A Girl's Journey Living in Japan

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Bringing your travel home: Japanese-inspired ideas for the home

Why your First Solo Trip should be to Thailand

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Traveling solo is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. While traveling with a partner means you’ll have someone to take photos with, the fact is, solo travel opens you up to meeting new people and means you never have to compromise. You can always travel exactly where you want to go and when it comes to Thailand those options are endless. There’s just so many places to visit and things to see and do, where you visit on your multi-stop journey around Thailand is solely down to you.

For many, solo travel can be an intimidating thought. What if something goes wrong? But the fact is, every time you manage to get out of a tricky situation by yourself you’ll gain confidence and self-reliance, and realise that there really is nothing you can’t
handle. Of course, surprise expenses such as a holiday illness claim can put a real damper on your travel. Be prepared with insurance!

Thailand is the perfect place for the first-time solo traveller. The country is built on tourism, and there is a well-worn tourist trail, along with plenty of backpackers who will be doing the same as you, and who will give you advice. In fact there are so many solo travellers in Thailand that it’s not uncommon to spend your days visiting tourist sites with a bunch of friends you’ve just met, and it’s harder to actually find time to be alone.

Thailand is a country of culture, amazing food, and incredible sights. Here are just a few of the reasons why your first solo trip should be to Thailand:

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The Food

If you say you like Thai food, but you’ve never eaten it in Thailand, you don’t know what you’re missing out on. The flavours, the fresh food, and the cheap price combine to make it one of the best places for foodies to visit. Where else can you get a curry and a smoothie for less than $3?

The Weather

If you’re planning to escape winter on your trip, why not update your Facebook with incredible pictures of pristine beaches, and blue-green water. The fact is, the weather in Thailand is always warm, and if you go outside of the wet season you’ll also be escaping most of the humidity.

The Locals

The Thais are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. If you’re in trouble they will help you out, and will often greet you with a smile and a hug when you’re returning years later. Thailand has a low crime rate, especially against foreigners, and while you may not be able to communicate, the Thai’s will usually be able to interpret your sign language.

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Its a good first-stop

If you’re planning to do a larger trip through Southeast Asia, Thailand is the perfect place to start. The country is different and interesting without being overwhelming, and you can still find all of the comforts of home. You’ll also find that flights and buses between nearby countries are dirt cheap.

The International feel

Thailand is a country where you can stay off the beaten path, or make plenty of friends with other foreigners. With so many tourists visiting, and expats living here, you’ll find plenty of global food chains, Hollywood movies, and international restaurants. You’ll also be chatting to people from around the world, and may make friends for life.

Stress? What stress?

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Stress-free travel is possible – yes, really! You might think I’m playing a joke here, but it is possible to cut out the parts of your travel day which make your hair stand on end, when you think you simply can’t take a second more of the waiting. The answer? Patience, distraction, and a few tweaks here and there. It’s simple!

The first port of call should be looking at how you get to the airport. I find public transport to the airport stressful, usually because I have a massive suitcase, hand luggage, I’m trying not to be late, and the bus or train I’m on is busy, or taking too long. You don’t need this extra worry, you should be enjoying every single second of your travel day. To get rid of this stress I decided to use Airparks to book an on-site parking space, and drive down there myself, having a nice leisurely journey. You can find this service at most large UK airports, and my Stansted parkingspot certainly saved me money when compared to costly public transport. Money saved and stress saved – it’s a double whammy!

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Once you’re at the airport, you need to stay focused on your end destination, and not get caught up in the waiting. Yes, there are crowds, yes, there are queues, and yes, you have to wait a while, but you can easily distract yourself from all that. Why not head for a drink in a bar, or a meal in a restaurant? Treat yourself to your favourite perfume or aftershave at Duty Free, or relax in one of those airport massage chairs we all love to get rid of our small change in. There are ways to cut out the waiting, simply make sure you keep one eye on the screens, so you don’t miss your gate number and final boarding call!

If you really don’t like the idea of waiting around in the departure lounge, how about booking some time in the airport lounge? This is available at most large airports too, and you can kick back and relax in peace and quiet, without having your toes run over by cabin bags! Refreshments and snacks are usually included in the price, so you can save a little here too, as you’ll no doubt spend a fair bit in the airport, trying to pass the time. The cost could work out cheaper, so do look into this idea if you prefer to relax a little pre-flight.

Of course, once you’re in the air, the waiting continues but you can distract yourself with a film, a snack, music, a book, or some games. Before you know it, your flight will be descending into your arrival airport, and the fun can really begin!

Pack it up!

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Packing is not a fun experience, there’s no denying that fact. If you enjoy the experiencing of cramming your belongings into a suitcase that is no way big enough, then please feel free to come and do my packing the next time I go away! I hate packing, in fact, I would much rather pay someone to do it, but needs must!

Despite that, I found a way to cut down on the stress of packing and save money too, which in my world is a major bonus! You might think I’ve gone crazy, but have you ever tried travelling on holiday with just hand luggage?

No, I am sane, hear me out!

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Provided you’re not going away for longer than a week maximum, and provided you book with an airline who offer a generous hand luggage allowance, like 10kg, then you should be able to be ruthless enough to pack a capsule wardrobe, if you wear your heaviest clothes and buy your toiletries at the airport. It can be done, I’ve done it!

Combine this with a cheap flight and you’re saving money before you even jet off. I found a bargain flight recently, but unfortunately it wasn’t from my local airport. I didn’t let this put me off, and instead I got a bargain deal on a night at one of the Gatwick Airport hotels from Holiday Extras, and it all still worked out cheaper than my regional airport. Bargain!

I wouldn’t let travelling to a different airport put you off booking, because really if it all adds up to still be cheaper, it’s false economy to stick with what you know. You will find hotel facilities at most large UK airports, so somewhere to sleep if need be is never a problem. Go on, be a little adventurous and see how much money you could save!

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Don’t forget to insure all your bargain holiday plans ahead of time. Personally I’d always go for an annual multi-trip insurance policy, because it’s done at the start of the year, and it’s one less thing to worry about every time you book a holiday during those 12 months. Just remember to check that your destination fits in with your policy, and you’re sorted!

These ideas for saving money might seem like a lot of extra hassle, but it only seems that way because you’ve probably never done it before. I am the world’s worst for travelling heavily, and if I can pack that capsule wardrobe and venture off to a new airport I’ve never visited before, then believe me, anyone can!

Top Things To Do In Koh Samui, Thailand

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Koh Samui is the 3rd largest island in Thailand and it was discovered by the first Western tourists only in the 1970’s. Back then there were only a few huts in the coconut groves and a few fishermen around. Miles of white sand, green valleys, beautiful waterfalls and coconut trees were something like out of the ‘Bounty” commercial. After that the island underwent a huge and rapid development project, with the result that after a little over 3 decades, it can compete with Phuket and Pattaya.

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One of the most fun and exciting things to do on Koh Samui is visiting the Fisherman’s Village, especially on a Friday, when the market takes place on its main street. This is the day when from 6pm the village comes to live, fills up with tourists, locals and street vendors, who will sell you a mojito in a plastic cup for $2 and cook a Pad Thai in front of your eyes for $1. Here you can find everything from hand-made souvenirs to organic curry paste, to shorts, fried crickets, live performances, and exotic jewelry. On other days you can come here to enjoy a dinner by the sea. Continue reading →

Top places to visit in Turkey

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I was lucky enough recently to travel through Turkey, and absolutely loved it. It now has to be one of my favourite countries in Europe to visit.  If you want to book your dream holiday to Turkey then travel agents such as First Choice are a great way to go. Once there, then here is my guide of top places to visit.

Aspendos Theatre

This beutifully preserved ancient theatre dates back to 155AD, built during the rule of the Roman Emporer Marcus Aurelius. The theatre itself has kept many of its original qualities due to the extensive repair and maintenance that it’s gone through, throughout the years.

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Pamukkale

Located in the west of Turkey, this unreal natural landscape is something you only dream of on postcards. These white terraces have formed over thousands and thousands of years from high mineral rock deposits, which have left terraced hot pools that you will see like nowhere else.

Hagia Sophia

This unique ancient masterwork of Roman engineering is located in Istanbul. Originally constructed in the sixth century, the massive dome (31 meter diameter) was for 1000 years the world’s largest enclosed space, still making it one of Turkey’s top tourist attractions.

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Sultan Ahmed Mosque (also known as Blue Mosque)

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Instanbul, it’s easy to see why when you see this stunning mosque and it’s six minarets. Whilst extremely impressive from the outside it is even more impressive on the inside with its 20,000 patterned blue tiles.

 Visit the amazing beaches

You can’t go to Turkey without heading down to the Mediterranean coast and soaking up the sun on some stunning beaches. Big beach resort town are Bodrum, Marmaris and Kas, offering turquoise water, white sand beaches and amazing Turkish cuisine. Another option is to take one of the many sailing trips on offer, to visit the outer islands. Just pick your boat wisely as some are designed for the party animals in us.

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 Grand Bazar of Istanbul

This has to be one of the most unique shopping experiences. Be prepared for the brightest colours you have ever seen with jewelry, spices, carpets, homeware, antiques, art and much much more. This is a definite must visit, but schedule a day here and be prepared to get lost in the labyrinth of streets and shops.

Top Tips for Keeping in Touch

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Traveling is a lot of fun – and living overseas too- but it can be very hard being on a different timezone to your family all the time. Thankfully we live in a time of modern conveniences and it’s easy to keep in touch via many different ways. From traditional mail to smartphone apps, there’s so much on offer you have no excuse for not giving your mum, dad or siblings a call. I like to mix things up, to ensure that things don’t get too same-same and so that my friends and family know that I care about them. For some top tips for keeping in touch, read on:

Continue reading →

Top 5 Must-Try Dishes in Cambodia

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Cambodian cuisine is a tricky one. As an ex French colony, with influences from China, Thailand and Viet Nam, some foodies may find it hard to pinpoint an identity. But what really defines Khmer food is the emphasis on simplicity and freshness. Unlike Chinese food and Thai food, Cambodian dishes are shy with spices, creating a much more elegant taste.

For anyone who finds South East Asian cuisine too overpowering, Cambodia can offer beautifully cooked and very simple ingredients with very relaxed flavours that don’t overwhelm your taste buds.
If you’re new to Khmer cuisine, here are 5 must-try dishes that will get your mouth watering…

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1. Khmer Bor Bor

This won’t be love at first sight. And it won’t be love at first taste. Bor Bor is an overcooked rice dish which is essentially a savoury porridge. It can be cooked with or without meat and is often served with some freshly chopped spring onion for added flavour and texture. Khmer Bor Bor is something you will grow to love. After a few bowls, you’ll be craving more. It’s such a basic dish and here’s a fantastic recipe so you can recreate your Cambodian food experience at home.

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2. Bai Sach Chrouk (Pork and Rice)

This is South East Asian cooking at a very basic level, but the emphasis is on freshness and the simple flavours and textures. Thinly sliced pork is grilled slowly and then served on a bed of rice and finished off with ginger, spring onion, pickled cucumber and radish. Such a light and refreshing dish, perfect for hot weather.

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3. Fish Amok
This is a popular dish with tourists and travellers and is served in a lot of restaurants and hotels. (For hotels deals, visit The Holiday Place online). This fish dish is actually a popular meal in a number of neighbouring countries. But the Cambodian version uses a local herb (called Slok Ngor) which gives is a bitter edge to differentiate it from the rest.

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4. Rouge Khmer Curry
If you’re expecting the heat and tickle of Thai red curry, you might be disappointed. The Khmer red curry does not use chilli powder but takes its main flavours from coconut mash liquor, eggplant, coconut milk, blady grass, and a spice paste called Kroeung.

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5. Beef with Red Ants

Insects and grubs are popular street food snacks in Cambodia. It can be quite daunting for some insect-eating rookies, but this dish is extremely popular with locals. Served with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger and kaffir lime leaf, the finished dish is beautifully flavoured. Unsure about the ants? Take a look at how it’s made on this blog post.

Guest author:
This is a guest post by @magstheblogger, a travel writer at The Smart Girl’s Travel Guide.

An Alternative Guide to Thailand

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The popularity of Thailand as a travel destination only seems to be increasing, amongst young and more mature travellers alike. It boasts diverse and breathtaking scenery which is unlike anything you are likely to see anywhere else in the world, and is steeped in rich history and fascinating culture which attracts visitors from all over the world.

Many people associate a visit to the Kingdom of Thailand with an oversized rucksack and endless nights spent in cheap hostels or camping on the beach, and it is these factors that deter certain people from visiting. If a shower-a-week and living out of a rucksack almost as tall as you for the duration of your holiday doesn’t appeal to you, then fear not, as there are plenty of alternative and much more appealing options to entice you to visit Thailand.
Although a great deal of Thailand has become more touristy in recent years, there are still unspoilt parts which don’t involve endless nights of boozing and days spent in search of that beach. We’ve all heard of places such as, Ko Phi Phi, Samui, and Phuket, but if you want to experience the less tourist ridden side, then here is a short guide to a more luxurious trip to Thailand.

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Where to Stay:

Unless you’re an aging hippy, still stuck in the 70s and trying to stay forever young, or a twenty-something year old attempting to find yourself on your gap year, then chances are you’re probably going to want a little more from your holiday accommodation than the top bunk in a hostel dorm. If you do a little research then, actually, you can discover some hidden gems in the form of luxury hotels. Companies such as Chic Retreats have a whole host of stunning boutique hotels, in equally as stunning locations, meaning you can explore the surrounding area and after a long day adventuring, retreat to your cosy hotel bed in your private room, without the worry of being disturbed by one of the twenty other strangers in your dorm coming in from an all-night beach party.

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Where to Visit:

If you don’t fancy mingling with swarms of English tourists, then avoiding the popular destinations such as Phuket and Samui are the best way to do so. Of course, you will still want to experience as much of Thailand as you can, and so instead, head for the Northeast of Thailand, known locally as the Issan. The Issan is Thailand’s poorest area, full of paddy fields and non-English speaking locals, and here you will be able to experience Thai life, unspoiled by tourists, and incredibly cheap too. Do a little research and you’ll be surprised at just how much of Thailand is actually unspoilt and you can discover your own, truly incredible side to Thailand.

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What to Do:

Thailand is home to some of the most breathtaking landscape in the world, and of course, travelling half way across the world, you will most definitely want to see some for yourself. Unfortunately, so much of the coastline has become a tourist magnet, especially since certain parts of it have appeared in Hollywood blockbusters. To avoid the all night beach parties and the tacky beachside bars, head for the more unspoiled coastline such as Prachuap Khiri Khan in southern Thailand and its neighbouring beaches. Here you are able to snorkel, or walk the endless sands, take in the stunning coastal scenery, sample delicious local cuisine, but enjoy the pleasure of not bumping into huge crowds of tourists.

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What to Eat:

Thai food is exotic, delectable and uses only the freshest ingredients, and contrary to popular belief, doesn’t all consist of toasted beetles and skewered rats. Whether you’re a vegetarian, or a meat lover, there is something to accommodate all tastes and requirements, and you won’t be disappointed. When you eat in Thailand you’ll have such a high standard of service that you’ll barely be able to believe it, with high quality for a small amount of your money and the friendly nature of the locals. You may think you have experienced amazing Thai food at home, but you could not be further from the truth, especially when it comes Pad Thai, a mix of noodles, tofu, fresh vegetables and plenty of delicious sauce. Other dishes to sample are Geng Kheaw Wan – a spicy green Green Curry and for dessert, the unusual but moreish mango sticky rice.

There is so much more to Thailand than just a traveller’s paradise, and if you venture a little further out of the overrun tourist favourites, you’re bound to find some hidden gems and have the holiday of a lifetime.

Best Places to Visit in the Mediterranean

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What could be better than a cruise in the Mediterranean, where the sun always seems to shine and where the sea is always bluer and cleaner than the summer skies? The Mediterranean can be a magnificent spot for a vacation alone, with the loved one or with the family and it can be perfect for everyone out there as well: from those who like to party all night long to those who like to explore places that have a rich culture and history. Because of the location of the Mediterranean and the fact that everywhere is easily accessible by boat, it is one of the best cruise locations in the world. If you’re looking for a company that offers great cruises around the Mediterranean, check out Cruiseabout and for more tips of what to do and see, read on!

Greece

You can’t get more culture and history than this. With architecture that goes as far back in time as the ancient years and with many islands from which to choose from, Greece can really be one of the most amazing places to visit. Go to its towns and cities to discover the Ancient Greek ruins or go to one of the amazing dream-like islands to lie on the beach and sunbathe. Santorini and Rhodes are some of the most beautiful (and famous) islands, but you can find places that are less crowded and purer as well. Traveling on a cruise is a great way to hop around the beautiful Greek islands, you can see a lot in a really short time.

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Italy

If you are in for a culinary experience that will leave your taste buds craving for you to go back there, then do try Italy. Even if the entire country may seem small on the map, the truth is that it is as diverse and as gorgeous as a country can get. Every area has its particular attractions and its special kind of food. You can explore Rome, the Vatican, Venice, Florence or Milano and you can lie on one of the amazing beaches the Italians have – and you will be always breathing the fresh and energising Mediterranean air.

The French Riviera

For an exclusivist and luxurious holiday, choose the French Riviera. It can hardly be compared to anything out there. If pizza and pasta are the “hot spots” in Italy and if the stunning scenery and culture are the greatest things in Greece, the French somehow manage to bring both culinary art and amazing culture together in a place that seems to be absolutely magical. Beautiful people, amazing and breathtaking scenery and the best wines in the world all meet together on the French Riviera. Although generally perceived as very expensive, the truth is that there are spots on the French exit to the Mediterranean Sea that are very much affordable as well.

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Spain

Not many people associate Spain with the Mediterranean Sea, but it has a very good portion with a wonderful beach exiting right into this beautiful water. Andalucia, Murcia and Levante, and the Mediterranean part of Catalunya are some of the most beautiful places here and they will range from party-oriented spots to spots offering the utmost relaxation. Don’t forget to have a good portion of paella before you go because there is really nothing out there like this dish when it is prepared at home!