Alhambra // The Jewel of Granada

The Alhambra, a 13th/14th century Muslim palace citadel and one of the most visited places in Spain, I was very excited to go back after remembering my first visit there as a child.  Alhambra is named after its red walls (in Arabic) and it was conveniently built on top of the hill al-Sabika with a view over the whole old city of Granada.  The Alhambra’s influence of Nasrid architecture brings together the Spanish (andalusian) and Islamic (moorish) style, creating uniquely romanticised spaces.  Inside, the walls of the Nasrid palaces are full of calligraphic decoration, with many writings and poems in arabic language.  You can read in much more depth about the history of the Alhambra here.  With so many details to admire in all directions, my only disappointment of the visit is that you do not have longer than your 30 minute time slot within the palaces- definitely make the most of your limited time.  You can however, freely wander around the rest of the grounds for as long as you like.  Generalife gardens is also not to be missed, look out for the diversity of its flowers, plants and fountains.  The grounds can get extremely busy, so you’re best visiting super early in the morning or later into the early evening to avoid the crowds!

(Tip: Make sure you book your ticket in advance or you could miss out as limited tickets are sold per day- you can book up to 3 months prior to your visit and pre-order here)

Granada itself is a beautiful city… I should point out that the whole area is quite hilly so prepare to build up your leg muscles during your trip!  The Albayzín is a popular neighbourhood to experience the city’s ancient centre, where you can get lost down narrow streets and taste the flavours of Morocco!  So if you still haven’t visited Morocco- now’s your cheating chance.  Drink mint tea poured from a fancy silver teapot, enjoy a vegetable tagine with couscous and practice bartering for some good souvenirs.

Here’s some of my photos from this weekend!  I hope you like them!

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Granada views from above
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Looking out the windows in Generalife
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Nasrid details
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With my best travel buddy
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Grand entrances
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Moroccan shopping in Granada
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It’s Spring!
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Oranges
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The Sierra Nevada landscape
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Peeking out
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Generalife gardens
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Moroccan food
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Door details
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Palace views
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Henna
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Tiles
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Architectural elements
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Ceiling details
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Perfect morning view
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Arches and columns
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Granada’s souks
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Old town

Have you been to Granada?  Tell me about your experience!

Roma // Making the most of the Eternal City

From living in Rome for 6 months, I definitely learned a few useful things to know about the Eternal City!  Here I’ve put together my Top 10 Tips to see the city from a local’s perspective and some things to add to your list other than the obvious! (Although the must-sees are still definitely a must-see!)

1.  Check out the Jewish Ghetto!  There are loads of good restaurants in this area, with a mix between jewish and italian cuisine.  In this area particularly, the acclaimed dish of carciofi (artichokes) is a must try!  Aside from all the charming restaurants, the main attraction here to see is Teatro Marcello, the ancient open air theatre built in 13AD (before the Colosseum incase you did not know this.. I didn’t!)  It is impressive to walk by, especially at night when lights from windows above are lit up! (Yep- people actually live above it!)

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Jewish Ghetto
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Teatro Marcello at night!
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Food heaven

2. For city views, the best spots are Terrazza del Gianicolo, Giardini degli Aranci and Villa Borghese (Passeggiata del Pincio) where in all three locations you can watch the stunning sunsets over the cityscape- don’t forget to pack some wine with you!

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View a top of Piazza del Popolo
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View of Vatican from Terrazza del Gianicolo

3. Explore the residential areas Quartiere Salario and Quartiere Trieste to see some of Rome’s most stunning streets and architecture.  Walk down Via Savoia and Via Civitavecchia, two of my favourite streets in the city.  Take in the surroundings of beautiful yellow and orange tone buildings lined with shiny vespas outside.  Look out for Villa Albani tucked away behind a side street and walk down the busy tree lined Viale Regina Margherita.  In the same area, walk to Quartiere Coppedè which has a feel of an italian fairytale, with quaint arched doorways and Roman fountains you can sit on whilst waiting for your Romeo…  Haha but architecture fans will definitely go crazy!

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Quartiere Coppedè
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Piazza Mincio
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Quartiere Coppedè
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Via Dora

4.  You can’t go to Rome and not go inside some of the churches and basilicas.  They are a must-see and really will take your breath away!  Spend a few minutes going in to see and feel what they’re all about.  A couple of my favourites are Basilica di Santa Maria in Trastevere and Basilica di Sant’Agnese on Via Nomentana.

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Basilica Di Santa Maria, Trastevere

5.  If you have more than 3/4 days, or you’ve been to Rome before and feel like exploring elsewhere, I would suggest visiting the surrounding areas (option of beach or countryside!).  You can very easily take the metro to Eur Magliana and change to take a train to Lido di Ostia to explore the local beaches and try out the coastal pizza!  If you feel like some exercise, aside from all the parks in the city you can experience the Roman countryside- go for a run along the path around Tor di Quinto which runs for a few miles.  It’s a relaxing way to escape some of the craziness of the city!

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Countryside at Due Ponti 
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Lido Di Ostia beach

6.  Good deals to bear in mind… every last Sunday of the month, most museums have free entrance!  Definitely head down early to the Vatican museums which are a must see.  If you feel like practicing some italian, every first Wednesday of the month, some cinemas cost only €2 to watch the latest movies! (Now you know when to time your visit!)  As for attractions and museums, us lucky architecture students get free entrance into most places (MAXXI, MACRO, Castel St’Angelo,etc).

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Staircase at Vatican Museums
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Stunning ceiling at Vatican Museums

7.  If you feel like experiencing a non-italian vibe, or honestly, you’re just fed up of eating pizza for every single meal of each day… You can explore behind Termini for the Asian experience… all the indian and chinese restaurants and supermarkets, immerse yourself with more culture and cheap meals!

8.  But when it really comes to food, you can eat pretty well at both a cheap price and expensive price.  For budget meals, try the concept of aperitivo/apericena, where you pay between €8-11 for a drink (alcoholic) and a small buffet, which you can easily fill up on.  (Make the most of it people, stack your plate high and go back for more a few times!!)  My two favourites are Fluid (behind Piazza Navona) and Momart (near Piazza Bologna).  As for quaint little restaurants, avoid anything near Via del Corso (even Trastevere in my opinion can be a bit overrated).  I would suggest eating around Campo de Fiori or even around Barberini you can find some good places.  For dolce, my bakery of choice would be the famous Marinari, where you can find all the best homemade italian pastries and cakes.

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Huge cocktails at Fluid!
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Marinari (pasticceria)

9.  Most importantly, when it comes to the main attractions, save them for the evening and you will have a much better experience.  It’s hard to appreciate Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Colosseum, Roman Forum, Vatican City, Spanish Steps… when people are poking their selfie sticks in your face.  This can definitely ruin your expectations.  So to avoid disappointment, I suggest to walk around the center starting after 9pm (the later the better) and you will be surprised how quiet it is.  (If you’re after nightlife and atmosphere head to Trastevere!)

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Peaceful Pantheon

10.  The deal with transport.  This is a warning- avoid the metro if you can.  After taking it every day, I can honestly tell you every day was a horrible experience.  You should be fine outside of rush hours…  but otherwise you’re going to experience the life of a sardine- stuck between hundreds of others and super stinky…  (And this was my experience in winter months, imagine how much worse it gets in summer!)  Other than the metro, buses and trams are a great way to get around the city, just don’t expect the times to be reliable!  And if you’re driving- great!!  You can be a true italian and not follow any of the rules and park wherever the hell you like.  In Rome, anything goes.

If you’re visiting (or moving!) to Rome, feel free to send me a message and I can tell you a bit more about my experience.  Buon viaggio! 🙂

Visa-Free transits in China // 12hrs in Beijing

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Here’s my short guide to the invaluable visa-free transits in China.  The deal- you have up to 72 hours to take advantage of your layover and go explore the city!  (Yes, you can leave the airport!) This applies to most major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, etc).

So here’s my experience.  We landed on Christmas Eve at around 6am, the visa control was packed and chaotic, and there seemed to be no one working… and no one to ask.  (Correction: nobody to ask who spoke proper english! This really surprised me)  Yep, a not so merry start.

We luckily had booked a tour to see the Great Wall of China, and we were therefore provided with paperwork (which we had printed) which was written in Chinese and apparently granted us a ‘speedy access’.  After standing in a queue for already 40 minutes with nothing happening, we hurried over to the ‘special access’ line immediately, where there seemed to be someone working, to see if they would let us through.  Somehow, they did.  After the temporary entry stamps in our passports, we left the long queues behind us (we definitely saved ourselves over 2 hours!!) and we crossed to the other side, feeling proud and content for being only of a select few granted the freedom to leave the airport!

If you don’t have any ‘special paperwork’ like we did (through booking a tour), I would advise you to literally run to the visa zone as soon as you land.  (We knew what we would have to deal with again on the way back and we were unfortunately without any chinese paperwork to help us get through faster!)  Head straight to the Visa-free transit line on your far left, fill out your arrival form and make sure you have proof of your ongoing flight (show your boarding pass).  Regardless, you will still probably be waiting for at least 30 minutes.

We had 2- 12 hour layovers (before our trip to the Philippines and on the way back).  We prioritised The Great Wall and The Forbidden City to see over these 2 days.

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THE GREAT WALL

We had booked a private car to take us to Mutianyu (the closest part of the wall to the airport) as I read that getting there on your own may be difficult (I may be wrong!).  At a hefty price of €77 each, we were driven to the wall (about an hour to get there) and it cost about another €13 (100 Yuan) to take a cable car to get up to the wall. (Please note: it may be called a cable car, but it’s actually the equivalent of an open ski lift, prepare yourself for a very high up and unsteady ride to the top!!)  The private tour was pricey, but when you’re on a layover and pushed for time (and in below freezing temperatures) we decided it was a worthwhile investment- and it was.  The wall is not something to be missed!  

If you go to the Mutianyu wall, make sure you take the toboggan on the way down the mountain. I was skeptical about it, and slightly terrified… but it was probably the most fun thing I have ever done-  I’m serious!!  (I lost my GoPro footage of this annoyingly!!)  But more or less, you’re speeding down the mountain for 6 minutes on your own toboggan down an open metal shoot and it’s exhilarating (You can see the shoot in the images below).  You will have a lot of fun, so I suggest you do it (Tip: go for it and scream all the way).

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THE FORBIDDEN CITY

On the way back, we tackled the Chinese metro and headed to Tianyamen East/West, which involved a couple of changes, and we entered the Forbidden City (costs 20 Yuan- just under €3).  The scale of the ancient emperor city really will take you by surprise, it was incredible.  After exploring for a while, we left to go eat some authentic chinese food!  This really was an experience, and if you haven’t gotten the jist of chop sticks yet, you better start learning!  (Please note: think twice before you order that noodle soup, it took me probably 45 minutes to finish it!)  When it comes to ordering food, portions can be quite big so don’t order too much, I couldn’t finish and I eat a lot!  No one will speak english probably either, so get your hand movements and facial expressions on point (from living in Italy, I’m pretty good at this by now!)

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We had a successful 2 days in Beijing, but I cannot wait to go back to the city and to explore the rest of the country with more time!  What’s your experience with a China transit?!  Have you visited Beijing?  Leave me a comment, I want to hear your experience!

To find out more information about the 72 Hour Visa-Free Transits, click here

Winter Sun // Fuerteventura

If you live in Europe and haven’t been to the Canary Islands, you’re crazy.  If you have visited, but went during the summer, you’re crazier.

The Canary Islands are the perfect getaway from the cold winters in Northern Europe.  Just under 3 hours travel time from London Gatwick and you’re in 20+ degree sun.  And with regular cheap flights (booked a couple months in advance) you can escape some of the brutal weather back home during the coldest months.  [This is the highlight of the destination, take advantage of the islands during the winter!]

Fuerteventura is my favourite island out of the ones I’ve visited (Tenerife and Lanzarote I’ve been to as well) because of numerous reasons listed below.  Fuerteventura is the oldest island of the archipelagos and closest to Africa and Western Sahara, which means the outstanding feature of this island are the sand dunes… basically making it a doable desert you can visit and enjoy!

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My Top 5 Highlights // Fuerteventura

  1. The island has the perfect culture mix.  It’s a spanish speaking island, but just as many italians live there, and the majority of tourists are british.  So let’s just say I was speaking all 3 languages in a northern African climate (my ideal place really!!)
  2. Food.  The island is well supplied with supermarkets (I would know as I’ve been to most of them in the north of the island!!)  Here you can get lots of fresh fruit (papayas are the one to go for) and lots of good food at cheap prices compared with western Europe.  Restaurants also cook up the mediterranean favourites such as paella and seafood etc.  You must try the famous papas arrugadas which are canary potatoes served with a spicy mojo sauce, they’re delicious!  For my fellow veggies, you will be probably be surprised to hear that there a handful of vegan restaurants and cafes!  (D. Sanchez Bar is the best for vegan burgers!)
  3. You will get the best tan in a short amount of time.  The island is cooled by regular winds (fuerte viento in its name means strong winds but fuerteventura actually means strong fortune.)  You will tan easier without having to deal with boiling and uncomfortable heat!
  4. There are endless activities from buggy riding alongside volcanoes to surfing in the ocean to camel riding in the dunes- if you love outdoor adventures you will be kept busy for sure!  When you’re out and about on the beaches, just watch out for all the Adams’ and Eves’ walking around naked… definitely an interesting quirk to the island!  You will find many of them settling in bunkers on the beach (beware before you go peeking inside them)
  5. The landscape is still very much untouched and unspoilt, the island coastline consists of white sand beaches and inland consists of jagged black volcanic rock.  With a total island population of just 100,000 people all scattered around, it definitely has a deserted (and desert!) feel, which makes the island more intriguing and relaxing if you’re after some peace and quiet.

img_6388img_6551img_6325img_6546img_6133img_6116img_5841img_5844img_5788img_5750img_5674img_5631img_6097Have you been or planning a trip to Fuerteventura?  Send me a message! 🙂

Hell Nido?!?

El Nido (Palawan) has been named as “Heaven on Earth” and is currently ranked as one of the top island destinations in the world.

So why the title “Hell Nido” ?!

This is is actually a nickname by the Filipino locals for El Nido town- Perhaps a bit extreme but I get their point.  I too was disappointed by the actual place, it was overcrowded with tourists, the streets were dirty, the air polluted and there were tricycles everywhere making it difficult just walking around.  There seemed to be a couple decent looking restaurants and shops, but from the few 3 hours we spent there, I can tell you that it was enough.

So as to not be of confusion, the El Nido tours of the surrounding islands and lagoons are what really make this destination spectacular.  We did a combination island hopping tour which involved: Small lagoon, Helicopter island, Cadlao lagoon and Cadlao beach– and I was extremely impressed.  The first stop was my least favourite, not in terms of place (you can see how stunning the water is below) but because it was the first stop in Tour A, therefore many other boats and tourists were already there.  As our tour was organized by our AirBnb, we got our guys to do a combination tour for us, as we wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

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SMALL LAGOON (Note: This was taken after most of the other boats had left- It was packed just 20 mins earlier!)

img_4227So after the first crowded stop, the day got better and better and soon we were dropped off in more stunning locations, with not a single person in sight.  Helicopter island was the perfect pit stop for a lunch break- by far the best lunch time I’ve ever had!!

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Next up was Cadlao lagoon, which is actually where they’ve filmed series of the American TV show ‘Surivor’.  It was really secluded, with the most turquoise water. We swam through an archway of rocks to get to the tiny beach behind, home to some giant lizards!  Cadlao beach afterwards really made us feel like castaways with perfect gold sand and aligned coconut trees and even a hidden path into the jungle!

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CADLAO LAGOON

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CADLAO BEACH

So I can tell you now that we were extremely lucky in our accommodation. A couple of months prior to the trip we were searching for places to stay, only to discover that everywhere was booked up!  What originally we thought would be a disaster, actually worked in our favour. We ended up booking an AirBnB further up north on Twin beach (Nacpan and Calitang). Where we stayed was just an incredible experience, we had probably two of the world’s best beaches right on our doorstep!!  Calitang beach is almost unknown to tourists, and many times we had the whole beach to ourselves (definitely winning).  It felt crazy to me to be surrounded by such a stunning landscape with absolutely no one in sight!  We had a very comfortable stay at Mama Cherry’s (she was the bomb) and we had the most delicious food and fresh fruit smoothies every day.  From our beach I witnessed the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen, the sequence of images below were taken from one single evening!

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Despite being 45 mins away from El Nido, we realized that it didn’t make a difference as we never left where we were (especially after hearing about Hell Nido, which we did visit for the sake of seeing it!). You can happily enjoy your time in the area, get to know the local people and really live the island life.  There aren’t many options for eating out, but you’ll find that there’s enough.  On Nacpan beach I recommend Prince’s restaurant and on Calitang beach I recommend Mama Cherry’s (of course).

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TWIN BEACH (CALITANG-NACPAN)

Getting to Twin Beach involves a very dangerous but interesting dirt track- vehicles actually cross a small river at one point… I do not recommend driving a motorbike, I heard of quite a few serious (and fatal) accidents which happened the week before our arrival.  For your safety, please don’t do it!  Pay a little extra to take a tricycle, or better still, one of the Jitney buses from El Nido bus terminal.  And if you want to avoid the craziness of “Hell Nido” and really want a relaxing beach holiday, I suggest staying on Twin beach.  But be warned: staying in a stunning location comes with a sacrifice.. There is no phone service out there and don’t rely on wifi either!  We went 6 days without contact, which in hindsight, was the perfect break from our phones to really appreciate every moment of where we were.  I had the best time here!!

Feel free to leave me a message if you have any questions!

Happy travelling! (Please take me back with you)

El Nido: Small Lagoon

 

An obvious highlight of my recent trip to the Philippines, was the island hopping tour!  The short video I made shows you our first stop at the Small Lagoon.

*Tip*  As the Small Lagoon is the first stop on Tour A, I would suggest asking your tour group to head there earlier or go later on in the day, when all the other boats have left.  It was actually my least favourite part of the Tour because it was the only location we stopped off at where there were other tourists!  (It was still pretty cool)

Also, watch out for the coral here, maybe invest in some watershoes… Or you could be lazy like everyone else and rent a kayak 😉  I swam into the lagoon and it was definitely fun!

How do I afford to travel so often?

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Singapore Strait

In the past year and a half I have been on quite a few holidays… about one every month or two..!  Surely travel is a good addiction to have right?!  Because who doesn’t love to escape for a few days or weeks, whether it’s to explore a new country or simply to relax!

So how do I afford the luxury to travel so often?  Well first of all, you need to change your mindset.  If you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen, whatever it takes..!  Secondly, unless you’re rolling in money, I strongly suggest that by adapting your daily habits, you will be prioritising your money for travelling.

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Chuck Palahniuk

So here are my 10 top tips:

  1. Save and spend less.  Easier said than done right?  Well, listen to me, you don’t need that new dress for going out Saturday night, or the expensive designer bag or limited edition Mac make up.  That £200 you’ve just spent on a few new items, you could be using to go on a city break.  It’s all about perspective- how do you choose to spend your money?  We really don’t need new shit all the time!
  2.  Sell.  Sell what you don’t wear, sell what you don’t need, why clutter up your house with stuff you never use when you might as well make money from it??  Simple logic.
  3. Step it up.  From the age of 12, I got my first part time job and I have worked part time since then.  If you need to make extra cash for trips, then you’re going to have to find maybe a second job and work for it.  If you’re a native english speaker and live abroad, teach! (I make time on the weekends to teach a few classes here in Rome!)
  4. Search.  Find the cheapest flights and let the lowest prices choose your destination for you!  Doesn’t that sound exciting?!  It may be freezing to go to Denmark in February but at least it’s the quiet season for tourists!  As I’m based in Europe, most of the places I visit are nearby and cheap to fly to.
  5. Short trips.  If you’re looking for a cheap holiday over a weekend and you’re travelling nearby (such as within Europe), keep the holiday short and sweet.  You can see a lot in just 3 days and you’ll be saving money.
  6. Stays.  I personally love AirBnBs, it’s a great way to meet locals and experience the country by staying in a more personal place.  There are also many other benefits, such as your money going straight to a family rather than a big company, you can have a whole house or apartment to yourself, and you may have the option to cook meals, thus saving more money!
  7. Sacrifices.  When on holiday, don’t be ashamed of being frugal, by saving money on one trip, you are leaving more for another one!  Also try to not eat out for every meal or go for drinks every evening.  Obviously it depends what type of holiday you’re after- if you’ve saved more money for boozey nights, then go for it (I’m secretly jealous).  But really, it’s not hard to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of jam, and make toast- you don’t need that expensive buffet breakfast!!  And those cheap but awful tacky souvenirs, just don’t.
  8. Share.  Trips can work out cheaper if you’re with more people as you split prices.  Just make sure you’re going with people you actually like and can travel with!
  9. Sort.  Decide what to pack, and put it all in a carry on bag.  What’s the point in spending that extra money for checked in luggage for a short trip- pack light, you’ll be grateful not to carry loads when you’re away!
  10. Success.  If you want to go somewhere, make it happen.  Sometimes you just have to book flights and worry about finances later.  I’ve never regretted a trip, they’ve all been worth it and I love looking forward to all my upcoming ones.  Sometimes trips work out to be more expensive than you realised, with hidden expenses and extra costs, but that’s just life.  You’ll get over it the moment you’re away and experiencing a new sense of adventure and self achievement, and of course, by making loads of unforgettable memories!

Good luck and enjoy your trips!