It can be pretty difficult to come up with the perfect Christmas gift ideas, but even more so when the person you want to spoil lives out of a suitcase. When your life is reduced to baggage allowance, you're forced to give up a life filed with material possessions and instead focus on experiences. It's a beautiful way to live your life, focusing on what is really important, but that's also why female travelers are some of the people it is hardest to buy for. If you want to treat that special friend or loved one in your life, you need to take a step back and look at she really values. Don't get distracted by shiny rubbish or fast fashion, instead take inspiration from her sustainable life choices and choose a Christmas gift she will treasure and use all the time. Here are my gift ideas for the female traveler in your life - if she's anything like me, she'll love these thoughtful presents.
This is one of my favourite gifts to give - the gift of creating beautiful memories together. I always love getting people experience gifts, and I love receiving them too. It's always such a great way to surprise people, whether it's with tickets to a gig or dining out at a favourite restaurant. Another great idea is to plan a day trip for the two of you, after all, if she's traveling a lot of the time, it's a great way to make time to really catch up. I love taking my mum or my besties out for afternoon tea or cocktails and an afternoon of chatting about all the things we've missed. If you have a bigger budget to work with, why not go all out and book a surprise trip for the two of you? It could be a great way to share an experience to remember, and to share her traveling experiences. Struggling for ideas? You could look on Red Letter Days or Groupon for ideas and deals.
Us traveling gals love anything that makes our lives easier and our bags lighter. Why not give her a really useful gift that she'll use all the time, and every time she picks it up, she'll think of you and smile. It could be anything from noise-cancelling headphones to help her sleep on the plane, to an iPod or MP3 filled with all her favourite songs, to a Kindle filled with new books to keep her entertained on long travel days. Don't have much money? You could go for a thoughtful Christmas gift and create a memory stick filled with movies, music and more to keep her entertained on long journeys. Flush with cash? Why not splash out on a iPad or somewhere she can store all of her travel photos and edit them, or a new camera for capturing every moment? I really recommend the Olympus Pen - not only is it travel-sized but it takes DSLR-quality pics, I never leave home without it!
If you really want to spoil her and show how thoughtful you can be, why not purchase a luxury fragrance for her? I always make space in my suitcase for perfume and it's a great way to transport her back to her travels even when she's at home. Pay attention to her travel stories and listen out for a place that has really meant a lot to her, a place that has touched her heart. For me, it's Thailand and the scent of frangipani and jasmine and spices mixed with coconut. You could have a perfume mixed especially for her, with all her favourite scent memories and amaze her with your Christmas gift buying prowess. Small budget? Look for a fragrance that already has some of her favourite scents in it and buy her that one. For those with a bit more money to spend, look for luxury perfumes for women for a special fragrance that will make her feel like she's just stepped off the plane on her latest adventure.
When your wardrobe is as big as your suitcase, you're very limited and cut-throat on what takes up your baggage allowance. Female travelers are much more likely to invest in useful clothing items they know will last them for years to avoid wasting money on replacing items when they wear out. Clothes want to be stylish, but also functional and easy to style in a range of looks. Think a great pair of sandals or walking shoes depending on whether she's more of an active or luxury traveler. Think of her comfort, long bus rides and fights can get draughty with chilly air conditioning, why not pick her up a cashmere scarf or jumper to throw on? If she's quite the active and practical gal, you could find her a good travel jacket with plenty of pockets, or a bag that will do the job for a carry-on. There are so many great options, but it all comes down to her personal style.
This is such a great gift, instead of giving a thing, why not use that money to book flights to spend time together? Whether that means paying for her to fly home and visit family and friends, or you buying a flight out to visit her in her latest home. My sister and I are doing this for Christmas, I'm spending her Christmas gift money on buying a flight to go and visit her at home, while she books flights to come and visit me in Hamburg. With other friends, I have plans to buy flights to meet them halfway and explore a new place together as a mutual gift this year.
If you're looking for a Christmas gift for that special gal in your life, I hope these ideas help! Now is the time to get shopping and beat the festive rush to find something to show the female traveler in your life how much you love, and value her friendship this Christmas.
What's the best gift you've ever received? Do you prefer experiences or things as gifts? What's the worst gift you've ever received?
Moving to Germany. It didn't seem such a big deal back at the start of the year when I decided it would be my next move. Surely it's just like England, I thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. Now I want to make it clear, I'm not saying that I don't like my life here in Hamburg, but I think it's important to talk about an issue that a lot of expats face when moving to Germany. With Brexit looming, I think it's more important than ever to discuss the more negative side of moving abroad openly and honestly. Not to put people off, but instead to make sure you are more prepared than I was. For a long time, I thought perhaps it was just me facing some of these issues, until I started working for a company with fellow English expats. I also started to communicate more with expats from all over the world via Facebook groups for those who have moved to Germany and it's really opened my eyes to the issues so many expats are facing.
Lately I've lost count of the number of people who have confided in me about their feelings of loneliness, of feeling lost and without purpose, and finding it hard to adjust to living here. These people have great jobs, families, friends, many of them even speak German and have German friends, but they feel like there is something missing. So many of those affected have traveled across the world, many of them solo like myself, and despite never facing problems in Asia, South America, Africa, even elsewhere in Europe, Germany has been a huge struggle. I want to emphasise that these are my experiences and those of expats who have contributed to this piece - I am not saying this is the experience of every expat who comes to Germany.
Honestly, moving to Germany has been the biggest culture shock of my life, it has been the hardest thing I have ever done and there's no way I can sugarcoat that. That doesn't mean that I haven't made some incredible friends here, I'm surrounded by an amazing community of expats and I have a great job, but that doesn't remove this feeling of displacement that lingers in the back of my mind.
German culture is astonishingly different to any I have experienced before. It's funny, so much of Germany looks just like England, and yet the cultures couldn't be any more different if they tried. Now don't think I'm saying that I'm pining for English culture and expect everywhere to be just like the UK, it's more that moving here has made me appreciate English culture in a whole new light. I like the fact that in the UK, we're very involved, we help and support our community. We don't shove people to the ground on our morning commute as I witnessed once, if a woman is struggling to a get a pram down the stairs, we stop to help her and most of all, we leave people alone to just be instead of staring or commenting. I'm not saying the UK isn't without it's own issues, but since moving to Germany, I've found the sense of detachment overwhelming. It shocks me to see how unfriendly some of the people here are, it breaks my heart to see how uninvolved they are, I've seen someone being attacked in the street and everyone around just carried on walking instead of stopping to help. If someone plays music on the train, even a split second before turning it off, they get told off by other passengers.
Now don't get me wrong, there are a lot of wonderful things about German culture too, and not all people are like this. But I wanted to just touch on some of these incidents and how I feel they have shaped my experience of moving to Germany. More so than any country I have previously traveled or lived in, I feel that there is very much an "us and them" culture here, I feel I would be lost without my expat friends. Many of those who have now become some of my closest friends here in Hamburg have spoken about how hard it is to find friendships here that go beyond an acquaintance level, the sort of friendships you can call on any time of day and night. That so many expats are struggling with the complete lack of spontaneity of German culture, how they find even meeting for a beer has to be planned weeks in advance. I spoke to one German girl recently who said that after moving to China for several years, she still found returning to Germany to be the biggest culture shock of all.
Out of every negative comes a positive, and the most important thing to remember when moving to Germany is that the experience is what you make it. If you wallow in loneliness and complain you have no friends but don't actively reach out and take control of the situation, it will never improve. The same principle applies to everything in life, stop blaming those around you for something you can change. Here are my top tips for making friends and dealing with loneliness when moving to Germany:
This is so important when you first move over because it can really affect the first impressions you have of a place. I lived slightly south of the city where accommodation was cheaper with a partner, but I did live further away from all of my friends. If I was single, I never would have lived there, but having our own apartment made it worthwhile to save our money for other things. Likewise, for those moving on their own, it could be very isolating to live outside the city and make it much harder to make friends. Perhaps, if money allows, it would be best to choose a central and social neighbourhood. If you don't like your area, remember it's never too late to move!
When it comes to your job, it can be more difficult if you are limited on offers but make sure to find a job with community and with a supportive environment. I'm currently working in a great job, and while the pay is pretty rubbish, it has amazing community spirit and an entire staff of expats from all over the world. I work in the UK team and instantly had an amazing group of friends who have given me no end of support and friendship when I needed it most. If you're not happy in your job or feel there could be more out there, why not start looking for a new position?
Play a sport? Join the hockey team. Love music or the arts? Join a society or amateur dramatics group. Miss meeting people and speaking English? Join a social networking group. There are so many options and just like anywhere else in the world, there will always be a group no matter what you're passionate about. Can't find what you're looking for? Why not start a new club or get together with like-minded people and create your own community. Plus this is a great way to meet a range of people, I have friends who love hockey and joined teams where they have met lots of German friends which has helped them to feel more integrated.
I honestly don't think I would still be in Germany if it wasn't for social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all helped form some of my greatest friendships since I moved to Hamburg. My best advice to anyone moving to Germany: join Facebook groups for expats, for those new to an area, try Girl Gone International - there's a group for every city - or even Girls Love Travel. These groups have been lifesavers for me all over the world, but more so than ever since living in Hamburg. I got a job interview out of a casual chat on Facebook, I've attended events for expats in the city, I've made countless friends and connections. Most importantly, I really found my tribe, a few women who I know I can really rely on, who I can call on if things go wrong and I need help. My support network, and all because of a few lucky comments on Facebook posts or the odd message on Insta. Use social media for the reason it was really invented and see the world of good that can come from it.
As I mentioned above, I have attended so many different events in Hamburg, from lunch dates to cocktail nights and even a taco night with some amazing women from all over the globe. By joining the Facebook groups, or even networking groups like Internations, you will be invited to a host of different events (I recommend the ones organised by Hamburg Girl Gone International Facebook group). These are so much fun and they're a great way to meet like-minded people who know exactly what you're going through and those who have similar interests.
I will stress that you don't have to speak German to thrive in Germany, but it does help. Part of these feelings of isolation and loneliness might come down to the fact that you can't communicate as easily. One good way to combat that, try learning German. Don't be that person who complains it's not easy when you don't even try to speak the language. You don't have to be fluent to have a conversation. Perhaps your work offers German classes like mine, or you could do a night course, or even sign up for an intensive course before you start work. Can't afford to do a course? There are other options, you could use apps like Duolingo or Memrise to learn the basics and then practice as much as you can with locals. Or even arrange a language tandem - there are lots of offers for these on the Facebook groups where you teach your native language in exchange for learning German.
One thing that has really helped has been reading this book that was sent to me, Culture Smart! Germany. It's a different kind of guide book, instead of focusing on the place and things to do, it takes a close look at the culture and all the things you should know if you are to really integrate when moving to Germany, or visiting. It's such an interesting concept and I think it's a really great read for anyone considering moving over here. While you may notice all these things about German culture once you arrive, you might not really know the reasons behind these cultural quirks. It's interesting to learn the history behind them and the reason they are part of society, after all, education is the best way to acceptance. These guides focus on the rich human dimension of foreign travel and are designed to help readers get the most out of their time abroad through a deeper understanding of the local culture. They are pocket-sized and practical, and are written to help travelers navigate new and unfamiliar situations they are likely to encounter with confidence and sensitivity. If you would like to check out the book, or order a copy, visit the website.
Lucky for you guys, I'm actually hosting a giveaway for a copy of this book, the 100th edition of Culture Smart! You can enter by following me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and commenting on this post with why you think you should win the book! Closing date 30/11/18, enter by midnight to be in with a chance of winning!
Have you moved to Germany - what weird cultural differences did you find? What's the biggest culture shock you've ever had? Would you like to move abroad?
It's easy to forget about your lust for travel when it's cold outside, but now is the time to be planning winter getaways! Now that the weather has definitely changed and German winter is swiftly approaching, it's so easy for me to want to go into hibernation. But I've never been one to give up on travel just because of the weather, if anything, now is the time to be planning in trips for the season ahead. After all, who wants to stay in their home for the next few months hiding from the cold? Not me! It's a perfect time to be exploring a whole new bucket list - after all, there are some places that are actually even more spectacular to explore in the snow and cold. Don't believe me? Well this post is all about the ways I find inspiration for winter travel and how you can too. So get out those travel brochures and start searching for flights, because if this post doesn't convince you that you need to book some winter travel immediately, I'll eat my woolly hat!
I love traveling to countries outside of peak season. Not only is the country empty of tourists, but you get to see a different side to the people and the culture. When I traveled to Sri Lanka last November, it was the rainy season which might have put some people off visiting but in my opinion was the most beautiful time to go! Why not get busy booking winter getaways to those countries you've always dreamed of visiting? You can get away for a week or two and get to explore a whole new country, while saving a lot of money because you're avoiding peak season. In Sri Lanka we saved a fortune on accommodation, travel and flights all because we traveled out of season. You could do the same and that means more money for cocktails on the beach!
If you're a summer baby at heart, you'll be dreaming of escapes to sunnier climes and getting away from Jack Frost. But why not make this a reality? Do what I did and chase the sun, avoid winter altogether! Browsing Skyscanner the other night, I found flights to Portugal for £14, Turkey and Morocco for less than £30, Dubai and Gibraltar for £100, and even to Cuba for £170. I even found £200 flights to Mauritius which were very tempting! Seriously, once you start looking, it gets addictive. But if you're flexible on when you take holiday, you can get some amazing deals. Go to Skyscanner, search "Everywhere" and put in "Whole Month" then see the deals fly in.
If you're more of a snow bunny, then grab your ski goggles and head for one of the amazing ski resorts you can find dotted around Europe for a winter getaway you won't forget. I know so many summer babies who have been on one ski or snowboarding holiday and have loved it so much it became an annual event, making beach holidays a thing of the past! I've not yet had the pleasure of trying skiing but have always thought I would love to try snowboarding. With amazing resorts across France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, perhaps I'll be lucky enough to go while living in Europe. Whether you prefer downhill skiing or fancy trying your hand at cross-country skiing, there are plenty of amazing locations to try them out including across Norway, Finland and even Lapland, which has over 300km of cross country trails.
If skiing isn't for you, there are plenty of other ways to get active and enjoy the winter season. Why not try dog sledging and experience a real winter wonderland as you fly across the snow. Or you could romance your loved one with a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the snow for a more relaxing way to get outside. Of course, there is always winter walking or even snow-shoeing which are great ways to stay active and enjoy the beautiful landscapes during your winter getaways. Germany offers all of these options across the Bavarian Alps, or you could head to Switzerland, where you can even take the world-renowned Glacier Express through the heart of the Alps for something completely different. For those looking for a more relaxing break, try booking a slow holiday to offer winter getaways to remember at the pace you prefer.
There are some destinations that come alive in the snow. Why not embrace the cold and see the beauty in it? Head to a northern country such as Norway, Iceland, Greenland or even Canada and see real snow, amazing landscapes and, if you're lucky, the Northern Lights. Take the children to visit Santa in Lapland, Finland, or another northern country where they can enjoy sleigh rides and all the fun of a traditional Christmas. I recently saw photos of some other travel bloggers' winter getaways to Alaska and, oh my, it's breathtaking. There are so many amazing places to visit, and sometimes it's best to brave the cold if it means getting to see a country at it's finest and most magical.
For those who might not have much money at the moment for travel, Christmas can be an expensive time. But why not use the festive period to your advantage and catch up with friends and family? If you know people who live in another city, or even another country, you could take the time to go and visit them. This way, you get to see old friends or family that perhaps you don't see enough, and you get to visit a new place with a tour guide and free accommodation (if you're lucky!). I'm doing exactly that lately, instead of me going to visit others, I'm inviting friends and family to come and visit, but it's so lovely to catch up with them and to be a tour guide. Plus then, they can return the favour by hosting you in their own country/city. My sister and I have planned to spend money on flights to go and visit each other this year instead of buying Christmas presents, and I think it's a far better use of our money than buying useless stuff.
Who doesn’t love the festive atmosphere and old tradition of a Christmas market where the scents of roasted almonds, hot chestnuts, cinnamon and hot wine fill the air? I'm very excited because the Christmas markets open in Hamburg this weekend! It's that season and living in Germany, I can't wait to delve into all the Christmas traditions and, of course, plenty of glühwein. We're lucky and have countless markets taking place across the city, but for those living in the UK or elsewhere, you could plan a weekend away to a UK city offering markets. Or, you could even plan a weekend away in Germany, or elsewhere in Europe, that holds the Christmas markets. Munich and Berlin would hold amazing ones I'm sure, but I'm biased and always repping Hamburg. It's a great idea for a romantic weekend away with your loved one, or even winter getaways for the girls! If you're planning a trip, why not do a journey by rail between Austrian cities, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna, or head to Austria’s Lake District where the villages on the shores of Wolfgangsee have beautiful markets for all.
Are there all these places on your bucket list that you've been longing to visit, but now it's winter you don't think it's the right time? Why wait for summer? Every country has something to offer for every season, you just have to find it. Just because Italy is gorgeous in the summer, doesn't mean it can't be fabulous in the winter. If it's city breaks you're thinking of then really, why wait? A city can be just as much fun in winter as it can in summer. Hamburg for instance has been having gorgeous autumnal weather lately with plenty of sunshine and gorgeous orange leaves on all the trees. I actually think autumn has been Hamburg's best season so far! If you're planning winter getaways then you can read my guide for planning a weekend away in Hamburg here. Basically, my best advice, don't let the weather put you off, just do it anyway!
What winter getaways are you planning this year? Are you put off traveling during the winter? Why?
Today we're taking a trip back to Saxon-Switzerland National Park a.k.a Sächsische Schweiz. One of the most beautiful parts of Germany which also borders the Czech Republic. We were lucky enough to visit there in the summer during our Europe road-trip and it truly took our breath away. Even those who have grown up in Germany, are shocked to discover what amazing natural beauty this country hads to offer. Ever since I first came across pictures of the park, I was determined to make it there and to explore the incredible structures high up in the mountains, and to hike the forests.
You all know by now that I'm a pretty outdoorsy gal who loves getting out in nature. So it made perfect sense for us to start a 3-week road trip off by driving straight to the park for a few days of exploring. We actually explored both on the Saxon-Switzerland National Park side within Germany, and the Bohemian-Switzerland National Park side in the Czech Republic during our two days there and had the opportunity to see a lot. We set out driving the 7 hour trip from Hamburg to the Bastei Bridge - which is halfway between Dresden and the beginning of the National Park - overnight on the Friday. Our goal? We wanted to arrive there first thing on the Saturday morning and really start our two-day adventure at Saxon-Switzerland National Park.
Saxon-Switzerland National Park is very easily accessible no matter which direction you are coming from. Whether you want to drive, are flying into the country especially, or have to take public transport, there are plenty of ways to reach the park. Just 30km south-east of Dresden, there is an airport in the city plus trains and buses leading directly to the park and stopping in each town and village en route. There is also an awesome network of hiking trails and cycle paths which also stop at the famous Bastei Bridge.
However, I strongly recommend driving to the park like we did, not only does it give you the freedom to explore at your own pace and to choose which hikes/sights you cover, but it also means you have the option to camp or even sleep in your camper van like we did which saved us a lot of money as we prepared all our meals ourselves. There are lots of other accommodation options nearby, from cottages and hotels to B&Bs. For us it was a 7 hour overnight journey from Hamburg. If you're looking for a way to travel to Saxon Switzerland National Park with ease, why not hire a private chauffeur? European Transfers offer custom itineraries – one day trips easily organised between Dresden, Prague or other nearby cities. Don't worry about parking, speeding limits or local driving laws, just sit back and enjoy the ride.
On the very edge of eastern Germany lies the beautiful stretch of countryside and wild forest known as Saxon-Switzerland National Park. Rock climbers, hikers, and cyclists flock to experience the raw natural beauty of the 93km stretch between Pirna and the Czech border. With more than 700 summits to climb, and 400km of hiking trails, there is plenty to keep visitors busy. Best of all? Access to the whole park, and the Bastei Bridge, is free! So if you're looking for a budget-friendly weekend away, this is a great place to go and get outside. Head to Nationalparkzentrum Bad Schandau for the visitor's centre and lots of information about the park.
Words cannot do this place justice. We arrived at 7am, just shortly after sunrise and after a long night of driving. So many times we nearly pulled over in a layby for the night but we just wanted to reach our destination and really start our holiday. The sun was starting to rise as we drove through fields of sunflowers and valleys towards the Bastei Bridge. After seeing photos online, I was so excited to see this amazing structure in reality finally. It didn't disappoint. We finally arrived at around 7am and walked straight to the bridge where 360 degree panoramas awaited us. We were the first ones there! I had read that it was most spectacular at sunset, but to be honest, I think that writer just hadn't had the place to themselves at sunrise.
The silence just added to the magical sight of the remains of this bridge and fortress scattered across the peaks. You can actually walk all around the fortress for free and explore every part of it, getting to do this when there are no crowds of hikers and visitors is even better! It was the most perfect start to the trip, and my boyfriend and I really couldn't believe how lucky we were to have such a beautiful start to the morning. It felt like a dream to walk around this amazing structure, which dates back as far as 1592. The most famous rock formation at the park, I think the pictures really do speak for themselves.
This Saxon bastille is an amazing way to really see Saxon-Switzerland National Park and the surrounding countryside in all its glory. Based near Dresden, it's a good stop on the way in, or out, of the park. It's one of the largest mountain fortresses in Europe and dates back over 400 years, well worth exploring and with spectacular views. We made the mistake of stopping there at the busiest time unfortunately so really struggled to get parking with our big van, but we managed in the end! Make sure you go early to avoid the crowds and also make sure you take enough cash with you to pay for your entrance to the fortress so you can walk around the grounds and the very top.
We made it to the top the first time, realised we didn't quite have enough money - so annoying! We refused to miss out on the views so walked all the way down to the van and back up again - it was worth it!. Definitely walk around the actual fortress outer wall as well as the top, it's beautiful and very impressive to see the structure from another perspective. The views from the top are amazing, you can see across the forest and valley, into the park and beyond. And once you're done looking around, make sure to treat yourself to an ice-cream.
If you have enough time to venture over to the Czech Republic side of the park, known as Bohemian Switzerland National Park, don't miss visiting Pravčická Brána. We nearly didn't go and we would have really missed out if we hadn't squeezed it in to the trip. It's a great hike to get there, heading through the forest and across the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, just a few kilometres and suitable for all abilities. We couldn't wait to stretch our legs and ended up marching up the track to burn off some energy before our drive to Dresden.
When we reached the top, we instantly clapped eyes on the spectacular natural sandstone arch, the largest of it's kind in Europe. This was actually where several scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were shot. Nestled in the corner, you can see the Sokolí hnízdo Inn, which translates as the Falcon's Nest, an inn build in 1881 to replace the former structure built in 1926. It's a beautiful building and with an amazing view, but be sure to walk all the way up to the top by heading left when you walk past the point where you pay. The trails at the top actually have a much better view of the whole area.
There's nothing I love more than finding the best viewpoint when visiting a new place. If you have limited time to explore, it's the perfect way to see as much as possible, as quickly as possible. We didn't have long at the park, so we really wanted to make the most of our time by visiting the highlights, but there are lots of other lovely places to explore, and some amazing viewpoints overlooking Saxon-Switzerland National Park. The main ones to check out are Bastei, Lilienstein, Brand & Waitzdorf Mountain, Schrammsteine rocks, Kipphorn, Kuhstall, Hinteres Raubschloss, Goldstein. With endless hiking, cycling and climbing trails, how you reach these points is up to you!
Have you been to Saxon-Switzerland National Park? Which is the most amazing national park you have visited? What's your favourite outdoor activity?
Without doubt, Liechtenstein is the country I was the most excited to share with you following our summer Euro-trip in the van. A total hidden gem, it was a last minute addition to the route and turned out to be an unexpected favourite stop for the both of us. A beautiful combination of incredible landscapes, rich culture and history, and of course, wine. Ever since meeting a guy while I was in Australia who was from Liechtenstein, I've always wanted to visit the sixth smallest country in the world. As we drove between Austria and Switzerland, it seemed crazy to miss the opportunity to drive across the 160km² stretch of land and see what Liechtenstein had to offer.
Set entirely within the Alps, you can be sure you're in for some spectacular scenery. But honestly, we had no idea how incredibly beautiful and untouched the country is. Despite being one of the most highly industrialised countries in the world, the landscape is truly breathtaking and unpolluted. Imagine crystal clear lakes in the shadows of mountains and gorgeous log cabins nestled in the countryside.
One of the best things about Liechtenstein is it's perfect for adding to a trip you've already planned. Being so small it takes just a few hours to road trip across it and the beautiful scenery make for a lovely drive. Why not hire a car and go off exploring on your way to one of the nearby countries?
Liechtenstein is a land known for it's medieval castles and none more famous than Vaduz Castle (Schloss Vaduz), the home of the Prince of Liechtenstein, the head of the country and a member of one of the world's oldest noble families. Normally closed to the public, this palace is open to the public on August 15, Liechtenstein’s national holiday, a perfect opportunity to see the palace, and maybe even the prince first-hand!
Discover the true meaning of alpine fresh when you jump into these crystal clear and absolutely-bloody-freezing lakes. Seriously, I don't know if I had see real beauty before I saw these untouched waters laying peacefully in the shadow of the mountain. It was like something from The Sound of Music, seeing such pristine scenery with mountains and log cabins in the distance. If, like us, you travel during the summer, it's a perfect time to cool off from the summer sun and to stop for a picnic. We stopped at the beautiful Gänglesee which you can see pictured.
As of 2012, Liechtenstein was considered the smallest, yet richest, country in the world and has been known in the past as a billionaire tax haven. This may no longer be the case, but it's still a very wealthy country. Just passing through the streets of Vaduz, we lost count of the number of vintage and seriously expensive cars cruising the streets. Where one was parked, a crowd gathered around it to take photos. And later, driving through the mountains, we spotted some seriously incredible houses worthy of a feature on Grand Designs. I love seeing gorgeous properties that people have built and designed themselves, and this is a great place to spot some amazing structures.
Liechtenstein may be one of the most developed countries, but travelling through you really get a sense of having escaped from the touristy spots in Europe. Vastly different to the crowds in Switzerland and Austria during the summer months, Liechtenstein seemed rather undiscovered and more of a hidden gem. To be honest, I still only know one other person who has ever been there which I find astounding after having visited. If you want to see a beautiful part of Europe which has managed to remain somewhat untouched and almost stopped in time, this is the place for you.
I love my wine, so you can imagine how excited I was when we popped into the tourism office and they recommended we visit a nearby vineyard with views of Vaduz Castle. We drove to The Hofkellerei of the Prince of Liechtenstein where we had beautiful views over the vineyards and were welcomed for a wine tasting. We tried a few of the local wines and eventually chose a bottle to take home with us, such a lovely experience and a great way to spend the afternoon.
For those who have a bit more time to explore, Liechtenstein is a goldmine for culture vultures and there is plenty to keep all entertained. From exploring the quirky collection of sculptures on the streets of Vaduz, to visiting the Liechtenstein Festival Schaan, a two-day summer event crammed with art, music and culture. Fancy visiting one of the many museums? There's one for everything, why not check out the Calculator Museum, Postage Stamp Museum, FIS Ski Museum, and Kunstmuseum? And for those who love history, there are some amazing sites to visit, including Gutenberg Castle which dates back to the 1200's and Roman excavations.
When you drive in or out of Liechtenstein via Vaduz, be sure to stop at the bridge for a photo opportunity! The bridge straddles the river, where one side is Liechtenstein and the other is Switzerland. It's not often you can walk less than 10m and be in the next country, but it's well worth stopping to take in the view and of course, get that shot for the 'gram to prove you were there.
Whether you visit in the summer and love hiking, or come in the winter for skiing, Liechtenstein has something to keep everyone active and out enjoying the amazing scenery. The country is a paradise for walkers, whether expert or intermediate level, promising epic scenery that will take your breath away. After a hard day's walking, how better than to wind down with a hearty meal from one of the restaurants. For the snow enthusiasts, there is a great resort in Malbun, with ideal slopes for intermediate skiers and some easier and harder ones as well. Don't miss the opportunity to get outside and make the most of this stunning country.
One thing I loved the most about Liechtenstein was that it was the perfect detour on our overall trip. One morning we looked at the map as we decided our route to drive from Munich through Austria and into Switzerland, and we saw Liechtenstein and thought, why not? And honestly, it was one of the best decisions we made during the whole trip. A spectacular and fascinating little country, and one of my most unexpected favourites to have ticked off my bucket list. I know some people go just for the stamp for their passport, but I can tell you, it is worth so much more and I can't recommend exploring the country while you are there enough.
Have you been to Liechtenstein? What did you think? Would you like to go?
It can be easy to think that saving money is a luxury reserved for those with high income. But that couldn't be further from the truth! It's been years since I've written about budgeting and saving money, but it's something that is so important. Particularly in a time when we don't get educated about money matters when in school, we are left to figure it all out ourselves and often don't know the best way to approach it. Whether you're saving for travel, for a new car, a house or even just a rainy day, it's so important to realise that we can ALL save money if we put our minds to it, no matter how much we are earning. It's all about being smart, educating ourselves and planning ahead.
Now I'm in Hamburg and settled in my new job, I've started saving for a rainy day. I don't know exactly what I am saving for, but I've never been one to fritter away money without a plan and a back-up plan. Since traveling, I've been both the richest and poorest I've ever been and I know how crappy it is to run out of money. Since then I've never let myself do anything or make any decision without a cushion of money. I've never been a rich girl and I've never had anything paid for, I'm a hard worker who is smart with her money. One of the greatest skills you can learn in life is how to manage your finances and budgeting for your income. Now I want to teach you the skills I have learned so you can take control of your finances.
The key word here is honesty, you have to be brutally honest with yourself if this is going to be helpful. Take a close look at your finances, how much money you get paid monthly, how much goes to bills/rent/food, how much goes into your savings and how much you fritter away. Whether it's the latest top from Asos or another Primark haul, buying your morning coffee or eating out at Pret every day - all of these are luxuries and if you honestly want to save, you have to cut them out or at least cut back. A small daily sacrifice can save you a lot of money at the end of the month. By being honest with yourself about your incomings and outgoings, creating a spreadsheet and working out how much money you are wasting each month, you can clearly see how you could be saving a lot of money.
I love organisation and if you ask me, making a plan is the best way to see real results. Setting a savings goal is a great way to really track your progress and to make it achievable instead of vague and out of reach. When I went travelling for the first time, I already had a chunk of money saved but I knew I wanted to travel freely for as long as possible without working, so I set a goal of £10,000 and a deadline of one year to save until my flight. Making a plan kept me focused and setting money goals meant I knew how much I had left to save. Now I have set new money saving goals both for travels and for a rainy day, by using my new N26 bank account, I can do this all on the app and it tells me exactly what percentage I have saved and how much I have left to reach my goal. It's great to have it visualised and to have it so easy to move your money around. By setting a date deadline, it really keeps you focused and means it is not a never-ending task. Another good tip, start a savings jar and put all your loose change and notes in it. We lose so much money in loose change lying around and never end up using it. Empty pockets, clear out the sofa, find all the loose change and keep adding to it, you'll be amazed what you can save with one jar.
This covers a whole range of things, from cutting back on buying that pumpkin-spice mocha choca latte and pastry every day, you could be helping your waistline and your bank balance. Take saving money seriously, realise that buying lunch every day for a month could cost you between £200-300, while those coffees could add another £100-150. Then there are all those shopping trips and new nail polishes and all the things you don't really need but you want. Always ask yourself if you NEED it, or if you just WANT it. Then add up what that money could be used for - I always worked it out compared to how long I could travel in Thailand for, and a week in Thailand easily won over buying lunch.
This also applies to things like gym memberships and phone contracts - look at what you are spending and if it is really worth it or if you could cut back. Perhaps change up your expensive gym membership and start running outside for free, or cancel your expensive monthly phone contract and get a cheap SIM-only deal like I did before I went travelling. I went from spending £40 a month to £11 on my phone, and managed to convince my gym to let me have an unofficial short-term membership for a cheap flat rate instead of paying joining fees etc for just a few months. Be smart and cut back anywhere you can.
Do your research, don't just go with the bank you've been with for years, or the one your mum was with. Get informed and find out about interest rates, about ISAs and savings accounts with benefits. Trust me, we have a duty to be financially informed and to make sure we are wise about investing our money and saving it in the right places to make the most of our savings. If you have a chunk of money saved, why not put it in an ISA, you can't touch it so you won't accidentally spend it, and it has a higher interest rate than a current account. You could also look at investing a chunk of money over a longer period of time with potential for a larger payout in five or ten years. It seems crazy to plan this far ahead, but by making smaller investments now, you could really help support yourself later on. Need help? Why not make an appointment at your bank to talk over options.
Looking at your earnings and worrying you won't make your goal? Why not pick up some extra work? Perhaps you could work some extra shifts at your current job, or start bartending one night a week, babysit or even freelance in the evenings. There are so many options and ways for you to earn more money directly for your savings. Before I went travelling for the first time, I was working five jobs and still managed to have a social life, so don't tell me it isn't possible to do it and not burn out. You just have to be smart and organised. If your main job is low paid, perhaps consider whether you are in a position to ask for more money or even apply for a different, and better paid role.
Depending on your job, or friendship circle, there could be some great opportunities you are missing out on. Saving money makes you get creative, because I don't see why you should still have a life while you save. You just have to find new, cheaper ways to socialise and have fun. For instance, as a writer, I used an opportunity to manage a festivals website as a way of getting free tickets to events while I gained writing experience. I also started to invite friends round for dinner and drinks at my home, hosting dinner parties and the like as a way of saving money and enjoying the people around me. I made the most of free activities in my hometown and made the most of my last few months at home, while still saving money.
Look around you, do you have a wardrobe that is bursting at the seams, or a bookshelf weighed down by your novel collection? See the value in everything and question whether you need it anymore, you could make some serious cashlady! If you are planning to buy a house or go traveling, it could be a perfect time to have a huge clear out and sell your old stuff. Not only will it go to a good home, but you could make some good money on items that would otherwise just sit there. Before I went traveling, I had a huge clear out and sold half my wardrobe, lots of books, DVDs and CDs, plus all my old kids toys, I sold them online using sites like eBay and at car boot sales. I made a small fortune, a lot more than most of the items were worth and it also gave me so much more space. Now there are so many ways to sell items easily, including Depop and Facebook groups.
If your income is low, that doesn't mean you can't save. Don't let it put you off looking after your future. Try setting a goal to put aside 10% of your monthly income once you have taken bills/rent and expenses out of the mix, or save £100, or even £50 a month. It doesn't matter how big or small the number, just put something aside. Once you get into the routine and start to see a bit of money build up, you'll see how good it feels to know you are doing something for YOU. Top tip: as soon as you get paid, immediately move your savings into a separate account so that you can't spend it. It doesn't matter how big or small your goal is, perhaps you want to buy a laptop for your studies, or buy a designer handbag. Whatever your goal, work hard for it, it will make reaching the goal so much more satisfying.
Are you saving for something? What is your goal? How are you cutting back and saving for your future?