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!
How to save money when booking travel is one of my most requested blog posts. Clearly you guys love cutting corners as much as I do! After I saved my parents hundreds on their holiday across both flights and accommodation – I had a record number of requests asking for a post on how I did it. And when I managed to score flights to Germany for just £4.70, I had yet more requests for top tips on how to find great travel deals. I've now lost count of the times I've helped friends and family to save huge amounts of money on travel. So this post will cover all my best tips and tricks to remember the next time you book a holiday.
Whether it's a summer holiday, a year-long trip around the world or a weekend city break. A bit of careful planning can mean the difference between saving enough for a few extra glasses of wine or even two weeks spending money! As we all know, I've spent a long time travelling as a budget backpacker. Well, maintaining that lifestyle long-term means sometimes cutting corners in a bid to travel for longer. I only know the things that I know through a very long process of trial and error. That means I've made all the same mistakes including accidentally booking the more expensive option and learning about the cheaper websites after. But the beauty of that is that I've done all the hard work for you!
Everyone loves a comparison site! They make it nice and easy to see all the deals in one place. But sometimes it is easy to get distracted by what seems like a "good deal" that you don't realise you're actually being overcharged. Skyscanner and sites like Expedia can be great but always price up the flights and hotel independently via their own websites. Check you actually are getting the best deal. My favourite site for booking flights at the moment is Cheap Flights which helped me save hundreds. I booked flights to travel from Australia to Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and back to Europe for less than £500.
I actually cannot believe that people don't know about this! It is vital to getting good deals. On your web browser (whether you use Safari or Firefox or Chrome) there is an option to "open a private window" or "go incognito". Using this means the websites you visit cannot track the deals you are looking at. So you know when you look at a deal, then five minutes later when you look again the price has gone up? That's because the websites are tracking what you are looking at! Get around it by using the private windows. It means the prices stay more constant and they don't reflect you viewing any other sites.
I hate that I always have to sign up and start an account when booking something. We all know the real reason we have to do that is so the companies can send us loads of emails. However, the last year has really taught me the value of these accounts, particularly during my month in Sri Lanka. During my trip, I booked all accommodation through Booking.com. After making so many bookings in such a short space of time, I was promoted to bonus member which meant I was eligible for a lot of extra discounts and bonuses. I saved loads through discounts on the properties I stayed at. I was also eligible for extras such as early check in/late check out, transport, discounts on activities etc.
We've spent years being told the package deal is the best on offer. Depending on where you are going, you can get some great deals this way. I know I booked 10 days in Ibiza for just £200 each for flights and accommodation in peak season around six years ago. But now I would always recommend booking flights and accommodation separately for the best deal. My parents were going to book a trip to Porto as a package until I had a look over their "deal". After a quick search, I managed to save them over £200 despite moving them to a better and more central hotel! It took me all of five minutes and has given them a big chunk of spending money. Booking.com is fantastic for reduced accommodations in better locations and always super easy to use.
When I was first traveling in Australia, I decided to plan my East Coast trip and was looking at four weeks of beaches, activities and transport on a serious budget. It was a daunting task and after doing a lot of research, I decided to book through the tour desk in my hostel. I had been to three other travel agents and had priced it up individually online myself - but this actually worked out the best option. By booking through a travel agent, we actually saved hundreds of £££ and were gifted free meals throughout most of our trip. We also got great discounts on our activities such as Fraser Island, white water rafting and even had a few free extras thrown in. You can read my full post on planning your trip here, and my guide to budgeting your trip here.
I read an article about this a few years ago, about how Tuesday and Wednesdays were the cheapest day to book flights - I wasn't sure whether to believe it. So I did a bit of research and started searching for flights to various locations using my regular websites on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then compared them to other days of the week. What did I find? There was a real difference - depending on where you were flying to it could mean the difference between flying for a few quid or spending much more on your next trip. I've just booked the cheapest flights I've ever found thanks to booking on a Tuesday, trying different websites and airports, and looking at the month-view. I'm taking my first trip of the year on a £4.70 flight to Hamburg in just two weeks, all because I was smart about booking.
This one is hard if you only get specific days off or if you have to book time off well in advance. But being flexible about when you travel or even your destination can really make a difference. I always try to look ahead at month-views of flight prices to see when the cheapest times to travel are. Sometimes I will fly into alternative airports to save money and time, like when I used to use Bremen airport for Hamburg. If you just want a holiday but don't mind where, play flight roulette and pick the cheapest location on Skyscanner (search Everywhere). Or look at flight sales for bargain flights. Looking for long-haul flights? Always check the flight cost from various locations in Europe – sometimes there can be added tax for flying into the UK. You may find it cheaper to fly into Europe, then get a connecting flight.
These can be a goldmine or just another suck on your money. If you thinking more of days out than a holiday, you could check out sites like Groupon for budget deals. I always check them for any spa/hotel deals and make sure I get the email updates for Norfolk and London. My sister uses sites like these to get great deals and has often done dinner and a West End show for cheaper than just the show tickets thanks to the deals. But do be cynical - read the small print carefully and make sure you are actually getting the best deal because most of these are non-refundable. You can also check out buy and sell groups on Facebook - often people will sell on deal vouchers like this if they can't use them for a reduced price.
This turned into an epic post but I'm hoping these tips and tricks will help you guys with planning your travels. Trial and error is my best teacher and I just hope some of my tips can help you guys to have your dream trip. Shop around when searching and definitely devote some time to searching. It can seem tedious when you first start, but the more you do it, the faster you'll be and the more you'll save. Don't forget to let me know if I've managed to save you some money!
Have these tips helped you to plan your next trip? How much have you saved using these pointers? Whats the cheapest flight you've ever booked?
I love wine. Whether it's a nice hearty glass of red with my dinner, a crisp white on a summer's day or a glass of bubbles with the girls - I love wine and any excuse to drink it. So you can imagine I was the first to sign up when the owner of my hostel decided to organise a day of touring the vineyards and independent producers of Swan Valley, just outside Fremantle, Perth. I had only been in Western Australia a week or two and already I was loving life over there - check out my city guide to Perth - and especially since I had moved over to the lovely Fremantle - check out my Fremantle post here. It was great to be travelling again and to be able to just enjoy life, to say yes to everything instead of always thinking about money and working. This wine tour was the perfect excuse to escape life's worries for the day and to truly indulge.
Known as Perth's "Valley of Taste" and boasting over 40 wineries, Western Australia's oldest wine region has plenty to offer visitors. This exciting fusion of wine, food, beer , cider, cheese and much more has plenty to keep the whole family busy against a stunning backdrop of Perth's countryside. While families and those on holiday can easily organise to join a tour or hire a car to take the day trip, us backpackers were on a tighter budget and found a perfect way to cut corners. Our hostel owner organised for a group of us to join him for the day in this van - we were all charged just $30 for him to drive us between the very best of the wineries and food producers for talks and tastings at each. Bearing in mind that most of the tastings were free and I only spent a further $10 for the whole day, yet went home pretty tipsy and with a belly-full of rich chocolates, cheeses and much more. I'd say that was a bargain trip.
Something that really matters to me, is that Swan Valley is the first and only Humane Food Region in Australia. This initiative is a regional commitment to supporting the welfare of animals and producing high quality, healthier, tastier food. It's nice to know that when you go along and visit the area, that you are not endorsing the mistreatment or the farming of animals, and that you are only tasting the finest quality chocolates, cheeses, olive oils and much more.
There is so much to do in Swan Valley, but I'm going to focus on the huge 32km Food and Wine Trail that is made up of more than 150 wineries, restaurants, cafes, breweries, distilleries, art galleries, farm gates and a host of other attractions. Whether you're visiting independently or booking one of the tours available from the area's visitor's centre, this is a perfect way to start exploring the area.
One of Western Australia's oldest, largest and most distinguished producers of premium wine, Sandalford is definitely worth a visit as it was by far the best wine tasting of the day. The tasting did cost $5, but it was one of only two we had to pay extra for, and quite frankly it was worth every penny. The women who hosted our tasting was fantastic and taught us all so much about wine, particular red wine which is something I'm becoming a lot more interested in lately. She was keen to answer any questions we had and told us a lot of extra information about the estate including the high profile events and weddings that had been hosted there over the years. The estate itself is worth a good look, the cellars are at the centre of vast, stunning grounds around a lake - the perfect spot for a wedding.
TOP TIP: When you go along to wine tastings - even if you just want to get drunk - it works in your favour to really chat to the people who work at the vineyards. The more interested you are in their products, the more they will share with you. We got to try the most expensive wine the company produces for free because we were so interested in learning about Sandalford.
My other favourite winery of the day, Windy Creek is a third generation family-run business that has been running in Swan Valley since 1937. They have a delicious selection of wines and ports including some award-winning ones that will get your tastebuds tingling. While you're there, don't forget to try their fantastic range of cheeses and homemade jams, marmalades and relishes. Again, these are on offer against a stunning backdrop of rose gardens and endless vineyards - a perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon. There is also a small charge for the tastings at Windy Creek, but it is well worth the price.
For those who have a sweet tooth, you'll want to make sure you pop into Margaret River Chocolate Company to indulge in the huge selection of free tasters. As you walk in the door there are huge barrels of white, milk and dark chocolate buttons to munch on and you take in the walls of chocolate delights on offer. Everything sold from behind the counter on the left side is also available for tasting and it's worth trying a few before you decide which ones you want to take home, there are some unusual and delicious treats that might tempt your fancy including some award-winning options.
You'll be amazed at the uses for honey when you pop by House of Honey and see the shelves adorned with the countless types of honey and food products, beauty and skincare items, candles, gifts and much more. I was particularly excited to try the different types of honey -many of these I had never seen before and many boasted incredible healing qualities and health benefits. Plus the skincare range was amazing, the lotions smelt amazing and you could feel how good they were for your skin. There are also several meads and liqueurs are available for tasting and a cafe with honey products and more on sale.
This was a real highlight of the day - I'm a bit of a cheese fiend so I was keen to try the different cheeses and chutneys available. With a huge collection of 80 artisanal cheeses from Australia and around the world, these guys know their stuff when it comes to cheese and the staff were keen to chat and tell you all about the different cheeses. This was the one place where we all ended up buying some delicious cheeses to snack on and take home with us - I picked up some feta that had been marinated in garlic and herbs after we tasted it and I couldn't get enough. It's also a lovely place to stick around for lunch or a drink - there is a huge outside section that overlooks the woods and fields.
These are not all of the places we visited during the wine tour - but they are the highlights of the day and I would definitely recommend popping in if you visit Swan Valley.
Have you been to Swan Valley? What were your highlights? Where is the best place you have done a wine tour?
Life can be pretty expensive as we get a bit older – with mortgages to pay and bills ever increasing, it's no surprise that so many twenty-somethings are being forced to sacrifice some of their favourite music events in a bid to pinch pennies. I've always been an avid festival goer - you guys know how much I love my glitter and fancy dress - but I've always been lucky and through my work and this blog, I have been able to attend most of them for free over the years. But not everyone is that lucky, and most are having to fork out a few hundred pounds before even arriving at the festival and seeing the costs mount up. By the end of a four-day weekend, you can easily have spent over £500 and for that price could have had a week's holiday in Europe. Is the price of festival tickets depressing you? I'm not surprised, before you even get to the venue you’re looking at a hefty dent to the wallet, with festival camping gear, fabulous outfits to rock and travel costs.
So many are trying the cheaper alternative of creating their own festival at home – why not give it a shot? A little planning, enthusiasm from friends and family and it’s sure to be a big success. If you create it, they will come…
A popular success story in the back-garden festivals sphere is Leefest. Lee Denny started his own festival in his mother’s back garden back in 2006 and this year the festival entertained over 5,000 people! Pretty impressive. In recent years, there has been a shift towards staying home more and making the most of the space you have for entertaining. Staycations have become common practice for those who simply want some time off work without the hassle and expensive of a foreign holiday. With this in mind, a back-garden festival could be a perfect alternative to next year's festival ticket-buying frenzy.
To differentiate between a normal garden party and a festival, you need to include a few festival must-haves. Lighting is a big part of this, so be sure to get some fairy lights to place in trees, across garden fences and dotted about the place to give a great ambience to the festivities. Lanterns are also a great shout, especially those with battery-powered candles so you don’t need to worry about fire risks.
A drinks bar will always be appreciated. There’s a couple of ways to go about this, but the best (surely) is a homemade tiki bar! This can be done relatively cheaply by upcycling some old pallets and wood, and then all you need to do is dress it up in grass skirts and decorative fruit – job done. Who will you trust as bartender for the night?
There’s also an addition to your home that can really up the ante for entertaining in the garden. Having bifolding doors can open up the back of your home into the garden, almost creating one big entertaining space for guests to mill in and out of. Also very handy if the weather suddenly turns on you!
Tipis are also key to the theme, dotted about the garden as little meeting places for people to mingle at. All you need are some cushions and throws to make it nice and cosy.
The good thing about a back-garden festival is that people won’t be expecting a lot of food. Little nibbles here and there will suffice to keep the revellers satisfied, or why not ask everyone to bring a dish? Here are some ideas to help you pull out all the stops:
Crushed pea and mint dip with carrot sticks – This yummy and refreshing dip will have the carrot sticks gone in no time. Even the vegetable haters will be reaching for one. This recipe from BBC Good Food is a must-try.
Quick fish cakes – Choose between skinless cod, haddock or pollock for this recipe from Jamie Oliver. The addition of herbs such as dill, chives or parsley (whatever your preference) will add a great flavour to the fish cakes.
Peanut chicken satay sticks – Chicken and peanut butter, what’s not to love? All Recipes uses a teaspoon of hot sauce in this recipe so be ready for a kick!
Spring garden potato salad – Even though it isn’t spring anymore, this delicious salad will still hold its own at the festival. Full of veggies but still that little bit naughty with potatoes and cream. Try this recipe from Food Network.
If there’s any burgeoning artists in your family or friendship group, give them the stage of your back garden to entertain your guests. If not, a kick-ass playlist will suffice. You can even get a Wireless Festival playlist on Spotify if you’re lost for where to begin. Plus, there’s always one guest who fancies themselves as a DJ so you could leave them with a laptop and a speaker to entertain everyone.
Other activities could include a little coconut shy or a limbo pole to bring out the competition amongst the festival goers. Face painting is always good fun too, even if the one painting isn’t all that skilled. As long as there’s a good amount of glitter thrown in, everything will be fine!
With good decoration, good food and good entertainment – your back garden festival is sure to be a success. Why not try and squeeze in one last end of summer hoorah before the autumn weather really kicks in - or, if you have a marquee available to you, why not host a winter festival?
One of the most common messages I receive from readers asks about how to budget for backpacking. I write about saving money and how to plan trips a lot on this site, but one thing I really want to focus on is how you can possibly know how much you will spend on a long-term trip. After all, at home you've been living month-to-month rinsing those paycheques dry until you're watching the days creep by towards pay day. The thought of not having a steady income and relying entirely on your savings can be scary for some - so it's important to budget correctly and plan realistically if you want to have the best time. I'm all about making the most of your money and every possible experience - I don't want to miss out on a single trip, meal or massage. BUT, I aways manage to do it on a budget because let's be honest - I'd rather keep travelling as long as possible than indulge in a week of full luxury.
So how do you budget for a long-term trip?
First of all you need to establish how long you want to travel for and where you plan to go - weighing up the cost of living/travelling in each country. For instance - travelling in Asia is the cheapest travelling I have found and I could easily do a year there on the money I would need for 5-6 months in Australia. But when travelling Australia I have been working along the way and earning a small fortune compared to what I could save at home in the UK. If you're on a break from work and only have a month - perhaps consider Europe which although expensive is a great way to see a lot of countries in a very short space of time. If you're looking to travel for six months on a tight budget, Asia is fantastic - you can see so many different countries and the cost of living well is very low. If you're looking to work abroad and fancy doing a year abroad - why not go for a working holiday visa in Australia, New Zealand or Canada and try a combination of working and travelling?
What kind of trip?
What are your priorities when you travel - are you looking for a full cultural experience of staying with locals? Are you planning to party your way around the world? Or are you a thrill seeker who wants to try every adventure trip going? You need to factor in the cost of trips/alcohol/food/living costs and be realistic. Always over-compensate - what's that quote?
"When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money."
I couldn't agree more - take as much money as possible by giving yourself enough time to save and cutting costs wherever you can (check out my top tips here). I worked five jobs for a year before going away the first time - it was worth every miserable second when it meant I saved £10,000, didn't have to work for nine months and lived like a queen! I personally like a balance of cutting costs, partying a lot and adventure trips so I always think about how I can balance them. Sometimes I will stay in the cheapest accommodation possible and live off instant noodles so that I can justify an amazing road trip or island cruise. Other times I won't be interested in trips and will spend all my money on cocktails and my own private hut on the beach. When I budget for my trip I take that into account and over budget my living costs. I always try and budget roughly £1,000 a month no matter where I am - then I know that in Asia I will hugely underspend which balances out in Australia when I definitely overspend, likewise with Europe I budgeted more because I knew I was travelling around a lot very quickly which costs more - best way to cut costs when you travel? Stay still for a while in a cheap place and just live simple.
We all have those times when we accidentally splash too much cash, when we shop too much in the markets or take our card on a night out then look at our account the next day with horror. I know I'm definitely guilty of that at home and since I've ben travelling - but it's good to acknowledge it. If you admit you are possibly going to do it, budget for it and give yourself a cushion of cash to keep yourself out of the red.
Remember to account for any home costs while you're away - if you're still paying rent on a house or phone bills/credit cards you need to make sure you have the money available in the correct accounts at all times. You need to make sure you can afford to do this and don't end up in more debt as a result of messing up your money or under-budgeting.
Don't let budgeting put you off
Remember you will never have as much money as you would like. It would be great to live in that dream world where you have a constant supply to keep you going, but it may never happen. Don't let that stop you from travelling - I know people who have gone away with £1-2000 for a long trip and who have just figured it out along the way. I always think the less money we have, the better we are with it. And always remember - there are so many amazing options for working abroad these days - those working holiday visas I mentioned earlier, see if your own current working company can transfer you abroad, study abroad, teach English around the world, volunteer, work for accommodation. The options are endless and there is always a way to make your travelling dreams a reality. I've been both the richest and the poorest I've ever been since travelling and I can assure you I've lived the dream throughout both. If you're determined and committed to making it a reality, you will always find a way.
Need budget tips for your upcoming trip - leave a comment below with any questions! What are your best budget tips for preparing for a long-term trip?
Whether you're heading off on that much anticipated two week holiday or you're heading off on a huge backpacking trip, it's important not to get so carried away you forget to safeguard your home. So often it is the last thing we think about when we're going away, but it is actually the time when our homes and our possessions are most vulnerable. With thieves getting smarter and so much of our personal lives being available for the world to see on social media, it only takes one bad egg to take advantage of your trip to line their own pockets. But as ever with travelling, planning is key and can save you a lot of time, hassle and money. So when planning your next trip, why not put some of these suggestions in action and see how much of a difference they make. You can spend as much as you like on a luxurious resort, but if you don't have peace of mind that your home is safe, there's almost no point in being there. Treat yourself to full relaxation on your next holiday by making sure you've done everything in your power to give yourself a good homecoming.
What can you do to protect your home?
For city breaks/summer holidays:
For the long-term travellers:
Don't suffer from FOBA (Fear Of Being Away) - get out there and enjoy your travels by doing all you can to protect your home while you're away. Just as you padlock up your suitcase and buy travel insurance as a back up in case anything goes wrong - make sure you look after what's waiting for you at home. Also, stay safe abroad by checking out my safety tips for travelling solo.
Have you been a victim of theft while on holiday? What security do you put in place at your home while you travel?
Okay so my travels kind of ran away with me and writing has taken a bit of a back seat lately. The last six weeks since I left home have given me endless reams of adventures to share with you all, but I just haven't had enough time to sit with my laptop and actually write. It's frustratingly satisfying when your life is so full that you don't have time to share it, but I can't help but miss the process of writing and sharing every step with you guys. So I'm here, I'm back guys, and I bring endless amazing photos, anecdotes and reviews of all the fabulous places I've been over the last few weeks. I'm writing this from Sydney Airport, halfway between Cairns and Tasmania, but I want to take you back in time a few weeks to when I first arrived in Bali. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to stay at Grandma's Hotels in both Kuta and Seminyak during my first week in Bali and I think it's about time I shared my experiences with you. I was invited along to review the two hotels and I was excited to check them out - as part of easing myself back into backpacker life it was nice to start out with all the luxuries of a hotel but perfectly aimed at business or budget travellers.
Grandma's Plus Hotel, Seminyak
We started off by spending a couple of nights at Grandma's Plus Hotel in Seminyak and it was a perfect place to kick off my time in Bali. The hotel is perfectly positioned to enjoy all the bars, restaurants and nightlife Seminyak has to offer while also being right next to the beach. Despite being so close to several big clubs, the hotel is very peaceful and you wouldn't even know that you were just down the road from some of the biggest nights out in the area. As we pulled up in the taxi, we were instantly impressed by the style and design of the hotel, unlike others on the street it looked almost as though it had been reclaimed by nature. The tropical greenery and vines wound through the walls and around the pathways throughout the building, it was such a unique look and I loved the way all of the interiors had been designed to fit with this natural theme. Combining natural jungle paradise vibes with a sleek, modern layout worked really well and set the hotel apart from the rest.
As we walked past the swimming pool and made our way up to our room, I was even more impressed by the high standard of comfort available for those on a budget. We had a twin room with an en suite, but doubles are also available, and my oh my, let me just tell you about the beds. Now beds are a big deal, especially when you're a budget traveler or backpacker, all too often I end up sleeping on springs or some lumpy mattress! So laying down on this incredible mattress was an absolute dream - I almost didn't get out of bed the whole time we were there! After spending a month in Bali I now know how often you get promised hot showers and actually find cold water running out of them, so the showers in the hotel were heaven - powerful and with endless hot water. The room was great, it had everything we needed and more, it was compact and well-designed so that it actually had those fun hostel vibes but with the privacy and comfort of a private room.
Grandma's Plus Hotel, Legian
After a couple of nights in Seminyak, we moved to the Grandma's Plus Hotel in Legian, not far away but in a whole other section of the popular stretch of Kuta. Streets lined with shops, boutiques, bars and restaurants awaited us, this section was far busier but proves a big draw for travellers of all ages who want to relax or party on their holidays. This hotel is designed along a similar theme of jungle greens and staff welcome you in to the towering structure through a leafy pergola. This hotel is set around the restaurant where breakfast is served, with huge, high ceilings and trailing vines dangling from the rafters, it's a beautiful place to start your day with a delicious breakfast included with the room price. You can choose from an Indonesian breakfast to Eggs Benedict and all plates come with fruit and treats from the bakery - a perfect meal to set you up for a day of sunbathing or exploring.
The hotel has the feeling of an oasis after stepping off the chaotic, busy street outside into the cool, calm atmosphere, it's soothing. Again the rooms are of the usual high standard and came with all the amenities we would need during our stay, and the beds were just as comfortable as the ones I had just left behind at the other hotel. The only thing we did notice with this hotel was that there was a bit of street noise despite us being seven floors up, but understandably we the hotel was in the middle of the busiest part of Bali. I can't fault the staff at both hotels, they were amazing and so helpful. Everything from moving us into our rooms to organising taxis and even trying to help me fix a SIM card for my phone. They made our stay go from good to excellent with their great attitudes and friendly manner.
While we were staying at the hotels, we were also invited along to try out their spas. At Grandma's in Seminyak we headed to De Nyuh Spa and Salon for a full body Balinese massage - my first in the country - then at the hotel in Legian we went to Rehat Massage and Reflexology. Both spas were located within the hotel building, so super convenient if you fancy a pamper but aren't ready to face the outside world yet. Both were beautiful designed and brought instant calm and peace to you as you walked in the door, the soothing music combined with the floral displays and the dark wood kept the spas cool and laced with gentle Balinese aromas. Having now had several Balinese massages, I can say that these two massages were actually two of the best I had while in Bali. If you're staying at either hotel, I would really recommend visiting the spa for a bit of me-time - you'll come away feeling like a new person and ready to really embrace your holiday.
Have you stayed at Grandma's Hotels - how was your experience? What kind of accommodation do you normally go for on holiday?
I'm so excited to share one of the best dining experiences I've had in a while with you guys. You all know by now that I love to eat out and that food is one of my favourite things about travelling whether in the UK or abroad - I love to try out new restaurants and cuisines. So I was excited to head to Island Grill a few weeks ago to review their take on sustainable and affordable luxury cuisine. Right in the heart of London at the iconic mid-century Lancaster London, this amazing little restaurant overlooks Hyde Park and offers a very European menu that changes with every season as part of their dedication to sustainability. I'm passionate about the environment and have actually cut a lot of meat from my diet in the last year after realising quite how unsustainable it is, so this angle was something I was very interested in. Head Chef Adam Woolven has actually won the Sustainable Restaurant Association’s top Three Star rating with his tireless efforts to create an eco-friendly yet luxurious dining experience.As we arrived at the restaurant, you can't help but be wowed by the sleek interiors and the vast floor-to-ceiling windows running along the outside walls overlooking Hyde Park. The seating is arranged so that diners can either enjoy almost private dining alongside the huge windows or they can enjoy a view of the open-plan kitchen where they can see the chefs hard at work, adding another dimension to their gastronomic experience. The staff were so welcoming and friendly, eager to talk to us about the menus and to suggest wines that would go with the food. This made a huge difference, if you've read my review from Cottons, you'll know how disappointing the service was and how much it affected my view of the restaurant. I couldn't fault the service at Island Grill, it was attentive and they were keen to chat with us and answer any questions, but they also gave us time to just enjoy the food and our evening - the perfect balance.We kicked off the meal with the Pan-Fried Scallops and Crispy Gressingham Duck Salad, both absolutely delicious starters packed full of flavour and the freshest ingredients. The duck was rich and and perfectly complemented by the Asian dressing, pak choi, the orange and the cashews. While the scallops were easily the best ones I have had, normally I find them very overcooked and rubbery but these were just right. It was served with a mixture of vegetables in very different forms from pickled and crisped to pureed. The head chef's passion for the finest ingredients is clear from the delicious meals available on the menu. While enjoying our starters we shared a bottle of wine recommended by the waitress, and I couldn't recommend talking to the staff about drinks choices enough. This is a restaurant where the staff really know their wines and cocktails, and they are more than happy to help you choose something special from the fully stocked bar.For our mains, it seemed crazy not to indulge in a steak at what is primarily a grill restaurant. As I mentioned earlier, I've completely cut back on the amount of meat I eat over the last year and when I travel I am almost entirely vegetarian now, but I do still eat and enjoy meat. I prefer to save it for when I eat out as a treat now and I feel much healthier and happier as a result. So after not having had much meat for quite a while, I was looking forward to a good-quality steak. And boy oh boy did Island Grill deliver. We both had the 8oz Fillet of Beef and I can officially say it was the best quality and best cooked steak I have had in years, possibly ever. The meat was so unbelievably tender and tasty, and I chose to have mine served with garlic mash and mushroom sauce. It was heaven on a plate. We were both speechless and it was definitely the first time a steak has had that effect. After our mains we were pretty full and didn't have room for dessert, but accommodating as ever, the staff didn't want us to miss out and boxed up some of their Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake for us to take home. I ended up saving mine until the next day but I can assure you it was as mouth-watering as it sounds.Apologies for the lack of good photos of the food, it was a bit dark in the restaurant so my own images haven't come out as clearly as I hoped. Regardless, if you're heading to London, or you're already living there, I can't recommend Island Grill enough. The service is faultless, the location is fantastic and the food is just out of this world. Plus, as a bonus, it's extremely affordable! It's not often you can find food that is this good quality for such a reasonable price, making it perfect for a mid-week treat or even a date night. Find out more and book a table at Island Grill.
Have you been to Island Grill? How was your meal? Where else can you recommend for a good quality steak?
I write a lot about budget travel - about how to make every dollar and very pound stretch that little bit further and how to make the most of what you have. Because that's what we backpackers do, we make every penny count towards the incredible life we build on the road. I know people who have slept in parks, lived on instant noodles and even taken up questionable jobs to make ends meet and to keep the experience going just a little longer. We all do what we can, I've been the poorest I've ever been in my life while travelling and still managed to keep my dream alive instead of heading home. Those are the moments that define us, when travelling stops being easy and things go wrong, when you don't know how you'll afford a bed for the night or how you'll pay for food for the week. This is when we really have to work for our travelling dream and damn, do we work. I've worked some of the hardest and most demanding jobs of my life since travelling, I've given them every hour of the day, every last bit of energy I had, and then some. I've worked two jobs when everyone else was partying, and in one job I was treated the worst I've ever been by another human. But it was all worth it, just to stay one more day and keep it going.
Whether you agree with us backpackers being able to claim back our tax or not, you need to realise that we don't just do it on a whim. These claims come after a year of working our asses off and often being treated like crap - without any control over what was happening. Now I'm not saying all employers are like this in Australia - some are incredible and give you amazing opportunities, but there are also a lot who take advantage of the fact that we are travelers. The ones who give us no hours at all or refuse to give us time to sleep and when we ask for a day off, threaten us with the sack, or the ones who refused to pay friends of mine after they had completed the work. The fruit picking farmers who take advantage of the fact that you're desperate for that second year visa by forcing you to work for an unfair wage, refuse to sign you off because they don't like you or even try it on with you. My own experiences with farm work were pretty dire, I'll talk about that more in a later post, I've had landlords refuse to pay back bonds and stop returning my calls. And don't get me started on the hostel owner from hell who used to scream in the faces of my friends who worked there and treat them like dirt on his shoe. My point is, we as backpackers get messed around when we're over there. I know it's not the only side of the story and there are lots of businesses who have been messed around by bad workers who were backpacking, but after my experiences I don't feel guilty for one second for claiming every cent back.
So when it comes to this time of year and you start getting those reminders through about claiming your backpacker tax back, oh boy do you smile. Because now more than ever, you realise how it was all worth it when the money you're getting back will pay for your entire West Coast trip. Considering how much I managed to see and do while I was in Australia - a month in Sydney, six weeks on the East Coast, four months in Darwin, three months in central Queensland for farm work and three months in Melbourne - I also managed to work a lot. If you've worked in Australia and claimed your own tax back at any point, you'll understand why I feel like I've had a bit of a windfall and am grinning from ear-to-ear. All that time when I was getting overtaxed for my sales job has paid off because now I can see it like an extreme savings scheme that has just paid out. It's an amazing feeling to know that I already have a nice pot of money, plus my savings, waiting for me when I return and that I can start planning my incredible West Coast road trip straight away. There's something very satisfying about paying for your whole trip yourself - I'm always proud of the fact that I've funded my entire adventure despite what some people might think. But it is lovely when you get a bit of a bonus like this, it's like a pat on the back for all your hard work in making your dream come true. Because let's face it, we all dream of winning the lottery, of picking the right scratch card or just getting plain lucky and coming into just enough money to pick up and take off without a second thought.
What's that quote? "If travel was free, you'd never see me again" and how true that is, if it wasn't for the expense I would have probably traveled the entire way around the globe by now. There are so many countries on my bucket list but I know the one thing standing in my way right now is money, without it I'm just not free to achieve all I want in life. The truth is, when it comes down to it I don't need much. These days I carry my life on my back and don't have expensive tastes - I've spent much of my travelling time sleeping in wooden huts and travelling with the locals. The problem is that travel does add up when you're jetting all over the world. Even if you're staying in budget accommodation and eating from street markets, to keep it going for any length of time you're talking thousands and if you have a taste for the more luxurious then you better start stacking the notes. Everyone at home has been talking about winning the lottery lately, it's like some new version of the American Dream - as if a windfall would answer all of our problems and take us off to a new life of utter freedom. And who's to say it wouldn't, these days money spells freedom and that's all any of us really want, freedom from the mundane, working life, freedom from the rubbish weather at home and freedom from expectation. Money buys you an escape, and therefore buys you freedom.
That's why getting this tax back is so amazing and why it makes such a different for travelers - because it means that instead of the dream being over it can extend for just that little bit longer. For me, it means going back to Australia with dollar in my bank, enough to fund the next exciting part of my travels. For others, it means months of travelling Asia or South America, a boost to your New Zealand fund or even a chance to travel Europe. So many travelers I know are so grateful to get their tax back because it means they can continue living their dream just that little bit longer before returning home, to reality. It gives us freedom to continue living the backpacker life for as long as possible, and to make the most of every cent before we go back to a life of saving and living for payday. If you haven't already applied for your tax rebate - why the hell not? I worked for about nine months of my first year and I'm getting more than the average tax back of around $2,600 - so it's definitely worth doing. Don't be put off by the paperwork - it doesn't take long and it's more than worth it for the cash! Either head to the Australian Government website to claim it back independently (super easy) or go through TaxBack.com if you want someone else to do the legwork for a small charge. Either way - don't miss out on claiming back your money because you're lazy - that's your next travelling fund right there!
What are you spending your tax rebate on? How did you claim back your tax - can you recommend a way? Have you claimed from other countries?
I'm pretty good at living on a backpacker's budget now, but sometimes you just fancy a bit of luxury. I'll never be the kind of girl who wants to spend thousands on an expensive getaway when I could make my money spread a bit further and still treat myself. For me, the real luxury is being able to escape and live well for longer instead of enjoying a short blast of freedom, but not everyone has the option of taking a year out to go backpacking, nor does everyone like the idea of budget travel. Now I'm back in the UK, I don't plan to stop travelling and until my return to Australia, I'm breaking up my time with trips away. Before I went away, my mum and I used to have regular spa days together, every few months we would head away for a day of complete rest, relaxation and a heavy dose of pampering. Both working stressful jobs, it was lovely to just have a day where we didn't have to think about work, or anything else other than where our next massage was coming from. I really believe in the importance of looking after your own health and well-being by keeping fit, eating well and allowing time to really relax and recuperate. Visiting a spa is a great way of really giving you a day off from life, a chance to turn your phone off and really get some space.
I've posted about this spa experience before but I still can't believe how many people don't seem to know about the amazing deals available. Even when you need a day of pure indulgence, there is always a great offer that can help you get the most out of your money. So, what am I on about? I'm talking about Aqua Sana Spa at Centreparcs, now it may not be the first place you think of when you start planning a spa retreat but perhaps it should be. I'm not usually one for chains but in this case I'm happy to make an exception for such an amazing experience, I have yet to find a spa that rivals the quality I've found there, and trust me, I've done the research. We always go to the Elveden retreat, which is our closest, and I convinced it's the best one after experiencing the Sherwood spa and finding it a bit lacking. Surrounded by woodland and beautiful countryside, even the drive there is relaxing, and from the second you walk in the door you are being endlessly pampered by the amazing staff there. We always say it must be a wonderful place to work, so relaxing. We always check out the deals available at the time on the website, but usually end up paying around £100 each for a full day in the spa, with breakfast and lunch included, and a luxury treatment.This time, we went for the Brighten and Glow spa day for two, which gave us the chance to try out the Elemis skin brightening facial and luxurious Frangipani hot stones massage - and yes, it is every bit as fabulous as it sounds. I love that the treatment pampers every bit of your body and uses only products not tested on animals and using minimal parabens - it's much better for the environment and it's much better for your health. Before our treatment, we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the Vitale cafe where we indulged in pastries and coffees before hitting the spa. We had a few hours before our treatments so we decided to start with a swim in the outdoor heated pool, this is always such a treat when the weather outside is rubbish. We stood with the high pressure jets massaging our necks and floated around the empty pool before heading into the steam rooms. Now this is the bit that sets Aqua Sana apart from all other spas I have experienced, it offers 15 different spa experiences including a range of steam rooms with essential oils and herbs from all over the world and saunas. My favourite rooms are the Japanese Salt Steam room, the Balinese and the Indian steam rooms - I just love the gentle floral aromas and they really feel like they're doing your skin good. You can rinse off afterwards with one of the multi-sensory showers to rejuvenate your skin and refresh before checking out the meditation room or zen garden.
When you're taken through to your spa treatment, the ladies give you a completely relaxing experience tailored to your skin type and preferences. They're extremely attentive and some of the best beauty treatments I've had have been at the Aqua Sana, with sensitive skin like mine it's important to have a therapist who listens. The whole experience is utterly luxurious and you come away feeling like a new woman, my skin felt like a newborn baby's and my muscles were finally relaxed after two years of hostel beds. After a tasty lunch, it was time for a waterbed nap - always a highlight of the day - especially if you can score one of the bigger outdoor beds which are especially nice when you're wrapped up in your complimentary robe. Throughout the spa, there are several stations where you ca reapply products throughout the day and test others, sometimes the therapists will also bring round products for you to try which is lovely. Everything is thought of when you are at the spa, you don't spend a single second thinking because everything is already as special as it could be. There are limited numbers allowed in the spa, which really helps to keep the exclusive feeling as some just come for a morning or afternoon session.One top tip not to miss out on during your visit, the Discovery Sessions are something I had never attended until my most recent visit but are something I wouldn't miss in future. These short sessions take place periodically throughout the day and led by a beauty therapist, they teach you about the Elemis and Decleor products and how to apply them. As a big beauty product lover, this was a good excuse to try out some of the other amazing products they have to offer. But it also meant we found out about an amazing deal on a Decleor multipack of products - normally selling at over £50, it was reduced down to £19 with further discounts for attending the session. It was an amazing deal, so I treated me and my mum to a pack each - we would never have known about the dramatic price reduction had we not been in the session, so they're definitely worth attending for discounts on the ranges. All in all, it was a fabulous day, and long overdue as a birthday present to the both of us. If you ask me, you can't beat a mummy-daughter day spent eating delicious food, being pampered and relaxing on waterbeds. Click here to book your spa experience at Aqua Sana, or to read more about what treatments are available.
Can you recommend any other luxury spa experiences for those on a budget? What's your favourite spa treatment?
For months on end you slog your guts out working crummy jobs to save as much money as possible. You while away the hours stacking shelves or getting groped as you pull pints in some bar, always thinking of the paradise waiting for you. After working a job you thought would never end, you're finally handing over your uniform and catching that flight to the other side of the world. The dream is finally becoming a reality and already you never want it to end, so how can you keep it going as long as possible? It all comes down to the money - all us backpackers say "if travel was free, you'd never see me again" and I can tell you it's true. Travellers are always looking for the best ways to cut corners and make sacrifices so we can have just one more adventure, just one more day in paradise. We'd rather sleep on someone's floor for a week than stay in a hotel if it means spending another week living a life of complete freedom and excitement. When you're starting out on your travels, it can be difficult to know how to save money and where you can cheat to make your cash last that little bit longer. After 18 months of travelling solo and backpacking across Asia and Australia - one of the cheapest and one of the most expensive places to backpack in the world - I think I've picked up some good techniques for saving money. After all, I planned to go for a year and managed to keep going an extra six months AND came back with lots of money saved! Here are my top tips for backpacking on a budget:
Like this post? Why not vote for me as the best budget travel blogger of 2016? It takes two seconds and all you have to do is follow this link. Thanks!
Looking for other ways to cut costs? Check out VoucherShops. Or, in case couch surfing, eating veggie or fruit picking gets boring - there's always the chance you'll marry a millionaire or get a royal flush in the World Series of Poker!
When it comes to planning a huge trip like that standard backpacker route up the East Coast of Australia, it can be a pretty daunting task. Taking anywhere between two weeks to six months to complete, and with such a huge range of trips, activities, adventures and sights to take in - where on earth do you begin? There are so many questions to answer - what will we do, where will we stay, how will we get there? And so many options from sailing trips and four wheel driving expeditions, to waterfall tours and white water rafting. It's no easy task, but one thing I've learnt since being in Australia is quite how much it pays off to plan your trip in advance. A complete contrast to Asia where it usually works out cheaper and easier to be spontaneous and just book everything individually as you go along. Here in the land down under its a much better idea to book all your transport, accommodation and trips as a whole to save big time on cash. It's a shame to take the spontaneity out of backpacking and I'm still not used to it, but booking our trip this way saved us a small fortune.
I didn't realise at the time, but our booking agent gave us huge discounts which seriously cut back our spending and allowed us to save our money for goon. After meeting and talking to so many other backpackers, many of whom booked things individually, we have now realised how good our deal was. All of our Greyhound buses from Sydney to Cairns, all our accommodation and all of our trips were included in a £1,300 package per person with several free meals thrown in and lots of upgrades. During our trip we stopped off at Byron Bay, Surfer's Paradise, Noosa, Fraser Island, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays and Magnetic Island before finishing in Cairns. We stayed in fantastic hostels the whole way, met so many amazing people - you all know who you are - who had us laughing the whole way. We had the chance to take part in lots of amazing trips from kayaking with dolphins and surfing in Byron Bay, to driving four wheel drives around Fraser Island and whale watching, to cruising around the Whitsundays on a catamaran and swimming with sea turtles, to cuddling koalas and driving Barbie cars around Magnetic Island, finishing with white water rafting and a trip to the rainforest in Cairns.To say it was amazing is an understatement - with just two months of travelling together, Mark and I wanted to make sure we crammed in as much as possible and really made the most of our time. By heck we did, we were exhausted and broke by the time we finished the East Coast, but had the biggest smiles on our faces and made some amazing friends for life, some we're still travelling with now almost a month later in Darwin. My best advice? Research and plan everything - think carefully about your money and you can make it go so much further. By reading up about trips and talking to people before you book, you can be sure whether the trips are worth doing, whether they are worth the money, or if you can perhaps get a better deal elsewhere. It's boring to do, but worth it in the long run when you can party a few extra nights or afford an extra trip somewhere along the way. It's also worth thinking about whether you want to drive up the East Coast in a camper van or car, or whether you want to take the bus - in the end it often comes down to experience vs. efficiency - we chose efficiency because we wanted to be hungover on the buses and travel on the cheap but we had friends who travelled in a group in a van and had an amazing time.
There are so many choices and options, just be sure to make informed decisions and always shop around when booking! I'll be posting individually on each place we visited and each trip we took so you can get a better idea of what you might enjoy, but in the meantime I can definitely tell you our absolute highlights were our Fraser Island Trip, Airlie Beach and white water rafting trip - all were amazing and I highly recommend them. Other places we loved included Magnetic Island and Noosa because of the sheer natural beauty of the places, but we also had a blast in Surfer's Paradise thanks to an awesome hostel and crowd we met there.
Have you travelled the East Coast? What was your favourite trip or memory?