a massage at the first massage stall on the beach - a woman there gave me the best Thai massage with oil of my life! A Russian man was concerned I was being bent in ways I shouldn't bend, but holy heck it was incredible and he got one straight after!
This one doesn't quite have the breathtaking Thai beauty of Kamala Beach, but it does have a certain charm. Retaining more of the local flavour, there are some local traders there, and the usual restaurants. The beach is quite and peaceful, but sadly not really suitable for swimming or water activities due to the rocks. We stopped off to walk around but didn't spend much time here.
Patong Beach is busy. Think the home of Russian and German tourists, lots of people selling stuff, jet skis racing through the water and music from the nearby bars. But, it is clean. Something which did amaze me considering the sheer number of people on the beach. It is a nice beach and convenient if you're staying in town, but if you love peace and quiet or are looking for somewhere more family friendly, avoid.
Another little gem we couldn't resist when driving along the coastal road, think pristine sands, glittering waves and palm trees - just another hint of paradise. We ended up lazing away an afternoon on the far end of Karon Beach and we loved the little stretch by the cliffs. The waves are huge here and crashed on to the beach, so we joined the small crowd floating around in the crystal waters. The beach itself was clean and with plenty of space for everyone, so it never felt crowded, and it was in short walking distance from shops/restaurants.
Kata Beach is supposed to be lovely, but I was really disappointed. Full of tourists, this was the dirtiest beach we came across. The water was murky and had lots of debris and rubbish floating in it, and the beach was covered in whatever had washed up. I think perhaps we got unlucky the day we went there because I have seen pics of it looking beautiful, perhaps a dodgy tide, but this one is definitely worth visiting at night. We went for a drive one evening and found a huge market stretching the length of the promenade filled with food stalls and shopping. We ate our bodyweight in amazing food and fresh fish - definitely make the most of this - and there was even some live entertainment from local children.
Two tiny little stretches of beach we actually spotted from the viewpoint mentioned below, both were just a tiny slither of land and looked pretty much empty every time we went past. Sadly we didn't have the time to go down and explore more, but I read a bit online about them and they sound like fabulous little places to escape the crowds and to relax for the day.
A perfect place to watch the sunset - think a really breathtaking view across the ocean right at the southern tip of the island. Sitting in the shadow of the lighthouse, its the perfect place to end a da of exploring by bike. Don't fancy riding that far south? Why not catch the sunset at the view point just past Kata Noi Beach? It also has an amazing view and one well worth driving out for.
Have you been to Phuket? What was your highlight? Any other beaches I should check out next time?
Over the years I've been travelling, I've been everything from a budget backpacker to a luxury traveller and I've loved every single experience. I don't think I'll ever just fit into one category of travel and I love that, but sometimes my wardrobe struggles to keep up with me. You see, every different style of travel really requires a whole different look, from the smarter dresses and occasion wear suitable for the upmarket establishments to my backpacker uniform of tie-dye, shorts and flip-flops. When you're travelling full time, it can be hard to really try and cram all this into your luggage but it's necessary if you're going to make the most of every travel opportunity that comes your way.
When you're backpacking, it's so important to have a flexible wardrobe that will suit all occasions - it's easy to get caught in thinking you'll just fill it with tie-dye crop tops, tiny shorts and bikinis but backpacker life is so much more than just the beach. I remember when I first went travelling, I started with five months in Asia so naturally I packed very little and bought a lot of clothes out there, planning to buy stuff later on for Australia and New Zealand. This worked out great for me because I've mostly stuck to hotter places where my bikini is my uniform, but it has caught me out a few times like when I arrived in Sydney's winter without a jumper or a coat!Let's be honest, you don't really want to spend your travelling budget on a new wardrobe in every place - so what key items do you need to pack to avoid spending a fortune? Here are the top 5 items I never travel without:
But let's be honest, it doesn't matter how long you've been travelling or how well prepared you are. There will always be situations when you need to buy an outfit. I love shopping when I'm abroad because the clothes are so unique and different to those at home. I often treasure these pieces so much more because they hold memories in their folds. Got to buy clothes on the road? Here are my top 5 ways to shop abroad and stay within that budget:
It's such a strange adjustment when you come from the UK where clothes are so disposable and really available, to live with a backpack and the tiniest wardrobe you could dream of. But it really does make you value each piece of clothing and learn the art of accessorising. My addiction when I was previously travelling was always jewellery because it's so small and easily fits in my bag – it takes just a small piece of jewellery and a bit of hair styling to completely change an outfit. Travelling makes you braver, both with your body and with colour, I know when I'm backpacking I feel so much more confident in my clothing and always choose louder, more colourful garms. This creativity, both with budget and with style, is something that really defines a backpacker and it doesn't matter how much luxury travel I do, I will always be inspired by the incredible creativity and vibrancy of backpacker style.
What do you love about travelling style? Do you feel braver with your fashion choices when you travel? What are your must-have travel fashion items?
One thing the last few years of travel has really taught me, is the importance of well being. The truth is, when you're travelling solo, there is no-one else to look after you and if you don't learn to take good care of yourself, you're not going to get the most out of every experience. I've really taught myself to slow down a bit over the last year, I've accepted that I don't have to do and achieve everything, that sometimes it's okay to sit back and just appreciate life instead of giving 110% and exhausting myself. I'm still learning, every single day, but I definitely have a better appreciation for what makes me happy both mentally and physically than I did when I was first travelling. What helps me be my best self? Lots of exercise, tasty, healthy food, a wide open horizon and lots of time spent outdoors. I've realised that being online is my job and to a certain extent, is a hobby, but that I can't let it dominate in any way because it really does impact on my mental health.One thing that has really helped me to stay balanced over the years is gifting myself time. We're always so busy rushing around trying to do everything in our careers, relationships and in our free time, but sometimes we just need to give ourselves time to breathe. I was so guilty of never giving myself time to just be still, and I still am, but I'm trying my best to improve. And so, when an opportunity came up to review an Inner Peace Retreat with Psychologies Magazine, I jumped at the chance to spend a day deep in the countryside and really getting to know myself. Taking place at West Lexham Manor, near Norwich, the retreat offered a weekend spent focusing on psychology, mindfulness, creativity, meditation and movement set against the backdrop of the stunning grounds. What more could a girl want?Driving up to West Lexham Manor through frozen fields and breathing in the crisp morning air, I instantly felt refreshed and ready for restoration of my mind, body and soul. The stunning grounds were the perfect place for that and I couldn't wait to explore more later on. On arrival, the organisers gave a warm welcome and ushered us into morning tai chi in the beautifully restored barn which has been purposefully created for group events and weddings. With sunshine beaming through the windows and birdsong in the background, we started the day by warming up our aching bodies and minds led by neuroscientist Dr Tamara Russell, who was definitely one of the most memorable characters from the weekend. After the session, we went for breakfast in the sun-drenched hall, and it was clear to see the emphasis on well being from the delicious, healthy meal of locally sourced ingredients that awaited us.We were back in with Dr Tamara for our first session of the day, Practical Models for Exploring Body and Mind, which was a fascinating insight into neuroscience and psychology, but with a real life context that made it easily accessible for anyone new to the topic. Tamara used various exercises to look at the way we relate to ourselves and how that affects us in our daily life when we make decisions or react to situations. After studying a bit of neuroscience and psychology at university, I've always been fascinated by models like these and how they can be used to understand why we are the way we are. We all found this workshop so interesting and helpful that it actually ran over into the break and later I could hear many of those attending the retreat continuing the discussion over lunch.Later on we had another workshop, this time with Suzy Greaves, editor of Psychologies Magazine, which was one I was really excited for. Being a journalist, I'm always looking to develop my skills in any way I can, so a journaling/writing workshop with Suzy seemed perfect for me. This time we had an opportunity to get outside and breathe in the fresh air and to take in the sights, sounds and smells as we wandered around the grounds. Nature is so soothing, and despite being based in North Norfolk, I find that lately I haven't had a chance to just get outside and appreciate it, something that I'm sure has caused me to feel a bit stressed out. We were told to just write freely, uninterrupted by others and uninterrupted by thoughts of how we should write. I let my hand glide across the page and all of us taking part felt our innermost thoughts and feelings pour out on to the page. I was amazed at what came out, what I'd been holding in and finally just had to explode across the page, pure stream of consciousness.We enjoyed a leisurely lunch - let me tell you the food was just incredible - followed by a chance to explore the grounds with owner Edmund Colville, as he discussed the retreat and the lay-lines around his family home. Later that afternoon, we had our final workshop of the day, which was easily my favourite and really left an incredible impression on me. The 5 Rhythms Movement workshop with meditation teacher Chris Connors forced the group to throw away all inhibitions, stresses and worries, and to really let loose. We're talking 90 minutes of dancing freely as a mass and an individual to various pieces of music, and by the end of the session, everyone was exhausted but liberated, making their way out of the barn with smiles on faces and a new sense of peace. I thought I was pretty relaxed before I walked into that workshop, but I can tell you I felt like a completely different person by the time I walked out of it and I know every single person in that room felt exactly the same. Sadly I had to leave after this workshop and didn't get a chance to chat to the others over dinner, but the whole experience was beyond anything I could have hoped.Whether you need stillness, a chance to slow down or if you are searching for inner peace, these workshops give you a chance to take a time-out in the unspoilt beauty of West Norfolk. If this sounds like something that would be right up your street, there will be many other retreats taking place this year which focus on yoga, mindfulness and body confidence, and another Psychologies Inner Peace Retreat is in the pipeline. Both men and women attended and while some were more interested in the psychology, others were going through some huge life changes, but all felt just as welcome and came away with a genuine sense of inner peace. Find out more and book at www.westlexham.org
*Images provided by West Lexham Manor
Have you been to a retreat? Would you like to attend one? How do you find peace in your daily life?
I caught up with a fellow traveler at the weekend, she has just come back from travelling the world for a year with her young family - total family travel goals! She was thanking me for a travel tip I gave her about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand because she had realised once there the sheer number of places out there clinging on the surge in popularity for ethical care of elephants by claiming to be good. Spending so much time in Thailand, I took care to research thoroughly and to ensure I was only supporting causes I was certain were benefiting the environment and animals. Talking about her step-daughter's experience in India where she signed up to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary and found it to be mistreating the creatures, we realised how easy it is to do the wrong thing when all you are trying to do is the right thing. And isn't that the problem we are all facing in trying to be ethical these days?
I consider myself a pretty good human, I like to keep my carbon footprint low, to support and build up my friends, to smile at strangers and help out at a homeless shelter. Everywhere I travel I try my best to be ethically-minded and research every location, every day trip I go on and all the companies along the way, only supporting causes I know are genuinely helping local people. But somehow I still feel like I'm fucking it all up.
Much like trying to be vegan or only eating ethically-sourced food, using only beauty products that haven't been tested on animals or wearing clothing that hasn't encouraged slavery or mistreatment of those in third world countries. What is boils down to is we're all just trying our best to be damned good people and to try and help everyone, to support all the causes. We get to a point when we think, hell yeah, I'm doing pretty darn good at this! We're able to help educate others and feel like we're actually making waves, like we're making a change.
And it all comes out that we were doing it wrong all along.
Like the time I switched to almond milk after learning about the harmful impacts of the dairy farming industry, but then found the problems caused due to water sourcing and insecticides were just as bad. Or when I signed a petition over the closure of a factory that had been mistreating workers in a third world country for cheap clothes, but then heard so many were unable to feed their families because they were out of work. And the time I switched make-up brands to avoid animal testing then found the company uses the services of another company that does employ animal testing!
It's a constant battle and for anyone who tries to be ethically-minded, it can be a bit of a roller coaster - one minute you're up and feeling great for all the good you are doing for the world around you. Then next, you hit rock bottom when you realise actually by trying to help you may be doing more harm than good.
One of the problems - there are too many opinions out there and too many facts, but so often thanks to Twitter and various other social media outlets - the two become almost indistinguishable. It's so easy to read one thing and to make a change in your life, then a week later to see an news article damning the opinion you just read elsewhere. I don't know about you but I'm overwhelmed with information and I'm finding it hard to know which advice to take. To feel certain that I am actually making informed decisions that really are doing the best for everyone and the world around us. We've gone full circle from struggling to get the truth from companies over their ethical policies, to now being swamped with information and unsure of the facts.
Another aspect of this is the bloggers, social media stars and the celebrities who so often pick a cause to back and legions of fans follow in their wake. The fact is these influencers have a huge impact on the decisions of people across the world and the ethical nature of the decisions they make can cause huge waves. Just look at how many more people seem to care and know about global warming effects since Leonardo DiCaprio started talking about it, and Emma Watson must be one of the best-known faces for using her platform to really highlight key issues from women's rights and climate change to sustainable fashion. But likewise, this can be used in a negative way, such as when some figures make questionable decisions such as wearing real fur, encouraging their fans to follow suit. The constant fight for change and for attention means it's hard to know who is really trying to make a difference, and who is just jumping on the bandwagon for likes.
As someone who has been travelling for over three years and has no plans to stop anytime soon, being ethical in my travel will always remain at the forefront of my mind. After all, what was that quote?
Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time. - Aliyyah Eniath
I've always felt the one thing that really touches my heart and stays with me a long time after my travels, it's not the places. It's not sunrise at Angkor Wat or exploring waterfalls of Laos, it's not doing yoga in Thailand or learning to work on a farm in outback Australia, or even getting lost in the ruin pubs of Budapest. It's the people you met along the way. The amazing souls who helped you when you were struggling, the ones who showed you a world you never dared dream of, the ones who gave you enough laughs to last a lifetime. Those people are the ones I hold close in my heart, they're the stories I tell about my travels, they are the memories.
So if that is the case, then it's so important to make sure your travel is benefiting the people who have given you the experience of a lifetime and the environment you've been lucky enough to explore:
These are just examples and there are so many other ways to be ethical in your travel, to make informed decisions. And that is the most important thing, like me, you may be struggling with knowing if you are truly being ethical. But when it comes down to it, just the fact that you care enough to inform yourself is the first step to really doing something good in the world. Don't listen to all the judgement over social media, it's too easy to get swept away in throwaway comments instead of investing your time in making a change.
This has turned into a pretty mega blog post considering I had writer's block just a few days ago, but I think this is such an important issue to be raised. Can you identify with feeling confused over traveling and living ethically? It's okay if you do, we're in it together. As long as we're all doing our darnedest to make a difference, that's all we can do.
How do you ensure your travel is ethical? Do you ever worry your 'ethical' decisions are less ethical than you would hope? What ethical changes have you made in your life?
Sri Lanka had one of the most diverse landscapes I've been lucky enough to travel, as the days went by we would flit between beaches, mountains and wild jungle. It's fantastic because it means you really can travel there at any time of year and find plenty to do. If, like us, you go there in off season and the weather is a bit stormy you can easily avoid the coast and head inland for more jungle and cultural activities. But let's be honest, when you're going to a country with such incredible nature and such beautiful untamed coastline - you really want to be heading to the beach and enjoying the sunshine.Mirissa is one of the country's most popular stretches of the coastline and an absolute goldmine for beaches - but forget the busier, touristy beaches you find elsewhere in Asia. These are wild, open expanses of untouched beach where you go could all day without seeing another soul. Where you won't be bothered by sellers trying to drum up trade or loud bars dotted along the shoreline. Mirissa is the ultimate in beach escapism and with so many beautiful beaches dotted along the south coast, you have plenty to explore before you settle on your favourite.
Mirissa has no end of accommodation options from the high luxury down to the budget stays - the great thing is you really don't have to pay very much to stay somewhere lovely. My best advice, if you're travelling peak season, book ahead to ensure you have somewhere to go when you arrive. Off season, there's no need to worry as there was plenty of choice when we went in November. We stayed at Sun Hopes, a family run accommodation with several rooms available, usually offering a balcony or terrace to sit outside and a large bathroom for each room. Just a two minute walk from the beach, it's perfectly positioned for exploring the town and you get the added bonus of staying with a lovely local family. We really enjoyed staying at Sun Hopes, it was a great budget find for us with the average price of £9 a night for a room for two, although we paid even less because we went in off-season.
Food is always high on the agenda and Mirissa was fantastic for cheap eats. Don't miss out on the No.1 Dewmini Roti Shop - the roti are considered the best in the area and are freshly made in front of you. This is where I managed to convince the boyfriend street food was better than restaurants - before he was a bit scared of the local's restaurants! We were lucky and this was actually halfway between our apartment and the beach so it was a perfect stop for breakfast. You should also check out the bakery on the main street for tasty filled roti and snacks. For seafood, head to the beach where there are countless seafood restaurants to explore, we treated ourselves to some fresh fish one evening which was delicious. I also heard great things about (but sadly didn't get to try) The Hangover Cafe, Shady Lane and Big Belly Roti Shop.
If you love waves, catch a tuk-tuk to one of the many surfing beaches in the area. We headed to Weligama Beach for sunset - a beautiful spot to check out whether you like surfing or not! It's a great place to hang with the hippies, do some yoga or catch a wave, there's even a bunch of surf schools based there for beginners. For those who are a little more experienced there are also great surf spots at the far right of Mirissa Beach (watch out for sea urchins), and Midigama. If in doubt, ask the locals - they're the experts!
I went for a walk one day to the far left of Mirissa Beach and found myself in a little cove, chatting to the guys who ran the bar behind I found out that you could snorkel with sea turtles in the area. They said sometimes it's possible to see lots of them right there in the bay - we tried but the weather was a bit unreliable so we didn't get to spend much time looking. Definitely worth hiring a mask and snorkel though and having a look.
This is one of the big attractions for southern Sri Lanka and countless boat trips run along the coast to spot these graceful giants in the water. Blue whales and fin whales, sei whales, sperm whales, orcas (killer whales), dolphins, flying fish, turtles, manta rays and whale sharks – all of these and more can be seen along the coast. Don't miss out.
The south is packed full of beaches you have to check out, it's worth hiring a scooter to explore independently, just watch out for the crazy bus drivers! As well as the immediate Mirissa Beach there are lots of others to explore, and if you love sipping on a fresh coconut under the palm trees then whiling away the afternoon in a hammock – you'll be in paradise here. If you fancy a bit of a trip, head to Unawatuna beach which is famed for the golden sands and wild waves Sri Lanka is known for. Check out this post by bloggers Salt in Our Hair for other great beach recommendations.
Feel like escaping for the day? Why not head to Unawatuna beach for a change of scenery or even Galle Fort if you fancy a bit of culture. Both areas can easily fill a day with exploring and sightseeing, or lazing on the beach.
Have you been to Mirissa - what was your favourite part? Where did you stay/eat out? Do you prefer laying on the beach, or surfing?
One of the great things about being back in the UK is having more time to experiment with the blog. This year, I've really set myself the challenge of stepping outside my blogging box and trying some new things - and I thought why not try my hand at writing some more fashion posts? It's been a while since I wrote one and when I was asked to collaborate with Tobi, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get back into it. I love to try writing about new things and let's be honest, travel and style go hand-in-hand. But after spending so in Asia where my wardrobe extended about as far as tie-dye and bikinis, and Australia, where it was much more laid back, I was excited to come back to the UK and once again really revel in clothes. I've always loved fashion, I get it from my mum who is a self-confessed shopaholic who always orders "one in every colour", but travel has meant my clothes often get put on a back-burner instead focusing on comfort and durability.Clothes are creativity and my style has changed a lot over the years, but one thing that has stayed the same is my love of knitwear. As much as the eternal summer has been amazing while travelling, I have at times really missed wearing snuggly clothes - those thick jumpers and cosy cardigans. Living every day in the sunshine is amazing, but there are times when you just fancy being wrapped up in warm layers and knitted fabrics. I love the Cowl Does It Feel Sweater Dress from Tobi (available here) because it has all my favourite elements - thick, over-sized style to keep the cold out, a roll-neck top and my favourite feature - pockets! It's so hard to find a jumper or a dress with pockets and I really do feel that details like this really make them seem even more luxury, plus I can't get enough of this rich burgundy colour. Perfect for sipping on a nice glass of Shiraz by a roaring fire. Pictured with scarf and bag (Primark) and boots (New Look - similar available here)I'm absolutely in love with this gorgeous little top, which you may have seen me wearing in this previous post for afternoon tea. With the weather being so cold at the moment, I'm all about my jeans and boots, so I'm always on the lookout for cute tops to pair up with them. The Lose It Self Tie Blouse from Tobi (available here) is just beautiful and goes perfect with my ripped jeans - I actually wore it out for a work dinner the other night and had lots of compliments on it. I love the rich combination of colours, the dark blue and the hints of gold, plus the textures of the velvet mixed with the sheer fabric is pure luxury. It works just on it's own with jeans, or you can pop a little top underneath for a more modest look, I paired it with a white cami top the other night. Pictured with the comfiest jeans in the world! (New Look - available here)My favourite outfit from this haul has to be the Cosette Embroidered Tier Romper - as my friends say, I am the queen of the romper. I just love a little playsuit, they're comfy but practical and they look so cute in the summer. I love that you can dress them down with bare feet on the beach, or up with high heels for a night out, and you can even wear them in winter with a pair of tights. I actually wore this romper with a pair of tights and a blazer for afternoon tea with the girls last week and loved the outfit. Considering there is snow on the ground as I write this, I may be a bit overly-hopeful that I'll be wearing this with just a denim jacket (pictured - vintage) and bare feet on the beach anytime soon, but a girl can dream! Bring on the summer..If you've been lusting over any of the clothes in this post, you should check out Tobi for some seriously affordable and really cute outfits. I'll be honest and say over the last few years, I've gone off the high street brands and have actually started to prefer online stores that offer much more budget-friendly but still great quality clothes. I find the clothes are a bit more unique instead of the same copy-cat styles, I'm really loving the more quirky designs, plus the feel that you're not going to walk past people on the street who have the same outfit on as you. Some of my other favourite budget website brands at the moment include Zaful and Romwe, although the delivery does take a while with these brands. What do you think of my fashion post - leave me a comment below with any feedback!
Also - nominations are now open for the Blogosphere Awards and I would LOVE if you would take two seconds out of your day to nominate me if you've loved reading my posts this year. Thank you.
What do you think of these outfits - which is your fave? What are your fave budget fashion brands? Are you loving all the winter knitwear or ready for some summer fashion?