The best weekend breaks near London

As summer rolls into autumn, make the most of the last stretch of long(ish) days with a weekend away from the Big Smoke. From salty sea air to cobbled country roads, there’s plenty to explore within two hours of London, so grab your boots and jacket and get going.

Surrey

Surrey Hills, Image: iStock/simonbradfield

Surrey Hills, Image: iStock/simonbradfield

The county of Surrey offers lush greenery just over an hour from central London (by car - it’s even quicker by train, if you head to Waterloo). Kids and kids at heart will love the Wild Wood Adventure Park in Guilford; teetering 15 metres above ground, traverse tightropes, zip lines and obstacles amidst dense woodland. Alternatively, enjoy an afternoon a little less taxing, walking through parts of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The area boasts landscaped gardens, woodland walks, an intriguing Edwardian estate (Polesden Lacey) and so much more.

Sussex

Camber Sands, Image: iStock/acceleratorhams

Camber Sands, Image: iStock/acceleratorhams

Sussex offers a bucketful of seaside and history alike. Budding beach baby? Spend your weekend clambering the sand dunes of Camber Sands, before dipping your toes in the cool waters of the English Channel, or admiring the waves from a cliffside vantage point in Eastbourne. For even more impressive chalk-white cliffs, venture to Seven Sisters (not the London tube station - Victoria line this is not) a little further along. If history is more your thing, brush up on the Battle of Hastings in the place itself, with a visit to the 11th-century Norman fortress ruins and the smugglers’ underground tunnels. Another fortified building worth a visit is the moated Bodiam Castle, built in 1385.

Berkshire

Windsor Castle Image: iStock/Vladislav Zolotov

Windsor Castle Image: iStock/Vladislav Zolotov

Just west of London sits Berkshire, home to the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Follow in the footsteps of the Royal family to Windsor Castle, the 11th-century-built abode that allows you to tour the tower, dine under vaulted ceilings and even visit the nearby St George’s Chapel where Meghan and Prince Harry married in 2018. Fifteen minutes south of the castle, you’ll find the tranquil Savill Garden in Windsor. Spend a serene Sunday exploring the 35 acres of breathtakingly beautiful blooms.

Devon

Hartland Quay, Image: iStock/antonyspencer

Hartland Quay, Image: iStock/antonyspencer

The furthest of the lot at nearly four hours’ drive, Devon is a great spot for a long weekend, rather than just a two-dayer. Famed for its gorgeous sandy beaches, soak up the last of the sun on the English Riviera, lazing on the sands with a portion of fish and chips in hand, exploring the tiny coves in between, before retreating a little inland to the medieval towns or vast moorlands.

Where else would you go for a long weekend away from London?

How to actually pack light

"This holiday will be the perfect time to crack out this playsuit I have only worn once in six years," I tell myself as I cram yet another outfit into my small suitcase, preparing for a three-day city break. 

I know I'm not the only one; a lot of us are guilty of seriously over-packing when it comes to travelling. I ended up hauling a suitcase around London and Sydney that literally weighed just under half my body weight - one, I might add, that took me 50 minutes to zip up on my way there and ended up being split into another two bags on my way back because I didn't want to commit to leaving anything behind.    

However, with more and more airlines adding heftier and heftier charges for luggage, it's time to start learning to pack light. I spoke to my brother, Taran, who has travelled to Milan, Oslo and Madrid with just a backpack. Here are his top tips:

First things first, why do you travel with only a backpack?

“I like only having one bag to carry. It makes going through the airport faster and I have everything in one place. I only have space for essentials, so I use everything I bring, and also, when the check-in is late, or check-out is early, I can go and explore without any issue.”

What is actually in your backpack?

“Aside from clothes, I only pack the following:

- Underwear for the number of days

- Socks for the number of days

- Passport

- Currency

- Credit card (just in case)

- Camera

- Phone

- Chargers

- Adaptors

- Toiletries (in small airport bottles)

- Wet wipes

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Okay, so how do you pack minimal clothes?

“Don’t bother with spare shoes, spare jeans, spare towels or bulky clothing. Wear one jacket and a plain pair of trousers - these can be transformed into two outfits when worn with two different coloured, patterned or style tops.”

Are there any negatives to travelling with just a backpack?

“The bag can get heavy, and things at the bottom of the bag are not always easily accessible - but with smart packing, you can put the essential things you’ll need at the top.

Also, if something spills, everything is wet. I always try and put things in waterproof bags or put the bottles in an outside pocket.”

What are your top tips for someone who struggles to pack light?

“Start with what you need to get you through the day, your passport, money and travel pass. Then only bring one any extras, where possible - one pair of shoes, one pair of trousers, one lipstick; and if you can do without at home, you can do without it while travelling, and by that I mean shaving, painting your nails, that kind of thing.

I always do a beauty regime the night before, so I stay fresh for longer. Do a face mask, shave, any grooming really. And always remember, worst case scenario, you can buy anything you desperately need when you’re abroad.”

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Do you have any top tips for packing light? Send them my way… I defo need them.

What a clean-living novice learned on a wellness getaway

What comes to mind when you think of the words ‘clean living’? Bare feet, hessian clothing and an abundance of quinoa at every meal? Those were the images that instantly conjured up in my mind upon hearing those words – until very recently.

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Conscious Living Retreat taster, a wellness getaway organised by Lucy Mills, founder of Your Ideal Fit and a globally recognised Pilates instructor, who emphasises the importance of mindfulness and body biomechanics when striving towards your fitness goals, and how it’s all about being in tune with your own body. Together with Sjaniel Turrel from Chemistry of Wellness, Lou Ashton from VivoBareFoot, Skyler Shah from Yatay Yoga and Lauren Lovatt from Plant Academy, the two-day, one-night event – a taster of a longer event taking place between 14th June and 17th June 2019 at the gorgeous West Lexham Manor in Norfolk – Lucy immersed me in world of clean, conscious and natural living, a world I had never really set foot in, or been inspired to set foot in, before. I came away inspired and having learned quite a bit - here’s what I discovered:

It’s okay to be out of your comfort zone

I’m a total urbanite; I’m also a millennial who loves being online… oh, and I had never attended a Pilates class in my life. I had reservations about attending the retreat, with images of sitting at the back of the class in a pool of sweat while the other attendees stretched like gazelles, before sharing tips on how to get the perfect crunch in their homemade kale crisps. Now, there were kale crisps (delicious, FYI, especially the ones with a bit of spice), but my preconceptions about the Pilates classes were totally unfounded.

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Taking a class in the evening, before dinner, and in the morning, before breakfast, Lucy expertly walked us through each position in a way that was easy to grasp, even if you’d never laid your bod on a yoga mat before (we used sustainable ones from Yatay Yoga, which were super comfy and non-slip – ideal for those sweaty, shaky, where-even-are-you-lower-ab-muscles moments). In her rather soothing voice, she used relative examples that you could visualise, such as rolling your hands along a tennis ball, so you could get the correct form and movement. We worked the movements step by step, starting with simple movements and working our way towards the more demanding holds slowly and, somehow, you’d get there without realising – the sign of a good teacher! Lucy was constantly reassuring and helpful, and I never once felt silly, awkward or inadequate in the classes. In fact, I felt pretty damn good about myself. Lucy’s previous clients include celebrities, royalty, exercise newbies and people who are rehabilitating from injuries, and it is easy to see why they seek her out.

Plant-based food isn’t plain nor boring

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Probably my biggest takeaway from this trip: I was truly inspired by the menu created by the Plant Academy’s Lauren Lovett. While in recent years, I have become more mindful about eating healthily, I often don’t feel full after a meal without meat or fish, and those who know me will know I have a rather unhealthy obsession with fried chicken.

However, the food at the Conscious Living Retreat was divine. Lauren initially began cooking as a way to address mental health and its relationship with food, and how you can support your mind with cookery. She founded Plant Academy in East London, where you can learn to cook scrumptious plant-based dished that not only taste great, but are great for your body and mind, too. “To get people to eat well, you not only have to make food delicious; you have to make it cool,” she said to Cotswold Life.

Lauren created meat- and gluten-free courses at the retreat, with some ingredients foraged by Danny Seeley from the local area. I chowed down on dishes such as coffee roasted wild beets with Chimmicuri, zucchini fillets with candied pecans, and confit carrot lox on cultured buckwheat pancakes, and delicious desserts, like fermented lemon posset with hot berries and toasted coconut ginger biscotti. It wasn’t all herbal teas and water either; sipping on mulled pomegranate juice, I could have almost been drinking red wine, while the next morning, my turmeric latte warmed me right up. After this retreat, I most definitely want to incorporate some more flavoursome, filling plant-based dishes in my repertoire.

There’s so much to ‘conscious living’ that we don’t even consider

There are so many parts of our daily routine that we don’t even give a second thought to – or I know I don’t, at least. Listening to the panel at the retreat, made up of Lucy, Sjaniel, Lou, Skyler, Lauren and Isabelle Colville (who owns West Lexham Manor), I realised how many aspects of my life I do automatically, with little regard for the impact on my body or the environment around me.

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On the second day of the retreat, we took part in a natural beauty workshop, run by Sjaniel, who has been a make-up artist for over 20 years. She showcased make-up from Twelve Beauty, Jillian Dempsey and Green People, and as someone who has used the same foundation for the last 10 years, I learned a lot in regards to the environmental impact of certain ingredients, as well as its effect of my skin and hair. For example, I never realised the amount of silicon that appears in the products that I use, and the way it creates a barrier around my skin and hair, preventing them from breathing… then washes down the plug hole, leaving a film of plastic in its wake.

Being mixed race, and being one of three ‘people of colour’ on the retreat, it was pretty obvious that there is a lot of progression still to be made in the natural beauty movement, especially in regards to creating make-up to suit a range of skin tones – something Sjaniel herself recognises. However, the products I tried left my skin feeling soft and light, which was great.

After lunch, we also listened to a talk from Lou from VivoBarefoot, a company who create shoes for a range of activities that mimic being barefoot – the natural way to walk. She described how with regular shoes, our feet are squished, elevated, moulded in certain ways, whether in trainers, heels or other types of footwear. With VivoBarefoot, these are all addressed in their designs.

Sometimes you just need to switch off

My favourite part of the retreat was the location. From the moment we entered the main barn, which was dimly lit and smelt incredible, I knew I would love this place. West Lexham Manor sits in 21 acres of sprawling grounds, with a barn house, treehouses, a manmade lake and a rustic, country getaway vibe. I slept in a barn en-suite room, adorned with exposed wooden beams and symmetrical images on the walls. The colour scheme is earthy, with calming bluey greens, and dark and light woods. The bathrooms in this room type are huge, with a lovely deep bath and underfloor heating.

Elsewhere on the grounds, you can stay in treehouses, where in some, trees literally grow through the room.  Isabelle explained that West Lexham was created to be a ‘nest’ to grow oneself – as was their journey in building it. They wanted to create a place of subtle education for living in an eco-friendly way, and used a plethora of upcycled materials, for example, some tables are made from garage doors, while the toilet block for glampers were built using the floor of the Norwich Theatre Royal. The hotel is run on around 90% renewable energy; the sustainability message is all-encompassing through the food, atmosphere and physical attributes of the abode – down to the little touches, such as drawer handles and a humourous notes. The beautiful welcome note from Lucy said it all, really: here you can “exhale the London madness.”

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I thoroughly recommend the Conscious Living Retreat, whether you’re a novice like me, or well into your wellness – I was inspired and enlightened on this way of life, with many of my misconceptions changed within the short 24 hours.

Lucy’s next full retreat takes place between 4th October and 7th October 2019, with a series of workshops, classes and country walks – find out more here.

Five travel hacks for the time poor and the over-planners

We all want to travel, right? Who in the history of the world has ever said they hate holidays, they don't like relaxing, or absolutely can't stand discovering something new?! However, the niggly bits can irk us; booking cabs, finding your EHIC, packing the right plug adapter... when do we find the time for that?! 

We can sometimes make the mistake of over-planning and, in turn, feel like we've had a shit holiday because we haven't ticked every last thing off the list. I, myself, was guilty of this for years; sacrificing the very few lay-ins we get during our working years to make sure everything was seen, heard and tasted. It took a while, but I'm slowly letting loose. 

If, like me, you are one of these people, here are a few hacks to strike the balance between getting your holidays worth out of a country, but without stress-planning and skipping out on the actual relaxing bit of a holiday. 

Bank holidays

Incorporate bank holidays into your trips away; it's a free extra day of holiday to use as you wish. Although most bank holidays fall in a school holiday, meaning potentially higher fares, if you book far enough in advance, you can totally minimise it. May Day is one of those rogue ones though, so book off the rest of that week to get nine days off in a row, using just four days of annual leave, or perhaps just head off on a long weekend instead. A lot of publications (for example, Stylist) post guides on how to maximise your annual leave allowance each year, so defo check that out. 

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Fly early or late

If you can't get time off work, Friday evening flights are your best buddy. You can head to work, then head off to the airport straight from the office without losing any annual leave - or using it to just sit in the airport, or on the plane #winning. Alternatively, if you've managed to bag a Friday off, opt for the early morning flights, particularly for short-haul. Yes, it's a ball-ache to drag yourself out of bed at a time you'd usually be hurling your drunk arse IN, but like with the evening flights, you minimise wasting actual sociable/sightseeing/eating/drinking hours in transit. 

Have your must-sees

These are the non-negotiables; a list of sights, restaurants, or activities that you would be gutted to tell people you'd missed once you're back at home. Big or small - Paris' Eiffel Tower, Rome's Colosseum, Prague's castle district - it's up to you, and don't let your travel buddies make you deviate from them. You can buy tickets online, so you're not wasting time in long queues, or you can set a day, or two, aside and just hit your list in one go (then head to the hotel spa to soak them weary feet!)

But, at the same time, go with the flow

One of my most chilled out holidays was an impromptu one to Milan. There are a couple of things I would have prepped differently had I had more time, but we saw the Duomo, had the best gelato in town (judging by the huge arse queue we waited in) and loved our time away. We actually ended up seeing more sights than we thought we would, and have funnier memories, such as not seeing the proper Last Supper painting, but instead a smaller, reprinted version in a cafe across the road from the Santa Maria delle Grazie.  

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Live like a local

Wanna hit the best bits, but don't have the time to actually find out what they are? Get other people to do it for you! I'm joking... kinda. Getting advice from local people on the best things to do, the must-visit places to eat and where to find the best deals will ensure you get a fully authentic experience in a city. Granted, different people have different views on what's affordable, or what constitutes as a good time, but you'll find some real gems that you might not have otherwise come across. Before you head off, ask people in travel groups on Facebook, or even just chat to locals while you're out and about. Everything is researchable these days - even opinions of people on the other side of the world. And, if you really don't have time, just put the question out into the interweb before you fly and Google Maps each one from your hotel once you've arrived, finding the closest ones. Simples.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab that credit card and get booking! The August bank holiday is a-coming...

 

Here are five beautiful beaches for the Insta-novice (and then some)

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea...

Yes, I really do. For someone who hates the idea of deep water, or even lying in the bathtub, it is strange how at home I feel on the beach. If I could sit at the base of the waves all day, just watching and listening for hours, I would be constantly smiling (rather than exuding my resting bitch face 24/7).

My home desktop, my phone lock screen and my work computer all feature photos I've taken at various beaches on my travels. I'm not a photographer by ANY stretch of the imagination - I'm solely a words girl - but the following five beaches are my absolute favourites and actually photograph pretty well, even with me at the helm. Where is Cornwall on this list? The Caribbean? Chill people, we know they're great. This is my love letter to the less glorified beaches of my life <3

Brighton, England

My happy place. Just an hour away from London, I have created some amazing memories in this little seaside town. Brighton is full of colour and life, and is perfect for an impromptu day trip. I once headed to the sea, unaware that it was the Brighton Fringe Festival, and got to see some great art in open houses, as well as the WEIRDEST show I've ever attended. I still don't think I could accurately describe what we watched tbh.

Lovina Beach, Bali

Lovina Beach in Northern Bali had the calmest waters you could ever imagine. It felt like one huge, warm bath against my calves as we walked to the boat at 6am. I had a magical morning in this sea, sitting in a private boat watching the sunrise, following dolphins and observing tropical fish in their natural habitat.

Hvar, Croatia

Despite my love of sand, the rocky beaches of Hvar took my breath away. I did not expect the slice of paradise that is Croatia to even exist in Europe. Whether you choose to sunbathe on the rocks, on the pavement, or swim further into the water, the view of lush greenery, yachts and fishermen are unrivaled anywhere else in Europe (I'm sure).

Port of Naples Marina, Italy

Wade in if you like, but personally, I felt it was nicer to admire the sea from the sidelines, ideally with a bowl of fresh mussels, picked from the very water below. You can get some decent views from Castel Dell'Ovo (the Egg Castle), the resturants and cafes along the water front and from my personal fave, the city's sightseeing bus.

Gili Trawangan, Indonesia

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Gili Trawangan, also known as Gili T, is one of three Gili islands just off Lombok, and easily accessible from Bali, too. Notoriously a party island, my visit during the day was anything but raucous. Well, apart from that almost deadly boat trip home, but that's a different story... It really is paradise: white sands, clear AF water and palm trees. Pure heaven.

And, finally... the coastal walks of Sydney, Australia

Bonus round! During my time in Sydney, I went on two coastal walks: Bondi to Coogee and Manly to The Spit. The iconic Bondi is just the start of the amazing shorelines you'll see on the first walk, as you take in many beautiful bays and coves along the way. You even go through a rather pretty cliffside graveyard, which I promise isn't as weird as it sounds - it was serene! Manly to The Spit is even more amazing, albeit a solid 3 to 4 hours and through more bush than the first. As I was there in May, it was perfect walking weather and oh-so empty - perfect for great photo ops. 

What Bali taught me, other than how to cope with bugs

My trip to Bali last year was unlike any I'd taken before. For starters, it was the first time I'd had a layover in my life (and, for someone who is scared of flying, that was a BIG deal), but it was also the first time I'd been to Asia - somewhere that wasn't hugely Westernised - and it was quite a culture shock for me.

Looking back through photos, there are a lot of things I learned on that trip that I think we could do with integrating into our own lives in the UK. Of course, I know we all have our own traditions and ways of life - and I am very proud to be British - but these little takeaways stayed with me long after I touched down at Heathrow:

Be approachable

Try not to have a face like a slapped arse when you're in public - which can be hard when you have a natural resting bitch face, like mine. The Balinese people always seemed to have a smile on their face and would say hello as you passed them by. As a Londoner, I am naturally sceptical of strangers, but as the trip went on, I found myself sometimes even being the first to say hi when we passed someone in the street.  I felt at ease to go up to strangers and ask questions, too. Obviously, at home, the biggest test of this attitude is public transport behaviour. Instead of giving in to the knee-jerk reaction to look away when I catch someone's eye, instead I try to smile. Hell, on a coach to Norwich recently, I chatted to my seat neighbour for the full three hours and loved every minute of it. You may not always feel like it, but you can really make someone's - or your own - day. Oh, and Christine, if you're reading this, HEY!!

Be graceful

I described Ubud High Street as a mixture between a road in Delhi and Covent Garden's Neal Street in the post about my visit. The noise and the culture were fabulous, but what did start getting on my tits was the constant calling out of "taxi? taxi?" every three steps. Mate, you've just seen me say no to your buddy, and yet you ask again?! It really reminded me of those soap sellers in Covent Garden. However, unlike these street sellers, or our cold callers for that matter, they actually take no for an answer first time. They don't push you, try to convince you, or anything. Because of that, I now try to be more graceful with my rejections of street sellers. Everyone's got a job to do, eh.

Stay true to your faith

I'm not here to preach to anyone; it would be inappropriate, hypocritical and, well, it's not what you came here to read. However, the Balinese faith is unapologetically strong, but in a subtle way, and I really admired that. An example is on our day with Ketut, he repeatedly, and seemingly randomly, beeped his horn. 5am, 10am, 3:30pm; it didn't matter. When we asked him why, he explained that it is considered a sign of respect to beep everytime he passed a temple. He could see I wore a cross around my neck, but didn't say it in a way to minimise my faith, or act as if his was more superior. That might sound like just not being a dick, but you'd be surprised at how many religious and Athiest folk I come across daily who don't act in such a way.

Be kind to animals

Okay, so our Ubud hotel did do a mass bug spray at 10am every day, and I absolutely despised how dogs were treated in the country, but on the trip, I got to see a lot of animals in their natural habitat. While they didn't necessarily treat their animals with the same dignity that we do over here, my British self being in such close proximity to these animals gave me a whole new outlook. Even seeing schools of fish going about their business made me sad that I eat them. Seeing turtles, monkeys and other wildlife just roaming made me more conscious of my recycling (or lack thereof) and made me want to do better for them.

We travel to learn, right? Experience amazing things and escape from our mundane lives? Like with all my trips, I tried to soak in as much as possible, but it just so happened that this time, it had a longer lasting effect.

A handy guide to interrailing

For many youths, a well-known right of passage is heading off on a 'gap YAH' in between college/sixth form and university.

As you know, I'm a massive advocate for parring off daily life for a bit of travelling, however heading off on a gap year was not an option for me when I finished sixth form. Had I chosen to defer university for a year, I would have welcomed a substantially larger student loan into my life, following the... ahem... lovely Tories' decision to hike up university fees.

Not one to miss out though, my best mate and I planned a little interrailing trip for the September after graduation, so we could hold onto our university years for just a couple more weeks, before starting our careers in the real world.

We donned our backpacks and headed onto the trains of Europe, two incompetent map readers, excited for adventure. If you're thinking of doing the same, here are a few tips to bear in mind.

How to pack

Think hand luggage, but less. You're going to be lugging this suitcase/bag/backpack cross-country for HOURS on end. I opted for a rather large backpack (and, at just under five foot, it looked particularly large on me) that clipped around my chest and waist, while my best mate opted for a slightly smaller one, just over her shoulders. Both faired us well.

In terms of packing, you're only gonna have the bare necessities:

- Being "made up" is going to be more about a slap of lippy, rather than a full face of bronzer, blusher and the like, before you get any Kylie Jenner ideas. Also, get teeny tiny toothpaste, shampoo sachets, and basically miniature everything.

- Roll clothes to make them as small as possible, packing just over the right amount of underwear for each night, but only half the outfits - try and keep it to around three bottoms, and maybe six, or seven, tops that you can wear on rotation, and mix and match.

- Choose fabrics that you can easily wash in a sink and that dry easily, just in case you need to give 'em a rinse at any point.

- Your main bag should hold a smaller day bag and muchos plastic bags (for dirty/wet stuff), and everything in your bag can act as a buffer for souvenirs. Somehow, we managed to carry porcelain masks from our second stop in Venice all the way home, keeping them in one piece.

- Spray deodorant IS YOUR FRIEND.

- My friend also had the smart idea of bringing non-perishable snacks, which are great for in between meals, or late night snackage.

- Chances are, you'll be traveling with a fair bit of dollar on you. Split up your pennies into different parts of your bag and, also, ALWAYS keep some, along with your passport and EHIC, on your person. See if you can get one of those money cards, if you're not taking your credit card with you (though you may need it for proof of ID at your hotel). We also had a little book where we noted down our hotel info and key phrases in the different languages.

Be mindful of the check-in and check-out times of your hotels/hostels/b&bs. If you have a particularly early check-out, or particularly late check-in, you may end up lugging your bags about on your sightseeing adventures for a bit. It's worth finding out if you can store your stuff anywhere, for example, at the lockers in Gare Du Nord in Paris.

View from the train between Austria and Switzerland

View from the train between Austria and Switzerland

Trains

Obviously, when interailling, trains are a massive part of the whole shebang. Unfortunately, unlike the Interrail Pass would have you believe, it isn't as simple as just buying the pass and heading on your way. Boo.

On the Interrail website, you'll find a comprehensive list of the rail services across Europe that partake in the Interrail initiative (click here to go directly to the PDF). South Londoners, you'll be pleased to know Southern Rail isn't on the list (lolololol). For the ones that do take part, yes, all you'll need to do is buy the pass, and fill it out with your intended destination before you set off on that leg of the journey (make sure you do fill it out before you step on the train, though, otherwise you could get fined by a ticket inspector).

Don't fret if you require a train that doesn't appear on this list, though. It just means you a) may need to buy a separate ticket, or b) need to buy a ticket AND make a reservation. Erm, why am I going to pay MORE money after the pass, I hear you ask? Well, the majority of local and international trains you will take are covered once you hit the continent, but the additional costs you incur will be things like overnight trains. Avoid these and avoid fees. Seriously; avoid night trains like the plague, if you can. Our first train journey, Eurostar aside, was the overnight train from Paris to Venice. I had visions of The Tourist - that 2010 film with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie - as we boarded the train to make the same journey. Ah, cute, they have little cabins. Hmmm, sweet, the lounging sofas turn into beds. Err, shite, it's a bit claustrophobic. OH FUCK, BED BUGS. Mmmhmm. That's how it went down over the course of 14 hours.

Our beds for the night... (Paris to Venice train)

Our beds for the night... (Paris to Venice train)

Bonus, the tickets did come with pillows and blankets, and the rocking to sleep was quite soothing. That free-falling feeling you get when you're overtired, but actually happening in real life because of the train stopping? Not so much.

Hotels vs hostels

After the journey to Venice, we were SO grateful to be in a proper bed for the night. There is a common misconception that to travel 'properly', you have to slum it. Nah, mate. Not for us. And it doesn't have to be for anyone else either. The hotel in Venice was a simple 3-star abode, but we found it to be more than satisfactory. Scratch that actually - it was great! Staying in 3-star accommodation keeps costs down (so you can spend on actual experiences) and the majority put on breakfast as part of your room cost. You only need a base anyway, because you're out exploring all day, but you don't have the worries, or the reservations, of staying in a hostel.

That said, though, we stayed in two hostels while on our trip: one in Switzerland and one in Paris. The one in Switzerland was on Lake Brienz and the only accommodation we could find that didn't cost an arm and a leg. We spent an hour looking for it in the rain to find that, actually, we had passed it about ten times - I told you: we were not good with maps! Once inside, there was such a good vibe. The rooms and bathrooms were SPOTLESS and the staff were so friendly and helpful. Our time in Brienz was so restful (and so picturesque); I cannot recommend the village and the hostel enough.

Now, Paris... slightly different story. I love the capital of France SO MUCH but, let me tell you, that love ceases with its hostels. The last night of our trip was spent in the noisiest, dirtiest place I've ever laid my head (and you read about that train ride above). For someone who is known to be unable to get into bed without showering first, whether drunk, sober or physically maimed, I vetoed stepping in that shower, even WITH FLIP FLOPS. It was nassssssssty. Defo go hotel in Paris. Or b&b. Our b&b in Innsbruck was so lovely. You get your own room, but just had to share a toilet and (very clean) shower room.

Beautiful Brienz

Beautiful Brienz

Must dos

We did SO MUCH on our travels, but my personal highlights include the following:

- Generally just being in Venice, Italy: I had wanted to go to Venice for years. I love water and love Italy, so a combo of the two was perfection. We ended up getting so lost at one point, but the city was just so perfect and picturesque that it didn't matter. Well, it kind of did because we had a boat tour booked, but we just blagged our way onto another one later that day. Don't listen when people say it smells. We were there in the midst of a September heatwave and it didn't smell at all.

- The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, France: Kimye spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend part of their wedding celebrations there and I can see why. The Palace of Versailles was exquisite and it was nice to get out of central Paris for a while (again, note that you'll need to buy a Metro ticket for that trip).

- Heading to the zoo in Innsbruck, Austria: Heading to the highest zoo in Europe was exciting in itself, as we passed all the huge coloured houses on our way. What I loved about Innsbruck as a whole was the feeling I got from the mountains that towered over wherever you stood. It felt like we were protected in a (massive) cove. The zoo itself was quite blase about their Health and Safety, but I loved it as you could get pretty close to the animals.

- The train ride between Austria and Switzerland: Just look at the beautiful view above! Like the train in Oslo, it pees all over the Central Line.

I could go on for hours and hours, and thousands and thousands of words, about my interailling trip, but it's commendable that you've got this far! If you have any questions about interrailing, or need any tips, just hit me up.

Scared of flying? Here's how to actually survive long-haul travel

What do you fear? Is it spiders? The dark? Being perpetually trapped in Oxford Circus tube station at rush hour?

I fear flying. Which, you know, is great and everything for someone who travels every two or so months, and wants to hit as many countries as poss before she’s dead. Awks.

Well, to be more specific, I fear the feeling you get when the plane takes off, drops, or lurches. That kind of free-falling feeling you get when a plane moves in any direction that isn’t straight. 

In May, I’ll be taking my longest flight to date - to Australia. And unlike on the flight to Bali, I won’t have a buddy to hold my hand or soothe me at any slight movements. Freaking out? Yeah, a bit. 

Having searched my brain, the internet, and my friends for any advice that isn’t OD on G&Ts or “distract yourself” (IT DOESN’T WORK, PEOPLE), here are a few non-bullshit ways to get through the flight and to whatever beautiful country you're heading to in one, non-nervous wreck piece.

Find your comfy place
I find the most 'comfortable' way to endure the tummy drop is to be sat forward in my chair, shaking one leg up and down while holding onto the armrest, or a (long-suffering) family/friend's hand. While I may actually look like I'm having a nervy b as my leg bobs up and down, I'm actually focusing on moving my knee to a beat only I can hear.

Centre yourself
“If there's turbulence, place your feet flat on the ground. And, instead of focusing on the shaking, take deep breaths and notice how your feet are still and never move. It helps with the feeling of being out of control,” says Emily, my lovely ex-housemate who is one of the reasons I’ll be getting on this long-arse plane to Australia in the first place.

Sleep whenever you can
Food > sleep (well, just), so usually I don’t mind too much if I’m woken up when food is involved. However, not on a plane. If you're lucky enough to bag a window seat, or you're sat next to someone who doesn't mind straddling your unconscious body when they want to head to the loo, food is technically the only time you have to be awake during the flight. Don't worry about jet lag or adapting to the new time zones when you arrive at your destination; that's ground-you's problem. Plane-you, enjoy the quick passing of time that comes with being in the land of nod as much as physically possible. If wine, Kalms, or something heavier (head to the docs for some sort of sedative) helps, then load up, baby. 

Don't give yourself anything extra to worry about
"Organisation is my tip. A mobile phone that works, a printed version of where your staying and the route of how to get there from the airport. That kind of stuff gives me peace of mind to just sit, relax, watch a few movies and fly," says Jess, who has flown all over Oz, Europe, and some bits of Asia in the last few years.

Keep flying!
Which sounds like an unhelpful “face your fear” comment, but it genuinely does get better. I bet my mum would never have thought that that 15-year-old who grasped her hand so tight and went green in fear on a short haul flight to Spain would routinely fly on her own, let alone consider putting down her own hard earned cash to do it for 21 hours... (f***. I need to not focus on this part :|) Yes, there have been many flights since where I have grasped for my friend's/flatmates'/personal trainer's hand at take off, but there have equally been many times where I was sat next to strangers and didn't have this comfort blanket. 

And, until this day comes, like I said earlier, there are always sedatives. Or wine.

How to survive camping if you're a bit of a princess

Last year, I went to my first ever festival. Hell, it was the first time I had ever camped in my life. I was never a Brownie, or a cadet, and as an adult, I am more of a hotel than a tent kind of gal.

I am the last person my friends or family would ever expect to go to a festival, but with a new "just say yes" attitude, free tickets from work and a trusting friend, I headed to the Isle of Wight 2016. And guess what? I actually had the best three days; it's a strong contender for my best weekend of last year. So, after a second visit this year, and amidst festival season, here's how to survive a festival when you're a bit of a princess:

Choose wisely
Choose the festival wisely. Isle of Wight has a nice, chilled crowd, the music is varied and, perhaps most importantly, the mud isn't too bad. It's probably best to start with one like this, if you're not after a baptism of fire. Holy water? Holy mud wash, more like.

Embrace it all
You have to embrace your surroundings for what it is. And 5* luxury accommodation it isn't, even in the VIP section. Once you make peace with the fact your shoes will get muddy, the toilets will smell, and lose yourself in the notion that it doesn't really matter what time it is, you will have fun. The first thing I did was don my wellies (you'll care less about mud then), pack a small bag with cleanliness essentials and stuff I would hate to be stolen (phone, keys, glasses) and set up the tent with my sleeping bag. That way, I know I will have everything I will need with me at all times, and any worry will melt away.

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Tent
Try and get to the site during the day, so you're not attempting to put a tent up in the dark. Last year was the first time my friend or I had ever put up a tent and we did pretty well! It may have taken us the best part of an hour, and we may have had a smidgen of help from the owner of the tent (over the phone) and our tent neighbour, but it stayed sturdy for the whole three days. The same can't be said for the tent our friends put up for us this year. Arriving at dusk, they put up the tent, which promptly fell down while they were in the main arena. Cue hours of walking, a plea to the police and a night in the welfare tent! Thankfully, they found it and put it back up, ready for our arrival.

Pitch up not too close to the path, near - but not too near - a toilet, and close to something that you'll remember when it's dark, you're drunk and there are a million tents. Last year was a tent with a large flag on top, this year was a sign that said: "purple 1" and two orange tents in quick succession.

Pack strategically
Ain't nobody got time for two pulley suitcases and a holdall. Bear in mind you're going to be on grass, if not mud, so carry your stuff in a backpack or a holdall. A word to the wise: don't carry a bag on one shoulder. You will have to walk for a while, whether it's along the pier from the ferry or through the car park, and that shiz gets painful! It's not the weight, but rather the thinned strap pushing into your shoulder. Also, carry a smaller bag that you can wear once you leave your tent.

The main items, aside from wellies, tent and sleeping bag that you will need are:

- Plastic bottles (either to fill with water or alcohol to consume in the campsite area. No glass bottles are allowed).
- Wipes - this is your toilet roll, your shower, your glitter remover, your mud decruster. Bring a big pack of baby wipes to leave in the tent, and a handbag sized one to carry around with you.
- Hand sanitiser - good for your life and sanity.
- An old phone that has an incredible battery life, or your normal phone popped on airplane mode. If you do the former, make sure you have an emergency contact saved, as well as the numbers of the people you're with. 
- Double the amount of socks you think you'll need.
- A spare outfit, along with one for each day.
- Lots of plastic bags - these become bins, keep things dry if it rains, and generally come in handy.
- Spray deodorant - which can double as perfume.
- Lippy and hair bobbles: pop your hair back for the weekend and dress up your face with some lippy.
- A light jacket that can be easily tied around your waist, but will keep you warm in the evening and can double as a mat when you sit on the ground.
- Plastic cups - you can drink out of them, brush your teeth into them, and make some arts and crafts, if you're feeling particularly boho.
- If you're a contact lens wearer, opt for daily wear ones, rather than monthlies. Your hands are no where near as clean as they are at home, and you don't need an eye infection to go with your three day hangover at the end of the weekend.

Food
To save money, bring breakfast stuff that will store well (like breakfast bars, or cereals if you like cereal without milk) and lots of water. Bring any alcohol, poured into plastic bottles, but be mindful that you'll only be able to drink it at your tent. 

The rest of your meals can be bought from the many many stalls. In my opinion, the food is quite expensive, but the drinks are London prices. Opt for stodgy foods if you don't want to spend too long on those portaloos...

Festivals are a great way to escape, so I can't say enough: go, go, GO!

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How to prep for a long-haul trip without freaking the F out

Once the flights have been booked and the hotel paid for, you can get properly excited for a holiday. It's now a solid plan and not just a flash-in-the-pan, kinda-something-I-wanna-do idea anymore. But when you're going cross-continent there is a lot to consider...

Going to a brand new continent, filled to the brim with food, people and cultures you have never encountered before is exciting. But, how are you actually getting there? I don't mean by plane, train or automobile (lol, if you're going to a different continent by the latter two, good luck), but rather, what do you need to do in order to prepare for a long-haul trip?

I'm preparing for a trip to Bali in April and, having never been to Asia before, it's a minefield and a half. I am SO excited, but a lot more prep is going into this trip than a standard weekend away to Europe.

Here is a little checklist to make sure your preparation is as smooth as freshly shaved, beach-ready legs:

Use your friends
"It's all London, baby!" If, like me, you live in this multi-cultural city, chances are you have made friends from all corners of the Earth, who will have a wealth of knowledge you can fully exploit. The amount of information I've asked of my friend from Malaysia, who has traveled all across Asia, is unreal. From water quality to estimated taxi prices, it saves on SO MUCH Googling and you may find some extra little nuggets of info that you wouldn't have got online.   

Connecting flight?
There are a few things to consider. Firstly, check the layover time. Anything over four hours can be a drag, especially if the stay is overnight. One friend spent 7 hours overnight in a Greek airport, which could have easily been avoided for an additional £50. Unless, ya know, you're open to splashing out even more on a hotel, once you inevitably given up on those rock hard airport chairs. A comfy bed, they do not make. 

If you do have a long daytime layover, see if you can do a bit of sightseeing. Have a Google: check if the city is easily accessible from the airport and if you need a visa to enter the country (i.e. leave the airport). If the answer is yes to the first and no the second, grab your camera and venture outside of terminal 2.

Lastly, check the suitcase limit on both flights. On large international flights, the accepted weight may exceed the amount allowed on your smaller connecting flight and you will run into additional charges. This can easily be done online during, or after, booking. 

Jabs
Some countries recommend you receive certain injections before travelling to specific regions. For example, when staying by a rice field for a long period of time in Bali, it is recommended you get your jabs for Japanese Encephalitis (that is not some sort of STI, FYI). Some injections are required at least a month, or two, before you travel, so give yourself some time and do your research.

It's worth booking an appointment with your doctor to chat through what they recommend, as they can give some pretty good advice. My doctor advised not to pick up my prescription for a particular injection until two hours before my appointment, and not to listen to the chemist if they advise I just pop it in my fridge at home.

Also, see if you can find out what injections you had at school. If you're in your early 20s, you may still be covered by the tetanus and diphtheria jabs you had in your Year 8 assembly hall.

Liquids    
Bask in the glory of being free from those pesky, carry-on only liquid restrictions. It's hard enough sticking to the under 100ml rule already, let alone being a make-up wearing woman. Try being a contact lens-wearing asthmatic who loves good nails, bright lips and soft skin. Its like a game of Tetris and, sometimes, somethings gotta give (sorry shampoo, its gonna be a 'hair up all holiday' kind of trip).

Post-conditioner and toothpaste, head to the chemist and grab mosquito spray, Savlon, anti-septic gel and hand sanitiser. These little bottles will come in SO handy, even if you do end up smelling of lemon all holiday. Better that than being eaten alive and getting Malaria, eh. 

Beware of the time difference
Speaking of meds, a little tip for right before the trip: if you take the pill, prepare some alarms on your phone. The time difference will f up your pill taking, and therefore your cycle. Obviously, when you're fifty thousand feet in the air with your phone on airplane mode, God knows what the actual time is. Set your alarm for 24 hour intervals, taking into consideration when your phone will automatically change time zones, once you've landed. 

Happy planning!