View from hilltop, El Nicho Waterfalls, Cuba

Where Have I Been?

I’ve been a little absent from my blog recently, and I thought it was time for a catch up. I’ve been tweeting and Instagramming, checking my notifications, occasionally scribbling in one of my notebooks, but every time I go to click that big blue ‘Write’ button on my blog dashboard I shrink away from the command and turn to something less daunting. This post is more personal than I would usually get on my blog, but it’s been brewing in my head for weeks and maybe it’s the thing I need to write to get my mojo back…so here goes.

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Endings & Beginnings

As I write this I’m sat in a cafe, doing something I’ve never done before; taking two days off work just to do nothing. No holiday, no visits to friends, no plans at all except reading books, quietly working through some life admin and recovering from an intense week. A week of extremes, of mourning and celebration, of endings and beginnings.

During the week we said our goodbyes to my grandma, a warrior of a woman who was such a force of nature the universe saw fit to name a storm after her in the week that she died. In contrast, I then spent the weekend with the other side of my family watching my cousin get married and sharing in the start of a new phase of his life. Continue reading

A Day of Belonging

Yesterday was a day of belonging. One of those warm, comforting days where you fit like the last jigsaw piece into every situation you’re in, snug and safe in the perfectly imperfect life you’ve built for yourself. In a world where we all feel unsure of ourselves so much of the time these days are hard to come by, so I wanted to share mine with you. Continue reading

A Last Look Back: 2015 Highlights

New Year’s Eve is looming, and all over the internet I’m being met with news articles, blog posts and think pieces about 2016 goals, resolutions and new beginnings. As much as I love the idea of rebirths and the chance to start over, I’m struggling to buy into it this year – the calendar may flip over but it’s not going to wipe my slate clean.

At last year’s New Year’s Eve party, shortly after midnight, I drunkenly declared to one of my close friends that 2015 was going to be an amazing year. “I can feel it in my bones”, I said. A month later to the day, something happened that blew that statement clean out of the water. It turned 2015 into the hardest year of my life, and I can’t say I’m sorry to say goodbye to it.

But it would be misleading to claim that this year has been all bad. A lot of good things have happened to me too; I’ve started this blog, been on some great holidays, got involved in the exciting world of blogging events, went to my first festival, found a new relationship, and learned a lot along the way. So before I consign 2015 to the history books, it seems only right to take a look back at some of the year’s highlights.

March: Budapest

In March I went to Budapest for 4 nights with one of my friends who turned out to be a fantastic travel buddy – after this we also went to Croatia together in August and are already planning another adventure for 2016! I fell completely in love with Budapest; the sights, the food and the achingly cool ruin pubs are all things I was itching to go back to as soon as I’d left.

View of Budapest, Hungary

April: TBEX Europe

This was my first of two work trips this year; I and a colleague were sent to the Costa Brava to attend one of the world’s largest travel blogger conferences, TBEX. We spent a mad day running around Barcelona collecting photo and video content for the company website, then had 4 days of meeting bloggers, attending lectures…and going to the odd boat and/or beach party. Hard life I know.

TBEX boat trip, Lloret de Mar

June: Dublin

This was my annual jaunt to visit some lovely friends I met while travelling in Australia, who I still keep in touch with. Two of them are a couple who bought their own house this year, where I stayed with our other friend, and instead of going into Dublin we went walking in the countryside and kayaked on a lake. In 2016 I’ll be attending the wedding of aforementioned couple, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Kayaking, Dublin

August: Blog at the Beach

Inspired by TBEX, my workmate and I were tasked with organising a blogger event for our company. With a small budget and limited resources the early days were a bit stressful, but we put together a fantastic day with speakers, cocktails, and a pop-up beach! We got a 100% attendance rate and some amazing feedback from the bloggers who came – this was one of my professional highlights of the year, not to mention a lot of fun.

icelolly.com Blog At The Beach

Photo by icelolly.com

August: Croatia

Somehow I reached the age of 24 without ever going on a girls’ holiday with my high school besties; this year four of us finally managed it! We rented an apartment in the beautiful old town of Zadar and had a heavenly week of sunbathing, drinking and exploring. We went on a speedboat tour of the Kornati Islands, and my personal highlight was ticking Plitvice Lakes National Park off my bucket list. Photos do not do that place justice – the colours are beyond description.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

September: End of the Road Festival

Another first for me this year was going to a festival – in September I went to the magical End of the Road Festival on a free press ticket from one of my best friends. The bands were amazing and the festival has an incredible setting in a forest in Dorset, but one of the best parts of the weekend was just getting to hang out with one of my favourite people, who I’d barely seen that year.

End of the Road Festival, Dorset

October: Ibiza & Majorca

On my second work trip of the year, I got to spend 3 days in Ibiza and 3 days in Majorca, travelling around the island armed with a camera and GoPro seeking out the best beaches and things to do. It was a pretty exhausting week and I missed Leeds Rhinos winning the Super League Grand Final, but how many other people’s jobs allow them to swap desk chairs for beach loungers every now and again? It’s a pretty sweet perk.

San Antonio, Ibiza

November: Edinburgh

In November my boyfriend and I decided to take the plunge and test our travel compatibility with a long weekend in Edinburgh. Admittedly that may be better described as ‘dipping a toe in the water’ than ‘taking the plunge’, but I’m still counting it. We went to lovely restaurants, climbed Arthur’s Seat, and he let me do most of the organising, which though I won’t always admit it is the way I like to travel.

Top of Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

What were the highlights of your year? Good luck to you all for 2016!

Me, Myself and I: Going to the Theatre Alone

Last week I did something I’ve never done before. I went to the theatre, alone. I know, shocker right? People don’t do that. But it was the Shakespeare Schools Festival, I was interested, and nobody else I knew was. So I decided to fly solo.

I’ve always had a mindblock about doing certain things by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a pretty major introvert and need regular alone time to recharge my batteries, but there are a lot of social situations where I just don’t feel comfortable without someone beside me. Eating in a restaurant is one. Going to the cinema or theatre is another.

The restaurant complex I can rationalise; I treat eating out as a social occasion and enjoy mixing food with good conversation, which is pretty hard to generate when all you have to talk to is the wall. The cinema thing is harder to explain away. Going to the cinema entails simply sitting quietly in the dark and watching a screen – it’s actually one of the most antisocial activities out there, so why does “one ticket please” sound so unnatural?

Social pressure plays a large part; when everyone around you is in pairs or groups it’s easy to feel conspicuously alone, even when engaging in an activity that doesn’t require group participation. It’s easy to feel like all these incredibly social, popular people are looking at you, wondering what you could possibly have done to have so few friends that you’re forced to venture out alone. The big revelation? They’re not. In fact, they’re so wrapped up in their own thing they probably haven’t even noticed you.

Understand that I’m not proclaiming this from some pedestal of enlightenment. Even having done it, I would not say I faced my solo excursion with confidence; I was initially perturbed that my theatre seat was in the middle of a row, and consequently arrived early to avoid having to disturb half a row of people as I struggled to my lone chair. I fiddled obsessively with my phone as I waited for the performance to start, and loitered uncertainly at the interval. I would usually have sat comfortably at the bar discussing the first act over a drink, but with no companion or conversation a large G&T seemed out of the question.

But if you want to talk about the performance itself – I loved it. I loved watching alone. By turning a cinema or theatre trip into a group activity, the watching also ceases to be an independent experience; I realised that even when I really enjoy a performance or film, there are always moments when I’m looking to my companion to see their reaction, or I’m aware of them doing the same to me. This time, I was free to absorb myself completely in the performance and focus solely on my own experience, and it was strangely therapeutic. I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.

Would I do it again? I’m not writing it off. One of my favourite things about seeing something amazing is discussing it afterwards, so I did miss raving about the ‘West Side Story meets Baz Luhrmann’ mash-up of Romeo and Juliet on the way home, and I also missed my interval drink. But I like to think I’ve shook off some of the ridiculous insecurities, and in the future I won’t let a lack of an interested second party stop me from seeing something I really want to see. Here’s to being the lonely weirdo at the cinema – now if only I could raise a toast to myself…

The Perks of Working for a Travel Company

As a member of the marketing department for a holiday company, I’m pretty used to friends and family responding to my job title with “Oh yeah, can you get me a free holiday?” I’m also pretty used to smiling as if this is the first time I’ve heard the joke and telling them…no. No I can’t. However, as a content writer, the big perk of my job is that I do get the odd company-funded trip myself.

Now, these aren’t holidays, by any stretch of the imagination. The last work trip I went on was for TBEX Europe in Lloret de Mar, and between conference seminars, meetings, networking events, live tweeting and responding to emails from the office, we were working about 16 hours a day. There was no sunbathing, no sleeping late, and when we got home late Sunday night, running on empty, it was straight back to the office on Monday. That being said, there was the odd moment that looked like this:

TBEX boat trip, Lloret de Mar

So yes, if it’s honesty hour…it could be considered a pretty nice perk. Even when it’s exhausting, it’s still exciting and interesting and just an all-round pretty fantastic job.

So today I’m being sent away for 6 whole days to the Balearics – my workmate and I are spending 3 days in Ibiza and 3 days in Majorca, running around with cameras and trying to pack as many experiences into our time as humanely possible. I’m missing a few awesome things happening in Leeds during that time, but I must admit I’m pretty excited.

A few things I’m looking forward to:

  1. Getting out of the office for a week – I love my job but I hate spending 8 hours a day trapped behind a desk in a stuffy office! It’s nice to have a change of pace from time to time, especially if that change of pace is in Spain…
  2. Playing with a GoPro – When I go on a content research trip I get set loose with a GoPro camera, which I love! I can’t justify buying one for myself, so playing with the company one for a few days is awesome. Now I just need to learn to edit my own footage!
  3. Making my Periscope debut – Yes, my colleague and I are hopefully kicking off the company Periscope account with some live streams from Ibiza! I’m horrendously awkward on film and hate hearing my own voice, but life begins at the end of your comfort zone and all that…

    Comfort zone-where the magic happens

      Image credit: oklanica on Flickr.

  4. Reviving my fading tan – My Croatia holiday seems a million years ago, in part because my skin has almost completely returned to its naturally pasty shade. I’m very cautious of sun damage and never tan excessively, but who can resist a lovely golden glow?
  5. Putting my creative brain to work – I’ve been doing a lot of dry, research-based stuff at work recently, and a different setting and some new experiences are really going to get the creative juices flowing.
  6. Getting back to my hostel roots – I love hostels but it’s been a while! We’ve got a private room in a hostel in Ibiza, and in true hostel form it’s super cheap but has loads of awesome stuff a cheap hotel never has. Including a roof terrace decorated with beds and sofas…

Of course, first I have to pack. See you in a week!

5 Things To Do Before 25

In less than 6 months I’m hitting my next landmark age – 25. I know, super scary right? When I was little I thought of 25-year-olds as these big adults who had high-powered careers and mortgages and marriages, but as I approach this milestone with my low-level marketing job, tenancy agreement and ringless finger, I’ve realised that those things are so not my style. Maybe for 30-year-old me, but not yet.

However shunning the traditional markers of a ‘successful’ life doesn’t mean I don’t want to progress and develop myself. The idea of getting older has never scared me that much as long as I’m happy with where I am in my life – I reason that time passing is no disaster as long as you’re using it well. It got me thinking about the things I want to achieve by the time I’m 25, and I came up with a little list…

Learn basic coding

Kids nowadays are having HTML lessons at school, but my generation wasn’t so lucky. I’m not naturally techy, in fact I’m pretty much IT-illiterate, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that having some HTML and CSS knowledge would be really useful for my job. I’m already tracking down free courses online, and maybe in the future I’ll be able to nudge my employer to hook me up with an actual qualification…

Take control of my money

I’ve always been pretty good with my money – I don’t often splash out on non-essentials and I’ve never lived outside my means. However I do know that I should be doing more; as of October I’ll have a work pension and before 25 I’m going to get my first ever credit card so I don’t end up with a Nick Miller-style credit rating. I also know I’m not saving as much as I could be, so I’m going to make more of an effort to budget. There may even be a spreadsheet.

Go to a festival

That’s right; I’ve never partaken in that rite of passage where you go get drunk and muddy in a field with your best mates while listening to some music. A travesty. This one is cheating a little as it’s already happening – in September I’m going to End Of The Road with one of my best friends. Should be an awesome introduction to festivals – my friend just happens to be a journalist so she’s scored me not only a free ticket but also backstage access. Hell to the yeah…

Take a wine class

I know, I know, this sounds more than a little pretentious, but bear with me. Wine fascinates me; there’s something undeniably sophisticated about it, and after first getting a taste for red wine last year I’m now totally in love. I’m starting to get to grips with what I prefer, but I’d really like to be able to peruse a wine list and actually understand what I’m reading. Plus, the classes always include free tastings!

Plan an epic solo holiday

I’m aware how much this looks like a cop out (‘plan’ a trip? really?), but as my birthday is in January and I have about 5 days of annual leave left for this year it’s basically impossible for me to actually take a solo trip, so my aim is just to decide what the trip will be. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a fair few countries for someone of my age, but I’ve never done a lone trip. 2016 will be the year that changes!

Does anyone else have a list like this for before they reach their next birthday? Share your ideas!