11. Are you going to be okay on your own?

I think it is safe to say that my mum is equal parts proud and petrified that I am going away and root cause of all her panic is the fact that I am doing it solo.  Well solo to an extent. I will be going a group tour when I am in Asia so won’t be on my own per say but I guess until they transition from strangers to friends then I am all alone. I have had lots of mixed feedback from people when I say I am taking this adventure on solo but to my surprise most people have been supportive and here are some of my favourite responses I have had…

“If you can survive London you can survive anywhere!”

Of all the responses I have had to my solo travel announcement this is the one that as stuck with me the most because it was said by one of my colleagues as we crossed a pitch-black park in central London at 2 am in the morning. On my journey home from work I go through at least 4 (what I have coined) Girl-Alone-Danger-Zones yet I do that daily without even thinking about it. Over my 23 years of exploring this fabulous city, that I am lucky enough to call home, I have learnt how to keep my wits about me and would even give Spiderman a run for his money with my danger-sensors! Now I totally understand that new countries and cultures bring about new dangers that I cannot prepare for but I can apply all the common sense that I have learnt from London and do what I know I can to stay safe. I mean if I can get out of Winter Wonderland on Christmas Eve alone and alive then I truly think I am unstoppable!

“If you’re in a hostel you are never alone!”

Before May this year I had no comprehension of what a hostel would actually be like, so before committing to stay in some thousands of miles away from home I decided to spend a weekend in one closer to home. I booked 4 nights in a 5-bedroom dorm of the Old Town Hostel in Dubrovnik and set out to see what all the fuss was about. Within 20 minutes of arriving I had spoken to 10 different people from 5 different countries and quickly came to the conclusion that if you are in a hostel then you are never alone. That mini break was the best thing I have ever done as it reassured me that it is something I am comfortable doing more of and now I cant wait to make new friends in more hostels as well as catch up with a few I made in Dubrovnik in their hometowns.

“Never put off traveling for anyone else, only do it for you!”

There are a few reasons why I haven’t gone traveling till now but one of the main ones was that I was constantly waiting for someone to come with me. I was convinced that I was going to see the world with a boyfriend, that I was yet to even meet, so kept putting off in hope my prince charming with a plane ticket would come along. As I am writing this now I do have a prince charming, who has been nothing but supportive of my solo trip and I already cant wait to give him a big hug when I am back in April. I learnt this year that you don’t need anyone to go traveling with you, yes it is nice having a companion but don’t miss your chance to go because you were too busy waiting for someone to join you.

“You will soon learn that the world is a very small and connected place!”

I actually learnt this when my family and I were spending a night in the Ice Hotel in a remote part of Sweden and my dad ran into an old friend at the bar. Solo traveling end up being such a sociable thing that soon you will have friends and connections from all over the world and as a result you will never be far away from ‘someone you know’. The bridge between you and familiarity becomes much smaller when you know someone in each continent and the best way to achieve that is to get out in the world and make some new friends. Also with the technology and transport we have no one is ever more than a phone call away! If it is a more familiar face that you are missing then all you have to do is unlock your phone and you will be with them. Magic really!

“Go and enjoy yourself!”

No matter what your reasoning for traveling may be, chances are it is going to be something personal to you and that is where the beauty of solo travel comes in. The only person you have to think about is you! You can do what you want, eat what you want, see what you want, even leave when you want. I think the fears of solo travel can often over power the positives and although it is important to acknowledge your vulnerability and prepare yourself to be safe, it is also important to remember that doing what you want to do is actually pretty damn amazing! We don’t always get many opportunities in life to be totally selfish so whether it is for a week or a year, book yourself a solo break and go and see a part of the world that matters to you.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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10. What’s on your bucket list?

Lets be honest it would not be a classic travel gap year if I didn’t have a bucket list would it? Everything from South East Asia is what I am looking forward to the most from my group tour and then everywhere from Australia and New Zealand are the places I am going to build my route around. I will be working at a camp, for Camp America, in upstate New York so these are the places that I want to visit on my time off.

Thailand – Chang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

To begin with this was actually something I was conscious of, as I don’t want to contribute to any kind of animal exploitation, but with further research I am so happy to see that this is an ethical sanctuary that puts the elephants first. We will help to feed, bathe and walk them (with strictly no riding) as they roam freely in their natural environment and for this reason, I cannot wait! Elephants have always fascinated me so the opportunity to get up-close with one is going to be incredible. I apologise in advance for the spam of elephant photos that is about to come your way!

Laos – Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laung Prabang

I would be lying if I said I knew anything about Laos and, if I am being honest, I probably wouldn’t be visiting it if my tour didn’t go there but having looked into it more then I can really see why they added it to the route. Something that is described to have a “fairy-tale feel” is the breath-taking Kaung Si Waterfall and anything that can be associated with a fairy-tale will of course spark my interest! There are also 33 temples in Laung Prabang that I cannot wait to explore and truly indulge myself into their rich spiritual culture.

Vietnam – Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Min and the Hao Lo prison in Hanoi

With an A-Level in history under my belt, in which I did a module on the Vietnam War, I cannot wait to see the facts written in the text books come to life. The Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Min, that were used to smuggle people and supplies during the Vietnam War, will be fascinating as well as the Hao Lo prison in Hanoi, where we will have a chance to learn about the history of communism in Vietnam.

Cambodia – S21 Prison in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat

Another country with a rich and heart-breaking history is Cambodia. I think visiting the S21 prison in Phnom Penh and seeing the atrocious consequences of the Killing Fields will be an eye-opening and humbling experience. Unlike any of my other birthdays, which have mostly been spent hiding from the rain, for my 23rdbirthday I will be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat! If that isn’t worthy of a spot on the bucket list then I don’t know what is!

Australia – Great Ocean Road and the Great Barrier Reef

This one, I will not lie, is mostly influenced by the photos I have seen on Instagram but I cannot wait to drive the Great Ocean Road! However thrilling sitting in traffic on the M25 is, I don’t think it will quite compare to the ocean views and open roads that Australia has to offer. I feel very lucky to be alive in a time when there are still living corals in the Great Barrier Reef so that is definitely something I want to see whilst we still have the chance.

New Zealand – Tongariro Crossing hike

I think if there is any place to go on a hike then it has to be New Zealand and I have heard that the Tongariro Crossing is the most popular of them all. The only problem being I can count the amount of times  I have been to the gym this year on one hand. As a result, if this 12 mile hike turns out to be too much for me then I am sure I can find an equally picturesque but less strenuous alternative!

America – Salem, Boston

I have been lucky enough to visit New York twice in my life already so although I am excited to go back it is not at the top of my bucket list. Somewhere that is however is Boston and more specifically Salem.  It wasn’t only the history we learnt in school that fascinated me; I have also always had a keen interest in conspiracy theories and the darker history of the world. I remember reading book after book on the Salem Witch Trials when I was younger so it is fair to say this has been on the list for a while.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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8. You have to read ____ when you’re away

The beauty of traveling is that not only do you get to live lots of incredible activities you also get a chance for lots of downtime to finally tuck into that book you’ve been meaning to read for ages! I try to read every day on my commute to work but I am looking forward to being able to get into a book without having to constantly check I haven’t missed my stop. I’ve been collecting a long list on my phone over the past few months of books I want to read but I thought I would give you guys some recommendations of books I have loved!

The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah

I can tell a book is good when it makes me miss my stop on multiple mornings because I just can’t stop reading. The Nightingale is about 2 sisters who live in France during the Second World War and the different ways they adapt to survive. It is a story of love, fear and how far people will go for their family. Although it is not a true story it really highlights the terror of the war and the hard decisions people were forced to make daily simply to survive. Expect tears of both sorrow and happiness and a book you will struggle to put down.

Fall of Giants – Ken Follett

Sticking with the war theme, Ken Folletts trio of books follow multiple stories through both world wars as well as the Cold War. Fall of Giants is situated in the era of World War One and follows 5 families whose lives intertwine through the trials and terrors of war. It has everything from action to romance and, although it is fictional, includes true facts and figures that mean you end up getting a history lesson without even trying. They are big big big books so great for if you have a long flight ahead of you!

The Holiday – T.M.Logan

If you like a bit of mystery, drama and suspense then The Holiday is the one for you. Imagine going on holiday to Italy with 4 of your best friends and all your families to then discover that one of them might be having an affair with your husband! It is a wonderfully written story that keeps you guessing till the last minute yet is still a light read. A perfect one to dip into when lounging around the pool. To this day I have never met anyone who has read this book and expected the twist at the end so give it a try and see if you guess it right!

The Rumour – Lesley Kara

Another one for you mystery fans out there, the rumour follows a young mum in a new town who hears a rumour that a famous child murderer (as in someone who killed someone as a child not someone who kills children) lives among them. It’s not the most thrilling book ever but it will leave you desperate to find out the truth and also has a really nice story running through it about how far a mother will go to protect their child.

The Forgotten Village – Lorna Cook

If you’re looking for an easy read that is still interesting then this is the one for you. It follows 2 story’s over 2 time periods that cross over in very clever ways. The first is a story of a middle aged women who is looking for something exciting in her life and ends up falling for a hunky historian and the second is the story of a lady of a manor who is desperate for a way to escape her life. It is beautifully written and you’ll end up rooting for both women as if they were your friends in real life.

The Trials and Triumphs of Grace Atherton – Anstey Harris

A classic romance story about a women who has fallen in love with a married man and struggles with the reality of having the man you love living with another women. It has lots of underlining stories about friendship, music and how events in our childhood can effect us as adults. It can be quite predictable but it will leave a warm feeling in your heart when you get to the last page.

Only Child – Rhiannon Navin

This is one of those books that can be hard to read but in the best way. It is written from the perspective of a 6 year old boy who was involved in a school shooting in America and the effects it has on him and his family. It is perfectly written with the innocence of a child who can’t quite grasp the horrors that have happened and why everyone around him has changed. It can be quite triggering at times and at one point I had to put it down as I was too angry and one of the characters to keep reading but I guess any book that makes you feel raw emotion must be something special!

The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule

For all you true crime lovers out there this is the one for you! Ann Rule is a crime writer who also, unknowingly, happed to be friends in real like with one of the most infamous serial killers everywhere – Ted Bundy. It is written from her perspective and about how she came to find out and accept the fact that a man she was very close with was actually one of the biggest monsters this world has seen. She goes over in detail the crimes he committed, so still one to read if you don’t know much about him, and is such an honest account that makes you realise we really don’t know much about most people we call friends!

Everything I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton

If you want a self help book without actually reading a self help book then this is for you. I bet there isn’t a single young girl, or boy, on this planet that cannot relate to one of Dollys stories about her love life. It follows her through her teens all the way to her thirties and she talks in detail about the lessons she has learnt about love along the way. It doesn’t just focus on romantic love it also touches a lot on the love we have for our friends, family and even ourselves which I think is so refreshing to read. It also includes a really helpful recipe for hangover mac and cheese!

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

I don’t think there are many people left who haven’t read this book and there’s good reason for that – it is simply amazing. It is the honest recounts of an NHS doctor who worked in the gynaecological department of a hospital and will make you laugh, cry and squirm at the things he has seen and done! It also has such an important message about the neglect of the NHS and just how overworked yet incredible the doctors and nurses we have in this country are. It shows you the sacrifices they have to make for our own well being and will leave you feeling very lucky that there are people like Adam Kay in the world.

If you have any good book recommendations or have read any of these before then please let me know in the comments!

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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6. Have you traveled anywhere this year?

Before long 2018 was coming to a close and it was time to set New Years resolutions for 2019. Along with the classic “I will join a gym” and “I will not place ASOS orders at 2am in the morning when I can’t sleep” I decided my main goal for the year ahead was to visit 5 countries. Unlike the other 2, I am proud to say I achieved it!

1. Canada

I kicked the year off with a trip to Canada in February to see my brother. Ben had decided to cross the pond and do a ski season out in the stunning town of whistler and it gave my dad and I the perfect excuse for a holiday! My plan originally was to go snowboarding but that was put on hold when I managed to fracture both of my wrists 2 weeks before we were due to go out (well done me!). As a result I had to find other ways to keep occupied whilst my family were off bombing down the mountains and to my surprise there was actually plenty to do! I went for walks through the snow covered Forrest, went for a massage at their Swedish spa and even managed to make it up the mountain in one of the cable cars to take in the view. I have 2 blog posts written in more detail about what to do in whistler when you can’t ski that I will link here (adventurous) and here (relaxing). It was lovely to see my brother and his girlfriend after 5 months of them being away and also a great escape to a beautiful winter wonderland. Hopefully next time I go though I won’t have 2 hands in casts!

2. Croatia

My trips abroad came to a bit of halt over spring so when May came around I was desperate for some time away! The problem was, I couldn’t actually find anyone to come with me. My friends were all saving up their precious holiday days for a long trip away over summer and my boyfriend had just started a new job so didn’t feel he could take time off yet. So I went on my own, as I now recommend everyone should do once in their life. To begin with I booked into a cute air BnB but then figured I might get a bit lonely not talking to anyone for 4 days so I swapped to a hostel right in the old town of Dubrovnik. The city itself was beautiful and I was also lucky enough to be there when the final season of Game of Thrones was released (kings landing is filmed in Dubrovnik) so was able to watch an episode in the very place it was produced. I have a blog post of what to do in Dubrovnik here and also one about my game of thrones tour here. Everyone in the hostel was incredibly friendly and I ended up on a day trip to Montenegro with a girl I met one night over dinner (so technically that brings my country count to 6.) that you can read about here. Looking back now, I kind of see this trip to Croatia as my test run for my big trip away next year, I wanted to see if I enjoyed being away on my own and staying in hostels before committing to it for months, thousands of miles away from home. Clearly I loved it!

3. Marrakech

Just like I struggled to get away over Easter, I found it virtually impossible to get any time off over summer so my next holiday didn’t come around until September. This was my bonus holiday of the year as I won my ticket on the plane in a raffle put on by my job. We got flights and accommodation paid for, as well as tickets to a 3 day festival in the desert called Oasis. I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this holiday as we didn’t know where we were staying until we pulled up at the front door but we ended up being well and truly spoilt! Marrakech itself was like no where I had ever been. I had heard nothing but horror stories before we went out and, yes, it is incredibly crowded and busy and i wouldn’t think about doing it on my own as a young girl but it had the most incredible energy that radiated in everything from the people to the architecture. We spent most mornings wandering around the markets, the afternoons were dedicated to lounging by the pool and then we danced the evenings away at the festival. (We possibly danced a bit too hard on the last night, getting back to the villa at 6am and then leaving at 6:30am to catch our flight home. That was not a fun experience!) The highlight of Marrakech for me though was definitely the food, it is a must spot for the foodies of the world out there!

4. Italy

As the nights started getting darker and the cold was coming in, my boyfriend and I felt like it was time to get away for a bit. We looked for cheap flights on sky scanner and ended up getting a great deal for flights and a hotel in Lake Como. I have always had a soft spot for Italy and Como did nothing but make my love for the country grow. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel on the edge of the lake, with the most insta-grammable pool I have ever dipped my toes into, and managed to get the balance of adventure and relaxation just right. We would spend a day out exploring the breathtaking town of Como and beyond either by boat, walking or funicular and then the next day we would head to the spa in the hotel or hide from the downpours in a local pizzeria. The highlight of the trip for me was probably the views from the top of Volta’s lighthouse in Brunate. As it was a quiet season at the lake we had the whole place to ourselves and followed up our climb with a fresh slice of chocolate and pear cake and a cup of tea. I can definitely see why lake como was the inspiration behind the phrase “la dolce vita”!

5. Tenerife

Around 8 years ago now my grandad moved out to a small coastal town on the island of Tenerife and every year since I have gone out for at least a long weekend. This year my mum and I decided to embrace the chance to get some winter sun and we flew out over the first weekend of December. To me the small town of san blas now feels like a home away from home. We know where to stay, where to eat, where to walk so whenever we go we generally do nothing but relax and indulge in paella and tapas. We spent most days and evenings out with my grandad, as well only see him once a year, and the rest of the time we lounged by the pool or read our books on the balcony. I can definitely get used to 26 degree weather in December!

6. England (bonus)

I set my resolution as 5 different countries but I have also been lucky enough this year to go on 3 short stay-cations across England. For the August bank holiday my family and I packed up the car and drove down to Bournemouth for a gloriously sunny weekend at the beach. We played plenty of board games, explored the Jurassic coast and I got absolutely annihilated at a game of mini golf on the coast. For my step-mums 55th birthday I joined her and 20 of her friends in a church air BnB in Somerset. A lot of wine was drunk and cake eaten but we also went out to explore the beautiful Wells cathedral and did some shopping in the clarks outlet city. My biggest trip away in England though was the week I spent in Cornwall with my boyfriend. We made the 6 hour drive down to port Isaac and stayed in the most adorable farm house a 5 minute walk from the coast. The weather was not on our side but it meant we had the place to ourselves and went on plenty of walks where the only company we kept were cows and sheep. It can be easy to forget how many wonderful places England has to offer and I am looking forward to exploring more of the place I am lucky enough to call home.

2019 ended up being a big year for travel for me so it feels quite surreal to say that 2020 is going to be even bigger! It’s not often you can say you’re going to go to 4 countries in January alone! Think I’m going to have to come up with a new resolution for next year.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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2. How much will it cost?

This is a tough question to answer because obviously until I get out there, I don’t know how much I am going to spend. What I have learnt though is that traveling is expensive (and I haven’t even got on the plane yet.)

Now obviously there are cheaper and there are more expensive ways to do everything when it comes to going away so don’t take this as the only price tag on everything but this is going to be a run down on what I have spent so far. I think if you are planning a trip away it is important to establish your main priority. For example, if you want to be able to go away for a long time then budgeting is going to be key and you may have to stay in cheaper places or do less activities as compensation. Alternatively, if you aren’t as bothered with how long you are away then you can always splash out on places you stay or what you go to see/do. I see myself as somewhere in the middle. I want to go for around 3 months but also don’t want to miss out on adventures so will therefore be happy to come home sooner if it means that most of my days out there were jam packed with activities.

1. Tour of Asia

It is no secret that group tours are always more expensive than if you were to make the exact same trip yourself. With the extra cost however comes experience, 24/7 help and the ease of knowing that all your travel and accommodation is sorted. I am going on a 30 day trip around 4 countries in Asia with all travel (excluding flights there and back) and accommodation as well as various activities and meals.

Cost: £1,499.00

2. Flights

I have only booked my flight out to Thailand so far, as I am not quite sure where my travels are going to take me, and as with my tour, I decided to spend a bit more for some extra ease of mind. It is a lot cheaper to get a flight with a stop over but seeing as it is my first big trip away I chose the more expensive direct flight. I am flying with Thai Airways and leaving early January.

Cost: £579

3. Insurance

I think insurance is something that some people easily overlook but it is actually one of the biggest necessities for travel. Yes I can see how it might be viewed as a waste of money, as it is something you don’t actually want to use, but the cost of medical attention or loss of possessions can often be triple the amount of an insurance quote – it is definitely worth it for the peace of mind! I went for platinum cover with a company called Cover for You and added in an excess waiver and extra cover for activities and gadget loss.

Cost: £209

4. Visas

These vary a lot depending on which country you visit and your nationality so these facts and figures may not apply to you. When traveling from the UK for short periods of time, some countries don’t require a Visa (New Zealand, Thailand & Vietnam) therefore won’t cost you anything but others aren’t as simple.

Laos: $35 (purchase at the border)

Cambodia: $30 (purchase at the border)

Australia: £20 service charge (if you want a visa to work whilst in Australia that costs around £400)

5. Injections

Whilst writing this blog post I have come to the conclusion that I have probably gone about everything in the most expensive way  and injections sadly also fit into this category. You can get quite a few injections on the NHS but be sure to book in an appointment 6 – 8 weeks before you go. I forgot to do this so wasn’t able to get time off work or an appointment in time at my GP. As a result I went to Boots to get all mine done, which was easy as you could go on weekends, but also horrendously expensive. I also opted to get all the injections they offered (hepatitis A & B, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis) as a few of the diseases are passed through mosquito bites and I am like candy to those pesky bugs! Be sure to get proper medical advice about the recommended vaccines for where you are going and use your own judgement to weigh up which of the optional ones you want to get.

Cost: roughly £400

6. Belongings

I may have splashed the cash on all the other things on this list but I am saving all the pennies I can on belongings. For all the big items, like my rucksack for example, I have asked for them for christmas and my birthday as a way to keep my own costs down. When it comes to items like clothes and shoes I am just digging out all the old stuff in my closet that I don’t mind getting ruined and only buying essentials like a first aid kit to bring with me. I will give a ball park estimate on how much I think it would all cost to buy yourself from new but there are lots of clever ways to save on belongings.

Cost: £500

What I really want to get through in this post is that there is no official cost for traveling. There are areas some will want to spend more in and others will use as an opportunity to save and that is all totally fine. Seeing as this is my first big trip on my own, I didn’t want to leave much up to chance. In most cases therefore I chose the more expensive options that came with more security. Hopefully this will be a helpful guide if you are thinking of going traveling but aren’t sure just how much it is going to be.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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1. Where are you going traveling?

A few weeks ago I announced on my Instagram that from January next year I am trading my Oyster card for my passport and going traveling for 9 months. It is something I have been planning for months and dreaming of for years so I can’t explain how excited I am to say it’s only a few weeks away now. I’ve received a lot of different reactions from people when I tell them I’m jetting off and a whole range of questions from “can I come with?” to “are you crazy?” which has sparked me to put this little travel blog to good use and answer some of those questions.

I know at this time of year the only thing on people’s minds is if a “ring for wine” bell is inappropriate for office secret Santa or where you can hide your box of salted caramel matchsticks so your nan doesn’t eat them all but I thought I would put my own spin on a christmas classic and do the 12 days of travel!

Everyday I will answer one a common question I get as a response to “I am going traveling” and hopefully it might help you if it’s something you’re interested in doing or just give you something to read as your partner tries on their 17th New Year’s Eve outfit possibility!

Today I thought we would begin with my story and the most common questioned asked: Where are you going travelling?

At the age of 22 I have been lucky enough to visit 3/7 of the continents this world has to offer so I thought for my first big journey out there alone I would try to tick off another 2 – Asia and Australia. I am going to be venturing on a group tour of South East Asia, stopping along the way in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I chose to go on a group tour instead of venturing it alone for the simple reason of I found it all quite intimidating. Not only are they new countries to me, they are totally new cultures, weathers, cuisines and it all felt a but too much to face solo. Being in a group will allow me to experience everything but with a safety net of having my journeys and accommodation already sorted. I know that I won’t have much time in each town but I am seeing this trip as my taster session to then return in future years and delve deeper into places that I don’t want to leave behind.

Now technically this is where the first section of my trip ends as I have nothing else booked in after my group trip ends. That however is all part of the grand plan. I have never been away from home on my own for longer than a couple of weeks so I might finish my month off and feel like it is time to go back or I might have come down with a strong case of the travel bug and never want to go home. I just don’t know! That is why I have left it open to see who I meet, how I feel and just giving myself the total freedom to do whatever feels right for me. If I do have the desire to continue then I have my heart set on catching a flight over to explore the beautiful lands of Australia and New Zealand. Even though I have never been to either of these countries I feel much more confident doing them on my own as they speak English and have a culture that, I might naively be assuming, echoes that of what we have here in England. These familiarities make the task of exploring somewhere new thousands of miles away from home on my own a lot less daunting and a lot more exciting! My vague plan is to grab a greyhound bus ticket, stay in hostels and hopefully make some new friends along the way to continue my adventure with.

When the time comes that I have either run out of energy, desire or money (most likely the latter) then I will catch a flight back home. As the last part of my trip is so vague I have no real idea of when this will be but I have predicted around April/May giving me just enough time to get my visa sorted for my second trip. Camp America!

I think it has been roughly 4 years now that I have said I am going to apply for a summer at Camp America but this is finally the year that I have made it happen. I will be uploading another post a bit later on about the whole application process, but I am thrilled that it all paid off and I will spending next summer in the state of New York singing camp fire songs, teaching photography and living my best parent-trap-esk camp counsellor life! If that wasn’t enough, the visa allows another month of travel in America so I will be sure to put that to good use and potentially do a trip down the East Coast. As with my earlier trip I am leaving it all up in the air now and waiting to see who I meet and what other plans just fall into place.

If all goes to plan, then in October next year I will be back in my own bed reminiscing over the endless memories I have made all over the world and no doubt planning my next trip away. But for now, that is day 1 of my 12 days of travel done!

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Travel Diary – Kotor, Montenegro

According to GetByBus it takes 1hour and 50 minutes to get from Dubrovnik to Kotor in Montenegro. According to experience I now know it takes more like 3 hours and 50 minutes. The bus pulled out of Dubrovnik bus station at 10am and within 5 minutes I was deep into conversation with Kerala. We had met the day before in the hostel common room. Both solo female travellers, both on our last full day of our holiday and both looking for an escape away from the rain so we decided to pair up and go to Kotor for the day. I knew nothing of the city before getting on the bus and was really looking forward to exploring somewhere totally new and unexpected.

TOP TIP: You have to have your tickets printed to get on the bus and each ticket has 2 sheets of paper. Make sure to print them on separate pieces of paper and not double sided as the bus driver takes one and you keep one. If you don’t have a printer in your accommodation, there is a small travel shop about an 8 minute walk from the bus station that prints tickers for around 50p a page.

About an hour and a half into the journey we pulled into passport control and one by one had to step off the coach and present our passports to the officers. It didn’t take too long but hanging around in the rain for 30 passports to get checked will not go down as the highlight of the trip! After bustling back into the comfort of the coach I thought we were on our way. I was wrong. No longer than 20minutes down the road we stopped at a second passport control and had to do the whole process again. Now call me a naïve traveller, but it wasn’t until I had my passport stamped at the border that I realised Montenegro is not in the EU.

SIDE NOTE: This wasn’t an issue as EU citizens are allowed to travel through Montenegro for 90 days without a visa but if you don’t hold an EU passport then be sure to research what rules apply to you. The only problem I seemed to face with it was my phone usage charge for the day went up to £6 as I was no longer in the Vodafone Free to Roam zone.

After some manic (checking I am not about to be deported) searching, my fears were put to rest and we were finally back on the bus. The whole passport control process took about 45 minutes so be sure to factor that into any journey time! By this point I was quite ready to get off the bus but we still had around an hour and a half to go. Although it was a long journey it was a beautiful one. After breaking away from the border we emerged on a long road winding its way around the Bay of Kotor. We passed small seaside towns nestled between the mountains and the water’s edge and looked out over the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks that stands alone in the middle of the sea. If you have longer to spend in Kotor, you can get a boat out to see the church, something I would be loved to have done!

Just at the point when I felt like I had morphed into the bus seat, we made it to Kotor bus station. Now I have always been told not to judge a book by a cover but when we pulled into the bus station, I instantly thought we had made a mistake in visiting. The station looked out over an abandoned office block and graffiti ridden buildings that led down to a ferry harbour. We wondered down the road past building debris and old tattered cafes before emerging at the entrance to the city walls.  An easily missed passage, emerald green shutters framed the windows lining the single alleyway that we found ourselves ambling down. This was the Kotor I was imagining. Quaint, local shops appeared around every corner and, similar to Dubrovnik, everywhere you looked there was a different path just waiting to be explored. It was like a beautiful stone maze.

We soon popped out at one of the main squares and hid from the sudden downpour of rain in the Kotor Cathedral. Kotor had a handful of stunning churches, with gorgeous architectures and even more breath-taking interiors so we built up a good appetite dipping in and out of all the sites. By this point it was around 12PM and we settled down in the square for a bite to eat. The food resembled that of Croatia and was mostly made up of sea food, pizza and pasta, I had absolutely no complaints, and a pizza was around €8-10.

TOP TIP: Montenegro takes Euros and most places only take cash so if you are going on a day trip from Croatia then be sure to take out some Euros beforehand.

However stunning the old town was, it wasn’t significantly big and by this point we had seen most of it. With 5 hours to go till our bus departed we decided to get our 10,000 steps (plus a few more) in for the day and climb up the mountain to the Castle of San Giovanni. We had to ask a local for directions to the entrance as there weren’t any signs, but we found our way to the stairs at the base of the old town and began our ascent. Within a few hundred meters we were stopped by a man at a toll gate who charged us €8 each, I had heard that there is an entrance somewhere were you don’t have to pay but we were short on time and desperate not to get lost so we handed over the cash and continued the mammoth climb. 1350 steps hugged the mountain side and weaved in and out of old fortresses. Though my thighs have never burnt so much in my life the view got more and more spectacular with each step. I felt like Shrek on his way to find the princess as we dipped in and out of grey stone walls (and I was equally as out of breath and unfit as an ogre). The rocky terrain was quite hard to navigate at times and if you’re not a fan of heights then I would be careful not to look over the sides of the walls but if you’re going to Kotor then this is the way to spend your day.

TOP TIP: there were a few stops to buy drinks along the way but I am not sure what they were charging or how long the bottles had been sat in the sun for, so be sure to bring some water up with you to avoid dehydration.

At the top sits the ruins of the Castle of San Giovanni and was an incredible spot for some breath-taking photos. Though there are just a few walls of the actual castle left, it remained a great platform to sit, talk, take in the view and revel in pride that we had actually made it to the top! Unfortunately, time slipped away from us however and with only one bus to catch we had to start our descent back to the old town quicker than we would’ve hoped. The way down did pose a few more issues as it could be hard to grip on the rocky terrain but around 3 hours after we had set off we were back at the base of the steps. Now what better way to reward ourselves than with some ice cream and a Nutella crepe once safety back in the old town. We had a final mooch around the shops and grabbed some water and snacks for the bus journey home before heading back to where it all began.

TOP TIP: Be sure to go to the toilet and bring some snacks before getting on the bus as there are no chances to do either along the way. (Well there was a toilet on the bus but peeing on the move didn’t seem too appealing to me!)

Sitting at the bus station we met a Canadian Guy called Mitch who was on his way to Dubrovnik too. After assuming he was traveling alone we were taken by surprise when he said he was actually away with 7 friends who had already successfully made it to Croatia. He told us that he had got the bus that morning at 10AM but after arriving at passport control, realised his passport was still safely locked back in his locker at the hostel. He trekked 3 hours in the rain back to a gas station where he managed to catch a bus to Kotor, retrieve his passport and was now retracing his steps to finally get to Dubrovnik and his friends. Moral of the story? Always check you have your passport!

TOP TIP: For journeys leaving Kotor, even if you already have you bus tickets printed, you have to sign in at the bus station and pay a fee of around €2 each so be sure to factor this in when planning your day!

Turns out our driver on the way out either had a fear of boats or just liked taking his time as on the way back we simply got a ferry across the bay and cut about an hour off the driving time! After hopping on and off the coach at the various passport controls and reuniting Mitch with his friends it was time to get back to the hotel. The bus station is just outside of the old town in Dubrovnik and you have to either get a taxi or a local bus from outside the station to the entrance of Pile Gate (I explained this in a lot more detail in my Dubrovnik travel guide). I would be lying if I said taking a day trip to an unknown country with a girl I had known less that 8 hours wasn’t daunting but it turned out incredible. The Old town in Kotor is like something out of a fairy-tale book and the views over the bay from the top of the castle were about as breath-taking as the number of steps we climbed to get there. I left with a new friend, some incredible memories and a desire to not sit on a bus again for a very long time!

Have you ever been to Kotor or is it a place that you would like to go to?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

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My Hostel survival guide

HOW TO PICK A HOSTEL

Every morning, as my 6:20 alarm blasted in my ear, I had the same thought. I need a holiday. It was hard to lock down anyone else to go with me so I made the decision to simply go alone. I hopped straight onto Air BnB, found a whole apartment with a stunning view over Dubrovnik old town and booked in 3 nights in May. I couldn’t have been more excited and pictured myself, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set over the sea. What more could I possibly want?

As the day went on however the doubts started to creep in. Is it safe to stay on my own? Is it a long walk away from the centre of town? Will this mean that I literally don’t communicate at all with another human being for 4 whole days? Is this really the smartest decision?

I have stayed in loads of Air BnBs before, so it felt familiar to me and I didn’t want to splash out on a hotel but whenever the word ‘hostel’ popped up I just pictured sharing dirty bunk beds with drunken strangers and going home with athletes’ foot from the showers (slightly dramatic I know!). It is sad to say but I knew it wouldn’t be that safe for me to stay alone in a whole apartment in a place I wasn’t familiar with, so I cancelled my Air BnB, got over my fear of foot bunions, and started browsing Hostel World instead.

Just like I would when picking any accommodation for a trip, I evaluated the following factors and then ordered them from 1 (absolute necessity) to 8 (not fussed about compromising on). This way I could filter down the endless list of hostels easier:

  1. Location
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Safety
  4. Price
  5. Common area (space to socialise)
  6. Amenities (kitchen/ washing machine/ bathrooms)
  7. Amount of people in room
  8. Single gender/Mixed

The things I was most concerned about were location, cleanliness and safety so I browsed the map to find hostels inside the city walls and then compared the ratings of cleanliness and safety for each hostel. I wasn’t actually fussed about staying in a mixed room, but it was nice to know that some places do provide the option of single sex rooms if that would make you feel more comfortable. I spent a good day and half reading reviews, looking at pictures and comparing prices until I decided on the best hostel for me. I know that everyone says the excitement of traveling is  being able to ‘live in the moment’ but if it is your first time in a hostel and you’re a bit nervous then there is no harm in taking time to find one that you’re going to feel comfortable in.

TOP TIP: if you are traveling alone then look for rooms with an odd number of beds (3,5,7) as that often means they will have one single bed amongst the double beds, this way you may not have to bunk with a total stranger.

 

HOW TO GET COMFORTABLE AND SOCIALISE

I remember walking into my 5 bed room for the first time and being genuinely surprised with how clean, airy and pretty it was! It was empty when I got there but there were 4 open suitcases on the floor. I have to admit that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole holiday for me, I felt like I couldn’t really relax until I knew who was going to be sleeping within 5 feet of me. Naturally my mind jumped to images of serial killers and smelly, drunk lunatics but I was quickly brought back to reality when 3 English boys on a break from University and an American girl discovering Europe bounded in to say hello. It is easy to forget that 95% of people in hostels are welcoming, friendly travellers in exactly the same shoes as you and not Ted Bundy enthusiasts with a rope under their pillow!

Naturally social situations have never been a problem for me but being in a foreign country with a room full of strangers did throw me a bit! If you feel anxious about just how to socialise with your new roomies (or anyone you come across in the hostel for that matter) then here are a few ice breaking conversation starters that really helped me to settle in…

  1. Where are you from?
  2. How long have you been here for?
  3. What have been your highlights of the city/location you’re in?
  4. Are you traveling anywhere else after this?
  5. I am starving, any recommendations on where to eat?
  6. Do you know where the bathroom/kitchen is?
  7. I am glad to be away from the rain in England, what’s the weather been like here?
  8. I’m really excited to see/visit the ____, have you been there yet?

It can be incredibly daunting starting conversations and if you really struggle with social situations then look for hostels with smaller or even private rooms and try and avoid any with ‘party’ in the name. I think I must’ve walked up and down the stairs from my room to the common area at least 4 times before I got the courage to actually go in and talk to people. There was quite a big crowd gathered in the lounge, so I initially headed to the kitchen and asked a girl cooking if the teabags were free to use. I made a quick joke about how typical it was that the first thing I do in a new country is make a cup of tea and that you can take the girl out of England but not the English out the girl. Luckily, she laughed and we then started a conversation about how much she wanted to visit London. She introduced me to the group and before I knew it 4 hours of discussing everything from travel to cows had passed and I felt right at home.

 

WHAT TO PACK

I know there are hundreds of lists online of essentials to pack when staying in a hostel but I thought I would give my top selection of game changers that I was very glad I had in my case…

  1. Padlock, everyone in my room was totally chilled but you can never be too sure so just bring a padlock so you can lock your valuables away in the lockers. I came to learn that padlocks with codes are better as a few people in my hostel had lost or muddled up their padlock keys and had to pay a fine to break the lockers open and retrieve their stuff.
  2. Money Belt, if lockers aren’t provided then get a comfy money belt that you can always keep your passport and money in, even when sleeping. Quick disclaimer: if you’re reading this before staying in a hostel and are now thinking “oh crap I don’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where I physically have to strap my valuables to my body” then please don’t fret! For my whole holiday I didn’t lock anything away and kept my passport and money in a bag under my bed with absolutely no fear of it getting taken as everyone in my room was so lovely. I am just putting this on my list because you never know, and it is better to be prepared and not use it rather than risk it and wish you had it.
  3. Flip Flops, great for avoiding the dreaded athletes’ foot and also for walking around the hostel in the evening in when you want to be a bit more relaxed.
  4. Small Towel, most hostels don’t provide towels and also don’t have loads of room to hang things up to dry so just bring a small one that you can drape over your bed when it is wet and won’t take up much room.
  5. Extension lead, plugs can be hard to come by and you are normally limited to 1 per person so bring an extension lead. Then all you need is 1 wall plug and 1 adapter but you will have up to 4 sockets to charge your own things from.
  6. Comfy clothes, I found during the day everyone was out and about exploring but in the evenings we would all meet downstairs in the common room whilst some people cooked dinner and others just sat and socialised. It was such a game changer having some comfy shorts and a jumper to throw on!
  7. Sleeping mask, curtains aren’t always an option!
  8. Ear plugs, people snore!
  9. A book, although there was normally someone around to talk to, when the 4 o’clock “I need a break” time arrived for me I really enjoyed going back to the hostel and just relaxing in my bed with a book.
  10. Chocolate, food is a great way to make friends and snacks are just essential no matter what let’s be honest!

 

If you’re debating whether to stay in a hostel or not then my suggestion would be do some good research into finding one that is going to suit you, bring some snacks to share with your new roommates, pack your bag and just do it! They’re cheap and frequent enough in the big cities that if you’re not happy then simply move on to the next one or if worse comes to worse then you can just book an Air BnB for the night. I am so glad that I chose to stay in a hostel and I think I got really lucky that all of my roommates were lovely. I even ended up going on a day trip with one of the girls from the common room and I now consider her to be a good friend! I may have gone away on my own, but I was never alone and before long a room full of strangers felt like family.

If you have any more questions or any tips for me then please leave them below!

For anyone wondering I stayed in the Old Town Hostel in Dubrovnik and absolutely loved it! If you;re heading on a trip there then I couldn’t recommend it more as a place to stay and if you would like to know more about what to do in Dubrovnik then be sure to read my travel guide here!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik (Kings Landing)

 

 

Travel Diary – Dubrovnik, Croatia

My alarm went off at 4am but I don’t think I really woke up until I was sat alone on the EZY851 EasyJet flight to Dubrovnik thinking “what have I got myself into?”

I have been intrigued by the beautiful architecture, rich history and stunning scenery of Croatia for years now. To begin with I had looked into spending some time in Split or venturing out to see the stunning waterfalls at the Plitvice Lakes National Park but when a photo of Dubrovnik appeared on my timeline, and I learnt about its connection with one of my favourite shows (Game of Thrones), my sight was set. My decision to take on this adventure solo requires a blog post of its own, but I had a passport, a camera, a bit of money saved and a desperate desire for a holiday. I booked my flights, secured a bed in a hostel and jet off on one of the best holidays I have ever had.

TOP TIP: If you’re flying into Dubrovnik from England then aim for a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane as you get incredible views of the old town as you go into land.

The only ‘faff’ I seemed to have on the whole holiday was with the buses to/from the airport. According to my hostel instructions there was a bus that went direct to Pile Gate but on arrival I learnt this wasn’t the case. After a discussion with a rather aggressive bus driver I had to venture back into the airport to buy my shuttle bus ticket (80 Kunas for a return) which then took me to the main bus station situated about 20 minutes away from the Old Town. From there I followed a crowd of other seemingly lost tourists to a bus stop where we were predominantly shuffled into a large taxi and offered a shared ride in for the same price as a bus ticket.

TOP TIP: After a bit of questioning at the hostel later on I learnt that you can get the 1a, 1b, 3 or 8 to Pile Gate from the bus station and you can buy your ticket on the bus for around 15 Kuna or from a local newsagent for 12 Kuna.

Venturing in through the medieval Pile Gate, I emerged into the picturesque Placa Stadun – a wide road that cut straight through the Old Town, narrow alleyways broke off from it in all directions and at the end stood the entrance to the port where moored boats bobbed over the choppy sea. Had it not been for my heavy bag practically dragging my shoulder to the floor, I could’ve happily spent the whole afternoon stood there watching the birds fly over the burnt orange rooves and people meandering in and out of shops. But I was tired, hungry and anxious to see what my hostel would be like. I chose to stay in the Old Town Hostel because it was situated right in the centre of the Old Town (funnily enough) and had no issue in finding it down one of the many narrow passageways. It was too early to check in but I was able to leave my bag at the reception and set off in search of food. The only negative I would have to say about Dubrovnik is that it was busy and as a result of that everywhere was very expensive. Though the choice of restaurants was infinite I didn’t really want to spend money on 2 big meals out a day so I strolled through the maze of alleys until I found a perfect solution – a bakery. They offered everything from sandwiches to traditional pastries and even pizza slices, just enough for lunch without breaking the bank! (I would highly recommend the cheese and spinach burek from Mlinar bakery it was exquisite!)

Loaded up on a slice of pizza the real exploring could begin! According to the weather forecast it was meant to rain non-stop for the 2 full days I was there, so I really wanted to make the most of the sunshine whilst I could. I headed to the tourist centre, located right by the entrance to Pile Gate, and asked for some advice on what to do. As It happened I had actually arrived at a bit of a bad time, due to a financial debate the cable car to the top of the mountain had been closed and the rain in and around the area had caused the sea to be incredibly choppy so the boats weren’t running to Lokrum Island. 2 of the things I really wanted to do weren’t available for the duration of my stay, brilliant! All hope wasn’t lost however, and I was able to get a ticket to walk the city walls. You purchase the tickets at the base of the walls for 200 Kuna and then you are free to wander round above the city for as long as you like. It also came with an entrance ticket to the Fort Lovrijenac located just outside Pile Gate.

TOP TIP: Here is one I annoyingly didn’t learn till I left, If you purchase a Dubrovnik Card (either 1 day, 3 day or 5 day) it gets you into 6 museums, 2 galleries and a ticket to the City Wall. The 3 day card is around 250Kuna so a good price for all of that!

Now I know my opinion is limited as I wasn’t able to look down on the town from the cable car or explore the luscious botanical gardens of Lokrum Island, but I think if you were to do one thing only in Dubrovnik then it should definitely be the City Walls! You get the most stunning views across all aspects of the city from the main town square to the port and even out across the sea to the island and the fort. You can climb up the towers, hear the crash of the waves against the walls and watch the birds float across the sea of orange rooves. The passage itself around the walls is quite narrow but it is all one way and there are larger areas to stop and take in the 360 view. I stopped at one of the shady cafes halfway round and drank a fresh fruit smoothie whilst taking in the breath-taking view of the island. For any Game of Thrones fans out there you can also walk around the tower that Daenerys frantically runs around when her dragons go missing in the house of the undying. Including the smoothie break and stopping to take about 10000 photos, it took me just under 2 hours to complete the circuit, but you have full freedom to be up there as long or little as you like. Although you can only enter the walls by Pile Gate you can leave them at the port side of the city if you don’t fancy going all the way around.

Given my early start and the long day of travelling I was rather exhausted by the time the evening rolled around. After spending a bit of time in the hostel meeting my roommates, I set out for an early dinner. I will be uploading another post soon all about my hostel experience in a lot more detail so stay tuned for that! Seeing as Dubrovnik is located on the seafront it would be wrong to not try out some of the fresh seafood they had to offer! A live school orchestra was playing in the main square so I found a restaurant nearby where I could avoid the crowds but still hear the music. It was a bit daunting going for dinner on my own, but I actually got caught up in great conversation with an elderly pair of ladies sat on the table next to me. Their stories about the dishy captain on their cruise definitely made for an entertaining meal! I went for a fresh seafood risotto with extra prawns and had to hold back from licking the plate clean at the end. In general, I would say seafood, pasta and pizza seemed to make up the core of the food offered in the Old Town, though for my second night I did come across a Mexican offering the most incredible fajitas! The cobbled side streets were riddled with a huge variety of places to eat and drink, from vegan restaurants to Irish bars, and there were also a few supermarkets hidden amongst them if you prefer to make your own meals when away!

I slept like a baby that night and awoke to the gentle but disappointing sound of rain on the window. Of course everyone would prefer a clear day when on holiday but I was determined to not let it ruin my trip. I am English after all, if we can’t get on with life in the rain then who can! The bonus of the downpour was that not many people shared the same spirit as me, so I practically had the city to myself! I took it upon myself to seek out the famous cliff bar hidden on the side of the walls. After ascending the “shame” steps, GOT fans will know what I mean, I wound my way through the outer lanes of the city till I came across a metal gate in the wall and a wooden sign saying ‘cold drinks’ on it. The doorway emerged out onto the cliff edge where a row of steps led down to bar. I read a few reviews of this place before leaving and in the summer months it is supposedly packed, but on this rainy May morning it was just me, myself and I (well and the bar staff). I chose a seat right on the edge, ordered a coffee and read my book to the sound of the waves throwing themselves against the wall. I think it can be hard on short city breaks to actually allow yourself time to relax as it often feels like there is so much more you could be doing or seeing, but it is important to give yourself time to unwind and just enjoy the moment and the place that you are in!

Now even though I was only half way into my holiday at this point I am actually going to end this blog post here. The remainder of my Sunday I spent on a Game of Thrones tour, which I have written a separate post about here, and then on Monday I went on a day trip to Montenegro which I also think deserves a post of it’s own. At times looking back on this holiday I do feel as if I missed out on a lot Dubrovnik had to offer, I didn’t see the island or the views from above the mountain, but everything I did get to experience I loved. It is the kind of city that you can lose yourself in. The criss-crossing alleyways will always lead to new shops and restaurants to explore, you can sit and watch boats drift in and out of the port for hours and it is rich with so much history, all told in the various museums and galleries, that I think even if I spent a month there I still would be left feeling like there was more to see and do.

Have you ever been to Dubrovnik or is it a place that you would like to go to?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

Why not become friends with me on Twitter and Instagram

LIKED THIS POST? read my other post on Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik (Kings Landing)