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Three Days in Barcelona: Exploring with Marco Polo Guides

Ah beautiful Barcelona, one of the most famous cities in Europe, and the Catalonian capital of Spain. The last time I visited back in May 2014 I ended up bed bound for pretty much all of the entire trip after being horrendously sick for 48 hours, so I was itching to get back and explore the city properly this time, over five years later. Barcelona was the last stop that my sister and I visited on our recent Spanish Interrailing adventure, and it was the perfect place to end our holiday. From Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia and Park Guell to the vibrant St Joseph’s Market and bustling Las Ramblas, Barcelona is a tourist’s haven and offers the perfect city break escape. Along with the help of my trusty Marco Polo Guidebook, here’s what I would recommend you see if you have three days in Barcelona, and what we did during our time there too…

Wander down Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, view of the busy street

A view of Las Ramblas from our hotel

Perhaps the most famous part of Barcelona, and the focal point of the entire city, Las Ramblas is the lively street that is an absolute must see during your visit. Marvel at the street performers, have dinner and drinks in one of the many bars and restaurants, or stock up on souvenirs at the variety of shops on offer. Las Ramblas is busy at any time of day, but comes alive at night when the bars and restaurants stay open late and revellers from the nearby Gothic Quarter spill out on to the street. My favourite part of Las Ramblas is St Joseph’s Market, located right in the middle of the street and at the heart of the action. Inside, you’ll find tonnes of stalls selling everything from organic fruit and veg to sweets, savoury snacks and souvenirs. The bright colours of the fruit, all sold in cute little €1 pots, will mesmerise you as you meander your way through the tiny gaps between stalls, and there’s so much food to choose from that you’ll end up coming back every day for your lunch, just like me and my sister did!

Visit La Sagrada Familia

inside of sagrada familia, me with the audio guide

Using the audio guide to make our way around

The outsided of La Sagrada Familia

The beautiful La Sagrada Familia

This place is truly breath-taking and nothing short of iconic. We hadn’t actually booked tickets online before our visit as we had completely forgotten – I got back from Australia the week before so am blaming the jet lag – but we needn’t have worried as our fantastic hotel reception sorted us out with some last minute tickets. We booked the audio tour which was around €30 each and gave us access to all parts of the cathedral. The Cathedral itself is an absolute masterpiece featuring incredible architecture and history, giving an insight in to the life of its famous creator, Antoni Gaudi. Although it is not finished yet, the Cathedral is truly memerising. My sister and I found the audio guides super helpful and I’d definitely recommend these when booking your tickets. La Sagrada Familia is awar from the city centre, so it took us a good hour to walk there from our hotel on Las Ramblas, but we did break up the walk with a stop at the Arc de Triompf and a cake break opposite another of Gaudi’s creations, Casa Mila, before catching the metro back to Las Ramblas instead of walking. If there’s one thing you tick off during your visit to Barca, make sure it’s the spectacle that is La Sagrada Familia.

Chill out on Barceloneta Beach

me in front of the marina in Barcelona

The beautiful Barcelona marina

One of the most popular parts of the city, Barceloneta Beach attracts thousands of tourists each year and is a great place to relax and unwind after a busy few days of sightseeing. To me though, it seems weird to be spending time on a beach when there are so many things to see and do in a city as big as Barca, but on our last day my sister and I welcomed the chance to chill out after a hectic week of exploring three Spanish cities in seven days, and walking at least 20km every single day. Barceloneta Beach is a huge stretch of sand right by the marina, dotted with sunbeds, umbrellas and a few beach bars too. It was super crowded when I went, but I think that’s because it was the Saturday of the bank holiday May weekend here in the UK at the time. Having said that, it was a great place to people watch, read a book or listen to music whilst watching the waves lap against the shore, and there were boat rides and water sports on offer in the sea too. We didn’t get chance to take the cable car over the ocean, but I have added that to my list for my return visit next time!

Climb to the top of Montjuic Hill

views from montjuic hill over barcelona below

The breath-taking views from the top of Montjuic Hill

Something else that we didn’t quite manage to tick off was the Magic Fountain show that lights up the skies after dark on certain months of the year. Located at Montjuic Hill, this is a spectacle not to be missed, although sadly it wasn’t on when we were there as May is the only month (apart from Jan & Feb) that the show doesn’t run – gutted! We did however still walk from Las Ramblas to Montjuic Hill, following the 2-3 hour walking route that was on page 103 our trusty Marco Polo Guidebook, and had such a great time exploring a totally different area of Barca that we hadn’t seen before. We passed the Plaza de Espana along the way which looked like the Campanile in Venice’s San Marco Square. When we reached the summit, the views from the top of the hill were absolutely amazing, and it didn’t feel like we were in Barcelona at all as we gazed over the city below and spotted the mountains in the background. I’d definitely recommend you make a stop here during your stay to see a totally different side to the city!

Explore the Gothic Quarter

me and my sister on the roof of catedral de barcelona

Exploring the rooftop of Catedral de Barcelona

I really loved this area of the city, and we spent almost every evening there during our stay having drinks and indulging in some people watching! There are plenty of bars and restaurants around and the Quarter is super lively. With its tall palm trees, decorative fountain and ancient buildings, this place feels like a  mini oasis right in the middle of the busy city. Just off from Las Ramblas, the Quarter is easily reached from all areas of the city and is best explored on foot, but you will also find tourist bikes being offered left right and centre if you prefer to be shown around by someone else. Right around the corner is the gorgeous Catedral de Barcelona, with its gothic architecture and stunning interiors. It’ll cost you 7 euros to get in, but don’t forget to head up to the top of the roof for a small fee of €3 where you’ll be rewarded with incredible panoramic views over the entire city, and you’ll even spot La Sagrada Familia in the distance.

TOP TIP: Page 29 of my Marco Polo Guidebook informed me that entrance to the cathedral is free Mon-Fri 1pm-5:30pm, Saturdays 1pm-5pm or Sundays 2pm-5pm, so head there between those times if you’re on a budget. Ladies, make sure you cover up as you won’t be allowed in if you’re wearing shorts and a vest top, as I found out! (they sell scarves at the entrance for €1 though so you can purchase one of these if you don’t want to go back to your hotel room and get changed).

Where to Stay

picture of hotel room

Our room at Eurostars Las Ramblas

We treated ourselves to a top 4* hotel for our three days in Barcelona as we wanted to round off our Spanish interrailing adventure in style, but there are plenty of other budget friendly options too. I’ve previously stayed in the 2* Meson Castilla, right at the top of Las Ramblas, and that was in a great location although the rooms were pretty small, and a bit dated. There are plenty of hostels to choose from if you’re backpacking, and I’ve heard that Safestay and Generator are both good picks. For something more luxurious, I would wholeheartedly recommend our beautiful hotel, Eurostars Las Ramblas, which was at the heart of the action on the city’s most famous street. We had a balcony room overlooking Las Ramblas and could people watch til our hearts content. The huge rainforest shower was amazing, the beds were super comfy and we couldn’t fault the staff! Other top hotels include the W Barcelona and the H10 Casanova. Barcelona is a huge city, and you can hop on the metro at any time if you want to save your legs, but most hotels are really centrally located so you’re never too far from everything, no matter where you stay.

Where to Eat

me with my cocktail!

Look at the size of those cocktails!

my sister with her cocktail

My sister and I ate out every night of our stay, and we certainly picked some fantastic restaurants! On our first night we headed to the marina but couldn’t find any restaurants that weren’t stupidly overpriced, so we made our way over to Catedral de Barcelona and ended up eating right next to it, in a gorgeous restaurant called Taverna del Bisbe, which served the most amazing tapas. On our second night we stayed close to home as we had done so much walking and didn’t fancy venturing too far from our hotel, so we just ate at one of the casual restaurants out on the terrace in the middle of the street, where we had incredible paellas and cocktails the size of our heads – they were €20 each but they were amazing! Our last night took us to the Gothic Quarter where we dined at Restaurante Rossini , the most authentic Italian that could’ve been right in Tuscany if you didn’t know you were in Spain! The food was amazing – the calzone’s were like enormous pillows that we struggled to finish – and we popped over to one of the nearby bars afterwards to watch Liverpool FC knock out Barcelona in the semi final of the Champions League which was certainly a night to remember! If you’re staying on Las Ramblas I would recommend eating anywhere along there or in the Gothic Quarter, but if you’re staying a bit further afield there are plenty of other fantastic bars and restaurants to choose from too.

These are just a few of the top sights to see during your three days in Barcelona, but as the city is so huge, you could easily spend a week there ticking off plenty more landmarks. You can probably tell that I absolutely adored visiting La Sagrada Familia, and it was beyond my wildest expectations, but I loved discovering the Catedral de Barcelona too and was pleasantly surprised about how much I enjoyed it! Next time I visit I would like to take the cable car over the sea, head over to Park Guell and stop by the Magic Fountains for one of their iconic evening shows… I guess that gives me plenty of reasons to come back! Have you ever been to Barcelona before?

NB. This post was sponsored by Marco Polo Guides  but all words, thoughts and images are of course my own.

st josephs market

st josephs market

The bright colours of St Joseph’s Market

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Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip: Travelling Australia’s East Coast

 

 

 

Ahh Australia’s East Coast… somewhere that should be on EVERYONE’S bucket lists if you’re heading Down Under! Whilst making my way around Oz on my six week adventure there back in March, I was really looking forward to exploring new states and cities on the East Coast after spending the first three weeks of my trip exploring Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. My 10 day Cairns to Brisbane road trip took in the likes of Magnetic Island, Airlie Beach, the Whitsundays and Fraser Island along the way. I booked my East Coast trip through Topdeck Travel, a fantastic tour company who offer group tours for 18-39 year olds, similar to the Contiki I did in America back in 2016! I had an amazing time travelling Australia’s East Coast and really loved exploring a side to the country that was totally different to the vast Outback and the Great Ocean Road! Here’s the lo-down of my Cairns to Brisbane road trip, and everything I would recommend you see when planning your own East Coast adventure too…

 

Cairns – Magnetic Island

 

 

After meeting my new tour mates and having a full introduction from the Topdeck team at our Cairns hotel, the first day of our tour was spent exploring all that Cairns had to offer. Despite having already spent 2 nights in Cairns prior to the tour starting, it was actually really nice to spend more time exploring the city whilst getting to know my new tour mates at the same time. Some of the group decided to just chill out by the lagoon and stay in the centre, whilst others opted for high adrenaline sports including white water rafting and bungee jumping. I decided to join the rest of the group in doing a day trip to the Kuranda Rainforest after my trip to Cape Tribulation was cancelled the day before due to bad weather! We rode a cable car over the forest below, went on a boardwalk amongst the trees, admired the awesome Barron Falls waterfall and walked around the tiny village of Kuranda. After lunch we then hopped on the Kuranda Express and took the train all the way back to Cairns. I absolutely loved exploring the rainforest as it enabled me to see a totally different side to Australia.

After a heavy night of dancing and drinking until the early hours on the first night of our tour, we were all up early and were ready for a day some of us had waited our whole lives for… it was time to head out to THE GREAT BARRIER REEF! Ahhh I was so excited and couldn’t wait to get my wetsuit on and jump in that gorgeous blue sea. I have to say, snorkelling the GBR was absolutely incredible and one of the best things I’ve ever done. I saw hundreds of different species of fish of all sizes, shapes and colours, a whole host of beautiful coral reefs and even came face to face with a small shark at one point! We spent most of the day out at sea, enjoying lunch on the boat as we sailed and we did two separate dives; the day was truly magical and I am so happy I got to tick the snorkelling off my bucket list!

 

Magnetic Island – Whitsundays

 

 

After spending 4 long days in Cairns (2 on the tour and 2 just before the tour started) I was totally ready to move on and explore somewhere new so was looking forward to heading to Townsville ready for our next destination. After around 5 hours of driving we made it to Townsville in time to catch the ferry over to Magnetic Island where we were spending the night. The ferry was only a short crossing and we were soon arriving onto Maggie Island, a world heritage listed island right on the Great Barrier Reef that’s teeming with sandy beaches, tropical fish and brightly coloured reefs. Shortly after arrival, we were ready to check in to our cute little motel in Arcadia with gorgeous sea views. I joined a few of my tour mates on an afternoon hike up to the historic world war two forts which were used by the Australian army to defend their coastline. We passed some fantastic 360 degree views of the sea from the top of the fortifications along the way and even spotted a few koalas resting sleepily in the trees. After our hike we spent some time on the pretty Alma Bay beach before chilling at the pool on our resort.

After dinner at the motel, we headed out to watch the sun set over the sea and went to the nearby rocks to feed the resident wallabies which was super cute! Our evening was spent having drinks at the one and only nightclub on the entire island, Base Backpackers, before heading back to our motel in Arcadia to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning we headed to Bungalow Bay Koala Village, the only accommodation resort in Australia that has it’s very own wildlife park on site! Sadly we weren’t staying here and were just visiting for the day, but we got to meet all the classic Aussie animals including koalas, crocs, snakes, echidnas, possums and even Harry the wombat who was HUGE but just the cutest thing! We held tropical birds and snakes on our hands and round our necks and petted the koalas and wombats too. After our visit to Bungalow Bay it was time to leave Maggie Island behind as we headed back to Townsville to continue with our Cairns to Brisbane road trip.

 

Whitsundays – Airlie Beach

 

 

This was the part of the trip that I was actually dreading the most as I get sooo sea sick and was terrified it was going to ruin my entire experience! After getting off the boat back in Townsville, we left the bus (and our suitcases) behind and boarded our very own private yacht ready for overnight sailing in the beautiful Whitsundays, a cluster of 74 islands off the central coast of Queensland founded by Captain Cook. After we had left our overnight bags and ditched our shoes on the boat we set sail and cruised along the beautiful Coral Sea, lapping up the waves and gazing at the sparkling turquoise waters blow. Shortly after, we arrived at our first stop, Whitehaven Beach, a natural wonder famed for its pure white sands that should be on everyone’s Aussie bucket lists! Unfortunately the weather was awful whilst we were there and it rained non-stop (typical), but we donned our stinger suits and swam in the waters where we saw tropical fish aplenty and some of our group even saw sharks and sting rays.

Back on the boat we wolfed down our lunch that was cooked on-board and sailed further out to sea, stopping again for a second time a few hours later to give people the option for more snorkelling or swimming as the boat stopped in the middle of the ocean. We sailed for another few hours, enjoying an incredible sunset along the way, before having dinner and drinks as it started to get dark. The anchor then docked for the night as we settled down in our cabins ready to catch some Z’s. Unfortunately I was starting to feel a little nauseous by that point, although my sea sickness tablets/patches had been amazing, so I opted to go on the sleeper boat in the hope that I would actually get a good night’s kip. Most of my tour mates were getting drunk and I wasn’t really feeling it so I am glad there was a more chilled option for those of us who wanted to chill out and Topdeck catered well for instances like this!

 

Airlie Beach – Myella Farm Stay

 

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Airlie Beach… The heart of the reef, the gateway to the Whitsundays and one of the most laid back places in #Queensland! 🇦🇺 Situated between Cairns and Brisbane, #AirlieBeach makes the perfect stop to break up the journey between these 2 epic cities, and will give you the chance to explore some of Australia's best beaches and it's gorgeous blue sea 🌊 I only spent a night here whilst making my way down from #Cairns to #Brisbane on my 10 day Topdeck tour back in March, but I had just spent the previous couple of days sailing the world famous #Whitsundays which was incredible ⚓️ Have you been to this part of #Australia before? I'll be writing up my East Coast guide on the blog very soon and can't wait to share my next instalment from my trip Down Under with you all 🌎 #JessDoesAustralia #TakeMeBack #EastCoastin #DownUnder #Topdecker

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Our second day on board our boat was spent sailing further out to sea and taking yet more swimming stops as we visited Blue Pearl Bay to try and see some more amazing marine life. We had actually seen a shark and baby dolphins the night before from top deck of our boat which was a real treat so I was keeping an eye out for some more activity! Unfortunately it rained again on our second day so the water wasn’t as clear as we’d hoped for, and the snorkelling wasn’t great either, but we did enjoy sailing for another few hours and having another great lunch before we disembarked the boat. After our overnight Whitsundays sailing had come to an end, and as we made our way into Airlie Beach, we spent time exploring the lagoon and the shops before having dinner and drinks in one of the most popular backpacker resorts in Australia. Our hotel for the night was the Mantra Club Croc which was amazing and the rooms were so luxurious – something that was much needed after an uncomfortable night’s sleep on a boat and I was so glad to be back on land!

 

Myella Farm Stay – Fraser Island

 

 

The next morning we enjoyed a hearty breakfast ahead of our longest driving day of the entire trip – a whopping 8 hours – ready to head to Myella Farm, a traditional working farm ran by a local family who welcomed us all with open arms. We spent two nights on the farm and took part in activities including horse riding, lassoing and feeding the baby joeys as well as enjoying some of the best home cooked meals we’d ever had! We went for sunset walks on the ranch, drives around the estate and chilled out in our hammocks whilst catching some rays. I spent time reading my book, contacting family and friends back home and doing some laundry too as we hadn’t had much chance to do any since our tour started. It was so lovely to experience a traditional way of Australian farm life for these two days and we also used it as a chance to recharge our batteries after a whirlwind start to our crazy Cairns to Brisbane road trip.

 

Fraser Island – Brisbane

 

 

The penultimate stop on our tour, and somewhere that I was super excited to visit, was the one and only FRASER ISLAND! Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the largest sand island in the world, Fraser boasts Queensland’s longest beach which stretches for 75 miles. We made the long drive from Myella Farm, stopping at Bundaberg to check out their famous rum distillery along the way, and then caught a ferry over in the afternoon. We started our time on Fraser with a four wheel driving experience across the bumpy sand. Shortly after, we went on an epic rainforest walk swapping sand for trees, and were then taken back to our Wilderness Lodges ready for dinner and a night of dancing in the tiny nightclub! Day 2 of Fraser was probably my favourite day of the entire trip as we packed SO much in to such a short amount of time. First up was tubing down Eli Creek and exploring the Maheno Shipwreck before jumping on an optional scenic flight over the entire island below which was amazing! After coming back down to earth, we spent the afternoon swimming in Lake Mackenzie, the bluest water I’ve ever seen, and even did some stand up paddle boarding too.

Night two of Fraser was our last official night on tour as a group as loads of us were jumping off in Brisbane the next day (myself included) so we wanted to enjoy one last evening together. We had a lovely sit down meal followed by more dancing and drinking at our lodges/the bar. Our last morning was spent enjoying one final breakfast together before we all hopped on the ferry back to the mainland and got back on the bus for the last time (sob!). We then had a 5 hour drive as we made our way over to Noosa where we had a few hours to stop for lunch and do some exploring. I had no idea what to expect from Noosa at all but really enjoyed walking up to Noosa Heads and the Fairy Pools for some epic ocean views. Only a few of us took part in this hike, and we were actually back late to the bus because we lost track of time (oops!) but I’m so glad we did it. Our final stop on the way down to Brisbane was at the Glasshouse Mountains, a set of dormant volacanoes that dominated the skyline. After a few more hours of driving we FINALLY reached the lively city of Brisbane ready to say goodbye to all our Topdeck pals. There were hugs and tears aplenty as those of us who were leaving got ready to wave everyone off, but I actually stayed one more night for a final dinner and drinks with the crew before my lovely friend Amy picked me up the next morning and my Cairns to Brisbane road trip came to an end!

 

 

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Dreaming of #Australia on today's #TravelTuesday 🇦🇺 I had no idea what to expect from #Noosa before I arrived as part of my @topdecktravel tour when I travelled the #EastCoast from #Cairns to #Brisbane but I was pleasantly surprised ☀️ I hit up the shops, explored the food markets, went to the beach and even hiked up to Noosa Heads and the magical Fairy Pools ✨ Me and some of my tour mates had so much fun exploring that we forgot what time it was and were late back to the bus that was waiting for us! 🙈 We ended up running like mad to try and make it to the bus as quickly as possible and I ran so fast I felt sick but it was allllll worth it for the incredible photos I took of these beautiful sea views 🌊 Has anywhere really surprised you before? I'll be publishing my East Coast Road Trip very soon on the blog and can't wait to share it with you all! 🌎 . . . #jessdoesaustralia #australia_shotz #australiagram #discoveraustralia #aussielife #noosaheads #noosanationalpark #noosafairypools #queensland #igersaustralia #igersnoosa #igersqueensland #roadtrip #eastcoastaustralia #topdecker #topdecktravel #cairnstobrisbane #downunder #australia_oz #australiatrip #travelblogger #darlingescapes #wanderlust #mytinyatlas

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As you can tell, I had a brilliant time on my Cairns to Brisbane road trip and absolutely adored travelling Australia’s East Coast. From snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef and sailing the Whitsundays to feeding baby kanga’s at Myella Farm and flying over Fraser Island, I ticked plenty of Aussie bucket list items off my list and made 30 new friends whilst I was at it! A Topdeck tour is a great way of getting around Australia and seeing a large amount of the country in such a short time, so I would definitely recommend them if you’re looking to do an East Coast tour like I did! The final instalment of my Australia posts will be coming soon, and I’ll be sharing the last part of my journey from Brisbane-Sydney. Writing these posts is so much fun and is giving me so much nostalgia, but it’s also giving me serious travel blues and making me miss Australia even more! Take me backkkkkkkk.

 

 

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A Greek Blogging Event with Jet2: JetMeToTheGreek

 

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic networking event in London with Jet2, one of the UK’s leading airlines and holiday search engines. Alongside 30 other travel and food bloggers, I was invited to a Greek cookery class at funky venue Jenius Social in Islington to whip up some fantastic Mediterranean treats and was able to learn all about Jet2’s new destinations of Lefka and Parga whilst stuffing my face with souvlaki, feta and allll the Grecian goodies you could think of.

 

 

Upon arrival we were welcomed with a cold glass of fizz and a big smiley hello from the Jet2 girls Frankie and Fran, who were so lovely and super friendly. I had met Frankie before as we’d been on the Traverse/Jet2 Must See Menorca trip together back in 2017 and have stayed in touch on social media ever since. I didn’t really know many people who were going to the event other than the lovely Danielle, who I became firm friends with and Traverse 2019 back in June, and Georgie who I also spent a week with on the Menorca trip! I never really get nervous at events now as I’ve been to so many, and this one was super causal and felt very chilled, so I instantly clicked with a couple of the other girls and spent time talking to Hanna, Char and Katie too – we’d spoken on Twitter a few times and it was so nice to finally meet some internet friends in real life!

 

Our cookery class was soon well underway as all 30 of us headed into the kitchen and took our places at one of the many workbenches that had been set up for us. We had an intro from the lovely chef and then were told what dishes we were going to make. I have recently become semi vegetarian as I don’t eat red meat at all and only occasionally eat chicken, so I was a little worried that I’d be limited on what I could eat, but as the Greeks traditionally have a diet which is rich in vegetables and meat free ingredients I needn’t have worried and I ended up eating every single dish that we made!

 

 

From starters of feta salads and stuffed peppers and tomatoes to sides of spanakopitakia (spinach and cheese parcels) and mains of souvlaki and chicken skewers in pitta bread, every single dish we made tasted absolutely amazing and was super easy to follow after being shown the steps for each dish in the cookery class. The recipes were even emailed to us after the event so we could cook them at home for our friends and family and I really want to do this at some point because I’d forgotten how easy it is to whip up some amazing Greek food!

 

 

Shortly after all the dishes were made we sat down to dinner at the cute tables that were laid out for us by the Jet2 team and devoured all the yummy food we’d just cooked whilst chatting away to each other. Shortly after we all took part in a Greek themed quiz and the star prize was a holiday to one of Jet2’s new destinations of Lefka or Parga. Unfortunately I didn’t win as I was pretty rubbish at the quiz but one of the girls got the highest score so she was the worthy winner!

 

 

I had a great time at the JetMeToTheGreek event and really loved learning about their new destinations as well as trying my hand at something new as I had never taken part in a cookery class before! All the fellow bloggers were so friendly and the teams from Jet2 and Jenius Social were amazing. I loved the fact that the event was on a Saturday night as it meant I could actually attend; I am fed up of being invited to events in London on a Tuesday at 7pm when it’s impossible for me to get there because I work full time! Anyway, this event was a total breath of fresh air and  I think it’s time to get me back to Greece now, what do you think?! Pass me that tzatziki…

 

 

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A Little Life Update: What’s New For 2019

Hi everyone,

I’m not quite sure how it’s the middle of July all of a sudden, time is FLYING by more than ever this year and the last six months have certainly been a whirlwind! I thought I’d just do a little life update post for you as I try to do these a few times throughout the year, just to inject a bit more personality into my blog, and to break up all the travel content that I constantly seem to be churning out! As we are well into July, I thought now would be a good time to take a step back and see how things have been going, and to update you on some big life changes too! Here goes…

I quit my job & spent 4 months travelling and blogging full time

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This is the face of a girl who's just finished her last Monday at work! 😬😬 Really excited to share some news with you all… 🙈 1. I'm quitting my job (again) sorry mum 😂 2. I've been offered an internship at the Sunday Times Travel Magazine to see how the world of journalism works! Roll on 2 weeks in London for lots of learning 💻 3. In March I'm off to travel round Australia all by myself! This trip is an absolute dream come true and I can't wait to spend 6 weeks exploring the other side of the world 🇦🇺 After that I've got trips to Scotland, Spain, Italy & Greece lined up between May & September so I've got another busy year of travel coming up and I couldn't be more excited! 🌍 I've taken another leap of faith to give myself a better and brighter future and I'm soooo ready for my new chapter to begin!! 2019, let's do thissss 🙌 #MondayMotivation #NewBeginnings #BringItOn

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After deciding I was going to hand my notice in at work in January, I left my full time job at luxury travel firm Abercrombie and Kent in February in order to backpack around Australia. Before that though, I spent 2 weeks in London interning at The Sunday Times Travel Magazine which was super fun! My month and a half in Australia was totally life changing and I had the best trip ever travelling from Melbourne – Sydney and everywhere in between! I blogged full time from March-June whilst also visiting Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, Scotland, the Lake District, Verona and Trento after I returned from Oz in April, so I’ve certainly had a busy few months of travel!

I got a new puppy

Eeeek as well as backpacking my way around Australia, this was another one of the most exciting things to happen this year – we got a frigging PUPPY!!! Lola is a cavapoo pup which means she’s crossed with a cavalier spaniel and a miniature poodle. She was 9 weeks old when we got her and was the tiniest little bundle of fluff, but now she’s a spritely 8 month old who loves walkies, cuddles and running around the house chewing everything in sight! She has bought so much joy into our lives after we lost our beautiful Westie Cassie back in 2017 and we can’t imagine our lives without Lola now!

I celebrated my 5 year blog anniversary

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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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Back in May I celebrated my little blog turning 5 years old and I still can’t quite believe it. Who’d have ever thought that my little space on the internet would ever reach the grand old age of 5?! I certainly never thought it would happen, especially when I only set it up as a way of documenting my travels so my mum and dad could read them. Fast forward half a decade and my blog now attracts over 7000 page views each month, with almost 10,000 followers on social media. My blog has been a consistent source of income; I’ve been paid for my writing for the past 4 years, I’ve worked with brands on sponsored posts and campaigns and I’ve even been sent on press trips and attended travel conferences, meeting people that I simply would never have met if it wasn’t for my blog. What a 5 years it’s been – roll on the next 5, I can’t wait to see what new heights my blog will reach next!

I won a trip to Riga

Off the back of attending my 4th annual Traverse conference in Italy in June, I was lucky enough to win a trip to the beautiful city of Riga with tourism board Magnetic Latvia who were one of the sponsors this year. I have always wanted to visit Latvia, and Riga in particular, so I was absolutely over the moon when I found out that I’d won free flights and a hotel stay in the quirky Baltic capital. I’m not sure when I’ll be heading to Riga yet, although I’ve got my sights set on December so I can pair it with a Christmas Market visit too. Have you ever been to Riga before? Send me all your blog posts please!

I’ve bagged myself a brand new job

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New week, new month, new JOB! 😬 Eeeek been keeping this under wraps for a little while, but today's the day I start my brand new job at a luxury travel company in Witney. 🌎 I'm so excited to have swapped a 2hr daily commute for a drive that takes me just 8 minutes to get to my new office 🙈 Instead of finishing at 5:30 and not getting home til nearly 7 I'll actually be home before 5:30 which means I can actually have a social life in the evenings and can fit it around working part time on my blog too ❤️ So excited for my new chapter to begin, after 4 months of travelling and spending way too much money I can't wait to get into a proper routine again and start settling down (kind of 😉) Operation 'Jess is saving up for a house' has been resumed! 🏡 #MondayMotivation #NewJob #NewChapter #WishMeLuck

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If all of this wasn’t enough to take on in my life, I only went and got a brand new job too! On the 1st of July I started a new role at Oxford Private Travel, a luxury travel company specialising in tailor made holiday itineraries. It’s similar to my last job at Abercrombie & Kent, although I’ll be dealing with all types of holidays across the world, rather than just being a European villas specialist. I’m on my 4th week at work now and time is absolutely flying by! I’m loving it so much and the role is so varied, allowing me to deal with clients directly and host supplier meetings as well as being responsible for product and even website content meaning I can be creative and throw some writing into my day job rather than just saving it for my blog life. I’ve settled into the team really well, attending a few summer events already and even being asked to join the Social Committee! I feel so happy and content and having no commute (10 min drive as opposed to a 1hr drive in my last job) means I can actually have a social life and do things in the evenings like catch up with friends or focus on my blog. After I got back from Australia I wasn’t sure whether I should continue with the freelance stuff, get a new office job or start a completely new career, but I’ve definitely made the right choice in continuing in the travel industry and I’m super excited to see where this next chapter will take me.

Quite a lot has happened in my little life over the past 6 months, and it’s certainly been one hell of a ride! I spent so much time travelling between February and June (I wasn’t home for more than two weeks at a time for 4 months) and, whilst I don’t regret any of it at all, it’s made me realise I get burnt out so much when I travel and sometimes it’s nice to spend some time at home and take stock of everything once in a while. I am incredibly lucky to have travelled as much as I have done, but right now I want to spend some time at home and focus on building my savings back up so I can look to move out and get my own place within the next 12 months. It’ll mean that I have to cut down on spending, and that means I’ll no doubt have to stop travelling as much, but we all have to make sacrifices in order to achieve things we desperately want, so if not spending as much means I can afford to move out then so be it!

The next life update I write will be at the end of the year, when I’ll be sharing my 2019 round up and letting you know how I got on with my New Years Resolutions that were made back in January. In terms of trips, I’ve got weekends in Manchester, London and Brighton coming up as well as potentially a sunny week in Portugal, a Christmas market trip to Riga and my first work trip to either Menorca or Sardinia – exciting! I don’t want to wish time away so I hope it goes slowly, but in the meantime stay tuned for tonnes more Australia and Europe content from my recent travels coming right up!

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Happy #TravelTuesday everyone – I'm actually not travelling at the moment (for once) and you know what, I'm actually soooo happy about it! 🏡 I haven't spent more than 2 weeks at a time at home since February and have been on back to back trips since March, taking 10 flights in 3 months, and travelling thousands of miles across Australia, the UK and Europe which has made me bloody exhausted 😩 I know I shouldn't moan because I LOVE my life and I'm so lucky I get to travel so much, but all the constant running around from airport to airport and sleeping in different hotel beds every night has finally taken its toll and I've got so fed up with being on the road that I just want to have a base to come back to ✨ So I'm now totally ready to spend the next three months completely at home, as my next trip isn't until September, and focus on myself, my blog and something else which I haven't told you about yet but I will reveal all soon, I promise! 🙈 For now here's a pic of me loving life in sunny Italia and soaking up the stunning mountain views that were right behind me ⛰

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How to Spend a Week in the Australian Outback

 

The Australian Outback is totally unique, and unlike anywhere else on this planet. I spent some time exploring this incredible part of Oz during my recent six week adventure and have never had a travel experience quite like my week in the Outback; I would go as far as to say it was a totally life-changing seven days for me. I swapped my bed for a swag, make up for a bare face and wifi for human interaction, all of which were welcome changes to my temporary Australian Outback life. I found that the phrase ‘sleeping under the stars’ quite literally meant sleeping in the open with nothing over me or around me whatsoever, and my fly net became my new best friend. Despite having never camped in my ENTIRE LIFE, I had an absolute ball and would do it all again in a heartbeat. Want to know how I did it? You’ve come to the right place! I booked my adventure with Intrepid Travel on their Adelaide – Alice Springs Overland tour; here’s my day by day itinerary, and how you can do travel the Australian Outback too…

 

Day 1: Adelaide – Flinders Ranges

 

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Every once in a while do something that scares you 💫 I've never been camping in my ENTIRE LIFE and for the past two nights I've been sleeping under the stars in the Australian friggin outback!! 😩 On night 1 I was terrified and slept in my hoody, pjs, fly net and sleeping bag with the zips done all the way up to to the top! I got woken up by kangaroos bouncing around my head but apart from that I actually slept pretty well 😂 By the second night I'd got the hang of it and literally just wore tiny pjs and slept with my legs out the sleeping bag as it was sooo hot! Kept flinching cos thought I had bugs on me when in reality it was just my hair 😅 Tonight we are sleeping in an underground bunkhouse 😳 (I hope there are no spiders 🕷) What an amazing adventure I'm having – experiencing the nature of the outback, not wearing a scrap of make up or having any wifi, pushing myself out my comfort zone and embracing every second. ✨ The stars here are so incredible, I've been gazing up at them every night before falling asleep realising just how lucky I am to be on a journey like this one 🌟 #JessDoesAustralia #Days8-9

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Starting in Adelaide, I joined my 16 pax group and got acquainted with my tour leader (Kieran) and fellow tour-mates, where we got brief intro’s and awkward hello’s out of the way; little did I know that these people would become dear friends to me by the end of the week, and that I’d still talk to some of them every single day. Once on the road, on our comfortable coach with plenty of room for suitcases on the trailer which lagged behind us, we headed straight for Flinders Ranges, where we would be spending our first night on tour. We passed by Wilpena Pound (an incredible rocky landscape which was an epic backdrop for those all important Insta pics) and stopped for lunch before ending up in Flinders after around 5 hours of driving, where our camp was waiting for us. We went on an afternoon hike around the national park before heading back to camp for a tasty BBQ and then setting up our swags for the night. Let me just be clear with what I mean by the word ‘swag’ as you’ll hear it a lot throughout this post. A swag is another word for an Australian bedroll, which is basically a sleeping bag with a small foam mattress so you are sleeping slightly raised off the floor, but there is no tent/cover around or on top of you. I was terrified about sleeping on one of these, but honestly they were sooo comfy and I had an amazing night’s sleep with no interruptions from any bugs/spiders crawling over me (thank GOD), although there was a kangaroo or two hopping around at 4am 😉

 

Day 2: Flinders Ranges – William Creek (via Oodnadatta Track)

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So my Adelaide to Alice Springs tour has come to an end and I am soooooo sad 😭 This adventure has been one of the best weeks of my entire life and I've enjoyed every single second of it! 💖 We've done everything from sleeping under the stars and hiking national parks to watching countless sunrises and even doing skydives 🙈 I've pushed myself out my comfort zone every single day, forcing myself to embrace sleeping outside when I'm terrified of spiders/bugs, throwing myself off a plane when I have a fear of heights and making sure I continue to hike even when I feel exhausted and am suffering from the heat 😩 I've surprised myself by embracing everything and just living in the moment, but the best thing to come from this trip is the people I've met. Seven days ago these 18 people were just a bunch of strangers from different ages, countries and backgrounds, now we are a family who have enjoyed the trip of a lifetime together and I will never forget any of them ❤️ I love travelling on my own, but I do it to meet people like these 🌟 #JessDoesAustralia #Days8-15

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Day 2 saw us leave Flinders Ranges behind at around 7am (we soon learnt this would be classed as a lay in!) as we headed north towards William Creek, the smallest ‘town’ I have ever visited with a population of approx 10 people! We made stops at Lyndhurst, an outdoor sculpture park, and Parachilna, home to some of the world’s oldest fossils, before driving for around 5 hours, following the old Ghan railway & overland telegraph line where we stopped for lunch at the town of Marree, right next to the Ghan station. Once we’d hit the famous Oodnadatta track we stopped at Lake Eyre, Australia’s largest salt lake, and tasted some of the well known salt water itself – be warned, it tastes every bit as salty as it sounds! Dinner was cooked and eaten round the campfire that evening, and the stars that shone above us as we settled into another night in our swags truly took my breath away. I got to really know my fellow campers a bit more that night as we played card games, exchanged travel stories and just generally embraced Australian Outback life.

 

Day 3: William Creek – Coober Pedy

 

 

After leaving teeny tiny William Creek behind we headed towards Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world. Before arriving there though we admired the incredible desert landscapes as we drove straight through the iconic Red Centre and then passed by Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station on the planet. After a long 6.5 hours of driving we finally arrived at Coober Pedy where we had a quick bus tour of the town and familiarised ourselves with our new home for the night. As Coober Pedy is incredibly hot, with temperatures reaching almost 50 degrees in the summer months, most of the houses and shops here are actually built underground as it is much cooler for people to live there. We went on a fascinating tour of the Coober Pedy mine and even tried our hand at ‘noodling’, or searching for opals in the sand. Afterwards we went to a local art gallery called Josephine’s which stocked Aboriginal paintings and doubled up as a kangaroo orphanage for rescued joey’s which were the cutest things I’ve ever seen! This evening we headed out for pizza (the only time on the tour we didn’t cook/wash up, hooray!) before making our way to the accommodation for the night, an underground bunkhouse with ACTUAL bunk-beds which felt like heaven after 2 nights of sleeping on the floor!

 

Day4: Coober Pedy – Yulara

 

As we were on our way out of Coober Pedy we made a quick stop at The Breakaways, one of the best natural landscapes I have EVER seen! This place was seriously stunning and reminded me so much of Arizona and Nevada in America, where you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d stepped into the Grand Canyon or Mojave Desert and would expect to see a Western film being shot at any moment! After taking literally HUNDREDS of photos, with me and some of the girls having a full on photo shoot, we reluctantly made our way back to the coach for our longest day of driving yet (a solid 9 hours). Our journey took us across the Moon Plains and past the Dingo Fence, which is the largest fence in the world, and we stopped off for a selfie at the Northern Territory border, officially marking my third Australian state during my trip so far. Upon arrival at our camp in Yulara we made headed to Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock as it’s more commonly known, where we eagerly awaited a special sunset and had drinks and nibbles to pass the time. Unfortunately there was no sunset at all as it was super cloudy and started to get dark very quickly, so us and the hundreds of other people who were also there were somewhat let down! To pick us back up again though we headed back to camp where a wonderful BBQ dinner was prepared and we enjoyed a great night’s sleep in our permanent tented camps.

 

Day 5: Yulara – Uluru

 

This was without doubt one of my FAVOURITE days on tour and when you look at that impressive red rock, it’s not hard to see why. We started our morning with a sunrise hike around the base of Uluru; our 4:30am start was tough but the hike was incredible and we were rewarded with the most amazing sunrise at the end of it. We then headed to the cultural centre/museum to learn more about the Aboriginal history of Uluru and why it is one of the most sacred sites in Australia. We also attended a talk from an Aboriginal woman, with the help of a translator, who told us some interesting stories about Aboriginal life and its connections with Uluru. After lunch we had a free afternoon at camp to do whatever we fancied. Some of the group used the on-site pool to cool down from the mid-day sun whilst others went for a small walk around the area. I did something a little different to that… I just happened to jump out of a plane and do A FRIGGING SKY DIVE over Uluru!!! Seriously, what is wrong with me?! It was a total last minute decision which I made on a bit of a whim but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my whole life and a real highlight of my entire Aussie trip. I didn’t tell anyone back home about it either, I just face-timed my parents once I’d done it and their faces were an absolute PICTURE! I don’t think I’ll ever do a skydive again, but it was something I wanted to tick off my bucket list and what better place to do it than in the Australian Outback?!

 

Day 6: Uluru/Kata Tjuta – Kings Canyon

 

I was still on a high from my skydive on the previous day so barely slept at all and went straight to sleep after dinner, but this campsite had purpose built huts with proper mattress style beds so I actually felt I could relax a little and it made a welcome change from sleeping on the floor! Our 6th day gave us yet another 4:30am start as we took on another sunrise hike, this time over at Kata Tjuta, or The Olga’s as it’s also known, one of the most popular national parks alongside Uluru. I think I actually enjoyed this one more than Uluru, because it wasn’t as crowded and we had a bit more time to stop and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The afternoon saw us spend a lot of time driving (around six hours) but we had a few lunch/gas station/toilet stops along the way to break up the journey. Upon arrival at our campsite for the evening, Watarrka National Park, also known as Kings Canyon, we made dinner and played games around the campfire before getting an early night ahead of another early start the next morning.

 

Day 7:  Kings Canyon – Alice Springs

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((Link in bio)) After weeks of writing and editing, it's finally here, my ultimate guide on How to Spend a Week in the Australian Outback 🔥 This blog post is very special to me, which is why it has taken me so long to write since I got back from Oz in April! I would go as far as to say that this trip was probably the most life changing trip I've ever taken. Travelling from #Adelaide to #AliceSprings I crossed the borders from #SouthAustralia to the #NorthernTerritory and ticked off everything in between 🌎 From sleeping under the stars at Flinders Ranges to admiring views over the plains of #CooberPedy, hiking Kings Canyon & #KataTjuta and skydiving over #Uluru, I sure covered some serious ground during my week long Outback trip 🇦🇺 But it wasn't the memories of the landscapes or the places we visited that'll stay with me most, it's how much I learnt about myself whilst I was there. I learnt that it's quite fun to sleep outside on the floor, I learnt that it's extremely liberating to go make up free, and I also learnt that it's bloody marvellous to have no internet for a week! 🙌 I bonded with 17 camp mates from all corners of the world, with ages ranging from 20 to 70, and every day we sang songs around the campfire, took turns to cook dinner and pitched in with the washing up. On day 1 we were strangers, but by day 7 we were a family ❤️ Reconnecting with nature and embracing change is what travel is all about, and if my week in the Australian Outback taught me anything, it's that you've got to stop and look at what's around you, take it all in, and learn from everything that this world gives to us ✨ #JessDoesAustralia

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Our last day of the tour had rolled around and everyone was so sad that it was coming to an end, but we had one last day together and wanted to make the most of every second. We had our final 4:30am start (that’s the only bit I was glad to be ending) and headed straight to Kings Canyon, another of the incredible national parks that can be found in the Australian Outback. This was without doubt the hardest hike of the trip, starting with a taxing walk up the aptly named Heart Attack Hill, yep you heard me right, before making our way round the entire rim of the canyon (6km). It was an incredible walk though and we all stuck together taking it at a slow pace so that everyone in the group could enjoy it, no matter what their age or fitness level. We finished around 11:30am (just before they closed the park because the temperatures were reaching 40 degrees) and then headed for lunch back at our campsite. I was so sad at our final lunch as it really felt like the adventure was coming to an end, but I was looking forward to spending some time with my new friends in Alice Springs, once the tour was over, as I knew most of the group would be staying on in Alice for a few extra days. This evening our meal wasn’t included but we all went for one last group dinner together at a local restaurant in Alice and bid a fond farewell to our tour leader Kieran who was absolutely incredible throughout the entire week.

 

Can you tell that I had the most amazing week of my life travelling the Australian Outback?! I still can’t believe I conquered my fears and did some of those things; I never thought I’d be able to even camp in the wild let alone chuck myself off a bloody PLANE! Although it totally amazing, it was also incredibly tough at times, with 40 degree temperatures and gruelling hikes every day which I did struggle with, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world as it taught me so much about myself, and how strong I am as a person. It also taught me to just live in the moment, appreciate every single second of life and go back to basics sometimes when things are getting a bit overwhelming. I chose the perfect tour, met new people who are now friends for life and made memories that I will never forget. Travelling the Australian Outback is something that should be on everyone’s bucket lists, and I encourage you to do it if you get the chance one day, before it’s too late!

 

 

Like my Great Ocean Road tour, this one too was a very ‘hands on’ experience, and we all pitched in with cooking, washing up, tidying away etc so that our tour leader Kieran wasn’t left to do all the work. All our meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) were made and served by us all, taking it in turns to do different jobs. As with most camping trips, this tour is pretty basic as you’re either sleeping in swags or huts, and there are only communal showers and toilets with no option to upgrade to anything, so please bear in mind that it may not suit every style of traveller. It is suitable for all ages though, from 8-99, and we had people of all ages and backgrounds in our group, from Brits in their 20s to Americans in their 30s and Europeans in their 60s and 70s. On this tour all your food is included, your campsites & swags are all there for you and your expert tour guides have knowledge which is second to none. For me, this really was the most authentic Australian Outback experience I could ever wish for and I would do it all again in a heartbeat!

Just FYI, here are the inclusions that were covered in this trip:

  • 6 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 6 dinners
  • 2 nights swag camping, 3 nights in permanent tented camps, 1 night in an underground bunkhouse (all with shared bathroom facilities)
  • All transport
  • Entrance to numerous national parks, plus many more activities (pls refer to webpage)

 

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So I have something to tell you all and I haven't told a single person (not even my parents or sisters so they're gonna get a shock when they read this🙈) TODAY I DID A SKY DIVE OVER AYRES ROCK!!!! 😱😱😱 Ohmygodddddd best day ever, first ever sky dive, best thing I've ever done in my whole life in the best location with the most amazing atmosphere and I am soooo proud of myself!! Absolutely terrified of heights and thought I was gonna wet myself when I was sat on the edge of the plane at 12000 feet 😭😂 What an amazing experience and something I will never ever forget!! My bucket list is almost complete at the age of 26 and I've never been happier than I have been today! 🌟 You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough 💫 #JessDoesAustralia #Day10 #IAmInsane

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