The Ultimate English Experience in London
Tired of London

Planning for a trip to London? Great choice, there’s no place like London, not only it is filled with history and arts, but also cultures from all over the world get integrated here. You probably have done your research and already have plenty on your list. But don’t depart without reading our recommendations, which will enable you to truly dive into English history, culture and lifestyle.

Attend a Parliament debate

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The Parliament is not just a tourist attraction but a functional office. You can visit the public galleries in the House of Commons and the House of Lords and watch the debate live. And it is FREE! On most days, you can just turn up and wait for entry. But tickets are required for PM’s Questions. The galleries are open to the public from Monday to Thursday, and you just need to check the schedule HERE before attending.

Have some tea

afternoon tea

Afternoon Tea is a meal composed of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam (known as “cream tea"), sweet pastries and cakes. It was initially developed as a private social event for ladies of the upper class in Britain in the early 1840s. Many places serve it across London: from the full-blown to the basic cream tea. If you want to have the “royal experience”, go to the English Tea Room at Brown’s, where Queen Victoria used to take her tea (£55). Or when it is sunny, our favourite is to sip tea from the love garden of the Orangery at Number Sixteen Hotel (only £22).

Visit an English house and garden

Fenton House

Architecture and garden design and landscaping have played an important role in the UK. Nowadays gardening maintains as many people’s primary hobby. London has a few private English houses and gardens that will give you a glimpse into English lifestyles. To name a few: Red House (best for craft lovers), Fenton House (London’s most enchanting country house), Apsley House (home of the first Duke of Wellington with fine art collection), Spencer House (London's finest surviving 18th-century private palace).

Step into Tower of London

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This probably is already on your list as one of the most prominent landmarks in London. Tower of London is one of the oldest palaces in the country, built by William the Conqueror in 1066. But don’t just look at it from the outside, book a tour and explore its complete history and view the Crown Jewels. Tours are given by the Yeoman Warders (known as “Beefeaters”. In addition, remember to pay a visit to the Tower Bridge, it has a glass pathway which allows you to see the city from a new angle.

Picnic in a park

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…on a sunny day. Though a busy city, London has many parks for everyone to take a break. When the city’s blessed by sunshine, it transforms: working day or not, Londoners just enjoy sitting under the sun. Join the locals and relax. Our favourite parks are St James (especially in Spring and Autumn, bring some nuts so you can feed the friendly squirrels) and Hampstead Heath (on the Parliament hill, you will have the best view of London).

Dive into the multi-cultural Brixton

Brixton Village

London is a melting pot of cultures from all over the world, and that’s exactly why we love it. 1/3 of Londoners were born abroad and over 200 languages are spoken here. This wide range of cultures can be best experienced at Brixton. Not only it filled with the best food, drinks, clubs, markets, but this cultural mecca is also filled with a sense of community. Experience it by taking a walking through Brixton Village and have a drink with some local residents at the open café and bars.

Seek inspiration in the East End

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The East End of London has been transformed into a hipster hub in the past years. Unlike Central London, the best place to look for visual inspiration in the East is its streets. Take a walk from Brick Lane to Shoreditch, you will see some of London’s most impressive and creative murals. We highly recommend taking the Alternative Tour of London to get in-depth and hands-on experience.

Classic English experience at Richmond

Bushy park deer

Richmond is known as the affluent residential area in London. You will not find the large crowds of international tourists as in Central London. At Richmond, you will be more among the local people. There are many things to do and see, but our suggestion is just to chill and enjoy. Our favourite day out: picnic in the Hampton Court gardens, followed by a walk in the Bushy park with deer and tea at the local pub.

London is a city full of excitement and surprises for you to explore. We wish you a wonderful visit, and please share your recommendation with us.

*Images from the internet. Please contact us for credits.

A solo traveller's survival guide for long-haul economy flights
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Exploring exotic places and cultures sound exciting, except the seemingly endless time spent in a narrow seat on the long-haul flight taking you there. It seems even worse for a solo traveller, as you wouldn't have a shoulder to lean on, or a companion to chat with. We have asked some of the most frequent long-haul flyers for some tips to make the journey as comfy as possible.

We will skip the obvious ones like getting an aisle seat, wearing soft cotton clothes, bringing a pair of socks, and just focus on the less-known and super handy ones:

Get the best seat possible

If you can, do not leave your seat choice to the airline, try to reserve a seat as soon as it opens. Here's the secret weapon: SeatGuru. Just enter the name of airline, flight number and date, it will automatically show you which seats are the best and the ones to avoid. Here is an example: it does not just show which seats are good/bad, but also the amenities of each seat and the reason why it is bad/good. It is free to use, make sure you check this before booking your seat.

Seatguru

Food and nutrition ready

The long-haul flights often cause your stomach to rock, and airline food does not help. Always bring some snacks or meals onto the plane so you do not need to starve or risk the food quality. We recommend packaged soup- as you can eat it hot and it's easy to digest.

Food with vitamin B help to release stress, and vitamin C help to boost the immune system. Why not carry some soluble tablets which will support your well-being throughout your entire trip.

Stay hydrated

Due to the pressurised cabins, air is very dry. Don't only drink water when you feel thirsty, drink plenty regularly. The cups served onboard are pretty small, so we recommend you bring a bottle on board and ask the cabin crew to fill it so you always have something to drink.

Take a breathing mask with you. This does not only protect you from the gems in the aircraft, you can also wear it damp which help your breathing system to stay hydrated.

Healthy skin

Bring lip balm, moisturizer (mist will be great as it works on both face and hair) and eye-drop to help your skin combat the dry air. We've seen women using face masks during the flight - it is, of course, good for your skin, but if you do not want to attract much attention, try sink-in mask.

And here's the fact few know about: when you are high up in the air, you are exposed to higher level UAV and UAB rays. So if you have a seat close to the window, apply sun cream before your travel.

Dress to get comfy

Take off your bra before the flight - it does not help blood circulation and will only make you super uncomfortable. Wear knee-high compression/flight socks which improve blood circulation and help your legs to feel lighter.  And always bring a scarf with you as it's so versatile - be a blanket, seat cushion, pillow etc.

Sleep tight

This is a tough one, but we still found some tools to help you get some sleep.

Get a good travel pillow. There are so many in the markets which all claim to give you a good sleep during your flight. We tested many and narrowed it down to two really worked. 1) Trtl pillow: it wraps around your neck and provides neck support. It's light weight but the cons are: the shape of it makes it a bit difficult to pack into your small backpack; it can get quite hot. 2) Travel Head Pillow: made from memory foam, it also supports your neck sideways. We absolutely love it, it supports without any discomfort, though it is quite large to carry around.

Download guided meditation or hypnosis. When you feel stressed or cannot sleep, listening to those will help you to relax and fall asleep.

Buy a 3D eye mask. Its moulded design does not press against your eyes during sleep, and you'd hardly feel it once on 

Plan your sleep in advance to minimize jet lag. This website actually helps you plan your ideal sleeping period during your flight.

Get active

Go for a walk and stretch as often as you can. Even if you have a window or middles seat and do not want to bother others, there're still some stretches you can do just in your own seat. Check Vibrant Yogini for the instructions.

 

Try to enjoy it

Phone off, no disturbance, why not take this time for yourself? Read a book you had on your reading list, reflect your thoughts, watch some films you added to your Netflix watchlist. Don't just think this a painful journey to some destination, but time gifted to you. Try to make the best of it.

Get tan, not wrinkles this summer
sun tan

Mid-summer is here, and we are having a very sunny (and hot!) one in the UK. This week, London is actually hotter than Lisbon! In the past, when I see a tanned friend, she/he often just returned from a holiday. Now, everyone’s getting tanned by just sitting in the backyard.

While taking sun has many health benefits both physically and mentally, sun bathing wrongly will lead to potential health hazard and permanent skin damage. I was shocked to find that sun is the No. 1 cause of wrinkles. In a BBC Documentary “Looking Good” from “The Truth About…” Series, it was revealed that about 75% of our wrinkles are due to sun exposure (view the clip here)!

But I do love the golden-brown glow, and don’t want to stay indoors or wearing long sleeve clothes to hide from the sun. So how can we get tanned, not wrinkles? After some research, here’s the answer:

Add “good fat” to daily diet

Our skin reflects our general health, so to take care of it, we need to start from the inside. We have all heard that vegetables and fruits are good for us, but few know that “good fat” is essential to our body and skin’s health. Add to your diet omega-3 fat rich food such as avocado, nuts, fatty fish. But don’t overdo it – all fat contains the same amount of calories, so too much of it will still contribute to weight gain.

Drink water

Drink plenty of water, even if you do not feel thirsty to keep your body and skin hydrated. On a hot and sunny day, avoid coffee and alcohol during the day as they will accelerate the dehydration process.

Apply sun protection, always!

Go go for the ones block both UVB and UVA with minimal medium protection (SPF 25+). It does not stop you getting the golden-brown tan but helps protecting your skin getting damaged. Many scientists recommend wearing sun cream all year around even when it is cloudy, due to UV rays do not get blocked by clouds.

Wear sunglasses and hat

Skin around our eyes are the most thin and sensitive – they damage and develop lines easily. Always wear sunglass with UV filter. Wearing a hat not only help to protect our face, but also scalp (an overlooked area, which grey hair can be caused by sun exposure

Moisturize skin

After exposing to the sun, take a cold shower and apply aloe vera to further help your skin to hydrate and cool down. Every morning and evening, apply moisturizer to face and. A moisturizer with AHA or hyaluronic acid can plump up dry screen, and continued use may help stimulate the production of new collagen.

Prevention is better than treatment. Wish we all a fabulous summer!

 

A Traveller's New Year Resolution for 2018

New year is the most popular time around the globe for people to set up new goals for the upcoming year. In the past years, I've set numerous resolutions (for a couple of years I even spent a couple of days to draw a whole plan out), felt motivated for a couple of weeks, and then at the year end, let the guilt hit me and set up new ones!

This year, I am going to try something new. Rather than having goals, I will set out seven "principles" that can be applied in daily life as resolutions. Here they are:

No. 1 Spend more time with myself

spend time with self
Photo from @jenniferselinger

Not just any time, but quality time. Like taking 'her' out for a date, listening to 'her' thoughts, giving 'her' full attention. The self needs caring for me as much as the loved ones.

No. 2 Be on the road

Be on the road, 
body and soul
Photo from @errincasa

Be on the road, body, mind and soul. Travelling is not just about physically going somewhere, but about living every day life as a journey. 

No. 3 Step out of my comfort zone

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Photo from @hbgoodie

Try more, push further; take more risks, follow my heart. It is scary. But let's feel the fear and do it anyway, because "life starts at the end of comfort zone". 

No. 4 Say yes more

Say yes to opportunties
Photo from @hilvees

Life presents us with opportunities. Be less worrying, have faith and say yes!

No.5 Be kind, to myself and others

Be kind
Photo by @kauwelablog

People we meet is a gift, an opportunity for us to get a new friend, to learn something, to get new perspectives. 

No. 6 Be thankful, to the known and unknown

Be thankful to the known and unknown
Photo by @gratefullylauren

The secret to happiness: be grateful, to what we have and what yet to come. 

No.7 and final: Do the best

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Photo from @polkadotpassport

It is not about being the best, but about try the best. Whatever we do, do the best; and wherever we are, be there 100%.

What do you think about these resolutions and what's yours for 2018? 

Joly ZouComment
The Best of London: from Locals' Eyes

London is our beloved home, and a great destination for solo female travellers. This week on Instagram, we have introduced some of our favourite places and things to do. They may not be on the regular travel guides, but will give you a different perspective of this great city.

Best views of London

Parliament Hill view point

Parliamant Hill

See how the city's planned

Nearby: Karl Marx's Tomb is walking distance, it is a peaceful place to visit.

 

Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill

Great sunset view from the top of the hill.

Nearby: Jewish Museum London

Sky Pod Garden

The view from Sky Pod Bar

Great for not just the view, but also drinks, food, and the Sky Garden. 

Nearby: Borough Market is just across the river. 

 

 

Hidden gems

The Kyoto Garden

The Kyoto Garden at Holland Park

A taste of Japan in London. Autumn's our favourite season to visit.

Nearby: Leighton House Museum - not just great art, but the building itself is an art. 

 

Barbican Conservatory

Barbican Conservatory

Get lost among the tropical plants right in the middle of the City.

Nearby: Guildhall

 

Glass walkway

The Glass Walkway of Tower Bridge

Watch the bridge opening from the top is an unique experience.

Nearby: CitizenM Tower of London - not just the regular hotel, but a great place to work and meet people. 

Iincoln's Inn Chapel

Lincoln's Inn Chapel at Temple

Temple is a great area to explore for history and architect fans. 

Nearby: Royal Courts of Justice, Sir John Soane's Museum. 

And don't miss the Sarastro Restaurant for an unique dining experience in the most beautiful deco.

 

Bank

Bank, especially during weekends

The ultra-busy place slows down and reveals it self during the weekends, great to just walk around and soak it in.

Nearby: Challenge yourself with some puzzles with Escape Entertainment

Bushy Park

Bushy Park & Hampton Court

Visit the deer park at dawn or dusk, before or after your visit to Hampton Court. Pack your lunch, it's worth a full day.

Nearby: Kingston upon Thames

 

Things to do

Project awesome

Free morning workout: Project Awesome

Kick start your mornings with Project Awesome. 6:30-7:30 on Monday (check Faceook for annoucement), Wednesday (Ctiy Hall) and Friday Primrose Hill)

SUP

Stand-up Paddle Boarding in Thames

A different way to enjoy London.

House of Parliament

Watch live debate in House of Parliament

It is not just for sightseeing. You can apply to join a live debate in the most beautiful building! 

V&A Cafe

Have a cuppa tea in V&A Cafe

Don't miss the Cafe at Victoria and Albert Museum. If you are lucky, you'll get a live piano performance while having some tea.

Brunch

Bottomless Brunch

Take your time and enjoy! Many places have bottomless brunch, our favorite is Bourne & Hollingsworth in Clerkenwell.

Flower Market

Columbia Road Flower Market

You've got to be in a good mood when surrounded with the flowers.

Our other favorite markets: Old Spitalfields Market, Brixton Market, Borough Market.

 

London has a lot to offer. It was difficult to narrow the list down to the few. Hope you'll enjoy them.

Next week, our Community Manager Beth will introduce her home - Wales to us. Stay tuned by following us on Instagram.

Joly ZouComment
Do we need to look fabulous to travel? Travel in the age of Social Media

It’s 22:05, I opened my Instagram and surfed through the most recent photos displayed on the Explore Feed. It is a familiar scene: gorgeous girls in perfect shape posing to the camera (among cute animals and kids).

 A snapshot of my 'Explore' feed

A snapshot of my 'Explore' feed

We have been in search of “authentic” travel photos by women to feature on our account, representing women from different backgrounds, but struggled with the seemingly easy task.

Don’t get me wrong, we do not hate those ‘perfect’ photos. They are absolutely wonderful, but a world filled of them is far from reality and has painted the wrong picture… Just based on this snapshot, it seems like we live in a world of those girls, and only those girls travel! We start to ask the question: do we need to look fabulous to travel and to share? Of course we do not. And here’s why ‘picture perfect’ social media can be troublesome:

Is there a beauty standard?

There should not be one standard for being beautiful. As we travel around the world, we know people from different cultures view beauty differently. But as the popularity of Western media rapidly spreading, we see the influence of it worldwide (a perceived beauty in China in 1960s v.s. now).

 Beauty in China 1960s v.s. 2010s

Beauty in China 1960s v.s. 2010s

What’s more, we are all individuals, and there’s no standard whatsoever – as long as we are ourselves and confident, that’s beautiful. And that’s the beauty needs to be shared: being different, being individual, being loving and confident!

 Remember the Beach Body advert from Protein World?

Remember the Beach Body advert from Protein World?

 We love the Real Beauty campaign from Dove

We love the Real Beauty campaign from Dove

But some of it is actually good: being fit. You do see lots of outdoors and fitness posts. Only they should not be about getting the so-called perfect body (/slim), but a healthy one which we are comfortable and confident in.

Depression haunted social media generation

A recent survey revealed that regular usage of Instagram is associated with low self-esteem, poor body image and lack of sleep. Unfortunately, it does not seem to make us happier, but quite the opposite – it causes depression, especially among young women. No wonder! 5 minutes in, I started to question my body! Thank god that my husband does not use Instagram, or I may have him point to one of these perfect bodies and asking me ‘why don’t you make some effort and look like that?'. It can even lead to a nasty divorce :P

Life’s viewed through the lens

“Happiness is only real when shared”, the boom of social media has given it a new meaning. Many people nowadays do things only because they can be shared. Last week when I was in Croatia, I hit the thunderstorm. I watched a group of girls ran into a super market, then started Facebook Live and one of them jumped into the rain and started to spin. Could she have done it if it could not be shared?

Earlier this year, I was in a beautiful beach in Costa Rica, and during the 2 hours we were there, we watched a pretty girl taking photos in different poses for a full hour and then left. I am not saying that’s not the right thing to do. If she’s really happy about it, and remembers the time, sure. But some of us do care more about what’s shown in through the lens (of others) than through our own eyes. Just choose whatever suits you the best.

 It seems all about 'Me', but actually it is all about 'Others', nothing about 'Me'. 

It seems all about 'Me', but actually it is all about 'Others', nothing about 'Me'. 

Social media have empowered each of us to be a broadcasting channel. It is up to us what we present to the world, and what we like and follow. At Solocal, we choose to be authentic and encourage diversity. What’s your choice? Just follow your heart, not others.


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Hidden gems in Croatia

Last time when I was in Croatia was five years ago: two days in Dubrovnik. The beauty of Dubrovnik had haunted me ever since. The short visit made me curious about the other parts of the country. Finally, I arrived in Croatia for the second time, to spend longer time and take a road trip around the country.

Tourism is booming.  When I arrived in Dubrovnik, though already off season (mid-September), it failed to touch my heart in the same way than five years ago. Stunning as it is, the old city is just packed with tourists, and all the traditional shops, cafes have turned into selling tourist products and menus. However, this time with a car, I was able to go wherever I wanted. As always, I did not do any planning or read any tourist books in advance, just hoped to encounter surprises on the way, and I was not disappointed.

There are many articles about routes and destinations of Croatia. In this post, I just want to share some of the hidden gems that I have discovered along the way.

Cavtat

 View of Cavtat

View of Cavtat

 Afternoon walk in the old city

Afternoon walk in the old city

Cavtat is only 20 minutes' drive away from the airport. It is very small, you can walk around it within 30 minutes. You can spend a chilled afternoon just roaming around, sipping a cup of coffee by the sea side, dipping in the crystal clear water and relaxing under the sun. In the evening, there was a performance of Tango dancing along the walking street by the sea side. I found it was a perfect stop over which got me relaxed and into ‘holiday mode’.

Trsteno

 The Roman Fountain

The Roman Fountain

I stopped over here for late lunch and wandered around after Dubrovnik city. It possesses great natural beauty: many different types of plants, a Roman garden with a fountain, situated by the sea. After experiencing a morning with a city fully packed, this little place offered me much needed quietness.

Mostar (in Bosnia)

The decision to go to Mostar was super last minute. I was driving towards Split, and the route requires crossing the border of Bosnia. The police at border control only gave a glance at the car, and waved me away. So I thought to explore Bosnia a bit while I was there!

 The view of Mostar

The view of Mostar

The drive towards Mostar did not give in much – narrow curvy roads in the hills. When I parked the car in the new city side, I was not impressed. But it was already late and getting dark, so I decided to stay there overnight. Later when I went out to get dinner, I followed the way suggested by my host to the ‘old bridge’ and what a pleasant surprise it was: first when I turned the corner at the walking street, it felt I was walking in a market of Istanbul, then it let me to the most beautiful bridge and view. The bells of the church and the prayers of the Islamic temple are both in the air, which signals the co-existence of religion and cultures.

Dragon’s Eye Lake

 The lake is a natural swimming pool

The lake is a natural swimming pool

It was sunny, and I was looking for a place to swim and relax. After parking the car, I followed a small group of people carrying beach bags. It was such a pleasant surprise – a lake with cliffs around it. I got into my swim wear and jumped in from one of the spots, even more surprise: the water was salty! There were only 6 people there including myself – some just floating in the water, some looking for different heights and spots to jump in, one was in a wet suit and diving into the small caves.

Primosten

 The island from afar

The island from afar

It used to be an island, in the recent years, a land was built to connect it to the mainland, so you can just walk there. The highest point sits a church, I found it was extremely peaceful to sit there and watch sunset. Many places offer traditional Croatian food with reasonable price. In the evening, you see local people sitting around in their yards and chatting, people would say hi to each other and exchange some friendly words. Though touristy, it still has an authentic feeling to it.

Mljet

 The views while on the walk around the 'small' lake on the island

The views while on the walk around the 'small' lake on the island

Mljet is just a short ferry or catamaran ride from any of the main ports in Croatia. It's relatively unheard of, which adds to the beauty of the island as is untouched and quiet.The entire north-west of the island is the National Park that includes two salt water lakes - Veliko and Malo Jezero (Large and Small Lake). The Lakes stretch for about 4 kilometres and are bordered by great cycling and walking routes. Right in the middle of the Large Lake there is a small island / islet Melita (Sveta Marija) with large building of a former Benedictine monastery, erected there in 12th century. The monastery’s building is now café/restaurant and doesn't take long to explore, after the short crossing on a small boat that leaves from either side of the lake. Both lakes are great for walking, cycling, swimming and kayaking.

 The south-west side of the island provides some spectacular sunsets

The south-west side of the island provides some spectacular sunsets

 

The south of the island is where you will find the island's beaches. Lovely quiet, white sandy beaches! There is only one main road on the island so it's hard to get lost and you can even explore Odysseus cave; a cave steeped in mysterious history. The island is also well known for it's white and red wine, olives, goat's cheese and scuba diving. Covered in Mediterranean forest it's the ultimate scenic escape. 

Rastoke

 The river and falls

The river and falls

Again, finding Rastoke was a bit of coincidence. After a long day in Plitvice Lakes, I did not feel driving for too long. On the way to Zagreb, I passed a town called Slunj, and decided to stay. Next morning after breakfast, I picked up a leaflet my host left behind and was impressed by the pictures, so went out for a walk.

 You can bath in some areas of the falls

You can bath in some areas of the falls

The river side is very impressive with several waterfalls. It looked like a great place for kayaking, a bit further from the river, there were several areas that you can bath in. Plitvice was very enchanting, but you would not be able to jump in and swim in the waterfalls. If you are like me – eager to have a dip Rastoke is perfect!

Zagreb

 The old city of Zagreb

The old city of Zagreb

Street art in Zagreb

This was my last stop. The weather has turned (thunderstorm), and I ditched the plan to follow the coast line. Instead, I drove towards Zagreb where I would fly out and thought I’d just spent my time indoors and catch up with some work.

Many travel posts said Zagreb was not worth more than half a day. But I was so glad with the choice I made for spending a couple of days here. This is the city where people work and live in, where you can find authentic restaurants to eat in with groups of locals, and shop in the stores where locals do daily shopping.

I just walked random in town. If it rained too heavy, I’d just take refuge in a museum or a cafe. The city has so many interesting museums: the museum of Illusions, the Museum of Broken Relationships were my favourite. I also randomly walked through a tunnel, which had interactive exhibition of Croatia history (at one part of it, you will need to walk through a long and dark part of the tunnel which rains even more heavily than outside).

And lastly, here are some tips if you plan to have a road trip in Croatia:

Plan your parking in advance

Parking is a nightmare in Croatia – almost every city/town. Due to the history, the alleys are narrow, and spaces are limited. My recommendation is: don’t drive into the city. When you are close enough, find a parking spot on one of the main road and walk it. I’ve seen many cars with scratches, and frustrated drivers trying to navigate out from the centres.

Take beach shoes

Croatia have few sandy beaches. Most of the coast line are stony, so are the rivers and lakes. If you want to take a bath, having beach shoes is very handy: so you are not risking getting scratches walking in and swimming in the water.

Book direct

This can sound sneaky, but find a place on Booking.com and google the contact info if you can. The hosts often gave me a 5-10% discount off the price on booking sites. In addition, if you are from countries that use Euros, carry some with you and offer to pay your accommodation in cash and in Euros. The hosts use much better exchange rate than banks!


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Joly ZouComment
How to go further and explore more - budget guide to solo female travellers
budget guide for solo female travellers

For a woman to travel alone, things are often more expensive. We pay more to stay in a room, take a cab, eat alone, etc. For us, it is not really about saving money, but more about going further and exploring more during our trips. We have asked in our community for the best tips, and put together this ultimate guide!

Stay

Go for a private room in a hostel

Many of us would choose to stay in a hostel not just because of the price, but that we want to meet people. I personally like hostels but only for a couple of nights. The social elements can get quite overwhelming, and I miss having my own space. Many hostels do nowadays provide private rooms, so you can still hit the hostel’s bar or go to activities they organise, while enjoying the privacy at the same time.

Sleep at airport

If you have an early morning flight, sleeping at the airport can be a great way to save on taxi, hotel and food cost. You don’t need to sleep on the floor or the uncomfortable chairs, but use the lounge. There are other ways to get access to the lounge than flying business or first-class, read here for how. 

Bookings:

If you are using an online booking tool, book the day before your arrival. Usually prices are the cheapest on previous day of your arrival, especially if you are travelling during peak season. Prices may jump up online on the day of stay.

Better than booking online: call the hotel/host and ask whether you can get a discount by booking directly with them and offer to pay cash – most of them would happily give you a discount (as booking sites takes 4-8% fee).

If you do not mind to move around, book the first night only. Why? Firstly, you can ask the host to give you a discount to say longer. And when you arrive at a new place, you are normally not sure what are the best areas to stay – booking only one night allows you to explore more, and getting into place you find to ask often leads to a discount.

Last but not least, don’t be shy and ask! Ask for an upgrade, ask for a discount, etc. Your hotel receptionist or your host are the best resources, be kind to them and make friends with them.

Eat

Go local

Walk further away from tourist areas when meal-time is approaching and keep an eye on where locals eat. Sometimes a small restaurant by the road side can be the gem. Or simply ask – go to a hotel or a hostel and ask the receptionist.

If you are looking for a restaurant from your phone, again, walk away from the tourist areas and use the ‘Nearby’ feature. When it comes to reviews, don’t go with the top-rated ones, but the ones with few reviews but all 4-5 stars (reviews in local languages are good sign).

We do recommend eating with a local. Eatwith and similar web services enables you to find local hosts who will cook and eat together with you. It is often not much more expensive than going to a restaurant, and you will learn how to cook local cuisine, and make some new friends!

Always have snacks with you

Buy drinks and snacks and take them with you at all times, so you don’t need to spend more in the expensive areas. In addition, it gives you time to find a good place to eat in.

Buy from supermarket

In many places, supermarkets or convenience stores sell ready packed food or convenient food. Don’t rule them out, they can actually be quite good especially in big and busy cities, as they are made mainly for local people.

Transport

Public transport

Do your research and planning ahead, sometimes getting a travel card or ticket pack can be much cheaper. Bus and trains are great – not just getting you from A to B, but you will get cheap sightseeing tours. So make sure you get a map or app with bus info.

Private transport

Ask! When you are queuing for a taxi or booking a car, ask others whether you can share before you get into the car. Make sure you go with the official taxi, and agree on the price beforehand – be clear, and if you need to argue about the price, do it before you get in, or wait till you safely arrive at your destination.

Flights

Firstly, when you search for tickets, do it in incognito or private browsing mode <find out how here>, so the airlines will not ‘remember’ your past search and increase the price.

Secondly, use good search tools to find out the best fares. We recommend Skyscanner to look for cheap fares, destinations, and find price trends – although there are many other sites that do the same. If your journey’s some time away and you want to get the best fare, use Airfare Watchdog to set up alerts and Hopper for fare predictions. If you are flexible in where to go, Jack’s Flight Club is great in sending you the best fares including error fares.

When you are taking a long haul flight, consider stop overs, and book the two legs separately. It can be cheaper than booking from one search. Just note don’t book two flights only hours apart!

Knowing where you are when you arrive

When landing in a brand new city it can be really overwhelming, especially after a long flight and the last thing you want to do is run up a huge bill by using up data on your phone looking at maps. We would recommend downloading maps.me  as a great way of accessing and using maps offline. You can pre-download the maps you need before you leave and even input your hostel/hotel into it. You can then have the comfort of knowing where you’re going and not run up a massive phone bill.

On the road

Manage your data

Get a local SIM card – in some country you can just get a SIM card off the counter, but some need you to register with passport/ID. Do your research beforehand and ask a local to help you.

Currency exchange

Unless you have a bank card which does not charge you a fee when you use abroad, it is the best to withdraw from ATM. If you are withdrawing from an ATM at the airport, don’t use the exchange rate it provides, your bank normally has better rate than it despite the charges.

In addition, carry your own currency with you (if you are from a country where the currency’s strong and stable), always ask whether you can pay in your own currency. In many countries, people actually prefer dollars, euros, pounds etc, and the exchange rate they use is often the best rate.

Know the price beforehand

Whatever you do – taking a cab, going to a bar, taking a tour, know/agree the price beforehand and be clear what’s included! Unfortunately, there are tourist traps all around the world. Be smart, and also be safe – don’t argue about prices until you are in safe places. (it can also help to gather a group together before booking a certain trip as you could qualify for a group discount! It’ll be your first adventure with your new friends)

Work while on the go

For the ones taking long trips, this is a great way to expand your trip. There are many sites like Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp, Hoxby to help you finding jobs or free accommodations in exchange of a few hours of your work. You can also go house sitting: Nomador lets you travel, live in people’s houses, taking care of their animals during your travel. There are also tons of opportunity for volunteering projects around the world.

Make friends

One of the main reasons we all love to travel is to meet new people – make sure you meet and make friends with the locals too! You never know what great tips they’ll give you that you won’t find on any tourist map or in any online travel forum. Let them tell you about their town and what makes it special, they can also tell you where to get the best price on things!

That’s quite a lot of information to digest. We’ve tried hard to put everything at one place for you. Just one more tip: be kind to people you meet, smile to them, talk to them, and treat them with respect. After all, it is the people we meet in our trips make the difference, and it is people we meet who help us to go further and do more. Don’t be shy, have fun, make friends and enjoy your journey!


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My 2017 Ultra-Marathon Challenge

This week we bring you the story of Natasha, a member of our Solo Female Travel community. She tells how she combines fitness and travelling (seeing different places while you workout!) in to a monthly challenge throughout the year. We love it! What's your way of bringing excitement into everyday life? 


2017 dawns partly because I’ve spent Christmas and New year eating and drinking too much at my second home in Peru.

I return to England and think about a fitness plan for the year. The thing is, I get bored at gyms, they smell and are stuffy. I lasted longer at boot camp on Clapham Common but it is too costly especially now I’m working for myself. I turned my attention to long distance running, and come up with a plan: one ultra-marathon per month for the whole year!

Sounds challenging? But seriously, it’s the lazy person’s answer to fitness: I’ll walk or run every race slowly and I won’t have to train in between. I’ll get to see the country, and learn more about the nation’s awesome national trails. It’s a no-brainer. I love my idea!

As is my wont, I find an excuse to leave out January. I’ve been away for a month so January is spent working hard, honest. February though, there’s the XNRG Pilgrim Challenge, 33 miles along the North Downs Way. A lovely walk to start the year, even with the evil mud. There was friendly mud too, and hills, which I do love.

March saw me in Dorset doing the Votwo Jurassic Coast Challenge for the third time, a perennial favourite. I caught up with vegan friends Louise and Dani, and flexitarian vegan Mariepaule, who, prepared a lovely meal with confit de canard whilst sipping cashew nut milk. I even learned to embrace the shingle on that race, and have found that jogging slowly on sand or shingle is the best way to get through what are usually small stretches.

Tasha Votwo

April, um, what was April? I sound blasé – they do kind of all meld into one, but yes, I remember, how could I forget. Probably the hardest of the year so far. Action Challenge’s Isle of Wight challenge. 66 miles around the island. Someone said it would be hilly, a smile broke on my face and I said, ‘I hope so.’ Hills are great, they give a chance to change speed, alter gait, give one set of muscles a rest while the others get going. It’s like burpees, once you’ve embraced them, it’s easy to do them well. If you’d like a burpee session with me, just shout. I’ve been to the Isle of Wight before when I was 16. But I don’t really know the island. It’s a great place, except for the concrete. Any little section of coastal path they could possibly cover with concrete, they have. Great for accessibility, awful for my legs. I ended that race with a swollen part of my left leg that I believe has no name. The race cost me a lot of money with a physiotherapist, but it did not stop me on my quest for an ultra a month for the year. Except I missed May. But I’d stockpiled in March, I didn’t mention I did the Cerne Giant ultra, brilliantly organised and I got to go to Dorset to see a big, ancient man with a willy, on a hillside, the Cerne Abbas Giant.

June saw me in the Cotswolds doing Threshold Sports’ inaugural Race to the Tower. I did day one with six friends, but they carried on through and completed 80 km in one go. There was no way I was doing that, so I booked my tent, had a leisurely carb-loaded dinner and went to bed at 6.30pm, to awake the following morning and complete the second part the following day.

In July, I was in the South Downs National Park completing 50 km of the Serpent Trail, in the beautiful heathlands of the South Downs National Park. The views were just stunning. I ran further than I have in a long, long time before I found a way of dispatching Louise off with some real runners so I could continue at my leisurely, slow pace.

August is a biggie. I'm running the Quadrathon: 4 marathons over 4 days in Ireland. I’d never been to that part of the world before, not for many years at least. I’ve been preparing myself for lots of tarmac, but the marathon distance is my favourite distance, especially when it involves getting up and doing it again the next day… and the next. Today's Day 2 and I have 3 blisters. It's 9pm, and I'm going to bed for some rest, after another enormous meal of jacket potatoes (note the plural). 

The rest of the year includes the Wye Valley, Cornwall, Argentina, and I need some ideas for December! Any thoughts, please get in touch with me! 


Natasha

Natasha became interested in ultra-marathons in 2011 and ran her first one in Jordan in May 2012, 250 km with 4 Deserts. The friends she made on that race made her go back for more and she’s been interested ever since. Besides (very slow) running, Natasha works for herself as a declutterer having left her day job in July 2016.

If you are interested in decluttering or ultrarunning, contact her at tashafanshawe@hotmail.com, or visit her website

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Insider tips and gadgets to make your travel journey better

Our Facebook group is a great place for our community of female travellers to share stories. One thing I see time and again though is requests for advice on packing and what to take on a trip. So we’ve picked out some of the best ones, which not only save you space but more importantly make your journey a little less hard work!

Get some sleep on the plane: Trtl Pillow

Trtl Pillow

6-hour flight in a tiny economy seat, not much fun. You try your best to get some sleep but just can’t seem to find a comfortable position. Sound familiar? This product saves the day: it gives you much needed extra neck support, so you can catch some sleep. We love it, firstly as it does the job and you can adjust it – while many traditional pillows are just hopeless, especially the ones the airline gives out. It’s super comfy, the fleece is soft and warm and more breathable than traditional neck pillows. And, most importantly it’s compact, so you don’t need to worry about it taking all the space in your suitcase for the rest of your trip!

Never run out of power: solar power bank

solar power bank

Power bank’s innovative solution to avoid running out of power, especially good if you’re going somewhere sunny! Using the power of the sun this eco-friendly, go-anywhere power pack is small and light enough to carry around every day. For the outdoor lovers, this can really make the difference.

Go sand-free – sand-proof beach towel

sand-free towel

We love the sun, the breeze, the sea and like nothing more than lying on the beach. But, most of us don’t enjoy sand sticking to our body and rubbing around. It gets everywhere, back to our room, in our bed, sometimes even our food! To me, this product is the best invention ever! Sand actually goes through it! And that’s not all, it’s much smaller than a traditional beach towel, it absorbs more water, and it dries quicker. The king of towels it’s a super towel to own and pack for any beach lover short on suitcase space.

Capture every moment – action camera

action cam

Not just for the active and sporty traveller, but every traveller. Nowadays, these kinds of cameras are affordable and you can fit one almost anywhere. Take underwater videos, film a boat ride or take a wide-angle selfie. Every moment of your trip can be captured.

Handy for every trip: portable backpack

backpack

We do believe you should carry one with you on every trip, even just in case you need some extra space. When you fold it, it’s as small as your palm, which taking up almost no space and weigh virtually nothing. When expanded, it is a proper backpack, and also waterproof. This is my guilty secret as I always pack this in case I do a little extra shopping on my trip!

Girl’s best friend –urinating device

urinating device

We’ve talked about this in our earlier post. It sounds a bit strange – taking a wee wee standing up as a girl. But it is super helpful when you are on a camping trip, road trip or travelling to places which may not have the best facilities. It keeps you clean and safe – so you do not need to wander far away from the main route, or pull your pants down.

Now the best part: we are giving all of the above away for free as a way of saying thank you for your support in our development. Sign up to our beta test list, and get a chance to win one of these products. You will not get spammed, but only a notification to download our app when it’s ready.

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