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Vanlife has exploded across the travel scene over recent years. The phenomenon has become one of the most sought-after travel experiences for young wanderlusters. Perhaps it’s the endless freedom or the return to a simpler lifestyle that appeals. Or perhaps many have just realised that living in a van can give you a way of travelling long-term on low costs – it sounds pretty appealing right? I hear it all the time, from people who have travelled a lot, to those who have barely seen outside their home town. So many have this beautiful dream of converting a vehicle into a home and of taking off and seeing the world. Whether it’s driving across outback Australia, travelling across Europe or even just driving around the UK. It’s a great way to see a country in a new light and to experience a level of freedom you can’t even imagine.

I’ve always loved road trips, but I never really experienced living in a van until I met my boyfriend. He had previously spent years driving and travelling around in his own van across New Zealand and Australia. I joined him on an epic road trip just a week after we met. We travelled over 4,000km together on that trip and have since had more amazing road trips across Australia and Europe. Our most recent was a few months ago when we spent 3 weeks driving across Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and France in our newly converted Sprinter. You can read all about the plans for that trip here. It was an amazing trip and I’ll be writing more about it over the coming weeks/months. But first I wanted to start off with a post about the 5 things you should focus on when planning a road trip or converting a van. It’s an exciting and daunting task, but one that could pay off hugely if it gives you the freedom to travel.

Vanlife | 5 things you need for an epic first road trip

Comfort and storage

SUCH an important thing to remember when planning your Vanlife travels. By investing in both of these you will make your life so much better once on the road. Consider whether you will need to weather-proof your van and need to make it suitable for winter as well as summer. You may need insulation for the colder months. Make sure you spend time on making your bed and don’t just go for a cheaper/easier option. We had an old slatted bed frame donated by a neighbour which we cut to fit the wooden bed frame we built. This gave extra support and a bit of suspension so it wasn’t just a hard box. We used a big section of foam and cut it to size for the mattress. Then filled our bed with pillows and warm duvets. Don’t forget, no matter how warm it is during the summer, it does get chilly at night and is always better to have too many layers than not enough. We also made our bed frame removable so we could have more floor space in the van if necessary by removing the end section.

When it comes to storage, more is always better. Plan your van design around storage, it’s great to build it into the frame and design so everything remains compact and tidy. There’s nothing worse than living in a tiny van that is just a mess of stuff. At the end of the day you want to be able to crawl into bed without having to move everything. We created so much storage that we actually never had to store things on the bed. We had a massive section under the bed with big boxes where we stored food and cooking equipment, then along the side of the bed we had a big section for camping gear which we could also use as a bedside table. Behind the drivers’ seat, we also used smaller crates stacked on top of each other which we picked up in IKEA and screwed together and into the floor. These we used for clothes, toiletries and other bits and bobs which meant we didn’t have to leave things lying around for security. Plan well and you’ll never find your van crowded or too small, trust me, it will change your whole vanlife experience!Vanlife | 5 things you need for an epic first road trip

Power up

Being a gal who never travels without her phone, camera, iPad/laptop and music, I need access to power to charge items and I never want to worry about running out of juice. On our Europe trip, I loved being able to practice more photography and to edit photos in the evenings. There are lots of ways to make sure vanlife doesn’t mean living with your battery on red. One thing I wish I’d had when we were in Western Australia was a solar-powered battery pack. It was 40 degrees daily and constant sunshine so it would have been a great way to recharge. For our Europe trip, we invested in a power pack for the van which would recharge as we drove using power from the van’s engine. We could choose when to recharge and once fully charged, it would run for days depending on how much power you used. It was expensive at around €500, but an investment for us because we knew we would be using the van long-term.

Looking for a more budget fix – why not invest in some really good portable power packs? I was sent the Juice Extreme, a fast charge power bank which is designed for life on-the-go and works perfect for road trips. It stores 2.5 full charges for an iPhone 8, Samsung S8 or Android phone and is great for a day of exploring a new city. It proved a lifesaver for me when exploring Vienna and Prague this summer, or for long afternoons of driving and needing a quick boost for directions. With a strong rubber coating, it’s dust and waterproof which is great for travellers like me who love the beach, and it even protects against impact damage. Finally, it has a tiny LED torch which is handy when you’re trying to find your camp spot in the dark! Retailing at £24.99, it’s a great investment and I never leave home without it in my handbag.

Vanlife | 5 things you need for an epic first road trip

Stocking up on Vanlife supplies

One benefit of living in a van is that you can prepare all your meals yourself and don’t have to waste money on eating out. It’s worth stocking up before you travel on basics like pasta, rice, beans, and breakfast items like muesli. Having a good basic store of these things mean no matter where you are. Or even if you break down in the middle of nowhere, you won’t go hungry. The same applies for things like water and toilet roll, it’s worth getting a tank of water with a tap for your van. We never travel without one and it means we have lots of water for cooking/drinking. Going prepared will also mean that you don’t get caught out with expensive shops. In Western Australia, shopping was expensive so we always waited until the bigger towns to pick up essentials at larger supermarkets. Likewise, in Switzerland, we avoided the shops altogether because of the extra expense. Instead we stocked up beforehand in Austria.

Permits and Insurance

Insurance is an obvious one, but be sure that yours is comprehensive, covers all your drivers and third party damage. Also be sure you know what your breakdown cover includes so if the worst happens, you know what to do and who to call for the best support. Always make sure you take the vehicle for a service or do all appropriate checks before a big trip. Read this post for a list of top checks to perform. When it comes to permits, be sure to check if you are driving through several countries, which permits are required. For example, when we were driving through Austria and Switzerland. We had to get special permits from petrol stations along the road but they were tricky to get. Be prepared, it’s always better to do a little vanlife research before you travel, than to get a huge fine when you return home.Vanlife mountains

Decoration

For us, this was a huge part of making the van our own. We were so proud of the building work and the bed frame. But it was the decorating that really got us excited and started to make it a home. I wanted it to be as cosy as possible, our own little cave to escape into. We visited some of the vintage and Indian shops here in the city, where we picked up some great Vanlife decorations. I found a colourful chakra tapestry which we used to cover the roof of the van. With some huge black pashminas to add some great little storage pockets and tassles hanging down by the windows. My boyfriend picked out some Nepalese flags for a little travel inspiration and some more colour, and we picked up lots of fairy lights from IKEA and Primark to make it cosy. And I picked up a few extra pillows with nomad-style prints to make it extra comfy. I still love everything about our van. It’s a colourful mish-mash of our personalities and the places we’ve been, it tells a story. And even better, we had so many compliments on our epic ride as we travelled around Europe. I already can’t wait for the next vanlife experience!

Have you converted a van – how was your vanlife experience? Have you always dreamed of travelling in a van across the country?

Absolutely Lucy

As soon as I arrived in Germany I was excited to start planning trips, to start living again in my new home. Last month for my birthday – Rügen Island. It was somewhere I had never heard of before moving to Germany, but shortly after arriving here, a very kind travelling friend offered me her family’s beautiful holiday home for a weekend and I thought what better timing than to go for my birthday! So the final weekend in May, we packed up the van and hit the road for a lovely long weekend at the seaside.

We had the most amazing weekend filled with ice cream on the beach, walking in the national park, exploring tiny towns and beautiful parks, and of course, stuffing ourselves with yummy food! I really wish I could go back and do that whole weekend all over again, I really wouldn’t change a thing, it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. In this post I’m going to share all of the things we did and what I would recommend if you happen to be visiting, hopefully it will help you have a special trip and to make the most of your time there.

What to do?

There is so much to do on Rügen Island, you’ll be spoilt for choice! The best thing is that there is something for everyone, so whether you’re away for a romantic weekend for two, or a big group holiday, everyone is sure to enjoy themselves. From the chilled beach bars and viewpoints, to the more active hikes and bike rides, you can design the holiday you want and do everything at your own pace.

Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Beaches

There are so many lovely beaches to check out – hopefully you have good weather like we did – although I will warn you it is the Baltic Sea so don’t start getting excited about swimming! We were staying in Sassnitz so we spent the most time on the east side of the island where we found some gorgeous beaches waiting for us. We had a day of beach-hopping starting from Binz and working our way through to Sellin, Baabe, Göhren and all the way south to Theissow. If you have the time on your trip, I really recommend visiting a few different beaches to get away from the crowds and see a different side to the island. Binz and Sellin are gorgeous beaches with all the cute charm of  an old-fashioned seaside town, comparable to Brighton in the UK. Expect pricier accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants, as well as lots of people – these were the busiest places we visited – but they are very pretty and great for the evenings when you want to go out for dinner. The other beaches further round, especially Baabe and Göhren, are much quieter and its lovely to sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic and the uninterrupted views of the bay. Check out this article for a more detailed guide to the individual beaches.

Steam Train

For a really unique way to see the island, why not hop aboard the old fashioned steam train and power along the Rügensche Kelinbahn, a nostalgic nod to days gone by, from Putbus to Göhren on a 24km ride. Taking in everything from lush green forests to huge beach resorts, you’ll get an eyeful when you take a ride on the fondly known, Racing Roland.

Villages & Parks

It’s definitely worth taking some time to explore all the little villages and parks spread around the island during your stay. In Bergen, you’ll find some pretty spectacular panoramas across the ocean, plus colourful old buildings including Benedix-Haus in the market place. Gary is close by and as the tiniest and oldest town on the island, you’ll visit just to se the amazing views from the Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Putbus was our favourite village – originally we went there to see the beautiful palace I had read about online only to find that it had been torn down years ago – but we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous Insel Vilm eco-park that was waiting for us there and spent hours wandering around. If you get time to drive all the way north, I really recommend visiting Kap Arkona which is the northernmost tip of the island and boasts amazing views, a gorgeous beach and lighthouses you can climb to the top for even better panoramas.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Jasmund National Park & Königsstuhl

One of my favourite parts of visiting the island was Jasmund National Park which completely took my breath away and was easily one of the most memorable places I have spent my birthday. Read all about our visit and my top tips for visiting, here.

Walk/Bike

If you love getting outside and being active, you’ll be in your element at Rügen, hit the trails and go walking in Jasmund National Park or from beach to beach, or hire bikes and feel the wind in your hair as you cycle the island. There are also walking and bike tours available if you would prefer to join a group when you explore the island, or if you travel with a group and would prefer a guide to lead you around.

Sunset spots

Everyone loves a sunset and on Rügen Island there are two places I found that will provide you with the best views in the evening. Sellin Pier is one sight you don’t want to miss, so make sure you get there before the sun dips over the horizon to see it all light up. Imagine an old-fashioned, Brighton-esque pier bathed in the sun’s last rays of the day and gently sparkling as its lights start to twinkle. It was a beautiful sight and a perfect place for a sunset walk before dinner. I also found out about another place called Panorama Hotel Lohme, which was up in the very north above Jasmund National Park, and boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the ocean. We didn’t go to this one sadly as the weather was very cloudy and foggy on our second night on the island, but I’ve read great reviews and seen some beaut pics.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

Eating Out

We came prepared and filled up the van with food for the whole weekend so we could have more of a self-catering experience and save a bit of money – we didn’t know if it might be more expensive on the island. We ate our own food for breakfasts and lunches, but actually ended up eating out on both the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. On the Saturday night, we decided to go and see Sellin Pier at sunset and realised we were both starving after a busy day, after checking out the menu for Seebrücke Sellin, we couldn’t resist going in for a bite to eat. I was very impressed to find that it was actually very reasonably priced, I had expected it to be a lot more expensive, and that the food was absolutely delicious. We went for a goats cheese starter, then had the burger and a mushroom pasta, all of which were absolutely amazing and the service was great considering we walked in five minutes before they were due to shut the kitchen!

On my birthday night, we went on the recommendation of our friend who told us we had to go and eat at Rialto, an Italian restaurant in Binz which has the best pizza and ice cream. After thoroughly taste-testing, I can tell you that the pizza and ice cream are amazing!

Where to stay?

We stayed at our friend’s place in Sassnitz which was perfect – this side of the island has all the best beaches and sights, plus we were right at the entrance to Jasmund National Park. There are lots of hotels and holiday homes all over this side of the island for varying levels of luxury and price tags. I personally would recommend renting a holiday home or somewhere self-catering where you can cook your own meals or can even have barbecues in the long summer evenings. We loved having a bit more space and a place to prepare breakfast and lunches. Sassnitz is also a great way to stay close to all the action without actually having to be in busy Binz, it’s still a cute little seaside town but with more of a cosy feel.Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

When to go?

We went to visit at the end of May and the weather was gorgeous, but being close to the Baltic Sea, it is understandably harder to predict the weather. I would recommend visiting May to September for the best weather, but keep an eye on weather reports because if the weather is bad, there isn’t much to do that doesn’t rely on you being outside all day. Also, avoid school holidays as it is clearly a big holiday destination for families/elderly and can get busy.

Transport

There are buses and trains on the island which connect each of the little towns to each other, these are great if you don’t have access to a car plus there are lots of bike paths and hiking trails if you like to keep fit. You also can access the island by bus or train from Hamburg. We drove to the island (around 3.5 hours) and throughout the weekend we used the van to get everywhere which was really helpful to make the most of our weekend. I would recommend hiring a car or driving to the island because it gives you so much more freedom to stay in more budget-friendly places and to be independent and spontaneous about your day. We would decide at a moment’s notice our plans and easily went off to a new beach or town. If you rely on public transport you would be much more restricted on how much you get to see and how quickly.

Have you been to Rügen Island – what are your recommendations? Are you more of a beach or forests-lover? What summer travels have you got planned?

Why you shouldn't miss a trip to Rügen Island & planning your stay | Germany

You all know by now how much I love epic festivals but sadly it’s been a while since my last one. So I’ve teamed up with Holidays by Destination2 to talk about some of the amazing festivals around the world which could give you a travel experience to remember. Whether it’s a food festival, a religious celebration or even a huge music festival. There’s nothing like combining travel with epic festivals to really turn an average trip into a one you won’t forget. I remember a few years back when I was invited to cover Hideout Festival in Croatia for the website I worked for, cue turning it into an epic 10 day holiday with a huge group of mates and it’s definitely a trip I will always remember.

Throughout my travels I’ve stumbled upon all kinds of amazing local celebrations from Chinese New Year and comedy festivals, to Tamil parades and even street parties across Germany, the UK, Australia and Asia. There’s something special about joining in the local celebrations, you don’t just look at a new culture, you become a part of it and for me, that’s what travel is all about. I’ve picked out six festivals from all corners of the globe that offer completely different and unique experiences. Whether you’re traveling in Europe or as far as Asia, there is always a way to get involved and join the festival atmosphere. Next time you’re planning a trip, why not check out what events are going on in the local area? It’s a great way to meet people when you travel and to have an extra-special travel experience. Here are just some of the epic festivals that are waiting for you:

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by IZATRINI.com

Trinidad & Tobago Carnival, Caribbean

When? March 4-5

What could possibly make your trip even better than celebrating life itself? Filled with energy, vitality, the brightest costumes and colours and the intoxicating, hip-shaking sounds of Calypso and Soca music, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the biggest of all epic festivals in the Caribbean. I’ve not been lucky enough to travel to this part of the world yet but it’s definitely high on my bucket list, and when I go there, I know I want to party, so how better to plan a trip than to coincide with such an epic and well-known event? The festival was originally created in the 18th century to imitate and mock the pre-Lent celebrations of the plantation owners, but took on a life of it’s own following the abolishment of slavery. Head to this festival to join the greatest street parade in the world, join the revelry by dancing all day and all night, drinking in the sights and sounds of Caribbean life. Read more about the history of this event here.

Epic festivals in Vietnam

Pic by Carla Cometto

Hoi An Lantern Festival, Vietnam

When? Every month! Full list of dates here

Hoi An was one of my absolute favourite parts of Vietnam, such a beautiful little town with such a rich history and heritage. You can read all about my trip there in this post. I’m so sad that during my week there I didn’t manage to see the lantern festival when the colourful little town comes alight and you can really appreciate it in all it’s splendour. Each day once the sun sets, the villagers light lanterns as part of a centuries-old tradition for the locals to give offerings and worship their ancestors by setting the lanterns into the river. At 8pm, all the town’s lights are turned off so you can really see the town aglow. The best time to go is the first full moon of the lunar new year when the most people will gather, but the event does happen every month so its an easy one to fit in with your travels.

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by Carrotmadman6

Maha Shivaratri, Mauritius

When? February 13

Some of you might not know but my dad’s side of the family come from Mauritius, and although I have been to visit twice, I haven’t been for around 10 years. I would love to go back and see how the country has changed since I last visited, and what better time to go than when the biggest Hindu festival outside of India is taking place? When we’re talking epic festivals, Maha Shivaratri lasts a whopping five days and see nearly 500,000 people (almost half the population of the Indian Ocean island) dressing in white and joining a procession towards the lake of Grand Bassin. Celebrating the victory of Shiva and Vishnu on Brahma, the pilgrims consider the lake to be an extension of the Ganges, making offerings and bathing in the water. Visitors will be treated to quite a sight and will also have the opportunity to admire one of the tallest statues in the Indian Ocean

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

Pic by Leocadio Sebastian

Thaipusam, Kuala Lumpur

When? January/February

Another Hindu festival but this time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I was back in November. We had just one day in the city but made sure to visit the Batu Caves which were astounding. During Thaipusam the celebrations attract over a million people who gather in the city and join a procession which walks the 15km to the caves, taking around 8 hours. Quite a sight, and the festival normally attracts around 10,000 tourists. Looking for epic festivals in Asia? This one is all about putting your body through torture to appease the Lord, so we’re talking incredible body piercings using hooks, sewers and small lances – when it comes to crazy festivals I think this one is definitely up there and I can’t imagine what it must be like to actually be there and see all of these amazing sights. If you’re traveling in Asia, Kuala Lumpur is such an easy stopover and a great place to spend 24 hours, we were there for just 10 hours and had loads of time to get out of the airport and to explore lots of different sights – read my post here.

Epic festivals in Abu Dhabi

Pic by Ryan Hurril

Abu Dhabi Film Festival

When? October

The Middle East always looks like such a fascinating and beautiful place to travel, I know that it has had a bad rep for the political strife in some countries, but I know so many people who have traveled to this part of the world and have raved about their experiences. Israel, Jordan, Iran and Oman have been on my travel list for a while, and when you have great places to stopover such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, why not build a festival into the trip? One of the most anticipated cultural events in the city, visitors can learn more about the vibrant film culture in the Middle East by seeing the talents of Arab directors pitted against some of the world’s most respected filmmakers. If you love creative talent and want to experience more Arab cinema, this is the festival for you, it’s about time Western travelers spent more time in this beautiful part of the world.

Epic festivals in SpainPic by Łukasz Lech

La Tomatina, Spain

When? Last Wednesday of August

Who doesn’t love a food fight? Here’s the perfect combination of epic festivals and a crazy food fight experience! If you’re planning any European travels this summer, why not time your trip with a stop in sunny Spain for the world’s biggest food fight? La Tomatina is held in Bunol, near Valencia, and each year it attracts thousands from all over the world to join in the crazy, messy fun as more than 100 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Since 2013 the event has been officially ticketed which has limited numbers to just 20,000 so be sure to grab tickets so you don’t miss out. I’m allergic to tomatoes and extremely resentful of having to try and avoid eating them, so this just sounds like so much fun to get even by throwing tomatoes in the streets!

Have you been to any festival celebrations abroad – how was your experience? Would you plan a trip around a festival? Which of these festivals would you love to attend?

Six epic festivals to squeeze into your travels

I caught up with a fellow traveler at the weekend, she has just come back from travelling the world for a year with her young family – total family travel goals! She was thanking me for a travel tip I gave her about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand because she had realised once there the sheer number of places out there clinging on the surge in popularity for ethical care of elephants by claiming to be good. Spending so much time in Thailand, I took care to research thoroughly and to ensure I was only supporting causes I was certain were benefiting the environment and animals. Talking about her step-daughter’s experience in India where she signed up to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary and found it to be mistreating the creatures, we realised how easy it is to do the wrong thing when all you are trying to do is the right thing. And isn’t that the problem we are all facing in trying to be ethical these days?The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | Wanderlust

What’s the struggle with being ethical?

I consider myself a pretty good human, I like to keep my carbon footprint low, to support and build up my friends, to smile at strangers and help out at a homeless shelter. Everywhere I travel I try my best to be ethically-minded and research every location, every day trip I go on and all the companies along the way, only supporting causes I know are genuinely helping local people. But somehow I still feel like I’m fucking it all up.

Much like trying to be vegan or only eating ethically-sourced food, using only beauty products that haven’t been tested on animals or wearing clothing that hasn’t encouraged slavery or mistreatment of those in third world countries. What is boils down to is we’re all just trying our best to be damned good people and to try and help everyone, to support all the causes. We get to a point when we think, hell yeah, I’m doing pretty darn good at this! We’re able to help educate others and feel like we’re actually making waves, like we’re making a change.

And it all comes out that we were doing it wrong all along.

Like the time I switched to almond milk after learning about the harmful impacts of the dairy farming industry, but then found the problems caused due to water sourcing and insecticides were just as bad. Or when I signed a petition over the closure of a factory that had been mistreating workers in a third world country for cheap clothes, but then heard so many were unable to feed their families because they were out of work. And the time I switched make-up brands to avoid animal testing then found the company uses the services of another company that does employ animal testing!

It’s a constant battle and for anyone who tries to be ethically-minded, it can be a bit of a roller coaster  – one minute you’re up and feeling great for all the good you are doing for the world around you. Then next, you hit rock bottom when you realise actually by trying to help you may be doing more harm than good.The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | Wanderlust

Why is it so hard?

One of the problems – there are too many opinions out there and too many facts, but so often thanks to Twitter and various other social media outlets – the two become almost indistinguishable. It’s so easy to read one thing and to make a change in your life, then a week later to see an news article damning the opinion you just read elsewhere. I don’t know about you but I’m overwhelmed with information and I’m finding it hard to know which advice to take. To feel certain that I am actually making informed decisions that really are doing the best for everyone and the world around us. We’ve gone full circle from struggling to get the truth from companies over their ethical policies, to now being swamped with information and unsure of the facts.

Another aspect of this is the bloggers, social media stars and the celebrities who so often pick a cause to back and legions of fans follow in their wake. The fact is these influencers have a huge impact on the decisions of people across the world and the ethical nature of the decisions they make can cause huge waves. Just look at how many more people seem to care and know about global warming effects since Leonardo DiCaprio started talking about it, and Emma Watson must be one of the best-known faces for using her platform to really highlight key issues from women’s rights and climate change to sustainable fashion. But likewise, this can be used in a negative way, such as when some figures make questionable decisions such as wearing real fur, encouraging their fans to follow suit. The constant fight for change and for attention means it’s hard to know who is really trying to make a difference, and who is just jumping on the bandwagon for likes.The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | Wanderlust

What does this mean for travelers?

As someone who has been travelling for over three years and has no plans to stop anytime soon, being ethical in my travel will always remain at the forefront of my mind. After all, what was that quote?

Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time. – Aliyyah Eniath

I’ve always felt the one thing that really touches my heart and stays with me a long time after my travels, it’s not the places. It’s not sunrise at Angkor Wat or exploring waterfalls of Laos, it’s not doing yoga in Thailand or learning to work on a farm in outback Australia, or even getting lost in the ruin pubs of Budapest. It’s the people you met along the way. The amazing souls who helped you when you were struggling, the ones who showed you a world you never dared dream of, the ones who gave you enough laughs to last a lifetime. Those people are the ones I hold close in my heart, they’re the stories I tell about my travels, they are the memories.

So if that is the case, then it’s so important to make sure your travel is benefiting the people who have given you the experience of a lifetime and the environment you’ve been lucky enough to explore:

These are just examples and there are so many other ways to be ethical in your travel, to make informed decisions. And that is the most important thing, like me, you may be struggling with knowing if you are truly being ethical. But when it comes down to it, just the fact that you care enough to inform yourself is the first step to really doing something good in the world. Don’t listen to all the judgement over social media, it’s too easy to get swept away in throwaway comments instead of investing your time in making a change.The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | Wanderlust

My five top tips for traveling ethically:

  1. Research everything! Read newspaper articles, read medical journals, read books, watch documentaries and talk to people. By educating yourself and seeking as much information as possible, you put yourself in the best position for making a genuinely good decision.
  2. Read the reviews – planning a trip? Always take some time to read the comments on social media and review sites because these can be the best way to find up-to-date and brutally honest information. Just like you would if you were booking flights or a trip – look at the reviews to see what others have said about their experiences. (Follow the link for reviews on Etihad Airways)
  3. Talk to other travelers, ask for feedback on trips, tell them what you know and ask them to educate you. Since learning all about the mistreatment of elephants in Asia, I have made it my business to educate as many fellow travelers as possible and have since managed to to stop countless people from riding elephants. Small changes make big changes.
  4. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find out you slipped up. I went to Seaworld with my family when I was a kid, I was too young to decide to go there myself but ever since seeing the Blackfish documentary, I have been beating myself up over it a little bit. You can’t be so hard on yourself if you make a mistake, the whole world makes mistakes. What matters is how you learn from them and prevent them in future.
  5. Remember, it’s not just when you travel to far-flung destinations, you can make every journey ethical by being mindful and conscientious. By supporting independent and local businesses, by not littering, but using public transport to reduce carbon emissions. There are lots of ways to be ethical when you travel, open your eyes and make a change.

The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | WanderlustThis has turned into a pretty mega blog post considering I had writer’s block just a few days ago, but I think this is such an important issue to be raised. Can you identify with feeling confused over traveling and living ethically? It’s okay if you do, we’re in it together. As long as we’re all doing our darnedest to make a difference, that’s all we can do.

How do you ensure your travel is ethical? Do you ever worry your ‘ethical’ decisions are less ethical than you would hope? What ethical changes have you made in your life?

The trouble with trying to be an ethical traveler | Wanderlust

 

There are endless stunning beaches just waiting to be explored in Sri Lanka, but unlike many other parts of Asia they remain untouched and uncrowded with a certain charm I have yet to find elsewhere. From the blissful south east where Mirissa and Unawatuna can be found strewn with palm trees, cute fairy lights and perfect sunrises, to the north and west where you’ll find the more rugged shores of Arugam Bay and Trincomalee. There is something to suit every beach bum whether you’re craving lazy days spent sunbathing, diving and discovering the incredible wildlife or chasing the surf at sunset. Sadly while travelling there for a month in November, we were tiptoeing around the rainy season and ended up spending less time on the beaches and more deep in the jungles. But we couldn’t resist a trip to Trincomalee after having it recommended to us by so many locals and friends. Despite having to spend hours making our way across the country by bus, we decided to spend our last few days exploring the western shores and spoiler alert we definitely didn’t regret it! In fact, when a friend was visiting Sri Lanka the following month, one of the first places I recommended she visit was Trincomalee – why? Read on to find out:

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic by Vilmos Vincze

Snorkel with blue whales

Yes you read that correctly. Trinco is the most magical place for water babies to have a completely unique experience. Locals run trips where you can actually snorkel with blue whales while they remain protected, they actually guide documentary makers on where and how best to film them. It’s pretty cheap and something you certainly won’t regret. Not keen on getting up close and personal with the whales? There are also countless whale watching trips where you can view the creatures, and passing sperm whales, from the safety of a boat.

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic by Vilmos Vincze

Go dolphin watching

Sri Lanka’s waters are the perfect place to spot these joyful creatures jumping through the waves and the west coast is known for it’s rougher waters which they love. It’s the perfect place to hit the water and see dolphins being wild and free.

Visit Pigeon Island National Park

A must-see for your trip – have the ultimate desert island experience with powdery white sand, volcanic rocks and pristine reef. Pigeon Island is idyllic but it does get busy during peak season – book your trips through your hotel and enjoy a day of snorkelling and exploring. Travellers have even reported getting to swim with octopus thanks to expert guides.

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic by Pierre Andre Leclercq

Bathe in the hot springs

At nearby Kanniya you’ll find the seven geothermal wells which are very popular with both tourists and holidaying Sri Lankans.

Explore colourful Hindu temples

There are some spectacular temples to visit while in the area, but one you simply must see while you are there is the the colourful Koneswaram temple. High up in the hills, the Hindu temple is found near the dramatic Swami Rock and spectacular Gokarna Bay. Take a walk up to the top, then as you’re strolling back down stop for a fresh juice overlooking the ocean.

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic by Eleleleven

Hit the beaches

Fancy catching some sun? Look for the beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli to fulfil your need for beachy bliss and some well-deserved peace and quiet. Uppuveli is good for swimming due to the calmer waters, and is slightly more developed with more options for guesthouses and hotels – we stayed here and loved it. Nilaveli boasts a longer beach and a much quieter area but the waters are rougher and less suited for swimming.

Take a wander around local landmarks

If you love a bit of history and checking out the sights, your visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the British War Cemetery which the locals are keen to share with you. A walk around Fort Frederick is lovely around sunset, make sure you go all the way to the top for a really beautiful view of the bay.

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic by Adam Jones

Make friends with Bambi

Strangely, the main part of Trinco is absolutely filled with the tamest deer I have ever seen, they live right in the centre of town and sadly eat rubbish. It was a bit of a sad sight to see them making their home on the grass in-between the busy road by the bus station, but we were simply amazed at how they would let you go right up to them and even pet them.

Stay in a backpacker cave

Travelling on a budget? Trinco has accommodation to suit all needs from the luxury hotels to the budget apartments and rooms at guest houses. We stayed at the lovely Lobster Inn which was fantastic and I highly recommend it – the owners were really lovely and it was very cheap, actually cheaper than advertised on the website because it was off season. But if you’re on even more of a budget, or just run out of money, try the Aqua Inn where you can stay in an actual backpacker cave – they’re awesome!

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

Pic from TripAdvisor

Have you been to Trincomalee? Is Sri Lanka on your bucket list? What unique accommodation have you found on your travels?

Sri Lanka | 9 reasons you HAVE to visit Trincomalee

 

*First pic credit.

Finding the budget hair care routine to keep your mane tamed when you’re constantly traveling can be difficult. We all lust over long luscious locks or those super cute elfin bobs, but staying stylish when you’re living out of your suitcase and don’t have the time, or money, to spare on keeping your locks under control, is tricky. After three years of traveling, I’ve gone from a super-short bob to a crazy, out-of-control ‘fro and now to a sleek long ‘do with a fringe. I’ve tried it all and I’ve even gone from brown to black, to bright red and hints of purple along the way. Over the three years, I’ve dealt with the humidity of the jungles of Thailand and Sri Lanka, I’ve coped with the unpredictable nature of Melbourne and Tasmanian winters and I’ve even put my hair through being fully styled and heat-treated every day for a job. Plus there’s the constantly changing countries and climates from the hot to cold and even the water can have an effect, as I noticed going between the softer water of Australia to the hard water of the UK. Traveling hasn’t just been exhausting for my body, it’s taken it’s toll on my hair too and I’ve had to find ways of looking after it while sticking to budget hair care solutions.

My top 10 budget hair care tips for travelers | Travel

My top budget hair care tips:

Stay regular

The hardest one of all – trying to make sure you have regular trims. If you’re backpacking or traveling for work this is a nightmare and often gets forgotten but it can really make a huge difference. By keeping your hair in good condition, you can save a lot of money trying to restore it once it is damaged – preparation is key for budget hair care. Before my last haircut, I went six months before having a trim and my god my hair needed it. You see, my hair does this thing where it grows out as well as long – it just gets bigger and bigger with a heck of a lot more attitude. Combine that with the heat and split ends, and it becomes a mess of knots and tangles that I struggle to get a brush through. Getting regular trims can help protect the healthy hair by stopping split ends, keeping it under control and making it less prone to knots.

Backpacker hairdressers

But where am I going to find a regular hairdresser when I’m backpacking? Have you thought about looking in your hostel? Hairdressers go backpacking too and often if you look on the noticeboard of Facebook groups for the area, you’ll see posts advertising cheap haircuts by traveling hairdressers. Don’t worry, I’ve done this many times and it can be great. One of my best traveling friends is actually a trained hairdresser and she picked up work wherever she went offering haircuts for men and women in the hostel. Not backpacking and want something a bit more upmarket? It’s worth seeing if your hotel can recommend a hairdresser’s nearby, or looking online/social media, or even take a walk through the local mall to find a chain you feel comfortable going to. If you go home between trips, always go back to the same hairdresser – I’ve been going to the same one since I was 12 and she’s amazing, she always knows exactly what will suit me and what the best style is to help my hair get back to normal.

DIY

Can’t afford a professional cut or simply don’t have the time to spend getting it dyed? Well, why not look at doing it yourself? If you have a low-maintenance hairdo, perhaps it’s long or you just have a fringe that needs trimming every now and again. Don’t attempt this unless you feel confident with a pair of scissors, but I used to cut my own fringe when I was away at university and couldn’t get to a hairdressers. I even started cutting in my own layers for a while. Dying your hair can cost a fortune, but let’s be honest, we love the feel of freshly dyed hair. I’m always playing around with my colour and definitely couldn’t afford to do it if I went to the salon, but by dying it myself at home, or getting a friend/my mum to do it for me, I can have the best of both worlds. Choosing your dye wisely can actually be great for your hair – my locks always feel 10x healthier and glossier after I’ve used L’Oreal Casting Creme Gloss Semi Permanent hair dye and the conditioner is amazing. It has no ammonia in it so it’s not as harsh as other dyes and it instantly makes my hair feel so much better.My top 10 budget hair care tips for travelers | Travel

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is incredible – it doesn’t matter whether you use it on your hair, your skin, in your food or anywhere else you can think of – it has such a great impact on your body. It’s a great budget hair care tip because it’s so multi-purpose and I never leave on my travels without it. When traveling to tropical countries, I always rub coconut oil all over my skin and in the damp ends of my hair after every shower. It really helps to keep my hair in good condition and to keep your skin soft and moisturised. Even when I’m in colder places, I rub coconut oil into my hair once a week and even rub it into my nails – it really does help to strengthen them. When I’m in the UK, I always buy it from Aldi – it’s the cheapest I’ve found and you get a HUGE pot that will last you ages.

Choose wisely

For day-to-day budget hair care, it’s important to find a shampoo and conditioner that will actually care for and protect your hair. I’m making sure I choose paraben and sulphate-free brands which help your hair to remain undamaged, but I also try to look for brands that protect against sun-damage. Traveling in places like Australia and Asia, it’s important to realise the impact of being exposed to strong sunshine and UVA/UVB rays on a daily basis, and just as we buy moisturiser with sunscreen in it, to find protection for our hair. Most important, don’t spend the earth – you don’t need to buy the most expensive just because it’s a big brand. I love the Aussie range and L’Oreal.

Go deeper

Sometimes a basic shampoo and conditioner isn’t enough to revive your hair after a lot of time spent in the sunshine. I swear by deep conditioning treatments, especially when I can’t get it cut. During the six months where I didn’t get a chance to have it cut, I swore by deep conditioners – it was the only way I could get a comb through my hair! I try to use them at least once a week but often I’ll use them more – this depends on your hair type. Again, it doesn’t have to be expensive, my favourites are the L’Oreal Extraordinary Oil and Aussie Three Minute Miracle and both are great budget hair care options.My top 10 budget hair care tips for travelers | Travel

Cut back

One of the best things you can do for your hair when traveling a lot is to cut back on washing it. Use the time to train your hair to require washing less, embrace the dry shampoo and start getting more creative with styles. Growing it out when traveling can be a great way to do this, after traveling with both short hair and long hair, I would choose long hair every single time. Short hair is a pain and needs styling every day, but long hair barely needs to be brushed! Plus, it doesn’t get dirty as quickly and, if you train it up, you can easily get down to washing it just once a week with a touch of dry shampoo and some clever styling. The less you wash it, the less product you use and the less often you have to buy replacements – perfect for budget hair care!

Embrace the braid

I love braids. They are so easy and effortlessly stylish, so comfortable for traveling and so good at hiding what state your hair is really in. Plus, even better for budget hair care – it’s free! Traveling in Asia with long hair made me a lot more creative at styling my hair and saving myself from both the humidity and having to wash my hair. It kept my hair off my face and they were fantastic for long journeys – I could easily not wash my hair for days and still arrive not looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. The more you practice, the easier it gets and soon you’ll be able to braid your entire head of hair in less than 30 seconds, and if you leave them in overnight with damp hair, or fresh from the ocean, you’ll be left with those soft, gorgeous waves.

Chill out

Traveling can be the perfect opportunity to really take a break from using heat on your hair – hairdryers and straighteners can really damage your locks over time and it’s a good idea to take a break. If you’re moving around a lot, going natural can help save your hair from further damage and it can also save room in your suitcase. I’m quite lucky and my hair really suits the heat and humidity, it brings out my natural curls, so I always leave my hairdryer and straighteners/curlers at home when I travel and just go natural. Even when I travel in cooler countries, I try to just give a quick blast with the hairdryer and always use heat protection spray.

My top 10 budget hair care tips for travelers | Travel

Eat your hair healthy

You know how we’re supposed to make sure we get our five-a-day? Well just as it’s important to eat loads of vitamin C so you don’t get sick, your hair needs certain vitamins to avoid getting brittle and weak. Incorporating certain foods into your diet can naturally help boost your hair’s health, avoiding the need to take supplements. Think things like eggs and avocados, lots of leafy greens such as spinach, and plenty of nuts and seeds. Its easy to build these into your diet and luckily they’re pretty tasty foods. I love to make sure I have vitamin-rich breakfast or brunch – poached eggs with spinach and avocado – or I sprinkle nuts and seeds into my granola or on salads. Little things like this can have a huge impact on how thick and healthy your hair looks.

What are your best budget haircare tips for regular travelers? How do you deal with the changing climates? What are your favourite haircare products?

 My top 10 budget hair care tips for travelers | Travel

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.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkYala 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”.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkWe 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
Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkSet 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.Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National ParkLooking 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.

Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National Park

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.

Find out more and click here to book via the website.

Have you stayed in any unique accommodation? What’s the most unusual? Are you more of a camper or a glamper?

Sri Lanka | The dream safari experience - Luxury Safari Camping at Yala National Park

Since I was a little girl I was always captivated by the idea of riding in a hot air balloon high above some beautiful country – gazing down across animals grazing on the Serengeti, or the strange buildings of Cappadocia. It always seemed such a magical way to experience a country, to feel the hush that breathes over the land at sunset or sunrise as you cruise across the sky. It was a bucket list item and one I planned to tick off one day, but never did I dream I would be doing it when I booked my trip to Sri Lanka. Planning the trip, I was keen to get a little surprise in there for the boyfriend to celebrate his birthday which had been the month before. So busy working all the time, we hadn’t had the opportunity for a big celebration so I wanted to really spoil him by sharing an experience we wouldn’t forget in a hurry. I’ve never been the kind of person who cares that much for physical presents, what I really love is sharing an amazing experience with someone I love and seeing their face light up with excitement.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaSri Lanka Ballooning invited us along to try out their epic sunrise ballooning experiences and we jumped at the opportunity to see both Sri Lanka’s incredible landscape and the Cultural Triangle from a unique viewpoint. Central Sri Lanka is made up on a beautiful combination of wild jungle, misty mountains and huge lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s a spectacular sight from the ground but an almost ethereal sight from the air and one that is sure to take your breath away as you gaze down on elephants roaming freely, birds soaring over the jungle and monkeys swinging from the trees. Despite the early hour, the locals come running out of their homes when they hear the rush of the gas to cheer and wave as you glide effortlessly over the trees waiting for the sun to creep over the horizon.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaWe were picked up before the dawn chorus had even begun and made our way by minibus to a nearby field where a group of shadowy figures were already hard at work preparing the balloon for take-off. Excitedly, the group of around 16 people were abuzz as they waited to board the craft. Found in Dambulla, the company are based in the middle of the Cultural Triangle and are surrounded by some of Sri Lanka’s oldest and most treasured sights including ancient towns and several UNESCO World Heritage Sights. This cultural centre is a real highlight of any trip to Sri Lanka – I’ll be posting in full about the best ways to experience the area – and how better to experience it than from a completely different perspective?Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | Dambulla Operating for over a decade, Sri Lanka Ballooning is owned by chief pilot Justin Patrick Moore, an Englishman who I was keen to meet after reading about his amazing experience of flying hot air balloons around the world for over 30 years – think everywhere from the North Pole to Australia. He has led an amazing life and after falling in love with Sri Lanka, he made it his second home and set up the company which allows him to live his dream life and fly daily over the incredible landscape. With each day starting by witnessing the sunrise over the mountains and champagne at the end of each flight – who can blame him? Interestingly, the company has been a real trailblazer for Sri Lanka – being the first hot air balloon company to host a wedding and a skydive mid-flight, featuring on TV several times and offering some very memorable surprises for birthdays and engagements.Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | DambullaI can’t recommend the experience enough, it was without a doubt the most memorable part of our already incredible month in Sri Lanka. We were both completely taken aback by the beauty of the country that had already inspired us daily, but this was a moment I really fell in love with Sri Lanka. As a couple, we’re already lucky to have had some truly amazing experiences together, but this is one that will remain the most romantic and special yet. We both touched down on the ground and instantly wanted to be back up in the air again, it may have been our first hot air balloon ride, but it certainly won’t be our last. A huge thank you to Sri Lanka Ballooning and their amazing team for giving us such an unforgettable morning.

Visit Sri Lanka Ballooning’s website for more information or to book your flight.

Have you been in a hot air balloon – what was your experience like? Have you always dreamed of going in a hot air balloon – where would you like to experience this?

Sri Lanka | A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the misty mountains | Dambulla

My first trip to Sri Lanka has brought with it some very exciting blogging opportunities, and the first of these was a really luxurious treat and welcome to this amazing country. I was invited to be the first blogger to visit and review the beautiful Dickman Resort – an adults only, luxury resort which has been hailed the first gay-friendly accommodation of its kind in the country. I was thrilled to be invited to somewhere so forward thinking and all-accepting, and couldn’t wait to see what the visit had in store. In the heart of Negombo, the resort is ideal for anyone just arriving or about to fly out and the staff pride themselves on giving the very best welcome or farewell to Sri Lanka. As we pulled up to the resort we were given the warm Sri Lankan welcome as we were invited inside with fresh passionfruit juice and a tour of the property, before being seen to our room and told to relax and enjoy.Sri Lanka | Our room, the Purple Suite overlooked the pool area and gave us a lovely view across the courtyard while still being tucked away neatly to give as much privacy as we wanted. Perfect for a travelling couple, the boutique resort is the perfect place to mingle with the staff and other travellers, or to give yourself complete privacy and alone time. Week-to-week the crowd changes – when we arrived it was many individual gay travellers but when we left there were several couples both gay and straight. But Dutch owner Mr Dickman make sure everyone feels welcome, always stopping to chat to everyone who is staying there and to make sure they have everything they need. Travelling with my boyfriend, we couldn’t have felt more welcome and it really was the most romantic few days. A perfect place for a couple to holiday together, the rooms are pure luxury and have everything you never even realised you deserved from gorgeous outdoor rain showers to a four poster bed, fresh fruits and background music to set the mood.Sri Lanka | Sri Lanka | After more than 48 hours travelling across Malaysia and Indonesia, it was the greatest pleasure to climb into the comfiest four poster bed and finally catch up on sleep. Waking up feeling refreshed, we headed to breakfast where we were greeted with fresh juice and delicious coffee, platters of fruit, omelettes, dhal, sambol and more – their tasty nod to both Western and Sri Lankan breakfast. An absolute feast, the meal was the perfect way to start the day and it was lovely to eat overlooking the beautiful courtyard with chipmunks running up and down the trees and birds calling overhead. A perfect place to spend a few hours reading, writing, or indulging in your favourite holiday pastimes, there are endless hidden corners and comfy spots to find a pew to while away the afternoon.Sri Lanka | Spend your days relaxing by the pool with amazing staff on hand for everything you need from towels and magazines to fresh watermelon, all of them so friendly and kind. Head to the shaded courtyard to lay in the hammock and read, or make yourself comfortable on one of the colourful couches and while away the afternoons. Just up the street are no end of restaurants, bars and shops if it takes your fancy to go for a wander, or talk to the staff and order in your meals for complete comfort. The staff can arrange for spa staff to pick you up and whisk you away for massages and spa treatments at a moment’s notice and are happy to arrange transport if you wish to visit any sights.

Sri Lanka |

It was a complete pleasure to stay at the Dickman Resort and a perfect way to start our Sri Lankan adventure, if you’re looking for a luxury treat then this is the one for you. Just 30 minutes from the airport, it’s a great way to relax into your trip after a long flight. Start your holiday the right way by booking in for a luxury treat here.

Have you stayed at any gay-friendly resorts around the world? Tell me – what is luxury to you? Have you been to Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka |

I love arriving in a new place whether it’s a bustling city, a beachside resort or a mountain top town and feeling my senses tingling. I love that first sense you get of a new place, the first smells, sights and sounds that hit you, the warmth or the freshness of the air. It’s these moments that make a place real, that make it special to you, and that stay with you long after you have moved on to pastures new. I still remember the first time I set foot in Bangkok – the hot air pressed against my skin, the noise of the streets and the vendors, the smells of spices and street food mingled in the air. Ella in Sri Lanka was different, with fresh mountain air, fluffy clouds dotted along the skies and a sense of peace I had yet to find elsewhere in the country. Each place leaves a lasting impression, and those first few hours, or even first few days can really make or break how you feel about a place.Travel | My top 5 ways for exploring a new city

I was inspired to write this post because I’ve spent the last two days in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and it is the first place in a long time that I have felt an instant dislike to. After being high up in the mountains with fresh air and peace, Kandy has been an assault on the senses with too much traffic, too much noise and too much pollution. I’ve felt smothered here and can’t wait to leave today, to get back out into nature – back to exploring the jungle. However, I know that some of the reason I really don’t like Kandy is actually because I arrived here in a bad mood, exhausted and grumpy from travel, with a bad tummy and to a bad accommodation. The first few hours I spent here were feeling ill and wandering the streets trying to find somewhere to eat and giving up in the end. It just shows how much those first few hours or days can really shadow your impression of a place and that’s why I normally try to take control of the situation and to give myself the best opportunity to fall in love with every place I visit.

How do I do this?

Well it’s all about making sure you throw yourself in at the deep end – whether you’re traveling by yourself or with friends or a partner, you have to get out exploring the first chance you get. By not sitting around feeling a bit lost, getting out and seeing the sights, meeting new people and really experiencing the city.Travel | My top 5 ways for exploring a new city

Here are my 5 best ways to explore a new place:

Walk it

My favourite way, and one I use in every new place, is to spend the first day just walking. Especially in a new city, I love to just spend the day exploring on foot either with or without a map, this way I can get lost and find all the really cool stuff hidden away. Plus I end up learning my way around pretty quick from getting lost. I also find I talk to more random strangers and meet some great people along the way as well as getting to see the sights. I had a great day walking the length and breadth of Budapest – it was a great city for exploring on foot and I managed to see all the sights and make some new friends in a few hours.

Get active

Love running? Why not do like I sometimes do and explore a city in your running gear? I did this in Perth and had a fun day keeping fit and running around the city. Be creative with your sightseeing – I’ve spent a day exploring places on a bike or even on a segway – it’s a different way to see the city. I have a friend who really loves skateboarding and she always travels with her board, so she loves to explore every new city by skateboarding around and usually makes some friends along the way. Fancy trying it out? You can pick up skateboarding decks here.Travel | My top 5 ways for exploring a new city

Visit a friend or get someone to show you around

Sometimes, especially if you are traveling solo or are pressed for time, it can be great to meet up with a traveling friend or even a new friend to be shown around a new place. When I visited Amsterdam and Berlin, I met up with old friends there from when I was living both in the UK and Australia – both friends took me under their wing and were excited to show me around their city. I had a place to stay and a tour guide, plus a great chance to catch up with friends and to see a new place. Don’t have a friend where you are going – why not try one of the many groups on Facebook to find someone who might want to host you? I’m part of a Girls Love Travel Facebook group which has almost forty thousand women from all over the world who live or are travelling all across the globe – they are always on hand for advice when travelling to a new place, keen to meet up for a drink, to show you round or even host you!

Hop on/Hop off bus tour or walking tours

A good way to see the sights and explore a new city, if you don’t know where to begin why not join the professional tour guides? When travelling around Europe, I started using Sandemans NEW Europe Tours – they offer FREE walking tours around 18 European cities with fantastic guides who have endless knowledge and enthusiasm for their city. The tours are free but the guides work for tips and you are welcome to give as little or as much as you want – the tours were always so good that I happily 10-20 euros after my tours in Berlin and Amsterdam.Travel | My top 5 ways for exploring a new city

Hostel activities

If you’re backpacking or staying in a hostel – why not take a look at the activities board and see what your hostel might be offering? Not only is it a great way to meet people and get to see the city, but it is often a lot cheaper or even free! When I was in Sydney, Australia, my hostel was fantastic for this and organised events daily including walking tours and wine and cheese nights, further down in Tasmania my hostel organised visits to the nearby mountain and museums for much cheaper than the usual price.

Not staying in hostels? Be smart about your accommodation and make it part of the experience! Renting out a house or apartment for your trip is a different way to experience the destination. Rental companies are making that option easier and safer, from AirBNB to CasaGo, you’re sure to find somewhere that is perfect for you, and will give you a taste of the local culture.

How else do you like to explore a new city? Where will you be exploring next?

Travel | My top 5 ways for exploring a new city

A bit of a throwback today, a little break from all the Western Australia posts as we hop back to Victoria and all my lovely days out while I was living down in Melbourne. I’ve already written about Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Phillip Island, bar crawling around the city and much more – but this post is all about a great little day trip you can take if you fancy escaping the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours. When I lived in Melbourne at the beginning of the year, I returned there with gusto and a desire to see all the amazing places I missed out on the first time. Working long hours as usual, I was determined to make the most of my days off by getting out to explore the beaches or different nature parks for walks and a change of scenery. Check out my blog post for Wild Melbourne here about all the best places to escape into nature around Melbourne. The Dandenongs were one of the final places I visited before setting off on my travels again, and they were definitely a day well spent with two of my best friends from living down there.Melbourne | A day in the Dandenongs - 1000 Steps | AustraliaThe three of us were inseparable, working together, living around the corner from each other, and spending our days off together – it’s safe to say we had a blast down in Melbourne together. So when two of us had a day off, and the other decided to skive off work for the day, we decided to get out of the city and do something fun. Well I decided, and dragged the other two along with me for some exercise. We caught the train from Flinders Street along the Belgrave line to the Dandenongs and got off at Upper Ferntree Gully Station – the journey took around 50 minutes which we easily filled with silly banter. Once there, we had to walk east away from the station and alongside the railway tracks, then we turned off the main road and walked across the trainline, following the track. After about 15 minutes walking, we came to the entrance to the Dandenong Ranges National Park where we were surrounded by lush, green forest and that incredible fresh air smell that can only be found away from the city.Melbourne | A day in the Dandenongs - 1000 Steps | AustraliaAs you walk in, head towards the beginning of the 1,000 Steps, Kokoda Track Memorial Walk where you will probably see lots of people running around – so many use it as a workout and spend hours running up and down the steps. It’s pretty impressive, I definitely didn’t run them, but it was a nice walk up and down, especially as you can take one route up and another down to change it up. The walk is around 3km overall and is quite steep in places so you will want to take water and wear trainers – also do take a warmer layer as it is quite misty and cool in the trees. It says online that it should take 1-1.5 hours to complete, but you can do it in a lot less if you are relatively fit and aren’t stopping every five minutes. There is also a picnic ground at the top, but sadly no real view to enjoy – this was a bit of a disappointment after the climb up there, but we still managed to have a great day out.Melbourne | A day in the Dandenongs - 1000 Steps | Australia
It’s a beautiful place and lovely for a walk or to work out if, like me, you get bored of working out in the city. You can also do this trip in just a couple of hours – I think we were only gone around 3-4 hours overall so we still had the day to enjoy in the city. Plus it’s a complete change of scenery being in the misty hills after living in busy Southbank and working in a bar all week. Well worth a visit. If you like this, you should also check out Jacob’s Ladder in Perth for a good workout and a great view at the end.Melbourne | A day in the Dandenongs - 1000 Steps | Australia

What’s your favourite place to escape into nature around Melbourne? Can you recommend any good outdoor places to work out in Australia?

Melbourne | A day in the Dandenongs - 1000 Steps | Australia

I’ve been waiting a long time to write about Fremantle, it’s hard to sometimes find the words to describe a place that you feel in your heart. But this cute little port town really did become an unexpected home from home for me. It’s ironic really, that I travelled to the other side of the world to set up camp somewhere just like home – a little port town by the ocean steeped in history and quirky culture. But perhaps the home we find is in the people we meet and the way that we feel rather than the place itself. After finding Perth a tad impersonal, Freo couldn’t have been more different as it welcomed me with open arms. Read my Perth city guide here.

A good friend of mine drove me from the city to Freo one sunny afternoon, and even as we pulled in amongst the old fashioned buildings and smelt the sea air, I knew this was a place I would love. Walking into my hostel and seeing the family style tables across the courtyard and the group who were keen to invite me in to join them – it was just the kind of place I love to make my home. I was staying at Pirates Backpackers on Essex Street, right in the centre of Freo – it was just a minute’s walk from the weekend markets and the harbour, close to the beaches and the shops. I’ll be reviewing the hostel in an upcoming post – so watch out if you’re looking for hostel recommendations. Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia


Why was Fremantle so special to me?

It was the first place I had been in a long time where I felt I could really relax – Melbourne was full of working and living life to the max, Adelaide was a blur. Fremantle had a slower pace of life and because I wasn’t planning to work, I could really relax and enjoy it, joining in with hostel life and having time to dedicate to my writing. I had a cafe I would go to for breakfast and coffee while I wrote my articles, I would go running each morning around the harbour and to the beaches. I could spend my nights laughing, playing cards and drinking with friends, or go to watch the sun set with a cute boy I met, or even hit the bars. The world was my oyster and I really enjoyed every second, especially those spent with the amazing group of friends I made while I was there, and the wonderful guy I met. I think I had been missing something from my life the previous few months and it was those incredible traveller personalities that really bring something new and exciting to the table. Freo brought that all rushing back into my life and was the perfect way to kick off my amazing Western Australia trip with the best people.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia


Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle

I might love to treat myself every now and again, but I’ll always be a backpacker at heart and I’ll always find ways to explore a new place on a budget. After all, the money you save on activities can always be put towards that next flight, an epic night out or a once-in-a-lifetime experience – I know what I’d prefer to spend it on. When I was in Freo, I knew the money I had saved working in Melbourne was to go towards my epic Western Australia road trip and had to pay for a road trip covering over 1,000km from Perth to Darwin for up to two months, and then setting up a new life in Darwin. So although I wanted to enjoy my life, I was very conscious that I had been waiting my whole two years in Australia to experience this trip and that I wanted to live it to the max. This meant cutting corners where I could to enjoy myself for a few weeks in Fremantle beforehand – here are my top 10 free & cheap experiences you don’t want to miss when you visit:

1. Fremantle Markets

Without a doubt the best way to spend your weekend in Fremantle – running Friday, Saturday & Sunday in the market hall at the top of Essex Street – look no further for cheap, delicious food, live entertainment and fresh fruits and vegetables at great prices. Offering a huge range of street food stalls from all over the world, including the delicious bao buns, the gozlemes and paella, plus fresh teas and juices – it’s the perfect place to pick up a cheap meal ($10-15) as you walk around the stalls. Make sure you walk around the fruit and veg stalls and pick up all the free tasters for your daily dose of vitamins, then head back to the market on Sunday afternoon to get your heavily reduced fresh foods shop. I used to buy all my fruits and veggies there for just $7 for 7 items – perfect for a backpacker budget.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

2. Street performers

You’ll see them all over Freo, whether it’s live music, comedy, magic or something crazy that you can’t take your eyes off. There’s plenty going on around the markets at the weekends, but even during the week you’ll often see performers take to the streets to entertain the crowds. I was gutted to miss the Street Arts Festival by a few weeks, it filled the streets with live entertainment and attracted thousands of visitors. Or why not grab a guitar or a ukulele and hit the streets yourself? I saw plenty of travellers doing just that to earn a few extra dollars and to have fun with their friends – if you’ve got a talent, why not use it?Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

3. Hostel activities

My hostel was great for group activities, the owner made sure there was something going on every night from movie nights to pizza and wine evenings, marshmallows on a log fire, paddle boarding or volleyball afternoons and even wine tours – see my Swan Valley review here. It was great and brought the whole hostel together for some fun afternoons and evenings, it even inspired us to hold our own group evenings like the family dinner one woman decided to cook for the whole hostel. On Sunday’s we would drink for free at Left Bank bar thanks to a hostel organised trip. I got to go on a full day’s wine tour with tastings & travel included for just $30. Another day, I went paddle boarding for the afternoon for just $10 and had a great time with the group. It’s always worth seeing what is going on in your hostel.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

4. Hire a bike

I didn’t realise until some Canadian girls moved into my dorm that you can borrow bikes for free from Little Creatures Brewery (which is just across the park from my hostel). All you need is a passport ID and a credit card for them to keep on file, there is no charge unless you don’t return the bike. We borrowed three cute little bikes for the afternoon and biked all the way from Fremantle to Cottesloe Beach where we sunbathed and relax all afternoon, diving into the waves to cool off in the sunshine, before heading back to Freo. It was a great afternoon and completely free – well worth looking into if you fancy getting out of the town with so many great beaches right on your doorstep.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

5. Visit the beaches

Perth is known for it’s beautiful beaches and I was lucky enough to catch the last few sunbathing days before the weather changed. While I was there I made it my business to explore as many beaches as I could, from the tiny Bathers Beach and South Beach which I went running between every morning. To the vast empty beauty of Scarborough Beach and City Beach – City Beach was actually my favourite by far because we had the whole place to ourselves when we went. And the famous Cottesloe Beach, which sadly was covered in smelly seaweed when I was there, but was still a great place to watch the surfers and enjoy the sunshine.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

6. Take a culture tour

There are so many great historical sites in Fremantle and you can easily spend a day, or two, exploring these for a bit of culture and heritage. Why not check out Fremantle’s Roundhouse for great views across the harbour, then explore The Shipwreck Galleries and Western Australia’s Maritime Museum for a glimpse int the town’s past. Don’t miss a look at the war memorial and then head over to Fremantle Gaol for a wander around – you have to pay for entry to the tours, but you can have a good look at a gallery and the courtyard for free.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

7. Fish and Chips by the harbour

Probably one of the priciest things on this list depending on where you go, but much like having fish and chips on Brighton Beach in England, it’s something you just have to do. You’ll be fending off manic seagulls but the freshly caught fish and chips is well worth it, especially overlooking the water at sunset. There are plenty of places to choose from so enjoy.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

8. Little Creatures Brewery

One of my favourite experiences while I was in Fremantle, visiting the Little Creatures Brewery is definitely something to try. It’s a lovely bar to sit and have a drink and food in, or take a free tour at 1, 2 or 3pm each day. Tastings are available for around $20 and give you an opportunity to taste each of their craft beers and a cider – a pretty good way to spend a sunny afternoon.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

9. Breakfast with live music

Whether you fancy a laid-back breakfast with friends or want somewhere peaceful to work, look no further than Moore & Moore cafe. The food is fantastic and well-priced and they have a lovely sheltered courtyard with heaters for when the weather isn’t great. The wifi is really good for those who need to work, and it’s a nice relaxing atmosphere, often with live music in the background.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

10. Watch the sunset with good friends

Always one of my favourite things to do – pick up some cheep wine and snacks, get a group of mates together and head to South Beach or Bathers Beach and end the day on a high. There really is nothing better than watching a beautiful sunset with people who mean the world to you.Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia


What are your favourite free activities when visiting a new place? Have you been to Fremantle – can you add any suggestions to this list?

Perth | Top 10 free & cheap things to do in Fremantle | Australia

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