What I've learnt from my recent digital detox

If you asked me last year if I could go a week without social media, I would have quivered at the thought. For the last seven years my life has revolved around social media, so much so that I've spent family occasions glued to my phone, missed out on spending time with my friends as I was too concerned about picturing the moment than speaking to them and every evening instead of enjoying precious time with my husband, I would be on my phone from the moment I got home to the time I went to bed.

Social media is a great way of staying connected, but at times it can turn into a bit of an obsession and really affect a person's mental health. I got to the point where I began comparing myself to other people, getting FOMO seeing people I cared about spending time with others and not me and I turned to Instagram filtering my life to make everything look perfect when it wasn't.  This isn't social media bashing - I love social media and it is such a large part of my life and my job, if it wasn't for social media, I would have never built a successful blog.

I never intentionally went on a digital detox, it just happened. One day I just decided to log out of Instagram and put my phone down and hours later, I realised that I didn't feel the need to check my phone anymore. Hours turned into days, days turned into weeks and I began enjoying the pressure-free, digital free life.  I spent the time that I would have been editing photographs or on social media, learning how to cook, going out with my friends and husband and not worrying about curating the perfect Instagram shot, it was liberating.

My mental health improved

One of the biggest improvements I saw since stepping away from social media was that my mental health improved. I felt like I didn't have to be someone I'm not anymore and live up to the Instagram perfect life. I could relax and sleep better on a night without checking my phone at ridiculous o'clock too.

I learnt who my real followers are

Since taking a bit of a blogging break, my engagement across social has dropped tremendously - it is like starting from scratch all over again. I've lost a lot of followers and only get a handful of likes on Instagram now, but the people who are liking my posts are the ones who have stuck around for months or years and supported me through every step I made. I'm happier to have those people in my life, than a dozen fakes.

I'm beginning to love life again

Social media took me to quite a dark place after I experienced some horrible comments from trolls.  It made me doubt myself and I became quite paranoid of the people hiding behind a screen name - do I even know them and if not, what do they have against me? Thankfully time is a healer and my time away has made me realise that the people who made those comments were just jealous of my life and right now I'm in a happier place than I've ever been.

It has made me reevaluate my blog for the better

My break from social has made me reevaluate my blog for the better and take a thorough look at the content I'm creating. It has made me realise that I would rather write about what makes me happy and what could be helpful for other people than write content just for the sake of it.

I can look forward to my life off my screen

The time I spend offline has given me the chance to focus on my life off screen by learning new hobbies and taking a closer look at my career. In the last few months, I've been able to spend more time cooking, I've made some improvements to the house and I've recently accepted a new job.

Have you ever taken a digital detox?
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Five Landmarks on my European Bucketlist

There's nothing more thrilling than walking around old landmarks, discovering the history behind them and trying to picture yourself in the shoes of the people who once walked there. One of the most exciting parts of a holiday for me is sightseeing, learning about the culture and being immersed in a world so much different to my own. Instagram is often filled with exotic snaps from faraway countries, giving the illusion that most of the best landmarks are on the other side of the world, but this isn't always the case. You can travel less than four hours to places like Spain, Bulgaria and Greece and see some pretty amazing sights.

Earlier this year I bought my first ever home and for the last twelve months, I have barely left the country due to saving for a house deposit. Now that one of the biggest financial hurdles is out of the way, I can't wait to get back into travelling and discovering new places. Today I've teamed up with Holiday Gems to give you the low down on some of the best landmarks across Europe and to show you the top five I've picked out for my European bucket list.

Greece -  Parthenon

Greece is somewhere that I've always wanted to visit, but never really had the chance. I love Greek history and the food and my friends all rave about it. I'm hoping that the next 12 months will finally allow me to visit some of the Greek Islands and in particular, visit the Parthenon - a former Greek temple that was built in 447 BC and is dedicated to the goddess Athena.

Ibiza - Es Vedra

If you're an avid reader of my blog, you will know how much I love Ibiza and the iconic landmark Es Vedra. I've been to Es Vedra several times, but I love it so much that it will always be somewhere that I want to visit again and again. Es Vedra is a small island off the Ibiza mainland and is host to many myths and legends, according to geologists it is one of the strongest centres of magnetic forces in the world. Whilst you cannot board the island, many boat trips circle it and host swimming sessions around it and it makes for a wonderful day out.

Bulgaria - Rila Monastery

Bulgaria is a newcomer to my European bucket list. I didn't think much about travelling here until I saw that one of my friends had visited and I began Googling it. The country has lots of amazing architecture and the Rila Monastery is just one of the amazing examples. The monastery was founded in the 10th century and is now a World Heritage Site.

Mallorca - Palma Cathedral

I visited Palma when I was quite young and I remember walking by the cathedral, but for some reason, we were quite limited on time and we couldn't spend as much time there as I would have liked. One day I really want to return because it is such a beautiful landmark and Palma is also a wonderful, stylish city.

Barcelona - Sagrada Familia

Barcelona is again one of those places that I've always wanted to visit but never got around to it. So many of my friends and family keep telling me to take a trip there and I'm hoping that I won't let another year escape me without a visit. The Sagrada Familia is a listed World Heritage Site due to it being constructed by world-famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi.

For booking holidays to Spain* or just to learn about the different places in Europe, Holiday Gems can give you plenty of travel inspo.

Do you have anywhere booked right now?

*Collaborative post

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Who said vegans can't eat chocolate? The Slabb review

When I mention to people that I'm vegan and that I cannot eat milk chocolate, I'm often confronted with shocked and confused faces. "How can you live without Cadburys", they say and, "how can you even like dark chocolate." The truth is, before going vegan I never really liked dark chocolate. I would always avoid the Bournville in the box and I would sniff my nose up at dark chocolate even though people told me all about the health benefits. However, since becoming vegan I've discovered there's a lot more to dark chocolate than people realise and a lot of variety.

With the booming vegan market, there are more companies than ever before offering vegan chocolate from small independent stores on Etsy to the big established chocolate brands such as Hotel Chocolat.  Vegan chocolate has also become a lot more experimental - gone are the days where vegans were just given the darkest, most bitter chocolates in the tin, there are now vegan 'milk chocolates' made from coconut milk, creamy vegan truffles and vegan honeycomb minus the honey.

A new brand that I have been excited to try is The Slabb. The Slabb is an online chocolate company owned by Holly & Stuart and as well as selling dairy chocolates, they have an extensive vegan range with a variety of unique flavours. In January,  Holly and Stuart launched a Kickstarter campaign called the #100Slabbchallenge,  to create 100 different flavours of chocolate this year, with each chocolate being limited edition and the 'Vegan Party One' is one of the chocolates I was given to try.

The 'Vegan Party One' is a rich dark chocolate topped with party favourites such as party rings, sprinkles, jam and vegan marshmallows. It is a fun party bar perfect for a girly night in or for those looking to add a little bit of fun in their lives. The ingredients complement each other perfectly with the party rings adding crunch and texture and the jam adding extra sweetness to the chocolate - it was great to see a vegan chocolate that had a lot of character and it isn't just the standard 'dark chocolate'. The party edition would make an ideal present for a loved one as it is so colourful, unique and charming and the packaging is girly, yet sophisticated. These bars retail at £5.50 which I think is a bargain for such a unique, limited edition product and I can't wait to hear about the next vegan chocolate they create.

Have you tried any of The Slabb products before?

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We're homeowners! My thoughts on the house buying process

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After a long, emotionally draining twelve months of saving, two weeks ago my husband and I officially became homeowners. It has been a strange process for us as we haven't been down the traditional route of buying our first home, our landlord several months ago came up to us and said he was selling the house we were renting and we just didn't want to leave. We have a lovely spacious garden - enough room for a house extension, the neighbourhood is lovely and quiet and five minutes one way we're in the countryside and another five-minute drive in the opposite direction and we're in the main town, it's a very convenient location.  Knowing how much we wanted to buy the house we have been living in and waking up it seeing it every morning put a lot of pressure on us - when we started saving we had no savings in the bank and we only had a few short months to get enough money for a deposit. But we did it, with the help of a Help to Buy ISA we were able to put down a 9% deposit (which we worked day in and day out to save for, with no help from our relatives) and twelve months later the deeds have been handed over and the house is officially in our name.

When we started the house buying process, I was surprised by the lack of information out there for first-time buyers. It can be a little bit of a maze and if you get stuck with solicitors like ours who didn't inform you of the steps they were taking, it was very frustrating. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing a few honest posts about the house buying process, but today I thought I would jot down a few of my thoughts about what I learnt from buying our first home.

It can be very long winded

Firstly, the process can be incredibly long-winded, even if you're not in a chain. Once we had our mortgage approved, we assumed that the house would be ours overnight, but it took almost thirteen agonising weeks of waiting and it was an emotionally draining process, wondering each day if something was going to go wrong and we wouldn't get our home.

Emotions are high

I didn't expect to be so emotional during the process. What should have been one of the happiest times of our lives, was full of tension, anxiety and tears.  In retrospect, I should have had more faith in our solicitors and ourselves that it would all be okay in the end. 

You need to do research

Always do your research and make note of every step you need to take in order keep the ball rolling. There had been several times where our solicitors forgot to inform us of a pivotal stage in our mortgage application and because we had done our research, we were able to give them a steer in the right direction. On the other hand, don't get hung up on some of the horror stories that are out there, there's a lot of horror stories on forums and just because it happened to someone else, it doesn't mean it will happen to you.

Somethings don't always go to plan

Like everything in life, sometimes things don't go to plan and you need to make yourself aware of every eventuality.  We had issues surrounding our completion date, through no fault of our own, but it all worked out in the end. The worst thing you can do is lose your stride - remain positive.

You learn who your best friends are

Buying your first home is an expensive process from saving up for the initial deposit to surveyor fees, bank fees and solicitor fees. When buying your first home it is very likely that you would need to sacrifice nights out and social events to save some cash. Luckily for me, I have the most supportive friends who were by our side all the way, but there was a few who were less supportive and didn't understand why I needed to save the money so quickly.

It's worth it in the end

Despite all ups and downs, you go through when buying a house, it is all worth it in the end. The moment where you get your keys or you enter the building that is finally yours is an overwhelming experience and something to be really proud of. I know how fortunate I am to have my own home and I'm looking forward to making it a space that reflects mine and my husband's personality.

Have you bought a home before?

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Vegan Junk Food at Knaves Kitchen, Leeds

I'm not usually one for eating junk food, but when I was invited to review Knaves Kitchen in Leeds and saw their vegan junk food menu, I knew it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. As a vegan, I'm always looking for exciting, unique dishes that challenge the perceptions of what vegans actually eat - we don't always eat salads and large plates of vegetables. Knaves Kitchen, situated in Oporto on Call Lane features a creative vegan menu, consisting of a vegan favourite 'seitan', which is a gluten meat substitute that can be made into a variety of complex dishes.

Dishes on the Knaves Kitchen menu includes lots of comfort dishes from 'fish finger wraps' to Katsu curries and onion bhaji burgers, all of which are reasonably priced and great portion sizes.  Their cocktail menu is also just as creative - one of my favourites of the night being a pineapple concoction served with a side of frazzles to give it a sweet and savoury vibe. 

The food at Knaves Kitchen was exceptional and the dishes that they were able to create with seitan were outstanding, you wouldn't even think half of them were vegan. Their kebab dishes were extra 'meaty', their tofu katsu curry had the perfect amount of crunch and their fish finger sandwich was heavenly especially the secret recipe for tartar sauce. The star of the show for me, however, was the onion bhaji burger, it oozed flavour, had the perfect amount of crunch and it was highly satisfying - so much so, that I dived straight in and forgot to take a picture!

If you're looking to experiment with veganism, but don't like the idea of going straight to the deep end with whole-food vegan recipes, I completely recommend visiting Knaves Kitchen - I would also suggest that those who eat meat give it a try, because Knaves Kitchen proves that life without meat doesn't have to be boring.

Have you been to Knaves Kitchen before?
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