Saturday, 20 July 2019

15 Essential Travel Tips From a (Vaguely) Seasoned Traveller

This post contains affiliate links.

I wouldn't say I've been to lots of places in my life, but I've travelled enough to have learned from any mistakes and nail down a system. Going away can be daunting and a little stressful, so the last thing you want is to be pulling onto the hard shoulder on the M11 at 5am in the morning because you've forgotten your passport... ahem.

Some of these tips might be obvious to you, but they're all helpful to remember.

1. Roll your clothes instead of folding them. It prevents creases and gives you a lot more room in your suitcase.

2. Take an extension lead so you only need one travel adaptor. Yay, plenty of plug sockets!

3. Unless you forget. In which case, if you're still struggling for plug sockets, you can always try charging electronics using the USB port found in the back of a TV. Genius.

4. Take a portable phone charger. I use this one from Amazon and it's never let me down. It's small and lightweight, too.

5. Get yourself a foreign currency card! I use Revolut, but there are lots of other companies you can go with. I like Revolut because it comes with an easy-to-use app, where you can see all of your transactions, exchange currencies and keep an eye on exchange rates in real-time, enable and disable security settings as you wish such as contactless and online payments, and much more. It also means you're not carrying large quantities of cash. Although if anyone wants to give me a large quantity of cash to carry, I would not complain.

6. Take an empty water bottle through security so you can fill it up at a water fountain on the other side. Then you don't have to pay ££££ for water, and you're using less plastic.

7. When you book anything, from excursions to even your flights, search Google for a promo code first. You can often get a discount on your booking, and who doesn't love a saving?

8. If you're struggling with the liquid allowance, one thing you can do (aside from buying essentials when you land) is to swap toothpaste for toothpaste tablets, as these are not a liquid and so they can go in your normal luggage. You could also swap liquid shampoo for a shampoo bar, and instead of using a spray-on deodorant, you could use a roll-on. These are more eco-friendly, too!

9. To stop jewellery from getting tangled in your luggage, put each end of a necklace or bracelet in a drinking straw, and then do it up. This prevents the two sides from tangling together. I didn't come up with this one but it's pretty damn good.

10. If you're staying in an AirBnB, ask your host for recommendations and live like a local.

11. Buy a portable luggage scale! They're tiny and it saves any awkward unpacking at the check-in desk...

12. Go to Google Maps and download a map of your local area for use offline, so when you're away from WiFi, you don't get lost and your map is always ready to use. Of course, you could buy a physical map, but that's another thing taking up room in your bag. (And it's extra effort, lets be honest.)

13. At the end of your trip, if you have a fair amount of loose change left and you don't want to keep it, donate it to a homeless person or leave it as a tip. No point taking it home if you don't want it - you might as well brighten someone's day instead.

14. Use Seat Guru to find the best plane seats. You don't want to book a seat with a broken TV screen or no plug socket.

15. Take a pen with you! You never know when you might need one. Depending on where you're going, you might need to complete a customs form, and flight attendants aren't going to have enough pens for everyone. In that situation, a pen is like gold.

What are your top travel tips?

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Italy: Day 5 | Vatican City and the Baths of Caracalla

Welcome to the last post in my Italy series! Click here to read the previous post.

On Thursday morning we visited the Vatican City. We had already booked tickets online, which included skip-the-line access to the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel. Skip-the-line access is a must because the lines are hours long otherwise.

When we hopped off the tram, we were immediately accosted by some dude in a hat with a map, so basically Dora the Explorer but male. He immediately told us he wasn't going to sell us anything and he just wanted to show us where to go, so, like, fine. And then he somehow tricked Alex into upgrading our tickets for €79 so that we could go on a guided tour, with skip-the-line access... I kept telling them we already had that but no one listens to me. I could've just thrown €79 down the shitter, it would've been quicker, but hey ho! Moral of the story: just walk away. Don't even enter into a conversation because that's how they trap you. Rome is FULL of people like this - more so, I would say, than London, or Paris, or any other big cities I've visited. Just walk away.
Saturday, 6 July 2019

Italy: Days 3 & 4 | Climbing Mount Vesuvius and Taking an Authentic Pizza Class

Welcome back to my series of posts from Italy! Click here to read the first post.

On Tuesday we got the train to Naples, before getting a coach to a little way up Mount Vesuvius, mainland Europe's only active volcano. Guys, it was terrifying. We had to reverse down the mountain whenever another coach came towards us. BUT ANYWAY.

Climbing Mount Vesuvius is physically the hardest thing I've ever done. It was burning hot with no shade, I only had a little water left, and the climb was much steeper than I had anticipated. Plus, you're not just walking on concrete, you're trudging through ash for a solid 30-40 minutes.

The views were worth it though, even if I did have to keep stopping to die a little bit.

That's the crater! Once we got down, I immediately purchased an ice cream. If you can't have an ice cream after climbing a volcano, when can you?

Back in Rome, we did a couple of little bits we wanted to see, like the Trevi fountain and the Spanish Steps, before heading back to the house.

My god, the pickpockets were in full force here, as expected. Immediately after taking these photographs, we actually got chased away by some random dude who I very nearly told to fuck off. Storytime: in tourist-y places around Rome, you'll get men holding lots and lots of roses to give to 'beautiful girls' aka tourists they know they can trap into giving them money. Lo and behold, one of them came up to me and tried to shove three roses into my bag. Rather convenient, innit, that he wanted to put them very close to my phone and purse rather than, y'know, hand them to me. In the end, he did end up handing them to me because I pushed his hand away from my bag. He was like, you're a beautiful girl, it's a gift, it's a gift! *turns to Alex* Three euro. You want your girlfriend to have flowers, yes? YOU WANT HER TO HAVE ROSES. THREE EURO.

Chill out, bro.

So we told him we had no money. Obviously we did have money, but we're not stupid. I genuinely had to tell him this twelve times. So instead of asking for three euros, he asked for 'just a little something'. Dude, what part of no do you not understand? Then he literally reached around to Alex's back pockets (aka his actual BUM) to try and find his wallet. Da fuq?! All the while, I was trying to put the roses back in his hand but he was refusing to take them. In the end I said, look, I don't want these, I'm going to put these over here and we're going to leave. I walked a short distance and put the roses on a ledge, and we started to walk off ONLY FOR THE DUDE TO RUN AFTER US FOR AN UNCOMFORTABLE AMOUNT OF TIME.

Actually stressful. Oh, I forgot, before he started asking for money he asked if we wanted him to take our photo on Alex's iPhone. I very firmly said no thank you THREE TIMES and he took offence. I'm not going to take your phone! Okay but if you have to tell someone you're not going to steal something, you probably are.

Ugh, right, rant over. Pillock.

Wednesday! Wednesday was very chilled. We had booked an authentic pizza-making class at a restaurant, where we were in a group with six other people. We were given snazzy aprons and chef hats, and we got to make pizza from scratch, the proper way. It was really fun, our guide was funny and my pizza was delicious. I definitely recommend doing something like this, because it covers lunch or dinner, and it gets you out of the sun for a while. You can also do pasta-making classes!

After that, we visited the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary. After the excavation of some temple ruins, 150 feral cats took over and began to be fed by the locals. Obviously, with that kind of luxury treatment, they never left - and now it's a cat sanctuary! It's free to enter, but you can make donations, buy small items in the gift shop to support them, or you can even 'distance adopt' a cat to support its upkeep. I got to stroke so many cats! And look at this highly accurate graffiti!

Our next stop was the MAXXI architecture museum, mainly to see Paola Pivi's installation called 'World Record' - a gigantic mattress sandwich (yep, basically) which forces the audience to lie down, crawl about, and be playful. It was very comfy (and the rest of the museum was cool too.)

Check back next Saturday to see our trip to the Vatican City!

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Italy: Days 1 & 2 | Visiting the Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

This post contains affiliate links.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Italy for the first time! Our trip was from Sunday to Friday, and we stayed in an AirBnB in Rome for the whole week. However, we also had two day trips in which we visited Pisa and Naples.

I've actually never holidayed in a warm country. I went to Paris last summer but that was only for 3 days including travel. This was a whole other ballgame, as I soon found out...

Monday, 20 May 2019

Her Majesty's Garden Party 2019

One day as a kid I went to see Buckingham Palace. It had been a long day, my feet were in shreds, and I walked down the road at the side of the palace barefoot, exhausted from sightseeing. It then dawned on me that the wall on my left was the Queen's wall, and on the other side of those bricks was her private garden. As a child, that idea seemed magical. There was another day, quite a few years before that, where children across the country were encouraged to enter a competition to win an invite to the Queen's birthday party. I entered, and I was desperate to win -- but I didn't, obviously.

Fast forward to 15th May 2019, aged 20, and I finally got to see the other side of the wall at Her Majesty's garden party. Say whaaaaaat. (To be clear, I'm not cool enough to be properly invited by the Queen; I was just tagging along with my boyfriend and his mum, who had actually been invited to attend.)

Dress: Paper Dolls | Fascinator: ASOS | Bag: Michael Kors | Jewellery: Ted Baker | Shoes: *shrug*

We entered through the back of the garden, meaning we got to wander around the rather lavish grounds to get to the main lawn you see in all the pictures and on TV. Weirdly, as soon as we stepped through the gate, the air changed, and I'm not shitting you, it smelled royal. Gone was the London pollution, replaced with the freshest air I have ever smelled?! And I actually live in the countryside. Maybe they have fresh air pumped in.

The Queen, although in residence at the palace, was in a meeting all day with international dignitaries, and so didn't attend the party. Instead she was represented by Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, and Princess Anne, and we were so close to them! There were 8,000 guests so I had only expected to see maybe one of them from a distance -- not all of them up close.

I will never ever ever have cake as nice as the cake I had there and that makes me sad. Guys, it wasn't even Waitrose standard, it was above. I'm aware that that makes me sound like a peasant but, like, I shop at Aldi; I don't usually move in rich circles. Also, I'm pretty sure the apple juice was pressed from a thousand apples. Very apple-y.

Anyway, it was the most amazing and surreal day, and I really, really enjoyed it. (And I didn't have a panic attack, yay.) Amazingly, there were four of these parties, with approximately 30,000 guests in total!

Have you ever been to one of Her Majesty's garden parties?

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Gringotts Wizarding Bank at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London

Disclosure: I was given complimentary tickets by Warner Bros. to attend the launch but I have not been paid for any of the following content.

A few weeks ago Warner Bros. kindly invited me to the launch of their new addition to the Harry Potter studio tour: Gringotts Wizarding Bank! I first visited the studios a few months after they opened in 2012, and back then it was fairly small. My next visit in 2015 was a little bigger... and my visit after that in 2017 was bigger still...

But this time, they've really outdone themselves. Driving into the car park, I barely recognised the place, and if you haven't been in the last couple of years, you won't either. Not only have they added more parts to the tour, like the Hogwarts Express and Gringotts, but they've completely re-done the outside, and the foyer is all new, too.
Saturday, 4 May 2019

Tour My Collaborative Travel Journal

Last Christmas, I got a large Moleskine sketchbook which I had asked for with the intention of making it into a travel journal. However, I had a slight problem in that I'm not very good at art journalling. The fact that I'm not good at it means I don't enjoy it. But making a travel journal was something I really, really wanted to do - so I enlisted my mum, an artist, to collaborate on it with me. I decided that she would do the backgrounds - well, most of them - and I would do the decorating. I was much happier with it that way, and I love what we've created so much that I thought I would share with you the travel journal so far...

I really like our arrangement. I'll tell my mum which page is next, and if I have a colour scheme or any ideas in mind, and the rest is up to her. Then I'll stick bits and pieces in, work on the typography, and generally finish it off. Our house might as well be an art shop, so I'm lucky in that there's no shortage of supplies...!

Follow my mum on Instagram @ZoeFordCreates.

What's your favourite page?

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Why I Loved 'Fierce Fragile Hearts' by Sara Barnard

I have loved Sara Barnard's books since before her debut even hit the shelves, and now she is one of the UK's best YA authors. These days, I (very, very, very sadly) don't have time to read as much as I would like to, but of course I made time for the sequel to Barnard's first novel! Here's why I loved Fierce Fragile Hearts, Sara Barnard's latest.
Saturday, 20 April 2019

48 Hours in Copenhagen, Denmark

Back in March, I saw an advert on Facebook for an app called LuckyTrip. (Before I go any further, I should probably tell you that this isn't sponsored and I have no affiliation with them at all.) Essentially, you put in your budget and the dates that you would like to go away - unless you're not tied down to a time, in which case they'll pick dates for you - and then you tap a button and, voila, a full package holiday has been picked out just for you. I was enjoying just tapping the 'lucky' button endlessly, seeing what was about, not really planning to book anything.

And then I saw a night away in Copenhagen for £60, flights and accommodation included. Reader, I booked that shit.

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Pigs, Norfolk

The Pigs is an independent luxury spa with accommodation on the Norfolk coast. I've seen it pop up as a competition prize in my Facebook feed a few times over the last couple of years, and after not winning any of them, I thought y'know what, I'm just gonna book it. (I'm an advertiser's dream, apparently.)

Many of you will know that I live in Norfolk. Despite living here, we actually used to camp on the North Norfolk coast once or twice a year throughout my childhood, which I loved, so going anywhere near the coast always feels like a holiday to me and is full of memories. That said, it's been a long time since we holidayed here. We started camping in Cornwall instead, and then I got older and started travelling other countries rather than other counties. Because of that, it was really nice to stay so close to home again -- not far away, so no stressful travel, but far enough to feel suitably 'away' from everything.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Travelling to New York City on a Budget

I was brought up to get the best value for my money. I'd like to think I'm good at it, and when I'm booking a holiday, it can take me an entire day - maybe even two - plonked in front of my laptop, hunting for the best deals, scrolling through endless reviews, and seeking the cheapest options (which are not always the worst!)

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Waffle House, Norwich

The Waffle House, 39 St Giles Street, Norwich, NR2 1JN

The Waffle House is intimate, understated, and blends into the street. You could be forgiven for walking past and completely missing it (I've done that several times even when that's where I'm actually meant to be going...) One thing that might stand out to you, though, is the queue of people that is almost always spilling out of the door.

This blog post might change your life.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

What does 'Academic' Really Mean? | Online Course Recommendations

Would you say you're academic? I didn't think I was until recently. When I was a kid, I didn't enjoy school for a number of reasons: I was bullied, the teachers were abusive, and education-wise it was certainly under-performing. When I left that school to become home educated for the next few years, I enjoyed the projects we did and the places we saw, but I didn't seem particularly academically driven (not that that is necessarily needed in home education, but maybe that's a blog post for another time.)

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Climbing the O2 Arena!

I'm adventurous but only a little. I like to leave my comfort zone sometimes but not too much. New experiences make me nervous even if I end up enjoying them. So when I was asked if I wanted to climb the O2 last summer... I didn't particularly, but I made the leap anyway.

My main worries were that I wouldn't be able to do it, or that I wouldn't be good enough, or that I'd lag behind everyone else, or make a tit of myself in some way. I'm petite, not very strong, I have anxiety, and I have issues with my knees, so climbing the O2 which is 52 metres high? Um...

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Ask Italian

I am a huge fan of Italian food, and I imagine that when I finally get to go to actual Italy I'll put on about 3 stone. For now though, while I'm stuck in the UK, my favourite Italian restaurant is most definitely Ask Italian.

I've been to Ask Italian a countless number of times, and the food has always been impeccable. My first visit was actually in Birmingham, when I met up with my friend Charli before going to see Lorde. We couldn't decide which delicious-sounding dessert to have, so we ordered a couple and split them both. That's the way to go, people, I'm telling you.
Saturday, 2 March 2019

How I Completely Re-branded My Blog

When I realised I was absolutely, 100%, no-going-back certain that I wanted to give my blog an overhaul, I knew it would be a massive job. The longer you blog, the more of a trail you have, and the more there is to change: from fairly easy things like the design and the URL, to the little things like changing your email address, your social media accounts, re-formatting everything, and much more.

Transforming The Mile Long Bookshelf to what we have today took me a couple of weeks. I had to...
Saturday, 23 February 2019

New York Diaries: Day 6

At last, the dreaded day arrived: our final few hours in New York. We packed, checked out of the apartment at 10:30am, and struggled across the city with our suitcases to put them in luggage storage for the day so we could fully enjoy ourselves.

Our first stop of the day was New York Public Library. You know me - how could I not go in a beautiful library given the chance?

Saturday, 16 February 2019

New York Diaries: Day 5

Thursday began with the Flatiron building, built to fit an accidental triangular gap in New York's grid system. Coincidentally, the Flatiron building is on the same street as an IHOP, and we just so happened to be there in time for brunch. INTERESTING. Not planned at all. 👀

After that, we did a bit of shopping. I had a look in Bath and Body Works (which in my opinion did not live up to the hype...), Victoria's Secret, and Century 21. Oh my god, Century 21. Why don't we have this in the UK? It's like T.K. Maxx but actually good! I got a Tommy Hilfiger jumper reduced from roughly $60 to $29.99 (£22) and a Michael Kors jumper down from $80 to $20 (approx. £14), as well as a couple of Christmas presents. I also went in a Target which was basically all of my dreams come true. Does anyone else obsess over foreign supermarkets when on holiday or is that just me?

Saturday, 9 February 2019

New York Diaries: Day 4

Let me take you back to 2011. My mum is an artist (you can snoop on her Instagram here) and that year, when I was thirteen, she submitted a piece of her work to The Sketchbook Project, run by Brooklyn Art Library. Along with lots of others, that sketchbook toured multiple countries, and we got to meet up with it when it was displaying at London's Southbank. However, that was the last time we saw it, as shortly after it returned to its permanent home in Brooklyn, NY, a place none of us ever planned to go.

Fast forward to 2018, a week from turning twenty years old, and - yep - I went to visit my mum's sketchbook! I always said that I would go and see it if I went to New York, and I did. It made me so happy to be able to do this for my mum who will never see it again, and I took loads of pictures for her so she could experience it as fully as possible.
Saturday, 2 February 2019

New York Diaries: Day 3

Welcome to the next post in my New York Diaries! Day 3 was Tuesday, and it was probably our busiest day. We began with the High Line, a 1.5-mile elevated urban park on a former railway track. We enjoyed the walk and the opportunity to see the city from a different angle. The four different lenses we had between us were also very pleased...
Saturday, 26 January 2019

New York Diaries: Day 1 & 2

Plane wing at sunset

Dudes, I did it: I went to New York! If you've been here since what I call the Golden Days of Blogging (cough, 2013) you'll know that I have always had an interest in the city and always dreamt of experiencing it for myself rather than through books and films. But there was a problem; well, several. 1) No one wanted to go with me, and I wasn't old enough to go alone. 2) Money. 3) Hello, fear of flying!

Yes, a fear of flying despite having never flown before. That'll be down to watching movies about plane crashes as well as an abundance of 9/11 documentaries when I was a kid. Thanks, past Amber.

But, come the end of 2017, the first two problems became less of an issue, and so... I did it. I booked it all. And on 14th October 2018, I got on that plane and I flew - horrifically, traumatically - to the Big Apple!
Monday, 21 January 2019

Feminists Don't Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis

Buy the book: Amazon | Waterstones | The Book Depository • Penguin, 2018

Feminists Don't Wear Pink and Other Lies by Scarlett Curtis drew me in by its cover. I know, I know, don't judge a book by its cover -- but I do, and I was bored as shite in Tesco, and a really nice shade of pink caught my eye from the shelf. My sudden need for it must've been pretty obvious because lo and behold there it was under my tree on Christmas Day: a glorious matte-pink hardback, pleasingly sized and satisfying to hold, with foil and bold lettering just daring you to argue with the women inside.
Sunday, 6 January 2019

Kew Gardens Light Trail | #ChristmasAtKew

How did you spend New Year? On New Year's Eve I had to be up at 5:45am for a nine-hour shift, which meant I promptly fell asleep at 9:30pm like the lightweight I am. Set an alarm though so I still woke up briefly enough to watch the London fireworks -- just. On New Year's Day we had tickets for the light trail at Kew Gardens, so after a lie-in and a Quorn sausage roll and Pringles for breakfast (I clearly don't give a shit about January's weight-loss culture) we headed out.
Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Well hello there, shiny new year. What am I going to do with you?

Parts of 2018 were a bit rubbish. My anxiety hit me over the head with a sledgehammer just when I thought it had left me alone completely, which led to me being signed off work for a couple of weeks. A knee injury I obtained last winter still hasn't healed, and having practically lived at the hospital this year seeing various physiotherapists and podiatrists, and even having an MRI, I'm wondering if it ever will. I fell out of love with blogging for a while, I had to go through two very unpleasant ordeals at work that I can't expand on here, and we had some sad family news.

But it's also been a great year. It took a while but I started to manage my anxiety again, and eventually I got back to work. I'm blogging again. I ticked off all the places on my travel wish list, having been to Brighton, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam and New York in 2018. I got over my fear of flying. The two incidents at work seem to be over, and I've really developed myself there, being given more responsibilities. More recently, I've started volunteering again, this time at a local food bank - increasingly important in today's political climate, and something I've always wanted to do but never got round to doing. I've also been working on driving in unfamiliar places, something I've struggled with for years. That one is going to take a while, though.