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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7. Won’t you miss home too much?

This is one of those questions that’s quite hard to answers because if I’m honest I won’t know until I get there! I lived in Norwich for 3 years, whilst at university, so I am used to being away but there is a big difference between being a 19 hour flight and a 2 hour train journey to get home. If the idea of missing home too much is what’s keeping you from getting away then here are some things to do/think about to put your mind at ease.

“You’re never more than 24 hours away from home” – Beth Sandland

Beth’s magical Instagram account and blog (link here) is one of my main inspirations behind going traveling and when she put a quote up saying that “you’re never more than 24 hours away from home” it put my mind at rest as well. If worse comes to worse and you really can’t face being away anymore then all you have to think about is that in the space of a day you could be back in your own bed. Now I know things aren’t always simple and it can be expensive to fly home within a day but it is reassuring to know that home is closer than you think.

Everyone who is traveling is away from home

When you’re away you will meet people from all over the world but an important thing to remember is that all of them are away from home. If you’re feeling homesick then chances are someone else you’re with is to (or at least has been) so go and find someone to talk to. If you’re not one for talking about your feelings then at least go and find someone to keep you distracted. Grab a bite for eat, go for a walk, sit on the beach and watch the sunset – do something to immerse yourself in wherever you are and remind yourself why you came in the first place!

You can always call home

Modern technology has its ups and downs but one thing it is great for is keeping in touch with loved ones no matter where you are on the planet. We’re lucky enough now to be able to call home to hear your mums voice, see what your friends are up to on Instagram or FaceTime your dog if you’re missing his face. My dad always says then we he went traveling in his 20s, my granny would write a letter and send it to the next town he was meant to be traveling to with hopes he’d actually make it there to read it. Now even my granny has FaceTime! We are more connected than ever so you are never more than a message away from home.

You can make it a home away from home

Sometimes it’s not our specific home that we miss but just the general feeling of stability and having a routine to stick to each day. When you’re traveling it can be unsettling to always be in a new place experiencing something different and that can make us miss the normality of home more. So if you find a place that you like and you feel comfortable in then just stay for a bit! Go to the same cafe for breakfast every day, read your book on the balcony at the same time each day, get an early night and catch up on sleep. I feel like there’s a constant pressure to never stop when traveling but if you’re feeling a bit aimless then just take some time to realign and make yourself a home away from home.

There is no time limit on traveling

You don’t have to away from home for a year for it to count as traveling. I will say it again. You don’t have to away from home for a year for it to count as traveling. I think there is a big misconception that for it count as traveling you have to be away from home for months on end when in reality you can be away as long as you feel comfortable. If you are unsure about wether you will miss home too much then juts don’t plan too far ahead in the future. Stick to a week by week basis where possible which will therefore allow you to come home whenever you feel ready and you won’t feel trapped by plans you made for months in the future.

I think the overall point I want to get across is that the beauty of traveling is its freedom. Do whatever you feel comfortable with and come home whenever you feel ready. There is nothing wrong with missing home, it is totally natural, so just play it by ear and do what you need to make yourself comfortable and happy. I am going to bring some photos of home away with me and a teddy that my mum gave me to remind me of her. When I feel like I miss them a bit I will jump on facetime and if the point comes when I just want to see them in person then I will come home. Simples!

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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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

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10 tips on surviving university

I am still finding it hard to believe that I only have one year of university left, where have the last 2 years gone? I wasn’t sure what to call this post because I feel like the word ‘surviving’ makes it sound like some life-endangering challenge (which it definitely isn’t) but I would be lying if I said university was all smiles and rainbows!

So here are my tips to getting the most out of university through some do’s and don’t’s I have come to learn the hard way

  1. PEOPLE ARE MESSY – I am far from a clean freak but I was shocked to see how disgustingly dirty our kitchen got at uni (especially in first year when I was sharing with 11 people). My tip would be to share some kitchen utensils but keep your plates and cutlery to yourself because, believe me, some people will leave their washing up for weeks and you don’t want to have to resort to eating your cereal out of a pan.
  2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A PARTY ANIMAL TO ENJOY UNI – When people hear the word university they think of rowdy students drinking till their livers fall out every night and I can’t lie, it can be like this! BUT its not all like that and that side is definitely not compulsory so if you don’t feel like going out and drinking then don’t, I guarantee there will be lots of other people at your uni that feel the same way!
  3. GET THE BALANCE RIGHT – Aside from all the wild nights out university is also about studying and working towards a degree so its important you find the right balance between work and play. Don’t go out everyday and fall behind on your work but equally don’t lock yourself away in the library and miss out on fun experiences
  4. SAY YES TO EVERYTHING YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE DOING – Speaking of fun experiences, university offers so many opportunities from societies to just the random, funny things you will get up to with your friends now you’re living without your parents. Looking back you want to have as many memories as you can so challenge yourself a bit and try to yes as much as you can! BUT if you don’t feel comfortable or safe then walk away, its better to be safe than sorry.
  5. YOU MIGHT NOT MEET YOU BFFL ON THE FIRST DAY – During freshers week you will meet more people that you’ve probably ever known in your life and some, believe it or not, you might meet once and then never see ever again! It is a great time to socialise and form friendship groups but don’t panic if you don’t find your friends for life, they will come over time.
  6. EATING HEALTHY IS IMPORTANT – Now no one is expecting you to be Gordon Ramsay but living off pasta and chicken dippers really isn’t good for you! I got quite ill in my first year and bad eating habits had a very noticeably bad effect on my mental health so just add that broccoli and those apples to your shopping basket, believe me you will need them.
  7. DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S COVER – One of my favourite parts about uni is the wide variety of people that you will meet, some from completely different backgrounds to you. Everyone at uni has a story and a reason why they are there so don’t be judgemental towards anyone because you will be surprised who you have connections with in the end!
  8. THINK HARD ABOUT WHO YOU WANT TO LIVE WITH IN SECOND YEAR – One of the stupid designs of university life is, in most cases, you have to find a house for second year around christmas time of your first year. This means you will be choosing to live with people who you’ve only known for a couple of months. Friendships change all the time at uni so my tip would be to think really hard about who you feel comfortable around and who you don’t think you will have any issues with for the rest of first year. Also try and get a house close to your other friends so if worst comes to the worst and you have fallen out with your future housemates by the time second year starts you’re not far away from other friends!
  9. TOXIC POEPLE ARE NOT WORTH YOUR TIME – This is definitely something that took me a bit too long to learn. As I said there will be lots of like-minded people at your university so if there is someone that is making you feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or unhappy then they are not worth it. Keep your head up, walk away and go out and find people that appreciate you for you. (just to clarify I’m not saying to walk away from things after any tiny little problem but don’t stick around if you’re not happy, uni is different to school in the sense that you don’t just have one class/one year, you have 3 years worth of people to get to know)
  10. UNI IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT – I definitely started to adopt this mindset later into my second year and it made such a huge difference. I would always hear people saying university were the best years of their lives and it really got to me that mine didn’t really feel that way! Once I started to realise that it was only going to be amazing if I made it amazing things really started to look up. I started making more plans, therefore memories, with my friends and looked into getting more out of uni than just a degree and a major hangover! University can be the best 3 years of your life, you just have to put a bit of effort into making it.

There are my tips that I have learnt over my 2 years at university. If you have any of your own or anymore questions don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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