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Christmas at Blenhiem Palace: The Most Festive Place in the Cotswolds

 

 

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to the VIP press launch of Christmas at Blenheim, an exclusive event being held at beautiful Blenheim Palace in the heart of Oxfordshire. Located in Woodstock, just 10 miles from the city of Oxford, Blenheim Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country, and is open all year round. As the Palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, tourists gather in their thousands every year to explore the house and it’s stunning grounds. As a local Oxfordshire girl I’ve been going to Blenheim since I was around 5 or 6 years old, and have been an annual pass holder many times. Blenheim is the perfect place for a family day out, a dog walk or just for a lazy stroll around the lake on a Sunday morning. The market town of Woodstock is worth a visit too, and I always pop in to some of the little shops, pubs and café’s when I’m stopping by – The Black Prince is a firm favourite of mine! The festive Christmas at Blenheim event was first launched back in 2016 and I can’t believe I haven’t visited until now! I’ve been wanting an excuse to attend so, when I was invited to the VIP press launch, I just couldn’t resist bringing my mum along for the ride and getting us both into the Christmas spirit. Here’s what we got up to, and what you can expect from your visit to Blenheim this Christmas…

 

 

The Great Court

 

 

Upon arrival we were taken into the Orangery for a welcome drink and a speech by the CEO of Blenheim before mingling and enjoying some festive nibbles. The Orangery is part of the estate I have never been to before, but it is decorated beautifully and is host to regular events at Blenheim, as well as being used as a restaurant serving evening meals, lunches and afternoon tea. Between the Orangery and the gift shop, with the small café inside, lies the Great Court. This is the starting point for the festivities of Christmas at Blenheim and is home to food stalls serving Bratwurst sausages and gourmet burgers as well as yummy churros and delicious donuts too. Opposite the food stalls you’ll find a helter-skelter, a carousel and a couple of other fairground favourites; tokens for which can be purchased at an additional cost. The Great Court looked super pretty all decorated in sparking lights, and got us feeling festive the moment we walked through the entrance archway.

 

The New Christmas Markets

 

 

A new attraction for 2018, the New Christmas Markets are located right in the middle of the main courtyard, just in front of the palace itself. Lined with lights and Christmas decorations, the markets sell every kind of gift you can think of, from cheese, chocolate and wine to portraits, bath products and pets toys. My mum and I spent some time wandering around the markets before we did the Cinderella exhibition and it was really lovely to see so many stalls set up all selling lots of fab gifts. We then sat down in the outdoor seating area (which was actually pretty small given that there were so many stands!) and indulged in a traditional German Bratwurst. The smells of the meat cooking, mixed with the smells of the sweet treats on sale, made our mouths water and I can see how people really get into the Christmas spirit whilst visiting this section!

 

The Fairytale Cinderella Experience

 

 

Another new attraction for this year, the Fairytale Cinderella Experience was something I was really looking forward to seeing as I am a TOTAL Disney Princess 😉 Upon entrance into the main palace you are greeted by Christmas tree after Christmas tree, glittering with lights, bows, flowers, stars, anything you can think of that is slightly sparkly is waiting for you in the entrance hall! We said hello to one of the staff members before heading off on the Experience. I’ve been to the palace many times so know what all the rooms are like, but the sheer amount of twinkling lights and decorations made it so much more magical and they have really done a fantastic job of making the palace look extra special. Each room is decorated with props and clothing from a certain character from Cinderella, so you have Prince Charming, the Wicked Stepmother, the Ugly Sisters and then lovely Cinderella herself right at the end, with a gorgeous display of her dresses illuminated against a back drop, and the stunning glass slipper encased in a glass box! There are of course some of Cinderella’s friends dotted throughout the trail and I think you are supposed to count the mice in each room along the way, but I was totally distracted by the sheer beauty of every room that I totally forgot to count! I was really impressed by the Cinderella Experience and I do think it is worth the money to pay extra and see this exhibition whilst you’re at Blenheim for the evening… it was truly magical!

 

The Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail

 

 

This was what we had been waiting for, the main reason I wanted to attend and the focal point of the entire event, the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail was the last stop on our itinerary for the evening and it certainly didn’t disappoint! I had seen so many photos online which looked amazing but, if I’m honest, totally didn’t do the place any justice, and it doesn’t really look as good until you see it in person. But let me tell you, it is well worth being surprised and seeing everything up close and personal as every single section is just incredible! You’ll be taken on a winter wonderland and lead through a variety of different areas including a tunnel of lights, a majestic waterfall, a sea of flowers hanging from the trees and a singing statue in the middle of the lake. The lights, the animation, the music, everything is seriously spectacular and I could have done that trail over and over again. It takes around an hour to complete the trail, maybe a little longer if you have small kids who want to run around and take everything in, and there are some muddy paths and steep hills in places, so be careful if you’re bringing the buggy. The trail was the best part of our entire evening and I would recommend that everyone does this part of Christmas at Blenheim as it’ll leave even the Scrooges amongst us feeling full of festive cheer!

 

 

As I’m sure you can tell from the insane amount of twinkly lights and Christmas trees, I had such a fantastic time at Blenheim for this event and it really got me feeling festive!  Everything from the Great Court to the Christmas Markets looked absolutely stunning, and the attention to detail on some of the décor was second to none. The brand new Cinderella Experience was better than I thought it was going to be, and I can see this being a real hit with kids and adults alike – especially if they’re visiting the Palace for the first time. The real crowning glory though was of course the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail which totally blew me away. Every single section was expertly decorated, with the music, lights, silhouettes and props looking incredible from every angle. I honestly had the most magical time at Blenheim and I really can’t wait to go back again next year! Have you been to Blenheim Palace before? And have you been at Christmas time? Let me know what you thought of it, and I would love to see all your festive photos!

Don’t forget to head to the Blenheim Palace website to purchase your tickets for this event, but be patient as it is hugely popular. I spoke to the CEO of the Estate when I was at the press launch and he told me that a whopping 82,000 tickets had already been sold before the launch night had even started, so get yours here if you want to book your preferred dates! Tickets cost £36pp for combined entrance to the Cinderella Experience and the Illuminated Christmas Lights Trail, whilst tickets to just the Lights Trail cost £26pp.

Love Jess x

NB. Big thanks to the fab teams at Flamingo PR and Blenheim Palace for hosting me on this wonderful event! My tickets to Christmas at Blenheim were provided to me complimentary for the purpose of this review, but all thoughts, words and photos are of course my own.

 

 

 

 

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WTM London 2018: 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 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 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 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 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!

Love Jess x

 

 

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Travel Guide to Dorset – How to Spend a Weekend in the West Country

Ahh beautiful Dorset; I really love this place. I love Great Britain and all that comes with it, especially as we have some real gems in our country that often get overlooked in favour of travelling abroad. I know we aren’t famed for our good weather, but when the wind is still and the sun is shining, there’s plenty of reasons to have something to smile about when in the UK. Last month I took a spontaneous visit down to Dorset for a weekend of sun, sea and sand and had the most wonderful time exploring places I hadn’t been to since I was a kid. The weather was warm, the sky was blue and I had tonnes of fun. I spent one day and one night in Bournemouth wandering along the sea front, sunbathing on the beach and playing games in the arcade before driving over to the pretty village of Lulworth to see its famous cove and Jurassic landmark, Durdle Door. Here’s a taster of what I got up to on my weekend down in the West Country, as well as my top ten things to see and do in Dorset too…

 

 

Hit the beaches

Bournemouth has one of the best beaches in the country, and when the weather is warm and the sun is shining, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better location for a summer seaside break! Bournemouth’s long stretch of sandy beach coupled with its shallow waters and historic pier make it the perfect place for a seaside staycation. Why not have fish and chips on the pier, or take a dip in the sea if you’re feeling brave enough? The Atlantic isn’t the warmest sea on the planet, but with the UK heatwave we had this year I heard the waters were positively tropical and were the perfect temperature for swimming in! If you’re really wanting to push yourself you could always zip line from the pier to the beach whilst gazing in awe at the blue waters beneath your feet. This is something I didn’t attempt during my visit, but the queues were huge and it looked a fantastic thing to do for both kids and adults alike.

 

Wander through Bournemouth’s pretty gardens

I discovered these a few years ago and now go every time I’m in Bournemouth just to escape the hustle and bustle of the beach and pier. The gardens are located right in the town centre, just a 5min walk from the beach and shops,  and are filled with tall trees, exotic plants, colourful flowers and quirky things too. Made up of over 2000 acres of land, the gardens are split into three areas: the Lower Gardens, Upper Gardens and the Central Gardens, and are open to the public all year round. Why not wander down the curved pavements and past the pretty borders towards a viewing point over the bay, where you can take in the fantastic sea views in front of you. Alternatively, head over to the recently renovated Boscombe Gardens where you can play Mini Golf on one of the lawns, take the kids trampolining, or watch as they run around the brand new water play area. The gardens are home to a series of events throughout the year, and each season brings something new so there will be plenty to see and do whatever time of year you decide to visit!

 

Make the most of the amusement arcades

Who doesn’t love an amusements arcade when you’re on holiday?! I’ve been visiting seaside towns since I was a baby and, for me, nothing beats the thrill of winning a few pennies on the 2p machines or hitting the £5 jackpot on the one arm bandit! Bournemouth’s amusements arcade have been present since 19xx and they’ve really upped their game over the past few years with new attractions including dance machines, air hockey tables and basketball hoops too. I never tend to spend too long in arcades for fear of missing out on the good weather outside, but if it’s a rainy day then this is the perfect way to while away a few hours.

 

 

Have a girls night out on the town

Bournemouth is a great night out and is the perfect place if you’re looking for a fun evening with the girls (or guys). I’ve been out in Bournemouth a few times now and it never fails to disappoint, particularly because there’s a huge range of bars to suit all music tastes and ages, and there are plenty of restaurants to grab some food in before you start drinking. As Bournemouth is a uni town, there are inevitably lots of young people out (I’m 25 and I felt OLD when I went out last month!) but it’s great to meet lots of new people from different parts of the country, and the cheap student deals on drinks helps the bank balance too. Each time I’ve been out in Bournemouth I’ve started with one of the causal bars like Slug and Lettuce, All Bar One or Be At One, had some food at either and then ended up in mega nightclub Halo for lots of dancing. Halo is a nightclub built into a church which is super cool and offers a great night out.

 

Spend half a day in Lulworth

If you’re done with the bustling streets and bright lights of Bournemouth, why not take a day trip to the nearby Lulworth Cove? Just an hour’s drive from Bournemouth and close to Poole and Weymouth too,  Lulworth Cove is one of Britain’s best kept secrets. A charming town with shops, restaurants and places to stay, Lulworth is famed for it’s horseshoe shaped Cove which lies on a pebbled beach at the bottom of the main street. You can easily spend a day wandering around the cute souvenir shops, eating fish & chips on the beach and marvelling at the pretty cove. There are walks and hikes to take around the area too, and the perfect way to end the day is to cosy up in one of Lulworth’s pubs and enjoy some home cooked British food.

 

 

Hike from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door

Durdle Door is one of the most famous landmarks in Britain and, in my opinion, certainly one of the most impressive too! I hadn’t been to Durdle Door since I was a spritely 10 year old, as I mentioned above, but visiting again as an adult gave me a totally different perspective and made me appreciate it so much more. On my last visit I played on the beach with my sisters and went fishing in the rock pools, barely paying attention to the huge stone arch that lay in the sea in front of me, but this time round I simply just stared at it from every angle, taking it all in, and realising just how amazing nature really is. We sat on the beach admiring the view before heading up the steep hill and making our way back along the walking trail to Lulworth Cove. I always forget how majestic Durdle Door is and it reminded me of just how much I loved my time in Dorset as a child. The backdrop makes for the most AMAZING photos too so your Instagram grid will certainly thank you after you’ve had a photo shoot at this UNESCO World Heritage Site!

 

Make a seaside stop off at Poole or Weymouth

I’ve never actually been to Poole, but I’ve heard there’s plenty of things to see and do, including visiting the popular Sandbanks Beach and the Splashdown Waterpark. You can also head over to Brownsea Island to look out for wildlife, go hiking and take part in some water-sports too. Poole is also home to one of the biggest natural harbours in the UK, receiving its status as a designated world heritage site back in 1999. Weymouth is like a smaller Bournemouth, with a long sandy beach, plenty of shops, restaurants and bars and lots of amusements arcades too. The nightlife is a little more vibrant in Weymouth than it is in Poole, and there are lots of events taking place all year round. I’d also recommend taking a daytrip to Chesil Beach to eye up even more of Dorset’s fantastic Jurassic Coast.

 

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Last time I visited this place I was just a little girl who was too busy looking in rockpools for fish and too intent on trying to find the prettiest shells to even stop and take in the beautiful views of the #JurassicCoast 😍I loved visiting as a kid and have fond memories of attempting to copy my dad skimming stones whilst playing on the beach with my sisters and our little westie as my mum tried desperately to keep an eye on us all! 😂 Despite loving our family holiday as a kid, my visit back to #DurdleDoor at the weekend made me see this UNESCO world heritage sight in a totally different light. I appreciated it 100x more the second time round, as an adult, and couldn't stop staring at its incredible natural beauty 🌊 Have you ever been somewhere as a child and an adult and had a totally different experience? #WanderlustWednesday #VisitDorset #IgersDorset #LoveDorset #ExploreDorset #DiscoverDorset #DorsetCoast #Dorset 🌍

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Where to Eat/Drink

As I mentioned above, Bournemouth is a great night out and has some fantastic food and drink places to enjoy during your visit. There are plenty of well-known chain and high street restaurants to choose from, as well as plenty of independent eateries too. I’ve tended to eat at the branded places like Prezzo or Ask just because I know what I’m getting and I like their food, but I need to be a little more adventurous next time. Harry Ramsden’s on the pier is the BEST place for fish and chips and I always have lunch there every time I’m in Bournemouth! For drinks I would choose Slug and Lettuce/All Bar One for pre-drinks and then end up in either Halo or Cameo if you’re looking for a nightclub to party at. Lulworth is much smaller but still has café’s and pubs to choose from for lunch or dinner. Try the café next to the visitor information centre for top notch scones with clotted cream and jam, or try The Castle (as mentioned above) for their home cooked pub meals. I haven’t eaten out at all in Weymouth or Poole but I have heard the Dorset Burget Company in Weymouth is amazing – it is owned by my old bosses son and has won plenty of foodie awards so I defo need to try it out and pop in to say hello next time I’m down in the West Country.

 

Where to Stay

During my time in Bournemouth I tend to opt for cheap hotels like Premier Inn’s or Travelodge’s in order to get the best value for money, and they often have great central locations too. On my most recent stay I booked the Bournemouth Travelodge Central Hotel, located just off the sea front and a few doors down from the posh Marriott Hotel. Our double room was basic but spacious and clean with a nice hot shower in the bathroom and we could *just* make out a sea view from our bedroom window! The price was an absolute STEAL at just £70 for the night and the location couldn’t have been better. There is parking on site (£6 for 24hrs) but we couldn’t find any spaces so left the car on one of the residential streets just opposite the exit and it was fine here all weekend – oh and it was totally free too! You could pay for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the hotel if you wanted it but we opted to do neither and ate out the entire time as there are so many foodie places in Bournemouth. As for Lulworth, I haven’t stayed there for a long time, but the last time I did I was probably 9 or 10 years old and shared a family room with my parents and sisters at the 16th century Castle Inn, located right in the heart of the village. With a thatched roof, gorgeous garden and bright bedrooms, my memories from The Castle Inn are certainly happy ones and the location is unbeatable. A 5 min walk will take you into the centre of Lulworth, with its shops and restaurants on your doorstep, and the Cove itself is right at the bottom of the mini high street.

As you can see, there are sooo many things to do in Dorset that you’ll barely scratch the surface if you spend just a weekend there. I have visited Dorset many times over the years and still haven’t seen all of it, but it is such a pretty part of the world and I could visit again and again without getting bored. I’m a massive fan of promoting UK travel and think Dorset makes the perfect place for a Great British staycation at any time of year, but even more so in the summer months when the weather is warm and the sea is (almost) bearable to swim in! Have you been to Dorset before? Let me know if you love it as much as I do!

Love Jess x

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((Link in bio)) I feel like every single person right now is leaving their jobs to become full time content creators/bloggers/freelancers. It's been just over 2 years since I made that same decision to quit my job & work full time as a freelance travel blogger. I had an amazing year working for myself with plenty of ups including flexible working hours, no annual leave restrictions, press trips and new clients/collaboration projects but there were inevitably lots of downs & it just didn't make me happy. I was incredibly lonely, I missed working in an office alongside colleagues, and I struggled with the inconsistent workload and lack of constant wages coming in. After a year I ended up at a new 9-5 job (this time in the travel industry to satisfy my wanderlust) which I needed in order to bring some routine back into my life. In this new blog post I'll be showing the good, the bad and the ugly sides of freelance life and that there's much more to it than just press trips and Instagram posts! If you've ever considered going freelance, or if you are currently working for yourself and wondering how our experiences might compare, then this post is for you! ✨#wordpress #newpost #bloglife #freelancer #bloggers

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5 tips for Travelling with an Invisible Illness

Hi guys,

As some of you may know, I have a medical condition called a Prolactinoma, which is a pituitary-related illness affecting different parts of my body. As the pituitary gland is in the brain, most of my symptoms involve headaches, blurred vision and dizziness, all relating to the head/brain area, but it does affect other parts of my body too. Despite sometimes getting overwhelmed and upset by my condition, I mostly have a positive outlook on it, and I sure as hell haven’t let it stop me travelling! Of course, travelling with any illness or condition is difficult, because there’s so much more to think about, however, having an invisible illness brings a whole host of other challenges as you are not easily recognisable as being ill. If you look on my Instagram page you’d think I’m just a smiley happy kinda girl who spends her life being positive and adventurous, which I am to a certain extent, but there are times when I can barely open my eyes because my headaches are so bad, and there are times when I feel I can’t even get out of bed, let alone get up and face the world. Having said that, I strongly believe that having an invisible illness shouldn’t stop you from travelling and having adventures though, so here are five tips for travelling with an invisible illness…

Make sure you’re covered

Insurance is a vital part of travel, but even more so when you have a pre-existing medical condition. Thankfully, it doesn’t mean you won’t get cover, it just might require a little more research into which cover will be best for you. Never scrimp out on travel insurance, especially not with an illness or condition. The best case scenario is that you won’t need it, but if you do, at least you know you’re covered and won’t be left with a huge bill at the end. Did you know, for example, that one week in hospital in the USA can cost over $30,000? Make sure you’re open and honest with your insurer about any illness so you’re fully covered. You may pay a little more in premiums, but it’s better than spending that kinda money on a hospital visit. This is something I was really serious about when I booked my whirlwind tour of the USA and I was able to find insurance no problem, you’ve just got to be transparent and honest!

 

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October is National Pituitary Awareness Month. As a proud ambassador for the wonderful @pituitaryfoundation I thought now would be the right time to write a bit of a personal blog post and to tell you about what it's really like to live with an invisible illness day in day out. My invisible illness is called a prolactinoma, a benign brain tumor which has had a massive impact on my life for the past 7 years. To look at me you may not think that anything is wrong with me, but that's the problem with an invisible illness, it's always there even when you can't see it. ✨Link in bio – please give it a read ✨ #pituitary #pituitaryawareness #prolactinoma #pituitarypatient #pituitaryawarenessmonth

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Pack everything you’ll need 

In this situation, it’s okay to over-pack. Make sure you have all the medications and equipment you might need, even if they’re not things you have to use every day, as it will be much easier than having to try and find them in a different country. Seriously, we take our 25p Ibuprofen and Paracetamol for granted here in the UK, and it costs a lot more when you’re abroad! I didn’t know this, but you’re actually allowed to pack your medication in your hand luggage which is great if you’ve got a long flight and don’t want to wait til you land to take your meds, plus they’re less likely to get lost if you’re carrying them in your hand luggage. I’d also suggest to pack anything that will make you feel more comfortable, whether that be hand warmers or your own pillow, as the easier you can make things for yourself when travelling, the more fun you’ll have and the less stressed you’ll be.

 

 

Schedule in days of rest

Try not to overdo it with the itinerary. As much as we all feel like we want to see and do everything all at once, it’s simply not practical, even without an invisible illness. Choose the things you’re desperate to tick off and see everything else as a bonus. Make sure you schedule in days to rest to avoid burning out as this is just as important as sightseeing. I’m not sure who I’m trying to kid though as I am the WORST person for this! I very much live by a YOLO motto when I’m travelling and try to tick off as much as I can in a short time, which is obviously fun and exciting, but sometimes I do need to remember to reign it in and calm down a little. Sometimes I forget I even have an illness, which is great on the one hand as I can be more care-free, but on the other hand I know I’ve got to be careful and I have to slow it down sometimes to ensure I don’t over do it, so having rest days is really important when you’re travelling.

 

 

Be honest about your needs

If you’re travelling with other people, don’t try to hide your illness; the more honest you can be, the better. This is the same for staff in hotels or in the airport – they can’t help you if they don’t know what you need. An invisible illness is hard to spot, so you’ll have to tell them if there’s something you need to request in order to make your trip easier or more comfortable. Doing this beforehand via email may make it easier, especially if you don’t feel comfortable approaching someone and telling them, but I’ve found that most people in this world are happy to help you, especially if you need a little more assistance than most. I have been honest about my illness since I was first diagnosed 7 years ago, which makes talking about it in public a little less daunting, but I can imagine it is still a huge thing to do for people who have never been as vocal about their conditions before.

 

 

 

Do whatever you need to do

The important thing is that you have a good time, so if that means you have to enjoy the scenery from inside the car because some aspect of your illness means you’re unable to get out, then that’s okay. I know it can be frustrating not doing all the things you set out to do, or not being able to keep up with your friends, but trust your body and allow yourself to listen to your gut instinct as that will tell you how well or unwell you might feel in certain situations. Don’t let anyone else tell you what you can handle – no one knows your body as well as you do. Some people might be well-meaning and try and encourage you to do more than you want to/are able to, and this can lead to exhaustion, or it might make you feel worse. Don’t be afraid to stick to your guns – if they’re real friends they will totally understand what you’re going through.

So I suppose what I’m trying to say is: don’t let your illness stop you from having amazing adventures! In fact, if anything, you deserve to have more fun – being unwell certainly isn’t easy, and we definitely need to learn to pat ourselves on the back every now and then. If you follow these tips, travelling with an invisible illness will hopefully become easier. Plus, once you start, you won’t want to stop! Have you got any other tips for travelling with an invisible illness? I have done it for the past 7 years and with each trip I become more content and confident in myself, and more at ease with my condition. Please let me know if, like me, you’re suffering with an invisible illness too?! I would love to hear your comments.

Love Jess x

NB. This was a collaborative post with Dale White Media.

 

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12 Things I Learnt From 12 months of Freelancing as a Full Time Travel Blogger

 

 

Hi guys,

You lot seem to like it when I do personal posts rather than just constantly sharing write ups of my recent trips, so I thought I should break up all the recent cruise content and write about something which is a really popular topic at the moment: freelancing. It seems like every single blogger I know at the moment is quitting their job in order to become a full time freelancer and live the digital nomad life. This is obviously amazing as it seems our work lives are ever changing and creeping away from the standard 9-5 working week, and I would of course encourage everyone to follow their dreams and live their best lives, but there is also a side to freelancing that isn’t shared online, and a side which makes the freelance/nomad life a little less glamourous than Instagram shows it to be. I took the plunge myself and went freelance as a full time travel blogger two years ago but spent just a year doing that (amongst other things) before I realised I needed to make another life change at the age of 24. Some days I loved it, other days I hated it, but overall I’m so glad I did it. Here’s 12 things that I learnt during my 12 months of freelancing from September 2016 – September 2017, both the good, the bad and the ugly…

The flexibility is fantastic

One of the best things I loved about freelancing was the ability to be completely flexible all the time. By steering away from the standard 9-5 life I was able to fit more in to my day, and alter it to suit my needs. A typical day for me would be to wake up and get dressed and ready to start work by 10ish – I never worked in my pj’s and always made an effort to get changed even if I wasn’t leaving the house as this helped get my mind-set into work mode. I’d then work for 3-4 hours at home before breaking for lunch (30 mins to 1 hour depending on how busy I was) and then continued working (with breaks) until I got everything done. Sometimes it was a 6pm or 7pm finish, other days I woke up later and continued working until 9pm or 10pm. Although I typically worked longer hours than a usual 9-5 job, I didn’t really feel like I was over-working myself as I took regular breaks, was at home, didn’t have a commute and could pick up my work/emails whenever I wanted. I took my dog out for walks every day, spent time seeing friends and enjoyed being at home.

It’s really lonely

Probably the biggest downside to freelancing is the crippling loneliness that goes with it. Working in a lively estate agents from the ages of 18 – 23 made me realise how much I love people, and how much I thrive off a busy, fun environment. When I took all of that away, I started to realise that I don’t cope very well on my own. I get really low sometimes, and feel the need to constantly talk to someone when I feel that way, which is why having supportive colleagues around me is something I have always relied on and will always look for in future jobs. Some people are fine on their own and could spend days without seeing another soul, but I’m just not like that and don’t think I ever will be! Loneliness was definitely one of the reasons I didn’t freelance for longer, and I don’t feel ashamed to admit that.

 

 

You can work wherever you want

In the same way that the flexibility I mentioned above was hugely liberating, the fact I could work wherever I wanted (Wi-Fi permitting) was amazing and opened my eyes as to how different my working life could be without feeling the need to be trapped in an office. I wasn’t a digital nomad during my freelance life and was very much a ‘work from home’ kinda gal, but I do wish I’d have taken a few more trips in order to experience what it might be like to work on the road. I didn’t really experiment much with co-working or with trying out social office spaces and I could have worked from anywhere with Wi-Fi to be honest, but I found café’s quite distracting and preferred to sit at home with the telly on if I needed some noise in the background.

Not having a routine is hard

Something else which I struggled with was not having a set routine. Yes I know we all get bored of the 9-5 life, but when I have a set routine I know where I am with things and I find it easier to make decisions, get myself organised and get on with my day. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having a few lay in’s during the week and starting later than usual, but sometimes I’d find myself working til almost midnight and forgetting to take regular breaks because I was stressing about getting things done on time and meeting deadlines efficiently. I am good at being organised and self-disciplined, but not having a routine really threw me sometimes and I’ve since found I prefer to be in a set routine to help get my work/life balance on track.

You can say YES more

The thing I loved most about working for myself was the ability to say YES in circumstances I wouldn’t normally have been able to do so. I went on 3 press trips during my time freelancing, one was a long weekend in Hamburg but still would have required taking 2 days annual leave, and the other two were week long trips to Menorca and Switzerland, which would have required me taking over 12 days of annual leave. I went to PR events on a Tuesday night in London because I could get there and didn’t have to worry about rushing home to get an early night for work the next day. I scheduled in blog collabs on week-days when the place/city was generally quieter because not everyone was there on a weekend. I said yes to sooo many things and it made me so happy and content with life. I was more spontaneous, more fun and way more exciting than I was when I worked 9-5, and this is something I really miss about my freelance life!

 

 

Motivation isn’t always on tap

Again, something I struggled with and still do even now. Having the motivation to constantly write blog content, constantly pitch for new business and constantly find ways to make money when you’re freelancing is SO BLOODY DRAINING!! I found this really hard when I was working for myself and I wanted to give up all the time. Although I am good at being organised and self-disciplined, trying to stay motivated whilst not having the support of colleagues and a manager alongside you was really difficult for me. I ended up turning to social media to find support from fellow bloggers/freelancers and that did help, and I made a real effort to attend events, listen to webinars and get inspiration from joining in with Twitter chats and Facebook groups etc in order to combat the lack of motivation that I regularly suffered with.

You aren’t restricted by annual leave

Kinda like the point I made about saying YES more, this was another huge bonus of freelance life; the ability to go on loads of trips or to take days off without the restriction of crappy annual leave. I really really hate the fact that I only get 20 days of annual leave and it is something which makes me want to quit my job and freelance allll over again. I hate being restricted by leave, and think we should be encouraged to take time off and travel more, as long as we don’t fall behind with our work load of course, in order to obtain a better work/life balance. I really believe that I would work better if I worked slightly longer hours over 4 days instead of 5 and had one day a week off to catch up with life admin or to treat myself to a nice day out, or to spend time with friends and family. Working for myself gave me unlimited annual leave, as long as I got everything done that I needed to, and I do miss that aspect of freelance life.

You don’t get legal work perks

However, the big downside to being self-employed is the lack of support we get when we aren’t able to work. Being freelance means you don’t get sick pay, or compassionate leave or a pension. You don’t get paid holiday or childcare vouchers or paid time off for dentist/doctors/hospital appointments. I always took time off whenever I needed to for things like this, but obviously when I wasn’t working, I didn’t get paid. Time is money when you’re self-employed, and that saying couldn’t be more true! I also had to make a note of my income and expenditure and had to create monthly spreadsheets of my earnings and outgoings so I could keep an eye on things. I hired an accountant who helped me put my spreadsheets together into a tax return for HMRC by the time the deadline for self-assessments came around, and this was something I hadn’t even considered when setting up on my own. Luckily my dad is self-employed so he showed me a thing or two, and my A Level Business Studies came in handy, but there is so much legal stuff to think about when you’re self-employed and honestly it can be so stressful!

 

 

You have a better work/life balance

Working from home gave me such a good work/life balance and I really miss it sometimes. I miss just working from my sofa, without the need to commute to the office every day, and I loved wearing what I wanted and not putting make up on etc, I felt so free and it was really liberating. I loved being able to start and finish when I wanted, and sometimes when I was quiet I would only work for a few hours and then spend some time walking my dog, catching up with friends, or doing boring stuff like house work which I never get time to do during a full working week. I do miss having flexible working hours and allowing my home life to be more important than my work life, especially when the long days and hour long commute to and from my current job each day really starts to get me down.

Blogging alone isn’t enough, you must diversify

There are obviously some bigger bloggers out there who just blog all day and make a full time wage from it, but honestly, I have no idea how they are doing it or how that is even possible. During my 12 months as a full time travel blogger, I learnt pretty quickly that I absolutely had to diversify in order to make enough money to survive, and it was really tough at first. Being sent on press trips (with free accommodation and flights) is all good and well, but you don’t get a fee for being there, unless you do and I’m not aware of it! But writing content and promoting it on social media all day just isn’t enough to bring the pennies in, unless you’re writing 5 articles a week at over £100 a pop, the reality is you’ve got to find another way of making money. Before I even started going freelance I had a good think about this and realised that I wanted to use social media as my secret weapon, and started advertising my social media services on LinkedIn to try and gain my first clients. I was pretty lucky as my old boss saw I was advertising for clients and mentioned me to some of his friends at his local breakfast networking club, and within a couple of weeks I had 3 new clients from this alone. These new clients had friends/relatives who also needed social media help, so I gained 3 more clients from them, and then my uncle down in Essex needed some help, and before I knew it I had nearly 10 clients all needing my help and I was absolutely SNOWED UNDER! It was brilliant on the one hand, but overwhelming on the other and I soon realised I needed to prioritise my time in order to work to my full capacity and do a good job for each of my clients. As well as offering social media management, I also wrote freelance articles for a few online travel magazines and did some blogger mentoring too, charging a small amount of money to cover my time to give Skype lessons to newbie bloggers who wanted tips on growing your blog through your social channels. Without diversifying, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to stay freelance for as long as I did.

You learn loads of new skills

You have to juggle so many plates when you’re freelance, and this certainly helped me to develop skills I didn’t even know I needed before I took the plunge and quit my job. I had so many different roles to take on in order to make everything run smoothly, from blogger, writer and social media manager to PA, accountant and marketer. I had to learn how to market myself and generate new business, so networking events were crucial and I was constantly sending out email pitches too. I had to be my own PA and organise my diary, my time and schedule in meetings whenever I could. I had to learn how to create income and expenditure sheets and keep a log of what money was coming in and out so that, by the time my tax return was due, I could input it all correctly. All of these skills were imperative to making my job work, and I’m glad I was able to spin all these plates at once – it was tough, but it taught me to be determined, to be patient, and to never give up! Hopefully the skills I learnt during my freelance life will stand me in good stead for future employment and will show how diverse I can be as a candidate, and how much responsibility I’ve had to take on in the past.

 

 

Your salary isn’t consistent – you need savings

I’ll end on this because, after all, money makes the world go round, and it is the most important part of freelance life! During my 12 months of freelancing I was still living at home so that took the pressure off having to make a large amount of money each month as my outgoings were quite low (just my mums rent, my phone bill and my opticians bill which all come to approx. £230 a month). For the first couple of months I really didn’t have many clients at all and was only making around £300-£400 a month, which is obviously not enough to live on and I did end up dipping into my savings in order to support myself. I had around £4000 saved up when I went freelance and knew I didn’t really want to go down past the £3000 mark, but the money was there if I needed it and it was a comfort to know that. As I progressed with my freelance career, I picked up more and more clients and took on more and more work, but it wasn’t consistent: some months I would earn less than £500, some months I earnt over £1500! If you’re looking at going freelance and you need to have a certain amount of money coming in each month, bear this in mind before you take the plunge. Towards the end of my freelance life the work started to dry up a little and I lost a few clients due to circumstances beyond my control, including some using their own in-house marketing and others employing someone more local to work for them, so I was starting to panic and realised I needed more wages in order to get by. It was during this time that I got a part time job at a retail store and signed up for an 8hour (min) a week contract. I really loved working in retail again (for the first time since I was 17) and the short 4 hour shifts 3-4 times a week really helped to make me feel less lonely, and boosted my bank balance too. I soon became an accessories specialist and was put on regular delivery shifts (7am-1pm) which meant that I could still have a decent afternoon by the time I got home, but I had the possibility to say yes to loads more shifts and I took extra hours wherever I could to make more money. Some months I ended up doing 40+ hours week at the retail store, and then working up to 20 hours a week doing my freelance work. I was exhausted but I knew I had to keep making money so carried on for as long as I could, before I quit everything to take on my first job in the travel industry.

So as you can see, there are good and bad reasons to quit your job and pursue your dreams as a full time blogger/freelancer, and I certainly had a bit of a yo-yo year during my 12 months of trying it, but I learnt so much about myself and I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world. I got to spend more time at home, more time saying yes to stuff I would normally have to turn down, and I got to pursue one of my passions at a professional level. I would say the good outweighed the bad, but after 12 months I was more than ready to get back to the 9-5 life and have a proper routine again as this is something I really struggled with when I worked for myself. I missed the social element hugely and realised how much I thrive off others when I am in a lively environment. I’ve seen so many bloggers quit their jobs and travel the world as a digital nomad which is absolutely incredible and I am so inspired by their bravery, but equally I have seen people who, like myself, tried it and realised it wasn’t for them, and I’ve realised that that’s okay too. Whatever happens in your working life, it’s good to take a step back to assess what works for you, and what doesn’t. I have no idea what the next 12 months holds for me as I have been told my current job at a luxury villa rental firm is being made redundant in the new year, but after almost 18 months of office life I may well be ready for a change again by the time 2019 rolls around… I’ll be sure to post more life updates on my blog as and when I know myself exactly what is going on in my little life!

Love Jess x