Irish Abroad: Top 10 Irish Foods We Miss

30 Oct

Lately I have really been craving various Irish foodstuffs that I simply cannot get here. I decided to ask my wide range of expat friends (who now live in Canada, Dubai, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Poland, Japan and Myanmar/Burma and many more exotic locations) what Irish food they missed the most while living abroad and the following were the Top 10 answers! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any more good suggestions. :)

Number 10: A decent pint of Guinness

In fact this isn’t limited to Guinness, more Irish drinks in general which you often can’t get abroad. A decent Guinness, a pint of Beamish or Murphys, and an ice-cold bottle of Bulmers Light (for those watching the calories!) are the top contenders on the list of most missed alcoholic beverages. Along with Buckfast Abbey, that is.

While Korea does have a good choice of local alcohol ranging from low quality beer to a cheap distilled beverage known as Soju ( top selling alcohol brand in the world!!) and delicious rice wine called Makeoili, none of these will ever live up to a good Irish pint.

A good pint

A good pint

Number 9: Clonakilty Black Pudding

Clonakilty Black Pudding is a staple food item in houses all over Cork, and Ireland. Black Pudding , and the sausages, bacon, eggs, beans and toast which go with it, can cure any hangover no matter how bad and are not only eaten for Breakfast but can be easily transformed into a Gourmet Lunch or Dinner should the need arise!

There is NOTHING that comes even close to replacing Clonakilty Black Pudding here in Korea. Eating rice and spicy cabbage (Kimchi) to cure my hangover just doesn’t quite do the trick!

Mmm Black Pudding

Mmm Black Pudding

Number 8: Chicken Fillet Roll from Spar 

One of the biggest things I crave from back home is the humble ‘chicken fillet roll’ made up for you in a matter of seconds and found in every deli in the country. The fact that nearly every shop has a Deli, and that there is a shop on nearly every corner in every town, makes the lunch time experience back home a blissful experience!

When it comes to lunch time choices in South Korea, the choices are pretty limited and far from appealing! Most food is deep friend and if on a rare occasion it is not, my lunch time choice are limited to a variety of dishes made with rice, spicy cabbage and spam. No thank you!

The infamous Chicken Fillet Roll

The infamous Chicken Fillet Roll

Number 7: McCambridge Brown Bread

I think most Irish people will agree with me when I say that there is no better brown bread that McCambridge Brown Bread. Be it for toast in the morning, or sandwiches at lunch time or with soup in the evening, nothing beats a few slices of McCamdridge!

Here is Korea they seriously lack good bread, which is a bit of a mystery given the fact that there is a bakery to be found on almost every corner. In Ireland, bread is pretty much part of our staple diet where-as in Korea it is more of a treat or a luxury thus all the bread, and bread products are sickly sweet and could never be used the way they should be….to make a decent sandwich!

Best bread in the world!

Best bread in the world!

Number 6: Ballymaloe Relish

The relish SO famous, they sent it to space. Enough said.

Ballymaloe Relish

Ballymaloe Relish

Number 5: Cadburys Chocolate

No matter what country, no matter what continent, no place does a chocolate bar like Ireland. Ireland has the biggest selection of delicious milk chocolate, available in every shop, on every street corner, in every town (similar to the infamous deli counter!) and no amount of Hersheys, Peanut Butter cups or whatever other bizarre chocolate is on offer around the world will ever compete with this! Be it a Dairy Milk, a box of Heo’s or a tin of Roses at Christmas, nothing beats Cadburys chocolate.

Pure chocolatey goodness

Pure chocolatey goodness

Number 4 : Tayto Crisps

By sure Ireland’s favorite crisp. You just can’t beat a salt and vinegar crisp sandwich or opening up a packet of Cheese and Onions Taytos in the pub and sharing them with all around you. Soon enough, some other kind soul will return to the table with a new round of pints and another packer of delicious Tatyo crisps. And so it goes on…

In Korea we are given magical choice such as Wasabi flavour, Seaweed flavour and worst of all….Cuttlefish flavour. YUCK.

Tayto Crisps - Best crisps in the world

Tayto Crisps – Best crisps in the world

Number 3: Garlic Cheese Chips (and other Chipper Food!)

While many Irish expats will admit to always having a wide range of foods available to them late at night, ranging from 24 Hour McDonalds, late night pizza joints and Turkish Kebab stands lining the streets, we will also cry out for Garlic Cheese Chips at 3 O’ clock in the morning, yearning for those late night chippers back home! (KC’s chipper in Cork is so popular they have a Queue Camera on their website!)

Garlic Cheese Chips

Garlic Cheese Chips

Number 2: A Jumbo Breakfast Roll

A brilliant mixture between number 8 and number 9 on this list is the Jumbo Breakfast Roll, whereby us Irish have perfected the method of putting an entire Irish Breakfast into a  Cuisine de France bread roll. A favourite amoung early morning workers, Builders and college students, nothing beats a Jumo Breakfast Roll after a night on the town.

The Jumbo Breakfast Rolll

The Jumbo Breakfast Rolll

Number 1: Barry’s Tea

Stop an Irish person in the airport and ask them what’s in their suitcase and about 90% of them will admit to having packed a box of Barry’s Tea bags. Us Irish just can’t seem to survive without them. Ideally served with Irish milk (real dairy!!) and a spoonful of sugar, a cup of Barry’s Tea has many magical attributes and is the perfect start, middle and end to every day. Be it relaxing at home, gossiping with friends, skyping home to family or reading a good book, a cup of real Irish Tea is always the perfect companion.

Barry's Tea

Barry’s Tea

Top 10 Halloween Costume Ideas

17 Oct

If you are like me, you are probably pretty excited about Halloween (less than 2 weeks to go!) but are also a bit worried/confused/frustrated as you have no clue about what you are going to dress up as! Here are some ideas of topical costumes for Halloween 2013. Be warned though, it is HIGHLY possible that you will not be the only person wearing many of these costumes. The key is to put your own twist on the costume or how well you pull off the character. If you have any other novel ideas, please comment!

I have also included some online costume sites and some shops in Seoul where you can browse for costumes at the bottom of this post. Happy shopping! 

Number 10: Walter White/Heisenberg from Breaking Bad

This is an obvious choice considering the popularity of the show and the fact that it only ended a few weeks ago. There are countless different ways you could pull off this character, copying any one of his outfits from any of the 5 seasons. The easiest costume would be to copy walt when he wore a green apron and nothing else while cooking meth in his caravan-come-meth lab.

walt breaking bad costume

Number 9 : Korean K-Pop band ‘Crayon Pop’

You can’t live in Korea in 2013 and NOT know this K-Pop group. Their song, “Bar, Bar, Bar” has me jumping out of my seat and boping around the dance floor every time it comes on. My students sing it, all the bars play it, and no doubt every radio station in the country is sick of it by now. What makes the band unique and quirky, however, is their hilarious matching outfits in their music videos which include matching helmets. Grab a  group of friends this halloween and dress up like crayon pop…to get into character just bop around your bedroom/apartment with cheesy music in the background and you are good to go!

crayon pop halloween

Number 8: Miley Cyrus and her wacky VMA performance.

For this all you need is a giant foam hand, your hair in pig tails tied in a bun on top of your head and VERY skimpy beige under wear, preferable 1 size too tight for you. Sticking your tongue our like a sick giraffe is also compulsory for the duration of the festivities! Be warned…you may catch a cold or worse…

miley vma costume

Number 7: The Fox from “What does the fox say”

I think this would be a really funny costume especially considering the recent popularity of the song among expats in Korea and Koreans alike. There is an abundance of place to buy animal costumes in Korea, both online and in person, so you could either dress up as the fox alone or you could get a group together and pick a different animal each! Make a sign that says, “What does the fox say?!” or “Wa paw paw paw paw paw POW”and stick it to your back just in case people don’t get straight away who you are!

fox costume halloween

Number 6: Psy in his Gentlemen outfit

I admit most people are pretty sick of Psy by now and I know his second song “Gentlemen” did not catch on the way Gangnam style did internationally, but the song is still very popular here. This would be a real easy outfit to put together for a guy who already owns a suit and could be fun to play the character on the  night.

psy korea

 

 

Number 5: Korean School Boy/ Girl

This is the good old reliable. An easy costume that always looks pretty cool. All you need is clothes resembling a school uniform and a black “school girl” wig. That means a wig with a black bob hair cut and a fringe which is pretty much the hair cut of every single middle school or high school student in Korea. If you want to stand out, you could always be a ZOMBIE Korean school girl by adding some scars and some fake blood.

korean school girl

 

Number 4: Post Plastic Surgery costume.

With 1 in every 5 women in Korea admitting to have had some form of plastic surgery done, this seems like a pretty topical costume this Halloween. Sure, it might be a bit disturbing and a bit offensive, but most good costumes are! You can either buy a mask like the one below or play around with your make-up and see what you can come up with!

plastic surgery halloween mask

 

Number 3: A GIANT squid.

For some strange and unknown reason Koreans LOVE squid. As in they love squid the way most of the rest of the world loves chocolate! My students waltz into my classroom day in day out with a packet of vile smelling squid in their hands munching away as if its the best treat in the world. The smell alone is enough to make me want to vomit, let alone eat the stuff! In honour of this overly popular snack food, why not dress like a giant squid for Halloween. Heck, if you copy this woman you can even make a squid look sexy!

sexy-squid-costume-w352

 

Number 2: Dress like your favourite Korean beverage!

Be in Cass, Hite or Soju, why not get creative next week and try make your own costume that resembles a giant beer can or giant Soju bottle. I bet you won’t find too many other people with the same costume as you, that’s for sure! One Halloween I saw a guy who looked like he had escaped/ran away from hospital and he was still attached to a drip. However instead of water or blood, the plastic bag feeding into him was attached to a bottle of soju and a bowl of Kimchi. Classic Korean costume and the best of the night by far!

soju

 

Number 1: Government Shutdown Costume

This one is obviously for all you Americans out there. Granted it seems your wonderful Government has actually decided to open for business again today but I still think this is way too good a costume idea to blow off that easily. There are so many slants you could take on this be it dressing up as national monuments, politicians sleeping, Obama on vacation…and many more! Make yourself a funny “Closed for Business” sign and Hey Presto, you have yourself a pretty awesome and very topical halloween costume for 2013!

government shutdown costume

 

 

Where to start looking for your costume: The best place is on this Korean fancy dress website but failing that there are also costume stores in Hongdae and Gangnam where you can browse freely until you find the perfect outfit!

How To Monetize Your Travel Photos – The Lowdown

15 Oct travayl mobile travel app

travel richer
I have been blogging for almost 5 years, but until now have never successfully been able to find a way to make money from my blog.

Sure I have been offered numerous, and sometimes attractive, monetary packages. But as with everything in life, with the good comes the bad. In order to get the cash, I would have to display some seriously ugly adverts in a prominent position on my homepage, and the adverts would be by far-from-ideal companies such as Casinos and Penis enlargers! Thanks, but no thanks.

I have also been contacted by PR agencies who are willing to write guest posts on my blog, which will include subtle links to extremely irrelevant products, in return for some cash. Again, I was not willing to lose readers and fans, who I knew would probably hate the ‘Guest articles’, just to make a quick buck. Thanks, but no thanks.

I have been offered free press trips to various luxury hotels, from Scotland to Ibiza, and while everyone LOVES a free trip, it always seemed to be a destination at the other side of the world from where I currently was. Oh, and often the flights were not even included! Also, no remuneration was involved. Thanks, but no thanks. I have had companies try to send me products, like travel towels and gadgets, extensions for GoPro cameras or some sort of protein shakes. As all were totally and utterly irrelevant to this blog, I said (yes, you guessed it!!) – Thanks, but no thanks!!

So the question is, How am I supposed to make money from my blog?

travayl mobile travel app

Travayl.com appears to be the answer…at least for bloggers with a great collection of travel photos. The site, which is a social travel platform that is a mix between ‘Tripadvisor’ and ‘Instagram’, hopes that travelers will come to the site, be inspired by the large collection of travel photos and will continue on to book flights, hotels and holidays. The site will even tell you how long it takes to get from country A to country B, how much the taxi, flight, train etc will cost and where are the best places to stay once there. All the hard work is done for you, you just have to sit back and enjoy the view! 

Sound’s pretty good, right? RIGHT! But how can I, the blogger, make money from this lovely concept? Well right now the site is looking to partner with bloggers from all over the world. Before they launch the website to the public and the media in 2 months, they need as many travel bloggers and photographers as possible to sign up, create a profile, and upload all their incredible travel snaps.

Once the site is officially launched, people can browse through the photographs, search for hashtags that interest them, create ‘bucket-lists’ of the places they hope to go and can even book their holiday through the site. That’s where the $$$ comes in. If a user decides to book something after being inspired by your photograph, you will get a small cut. Every time a user decides to book something after looking at your travel pics, more money will come into your account. 

CHA-CHING!!

If you are a travel blogger like me and want to be a partner, sign up HERE.

If you’re just an armchair traveler and want to check out the site, you can do so HERE.

Hand Luggage Only – Packing like a Pro!

27 Jul

Tomorrow I set off on my longest solo backpacking trip thus far in my life – a 3 months trip that will take me from South Korea, to South East Asia to Australia and then back home to Ireland via London at the end of October. I have been looking forward to and planning this trip for months, but in typical Janet fashion…I always end of packing my bag last-minute. It’s currently 7pm here in Korea, and I’m heading out for one last Korean BBQ dinner with some close friends in an hour. That means I have minimal time to get my bags packed and get started with the epic task of cleaning and clearing out my apartment before getting on my one way flight to Bangkok tomorrow morning.

I’m not too worried to be honest. All my friends here know that I’m a pretty quick and light packer – just give me 10 minutes to throw some stuff in my sturdy little backpack and I’m ready to go! Usually for weekend trips, I only bring one small rucksack and for longer trips overseas I bring my 10-year-old 60-70 liter backpack which has been to over 30 countries with me! This time, however, I have set myself a challenge. I am attempting to pack everything I could possibly need for my 3 month trip into my tiny weekend rucksack and I’m going to document this challenge right here, in this blog post!

Okay so the first thing I did was to empty my wardrobe. I realized, despite shipping home 15kg of clothes and shoes, I still had WAY too many bits and pieces left behind. I had to be very firm with myself and anything that there is even a SLIGHT chance of me not wearing was not allowed to come along on the adventure. ESSENTIALS ONLY JANET!! I really wanted to bring my curling iron but NO that got put in the ‘stuff to be sent home’ box. ALong with my old laptop, 4 very pretty dresses, 2 extra ‘just in case’ pairs of shoes, a huge make-up bag, a GIANT beach towel (nobody’s got room for that!) and many other things that simply do not need to come with me. After all, I really don’t need very much when backpacking through South East Asia, especially considering the temperature is rarely going to drop below 30’c for the entire trip!

Anyway, here is everything that was left on my bed, post wardrobe cull! As you can see from the picture, there’s still quite a lot left.

packing like a pro

 

Here is a list of exactly what I plan to pack – the next challenge is fitting it all into 1 small bag!!

  • 12 t-shirts.
  • 4 summer dresses
  • 2 jumpers
  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 bikinis
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • 4 bras
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • A headband
  • A wash bag with shampoo, conditioner, face wash, cleanser, toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Face Wipes
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 1 small Body Shop perfume oil – sweet scent lasts all day
  • A few basic make-up items such as Mac and Bare Minerals Powder, 1 mascara and 1 lipstick.
  • 1 hair brush
  • 1 deodorant
  • 1 pair of flips flops
  • 1 pair of Vans shoes for walking/sightseeing whatever else
  • 1 documents folder with all my flight info/visa applications/hostel bookings etc
  • 1 book (Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer – one of my favorites!)
  • 1 small box of photos given to me by my best buddy here in Korea…to make me smile!
  • Passport, wallet and other essentials!

STEP 1: Lay everything very flat in the back section (usually designed to carry a laptop!)

2014-07-27 18.36.40Step 2: All of my make-up and any smaller items can be squashed into the small front pocket!

2014-07-27 18.39.50Step 3: Neatly pack everything else into the bag – it’s a tight squeeze but hopefully it will all fit!!

 

2014-07-27 18.40.04Step 4: Put all my most important and valuable items into my handbag (passport, wallet, book etc!)

 

2014-07-27 18.42.09

And…I’m all set for my 3 month backpacking adventure!2014-07-27 18.42.49

 

All Aboard The Koreana – Tall Ship Sailing Cruise

30 Jun

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend the weekend cruising on ‘The Koreana’, a Korean Tall Ship capable of sleeping almost 50 people. The trip was organized by WinK Travels, and included two days cruising around the Southern coast of Korea and stopping off on 2 islands along the way. One of these islands is famous for dinosaur footprints and the other is famous for being the home a of makgoli (korean rice wine) factory. It was hard to know which one more people were excited about, as they were both equally exciting!

We set off early on Saturday morning, just after sunrise, armed with a few changes of clothes, some water and enough food and drink to keep us merry (and some) for the duration of the trip. We were told there would be no stores to buy stuff in along the way so it was important to come well prepared.

climbing crows nest

dog on a boat

After a few hours of cruising, making new friends and breaking open a few bottles of champers, 10am had arrived and we were set to make our first stop at the Makgoli Island. Sadly, due to the low tide, the ship’s captain said it was not possible for us to dock as the water was too low. Fear not, said our incredible trip leader William Cho, as he had a mighty plan in place.

No doubt in any other country, or if you were with any other travel group, the leaders probably would have apologized for the inconvenience and sailed onwards towards the next destination. Instead, the Captain phoned ahead to the Makgoli Factory to order 3 crates of wine. After less than 20 minutes waiting, a small fishing boat pulled up alongside us and the good people handed us crate after crate of delicious rice wine. It was equally hilarious and amazing, as they were laughing and us and taking photos and we were inevitably doing the exact same thing to them.

crows nest view

william cho

It was almost 10.30am and the party was about to get started! We pumped up the music (thanks Ryan for that epic playlist!), sang along to classics such as ‘I’m on a boat’, and had a full on game of Kings Cup completed before noon. An unbeatable start to a great weekend.

Our next stop was at an island famed in Korea for its dinosaur footprints along the coastline, and in case anyone should forget this, they had two HUGE, almost life-size T-REX dinosaurs welcoming tourists to the island. The view sailing in was a true sight to behold…especially now that quite a few bottles of wine had been consumed.

group on boat

dinosaurs statues

Despite the weather changing, ponchos and rain covers appearing, and it becoming quite chilly, nothing could put a damper on everyone’s high spirits and following a delicious lunch on board the ship, everyone started jumping, leaping and swinging from the boat into the surprisingly warm waters. This was an activity that was repeated throughout the weekend, including a sneaky swim around midnight when the rained had finally cleared.

pirate jump

jump

pirates jumping ship

We spent Saturday night docked on the ‘dinosaur island’, where we were treated to a delicious Korean BBQ which was followed by salsa dancing lessons on the pier, sing songs and countless drinking games both new and old.

We also watching in awe as the Captain and his first mate impressed us with their fishing skills, catching an array of colorful marine life from an Octopus, to a multi-coloured starfish. One of my friends was even brave enough to try out some raw fish, hand fed to her by the Captain himself! I think it’s capturing moments like that, and having those memories and interactions with locals, that make trips like this so special. He may not have spoken a word of English, but somehow, after a few drinks, we all seem to have a common language involving hand gestures and smiles.

starfish

captain

captain fish

 

While some brave folk decided to venture off and sleep on the island, with some even choosing to find shelter at the feet of the two enormous dinosaurs, most people found a bunk bed on the ship, and cosied up there for the night where we were gently rocked to sleep.

We woke up on Sunday,surprisingly hangover free, to the smell of toasted bagels and freshly brewed coffee. Shortly after, we set sail again, and soon the sun was shining, the sound of Jack Johnson’s sweet, sweet voice was filling the air and everyone was nothing but content. We eventually made in to the Makgoli island where we were treated to freshly cooked corn-on-the-cob…picked fresh from the owners garden that morning.We were also treated to not one, but two classic rides in the back of pick up trucks to save us from walking the long up-hill stroll back to the ship. Zooming past groups of Korean hikers while about 15 of us waygooks (foreigners) were crammed into the back of a pick-up truck was a pretty hilarious sight.

 

getting a ride

tall ship sailing cruise 1

All in all, it really was a magical weekend and I would highly recommend anyone living in Korea to jump at the chance to spend a weekend pretending to be pirates onboard the beautiful Koreana.

The Importance of Travel Insurance

13 Jun

Have you ever gone on a trip overeas and forgotten to buy travel insurance? Or, as in many cases, have you ever gone on a trip overseas and failed to buy travel insurance on purpose just so you could save a few pennies?

Have you any idea the risk you are taking, the possible burden you are putting on your family and how a small accident could ruin your entire trip, your future plans and any financial stability you might have had?! Not having travel insurance could literally ruin your life.

The-importance-of-travel-insurance

Personally, thanks to my Dad drilling in the impotance of travel and health insurance from a very young age, I have never left my home country without insurance. Sure, sometimes I’ve left it to the day I’m traveling which has lead to near-on panic attacks , and once I even ran around Seoul Incheon airport in a panic looking for the Travel Insurance booth to insure I would be covered on a short weekend trip to Japan. I was fairly confident that looking around temples and stalking geishas was hardly going to land me in trouble but as cliched as it sounds…better safe than sorry!

If you add up the amount of money I have spent on travel insurance over the last decade, the figure might scare you. It certainly scares me and sometimes it can be hard not to look at it as ‘money down the drain’. That said whenever I feel unsure, I stop myself from thinking in this way and recall all the horror stories recounted to me by family members, close friends and fellow backpackers. Tales that would make your blood curl. Stories about near death experiences in Colombia, mororbike accidents in Vietnam, food poisoning in remote Nepal and leg injuries encountered in the Canadian Rockies. Storied of months spent in hospitals in Kathmandu and Bogota, being airlifted off mountains or even being transported by flatbed in an air ambulance from one country to another.
air ambulance

As awful as all of these experiences must have been, the people who had travel insurance had a lucky escape with some travel insurance companies having to foot a bill of almost a quarter of a million dollars. Other people were not so lucky. Lack of insurance can mean poor treatment in ill-equipped hospitals in developing countries or can mean footing a bill personally fo 20,000 dollars for that time you needed to be airlifted off a mountain in Switzerland just because you slipped on ice and broke your leg while hiking or having to foot a month long hospital bill in Cambodia after you contracted Malaria or a severe case of Typhoid on a 3 week backpacking trip of South East Asia.

Failing to buy travel insurance, means failing to prepare for the worst. While I understand nodoby wants to prepare for the worst, and nobody really wants to consider that they may end up in a hospital, or they may miss their connecting flight or that the airline might lose all their cherished possesions en route to their first vacation in 5 years… but these are all things you NEED to consider. Failing to do so, and should Murphy’s Law come into action as it usually does, your holiday, your bank balance and even your entire life as you know it can be ruined in seconds.

So, what are the benefits of forking out a few extra dollars for travel insurance before heading off on your next trip? Well there are many, which include but are not limited to, coverage for the following;

-Trip Cancellation
-Trip Interruption
-Lost Luggage
-Repeating University exams
-Emergency Medical Assistance
-Medical Evacuation
-Lost or Stolen personal items
-Missed Flights
-Personal Accident or Injury
-A Family Bereavement

When purchasing insurance make sure you read the small print so you know what is included and what isn’t. Many companies will charge a higher premium if you plan to do certain adventure sports such as snowboarding, rafting, mountain climbing etc. Make sure you pick the right package for your particular trip.

One last tip I would give is that if you think you will be making many small trips within the year, you are better off paying a larger lump sum and getting a 1 year package from a company in your home country than paying regular, small installments to some online travel insurance broker. It works out cheaper in the long run and is a lot less hassle.

If you have any questions or any advice on best companies to use, please leave a comment.

Happy Travels! :-)

 

My Top 10 Hostels Around The World

11 Jun

Having stayed in 100’s of hostels in over 40 countries and on 5 continents, I think it’s be about time I shared my top 10 favorite hostels. These gems are the type of places that were so good, so welcoming and so jam-packed with facilities (despite their rock bottom prices) that I would return to a country JUST to stay there again.

In no particular order, here are my TOP TEN hostels worldwide.

10. Away With The Fairies Backpackers, Hogsback Mountains, South Africa

snow south africa

This was one of my favorite places in South Africa. The name itself was enough to persuade me to leave the stunning South African coastline and make the trek inland and up into the Hogsback mountains. Perched high on a cliff-top overlooking three beautiful mountains, Away With The Fairies is the perfect place to escape for a few days, and ‘return to nature’. The greater area also happens to be the birthplace of famed writer J.R.R Tolkein and trekking through the many trails, waterfalls and scenic villages, it’s not difficult to see where he may have got his inspiration from. The rooms have names such as ‘Bilbo’ and ‘Frodo’ and the common room and dormitories are the most cosy and homely rooms I have ever stayed in.

outdoor bath hogsbackWhether you come in Winter or Summer, you will feel right at home in this backpackers. If you’re lucky enough to arrive in Winter, you might even get to see the area covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the hot summer months, there is an outdoor bath with the most incredible view of the surrounding countryside where you can cool off. A visit to this magical hostel is a MUST if you are ever visiting South Africa!

 

 

9. Reggae Mansion Hostel, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia

REGGAEMANSION

While many hostel names can be a little deceiving, Reggae Mansion in Kuala Lumpar is exactly what is says it is. It is an absolutely HUGE boutique backpackers hostel and besides the price and the fact that there are backpackers everywhere, it’s as far from a regular hostel as you can imagine.

reggae barEven looking at the hostel on arrival makes many people think, “Wow, what is this place?!” Then comes the vast range of facilities which include but are not limited to; A rooftop bar and tanning area, a cocktail bar, a restaurant serving delicious Malaysian and Western meals, dormitories where everyone has a double bed and their own private curtain and plug sockets, multiple areas to chill out and read and…a cinema. Yes, that’s right, this hostel has its own cinema on the property! They can also organize tours to just about anywhere, have nightly parties on the roof and take the guests out to many of the amazing restaurants and clubs KL has to offer. If you are looking for a place to stay in KL, look no further!!

 

8. Gili Hostel, Lombok, Indonesia

gili hostel

 

If you are traveling around Indonesia by yourself, The Gili Islands are THE place to go. If you are traveling to the Gili Islands by yourself, Gili Hostel is most definitely the place to go. It’s the only backpackers on the island and it is an absolute melting-pot of people each night.

gili-hostelSo famed are parties in Gili Hostel, mainly for their cheap as chips Vodka-Joss shots, that people who are staying in the islands other hotels make the effort to come over to the rooftop bar each night to party the night away. However, in true backpacking spirit (and to give many weary-eyed travelers a chance to sleep!) the bar closes at a respectable hour and all the patrons are brought as a group to one of the islands nightly parties! Besides being a great place to meet people, the hostel is mere meters from the crystal clear waters and the staff are happy to help you organize an array of trips such as scuba diving, snorkeling, sunset walks and more. The spacious dorms are kept spotless and always refreshingly cool, and the price is cheap enough that you may never want to leave!

 

7. South Coast Backpackers, Diani Beach, Kenya

south coast backpackers kenya

Their tagline is, “It’s not a business. It’s a house with a bar and a pool’ and honestly that is EXACTLY what it is. The property was once a luxurious villa, where only people who had more money than they knew what to do with could stay. After the violence and political unrest in Kenya, tourism was severely affected and many of the luxurious hotels near Mombassa were forced to close down. Their loss was our benefit, and by ‘our’ I mean backpackers the world over! This beautiful villa has been turned into a pseudo backpackers hostel but like the two owners say, really it’s just a beautiful house with a bar and pool. There’s even a personal chef who will cook you up whatever you like for breakfast!

Beach-Kenya-1125x784During low season, or if you stay mid-week, it’s possible to have the whole house and pool to yourself! During the weekend, however, backpackers, peace-corps workers and expats flock to this little piece of paradise to let off steam, enjoy the great ‘Happy Hour’ deals at the poolside bar and soak up the sun. The guys who work there are super laid back and full of incredible travel tales. They can also organize a variety of trips for you and will be sure to remind you that despite the fact that you may not want to leave their property, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kenya is only a 400 meter walk away! Kenya is very lacking on decent hostels so if you are traveling in this region and are craving a ‘true backpackers experience’, this is the place to go.

6. Frendz Hostel, Boracay, Philippines

the-view-from-the-frendz

Talk to anyone who has been to Boracay and there are two common themes that they all talk about. The fact that you simply must stay at Frendz Resort and that you must, must, must do the Boracay Pub Crawl! I’m not sure if they are connected but they both have the same mission, ‘Turn strangers into friends!’.

frendz-guesthouse-lounge-boracay-philippinesFrendz Hostel is literally meters away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Do a quick google search of ‘Boracay’ and you will know what I’m talking about! While there is nothing too special about the dorms or the common area (there’s a bar, a large table to eat or chat at, a pool table and they have private deck chairs on the beach for guests to use) it’s really the people who make this place so special. Everyone who stays here is dying to make new friends, party all night long and find a fun group of people to go exploring the island with. I would especially recommend this hostel is you are traveling solo to the Philipines and while you’re at it, sign yourself up to the Boracay Pub Crawl. Fun guaranteed!

 

5. Kimchi Guesthouse, Hongdae, Korea

hongdae lights

After almost 2 years in Korea and countless weekends staying in various hostels around Seoul, Kimchi Guesthouse in Hongdae remains one of my favourites. The rooms are spacious but cosy (an essential during the cold, Korean Winter!), the staff are friendly and welcoming and best of all, the hostel is only a hop, skip and a jump from the most-happening party district in Korea.

kimchi guesthouseWhen it comes to a place to stay, it often comes down to ‘location, location, location’, and Kimchi Guesthouse seems to have got this spot on. It’s in a quiet enough street that you can go to bed early if needed but also close enough to Seoul’s vibrant nightlife district that you could walk home alone and not feel concerned for your safety. My friends and I have probably stayed in over 10 hostels in and around this district of Seoul but this one is a firm favorite.

 

4. Fawlty Towers Backpackers, Livingstone, Zambia

victoria_falls

If you want to visit  Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the worlds, and don’t want to fork out hundreds of dollars to stay in one the limited hotel accommodation options in the area, Fawlty Towers is the place for you. You can’t really go wrong with a large backpackers just minutes away from the Zambian/Zimbabwean border , located in the small town of Livingstone which is now known as the ‘Adrenaline Junkie Capital of Africa!’ Bungee jumping, rock climbing, abseiling, white water rafting, gorge swings, micro lights flights and walking safari’s are just some of the nail-biting activities on offer.

fawlty towers backpackersIn the hostel itself there’s a bar, a large swimming pool with deck/lounge chairs and the dorms are fully equipped with much-needed mosquito nets and fans! This spot is also a great meeting spot to connect with other travelers as it is very close to the point where the Tazara Train (that runs from Tanzania to Zambia) ends and thus is a melting pot of backpackers, some having traveled all the way down through Northern and Eastern Africa while others are just beginning their adventure North.

 

3. Friendly Fun Franks, Riga, Latvia

Riga-Latvia

Any hostel that gives it’s guests a free beer before they have even fully checked in will always be held in high esteem by me. Voted Best Hostel in the World by users of Hostelworld.com a few years ago, staying here was one of the best experiences I have had in Europe. Not many people think of going on holidays to Latvia, but when a group of friends and I found cheap flights to Riga a few years back, booking this hostel for the duration of our stay was one of the best decisions we ever made.

friendly-fun-franks-backpackerLocated in central Riga and overlooking the Daugava river, on which many locals (and some brave tourists!) can be seen skating across during the winter months, the hostel is in a great location. The common room is both large and comfortable (and adorned with many certificates of praise received by the hostel!) and the bar, which they open at all sorts of crazy hours to meet demand, is the perfect spot to unwind with other travelers. The staff, however, are what made this place truly special. I’m not sure who Frank is, and he may not even be all that friendly, but he sure knows how to hire some of the most helpful, beautiful and friendly staff on the planet! Throughout our stay, they showed us all around the city, brought us to new bars and clubs each night, and booked us on all sorts of wacky adventures such as shooting AK47’S in old Russian Bunkers and sending us to some quaint town where we could go sledding! By the end of our one-week vacation, we had made many lifelong friends and I had a new hostel to add to my list of favorites.

2. Nomads Hostel, Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown_in_Winter

 

This hostel was one the most amazing places I have ever stayed. It was one of those times when even your super high expectations for a destination are exceeded and you just know that you have picked THE best place in stay. The hostel itself is huge but what makes it great is that they have an ample amount of facilities for everyone. There are lounge chairs everywhere, the dorms have balconies and there are tons of computers for guests to use. The dorms are spacious, and if you have the cash to splash out on a private room you might even think you are in a top hotel rather than a cheap hostel.

960_960_sauna-queenstownThe people working and staying here are super social, and as you are allowed to drink in the hostel, it is a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers without having to go out on the town and spend lots of money. They organize lots of nights out including a 10 dollar pub crawl and can also organize a variety of tours, adventures, flights and adrenaline pumping activities to fill your days and empty your wallet! Also, did I mention there’s a sauna?! Madness. If I ever go back to New Zealand, this will be the first place on my list! 

 

 

1. Buccaneers Backpackers, Cintsa, South Africa

buccaneers-lodge-backpackers

Honestly, I could probably write a full bog post on hostels in South Africa as there are so many great spots! I was going back and forth for the last hour deciding whether to include one of the hostels I stayed in while traveling in Australia or to include a second South African hostel. In the end, I had to stay true to myself, and this gem of a Backpackers on the wild coast of South Africa wins the last spot! The hostel is really rustic and the views of the beach below are spectacular!

buccaneersThey can organize horse back riding along the beach, daily surfing lessons or weekly surf camps and their poolside parties are out of this world. It’s a strange place as it feels like you are escaping the hustle and bustle and getting back to nature but at the same time it’s such a popular spot that you are bound to meet rakes of other backpackers while staying here. Sometimes it is hard to pinpoint the precise reasons why a hostel is great, you just get a feeling while staying there that you never really want to leave and be it 1 year or 10 years since your last stay, it is a place that will always stay in your memory. For me, Buccaneers is one of those places. :)

How To Book Cheap Flights – A Guide to Skyscanner

10 Jun

A lot of people regularly ask me how I always seem to find the cheapest flights to the places I plan on traveling to, so I thought I would write a quick post about one of my favourite booking websites – SkyScanner.

Tip 1 – Search regularly

I browse SkyScanner as often as most internet addicts browse Reddit or 9Gag…let’s just say I spend an obscene amount of time on the site and am always ready to grab any cheap deals which interest me. In fact, my addiction to skyscanner and browsing flights to exotic destinations at bizarre times throughout the night recently led me to booking a flight in my sleep! When I woke up in the morning I had an email confirmation from SkyScanner with a booking reference number for a 1 way flight to Thailand! Turns out I must have half woken in the middle of the night and found a flight from Seoul, Korea to Bangkok for less than 100 euro – a bargain, in my sleepy trance, that I simply could not refuse!

Searching for flights on a regular basis would probably be my first tip to those looking for flights – always be on the look-out. Many budget airlines like Air Asia and Ryanair hold last-minute sales that are only available for 48 hours so if you don’t always have one eye on the prize, you will risk missing out.

Tip 2 – Delete those cookies!

Did you know many popular booking websites, including skyscanner, will increase the price of the flights if they know the specific flights you are looking for. Every time you refresh, you may notice the flight price sky-rocketing. You may think, “Oh Crap – If I had booked 10 minutes ago I would have got that deal.” or “Damn, someone booked the flight I wanted and now only the expensive seats are left!”. Wong, wrong, wrong. The airline knows what you want, knows the days you want to fly and each search you type in is being saved and used against you. Each time you log on to SkyScanner, make sure to delete the cookies on your computer. This way, only the cheapest flights will appear and you won’t get tricked into thinking the best deals have already been taken. This simple trick could save you hundreds of dollars!

cookies delete skyscanner

Tip 3 – Never book flights at the weekend

I’m not talking about the day you FLY, I’m talking about the day you actually sit in front of the computer and SEARCH for your flight. Did you know that the cheapest days to book flights are Tuesdays and Thursdays? The airlines release new seats on these days and often there are lots of great bargains to be found. The most expensive time to look for flights is at the weekends because that is when most people have free time and start to plan vacations. Airlines know this and thus hike the price of flights at the weekends. Goodness, they’re a sneaky lot. (Note: this doesn’t ALWAYS apply, see example below, so make sure to play around with your days and dates to find the best option for you).

skyscanner prices

Tip 4 – Be Flexible

Similar to Tip number 3, there are also cheaper days and cheaper dates to fly. Some of these are obvious such as flying on September 11th, Christmas Day or New Years Eve. 3 days that most people in the Western world really, really, REALLY don’t want to travel on. Other days include Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I mean, nobody really wants to leave for a vacation on a Tuesday, do they? If you are willing to fly on these unpopular days, you are guaranteed to find much cheaper flights. On SkyScanner, there is an option to click WHOLE MONTH when choosing the dates you wish to fly. When you pick this option, the website will tell you the cheapest dates to fly.

Skyscanner-flights-search1

Tip 5: Go EVERYWHERE

Not fussed where you go, as long as you get out of  your home country for a few days? Skyscanner will be your new best friend. Whenever I want to go away for a long weekend in Korea, I click the option from Seoul to EVERYWHERE. This means that SkyScanner will tell you the cheapest cities and countries to fly to on the specific dates you are free. Using this great feature has landed me in the Philippines earlier this year and on a solo trip to Japan in October last year. Use this feature, and use it often, and soon you will be traveling to more countries than you ever dreamed possible!

skyscanner-cheap-flights-results

 

Tip 6 – Switch Browsers

I was told recently that flight prices can increase or decrease depending on the browser you are using. Apparently the browser you use can be linked to the computer you own and this can be linked to what kind of income you earn/your social class. For example, if you search for flights using Safari, then you must be a Mac user and are deemed to have more money than someone using Firefox or Chrome. I just did a search using both Safari and Chome, at the exact same time, to test out this method and sadly it did not seem to make a difference. That said, you never know, so no harm in trying, eh?

If anyone has any more tips about booking cheap flights, please leave a comment!

 

 

“I’m not getting in the car!” – A Half Marathon Abduction

9 Jun

When I signed up to run my first ever Half Marathon in Korea, I never imagined I would find myself limping along a motorway, having ran consistently for 18km, suddenly being shouted at my some strange Korean man telling me to get into his car. No, that was definitely not how I imagined my first half marathon would go.

Many of you reading this blog will probably get a good laugh out of this post. Many of you know me pretty well, and know I’m not *exactly* the athletic type. While I’m ashamed to admit it, the type of marathons I’m associated with involve either sitting on the couch and watching 10 episodes of ‘Criminal Minds’ back-to-back or heading out with friends for a marathon drinking session. Like I said, this is not something I’m proud of but it is the truth!

For Lent this year, despite not being in the slightest bit religious, I decided it was about time I followed in the footsteps of my Dad and gave up alcohol. How hard could it be to not drink for 40 days and 40 nights?! Actually, considering I included all the Sundays, it was actually a 46 days…and while the first few weeks were killer it really wasn’t AS hard as I thought it would be overall. Just don’t EVER make me do another Paddy’s Day sober!

In order to keep myself on track, I signed up to run a Half Marathon in Seoul on March 30th. I’m not entirely sure if I decided to give up alcohol so that I could get fit enough to run the Half Marathon or if I signed up to the Half Marathon to ensure I stayed off alcohol! Either way, the plan worked!

first 10km group pic

With Aiden, Lauren and Tammy having ran our first 10km race of the year!

After months of training in the gym, and completing a few 10km races with some friends, March 30th was fast approaching  and I was slightly terrified. I originally thought the cut off time was 3 hours (and while I know that seems like an awful lot of time to established runners, to me it just about made the race seem ‘doable’!) but the week before I was notified that you must finish in under 2 hours and 30 minutes or you will be thrown off the course. I wasn’t quite sure how they would ‘throw people off the course’ but this scared me even none-the-less! In the lead up to the race, another hurdle was thrown at me when my training  buddy dropped out as she felt she was unable to complete the race in time.

I started to get cold feet. “Nobody would know I didn’t run it”, I thought. “Nobody would really care”. However, at the end of the day, I knew I had put the hard work in, had trained (relatively) hard, and had been sober for over  a month. If this was ever going to happen, NOW was the time!

My friend Lauren and I stayed in a jimjilbang the night before the race, which meant we ended up getting only a few hours sleep on the hard floor of a sauna which was packed with Korean families, old men who snored all night long, and the annoying buzzing of a Korean TV channel  showing the news on repeat.

We woke up early, but not exactly fresh-faced, and headed to the Kintex Stadium in Ilsan where the race was being held. Nerves really started to set in on the walk to the stadium, as we saw all the Koreans kitted out in professional running gear. Not only were we the only foreigners, but it seemed we were also the only women! We had a sudden moment of panic that maybe it was an all-mens marathon but worry soon drifted away once we saw an assortment of middle-aged Korean women stretching and preparing for the race. Besides a scattering of Korean soldiers running as a group, I feel we may have been the youngest runners there. Not that this made me feel much better, in fact if anything it made me feel worse. People twice my age were going to be running past me and laughing, and there was nothing I could do about it.

peace marathon

The day the race pack arrived…it even had my name on it. There was no turning back now!

For the first 6 or 7km of the race, I stuck with a group of people who were aiming to finish the Marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes. There was a man with a big balloon attached to his backpack with the time written on it, so presumably if you stuck at his pace for the entire race you would finish around the 2.15 mark. Turns out that was over-ambitious on my part and my the 8th kilometer I was running with the 3.30 group, a group that may well have been first-timers.

We were the group at the back, and behind us there was maybe 10-15 stragglers. Behind them was something that scared us all. Each time I glanced back, it seemed to be gaining speed. It kept getting closer, hovering over us like some sort of evil villain. It was of course ‘The Timer Bus’. This wicked bus followed the race and if anyone, anyone at all, falls to the back of the pack and behind the bus…BOOM you get thrown on the bus and are disqualified from the race. At various stages throughout the race, I came dangerously close to this bus, and every time it crept up behind me I wanted to cry. There was no way I had run this far to drop out and spend the last hour following the rest of the runners on a bus!

I reached the 10km mark in about 1 hour and 5 minutes, and was delighted with this time as it was my fastest 10km to date. I also had a renewed source of energy at the 11km mark, as it meant I was on the home straight. There were 2-3 water stops along the way (not enough in my opinion!!) and 1 food/snack stop. I was so far behind the majority of the runners, however, that by the time I reached the ‘snack stop’ just before the 15km mark, all the food was gone. All that remained was empty cereal bar wrappers and banana peels scattered across the road. DEVASTATED.

At this stage the creepy bus was coming really close to me, and few of the people I had been running with early on had already been forced off the course and onto the dream-wrecker of a bus. I tried to push myself, and fasten the pace, but my energy levels were falling rapidly. The internet on my phone had stopped working and the only song that was loaded was The Proclaimers ‘500 Miles’…so that’s pretty much what I listened to on repeat for the last 6 kilometers of the race. Could have been worse, I guess. 

lauren and i

Lauren and I before the race

By the 18th kilometer I was really struggling, and the bus was ramming right up my behind. At the speed I was going (a slow jog) I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to complete the race in the alloted time. In fairness, the longest run I had ever done before this was 10km, so to get this far was an achievement in itself. No matter what, I told myself, even if I have to walk or crawl the last 3km, I will NOT give up! By muscles ached, my stomach rumbled, my face was the colour of a lobster and my ears started to hurt from listening to the same upbeat song on repeat for the past hour!!

And that is the precise moment that some stranger pulled up beside me and started trying to get me into his car! I was towards the back of the group, all us stragglers sticking together, and this guy starts shouting at me in Korean. He was kind of swerving in front of me, determined to get me to stop. I just pretended not to see him, looked dead straight ahead, and kept pushing my body to run. He would not go away though and soon he started shouting at me in broken English saying, ‘Time’s up. You cannot finish. Get into this car. Get in’. Ehhhh not a chance in hell was I getting in that car. I did not run 18km to give up now. He was super persistent though and drove along side me for the next kilometer shouting intermittently in Korean and English. He finally got the hint that nothing he could say or do would get me into his car and eventually drove off to pester some other runners.

I’m happy to say, despite a wickedly steep hill towards the end, and almost losing my motivation in the final Kilometer, I successfully finished my first Half Marathon in just over 2 hours and 35 minutes and have the medal, certificate and photos to prove it.

half marathon seoul

Tired but happy – first ever Half Marathon completed!

Lesson Learned: Never let anyone stop you from achieving your goals…you have nobody’s expectations to live up to but your own! 

 

 

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