There's nothing like planning your next big road trip and the last few years have given me a real taste for the open road. Last summer saw me working to convert a van into an awesome camper for an epic three week road trip around Europe and while I've shared a few posts on where we visited, I wanted to explain the route we chose. It can be so intimidating to plan a big trip, especially when you have to think about camping spots, food, fuel and lots of other factors. But honestly, taking a road trip is one of my favourite ways to travel and it's super cost effective if you're traveling on a budget. I've taken road trips all over the world and I've found it to be one of the most fun, and affordable, ways to travel.
When it comes to traveling Europe, it's a perfect way to explore when so many countries are so easily accessible. At the time of my trip, I was living in Germany, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to take our van on an epic trip to lots of new countries and cities we had never visited before. We wanted to choose a blend of city and countryside, of lakes and mountains, to ensure we had the best possible experience. It still remains one of the best road trips I've ever done and I can't recommend the route we took enough. We ended up traveling just under 3,600km in a loop through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, even spending a night in France along the way.
This stretch was one of my favourites but also included a lot of driving. We drove seven hours overnight from Hamburg to Saxon Switzerland National Park and arrived there for sunrise, after a kip in the van, we headed out exploring and spent a day in the park. We found a place to park up for the night and slept at the park, before spending some time hiking and exploring. Once we had seen everything, we headed to Dresden. An afternoon was a perfect amount of time to see all the sights in Dresden and to catch some afternoon sunshine before driving to Prague.
We spent a full and busy day exploring Prague and while we could have easily spent longer there, it was enough time to see the sights and enjoy the city. We spent another night at a campsite just south of the city, but enjoyed cocktails with friends who were also visiting there. The next day, we took a lazy drive to Vienna, stopping off to see some sights in the Czech countryside. Then we spent the next day walking around beautiful Vienna in the sunshine and gorging ourselves on Viennese desserts and pastries. After a lazy afternoon by the river, we hit the road and arrived late at night in Attersee where we camped out by a lake and spent much of the next day sunbathing and picnicking by the water. A slow afternoon drive to Salzburg to check out the city before heading on to Munich.
It was a packed itinerary until now, but our goal was to get to Munich where we were visiting family and had a place to stay for a few days. Cue parking up the van and heading out on bikes exploring the city of Munich from the gardens and the architecture, to the breweries and food markets. After that, we headed on our way towards the border of Germany, Austria and Switzerland where the mountain ranges stood, and we visited Zugspitze. Taking cable cars up into the mountains where there was snow at the top, but it was 30 degrees down at the base. We spent an afternoon there before camping for the night and heading the next morning to Neuschwanstein Castle – best to get here early to beat the crowds.
Leaving behind the beautiful castle, it was time to take an unplanned detour through Liechtenstein which turned out to be the best part of our trip! A tiny country and easy to road trip in a day, it's perfect to add to your itinerary. We drove to Vaduz and then through the winding mountain roads (read about our day in Liechtenstein here). Then we headed on to Zurich where we spent an afternoon walking the lakes and city, trying delicious hot chocolate and cheese fondue.
From Zurich, it was a few hours to Basel and well worth planning this charming city into your trip. Plus you can easily head over the border and into France from here, we actually spent a night in France on our trip. Just a few hours is plenty to see Basel and indulge in a few treats from the various chocolate shops around. We camped for the night at a beautiful lakeside campsite – definitely look out for these and try to book in advance as they get very booked up during the summer months. The next day, after a few hours by the lake, we drove to the Black Forest where we headed to Triberg for the waterfalls and some Black Forest Gateaux. We spent the night camping at another lovely campsite before starting our drive to Frankfurt the next day, taking a slow drive and stopping off at lakes to swim along the way. Our final day was spent driving the long stretch back up to Hamburg – this could easily be broken up by stopping along the Fairytale Road to see castles along the way.
The beauty of this road trip itinerary is that it can so easily be changed and modified to suit you. In our case, we had a fast paced journey at the beginning with lots of driving so we could spend more time relaxing in southern Germany. But you could easily spend more time in Prague and Vienna, and spend just a day or two in Munich before heading to Switzerland. You could even skip one of the countries to spend more time in the ones that you're most excited to explore.
The beauty of a road trip is that the world is your oyster, you can chop and change your route, you can plan it out completely, you can make it up as you go along. It's up to you! We planned out a lot of our route before we went, we had names saved for campsites just in case, but we also changed a lot of our route along the way. We ended up staying at totally different campsites, we even sneakily free camped in a few spots, and we added in a few extra places along the way.
If you fancy combining the open road with a boat holiday or yacht charter, you could extend your trip and book Zizoo boat rental across several European destinations, including Croatia, Greece, Spain, France, Italy and many more. It could be the perfect way to take a break from driving, while still enjoying a relaxing holiday.
For those who work while traveling and require safe browsing whether they're on the road, or staying in hotels, I'd suggest using a virtual private network (VPN). Nobody wants their banking info or credit card numbers to get stolen by hackers when they're on holiday, so protect yourself against risk. For more information about how VPNs work and which one is the best one for you, check out this beginner's guide: https://proprivacy.com/
Have you been on a road trip around Europe? Which countries would you like to visit? What are your best road trip tips?
It can be pretty difficult to come up with the perfect Christmas gift ideas, but even more so when the person you want to spoil lives out of a suitcase. When your life is reduced to baggage allowance, you're forced to give up a life filed with material possessions and instead focus on experiences. It's a beautiful way to live your life, focusing on what is really important, but that's also why female travelers are some of the people it is hardest to buy for. If you want to treat that special friend or loved one in your life, you need to take a step back and look at she really values. Don't get distracted by shiny rubbish or fast fashion, instead take inspiration from her sustainable life choices and choose a Christmas gift she will treasure and use all the time. Here are my gift ideas for the female traveler in your life - if she's anything like me, she'll love these thoughtful presents.
This is one of my favourite gifts to give - the gift of creating beautiful memories together. I always love getting people experience gifts, and I love receiving them too. It's always such a great way to surprise people, whether it's with tickets to a gig or dining out at a favourite restaurant. Another great idea is to plan a day trip for the two of you, after all, if she's traveling a lot of the time, it's a great way to make time to really catch up. I love taking my mum or my besties out for afternoon tea or cocktails and an afternoon of chatting about all the things we've missed. If you have a bigger budget to work with, why not go all out and book a surprise trip for the two of you? It could be a great way to share an experience to remember, and to share her traveling experiences. Struggling for ideas? You could look on Red Letter Days or Groupon for ideas and deals.
Us traveling gals love anything that makes our lives easier and our bags lighter. Why not give her a really useful gift that she'll use all the time, and every time she picks it up, she'll think of you and smile. It could be anything from noise-cancelling headphones to help her sleep on the plane, to an iPod or MP3 filled with all her favourite songs, to a Kindle filled with new books to keep her entertained on long travel days. Don't have much money? You could go for a thoughtful Christmas gift and create a memory stick filled with movies, music and more to keep her entertained on long journeys. Flush with cash? Why not splash out on a iPad or somewhere she can store all of her travel photos and edit them, or a new camera for capturing every moment? I really recommend the Olympus Pen - not only is it travel-sized but it takes DSLR-quality pics, I never leave home without it!
If you really want to spoil her and show how thoughtful you can be, why not purchase a luxury fragrance for her? I always make space in my suitcase for perfume and it's a great way to transport her back to her travels even when she's at home. Pay attention to her travel stories and listen out for a place that has really meant a lot to her, a place that has touched her heart. For me, it's Thailand and the scent of frangipani and jasmine and spices mixed with coconut. You could have a perfume mixed especially for her, with all her favourite scent memories and amaze her with your Christmas gift buying prowess. Small budget? Look for a fragrance that already has some of her favourite scents in it and buy her that one. For those with a bit more money to spend, look for luxury perfumes for women for a special fragrance that will make her feel like she's just stepped off the plane on her latest adventure.
When your wardrobe is as big as your suitcase, you're very limited and cut-throat on what takes up your baggage allowance. Female travelers are much more likely to invest in useful clothing items they know will last them for years to avoid wasting money on replacing items when they wear out. Clothes want to be stylish, but also functional and easy to style in a range of looks. Think a great pair of sandals or walking shoes depending on whether she's more of an active or luxury traveler. Think of her comfort, long bus rides and fights can get draughty with chilly air conditioning, why not pick her up a cashmere scarf or jumper to throw on? If she's quite the active and practical gal, you could find her a good travel jacket with plenty of pockets, or a bag that will do the job for a carry-on. There are so many great options, but it all comes down to her personal style.
This is such a great gift, instead of giving a thing, why not use that money to book flights to spend time together? Whether that means paying for her to fly home and visit family and friends, or you buying a flight out to visit her in her latest home. My sister and I are doing this for Christmas, I'm spending her Christmas gift money on buying a flight to go and visit her at home, while she books flights to come and visit me in Hamburg. With other friends, I have plans to buy flights to meet them halfway and explore a new place together as a mutual gift this year.
If you're looking for a Christmas gift for that special gal in your life, I hope these ideas help! Now is the time to get shopping and beat the festive rush to find something to show the female traveler in your life how much you love, and value her friendship this Christmas.
What's the best gift you've ever received? Do you prefer experiences or things as gifts? What's the worst gift you've ever received?
I've been desperately trying to hold myself back from posting this one until now, but now it's finally time to share our exciting travel plans with you all! I've hinted on social media but held back the final itinerary while we finalised our plans, but now it's official, I have left Hamburg on a three week road trip across Europe and I couldn't be more excited to share this with you all. Those of you who follow this blog will have seen the renovation of our Sprinter van into a camper van for road tripping. Now I can tell you the reason we worked on it so quickly was because we were already planning this amazing trip!
The plan is to drive around 3,000km during the three weeks and to see as many new places as possible and we really wanted to make sure to really take in the amazing German countryside along the way. It will be the first time I have ever visited any of these places, and I'm excited to be taking in a real mixture of stunning European countryside and beautiful old cities. I love culture, heritage and history and it's something I've really missed after spending so long in Australia. While Oz has it's own kind of history and heritage, it doesn't compare to the beauty of Europe's old charm, winding streets and beautiful architecture. By having Hamburg as a home base, it really has opened opportunities to travel while keeping things budget and time-friendly.
First I'll be driving from Hamburg to Saxon-Switzerland National Park on the border of the Czech Republic where I plan to spend two days exploring the stunning park. I will then drive on to visit Prague, a city I have always wanted to visit especially since my trip to Budapest. Then from Prague to Vienna, we'll spend a few days in each city before heading into the countryside. Driving through Austria, I'm also hoping to stop off in some beautiful places outside of the cities, taking in some of the gorgeous Austrian countryside. After this, we will drive to Munich where I'll be based for around a week. Time will be spent taking day trips to nearby Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria and the Austrian lakes.
Around this time I also plan to travel to Switzerland for two days to hopefully see Zurich and some of the countryside – I've always wanted to see Switzerland so I'm really excited for this – and possibly to Liechtenstein as well. The final week of the trip will see me driving back up towards Hamburg via The Black Forest and the legendary Fairytale Road which I can't wait to see after a magical trip to the forests on Rügen Island in May. I even studied fairytales as part of my literature course at university, so seeing the places that inspired such stories will be amazing. I'll be stopping in Frankfurt on the way back up to Hamburg before I start work.
As you read this, I will already be on the road and hopefully somewhere near Prague or Vienna! Naturally I'll be capturing every moment on camera and will be sharing it all with you later on, but you can keep up to date with our adventures by following me on social media – Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – where I will still be posting updates from every step of the journey. I will still be posting twice-weekly on this blog while we are away – thanks to being super organised and managing to put together lots of lovely posts for you all – so be sure to keep checking on here for all the latest from my travels. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to a few weeks on the road with no laptop – sometimes it's so necessary to just switch off for a while and to enjoy the world around you. So that's exactly what I'm going to do. Out of office on. Engage holiday mode. See you in three weeks!
Last weekend I was lucky enough to have one of my most exciting collaborations with a brand yet! Combining my love of festivals with my love of fashion, I was invited to join the crowds at Wireless Festival in London, wearing all Debenhams attire as I mingled among the VIPs. I was so excited to be among the girl gang invited along for the day, a mixture of travel, fashion and beauty bloggers, each excited to be a part of such a fab event. Not only did it give me a good reason to fly home for the weekend and to catch up with friends and family, but it also gave the a perfect excuse to hit my first UK festival in years! It was a hectic weekend, filled with train, plane and bus delays and sadly I didn't even get to see my sister on her birthday thanks to the transport issues, but I'm just glad I didn't miss the festival and that I got the opportunity to see some of my favourite people.I arrived at the festival on the Sunday, excited to see what the line-up would hold, all the favourites were on there, Rick Ross, Wretch 32, Giggs and more, but everyone was waiting with bated breath to see who would be replacing DJ Khaled as the headliner for the day. He had pulled out due to "transport issues" and we were all praying Drake would be the one replacing him – I for one had been dying to see him play live since university so we all said our prayers and hoped he'd be the one to hit the stage. READ: You can check out my last Wireless Festival experience here.Debenhams had kindly allowed me to pick out an outfit and some fab trainers to wear, I naturally picked out my old favourites, Off White Canvas All Star Converse (£50.00), which are without doubt some of my favourite trainers of all time. The comfiest and the best, even for backpacking round the world. I've worn them dancing in clubs, on beaches, pacing across cities, hiking in forests and they always last me no matter what. These teamed with a gorgeous sparkly dress (Girls On Film Aion low cut back dress in metallic sequin £40.00) – because if you ask me, festivals mean glitter everythingggg! And if you can't dress up as a giant disco ball for a festival, when the heck can you? I was gutted though because sadly the pair didn't arrive in time for the festival, so I had to sub in a vintage playsuit and my old reliable Adidas trainers instead.But what lovely items did arrive? Well, everyone on my social media has been talking about the most amazing jacket I wore, blue denim with amazing fringing tassels hanging from the arms – talk about a statement piece! This Tassel Sleeve Denim Jacket (£25.00) was from Miss Selfridge via Debenhams and I absolutely love it, it's definitely holding pride of place in my wardrobe right now and will be cracked out at every available opportunity. I was just a bit sad that although I rocked it for the pics, it was then checked into the VIP cloakroom until the end of the day because the heat was too much, 31 degrees is definitely not usual UK festival weather but it did mean no jacket needed.Of course, I'm all about the fab accessories for a festival and what better to choose than a cute little backpack to store your camera and festival make-up? I chose the Parfois Black Tulum Backpack (£24.99) (similar available here) which was the perfect size for festivals – especially with the smaller than A4 size rule for some UK festivals – and held all my stuff safely out of my way for the day. Very budget-friendly and style friendly, I know I'll be using this one a LOT. This was teamed with more colour from the gorgeous Red Herring Multi Colour Feather Drop Earrings (£3.60) which were a fave item from the day, I loved how vibrant but wearable these are even for a non-festival event if teamed with a more neutral or black outfit, plus very purse-friendly to jazz up your outfit for more festival vibes.Finally, Quay Australia were seriously repped on the day, with several of us bloggers picking out a gorgeous pair of their sunglasses to wear – and with the insanely hot sun that day, they were necessary! I picked the Black Mod Star Round Sunglasses (£45.00) which are such a fab shape and are my new faves, such simple and elegant shape with lovely dark lenses, they work perfectly with every outfit and will definitely be getting worn a LOT this summer. I loved some of the great reflection pics I managed to get on the day, really showing off these gorgeous glasses and the ones chosen by the other bloggers.Of course, we're never complete without talking all about the festival hair and make-up. I arrived with my hair out on the day but quickly realised it was way too hot for hair out, so myself and a few other bloggers headed to the Schwarzkopf tent where they were offering free hair makeovers whether you preferred festival braids or any fab new style – I went for braids into space buns and they quite seriously saved me in the hot sun, I felt like a new woman after having my hair done! For make-up, I was wearing my fave Lancôme Teint Miracle foundation (06), Kat Von D Tattoo Liner, a Soap and Glory palette of eyeshadow, Pick n Glitz in Pink from Barry M and bronzer from Benefit Dallas. My perfume was also Kat Von D Saint, which has a gorgeous floral but crisp scent and comes in a fab travel-size which is perfect for slipping into your handbag!All in all, a really fab day spent surrounded by amazing and inspiring women who really reminded me why I love the blogging community so very much. I had the best time at the festival, dancing and drinking with new and old friends, and eventually getting to see Drake perform live! Even if he was only on for 20 minutes, it was still a perfect end to a really great day. I could waffle on for ages about it, but to be honest I think the pics really speak for themselves and I'm really proud of the amazing pics I managed to get to capture the day, they really do give you the best behind-the-scenes view of what we all got up to! Also, if you're lusting after any of the items I ordered, check out the website as most, if not all of these were seriously reduced in the sales and were great bargains!
I also want to say a huge shout-out to my fellow festival blogger babes who all made the day so much fun! Check out their blogs by following these links and tell them I sent you - Noelle, Luisa, Martha, Jessi, Richeal and Giulia.
Did you go to Wireless Festival? Tell me about your summer festival plans? What big events have you got coming up?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
*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!
As soon as I arrived in Germany I was excited to start planning trips, to start living again in my new home. Last month for my birthday – Rügen Island. It was somewhere I had never heard of before moving to Germany, but shortly after arriving here, a very kind travelling friend offered me her family's beautiful holiday home for a weekend and I thought what better timing than to go for my birthday! So the final weekend in May, we packed up the van and hit the road for a lovely long weekend at the seaside.
We had the most amazing weekend filled with ice cream on the beach, walking in the national park, exploring tiny towns and beautiful parks, and of course, stuffing ourselves with yummy food! I really wish I could go back and do that whole weekend all over again, I really wouldn't change a thing, it was a perfect way to spend my birthday. In this post I'm going to share all of the things we did and what I would recommend if you happen to be visiting, hopefully it will help you have a special trip and to make the most of your time there.
There is so much to do on Rügen Island, you'll be spoilt for choice! The best thing is that there is something for everyone, so whether you're away for a romantic weekend for two, or a big group holiday, everyone is sure to enjoy themselves. From the chilled beach bars and viewpoints, to the more active hikes and bike rides, you can design the holiday you want and do everything at your own pace.
There are so many lovely beaches to check out – hopefully you have good weather like we did – although I will warn you it is the Baltic Sea so don't start getting excited about swimming! We were staying in Sassnitz so we spent the most time on the east side of the island where we found some gorgeous beaches waiting for us. We had a day of beach-hopping starting from Binz and working our way through to Sellin, Baabe, Göhren and all the way south to Theissow. If you have the time on your trip, I really recommend visiting a few different beaches to get away from the crowds and see a different side to the island. Binz and Sellin are gorgeous beaches with all the cute charm of an old-fashioned seaside town, comparable to Brighton in the UK. Expect pricier accommodation and lots of bars and restaurants, as well as lots of people – these were the busiest places we visited – but they are very pretty and great for the evenings when you want to go out for dinner. The other beaches further round, especially Baabe and Göhren, are much quieter and its lovely to sit on the beach and enjoy a picnic and the uninterrupted views of the bay. Check out this article for a more detailed guide to the individual beaches.
For a really unique way to see the island, why not hop aboard the old fashioned steam train and power along the Rügensche Kelinbahn, a nostalgic nod to days gone by, from Putbus to Göhren on a 24km ride. Taking in everything from lush green forests to huge beach resorts, you'll get an eyeful when you take a ride on the fondly known, Racing Roland.
It's definitely worth taking some time to explore all the little villages and parks spread around the island during your stay. In Bergen, you'll find some pretty spectacular panoramas across the ocean, plus colourful old buildings including Benedix-Haus in the market place. Gary is close by and as the tiniest and oldest town on the island, you'll visit just to se the amazing views from the Ernst Moritz Arndt Tower. Putbus was our favourite village – originally we went there to see the beautiful palace I had read about online only to find that it had been torn down years ago – but we were pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous Insel Vilm eco-park that was waiting for us there and spent hours wandering around. If you get time to drive all the way north, I really recommend visiting Kap Arkona which is the northernmost tip of the island and boasts amazing views, a gorgeous beach and lighthouses you can climb to the top for even better panoramas.
One of my favourite parts of visiting the island was Jasmund National Park which completely took my breath away and was easily one of the most memorable places I have spent my birthday. Read all about our visit and my top tips for visiting, here.
If you love getting outside and being active, you'll be in your element at Rügen, hit the trails and go walking in Jasmund National Park or from beach to beach, or hire bikes and feel the wind in your hair as you cycle the island. There are also walking and bike tours available if you would prefer to join a group when you explore the island, or if you travel with a group and would prefer a guide to lead you around.
Everyone loves a sunset and on Rügen Island there are two places I found that will provide you with the best views in the evening. Sellin Pier is one sight you don't want to miss, so make sure you get there before the sun dips over the horizon to see it all light up. Imagine an old-fashioned, Brighton-esque pier bathed in the sun's last rays of the day and gently sparkling as its lights start to twinkle. It was a beautiful sight and a perfect place for a sunset walk before dinner. I also found out about another place called Panorama Hotel Lohme, which was up in the very north above Jasmund National Park, and boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the ocean. We didn't go to this one sadly as the weather was very cloudy and foggy on our second night on the island, but I've read great reviews and seen some beaut pics.
We came prepared and filled up the van with food for the whole weekend so we could have more of a self-catering experience and save a bit of money – we didn't know if it might be more expensive on the island. We ate our own food for breakfasts and lunches, but actually ended up eating out on both the Saturday and Sunday nights we were there. On the Saturday night, we decided to go and see Sellin Pier at sunset and realised we were both starving after a busy day, after checking out the menu for Seebrücke Sellin, we couldn't resist going in for a bite to eat. I was very impressed to find that it was actually very reasonably priced, I had expected it to be a lot more expensive, and that the food was absolutely delicious. We went for a goats cheese starter, then had the burger and a mushroom pasta, all of which were absolutely amazing and the service was great considering we walked in five minutes before they were due to shut the kitchen!
On my birthday night, we went on the recommendation of our friend who told us we had to go and eat at Rialto, an Italian restaurant in Binz which has the best pizza and ice cream. After thoroughly taste-testing, I can tell you that the pizza and ice cream are amazing!
We stayed at our friend's place in Sassnitz which was perfect – this side of the island has all the best beaches and sights, plus we were right at the entrance to Jasmund National Park. There are lots of hotels and holiday homes all over this side of the island for varying levels of luxury and price tags. I personally would recommend renting a holiday home or somewhere self-catering where you can cook your own meals or can even have barbecues in the long summer evenings. We loved having a bit more space and a place to prepare breakfast and lunches. Sassnitz is also a great way to stay close to all the action without actually having to be in busy Binz, it's still a cute little seaside town but with more of a cosy feel.
We went to visit at the end of May and the weather was gorgeous, but being close to the Baltic Sea, it is understandably harder to predict the weather. I would recommend visiting May to September for the best weather, but keep an eye on weather reports because if the weather is bad, there isn't much to do that doesn't rely on you being outside all day. Also, avoid school holidays as it is clearly a big holiday destination for families/elderly and can get busy.
There are buses and trains on the island which connect each of the little towns to each other, these are great if you don't have access to a car plus there are lots of bike paths and hiking trails if you like to keep fit. You also can access the island by bus or train from Hamburg. We drove to the island (around 3.5 hours) and throughout the weekend we used the van to get everywhere which was really helpful to make the most of our weekend. I would recommend hiring a car or driving to the island because it gives you so much more freedom to stay in more budget-friendly places and to be independent and spontaneous about your day. We would decide at a moment's notice our plans and easily went off to a new beach or town. If you rely on public transport you would be much more restricted on how much you get to see and how quickly.
Have you been to Rügen Island – what are your recommendations? Are you more of a beach or forests-lover? What summer travels have you got planned?
I'm lucky enough to travel to some truly amazing places and I'll be honest that sometimes that can mean that you become a little more immune to the wow-factor, but every once in a while, you go somewhere that restores your sense of awe to factory settings. Somewhere that really just takes your breath away and leaves you chomping at the bit to explore more of this incredible world around us. When we planned a weekend away at Rügen Island for my birthday, it was the result of a kind travelling friend who offered us a holiday home to stay in rather than a whole lot of planning. The spontaneous break was everything we both needed and much more, especially when we discovered how utterly beautiful both the island, and the national park, really were. It's not often a place leaves me speechless, but when it does, it usually comes down to the spectacle of nature because it takes something vast and powerful to really remind you what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
It may be Germany's smallest national park but Jasmund boasts some seriously spectacular views such as the famous chalk cliffs which won the heart of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich around 200 years ago. With lush forests and endless walking trails, plus the stunning coastline and beautiful beaches, Jasmund National Park has a lot to offer to anyone who ventures up to the north-east of the country in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. A UNESCO Natural Heritage site and perfect for walkers, visitors will wander through ancient beech forests dating back over 700 years – if you're wondering what all those classic fairy tales were inspired by, it had to be mystical forests like this one.Perfect for exploring by foot or bike, there are lots of different trails that will take you through the forest, or along the 8.5km routes along the cliffs which can reach up to 117m tall. At the very highest point of the national park, you will find the entrance to UNESCO Natural Heritage site Könuigsstuhl, which is German for "King's Chair" and has long played an important role in local mythology. Overlooking the Baltic Sea, on a very clear day visitors can see right across the bay to the coast of Sweden as the sun warms the famous white chalk cliffs. According to legend, the name Könuigsstuhl actually comes from ancient times when the custom was that the first to climb the cliffs from the sea and sit in the chair on the top would be elected king. You can see why – with a history like that and the natural beauty of the area – it would capture the imagination of Romantic painters.
Jasmund National Park was honestly one of the most magical and mystical places I have ever visited, I felt as though I had truly stepped into a fairytale. The ancient beech forest was filled with swirling mist and dark shadows on the day we went and as we walked through the trees, I half-expected Robin Hood and his Merry Men to come running out brandishing bows and arrows. At every turn we marvelled at the spookiness of the fog as it engulfed us and yet the vibrancy of the green of the leaves and the colours in the bark. The walk only takes around 30 minutes to the top of Könuigsstuhl, but for us it took over an hour each way because we had to keep stopping for photos and just to enjoy our surroundings. At one point we went a little off-course and started exploring part of the forest around a lake which we were drawn to by the sound of the frogs chirping in the mist, it was simply too magical to turn away from.Eventually we reached the top and had to pay the €9.50 entrance fee but of course, with the mist, we were faced with a pretty much non-existent view! We didn't let it deter us and had a good laugh about it, exclaiming loudly how wonderful the view was in front of a group of confused tourists. We decided to make the most of our visit and check out the visitor's centre which is actually great with a really interactive audio tour which is available in English and will keep the family entertained. Then we also watched the short film they offer which was really interesting and tells you more about the forest and how they protect it. But obviously we were disappointed not to see the view, so we decided the next morning we would run the same route we had just walked to see the view and not waste time repeating the day.Thankfully our last day on the island dawned sunny and bright, with clear blue skies and we couldn't wait to see the view properly. We ran the same route again and arrived out of breath but were soon rewarded by the view, which was definitely epic enough to make our running worthwhile. We had to chat our way past the gate so that we wouldn't have to pay again just for the view but a lovely woman let us through for five minutes. It was spectacular and my words won't do it justice but hopefully the pictures will. On a side note: walking through the forest on the second day was definitely not as exciting as the first time with all the mist, although still beautiful it was a lot less atmospheric. If you get the opportunity, I would really recommend checking it out on a misty or duller day, it is one of the few places I have been that is actually worth visiting more than once for a totally different experience.
Have you visited Jasmund National Park – what did you think? Have you been to any other national parks in Germany? What summer trips are you planning?
You all know by now how much I love epic festivals but sadly it's been a while since my last one. So I've teamed up with Holidays by Destination2 to talk about some of the amazing festivals around the world which could give you a travel experience to remember. Whether it's a food festival, a religious celebration or even a huge music festival. There's nothing like combining travel with epic festivals to really turn an average trip into a one you won't forget. I remember a few years back when I was invited to cover Hideout Festival in Croatia for the website I worked for, cue turning it into an epic 10 day holiday with a huge group of mates and it's definitely a trip I will always remember.
Throughout my travels I've stumbled upon all kinds of amazing local celebrations from Chinese New Year and comedy festivals, to Tamil parades and even street parties across Germany, the UK, Australia and Asia. There's something special about joining in the local celebrations, you don't just look at a new culture, you become a part of it and for me, that's what travel is all about. I've picked out six festivals from all corners of the globe that offer completely different and unique experiences. Whether you're traveling in Europe or as far as Asia, there is always a way to get involved and join the festival atmosphere. Next time you're planning a trip, why not check out what events are going on in the local area? It's a great way to meet people when you travel and to have an extra-special travel experience. Here are just some of the epic festivals that are waiting for you:
What could possibly make your trip even better than celebrating life itself? Filled with energy, vitality, the brightest costumes and colours and the intoxicating, hip-shaking sounds of Calypso and Soca music, Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is the biggest of all epic festivals in the Caribbean. I've not been lucky enough to travel to this part of the world yet but it's definitely high on my bucket list, and when I go there, I know I want to party, so how better to plan a trip than to coincide with such an epic and well-known event? The festival was originally created in the 18th century to imitate and mock the pre-Lent celebrations of the plantation owners, but took on a life of it's own following the abolishment of slavery. Head to this festival to join the greatest street parade in the world, join the revelry by dancing all day and all night, drinking in the sights and sounds of Caribbean life. Read more about the history of this event here.
Hoi An was one of my absolute favourite parts of Vietnam, such a beautiful little town with such a rich history and heritage. You can read all about my trip there in this post. I'm so sad that during my week there I didn't manage to see the lantern festival when the colourful little town comes alight and you can really appreciate it in all it's splendour. Each day once the sun sets, the villagers light lanterns as part of a centuries-old tradition for the locals to give offerings and worship their ancestors by setting the lanterns into the river. At 8pm, all the town's lights are turned off so you can really see the town aglow. The best time to go is the first full moon of the lunar new year when the most people will gather, but the event does happen every month so its an easy one to fit in with your travels.
Some of you might not know but my dad's side of the family come from Mauritius, and although I have been to visit twice, I haven't been for around 10 years. I would love to go back and see how the country has changed since I last visited, and what better time to go than when the biggest Hindu festival outside of India is taking place? When we're talking epic festivals, Maha Shivaratri lasts a whopping five days and see nearly 500,000 people (almost half the population of the Indian Ocean island) dressing in white and joining a procession towards the lake of Grand Bassin. Celebrating the victory of Shiva and Vishnu on Brahma, the pilgrims consider the lake to be an extension of the Ganges, making offerings and bathing in the water. Visitors will be treated to quite a sight and will also have the opportunity to admire one of the tallest statues in the Indian Ocean
Another Hindu festival but this time in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I was back in November. We had just one day in the city but made sure to visit the Batu Caves which were astounding. During Thaipusam the celebrations attract over a million people who gather in the city and join a procession which walks the 15km to the caves, taking around 8 hours. Quite a sight, and the festival normally attracts around 10,000 tourists. Looking for epic festivals in Asia? This one is all about putting your body through torture to appease the Lord, so we're talking incredible body piercings using hooks, sewers and small lances – when it comes to crazy festivals I think this one is definitely up there and I can't imagine what it must be like to actually be there and see all of these amazing sights. If you're traveling in Asia, Kuala Lumpur is such an easy stopover and a great place to spend 24 hours, we were there for just 10 hours and had loads of time to get out of the airport and to explore lots of different sights – read my post here.
The Middle East always looks like such a fascinating and beautiful place to travel, I know that it has had a bad rep for the political strife in some countries, but I know so many people who have traveled to this part of the world and have raved about their experiences. Israel, Jordan, Iran and Oman have been on my travel list for a while, and when you have great places to stopover such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, why not build a festival into the trip? One of the most anticipated cultural events in the city, visitors can learn more about the vibrant film culture in the Middle East by seeing the talents of Arab directors pitted against some of the world’s most respected filmmakers. If you love creative talent and want to experience more Arab cinema, this is the festival for you, it's about time Western travelers spent more time in this beautiful part of the world.
Who doesn't love a food fight? Here's the perfect combination of epic festivals and a crazy food fight experience! If you're planning any European travels this summer, why not time your trip with a stop in sunny Spain for the world's biggest food fight? La Tomatina is held in Bunol, near Valencia, and each year it attracts thousands from all over the world to join in the crazy, messy fun as more than 100 tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets. Since 2013 the event has been officially ticketed which has limited numbers to just 20,000 so be sure to grab tickets so you don't miss out. I'm allergic to tomatoes and extremely resentful of having to try and avoid eating them, so this just sounds like so much fun to get even by throwing tomatoes in the streets!
Have you been to any festival celebrations abroad – how was your experience? Would you plan a trip around a festival? Which of these festivals would you love to attend?
Flatform fashion is a strong look for the summer, and even better, it's entirely practical for us traveler girls. Teaming up with XYLondon gave me the perfect opportunity to showcase fabulous shoes and clothes which are perfect for summer – no matter where you are spending it. I'm loving the opportunity to share more fashion-related posts lately and think it works well with travel as I require my clothes and shoes to be a lot longer-lasting and more hard wearing as well as stylish, so that they can survive all of my adventures.
I've always loved fashion, it's such a great way to be creative, and as someone who has struggled all her life to find good shoes that fit, gorgeous footwear has always been something I ended up sacrificing. Now these new flatform fashion styles combine pretty shoes with practicality and make them perfect for traveling the world and exploring new cities.After those first months of travel spent living in flip-flops and tie-dye on the beach, I'll be honest and say I'm really enjoying being able to dress up a bit more now I've left backpacking behind and make more effort for life in Europe. With all this gorgeous weather, I was over the moon when the team at XYLondon sent me these gorgeous shoes to try out and style up. They picked well to match my style and the shoes go great with everything from summer casual wear to a party dress for nights out, that I've barely taken them off since they arrived in the mail.
Most importantly of all, for someone who struggles to find shoes that are the right shape and size for her awkward feet, when these flatform fashion styles arrived in the post, they both fit like a dream the very first time I put them on. Well-fitting shoes are so important, I can't deal with the sight of feet crammed into too-tight heels or straps that make your skin bulge uncomfortably. Our feet carry us every day of our lives ladies, they deserve comfort as well as style.As someone who walks a hell of a lot in every new place I visit, it's important for shoes to not only be comfortable but hard-wearing, so when these gorgeous Polly Black Strappy Slingback Flatform Shoes arrived I made sure to put them through their paces. Wearing them on a day out in Cambridge, we marched the streets all day long and not once did the shoes rub or feel even slightly uncomfortable. They felt like I'd been wearing them years with the soft, synthetic leather and the comfortable flatform fashion style – which, if, like me, you can't be bothered with big heels, is a great way to dress up an outfit for the evening while staying comfortable.
These gorgeous shoes were such a hit that I raved about them to my bestie, who promptly went online and bought a pair for herself. These are also available in white and rose gold which are both fab for a night out or daytime wanderings. For £22.99, they're a total steal and even after I've worn them to death, they still look brand new and are as comfy as the day they arrived. You guys know I pride honesty in every review, and I can honestly say these have become my favourite and the most versatile shoes in my wardrobe. Available online here.I've definitely noticed that since traveling, I'm much more of a trainers and flats kind of gal than heels – I used to love going out in heels but that was back when I had the stamina and the inability to feel pain. These days, I much prefer to dance all night or walk all day and still be smiling at the end, so flatforms fashion is a great choice because you get the benefit of the extra height (a bonus if you're a shortie like me) and feeling a bit more dressed up at night, but they can also be worn during the day with more casual outfits. Anything that works for both day and night is a winner for me, especially if you're traveling a lot and don't have much space in your bag for lots of shoes.These Paige Navy Faux Suede Strappy Flatform Sandals are a great example of a really well-made and stylish shoe that easily works for both day and night. They can be nice and casual for a visit to the pub or a day out somewhere, or you could even dress them up and wear them to a wedding if you styled them well. I love the slight espadrille style of the bottom of the shoes, it make them feel really summery and perfect for holidays while the darker colour means they'll go with your whole wardrobe. The thick straps are really supportive and make the shoes really comfortable to wear, plus the wrap-around strap style is very slimming on the ankles.
Again, I tested these ones out with a good and long walk through the countryside over here in Germany and despite running around the fields taking all these pics, they were still just as comfortable as the day they arrived. The rich colour is perfect for teaming up with blue denim or even the super cute striped trousers that are everywhere at the moment. They are also available in nude or black and cost just £22.99. Available online here.
What do you prefer – heels or flats? Where do you stand on flatform fashion? What shoes are your favourite this summer? Have you got a pair you bring out every season?
Sensory travel is such a wonderful way to treasure our traveling memories long after our tan has faded. There are some travel moments that stay with us months, even years, after a trip and the slightest smell or taste can bring back those previous memories back in a flash. I don't think I had ever experienced this quite as strongly until I started solo traveling, but this lifestyle really pushed me to travel more mindfully and to always remain present.
Every sight, sound, smell and taste would make my senses explode and now, even four years after those first moments on the beach in Thailand, those same smells, tastes or sounds still evoke all the memories and feelings I felt back then. The taste of fresh coconut water, the smell of the ocean breeze rustling through the palm leaves, mango sticky rice and the chaos and noise of the Thai markets. All of these are things I associate with travel, with freedom and the serenity I felt when I was first traveling and had escaped from a life where I was no longer happy. I've teamed up with TUI Sensatori to talk all about my most vivid sensory travel memories.
I'm a foodie at heart and I'm always chasing the next delicious experience, from those Thai spices, to the fish curries of Sri Lanka, my favourite brunch dishes and barbecues in Australia, to the comforting roast dinners of home. Feeling nostalgic for those traveling times, last night I made Thai green curry and mango smoothies, because for me, taste is a big part of remembering those traveling and holiday times. As I was cooking and smelt the mixture of coconut milk, the fragrant lemongrass, ginger and chilli combined in the pan and the sizzle reached my ears, I was transported back to those first days in Thailand, fresh off the plane when everything is almost an attack on the senses. I remember how overwhelming and exciting it all was – the colours, the sounds and smells, the tastes as a stopped off for a bite to eat and felt the flavours wash over my tongue.
Oxford University experts have said that over-reliance on smart phones and taking pictures on holiday has led to "digital holiday amnesia" causing far too many holiday makers to forget much of their trips after two weeks. By putting down our phones and cameras, and taking the time to awaken all of our senses, we are much more likely to create sensory travel memories that will let and be treasured for life. Experimental psychologist and renowned Oxford University sensory expert Professor Charles Spence led the research, he said:
“When we watch something unfold from behind a lens, we’re not truly living and sensing the experience. Smartphones can prevent us from creating fully-fledged memories as capturing a picture only really engages one of the senses – sight. It’s only by really engaging with our experiences on holiday through all of our senses that we can hope to process all the stimulating information to lay down the sorts of memories that will last, and that will be easier to retrieve.”
One memory that has really stayed with me was from when I was first traveling solo in Laos over three years ago. I was on a slow boat traveling down the Mekong River from Pai in Northern Thailand, to Vang Vieng, and it would take us two days to arrive at our destination. Our boat was rowdy, with a group of young travelers including myself and a couple of other English girls, some Aussies, Kiwis and even Canadians. I'll always remember two guys on the boat, an Aussie and an English guy, who were just so annoying. They never stopped talking and singing, and drove me crazy. Ironically they are some of my greatest traveling friends now!
But on that same boat, among the chaos and noise, there was an older woman who was quietly sat there just taking it all in and sketching on a pad in front of her. When I got up to take a look, she was beautifully capturing the scene in front of her, chaos and all. She had taken the time to breathe in the noise of the chatter and singing, the smell of the river and the cigarette smoke, and the feel of the hot, humid air packed tightly around us all. Seeing it through her eyes, I really saw the scene for the first time, without the annoyances, I breathed it all in, the people, the moment, all of it. Taking that moment to be mindful and appreciate changed the way I remember it, instead of just seeing it, I felt that moment. And even now, years on, I feel it. I felt it when I was reunited with the two guys and despite not seeing each other for a year we instantly felt like we were back on that boat.
Since that moment, I feel like I really have made a conscious effort to really appreciate every moment and not just to see it through a screen. I never want to be one of those travelers who just runs in, gets the pic and just leaves without feeling a place. As a writer, I love to soak up every part of an experience, so that later I can translate how it felt, smelt, tasted and sounded on to the page. I love curating beautiful content and imagery as you can see from the pics in this post – but I also feel that it is so important for there to be a story behind it.
For instance, the day I took the images for this post, we found a beautiful field full of rape seed and went for a walk. I remember so clearly the hot sun on my shoulders, the smell of the seed and the vibrancy of the yellow. I also remember when we found a local aviation club who were flying gliders over the fields and the muffled sounds of the aircraft coming in to land. Meeting my partner was a big push for me to put down the camera at times and just live in the moment because he, like me, loves to travel slow and really experience every moment. So we find ways of capturing the moment as I love to, but also getting to appreciate the experience just the two of us. Sensory travel at it's finest.
This blog post was a collaboration with TUI Sensatori who understand that in using all of our senses, we truly come alive and aim to help holidaymakers make the most of their holiday by stimulating their senses like never before. To find our how connected your senses are, take the TUI Sensatori quiz here.
Have you got a sensory travel memory to share? Leave a comment telling me about your sensory travel experiences and how you try to capture the memories without technology.
I caught up with a fellow traveler at the weekend, she has just come back from travelling the world for a year with her young family - total family travel goals! She was thanking me for a travel tip I gave her about visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand because she had realised once there the sheer number of places out there clinging on the surge in popularity for ethical care of elephants by claiming to be good. Spending so much time in Thailand, I took care to research thoroughly and to ensure I was only supporting causes I was certain were benefiting the environment and animals. Talking about her step-daughter's experience in India where she signed up to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary and found it to be mistreating the creatures, we realised how easy it is to do the wrong thing when all you are trying to do is the right thing. And isn't that the problem we are all facing in trying to be ethical these days?
I consider myself a pretty good human, I like to keep my carbon footprint low, to support and build up my friends, to smile at strangers and help out at a homeless shelter. Everywhere I travel I try my best to be ethically-minded and research every location, every day trip I go on and all the companies along the way, only supporting causes I know are genuinely helping local people. But somehow I still feel like I'm fucking it all up.
Much like trying to be vegan or only eating ethically-sourced food, using only beauty products that haven't been tested on animals or wearing clothing that hasn't encouraged slavery or mistreatment of those in third world countries. What is boils down to is we're all just trying our best to be damned good people and to try and help everyone, to support all the causes. We get to a point when we think, hell yeah, I'm doing pretty darn good at this! We're able to help educate others and feel like we're actually making waves, like we're making a change.
And it all comes out that we were doing it wrong all along.
Like the time I switched to almond milk after learning about the harmful impacts of the dairy farming industry, but then found the problems caused due to water sourcing and insecticides were just as bad. Or when I signed a petition over the closure of a factory that had been mistreating workers in a third world country for cheap clothes, but then heard so many were unable to feed their families because they were out of work. And the time I switched make-up brands to avoid animal testing then found the company uses the services of another company that does employ animal testing!
It's a constant battle and for anyone who tries to be ethically-minded, it can be a bit of a roller coaster - one minute you're up and feeling great for all the good you are doing for the world around you. Then next, you hit rock bottom when you realise actually by trying to help you may be doing more harm than good.
One of the problems - there are too many opinions out there and too many facts, but so often thanks to Twitter and various other social media outlets - the two become almost indistinguishable. It's so easy to read one thing and to make a change in your life, then a week later to see an news article damning the opinion you just read elsewhere. I don't know about you but I'm overwhelmed with information and I'm finding it hard to know which advice to take. To feel certain that I am actually making informed decisions that really are doing the best for everyone and the world around us. We've gone full circle from struggling to get the truth from companies over their ethical policies, to now being swamped with information and unsure of the facts.
Another aspect of this is the bloggers, social media stars and the celebrities who so often pick a cause to back and legions of fans follow in their wake. The fact is these influencers have a huge impact on the decisions of people across the world and the ethical nature of the decisions they make can cause huge waves. Just look at how many more people seem to care and know about global warming effects since Leonardo DiCaprio started talking about it, and Emma Watson must be one of the best-known faces for using her platform to really highlight key issues from women's rights and climate change to sustainable fashion. But likewise, this can be used in a negative way, such as when some figures make questionable decisions such as wearing real fur, encouraging their fans to follow suit. The constant fight for change and for attention means it's hard to know who is really trying to make a difference, and who is just jumping on the bandwagon for likes.
As someone who has been travelling for over three years and has no plans to stop anytime soon, being ethical in my travel will always remain at the forefront of my mind. After all, what was that quote?
Take only pictures, leave only footprints, kill nothing but time. - Aliyyah Eniath
I've always felt the one thing that really touches my heart and stays with me a long time after my travels, it's not the places. It's not sunrise at Angkor Wat or exploring waterfalls of Laos, it's not doing yoga in Thailand or learning to work on a farm in outback Australia, or even getting lost in the ruin pubs of Budapest. It's the people you met along the way. The amazing souls who helped you when you were struggling, the ones who showed you a world you never dared dream of, the ones who gave you enough laughs to last a lifetime. Those people are the ones I hold close in my heart, they're the stories I tell about my travels, they are the memories.
So if that is the case, then it's so important to make sure your travel is benefiting the people who have given you the experience of a lifetime and the environment you've been lucky enough to explore:
These are just examples and there are so many other ways to be ethical in your travel, to make informed decisions. And that is the most important thing, like me, you may be struggling with knowing if you are truly being ethical. But when it comes down to it, just the fact that you care enough to inform yourself is the first step to really doing something good in the world. Don't listen to all the judgement over social media, it's too easy to get swept away in throwaway comments instead of investing your time in making a change.
This has turned into a pretty mega blog post considering I had writer's block just a few days ago, but I think this is such an important issue to be raised. Can you identify with feeling confused over traveling and living ethically? It's okay if you do, we're in it together. As long as we're all doing our darnedest to make a difference, that's all we can do.
How do you ensure your travel is ethical? Do you ever worry your 'ethical' decisions are less ethical than you would hope? What ethical changes have you made in your life?
There are endless stunning beaches just waiting to be explored in Sri Lanka, but unlike many other parts of Asia they remain untouched and uncrowded with a certain charm I have yet to find elsewhere. From the blissful south east where Mirissa and Unawatuna can be found strewn with palm trees, cute fairy lights and perfect sunrises, to the north and west where you'll find the more rugged shores of Arugam Bay and Trincomalee. There is something to suit every beach bum whether you're craving lazy days spent sunbathing, diving and discovering the incredible wildlife or chasing the surf at sunset. Sadly while travelling there for a month in November, we were tiptoeing around the rainy season and ended up spending less time on the beaches and more deep in the jungles. But we couldn't resist a trip to Trincomalee after having it recommended to us by so many locals and friends. Despite having to spend hours making our way across the country by bus, we decided to spend our last few days exploring the western shores and spoiler alert we definitely didn't regret it! In fact, when a friend was visiting Sri Lanka the following month, one of the first places I recommended she visit was Trincomalee - why? Read on to find out:
Yes you read that correctly. Trinco is the most magical place for water babies to have a completely unique experience. Locals run trips where you can actually snorkel with blue whales while they remain protected, they actually guide documentary makers on where and how best to film them. It's pretty cheap and something you certainly won't regret. Not keen on getting up close and personal with the whales? There are also countless whale watching trips where you can view the creatures, and passing sperm whales, from the safety of a boat.
Sri Lanka's waters are the perfect place to spot these joyful creatures jumping through the waves and the west coast is known for it's rougher waters which they love. It's the perfect place to hit the water and see dolphins being wild and free.
A must-see for your trip – have the ultimate desert island experience with powdery white sand, volcanic rocks and pristine reef. Pigeon Island is idyllic but it does get busy during peak season - book your trips through your hotel and enjoy a day of snorkelling and exploring. Travellers have even reported getting to swim with octopus thanks to expert guides.
At nearby Kanniya you'll find the seven geothermal wells which are very popular with both tourists and holidaying Sri Lankans.
There are some spectacular temples to visit while in the area, but one you simply must see while you are there is the the colourful Koneswaram temple. High up in the hills, the Hindu temple is found near the dramatic Swami Rock and spectacular Gokarna Bay. Take a walk up to the top, then as you're strolling back down stop for a fresh juice overlooking the ocean.
Fancy catching some sun? Look for the beaches of Uppuveli and Nilaveli to fulfil your need for beachy bliss and some well-deserved peace and quiet. Uppuveli is good for swimming due to the calmer waters, and is slightly more developed with more options for guesthouses and hotels – we stayed here and loved it. Nilaveli boasts a longer beach and a much quieter area but the waters are rougher and less suited for swimming.
If you love a bit of history and checking out the sights, your visit wouldn't be complete without a trip to the British War Cemetery which the locals are keen to share with you. A walk around Fort Frederick is lovely around sunset, make sure you go all the way to the top for a really beautiful view of the bay.
Strangely, the main part of Trinco is absolutely filled with the tamest deer I have ever seen, they live right in the centre of town and sadly eat rubbish. It was a bit of a sad sight to see them making their home on the grass in-between the busy road by the bus station, but we were simply amazed at how they would let you go right up to them and even pet them.
Travelling on a budget? Trinco has accommodation to suit all needs from the luxury hotels to the budget apartments and rooms at guest houses. We stayed at the lovely Lobster Inn which was fantastic and I highly recommend it – the owners were really lovely and it was very cheap, actually cheaper than advertised on the website because it was off season. But if you're on even more of a budget, or just run out of money, try the Aqua Inn where you can stay in an actual backpacker cave – they're awesome!
Have you been to Trincomalee? Is Sri Lanka on your bucket list? What unique accommodation have you found on your travels?
*First pic credit.