Over the years, I've loved coming up with epic birthday present ideas that leave behind the more predictable physical gifts in exchange for experiences and amazing memories. Ever since I've started spending so much time travelling, I've started to really value the time spent with others, and the memories we create, so much more than a house full of things. After all, when we're old and grey, we won't remember the scented bath products, but we'll never forget the thrill of something new.
I've just come back from celebrating my birthday with a lovely girls' weekend in Milan and Lake Como – it was an absolute dream! But before anyone complains that might be too expensive, there are so many ways to travel or have amazing experiences for your birthday on a budget. Whether it means visiting a friend, couch-surfing, staying in a hostel or going super simple and low cost – there's always a way to do it. You don't even have to leave home to celebrate, why not have a party with all your fellow adventurers and look into photo booth hire?
*This is a collaborative post
A birthday can be a perfect time to take that much talked about trip with your bestie – it could be a spa weekend, a day out in a new city or even a weekend away. Pop over to Milan like I did for a weekend of art galleries, gelato and bubbles, or head to Amsterdam for quirky cool museums, cute little canals and lots of sugary treats. There are endless options and when in Europe, it's easy to find super cheap flights and accommodation. Why not play flight roulette and book a last minute trip to the cheapest place available on Skyscanner?
If you're celebrating a big birthday, it could be the time to splash out on one of these epic birthday present ideas. Instead of presents, you could ask for donations for an experience such as a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, swimming with sharks in Australia or even a hot air balloon ride at sunrise. Something you won't forget in a hurry, it could be the perfect way to spend your 30th, 40th or 50th. It doesn't have to require travelling across the globe, your once-in-a-lifetime experience could be driving a race car or even taking flying lessons in the UK.
If you've got someone special in your life, why not use your birthday to celebrate and spend some time together. It can be easy to take each other for granted, so any excuse to enjoy each other's company, is a great one to me. You could go for a lovely meal out, or cook together at home. Fancy getting away? A spa weekend could be a good shout, or try something that indulges their favourite hobby by getting outdoors, going for a wine tasting or even a gallery. And don't forget to order a personalised champagne bottle to up the romance levels and add a personal touch to the celebrations. It makes the perfect gift.
How better to celebrate your birthday than surrounded by the people who made and raised you? Let's be honest, it can be hard to find time to catch up with your family when work and life get in the way. Or if you spend a lot of time far from home, it can be a great time of the year to get the family together to celebrate together. Whether you make a visit home, or your family comes to visit you – why not get the relatives around for food, drinks and a lot of laughs. My favourite family gatherings usually involve a barbecue or a family dinner.
This one is for those craving adventure, excitement and an adrenaline rush to combat any feelings of getting older. Who says getting older has to be boring or slow you down? Not me, if anything I love challenging my body and mind more with every year. Whether you prefer trekking in the rain-forest, white water rafting or even a skydive or bungee jump. There's something to get every pulse racing for an unforgettable day.
Got no-one to travel with? Why not save up your money and go solo with your birthday present ideas? This could be a perfect opportunity to go it alone and have an amazing adventure all of your own. I've loved solo trips to Budapest, Berlin, Slovenia and Italy in the past. I can honestly say my solo trips have been some of my most epic! It's been a fantastic chance to strike out on my own and see an amazing new place. I've never failed to make new friends to celebrate with on my birthday. Despite travelling solo for five years of birthdays, I have never spent a single one lonely.
If it's not an option to splash out. Why not get some fresh air and a change of scenery by treating yourself to a country camping escape? The perfect birthday present ideas are sometimes the simplest. So why not pack up a tent and your best mate and take a little road trip somewhere beautiful. You could go further afield to beautiful areas like the Lake District, Peak District or even the Irish countryside. Or if you don't have the time to travel. Just find a beautiful spot near your home and use it as an opportunity to discover what's right on your doorstep.
If you can't spare the cash on a big blowout. Why not choose birthday present ideas that are filled with love? One of my favourite birthdays was when my hostel surprised me with a picnic and birthday cake in the park. It cost less than $10 each but the fact that they made it a surprise was so thoughtful. It doesn't have to be extravagant to be the best birthday ever. Why not go simple and surround yourself with friends and family? Invite everyone round for dinner and drinks. Or you could have a picnic at the beach or in a nearby park.
How have you spent your birthdays? What do you plan for this year?
*This domestic violence post is a collaboration with multiple organisations and comes with a trigger warning.
For a long time, this was a post that was never going to be shared. One that would be forever banished to the bottom of my drafts and never to see the light of day. It was a topic that was hard enough for me to broach with friends and family, I couldn't bear to say the words domestic violence, or abusive relationship, out loud. I was humiliated and embarrassed to admit what I had been through, and not emotionally ready to confirm that this horrible period in my life was more than just a bad dream.
But then it really hit me. My experience, although heartbreaking and life-altering for me, was not unique. Sadly it's the story for many women – 1 in 3 women worldwide according to the UN – and many men. It is estimated that of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members. Now safe and far removed from the domestic war zone that nearly broke me, I can admit there were times when I wondered if perhaps my life would end up another statistic.
Most of the time, I buried these thoughts under layers of denial. Let's be honest, domestic violence doesn't happen to girls like me. At least that was what I thought – what we all think – until we're in those circumstances. I never thought I would be in a situation with someone I loved so much, where I felt physically unsafe and mentally unstable in their presence. I never believed another person could claim to love someone and yet be so cruel towards them. But they can, and it can happen to anyone. Which is why it became so important to me to share my experience – no matter how hard. Because if this can help one person who is going through the same, it will be worth it.
It was award-winning organisation, CHAYN that inspired me to share my story, after they launched their brand new, interactive and intersectional mental health guide for survivors of trauma and abuse. CHAYN is a global volunteer network addressing gender-based violence by creating survivor-led resources online. The group started in 2013, and have since reached hundreds of thousands of people across the world. Their goal is helping women who are experiencing abuse to find the right information and support they need to take control of their life.
Most importantly, their resources are driven by the needs of victims and survivors from diverse backgrounds. They provide support without judgement for each stage of women’s journeys. The organisation designs for resilience and empowerment – encouraging women to feel independent so they can take informed actions. They focus on making women feel heard, understood and motivated to live a happy life. While I didn't come across their work until very recently, I think their resources could be invaluable for someone living through the same situation I did. From this point on in this post, I will talk very honestly about my experiences of domestic violence, if you find this triggering at all, please feel free to not read any further.
I want to stress that for a long time, I really felt like I was in a loving relationship. Many people see abusive relationships portrayed on TV as extremely violent and assume it is like that from the beginning, but most don't start that way. It's far more subtle than that, and honestly, it was only with hindsight that I could really see the extent of the manipulation and guilt used against me. It started with his jealous accusations of flirting, and when I tried to end the relationship early on, manipulation through apologies and declarations of love, and talk about our future.
Criticism started small with the odd comment and eventually becoming a nasty, vicious attack on everything I said and did. It was no to everything I said, before I'd even finished saying it. I was wrong about everything, told I was stupid. It gradually broke down my confidence, made me question everything and blame myself. The bullying wasn't even noticeable at first, but later started from the second I opened my eyes in the morning, until I dared close them to sleep again that night. But most importantly, it was never constant – if it had been, no-one would ever put up with it. Instead, the cruel bullying was cleverly inter-weaved with overwhelming affection and love, and, at the worst times, cold indifference.
The sad thing is, that despite how bad the violence was, it was never the worst part. I could easily list the brutal and horrible things that I experienced, but anyone who has gone through the same will know why I'm not. Because there are no end of women out there – who may not consider themselves a domestic violence survivor – but who have seen the light in their partner's eyes disappear as they turn into a cruel, bullying shadow of themselves. The violence is never the worst part.
Physical abuse is easy to identify if it's punching, beating, slapping and kicking. But it can come in so many other forms. It could be restraining you to the point it hurts, spitting at you or locking you in a room. He might be sexually abusive towards you, or even tricking you into injuring yourself, or believing that's what happened. He might throw food or other items at you. It might even be violence that doesn't even hurt but is done to mock and belittle you because you're physically incapable of stopping them.
This is much more complicated and can cover a range of factors:
When you haven't experienced domestic violence, it's easy to ask why people don't just leave. But the truth is, many people try multiple times and often won't actually leave until months or even years later. It's more than just escaping physical violence, it's the emotional blackmail and bullying that makes you feel incapable of getting out. Escaping an abusive relationship is something you should be applauded for, it takes more strength and determination than most can imagine, but often it is just the start of a long journey back to yourself.
I can't tell you how many times I had my bags packed, how many times I went to leave and was dragged back in, both physically and emotionally. Eventually leaving happened after something finally snapped inside me and I decided I couldn't put up with any more.
It's the moment when you realise that no matter how much you love the person, you can't heal them, but they can break you.
No matter how much you want to save them and the relationship, you have to put yourself first or risk losing yourself altogether.
I never told a single member of my family or friends until the day I left. It's easy to say you should talk to someone, but not everyone has someone to talk to – a key trait of these situations is feeling incredibly isolated. Even if you do have someone to talk to, it's not exactly the easiest situation to talk about. No-one will talk until they are ready – in my situation I had tried to speak to a few friends about it but never got farther than saying we'd been arguing a lot. Deep down I think the reason I didn't say anything was because if I said it out loud, it meant the relationship was over and until the day I left, I wasn't ready for that.
In my situation, I was able to get myself out safely, but if you are in any danger, it's important that you tell someone. It could be family or friends, it could even be the police or even a neighbour. After you are out, don't be afraid to lean on family and friends – they want to help, they want to support you. Let them. It's not the easiest thing, but it makes a world of difference to surround yourself with love after being so hurt and isolated for so long.
In the wake of such devastation in your life, it's vital that you give yourself the space, and the time to heal. The effects of abuse can be long-lasting and can some people years to get through. During this time it's important to set boundaries and to focus entirely on yourself, and getting back to normal. Self-care means different things for different people – some may feel emotionally drained and have to force themselves to go through the motions of life for a while. Others may be a mess of emotions as they come to terms with what they have been through. What is important is that you realise your way of dealing with things, is the right way for you. It doesn't matter what other people think you should, or should not, be doing.
Focus on the basics – good nutrition and exercise make a huge difference to lifting that cloud. Talking to people about everything, or nothing, and even retreating from people and taking a break if you need it. Social media can be toxic and triggering at a time like this – so don't be afraid to cut yourself off from it. Surround yourself with love, and make plans for the future. Realise that while this was a low point in your life, it doesn't have to be your life. It’s vital that you remember you’re not the same person who was in that relationship – you found the strength to walk away. Being aware that you’re much stronger now than ever before can really help you to move forward with your life.
Sometimes it's not as simple as just walking away. You can still be at risk and have to get the police involved, or even go to court. One thing I can advise, if you are in a situation like this and unable to leave – document everything. Keeping a diary of what happens, tell a friend so you have a record and a witness, or even let your phone record the violence. It's a horrible thing to have to do, but it can be vital if you have to take things further to the police or require legal support later on.
Another way you can move forward with from an abusive relationship is to make a claim for compensation to help you through this difficult time and move forward with your life. With the help of CICA UK you can find out whether you might be entitled to compensation that could help you rebuild your life after domestic violence.
You are more than your experience. You can choose to be a victim and let your experience define you, or you can take a step back and realise it was never about you. That's a hard pill to swallow, but the truth of the matter is that this person is cruel and emotionally broken, and they just happened to come into your life. Perhaps the situation, or the type of person you are, made you more vulnerable to them, but that doesn't mean you are to blame. This could have happened to anyone, and it does happen, to so many more people than you realise.
But if you are ever to truly move on with your life and be happy again, you have to stop blaming yourself and stop allowing yourself to be a victim. You survived a horrible situation, one that you did not deserve and now it is time to realise that there is life beyond an abusive relationship. This is the type of situation that can very easily affect all your future relationships and life experiences – if you let it. Dealing with what has happened is not easy, but by taking control and facing your emotions, you stand the best chance of truly moving on with your life and having a future you deserve.
If you are in an abusive relationship, or know someone who is experiencing domestic violence, the following support networks and charities might be useful:
*This travel memories post is a collaboration with StickerYou.
Everyone has their own unique way of planning and capturing their travel memories. For some, it's a classic travel journal, for others it's collecting fridge magnets, or even postcards on their journey. For me? It's this blog, my photography and from the very beginning, it's been hugely important to me that my travel memories were captured and shared in a way that was unique to me. After all, no two people experience travel, or life, the same way, so why should we all share it the same way?
Over the years I've kept journals, scrapbooks and photo albums of photographs and things found on my travels. Despite enjoying living a minimalist life and limiting myself to only the essentials – these memories are important to hold on to. Much like the baby books my mum spent hours putting together when I was little, these too will be important memories to look back on in years to come.
My favourite way to store travel memories is by going old school with a travel journal – you can find some great ones from Paperchase. I've never been one for a dear diary moment but there's something rather lovely about sitting with a notebook and pen on a long journey and scribbling down all those memories. What's special about it, is not putting together some spectacular prose, but rather making tiny, barely legible notes about the hilarious moments, the people you meet along the way, the name of that random cafe you ended up in when you got lost that day. It's a stream of consciousness record of all the moments you don't share with the world, but never want to forget.
Some choose to do this in words, others prefer to sketch or draw a memory. I've even met some who like to get those they meet while travelling to write a message, or draw something to contribute to the memories. Think of it like a time capsule of your travels, something to look at in years to come and be instantly transported back to that day. You could even take it a step further and customize your notebook with custom stickers, or create a bucket list using these removable and waterproof travel stickers from StickerYou.
Much like bands will give their drum kit or amps a unique look using stickers collected from gigs. Why not accessorise your suitcase or backpack using custom badges or patches? Always be the first to spot your luggage arriving on the baggage carousel. Ensure even your bags are filled with travel memories. It's a great way to show off your travels and create a unique backpacker style. If you’re feeling creative, make your own luggage tags, with a custom sticker of your making to stick on the tags.
If you want a way to collect your travel memories and share them with friends and family while you're away, starting a travel blog can be a great way to keep everyone up-to-date with your adventures. By sharing your photos and stories all in one place. Everyone back at home will easily be able to visit the website and find out what you've been up to. Whether you're starting a travel blog to make money. Or you just want a private website for those closest to you. It's a perfect way to make the most of all those travel pics so they don't just sit on a memory card somewhere.
Perhaps you've already been travelling and want to create a board to reminisce over travel memories. With photos and all those old tickets and leaflets you've collected. Or, you may not have even left the country yet but just want to visualise your goal while saving and working towards it. This is a great way to start a bucket list and to stay focused on saving and planning. You could use customised stickers to make the board special to you. From choosing your favourite destinations, to giving yourself that extra little bit of inspiration and a touch of wanderlust. For those among us who are more visual. It really helps to take a look at a vision board first ting in the morning when you're tired from working three jobs to save your pennies for travel!
After your travels, when you've got endless memory cards and hard drives filled with travel photos. Your drawers are filled with random leaflets, bus tickets and cards from epic hostels. What are you supposed to do with them all? A great way to store these memories so that they're not just a mess you want to shove under the bed is to create scrapbooks and photo albums. You could try using Design Bundles scrapbook designs for some extra inspiration. Plus if you're suffering from the travel blues post-trip, this is a great way to relive all those super fun travel memories and to celebrate them.
For scrapbooking from a great trip, include different icons, flags, or the I heart stickers. Make a variety of different travel icons, flags, and more as a bumper sticker. Stick on mugs, laptops, bedroom doors, notebooks, or stick them on photos after trips! I have so many scrapbooks from my uni days. I'm so glad I took the time to make them special and to stick in all those random wristbands and posters from nights out and festivals. It's really made my university memories so special to look back on. I plan to do exactly the same for my travel photos. When I'm older and more settled. It will mean so much to be able to look back on these exciting times and travels in my life.
How do you store your travel memories? Do you prefer a notebook and pen or keeping it online?
We all want to find ways to make our money stretch that little bit further – but how do you know which money saving tips are right for you? After five years of budget travel, I've become a bit of an expert at cutting corners and finding ways to squirrel away a little bit more dollar for that next big trip. The important thing I've learned is that it is possible to save no matter how much you're earning – it just take determination and a willingness to make a few small sacrifices. And the good news? There are a few small tools and money saving tips I can share that could make your life a whole lot easier! But first? Honesty time.
The truth is, travel can easily flush out your finances if you're not careful – life sneaks up and asks for money just about a hundred times a day when you’re exploring strange new places. But as much as I wish I could claim that my bank account is a bottomless pit of endless free money, the harsh truth is that your savings can soon disappear if you're not careful. I’m often asked how I afford to go and see and do so many things, and whether I have a secret money tree, or even a sugar daddy. That’s why I thought I’d share my top tips on how to make every last penny stretch just that little bit further.
Debt is tempting. Buy now, pay later. Zero percent interest rates for ‘x’ amount of months. Follow your dreams now and pay us back down the line. You know the type of thing. The only problem is that eventually debt does in fact need to be repaid, and if you’re on a budget, any plans that you may have had may be shelved for month after month while you try your best to save up again. This website offers a debt calculator that could help you to gain perspective. If you’re juggling monthly payments and if you feel like you never seem to be getting anywhere with your debt, a debt calculator can be an extremely useful tool in making a plan and finding your way out of the debt maze.
This is a strange one to mention but I feel like so many people don't take advantage of it! Picture the scene. You’re in the supermarket picking up some washing machine tablets, some pasta for this evening’s meal, and a birthday gift for a family member - let’s say a book from the books-and-magazines aisle. What do you do? Looking at the shelf full of goods in front of you, do you scan across at eye level and choose brands and items you’re familiar with? You may well do - and that’s the problem. Look to the lower shelves for off-brand and lesser known goodies that do exactly the same thing as the more expensive items, but come at a fraction of the price. As long as you’re happy walking away with much more plain looking packaging rather than the bright and colourful items you’ve seen advertised, you could save a small fortune.
This is personal skill I have developed over the years. Never waste a birthday or Christmas or any other reason that people can find to put their hands in their pockets and buy you things. Save your own money by asking for what you need - from backpacks and footwear to asking for a donation towards a plane or train ticket, I’ve been cheeky enough to ask for it all (and it works!). People would much rather buy you a gift that they know you will enjoy, as opposed to adding one more candle to your ever growing collection of candles from people who think you love candles.
As a big nature-lover, a huge motivator for my travel is getting to explore beautiful parts of the world including national parks, and experiencing incredible animals in their natural environment. I love escaping the crowds and heading into beautifully untouched parts of the world to enjoy nature's playground. From camping under the stars, to spending days hiking trails, swimming in the ocean and climbing trees – it's a wonderful way to experience a country and see a different side to the busy cities. I've been lucky enough to visit some incredible national parks during my travels and wanted to share some of the more under-rated ones for those who love getting away from the crowds at larger parks.
One of my absolute favourite travelling experiences and a place I am dying to return to – Khao Sok National Park. This incredibly beautiful place was where I stayed in a floating cabin on a lake in the middle of an 80 million year old rainforest in the centre of Thailand. It was magical, especially hearing wild elephants in the jungle and watching the sunrise over the mountains. I wrote about my experiences at the national park, and the amazing two day trip you can do to visit. Read this post and this post, for the full details of my stay.
The most epic national park I have seen in Europe, this one was an unexpected gem during my summer road trip! Imagine fields of sunflowers, epic medieval structures high up in the cliffs that have stood there for hundreds of years, fortresses, incredible views and cute little villages overlooking the river. An amazing place to visit and explore, especially if you love hiking and great viewpoints. Read about Saxon Switzerland National Park in this blog post.
Without doubt, the national park to visit if you are going to Sri Lanka! An amazing landscape with tight, enclosed jungle, wide open plains, stunning beaches and swampland. Book yourself on to a safari, or even two, to stand the maximum chance of spotting wild leopards, wild elephants and lots of monkeys! Make sure you book a safari after doing your research to find the most eco-friendly companies that will ensure the animals remain protected to the highest standard while getting you the best possible view. Read my Yala National Park post here.
One of the most varied national parks I have ever visited – plus easily accessible from Melbourne if you only have time for a weekend visit! Boasting epic viewpoints and hikes, stunning beaches, forest, woodland, and even epic sand-dunes. There's so much to do, you could easily stay a week and keep exploring, but a weekend is perfect if you choose carefully what you want to do. Don't miss the sand-dunes and viewpoints, and read more in this blog post.
With a completely different landscape to that of Yala National Park, these wide open plains are a fantastic place to come if you dream of spotting elephants. With the opportunity to see up to 200+ elephants gather at the water's edge – including babies – each evening at sunset. Minneriya is a dream come true for many travelers. However, as much as I loved the experience and seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat, I did have some concerns over the aggressive driving of some of the safari guides' in their cars. Research and book carefully – read more here.
Still one of my absolute favourite national parks of all time – Kakadu is hidden away in the Northern Territory and isn't the easiest to access with 4-wheel drive needed for many of the tracks. However, it's worth it. With some incredible peaks, dense jungle and amazing sweaty hikes, plus amazing watering holes, waterfalls and swimming places to dive into – you'll see places you couldn't even dream of. There's amazing wild camping where you can really sleep under the stars, plus places where you can go and see real Aboriginal artwork on cliff-faces that dates back hundreds of years. Prepare for some mind-blowing sunsets. Read more about Kakadu National Park here.
A tiny little national park on tiny little Rügen Island in Northern Germany, this one is worth a weekend. Stepping into these ancient beech forests – it feels like time stopped a long time ago. Even more so than when I visited the Black Forest, I felt like Jasmund National Park was the place that must have inspired fairy tales of years gone by. There's some beautiful views from the very top, amazing forests and plenty of beautiful beaches to lay on when you're tired of hiking. Read more about what to see here, and how to plan your visit here.
Tasmania absolutely blew my mind – my time there was one of the best road trips of my life. During the 10-day trip, we combined Freycinet and Cradle Mountain National Parks for the most epic travelling experience. We started with Freycinet – imagine camping on the beach, not seeing a soul other than the friendly kangaroos and wombats, and watching whales on the horizon. Cradle Mountain was completely different – it was wild and untamed, crazy rock climbing up mountains, hiking epic paths and crystal clear lakes. Read this Freycinet post and this Cradle Mountain post for more details.
I've always loved exploring places by the ocean, or in the mountains, but spending last summer road-tripping Europe really gave me a new appreciation for forests. With deforestation and climate change, our landscape is changing so quickly and it's important that we take the time to help protect our forests and the creatures that live in them. But also to help them flourish once more, otherwise we risk losing certain areas forever. Visiting these amazing places brings such a sense of calm and reconnecting with nature, so why not try and recreate this feeling in your own backyard?
Choose one of hundreds of tree varieties on this site, and plant your own mini-forest – not only will you be helping the environment but you're investing in the future. How you ask? One of the reasons you feel so good when you are strolling through a forest is that the air is so much cleaner. In one year, a mature tree pulls about 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air and pumps out oxygen in its place. As a result, the air in forested areas tends to have fewer contaminants and be richer in the gases the human body needs.
Have you visited any of these National Parks? Which would you love to visit?
Five years of travelling have taught me a lot about creating the perfect capsule wardrobe for all my summer travels and now I want to share all I've learnt with you. Because the truth is, we don't need three suitcases bulging at the zippers in order to feel stylish when we travel. What we really need – is to become more creative with our clothing, and a bit more organised! It doesn't matter how much of an over-packer you were in a previous life, there's potential for all of us to start creating a much more sustainable summer wardrobe that will keep us looking fabulous season after season.
Throughout the year so far, my travels have taken my to Thailand, and soon to Germany and Italy, with more trips coming up. But despite all these different destinations, I'm taking a very similar wardrobe made up of the same key items. That's because I've been limited myself to only buying items I will wear all summer and beyond, that means taking a closer look at both my style and the sustainability of clothing before I take it to the till. I used to be someone who would cram everything she owned into her suitcase, now I often travel just with hand luggage because I've managed to focus in on the items I really need. And now, I'm going to show you exactly how I did that.
Don't get caught up in the latest styles when choosing the key items for your capsule wardrobe, instead focus on timeless shapes that suit your body and won't go out of style. Whether you want a capsule wardrobe to last one summer, or years to come, make sure all your chosen items can make multiple matches and that you can style them in different ways. If in doubt, always go classic with styles that come back into fashion every year when the shops bring out their summer ranges.
When planning a summer wardrobe which has to fit with lots of different trips and adventures, it's important to think about the materials you are investing in. When your clothing options are limited, you want to ensure you have only the most durable clothing which will last you throughout the summer and beyond. Look for crease-free fabrics to make packing a breeze, or, if you have an iron on hand, choose lighter fabrics such as linen to stay cool in the summer sun. Neutral colours are a good basis for a capsule wardrobe, with the option to brighten them up with flashes of colour in your accessories.
One big reason to create a capsule wardrobe that will last you all summer, and for years to come, is for the environment. Avoiding fast fashion and instead going for investment pieces by good quality and sustainable brands is a great reason to start cutting back on shopping. Not only is it sustainable for the planet, but it's sure to help your wallet in the long-run when you save on buying a whole new wardrobe for every trip this summer. Choose brands wisely and do you research to make sure you're buying from a company you want to invest in.
Every woman needs the perfect summer dress. It doesn't matter if you're sunning yourself in an Italian piazza, gallivanting on the beach in Thailand, or even spending the summer at a UK festival. We all want something effortlessly gorgeous to throw on when we don't know what else to wear, instantly fabulous with a slick of lipstick and a pair of sandals. Choose a dress you know you can wear with sandals, trainers or heels, one that you can easily accessorise with a good hat and sunglasses. Most importantly, choose a style that suits you, go for a mini-dress and show off those tanned legs, or go for a longer boho style if you prefer.
As much as we would love to believe summer is always blazing sunshine, you always need an extra layer. Think a light, cropped jacket for those cooler summer nights, or even a cover-up for when you're sightseeing in a foreign country. Pick a style that will go with anything – perhaps a classic denim jacket or blazer, or a kimono if you prefer something super light for more humid destinations. I never travel without an extra layer, and if you're spending a lot of time on planes, buses or trains, you might appreciate a light jumper you can throw on.
One of my fave summer items – whether you prefer a bikini, swimsuit or tankini – there's nothing like finding the swimmers that make you feel fabulous. No-one should feel uncomfortable on the beach, because every body is a bikini body. It's just a case of finding the style that makes you feel amazing! Experiment with styles and colours – don't want to show off that tum? Go for something high-waisted and perhaps a darker print. If you've got a big bum like me – go for tie-side bikinis to avoid that too-tight bottom look. Always be prepared for the beach, or the pool, with the ultimate swimsuit.
If you ask me, every gal should have a fine pair of trousers with all the girl boss vibes and plenty of sass on the side. I bought myself a fab pair last summer and they've become one of my most worn bottoms from my wardrobe. Pick a pair that can go from day, to night, and even to work, and you'll save yourself hours of choosing outfits for every occasion. Not into trousers? Find the perfect skirt, or even shorts, to fit your capsule wardrobe style for summer. If you're looking for a summer classic – why not invest in a pair of linen trousers? These never go out of style and look great exploring a new city in the sunshine.
No pressure, but there's a lot riding on your choice of summer footwear. Think carefully before you invest and work out exactly what shoes you need to take you through all occasions. If you're someone who lives in trainers, invest in a classic pair that will work with all outfit combinations and can be either smart or casual. If you're all about the summer heel – why not look at a wedge style that can be dressed up for down whether it's a summer wedding or a picnic in the park? For those who prefer a simple sandal, make sure you choose one with a supportive sole. Perhaps a pair of hard-wearing sandals with thicker soles would suit those planning on exploring new cities on foot. Or for those who prefer something a bit prettier, go for a sparkly style that works for day or night.
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Are you an over-packer, or an essentials-only kind of traveller? What key items make up your holiday wardrobe?
One of the questions I get the most is "how to save money for travelling?" Before I went travelling, I too thought of travel as a once a year treat – something that was too expensive to enjoy more often. I understand how it can seem crazy that someone could afford to travel so much. But as someone who has been travelling for nearly five years – I'm here to tell you that travel is both affordable and attainable. Travel is without doubt the best experience of my life and I'm so glad that I have invested so much time, energy and money into it. For every penny I have spent, I have had a lifetime of adventures that have grown and shaped me as a person.
Whether you've finally decided to take the plunge and book a big trip, or if you're still undecided, I'm here to have an honest chat about what's holding you back. The two things that put people off travelling the most? Money and fear of the unknown. Facing your fears is down to you, but I want to do what I can to help you understand the money. We live in a society that views money talk as a taboo, well I'm here to poo-poo the taboo. The more we talk openly and frankly about money, the easier it is to understand and the less intimidating it is. So if you want to know how to save money? Let this post help your dreams seem that little bit closer and more attainable.
It can seem like a mammoth task at first – but every traveller starts somewhere. Whether you want to save for a weekend away, a summer holiday or a year-long backpacking trip, the attitude has to be the same. This trip is something you've always wanted to do and will remember for a lifetime, if you really want it, making some small sacrifices to save for it shouldn't be a big deal. I've been accused of having boyfriends, or even a sugar daddy, paying for all my travels before. But the truth is, if you want to know how to save money for travel – it's by working bloody hard!
Before I first went travelling, I had been saving money for years 'for a rainy day' and I worked five jobs for almost a year before leaving. Likewise, I am constantly picking up jobs, working freelance and through this blog while I travel – trust me, it never stops! As big as that mountain may seem, breaking it down into simple, manageable steps is the best way to tackle it. It can seem like you'll never reach your goal without winning the lottery, but perhaps you just need to set smaller goals to make it seem more attainable.
When I was trying to save for travelling – I found it really helped to work out my monthly incoming and outgoings, once I knew exactly what I was earning and spending, it became easier to cut back. Each month on payday, while everyone else was out spending – I would figure out what I realistically needed to spend over the month ahead and moving the rest into my savings account. This didn't mean giving up all fun in life – I would budget for fun with friends and family as well. By working out exactly what I should be spending, it helped keep it under control. Ask yourself how to save money by cutting back on what you're currently spending – you'll be surprised how much you can save.
TIP: Create a spreadsheet and monitor every penny for a week/month – be honest about your spending and it's easy to see where you can cut back.
Read my other posts with top money-saving tips here.
Work out the costs of your trip for travel, accommodation, food and fun – now break that down by what you can realistically save each month from your earnings. Not fitting in with your timescale? If you're not earning enough, consider getting a second job or taking on extra hours at work, or extend your timescale. Once you have an idea of how much you can actually save each month without being miserable – you'll know whether you want to push yourself harder or whether that actually works for you. Set yourself a monthly goal for saving and put this amount immediately into a high interest savings account or ISA on payday. Hopefully you may even still have some extra money left over at the end of the month as a bonus saving!
TIP: You can get some apps which can automatically save a % of your paycheck each month, or can help you budget realistically and keep on top of your finances quickly and easily. Check out this article.
A great way to help you save extra cash and cutting down on the spare time when you would be spending, is to take on extra work. When I was saving to go travelling, I was working full time as a journalist, then in the evenings I would babysit for friends, work at the pub up the road, take on extra freelance work or paid work for this blog. I was creative and took on work where I could find it, choosing different things to keep it interesting and to broaden my CV at the same time. These same jobs helped me land a job an an au pair in Australia, and lots of hospitality and freelance work later on as well. Identify your skills and see if you can take on extra hours at work. Or go for something different and pick up shifts at your local supermarket or bar.
TIP: Sell your skills (IT, writing, design, social media) and work online in the evenings, or ask around with friends if you can babysit, clean, walk pets etc.
Make sure you are set up with the best accounts for saving your money – you want to look for high interest savings accounts and ISAs to ensure you make the most of your money. Also, look into investing your money, and into credit cards and air miles points cards as great ways of getting good bonuses when you book travel. Make sure you use discount codes available online whenever you buy anything and sign up to newsletters to get initial discounts as a new customer. If you have to spend, do it wisely and start thinking in terms of what everything would be worth in the currency of the country you want to visit. For example, when I planned to travel Asia, I would ask myself whether I wanted to have a night out, or a week's accommodation/food in Asia – it made the decision easy!
TIP: Also – start a savings jar at home and put all your loose change into it at the end of every day. Anytime you sell anything, put a chunk of it in the jar and don't open until you leave for your trip.
One great way I found to save money for travel while clearing out my cupboards, was to sell items. This ranged from old clothes, books and DVDs to jewellery, kid's toys and even picture frames! I used a combination of eBay and local car boot sales and made a small fortune off stuff that was only cluttering up my home. We all accumulate so much stuff, and I can tell you, if you're planning on travelling long-term, you'll want to minimise your life as much as possible. It's easy to sort out a couple of bin bags of stuff that you would normally take to the charity shop, and to make a few £££ from it. Selling gold and old jewellery is a great way to make some extra cash, check out this website for more information.
TIP: There are some great apps and websites like Depop which you can easily sell your old items on, these are quick and easy to use and can be done all on your phone.
So many of us are signed up to so many different memberships – from gym memberships at £20-40 a month (this could save you up to £500 a year!) to sites for streaming music and TV. With Spotify and Netflix at £9.99 a month, cutting both of these could save you £240 a year! Don't forget that some streaming providers are available on multiple devices – team up with your mates and split the cost! Also, start looking at your bank statement to check outgoings – you could easily be signed up to something without realising. I recently found that NOW TV had never actually cancelled a subscription when I requested it and had charged me for months extra! Don't get caught out by an old insurance or subscription.
TIP: Cancel that gym membership and start running or exercising outside, or check Youtube for lots of free workout videos including Yoga with Adriene.
Ask yourself, do you really need that mocha-choca-cappuccino-latte with extra foam and a toffee Danish every morning? Skip Starbucks and you could save up to £10 a day – that's £200 a month! If you're guilty of buying lunch every day instead of making it at home, that could be another £200 a month right there. It's so easy not to realise quite how much your cheeky little treats to yourself add up each month, but once you actually add it up – that's a lot of empty spending! Start making your own lunches at the start of the week – you can spend an hour prepping a week's worth of lunches and save yourself hundreds. Carry around a refillable water bottle and save even more on bottled water. Read more about the impact these choices could have on the environment in this great post on reducing plastic waste.
TIP: Get up a bit earlier each morning to make yourself a nice coffee to-go for your journey to work – save a fortune and you don't feel like you're missing out.
We've all got a weakness – whether it's eating out, smoking, spending a fortune on alcohol on nights out or even shopping. If we're giving in to these every weekend, or even during the week, it soon adds up. Instead of spending £100-200 each weekend on food, drinks, cigarettes and new outfits – why not look for alternative options? It doesn't mean you have to stop having fun, just get a bit creative with costs! Instead of eating out, make a fancy brunch at home for a third of the price. Invite your friends round for pre-drinks before you go out to save money, skip the ciggies because ew, and why not restyle an old outfit?
TIP: For those addicted to shopping – start restyling older clothes and only shop at vintage/second-hand stores. It makes you more creative with your style, and gives you a unique look while saving £££.
It's amazing the amount you can save with a bit of forethought. Instead of leaving everything to the last minute and ending up paying higher prices for convenience, plan ahead to cut costs. Plan your meals for the week and list the exact ingredients/quantities on your shopping list, combined with not shopping when you're hungry and you could save a fortune. The same goes for alcohol – if you want to spend less on alcohol, look for deals in the supermarket and make sure you have it at home to save you drinking more when you go out. If you want to catch up with friends but not spend a fortune? Why not plan a dinner party evening or tapas night where everyone brings a dish, you get to host all your mates while saving on inflated restaurant prices.
TIP: Think about which supermarket you shop at and consider a cheaper option – after all, they all sell the same products but sometimes at vastly different prices.
Friends and family may want to spoil you at Christmas or on your birthday – but instead of the usual socks and bath products – why not ask them to make a small donation to your travel fund? Or, if they insist on giving you a present – why not ask for travel-related items? A backpack or suitcase would be a great gift for a traveler, or why not ask for travel insurance? It's not the most exciting present, but it saves you a chunk of money and organising, and gives them peace of mind. Explain to them that you're trying to cut back on stuff, and would really appreciate any support they can give. It helps them to feel part of your adventure and you can even send them photos from your trip to show how much you appreciated their support.
TIP: Why not start a travel blog? It's a great way for friends and family to keep up with your travels, especially if they helped you save! Plus you might even be able to make some money from it!
What are your top ways to save money? How have you cut back to save for travel?
*This post is a collaboration with New York Harbour Boat Tours.
Planning New York city breaks is no easy task – there's no end of amazing things to do and see in the Big Apple – but how do stop yourself from wasting time? When you've been looking forward to your trip for months, you want to make the most of every second and focus on the things YOU really want to do, not what everyone tells you that you "should" do. The city may never sleep, but let's be honest, if you did the same you'd be dead on your feet. So this post is all about how to cram in everything you want to see and do, without feeling like you're rushing around like headless chicken!
As someone who has visited the city five times, I've had the opportunity to visit as a tourist keen on sightseeing, and the chance to return and focus on the parts of the city I love the most. Each trip has been completely different and each time I've been, I've discovered a whole new side to the city and fallen in love with it all over again. Now I want to help you do the same – not that you need any help to love New York City – but by taking your trip from the same old New York city breaks, to a trip you'll never forget.
If you're more flexible on when you travel, it's worth monitoring flights and airline sales for some seriously budget-friendly prices. I've just searched on Skyscanner for the cheapest month and it's coming up with flights from London to New York at just £137 one-way in October. Yes New York is an expensive holiday overall, but there are a lot of ways to cut costs and make it that little bit more affordable.If you're unsure of how long you want to spend in the city, four to five days is a perfect amount of time for a first visit.
I've traveled there at Christmas, Easter and October, and all three are lovely times of year to visit. Flying out on Christmas day was significantly cheaper and the time difference meant we arrived by lunchtime and could still enjoy the day (plus everything is open like normal in New York at Christmas!). Do your research and check the weather for the time of year you want to visit, the city can sometimes be caught up in extreme snowstorms that could ruin your holiday!
I've stayed in different hotels during my stays in the city - the first was the Flathotel which you may know as one of the hotels where the models in America's Next Top Model used to stay during the show. It was one of the best hotels I have ever stayed at in my life, with the most incredible pancakes for breakfast but sadly it has since shut down. My last time in New York, I stayed at the Wellington Hotel, which is in Midtown Manhattan and just 400ms from Central Park and Carnegie Hall. It's perfect positioned with great access to shopping, sights and more within walking distance.
If you're traveling on a backpacker budget, I recommend checking out the hostels around the city for cheap beds in dorms (after all you'll only be sleeping there) or private rooms that are more budget-friendly. Check out Hi NYC Hostel for a unique stay in a historic castle-like building featuring lots of great communal areas for meeting new friends and joining in the daily activities. They're one of the highest rated hostels on Hostelworld and have two metro stations within walking distance that link direct to Times Square and Central Park.
There is always a queue for the Empire State Building so make sure you either get up early and get to the front of the line, or get there in plenty of time for sunset. Some may say it's a cheesy tourist spot, but you'll be hard pushed to escape these in New York, and honestly it gives you such a fantastic view of the city. And the Big Apple is definitely a city you want to appreciate from the 102nd floor. Once you see New York from these heights, you'll never forget it.
A memory that will never leave me, I remember when I first went to New York and the World Trade Centre was just a pile of rubble waiting to be cleared. Over the next few visits, I watched it take shape and become the Ground Zero and 9/11 Memorial we see today. It's incredibly heartbreaking, poignant and hard-hitting to visit the site of such a brutal attack, I still remember where I was when I heard the attack had happened. But now, it is a testament to the strength of the people in the wake of destruction.
Whether you decide to head over on the boat and visit the island, or you prefer to take in the view from Battery Park, it would be rude not to greet the Statue of Liberty.
Central Park is such a beautiful place, you could easily spend endless time there. Whether in the winter for the ice skating and snowball fights, or in the summer for long afternoons in the sunshine, visiting the zoo and exploring the little walkways.
If there's one city that does breakfast well, it's New York. From blueberry pancakes with bacon, to eggs sunny side up, French toast dripping in syrup to countless other options – you'll be spoiled for choice! Check out Fluffy's Café and Pizzeria, in Midtown, for insane blueberry pancakes, huge muffins and delicious cheesecake.
There are no end of delis in the city and they all offer freshly made sandwiches, bagels and much more to order. Pick your fave fillings and put in your order! I was obsessed with the smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels on my last visit!
Who could say no to a slice of pizza? New York has the most epic array of pizza places - it would be impossible to cover them all! Here I hand over to Em Shel - who has definitely done her research when it comes to the best pizza in New York, check out her recommendations here.
Whether you love Italian food, Chinese food, Japanese sushi or Mexican, you're sure to find amazing restaurants serving the very finest during your New York city breaks. But be sure to do the research first and have a place in mind so you don't waste time deciding when you're starving! Read the reviews and get recommendations from friends who have been. For me, I love Italian food so every visit means trekking to Little Italy for the best Italian food made authentically in restaurants that have been there longer than I've been around.
If you're eager to get out and explore on foot to work up an appetite after stuffing yourself silly, why not take a walk to some of the different neighbourhoods? Little Italy is a personal favourite, it feels like you've stepped back in time and the streets are filled with the most amazing smells of food cooking in the family-run restaurants.
On the way to Little Italy, you'll find yourself in Chinatown and you'll want to stop and take in the sights. Crowded streets selling all kinds of items, restaurant windows filled with hanging ducks and lanterns overhead. It's well worth a walk around the area for a taste of something different to Midtown.
New York has lots of great markets for vintage shopping and quirky items, get away from the city and head over to Brooklyn to see the city from another viewpoint. Brooklyn Flea Market is a great place to find amazing pieces whether you're looking for second-hand records, clothes or furniture.
Let's be honest, there's no chance of you going to New York and not shopping! Head to the famous 5th Avenue and go from Breakfast at Tiffany's to afternoon at Armani. Whatever your budget, you'll find shopping to suit, from the designer brands down to seasonal sales. If shopping is a priority, look at the time of year you travel – when we visited at Christmas, from Boxing Day onwards, everything was in extreme sale-mode and we saved so much money!
Tired of walking? Why not sit back and enjoy seeing the city from a different perspective, from the deck of a private motorboat with New York Harbor Boat Tours? Skip the crowded NYC boat tours and instead take a unique cruise with views of the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan skyline, the Freedom Tower, Ellis Island and more. With two and three hour cruises up for grabs, it's the perfect way to relax while cramming in the sights during your New York city breaks. The company offer small group and private boat tours departing from two locations, conveniently in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. Prices start at $90 per person, full details of New York Harbor Boat Tours available here.
Keen to catch a show while in the city? Tickets can be crazy expensive for some of the shows, but you can save money by heading to the ticket sellers in Times Square where they sell the last remaining seats for the day a few hours before the shows. It's a great place to pick up reduced price tickets and get great seats! I've seen Mamma Mia and The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and wow, they were incredible!
Whether you're into ice hockey, basketball, boxing or wrestling, Madison Square Gardens is the place to catch epic live sports in New York. I've always wanted to get tickets to the basketball while in the city but haven't yet had the chance. You can buy tickets online here or pick them up from ticket sellers in the city, just be careful where you buy!
Can't splash out on sports or theatre tickets, but fancy an evening's entertainment? Why not take in a dinner show? There are so many to choose from and they are so much fun, paired with a great meal. Check out this list by Culture Trip to find one that you like the sound of. We went to the World Famous Jekyll and Hyde Club – the world's only haunted restaurant! The show was fantastic and had us laughing the whole way through and the food was absolutely delicious.
You will never run out of things to do and see during your New York city breaks, but the important thing is to focus on the things you really want to spend time on. Yes, I've listed the big sights and some activities here, but you don't have to do them all – you could pick just one or two and skip the rest. You might want to focus entirely on food and culinary experiences, or sports and watching as many as possible, you might even have tickets for a gig! Don't feel the pressure to cram too much in, remember you're on holiday and you should enjoy every second of your trip, no matter what pace you travel at.
I also really enjoyed visiting the art galleries, the New York City Library, Central Station and various other famous sights including Carrie Bradshaw's flat from Sex and the City. Everyone is different, and many other people might not enjoy these, or many not have the money to spend on a lot of paid activities. If you're on a budget, you should check out this post I wrote on finding free activities when you travel. Also, read about my free experience stargazing on the New York City High Line with a local astronomy group - one of my highlights of the trips.
Have you been to New York – what was your favourite memory? Is New York on your bucket list?
*All images by the amazingly talented Jörg Schubert - find more of his work here.