I've always very firmly believed that fresh air, a good dose of nature and time spent by the ocean can cure just about anything. It doesn't matter how stressed I've been over the years, or how frustrated, I've always found solace in spending a few days away from everything, getting back to basics and enjoying life in it's purest form. Over the years I've spent weekends camping in the Lake District, Peak District, in the shadow of Mount Snowdon in Wales, and around my home in Norfolk. I've stayed in campsites ranging from a full-on Glamping experience complete with champagne and pink wellies, to the most basic, wild campsites you can find, and I've done it in all weathers. Later on, as I discovered my love of festivals, I quickly realised that I was a much bigger fan of the four-day weekend camping events that allowed you to truly lose yourself in the music. I teamed up with Yelloh! Village, who offer the world's finest open-air hotels and camping rentals, to write about what makes the perfect camping experience.There's something about getting back to basics with a group of your closest friends that just spells out a lot of fun. Whether you're heading off to explore an untouched wilderness and can't wait to get away, or you simply fancy going a bit wild in the woods, it's a perfect way to actually spend time together with no distractions. It's easy to forget that every second we spend with friends these days is dictated by the myriad of text messages, Snapchats, Facebook updates and Tweets that dominate our existence these days. Once all of those are done, often your time together is up and all you have to remember it is what is documented online. I was out with friends the other night and even dancing in a bar, every second of our moves was being photographed and snap-chatted by the pair for social media. It's funny and it's become an inherent part of our lives now but sometimes it is nice to just switch everything off and talk surrounded by nothing but nature. I guess I'm a country girl at heart, but I just find it so soothing to be away from the stresses of everyday life and there's something about open space that just heals me.Some of my best camping memories are of the Glamping weekend I spent with my two best friends, the time spent camping in national parks in the Tasmanian wilderness as part of an epic 10-day roadtrip, and the hilarious times we've had setting up our tents and lounging round the campsite at festivals. Everyone was just present, laughing at each others' jokes and experiencing every second together rather than thinking about how they would record it for social media. Every camping experience I've had boils down to the same factors whether we're raving at a festival, getting lost in the woods or out on the moors - it's the same few things that really make a camping trip a success, and a hell of a lot of fun. If you're sat reading this thinking camping is so not for you, then think again - I never used to think I would enjoy it but it's now become one of my favourite travel experiences. Plus it's a great way to explore the world around you when you're travelling on a budget, whether locally or on the other side of the world, the basic components of camping remain the same, it's just the weather that gets better!
What makes the perfect camping experience?
This is definitely something you want to invest in - buying a £5 tent from the supermarket and expecting it to withstand all weathers is just stupid. Even if you're going to a festival - if it rains and becomes windy, your tent is going to flood and collapse and you won't be able to get dry and warm. A camping trip can quickly become miserable if you have no way of getting dry. Look for great deals in the sales - I picked up my beauty of a tent in the Halfords sale a few years ago and it has seen me through countless amazing festivals and trips - it's huge and easy to put up, and it was reduced to less than half price when I got it.
Choose your pitch wisely - there's nothing worse than putting your tent up in a rush and finding out later when you're trying to sleep that you've camped on a 45 degree slope or there's a massive rock right where you're laying. Trust me, as someone who did a four day camping festival sleeping at a 45 degree angle because we arrived too late and couldn't find a better spot - it's absolutely bloody awful. Don't do it. Always feel for rocks and lay down inside before you peg it to the ground.
Plan the food you take well and it can change your whole experience, forget instant noodles and soup, its easy to cook up a good and healthy meal on a little gas stove. On my 10-day road trip around Tasmania we planned heavy meals of chilli and rice, and pasta to refuel after days of climbing mountains. It was quick and easy to prepare for four people so don't be put off by the thought of it. There's nothing better than a good, filling, hot meal at the end of a day camping.
There are some incredible places to camp in the world - under the stars in central Australia, on the beaches in Tasmania, and in the shadow of mountains all over the world are just some of my favourites. Choosing your location well can take a regular camping trip to the next level. Yelloh! Village has some amazing locations scattered across France which give you the opportunity to explore the landscape, towns and villages. Choosing a campsite where you can have a campfire also makes all the difference.
Camping is a great way to travel if you're on a budget. Especially for groups or families where accommodation could be expensive - there are so many free and cheap options available for campsites, and if you're planning on repeating the experience your camping equipment is an investment rather than an expense.
Always look out for the skies above you - I've been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places with incredible views of the super moons, specific constellations, shooting stars. Sometimes the most beautiful sights are the ones that are totally free. There's nothing better than a spectacular sunset, or making it up for sunrise.
The one thing that really makes the experience complete has to be the people you share it with. I say it all the time but it never becomes any less true, even in the most dire situations and the worst accommodations, the people are what shine through your memories long after the trip has finished. Taking your best friends who will make you laugh until you cry is the best way to approach a trip - no matter what goes wrong you'll still make it an experience to remember.
One of the highlights of visiting Big Berry is getting a real taste of the Slovenian lifestyle against the incredible backdrop of the untouched countryside that lies just beyond the camp gates. My week was spent there visiting several local producers of beer, gin, oil and chocolate amid visits to viewpoints, hidden lakes and abandoned mills. We took breaks for delicious meals made from local ingredients including some of the best trout and carp I have ever eaten, fresh from the river that runs through the camp itself. I even had the opportunity to take a peek into the past when I visited an old fashioned Slovenian home to see how the people of years gone by would have lived, and the crafts and memories that remain.It hit me when I was there, just how hard it is these days to find a landscape that is actually untouched and undamaged by commercialisation. There are few places left in this world you can truly escape the modern world and step back in time into a completely natural landscape where green forests and clear rivers stretch as far as the eye can see, and eagles soar across the sky. It sounds like something out of a movie because we just don't get a chance to see this very often without a fast food restaurant or some kind of brand getting in the way. But Eastern Europe is a very different matter, the Balkan countries just seem to have escaped the commercialisation that has dominated so many other places in Europe. There are still so many wide open areas you can get lost in and that makes them very precious to the modern day traveler.When it comes to local producers, Primostek and the nearby villages are a wealth of smaller companies that pack a punch with top quality products that kept me fed and watered throughout my stay. Everything from fruit, cheese and bread, to gin, wine and beer. There's plenty to keep your stomach full and a smile on your face knowing your stay is supporting the local companies, plus you get a chance to see the process behind the products. All of the companies allow for tours to see how their food, drink and even body products are made during your stay, which is a great way to meet the local people and see another side to Slovenia.My favourite tours had to be Berryshka - the liqueur and chocolate makers - and Vizir Pivovarna - the beer producers. The owners of both were so welcoming and took the time to talk us through the whole process of creating the products as they took us on a tour of the factory/brewery, before enjoying a tasting of the products. For me, the highlight of Berryshka was tasting the unusual lavender chocolate, a new product, and tasting their liqueurs served in a chocolate cup. Just delicious. Vizir Pivovarna had a great range of beers and were happy to explain the differences to a non-beer drinker, my favourite ones were definitely the dark beer and the stronger 10% beer they produce. Another huge highlight was getting to eat at the home of the delicious apple juice producers, Lamut, where we enjoyed a home cooked feast of fresh carp and trout washed down with apple juice, wine and a lot of Rakea.During the visit we also took the time to walk around local vineyards and taken some stunning views from the mills and local beauty spots. It was great being shown around by the team who knew all the best places to see and best things to do. If you're staying at Big Berry, I would recommend getting out and exploring the local producers and seeing more than just the camp, get a real taste of this part of Slovenia and you'll fall for the beautiful location just like I did. I mustn't forget my favourite activity, on the last day we went rafting down the river and I don't even have the words to describe how much fun and just how breathtaking the views were.
Have you been to Slovenia - what was your favourite part? Does the wide open landscape appeal to you? Have you visited local producers on other trips?
Dropped off at the side of a dusty road in Vang Vieng after the most traumatic journey through winding, mountainous roads, I won't lie and say my first thought wasn't "oh God this place is a hole." It looked like the back end of nowhere and it was blisteringly hot - grabbing our bags we walked towards the centre to find a place to stay. After checking out several and consulting with our Lonely Planet and Google Maps to get as close to the centre as possible. We finally ended up staying at Viang Vilay Guest House. It wasn't great, but it was cheap and we didn't plan to be in the dorms much. We ended up in a giant 30 bed dorm that was spread across three rooms in open plan style - it worked in our favour because after the first night everyone else moved out into private rooms and we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. Plus we were right in the centre of everything, right next to the tubing station, and we were paying less than anyone else we knew, which quite frankly is the only important thing when booking accommodation in Vang Vieng.
From the moment we arrived, we could see it was a dusty ghost town and we wondered where the hell everyone was. At around 6-7pm it became clear, as the tuk tuks rolled in with some of the drunkest people I have seen in a while, that everyone had been off on the river tubing. Now I apologise in advance, this isn't going to be the most cultured of my posts but hot damn this was a fun few days, and if you like a good party, you'll love tubing! Vang Vieng turned out to be an awesome time for us because there were so many people we knew there - some from travelling Thailand, others from the slow boat and some even just from Luang Prabang. It was a great reunion and everyone was in a party mood - you can't really go to Vang Vieng if you don't want to party. I have to question those older couples who were clearly just on holiday there when other than the Blue Lagoon and a couple of caves, there isn't really much else to do, but each to their own. It's not even a very welcoming place as you can tell that the people who live and work there can't really stand the drunks and have a very low opinion of us - they were really rude from the moment we arrived - but who can blame them when we show up and get wasted.In terms of food, I have to be honest and say the food in Laos disappointed me and everywhere I tried it I just found it tasteless and overcooked. So I gave up in the end and enjoyed a tasty spicy pizza at Milan Pizza (lots of spacier variations are available if you fancy that kind of thing) and lived off baguettes from the stalls in the street - it was cheap and I was hungover a lot of the time so it was perfect for lining my stomach for tubing. I keep teasing you with mentions of tubing but you'll have to wait for my next post for my tubing guide. Instead, let me tell you about the lovely part down by the river where you can chill out on decking with your feet dangling in the water and the sun beaming down on you. It's such a perfect place for relaxing in the day, and apparently attracts a lot of ladyboys on a day out, who were all enjoying posing for photos. I would really recommend heading down there at one point or another for the afternoon, there is also more accommodation including bungalows down there. For bars in the evening, Jaidee's is good for chilling out and getting a little freaky or head to Sakura and the Irish Bar for free drinks and partying after tubing.
If you're looking for something to do, the main two things we came across were visiting caves and the Blue Lagoon. The caves were supposed to be a couple of kilometres some thought we would walk and get some exercise but it was definitely further and the heat was ridiculous. We finally arrived and paid to go in, after being told to go through so we would find the Blue Lagoon, we that never happened. We got lost in the caves, one of us nearly lost her shoes and the head torches they gave us were useless! We ended up having to try and retrace our footsteps out the same way because we couldn't find anyway through the caves - there was devotedly a moment when I thought I would never see daylight again - around the time I tripped and hurt my foot. If you visit these caves (which are signposted from the river) wear proper shoes because there is climbing involved, take a better torch because the ones they give you are terrible, and be brave - I have never been in caves that dark before. It was like a scene from a horror film!The Blue Lagoon was much better but definitely wasn't where we were told it was - get a tuk tuk or hire quads as it is quite far and the road is pretty bad for a scooter. It's so worth the trip, the whole section of water is a rich blue colour from the calcium pigments and looks beautiful. There are loads of rope swings, high points to jump off into the water and sunbathing spots - it may have taken ages for us to get there but we were so glad when we finally did. You'll probably want a few hours there to relax and jump around so indulge your inner kid and take along your friends for a fun afternoon getting over your tubing hangover before starting all over again. If you're too hungover to make it that far, there's a whole series of restaurants that have Friends playing on repeat all day opposite Jaidee's which is great when you feel rubbish and it's as humid and hot as it was when I was there. You don't notice the heat quite so much when tubing as you're out on the river and cool off in the water, but in the town it's a very intense heat that leaves you with little energy to take part in other activities on offer like rock climbing - we really wanted to do this but it was too hot while we were there.
Have you been to Vang Vieng? What did you think of it and would you go back? What else did you get up to whole you were there?