Visting Chengdu’s Giant Panda Base

When I decided to book a trip to China last year, seeing giant pandas was on my must do list, along with visiting the Great Wall!

So much so that despite reading a lot about China being super difficult to travel alone, I decided to forgo an organised tour so that I could tick both of those things off within the short time I had.

Disclaimer: China is not that difficult to travel around independently and it’s really safe for female travellers.

Read my tips for your first trip to China here.

The majority of tours that I came across didn’t include Chengdu and the city doesn’t seem to be that high on the list for tourists. If you’re planning to travel around China, I’d highly recommend adding Chengdu to your itinerary.

And I mean, who doesn’t want to see giant pandas in their home country?! The city has so much more to offer too, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

 

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Now, I’m not a fan of zoos and am very conscious about the ethics of animals for entertainment etc. but after carrying out substantial of research before my trip, it seemed to me that Chengdu Panda Base is ethical, and has a positive impact.

I generally don’t agree with keeping wild animals in captivity but felt that Chengdu’s base does a lot of work to help these beautiful animals by carrying out research and working to preserve pandas.

I still hold that belief after visiting the centre, and am all for the work the centre does to breed pandas and ensure that we don’t lose these amazing creatures.

In this post, I’ll cover a what the current situation is for pandas, what the base is trying to do to help and some practical information about visiting the centre. There are plenty of cute pictures too!

 

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What’s the current situation?

Although giant pandas are no longer on the “Endangered list”, they are still classed as “Vulnerable” by WWF, with just over 1,800 left in the wild.

There are a number of reasons why there aren’t many pandas left in the world but the main driver is loss of habitat. Humans have cleared many bamboo forests, and pandas are unable to adapt to new habitats where there is no bamboo, as it is their only source of food.

They also have some trouble reproducing, and where a panda gives birth to twins, only one will survive in the wild, stacking the odds against them even further.

With that in mind, it seems like a degree of human intervention, especially when the species was classed as Endangered, was require to stop giant pandas dying out. That’s where research centres like the one in Chengdu come in.

 

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How is the Chengdu Research Base of giant panda Breeding trying to help?

Chengdu Panda Base, as it’s known by its short, informal name, is a not for profit centre geared towards the research and breeding of Giant Pandas. It was established in 1987 and it’s goal is “to be a world-class research facility, conservation education centre, and international educational tourism destination”.

The base has essentially created a natural habitat for giant pandas and red pandas. I’m by no means an expert but I felt that the enclosures were large and well-maintained, with plenty of space for these beautiful creatures to roam (not that they like to move around much haha!).

They aim to encourage breeding and ensure the survival of both cubs when a panda gives birth to twins.

 

 

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What’s the best time to visit?

You can visit the centre year-round but September is a good time in general to visit Chengdu (and most of China), plus you’ll likely see newborn pandas in nursery!

In terms of time of day, arrive at the centre as early as possible. The pandas are most active early on, and you’ll also miss some of the crowds that appear later on.

 

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How do I get to the centre?

Hotels and hostels offer tours to the centre. I went with my hostel and we were essentially driven there, left to roam around and then driven back, which was ideal.

Visting the centre through your accommodation is very convenient, but it is also the most expensive option.

You can travel there via bus or metro, details below:

By bus

1. Take bus 87, 198, 198a, or 655 to Xiongmao Jidi ( Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding) Station.

2. Take bus 9, 18, 25, 32, 64, 64 Express, 70, 85, 87, 99, 146, 150, 156a, 156b, 166, 193, 527, 650, 1030 or 1035 and get off at Dong Wu Yuan (Chengdu Zoo) Bus Station. Then, change to bus 198 or 198a to the base.

3. Take bus 60 or 87, and get off at Longqing Road Shulong Crossing. Then, walk along the Xiongmao Avenue for about 15 minutes to the base.

By metro

Take Metro Line 3 and get off at Dong Wu Yuan Station. Get out from Exit B and then take bus 198 or 198a direct to the base.
Or you can take the same metro to Panda Avenue, and then take bus d025 to the base.

 

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What should I expect when I visit?

There are several different enclosures to see, and each has facts about specific pandas, with quite a few funny and almost insulting lines included. Be sure to read them!

There’s also a room where you can view a video about the centre, which is really informative.

If you do visit when there are newborns, make sure you swing by the nursery. Swing by being the operative word- you really are only allowed a glimpse before being moved along by staff!

Be prepared for huge crowds, this is China after all. Although not as bad as in some other tourist sites in the country, I found that there was still a bit of pushing and shoving as people try to get the best views and photos.

 

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Is there anything else I should know?

  • Wear comfortable shoes- the centre was relatively hilly and there’s quite a lot of ground to cover once you’re inside.
  • Photography is allowed but make sure the flash is turned off.
  • The centre is open daily 7.30am to 6pm. As I said, be sure to to get there early; at opening time if possible.

 

Things to do in Dubai for Solo Travellers

Today’s post is a little different, as it’s my first ever written by a guest! It’s brought to you by Neha Singh from Dubai Wikia.

An avid trekker, explorer and a true foodie; Neha finds happiness in small endeavours of life and loves to pen them down as a cherished memory. A firm believer that “we have just one life to live and so much to do”, Neha lives every moment to the fullest.

The Middle East is somewhere that I haven’t yet had chance to explore, so it’s great to have Neha to share some of the great things for Solo Travellers to do in Dubai!

 

1. Visit The Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU)

Before you sign up for any Dubai tour or start on your own, it’s a good thing to learn more about the city. Visit SMCCU to understand the local culture, customs and religion. We recommend that you book the lunch-time tour, which includes a full Emirati meal as well.

It’s a great way to get introduced to the region’s indigenous cuisine. Ask your questions of
the friendly team at SMCCU and they’ll help you understand how a fishing village turned
into one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

 

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

 

2. Half-day City Sightseeing Tour

After the cultural understanding lesson, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the city. Sign up for a half-day sightseeing tour.

You’ll be taken to see many landmarks in a comfortable minivan or coach along with others. Be sure to keep your camera ready to snap pictures of the magnificent Burj Khalifa, the Burj al Arab, the Palm Islands and other landmarks. The tour includes a ride in a water taxi across the Dubai Creek.

Your tour will take you into the AlBastikaya District, which is Dubai’s oldest area and full of traditional character. A visit to the city’s spectacular Gold Souq and the Deira Spice Souq ends your half-day tour.

 

Dubai Sightseeing

 

3. Burj Khalifa At The Top Experience

The next, absolute-must activity in your solo traveller list should be the At The Top Burj
Khalifa experience. You’ll have to ride a 65-meter (213-foot) moving sidewalk, watching a
fabulous multimedia presentation that provides the history of the Burj Khalifa.

After this, you’ll ride one of the world’s fastest elevators to the 124th floor. At the observation deck, take in the unbelievable vistas below you. Grab one of the many powerful digital telescopes in the space and focus on the landmarks you want to see more clearly.

The observation deck is surrounded by ceiling to floor windows. There’s also a parapet outside which you can walk on if you dare.

 

Burj Khalifa at the Top

 

4. RIB Tour

Sign up for a tour of the Persian Gulf on a RIB (rigid inflatable boat). Board the boat from
Dubai Marina and enjoy the speed of the vessel and the waves that crash behind you.

You’ll get up close to the royal palaces, Dubai Lagoon, Burj AI-Arab, Palm Jumeirah, Hotel Atlantis and the World Islands during the cruise. Each boat can hold 10 people, so you’ll get a chance to make friends as well.

 

RIB Tour Dubai

 

5. Helicopter Ride

If you are the adventurous type, then sign up for a helicopter ride over Dubai to experience some spectacular views from above. Up to five passengers can enjoy a helicopter ride at a time.

Your pilot will hover over major landmarks so that you can get some good shots and
videos of them. Be sure to carry a good-quality video camera with telephoto lens with you!

 

Helicopter Tour Dubai

 

6. Zipline Down The Burj Khalifa

Many solo travellers look for adventure and Dubai has plenty of it.

Why not try ziplining down the Burj Khalifa? The building stands at 829 metres tall, and the XDubai zipline takes 40 seconds to descend from the top of the Burj Khalifa to the top of the Dubai Mall, at speeds of 80kph.

However, you’ll have to be chosen for this thrill – only 30 people are
chosen in a week from social media.

 

7. Drinks at Cirque Le Soir

Solo travellers need to mingle with other solos and travellers to share notes. It’s an essential part of travel education.

Meet other like-minded people at the Cirque Le Soir club, which is kitted out like a circus. Dancers gyrate on the many podiums that are scattered about, and various circus performers do their tricks.

Enjoy the international-level performances put on by sword swallowers, fire-eaters, stilt walkers and magicians all night.

 

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8. Visit Dubai Mall

Be sure to visit the world’s largest shopping center, Dubai Mall. It’s as large as 50 football
fields, and has over 1,200 retail outlets.

If you’re not keen on shopping, then check out the Emirates A380 in the mall. You can sit in the pilot’s seat and enjoy a 30-minute simulated flight.

If you love games, don’t miss a visit to the VR Park, where you can play a zillion virtual
reality games, including one where you fall off the Burj Khalifa.

 

Dubai Mall

 

9. Dubai Desert Safari

Include a desert safari experience into your solo travel Dubai list. Get acquainted with the mystery and beauty of the Dubai desert in a cosy 4×4.

If you like, you can participate in desert sports such as dune bashing and sand boarding. Experience what it’s like to ride a moody camel on the shifting desert sands. If you sign up for an evening desert safari, you’ll get to see a magnificent desert sun set as well.

Plus, there’ll be a lovely buffet meal, with a henna artist tattooing your hands and legs. Watch the belly dancer gyrate around the campfire to exotic Arabian tunes. Call it a night under the brilliant desert stars that shine just for you.

 

Desert Safari Dubai

 

10. Hit the beach

Kite Beach is a public beach which has all the amenities usually present at a private beach in Dubai.

Here you’ll find great food trucks and cafes lining the beach front, turquoise blue waters, lifeguards, lounges, towels and everything else you need. Being free, Kite Beach is visited by almost everyone in Dubai.

 

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11. Explore Dubai’s Souqs

Be sure to visit the spice, textile and gold souqs of Deira and Bur Dubai. It’s a great way to
get into touch with the UAE market culture. Eat at one of the local cafes in either Bur Dubai or Deira.

Take a look at the biggest ring in the world displayed at a Deira store. Be awed at
the sheer amount of gold in the souqs. Exploring these traditional souqs is one of the best
things to do in Dubai for solo traveller.

 

Dubai Souqs

 
Conclusion

If you are a solo female traveller, you need to know that Dubai is one of the safest cities in the world. All the same, be sure to make plenty of friends and let people know where you are. Also, try to dress modestly especially when you visit the cultural center and mosques.

 

You can see more from Neha here.

A Guide to Visiting Beijing and The Great Wall of China as a Solo Traveller

China’s capital city sometimes gets a bad rep, particularly in terms of overcrowding and pollution but I had such a great experience in Beijing as a solo traveller. There are so many interesting and beautiful places to see and you can visit the incredible Great Wall of China from the city.

I’d say that Beijing (and obviously the Great Wall) are must visits on any trip to China. There was no pollution when I was there and found the city to be clean and not very crowded. It’s such a sprawling city that I felt like there was lots of space, unlike many Asian cities that I’ve visited. In fact, I almost missed that sense of hustle and bustle I’ve come to love in that part of the world!

 

BEIJING

Getting there

Beijing is China’s major transport hub and it’s super easy to fly there from international airports. If you’re travelling to Beijing from within China, I’d highly recommend taking the train; they’re fast, reasonable priced and punctual (unlike internal flights which are more often than not delayed!).

A word of warning if you’re arriving in to Beijing railway station- the taxi queue can be extremely long, so you may want to pre-arrange one or jump on the metro in to the city.

 

Getting around

Beijing is huge and so it is difficult to explore completely on foot. I’d definitely recommend walking around as much as you can but with massive distances to cover, you’ll need to use a taxi or public transport at some point.

Taxis are pretty affordable but can be difficult to flag down. Take extra care on festival days- I tried to get a taxi to the airport during the Autumn Festival and really struggled, as many people were at home with their families and so there weren’t many taxis available.

The metro is really straightforward to use and it’s cheap too. Allow some extra time for getting through security- there are personal and baggage scanners at each station.

 

Where to stay

There are so many accommodation options in Beijing, from super fancy hotels down to budget hostels, but overall, it’s not that cheap, as you’d probably expect in a capital city.

The Wangfujing and Qianmen districts are both centrally-located and ideal for travellers to stay in. I stayed in a couple of different accommodations in Beijing and would really recommend both.

The first was a private room at Peking Station Hostel. The hostel is really nice, with helpful reception staff and a beautiful common area filled with an array of plants. Although it’s located down a bit of a dingy street, it’s a great location; with restaurants and shops close by, plus a major metro station a few minutes’ walk away.

 

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The second was a great boutique hotel, complete with rooftop bar and pool, The Emperor Qianmen. It was quite a lot more expensive but had an amazing location, really cool rooms, a delicious breakfast buffet and a free mini bar!

 

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Booking.com has plenty of options, use this link for £15 off your next stay: https://www.booking.com/s/34_6/rls10090

 

What to see and do

There are many, many things to see and do in Beijing. Lots of the attractions and areas are really spread out, so you’ll need to prioritise unless you’re in the city for an extended length of time.

I spent four days there (with one day visiting the Great Wall) and it was nowhere near enough time to do everything I wanted!

Here are some of the major things to see and do that you may want to add to your itinerary:

 

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

The Forbidden City is probably Beijing’s most well-known tourist attraction and it’s a must-see when visiting China’s capital. The former Chinese imperial palace is a magnificent complex made up of 980 buildings spread over 180 acres. It served as an imperial palace for 24 emperors during both the Ming and Qing dynasties.

It’s located in the centre of the city, so is easy to reach by metro, bus or on foot. It can get extremely busy, especially in the mornings. I visited in the early afternoon during September and it was really quiet as all the tour groups that arrive first thing had been and gone. Avoid weekends and Chinese holidays if you can.

Tiananmen, which translates as “Gate of Heavenly Peace”, is known for all the wrong reasons, but it’s worth seeing just to appreciate the scale of this huge city square.

Use metro stations Tiananmen East, Tiananmen West or Qianmen.

 

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Temple of Heaven Park

Constructed during the Ming dynasty in 1420, the Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex that was visited annually by emperors who prayed for good harvests.

The temple itself is insanely beautiful and unique but there’s much more to see on your visit, including a beautiful leafy park.

Again, it’s really easy to reach by public transport; just head to Tiantan Dongmen station.

 

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Summer Palace

Located in north west Beijing, around 15km outside the city centre, is the beautiful Summer Palace. It’s a Unesco World Heritage site made up of gardens, lakes and palaces.

You’ll need to at least 2-3 hours here; half a day would be ideal.

 

Stroll through the Hutongs

Hutongs are narrow streets and alleys common in China, with traditional courtyards on either side. Beijing has many of them and I’d highly recommend spending some time exploring at least one.

Nanluoguxiang is a good choice, it’s lined with cute shops and places to grab food. It’s quite touristy but well worth a visit. You can find a list of other famous Hutongs here.

 

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Wander down Wangfujing Pedestrian Street

One of the most famous shopping streets in Beijing, Wangfujing is lined with international shops and is home to the popular “snack street”, where you can try all manner of street foods.

Get off at Wangfujing metro station, which is on line 1.

 

Visit Lama Temple

Also known as the Yonghe temple, Lama is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. It’s an active place of worship, where you’ll see many locals praying alongside the hordes of tourists that also visit.

It’s a beautiful temple but I did find that the crowds of people put me off a little!

The nearest metro station is Yonghegong.

 

Attend a tea ceremony

Tea is an important part of Chinese culture and tradition, with locals spending hours enjoying the drink at teahouses around the country.

There are many different teahouses to choose from but it can be tricky to enjoy the experience as a solo traveller, as these are social places where groups of people congregate and share large pots of tea.

I visited Alice’s Tea House in the Qianmen district after seeing reviews online and I loved it.

Alice is from the Fujian province in China, which is known for tea, and has studied China’s favourite drink to an extremely high level. She runs small tea ceremonies, that cost around £4 per person. I had a one on one ceremony and we tried several different teas and Alice passed on lots of her knowledge to me.

You can also buy the teas and pots if you like; I left with Pu’er and Lychee tea, both of which were unique and delicious.

I just turned up and was lucky to find Alice there, but I think it’s recommended that you email beforehand to ensure availability. There are loads of details on Trip Advisor.

Alice’s Tea House was one of the highlights of my time in Beijing and I’d urge you to check it out if you love tea!

 

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Explore the Qianmen District

Qianmen, which translates as “front gate”, is one Beijing’s most popular tourist destinations. Qianmen Street is a pedestrian street with gorgeous architecture, lined with shops and restaurants.

The area around the main street is bustling and has a really nice vibe. The buildings look lovely at night, I’d recommend experiencing the area after dark if you can.

You can reach the area by heading to Qianmen metro station.

 

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Where to eat and drink

Finding good places to eat was the part I found most challenging about visiting China. With lack of English and not as many reviews online as for other countries, it can be difficult to track down the best places to eat. Here are a couple of recommendations of what dishes to eat and where you can try them:

 

Try some Peking duck

Providing you’re a meat eater, you should definitely try Peking Duck when in Beijing, it’s so tasty. There are loads of places to try this famous dish; I went to Sijimifu. There are several branches dotted around the city, I visited the one close to Wangfujing street. The service was quite slow but the duck was delicious and the atmosphere was great. I ordered half a duck and struggled to finish it.

Quanjude is possibly the most famous place to eat duck and is renowned; here’s an article detailing plenty of other places too.

 

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Enjoy some street food 

As mentioned already, you can grab street food within the Hutongs and on snack street off Wangfujing. Meat on a stick is popular, as is fruit. There are plenty of teas and sweet snacks such as fresh fruit ice lollies and pretty ice creams to help you cool down in warm weather too.

 

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Have a drink with some fellow travellers

If like me, you’re craving Western style or vegetarian food (it’s really difficult to find meat free dishes in China!), head to Long Table in the Qianmen district.

It’s full of backpackers from all around the world, serves a yummy veggie burger and lots of alcoholic drinks to enjoy with your new companions.

 

To be quite honest, I didn’t manage to find many great restaurants in Beijing and I went for sushi a couple of times, as I was craving veggie and fish dishes. I’m not a huge meat eater, so did struggle after a while. In one restaurant, I ordered braised aubergine and it arrived mixed with minced pork even though there was no mention of this on the menu!

As I’m not much help in this department, The Beijinger website has lots of great suggestions, check it out here.

 

Tips and advice for solo travellers in Beijing

  • Beijing felt really safe as a female solo traveller, even at night. As with anywhere, use common sense and you should be fine.
  • Make sure that you’ve always got plenty of cash; it’s really difficult to find banks that accept international cards, otherwise you might find yourself short and unable to draw out money.

 

VISITING THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Known as one of the wonders of the world, any trip to China should include a trip to the incredible Great Wall.

The original purpose of the Great Wall was to protect the Chinese Empire from the Mongolians and other invaders. Most the wall that remains was built during the Ming dynasty and it took over 2,000 year to construct fully.

It’s over 6000km long with many sections in varying states of repair. It would take around 18 months to walk the full wall, madness!

 

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There are a number of different sections, all in varying states of repair, and the most famous parts are all easily reached from Beijing.

Badaling and Mutianyu are two sections widely visited by tourists, as they’re well restored. This means big crowds and sometimes a less than authentic experience.

I visited the Jinshanling section of the wall and would highly recommend it! Although it’s mostly well-restored, there aren’t too many people there. It’s relatively challenging to hike but not too bad if you have a reasonable level of fitness.

I joined the tour run through Peking Station hostel and it was incredible- the guide was great and there was a lovely mix of travellers from all over the world. It was also really affordable, with transport to and from the Wall included.

Although you can reach the wall by public transport, I’d highly recommend joining a group tour if you’re a solo traveller. I met some lovely people and they made the experience even better. We all enjoyed a beer together on the Wall at the end of the hike, which was really cool!

 

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You can book tours from most hotels and hostels but be aware that sometimes you are also taken to shops, restaurants etc in return for commission, which can be unwanted. Research the tour you’ll be taking before you book or think about booking through a site like Viator, where you can read reviews. This is the tour I went on, although I booked directly through the hostel.

Hiking the Great Wall was undoubtedly one of my best experiences so far; it was completely breathtaking and even better than I imagined it would be. The views were out of this world.

 

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A few tips for visiting the Jinshanling section of the Wall:

  • Make sure that you’re wearing shoes with really good grip! Even in my brand new trainers, I found it difficult to get a good grip on some of the steeper parts of the wall.
  • Take drinks and snacks with you for sustenance. There are sellers along the wall where you can buy snacks and drinks but of course the prices are inflated.
  • Beware of engaging with the sellers walking the wall if you don’t want to buy souvenirs or be ripped off. A lovely old lady helped pull me up a particularly steep part of the wall and seemed to be genuinely enjoying chatting to me. Then she tried to sell me t-shirts for crazy high prices and wouldn’t leave me alone until the guys I was with pulled me away from her grip. When we got back to the bus, some other people on the tour has bought two t-shirts for about a quarter of the price the lady was trying to charge me for one!
  • Go to toilet before you hike the wall, there are some pretty decent toilets at the start and end points. Avoid using the toilets when you stop at a services en route to the Wall, the ones we stopped at were quite frankly the most disgusting place I’ve ever been to.

 

China is a fascinating country but can be difficult for travellers to navigate. If it’s your first visit, you may want to check out my guide for first-time visitors, which is packed full of tips and tricks to make your tip as smooth as possible. You can read it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My 2019 Travel Plans

Happy new year/ feliz año nuevo!

As is now tradition, I like to kick-start the year by writing a post about my upcoming travels. I love having a nosey at other people’s travel plans post, and writing my own makes me super excited for the upcoming year, so I hope you don’t mind me indulging myself by writing this.

 

Basel, Switzerland

I like to have a trip booked for January if possible; not only does it mean I can start the year as I mean to go on, it also helps banish those post- Christmas blues!

This year, I’m heading to Basel in Switzerland on a short solo weekend trip. I’ve never visited Switzerland before so am super excited to wander and explore. Basel is also known as a bit of an art hot spot too, and as you may know, I’ve developed a bit of a late love for art since my trip to Stockholm in 2017. Read more about that here.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on a solo city break and I’m really looking forward to starting the year off with a mini adventure.

 

 

BaselPhoto credit: VVNincic, Flikr

 

Canada and Iceland

One of my closest friends recently relocated to Toronto to Canada and of course as soon as she did, I made plans to visit her! I’ve never been to Canada before and it’s been high on the list for a while, so this provided me with the perfect reason to book that flight.

I’ll be spending around four days/five nights in Toronto and the same again in Montreal. I did consider fitting in another city but I decided I want the trip to be at a slower pace, where I can really take my time to explore. In Toronto I’ll stay with my friend and in Montreal, I plan to book a small apartment as my base.

When I came to book my trip a few weeks ago, I realised that flying with Icelandair was the best way to get to Canada from Manchester, and that I could add on a free stopover in Iceland. Win win!

Iceland’s got a reputation for being mega expensive, so it’s great that I’m essentially flying there for free! I’ll be there for 2 days and nights, including my birthday. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever spent my birthday alone but I’m actually really looking forward to it!

The plan is to stay in Reykjavik and to do the main tourist things- the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon, as well as exploring the city a little.

 

TorontoPhoto credit: Nick Harris, Flikr

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall - Iceland - Travel photographyPhoto credit: Giuseppe Milo, Flikr

Prague, Czech Republic

On the first May bank holiday, I’m heading off on my second city break of the year; this time to Prague with a couple of friends.

Prague’s been on my to- visit list for years and I’ve never quite got round to booking it, so I’m really pleased that’s finally happening in 2019.

Exact plans are to be confirmed but I can imagine there will be plenty of sightseeing, eating and drinking!

 

PraguePhoto credit: Pedro Szekely, Flikr

 

The Algarve, Portugal

I’m at the age now where my friends are starting to get married and with that means hen dos! In June I’m jetting off to The Algarve to celebrate a lovely friend’s hen do. Unlikely that they’ll be much sightseeing haha, so it’s just as well I’ve already visited this part of Portugal!

I’m really looking forward to some relaxation and plenty of wine in the sunshine, with a great bunch of ladies.

 

AlgarvePhoto credit: Michaela Loheit, Flikr

Japan

After Portugal, I don’t have any more trips booked yet but there are a few plans taking shape. The first is a trip to Japan to visit my uncle, who lives in Tokyo, in Autumn.

I’ll be going with my Grandma, aka one of my favourite people on this earth, and I’m ridiculously excited at the prospect.

I visited Tokyo back when I was much younger, and I’m really looking forward to going back to the Land of the Rising sun now that I’ve got more of an appreciation for culture and Sushi!

We’ll probably head to a couple of other cities beside Tokyo but we don’t have any set-in stone plans just yet.

 

JapanPhoto credit: Bernard Spragg, Flikr

Exploring the UK

I tend to overlook taking trips within the UK, as I’m always keen to seek out new cultures. In 2019, I want to change that and to explore more of my home nation; there’s so many places I haven’t been to or would love to explore further.

I’d like to do a weekend somewhere at least every 2-3 months, money permitting. On the list are: Belfast, Edinburgh, Leeds and North Wales so far. Please let me know if you have any other suggestions for great places to explore in the UK!

 

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European city breaks

I’m hoping to fit in another one or two European city breaks, although I’m not sure where to yet. There are just too many great choices! In the mix so far are: Malta, Oslo, Romania and a Christmas market in Germany.

 

MaltaPhoto credit: Berit Watkin, Flikr

 

So, there you have it, there are my plans for 2019 so far. The second half of the year is definitely still quite open to change; although I’m 98% sure that my trip to Japan will happen! If it doesn’t, I’ll look to go somewhere else in Asia with a group tour, probably the Philippines or Myanmar!

One thing I will say is that I’d definitely like to travel more slowly this year, and make sure that I make time during and after my trips to produce some great blog content.

My little corner of the internet is still so unknown and not read by many but I’d love for 2019 to be the year that I reach a few more people. I’m really passionate about sharing my travel stories, tips and recommendations! I’d also like to encourage more people to travel solo and to embrace completely new cultures.

Here’s to an exciting travel-filled 2019! May you hunt down many pretty tiled walls, eat delicious food and enjoy your adventures…

 

Me

 

Have you been to any of the places I’ve mentioned or do you plan to visit them this year? Where’s on your list for 2019? As always, I’d absolutely love to hear from you 😊

 Please feel free to send over any tips or blog post links for the places I’ve talked about too, I’d love to read them.

 

 

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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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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!