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Summer is without doubt my favourite time of year. I was made for long summer days in the sunshine, for sandy toes and sun kissed noses, for salty skin from the ocean and fresh fruits. I felt my happiest when travelling in tropical countries, in the depths of Asia, and I put that down to soaking up endless Vitamin D and bathing in a whole lot of Vitamin SEA. It makes perfect sense that when we are made up of two thirds water, that being close to the ocean should heal us in some way, soothe our souls. Well ever since I was a kid, I was a bona fide water baby, and even now, I miss the ocean now living a few hours from the coast, but that doesn’t stop me from making the most of every second of this summer. After arriving back in the UK in time for Christmas and the worst winter I can remember in Europe, with temperatures hitting -10 and even lower, it has really made me appreciate every second of sunshine we are getting now. I’m so happy to see if isn’t just Germany that is getting the most amazing weather, the UK actually seems to be getting a heatwave too! So I thought this post was right on schedule – let’s talk about all the ways I love to celebrate summer and make the most of every second.

Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Barbecues

My favourite way to celebrate anything is with food and what better excuse than a sunny day for a good old barbecue? We actually had our first barbecue since Australia this weekend and it was amazing, we went to a gorgeous park in Hamburg and set out our picnic blankets and fired up the BBQ ready for our feast. We’ve actually gone vegetarian, the pair of us, so this was our first attempt at a fully veggie BBQ and I can confirm it was delicious! I’m a big fan of the veggie burgers and sausages, and love throwing veggies on there too. We’ve previously done stuffed mushrooms, veggie skewers and baked fish on the barbecue before and all of them have been amazing. I love how creative you can get with what you barbecue and how quick and easy it is to do. We picked up a great little disposable barbecue for a few euros and it was perfect for us, and even better, didn’t leave scorch marks on the ground. We don’t have anywhere to store a BBQ at the moment, so a disposable works best for us. My top tip for BBQs, take the time to whip up some good sides, perhaps minty potatoes with butter or a fresh salad with quinoa or cous cous and veggies, and don’t forget the sauces!

Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Boat trips

There’s nothing quite like getting out on the water and feeling that cool breeze wash over you when it’s hot outside, I love being anywhere near water when it’s a hot day whether it’s the beach, river or even just a swimming pool. In Hamburg, we have the river Elbe right on our doorstep which is great if you fancy a boat trip with ferries crossing from one side to the other and countless harbour boat tours on offer. Back in Australia we would take a friend’s boat out on the lake or the ocean for the afternoon, here in Hamburg, I’m happy to hop on a ferry from one side of the river to another, or even to head to the parks where there are some lovely lakes to chill near, such as Planten Und Bloomen. Last week a friend and I caught the ferry from the Elbphilharmonie to Landungsbrücken, just a short ride but it was heaven on a very hot day, saved our legs the walk and was included in our day ticket for the public transport in the city, so great value for money. You can read all about my experience of punting in Cambridge here.

Sunbathing

I hold my hands up, I am a total sun worshipper and always love laying outside soaking up the sunshine. I sometimes question whether I was a cat in a previous life, because I have a knack for finding the most sun-soaked spots and lazing in them all afternoon. However, one thing I am always really careful of is sun damage and protection against UVA and UVB rays, I’ve seen first-hand the worry and the devastation cancer can cause and I don’t see any reason to take risks like that. People might be surprised considering my tan, but I always wear factor 30 or even 50, and I am obvious proof that wearing sunscreen does not stop you from tanning. So for all those people wearing factor 5 tanning oil, please stop, and realise the unnecessary risks you are taking. I’ve been testing out Altruist Dermatologist Sunscreen which has been specially formulated to provide a sunscreen which offers the finest UV protection in a fragrance free and non-sticky cream – great for those of us with sensitive skin. It’s such a refreshing change to find a sunscreen which is so budget-friendly and non-greasy, I hate the way they usually make my skin feel so oily and shiny, so Altruist was such a lovely, light cream to wear on your skin.

Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Best of all, it is budget friendly and puts the focus on the importance of everyone having access to sunscreen. Altruist founder Dr Birnie said: “Cost should never be a factor when deciding whether or not to wear sunscreen, or how much or how often to apply it. Everyone should have a basic right to take the necessary precautions to reduce their risks of developing skin cancer.” As someone who spent years travelling Asia and living in Australia in 35 degree heat every day, I know exactly how important wearing sunscreen is to protect your skin, but I also know how expensive sunscreen can be. There have been plenty of times when buying it in both the UK and Australia when I have been shocked to find I’m being charged £15 for one bottle! Those who simply cannot afford to regularly buy sunscreen at these prices now have the option to pick up a spray sunscreen for just £5 for 200mls for both SPF 30 and 50 thanks to Altruist, and for those who prefer a cream, these are available for just £4, with all available exclusively from Amazon.

Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Eating outside

An absolute favourite of mine and something I’m loving about living in Europe is how popular it is to have restaurants spilling out on to the streets and the pavements filled with diners making the most of every second of summer. These long European evenings are bliss after travelling in Australia and Asia where darkness fell every evening at 6pm, and how better to enjoy this extra time than to take your dinner outside? The boyfriend and I have really discovered a love for hitting the Sternschanze area in Hamburg where every restaurant has a huge outdoor area filled with tables and chairs, even tv screens showing the World Cup and lots of delicious food. It’s such a great, festive atmosphere and you can feel the happiness in the air at being able to experience moments like this, together. Can’t afford the restaurants? No problem, why not pack up a little picnic and hit the parks or the beaches? My mum and I always used to pack up a lovely dinner and then head to the beach to breathe in the sea breezes and enjoy a relaxed evening. Here, I love that we have parks at either end of our road and so many huge ones in the city, when I was in one the other evening there were loads of people rocking up with their hampers filled with snacks, takeaways from the nearby shops and bottles of bubbly or cans of beer. Join the fun!Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Hitting the beer garden

Truly English and something I haven’t really found in any other country, I love that we Brits have this attitude that as soon as the sun is shining, it calls for a cheeky Pimms and Lemonade in the beer garden. It’s always so much fun to get a gang of mates together, or meet up with your bestie for a lovely long evening catch up in the beer garden mid-week. Brits always seem so happy when the sun hits and you can see how the old seasonal affective disorder affects us all the rest of the time, well it’s always so lovely to take that friendly, happy attitude outside for a drink in the sunshine. My fave place to hit the beer gardens has to be Cambridge, nearby where I am from, which has the best pubs and beer gardens overlooking the river – especially The Anchor pub which is a personal favourite of mine. Over here in Hamburg, there are lots of great bars with lovely sunshine-filled outdoor spaces to enjoy, but it’s not the same as the UK. I do love all the cute little beach bars along the river Elbe though, check out StrandPauli and Dock 3 Beach Club for some lovely river views and tasty cocktails.Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

Evening walks

For me, summer is all about getting outside and getting active. When I was living in the UK, I would head out for morning and evening runs along the river near my house, or would head out to the beach for a sunset beach walk and picnic. Norfolk is such a fab area for getting outside and making the most of the countryside. When I was in Australia, weekends were filled with camping trips to national parks or the beach, evenings were filled with hikes and trails, I loved the outdoorsy lifestyle that came with the territory. Now, living in Hamburg, I’m filling my evenings with strolls to the parks, walks in the woods or along the river, and even the odd run in the sunshine. I like to use this time to clear my head, to lose the stress of the day and any worries, either listening to a good playlist or just the sounds of birdsong. Its amazing how quickly a good dose of nature will wash all your cares away. Even if you don’t live somewhere surrounded by beaches and forest, why not just take a walk to a nearby park or stroll through a neighbourhood you haven’t visited before, sometimes just a change of scenery can work wonders.

What are your favourite ways to celebrate summer? How are you making the most of the sunshine?

Making the most of the sunshine – my favourite ways to celebrate summer!

*This sunscreen was gifted, but my opinions remain my own and I would never share a product with you guys unless I really loved it!

Wild camping can be a scary prospect for those who are not used to the great outdoors. But as someone who has always chased adventures – I’m here to tell you the truth about wild camping and why you should try it. I’ve created this first-timers’ guide to getting out under the stars and into the heart of nature. Everything you need to know – from where to go and what to pack, to personal hygiene and those infamous bush poos. Throughout my 5+ years of travelling solo, I’ve wild camped across the world, from the UK and Europe, right over to Australia.

The truth is I’ve always loved a bit of luxury as much as the next girl. But when it comes down to it, I would always much rather be walking barefoot around a national park and bathing in waterfalls. Although I had tried wild camping before I ever went travelling – it was only when I tried it in Asia and Australia that it really stole my heart. There’s nothing quite like the simple life, of sleeping under the stars in the outback, of cooking dinner on the beach and waking up to the ocean. It’s a freedom you just can’t beat.

How I fell in love with wild camping:

People are often shocked by how much I love camping and getting outside. But it’s got to be the Norfolk lass in me – I’m just made for that outdoor life. Before I ever tried going wild, I had been camping a lot through volunteering programmes, challenges and of course, lots of festivals. I was a pro at putting up a tent and things like cooking dinner outside or the chilly run to the toilets never fazed me. But over the last few years, my whole perspective of camping really changed thanks to my travels.

For me it was the moments when I was road tripping across Western Australia that really sealed the deal. I spent over a month driving, sleeping in a car and camping wild in beautiful spots without ever seeing a soul. It was everything I had ever dreamed of in Australia and showed me how much is possible, and how happy you can be with so little. My squad spent our nights watching the stars above cattle ranches, smoke spiralling into the sky from our camp fire. Each day we woke up to the sounds of the ocean lapping against the shore and the excitement of exploring a new place.

Read: The Ultimate Western Australia Road Trip Planning Guide

hammocks for camping wild, western australia

Top tips for personal hygiene and bush poos

The questions I get asked the most when it comes to camping – so let’s answer these ones first. My best tip for first-timers who aren’t sure about camping whether wild or not. Get over the grime. The quicker you do this, the more you will enjoy your experience. Yes the toilets are not always that nice, and sometimes there won’t be any at all. You might have to have a few bush wees and maybe even a bush poo if you’re in the middle of nowhere. But if you just accept the wet wipe baths and stop thinking about it, you’ll soon adjust to a simpler life.

I spent six weeks living off wet wipe baths, shaving my legs with baby oil and pooing on the side of the road in the dustiest place on earth. Trust me, if I can do that and still have an epic time – you can certainly handle a weekend. If it’s your first time trying out wild camping – the main thing is be prepared. Ladies, I would recommend not planning a trip for when you are on your period. It’s definitely doable but just not very nice to not be able to have a shower. If you do decide to go anyway, I recommend a moon cup instead of tampons – then you don’t have to worry about disposing of products.

Key things to pack:

Essential kit to pack for your camping trip

The main thing to remember if you’re camping wild is that you need to be entirely self-reliant. That means planning ahead, having everything you need and emergency kit in case anything goes wrong. The more you plan and have ready, the more you will enjoy your trip.

Camping on the beach in Tasmania, wallabies and kangaroos

My top 3 wild camping experiences:

I’ve been a very lucky girl to have experiences camping wild all over the globe – but my favourite stand-out experiences have to be in these top 3 locations:

  1. Khao Sok, Thailand – Camping under the stars on a raft floating on a reservoir in the middle of an 80 million year old rainforest. Wild elephants crashing around the jungle and waking up to the sun rising over the mountains.
  2. Western Australia – Living out of cars for 6 weeks and waking up next to the ocean. Sunsets over lakes, no phone signal and endless kangaroos and wombats plus awesome national parks and 30-40 degree dusty heat.
  3. Tasmania – Camping in the shadow of mountains, overlooking lakes, at the ocean, in misty marshland and forests. Such a huge range of places to explore in just a two week trip – including Friendly Beaches where kangaroos and wombats come right up to the tents!

Read: The Ultimate Guide to Camping in Tasmania

Camping at the beach with ocean view, Darwin, Australia

My worst camping experiences

While it’s nice to tell you about how amazing wild camping can be, I also want to be honest about the less fun experiences. Camping is super weather dependent and a trip can quickly go downhill if you’re not prepared for bad weather. My worst camping experiences have always been due to extreme rain. In the Yorkshire Dales, UK, on my Duke of Edinburgh final expedition, we were hit by severe storms and flooded out of any potential campsites before our van broke down. Over in Melbourne, Australia, a trip to Wilson’s Prom was cut short by heavy rain that flooded the campsite and all the tents.

Read: Getting lost in Wilson’s Promontory National Park

How to prepare and avoid bad weather camping experiences

The key to enjoying your trip no matter what the weather is preparation. Do your research before each trip and check the temperatures for day and night, predicted weather, and anything else that could affect you. If you’re going to a very exposed place or somewhere at higher altitudes, you’ll need to prepare for wind and cooler temperatures. Remember to take into account warmer temps in the day and cooler temps at night, and to be prepared for all extremes.

The first-time girls' guide to wild camping

And most importantly, you should wild camp because…

I love the freedom that comes with it. It’s a simple life, where all you need is a shelter, food, a campfire and the stars. You can disappear into the outback, or to some deserted beach and not a soul will know where you are. You can turn your phone off and really switch off. Something that is so important when you work a lot and desperately need some downtime. There’s something really romantic about the idea of traveling the world by van and being entirely self-reliant. You have everything you need and can escape into the world for a little while.

What kind of camper are you – luxury, festival or wild? What advice would you give to first-time wild campers?

The first-time girls' guide to wild camping

imageGetting your heart broken is never fun, whether you’re at school, you’re working full time or whether you’re off travelling the world – it hurts the same. What is different, is the way you deal with that pain. I remember the last time I had my heart broken in extraordinary detail, I remember every ache of my heart, every tear that threatened to spill down my cheeks, and every painful second of conversation as everyday life carried on around me. It was horrible, the worst pain I have every felt, because unlike a physical pain it wasn’t something I could escape from. I still had to get up and go to work every single day, I still had to see people and to force myself to do things when all I really wanted was to run away or hide under my duvet. It’s hard when you get your heart broken at home because you’re still in close quarters with the person who did it. Even if you’re not living together or right round the corner from each other – you’re acutely aware of their presence, of their routine and knowing you could bump into them at any time. It makes it harder in many ways because you feel like you can’t move on while they’re still around you, while every memory of what you had with them haunts your journey to work.

I’m lucky, it’s been a long time now since I had my heart broken, but what healed me was coming travelling. Escaping from my norm and going off in pursuit of the adventure I had been longing for all along. I spoke to a friend the other day who has just had her heart broken and who is being left to travel solo as a result – she’s devastated, unsure of where to go next, or whether to even carry on, as you might expect. Talking to her about the situation inspired this post – it made me realise that so many of us travellers go through exactly the same. When you’re away travelling, you constantly feel like you’re on holiday and what comes with holidays? A holiday romance! It’s a natural fit and seems only right that it is so much easier to fall head over heels for someone new, exotic and exciting in the heat of the moment. There’s just something in the air that makes you fall a lot harder for people when you know that there is no pressure other than time pulling you in different directions. It’s a special feeling when you know that you actually have the complete freedom to follow your heart – that if you want to change all your travel plans because you fell in love, you actually can do it at the drop of a hat. You don’t get that in real life – back at home your alarm clock will always go off for work in the morning, distance will always be a problem and there will always be other demands on your time.

So say it all goes wrong and that guy, or girl, you’re crazy about just decides they have to go in the opposite direction, or they’re not quite ready to change their plans. What do you do? How do you get over the devastation? Here are my top tips for getting over travelling heartbreak:

Feel sad
Often travellers feel guilty for feeling sad when everyone says they should be having the time of their lives – but it’s no different to being at home. Feeling the sadness will allow you to move on quicker.

Look after yourself
If you have friends or family you can go and visit, go and do it! Allow them to look after you and give you the moral support you need – travelling solo doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone! If you can’t, spend a lot of time catching up with family and friends on FaceTime, and pamper yourself! Look after yourself until you feel better.

Throw yourself into something
Working, playing or planning usually works for me. Focusing on work and saving up for your next adventure can be good, or if you have some money saved, spend it on going out and having fun, make new friends and distract yourself. Or just start planning your next adventure.

Don’t give up
There will be times it all seems hopeless and you feel like packing it all in and going home to your mum – but you will regret it more than anything in the world. This is one of those character defining moments you will look back on and say, “that’s when I changed, that’s when I became stronger.”

Prepare for your escape
Plan to get out of wherever you are as soon as you have healed. This place will stay in your head as the place you recovered after having your heart broken, why not have a fresh start somewhere else and get ready to take on travelling solo. That’s the beauty of travelling, you’re not tied to any one place.

Arrive somewhere new
Feeling stronger, but still hesitant, you’re not sure you’re ready for the next step. But you are, I promise. Throw yourself into your new life, tell yourself you’re okay, tell yourself you’re more than okay. Eventually you will believe it and by then you will have a whole bunch of new friends, a whole new story to tell.

Look back and realise it all was worth it
Months later, you’ll suddenly realise you haven’t thought on that guy, or girl, for ages. For a second you’ll think back fondly on the memories as something reminds you. You’ll realise you really have moved on and will only look back with a smile on your face. That’s the traveller – he, or she, looks back with love in her heart on every person she meets, because they all helped shape the person she is and the memories she has made.

It might not feel like it now, but everyone recovers from a broken heart and comes out stronger on the other side – it takes time and it hurts like hell but it also helps you become the person you are. I’ve met so many people on my travels who were crazy in love with someone but sadly torn apart. I’ve met others who were crazy in love but their other half just didn’t feel the same way – it’s not easy But it happens. Just don’t let it stand in the way of your travels being the best they can be.

Have you been heartbroken while travelling? What are your top tips for dealing with heartbreak? 

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imageI love Australia. I love it far more than I ever expected to. When I planned to come here, it was mainly because I knew I could work and save a lot of money on my way to New Zealand. Well, plans change and six months later I’m still here with no signs of leaving for another six months, I’m working on getting my regional work signed off for another year in the country and I’ve officially missed my flight to New Zealand. But I have to admit, even though I’m eager to spend another year here working and saving money, travelling to other parts I’ve yet to see, that although the country is stunning and vibrant, with incredible landscapes and people, there is something missing for me. It’s culture, history and heritage. I know Australia has its own culture and history, but the country is just so new compared to so many other places. Growing up in England we’re made aware from the very beginning of the immense history of the country; of years of kings and queens, of politics, of music, arts and literature. We grow up with castles and stately homes in our back gardens, we are raised loving Queen Liz, and Wills and Harry. When I went to Asia, that was one of the biggest draws for me – I loved the culture, the food, the music, the colour, the religion and the language that came with every country I visited.imageOne of my favourite things upon visiting each country was embracing their history and traditions by meeting the locals and spending time with them. Whether that was being adopted by an amazing Thai woman who gave up a weekend to take me on a special tour of one of the country’s greatest historical sites along with introducing me to her friends and a whole range of foods I had never tried before. Or the night I spent playing card games with a bunch of Vietnamese guys as we drank beers and talked about the history and politics of the country. In every single country I have been to, I have experienced the full depth of the country, the welcoming nature of the people and sometimes the less welcome side. There is light and dark to every country, as I found in Cambodia – but even there I managed to see the real side to the country and to find that there are some incredible people there whose kindness far outweighs many I have met at home. Watching a village ceremony take place just outside of Siem Reap was amazing – we had the chance to witness something you don’t get to see in the towns. The humble and pure nature of the ceremony was so beautiful and being welcomed in to join them was even more amazing.imageAll of these experiences have shaped my experience of travelling and it has really fuelled my desire to travel further to other countries that offer yet more of these experiences. More opportunities to learn how other cultures live and how the country’s history has shaped what we see today, that is what keeps me so fascinated by the world around me. Perhaps it is the journalist in me that really wants to know peoples’ stories, wants to know how they got there and how they live. I’m never that interested in the overall view we have of a country from the media, I love the stories of the individuals who live this life every day. I think that because of this, I have developed a list of places really want to go before it is too late to witness them in their raw, mostly untouched beauty. The world is constantly changing and so many places are on the cusp of becoming overdeveloped and taken over by tourism – bringing a McDonald’s on every corner and selfie sticks at every turn – just the kind of places I hate. So where is left to try and experience the land before time? Here’s my shortlist of places I would love to see in their full glory:

Cuba

Right on the edge of becoming commercialised by the U.S., now is the time to visit and see Havana in its full Cuban glory. Ever since reading all about my blogger friend, Mrs Ayla Adventure’s trip to Cuba and seeing her gorgeous pictures, I have been desperate to go and experience the culture first hand. I want to swim in the gorgeous sea and sunbathe on those beautiful beaches, I want to witness the incredible animals and landscapes, I want to show off my salsa dancing skills and eat all of the food, drink all of the rum while walking those historic colonial streets. If you fancy a trip to Cuba – check out the Cuba Holidays website for all you need to know.

Myanmar

Not somewhere that had ever been in my mind when I came travelling, but as I went further around Asia I met more and more people who had been there for were about to go. They told me it was a beautiful country that was relatively untouched by tourism but that now is the time to go, a few more years and it could easily end up like the rest of Asia. I loved the idea of a nation of people who weren’t yet aware of the money they could make from visitors yet – I loved the idea of visiting and just being targeted by a natural curiosity and an innocence I could fall in love with.

Madagascar

Although I’m sure much like Mauritius the main country has become very touristy, there is still so much incredible landscape and so many amazing animals you can see right in their natural habitat. Thinking like this, it’s the same principle for countries like Namibia or Belize.

Eastern Europe

This is a whole area I would love to visit – with a huge history that spans centuries there is so much to learn, so much to see and experience. With stunning castles set against beautiful landscapes, endless national parks and more, I would really love to explore this region and the bonus is that with so many countries in one area, you would easily be able to travel between them much like I did in Asia.

South America

High priority on my list at the moment because I think it will be the one area I get to visit the soonest out of all of my choices. I’m hoping to spend a few months there in 2017 travelling around and visiting countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. What a way to experience full South American culture and how better than to learn a new language than by immersing myself in it? image

 

Which untouched lands would you love to explore? Have you travelled off the beaten track – which was your favourite destination? 

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imageAfter Fraser Island, we had one night to party in Noosa and then we’re on our merry way again, hitting the road on the Greyhound to Airlie Beach. This one was all set to be one of the best places we visited. Not only was it a beautiful place with lots to do, the gateway to our next adventure on the Whitsundays but it was also where we would be reunited with one of our best friends from back home. We rocked up with two friends in tow, Louise and Jennifer had been on Fraser Island with us and just happened to be booked on the same bus as us, into the same hostel and the same Whitsundays trip! After a long night on the bus, we were all wrecked and had to walk across town laden with heavy bags to the hostel thanks to there being no hostel pick up service. We were staying at Nomads, which was in process of fusing with Base. After Nomads in Noosa our expectations were distinctly lower and we were dreading seeing what we would be staying in for the next few days. We were pleasantly surprised to see how lovely the hostel was – one of the best looking hostels with small lodge style dorms spread across a lawn and set around a swimming poll and volleyball net, the six bed dorms were clean, comfy and spacious. I would hugely recommend the hostel, just don’t expect much from the staff. They were some of the rudest, most unfriendly and unhelpful people I have met since travelling.imageimageOur days were spent sunbathing by the pool, lagoon or on the beach – the choice of all three was brilliant and the lagoon was one of the nicest and deepest I have seen – just a shame it was so cold! On one morning, we decided to go for a run and explore the coastal path which is definitely worth a walk – it’s absolutely beautiful and takes you the length of the bay. Plus you get to walk through the harbour which is full of yachts and you can pretend you’re super rich and about to board your own. We ate out a few times, particularly at Fusion, which was just down the street. It was always there for us when we were too lazy to cook breakfast and we even had lunch one time. The food and the wifi was good, and it was very convenient being the closest cafe to the hostel, but the service was pretty slow and forgetful. Most of the time we cooked at the hostel, although it was a bit of a bummer having to put down a deposit for every kitchen item we needed to use, including chopping boards and knives.imageimageThe nightlife was pretty good in Airlie Beach, it was great having one street with all the bars and hostels on it, and there was alway something going on whether it was live music, karaoke, BBQ’s or something else. We spent a lot of time at Magnums and the Irish bar, but also checked out a lot of the others including a nice cocktail bar down the street. The crowd was great at most bars and you could see why so many people got stuck there when they just planned to pass through. Our friend had been living and working there for months and planned to stay there until her visa run out – she was actually working on one of the Whitsunday cruises. We had the best reunion after nearly two years without seeing her, within seconds it was like we’d never parted ways. Much rum was consumed, many stories were exchanged, laughs had, and we ended up getting matching tattoos – all on Mark’s birthday. Then we headed out to meet our friends for food and drinks where I had arranged a surprise for him, a group of our closest friends from Fraser Island to come and join the birthday celebrations. It was such a fun night with our whole Whitsundays gang and some of the Fraser crew partying the night away after a movie trivia quiz.imageimageThe best day we had in Airlie was hands down the day after the birthday celebrations when we were all hungover and needed something fun to distract us from how tired we all were. We ended up going to the inflatable water park and paying just $16 for hours of acting like kids, running around the inflatables and slipping off into the water, attempting to climb ropes and skidding across the giant climbing frames. It was hilarious and so much fun, definitely worth the money, although it did remind us were not as young as we used to be – it was a hell of a lot more exhausting for us lot than for the kids who were running rings around us. It was a perfect final day to have in Airlie Beach before heading on towards Magnetic Island for another adventure. I would definitely recommend planning in a few days for Airlie Beach, we stayed for about four or five around Whitsundays and it was nice to have a few days both before and after – especially to hang out with everyone from Whitsundays after the trip. The hostel is perfect for your stay as it’s well positioned and has everything you need – minus smiley staff. Airlie Beach was definitely one of the best places on the East Coast – I could understand why so many ended up getting stuck there, I think we would have if we didn’t already have our whole trip booked.imageimage

 

Did you love Airlie Beach? Can you recommend any good places to eat and drink there? Have you had any good reunions with friends while travelling?

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imageI’m so excited to share this post with you guys, and I warn you in advance its going to be a long one, because it’s all about one of the most amazing places I have ever been – a place of healing, of peace and of happiness. Hariharalaya Yoga and Meditation Retreat was the only reason I stayed in Cambodia for as long as I did, and it was the only reason I didn’t immediately book a flight to Bangkok after that crash. I was devastated after the crash, worried I wouldn’t physically be able to cope with a week of yoga and exercise but it turned out there was so much more to Hariharalaya – and that week turned out to be one of the best of my life. I have never felt more welcome than at the moment we pulled up through the gates, it was like coming to a sanctuary, like coming home. And for one week, the staff and the small group of us who had signed up for the experience were a little family, supporting each other through and helping each other to deal with personal problems, get back to basics and focusing on what is really important, and just building new life-changing habits. I can’t thank Leah, of Roots and Toots, and Christine, of Don’t Forget To Move, enough for the recommendations – this place couldn’t have been any more perfect for me at this point in my life.imageimageLeah actually said something really interesting to me after the crash about how perhaps all those struggles leading up to it and finally arriving at Hariharalaya were supposed to happen – to make it an extra special experience when I actually made it there. And I think she’s right, because it really did make it all the more amazing to know what I had been through to get there – it made me really value every single second of the days I spent there and I really took a lot away from it. Being there, in the Cambodian countryside, completely cut off from technology and the outside world, I really had the opportunity to focus on myself and to live truly in the moment. When leaving the retreat five days later, I cant even begin to express how much had changed – I was a completely different person. I walked in there completely disheartened and basically a broken person from all this travelling – I was exhausted from moving so quickly between places and I was tired of feeling unsafe and victimised by the country. Then, thanks to the crash I was physically broken as well – my body had had enough of it all and was screaming stop. In just five days I was bouncing off the walls, happy and comforted by the amazing individuals around me, I regained my excitement and passion for travelling. I felt strong again, my body responded so well to the programme of yoga, meditation, great food, massages and even acupressure thanks to another guest.imageimage

So what did we actually get up to at Hariharalaya?

Our programme started daily at 6.50 when we were woken by a gong that gave us ten minutes until our morning yoga and meditation session, this took place in an open studio where we could see out across the lawns. The morning session consisted of an hour of yoga, which varied daily depending on who was taking the class, followed by 30 minutes of meditation and sometimes we also led into this with chanting led by the owner, Joel. It was a peaceful start to the morning during which no one communicated other than the teachers – it was a time for self-reflection and preparing for the day ahead. After this, we would enjoy a super healthy, vegan breakfast – I cannot rave about the food enough, it was just out of this world and I have never missed meat less in my entire life. Every mealtime we were piling our plates high with all this delicious, nutritional goodness and knowing we were fuelling our bodies for the day instead of poisoning them with oils and fats hidden in usual backpacker fare. After a break during which we could read, play chess, use the gym, cycle around the village or do whatever we wanted, we would have the opportunity to sign up for extra afternoon sessions after another delicious meal.imageThese afternoon sessions included body language workshops, movement workshops, one-to-one yoga sessions to develop a personal programme, or even massages with experts. I took the body language workshop with Sean and found it really interesting to learn from someone who is also the most well-known magician in the whole of Cambodia and uses body language in a lot of his tricks. The One-to-One session with Maike was fantastic, she talked with me about what I wanted out of yoga and helped me to develop a personalised programme that worked towards my goals and used moves I had grown to love over the week – it was so good that I’m still doing it over a month later! And the massages – oh the massages! There were two to choose from and I simply had to indulge in both the four hands massage – which was fabulous and very invigorating – and the blind shiatsu massage, which was my favourite. The blind massage was done by a gentleman who actually massages Angelina Jolie at a flash hotel in Siem Reap for hundreds but I had the chance to try it for just a few dollars and oh my word it was easily the best massage of my life – it also really helped my bruised legs.imageAfter, we would be called in to our sunset yoga and meditation session which was timed perfect to catch the last rays and really was quite powerful for all of us. We all loved this wind-down session before dinner because it totally relaxed us all and gave time for some real peace and quiet. The evening meal was always something to look forward to and it was always so lovely to all sit round the table together discussing everything from the yoga sessions to heavy metal music – it all came up and it was great to spend time really getting to know each other and laughing, a lot. In those final hours before bed, we would spend the evenings being wowed by Sean’s magic by the pool, watching movies, playing table tennis and pool in the games room, playing card games or dancing the night away as musicians from the local village played. It was a beautiful way to round off the days and we always fell into bed shattered from the day. image

Why should you experience Hariharalaya?

This point is one I have mixed feeling about – on the one hand, I loved it so much there that I just want to be selfish and keep it as a secret all for myself. But the other, much bigger part of me is so filled with love for this place that I can’t bear to not share it with you. Hariharalaya is such a special place filled with love, it really helps you see things clearly and to change your view of the world. It’s not just the incredible team of staff who work hard to make your experience everything that it could possibly be, but also the guests who really teach you something. Coming from all different backgrounds and ways of life, I made the closest friends with people I probably never would have met outside in the real world, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity. Hariharalaya draws a whole other crowd of travellers, completely unlike those you will meet anywhere else and that is what makes it so amazing. It provides a home, a shelter, for anyone in crisis, and even those who aren’t, to come and feel safe, to take a break from the outside world and to rebuild. Whether you just love yoga and want to break the trend of doing it in fitness clubs, or whether you just need to reassess everything in your life, this is the place for you.imageimageimageimageThat doesn’t convince you? Well, while I was there, I was lucky enough to share my experience with one girl who connected with Hariharalya much more than any of us, she was already on her second visit in just a few months, and before the week was out she had signed up to do her third week from the following Monday, with hopes of training to become a yoga teacher the following year. I’m so happy I could be there to see how she drew as a person in just days, and that I had the chance to be a part of our little family. I know that no matter how far we are scattered around the globe, that we will all be friends for life after sharing that time together. You can find out more about Hariharalya, and how to sign up, at the website.

Have you been to Hariharalya? Tell me about your experience. Can you recommend any other yoga and meditation retreats in South East Asia?

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To say I didn’t have the greatest time in Cambodia would be an understatement, it was one of the worst countries I have ever travelled to and much of my time there was spent feeling unsafe and really vulnerable. Now I know there are a lot of people out there who will really disagree with this post, and I totally agree that many will have a different experience of Cambodia to mine, but I have to be realistic and honest about my experiences. Despite this, I want you all to know that I would definitely return there in future and that I haven’t completely written off the country. I know that I had a particularly bad run of luck when I was there and everything seemed to go wrong, and I would always advise any traveller to go to a country and make their own mind up. So this post is not about putting you off Cambodia, it is merely about warning of all the horrible things that happened to me and what I would do differently next time to avoid these situations. Now you have to remember that by this point I had travelled throughout Thailand, Laos and Vietnam solo by this point and was pretty experienced and confident about handling things on my own. I was also extremely excited about going to Cambodia and had expected to like it more than any of the other countries I had been to. So how did it all go wrong?

I had read a lot about Cambodia, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for the country. Despite travelling across Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, the level of poverty in Cambodia was far more shocking than any other country I have ever travelled to. Even knowing about the history, I hadn’t fully realised how third world it would seem in comparison to other parts of Asia – I expected it to be on a par with Laos but was quite shocked to see the conditions in which many were living there. The level of poverty has a direct impact on the level of crime and it is clear that a lot of Cambodians do see tourists as a way of making money quickly by robbing them. Not all, but there are a large number who see us as a way of making their life easier – but not in the way we are used to in countries like Thailand where tourism is a real industry. The fact that the police are far more corrupt than the average man on the street means it is an even more dangerous place for a tourist because the police also see us as a way of making money and will often target us. I know countless people who have been robbed in Cambodia, and even worse, I know so many people who have been messed around by police who are often in on the robbery and are making money off it. Motorbikes are a big one for this, I’ve heard of several cases where bikes were stolen after tourists hired them, then police refused to help and the bikes mysteriously turned up back at the original owners’.imageArriving in low season (May), just after Songkran meant the country was empty of tourists and this played a huge part in why my experience was less than I’d hoped. There’s safety in numbers and numbers were seriously lacking anywhere I went – this also made it difficult to find travel buddies as most were travelling from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh instead of the other way around. It meant that as a woman travelling alone, I was much more of a target and I certainly felt a lot more conspicuous when walking the streets. There were several times when I would walk a down the street and have to fend off the uncomfortable approaches of grubby tuk tuk drivers and strange, often drugged up, men who would try to follow me down the street. Some were aggressive with no provocation and others just didn’t seem to understand the word no. Their way of trying to encourage you to use their services was to hassle you non-stop, and not in the friendly way of the Thai’s or Vietnamese, it was intimidating. Areas like Sihounoukville and Phnom Penh were particularly bad, but in Siem Reap it was completely different and I actually felt safe for the first time in weeks. I think if I had started my time in Cambodia up in Siem Reap, I would have felt very differently, but starting at the other end really coloured my view of the country.

So what actually happened to me in Cambodia? Why am I making such a point of writing a post like this? Well it all started when I was robbed. I’d just arrived in Sihounoukville and the first person I met was my taxi driver who managed to steal $50 off me – trust me, I’m never careless with my bags and he managed to still get into them without me noticing until he had the money. I caught him at it and shouted at him, so he decided to get aggressive with me. Big mistake as I punched him to the ground and ran off – probably not the wisest move but it was instinct and it got me away from a bad situation fast. Luckily it was only $50 – it could have been a lot worse as my passport and iPad were with my money. So I arrived on a bad note, then a friend of mine was nearly raped in the back of a tuk tuk and had to jump out while it was moving to get away from some creep who jumped in the back as it drove down the road near Otres Beach. Then there was the awful bus crash I nearly died in after a lorry ran my minibus off the road and we crashed into a ditch – I would have gone through the windscreen if it weren’t for the driver grabbing me as I was thrown forward. The crash was horrible and the lorry didn’t even stop, but it was dealing with the police, ambulance and bus company after that was the worst part. The police had no idea what to do and were more concerned about me being British than the Cambodian girl with a broken hip. The ambulance staff were embarrassingly uneducated on how to treat the injured, it was scary how little they knew of basic first aid and hygiene – to the point I refused to go to hospital. The bus company knew nothing of the crash and told me I couldn’t go any further than Phnom Penh without my ticket – which was in the ditch next to the crashed bus – until I really kicked up a fuss. These are just some of the worst examples, but it was enough to make me pretty miserable during my time in the country. imageNow it may not have been the best experience of my life, but I always try to take something good away from every experience and I learnt a lot from my time in Cambodia. So what are my top tips for travelling Cambodia?

  1. Think very seriously about travelling there solo as a woman – whatever the websites and guide books say, it is a very different experience to travelling solo as a woman in Thailand or Vietnam or even Laos. I personally would never travel there alone again, and the vast majority of people I know who have loved Cambodia have either traveled in groups or solo as a man.
  2. Plan ahead with your personal safety – don’t travel if you will be arriving late at night because you will be a victim of tuk tuk drivers and those loitering in the streets. Think about learning some basic self-defence moves in case anything happens because I was really glad I felt able to defend myself when that taxi driver started at me.
  3. Realise when planning your movements that Cambodian tourist travel is pretty unreliable and slow compared to other parts of Asia. Also realise that whether you go for the most expensive and comfortable or the least, you are equally at risk of accidents. They drive like crazy out here and seem to have no real concept of death or injury – if I were to return I would probably skip the buses and just fly from one end to another.
  4. Remember that you are a woman. It’s sad to say that this should even be an issue in today’s world, but when visiting other countries it is important to remember that your gender does play a part in how you are viewed. I’m not saying it is right, but you are at greater risk of harm in some places because men will see you as easy pray for rape or robbery because you are less likely, in their minds, to be able to defend yourself.
  5. Play the numbers game. Do your research and plan your trip carefully. Realise that events like Songkran could affect the numbers elsewhere in Asia as everyone flocks to Thailand and Laos. I knew that there would be less people, but never expected Cambodia to be as empty as it was but I think it had a huge impact on my time there. If I returned it would be in the middle of high season.imageNow throughout all of this I want you to remember that although I had a bit of a rubbish time in Cambodia, it doesn’t mean that you will. It is such an important country to visit in so many ways – the history is heartbreaking and horrifying but it is something we all need to know about. The people can be incredibly kind and welcoming – but sadly I only saw this in my final days there. Don’t be put off by my experiences, just learn from them and don’t let the same happen to you. There is so much to be gained from seeing this country, and you will be helping the people to rebuild their country by creating a tourist industry and giving them a future. I will have several other happier posts coming up on the parts of Cambodia I did like and the better memories I hold of the country.

Tell me about your experiences of Cambodia – did you love it or hate it? Why? What advice would you give to travellers passing through? 

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