Thursday, 31 December 2015

Some travel and blogging thoughts and resolutions for the New Year

As 2015 draws to an end, it is only natural to reflect on the past 12 months and the year that is about to start. In terms of both travel and blogging, it has been a successful one and I hope to build on this in 2016. I've been lucky enough to travel to Malaga with work and discover a highly compatible travel companion in the wonderful Tania. We spent a crazy two weeks dashing around northern Argentina and discovering the charms of Uruguay with a brilliant 12-hour stop-off in Munich on the way back. I look forward to more travels with her in the future.

That South America with an added dollop of Germany trip taught me that circumstances can lead to some very serendipitous happenings. Our flights to Buenos Aires were cheap, seriously cheap, with our stop-off in Munich being one of the reasons why. But it ended up being a highlight of our trip and just goes to show that making the most of such situations can lead to brilliant experiences.

It would be impossible to look back over 2015 and not mention the craziness that was La Tomatina. Despite the early morning start, the GoPro getting nicked (and returned) and washing tomato out of our clothes three days later, it was a bucket list experience I'll never forget. I'm not sure I'd want to be squashed into the streets of Buñol again, but I'm really glad I did it once.

Having clear targets, supplied by my bucket list, has added an extra dimension to my travels and helps to gauge where to go next. Many of the principles I applied to 2015 I simply want to continue and this goes for both travelling and blogging. Trying to post at least once a month and ending up with more articles in total than the previous year is a definite aim that I intend to stick with. I may have slipped ever so slightly on the first point, but the second one I have achieved in 2015 and hope to improve upon in 2016.

Planned travels for the coming year

Morocco in February - because I can't think of anywhere better than the Marjorelle Gardens to celebrate turning 30

Jordan in May/June - this year's girly trip with my wonderful travelling companion Tania

Prague in November - the trip I have been dreaming about with two of my friends for years. The plan is to stay at The Alchymist Hotel to mark all our 30th birthdays

Some resolutions for 2016
  • Keep up the good work - try and blog at least once a month with an additional post wherever possible
  • Finish posts that have already been started - I have 18 blog posts in my drafts. Not all of these will become fully fledged posts, but many of them have the potential to be, so I need to get them finished and published
  • Travel more slowly - after dragging my other half around Barcelona and Valencia at break neck speed this summer, I realise I perhaps need to plan fewer activities and relax a little more on holiday
  • Be on holiday - speaking of being on holiday, I think I also need to remember to switch off the travel writer/blogger mode while I'm away sometimes. Turn off the camera and live in the moment

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

La Birreria - A new addition to Valencia's craft ale scene

The craft ale revolution seems to have spread to all corners of the globe, ensuring a glass of local, small-batch brewed beer can be found in most places. This goes for Valencia as much as anywhere else, as my boyfriend and I discovered when we were visiting to coincide with La Tomatina Festival this summer.

In the centre of the city, we stumbled upon The Market, offering a good selection of brews including some we had heard of and a few new to our pallets. This little place close to the Central Market had all the makings of a great craft beer bar - a bit dingy inside, an upturned barrel on the street used as a table and a friendly and knowledgeable barman keen to match the right beers with his clientele.

While we enjoyed a few beers here, a real find came a little later on when we were exploring down the route of the former river towards the sea. Keen to check out the ultra-modern buildings that had been built down there we took a wander, but decided to stop for some lunch on the way. The receptionist at our hotel had recommended a few places to get a traditional paella, but at the height of the summer we found most of them were closed. Eventually we got to Raco de Turia, where we had a delicious lunch, but we walked past La Birreria as we wandered about the area.

It was closed due to the hour (lunchtime), but we vowed to stop by on our return journey later that evening, which we did. This lovely little modern bar serves up artesan beer from Valencia, Spain and the wider world and we later found out, was just three weeks old.

Sitting at one of the tables in the street we watched as a member of staff laid a small table for a party. It turned out that the celebration was to mark the owner, Roberto's, birthday. As we sat and tried various beers, including a sea water one called Boqueron, we were welcomed into the festivities and given morsels of tapas and birthday cake. Surrounded by Roberto's friends and family, the atmosphere was really fun and inclusive.

If you are in Valencia and are a fan of craft beer, be sure to head a little way out of the historic centre of the city to find La Birreria. We are sure you will receive a welcome as warm as the one we experienced. And we wish Roberto and his staff lots of luck in their venture. It deserves to do well.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

The well-fed pescatarian samples paella in Valencia

Until this summer I had never travelled to Valencia, but there were a few things on my bucket list for the city that I couldn't ignore and right at the top was paella. Obviously food can be entirely evocative of a place and knowing that this rice and fish dish originated in Valencia I wanted to try one and have the ultimate paella experience.

No pressure then! In order to try and minimise the risk of the outcome of this exercise being disappointment, a paella recommendation was needed. Luckily, the receptionist at our hotel was forthcoming and highlighted a few reliable establishments in various parts of the city. As we wanted to head down to the City of Arts and Sciences we decided to check out an area she recommended just off the former riverbed, which has been transformed into a beautiful park.

Despite there being a small cluster of restaurants scrawled on the map in biro by our friendly receptionist, each one we came to was closed. This is a common problem in Spain during the summer months, when many establishments shut up shop for a few weeks for staff holidays. It was getting late in the day for lunch when we finally found Raco del Turia and the welcoming sight of lights and people inside. It was coming to the end of their lunch service, but they were happy for us to order and we took our seats outside on the pavement.

Eating paella in Valencia is not something to be rushed and while our huge pan of the speciality was being prepared, we enjoyed some smaller dishes, including squid and a delicious salad. When the steaming dish arrived, it was a vision of bright yellow with the seafood distributed across the top. What amazed me was how thin the layer of rice was, allowing it to be cooked evenly over a massive surface area.

From a selection of paellas on the menu we went for paella de mariscos - prawns, cuttlefish and monkfish and it was delicious. The rice and fish were both cooked perfectly and it was quite unlike anything I have ever had before, despite loving all of the ingredients that ended up on my plate. The bright yellow comes from the all-important saffron, which is a much more delicate flavour than its intense hue would suggest.

Safe to say that the paella experience lived up to expectations. So much so I bought a paella pan from a hardware store we walked past the following day. Despite saying it serves two, it was a fraction of the size of the one our authentic paella was brought to us in at Raco del Turia, but that is probably a good thing as I wouldn't have been able to slide it down the back of my rucksack quite so easily if it had been larger! I look forward to plenty of paella suppers at home to evoke leisurely lunchtimes in Valencia.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Love where you live: Newcastle's Long Play Cafe

Wandering into Long Play Cafe on a Friday night, the Stone Roses can be heard from a record player in the corner, people are chatting and enjoying their cups of coffee and a sense of calm can be felt throughout the establishment. It's hard to believe that just metres away the first of Newcastle's Friday night revellers are starting to get into the swing of the evening ahead. This cafe on the Quayside is a haven for real music lovers and coffee aficionados alike.

Long Play has now been open for two weeks and has already received rave reviews from those who have ventured inside. Taking on a part of the popular Popolo bar between 8am and 8pm each day, it serves up Lola's Coffee and vintage records in equal measure.

For those feeling a little peckish, there is a simple menu on offer, with everything from all-day breakfasts to deli sandwiches and jacket potatoes to choose from. Sensibly, a small number of things are being rolled out, so that they can be done well. Although I didn't have anything to eat on this occasion, I'll certainly be back to try the bagel with scrambled egg and smoked salmon. There is also a selection of freshly baked cakes to choose from.

Customers are encouraged to browse the racks of secondhand vinyl for sale and can select records to play on the cafe's own system. Upholstered chairs and pieces of carefully selected vintage furniture have been used throughout the venue to give it a welcoming and comfortable feel. Frames containing record sleeves add to the music-lovers' vibe and are dotted about the place.

Full disclosure

Jackson and Nella who run Long Play Cafe are friends of ours, so I was always going to be predisposed to liking it. But coffee and records; what's not to love?! And these two have the credentials to start up such an enterprise. They are heavily involved in the local music scene. In fact, Nella is in the band Kobadelta. And Jackson was until recently running popular cafe/sometimes music venue Blakes. This venture has therefore been fully considered and undertaken by two highly capable chaps.

How to find Long Play Cafe

Located on Sandhill, Newcastle Quayside, the best landmark is the Swing Bridge, which is directly opposite Long Play. It's impossible to ignore the fact that the Riverside venue is also just across the road, as this link with music continues the theme set out for the cafe.

Long Play Cafe can also be found on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Highlights of the Edinburgh Fringe 2015

Having a sister living in Edinburgh does not just provide the perfect excuse to visit this fine city, but also means free accommodation during the Fringe. For anyone who has looked into heading to the Scottish capital in August or has made it a reality, it is safe to say this should not be underestimated. With thousands of performers and audience members swelling the population throughout the month, finding somewhere to stay can be a difficult and expensive exercise.

With my sister and her family away on holiday for ten days during the festival, my retired parents basically relocated to their house. Mum and Pops are huge lovers of the Fringe and see a wide selection of free and ticketed events every year. This worked out perfectly for me, as they had the time to go through the phone book-thick programme and work out an itinerary for my visit and book tickets - now that's service.

Foil, Arms and Hog

There are occasions when you go and see something at the Edinburgh Fringe and it is only afterwards that you realise it was the funniest thing you will see all weekend and perhaps, all year. This was the case with Foil, Arms and Hog and their Skiddlywup show. Fresh from my train, we headed to the venue and took a seat. My parents had been in Edinburgh a few days by this point and were into Fringe mode, but I still had work on my mind and needed to relax.

Foil, Arms and Hog was perfect for this. From their carefully crafted jokes and clever use of props to hilarious accents and audience participation, these lads had it spot on. They dealt well with an early heckler and involved other members of the crowd in a way that was funny, but not disrespectful - a difficult balance to achieve. One participant, Jake, was returned to again and again throughout the show to great effect.

Jokes about bouncers going on dates, medical musical chairs and the comedic disappearance of Sophie Johansson were all highlights. Mum and Pops booked tickets for this year's show based on how much they had enjoyed their act in 2014. Take my advice: if you are in Edinburgh in August 2016 and Foil, Arms and Hog are performing, be sure to go and see them. You won't be disappointed.


On previous trips up to Edinburgh and Manchester I have tried to see Austentatious - including when it first appeared at the Fringe and was a free show. It seems that third time is lucky and we managed to get tickets. This hilarious improv show is different each time and based on plot suggestions from the audience. Able to attract huge crowds at the Udderbelly venue, finally getting to see it was not a disappointment, with some of the laughs coming from the bizarre situations the unpractised nature of the show put the cast members into.

The "lost Jane Austen work" that one of the actors plucked from a top hat of suggestions was The Unicorn's Wedding. A classic tale of love between both the human characters and their equine counterparts. It's easy to see why the format has proven so popular and lovers of classic literature, as well as comedy, will get plenty of enjoyment from it.

Around the World in 80 Days

Oxford University Dramatic Society's (OUDS) version of Around the World in 80 Days was charming and innovative. Just eight actors portrayed all the parts, using various props to change the settings and their characters along the way. The highlight of the show had to be the appearance of a lovingly realised elephant, created out of an upturned wicker laundry basket, with fans for ears and a series of 45s strung together for its trunk. Plungers were pressed into service as the elephant's feet trudging along - very effective.

Jimmy McGhie

Jimmy McGhie is more of the classic one-man stand-up that many people have seen before. While he may be one among many, he is still good at what he does. Much of his comedy comes from quite a dark place and a difficult relationship with his father, but while this may sound awkward, in reality it made it very personal and there were elements that everyone in the audience could relate to.

McGhie is another Edinburgh performer who knows what a strain doing the same show every day for nearly a month can be. He touched on this, but while obviously sticking to a well-planned overall structure, he bounced off the audience too. Whether it was the soon-to-be-father sat next to his heavily-pregnant partner or the woman who jumped in with a substandard punchline to one of his jokes, he got everyone involved and made the show unique.

The Edinburgh atmosphere

Being in Edinburgh during the Fringe is a fantastic experience, as the whole city swells to welcome some of the most interesting and talented people the UK and wider world have to offer. As well as the comedy, there are a lot of plays to see, music and street art all going on everywhere. The smallest and most obscure places are turned into venues - sheds, barges and camper vans - with something to see at every turn.

The Edinburgh Book Festival is also on at the same time as the Fringe, with lots of events being held around that. Its marquees are set up in Charlotte Square and there is a lovely bookshop to browse even if you don't make it to any of the author speeches or signings.

A trip to Mother India for dinner and a pint at the Bow Bar are the other two things that complete my must-do activities at the Edinburgh Fringe. It's an exciting time of year in the Scottish capital and one everyone should attend at least once. Just don't book too many shows too close together, as that can be exhausting. Factor in some wandering time and you will have an incredible visit.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Oxfam stewarding is a great way to do a festival

All quiet at the end of the night shift at Fire Tower Echo

When an earthquake shook Nepal just weeks after my parents returned from visiting the country, the importance of international charities really struck home. Many people they had met were affected by the situation and many will not see their lives return to normal for a long time.

One way that charities, such as Oxfam, can raise money is by providing stewards for music festivals in the UK. They are given the equivalent of an hourly minimum wage for the work their volunteers do and these helpers get to experience a festival while doing good at the same time.

Pops and I are big music fans and festival veterans, so this year decided to offer our services up to Oxfam and volunteered for Womad. It turned out to be a great decision, leading us to meet some wonderful people and have a truly positive stewarding experience.

How do you get a picture of the Womad sign with nobody else around?
Do it at 7am after a night shift

Having never stewarded before and not attended Womad either, the whole thing was new to us, but we were welcomed into the stewarding fold and quickly felt at home. One of the nicest things about stewarding is that Oxfam has its own campsite and you are immediately surrounded by friendly faces. Not only this, but there is a marquee where you can sit and chat to fellow volunteers, showers and onsite catering, which was provided at Womad by Nuts.

The Oxfam campsite has a very special atmosphere

We were all told in advance to bring our own crockery and cutlery, as disposable items such as these would not be provided. Nuts piled up our plates with huge mounds of delicious food at much cheaper prices than those that could be found in the arena. Each steward is given a food voucher for every shift they do, which also helps to keep the workforce going, with hearty falafels and masses of salads for me and steak and chips for Pops.

Seeing the sun come up at the end of our night shift

Stewarding a festival is not the same as simply attending one as a punter and eight-hour shifts should not be entered into lightly. The benefits of experiencing a festival in this manner far outweigh the hard work, however, with some small and large perks coming as part of the bargain. It is really nice for example, to be able to explore the site before the customers arrive; to recognise the faces of the people you wristbanded in the rain, now that the sun is shining; and to make lots of friends with fellow volunteers.

In return for working the festival, Oxfam stewards get to see some of the acts, without having to buy a ticket. Not knowing what shifts we would be given in advance, we didn't manage to see Count Drachma or Aurelio, but we did get to see the likes of Souad Massi and a Kathkali performance. You certainly can't grumble about that.

Kathkali performers from Kerala in The Big Red Tent

The weather at this year's Womad has seen it dubbed by many as Womud, but luckily Pops and I were prepared. We spent a very soggy eight-hour day shift wristbanding people in the rain, as we were decked out in wellies, overtrousers and waterproof coats. No matter whatever the weather, Oxfam stewards soldier on and we all got through it together. A sign went up in the Oxfam marquee saying that anyone flooded out of their tents could sleep in there, although it appeared nobody needed to make use of the invitation.

It is also almost impossible not to remain vigilant while not on shift and help the public even when not wearing your Oxfam tabbard. Not only did Pops and I help when we spotted someone who had fallen in the mud, but I gave directions to people who were lost and generally got involved at every opportunity.

On leaving Womad, we said goodbye to the friends we had made in the Oxfam campsite and started to head off towards the car. One of the main organisers of stewards at Womad thanked us for our help, which echoed an attitude that was felt throughout the whole festival, with those in charge being very communicable and appreciative of the time people had donated.

Make a difference - steward for Oxfam

There were 400 Oxfam stewards at this year's Womad festival, making some £70,000 for the charity. During the summer festival season in the UK, Oxfam makes more than £1 million through stewarding. This is a huge amount for just three shifts per person. To find out more, visit the Oxfam stewarding website.

Friday, 17 July 2015

How to pass 7 hours in an airport

Essential items in the fight against airport boredom

There are a number of reasons why you might end up spending seven (or another number) of hours in an airport. It could be that your flight is delayed, or like us, your flights were so cheap that you have to change a few times on your way home.

In our instance, the seven hours were at Brazil's Sao Paolo Airport and the prospect of heading into such a vast city just to try and get back within the time frame was too much to contemplate. So we decided to pass them in the terminal building, and actually, they went pretty quickly.

Our entertainment system

When I was growing up and we travelled a lot as a family, my dad always carried with him an old tobacco tin of his grandfather's, which contained all the necessary items required to keep a small group of people entertained when travelling. They fitted in perfectly, with two pencil sharpeners to fill a gap. I remember the intent look on a boy's face as my dad sharpened a pencil for him with one of these items on a trip to Malawi.

Knowing that we would have such a long time to wait I decided to create my own version of this tin before leaving home. I packed a set of cards, six dice and instead of the pencil sharpeners, two rubber pigs. Along with these materials, I also had to hand the instructions for a number of games to play with them (thanks to Pops for providing these). It's amazing how two small pigs can keep two grown women entertained for such a long time. Any travellers who have not encountered Pass the Pigs should look into this quirky and easily transportable game.

Dice games in Sao Paulo Airport

The dice also got used, with classics Yahtzee and Farkle going down well. For anyone not familiar with these games, it is worth learning the rules and packing a set of dice on your next trip. You never know when you might get stuck at an airport or find yourself with only a few Uruguayan pesos left on a wet evening in Colonia.

People watching

Airports are fascinating places, with plenty of people milling around and trying to achieve various outcomes. After spending 11 days in several countries on our trip, we enjoyed working out where the different people were from. There were far fewer mate cups and flasks, as we were no longer in Argentina or Uruguay, but the thick soles of some of the women were a give-away that were from one of these countries, as we had spotted them throughout our trip.


Seven hours is a long time to go without food, but this can be further complicated by not having any money to purchase anything. This can be particularly tricky if you are in an airport in a country different to the one you have been visiting. We had been in Brazil for half a day on this trip, but had spent all of our reales at Iguazu, so needed to find an alternative source.

One solution was to exchange some of the Argentinian pesos we had left, but the cambio at the airport wanting to charge $17 to do this, making it not worth it at all. Despite the fact there were ATMs displaying the names of our banks on them, our debit cards did not grant us access to any cash. In the end we chanced it and ordered some food and found we could pay by card. If this hadn't worked, we were going to be a bit stuck and undoubtedly, hungry.

Other ideas

There are plenty of other things that you can do to help pass the time at an airport, including:
  • Reading
  • Catching up on your travel journal
  • Shopping
  • Checking into an airport lounge
  • Getting a massage
  • Having your nails done
  • Writing your postcards and desperately trying to find a post box

Game rules - courtesy of Pops

  • A game using SIX dice for any number of players.
  • The aim is to reach a target score (say 5,000 points).
  • The key to the game is to decide when to bank your score, as if you do not score you lose all your score for that turn.
  • What gives you a score? – 1 is 100 5 is 50
  • Three 2s = 200, three 3s = 300, three 4s = 400, three 5s = 500, three 6s = 600, BUT three 1s = 1,000 AND 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 = 2,000. All these scores have to be thrown with one throw of the dice.
  • Throw all the dice, but you must keep at least one scoring dice (a1, a 5 or 3 of a kind, etc). Keep a mental record of your score, throw the remaining dice (if you wish) and add on the score from this new dice. You must score with each throw or you will forfeit all your points for that round. If you use all six dice, you can throw again and add on to this mental score, but there is always the chance you could lose all your points accrued in that turn if you fail to score. When you decide to stick that score is then written down and used to head for the target score.
  • You can pass any unused dice to the next person – if they choose to use those dice then your score from that round becomes theirs. E.g. if the dice were passed to you and the person passing had just scored 350 and you rolled the dice and rolled a 1 you would then have a score of 450. You do not have to accept the unused dice and may simply start again with all six dice.

  • A game using FIVE dice for any number of players.
  • The aim, to obtain the highest score of all the players.
  • There are 13 rounds of play and 13 ways to use the dice for one of the ways of scoring – but you may decide to forfeit one of the ways of scoring if you cannot fulfil a way of scoring.
  • With each throw, you first throw all 5 dice. You may keep some or all of these dice and throw the remaining dice twice more. You then have to decide which of the 13 rounds you are going to score against. 
  • With the top half of the scoring sheet (i.e. 3 x 1; 3 x 2; 3 x 3; 3 x 4; 3 x 5; 3 x 6) if you exceed or reach the target score of 63 you get an additional bonus of 35.
  • What each term means:
  • Yahtzee: 5 of the same number
  • Full house: 3 of 1 number and 2 of a different number 
  • Low straight: 4 numbers in order e.g. 2, 3, 4, 5,
  • High straight: 5 numbers in a row e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 
  • Low score and high score: Throw as above, the only stipulation that the low score must be less than the high score

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Why I don't want to travel full-time

As a travel writer and blogger, I see a lot of posts from people who are on the road full-time hoping to impart wisdom onto others, so they can do the same in a sustainable way. I have been very lucky to travel a lot throughout my life and despite a number of longer trips, I have always come home.

While a little part of me would like to be constantly travelling, I know that I am not really that person deep down. I love packing my backpack for a trip, having enough time to explore a place properly and at some point want to live abroad again, but I also love coming home.

The feeling that I get when I see the Angel of the North is incomparable to any other. With limited flights from Newcastle Airport available, many of my trips start and end with a train journey and catching a glimpse of this strong representation that I am nearly home always gives me excited butterflies.

If work requirements and money weren't obstacles I would undoubtedly travel more than I do now, but I don't think I would pack up and head off for good. I love where I live and am close to my family, as well as truly believing that the north-east of England is a fantastic place, so think I would always want to return here.

While it is easy to look upon the lives of those who travel full-time as the perfect situation, it is also important to realise that such a lifestyle is not for everyone. I am the type of traveller who needs the time between trips to process and fully appreciate all that I saw and experienced, as well as a few home comforts and cuddles from my nieces and nephew to keep everything in perspective.

When I was 22 I worked in a backpackers' hostel in Cordoba, Spain for a while and one of the best parts about it was meeting so many interesting people. What became noticeable, however, among those who were visiting Andalucia as part of a long-term travel plan or round-the-world trip was that a few of them were no longer able to take it all in.

It's safe to say that not everyone gets incredible experience overload, but it is easy to see how it could happen. When visiting fantastic places that are all very different and new one after another, it must be exhausting. There is no way to compare the beauty of a Mayan temple with a beach in Tarifa or a Klimt hung on the wall of a gallery, but your mind needs space to compute all of these things, or at least mine does anyway.

That is why I value the days when I look out over a grey Gateshead sky and see the new cygnets in the local park as much as my time travelling. I love going away, but also coming home and have the whole of my life to see the world, a small section at a time.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

A walk along Defensa during the Feria de San Telmo


There is nothing quite like strolling along San Telmo's main street, Defensa, on a Sunday morning when hundreds of stalls have been set up selling everything from antiques to mate flasks and alpaca finger puppets. In fact, this is one of the most quintessential experiences to be had in Buenos Aires and one that I will never tire of having.

The smell of these delicious nuts fills the air
and adds to the general atmosphere of the feria.

Anyone for mate? A taste for this herb-based drink
is somewhat necessary in Argentina, as it is fairly
ubiquitous, with everyone carrying around their kit
and places to refill hot water at regular intervals.

These traditional soda siphons are the real deal.
You can tell a true antique down to their colours,
as only clear, blue, green and turquoise
were originally produced.

A fantastic assortment of
odds and ends on sale.

Gardel lives indeed.
The famous tango singer is regularly
emulated on the streets of San Telmo.

This incredible lady could be found at
the quieter end of Defensa, making a
lot of commotion of her own. She was
very cheerful and playing a setup made
from all manner of household objects.
She even threw her drumsticks in the
air every now and then. She also had
a little trumpet fashioned out of plastic

Monday, 18 May 2015

Travelling in your early 20s versus travelling in your late 20s

Then                                                              Now

Returning to Argentina six years after my original trip has given me a great opportunity to compare the differences between travelling in my early 20s and again in my late 20s. Some of the changes are due to circumstances, while others concern my preferences. Either way, it is quite interesting to take a look at what has changed.

Less time

With a steady job I don't have the ability to just take off for three months like I did in 2009. Instead, I had two weeks annual leave, including travel time, which meant limiting myself to a small section of northern Argentina, Iguazu and Uruguay. Six years ago I went all the way down to Ushuaia and weaved my way back up between Argentina and Chile.

This was a very different kind of trip, but my travel companion Tania and I were pleased with the route we decided to take. This was essentially a loop, starting and ending in Buenos Aires, but taking in some key sites along the way. Iguazu was as amazing as I remembered and the Uruguayan cities of Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento offered a relaxed contrast to the freneticism of Buenos Aires.

Notes at an antiques market in Montevideo

More money

The aforementioned job means I have a little bit more cash to spend than the bare basics I could justify back then. In my early 20s I just wanted to get away, even if I couldn't really afford it. As I draw closer to the big 3-0, however, I find myself requiring a few extra creature comforts. They came in a number of forms.

Cama instead of semi cama

Argentina is a vast country and the need for overnight bus journeys is inevitable. Back in 2009 I would only ever pay for semi cama seats, whereas this time I was more inclined to go for the whole cama experience and lie back flat. With only 11 nights in South America and three of these used to cover some lengthy distances, a cama seat offered a better opportunity to get some sleep and make the most of the time available.

Our palace accommodation in San Telmo

Airbnb over Couchsurfing

I have really loved my Couchsurfing experiences and believe that Airbnb is a relative of the movement. It means a little bit more comfort and guarantee, but with the same ethos. A more grown-up version for a more grown-up me. This trip was my first one with Airbnb and it went well. We especially enjoyed staying in a palace in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires.

Digital over SLR

It pains me to say it, but a digital camera is more convenient than my faithful Olympus SLR that I have dragged on many of my trips. I am still in love with my old manual camera, but it is not best suited for blog posts and tweets, which meant I left it at home. I'm sure my previous travel companions would agree that digital photography is quicker, but I still love the romance of travelling with my SLR and listening to the satisfying 'clunk' it makes when taking pictures. One day I will adventure with it again.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Back to where it all began: Returning to Argentina

Iguazu Falls - 2009

Back when I first started this blog I was about to head off to Argentina and am currently preparing to return. In those early days my blog was pretty basic and I did a few posts during my original stint in South America. There was very little formatting, linking or trickery involved.

Some six years later a lot has changed, with both me and my blog. For a start I have undergone journalism training and am now employed as a travel writer (23-year-old me is very happy about this). I like to think that my writing style has evolved and my blog has come a long way.

Over the years that I have had this blog, it has been a space where I can try out new things and put what I've learned through studying online journalism and working in the industry into practice. It is still not as shiny and professional as I would like, but as I learn, I like to think it improves.

While the blog has come a long way since those original posts, the reasons for writing it remain the same. My passion for travel has never dwindled and my desire to write stays with me. Who knows where it might lead in another six years? Perhaps I'll be planning my third trip to Argentina, but I hope I'm still travelling and writing, and loving it as much as I do now.

On my next trip to Argentina I will be travelling with a good friend of mine, who has never been to South America before. Luckily, having lived together we are pretty much in tune and her concerns were also the ones that I shared. The disparity between my experience in the region and hers could have been a problem, but we think we have come up with a good plan.

Several hours were spent pouring over guidebooks and maps, with the outcome being that we have come up with an itinerary that suits a first-time traveller and someone who is familiar with the region. Our route combines some of the classics - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls - with destinations I have not visited before - Montevideo and La Colonia.

While we only have 11 days, this route, which includes three overnight buses, looks like a good way to explore this corner of South America. So roll on May and my return to this stunning part of the world.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

How to be considerate when you travel more than your partner

The life of a travel writer, or even just a frequent traveller, can take its toll on the individual involved, but they are not the only one who might feel the implications. Being the partner of such a person can have its difficulties too, but there are things that can be done to lessen the strain on a relationship.

It could be that your partner would love to travel as much as you do, but work or circumstances prevents it. Alternatively, it may be that your other half simply isn't as interested in exploring the world, so you go without them. Either way, here are some ways you can make your many departures easier on them.

Have your own toothpaste

This is a really simple thing to achieve and can be applied to a number of household items that you generally share when you live with someone. If you are heading off for a few days on an assignment or trip and pack the communal toothpaste, the chances are it won't be until bedtime that your partner realises there's nothing to brush their teeth with. At this time of night there isn't much they can do about it and are most likely to feel contemptuous about your travel lifestlye.

Let them know your travel plans

Outlining your travel plans to someone before you go away is sensible, so they know what to do if there was a problem. Doing this with your partner is even better as it will let them know at what point they should start to worry. If they are expecting you back at a certain time and a certain date and you don't appear, then they can start to look into where you are and what to do about it.

Another good idea is to write key information down, such as a brief itinerary, hotel names and numbers and flight details. This means if you are delayed and don't have a way of getting in touch, they can check these and assuage their worry.

Stay in touch

It is very easy to get wrapped up in what you are doing on your travels and forget about your life back at home, especially if you're only away for a few days. Your partner will want to know you have at least arrived safely and not getting in touch can lead to resentment. The emphasis should be on the person who travels to ensure they make the connection, not the other way round. In this day and age it is much easier to be in touch than it used to be, but even in off-the-beaten locations, it is still worth making the effort.

Unpack straight away

Nothing will remind your other half of the downside of your lifestyle more than tripping over a full backpack every day. Unpacking is not the most exciting of jobs and one that is easily put off, but getting everything organised and put away will mean there is not a constant reminder to your partner that you will soon be off again.

Ask about their activities during your absence

While your trip may seem much more exciting than the things that your boyfriend or girlfriend does every day, they are still important. Of course you will want to fill them in on everything that you got up to, but don't forget to show an interest in their lives, as forgetting to do this can lead to a big void opening up between you.

Let holidays be holidays

When you travel a lot for work, it can be easy to let this side of things creep into your holiday time. With this in mind, try and draw a distinction between the travelling you do as part of your job and that which is done with your partner. This may mean not blogging from a destination or continuously highlighting the fact that you have been to a place before. Sometimes it is better to discover a city together as opposed to be offering your expert knowledge all the time.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Childhood memories of Africa

Back in the 90s, a couple from Newcastle-upon-Tyne took their two daughters - five and nine at the time - on their first trip to Africa. They would return several times throughout the girls' childhood, but little would they know that, 20 years later, the youngest would become a travel writer. Here, Emma Dodd reflects on the impact those childhood experiences had on her development and the memories that outshine so many others.

A few years ago when my parents were moving house, they uncovered a box full of the scrapbooks my sister and I had made of the holidays we went on as children. There was also a photo album that my sister had made after our first trip to Africa. All the photos were taken from knee height and highlighted the things that catch kids' attention, but pass adults by.

Flicking through the pictures really showed how engaged with our surroundings we were and the extraordinary experiences we had. My own first memories include holding a baby crocodile and making friends with an orphaned elephant named Moto in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, where we stayed on one of our trips.

At the time I didn't realise how fortunate we were to be able to go off to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Malawi and South Africa during our summer holidays. It is only now that I understand what an undertaking it must have been for my parents to pack up their family and take two small children to such an incredible continent.

One difficulty was always to get us to take our anti-malarial pills and my mother used to employ a wide variety of tactics to ensure we did. These included squashing them between two teaspoons and adding strawberry syrup to disguise the taste or hiding them in sandwiches.

As a child I could see the differences between where I lived and the places we visited, taking in stunning views such as Victoria Falls and the paradisiacal beaches of Zanzibar. Going to school had much more significance after seeing children in these places ask my parents for pencils and their rapt attention as my dad pulled one from his bag and sharpened it before handing it over.

Making friends has never been a problem for me and I became adept at connecting with children that I met in all these countries despite, usually, the lack of a common language. This formed the basis of a fundamental skill that has come in useful all through my life.

On visiting the Sossusvlei region of Namibia when I was seven, the whole family climbed one of the smaller burnt orange sand dunes. I was determined to see the view from the top of the very tallest and set off towards the summit. After a while, my parents realised I wasn't going to tire until I had achieved my aim and set off in pursuit to be presented with one of the 'great views of Africa'.

Twice in my life I have seen leopard - once on a night drive in Zambia and then again in Malawi, where we stumbled upon a young cub behind an anthill – and, despite my young age at the time, I can still remember the excitement. By contrast, when I then first visited a zoo during my time at university, I was stunned to see a tiger, normally even more elusive than a leopard, just sitting there. Despite the fact that tigers are Indian not African it was then that I really appreciated the patience required to see a big cat in the wild and how the anticipation and search builds the whole experience into something truly holistic and memorable when the 'spot' is made – crucially, even if one misses the sighting, the looking is part of the fun.

For a long time I have had an interest in conservation and campaigns that extend well beyond my own situation and this interest is directly attributable to those early safaris in Africa. Even when I was quite young I had a much greater sense that the world was a huge place than any of my peers and I  understood that there were people who were significantly poorer than us.

I wore my Save The Rhino T-shirt until it practically wore out and, at the age of 12, announced that I was becoming a vegetarian; a decision that was based on careful thought and what I had seen in the world. Travel broadens the mind and my wonderful African experiences as a child had a truly positive impact on me that can I can, today, still trace back to those safaris.

Travel continues to come as second nature to me and I have spent time volunteering as an English language teacher in a pineapple farming community in Costa Rica and taken up every opportunity to visit new places that have come my way. Before I turned travel into a career, my parents would suggest I should be sensible in my thinking about the future and what I would do. To this I have always replied that they shaped what I wanted to be: they took me to Africa when I was five!

This article was originally written for The Explorations Company and appeared on their website in May 2014

Friday, 6 March 2015

Operation turning 30: Phase one: Saving

When I was 21, a friend and I embarked on five weeks of travelling around Eastern Europe by train. Being students, our budget was modest and our view on the world somewhat different to what it is today. Wandering through Prague we came across The Alchymist Hotel and peered in through the window at the warm glow of luxury emanating from inside.

Right there and then we made a pact that if one of us ever became rich or famous, we would treat the other to a stay at the Alchymist. Eight years later and the pair of us have updated our plans and decided that since we are due to turn 30 next year and are in steady employment, we will realise our dream and plan a return trip to Prague and book to stay at this sumptuous hotel.

With a year to go and another friend of ours on board, we are on the first phase of this plan: saving. Each of us has a special Terramundi jar to help us realise our gold. These personalised money pots are great as once you have popped the funds inside, there is no way of retrieving them until the day when they are smashed upon.

This fateful day will come when we get together and take a hammer to our savings jars and count how much we have been able to accrue over a year. Then we shall book our trip and celebrate a total of 90 years of life between us - quite an achievement.

Monday, 12 January 2015

5 travel mistakes I'm glad I made

Leaving Russia turned out to be easier said than done. (Photo: Rebecca Lyons)

To say I am glad I made the following mistakes is possibly an overstatement, as at the time I was probably seething, but each one has taught me a lesson and has shaped the way I travel now. It is therefore fair to say that I'm glad I made these mistakes when I did, as if I hadn't, I would probably make them at some point in the future.

Mistakes are a vital part of travelling, and although we all try and avoid them, especially the serious ones, they help the learning process, which is what travel is all about. They also make life more interesting, so I would encourage you to embrace such misfortunes and move on, taking the appropriate lessons with you.

Missing the train in St Petersburg

After a wonderful time in St Petersburg it was time to leave and my companion and I set off for the train station. This is the same train station where we had looked at the schedules and booked our tickets, but despite giving ourselves plenty of time, we struck a problem - nowhere on the departure boards was our train listed. It took us a while to realise that St Petersburg had more than one train station and we were not leaving from this one.

We jumped in a taxi and raced across town, but it was too late. Our train had already left. We returned to the hostel where we had been staying, somewhat red-faced and rejoined the group of friends we had made, before departing for Latvia the following day.

Sleeping in a bed bug infested bed in Tarifa

Bed bugs are horrible little blighters and once you have them, they can be difficult to get rid of. There are tell tale signs, however, such as blood spots on sheets or the bugs themselves along mattress seams. These days I give my sleeping area a good look over before getting in, but safe to say I didn't do this at the hostel I stayed at in Tarifa a few years ago. I only knew there was an infestation when I woke up with itchy red bites. The room had to be fumigated and disinfected, while I got a free drink out of it, but it was a pretty unpleasant experience.

A hat and covered shoulders are essential in Malaysia's hot sun

Getting sunburnt in Penang

It is very easy to underestimate how strong the sun is when you first arrive in a place, especially if you haven't worked out your plans for the day. This is exactly what happened to me in Penang. I set about exploring Georgetown without a hat or anything to cover my shoulders, thinking that because I was in the city I would be indoors a lot of the time. I ended up walking the streets a lot to get my bearings and despite lathering on the sun lotion, got pretty burnt.

This was a very stupid mistake and one I shouldn't have made. Consequently I bought a hat and always ensured I had a thin top with me to cover my shoulders for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately I also sported a vivid scarlet farmer's tan long after I returned home - ouch.

Running out of money in Spain

Not budgeting properly and spending the entire 36-hour ferry trip from Bilbao to Portsmouth eating cheese sandwiches and hiding in my cabin is a mistake I would probably make again in all honesty. After all, I'm glad I spent the money on pintxos in San Sebastian than on the unexciting food on the ferry. It would have been nice to have been able to afford a drink though!

Booking a flight to Berlin when I was ill

This final mistake was particularly silly, as I broke the golden rule of travel - listen to your gut. I was supposedly over my illness, but knew deep down I still wasn't right. It may have been wishful thinking, but I booked a flight to Berlin for December 2014. Just weeks after securing the flights I had emergency surgery and had to cancel the trip. I seem destined not to go to Germany, but am determined to make it my mission this year.