Melbourne: Getting Set Up – Tips No One Tells You

Our first week in Australia was a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest. The same day we arrived we were off to set up bank accounts and get SIM cards, the next day we finalised the bank stuff, got Medicare set up and went to view a van we had had our eye on the last couple of weeks, and on day three we signed the paperwork and bought the van! We were so excited it was all coming together so quickly. At the same times we were in this amazing city but hadn’t stopped to enjoy it yet and although we were eager to get the van sorted so early on it meant there was more life admin to do there too. After having a roadworthy done for the van (equivalent to MOT) and hearing all that needed fixing with the van we were worried. It could have been worse but it was also another hit to our budget and everyday it was in the garage we were concerned more problems would be found. Luckily, nothing more cropped up, we took the hit moneywise as it needed to be done, and we breathed a sigh of relief when our new little home was back on its plot. That’s when the excitement really kicked in, knowing we could start our road trip as soon as we were ready and hit the road. Phew!

As this was all going on there were a few things we struggled to find clear advise about online so here are some tips based on our experience that hopefully might point other backpackers in similars situations down the right path.

1. The Big One – Needing an Australian Address

We didn’t quite realise just how important and how much this would be needed. If you plan on renting or living in your hostel for a significant amount of time this won’t be a problem. But if, like us, you wanted to move on as quick as possible and don’t want to be waiting around for documents in the post, this is a bit more of an issue. Most hostels will still collect post up to two weeks after you have checked out so if you are still in the area you can return to pick up documents. The other option is to set up a PO Box but be wary some places may be reluctant to send things to a PO Box and need a residential address. Probably the best and easiest way is to have a friend or family member things can be posted to. Often you won’t need the actual document, just the information on it, so if you have a trusted person who can receive it for you it makes things super easy. Tax number for example will be posted 2-4 weeks after applying, but it is only the actual number you need. Similar with the medicard, you will need the physical Medicare card eventually but to start with as long as you have a Medicare number you can update your address and get the card posted when you are staying somewhere more permanent.

2. You can’t get a bank account without an Australian number and you can’t set up a phone plan without an Australian bank account…huh?

Don’t worry about a full on phone plan when you first arrive. Get yourself set up with a SIM only deal as these still offer great packages and once your bank account is sorted you can set up a proper plan for added perks if you need to. You can also switch your Australian number from the SIM only onto the plan so no need to worry about updating to a new number everywhere. Once you’ve got the number next up is the bank account.

3. Documents you need to set up a bank account

You’ll need your passport for starters and one other of the following

-Drivers licence

-Boarding pass

-WHV confirmation

4.Registering your vehicle aka. The Rego, varies massively from state to state. In Victoria this is what you need to do:

– First important step is to get yourself a customer number. You will need this while filling out the transfer of sale form.

– Next, when you’ve found your vehicle and ready to buy fill in the Transfer (Buyer and Seller) form with the person you are buying the vehicle from. They keep a copy and you take a copy

– After this transaction you have 14 days to go to Vicsroad and complete the Transfer of Sale. At the same time you will need to pay to register the vehicle and there are various lengths of time you can choose from 3, 6 and 12 months slots. Whichever you go for you can extend anytime online so if you aren’t sure on timings it might be good to go for a shorter period and extend as needs be. Just be aware the reminder notice will go to the address on your forms so if you will be traveling be on it as to when your registration with expire

-Next up you have 28 days to complete roadworthy. This is essentially like an MOT to make sure the car is sound to be on the road. If there are any problems with it you then have 7 days to fix any issues otherwise you will need to pay for a new roadworthy to start the process again. The mechanic you do the roadworthy with will give you a document, take this in to be stamped and your vehicle is good to go!

For now that was enough to get the key things set up. When you first arrive, get anything that requires documents being posted to you first such as bank account (along with the phone number to allow you to do that), tax number and Medicare. Superannuation needs to be set up too but is less urgent if you aren’t planning on working straight away. The application for superannuation can be done online and you can apply through most Australian banks. This may even be a post I continue to add to as I learn more about getting set up in Australia so keep checking in.

All life admin ticked off we started making plans to explore Melbourne better, find some fun and plan our road trip. Look out for the next post for what we got up to in Melbourne.

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Where is everyone going in 2018?

January is always a mad rush to get those travel plans booked in. Your holiday allowance has been renewed at work, your bored of bad weather and you need something exciting to look forward to. With some amazing sales bringing people through the doors of STA this last week I’ve been starting to see some trends in the top travel destinations this coming year and not wanting you to miss out on all the excitement I thought I’d share my insider knowledge with you lovely budding travellers.

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Thailand

This isn’t an up and coming destination but it is just as popular as ever! People are drawn to the magnificent beaches, cheap prices and incredible culture – not to mention flights from anywhere between £300-500! But should you add this to your travel list for 2018?

Even though Thailand was not one of my personal top favourites to visit in South East Asia there is no way I would tell you to keep it off your travel list. If the reasons above haven’t sold you already how about the amazing national parks where you can stay on floating houses overlooking a river you can kayak on or jump right in anytime to cool off? Or the Treehouse hotel that will offer you a unique stay just outside central Bangkok? How about getting up close to elephants while also knowing that you are helping to put a stop to cruelty by adapting views and making a long standing tradition better for animals and people alike? Thailand has so much to offer that one visit will only scratch the surface. It is a place to return to again and again. Go, break away from the tourists, find those unique places to stay and come back with a fresh perspective on this popular destination.

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Borneo

Whenever I tell people about my trip to Borneo I get a 50/50 response as to whether people have heard of it and been or are totally clueless as to where it is in the world. I pictured this country as just a huge expanse of jungle – which it is for the most part – but there is also paradise islands, amazingly clear water for scuba diving and adventurous activities to get the adrenalin pumping. In Kota Kinabalu you can hike Mount Kinabalu and watch the sunrise over the impressive view. Wildlife projects that protect endangered orang-utans will give you a chance to see these elusive creatures in the wild. Not to mention Bako National Park where you can see proboscis monkeys up close, take night time guided walks to spot scorpions in tree logs and flying squirrels sailing over your head. There is zip lining, bamboo rafting and trekking opportunities. If you’re looking to see wildlife in it’s natural environment while getting off the beaten track and delving into traditional culture, look no further than Borneo.

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Poland

If you’re looking for a cheap European break somewhere a bit different then Poland is somewhere you should definitely consider this 2018. Krakow is a beautiful historical city where you can visit Oskar Schindler’s Enamel factory and learn his incredible story of how he saved over 1,200 Jews. If you want to delve deeper into this terrible era of history you can take a haunting visit to Auschwitz and Berkenau. However Poland has so much more to offer such as the Wielickzka Salt Mines that are filled with carvings, sculptures and even a cathedral! If your a foodie you’ll also be amazed at the restaurants on offer, especially when you can grab a three course meal for under £15! Tasty!

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Croatia

If you’ve ever dreamed of walking the streets of King’s Landing then that’s reason number one to go to Dubrovnik, one of the many sets of Game of Thrones. Then there is the history, sunshine, diving and great food. I mean how many reasons do you need? If you want to do something different try a sailing trip. Feel like a superstar stepping off the boat and onto the island of Hvar and ducking into some of the top restaurants around. If you want to take in the culture head to the hilltop fortress from the 13th century that will offer you spectacular views of the harbour town below. In Korcula there is more medieval architecture to wonder at, including the Cathedral of St Marks. If its natural beauty your looking for, sail to Mljet where much of the island is made up by national park land and you can hire bikes to cycle through the forest searching for glistening lakes. And when you’re not exploring new places you can always be topping up that sun tan on the deck.

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Japan

Japan is a place like no other and the only way to experience it is to fully immerse yourself in the culture. Tokyo is where you want to be to really get to grips with Japan and if you want to experience the full “neon madness” the Shibuya crossing is the place to go. If your interested in seeing the extremes of female fashion then stop off at Shubuya 109 while you’re there. Step straight into Lost in Translation with a visit to New York Bar and Grill at the Park Hyatt. For more traditional Japanese culture take a visit to Kyoto early in the morning to avoid tourist crowds and see the beautiful old temples that reside there. There are plenty of great restaurants serving typical Japanese food (delicious!) down the side streets Gion, where you might even catch a glimpse of a geisha in this old ‘geisha district’ if your super lucky! Getting around Japan is easy as almost everywhere is well connected by train. You can get 7, 14 or 21 day rail passes that include the use of bullet trains but you can’t purchase these passes in country so make sure you’ve planned ahead. You can use it to catch a bullet train to Nagano, taking just 90 minutes, if you want to hit the slopes. If skiing isn’t your thing this is also where you can see the famous onsen snow monkeys having a spa day in the hot springs. If Japan wasn’t on your travel bucket list it is now!

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Peru

Peru has always been a popular destination in South America but as more travellers set off to discover the famous Machu Picchu, they are also discovering there is so much more to Peru. See condors soaring above your head at the Colca Canyon or visit the fascinating floating islands at Lake Titicaca. Get really off the beaten track and immerse yourself in local life at a homestay. People are looking for alternatives to the popular tourist sites, and of course Machu Pichu is a must-see, but if you want to get away from the crowds head to Choquequirao. These ruins are still largely untouched by tourist feet but sometimes you can even catch an archeologist at work unearthing these ancient ruins.

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Ecuador

I have seen trips to South America picking up traction in the last few months and with amazing overland journeys taking you from Quito to Lima and on through Peru, Ecuador is a great place to start. Visit the middle of world and stand on the equator or even feel like your at the end of the world on a giant swing out across a valley with spectacular views – if you’re not too scared to open your eyes! There is a Darwin museum to visit or you can make a side trip to the Galapagos Islands where he explored his ideas of evolution. I know that Ecuador offers one thing that is definitely on my bucket list – a trip to the Amazon jungle. Tena is possibly one of the cheapest places to make a trip into the wild (and rapidly shrinking!) Amazon jungle. There are loads of different tour options available and while most lodges will be fairly rustic there are also options to stay in beautiful thatched buildings on the edge of murky rivers or you can rough it with Amazon trekking and camping trips. And if you find yourself getting jungle fever head to the coast for white sand, blue seas and maybe the odd iguana.

 

As for me and my travel plans for 2018, there are so many options they are yet to take shape but I’m sure I’ll think of something…

10 Things To Remember When Travelling To The Seychelles

Imagine clear blue seas, white sandy beaches, palm trees heavy with coconuts, local markets, friendly people and all the sea food you could eat. Sound like paradise right? The Seychelles was even more beautiful than I pictured it and there was so much more to this little cluster of islands than I expected. I was invited along by a family friend for a birthday trip and I happily signed up without really knowing what to expect so I thought I would pass on a few tips to help anyone about to travel to the Seychelles prepare for their trip.

Here are 10 tips for what you should remember when travelling to the Seychelles so you know just what to expect for yourself.

1 – Bring Your Snorkel!

Seriously. I’ve never been anywhere where the snorkelling was so consistently good. Jump on the new full-face snorkel craze and find out just how much to see right off the beach. We spotted cuttlefish, starfish, a couple of stingrays, a multitude of colourful parrotfish and so much more! The beaches may be the main thing to do on the Seychelles but there is a good reason for that. Usually you’ll have your 3 standard types of beaches everywhere you go; the tourist beach that is fairly good but is the easiest and most popular to get to, the stony beach often still in a fairly good location but not as comfortable to sit and relax on and the perfect out of the way beach, the one that has fine sand and calm seas but is usually more of a trek to get to. Not so in the Seychelles. Every beach is a number three beach! Some had rougher seas and some you couldn’t swim on at all but all had lovely stretches of sand, turquoise ocean and absolutely every one had amazing snorkelling.

 

2 – Dive a Little Deeper

If you’re not satisfied with merely floating around on the surface there are a good few dive centres as well. We went with Kempinski Dive Centre but there was also Blue Sea Divers and several other centre at the main hotels. It is an easy place to dive if you are a beginner as many of the reefs are quite shallow. We were lucky enough to see a turtle but there are also black tipped and white tipped reef sharks and you might be lucky enough to see whale sharks! Apparently the peak time to see them is October but when we went early in the month there hadn’t been any sightings yet. These gentle giants are less scary than they sound (don’t worry, they eat plankton not divers) but their sheer size makes them a sight to see in the wild.

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3 – Watch Out For Bats!

They may have a bad reputation for turning into blood sucking monsters but imagine floating in the sea at dusk, the sky a swirl of purple and indigo as black silhouettes glide overhead. During the day you can hear them chattering in the trees or finding a comfortable place to snooze upside-down. The Seychellois

apparently love bats almost as much as I do… just not quite in the same way… Fruit bat is apparently a very tasty dish on the Seychelles. I didn’t see it on any menus when eating out but we stayed for one night in Victoria and the owner of our apartment was stringing up nets in the nearby tree to catch the poor unsuspecting creatures. I’m not sure if he caught any but the BBQ was definitely sizzling and ready to go when we left to find a more conventional dinner.

 

4 – Beware of the Roads!

If you’ve gone careening down the Bolivian Death Road then you might feel right at home swerving and bouncing along the narrow roads of the Seychelles, otherwise you might want to be wary. Travelling with Irish friends one pointed out that the roads were no narrower than those in Ireland but the difference here is that if you pull over you won’t be crammed into a bush you’ll be tumbling down the rocky drops or deep trenches that line the roads! Buses frequently speed around the island but otherwise if you want to get around hiring a car is your best option – just be careful and watch for the dongas!

 

5 – It’s Not Cheap

Unless you stay somewhere like the stunning Four Seasons Hotel on Mahe island, travelling the Seychelles won’t break the bank but it’s certainly not the place to go if you are a budget traveller. We kept costs down by staying in a self-catering villa and cooking for ourselves but eating out could quickly rack up your costs. A simple curry dish you might expect to pay between £8-£10 for in the UK could be anywhere between £10-15 on the island. Even buying food from the shops will depend on availability as one day that delicious mango juice you bought for breakfast will be on the shelves and the next time not. The main place your spending money will be disappearing fast though is activities. We spent €150 per person for a trip to the neighbouring islands of Le Dique and Praslin. It was nice to explore different islands and have a break from chilling on beaches (I know, such a hard life) but it was not worth the money. However if you want to do it there is not many other options. Even getting the public ferry over will set you back for between €45-60.

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6 – Seychelles Accept Euros

It’s a small point to make but always a handy thing to know. Seychelles have their own currency of Seychelle Rupees but you won’t be able to get hold of these in the UK. There are banks (even Barclays), ATMS and money exchange in Victoria town so it will be easy to get currency once you arrive but if you want a little cash to start you off then Euro is widely accepted and sometimes even preferred over Seychelle Rupee.

 

7 – Head to Beau Vallon Beach for Watersports

If sunbathing and reading on the beach isn’t enough for you there are plenty of watersports available too. We tried paddle boarding at the Four Seasons hotel, most of which will offer kayaking and paddle boarding but if you’re looking for a bit more head to Beau Vallon Beach on Mahe island. The prices are reasonable (for the Seychelles) and they offer wakeboarding too! Surfing is available as well but the Seychelles isn’t known for its waves so your surf costs may include a ride to a different beach.

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8- Try Fresh Fish at the Markets

Near Beau Vallon Beach you’ll find the market. There are some souvineers but the main thing to go for is the food, the best of which being grilled fresh fish. Now I’m not a fish person (other than when I’m in the water myself) but this BBQ snack was delicious! If you’re not feeling fish then there are lots of fruit markets too where I had some tiny juicy mangos and mini sweet bananas. If it’s coconut your craving you’ll be sorted too, we spent half our holiday trying to figure out how to break into the tough husks before the cleaner at our villa showed us how to prize it open with the end of a pick axe before splitting the shell with the back of a cleaver. Don’t worry, the markets sell them ready cracked though!

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9- Say Hello to the Local Giants

I thought I would be lucky to see one or two giant tortoises but turns out they are more common than I thought. There are plenty of places to see these lazy creatures stretching their necks and limbs out in the sun. We found some down at the Four Seasons resort on Mahe where they do feedings at 4pm you can join in with, at the botanical gardens in Victoria you can also get involved with a feeding and on La Digue there was a collection of tortoises whose age ranged between 25 to over 100 years old! Though I didn’t go myself I’ve heard there is an island called Curieuse where they roam totally free!

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10 – A Final Word of Warning!

You won’t want to leave.

What Makes A Real Traveller?

What makes a real traveller? This is a question that has plagued me ever since my first experience travelling (for longer than just a short trip or holiday) when I went to Australia and travelled the East Coast for 4 weeks (and New Zealand for 3). Even now when I tell people I did it in 4 weeks they are shocked I managed it in such a short amount of time. I don’t think I met a single other traveller doing it in such a short time period; the majority of people had 3 months to do it in and to be honest I felt like a bit of a fraud. I didn’t feel like a “real” traveller. I felt more like I was just on an extended holiday. Or should I say other travellers inadvertently made me feel that way even though I still had an amazing time on the trip. 
Something niggled at me though and I had this desire to do another trip, a longer trip where I had no solid plans and no real end date. It was the inspiration for my epic south east Asia adventure, which I’m on right now. And yet, despite travelling for almost 5 months, I fell into the same trap as before, booking everything up in advance and having a deadline for when I needed to come home. Before I came away I worried whether I had done the right thing or whether I had rushed into this but as time has gone on I’ve come to realise a lot about myself and how I like to travel.


I like having a plan. I like booking things in advance and saving time and hassle trekking about looking for a place to stay. I also like having an end date. Actually the reason I’m going home at a certain time is a pretty exciting one as two of my close friends are getting married! I also didn’t expect to be with my boyfriend and for us to have exciting plans to come back to as well. There’s nothing stopping me coming back for a bit and then setting off again either and there’s nothing stopping me from doing another trip in the future, one without an end date and maybe booking things as I go along.
The bottom line is the way I’ve done this trip suits me and where I am in my life right now. Slowly I’m starting to let go of this idea of what a “real” traveller is. On the road you will meet all sorts of people. I met a woman who pretty much only went to visit remote tribes that no other tourists go to. I’ve met people who are mostly interested in the party places and finding exotic locations to get drunk in. I’ve met people who are just away for a few weeks and people who have been travelling for a year or more. I’ve met people who don’t know where they will be a day from now and people like me who have all their travel figured out and many more who are somewhere in the middle.


I just want travellers to know, especially first time travellers, that there is no perfect way to travel, only your way to travel. You might meet people who question the way you are doing things but also you will probably meet people who are jealous of the way you’re doing things. The style of travel depends on your personality, how it fits in with the rest of your life, your budget, your comfort zones and time scale. How can there possibly be one “real” way to travel with all those factors? 
Don’t be afraid to do things your way and never let anyone else make you feel inadequate. Travel is about diversity, experiencing new things and learning about yourself. If you can achieve those things even to a small degree then in my eyes you are most definitely a real traveller. 

My Inspiration to Travel

What influences you to travel? Or should I say, who? For me, there is one clear answer; my parents.
I love telling people their story. Telling of how my Dad sailed around the world and my Mum travelled across Egypt and ended up in Durban. Both from England they met in South Africa at a friend’s party, lived there for a few years before returning home to have little old me. 
Ok so that’s the much simplified and much romanticised version of events but the fact behind the story is that both my Mum and Dad loved to travel. When it came to making a decision about going to university, even now when I think about my career choices, I look to them for guidance and again and again I find that the stories they tell most often, the parts of their lives they seem most proud of is the times in their lives when they were travelling. I loved hearing stories about their far flung adventures and even more so I always appreciated them taking me on amazing trips around the world. I knew I was lucky to go on holidays every year and I still believe that getting to experience amazing new places at a young age is the best thing you can do for a child.
Sadly, when I was fifteen, my Dad passed away suddenly from an aneurism. My Mum and I had always been close but since then we have become even more so. Anyone who has met me on the road will know that I talk about her all the time, sharing the travel stories she’s told me, telling them about her ever practical tips and generally talking about the everyday things we get up to together.


Yesterday was my Mum’s birthday and I want her to know how proud I am of her. Along with my Dad, she has been an inspiration to me not only towards travel but life in general. It’s her wise words I follow when I’m feeling down. It’s her unconditional kindness towards others that I try to emulate. It’s her ability to find the best in a situation that I think about when things are going wrong. 
When I was getting bored looking round the NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida she told me to find at least three things that interested me there, teaching me to see the positive all the time. Even now I look out for those key memorable moments I’ll take away from any experience. In Peru we climbed Manchu Pichu together but I was equally as proud of my Mum having the confidence and the chutzpah to get our whole tour group sorted out one breakfast when they were milling about awkward and unsure. She shows me to always be myself and to have confidence in any situation. Even now, on this trip, she is still taking care of me from afar after making me awesome laminated translation cards to tell people about my nut allergy. Everyone I’ve shown them to has been so impressed.


My Mum started travelling when she was eighteen and she left home to be an au pair in Canada. Since then we have had some amazing adventures together and she continues to travel on her own too (much to my jealousy because I want to go to all those cool places as well) and I hope I do the same when I’m her age. I hope I too live my life never letting anything stop me or hold me back, never being afraid to travel no matter what my age, no matter whether I’m on my own or with friends or with family.


She is strong, she is wise, she is kind, she is my best friend, she is my mum, she is my inspiration.
Happy Birthday Mum!

How to Make the Most of Your Trip to Singapore Zoo

I’m a sucker for zoos so when I heard Singapore had not just one amazing zoo but a whole complex of zoos in the same area, I was so excited! I mean who doesn’t love spending your day looking at cute animals? And Singapore Zoo even manages to stretch the fun out into the evening with their Night Safari Park. 

It turned out to be one of my favourite things in Singapore and maybe even the trip as a whole. I managed to see tigers leaping out of the water to catch scraps of meat, I saw Barusa warthogs with tusks growing out of their heads (yes they actually exist) and watched bats flit by me to nibble on sweet fruit. Still, there were some things I wished I had known before-hand to make my visit even better, so here are some tips for you to get the most out of your visit to Singapore Zoo.

Do Your Research – First things first, do your research into what the parks have to offer. This may sound like an obvious one but I made a few assumptions about the parks, such as believing that the River Safari and Night Safari were more like attractions when actually they are full parks in their own right, and this messed up my timings for the day. Simply check out the website and really take note of what shows, feeding times and other attractions you want to hit and have a rough plan for your day. The website even offers a pretty intensive itinerary that you can try out if you want but the main thing is to have an idea of how much time you will spend in the park. People will tell you 3 hours is enough but I think you are looking at more like 4-5 hours if you really want to take your time and enjoy it. Get there in the morning and you’ll have plenty of time to fit it all in. 



Choose the right ticket for you– There are several ticket options for you to choose from:

1. Single Park Admission from S$24-45

2. Two Park Entry S$49

3. Four Park Entry S$69

4. Park hopper (four parks plus shuttle bus and boat within the parks) S$79

I would definiely advise getting one of the combo tickets, not only because price wise you get excellent savings, but also they are just so good you’ll want to see more than one! You can do any combination of the four parks, Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari or Jurong Bird Park in the two park entry; my recommendation would be Singapore Zoo as it has the most animals and then the Night Safari because it is such a unique experience. What I wouldn’t recommend is the Park Hopper ticket. The only added perk to this is you can use the tram to take you around the park and on the river safari you can catch the boat ride. Unless you have mobility issues it is not too hard to walk around the park and if you change your mind you can buy tickets there (S$5 for tram and same for boat). I ended up using it just for the sake of it and because of timings I didn’t make it to the boat ride at all so even though it is just S$10 extra it wasn’t worth it for me.



Bring Your Own Food – This almost goes without saying for zoos, the price of food is always going to be astronomical so it makes much more sense to grab some snacks and have a picnic. Also, the food I did have was terrible. Stop at one of the bread shops in the metro stations and buy some cheeses rolls, crisps and fruit and you will be all set!



Don’t Miss The Feeding Times – The shows at zoos are always good fun but I find mostly they are aimed at kids, if you want a more interesting experience try to catch the feeding times. I was at the tiger enclosure in time to see them being fed and it was the best part of the day. The two white bengal tigers swam in figures of eight below the keeper, leaping up into the air to catch their food and sometimes swiping at each other too. You are also more likely to hear some cool facts about the animal and get a chance to question the zoo keeper, something you can’t do at a show.



Know What To Expect For the Night Safari – I thought this one of a kind experience was brilliant! The idea behind it is that a lot of animals are more active at night so why not go see them then? While I would say this is still true, don’t expect them all to be running about everywhere, animals have lazy days (or nights) as much as we do. Yet hearing their calls to each other was like being out in the African bush. The fact that the park was a lot quieter at night (many people seemed to do the included safari ride and skip the walking section – which is still worth doing as you see things you don’t on the ride) meant I could enjoy a peaceful moment just watching the animals be. What I want to warn you about though is, again, maybe an obvious point but still worth noting: It gets dark at night. There is low lighting for you to be able to see the animals but it is designed not to disturb the animals too much so is not the best for viewing them. If you have difficulty seeing in low light then maybe this isn’t the park for you, that being said, peering into the darkness to figure out whether that shadow is a sleeping lion or just a big rock is all part of the fun! There is also no flash photography so if you fancy yourself the next National Geographic photographer then don’t expect perfect conditions.


There is so much to see and do there you could easily spend a couple of days visiting two parks each day and have a great time. Singapore Zoo and the other parks were a highlight for me in Singapore and hopefully with these tips to help you along it will be for you too.

Visit the Inspirational Sheroes 

I can’t even begin to imagine the horror and the pain of an acid attack but it’s something, unfortunately, the women at Sheroes Hangout cafe in Agra know all too well. Yet they smile with true Indian hospitality as they greet us at the door and show us to our seats. The walls of the cafe are covered in artwork by the women and there are shelves stacked with books to take to your table and read. Outside there is a massive, gorgeous mural of bright colours; you know instantly that this is a place of creativity and freedom, a haven for these women.

While we waited for our lunch they showed us a video that explained their stories. It was shocking and saddening to hear that the majority of these attacks were carried out by members of their family. This often means they are left with no place to go after surviving their attacks and Sheroes is somewhere they can feel safe.

The initiative was started by non-profit Stop Acid Attacks campaign founded in 2013, who aim to make sure acid is not so readily available to buy and that their attackers get the punishments they deserve. It all began with Laxmi, a girl of 15 who, after rejecting a family friend’s marriage proposal (he was more than 25 years her senior) had a bottle of acid thrown in her face while she waited at the bus stop. When she arrived in court she was not only ready to stand up for herself but for every accident attack victim, arriving with 27,000 signatures of people who wanted to prohibit the sale of acid.

But changing laws wasn’t the only goal they had in mind and through crowdfunding Stop Acid Attacks was able to start the Sheroes Hangout. It has gone on to become not only a place where survivors can work instead of beg on the street but a place of artistic expression. These women not only cook and clean at the cafe but paint, design clothes, write and teach. Being so close to the Taj Mahal it brings in a steady stream of tourists too, spreading the word about the danger of acid attacks and encouraging understanding towards those who have been through such a horrific situation.

Ritu Saini takes our orders. She was splashed with acid by two men on a motor bike and only later discovered that they were hired by her aunt because of a family property dispute. She has suffered pain and mutilation for something she was not involved in. Yet she is cheerful today as our food arrives and we dig into the delicious dishes, and she has good reason to be. What has been achieved at Sheroes is amazing and inspiring to other women throughout India, and even the world, who have survived similar attacks.

On a pillar behind me are a series of photographs of the women and what strikes me most isn’t their disfigured faces but their beauty. There is something in their smiles that no surgery could reconstruct. In these photos they are happy and shining with it. The community they have shaped for themselves has given them back strength, courage, hope and happiness – and that is the most beautiful thing of all. 

What I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling Sri Lanka

I’ve only spent one whirlwind week in Sri Lanka so by no means can I claim to be an exper but these are some of the tips I’ve picked up during my short stay and things I wish I had known before coming to Sri Lanka.

Do Sigiriya as a day trip from Kandy
– Sigiriya and the Cave Temples are located in Dambulla, about a 2 1/2 hour drive out of Kandy but it’s not as tricky as you might think to get there. There’s lots of advice out there for getting buses or, if you can afford it/get a group together to split the cost then having a personal driver for the long route is worth it. We paid 1600 SLR per person in the end, around £8 for the whole day. Dambulla seems pretty rural and speaking to others along the way there isn’t much to do there other than these two main attractions. Unless you want to get up super early and see the sunrise from the top, basing yourself in Kandy and doing a day trip is entirely possible.



Budget travelling? Hike Pidurangala Mountain instead
– This mountain is right next to Sigiriya and although you won’t get to see the ruins or the impressive lion paws that give Sigiriya its name as Lion Rock, you will get a great view of the site as a whole. The main plus is that while Sigiriya entrance fee will set you back just over 4000 SLR, its little cousin will only set you back 500 SLR. Although it’s over priced I was still glad I did Sigiriya as there is more to see whereas the other one is just a nice hike, that said, if you’re on a budget this is the perfect alternative as you’ll still get to see the Lion Rock and pay a fraction of the price.


Get a bus to Rawana Falls in Ella
– After hiking Ella Rock we were going to attempt Little Adam’s Peak but it was too misty. We heard Rawana Falls were nice and so set off on aching legs down the winding road. Although it was a great way to see the countryside, an hour later we arrived at the falls only to be fairly disappointed. They are pretty but not worth an hours walk and I especially wouldn’t recommend trudging back up the hilly road! We got a bus back for 20 SLR and wished we had got one there as well.


Follow Nomadic Boys advice on climbing Ella Rock – I read all about the supposedly helpful locals who will point you in the “right” direction when you inevitably get lost looking for the turn off for the hike, only to lead you round in circles until another “helpful” local will take you to the right place for a small fee. Despite knowing about this tourist trap we were still suckered in and had to pay a “farmer” a few hundred rupees just to walk us five minutes down a path onto the right track. We came back the way the bloggers suggested so their advice is sound, just don’t be persuaded otherwise! Sri Lankan’s are friendly people always willing to help, which can make it tricky to spot things like this, but stick to your guns and continue up the track a little further and you’ll find the right place all by yourself.



Have tea at the top of Ella Rock
– I wish I’d had my own cup but I snuck a sip of a friend’s and the sweet brew instantly revived me. An old man with a wrought iron kettle bubbling over a small fire will happily serve you up a cup and trust me you’ll need it after the steep rocky climb near the top..

Get out of Colombo – Ok so I didn’t have the greatest of experiences here but still, quite frankly, there are much prettier and more interesting places to visit. Don’t waste time like I did and just hop on the next train out of there!

Check when festivals and celebrations are on – I might have had a much better time in Colombo if I’d checked and really thought about what was going on there. On the one hand I might have been able to see more of the religious celebrations and on the other I might have been able to go to temples when they were open rather than looking forlornly up at beautiful exteriors with locked and chained doors. 

Get a guesthouse in Ella and go to Chill Bar – Originally myself and a guy I was travelling with were going to stay in the Spice Hut Hostel, the only hostel in Ella but to be honest its pretty grim. When the main thing to do in Ella is hike you really want a decent bed for the night and there are good deals to be had so don’t feel like you’ll have to blow your budget to stay somewhere nice. In the evening everyone goes to Chill bar, the food is pretty decent, though mostly Western options, but relaxing with a few drinks and meeting other travellers is the best part about this bar, which is brimming with backpackers. Oh and the fact that it plays a remix of the Game of Thrones theme tune on loop just tops it off!

Try local food – It’s not as scary as you might think. Maybe this is already a natural part of travel for you but I know I was nervous after a few horror stories of food poisoning and bad stomachs. There are some real gems in store though as the dishes in sri Lanka are simple and tasty. Be sensible about where you eat but remember that no where (apart from maybe some very upmarket tourist places) will have the same standards or look the same as what you would expect back home. Try Dosa, especially a cheese one, which is much like a pancake and served with mild curry sauce and chillis for dipping into. Roti makes a great snack for long journeys. They come with different fillings depending where you buy from and in different shapes too but are essentially a kind of wrap/pancake with some kind of vegetable/meat/potato cooked in curry flavours. My favourite dish was Kotthu though, vegetable and meat or egg if you want chopped up with another kind of roti. It looks likenothing special but has great flavours and is surprisingly filling.


I wish I had known some of these things before I planned my trip to Sri Lanka so I hope they are useful to you. If you want some more specifics on things I did and places I ate and stayed at in Sri Lanka then check out my postcard and tag album for more ideas.

5 Reasons Why I Want to Volunteer Abroad

One of the parts of my South East Asia trip I’m most excited about is my week in Chang Mai working with elephants. Elephants are and always have been my favourite animal. I mean, these are animals who can communicate with each other over staggering distances, they mourn the deaths of loved ones and they remember and greet old friends with affection. Their intelligence and empathy has always astounded me so I look forward to being up close to these amazing animals. I’ll also be working with Orangutans in Borneo, another exciting aspect of my trip and a chance to learn more about this endangered species. These aren’t the only reasons I chose to do these volunteering experiences or why I think it’s important to volunteer abroad in the first place, in fact, here’s my top 5 reasons why I want to volunteer abroad, not just on this trip but hopefully on future trips too…

  1. To Make a Difference
    Of course I wouldn’t volunteer if I didn’t believe in the cause I was supporting. Helping people, animals or the environment is the best part of volunteering; it’s knowing that one small part of the world is different because you helped in some way. A couple of years ago I got the opportunity to visit Teenage Cancer Trust’s new specialised unit at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre and the best part was speaking to people who have been affected by cancer, who knew just how big an impact this would have on the patients wellbeing. Every little donation added up to this amazing unit that will help countless people and that kind of impact, big or small, is worth volunteering for, especially in countries in need of that impact.

 

  • To Gain New Experiences
    Because when else am I going to get to splash about in a river with an elephant? Volunteering abroad offers you experiences you might otherwise never get. It’s also a chance to meet like-minded people and when you’re working together so closely, you’re bound to make new friends.

 

 

  • To Work Hard
    This might seem a strange thing to want from volunteering abroad but to be honest I like to keep busy. Doing a bit of hard grafting will make me appreciate the times when I get to chill out and do absolutely nothing even more. Plus it’s always a great thing to add on your CV!

 

 

  • To Learn About Different Cultures
    Taking part in a volunteer project abroad can be a great way to break down boundaries and throw you into the thick of a new culture. Often projects abroad mean meeting the locals and eating traditional foods so what could be a better way to get to know a place?

 

 

  • To Learn More About Myself
    Volunteering should challenge you as a person. Helping others, meeting new people, gaining new experiences, working hard and learning about other cultures will change you in a positive way. Volunteering in the UK has made me a more confident, motivated and, hopefully, kinder person so I can only imagine what volunteering abroad, throwing myself out of my comfort zone and into new situations, will teach me about myself. The question is, what will volunteering abroad do for you?