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Thoughts from a Pituitary Patient: What It Feels Like To Live With an Invisible Illness

Hi everyone,

I’m sure you might have noticed that my content over the past few months has been really travel focussed, which is obviously a good thing given that I’m running a travel blog(!!), but I wanted to do something a little different today. I haven’t done any personal posts for a while, and, although I love writing about my trips, I’m conscious that churning out travel guides and hotel reviews will make my blog seem less informal and less ‘me’, so I wanted to inject a bit of personality into this post and put myself at the forefront of it. If you know me personally, or you’ve been following my blog/social media channels online, you’ll know that as well as being a travel blogger I am also a proud ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, a small UK based charity which supports patients, and their families, who are suffering with a variety of pituitary related conditions including Cushings Disease, Diabetes Insipidus and Prolactinoma’s. I have the latter condition, which is basically a benign tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain, and was diagnosed 7 years ago as a young 18 year old girl. I first told you about my condition in this post 2 years ago, and have since shared my story with The Daily Mail and even wrote something for Contiki Holidays last summer about how to travel with an invisible illness, but it just so happens that October marks National Pituitary Awareness Month, so I thought now was the right time to give you another little insight in to my world, and what it’s really like to be a Prolactinoma sufferer on a daily basis…

 

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Today is National Rare Disease Day, so what better way to share my news about a new challenge I have set myself this year… last year I turned my town orange, the year before I ran a 5 mile fun run, and this year I'm going all out and CLIMBING A BLOODY MOUNTAIN!! 🏔 For those of you who don't know, I've been living with a condition called a prolactinoma for the past seven years. Put simply, a prolactinoma is a small tumor on the pituitary gland in the brain and it's something which affects me every day. Although I'm on life long medication, I still need to have tests, scans and consultations regularly throughout the year. After becoming an ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation last summer I'm trying to raise as much money and awareness as possible for a wonderful charity who have supported me every step of the way during my diagnosis. I'll be climbing Mount Snowdon in June with my wonderful friends and family in the shape of my mum, dad & my lovely friends Tiff and Flo (if shes better as she's currently poorly!!) and can't wait to take on my biggest challenge yet! I'm trying to raise as much as I can, so please donate if you are able to – no matter how big or small, every little helps! 💰 In order to kick start the fundraising I will donate 50p for every like that this status receives over the next 24 hours… go go go! Please help me raise some cash for an incredible charity who are fairly unknown in this country. Please read my story on my JustGiving page (link in comments) and donate whatever you can! Thank youuuuu! Lots of love, Jess and the Snowdon team 😘💖 xxx #pituitaryfoundation #pituitaryawareness #charity #fundraising #mountsnowdon #uk #charityevent #ambassador #justgiving #prolactinoma

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My Diagnosis

Back in 2011, when I was just 18 years old, I started to notice major changes in my body. I was tired all the time, had horrendous headaches every day, blurred vision and constant nausea, so I knew something wasn’t quite right. Weirdly, I started lactating from my breasts and I’d come home from sixth form with cotton wool pads stuffed down my bra because I was worried I’d have patches showing through my top. Up until that point I wasn’t overly worried, but when the lactation started that’s when I knew I had to see a doctor. Was I pregnant? Was I going through some strange hormonal condition? I had no idea and, at first, neither did the doctors! I had MRI scans, heart scans, blood tests, hormone tests and every kind of investigation you could think of. After endless tests, prods and scans I was passed between the hospital, GP surgery and MRI departments until I was finally diagnosed with my condition. At 18, I was told I had a tumor in my brain. The medical term is a Prolactinoma, which is a small (benign) growth on the pituitary gland in the brain. That doesn’t sound so scary when you break it down, but when you’re 18 years old the only words you hear are ‘brain’ and ‘tumor’ and hearing those words together in the same sentence truly scared the life out of me. I was immediately put on long term medication (Cabergoline) and told that I most likely would be on them for the rest of my life.

 

My Daily Symptoms

 

The following months were a blur, but I do remember my symptoms starting to disappear as the medication slowly worked its magic on my body. The headaches became less frequent, the blurred vision eased a little and the lactation pretty much stopped completely. Fast forward seven years and, whilst I still get headaches on a daily basis and still suffer with nausea, most of my original symptoms have now disappeared. The medication lowers the level of the prolactin hormone in my body and helps to keep it under control. Whilst the medication does reduce the size of the tumor and improves my day to day wellbeing, there are inevitably some side effects which do impact me daily. The tablets cause horrendous mood swings; some days I’m so low I can barely get out of bed and all I want to do is curl up in a ball and cry, other days I’m loving life and am as high as a kite! It’s ridiculous, it’s stressful and sometimes it’s really embarrassing. I would say 70% of the time I’m happy and I’m pretty content with life, but I do suffer with terribly low moods and there are genuinely days where I’m just on auto pilot and I’m merely existing, not living, and that’s really upsetting when you’re a bubbly, outgoing person like me who tries to live life to the full every day.

 

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So this morning while everyone was tucked up in their beds I woke up at 3.30am, took 3 ski lifts to a height of 3300 meters, and attempted to watch the sun rise from the top of one of the highest mountains in #Switzerland! Sadly the sky was too cloudy to see the sun come up, but what an amazing experience to be surrounded by so much snow! Whilst I was halfway up I began feeling really poorly and started suffering from one of my #pituitary related headaches, but this one was so bad I could barely open my eyes. After we started our descent and had breakfast in an igloo at 2900m I started to cry. I cried because I was in so much pain and I didn't know what to do to make it stop. And then I realised that I could either let it get me down and ruin my Swiss experience, or I could wrap up warm, push past the pain and try to make the most of every second of my journey. With the help of my wonderful new blogger friends I chose the latter option. Sometimes being poorly is unavoidable, but today I made the best out of a bad situation and still managed to have an incredible bucket list experience. Travelling forever leaves me speechless, and it'll always teach me to enjoy each moment, live each day and remember every second. 💖 #InLoveWithNendaz

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How I’m Affected

 

Sadly the medication affects my life in other ways, and one of the biggest worries it gives me is that I may not be able to have children or conceive naturally if I stay on the tablets. If I come off them though, my tumor will most likely grow and I’d be back to square one. This is something that plays on my mind daily, despite being nowhere near ready to settle down and have a family, all I’ve ever really wanted to do in life is be a mum, and it breaks my heart to think that this dream might never come true for me. As well as living with my condition, I also suffer with recurring cysts on my ovaries and found out at a recent ultrasound scan that I have a tilted womb – it’s totally back to front – great! So even if I can have kids, I think I’d have a pretty horrendous pregnancy/birth/life for those 9 months! Obviously I try to push this to the back of my mind as I am not ready to start a family yet, but I’m 25 and the reality now is that I do think about this every single day. On a day to day basis though, I just take things one day at a time and deal with the headaches/nausea/mood swings first before allowing myself to be overwhelmed with thinking about the future, and what that means for me and my condition.

 

My Fundraising

For the past 4 years I have taken part in a series of events to raise money for The Pituitary Foundation, and in doing so I have met sooo many people who suffer with the same or similar conditions to me, and who are in some way impacted by problems the pituitary gland can cause. In 2015 I ran the Big Fun Run in Milton Keynes and raised over £350 for the charity. In 2017 I was honoured to become an official charity ambassador and turned my local town orange for The Pituitary Foundation’s Go Orange Day, raising over £100 as well as capturing press coverage in 2 local newspapers. This year I took on my biggest challenge yet as I climbed Mount Snowdon and helped to raise a whopping £25,000 for the Foundation which is absolutely phenomenal and such an incredible achievement for the entire team – we got press coverage for this event too! To put it into perspective, £18,000 covers the yearly wages of an endocrinology nurse to be available at the end of the phone and to offer support for patients – without this money from fundraising, support simply cannot be offered to patients in need. Next year, I’m joining the Snowdon team again, but this time we’ll take on Ben Nevis and this will undoubtedly be the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I am more than ready for the challenge so BRING IT ON! I absolutely love raising money and awareness for The Pituitary Foundation, and for my little known condition, and will continue to be an ambassador for this fantastic charity for as long as they’ll have me!

 

 

 

My Outlook

 

My life nowadays consists of 3 monthly blood tests, 9 monthly eye tests, and annual check-ups at the hospital with my consultant to see if I am responding to the meds or if the tumor is growing. Things have pretty much remained the same for the past few years, but as I get older and my body continues to change, and as I inevitably discuss potential options for having children, I think I’ve still got a long road ahead and will continue to battle this condition for the rest of my life. If I want to come off the meds and want to consider surgery as a different option, this is something I can discuss with my consultant, but it involves evasive brain surgery (through my nose and up into my brain) which is something I am absolutely terrified of as it has dangerous implications and I will try to avoid at all costs! To look at me you may not ever think that anything was wrong with me, but that’s the trouble with living with an invisible illness – you can never see it, but it’s always there. My consultant and the endocrinology team at the Oxford Churchill Hospital (OCDEM Ward) are fantastic and I wouldn’t have got through the past 7 years without them! As well as that, the team at The Pituitary Foundation have been a constant source of help and comfort throughout my diagnosis and ongoing struggle, and I couldn’t have been more thankful for their support over the past 7 years. Not many people know about the charity, or the conditions that can affect pituitary glands, so I’m extremely proud to be an ambassador for them and will continue to raise awareness and money for them for as long as I can!

 

I hope this honest and personal post gives you a little insight as to what it feels like to be part of my world. It’s not all doom and gloom, I promise! I have good days and bad days, I take each day as it comes, and I always try to remain positive despite sometimes feeling like my world is caving in around me. I’ve learnt to live with my condition, and cope with it in the best way possible, whilst always putting things into perspective and reminding myself that people are suffering with far worse conditions on a daily basis. I’m stuck with this condition for life, but I’m sure as hell not gonna let it hold me back! I’ve worked hard since the age of 16, bought my first car, ran my own business, owned a successful travel blog and travelled to 25 countries, with many more on my bucket list! I’ve helicoptered over the Grand Canyon, celebrated Independence Day in New York, done extreme water sports in Menorca, climbed Mount Verbier in Switzerland and ticked sooo many physical achievements off my ever expanding bucket list. I will not be defined by my illness, and I will not let it hold me back! A huuuuge thank you again to the fantastic team at The Pituitary Foundation – I am honoured to be an ambassador for your incredible charity, and I hope I can continue to work alongside you for years to come. I also want to thank my amazing family and friends who continue to support me in every way possible, especially my amazing mum who is my absolute rock and the only person who can pick me up when I’m down – sometimes she literally has to pick me up off the floor when I’m crying and tell me that it’s all going to be okay. Sometimes I don’t believe her, but I know things will work out in the end, and if this post helps even one person suffering with this condition too, then it will have all been worth it.

Love Jess x

 

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🏃‍♀️WE DID IT! 🏃‍♀️ What an amazing day!!! 33000 steps, 4000 calories burnt, 18 kilometres walked and 7 hours long! One of the best things I've ever done, and definitely the hardest thing I've ever done, both physically and mentally. 🏔 Didn't think I would make it up to the top at one point but these amazing people got me through!! Couldn't have wished for a better group of people to climb #Snowdon with, and am hoping we've almost smashed our fundraising target! You can still donate if you want to 😘 Collectively our group have raised over £22000 so far for @pituitaryfoundation which is INCREDIBLE!! My illness gets me down sometimes, but when events like this bring people together I wouldn't change it for the world 🌍 https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jessica-bucks-team

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Kotor Travel Guide – 1 Day in Montenegro’s Fairytale City

 

Last month I returned from my first ever cruise and had the most amazing time exploring new parts of the Mediterranean I had never visited before. I was on board Marella Cruises Celebration ship doing their ‘Sail the Three Seas’ itinerary and after a day in Dubrovnik, our next port of call was charming Kotor, one of Montenegro’s most beautiful cities. A trendy destination for 2018, Kotor is fast becoming THE go-to place for your next European city break, and with its cobbled streets, quaint town square, dramatic mountain backdrop and water front location, it’s not hard to see why. I only spent half a day in Kotor as we had an early sail away on our cruise (the ship departed at 4pm) but we sailed in nice and early so still got to see a good chunk of the city before we had to leave. If, like me, you only have a few hours to spend here, this is what I recommend you should do…

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

Walking on foot is always the best way to get around, and what better way to explore a new city than to soak up its charm and culture from its pretty old town? Kotor is a tiny city, and its old town is even smaller, with cute cobbled streets, an abundance of restaurants and shops, and some gorgeous buildings thrown in too. The old town was just a short stroll from the harbour where our cruise ship was docked, and the walk past the waterfront and the ancient archways brought us right in to the heart of Kotor within a matter of minutes. One thing I really loved about the old town was that it was completely pedestrianised, so we could wander around as much as we liked without having to worry about cars or buses driving by loudly and filling the air with petrol fumes!

 

Climb St John’s Fortress and it’s city walls

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A Travel Guide to #Kotor City walls ✅ Red roofs ✅ Waterfront location ✅ Mountainous backdrop ✅ The pretty city of #Kotor makes the perfect place for a quick European weekend getaway ✈️ Kotor was the second stop on my recent #cruise with @tuiuk and I think it may have just been my favourite destination of our entire itinerary 🌍 We walked along the cobbled streets and marvelled at the many churches before meandering through the ancient archways and taking a walk along the glamorous waterfront where we found luxury yachts, enormous cruise liners and posh boats a plenty 🚢 If you're planning a trip to the prettiest city in #Montenegro, come and read my #travel guide which has just gone live on the blog on today's #wanderlustwednesday! 💻 journeyswithjessica.net #marella #marellacruises #marellacelebration #cruiselife

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I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the height of summer as Kotor gets very hot, but during the cooler months, a hike from the old town up to St John’s fortress is an absolute MUST. Starting at the North Gate, wander through the old town and then climb up alongside the city walls to discover more of Kotor than you can see from the ground. The construction of the walls started way back in the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the walls joined together to form a loop up into the hillside, stretching for a full 4.5 kilometres. Your hike will take you 260m above sea level and you’ll climb over 1350 steps, up steep slopes and winding stone staircases, until you reach the top of St John’s Fortress (or San Giovanni as it is also known) where you’ll be treated to the most amazing views over the bay of Kotor below. What an absolute TREAT this sounds like! I was gutted I didn’t to do this during my visit as a) it was ridiculously hot at 35 degrees, and b) the hike takes approx. 2-3hrs to complete and we just didn’t have enough time to fit it in to our short stay. It’s at the top of my bucket list for my return visit though!

 

Walk down to the water front

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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This was easy for us as we HAD to walk past the water front to get into Kotor itself, but if you’re not visiting on a cruise I would definitely recommend taking the 5-10 min walk from the city centre down to the waterfront. The walk alone is worth it just to look at the line-up of magnificent yachts, cruise ships and fancy boats all docked in the harbour whilst their owners descend on the city. It can get extremely busy in the city centre when cruise ships are in town, and as Kotor is so tiny, it can feel a little overwhelming and very overpopulated in a short space of time. That’s why I think spending some time down on the water front allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and gives you a little breathing space, plus the views of the harbour with the magnificent mountains in the background are seriously stunning!

 

Visit one of the many Churches

 

 

I absolutely adore churches and try to see at least 1 or 2 in every city that I visit when I’m travelling, so I hit the jackpot with Kotor which is home to a number of religious buildings and each one tells their own story. All of the churches are either Catholic or Orthodox, with the majority being Orthodox, and they are dotted all across the city, with some perched high up in the mountains too. We went inside the miniature St Luke’s Church which was ornate and delicate with a stunning altar and small confessional room to the rear. We also visited the stunning St Tryphon’s Cathedral, the most famous in the city, which was built in 1166 and houses the relics of St Tryphon, the Patron Saint and Protector of Kotor. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the hills where you’ll discover St George’s Church, a 1000 year old ancient building perched at the back of St John’s hill which can be reached when climbing the city walls. These are just a few of the many Churches that can be found in Kotor, I just wish I had time to see them all!

 

Take a boat trip round the Bay of Kotor

 

 

We didn’t really fancy the idea of getting off one boat and on to another one so we didn’t actually take a boat trip around the Bay of Kotor, but if I hadn’t been visiting whilst on a cruise I definitely would have done! We saw tonnes of sales people up and down the waterfront trying to lure passing customers to one of their pretty boats, with yachts, small boats and even speedboats offering fantastic rides around the bay. As we had already seen the bay whilst sailing in to Kotor, I didn’t feel it was necessary for us to do a different boat trip here, and knew the sail away later that evening would be just as spectacular as the sail in that morning, with incredible views around the fijord each time. I would however have loved to do a speedboat or small boat tour around the Blue Caves of Kotor as this place looked amazing! The waters are gorgeously clear (and blue, obvs) and offer fantastic snorkelling spots. On most of the tours we were offered you can combine the Blue Caves with a stop off at Our Lady of the Rocks, an ancient church and museum which is one of Montenegro’s most popular attractions situated on its own island just in front of Perast, a UNESCO World Heritage Town. I’d definitely do one of these tours next time I return to Kotor and would recommend it to anyone who has time to do a 3hour tour whilst they are in the city.

 

These are the main things I would recommend to do if you’re short on time, but if you’ve got a few days to spare I would also squeeze in a visit to the nearby town of Budva, which looks stunning and I’ve heard amazing things about it! There’s also a tiny beach in Kotor, tucked around the corner away from the old town but I could see it from my cruise ship and it didn’t look like it was too far to walk to at all, so if you want a little beach time then you can do that too. Oh and if you’re visiting whilst on a cruise, make sure you wake up bright and early for the sail in – it was INCREDIBLE! My favourite sail in of the entire trip – gliding into the fijords was breath-taking and honestly one of the most magical travel experiences of my life. Montenegro is truly gorgeous and I can’t wait to return one day! Have you been to Kotor, or other parts of Montenegro before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

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Top 10 Tips for First Time Cruisers In Their Twenties

Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months you’ll know that I booked the holiday of a lifetime a year ago, way back in August 2017, and have been banging on about it ever since! My mum’s 50th and my grandad’s 80th birthday’s had to be pretty special, right? So when 12 of us decided we wanted a mega family holiday to celebrate these two milestones, a cruise was right at the top of our list, although it may not be the obvious holiday choice for me as a young 25 year old! I made no secret of the fact that I’d never been on a cruise before, and that I suffer with horrendous travel/motion sickness everywhere I go, so volunteering for a cruise may have seemed plain stupid, and I was very nervous prior to travel. My nerves were short lived though as my first cruise experience was absolutely INCREDIBLE! I travelled with TUI on their Marella Celebration ship and loved everything about being at sea, from waking up in a new destination each day, to watching glorious sunsets every evening from the top deck, feeling the wind in my hair and gazing into the blue waters below. It really opened my eyes to a new way of travelling, and completely dispelled the myth that cruising is ‘only for old people (!)’. If, like me, you’re in your twenties and are a little nervous about taking your first cruise, hopefully this blog post will help to put your mind at rest as I talk you through what to expect from your first experience at sea, and share some top tips to help you prepare for your holiday.

 

Dress for all occasions

Whatever the weather, and whatever the time of year, you’ll still need to take plenty of clothes for your cruise holiday, especially if (like me) you change outfits three times a day when you’re away! I packed as if I was going on a beach holiday as it was mid-end August and 30-33 degrees in most places we visited, so took tonnes of tops, shorts, skirts, playsuits, swimwear, sandals etc etc. You can generally wear whatever you like during the day, but I know dress codes vary in the evening depending on which cruise liner you’re travelling on. Marella Cruises are very laid back with their dress code, so I just took party clothes and all the ladies I saw wore dresses each evening out, whilst the men were in trousers/jeans and a top/shirt, but I saw lots of men wearing tailored shorts in the evening too. We had one ‘formal night’ which wasn’t that posh and, although lots of women wore long dresses (not ball gowns) and the men wore suits, not everyone did and you certainly didn’t have to. It can get a little chilly up on the deck when you’re sailing at night, so take a light cardi with you if you’re planning on heading out on top, otherwise the climate depends on where you go but I found the Med in August to be super warm even at midnight!

 

Plan your time in each port

I wish I’d done more of this so I could have maximised the time I had in each stop, but looking back I just kinda went with the flow and enjoyed not being super organised during my first cruise. I am SUCH a planner so I really should have thought this through more, but I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do in each destination until I stepped off the boat after docking. Before you travel you’ll get sent a detailed itinerary of your route, and suggested excursions/things to do in each port. I didn’t pay much attention to this until I was actually on board, which was a mistake as often with the excursions you needed to book up to 48hrs in advance, so by the time I thought about booking a trip it was often too late. I did however come across lots of local tour companies that can be found ashore and their trips are often cheaper than if you were booking through the cruise ship directly, so you can save some pennies but just make sure you’re back in time before the ship departs for the next stop! I was travelling in a group of 12 and not all of us wanted to spend loads of time in the ports, so we tended to get up early to watch the sail in (a must if you love sunrises!) and then had breakfast on the deck before getting off the ship around 10, exploring the port for a few hours and then heading back to the ship for a late lunch and an afternoon of sunbathing. I would have been more adventurous and spent more time in each port if I’d have planned my time properly, but it was quite nice to get a taster of each destination and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the best of what the boat had to offer –  it was a holiday and not a sightseeing trip after all!

 

 

Look up the entertainment on board

Obviously each ship/cruise liner varies, but Marella Cruises offer a fantastic selection of on-board entertainment both in the daytime and in the evening. We loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere round the pool areas, which was created by the musical trivia, pub quizzes, bingo and various other games that were played throughout the day. If you decide not to get off a the port and just spend time on the ship instead you’ll find you’re never short of something to do. On our day at sea I was worried I was going to get cabin fever and would be bored but it was actually really nice to spend some time sunbathing, exploring parts of the ship we hadn’t seen yet, and swimming in the pool. I even booked a spa day for my mum and I which was soooo needed! Other liners will undoubtedly have plenty of things to see and do whilst on board, and the evening entertainment is usually fantastic, with Broadway theatre shows, duty free shopping, live music and casinos aplenty. Most cruise liners offer top notch entertainment, with high quality dancers, singers and actors etc so you needn’t worry about planning your evenings whilst on board.

 

Take limited cash

I wish I had known this before I travelled, but every day is a learning day! I took 300 euros with me for my trip and only ended up spending 200, which is pretty good going but I stupidly thought you could only pay in local currency, and didn’t realise that you set up your account when you first arrive on board as everything is operated using a cashless system. This is great if you’re not wanting to take large amounts of cash abroad with you, and I know most cruise liners operate in this way. Your account is open from the minute you dock to the moment you disembark the ship at the end of the holiday, and can be used to buy drinks at the bar, items in the shops and photos in the lab. I loved this idea, but as everything I bought was in pounds, I didn’t realise that when I wanted to settle my account at the end of the trip in cash, paying euros meant that I lost out on the exchange rate and ended up paying more than I needed to. You can pay in pounds in cash or by using your debit/credit card, and in hindsight I kinda wish I had done that as my bill came to £167, but I wanted to get rid of my euros and ended up spending €216 which is a huge difference when you compare the two currencies side by side. Either way I knew I wanted to get rid of my cash euros, but next time I will just take small amounts of cash and use it for spending in the ports, rather than using it to pay my bill, and will pay that off using pounds instead. Hopefully this tip will help you guys to avoid the mistake that I made!

 

Opt for an all-inclusive food and drinks package

Packages vary with different cruise liners, but I would 100% recommend booking an all-inclusive food and drinks package for your first cruise. Most packages can be purchased before travel, or you can upgrade during your trip, but Marella Cruises had a reasonable rate for their packages, and ours was actually included within our price as we got a special group deal when booking a year in advance. The best thing about an all-inclusive package is that you don’t have to get your wallet out and pay any money for drinks/additional extras during your holiday. I mean, I know you’ve kinda already paid for it before travel, but soft drinks, cocktails and beers etc all add up, and I loved drinking as much as I wanted each day without feeling like I was spending any money. If you don’t drink a lot then maybe the package isn’t worth it, but drinks on their own were around £5-£8 per drink, so even if you have 2-3 a day the cost soon adds up! I loved the feeling of not spending physical cash when I was on-board, and will definitely opt for the all-inclusive package next time I go cruising.

 

 

Stick to adults only cruising

A no-brainer for us, as we were travelling in a large group of 12, and I was nervous enough about getting close to the edge of ship without worrying about 8 million children running around! I really loved the chilled out vibe of our Marella Cruise, and I think it really helped that there were no children on board. Queues at food stations and the bars were generally not as long, and all entertainment/trips were geared towards adults not kids meaning everything appealed to us. I would advise booking an adults only cruise for your first one just because everything is much more laid back, and I can imagine kids running around the deck is quite annoying! Not to mention the fact that I’d never have got in the pool if there were kids in it! Adults only, for the win.

 

Be aware of the tipping policy

Again, every cruise-liner is different, so check with your travel agent about this before you go, but tipping is either included or not included on-board and it is best to be prepared before you travel so you know what to expect. I think more expensive liners like Princess and Royal Caribbean operate a tipping policy, but on our Marella cruise we were told that all tips are included within your package, so there was no need to pay extra. We did however receive outstanding service from our waiters and cabin cleaners during our trip and, because we were a group of 12, we wanted to give them a little extra to say thank you. This is completely optional though and not compulsory at all given that all tips are included with Marella cruises.

 

Don’t use your phone when you’re at sea

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can offer. If you’re from the UK and have a phone tariff which allows EU roaming (most of us do) you absolutely MUST turn off your data roaming whilst you’re at sea, otherwise you’ll incur charges for using your data. And the charges are extortionate, trust me! To be honest it is best to just turn the phone off so as not to incur charges from sending/receiving texts and phone calls too. Whilst you’re at sea your phone will run on a maritime tariff which is stupidly expensive! I just used my data when I was at port each day then switched my phone off in the evenings, but if you want to take pictures and use the rest of your phone you can do that just make sure data roaming is OFF! Seriously, my aunty got charged £52 for a 7minute phone call whilst we were at sea. Just don’t risk it guys! There are usually wi-fi packages you can purchase but these can be expensive and often they are low-speed, so I wouldn’t say they are particularly worth the money. Save that Facebook status til later and enjoy a social media detox, that’s what I did!

 

 

Work out which room type is best for you

Inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins, deluxe balcony cabins, suites and luxury suites; the options are endless when cruising, and there are room types to suit all on board! Whether you’re a solo traveller looking for a single room, or a couple needing a double, there are plenty of room types to choose from, and inside and outside cabins differ in size and type too. I really didn’t want a room which felt too confined/claustrophobic as it was my first cruise, so I chose an outside cabin with a porthole. I would have liked to be higher up on the ship, but to be honest being on deck 1 (the lowest) didn’t actually bother me. Having a porthole was nice as it was great to have natural light and have a look when we were sailing, but sometimes I closed the curtain over the window so if it came down to price and there was a significant difference, I actually wouldn’t mind having an inside cabin! Almost everyone in our party had outside cabins (twins/doubles) apart from one who had a balcony at triple the price! I have to say, it was so lovely to see it and my aunty and uncle loved waking up and sitting out on their balcony first thing in the morning, but you’re hardly in your room when you’re cruising so, personally, I really don’t think they are worth the money especially when the decks can be reached in just a few mins and you can be outside in no time! There really are options to suit everyone though, so it’s worth finding out what room types are on offer before you book.

 

Don’t worry if you get sick – you’re in good hands!

I was sooo nervous about my first cruise because I get so sick when I travel, but luckily I was absolutely fine the entire time! Sea-bands work a treat for queasiness by the way, I suffered with that a little but wasn’t actually sick at all during my holiday, I felt worse when I got back on land! If you do get poorly though, fear not because there is a pharmacy and doctors on board, so you’ll be well looked after if you’re in need of some TLC. As bugs and illnesses can spread very quickly on board a cruise there are sanitizing stations at almost every area, both in and out, so please make sure you use these whenever you can to minimise illness and to have a happy, healthy cruise!

 

I could go on forever with the amount of pointers I could share from my first cruise as a twenty something girl, and nothing quite prepares you for your first time at sea, but I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect as a first time cruiser (whether you’re in your twenties or not), and offers some tips to make the most of your holiday! I absolutely loved my time away and will be posting a full review of the exact itinerary I took with Marella Cruises so you can see where I went and what I got up to. Have you ever been cruising before? Or have you never been but have got one booked? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and do let me know if you have any other questions that I haven’t covered as I would love to try and help!

Love Jess x

 

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A travel guide to Rotterdam, the quirkiest city in the Netherlands

 

Back at the end of May I headed to Rotterdam for a long weekend of fun, adventure and travel blogging as I made my way to my third annual Traverse conference which was being held outside of the UK for the very first time! Anyone who knows me will know how much I LOVE Traverse, and how I think it is still the best travel blogging conference on the planet. After catching the Eurostar from London and spending half a day in Amsterdam, I jumped back on the train and headed towards Rotterdam where I was based for 3 nights and spent lots of time exploring this quirky city. Obviously most of my weekend was dominated by the conference, but I still spent a lot of time wandering around Rotterdam and ticking off the main sights, so I really got a feel for the city and absolutely loved my time there! Here’s what I got up to, and what I would recommend you should see if you’re heading there any time soon…

 

Wander around the Markthal

 

 

This place is amazing and is definitely one of the biggest attractions in Rotterdam! Home to hundreds of food and drink stalls and plenty of arts and crafts stalls too, you’ll find everything you need under one roof! The architecture of the building is incredible too, with its unique shaped structure and it’s mirrored roof, the Markthal is definitely a sight to behold. Opened in 2014 and located right in the middle of the city, just round the corner from the Maritime Museum and the pretty harbour, the Markthal is a great place to while away a few hours and indulge in some bargain hunting. It’s also a good way of tasting some of the local Dutch delicacies that are on offer too!

 

Marvel at the Cube Houses

 

 

This was probably my favourite thing in Rotterdam, and definitely the most colourful! The quirky Cube Houses are actually a series of 38 interconnecting flats/apartments which have become a  bit of a tourist attraction in their own right. Residents living on site are often greeted by hoards of tourists wanting to take a selfie with the bright yellow cubes in the background, and one resident has even opened up his doors as a museum allowing visitors to wander around inside during his opening hours.. money making genius I say 😉 Designed by architect Piet Blom, the Cube Houses are fast becoming Rotterdam’s hottest attraction and their outlook on to the stunning marina  below make them even prettier.

 

Party at the Witte de Withstraat

 

 

The busiest street in Rotterdam, and definitely the most lively, the Witte de Withstraat is the party capital of the city and home to hundreds of bars, café’s, shops, restaurants and hotels making this the perfect position for visitors to base themselves at the heart of the action. This place is busy enough during the day, but it really comes alive at night. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the huge array of restaurants to pick from, all serving authentic Dutch dishes at very good prices. I found Rotterdam to be fairly cheap and didn’t spend an awful lot of money during my time there, which is always a bonus when you’re on a budget! This place was definitely the most atmospheric part of the city, and I was glad we were able to base ourselves there for the duration of our stay. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the big attractions including the Markthal and the Cube Houses, so this street is well worth checking out whilst you’re in Rotterdam.

 

Walk across the Erasmusbrug Bridge

 

 

Designed and completed in 1996, the 802 metre long Erasmusbrug is a combined bascule and cable-stayed bridge which connects the north and south parts of Rotterdam. The second largest bridge in the Netherlands, the Erasmusbrug was named after an important Christian renaissance humanist who was known as the Erasmus of Rotterdam. Crossing the Nieuwe Maas, a distributary of the Rhine River, the bridge can easily be driven over or walked across and is quite an experience. Views of the river below are stunning, and crossing the bridge is a great way to explore both the northern and southern parts of the city in a short amount of time. It took a good 30 minutes or so to walk across the bridge though, so be prepared for a little hike whilst you’re en route!

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

Luckily I won a competition with Traverse so my accommodation was totally gifted to me for the duration of my 3 night stay, but I would whole-heartedly recommend the King Kong Hostel if you’re looking for somewhere fun to stay. It is very budget friendly and in a great location, right in the heart of the Witte de Withstraat and within walking distance to just about everywhere in Rotterdam (10 mins from train station). The hostel has a crazy monkey theme running through it, with cages on the walls, bananas on tap and King Kong himself painted on the outside. The rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable – we stayed in a dorm room for 3 and we had our own toilet, sink and shower room. The only thing I disliked was that the walls were quite thin and it was so hot we just had to open all the windows but it was soo loud outside that I could barely sleep – Rotterdam is a party city and most of the bars opposite and next to us were open until 6am!! Make sure you grab some earplugs from the front desk as this helped me eventually drift off. A really cool place though and I’m so glad I stayed here, but if you want a little luxury check out the Marriott and Hilton hotels near the train station.

 

My 3 nights in Rotterdam were a bit of a whirlwind due to back to back busy days and long nights of partying whilst at Traverse 18, but I really threw myself in to it and had such a great time. The sun was shining for our bank holiday weekend which made it even better, and really showed the city off as everything looked so beautiful in the sunshine. The Eurostar from London was suuuper easy and it was great to be just a short train ride from Amsterdam too – I would definitely recommend visiting both cities whilst you’re in the Netherlands, they are so close so it would be rude not to! Rotterdam was really hip, quirky and offered plenty of things to see and do for all ages. Now that I’ve been I probably wouldn’t return as I would like to concentrate on seeing other areas of Holland, but this place is most definitely worth a visit! Have you been to Rotterdam before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

 

Love Jess x

 

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A Little Life Update: More Than Halfway Through 2018

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe we are well in to August now and are more than halfway through the year… when the hell did THAT happen?! It only seems a like yesterday we were welcoming 2018, and seeing as we’re the other side of the middle of it, I thought now would be a good idea for me to give you a little life update and reflect on everything that’s been happening in my world over the past 8 months. There have been lots of ups, a few downs, and plenty of things in between to make it a little more interesting. Here’s a little round up for you…

 

I climbed Mount Snowdon

 

 

Back in June I took on one of the biggest challenges of my life as I climbed the highest mountain in Wales for a very worthy cause. As some of you may know, I am a proud ambassador for The Pituitary Foundation, a little known charity who offer help and support to patients like me who suffer with pituitary related illnesses and long term medical conditions. You can read more about my condition, and how it impacts my life, on this blog post. As an ambassador for the charity, I am often asked to take part in events, and raise awareness for the charity and for the conditions that affect thousands of people without many of us even knowing. I gladly signed up to the Snowdon event, along with my parents, their friends, and one of my best friends too. Our little team of 6 joined a bigger team of 56 and on 22nd June we all hiked the biggest mountain in Wales. It was an amazing day, with the weather making it even better, and it was hands down one of the most challenging, most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. Together we helped to raise over £23500 for the Foundation which is an absolutely PHENOMENAL amount of money and I know that everyone at the charity have been overwhelmed with people’s generosity. We’ve already planned Ben Nevis for next May and I can’t wait to do a challenge like this allll over again!

 

 

I travelled to 5 countries

 

 

Since the beginning of the year I have been lucky enough to take 3 European trips, visiting 7 cities in total, and exploring 5 countries. I kick-started my 2018 travel with a week-long inter-railing trip to Paris, Luxembourg and Bruges over the Easter period, then headed to Pisa and Florence for a long weekend in April, before spending my bank holiday weekend in Rotterdam and Amsterdam at the end of May. Given that I haven’t left the country for 3 months now, I am welllll overdue my next trip and am excited to say that this time next week I will be on my first ever CRUISE! Now that I’m 25 I’m officially old, right? 😉 We’ll be setting sail from Dubrovnik before heading to Valletta, Sicily, Kefalonia and Kotor before finishing up back in the Croatian capital. If you have any tips for a first time cruiser please send them my way, I suffer with horrendous travel sickness (yes, ironic as I’m a travel blogger) so I’ll need all the help I can get!

 

I appeared on a dating show

 

 

So this is super random and not travel related at all, but last month I appeared on a dating show produced by Heart FM and it was SUCH a fun experience. I applied for their new show ‘Traffic Island’ where couples across the county were match-made with each other and asked to pair up. I was selected and matched with a guy called Joel; it was a totally blind date and I was told nothing about him other than his name and age! I had never gone on a completely blind date before so I thought I’d give it a go – I have nothing to lose and I love dating, so why not?! However, just an hour before the date I was told by the presenter and producer that Joel wasn’t turning up and couldn’t make it – I was fuuuuuming as I’d spent ages getting ready but I agreed to go and meet the show team anyway. Halfway through my interview, Joel turned up after all (to which I replied ‘YOU’RE LATE’) and we were left to enjoy what was left of the date! It was a really cool experience, and something I would definitely do again as it gave me a lot of confidence. Sadly Joel actually turned out not to be who I thought he was (aka a genuine guy, WHERE ARE THEY ALL?!) so I am back in the dating game but hey, another lesson learnt! You can watch the video here… cringe!

 

 

I’ve spent time trying to figure out exactly what I want from life

 

 

At the start of the year I didn’t think my life would take the direction it has now, but then life would be boring if it was straight forward, right?! Sadly my position at work is being made redundant, and I am currently in the process of deciding whether or not to take a new role in the company, or whether to just move on and look for something different. Or maybe I should just leave and go travelling and try the whole full-time blogging thing again. My mind is soooo blurred at the moment and I have no idea what to do for the best, but I am hoping that I get some clarification over the next few weeks and can decide what to do with the next chapter of my life. Part of me wants to secure another role as financially I want to be in the position to look at buying a house in the next couple of years, but the other part of me is yearning to just escape, run away from the 9-5 office routine and jump on a plane to Australia to live my life and enjoy being young and care-free. Everyone I have spoken to has told me to do the latter, but I really do want to be a grown up with a house sometime soon. We’ll see what happens, but for now I am just taking things in my stride and trusting fate to do its thing for me. Things always work out just right in the end.

 

So despite the best part of 2018 having come and gone in what feels like only a couple of weeks, I would say I’ve had a pretty crazy start to the year and can only see it getting better from now until Christmas – even though I don’t want to think about the C word right now! Next week I am off on my first ever cruise which will see me tick 5 countries (and 3 new ones) off in one week, and I’ve also got some family events and some UK trips planned too. I’ll be sure to do a 2018 round up at the end of the year so will reflect more then, but for now happy summer everyone!

Love Jess x