A Round Up of My 2018 Travels

Towards the end of each year, I love taking some time out to reflect on all of my travels and adventures over the past 12 months. Whilst it’s definitely true that I’m always planning my next trip, sometimes it’s nice to sit, pause and appreciate the adventures I’ve already been on, instead of concentrating on the next destination.

2018 has brought with it some personal challenges for me, but it’s also been an exciting year of experiencing new cultures, exploring old favourites and really going for it on the solo travel front.

I’ve ticked off five brand new countries, and returned to three places that I’d already been to and loved. I’ve travelled with family, friends, a boyfriend and solo. My love for Asia has deepened and my hunger for travel has grown ever more intense. I’ve seen my blog traffic increase slowly but steadily. I’ve taken up Spanish lessons.

It’s been a whirlwind in a lot of ways and so it’s time to pause and reflect for a while as the last day of the year draws closer.

 

img_2514

 

February

My first stop this year was Dublin, Ireland.

I visited on my own, as an extension to a work trip to Northern Ireland. I have to admit that I didn’t fall in love with Dublin, which I was really disappointed about. But I guess we’re not going to love every place we visit; if we did, how would we ever appreciate the amazing places.

I think my mediocre experience might have been down to the trip being solo; I definitely think that Dublin is a city best experienced with friends. Still, there were definitely some highlights. I went to the cinema on my own for the first time ever, I went on a fascinating walking tour and ate the best brunch of my life at Urbanity Coffee.

This trip taught me that hostel dorms are a no for me, particularly for a short weekend break. I booked one to save some money and absolutely hated it! I even cried when I got there.

From then, I decided that unless I could afford/warrant a private or hotel room, I wouldn’t be going on the trip. Yes I felt like a bit of a diva, but there’s no point staying in places that will spoil your trip! I’d feel differently about dorms if I were to travel long-term, but as I don’t have any plans to do that currently, it’s private rooms and hotels for me.

Read more about my trip to Dublin, including lots of tips for solo travellers here.

 

img_1446

 

img_1584

 

Next off was another trip close to home; Edinburgh, Scotland for a hen party. I’ll admit that there was little culture or sightseeing involved but it was such a lovely girl’s trip in one of the best cities in the UK.

I’d only ever been to Edinburgh with work before, and still feel like there’s lots for me to see, so I’ll definitely be back!

 

March

The beginning of Spring brought with it a much-anticipated trip to Morocco, 10 days exploring Marrakech and Essaouira.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may know that I’m ever so slightly obsessed with Asia, as I love the contrast with home and life in the UK. With that in mind, and although I had a trip to Asia planned for later in the year, I was keen to get in another dose of culture shock, just a little closer to home!

Morocco certainly delivered on that front; even though it’s only a short flight from the UK, it felt quite exotic and going there definitely provided me with the adventure that I was craving. We spent five days each in Marrakech and Essaouira; exploring, eating and having some much-needed down time too.

In hindsight, we didn’t need five days in Marrakech, in fact it felt too long, but I guess I didn’t know that when I planned the trip. At least it felt like we were really able to really explore the Red City and its many great restaurants (food was a definite highlight from the trip!) and rooftops.

Essaouira was my favourite of the two cities; I loved the laid-back vibe and whitewashed Medina. I’d highly recommend a visit if you’re going to Morocco.

My trip to Morocco definitely allowed me to appreciate how great a slower pace of travel can be and it gave me chance to create lots of blog content, which I often find difficult on shorter trips or where I’ve got a detailed itinerary.

For information on both cities and my trip, read more here:

How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

Morocco’s Windy City: Essaouira Travel Guide

Why You Should Stay in a Riad in Marrakech

An Honest Review of My Stay at Essaouira Lodge in Morocco

 

IMG_2578

 

IMG_2407

 

img_2458

img_2287

 

June

Whilst I’m great at booking trips to far flung places and around Europe, I’m absolutely terrible when it comes to taking the time to explore places within the UK, which is something I want to change in 2019.

My only other UK trip besides Edinburgh in 2019 was a lovely glamping trip that I went on in Yorkshire back in June.

We stayed at Camp Katur in one of their cool Geodomes; essentially a little plastic pod in the forest, complete with double bed; furniture and log burner. It also had its own little kitchen and bathroom, perfect for those like me who don’t really do camping.

Whist I’ll admit that I did miss home comforts by the end of the trip, the setting was wonderful and the Geodome was one of the most unique accommodations I’ve ever stayed in.

Check out more on my glamping adventure here.

 

img_2986

 

6241757520_img_3272

 

July

At the end of July, I left behind the hot UK summer (how good was that fellow Brits?!) and flew to Budapest for a long weekend. I’d visited the city back in November 2013 and it still held the title of my favourite European city, something which I had hoped wouldn’t change following a return visit.

It certainly didn’t- if anything, it just confirmed to me how much I adore the Hungarian capital. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love it so much; I just do. I feel like it’s the same for lots of people that visit Budapest.

My second trip was spent visiting some old favourites and exploring new parts of the city. I also went to the Hungarian Grand Prix, which although not my thing at all, I loved!

It was great to visit during the summer, though at times it did feel a bit too hot! I’m desperate to go back already- I think I’ll try to go during Spring or Autumn on my next trip though, why not see the city in all seasons haha.

After experiencing both summer and winter, I’ve put together an ultimate Budapest itinerary.

 

Castle

 

F Bastion

 

September

A year without a trip to Asia is a year wasted in my book, so at the start of September, I headed off to Hong Kong and China for a couple of weeks solo travel.

It was without a doubt the most challenging place I’ve travelled around alone but to be honest, it ended up being a lot more straightforward than I’d expected.

I started my trip in Hong Kong, nipped over to Macau and then travelled to mainland China to visit three of the major cities; Chengdu, Xi’an and Beijing.

It was an amazing trip and I got to see so many amazing sights, not least the Great Wall of China, something that’s been high up on my bucket list for as long as I can remember!

I’m slowly sharing content on my trip (life has got in way since I got back somewhat!) but here are a couple of posts I’ve written in case you want to check them out:

A Guide to Hong Kong and Macau for First-Time Visitors

A Complete Guide to First Time Solo Travel in China

 

thumbnail_IMG_4464

 

fullsizeoutput_5a11

 

fullsizeoutput_59ee

 

fullsizeoutput_58ab

 

fullsizeoutput_5963

 

October

In October I went on a trip to the south of Spain with my Grandma, who pretty much lived there for about twenty years, before selling her apartment at the start of this year. It will always hold a special place in my Grandma’s heart and I love visiting with her, as she’s always at her happiest!

We only visited for a few days and it was quite chilled. We explored Malaga and Mijas, had long lunches and relaxed with a few good books. After a difficult couple of months, it was exactly what I needed. It also reminded me that sometimes it’s ok to just travel to get away, as opposed to madly charging around sightseeing and soaking in the local culture.

I developed a bit of a love for Malaga as a city, having only visited briefly once before, I had much more chance to explore this time. I’ve put together a guide to how to spend a day there, you can check it out here.

 

fullsizeoutput_5ac6

 

All in all, 2018 has been an amazing year travel wise. I’d love to hear from you; where have you been, what your favourite travel moment of the year was, and any other stories you have to share. Drop me a line via email, or through Instagram or Twitter.

See you in 2019!

 

 

A Perfect Itinerary for One Day in Malaga, Spain

Spain’s sixth-largest city, Malaga, is often overlooked by visitors who head to other cities or to one the many beach resorts along the southern coast.

It’s a shame- Malaga is a beautiful city with lots to offer and I’d encourage you to spend at least a day there if you’re visiting Andalusia. Especially if you are staying in a beach resort nearby, which can be far from an authentic Spanish experience.

Malaga offers a great taste of the real Spain; with lots to see and do in one of the oldest cities in the world.

The city is relatively compact and you can see a lot of it in a short time, so here’s my perfect itinerary for spending one day in beautiful Malaga.

 

Start your day with Churros and chocolate 

Churros, a traditional Spanish fried dough pastry, are a delicious way to kick start your day of exploring. They are typically eaten during the morning, but may be available all day long in some cafes.

Order a couple per person, along with some thick hot chocolate for dipping. Those with a less sweet tooth might want to opt for a white coffee (café con leche) to go with it instead.

Devour Malaga have put together a comprehensive list of the best Churros places in Malaga; including Los Valle and Casa Aranda.

 

Head up to Gibralfaro for amazing views over the city

At 130m high, Gibralfaro offers incredible views over the city that are not to be missed.

Go there during the morning to beat the crowds and make sure you’re wearing shoes that have a decent grip, it’s pretty steep in parts.

You can reach the viewpoint by foot from the city but it is high up in the hills, so you may want to grab a taxi up and walk back down.

Alternatively, you can get there on the Hop on Hop Off bus that operates in the city. Touristy but a good way to see what the city has to offer if you’ve got limited time.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a9d

 

fullsizeoutput_5a93

 

fullsizeoutput_5aa1

 

Ride the Malaga Big Wheel

If you’re after more great views, take a ride on the Malaga Wheel, also known as the Noria Mirador Princess.

It’s close by the port and offers amazing views over the city. The ride takes around 15 minutes and costs €10 for an adult ticket.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a92

 

fullsizeoutput_5a7f

 

Have a relaxing lunch

After a morning of exploring, it’s time for a relaxed lunch in the old part of the city.

I’d recommend heading towards the Cathedral and finding somewhere near there that takes your fancy. Yes, it’s touristy but it’s a great place for an al fresco lunch in lovely surroundings.

 

Admire the Cathedral 

The Cathedral dominates the old part of Malaga, and although it’s technically unfinished- the Cathedral was supposed to have two towers but due to lack of funds, only one was finished- it’s magnificent.

Walk around the beautiful exterior or pay the €5 to go inside.

 

fullsizeoutput_5ac6

 

Visit the Picasso Museum

One of the most famous artists of all time, Picasso was born in Malaga and so it’s only right that there is a museum paying homage to him and his work.

Featuring more than 200 works, the museum is a must-see for art lovers.

It’s open from 10am to 6pm most days and costs €12 to visit the whole collection. Free on Thursdays from 6pm to 9.30pm.

 

fullsizeoutput_5ac1

Enjoy an ice-cream

There are lots of great ice cream shops dotted around the city, perfect for a late afternoon snack after a day of exploring.

 

fullsizeoutput_5aa6

 

Wander the old town and its shops 

Finish off your day by wandering around the pretty streets of the old town and visit some of its many small shops.

Browse the homemade ceramics and traditional fans, or pick up some deliciously sweet local wine- Cartojal.

If you’re not interested in shopping, spend your time instead taking in the beautiful architecture and narrow, winding streets.

 

 

fullsizeoutput_5ac2

 

fullsizeoutput_5aa8

 

 

There you have it- how to spend a perfect day in Malaga! There’s quite a lot to cover but the city is really easy to navigate around and you should be able to fit everything in with a bit of forward planning.

 

If you have more time, here are some more things to see and do:

Visit the beach

Malaga has some nice beaches. Playa de La Malgueta is close by the city and has a relaxed, local feel to it.

 

1947754_10153959683920092_1009447003_n

Stroll in Malaga Park 

El Parque de Malaga is a beautiful green oasis in the heart of Malaga. Stroll through to see the various monuments or relax in the shade of its many trees.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a81

 

See the Roman Theatre

Rediscovered in 1951, El Teatro Romani is the oldest monument in Malaga city.

It was built in the 1st century under the rule of Emperor Augutus but is well preserved given how recently it was discovered.

 

Other useful information for visiting Malaga

When to visit?

Although the weather can be quite mild or even cold in the winter, Malaga is a year-round destination. It’s busiest in the summer months but has a really great buzz.

Sunday is a good day for sightseeing as many of the attractions are free to enter.

 

How to get there?

There are frequent flights to Malaga from around Europe, as it’s the main hub for the Costa Del Sol. You can get from the airport to the city via taxi, train or bus.

If you’re arriving from one of the coastal towns nearby, there’s a regular train service that is reliable and affordable. More information can be found here.

 

How safe is the city?

Malaga is a relatively safe city but be aware of pickpockets, particularly in busy areas. One common trick is for somebody to force flowers in to your hands to distract you whilst somebody pickpockets you. If this happens, drop the flowers and keep a hold of your bag, or make a scene to scare them off.

 

Anything else?

  • Don’t forget that the Spanish observe siestas during the afternoon, even in large cities. Some shops and restaurants may be closed between 2pm and 5pm.
  • Meal times may be later than you’re used to- lunch starts around 2pm and dinner is usually from around 8.30pm onwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guide to Hong Kong and Macau for First-Time Visitors

HONG KONG

A bustling, high-rise metropolis, Hong Kong is often cited as one of the best cities in the world. And I have to agree with that statement. There is so much to see and do in this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, not to mention that the city has some of the best restaurants and bars that are just crying out to be visited.

Such a busy city can be overwhelming and as Hong Kong is often a place that people visit for only a few days, it is difficult to know where to start when planning a visit.

I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to see, do and eat on a first trip to Hong Kong, with lots of useful tips. It doesn’t include absolutely everything, as you’ll never be able to see and do all Hong Kong has to offer unless you’re there for a couple of weeks!

A trip to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without a quick trip across to Macau, so I’ve included all the information you’ll need for a day there!

 

fullsizeoutput_59e5

 

Getting there

Flights to Hong Kong are frequent from all around the world. From the UK, you can fly directly or with one stop on an airline such as Emirates or Qatar Airways, which breaks up what is a long journey.

I flew with Hainan Airlines, China’s top airline, and would highly recommend them for international flights. They received a top rating from Skytrax recently, and I found their product to be almost as good as the top Middle Eastern carriers!

 

Getting from the airport to the city

There are many options when travelling from the airport. Taxi is the most expensive as always but there are several train and bus options, depending on whereabouts in Hong Kong you’ll be staying.

I took the bus after looking up the best route to my hotel on Google Maps and I’d recommend doing that. It’s cheap, straightforward and there are even luggage racks at the front of the bus for you to store your suitcase or backpack.

 

Getting around

Public transport is great in Hong Kong, particularly the underground metro, which is cheap, straightforward to use and heavily air conditioned (much needed for people like me not used to humidity!).

If you’re going to use public transport a few times during your trip, I’d recommend that you get an Octopus card. It’s similar to an Oyster card that you get in London, you buy it for a small fee, top it up and off you go, swiping in and out for each journey.

I purchased mine from a convenience store in a metro station. Journeys cost around 30-50p, depending on distance.

Uber operates in Hong Kong and is really reasonably priced. Traffic can get quite bad but it’s an easy way to get around in off-peak times.

 

Where to stay

There are plenty of accommodation options in Hong Kong, from budget hostels, to boutique hotels to luxury big-name chains.

You will need to choose whether to stay on Hong Kong island or in Kowloon, which are separated by water. Kowloon is on the mainland; Hong Kong island tends to be more expensive to stay in.

Staying in either is fine, Hong Kong is so well connected by public transport that you can get around really easily.

I stayed at the Pentahotel in Kowloon, which I would highly recommend. It’s reasonably priced for Hong Kong, has great rooms, a pretty location and a generally cool vibe.

 

fullsizeoutput_59fb

 

I also stayed at Ovolo Southside on Hong Kong island, which was also pretty great. It was pricier and is on a relatively busy road but it’s super cool hotel in an old warehouse. You get a free minibar and snacks, plus they have an incredible rooftop bar! It’s also really close to a metro station and not far from Central.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a21

 

fullsizeoutput_5a16

 

thumbnail_IMG_4693

 

If you’re looking for budget accommodation, a word of warning is to stay away from Chungking Mansions. It’s full of budget places to stay but has a terrible reputation and is super seedy.

Two Monkeys Travel Group has some great hostel suggestions that you can check out.

 

What to see and do in Kowloon and Lantau Island

 

Watch the Symphony of Lights

The Symphony of Lights light and sound show is a great way to kick off your time in Hong Kong.

It happens at 8pm every evening and sees many buildings in Victoria lit up. Head to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for great views of the show.

 

thumbnail_IMG_3701

 

Visit Wong Tai Sin temple

Full name Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, this temple is home to three religions; Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

It’s well worth making the trip, the temple is really beautiful and I loved the fact that it’s such a peaceful spot surrounded by high rise buildings.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a04

 

fullsizeoutput_59ff

 

Explore the markets

Kowloon is home to some amazing markets, head there to buy all manner of things. Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market are the two most popular.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a13

 

Take a trip to the Hong Kong History Museum

Hong Kong has an interesting history and this museum is a great place to learn more about it. Opening hours are quite short; 10am-6pm, and it’s closed on Tuesdays.

 

Ride the Star Ferry

A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without riding on the Star Ferry, which costs around 30p each way. It’s a short trip between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but offers amazing views of the skyline, even on a miserable day.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a10

 

Take a trip to the Big Buddha

Also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, this is a must-see on Lantau Island. Built in 1993, you’ve no doubt seen photos of this magnificent statue that faces north looking over the Chinese people. Head there on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for amazing views.

 

Relive your childhood at Disneyland

You may not necessarily associate Hong Kong with Mickey Mouse, but there is indeed a Disneyland on Lantau Island!

 

What to see and do on Hong Kong Island

 

Take in the views from Victoria Peak

Heading up to Victoria Peak is probably the most popular thing for tourists to do in Hong Kong, and it’s easy to see why! Even on an extremely rainy and windy day (ahead of a typhoon), it’s an amazing sight.

You can hike up but most people take the ancient funicular up to the top and pay for entrance to the Sky Terrace.

The views over Hong Kong are incredible but as you’d expect. I headed up there just before sunset, and whilst it was busy, it wasn’t packed.

 

thumbnail_IMG_3786 (1)

 

Ride the Mid- Level Escalators

Hong Kong is extremely mountainous, and even within the city, it’s very steep. To make life easier for commuters heading down to central Hong Kong from the Mid-Levels, the world’s longest outdoor escalator system in the world was installed in 1993.

It operates from 6am- 12am, running downwards until 10.30am and then back upwards for the remainder of the day.

It’s now become a tourist attraction given it’s uniqueness and it’s a great way to explore the Mid-Levels, including getting up to Man Mo temple (see below).

 

Visit Man Mo temple

Man Mo temple is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and is dedicated to the gods of literature. It’s small but so atmospheric, well worth a visit.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a11

Stroll through Hong Kong Park

There’s no other way to describe Hong Park than as an oasis in the middle of a hectic city. It’s literally surrounded by huge high-rise buildings!

It’s situated in Central and is a beautiful spot to wander through or to spend some time relaxing. There’s even a nice restaurant and bar if you fancy dining al fresco in a lovely setting.

 

fullsizeoutput_5a09

 

fullsizeoutput_5a0b

 

Relax at a spa

If you’ve travelled in Asia before, particularly in the South East, you’ll know it’s renowned for its cheap massages and great value spas.

Hong Kong is quite a lot more expensive but still really reasonable compared to prices in most Western countries.

I’d recommend Foot Station spa on Lockhart Road for a relaxing foot massage, you’ll certainly need it after all the walking you’ll do in the city.

 

Eating and drinking

Hong Kong is home to some of the best food in the world, from small holes in the wall to luxury restaurants.

You’ll eat so well in the city; there is something for every budget and taste. Here are a few things you may want to eat and drink, with some specific recommendations.

 

Dim Sum

You can’t go to Hong Kong without eating Dim Sum, a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as bite sized portions of foods such as dumplings.

My number one food recommendation for Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan offers delicious Michelin-starred dim sum for super cheap prices. The pork buns are incredible, as is the steamed egg cake.

There are a number of restaurants. I’d suggest trying one of the branches in Kowloon and avoiding the one in Hong Kong Central Station, as it gets super busy and they’ll be queues.

 

Roast goose

Not a restaurant specific recommendation but one for a type of food. Roast goose is really popular in Hong Kong and can be found at many places across the city.

Kam’s Roost Goose is popular and affordable. Yung Kee is also a great choice, although on the pricey side. Their roast pork is also extremely delicious.

 

Egg Waffles

You’ll find egg waffle stands all around the city and they make a great snack. The top-rated place (and I can support this- delicious) is Lee Keung Kee North Point, and it has various locations around the city.

 

Tea

As you’d probably expect, Hong Kong has some great tea. There are numerous cafes and kiosks dotted around the country where you can grab a delicious iced coffee to cool down as you explore.

 

MACAU

Getting there

Catching a ferry is the easiest and cheapest way to get from Hong Kong to Macau. There are a couple of companies that run ferries- Turbo Jet and Cotai Water Jet.

I travelled with Turbo Jet after booking cheap tickets in advance via Klook (more information at the end of this post).

The journey takes around an hour and will drop you off at the Outer Harbour.

 

Getting around

The casinos in Macau run buses between the ferry terminals and casinos for free. Jump on one at the harbour to get you to the city or to the Cotai Strip.

Once you’re in the main area, you’ll find that everything is pretty walkable.

If you need to travel further afield around the city, you can take advantage of the buses that run between different casinos owned by the same company.

 

Things to see, do and eat

 

Casinos

This is not for everyone but especially if you’ve never been to Las Vegas (like me), it is so interesting to walk around the casinos. There’s a Venetian, Parisian and even one shaped like a giant pineapple!

 

fullsizeoutput_59e8

 

Ruins of St. Paul’s

The ruins of St Paul’s church are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. Head there early on in the day, as it gets extremely busy.

 

fullsizeoutput_59ee

 

fullsizeoutput_59f0

 

 

Senado Square

Located in the central area of Macau peninsula, Senado Square is listed as a world heritage site. It’s a lovely area filled with old Portuguese style buildings.

 

St. Dominic’s Church

St Dominic’s Church is a striking yellow and green 16th century Baroque-style building, nearby Senado Square.

 

Wander the side streets

Don’t just stick to the main tourist sides, there are lots of cute side streets with gorgeous colonial style buildings, alongside those with a Chinese influence. Wander and take it all in.

 

fullsizeoutput_59eb

 

A Ma temple

Away from the historical centre, A Ma is the oldest temple in Macau. It’s beautiful and although crowded, a very spiritual and atmospheric place.

The walk down to the temple is enjoyable in itself, with some gorgeous colourful buildings and bright street art along the way.

 

thumbnail_IMG_4463

 

Eat an egg tart

A trip to Macau isn’t complete without trying a traditional egg tart. They are similar to a Portuguese Pastel de Nata, and are incredibly delicious.

Lord Stow’s is the most famous place for them but there are many bakeries serving them all around the city.

 

fullsizeoutput_59f4

 

 

Relax in a trendy café

Somewhat unexpectedly, Macau had some really cool hipster style cafes away from the historical centre, offering delicious food, good coffee and quirky drinks.

After a few hours of exploring, sit down and relax in one whilst people watching.

Terra Coffee House and Padre are two great choices. Try the refreshing iced coffee at Terra, or the delicious fresh blueberry juice at Padre.

 

thumbnail_IMG_3727

 

Experience the world’s highest bungee jump

If adrenaline s your thing, head to Macau Tower, home to the world’s highest bungee jump at 233 metres.

It’s pricey at around £353 per jump, but it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve done it! Let me know if you’re braver than me and take the leap (excuse the pun!).

 

Other useful information

 

Klook

I came across Klook whilst researching for my trip and was so glad I did.

You can book a lot of the things you’ll do in Hong Kong beforehand, for a much cheaper price than if you were to pay on the day.

I booked my ferries to Macau, my peak tram and Sky terrace ticket on the app before my trip. I also bought a local sim card which I picked up at the airport, a god send for getting around easily.

 

Internet access

Unlike mainland China, you’ll be able to access all the websites you would at home.

 

Currency

Hong Kong and Macau have different currencies but you can use Hong Kong Dollars in Macau.

However, you’ll get change in Macau currency, which you can’t use in Hong Kong. Be sure to use up all your Macau money before you head back to Hong Kong.

 

Have you been to Hong Kong or Macau, or are you planning to? Let me know if you have any other tips or recommendations!

Simple Money Saving Tips and Tricks to Make Your Travel Budget Go Further

I spend the majority of my disposable income on travel, and I’m assuming if you’re reading my blog, at least some of your money goes on it too!

Travel is an amazing thing, and as the saying goes it’s the “only thing you can spend money on that makes you richer” but it can be pricey, especially if you’re looking to go away at least a few times a year like me.

Whilst I’m willing to spend most of my money on travelling, I’m always keen to make my budget stretch as much as possible, so that I can see and do as much as possible.

With some simple tips and tricks, you can make your travel budget go much further. And who doesn’t want to be able to travel more and better?!

 

Flights

Use Skyscanner

I’m sure that you’re no stranger to Skyscanner but I can’t stress enough how good the site is for finding cheap flights. Particularly if you can be flexible, their search “Everywhere” function is amazing.

 

Check other websites

Skyscanner is great but I’d encourage you to check out other sites as well, comparison is your best friend when you’re looking for cheap flights and accommodation.

STA Travel often has great flight deals, especially if you’re under 26 or a student. Google Flights is great too.

I tend to keep an eye on flight prices for a while before I book, particularly for long haul ones. The prices really do fluctuate and sometimes it’s a good idea to wait for them to drop.

 

Clear your cookies

When it comes to booking flights, you might see that the prices go up once you’ve looked at them a few times. The cookies on your phone or laptop track what you’ve been looking at, and prices go up automatically.

Clear your browsing history/cookies or book on a different machine to avoid inflated prices.

 

Sign up to airline loyalty schemes

Even if you’re not a frequent flier, it’s well worth signing up to airline loyalty schemes. Not only will you collect air miles on flights, you can unlock other benefits and are more likely to be upgraded if you have a loyalty account!

Sometimes you don’t need to save up lots of miles to get free flights, schemes such as Emirates Skywards allow you to use your points to buy flights on budget airlines; in this case on EasyJet. I did so a couple of years ago, getting a return flight to Rome for free.

 

Get an American Express credit card

A credit card through which you can collect air miles is such a great thing to have, even if you don’t fly that frequently. You can either take free (or very cheap flights), or get an upgrade. You can also spend air miles on hotels and a number of other things.

American Express is the best option in the UK, and even though the sign up offers aren’t as good as in the US, there are still some deals to be had.

I’ve got the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card and I love it. It’s free for the first year and £140 thereafter. If you are referred, you’ll receive an extra 22,000 miles if you spend £2,000 in the first three months. That’s enough for a couple of return flights from London to Europe with British Airways! Let me know if you need a referral code and I’ll be happy to help you out.

Another great bonus with the card is that you get two free airport lounge passes per year, and additional passes are just £15 per person for many lounges around the world! An extra treat for a bit of luxury at no extra cost to you.

It’s also worth noting that you earn double points on all flights booked on your card, and you get some great travel insurance protection included too.

 

Sign up to Jack’s Flight Club

Jack’s Flight Club is an amazing concept that can help save you a lot of money on flights. Sign up for free and you’ll get weekly emails to your inbox with some incredible flights deals. There’s a premium version too which gives you even more.

Keep an eye out once you’ve signed up- you never know, you might see a deal to a destination you’re planning to visit!

 

19429982_10158887872695092_5300548367926993960_n

 

Accommodation 

Compare, compare, compare

It’s true what the TV adverts say, look on the internet and you’ll find the same hotel room for a wide range of different prices.

By searching through comparison sites, you’ll be able to find the cheapest deal. Going direct to the accommodation is often best but take your time to check different sites, it’s worth it.

 

Use Booking.com and Expedia 

I use Booking.com and Expedia as they often have the best deals. Plus, if you’re a member, you get access to special prices and extra perks for being a regular user. Expedia even has a loyalty points scheme now where you can collect points to use on future stays.

 

Sign up to hotel loyalty schemes

If you’re planning on staying in a hotel that’s part of a chain, sign up to their loyalty scheme. Again you might get a cheeky upgrade and you can save up points towards future stays.

 

IMG_1157

 

IMG_1176

 

General tips

Collect supermarket loyalty points 

I’m not sure what the situation is other countries but in the UK, collecting supermarket loyalty points is a great way to travel cheaper or even for free.

Nectar (Sainsbury’s, Argos) and Tesco Clubcard both allow you to collect points on your shopping to exchange in to vouchers. Nectar allows you to spend points on Expedia bookings amongst others; Tesco Clubcard has lots of hotel and transport options.

By signing up for these and remembering to use them each time you shop, you can soon rack up enough points for a free train or a big discount on a hotel room.

If you can, I’d recommend giving your parents a secondary card if they’re not particularly bothered about collecting points. My dad has a copy of my Nectar card and Clubcard, so I’m lucky enough to collect lots of extra points without spending a penny.

You can also look out for special events and vouchers that mean you earn double or triple points.

 

Use Top Cashback

I feel that everybody should be making use of Top Cashback.

Essentially, by clicking through their website (barely any extra effort), you can get cash back on things that you were buying anyway.

In terms of travel, the site has some amazing rates for companies such as Booking.com and Expedia. I’ve earnt up to 12% cash back on hotel bookings before, a nice discount; meaning you can either save money or afford to stay somewhere slightly nicer!

You can make particularly big savings on airport parking through Top Cashback- up to 33% in some cases. Check it out for a cheap option to get to and from the airport.

 

Get a credit or debit card with no use abroad fees

A lot of people lose out on money when they exchange money or use their cards abroad. Some banks and credit card providers can add on hefty fees for using your card when you’re abroad.

Avoid this and save money by signing up for a card with no foreign transaction fees. I’d highly recommend Starling Bank for those in the UK but there are plenty of other options which you’ll find with a quick Google search.

 

IMG_2902

 

Travel with hand luggage only 

An obvious one but one that can save you sooo much money. Why spend £30 on a flight to a European city then another £50 for checked baggage? Surely that money is better spent on your trip, or another flight.

Take just hand luggage- even on most budget airlines these days, you can take a small suitcase plus another small bag such as a handbag or rucksack.

There are plenty of packing guides available on Pinterest if you’re an overpacker (like me) and need some help making the most of that pesky hand luggage space.

 

Use toiletries bottles

Travelling a lot can mean that you buy extra toiletries very often- not good for the environment or your bank balance.

Buy some cheap plastic toiletry bottles (under 100ml for your hand luggage only trips!) and decant what you already have at home in to those where you can.

You’ll save plenty of money over a year, especially if you regularly buy mini shampoos and the like.

 

Be flexible

Flexibility can go a long way when you’re planning travel; for example being willing to catch flights at awkward times and visiting countries in their off-peak season.

Keep an open mind and there will be bargains to be had!

 

There are quite a lot of things there but my top tips out of these would be:

  • Invest time in comparing prices for flights and accommodation
  • Get a card with no foreign fees
  • Use Top Cashback
  • Travel with hand luggage where possible

 

Do you already do any of these or have any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

A Complete Guide to First Time Solo Travel in China

China is an incredible country, filled with some of the world’s most amazing sights, but it’s not the easiest to travel around and can be a bit of a culture shock.

Despite being so technologically advanced and with an economy growing at an astonishing rate, there can be a surprising number of challenges when travelling in the Middle Kingdom.

Don’t let this put you off though- China has so much to offer and with some planning, it’s not that difficult to navigate your way around. Whilst it may be frustrating at times, it’s well worth it.

In terms of solo travel, it’s a super safe country, even for lone females. I never felt unsafe and was quite relaxed about using my phone when out and about, walking around at night etc. I did quite a lot of research before my trip and didn’t come across any horror stories as can be the case for a lot of Asian countries.

Here’s my list of all the things to consider and prepare for when travelling to China for the first time, with some specific tips for solo travellers.

 

fullsizeoutput_589b

 

Before you go

Buy and download a good VPN

You’ve heard of the Great Wall of China, but have you heard about the Great Firewall? Popular websites and apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Google and WhatsApp are completely banned, meaning that you’ll be unable to access these when there without a VPN.

If you require access to these, ensure you download a VPN on to all your devices BEFORE YOU ENTER CHINA. Once there, you’ll be unable to download the apps that power VPNs.

I used Express VPN for my trip, as I’d read lots of great reviews online. I agree with these- it’s an affordable option that works well.

I opted for the 1 month subscription and it cost just under £10. Money well spent!

It’s a good idea to take a portable phone charger if you’re going to be using your VPN a lot- I found that it really drained my battery whilst I had it switched on.

 

Download a translation app

Another essential for getting around China. Even in the larger cities, the majority of people do not speak English and so having an translation app will be a big help.

Google translate or iTranslate are both good options.

 

Download an app with offline maps

Even if you plan to get a sim card (more on that later…), having an offline map will be invaluable!

I used maps.me and it worked well, just make sure you’ve downloaded the maps you need before you go or when you have wifi.

 

fullsizeoutput_5884

 

Choose trains over planes

China’s flights are regularly delayed; they can randomly change take-off times to allow military planes to fly by.

I had a flight booked from Shenzen to Chengdu and it ended up being delayed by nearly 4 hours! For a flight that was only a couple of hours long, it was very frustrating! With the language barrier, I was given basically no information on the situation and just had to wait it out in the airport until we were called to board.

In comparison, the high-speed trains I took left and arrived exactly on time. They’re also cheaper than flights (although not by much) and are super fast, efficient and clean. I’d recommend taking a train wherever possible.

 

Book train tickets (Trip.com)

Trains do get booked up in advance, so your best bet is probably to buy tickets online before you leave.

Otherwise, you’ll need to queue up to buy a ticket at the station a few days before you intend to travel to ensure that there’s space.

I travelled in second class, which is the cheapest option but it was perfectly fine. Much better than normal class in the UK! You can even fit large suitcases in the luggage rack above you, so don’t need to worry about not being able to keep your things close by.

I booked my tickets on Trip.com and would highly recommend this. It costs slightly more due to a small service fee, but it provides peace of mind and is really convenient.

You order online and get send a confirmation. Take that along to any station in China, along with your passport, and you’ll be able to collect your tickets. It’s really easy and you don’t need to speak Mandarin to do so. Download their app for easy access to your booking confirmation.

The only thing I would say if you’re picking up your tickets on the day of travel is to leave yourself plenty of time, there can be large queues at the ticket office and the stations are pretty big.

 

Research places to eat

One of the things I really struggled with in China is that it’s not really the type of place where you can spot a restaurant that looks nice and just walk in if you’re not with a local.

The language barrier is an issue and as a solo traveller, I didn’t feel comfortable just walking in to somewhere spontaneously as I do in other countries.

You might be braver than me and willing to take a leap of faith but I’d recommend that you find a few places that you’d like to eat beforehand.

Some more tourist-friendly places are listed on Trip Advisor and it’s always a good idea to ask the staff at your hotel/hostel for local recommendations.

fullsizeoutput_5882

 

Whilst you’re there

Get a local sim card

Getting hold of a local sim card is super useful anywhere where roaming is expensive, but I’d say this is the case even more so in China.

As you can’t easily ask for directions etc., it’s helpful to have access to the internet whenever you need, just in case. Especially if you’re a solo female traveller.

I got a sim card from China Unicom, which offers a few pay as you go options for foreigners. I felt like the sim card was actually pretty expensive for the amount of data I got but I just made sure that I used wifi when I could so that I didn’t need to top up again.

I got the sim card from the hostel I stayed in but you can go to a China Unicom store if you need. Ask your hotel/hostel to write down what you require, the language barrier could pose a problem otherwise.

There are other option;  China Mobile is the biggest telecoms provider in the country but I’ve read that it isn’t as foreigner friendly.

As usual, make sure your phone’s unlocked so that the sim card works.

 

Ensure that you’re carrying enough cash

By far the biggest challenge I experienced in China was finding an ATM that would let me withdraw money with a foreign card! It was a bit ridiculous for such a developed country to be honest. I spent more than three hours trying to find a bank where I could draw out cash for my airport taxi on my final day in Beijing!!

The only branches that seemed to accept MasterCard and Visa were Bank of China and ICBC. Also note that some banks on Google Maps are not actually there- since Google is banned in China, I assume they struggle to keep maps completely up to date.

Carry around enough cash to last you for a while and have a plan of when you’ll make it to an ATM that works. Your hostel/hotel should be able to point you in the right direction.

Hardly any shops or restaurants accept card. Chinese people use their version of WhatsApp, We Chat, to pay for pretty much everything. A really cool and convenient concept but not for foreigners- you’d need a Chinese bank account to set yourself up with this.

 

Carry toilet paper and antibacterial gel 

As is the case with a lot of countries in Asia, squat toilets are everywhere when you’re out and about, and there usually isn’t any toilet paper.

Be sure to pack plenty, plus antibacterial hand gel.

 

fullsizeoutput_58a2

 

Use your haggling skills 

Again similar to other Asian countries, when buying from most markets and souvenir shops, you are expected to haggle.

Vendors can start at as much as 5 or 6 times what they’d actually sell for. It feels awkward, especially if you’re talking pennies, but haggling is very much expected.

 

Be prepared to feel like a celebrity!

As a foreigner, you’ll inevitably be stared at in the streets of China, even within the big cities! It’s a bit daunting and weird at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Some people may even ask for a photo of you or if you’ll get in their selfie!

The only thing I really didn’t like was people taking photos of me not so subtly without asking if they could. I started to understand how famous people must feel when they’re just trying to go about their every day life and everyone is getting their phone out taking snaps of them!

Still, most people I came across were friendly along with their curiosity.  The babies and small kids were hilarious- they either loved me and were waving like crazy, or looked completely terrified of me!

 

fullsizeoutput_589f

 

Take care when ordering food if you’re veggie/vegan

China does not do veggie food very well. Everything seems to come with meat, even when you don’t expect it to.

I ordered braised aubergine one evening after seeing a delicious-looking photo in the menu. There was no mention of meat. When the dish arrived, it was filled with rich, minced pork. I’m not vegetarian but at this stage of my trip, I was desperate for some food without meat.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, double check what you’re ordering, just in case. It would probably be a good idea to research some veggie friendly restaurants before you leave.

 

Follow these tips and your trip should be relatively smooth and trouble-free. China isn’t the easiest country to travel to but it really is worth it, you’ll have some amazing experiences!

 

Have you been to China? Would you add any other tips?