July travel plans: I’m heading to Tuscany, Italy!

If you follow me on Facebook you will already know this exciting news.

 

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I originally intended to travel to somewhere in Eastern Europe after being captivated by Poland’s culture, history and friendly people.  When searching on the Ryanair website I suddenly had an urge to go to Italy. Visions of an Eat, Pray Love kind of holiday filled my mind so I decided to book a return flight to Pisa without knowing much about the region.

I figured that Rome would be full of tourists and that Tuscany will be a little quieter at this time of year (I may be proved wrong…).

The more I researched about the region the more excited I got about my trip. So here are my travel plans for the week.

3 days in Pisa with a day-trip to Lucca. I’ve always been fascinated by the leaning tower and have been recommended to visit the small town of Lucca by a good friend who has travelled in the region.

4 days in Florence with a daytrip to Siena. I’ve always wanted to visit Florence, I love small cities where you can walk everywhere and it seems full of culture. I decided to stay in a campsite on the hills which is a ten minute walk from the centre of the city. I’m staying in a ‘tent-dorm’ which will certainly be a new experience. It will be well worth it though when I wake up to views of Florence and the Tuscan countryside! I also can’t wait to see my favorite piece of art in person; Botticelli’s Venus in the Uffizi!

Siena is a small Medieval town in southern Tuscany, I’m fascinated by medieval architecture and I am going to try to take some beautiful photos on my DSLR.

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Apart from the beautiful scenery and culture I can’t wait to eat delicious Italian food, drink Italian wine and try and blend in with the stylish Italians despite packing only carry on luggage!

 

I miss long term travel but for the time being small holidays are satisfying my wanderlust. I’m so lucky that I live in Europe and have so many different countries just a short flight away!

 

Have you ever travelled to Tuscany? If so do you have any travel tips for me?

 

 

My top 5 travel regrets

regrets

Being a relatively new traveller (6 weeks in to my big trip!) I don’t really have many regrets at this point. I try not to have regrets because I think that things happen for a reason and that even bad situations can turn in to good situations in the future!

George from George on the go (who i’m going to be meeting up with in Bangkok for Songkran very soon!) nominated me to write about my top 5 travel regrets.

So here it goes

1) Bringing too much stuff!

I think everyone was waiting for this one! My bag weighs 19kg! That’s a lot of weight to be carrying from place to place. The bag is actually really hard to actually get on my back. I don’t even think that I’ve brought that much. Well maybe 5 bikinis was a little bit excessive…..

 

 

2) Not travelling solo sooner

When I went to Spain to teach English I had not been on holiday for over 2 years! That’s 2 years of horrible English weather and no sun, I’m surprised that I didn’t develop rickets! 

The reason that I didn’t travel is because I had no one to travel with. Most of my friends didn’t have the money to travel or didn’t like sunny destinations. Many had boyfriends that they went on holiday with instead. I thought that I would be lonely if I went on holiday alone and look a little bit, sad. I’m so glad that I found travel blogs that made me realise that I can travel alone and it’s actually great fun! You are hardly ever alone when travelling alone anyway, there’s loads of other solo travellers all over the world!

 

 

3) Spending too much time in Singapore

After the chaos that is Sri Lanka, Singapore was a well needed restbite in civilisation. Everything was clean, there were pavements and more importantly, Subway! Naively I didn’t realise that other places in SE Asia also have a lot of conveniences and are a lot cheaper with more character. As soon as I landed in Melaka, Malaysia I regretted spending so much time in Singapore. Melaka had charm and Western convenience. It was very bohemian and had quirky little cafes on each corner. Much more my style than expensive and sterile Singapore! A classic case of fear of the unknown.

 

 

 

4) Not exploring more of Europe and the UK

I find it crazy that I’ve now been to the same amount of countries in Asia as I have been in Europe, in just 6 weeks! All that time the UK and Europe was on my doorstep and I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t even been to Ireland! When I get back I’m going to take advantage of cheap Easyjet flights and see more of Europe. I’m also going to get in my car and drive to places in the UK that I have never been. The South West coast is supposed to be beautiful yet I have never been there!

 

 

5) Packing the wrong things

I packed a lot but surprisingly I missed a few items that are vital. I normally wear dresses at home and out of the dresses that I brought 2 are too hot because of the longer sleeves and one if far too dressy and tight to wear in Asia. I don’t feel like ‘me’ wearing trousers or shorts everyday.

I should have brought some sleeveless sun dresses. I would feel more like myself then. So far most dresses have been ‘Asia size’, made for small thin women. Hopefully Thailand will have a larger selection of dresses and I can buy some new ones and send my others home.

Thank you for reading about my 5 biggest travel regrets. Hopefully you can learn from them so you don’t make the same mistakes as me and end up trekking through Asia with a 19kg backpack wearing leggings….

I nominate Lillian from Travel Armadillo and Neil from Backpacks and bunkbeds to tell us all about their travel mistakes. They are both seasoned travellers so It would be interesting to see how their travel regrets compare to mine.

 

Enjoying Arabian hospitality on a Desert Safari

 Desert safari, Dubai

Whenever I mentioned that I was going to Dubai to people who have been before, they all said that there was one experience that I should not miss out on-

The Desert safari!

To be honest I was a little confused at first. I always thought that the desert was a barren place with limited wildlife, what animals would I be able to see on a desert safari apart from the odd camel?

Then after a little research I realised, it’s more of an Arabian experience than a desert safari!

The safari bit of the experience is what is known as ‘Dune bashing’, riding a 4 by 4 through the desert near to Dubai. Going as fast as possible over the sand dunes and spinning and hand break turns that envelope the car in a cloud of sand. This part of the safari did not disappoint. The driver was a local Emirati man and luckily we led the procession of cars through the desert. I would liken it to a roller coaster experience but in a car. Luckily the car had an internal cage, just in case…..

 

After the adrenaline rush of Dune bashing we made our way to a ‘Bedouin camp’ in the middle of the Dubai desert. Tables with cushions on the floor surrounded a centre stage. I quickly made friend with another solo traveller from Egypt and we then set out to explore the many things to do at the camp before dinner!

Henna and Shisha

 

Our first stop was the tent that was offering hand henna. I have never had henna on my hands before so was dying to have a design drawn on my hand. I was very pleased with the result! After an hour the henna starts to fall off leaving a brown/red colour stain that darkens the next day. It looked beautiful! Little did I know that this was the start of a henna addiction….

 

We then made our way to the Shisha tent. As you know I love Shisha (Even though I don’t smoke!). We shared a mint shisha and somehow became the main attraction of the camp! A massive group of Chinese tourists took a shine to us and proceeded to photograph us secretly as we smoked the Shisha. Some braver members of the group actually sat in between us and smoked our shisha so their friends could take photos of us. It was weird that they wanted to take photos of two ‘Western’ girls when there were women in traditional Arabic dress all over the camp!

Riding a camel

 

Next up was what I was looking forward to most…..Riding a camel! Believe it or not Chinese and Japanese tourists proceeded to take photos of us the whole time that we were on the camel! I just smiled and acted like people took photos of me all of the time!

I didn’t realise that it’s so high on top of a camel. I’m used to riding tall horses but the camel was taller than any horse than I have ever ridden! Suprisingly it was a smooth ride although I think that was because the camels were so well trained. Luckily the camel did not spit at me too.

 

 

Before Dinner I had the opportunity to hold an Eagle and got some pretty impressive photos! Falconry is the sport of Arabian kings, do you think I could be an Arabian queen?

 

 

We were then treated to a magician show before dinner. My Egyptian friend even bought me my first coconut to drink! Once again I didn’t realise that this would lead to an addiction to coconuts…..

Arabic clothing

We had the opportunity to try on traditional Arabic clothes. The ladies outfit was an abaya and a burka. I had really wanted to try on the abaya and burka to see if it was an oppressive garment. When I first looked in the mirror after trying on the outfit It just didn’t look like me. It’s the opposite to clothes that I usually wear; I prefer figure hugging clothes not shapeless sacks. I also like looking individual. It’s impossible to look individual in an abaya; i guess that’s the whole point of it.

 

 

 

I was surprised to say that it felt quite nice and comfortable to wear. I felt quite mysterious too which I kind of liked.The sleeves had a beaded design and I was told that abayas very often have small details that make them different. They are not all just plain black sacks.

I can see how it’s a practical design in the desert but the fact that it’s black makes it oppressive, it must absorb heat. Trying it on was certainly an experience and made me look at abayas and burkas in a different light.

At the camp there were quite a few women wearing abayas and burkas. They acted just like normal twenty something women. Complimented me on my nails and henna and we laughed and joked about things. I did notice that the younger ladies had very detailed eye make up and individual eyebrows. I guess that is the only originality that they can show to the outside world. Which is kind of sad.

Arabian buffet

Dinner was an Arabian buffet consisting of rice, salad, curry and a BBQ. Surprisingly women had to used a different buffet than the men. This just added to the exotic atmosphere, I was in the Middle East after all!

 

The entertainment was world class. Belly dancing and a whirling dirvish stole the show! When the entertainment ended I didn’t want to leave the camp!

 

 

Overall I would highly recommend the desert safari. Dubai is a very modern city and you can sometimes forget that you are in the Middle East. Even though it’s clearly geared towards tourists it’s such an enjoyable thing to do and it gives you a glimpse of what nomadic life must have been like in Arabia! It only cost 160 Dirhams too!

I felt like I was in Aladdin!

What do you think about the Arabian desert safari? Do you think traditional Arabic dress is practical, cultural or oppressive?

 

First impressions of Dubai

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As I stepped off the plane after a long night flight I was transported in to another world. What fascinated me most was the men wearing kanduras and kaffiyehs . The long white robes and head-dresses that Emirati men wear. I knew then that I was in a place with a completely different culture than England.

 

 

 

I then navigated the metro  which was extremely clean and organised. I was also surprised to see that most people in Dubai were not Emirati or Arab. Most seemed to be from Indian and the Philippines as well as lots of ex-pats from every country imaginable.

Dubai truly is a cultural melting pot!

The metro had an optional separate carriage for women and children. I liked this idea because there is nothing worse than being close to a mans sweaty armpit when on the tube! As I looked out of the window of the tube I was mesmerised by the Dubai skyline. Everywhere was extremely built up and every building was beautiful and unique.

It felt a bit surreal, like I was in a place that was not real. It looked too manufactured, too perfect!

But I kind of liked it!

 

I made my way to the Hotel easily. It was situated in an area that seemed predominantly Indian and it was buzzing with life. Everyone seemed very friendly and I felt very safe there.

My first impressions of Dubai were of a safe, organised, multi-cultural place. I had a nap in my room and then went to find out about the real Dubai….

 

Has anyone else been to Dubai? If so what were your first impressions of this city in the desert?

Saying Goodbye

father and daughter

As I write this in exactly 48 hours time I will be high in the sky on a plane travelling to Dubai; the first stop on my big trip. I am so glad that I booked two weeks off work to prepare. Everyday has been filled with sorting my (many) possessions and completing little errands for my trip. There is so much to organise! More than I could ever have imagined.

I have had my two big goodbye meals this week. With my school friends from Widnes and with my family. Both have been quite emotional affairs. Rather than being my chatty self at these gatherings I have been quite withdrawn and contemplative. I’m happy to be realising my dreams but the enormity of what I am about to do is starting to sink in. Watching my parents cry tonight was especially hard, as was hearing that they don’t want me to go.

I will be travelling to countries I have never been to, alone! I have never even been out of Europe before! I am well aware that many women have done a similar solo trip but mine is slightly different because i’m going to Sri Lanka as my first proper stop. A country without a set ‘backpackers trail’ like countries like Thailand. Saying that, that is one of the reasons why I was drawn to Sri Lanka; because it’s different and real.

Believe it or not i’ m still trying to perfect my packing list. I have a pile of clothes that I want to take but I know that I will have to reduce that pile considerably. I will be carrying all of my possessions on my back so it’s imperative that I don’t take too much. In a way it’s unfortunate that i’m a girly girl. It would be so much easier to pack lightly if I preferred shades of khaki and trousers rather than flowing dresses and floral prints!

I want to buy unique clothes when I’m away too so I want to keep some space for that or send clothes home as I get new ones.

Sooooo much to think about.

 

In the end I know that it doesn’t really matter what I pack. I can get most things out there; people want and need the same things wherever they are in the world! Even if something isn’t available people manage to get by! Most other backpackers will be in casual clothes anyway. I’m well aware that I’m already a fashion anomaly with my penchant for dresses!

Tomorrow I will be assembling my final packing list. I think what I am about to do will really sink in then. I’m sure that I will be filled with excitement as soon as I step on the plane. Until then I’m thinking about what I’m going to miss. Which is normal.

Everything will be the same here when I come back in a year. Just like I never went….

What I’m going to miss from home

friends, retro, red hair

Can you believe that it’s only 4 days until I leave! It has come round so fast! I have had a very hectic week with moving out, sorting all of my possessions so that they fit in a box room and planning the perfect packing list! As I said in my last post I have also been feeling very sentimental about England and what I’m going to leave behind.

So here it goes! This is a list of what I will miss from home when I’m on my travels!

My Family

I’m very close to my immediate family. I have always made the effort to see them as often as possible and rarely a week has gone by where I have not popped by for a cup of tea one evening! I will miss having someone to help advise me on what I should do and talking to people who know me inside out. We are going to keep in touch via skype but I will really miss them.

 

Little Leo

Leo is my parents cat and he is the cutest cat in the world! He is so affectionate and can make any surface look cosy. Believe it or not his favourite ‘bed’ is a milk tray box from Christmas! I hope to pet many cute cats in Asia though, which is part of the reason why I got my Rabies jab…

 

Horse riding

I started horse riding about two years ago and since then I have had a slight horse obsession; so much that I actually go to Adult pony club where we do things like braid horses hair and practice putting boots and bandages on the horses as well as learn about horse theory. I love the freedom of riding. There is no better feeling than cantering at speed on a beach or mountain. It broke my heart to have to give up riding in the last few months before the start of my big trip. One of my dreams is to ride a horse through the Australian rain-forest when I’m in Australia!

English food

I always feel a pain in my heart when people diss English food. Yes it may not be the most flavoursome or healthy of foods on the planet but surely nothing is more tasty than a roast dinner or fish and chips? I especially love good old Widnesian chips, peas and curry, mmmmm. I am looking forward to the food in Asia though. Especially in Sri Lanka where I hear that they eat curry three times a day! Now that sounds like my type of place!

 

Vintage Clothing and shopping!

You may have guessed that I like the vintage look. I especially love clothes from the 1950’s and 1960’s and I wear a lot of reproduction and original vintage pieces. Unfortunately real vintage is too fragile (and precious!) to take travelling and most of my reproduction vintage clothes are very heavy and crease very easily. I’m going to try my best to retain my style whilst I’m away though so I’m going to pack versatile pieces that look pretty and are easy to clean. I also want to see if I can find any vintage inspired dresses on my travels.

 

Work

What?! I hear you cry! Calm down, I don’t think that I will miss my actual job but I will definately miss being productive. I’m usually always on the go from work, seeing friends and my hobbies so my proper spare time is very mimimal. To counteract this I want to try volunteering whilst I travel to help local communities and seek casual employment if the opportunity arises. Saying that I may love having so much free time to spend how I wish. I want to work on this blog, practice photography and study the language, culture and history of the places that I’m visiting. I’m sure that that will keep me very busy!

The English/Welsh countryside

I think that there is nothing as beautiful as the UK on a sunny day (Which is about 10 days a year). I love the lush greenery of the British countryside. So much that in April of 2012 I joined the local young ramblers group in Liverpool. It was one of the best things that I have ever done. Because of the ramblers group I have been able to get to see the countryside in person throughout England and Wales and met many good friends with similar interests!

I think that the beaches in Asia and Oceania will be better than the beaches in the UK….

 

Red Hair

I had red hair for years but I had to dye it back to it’s original brunete colour before I start travelling. I have been a brunette for about two months now and I really miss red hair! I love how different and vibrant it looks. I love being an individual and red hair really made me stand out in a crowd.  Alas, after the infamous ‘Valencia incident’ I decided that it would be wise to travel as a brunette rather than a redhead. Being a redhead is very high maintenance and requires dying my hair weekly to keep its vibrant colour. Not to mention having to dye the roots every six weeks!

I will be a redhead again though, someday….

 

Liverpool

Fianlly I will miss my favourite city in the whole of the UK, Liverpool. Liverpool has everything that you could want from a city yet it has the small town feeling. It has an unrivalled nightlife scene and is full of history and culture at every turn. I love Scousers and their friendly outgoing nature. I feel extremely safe in Liverpool and I’m so lucky to have called it home for the past twenty two months. It does not deserve it’s reputation.

 

 

 

 

So fellow travellers, what do you miss from home?

 

American Apparel ‘Le Sac’ dress! The perfect travel dress

I have been searching high and low for versatile items to pack for my round the world trip. I have invested in quite a few items from the crag hoppers nosilife range, they are impregnated in mosquito repellent that lasts for the life of the clothes! They are also really light, dry really fast and have built in SPF 50 so I don’t need to worry about burning in the sun.
What really perplexed me was the search for the perfect travel dress. I tend to wear a lot of vintage dresses and vintage style dresses which tend to have a lot of material (so are not suitable for travelling ) I have found the perfect travel dress that is light, crease free and versatile so it can be worn in the evening, day or even as a skirt.
The American apparel Le Sac dress!!!
I have also bought some spare straps to change the look of the dress without taking up too much space in my bag.
Check out the many ways in which it can be worn. Now I just need to decide what else to pack. It’s so hard trying to pack light for a year of travel! I want to buy some clothes when I get out there though, as souvenirs!

Now I just need to figure out how to wear it...

What do you think? Will it be versatile and enable me to have many outfits from just one dress or will I get all tangled up or fall down when a cheeky Aussie pulls one of the many straps?

I have bought my (perfect) Backpack!

perfect backpack, osprey, travel

I have finally bought my backpack, one of the most important items for my round the world trip!
After reading various travel blogs and advice from friends who have travelled I decided to buy the osprey kestrel 68. I have only heard good things from osprey and the bag is really light with loads of cool features such as pockets on the hip belts and it sits away from the back to avoid getting the dreaded sweaty back!

Decisions

I was torn between the Osprey Exos 58 and this bag. I decided on this one because the straps and hip belts have more padding and it has a handy sleeping bag compartment at the bottom of the bag so I don’t have to search through my backpack to find things!

Cost

I bought it for £130 from Cotswold in Liverpool. They guy was really helpful when I bought it and I tried a few bags to compare how they felt with weight in. I initially tried the s/m but I could immediately feel the difference when I tried the m/l bag on. It felt so much lighter! I also tried a Berghaus to compare but I felt like I was going to topple over! It’s well worth spending more for a decent, well designed backpack!
I will leave you with some photos of me looking very pleased with my purchase 🙂

It’s the perfect size!
Osprey Exos 68
What features do YOU look for in your perfect backpack?