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5 Things I’ve Learnt from 5 Years of Blogging, and how Travelling Changed my Life!

 

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Sooo I just wanted to come on here and let you all know that Journeys with Jessica celebrated its 5th birthday this week! 5th!! That is CRAZYYYY! 😱 I remember when I started my little blog, back in 2014, when I was 21 years old and my world had just been turned upside down for all the wrong reasons. An awful relationship break up left me with no motivation, no energy, no desire to carry on and make something of my life. For 3 months I barely ate or slept. I was broken and didn't think I'd ever be happy again, until I started to travel and I started my blog. I didn't know it back then, but the decision I made to start travelling actually changed my life. 🌎 Instead of wallowing in self pity and worrying about trying to change the past, I started to look forward. I started to plan trips, book short weekend stays and long weeks away, and I started to live again. I couldn't fall in love with anyone else, but I did fall in love with travelling, and to this day it's been the best decision I've ever made. ❤️ I've driven across Route 66 in America, rode the Great Ocean Road in Australia, inter-railed around Europe, cruised around the Med and visited 28 countries by the age of 26. I've helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, parasailed on Daytona Beach, been on a gondola in Venice, climbed the Eiffel Tower, skydived over Uluru, flew over Fraser Island and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef. Sometimes I can't believe how much I've done and I have to pinch myself that this has been my life. 🎉 So if anyone out there is ever feeling like I did 5 years ago, or if you're not sure where your life is heading and need to make some changes, I urge you to travel. To discover new places, to meet new faces, to live a different life. 5 years from now I hope I'm still in love with travel, that I'm going to more countries than ever before and that I'm even happier than I am now. 🌟

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In case you missed my epic Instagram announcement earlier on this week, I am absolutely THRILLED to let you all know that my little blog celebrated it’s 5th birthday this week and it has made me so unbelievably happy! I cannot imagine my life without my blog, or without travel in it, and sometimes I genuinely have to pinch myself that I’ve lived the life I have. 5 years ago, when I first launched my little space on the Internet, I had no idea how much it would change my life. I didn’t know the friends I would make, or the opportunities I would gain. I didn’t know that I’d reach almost 10,000 social media followers across all platforms, or that a whopping 5000 people would view my blog every single month. I thought it would just give me something to do in my spare time, and would be a little hobby for me. I thought that only my mum and dad would read it, and that no one else would ever take an interest, but boy how wrong I was! Here’s 5 things I’ve learnt during my 5 years of blogging…

 

It’s given me so much confidence

 

 

Let’s take it back to the beginning, back to 2014 when this little blog was launched. I had just come out of a horrific relationship break up and was at an all time low. For three months I barely slept or ate, I had no confidence, no motivation, no desire to do anything or make something of myself. I wasn’t excited about anything, I had no appetite, I didn’t even want to see my friends or do anything with my family. I was completely broken, and I was a shadow of my former self, until one day when I decided to book a trip to Barcelona with 2 of my best friends. I didn’t know it back then, but that day would shape the course of my entire life for the next 5 years. Once I had my trip booked I had something to look forward to, something to get excited about. Once that trip was over I booked another one, and another one after that. I started my blog, so that writing about my trips would keep my travel dreams alive until I got on my next flight. I was obsessed with all things travel, and blogging, and it gave me a new lease of life. I started attending events, networking, going to conferences. I started speaking to more and more bloggers online and consumed myself with this new world – it was amazing, I felt like a new person, and it really gave me my mojo back.

 

I’ve made some amazing friends 

 

 

One of the best things about blogging has got to be all the new friends I’ve made over the past 5 years since I started Journeys with Jessica. I didn’t know that strangers I would interact with online would later become some of my best friends, and people I still speak to now on a daily basis. I’ve even gone on trips with some of them, and attended new events and parties with them too. The turning point for me came when I went to my first ever travel blogging conference, Traverse in Cardiff back in 2016. I went with Lucy, one of the girls I met on Twitter, stayed overnight at her house and ended up becoming firm friends. We went on a trip to Bratislava and Vienna two years later, and next week we are going to be reunited in Italy as I attend my 4th Traverse conference in Trento! I speak to so many fellow bloggers online, and count many of them as wonderful, real life friends as they’re no longer just strangers off the Internet! That’s the beauty of blogging, it brings you face to face with friends you’d never meet in every day life and gives you the opportunity to connect with like-minded people from all over the world.

 

It’s given me some epic travel opportunities 

 

 

I didn’t start my blog in order to get free travel, it was never even something that crossed my mind, but 5 years later I have been lucky enough to benefit from some fantastic travel opportunities, and it’s all thanks to my little corner of the Internet! It took me 3 years before I started to go on press trips or get invites to go to things with my blog, so it’s definitely not something that happens overnight. A real turning point for me came when I went to my second Traverse conference, this time in London, and I met so many brands, bloggers and tourism boards who were ACTUALLY INTERESTED in working with influencers and creating content. I hit the jackpot when, just a couple of weeks later, I was invited to Menorca for a week long trip with Visit Spain, Turismo de Menorca and Traverse themselves for a weekend conference followed by 4 days of post-event adventures. I was selected as one of 50 UK bloggers and it was such an honour for me to be there. Later on that year I also went to Hamburg on a 3 day trip with 4 other bloggers and got to experience the best that the city has to offer with the German tourism board. Other press trips have included numerous hotel and restaurant reviews, gifted city cards and itineraries hand crafted by tourism boards ready for me to explore and share content on my blog. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that has been my job for the past few years!

 

I’ve pushed myself to be the best person I can be

 

 

Although travelling has made me the best person I can be, I would also say that blogging has too. I know the two go hand in hand, but before I started blogging I had no experience in the social media or marketing world, no idea how to present myself or pitch for work, and no clue on how to network and meet new people. Fast forward 5 years and I can now walk in to a room full of strangers and introduce myself and my blog. I can send pitch emails to brands who I want to work with, and I can tell them why I’m the right person they should choose to collaborate with. As well as the Traverse travel blogging conferences, I have also been twice to WTM, the biggest travel conference in the world, and have met with brands, tourism boards and airlines face to face to pitch directly to them and tell them all about me and my blog. I would NEVER have had the confidence to do something like this 5 years ago, and I think that shows just how far I have come in both my professional life and on a personal level. I push myself to do things that are out of my comfort zone because I know how much it will benefit me in the long run, and I think this has been a key part of my success as a travel blogger.

 

It’s taught me to appreciate everything in life

 

 

Travelling has taught me so much about the world, but also so much about myself too. When I’m on a trip I just throw myself into it every single day, I wake up early and go to bed late, I see as much as I can whilst I’m there and I enjoy every single second. When you’re travelling you realise just how small you are in comparison to the rest of the world. You see things in a different light, and you realise that some things just don’t matter. All perception of things become clearer when you travel, and I’ve had two life changing experiences through 2 different trips (4 weeks in America and 6 weeks in Australia) which have totally turned my world around. I also see things differently when I come home after trips like these too – they just open my eyes and make me realise there are things which aren’t important, and things that are, and they help to re-align my life and get things back on track.  Life is too short to be unhappy, so book that hotel, get on that flight and don’t look back! I honestly don’t know that I’d have done over the past 5 years if I haven’t had travelled, and I can’t ever imagine my life without it now.

 

Starting my blog was honestly the best thing I’ve ever done, and it definitely changed my life for the better. I cannot imagine what I would have done over the past 5 years if I hadn’t been blogging, or travelling, and I’m thankful every day that I decided to take my leap of faith and launch Journeys with Jessica back in 2014. If anyone out there is thinking of starting a blog, or if you’re hesitating about booking that dream trip my advice would be JUST DO IT! Life is too short to worry, too short to pass up opportunities and too short to be anything less than amazing. Travelling changed my life, I hope it changes yours too.

 

 

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WTM London: How To Survive the Bloggers Speed Networking Event

Hi guys,

So last week I attended World Travel Market (the biggest travel exhibition show on the planet) for only the second time in my blogging career, and what a whirlwind of a day it was! After my first visit back in 2016 left me feeling pretty overwhelmed, I was understandably feeling anxious ahead of my second visit. Set in London’s ExCel centre, WTM is the biggest and best travel show of the year, with thousands of people from all corners of the industry attending across the three day period. You’ll find everyone from bloggers and journalists to travel agents and tourism boards all hoping to meet new faces, catch up with old friends and of course do some business networking. Last time I visited I wrote a blog post sharing my top tips on how to survive your first time at WTM, which gives an insight of what to expect from the exhibition, so I hope some of you found that useful! This time though was a very different visit for me as I was lucky enough to be selected as one of only 120 bloggers to take part in the digital influencers speed networking event, so I was very focused and determined to walk away from WTM with some new business as a result of my visit. Here are my top tips on surviving the WTM London Bloggers Speed Networking and how to get the most out of your valuable time there…

 

 

Choose the right category upon registration

 

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can give to anyone looking to take part in the WTM London Bloggers Speed Networking. Upon registration you will be asked to provide some information about yourself and your blog and will then need to select which category you feel you fit into best (solo, group, family, adventure, budget, luxury etc). I found this quite tricky actually as my blog is so varied and I do a little bit of luxury travel, a little bit of adventure and a little bit of solo sometimes, so I could have slotted in to a few of the categories, but I settled on adventure as I felt this suited me best. When I arrived to set up my stand I was sooo glad I chose this category as they are listed A-Z (I didn’t realise this til I got there) and adventure is on the front row meaning you get to see all the prospective brands and PRs queuing to approach you before they actually arrive at your stand. I was also listed on the print out brochure on the first category as adventure was right at the start, so I definitely think I got more footfall as a result of this, but I do think it would be great if the organisers put a little bio or a line or 2 about your blog on the print out brochure so brands looking can find out more about what you do before they approach you, rather than just having a name to go on!

 

Dress to impress

 

Wandering around WTM is overwhelming, stressful and completely exhausting, and I would definitely recommend you wear something comfortable on your feet as you will rack up the FitBit steps in no time! However, it is important to remember that you are in a working environment, meeting people from all areas of the industry who want to do business, so looking the part is key to making a good first impression. I’m not saying you need to wear a dress and 6 inch heels, but pop on a blazer and fix your hair so it looks presentable. I treat my time at WTM as if I am going for either a work meeting or a job interview and like to look my best – there are also lots of photo opportunities so it doesn’t hurt to take pride in your appearance!

 

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So today, after four long years of blogging, I had a career highlight when Journeys with Jessica was given its very own stand at WTM – the biggest travel conference in the entire world! 🌍 I was selected as one of 120 travel bloggers to come and showcase what it is that I do and how my blog works. I had brands approaching ME, not the other way round, and I met and spoke to tonnes of people who had a genuine interest in my blog and wanted to know more about me as a person too. 🎉 I ended up staying an hour longer than I was supposed to because I was talking way too much to too many people and having way too much fun! I've learnt so much today and I've never felt prouder of my little blog 💖 Here's to the next 4 years of blogging, adventures and even more fun! Thanks @wtmlondon for an amazing day ✨#WTMLDN #travelblogger #London

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Visually represent your blog

 

As it was my first time doing the WTM London Bloggers Speed Networking I really didn’t know what to expect and had no idea what was included with your stand upon set up. I didn’t know if your business card or logo would be printed and attached to the stand, and I didn’t know if there would be a picture of me on it or not. I took some chocolates with me as a way to break the ice if I needed to, and so my stand didn’t look totally bare, but I also spent some time printing out A4 media kits and taking plenty of business cards too. Business kits are an absolute must at networking meetings so always remember to take more than you need! I’m also glad I printed out my media kits (x50) as it really helped me to talk potential clients through my blog. My media kit is very clear and concise, with important notes including audience demographics, social media statistics and a brief bio about me and my blog. This, coupled with my laptop on display, allowed me to visually showcase my blog to everyone I spoke to at the speed networking. I think they found it really useful that I could make a point and then back it up with imagery, or facts, and liked the fact that I was able to show some of my most popular blog posts on my laptop screen in front of me, rather than just talking about something and not actually having anything physical to show them. I would 100% take a laptop with me if I ever took part in the speed networking again, and business cards/media kits are a definite too.

 

Show that you’re confident (even when you’re not!)

 

Confidence is an attractive trait, but it doesn’t come natural to everybody. At places like WTM it is important to have your business hat on, but you also need to be yourself. Being yourself is the only thing that makes you unique, and that makes you stand out. You are representing your blog and, in some cases, this might be your entire business, but don’t forget that your blog is something personal and something that represents YOU, so don’t be afraid to show your personality and inject a bit of passion in to your meetings! I took a few notes as a cue card, and had my blog on my laptop screen so I could scroll and show people what it looks like, but to be honest it felt so natural once I’d had my first or second meeting I just kept talking and interacting and I think this was because I so relaxed and was completely myself which made me feel so much more confident!

 

 

Be active on social media

 

I know it can be really hard to try and keep up with social media whilst you’re physically at an event, rather than posting about it afterwards, but I always find I get the most out of my events when I keep up with current news from the hosts and post live ‘real time’ updates. Twitter and Instagram stories are my go-to platforms when posting live content, and my notifications on Twitter tend to go through the roof when I engage with people whilst I’m actually on-site. I met up with a few fellow bloggers at some of the Traverse Events talks on the WTM Global Main Stage because I’d seen their whereabouts on social media, and I even set up 2 meetings with brands on the day purely because they had seen my tweets and wanted to meet me, so I told them which table I was on at the bloggers speed networking and they then came to find me! I know it can be difficult to spin so many plates, but I strongly believe that being active on social media before, during and after the event made it a real success for me. Lots of companies ask you to take part in online competitions throughout the day too, so make sure you’ve got your power pack handy and tweet away whilst you’re there!

 

 

The WTM London Bloggers Speed Networking gives you a chance to have one-on-one time with various travel brands, including tourism boards, hotels and PR companies, and is the perfect way to meet people and make new contacts. Sometimes it really is who you know, not what you know, in this business so making important connections at events like WTM is absolutely vital! Overall I really enjoyed my time at the bloggers speed networking, so much so that I ended up staying over an hour longer than I was supposed to because I was too busy chatting away… oops! I genuinely feel I made some fantastic connections at this event with real people and real brands who took a real interest in me and my blog. I’m already hoping to do it again at next year’s WTM and would highly recommend it to anyone looking to take the next steps in their travel blogging career.

Have you been to WTM before? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!

 

 

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How to plan your European interrailing trip on a budget

 

 

Last month I took my first trip of 2018 as I went inter-railing round Europe (again!) with my sister. After inter-railing round Italy together back in 2016, we were super excited to be back on the road again, but this time exploring three countries in a row: France, Luxembourg and Belgium! We’d planned the route fairly quickly and, once we decided that we wanted to use the Eurostar to get there and back, had chosen our starting point as Paris and our final destination as Bruges, so just had one stop in between meaning that Luxembourg was the obvious candidate! Getting to and from the UK and each city was extremely easy, and both stress and hassle free. My sister and I organised every aspect of the trip before we left and we managed to get a week-long stay, including transport to and from the Eurostar stations, national and international trains plus six nights’ accommodation in 3-4* hotels for just £437pp! We had given ourselves a budget of £600pp for the entire week and well and truly smashed it. I like to think I’m quite good at getting a bit of a bargain, and this trip was certainly a steal. Being the geek that I am I’ve even worked out all the individual costings for this trip and included them in my total  pricing breakdown below. Want to know how I got a week’s inter-railing trip for less than £500pp? Let’s find out…

 

UK transport

 

 

Obviously this one depends on where you’re based, and I am lucky to live in Oxford so am very close to London, but our capital can be reached easily by most of the UK’s major cities, which makes getting to St Pancras Eurostar Station very accessible. We were travelling on Easter Sunday which may have slightly put the prices up, but usually a one way ticket from Oxford to London costs around £10 per adult, and is cheaper for me as I have a young person’s rail card. The Eurostar tickets themselves, from London – Paris and from Brussels – London were pretty reasonable and each journey was less than £70pp return. Have a look to see which trains are cheapest/most expensive on the day of travel as you could save a lot of money by going later in the day, or earlier on in the morning, or even the day before or after if you’re really flexible and want to get the best deal possible!

Costings:

Oxford – London return train – 1x adult, 1x rail card holder = £28.90pp and £19.05pp

London St Pancras – Paris Gare du Nord one way train – 2x youths = £65pp

Brussells Midi – London St Pancras one way train – 2x youths = £53.30pp (don’t forget your ticket should state that departure is from any Belgian station and includes onward travel between cities ie if you’re staying in Bruges and need to get back to Brussels Midi for your departing train, the journey between Bruges and Brussels is included in your ticket price, you don’t need to buy an additional ticket).

 

International trains

 

 

Sadly we were hit by the dreaded SNCF train strike during our time away – they had only just started and it caused havoc! Our train from Paris to Luxembourg was cancelled and, because it was bank holiday Monday, none of the phone lines were working and no one on the website online chat/social media pages were able to get back to me. Luckily we were able to use our existing ticket free of charge on the next available train which was only 3 hours later than our scheduled train, but if that one had been cancelled I don’t know what we would have done! I would recommend downloading the SNCF app for live updates to your train as this came in handy when the website crashed! All other trains ran smoothly though and international train travel is so enjoyable for me as I love the scenery between cities and the excitement when I pass over the border into a new country! My top tip is to book your trains as far in advance as possible for the best rates, be flexible on timings, and don’t forget if you’re under 26 you qualify for youth prices.

Costings:

Paris – Luxembourg international train (direct) – 2x youths = £25.61pp

Luxembourg – Bruges train (change at Liege) – 2x youths = £29.14pp

 

Accommodation

 

 

We picked some fantastic hotels for our trip and it made such a difference to have somewhere cosy and warm to come home to after a busy day of exploring. I knew the cities we had chosen weren’t the cheapest on earth and so we would have to use a significant amount of our budget to cover the cost of accommodation, but I think we did well considering we got 6 nights for under £600 which is just less than £300pp for the entire duration. I usually look at private rooms in hostels to keep costs down, but actually we found hotels that were still within our budget and so decided to spend a little bit more in order to get maximum comfort and security during our stay. Being a travel blogger, I usually reach out to hotels and offer my services (writing a review/promoting on social media) in exchange for a discounted/complimentary stay, however sadly I didn’t find any hotels that were free on my dates that were able to collaborate with me on this occasion which was a real shame. I did expect this though as we went over Easter weekend and the kids half term holidays, so be careful when you choose to travel if you are trying to pitch to hotels!

I am a big advocate of using online promo codes/vouchers to book hotels though and my travel hack when booking accommodation would be to book using Expedia. I have used them for years and never had a bad experience! For every hotel I booked I was able to find a 10-15% off voucher online (literally just Google Expedia promo code and one usually always comes up!) and also received up to 200 nectar points for each booking which is another bonus for me. I’ll be talking a bit more about the hotels I stayed in over the course of the next few weeks as I will be putting together individual travel guides to each city, but I wanted to keep this post purely about the costings/planning of an inter-railing trip so hopefully these tips will come in handy when you’re looking to book something!

Costings:

Hotel De Seine, Paris – 2 nights = total £246 = £123pp

Hotel Parc Belle Vue, Luxembourg – 2 nights = total £204 = £102pp

Ibis Hotel Brugge Centrum, Bruges – 2 nights = total £140.98 = £70.49pp

 

Activities/optional tours

 

 

Luckily as a travel blogger I am able to reach out and pitch to tour companies/excursion brands in order to enhance my trip and book some much needed add-on’s. On this occasion I was lucky enough to work with tour company Triple and holiday company Euroventure whilst in Paris. I went on a guided tour around the secret passageways of Paris with Triple and went up the famous Montparnasse Tower with Euroventure and both of these experiences really enhanced our stay. Again I will be writing about both tours in more detail when my Paris travel guide goes live. I also worked with the Luxembourg Tourism Board whilst I was exploring their beautiful capital city and was offered complimentary visitor cards which enabled us to make use of free public transport, free museum entry and discounted entry to a range of other attractions which really helped our budget in a city which is quite expensive! Where possible, pitch to brands in order to keep costs down – you’re probably going to be writing about them for your blog anyway, so you may as well get something in return for it. Obviously we did more tours/trips whilst we were there, but here are the ones we pre-booked/pre-paid before we left and what they cost/saved us in money…

Costings:

Montparnasse access for 2 adults, Paris = £17pp – GIFTED to us by Euroventure

Guided passageway tour for 2 adults, Paris = £30pp – GIFTED to us by Triple

Luxembourg card for 2 adults, Luxembourg = £17.50pp – GIFTED to us by Luxembourg Tourism

 

Total breakdown

 

 

Transport: £284.55 (£142.28pp)

Accommodation: £590.98 (£295.49pp)

Extras: £129 (£64.50pp) if we hadn’t been kindly gifted them.

GRAND TOTAL = £437.77pp – still would have been under £500pp even if we had paid for the optional extras!

So as you can see, there were lots of different elements to this trip which did make it add up, but everything was kept at a relatively low cost, which definitely helped to stick within budget. Obviously we had additional spending money for food/drink, other excursions and attractions we wanted to visit, and this was covered by the euros we used for spends. When planning an inter-railing trip like this I would definitely take into consideration the time of year, dates of travel (ie try and go mid-week where possible) and try to book transport as far in advance as possible. As you can see, even with a train strike, we were still able to travel to our intended destination and it didn’t affect our holiday too much, but having as much planned in advance really helped to take the stress away from what was otherwise quite a hectic trip. We had a brilliant week away and I can’t wait for my next adventure… inter-railing is definitely my favourite method of travel and I hope this might inspire you to take a similar trip in 2018!

Have you ever been inter-railing before? Get in touch – I’d love to hear your train tales!

Love Jess x