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Travelling alone can be exciting, magical, life affirming and incredible. You can explore the sites and cities of the world without every worrying about slowing someone else down, holding them back, or getting on their nerves. Your days revolve around the plans you want to make, and every journey you take is making you that bit more independent.

But solo travel is also a test of survival. When things go wrong, it can be really scary trying to find yourself in a place you don’t you know, and making yourself safe becomes your new top priority. Phone batteries can die, maps can get lost and plans can go askew, so it’s important to keep your cool and focus on your next steps ahead to get you to where you want to be. We’ve drawn up a list of our top Solo Traveller tips to help you relax and enjoy your adventures, safely and happily, before you set off!

Plan your routes 

Whilst you won’t be able to plan every single second of your trip, a little bit of preparation is so useful for making your journey there as easy as possible. Google Maps is going to be your new best friend, and you’ll learn that your internal navigation is a lot more reliable than you might think. One of the best bits of travelling alone is learning just how much you can cope with on your own, and your inner GPS will be a lot more trustworthy than you imagine.

Make friends 

Ok, so you don’t have to go on ‘walking trips for the alone and lonely’ to make friends. But simply chatting to people who offer it is going to make you feel so much more at home in a strange place. Asking someone for directions, opening up a conversation about ‘so where are you from’ ‘how long on you here for’ ‘what have you got planned for your trip’ can be a huge comfort if you’re feeling a little adrift.

Don’t be afraid of doing things alone

You’ve come on this trip alone, so you might as well enjoy it alone. Grab your laptop, grab your favourite book, a podcast, a playlist, and just explore. Eat in restaraunts alone, grab coffee alone, go sightseeing alone. Whatever you do, so long as you’re experiencing the culture you came here to embrace, you’re doing a good job.

Take photos 

One of the hardest things most people struggle with when travelling alone is a lack of purpose. You can feel like there’s no point to going into a coffee shop, to heading out to a beauty spot, to exploring the local villages…as you’re on my own. So make your purpose photography, or blogging. Think about returning home, and having nothing to show for your trip. So take photos, and give yourselfand reasons for venturing out into the world to motivate me into action. give yourself

Connect with your inbuilt survival mode 

Things can go wrong on holiday, whether you’re with friends, family or going it alone, and it’s always worrying to imagine. But where you are alone, and your plans start to fall apart, the best thing you can do is let your survival instincts take over. Don’t think ‘cool’, think ‘practical’. If your phone dies, where is the nearest place you can go to charge it – a coffee shop? Go in, buy a coffee and wait. The 7 wonders of the world aren’t going anywhere, and your safety depends on that phone. You lose your way? Head into a shop, and ask someone. Find a tour guide, or even better, another tourist, likely to be clutching several maps with one going spare. You start to feel ill? Head back to your hotel, and contact as many people as you can, letting them know your situation and figuring out your next move – calling a doctor, contacting your hotel/AirBnB host, or even planning your early trip home. There are safe spaces in every city and country, whether it’s a restaurant, hotel lobby, cafe or shopping centre. There are places to charge your devices, to grab some water and to calm down and figure out what to do. So don’t panic, you’ve already got this covered.

Although everyone is encouraged, at some stage of their lives, to travel the world, there are certain things to do before you set off to steady your nerve, and keep your cool as you go. Enjoy the adventure, and stay safe!

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Recently I wrote a post entitled ‘What To Expect From The Perfect Airbnb Experience‘. I had just come back from a birthday weekend away in Edinburgh, in the most beautiful Airbnb I had ever slept in, and couldn’t stop myself from documenting the experience. My flat had pristine white sheets, gorgeous furnishings, spotless surfaces and every utility I could ever ask for in accommodation – I loved it. The wonderful woman who owned the flat even sent me a small birthday present as a token of thanks for keeping the flat so tidy after we left, and it made our little Scottish adventure even more enjoyable.P9022237.jpg

The adventures you have on your holidays are only one small part of the trip. For a home bird like me, who struggles with alien cities and long haul travel, the comfort and security of my accommodation are a crucial part of my overall impression of a place, and can help me make a firm judgement on how much I’ll enjoy my stay there.

But I’ve always wondered what it must be like to host an Airbnb guest. To allow strangers into your home or property, with little information on them beyond a profile picture and small online biography. You take their money, and in many cases, never even see their faces – yet they sleep in your bed, use your bathroom, watch TV in your living room…It must be so strange to think that someone else will be calling your house ‘home’, even if only for the short amount of time they stay there.

P9022215.jpgWhich is why at every Airbnb I stay at, I do several key things to help my hosts feel respected after letting me stay. I can’t imagine the effort that goes into to making a home feel ‘guest-ready’, and I really do appreciate the work that goes into it. So here are my top tips on how to be the perfect Airbnb guest:

Communicate With Your Host 

P9022234.jpgIt’s always a little nerve-wracking staying in an unfamiliar home for the first time. Without the security and customer service of a hotel, your Airbnb is your responsibility alone for every day that you stay there. So if you have any questions – don’t be afraid of communicating with your host before your stay. If you want to know the wifi password, how the door locks, what the area is like – do all possible prep before your stay, not once you’ve arrived, as it gives your host time to get everything perfectly ready for your arrival in advance.

Highlight Issues Early

Similarly, if you do arrive and there’s an issue, alert your host to this straight away to give them enough time to fix it. When you first step through the door, make sure that everything you were promised is there – kettle, TV, locks, keys, electricity, bedding, etc… If anything is missing, the more time you give your host to deal with the issue, the better for both of you!

Keep It Tidy

P9022216.jpgWhilst there, your host might need to pop in and out for various reasons (sidenote: they should only do this with your permission, and if they do come in without asking and make you feel uncomfortable, this is something you should report to Airbnb/leave on your review as soon as possible), so keep it clean. Whilst your host should be ok with you making yourself at home in their property, it’s always difficult popping in to find clothes everywhere, piles of dishes, dirty kitchens and general chaos in your living room. So when you get a spare five minutes, make the bed, hide your dirty pants, and put your mug in the sink. Small touches can make a difference to a nervous host.

Be Grateful

One of the touches I leave behind when staying in an Airbnb (as opposed to a hotel) is leave a ‘thank you’ card somewhere obvious for my host to find. I’ve yet to have a bad stay in an Airbnb, so every card I’ve left has been fully waranted, and I’m always happy to show my gratitude to a good host. If your Airbnb has any small extras, such as milk in the fridge or a hamper of local food in the kitchen, this is great to include in your thank you card. But even if they don’t, this is still a person who has opened their home up to you, left it in a cared for state, and provided you with shelter for your stay in a new city – it’s always nice to show your appreciation.P9022240.jpg

Leave A Great Review

Whilst my list of reviews on Amazon might be a little on the short side, my Airbnb reviews are so important to my trip, and to my host, that I always leave one. Perhaps it’s a travellers anxiety thing, but I religously read the reviews of Airbnb accommodations before I book them. If there’s a mention of intrusive hosts, un-safe areas, faulty locks or worrysome neighbours, I actively avoid – but reviews citing beautiful views, friendly hosts, central locations and attractive decor instantly draw me in. Which is why, when you leave a review, you should be as honest as possible about your host – to boost their profile and status on the site, and to help them do well in their Airbnb experience.

Finish Off The Job

P9022208.jpgAs our stay in Edinburgh was one of my first Airbnb experiences, on the day we left, we made sure to clean up every inch of our flat. This might have been a little more neccesary for us, as Stephen had pretty much covered the living room in balloons and banners for my birthday (adorable, right?), which all had to come down without a trace. But our Airbnb host was so grateful, as it made her job a lot easier when expecting the next guests after us. So make sure you know your check out time, strip the beds, do the washing up, wipe the surfaces, pack up everything, don’t accidentally pack anything that isn’t yours (we might have been chased down by an Airbnb host once for somehow packing their hairdryer instead of ours), and make it look as good as it did when you first stepped inside.

Airbnb is one of my favourite ways to travel, and although hotels can be fun, there’s nothing like the indepedence of your own mini-home in a new city to help you relax. So be the best guest you can be, and you’ll be helping your friendly host to do an even better job of hosting you!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s post – I’m currently doing Instatober this month, which means a carefully curated Instagram post every day in October over at ‘nikkismccaig’! I’m using these posts as a form of online diary, so make sure to check out my captions as well to find out what I’ve been up to that day as well! Have a great week!

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P.S – if anyone is looking to stay in this gorgeous Airbnb from the photographs, I would highly recommend it. This beautifully decorated one bed in Cardiff is owned by Bec, who was a wonderful host, and inspired me to write this post!

 

 

Tucked away in the sandy streets of Brighton, there sits a bakery. A beautiful, creative and honest-to-god gorgeous bakery, that for one Sunday afternoon, served two weary tourists – desperate for a snack before catching their long train home.P7030467.jpgWhen first planning our trip to Brighton, the Flour Pot Bakery was simply one on a long list of bakeries, restaraunts and cafes I’d heard about, read about and dreamed about through the vlogs and blogs of travellers and Brighton-tubers alike. It was only on our first bus trip through the city where we caught site of the Flour Pot sign, and knew that it would make our to-do list.P7030405.jpgSo on the sunniest day of the weekend, a giant suitcase in tow and our train tickets firmly in hand, we popped into visit our new bakery for a light spot of lunch. Walking inside the  Flour Pot Bakery felt like stumbling across the Pinterest board of your favourite interior designer, with every conceivable trend, style and innovation beautifully displayed for the customers and adventurers dining inside.P7030432.jpgA checkerboard floor (perfectly muffling the distressing rumble of our suitcase wheels), copper piping, rustic washed-wood tables, and thick glass jars surrounded us as we rolled up to the counter to order.P7030468.jpgSelecting items from cutely penned chalkboard menus, I couldn’t help but snap photos of every piece of interior that caught my eye. The dusty rustic loaves, the farmers market crates, the rustling white Flour Pot takeaway bags…everything seemed to fit together in one crisp image of aesthetic dining that I immediately fell in love with.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we recieved our food – toast and a Swedish sticky bun for me, a thick loaved sandwich for my boyfriend – we were so hungry that every bite seemed to disappear before we got the chance to enjoy it. But despite that, I can still wholeheartedly recommend some of my favourite choices of the day: anything from the pastry counter, the sliced gluten free sourdoughs, and a large hazelnut latte to wash it all down with.P7030423.jpgWhilst I sat there, bossily forcing my poor boyfriend to pose for a photo before eating his lunch, I couldn’t help but notice the complete diversity of people popping in for their own Flour Pot experience. Sea-flecked surfers still in their wet suits, fashionable bloggers huddled with cameras and laptops, sunkissed hikers with dogs on leads, mums and dads with pushchairs and prams – it seemed like everyone was welcome, which made us feel so at home in this strange new city.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Flour Pot Bakery has so many locations across Brighton, if you’re considering a visit, no matter where you stay, you won’t be far away. A beautiful hub of rustic food, hot creamy coffee, entirely inviting aesthetic and genuinely friendly people – it might just be the highlight of your visit. P7030450.jpgThank you so much for reading my blog post this week, I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about the delights of the Flour Pot Bakery. To check out their website and see for yourself the beautiful baked goods they provide, click here, or to read my last post on the indestructable Rimmel Super Gel, click here

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There’s something quite special about Brighton.

When we first stepped off our crowded train, and landed feet first onto the slightly uneven and helplessly seagull-stained streets of Brighton, I had a small moment of panic. Whenever I travel, no matter where I go, I’m always followed by a persistent sensation of dread, of alienation, of fear that I’m not in the right place. This anxiety makes me want to go home, to stay indoors, to go with what’s familiar and to stay safe away from the strange and unfamiliar sights below.P7010016.jpgBut that fear never came. For the first time in a long time my head felt clear, and relaxed, and so happy to simply be away and on holiday, and what I can only assume is normal for travellers who aren’t, well, me. It was such a special moment that the sudden gruntle of our displeased bus driver could barely snap me out of it as he tried to collect his fare.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEverything, and every moment, just felt right. From our beautiful Airbnb-selected home away from home, just 250m from the beach, to the gloriously long, busy and bustling pier, Brighton really did make me happy, even if just for one weekend.P7010059.jpgWith so many Brighton bloggers and vloggers in my peripheral, I had compiled a mental sight seeing list of places I wanted to explore and enjoy whilst we there. Surprisingly, in contrast to Edinburgh where every moment spared felt guiltily wasted, our exploration of Brighton was incredibly laid back, with no rush, no stress and no pressure to adventure out. We spent our first night out dining at a beautiful, yet adorably tiny, Italian pizza restaurant on the street called Fatto a Mano (who I have already shamelessly raved about on my Twitter), before picking up some morning essentials at the local shop and hitting the beach for one last paddle before bed.

P7010103 (1).jpgThat first night on the beach is a memory that I genuinely hope I’ll never forget. The sun was in its last stage of setting, so everything was rose-tinted and gorgeous. It was the night before a heatwave, so there was the perfect touch of warmth in the air, and the sea was just about cool enough to balance it out. We must have spent two – nearly three – hours just walking up and down that beach; bruising our feet on sharp pebbles, splashing in the foamy sea, taking classic seaside snaps with my camera. It was only as we were walking back to the house that I realised my poor phone must have been swept up by the tides, and so I was left without it for the rest of the trip – but somehow even that didn’t bother me as much as it should’ve done.P7010024.jpgWhere in Edinburgh, no one seemed to want to talk to us dreadful English tourists, in Brighton, everyone was happy to chat. We were updated on a local charity event happening on the Saturday and invited to go and check it out, which lead us all the way up to the beach to my new favourite summer foodie spot: Brighton Music Hall. I won’t even try to pretend that this place wasn’t overpriced, but it was so bright, loud and endearing that we couldn’t help stopping for lunch. After a few rounds of terrible live music (during which we both got embarrassingly sunburnt), we finished up our chips and headed out to explore.P7020325.jpgNow, one of the elements I had always wanted to visit in Brighton were the lanes, and my head was filled with visions of dainty shops and quirky, nautical home ware boutiques, just waiting for bloggers and tourists like me. Unfortunately, what I found instead was a mass of confusing street names, hoards of sticky, harried shoppers, and a series of brand name shops that I sadly wasn’t too enthralled by. A little overwhelmed at this point, we decided to make a break for sanctuary and headed home for a little R&R.P7010008.jpgThe next morning, after yet another quick splash in the sea, was spent hurriedly packing up our assorted belongings and carefully de-cluttering our little beach house, before we headed out – giant suitcase in tow – into the sunshine for lunch. Whilst I’m saving my review of the beautiful Flour Pot Bakery for another blog post, I can confirm…its amazing, and a must for any Brighton-tourist.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASitting on the train back to Nottingham, I couldn’t stop thinking about Brighton, and made myself a promise to return one day, to truly explore the friendly, relaxed and gorgeous city that now holds so many happy memories for me.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s blog post, and that it’s inspired you to look up somewhere new for your next stay-cation! To read up on last week’s blog post, and to find out how to handle the heat as a busy working woman, click here, or to see some more of my holiday snaps, you can click here for my Instagram!

Have a great week!

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When planning my trip to Edinburgh, there were a few things I wanted to research before I headed out on those famous Scottish streets. The first – my accommodation. Having only ever been Scotland once prior to this break, I had no clue where to go, where best to stay, or what on earth I wanted to be close to. Luckily, a gorgeous room in a city Airbnb managed to sort that problem out rather quickly, and even made its way into my latest blog post.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second…the history. Edinburgh’s history is so rich and cultured that I wasn’t sure where to start – did I brush up on the art or the literature? The accent or the edibles? Taking a step away from this adventure, I can firmly say that if there is any other thing that feel particularly relevant to research about your next destination in these crazy times, it’s their government and their politics. Scottish parliament did not dissappoint, and was genuinely one of the highlights of my trip.P5230111.jpgThe third? Call me materialistic, but I was researching the high street looks of the Edinburgh fashion world long before I even booked the tickets. With films like One Day, and shows like Clique giving me a sense of stylised wanderlust for the softly-dressed and heavily peacoated residents of Scotland, I spent my days imagining dark umbrellas and round thick rimmed glasses. I was picturing grey oversized jumpers, tightly bound scarves and heavy duty boots, resting next to a steaming cup of creamy rich coffee and a buttery slice of shortbread.P5230067.jpgSo when it actually came around to packing for my adventure, I had a pretty good of what to take. My first outfit: Jumpers, Jeans and Boots. Despite the fact that our holiday was in the middle of May, it seemed to rain a little every day we were there, and it wasn’t particularly warm either. So a cropped emerald green jumper, a pair of my comfiest jeans, and my favourite black heeled boots , dressed smartly with a light monochrome static duster coat felt like a safe option to go with.P5230084.jpgI loved this outfit for so many reasons. For one, as I travelled with my boyfriend in his similar knit burgundy jumper, together we looked like an adorable Gryffindor and Slytherin crosseover couple. For another, it just felt like me. But a me that was confident, stylish, and definitely not about a have a panic attack about being miles away from home on a crowded train. I felt good, and happy and excited to explore in that outfit – and now every time I wear that jumper and jeans combo, I get to relive just a little bit of that excitment again.P5230011.jpgFor the second day of our exploration,  I decided to don a slightly more European aesthetic, with a soft black bowler hat, long sleeved Breton and black pinafore dress. On this day, sadly I had to skip the boots as our tour guide had warned us that Edinburgh involved a lot of hills that sadly my heels might not survive. So instead I decided to mix casual and comfy with stylish and sultry, in an inexpensive pair of soft grey pumps. Working again with my favourite duster coat, and the addition of a faint white and grey tartan scaf, I aimed to inject a touch of Scottish ident into what was, admittedly, a fairly Parisian composition.P5230183.jpgBut this outfit took me to so many places. This outfit fought through the crowds up at Edinburgh Castle, it danced through the Princes Street Gardens, it narrowly avoided being drenched in Scottish Starbucks, and it indulged in a rather quirky 1970’s brunch parlor – complete with haggis breakfasts and mismatched china cups. It even took me through the Scottish Parliament building that I fell so madly in love with, even if I was slightly inappropriately dressed for the official tour.P5230129.jpgOddly, the third day was a day of gardens and greenery, so I simply decided to refresh my jumper from the first day, but with a summery twist of shorts, tights and my favourite sunglasses. I’m sure I’m not the only holiday maker who packs for an eternity, but ends up repeating their old favourite outfits the minute they arrive at their destination.P5240408.jpgFinally, whilst I wasn’t let down by the high street styles of Edinburgh, I must say that once there, I barely noticed what anyone else – let alone myself – was wearing. There was so much to take in and enjoy that it was the sights and the skyscrapers and the sounds that caught my attention on this trip. I would love to go back to Edinburgh one day, and really take in some of the people I dazedly passed on my first time around, to enjoy their style, their fashion and their looks.P5230108.jpgThank you so much for reading. If you want to hear more about my Edinburgh trip, I share my Airbnb experiences over in my last blog post, and to see some of my favourite photos from my City Look Book, head over to my Instagram at NikkiSMcCaig.

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Travelling is amazing. Breathtakingly rewarding and achingly exciting, wherever you go. Whether you’re lounging by the pool in a steaming tropical climate, hiking through the hills up to some lost ancient tomb, or strutting down a European high street in your tallest shoes and smartest peacoat. You can learn so much from travel, and from the experience of indepent adventure. The world is a big place, with a million and one things to go and visit. There is so much to be said for exploring it piece by piece.P5220059.jpgBut, when travelling away from home, whether you go alone or in a group, there are so many factors you need to consider. Cultral changes, climate differences, the financial support throughout your trip…Everything will be new, and scary. And whilst that fear is  great for adrenaline, it’s perhaps not so great for your own personal safety.

Different countries, different lifestyles and different experiences can be overwhelming, and disorientating. You could touch down in what feels like a completely different planet, and have no idea of what to do once you get there. Which is where your accomodation should come in. Your hotel, your travel lodge, your hostel, or, as a more popular travelling trend unveils itself, your Airbnb.P5220002.jpg

Airbnb is an online site where travellers, foreign workers, tourists and sight seers can book to stay in someone’s home, in the right destination, and essentially live there unaided for the entirety of their trip. Unlike a hotel, you have the option of requesting the entire home, villa or apartment to yourself for complete and utter privacy. This means no 6am housekeeping calls, no noisy hotel room neighbours, and no confining or unfurnished single rooms for one. You will be living in their home, or bedroom, for every step of your journey. With your own kitchen, your own bathroom, living room, front door…you can truly live the lifestyle of a native in your chosen destination.P5220030 (1).jpgSome people, like myself, find this homely familiarity incredibly comforting when spending time in a new city or country. Hotel rooms, whilst perhaps slighly more affordable, lack a certain standard of comfort, and of ownership. Your hotel room is usually just that…a room. A room in a large, unassuming building that is designed for sleep and showering alone. But your Airbnb is designed, more than anything, to be your temporary home. Your escape after a long day of exploration, your sofa to curl up on and remind yourself of everything you witnessed that day, your kitchen – perfectly accommodating for that first cup of morning coffee.P5220011 (1).jpgBut, unfortunately, like hotel rooms, not all Airbnb experiences will be the same. Whilst the standards can be high, the prices can also be a little steep at times, so it’s importat to get what you want. And you want it to be perfect. Yet, not everyone will understand quite what that perfect standard of Airbnb is – how to tell when you’ve found a great place, that’s worth recommending to your friends, and a flat to write home about. So, having recently dropped in from an Edinburgh city break in possibly the most beautiful Airbnb home I’ve ever stumbled into, I thought I would share my top 5 expectations for the best possible holiday accommodation, and help my fellow travellers to understand just what to expect from the perfect Airbnb.P5220009 (1).jpg

  1. Clean. This may sound like a basic function, but as a host, if you’re awaiting a guest, no matter how they plan to stay for, everything should be spotless. Clean toiletries, clean ammenities, clean bedding, clean utensils…The perfect Airbnb will be idyllic and almost frighteningly clean. Our Edinburgh flat was decorated in the most sparkling of fresh white nauticals, to the point where we almost didn’t want to sit down for fear of making a mess. But it felt healthy, and hygenic and well-loved, and for us, that made it a perfect holiday accomodation. P5220019 (1).jpg
  2. Beautiful. (If that is what you are looking for!) I understand for some people, their travel accommodation is simply there to be a bed and bags drop off point, with their new exciting country being the true host of their visit. But for others, myself included, the place where you sleep should be just as beautiful as the landscape you explore. This can mean a unique decor style, a warming senerity, a photographable quality that most hotel rooms lack. As a horrifically materialistic person, I find I am comforted by beautiful things – whether it be a rustic cushion, an elegant lampshade or a dove soft throw. So when I’m facing the culture shock of an entirely new way of living, these are the small touches that can really help to make my trip amazing.P5240267 (1).jpg
  3. Convenient. If your Airbnb advertises itself as a ‘city centre apartment’, it should be just that. Central. You should be able to hit all of your city style sight seeing spots, or conference centres in a short, straightforward walk. No complex trains, or trams, or buses. No taxis dropping you off at the back end of suburban housing estates, as you frantically try to explain that your booking was in the city centre, that this can’t be right! Everything you need to reach on your trip should be right there in front of you, unless advertised otherwise. So make sure you do your homework, and check in with your host frequently to confirm just how close your favourite monument will be to your brand new home. P5220017 (1).jpg
  4. Balanced. This standard typically refers to the host, rather than the apartment itself. Although you can never be sure of what kind of host you will recieve, there are a few signs to look out for when chatting them with on-site for the first time. Firstly, always check the reviews of previous guests, and analyse their experiences with the host, and the room itself. If buzzwords and phrases such as ‘slow to reply’ ‘too busy’ ‘unattentive’ ‘uncooporative’ and ‘pushy’ tend to pop up throughout your investigation, it’s perhaps wise to start looking for somewhere else. Though you might not think it now, when staying the night in someone elses home, in an unfamiliar city, it’s more important than ever to have a host who is reachable and contactable. They need to be able to reply to all of your questions and queries, even the silly ones. But, they also need to know when to take a step back, and let you enjoy the time you have there alone. No early morning calls, ‘just checking in’, no constant monitoring you on how you slept, how hot the shower was, how noisy the neighbours were. The perfect balance is a host who will answer your questions, and then, in all honestly, leave you be to discover everything else on your own. P5220007.jpg
  5. Safe. This one, for me, is always going to be my number one priority – when I’m travelling alone or with a group. Do the windows all lock? Does the gas turn off? Does anyone else have a key to the apartment? How many people know we’re here? There’s a lot to consider when evaluating the safety of your new accommodation, but luckily this is where the reviews can help you again. In the reviews for an Airbnb studio flat I recently considered booking, whilst most were positive, a few jumped out at me, citing that the cleaners would walk in unannounced at 6am, the host had popped by and moved things around without consulting his guests, and there was no one there to greet them in this strange apartment buidling – leaving, as they described themselves ‘two young foreign girls’ alone, to ask complete strangers for help. So no matter how beautiful or luxurious or sophisticated the place, if the privacy levels and safety etiquette doesn’t feel right, do not book it. P5240211.jpg

I hope these tips have helped out some of the more wary Airbnb users out there, and encouraged them to start raising their own standards when it comes to self catered holiday accommodation. I love booking my trips through Airbnb, and I can’t recommend the site enough for those wanting a true home from home when exploring abroad.

P5220003.jpgFor those wondering about the photographs in this blog post, they have all come from my wonderful stay in Edinburgh, with our fantastic host Claire, and her Airbnb profile is linked here, if anyone would like to go and check out her flat.

Thank you so much for reading, and you can click here to read my last post reviewing my first ever Birchbox!

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*this post has not been sponsored by Airbnb or any of its affiliates.

One sharp, misty evening in December, we set off on a trip. With pitiful raining drizzling around us and the soggy remains of train tickets in our hands, myself and Mr W hopped aboard buses, taxis and railways to journey across England in the darkest of evenings. We spent an hour aboard a noisy train, and then a further hour curled up in the cold at a tiny bus station, waiting for a big yellow bus that sadly would not come. And eventually, after numb fingers, dripping suitcases and a rather outrageously expensive last minute taxi ride…we found our Haven.

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The Haven BnB in Bakewell is idyllic. A multi-floor semi-detached heavenly mansion, it seemed to us as we stepped cautiously through the door. A friendly grin from our host, a quick exchanging of keys, a brief mouth watering description of the full English breakfast that awaited us the following morning – and we were in. In a room with all the touches of an old fashioned guest house, but the warmth and mod cons of a modern estate, we were greeted by a gorgeous king sized bed, a rustic little ensuite bathroom, a TV, kettle and all the tea bags one could ever wish for.

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And after unceremoniously dumping our bags and drying off a little, we dashed back out into the night – eager to explore our new surroundings (as well as fill up on some late night dinner!) However, at half past nine at night in a small village in the middle of winter – the sights you see are predominantly cloaked in black and only faintly lit by Christmas lights. We cosied up in a late night Indian restaurant, filled our faces, and with a cheery goodbye to our always-happy-to-chat waiter, ran home in the rain and snuggled up in front of the telly for the night.

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Living in a city as big and as crowded as Nottingham, for us small town folk, is a stressful, ever-present fear awakening adventure. We spend our walks home from work tightly clasping sweaty palms, awkwardly trying to avoid the beady eyed advertisers in the street, the unstoppable battering-ram of office workers and the ever-so-slightly urine soaked drunks that litter our street. I truly believe we two people are souls not built for the busy life. We flinch at loud noises, we get cranky on buses and we’re so old before our time that we’ve started tutting at the clubbing crowd, rather than joining in the fun.

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So Bakewell suited us perfectly. For a small village, their lifestyles are surprisingly vast – not to mention the morning view from every window in our room was breathtakingly beautiful in the sunrise, just itching to be encountered. With our breakfast booked for 8:40am sharp, we had to be up bright and early to start the day, and for once – without the stress of a commute, the dread of an office desk or the desperate dash to a bus stop, we were actually happy about it.

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Our breakfast, large enough to feed several small families, was gone in minutes. Something about the fresh country air seemed to awakened a previously unanticipated appetite inside the pair of us, as we didn’t seem to stop eating the entire weekend. But once our (most likely very unattractive to watch) breakfast feast had finished, we were finally ready to head out into the world again…this time with eyes un-sleepy enough to truly appreciate the beauty that surrounded us with every glance.

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Wandering gently towards our original destination in Bakewell, their famous Winter Wonderland, we spent so much of our day getting distracted by every tiny street, cobble and coffee shop we drifted past. Everything was so exciting, and yet so relaxing at the same time. No one was panicked and rushing. No one seemed stressed, or frantic, or entirely displeased with the world. This was a place where people were just satisfied. And so, for those few days we spent amongst the native happy folk, we decided to just be satisfied too. And it was amazing.

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Walking through the Winter Wonderland, once rumoured to be a disastrous affair if the Facebook comments were anything to go by, we both felt the same. That no matter if the ground was muddy, the reindeer were pointedly disinterested, and the price of the tickets didn’t quite cover the overdraft-worthy costs of the mulled wine consumed within the market – we’d be satisfied with it. It made such a difference to how we saw things. We saw the fun in the Wonderland, the children playing in the fake foam snow, the mums giggling over the Prosecco bar, and the dads with dogs hopelessly muddied but with the waggiest tails even so. (The dogs that is…not the dads)

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Our day grew too short, and by four o’clock in the afternoon, once we’d eaten, drunk, smiled and shopped ourselves to exhaustion, we decided to call it a day. The heavens opened up on us once again, the day had grown dark, so we picked up some hot chocolates,  a bundle of bedtime snacks, and spent our evening curled up in our hotel room with all the Christmas films we could handle on TV. I know that holidays are supposed to be these adventures capers, with exciting explorations and undiscovered beauties, but for us, that was our holiday. No work, no stress, no university, no Nottingham. Just the two of us, a big cosy hotel room, a festive film and two mugs of gooey, poorly mixed hot chocolate.

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On our last day in Bakewell, we decided to revel in the country life, and take a long luxurious walk right through the hills of the village. Venturing up to the church, we passed the tiniest gingerbread-esque cottages you can image, their rustic pastel doors all decked in cinnamon stick wreathes and holly berry hoops. With each cottage passed, we met more and more village folk on our trek, with each and every one stopping to wish us a good morning and a relaxed, happy smile that no city dweller can ever muster.

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A particularly memorable moment for the two of us was when we encountered a bushy tailed tabby lurking near a river we were strolling past. Not only was he as friendly as his human neighbours, but our tiny tour guide even took us down a secret path to a Christmas tree farm, making our already festive frolic seem even more magical and exciting. We stopped off in a coffee shop shortly after for sustenance, curled up with our warming tea cups and were deep in conversation when a sudden movement outside distracted us. Typical of the Bakewell natives, an elderly couple we’d only spoken to briefly early that morning had stopped outside to wave through the window at us, smiling so widely it must have looked as if we were their long last grandchildren, rather than the two unfamiliar strangers they’d bumped into a few hours ago.

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It was with an incredibly sad air that we left Bakewell, slumped at a bus stop in town, dreading the world we’d have to return to. I’ve never felt so contended with life as I did in Bakewell. But unfortunately, Nottingham has taken its toll on me yet again, and its back to the stresses and chaos of city life once again.

I hope you enjoyed reading our adventures in Bakewell. We certainly enjoyed having them!

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When I was 8 years old, I used to suffer from car sickness. When I was 9, I suffered from train sickness. When I was 10, it was coach sickness. When I was 11, it was plane sickness. When I was 12, it was bicycle sickness. By the time I was 13, it was everything sickness, and I realised there might be something else going on.

P1211060.JPGWhichever label you choose to give it; travel anxiety, carsickness, agoraphobia, panic disorder…admitting to yourself that you are afraid of travelling is never going to be easy. I know, for myself, between the first pricklings of anxiety and the end result of a full blown panic attack, I usually end working myself up into experiencing what I’ve rather appropriately nicknamed ‘car crash thoughts’. This is where I find that, over a very short space of time, whenever I feel particularly trapped on a form of public transport, that my brain will unhelpfully provide a horribly rapid stream of increasingly panic worthy thoughts, from ‘you’re going to panic and embarrass yourself’ to ‘imagine if you were sat in an exam right now and panicking, you’d definitely fail’ to ‘what if the plane crashes and everyone you love dies but you and you’re left alone forever’ and always ending on that old reliable ‘what if you have a panic attack on your driving test, and crash the car, killing somebody else?’. The car crash thoughts, for me, will always end in an actual mental car crash, and usually the overwhelming urge to run screaming back to the safety of my house and normality and boring everyday life where anxiety can’t quite reach me, which, if you’re stuck in a airport 3000 miles away from home, is a little less realistic than first imagined.

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 15.45.33.pngAnd of course, as any anxiety sufferer will know, what triggers you one day can be ignored the next. I never know when an anxiety attack will strike, and although I can handle the stresses of travelling a lot better now I’m older, there will still be days where the thought of stepping on a train, or a plane, or a boat, or a car can bring on a panic attack at the speed of, well, a train.Trains1.jpgBut there are ways of coping. I understand everyone suffers from anxiety in different ways, and there are always different methods of coping for each individual. But for me, there are a few key mantras, or facts I always like to remind myself of before undertaking any journey that frightens me.

  1. Anxiety is not a physical force. It can cause physical symptoms yes, but it’s not a preventative wall, or a prison warden, or a restraint. It’s a combination of nerve endings and chemicals and lots of other nasty stuff that cannot, and will not, physically stop you from doing anything unless you let it. It won’t stop your feet from walking, it won’t stop your mouth from talking, it can’t hurt you or kill you or cause bad things to happen around you. By becoming self aware of your own anxious thoughts, and by, essentially, degrading them down into their least potent form, you can hopefully begin to clear your head at a little, and hopefully work towards finding a little calming logic amidst the panic.
  2. Anxiety is common. 1 in every 6 adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder of some kind. Do you really believe you’re the only one to ever have a panic attack in an airport? Why do you think so many people sit, close mouthed and unobserving on the Underground? 1 in every 6 passenger could be repressing an anxiety attack just like you are now. Don’t ever feel silly, or embarrassed, or weak for your anxiety. Fear is normal, shaking hands aren’t going to be stared at, and you are definitely not alone.
  3. So what? This is an mantra taught to me by our blogging goddess, Zoe Sugg, in her video ‘Just Say Yes’. Sometimes, when something is really playing on your mind, you do just have to think ‘so what?’. So what if I have a panic attack? I already know that panic can’t physically stop me, so why don’t I just get the panic attack over and done with, and get on the plane anyway? So what if I embarrass myself publicly? I won’t remember these strangers around me, and they won’t remember me. So what if people think I’m crazy? I’m doing what I have to do to complete my journey, why should their opinion matter? So what if I take a little longer in the toilet than my travelling companions? So what if I start crying in the taxi? So what if I check my luggage 2 or 3 or 10 times before boarding the plane? If it’s a choice between freaking out but getting there anyway, or not going at all to save on the hassle…well it’s not really a choice is it?
  4. It’s a big world. No, I probably won’t see all of it, but I won’t let an idea with no physical form, no protective motive, and no corporeal body stop me from seeing as much of it as I can. I am stronger than my anxiety, and the world is waiting for me to prove it. So let’s do it!

P7191486.jpgAnxiety is unpleasant, it’s embarrassing, it’s a weakness and it’s a curse. But it can be beaten, worked with, improved upon, and changed into a force for good, rather than evil. All you have to do is climb aboard.

I hope you are all having a lovely week, and are somehow surviving this horrendous heatwave!

Thanks for reading!

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To sum up the Northern Irish coastline at the height of its season, you’d have to access every variation of noun with the prefix ‘rain’ available. Raincoat, raincloud, raindrop, rainbow… Rain itself pours from the heavens and onto the Ulster rocks below, painting them dark and dangerous, ready for an unfortunately misplaced foot, or perhaps, a particularly beautiful photograph.

P7020288.jpgIf you’re looking for sun kissed beaches and glittering palm trees of a long summer weekend, I’d perhaps stray towards one of the slightly warmer continents on the planet. But if you’re dreaming of a tumultuous sea of history, and a steep rocky incline through stories taken from the bumpier edges of Britain, I’d head on out! But don’t forget to grab your spottiest umbrella first.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter where you go, the barren beauty of Northern Ireland will always match you, pace for pace and puddle for puddle. From the rain in Coleraine to the downpour in Derry, you can see a hundred rainbows to every cloud, and a thousand coffee shops to every foggy hilltop. And even if the sheets of sleet hurtling themselves down from the sky don’t appeal to your buried Brontë-esque psyche, when the sun finally breaks through, it’s all the more hotter and sweeter for its absence.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a temptation for every sense in this unintentional tour of the country – the barbecue smell of hopeful heat-lovers in County Down, the rush of the waves shattering against the rocks in the coasts of Port Rush and Port Stewart, the feel of a thousand feet of nothing beneath as you tiptoe across Caraway Bridge… From the sight of that fabled end of the rainbow, and the taste of the fry up that only the Northern Irish can cook. You’ll not be bored, nor lost, nor alone here.P7020434.jpg

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For the photographer, welcome to the haven of idyllically framed shots and emotionally charged scenery. Stones in littered monochrome formations, floral teacups in pastel painted tea rooms, war memorials in glorious technicolour. Historically and visually enticing, it’s a country of so many things to discover, secrets the outside world will never quite understand.P7020448.jpg

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P7020213.jpgFor the culturalist, with eyes made for people watching and a mind as open as a door, this is a land that will make you empathise with every middle class mother, who complained about how you ‘never really know your neighbours, do you?’. Northern Ireland is a land of so many hidden depts that the English would never even consider. If an adventure into a brand new culture is tugging at your internal compass. don’t ever be afraid to venture out to the brother and sister countries of the UK…they’re definitely different enough to spark your interest. You’ll meet the creator of all crisps in Tayto, loaves of bread come in tiny nutty cubes, shops don’t open until 1pm on Sundays…No two towns are the same, no two shops will stock the same produce, and no two roads will take you to the same place.BeachFor the nautical soul, with the thumbs of a fisherman and eyes as a bright as a lighthouse, there’s no end of beaches, coastlines and loughs for you to explore. Antrim Lough carries you up to the Castle, Ramore Head streamlines you down to Port Stewart, and if you were to stand in the footsteps of the Giant’s Causeway, you’d be greeting the great open coast, stretching all the way out until your eyes can envision no more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Many far away places can promise to be beautiful and breathtaking and brutally rural in their design. But I can promise you, with half of my heart beating in Antrim and half of it beating in England, Northern Ireland is all of them and more.

Have a lovely weekend!

As a general rule, the cities of the lost bohemian era are beautiful. Their pastel walls and sculpted arches are gloriously photo-friendly and prettily positioned for posing beside, and their cultures are enticing and addictive. Their history is written into the tragic losses of the individual, and the collective victories of the many, and no matter how far away from home you may be, you can always find a small touch of the familiar in their urban landscapes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Like many other cities surrounding it, Prague’s history, its present and its future have become a tourist haven, and  I was incredibly lucky to get the chance to join the masses and discover for myself just what exactly draws so many to this City of A Thousand Spires (and far too many Starbucks to imagine!).

P6150950.jpgThere are so many little secrets I picked up on when exploring Prague that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Do I start with the restaurant reviews or the sightseers guide? For those of you who would journey here with a tripod in one hand and a Canon in the other and nothing in your pocket but a barely used lens cap, there are a million different sights I can recommend. On our very first night here, we were lucky enough to spend the evening eating by the Vltava – the endless river that twists throughout the Republic, lining everything from the Bohemian Forest to the outskirts of city itself – and if you can catch it in the right light, it’s amazing to experience. There are a hundred different things happening along the pier beside it, from boat hotels to beer festivals, and if you walk far enough you can reach the first of many beautiful bridges in the Prague…a perfect spot for a photo  op.P6140746.jpg

P6140734.jpgP6140753.jpgP6140803.jpgAnother little lens happy destination to investigate would definitely have to be the Old Town, right at the heart of the city, where only the biggest and busiest buildings can live. This is where you will encounter a maze of shops and apartment buildings that somehow don’t quite feel real, as if one gentle push could tip the elegant cardboard-cutouts over and into the cobbles below. Each interior feels a little like a mock shop, as if plastic people from history would be sat at the pizzeria or posing behind souvenir counters – as if nothing could believably  be that beautiful. To walk to the central square, you must first encounter the Astronomical Clock, and once you’re there, I’m afraid your entire day is lost. Most likely stolen away inside half a dozen memory cards, and the remaining dregs of your camera battery. Every city should have on of these clocks, they’re mesmerising. With two astrologically detailed faces framing the ancient 13th century stonework, this clock actually has so many surprisingly mythological properties that it is definitely worth researching. Local legend even states that if the clock is not properly maintained, and its beauty neglected, the city will suffer, alongside all of its inhabitants. After its construction, the residents actually blinded the clockmaker so he would never be able to re-create his masterpiece for any other city in the world.

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Astronomical Clock, Old Market Square. Designed by Mikuláš of Kadañ

So far we’ve drunk more high end coffee than biologically polite, pigged out on Japanese sushi and Parisian macarons, and spent over 1000Kč on one fancy river-side dinner. Luckily for us, however, 1000between two of us actually worked out to be around £15 each in UK money, so essentially we dined on duck liver and goats cheese bruschetta for the same price as a regular cheeky Nandos! I’ve yet to have a meal I didn’t adore here, and there are so many restaurants and cafe I’m sad we won’t get to try out. When you’re hungry, and have been on your feet for hours watching the sunset turn the baby pink promenades orange, it feels like all you see are restaurants. Personally, I would’ve loved to check out the pricey posh place on the 7th floor of the Dancing Tower…dinner with a city view is my kind of food.P6150956.jpgP6151064 copy.jpg

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Love Locks and Waterwheel, Malá Strana District

In terms of travel, it’s actually surprisingly easy to get around. To stay near the city centre means the biggest tourist spots are all within walking distance, but if you fancy drifting a little further afield, I’ve come to notice their Metro system is actually a whole lot easier to understand than the English one. Their lines are limited to three, and you don’t need a Duke of Edinburgh award to navigate across them. Just make sure you have enough coins for the ridiculously cheap one way tickets…we had to rely on the kindness of an English speaking resident to help us out for this one, for which we are incredibly grateful. And evening entertainment? Well, having just sat through what was perhaps one of the most bizarre yet hilarious and absorbing Black Light Theatre performances the city has to offer, I can definitely argue you won’t be stuck for ideas. If watching Mr Bean at a neon rave sounds like your kind of show, or you have a taste for the more quirky and inventive spectrum of performance, then you will definitely enjoy one of these.

As we were only visiting the city for a few days, we knew wouldn’t get the chance to explore everything we would’ve wanted to, so on our final day there we hired out a tour guide to take us and a handful of other tourists on a sightseeing adventure across the river.  On segways. Yes, segways. Those big motorised scooters that look like a hybrid of a hover board and a hoover. But once we’d had our introductory lesson on how to use them (and I’d accidentally caused my mum to crash face first into the cobbled road below) we actually had the best time sweeping through the streets on these strange, noisy inventions. Though we perhaps didn’t have as much time as you would need to fully explore some of the places we visited, it was still so exciting to learn about some of the quirkier and more personal details of Prague’s history, from an actual native. Our tour guide, Andrew (who fancied my mum), took us to some of the most beautiful and moving places on our route, from the Old Jewish Cemetery, to a park-side protest of Communist tyranny, to the John Lennon Wall, which, on the day we visited it, hosted this particularly poignant message.

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John Lennon Wall, Grand Priory Sqaure
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Memorial to the Victims of Communism, Petrín Hill

I could write a thousand more words on my Prague adventures, and then a thousand more on some of the tinier details I would want travellers to know. Everything is cheaper than you think, so many residents here do speak English (beautifully too, I might add), the sizes of clothes definitely vary so try everything on before you buy, toilet doors are red when unlocked, and segways are a lot safer to travel on than you might think. Oh, and  don’t be afraid of the toaster in your hotel. It may look like a Saw trap, but just use the tongs, wear protection, and prepare a second slice just in the case the first one emerges in embers. Good luck!

Thank you so much for reading, I have fallen completely in love Prague throughout the week and I can’t wait to write up the rest of my adventures when I get home!

Have a good week!

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