Valentine’s Day at the Beach

Happy Valentine’s Day! As it’s #travelTuesday and Valentine’s Day, I thought I would combine the two and write a post dedicated to what my better half and I got up to, this time last year.

As you may or may not know, this time last year we were just beginning the Australian stint of our year abroad. By now, we would have been in the land down under for just under two weeks…yet we were still feeling the effects of the dreaded jet-lag! Hot days and heavy heads meant we’d just explored the city that I lived in, Sydney, so far. So, on Valentine’s Day, we took advantage of the Opal card travel-cap and went up to Nelson Bay, Port Stephens, for a wonderful couple of nights.

As mentioned, the Sunday travel-cap that Opal card have, meant that we travelled roughly 5 hours up New South Wales for just a couple of dollars! We went first to Newcastle (meant to be a train, but actually ended up being a bus replacement service), then got the bus to Nelson Bay. Yes, the journey was long (and hot), but boy it was worth it. Even on the way back to Sydney, the daily-cap Opal have meant our journey didn’t exceed around $15 – so cheap compared to UK transport fees!

Our accommodation, costing us £30 each for two nights, was a beautifully decorated one-bed ‘beach-house’, complete with Jacuzzi bathtub. It had its very own entrance leading down to the beach too. Perfect for a couple of nights of relaxation. In fact, we both admitted we could have definitely stayed there longer too.

Nelson Bay itself is a beautiful, relatively quiet place. Its main attraction is the beach and the nearby harbour, so there isn’t much to do beside lounging around and getting a tan…ideal for us anyway! However, a longer stay might have been slightly problematic without a car. The main centre has little to eat outside the realm of fatty fast-food, which is not really what you desire after a day spent in the sun, and not great for breakfast either. We managed to track down a very small (and very overpriced) supermarket, but that was around a 45 minute walk from our accommodation, so we could only go in the evening when it was cooler. Although, if you’ve got the money to rent a car, Nelson Bay would make a perfect week-long getaway from the hustle and bustle of nearby Sydney.

In all honesty, Nelson Bay was probably my most favourite place I visited during my time in Australia, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my boyfriend said the same thing too. Although we did little more than lay around on the beach and tan (read: burn), it was so peaceful and relaxing to get away from inner Sydney. Although, I did later realise how much I wasn’t a ‘big city girl’, so maybe this was simply a sign of things to come. As I sit at my desk this cold and rather dreary English February afternoon, I find myself wishing for the sound of waves, the feel of sand between my toes, and the heavy rays of sun beaming down on me…however cliché that may sound.

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Living with ‘Itchy Feet Syndrome’

I’ve recently realised that, although I write a lot about suffering with anxiety, depression, and other mental health related issues, thing I struggle the most with day-to-day is actually something much, much worse. Itchy feet syndrome.

For those not aware, itchy feet syndrome is the niggling feeling in the back of your brain that you need to go somewhere. It’s the excitement you get whenever Ryanair, Easyjet, or any other airline announce a sale. It’s the pure jealousy you have whenever someone on Facebook ‘checks in’ to an airport or hotel. It’s calculating how much of your weekly earnings (or student loan, in my case!) you can afford to spend on a trip abroad, even though ‘you’ve only just come back from [insert exotic destination here]’.

Basically, it’s just always wanting to be somewhere. Anywhere. Now.

It plagues even the most rookie travellers – as once the travel-bug bites, there’s no going back. Once you’ve experienced your first true taste of freedom, you’re immediately eager to get back, to explore another place, to be rid of the daily grind.

I’d say I spend at least 20 minutes a day checking holiday sites, looking up things to do in planned trips, and just generally daydreaming about a tropical beach. Honestly, this illness really is quite constrictive! Sufferers may also find themselves in a momentary time-lapse, realising that after what they thought was just a few minutes flicking through said sites, it’s really been three hours…or more.

Sadly, there is no cure for this tragic disease. Even when itchy-feet sufferers do go ahead and book that holiday and take the trip, they find that even after a few days (hours in some cases) the telltale symptoms of wistfully wishing you were transported back, yet again arise. Unlike the ‘holiday blues’, these feelings continue indefinitely, until said user takes flight again…or at least books another flight.

Ultimately though, itchy feet syndrome is one of those things that keeps travellers going. It’s what makes someone into a true, seasoned traveller, and creates the magical feeling that is ‘wanderlust’. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s definitely a feeling that I couldn’t live without.

 

Should you Travel with Anxiety? And if so, how?!

Suffering with anxiety is hard enough when you have a stable, permanent environment; if you choose to travel, you then face a ton of obstacles that the ‘regular’ traveler may not encounter, or even consider. However, many people nowadays are recognizing the importance of not letting their mental illness control their decisions, opting to take the difficult path and venture on out into the world…with a few trusted tips, of course.

Whilst I’m no medical expert, I’ve suffered enough with anxiety, depression, and other related issues, whilst on the road and at home, to form an understanding of what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. However, this is purely down to my own experiences, and it is important to discover for yourselves how best to integrate your own love of traveling with your anxiety, making sure you are safe and well.

Sometimes, the hardest thing I’ve had to do is to admit that I can’t do something. I just can’t go on this trip, can’t do that activity, etc. Whilst everyone else around you encourages you not to let it ‘beat’ you, sometimes it is just safer and more beneficial to your health to take it easy, and say no. There have been a couple of times where I have listened to this advice and been better for it, but there have also been times when I have succumbed to peer pressure and ending up feeling so much worse. Only you know your own state of mind and well-being. Deep down, you will now exactly when it is time to sit something out, take some time to focus on yourself, and save yourself the stress that often comes with planning a trip, being away, and undertaking a new experience.

Hopefully though, there will be many more times when you feel you are well enough to say ‘screw you anxiety!’ and take the plunge. Nerves hit everyone before they go off on an adventure, whether it be in the form of excitement or genuine worry, so you’re definitely not alone in those feelings anyway.

Deciding what type of travel style is best for you really helps if you have decided to go away. There are pros and cons to both, it really is just a case of personal taste. Myself, I prefer to travel slowly, focusing on a country or area for a longer period of time and settling into some sort of routine, getting to know the area/people around me. I feel that it puts me at ease, allows me to calm down, and I feel secure knowing I have a bed or place to go back to, if my anxiety or depression does get the better of me one day.

However, lots of people prefer to travel much quicker, often due to lack of money and/or time. Besides these two reasons, spending just a few days in each place may also have mental health and anxiety benefits; you are always active, keeping your mind and body occupied. This type of traveling is usually seen on group tours too, which can also help with the planning side of trip, or if you’re a first time traveler. I’ve been on a couple of organised tours, and whilst they are fast-paced and you are often exhausted at the end, the ease of undertaking the trip largely outweighs this. On the other hand, they are not great if you just need a day to yourself to relax, or if you do begin to feel anxious/down and need some time to recover, as there usually isn’t any.

No matter what type of travel style you opt for, anxiety attacks and low moods can strike at any time, as fellow sufferers will know. Having a plan of action in place if this does happen is therefore a great thing to organize before you embark. Again, what you do will vary person to person, but if you really are stuck for ideas and can’t pinpoint what makes your anxiety/depression better, a friend recently told me about her use of a ‘mental health first aid kit’. She takes this on every trip she goes on, carrying it in her rucksack in case of emergencies. In it, she has pictures and letters from home, coloring books and pens, and calming herbal teas. Something like this is a great idea, and again can be personalized and altered to you. I usually carry a sketchpad and pencils in my bag, as I find drawing distracts me and calms me down, if I do need to take a minute for myself during a trip.

The main thing to take from this is to listen to your mind and body. If you don’t feel ready for a trip, don’t do it, or scale it back somehow. Decide on a traveling style that is right for you, not just what your friends are into. And finally, have in a place some sort of back-up if you do begin to feel yourself getting anxious. Anxiety and travel can actually go hand-in-hand quite harmoniously, if you are careful, kind to yourself, and (most importantly) remember to enjoy it!

Later this year, I will be moving to Vietnam to teach English, something that this time last year I could not have imagined myself doing. However, I’ve taken some time recovering and focusing on myself getting better, and am pleased to say that I’m looking forward to the trip with (mostly!) minimal worry. Of course I am aware that I’ll most likely get anxious or sad or at least something during the move and transition (and will definitely make sure I am prepared for that!)…but it just goes to show, that you don’t need to let your anxiety stop you from traveling, taking new jobs, and doing something outrageous!

Going Alone: 3 Days in Genoa

Last week, I ticked another thing off of my bucket list and went on holiday by myself. Although I’ve been away many times without parents or even friends, this was the first time I had visited somewhere completely alone and left to my own devices.

I spent three nights in Genoa, Italy, one of the countries lesser visited cities. The reason for my destination was quite simply the cheap flights from London that were offered. Flights and accommodation in total cost me around £90 – not bad for a summer city break.

If I’m completely honest, I must admit I was a tad nervous before I went. I’m a young, female traveller (who also looks obviously English) so I knew I’d had to have my wits about me when wondering round the city. However, all these nerves completely disappeared as soon as I boarded the plane. Yes, I did get lost quite a few times (more than I’d like to admit), but it was nothing I couldn’t handle and I had a fabulous time. People in the hostel were friendly, and it was nice to hear different stories as to what bought them to Genoa.

Genoa itself is quite a small port city, so it was easy to walk around and see the main attractions in a day. I visited a cathedral, the port, a castle, had a wonder round the old city, and had tasty Italian pizza whilst overlooking the sea. The size of the city was perfect for me, and ideal if you haven’t got a lot of time there. My best advice would be to start by walking around the old part of the city, where the cathedral, main square and palaces are located. It leads nicely onto the most famed section of Genoa, the Via Garibaldi – a street with a collection of UNESCO listed buildings that are truly beautiful. And don’t forget to stop for gelato along the way!

The second day I was there, I visited the abbey of San Fruttuoso. It’s an abbey dating back hundreds of years, which is only reachable by hiking or a boat. Due to the heat of the day (and a desire to get as much time on the nearby beach as possible) I chose the boat option. You take the train from Genoa Brignole station, to Camogli. The trains leave every 30 mins and it cost me around 6 euros for a return ticket. Once you exit the station, turn right. The port is not signposted and I had to ask for directions, but you pretty much follow the road until you reach the end, then go down a set a steps that take you to the boats. The ticket office for the boat to San Fruttuoso is clearly visible, and the boats leave every hour, on the hour. It costs 13 euros for a return trip. This may seem quite expensive for a 20 minute trip, but the views you get along the way are stunning. You witness the Italian Riviera in its full glory – the brightly coloured houses set within the luscious rolling green hills. It was nice to sit back and appreciate the scenery, which differed so much from anything in England. Once there, I lounged on the small beach and had some fresh pesto pasta, something that the Genoa region is famed for. It was the ideal end to a relaxing holiday.

So what can I conclude from my first solo travel experience, and have I picked up any tips? Well, I can definitely encourage anyone thinking about doing it, to go for it. Backpacking alone is something I’ve always wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure how I’d cope. Spending a few nights alone has certainly boosted my confidence and convinced me that it is something I would be able to do. I’ve stayed in hostels before, but always with friends, and you don’t tend to talk to other people when you’re already in a large group. It was nice being alone and sparking up conversations with people with different nationalities. I must admit, I actually enjoyed myself more than I have on holidays with friends. I always tend to take-over the organising so get a bit stressed having to tell people where we’re going, how we’re getting there etc. so it made a nice change only having to ferry myself around. Plus, I could do whatever I wanted! In terms of visiting Genoa, I’d recommend the hostel stayed in (The Hostel Genoa), it was clean, friendly and in a perfect central location. I’d also definitely advise you to visit San Fruttuoso – it takes a while to get there but the views are worth it. I’m very excited to go on my next lone adventure, wherever that may be, and am glad I took the leap and went for it!

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                                   pesto pasta by the sea!