How to deal with pre-travel anxiety

After booking a new trip, my initial feelings towards my next adventure are always excitement, joy and eagerness to get away. I waste no time entering the dates into the countdown app on my phone and regularly check how many days, hours and minutes I have to go until my flight. This usually lasts for a few months until I see the number of days slowly going down and I start to feel anxious and nervous instead of excited.

As my departure date gets closer and closer I start to think of worst case scenarios like what if I miss my flight or what if my luggage gets lost or god forbid, what if I get kidnapped!? Obviously very dramatic.

My feelings of anxiety and nervousness tend to disappear once I actually reach my destination, have checked into the hotel and can finally relax but the lead up is always the worst. It even gets to a point where I work myself up so much that I don’t want to go at all.

Pre-travel anxiety can affect SO many people and it’s completely normal to have feelings of uncertainty before going to an unfamiliar place. Below are a few tips that help me deal with my pre-travel jitters and can hopefully help some of you as well.

1. Determine what is making you anxious 

One thing I always remind myself when I’m starting to feel anxious about travelling is that it’s completely normal to feel nervous and afraid. A lot of the time I feel anxious about a long flight or that I’ll get lost on my way from the airport to the hotel. I find that the best way to overcome my travel anxiety is to pinpoint exactly what is making me feel anxious and try to overcome it. For example, feeling anxious about a long flight means that I will make sure to have plenty of distractions for the journey. I usually take a book to read or I’ll download a Netflix show that I can watch on the plane. Booking an airport transfer can also help to ease some of my pre-travel anxiety because I know I don’t have to worry about finding my own way to the hotel or wherever it is I am staying when I reach my destination. If you feel anxious about money, set up a daily budget and determine how much you’re going to spend each day. If you’re concerned about your health, make an appointment with your doctor or stock up on any medication you may need before you go. Identifying the source of your travel anxiety can make it SO much easier to find a solution and face it head on. It also helps to talk to others, whether it is a parent, friend or even a psychologist who can help get you into the right mind frame to feel excited about your trip again.

2. Plan ahead 

After booking your trip it’s important to start thinking about some of the things you may need to organise before you go. Start putting together a list of all the things you need to do, which may include calling the bank and organising a travel money card, getting toiletries and other necessities, making sure your passport isn’t about to expire and applying for a visa if you need one. Don’t wait until you reach your destination to sort certain things out either. If you need a different kind of electrical output or you want some money exchanged, do it before you go. That way you’re not stressing out about it on the plane ride over and you don’t have to waste time worrying about it when you get there. Tick off the things on your list with enough time to avoid the stress of being unorganised and rushing around at the last minute. I’m super lazy so I like to start planning my to-do list with months in advance so that I can spread out what needs to be done over a longer period of time. I would recommend making sure all of the important stuff is organised at least one week before you go to avoid any complications.

3. Research your destination

Before you go anywhere, it’s common sense to do a little bit of research. I always find that planning out some sort of my itinerary and knowing certain things in advance can help to alleviate some of my anxiety over travelling. I like to write a list of all the places that I want to see or things I’d like to do. I then map out a plan and decide what I’m going to do each day, how I’m going to get there and how much it’s going to cost. I wouldn’t go as far as to plan out my every step but having a rough idea and doing some research beforehand can be super helpful if you’re feeling anxious.

If you’re concerned about safety, research the area that you’re staying in, try to avoid any dodgy spots and find out if there are any scams that are commonly used on tourists. If you’re worried about how you’re going to get around, determine what public transport is available or organise some sort of tour like a hop-on-hop-off bus. If you’re nervous about potential language barriers, take the time to learn a few words or phrases to help you feel a little bit more confident. If you think you might get sick, find out if the tap water is drinkable, if there are certain types of food you should avoid and ask your doctor if they can recommend any vaccinations. Whenever I’m feeling really anxious, I scroll through Instagram using the ‘tags’ and ‘places’ filters. Looking at all the gorgeous photos of my future destination makes me feel excited and reminds me of why I am going there in the first place.

3. Get to the airport with enough time

There is sometimes nothing worse than the feeling of anxiety I get before catching a flight and the fear that I’m going to miss it. Of course I’ve never actually missed a flight before but that still doesn’t stop me from stressing out about the thought of it. To help overcome this, I always make sure I leave for the airport with plenty of time to spare. I usually leave at least four and a half hours before my scheduled flight to ensure that I arrive on time. It takes about an hour and a half to drive to the airport from where I live and it is recommended that you be at the airport at least two hours before checking in for most international flights. Having that extra hour is always nice in case the traffic is bad or it takes a long time to check in. This doesn’t mean that you have to arrive so far in advance that you’re sitting at the airport for hours waiting for your flight but it does help to relive some of the stress you might be feeling to get there a little earlier. If you think you’re going to be late, set multiple alarms, have your ride to the airport organised and make sure you have everything packed and ready to go the night before. Check the traffic and weather conditions and leave a little bit earlier than necessary if you think you need to.

4. Don’t leave packing until the last minute 

I absolutely hate packing but I always find that it stresses me out way to much to leave it until the last minute. I like to start packing at least a week before I leave, so then if I’ve forgotten anything I have enough time to get it beforehand. Another thing that stresses me out about packing is the thought of forgetting something, even when I know that I’m not. To help with this, I’ll find a general packing list online and tick off items as I put them into my suitcase. I also like to plan out my outfits for when I’m away and try to avoid clothing items that don’t have a dual purpose or multiple ways to wear. If you’re worried about your suitcase being overweight, invest in a pair of luggage scales and only pack the necessities. For instance, don’t pack your entire makeup bag or straighter if you think you won’t need them. Buy travel sized items that take up less room or packing cubes to help keep things organised.

5. Accept that anxiety is normal 

At the end of the day, if you accept that your pre-travel anxiety is completely normal and justified, you should be able to find a way to overcome those nagging feelings. It’s not always easy to switch off anxiety but it can help to make a conscious effort to try and think more positively and to remind yourself that you’re going to have the best time ever! If it gets to the point where you’ve tried everything but your anxiety is still too much, don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone, especially when it’s starting to prevent you from travelling in the first place. Make a list of all the amazing memories from previous trips to help you recall that travelling isn’t dangerous and the situation you were in was safe. It can also help to remind you of the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone or took a risk. Doing this will make you feel better prepared for next time and can help you to learn from past mistakes associated with negative thinking.

Just remember that the world is a beautiful and mysterious place that everyone deserves to explore and we shouldn’t let our fear of the unknown get in the way of that.

Advertisements

5 places I never thought I’d visit

With 195 countries in the world, there are bound to be a few hidden gems that you have never really considered going to or even heard of!

This happened to me while I was in Europe. The fact that I was on a tour where my whole itinerary was planned out in advance forced me to visit places that I hadn’t heard too much about previously. I remember looking through my itinerary and was super keen to see the usual touristy spots such as Paris, Rome, Mykonos, Santorini, Amsterdam, Dubrovnik etc. but I didn’t really look much further into some of the lesser-known places. Maybe I’m just extremely uneducated when it comes to geography- I mean I never really paid much attention to it in high school– or it could be that I’ve always been drawn to the more “Instagram-worthy” locations but there turned out to be five places in particular that I didn’t know too much about prior to visiting and really enjoyed.

In the end, I was SO happy that I got to see these places and would even consider re-visiting. The experience I had in each one was extremely positive and will encourage me to visit other, less touristy places in the future.

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo was one of those places I had never heard of before. I didn’t really know what to expect before visiting, having done zero research and was blown away when I heard all about the Bosnian War that took place between 1992 and 1995. The horrific events that occurred during the war, only 23 years ago made me feel numb and completely heart broken. I visited the Galerija 11/07/95 exhibition, located in the centre of Sarajevo to learn more about the tragic events that led to the death of over 8000 people. We also drove to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial and heard from Hasan who had survived the massacre and had lost his twin brother and father. To hear about the war from a first-hand witness was so emotional and is something I’ll never forget. I would 100 percent recommend going to Sarajevo, even if you’re not interested in the war. Wandering through the Baščaršija (the historical and cultural center of the city), was such a pleasant experience and it’s super cheap there too!

Wandering the streets of the Baščaršija

Bratislava, Slovakia 

If you’ve ever seen the Hostel movies, Slovakia is probably at the bottom of your list of places to stop by. However, I can assure you that the real Slovakia is nothing like it appears to be. There are so many cool things to see in Bratislava like the main castle, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the Old Town Hall, Michael’s Gate and Primate’s Palace. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in Bratislava for long so I didn’t get to see all of these things but I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again in the future to tick them off. Slovakia is also pretty famous for its thermal baths and hot springs, which in my opinion is a good enough reason to go there in the first place.

Bratislava’s Main Square

St. Michael’s Gate

The intersection point of Central Europe

Tirana, Albania

Albania is another country that has been widely misrepresented in Hollywood- think the first Taken movie and the whole Albanian sex trafficking storyline– so as you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I saw how gorgeous it was. Tirana is the capital of Albania and is filled with pastel coloured buildings, fascinating museums and lovely, green parks. In my opinion, one of the coolest things to see in Albania is the concrete bunkers that were built under the communist government from 1967-1986. Over 750,000 bunkers were built with an average of 5.7 per square kilometre. Their reason for being built was so that if the country ever came under attack, the population could retreat to the nearest reinforcing bunker with weapons to defend themselves. The bunkers were never actually used for their intended purpose and many of them are now abandoned. I really wish I had been able to explore more of Tirana, as I would have loved to have seen the historical sites up-close and experience more Albanian culture. I would definitely recommend stopping over in Tirana for a short period while travelling throughout Europe. 

One of Albania’s many concrete bunkers

A typical Albanian communist building

Donostia/San Sebastian, Spain

When I previously thought of going to Spain, Barcelona and Madrid where really the only two cities that came to mind. Located on the coastline of Spain’s Basque Country is San Sebastian, an absolutely gorgeous spot and a place I preferred over Barcelona. The city and beaches were clean and beautiful, the architecture was amazing and the food was delicious. My favourite part of San Sebastian was the pintxos bars where you could walk in and choose from an array of bite-sized food spread across the counter. I piled my plate up super high and went to town trying all the different types of pintxos or ‘toothpick food’ including mini slices of pizza, bruschetta, bread, prosciutto and even cheesecake! It’s kind of like an all-you-can eat buffet where you pay after you’ve eaten. If you’re wanting to pass through the Basque region of Spain, then San Sebastian should definitely be on your radar.

Pintxos bar

Meteora, Greece

I have always wanted to visit Greece but had never heard of Meteora before. I saw that we would be going to the Cliffside Monasteries of Meteora on my itinerary and was not that excited about it, mainly because I had never heard of them before. A quick Google search showed me that they looked pretty cool but because I’m not particularly religious, I wasn’t immediately interested. My mind was completely changed as soon as I stepped off the bus and could see how serene the monasteries looked suspended 400 meters above the ground on elevated, sandstone rock pillars. It quickly became my favourite spot and I was in awe at how beautiful Meteora was, I had never seen anything like it! The monasteries also have a pretty interesting history, dating all the way back to the 14th century when Christian monks first arrived and built an entire community on top of these giant cliffs. There were originally twenty-four active monasteries but now there are only six that tourists can visit. The most popular ones are the Great Meteora and Varlaam, which can draw up to 4,000 visitors a day. Entry into the monasteries is around  3-4 and it is asked that you dress conservatively out of respect. Women are not allowed to wear pants, shorts or sleeveless tops and sometimes men are asked to wear pants over their shorts. They do provide sarongs and loose pants if you aren’t wearing the right attire. There are ALOT of stairs so make sure to bring plenty of water if it’s a hot day.

The Cliffside Monasteries of Meteora

Inside Varlaam Monastery

The Great Meteora Monastery

So where are some of the places that you thought you would never end up visiting because they weren’t really on your radar beforehand? Let me know in the comments below!

Paris in two days

Anyone that has been to Paris knows that two days is not nearly enough time to explore the entire city and walk away feeling completely satisfied that they have ticked everything off their bucket list. Well in my case anyway…

Unfortunately, I did miss out on some of the things I really wanted to do during my visit to Paris. For instance, I never got to visit the inside of the Louvre and see the Mona Lisa’s famous smile, nor did I get to the top of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

IMG_0436

Despite missing out on a couple of things, I still managed to see quite a large portion of the city. I did get to climb to the very top of the Eiffel Tower and before you ask, no I did not take the stairs… are you kidding me, there are literally 1,710 of them after all. I’m a lot smarter (and lazier) than that.

So I’ve put together a guide for those of you who find yourself in Paris under a time crunch, which includes some of the best ways to explore the city, tick off your bucket list attractions and experience some fabulous French culture.

Quick Tips

Money: The local currency in Paris is the Euro.

Size: Paris is quite a large city, which means it takes time to get around. Despite this, it is still achievable to walk from one point to another, keeping in mind that it may take up to 40 minutes or even an hour to do so. I would suggest using public transport to navigate your way around the city if you don’t have a lot of time to explore.

Security: Unfortunately a lot of tourists in Paris fall victim to pick pocketing. The best way to avoid getting your stuff stolen is to be aware of your belongings at all times. Only take essentials with you when you’re out and about, do not put anything valuable in your pockets and be alert in crowded situations.

Do a bike tour of the city

One of the best ways to see Paris is via bike. You can see a lot in just two hours of riding around the city and it’s actually really fun! I went with Fat Tire Tours, who were a fantastic company with decent bikes and knowledgeable tour guides. I paid €26 for just under 3 hours of riding, which I felt was more than enough time to see the main attractions. The meeting spot for the tour was at the fountain in Champ de Mars and from there I rode to the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triumphe, the Louvre, the Palace of Versailles, and along the Seine River. On the tour we were given plenty of opportunities to stop for a rest, ask questions and take photos. This was great because it was very hot that day and ultimately, a huge workout. Towards the end we even stopped off to have a drink alongside the Seine.

If you’re not feeling confident about riding a bike, I wouldn’t worry too much. I hadn’t ridden one in about 10 years and I managed just fine. If you don’t know how to ride a bike at all, I would probably give this one a miss, as there is no time for you to learn beforehand or along the way.

Hop aboard a scenic river cruise 

I did an evening river cruise along the Seine, which was the perfect way to see Paris at night. The boat took off at 9pm, as the sun was going down and the city had just started to light up. For €10-15, you can learn about and see the all the main attractions while cruising down one of the world’s most famous rivers. The cruise lasts for an hour and you get stunning views of the Eiffel Tower’s sparkling lights at the beginning and the end, which is honestly just magical. The river cruise is available from 9am-10pm and the boats leave every 30 minutes.

Have a picnic under the Eiffel Tower

What better way to spend an afternoon or evening, lounging on the grass at Champ de Mars and eating delicious French food with the Eiffel Tower as your backdrop?

Pack the essentials 

  • A blanket or mat if you would prefer to sit on something.
  • Napkins and cutlery- preferably plastic forks, knives, plates and cups so that you can easily dispose of them after.
  • A corkscrew if you are drinking wine.

Food and Drink 

  • Bread (typically in the form of a baguette).
  • Cheese- think camembert or brie.
  • Cured meats such as jambon (ham), saucisson (sausage) or chorizo.
  • Fruit- berries, watermelon, grapes.
  • Dessert- macarons or chocolate eclairs.
  • Wine- the French are particularly famous for their wine, so why not have a glass or two.

See a traditional cabaret show 

The cabaret is a huge part of Parisian culture and has helped to define the city’s alluring character. The Moulin Rouge is one of the city’s most famous cabaret shows and is where the French Cancan first originated. I saw a cabaret show at the Paradis Latin theatre, located near the Notre Dame Cathedral and it was definitely an experience to remember. The show combines dance, circus and magic- think glamorous costumes, dazzling stage props and a fair bit of nudity (it is the cabaret after all)- to entertain its audience. I paid €75 for a ticket at the 9:30pm show, which included a complimentary glass of champagne. You will need to book in advance, which can be done through the Paradis Latin website.

Plan out your day 

It’s a good idea to plan out every day in order to get the most out of your visit to Paris. Typically if you’re staying in a place for a short amount of time you’ll try to cram in as much as possible to avoid missing out on anything, which can be stressful and unenjoyable. I’ve put together a few handy tips that you can use to help plan out your day in Paris so you can see some of your favourite attractions and still have a good time.

  • If you want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower, do it early in the morning. It opens at 9:30am, so I would try to get there a little bit before that in order to make sure you’re one of the first to go up. If you want to save even more time, buy a ticket with lift access. It does cost a little bit more than if you were to buy stair access to the top (€25 vs. €19), but it is a lot quicker and there is a lot of bloody stairs. To avoid waiting in long queues at the ticket office, you can also buy them online and they can be booked up to 60 days in advance. I would suggest buying them as early as possible to ensure you secure a spot with the time that you wish to visit. 
  • After the Eiffel Tower, head to Arc de Triomphe, which is about a 30 minute walk. If you decide not to climb up the Eiffel Tower, I would suggest doing the top of the Arc instead. You can buy tickets online and they usually cost around €19.
  • One of the main reasons I missed out on seeing the inside of the Louvre was because of the HUGE lines to get in. I would suggest visiting around lunchtime when the lines tend to be a little bit shorter, or during the evening on a Wednesday when the museum is open until 9:45pm. To avoid waiting in line, you can also buy your tickets in advance for €17. Another way to save time is by going to the entrance at Carrousel du Louvre (underground shopping mall), near the Apple store instead of entering at the glass pyramid in the courtyard. You’ll probably need to spend at least 2 hours in the Louvre in order to see most of the museum’s highlights.
  • If you want to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and climb to the top, I would suggest getting there as soon as it opens because there can be long lines from as early as 9:30am. If you don’t like the thought of getting up early, visit after 5:30pm instead. The cathedral is open from 8am till 6:45pm during the week and 8am till 7:45pm on weekends. It is free to enter the cathedral but you will need to pay €8.50 to enter the tower and €6 for the crypt. It can generally take around 10-15 minutes to get to the top of the tower.

46503627_2015610681808319_2954116765757472768_n

Getting around

The underground: Paris has a pretty good underground metro system that you can use to quickly navigate your way around the city. It generally costs around €1.90 for a single-use ticket or €14.90 for a package of 10 tickets. Get yourself a metro map, which are available at any metro information booth or download it online

Taxi or Uber: if you need to get somewhere quickly, taxi and Uber are available in the city. On average, you’ll probably pay around €15-20 for a short taxi or Uber ride.

Walk: Paris is a walkable city but it can take a while to get from point A to point B. For instance, the distance between the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower can take around 45 minutes to walk. If you do decide to do some walking I would suggest walking through Champs-Élysées, the most famous avenue in Paris with numerous restaurants and large department stores to stop off at, or along the Seine River.

Hire a bike: like I said earlier, one of the best ways to get around the city is to ride a bike. Keep in mind that Paris roads tend to get quite busy with traffic, so make sure you are familiar with how to ride a bike and the road rules before hiring one.

Your guide to London

London is a bustling, vibrant city filled with incredible history, creativity and education. There are endless shops, museums and historical attractions, as well as some of the oldest and most traditional pubs in the world.

If I had to describe London in a visual sense, a few things would come to mind such as bright red telephone boxes on every street corner, black cabs weaving in and out of traffic, murky water running through the Thames, flocks of pigeons and tourists in the most popular spots, and grey clouds hanging over the city.

IMG_0392

I spent five days in London, which was not nearly enough time to see and do everything. However, I did manage to tick off a majority of my bucket list items. I would love to return to London at some point in the future to explore some of the less touristy parts and to fully immerse myself in the culture of the city. Below is your complete guide to London including which attractions to see, how to get around and where to stay.

Quick Tips 

Money: The local currency in London is the British Pound. 1 pound is equal to around 1.80 AUD, which means that unfortunately you will loose money to the exchange rate. I would suggest swapping over some Aussie dollars before you go, or invest in a travel money card.

Cost: London is an expensive city and popular tourist attraction so keep in mind that you may end up spending a little bit extra than what you normally would back home. If you’re on a tight budget, it’s probably a good idea to think about how much money you want to spend each day in advance.

Size: London is HUGE and it would be impossible to see everything in just one day. I would suggest spending at least one week in London to realistically tick everything off your bucket list.

Weather: The weather in the UK can be quite unpredictable. I was visiting towards the end of summer and was wearing shorts and a t-shirt one day and jeans and a jacket the next. If you decide to visit during the warmer seasons, I would recommend packing some heavier clothing just in case.

Things to do 

Trafalgar Square

Located in the heart of London is one of the most vibrant and bustling places in the whole city. Trafalgar Square is famous for its beautiful fountains, a 50 metre-tall marble statue called the Lord Nelson, and the National Gallery. Take a seat at the fountains, watch the world go by and spot some creative street art.

Buckingham Palace 

The Queen’s sweet pad, which also serves as headquarters to the monarch of the United Kingdom. Buckingham Palace is definitely a must-see if you ever find yourself in London. Get there before 11am to watch the changing of the guards ceremony, which occurs daily and lasts up to 30 minutes. However, be prepared for it to be absolutely packed full of people.

Covent Garden 

Covent Garden is a shopper’s dream if you’re into luxury fashion and beauty. Head to Long Acre Road and Seven Dials for popular, British high-fashion stores and some of the UK’s best beauty brands. Covent Garden is also known for its amazing food and entertainment, with crowds gathering in the Covent Garden Piazza to watch street performers and buskers. You’ll also find the Covent Garden Market and the Jubilee Market located in the Piazza where there are tonnes of cool things from antiques to arts and crafts and souvenirs to discover. Fans of the opera and ballet should check out the Royal Opera House, which is open during the day for the general public and ticket holders during performances.

River Thames 

Before I visited London, I always thought the River Thames was pronounced exactly how it is spelt. Of course I was shocked to learn that the correct pronunciation is actually ‘tems,’ so now you won’t sound like a total idiot like I did. Anyway, there is SO much to see and do on the Thames including boat rides and cruises and some of London’s most popular attractions are located on the river. You’ll find Shakespeare’s Globe, Tate Modern, the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament within close distance of the Thames.

Tower of London 

The Tower of London- once served as a fortress, prison, armoury and even a zoo- is now a popular tourist attraction, located on the north bank of the River Thames. The Tower is a powerful symbol of British heritage that has quite the grim reputation associated with torture and death. By entering the Tower you can learn all about its bloody history- including the executions of King Henry VIII and his wife Anne Boleyn and visit the White Tower where the crypt of St John’s Chapel is located. Apparently the Tower is also super haunted, so you might even see a ghost or two! The Tower also houses the Majesty’s Crown Jewels, with the crown that Elizabeth II wore to her coronation among the collection. Entry into the Tower is £22.70 if you buy tickets online and £26.80 for walk-in tickets at the venue.

Tower Bridge 

Take a stroll along the River Thames and you’ll see one of London’s most iconic bridges, the Tower Bridge. It’s free to walk across and you can even climb to the top! Access to the sky bridge is £9.80, where you can get stunning views overlooking the city and the Thames.

Hyde Park 

Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in London. Some of its highlights include: the Serpentine Lake (popular for boating and swimming), The Diana Fountain (a memorial to Princess Diana, designed to reflect her life), Speakers Corner (a place of free speech, which is usually busy on weekends), and Kensington Gardens, which adjoins Hyde Park on the west. Kensington Gardens is where you’ll find the palace that Princess Diana lived in and various memorials including the Albert Memorial. The Serpentine Art Gallery is also located in the gardens and is worth a visit if you’re a fan of contemporary art. Hyde Park is also a great spot to just sit and relax, grab a bite to eat from one of the many cafes or restaurants, or hire a bike. The park is open daily from 5am- 12am.

British Museum 

The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture and has an amazing collection of artefacts from all over the world. Some of the highlights include the Rosetta Stone, the Pantheon sculptures, the Egyptian mummies, the Enlightenment Gallery and the Easter Island Statue called Hoa Hakananai’a. The best part, it’s free to enter! I would recommend spending at least 2-3 hours here if you plan on seeing a majority of the attractions. The museum is open daily from 10am- 5:30pm (8:30pm on Fridays).

Camden Market

Located in Camden Town is where you’ll find thousands of stalls selling some of the coolest retro and handmade pieces. Camden is often referred to as the ‘creative heart of London,’ with its super quirky, graffiti covered hole-in-the wall bars, also serving as a popular spot where young people (particularly students), go to hang out. The markets are usually the busiest on Sundays, so if you want to avoid the crowds I’d recommend visiting during the week. The markets are open every day from 10am till late.

The London Dungeon 

One of my favourite attractions! The London Dungeon is an interactive, scary and all-round entertaining recreation of England’s most gory and macabre events in history. If you’re a huge fan of anything sinister and gruesome (like me), then you’ll absolutely want to do this. Some of the standouts include characters such as Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd, as well as scenes from the plague and the great fire of London. The standard ticket price for entry into the dungeon is £21.00 if you purchase online or £30.00 on the day.

Give it a miss… 

Big Ben 

Big Ben is currently under construction until August 2021 and is completely covered in scaffolding. If you’re under a time crunch I wouldn’t bother going out of your way to visit. If you happen to be around that area visiting Westminster Abbey or the House of Parliament you’ll see it in the distance anyway.

The London Eye 

There will probably be a lot of mixed opinions about whether you should do the Coca-Cola London Eye. In mine, I believe that it offers some absolutely amazing views of the city but for the cost of £25.20, it’s not bloody worth it. This is the sort of attraction I would do once and never again as it’s great for the first five minutes and then pretty boring for the next twenty-five. If you want to do it, I would suggest buying a ticket for the London Eye plus one or more attractions as it works out to be a lot cheaper in the end. There are plenty of places in London that offer spectacular views at a much cheaper price such as the Tower Bridge, the top of St Paul’s Cathedral and the viewing gallery of the Sky Garden.

Getting Around

Tube: One of the easiest ways to navigate around the city is on London’s underground tube. Wherever you are in London, you should be able to find an underground stop within walking distance and a train arriving in 10 minutes or less. The stations are pretty easy to spot as they all have a red and blue circular sign out the front that say ‘underground.’

Oyster card: To use London’s public transport system you will need to purchase an Oyster card for £5.00. You can pick one up from any underground station and top up at the ticket machines. At the end of your trip you can also return the card and get your £5.00 back and any unused credit.

Citymapper app: At first it can be quite daunting to try and navigate your way around such a large and unfamiliar city. I would suggest downloading the Citymapper app to make your life a little bit easier. It’s really easy to use as you just type in where you want to go from your current location and it will bring up numerous options on how to get there, how long it will take and how much it will cost. If you’re catching the tube it will even tell you which line and station you need to get on and off at and where to switch over if you need to.

Accommodation 

I stayed at the Generator Hostel, located in Tavistock Place. The hostel was in a decent location as both Russell Square station and Kings Cross station were close by and there was a bus stop out the front. I stayed in a 4-person room, which ended up costing around £50 a night, including breakfast. In my opinion, this was a little bit pricey considering the rooms were tiny with no air conditioning and the shared bathroom and shower facilities weren’t great. The Generator had a good social scene with a bar and restaurant downstairs but I would probably stay somewhere different (and a bit cheaper) next time.

My floating experience

Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons when Homer and Lisa are introduced to sensory deprivation tanks?

To refresh your memory, Lisa goes on a spiritual journey, while Homer goes on an actual journey.

A couple of weeks ago I went floating in a sensory deprivation tank (or isolation tank) and it was not like that episode of The Simpsons at all. However, it was still an experience like no other.

As a person who deals with anxiety and stress, I have the desire to escape from reality occasionally.

The start of a new semester at uni is always a stressful time. The stress usually occurs when I read through my assessments and try to comprehend how much work I have ahead of me. I become overwhelmed, and as a result feel very stressed out and anxious.

On my quest to ‘escape reality’ I discovered ‘floating.’ An experience that offers relief from chronic pain, anxiety and depression. I was extremely curious and did some research to see if there were any places in the Illawarra that offered this experience.

Cocoon Flotation, located at 70 Kembla St. Wollongong, seemed like the best option so I clicked on their website and booked an appointment.

What is Floating? 

Floating is a form of sensory deprivation that involves lying in an isolation tank filled with water. It’s basically like a giant bathtub where you float in darkness and the outside world completely disappears.

How does it work? 

The tanks are filled with Epsom salts which makes the water extremely dense, so when you lie down you float. Many people float to relieve stress, anxiety or to eliminate chronic pain. Others may do it to gain a spiritual experience through meditation or to help with learning and creativity. The water is kept at a constant 34.5 degrees Celsius, which is skin receptor neutral so you don’t get too hot or too cold.

Floating naturally increases dopamine and endorphin levels, boosting your mood and leaving you with a pleasant afterglow that lasts for days after your float.

The isolation tank I floated in

My experience 

Before my floating appointment I was slightly nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I had some concerns going in such as:

  • Will I be claustrophobic?
  • What if I can’t switch off and I’m bored?
  • Will I come out looking like a wrinkly old prune?

I arrived at Cocoon Flotation and was greeted by the lovely Catherine. I filled out a quick medical form and was taken through to my float room.

When I first got into the tank I felt a little bit anxious. It was quite dark and I felt uncomfortable having the lid closed at first. It was the weirdest sensation because you’re literally just floating in water, which can take some time to get used to.

Once I had adjusted, I closed the lid and tried to clear my mind. It took me about half an hour to become fully switched off and I found myself drifting to sleep. Unlike Lisa in that episode of The Simpsons, I did not have any crazy hallucinations, however I was totally relaxed and enjoyed my time immensely.

I was eventually woken up by the jets turning on, signalling that I only had 10 minutes of my float left. I got out, showered and then met Catherine at the reception desk who was thrilled that I had enjoyed my first floating experience.

Coming out, I was amazed at how easy it was for me to relax. The fact that I was able to switch off completely was a huge accomplishment, as I struggle to do so on a daily basis. My initial fears of claustrophobia and boredom faded away as I became immersed in the water.

As for looking like a prune, this was not the case. The Epsom salt made my skin feel hydrated and smooth and overall I felt amazing (basically like I could accomplish anything).

Cost 

A 60-minute float costs $79, which is a little pricey but in my opinion, totally worth it. This is not something I would do all the time but would consider doing every three months or so. You can either book online via the Cocoon Flotation website or by phone.

According to the Cocoon Flotation website, the longer and more often you float, the stronger the benefits become.

Tips for beginners 

  • It’s best to shower before and after you float. Try not to make the shower too hot, otherwise you might be cold when getting into the tank.
  • When floating you should be fully naked so no loose clothing or garments can distract you.
  • Put your phone on silent before going in so you’re not distracted.
  • If you are feeling claustrophobic, you can leave the lid open and the light on the entire time.
  • Floating can be very relaxing and because of this many people may be afraid of drowning if they fall asleep. This will not happen! The buoyancy of the water will keep you afloat.

My experience with Cocoon Flotation was amazing and I am 100% booking another appointment in the future. I would recommend this experience to anyone who deals with stress, anxiety, chronic pain or even those who are looking for some creative insight.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any further enquires about my experience!