31 countries and counting

2017 has been the year that I ticked off 4 new places and my total countries visited reached 31. Now, to me, this doesn’t sound that many but I remind myself that I’ve visited many different cities and towns within a lot of those countries. And clearly visiting the USA doesn’t add any new tallies to my total.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ticking off countries purely to say that I’ve been to x number. I love visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. That said, I want to see as much of the world as I can within my lifetime and am slowly working my way through what this beautiful planet has to offer. I’m reluctant now to book trips to countries that I’ve visited before.

Compared to recent years, 4 new countries is quite a low number. However, the places I’ve visited have been absolutely awesome so I’m happy with quality if not quantity this time round! Here’s a round up of where I’ve been in 2017:

Copenhagen 

Scandinavia hasn’t really been on my radar travel- wise until this year, possibly something to do with the lack of beaches and cost of visiting. That all changed this year.

I headed off for a weekend in Copenhagen with friends in March this year and really, really liked it. You can read more about my trip here.

It was absolutely freezing and super pricey but everywhere was so pretty! And the vibe was just very laid back and cool. That trip made me eager to explore more of Scandi and what it has to offer. After all, the people in that neck of the woods are thought to be the happiest in the world!

IMG_0804.JPGThe oldest street in Copenhagen

IMG_0863Nyhavn

IMG_0886.JPGChristianshavn

IMG_0893.JPGChristianshavn

Warsaw 

Next up was a birthday trip to Poland with my other half. I know most people head to Krakow and I’d definitely like to visit, but I just felt it wasn’t the right place for a birthday weekend. I’d want to visit Auschwitz, which isn’t necessarily how I’d want to spend a birthday. I also wanted to head somewhere that wasn’t too heavy on the tourist front.

I’m so glad we booked to go to Warsaw. It was incredible; I totally fell in love with the Polish capital and would rate it as one of my favourite ever cities, particularly in Europe. The vibe was really chilled out, there was so much to see and do, and omg if you haven’t tried peroigis, do so right away! Amazing.

I wrote a little guide to the city; here if you fancy having a nosy.

IMG_1053.JPGWarsaw Old Town

IMG_1115.JPGWarsaw Barbican

 

IMG_1111.JPGWarsaw Old Town

IMG_0950.JPGWarsaw Neon Museum

Cuba 

As I wrote about in this post, all-inclusive holidays aren’t usually for me. I’m happiest with my backpack and Lonely Planet guide, living the flashpacker experience.

That being said, I loved this family trip to Cuba. The hotel was incredible and luxurious and I managed to explore a fair bit of what is an interesting, vibrant but sometimes frustrating country.

It was different to anywhere I’ve ever visited before, check out my travel tips here if you’re planning to visit. Even if not, I put together a post containing lots of pretty pictures; Cuba is by far the most photogenic place I have ever visited!

IMG_1157.JPGRoyalton Cayo Santa Maria infinity pool

IMG_1172.JPGPueblo Estrella

IMG_1507.JPGHavana

IMG_1329.JPGTrinidad

 

Stockholm 

Last but not least was my only solo trip of the year. I decided in September that I wanted to visit more of Scandinavia before the year was out and booked a flight to Stockholm, along with accommodation at City Backpackers Hostel.

I LOVED Stockholm. Although I really liked Copenhagen and had an amazing time with friends, Stockholm did steal my heart a little bit. As with Copenhagen, everything was super pretty and it had the chilled Scandi vibe. But even more than that, it had so many interesting things to see and do. I really discovered a bit of a love for art, especially when exploring the amazing installations featured in stations across the metro network.

I also went on a super cool Millenium tour (more here) of the city, which I got way too excited about given that the trilogy are some of my favourite books ever!

Also, two words: Swedish meatballs. I don’t actually think the locals eat them but oh my god they are bloody delicious. Give me all the gourmet venison meatballs and lingonberries, yum!

 

IMG_1784.JPGStockholm Old Town

IMG_1605.JPGEarly morning reflections

IMG_1809.JPGStockholm Old Town

IMG_1853.JPGArt in Stockholm metro station

2017 has definitely been a year of ups and downs and some big changes in my personal life; more about that here. But travel-wise, it’s only been positive! I’ve surpassed my goal of 30 countries before 30 four years early, so I’m upping the number to 40. Not quite the same ring to it, but it’ll do.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

Where have you been in 2017? What’s been your favourite trip or travel moment? I’d love to hear from you! 

Cuba Travel Tips

Although Cuba is undoubtedly a beautiful and interesting country, it’s also a slightly odd one when it comes to travelling there. It’s likely to be completely different to any other country you’ve visited before. That’s no bad thing, it’s great to be different, but it can mean that you’re not sure what to expect. Although my trip was only 2 weeks long, I feel I got a good grasp of the country and potential pitfalls whilst travelling around it. Here’s a list of Cuba travel tips that I picked up along the way, hopefully they’ll make your planning and actual trip a little snoother…

 

Organise a visa (tourist card) before you fly 

 Most countries will need a visa to visit Cuba, and the UK is one of them. As a standard holidaymaker, you’ll need a 30-day tourist card. You must buy this before you fly, if not you’ll be refused boarding in the UK. The easiest way to get hold of one is to visit the Cuban Embassy in London, although obviously this isn’t feasible for a lot of people. You can apply for a tourist card from the Cuban embassy via the post or use an online travel company such as The Travelvisa Company.

Make sure you keep the cards in pristine condition, no folding or bending, as otherwise this might be rejected at the Cuban border.

IMG_1374Independence Square, Havana

Take cash to exchange when you arrive in Cuba

 There are two currencies in Cuba and visitors tend to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). You can’t buy this outside if Cuba, so I’d advise you to take cash to change once you arrive in the country. Take some small sterling or Euro notes for tips when you first arrive in Cuba. You can use cards in hotels and major cities but it’s wise to carry cash at all times.

 

 Tip generously 

It’s expected that you’ll give a small tip following a meal, to a bellboy or to a driver. I’d encourage you to embrace this and give what you can; Cuban people are extremely friendly and helpful even though they’re likely paid a pittance for the long hours they work.

 

A laid-back local

 

Pack extra toiletries to give to the locals

 In a similar vein, many Brits take toiletries and other gifts for hotel workers and local people. Again, I’d encourage you to do the same if you’re able to. The best things to take are probably soap and shampoo, which are expensive and can be difficult to get hold of for the locals. You may get Cuban ladies coming up to you in the street asking for soap; take some in your bag when you’re out and about.

 

Remember to pack toilet paper and hand sanitiser when travelling 

When travelling between towns, your bus or taxi will likely stop at local restaurants or the Cuba equivalent of a service station. Be aware that’s it very unlikely these will have toilet paper, make sure you pack your own when on the move. I’d recommend hand sanitiser too.

IMG_1477

Vintage cars

 

Don’t leave your accommodation without plenty of bottled water 

 It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink Cuban tap water. Make sure that you take bottled water with you when you leave your accommodation; there are very few supermarkets in Cuba and it isn’t easy to find somewhere to buy water like in other countries. Even in Havana, we struggled to find places to buy water from (we flew up for the day so couldn’t take this with us).

 

Don’t expect to be delighted by the food

 Cuba is not renowned for its food, so don’t go expecting culinary delights. I had some delicious meals whilst there but these certainly weren’t comparable to the food you’ll find in Europe or South East Asia. Be sure to try Cuban speciality Ropa Vieja (shredded beef). The seafood is particularly good, as are exotic fruits such as papaya.

Enjoying a sunset dinner

Embrace the lack of wifi

 Wifi is not widely available in Cuba, as this is regulated by the government. There is no free wifi anywhere, we didn’t even have this in our 5* resort. You can buy a government issued wifi card from hotels or internet cafes, which last for an hour. The cost varies; we paid around £1.50/hour. My advice would be to embrace the lack of wifi and go technology-free if you can, it’s refreshing for a change and will give you a taste of the real Cuba.

 

Get ready for a slower pace of life

Life in Cuba is pretty laid back and things don’t get done particularly quickly, whether that’s organising a taxi or serving your food. Embrace the slower pace of life and relax.

 

Deserted beach

Enjoy your trip

Do your research and know what to expect before you go but most of all, enjoy your trip. Cuba is a beautiful, diverse and enchanting country with lots to offer.

Have you been to Cuba? Do you have any other travel tips?