A lesson on self healing

Her Review: Rustic Retreats Off-Grid Yoga

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Way back in January, I made some serious plans for this year. And I mean serious. I wasn’t just planning the odd city break and arranging to see friends, I was planning the biggest event of my life. I’ve replayed that wedding so many times that I sort of have to remind myself it never actually happened. It’s true what they say, it’s the image of what you think is supposed to happen that eats away at you most. 

So if you’d told me back then that the highlight of my summer would be spent surrounded by beautiful strangers in southern Spain, I probably would have laughed in your face. If you told me the original holidays I had booked would happen without me, I would have stared at you. If you told me that my life would have changed beyond all recognition, I would have felt bloody scared. 

The truth is, no one has any idea what’s around the corner. Highs and lows greet us as naturally as every changing season. It’s supposed to happen that way. So after a particularly low period, my week at Rustic Retreats was a hugely welcoming, life-altering high. A realisation that actually, there’s nothing to be scared of. All you have to do is trust.

I wanted to get away in every possible sense. My mind was becoming dangerously overcrowded and I could feel myself getting sucked into a spiral of negative thoughts. My body ached. My energy levels were low. I was physically and emotionally done. 

I’d never travelled alone before. The idea of it made the ends of my toes feel numb. I suppose that’s how I knew it was something I had to do. I needed to remind myself that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for, and take on a mini challenge that forced me to spend less time in the darkness. 

I considered just lying on a beach by myself for a week but concluded I would slowly but surely go mad without any kind of structure. I looked at yoga retreats in Bali, Nepal and India but couldn’t justify the big spend. And then I found it. I found my sanctuary. 

How to describe Rustic Retreats? 

It felt like home. Serenely beautiful and yet warmly familiar. Nestled in the Sierra Espuña Mountains of rural southern Spain, the dramatic rocky backdrop creates a stunning contrast against the lush lemon, lime and pomegranate trees. 

Completely back to nature. Sounds of cicadas, frogs, bees and rustling bamboo trees. This is where we slept. Beneath the biggest, brightest stretch of stars EVER. 

There are enough big canvas tents to house groups of around 10 people, each equipped with two or tree proper beds, a table lamp, plug sockets, comfy blankets, cushions and rugs. I was delighted to find we’d been give a hot water bottle each (so cute), which soon became a part of our bedtime routine. That and cups of herbal tea or a welcome glass of organic red wine. 

The retreat is off-grid. Totally solar powered, complete with outdoor shower and toilet. I was amazed to find the swimming pool to be insanely clean, and the shower water hot. Elliot, the wonderful creator and host, has built something remarkable. I felt privileged to have spent a week marvelling at his work, as well as his immense hard work in running the place. 

God I haven’t even got onto the two best parts yet! 

First is the food. Elliot is a chef by trade. And a bloody amazing one at that. Vegan and vegetarian. simple and delicious. All grown and sourced locally. Every healthy meal felt like a feast. It was actual heaven. Have a little look at their sample menu...

And the yoga. Wow. Now, I really enjoy yoga, but I am by no means an expert. At first I worried that my lack of expertise would hold me back, but the retreat is tailored to all levels, and everyone is encouraged to just give it a go. 

Our days looked something like this…

FullSizeRender.jpg

We were lucky enough to have the truly inspiring Bec Black as our yoga teacher for the week. As she explains beautifully over at balancebec.com, Bec’s philosophy is one of balance and synchronicity, and it radiates within her practice and persona in every way. One minute we felt truly and deeply connected with the earth and the flow of our class, and the next we were just laughing at ourselves. It was the right blend of serious and fun. And the harmony of our group was perfect. I couldn’t have asked to spend the retreat with more genuine, lovely, interesting people. 

I was expecting to spend my week soul searching and looking for answers within. And although I did do this, I’m just so happy that I was able to step outside of myself too. Outside of my comfort zone, outside of my thoughts. There is just so much more to life than our own personal  struggles, and sometimes watching the sunset over a valley is all you need to remind yourself of that. I feel more in tune with my body and my thoughts, simply because I gave them the chance to have a little freedom and room to move. It was magical. 

Does Rustic Retreats sound pretty ideal to you, too? 6-night retreats start from €450, including accommodation, food and classes. 

Advertisements

How would you spend 3 weeks in South East Asia?

DSC_0490

I don’t know about you, but before I went away, 3 weeks used to pass me by like that. Blink and it’s gone, with not an awful lot to show for it. Numerous hangovers and some new shoes from Zara. My break from the clock-distorting rat race has thankfully taught me this: I was wishing time away, and not really considering what I spent it on. Never, ever do this. Time is our greatest asset. The more we have the better. I’ve had the absolute priviledge of doing something amazing for the first half of this year. I turned all my money into time. 6 months away from my life. The result? I know full well how much you can do with your time if you spend it wisely.

Now, there’s the small fact that most of us have a job. This takes up a great deal of our time, I know. I really do. I might have been unemployed since January, but once upon a time I had a real job. Time and your weekends are literally the most precious things in the world. Which is why I struggle now more than ever to understand the relationship we have with our phones, the TV and the internet. Myself included. If time is so valuable, why do we spend hours scrolling through Instagram and watching ridiculous videos of things that may or may not be real pandas? We might not be able to hike to the nearest waterfall, but surely there’s still a whole world out there to explore? Even if it’s just a stroll along the river and dinner with friends.

So anyway, as you know, our time away was cut short when we sadly flew home for my dear Grandad’s funeral in May. Our weeks away suddenly felt finite and we realised that if we flew back to Asia (which we did) we could only afford to go for just under 4 weeks. Having already travelled for 4 months, we knew full well just how much you could see of the world in that short space of time, so we repacked our backpacks and flew back to Bangkok.

I’ve written this post to demonstrate how much you can see and do if you really put your mind to it, and to show that it is possible to ‘go travelling’ for less than a month, which is much more achievable for most people. Last year Joe and I spent close to £2000 on a week in Ibiza. This year we spent roughly the same on 10 days in Northern Thailand and 2 weeks in Vietnam. Here are some of the most memorable things we were able to do in that time.

Watch the sunset over Pai’s famous canyon

DSC_0109

After a night in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai and then took the 3 hour bus to Pai. A notoriously chilled out, tourist-friendly town in the mountains. The scenery is incredibly beautiful and it was so easy to get back into the swing of things.

Look after the elephants

DSC_0249

After our day with Wildlife Friends Foundation at the very start of our travels, I was determined to visit a similar elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest in terms of actually caring for the animals. So many of the parks claim to be rehabilitation centres when in fact they still let ignorant tourists ride on the elephants’ backs, scaring them into submission. Elephant Nature Park provides a safe haven for rescued elephants, and does a huge amount to educate tourists on the painful and complicated history of elephant tourism in Thailand, particularly when it comes to elephant riding, trekking, logging and shows. None of which are OK.

Learn to cook Thai food

FullSizeRender(39)

I’m so glad I did a cookery class in Chiang Mai. I was worried it would be too complicated for someone as useless in the kitchen as me, but it was so easy and chilled. ‘A’, the teacher at Thai Orchid Cookery School made it really fun. We cooked a load of Thai classics: spring rolls, pad Thai, green curry, yellow curry, sweet and sour vegetables and tom yam soup. AND we got to eat everything we cooked.

Visit lots and lots of temples

FullSizeRender(40).jpg

Chiang Mai is absolutely surrounded by temples. You can’t walk down the street without spying a looming golden Buddha, turret or passageway.

Drink cold beer after dark

FullSizeRender(41)

The thing about it being 40°C in the day is that it turns you into an even bigger night person. I’m not ashamed to say that my favourite part of the day was generally sundown with a beer in my hand.

Spend the night somewhere beautiful

DSC_0310

A must-do trip from Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, we stayed on a boat at Halong Bay with Viola Cruise. We had a really nice room, amazing food, trips to the floating village, beach and cave, lovely company on the boat and the most incredible view as far as the eye can see.

Cycle through rice fields

DSC_0351.JPG

You’re never far from scenic rice fields in Vietnam, and some tours include a spot of cycling if you’re after a dramatic backdrop for photos. We went to Ninh Binh from Hanoi, which took about 3 hours by bus.

Always take the scenic route, by boat

DSC_0401

Also in Nihn Binh are local people wanting to take you down the river in their boats. The scenery is astounding and it was a lovely tranquil ride but they did demand more money from us after we’d already paid so be prepared.

Help local students with their English

FullSizeRender(42)

We were approached by a group of students wanting to practice their English, but there are opportunities to volunteer with young adults if you’d like to lend a hand during your trip. These particular students study in Da Nang and have a drop in centre…

Find the best views

FullSizeRender(44)

Never exactly hard when you’re somewhere as scenic as Vietnam, but sometimes finding natural beauty when you’re staying in the heart of the city is hard. Bach Ma National Park is under 2 hours drive from Hue, and the view from the top of the 300 ft waterfall was one of the best I’ve ever seen.

Trek through the jungle

FullSizeRender(45)

Whilst at Bach Ma we also trekked through the jungle, ticking off 5 different waterfalls, each filling a crystal-blue pool. The national park is 2km up in the mountains, so the air feels cool and clean  after the stifling heat and stickiness of the city.

Get caught in thunder storms

FullSizeRender(46)

Despite visiting during the start of the rainy season, we only saw a couple of storms. One of them trapped us under the bamboo roof of a beach bar and the other soaked us on an hour-long motorbike ride back down a mountain.

Explore ancient ruins

DSC_0508

We originally wanted to spend a week in Cambodia as I’ve always wanted to see Angkor Wat, so Vietnam’s Mỹ Sơn was a bit of a substitute. Nowhere near the same scale, but a really interesting architectural site none the less, particularly because it was bombed in the war.

Visit a local village

FullSizeRender(47)

On the way to Mỹ Sơn from Hoi An there’s a small local pottery village overlooking the mountains. Stop for a coffee and test your skills on the pottery wheel. I was terrible.

Buy a custom-made suit

FullSizeRender(48)

We went to a wedding in the Cotswolds the day after we flew home, so it made sense for Joe to get a custom-made suit in Vietnam. Hoi An is famous for it, and it’s shockingly cheap. Joe’s was made by Yaly, and I was so impressed. You choose the colour, fit, fabric etc and they do the rest. £120 for a high-quality suit and shirt.

Eat incredible Vietnamese food

FullSizeRender(49)

In Hoi An, we stayed with a Vietnamese family who had just opened their homestay, Flame Flowers. We were their guinea pigs, and every day they served us a different Vietnamese breakfast to see what we liked best, usually consisting of coffee, noodle soup, green leafy vegetables and fruit. It was honestly some of the freshest, tastiest food I’ve ever eaten, along with the Pho, Com Ga, Bun Bo and Bahn Mi street food of course.

Fall in love with a city

FullSizeRender(50)

My favourite place in Vietnam, Hoi An is a beautiful, historial, ancient town. Every road is lined with flowering trees and decorated with lights and paper lanterns. French architecture in pretty pastel shades line the walking streets, with plenty of arty cafes, shops and restaurants overlooking the river. It is very touristy though, so we really enjoyed staying a short bicycle ride away from town with the locals.

End on a high

FullSizeRender(51)

Ho Chi Minh is either where you’ll start or where you’ll end up if you visit Vietnam. We ended our trip here in the chaos. Once you get over the insane traffic and noise you’ll notice the shopping, museums, bars and restaurants. We went to Pasteur Street Brewery for beer tasting, Hum Vegetarian Restaurant for a lovely last dinner, and Snuffbox Lounge 1920s themed bar for the best gin cocktails.

Whether you’re planning a trip of your own or thinking of ways to make this summer count, I hope this post puts into perspective just how long 3 weeks can be! Making every day count isn’t easy when you’re faced with an all-consuming job and daily routine, so remember to make time for the moments that will stay with you long after.

10 common fears travelling helped me conquer

FullSizeRender(38)

Two years ago, when I promised myself I would save up and see the world, I didn’t fully predict the mammoth effect it would have on my future happiness. I felt the weight of the importance to travel, but I didn’t really know why. I wanted to address the other-culture ignorance I was born with as a fortunate westerner, but I wasn’t aware of the sheer impact travelling would have on the way I interpret things. Going away didn’t help me ‘find myself’ (the beauty of travelling aged 26 is that I have a pretty good idea of who I am), rather, it helped me to have faith in the world.

The fear and anxiety I was living with a year ago, and have talked about a lot, always felt very separate to my personality. It was alien to me. Travelling didn’t encourage me to shape my identity, it reaffirmed to me what I already hoped was a myth. That fear and phobias are not truths, and they can be overcome. In short, travelling made me see that I was scared of things for no reason. OCD-induced anxiety is not ‘me’ or a product of a messy world, but an ugly phenomenon all of its own. One that can be confronted with a little will power and courage.

I am the same person as before, only calmer and less worried, with a much better perception of people, politics and environmental affairs. I have learned to look outwards, rather than forever seek for the answers within. I have broken the spell the media and my mind cast over me, that the world is a scary place. So here are 10 incredibly common fears that travelling finally helped me address.

IMG_6971

1. The fear of flying

Very few people actually enjoy flying, and plenty of us are completely terrified by the idea. But, quite simply, if you refuse to board that plane, you will never see the beauty that awaits you on the other side. Yes, there is a minute possibility something terrible will happen. But there is also a possibility that you will be (God forbid) hit by a car today. One is incredibly slim, and the other is even slimmer. It is always, always worth the risk. Which is barely a risk at all. I have boarded a plane every couple of weeks for 6 months. At first I feared the worst, and now a bad thought barely crosses my mind.

2. The fear of losing things

Being fairly (very) absent minded, I often misplace things. I have also been robbed in broad daylight in London. Combine the above with a once very materialistic attitude and you have a pretty persistent worry of objects you love going missing. Travelling makes you more mindful of what you really need, which turns out to be not a lot. As long as you have your passport and some money, you’re ok. When my backpack got  lost on the flight from Bali to New Zealand, I was distraught at first, but soon realised that it wasn’t the end of the world. I still double check I have my phone every few minutes, but more for the fear of losing precious photos, rather than the phone itself.

3. The fear of being attacked

Obviously it’s important to keep your wits about you when you’re in a new place or walking about at night, and there are some places you cannot go alone or even at all, but worrying people are out to get you is a waste of time and energy. I used to convince myself every stranger might want to kill me, which seems ridiculous now. The best way of proving yourself wrong is to compile a load of evidence against your own theories. I must have walked past thousands and thousands of perfect strangers, in hundreds of different neighbourhoods in 10 different countries, and felt threatened by absolutely no one. Not a soul wanted to hurt me, so what was I so afraid of?

4. The fear of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers

People do not analyse and criticise you the way you do yourself. Remember that next time you’re worried about giving something a go. Better to try and do something badly than sit back and watch. Because you’ll never learn anything otherwise. Try saying hello in a new language, play beer pong when you’re rubbish at throwing and never be afraid to ask questions that might seem silly. The satisfied feeling of getting over the initial embarrassment lasts much longer than the embarrassment itself. Travelling and meeting people from different walks of life has taught me that everyone worries about how they’re perceived from time to time, but the the most inspiring people don’t let it get in the way, or give a shit what people think.

5. The fear of not looking your best

My relationship with makeup, clothes and general self maintenance has gone round and round in circles over the last 6 months. I still want to look my best if and when I have the time, but the pressure to look perfect has definitely been lifted. There are so many better ways to spend your time and energy. Yes I still like to shave my legs and brush my hair, but I don’t feel uncomfortable about wearing the same outfit two days running or foregoing mascara. Life is too short for perfection. Look after yourself for God’s sake, but don’t let your day revolve around it.

IMG_6969

6. The fear of eating contaminated food

Whilst in Asia, do not assume that street food will give you the shits. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten cost 50p from the road side. Having said that, do not take the importance of hygiene for granted. There is a balance. I would avoid anything that hasn’t been cooked fresh in front of you. Sometimes you might be unlucky, but don’t let the fear of getting ill stop you from trying new foods. Use your common sense. Common sense is much more finely tuned when fear is absent.

7. The fear of being in a fatal accident

When you’re travelling, it’s kind of weird how much you trust your life with strangers. From bus drivers to scuba instructors to tour guides, your knowledge of a situation is often completely dependent on someone you hardly know. The best piece of advice I can give is to trust that it’s better to be in the hands of an expert stranger than fend for yourself, but also to stay alert to any potential danger. Do not assume you are going to die on a choppy boat journey or dodgy drive along a cliff edge. Fear will inhibit your mind. Simply go with it until you feel in your heart something might be wrong. Be open about anything you’re concerned about, and make educated decisions with the help of others in the same situation.

8. The fear of not being in control

One of the most impactful products of OCD is needing to feel constantly in control. This often provokes habits, rituals and ways of thinking as a way of regaining any control that has been lost. Even if you’re travelling alone, you will never feel completely in control. This is a blessing. Your boat is supposed to leave at 2pm but doesn’t leave until 4pm, you’re covered in insect bites even though you’ve rinsed a whole bottle of DEET, you only had three G&Ts but you threw up over the side of a tuk tuk, you lost your backpack even though you spent so long deciding what to take, you burnt your face even though you tried really hard to stay awake, you came straight off your moped even though you were driving as safely as you could, you got caught in a storm but the weather app promised it would be sunny. Shit. Happens. To everyone. No matter how careful you are. The more you stop trying to control everything, the better you will feel. Things can’t go right all the time, where would be the fun in that? Where would be the stories?

9. The fear of heights

When I think of being up high, my toes go numb and a frenzied caterpillar of fear crawls up the back of my ankles. I’m not sure when I developed this. Probably with age. The cure? Jump out of a plane. Go on roller coaster rides, bungee jump, ski and climb mountains. Find enjoyment in fear and learn to interpret the adrenaline as a good thing. Fear makes us feel alive, so we’re lucky to be able to experience such an intense feeling. The feeling of coming face to face with your fear is sometimes enough to make you overcome it. You will feel powerful, alive and in control, but only because you first felt afraid. Turn negative feelings into positive actions, because they’re the strongest of all.

10. The fear of things going wrong

One of the most important and life-changing things travelling has helped me confront, is the need for everything to be a certain way. Before, if something didn’t go exactly to plan, I felt so uncomfortable I would rather go back to bed than face the unpredictable day ahead. As you can probably imagine, during a loosely planned and long trip around the world, things frequently went wrong, or our plans changed, or we had to act very spontaneously. The beautiful thing is that when something went ‘wrong’ or differently to how I imagined, it often worked out for the best. It very quickly became apparent that just ‘going with it’ and not sticking to a strict plan opened the most amazing doors along the way. For example, in El Nido, we booked ourselves onto a ‘party boat’ tour of the islands, only to discover it had been cancelled after we waited around for 2 hours. We were pretty upset. Time is precious and all the other tour boats had left the bay. Then quite out of nowhere we bumped into Tom and Maddie, who owned a boat and offered to take us anywhere we liked for a fraction of the price. We loaded up the boat with food, beer and speakers (and Lydia, their puppy) and sailed off to the most beautiful islands, where we had our own party. It was the best afternoon imaginable and we were so sure the day was ruined just hours before. The lesson? Things can always get better, and sometimes better than ever. But first, sometimes something has to go wrong.

I am not fear and worry free, but I can honestly say have learned the value of acceptance. What happens to you is often completely out of your control, so better to fret less and live more. If I can do that, you definitely can too.

10 must-do things in Japan

DSC_1028

Determined to satisfy an obsession with all things Japanese, we sidestepped the usual travellers’ trail and went from the South-East Asia all the way up to Japan. Best. Decision. Ever. Japan is overwhelmingly different from anywhere else you’ve been before, retaining a rock-solid sense of identity through it’s unique culture, rituals, history and beliefs. There is so much to see, from beautiful artistry to the down right weird. It’s also nowhere near as expensive as I thought, catering for every type of traveller (if you book in advance). Mind blowing architecture, seriously good food, the very latest trends, incredible scenery, technology to make you look twice, gaming, shopping, wildlife and art.  Japan is a Mecca for those who find intrigue and wonder in the very idea of otherness. I’ve narrowed down our 3-week trip into these 10 amazing must-do things.

1. See the bright lights of Tokyo

FullSizeRender(24)

FullSizeRender(26)

That image of Tokyo you have in your head, of neon signs towering up to the skies, as far as the eye can see? That’s Shinjuku (see also Shibuya and Ueno). Go there at night and walk around in amazement. I felt starstruck, like I’d walked onto a film set. We drank whisky with strangers in Golden Gai, a hipster-heaven composition of about 200 tiny bars crammed into a few narrow backstreets. I had one of the moments where you just feel like you’re precisely where you’re supposed to be.

2. Picnic under the cherry blossom

DSC_0778

DSC_0600

We chose to visit Japan during cherry blossom season (Late March to April), which is one of the most beautiful times to go. Soft pink confetti fills every other tree and what was just a plain grey street is decorated with paper lanterns and treated as a premium picnic destination. There are loads of great places to see the cherry blossom in its full glory. My favourites were the Meguru River and Kanazawa Castle grounds, which are both spectacularly lit up at night.

3. Ski the Japanese Alps (and see the snow monkeys)

IMG_4725

DSC_0690

Exploring Asia for 6 months, we didn’t exactly expect to see snow, let alone go skiing, but realising we’d catch the end of Japan’s ski season, we spontaneously made our way across to Yudanaka and rented absolutely everything from a hotel in Shigakogen’s Inchinose ski resort. It was amazing to have such a massive change of scenery and we pretty much had the slopes to ourselves. Whilst in the area, we also went to visit the snow monkeys, you know the ones on snowy nature programs that bathe in hot springs? Definitely go and see them in real life.

4. Spend all your time (and money) in Kyoto

IMG_5050

DSC_1019.JPG

Whether you’re looking for fine dining, hip wine bars or a bit of serious shopping, Kyoto has got you covered. This fashionable city has a really cool vibe and there is so much to do. Get drunk with the locals down buzzy Pontocho Street, raid the vintage wonders of Three Star retro clothing and eat the best Ramen of your life at 1000 winds (just opposite). We also spent the day wondering up and down Philosopher’s Walk, bathed in the beauty of the golden pavillion and found the most amazing bakeries along the way.

5. Take in the temples of Koyasan

DSC_0093

FullSizeRender(34)

A train, cable car and bus ride away from Kyoto or Osaka (roughly 3 hours), you’ll find the spiritual mountain town of Koyasan. An area completely dominated by beautiful temples and home to many Buddhist monks. Some of the monks run their temples like guest houses, giving you the opportunity to spend the night. We stayed at Fukuchi-In, which is the most incredible Japanese building and felt very much like sleeping in a museum. We were served a huge Vegetarian dinner and breakfast in our rooms, relaxed in the lovely Onsen and attended the morning prayer ceremony at sunrise. Be sure to walk through Mount Koya’s woodland cemetery.

6. Walk with wild deer in Nara

FullSizeRender(30)

DSC_0986

In Japan, deer are considered messengers of the gods. In Nara, they are everywhere. It was a really surreal wandering around the temples, being followed by wild deer. You can buy crackers and, believe it or not, the deer bow for you, asking to be fed.

7. Pause for thought in Hiroshima

FullSizeRender(33)

FullSizeRender(32)

A volunteer tour guide took us around the Peace Park, and I’m so glad he did because it gave the attack on Hiroshima and the significance of the park the proper context, hearing the story and facts from an older Japanese person. I wasn’t quite ready for the horror of the museum. The remnants, memories and actual artefacts from the bombing are chilling, but essential for really driving home what happened. The park represents the importance of never letting something so awful happen again.

8. Take the ferry to Miyajima

DSC_0060

DSC_0033

Just 10 minutes by boat from Hiroshima, Miyajima is undoubtedly one of the prettiest places in Japan. Deemed a world heritage site because of its natural beauty, the floating shrine and famous temples sit in harmony with the surrounding, somehow managing the enhance the landscape even more. We followed the three-hour walking trail to the top of Mount Misen and took in the astounding views of the mainland from across the sea.

9. Spend the night in a Ryokan

FullSizeRender(35)

FullSizeRender(29)

If you’re looking for an authentic Japanese experience – the slippers, the kimonos, the onsen, the futons, the tatami mats, the tea – book yourself into a Ryokan, a traditional Japanese guest house. Be prepared to sleep on the floor, change your slippers every five minutes and bathe naked with strangers.

10. Eat ALL the food

FullSizeRender(36)

FullSizeRender(37)

Obviously the food is what attracts most of us to visiting Japan. We didn’t have a single bad meal. Even supermarket sushi is amazing. Ramen from Ichiran (Tokyo) and 1000 Winds (Kyoto), conveyor belt sushi, Tako-Yaki  (octopus pancake balls) on Dontonburi Street (Oskaka), deep fried oysters, grilled eel, green tea ice cream, yakitori (meat on a stick), tempura, Udon from Omen (Kyoto), yakiniku (cooking your own meat at your table), shojin (vegetarian buddhist cuisine), just to name a few favourites.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and need any more tips, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Where to go in the Philippines

img_5424-1

Despite the English-speaking natives and famous white-sand beaches, the Philippines still hasn’t quite found its way onto the typical travellers’ route. This is a good thing. Spanning over thousands of islands, there is still so much untouched, untainted paradise to discover. As with all less-trodden paths however, navigation and knowing what to expect is still a little harder to grasp than tourist-friendly Thailand. Planning a trip to the Philippines demands time and research, but I promise it will pay off in the end. Whatever you’re searching for, whether its the chance to experience traditional village life, see some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, be amongst a buzzing crowd of inquisitive tourists or find a secluded island of your own, this fast-rising country has more than your imagination is capable of. I was lucky enough to spend a month there, so here’s my recommendation of where to visit and why.

 
CEBU CITY
1361-lorega-cebu-city likehertype

We flew from Singapore to Cebu in order to make our way through the mainland and up to the islands of Bantayan and Malapascua. We stopped over in Cebu City for the night and despite appearances (chaotic roads and concrete slums), we had the best evening at what looked like a seedy bar and turned out to be the best live cover band I’ve ever heard, at El Gecko Bar.

We stayed at Tropical Hostel, which was amazing value with really lovely staff.

BANTAYAN
DSC_0158

The very epitome of traditional island life, Bantayan is yet to succumb to mass tourism despite offering the most incredible beaches. We paid a tricycle driver to take us to ‘Paradise Beach’, which we had entirely to ourselves, and ‘Virgin Island’ which is another level of perfection, a short boat journey away. We bought fish from the local market which our boat driver prepared for lunch. The town, Santa Fe, comprises a few narrow streets of shops, food stalls and bars hidden beneath rows of Palm trees and pink flowers. It is such beautiful island.

We stayed at Sunday Flower Resort, which is right on the beach and feels like you’re living among the locals rather than staying as a guest.

MALAPASCUA
DSC_0139

We took a tiny boat that had no seats and kept filling up with water from Bantayan to Malapascua. It was terrifying and took 3 hours but is so much quicker than going back to the mainland to get the ferry. The water is really calm in March, otherwise I would have chosen the longer route! Malapascua is a tiny island with pure-white sand and incredible mountain views, built up solely for diving. The strip of dive centres doubles as beach-front restaurants, bars and hotels. We did a day trip with Evolution Divers, who have the biggest boat, and saw sharks, sea snakes and sea horses.

We stayed at Blue Corals, which has its own sunset bar out to sea and a private sun loungers on the beach. Although, we did have to shower using a bucket!

 

KANDAYA
DSC_0178

Kandaya isn’t an island or region in the Philippines, it’s a luxury resort on the northern coast of Cebu. It isn’t cheap, but it is the perfect option for a very special occasion. Joe proposed to me here, and it will forever be my ‘happy place’. Think ultra-modern villas on the beach, private infinity pools, horse stables, golf carts to ferry you about and a absolute tranquility.

BOHOL
DSC_0321

Bohol is famous for two things: Chocolate Hills and Tarsias.  Chocolate Hills is a unique formation of huge coral-rock hills covered green grass that turns brown in the dry season, resembling a box of chocolates as far as the eye can see. Tarsias are the world’s tiniest primate and can only be found in Bohol. You can easily see both and much more in a one-day tour. I would also suggest the river cruise for lunch and Panglao’s lively Alona Beach for dinner and drinks.

We stayed at Villa Juana, just down from Alona Beach, and the hosts were so friendly. They drove us around to see the sights, feeding us sweets and satsumas.

 

PEURTO PRINCESA
FullSizeRender(22)

We flew to Manila to meet friends that had travelled all the way from the UK to meet us (that’s love) and the next day took another flight to Palawan. Peurto Princesa is the capital and is worth sticking around for before doing what most people do and heading up to El Nido. We did the Honda Bay island hopping tour which was amazing. Snorkelling, a beautiful sand bar, BBQ lunch and a pristine white beach (with added banana boat ride) to finish. We also did the underwater-river tour, which is astounding  to see but very touristy and long-winded as a day trip. Head down to Rizal Avenue or The Bay Walk for dinner (we loved La Terrasse).

We stayed at Julieta’s Pension House, and Julieta herself was the loveliest lady. We also stayed at the Acacia Tree when we passed back through, which is a beautiful hotel with a pool and clean, comfy, modern rooms. Probably my favourite hotel in the 4 months I’ve been travelling.

 
EL NIDO
DSC_0450

Located in the north of Palawan, El Nido has a reputation as one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines. The rumours are true. It’s stunning, and although busy, it’s also a lot less built up than I thought. A traveller’s paradise. The best beaches are off the mainland, so you’re completely dependant on sorting a boat for the day. We skipped the crowded tours and found a really lovely couple (Tom and Maddie who run Pink Pirate) that would take a different route to avoid the crowds. We were rewarded with having El Nido’s infamous ‘Big Lagoon’ to ourselves, dropping anchor right in the heart of it for a BBQ on the boat. Las Cabanas Beach is on the mainland, and has wonderful views of the Bacuit Archipelago (surrounding islands). It’s also home to a couple of beach bars with surprisingly good music, snacks and cocktails. The best thing about El Nido? The sunset. Grab a table and some tapas early doors at Republika Sunset Bar, or sea kayak your way across the horizon.

We stayed at Islandfront, which was right on Corong Corong beach and a short tricycle from Las Cabanas and El Nido Town. The views are incredible, which just about makes up for the lack of running water. We really embraced ‘island life’ here, and then we all got sick. So worth it though.

12795442_10156533067605858_4121685732223197029_n

If you’d like more information about any of the places we visited in the Philippines, please don’t hesitate to comment below!

 

Giving up makeup (more or less)

no makeup double

Four months ago, the night before my flight to Bangkok, my sister helpfully went through my backpack in an attempt to reduce its embarrassing size. I’m proud to say that I agreed to leave a pile of clothes behind, but after bulk-buying my favourite beauty products for my six-month trip, I struggled with the idea of being without my lifeline: foundation.

“You’re taking two full bottles of foundation, four pressed powders and how many bronzers?!” she demanded in confusion.

“I don’t want to run out..”

Actually, I was terrified of not being able to buy my favourite and trusted brands abroad. It hadn’t really occurred to me in a serious way that I might turn my back on them altogether. That I would finally let my skin properly breathe for the first time in years. That my skin would behave normally of it’s own accord, without smoke and mirrors, if only I’d just let it.

A while back, I wrote a post about feeling comfortable in your own skin, detailing my experience with acne as a teenager and the affect it can have on your confidence. In the past, I’ve put a huge amount of pressure on myself to look ‘perfect’ all the time. I hoped from the bottom of my heart that travelling would help me confront my dependency on makeup, but in all honesty I never really believed I would be happy looking at barefaced me in the mirror. Now it feels weird to think that I never used to leave the house without a thick layer of high-coverage foundation. No wonder my skin was so unpredictable.

OLD MAKEUP ROUTINE:

Primer > concealer > foundation > pressed powder > loose powder > bronzer > blusher > various eye shadows > eye liner> mascara > eyebrow pencil > lipstick

Which is a fairly typical daily concoction for a lot of us. The result? Your face purposefully looking completely different. I’ve only recently come to realise what a shame that is. That so many of us want to look nothing like ourselves. I’m not sure at what point I started wanting to hide my normal face, but it was a very long time ago. It wasn’t enough that my boyfriend professed how ‘beautiful’ I am without makeup. Why wouldn’t I want to look better if I could? Even when it meant getting up at the crack of dawn to apply my face, spending a small fortune on products and feeling strange and ugly without them. Beauty is an addiction. So many of us have become obsessed with our own faces. Only now I’ve taken a step away from my old life do I realise how much time I was spending trying to make myself look ‘right’. And for who? Do people really notice or care if you’re not wearing a full face of makeup?

Those of us who wear makeup every day tend to have a fairly psychological relationship with it. Before, if I didn’t wear makeup, I didn’t feel like me. I felt as though I was being lazy, akin with not bothering to get dressed. Which, when you think about it, is completely ridiculous. It’s just my face. It’s nice to look nice, and I will always make an effort with my appearance, but nobody should feel like a slave to their makeup bags every single day. Nobody should feel less like themselves just because they’re not wearing mascara. It’s hard to think that way when you wear makeup every day. Which is why I’m so glad I’ve learned to like my face again.

So how did I do it?

Quite simply, makeup and travelling do not sit well together. You live out of one bag, you’re always on the go, you’re active, you have to be practical, you’re often sweating, swimming or in the rain, and there are 100 more interesting things to be looking at than your face in the mirror. I am so very glad that travelling forced me to stop feeling so dependent on makeup, I just wished I’d realised all this at home years ago.

I reluctantly gave up foundation first. Thailand’s humidity made sure of that. At first I felt hard-done by, moaning that even my expensive foundation was melting right off my face. Pretty soon however, it became a blessing. My morning routine was so much quicker. I felt self-conscious about spots and dark circles under my eyes, but my skin soon responded by being less shiny. I persevered despite feeling uncomfortable and pretty soon I wondered why I’d ever worn foundation at all. My skin could breathe.

Next came mascara. The longer I went without wearing mascara, the more I came to like my natural eye shape and long blonde eye lashes.  A few weeks in and I was going about each day without any eye makeup at all and feeling completely normal. It sounds ridiculous, but I honestly never thought I would be able to do that. I’m actually quite ashamed at how much I used to hide my face. There’s nothing wrong with it. I just convinced myself there was thanks to an ongoing obsession with thinking I should be looking a certain way, to please nobody but myself.

CURRENT MAKEUP ROUTINE:

primer > powder > eyebrow pencil

Giving up makeup is like giving up any addiction; you absolutely have to be in the right frame of mind to be able to do it, and you’ll surprise yourself by how much better you feel without it. You’ll wonder why you ever depended on it so much and how it could possibly form such a big part of your identity, your confidence, your ability to go about your day.

I can’t help but think that with the new obsession with contouring, beauty filters and lip fillers, we’re not used to seeing natural faces any more. If we all give in, we’re in danger of all morphing into the same person. I’m not sure who she is, or why so many of us want to look like her, but she exists as nothing but a symbol of our insecurities. I don’t want to be her, I want to be me. Real beauty stems from having the confidence to be yourself. Makeup is a wonderful confidence-boosting tool, and one I could never turn my back on entirely, but there is simply more to life than wanting to look perfect all the time.

I still want to wear makeup and will never be the kind of girl who rolls into work barefaced. It’s polite to make an effort. I also love being part of a generation that has access to so many life-changing beauty products. It’s more that now the idea of having to go without them from time to time doesn’t completely terrify me. Makeup gives us an element of control over how we wish to look, but choosing to forego it sometimes surely gives us the most control of all?

Why skydiving cured my anxiety

DCIM102GOPRO

When I was seven, my parents bought a half-built house on a brand-new estate. It thrilled me to think we’d be the first people to live there. Everything would be as it should be; no yellowing circles on the ceiling, not crunchy stains on the carpet, no rotten fence posts. It would be a show house; a perfect house.

Thinking back, it was obvious I had OCD even then. My mum showed me a plan of the upstairs rooms on a sheet of paper. There were three bedrooms left after hers, and I was to choose which one I wanted. There was one huge room, with two windows and space for a double bed and sofa, one medium-sized room and one box room. I chose the box room. My logic being that it would be the easiest to keep tidy. My mum eventually convinced me to take the medium-sized room, but the huge room I left for my younger sister. Sure enough, it became the ‘play room’ and was forever a mess. I congratulated myself for making the right choice. I didn’t even let friends sit on my bed for fear of creases or my soft toys falling into the wrong order. I wanted my world to be small and manageable so that I could maintain full control over everything in it, which is what OCD means for most of us – the greater and more vague the boundaries, the less likely things will be ‘perfect’. I was a seven-year-old perfectionist. 

Thankfully, as a teenager, my OCD manifested itself as wanting to be the best at everything. The silent competition I had with myself actually helped set me up for life, so the condition has its pros. It never hindered my social life and I loved going to school. In my late teens, my ODC switched to food. I was always conscious of eating the perfect balance of food groups. Carb-on-carb or meat-on-meat was a no go. If you’d given me a chip buttie I would have cried. Again, this seemed to work in my favour. I was slim, healthy and knowledgable about food.

At Uni, it was superstitions. I was always seeing ‘signs’ and thought there was a meaning behind everything a typical OCD trait. Reading into everything comes part and parcel with doing an English degree, so my natural thought processes made for excellent critical thinking and literary analysis. OCD to the rescue once again. 

I suppose I never bothered to have my OCD diagnosed because it never really hindered my life. In many ways, it was a personality trait that had helped me be the successful young adult I am. I was always aware of my need to have things a certain way and the discomfort I felt if they weren’t, as well as the fact that I lived very much inside my own head. It wasn’t until I was 25 that OCD stopped being silly little habits and quirks and turned into something much darker. I was so used to it being a positive part of my life that it felt natural to believe that when my OCD convinced me leaving the house would be unsafe, it must be right. 

My OCD turned on me, and just like my seven-year-old self, I made my world as small as I could to keep things under control. It wasn’t tidiness, food or balance that evolved, but my obsession with seeing signs. Everything became a terrible omen to something unimaginable happening. I felt like I was going to die every time I left the house. So much so, that the images of my fate played out in my head. Night terrors in the middle of the day. I was being shot, stabbed and run over in my daydreams, and couldn’t seem to wake from the horror. Things I loved doing started to scare me, and before long I dreaded getting the tube or even walking down the street. Adrenalin pumped through my body every second of the day and relaxation became a myth. Anxiety, panic, ringing in my ears. All day, every day. I did my utmost to hide how I felt and yet I still wanted to be the best at everything, which tired me out beyond belief. The best thing I ever did was ask my GP for help.

A year later, I’m so pleased to say that I’m back to ‘normal’ thanks to 12 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I still felt wary of the world, but the more I faced up to it the better I felt. In a pledge to myself that I never want to feel too scared to live a full and exciting life again, I decided to say a massive a ‘fuck you’ to fear, and to OCD, and jump out of a plane in Queenstown, New Zealand. As far away from home and safety as I could get. It was the best (and most terrifying) thing I have ever done. I no longer feel as though OCD dictates my decisions. It’s still there at times, sure, but I’ve learned not to rely on its authenticity. I have learned that fear is nothing to be afraid of, because it’s so imperative to living that we actually feel alive. Stuck in the house and hiding from the world, I felt terrified and close to death. Jumping out of a plane took my existence to another level. I felt oddly calm and accepting. I was in control of my decisions and yet completely out of control. I took a chance, and felt liberated at last.

How to spend 3 weeks in New Zealand

DSC_0777

There are lots of things about New Zealand we didn’t have a clue about until we arrived. It’s actually quite a challenging place to explore without plenty of research and advice, so here’s a breakdown of the little things that will hopefully make your experience a little smoother. Not that ours wasn’t particularly smooth, more that I wish I could do it all again with the bonus of knowing what I know now. From the best places to visit to how to get around, here are a few valuable lessons we learned in magical New Zealand.

BOOK ACCOMODATION WELL IN ADVANCE

I’m really ashamed to admit this, but after years of wanting to travel around NZ, months of knowing my dream would come true in February 2016, and god knows how many lunch breaks spent looking up all the amazing things we’d be doing, we didn’t actually book anything until the night before we flew from Bali. Shocking, I know.

To be fair, we were in Labuan Bajo in the build up to our jaunt down south, with incredibly limited internet, but that really is no excuse. Travelling around New Zealand is not like travelling around Thailand. You can’t just jump on a tour bus without pre-booking and you certainly can’t turn up at hostels expecting a vacancy. Every year, February sees a vast influx of Chinese tourists, thanks to Chinese New Year and sunny weather, who book out most of the accommodation months before. I was frantically scanning Booking.com and Hostelworld for double rooms and they were quite literally vanishing before my eyes. We thought, ‘Ah well, we’ll just have to sleep in shared dorms for a while’ and were horrified to find the same. There was nothing left.

Fortunately, after hours of scanning every corner of the internet, we found a mish-mash of ‘last-available rooms’, ranging from bunk beds in shared rooms to overpriced doubles we couldn’t afford. Some were miles from town, and others were plain awful. We definitely learned our lesson. Thankfully, even the most shocking of places we stayed in didn’t cast too much of a shadow over our trip, and we did find the odd good place within our budget. We were just thankful we didn’t turn up on the day and have to buy a tent.

BE MINDFUL OF HOW YOU TRAVEL

As with your accommodation, be sure to book your seats onto tour buses well before you arrive. There is limited availability, and often only one bus going to your destination each day. This means planning out your route around NZ well in advance as well. If you’re old ( +25) like Joe and I, you will probably want to opt for Nakedbus, which is all on your terms. You pay $254  for a ticket and can choose your 10 destinations. Or if you’re a bit younger and want more of a set tour, you might prefer the Kiwi Experience, which will also point you towards the best places to stay, drink and socialise.

So many people seemed to be hitch hiking their way around. I thought maybe they just didn’t book the bus in time, but I was assured it’s a fairly common method.

What we really wish we’d done is rent a  JUCY Campavan. It seems expensive when you still have to pay to pitch up in campsites, but once you add up the total cost of rooms, taxis, bus tickets etc, it probably works out about the same and you have complete free range of your trip. If you want to ignore the typical traveller tracks and forge your own, this is the option for you.

BUDGET WELL

As someone who is used to London’s living costs, I thought New Zealand would average about the same, if not cheaper. I was wrong. As a whole, I would say that NZ is more expensive than London, particularly in terms of food and drink. Whereas in the UK we’re well accustomed to where to look for budget shops, supermarkets and eateries, there just isn’t the variety anywhere in NZ. Supermarkets are expensive and corner shops are extortionate.

Necessities in holiday parks and hostels are add ons, meaning that you often have to pay extra for towels, Wifi, plates, even bed linen.

Activities are pricey, but worth it. That’s why you’re there after all. We splashed out on white water rafting, sky diving, renting mountain bikes, visiting hot pools and mud spas, whale watching and swimming with dolphins.

As a couple, our daily budget was around £200 for everything. Which was hard to stick to in certain places where there is so much to do, and easy in places that demand nothing but gentle walks around a beautiful lake. In just over 3 weeks, we spent about £4,500 in total, which is about 1/5 of our total travel costs for 6 months, to put it into perspective a bit. We didn’t eat out every night and we mostly stayed in budget hostels.

SPEND MORE TIME IN THE SOUTH ISLAND

We allowed 1 week in the North and 2 in the South. Weirdly, more people actually live in the North but the South is where it’s at in terms of things to do and see. The scenery is stunning in both but very different in each. The climates are also very different. The North island was consistently pleasant and warm with a bit of rain, while the South ranged from blistering heat to biting cold to relentless rain, all in a single day. It’s the diversity of the South Island that appeals the most – a couple of hours in the bus and you find yourself somewhere completely different to the last.

PRE-BOOK POPULAR ACTIVITIES

We considered everything we wanted to tick of our lists before planning our route, ensuring we’d have enough time to do those once-in-a-lifetime things New Zealand is so famous for. What we didn’t do, however, is pre-book those things straight away. We had planned to go whale watching on Valentine’s Day (cheesy, I know), only to find it was obviously fully booked. We had to change our route slightly to accommodate our must-do activities when there were available spaces. So it’s the same lesson. Book everything before and you’ll have your pick of the bunch.

Many activities are weather-permitting, so I would avoid visiting somewhere for less than 2 days just in case your chosen pursuit is postponed until the following day

In general, we were on the move every 2 or 3 days. Here’s an overview of our 3-week itinerary:

Bali → Aukland (by plane, obviously)

We flew into Aukland and stayed for 3 days. Although there is a bit of shopping, and nice bars and restaurants, I would actually suggest flying into Wellington first, which has a lot more to offer. We visited Aukland Museum, ate green lipped mussels by the harbour and wandered around the city, but mostly we used the time to catch up on work/washing/sleep because Aukland is so much like home.

FullSizeRender(15).jpg

Aukland → Rotorua (by bus)

The first thing you will notice about Rotorua is the smell: Sulphur. Thanks to being built on volcanic soil, steaming geysers and exploding mud pools. Don’t let this put you off in any way, because there are some great things to do here. We ate at the Saturday market, recharged in the healing volcanic mud spas at Hell’s Gate and rode mountain bikes through Redwood Forest, stopping for a picnic at the sacred ‘Green Lake’.

DSC_0831.JPG

Rotorua → Taupo (by bus)

Taupo has a lively atmosphere compared with sleepy Rotorua, as well as beautiful rolling hills as far as the eye can see, one of the biggest lakes in NZ, famous day treks, the Waikato river and the staggering Huka Falls, which is a must-see. We stayed at the Huka Falls Resort; an array of romantic, well-equipped chalets overlooking a vineyard.

DSC_0876.JPG

Taupo → Queenstown (by plane via Aukland)

From Taupo, we took the bus back to Aukland and hopped on a plane down to Queenstown. Queenstown is a pretty special place, both in terms of looks and content. The views are like nothing else I’ve ever seen and there is SO much to do (if you have the cash). Annoyingly, we could only find vacancies in neighbouring Arrowtown, which is lovely, but a 30-60 minute bus ride (depending on the time of day) from where all the action is. Must-do things in Queenstown? Bite the bullet and do something truly memorable. We did a sky dive with NZONE and it was the most terrifying/exhilarating/emotionally demanding thing I’ve ever done. Rafting on the Shotover river was also amazing. Be sure to join the Fergburger queue after a few too many glasses of wine at one of the many bars. Just steer clear of the bar crawls if you want to avoid feeling like a pensioner.

DSC_0909.JPG

Queenstown → Te Anau (by bus)

You can do day trips to Milford Sound from Queenstown, but we chose to spend a night in Te Anau to break up the journey and experience a new place. Like most Idyllic places in the South island, Te Anau is built on a huge lake, has stunning mountain views and has some lovely walking trails. We took the 7am bus to Milford Sound the following day, which I can’t recommend enough. Think jagged mountain tops peering through low misty cloud, crystal waters, powerful waterfalls, unique rock formations, wild dolphins and seal lions and the wind in your hair as you sail through speechless.

DSC_0934.JPG

After Milford Sound (pictured below), as a Valentine’s Day bonus, Joe treated us to the most amazing ”Cathedral Room’ in Te Anau Lodge, a truly exquisite guest house, furnished with nothing but gorgeous antiques and framed with stained glass windows, which rounded off the day pretty nicely.

DSC_0959

Te Anau → Wanaka (by bus via Queenstown)

More great-quality restaurants overlooking a very pretty lake, Wanaka is small but definitely a worthy of a stopover. Unfortunately, our experience was a very rainy one, so I spent most of my time there glued to my laptop and eating instant noodles in a shared kitchen. I did manage to get one photo before the heavens opened.

IMG_3074

Wanaka → Franz Josef (by bus)

We had planned to visit Franz Josef to hike it’s famous glacier via helicopter ride, so you can imagine our frustration when all tours were cancelled and the walkway closed due to torrential rain. At least we were able to relax in the hot pools and enjoy some of the nightlife on offer.

IMG_3079

Franz Josef → Christchurch (bus and Alpine Crossing via Greymouth)

Wanting to make our way from West to East, we booked ourselves onto the TranzAlpine and took in the sights by train. It was pretty amazing actually. The scenery is unbelievable and you would never usually get to see so much in one go. The train travels fairly slowly and has a number of ‘viewing carriages’ without windows. Its a great opportunity to get some amazing photos and quite literally watch the world go by in all its glory.

DSC_1107

Christchurh famously suffered an incredibly damaging Earthquake in 2011 and the city is still rebuilding itself. Community spirit is rife and there is enough to keep you busy for a few days. We found a lovely flat on Air bnb and borrowed the owners’ bicycles to cycle to the botanical gardens, ate Lebanese kebabs at Re:Start (a collection of shops and foodstalls made from shipping containers), and relaxed on Sumner beach. I wouldn’t suggest traipsing the city by foot as everything is quite far apart.

FullSizeRender(17)

Christchurch → Kaikoura (by bus)

Another quaint little town, Kaikoura is known for it unique marine life and the opportunity to get up close to the native whales, dolphins, seals and sea birds. We saw 3 giant sperm whales, went swimming with hundreds of dusky dolphins, and caught many glimpses of the giant albatross. Literally incredible. A wonderful place to indulge in some seafood but most of the fun is out at sea.

DSC_1132.JPG

Kaikoura → Wellington  (by bus and ferry via Picton)

And finally, we ended our 3-week trip with 3 days in Wellington; New Zealand’s captital and the ‘cultural hub of the country’ as it likes to call itself. The are loads of great places to eat to suit every budget (thanks to the resident students) and a multitude of lively bars. We visited Te Papa, an impressive museum that hosts free exhibitions, saw a satirical play at the BATS theatre, spent the day at Zealandia (a huge conservation project dedicated to preserving New Zealand’s indigenous species) and ate street food at Cuba Street’s night market, stopping off at various points to drink good coffee and cheap gin and tonics.

FullSizeRender(16).jpg

So there you have it, my attempt to condense 3 weeks of New Zealand into a few measly paragraphs. NZ is wild and wonderful – an actual haven that’s begging to be explored by anyone, of any age, from anywhere. It is a truly unique place, so as long as you’ve sorted a roof over your head and you’ve got a couple of quid in your pocket, just get out there and make it your own.

20 things I’m glad I took travelling

FullSizeRender(6)

Since I’ve been away, I’ve had a few messages from people asking for travel-related advice, from which backpack to which bank card. I thought I’d share a few things I couldn’t live without right now. After the whole lost-luggage incident, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on what’s actually useful.

There are so many things I would tell past me whilst I was frantically trying to plan what to take. It’s bloody hard knowing what you’re going to need, particularly when you’re exploring different counties with opposing temperatures, contrasting terrains and different currencies. I couldn’t get my head around trying to pack for the sweltering heat of Thailand, the wilderness and mountains of New Zealand, and Spring-time city life in Japan – with many variations in between – all in a single backpack?! Traveller friends kept on at me: “don’t take too much, you’ll instantly regret it.” But how to know what the necessities are? In all honestly, you just don’t until you get there. And some of the time, you will rely on buying temporary seasonal adjustments you can throw away with each new country. But mostly, it is possible to take everything you need for most climates and activities all in one bag. The bag itself is also paramount to your planning of possessions, so I’ll start with that in my list of things I’m so very glad I took travelling:

1. A ZIP-AROUND BACKPACK

I am completely in love with my backpack. I knew I didn’t want a top-loading one, which requires removing every single item from a tiny opening just to find a clean pair of knickers. I wanted one that zipped all the way around like a suitcase, and chose the Osprey Porter 65. 65L is pretty big when you weigh 45kg but this backpack has ‘straight jacket’ fastenings across the front so that you can reduce the size and keep everything compact when it’s not full. It also has a million pockets, is super lightweight and really comfortable. The only downside is that you definitely look like a tortoise when you wear it because of the rounded shape, but I’m ok with that. Osprey Porter 65, £79.99 from Surfdome.com

2. A TRAVEL LAPTOP

FullSizeRender(12)

I am writing and blogging my way through my travels, so naturally I needed to take a laptop with me. Rather than risk losing my trusty old Macbook, I bought myself a HP Stream for about £125 on ebay. At 11.6 inches, it’s small and discreet enough carry around everywhere. The memory space is terrible, so I save photos externally, but in terms of just having a solid laptop to write with, is definitely does the job.

3. A SLEEPING BAG LINER

Being an unfortunate morning sniffler prone to puffy eyes, I am apparently allergic to pillows, or dust or something. I use my sleeping bag liner as a layer of protection to keep my allergies at bay but they’re also amazing for when you’re confronted with questionable sheets. It folds up really small and is breathable, too.

4. A DECENT TORCH

In Thailand and Gili T, we had few days and nights of no electricity. Having a good torch that was able to light the whole room was a life-saver. My Nan bought us ours from Wilko. Good old Nan. Good old Wilko.

5. A POWER BAR

And the same goes for the power bar. When faced with no electricity, we were still able to charge our phones. It’s also great if you’re going to be out in the wilderness and risk running out of battery. Just remember to keep it charged! Teknet PowerZen 2nd Gen, £20 from Amazon.co.uk

6. A MICROFIBRE TOWEL

I have actually lost my micro towel which I’m most upset about. It folds up really small and dries quickly – perfect as a backup. Most places seem to give out towels but I’ve found New Zealand to be a bit stingy on the towel front, often charging you to rent a shitty old towel. Better to have your own. Microfibre Quick-Drying Towel, £9.99 from Kathmandu.co.uk

7. A FIRST AID KIT

Another nifty present from my Nan, a little first aid kit can go a long way. Stock up on plasters, painkillers and antiseptic because you will undoubtedly need them at a time where there are no shops. I would take sun cream too as it’s often cheaper in the UK.

8. A MAGIC UNIQLO JACKET

Have you seen those jackets in Uniqlo in all the colours of the rainbow? Well they fold into a tiny bag like a pac-a-mac, are water proof, lightweight and filled with down, making them really warm. My sister bought me one in khaki and it’s by far one of the most useful things I have. Perfect for an extra layer on chilly flights and overnight buses and for staying dry on boats and rainy days. Ultra Light Down Jacket, £59.99 from Uniqlo.com

FullSizeRender(13)

9. A TRAVEL WASHING LINE

Just a stretchy cord with hooks on each end. Genius when you’re forever washing swimwear and socks in the sink. Travel Clothes Line, £5.47 from Amazon.co.uk

10. A WATERPROOF PHONE POUCH

There may be times where you’re on a boat in rough seas, or you’re simply dancing in the rain. Invest in a waterproof pouch for your phone and money so you can be carefree about it. Dry Phone Waterproof Phone Pouch, £6.74 from Amazon.co.uk

11. PORTABLE SPEAKERS

I would avoid taking anything expensive, just in case. We took knock off Bose speakers  and they’re actually pretty good. I also made a shed-load of playlists on Spotify beforehand.

12. A GOOD CAMERA

I can’t stress enough how much you will wish you had a decent camera once you reach your dream destinations. This is the trip of a lifetime. Invest in a camera that can do your memories justice for years to come. It’s risky, so be sure to backup photos as you go and insure all your equipment just in case. I have a Nikon 3200 and it’s a great option for anyone wanting decent shots that isn’t a pro.

FullSizeRender(7)

13. AN INDESTRUCTABLE WATCH

It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, I’ve just got a little gold Casio. But it’s waterproof and very resilient. I hate not knowing what the time is, especially when I’ve got pre-booked flights, ferries and buses to catch.

14. A FOLD-UP DAY BAG

I bought a Homdox packable backpack from Amazon and it’s so handy for when you need an extra bag. It completely folds into itself so takes up no space at all. It also fits loads in!

15. TRAINERS YOU ACTUALLY LIKE

I was in two minds about whether to take old trainers or lovely new ones. I decided to treat myself to a pair of Nike Janoski Maxes because, to be honest, I’m going to be wearing them every day so better to start with a new pair, right? Plus they are nice enough to wear with all my clothes for pretty much any occasion so I don’t always feel like a tramp. And because I love them.

FullSizeRender(10)

16. BANK CARDS THAT WON’T CHARGE YOU

Without boring you all to tears, we decided to transferred all our money into a joint Santander 123 account. We also chose to have Halifax clarity credit card and a pre-paid card with a company called Resolut. The Halifax and Resolut cards are free to use aboard. We set up direct debits from the Santander account to pay off the Halifax and we top up the resolut card using an app on our phones as and when we need to. I would like to point out that this was Joe’s planning. I am hopeless with money and numbers. If in doubt, consult moneysavingexpert.com

17. DECENT DENIM

I’m so glad I took a good-quality pair of jeans and denim shorts (Topshop and Levis). I know they go with everything, are flattering and won’t go out of shape. They also require minimal washing. Light trousers and shorts are everywhere (and cheaper) in Asia.

18. PLENTY OF SWIMWEAR

This will probably be the thing you wear the most. It’s also the quickest thing to get ruined thanks to salt and chlorine, so take a good selection of swimwear.

19.INSECT REPELLENT WITH ‘DEET’

Well worth the extra couple of quid in Boots. We’ve found that, often, little corner shops in Asia only have crappy insect repellent that does nothing at all. It is so horrible being covered in bites, so check the ingredients for ‘deet’.

20. A KINDLE

FullSizeRender(11)

I love the romantic notion of travelling the globe with a pile of books under my arm, but in reality it just doesn’t work. You will suddenly find you have much more time to read, so treat yourself to a kindle and save some space in your bag. Alternatively you will find second hand book stores and book swaps in hostels.

If you are as clueless about travelling as I was a few months ago, I hope this post has enlightened you in some ways. Basically, try your hardest not to fill up your backpack with clothes (which, admittedly, I did do), and take it from someone who honestly believed she couldn’t live without them, you can, and you will.

Lost luggage and learning to let go

img_2983

One month into our travels, my absolute worst nightmare came true. After a 13-hour journey from Indonesia to New Zealand, we were the last people waiting at the luggage belt. That sinking feeling surged deeper and deeper into my stomach until airport staff told us all the bags had been unloaded. Mine wasn’t on the flight.

I can imagine this would be pretty upsetting for most people. Inconvenient at the very least. But for someone with OCD, who constantly fears the worst, it is absolute hell on Earth to have your fearful thoughts come to life. The gates of possibility to all the other terrible things that could happen are suddenly flung open. It is basically a horrible confirmation that you were right to worry, which is problematic when worrying doesn’t solve a thing. My mind went into overdrive trying to remember all the remain-calm techniques I’d learned in therapy, as I raced to the baggage claim desk.

‘Sue’ from Jet Star (don’t ever fly with Jet Star) was the most miserable cow in the whole of New Zealand. The conversation went something like this.

‘Do you know where my bag might be? Here’s the tag and flight number.’

‘No. Maybe it missed the connection. Leave your details and we’ll contact you tomorrow.’

‘I’m not leaving until you’ve traced my bag. That bag is my whole life right now.’

‘I’m calling security.’

And she called security on me, whilst I was having a panic attack. Fortunately the policeman got the wrong end of the stick and thought she had called him to help me. We eventually convinced her to contact Sydney airport some 3 hours later, who claimed my bag had got stuck on the luggage belt and should be with me in 24 hours. 24 hours of wearing Joe’s vests and pants was unappealing but do-able, so I forced myself to put the whole thing to one side.

The next day the airport called to say they hadn’t received confirmation from Sydney the bag had been found. It was dubbed ‘lost’. I felt numb, but I refused to panic. I calmly made a list of everything that was lost, had a little cry and carried on with the day. We drank bottles of beer in the sunshine and wandered up and down Queen Street buying a few bits. Later in the afternoon, Joe managed to track my bag online. The status had changed from ‘tracing’ to ‘arrived at airport’ and the relief of waking up from a bad dream swept through me. They had got it wrong. My bag was couriered to our hostel at 10pm that evening.

What struck me most about losing my bag was how quickly I accepted losing the clothes. It was the sentimental things that really upset me. The letters and photographs, the tickets I’d kept, the shells I’d collected, the notes I’d written. I was grief-stricken at the thought of losing those. But the clothes, which a month ago I would have held just as closely, I was ok with. And weirdly enough, the experience has made me feel less anxious in general. Because, basically, bad stuff is going to happen, and there is literally nothing you can do about it. If you want to be ok with it, you will be. Life goes on. And, of course, most of the time it could be a whole lot worse. Sometimes it’s important to give ourselves a shake and recognise just how fortunate we are that fairly trivial matters can seem so significant.

One of my aims of travelling is to feel less dependent on material things. And, although I still have quite a long way to go, this experience has brought me one step closer to where I want to be mentally. So actually, it turned out to be a positive thing. You never really know what’s good or bad until you allow time to take its course. It’s hard to put that into practice but it’s so important to remember.

I hope reading this encourages you to be patient if things aren’t going your way at the moment. If you are learning and growing, you are winning. It’s as simple as that.