6 Essential Packing Tips + The Ultimate Packing List

Most backpackers have a love-hate relationship with packing. It can be a long and boring process, with a lot of trial and error when it comes to figuring out what you need. But nothing beats the satisfaction of the moment when you’re finally able to fit it all in after playing hours of real life tetris with shampoo and shoes. Plus, the packing stage is the first time that your trip feels like it’s really happening! 

If you always struggle with perfecting your packing, then this article is for you. As well as some essential packing tips, you can also download my ultimate packing list that you can use for as your next trip away. Whilst I can’t guarantee that this article will make you love packing as much as I do, it will certainly make the process both easier and speedier! 

1. Use packing cubes 

Image by jdltmaxson from Pixabay

This is by far one of the best packing tips I can give you. How many times have you got lost in your backpack and had to pull everything out just to get that one pair of shorts? And how many times have you ended up shoving everything back in again in a huge, crumpled mess because you couldn’t be bothered to pack again? Don’t worry, I’m with you. It’s impossible to pack effectively when everything goes into the endless void that is the backpack. So rather than shoving it all in and hoping for the best, get organised and invest in some packing cubes. 

These simple but wonderful cubes turn packing into a breeze. They allow you to group items together so you don’t have to spend hours searching through your bag for that pair of shorts. This does require you to be organised whilst you’re on the road, so that means no more shoving everything into your bag at the last minute. But it’ll save you so much time in the long run when it comes to finding what you need. 

And if you’re looking to save yourself some packing space too, make sure to invest in some compression cubes. Gonex are king of the (pretty niche) compression packing cubes market, which means that they can be pretty pricey. Fortunately, there are some reasonable deals for Gonex cubes on eBay, so make sure to check them out. 

Of course, there are ways to organise your suitcase without shelling out for packing cubes. I’ve always gone down the simple route and used plastic bags to group my things together. Whilst they don’t look quite as stylish as packing cubes, they’ve always done the job for me! 

2. Roll with it

Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

When I discovered that rolling was superior to folding, the packing became a whole lot easier. Rolling your clothes not only creates more space, but it reduces the risk of them turning into a wrinkled mess in your backpack. And it takes a lot less time to do! The rolling technique is really handy if you’re travelling with breakable objects too. For example, if you’re travelling with a glass bottle, you can roll clothes around it to keep it protected.

However, despite it being far better than folding, rolling will still leave your clothes with a few wrinkles. To prevent it, make sure to pack travel friendly materials that don’t wrinkle much, like polyester and denim. If you’ve tried your hardest and you still end up with crumpled up clothes, hang them up in the bathroom after you’ve had a hot shower to make them wrinkle free

3. Bring easy layers

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

No matter where you’re travelling to or what time of year you’re going, you’ll never regret bringing a few layers. Even if it seems that the climate at your destination is completely predictable, the weather can always change, so you have to be prepared. Plus, it isn’t just about the outside temperature. If you’re going to a super hot country, the chances are that the AC will always be blasted inside restaurants, hotels, and most forms of transport that you’ll take. 

I learnt this the hard way the first time I went travelling. Whilst the temperature in Vietnam was consistently upwards of 30°C outside, the AC inside left me freezing, to the point that I managed to catch a cold in the hottest country that I’ve ever visited. So don’t make my mistake and remember to pack plenty of layers with you! Hoodies, cardigans, and light jackets always come in handy. 

It’s also a great idea to bring a scarf, as it has so many uses. You can use it as a shawl to protect your shoulders from the burning sun, you can wrap it around your waist to get into temples if your shorts are too short, and you can even use it as a blanket on the plane!  Opt for a cotton scarf that’s lightweight and easily washable — the chances are that it’ll end up getting a lot of use! 

4. Make the most of your hand luggage 

Image by Free Photos from Pixabay

Packing your backpack is important, but getting the right stuff for your hand luggage is absolutely crucial. This is what’s going to be with you on long bus journeys, train rides, and flights that seem to last a lifetime. You’ll want to make your journey as comfortable as possible, and the best way to do this is to make sure your hand luggage is full of the stuff that you need. Make sure to pack plenty of snacks, layers, all your electronics and some ear plugs for when you want to get some shut eye. 

But packing your hand luggage is about security as well as your comfort. As scary as it is to think about, luggage goes missing all the time — 25 million bags a year to be precise. You’ll want all of your valuables with you, plus a change of clothes just in case the worst happens and you’re stranded without your luggage. If you have no idea what else to pack, make sure to use my ultimate packing list for some guidance. 

5. Make some space 

Image by Marcelo Kato from Pixabay

If your backpack weighs a tonne and you have to sit on it just to get it to close, then you’re definitely packing too much. Even if you miraculously manage to fit it all back in again, you still won’t have enough room for all the souvenirs you’ll have to bring back, for both yourself and your friends and family. So make sure to leave a good chunk of space free, since you’ll always end up bringing back more than you think! And don’t forget to bring a spare packing cube for your momentos too. 

6. Don’t forget your list!

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Last, but by no means least, make sure to bring a packing list with you. It’ll make the packing process a lot less chaotic and you can use it on the road to keep check of all your items. No longer will you end up losing your favourite shirt halfway through your journey! 

Even if you know all of the ultimate packing tips, making a packing list can be tough. It always feels like you’re leaving something behind! That’s why I’ve made you the ultimate packing list to use for wherever you’re going and however long for. Click the download link below to check it out! 

What are your ultimate packing tips? Let me know in the comments below! 

24 Hours in Sarajevo, Bosnia

When it comes to underrated European destinations, Sarajevo is definitely at the top of the list. Despite the city being fascinating and incredibly beautiful, it often fails to get the same recognition as it’s Western European counterparts. If you’re looking for a destination rich in history and culture, but without the big price tag, Sarajevo is definitely the city for you. Read on to discover more about Bosnia’s capital, and use this itinerary to have an extraordinary day in this extraordinary city. 

8:00AM: Traditional Bosnian breakfast 

Image by Alanyadk from Pixabay

Food-loving tourists are in for a treat if they choose to visit Bosnia. Because of the country’s geography, Bosnian cuisine is influenced by Mediterranean, Turkish, and other Eastern European cuisines, which makes the end result a perfect blend of Eastern and Western European flavours. 

If you have a sweet tooth, make sure to try Uštipci. These bite size pancakes are usually enjoyed with powdered sugar, jam, or Nutella. However, they can still be enjoyed as a savoury dish with kajmak (Bosnian cottage cheese). 

Another popular breakfast dish (that’s enjoyed throughout the day too) is the burek — filo pastry stuffed with ground beef. This savoury pastry is one of the most popular in the country. To Bosnians, a true burek is only filled with ground beef. But if you’re veggie, don’t worry, you’re still able to enjoy a variation of the burek too. Other fillings include spinach, cheese, and potato. 

9:00AM: Explore the Old Town 

Image by Chris Spencer-Payne from Pixabay

Your first stop after breakfast is one of the most beautiful in the city. Sarajevo Old Town is a marketplace full of fabulous goods that’ll make you wish that you had a bigger suitcase! Some of the most popular items include Middle Eastern lamps, beautiful paintings, and gorgeous Iranian inspired rugs. If you’re after more portable souvenirs, there’s some gorgeous jewellery available that’s really reasonably priced and will make you feel incredibly glamorous. You’ll also find plenty of cosy knitted socks and lavender scented products from the area’s many lavender fields.  

Image by TuendeBede from Pixabay

An absolute must-do when you visit any part of Bosnia is to try out the local coffee. Under the Ottoman Empire, Turkish coffee was one of the most popular drinks (after the ban on it was lifted), but it was available only to the middle classes and the very wealthy. However, as time moved on, coffee was available for all classes, and Ottoman coffeehouse culture became a key part of everyday life for everyone throughout the Ottoman Empire. 

The influence of the Ottoman Empire is still seen in many cultures. In most Balkans countries, you’re able to order a Turkish coffee pretty easily. But trying to find it in Bosnia is simply impossible — however you will find Bosnian coffee. Bosnian coffee is a source of national pride, and citizens see it as a way to make their country distinct from those around them. 

The coffee grounds used to make Bosnian are extremely fine. To make sure they are fine enough, they’re often ground by hand. To serve the coffee, add a sugar cube to your cup and pour just enough hot coffee for the sugar to dissolve. Once it is dissolved, fill the cup to the brim, without letting any of the grounds fall in. Bosnian coffee is incredibly strong, so you should feel pretty wired by the time you set off to your next stop! 

11:00AM: Sebilj Fountain

Once you’ve got your caffeine buzz, head over to Sebilj Fountain. This wooden drinking fountain was built in 1891. Although it is not the oldest one in the city, it’s certainly the most prominent. The water is always refreshing, but especially if you visit in the summer months — the average summer high is just under 30°C, but it often exceeds this. 

It’s definitely a great place to visit if you want to quench your thirst, but if you’re not a big fan of birds, be warned that the square is almost always swarming with pigeons. Seriously, there’s hundreds of them! 

Legend says that anyone who takes a sip from the fountain will return to Sarajevo in the future. So if you’re already in love with the city and you can’t wait to come back, drink up! 

11:30/12:00PM: Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque

You’ll have already seen this mosque earlier in the day, since the impressive building towers  over the Old Town. The 16th century mosque was one of the first buildings designed by Adžem Esir Ali, the most important architect of the Ottoman Empire. Outside the building, you will find his tomb. The mosques’ central location and cultural significance cements it as one of the most important monuments in Bosnia. Sadly, it was significantly damaged during the Siege of Sarajevo. But thanks to international donations it was able to be rebuilt in 1996. 

Gazi Husrev-beg is an active mosque so the inside cannot be viewed during prayer times. There are multiple sites advertising multiple different times for the mosque, so I couldn’t pinpoint the exact best time to visit, but it should be open at either 11:30AM or 12:00PM. If you arrive before it opens, spend some more time exploring the Old Town (and try not to get tempted to buy anymore souvenirs!). 

12:30PM: Lunch 

Photo by Matteo from Pexels

Whilst you’re in the Old Town area, head to a nearby restaurant for some lunch. In some cities, the areas most popular with tourists are the ones with the most average food, but this couldn’t be further from the truth in Sarajevo’s Old Town. There are numerous restaurants in the area loved by locals and tourists alike. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out this list of the best restaurants in the Old Town. 

If you’re after Bosnian cuisine, make sure to give Cevapi a try. These small kebabs are made from either lamb or beef, and served in pitta bread with a side of raw onions and sour cream sauce. This dish is one of the most popular in the country, and everyone who tries it gets hooked! 

Another popular Bosnian dish to try is Bosanski lonac. This hearty stew is full of meat and veg, and it takes a whopping 4 hours to cook. One of the most important aspects of this dish is the clay pot that it’s cooked in (the lonac). It’s such an important component that the meal itself is named after it! 

1:30PM: Gallery 11/07/95

Your next stop will stick with you long after your visit to Sarajevo — it certainly has with me. Before my visit, I knew next to nothing about the Bosnian War and Genocide — it was just before my time, and it (shockingly) wasn’t something I was taught about at school. If you don’t know much about Bosnian history either, I urge you to give this place a visit. By the time I left the museum, I felt like I knew and understood the country so much more. I was shocked, angry, and disheartened, but also in awe of the strength and bravery of Bosnians. 

Gallery 11/07/95 is a museum and gallery hybrid, that teaches visitors about the War through pictures, documentaries, news reports and other forms of media from that time. At the end of the exhibit, there are interviews with survivors, which are absolutely heart-breaking. Gallery 11/07/95 is a public institution in Bosnia, and acts as a memorial to all the Bosnian lives lost in the War. 

The museum acts as a reminder of how shockingly dark our recent history is, and how doing nothing is being complicit in these awful acts. The manager of Gallery 11/07/95 states that the aim of the museum is ‘to be a strong and decisive voice against all forms of violence in the world. Srebrenica is a symbol – not only of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also of the suffering of innocent people and the indifference of others’. I can safely say that it does this better than any other museum that I’ve visited to date. 

3:00PM: Visit Latin Bridge and City Hall 

Image by Websi from Pixabay

This next stop is definitely one for the history lovers. As well as being a triumph of Ottoman architecture, the Latin Bridge is one of the most important ones in history — it’s where the First World War started! 

The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was the final straw before the outbreak of the War, and it was committed on this very bridge by Gavrilo Princip (after several failed attempts). You’ll find a plaque on the bridge of the exact spot where it happened. Even people who have just a passing interest in history will be interested in visiting this spot. 

Right next to the Latin Bridge stands the City Hall. Like many of the major monuments in the city, the building was destroyed in the Siege of Sarajevo (along with 2 million irreplaceable manuscripts inside) and didn’t reopen until 2014 — but it was worth the wait. This recognisable building is a work of art that truly has to be seen to be admired. 

And the inside of the Hall is just as beautiful as the outside. The gorgeous stained glass and the grand ceilings make you feel like you’re royalty! In the building you’ll find an information centre, a museum, and a replica of a courtroom in the Hague.  

4:00PM: Do some exploring! 

Image by isovicemir from Pixabay

After you’ve seen all the major monuments in the city, take some time to explore. There are so many other great things to see and do in the city, so you certainly won’t struggle with finding things to fill your time! If you’re looking for some inspiration, try doing one of the following: 

  • Walking tour: Lots of walking tours set off from around the Sebilj Fountain. Many of them are free, but make sure to tip your guide! 
  • Street art: Sarajevo is full of amazing street art that isn’t just pretty to look — it tells you a lot about the history of the city too. Keep an eye out for Sarajevo Roses, which are craters created by explosives in the war that have been filled with red resin as a reminder of the cities’ past. 
  • Avaz Twist Tower: Head up to the 35th floor of the building to get amazing panoramic views of the city. 
  • Sacred Heart Cathedral: Not only is this the largest Cathedral in the country, but the interior is simply spectacular! 

Once it gets close to sunset, grab some food to takeaway and take it to enjoy at your final stop for the day. 

Sunset: Admire the view from the Yellow Fortress 

For the perfect end to your day, head up to the Yellow Fortress to get some stunning views of the sun setting over the city. If you go during Ramadan, you’ll also see the firing of the canon to mark the breaking of fast. The views stretch for miles, and Sarajevo sunsets are absolutely stunning. This is by far the best place to spend your final few hours in this magical city. 

Are you planning on visiting Sarajevo? What are you looking forward to seeing most? Let me know in the comments below!

What you Learn About Yourself Whilst Traveling

Why do you want to travel? 

It’s a pretty hard question, isn’t it? There are plenty of obvious answers — for fun, for adventure, to step out of your comfort zone. And of course, who doesn’t love a holiday? But some people use their backpacking adventure as a journey of self-discovery. When other backpackers talk to me about finding themselves, I can’t help but cringe a bit. Self-discovery through travel is easily one of the biggest clichés out there. 

But as cliché and cringey as it may sound, there’s no denying that you do learn a lot about yourself when you travel. Whilst it may not always feel like a deep journey towards finding yourself, your adventure will definitely shine a light on your strengths, weaknesses, and everything in between. Here are just a few of the things you’ll learn about yourself whilst on the road.

Your intuition 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

If you’ve not had much experience of relying on your intuition, then traveling for the first time will really test you. I’ve always been incredibly indecisive, and I can spend hours fretting over the smallest of decisions. But when you travel, you rarely have that luxury to do that. Always being on the go means that decisions need to be made fast. You have to learn to trust your gut and let your intuition be your guide, even when it feels absolutely terrifying to do so. 

You’ll also undoubtedly learn that your intuition isn’t always right. But this doesn’t mean that you should stop listening to it. Every single backpacker has made a bad decision (or several) based on intuition alone. But they’ve made plenty of good ones too. Learning how to listen to your instincts is always a good idea, but especially when traveling. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on yourself. 

Your health

Sleepless nights in hostels, random meals at random times, always being on the go — these are just a few of the things that test your health whilst traveling. But travel doesn’t just change your health, it can really test it too. Even if you thought you were super healthy before you started backpacking, you may find yourself struggling to keep up with your adventure once you arrive. Maybe you’re struggling to keep your eyes open after a few hours of exploring, or your hike might leave you completely breathless. 

On the other hand, you may find out that you’re a lot healthier than you first thought. For a girl who skipped her fair share of PE lessons, I was surprised that I managed to (just about) keep up with a group of health nuts whilst hiking up a volcano — even with a twisted ankle! No, you’re probably not going to realise that you’re the next Usain Bolt, but you may surprise yourself with what you can achieve when you first go traveling. 

Your courage 

Image by Simon from Pixabay

You will have the time of your life when you go traveling, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy. Being so far away from friends and family is tough, especially if you’re backpacking for months at a time. Plus, you’re bound to be put into some nerve-wracking situations that’ll definitely test your love for traveling (which is why you should always be prepared for the unexpected). During these moments, you’ll realise just how brave you are. 

It isn’t just the sad and scary stuff that tests your bravery. Even the stuff that you actually want to do can take a lot of courage. Skydiving, ziplining, paragliding, or any other adventure sports that are popular in travel hotspots can seem pretty nerve-wracking. It can take a lot of guts to take the plunge. But even if you’re not the adventure type, simply going traveling takes a lot more courage than you first realise. 

Your boundaries

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

A lot of time traveling is learning about how to push yourself and step out of your comfort zone. But sometimes, it’s about learning how to say no — a word that so many of us find impossible to say. If you’re a perfectionist and a people pleaser, this word is simply not in your vocabulary. You always do what other people ask of you, and always push yourself further and further. Having determination and helping out others is never a bad thing, but you shouldn’t be sacrificing your happiness whilst doing it. 

When you go traveling, you’ll connect with so many different people from all around the globe. And because you’ll all want to get different things out of your journey, you won’t want to do the exact same activities — but that’s okay! You’ll begin to realise that you should set your own boundaries and not put pressure on yourself to fit in with other backpackers. 

And the same goes for the pressure you put on yourself too. It’s good to want to step outside of your comfort zone and make the most of your adventure. But if you’re pushing yourself to do something that you’re absolutely dreading, ask yourself why. Is it because you think you’ll actually enjoy it, or is it something that you feel like you have to do? When you realise that your backpacking adventure is all about you and not other people’s expectations, you’ll feel confident enough to set boundaries with yourself and stop forcing yourself to do the things that don’t bring you joy. 

Your weaknesses

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Nobody is perfect. When you travel, you aren’t going to do everything right and you aren’t going to do everything well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so the chances are that you’ll find something that you’re really good at, but you’ll also find something that you’re not so good at. One thing I’m awful at is asking for directions. I’ll be so focussed on trying to manage asking a question in a foreign language that I simply won’t compute the answer. 

Having to deal with your travel weaknesses can be both nerve-wracking and infuriating. But you’ll eventually learn how to manage them, and they won’t seem like such a chore anymore.  

What you want 

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Traveling is always the one time in my life when I feel completely free. This freedom doesn’t just bring a sense of relief, but an opportunity for self-discovery too. Without responsibilities and obligations tying you down, you have the chance to experiment and find out what it is you want from life. Do you want to teach yoga? Give it a go. Do you want to become a writer? Start writing. Whatever you want to do, when you travel you get the chance to try it out, or at least put some real thought into it. 

What have you learnt about yourself whilst traveling? Let me know in the comments below!

Exploring Northumberland: Sycamore Gap Walk

I sometimes feel like the area that I know the least is the one in which I live. Of course, I know all of the essential, day to day living stuff — the fastest way from A to B, the best supermarket for the weekly shop. where to get the cheapest coffee. But when it comes to the stuff that my corner of the world is known for, I really need to start brushing up on my local knowledge. 

That’s why this year, I’m going to spend some time getting to know my area. So welcome to the first blog post in my new series ‘Exploring Northumberland’. It’s one of the most beautiful counties in the country, and it’s time that I finally took advantage of that. 

Image by Littlerich from Pixabay

When it came to finding a spot to visit for the first blog post of the series, the choice was clear. Sycamore Gap is one of the most iconic landmarks of the North East, and I couldn’t wait to finally see it in person! Read on to find out more about my experience of the National Trusts’ Sycamore Gap walking route

What to pack

This is advertised as a three hour moderate walk, but I’d advise putting the full day aside to get the most out of it — there were so many gorgeous sites to stop and admire. We ended up staying for just under six hours. To have the best experience, make sure to take the following with you: 

  • Decent footwear: The terrain is very rugged at parts, so walking shoes would be ideal. 
  • Water: We ended up having two bottles each, so make sure to bring plenty. 
  • Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen: At least half of the walk is on higher ground and completely in the open, with little to no shade. 
  • Food: There are so many places to stop, so it’s the perfect area for a picnic. 
  • Blister plasters: Fortunately we didn’t end up needing them. But if you ended up getting a blister half way through and you forgot to pack them, you’d be kicking yourself!

Getting there

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Although Sycamore Gap feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s surprisingly easy to get to. It takes just under 50 minutes to get from central Newcastle to the route’s starting point (Housesteads Information Centre) via car, and around 20 minutes from the nearest town, Hexham. But fair warning that the parking is pretty pricey — our ticket cost £9 for a 6 hour stay. However, the walk is free (unless you want to pay entrance to the nearby Roman Fort), so it’s still a pretty cheap day out! 

Going via public transport takes a while longer, but it could still be done in a day. If setting off from Newcastle, you’ll have to take a train or bus to Hexham. Fortunately, they set off pretty regularly. Once you’re in Hexham, there’s an hourly bus that takes you right to the entrance of the information centre. The bus journey should take you an hour and a half if you set off from Newcastle, and just 25 minutes if you set off from Hexham. 

Setting off

When you arrive, you’ll see a building at the end of the car park with an archway — go through here to start your walk. From here, there’s a steep walk up to the top of the hill. If you need some fuel for the journey, stop at the visitor’s centre to get a drink and a snack. 

A section of Housesteads Roman Fort

Don’t forget to keep to the right so you can get a good view of Housesteads Roman Fort. This historical landmark dates all the way back to 122 AD, and it’s considered to be the best preserved Roman fort in Britain

Walking on Hadrian’s Wall

Once you get to the top of the hill, go through the gate to get to the next section of the walk — and get your first glimpse of Hadrian’s Wall! This is another local landmark that I hadn’t visited. In all honesty, you could’ve pointed at any stone wall and told me it was a part of Hadrian’s Wall and I would’ve believed you (yes, I am that gullible). Seeing it in the flesh for the first time was one of the best parts of the day! 

Walking on Hadrian’s Wall

There are two paths to take from here. You can opt for the lower one and walk beside Hadrian’s Wall, or the higher one and walk on it. We opted for the higher path, partly to see the fantastic views to the left, and partly just to say we walked on Hadrian’s Wall! If you choose the higher path like us, be careful with your footing — trip over on the rocky path and fall to the left, you’re a goner. Once you get to the end of the woods, there are some floating steps that lead you to the gate for the next, more strenuous section of the walk.  

The steep hills

You get some amazing views of the wall all the way up there.

This section of walk is even more beautiful, and a lot sweatier too. Your elevated so high that you can see for miles on end. The views are breathtaking, and if you choose a quiet day to do the trip it’s incredibly peaceful. But there are lots of steep climbs and drops for this section, which is why walking boots are absolutely vital! If you don’t have any, Mountain Warehouse is your best bet for finding some reasonably priced ones. 

After going over a few of these steep rises and falls in the terrain, you’ll find yourself at the end of the path. Don’t worry, the walk to Sycamore Gap gets a lot easier from this point forward! From here, head through the gate on the left towards the woods. 

The woods and Crag Lough 

Some welcome shade!

If it’s a sunny day like it was when we visited, you’ll be glad to finally be able to shelter from the blistering heat. The temperature was only 12°C when we did the walk (which is actually a bit chilly for April), but the bright sunshine made it feel like it was the height of summer! 

Once you get to the end of the woods, it won’t be long until you reach your destination. But there’s still some amazing sites to enjoy along the way too. On your left, you’ll see the breathtaking Crag Lough. This impressive lake was formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age, and it’s one of three Roman Wall Loughs. After you’ve walked through this section for roughly five minutes, you’ll be able to see the branches of the iconic sycamore reach up over the dip. 

Reaching Sycamore Gap 

First glimpse of the iconic sycamore.

After a total of eight years of living in the North East, and countless visits to the region, I finally got to see my first glimpse of the famous Sycamore Gap — and it didn’t disappoint. Make your way down the steep path slowly, and admire it head on. No doubt it’s a shot that you’ll have seen countless times, but seeing it right in front of you really is something else. 

It’s hard to imagine it now, but the tree was once just one of many in the area. However, over the years the surrounding trees were removed one by one, and the lone sycamore that you see today was the only one left standing. It’s seen a lot through the centuries that it’s been around: the building of Hadrian’s Wall, the fall of Roman Britain, and of course, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner. Visiting Sycamore Gap really felt like seeing a slice of history. 

Take some time to enjoy your picnic and admire the views here. They really are something special. 

The journey back

You’ll probably want to stay and admire that view forever (I know I did), but you’ll have to make the journey back at some point. Walk downhill from the tree until you see a path to the left. Head up here and keep walking straight. 

If you see this gate, you’re going the right way.

Fortunately, this section of the walk isn’t as steep as other sections. You can take it easy until you join back to the main path once you reach the road and the signpost. Here, you’ll join up with the entrance point to the forest and Crag Lough, so you should recognise your surroundings. 

When you see this sign, you return to the original route.

Joining back to the first route was only supposed to be for a short while. However, we missed the turning so were stuck on the harder steep route for the rest of the way back. For some reason, the journey back from here was so much more challenging than the journey to the gap, so don’t make the same mistake as us! 

Once you get back to the car park, you’ll feel absolutely shattered. But you’ll have had an amazing experience too. Over the past few months, I’ve fallen head over heels for my home county, and this journey only made my love for Northumberland even stronger.

Have you done the Sycamore Gap walk? Did you love it as much as I did? Let me know in the comments below!

Hostels: A Survival Guide for First Time Backpackers

Hostels always seem to get a pretty bad rap. When most people picture them, they imagine dank, dark rooms with quadruple decker bunk beds and mattresses as thin as your arm. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, I can definitely see why thanks to their bad reputation. But they’re nowhere near as bad as people make them out to be. In fact, some of the best accommodation I’ve stayed in has been in hostels! Don’t get me wrong though, there are plenty of gross hostels out there too. And even the best hostels in the world have their downsides. 

If you want to travel on the cheap but you’re scared to stay in a hostel for the first time, then this article is for you. Read on to discover how to make your first hostel experience one to remember (in a good way!) and find out what to look out for when it comes to picking a great hostel. 

1. Always do your research

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

This is my absolute number one tip. Staying at a hostel will give you some of the best experiences of your life — but this doesn’t mean that every hostel is created equally. Whilst I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at some fantastic hostels, there are plenty of grim ones on the market too. So before you commit to your chosen hostel, make sure to do plenty of research into it! Check out the ratings that they’ve received on Booking.com and Hostelworld to get a general idea of the standard of the place. 

You should also make a list of all the things that you consider a priority and see if your chosen hostel is at least close to checking every box. Everyone’s list is different — for example, some people are willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a great location or bargain price. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s a list for my ideal hostel: 

  • Location: I try to avoid anywhere less than a half an hour walk from the centre. You usually end up doing loads of walking whilst you’re away, so you don’t want to tire your feet out before you even start your day. 
  • Breakfast: If you’re on a budget, you should definitely opt for somewhere that offers a free breakfast. You may have to get up pretty early to get the good stuff, but it’ll really set you up for the day. 
  • Bathrooms: When looking at hostel reviews, my number one priority is checking how clean the bathrooms are. After long and busy days, having a good shower to come back to is an absolute must for me. 
  • Privacy curtains: This isn’t a must-have, but I always feel much more comfortable when I can hide away behind a bed curtain. This is also great for taking naps during the day, or when you’re ill and you need a day’s rest. 

2. Get to know your roommates

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One of the best things about staying in hostels is getting to meet new people who love travelling just as much as you. Make sure to start conversations with your roommates and try to get to know them. There are so many great reasons to do this. Firstly, it’s so easy to make a close connection with the people you’re sharing a dorm with. There’s nothing like listening to other people’s snoring and sleep talk to form a great bond with them! You’ll find it so easy to make great friends if you open yourself up to it.

Secondly, talking to other backpackers is a great way to get information that you can’t get anywhere else. If you come across someone who’s been on the road for a lot longer than you, they’ll have plenty of advice and recommendations for the rest of your trip. And once you’ve been travelling for a while, you can pay it forward by passing the information on to travel newbies.  

And lastly, getting to know others is a great way to protect yourself and your possessions too. You can let them know where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone for, so they can make sure to let someone know if you don’t make it back. And if you tell them where your bunk is, they’ll be able to keep an eye on your stuff if you’re staying somewhere without lockers (although I definitely wouldn’t recommend this in the first place). 

3. Be prepared for the hostel bathroom 

Ask any backpacker what the worst thing about hostel life is, and almost all of them will say shared bathrooms. No one likes sharing their bathroom, but especially when it’s with a dozen other people that you’ve known for five minutes. And even the nicest hostel bathrooms look like bombsites after everyone’s finished with their morning routine. So be prepared and wake up early to get in there whilst it’s still looking pristine (well… as pristine as a hostel bathroom can be). 

Night showers could also be a good option if you don’t mind them. Hostel bathrooms are often cleaned once in the late morning and once in the evening, so you could make it if you time it just right. But fair warning that hot water tends to be in short supply in many hostels — especially budget ones. This isn’t so bad when you’re in a hot country. But if you’re a wimp like me and you’re completely averse to even lukewarm water, then you’ll have to either learn how to be a morning person or shiver your way through the shower in the evening. 

It’s also crucial that you take the time to learn shared bathroom etiquette. You shouldn’t find it too difficult, but it may make your morning routine feel less comfortable than it does at home. I tend to follow these four rules to make sure that the experience is as easy for everyone as it is for myself: 

  • Speed: When it comes to shared bathrooms, you don’t have the luxury of taking as long as you want. Other people are usually waiting, so try to speed your routine up a bit. 
  • Heat: Yes, you want to enjoy a nice, hot shower. But hogging every single drop of the hot water won’t help you when it comes to making friends!
  • Clean: No one wants to be tripping over empty shampoo bottles or see facial wipes stuck to the floor. Be respectful and clean up after yourself. 
  • Think and observe: Different countries have different rules when it comes to water. If you’re in a country that experiences frequent droughts, make sure to be super mindful about how much you use. 

4. Make the easiest meals 

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I absolutely hate cooking in anyone else’s kitchen — but especially if it’s being used by 20+ other people a day. Plus, hostel kitchens seem impossible to navigate. Why can I find 13 different cheese graters but not a single spoon? It’s safe to say that cooking in a hostel isn’t usually easy, but it’s definitely manageable if you simplify it. Try to find a handful of quick and easy recipes that you don’t mind using and rotation and that require little washing up. Some of my favourite go to dishes to cook in hostel include: 

  • Pasta: The simplest food to make, and one of my favourites too. 
  • Noodles: As simple as pasta, and a great way to get your 5 a day in too. 
  • Couscous: It cooks so quickly, you’ll be out of the kitchen in no time. 
  • Burger and salad: Super easy, and it requires barely any prep, especially if you get your salad readymade. Just make sure to wash it first — in bottled water if you’re in a country with unsafe drinking water, but otherwise tap is fine. 

If you really hate the thought of cooking in a hostel, get somewhere with breakfast included. Make sure to fill up on the free food in the morning, get your main meal out during the day, and just make yourself a sandwich for tea. And don’t forget to check out the instant meals available at the local supermarket for a quick and fuss-free meal. 

5. It’s okay to splash out 

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

There tends to be a lot of snobbery amongst backpackers when it comes to having an ‘authentic’ experience whilst travelling. Because of this, some people claim that the backpackers who don’t stay in hostels aren’t really backpacking. To put it simply, this is dumb. There’s no right or wrong way to travel! 

I love staying in hostels, but I get why some people don’t. It can be pretty uncomfortable, and it’s definitely hard for those who value their personal space. And even though I enjoy hostel life, I need a break from it when I’m travelling too. When Robin and I go backpacking, we usually have a couple of stays in nice hotels over the course of the trip, just to experience a bit of comfort and have an opportunity to feel refreshed. 

If you’ve tried hostels and they aren’t your thing, don’t force yourself to fall in love with them. There will still be plenty of budget options available for you that don’t involve hearing 10 different people snoring. And even if you do enjoy hostel life, consider having a room to yourself once or twice to refresh and recharge. Believe me, you’ll be glad that you did it! 

Have you ever stayed in a hostel before? What are your tips for people staying in one for the first time? Let me know in the comments below!

5 Best Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants in Newcastle upon Tyne

Back when I first turned vegetarian in 2008, dining out often required a fair bit of planning. The token vegetarian option at most restaurants usually included two of my most detested ingredients: mushrooms or goat cheese (or on some disastrous occasions, both). So the majority of the time I tended to stick to Italian places — you can never go wrong with pizza or pasta. Once in a blue moon, I’d come across an exclusively veggie or vegan restaurant, and it blew my mind. But over the past few years, meat-free diets have exploded in popularity. 7% of the UK population are now vegan, and 14% are vegetarian — that means that almost a quarter of the UK is following a meat free diet! 

So it’s no surprise that the number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants has skyrocketed in the past few years. If you’re looking for some of the best meat-free eateries in the UK, Newcastle is the place for you. There are so many great places for veggies and vegans in the area, choosing where to go first can feel impossible! To make things easier, I’ve narrowed my extensive list down to five of the very best veggie and vegan restaurants in Newcastle for you to check out. 

Shoe Tree Café

I didn’t discover this vegan paradise until last year, and I can’t believe it wasn’t a part of my life sooner. Located just minutes away from the gorgeous Heaton Park, it’s the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat after a Sunday morning stroll. If anyone you know claims that a vegan diet is full of boring, ‘rabbit’ food, Shoe Tree Cafe is the first place you should bring them. The menu is full of mouth-watering vegan comfort food, from burgers to pancakes to nachos. My go-to dish is hands-down the breakfast burrito. It’s filling, delicious, and the perfect way to start the day. I’d even go as far as to say that Shoe Tree Cafes’ vegan sausages are the best I’ve ever tasted. 

As if the amazing food wasn’t enough to tempt you, in non-COVID times the café has a fantastic range of events on offer. Just a handful of previous events include life drawing, live gigs and photography exhibits. The events are great fun, and reasonably priced, so make sure to check them out when the café re-opens. 

Shoe Tree Café: 150 Heaton Park Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5NR.

Sky Apple Café

Since opening its doors in 2002, Sky Apple Cafe has been the go-to place for vegetarians and vegans in the city. Dining here is an experience in itself — the sky blue walls are dotted with white fluffy clouds, making you feel like you’re on top of the world. It’s light, bright, and beautiful — the perfect place to enjoy a delicious lunch.  

I’ve sampled much of the lunch menu, and I’m yet to find something that isn’t absolutely delicious. The volcano is by far the most popular dish — a fried tortilla in the shape of a volcano, smothered in salsa and sour cream and filled with beans, melted mozzarella and sweet potato. There’s plenty of vegan dishes available too, including the chilli cheezburger and the refried beans quesadilla. 

As well as the daily lunchtime menu, the café often opens in the evening, with a menu offering three course meals for a very reasonable price. And make sure to stop by on one of their chippie nights, to sample some mouth-watering deep fried halloumi or tofu ‘fish’. Even meat eaters would find it hard to find fault with these delicious dishes.  

Sky Apple Café: 182 Heaton Rd, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5HP

Little Green

When eating out as a veggie or vegan, it can be hard to find food that’s both nutritious and delicious. It always seems to be bland salads or big, messy burgers and nothing in between. This is why I love Little Green so much — they don’t sacrifice taste for health. This is probably because the café is owned by a professional nutritionist, who clearly knows how to make healthy food taste rich and flavoursome. 

The restaurant offers an amazing range of comfort food, such as their fabulous selection of stone-baked, hand stretched pizzas that taste like they’ve come straight from Italy. But they also offer a range of more hearty and warming dishes, such as the Little Green curry and the always scrumptious soup of the day. If you pay them a visit, make sure to do so on a Sunday so you can give their Sunday lunch menu a try — the mince and dumplings are a particular highlight. 

And just like Shoe Tree, the restaurant hosts a number of events, including film screenings, talks from registered nutritionists and workshops on how to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle. The restaurant also sells a range of eco-friendly household products and cruelty-free makeup, so don’t forget to check them out. 

Little Green: 83-89 Goldspink Ln, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1NQ

Vegano

Try to scroll through Vegano’s Instagram profile without your stomach rumbling, I dare you. It’s one of those places that leaves you thinking ‘surely all this stuff can’t be vegan?’ But it is, and it’s so, so good! It’s the perfect place to take that friend who refuses to acknowledge just how tasty vegan food can be. There’s not a single dish in the restaurant that I wouldn’t want to try, and I’m making it my mission to get through the entire menu

The thing that customers praise the most is the mouth-watering selection of Italian food. The pizzas look and taste so authentic, and the flavours are ones that vegans couldn’t find anywhere else. They’re all delicious, but if you’re stuck for choice make sure to try the Nduja, it can’t be beat. Vegano also offer a great selection of burgers, and some of the tastiest kebabs you’ll ever have, vegan or not. With the perfect location of right in the city centre, Vegano is a restaurant that you can’t not try out. 

Vegano: 33a Blandford Square, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 4HZ

Butterfly Cabinet 

I was thinking of keeping this list for cafes and restaurants that were exclusively vegan or vegetarian, but to leave out Butterfly Cabinet would be doing it a disservice. This café is easily one of the most popular in Newcastle, with queues regularly stretching outside the door. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure to eat there, you’ll know exactly why. The quality of the food is unbeatable, the menu is incredibly vast, and the portions are absolutely huge — seriously, come with a big appetite! 

The café is famous for its fantastic breakfasts. As well as offering the usual full English and various egg dishes, it also offers some new and exciting alternatives, such as the vegan chilli breakfast wrap. And of course, you can’t go to Butterfly Cabinet without trying the pancakes. In true American style, they’re incredibly fluffy, super filling and absolutely delicious. They come in a range of flavours, so you’re sure to find one that you absolutely love. 

As tasty as the breakfast menu is, the lunch menu is even more impressive. If you’re a bean burger fan, it’s just the place for you as there’s a huge selection available, including the BBQ burger, the fajita burger and the blue burger. If like me, you prefer meat replacement, you certainly won’t be short of options. The fakey bacon is a key ingredient to many of the veggie and vegan sandwiches, and it’s absolutely delicious. For a real treat, try the veggie thanksgiving sandwich — it comes with your choice of white or granary bread, fakey bacon, Quorn sausage, veggie stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mayonnaise. It’s hands down one of my favourite sandwiches, and well worth waiting in the queue out of the door for. 

Butterfly Cabinet: 200 Heaton Road, Newcastle, NE65HP

What’s your favourite vegetarian or vegan restaurant in Newcastle? Let me know in the comments below!

24 Hours in Lisbon, Portugal: A Step By Step Itinerary for Your Perfect Day

I never paid much attention to Lisbon in the past. But a last minute change of plans whilst travelling through Europe led us to this beautiful city. The journey there wasn’t easy. Delayed and cancelled flights meant that by the time I arrived, I had been awake for 24 hours. I was exhausted, ravenous, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed for a day or so. But the minute we landed, my mood lifted. I knew right then that I couldn’t waste a single second of the time I had there. 

If you want to make every second of the time you spend in this incredible city count, read this step by step itinerary of the perfect day in Lisbon. 

8:00AM: Breakfast from the bakery 

Image by Jason Goh from Pixabay

Make it a great start to the day by heading to the nearest bakery. Portuguese pastries are seriously underrated, especially in comparison to delicacies from other European countries like France and Italy. So it’s time to start giving them the appreciation that they deserve. 

When you get there, you’ll find a huge selection of mouth-watering pastries and you’ll find it impossible to choose just one. So make sure to fill your boots and get yourself a tasty selection box. You’re only there for 24 hours, so you need to stock up! And after all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

If you want to eat like a local, start your day off with some fresh bread and good coffee. The Portuguese typically don’t eat pastries until late morning — but I found it impossible to wait that long! Popular Portuguese pastries include the famous pastel de nata, bola de berlim (a sugar-coated dough ball filled with egg cream) and travesseiro (sugar coated puff pastry filled with almond cream). All that sugar will easily fuel you for the journey to your next stop. 

8:30AM: Head to São Jorge Castle 

Image by BarborMarisol from Pixabay

After breakfast, head up to São Jorge Castle to get there in time for when it opens at 9:00AM. It tends to get pretty busy during the day, so getting there first thing will allow you to enjoy the site without the crowds. Plus, the cooler morning temperature will make it possible to avoid huge sweat patches whilst making your way up the endless number of steps to the top. 

But the long and sweaty journey is worth it for the scenery. The castle is one of the highest points of the city, which gives you some absolutely magnificent views. If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear day like I was, you’re really in for a treat. Seeing this view is easily one of the best things to do in Lisbon.

As well as getting to see a fantastic cityscape, you’ll also get a chance to step back in time and find out more about the history of the city. Opt for a guided tour to find out more about the different areas of the castle, including the Tower of Ulysses, ruins of the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova, and the fascinating archaeological site. And don’t forget to check out the camera obscura for a 360° view of Lisbon in real time. 

Entrance fee: The adult fee is €10. Students, over 65’s and disabled guests pay just €5, and under 12’s go free. 

Opening hours:  November – February: 9:00AM to 6:00PM.

                              March – October: 9:00AM to 9:00PM.

11:00AM: Jerónimos Monastery 

Image by Júlia Orige from Pixabay

Your next stop is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Portugal. Jerónimos Monastery holds great significance in the country, and has an incredibly rich and vibrant history. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the resting place of some of the most famous Portuguese figures, it’s also the birthplace of a national delicacy — the pastel de nata! 

The monastery started off as a small and simple chapel in the 14th century. But when the famous explorer Vasco de Gama came back to the city with riches, King Manuel I ordered that it be turned into a magnificent monastery to show the newfound wealth of the country. However, the King himself never got to see the finished product, as it took over 100 years to build! 

This isn’t so surprising to hear when you see the monastery in person — it’s absolutely huge! The size of the building makes the intricate and detailed architecture seem even more impressive. The grounds are made up of the remarkable church of Santa Maria and an impressive two storey cloister. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and it really shows the best of Lisbon. 

Entrance fee: The adult fee is €10, and children go free. Make sure to check to see if any concession prices are on offer too.  

Opening hours:  October – April: 10:00AM to 5:30PM. 

                             May – September: 10:00AM to 6:30PM.

12:30PM: Lunch

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels

You’ll have already had a busy day, so no doubt you’ll be ravenous by the time you get to lunch. Fortunately, you’re in the best place to satisfy your appetite as Lisbon has some of the best food in Europe. We already know how delicious the bakery goods are, but that’s just scratching the surface. The city was named foodie hotspot of the year in the 2019 National Geographic Traveller awards, so you’ll easily find something that you love. 

Portugal is renowned for the quality of its fish. The most popular fish dish amongst locals is fresh sardines, which are usually eaten at summertime alongside a thick slice of delicious sourdough. Another popular dish amongst the locals is chouriço, which is a less spicy version of Spanish chorizo. It’s often eaten as a snack, but it’s sometimes used in recipes too, so make sure to keep an eye out for it. 

If you haven’t already guessed, Lisbon isn’t exactly renowned for vegetarian or vegan food. But don’t worry, veggies and vegans can still find places to eat without too much hassle. Check out this article from The Nomadic Vegan to find the best meat-free restaurants in the city. 

1:30PM: Rossio Square 

Rossio Square, Lisbon

After you’ve had a bite to eat, head over to Rossio Square, otherwise known as King Pedro IV Square. This is the main square in the city. It’s incredibly lively and popular amongst locals and tourists alike. In fact, you may be close to the square, since it’s surrounded by some of the most popular cafes in the city, including art-deco masterpiece Cafe Nicola

Rossio Square has always been the most popular area of the city. Back in the 13th century it was one of the few places that was open to commoners in the centre. This is where the term ‘rossio’ comes from, as it translates to common land. In the 19th century, the square was repaved to create the rippled effect that we see today. 

In the centre of the square is a statue that’s supposedly of Dom Pedro IV, who was the king of Portugal at the time. However, many suspect that the statue was initially based on Emperor Maximilian I. The story goes that as he was assassinated just before the statue reached completion, it was altered a bit and passed off as Maximillian. At the time this was undoubtedly hush hush, but by today’s standard it seems like a good choice for sustainability!   

As well as the numerous cafes, there are plenty of touristy shops to explore around Rossio Square, so make sure to bring an empty bag and a full wallet! 

2:30PM: Santa Justa Lift 

Image by 2427999 from Pixabay

After you’ve spent some time exploring Rossio Square, head over to Santa Justa lift. This lift is one of the oldest in the world, and easily one of the most beautiful too. It was inaugurated as one of Lisbon’s public transport systems in 1902, and was used by locals who had long been struggling to travel from uptown to downtown Lisbon. However today the lift is used primarily as a tourist attraction. The architectural style is influenced by Gustave Eiffel, which is why many deem the lift to be ‘the Eiffel Tower of Portugal’. 

But this attraction isn’t just about the lift itself. The views from the platform at the top are some of the best in Lisbon — you get to admire the River Tagus and Rossio Square in all its’ glory. You may find what seems to be a pretty hefty queue when you arrive, but it speeds up pretty quickly as the lift can hold 15 people at a time. Plus, it’s well worth it for one of the best experiences in the city. 

Entrance fee: The cost of a return ride and a stop on the viewing platform is €5.15.

Opening hours: 7:30AM – 11:00PM

3:30PM: Time to explore 

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

After visiting Santa Justa, you’ll have a bit of spare time before your evening meal. Take this time to just wander around and explore the city. This is your opportunity to experience the best of Lisbon. It is easily one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, so this is one of the best things to do here. Admire the stunning architecture and soak up the laid-back vibe. If you’re feeling too shattered to explore on foot after your busy day, hop on a tram and explore the city through the eyes of the locals. 

6:00PM: Food and drink by the river 

After a busy and jam packed day, have a chilled end to your 24 hours in Lisbon by grabbing some drinks and a bite to eat by the riverside. There are plenty of waterfront restaurants for you to choose from, so you should be able to find somewhere just right for you. Sit back, admire the sunset, and enjoy your last few hours in one of the best cities in Europe. 

What’s your perfect step by step itinerary for Lisbon in a day? Let me know in the comments below! 

Tips for Travelling as a Couple Without Going Crazy

Travelling with your significant other will give you some of the best experiences of your life. However, it isn’t without its challenges. Because as we all know after this past year, being stuck together for what feels like forever can put some strain on a relationship. And all the different stresses that come with travel certainly don’t help matters either. 

But if you’re planning on going backpacking with your partner once it’s safe to do so, please don’t let this put you off! Robin and I have travelled all around the globe over the past few years, and neither of us have been driven to insanity (yet). As long as you use the essential tips in this article, travelling as a couple will feel like a breeze. 

Be sure that it’s what you both want 

Image by papagnoc from Pixabay

This first tip may sound pretty obvious, but it’s one that a lot of couples don’t think about. Travel is one of the things I love most, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone. I can easily see why some people would prefer a week or two of sun and sea from the comfort of a hotel rather than a month or two of shared bathrooms and grimey hostel kitchens. 

So if you get even the slightest hint that your partner hasn’t been bitten by the travel bug, talk to them about it. As much as you want to go travelling and share the experience with them, neither of you will enjoy it if one of you is uncomfortable the entire time. And remember, there’s nothing stopping you going travelling without them! Take a trip with some travel-loving friends, or if you’re feeling brave, go for a solo adventure! 

Make sure that you’re ready for it

Robin and I on one of our first trips together in Greece!

There’s nothing that can truly prepare you for your first time travelling together, but one thing that makes it a whole lot easier is spending a good amount of time with each other beforehand. If you’ve only been together a month or so before you decide to take to the open road, I truly commend your bravery. But jumping straight into the deep end doesn’t always work out for the best. 

Robin and I had lived together for half a year, and been together for almost four years before our first trip — and we still found it a lot to adjust to. Of course, every relationship is different. If you truly believe that you’re ready after a short period of time, why not try travelling on a smaller scale beforehand? It’s a great way to get a taster of what to expect, and you can use it to figure out whether you’re ready. 

Be apart together 

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

When you’re traveling as a couple, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly in each other’s pockets. It’s completely normal to want some time apart, but it can feel impossible to avoid each other. So try to learn how to be apart together. A great time to do this is when you’re on a long bus or train journey. You might need to spend some of the journey figuring out logistics, like how you’re going to get to your accommodation. But for the rest of the journey, take some time for yourself. Bring a book, listen to some music, watch a film — whatever it is you need to do to recharge. 

It’s also a great idea to do this if you feel riled up. When it feels like every single thing they do is rubbing you up the wrong way (don’t worry, we’ve all been there), take some time out to do your own thing. After spending a bit of time out of each other’s hair, you’ll be in a much better mood and start to feel excited for the rest of your trip. 

Both take time to do the things you want to do

Enjoying a cocktail on the beach before Robin went to do some surfing!

Even couples who seem to share what seems like every single interest with one another will find different things that they want to do whilst travelling. If there’s something that you want to do, just do it. If your partner doesn’t want to do it, that’s fine. Remember, you don’t have to do every single thing together! There are loads of activities that you’ll want to share together, so it’s absolutely fine to take some time to do your own thing. Plus, your significant other certainly won’t find it difficult to stay entertained! 

Whenever we go travelling to a country with a coastline, Robin always takes surfing lessons. I absolutely hate the idea of surfing — I know I’ll somehow find a way to knock myself out with my own surfboard. So while he does his thing, I do mine — swimming, reading, exploring the local area… or more often than not, lounging on the beach with a drink in hand. We both end up having a great time, and I get to hear about all the different ways he embarrassed himself in his most recent lesson — it’s a win-win!

Don’t bottle it up

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Sometimes people find it easier to hide their frustration and let the little things slide. But when the little things build up further and further, eventually they’re going to snap. Being able to travel is an amazing privilege to have. But there are plenty of stressful moments too — getting lost, missing your train, or the dreaded missing passport scenario (which we have mercifully avoided so far!) When the little frustrations build up you’ll end up snapping, which will only make the situation even more stressful.

So if there’s something niggling at the back of your mind, open up about it. Whether it’s something big like you feel they haven’t been pulling their weight, or something small like spending too much time on their phone, don’t be afraid of speaking up. Both of us have been guilty of holding these frustrations in until we snapped, and it’s always ended up being the worst part of our trip. So speak up, get the awkward conversation over with and let yourself get back to enjoying your amazing adventure. 

Accept that you’ll fall out

No matter how much you try, you will end up having a fight. It’s not fun and it’s not pretty, but the chances are that it needs to happen. Because as we already know from the last tip, keeping resentment inside is never a good idea. So things might get ugly sometimes, and you may need time to cool off. But when you look back on your trip, that’s not the stuff that you remember. 

Not long before the picture above was taken, Robin and I had a fight. Looking back now, I have absolutely no idea what it was about. But I do remember finding the most amazing cafe I’ve ever eaten at about 5 minutes later. So don’t fret about having a big fight — it happens to all couples who travel. Just focus on resolving the issue, and continue with your amazing trip.

Have fun! 

This tip isn’t difficult — you will 100% have the time of your life. Travelling is such an amazing experience, and having someone to share it with will create a bond for life. You’ll make memories to treasure for a lifetime — there’s absolutely nothing else like it. 

What are your essential tips for travelling as a couple? Let me know in the comments down below!

Top 10 Travel Budgeting Tips

Over the years, backpackers have unsurprisingly gained a reputation as a bunch of spoilt ‘gap yah’ kids. Don’t get me wrong, whilst travelling I’ve come across many Felix and Jemima’s whose journey of self-discovery has been fully funded by Daddy’s credit card. But I’ve also come across plenty of regular people too — like teachers, students, secretaries, and bartenders. 

Whilst the reputation that backpackers have gained is somewhat justified, it isn’t completely true. You don’t have to be rich to travel — but you do have to be savvy (and maybe give up a little bit of comfort too). The average cost of a 10-day holiday is £947 per person. If you want to turn 10 days into a month (or maybe even more), use these 10 tips to stretch your travel budget.  

Travel in shoulder-season 

Image by mollyroselee from Pixabay

Most of my big trips have been in shoulder-season. Initially, this was just a coincidence, but it’s now become my absolute favourite season. I’d even go out of my way to backpack in this season.

There are so many things to love about shoulder-season: the weather is usually much more comfortable than the on-peak season, you can avoid busy crowds and you rarely have to pre-book for popular tourist attractions. But the best thing by far is the price. Low-cost transport, discounted attractions, affordable accommodation — everything is cheaper in shoulder-season. You can cut the cost of your entire trip by as much as 30%, so it certainly isn’t to be sniffed at. If you take just one thing away from the article, make it this tip. 

Walk it off

Three adorable sea lions in Antofagasta.

Walking is by far the best mode of transportation when travelling. Exploring your destination on foot makes it far easier to get to know the area, and you may even make a few discoveries on your travels. We never would have come across these friendly sea lions in Antofagasta if we explored the city via bus or taxi. Not only is walking a fun way to get to know the city, but it will also slash your transport cost. 

Make sure to bring a comfortable pair of shoes with you so you don’t end up hobbling after your first day. If you’re looking for inspiration, Mountain Warehouse is a great place to find affordable walking shoes, as well as other essential travel gear

Go incognito

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Have you ever found that your chosen flight has doubled in price since the last time you looked? No, you aren’t going mad. Websites can use your browsers’ cookies to see what you were quoted the last time you looked and raise them even further. It’s incredibly unfair and super sneaky, but don’t worry because there’s a simple way around it. Just use a private window to book your flight — this way the website can’t see your history, so you can get your ticket at an affordable price.  

And if you have the option to be flexible with your departure date, try to book your flight on a Tuesday or Wednesday. These are usually the cheapest days to fly as they’re in the middle of the week, and they tend to be the quietest too.  

Pack snacks

Photo by Annelies Brouw from Pexels

The food at tourist attractions is always super expensive, but most of us end up succumbing to the cost at some point in our lives. You’ll be ravenous after the hours you spend exploring, which may make paying a fiver for a packet of crisps seem almost reasonable. But if you stock up on snacks before you travel, you can satisfy your stomach without breaking the bank. 

Try to bring high-calorie food that comes in small packages, like nuts and high-protein cereal bars. Another great option is dried fruit, as it’s not just filling but packed full of vitamins to keep you healthy whilst travelling. And make sure to bring your favourite snack from your home country. Everyone feels at least a little bit homesick whilst on the road, so having something that reminds you of home is always a good idea. 

Carpool

Image by peagreenbean from Pixabay

This tip is handy for everyone, but especially for people who prefer to explore the unbeaten path. Sometimes public transport isn’t a viable option. But using a taxi for long-distance trips can seriously drain your travel budget. A great way to get around this is to carpool with other backpackers heading in your direction, by either hiring a car or hopping in a taxi together. 

I’ve always found it surprisingly easy to find other people to share a taxi with, even in the most remote places. If you’re stuck, try talking to people in your hostel to ask if anyone is interested in sharing, or check out Facebook groups of backpackers in the country. Just make sure that there’s more than two of you for safety.  

Check out free activities 

Image by Nikolaus Bader from Pixabay

The chances are that you’ll have a list the size of your arm of all the things you want to see and do whilst travelling. If you’re having trouble narrowing the list down, try to prioritise the cheapest options. The chances are that you’ll find at least a handful of free attractions that take your fancy, as some of the most famous sites in the world don’t charge entry fees. For example, Park Güell is one of the most visited sites in Barcelona, and the majority of the park is completely free. 

If you’re struggling to find free things to do near you, your best bet is to check the activities listed on TripAdvisor. But don’t forget to chat with other backpackers, as the chances are that they’re on the lookout for a bargain too. 

Make your own food

Image by moerschy from Pixabay

I’m not going to lie, hostel cooking is not always fun. Equipment that’s impossible to find, a pile of dirty dishes left by other backpackers, ovens that collapse when you try to use them (that’s a story for another day) — it’s not hard to be put off by the prospect. But it will help your budget stretch so much further, so it’s definitely worth it. 

Plus, it doesn’t have to be as bad as you probably think it is! Opt for the simplest recipes that use the least equipment to make the process a whole lot easier. If you’re stuck for inspiration, check out this list of hostel-friendly recipes from HostelWorld. Another way to make it easier (and maybe even fun) is to get other backpackers together and cook a group meal. It’s a great way to get to know people, and it’ll make the process a lot speedier too. 

Fill up on free food

Image by Matthias Böckel from Pixabay

The age-old saying ‘the best things in life are free’ surely came from someone after staying at a hotel with an all you can eat breakfast buffet. If you can stay somewhere with a free breakfast included, don’t let the opportunity go to waste. Filling your boots in the morning will set you up for the day and save you a lot of money on food. 

It isn’t just fancy hotels that offer free breakfasts, many hostels do this too. I’ve even stayed in a hostel that offered free lunch as well! Both HostelWorld and Booking.com have search filters for free breakfast, so don’t forget to use them! 

Talk to other travellers

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

No matter how much research you do or how many guidebooks you read, it’s impossible to get all of the information on your chosen destination. But fortunately, other backpackers have a wealth of knowledge that you should use. Not only is first-hand information often more reliable, but it’s the stuff that you won’t find anywhere else too. 

So get chatting with other backpackers to discover some great budgeting tips for your destination, such as free attractions or the best cheap eateries near you. At the very least you’ll get some handy tips, at the most you’ll end up finding your travel bestie. 

GET TRAVEL INSURANCE! 

Photo by Andrei Tanase from Pexels

So many people skip purchasing travel insurance, and it’s easy to see why. If your general health is good and you’re never running late, you may think you can get away without buying it. After all, what’s the chance that you’ll need to use it? Well, last year we found out just how important it is, with travel insurance claims being at an all-time high. 

There are so many things that you can claim for, including health care, lost luggage, stolen luggage, and missing flights. And most insurance prices are extremely affordable too. It’s less than £10 for the average single cover policy, and just £21 for the average annual multi-cover policy. This is an extremely small price to pay for something that can literally be lifesaving, so don’t set off without it! 

What are your top travel budgeting tips? Let me know in the comments below!

5 European Countries to Visit After Lockdown

How much of the day do you spend planning for post-pandemic life? If the answer is more than you’d like to admit, you’re not alone. It feels like I spend half the day daydreaming of the next time I can see loved ones in the flesh or go to the pub. Just being able to pop into the supermarket without worrying about whether I brought my mask with me would be a blessing. But of course, one of the things I miss the most is travelling. And it looks like I’m not alone — holidays are the third most missed thing for Brits during lockdown.  

Whilst it’s still going to be a while before our next holiday, Monday’s optimistic exit plan announcement brings our next getaway a little bit closer. And in the meantime, we can still daydream about our next adventure. In fact, this is the perfect time to plan your trip, since most of us have suffered from a serious case of lockdown boredom. If you want to turn your holiday daydreaming into real life plans, these are the 5 best countries to visit post-lockdown. 

Greece

A shot of Santorini at sunset. The right of the image has white houses on a cliff, to the left is the sea.
Image by Michelle Maria from Pixabay

If like me, you’ve been dreaming of an idyllic island getaway and sipping cocktails on the beach, then Greece should be your first port of call. Dazzling sunshine, clear blue sea, the laid-back atmosphere — there’s a reason that it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. But the best thing about the country is that despite the increase in tourism every year, it’s still easy to find somewhere peaceful and secluded. This is definitely something that you should consider for your next holiday, as the expected holiday boom means that the most touristy spots will be completely packed. If you’re after a tranquil break, then check out this list of the quietest Greek islands from The Mediterranian Traveller

A shot taken at Palaiokastritsa. There are cliffs covered in greenery, towering over the clear blue sea.
Palaiokastritsa is a little piece of paradise.

One of my favourite places for a peaceful Greek holiday has to be Paleokastritsa. This scenic village located in the North of Corfu island is seriously underrated in favour of more popular locations like Mykonos or Santorini. But Paleokastritsa is just as beautiful, and even more peaceful, so it’s definitely worth a visit. If you go, make sure to check out the monastery and buy yourself a bottle of olive oil that is made by the nuns themselves. 

Low angle photograph of the parthenon during the daytime.

Of course, Greece is about far more than just the beaches. The country has a rich and fascinating history, renowned not just in Europe but across the world. From the Olympics to the great Greek philosophers, there’s so much history to discover in the country. If you’re interested in learning more about Greece’s riveting history, check out Dave’s Travel Page’s list of the top 10 historical landmarks in the country. 

Portugal

A city shot of white houses with red roofs in Portugal. The sky is bright blue and cloudless.
Image by Steffen Zimmermann from Pixabay

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t fall completely in love with Portugal after their visit. This fantastic country is often overlooked for its more touristy next-door neighbour Spain. But Portugal has become an increasingly popular holiday spot, and it’s hardly surprising to see why. The mouth-watering food, the beautiful beaches, the stunning cities, and the impressive 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites — it’s the perfect place to travel after lockdown. 

A beach shot. To the left are high cliffs towering over the sandy cove. To the right is the deep blue sea. The sky is clear.
Praia de Mahinha, Portugal.

If you’re after a relaxing beach getaway, then you’re in the perfect place as the Algarve has one of the best coastlines in the world. Long, sandy beaches, deep blue sea and stunning rock formations make this region the most beautiful one in the country. One of my personal favourite beaches in the area is Carvalho. It’s quite small, and popular amongst locals and tourists alike, so you need to make sure to get up early to pay it a visit, but it’s definitely worth it. To access it, there is a narrow staircase through the rocks. The beach itself is sheltered by cliffs on either side, making it the perfect spot to kick back and relax.  

Photo of Lisbon taken from a hill overlooking the city in daytime.
Lisbon, Portugal

For those of you who prefer city breaks, make sure to check out Lisbon, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. There are so many fascinating landmarks in the city, from the remains of a 1000-year-old castle to the most beautiful lift in the world, created all the way back in 1902. Of course, one of the best things about Lisbon is the impressive architecture. Take a stroll through the city (or hop on a tram if you prefer), and take in the scenery. It’s simply unforgettable. 

Bosnia

A shot from the Old Town in Sarajevo.
Image by Chris Spencer-Payne from Pixabay

This country is easily one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Europe. Bosnia is far too often associated with war and violence, and some even think the Bosnian War is still going today — the fighting actually finished a quarter of a century ago in 1995. However, tourism to the country is increasing year on year, so hopefully, it will finally get the attention it deserves soon. 

By far the most popular tourist city in the country is the absolutely magical Mostar. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting this city won’t be surprised. The gorgeous architecture, the charming shops, and the iconic Stari Most bridge make this city easily one of the most picturesque in the world. Walking through Mostar is like walking through a fairytale, it completely transports you to another world. 

Another city that’s definitely worth paying a visit to is Sarajevo. Compared to Mostar, the capital appears a bit rough around the edges, but it’s home to some amazing street art and fascinating history. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was killed next to the famous Latin Bridge, an event that is widely considered to have been the final straw for the start of the First World War. Sarajevo is also home to some fascinating museums and galleries which detail the city’s tragic past, so any history buffs would thrive here. 

One thing that Bosnia is less well-known for is its coastline. Yes, it may be just 12 miles long (making it the second shortest coastline in the world), but it’s actually a pretty great beach. The bay is sheltered making it comfortable and safe for swimming, and it’s extremely affordable too. Plus, the sea is absolutely beautiful. Whilst it’s not the best place to spend a whole holiday, it’s definitely worthy of a day trip. 

Croatia

Aerial view of a Dubrovnik, Croatia at sunset.
Photo by Lucian Potlog from Pexels

Bosnia’s next-door neighbour is another great place for your first post-lockdown holiday. But unlike Bosnia, Croatia is far from being a hidden gem. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in the country, as demonstrated by the impressive 19 million visitors that flocked there in 2019. However, there are plenty of secluded beaches to visit thanks to the many islands and the impressive 3600-mile coastline (you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Bosnia and their tiny 12 miles!). 

A shot of the lake in Mljet, Croatia.
Mljet, Croatia

One of the most beautiful and serene Croatian islands is the absolutely beautiful Mljet. This little piece of paradise is Croatia’s greenest island, with the national park taking up a good chunk of the land, making it a dream destination for wildlife enthusiasts. It’s also a great place for an outdoorsy adventure. Swim around Odysseus Cave, cycle around the scenic island, or go kayaking (and try not to flip the boat and lose both your flip flops like I did). But my favourite thing to do by far is to relax, lie back, and soak up the sun. 

A shot of Dubrovnik taken from the castle, featuring the Old Town walls.
Dubrovnik, Croatia

As well as the sublime coastline, there’s plenty of great cities to visit in the country too, the most popular being Dubrovnik. It certainly isn’t the best place for a quiet city break — almost 1.5 million tourists visited the city in 2019. The ever-increasing popularity of Dubrovnik is largely thanks to the stunning backdrop, which is what inspired the creators of Game of Thrones to film some of the hit series here. The city’s main tourist hotspot is the picturesque Old Town. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s an important piece of history too — it’s one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cities. Stepping foot in the Old Town is like travelling back in time. Learn more about the history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site by taking a walking tour and exploring the landmarks fascinating past. 

Aerial shot of Split, Croatia featuring the port.
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

If you’re looking for a city that’s just as beautiful but without the crazy crowds, you should definitely check out Split. The second largest city in Croatia shares a lot of similarities with the tourist hotspot, Dubrovnik: a fascinating history, a well preserved Old Town, and a beautifully dramatic backdrop. Just a few of Split’s highlights include the Klis Fortress, Diocletian’s Palace, and the beautiful walk along the Riva harbour. Although Dubrovnik is a beautiful city, the laid-back vibe of Split just edges it as my favourite city in Croatia. 

Your Home Country

The Tyne bridge at dawn.
Image by Andrew Jacobs from Pixabay

I know you’ve probably been dreaming of jetting off as far away as possible, but you shouldn’t forget about your own country. If you want to take a holiday anytime soon, the chances are that it’ll be far easier to take a domestic one rather than an international one. You also need to consider the safety of international travel. Just because a country allows you to travel there, it doesn’t necessarily mean that this is a good idea. Some countries are so desperate to get their tourist sectors back up and running that they don’t stop to think about the risk that having international visitors brings. Remember, you have a responsibility to protect not just your own health but the health of those around you too. 

Of course, it’s not just about the practicalities — domestic holidays are so fun! Many people rarely travel their own country like a tourist, so it’s a great way to see it in a new light. Visit the tourist spots that you’ve never even considered before, support the local economy, and have a great holiday. 

Which country do you want to travel after lockdown? Let me know in the comments below!