Exploring Beijing! Forbidden City, The Great Wall and Peking Duck

Exploring Beijing! Forbidden City, The Great Wall and Peking Duck

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A long weekend getaway to Beijing was one of the best few days of my travel experience here in China. I have always wanted to visit this busy, ancient and cultured city. I finally got the chance when I decided to head there for a long weekend break, here’s how and what I did when I visited the Chinese capital.

I flew using an online travel service Ctrip, a popular all in one flight/train/tour/hotel search engine. Ctrip has it’s own easy to use and efficient app for anyone traveling around Asia. I booked very last minute flights at between 700-800Rmb each way. As I decided to fly incredibly last minute it’s always a gamble as to whether you are able to get the best price but i was pretty happy with what I paid, especially as it’s a popular time to visit!

I also booked my accommodation as I was waiting at the airport to depart, through Ctrip and stayed at The Sanlitun Inn located 10 minutes walk outside of Sanlitun main area and 10 minutes away from line 2 subway stop Dashitiao. I found it had what I needed and I stayed in one of the budget rooms with bed and bathroom for 200rmb per night. It was all I wanted as I didn’t plan to spend much time in the room. I also got A/C which was a plus!

I would always encourage people to ‘plan as they go‘ it’s the best way and comes with less frustration. I’d also say make sure you have an idea of what you want to see from a weekend trip, as you do have to think about the timing. I knew I wanted to see The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, eat Peking Duck and obviously walk The Great Wall! With this in mind, anything else I managed to see and do was a bonus!

I arrived on the Saturday afternoon, checked in and instantly made my way to the Subway to head over to Tienanmen Square. The subway is easy and efficient to use, download this app to make your trip effortless when it comes to getting around the city.

You can also make use of these bike sharing apps Ofo and Mobike for an easy way to get around and see the streets from your bicycle seat.

Day 2 and my first full day of exploring. Sunday I headed out early, around 6:30am to head towards my first checkpoint: The infamous Forbidden City! Getting up at this time also allows you to catch a glimpse of early Beijingers lives. The elderly usually gather to take part in dancing, taichi and games at this time. You’ll see morning commuters and catch an authentic insight into daily life of the people here. I paid 60rmb per person in peak times to enter The Forbidden City but off peak is 30rmb pp. I spent a couple of hours walking around the compound which is huge. You can’t possibly cover all of it in a weekend trip unless you dedicate a huge amount of time, which I didn’t have. I streamlined straight through to the end and made my way up through Zhongshan Park (10rmb per ticket) to get a view of Beijing from above, which if your lucky weather wise, is amazing!

Beijing really helped remind me of why I choose to come and explore China 👌🏻 #beijingtrip

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Once I’d taken in the incredible view I headed over towards the Temple of Heaven at subway stop Tiantandongmen . I grabbed some lunch before I entered the park and then made my way to my next checkpoint: The Temple of Heaven – 35rmb entry ticket.

#chinesedesign #chineseart

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The stunning UNESCO world heritage site ‘The Temple of Heaven’ 🙏 #templelife #beijingcity

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I finished around mid afternoon so still had plenty if time to fit in some other unplanned things! I enjoyed just walking round parts if the city taking in the atmosphere and sights. In the evening I ventured over to Sanlitun shopping area, an expat hub which had tones of malls, shops and restaurants as well as clubs and bars. My mission though, was Peking Duck. We found a small bar that served roast duck. For half a duck I paid 170 Rmb which is a little pricey but when in Beijing…

P.s. It was definitely worth it!

For my last full day I had planned one thing and one thing only. The Great Wall of China! I had found a tour via another blogger – a private hire car service which you can read more about here. I was short on time and was willing to pay a little more to make sure I got to the wall smoothly and easily. I visited the Mutianyu section of the Wall, as I wanted a little less of a touristy experience and I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I have done in my travel experiences. It seems to get mixed reviews but I had dreamt of visiting the iconic wall since I even thought about visiting different countries. It’s one of the main things I wanted to make sure I saw during my China adventures and I was left in awe. We headed there early around 7:15am and I was on the wall by 8:30am. Just in time to catch the sun coming up behind the mountains, creating a misty cloud around the wall in the distance. Truly a spectacular sight!

#greatwallofchina #mountainscape

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#greatwallofchina #traveltribe

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We were finished by 12:00pm, I took a toboggan down to the bottom of the wall and headed back to Beijing. I asked if I could be dropped of at Sichahuai and my driver was more than happy to help. As I had only planned one thing on this day, the rest was all unplanned and a bonus!

I explored Beijing’s famous Hutong districts. A collection of very old streets as buildings untouched by modern development as they are located around the centre of the city. Some great photo opportunities and chances to imagine the locals daily life years ago.

I managed to visit Beijing’s drum tower which served as the central time keeping for the citizens back in the day. I paid 20rmb but you can buy a combo ticket for 30rmb to visit the drum as bell towers located opposite each other. They have regular drum performances throughout the day and is definitely worth a visit if your looking for something extra to do during your stay.

The evening I spent eating duck and lots of street food over at Wangfujing and taking some night time snaps.

Walking around the very busy commercial street of Wangfujing in #Beijing taking in the bustling atmosphere #nightphotography

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My last half day to explore and I decided to head to Beihai park to visit the Buddhist White Dagoba there and experience a little nature before I left. I paid 10rmb for the park ticket and 10rmb to enter the Dagoba. A charming little(well very big) park that offers old temples, traditional architecture, boating, dancing, singing and a huge white Buddhist Dagoba located in the middle of the lake. I also paid 10rmb to ride on one of the ferries one way taking people across to the Island. The perfect way to spend my last few hours.

I caught a flight in the evening back to Shanghai and was left feeling completely in awe of this great city. True, cultured, authentic China that I had always dreamt of seeing. I learnt that the Chinese people love steps, stone and squares! If you haven’t  thought about heading to Beijing, I’d thoroughly recommend it!

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What to do in Beijing - trip planning

My Most Used Travel Gear Essentials

My Most Used Travel Gear Essentials

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We all have those go to essentials when we travel right? In this post I’ll list everything that I must have in my backpack when I travel. We live in a digital age so most of it comprises of electronics and digital enhancing travel goodies.

Most used travel gear essentials:

My Most Used Travel Gear Essentials

Anker Power Bank (1)

One of my most used travel essentials is definitely my ‘Anker Power Bank‘ It has saved me on so many occasions where I have had no access to power or have been in places that suffer from frequent power outages. It is robust, durable and can charge up to 3 devices at the same time via 3 USB slots. It charges my phone (iPhone 4S) up to 6 full charges and a full laptop (HP Notebook) charge. It has a torch function on the side as an added extra.

Cons – Slightly heavier than some of the others on the market. However it has never affected the portability in my case.

DSLR Camera (For photographers) (2)

These days with phone cameras and small portable cameras like Gopro’s, carrying a DSLR isn’t necessary; however I have always loved to use a DSLR when taking photos. There is still a higher quality you get when taking photos with a DSLR and as an amateur photographer this is something important to me.

I have been using Nikon products for about 10 years now and I can say that they always deliver on quality whilst providing you with options to take control of every aspect of the photos outcome. I have been using my ‘Nikon D7000 Digital SLR Camera with 18-105mm VR Lens Kit (16.2MP) 3 inch LCD‘ for about 5 years now and the quality is outstanding; with a 32-point auto focusing ring & high ISO (100-3200/H1&H2) performance in low light makes it a very versatile and effective camera.

Before the D7000, I was using a ‘Nikon D40 & 60‘ both great cameras for first time DLSR users – very good quality and easy to use controls.

I usually use a f1.8 50mm lens too, which captures most shots from portraits to landscapes. However I also switch between a f4.5 55-200mm and my go to kit lens f3.5 18-55mm.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR f/1.8G Lens – 50 mm

Nikon 20050 AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-200 mm VR II Lens for Camera

Nikon 18 – 55 mm f/3.5 – 5.6G VR AF-P DX Nikkor Lens for Camera

Here are a few examples of shots I have taken with each:

GoPro Hero 3 + (3)

A popular choice for most travellers and I am no different, my ‘GoPro Hero 3+‘ is great for being portable and resilient when I’m capturing moments on my travels. The housing that comes with it means I don’t have to worry about it being broken or getting knocked in action. It can shoot in 1080p and is easy to use via a 1 click button on the top and front of the camera. The housing means that the camera is waterproof so can also be used in water and allows you to capture great underwater photos/footage as well.

GoPro HERO3+ Silver Edition Camera/Camcorder

Cons – The red light on the front when recording flashes which can be distracting when trying to be discreet in public places – I get around this by putting some black tape over it which usually does the job. The sound quality is affected by the housing around the camera, so if you’re looking to capture sound I’d look into microphones or separate sound recorders to use with it.

Disposable Camera (4)

I love using disposables when travelling. They are lightweight, durable and take retro snaps for your travel journal – also very cheap and affordable! A great back up to carry with you if you can’t use your camera or phone!

Kodak Fun Flash Disposable Camera – 39 Exposures Pack of 2

Travel Journal/Notebook (5)

It may sound simple but having a journal or notebook is a great item to take with you if you’re a travel blogger or traveller in general. I’m aways getting ideas when I’m out and love to collect important information like times, dates, prices and receipts. It’s also a great idea to write up about your travels as you go because you meet so many interesting people along the way and go through a lot of different emotions that you’ll want to look back on in the future.
Travel Notebook: Gifts / Gift / Presents ( Ruled Traveler’s Notebook with Antique Map Cover ) (Travel & World Cultures)

Swiss Army Knife or Multitool (6)

A great item to carry with you! Always very handy and I nearly always use this when I am travelling – even if the ‘spork’ function is my most used!

Victorinox Huntsman Pocket Knife – Red

Mini Wireless Speakers (7)

A good item to carry with you if you’re volunteering or travelling with people is a ‘mini speaker’. It’s great to be social with and creates a fun atmosphere instantly. Try this ‘Speaker’ on the road – it’s served me well the times I have had to use one.

Portable Speakers, ZENBRE M4 Wireless Bluetooth Speakers with Enhanced Bass Resonator, Mini Speaker for iPhone, iPod, Computer, Laptop, Tablet (Black)

Sleeping Bag (8)

I always carry a sleeping with me – usually my lightweight ‘sleeping bag’ which covers me for most cases. If you’re going more extreme I’d advise getting a thicker tog as this is only a 2 season bag.

Lixada Envelope Outdoor Sleeping Bag Camping Travel Hiking Multifuntion Ultra-light

Travel Towel (9)

I use a ‘trespass’ mini travel towel which always comes in pretty handy!

Trespass UUACMIE30019_BBTEACH Wringin Microfibre Towel – Blue, 70 X 135 cm

First Aid Kit (10)

Of course you should never travel anywhere without one of these! I have never had to use mine for me ‘touch wood’ but it always seems to come into use for others when I’m travelling (especially plasters/bandaids when I’ve been volunteering with kids – plasters/bandaids are like gold dust once the kids find them!)

90 Piece Premium First Aid Kit Bag – Includes Eyewash, 2 x Cold (Ice) Packs and Emergency Blanket for Home, Office, Car, Caravan, Workplace, Travel

Universal Travel Plug (11)

Without a doubt, if you have all this fancy technology and gizmos when you travel you’ll need a universal adapter plug so you’re prepared for any country you visit. So much easier than carrying different plug adapters for different countries.

Travel Adaptor -Tevina Travel Charger Two USB Ports Universal World Wide All-in-one Wall Charger Adapter Plug Built-in 3.2 A For Home (Black)

 

My Most Used Travel Apps (12)

Dualingo – “Learn Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Irish, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and English. Totally fun. Totally free.”

Currency Converter – “Convert every world currency with the XE Currency App – Free Edition. It offers live proprietary currency rates, charts, and even stores the last updated rates, so it works when the Internet doesn’t.”

World Clock – “Always get “The right Time in the right Place”

Google Maps – “Google Maps makes navigating your world faster and easier. Find the best places in town and the information that you need to get there.”

Uber – “Uber is a ridesharing app for fast, reliable rides in minutes – day or night.”

Skyscanner – “Skyscanner all-in-one travel app. Flights, hotels and car hire, all in one place.”

Air BnB – “Unforgettable trips start with Airbnb. Find adventures in faraway places or your hometown, and access unique homes, experiences, and places around the world.”

*Disclaimer – This post contains affiliate links which means that if you click a link and go through to purchasing something from the link, I’ll earn some commission from that sale – which helps me to continue to write helpful posts like this one. Thank you for reading*

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10 Best Travel Experiences So Far

10 Best Travel Experiences So Far

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Here at Gunns Travels, I like to promote travelling in any form. Wether it is a long haul trip or short break away, I want to use this space to encourage anyone to get out and explore; to grow as an individual. On my journey so far I have had some amazing opportunities which I will share in this post. I wanted to pick out 10 (because the list could go on and on if I don’t put a number to it!) of the best travel experiences so far.

I want to show you what is out there and what is possible if you really want to do it. Like I have mentioned in previous posts, if you want something badly enough; make it a priority and focus. It’ll happen if you want it to.

I’ll start the list off with one of the experiences that has really shaped my travelling journey and me as an individual.

Volunteering in Nepal (1)

This was a no brainer to go on this list. My love for Nepal, the people, the food, the place and culture is in abundance. You can tell from looking through this blog, my social channels or if you hear me speak about it, that this holds a pretty special place in my heart. Choosing to volunteer was something that I always wanted to do, I had experienced it before but this was the first time I really invested in it – time wise. I lived and volunteered in Nepal for a little over 3 months; it is still one of my top memories to look back on.

I’ve written a more detailed account of my time in my mountainside village of Sipadol, that you can browse to really get a feel for the experience and people I met whilst there, read here.

I would encourage anyone to do some volunteering but research into i t properly. Don’t be a ‘voluntourist’, make sure you can invest time into the people you are helping when volunteering; even beyond the project itself. I have re-visited, supported and stayed in contact with the people I met because it is important that you invest in them and not just the short term experience.

Celebrating Holi Festival in India! (2)

There are a few celebrations that I had on my bucket list for some time. I always looked at the Holi Festival with such wonder and awe. It looked like such a great celebration to experience and get to understand. I remember booking my plane ticket to India and then realising I would be in the country for the festival.

The day came and it did not disappoint! The night before people made huge bonfires and smoke pillars filled the city of Jaipur where I was staying. The next morning I looked over the balcony of the hostel and saw people running through the streets covered in bright fluorescent powders and couldn’t believe it was actually happening! I met up with a friend and we rode a tuk-tuk out to a party that was happening and it was crazy. So much fun and everything I hoped it would be. It was really interesting learning about the meaning behind it all as well and getting to experience with locals.

I cannot recommend it enough if you are ever able to coincide your visit to India with the festivities, it really isn’t one to miss! The next date is Monday 13th March!

Seeing wild elephants in Kenya & Adopting one! (3)

My all time favourite film is: The Lion King. So it goes without saying that when I went to Kenya, I was a little bit excited. Now my favourite animal is an elephant. So getting to visit The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was also pretty exciting for me. ‘You can just stand over there, they’ll be back from their morning walk soon’ *small grey blobs come strolling through the bushes in the distance with tall green escorts at their sides* The baby elephants arrived and started having a mud bath right next to us. It was so great to see elephants finally and we left having learnt a lot about what the trust supports and the conservation work they do. We left having adopted an elephant in support of the work DSWT provide.

We also got the chance to go on safari. There was a moment on a game drive where a wild adult elephant came right up to the jeep and I fulfilled my dream of seeing a wild elephant up close. Still makes me smile even when I write about it now.

Leading a team on development projects in Ghana (4)

A fantastic experience was volunteering 8 months of my time with VSO in Livelihoods projects in Ghana. I was a Team Leader for a team of 18-20 people over the course of 2 cycles and it challenged me in so many ways! I stayed with a host family for my duration and we worked in rural communities on livelihoods skills and in schools. It was an incredible opportunity and I cannot recommend anyone enough to apply to volunteer, you never know what could happen!

Volunteering responsibly is definitely something that I would actively encourage to anyone looking to do more productive travel with their time.

Camel desert safari (5)

One of my highlights from my trip to India has to be the incredible 3 day 3 nights desert safari through the Thar Desert in Jaisalmer. There’s something peaceful about being surrounded by nothing but sand for miles.

My favourite part of the whole experience was definitely camping – I say camping loosely as we pretty much put a mat on the sand and had a blanket – and falling asleep underneath the clearest night sky I have ever seen with a million bright stars above, I even saw some shooting stars! I’d really recommend looking up Jamin Desert Nomads if you’re planning on doing a desert safari when you visit Jaisalmer. Jamin is a really honest, helpful and friendly guy. Sujan is also a great camel rider/guide and the camels are looked after well.

Desert sunsets #ttot #travel #travelblog #desert #exploremore #wanderers #sunset🌅 #vsco #vscocam #vscotravel #igtravel

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Hiking to the top of a mountain for sunrise (6)

Whilst travelling around India I visited the scenic and serene town of Pushkar which sat atop a mountain. There was a huge holy lake that people travelled to see and lots of smaller mountains surrounding the town. I made a friend in the place I was staying and he asked if I wanted to hike at 5am to the top of one of them to see the sunrise. It was an early start and a long hike! But we finally made it to the top surrounded by monkeys and a few stray dogs that my friend knew – as he did this hike very regularly to see the sunrise! It didn’t disappoint, the town was still dark and so you could see a million little lights around the lake and jagged mountain tops as the sun started to rise behind them.

Sunrises and sunsets are awesome to witness anyway, but the location and the tranquility of it all made this a top travel memory for me.

#InstaVillageMission (7)

If you haven’t checked out this tag on instagram – then I’d seriously recommend it. I started it with a friend in Nepal whilst we were volunteering; it was such a great way to encourage & inspire creativity. There are a lot of great shots by Renee included in the tag and you should definitely go check her out and follow! It is one of my best travel memories and helped me think way more about the shots I was taking.

#instavillagemission instagram @gunns_travels
#instavillagemission by @gunns_travels & @renee_ezra – Instagram

Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef (8)

Another bucket list item I always wanted to do and it lived up to my expectations! Deep blue water and crystal clear reefs. We snorkelled and swam with multi-coloured fish, turtles & sharks!

You can read more about The Great Barrier Reef and how I went about it here

Skydiving over a beach in Aus! (9)

Ignite that inner daredevil in you – do a skydive. It will honestly be one of the best experiences you can have. And skydiving over The Great Barrier Reef couldn’t be a better place to do it. I booked with Skydive Cairns who were great and really reassuring, the skydive cost £120 (with a beach landing) which is pricey but worth it. Again if you want a photo or video of it you’ll have to pay around £80 – which isn’t bad as its a one-off (unless you get the bug for it!) but depends on your budget and if you want to go on any other tours while you’re in Cairns.

Quick Prices: Adult with Beach Landing £120 $180 | Video & Photos £80 $120

Meeting everyone so far! (10)

Lastly, none of my experiences would have been what they are without the colourful, interesting bag of people I have met so far! There have been too many to mention but now I have friends and family all over the world thanks to travelling 👌#positivevibes

They have had a massive impact on how I think, what I do and how I want to continue to live. You can take something from everyone you meet and learn a lot just by having a conversation with someone.

My CPs ✌️last day laughs #ttot #travels #VSOICS #VSO #volunteer #africa #ghana

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This is the first portrait of a series I’m calling ‘Memories, Places & People’s Faces’. I want to create a photo collection of portraits & moments whilst I travel. First up is Prayash, who I met whilst staying at a guest house in Bhaktapur. He works there whilst attending some college classes and managing his radio show. If you’re ever in the area then tune into 107.9fm every thursday 3-4pm for some debates and slick tunes. Prayash dreams of becoming a media personality and enjoys exploring to see new views like the one behind him. He took me to see his home village and the incredible view from Nagarkot, thanks man! RJ Prayash #ttot #portrait #travels #travelgram #travelblogger #smile #people #nepal #instagood #instatravel #igers #wanderlust

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10 Things I’ve Learned From Travelling

10 Things I’ve Learned From Travelling

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If like me, you love the idea of travel and you love to learn new things; then you’ll be able to take something from this post! Travel is one of the best ways you can learn, develop and share ideas or knowledge. It can be between new people or a self-reflective way of learning. In this post, I will talk about 10 things I’ve learned from travelling and how they have had an effect on my thinking now.

Hopefully you’ll get a little bit of inspiration and see that travelling is about way more than just racking up air miles and crossing off destinations on the map. I always like to do a reflective post once every now and again to arrange my headspace full of little travel post-its!

Learning a new language (1)

Going to a different country also means hearing and learning a new language. At first it is difficult to pick up the basics, especially as new tones and sounds shape different languages words. Some dialects are very hard to replicate if you’re not a native. But if you are surrounded by the language, fully immersed in it and spend enough time there; you can learn a new language much easier than if you were trying to from home. There have been many cases were I have been thrown into a new environment; where I have had to learn the local language.

When volunteering in Nepal I had to pick up a lot of Nepalese for a good few months. Whilst staying in Ghana for 8 months I also had to learn a lot of the local language, Twi. At first it is frustrating because you want to be able to communicate but can’t even say a basic sentence. But with a little time, practice and getting incredibly good at charades you can start to have conversations in a whole new language! I have loved the times where I have had to pick up a new language, it is always a great challenge and an even better way to connect with the locals.

Tasted new foods (2)

Another learning opportunity is sampling the local delicacies to the country your travelling in. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love food: even better excuse to indulge in all the dishes whilst you’re there! Learning to try new foods is part of the experience of seeing a new place. Food makes up so much of the identity of a country, so you can learn a lot just by tasting the dishes. I’ve had the pleasure of having a few home stays whilst travelling; which provided me with an authentic root straight to the heart of local cuisine!

Eating Dal Bhat home cooked and then sitting to eat with a local family is such a truly authentic experience. I’ve not only tasted the foods, but also eaten locally – by which I mean tried eating without a knife and fork! Some places I have lived in use hands or flatbreads as scoops to eat with – it has all added to learning about the whole of the countries culture. Another food related lesson has been learning to cook the local foods. I’ve loved being able to learn how to make momos (a kind of nepali dumpling filled with vegetables & meat) or my new favourite red-red, click here to learn how!

Community (3)

This word has taken on a whole new meaning and level of understanding that I didn’t have before I started to travel. The places or communities I have been have shown me that a community look out for one another, support and trust each other. At home you would never dream of saying hello to another random person walking down the street, but when you think about it, it is more strange if you ignore another human being. Travelling and living in some of the countries I have been to has taught me this. It has helped me to be more caring and to care about my own community.

Immersed In Culture (4)

Everywhere has its own identity and we call it culture. Travelling has enabled me to learn about more cultures that are completely different to my own. Since doing this it has helped me to learn new ways of doing things, wether it is cooking new dishes, interacting with different people or inspired new ideas for work. Travelling helps you to expand your thinking and learn a new way of doing things, because the world is such a diverse place. Don’t restrict yourself to your own surroundings.

Being more independent (5)

Travelling, especially travelling solo, has helped me to become so much more independent. I’ve learnt to book, organise and support myself whilst on the move in a different surrounding. At first it was daunting, the first time I was in an airport on my own I nearly freaked out, but you learn to be able to adapt and go with it. Independence is something not to be overlooked, because it is one of the sole drivers that enables me to keep doing it. If I didn’t feel confident or independent enough to be able to just go and travel; then I would never go very far or cope very well. Learning this independence whilst travelling has helped me in all aspects of life.

As someone who had always been more introverted, shy and anxious – travelling allowed me to learn to overcome and develop these attributes. Being more independent and as a result :confident; has probably been the biggest benefit of travelling for me than anything.

Organisation & Determination (6)

This leads on from my previous point, learning to be organised is something that has been enhanced whilst travelling. Making sure you are at places certain times for flights and having the skill to be able to plan whilst on the move has made me even more organised.

Determination: I’ve learnt that if you want something, prioritise it. Be determined with what you want to achieve. I am even more determined to travel than before I started travelling because I have realised I want to make this a lifestyle and not a one-off trip.

The world is a big, big place (7)

It may sound silly, but the World, Earth, life; is so much bigger than your home or country. But you only really get to understand this when you start travelling to further places and experiencing new things. The world is big, but once you start to explore, it seems a lot more possible to be able to keep exploring, than before.

‘Travelling is like a book, those who do not, only read the first chapter’

You’ll never truly be alone (8)

As cheesy as this may first sound, it’s 100% true. If you decide you can’t go travelling or explore other countries because you have no one to go with, think again. Travelling solo is daunting but there are so many people doing the exact same thing. You are bound to bump into people along the way and then it is only you deciding wether you want to connect with them, have a conversation or spend it on your own.

And Spending it on your own at times isn’t a bad thing either, it allows you to have room for self-reflection and development that is important in learning more about yourself or the country. But I can honestly say that spending a year travelling ‘solo‘ saw me have only a handful of days where I had some time to relax. So I welcomed those chances to be able to be on my own and listen.

A sense of adventure! (9)

Travelling, understandably has made my wanderlust & adventure seeking increase! I’ve learnt that there are so many more things I want to see, do, taste, experience and learn! I’ve learnt to be more curious and to try and learn at every opportunity. This has made me more assertive and inquisitive because when I’m in a country I want to leave feeling like I absorbed as much of the countries history and culture as possible.

I’ve also learnt to not always play it safe (I’m not saying be stupid) but to go off the beaten track, avoid the touristy hotspots and to ask questions you don’t know the answers to! You never know where something could lead or a connection you could make.

Always be sensible (well if you can afford to be a little loose with this then it is more fun) but there have been so many times where I have had such great experiences that I would never have had, if I didn’t have a sense of adventure. Travelling with a local friend I’d made to his local village for a wedding in India was amazing or travelling on top of a local nepali bus with livestock around narrow cliff edges – sounds dramatic – but so cool! Wouldn’t be memories I now have if I hadn’t learnt to ‘live a little‘ or ‘be in the moment‘.

Don’t always play it safe. But don’t be stupid!

Positivity & Appreciation (10)

A great way to end is to say that having been immersed in so many diverse and interesting countries’/ cultures; I have learnt the power of positivity and a whole new appreciation for my own life. From all of the aspects I have talked about you can learn to be more positive and appreciative.

When you are in a fortunate enough position to be able to experience and learn about all these amazing places how can you not be! I’ve also learnt to be more mindful and present in my own life. Not to rush, to stop and be thankful. I’ve learnt to meditate and develop more inner peace which before I started travelling I would never even of considered – now I realise how beneficial and important it is. There has been so much inspiration I have taken away from the places, people and countries I have visited which have all had a positive impact on my life.

#PositiveVibes always ✌️

Here are a few things I have discovered that have helped in creating a more positive mindset in this digital world:

Paths to Happiness: 50 Ways to Add Joy to Your Life Every Day

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living

CalmCalm App

Positive News Twitter

Sunny Skyz

Action For Happiness

That’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed the 10 things I’ve learned from travelling; feel a little more inspired to go out & learn some new things for yourself!

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10 things i've learned from travelling

30 Bucket List Things To Do Before 30

30 Bucket List Things To Do Before 30

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I thought I’d write up some incredible experiences to have in travelling – specifically around Asia as I’ll be heading there for the next few years. Have a read and enjoy some of these bucket items that will have your wanderlust on overdrive! I’ve previously made a ‘30 Bucket List Travel Goals‘ if you want to go and check that out! I thought I would make another now as I have completed some of the previous goals. I want to create a list that is realistic; now that I’m 25! 5 years to tick as many of these as I can, but also the rest of my life, 30 is just a good starting point 😉

This is also a good way to reflect on some of the amazing opportunities I have already experienced in the last few years. A lot have been unplanned (which is the best way). It just shows that if you put your mind to something and prioritise what you want from life; then making a list like this doesn’t seem so unobtainable as it first might seem…

A few notable ones have been: Holi festival in India, camel riding in the desert, meditating on a mountain, leading a team in Ghana, re-visiting my village in Nepal, running a half-marathon, rum on a pirate ship, seeing elephants in the wild again, visiting the Taj Mahal and so many more!

Here they are, 30 Bucket List things to do;

  1. Complete 1 year teaching abroad
  2. Walk along The Great Wall of China

    The Great Wall of China
    credit: wiki
  3. Celebrate Chinese New year in China

    Chinese New Year
    credit: lonely planet
  4. Island hopping in the Philippines

    Island hopping philippines
    credit: lonely planet
  5. See a wild tiger
  6. Ride on a boat down the Mekong River
  7. Have visited 30 different countries (10/30)
  8. See Panda Bears

    Panda bucket list
    credit: nat geo
  9. Learn a martial art
  10. Learn to cook a Chinese dish
  11. Take part in the Lantern Festival
  12. Live abroad for more than a 1 year
  13. Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
  14. Ride in a hot air balloon hot air balloon bucket list
  15. See Orang-utans in Borneo
  16. Shop at the Bangkok floating markets
  17. Visit Myanmars Bagan temples
  18. Travel to Indonesia

    indonesia pinterest image for bucket list
    credit: pinterest link clickable
  19. Take a cruise around Ha Long Bay
  20. Travel south India

    credit: lonely planet
    credit: lonely planet
  21. Get another tattoo
  22. Continue to write and document!
  23. Head back to Nepal
  24. Head to a spa in Bali
  25. Swim in a waterfall
  26. Visit Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
  27. Go paddle boarding
  28. Huang pu River in Shanghai
  29. See the Terracotta army
  30. Travel to Sri Lanka

    sri lanka
    credit: Huffington Post

Hopefully I can achieve a lot of these ideas in the next 5 years or so, especially as I’m heading over to Shanghai to teach for year! When I write these lists it is never as ‘I must do these or I won’t be happy’. I write them for inspiration and to give some kind of direction. If I manage to tick even a handful of these things off before I get to 30 then I’ll be so grateful! What’s on your bucket list or things to do in 2017?

Share the ideas to inspire each other to keep experiencing new things and adventures!

Follow along my journey and get some inspiration from my social channels below 🙂

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30 Bucket List ideas before 30

Exploring Silves | Portugal

Exploring Silves | Portugal

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Last year in between my trips to the eastern side of the globe, I managed to fit in a short break to Portugal! I visited the beautiful small town of Silves along the southern part of the country. It was a little rustic town with a medieval vibe, orange and lemon trees all over the city which all gave it a lot of character. Worn out mediterranean orange buildings with huge storks soaring around the skies of the town made this a great place to go and explore. The town is great for a short mini break and is definitely worth a visit if you’re visiting Portugal.

Silves Castle

Silves main attraction is the medieval castle in the centre of town which you can go and walk around; it is also the best preserved castle in the Algarve.

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Old Town

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Tall Ship Sailing – £25 per person (pickup & drop off from Silves – Includes ticket onto boat & smaller boat into caves)

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This was a great excursion to take as you get to sail along the coastline on a tall ship/pirate ship! There are so many hidden alcoves and caves that you get taken into in smaller boats to explore but just being on the ship was cool, with a rum in hand a pirate’s life was certainly for me.

Fresh Sea Food – Not to be missed!

The food here was great as you were able to eat fresh sea food that had been caught and brought up from the harbours the same day; as well as this we ate lots of tapas – also delicious.

Continue to stay up to date on the journey by following my social links below,

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What’s Next? | gunns_travels Update!

What’s Next? | gunns_travels Update!

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UPDATE: 

What’s that I hear you ask? Where to next!? Well, for those of you on board or following my journey already and anyone ready to join me in 2017 here is an update; I am currently getting prepared for my travel/move to SHANGHAI, CHINA! That’s right I am heading to China next and the bustling city of Shanghai. I completed my TEFL qualification last year, which if you are thinking about doing the same, read how I got mine here.

I knew that when I finished the first half of my travel plans to Nepal, India and Ghana I would want to continue but I had to find a way of making some money; savings only get you so far! So I went about getting things ready to be able to look for teaching jobs in other countries. This is the perfect solution for me right now as I get to continue to travel, earn money, try a new career and move to one of the most popular cities in the world!

I’m so excited to get there to explore, work a new job and try a different lifestyle! I’ve been wanting to go to China for years and have my camera and phrasebook ready to pack.

 

 

One of the questions I always get asked is: “How do you afford all this travel?”

The answer is simple really, I make it a priority. I don’t have endless savings and I’m not being funded by anyone other than myself. The thing is, if you’re passionate about something and you make it the focus, the priority then the rest is pretty simple. I work, I save and I don’t spend unnecessarily.

If someone asked me to choose between the newest phone or saving the money for a plane ticket – it’s a no brainer. And this can be applied to everything, not just travel. I get annoyed with people who complain that they can’t afford to do the thing they really would love to do or buy the thing they want; whilst they sip their £3 coffee and stare at their £40 a month phone…you can travel, or save for that dream home, car or whatever if you change your mindset first.

 

Another is: “How do you travel on your own?”

I get it, it is a scary thought, just going off somewhere on your own relying on no-one else but yourself. But it has been one of the best things I could have ever done for that exact reason. I overcame that fear and learnt to be independent, outgoing and confident – yeah that’s right you can ‘learn’ these skills by travelling on your own.

The best advice I could give for this is to just get out and do it. Make sure you research and have certain things planned beforehand if it is your first time travelling solo (flights, insurance, accommodation for the first few nights, general plan and contacts) but use the fear as fuel. If I’m completely honest and cliche, ‘you’ll never be alone anyway’ – because there are thousands of people you’ll meet out there doing the exact same thing, so get out and join them! You will go away on your own but end up having friends and family all over the world.

 

Another: “Don’t you get scared?”

And the answer is of course yes! I get scared about some of the places but it is part of the reason I love going. It makes you feel like you are actually living and alive – not a robot. I find the media and rumours all help to fuel the fear but really it’s never as bad as what you hear. There are obviously places to watch and be careful of but thats no reason to write them off completely. I always make sure I research before I go: from reading articles, to watching videos and collecting necessary contact details but never get put off from going somewhere.

 

Last one: “What’s your favourite place so far?”

This one is so difficult to answer because everywhere has been so different from the next. I never know what to say as some places have been more adventurous but others have been chilled and some have given me a home from home – what am I scoring it on if I am to name my favourite…

I guess a few notable (favourite) experiences so far have been:

  • Safari in Amboseli and seeing elephants in the wild
  • Riding through the desert for 3 days with nothing but 1 tour guide, 2 camels and endless starry skies (Shoutout to my camel Mr.Mogue)
  • Getting covered in colourful powders during Holi festival in India
  • Gaining 2 new families in Nepal and Ghana after living in host homes whilst volunteering
  • Skydiving over the great barrier reef in Oz
  • Selfies at the Taj Mahal!
  • Being a Team Leader for 8 months in Ghana on development projects

I could go on forever, I feel so fortunate to have had these experiences and hope to continue to add more & more. Experiences over possessions 100%!

I’ll be writing up about the preliminary process I had to go through – from my TEFL qualification, looking for jobs, interviews and securing a visa for China; along with all the requirements for the move very soon.

So right now I am getting paperwork ready, selling lots of my possessions and uploading content from my previous travels – there is still a lot of content to look forward to coming up, look out for it here!

If you would like to read about my travels so far you can of course find all posts here on the blog but here are a few quick links to some of the adventures I’ve had so far – come along with me and get inspired to go travel yourself 🙂

India @travelling_jackg updateIndia @travelling_jackg update

Ghana @travelling_jackg update

 

Continue to stay up to date on the journey by following my social links below,

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Being A Team Leader | VSO

Being A Team Leader | VSO

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Experience of being a Team Leader with VSO in Ghana

Context:

For 8 months I volunteered in Ghana with VSO as a Team Leader. I was posted in the Eastern region in Asamankese under the livelihoods project; working alongside a local NGO called FLOWER. The main aim of the project was to give the local communities access and training to alternate livelihoods that they could support themselves with.

Most of the community members were unemployed, high school dropouts or illiterate so the skills training by volunteers and FLOWER provided had to be simple, practical and realistic for them to put into practice. The livelihoods project had been running since September 2015 and I was on cycles 3&4. Cycle 1&2 taught skills like tie-dye, sandal decorating, liquid soap and beaded handiwork as well as some bookkeeping and marketing skills. Cycle 3&4 continued with beaded work, soap production and introduced new skills like hair pomade, animal rearing and fruit juice making. They also continued with developing branding and marketing skills.

All of these sessions and skills training combined aim was to make sure the communities have different options and are well equipped to manage their own businesses in the future.

Whilst Livelihoods was the main focus for the program the volunteers also run local reading clubs with the schools, help with infrastructure development – repairing boreholes, renovating clinics and cementing school floors, undertake personal projects and if you are pro-active you can also take on personal projects if you can fit it around your schedule.

A few of the success stories are featured on the VSO website, which you can read here

My experience of being a Team Leader:

“I’ll start by saying my overall experience and time in Ghana was incredible and I was able to gain so much from it. From management, interpersonal skills, community entry, networking and cross-cultural working these were just some of the skills I was able to gain from the role. It really is amazing to see a group of individuals from different backgrounds come together and help a community as well as develop themselves.

I felt like there were times where I was being held back a little from being more decisive as a leader; as the essence of the program is that it is ‘volunteer led’. This meant that I could not play a key role in the individual teams decisions and this was a big challenge for me as I had always been at the forefront of the work from the volunteering experiences I have had; I had to learn to be more in the background and let the volunteers ‘learn’.

It was a different approach of leadership to what I had first thought but I was able to learn a new style. To some extent you are allowed to be a part of the work by supporting, guiding and facilitating (I have never heard this word as many times as I did throughout my VSO experience – being a facilitator is a major part of the program) but you have to remember not to take over the volunteer’s work and just be prepared if someone needs anything.

From management, interpersonal skills, community entry, networking and cross-cultural working these were just some of the skills I was able to gain from the role

A lot of my experience was made up by making sure the team was healthy and able to work – whilst not getting sick myself – or if you do then putting it to the side. As much as everyones health is important, as the leader you have to prioritise the team, no matter what anyone said I felt pressure to remain at 100% for the team – even if the pressure was just from myself.

However, as far as an experience, it really was one of the best I have had. You get to completely immerse yourself in a different culture, live with a host family, taste the local foods, learn the language and interact with real people as well as manage different people, emotions and workloads. You also get to make great bonds and relationships with your volunteers and community members which helps you manage the ‘high demand’ days.

Teaching the kids useful stuff like animal sounds 👌#ttot #travels #travelblog #positivevibes #ghana #africa #volunteer #VSO #VSOICS

A photo posted by Jack ✈️🌎👌 (@travelling_jackg) on

Be prepared for anything. You’ll plan your days with your counterpart in the evenings and the next morning receive texts from sick volunteers, annoyed teammates and hear from just about every community member before lunch. You could be on your way to visit a head teacher of a school and then have to completely do a u-turn because there is a volunteer who thinks they have malaria 20 mins away and needs to go to the hospital asap. I could be invited to a meeting with a chief and before I even get there have to be in a different community because a host home needs to discuss an issue. It really is a juggling act but I loved the variety and challenge that came with it.

So I’d finish by saying prepare yourself for an incredibly dynamic role and to be tested – which I guess if your signing up to do this – you are going in with the forethought of ‘challenging yourself’….or at least you should be.

Prepare to be a leader, volunteer, friend, family member, supporter, networker, confidant, councillor, hospital chaperone and local celebrity – every role comes with its pros and cons.

Be ready for sick volunteers, tears, persuading people to stay, arguments, cultural differences and volunteers adjusting to everything (adjusting to everything yourself).

BUT

also expect welcoming friendly people, big highs, great people, diversity, talented volunteers, amazing culture, interesting foods, beautiful scenery and at the end of it all being so proud of your team (a little bit of yourself) for making it through, but more importantly making an impact on the community, each other and you.”

What VSO say:

How it works

Depending on the placement, you will spend four months living in one of the following countries:

  • Bangladesh
  • Cambodia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Tanzania
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

ICS is funded by the UK Government, meaning all costs are covered including flights, visas, accommodation, food etc, and you will receive an allowance during your time on placement.

As with all ICS volunteer placements we will ask you to do some fundraising before you go overseas.

All volunteers have a target of at least £800, but you don’t have to start any fundraising until you are definitely accepted onto the programme and we will offer you 1:1 fundraising support.

No one is excluded from ICS for financial reasons.

You will receive training prior to going overseas, as well once you arrive in country, and once you return to the UK.

Requirements

Team Leaders must be aged between 23 and 35.

You need to have experience – either voluntary or professional – in leading and motivating young people, along with organisational and communications skills.

You need to be able to support young people both individually and as a team, and gain the respect and trust of others through leading by example.

You will also need experience in some of these areas:

  • Co-ordinating a project or initiative
  • Coping with change
  • Empowering and motivating team members
  • Managing a variety of projects in a varied environment
  • Understanding of volunteering
  • Living/working/volunteering in a cross-cultural environment
  • Committed to VSO for a minimum of four months

If you want to do something worthwhile whilst also developing yourself then apply to be a team leader today!

You can read more about my Life in Asamankese as a Leader here

Also check out what Ghana meant to me after being there for so long…

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Nepal Highlights | GoPro Hero 3+

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Nepal GoPro

My return to one of my favourite countries with some of my favourite people; the beautiful, Nepal!

I’d never used a GoPro before so I appreciate I need to work on some of my shooting skills but I’m pretty pleased with my first try! I edited it in the Gopro Studio and iMovie. Overall I was really impressed with how the GoPro  captures the footage and the quality.

I used a Gopro pole and housing case which were great but came with some downsides. The housing compromised the sound quality which is Ok if you just want to capture footage. If you’re looking to use it to capture sounds I’d recommend buying an external sound recorder. The pole was great in capturing different perspectives. i would of liked to make the camera more steady though so if you have any recommendations of what to use then drop me a comment below!

I’m currently posting more images from my trip, follow the adventure on my social links!

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Indian Adventure Begins | Delhi Madness & Taj Mahal!

Indian Adventure Begins | Delhi Madness & Taj Mahal!

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Delhi

Delhi hit me like a smack in the face – metaphorically speaking of course. A cultural explosion of sights, smells, buildings and people – so many people. I landed in Delhi and made my way to my hostel that I had booked, which was the only part of my entire trip I had pre-planned. My trip was going to be more of a ‘winging it‘ kind of travel – which in my opinion is the best way to explore! Here’s what I got up to in Delhi and some things to watch out for if your planning a trip there:

Delhi Metro

Delhi has a metro system that runs all over the city from new to old Delhi. You can buy a railcard that you top up with money as and when you need to (much like oyster cards in London do). I paid 100 rupees (£1/$2) and I got 50 rupees credit out of that, they had a deal where if you topped up 50 you got another 50, so I had plenty to travel around Delhi for the day. Once I had this I found it no problem navigating my way around the city. But New Delhi is a whole different ball game to Old Delhi, brace yourself. I intended to go from where I was staying in New Delhi right into the heart of Old to visit some of the sights and the famous Chandi Chowk shopping bazaar. I had to change half way and it was at this point that things started to get a little bit more…intense.

metrocarddelhi

My Top Tips for the metro:

  1. Take as little with you as possible – don’t carry bags if you can help it and just keep personal items to a minimum, it’s not worth it. Luckily I had no bad experiences but I met so many travellers that had been pick pocketed or had just misplaced there bag somewhere along the way. One guy even had his passport stolen because he was carrying it in a bag with him.
  2. Know where you are going – locate a map or ask someone before you even venture on a train.
  3. Make sure your cards topped up enough – just saves hassle or confusion when your fighting to get out of the barriers each side.
  4. When the metro train doors open…disreguard any manners you may have and don’t be offended. There’s no being courteous or polite here, your only mission is to make sure you get on. It will be squashed. It will be uncomfortable. I was half pushed underneath a train because I was too slow and busy letting someone else on; sheer panic enveloped me as I heard the beeping for the doors to close!
  5. Definitely purchase a metro card (oyster like card) its way easier and saves you a lot of grief than keep having to buy individual tickets.

Now you’ve mastered the metro you can start getting stuck in with some sightseeing!

I visited the famous Chandi Chowk shopping bazaar and hired a tuk tuk driver to show me around some of the famous spots. He took me to some spice, tea and fabric markets. His name was Shrikan and he navigated the chaotic ‘roads’ and alleyways of Delhi to give me the best views of the old bazaars.

I also explored The Red Fort, Quitab Minar, Akshardham and Delhi Gate.

As I only had a few days in Delhi I tried to squeeze in as much as possible but there is so much more to see and do. I barely scratched the surface! For me a few days in Delhi was enough, I wanted to head somewhere with a little more space haha You can’t visit India though without experiencing the capital! A must for the bucket list and I’m glad I experienced the beautiful chaos.

Agra

Another absolute must is visiting the city of Agra not too far from Delhi to see the incredible iconic Taj Mahal! I stood and looked at it for a good ten minutes in complete awe before I could start actually taking pictures. I spent half the day just soaking up the awesome-ness of it and reminding myself where I was. I couldn’t believe I’d made it to such a famous landmark, big tick off my travel bucket list!

*side note* there are a lot of tourists as with anything as popular as this. I’d recommend getting there super early or at the end of the day. Timing it with sunrise or sunset can also give you some incredible photos! I went early in the morning as soon as it opened and it was very peaceful it got busy pretty quick though, early bird catches the best view of the Taj!

I’m currently posting more images from my trip before I head to Ghana at the end of the month, follow the adventure on my social links!

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