Thursday, 28 September 2017

Visiting London On A Budget

I have the privilege of being married to a rather spontaneous man. When he suggested at 11pm on a Thursday that we go to London the following evening, I wasn't surprised. But what I did consider was how we would manage to stay in London for a whole weekend on our rather modest budget. Sure, we had stayed in London many times before and we have never been rolling in cash but with a bubba on the way and a house move on the cards, our budget had never been this tight. It is now Monday afternoon and I am back in Devon after spending a full weekend in the big city. I have to say, I am rather impressed by how well we managed to cut costs without scrimping on fun. So, I decided to put together a post of tips and tricks on how to save money when visiting the big city.

Know where your priorities lie
This is my biggest piece of advice not just in this post but in life: know what you are willing to spend more money on. Consider which things are most important to you. Are you desperate to try that fancy restaurant you've seen on everyone's instas? Do you really want to see a certain play? Or are you a bit of a hotel snob who loves a good king size bed with feather covers? Personally, I love to explore all over a city and wander around taking in the sights (and getting a lot of pics!) so I knew that public transport would probably be an area where I'd spend most of our budget. To balance this out, we decided to go with cheaper options when it came to accommodation and food.

Consider a hostel or budget hotel
If your main priority is seeing the city and you aren't going to even be at the hotel for more than the few hours you spend there sleeping, I would highly recommend booking a hostel or a cheap hotel. At the weekend, I booked us a budget hotel which was only 3 minutes walk from Victoria station and right in the heart of Kensington. I booked this at about 9pm for the same night for the sum of £50 per night. This included a breakfast consisting of cereal (better than nothing) and the room had a TV and there was wifi. The room wasn't anything special but the price for such a central location really impressed me. And the fact that this was a last minute price - if we had booked in advance, we could have got an even better deal. Most hostels in London average at about £18 per night but it possible to pay for a private family room in a hostel which usually costs about £40 per night. I would highly recommend using Trivago to compare prices and don't listen too closely to what the reviews say if you are looking at budget hotels.

Get a day travel pass or Oyster
Being a village girl, I find the transport in London to be incredible. The frequency of buses, trains, and tubes always surprises me. And it is not too expensive. You can pick up a daily travel card for £12 that covers most of London and allows unlimited travel on all forms of transport within the city (excluding cabs, of course). Or for £33, you can get a weekly travel card. The other option is picking up an Oyster card or a Visitor's Oyster Card. I have a regular Oyster card which I prefer as it's pay as you go and travel is free after your sixth journey. It depends how much you are intending to travel once you arrive in London but if you want to hit the shops in Oxford Street, explore Borough Market, take some outfit pics in Kensington, and head into Soho for a night out, I'd recommend picking one up because those taxi cab bills soon add up. 

Free attractions
One of the best things about London is that there is a wealth of free stuff to do. The city is full of museums and galleries that only ask for donations including the Tate and Tate Modern, V&A, British Museum, and The Natural History Museum. Also lots of the famous landmarks such as Trafalgar Square are free - walking around central is a great way to explore the city without parting with any cash. But my all-time favourite thing to do in London is explore the markets. My favourite is Borough Market but Camden Market is also really vibrant and exciting - although you may end up spending a little bit of money on some delicious snacks because who could resist? 

Independent restaurants
A great way to save money as well as trying something different is by eating at an independent restaurant. Venturing out of the centre is a great way to cut food costs. My best tip for finding cheap but delicious food is to eat at Lebanese or Turkish restaurants - for around £30, you can pretty much fill an entire table with a range of tasty dishes.

Explore outside of central
When we visited London, we travelled out to places like Lewisham and Croydon to explore parts of the city that we had never been to. Of course, I love doing all the touristy things that you find in the more central locations but you get more of a feel for London if you try places that are a bit off the beaten track. Also it is so much cheaper.

If you're travelling to London from within the UK, be sure to check out the prices for Megabus. If you book trains years in advance, you can get good deals but Megabus is shockingly cheap even if you book it the same day. My husband and I booked a one-way ticket from Exeter to London and paid £17 for both of us. One woman on the bus told us she got a return for £8 for the same journey as she had booked in advance. Admittedly, it takes a bit longer than the train and there is the chance of running into traffic but once you've got your headphones in and have found some blogs to catch up on, the time tends to go a lot quicker than you'd imagine.

Voucher apps
Voucher apps like Vouchercloud are a great way to find some discounts ready for your trip. If you're savvy, you could accumulate a few different vouchers for restaurants and attractions to use on your trip - especially if you know where you'll be staying and which restaurants you'll be close to.

Trainline is a great website for getting discounted train fares. I only discovered it last week when I booked train tickets for my husband and I from Bristol to Exeter for £19 which would have cost £34 if you had bought them on the GWR website. Also if you are desperate to ride the rails, be sure to book far in advance to get the best deals.

What are your London travel tips?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Maternity Clothes and the Self-Confidence Crisis

TW: eating disorders

Over the last few months, my self-confidence has started to go downhill. I don't feel as good about myself as I used to. It sounds shallow but I miss feeling attractive. I feel like it has crept up on me over these few months and now I am feeling the full effects.

For most of my life, I have struggled with my weight. Last year, I reached the weight that I had always fantasised about achieving but doubted I ever actually would manage. I was a small size 10 - I liked to tell myself that a size 8 would probably be a better fit. Granted, I had treated my body so poorly to get to this point and, looking back, this weight loss feels more like a low point than an achievement. I realised that the problem was my self-confidence, not my size. I wasn't any happier as a size 10 than as a size 16. Heck, I think I was less happy because I felt like I hadn't achieved enough. I became obsessed with the tiny pocket of fat on my lower stomach. I would spend so much time in the mirror charting my 'progress'. I realised that if you don't love yourself at the size you are now, you won't love yourself once you've lost weight. It isn't a miracle solution to all your problems.

For months, I worked my way through my obsession with weight loss and focussed on giving my body what it needed rather than restricting myself. I wanted to get back to being the kinda girl who would order a chocolate cake in a café and not be adding up the calories in my head. With help from my husband, I got back on track and I was in a happy place. I rediscovered my love for takeaway pizza and I deleted the calorie counting app from my phone. Then I found out I was pregnant.

Admittedly, I did worry how the inevitable weight gain would affect me. I knew from the start that my body would change in crazy ways and the weight definitely did pile on fast. After only a couple of weeks, I had gone up a dress size in jeans. But I knew that there was no escaping this. I ate when I felt hungry. I gave into cravings and didn't push myself too hard with the exercise. 7 months in, I feel proud of my pregnancy body. I love my bump and I don't even mind the little extra chub I've gained because I know I need this extra weight for breastfeeding. I am proud of my body for carrying my child so well.

The problems come about when I have to try to dress this new body. I never realised how much of my identity and my relationship with my body is based on feeling good in what I am wearing. My self-confidence has been on the decline in the last few months because I just don't have anything to wear. I have tried maternity clothes but they just aren't me. I find myself wandering around clothes shops looking at the new season clothes and wishing that the maternity section was that exciting. I mean, sometimes I don't want to wear jersey striped tops and bodycon everything.

Jumper - Primark (similar)
Jeans - Mothercare (here)
Boots - New Look (similar)
Gilet - Primark (similar)

Of course, there are maternity clothing brands that are an exception to this. ASOS do a lovely range of maternity clothes and I recently picked up these jeans from Mothercare which I adore. I love seeing brands make maternity jeans that are soft, comfortable, have a great belly band, and actually look kinda cool. I love the classic blue colour and the ripped knees give me a 'I'm a cool mom' kinda vibe. On the same shopping trip, I picked up this jumper. Admittedly, it isn't as long as I would like to it be but I love the embroidered design on the arms. The best thing is that it is big and comfy whilst still looking nice. It is like a fluffy burst of autumn in my wardrobe. I paired the jeans and jumper with my all-time favourite chunky ankle boots and a gilet that definitely doesn't fit anymore and I finally feel a bit more 'me'. I feel like I have found an outfit that brings together all the autumn vibes that I absolutely love but is also comfy on my bump. When I wear this, I feel happier in myself. I am starting to feel more normal. I think I need to keep pushing myself to make an effort with my appearance like doing my makeup and not just scraping my hair back into a messy bun. 

To any other soon-to-be mums that are feeling the same, I would say that you have to be persistent in your search for clothes that make you feel like you again. Don't give up on maternity brands as they do often stock some nice pieces but also look in normal clothing shops - especially now that lots of brands are bringing out their winter jumpers which are a great way to wear a trend that is also not hugely uncomfortable. Also take some time to focus on yourself. Get your nails done, buy yourself some new makeup, pick up a swishy dress that flows over your bump and shimmy around in it.

Pregnancy can make you lose yourself. Your thoughts become focused on your little one - that's natural. But try not to lose sight of your own needs. You are still important and even though your priorities are shifting, make sure you don't let yourself fall to the bottom of the pile.

What tips would you give to soon-to-be mums when it comes to body confidence? What is your favourite maternity brand?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Fighting The Seasonal Frizz With Noughty Haircare

The struggle is real for us curly-haired girls at this time of year. After a whole summer of fighting humidity-induced frizz, you would have thought Mother Nature would give us a little bit of a break. But, no. In come comes the wind and the rain and there goes all hope of having a good hair day. I have come to the realisation that frizz is just a part of life for me and I will probably never have perfect, frizz-free curls unless I use a whole lot of heat on my hair then never leave the house again - or even go near an open window. But that doesn't mean that I can't try to get as close to perfect curls as possible.

In my journey to reduce frizz and really bring out my curl pattern, I came across Noughty Haircare. Noughty Haircare has recently started being sold in Superdrug and they cater for hair types across the board. But here's the best part: they are 97% natural, vegan, and cruelty free. Of course, I snapped up a shampoo and conditioner from their curl range as soon as I laid eyes on them. And what sweetens the deal is that the packaging is just so pretty - I swear, these products are a blogger's dream. They even contain avocado - what's not to love?

In terms of the products that I purchased, I would say that they would be well suited to wavy hair or a loose curl type. They made my hair very shiny and I felt like my curls were definitely very moisturised after using the products. They didn't exactly add much to my curl definition but I could certainly see a reduction in frizz. I would definitely repurchase the shampoo again as I like that it is paraben free and doesn't cause my hair to tangle like many other shampoos do. The conditioner was good to have to change up my products every so often but I wouldn't rush to repurchase it because I found that it made my hair feel a bit heavy although it did give it a high level of shine which I was happy about.

I would recommend these products to give your hair a lift if it is feeling a bit dull in this weather. There products seem to be really moisturising and I can attest to how they leave your hair so shiny and soft. These products would be perfect for anyone with a loose to mid curl formation and I enjoyed experimenting with a new brand.

I applaud Noughty Haircare for creating a range of natural, vegan, cruelty-free products as it is difficult to find good products for an affordable price that aren't packed full of chemicals. I hope more haircare brands follow suit.

Have you ever tried Noughty Haircare? What did you think?

Monday, 11 September 2017

Spooky Fun At Wookey Hole

There is nothing I love more than a little bit of spooky fun. I can't handle horror but anything that has a slight novelty feel to it is an instant win with me. So, when my mum suggested we go on a family day out to Wookey Hole, I was mega excited. I mean, who wouldn't want to explore caves that are famous for once being the home of a real, live witch? Also I was pretty psyched to buy some cave cheese. They also do cave wine and cider which sounds amazing and I am really considering investing on a few bottles to put in my hospital bag for once the baby is out.

After a long journey along a lot of windy country lanes (thanks, SatNav), we finally found ourselves at Wookey Hole. This part of the day was less spooky horror, more family comedy involving a road trip and a fair amount of shouting and sulking. Kids and cars really don't mix. But once we were finally out of the car and queuing up to get into Wookey Hole, we all started to feel a little more excited. Especially seeing a few members of staff milling around with green painted faces and wearing witch costumes. And seeing a café selling ice-cream.

Due to it being super busy on that day, the man at the desk advised us not to head straight to the caves but to look around a few of the other attractions first. So, we took his advice and found a clown museum. I, for one, find clowns so creepy. Just the whole fake smile thing creeps me out. And the new IT movie being released has taught me that I am really not alone in this. I mean, who even like clowns really? The mini museum was quite interesting and I liked seeing the pictures of clowns from early 1900s circuses - those guys really take the biscuit for clown creepiness. I have not visited many clown museums in my lifetime so it was interesting to read more about the history of the whole thing but I definitely wouldn't want to be left alone in there.

We then headed through to where they had a big amusement arcade full of old arcade machines. They had been adapted to accept special tokens which you could purchase. I loved the nostalgic vibe of the whole place and I even got my fortune read on one of the machines. My sisters loved the machines that predicted their futures and, of course, trying out the old penny slots.

We then headed out to have a picnic and grab some Marshfield ice-cream from the café. I chose banana ice-cream because I have really been craving everything containing bananas lately - which is kinda strange because I usually hate banana. Full of ice-cream and snacks, we then headed into the caves.

The caves were really dark inside with only some areas illuminated with artificial lighting. We were dodging low-hanging rocks and puddles of water the whole time. Our guide told us the folk story about the witch who used to live in these caves and the coldness and darkness really added to the whole spooky atmosphere. I couldn't help but imagine what would happen if a rock suddenly fell blocking our path or if a body of water leaked from somewhere filling the whole cave - as you can tell, I am ever the optimist. For the end of the tour, we had to wear hard hats as the area had been excavated more recently than the rest of the parts and there was a risk of falling rocks - I was convinced this was the end.

Thankfully, we all made it out alive. I may have been slightly melodramatic as no-one has ever had any issues visiting the caves (that I know of anyway). We then were able to go to the gift shop and check out all the yummy cheese and other cave goodies. They even had fudge!

I would highly recommend a trip to Wookey Hole - especially if you have kids as it is a great family day out. I would love to go back for all their Halloween events to experience the spooky factor cranked up to capacity.

Have you ever been to Wookey Hole? Where is your favourite spooky location in the UK?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Things I Do To Make A Bad Day Brighter

Bad days are an unavoidable part of life. Even the most bubbly, sunshiny person in the world has an off day every now and then. I believe that taking care of your mental health is super important - just as important as taking care of your physical health - so I wanted to share a couple of things that I do when I'm having an off day to lift my spirits.

Cry it out
I find that sometimes all I need to feel a bit better is to ugly cry to a bit of Taylor Swift. It is natural that we bottle up things through the weeks and don't allow ourselves to really feel our emotions properly. A cry is a good way to release all these negative emotions you have stored away.

Talk to someone
Talking to someone is a great way to overcome any unhappiness you may be feeling. Whether you want to talk to a counsellor or let loose on your best friend, talking about what you're struggling with can really help. If you don't feel ready to talk about how you're feeling directly, I find that a chat with someone you are close to about anything from that new palette that has just dropped to who has been kicked off Bake Off this week can really help.

Do something nice for someone else
I find that channelling these negative emotions into doing something positive for someone can be a great way to feel a little better. When I am sad, I like to bake for my husband because it makes me feel better seeing his face light up coming home to his favourite snacks. Although I might not be feeling happy, it makes me feel a bit better knowing that I am responsible for making someone else happy.

Listen to something inspirational
When I don't feel my best, I like to listen to girl power ballads and songs that make me feel like I could conquer the world. For almost a year, I listened to Maya Angelou's reading of Still I Rise every morning as I did my makeup. I found great comfort in these words and, knowing Maya Angelou's personal story, it made me feel like if she could manage to get up everyday and achieve so much then why can't I?

Occupy your time
When you're feeling rough, it can be easy to want to hide away in your bed and never come out. This is normal and sometimes you just have to give in and allow yourself that time to recover. But, on such days, I like to try to do at least one thing so that I don't feel like I have wasted an entire day. This can be anything from tidying my room to doing the laundry. I find that if I have managed to accomplish something - even something small - I feel better about myself.

Be kind to yourself
Remember that everyone has days like this. Be kind to yourself. Do things that make you happy. It is so easy to think badly of yourself and compare yourself to those around you and their insta-perfect lives but try to overcome this negativity. Your feelings are valid and you are valid.

Social media blackout
Sometimes it is best to distance yourself from social media when you are feeling a bit down. Journal your thoughts rather than sharing them with everyone online as you may later regret posting what you did when you were feeling down. Also, when you already feel a bit grotty, there seems to be a weird force that pulls you towards Facebook stalking every ex you ever had - and their new partner, and their partner's brother/cousin/uncle/hairdresser - until you find yourself feeling even worse because what if that guy that you dated in year 9 was the one?! Sometimes it's best to turn off completely.

In case you are having more bad days than good, here are a few links to different websites and phone numbers that I'd advise you check out. Also don't be afraid to contact your GP or talk to someone you trust if you seem to be feeling down more often than you used to.

Mind - 0300 123 3393
Samaritans - 116 123 
Childline (under 19) - 0800 1111
Sane - 0300 304 7000

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Autumn Bucket List

I don't think I could call myself a blogger if I wasn't completely obsessed with autumn. I mean, it comes with the territory, right? As the weather get a little bit crisper, I start to dream of cosy nights in curled up with a good book and drinking hot chocolate with mountains of whipped cream. Although I will be a little bit sad to wave goodbye to the long summer days, I am intending to throw myself wholeheartedly into everything autumnal.

Add to my chunky knitwear collection
I have to admit, summer fashion often has me at a loss. All the pastels and bright colours aren't really my cup of tea and I struggle to feel truly comfortable in a dress - especially when it ends up with me being sunburnt pretty much from head to toe. Don't even get me started on being pregnant during summer and trying to find something that isn't a glorified lilac tent to wear. I am far more comfortable in a comfy knitted jumper, some ripped jeans, and a paired of heeled boots. This season, I want to invest in some knits in burnt orange and mustard. Also burgundy always make a comeback around September which is something that I support 100%. And my beanie is feeling a bit lonely so I think this year I need to get him a friend or two.

Bake everything
Nothing quite screams autumn like spending a rainy day indoors baking delicious sugary snacks. I love baking anything that has cinnamon in it at this time of year because it fills the whole kitchen with such a warm, sweet scent. I want to make gingerbread, banana loaf, and coffee cake first of all then I'd also love to challenge myself with more difficult bakes like baked Alaska cake and pastries. Heck, I might even make croissants.

Make smores
Along the same lines, I want to make smores. Probably I will end up cheating and just make microwave ones but nothing beats the melted marshmallow and chocolate combination of a smore. Maybe I could do it on the BBQ? Is that a thing?

Drink all the hot chocolate
Would it be a stretch to introduce a new hot chocolate testing series to my blog? It would be a great excuse to tour all the local cafes and rank their hot chocolates. My favourite is still Caffé Nero's but maybe their title will be challenged this year - who knows?!

Explore some new cities
I have the travel itch (not the kind you catch in Magaluf) and I really want to spend autumn travelling to new cities, staying in posh hotels, and indulging in a buffet breakfast. My budget might not stretch to the European cities I have in mind but there are definitely spots in the UK that I am yet to visit. Especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Binge watch all the Halloween films
I am really not a fan of horror films but I love films that are a little bit spooky. Especially when they are theatrical and maybe just a little bit camp. I love The Addams Family and intend to be channelling my inner Morticia from the minute the leaves start to turn orange. Other favourites of mine are Carry On Screaming and Rocky Horror. Can't beat those spooky, camp vibes.

Create a spooky autumn reading list
Now that I've finished uni, I want to delve into all the books I missed out on whilst I was studying. I want to read all the spooky books and get myself prepared for Halloween.

Try a pumpkin spice latte
Can you believe I have never actually had a pumpkin spice latte? I know, I have let down white women everywhere. The idea of a drink containing pumpkin has kinda put me off in the past but I am going to conquer my pumpkin anxiety and try one. Hopefully it won't be as much of a let down as matcha tea was for me.

Celebrate Halloween properly
I have been working on Halloween every year for as long as I can remember but this year I won't be. Despite the fact that I will be very pregnant by that stage, I intend to actually do something to mark the occasion. I just have to make sure I steer clear of spicy food to avoid the baby making a surprise appearance.

Go to a fireworks display
Once again, this is probably slightly unrealistic as I will pretty much be full term by Bonfire Night but I'd love to watch a fireworks display - even if it is just out my bedroom window (or the window at the maternity unit - eep!). Nothing beats an evening wrapped up in coats and scarfs watching a big bonfire and a firework display. Preferably with hot dogs and hot chocolate too.

Visit Wookey Hole
Wookey Hole is the absolute best place to visit at this time of year. I mean, it is a series of caves and the employees are dressed up as witches. Nothing gets more Halloweeny than that! I haven't been there in absolutely ages so I would love to visit again.

Try painting
This is a slightly less season related one but I would love to attempt to paint some little A5 cards with acrylic paint. I keep seeing everyone on Twitter posting pics of their incredible artwork and it has inspired me to try to give it a go myself. Maybe I can paint orange leaves to make it autumnal?

What do you want to do this autumn? What is your favourite Halloween film?
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