Her Poetry: A Fatal Force

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Pure mountain rain is all it takes
To promise fatal force,
A trickle leaks from heightened stakes,
Rolls stealthily from the source.

It grows with every slippery bend,
Weaving in with murky pools,
It carries only clear blue sound,
Discarding matter cruel.

Driftwood’s tangled far behind,
So suck the jagged rocks,
Crushing cascade looming close,
A thousand lurching knots.

Our gentle lull becomes a sea,
Mutating with the hour,
Engulfing grass and river beds with
Exhilarating power.

Wilder still it catches wind
That everything will change,
A swirling vortex burrows down
And wipes away your name.

The ink is smudged and dripping now
In water colour, of course,
Out pours the fluid memory;
Out flows the fatal force.

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20 things I’m glad I took travelling

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

Indonesia in rainy season: the ups and downs

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Going from Thailand’s sunny peak season to Indonesia’s predicted thunderstorms sounds like a terrible idea, I know. In some ways it was, but in many respects I’m glad we did it. Exploring Indonesia during the rainy season came with plenty of challenges, but because of the low points – like having no clean, dry clothes, or being unable to leave our clammy little rooms because of flooding, we were so grateful when the sunshine decided to make an appearance. One morning we even woke up at 5:45am, climbed a big hill and watched the sunrise, just to see the sun in all its glory. In Thailand I’d already started to take it for granted.

I guess we thought that after 3 weeks of sticky heat and sunburn in the land of smiles we wouldn’t mind the odd thunderstorm in the heart of the tropics. Well, we were wrong in some ways. We missed the promise of sunshine almost immediately. We’d taken blue skies away from the equation, doubled the stickiness and added flooding and thunder. Not exactly the change of pace we had in mind. We had no idea it was going to rain quite that much, which is a shame when you’re visiting Ubud’s beautiful Tegenungan waterfall (pictured above) or hitting the reggae bars in Gili T. In some ways however, rainy season is a great time to explore Indonesia. And if it had been sunny all the time, the temptation to do nothing but sun myself on the beach would have been all too great. Plus, we were still able to fulfil our dream of seeing Komodo dragons and trekking across Rinca island, so nothing was lost. Here are a few things we learned about visiting Bali, The Gili islands, Labuan Bajo and the Komodo region during the low season.

THE PROS

1. There is still sunshine, I promise
You will literally clap and cheer when it comes. It will generally either rain in the morning and brighten up, or the rain will come mid afternoon after a morning of sun. Plus it’s still hot, so your wardrobe is exactly the same, with the small factor of wearing a very stylish waterproof poncho on top.

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2. Low season means fewer tourists…
…and fewer tourists means cheap accommodation, less crowded attractions, better chances of seeing the wildlife and the opportunity to get to know the locals.

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3. You can party all year round in Gili T
There just tends to be one or two bars that everyone goes to depending on the night. The narrow streets aren’t full of drunk people, either.

4. Scuba diving trips are quieter…
…so you get a much more personal service. You can pretty much dive in any weather in Gili T because the dive sites are so close to the island. January/February time is also a great time for spotting the most marine life diving and snorkelling in Komodo. We were lucky enough to dive with 6m-wide manta rays (unbelievable), sharks, turtles and hundreds and hundreds of fish.

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5. You can still get a boat from Labuan Bajo to see the Komodo dragons!
When we booked our flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, we thought our chances of getting a boat were slim, but as long as the seas aren’t too rough (and it’s down to you to judge) then there will be a captain willing to take you. The boat journey from Labuan Bajo to Rinca takes 2 hours (4 to Komodo) and is very sheltered by the many (staggeringly beautiful) neighbouring islands. I wouldn’t recommend taking the boat from Lombok, which is pretty much open sea and likely to be very rough and actually quite risky. Boats have been known to sink on this route in the past!

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THE CONS

1. Rough seas
Admittedly, some boat journeys were petty hairy. If you’re prone to seasickness or don’t fancy the idea of being on a little wooden boat in the rain, then maybe steer clear. Choose your boat wisely, especially if you’re diving in Komdo. Some dive sites will be off limits due to strong currents, but generally a bit of current means more fish and more fish means a higher chance of seeing sharks and mantas.

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2. You might be without electricity…
…and worst of all, WiFi. Most bars and restaurants will have generators just in case but it can be very annoying if your accommodation doesn’t. I’m so glad we took a good torch, and a power bar to charge our phones, but it feels pretty good just to embrace it.

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3. Say goodbye to your tan
It’s a sad fact of life that that hard-earned tan is likely to disappear when your sunbathing hours are limited.

4. You will dream of having dry feet
It’s far too hot for wellies, so your poor little feet will endure vast muddy puddles in nothing but trusty havaianas.

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5. It is quite hard work (kind of)
Add all the above together with lugging your huge backpack around in the rain, being stranded in the middle of nowhere on your moped whilst it floods, worrying incessantly about the safety of your phone/camera/laptop and being forced to eat at the nearest rather than the best places, and you get the gist. It was pretty fun though.

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I don’t regret exploring Indonesia in the rain, as much as I’ve always had a great time at water-logged British festivals. It was fun, a bit silly and I have so many memories of our hilarious hardships. No two days were the same. However, for future reference, I’m pretty sure we’ll appreciate the sun in peak season next time we visit.

Thailand: 15 things I wish I’d known

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Flying from London to Bangkok is often the easiest, cheapest way to reach South-East Asia, so many travellers begin their journey in the ever-popular Thailand. We had just 3 weeks to get a taste of Thailand’s diverse culture and, although we had the best time, there are a few small things I wish I known before we arrived.

As someone very new to this whole travelling thing, I’ve been torn between a desire to be spontaneous and see where the week takes me and the need to plan each step with extensive research. I think a combination is important, with an open mind being the most useful possession you can have. We researched where to visit enough to know they had very different things to offer, but we didn’t plan how long we would stay at each place until we arrived. We spent 4 days in Bangkok, 9 days in Koh Lanta, 2  days in Koh Jum, 2 days in Koh Phi Phi and 3 days in Phuket. Here are a few things we learned along the way, as I’m sure anyone who visits Thailand will relate to…

1. What you see isn’t always what you get
And I’m not just talking about ladyboys. Whilst your instinct might tell you that the nicest-looking restaurants will serve better food, and cheap street food will upset your stomach, the street food wins every time. It is generally tastier and cheaper. As long as its cooked fresh in front of you, you can’t go wrong.
 
2. Cheese and Ham toasties from 7/11 are totally acceptable
A pre-made toastie in a packet from the corner shop should be so wrong, but it’s so, so right. I let my usual eating habits go completely out the window and ate whatever I felt like, at whatever time of day. It’s liberating to let go of old routines.

3. You don’t have to book accommodation in advance
It is perfectly fine to just rock up and ask for a room. 9 times out of 10 there will be a vacancy in the first place you try. Ask to see the room before you pay and don’t let anyone organise accommodation and taxis for you – chances are they are working on commission and you will end up paying more to cover it.

4. Leo is better than Chang
I love beer, but a few days drinking Chang left me feeling horrible – Leo is the one. Also, SangSom isn’t as bad as it should be. Cheap rum disguised as whiskey isn’t exactly my bag, but when it costs £5 a bottle and doesn’t give you a hangover then I’ll take it.

5. Elephant trekking and tiger temples are never OK
I already knew this before visiting Thailand, but the reality of the cruelty hits you harder when you actually see the poor animals and investigate for yourself.

6. Your laundry will come back half the size
I had no idea whether to take good-quality clothes or old stuff I can chuck if needed. Definitely take the old stuff and buy cheap essentials when you arrive. Clothes become far more disposable when you’re travelling

7. Phi Phi isn’t paradise (unless you’re willing to pay)
5 years ago I would probably have loved to party in Phi Phi, but it turns out I grew out of it before I had the chance. However, there are beautiful places on the other side of the island if you have a bigger budget. Also, you have to pay for Maya Bay (‘The Beach’) now, and it was very beautiful, but very busy.

8. Lanta actually is paradise
I never wanted to leave! Read my post on Lanta for the many reasons why.

9. There is another side to Phuket without the bad reputation
When most people think of Phuket, they have the image of party town Patong. We stayed in Phuket town with Joe’s sister, who lives in Thailand. It was great to go out with some locals to a Thai nightclub, and visit quieter beaches and traditional Muslim restaurants.

10. There are still some untouched islands
I’m so pleased we took the boat from Koh Lanta and went to Koh Jum (pictured above) for a couple of days. The island has only had electricity since 2014 and is so peaceful. We stayed in a bungalow nestled between the jungle and the beach and I literally spent my time reading, writing and swimming in the sea. Pure bliss. I think we saw about 10 other people the whole time we were there.

11. It’s the perfect opportunity to scuba dive
Thailand has a great reputation for learning to scuba dive. Courses are cheap and you’re guaranteed to see some exciting things. My first ever dive was mind blowing, and Lanta  is quiet with plenty of dive centres, so you get a great service. Read my post on learning to scuba dive for more info.

12. Every night you get drunk and manage not to get a tattoo is a miracle
There are tattoo parlours everywhere. Lots of my friends swear by bamboo tattooing, and it’s cheaper than the UK, too. Just be careful you don’t wake up with mysterious Thai writing on your white bits.

13. Beware beauty products with whitening agents
The last thing you need when you’re enjoying your new tan is a facial wash that bleaches your skin.

14. The cockroaches are massive, and terrifying
Insects don’t bother me, but cockroaches that leap out of your bag and into your face do. Also, make sure your insect repellent has deet in, as it’s the only thing that keeps the mozzies away.

15. Air-conditioning is overrated
I’m a big fan of the fan. Air-con gave me a cold after just one night, and fan rooms are cheaper!

There are so many other things I’ve learned in just 3 weeks in Thailand, but it’s funny how quickly the little things become the most useful. It’s a great place to find your feet before you move on to other countries, or simply have the holiday of a lifetime.

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand and would like any more information about how we went about ours, please don’t hestitate to get in touch.

Falling for Koh Lanta

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A couple of days ago, my best friend asked over the phone, “So, how do you know where to go?” Which was actually a very good question. It is quite hard planning a 3-week trip to Thailand. So many people have been for so many different reasons: partying in Koh Phi Phi, slowing down the pace in Pai, trying to beat the crowds to Koh Lipe etc etc. What happens if you want a bit of everything? Or if someone tells you the place you had in mind is rubbish? Trying to figure out which islands and areas might suit you best via your own research is problematic when every other person you speak to claims to be an expert. How much of the hype do you believe? The reason I’m saying this is because some websites and people warned us away from Koh Lanta, and it was somewhere we’d always wanted to visit. We read it had become crowded and touristy, and we almost didn’t go. Fortunately, we trusted our instincts and gave it a chance because a lot of what we read online was wrong. The island is beautiful. With maybe 10 people to share the beach with. At high season. Here are a few reasons we loved Lanta so much.

THE BEACH BARS

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We arrived at night, and every other path from the road (Lanta South Island is basically one really long road) was lined with lanterns and candles leading down to the beach. We followed one on Khlong Dao and came out to a row of relaxed, beautifully lit beach-side bars and restaurants, each with its own personality and each very chilled. It was actual heaven after our 12-hour stint from Bangkok. Drinking a cold beer with hundreds of stars above, the sand under your feet and candles everywhere does a lot for the soul.

THE FOOD

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I was so surprised to discover the price of the food is pretty similar to Bangkok – averaging at about 120 baht (£2.40) for all the Thai classics. The food is so good. I don’t think I will ever get bored of rotating papaya salad, massaman curry and tom yam soup. Beer and cocktails are slightly more expensive but still not a scratch on London – about 60 baht (£1.20) for a beer and 160 baht for a cocktail (£3.20). Quick tip: the more traditonal places up on the road usually serve better food than the expensive-looking places on the beach, plus they’re cheaper and quieter.

THE SUNSETS

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The sun starts to set at 6pm in Lanta and was pretty impressive every night. The best viewing place we found was the Diamond Cliff Restaurant at the very south of the island, which has its own beach and huge horizon. We shared the experience with about 15 others, which cast a bit of a shadow on my once-loved crowded spot at Ibiza’s Cafe Mambo. But maybe that’s just me getting old.

THE SCUBA DIVING

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I’ll talk more about this in my next post, but in Lanta I decided to do my open-water scuba-diving course at a dive centre called Dive & Relax. Paying just a little bit extra meant only having one other person in my group, doing my theory in a luxury resort and generally having the best service. I was pretty nervous so this was really important to me and now I can see why Dive & Relax come so highly recommended on Trip Advisor.

THE CAVES

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On our last day we trekked to one of Lanta’s caves, avoiding the cave you can trek to riding an elephant. Read ‘Beginning in Bangkok‘ if you want to know why elephant trekking is cruel. Anyway, we trekked by foot to a cave and went inside with a guide. Let’s just say I was glad I wore my hiking boots, and have never felt happier to be a small person. I would not have wanted to squeeze through those gaps if I was Joe! We also got to see hundreds of bats all fast asleep. A great 3-hour trip if you’re quite outdoorsy.

THE NATIONAL PARK

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This was an embarrassingly big moment for me because I’d never seen monkeys just wandering around. I was so excited. Shame they went around in mobs, terrorising everyone. The national park is beautiful and not at all busy. It’s at the very bottom of the island and we drove there on a moped in about an hour from Klong Dao. You can rent a moped for about 250 baht (£5) for 24 hours.

THE TRAVEL LINKS

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Koh Lanta is a very practical island to visit. You can get their easily from Phi Phi and Krabi by boat, and then to smaller islands like Koh Jum and Koh Mook if that takes your fancy.

We originally planned to stay in Lanta for 4 nights and stayed a whopping 9! Partly because I did a 4-day course and partly because it just had a bit of everything. You can party at Pangea or Mushroom bar, learn to cook Thai food, practice yoga or simply soak up the sun. Let’s just hope it stays exactly as it is.

Beginning in Bangkok

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When I told people I’d be celebrating New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, I was either met with an unenthusiastic ‘oh cool’ or an even more worrying ‘oh god’. Bangkok seems to have a terrible reputation, and in all honestly I was expecting the worst. Maybe this was why I was actually pleasantly surprised. Sure it’s crowed and dirty, but so is London. And I love London. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I love Bangkok, but it’s lively energy and weakness for taking the world’s most interesting characters under it’s wing are enchanting. It’s also ridiculously cheap, the street food is incredible and you can buy 50 baht (£1) beers from cool boxes on the street. We all go crazy over Notting Hill Carnival, so why do we give Bangkok such a hard time? Here are a few things worth staying a little longer to see.

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As much as I enjoyed my time in Bangkok, I’m not sure how I would have fared arriving on my own. I usually walk around with my head in the clouds, so I’m lucky Joe’s a bit more streetwise. Some people are simply out to take you for a ride.  The tuk-tuk drivers definitely seem to be running the show when it comes to scamming tourists. Always agree the price upfront if you really need to get one, but I would stick to taxis with a meter.

Contrary to our original plan, we were in Bangkok for 4 days. 2 nights were spent in a hotel (Nouvo City) with a rooftop pool, and 2 nights in a slightly dodgy guesthouse. I think the bed was made from concrete, and we couldn’t figure out how to turn the lights off, but we survived. On our last day in Bangkok, we arranged to visit a wildlife sanctuary a 2-hours drive south, by which point I was desperate to get out of the city and into an open space, with oxygen and trees.

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), is a not-for-profit organisation devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating animals previously used for entertainment. It was such an eye-opening day, and really explained the abuse that goes on behind the scenes of some of Thailand’s original tourist attractions, like elephants rides, tiger temples and dancing bears. The cost of the day trip (about £69) is currently going towards building a modern elephant hospital, and in return we were able to take one of the elephants for a walk around the park, feed her and give her a bath, which was pretty much a dream come true. We were also given a tour of the park, which is home to sun bears, gibbons, exotic birds and more. The day included lunch and transfers and I couldn’t recommend it enough.

The elephant trekking you see advertised in all Thai tourist offices should be avoided at all costs. Never ever ride an elephant. No matter how kind the mahouts seem to their elephants, the only reason you are able to ride them is because they are terrified and have been badly abused. They are trained with spikes and chains, babies separated from the mother far too young and forced to carry people until they are broken. YouTube it. In 5 years time we’ll be lucky if Thailand has elephants at all. I felt very lucky to be so close to these beautiful creatures in the right environment.

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I had the best time in Bangkok, and I was so sure I would hate it! Here are a few things you might want to squeeze in rather than getting shit-faced on Khaosan Road (which, admittedly, we did do):

  •  Amazing (and amazingly cheap) street food on Soi Rambuttri.
  • Thai and foot massages at Shewaspa – the same price as most places but definitely the best.
  • Wat Poh Temple – nowhere near as busy as The Grand Palace and shuts later.
  • The flower market – pretty surreal.
  • Chatuchak market (JJ market), where you’ll find everything from vintage Levis to good fake-designer shit to husky puppies. It is HUGE.
  • Ethos – incredible vegan restaurant down a backstreet and the best place for breakfast

It’s weird writing this now from Koh Lanta, which couldn’t be more different to Bangkok (and is fast becoming the best place I have ever been) but don’t knock Bangkok until you’ve tried it! It might just surprise you.

A lesson on keeping a clear head

Plane to Bangkok

In October, when I proudly announced that I’d be going travelling at Christmas, my plan was to document the build-up. The build-up is just intermittent butterflies and last-minute packing for some, but for me it was the strange and stressful journey I guessed it would be. So strange, that I haven’t attempted to write about it until now. ‘Now’ being on board a plane to Bangkok. I don’t think it’s really felt real until today, and I went through of phase of wishing maybe it wasn’t. Fortunately, I ignored the voice that told me I wasn’t quite up to it, because I know it only gets a look in when I haven’t slept or rested enough. For that reason I wanted to do a post about overdoing it. And I don’t mean overdoing it in terms of too much Christmas pudding, I mean by simply doing too much.

Understandably, Christmas is often the hardest time to rest. You have this image of yourself curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a box of Quality Streets all week, when in reality you’re still shopping on Christmas Eve, you’re constantly keeping an eye out for elderly relatives needing the toilet, and trying to visit as many people as possible in the name of Christmas cheer. Throw in a few family tiffs and you end up either drunk as a dodo or have the hangover from hell. I for one, did not feel particularly rested over Christmas, although I did feel more content in some ways. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss a moment with my friends and family, but one day of nothing to yourself is something you’re entitled to no matter the time of year. I guess I felt that I’d have all the time in the world to rest in Thailand, but then I thought that about Christmas, too. When is it supposed to end?

I was under no illusion that I’d be super busy between the day I handed my notice in at work until the day I flew to the Far East 10 weeks later, but looking back now, I can’t actually believe how much I packed in. I wanted to go away with no regrets, so I said yes to everything. Right now, I can’t help but wish I’d reserved a few days to gather my thoughts. I have a friend who schedules ‘rest days’ into her diary, which I have so much respect for. After a point, it becomes impossible to enjoy anything if you haven’t first had a moment to yourself to catch-up and compose yourself. I mean, you should see my bloody toenails right now. I didn’t even give myself 10 minutes to paint my toenails! Over the last 10 weeks, I have flitted from one thing to the next without pausing to think. Typically, it all kind of hit me when I was skiing down a mountain in Austria a couple of weeks ago.

My dad has always wanted to go skiing, so for his 50th birthday, we found a pre-season deal and flew out to Austria the day after I left my job. A skiing holiday can be pretty intense. I knew in my mind and body that all I really needed was rest, but I was determined to hold out for just a few more days. Moving out of our flat, commuting and working my notice period in amongst the standard stresses of Christmas turned out to be more emotionally and physically draining than I had hoped. Anyway, one minute I was skiing perfectly and the next I convinced myself I couldn’t do it. The danger of falling off the side of the mountain suddenly felt so real that I crouched down, dug myself into the snow and started to panic, which is exactly how I’ve felt about going away. It was that voice, the one that’s only there when I’m ridiculously tired. You know how sometimes a piece of bad news feels much worse just before bed than it does the following morning? It’s because tiredness affects our ability to cope much more than we care to admit. If I could give anyone who’s about to travel or make some big changes some advice, it would be to put a few days of rest at the top of your list, and tell everything else to wait.

I am so thankful that I’ve squeezed in seeing all the people I care about before I head off round the world, but there are times where I should have said I was ‘busy’ resting. Saying yes to opportunities that come your way is so important, but learning when it’s best to say no can be more beneficial for everyone in the long run.

I’m sure at the end of this 11-hour flight I’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, but right now I’m just really happy to have an hour to myself to write something. I was going to write about how hard it was to say goodbye to everyone I love, and how moved I was by the cards and kind words. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved in all my life. But those words belong to the people I’ve already shared them with, and these words belong to you, whoever is reading this now: thank you so much for reading the first post from my little adventure, and a very happy New Year.

Lesson 30: quitting your job to travel the world

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Being Joe’s birthday, 13th October was already on my list of important dates. As it happens, 13th October 2015 also turned out to be the day I quit my job to travel the world. I didn’t exactly shout ‘I QUIT!’ and storm out the office (as much as I’ve fantasised about doing precisely this). I have an 8 week notice period, which makes it slightly less dramatic. But still, I made the decision to pack up my lovely life in London and say a big fat YES to the slightly more terrifying option instead. I decided I would pursue my dreams after all. And best of all? The love of my life is in the exact same frame of mind as me, so we’re off around the world together.

As you can probably guess, I’m going to document the whole experience. I want to write about travelling from the point of view of someone who, in reality, isn’t particularly carefree. Someone who struggles with change, who feels anxious without a plan and who wears a full face of makeup every day. Someone who over-thinks everything, is a massive perfectionist, and often likes to be alone. Someone who recently went through a phase of feeling constantly scared and worried about quite literally everything.

Not your typical criteria for a free-spirit backpacker, and not at all how I come across to other people (I hope). These are all things that I generally keep to myself, but have started to confront in various ways. Being open about these incredibly common challenges over the last few months has taught me one major thing: you can change the way you think. What better opportunity to push yourself to the limit than to expose yourself to completely different beliefs, attitudes, cultures, histories, societies, weather… And what better opportunity for a writer?

I often feel like the reason I’ve become preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head is because I’ve forgotten how to utilize my time. Doing the same old job and having the same routine every day can leave big gaps in your mental capacity, gaps I seem to have filled with worrying about unimportant things, like how many Instagram followers I have, or what colour shellac I want next. In a nutshell, I want to care less about superficial rubbish, and much, much more about what’s important. These ‘important’ things, I hope and pray, will materialise somewhere along the way. And if go away to realise that I just want my old life back, that’s totally fine too.

Aside from doing a stereotypical bit of soul searching, I also hate how ignorant I am of how other people live. The only times I’ve travelled outside of Europe I’ve stayed in super-luxurious resorts, which I find quite embarrassing. I want to be able to read the news and associate and empathise more deeply with what’s going on. Another huge factor is that I’m wary of how incredibly dependent I’ve become on material things. Living out of a single bag for 6 months ought to teach me a thing or two about what I actually need in life. I’m already 99% it won’t be the Smashbox primer I wouldn’t dream of foregoing right now. It costs £25. I wonder what £25 will buy me in Cambodia.

Aside from all of this, I just want to have fun. Like, constant fun. With my boyfriend. For 6 months. Who the hell wouldn’t? And then when I get home, I promise to put the whole experience to good use. That’s fair, right? I know how privileged I am to be able to up and leave my life for a bit. I’ve worked hard and saved to be able to do this, so I’m determined to make it count in a way that I probably wouldn’t have a few years ago. Plus, I still want to be a writer, and I’ll be doing much more of that in my own time, instead writing about the same boring crap at work every day. Right now, I would rather write about Japanese culture for free than get paid to write about dressing gowns. And I can say that because a) I’m still young and stupid enough not to care and b) I have zero responsibilities.

I will always have an uncontrollable urge to write and tell stories, and I think travel goes hand in hand with that. That doesn’t mean I’m not completely TERRIFIED. If you have ANY tips, suggestions or words of advice for a first-time traveller, please, please, please comment below because I’d love to hear them.

But for now… WOOHOOOO!

 

Lesson 29: visiting Verona

Verona

There’s nothing like cramming in an Autumn holiday in a final bid for sunshine and relaxation, particularly when you’re last ‘holiday’ left you feeling permanently hungover for about 3 weeks. I went to Verona with my mum and sister for a much-needed break. Here’s why it was the perfect choice.

If, like me, you’re not 100% sure whether Verona is actually a real place or a mythical setting for Shakespearean plays, the following post will benefit you greatly. If you’re also the sort of person who enjoys amazing food and wine at reasonable prices, inspiring architecture and the anticipation of slice of history around every corner, you might also want to read on.

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

Verona, like her type

THE FACTS

Nestled in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan, Verona has the same charm as more obvious Italian destinations without being as much of a tourist trap. This seems to have affected two major things: price and authenticity. It was ridiculously easy to find fantastic-quality pizza, pasta, cicchetti, wine and ice cream that didn’t cost a fortune. Better still, EVERYTHING is within walking distance, which makes a huge difference when you only have a couple of days to explore and don’t want to waist hours navigating the metro and local buses. When you spend half your life sweating on the tube, this blissful breezy existence of strolling from place feels pretty bloody good.

WHAT TO DO

The arena

A Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra, built in 1st century, this magnificent and imposing piece of architecture is quite a sight. Go inside and explore, but also sit and have an Aperol Spitz opposite. Still used for opera performances, it’s worth seeing what shows are on during your stay.

Verona, like her type

The castle

Or, ‘Castelvecchio’ – a castle-turned-museum dating back to the middle ages with astounding views and beautiful old-meets-new interiors.

Verona, like her type

The balcony

Book lover and English graduate, and even I couldn’t get see past Juliet’s Balcony as a cheesy, overrated tourist attraction. Busy and a bit soulless, but tick it off the list if you have time because the building is beautiful.

Verona, like her type

The churches

There are four main churches in Verona and you can pay just 6 Euros to see them all. Each filled with breathtaking and often famous masterpieces and each with a unique character and story.

Verona, like her type

The shopping

So many good shops. Too many good shops. Designer, high street, boutique, market stalls, you name it. I was a little bit tearful that I can no space in my carry on for a shiny new pair of Italian-leather shoes. I did, however, settle for the perfect boyfriend jeans and a stripy jumper from an amazing shop called Scout and a sneaky denim dress from Zara.

Verona, like her type

The views

Whether you go up the tower, explore the castle or take the steps across the bridge, the views are stunning from every angle. Incorporate some time to sit back and take them in.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO STAY

I’m a massive fan of Airbnb and it served us well yet again in Verona. For £85 a night, the three of stayed in a pretty, rustic and spacious apartment overlooking Castelvecchio. Our host, Francesca, was incredibly helpful, providing a detailed list of things to do. In fact, the general vibe of Verona was warm and welcoming pretty much everywhere.

Verona, like her type

WHERE TO EAT

We didn’t have a single average meal, let alone a bad one. Literally everything I ate over the four days I was there was delicious. Dinner for three with a bottle of wine and a couple of deserts rarely crept above 50 Euros. The trick was to look for a traditional, laidback ‘Trattoria’ or ‘Osteria’, rather than automatically hitting the swankiest or busiest places. Don’t get me wrong, you might get a fabulous view of some of Verona’s famous landmarks, but you could be getting better, cheaper food elsewhere. Here are a few great places we found.

Verona, like her type

Casual dinner alfresco

Pizzeria Impero – Borderline touristy but when you’re sitting in a picturesque square, surrounded by historical buildings and eating good-quality food at a good price, it’s more than acceptable.

Effortlessly cool bar

La Tradisiòn – A stylish and cosy ‘thrown together’ bar with a hipster vibe and Farmers’ Market worthy bar snacks. A glass of prosecco costs just 2 Euros. (Pictured above)

Contemporary fine dining

La Canonica – We accidentally stumbled across this gem down one of Verona’s little passage ways. Turns out it had only been open 5 days and the menu offered an impressive modern twist on some Italian classics, like veal Lasagnette and coconut tiramisu.

Atmospheric and traditional

Osteria del Bugiardo  –   Completely packed out every time we walked past, we booked a table for the evening and we weren’t disappointed. I could have sat in this stylish little restaurant drinking wine all night. No menus, the waiter recites what they have that day, so you know it’s fresh. The giant amoretti biscuit with warm chocolate sauce went down a treat after the tasty beef Carpaccio.

So, next time you’re planning a European city break, consider skipping the hustle and bustle of the most obvious places and bask in the beauty of Verona instead. It was completely stress-free, which is pretty important when you just want to spend a bit of time with you favourite people.

Verona, like her type