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I lay on the soft, luxurious sun lounger, the blazing sun warming my pasty skin. In my hand was a glass of fizzing, dry champagne. I decided to walk the twelve steps to where the Indian Ocean met my private, white sand beach. I spotted an eagle ray darting through the shimmering turquoise water. As I working-class woman, the Maldives had always seemed like a dream destination. Somewhere that celebrities or the super rich go on holiday. Inconceivable for a woman like me.

Do you want to know the best thing about my trip to the Maldives? It didn’t cost me a penny. In fact I got paid ££££ to go there!

If you follow me on Instagram you know I absolutely love travel. Nothing beats the thrill of exploring a new destination or trying an exotic local dish. I actually travel to a completely new destination every 3 weeks, without using a single day of my holiday allowance.

Do you want to know my secret?

I work in childcare

Yep, that’s it! When I was in school I never thought that working in childcare would be that lucrative. However, now I realise that it’s a job with extremely high earning potential.

The trick is who you work for. If you work for the world’s rich their children are their number one asset and they will pay good money to provide them with the best. If you are a native speaker of English, French, Italian, German, Mandarin and many more languages, you are extremely sought after by the worlds elite.

There are many people working in a role as a nanny, private teacher, governess or governor for these families. I’ll tell you a bit more about what I do and how I got my position.

What is a Governess/Governor?

I currently work as a governess for 3 children aged 4, 8 and 12. My role is extremely varied and includes looking after the children, playing with the children, eating with the children, teaching engaging ESL lessons, picking the children up from school and my favourite, going on holiday with them.

I’m basically a combination of a nanny, teacher and role model to the children.

Why do Rich Families Want a Governess/Governor?

The main reason is so the children learn English in a natural way from a native speaker. I think it is also a status symbol for the family if they have a native speaking governess/governor.

A governess helps the children learn English in a comfortable environment. Eventually the children should be able to speak English with native-level fluency, including having a clear accent and good grammar.

Some families want the governess to act more as a nanny and be involved with general childcare. Some want a teacher to focus on etiquette and manners. Some want the governess to focus on teaching. It all depends on the family and every situation is different.

My Teaching past

I have taught English for over 4 years now. In Japan, I taught English in Elementary schools. The method used wasn’t the best for language learning, (evident in the minute number of Japanese who actually speak English. Even though its a compulsory school subject).

I then moved to Russia to work in a kindergarten for 2 years. during this time I had full control over how I taught English and many other subjects to the class. I taught phonics and spoke to the children in a natural way. I found this method to work much better than the Japanese method.Each year, many children who could barely say hello in English at the beginning of the year, were able to read and communicate in English with confidence by the end. It was such a rewarding role.

Alongside my Kindergarten job I amassed quite a list of private students. This is where I gained valuable experience in how the rich Russians live and what they expect from a teacher. I taught a student who had a swimming pool in her bedroom, another had an exotic cat as a pet, several who wore head to toe designer clothes and even one who could only leave the house with a minimum of two armed guards. I found this world fascinating and wanted to experience it more.

Over time I realised that I was the only non-governess amongst my friends. I loved teaching in the kindergarten but it wasn’t getting me anywhere financially and I was tired of travelling across Moscow in the cold to get to my private students.

With my teachers at year 6 graduation in Nasushiobara Why I decided to become a Governess

I was envious of my friends lifestyles. Having near unlimited disposible income and travelling to exotic locations with work. I decided to look for a position as a governess.

I had a number of different interviews, both in person and Via Skype. One of my most memorable interviews was for a family involved in the Yachting business. He had buttons in his house he used to summon the housekeepers. When the staff arrived they wore matching uniforms and strode in tandem. We ate black caviar as we discussed the job.

After a number of rejections, both on my behalf and from my employer’s side, I finally decided on my current family. I live alone in a 4 bedroom house with a jacuzzi, get to travel with the family and get time off every 3 weeks to travel!

Now I won’t say that being a governess is an easy job. Every family is different and expects different things from their governess. I liked the fact that my family don’t employ a nanny too, so I’m more in control of my interactions with the children.

What Skills do you Require to become a Governess/Governor?

Working as a governess/governor is a very particular type of career. Because you are employed directly by families, each one differs in what they want from their new staff member.

From Experience I’d say an ideal candidate would have:

  • A friendly and calm nature
  • Have a genuine love for children
  • Hold a Bachelors degree in any subject
  • Experience in teaching English
  • TEFL certificate/ CELTA or PGCE
  • Ability to be flexible and adapt to new situations

Personally I have a BSc (Hons, PgDip, TEFL, numberous CPD courses and certificates and a lot of experience in teaching children worldwide. However I do know a number or people who work as elite nannies without a bachelors degree. It all depends on what skills and experience you can bring to the job role.

How to find a Governess/Governor job

After reading about my experiences I bet that you want to know how to find them? The truth is that there are many nanny/governess/governor agencies worldwide and it takes a lot of inside knowledge in the business to find out the names of them all!

Luckily there is now an online jobs board that displays all of the current childcare vacancies worldwide! I wish I have known this was available when I was searching for a governess position because it makes it a lot easier having access to all of the available jobs in one place.

The website is www.jobsinchildcare.com. They currently have ££££ paying jobs in Russia, England, The USA, Italy, France and even Uzbekistan!

The best thing is that the childcare jobs aren’t limited to English native speakers. So many languages are sought after by rich parents. Check out the website and see if anything catches your eye! They even have extremely well paid positions available for PAs, Chefs, Drivers and many more.

You don’t have to choose between work and travel. Why not have it both working in childcare?

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At this point in time I’ve travelled to 42 different countries in the world. 38 of them solo. I’ve travelled for long periods of time and shorter periods of time.

The reason I can afford to travel so much?

I mostly stay in dorm rooms.

Yes I know, I’m 32. Although I do enjoy going out I’m not the same party girl that I once was. However if you choose the right dorm room, budget travel can be both cheap and fun. Staying in dorms is a great way to make new friends and find out information about the place you are travelling in.

In the past I stayed in mixed dorms, mostly because they were all that was available. Thankfully we now have the choice over a mixed dorm or a female dorm in most hostels now. I always choose the female only dorm, here are my reasons why:

I want a good nights sleep

One thing that I’ve noticed from my many years of dorm experience, is that men snore a lot more and a lot louder than any woman I’ve come across! Most nights that I have stayed in a mixed dorm I’ve had to put up with some sort of snoring, be that slow, raspy snoring or full on fog horn snoring. I’ve heard it all.

Yes, I’m fully aware that females snore too, but it happens a lot less often, and with slightly less sound than an A380 taking off.

Usually I’m fine in a female dorm if I put in my earplugs and put on my mask.

caught mid-nap! I want to feel safe

When booking a mixed dorm there is no guarantee about what type of people will be staying there. Many are just friendly, budget travellers like me but I’ve had a few experiences with men in dorms that have made me decide that it’s not safe enough for me.

When I was in Munich there was a loud, obnoxious guy at the hostel bar who just wouldn’t leave me alone. I got so desperate that I actually walked up to a gang of girls and pretended to be their friend. Luckily it worked and the guy backed off. After a good night with new friends, I went to sleep in my mixed hostel room.

I woke up and immediately locked eyes on that very same creepy guy. He was staring at me intently and was just in his boxer shorts. I immediately woke up, grabbed my bag and switched rooms.

Another time I was in Koh Phi Phi at the best rated hostel. I was staying in a 4 bed dorm. It was me and a gang of 3 Italian men. The men seemed friendly enough. One night I was dozing off to sleep when one of the Italian men jumped in my bed and started kissing me. I screamed at him and threw him across the room, his mates woke up and they promised to keep him under control. My trust had been lost and I just couldn’t sleep. The next day I moved to a private room and caught the worse food poisoning of my life, but that’s another story entirely.

When I travel, I want to feel safe. I just don’t feel safe when I’m sleeping with random men in my room. I have met many great friends in mixed dorms but as I’ve got older, I’ve realised that I’d rather pay a bit extra for safety, and just make friends in the common room.

Enjoying a Tim Tam in my dorm in New Zealand Mixed dorms rooms smell

One time I was in Hanoi, Vietnam. I was staying in a $5 a night dorm in a central area. I woke up and was suddenly hit with the most peculiar smell. I actually thought there was a dead animal in there. It turned out to be one guy with filthy clothes stained with sweat and emanating a thick smell of stale booze. It was probably the most rancid smell I’ve ever smelt. I moved to the other side of the room but the smell was still there…

I’ve stayed in other mixed dorms where the men were just as pungent. Some of the more budget dorms have had men who have been living in then long term too, more like a homeless shelter than a hostel.

I like to get changed where I want

Unfortunately, a woman can’t just get changed in the middle of a mixed dorm. Some men might think it’s an invitation for something more. I remember shuffling to the toilet to get changed when staying in mixed dorms. I can’t be bothered with that. I’d rather just get changed in the room without feeling self conscious or that someone was watching me.

Once I was in a mixed dorm in Sydney Australia. I was wearing a nightdress and I had pulled the covers off myself whilst I was sleeping, so the whole dorm was getting an eyeful of my boobs. If It was a female dorm I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, but I felt so embarrassed because I was in a mixed dorm.

There is a greater chance of an empty dorm

Do you know the reason why female dorms are more expensive? It’s generally because it’s a lot harder to fill them in low season. I’ve had the pleasure of staying in dorms with just 1-2 others or sometimes I’ve even had the whole dorm to myself! A private room for the price of a dorm! Result.

This dorm was certainly not empty! I feel more confident

All travellers have experienced it. It’s 4am and someone feels like it’s the perfect time to start packing their bag. They have also decided to forsake packing cubes for plastic bags. Hallelujah!

In a female dorm I feel comfortable enough to tell them to pack outside, be quiet, turn off the light ect. In a mixed dorm I wouldn’t feel as confident. Men usually don’t like being told what to do by a woman, whatever their age.

Dressed up as a sailor at a fancy dress party in New Zealand. I don’t want to share a room with couples

One thing I’ll never understand is why couples choose to stay in dorm rooms. About 99% of the time a private room is exactly double the price of a dorm bed. I’ve met many decent couples in dorms, but many more who feel like the dorm is their own personal love hut.

I stayed in a dorm in Krakow in Poland, a super cheap destination. It was just myself and the couple in the room. They went out of their way to make me feel as uncomfortable as possible. Snuggling, touching, kissing, sharing a bed, all whilst I was in the room. I just don’t get it…

So there you have it, 7 reasons why I prefer to stay in female only dorms. Do you agree with my points?

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I sat on the window side chair and took a sip of my molten hot cup of tea. I had been back in England for 3 weeks now, an extremely long time for a wanderer like me. The thrill of ‘normal life’ was fast wearing off. Part of me enjoyed the easiness of life back in Cheshire, but most of me longed for an adventure.

I booked it. A one way flight. My heart pounded as I realised that I would be jetting off in just 2 days, with no plan and no return date.

This was more like it.

I packed just a backpack and a sensation of deja-vu overcame me. For the past few years I’ve been unable to spontaneously travel because of my job as an English teacher. Part of me remembered how I felt when I took the first flight of my sabbatical, with no clear plan. I was so brave, so fearless.

My Priority pass is one of the best things that I’ve ever bought. As a frequent flier It makes the airport so much easier. I sipped on prosecco and felt excited about going back to Italy. About travelling to one of the worlds most unique destinations.

I was flying to Venice.

I arrived at Marco Polo airport and made my way to the water buses. I had to wait quite a long time for the boat to arrive but once on the boat I loved looking out of the window to see Venice come into view. Venice is a man made series of 118 islands connected by 400 footbridges. As I sailed down the Grand Canal, Venice looked just like I had always imagined.

I disembarked at the Rialto bridge and was greeted by swarms of clueless tourists, scurrying around the narrow side-streets like ants. I put my head down and started searching for my hostel, I was staying right in the centre. Close to Saint Marco’s square. It was impossible to walk purposefully though. Along the way I saw iconic sights that blew my mind seeing them in the flesh. On one bridge I stopped just as a goldolier swooped under the bridge I was stood on, kicking the wall and wailing “ooeeeeeee!”.

My hostel was great, run by a Japanese family too! The people at the hostel were friendly  and I spent a few nice evenings eating brie, pesto and a hot baguette whilst drinking sumptuous red wine with friends. Venice can be an expensive city so it’s wise to buy some food and drinks from the local Spas.

Venice by day is heaving with expectations and body heat. As I ambled around the centre I was amazed at the throngs of people. I tried my best to walk away from the crowds and was greeted with narrow passages bereft of bodies. Heaven. I stopped at a local gelateria to try the famous ice cream. I think it even surpassed Turkish Domdurma for its creaminess and weird elasticity. This ice cream started a 3  a day gelato habit….

Venice walking tour

I decided to try out two free walking tours whilst in Venice, both covering different areas of the vast island city. Although the tours were interesting, they lacked the passion of walking tours that I’d been on elsewhere. They focused on weird minutiae such as why certain lamp-posts were used. I wanted to know the history of the place, the people and the food. I guess they have so many tourists on each tour that they’re guaranteed a tip, however they do. I’d advise doing one tour though, just to orient yourself in the city.

How I avoided the tourists

Although Venice is a dream destination, it can also be oppressive and chaotic due to the sheer amount of often clueless tourists. In the midday August heat this was hellish at times. To avoid the tourists I employed my usual tricks:

  1. Wake up early to see the most popular attractions.
  2. Avoid the main area at peak times.

I visited the small but intricately beautiful Gallerie dell’Accademia at opening time. To my surprise there was no queue out of the door and I was the only visitor! I had the whole museum to myself for five minutes and after that shared it with such a small number of tourists. I had expected it to be packed like when I went to the Accademia art gallery in Florence!

At the Galleria dell’Accademia at opening

The Doge’s palace was something I’m ashamed to say that I never heard of prior to Venice. One of my favourite things about Venice was learning the mystical and exciting history of the Doge’s. It reminded me of the Volturi in Twilight (They’re probably based on them). If you go to the Doge’s palace, go early and bring your passport so that you can hire an audio-guide. The palace is so divergent and opulent but that means nothing if you don’t know about the macabre and compelling history of the place.

I arrived there at opening and there was no queue to get in. I could explore all of the rooms and cells at my leisure. When I left at about 1pm the queue was snaking on to piazza San Marco in the scorching summer sun.

The empty courtyard of the Doge’s palace

Spotting a gondolier through a gap in the bridge of sighs

One afternoon I escaped the crowds by exploring the Dorsuduro area of Venice. I felt that this area had a more authenic feel and it was the only place I found decent looking restaurants. I enjoyed an afternoon of meandering across the waterways and spotting beautiful, tourist-free sights on my way. I even happened upon a Venician mask workshop, replete with a mask maker hard at work in the back room. If I wasn’t backpacking I would have snapped up one of the masks to put in the home I don’t have…

Venician food

Italy is the home of the worlds best food right? A place where delicate flavours and time honoured traditions produce a simple yet delicious plate of food each time.

I’m sorry, but Venice is not the place for tasty food, especially not in the San Marco area. The only great meal I had was when I was traversing the Dorsuduro area. I found a small restaurant and tried cuttlefish and polenta for the first time, with a carafe of red wine that would have cost 40 euros in the main area.

Trying cuttlefish and Polenta

Most of the food choices in the San Marco area are aimed at tourists who want a quick bite. Most restaurants seem to serve sloppy, Americanised pizza and bland pasta dishes. I did find a place that sold delicious pasta, but it was a takeaway. So not an option unless you want to join the throngs of people perched on the may steps and bridges, slurping their pasta.

La dolce far niente

I’d recommend buying food from the local Spa shops. It’s delicious and a lot cheaper than paying rip-off tourist prices. If you fancy a main meal, head to the other areas of Venice such as Cannaregio, Dursuduru and Castello for a more authentic dining experience.

Gondolas

Finally, Gondolas! The iconic symbol of this romantic city! I’l l admit they were beautiful to watch but I was shocked at the bad attitude of nearly every goldolier. They seemed to take pleasure in trying to overcharge tourists, even if there was a sign with the price on right next to them (80 euros). I thought long and hard but I eventually decided not to go on a gondola. I love solo travel but it would feel a bit weird just sitting on a boat myself, surrounded by selfie taking tourists and smooching couples. It just didn’t seem worth the money to me. You never know, I might visit Venice again with a husband in the future.

The iconic Italian Gondolas

So Venice! Iv’e heard so many blog posts saying don’t visit and that its over-rated. Don’t believe them. Venice is such a unique destination that it definitely deserves a visit. It can be done on a budget too as there are plenty of hostels dotted over the islands and scrumptious food can be bought from the Spa shop. Many things cost a lot to enter but the best thing in Venice is free! Just wandering around the canals and tight side streets, getting lost, watching the goldiliers and occasionally enjoying a 2 euro gelato.

Have you ever travelled to Venice? What season do you think is best to visit this sodden city?

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I have an amazing life. I honestly do. It’s not perfect but It has a good combination of security and adventure. Last year I travelled to 12 brand new countries and this year I have been on an epic trip across Turkey. That’s not including the many places that I’ve visited in Russia. Just this year I have gazed at the Northern lights in -27 degrees and sunbathed next to the black sea. I have a nice apartment in Russia, many friends and a jam packed work and social schedule.

It has been pretty epic!

But I have been spoilt. Not many people have the opportunity to travel for 10 months straight. Not many people have the chance to experience cultures so deeply and live as a local. I love fast travel but my heart craves slow, languorous travel. Travelling where the first day is spent wandering slowly around the neighbourhood, not breathlessly taking in the top tourists spots. (I like doing that too but with some relaxing in between).

So, how did the travel bug bite me again?

Off work sick and lazing around. I had already watched the most up to date episode of the Handmaids tale and thought I would try out YouTube again. I found some travel bloggers called Kate and Nate. I usually avoid watching anything by travel couples. It’s usually sickly sweet and narcissistic self indulgence. However I was pleasantly surprised by their upbeat nature and the way they fully embraced being in the destinations.

So I went down  a veritable black hole of YouTube videos…

I watched the video where they arrived in Tokyo for the start of their trip, The video where they were traversing across Russia on the Trans-Siberian and the video where they were trying local food in Myanmar.

That’s the video that got me.

My mind lurched back and memories flooded back of being in a totally different culture for the first time. I grabbed onto the nearest pillow and cried deeply, my tears seemingly flowing from nowhere. My heart ached and it took all of my strength not to book on to the next flight to Myanmar.

At the Grand palace

Most people can’t empathise with this weird, deep, primitive need to travel. Most people are happy with a 2 week holiday in Spain.

I’m definitely not most people.

And I’ll tell you the truth, part of me is jealous of people that don’t feel this urge to travel. People who can settle down and be content. I try my best but I just can’t.

Why?

I guess some of us are just wanderers. Interested in learning about the world and discovering things about themselves along the way.

I can’t settle. I’ve tried, but I just can’t. Travel isn’t an easy lifestyle. Solo travel can be incredibly lonely and depressing at times. That feeling of trying a new food, understanding a new custom is just out of this world though. Meeting people you’d never meet in a lifetime, Archbishops, National Geographic photographers, Ambassadors, 18 year old adventurers…

So I guess I’ll just keep wandering along. Hopefully I’ll find someone who wants to wander with me. And we can settle down in our own unique way.

One eye on the ground, and one eye to the sky.

Looking triumphant before Fuji
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I still remember the anticipation before he picked me up. What was I doing waiting at a tiny shop in Northern Thailand to go and live with a man I’ve never met. An ex monk no less! He pulled up on his scooter and spotted me immediately, The only non-Thai person in the small cafe shack. After a quick introduction I was on the back of his bike, helmet-less and clinging on to him for dear life.

Was I allowed to touch an ex monk? This thought quickly evaporated from my head as we accelerated over undulating hills and swerved across tight bends. I held him tighter.

The rain started softly and was refreshing on my hot and weary body. The sensation quickly turned to pain as the rain bucketed down from the sky. Each drop feeling like a needle on my face. I prayed for window-wipers for my glasses so I could at least see where we were going. Why wasn’t he at least slowing down?

We came to a stop at his house. A main open plan house with a large outdoor kitchen surrounded by small huts. I was to live in hut 2 close to the house. My neighbour was a very aggressive fighting cock the ex monk would prod every morning until it attacked him. Could ex monks support a sport as cruel as cock fighting?

I had so many questions swirling around my head when a small face peered around my door. “Hello lets go and play!”, it was the ex monks son. I can”t remember his name so let’s call him Aat.

He sweetly grabbed my hand and led me to a fast flowing river. He started deftly jumping around on sharp rocks in the way that only small children can. At first i had fun watching him but It slowly dawned on me that I was not responsible for this reckless 4 year old who seemed to have no knowledge of safety. I called him to come back as he started to wade deeper into the thrashing river. He now conveniently decided to pretend not to understand English. I could not physically reach him so decided to go back to camp.

The ex monk was sat cross legged in his open plan living room. Half of his nutmeg face lit up by a shaft of sunlight. I told him about his son and he waved his hand dismissively at me and said, “no worry”.

I wish I had the heart not to worry about children wading through rapturous rivers, but I did. 6pm was dinner time and I made my way to the main house to see hippies sitting cross legged at the long, low level dining table. My brunette curls felt out of place amongst the mounds of dreadlocks and my Craghoppers clothes felt brash and utilitarian amongst the neutral earth tones and expensive organic fabrics.

“Welcome to Happy Healing home!”, they muttered as they saw me sheepishly sit down at the end of the table.

What the hell had I got myself into?

My fellow hippies chilling
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I had never even heard of Murmansk until a friend visited there last year. It’s a place in the arctic circle in very northern Russia, right next to the arctic ocean. My friend saw the mystical Northern lights and had fun dog sledding in the snow.

Ever since I was a child I’ve been fascinated with the Northern lights. I think it’s because it’s a natural phenomenon that only happens so far North. I dreamt of seeing it with my own eyes.

Luckily in Russia we get Woman’s day as a public holiday, so I decided to book a long weekend in the mystical North. After being there for 4 days I saw the Northern lights twice and had an amazing time exploring the arctic tundra.

I actually think that Russia is the best place to see the Northern lights. Here are three reasons why:

It’s cheap!

If you venture outside of Moscow, Russia is pretty cheap. Murmansk is the largest city in the arctic circle but feels like a small town compared to colossal Moscow. I had amazing meals starting at just £3.50 in swanky restaurants and my accommodation was just £20 a night for a private room in a hostel.

There are many tour operators offering Northern lights trips in Murmansk. My hostel (Evrohostel), offered it too but it was one of the most expensive prices that I had seen (5500 rubles/£69.58), but they offered unlimited visits until you actually saw the Northern lights.

I decided to go with Murmansk Turizm who offered a tour for just 3000 rubles (£37.97) if you see the Northern lights and 2000 rubles (£25.30) if you don’t see the Aurora Borealis. I was really happy with my decision because the guide Roman was so enthusiastic about seeing the lights. His attitude made the atmosphere so positive that we were having fun even before we saw the lights. He blared out inspirational music and told us about what he was looking for in the sky.

He took over 25 amazing photos of m in front of the Aurora Borealis and sent them to me as soon as I sat back down on the bus.

Finally seeing the Aurora Borealis was literally a dream come true. That night I actually felt like I was floating in bed when I was thinking about it, It was so surreal.

Compared to the surrounding arctic countries like Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, Russia is a great budget option to see the Northern lights. The tours to see the Northern lights are extremely cheap when compared to similar tours offered in Iceland and Scandinavia. Couple this with the extremely cheap accommodation, food and drink and Russia is a great budget destination to go hunting the Aurora Borealis.

The Northern lights can be seen from the city

I arrived late in Murmansk and I quickly walked to the local supermarket to buy some supplies. When I was walking back I saw a green line in the sky. Time seemed to stand still as I stopped to watch what was unfolding above me. At first I thought it might be light pollution or my eyes playing tricks on me. Slowly the line moved to the right, to the left and then stretched out until it disappeared.

I had witnessed the near impossible. Northern lights from the biggest city in the arctic circle!

The Northern lights here are so strong that they can be seen from the city frequently. Heading outside the city and away from the light pollution offers better views but it’s an amazing experience to see the phenomenon on a regular evening.

Murmansk is the ideal place to explore rare arctic tundra

Arctic tundra is basically a snow desert. A stark landscape that is frozen for most of the year so vegetation and trees find it impossible to grow. This bare landscape looks quite spectacular when coated in gleaming white snow and is a great place to explore.

The following day I went on a trip to Teriberka, a small village on the arctic ocean. On the way we stopped off to take photos of the stark yet beautiful landscapes. I really felt like I was on the end of the earth. Our guide likened it to the white room in the Matrix.

I’ve never seen anything like it, despite being used to snowy winters after living in Northern Japan and Moscow!

Go to Murmansk

You probably have never heard of Murmansk. This city is extremely close to Norway and Finland and just a 2.5 hour from Moscow. It’s a great place to spend a few days having an arctic adventure and see the Northern lights on a budget!

Have you ever seen the Northern lights? If so when and where did you see them?

Have you ever heard of Murmansk before?

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In 2013 when I travelled solo across Asia and Oceania I travelled extremely slow. I’d bought into the idea that slow travel was the only real way to travel. The only way to fully immerse yourself in another land and culture. I had a great time and visited many places off the beaten path. I saved a lot of money by travelling slow too because I wasn’t paying for planes, trains or busses every few days.

Looking back I kind of think I wasted a lot of time on that trip. Yes I was exhausted after years of fruitless studying and working but I visited just 10 countries in 10 months. I was so close to so many countries but for some reason I just didn’t go.

Exploring GOT sights in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Thinking back I could have easily caught a cheap flight to China and Korea from Thailand. Flew to Borneo to Malaysia to see the Orangutans and then maybe pop over to Indonesia to relax in Bali. I didn’t even go to Fiji when I was in bloody Australia! A place that I’d dream’t of and fantasised about when planning my big trip.

Even when I lived in Japan I decided to spend most of my time travelling within Japan, except for the disastrous two weeks that I spent in Thailand. I went to a grand total of Zero new countries in over 18 months.

Balkans Itinerary

Now that I live in Moscow and get an amazing 2 months off in summer, I decided to try fast travelling for a while. I’d initially decided to travel to 6 new countries in the Balkans but I managed to travel to 7!

Here is my whirlwind itinerary:

Croatia: 3 nights Dubrovnik, 2 nights Split.

Bosnia and Hercegovina: 2 nights Mostar, 2 nights Sarajevo.

Montenegro: 2 nights Budva, 3 nights Kotor, 1 night Ulcinj.

Albania: 2 nights Shkoder, 1 night Tirana.

Kosovo: 2 nights Prizren, 1 night Pristina.

Macedonia: 3 nights in Skopje.

Bulgaria: 2 nights in Sofia.

The gritty streets of Shkoder, Albania My feelings about fast travel

Firstly I travelled extremely light. I had a carry on sized backpack weighing 8kg which made travelling from place to place easy. It’s a front opening backpack too which makes it easy to open and close fast. I wasn’t sending ages packing like I did when I went travelling with a 20kg backpack in 2013.

I tended to stay on the beaten track more because there’s more transport options. However I feel like 2 nights in most places was sufficient to see the town/city, eat some local food and relax. In most places I did a free walking tour if it was available because I didn’t have time to discover places for myself.

It’s impossible to take an ugly photo in Mostar, Bosnia and Hercegovina

Fast travel was quite lonely though. Because I had a limited time in each place I spent most of the time exploring on my own or going on group tours. I didn’t make the type of friendships that made travel in Southeast Asia so special.

I was so tired near the end of the trip. I paid for a night of luxury in a penthouse suite in a boutique hotel with sauna for one night. It was lovely to relax in privicy after spending so long in hostels. I did the same in Ulcinj too, just relaxing on my balcony and watching the handmaids tale.

Something that surprised me was how confused I felt. There are many similarities between the language and culture of the Balkan countries but many differences. I would get confused about where I was sometimes and what language they used. At times I would also forget what country I was in. I’ve never felt this way before and it was quite disorientating. As I said before I usually spend time discovering a countries culture and I just couldn’t do it on this trip.

One benefit to travelling so fast is the amount of things that I saw and experienced in such a short time. It was a great taster for the Balkans and gave me a hint of which countries I’d like to explore more of in the future (Bosnia and Montenegro).

Enjoying a super cheap feast with a travel friend at a restaurant in Prizren, Kosovo. My thoughts on fast travel

Fast travel was extremely exciting. I realised how adaptable I was and was proud that I navigated so many cities and countries in such a short period of time. Although it was exhausting it was refreshing. In the future I think that 2 weeks of fast travel is enough for me, maybe 3 at a push. I lost a lot of my enthusiasm in Bulgaria and felt like I was just going through the motions rather than truly enjoying my time there.

At Matka canyon in Skopje, Macedonia Guards in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Do you prefer fast or slow travel? Why? As always I’d love to hear your replies. Remember you can also follow my adventures on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pearlsandpassports

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One of the highlights of working as a teacher isn’t playing with paint or toys everyday, It’s having an amazingly long summer holiday each year!

This summer I will have 2 whole months off. At first I planned an epic trip to China and North Korea but I changed my mind after Trump’s threats. I think it would be an extremely interesting place to visit but I value my life to highly to go there at the moment.

I’ve actually been extremely stressed trying to plan my summer holidays. I decided to go to India and Nepal but I found out August is the height of the rainy season. I also nearly booked an Annapurna trekking tour only to find out that the age limit was 29! I can’t believe I’m apparantly over the hill at 30. I’ll admit I cried a little when I found that out.

After much deliberation here are my summer travel plans.

July 2 nights Suzdal, Russia

I absolutely love living in Moscow, but I have a busy and fast paced life. I have booked 2 night in a Russian country house in Suzdal to have a social media detox and learn to relax again. I want to spend my days exploring the towns of Vladamir and Suzdal, sunbathing, reading and eating local food.

My house is right on the banks of the river in Suzdal 1 night in Brussels, Belgium

Th benefit of there being only 1 direct flight from Moscow to the UK is that you can easily see another city or country when travelling to and from Moscow. This time I’ve decided to spend a night in Brussels. I arrive in the evening so want to drink some Belgian beer and do a walking tour in the morning.

Did I mention that I love beer? 2 nights in the Lake District, England

I’m a very spiritual person. When I was in Thailand I lived with an ex monk in the Thai mountains and I spend 2 weeks at a meditation and yoga retreat in Cambodia. I miss it so will spend 2 nights at a meditation retreat in the beautiful Lake District, a place of immense natural beauty that I used to visit frequently when I was a rambler.

Sometimes I forget just how beautiful England is 6 nights Travelling around Ireland

One of my dreams has always been to travel with just my Mum. And it’s finally coming true. We will be renting a car and driving all over Ireland, staying at a different place each night. I’m excited to see the beautiful greenery, taste Guinness in Dublin and kiss the Blarney stone. Mum’s family are from Ireland so we might even meet family members in Sligo.

July and August Backpacking around Eastern Europe and the Balkans

After a few days back home in England, I’ll be backing up my backpack and catching a 1 way fright to Croatia. Once there I will travel to various countries in the region overland, just like when I travelled in South East Asia. I’m excited for some spontaneity, even if I did have to plan half of my travels due to travelling in the high season.

I prefer to arrive in a country without researching it first. I like to have no pre-conceived ideas about the country and just experience it firsthand by myself. Does anyone else like to travel like that? I’m travelling solo as I do most times.

Here is my itinerary-

Croatia– 3 nights Dubrovnik and 2 nights Split

Bosnia and Herzegovina– 3 nights Mostar and 2 nights Sarajevo

Montenegro– 2 nights Budva and 3 nights Kotor

Albania– I’ve not planned it fully but I want to spend some time by the beach

Macedonia– Again, I’ve not planned it but I would like to go Kosovo for the day or night

Bulgaria– Not yet planned but I will probably fly out of here.

Croatia

As I said It’s not yet planned and I haven’t booked a flight back to the UK yet. I just want to relax and see where I end up going. At least I know what countries I’d like to visit! I just can’t wait to have weeks of freedom where I go where I like and do what I like.

What do you think of my itinerary? Do you have any tips for places to visit in Eastern Europe or the Balkans? What are your summer plans?

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Moscow seems like a scary city to arrive in. It has four airports, Domodedovo, Sheremetyovo, Vnukovo and Zhukovsky airport. You will probably arrive at Domodevdovo or Sheremetryovo. Throughout the years I’ve read many horrifying accounts of how people were confused or ripped off when they arrived into the city.

I’m going to tell you exactly how to avoid this.

Passport control

Russian customs can be quite daunting for someone who doesn’t speak Russian and who isn’t familiar with Russian’s naturally moody faces.

*As soon as you exit the plane, follow the signs in English to passport control. When you get there remove your passport from it’s wallet and wait in line.

*If you are unsure what line to join simply show your passport to one of the attendants and shrug your shoulders. They will soon point you in the right direction.

*Take your glasses off when you reach the counter and wait patiently until they let yo through the mechanical gate.

Collecting baggage

The baggage carousels are close to passport control and they will say in English which carousel the bags for your flight will be on.

*Simply grab your bag and head out of the door to customs. They also have free trolleys available if your baggage is bulky or heavy.

Customs

Russian customs is similar to anywhere else. They randomly stop people to search or X-Ray their bags. Luckily I have never been chosen.

Russian customs has the same rules as most other countries except you cannot bring more than 50kg of luggage into the country. When I arrived I had near to the amount and was terrified that I would be checked, luckily I was just ignored as I confidently walked through.

Ordering a taxi

Now comes the part where you could easily be ripped off. If you follow one of the many men shouting ‘Taxi, taxi!’, you can be sure to be ripped off and probably for an obscene amount. I took an unregistered taxi once for a short journey and they tried to charge 4000 rubles, approximately £54! When we wouldn’t pay it he became violent, locked the taxi doors and tried to keep my friend hostage.

Do not take an unregistered taxi in Moscow.

You have three choices.

*Buy a sim-card from one of the vendors on the floor. Download Uber, Yandex taxi or Gett taxi and order a taxi to take you to your address. You will be given the registration of the car and the colour and wait outside to try and spot the taxi. It is usually extremely busy but after a while you will find each other. If you can’t find the taxi driver simply order another one. This is the way I get home after a flight. It’s a bit chaotic but hey, you are in Moscow! It usually costs 1100 rubles (£15)

*The second choice is to order a taxi from the yellow taxi counter. This usually has a fixed price of below 2000 rubles (£27) to take you to your accommodation. Personally I’ve never tried this way but many of my friends have and they state that it’s safe and effective.

Russian taxi drivers don’t normally talk to the customers so you don”t have to worry about the language barrier. They also don’t expect tips but do appreciate a small one of 50-100 rubles.

*At the baggege carousels there are computer screens from Gett where you can order a taxi. Last time at the airport they weren’t working, I did arrive at 4.30am though so maybe they are only operational during office hours?

Tips

*Have your hotel address written on paper or your phone in Cyrillic and English. Simply show it to the taxi driver if there is any confusion.

*Stay confident and calm outside the airport and don’t talk to anyone who tries to engage you in conversation. Some men hang around outside offering to help people with their heavy bags or into taxis.

*A small number of Russian taxis don’t have seat belts.

*Please don’t take an unregistered taxi!

Arriving in Moscow shouldn’t be a scary process. Just stay calm and relaxed and you will get to your hotel safe and as fast as possible.

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