How to travel with a full-time job

My full-time job is the only thing that’s stopping me from travelling. Actually – that’s a lie. There are other things like money and my cat, but really my full-time job isn’t stopping me at all – I spend most free moments thinking about my next destination, planning or trip or actually taking one. Even with my 23 days’ holiday this year, I’ve planned 8 trips to 7 different countries, so it is possible.

Sure, there are times where I’ve considered packing it all in and just going for good, but for now I’m okay as a part-time traveller.

Here’s how you can do it too.

    1. Embrace it as a hobby
      Hobbies naturally demand a lot of your attention, time and money. If you make travel your hobby, you will find yourself looking for chances to travel that you never thought existed. You’ll turn a day working in a different office into an opportunity to explore that city, or you’ll force yourself to get up early on a Sunday to visit that museum in the town just down the road. Try this, and you’ll start looking for any excuse to get out there and see the world.
    2. Choose experiences over things
      It’s now scientifically proven that experiences bring people more joy than material things. Happily, travel is one of the best and most rewarding experiences out there. So when you think about buying that new pair of shoes or putting the latest laptop on your birthday list, consider swapping it out for a holiday or a day out somewhere. You don’t need anything else.
    3. Save money wherever possible
      By choosing experiences over things, you’ll naturally reallocate the money you would have spent on things on travel. But there are other ways to save too. Transfer money into a savings account each month, skip your morning Starbucks and stash the coins in a piggy bank, sell your unwanted things on eBay. You’ll be amazed how quickly the money stacks up and you’ll be booking that weekend in Paris in no time.
    4. Remember it’s okay to think small
      Not every trip you take has to be a mammoth 5 week tour of Australia. Some of my favourite travel moments have been on weekends away in the UK, or a quick trip over to Europe using no-frills airlines and cheap hotels. You don’t even need to take time off work to enjoy them!
    5. Be willing to forgo luxury
      Okay. I’ll admit it. Travelling (even while earning a full time wage) is expensive. That means luxury just isn’t possible most of the time. Use Air B&B, fly no frills airlines, stay with friends, sleep in shared dorms… There are loads of ways to make your trip that bit cheaper. But do remember to splurge every once in a while. If you can afford it, why wouldn’t you stay in a glass igloo in Finland? You might never get the opportunity to do it again. Go on… you deserve a treat.
    6. Take day trips
      One of the cheapest ways to travel is to take lots and lots of day trips. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country with good public transport, you could visit somewhere hundreds of miles away and make it home that same day. London is one of my favourite cities. I must have taken 100s of day trips to the city, and there’s still so much to see. Where could you go?
    7. Use ‘free’ days
      If you’re limited to a small number of annual leave days, use Bank Holidays and other ‘free’ days off to extend your trips. Although travel at these times of year tend to be more expensive, if you book early enough or, conversely, find a last-minute deal, you might be able to bag a bargain.
    8. Make the most of your local area
      Even though you live there, have you ever taken the time to explore your own city or the surrounding areas? I didn’t even realise I live in a city that boasts a zoo, Roman ruins and a million other sites I have taken for granted. An upcoming blog post even sees me reviewing the Top 10 Things To Do In My Hometown. Now, I wouldn’t recommend them all, but I had a lot of fun trying them out. Why don’t you give it a go?
    9. Plan annual leave in advance
      An old boss of mine used to say ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’. Thins rings true even in travel. At the beginning of the year, I like to allocate each of my annual leave days to a trip and spread them out over the year. This means I have lots to look forward to but also that I’m less likely to ‘waste’ days off catching up with Jeremy Kyle or spending too long in bed. Booking trips in advance also generally gets the best rates, so what are you waiting for?
    10. Negotiate a sabbatical
      This is something I’m delighted to say I’ve achieved this year – by working hard at my job and mentioning my future plans early, I have managed to bag myself a 7 week sabbatical to be taken in 2017 or 2018. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Speak to your boss – you might be surprised what they’d agree to!
    11. Just do it! 
      My favourite piece of advice. If you really wanted to travel, you wouldn’t make excuses not to – the money, the time, the effort… Forget the reasons not to, and remember the reasons why you should. Travel is an investment in yourself and one of the only things that will actually make you ‘richer’. Just do it.

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Do you pack lots of trips in to your working year? Do you have any top tips to share on how to manage it?

Japan Etiquette Guide for Visitors

For me, Japan conjures up images of geishas wearing kimonos, cherry blossom lined streets, giggling schoolgirls… But something else springs to mind – the politest people on the planet. Etiquette is huge in Japan, with behaviour and body language seeming to be even more important than what you say. There seems to be a never-ending list of rules to follow, which can make a trip to the country an incredibly daunting one for fear of offending anyone.

I’m lucky enough to be travelling to Tokyo in April with some of my colleagues who are more at home in a rowdy pub than anywhere demanding courtesy. So, this post is a handy guide for them and, in fact, any visitor tat wants to play by the rules.

Visiting shrines or temples

Japan has some of the most beautiful temples in the world, demonstrating the importance it places on its Buddhist religion. To show your respect in a place of worship, you should:

  • Wear conservative clothes – try to keep shoulders and knees covered
  • Follow the lead of a local to work out how to pray or take part in rituals
  • Look out for any signs that tell you not to take photos, otherwise feel free to snap away!

Shopping

When buying souvenirs from a market or shop, manners don’t cost a thing (ha, see what I did there..) To be polite, try to:

  • Remember not to hand cash directly to a shopkeeper when paying for things
  • Place money in the small tray near the till
  • Pick up your change (if you’re owed any!) from that same tray
  • Have a go at Japanese – say “Arigato” to say thank you

Eating

This is where I had most trouble – I can’t use chopsticks for the life of me, so it was even more important for me to get the etiquette right. If you too struggle with chopsticks – here’s a really useful how-to video. Etiquette-wise, remember:

  • Never leave chopsticks crossed. Instead, put them back in their rest or lay them on the table with tips to the left
  • Avoid pointing with your chopsticks, or use them to skewer food – though I understand how tempting it can be if you can’t use them properly!
  • Never pass any food from your chopsticks to someone else’s, or stick your chopsticks into bowls of food. These are funeral rituals and can be deeply offensive
  • It’s okay to suck noodles into your mouth, but try not to eat with your mouth open
  • It’s rude to burp at the table or blow your nose – bodily functions aren’t great around food
  • If you’re eating in someone’s house, clear your plate completely – unless you want to be served more!
  • In restaurants, don’t leave a tip – waiters and waitresses might think you’re insulting their salary and run after you to give it back

Shoes

Etiquette around footwear is probably the most well known, but it’s super important to get right because shoes are considered unclean. You should:

  • Always take off your shoes before going inside a house and some other buildings. There will be a place for you to take them off and swap to a pair of slippers. If in doubt, look for other peoples’ shoes and follow their lead
  • Invest in some new socks if you need to – holes and bare feet aren’t considered very attractive!
  • Don’t mix up your indoor slippers with your toilet slippers. They’re separate for a reason…

Toilets

Thankfully, toilets and bathrooms are private places so you could get away with quite a lot in them! However… there are still a few things to be aware of as Japanese toilets are notoriously different to back home:

  • The famous electronic toilets will have buttons with little pictures that demonstrate their function – so take note!
  • Stand well back just in case you get a jet stream of toilet water in your face (I’ll admit it – this did actually happen to me once!) It’s meant to clean your behind, not your front…
  • Some toilets (especially public ones) even play music or running water sounds when they detect a visitor, to mask any sound you might make. It’s bizzare.

Greeting

My father in law told me a hilarious story about arriving in Japan. He accidentally bowed too low to the receptionist at a hotel, which made the receptionist bow again. Confused, he bowed again which made the receptionist do it too! They were there for a good few minutes bowing at each other before they called it quits. Avoid that awkward situation by remembering:

  • The ‘size’ of the bow reflects seniority or social ranking
  • A small bow is informal – you’d do this for friends
  • A large bow is very formal, so would only really be used to show deep gratitude or apology
  • If in doubt, go with a medium sized one!

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I know this may sound like a lot to remember – but in reality, you will be forgiven for muddling up a greeting or pressing the wrong button on the toilet (though I hope they wouldn’t know if you did that last one!)

Have you been to Japan? Do you have any other etiquette tips to share, or any stories where you got it completely wrong?

One night in Cambridge

Last weekend, Tim and I had a lovely couple of days away in Cambridge. It’s a city I’ve been meaning to visit for ages, but have just never got around to it. Desperate to fill the gap between our holidays in Copenhagen and Sri Lanka, March was the perfect time to finally go.

With just one night in the city, we were determined to make it count. But was that enough to do it all? We certainly thought so. Here’s what we did with our 24 hours.

Arrive just in time for lunch

It’s no surprise that Cambridge can get really busy on weekends. The car parks fill up early and the streets are packed with tourists, locals and students. We were lucky enough to have free parking at our Air B&B apartment, so we were able to rock up just before lunch and walk in to the centre from there.

Of course we needed some energy to keep us going, so we had lunch in one of our favourite restaurants – Bill’s. It was jam packed when we arrived, with a queue falling out the door. We felt really smug walking straight to the front to our reserved table. I would definitely book a table if you want to go to Bill’s too! Actually – I would recommend a table anywhere because all restaurants were packed, unless you want to eat at McDonald’s.

The food was amazing as always, and the service was great too. Our bellies completely satisfied, we were then ready to explore.

Bill's Cambridge

Wander the streets

One of the best ways to see the city is to walk aimlessly around the streets, trying not to get run over by the millions of bicycles that announce their arrival with a friendly ‘ding ding DING DING DING!!’ There really is something to see on every corner, with beautiful mediaeval buildings taking up the majority of the space.

St Johns College, Cambridge

Sadly, most of the colleges charge entry to wander around the grounds – up to £10 each! And we didn’t look enough like Cambridge students to sneak in. We were too cheapskate to pay the admission fees (Why would I pay to go to university?! Oh wait… I’ve already done that…) so we instead looked around the few colleges that don’t charge, including Stephen Hawking’s old one – Gonville & Caius College. And actually, it’s one of the prettiest.

Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge

Take a punting tour (Must Do!)

We couldn’t visit Cambridge without taking a trip on the river. We joined a shared punting tour led by Let’s Go Punting and listened to our tour guide getting increasingly out of breath as he told us less than interesting facts about the city. (I’d recommend trying Scudmore instead, though, they seemed much more professional!)

We didn’t bank on it being the most bizarre weekend of the year, weather-wise. One minute it was hailing, the next we were wishing we had brought our sunglasses! Luckily, Let’s Go provided blankets and umbrellas so we wrapped up warm and relaxed into the tour.

River Cam, Cambridge

Punting along the river is really the only way to see some of the sights you normally have to pay admission to see – especially the bridges that are owned by the colleges (including the really famous Bridge of Sighs). However, one of the highlights of the tour was watching poor souls who had decided to punt themselves. We were desperately willing someone to fall in, and it seemed as though our guide was too – he went straight into one of them!

The Bridge of Sighs, Cambridge

Book a table for dinner

We ate dinner at The Pint Shop – a small but highly recommended restaurant in the centre. There are loads of chain restaurants, but it really is worth seeking out an independent place as the atmosphere is so much better. As with lunch, definitely book a table. Even two weeks in advance, we didn’t have nearly as much choice as we should have done, but The Pint Shop turned out to be a great find.

I ignored the subliminal messaging to eat Meat, Bread & Beer (Tim didn’t…) and chose Souffle, Salad & Juice instead. Oh my god, I’m salivating just thinking about it again now. You HAVE to try the purple sprouting! I’ve never got so excited about broccoli in my life!

The Pint Shop, Cambridge

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Cambridge is a compact city with loads of beautiful buildings, but not actually much else… But that’s the beauty of Cambridge – you can do it in 24 hours and still at quite a leisurely pace. 

Have you been to Cambridge? Would you recommend anything else we didn’t get to see?

Why spending my holiday at school was the best thing I ever did

If my 7 year old self knew that I would be willingly spending my holiday at school, I don’t think I’d believe it. In fact, I’m hard pressed to believe it now. But it’s true. At 27 years old, I spent a week’s holiday (my birthday week no less) at school. And I loved it.

A fact I’ve neglected to tell you so far was that the school was in Spain. Not just in Spain, but in my favourite city in the entire world, Valencia (though it only became my favourite city in the entire world after this trip). I wasn’t there to study Maths either, but the most wonderful life skill you can gain. Speaking a foreign language- Spanish in my case. I think it sounds much more palatable now.

I first started learning Spanish after one of my closest friends left the country to go back to their native Latin America. Determined to prove my commitment to keeping in contact, I would need to make the effort to visit and at least try to learn their language. So I started going to Spanish classes in the evenings. I got pretty good but that was in the safe environment of the classroom, talking to people whose mother tongue was English. How would I fare in an actual Spanish speaking country, trying to communicate with an actual Spanish speaking person?

Of course I took this as an excuse to visit as many Spanish and Latin American countries as possible. I went to Cuba, Spain and Mexico, but it seemed that whenever I stepped foot on Spanish soil, my confidence vanished and my growing Spanish vocabulary suddenly shrank.

Determined to break this streak, I booked myself in to Españole- a Spanish school that had fantastic reviews and, even better, a personal referral from a lady in my class (a very good Spanish speaker as it goes). The school offered standard, intensive and super-intensive courses for up 6 hours a day of language skills including speaking, writing, reading, listening as well as classes on Spanish culture. After class, there were also extra-curricular activities such as barbecues, salsa classes and trips to the cinema.

But did it do what it needed to? Did my Spanish improve? Well, yes. But it did a hell of a lot more than that too.

Spending my holiday in school…

  • …was a bargain trip. For just under £500, I got flights, accommodation, and a full super-intensive Spanish course for a whole week. It’s easily the best £500 I ever spent, because not only did I come away having had a wonderful holiday, but I had also learnt a lot of Spanish.What a great investment!
  • …felt like I was back at university. I was given accommodation in a shared flat with a single bed, desk and wardrobe… everything I’d need. My flatmates were lovely (though I didn’t actually see them all that much), and I had the freedom to come and go as I pleased. The school’s flats are all in a really safe area of town, full of students and just a 20 minute walk into the city centre.
  • …was scary as hell but totally worth it. I had travelled alone before, but this was the first time I had travelled to a foreign country to become completely engrossed in a foreign culture and language. I cried on the first night because I didn’t want to be there, and I cried on the last night because I didn’t want to leave. Funny how things change, isn’t it?
  • …was actually really fun. The school had a fantastic extracurricular programme. After school, they put on activities from salsa lessons to cooking workshops and was a great opportunity to meet new students. One night, there a random shopping event where all the locals poured out on to the street right outside our school to drink and dance. We couldn’t help but join in.
  • …gave me a new favourite city. I fell in love with Valencia the moment I arrived. It’s beautiful, it’s historical, it’s cultural, it’s interesting, it’s just downright fantastic. Aimlessly wandering through the city was my absolute favourite thing to do. I came away desperate to go back, and determined to move there for good. One day…
  • …helped me meet some wonderful people. When I first arrived, I was scared and lonely and immediately clung on to some fellow Brits for comfort. As the week went on, I came away closest to a 25 year old Korean girl and a 40 year old Italian man, and also made great friends with people from Japan, Switzerland and Austria. It’s easy to make friends because everyone is vulnerable, desperate to learn, and you’re forced to communicate in the only common language you have – Spanish.
  • …was a great birthday gift. My birthday happened to fall in the middle of my trip, and everyone went out of their way to make me feel totally special. I had a card from the teachers, a present from the students and everyone sang Happy Birthday (in English – bless them) to me when I walked in the classroom. It was a wonderful day topped off with a salsa lesson and a trip to the cinema.
  • …didn’t last long enough. The week went by incredibly fast, frustratingly so. I didn’t want to leave because I knew the immersion was doing my Spanish the world of good. The majority of people are out there for at least two months to gain fluency, so a week really doesn’t compare. It just means I’ll have to go back. I’ve already booked another week in July!
  • …taught me a lot of Spanish. This had to appear as a benefit, didn’t it? The classes were brilliant. I had a private lesson first thing in the morning, two group lessons working through textbooks and then a Spanish conversation class – 6 hours a day! That’s more than a whole term back in England! At the end of the week I even felt myself think in Spanish – it really did the world of good.

I could bang on forever about the benefits of learning a foreign language (in fact, that’s probably its own blog post) but for now, I’ll leave you with this. Learning Spanish (even at an intermediate level) has given me the confidence to travel to even the remotest parts of Cuba, knowing that I’ll be able to get by. Or at least tell locals that I’m 27, married and have a cat. And that’s good enough for me.

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Have you ever visited a foreign language school? How was your experience? If you haven’t, would you ever do it?