What Going Off The Beaten Track Taught Me

Almost two years ago I was invited on an amazing trip to Thailand, but instead of basking in the sun on the Islands and sipping cocktails, this trip was to learn about different Thai communities, how they live and the history behind the Thai textile industry - one of the biggest forms of employment for the country. I was whisked away to northern Thailand, to villages that have barely seen tourists and to where the standard of living was so much different to how we live in the UK.  When Flogas got in touch with me a little over a week ago asking me to take part in their campaign to discuss what luxuries I would miss if I went 'off grid' and 'walked the beaten path', it made me very reminiscent about that trip I took and made me think two years later about what I had learnt.

On the first night of my trip I was based in one of the most luxurious hotel rooms in Bangkok. The chandeliers glistened as you walked through the lobby and it was the type of place that handed you drinks on arrival. The twelfth floor had a sky pool and the hotel itself was attached to a very large shopping centre where everything was convenient.  Then the next morning we boarded a regional plane to Nan which is 668km north of Bangkok, we checked into a quaint hotel room ran by staff who spoke very little english and my mobile stopped working.

The next few days were filled with visiting factories and a few tourist sights. Houses were small without the living areas that we have over here - in fact most people in these remote areas don't even own kitchens as they find it cheaper to eat at the market on an evening and they really enjoy the social aspect of it. There was a lot less technology around and many of the small factories were still using traditional techniques that were used hundreds of years before, unlike our factories where most of them are machines these days.

I also met some remarkable people including a young twelve year old boy who was taught English so he could be a local tour guide. He was highly intelligent and spoke better English than myself. He knew so much about the area he lived in, he was like a walking history book. When I got out my Insta camera to take photographs, it was like Christmas for him. He had never seen anything like it and when he asked shyly if he could look at it and perhaps take a photograph, I happily obliged  and he ran over to give me a hug to thank me for being so generous.

Those few days that I spent with these communities taught me so much about myself. I realised that materials things didn't matter - my phone barely worked, I didn't have much technology with me throughout the trip, but I enjoyed every moment of it. When I was walking around these communities, it didn't matter what designer clothes I was wearing or whether I had the latest phone, I never once felt judged and I felt free. I could have happily carried on exploring for months without a care in the world, it was nice to feel like I didn't have to put on a show every morning unlike over in the UK where we live in such a materialistic world. I spoke to people who wanted to get to know me as a person and we forged friendships over things that truly mattered.

The only things I did miss on that trip were my pets and my family and admittedly decent phone signal, but the third one was minor. I got more out of the trip, than what I temporarily lost and it has taught me that if I did have to go 'off grid' in the future I can do it...just with my pets and husband in tow next time.

                                         What would you miss if you escaped to the country?

*This is a collaborative post

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Hometown Tourism: Cheap January Days Out

January is a difficult month. The weather is usually formidably cold, wet and depressing and no-one has any money due to the long wait between the December and January payday, having spent most of their hard earned cash on Christmas. January is the month where the majority of people turn into weekend couch potatoes afraid to go out incase they max their overdraft or seek comfort in the gym because it feels like it is 'free' because it is paid monthly. But fear not, if you're an avid traveller and you feel like are you caged between four walls due to lack of finances, just remember that there's plenty you can do on your doorstep, all you need to do is a little bit of investigative work.

Hometown tourism is all about getting to know your town and your local area, whether it be discovering new walks, checking out some niche museums or learning all about the history of nearby churches or points of historic interest. These all make for great days out in January as there's so many places you can visit for free or donations - you just need to research them and if you are paying for admittance, you are helping your local community, especially if you live in a remote area that is known as known for its tourism.

Visit the National Trust Website

If you're looking for a cheap day out on your doorstep, try visiting the National Trust website for some inspiration. You can type in your postcode and the type of activity you would like to do and it will bring up a list of what is available close by.  If you have a Natwest premium account or you are looking at getting one, you can get a free family National Trust card in with your monthly account fee.

Pick up leaflets from train stations, councils or local tourist boards

Train stations and in the foyer of local councils are great places to pick up leaflets regarding local museums or activities as they are placed there to attract tourists when they are travelling through these areas. 

Check out local reservoirs, parks and nature reserves

In the UK we are blessed to have so many beautiful parks and countryside and best of all, the majority of them are free to walk around. January may be a little bit brisk for a walk, but it is a good way to start for anyone looking to up their fitness routine at the beginning of the year, but lack cash. A great website to visit is Walkiees as it shows you lots of walks, parks and countryside paths you can visit in your region. The site is primarily catered towards dog owners, but you don't have to own a dog to visit all the listed areas.

Just get out there and explore

Some of the best discoveries I have ever made have not been planned, I have simply just driven by them or gone walking and find them out of luck. If you have some spare time on your hands, one of the best things you can do is just to explore the area where you live, you may find something really interesting just around the corner.

Do you enjoy hometown tourism?

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Keeping up with exercise while living with a chronic illness

Before I was diagnosed with my chronic illness I was fit and incredibly healthy. I used to exercise five times a week alternating between swimming 70 lengths of the pool one day and then working out in the fitness suite and I used to walk everywhere often going on long walks on a weekend. I lost five and a half stone dropping from a size 18 to a size 8 and I felt invincible. At the beginning of 2013 my health started declining. I was waking up with swollen joints and I couldn't lift my head from the pillow I was so tired. I started missing lots of university and my fitness routine became non-existent. It took months of testing and convincing the doctors that I wasn't going insane for me to finally be diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), a degenerative autoimmune disorder. I tried to keep up with my fitness as much as possible, but my RA kept getting the better of me and I gave up. A year later, I had my second blow when I was diagnosed with a rare stomach condition called Sphincter of the Oddi type 3. I had been experiencing stomach pains for quite sometime and after the doctors removed my gallbladder, my pain tripled. I spent months on morphine, barely working and hardly leaving the house. Again, I went back to my old habits seeking solace in my bed covers and a tub of dairy free ice-cream - a far cry from the two hours of exercise I used to be doing and my low calorie diet.

The last four years of my life have been somewhat of a blur - juggling the start of my career, the start of my marriage, a body which hates me and trying to maintain a semi-normal life. It is only recently after months of medication and playing with my diet that I'm finally getting back to normal and deciding it is time to bring back scheduled exercise into my life.

Exercise is important for those with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis as it can help reduce inflammation and keep pain levels at bay, it's just difficult getting started. When you begin exercise after being poorly for so long there's so many thoughts that go through your mind and you begin disbelieving in yourself. My initial thought when I signed up the gym was 'what will people think of me if I can't exercise longer than twenty minutes? It took me a few months to finally realise who cares what others think, it's about me and my recuperation - they have no idea what I have been through.

Today I have teamed up with Wilmslow Hospital to give you my top tips on how to get yourself back into exercise after being poorly or while you're living with a chronic illness. It can even be difficult getting back into exercise after a cold, but believe me, you can do it.

Talk to a fitness expert or your doctor

Before embarking on a new exercise routine, make sure to talk to a fitness expert or doctor so that they can give you the all clear to start your plan and give you advice on what you should and shouldn't be doing in relation to your condition.

Set your own pace

Introducing exercise back into your life when you have had a long period of inactivity can be difficult for anyone, never-mind someone who may be generally weaker due to chronic illness. Your need to get your body used to being physical again by taking it steady and setting your own pace. It is better for you to build up stamina and stay fitter for longer, than give it your all for two weeks and then decide to quit.

Don't run before you can walk

Signing up to a new gym membership when you're unable whether your body is ready to handle it can be daunting and very expensive. If you don't want the hassle of joining a gym or you're too afraid to take that leap, spend time going on long walks with your friends and family, have a go at some exercises you have found on Youtube or buy some cheap apparatus that you can use at home such as an exercise ball. Take things slowly and gradually.

Find an exercise partner

If you feel anxious when you first go back to the gym, try taking a friend or a family member for motivation. If you're the only one signed up to a membership, many gyms allow free day passes to friends and family every so often and it is worth checking them out.

Consider swimming

Swimming is a great all round exercise and works all the muscles in your body. For those who have existing medical condition it is less strenuous on your body because the water supports your body weight, making it an ideal way to get back into exercise.

How often do you exercise?

*This is a collaborative post
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How entering competitions could land you your dream holiday

This time last year I got an email from the team at Jumeriah hotels telling me that I had won a five star break to Frankfurt. The hotel package included a luxury meal, a room with a panoramic view looking over at Frankfurt's most iconic skyscrapers and spa treatments. Once we arrived we were treated like royalty with letters from the manager telling us how welcome we were and chocolates and gifts left in the room. It was a surreal experience and one of the best hotel stays I have ever had and best of all, it was free.

My stay at the Jumeriah Frankfurt hotel wasn't the only travel competition I have won,  a few years prior I won a luxury stay in London, tickets to Proud Cabaret and our meals and transport paid for. A lot of people don't enter competitions because they believe that they won't win, but how do you know you won't win if you don't try?

These days there are many ways you can enter competitions and there's something to suit all types of 'comper' to those who only have five minutes at the end of the day, to those who enjoy being creative. From liking Facebook statuses to retweeting posts, re-gramming Instagram images to creative writing competitions, there's plenty of competitions on the internet and the more you enter, the more chance you have of winning.

Competition listing websites

Competition listing websites such as Loquax and Competition Database are the first port of call for most people looking to enter the odd competition, but they are usually highly saturated competitions because so many people are entering them. They are a great way of seeing which websites regularly list competitions, but don't rely on them.

Google searches

One of the best ways to enter competitions is to make a wish list of items you would like to win and do a Google search for those competitions - for example, searching 'win a holiday to Thailand' and sort by most recent. This way you are only entering competitions for the items you would really like to win and you may find a few competitions with low entries that haven't been listed on competition websites yet.

Searching social channels

Finding competitions on social channels such as Facebook and Twitter are really easy and the most experienced competition entrants would say it's one of the easiest methods for you to win. A lot of social competitions ask for you to submit a photograph to win or describe why you would want a prize or something that has happened to you. This gives you the opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

Newspaper/Magazine competitions

A lot of people don't enter newspaper or magazine competitions as they see them as too time consuming or too much effort, but I once saw a competition in a newspaper where I had to email an answer off to win a £500 Primark voucher and I won. 

So there you go, why not try enter a few competitions this year? You never know, you might just win your dream holiday.

Do you enter competitions?

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The Best Non-Alcoholic Drinks for Dry January

Dry January is a tradition amongst those in that UK that sprung up in 2014 following an advertising campaign by Alcohol Concern highlighting the effects of drinking too much booze. In its first month over 17,000 Brits stopped drinking and every year since, Dry January has been growing in popularity.
January is the perfect month for giving up alcohol as many people have over-drank and over spend during Christmas and are looking to save up, but for many the thought of giving up their favourite tipple for as long as thirty days is a daunting prospect.

I rarely drink alcohol due to my medication and having gone almost two years with less alcohol than I can count on my toes and fingers I have realised how I feel having given it up (apart from the odd tipple). These days I'm more than content watching my friends having a glass or two knowing that I can mock their hangovers in the morning and I'm also rather happy knowing that I'm a cheap date andI can spend less than a tenner on a night out.

Not drinking alcohol for so long has led me to browse the supermarkets for alcohol alternatives when I have social occasions and I have been surprised by how many great non-alcoholic 'wines' and drinks there are on the market. For those struggling to really craving alcohol or something they can drink and still look sophisticated when having friends over, here's a few of my zero alcohol favourites.

Eisburg Wines
Eisburg wines are made using traditional wine making techniques but the alcohol is removed during the process making them taste exactly like wine. There's white, rose and red wines to choose from and they are only £5 per bottle. I often give these out to my friends who are driving when we have house parties and everyone has been impressed. 

Rochester Mulled Punch

Who says mulled punch is only for Christmas? With the weather in Britain currently plummeting why not treat yourself to someone warm that tastes exactly like mulled wine minus the alcohol. This can be purchased online or bought from Holland & Barrett's all year round.

Salisbury's Alcohol Free Sparkling Wine
If you love proseccco and can't bear to spend a month without supping bubbles, Sainsbury's alcohol free Sparkling Wine is a good alternative. Add some  blackcurrant syrup to make your own alcohol free Kir Royal or orange juice for a cheeky, guilt free Bucks Fizz.

Most alcoholic drinks can be made into cocktails and there's plenty of recipes online for you to choose from. If you're having a night out, don't be afraid to ask a bartender if one of your favourite cocktails can be made alcohol free as most well trained bar staff can create something for you.

What are your favourite alcohol free drinks?

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