My Second Trimester Must Haves and Key Learnings

Everyone has a different experience when it comes to pregnancy, with no two journeys ever being the same. During my second trimester, I gathered some pretty useful pieces of advice, or discovered a few things I wish I had known a little earlier. All the below was mainly discovered thanks to incredible tips I received from my mum-friends, pregnancy books and tried and tested personal experiences!

Overall, for me the weeks 13-27 were the best so far of my pregnancy. I had much more energy, could exercise easily again, and my only niggles were on-going rib pain and my sickness continued (albeit with a lot less frequency than in the first twelve weeks).

Here’s a collection of things I discovered that may or may not help you if you are in the middle of your second trimester, or want to prepare early for the months’ ahead.

Smart and comfortable maternity work-wear

It was around twenty weeks that I had to swap out my usual pre-baby wardrobe for some new maternity staples. That being said, I regularly wore my maternity work trousers and dresses from the moment I got even a bit of a bump (or pretended I did when I had just massively over indulged on Thai food) as they were so much more comfortable and less restrictive on a sore bloated belly than usual clothes.

You really don’t need much, but 1-2 pairs of work trousers and some stretchy specialist dresses will see you through the pregnancy and all trimesters without too much cost. For tops, I recommend buying floaty and loose for the workplace, and using a vest underneath to add length when they shorten due to the growing bump.

I found Bandia Maternity (purchased through ASOS) and Seraphine Maternity both had the best fit, and options that didn’t make me feel frumpy or bored of my wardrobe as my body changed.

Also, top tip: Mango shift dresses have lasted me right up until 35 weeks so far, and they are so comfy. I just took a size up from usual and they have seen me through.

A belly band

A lifesaver as your belly is expanding but you are not ready to give up your old jeans just yet. Pop a belly band over the waistband to hide the fact you can’t properly button up anymore and to protect your modesty. Also it just feels nice to have something covering the bump as it grows. This wonderful invention meant that outside of work I could wear my non-maternity jeans right up until my third trimester.

Bath with Epsom salts before bed

I don’t have a bath because I foolishly thought I wouldn’t miss one when moving to our new apartment. Note to past Lyndsay – it was a very bad move. So whenever I travel whilst pregnant I always request a hotel room with a tub because of the wonders a warm soak does for a growing body. Throw in some Epsom salts, light some candles and spend a good thirty minutes in the water to reduce swelling or pressure on your limbs.

A body pillow

My incredible brothers and sisters-in-laws got me this as a gift when I discovered I was expecting, and during the second trimester it really became invaluable. As your options for sleeping when you’re pregnant are pretty much limited to left side, or right side, you want to make sure that you are comfortable as possible. Trust me, your hips get sore after eight hours slumber on the same side.

A pregnancy pillow helps remove some of that pain, and they make for a great substitute partner to cuddle when they are working away or they have migrated to the spare room bed to escape the pillow pregnancy fortress you’ve created in the main bedroom.

Pregnancy exercise subscription

If you are feeling well enough and up to it, a mild exercise routine tailored to your stage of pregnancy can do wonders to help you feel a bit better on a daily basis. Don’t worry if you’re not, your body is growing a whole human and pretty preoccupied right now.

I loved pregnancy Yoga, and using Kayla Itsines – Sweat with Kayla pregnancy specific workouts for a big of an endorphin rush and to help with aches.

Comfy pyjamas and lounge-wear

You’re going to spend more and more time in pyjamas and loungewear because let’s face it, nothing is more appealing when in your second trimester than being cosy at home with a good book and comfort foods. Treat yourself to some new stretchy and comfy sets.

I got a couple that will be both worn now, in my hospital bag and great for nursing afterwards too so they have longevity. For this, button down shirts are key.

I got some lovely pieces from The White Company and H&M.

Rennies

Buy Rennie’s in BULK to help with heartburn. I lived off them after most meals.

Notebook or pregnancy journal

Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, the weeks’ really fly by and you tend to forget some of the small details or funny stories that happen day by day as you discover new symptoms or put the hairbrush in the fridge (true story).

I would highly recommend getting a pregnancy specific journal so you can take half an hour a week to capture each stage. I already am looking back at it and laughing and I am still pregnant, so I know it’s going to be a great memento for years to go.

I got the ‘How To Grow A Baby’ Journal – which is a great accompaniment to the same named book from Clemmie Hooper. You can get it via Amazon and it has some great week by week question prompts to help you fully capture your journey.

Classes

If you are wanting to take any specific classes throughout your pregnancy, now is a great time to do this. Hypnobirthing, pregnancy meditation and yoga, and breastfeeding classes are ones that I personally am getting a lot of benefit from. But it’s each to their own.

Microwavable heat pad

During my second trimester, and apparently a lot earlier than most people, I started to get burning and aching pain under my left rib on a daily basis, especially after I had sat for too long or had just eaten a big meal. Don’t get me started on the five hour flight to Northern Tromso I booked before this became a symptom and it then flared up. Basically, with baby and my short torso, there really wasn’t much room for much else so my ribs began to push out to make space.

Rib flare apparently is common, and for me a heat pad really helped ease some of the burn after a long day at the office.

Books!

Start getting recommendations, borrow good used copies from friends and max out your library card to prepare you for the days where you are perhaps feeling like you have a little less energy and need some entertainment.

I have started to stockpile now for my last few weeks before baby is here and I am on maternity leave / to have something to occupy me during breastfeeding sessions.

If you are not a big reader, then swap the above for magazines, podcast recommendations or a good Netflix to watch list.

Shape/support-wear

Hear me out, I am not recommending that you wear Spanx or similar when pregnant to protect your image or to produce a more flattering bump. As you grow, and your bump gets bigger, you definitely start to get a little more uncomfortable due to the extra weight your back and legs are now supporting.

I found that a good belly support belt, and specialist maternity support-wear did an incredible job of helping to ‘hold up’ the bump and keep me from feeling as much strain when I was on my feet for a lot of the day. This can range from high-waisted yoga leggings to specialist Lycra shorts. Do some research and see if anything works well for you.

Seven Secrets You Need To Know To Make You More Productive and Organised

As I have got a little older, I have become more self-aware of things I am good at, and things that I perhaps should leave to others (coordination sports, digesting lactose, long phone-calls for catching up, drawing and multi-tasking to name a few).

On the flip side, I am a good natural organiser and tend to thrive with tasks requiring self-discipline, productivity and planning. Recently, a few people have been asking for what it is I do each day to get stuff done, or get stuff done quickly. So I thought I would share a post on my top reflections and habits that I think contribute towards my productivity in case it’s useful for a wider audience.

With the above in mind, I also want to reflect that until recently I used to be pretty embarrassed of just how organised (read: borderline control freak) I was as a person. These days though, I welcome it with open arms. I think that because of these traits I find it easier to go after the things that make me really happy, and put a lot of energy and effort into events, trips and plans that leave a lasting impact and memories for years to come.

Top ways to keep organised and productive on a day to day basis:

One: Know your goals, and know your plan

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the hype of being ‘busy’ or hyper productive. There are methods that get you to write down 5-7 habits a day to do every day. Others encourage you to break down big tasks into more manageable chunks to make them seem more attainable.

Personally, I think that the most important way to keep disciplined and productive is to have three things established. One, a very clear vision of where you want to be in life in the next 3-5 years. I am not talking specific here (although feel free to be detailed) but a good understanding of what life looks like for you in the coming years. If you don’t have a good goal, nothing’s going to motivate you.

Secondly, an understanding of your main priorities in life and what matters most to you.

Lastly, a personal acceptance of the fact that you really can’t do everything, but you can do a lot.

If you know you want to be a full time writer, living in a small house in the remote countryside in the next three-five years. You are aware that your priorities are your family, your health, your friends, travel and writing. Then you can easily take a moment to assess your day to day and even week by week plans to see what is contributing towards that and what is distracting.

If in a week you spend two hours a day watching Netflix, but the above is your plan, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out it won’t happen for you in the near future because it’s not where you are putting your energy.

Two: Do what makes you happy

This one isn’t really easy for all, but I am a firm believer that unless you are doing something that challenges you, makes you happy and feel fulfilled you’re never going to have the motivation to put 100% into it.

If you are feeling stuck in a rut, or like you’re limited because you are pursuing something you really don’t enjoy, make a change today. No one can be productive all the time for something that doesn’t make them happy.

Three: Do the hardest tasks of the day first, every single day.

Block out the first hour to get the rough stuff done. The stuff that makes you scared, a good dose of exercise, the email you’ve been putting off writing or the paperwork you have yet to reply to and file.

Often the things that are the hardest to do, or that we avoid are the ones that bring the biggest changes or impact on our day to day.

Honestly, if you can just change one thing this for me would be it. Before reading the news, before social media or joining a call, put aside an hour to just get stuff done.

Four: Know your own habits and routines

We all have our own habits and pitfalls when it comes to organisation and discipline. Personally, I know that after 6pm I am cognitively useless. If you check my blog and writing performance, I always have a dip in publishing mid-month.

Instead of being frustrated by these habits, I instead just work my projects and days around them. I write more at the start and end of each month, and during the middle I focus on other priorities such as getting outdoors, trips and down time.

It’s the same with household tasks like taxes, budgeting and planning for my husband’s business, I know if I don’t tackle them in the first week of the month I will lose motivation. So I make these a priority.

After 6pm I don’t do anything ‘mentally taxing’ and use this time to unwind.

Embrace your own ways of working and natural habits rather than consistently trying to overwrite and fight them. Make them work as part of your productivity.

Photo by Michaela on Pexels.com

Five: Time blocking

If you are always finding yourself too busy to do the things that matter, take some time to block out and organise your diary now to make room for the bigger priorities. Give yourself an hour every day to work on projects. Refuse meetings or calls on a Friday to use this time to turn your ideas into reality.

Give yourself an hour a day for self-development.

Six: Don’t hyper organise

An app can be incredibly helpful if you already know your goals and priorities. A notes site can be fantastic to collect articles to read later, if you actually are going to read them. A well-structured calendar will only be effective if you are actually going to stick to your agenda.

We seem to love technology and hyper-organisation when it comes to being disciplined and often think that certain apps, tools and tech will help us become productive. The reality is, these tools complement an already productive lifestyle.

Plus, with these tools we tend to want to add 7-8 habits a day rather than one or two that will actually get done, because otherwise the list looks bare.

Get apps if you need them to further habits you already have, or interests you already stick to. Don’t expect them to be the cure.

Seven: Outsource

This one took me a long time to firstly realise was a thing, and then secondly do properly. You don’t need to do everything yourself, and to go back to my first tip, in order to be productive you need to realise that you really can’t do everything, but you can do a lot.

Outsource whatever it is that distracts from your priorities or what you enjoy where you can. Obviously some aspects require financial freedom to do it, such as having a cleaner or someone or taking a load of laundry to be dry cleaned once a week.

Others however, not so much. Sites like Fiverr make getting all sorts of tasks done quickly and easily for less. They have everything from virtual assistants to data entry and video editing.

Same goes for things like present shopping, do you know many big online stores now offer free personal shopping services or AI powered Chat Bots to get you the perfect gift in next to no time. Or food shopping, have a service deliver a weekly pre-prepared favourites list to you and then add in things you fancy as you think about them.

Lastly, the biggest thing I think that has helped me be more productive is living a lot more minimally. I have less stuff to clean, no real clutter to sort through, I don’t spend hours worrying about outfits as my wardrobe is pretty capsule and I don’t spend hours working out how to get the new car I covet or striving after the next big material success. When you let go of the distractions, the must-haves and the noise, it becomes really easy to just get stuff done.

What are your top tips for being productive?

M Insider: The Monthly Roundup – January Edition

M Insider is a collection of things that at this moment, I think are truly brilliant. It might be a new destination, an ingredient I can’t believe I haven’t cooked with before, or a travel app that has just gone and made life abroad so much easier.

Here’s the second instalment of the M Insider Monthly Roundup, looking back on December 2019.

Morzine – French Ski Town

Often, I tend to dodge the more ‘touristic’ hot spots when it comes to the winter season. By doing this, you share the slopes less, you avoid overpriced passes and you don’t need to worry about expensive accommodation as many smaller resorts tend to be closer to home or reasonably priced.

However that being said, sometimes the cheesy and tourist filled winter villages are the best because they are exactly what you need at the time. We went to Morzine in France for the weekend, and honestly, the buzzing Apres Ski atmosphere, cosy little overpriced cafes and shops selling everything you don’t need, coupled with a stay in an extravagant spa hotels in the mountains really hit the spot.

Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

I am that obsessed with this recipe I have made it three times in the last fortnight. Granted, I have swapped out the asparagus for green beans and Mangetout to give it a bit of variation but honestly, it’s such a winner and so easy to make.

I just love strong, citrusy flavours. So if like me you want a quick but delicious mid-week dinner, look no further than this fantastic risotto recipe.

Embracing Organisation

I used to be a little embarrassed or ashamed of how truly, anally organised I was as a person. I love a planner, preparation is definitely key, and making an itinerary is a true treat.

However I decided that one of my ‘resolutions’ for 2020 was to embrace this quirk, and no longer apologise for wanting to have stuff scheduled or prepared in advance.

Since this year is a big one for us, I have already put in some time to properly plan events such as my husband’s 30th, our two big vacations and our Christmas accommodation (because we’re going away in a big group) and honestly it feels great. If you have a trait you’re forever apologising for because you think others judge you for it, stop. Make 2020 your year of embracing your quirks and making them work for you

Off-Season Travel

Travelling often requires perfect timing if you are going to make the most of your trip. If you want to see the Cherry Blossoms in Japan, you need to head there during a specific two weeks of Spring. If you want guaranteed sun, you need to choose your destination or your departure data wisely based on the location.

With all that in mind, whilst seeing destinations at their sunniest, snowiest or during certain festivals definitely has a lot of benefits, there’s a lot to be said about seeing places when they are classed as ‘off-season’ too. We have started to try and do this a little more, because I think that honestly, you see a completely different side and energy to many destinations when you visit out of their main window.

Venice was magical in December. It was snowy, it was empty and there was something incredible about enjoying a glass of red wine, next to a fire, in this enchanting and artsy city.

Again, the same can be said for Switzerland in the summer rather than its usual winter draw. Vast hiking routes open up, prices are a lot lower, and the wine cellars open. It has so much to offer for a destination people see primarily as a skiing paradise.  

Sex Education Season Two – Netflix

If you’ve not seen season one, well obviously start there. If you have somehow missed that season two is now available as you’ve been living under a rock or weirdly putting off watching it for some reason, end your excuses and start tonight.

It’s just as great as the pilot season, and I could waste away hours envying over Gillian Anderson’s wardrobe and style in the series. No wonder pantsuits are seeing a massive rise in the fashion world right now.

Seedlip Gin (Alcohol Free)

I first had a taste of Seedlip when I was celebrating New Year with friends back home, and looking for something to create delicious mocktails out of during the evening celebrations.

I got a Seedlip pre-mixed gin and tonic can, and honestly, it tastes fantastic and will be something post-pregnancy I keep on drinking to keep a good balance.

The Economist Subscription Packages

There’s so much free content available now online, but sometimes it really is worth paying for that extra long-form analysis, the discoveries into topics you never knew you wanted to learn more about, and the joy of reading something offline whilst tucked up in bed at the end of a long day.

The Economist do a really good subscription deal, especially if it’s your first time trying it. You can get the first twelve weeks for just £12 and it also includes a free gift.

It’s something I treat myself to every year, and look forward to each edition arriving.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

What a book. I honestly wish I could perfectly write enough to get you to read it without spoiling it, but I am wary that by doing so I will give important details away that I want you to discover when you lose yourself in this well-written and engrossing novel.

It’s not the typical genre I go for, but it is done so well it easily is one of the best reads I have picked up in the last six months.

If you want a new book, and feel like you can trust in my recommendation, order or borrow a copy today.

Neal’s Yard Sleep Body Butter

This book is incredibly powerful, and really makes you think. With the rising power of technology, we have to make a decision about how we want it to shape our future. Do we allow technology to enrich the few and impoverish the many, or harness it and distribute its benefits? It’s a must-read and it’s pretty hard to put down once you begin.

Social Media Detoxing

Four days ago I embarked on a month long social media detox, and already I am feeling the benefits. So much so, I have asked my husband to post my blog article posts and promotions for me so that I can keep relishing in the offline, switched off bubble I am happily living in right now.

I hope I last the next twenty five days, and the good feeling that comes with being socially ‘detoxed’ continues. For me personally, I wouldn’t have said I was ‘addicted’ to it but I definitely would scroll absentmindedly when bored or waiting for something like a bus every day. It had become a habit, a go to crutch for boredom, and I wanted to break than reliance.

I definitely am missing out on some of the great updates many of my friends and family post on a regular basis, especially with living in a different country to many of them, but those I am super close to send me these via a message or call anyway so honestly it’s not been bad at all.

If you too are feeling the ‘social habit’ where you scroll without realising, you’re posting more than you are experiencing day to day, or you are sharing photos for reasons other than memory capturing and moment savouring, maybe you need a detox too.

The Secret Questions You Ask During Early Pregnancy, And What This Can Tell Us

It can be a tricky time when you first find out you are expecting, as quite often you have endless questions to ask but only a limited audience you feel comfortable confiding in for the first three months. Personally, I found it to be quite a lonely period and often didn’t really know whether the answers to the questions I was seeking online were the right ones.

For anyone who is trying to conceive, who has just discovered they’re expecting (congratulations!) or for those who are just interested, I decided to do a bit of digging and turn to the power of data to discover what new mums are really thinking during those first three months. It may not give you any advice but it could help you to know you’re not really alone in your thoughts during this time.

Caveat here – I am not a medical professional, and seriously if you have any of the below questions, your midwife or Doctor is a much better source of advice than the internet.

As the saying goes, if you really want to know more about someone or what they are thinking, you just need to access their search history. It’s true that these days, Google really does know more about you than perhaps even your closest friend.

So, let’s get down to business. If you have ever wondered what the top symptoms searched for during the first trimester are, I am about to enlighten you.

First and foremost, morning sickness and nausea searches take the top spot when it comes for symptom support. This isn’t surprising, considering how many women get this during the first twelve weeks and how many of us are desperate for a way to carry on as normal when we feel like pure hell, just so others don’t catch on.

Interestingly, the search for pregnancy related symptoms and ailments is highest during the winter months. Perhaps the sun and a daily dose of vitamin D makes it easier to us to power through the nasty side effects compared to battling them on an already cold and dark morning.

So what else is on the list?

In a rough order, we are keen to know about:

  1. Headaches
  2. Discharge
  3. Cramping
  4. Miscarriage signs
  5. Spotting
  6. Dizziness
  7. Bloating
  8. Tiredness,
  9. Mood swings
  10. Sore breasts
  11. Being thirsty
  12. Losing our appetite.
  13. Why our ribs hurt
  14. Being out of breath so early on

If any of these look familiar to you, it’s because they are super common searches throughout the first few months. Personally, there’s some I definitely expected to be higher on the list from my own experience but that being said, every pregnancy is unique.

Okay, so what else? Well, when we are seeking answers during this time, 95% of us search from our mobile devices. I think perhaps we are all in silent agreement that these queries tend to be more spontaneous and ‘on-the-fly’, as well as being something we probably don’t want to Google at work (where most desktop use now takes place).

Interesting, for the partners out their supporting their pregnant other halves, the top searches say a lot. In the US and UK, the top searched for questions following the phrase ‘my wife is pregnant…’ are ‘my wife is pregnant and I am scared’ ‘my wife is pregnant meme’ and ‘my wife is pregnant what do I do’.

Says quite a bit about the emotional rollercoaster both parties go through in their first few weeks of expecting doesn’t it.

Photo by Natalie on Pexels.com

Okay, so we have covered symptoms and initial reactions, but what advice are parents to be in the UK asking the internet for during these initial twelve weeks?

One of the top asks is yet again food based. This time, we want to know the best foods to be consuming during this time with ‘pregnancy diet, pregnancy diet menu and diet week by week’ being high volume questions we seek answers to. On top of this, we also want to know what foods we really should be avoiding.

Guess what the top UK blanks are for ‘can you eat…during pregnancy?’ Well, it seems that we are nervous about missing out on our seafood fix, with Prawns, Tuna, Sushi, Crab and Feta taking the top five spots.

What about other advice? Well, in a rough order these are some of the other high volume searches we make during the initial first three months:

  1. Cravings (with recent peaks in searches for funny stories, the meaning behind them and also if they are actually real) – perhaps the final one is from the partner who has been sent to the store for the third time past midnight for ice-cream in a week.
  2. Nausea remedies
  3. How to prevent stretch marks
  4. Symptoms to predict a boy vs. a girl
  5. Checklist and things you need to do during the first-trimester
  6. How much weight you need to gain during this time
  7. If you can still go running
  8. If you can still wear Spanx during this time

Oh and lastly, pregnancy related searches sky-rocket in January. I guess that for many people, the New Year signals a natural time to begin their journey of expanding their family.

What Your Travel Searches Reveal About You

January is the month every year, where travel searches peak across the United Kingdom, and it’s quite significant. They are nearly 300% more compared to any other month of the year. Perhaps it’s something about the cold start to the year that drives us to seek warmer adventures to look forward to, or it could be that we want to get organised and start the year planning our vacations for the coming twelve months. I know I definitely fit into the latter group, for me, January is an exciting month to map out the year ahead and fill it with things I know will make it the best yet.

But what are you searching for when it comes to travel? Below I have taken a sample of the biggest questions you’re seeking answers for when it comes to organising your vacations, as well as some surprising discoveries about your searches.

Your Top Search – Best Holiday Destinations

We all want to make sure that we use our precious travel time wisely, so it comes as no surprise that the top travel searches are mainly about getting the destination right so that we go on a trip to remember for years to come.

Your Surprising SearchPhotos Matter Most

It perhaps comes as more of a surprise that we are now often using photo and social media based inspiration to influence where we visit next. Searches for ‘the best Instagrammable travel places’ and ‘Instagrammable destinations’ are rising rapidly, as well as people looking for the holidays that will give them the best photo opportunities in-between enjoying a gelato and exploring historic sites.

If you are looking for inspiration on where to visit in 2020, I have put together a post featuring my favourite all time destinations and many of them have free travel guides and itineraries for you to use.

To save you the click though, my top five are:

  1. Japan
  2. Iceland
  3. Norway
  4. Switzerland
  5. Italy

However if you want to see what the experts are recommending, the Lonely Planet annual ‘Best in Travel’ guide is well worth a read. You can access it here – https://www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel

They list their top ten countries for 2020 as:

  1. Bhutan
  2. England
  3. North Macedonia
  4. Aruba
  5. eSwatini
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Netherlands
  8. Liberia
  9. Morocco
  10. Uruguay

And finally, if neither of those lists appeal, you can always do as others’ are clearly doing, and use Instagram as inspiration of where to head next, bonus points in doing it this way is that you’re guaranteed to get a beautiful photo to add to your feed as this is how you picked where to head to!

Next Top Search – Last Minute Flights

There’s clearly two types of travellers in the world. Those looking and preparing their plans in January (the majority) and those who love a great last minute deal and are looking for a quick getaway.

Over the last five years, the volume of people looking for last minute deals has dropped. Perhaps we no longer are looking for the standard sunny late deal and our travelling preferences have started to change. However, for those who still love the last minute planning, searches for late flight deals peak in mid-July. Perhaps you are regretting not booking a summer trip as your co-workers head off on their adventures, or you are really needing a break from the day to day by the mid-point of the year, so you quickly get looking for a way to escape reality for just a few days.

For most people, the driver for the later deals seems to definitely be cost, with the word ‘cheap’ being included in the majority of last minute flight searches we make.

If you are looking for a late deal, there are five simple things you can do to make your search more fruitful.

  1. You get bigger savings when you book a deal as a whole, rather than just flights. Flight themselves are vastly cheaper when booked early. So if you are keen to get a good late deal, book your travel as a package deal to score the best savings.
  2. Be flexible with your dates, and try to fly mid-week where possible for the best savings. A different of two days can often change the price by hundreds (I have genuinely seen this more often than not)
  3. Set up alerts and subscribe to websites known for promoting late deals. If you are part of their mailing list, you get first visibility of any sales, or good deals they offer.
  4. Booking 14 days before or less is known as the ‘magic window’ and it’s the time where companies really slash their prices to fill up their packages and hotels. Try and hold out if you can before booking.
  5. Be flexible. With last minute deals, you often may not find the package in your price point for the destination you’re seeking. Be open to where you are heading for the best possible savings.
Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

Searches are Changing – Travel Money

Ahead of a trip, we all like to make sure we have our currency for our new destination sorted. Interestingly, a lot of us only start looking into preparing it a week ahead of our planned vacation.

Of course, the top searches are primarily about rates and best exchange offers, but there’s been some interesting shifts over the last five years in travel money questions.

We used to look for the best rates with well-known high street brands. The Post Office is the top searched firm favourite, followed by Tesco, Asda then Sainsburys. Clearly, we like to combine getting our Euros with our weekly shop in the UK!

However these days, we are also looking for the best new alternatives to cash or prepaid cards for our trips. Revolut and Monzo cards searches are rising in popularity quickly, especially ahead of the summer months. This may be because many of us are seeking easy ways to pay abroad, with less hassle and better rates.

Alternatively, it could be that as Brits we now travel a lot more (on average, we see an increase of 8% more travel year on year) so a simpler solution for frequent travel and currency exchange is now needed by many.

Personally, I have a Revolut Card and I love it for many reasons.

  1. The ease of payment abroad, and fee free cash withdrawals
  2. The fact that you can monitor what you have spent your money on with great charts showing a breakdown (I clearly have a problem with eating meals out)
  3. It takes seconds to transfer to another Revolut card holder, making splitting costs abroad simple
  4. The exchange rates are always great, and you avoid the fees you would incur by paying on your usual cards abroad

If you want a better way to spend abroad (or even just track your finances better at home), get your Free Revolut card using my affiliate link here today.

Something We All Need – Travel Packing Tips

After you have sorted your destination, got yourself a great deal and looked for the best way to pay for your meals and experiences abroad, your next big question is usually seeking advice on what you need to pack for your upcoming adventure.

With the rise in short-breaks and only free hand luggage with budget airlines, many of you are now searching for the best way to get all the essentials on your vacation with you, without paying the essential luggage fees.

Here are the five best packing tips I use on a regular basis that you may benefit from too:

  1. Roll don’t fold! You can easily fit more in your suitcase if you roll your items vs. folding them (and as a bonus, they will crease less this way too).
  2. Packing cubes are the best packing travel invention. Sort your suitcase into handy sections which makes living out of a bag much easier, and reduces the stress of pulling out everything in your case numerous times during a trip to find that one item you need that’s currently evading you.
  3. Plan your outfits before packing, to avoid taking everything you might possibly need and quickly running out of space. Even better, use online capsule wardrobe guides for great inspiration on how to pair a few items to make many outfits.
  4. Pack in advance. There’s nothing like a last minute rush to guarantee you will forget something or end up taking way too much as you panic about what to add into the case just hours before you need to leave.
  5. Always have a spare outfit, toiletries and important documents in your hand baggage. You never know what might happen on a trip and it always pays to be prepared.         

Ten Simple Ways To Live With Less and Save Significantly More

When we set New Years’ Resolutions, we tend to focus on how to enrich our lives further. Setting new goals, living a healthier lifestyle or travelling and adventuring more. Sometimes, there’s just as much benefit and opportunity to be found in setting goals which actually mean living and doing with less.

A core and often overlooked benefit of living more minimally is the financial freedom it brings to your day to day life. Even better, you don’t need to adopt a ridged minimalist lifestyle to benefit from the ways you can cut down and save more.

Below are the top ten ways you can reduce your consumption, based on key but simple changes I have made that had significant impact over the last five years.

Online Food Shopping

By moving to an online delivery, which we scheduled once a week, it made us prepare and plan our meals ahead of the shop meaning that we only bought what we needed for the following seven days. It also hugely reduced the ‘impulse’ shopping for treats that we tended to do when actually in the supermarket, especially if we were there when hungry!

If you online shop, you can set a clear budget, see how much your order is totalling to as you go along and also benefit from a lot of coupons and discounts supermarkets for e-orders.

Detox Your Subscriptions

If you have Spotify, Amazon Prime, Audible and Netflix then you are already paying out a significant amount for streaming services every month. Add in a phone contract, TV package and beauty box deliveries and you are nearing the average number of subscription services for a UK person in 2019.

This is great if they are regularly used and add a big impact to your life, but if they don’t, the costs quickly add up.

Once a year, we sit down and unsubscribe from everything. We allow ourselves to re-subscribe when we want to use the service. It is a good exercise to ensure everything you have signed up for is properly appreciated. You never know, you might not even realise you miss one once it’s gone.

Delete Delivery Apps

Getting fast food delivered to your home is easy, and often a quick way to feed yourself after a stressful day at work. However, one or two deliveries a week quickly can add up over a year. Easy solution? Remove the apps, unsubscribe from the mailing list offers and follow step one in the list (a weekly online shop and meal-prep) to reduce the temptation.

Demote Your Car

If you are able to quite easily, consider changing your car to a model that is similar in miles, performance and years, but with a different cost ratio. It is a really quick and easy way to build up savings if you are able to be in this position and are happy to ‘downgrade’ your car.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com

Borrow And Share

As a couple, one of the biggest spends in our non-essential outgoings is on books. We both love to read, and between us we get through at least 3-5 books and an audible subscription on a monthly basis.

One easy way to both live with less, and save more here is to lend, borrow and share books with fellow avid readers. We swap with friends often, keeping our shelves clean and our to-read list healthily stocked with new books. We also regularly visit the library, and buy second hand where we can.

Obviously there’s many times where we need to buy new, especially living abroad and away from our friends at home, but it’s something we are trying to avoid more and more.

Think about things you buy often for hobbies, and try and work out if there’s a way to both save and reduce clutter by sharing or swapping instead. Board games, books, recipes, baby clothes, there’s a lot of opportunities.  

Find Peace With Older ‘stuff’

If it isn’t broken, then follow the old saying and really think twice before replacing it. It’s no surprise we regularly feel the need to upgrade the everyday items in our lives. Companies invest millions of pounds a year working out how to best to market us their latest models, seasons and versions of their products, so it’s almost natural that we are taken in by this clever messaging.

However, having the latest version of a product on average improves someone’s happiness for a period of just two weeks. After this, any effects from owning this new item rapidly diminishes. Why? Because there’s likely something even newer being released in the near future, or we come across someone else who has something better.

Key items we tend to upgrade regularly without much need include our phones, laptops, headphones, cars, designer accessories and home furnishings.

Try and find peace with your existing ‘stuff’ for a defined period of time. You may come to realise that you live quite happily without the latest products, and everything you do currently own is perfect for it’s job.

This is something I have really had to practice myself recently, after seeing how great the camera is on my husbands’ new phone. However there’s nothing wrong at all with mine, so I keep telling myself to wait and see how I feel in two months before making a rash purchase.

Unsubscribe From Emails

This is a big one, and requires you to set aside some time to make it happen, but it’s really valuable. Unsubscribe from all emails and companies whose primary role is to sell you more stuff.

If you want to get a great offer, you can always sign up again in the future, but for now it stops those free next day delivery, or 50% off coupons arriving on a Monday morning, which removes the temptation of buying more things you really didn’t need.

50% off £30 is still spending £15 you didn’t need to spend rather than an incredible half-off saving. Do yourself a favour and delete all the subscriptions and start afresh.

Plan In Advance

So much can be saved and organised with a little preparation. It can apply from everything to travel plans for a year, to decorating a room and meal-planning and preparation.

Carve out some time to schedule your annual leave and vacations for a year, and set up alerts for the best price deals. Plan your meals for one to two weeks, and then only buy what you need from the store. If you need to decorate a room, plan everything ahead of it from colours to furniture and even storage. This way, you won’t end up buying excess decorative elements or two sets of cushions as your mind changes as the plan progresses.

The more prepared you are in life, the more time you have day to day to spend on the things that properly enrich your life instead of these regular required must-dos.

Photo by Henry & Co. on Pexels.com

No Buy Month

If you are really struggling with living with less, and feeling a little overwhelmed by the amount of clutter, storage and stuff you have lying around, consider taking part in a no-buy month.

It will have a great impact in both reducing excess possessions, in addition to boosting your savings at the same time.

Set yourself some ground rules before starting. Examples include food, hygiene materials, medicines and transport as excluded, but anything else ‘non-essential’ is banned for 30 days.

It’s a great way to reset and really break the habit of consuming for the sake of consuming. Something we are all guilty of time to time.

One in, two out rule

Perhaps if you are finding the above idea a little extreme, you can instead replace it with the one in and two out rule. It’s as simple as, any time you buy anything you don’t ‘need’, you have to remove two other non-essentials in the same category to make room for it.

For example, if you pick up a pair of new shoes in the sale, two other older pairs that you rarely use need to go. If you get home and can’t really part with anything, ask yourself, did you really need the new item as well? Do the same for your kids toys, clothes and much more.

It might help you break any habits you currently have and stop the slow over-expansion of stuff in your home.

What 2020 Travel Trends Will You Be Embracing?

As we move into a new decade, our travel desires and habits are changing to reflect our new desires and wishes when it comes to adventuring and experiencing more of the world. 

Below are some of the key travel trends I think will shape 2020 and the next few years. Do you recognise any of these from what you’ve been looking for personally? Do you disagree with any?

Train and Non-Air Travel

With the growing rise of ‘flight-shame’ and awareness of the environmental impact regular plane travel has on the planet and climate, people are looking for alternative methods of transport when it comes to planning their next adventures.

Because of this, train, boat and car travel will see an increase in popularity as people combine a more eco-friendly way to arrive with a scenic journey to their destination. 

In 2020, we have reached the joint decision to fly for only one ‘long-haul’ trip where we can’t reach the destination by other means, and then continue the rest of our adventures through other modes of transport. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start and lets us test what travel through different means really looks like. 

We will be embracing bikes, trains and long road trips to see as much as the world on our doorstep as we can. (Although for full disclosure, this excludes required business travel and trips to see family back in the UK seen as we have a new arrival this year that many want to meet.)

Short Breaks

The usual seven or ten day traditional holiday is moving over and making room for the rapid rise in shorter mini-breaks and weekends away. Younger generations are becoming more ‘leave-savvy’ when it comes to using their hard earned vacation days, and want to utilise them to see and experience more places. 

Therefore, we are seeing a rapid rise in three night destination hops rather than the longer week long holiday to disconnect and unwind. For 2020 and beyond, expect to see more people heading off for long weekends three to four times a year than one big all-expenses holiday in the summer.

We have been huge fans of mini-breaks for years’ now, and spend a good few hours every January working out how to best structure our leave to maximise our adventures for the coming year. Add a day onto public holidays, travel when quiet, and make the most of your weekends with amazing experiences to be found just an hour or two away.

Travelling with Pets

According to Mintel, 59% of British consumers now have a pet, and the biggest trend for growth when it comes to ownership is thanks to the younger millennials (21-30) who are now adopting a furry friend at the same time as their parents were choosing to have children. 

With this rise in younger pet households comes the rise in people travelling with their furry companions. Pet friendly hotels, planes and restaurant demand is on the rapid rise. 52% of American millennial pet owners will now take their pet with them if they are away from home for more than two nights. 

For those who find it harder to travel with their pets, such as those with cats, smaller mammals or animals who don’t quite like the journey, there’s also been a boom in services to support this. Sites like Trusted Housesitters have been gaining rapid popularity, and for good reason. 

Some of the best airlines to travel with a pet are JetBlue, Air France and Swiss Airlines according to independent reviews. Plus, the best countries to travel to or live with a dog? France, Switzerland, Italy and Canada top the list thanks to their pet friendly ways of life. 

Our cats love to travel in the car for short trips, but we don’t think they would quite like a longer journey. So we love sites like Trusted Housesitters and local cat friendly hotels for short breaks away or cat sitting support. 

My brother and sister in-law are literally the leaders in travelling with pets. Their dog Hiro has been alongside them as they take a gap year flying with them to Canada, the US, Mexico, Costa Rica and much more.

Ethical Travel

A survey by Sainsbury’s in the summer of 2019 predicted that 25% of Brits would be vegetarian or vegan by 2025. This accounts for the rise in demand for both vegan hotels, and eco-tourism and more ethical travel. 

People are becoming more aware of their travel footprint, choosing to take ‘no-waste’ amenity kits with them on breaks, seeking out vegan or vegetarian hotels to stay in and paying to offset their carbon footprints for each flight, delivery or service they use. 

I love to see it on sites like Viator, where tour companies are now offering more ethical excursions so you can see more of a country without damaging it through your tourist footprint. 

Family Travel

There’s been a huge growth in people travelling and going away with their extended family and it’s something I think will keep being popular for many years to come. 

As more people lead busier lives, or live further away from each other, the chance to all meet up together in an exciting new destination and to make memories as a family is really appealing. 

There’s been a surge in families booking large rentals, such as through sites like AirBnb, and making the most of both their destination but also time at the lodgings together to just relax, reconnect and make lasting memories. 

Detox Holidays

Whilst technology is a great enabler for every day life, often people are looking towards their holidays as a way of escaping the constant buzz and noise of being always connected. 

A lot of ‘technology-free’ retreats, hotels and vacations are popping up which promise a chance for you to truly disconnect for a period of time. An opportunity to go back to basics and enjoy reading, nature, hiking or the sights around you without online distractions. 

Honestly, this is something I want to try more in 2020. Perhaps not at a ‘technology-free’ retreat, but by leaving our phones behind in the hotel safe, the laptops at home, and properly disconnecting when away. We did this in the South of France late last year, to the level that we had several people asking if we had got there safe and everything was okay as they hadn’t seen any updates on our Instagram about being there.

It was a big reality check for us, and needless to say we now put the phones away during the day and only then upload any photos or highlights of the day when back at our hotel in the evening.

Staycations

Tied with the rise in eco-tourism, as well as the desire to discover more about the beautiful sites on your doorstep, there’s no surprise that staycations are seeing a boom in popularity again amongst travellers.

Whether it’s venturing out to discover hidden gems in your own country, or even just getting together a lot of little luxuries for a weekend hidden away at home, a staycation can really help you relax and recharge without having to (a) spend a fortune or (b) travel far. 

With our first child arriving in just a few months, I hope to use 2020 as a chance to explore more locally, giving us the thrill of going away without the stress of flights, travel and paperwork. Camping is a big love of ours, so we hope that this is one way we can achieve this in the summer. 

M Insider: The Monthly Roundup – December Edition

M Insider is a collection of things that at this moment, I think are truly brilliant. It might be a new destination, an ingredient I can’t believe I haven’t cooked with before, or a travel app that has just gone and made life abroad so much easier.

Here’s the second instalment of the M Insider Monthly Roundup, looking back on December 2019.

Zero Waste Travel Kits

When you are heading on a trip, whether it be a short weekend away, day trip for some exploring or a long-haul adventure, make sure you take a zero waste travel kit with you. This doesn’t mean you need to invest in anything new, just bring in your bag a few essentials to help you cut down on waste throughout your trip.

As a minimum, add a reusable water bottle, a good flask, re-sealable bags and a travel straw to your luggage before setting off. If you want to go a little further, invest in a washable wooden cutlery set, and be sure to pack your own toiletries rather than using hotel ones.

Sonia Moer Duvet Covers

We recently replaced both the duvet covers in our apartment for our bed, as well as the guest room. It was out of necessity that we replaced them both, one had a broken zip and one had been seriously cat pawed, so I wanted to invest in something that would last just as long and be comfy too.

After much review sourcing we went for the Sonia Moer covers, and can I just say they are amazing. They are soft, easy to clean and zip fastened for quick sheet changes. I was a little wary at first because of the price point (a lot lower than I have previously spent) but I am really impressed.

Polaroid Mobile Printer

For Christmas my husband got me this fantastic mobile printer, which allows me to print directly from my phone on-the-go. It’s been really good for adding in photos of my bump to my pregnancy journal, and for printing little memories to add to travel scrapbooks and albums. Plus, it’s really tiny, so you can just pop it into your bag and take it with you anywhere.

NordVPN

It always amazes me how few people I know use a VPN when it comes to internet browsing. We have been using one for a long time now, and the best we have experienced so far is NordVPN. It’s because it connects both on our laptops, but also has an app meaning you can log-in and use it via your iPhone and tablet devices as well.

A VPN has many benefits, but the biggest being increasing your online security when using public WiFI networks, remote access of content (for example streaming services we pay for in the UK that we would struggle to watch when travelling) and buying cheaper travel tickets (as flights are priced differently depending on the city you buy them from). 

Vox Videos

These short videos by Vox have recently become my new favourite thing to watch on the go or when relaxing in an evening. Each video is around fifteen minutes long, and they cover a wide range of topics from ‘The Bizarre Physics of Fire Ants’ to ‘Expensive Wine is For Suckers’. An easy way to build your knowledge on things you never knew you needed to know.

See all their videos here

https://www.youtube.com/user/voxdotcom/videos?view=0&sort=p&flow=grid

Olaplex Shampoo

It took me a long time to justify spending over £25 per bottle of shampoo, no matter how many good things I heard about Olaplex. Then one day last summer, I was on a hen do, and one of the girls’ had the most incredible hair in such good condition. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out what her secret was based on this post.

I bit the bullet and got the No.3 hair perfector, and the No.5 conditioner. My hair has never been in better condition even with pregnancy hormones and regular blonde dye treatments.

If you are not sure if it’s for you, you can get mini-versions of them online for around £10.

Veganuary

We’ve started this a little later in 2020, as we have been travelling and visiting friends for the first week of the New Year, but now we are back in Switzerland we are both embracing Veganuary again.

What is it? A month where you follow a vegan lifestyle which hopefully inspires you to continue throughout the year, or at least adopt best practices and make positives changes with more conscious choices. You can sign up on their website, and they send you regular updates, motivational tips and recipes to inspire you.

I would recommend anyone starting this also takes a multi-vitamin and a B12 supplement throughout, to help support your body as you discover more about healthy plant based diets.

Falafels

I absolutely love a Falafel, and my favourite recipe is the one from BBC GoodFood below, however I also add in some hot curry powder for an extra kick when making.

They are a great snack, lunch or dinner served with Pitta and salad. Plus, super cheap to make at home.

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/falafel

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism : The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power – Shoshana Zuboff

This book is incredibly powerful, and really makes you think. With the rising power of technology, we have to make a decision about how we want it to shape our future. Do we allow technology to enrich the few and impoverish the many, or harness it and distribute its benefits? It’s a must-read and it’s pretty hard to put down once you begin.

30 Day Minimalist Challenge

I created my own thirty-day minimalist challenge in 2017, after following a few online versions when I first started to embrace a lifestyle living with less. It contains all the best changes I personally found to be effective when exploring minimalism. If you want to follow this with me, I am starting tomorrow and sharing a challenge a day.

Whilst I can’t promise it will change your life, I can assure you that since living with less I have personally been more productive, happier, achieved more and found a real balance with my anxiety. Minimalism isn’t just about stuff, it’s about addressing everything that adds unnecessary noise and clutter to your life.

Try and stick to the 30 day challenge, or just do a few throughout the course and see if they have an impact.

My Ten Favourite Destinations Of The Decade

It has been an incredible decade for travel, adventure and experiences. I can honestly say that I practised what I preached over the last ten years, and made travel a main priority based on my personal goals, interests and hopes.

It has required a lot of sacrifice, financial discipline and preparation but it has also resulted in some of the best memories I have ever held. Since 2009, I have been fortunate enough to travel to thirty-seven countries and over eighty different cities. This post is a reflection on my all-time top ten destinations I visited during the last ten years. I hope it can provide you with some inspiration for your next adventure.

Some interesting things that stood out to me when I made the list included the fact that I am clearly happiest travelling in winter or colder conditions, I am more of a rural rather than city break adventurer and a lot of the attraction of a place has to do with the food.

Here are the top ten, ranking in order, with my favourite places first. 

Japan – Kyoto

A country which fuses modern and ancient traditions seamlessly, Japan is a melting pot of culture, tech, art and history. Everything you want to say about Japan can be summarised as a perfect juxtaposition. Chaotic but ordered, futuristic and yet so deeply rooted in tradition, high-rises circling around historic gardens and shrines. This place on paper doesn’t work, but in reality it’s a place which offers you a wealth of different experiences in such a short space of time, and it’s enthralling.

Arriving in Kyoto you quickly get the sense that this city is a cultural and spiritual hub of Japan. There’s over 2000 different shrines, temples and statues hidden amongst the modern city centre. Explore traditional Japanese wooden houses in the Gion district, taste local delicacies in the sprawling markets and enjoy traditional tea ceremonies or stay in a local Ryokan to truly immerse yourself in the historic culture of Japan.

Visit: March-May

Eat: Ramen, Okonomiyaki, Sushi and Korokke

Stay: In a traditional ryokan

See: Shrines, markets, Gion district, surrounding mountains

Full visit guide – open here

Iceland

A magical combination of glaciers, geysers and volcanos make Iceland a truly unique landscape. A place where you can experience the joys of wilderness, the warmth of the locals and the true power of earth and Mother Nature.

It is the stark juxtaposition of the fire from the volcanos and ice from the glaciers that give Iceland its staggering landscape and distinctive opportunities for experiences like no other for tourists. In just a day you can soak in a geothermal lagoon, walk on lava fields and black sand beaches, stand atop ice-covered volcanos and under ice cold waterfalls, and take in the sparse and captivating glaciers.

Visit: February / March for snow and Northern Lights, July / August for hiking and outdoors
Eat: Fresh fish, hearty stews and strong drinks!
Stay: In a Reykjavik hotel with a good spa
See: Waterfalls, Glaciers, Natural Hot Springs and Volcanos

Full visit guide – open here

Norway – Tromso

If you are looking for a magical break, to a place where nature truly delivers breathtaking experiences at every moment, look no further than Tromso, a cosy town nestled right in the heart of the arctic circle.

Surrounded by small peaks, icy fjords and covered in a blanket of soft snow for six months of the year. Tromso is Norway’s most northern city, located in the heart of the Arctic Circle, and it makes a great base for exploring the many wonders mother nature has to offer.

This small city is the gateway to the Northern Lights, in close proximity to several breathtaking fjords and home to the historic Sami culture. Visit and experience a weekend filled with Reindeers, skating on frozen lakes and late night chases to catch a glimpse of the rare but wonderful northern lights as they fill the dark night skies.

Visit: November through March
Eat: Local foods and plenty of Christmas Tea!
Stay: In the Radisson Tromso City Centre
See: Northern Lights, Arctic Fjords, Reindeers and Frozen Lakes

Full visit guide – open here

Switzerland

I am incredibly lucky that a place we as a family decided to relocate to nearly fifteen months ago is now one of my all time favourite countries. Switzerland has so much to offer, and I am thankful every day that I get to explore so much on my doorstep.

With glacier-topped mountains seemingly on every corner, incredible alpine lakes and long green valleys to hike through, there’s so much to offer in this picturesque Alpine paradise. There’s a plethora of outdoor activities to be enjoyed. From skiing and skating in the snow, to biking and hiking in the summer. Here we have experienced more adrenaline activities such as paragliding and climbing in a year, than we have in our lifetime.

Plus, there’s always the draw of the UNESCO heritage vineyards and local caves serving their finest produce every spring and autumn.

Visit: Year-round, depending on your activity and weather preference
Eat: Fondue, Rosti, Chocolate and Fine-dining
Stay: Zurbriggen Hotel Zermatt
See: Mountains, Gorges, Lakes, Valleys and Old Alpine Towns

Full activity guide – open here

Italy – Tuscany

When you think of romantic retreats, Italy is always a good idea. The Tuscan region brings together everything that Italy has to offer, and goes above and beyond with the delivery.

Rolling vineyards, rustic farmhouses and B&B’s, old winding Italian roads and some of the best local foods and wine money can buy are all found in this quaint and historic region on the Italian west coast.

Stay in the hillside outside of Lucca, Siena or Florence and spend your days walking, exploring local farms and producers and cooking at home with the best local ingredients you can source each day after a quiet brunch in town.

There’s so much history and things to do, especially in central Florence that I don’t have space in this post without boring you all. However you can read my upcoming guide to Florence specifically in the next couple of weeks’ if you are feeling inspired.

If you want a guaranteed break filled with delicious food, romantic walks and breathtaking landscapes then book a flight to Tuscany today.

Visit: April-September
Eat: Pasta, Stews, Wine, Bread
Stay: Old Farmhouse Hotels / AirBnBs
See: Vineyards, Florence, Old Tuscan Villages, Rolling Hills

Full visit guide – open here

Cuba

Cuba, the Caribbean destination for culture, history, Cadillac’s and true escapism. Although it’s not got the reputation of the nearby islands for luxury five star retreats and resorts, it offers so much more in the experiences and opportunities you can digest whilst exploring this magical isle.

Never has there been a better time to visit and experience the mix of faded and crumbling Spanish colonial architecture, a dose of communism, white sand beaches and dancing Salsa and drinking rum until the sun goes down. In the last decade, private enterprise has been given the green-light and so many Cuban entrepreneurs have started to offer new opportunities for visitors. From private tours in a vintage Chevrolet to delicious food served in someone’s own casa, there’s a lot more to sample, straight from the locals themselves.

A pastel paradise, Cuba is a destination for people who enjoy travelling but also can adapt to the unexpected and be prepared to slow right down and appreciate an unhurried way of life. While we were there, we got used to we came to call ‘Cuban time’. A little longer to be served, an extended wait to buy a ticket or the complexities that came with getting from A to B. However for us, all this added to the charm of being able to explore a country that seems to be hovering between the past and present.

Havana is an enchanting maze of a city, which we first glimpsed from the old Spanish fort El Morro situated across the bay, overlooking the vast capital. Instantly from afar we could see the patchwork of different architectures all woven together, Colonial, Gothic, American and Russian, illustrating the complex history of Cuba in just a glance.

We found the best way to explore Havana was on foot, weaving our way through the crumbling and pastel lined cobbled streets. Stop to absorb everything you have seen in the many bohemian bars, wander into the art-deco hotel Hemingway made his home for months and stand in one of the many squares that represent the different times and layers of history that have shaped this city like no other.

Our top sights included the Malecon seafront, the Plaza Vieja Square, Plaza de la Revolution and the old town. You should also make an effort to explore the less regenerated area of Centro Habana, in order to get a true feel of life and reality for many Cubans. It is filled with an energy and buzz, away from the crowded tourist hotspots, and showcases the less polished side of the capital, away from the pastel cafes and restored main squares.

Visit: December – April
Eat: Cuban Sandwich, Rice in Black Beans, Vaca Frita, Pastelitos
Stay: Homestay or classic beach front hotel
See: Havana, Cardenas, Varadero, Trinidad

Morocco – Marrakech

Listed as Trip Advisor’s Destination of the Year for 2015, Marrakech is an incredible sensory experience, from the warm smell of rich spices to incredible views of dusky red buildings and city walls situated in the shadow of the Atlas Mountains.

The heart of the magical city, the Medina, is bustling with excitement and history, and a maze of winding alleyways filled with souks, street food stalls and hidden Riads. If we had been alone, I am certain we would have found ourselves lost within the narrow passages, although that wouldn’t have been a bad thing. We could have stayed in the souks for hours, you could discover a new sight, smell or sound there every minute you walked around.

The city is home to many peaceful and lush gardens, which are perfect to unwind in after a morning in the medina. If you have some time, you can always take a carriage ride around several of the serene gardens to take them all in at once.

Also, make sure you head out to the Atlas Mountains, for a camping experience under the stars.

Visit: February – May
Eat: Cous Cous, Tagine, Mint Tea
Stay: Riads in the centre
See: Atlas Mountains, Medina, Souks, Spas

Argentina

Argentina is a sprawling natural wonderland, filled with peaks, forests and the lively city of buenos aires, there’s just so much to see in this incredible South American country.

Watch tango, explore the markets and enjoy good food in a local restaurant whilst people watching. Get out of the city to explore the natural waterfalls, Andes Mountain range and the huge range of wildlife. Spot penguins, whales, giant anteaters and more!

Head to Patagonia, the Perito Moreno Glacier and the south to truly immerse yourself in this naturally outstanding country. Especially if you’re a big fan of winter sports.

In the capital, there are heaps of vintage bookstores, creative boutiques and local stores and bars to sip on a cocktail under the sun.

Visit: Depending on where Argentina is a year-round destination
Eat: Chimichurri, Empanadas, Mate, Steak, Barbecue
Stay: Depends where you are based!
See: As much as you truly can, you need at least two weeks to see the best of the country

Australia – Great Ocean Road 

Drive along the coast of the wild southern ocean via winding narrow roads, small rainforests and amazing clifftop viewpoints. situated just a short distance from Melbourne, head out and explore all the striking coastal landscapes Victoria has to offer.

The Great Ocean Road consists of 243km of incredible landscapes, terrains and wildlife. Although it could technically be driven end to end in around six hours, I would really recommend doing this over several days to allow you to enjoy and experience the different sections of the route.

You will stop at world class surfing beaches, witness Koala’s and Kangaroos in the wild, and get to wander through lush tropical rainforests on your way to see the Twelve Apostle’s and other iconic sites towards the end of the route.

Visit: November – January
Eat: Whole foods, vegan treats, and fresh seafood
Stay: Beacon Point Ocean View Villas
See: 12 Apostles, Wildlife, Apollo Bay, Rainforests, Surfing, Lighthouses

Download my free visit guide here

Moscow – Russia

Somewhere I visited fleetingly but it left such a longing to go back it had to make this list. A historical city, sprawling out from the Kremlin and Red Square through to majestic surrounding streets, and tall imposing architecture.

Explore retro clubs and cafes nodding to the soviet era, experience luxury afternoon tea in fine dining restaurants and bars. Wander through ornate shopping malls and discover colourful hidden gems, historic fortresses and huge cathedrals dotted all across the city.

Visit: March – June
Eat: Pelmeni, Borshch, Pirozhki and luxury dining
Stay: Ritz Moscow
See: Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, Bolshoi Theatre, The Ornate Subway, Alexander Garden, State Museum.

My First Trimester Essentials and Personal Discoveries

Everyone has a different experience when it comes to pregnancy, with no two journeys ever being the same. However, during my first twelve weeks’ I gathered some pretty useful pieces of advice, or discovered a few things I wish I had known a little earlier that made the first trimester a little easier. 

Here’s a collection of things I discovered that may or may not help you if you have recently discovered you’re expecting, or are planning for a little one. 

Prenatal Vitamins

It’s incredibly important to start taking your vitamins as soon as you start trying to conceive and continue throughout your pregnancy. If like me, you struggle to keep any kind of food down, you can at least rest assured that your little one is getting it’s daily dose off vitamins, minerals and folic acid from these handy little pills.

Be mindful when buying them though, I got some at first which were GIANT and pretty difficult to swallow, and when I managed to gulp them down often they upset my stomach further and didn’t stay down. 

Look for smaller capsules and take at night for best results in my experience. I used and I am still using Elevit Vitamins.

Comfy Loose Clothes

Even though I have more of a ‘bump’ in the second trimester, I found that the first was where I felt the most uncomfortable so far belly-wise. If you’re feeling nauseous you don’t want something tight digging into your belly all day. Plus, bloating is a serious side-effect for the first twelve weeks, so anything with a little room is a blessing. 

Go for cotton, soft and stretchy clothes like loose dresses, leggings and longer line jumpers or blouses where possible. Side note – unless you really need or want to, I wouldn’t invest in maternity clothes at this stage. Just size up, buy belly extenders or wear the looser items in your wardrobe for now.

My favourite leggings were the HM Maternity range – they are affordable, keep their shape and incredibly comfy and long-lasting. Much better than the Mamalicious Maternity ones I quickly returned, and half the price. 

Mints and Gum

This is a trick I discovered from my pregnant cousin who is a few weeks’ ahead of me in her pregnancy. Ginger just didn’t keep the sickness away at all for me. I suffered from severe morning sickness (being sick 4-6 times a day, every day for nearly six weeks). Highlights included being sick on a thousand year old Glacier during a hike, practically sleeping in a long-haul plane toilet and shocking a poor passerby as I quite suddenly threw up into a bush on my morning walk to work. 

Mints were the only thing that helped to stop the constant nausea feeling. That, and McDonalds Hash Browns (don’t ask) when I finally got hungry. 

If ginger doesn’t work for you like most, don’t despair and try strong mints instead. 

Book Depository

When you feel pretty wiped during the first twelve weeks, you don’t really want to do much after work or during the weekends. This is where the fantastic Book Depository came in handy for me. It’s a brilliant site for used books, with free delivery worldwide (including Switzerland!) Thanks to my brilliant friend Katy I discovered this site which allowed me to keep a well stocked library next to the bed, for passing away the hours when you just feel…bleugh. 

Pet Deterrent

I don’t know the science behind this, but as soon as I was pregnant my cats were attracted to my belly like a magnet. They still are, and unless you want to deal with a heavy lump climbing on your belly when it’s already sensitive and you’re feeling nauseous, you’re going to have to find a way to distract them! I failed miserably, but I am adding this here in case anyone has any great ideas, and to let mums-to-be know that their furry friends may know before them if a little one is on the way.

Pregnancy Plus App

When I discovered I was pregnant, I downloaded a bunch of apps to track the babies development and to discover more about what changes were happening daily to my body (and, of course, to see what size animal it compared to each week). 

The one which stood out, and I continue to use now, is the Pregnancy+ App. It’s got tons of great guides, to do lists, kick counters and more. 

Patience

This isn’t something you can buy, but it’s something I recommend you all try to have with yourself for the first three months (easier said than done, granted). It can be hard when you find you can’t quite hike at a pace you are used to, when eating anything but beige food makes you instantly sick but you want to be healthy for baby, and when you find yourself crying because you realise you’re running low on your favourite crisps and the shops are closed (true story). Although it’s a big adjustment, try not to be too hard or demanding on yourself and give yourself time over these three months to enjoy what’s happening inside of you rather than being frustrated in what you can no longer do.

Body Oil and Moisturiser

Although they say stretch marks are hereditary and if you’re going to get them, there’s not much you can do to prevent it, it doesn’t hurt to take good care of your growing body and belly with a nourishing oil or moisturiser. 

The two which worked best for me and I use daily is BioOil and Palmers Cocoa Butter Stretch Mark Cream. The former is good for putting on regularly, especially after a morning shower, and the latter is best to lather on at night as it’s quite thick and takes a while to soak in. 

It can also be a nice moment for the dad to be, as my husband rubs it into my belly most evenings as a way to connect with the growing little one. 

Refillable Water Bottle

No idea why, but as soon as you become pregnant you suddenly are 1000x thirstier than ever before, take it from me. 

I would recommend getting a good refillable bottle you can carry about everywhere, to make sure you’re never without much needed hydration!

Maternity Bra

You don’t really need to buy maternity clothes this early on, but one essential I would recommend getting from the moment you get a positive line on your test is a good maternity bra. Honestly, this area becomes sensitive pronto during pregnancy and is actually usually one of the first symptoms you can feel. Stock up on a few comfy, non-wired neutrals and you won’t regret it. 

I got mine from ASOS basics and in a multi-pack of two, and they were great.

Lavender Pillow Spray

You may find yourself sleeping more than ever before during the first twelve weeks’, especially with the frequent naps you now crave during the day. Make it easier to fall asleep and maximise your rest with a good pillow spray. It’s always nice to have little luxuries to help you through this period of big change. 

I have used the ‘This Works’ Deep pillow spray for years now, and couldn’t recommend it more.

Black Out Eye Mask

Really on the same note as the above, and especially valuable for mid-day naps. A good black out eye mask is well worth the investment. 

What To Expect When You’re Expecting Book

It is a really good and comprehensive guide that helps you week by week know what’s going on with your body, and answers some common questions you may have but don’t know how to ask or word them. It shows you different ways mums carry and their bumps, diet guides and uncommon symptoms. I read it nightly at the moment, and would recommend it to all expecting mums.