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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
I've been desperately trying to hold myself back from posting this one until now, but now it's finally time to share our exciting travel plans with you all! I've hinted on social media but held back the final itinerary while we finalised our plans, but now it's official, I have left Hamburg on a three week road trip across Europe and I couldn't be more excited to share this with you all. Those of you who follow this blog will have seen the renovation of our Sprinter van into a camper van for road tripping. Now I can tell you the reason we worked on it so quickly was because we were already planning this amazing trip!
The plan is to drive around 3,000km during the three weeks and to see as many new places as possible and we really wanted to make sure to really take in the amazing German countryside along the way. It will be the first time I have ever visited any of these places, and I'm excited to be taking in a real mixture of stunning European countryside and beautiful old cities. I love culture, heritage and history and it's something I've really missed after spending so long in Australia. While Oz has it's own kind of history and heritage, it doesn't compare to the beauty of Europe's old charm, winding streets and beautiful architecture. By having Hamburg as a home base, it really has opened opportunities to travel while keeping things budget and time-friendly.
First I'll be driving from Hamburg to Saxon-Switzerland National Park on the border of the Czech Republic where I plan to spend two days exploring the stunning park. I will then drive on to visit Prague, a city I have always wanted to visit especially since my trip to Budapest. Then from Prague to Vienna, we'll spend a few days in each city before heading into the countryside. Driving through Austria, I'm also hoping to stop off in some beautiful places outside of the cities, taking in some of the gorgeous Austrian countryside. After this, we will drive to Munich where I'll be based for around a week. Time will be spent taking day trips to nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria and the Austrian lakes.
Around this time I also plan to travel to Switzerland for two days to hopefully see Zurich and some of the countryside – I've always wanted to see Switzerland so I'm really excited for this – and possibly to Liechtenstein as well. The final week of the trip will see me driving back up towards Hamburg via The Black Forest and the legendary Fairytale Road which I can't wait to see after a magical trip to the forests on Rügen Island in May. I even studied fairytales as part of my literature course at university, so seeing the places that inspired such stories will be amazing. I'll be stopping in Frankfurt on the way back up to Hamburg before I start work.
As you read this, I will already be on the road and hopefully somewhere near Prague or Vienna! Naturally I'll be capturing every moment on camera and will be sharing it all with you later on, but you can keep up to date with our adventures by following me on social media – Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – where I will still be posting updates from every step of the journey. I will still be posting twice-weekly on this blog while we are away – thanks to being super organised and managing to put together lots of lovely posts for you all – so be sure to keep checking on here for all the latest from my travels. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a few weeks on the road with no laptop – sometimes it's so necessary to just switch off for a while and to enjoy the world around you. So that's exactly what I'm going to do. Out of office on. Engage holiday mode. See you in three weeks!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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?
Sensory travel is such a wonderful way to treasure our traveling memories long after our tan has faded. There are some travel moments that stay with us months, even years, after a trip and the slightest smell or taste can bring back those previous memories back in a flash. I don't think I had ever experienced this quite as strongly until I started solo traveling, but this lifestyle really pushed me to travel more mindfully and to always remain present.
Every sight, sound, smell and taste would make my senses explode and now, even four years after those first moments on the beach in Thailand, those same smells, tastes or sounds still evoke all the memories and feelings I felt back then. The taste of fresh coconut water, the smell of the ocean breeze rustling through the palm leaves, mango sticky rice and the chaos and noise of the Thai markets. All of these are things I associate with travel, with freedom and the serenity I felt when I was first traveling and had escaped from a life where I was no longer happy. I've teamed up with TUI Sensatori to talk all about my most vivid sensory travel memories.
I'm a foodie at heart and I'm always chasing the next delicious experience, from those Thai spices, to the fish curries of Sri Lanka, my favourite brunch dishes and barbecues in Australia, to the comforting roast dinners of home. Feeling nostalgic for those traveling times, last night I made Thai green curry and mango smoothies, because for me, taste is a big part of remembering those traveling and holiday times. As I was cooking and smelt the mixture of coconut milk, the fragrant lemongrass, ginger and chilli combined in the pan and the sizzle reached my ears, I was transported back to those first days in Thailand, fresh off the plane when everything is almost an attack on the senses. I remember how overwhelming and exciting it all was – the colours, the sounds and smells, the tastes as a stopped off for a bite to eat and felt the flavours wash over my tongue.
Oxford University experts have said that over-reliance on smart phones and taking pictures on holiday has led to "digital holiday amnesia" causing far too many holiday makers to forget much of their trips after two weeks. By putting down our phones and cameras, and taking the time to awaken all of our senses, we are much more likely to create sensory travel memories that will let and be treasured for life. Experimental psychologist and renowned Oxford University sensory expert Professor Charles Spence led the research, he said:
“When we watch something unfold from behind a lens, we’re not truly living and sensing the experience. Smartphones can prevent us from creating fully-fledged memories as capturing a picture only really engages one of the senses – sight. It’s only by really engaging with our experiences on holiday through all of our senses that we can hope to process all the stimulating information to lay down the sorts of memories that will last, and that will be easier to retrieve.”
One memory that has really stayed with me was from when I was first traveling solo in Laos over three years ago. I was on a slow boat traveling down the Mekong River from Pai in Northern Thailand, to Vang Vieng, and it would take us two days to arrive at our destination. Our boat was rowdy, with a group of young travelers including myself and a couple of other English girls, some Aussies, Kiwis and even Canadians. I'll always remember two guys on the boat, an Aussie and an English guy, who were just so annoying. They never stopped talking and singing, and drove me crazy. Ironically they are some of my greatest traveling friends now!
But on that same boat, among the chaos and noise, there was an older woman who was quietly sat there just taking it all in and sketching on a pad in front of her. When I got up to take a look, she was beautifully capturing the scene in front of her, chaos and all. She had taken the time to breathe in the noise of the chatter and singing, the smell of the river and the cigarette smoke, and the feel of the hot, humid air packed tightly around us all. Seeing it through her eyes, I really saw the scene for the first time, without the annoyances, I breathed it all in, the people, the moment, all of it. Taking that moment to be mindful and appreciate changed the way I remember it, instead of just seeing it, I felt that moment. And even now, years on, I feel it. I felt it when I was reunited with the two guys and despite not seeing each other for a year we instantly felt like we were back on that boat.
Since that moment, I feel like I really have made a conscious effort to really appreciate every moment and not just to see it through a screen. I never want to be one of those travelers who just runs in, gets the pic and just leaves without feeling a place. As a writer, I love to soak up every part of an experience, so that later I can translate how it felt, smelt, tasted and sounded on to the page. I love curating beautiful content and imagery as you can see from the pics in this post – but I also feel that it is so important for there to be a story behind it.
For instance, the day I took the images for this post, we found a beautiful field full of rape seed and went for a walk. I remember so clearly the hot sun on my shoulders, the smell of the seed and the vibrancy of the yellow. I also remember when we found a local aviation club who were flying gliders over the fields and the muffled sounds of the aircraft coming in to land. Meeting my partner was a big push for me to put down the camera at times and just live in the moment because he, like me, loves to travel slow and really experience every moment. So we find ways of capturing the moment as I love to, but also getting to appreciate the experience just the two of us. Sensory travel at it's finest.
This blog post was a collaboration with TUI Sensatori who understand that in using all of our senses, we truly come alive and aim to help holidaymakers make the most of their holiday by stimulating their senses like never before. To find our how connected your senses are, take the TUI Sensatori quiz here.
Have you got a sensory travel memory to share? Leave a comment telling me about your sensory travel experiences and how you try to capture the memories without technology.
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?
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.
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.
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.
This 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?
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:
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'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.
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.
At nearby Kanniya you'll find the seven geothermal wells which are very popular with both tourists and holidaying Sri Lankans.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Have you been to Trincomalee? Is Sri Lanka on your bucket list? What unique accommodation have you found on your travels?
*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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
After spending so long out of the UK, one thing I've really missed is getting to hang out with other bloggers and writers. Travel and food are two of my favourite things, so getting to spend a day combining the two and getting to blog all about it – pretty much my dream day! So I was over the moon when I was invited along to a Middle Eastern cookery class with Visit Qatar and found out I would be spending the day cooking up a storm with a group of bloggers, journalists, food stylists and more. Watching the sunrise from the train as we powered through the misty and frosty fields towards London, I was on my third coffee of the day and couldn't wait to get started. The event was being held at The Cookery School, just off Oxford Circus, and it was such a perfect venue with everything we needed to create our feast, plus a great team of chefs on hand to help guide us through the process. After brief introductions, it was full speed ahead to create an amazing feast of middle eastern delights for lunch.
The aim of the day was for us to all work together on various recipes to create a feast for the whole group to enjoy over lunch. Whipping up everything from flatbreads, tabbouleh and a mezzo of dips including hummus, to a choice between lamb or vegetarian tagine with Persian rice, and rounding off with semolina cake served with yoghurt and fresh oranges, and homemade baklava. I couldn't think of a more perfect menu and I was so excited to get stuck in and learn some new recipes, I was especially looking forward to learning how to make hummus and to see how their tagine recipe differed from the one I make at home. We were all set to work on different tasks from chopping and slicing, to buttering and mixing. I love cooking and I love how social it is, we all had plenty of time to have a good chat over the mixing bowls.The first dish I helped out with was the baklava which I was very intrigued by, I personally have never been too keen on the sweet treat, often finding it a bit sickly. But after realising this one wasn't soaked in sugar syrup I was keen to find out if I would like it. Working with Amanda Bernstein of Glass Magazine, we teamed up to butter the many layers of filo pastry before adding chopped walnuts and cinnamon prepped by some of the other gals. I can tell you, after tasting the finished product, I am a total convert on baklava – the one we made was absolutely delicious and definitely wasn't too sweet.Afterwards, I was assigned to helping to prep the tabbouleh which ended up being the most colourful dish on the table! With all the bright colours of the herbs, tomatoes and lemons, it certainly brought a dash of the exotic to the table. This one was a nice easy dish, it just took a lot of chopping and preparing. I took the herbs to one side as I worked my way through chopping them for tabbouleh-duty.Finally, it was on to the dips and one of the dishes I was most excited to make – hummus. I've always wanted to make hummus myself at home but it's just one of those things I never get round to. Now, after seeing how ridiculously easy it is to make, I really have no excuse. We spent time perfecting the flavours and seasoning, adding a dash more lemon juice here, or a pinch of salt there, until we were happy with it.And finally, after hours of prepping and cooking, lunch was served! Everyone really enjoyed their food and we loved finally getting a chance to sit and enjoy all the unique flavours as a group.
This amazing event had been organised by the wonderful Jess and Katie, of Visit Qatar, as a way to celebrate everything about this beautiful and exciting country. Why? Well it's just become visa free for travellers from no fewer than 80 nationalities, so not only is it the most open country in the whole region, but there has never been a better time to visit!After reading this blog post by The Travelista after her visit to capital city Doha, I was already rather interested in what the city had to offer. Having spent very little time in the middle east so far, it's an area of the world that becoming ever more accessible with countless new and more direct flights being introduced across the UK. Apparently there are over 37million travellers passing through Doha International Airport each year, but very few are actually taking the time to enjoy the city while passing through. Perhaps, like me, they were simply unaware of the incredibly diverse travel experiences that await them there! But ever since the event, I've been dreaming of getting my heart racing by 'dune bashing' across the desert in a 4x4, or exploring the alleys of the Souq Waqif and taking in the stunning architecture. Whether enjoying a holiday, or just a few days stopover in the city, you can squeeze in a taste of authentic street food across the country or discover the breath-taking exhibitions at the Museum of Islamic Art. More than 150 countries spread across six continents are now connected with Doha thanks to Qatar Airways, which means you could easily build in a visit to your next trip. When flying back and forth between Asia or Australia and the UK, my layovers have always taken me to the likes of Dubai or Kuala Lumpur, so I'm eager to take the opportunity to discover somewhere new on my next big trip. There are even new direct flights available from Cardiff to Doha as of May 1, flying on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, these will be available seven days a week. Find more information on the Visit Qatar website.
Have you been to Qatar – how was your experience? Do you love middle eastern food – what's your favourite dish?
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?
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 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.We 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? 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.I 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.
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?
I don't know about you guys, but I like travelling at any time of year and I'm not one to let the winter stand in my way. If you're anything like me, January always gets me thinking about hopping on a plane and jetting off on an adventure. This year I'm spending my first January in the UK in three years, using the time to reminisce about my favourite trips and to plan my next exciting move. Over the years I've spent my summers and winters travelling all over the world, regardless of seasons and unworried by the weather. Some of my favourite trips have been Christmas spent in New York or on the beach in Mauritius, or those winter jaunts around Europe exploring a new city, and road tripping around Australia. My motto has always been "travel smart" because by doing so, you can avoid some of the most common problems associated with winter travel. By preparing and spending some time on your planning, it really can make all the difference to your trip and ensuring you have the best possible time. I've teamed up with Slater & Gordon to talk all about some of the most common issues travellers face during the winter months, and how best to avoid them.
The bane of every traveller's life, but sometimes unavoidable if the weather is just too bad as it was recently with snow storms in New York for some people to make it home. Now if the weather is unsafe, it is totally understandable to cancel flights - but the best thing as a traveller is to be prepared. My best advice, always try and book an early morning flight as your aircraft will usually have arrived the night before and won't be delayed, also, the weather is normally much clearer in the morning and gets worse throughout the day. You may well just miss the worst of any storms and still make it home for dinner. It's always a good idea to have a good travel insurance that will cover any weather-related cancellations in extreme circumstances, and I would recommend just having a little money set aside in case there are any problems. I understand there were a lot of problems with people who couldn't afford to stay longer in New York being stuck there in the airport for a few days - sometimes the airlines will put you up in a hotel or provide some support but it's always helpful to have a bit of cash for emergencies. Remember it is not the fault of the airline, they are trying to keep you safe. Be flexible and work with them, communication is key. Be open to different travel options if your route is just not available.
I have always wanted to go on a skiing or snowboarding holiday, winter sports always look amazing, and while I'm sad I haven't yet had the opportunity they are definitely staying on my bucket list. I have friends who have always been sworn beach bums until they die, until they went on a skiing holiday and now they head for snow over sea every single year and love every second. But what if things don't go to plan? Winter sports are physically very challenging and when you introduce ice and snow to the equation, accidents can happen. It's awful if you are hurt while travelling, after spending so long planning your trip it is the ultimate disappointment to be struck down. I had a similar thing happen to me when I was in a bus crash in Cambodia just days before a long-awaited yoga retreat - I was devastated. The most important thing to do is to ensure you have a good travel insurance that is comprehensive and covers you for all your activities. There is no point getting insurance for a skiing holiday if it doesn't actually cover you for winter sports! Plan ahead and make sure you are covered for all medical treatment - you never realise how important it is until you don't have it.
I love road trips. They are one of my favourite ways to travel - check out my guide to planning the ultimate road trip here. I don't see why you shouldn't be able to indulge in a road trip at any time of year. Canada is fantastic to road trip, or if you want something closer to home why not head to Europe to drive from city to city, or head up to Scandinavia. Absolutely gorgeous, but don't forget to take into account the weather beforehand - all of these come with their own harsh conditions, from icy roads to heavy snowfall and it's best to be prepared to prevent your trip from being ruined. Make sure your vehicle is weatherproof - whether you are taking your own van to camp in, or you're hiring a car - you need to make sure the tyres are appropriate for the conditions. Pack a box with warm clothing, a torch, gloves, jumper cables, a windscreen scraper and lots of de-icer – just in case. Take the roads slow and plan your route according to weather warnings so you can avoid the worst of it. If the weather is too bad, find a hotel or somewhere to sleep for the night and start afresh in the morning when it is safer.
Recently there were huge snow storms in New York and weather warnings to stay inside and to avoid getting caught out in it – when you travel during winter there is always a chance you may face weather like this. The best way to deal with it? Accept it and plan ahead as best you can. You can't fight Mother Nature, so don't let it ruin your trip, just adapt. Plan ahead by keeping an eye on weather alerts for the area, if the weather starts getting worse then make a decision on whether to rearrange your trip (if you have this option) or to go ahead. If you're already there, you need to make sure you restrict your activities to ensure your own safety. If it's snowstorms you face then you need to be sensible and to stay warm, sudden floods can be dangerous - stay inside and follow advice. Icy conditions can be slippery and unpredictable - make sure you have shoes with good grip and that you only go as far as you feel safe - a fall on the ice can leave you in hospital and that's the last thing you want on holiday. Overall message? Be smart, be safe and don't be too stubborn to admit defeat.
How else can you avoid winter travel dangers this season? Have you faced any winter travel nightmares?