I love arriving in a new place whether it’s a bustling city, a beachside resort or a mountain top town and feeling my senses tingling. I love that first sense you get of a new place, the first smells, sights and sounds that hit you, the warmth or the freshness of the air. It’s these moments that make a place real, that make it special to you, and that stay with you long after you have moved on to pastures new. I still remember the first time I set foot in Bangkok - the hot air pressed against my skin, the noise of the streets and the vendors, the smells of spices and street food mingled in the air. Ella in Sri Lanka was different, with fresh mountain air, fluffy clouds dotted along the skies and a sense of peace I had yet to find elsewhere in the country. Each place leaves a lasting impression, and those first few hours, or even first few days can really make or break how you feel about a place.
I was inspired to write this post because I’ve spent the last two days in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and it is the first place in a long time that I have felt an instant dislike to. After being high up in the mountains with fresh air and peace, Kandy has been an assault on the senses with too much traffic, too much noise and too much pollution. I’ve felt smothered here and can’t wait to leave today, to get back out into nature - back to exploring the jungle. However, I know that some of the reason I really don’t like Kandy is actually because I arrived here in a bad mood, exhausted and grumpy from travel, with a bad tummy and to a bad accommodation. The first few hours I spent here were feeling ill and wandering the streets trying to find somewhere to eat and giving up in the end. It just shows how much those first few hours or days can really shadow your impression of a place and that’s why I normally try to take control of the situation and to give myself the best opportunity to fall in love with every place I visit.
Well it’s all about making sure you throw yourself in at the deep end - whether you’re traveling by yourself or with friends or a partner, you have to get out exploring the first chance you get. By not sitting around feeling a bit lost, getting out and seeing the sights, meeting new people and really experiencing the city.
My favourite way, and one I use in every new place, is to spend the first day just walking. Especially in a new city, I love to just spend the day exploring on foot either with or without a map, this way I can get lost and find all the really cool stuff hidden away. Plus I end up learning my way around pretty quick from getting lost. I also find I talk to more random strangers and meet some great people along the way as well as getting to see the sights. I had a great day walking the length and breadth of Budapest - it was a great city for exploring on foot and I managed to see all the sights and make some new friends in a few hours.
Love running? Why not do like I sometimes do and explore a city in your running gear? I did this in Perth and had a fun day keeping fit and running around the city. Be creative with your sightseeing - I’ve spent a day exploring places on a bike or even on a segway - it’s a different way to see the city. I have a friend who really loves skateboarding and she always travels with her board, so she loves to explore every new city by skateboarding around and usually makes some friends along the way. Fancy trying it out? You can pick up skateboarding decks here.
Sometimes, especially if you are traveling solo or are pressed for time, it can be great to meet up with a traveling friend or even a new friend to be shown around a new place. When I visited Amsterdam and Berlin, I met up with old friends there from when I was living both in the UK and Australia - both friends took me under their wing and were excited to show me around their city. I had a place to stay and a tour guide, plus a great chance to catch up with friends and to see a new place. Don’t have a friend where you are going - why not try one of the many groups on Facebook to find someone who might want to host you? I’m part of a Girls Love Travel Facebook group which has almost forty thousand women from all over the world who live or are travelling all across the globe - they are always on hand for advice when travelling to a new place, keen to meet up for a drink, to show you round or even host you!
A good way to see the sights and explore a new city, if you don’t know where to begin why not join the professional tour guides? When travelling around Europe, I started using Sandemans NEW Europe Tours - they offer FREE walking tours around 18 European cities with fantastic guides who have endless knowledge and enthusiasm for their city. The tours are free but the guides work for tips and you are welcome to give as little or as much as you want - the tours were always so good that I happily 10-20 euros after my tours in Berlin and Amsterdam.
If you’re backpacking or staying in a hostel - why not take a look at the activities board and see what your hostel might be offering? Not only is it a great way to meet people and get to see the city, but it is often a lot cheaper or even free! When I was in Sydney, Australia, my hostel was fantastic for this and organised events daily including walking tours and wine and cheese nights, further down in Tasmania my hostel organised visits to the nearby mountain and museums for much cheaper than the usual price.
Not staying in hostels? Be smart about your accommodation and make it part of the experience! Renting out a house or apartment for your trip is a different way to experience the destination. Rental companies are making that option easier and safer, from AirBNB to CasaGo, you're sure to find somewhere that is perfect for you, and will give you a taste of the local culture.
How else do you like to explore a new city? Where will you be exploring next?
It's about time I gave you guys a little life update - those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter may already know about my plans, but for those who don't I'm sure you can guess they include travel! When I came back from Australia, the first question everyone asked me was 'What next?' - they just knew how incredible my experiences had been and couldn't imagine I could settle back into life at home. At the time, I had no immediate plans but knew I would be returning to Australia in the autumn, this gave me just long enough to spend time with all the people I've missed so much over the last year-and-a-half and to take on some freelance work at the newspaper to earn a few £££ while I was back in the UK. I started out at a relaxed pace with a few days freelance work each week - plenty to pay the bills and save - and plenty of time to work on this blog and catch up with friends. If I had only thought about the kind of person I am, I would have realised there was no way things would remain this chilled.
Instead I've ended up taking on so much extra freelance work that I'm working full time hours across six newspapers lately - this is great money but it has eaten into my time to spend with friends and family. Typical me, especially when you add in that I've been trying to squeeze in as many blog reviews/events and working with as many brands as possible during my time in the UK. I've never been a stand still and let life happen to you kind of gal, I prefer to go out and seize the day in any way I can. While I was away I was contacted with so many amazing opportunities, but they were all based in the UK so I wanted to make the most of them while I was back over here. It's a really exciting time for this blog and I'm so happy to see how it has grown since I first started travel blogging. Some of my most incredible news yet is that I have been invited on my first press trip as a blogger - more to come on that later - and I couldn't be more excited about it! To actually be recognised enough as a travel blogging brand to be approached for a press trip is amazing and more than I could have ever dreamed of at this stage.I've been pretty busy in the last two years despite travelling and, often, working full time along the way. I've worked with some incredible brands during this time including some well-known names such as Durex and The Flight Centre, with plenty more coming up. I hosted an Instagram takeover for Travelex UK and have worked with some amazing travel and technology brands plus I've featured in a lot of articles by brands and bloggers alike. I've recently guest posted on some amazing websites and written pieces for brands including Base Backpackers. I've been invited to some amazing events such as the Blogosphere Magazine Summer Party, and reviewed some incredible restaurants and hotels. I also have one very exciting announcement coming up that cannot be revealed until September, and some very exciting partnerships for later in the year - all very hush-hush at the moment but I can't wait to share them with you. It's safe to say all my hard work is really paying off and I'm so happy to see more people enjoying my content than ever before.
So what is my big news?
Well despite having just returned from two weeks in Santorini, it's just a few days until I'm off again! I've currently waiting for my second year visa for Australia to be approved, so in the meantime I've decided to explore some parts of Europe I haven't yet had the chance to while catching up with some of my travelling friends. I was already planning a trip to Bulgaria for a reunion with some of the best travelling friends I have made - trust me, we have matching tattoos to prove it! The five of us made some serious memories after we all crossed paths back in February last year when we were all exploring Thailand - two amazing weeks spent on Koh Phanang and Koh Tao together. We're talking a lot of partying and the infamous Half Moon Party, boat trips, markets, food, ladyboy shows and a LOT of fun. I can't wait to reunite with the others in a whole new country and explore together, despite having been to Bulgaria years ago I'm looking forward to experiencing a bit more of the local culture.
When we started planning the trip, I had in my mind I would Euro-hop a bit by myself after, not expecting to be invited on a press trip to Slovenia a few days later. In the end, my trip almost planned itself. From Monday, I'll be spending around a month away, starting with just under a week in Bulgaria then a few days in Berlin, heading to Slovenia for the press trip for five days. Then I'll move on to Budapest - a place I have long wanted to visit - before finishing up in the Netherlands, with a few days staying with a friend in Amsterdam followed by a visit up north to see my Melbourne flatmate. It's going to be a pretty amazing trip mixed between catching up with a group of friends, travelling solo, experiencing my first press trip with other bloggers and visiting both friends from home and those I have met around the globe. A perfect combination if you ask me. And I'll round it off nicely with a few days in London which will be spent reviewing hotels and restaurants. It'll be totally different to my previous trip and I'm looking forward to trying something new and experiencing a whole new world. I'm quite excited for the feeling of rocking up in a hostel in a new city and not knowing a soul - after making so many friends in Australia that became hard to do after a while!
Thanks so much to everyone who has offered me a place to stay, a tour guide, recommended places to stay/eat and things to do - you're all getting me so excited! If you have any other suggestions please leave a comment and I'll add them to my list! And of course, I hope you'll join me every step of the journey right here!
Have you traveled Europe - what were your highlights? Any ultimate hostel experiences to share or unusual activities to try?
Something a bit juicier today for my second collaboration with Durex, it seems only right that I write about something that happens to all of us backpackers at one point or another during our travels. Much like eating a bug in Bangkok or missing a flight is a rite of passage, so is waking up in the night to find someone is banging in the bunkbed next to you. Some find it gross, some find it hilarious, but let's face it, it does make for some funny stories over a beer with your friends. Let's face it, backpackers have limited places they can go for a little privacy in dorms of ten and they have to find ways to at least pretend they're hiding what they're up to - cue the towel hung up around the bed, the muffled whispers and giggles. That's why we always wear flip flops in the showers guys, we know what goes on in them! But no matter how people try and hide it, we have all had the moment when we've walked in on someone or even had to walk out to save ourselves from the embarrassment as a newfound couple forgets who else is in the room. After talking with friends I've met travelling, it seems that everyone has their hilarious, cheeky or downright gory stories. So I think it's about time we shared some gems:
I was at Gilligan's hostel in Cairns with two friends and one night, two Dutch girls came back late each bringing with them a guy and started to get it on. We were all on top bunks, and couples were at it on two of the bottom bunks which started swaying. We could hear everything, including the wet slappy sex sounds. My friend made enough noise in disgust that the couple below her moved to the shower where we could just hear a loud thumping as the girl kept hitting up against the door. The couple below me continued so loudly I had to switch bunks, luckily our friend had spare ear plugs. When we got up at 8am, the shower couple were done, but the other couple were still/again going at it. They had put a towel up as a curtain, but we just kept getting flashes of the couple in all their doggy-style glory.
One of my friends was hooking up with this guy she had met in the hostel - the only problem was that his bunk bed was right below mine. I'd wake up at all hours to hear them making out really loudly and rocking the bed - I'd always shout at them but it took a lot to stop these guys! In the end I had no choice but to ride the waves and wait it out with my headphones in.
I'll always remember the time I was in Byron Bay. I was on the bottom bunk and half asleep when in the early hours the guy staying above me stumbles into the room with two girls. I realise, after hearing them giggling and their insanely loud whispering, that they plan to have a threesome in the top bunk. Inside I'm screaming "Noooooooooo!" In reality, they are climbing up the shaky bunkbed and I've got my earphones in trying to drown them out but I just keeping hearing these ridiculously loud whispers and giggles which go on forever.
I'm getting so annoyed that finally I get up at 6am because all hopes of sleep are long gone. I'm so annoyed at the guy but actually end up being mates with him, and one night his friend makes a comment about him not being good with the ladies. So I retaliate with "he seems to do alright" pointedly about the other night, and he spills the beans. It turns out these two girls had been lurking outside after their original threesome guy had done a runner, my bunkmate had jokingly offered his bed and when they took him up on it he ended up freaking out - he got too excited and then passed out! I felt bad for him then!
I remember when I was in Sydney there was a video doing the rounds at my hostel of this girl who seemed to be making her way through every guy in the place. Let's just say one of the guys she hooked up with sneaked into the showers where she was spreadeagled across the floor at it and filmed it under the door. A bit mean, but pretty funny!
I had a friend who hooked up with this guy in Cuba and while they were at it they knocked a plate and cup over. When she stood up to leave, she sliced her foot open and it was pouring blood, grabbing all of the white towels she limped all the way back to our room. She was still wearing her clubbing clothes from the night before and was clutching bloody towels to her foot as she passed all the tourists, families and elderly couples along the way - ultimate walk of shame! When she got back to the room we all thought she was about to die because there was so much blood - talk about memorable!
I had a friend in Colombia who met this guy, but they decided they didn't want to head back to the hostel. Instead, they got a taxi driver to take them to a hotel, which turned out to be a pay-by-the-hour in pesos motel. When they went to their room, the motel turned out to have themed rooms and mirrored ceilings, with no sheets on the bed - classy! It didn't stop them from having a good time though!
I'll always remember my one really wild night when I was staying in Darwin - we'd been out all night at a rave and then partying at the hostel. It was nearly 8am and most people had drifted off to bed but I ended up meeting this French girl who wasn't even staying at the hostel, she seemed pretty keen so we thought we'd go for a swim. One thing led to another and we started to hook up in the pool, then one of the staff shouted at us to get out of the pool and for her to leave - we ran off and I lost her. It turns out she had disappeared off to another room where she woke up the entire room by shagging another guy as loudly as possible. She eventually came out of the room then tried to drag me off to the laundry room for round three!
If you liked this post - you should check out this one from Durex about the best spooky castle hotels to get hot under the collar in. And if you've got any other great stories to share - why not leave a comment below!