A Girl Who Travels is a blog aimed at those who, like me, yearn to travel and experience new, exciting things, one trip at a time. I write about female travel, location-independence, unique travel destinations and all in all travel advice. I'm here to encourage and inspire you to step out of your comfort zone and live an unapologetically passionate life.
Breakups. They suck. And let’s face it: all the well-meaning advice in the world (‘you’re such a catch’, ‘he wasn’t good for you’, ‘you’ll find something better in no time’) means nothing because it feels like it’s the end of the world when you lose someone you love.
So, it’s spring, and for some reason (maybe
the universe hates me, IDK) I always end up breaking up with guys I’ve met
pre-cuffing season around April; also unfortunate timing of right before my
birthday, so a double whammy of crapness.
I’ve ‘got through’ many an unwanted breakup, and something I learned from approaching the grand old age of 36 is that there is a ‘better way’ to cope with all the painful emotions you’re experiencing. Like a physical injury, your brain does this awesome thing of going ‘hey… hey… remember… it hurts’ every time you try to forget about it. Brain’s methods may include: going over all the good times like the most depressing movie on Earth, playing over and over on loop with a Skeeter Davis soundtrack, or reminding you to think of them whenever you pass anything even remotely related – ‘Bread. He used to love bread.’ Your brain will give you physical pain too, you know, just in case you forgot to feel in pain all the time, right around the middle so you can’t breathe and all the getting drunk in the world can’t outrun or numb this feeling.
I watched this movie on iPlayer the other week and decided it characterised the nature of a breakup perfectly. Bear with me, this is relevant, promise.
‘It Follows’ is about a curse that’s
transmitted when you hook up with someone. Kind of like an STD but the only symptom is a creepy-ass
ghoul that looks like a dead person and walks REALLY slowly towards you. The
trick is outrunning it or passing it on. So anyway, this girl gets the ‘curse’
and her guy (right after they sleep together), is all ‘this is the deal’ and
basically leaves her with this naked freaky curse walking slowly but angrily
towards her. The curse can appear as anyone and if it touches you… tag, you’re
This is what breakup feels like. It’s a
grotesque horror-show that literally follows you… dragging its horrid feet
behind it, looking like the person you used to love… the faster you run
(towards alcohol, food, hookups) the better you dodge it, so you make plans,
keep busy…. literally run, anything to keep it from catching up with you.
So here’s how you confront this curse instead of outrunning it. I can’t make your pain go away, but I can tell that you can get through it in a way that’s kind to your body (you need kindness right now), and maybe even look at it in a different way, a change of perspective is sometimes all it takes. Ok, so after my essay of an introduction, here’s the juicy stuff…
Stage 1 – Shock and denial
This bit is the absolute worst. You feel like
you’ve been hit by a 100 ton weight right in your stomach. The shock sometimes
actually makes you double over, speechless. Because psychological pain is just
as painful as physical pain, the shock of the breakup will send cortisol levels
racing through your body, stimulating your fight or flight response.
You’ll find yourself circling, just wandering
around in a daze, picking things up pointlessly, you maybe download Bumble, you
maybe try calling him (or her) 100 times, then your nearest and dearest to
inform them of the death of your relationship. You’re in action mode here
because the shock hasn’t quite sunk in yet and you want to do something. This
is the point, for me when I usually get blind drunk, I’ll go out and convince
myself that it meant nothing, that this wasn’t so bad at all and I’d be over
him in a hot second.
The healthy way to deal with shock:
My gran would say have a splash of brandy, and it actually does help! But getting blind drunk will only leave you facing your feelings and the hangover in the morning. Our instant reaction as humans when we feel pain is to avoid that pain, to do anything to make it go away, to outrun that curse. But it’s a far better approach to observe it instead of fighting it. Try Yoga Nidra (or sleep yoga) to calm down your busy mind before bed, and even though being alone with your thoughts might seem scary, it’s liberating to make peace with them. Notice what you’re feeling, really feel the pain if you need to. Acknowledge it, notice where it stems from. Ask yourself proactive questions like ‘why do I feel sad?’, ‘Was it even right if it ended like this?’, instead of ‘why is this happening?’. This will set you down a different path, one where you are in control of what’s happening. You can’t change the event but you can change how you react to it, you can change how you feel about it.
Stage 2: Utter despair
It feels like your world has ended and everything reminds you of him. You can’t focus on any task for longer than like 30 seconds, because your mind keeps reminding you (in case you forgot) that you’re still grieving. So you wallow, you watch sad movies, you get into your trackies and vow to never leave the house again. There have been times when my manager sent me home for work because I was really not fit to be anywhere other than an enclosed environment, probably with someone feeding me soup through a straw because a side effect of this stage, for me is ‘stop eating entirely’. Self hatred might pop up: ‘how could someone love me, I’m hideous’ and self pity: ‘how could they do this to us’. Sometimes it actually feels good to feel bad. The Notebook is a favourite when I want to feel extra crap after a breakup “If I’m a bird, you’re a bird” …cue tears. Unconditional love! It’s not asking much… why couldn’t you just love me unconditionally, like Noah?!!
A healthier way to deal with utter despair:
Feel it, fully! Whatever emotions pop up, embrace them, it’s your body purging. Cry until your face is red, feel that anger and then let it go. It’s ok to be sad, and it’s ok to not feel like eating and not function at work so give yourself time to grieve, but try to heal your physical self as much as you can. Once you’ve cried your eyes out, start healing, actively. Your body is going through a process of withdrawal, its ‘happy tap’ has been turned off, so you need to replace it with other things (not alcohol or Bumble), things that are going to really fill that void.
Something interesting I learned during my last breakup from one of the many
articles my friends sent (if you can understand it, you can make it go away
kinda mentality… it did work though) is that the part of the brain that’s
activated when you’re in love is the same part that feels ambition, that makes
you feel like you’ve ‘achieved’. So when you take love away, the sadness we
feel is as much a product of feeling worthless as it is of the loss itself. You
can totally do something about this! So find a new hobby, something you’ve
always wanted to do, write that screenplay, take that trip. Anything that fuels
your ambition and gives your brain something new to feel good about. See this
time as a potential, after all, destruction is a necessary part of creation.
One cannot exist without the other.
Stage 3 – ‘I’m so happy’
When the sadness fever breaks you’ll go through a false positive, and then keep yo-yoing back from happy to sad, to happy again. Your happy stage will see you madly swiping, updating your profile with new pictures, contacting old dates and feverishly self-improving. You’ll buy self help books – I have one for every breakup. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Attached are my two latest reads. You get a new haircut, some new nails, max out your credit card on shopping and wonder why you were even so upset. The future looks bright and you’re SO over them.
A healthy way to enjoy the ‘happy’ stage:
Like sadness, you need to embrace this feeling but with the healthy knowledge that this is part of the process. Ride this high because you probably will be back to sadness at some point; see this like the sun poking through the clouds, a hint of what’s to come when you eventually get through this, and you will! So book that holiday if you want to. Buy that new dress, but try not hurt yourself or your credit rating; remember you’re still grieving, so baby steps! If you’re feeling happy, start juicing, exercise, wash your hair! If you go back to stage 2, don’t worry, you’ll see-saw a lot, so just embrace and know that sooner or later, the happy will prevail. Your sad periods will get shorter and you’ll find it easier to let go.
Stage 4 – You’ll miss them like crazy and
It feels like it’s been years (in reality it’s probably been like a week), but a week of no contact, or minimal contact, feels like a lifetime in breakup ‘time’ (which moves both slower and faster than regular time). Sometimes ‘breakup you’ feels like it’s in some alternate dimension, moving at lightning speed in the happy stages, but each hour of the day feeling like years in the sad stages. You wonder if he’s going through the same thing, you’ll maybe feel sorry for him because he was ‘so messed up’, you even wonder if he’s ok and fantasise that he’s going to come running over to your place begging you to come back. Every car you hear might be him pulling up outside. Every time your phone goes, you jump and sink in disappointment when it’s just your mum checking in to see you’re still alive.
You will, at some point try to contact him or her, and there’s no point in me telling you not to because chances are, you’ll do it anyway.
The healthy way to get through this:
Do what you feel like doing. If you’ve questioned your motivation in the previous stages, if you’ve done enough self-growth and realised it’s not good for you, you might call and then realise he’s still the same person. Or if you feel there’s still some closure that you need, maybe you need to go through this stage. I watched this Ted Talk by Dessa about how it’s possible to switch off your love for someone. Not on an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of scale, but… watch the TED talk. This lady called Dessa was in love with this guy for like 15 years. 2 years of trying to make it work, 5 of on-and-off and then another 10 of on-and-off. She knew he was bad for her but had no idea how to stop going back for more. So she got a team of neuroscientists to study her brain. They identified the part of her brain that was in love – it looked like an upside down wishbone. This is the part that lit up when she looked at a picture of him. Then they did some neuro hocus pocus (which I admit I didn’t fully understand) to turn it off.
I can’t afford a neuroscientist to reprogram my brain every time I have a breakup, but thinking about it in terms of a physical ‘switch’ that can be turned off makes it easier to gain some perspective on the situation. Your ‘love’ was triggered when you thought this person was the one, you got attached and then forgot to turn off the light. So don’t beat yourself up if you call them, or find it hard to let go, because your brain might be physically stopping you from letting go. It’s ok to relapse, just be aware of why you’re doing it and be honest with yourself about what you want from this contact.
Stage 5. Acceptance OR total relapse
It will go one way or another chickadee. And even though you might (at some of your worst moments) imagine you’ll end up like some croaky Miss Havisham (miserable Dickensian hag known for never taking off the wedding dress she was jilted in… Aside; Great Expectations is the only Dickens worth reading and the BBC adaptation with Douglas Booth is smokin’). But I digress… you won’t end up like Miss Havisham, you won’t end up plotting the demise of some future generation because ‘love is dead’, and you won’t go up in smoke still wearing the outfit you wore when he broke up with you.
Libido is latin for life – did you know? Without passion, there is no life and without love, we could not survive (The Dali Lama said that). So you will move on and love again or you’ll go back to the person you parted ways with. There is no healthy way to approach this except through..
Somewhere between the dream and the morning alarm, just as the reality begins to sink in and our mind starts galloping at 100 miles per hour, we are made believe that happiness requires hard work. That you can’t simply wake up and be happy with what you have, because whatever obstacles you’re dealing with overshadow your chances at happiness.
We consciously choose to postpone our happiness until we have X,Y and Z, allowing ourselves to be miserable in the process.
Similarly, when going through a heartbreak – or any kind of emotional pain or difficulty really – we get caught up in the idea that we will be happy (or rather, allow ourselves to be happy) only once the pain ceases and we manage to move on. As a result, we end up withholding our happiness for months, sometimes years.
The reality is, you can be happy regardless of your circumstances.
You can be insanely, deeply happy, as you’re working towards the things you want, instead of waiting for that very thing – or emotion – to magically appear.
You can be happy when you’re feeling a bit lost, just like you can be happy while you’re hurting.
Even on the darkest, most depressing day there will be that one moment, that tiny little glimpse of sunshine, that will remind you that you are far too complex, too loving, too MAGNIFICENT of a human being to be defined by a single emotion.
Sadness and pain don’t define you.
YOU DEFINE YOU.
Excuse the cheesy quote, but happiness truly is a way of travelling – not a destination.
While it would be wonderful if at some point, somewhere on the horizon appeared a big fat sign proclaiming that you’ve arrived at destination ‘happiness’, it’s simply not going to happen.
And guess what – that’s a good thing!
It means that you have the opportunity to experience happiness every step of the way, even on days when you’re running out of gas or when you’re at crossroads (see what I did there?!).
Happiness is a sum total of small, everyday moments. This means that as much as it’s important to acknowledge and process feelings of sadness and pain, we have to find a way of creating – and indulging in – the moments of happiness.
To all those of you feeling broken-hearted, upset and just a little bit lost – here are five wonderful things you can do to invite happiness into your life, even – or especially – on days when you’re hurting. Think of them as a little hug for your beautiful, gentle soul. Let’s jump in!
1. Prepare your lifeboat
Wouldn’t you agree that feeling sad, confused or heartbroken is a little bit like being stuck on the open sea in the middle of a storm? The winds are blowing, your little boat is rocking and you’re panicking, not sure what to do and how to keep it afloat. And what do you need to do when your boat starts sinking, aka when the emotional overwhelm gets too much?
You need to get your lifeboat ready and sail away someplace safe!
The storm symbolises moments of emotional despair – just like hurricane on an open sea, feelings of sadness and despair have a way of arriving like waves, one at a time, until they come crashing down with full force. You can always sense them coming so it’s important to be prepared for when they arrive – this way you won’t sink into despair!
Your lifeboat is the very thing that, no matter how sad or desperate you feel, has a way of making you feel better and cheering you up. Your lifeboat are essentially the things you can do that will immediately make you feel better and cushion the emotional impact. Write down a list of those things, making sure you always have them at hand when going gets tough, so you can quickly get yourself out of the storm and back on dry land.
For me, my lifeboat is going out for a walk and listening to my favourite, uplifting songs. When I’m sad or distressed I get restless. Going out, with the fresh air hitting my face and music in my ears, helps me calm down and collect my thoughts. Going on a walk also releases endorphins which helps you get your happiness levels back up.
Your life boat could be a favourite song, journaling, making your favourite meal or simply snuggling up in bed with a book… Whatever has a way of making you feel better. The key is that is has be completely self-reliant. Avoid things like “calling a friend” , simply because your friend may not be able to pick up the phone before the boat sinks! Think of things you can do on your own that will immediately make you feel better,
I wish I came up with the lifeboat metaphor myself but the credit goes to Beata Pawlikowska – my favourite Polish writer and explorer. In her book, A Happiness Course – which sadly, was never translated to English – she writes about the importance of thinking ahead of the storm, and having your lifeboat at the ready for when it arrives.
Key takeaway: Grab a pen and paper and write down your lifeboat list so you’re prepared to face the storm.
2. Self care, self care and more self care
There are a lot of ways to define happiness. One of my favourites is that happiness is the triumph of love over fear. Giving yourself the time to indulge in self love is a wonderful way of inviting more happiness into your life, day by day.
Self-love doesn’t always mean bubble baths and champagne, sometimes it means heartbreak and pain and going through it all knowing it’s serving a purpose, that it’s there to teach us something, to avoid us feeling a similar way in the future.
When going through something difficult, your self-love routine could go a little something like this:
Allow yourself to feel however you’re feeling.
Blocking your feelings out is not only unhealthy, it staggers your opportunity to grow and learn through the painful experience. Embrace however you’re feeling and acknowledge that you’re having a bad day. Remember: there is no such thing as BAD emotions. Sadness, pain, fear, disappointment or heartbreak aren’t inherently ‘bad’ – they are just an emotion like any other, and a sign that you’re working through something that, once dealt with, will bring you more happiness. It’s never about the emotion itself but about the work you’re willing to do around it, so embrace your pain and feel it out.. Cry if you have to, speak to your friends, or write your thoughts down in the journal. Understanding your feelings will help you deal with it in a healthy way. When upset, honour how you’re feeling but always choose a higher thought. This brings me to the next point:
Be kind to yourself.
This starts with the things you’re telling yourself. Your mind is an incredibly powerful tool; it quite literally has the power to make or break you. If, in moments of sadness or anger, you turn to negative self-talk, you’ll end up sabotaging your chances at feeling better and continue down the negativity spiral.
Here’s what to do instead. Whenever you catch yourself thinking things like: “I’m a failure”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’ll never amount to anything” – flip the script and play the ‘what if’ game! Ask yourself…What if the very thing that’s bringing me pain is the thing that’s helping me grow? What if the reason I lost the job is so that I can focus on doing something I truly love? What if the relationship ended to save me from pain and toxicity, and to open me to something greater? Focus on what the situation you’re in is trying to teach you – there’s ALWAYS a greater reason behind everything that happens, you just have to look.
Of course, being kind to yourself isn’t just about the positive self-talk, but how you choose to treat yourself day to day. It’s the food you eat, the people you surround yourself with, even the films you watch. Surround yourself with people and things that sparkle joy, and don’t be afraid to treat yourself once in a while – something as small as a cup of your favourite coffee in the sunshine can work wonders for your soul.
Key takeaway: Learn to treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend. When upset, always try to choose a higher thought to uplift yourself. Likewise, just as you’re taking care of your mind, be mindful of how you treat your body – be kind to yourself, always – especially on days when you’re most vulnerable.
3. Always have something to look forward to
As it’s been famously said: “the key to happiness is something to love, something to do, and something to look forward to”. This can be anything from booking a flight to your favourite destination to reading a book, watching your favourite show, exercising or having a bath at the end of a long day. Indulge in those precious little moments, they are like a balm for your soul.
Key takeaway: Always have something to look forward to, especially at the end of a busy day. Write a list of things that bring you joy and make time for them during the day. Spending as little as a couple of minutes each day doing something you enjoy will have a positive impact on your overall well-being!
4. Appreciate the small things
If u don’t get excited about the small things, how will you appreciate the truly important moments? The sound of the rain that invites cosy evenings by the candlelight, cherry blossoms blooming in the spring, the first snow, a text from a friend you haven’t heard from in a while, a small gesture of kindness shown by a random stranger… Learn to notice and appreciate those moments and you’ll soon become an expert at finding things to smile about. No matter how dreary you may be feeling, those little moments of joy will remind you that there are millions of things to smile about, regardless of your circumstances. Enjoy them as you go through your day and remember that no matter how bad you may be feeling, there is always something to smile and be happy about.
Key takeaway: The key to happiness lies in appreciating the small things. They are a great reminder that there is so much to be happy and grateful for, regardless of how you’re feeling. Make a point of noticing at least three small things every day that bring a smile on your face, as see how the world becomes a little less gloomy.
5. Surround yourself with people that feel like sunshine
Have you heard the phrase, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with? The people you let into your life – especially people close to you – have the power to affect your mood, emotional well-being and even your sense of self-worth. It’s quite simple really – surround yourself with kind, warm-hearted people that make it their job to bring positivity to your life, and not chip away from it. Avoid those that bring in drama, gossip or simply bring you down. Spend time with people that focus on solutions and actively look for ways of moving forward in life, not those that choose stagnation over growth. This may be a good opportunity to look at your close circle and think of the ways each person makes you f e e l. Do they bring out the best in you? Do they motivate you to be and do better? As painful as it may be, some friendships are meant to be outgrown – how can you fly, when those close to you keep dragging you down?
Key takeaway: Be conscious about the people you surround yourself with and give your energy to. Choose to spend time with those who radiate warmth and positivity, as they will naturally bring more of it into your life.
And there it is, five heart-warming, soul-nourishing ways to allow yourself to be happy when you’re hurting. These are all very simply strategies that I use day to day when faced with difficulty, heartbreak or pain. It’s so incredibly important to learn to look past our own circumstances. We are all a part of something far bigger and greater than whatever it is that we’re going through, and giving ourselves that sense of perspective, focusing on the good things in life and the things that are yet to come, will help you realise that what you’re going through is temporary and leads to something bigger and greater.
In the meantime, turn your head towards the sunshine and allow yourself to smile, always. x
Boy, where do I begin. I started writing a similar post that’s been sitting in my drafts since 2015, on why I left Bali to move to London. I never finished writing it and it’s probably because deep down I knew it was based on a lie. I tried convincing myself – and everyone around me, that I wanted to put digital nomading on hold because I needed more stability. Because the unknown became my comfort zone and I got bored of it. Because I couldn’t wait to swap a suitcase for four walls where I could finally hang a couple of pictures. Because London was a place of opportunities that would stimulate my growth. All these reasons were partially true, but the main reason was, I moved to London for a guy. Yep, I know, eye roll.
As I was busy moving from a villa in Bali to a room in the East End, having completely failed to as little as consider the costs and logistics of living in London, I also failed to notice something far more important. That the person I so eagerly moved continents for was completely and utterly incompatible with me – on an emotional, spiritual, self-development, cultural and practically every other level, a fact which my friends seemed to realise with perfect clarity but which somehow missed me completely.
Another issue was, and I know how ridiculous this will sound, is that I never loved London. Sure, I liked it. When I first moved, I would wake up early every day, get on the tube holding a cup of takeaway coffee, the only person in the midst of Central line’s morning rush happy to start the day. The chaos and the noise excited me; everything seemed like an adventure – even the somewhat mundane life I was settling for, purely because it was so different from the life I was used to living. Other people’s mundanity was a novelty to me. But loving London? Love is not something I’ve ever felt for this city.
As my relationship inevitably began to crumble, dragged out for another two years as both of us were too much in love to leave, another – quite wonderful – thing happened. My blog, which I started about 10 or so months before the London move, started growing. I might’ve been wrong about my relationship but I wasn’t wrong about London being a place of opportunities. With London blogger and PR scene being one of the most vibrant in Europe, it didn’t take long for AGWT to get noticed. From one event to another, from one press trip to the next, my network of contacts grew and with it came paid gigs and opportunities I once only dreamt of.
Yes, I might’ve come to London for all the wrong reasons but I believe there was a bigger reason behind all this.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s little chance my blog and social media presence would grow to what they are today had I chosen to stay in Bali. The people I’ve met and the incredible experiences that came my way were all a result of being part of London’s influencer community. You can say a lot of things about the influencer scene, but the London travel blogger community is wonderful and very supportive. I got to meet some beautiful souls thanks to it, and for that I will be forever grateful.
So, why am I leaving?
There’s a lot of reasons I suppose, but it all boils down to three things – I’m sure those of you living in London, or any other big city, will relate. Perhaps it will help you to know that you’re not alone!
A sense of isolation that started accompanying me day to day. In a big city like London where most of my friends live at least an hour away, it’s easy to feel separated especially when, like me, you don’t work at an office. When I wasn’t travelling or event-hopping, I’d spend the majority of my time alone, working from home. When I broke my foot a few months ago, travelling (and moving around in general!) became more difficult and that’s when it really hit me how much I missed having more of a close-knit community. Having friends that don’t live two train changes and a bus ride away doesn’t seem like too much to ask for – except it is when you live in London!
The fact that simply put, I’ve had enough of London – it no longer inspired or excited me. The love was never there in the first place and without it, there was little foundation to build on. All the things I used to like about it when I first moved- the noise, the rush, and the crowds – would now annoy the living life out of me. So much so that I started skipping events and postponing meetings, simply because I didn’t want to spend hours commuting on the tube! This, of course, only made me feel more isolated and the cycle continued.
The third, and most important reason that triggered the decision to leave is that, somewhat randomly and completely unexpectedly, on a rather rainy day in summer 2018, I visited a city for which I felt in less than two days what I haven’t felt for London in nearly four years – LOVE.
Stockholm is a place I ‘discovered’ by chance. I visited it last summer only for a couple of days and I’ve never given it much thought prior to the trip. In fact, I visited only because I happened to be in the area.
It was raining when I got there but I remember thinking that the city looked beautiful in the rain. I spent the entire two days walking around tirelessly, surprised how beautiful everything was and how at home I felt. There was something special about this city that just spoke to me. I couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t just how beautiful it was, or how much more laid back it felt compared to London – it was the way it made me feel.
In Stockholm, I was happy simply by just b e i n g.
More than anything though, Stockholm felt like home.
Naturally, a girl who skips continents on a spur of a moment wasn’t going to sit around when faced with such discovery. So what was the first thing I did after returning to London from my trip? Yep, I booked a one-way flight to Stockholm and ended up staying for a month and a half.
This only proved what I’ve already felt in those first two days.
I believe we all connect to places in different ways. Perhaps you’ve visited Stockholm and have no idea what I’m going on about and I get it – for me, Stockholm just matches my energy.
It’s relaxed and laid back, with that slight continental European feel that London just doesn’t have (for obvious reasons). It’s small enough to easily get around but big enough for me not to get bored. There are lakes and forests literally 10 minutes drive from the city centre, in fact, the whole city is built on lakes! On top of this, people are friendly (yep, the stereotypes turned out to be all lies), polite and mellow, in a way that puts you at ease. Oh, and have I mentioned that Swedish men are basically demi-gods in a human form?
To top it all off, flights to London are cheap (we’re talking £30 return) which means I can easily commute between the two. This brings me to the next point!
Am I leaving London forever?
Absolutely not! While London isn’t somewhere I see myself living at the moment, the plan is to visit at least once a month. That’s where most of my clients and business contacts are and there’s no way I’d wave it all goodbye. I feel so incredibly lucky to live in times where travel is cheap and the length of the flight between London and Stockholm is that of a commute from East to West London.
In short – my life will be divided between London in Stockholm, but with a base in Stockholm.
Leaving London isn’t exactly easy – I’ve lived there for three and a half years and it was home, after all. But the moment you realise that your home becomes your comfort zone — not in a way that offers safety but staples growth, excitement and creativity – not because London lacks any of those but because I allowed all the things I didn’t like about it to affect the quality of my life — that’s when you know it’s time to go.
I may move back some day, but for now, it’s time for a new adventure – and I have a feeling that it will be one of the best ones yet!
When it comes to Christmas celebrations, Gothenburg may not necessarily be the first place that comes to mind. Sat on Sweden’s West Coats alongside a rocky, atmospheric archipelago stretching across 20 islands, the city has a calm softness to it that often gets overlooked.But don’t be fooled! As I’ve discovered during my recent trip with West Sweden Tourism Board, Gothenburg has a lot to offer – and happens to be the perfect place to indulge in julsmys, the Swedish art of Christmas coziness.
Swedish winters are long and dark, but it’s precisely the darkness that makes Christmas celebrations special. As the festive decorations light up the streets and the advent stars begin shining bright in every window, the short, dark days become a perfect excuse to embrace the festivities.
Gothenburg doesn’t do things by halves when it comes Christmas celebrations. From Liesberg, Scandinavia’s largest amusement park turned winter wonderland, to the Christmas markets taking over the streets of the Old Town, there’s plenty to do during the festive season.
Scroll down for a Christmas Guide to Gothenburg – it’s still not too late to join the celebrations!
Christmas at Liseberg is an experience like no other, and a perfect excuse to visit Gothenburg in winter. Enchanting, magical and sprinkled with a huge dose of holiday cheer, every winter the entire amusement park transforms into a glistering, snowy wonderland. There are pine trees covered in snow; Christmas cabins and shops selling everything from candy sticks and glögg to traditional handicrafts; there are ice skating shows, and of course – Christmas rides (over 40 of them!). Even compared to London, which never fails to deliver at Christmas, a visit to Liseberg remains one of my favourite Christmas memories this year.
The amusement park will stay open till Sunday, 30 December, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy the magic.
Christmas Market in Haga
For a more traditional Christmas Market experience, head to Haga – Gothenburg’s Old Town. The area is charming regardless of the time of the year, but as the streets get filled with Christmas garlands, carols and the smell of glögg, it becomes even more magical. The main street, Haga Nygata, lined up with traditional Gothenburg-style houses becomes especially festive thanks to the Christmas Market. Expect carol signing, plenty of festive treats and lots and lots of festive cheer. To take a break from browsing the busy stands, stop at Café Husaren, famous for their huge, plate-sized cinnamon buns – or hagabullen as they are called in Gothenburg.
Dating back to 1654, Kronhuset is one of Gothenburg’s oldest buildings. In winter, it becomes home to a local Christmas market where Kronhusbodarna artisans sell their arts and crafts. Don’t miss Siäcka Choklad, an adorable little sweet shop next door. The vintage interiors complete with beautiful Christmas decorations make it a perfect place to stock up on your Christmas candy!
Dine at Restaurang Norda to catch those Christmas feels
Restaurant Norda at Clarion Hotel has got to be one of the most festive restaurants in town. The plush, dark-green sofas and dimmed lights are a perfect backdrop for Christmas decorations. The food is delicious, but make sure you leave space for dessert – the best I’ve had on my trip to West Sweden!
Enjoy a Christmas fika at Da Matteo
It wouldn’t be Swedish Christmas without a festive fika! After all, what better excuse to enjoy a coffee break than in the Christmas season when the stores become filled with traditional pastries and cakes? This is when saffron gets added to pastries, giving them a warm, golden colour. One of my festive favourites are lussekatter – or ‘Lucia buns’, named this way because of their cat-like shape. The buns are traditionally baked for St. Lucia celebrations on 13 December but are served throughout the Christmas season. Grab yours at one of Gothenburg’s many cafes, or head straight to Da Matteo – the city’s favourite coffee shop. The branch at Magasinsgatan 17a is particularly lovely – the interior is large, warm and welcoming, and the florist store at the back is filled with pine trees and all-natural Christmas decor.
Why buy saffron buns when you can learn how to bake them yourself, and make new friends in the process? Human connection has always been at the very core of my travels and I was excited to see that West Sweden Tourism Board shares the same idea. In fact, this is how MeetTheMeet.se came to life. This fabulous initiative, similar to Airbnb experiences but specific to West Sweden, allows visitors to explore the lifestyle and daily life in West Sweden from a local perspective. You can choose from different experiences, anything from nature walks, cooking and island hopping with locals… or, in my case, a lussekatter baking class.
Christmas in Gothenburg is cosy, filled with light and very, very festive. Let me know in the comments if you’re going to visit this year!
I landed at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, the sound of hurried footsteps and excited conversations buzzing around my head like an insistent bee. Armed with two suitcases – one filled with gifts for my friend and the other carrying the usual travel stuff, I was meant to be on the train now, heading towards Shibuya. Instead, I was panic-calling my bank (a pleasure which, as I later found out, set me back nearly £40). My card got blocked just minutes earlier and with no cash on me, I was stranded in one of the world’s most expensive cities with no means of leaving the airport!
My innate optimism clearly didn’t factor in technical difficulties. As the automatic voice on the other end of the phone kept re-assuring me that my call was important, I really wished I’d sorted out my holiday money in advance. The main reason I didn’t (except for never being one to plan ahead), was because it seemed like a hassle, and with exchange rate deals varying from store to store, taking the cash out at the airport seemed like an easier option. Until, of course, it wasn’t.
Planning in advance, as unappealing as it may seem, often means more time to enjoy your travels (or, in my case, biting into my very first portion of Tokyo’s finest sushi an hour sooner!). Since I can’t exactly claim to be an expert on money exchange, I teamed up with Compare Holiday Money, Europe’s biggest travel money comparison service, to explain how and why exchange your money before a trip.
Compare Holiday Money is exactly what a site should be like when it comes to sorting out your travel finances – easy to use and hassle-free. Aside from comparing the best exchange rates for over 80 currencies from UK’s top currency suppliers, it also helps you compare prepaid currency cards, including Euro, US Dollar and multi-currency options (a feature I will definitely be looking into myself!).
To compare currency deals, simply type in the amount of money (in GBP) that you’d like to exchange as shown on the homepage (screenshot above). You’ll be presented with a list of suppliers. The exchange rates get updated every five minutes, 24 hours per day, which means that the data’s always up to date. It will look a little something like this:
What I love about the site is that it helps you pick the best supplier not just based on the deal alone, but on their review rating, helping you avoid any nasty surprises. Once you choose the company you want to go for, click ‘buy now’ – you’ll be redirected to the chosen supplier’s site. Most of them will post your money within 24h if ordered within their cut off times.
If you’d rather collect the money yourself, select ‘Click and Collect’ from Compare Holiday Money’s main navigation menu. You’ll then be able to compare the best high street exchange rates from an impressive 15,306 stores throughout the UK. This means you can order and reserve your currency online from your nearest supplier and get a better exchange rate than if you simply turned up at a store! This service is unique to Compare Holiday Money and also one of their most popular.
Aside from the obvious aka not being stuck at an airport with no means of actually going anywhere, what are the benefits of exchanging money before the trip?
It will help guarantee the best exchange rate, hence saving you money. In fact, comparing exchange rates with Compare Holiday Money can save you 10% or more!
Exchanging money at airports is almost always a bad idea – you’ll massively overspend and wish you’d taken an extra couple of minutes to do it online!
Withdrawing money from a cash machine once abroad is a better option than exchanging it at an airport, however, even then you’ll be charged a transaction fee by your bank (usually around 3% although this differs depending on the bank), on top of a foreign transaction fee.
Travelling with cash vs paying by card gives you more control over your holiday budget. You will know exactly how much to spend and won’t be tempted to go too crazy (unless that’s your thing, in which case – go for it!!). That being said, always make sure you don’t carry the whole amount on you – leave most of it at the hotel’s safety deposit box and only carry the amount that you’re planning on spending that day.
Have I convinced you to give money exchange a go? Let me know in the comments and, as always, happy travels!
I bit into Pasteis de Cruz Alta, a dangerously delicious egg and almond pastry named after the highest point of the Sintra Mountains, and looked around in contentment. It was my second day in Portugal with Visit Cascais, and we were starting it off at Casa Piriquita – an unassuming, 19th C bakery perched alongside a steep street in downtown Sintra.
Practically unchanged since the 1800s and decorated with azulejos, Piriquita’s been ran by the same family for five generations and remains one the town’s most popular breakfast spots. I later discovered that this mix of tradition and modernity is somewhat typical for the area — it’s as if Portugal found the way to seamlessly blend the past with its present-day identity.
Take Pena Palace for example, only a short drive away from Sintra. Built on the remains of a former monastery, its colours bringing to mind the cheerful streets of Burano and Cape Town rather than your typical castle, Pena blends Manueline and Moorish traditions into a modern day fairytale. Visible from every part of the Pena Park, the bright colours of the castle walls are the perfect reflection of the region – vibrant and rich in colours, smells, and experiences.
I finished my tea and stopped myself from finishing up the crumbs that remained from what’s got to be one of the best pastries I’ve ever eaten, only to be waved goodbye with a box filled with a fresh supply – a gift from Piriquita’s owner.
A bag of warm pastries in hand, I headed outside and smiled at the sunshine. Today was a day for adventure.
WHY STAY IN CASCAIS?
When Visit Cascais invited me on the trip, I knew I was in for a treat. I’ve been to Portugal twice before, to Lisbon and Lagos, and each experience left me wanting more. Portugal has a way of making your soul sing. Be it Lisbon, with its steep, colourful streets; the charming coastal towns, their shores lazily washed by the Atlantic as the sun shines on; or the national parks, speckled with castles straight out of a fairytale — the energy here is contagious.
WHERE TO EAT
Sat right by the Atlantic, its coastline stretching for 30km, Cascais acts as a bridge between the vibrant city life of the capital and the nature of the East coast, marked by the Sintra-Cascais National Park. Cascais may be small in comparison to Lisbon, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in culture and nightlife. Aside from the charming old town, its cobblestone streets lined up with colourful, tiled houses and the Atlantic Ocean sparkling in the distance, Cascais boasts a rather impressive choice of cafes, bars, and seriously trendy restaurants.
The Mix at Farol Hotel, a gorgeous seaside spot combining contemporary art with great food and equally stunning sea views; The Reverse Restaurant where you can enjoy some of Cascais’ best seafood from the comfort of the poolside; the lovely Restaurante Maria Pia and Taberna na Praça – an atmospheric tapas restaurant combining library and dining into one, are just a few options worth exploring. This, coupled with the fact that the town happens to be home to Europe’s biggest casino, are just a few reasons why the local nightlife will keep you on its toes.
Restaurante Maria Pia
The Mix at Farol Hotel
The Reverse Restaurant
WHERE TO STAY
Cascais managed to avoid the fate of many other coastal destinations whose popularity turned them into tacky tourist traps and retained a sense of culture and sophistication. The perfect example is Hotel Cascais Miragem where we set our base. There are many reasons why I have a soft spot for this place – as a travel blogger, I’m incredibly lucky to visit lots of wonderful hotels but the welcome we’ve received at Miragem had to be the warmest one yet, complete with cocktails and a canapé reception on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic.
Built in the shape of a cruise ship, the 5-star hotel oozes luxury in a classy, non-ostatencious manner. Just like the town itself, Miragem merges tradition with contemporary design. From the gorgeous rooms facing the seaside, to the spa and water room facilities – including an outdoor pool, two indoor pools and a salt water bath complete with a sauna and Turkish bath, the hotel is an oasis of relaxation. It rarely happens that I find it hard to decide between staying in and exploring, but Cascais Miragem made this choice a particularly difficult one!
CASCAIS AND THE SURROUNDINGS: THE COAST AND THE NATURAL PARK
Cascais’ location makes it perfect for exploring the coast, including the stunning Sintra-Cascais Natural Park. Stretching from the mountains of Sintra to the beaches of Cascais, it’s home to gorgeous landscape and nature, including Cabo da Roca. Europe’s Westernmost point, its rugged, windswept cliffs unveil what’s got to be one of the most spectacular sights on the Portuguese coast – or perhaps in Europe alone!
The dramatic sights and the emerald water at the bottom of the rock bring to mind the exotic landscapes of Thailand rather than Europe, and are not a view to be missed.
True to the adventurous spirit of the region, my travel companions and I were very lucky to explore the area on a jeep safari with Extremo Ambiente – a local tour company specialising in tailor-made travel. Aside from getting windswept at the Cabo da Roca, we’ve made a stopover at Santuario da Peninha – an isolated chapel perched on a craggy outcrop with stunning coastal views at its feet.
LISBON IN HALF A DAY: WHAT TO DO, SEE AND EAT
With the National Park to the east, Cascais is only a 30min drive from the heart of Lisbon.
Lisbon is one of those cities where you just can’t help but smile. It’s as if someone opened a giant bag of Skittles and sprinkled colour everywhere. I loved strolling through the steep, cobblestone streets, taking in the smells, colours and sights. The energy here is contagious and it seems impossible to get enough of it.
Lisbon’s best enjoyed the same way you’d bite into Portuguese food – slowly and delectably. But if like me you’re short on time, then I recommend heading to the Timeout Market to refuel before taking on the city’s many steep hills. Why? This historical food hall houses 32 of Lisbon’s best and most popular restaurants, giving you the chance to get a taste of Lisbon all under one roof. Think of it as a permanent pop up. Don’t leave without trying pasteis de nata from Manteigaria (it’s meant to be the best place for pasteis after the famous Pasteis de Belem) and seafood from Marlene Vieira.
Just a short walk away from the market lies Calçada da Bica Pequena – a steep, narrow street that turns into a tram track whenever trams make their way up and down the street. It’s incredibly charming and makes for a great starting point after your lunch at The Timeout Market!
Lisbon’s Pink Street, or Rua Cor-de-Rosa, is another great stop. Quickly becoming Lisbon’s most Insta-worthy spot, courtesy of the pink paint covering the road, the brightly-coloured street has an equally colourful past. Once a hang out (ahem) spot for sailors, criminalsand prostitutes,Rua Cor-de-Rosa underwent a major facelift back in 2011, swapping its Red Light District past for millennial pink. Judging by the amount of influencers and bloggers striking their best pose for that perfect shot (guilty!), it..
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Bath? Based on the name alone, it’s the Roman baths of course, a great reminder that ever since AD43 Bath was a city made to enjoy.
Then it’s the Georgian Bath. Strolling through the elegant streets of the Royal Crescent, almost as if wandering the pages of Jane Austen novels – the city’s most famous resident – is another picture that jumps to mind.
But there’s yet another, slightly more unexpected side to the city – one you’ll find once you look beneath the historical heritage and focus on what Bath has to offer today.
I boarded the train at Paddington on a particularly gorgeous, summer day. The sun was shining in a very un-London-like manner and, as the countryside landscapes blurred when the train picked up speed, I smiled at the thought of the adventures ahead.
The first stop, following a quick stroll through the city centre, (I couldn’t help but stop every couple of minutes to take photos of all the beautiful Georgian buildings!), was Electric Bear – a microbrewery with a bold, modern take on beer. I’m not much of a beer fan so I was a bit skeptical, but you can’t really say no to coffee-flavoured stout, especially when the ingredients include chocolate and toffee!
Following a sunshine-filled lunch at the lovely Lockbrook Inn and an ice cream break at Swoon Gelato, we went on to explore the city before enjoying a bit of wine tasting at Le Vignoble. Located inside a gorgeous Georgian building in the upmarket quarter of the city, the wine lounge combines a restaurant/bar with wine tasting classes.
A few glasses of wine later, once we felt appropriately tipsy…er, educated, it was time to grab a quick dinner at Framptons, right by the famousPulteney Bridge. Make sure to stop by if you’re ever in Bath. The dark oak floors and grand fireplaces coupled with delicious food make it a lovely place to enjoy in the evening.
The highlight of the day was a little paddle boarding adventure with Original Wild. As someone dangerously accident-prone, I was slightly concerned about how this may turn out but luckily, I managed to stay on the board rather than underneath it, and happily paddled away into the sunset!
The paddleboarding session started right at the wake of the golden hour, when the buildings and bridges surrounding the river turned the prettiest shades of yellow. At only £15/hour, it’s a real treat!
UNEXPECTEDYLY AFFORDABLE ACCOMMODATION
Last but not least – the accommodation! Now, this really took me back as we stayed at The Quads – one of the student accommodation blocks at the University of Bath. Catering to first-year undergrads, the dorms turn into a hotel during the summer months, with rooms starting at just £50/night!
I was very lucky back in my undergrad days, as my dorms were brand new, however, I still remember the horrors of visiting the accommodation of my not-so-lucky friends, (think windows missing glass and rooms that haven’t seen a lick of paint since the 60s). As I quickly found out, The Quad complex couldn’t be further away from the gory images.
A modern contrast to historical Bath, the complex is only four years old. Each room is complete with a TV (which immediately made me question my accommodation choices back in my student days), mood lights (I mean…) and a private ensuite bathroom (a luxury I never had the chance to experience as a student!).
Not only that, The Quad complex is part-catered (a stark contrast to my memories of microwaved pizza from Tescos). There’s also Limetree – a lovely canteen space just a few minutes down the road. The food there is just wonderful, and the cafe caters to those who rent a room over the summer.
READY TO DISCOVER THE UNEXPECTED?
With Bath only 90min away from London by train via Great Western Railway, and a short drive away from Bristol, there’s really no reason why you shouldn’t explore what this gorgeous city has to offer. If you do end up visiting, I’d love for you to let me know what you got up to in the comments!