My Venice Trip !

IMG_20180120_100638_390Venice was that dream you never want to wake from. Enchanting, fascinating and drop dead gorgeous! Every corner you turn, you walk deeper into some real-life professional watercolour painting. It is everything and more that you saw while watching The Tourist featuring Angelina Jolie? (Please tell me you saw it?) It’s like no place I’ve ever been especially as there are canals intertwining throughout the whole city. Venice and Italy in general is so cultured and unique but yet Venice is incomparable to any other city in Italy. Each City has it’s own unique characteristic, Amalfi known for it’s beautiful cliff drives and beaches which encapsulates holiday makers from every part of the world! It’s fair to say you can’t flick through instagram without coming across the beautiful Italian landscapes, in particular Venice where the bright red, blue and yellow skies reflect on the town’s green rivers full of luxury beautiful gondolas. It’s almost like a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colourful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two……….which is all part of the fun and usually when you find the best parts of the city!

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Stansted Airport before our Flight

TIP: 3 days is enough time to spend in Venice,  a week would be far too long for me! Venice isn’t the place you go if you are looking for nightlife and a party trip, its relaxed and the best part of it is the scenery !

Getting There

Spend some time researching the airport you will fly into beforehand. I suggest flying into Marco Polo airport (Yes, this means not flying with Ryanair). You will be able to get 1 boat journey directly to the front door of your hotel and imagine rocking up on a boat from the airport? Globetrotter goals right there! I paid £25 return from London- Treviso Airport (TSF) and while it was cheap it meant a lot of transport was required on the other side and it became quite expensive!

Treviso is a small airport located 30 km from the city centre and receives regular charter flights. It is sometimes referred to as the San Giuseppe airport and although small, the arrivals hall contains a tourist information booth, bureau de change and three car hire companies – Hertz, Avis and Eurocar. There is also an ATM there too and I would suggest taking money out there as unless you are in the main shopping area of Venice we had to search for working ATMs. Definitely bring Euro with you. The exchange rate wasn’t good in Venice and there was only one place you could change money (Mark’s square).

If you do decide to fly with Ryanair to Treviso airport, you will pay €27 euro for 2 people  for the Ryanair bus to get over the bridge and that doesn’t even take you to the main part of Venice you will then need to pay €30 return for 2 people to get the ferry over to the main part of Venice! Don’t book your ferry from the bus station in Venice to the main part as it is cheaper to get it once you go to the ticket office in Venice!

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Transport

We noticed on day one, that nobody was checking our tickets while we entered the boat. We had one of those ‘ did we waste money on free transport moments?’

Well………..You can legally board Venice’s public transport without a ticket……as long as you immediately notify the boat personnel and buy a ticket on the spot. Otherwise, if the boat is “spot-checked” for tickets, you can be told you’ll have to pay hundreds of euros in fines. Make sure, too, that you always validate your tickets by running them through the small, yellow or white machines near the entrance.

If you would like to go to Burano from Venice take the number 12 ferry which is about 30 minutes and costs 15 euro return for one person! It is a tiny island but well worth the visit as all the houses are colourful and it’s a Kodak moment!

One thing we did wonder about Venice, is will we have to take a boat everywhere or will we be able to walk. Venice is a pedestrian’s city. Unless you’re taking water taxis or floating buses, you’ll be walking. You can cross the canals by foot using bridges or you can take a “traghetto” (a gondola) for 2 EUR. If you need to get to places that are a bit further or your feet need a break, the floating buses, or “vaporetto,” cost 7.50 EUR for a one way, one hour trip. A 1-day ticket is 20 EUR and a 7-day pass is 60 EUR.

Get the Venezia Unica Pass – If you are going to do lots of sightseeing, this pass will give you discounts to the top museums, tours, and attractions. It is priced to save you money when compared to buying separate tickets. You go online and pick out what you want to see ahead of time. The price varies depending on what you want to see.

Hotels

We stayed in one of the smallest luxury hotels of the world called The Liasiddi Palace! It was beautiful but we were slightly disappointed with it as you could hear others in the rooms around you and as we were not members of the Luxury hotels of the World group, they gave us the room without the canal view. Other than that, the beds were extremely comfortable, it was a 5 minute walk from St Mark’s Square and the staff were very friendly. If you are planning on travelling alone I would advise not to stay there as there are some very dark alley ways you will need to walk through to get there. It was 95 pound each for 2 nights and a 4 star hotel so we thought it was well worth it. Whatever you do don’t stay in the 3 star hotels in Venice, most of them looked so run down and had graffiti all over the walls. I feel like the 3 stars in Ireland are set to such a higher standard than the ones in Italy, France etc…

If you are looking for a more luxurious find, The Gritti Palace is one of the World’s most famous hotels. The majestic Gritti Palace is where history and culture are met with renewed Venetian style. A place of exceptional art and elegance, the restored Gritti Palace retains it’s reassuringly intimate and familiar feel. The Gritti is known for impassioned service, a delectable culinary experience and an intimate wellness haven. The reference point for the world’s elite at international city events such as the Biennale, Carnival and the Venice Film Festival.

 While walking around The Gritti Palace, you will find signed Photographs from Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Pitt etc.

While budget hotels can be found for as little as €65 per night, you’ll likely have to pay double that — or more — if you plan on staying right in the centre. Breakfast is usually included though. On Airbnb, you can find shared rooms starting around €20 per night or you can rent entire homes starting at €45  and up.  As we stayed in January, I’m sure the prices are so much more expensive in peak season June – September!

The Famous Gritti Palace! Visit for Tea and Biscotti for €10!

Outfits I packed

Italy is a very fashionable place so there is always that pressure to bring some pretty floral dresses. While waiting for our flight back to Venice I observed every group of tourists disembark from the planes (love people watching). Not one plane didn’t contain a passenger with a fedora style hat! ME being one of them haha! I loved wearing red in Venice as it stands out in pictures with the green canals ! Not that I planned it or anything, not that organised and everyone who knows me knows that I am so laid back! Which can sometimes be a bad thing! Bring nice comfortable shoes as you will be walking over so many bridges!

 

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Jacket: Missguided

Dress: Missguided

Hat: H&M

 

 

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Restaurants

Sitting down at a cafe in Venice costs more than anywhere else in Italy

You may have heard this before: Anywhere in Italy, when you sit down with that coffee at a cafe or bar, the price goes up. If you drink the same coffee, and eat the same cornetto, standing at the counter, the price is lower. (That’s why you’ll see so many Italians eating at the counter).

On the first night we had a tasty meal at Ristorante Alla Conchiglia. This was the best food we had in Venice. I got the seafood tagliatelle because I absolutely love seafood!! They also give you the right amount of food too. The food was great but unfortunately the service was a little bit slow and they were serving all the local people before us but I think you will get that in many places! Don’t let that put you off, I would definitely still go there!

Restaurant Cafe Saraceno- They were soooo friendly in this restaurant. The manager stood talking to us for 15 minutes telling me about his wife who is from Scotland. They were all smiling and the atmosphere here was buzzing. The only thing about this restaurant was it is very expensive and I eat small portions but even for me I was hungry after it! 13% service charge was included in the bill and 4 euro comporto fee too which made it very expensive although it was right under Rialto Bridge so that is probably why!

I would say Don’t eat at Piazza San Marco – This is the area with the most tourist, hence making it much more expensive. Avoid eating here at all costs, not matter how tempting the cafe patios might be.

Near The Liasiddi Palace you will find the Crazy Bar cafe where we had breakfast one morning. Right across from that café you will find a restaurant that has pizza for €6 and very cheap main meals!! If you are hoping to save a bit of money you should definitely go there! I cant remember the name of the restaurant I think it was called Trattoria Dalla Marisa!

 

Tourist Attractions

1. Rialto BridgeIMG_20180120_134240_504

The oldest bridge on the Grand Canal and is one of the famous picture taking spots in Venice. There are little tourist shops all across the bridge. I don’t care much for the tourist shops, but it’s a fun place to take some pictures and get a great view of the canal. You will also see (and probably go under) this bridge if you take a Grand Canal Tour.

2. Gondola Ride or Water Taxi

 We absolutely loved the gondolas. It was an expensive 30 minute journey for 40 euro each but it was a good experience.
 
 
 

3. Saint Mark’s Basilica!

Probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Venice, and it is a must. The architecture alone is enough to go and just stare at, but even better–you can go inside! Oh, and did I mention–it’s FREE. We love when we get to do cool stuff for free. There was a small line, but it only took us about 5 minutes to get inside…so don’t let the line scare you away.
4. St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)
It really is a breath-taking scene. Take time to stop and admire the architecture and enjoy some people watching. No matter what time of the year, this place will be bustling with tourists–so if you don’t like large crowds you may need to hurry through this one, but it’s definitely worth a stop.
5. Scala Contarini del Bovolo
This round tower with great views of Venice is tricky to find! Google Maps won’t bring you to it but it will bring you to a small square garden area and you will need to walk through the archway and take a right, then turn left and about 300m on the left there is a small sign pointing left to show you where it is. This information won’t make sense now but it will when you are there, trying to find it. We asked a local lady and she walked with us to show us where it was even though she wasn’t going there. It was so kind of her. I definitely found people in Venice a lot more friendly than locals in Amalfi but it might have been due to the time of year. There were less tourists in January!!
6. Burano (A Must!) Burano is known for its colourful, block-like buildings. The government actually regulates house-painting on this island so the place retains its charm and history. Wander the streets and admire the many art galleries and shops along the way.26814867_10215404687053222_2482254534239307_n
7. Visit Murano Island – Close to Venice, nearby Murano island is the tourist trap home of the famous glass blowers of the famous Murano glass. Although the island is filled with expensive souvenirs (avoid buying anything on the island!), it can still be an educational and fun afternoon learning and watching how the glass is blown.
8. See the Venice Carnival – This is ten days and nights of masquerade madness in February before Lent is quite the party. This tradition goes back centuries and is one of the biggest parties and festivals in Italy. If you have the funds, you can even pay to attend a traditional masquerade ball. Make plans early as the entire city becomes packed and very expensive but it’s a once in the lifetime experience. We just missed the Carnival it is happening next week and I came back from Venice yesterday! Gutted!!
Please let me know if this helps you during your trip to Venice and don’t forget to use my hashtag in your photos so I can see what you get up to!!! #irishtravelkid
Zweena xx

New York

New York!! WOW what can I say about it, there is so much to say! I was literally on transport from the airport, until I stepped out of the the ‘SUBWAY’ GUYS 😉 onto Times Square where dreams came true! So I’ve been reminded on movies such as Gossip Girl and Miracle on 34th street. The bright lights hit me and I just stood there and looked up for 5 minutes to take it all in. Every time I gazed at New York on TV everyone always looks so glamorous and I could feel the atmosphere from just watching it on TV!

 

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303888_2438485884369_963271_nIn 2011, I went on a working holiday to Cape Cod about 6 hours from New York. We didn’t want to base ourselves in New York that summer as I was very young at the time and you know how Irish Mammies get……….But I was going to New York and when I have something in my mind there is no stopping me! Sorry Mammy! At the age of 18 I paid 10 dollars for the cheapest Lucky Star  Coach company to NYC at the most awkward time but I was indifferent and on my way to the city that never sleeps. There was no stopping me! Believe me when  I say I was on a budget holiday that year! There’s more…..

I had it on the brain that I desperately would visit The Statue of Liberty, The Twin Towers memorial site, Century 21 and Times Square (I only had a day there). My Mum sent me details about how to get to the Statue of Liberty Free on the Staten Island Ferry, perfect and off I went! Bearing in  mind, I only had a day in NYC and it was the last day of my summer well spent in America working three jobs! I probably had €$100 dollars left before catching my flight the next day! You know what they say? FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT! Well, deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to ‘make it’ that summer.

After visiting the Statue of Liberty for free, I made my way to century 21. My friend was with me and watched as I filled a big basket with clothes. We both laughed after I put the 5th item of clothing in, knowing that I couldn’t even afford one, I walked empty handed out and dreamed of a day where I could visit again with a little bit more money in my back pocket.

It was a dream come true, but…unfortunately, I had imagined it a bit differently walking around like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman except I imagined being sort of like Elle Woods too with a poodle in my hand and I definitely would need a PA to carry all my bags.

Luckily for me, I returned to NYC 3 years later, in a better position, more mature and certainly more lucrative, which wouldn’t have been too difficult! In 2015, I returned with Cathal (My Boyfriend) and we did a whole USA trip NYC – SAN FRAN- SAN JOSE – LA – LAS VEGAS – BOSTON. I’ve been to Orlando and Miami so we gave that a skip because we decided to visit Disney World in LA. Cathal always says it was his favourite trip and we’ve been on 6 together.

Anyway back to talking about the amazing NYC trip! Three days was perfect in NYC, we saw and did everything we planned. We flew from Dublin- Iceland-NYC with Wowair and the only time we can fly together during the summer is August. Wowair and Norweigan airlines do the cheapest flights to NYC but it is always good to check Skyscanner too. If you really want cheap flights, join my newsletter and I use google software to do more deep searches in comparison to sky scanner and Kayak.

Unsurprisingly, as it was, prices for hotels were as sky high as their buildings…I know I’m pretty hilarious 😉 We decided to book The Seton Hotel which was walking distance to everything you needed in NYC. I also advise if you want visit big-name attractions like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, then it might be worth investing in a New York City Pass. They cost $122 per adult ($98 aged 6–17) and cover 6 museums and attractions, if you plan to visit them all you can save $83 on entrance fees.

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We didn’t plan on seeing a Broadway show because we’ve seen plenty in London and it was our preference to visit the other attractions but if you would like to then  you can pick up discounted theater tickets at ticket booths which sell same-day seats for up to 50% off. Their Times Square booth usually has big queues, but there are quieter branches at South Street Seaport and Downtown Brooklyn.

Day 1:

We used a metro card to get from the airport and decided to top this up but actually because our hotel was so close we barely used the Subway. I find the subway quite confusing to understand routes, probably because there is an idiots guide at every tube station and so many arrows to make it clear. In NYC, you have to already know whether it is A/B/C/D you need and it just seemed too much hassle when we were trying to enjoy ourselves. I’m sure if our phones were working properly we would have been on the pigs back! What would life be like without google maps? I honestly don’t know how we survived. We walked around Times Square on the first day as Cathal wasn’t in NYC and as our hotel was near Byron Park we went there too. In Times Square, I made Cathal get a picture with some of the entertainers there and he was mortified. I also took a picture with NYPD. Got some lunch in a really nice restaurant called Bourbon Street Bar & Grille

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We were stuffed after dinner so we needed a walk! we visited The Twin Towers memorial and paid $10 to enter. It was so emotional. It was upsetting, reading letters from small children telling their parents they missed them and of course there were people in bits in every corner of the room. Well worth the visit to show respect and remember the victims as it displays artifacts related to the catastrophe.

That night we had dinner in The Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square, for a while we were obsessed with Hard Rock! It never fails and at least you know what you’ll get. Whereas now, we always try to eat somewhere we haven’t been before.

Day 2

We went to sleep early on Day 1 and the next morning we went straight to look at the empire state building and visited the view from the Rockerfeller Centre. Who doesn’t go here when they go to NYC? It is well worth the $38 visit as you get a Birdseye view of the city. If you want an even better view you could also book a heli tour from above which is a lot more expensive $300- $400 but imagine the experience! It was a good idea to visit in the morning as it wasn’t too busy but I think during August time you are not going to escape the tourists anyway!

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After visiting The Rockerfeller Centre Top of the Rock, we went to the Dead Rabbit which was voted the Number 1 Bar in the World!! It is owned by two Irish men so we said it would be great to support the Irish abroad. Amazing food and it’s like standing into a cosy living room, everyone was so happy and the staff were really friendly too. Across the road you can get a ferry to Staten Island or if you want to pay money for a boat tour around The Statue of Liberty then you could do that instead. On the way back from Staten Island, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to experience an interesting view of the New York skyline and harbor. It’s a long walk but good food and drinks await you on the other side. Stopping to take photos and meandering along the way will make the walk about 40 minutes. I enjoyed doing the walk at night when downtown Manhattan was all lit up.

Day 3

Today we really chilled out before our afternoon flight to San Francisco, we walked around central park and we did a bit of shopping in Century 21 and I was also able to treat myself to DKNY shoes this time unlike 2011 when I only had enough to return to Ireland. We also visited Radio City Music Hall – Is there a more American theater than Radio City Music Hall? This timeless testament to entertainment has captivated visitors since the 1930s. Tours run daily from 9:30am-5pm and cost $27 (you can get a discount by purchasing your tickets online).

11880329_10207635732954225_4847543836419166723_nIf you’re visiting NYC for three days I would budget for $100 dollars a day excluding your hotel price. Do plenty of research beforehand and book everything online except Broadway to ensure you save some dollas!

 

Zweena x

 

 

 

 

My Favourite Dress of 2017

Hello everybody,

So I’ve decided to start sharing photos of my outfits because I can see from my instagram messages that you are interested! You might know, back in 2014 I set up a fashion blog but soon deleted it as I didn’t feel confident enough. So bear with me 🙂

I hope you all had an amazing time over the Xmas and are having a really nice 2018 so far!  How quick did 2017 go!!! Crazy!! I’ve been planning on writing a 2017 overview post so watch out for that too.

It was my most popular post on Instagram over Christmas and my personal favourite too! I’m going back to a destination in which I visited in 2017 and I am bringing this dress with me for sure. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. When I wore it over Christmas I got so many compliments too. For £45 you can’t go wrong!

Over Christmas I wore a few outfits that I posted over on Instagram! I don’t usually put the links up but I’m going to start! It’s my 2018 goal, let’s see how I go! I had a lot of questions about this dress……… Unfortunately, it keeps selling out ! It was available yesterday so keep an eye on it and its also there in two different colours.

 

Click Here for the Pia Sequin Dress

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silver dress 2

 

 

I hope this is helpful!! Have an amazing weekend 🙂

 

Zweena x

The Amalfi Coast

 

The Amalfi dream should be on every travel bucket list in sight. I just can’t believe it has been a two hour plane journey away and it was my first time visiting. I took a trip to Sorrento and stayed on the coast for 10 delightful days. Like many, I used Sorrento as my base, as Positano hotel prices are extortionate and the drive from Sorrento to Positano is magnificent in terms of the cliff views. I would happily do that drive every day for the rest of my life! Imagine!! Although there has been some selfie deaths on the beautiful Italian coast so don’t get too confident!!

IMG_20171220_001517_815.jpgThe coast is full of picturesque colossal cliffs and luxurious cars passing by, some with A list celebrities cruising by. It was like the Europe equivalent to Dubai with an array of similar Yachts like those docked in Auckland, Dubai and New Zealand. Millionaire row!!!

Unfortunately, I made a mistake with our hotel choice and the staff were not that friendly. More wise suggestions are below. Be prepared to pay over £1000 for accommodation for 10 days in Sorrento and £1000 is a budget price!! When we tried to find hotels in Amalfi they were 90% sold out for August and we were looking in May. So book now for the summer to get your best deal. In this review, I will chat all things food, spending money, transport, booking, weather and culture!

IMG_20171114_205930_893.jpgYou will probably fly into Naples airport which is the closest to Sorrento. Naples is not a nice city! I didn’t like it so I wouldn’t waste time visiting it either. Many other people said the same thing to me when I was talking to them about it. Try and get an early/mid day flight into Naples, it doesn’t feel safe.

We got into the airport late as our flight was delayed. Both our batteries were dead too, not our cleverest moment!! So we continued to do what we planned to do, which was to get a transfer from the airport to Naples train station, cost about 4 euro. When we got to the train station, there were no more trains so we ended up getting a taxi from Naples to Sorrento which is 80 euro. Luckily two others shared with us on the way!

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We got the train back from Sorrento to Naples airport and it seemed to last forever! Felt like 2 hours,  I reckon it was the slow train! Some stops along the way too are so eerie. If I were you, definitely arrange coach transfers! As I travelled a lot in 2017, I got into a routine of just rocking up at the airport asking the information desk how to get to where I wanted to go! while backpacking around OZ, this method always worked a treat but not in Italy for some reason. Nobody spoke English so I ended up trying to speak Italian by adding an e to the end of every word and doing the Italian hand curl, JUST JOKING!

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Sorrento

In Sorrento, we stayed in The Eden Hotel because it had some many good reviews and it was more or less in Sorrento square. We paid £1000 for this room and the two main advantages were the location and pool, which many hotels didn’t have in other hotels we looked at. From walking around Sorrento and visiting other hotels I would definitely recommend you stay in The Plaza Hotel! We were there most nights and the staff were so friendly we ended up in the nightclub with them one night. I feel like it makes a holiday when the staff are friendly and it is definitely something I always look for in a hotel as well as a good location and nice decor.

20525857_10213975688529152_7491078738896616773_nOn Trivago, at the minute this is £208 pound a night! Which is reasonable for a few days, if you are travelling with somebody are prepared to save beginning now!

We tried so much food when we were there. Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE pizza and I’m sure it’s also one of the reason I fell in love with Italy! You will too if you love pizza and pasta!!

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The list of restaurants we visited are below and they were so nice. There was one restaurant we went to on Sorrento marina and when I was sitting down I looked at TripAdvisor we suddenly regretted eating there when they charged us 20% cover charge which is called  “il coperto” and a tip on top of it. Nonsense behaviour haha! When I remember that restaurant name I will let you know!! In all my travels that never happened. Bare in mind Italy was the tenth country I was in last year so I was on a tighter budget than normal. We still managed to do everything we wanted to do!

Restaurants:

  • Restaurant Bagni Delfino
  • Porta Marina Seafood
  • Ristorante ‘da Filippo’
  • Ristorante ll Rosie

IMG_20180104_231032_157How to travel: Sorrento- Positano – Amalfi

One tip we learned from even casual observation is that if you’re the kind of tourist that likes to pay through the nose for taxis to Positano and Pompeii, then away you go. It does cost about 40 euro and the public bus costs 2 euro. Please go to the bus station early as you will not get on the first bus otherwise. It was so busy! I would say its worth paying the 10 euro extra for hop on hop off. There are two routes on hop on, Sorrento- Positano-Amalfi is the main route. Do go to Amalfi, it’s worth it. Did you watch Gino’s Italian Escape on tv? If not, watch it on youtube. He is an Italian chef and he goes beyond Amalfi to Ravello and other small towns where no tourists go! If we had more time I would have hired a car and drove to them!! You can also get a boat tour to Positano from Sorrento which is a tour for 12 euro or you can pay up to 150 euro for a luxury one.  Taking the train or bus from Sorrento train station costs you much less, you’re there just as quickly, and you can leave as and when you like.

IMG_20171211_223947_283.jpgThe hop on hop off was the quietest in August as the public bus was packed and I ended up nearly sitting on the drivers lap while he played Christmas song!! Haha No joke if you have me on snapchat (zmurr) you would have seen that!! One thing I didn’t like about Italy is that I found that they are a very blunt in their approach. Many other tourists I spoke to thought that too. It might have been because they were experiencing a heat wave and it was difficult for them to work in that climate. Of course, we met people who were extremely friendly too but sadly one woman shouted as I was taking my time to decide what I wanted to order, haha. I’m so indecisive and it was literacy a ten second wait.

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What to do/see in Sorrento:

  • Cathedral of Sorrento (Duomo)
  • Lemon tour – You have to taste LEMONCELLO
  • Old Sorrento
  • Piazza Tasso
  • Day Trip to Pompeii or Herculeneum
  • Day Trip to Capri
  • Head to the Amalfi Coast
  • Shops
  • Marina Grande – Marina Piccola

Capri

I 100% advise you to do the day trip to Capri. You can get a small ferry there for 50 euro each or a small boat with 12 people for 80 euro. It was so pretty and we walked around the whole island. The first thing we did was sit down and take it all in while sipping a lemoncello cocktail. While travelling, one big thing I always try to do is just sit down look around and take it all in! In the age that we live in so many people are caught up on social media **Ironic right?!** and often we forget just to live in the moment!!

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How did we do? 😂

There was one part of the island we went to with a private beach and not many people went there from our boat, I know that as I asked a few people did they go to it. We walked so far that we had to get a taxi back to the marina. If you see steps- walk down them haha that is my only advice or maybe don’t because you will need your energy for Positano steps, believe me!!  Anyway, we arrived at this amazing beach called Bagni Internazionali,and sat down, I wasn’t prepared for the beach so I was trying to do a Mr. Bean on it! HAHA!! Imagine!!

This is the beach we were at called Bagni and if you follow me on instagram @irishtravelkid. You probably saw plenty of snaps on it from when I was there.

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Shopping in Capri

Move over SOSUEME 😉 it’s my turn to shine!! Love Suzanne and what she does but I really did need her wardrobe for my trip to Capri.

In Capri, on top of a mountain in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, you’ll find Chanel, Gucci and Dolce Gabbana stores… and more! Being an Italian holiday destination, it’s no surprise to find all of the big fashion names. If you can afford to splurge you’ll be in fashion heaven, and even if you’re not keen on spending big bucks you can still enjoy the strolls and stunning shop displays along Via Carmelle. You might even bump into a celebrity along the way. So many celebrities holiday on this small island, Samuel L Jackson was on his Yacht while we were sunbating in Positano. There is a restaurant in Capri we stopped to take photos at because sooo many celebrities have visited it.

VIP Restaurants on Capri Island

  • Villa Verde: wall-to-wall celebrities at dinner
  • Da Paolino: known as the “restaurant to the stars”
  • Aurora: with its sidewalk tables along Via Fuorlovado, you just have to stroll by to spot a dining celebrity
  • Taverna Anema e Core: this is where everyone who’s anyone spends their evening
  • Al piccolo Bar: the best spot for VIP breakfast, happy hour, or late night cocktails in the Piazzetta
  • La Fontelina: the most exclusive beach club on the island, and the favorite of stars
  • Il Riccio: the Capri Palace hotel’s beach club and gourmet restaurant

Aurora was the restaurant Beyonce visited! Imagine!!

Positano

Winding roads curve around rocky cliffs which peer out into the sea, entire towns clinging to their sides. The sea sparkles below in the sunshine, and through the hazy light ahead, it appears the curves and bends in the road stretch on into infinity. This is the Amalfi Coast, a seemingly endless stretch of coast boasting some of the most beautiful beaches and towns in the world. This stretch of coastline is so revered for its beauty that it has even been given the honor of joining the world’s elite as a UNESCO world heritage site. I cannot stress this enough – if you ever have the chance to drive the Amalfi Coast, do it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

There are a multitude of beautiful places to stop along the Amalfi Coast, but the real jewel of this region is the picture-perfect village of Positano. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I probably wouldn’t even be convinced a place like this could still exist today. It is one of the most popular places to visit in Italy, yet the Italian charm and untouched natural beauty you’ll find here make Positano feel like anything but just another over-hyped tourist destination. We loved Positano so much that we will certainly visit it again soon.

Our favourite walk was going up through town and then down to Fornillo beach via the stairs at the other end of town rather than going up past the main beach {if you visit then this will make much more sense when you get there rather than trying to picture it beforehand}. We chose to have the bus take us to Positano and, thankfully, managed to get a seat on the coastal side of the bus so we had one heck of a view for nearly the whole journey. And when the bus let us off at the top of the cliff in Positano, we were left staring face-to-face at the scene that had convinced us to come here in the first place. Those colorful houses stacked on top of each other so tightly that the cliff itself is no longer visible, the gentle waves lapping at the picturesque beaches below – there’s no denying Positano is a special place.

IMG_20170811_065940_321.jpgThere isn’t much more to say about Positano only that it is sheer perfection! We visited it for the day to experience the beach. Look at all the photos and it will hopefully entice you to book that flight!

PACKING ADVICE

Not to blow my own trumpet, but while I was on the Amalfi Coast, I kept thinking how I did a pretty good job of packing and getting a feel for the land before I arrived. I watched plenty of youtube Amalfi blogs and took note of the type of clothes I should pack before visiting!  I obviously don’t do this everywhere I go but I had some time on my hands!

Since the town is so colorful, you can get away with a lot of color here! Don’t be afraid of prints, either. I saw so many chic-looking women in colourful dresses and wished I had brought at least one printed dress. You’ll see lots of whites and lots of linens in the shops.. That’s what the locals are wearing if you want to blend right in!

If you are visiting and staying in Positano, bring sensible/stylish footwear as there are so many steps. Try and really consider where is best to stay as well. You don’t want too much of a walk every day if  you are trying to achieve a relaxing holiday! I loved every second of it, but it was really hot and the sun felt very intense. They were going through a heatwave at the time and it was 40 degrees. We love this type of heat but I know my family can’t handle it! Make sure to pack a hat to keep the sun off of your face! It seems to be a fashion accessory in Positano. Did you even go if you’re not wearing a sun hat?

Hope all of the information helped and if you do book a trip to Amalfi coast this summer that I have helped you !

Zweena x

 

 

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Top 5 Gifts for Travel Lovers

As Christmas is approaching, I think its really important to think about the person you are buying for and what he or she truly loves and is passionate about. Whether it is fashion, music, travel or food. You want to ensure that when they open their present they instantly know you put a lot of thought and consideration into buying their gift. That doesn’t mean that you need to spend lots of money. So many people in their 20’s are passionate about travel, as you’re eager to see as much as the world as possible before you start getting serious about your career or having a family.  Some of the gifts below, I’ve either been given or bought for myself.  Whatever type of trip your family member or friend loves best, I’ve got lots of travel gift. Why not excite an intrepid explorer with an unusual present.

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A Silver Globe for £23.99

  1. A globe  £23.99 / A Scratch Globe £14.00  Scratch Map is the perfect way to show off where you’ve been travelling while livening up your wall with a colourful world map. There is no better way to feed the hunger for wanderlust than to give somebody a globe. It ignites fire, well it did for me anyway.Why Pandora Travel Charms Make the Best Present for Travelers
  2. A Pandora Travel Lover Bracelet  £115  A little bit more expensive than the first gift but who doesn’t love Pandora? You might even put this one on your Santa list.A Pandora travel bracelet is the best present for any female traveler in your life. The best thing about it, is that they can personalise it and add charms of those countries they have visited. You can buy a silver bangle that looks simple and stylish on it’s own. The charms are high-quality in silver and gold and some include precious stones. They come in all kinds of themes, from holidays to simply pretty, but the best charms are the TRAVEL charms. You can buy charms that represent countries or travel items like a passport or globe.Image result for might high cocktail kit
  3. A Mile-high Cocktail Kit: £25 Who needs first class when gifts like this exist? Mix up a top notch cocktail 40,000 feet high. Now I’m sure nobody else will think of that gift! If you’re like me and at times become nervous with turbulence, a cocktail kit will be like a air-mile bible. These cocktail kits include everything you need to turn the tired drinks sold on-board into tasty in-flight treats.
    Personalised Leather Travel Wallet

4.  Personalised Leather Travel Wallet £33  Beautiful, luxurious recycled leather travel wallets in a wide range of bold, pastel and metallic colours. Can be personalised making it a super present. You won’t miss this wallet as the rose gold version is a major hit on Instagram. On the plus side, no more fumbling around at check-in for your precious travel documents, this leather travel wallet has plenty of space to store passport, boarding cards, driver’s licence, credit cards, currency, and more.

5. Paddy Box: €60 We all know an Irish person abroad, don’t we? Course we do because we are EVERYWHERE!! I’m living in London and I know there are many thing about home that I miss, especially Ballymaloe Relish and Barry’s tea. We don’t need to feel that longing for home where Irish food is concerned anymore because a genius idea has been rolled out and developed into a terrific company. There is now such thing as a Paddy Box; a box full of Irish people’s favourite food from home. How exciting is this? I hope you get a Paddy Box under your tree this year !

 

How I conquered my fear of flying

IMG_6545I was terrified of flying, especially during take off and turbulence. I read so many books based on overcoming your fear. I studied psychology to try and comprehend how my fear my caused. I started thinking about take off at least 48 hours before the flight. I’d usually ask the air hostess ‘will there be much turbulence?’ Knowing it was going to be a bumpy flight, felt reassuring. I became an “air nuisance” – introducing fear in the calmest of passengers. Usually I would end up apologising and making a statement like ‘I’m the worst person you could sit alongside’. I would sometimes have a glass of wine before my flight and it did help. However, I agreed to a round the world trip in 2017 and I knew a glass of wine before my 16 hour journey wasn’t going to work. I didn’t want to let my fear stop me from gaining new experiences.

I started to research where my fear had come from and tried to work backwards to overcome it. My parents would say things like you were never afraid of flying before’ and ‘you’ve been flying since you were a baby, so where did my fear come from?’ Well in 2008, my family and I were on a flight from Zante, Greece to Dublin airport, unfortunately we did have an emergency landing and everybody was crying. I remember my mum kissing me and crying and I thought she was trying to say a farewell goodbye. Nevertheless, I was naive to this sort of thing! One of the flaps to slow the plane down wouldn’t work. Luckily we landed ok but there were fire engines everywhere and we landed on a longer runway. After this, surprisingly, flying didn’t bother me and I continued to be confident. Three years ago, I was on a flight from London to Cork in a terrible storm. Before this flight, I was fearless and had no problem flying on my own. It was such a rocky flight, that I was shaking and so petrified for the full hour. The man on the seat alongside me was flabbergasted with how nervous I was. We got off the plane and an elderly couple said to me ‘ that wasn’t too bad in the end’. I thought to myself it felt like the end!! I started to process the technical issues of flying and acquired a fear of heights too. Thinking deeper into ‘what ifs’ didn’t support my dread to fly alone.

Usually, while others slept soundly around me, my heart was pounding and I was alert to the possibilities of a engine failure, the pilot passing out, or lightning. I continued to travel, enduring torturous flights to get to my destination.

On one flight, I was on sudden turbulence was experienced and I woke the girl up alongside me thinking she might comfort me. She stood up to allow me to go to the toilet but I had to explain the real reason for waking her, then I rang the call bell for the air hostess. I found myself petrified. My legs trembled and I felt the urge to vomit. I stood up with her mid flight shaking and crying in front of everyone. I was five minutes into the flight and I evidently feeling mortified for the rest of the time.

Before my round the world trip I got diazepam, but my aunt informed me it’s banned in some countries and Asia requires a lot of documents for this medication. Two days before I decided not to take them with me. I had to try and embrace the fear and do it anyway! While booking my round the world trip, I asked the travel consultant for reputable airlines, even though I ended up flying with Angkor wat airline, the smallest plane I have ever been on. I couldn’t even stand up on it as it was so small. I had looked up and researched all the flying safety statistics and drove myself insane. My friend told me that’s my problem, that I think about it too much.

Finally, I decided that enough was enough – and started to work on cognitive behavioural therapy. I read two helpful books, one written by British Airways called ‘Flying with confidence’ and another one which was about a counselling group of people with cancer and I can’t remember the name of it. There was a line in the latter book that said ‘I shouldn’t be afraid of anything, my time will come and we are all going to the same place. How can you be afraid of something you haven’t experienced?’ It was such a sad book and there is obviously no comparison in both situations, but it was reassuring to use her thoughts and relate them to fears. I wrote down the line from this book on a piece of paper. Every time I was about to take off on my world trip, I read that line and played music to distract me. Flying with confidence book said it’s a good idea to distract yourself. After all of this I decided I still wasn’t as confident as I had wished.

On one flight to Indonesia, I made myself record the take off and I even sat on the window seat, something I would never do. Looking back at my recording made me realise that I’ve done it so many times and there’s nothing to be afraid of. My mum gave me a list of statistics and explained that flying is safer than driving. You have more of a chance of dying in the car on the way to the airport than to die on a flight. Now I am afraid of driving haha! In Bangkok it was crazy, their average car speed is 150kph!

I am still slowly overcoming my dread of turbulence but since I researched the make up of a plane and the power and force it was built to deal with all types of weather. I know flying shouldn’t be something to stop you from gaining more cultural experiences, travelling to learn new languages and ways of life. Please speak to me if you feel the same and I might be able to support you.

Hope that helped!

Zweena

The Best Hotels in London

Living in London evidently has its perks. A busy successful city means there is an impressive range of luxurious hotels and spa facilities to take advantage of. Even if you reside in London, it’s always a nice treat to stay a night in a fancy hotel with outstanding facilities as this is always a necessity which goes hand in hand with the hustle and bustle of the city. There comes a time where you just need to unwind, relax and I have a list of the best hotels in London to do just that!

1. The May Fair Hotel London ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The May Fair Hotel is situated in the heart of Mayfair, surrounded by the parks, theatres and attractions of London’s West End. There is free Wi-Fi in all areas, a private theatre, and a 24-hour business centre.

The May Fair’s bedrooms features elegant, contemporary décor, decadent Italian marble bathrooms and luxury beds with down pillows and 350 thread count Egyptian cotton bedding. All are equipped with free high-speed WiFi and Samsung TVs offering up to 300 channels in multiple languages. In selected suites, iPad’s are provided for guests to browse the hotel’s services and menus before ordering.

The May Fair Kitchen offers a menu of Mediterranean style sharing plates and afternoon tea. There is a DJ three nights a week and guests enjoy daytime coffee at the The May Fair Bar, located across the lobby, and cocktails in the evening. The May Fair Terrace provides an open-air enclave for drinks and cigars. the afternoon tea served at the May Fair is apparently the best afternoon tea served in London. Many of my friends who have had a range of afternoon tea experiences have agreed with this fact too. Afternoon tea can be booked target=”_blank”>here

Guests can also find a 3-D cinema, tranquil May Fair Spa, 24 hour gym and adjoining Palm Beach Casino at this hotel.

Another benefit of staying at the May Fair is that you are in the centre of everything. Oxford street is ten minutes away and no doubt you will be within walking distance of many West End shows. This area is great for shopping, with popular brands nearby: Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Prada and many high street outlets too.

There are some celebrity hotspots around this area where you will be sure to spot the likes of David Beckham, Cheryl Cole, Little Mix, Prince Harry, One Direction and many more. They hang out in Mahiki and Hush Bar. Make sure you wear your best clothes and put your name on the guest list before arrival.

Price: €400 a night (Well worth it)



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2. The Montcalm Hotel London ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Within 5 minutes’ walk of Hyde Park, Oxford Street’s shops and Marble Arch Underground Station, this 5-star hotel features a modern bar and an on-site spa. Free internet access is available throughout The Montcalm. Buckingham Palace and its gardens are just over 1.6 km away.

An iPod dock, HD TV with satellite channels, a hairdryer and a minibar feature in each air-conditioned room. A rain shower and luxury toiletries are included in each private marble bathroom. Guests can choose from 6 fragrances for their room.

Fresh and seasonal international cuisine is served in the Crescent Restaurant and Lounge, while The Grill at The Montcalm provides modern British grill dishes. The Montcalm Bar offers an extensive bar menu and a variety of cocktails and traditional English afternoon teas.

The Montcalm Spa includes a relaxing spa pool, sauna, and steam room. Guests can also unwind on heated loungers, or use the modern, air-conditioned fitness room.

Price: €360 a night

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3. The Park Plaza Westminster Bridge ★ ★ ★ ★

This hotel is very central and the suite I stayed in was very large. It is ideal if you are planning on visiting the tourist attractions such as The London Eye, The Houses of Parliament or Big Ben. Lambeth is a great choice for travellers interested in city walks, monuments and history.

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Price: €200 a night

4. The Me Hotel London ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Me Hotel is a popular choice of Sarah Hashcroft a famous London Blogger from Buckinghamshire. Everyone familiar with London will know the ME hotel as STK is underneath it and my favourite the Radio Rooftop bar is next door. Lately, the king and queen of Spain stayed in the ME hotel for a night. Why not make the most of your trip to London and treat yourself.

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Price: €350 a night

Thank you you for reading and I hope you enjoy your trip to London.

Top 10 Best Travel Tips

1. Book 6 months in advance
It’s always good to be organised and it’s wise to book in advance for obvious reasons. Analysis has stated that 6 months in advance is the ideal amount of time to book. I noticed that booking flights now for July 2018 is still very expensive.

2. Use a low charge travel money card
I could write a book on this. I spent hours researched money travel cards and you can find a blog post about it soon. Some friends paid 5 pound every time they withdrew money from an ATM. Also remember don’t exchange money from the airport they always give the worst rates and waiting to exchange money or withdraw in your destination country is always a clever option.

3. Don’t always imminently use Skyscanner and Kayak For my RTW trip, obviously went to my bible of wanderlust: skyscanner. Surprisingly, STA and flight centre worked out cheaper than skyscanner. It is also more convenient to pay off instalments with this travel agencies rather than pay all at once. While this idea may sound counter-intuitive it saved me £2000.

4. Book your flights on a Sunday
Every December, Expedia release a travel analysis document. This information is based on the December 2016 document but the information will be updated soon. They discovered that the cheapest flights were found on Sundays and as I mentioned earlier if you book 6 months in advance you should get the cheapest possible option.
Friday is the most expensive day of the week to buy a plane ticket, according to new research, with flights on average 13 per cent dearer than if booked on a Sunday.

5. Use an incognito tab
Travel companies log cookies based on what you search. If you use an incognito window it means they won’t know your previous search information and hopefully your flights or accommodation will work out cheaper rather than being based on previous searches. The more you search for a flight the more of a price increase due to supply and demand.These are the ideal features to look for in a debit card: Foreign transaction rate of 0%
International ATM withdrawal fee of $0
Competitive points or cash-back rewards program (at least 1% of the purchase price)

6. Bring a dry bag, a sarong and a card skimmer If you’re a solo traveller, it would be impossible to go swimming without a dry bag. It means you don’t have to worry about your valuables, it may not look cool but either is being robbed of your possessions while enjoying the sea. A sarong is always something you should have by your side whether you are male or female. Even in the best of establishments, bed linen may not always be clean. Obviously if it’s very bad you will complain but it’s always better to lay on your own clothes than hostel bed linen. Sarongs are essential in Asia and more conservative countries as you never know when you might come across a temple or a place of worship. I read so many stories about cards being skimmed in Asia but surprisingly it happened to somebody I was travelling with in Australia. This person was left with no money. I was so lucky to have kept my cards in a skim proof wallet.

7. Ensure you have access to a MasterCard and Visa
Credit and debit cards are the cheapest, easiest ways to get money and make payments overseas. Credit cards are accepted worldwide, and when you need cash, ATMs are abundant in every country. ATMs are internationally networked through the Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus networks.

8. Don’t keep money/ cards all in the same place.
Three is the lucky number. This rule has saved me from despair during my travels. Unfortunately, my money and phone was stolen in America. I was lucky that I had kept some money and my credit card in my bum bag  and she had stolen money and my debit card from my handbag.

9. Best way to avoid queues
I had a connection flight from London to Cork after arriving from Singapore. The passport line would have taken me an hour, meaning there was no way of getting to my flight on time. In a panic, I rushed to security and explained my situation. Even though, I produced every blandishment I could think of from my bag of tricks. If you’re severely allergic to queuing, so can you!

10. Don’t be shy or too naive
In order to make the most of your travels and new cultures you should engage with others. I know you worry about what people think. It takes courage to talk to strangers but everyone is in the same boat. All around you there are other solo travelers looking for friends. They want to meet new people too.

Just say “hello” and everything else will fall into place. The most common questions asked while travelling are, Hi where are you from? What’s you’re itinerary like? What was your favourite place? The mundane repetitive conversations get tiring after a while but they make it easier to meet new people.

How to Travel the World for Four Months

During my travels and when I returned, the same two questions consistently occurred “How did you do it?” or another rendition of that question such as:

How in the world could you afford that?
Did you hit the jackpot?
What do you do for a living?
Did you work while traveling?
Where do you get your money from?
You must be rich.

Fortunately, all of these questions and comments lead to my determination to initiate a travel blog and write this post. People would question how I could afford to stay in one of the most exclusive hotels in the world, afford to feed myself, take 20 flights around the world and maintain a great social life. Some were unable to fathom the magnitude of space covered and how I was able to afford this trip of a lifetime. It really wasn’t that difficult and you can do it too.

One tip I would advise is to book three of the most expensive aspects of your trip before you leave. That way you won’t get a shock when you have to pay for it on the day and a lump sum comes out of your travel money. It is prerequisite that you are prepared and investigate the prices of most amenities such as hostels and activities before you go. It is absurd travelling the world and not living life beyond expectation; a small budget will hinder opportunity. I made the mistake of not researching prices in New Zealand which was one of the last countries on my list to visit. It ended up being the most expensive and most people wondered the same thing, “have I been robbed?” At least two people said they questioned that as NZ is so expensive. I even had my KIWI experience bus paid for before hand but for instance the jet-boat activity we did cost $300 AUD, so be prepared.

Personally, I have always preferred to travel for a shorter period of time. Three months maximum is perfect for me. You do begin to miss your luxuries, during the last few weeks and travelling for up to a year can prove difficult. After returning I still live by that rule. I compared my travelling lifestyle to people who were travelling for up to 6 months. They couldn’t enjoy the same opportunities as us and one girl we met in a hostel near Noosa, Australia was working there and complaining that she is so broke after 5 months and wants to return home. You need to make sure you feel financially secure during your trip and especially when you come home too.

How

Before you go
Save, save, save! For every birthday or event, give some subtle hints to family and friends that you would like them to buy you hotel nights as your present. Some of they are so cheap. Try and book the first half of your accommodation before you go so that it eases the pressure. I paid for the first three countries accommodation before I left as I wanted to stay in hotels: Dubai, Bali and Singapore. You are better off waiting until you get to Australia and New Zealand to book it there as you may meet people you want to remain travelling with.

Before I went I saved as much as I could. We decided to travel in April 2016 and we left in February 2017.I figured out how much I could need for three months which was £6500. STA was great to book with as we were able to pay off on the flights in installments. The only reason I would not recommend STA is that their travel advisors are very hit and miss. We went from having an experienced trustworthy advisor to having an advisor that flew us into wrong airports which made things hard for us (more detail in the NZ blog post). Just make sure that you have the itinerary planned out for yourself and that you are certain on the airports and dates. They offer an unlimited change of flight for 99 pound but this offer is deceiving so please read the fine print! We ended up paying your extra flights. As I saved it was getting closer to depart and I knew I wanted to feel comfortable, have the trip of a lifetime and grab every opportunity by the horns by not worrying about finances. I had saved 4000 and in the end I did take out a small loan independently. If you are not eligible for a loan you can use your parents as a guarantor which means there is a higher chance of getting the loan. Have a savings goal in mind and put that much away every week/month. A girl I meet told me she had three jobs to save for travelling. If you want to do it you will!

Australia

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Out of all the emails I receive in regards to budgeting for travel plans Australia is without a doubt the place people are most worried about or needing information on. With their ever strengthening economy it’s not the cheap backpacker country it once was and it’ll take up a large chunk of your budget.

With most places I usually say around £1,000 per month (my monthly budget for Thailand was even less!) will leave you with plenty of cash to splash…Australia though (and I hate to be the person to break this to you!) will be nearly double that.

So here’s a break down of the main backpacker spends in Australia – accommodation, food, booze, activities and transport – so hopefully you can prepare for an amazing adventure down under…

Most Expensive Bed – Bounce, Sydney $40 £25 €28

Favourite Hostel – Bounce, Sydney

Average nights accommodation (shared dorm) – $30 (£18.75)

Average nights accommodation (double/twin) – $80 (£50)

Average campsite (per tent) – $16 £10

Estimated accommodation costs – $900 (£562)

Food and Drink Costs

Australia is pretty expensive when it come to eating out – so if you’re on a budget you’ll want to mix it up with a good bit of home cooking. Saying that though many hostels offer some great backpacker feeds (like Sydney’s “Wakeup”) for around $5 and there’s plenty of backpacker bars (like Byron Bays “Cheeky Monkeys”) which do the same, so you can grab a budget feed on the go too.

If you’re going out to party again the backpacker bars are the way forward and many of them (like Woody Surf Shack in Byron Bay or The Woolshed in Cairns) offer a whole host of giveaways and competitions, from surfboards to dive courses, so you make your night out well worth the money!k

Cheapest meal – 5 min noodles! – $0.50 (£0.30p!) (add some veggies to pimp it out a bit!) YEs! I did just have noodles for dinner some nights.

Average backpacker meal – around $5-10 (£4-7)

Average meal (based on cooking veggie pasta) – $5 (£3)

Average cost of Wine- $5 £3 ( Probably the cheapest thing to drink)

Average cost of a box of goon (Golden Oaks, 4 litres) – $15 (£9)

Average cost takeaway coffee – $5 £3.12

Estimated food costs (based on cooking lunch, backpacker meal for dinner) – $375 (£318)

Make sure you always factor in activities and the two main ones that everyone does in Australia are Whitsundays and Fraser Island. The price of this was a shock for me, we paid $950 each for the two trips and apparently we got a bargain! An even bigger shock was when Frazier was cancelled after a day because of Cyclone Debbie and most people’s insurance didn’t cover the cyclone.

Travel

The best way to travel the east coast is to book the greyhound bus before you leave home. This is so flexible and you can change your arranged trip at any stage before you get on the bus. Most people on it are backpackers too which make sure it all that bit more interesting. The best way to do it is to get a KM pass. You will need a 2500 km pass if you are travelling from Sydney to Cairns. Most people travel up the coast not down, but we are not most and travelled down.

You can find out more about Australia in my OZ blog post (coming soon!). Any other information or details you would like to know about my trip please ask. Below you can see my whole flight itinerary with STA too.

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Vietnam: 2 week Itinerary

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Vietnam is the most cultured country I have visited so far. I asked many backpackers where their favourite location was and those who visited Vietnam declared their love for this country, which is full of diversity. It is a chaotic city surrounded by mountains, bikes, beaches, palm trees and pines. When we arrived in Vietnam from Auckland as we were meeting my parents for my dad’s 60th. Safe to say there were tears at Hanoi airport after being away from them for months.Unable to contain my excitement, we began to explore the bustling streets of Hanoi.

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While traveling in Vietnam, we trekked through rice terraces, experienced the locals making their traditional dishes, explored famous caves, looked for land mines near the Chi Chi tunnels, ate everything we set our sights on especially the Vietnamese traditional soup Pho, which was delicious. We cruised around Halong bay, one of the wonders of the world while sipping wine on our balcony and travelled the Vietnamese trains with locals. We also ended up off the beaten path in towns where no other tourists were in sight. Vietnamese people stared at us as they explained they never saw westerners before. We experienced poverty like no other which made us appreciate our trip even more.

The food, the motorbikes, the landscapes and the people made this one of our favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. Vietnam is a country that surprised us in every way, and we can’t wait for you to experience its flavours, sounds and warmth for yourself.

Before you travel to Vietnam

Get a Vietnam visa: This process is a bit more complicated than other countries in Southeast Asia. You need to fill out a form online before you go, the website is below. You should take a copy of the acceptance letter with you. Many young tourists didn’t read the small print on this letter and never realised they needed $25 American dollars on arrival to get their visa. Also make sure you have a passport photo or else you will end up paying ten dollars and waiting 30 minutes extra for your photo. The tourists that didn’t have the $25 dollars were really worrying about this during the process. It is better to be prepared for a smooth start to you trip.  http://visa.mofa.gov.vn.

Get travel insurance: This isn’t just a smart thing to do – it’s absolutely necessary. From motorbike crashes to stories of theft, we saw quite a few accidents in Vietnam. We even met one young traveler whose friend needed to be airlifted to Bangkok after hurting himself and the local hospitals couldn’t treat his injury. Travel insurance is cheap, and although you hope you never need to use it, you’ll be more at ease knowing you’re covered in case of an emergency. Check out our guide that explains how to choose the best policy for you.

2 week Vietnam Itinerary At a Glance

Hanoi: 2 days
Halong Bay: 2 days
Nha Trang: 1 day
Huế: 1 day (or half-day)
Hoi An: 2/3 days
Da Lat: 2 days
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): 3 days

Hanoi

When you start your journey in the capital city of Hanoi, you may be in for a bit of culture shock. You’ll witness motorbikes flowing chaotically yet synchronously through the crammed streets. It’s a wonderful place to start. Here you will learn quickly how to cross roads in Vietnam. The best advise I got is pretend you own the road and cross confidently. I never did master this until I got to hoi an where the roads were more country like. Don’t believe in the pedestrian crossings in Vietnam because the locals don’t!

What to eat in Hanoi: Bun Cha. Do it. NOW. Originating from Hanoi, this dish consists of grilled pork patties and noodles served with lettuce, herbs and a dipping sauce. We several delicious meals of Bun Cha in Hanoi and it was too hard to choose a winner so I’m sharing our 2 favorites! One was in a small shop on the northeast corner of St. Joseph’s Cathedral and the other was at a restaurant called Bun Cha Ta at 21 Nguyễn Hữu Huân. Try them both to compare and let us know which one you liked better. Bun cha is just one of many dishes to try in Hanoi!

Where to stay in Hanoi: there are many hostels in Vietnam but I was not looking for hostels on this leg of my journey. We stayed in the Golden Sun Palace hotel. The best thing about this hotel was definitely the staff. They were so friendly and helpful, like most Vietnamese people. They booked our Halong Bay trip for us and all our transport. The cruise they booked could not be faulted. It was called the Huong Hai Sealife cruise. They made us feel like royalty, we received welcome drinks and they played music every time we entered the ship from a trip. We could see the sea from our showers and each room had a balcony which is the main reason we choose this particular cruise over the 2nd option. They also offered yoga and tai chee karate in the mornings. Every day we got a breakfast lunch and dinner buffet like I have never seen before. All the staff were delightful and so friendly, in particular Sunny, she sang ‘all of me’ for the whole cruise ship on the last night and it was fantastic. Not one person who left the cruise has a bad word to say. The food staff and cabins were 5 stars. We did pay a lot more for this in comparison to the backpacker cruise. It was 180 US dollars but worth every penny! IMG_6239

How to get to the city from the airport: The Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) for Hanoi is about 30 km away from the main city center and there are many ways to get there. The best option is to take the airport shuttle bus which leaves just outside of the gates. The cost is 40,000 VND ($2 USD) and takes about 40-60 minutes depending on the traffic. If you are one of the first on, you’ll have to wait a bit because they typically leave once they have a full bus. If you arrive during the day you can take the city bus number 7 that terminates at Kim Ma Bus station and number 17 that terminate at Long Bien bus station. The cost is 4,000 VND and take about one hour. The last option is to take a taxi, but they are known to overcharge traveler and typically charge $35 USD one way.

Halong Bay

One of the most iconic destinations within Vietnam is the lush island cliffs rising from the still waters of Ha Long Bay. Choosing from the numerous boat cruises is a tough task, especially when there are a lot of scams scattered on the Internet. Make sure to look at reviews and ratings before paying for your trip. It’s a bit of a splurge, but the landscape is incredible and you can’t miss this. There’s a boat tour style for every traveler – from calm sight-seeing tours to foodie cruises to drink-til-you-drop booze cruises. I did explain above the cruise I wholly recommend and I hope you take my advice!IMG_6250

Nha Trang

The high-rise, high-energy beach resort of Nha Trang enjoys a stunning setting: ringed by a necklace of hills, with a sweeping crescent beach, the city’s turquoise bay is dotted with tropical islands and is home to many Russians. Some critiques disliked that there were an overload of Russians here but we enjoyed the beach, skyline and 4 island boat trip.

The shoreline has had a huge makeover in recent years, with quiet parks and sculpture gardens spread along the impressive promenade, while the streets inland reveal quirky boutiques and a cosmopolitan array of dining options. As restaurants wind down, nightlife cranks up – central Nha Trang is a party town at heart, like any self-respecting resort should be. Most of it is aimed directly at the many Russian and Chinese tourists. Forget the curfews of the capital; visitors play late in this town.

There are more sedate activities on offer too. The beachfront has quiet, open bars. Or try an old-school spa treatment with a visit to a mud bath or explore centuries-old Cham towers still standing in the town centre. It was nice to visit Nha Trang to unwind for a day. We travelled from Hanoi to Nha Trang by train as we originally booked a bus but it was not as we expected so we went with plan B! Being on a train in Vietnam is a culture experience in itself. We took the ‘first class option’ but in Vietnam it’s more of a novelty option and we laughed so much during this adventure. Trying to get onto the bunk bed  was a struggle. They are designed for the Vietnamese as they are all very petite.

The 4 island trip is a must. The islands were like paradise and the staff went all out singing happy birthday to my friend and having a disco on board. Make sure you bring food as it wasn’t very clean.

Hoi An

If you don’t visit Hoi An, Graceful, historic Hoi An is Vietnam’s most atmospheric and delightful town. Once a major port, it boasts the grand architecture and beguiling riverside setting that befits its heritage, and the 21st-century curses of traffic and pollution are almost entirely absent.

The face of the Old Town has preserved its incredible legacy of tottering Japanese merchant houses, Chinese temples and ancient tea warehouses – though, of course, residents and rice fields have been gradually replaced by tourist businesses. Lounge bars, boutique hotels, travel agents and a glut of tailor shops are very much part of the scene here. And yet, down by the market and over on Cam Nam Island, you’ll find life has changed little. Travel a few kilometres further – you’ll find some superb bicycle, motorbike and boat trips – and some of central Vietnam’s most enticingly laid-back scenery and beaches are within easy reach.

Where to stay: when we were in Hoi An our hotel was like a Santorini place and it just so happened to be called Hoi An Garden Palace and Spa. This is the sister hotel to the one we stayed in when we were in Hanoi. It cost £35 a night or 10.7 million Vietnamese dong. There is a free shuttle service to the main part of Hoi An or you can walk it in 20 minutes!

Tailor in Hoi An: The tailor I used in Hoi An was called Yaly Couture. They were absolutely brilliant and seen as I am a semi shopaholic (while I’m at home), this experience was a highlight while in Vietnam. I returned from Vietnam four months ago and I still email them to make me clothes as they have all my details. Other tailor shops in Vietnam will not allow you to contact them online and custom make something without being in the shop. I know this as I enquired with many tailors (Kimmy, being one) about this service before purchasing a coat and a dress. http://www.yalycouture.com/ Is the website. Visit them with a style in mind and then they will show you all the fabrics available. In Hoi An you can get clothes made cheap but as many people said in forums ‘you get what you pay for’. My coat was 90 US dollars but the fit and fabric is impeccable and I know I got value for money.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) 

We stayed here for 2 days and our top excursion was to the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels which made for an eye-opening afternoon. Used by the Vietnamese during the war with America, these extraordinary underground tunnels granted whole villages to stay safe. Our tour guide explained that when the American army dogs were sniffing for Vietnamese they could never be found because the Vietnamese army left American scented  (clothing) at the top of each tunnel. They were highly intelligent and considered every aspect of possibly being caught. The Vietnamese people even made shoes so that they would not leave footprints.

Visitors can crawl their way through a 100m stretch of tunnel and watch their tour guide demonstrate with ghoulish pleasure the ingenious traps the Vietnamese used to kill or maim US soldiers. Costing from $20 for a half-day tour (8am-2pm or 1-7pm), this trip includes return transfers plus entry to the tunnels. If you look at my Instagram page there is an amusing video which shows me attempting to enter the Chi Chi tunnel.

While you are in Saigon, a prerequisite is to visit the war museum which provides a wealth of information about the history of Saigon and the war.

Where to stay: We stayed in the Alagon Hotel and Spait was reasonably priced and you could have breakfast and afternoon tea included in the price of the hotel.

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Drinking Mai Tai in the pool as the sun goes down.

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