The Long Haul Essentials

Back in August, I put myself through the pain and sleep deprivation of (what was meant to be) a 28-hour long haul flight.  As my third trip between England and New Zealand, and with flights to America and back, I’ve started to hone in on what my long haul essentials are.

Wherever you look or google, there are long lists of all the essentials you need, but do you really need them all?

Here are my picks-

Sunrise over Australia from a Qantas plane

A full sized pillow

Forget a travel pillow or a neck pillow, if I’m flying between England and New Zealand, you’ll see me rocking up to the airport with a pillow I’ve probably grabbed from my bed. That may sound crazy, but I’m not talking a top quality thick fluffy pillow like I have on my bed here at my parents. I’m meaning a £3 pillow from Argos that was as flat as a pancake. It folded in half, fit into my carry-on suitcase and squished into the smallest of spaces. I struggle so much with sleeping on a plane, that anything to make it a little bit more comfortable is a winner in my books.

Earplugs and an eye mask 

This last trip was the first time I’ve attempted the eye mask and ear plug combination. And for the rest of my life, no matter how long the flight they will always be with me! Having never slept with an eye mask on before, I didn’t know how I’d cope, but it really did make all the difference. I’d only bought a cheap one, and I’m planning on getting a better quality one before I fly again.

As for earplugs, they were a lifesaver. I bought some cheap ones from Boots, but before I go away again I plan on buying some like these from Kathmandu, with string between them – I managed to lose both of mine on the first flight and had nothing for the next two flights – and I really struggled to sleep on those!

Lip balm and a drink bottle

There’s no denying that an aeroplane is one of the most dehydrating places you can be. I always have my Lucas Paw Paw balm one me, whether I’m on a plane or not. For flights, I usually take a thicker balm, like Lush’s Honey Trap. I don’t know why it took me so long to clock on, but now whenever I fly no matter the length, I always have an empty drink bottle with me. Take an empty drink bottle in your hand luggage, and there’s always a cafe or water fountain where you can fill up your bottle after security.

Flying over Salt Lake City, thanks to Southwest airlines.

Fluffy socks

For future flights, I’m going to get some flight socks, after suffering badly with swollen ankles in the Philippines, but I always have a pair of fluffy socks with me. Slippers are too bulky to fit into a backpack, so some thick or fluffy socks are the best alternative. I always pack a fresh clean pair and throw them in the wash as soon as I get home – just because plane floors are so gross! And let’s be real, no matter which pair of shoes you’re wearing, socks will always be comfier!

A change of clothes

My parents taught me this for my first flight and I’ve stuck by it since – and after being stuck in Manila for a few days without access to my suitcase, I was glad for a change of clothes!

Toothpaste and toothbrush

You can’t rely on an Airlines amenities pack for a toothbrush and toothpaste. Over the last year, I’ve started the habit of buying a new toothbrush for every trip.

And that’s it! I’ve found I’ve always packed more, but it remains untouched! My carry on bag always has more – and for a long haul, I’ll have all these essentials in a small bag by my feet. I’ll usually have a larger bag – whether it’s a suitcase, small holdall or just a backpack in the overhead locker, with things like my cameras, laptop (if I’m travelling with it), a notebook, and anything I don’t want in the hold.

Flying into San Francisco, on an early morning South West flight - check out some long haul flight essentials!

The Seville Guide

Seville is the capital of the southern province of Andalusia and a place I was lucky enough to call my home for three months earlier this year. After work and on my days off, I’d spend all my free time, heading out and exploring both this city and beyond. I worked for a tour company which meant at work I was looking for everything and anything going on in the city. I lived in the north of the city, which felt like a different place to the centre of the city.

La catedral de Sevilla, catedral gótico mas grande del mundo

When to visit-

April is home of the famous April Fair, and if you want the true Sevillano experience, you’re going to want to visit during the Feria week! The city basically shuts down for the week-long party. Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter and again, shuts the city down with all its celebrations. If you’re lucky enough to be there during June, you’ll get to see Corpus Christi as well.

Weatherwise, you need to prepare yourself before arrival. If you’re there between June and September, pack all your shorts and t-shirts! It can get up to 40° daily! Luckily, all the houses are built for the weather – cool for the summer and keeping the heat in during winter. Don’t worry about sitting outside at restaurants – they spray water onto you, to keep you nice and cool!  If you’re there in July or August, you’ll find that the city seems empty! All the locals escape the city and its heat – so all you’ll find during the daytime are tourists! Restaurants and cafes have different opening hours during these months, so be prepared to eat later as all the restaurants are open later in the cooler hours.

Where to visit-

Type ‘places to visit Seville’ into google and you’re left with some of the main tourist attractions – the Alcazár, Catedral y Giralda and the Plaza de España. But there’s more to the city than these three. When you visit the Plaza de España, turn around, and spend some time wandering through Parque Maria Luisa. The park is full of pavilions, fountains and statues. If you’re visiting Seville in the summer, look out for the Alcazárs summer music series – they open the garden up daily for a concert in the evenings. I was lucky enough to visit one night and saw a string quartet, nestled behind the garden wall, with the Giralda lit up in the background.

Las Seta’s will always be a talking point in the city. The real name for them is the ‘Metropol Parasol’ but everyone refers to them as ‘The Mushrooms’. When you buy your ticket, you get a drinks ticket! Enjoy a drink at the top, which will cost a couple of euros on top of the drinks voucher, or enjoy a free drink on the ground! If you’re after a wide selection of food and drink spots, head slightly north of the city centre to the Alameda de Hercules – it’s an open square with so many amazing restaurants and bars!

If you’re in Seville around Halloween – or any time of the year, check out the abandoned Isla de la Cartuja! The island is located on the east of the city and was home of the 1992 exposition. The site is a mixture of buildings currently used as offices, and buildings that are completely abandoned.  The Museo de Bellas Artes is the main art gallery in Seville and is free for European residents! You can spend hours there looking at all the amazing artwork, and the architecture of the building.

Sevilles most famous landmark, the Giralda tower of the cathedral

Getting around Seville-

Seville as a whole is quite a small city, and most of it is walkable. If you’re staying close to the historical centre, walking is the best way as the streets are narrow and a maze to get through! Taxies are cheap, and you can get a bus ride for €1.40 each way. Another great option is Sevici! You can sign up for a short-term pass – €13 a week, or a long-term pass which is €35 a year. Your first 30 minutes are free, and thanks to the size of the city, you can get pretty much everywhere in half an hour of cycling.

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Where to eat-

Throughout the city, there are gems of restaurants.  One of the most popular chains in Seville (and Spain) is 100 Montaditos. Cheap buckets of beer, large Tinto de Verano’s and cheap tapas and sandwiches (montaditos), it’s got to be your go-to on a Wednesday or Sunday – where all their sandwiches are 1€!

If you’re wanting a little bit more fine dining, head to the Alameda! The Alameda is home to Arte y Sabor, a beautiful restaurant, full of amazing artwork. And the best part? It serves both ‘traditional’ Spanish tapas, as well as plenty of vegan and vegetarian options! Try their tuna steak or tempura vegetables! You’re not going to regret it.  Another great option is El Pasaje. Tucked down some side streets not too far from the Cathedral, El Pasaje is surprisingly cheap for its location! Whilst you’re there, try their salmon lasagne, or their espinacas y garbanzos!

Whilst you’re near Las Setas, check out Perro Chiko! Beautiful creamy croquettes, amazing vegetables and patatas bravas. It’s open super late, and the few times we went there, all the food was just as good every time. The further north you go, and the further away from the city you are, the more unique the food is! Koala was one of my favourite restaurants in the Macarena part of Seville – a beautiful family restaurant, with amazing goats cheese, asparagus fritters and patatas alioli. As you keep going north, you’ll find the widest range of Cuban and Southern American food! They’re all restaurants full of locals, which is a good sign of the food being the best!

If you’re after a traditional Andalusian breakfast, head towards the Alameda and check out Cafe Piola or Cafe Hercules – with all the crushed tomato, garlic oil and oregano you’ll want to top your toast!

Hidden sights of the Alcazar- read about more in the city guide

Flamenco –

Seville is the home of Flamenco. And whilst you’re there, it would be silly not to watch a show! There’s the well known Museum of Flamenco, as well as some shows hosted at restaurants and cafes. My favourite was Casa Ensembla, located north of La Setas and east of the Alameda. It’s a wonderful, family run show, located within a beautiful art space. The show only cost a few euros and it was definitely a family show – and everyone jumped on stage at the end for an impromptu dance.

Where to visit outside the city-

Thanks to the Ave trains and Alsa buses, Seville has great travel options, whether you’re after just a day trip, or a quick weekend away! Nearby is Jerez de la Frontera, a town known for its sherry, Granada and the Alhambra, Cordoba and its amazing mosque. There’s also Cadiz, on the coast with all its amazing fresh seafood for you to try! Nearby, you can find the historic town of Carmona, high up on a hill looking out over its Andalusian countryside.

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To walking tour, or not?

I have a thing for walking around cities, no planned destination or route in sight, more of a ‘let’s go this way and see where we end up’ mentality. And to be fair, it works more often than not. You get to see things that otherwise you may never have discovered if you caught the train or underground. You can come across landmarks, shops, monuments or even views you never would have spotted otherwise.

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No matter how hard you try though, you will always miss things, where ever you are. I’ve learnt over the years that the best way to find some of the best spots and sights, is to find someone who lives in the city. For they know places as if they’re the back of their hands.

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During my visit to Chicago, I did a walking tour around the Lincoln Park area through side streets and off the beaten track areas, learning all about the gang history and Al  Capone’s involvement. I did this through ‘Free Tours by Foot‘ where we spent two hours walking around the area and learning all about. The tour was free and then at the end, we tipped the guide with how much we thought it was worth. Without this tour, I don’t think I would have ventured into this part of Chicago, which made it extra special.

In Stockholm, I made the questionable decision to do two two-hour-long walking tours in one day. Let me tell you, my feet killed by the end of the day, I was over walking in the cold. The first tour was through the ‘main’ part of the city (Norrmalm and Ostermalm), taking in the important landmarks, like the Kings and Queens streets, Kungstradagarden and even the H&M head office. The guide for this tour was super enthusiastic and informative, which made the two-hour walk through slush so much more fun. Walk 2 was through Soldermalm, showing us some amazing views and outlooks over the city. The best part was finding the viewpoints that I could come back to later.

Walking tours have the added bonus as well that you actually get to see the city, rather than walking around on your phone trying to find the right way, or searching about random facts and the history about where you’re walking too or past. Although you are in sometimes a large group, you really do get to feel like a local, walking around and almost knowing where you’re going.

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Seville in a summary

La catedral de Sevilla, catedral gótico mas grande del mundo

Seville was hot. Seville was beautiful. Seville was everything I needed at the right moment in time.

If a dream internship miraculously ends up being advertised on your facebook just hours before the closing date, you’ll be silly not to apply, right? Right! And just under a month later, I’d packed my bags and headed on a train to London, ready to complete a week-long course before I flew out to Seville.

The first few weeks were cool (both weather-wise and in general) filled with thunderstorms, the first days at work in a new job and lots of city explorations. Thankfully the storms died down, although so did our enthusiasm for Spanish lessons. Cañas of beers were drunk, tapas devoured and we soon settled into our Sevillano lifestyle.

It’s so easy to spend money here, however. One cheeky drink with a tapa, three/four/five times does start to add up, and with only a small stipend it was easy to panic. Although Seville has so much to offer, I found myself booking weekend after weekend away, seeing as much as Andalusia as possible, on the smallest budget. And this meant sacrifices. The end of June brought both Pride and a concert over the same weekend, with 13 hours on a coach over two days to experience it all.

The seafront of Cadiz, showing off why it's been compared to Havana, Cuba.

Work, of course, had to play a big part in what we did. Four days a week, I sat down and got to work for a tour company, working on their social media, and thanks to it being such a small business, learning about all the different aspects of running a bespoke tour company.

The whole experience was such a blur, time passed at a funny pace, and now I’m back home, it’s hard to believe that three months passed. It’s time to put all those new skills into practice, and on to the next adventure!

The beautiful cathedral of Jerez, surrounded by sherry distilleries

 

Cordoba in a day…

The best part about living in Seville is its accessibility to the rest of Andalusia. And if you want to pop over to another city, it’s easy, quick, and cheap!

The mosque in Cordoba giving amazing views over the city

Cordoba is located north of Seville, and you can get there in between 45 minutes and an hour and twenty, depending on which train you catch. Be prepared on arrival, as the train station is located just to the north of the city centre. When we visited Cordoba, we’d timed our trip with the ‘Los Patio’s’ festival, where the locals open up their homes’ patios and show off their beauty to hoards of tourists. It seemed like a good idea ahead of time, but in reality, the queues were long, and some of the gardens shut during the afternoon. We only managed to sneak a peak in two gardens throughout the day.

Cordoba, like Seville, has the Guadalquivir River running through the centre of it. One thing you must do is to cross the Roman Bridge and look back out over the city. The centre of your attention will be the Mosque, with the Alcazar to its left. It’s worth the walk just for the photos. 

Cordoba is famous for its mosque, which was finished being built in 750AD, and was converted to a cathedral in the 1600’s. Thanks to the Los Patios festival, we didn’t have the time to stand in the super long queues, but we did snag a ticket and went for a walk climb up the Bell Tower, and got to appreciate some amazing views of the city. If I had the time and the money, I’d go back to Cordoba just for the Mezquita. 

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Throughout the day, we did manage to luck out. We stumbled across some flamenco down a side street, before finding a not too long line to head into a garden. The garden was beautiful, and it really would be a dream to live in a house with a patio like there’s.  We wandered away from the big hubbub, in search of some smaller, less crowded gardens. Unfortunately, that backfired on us – when you’re in Spain, remember people have afternoon siestas and things may not always be open when you think they should be.  Cordobas bell tower, part of its iconic mosqueWe also missed out on a good lunch, ignoring our flatmates carefully put together a list of top spots, and headed to the first place with an open table. A disappointing lunch later, we made it back to the Mosque.  There are some amazing looking restaurants hidden down side streets and back alleys – don’t always go for one on the popular tourist strip!

Our last mission for the day was to find some sherry, but the highly recommended spot turned out to be closed, though to make up for it, we stumbled across a final garden – and the best we’d seen in both person and photographs.

It was an amazing trip – and the train ride there only cost us €20.

 

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Trek America Tips

Last Summer, I was lucky enough to embark on two Trek America’s – the Best of the East and the Western Wonder (SF-LA). We did them almost back to back, with just a week in between. It’s safe to say, we weren’t sure what to expect when we walking into the lobby of our New York hotel that first morning. And the next two weeks sure were a learning curve. I mean, I’d never even put up a tent before that trip!

American Falls, located next to the Niagara Falls

There are a few must-haves that you may not realise you’d need before you start your Trek-

1- Headtorch

You may not think ahead of time that this is essential, but when you’re trying to cooking in pitch black or find something in your suitcase whilst you’re packing up in the dark at 7am, it really makes all the difference. An added bonus would be a torch that you can hang from the top of your tent – talk about home comforts!

2- Sleeping bag liner

You may not think a sleeping bag liner would be important, but when it’s been 40° degrees during the day and you want to be covered whilst you sleep, but a sleeping bag would be too much, you’re going to be thankful you bought one! Mine doubled up in purpose – I’d bought a cheap, £10 sleeping bag from Amazon that was perfect for our Treks, but the innermost layer was a sweaty polyester. Having this extra cotton layer was much needed.

3- Full-sized pillow

This may seem like an over-the-top luxury, but when you’re trying to sleep through the long drives a pillow is perfect! Thanks to the fast-paced nature of a Trek, you’re just going to get more and more exhausted the long the trip ends – and the best way to get a good night sleep is with a comfortable place to lay your head! I bought mine from an Ikea, conveniently located next to our hotel in New Haven, and left it in the van after the second Trek, there for someone else who forgot to buy one.

Everyone loves a good pier - Hermosa Beach

Tips for a Trek- 

Chicago's Cloud Gate

  •  Stay open-minded – you’re going to meet these random strangers that first morning, but by the end of your trip, you’re going to be best friends. You’re going to be enjoying the long drives together, cooking together, and witnessing some pretty cool stuff – even if you don’t clique from the get-go, work on that friendship, it’ll be worth it!
  • Make sure you’re awake in enough time for the first meeting – no one wants to be known as ‘The Late One’ and yes the first meeting is early, but get there on time, and make sure to…
  • Work on your timekeeping! – You don’t want to be the one that holds the rest of the group back! If you have to meet at a certain time, be there on time! There’s nothing worse than leaving late and being the one to blame, especially as some days have a strict timeline, and if you’re not there on time, you could jeopardize the rest of the day’s activities and timings.
  • Take as small a suitcase as possible – I don’t mean rock up with a carry-on suitcase (although someone one of my treks did) but bare in mind, the tents aren’t big, there’s enough room for two camping mats, with a narrow path in the middle. The bigger the suitcase, the more room it’ll need once you’ve opened up, and the more of a disruption you become.
  • Take as many photos as you can – you may feel stupid whilst walking around constantly snapping, but these will be your memories in years to come. It’ll always be better to have plenty of photos to look back on!

San Francisco skyline from the Alamo Square Park