It can be so difficult to get the right information about applying for French visas, so this guide is for my US readers who are planning their next escape. With all of this Brexit nonsense looming over us UK travelers, I can't help but feel intense gratitude for having been born with a UK passport and having been able to spend my life traveling visa-free within Europe. We really do take the ease of our travel between France and Amsterdam, or Italy and Greece for granted whether we're backpacking or enjoying a summer holiday.
Now I don't know whether Brexit will affect travel within Europe, but as someone who has just moved to Germany, it's definitely opened my eyes to the struggles my US friends go through in order to travel the world. How much time must been spent applying for visas and stressing over their arrival for each trip. So when I heard about Favisbook, I thought it was about time I wrote a post aimed at my US readers who want to expand their horizons and apply for French visas. This post is a collaboration with Favisbook but as usual, all views are my own.
Favisbook was set up by travelers after they were forced to wait months to pick up the necessary French visas and travel documents needed to travel to France. Facing the struggle together, the team decided to create a way for travelers to get the documents they needed faster, so that you guys won't face the same problems. Now you can skip the line and get into the embassy as early as possible to apply for your French visa.
Planning a trip to France, or always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night? Then this is the post for you, because trust me, nothing compares to your first time in Paris. Now thanks to Favisbook, residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to book early French visa appointments with the Consulate General of France in New York, instead of waiting months for an appointment. Simply choose your day, fill in your information, and Favisbook will expedite your visa appointment to French Consulate with a simple click.
One of the most popular destinations in the world, many visitors to France have to obtain a Schengen Visa before entry. Booking an interview to get a Schengen visa is a time-consuming process for many applicants due to the complicated French consulate's website which often doesn't have available appointments and applicants are required to wait for months on end just for an appointment to become available. Now thanks to the system Favisbook have set up, you can book appointments for all kinds of visas, from the working visas, long and short-stay visas and even Schengen visas.
Favisbook simplifies the whole procedure by just showing available appointments and making it much easier to apply for the French visa slots. Using their system, appointments for multiple people can be booked and you don't even need to create an account with Favisbook, all information remains safe and confidential using their secure network. Within 24 hours of submitting the booking and payment, you will receive your appointment details by email, and your appointment could be as soon as the next day. After booking your French visa appointment with Favisbook, your next step is to prepare for your interview with the consulate.
If the appointments available don't suit your schedule, you can even contact Favisbook by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with your availability and they will do their best to find you an appointment that will be suitable. Find out more about Favisbook online here.
We all know I'm an advocate for anything that makes life, and travel, a lot easier and this sounds like a great way to actually add in a middle man but to make your travel planning run a lot smoother. If it leaves me more time for trying on bikinis and planning all the amazing food I'm going to eat on a trip, then it's got my vote!
Have you struggled with applications for French visas? What's been the hardest visa application you've had to put in? Would you find a service like this helpful?
Imagine sitting at the edge of Sri Lanka's wildest jungle surrounded by fireflies, and with elephants and wild leopards just beyond the fence, as you tantalise your tastebuds with a five-course feast by candlelight.
It sounds magical doesn't it? Basically the ultimate date night, and that was our reality when we were lucky enough to stay at Yala Safari Camping during our month-long trip to Sri Lanka. The three days we spent living in the jungle were beyond anything we could have dreamed, it really was a true taste of paradise and gave us a whole other experience to just going on a day safari, this way we were as close as you could get to jungle life. It's not every day you get to live an experience worthy of honeymoon standard with your boyfriend, and it's one that will stay with us forever.Yala Safari Camping is the creation of Mahesh Kumara, who along with a team of friends, has grown up in the area alongside nature and has spent the last few years turning a plot of his family's land into a truly unique safari camp experience. Starting out several years ago by offering luxury camping trips into Yala National Park, his team offered an experience like no other, but Mahesh had a vision for ultimate in luxury safaris which has now been realised on the very borderline of the national park. After designing and building the luxury safari tents himself, Mahesh has now finally seen his dream become a reality with the formation of a beautiful luxury camp just metres away from the park entrance. Think huge tents with private bathrooms and four poster beds, sunken bath tubs in the floor of the tent and fantastic room service – as Mahesh describes it, a real "heaven in the wilderness".We were expecting great things after everything we had seen on the website, but when we arrived at the camp we were genuinely bowled over by the sheer luxury and beauty of the site. Our tent, which you'll see from the gorgeous pictures, was huge and had everything and more we could have ever hoped for. The sunken bath in the floor was absolute bath goals to the extreme and trust me, one of the first things we did was to have a lovely long bubble bath – a real treat for long term travellers. Our tent was set alongside a watering hole which we were told was often used by wild leopards and other jungle creatures during the dry season – I couldn't help but wake up early each morning to see if I could spot any wildlife. This was a really magical few days of going to sleep to the sound of tree frogs and crickets chirping, and waking to the sounds of deer rustling in the bushes. The fact that you are just so close to the national park really does set Yala Safari Camping apart from other safari experiences in Sri Lanka, this is the closest you can get to staying in the jungle while still being treated to every luxury and more.
Read: Sri Lanka 2 week itinerary from Colombo
Set away from the nearby town, you stay in total isolation with nothing but wildlife for up to 10 km. The eco-friendly campsite uses solar power for their entire power supply and has cleverly used building techniques and special leaves for roofing to keep the tents cool and ventilated. The campsite also features a lovely lounge and dining area for the meals which are cooked by the incredible chef onsite, think mouth-watering traditional Sri Lankan cuisine with plenty of international options cooked to a 5* quality. Trust me, we couldn't get enough of the food, it was some of the best we had while travelling in Sri Lanka and introduced us to a whole selection of local dishes we hadn't yet tried. The chef even grows a lot of his own vegetables and herbs on site, so everything is freshly prepared for every meal, cocktail and snack.Looking to fill your time while staying at Yala Safari Camping? There's endless options for trips and safaris to keep you entertained and the team are eager to show you the area. While there, we spent a whole day on safari exploring Yala National Park which was really magical and we even spotted wild leopards deep in the jungle! The team have a Land Rover Defender Puma on hand to handle all the rough roads and to take you to parts of the jungle you might not otherwise see. You have a choice of which area you would prefer to pinpoint and what sights you want to see – from the coastal parks of the park, to the deepest jungle where the elephants and leopards hide. We had the best day spotting monkeys swinging through the trees and elephants gorging themselves on plants, then enjoying our lunch out by the beaches and visiting a nearby fishing village before heading leopard spotting in the afternoon. Our guides were fantastic and obviously knew the area much better than the other safari guides we saw who continually asked ours for help to find the leopards. There were also opportunities for bush walks, mountain hikes, bird watching, visiting nearby sights and temples and much more. Check out some suggested itineraries here.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to visit somewhere as incredible as Yala Safari Camping, and I'm even happier I had the chance to experience it with someone as special as my boyfriend. It's the perfect place to visit with a loved one, or even take the whole family and fill up all the safari tents for a totally unique Sri Lankan experience.
Have you stayed in any unique accommodation? What's the most unusual? Are you more of a camper or a glamper?
One thing I really loved about Sri Lanka was that it wasn’t just beaches and cities, there was a whole other side to the country, a wild, rugged jungle waiting to be explored. With plans to explore not one, but three national parks along the way, I was excited at the thought of staying in the depths of the jungle with wild elephants and leopards hiding just beyond the boundary lines. So I was very excited when Wilpattu Treehouse invited us to come and stay with them for a few nights while we explored Wilpattu National Park up in the north-west of the country. We arrived at Wilpattu after around five hours on the buses travelling from Habarana in the Cultural Triangle and found Wilpattu to be tinier than we had imagined. With just one street heading off the main road, there are limited accommodations aimed specifically at those visiting the park. When planning your trip, you wouldn’t need much time in the area, just one full day for a safari would suffice, with a day set aside before and after for travel times.
This sanctuary was declared a national park in 1938 and lies just 188km away from the capital, Colombo, with Wilpattu Treehouses situated just a minute’s drive from the park entrance. Visitors to the area can take full or half day jeep safaris in the park through several companies, where they can spot the likes of the Sri Lankan elephant and leopard, sloth bear, spotted deer, buffalo, sambar and mongoose. The park is also fantastic for birdwatching and has an interesting array of flora scattered amongst the dry, dense jungle which couldn’t be more different to that of Yala’s National Park. February to October is considered prime time to visit, however, we visited in late November and had amazing sightings of most animals plus perfectly fine weather. If you are arriving by public bus as we did, ask the bus driver to alert you when you arrive as you could easily miss the tiny town. Jump off the bus and grab a tuk-tuk which should cost no more than 400 rupees to drive you the 7km to the edge of the National Park where the treehouses can be found.
Now I want to take a moment to just point out that out of all the places I review and visit, whether I pay for them myself or are gifted accommodation, it is very rare that I am disappointed. I don’t write fake reviews or compromise my views for free stuff, I pride myself in being completely honest because otherwise what is the point in sharing my views? So when I am left disappointed by a place, I will also share my experiences with you so that you can make an informed decision over whether to visit during your own trip. In this case I was gifted three night's accommodation, but have remained honest in my review.
In the case of Wilpattu Treehouses, I was left a little disappointed by our stay. I had been looking forward to staying there from the beginning of our trip and saw it as a great way to round off our time in the country. However, from the moment we arrived, I could tell it wasn’t to be quite the experience I had anticipated. We arrived at 3pm to find our room was still being cleaned which wasn’t a problem, we relaxed in the lobby with a fresh lime juice until our room became available. We were excited to check out the treehouse as we could see it through the trees and bushes across the yard, it would be overlooking the rice paddy just as I had hoped. After seeing images on Booking.com and the company’s website, I was eager to have a look inside. When we made our way upstairs, on first impression we were delighted with the room which was all wood finished as a treehouse should be. We had a lovely big balcony overlooking the rice paddy, a big comfortable bed to lounge on and a lovely little bathroom with a luxurious looking shower. The website had promised luxury so this is what we were expecting and we were instantly happy with our room, but upon closer inspection we found a few issues.
The hasty cleaning after the previous guests had left late had been less thorough than it should have been, leaving us with a filthy fridge and even mouse droppings on one of the beds! We also noticed that there wasn’t really a view from the balcony as the branches from the trees completely blocked any real sight of the rice paddy. And as the afternoon drew on, the mosquitos became rife but with no mosquito net in the room and gaps by the door, we were both bitten to pieces despite using bug spray and a room repellent. We later realised that the mouse droppings had not been the fault of a stray mouse but of a regular to the room who would run around the beams at the ceiling while we sat in bed. The creature would even scamper across the room leaving droppings in the bedroom and bathroom every time we left as he searched for crumbs. I could find it cute and outdoorsy except we left the room for less than an hour for dinner, and came back to find droppings on the bed and across the floor which we had to clean up.
We also had an issue with several chipmunks and small squirrels who would run across the same beams in the evenings looking for food. We had stayed in many jungle locations by this point and can definitely appreciate the nature, but we know it is not necessary to have issues with animal faeces being found around the room. Later we also had problems with the shower, which despite just the two of us thing showers once a day, started to flood and the water would take a long time to drain. When I mentioned to the staff, I was told to clear the drain myself and if it wasn't fixed someone would be sent to check it in the morning, but no-one ever came. During our three night stay, the rooms were not cleaned once, leaving us to tidy up the animal mess left behind and to deal with a shower that would not drain. Due to the remote location, there are no restaurants around so visitors to the site will be limited to eating meals at the accommodation. These are cooked onsite by the staff and include a mixture of Sri Lankan and western breakfast, and a three course dinner with vegetarian options available. While the food was certainly good enough to survive on, it was also some of the blandest and most uninspiring food I have eaten in Sri Lanka. I was disappointed by how tasteless the meals were after eating some delicious meals since being in the country at much cheaper accommodation.
My real disappointment stemmed from the fact that Wilpattu Treehouses claimed to be luxury accommodation on their website but that the food, service and accommodation was definitely not luxury quality. The staff were lovely, but they do need to work on making their guests feel a little more welcome, and they really should have more knowledge about the bus timetable for those arriving and leaving the area. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed my experience of staying in Wilpattu on the very borderline of the national park and I really cannot complain about being so close for our safari. It was a beautiful treehouse and a fantastic location, very convenient for your safari stay and truly magical to return from a day of spotting leopards and wild elephants to still hear them from your balcony. We also really loved the next-door neighbours who were having a family celebration while we were there and it was lovely to hear the music throughout the day. I just found that the disappointment over some of the less desirable features of Wilpattu Treehouses outweighed the positives for me. We stayed in the deluxe triple room, and I felt the £95 a night price (Booking.com) was far too expensive for what I could not consider a luxury stay.
Have you been disappointed by a luxury stay? Or by any accommodation on your travels? Tell me about your worst travel accommodation experience?
Life can be pretty expensive as we get a bit older – with mortgages to pay and bills ever increasing, it's no surprise that so many twenty-somethings are being forced to sacrifice some of their favourite music events in a bid to pinch pennies. I've always been an avid festival goer - you guys know how much I love my glitter and fancy dress - but I've always been lucky and through my work and this blog, I have been able to attend most of them for free over the years. But not everyone is that lucky, and most are having to fork out a few hundred pounds before even arriving at the festival and seeing the costs mount up. By the end of a four-day weekend, you can easily have spent over £500 and for that price could have had a week's holiday in Europe. Is the price of festival tickets depressing you? I'm not surprised, before you even get to the venue you’re looking at a hefty dent to the wallet, with festival camping gear, fabulous outfits to rock and travel costs.
So many are trying the cheaper alternative of creating their own festival at home – why not give it a shot? A little planning, enthusiasm from friends and family and it’s sure to be a big success. If you create it, they will come…
A popular success story in the back-garden festivals sphere is Leefest. Lee Denny started his own festival in his mother’s back garden back in 2006 and this year the festival entertained over 5,000 people! Pretty impressive. In recent years, there has been a shift towards staying home more and making the most of the space you have for entertaining. Staycations have become common practice for those who simply want some time off work without the hassle and expensive of a foreign holiday. With this in mind, a back-garden festival could be a perfect alternative to next year's festival ticket-buying frenzy.
To differentiate between a normal garden party and a festival, you need to include a few festival must-haves. Lighting is a big part of this, so be sure to get some fairy lights to place in trees, across garden fences and dotted about the place to give a great ambience to the festivities. Lanterns are also a great shout, especially those with battery-powered candles so you don’t need to worry about fire risks.
A drinks bar will always be appreciated. There’s a couple of ways to go about this, but the best (surely) is a homemade tiki bar! This can be done relatively cheaply by upcycling some old pallets and wood, and then all you need to do is dress it up in grass skirts and decorative fruit – job done. Who will you trust as bartender for the night?
There’s also an addition to your home that can really up the ante for entertaining in the garden. Having bifolding doors can open up the back of your home into the garden, almost creating one big entertaining space for guests to mill in and out of. Also very handy if the weather suddenly turns on you!
Tipis are also key to the theme, dotted about the garden as little meeting places for people to mingle at. All you need are some cushions and throws to make it nice and cosy.
The good thing about a back-garden festival is that people won’t be expecting a lot of food. Little nibbles here and there will suffice to keep the revellers satisfied, or why not ask everyone to bring a dish? Here are some ideas to help you pull out all the stops:
Crushed pea and mint dip with carrot sticks – This yummy and refreshing dip will have the carrot sticks gone in no time. Even the vegetable haters will be reaching for one. This recipe from BBC Good Food is a must-try.
Quick fish cakes – Choose between skinless cod, haddock or pollock for this recipe from Jamie Oliver. The addition of herbs such as dill, chives or parsley (whatever your preference) will add a great flavour to the fish cakes.
Peanut chicken satay sticks – Chicken and peanut butter, what’s not to love? All Recipes uses a teaspoon of hot sauce in this recipe so be ready for a kick!
Spring garden potato salad – Even though it isn’t spring anymore, this delicious salad will still hold its own at the festival. Full of veggies but still that little bit naughty with potatoes and cream. Try this recipe from Food Network.
If there’s any burgeoning artists in your family or friendship group, give them the stage of your back garden to entertain your guests. If not, a kick-ass playlist will suffice. You can even get a Wireless Festival playlist on Spotify if you’re lost for where to begin. Plus, there’s always one guest who fancies themselves as a DJ so you could leave them with a laptop and a speaker to entertain everyone.
Other activities could include a little coconut shy or a limbo pole to bring out the competition amongst the festival goers. Face painting is always good fun too, even if the one painting isn’t all that skilled. As long as there’s a good amount of glitter thrown in, everything will be fine!
With good decoration, good food and good entertainment – your back garden festival is sure to be a success. Why not try and squeeze in one last end of summer hoorah before the autumn weather really kicks in - or, if you have a marquee available to you, why not host a winter festival?
Italy is high on everyone's travelling list - whether it's for the food, the rich culture and history, or the stunning Amalfi coast. There's something so irresistible about the combination of pizza, gelato, Roman history and beautiful beaches and countryside. I went to Rome as a teenager and toured all the famous sights - the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel and many more before eating my way through the city then moving on to tour the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. It was an amazing trip and one I've never forgotten, and although sadly I haven't yet had the chance to return to this beautiful country it is definitely on the list. Ever since reading Under The Tuscan Sun, I've always loved the idea of summering in Tuscany and experiencing all the tastes, sights and sounds described in the narrative. While I may not be getting the opportunity to experience all Tuscany and the wonderful city of Florence has to offer, if you are planning a trip look no further than this post for tips on visiting the best museums and galleries on offer - and where to book your tickets.
An absolute must-see when you visit Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is a highlight of this historical city. The unique museum, which was originally constructed in 1560 as a palace for Florentine magistrates, now hosts a huge range of masterpieces. Creating an area to home the art collections of the Medici family, the areas later grew to host masterpieces commissioned by Medici which became what visitors will see today. As one of the world's most prominent art museums, it provides a home for some of the most important art pieces of the Renaissance including works by Leonardo da Vinci. Other famous works you can spot among the displays include Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus, and works by the likes of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Michelangelo.
As visitors plan to make their way through the labyrinth of rooms, they should be aware that this is one of the most-visited museums in the whole of Italy, welcoming over 1.5million visitors each year. This many people does create lines with weekends, Tuesdays and mornings being the busiest times - buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the queues.
Traveler's simply cannot visit Florence without taking the opportunity to view one of the most famous statues in the world - Michelangelo's David. The Academia Gallery, an 18th century museum founded by Grand Duke Peter Leopold, was chosen as the new home for the statue in 1873 after it was moved from its original location on the Signoria square. Expressing the genius of the young artist, the statue is known as a symbol of the free Florentine republic of the beginning of the Cinquecento. Later more statues by Michelangelo have been displayed in the same room, transforming in this way the Gallery into a Michelangelo museum: the four unfinished Prisoners, destined to the tomb of Pope Julius II, and never sent to Rome, the unfinished Saint Matthew and the Pietà of Palestrina, attributed to mature Michelangelo. Book skip the line tickets here.
Palitine and Modern Art Gallery
This extraordinary collection is housed in the winter apartments of the Medici, on the first floor of the Pitti Palace, and features masterpieces of famous artists of the Baroque and Renaissance period. Visitors can see works by the likes of Raffaello, Tiziano, Rubens, Van Dijk, hanging from the walls creating an overwhelming and magnificent effect completed by the luxurious furnishing. In the Modern Art Gallery, a collection founded after the First World War displays the development of Italian art between 1745 and 1945. The heart of the Gallery displays the collection of small pictures, masterpieces by the Macchiaioli, Fattori, Lega, Borrani the revolutionary young artists who used to gather in Florence around the mid 19th century. Book skip the line tickets here.
The medieval palace was once where the chief of the military police resided, but it was restored in the second half of the 19th century and became a museum of Renaissance statuary and of minor arts. The museum holds a collection of statues, starting from Quattrocento artworks by Donatello, Ghiberti Luca della Robbia, includes masterpieces by Michelangelo, as the Bacchus and the Brutus, and reaches the end of the 16th century, with Cellini and Giambologna. Also on display are a range of precious items including the outstanding collection of ivories, the Renaissance maiolica from Urbino, jewellery and objects decorated in enamel. Book skip the line tickets here.
All of the museums offer a range of tours, talks, joint tickets and bookings for larger parties hoping to visit during their stay in Florence. With each of the museums welcoming such a large volume of visitors each year, it is best to book tickets in advance to avoid wasting your trip in queues. All tickets for tours, talks, entrance and more can be found here - book skip the line tickets for museums in Florence.
Whether you've won the lottery and live that luxurious lifestyle we all dream of splurging on champagne and yachts, or you live penny to penny, trying to work out how many days you have to live off lentils to afford your next flight. All us travellers have something in common - a passion to explore all four corners of the globe in our own unique way. Some do it with a backpack and others with a private jet, but no matter what style we choose, we all deserve a little treat every now and again. After travelling solo for three years around the globe, I've lived a poor backpacker lifestyle, I've been a flashpacker with my nice little suitcase, and I've been lucky enough to see some serious luxury. But throughout all types of travelling across Europe, Asia and Australia, I've realised there are some key items every traveller should think about investing in if they plan to live this lifestyle in the long term. It may seem crazy to splurge on some of these things at the time, but by spending more and investing in yourself and your travels, you could save much more in the long term.
Now I'm not saying pay a fortune for the latest matching designer luggage set, instead take a look at the things you rely on most and think long-term. If you live out of a backpack, spend a bit more to get one from a well-respected company with strong materials and a more streamlined/intelligent design. I bought an amazing one which doubles as a suitcase from Osprey that has been a fantastic investment.If you prefer more glamorous travel, look at the aesthetics of your luggage but choose a classic style that will stay in fashion for years to come. Think about materials and perhaps choose a hard case that is lightweight and easy to manage. Lastly, why not pick a set with a suitcase, mini-weekend case and hand luggage?
Travelling long-term or regularly? If you work while you travel like I do, think about investing in a good quality laptop or tablet that will support your work and allow you to easily complete it on the move. Love to read or listen to music? Why not treat yourself to a Kindle and save yourself lots of space in your bag by not taking books, or an MP3 player to store your endless supply of music for all moods.My must-have investment items are definitely my collection of chargers/adapters - I have a power pack that will charge my phone, iPad and iPod while on the move, it has saved my trip so many times, and a multi-country charger with various additions that will allow me to charge everything I own anywhere in the world. Neither were that expensive but they have both saved me a lot of hassle and time tracking individual chargers down later on.
This one is pretty obvious but you'd be amazed how many people scrimp out and go for the cheap options instead of investing in something that could save their life and their possessions. I have an annual insurance policy that covers me for absolutely everything including watersports, snow sports, extreme activities, all my personal items from loss and theft, medical treatment and care plus a lot of other things including problems with transport when travelling. Luckily I haven't had to claim anything yet and haven't had to use it - and I hope it remains that way - but the knowledge that I have it there gives peace of mind to both my family and I.
Now I've always preferred to buy clothes as I travel for convenience and because I love to shop, but there are some items it is worth investing in and spending a little more. Whether you're a fashionista or just need specific clothing for activities like hiking/camping or climbing/snow sports, it's a good idea to get items that will last you a long time. For instance, I work out a lot so I always try to choose workout clothes that will also work for hiking trips and in materials that are suitable for all temperatures/exercises and will last long-term.I also love to party and to wear cute outfits, so while I always pick up bargains on the road, I have a few key items that I spent a bit more money on because I wear them almost daily depending on where I am. These include my leather jacket, jeans, bikinis, a big heavy jumper and a thick shirt - all of these get worn so much that I like to make sure I buy things I really love that make me feel good when I wear them and it evens out all my Primark bargains.
If you regularly take part in extreme sports, camp or take part in other activities that require a lot of equipment then it's a good idea to buy good quality materials and brands that you know will last you around the world and throughout your trip. Sometimes it's work looking at second hand items which might still be in excellent condition for a better price than those available brand new.
Even if you're living on a serious budget, don't be afraid to invest in yourself and your travels. After all, this is a lifestyle you have chosen and you should be proud to support yourself with items you really need, it's a choice that will help build your future as a traveller. Planning a trip to Tokyo? For a real taste of luxury, look no further than luxury hotels in Tokyo.
What are your favourite investments in travel? Can you recommend investing in other luxuries?
Some people swear by snowy skiing holidays, some people can't live without fresh mountain air - for me it's beachy bliss and ocean dreams that fuel my travels. I've been a total water baby since I was a kid and I can't stand being far from the ocean - I've always lived no further than 20 minutes from the sea and it's always been the one thing to soothe me. From winter beach walks to summers running along the seafront and charing the waves, I just love the peace and simplicity of a life with sandy feet and salty hair. My farm work was possibly the hardest time of my travels - and some of that I put down to being the furthest away from the ocean I have ever been. 800km west of Brisbane, I was pretty much in the centre of Australia and a minimum of 12 hour driving away from the sea. It sounds silly, but we humans are 80% water and it seems crazy that being near or far from water cannot affect our mood.Since being back in Melbourne, I've been working like crazy sometimes 50/60 hour weeks and so it's become more important than every that I make the most of my time off by going to new places I haven't yet explored. For me, that means venturing in different directions to explore the best beaches and most beautiful places I haven't yet seen in this amazing city. I love Melbourne and there is so much more for me to discover so I've been on the buses, trains and trams to find my favourite new beachy destinations in the area. I've come up with my top 10 list of my favourite beaches I've been to in the area - all within easy reach of Melbourne CBD and well worth visiting if you fancy a change.
My top 10 beaches in Melbourne
St Kilda Beach
It goes without saying that St Kilda Beach is a lot of fun - it's far from the prettiest beach in Melbourne but it's the place to be if you want to enjoy beers in the sunshine, the odd festival or to warm up for a night out. I spent Christmas Day here with my nearest and dearest - we enjoyed a full Aussie Xmas Day from beers in the sunshine to water fights in the sea and a full rave on the beach - so much fun and always a good place to head to meet people. Plus, penguins... need I say more?!
My new favourite after visiting the other day, this one is perfect for escaping the city. Just 30 minutes on the train from Flinders, this beautiful untouched beach promises crystal clear waters and gorgeous golden sandy beaches. Endless rock pools and nature to explore, or you can just relax in your own little cove.
Half Moon Bay
Last time I was in Melbourne, I went on a lovely date with a guy to Half Moon Bay. It was a beautiful little cove attached to Sandringham Beach but also completely separate. We had the whole beach to ourselves and went swimming at sunset, it was beautiful to watch the sun hit the water and watch the ships sailing past. A perfect spot to romance anyone special in your life.
A home away from home, this little gem comes complete with an amazing view of the city from across the water and cute little beach reminiscent of those you'll find on quaint English beaches like those near my home. Plus, it's only 20 minutes by train! A lovely chilled beach and great for swimming as there isn't too many rocks in the water and it isn't quite as shallow as some of the beaches. While you're in the area you can also check out Elwood and Hampton beaches.
This has become my local beach of late -just 5 minutes on the tram from my apartment, it's my perfect escape for a sunny morning before work. on the same stretch of Port Phillip Bay as St Kilda, it couldn't be more different. Usually empty of people and very peaceful, this is more of a family beach and less party. It's a perfect place to take a book and relax for a few hours.
Halfway between a beach and a cliff face - this one is definitely worth a visit. The water was ice cold when I went but you couldn't miss the beauty of the place. Come here for cliff jumping and a good swim in crystal clear deep waters. On hot days the place turns into a party for the Mornington crowd!
Take a 25 minute train ride and a step back in time to Williamstown, a small seaside town with all the cuteness of a British seaside resort. I went on a windy day when it was perfect for sandy beach walks instead of sunbathing but still saw the beauty in the simple, untouched beach. Perfect if you fancy escaping the busy sands of St Kilda.
Escape the city for a day or overnight like I did, I went to visit a friend who lived down in Torquay, near the start of Great Ocean Road. This was a perfect excuse to head down to the gorgeous surfing beaches like Bells Beach to walk the dogs and catch up for a few days. While you're at it, why not hire a car for a few days and do the whole Great Ocean Road? Check out my posts for planning your trip here and here.
I just spent a few hours on one of the many Mornington Peninsula beaches during a stormy day, but it was very beautiful and the whole area is covered with gorgeous beaches to explore. Easy to get to in a day, they're worth exploring and if you have more time then Sorrento and the beaches down at Wilson's Promontory are also worth a visit.
Pretty far out of the city but worth a visit if you have more time, Frankston is full of lovely beaches to explore, most of them I saw during windy days so I enjoyed walks rather than sunbathing but they'd be beautiful on a hot day!
There's something so soothing about the ocean isn't there? If you love it as much as I do, why don't you check out Celebrity Cruises by Bolsover Cruise Club for their take on modern luxury while you explore the globe.
What's your favourite Melbourne beach? Can you recommend any others?
As a solo female traveller, and a backpacker living on a budget, I'm often asked about the cheapest and easiest ways to reach various locations around the world. Now much as I love flying and train journeys, they are not always the most practical or cost-effective option and, as I have discovered myself, sometimes the best choice can actually be kicking back on a coach from A to B. Not only do you get to relax and catch up on some Zzz's, but you can often have saved a small fortune which can help you have the time of your life when you arrive at a destination. So many of us are put off by the thought of spending several hours on a bus for comfort reasons, but the truth is these days buses are some of the comfiest ways to travel with plenty of leg room, plug sockets available to charge your devices and even wi-fi. When you take into account all the rail disruptions we suffer in the UK these days and the price of internal flights - climbing aboard a coach really does start to sound like a great option.While it's been a few years since I travelled by coach in the UK, I've found all over the world that it is more often than not the best and most efficient option. From crossing the border between Croatia and Hungary during the summer as I arrived in Budapest, to travelling huge distances up the East Coast of Australia and deep into the outback. And don't let me forget those overnight journeys between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia - up to 24 hours at a time but easily one of the best ways to travel so you don't miss a single second of adventure time. In Europe and Australia I was taken aback by the quality of the bus journeys available, not only were the buses comfier than most hostels but they had great wifi so I could spend the hours catching up on work uninterrupted. The highest ranked coach, bus and train service in the UK, NationalExpress.com, offers the best of the best when it comes to bus journeys - with coaches that are fitted with leather seats, toilets, power sockets and air conditioning. They asked me to write about what makes a good bus journey and what to take with you when you set off, so here is:
My top 10 things to pack for a long bus journey:
The more you pre-plan your journey, the better it will be! We've all had those trips where we spent the entire time thinking "oh man this would have been so much better with (insert item here)". I'm all for spontaneous and adventurous travel, but when it comes to actual movements, a bit of pre-planning can be the difference between the journey from hell and a peaceful cruise to your next destination. Be smart and prepare, you'll be giving yourself the opportunity to turn the journey into part of the adventure. If you're planning to travel across the UK whether to the airport, a festival or gig, or even into Europe - look no further than National Express for the best in coach travel. Head to nationalexpress.com to book, or for more information.
Have you travelled by coach in the UK - how did it compare to other forms of travel? What is your favourite way to travel on a budget?
There's no doubt about it, 2016 has been a pretty incredible year for me. I've had some soaring highs and felt pretty low at times, but I've also had the chance to experience some thing I never could have dreamed I would. I crossed three continents and ticked off my 30th country, worked with hotels, spas and restaurants either side of the globe for this blog, I said goodbye to love so that I could travel Europe solo and I made some incredible friends along the way. I've worked as a sales manager, a cocktail waitress, a journalist along the way and all the while I've been working on creating amazing content for this blog. 2016 has been a year of working hard and playing harder, and as it draws to a close I can't help but reminisce over the special times I've shared with amazing people. From the teary goodbyes at the airport, to the mates I've shared incredible road trips with this summer, to the incredible welcome home I got from some of my best friends when I arrived back in Melbourne. Getting the opportunity to celebrate a real Aussie Christmas surrounded by so many amazing friends was a perfect way to end the year. But what have the highlights been?
My top 5 travelling experiences of 2016:
Without a doubt, Melbourne is my number one for the year. Voted the Most Liveable City in the World six years running, it's no wonder I've just moved back here for the second time. I lived in Melbourne at the start of the year and it was the first place in nearly two years that had felt like home. I had an amazing flat, a great job as a sales manager, the most incredible friends and I completely fell for a great guy. Now I'm back for round two and I'm already well on my way with a great job at a rooftop bar and my own brand new apartment. Melbourne, you are well and truly my second home.
A city I had dreamed of visiting for years, Budapest was everything I had imagined and more. I loved the history, the beauty, the architecture and the people I met there. Part of my summer backpacking trip around Europe, it was a perfect opportunity to explore the city independently and to have some amazing experiences. One of my favourites was eating dinner in a traditional Hungarian restaurant with my newfound Aussie and Norwegian mates talking about the world under a blanket of stars. Visiting Budapest reminded me how much I love exploring a new city alone on foot, and it's a city I can't wait to revisit.
Slovenia was an amazing experience - not only did I get to explore some of Eastern Europe, a dream of mine for several years, but I was invited along on my first blogging trip. It was an amazing privilege and a reminder of how hard I have worked to build up this travel blog over the last few years. Spending a week at a luxury glamping site on the Slovenian/Croatian border was a fantastic way to see the country - from woodland hikes to swimming in the rivers, to visiting locals and eating feasts of freshly caught local fish. The people, and the place, made it unforgettable.
My second blogging trip of the year came about only as a last minute plan - I was at a low point and unsure of what my next move would be when one of my best travelling friends invited me to Bali. It was the best decision ever and led to my being invited along to review hotels, spas and restaurants on the island. What was supposed to be a week-long trip turned into a month and yet I still wasn't ready to leave. I explored the Bali countryside on motorbike, visited temples, explored monkey forests, swam in the waves, spotted manatees and swam with sea turtles. It was the holiday I had needed - not just travelling, it was a holiday and one of which I appreciated every second.
Definitely the most breathtakingly beautiful place I have been yet, by far. Tasmania was somewhere I had longed to visit since arriving in Australia and "mini-New Zealand" definitely lived up to the hype. I spent three weeks there staying in the best hostel I have found yet in Australia, exploring Hobart and road tripping around 11 national parks in just 10 days. I hiked for days on end, camped wild under the stars and the full moon, I climbed several mountains and spotted countless whales, kangaroos, wombats and wallabies. It was a magical experience and one I'm so glad I made happen, it was just what I needed. A true breath of fresh air.
After such an incredible year, it's hard to imagine just how 2017 could top 2016. I've travelled to eight different countries this year, I've lived in two of them long-term, I've gone from outback living to city slicker to beach babe and total mermaid. I've taken my clothes off on top of a mountain in the snow, I've changed my mind in 10 minutes and booked a spontaneous flight to the other side of the world. I've refused to stop living my dream for anyone other than myself and I've made a plan for the future. It's an exciting time to be Absolutely Lucy and it all starts again when the clock strikes 12 on New Years. Another fresh start, another exciting adventure and another dream come true. I'm ready, are you?
Where has been your favourite place to travel to this year? Have you enjoyed following my adventures? What are your travel plans for 2017?
If you're making travel plans for 2017 already - look no further than Sunshine for cheap holidays that will bring your dream destination a little closer. With hotel deposits from just £1 and holiday deposits from just £50, they'll help you make your dream trip a reality.
One of the most common messages I receive from readers asks about how to budget for backpacking. I write about saving money and how to plan trips a lot on this site, but one thing I really want to focus on is how you can possibly know how much you will spend on a long-term trip. After all, at home you've been living month-to-month rinsing those paycheques dry until you're watching the days creep by towards pay day. The thought of not having a steady income and relying entirely on your savings can be scary for some - so it's important to budget correctly and plan realistically if you want to have the best time. I'm all about making the most of your money and every possible experience - I don't want to miss out on a single trip, meal or massage. BUT, I aways manage to do it on a budget because let's be honest - I'd rather keep travelling as long as possible than indulge in a week of full luxury.
So how do you budget for a long-term trip?
First of all you need to establish how long you want to travel for and where you plan to go - weighing up the cost of living/travelling in each country. For instance - travelling in Asia is the cheapest travelling I have found and I could easily do a year there on the money I would need for 5-6 months in Australia. But when travelling Australia I have been working along the way and earning a small fortune compared to what I could save at home in the UK. If you're on a break from work and only have a month - perhaps consider Europe which although expensive is a great way to see a lot of countries in a very short space of time. If you're looking to travel for six months on a tight budget, Asia is fantastic - you can see so many different countries and the cost of living well is very low. If you're looking to work abroad and fancy doing a year abroad - why not go for a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand or Canada and try a combination of working and travelling?
What kind of trip?
What are your priorities when you travel - are you looking for a full cultural experience of staying with locals? Are you planning to party your way around the world? Or are you a thrill seeker who wants to try every adventure trip going? You need to factor in the cost of trips/alcohol/food/living costs and be realistic. Always over-compensate - what's that quote?
"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."
I couldn't agree more - take as much money as possible by giving yourself enough time to save and cutting costs wherever you can (check out my top tips here). I worked five jobs for a year before going away the first time - it was worth every miserable second when it meant I saved £10,000, didn't have to work for nine months and lived like a queen! I personally like a balance of cutting costs, partying a lot and adventure trips so I always think about how I can balance them. Sometimes I will stay in the cheapest accommodation possible and live off instant noodles so that I can justify an amazing road trip or island cruise. Other times I won't be interested in trips and will spend all my money on cocktails and my own private hut on the beach. When I budget for my trip I take that into account and over budget my living costs. I always try and budget roughly £1,000 a month no matter where I am - then I know that in Asia I will hugely underspend which balances out in Australia when I definitely overspend, likewise with Europe I budgeted more because I knew I was travelling around a lot very quickly which costs more - best way to cut costs when you travel? Stay still for a while in a cheap place and just live simple.
We all have those times when we accidentally splash too much cash, when we shop too much in the markets or take our card on a night out then look at our account the next day with horror. I know I'm definitely guilty of that at home and since I've ben travelling - but it's good to acknowledge it. If you admit you are possibly going to do it, budget for it and give yourself a cushion of cash to keep yourself out of the red.
Remember to account for any home costs while you're away - if you're still paying rent on a house or phone bills/credit cards you need to make sure you have the money available in the correct accounts at all times. You need to make sure you can afford to do this and don't end up in more debt as a result of messing up your money or under-budgeting.
Don't let budgeting put you off
Remember you will never have as much money as you would like. It would be great to live in that dream world where you have a constant supply to keep you going, but it may never happen. Don't let that stop you from travelling - I know people who have gone away with £1-2000 for a long trip and who have just figured it out along the way. I always think the less money we have, the better we are with it. And always remember - there are so many amazing options for working abroad these days - those working holiday visas I mentioned earlier, see if your own current working company can transfer you abroad, study abroad, teach English around the world, volunteer, work for accommodation. The options are endless and there is always a way to make your travelling dreams a reality. I've been both the richest and the poorest I've ever been since travelling and I can assure you I've lived the dream throughout both. If you're determined and committed to making it a reality, you will always find a way.
Need budget tips for your upcoming trip - leave a comment below with any questions! What are your best budget tips for preparing for a long-term trip?
When I travelled to Bali last month, I only planned to stay for a week but I fell in love with the Indonesian culture and the incredible landscape. A month later I only left because of my visa but I know for sure I'll be back in the future to explore more of Indonesia in the years to come. There are thousands of incredible islands waiting to be explored and each come with their own incredible sights, customs and experiences just waiting to be discovered. From the jungles of Borneo to the beauty of the Gili islands and the wildness of Komodo Island - Indonesia truly captivates the soul. One area I would love to visit is Java, and when the team at Hotel Tentrum Yogyakarta asked me to write about my perfect trip there, I couldn't resist the chance to share it with you guys. Yogyakarta has long been described as the artistic soul of Java and it's easy to see why when it has combined the traditional Balinese culture with modern living. Now famed for its arts and culture, the city remains protective over its customs combining the new with the old.If you're planning a trip to the city, be sure to check out some of the incredible natural sights that lie all around, delve into the history of years gone by and indulge in the foodie highlights around the city. Don't miss these top sights:
If that's whet your appetite for a visit, why not take a look at these Yogyakarta hotel deals and start planning your trip? Have you been to Yogyakarta - what was your highlight? Can you recommend any places to visit?
I've been writing a LOT about travel lately, and while I still have so much to share with you all from my month travelling around Europe and now Indonesia, I thought it would be a nice time to take a moment's break to talk about two of my other passions. Anyone who knows me will know that I'm a big foodie at heart and that I love to stay fit and healthy - combining the two is a big love of mine and something I dedicate a lot of time to when I'm not travelling. We all know how hard it is to keep it going when you're on holiday - well apparently my life is a holiday but if there's something I hate, it's getting ill while travelling. I'm actually writing this when my body is a wreck - too much partying means I'm now popping Vitamin C and painkillers to stave off every illness going and I know exactly why. It's because my diet has suffered since being in Bali - I haven't been eating as many fruits and vegetables since being away, I haven't been eating enough and half the time I've had an upset tummy. Don't get me wrong, I'm having a blast here, but it does catch up with you! So now I'm taking a few days of good, healthy food, fresh fruit smoothies and good sleep to recuperate.A few days off partying and sightseeing has given me time to use my brain a bit and talk to people, quite a few of these conversations have naturally led to one of my favourite products and one that is widely available in Asia - coconut oil. I love everything coconut - from the meat, the milk and the water, to the oils and natural products created from them. It is lifesaver for a girl with skin as delicate as mine - coconut oil is one of the few things I know I can use liberally without causing rashes both to eat and on my skin - it's so pure that it can do no wrong. And one of the lovely things about buying it out here, is not only that it is so cheap, but that it has no preservatives or nasties added to it - it's pretty much as pure as you can get it without the "health food" price attached. Even when I'm in the UK, I try to make sure I drink as much coconut water as possible and use coconut oil on my skin, hair and nails - it's definitely a lot more pricey than it is out here but it's worth it. Even long before it became "fashionable" I knew the value of using oils instead of lotions and creams that were packed full of things I could be allergic to. Trust me, once you find that out the hard way a few times, you become very cautious about what you are putting on, and in, your body.If you do struggle with your skin like I do, particularly with eczema and dry patches, it's a really good idea to take a look at your oil use. I've always alternated the use of coconut oil with olive oils to get the best results - both in my food and on my skin. While both have amazing affects when you add them to your diet, I notice huge differences when I also apply them externally. Often before going to bed I will cover my skin in coconut oil, or will coat any dry patches in olive oil, then allow it to soak in. By doing it when your body is resting, it has so much more time to really soak in and work it's magic, trust me - as someone who has suffered with these problems for years - nothing has ever worked better than simple oils on your plate and on your skin. It's also great to combine the oils with a body butter, if you can find one pure enough, that way the deeper layers of your skin absorb the oil while the butter moisturises the top layers. I personally find The Body Shop's argan oil or cocoa body butters work really well this way, plus they smell amazing!If you followed my blog over the last few months, you'll know that I holidayed in Santorini with my parents for a few weeks. Greece is a big favourite with my parents - they love the food, the culture, the landscape, and after years of holidays there I can only agree with them. It's a fabulous country and particularly when you get down to the islands, each one is completely different but still maintains the charm and traditions of Greece. One thing I really love about Greece is their Mediterranean diet, I do think Greek food is one cuisine that I could happily live off for the rest of my days. Maybe less of the bread, but throw all the seafood, salads and wine at me! We were living off the most delicious Greek salads, and even Santorini salads, dressed in the simplest of dressings, just the very finest olive oils and vinegar - so good they speak for themselves! When it came to seafood, the simpler the better. I'd have sea bass or bream, or even snapper, dressed simply in herbs and drizzled with olive oil before being barbecued. It was some of the most delicious food I've ever had and yet some of the simplest. The Greeks sure know the value of quality over quantity - they would rather serve just three ingredients but the very finest quality and flavours than have a whole plate of tastes that don't quite get your palate excited.At home we use a lot of olive oil in cooking and preparing meals, so if you're struggling to think of ways of integrating more good oils into your diet it's worth trying out some of my favourites. Salads are an easy way to introduce olive oils to your diet - drizzle olive oil and either balsamic or white wine vinegar over your salad, and the beauty of salad is that it doesn't just have to be boring lettuce. You can mix it up and try quinoa, pumpkin, cous cous, spinach and all kinds of other tasty treats. If you like seafood, you can't beat a nice bit of salmon wrapped in foil in the oven for 20 minutes, drizzle oil over it and add chilli or paprika for flavour - serve with sweet potato fries or minty potatoes. And if you need a little something for the side, why not add roasted vegetables? Just chop up loads of veg in a tray then drizzle oil all over it and season, stick it in the oven and roast for half an hour or until soft - perfect side dish. Or if you're just cooking for one - do what I used to do at uni, roast loads then keep it in the fridge for wraps - yum! If you want to learn a little more about the different types of olive oil and what to do with them - you should check out this great infographic from Jamie's Italian. It tells you all you need to know about how to cook with different types of oil to get the best results.
Or, if you're feeling like treating yourself, why not click here to book a table at Jamie's Italian and let the pros show you how it's done?