Finding the perfect travel companion is no easy task, as someone who has spent much of her travelling life going it solo, I can tell you it isn't easy to change your ways and pair up with someone. No doubt, solo travel has a huge impact on the individual and their experience, but there's something special about sharing every step of your adventures with someone special. Whether that someone is a friend, family or even a partner, there is something magical about being able to reminisce over that time you got lost in Sri Lanka or the car broke down in Australia. Those normally stressful moments become a hilarious story, they gain an almost romantic aspect when remembered together. But, no matter how rose-tinted those spectacles are, there is no denying that finding the perfect travel companion is tricky, it takes a lot of struggles along the way before you finally pin down the one.
But what makes the perfect travel companion? Well after three years of travelling solo, as part of a group, with a close friend and even a boyfriend, I've really learnt the type of person I can be around. Because travelling isn't always just an easy breezy holiday, sometimes it can be hard, exhausting, confusing and downright dramatic. Finding the perfect travel companion means finding someone who can handle you at your worst, not just at your best, someone who can help you plan and solve problems, someone who can laugh when things don't turn out right and someone who can make even the worst situations seem manageable. These souls are hard to find and when you manage to pin one down, you should do all you can to keep hold of them.
Start by thinking about your travel style - are you a backpacker or a luxury lover? Do you prefer hotels or hostels? Are you more likely to be found buying easy-to-prepare food in a supermarket or making reservations for a Michelin-starred restaurant? All of these things can really affect the sort of people you will consider travelling with - for instance you can't combine a 5* luxury lover with a budget backpacker - while they may learn a thing or two from each other it is more likely that one person will be miserable. Even combining a flashpacker with a backpacker on a serious budget may be tricky - so it's important to discuss budget with the person you are travelling with and to really understand each other's chosen travelling lifestyle. If your styles are different, are you willing to compromise?
I love learning about culture and heritage when I visit new places, my boyfriend loves to surf. The one thing we really have in common is that we love to escape into nature through hiking and camping, and we love to eat out. It's more than okay for you to have different interests to the people you travel with, but it also really helps if you have some interests in common. By having some middle ground, it makes it easier to plan activities and travelling routes, but you can also still make time to indulge your individual pastimes. You don't have to spend every waking second together, but you do need to be willing to let each other enjoy your own passions and interests.
The way you pack can be very telling of the type of trip you are hoping to have. I always pack for long-term trips and usually into a backpack rather than a suitcase, I go for comfort with a hint of style and usually pack for summer. I would be a pretty bad combination if put together with someone who always packed for colder countries and preferred to pack his suits neatly into a case. It's important to be clear with each other before you leave what kind of trip you are both hoping for - you don't want to arrive with one suitcase full of cocktail dresses and a backpack full of hiking gear!
You may choose a different travel companion depending on where you choose to go, for a shorter weekend away you may team up with a family member or a friend for some fun in a new city. But when planning a longer holiday you may choose to go with older friends who you have known for years. When it comes to a much longer trip, say backpacking around the world, it is vital that you choose to go with someone you know, trust and can rely on. Travelling with someone is pretty full on and you need to know that you can cope being around that person 24/7 if need be.
It's taken me three years of solo travel, but I've finally found someone who I can travel with long-term, we've already traveled half of Australia while living in a car together, we've backpacked across Sri Lanka and Thailand and now have plans to take on Europe. I never imagined that I might find someone I could travel with full-time but now I can't imagine travelling life without him by my side. Travelling alongside someone you love is such a different experience to travelling with friends or family, but each can be just incredible if you have the right people and the right destination. For those who might be searching for an elite travel companion, Bank Models offer an exclusive and international model introduction service aimed at successful professionals who enjoy the best things in life. This service could help line you up with your perfect VIP travel companion for your next trip.
Have you found the perfect travel companion? Where did you meet? What was your last trip together?
I wanted to take the time to write a post this Christmas about what I'm grateful for - there are so many things this year and after a rocky start to the year, I feel very lucky to be ending it this way. The last six months have been a total whirlwind in every aspect of my life, a lot has changed and I'm really happy that it has, but remembering how my life was before that really makes me appreciate every second of how it is now. Now I'm home for my first Christmas with the family in three years and despite it putting travel plans on hold, I couldn't be happier to be home. Sometimes you just need to spend a little time resting and catching up with the people who have always known you, not just spending time with those fleeting travelling friends. This last year, and especially the last six months has been filled with constant travel and it's about time I just took the time to sit, reflect and enjoy where I am. To reassess and make plans for the future before I make my next move, and to take some time off for once! So in this whirlwind year filled with highs and lows, with old friends who have come back into my life, and the new should who have passed through, what am I grateful for?
Once again, travel has given me one of the best years of my life and I couldn't feel more lucky to have experienced the places and people I have met along the way. I feel very privileged to be able to live this nomadic life and to be able to find happiness in it, and I really do appreciate every moment. This year I had the amazing opportunity to explore parts of Australia that have been on my bucket list for years - getting to road trip around Tasmania and all the way up the West Coast - an epic 4,000km trip. Drawing my two year working holiday visa to a close, I feel so happy to have made the most of my time in this amazing country and I left with a smile on my face and a lot of new friends close to my heart. Next up was a fleeting visit to Kuala Lumpur to set off a trip around Asia, before delving into the deaths of Sri Lanka for a month. Travelling the length and breadth of the country, I grabbed every opportunity to soak up the culture, the beauty and whatever adventures came my way. I completely fell in love with the people and the places we visited along the way and was sad to leave. But not quite ready to come home, a few weeks in the sunshine in Thailand was just what the doctor ordered and it was fantastic to return to the place where my travels began three years on - Thailand has changed so much and yet retains that familiarity it will always hold for me.
As I have mentioned, I am so happy to be home for Christmas, it really does mean the world to spend the festive period at home with my closest family and friends after so long away. So much has changed at home with friends getting new jobs, moving away, starting new relationships or even getting married, and one of my best friends in the world is now pregnant - there is so much to celebrate and I'm happy to be home to share in it all with them. But while I'm happy to be at home with the people who have known me from the beginning, I'm also so grateful to the friends and the families I've forged on all sides of the world. To the Melbourne family who absolutely made my experience there, who welcomed me with open arms time and time again, who were always there with endless laughs, a sofa to sleep on and were always ready to make more amazing memories together. I will be forever grateful to you, you made Melbourne home for me.
To Jack and Paul, who have proven again and again and again what amazing friends they are, I will be forever grateful to have met you back in Asia, little did we realise back then that we would be mates for life. The two of you have gone out of your way to fly cross country, and even across the world to visit me, and I was glad to repay with a visit this year. The pair of you will always be people I know I can count on. And of course, I cannot forget my West Coast crew - the beautiful souls I met down in Fremantle who filled my life with much-needed laughter and fun. The reunions with old friends along the way were a keen reminder that travelling friends aren't always temporary and you can have such a huge impact on the lives of others without even realising. And of course, my amazing group that I road tripped the West Coast with - all such different characters brought together by a love of travel and adventure. Every moment of that trip surpassed my expectations and I'm so grateful to have shared it with this motley crew - it will remain one of my best Australian memories.
One of the changes I am most grateful for this year. After spending three years on my own after the break up of my nine-year relationship, there were a lot of points where I thought I might be alone for good if I maintained this travelling lifestyle. I didn't mind, I actually preferred that to being constantly let down, so I focused on myself and all the things I wanted to do. No-one can say I didn't live life to the fullest and I guess it was only when I forgot to put up my guard because I was having too much fun, that I met someone special. It's an amazing feeling to meet someone as passionate about travelling as you are, and since getting together we've travelled half of Australia living in a car together. We've also spent a month backpacking Sri Lanka and a few weeks in Thailand. We're now on six countries together and when he comes over to visit next week, it will be our seventh. I don't know what the future holds, but for now I'm enjoying every second and I'm just grateful that the world saw fit to send someone like him into my life.
This year has been incredible for blogging and writing opportunities despite me taking more time off from the blog than ever before. I have worked with some amazing companies all over the world and have had the chance to live some of my wildest dreams such as a hot air balloon ride and safaris surrounded by wild leopards and elephants. I've stayed in some truly incredible accommodations from being the first blogger to visit the first gay-friendly luxury resort in Sri Lanka, to staying on the other side of the fence to a national park in luxury safari camping, and even sleeping in tree houses! Finishing the trip in a truly incredible 5* luxury resort in Thailand was an absolute highlight and the perfect way to end the holiday. I feel so grateful for these amazing opportunities, but I also feel grateful to my parents for instilling this work ethic into me, without being proactive, determined and hardworking, none of these opportunities would have happened.
Unless you're one of the people who have met me in person over the last 18 months, you won't know how bad my skin has been. Last May, I flew to the UK and on my flight the air hostesses sprayed a pesticide chemical inside the plane to kill any stray bugs. I instantly had the worst allergic reaction of my life, my eyes and face swelling up, my skin breaking out into open wounds on my arms. It was horrific. I should have claimed compensation, I should have followed it up but when I got home, I got the flu and was bedridden for weeks. When I finally turned a corner, all I wanted was to get out and have a life again, to forget it all, but I was left with huge scars on my arms and white patches where my skin had healed. Over the next year, these white patches spread to cover more and more of my arms and even my chest, back and face. I went to multiple doctors in the UK and Australia but no-one could tell me what it was, no-one could help me. The more sun I got and the more the rest of my skin tanned, the more noticeable the white patches were, it was always there and I couldn't hide it.
Complete strangers would come up to me at work and start talking to me about it on a daily basis, or they would make jokey comments about it. They hurt, it was horrible have to laugh and brush them off like they didn't affect me or I didn't hear them all day, every day. Everyone thought they were a dermatologist, everyone thought they knew the answer, the cure for my problems. They meant well, but I was sick of hearing it, sick of my skin always being the topic of conversation when it had nothing to do with these people. I've always suffered from eczema and skin allergies, but I never realised until this point how utterly debilitating it is to have such a noticeable skin problem. How you're constantly aware of the eyes glancing over your arms and lingering as they wonder what the hell is wrong with you, how you take photos with friends and then can't bear to look at them because all you can see is the patches. Without realising, it really does take over every aspect of your life, no matter how much you try and put on a brave face and how much you pretend it doesn't bother you.
So now I can tell you why being the sickest I've been since travelling while I was in Sri Lanka, was the best thing that could have happened to me. I went to the doctors because medicine wasn't helping my upset stomach and was given some homeopathic remedies that solved all my problems within an hour. But even better, the doctor, who spoke very good English and had previously worked in the UK, was a dermatologist and recognised immediately what the problem was with my skin. He recognised the infection and knew exactly how to get rid of it, he promised me he could prescribe homeopathic treatment - a mixture of pills and creams - that would see a noticeable difference within two weeks and if I kept it up for a few months the patches would be unnoticeable, and the pain and discomfort I suffered would go away. The words I had been desperate to hear for so long, and least expected to ever hear come from the mouth of a doctor after being let down by so many. I started the treatment - still very sceptical of whether it would work but praying it would - and within two weeks the patches were already significantly better. Now two months on, most of them are barely noticeable and the rest get better every single day. The patches on my face are gone, my arms are mostly better and my chest and back are back to normal. I can't tell you how grateful I am that the treatment worked, and that fate brought me to that doctor out of the various other medical centres on the street.
I feel very lucky the way this year has turned out, the way I feel now couldn't be more different to how I was at the beginning of the year. I've grown, I've changed and it's all because of the amazing experiences I've had and the people I've met along the way. I'm very excited about what the next year holds for me and I can't wait to share every moment with you guys. Thanks for being there every step of the way and I hope you all have a lovely Christmas.
Today I'm really excited to announce that I've just taken on the role of Social Media Ambassador this summer for a local cancer charity, The Big C. I've written about the charity countless times before in my role as a journalist in Norfolk, but now I'm going to be even more involved in their summer campaign #CancerConversations by blogging for charity and I'm so excited to be involved with such a great local cause.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love to talk. I've lost count of how many people have told me I have the gift of the gab, that I'm the kind of gal who could start up a conversation with anyone. Even more so, I love to listen - I love to hear people's stories, to know where they've come from and where they're going. Two traits that are incredible important, both as a traveler, and in life - these have taken me through a career as a journalist, into travel blogging and has helped me no end in my world travels. Communication is what we humans live for, and yet sometimes it can be so hard to talk about the things that it is most important to discuss, whether relating to our feelings, or even more importantly, our health. For someone who is so vocal about everything else, I sometimes really struggle to talk about very personal things - so often I am listening to the problems of others and find it tricky to slip in what I'm going through. Travelling has changed that, I'm more open than ever before about what is going on in my life and try my best not to bottle things up anymore.
Keeping with the theme of conversations, I'll always remember a string of interviews I had a few years ago while working as a journalist in Norfolk. It started with a former teacher of mine who had been diagnosed with cervical cancer, then there was the chap who came in with his wife and their baby daughter who had just been given months to live after doctors found a brain tumour. All of these brave individuals were doing their bit to raise money and awareness of the disease whether they were going to survive or not - they were inspiring and fought the illness every step of the way. But then there were the tributes - talking to the families and friends who were left behind after several startlingly young people died of the disease very suddenly. Hearing them describe their mothers, brothers, daughters and uncles as these vibrant individuals was hard, very hard. It was heartbreaking and brought a tear to my eye more times than I can count and really made me realise how short and unexpected life can be. Even now, after years of journalism, these are the interviews that stick out the most in my mind, and in life, these conversations will stay with me for the rest of my days. Teaching me the value of every second we have on this Earth and making the absolute most of it, now that's all I dedicate my life to after giving up life as I knew it to travel the world.When it comes to health, I've always been lucky and had a huge support network of friends and family I could go to about anything. This makes such a huge difference when you actually have a health scare, just knowing you have people to talk to about it, just knowing you're not alone and being able to seek help can change your whole experience. It's sad to think there are people out there who feel they have no-one to turn to in these situations, or who wouldn't feel comfortable seeking the help they are entitled to, but there are so many like this. Just recently, I've had two uncles hospitalised in a serious condition, one of which was put on life support, and saw how our entire family came together despite being spread across three continents. The beauty of phones, email, Skype and even Whatsapp made it possible for us all to keep in touch across five different time zones and brought us closer together. But if you have no-one you feel you can turn to, it could be such a lonely and terrifying time to go through something like that. I think guys find it harder to open up about health issues so it’s essential for campaigns to help them discover the support that’s available to them.
This is why The Big C have launched their summer campaign, #CancerConversations which is aimed at those across Norfolk and Waveney who are not taking advantage of the free cancer support available to them, men in particular. The team behind The Big C said: "Chaps – don’t bottle up your cancer health issues. We can help support you through your treatment! We have a range of free services we can offer including: financial support and welfare advice, counselling services, pharmacy support and complementary therapies." It's so important to get the support you need while going through something like this, I know so many people who couldn't have coped with going through cancer alone. A lot of these services were not available when my grandmother died of oesophageal cancer around a decade ago, but even then we were grateful for any help to deal with the condition. Now anyone going through the heartache and suffering of coping with this disease, or supporting someone through it, has a wealth of free services at their fingertips! If you're a woman reading this, why not take the time to make the men in your life aware.
Where can you get help?
With free support centres in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Gorleston and my home of King's Lynn, there are plenty of places to start if you're seeking help. Join one of the cancer support groups to share experiences at the Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn Centres for men who are living with and beyond cancer. These provide an informal, non-judgmental, open environment where men can support each other.
A range of free welfare advice is available with a specialist adviser, helping you sort the practicalities so you can concentrate on getting better. Information on benefits, loans, housing, employment issues, travel expenses, childcare, blue badge applications, help with form filling and much more is available.
The Big C also provide a range of complementary therapies in the Big C Centres. If you are a cancer patient, you and one carer can have up to six sessions each of reflexology, massage or reiki. There are also relaxation classes and nutritional workshops available, contact your nearest Big C centre to book.
Available for both you and your family, free counselling is a more structured form of support which may be appropriate when things seem so overwhelming that your usual ways of coping don't appear to help. Up to six sessions can be arranged for each patient and carer.
For more information about these services, contact one of the following centres:
Norwich - 01603 286112 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Great Yarmouth - 01493 855297 or email@example.com
King's Lynn - 01553 818737 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Louise Hamilton Centre, Gorleston - 01493 453100
Click here to go to the website - and here to find out more about the #CancerConversations summer campaign
Have you used any of these services - how have they helped you? Tell me about the strangest or funniest conversation you've ever had.
I wasn't very excited for my birthday. Now if you know me well, you'd know that's pretty odd for me, I'm the sort of girl who likes to celebrate her birthday by going big with all the people I love, I'm the sort of girl who likes to stretch out her birthday for weeks and even months. So for me to not be excited for my birthday, that was a bit strange. My birthday fell a week after I was due to arrive back in the UK after 18 months of travelling the globe - a year ago I was celebrating in Melbourne with good friends and without knowing, in the place I would come to love the most in Australia. I had a birthday/leaving party in Melbourne the weekend before I flew which was amazing - everyone dressed up in shit shirts and celebrated with me in my flat in Melbourne - two incredible friends I met in Asia even flew over from Adelaide especially for the party. I couldn't have been more touched by the amazing turnout and the effort people went to, it really showed me what incredible friends I have found since travelling, and especially in Melbourne. So returning home and leaving that all behind has been hard, I'm not great with goodbyes and it kind of put a damper on my excitement for celebrating.For the first time in my life, I woke up feeling completely unexcited about my birthday. Not a feeling I'm used to, but I think the fact that it was supposed to be a day of celebration really highlighted that some people who really mean the most to me were on the other side of the globe and wouldn't be here to share the day with me. It's one of the hard parts of coming home from travelling, suddenly you feel a world away from the people who have been your entire world for the last few months. But I'm not a girl to sit around feeling sorry for myself, so instead I got up and made a delicious batch of fluffy pancakes. Then the messages started rolling in, and the phone calls and the texts... It was overwhelming to see how many amazing people both here in the UK and scattered cross the world, in Asia, Australia, Europe and even South America took the time to message me and wish me a happy birthday. People I hadn't spoken to in almost a year were messaging to find out how my travels were going, or to see how I was celebrating the day. Again, the effort people went to really touched my heart and made me realise how lucky I am to have made such incredible friends with such amazing humans since I've been travelling.Not just since I've been travelling, but far beyond that, the people I've known since I was a little girl, the people I've grown up with and the people I've studied alongside.It turned my day around, hearing from so many wonderful people on this day and made me realise how lucky I am to have made so many amazing connections in my life. How lucky I am to be so loved. So many float through life and miss out on so many opportunities for friendship and love, I feel so grateful that I have found so many throughout my life and to constantly be surrounded by so much love. I'm so astonished by some of the longest standing and greatest friendships I've found - many of them were ones I expected to fizzle out as our paths separated and headed in different directions. So many of these friendships have been the most unexpected and perhaps that's what makes them so precious to me, the fact that they could have so easily been missed along the way. I'm the kind of girl who falls hard for people, whether it's relationships or friendships - if I feel that spark with someone I'll very quickly make them a huge part of my life. It's meant that I've been hurt in the past by people who took advantage of that, but it doesn't mean I'll ever give it up. If you ask me, the only way you ever discover those real friendships - the ones you'd do anything for - and the relationships that really touch your soul, is to fall hard and hope they catch you.So now, as I sit here on the evening of my birthday with a belly full of Greek barbecue and prosecco, with the long weekend stretching ahead of me, I'm reenergised and ready to celebrate. A weekend filled with some of the most precious souls in my life and celebrating everything we have accomplished. My past 18 months of solo travel and everything I have experienced along the way, for my friends it's new studies, apartments, houses, relationships and even engagements. After so long apart, its more important than ever to take a long hard look at how far we have come. I know so many people are funny about getting older, about getting closer to 30. Well I'm officially 26, closer to 30 than I've ever been and yet instead of feeling like it's something to dread, I want to celebrate every single moment, every thrilling moment of the years that have led me to this point. The passion, the bravery, the fearlessness and the jokes that have kept me laughing and happy to my very core. Even the moments that made me lose my breath, the moments that scared me beyond belief, the moments I thought I wouldn't come back from, every single one brought me to this point of my life. And if that isn't worth celebrating, I don't know what is. So with that, let's raise a glass - to everything I've survived so far and to all you angels who have pushed me to keep on going. I can't thank you enough.
This post has been a long time in the making. I've started writing it about a hundred times and scrapped several copies. It's just hard to know where to start, to even begin to find the words to describe the amazing group of people that have made your Australian experience complete. But it seems appropriate to post this at Christmas, a time when we are all thinking about family. I'll be honest and say that when I planned my trip I was really excited about Asia and New Zealand, but saw Australia mainly as a place to earn good money in-between as I was only expecting to stay five months. I didn't really have many expectations for the country as I didn't really know enough about it despite knowing so many travellers who have been here. Arriving in Sydney, visiting Melbourne, and then travelling the East Coast was amazing and I wouldn't trade a second of it, but I couldn't help feeling like I hadn't yet seen the real Australia, it was just partying your way along the beaches. But then I arrived in Darwin, it was hot and dusty and full of outback attitude. People drove around in pick-up trucks and there were drunk aboriginals laying in the streets, if you did anything that went against what was normally socially acceptable you'd just hear the locals cry "well fuck it you're in the Northern Territory now, everybody does what they want". It was clear from the start that anyone who lived there did it for the lifestyle - different to other parts of Australia, everyone just worked to pay for having a good time. There was no reason not to go out on any night of the week and the weekends were sacred.I was staying at Dingo Moon Lodge - which was great on the surface in the sense that it had a pool and wifi, free laundry and breakfast. But beyond that it was a bit of a dump, riddled with bed bugs and the owners were awful. They would spend hours in the office screaming at the staff - my friends - for nothing and often would come in and throw away people's possessions from the washing line or the kitchen for no reason. But you know what they always say, it's not the places you stay or the things you see that make the experience, it's the people you meet along the way. I'm a firm believer in this and it's one of my main reasons for travelling - I'm a journalist at heart and I'm driven to talk to people, to discover the world around me through people's stories. I want to know where they've been, their annoyances, their loves and deepest desires, I want to know what makes them tick and I want to know where they're going. So it makes sense that Darwin is where I met the most diverse and beautiful group of people yet in the whole of Australia, that this is what made my experience and my time at Dingos quite as special as it was. As the title of this post says, even now, nearly two months later and hundreds of kilometres further into the outback, my heart is still with the Dingos who are now scattered across the world with some in Melbourne, Sydney, Asia and Europe. But no matter what the distance, I know that all of us feel the same.So how did it all start? Well as I said in my job hunt post, a group of us all rocked up at around the same time and formed a pretty close-knit group as we hunted for work, but over the next week or two even more dingos arrived and became a huge part of our group. We were ever changing and ever growing, but all accepting as people from all over the world came to join our ranks. It was great to be surrounded by so many people from so many countries and one thing I loved was that there were actually very few English there. I was constantly surrounded by French, German, Irish, Swedish, Aussie and many more accents - this is what I came travelling for! Being in the hostel with so many incredible people meant I had a family right from the start, and other backpackers will know that in the right hostel you quickly become very close to those around you. You cook together, you eat together, drink together, work together, party together and sleep together. Before you know it, they've become the biggest part of your life and you can't remember what it was like without the family around you. It's a pretty special experience to go from being a solo traveller to feeling like you have the biggest family in the world but it seems to come at exactly the right time. It's easy to forget that even when you're travelling people are going through their own personal dramas and we had our fair share. We had everything from relationships, and even engagements, that were taking place with thousands of miles between the couples, we had work stresses and money worries, depression, we even had one guy who was fighting to get residency so he could stay in Australia with his child. But the important thing was that with our dingo family, not a single person went through anything alone. And I tell you, the day our friend got his residency approved was a big day of celebrations for everyone there, it meant the world to each and every one of us because we had been there every step of the way.Sure we partied a lot and some of the great memories I have are of nights when we were all drunk and rampaging the streets of Darwin or attempting to find our way home from a rave with one token naked guy. But there are also so many special memories of us all just hanging out, chatting shit and putting the world to rights. I lost count of how many nights were spent sitting around a long wooden picnic bench that we were just waiting to collapse beneath the weight of us all, drinking Whispers and laughing at one thing or another. Or the times we would cook up feasts for groups of us in the kitchen, or laze around the pool catching some rays. The times when we would scrape ourselves out of bed for the free breakfast and attempt to make conversation before heading back to bed until a normal hour, or those mornings when my roommates would wake me up by playing "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe" for the millionth time. Those nights getting ready to go out when we would have the tunes playing and would make stupid music videos in the dorms or have photo shoots, the nights when I would finish work at 10pm and get thrown in the pool fully clothed as I walked in the gate. The days spent making up crazy competitive games with the boys in the pool, or attempting to climb the trees in the yard. All those spoon sessions, Sunday Sesh BBQ's, surprise birthday parties and don't forget the time Robin got my name tattooed on his bottom! Then there were the chilled nights when we would all veg out in the dorm watching various different movies but would all have to stop every five minutes to show each other something hilarious. Starting up art club when we were hungover and needed to colour something in mindlessly, or sunset walks to the park or beach, and midnight runs and workouts on the esplanade. My head, and my heart, are about ready to burst from all the memories.So here it is, my attempt to conclude a post that I don't even think I have done justice to. I want to thank every single member of the dingos - whether you were there from the very beginning or you came in right at the end - for being the best friends a backpacker could ask for. For picking me up when I felt down and for being as excited and happy about everything as I was the rest of the time. For making me laugh until it hurt, for making me dance until I could no longer stand, for making me party until I dropped. Everything about you made my Darwin experience more than I could ever have dreamed of, and for that I am grateful. Most of all, I want to thank you for making me fall in love with this country - you made me see the real Australia and you made it harder to leave than any other place has since I started travelling. And if ever there were a time to talk about #squadgoals I think this is definitely it! Here's to three months of going full bush like never before - best three months ever! For the travellers who have moved on to Asia or returned home, good luck and see you again! For those who are working their way down to Melbourne for our huge Dingos reunion, I'm counting the seconds until I see you again.
Have you found an incredible traveller family like the Dingos? Which place stands out in your memory because of the people you met along the way?
Some friendships break at the first sign of trouble - perhaps a boy gets in the way, or the distance becomes too great, or it's just not as easy peasy when you're not in the same class at school together. What it comes down to is often laziness when your lives start taking you in opposite directions, a shame, but often it is the best way to cut down your friends to the ones who really deserve to be on your Christmas card list. I'm talking about the ones who will pick you up in the middle of the night when it all goes wrong, who will sit out with you until the sun comes out talking about life and setting the world to rights. Those soulmates that you know you just can't live without, whose voices appear at the end of the telephone line at the slightest sniff of trouble and scream with excitement at any tiny piece of good news. They're the ones you want around and they're the ones who stick by you even when you make a life changing decision to jet off across the globe without any idea of when you will return.
I won't lie to you, it's not easy to maintain friendships and relationships over Skype and Whatsapp, many just won't make it. But the world we live in makes it easier than ever to keep in touch and there really isn't any excuse for not showing the people you love how you feel. Often I find friendships like these fall into one of two categories - there's the ones you speak to all the time, whether it's just a like or comment on a picture on Facebook, a long old chat on Whatsapp, or FaceTiming once a week to update each other on all the gossip. Then there's the friendships that seem untouched by time, the people you don't speak to for weeks, even months on end and yet you know that you could call on them any time of day for help, or even just a chat. Both types are just as important and I know my best friends fit into both of these categories and all of them are just as important to me while I'm out here, as I hope I am to them. When it comes to family, there's nothing more important than letting them know you are safe and well, and for you to know the same about them. Trust me, if you've ever had drama while travelling or felt unsafe at any point, you'll know the first thing you want to do is call home.
So how can you keep these friendships and relationships alive?
Compromise is key
They have to understand you are travelling and that you won't always have good wifi or the time to be on the end of the phone or message 24/7, just like you have to understand that life at home goes on without you and that family and friends have lives and jobs too. Try and organise a time that suits both of you to Skype or message, that way everyone is happy.
Sometimes you just need to talk to the other person even though it's the middle of the night, sometimes you're upset or things have gone wrong, or you're just plain homesick. Other times, your best mate's cat might have died, or his girlfriend dumped him - perhaps they need to talk. Or there could be a family crisis that doesn't fit in with your free time for skyping. Be flexible and open to talking when it doesn't suit, it might be necessary.
If something the other person has said or done has annoyed you, just come out with it. You know how they always say married couples shouldn't go to bed on an argument? Well it's the same principle even when you're thousands of miles apart. Often they don't even know you're annoyed but just saying it out loud can ease the problem.
Make the effort
There's no debating - relationships are built on the effort you make and the time and love you put into them, if you can't be bothered to call and catch up or to listen to their problems every now and again then you can't expect them to return the favour. Friendship and family are a two way thing, let down your end and you can't be sure the other end will still work.
Don't forget the small gestures
Sometimes it can just take a thoughtful tweet or Facebook message to make a person's day, things like wishing them a "Happy World Elephant Day" because you know it will make them smile. Or sending them a message to say how proud of them you are for passing an exam or coping with something big by themselves - remember to do the small things.
Don't go changing
Travel has a huge impact on your life and you can't deny it changes your priorities, but don't let it change who you are as a person. Remember the people who were with you from the start and don't forget to value them even when you're swept up in meeting new people and making new friends.
Have you lost touch with friends at home? What's your preferred way of keeping in contact with friends and family? Do you prefer to message all the time or save it for a big catch up?
I had a pretty intense chat with a friend recently, he was going through a bit of a tough time and had lost his travelling way for a little while. It happens to us all when we get settled in one place for too long - we get antsy, frustrated, feel the need to escape but don't know where to turn next which can leave some people feeling pretty alone. I know because I went through the same thing at around the same time - it's the trouble with having a travelling soul, you're always looking for the next adventure. Most of the time that's amazing, but if that feeling hits you when you're stuck working somewhere and have to wait to leave, it can be a killer to your mood. After several people I was really close with left Darwin to start their next adventure, I was pretty down and sick of life there - don't get me wrong, the city had been an amazing home for me for three months and is full of memories for me. But it was the longest I had spent in one place since starting travelling - while that was just what I needed to start with, it soon became suffocating as more and more people left. I know my friend felt much the same, he was struggling to see why he was still there because he too had never planned to stay as long - he had just fallen in love with the place and the people, as had I.
At the time, I found our conversation hard to hear and talk about, but now - since moving on, it keeps coming flooding back to me and I can't help but remember one phrase in particular. "When you're travelling, you're never alone, but you're always lonely." The way my friend came out with that really surprised me, he's the life and soul of the party and everyone loves him so much, he always puts in every effort and will do anything for his friends. But it just shows you that even the ones who are the centre of so many people's worlds can be lonely and struggle sometimes. I could totally understand what he was talking about after speaking to another close friend who said: "You form these intense and beautiful bonds with people, but you never really have a lasting connection with those around you because people always leave." I couldn't put it anymore perfectly myself - I've felt this so many times when I've met people and fallen in love with their character, personality and soul. I've fallen head over heels for the moments we've shared and the things we've experienced together. Then just days or even hours later, we part ways and sometimes never see each other again.It's a hard thing to adapt to and I think that's why me and my friend were feeling down - we were both so used to being the people who leave and go on to something more exciting to distract us from the sadness of what we have left behind. This time, we were some of the last ones of our gang there and we felt the pain and the loss of every single bright spark who made our time in Darwin as special as it was. I totally understand where my friends were coming from but I can't help but disagree about the part after people leaving - it can feel like that at times when you're constantly moving from place to place and don't get a chance to spend more than a few days together. But there have also been so many times where I have seen it proven how amazingly travellers can come together to create a family that cares for each other no matter what. I saw it when I was in the crash in Cambodia and friends who were scattered across Asia and beyond went out of their way to check I was okay and to even come and look after me until they were happy I was safe enough for them to move on. I saw it in Darwin when something awful happened to a friend of mine and the whole gang rallied around, they did so much by just being there and it just showed how close we all were after just days of knowing each other. I know that I could call on so many of my travelling friends day or night, if every I were in trouble, or just needed a chat, they would be there.
It's been nearly four months but I still speak to friends I met on the East Coast on a regular basis and am even making plans to be reunited with some of them soon. It's been nine months since I met one of my most special gangs back in Thailand and I still speak to them every few weeks and even FaceTime despite us all being scattered around the globe now. It's an amazing feeling to know you have so many connections across the world and is easily one of my favourite things about travelling - these friendships are so special and I treasure them so much. This morning I woke up to around 30 messages from old and new friends and it really showed me that even when I'm working in the middle of nowhere, these friends don't just forget you. Yes, there are lonely times when travelling - but they're also the times that really shape you as a person and teach you the important life skill of being on your own and actually enjoying it. There is no light without dark, and as much as there are times when you will feel completely alone, there are times when you will be overrun with people and friendships that will last a lifetime. The important thing is to recognise in other travellers what point they are at in their own journey - be kind and be what others need you to be. When we're on the road it is more important than ever to look after each other and to support each other - don't leave anyone lonely, don't push anyone away. We all need a little family sometimes. The sights are important, but it's the people that make the real memories.
Have you struggled with feeling alone while travelling? Have you found that perfect travelling gang of friends? Do you manage to stay in contact with other travellers along the way?
We had the most amazing time in Surfer's Paradise, but make no mistake, it was one of the least amazing places we visited on the East Coast. The actual town was reminiscent of Blackpool or equally flash seaside towns, but the hostel we stayed at remains one of my favourites in Australia. It really proves just how important the people you meet affect your experience of a place - they make it or break it - and how different your experiences of travelling can be as a result. I've been very lucky and met some amazing people on my travels - but the highest concentration of awesome people in one hostel had to be in Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort and has only just been recently beaten by my new home at Dingo Moon Lodge in Darwin. The only difference? I've had over a month here to develop this family, back at Surfers it was just three days! When you're this far away from home though, it becomes more important than ever to form these bonds with people and to create your own family on the road.I loved the hostel instantly, we had a warm welcome from the staff who were also all staying there, and were invited to join the 6pm volleyball game that took place every day - it was a great way to get everyone together and having fun. We met pretty much everyone instantly and the motel vibe of the hostel was great for providing places to hang out, with a bar, shared kitchen and seated area right by the volleyball court and a pool tucked away in the corner. Our days were spent lazing at the beach which was a ten minute walk away - although I wouldn't get your hopes up too much for this beach, it's definitely nothing compared to Byron Bay. And when we were there it was pretty windy and we struggled to find a sheltered spot where we wouldn't get sand blown into our faces. But it was nice to spend a few hours down there with the gang, playing games in the sand and tanning.The nights were when the hostel came alive, everyone would cook huge dinners together, play volleyball, and then have drinks around the table. Sometimes we ended up going out in the town which was full of okay bars - but we always had a fantastic night because of the people we were with. Our best night out had to be the final one together when we all joined in the weekly pub crawl on the same night of the New South Wales vs Queensland State of Origin match. Now for someone who isn't usually into watching sport, I was getting very over excited about State of Origin, the last match I had seen was when I was in New South Wales so naturally I had supported them and been bitterly disappointed. Now I was over the border, I decided to switch alliances and we had the whole pub crawl and the rest of Vanity bar going crazy over the game. It was a brilliant atmosphere and we had so much fun, after seeing Queensland smash New South Wales, we moved on to a series of other bars eventually ending up in Sin City. As usual, the bars were distinctly average but it was the huge gang of people we were with that made the night completely hilarious. Sadly the next day we all parted ways as Mark and I headed further up the coast to Brisbane and they moved on to new places.
Have you found the perfect hostel family? Why do you think we forge such close bonds so quickly when on the road?
In my seven months of travelling I've been lucky enough to experience travelling with all types of people from all walks of life, many of them I know I never would have met if it weren't for my decision to travel. I've travelled with friends from home, I've travelled with friends I've just met, with natives of the countries I've visited, with two-week holidaymakers and long-term backpackers, and most importantly, I've travelled by myself. Now, after months of flitting between travelling with groups of friends and going it alone, I'm facing a whole new challenge of travelling with one other person for an extended period of time. It sounds crazy, but the longest I've travelled with anyone until now is just four weeks, not two whole months, and I always had the option to go off and do my own thing. Other backpackers will understand, it is different to travel with someone from home to travelling with people you meet on the road - there are greater expectations and more demands placed on you. Suddenly you are a travelling couple rather than the solo traveller you're used to being. It can be wonderful in so many ways to travel with another person, but you can't deny it takes a slight adjustment period when you are used to complete independence.
So say, like me, you've been travelling by yourself for six months, facing all kinds of situations head on, organising every visa, every ticket and every overnight bus alone. Then suddenly, you have someone else with you who wants to be involved with every decision and plan. It can be difficult at first to let someone else take control from time to time, but don't forget there can be so many bonuses from having someone else there to lighten the load and take the pressure of from time to time. All you need is a little voice in your head to remind you when you need to let things slide a little bit and let someone else take the reigns. I've spoken to a few backpackers in the same situation lately and the same things are brought up again and again. "I feel like I have to look after him all the time and introduce him to people" or "I just never have any space of my own", even "she doesn't want me to be friends with everyone, just her". While it's okay to get frustrated at times, it's always important to deal with the problem as soon as it crops up rather than letting it become an issue - but how do you do this?
Remember how awesome they are
It's easy to forget in the little annoyances how much you love your travel buddy - whether it's your boyfriend, girlfriend, best mate or someone you've known since university. Just remember when you're feeling irritated, because you will get annoyed at some point, that there is a reason you asked them to come and join you! Reminisce over all those times you laughed until a little bit of pee came out, about those crazy nights out - then go out and make some more memories!
Allow for their feelings too
Don't forget that they are coming out to meet someone who they think is super cool for having travelled by themselves for so long. It can be intimidating to join your mate in their group of buddies because you feel like you have to impress the group - don't put too much pressure on them, they'll already be doing it to themselves. Particularly if this is the first time they will have backpacked - remember how you felt when you first came away!
Appreciate that everyone needs their own space
This applies to both of you - always remember that just as much as you like to have some time to yourself to pluck your eyebrows and play Candy Crush on your phone, they probably want some time to flick through Tinder and listen to music. Everyone needs space - for me, I like to have some quiet time to write blogs for you lovely lot, while Mark likes to catch up on sport and the news. His stuff couldn't bore me more, and he's not very interested in blogging unless it's about him - so it works well.
If something the other person has said or done has bugged you for more than 24 hours, it might be a good idea to say something. Some people might think this causes more problems than it needs to, but I think it's always best to get it out of your system so you can get on and enjoy your day. Often the other person hasn't even realised you are bothered by what they said or did and will happily apologise. Be a grown up about it and it won't turn into a row.
Stop being a control freak
It's hard to stop taking control when it comes to planning and booking your trip, but just remember that as soon as the other person arrives it's no longer just your trip - now it's their trip too. You're so used to organising everything but this is one of the benefits of travelling with someone - they can take the pressure off and book flights for you or choose a hostel. It's fun to do it all together, and it can be lovely after six months of planning to sit back and let someone else do the work.
My best piece of advice - just enjoy every second, from sleeping in the airport together to dragging your sorry drunk arses home to bed just hours before a white water rafting trip. It's all important and will become some of the greatest travel memories you will have. Travelling with another person creates a bond closer than just friendship and you will remember your trip together as long as you live - remember it for all the right reasons, not because you were arguing over something silly. Trust me, you'll miss them when they're gone and you have to go back to doing laundry with strangers and have to make friends at every hostel.
Who is your favourite travel buddy and why? Have you travelled with a friend or partner - how did it go? Do you prefer travelling solo or with a buddy?
Phuket Town really started to feel like home for me. Why? Why this place in particular? Out of all those beautiful tropical islands? Well it's because this is the first place, and the first time in nearly a month that I had good enough wifi to be able to actually catch up with friends and family from home. It's amazing how quick the time goes here, and with rubbish Internet, I've just kept busy and coped with the odd email to catch people up on what I've been doing. Even sending pictures of what I had been doing to my family had been impossible! Thankfully it had been a busy few weeks and I'm lucky, I'm not the sort of girl who gets homesick. I can honestly say I haven't once pined for home during my time here, but I have missed telling my friends and parents about all the exciting and cool things I've seen and done. I love sharing the experiences with them and it makes things all the more amazing by doing so, I enjoy reliving the experience and excitement through telling them about it.
So you can imagine my excitement, when with the seven hour time difference, I finally managed to get get hold of my best friends from home on FaceTime after attempting for several days in a row. It's so difficult when I am seven hours ahead, I means I either try to contact when they are at work, or I have to wait until after a night out, when it is the early hours of the morning for me and all I want is to go to bed and get away from the mosquitoes. Plus with my phone out of action, it's even harder to reach them quickly, thank god I brought my iPad along with me - it's been a saviour! So after spending a few hours FaceTiming my two best friends in the world, it was amazing to relive every step of my trip with them from the beginning. They've been reading, but it's not the same and I was excited to tell them about all the bits I haven't blogged about as well as all the temples, people and food.The following night, I finally managed to get hold of my parents after trying constantly for weeks with no success - it was so good to see them and to share my trip with them. It was also good to reassure them that I am okay, I am coping and having a great time, because you know how parents worry. Even better, it was good to hear about what they had been doing, just stuff like work and going to the cinema, hearings out the snow and what my grandad had been doing... To realise that normal life is still going on back at home, everyone is still living their lives - it's so easy to feel like life at home has just stopped because you're so far apart from it all. But it's so nice to know that everyone is well and happy, it becomes all the more important to you when you're around 10,000 miles away, those connections are all the more important for both sides, and you realise how precious some of those relationships really are.
It's like when you go away to university and it really makes or breaks friendships - suddenly having to put in the time and effort to nurture the relationship is something that you either want to put the time I to or you don't. If you don't, that relationship is fucked, pardon my French. Friendship and love is a two way thing, without both sides putting in their all, you can't expect it to be a success. When I went to university, I found this great, finally there was a filter on my friendships and the ones that were less good for my life ended up dropping away naturally, while the ones that were steadfast and true ended up blossoming into full blown friendships that I know will last for life. I'm talking about the girls who will stand beside me in bridesmaid dresses at my wedding, the guys who will laugh and hit festivals with me until we're in nursing homes, I'm talking about the ones who love you know matter what.
Distance is a great tool for telling which relationships are worth it, which people are as crazy about you as you are about them, and it can be the best thing for you to get space sometimes to realise quite how much you value those in your life. Every single day I have several moments where a new friend reminds me of someone from back home who means the world to me, every day I see and experience amazing things that I immediately want to share with you guys back at home and that is why I love this blog - because I can share with so many of you exactly what I'm thinking, feeling and experiencing. FaceTime means just as much, because it means maintaining all those friendships and loves on a more personal note, telling all those deepest darkest thoughts and knowing that even if things go wrong, I have an army of people back home rooting for me. Thanks guys.
What does it mean to you to have contact with home while away travelling? How do you keep in contact with your loved ones while away?
I hate goodbyes. I'm writing this just after saying goodbye to two people who have been a huge part of my travels, one in particular has become like a sister to me despite just spending a few weeks together. When travelling, especially solo, you quickly form these intensely close friendships after experiencing so many amazing things together, and before you know it, you've not actually been alone for weeks. So when the time comes to actually part ways, I won't lie, it feels really shit. Like a piece of your heart has gone with them and suddenly you have to get used to being alone on the road again. Now being alone is actually quite rare when you're travelling, it's so easy to meet people that it almost becomes difficult to get five minutes by yourself, and if, like me, you've spent several weeks travelling with groups - it is a bit of a shock to the system to head out on your own again.
Don't get me wrong, travelling solo is still the best way in my mind. I feel you get so much more out of the whole experience by challenging yourself, and it is definitely the best way to meet people because you are forced to if you ever want any kind of human contact! But that doesn't mean it gets any easier when the time comes, and it always does, to say goodbye to the friends you make. I think the hard part is knowing that it will be a long time until you are reunited, if you ever are at all. I've met people from all over the world and unfortunately I just know that for many of us, our paths will never cross again. In some ways that is good, it means we can keep the memory of our perfect meeting pristine in the time and place it happened, rather than trying to reignite the feelings and excitement we felt first time around. Who knows if some of these friendships would survive outside the initial rush of Thailand?For some, it is just the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship, and distance will never stand in the way. I know people who have later gone travelling again and used it as an opportunity to visit their travel friends at their homes across Europe, America, Australia or even Asia. What better excuse to catch up and visit than starting a whole new adventure travelling across the globe? It's quite amazing really, considering how short a time you spend with some people how big an impression they can make upon you - that they can leave such a hole when you part ways. If you're like me, the kind of person who throws themselves into everything with all their heart and soul, then you'll feel it even more when you have to say goodbye. The rule has always been the harder you go, the bigger the comedown afterwards. But if I wasn't the kind of person to throw myself off the highest diving board, I wouldn't make the friends I make and I would have had half the experiences I have had.
So yes the goodbyes are horrible. No they don't get any better. Yes there will be tears at some point. But that's okay, it's okay to feel a bit sad and rubbish sometimes, if you didn't you obviously didn't care that much in the first place. It doesn't mean you are ungrateful for travelling or anything like that, it just means you have a heart and everyone has down days. When you're travelling for as long as I am, it would be ridiculous to feel 100% ecstatic every single day, and no one would believe you anyway. So embrace the sadness for a little while, then get up and get on with it, get yourself out there and meet a whole load of awesome new people and do some awesome new things. They won't ever replace the people who are home, but they can sure as hell give it a good go!
How do you cope with goodbyes? Any top tips for solo travellers who are forced to part ways with new friends?
Of course, I couldn't leave the chilly shores of Ye Olde England without a good old shindig to party with all the people most special to me - and how better to celebrate that by taking them all back to the 90's?! I love a good party and I love when people go all out, dress up and have a fabulous time together - so I insisted on a nineties theme - with plans for decorations and all sorts. It was an amazing night, everyone made such a HUGE effort on the costume front, particularly all the boys who never do dress-up - it really made all the difference and we had some seriously good ideas. Among the costumes we had two Ginger Spice's, one half of Dumb & Dumber, some 90's chavs, a bit of grunge and Clueless, Mrs Doubtfire, Wayne's World, Hunter S Thompson from Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, The Big Lebowski, Ali G, Buzz Lightyear and loads more! Talk about a great mix, and I made sure the house was decorated with posters of music, TV stars and films from the 90's, some great cassette tape bunting I found on eBay. We had a soundtrack of pure 90's music and plenty of 90's sweets like sherbet dips, flying saucers and lollies. But what made it the most special was having so many of my favourite people there - I'm so happy so many could make it and to have spent a night partying with them all. Of course, I too dressed up for the party - finally achieving my wish of becoming Princess Jasmine from Aladdin (one of my favourite Disney movies from the era) - and if you can't be a princess at your own party, when can you? I found this great costume online for less than £20, despite it being exactly the same as a £70 version! If you have a party like this, or any fancy dress theme its always worth shopping around for fancy dress online - when I was at university I was a bit of a pro at this - so many shops stock exactly the same outfits under different names/labels and at very different prices - and there is always one with a sale on! I loved my costume, and added some gold sparkle make-up and a bit of bling and I was ready to go.Of course, there was also a sad side to the party - it was so hard to say goodbye to my closest friends and there were some tears. I was proud I actually managed to hold it together during the party, but was a bit of a mess the next day. It's hard to say goodbye to those closest to you, even when you know you are making the right decision. My mum keeps reminding me that it's a very different world now and when people go travelling, they don't really go away. That there's no waiting for the post to arrive with hopes of a letter saying all is well, now you can Skype, Whatsapp, email, text, write... You can be in contact constantly if you want - it is harder than ever to go off the radar and with social media it is so easy to share every step of your journey. She's right, I know that wherever I am in the world and however long I have been away, that I can instantly get in contact with my family or friends if I need or want to. If something happens and any of us need to talk or just to see each other's faces, it will be possible. Just because you're 2,000 miles away, doesn't mean you have any excuse to be a bad friend.
Have you had a 90's party? Who would you dress up as? What's the hardest goodbye you've had?