Saturday, 20 July 2019

15 Essential Travel Tips From a (Vaguely) Seasoned Traveller

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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!