The big 3-0: Update

I’ve had an influx of new followers lately so first and foremost – welcome to you all! It has been a little while since my last post as other things have taken priority but I hope you’re all doing well.

If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll recall that I posted about the early planning process for my summer plans. To recap; I’m attending a wedding on the 5th of August in Washington State and then turn 30 on the 7th of August. Two reasons to celebrate gave me two reasons to make this a summer to remember – I wanted to make this a big trip and therefore I’ll be spending 30 days in the USA! Thirty bloody days! Crazy!

My previous post was speaking about what my early thoughts of planning such a big trip would be, so if you’re planning something similar you can give that a read here: The big 3-0!
However I’m now closer to having a finalised itinerary and I wanted to provide you with an update on what the plan is looking like.

My dates have been relatively set for some time. The date of the wedding has changed a couple of times but all have overlapped with my original plan to fly to the US on July 28th and get home on August 27th (flying home overnight on the 26th).
These dates meant I could attend the wedding, celebrate my birthday and also make the most of August 27th being a public holiday in the UK – i.e one less day of annual leave used. It meant I could get 30 days in the US with only 20 days taken off work which was pretty ideal!

So with the dates confirmed all I had to do was decide where I’d be spending them and who, if anyone, would accompany me. Easy right?

This plan has changed several times over for several reasons. I’ve considered visiting pretty much everywhere across the States and looked in to visiting parts of Canada too but nothing has been particularly set in stone. My only definitive plans were to visit Washington for the wedding and make my first visits to Portland and San Francisco. I’ve been pretty flexible beyond that. So here goes!

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USA bound!

Chicago: July 28th – July 30th
I’m starting the trip off solo in Chicago. This was somewhere I’d thought about visiting but then as the plan developed disappeared from my itinerary.
However flight prices were decent and Chicago O’Hare’s airport was a decent base to get around the country for some of the other places I was considering.

I was debating whether to spend two or three days here dependent on where I’d be going next. It now looks like it’ll be two days.

Minneapolis: July 30th – August 1st
For a 30 day trip, perhaps surprisingly stop number 2 was one of the last pieces of my “”jigsaw”. I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t somewhere I’d given too much consideration in visiting. I knew I wanted to go to destination number 3 on August 1st but was having trouble deciding where to go between Chicago and stop number 3.

I’d considered Minneapolis but it wasn’t towards the top of my list and wasn’t a “bucketlist” city for me to visit. However this week my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be returning to the US and playing in Minneapolis on July 31st.

I’d booked my flights to Chicago well before the announcement because I had no intention of planning my trip around Spurs. With that said I had kept this particular date open and it’s just happened to work out that I’m already in a neighbouring state. It’s not a long journey from Chicago so was a pretty logical second stop.

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Potentially country number 8 watching Tottenham!

New Orleans: August 1st – August 4th
Having friends in the US always gives me something extra to think about when planning a US trip. For this particular trip I was keen to try and visit two of my penpals, Crystal (Florida) and Sam (Alabama). I was fortunate to meet the latter in Nashville last year but we’d yet to successfully meet up with all three of us!

Given their locations the easiest meeting point would be somewhere Southern and somehow we got on to the possibility of New Orleans. I still want to visit both in Alabama and Florida but I was sold on the idea of NOLA pretty instantly. I’m hoping I’ll get a nicer welcome in the South than I did in Georgia or Texas (you’ll have to wait for those stories).

This has been on my list pretty early on and the only thing left to decide was how long I wanted to stay here. I’ve opted for 3-ish days.

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Me, Haleigh, Cassie & Maddie!

Seattle: August 4th – August 6th
As mentioned abovve, the wedding is on the 5th so this was a no brainer. It’ll be my third time in Washington though so I’m happy flying in to Seattle on the 4th and leaving just after. I’ll definitely be back to Washington in the future anyway.

I’ll be watching Cassie and Maddie get married and meeting up with Haleigh too! From this point onwards I’ll have Haleigh joining me for the adventure!

Portland: August 6th – August 9th
As soon as I knew I was traveling to the West coast for a wedding I knew I had to find some time to visit Portland. It looks like a great city and I have a few friends locally that I’m hoping I’ll catch up with. I’m a little gutted because my time here doesn’t overlap with a Timbers game but it’s still somewhere I’m so excited to visit. It’ll be a cool place to celebrate my birthday too!

Moses Lake: August 9th – August 10th
Me and Haleigh are driving down to Portland after the wedding and then we’ll be driving back to Washington together before the weekend hits. I don’t know if we’re specifically going to Moses Lake but I figure we’ll probably have a day at “home” to relax before the adventure continues!

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Moses Lake, you’re so pretty!

Walla Walla: August 10th – August 13th
A return to beautiful Walla Walla. I visited here in February and it was somewhere I grew quite fond of – the mountain views certainly helped! Haleigh’s family are hosting their big annual BBQ on the 11th which means we’ll end up spending the weekend here before getting back to the adventuring.

Oregon Coast: August 13th – August 15th
Back to Oregon! San Francisco bound, we (Haleigh) will be driving down the coast and visiting places such as Lincoln City, Newport and wherever else along the way. It looks pretty and gives us a chance to see more of the state and a chance for Haleigh to revisit some places she hasn’t been to for a while.

Redwood National Park: August 15th – August 16th
It’s still a long drive to San Francisco from Oregon so I was conscious of stopping somewhere and this seemed like a suitable choice on route. Whilst I’d love to see some of the bigger parks in the US I still think this will be pretty cool.

San Francisco: August 16th – August 20th
This has been high up on my list of places to visit for a long time. I’m so excited to finally be making my first visit to San Fran this year. We have four nights here which should give us plenty of time to see a lot of what the city has to offer. After the wedding this was probably the part of the trip I was most excited about. Seeing that Golden Gate bridge in particular will definitely be a “pinch me” moment.

Bend: August 20th to August 22nd
A visit to Bend (Oregon) breaks up the return drive from California to Washington and gives us an opportunity to visit a friend too which we were both keen to try and squeeze in to the trip. I don’t know if we’ll spend one or two days in Bend but it’ll be nice to make a stop here.

Moses Lake: August 22nd to August 25th
I’m anticipating Haleigh might be back to work on the 23rd so we’re aiming to get back “home” the day before. After three and a half weeks of traveling it’ll be nice to relax for a day or two. If Haleigh doesn’t have to work we might end up going elsewhere but we’ll see.

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Spokane, Washington

Spokane: August 25th to August 26th
A necessary stop to start making my way home. I went to Spokane last September and it was a nice overnight stop, I’d be fine with a brief second visit. Spokane’s airport is small but meant I could directly reach my next and final stop.

Chicago: August 26th
Departure day. I looked at various flight options but in the end decided I’d fly to and from the same place, so back to Chicago I go! At the minute I’m suggesting I’ll arrive and fly home on the same day but this might change, we’ll see.

Anyway, there you have it! Six states, several cities, one wedding and one 30th birthday spread across 30 days!

This isn’t the absolute final itinerary and there are probably still going to be some slight amendments but for the most-part this is a good glimpse at where I’ll be heading this summer, which is now exactly 100 days away!

If you have any recommendations for any of the above please give me a heads up. With the exception of Washington State, these are all new states that I’m visiting so any tips are much appreciated!

All the best!

Jason

Managing wanderlust

As some of you will know, come the summer I will be spending 4 weeks in the USA to celebrate a wedding (not mine) and also my 30th birthday. You can read about the early planning thoughts here: The big 3-0!

I travel a lot but that isn’t everyday life for me. I applaud those that have built themselves a life to work whilst traveling around the world but personally I’m working a regular 9-5 (5:30) Monday-Friday office job.
A four week holiday, unfortunately, has consequences for the rest of the year.

I managed to squeeze in a trip in February but that’s used up the little remaining annual leave I had for 2018. Sadly now I’m back home, the wanderlust is kicking in and there’s not much I can do about it. I am craving a trip somewhere and I still have FOUR MONTHS until my summer adventure begins (128 days to be precise, not that I’m counting right?).

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February trip to Washington State!

I can’t remember the last time I had to go so long between trips! People around the world live in warzones, poverty, abusive situations, inequality and I’m not really sure where my ‘woes’ sit on the scale of important world problems.

Bizarrely I’m finding little sympathy with my life ‘struggle’. My peers have been of no use and apparently there isn’t a suitable helpline for those struggling from the dreaded disease (wanderlust), so I decided I’d put together my own little list of remedies to ease the pain.

I have to warn you, these are only temporary measures! I’m no miracle worker. There is still no known cure for wanderlust but hopefully these will tie you over until you get your next “fix”.

So here are my top tips for managing wanderlust and what I’ll personally be doing over the next four months:

Make time for family and friends! 
“You’re never here”, “You’re always on holiday”, or “where’s next?” are a selection of commonly used phrases amongst my loved ones. I feel like there’s a subtle point they’re trying to make somewhere in there but in 2017 the catchphrases particularly had some conviction to them.

2017 was my most travelled year to date and I hold no regrets in that, it was a wonderful year. However it did also feel like a year where I saw a lot less of my favourite people.

Whilst technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected from anywhere in the world, it’s certainly nice to actually catch up and spend time together in person. There have already been a few occasions in 2018 where I’ve got to see a number of family and friends which has served as a good reminder to make more effort when I am in the country.

I’m hopeful 2018 has many more opportunities to see the important people and I’m pleased there are a few events coming up in the weeks ahead to maintain this. Starting this weekend with a little ‘adventure’ to Kettering!

Make some penpals!
This is one suggestion I’d recommend for everyone, regardless of how frequently you travel! Not everyone can dedicate their time and money to traveling as other things in life take priority. So whilst you’re unable to travel why not send just a little piece of you around the world instead through the joy of having a penpal.

I’ve been doing this for a few years in my spare time and I think it’s a great way to have a little taste of foreign culture, learn more about the rest of the world and make some good friends along the way.

Whether you go for the traditional “snail mail” route or prefer to stick to chatting online, it’s always a nice feeling to have some new mail (whether physical or electronic) waiting for you.
The age of technology makes it easier than ever to make contact with people from all over the world and from the comfort of your own home too!

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My collection is much bigger since this photo! 

Read a book!
Of course it doesn’t all have to be about technology. People were going on adventures long before the days of the internet. Forget all that nonsense with border control, books can take you to an infinite number of destinations and you don’t need a passport to do it either!

Once you’re stuck into a good book nothing is stopping you from visiting places such as Narnia, the Middle Earth, Hogwarts or Space which are beyond the reach of your typical traveler. A little imagination can take you anywhere!

If you’re not much of a reader: TV shows, movies and video games can also take you on quite the journey.

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Be right back, I’m off to Hogwarts!

Learn a new skill!
One of the best things about traveling is experiencing something new, so why not do the same at home? Learning a new skill can be a great help in life and potentially on your travels too. I started learning German a while ago and it has made visiting Germany since then much more enjoyable.

Of course it doesn’t have to be a language. You could improve your cooking skills, learn to sew or learn an instrument for example but with a bit of free time between trips there’s so many skills you could learn that come in handy both in life in general and potentially on future adventures too!

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Deutsch? Kein problem!

Go local!
and if all of the above fail, why not go local? Traveling doesn’t always mean you have to go to the other side of the world to have a little adventure. Sometimes it’s easy for us to overlook the places closer to home which still have their own highlights and quirks of their own.

Visit a local town or city and see how it differs to home. Better yet, see what’s happening where you live. Attend that festival this weekend, go see a show, visit your local museum or just treat yourself to dinner at that new restaurant that just opened.

It’s a little dependent on where you live but you don’t necessarily have to jump on a plane to experience something new or make some lasting memories. As much as that urge to travel consumes me, maybe I should embrace some of the better things about England.

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England’s not all bad, right?

With four months until I go to the US I’ll be focusing on some of these options to limit my travel envy. What are some of your own methods for coping with wanderlust? Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

All the best!

Jason

Berlin!

Germany as I’m sure you know by now happens to be one of my favourite places to visit, I first visited the country in 2013 and have been at least once every year since with my most recent trip (November) concluding my 8th visit! Germany has provided me with some wonderful memories and I’ve grown to love the diversity, people and culture of the country – I’ve even made an effort to learn German! Verrückt! (Crazy!).

So seeing a friend on Facebook suggest that she would never visit Germany was a little disheartening. Whilst I’ve generally made my destination posts chronological anyway, I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to follow on from Barmouth with my next trip and set the record straight given some of the misconceptions about Germany last week following an incident at Munich’s airport.

I’m not going to get in to my thoughts on the incident itself but Mo Farah claimed to have been on the end of racial harrassment in Munich, an accusation quickly denied by the accused. Online and media reaction to the headline went in two ways with some aiming criticism at Farah and others being critical of the accused security guard and then the defence of said security guard
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Criticism is one thing but I read MANY comments making a sweeping generalisation of Germany as a whole because of this incident and I can not accept that. You’ll find ignorant and hateful people EVERYWHERE and one incident is not reflective of an entire nation with 80+ million citizens. Just like anywhere, Germany is a friendly and welcoming place and dismissing it as a potential travel destination would be a waste for a country that has so much to offer!

So let’s travel back to August 2014 and my trip to the German capital: Berlin! Myself and a friend had talked about going on a weekend break somewhere and as soon as Berlin was mentioned we were both in agreement that we should go! It had always been a “must visit” destination for me, Berlin was so steeped in history that it had always appealed to me. I couldn’t wait to go!

Yet wait and wait I did. Solo travel and group travel both have their pros and cons, a pro to solo travel is that you’re in complete control of everything. With 4 of us making plans for Berlin I was growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress in booking the trip. I couldn’t get properly excited until plans were finalised and it felt like there were a few setbacks, I’m sure there was equal frustration on their part as the planning process went on but eventually we had dates booked into the calendar!

Myself and Karl flew out to Germany on Friday morning, Andy and Rox had already flown into Germany a day or two earlier to get a little longer out of their break. Budget airlines hold a bit of a catch 22 situation – on the one hand it means pretty much everyone can travel, on the other hand it means pretty much everyone can travel.

Particularly when flying out of Stansted, flying on a Friday or Saturday and flying to a popular destination, you can not avoid the stag / hen (bachelor / bachelorette) groups.
Our flight to Berlin consisted of at least two stag do’s and I think one hen do on board too. Karl somehow bagged the window seat which left me sat next to a young lad who, at 6am or whatever it was, was already far too drunk to string a coherent sentence together.

There has been a lot of controversy regarding alcohol limits in airports and on flights recently and I’d apportion 99% of the blame at our drunken little island if I’m being honest. Our friends in the rest of Europe seem a little better at knowing their limitations than the Brits who disgrace themselves in the continent on cheap weekend breaks. This guy was a perfect example and you question firstly if he should have been allowed to fly and secondly why they let him buy a further beer on board. I think he was keen I joined in for a breakfast beer but I politely declined.

In fairness to him he wasn’t any trouble but it made my journey a little less peaceful than I would have liked. Nevertheless the two of us were soon arriving in to Berlin and making an effort to figure out how to get to our hostel, at the time I knew no German so both of us were solely dependent on English getting us by for the weekend.
It wasn’t too tricky and eventually we were arriving into Berlin’s “Cat’s Pajamas” hostel – I liked it and would probably stay there again.

We met up with Andy and Rox and made plans to go and see some of Berlin, we started off with a quick lunchtime stop and then aimed for central Berlin.
I’m a big fan of kicking off day one with a walking tour, however when Andy suggested we do a biking tour I was a little more sceptical. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, perhaps that is true but it didn’t make me feel any more confident about riding around the city and through the streets of Berlin on a bicycle. When was the last time I’d even rode a bike? I was coming up to my 26th birthday and the last time would certainly have been as a kid, so well over 10 years.

I don’t think Karl and Rox were 100% sold on the idea either so credit to Andy’s persuasion skills. He’d not just convinced one sceptic person it was a good idea but three, 3! Even after agreeing to it I was a little nervous about it. No sooner had I climbed on my bike had I fallen off it, and again, and again. The tour was something like 3 hours long and I couldn’t stay upright for more than 2 minutes – disastrous and we hadn’t even started hitting the streets yet! Can I get some stabilisers please?

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Pros!

My fortunes did change (without the need for stabilisers before you ask!), soon enough I’d remembered how to balance myself and stop properly. I was whizzing through the streets and ready to embark on the Tour de France (alright, maybe not). Nevertheless I had been won over. We ticked off a number of the sights spread out across the city and I started to appreciate how much there was to see in the city. From viewing the stunning architecture to learning about the history from our tour guide, Berlin was living up to my high expectation.

A bike tour was a perfect way to see it and allowed us to cover so much more distance than if we’d been on foot. I think the highlight was riding through the Tiergarten (Berlin’s answer to Central Park) and seeing how peaceful it was. The Tiergarten was also home to a couple of pubs, one of which we stopped at for a scheduled break in the tour! A beer later and we were back on our bikes to see a little more of Berlin before rounding up the tour. It wasn’t something I’d ever have considered doing if I’d traveled alone but I’m really pleased we ended up doing it.

Friday evening we went and grabbed food somewhere and then enjoyed a few drinks to finish off the night. A successful start to our trip in Berlin!

Four years later, Saturday and Sunday are a bit more of a blur. I remember what we did but I can’t particularly associate the things we did with a particular day.

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The Reichstag building

Over the next two days we took a little more time to see some of the sights we’d only briefly visited on Friday such as the famous Brandenburg Tor, Checkpoint Charlie and the Reichstag building. The latter you can enter for free to then see views over Berlin from up on the roof – despite being free you do have to book a time slot in advance so keep that in mind before visiting. We got a little caught up elsewhere and ended up having a crazy rush to get there in time, I think we were a little late but they fortunately weren’t too strict on enforcing an exact time. I’d still recommend getting there before your time slot though! Haha.

We checked out a few museums. The Topography of Terror and DDR museums ended up being the best of the ones we visited. The Topography of Terror my favourite of the two and as most of it is based outside, it’s free to enjoy! You also have to make sure to check out the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – it’s a must see!

However in contrast the Checkpoint Charlie museum I personally found a bit of a mess and didn’t enjoy. The museum had no structure to it, parts of it were interesting but it wasn’t well laid out and some of the rooms had exhibitions with no real relevance to the museum. It was bizarre and I didn’t really feel like it justified the admission price.

One of the other enjoyable things we did in Berlin was visit the huge Flohmarkt (flea market) on the Sunday which was interesting to look around. I’m not much of a shopper but it was interesting to see the variety of things sold and people watch as tourists and locals both looked to enjoy themselves! It was also a good spot to pick up some cheap lunch.

Beyond the daytime antics, one of the things I loved most about Berlin was that it felt completely different in the evening. It’s a fascinating city by day and has plenty to offer for tourists but come the evening it felt like a much livelier place. It helped that we were there in the summer. The better weather made it easy to enjoy eating out and drink at one of the numerous beer gardens that occupy the city, there was a buzz about Berlin every evening we were there and it made it a fun place to go out and enjoy Berlin’s nightlife.

With great company, great beer and great weather I could have spent many more nights soaking up the atmosphere of Berlin. Köln (2013) had given me a little taste of German culture but I truly felt at home in Berlin. There’s something I love about big cities and I found that Berlin matched some of the best and ranks as one of my favourite European cities.

I feel like I only covered a fraction of what Berlin had to offer so it’s a city I definitely want to return to and I highly recommend you visit too! Whilst it’s unfortunate that racism, discrimination and inequality continue to exist within society please don’t let it put you off visiting Germany.

Berlin in particular is incredibly welcoming and a multi-cultural city home to foreigners from all over the world, you’d be missing out to overlook a country as diverse as Deutschland!

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Me at the Brandenburger Tor

Deutschland; Ich liebe dich! Bis bald!

Have you ever been to Berlin? What did you think? Where else in Germany should I add to my growing list in this wonderful country? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason

Barmouth!

Before getting on to Barmouth I wanted to start by saying thank you – to each and every one of you! I spoke a while ago about suffering a mini-blogging slump at the back end of 2017. I’ve got back on track in 2018 but it was helpful taking a little step back from blogging and realising that, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy this opposed to doing it for anyone else.

I want to share my stories, I want people to enjoy what they’re reading and I want to inspire more people to travel. However more than anything I want to enjoy what I’m writing about and I realised I wanted to keep a personal touch to this. I promised to do so going forward.
So the response to my last post, Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!, was overwhelming. I was blown away by the feedback to it and it reaffirmed that keeping this personal was the right thing for me. It was my most personal post to date and yet my most popular post too. Encouraging!

Anyway, moving on! Today I’m reverting back to a “destination post” and that takes me on to a little town in Wales called Barmouth! This was going to be my next post regardless but by coincidence St David’s Day occurred this week, so to any Welsh readers I hope you enjoyed yourselves! A belated happy St David’s Day!

Prior to Barmouth my last trip had been to Lisbon, you can read all about that here (3 wonderful nights in Lisbon) but I mentioned that I’d planned to leave Lisbon on the Saturday to spend the weekend with my, at the time, girlfriend only to find myself single a couple of weeks later. A tad frustrating as a couple of extra days in Lisbon would have been fantastic!

Before that breakup came a romantic getaway to Wales! I finished work on the first Friday in April (2014) and hopped on a train up to Birmingham to spend the evening together. On Saturday morning we left Birmingham’s New Street station and caught an early train to Barmouth!
I had never heard of it before but a couple of her friends had recommended it so we decided it’d be fun to take a trip.

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Barmouth is this cute little coastal town in Wales. I’ve never really spent much time in Wales so it’s not a country I’d seen much of until now – I was impressed! The beauty in catching a train is you can really admire the view as you travel. I said in my post on Edinburgh that England gets a lot of the attention when people talk about the United Kingdom and I’ll repeat it here, there is so much more to the UK than just England. More people should be talking about how beautiful Wales is! I was in disbelief at the stunning scenery. Why does Wales not get more credit for being so pretty?

Perhaps people don’t talk enough about Wales’ beauty but one thing they do talk about is the number of sheep in Wales. I try not to submit to the stereotypes and figured its association was exaggerated. It isn’t! Wales is full of sheep – they’re everywhere! Sheep outweigh the human population roughly on a 3:1 ratio which tells you all you need to know really. The fabled “counting sheep” method to help you sleep makes Wales a perfect destination for you insomniacs out there!

Ignoring the sheep it is such a pretty country. The closer we got to Barmouth the more beautiful the scenery became, it was breathtaking to look at. Barmouth isn’t too far from the Snowdonia national park and it is definitely a part of the country I want to explore more of. Preferably in the summer and with better weather.

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Miserable weather but a pretty Barmouth

Soon enough we were arriving in to Barmouth’s train station. As you’d expect from a small town, the station is quite small but the location is right in the heart of the town and close to the beach making it an ideal day-trip. We arrived around lunchtime and headed straight for the beach. Unsurprisingly it was pretty empty, the problem with going anywhere in the UK in April is that the weather is still pretty miserable. We did have a wander along the beach but with grey skies looming over us we made our way to check in to our hotel.

The one downside to staying in such a small town is that hotel options were rather limited. It was a nice hotel but not the cheapest stay and apparently I’d committed the crime of the century in booking a hotel situated on a hill. A little up-hill walk saw us checking into our stay for the night in what was a cosy room with a decent sized bath too (FYI – I love my baths!). The room views are probably usually decent but ours wasn’t a sea-facing view and to be honest it was so miserable outside that there probably wasn’t much worth looking at anyway. I imagine the views are great on a warmer day though.

Having had a little time to relax and drop off our things, back in to the cold we went. Barmouth is your typical coastal town but perhaps with better scenery. We took a little stroll across this bridge and started picking out the houses and pretty buildings overlooking the water – some of them looked perfect!

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Sadly the sky was even greyer at this point and now there was a little light rain, we popped in to the arcades which gave me my first experience with the famed 2p machines – a great way to pass the time and a favourite of any British coastal town!

Content that our 2p coins had vanished we did a little window-shopping and then went in search of dinner. Shortly after eating we called it a night, relaxing back at the hotel and watching whatever rubbish was on TV (it might have been Match Of The Day actually – such a romantic getaway!). A good night’s sleep followed and we woke up refreshed ready to see a little more of Barmouth before heading back to England.

We kicked off our day with breakfast at some nearby café, I think we stuck out like a sore thumb as the only tourists in town. We were greeted to friendly faces which added to a really nice atmosphere in this little place. Everyone else seemed to be local – greeting each-other in a familiar tone, laughing away and just generally enjoying their company. It was wonderful to witness and definitely led to us having a much more authentic local experience.

After breakfast we had one last stroll along the beach – it may have been another cold day in April but we had to pick up an obligatory ice cream! You have to when you’re at the beach, right?
As we walked along the promenade every passer-by seemed to do so with a smile, many of which were walking their dogs, and it felt like a really welcoming little town. I’d like to think it’s the same in the summer months when there is better weather and more tourists in town.

We bought some souvenirs to take home with us at a nearby shop which left us with just enough time to get some lunch before making the journey back to England. We found a cosy little pub that served a traditional Sunday roast – it was delicious and like the café it just felt like everybody knew each-other and perhaps had the same Sunday routine every week. It was a nice way to round off our time in Wales.

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Time to go home! See you later Barmouth!

If you’re in that part of the UK I’d suggest it is worth a daytrip, however I don’t know if I’d personally go back given how far it is from where I live.
For us, it was a short and sweet visit but nevertheless it’s somewhere that left an impression on me and somewhere that I’m glad I visited.

Barmouth – I might not ever see you again but thanks for the fond memories you left me with!

Have you ever been to Barmouth? What did you think? Are you a fan of visiting places outside of peak season?
Let me know!

All the best!

Jason

Travel helping my struggle with anxiety!

Rather than focus on a specific destination I thought I would switch the topic by looking at something a little more personal and perhaps more relatable for those who don’t travel as frequently as I do.

I initially planned to post this on “World Mental Health Day” and the recent “Time To Talk Day” was another opportunity to do so but whilst I recognise the good work campaigns like these do, you almost fall in to a trap which defeats the intention of said campaigns.
The message these campaigns want to get across is that it’s important to talk about mental health/illness – I completely agree. However in practice you find people raise the issue on World Mental Health Day for example and then it doesn’t get mentioned again until next year’s World Mental Health Day, where it’s then mentioned again how important it is to talk about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do applaud these campaigns for starting the conversation but it’s easy to fall in to that trap. If mental health is something we want to see understood better within society then it needs to become more of an every-day conversation opposed to a once-a-year raise awareness day. So I scrapped my initial intention and figured posting this on a personal ‘anniversary’ for me was more appropriate.

I consider myself to have been fortunate with my mental health on the whole. I’m generally a positive person which helps the overall state of my mental health. Depression has always alluded me and whilst everyone has their bad days or difficult times it has never been more than that for me. It’s very different from those struggling and fighting depression on a daily basis.
My “achilles heel” however has always been anxiety.

I’ve never talked too much about my anxiety and there’s two reasons for that; first and foremost I’m a fairly independent person. My anxiety isn’t some big secret and some people are aware of it but it’s not something I drop into conversation too often. I’ve never been particularly good at talking about myself or sharing all of the aspects of my life.

I fully advocate talking about mental illness. I think it’s important to talk to someone if you’re struggling but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to talk about it to everyone. The latter has been more my approach I suppose. I know there are people I can talk to as and when I need to but I’ve personally preferred dealing with mine on a smaller scale rather than making a big thing of it.

So similarly if you’re struggling then please just find someone to talk to, it doesn’t have to be a public SOS for everyone to see. Just one person can make a difference and I promise you there is someone that cares and is willing to listen if you need someone to talk to. If you’re doubtful that person exists please message me any time. I’m not much of a talker but listening I’m pretty good at!

The second reason I’ve never talked about my anxiety too much in the past is because for a long time I didn’t really understand it. I think by the time I realised it was anxiety that I’d suffered from the worst of it had gone. I still suffer from, what I consider to be, mild anxiety. Part of that overlaps in being an introvert, I don’t think I’ll ever be fully rid of anxiety because traits of my personality just make it impossible to avoid. Fortunately on a day-by-day basis I’ve found a way of managing the occasions where my anxiety is eating away at my brain.

However that wasn’t always the case. At the peak of my anxiety I was really struggling with it, both mentally and physically – possibly more the latter. The mental side of the illness was easier to hide, the physical aspect I couldn’t escape from.
I’d love to be able to pinpoint an exact point in time where it switched because it certainly wasn’t with me through my childhood.

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Life as a kid was easy-going!

I first remember it being an issue shortly after starting my first job when I’d start spending time with friends outside of work. I loved the people and it was great to be able to spend time together away from work but on one occasion I started to feel a little unwell, next thing I knew I was throwing up.

Did I eat something funny? Maybe I just needed a little fresh air? My friends were a little concerned but reassuring and helped make me feel comfortable.. Shortly after the feeling had passed and I got back to enjoying the company and the occasion. I couldn’t really explain why I’d been sick but you know, sometimes people just get sick. It was certainly uncomfortable for me but I’d just put it down as a one time thing.

Until the next time – now a pattern has emerged. “Sick again! Wonderful! I felt fine 20 minutes ago, where has this come from?”
With the benefit of hindsight I can see it was anxiety but at the time I had no idea why this was happening. I didn’t really know anything about anxiety and that this was causing me to be sick, perhaps if I’d been more aware of it I could have managed it better but all I knew was ‘Sickboy’ had returned (the “superhero” name needs a little work) and wanted to spoil my day.

The pattern quickly became a habit and that’s when the mental illness really kicked in. I’d gone from thinking of it as a one time thing to pleading that it didn’t happen again – the fact it was already playing on my mind didn’t help. The mental side of the anxiety had me reminiscing of being sick on previous catch-ups and all I could think about was what I could do to stop it. All I could think about was not being sick again and I think having it play on my mind so much meant there was only ever going to be one outcome = “BLEURGH!”.

It was now a worry. Hope turned in to acceptance for future social situations. Wishing it away wasn’t working so let’s plan around it – “alright body, I’m meeting friends at 1 so if we could get the throwing up done by midday that’d be grand”.
Body: “I mean, that sounds reasonable but do you know what would be more fun..?” “Bleurgh”.

I had no control over it and the more it happened the more it played on my mind. It had affected me socially and then started creeping in to other aspects of my life.
I remember going back to college, day one resulted in making numerous stops in what should have been a short walk to the college grounds from the city centre but another “first day” meeting new people was overwhelming.

Similarly I’d go to job interviews and my brain was over-thinking like crazy. Being nervous for a job interview is pretty common, I was certainly no different in that respect but the pre-interview period was just as difficult.
People wisely recommend that you aren’t late for a job interview, I hate being late for anything so that wasn’t an issue. My issue was I was too early! I’m here and I can’t even go in yet, I’d started questioning what is early and what is too early – finding the right balance between a good impression and a sad desperation. Being early can be a good trait but it just left me more time to think about every little thing, the anxiety came over me and then suddenly I knew what was coming.
I didn’t particularly want the first interview question to be “were you the guy throwing up outside?” so I was then pacing up and down the street searching for somewhere more suitable to embarrass myself publicly (“are you alright mate?”).

I couldn’t go anywhere without fear of another wave of anxiety accompanying me. Come the summer of 2011 I was heading to Ibiza, my first trip abroad without any adult supervision. It hit me like a tonne of bricks as I made my way up to Manchester to meet friends. Again, I don’t think I really appreciated it was anxiety at the time but looking back my arch-enemy ‘anxiety’ was commanding its close friend ‘Sickboy’ to return and get my trip off to the worst of starts.
It was my first unsupervised trip and I guess deep down I knew it. Despite having friends with me there was no real safety net for this trip and I guess I was aware of it to some degree. The “lads” holiday didn’t start how I’d hoped, I spent the night before being ill before getting an early night whilst the others enjoyed themselves – the taunts of being “a lightweight” were inevitable but I knew I’d barely had more than a beer and this wasn’t alcohol-related.

I’d not even left the country and I was being sick, it didn’t bode well for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, like many occasions before it, the feeling passed. I woke up nervous and excited at going away “properly” for the first time. However I quickly found my feet, had a wonderful week and wanted more.

Ibiza!
Take me back!

I grew up a little on that trip, Three months later I was starting a new job and from then on I started making progress in my battle with anxiety. The anxiety-related-sickness still reared its head on occasions but the instances were becoming far fewer. I was still pretty hopeless socially but at least “Sickboy” wasn’t coming out to play every time I left the house.

The worst of my anxiety seemed to be over and that takes me up to my biggest test yet. February 9th 2013: Today marks my 5 year anniversary since traveling from London to Sydney – solo! I was traveling to the other side of the planet and this time I didn’t even have the luxury of friends to fall back on.
On the second trip to Ibiza we (I’m looking at you Chris) managed to flood our hotel room which isn’t really what you want when on holiday. However we dealt with it – no need to panic! Fortunately the hotel wasn’t fitted with carpets and we could simply sweep the water away without any damage done (except for a few wet personal items).

Much of my anxiety I’d had on the first trip had disappeared because it was familiar the second time round. A familiar location with familiar company and we even stayed at the same hotel as the first trip so I knew exactly what to expect when traveling the second time.

Traveling solo was completely different and it tested my anxiety and confidence. I had the idea to go to Sydney for months but I was reluctant to tell people too soon because I didn’t want to start telling people and then look foolish once I backtracked. I couldn’t possibly travel on my own, could I? I was this shy little kid who didn’t know anything about anything.
I floated the idea with a few people and soon enough I was booking the time off work, I had the money to book everything and yet still no concrete plans. Money and time off were one thing but mentally I just couldn’t bring myself to get it booked.

In a literal sense obviously it isn’t true but in some respects I think there were other people who knew I was going to Sydney before I did. I was probably the last to genuinely believe it. I had people congratulating me on how brave I was and inside I was shitting myself. Come January I still hadn’t even booked my February trip to Australia – was I even going to go? Was anxiety going to ruin this for me too? I could wait, I can go another time, wait until someone comes with me.

“That is NEVER happening!” – this was probably the thing I told myself to make it happen. Maybe I would still have made it to Sydney at some point in the future but convincing myself I wouldn’t was enough to overcome the anxiety to book it. So what if I was going alone? People do it all of the time. The only person stopping me from going to Australia was myself – if anything there’d be more reasons/excuses in the future not to go. Relationships, responsibilities, financial commitments and so many other things. Stop making bloody excuses!

Alright! It’s booked! Wait, shit! It’s booked. There’s no going back now.

Pre-Sydney
Looking so excited to be traveling alone, right?

Luckily I left it so late to book the trip I didn’t really give myself long to worry myself about the trip. The trip to the airport I was feeling the nerves and a little sickly but importantly I wasn’t sick! My dad dropped me off at the airport, took a pre-trip photo to share with the world (Facebook) and from then I was on my own!
London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney, two weeks in Sydney, Sydney to Singapore, Singapore to London – easy!

By the time my dad left my nerves had turned more in to excitement. I was going to fucking Australia! The journey wasn’t without its nervous moments. I boarded my flight in Singapore heading to Sydney and sat in the wrong seat for starters, which is a shame as I had friendly neighbours until realising and then having to move. I started getting comfy in my correct seat only for the plane to black out before take-off – is that supposed to happen? I looked around but nobody else was panicking, I guess we’re okay.. the plane blacks out again! Okay, that’s now twice!

I’m not normally a nervous flyer but suddenly I felt uneasy. Check the phalange or whatever else you need to do but surely we’re not going to fly? I don’t want this bloody plane blacking out mid-air! I’m not religious but come take-off I was looking to the heavens for divine intervention to make sure everything went smoothly, it’s the most nervous I’ve ever been for a flight and then the whirring noise started. “What the fuck is that? That can’t be good!”

Phalange

What was it? The bloody wings manoeuvring. I suppose I’d never sat that close to them before or never noticed the noise it makes in switching from take-off to flying mode because I had no idea and was a wreck for the first 20 minutes of the flight.
I soon calmed down and it wasn’t until landing that I started panicking again. Having made it a few hours panic-free that whirring noise had returned – “oh come on.. we’re almost there! Please land safely..!” . Unsurprisingly the wings were doing the reverse of take-off and getting ready for landing. It was knowledge I wish I’d had during the flight rather than trying to familiarise myself with the faces of my crash-buddies around me.

I landed in Sydney! I’d survived! I was relieved. I passed through customs without any problems and was soon arriving at Sydney’s Central train station. Blue skies and the sound of that beautiful accent – I was actually here! I was in fucking Sydney! Time to enjoy it!

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I’m in fucking Sydney!

I had an amazing time in Sydney which you can read about ( Sydney! ) and for me February 9th represents a memorable day for me which, as cliché as it sounds when it comes to traveling, was life-changing.
I’d conquered solo travel about as far away from home as I could get and it really put “Sickboy” to bed.

I’m not suggesting traveling cured my anxiety because it is something I still struggle with and if it was that easy to rid yourself of mental illness then nobody would struggle with it but for me personality it proved to be a big help.
I was eating out in restaurants by myself, having to interact with strangers, putting myself in unfamiliar scenarios and it built my confidence in a way that only traveling could do. I’d always thought of myself as some shy little kid whereas I think this trip taught me there’s a difference between being quiet and lacking confidence.

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Asking strangers to take photos of me and my new friend!

I’m never going to be the life of the party but I’m okay with that, it doesn’t mean I don’t have the confidence to go out, enjoy the world and live my life.
Ibiza had given me a taste but this trip really kick-started my love affair with travel and rid me of some of the doubts holding me back. If I could travel to Sydney by myself I could do anything. A month later I was booking a solo weekend trip to Köln and the traveling has been non-stop since.

Anxiety still invites itself along for the ride of life on occasions and remains an unwelcome plus-one but I’m ecstatic to have wished farewell to “Sickboy” who hasn’t (but for self-inflicted-hangovers) been seen since prior to that airport-journey 5 years ago!

I’m luckier than most in that my anxiety is pretty mild, manageable and without medication too. However I do wish I’d had the luxury of hindsight and perhaps if more people were talking about mental illness ten years ago I’d have understood my anxiety better before it really span out of control.

Whether you’re open about your mental illness or struggle with it quietly know that there are people you can turn to. Find loved ones you can talk to, feel free to message me any time or if you’d prefer something a little more anonymous get in touch with the many organisations who have people specialised to help those struggling with their mental health.

I’ve linked to a few organisations below who can advise better than I can and hopefully help make some positive steps in either overcoming it or managing it better.

Mental Health Foundation
Mind
Time to Change
Together
Young Minds

Happy February 9th!

All the best!

Jason

My favourite city: London

I remember a friend saying to me that New York City was the best city in the world. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but for someone less traveled than myself I pondered whether he could proclaim it as the best?
If he’d said the best he’d been to so far or his favourite city, sure, I’ll allow it but stated as fact? No, I can’t accept that. Particularly as he spent his visit staying in New Jersey. If it’s too expensive to stay in the city it doesn’t really give merit to the idea that it’s the best city in the world, does it?

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NYC, best city in the world?

For what it’s worth, I love New York City and I can understand why it’s so highly rated but it just falls short for me when compared to London. My love for London is unrivalled really. It is the best city that I have been to and will probably always be my favourite.
I had high hopes for New York City though, if anywhere was going to surpass my favourite this was as likely as any.

I said above, for me personally, it just fell short compared to London and I asked myself why? What gave London the edge? New York City has everything, ignoring the cost (London is hardly cheap either) my only criticism of NYC was that it “wasn’t London”. Needless to say I’m not entirely impartial when it comes to being a travel critic – my system was already rigged in London’s favour.

So rather than focus on some overseas based destination, I thought I’d dedicate this post to “my city” and giving a few reasons why it’s my favourite.

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Little Venice, London

It’s home!
First and foremost it’s home. I was born in London, living there until I was 9 years old so it’s a city that has been with me since day one. I feel proud to have grown up in London and have that association with the city. I’ve lived in Peterborough for the 20+ years since and whilst I do possess some local pride it just isn’t the same.

I have so many good memories growing up in London and it’s a city that is always there to welcome me back when I visit. It’s a special city with special people and it’s easy to see why so many people around the world fall in love with it.

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Views like this have people falling in love with London

It’s diverse!
One of the things I love most about London is that it’s open to everyone. I’m privileged to be able to travel pretty much anywhere in the world without fear but not everybody has that same luxury. Homosexuality for instance is still punishable by death in some countries, whereas London has one of the largest Pride festivals in the world.

I’m not suggesting London is perfect but it’s a lot more accepting than many parts of the world and celebrations of all backgrounds are widely enjoyed here. For example a vivid memory of my time in school was learning about Diwali and being fascinated by the “festival of lights” in assembly.

London is home to people of so many backgrounds so throughout the year you’ll find various celebrations to reflect that. With the Chinese New Year approaching it’d be a great time to take a wander through London’s very own Chinatown and see some of the decorations on display.

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London getting in to the Christmas spirit!

It’s not all city life!
I think one of the biggest misconceptions about London is that it’s just a big city – all traffic and pollution. You might be surprised to know that it’s estimated that 47% of London is green space, almost half of the city! London always has so much going on and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by that but if you need a little time to sit back and escape the London rush then there are so many places to do so!

London is full of beautiful parks and places to relax. Admittedly the weather can be detrimental to actually enjoying some of these spaces but on sunnier days there are few better places to enjoy London. Park visits were always an enjoyable part of my childhood and I used to love collecting “conkers” as the change of season hit and they started falling from the trees near our home.

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Green Park last Autumn.

It is ever-changing!
I think there’s a reluctance among travellers to visit somewhere more than once but with London you’re never going to see everything. Whether you visit once or you visit 500 times it’s never going to be the same experience.
For starters, England has four different seasons so London has a very different feel to it depending what time of year you visit (rain in the summer, rain in the winter..). London is a great place to see the changing seasons and the festivities that come with that, such as great outdoor festivals in the summer or Christmas decorations in the winter, make it a place you’ll want to return to.

Beyond the seasons there’s so many other things constantly happening in London. New restaurants opening, new shopping brands arriving in the city, new shows to see in the city, new bars to check out. You’ll never experience everything in London and it makes it such an enjoyable city to return to time after time.

 

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One of the new shows I went to see in 2017 – it’s good!

It’s home to world-famous sights!
I thought I’d end on this final point but the last thing that makes London special for me is that it’s home to so many iconic landmarks. Everybody is familiar with the likes of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s cathedral and the London Eye and they look even more impressive in person!
I’ll never tire of wandering through Westminster and taking in some of London’s best known landmarks.

Of course the landmarks stretch beyond the best-known ones. Many popular TV shows and films feature some famous places in London such as Baker Street or the Millennium Bridge, whilst of course you have iconic music, theatre and sporting venues too.

Some of the marketplaces in London are some of the world’s most famous and everyone loves a good red bus / telephone box photo when they visit. London is full of familiar sights and sometimes you’ve got to go and see them for yourself!

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Beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this post and the little glimpse in to the reasons why I love London. There are many more of course but I’d be writing forever if I listed them all.

Now tell me, what do you love about London and if it isn’t your favourite city then tell me where is! Maybe I’ll have to pay it a visit!

All the best

Jason

3 wonderful nights in Lisbon

One of my blogging struggles of late has been trying to focus on what I actually want this blog to be. Whether you’re a full-time blogger or doing this just as a bit of fun, I think it’s easy to question yourself and let the doubts creep in. Are people still reading this? Are they enjoying it? Is the content good enough? What can I do better? What are other bloggers doing?

It took me giving advice to someone else recently to remember why I started this – I enjoy it! I want to read back about MY experiences and whether it’s 1 person or 1,000 that read along it shouldn’t matter.
So the questions switched from the above to am I still enjoying this? Does this blog truly reflect me? What can make it more personal?

There are several styles to approach blogging with and different things work for different bloggers. However the aim of the (blogging) game for me is going to be keeping a personal touch to this.

In spite of that I do still want to do the places I visit justice and offer people some inspiration to visit; with that in mind this has possibly been my toughest blogpost yet.

Spending three days in a city should be plenty of time to talk about everything the city has to offer and yet I’m struggling. I barely scratched the surface in Lisbon. To say I spent three days in Lisbon would be a lie, three nights would probably be more appropriate. I checked in to my hostel on Wednesday morning and was greeted to a “welcome to Lisbon” shot. In more ways than one that should have been a sign of things to come.

I say more ways than one because whilst it was certainly a sign of how much alcohol I would end up consuming on this trip, it was also a reflection of Lisbon’s hospitality. I had never been to Portugal before but I already felt right at home.

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Of all the places I’ve visited, I’m not sure there’s anywhere I’ve felt as welcomed as I did in Lisbon throughout my stay. I’ve yet to visit anywhere that can match Portugal’s hospitality and a lot of accommodation awards and reviews back that up!

Lisbon made me fall in love with Portugal very quickly and the people were a big reason for that. Three days (nights) in Lisbon gave me a wonderful impression of the country and it’s definitely somewhere I want to explore more of – Porto in particular is now high on the list of places to visit!

However back to Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city and like many capital cities has a lot to offer. I didn’t get to experience as much as I’d intended before going as the evening antics did result in some necessary recovery time the following day. Nevertheless here’s what I got up to in Lisbon and why my 2014 trip proved to be so memorable.

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First exploration of Lisbon. Blue skies were a good start!

Wednesday:
I’d convinced my friend Daniel that we should go out to Portugal to watch the football. A football-orientated European away trip had been a childhood dream of mine and by 2014 I was itching to do my first overseas trip watching Tottenham.
The schedule sent us to play Lisbon based Benfica and it was too good an opportunity to miss. Lisbon was a “must-do trip” .

Me and Daniel booked our flights and accommodation separately as I was a little less cautious in worrying about getting a ticket for the football – worst case scenario I’d find a pub in Lisbon to watch it if it proved to be problematic.
We both took morning flights from London but I arrived in to Lisbon an hour earlier which gave me a small opportunity to have a little wander before lunch.

I first found my hostel on the off-chance I could check in early – my room wasn’t ready but the guy on reception kindly gave me a shot (as mentioned above) and showed me around the hostel. I left my bag in some storage and got back to having a little wander of the city.

First impressions of Lisbon were good, admittedly the sunshine probably helped but the city had character in abundance. I quickly arrived at one of Lisbon’s most famous squares – the Praca do Comercio. It’s a huge area overlooking the Tagus river with a range of restaurants closeby. A great place for people-watching!

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Praca do Comercio

My next impressions weren’t so flattering – I was soon approached by a couple of guys enquiring if I’d like to purchase some drugs from them. This seemed a regular occurrence in Lisbon over the next couple of days in what appeared to be a bizarre combined sunglasses and drugs enterprise. “Sunglasses? Hash?” – seemingly unable to sell one without the other.
They were everywhere Wednesday and Thursday but had seemingly disappeared come Friday with grey skies. I politely declined which was a better response than they received from most of my fellow Brits on Thursday. Admittedly they didn’t have the strongest business model – attempting to sell cheap sunglasses to people wearing sunglasses wasn’t ever likely to be too successful!

I arranged to meet Daniel around lunchtime in Rossio Square – having never been to Lisbon I had no idea how big the square was or how easy it’d be to find each-other so I reverted to Google for a suitable meeting spot.. “Outside the big yellow M?”
A lack of Wi-Fi meant I knew I wouldn’t be able to contact Daniel in Lisbon so I figured meeting outside of something so easily recognisable would be the best option before moving on elsewhere.

It sounds like a good idea in theory but did this famous M jump out at me? No. “Where the fuck is this McDonalds?”
My first impression in Bonn (Germany) exiting its train station was the sight of that big yellow M which was a damning first impression but, on this occasion, when I was actively looking for it I was having no luck whatsoever. I reckon I walked past it at least once, plus figured maybe I’d confused it with a neighbouring square so circled that at least once too. Eventually I found Daniel who found it a little quicker than I had.

Even if we’d wanted to go inside I think I’d have boycotted it on this occasion in my frustration at finding it!
As it was we found a little bakery / pastry shop nearby and picked up some good local cuisine – pastries and fish are particularly popular in Lisbon.

After a quick lunch we went and grabbed a beer, soaked up the sunshine and did a little people-watching. It killed a bit of time before allowing us to head to our hostels and get checked in.

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Exploring Lisbon, meeting the locals.

We made the most of a little downtime and arranged to meet up again later in the evening, find some food and go and find a bar to watch the Wednesday night football. We found an Irish pub and apparently weren’t alone in our thinking as we came to find there were a number of other Spurs fans already here creating a bit of an atmosphere.

A few beers and an early start had taken its toll on me, I definitely dozed off at one point during the football which says it all for how exciting the game was. We got talking to a couple of other guys who’d traveled over from England but left soon after the football finished in aim of an early night. Tomorrow was going to be all about the football and soaking up the atmosphere in Rossio Square with thousands of Spurs fans expected to be in Lisbon for Thursday evening’s game. We didn’t want to start drinking too early so agreed to meet up around lunchtime – allowing us the morning to explore independently.

On the walk back to my hostel I’d been craving food and before heading up to sleep I thought that I’d pop my head in to the bar area to see if food was a possibility – success! I ordered some pizza and was told to “take a seat” and someone would bring it over. A party of four to my right invited me over to join them. I was feeling pretty drowsy and planned to get a good night’s sleep after eating but the opportunity to make some friends quickly perked me up.
Minutes later a party of three had sat down to my left and were engaging me in conversation and looking on in pizza-envy! There wasn’t enough pizza to go around, mind you I’m not sure I would have shared it anyway.

The party to my right had dispersed shortly after but I shared conversation and drinks with the other three for the remainder of the night. At 2 euros a beer I was even content buying the odd round because four beers for less than ten euros seemed a bargain.
It got to around 1am and we called it a night – “see you at breakfast” someone said rather optimistically. I don’t know if the other three made it but my attempt was much less successful!

Thursday:
I’m not going to go in to Thursday’s daytime antics too much as I plan to do a separate post on life in Lisbon from a football perspective. Plus there isn’t much to tell.

Daniel spent his morning exploring for miles and I’d spent mine in bed still feeling a little rough from the night before. We met around lunchtime for a few hours of drinking and singing in Rossio Square and then dispersed towards Benfica’s Estadio De Luz (Stadium of Light).

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Home of Benfica FC. The game finished 2-2. 

After the football we arrived back in to Rossio Square to find a scattering of Spurs fans still around and occupying the restaurants. We grabbed a late dinner and finished off the evening with a couple of drinks before calling it a night.
I’d already had a taster of night-time fun in my hostel so couldn’t resist the temptation of popping in to the bar for “a quick drink” in the hope maybe I’d cling to some more new friends or bump in to the ones from the night before.

The bar was a bit busier at this point as the hostel run their famous “Mamas Dinners” and I think this had just ended followed by an imminent pub crawl.
Two Spanish guys saw me sat by myself and invited me over. We got chatting and they asked if I’d like to join them to go and watch some local Fado music as there was a particular artist they wanted to see playing. It sounded perfect to me!

Off we went in to the streets of Lisbon to find this bar. In hindsight I should have messaged Daniel, told him to leave his hostel and join us. I got swept up in the excitement of heading out with new friends and the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. Sorry Daniel!

Soon enough we arrived at this cosy little bar with lots of locals dancing away. We grabbed a couple of beers and joined in, enjoying the atmosphere of the place. It didn’t go on too late (I think) but it was such a fun evening and a real highlight. We parted ways once back at the hostel but I was so thankful they’d invited me to tag along. It wasn’t something I would ever have done otherwise.

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Friday:
De ja vu! I’d had a fun night but it led to another morning not wanting to get out of bed. I hadn’t seen much of Lisbon on Wednesday and seen even less on Thursday – with another morning passing me by I had to make the most of my Friday afternoon.
If I saw nothing else on this trip I had to go and see the Sao Jorge castle.

I can’t recommend anything else in Lisbon so fortunately I can at the very list recommend visiting here. The grounds are great to look around and the views are stunning and make the entry fee worthwhile. For better photographers than myself it is a dream location and we even had a peacock for company wandering the castle grounds! Crazy!

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After getting plenty of photos we made our way back in to town for an early dinner. The city felt much emptier than previous days with the majority of Brits already homeward bound by this point.

Following dinner we returned to our hostels to freshen up and enjoy one last night in Lisbon. I’d missed out on the hostel pub crawl on the previous two nights so there was part of me tempted to do it this evening. However given I had a Saturday morning flight I took the more sensible approach and avoided it.
After a little time to relax I waited outside my hostel for Daniel to come and meet me – the weather had taken a turn for the worse and it was apparent rain was imminent.

I rushed back upstairs to pick up my coat and found two young women had checked in to my shared room. They were also Brits but studying in Spain and just wanted a little weekend break in Lisbon.
I was conscious I was now late meeting Daniel so I said my goodbyes and left them to relax. Again in hindsight I should have invited them to join us for a few drinks in Lisbon. Another missed opportunity that, looking back on, I wished I’d done differently. Oops!

I met Daniel downstairs and suggested we grab a beer at the hostel bar and hope the rain would pass. With no signs of improvement we braved the rain and went off in search of a bar in one of Lisbon’s famous neighbourhoods (Bairro Alto) known for having a great nightlife.
Being a Friday evening we were hopeful of finding some fun bars to enjoy ourselves but instead were greeted with a zombie-like city.

I don’t know if we’d gone out too early to enjoy the Portuguese nightlife or whether they’re all fair-weather drinkers afraid of a little rain but we passed several bars which were empty. Eventually we gave in and just found a cosy-looking bar to get out of the rain. After a couple of drinks we moved on hoping for more success and found this tiny bar showing some Portuguese football. The only other people here were a group of Portuguese women who seemed more interested in having a dance than the football. Realising they weren’t going to have much luck here they left and soon after we did the same in search of a livelier bar.

Finally we found a bar with some music playing and looked to have more than a handful of people inside – the first bar that didn’t seem completely dead. Along with a number of other people we’d somehow found the group of women from the bar before who seemed equally amused that we’d crossed paths again.
We enjoyed the music but were soon on our way again but resigned to the fact we weren’t having much luck finding somewhere in Lisbon. On the way back to our hostels we did pass one bar which actually seemed busy and we could certainly squeeze another beer in so figured we’d go in.

It seemed like an after-work hangout for the business folk of the city – a little posher than anywhere else we’d been. I ordered a beer which the barman handed to me. A bottle of beer accompanying a glass, as I reached for just the bottle I was met with a look of disgust from the barman – “Use the glass you peasant”.

Whilst I didn’t argue I did wonder why he’d given me a bottle if I wasn’t supposed to use it. If you’re going to force me in to using a glass then pour the damn beer in to the glass for me – i.e do your bloody job as a barman.
Needless to say it isn’t a bar I’d feel a rush to return to and we only stayed for the one beer.

We’d had a few beers but weren’t too drunk, however it felt like a good time to call it a night and so headed back to our hostels. I’d like to say that’s where the night ended for me but you can probably see where this is going.
I’d purposefully avoided the pub crawl in order to not get too drunk but another quick one before bed at the hostel bar wouldn’t hurt, right?

I’d not even got as far as ordering a beer and I could hear my name. The Spanish guys from the night before were waving me over to come and join them to which I was happy to oblige.
They were sat with some new friends around this large round table and I found some space to join them. The guys had a guitar with them tonight and were playing some Spanish tunes and having a bit of a sing-along. I had no idea what they were singing but most of the tunes were easy to follow and clap along to. The songs kept coming, the beers kept flowing and I was in the best of company – pure bliss!

I forgot to add one of the Spanish guys only spoke broken English (still better than my Spanish), the night before his friend had played a happy interpreter to leave nobody feeling left out. With the night winding down my Spanish friend tried, in his best English, to ask what songs I liked that he could play. I was trying to think of artists or bands that he might be familiar with and posed the question – “Oasis?”

Next thing I know he’s blasting out Wonderwall on the guitar and we’re both singing along in one of those rare instances where you realise how incredible music can be in bringing people together. He couldn’t speak good English, I could speak virtually no Spanish and yet here we were sharing this incredible moment belting out a classic with some beers.

It would have been the perfect time to call it a night but some French guy bought a round of vodka shots. I hate being in debt with people, even strangers, so of course I had to return the favour .
By this point it was clear I needed to get to bed but the damage was probably already done. I’d avoided the pub crawl and probably ended up equally drunk anyway. We said our goodnights and they wished me luck for the morning in my attempt to get home. I was going to need it!

Saturday:
A morning flight? Why!? This is another wonderful case of hindsight and prioritising relationships over convenience. Trying to make long distance work with some girl based in Birmingham was tricky whilst holding a Monday-Friday job. Weekends were the easiest chance for us to catch up so I figured I’d fly home Saturday morning so we could still spend Saturday evening and Sunday together.

2-3 weeks later we’d broken up and I now wish I’d flown home Saturday evening instead or, better yet, Sunday evening and had an extra day in Lisbon.
I woke up feeling SO rough on the Saturday. I also wasn’t helped by waking up late which meant I had a mad rush to get checked out and to the airport in time for my flight. I flagged down a taxi and crossed my fingers that I’d be on that flight home back to England.

Fortunately I was. I felt awful and flying didn’t help that. It’s one of the worst hangovers I’ve had but fortunately I ended up sleeping most of the way which was probably for the best.

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My photos don’t do this city justice but it’s so perfect! 

Reflecting back on Lisbon could easily be seen as a waste to some people. I would love to have more photos or to have seen more of the city and it’s definitely somewhere I want to return to but there’s not a chance I’d swap those memories for a hangover free morning on any of the days I spent in Lisbon.

Whilst it wasn’t the three days I’d anticipated, the three nights are some of the best I’ve had traveling and the people I met only enforced why I love exploring this beautiful planet.

Thank you for being such wonderful hosts Portugal! I love you!

Jason

A day in Bruges

My last few posts have been a little more generic travel posts rather than destination specific, so I thought I’d get back to talking about solely one destination and maybe offer a little inspiration if you’re looking for somewhere to visit in 2018.
In this instance – Bruges!

If you haven’t heard of Bruges already (where have you been?), it’s a magical little town in Belgium. It has quickly become a popular European tourist destination and one of the Instagram favourites.
With its cobbled streets, colourful buildings and pretty canals it’s not hard to see why.

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Bruges, Belgium

Unlike most European destinations which peak in the summer, you’ll actually find peak tourist season in Bruges is around December and a big reason for that is because of Bruges’ famous Christmas markets. Whilst December is a particularly popular time to go to Bruges, if you visit any other time of year you’re not going to be left disappointed.

Anyway, on to my experience! Looking back at December 2013 takes us to a short day trip to Bruges. Myself, Walker and Kelly thought it would be a good idea to get out of Brussels for a day and take the short train ride across to Bruges and see what all the fuss was about.
We had a little look at train prices before leaving so it ended up being a pleasant surprise to arrive at the station and discover they were offering a seasonal train ticket – a 5 euro return to Bruges! What a bargain!

Call me cynical but I couldn’t imagine it ever happening in England. With the knowledge more people were traveling to Bruges at the weekend for the Christmas markets it would provide the perfect opportunity to push prices UP, instead Belgium were pushing prices down. What is this madness? On the plus side you do get a much better train service in England than the rest of Europe, right?.. Oh wait, is that another delay?

Arriving in to Bruges in good time we exited the train station and made our way in to the centre. I find Belgium as a whole isn’t particularly great for signposted directions so if you’re a first time visitor (like we were) it might not be particularly clear which way to go.
We adopted the tried and tested method of “follow everyone else” and soon enough we were where we wanted to be. For the most-part it’s a straight walk from the station so you won’t get too lost before finding your way.

Our first stop of the day was this cute little church. It wasn’t particularly big but we thought we’d poke our heads in and have a look around. Unfortunately we’d timed our visit pretty poorly as it was a Sunday and they were mid-service. It was pretty inside but wanting to be respectful we left pretty sharp-ish and made our way back out on to the cobbled streets to explore further.

In the heart of Bruges you’ll find the market square which is where we ended up next. Overlooking the square is the huge belltower which, I hear, offers fantastic views overlooking the town. The downside to visiting on a Sunday in December is that queues were long. If you want to climb it I’d recommend visiting early in the morning to beat the queues! With barely a day in Bruges it didn’t seem a good use of our time so we decided not to bother climbing it on this occasion. However it’s definitely something I’ll look to do when I go back!

Opposite the belltower was a decent sized ice-rink and a selection of Christmas markets. Given the hype I found the latter quite underwhelming; perhaps it’s just me but I had expected more. I’ve only seen a few Christmas markets but Brussels, Paris, Bremen and Edinburgh’s have all been better. The only exception is the pitiful effort in Peterborough but I wasn’t expecting any here so I suppose even that surpassed my expectations at the back end of 2017.
Maybe it was a bad day or we’d overlooked there being more market stalls elsewhere but it was a bit of a surprise. Nevertheless the smell of food tempted us to pick up some lunch.

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Christmas market in Bremen, Germany

Moving on in to the afternoon we ended up taking one of the canal tours that run throughout Bruges. It’s one of the best ways to see the town and our ‘captain’ pointed out a few pieces of interest along the way. It was my highlight of our short time in Bruges and I’d certainly recommend trying to do one of these if you plan on visiting Bruges.

After our tour we wandered through the streets and squares of the city to ensure we’d seen as much of Bruges as we’d wanted to before leaving. The squares were particularly busy but some of the backstreets we had mostly to ourselves to admire the architecture and houses found in Bruges.
It’s a really walkable town and you can see quite a lot of it in half a day. We were content we had seen all that we wanted to do in Bruges so picked up some souvenirs and then seeked out a nearby pub to try some of the local delicacy.

Belgium is famous for its beer and it proved to be a good spot to pick up some dinner too. An additional motive of the pub visit was that it allowed me a chance to keep up to date with the football back home. It seemed a good idea beforehand but a couple of hours later I was feeling much more deflated.
Fortunately I had good company with me and some (much needed) Belgian beer to drown my sorrows. A beer or two later we called it a night and made our walk back to the station to catch our train to Brussels.

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Enjoying all the beers in Bruges!

Bruges had looked pretty by day but perhaps moreso by night, particularly in December with the Christmas decorations adding a little magic to enjoy before leaving this wonderful little town. .

It ended up being a great day and is certainly somewhere that should be on your list to visit. Personally I’d recommend a weekend, you can see a lot in a day but I think I’d go back just to catch some of the things I missed the first time around – in particular catching some photos as unfortunately battery life was not kind to me on this daytrip leaving me with minimal photos to share with you. Credit to Kelly for the colourful picture of Bruges!

Despite the lack of photos it’s not a place I’ll be forgetting any time soon. If you haven’t been already I hope you’ll see it for yourself in the near future!

All the best!

Jason

A 2017 summary

2017 was the year “Jason likes to travel” launched and it was quite a year! First and foremost I wanted to thank all of you for making this such an enjoyable experience. More than anything I started the blog for myself. I wanted a space I could talk about my travels and reflect on some of the experiences along the way but I didn’t think many would read it or anticipate such positive feedback. Thanks to you all for following along and for all of your kind words and supportive feedback. There will be plenty more content coming in 2018 so stick with me!

Beyond the blog, 2017 ended up being quite a memorable year for me. I started the year in Paris which really set the tone for the rest of the year and I ended 2017 celebrating Hogmanay up in Edinburgh.
Including the New Year trips at each end of the year I ended up spending time in France, Scotland (twice), USA (twice), Germany (twice), Greece and Spain. I’m so happy to have traveled so much this year and I’ve stepped foot out of England in every month but June and July (disaster!).

I promise there will be dedicated posts to all of these trips in the future which is why I haven’t gone in to too much detail on any one destination below, however I wanted to summarise what I’ve been up to this year. So here’s a short look at some of the highlights of the year.

The capitals!
2017 saw me spend time in five different capital cities: Paris, London, Edinburgh, Washington DC and Madrid. So inevitably they ended up playing quite a significant role in my 2017.

Paris: Okay, so I only actually spent one day of 2017 in Paris. January 1st! It’s really a trip I associate with 2016 but at midnight I was up on a rooftop seeing in the New Year and celebrating the beginning of 2017. It was the first time I’d ever been out of the country at the start of the year so a memorable moment and it really set the tone for the rest of the year!

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A foggy Paris

London: Home! So technically I haven’t lived in London since 1997 but this will always be a place I think of as home. I only live an hour or so away which means it is still a city that I visit quite often.
Catching up with friends, going to the football, attending gigs, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (it’s really good!) or just general sightseeing. London has provided a number of memorable moments in 2017 and 10 days in to the year I’ve already visited our wonderful capital twice in 2018!

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Green Park, London

Washington DC: Some cities like New York City, Sydney and Berlin have been absolute “must visit” destinations for me, meanwhile others are more like “one day” destinations. I want to be clear and say I want to visit absolutely everywhere in the world but that soon becomes a long list. Being realistic I’m not going to visit everywhere and DC was a place that I knew I may / may not get to.

Circumstances led me to DC but on arrival I still wasn’t sure what to expect. Perhaps that was a good thing. You only really hear about the political side to the city which I can’t say particularly excited me – it meant I was heading to DC with relatively low expectations. Whilst within the US the message was “Make America Great Again” – from the outside all that I saw was a divided nation in political turmoil and I was heading right in to the heart of it.

Fortunately it was “business as usual” in DC. I don’t want to make this too politically focused but as far as “MAGA” is concerned I always feel like the every day people you meet are the best indication of how great a place is opposed to those in power. As ever, I felt completely welcomed in DC and quickly discovered this wonderful city had so much depth to it. Of course there are political elements to DC but at the same time there’s a lot of history here, stunning architecture, beautiful nature (helped by peak Cherry Blossom season) and a buzzing nightlife. DC ended up being so much better than anticipated, despite being sick throughout my time there. I didn’t particularly intend to end up in DC but I’m glad I I found my way there. I’d quite like to go back because there’s still a few things I’d like to do there and I could have a proper night out in the city next time.

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Washington DC, USA

Madrid: Another “one day” destination that happened to be in political turmoil (Catalan independence). In all likelihood I knew I’d get to Madrid at some point but if I was going to visit Spain a return to Barcelona was a bigger priority. Then there were countless other European capitals I wanted to visit first – luckily I’ve already ticked off a few of those. Madrid had never had the same appeal for me as the likes of Berlin, Paris, Edinburgh, Amsterdam or Rome (the latter I’ve yet to get to).

So on that basis I owe massive apologies to Madrid – wow! What a city! It was easily my favourite place I visited in 2017.
Unlike DC I was quite prepared for an enjoyable trip by the time it came around – the more I read up on Madrid, the more excited I got. It lived up to every expectation and then some. Admittedly I visited for football and a positive result in the game helped that but taking the football out of the equation it is still a wonderful city.

It’s full of colour, full of character, has so much street art, good food, stunning architecture, beautiful weather and a great nightlife. I could go on and on. After Berlin (and London obviously) it is probably my favourite capital city I’ve visited to date. Ryanair cancelled my flight which means I actually ended up with an extra day in Madrid but I could still have easily stayed longer.
Don’t make the same mistake I did and wait to visit Madrid – go as soon as you can!

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Madrid, Spain

Edinburgh: Last but certainly not least. I started the year in France and ended the year in Scotland. Paris had given me a little taste of New Year fun in another country but I wanted bigger and better – step up Hogmanay!
I’ve been to Edinburgh before and it is such a wonderful city – it really is a must visit whatever time of year you visit but I had to see what all the fuss about Hogmanay is. It has been on the bucketlist for a while and this was the opportunity to do it.

It was incredible! It completely lived up to the hype for me. I can’t imagine a better place to see in the New Year – I hope to get to New York City and Sydney sometime for their celebrations but Edinburgh has really set the standard. Best New Year ever!

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The newbie!
In the last couple of years I feel like I’ve just switched between visiting Germany and the USA. I went to Germany three times in 2016 and twice in 2017, meanwhile I went to the USA twice in 2016 and then twice in 2017. Don’t get me wrong I love both countries and I’ve been lucky to visit some incredible cities in the last couple of years but I wanted to freshen things up. I was determined to get to at least one new country in 2017.

My heart was set on a birthday treat to myself. I wanted a relaxing getaway in August for a few days and all I had to do was decide on where, in Europe, to visit. It would have been cheaper to go away in June or July but I was adamant I deserved my birthday week off which meant trying to find an affordable escape somewhere at peak holiday time in Europe. After some searching I’d found reasonable flights and a hotel, the day after my birthday I was flying off to Thessaloniki in Greece.

I didn’t know much about the city but I knew the good weather was guaranteed and it ticked off the criteria of visiting a new country too. It was my first adventure in Greece and what better time of year to visit than in the summer? It was perfect!
Unlike Greek hotspots such as Athens, Santorini and many of the other islands – Thessaloniki isn’t a particularly well known place which meant it wasn’t full of tourists. I spent a few days relaxing, drinking beers and enjoying the warm weather. I’m not sure it’s a city I feel a need to return to but experiencing those Greek sunsets was definitely a highlight of the year and particularly the summer!

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Thessaloniki, Greece

The German trips!
Visits to Germany in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (x3) mean this country has been a regular feature of my annual highlights and as I mentioned above there were another two visits in 2017.

Hamburg: This is a city that has been on my list for a little while but I didn’t really anticipate getting there as soon as this year. I started looking for cheap flights for the last weekend of May (the Monday was a public holiday) and Hamburg was surprisingly cheap. A chance to practice my German, a city I’ve wanted to visit for ages and affordable – how could I possibly resist?
It’s a cracking city, I can see why it’s so highly rated and featured as one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2018. It ended up being a great weekend away and I was fortunate with the weather too! It was well worth missing a festival back home for and another city I’d like to return to.

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Me with Hamburg’s Rathaus (Town Hall).

Bremen & Düsseldorf: A while ago I posted about my love affair with Köln and my frustration at the footballing schedule continually sending me back to West Germany. Fast forward a year and I was put in the same scenario. I was NOT going to Köln again so soon. I really didn’t fancy staying in Dortmund so I started looking at what other German football coincided with my trip. Werder Bremen – “that’ll do!”.

Bremen’s charm had me swooning instantly. There was something irresistible about it. Typical Germany but without the crowds of the bigger cities. I loved it and just wanted a little longer in the city. For a lesser known European city-break I’d certainly recommend a couple of days in Bremen.

Düsseldorf was a bit of a plan B. I was going to watch football in Dortmund on the Tuesday night but I soon came to the realisation that there were no trains from Dortmund back to Bremen on Tuesday evening. So I had to half my time in Bremen and booked a couple of nights in a hotel in Düsseldorf. The weather was miserable but I did like the city. It had plenty of places to go out to eat/drink and enjoy the city’s nightlife however I don’t think I really made the most of my days in the city to recommend it fully. If you pushed me to recommend one or the other I’d tell you to go to Bremen but it was still a memorable trip.

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Bremen, Germany

The loved ones!
Having covered the capital cities, Greece and Germany all that is really left of 2017 are the US trips! My trips to the USA were heavily focused around visiting some special people across the country. One of the drawbacks to having people you care about in other countries is you don’t get to see them! This year I managed to change that and met up with a few people for the very first time – very satisfying and the real highlight of my year.

Nashville: I took so many good memories home with me from Nashville. It started with meeting a friend (and her family) who’d driven up from Alabama who I’d missed out on seeing a year earlier in Atlanta. It was great to finally meet, check out the Parthenon and grab some food together. With Sam bidding farewell to Nashville and making the drive back to Alabama I was left to explore the city (nightlife) for myself.

Nashville didn’t disappoint, infact I loved it! It was everything I’d hoped it would be and “music city” certainly lived up to its name. I regularly crave a return to Nashville because it’s a city like no other I’ve been to. Pure bliss and I feel like I left a little piece of me behind (probably my liver). I hope it’s a place I’ll return to. Everyone needs to experience a night in Nashville at some point!

 

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Nashville aka “Music City”

Dallas: I got to Texas! Finally! It is somewhere I have been wanting to visit for such a long time so to finally make it there made this such a special highlight of my year.
I did like Dallas as a city but it’s not a place that blew me away. I enjoyed myself but it’s probably a place I’d ordinarily be content in visiting just the once.

However I had wonderful company and with that came wonderful memories to take home with me. It’s a trip that I look back on so fondly of and I don’t think I could have enjoyed it any more. Full of first time experiences, long car rides, awful shots (sorry Amber – it’s true!) and the best people to share it with. Everything made it a trip I’ll cherish for a long time.
I’ll definitely be back Dallas!

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Dallas, Texas

Washington State: Apparently one Washington visit in a year wasn’t enough so after visiting DC in April, five months later I was heading to the West Coast. Getting to Washington had been on the agenda for a while and a wedding in 2018 finally gave me an excuse to visit!
Wait, 2018? Yeah, it turns out I couldn’t wait that long so started making plans to get there much sooner.

Like Dallas this trip was all about the company (including the two-legged kind!) which made for such a memorable trip. Mountain views, baseball, awesome bars, good food, cool museums, road trips and boat trips –  I loved it all. The company just topped it off

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Moses Lake, Washington

That rounds up a summarised look at my 2017 adventures.
A huge thanks to Sam, Scott & Ariel (Nashville), Amber, Lanie & Macie (Dallas), Maddie, Cassie & Haleigh (Washington State) and Daniel & Natalie (football) for joining me on the adventure.

The aim now is to have 2018 top 2017 which will take some doing, however with a month-long trip to the US in the planning stages for this summer I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility.

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Getting 2018 off to the best start!

If you read this far, thanks again! I hope you enjoyed it.

What were your highlights of 2017? What have you got planned for 2018? Let me know in the comments!

All the best!

Jason

The big 3-0!

1988 – a year of many historic moments. Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway, Liverpool were the champions of English football, Celine Dion won the Eurovision song contest, George Bush won the 88 US presidential election but most importantly was the birth of an English baby boy on the 7th of August. I was always a bit of an early riser as a kid so typically I was two hours early to deny myself the perfect birth date of 8/8/88.

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Even as a baby I was thinking about holidays!

 

Fast forward 29 years and that little baby is quickly approaching his 30th birthday! Thirty!
Those 30 years have taken me to some incredible places. For starters I was born and grew up in London so life began in one of the best cities in the world, certainly my favourite anyway. I’ve since been to the likes of New York City, Sydney, Berlin, Madrid, Amsterdam and many many more destinations. I can’t deny I’ve done a lot of traveling but it would be easy to forget I didn’t really start taking traveling seriously until 2013.

I was lucky growing up that I had been on family trips, the odd school trip and then had annual one week holidays of my own in 2011 and 2012 but going into 2013 I’d barely scratched the surface of all there is to see on this planet.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I really started focusing my efforts in to traveling more. So barely five years! People often suggest traveling is for your 20’s, if that was the case I’d arrived pretty late to the party! I’ll let you in on a little secret though – you can keep traveling at 30 and beyond! I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! Apparently they don’t confiscate your passport on your 30th birthday!

So with that shocking revelation in mind, the planning for my own 30th is underway. On the 3rd of August I’m due to attend a wedding on the West coast of the USA, with a 30th birthday four days later how could I not spend it in the US? The timing was perfect and there’s so much of the US I still want to see – particularly down that West coast! A big adventure was on the cards.

I floated the idea with my boss at work about taking a longer trip and asked how much time I’d be able to take off in one go. I optimistically put forward the idea of four weeks and I’ve had the OK this week!

If it comes to fruition this will be the biggest trip I’ve ever taken and is therefore going to require a lot of planning! I’ve done a couple of multi city breaks before, including in the US, so I’m not a complete novice in this area but it’s a little daunting nonetheless.
Here’s an insight in to the early stages of planning a trip like this.

Itinerary
One of the most important decisions of a trip like this is obviously deciding where you want to go!  You don’t necessarily need a finalised list but a draft list of destinations so you can start planning everything else out is helpful. The more flexible you can be the better but it’s also always good to have some set destinations in mind to help map out a route.
So stick a little pin in Seattle. That’s locked in to the itinerary for the wedding and gives me somewhere to either start my trip or aim to get to later on in the trip. Having other “must visits” will help plan out a route. Portland and San Francisco tick that box on the West coast and from there I’m pretty flexible. If everything goes to plan I’ll have 30 days in the country so the possible destinations can spread right across the country. Seeing more of California is certainly one option I’ll explore but similarly I have a number of friends in the US and I feel like that could dictate some of the destinations I choose to visit.

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USA, I’m coming back for you! 

Getting around! 
Thirty days in the USA very much screams “ROADTRIP!!!” – what a perfect opportunity for that bucketlist item many people dream of. Road-tripping across the USA definitely has its temptations. Travel the famous Route 66? Maybe! I’ll just rent a car and see where the road takes me!

However there is one tiny little flaw to this almost perfect plan – I can’t drive. Unlike in Europe, traveling the US without a car is a little more challenging but I’ll be making good use of what available transport there is. The AMTRAK train line, greyhound buses and potentially even domestic flights dependent on the distance should get me so far and will still help me reach some incredible destinations.

Personally I love this part of the planning process as you have to weigh up the cost and convenience of getting from destination to destination. Do I go from A to B or B to A? B’s actually too expensive so what if I go to D? Well if I’m going to D maybe stop at C on the way? Oh, flying to D is actually cheaper. Or you could get an overnight bus to E which would mean one less night’s accommodation to pay for. Decisions, decisions, decisions!

 

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Flying might be an option to get around the US!

Accommodation
This will likely play some factor in which destinations I visit too. Hotel prices in the US are quite expensive. Some cities are of course worse than others but it could be a factor between visiting one place rather than another. This is the area of the trip I’ll certainly be looking to cut costs. Aside from the occasional ‘treat’ I’ll probably be steering clear of hotels and exploring hostel and AirBnB options instead.

I’m also hopeful that I might have some US based friends I can stay with along the way, if I’ve got somewhere I can stay then the probability is I’m going to make more effort to visit!

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I love New York City but accommodation prices are crazy!

Objective
Something else to think about is what I actually want from this trip. The USA is huge which also makes it incredibly diverse. On previous trips I’ve been to Disneyland, I’ve been to small college towns and I’ve been to crazy cities like New York City. They’re all completely different type of trips. The US is so diverse as a holiday destination and has so much to offer, just deciding what type of holiday you want is a dilemma in itself. Do I want to concentrate on visiting cities? Could I squeeze in some beach time or visit one of the US’ many national parks? Is a Disney / Universal trip a possibility? I’m often attracted to big cities but with a much longer trip in mind perhaps mixing it up a bit is the better way to go!

Company
My last big thing to think about at this early stage is who is joining me on the adventure. I enjoy solo travel but I’m also thinking about who I’ll be spending time with whilst in the US. Would anyone come with me? Which US based friends do I try to visit? Do I see them in their hometown or might they meet me somewhere? Even if it only ends up being for a portion of the trip opposed to the entirety, it’s an important aspect to think about and plan for.

On a related note – that road trip I joked about? If there are any willing drives / adventurers then step right up, I’m more than happy contributing towards “gas” costs.

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At the baseball with my Washington favourites in September

Budget
I didn’t want to completely omit a mention of this but at the same time it’s a little early to accurately budget at this stage. It’s an important part of the trip but probably comes in the next part of the planning stage. You can budget an estimated amount based on accommodation per night, spending per day plus return flights to the US but really it’s very much guesswork at this stage.

The budget really overlaps with some of the above stages once I’ve started “connecting the dots”.
At the minute my only definitive “dot” is Seattle with much more planning to do!

Anyway that rounds up the early planning stages of the big 3-0 celebrations. Stay tuned for updates on how the planning goes and hopefully I’ll soon have a final itinerary!

I’d love to hear your input. How did you celebrate your 30th? Where should I be looking to visit? If you’ve planned a longer-term trip of your own I’d appreciate any tips you have.

Or maybe you’re just tempted to tag along? Get in touch!

All the best!

Jason