What’s In My Backpack

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So the final week before embarking on a four month backpacking trip has been a bit of a whirlwind of emotions and activity!
I have spent much of my time sweating. And not in a good way. From packing boxes and moving things down three flights of stairs including a double bed and a sofa, although I have been quite impressed with my world’s strongest woman impersonation.

I’ve been getting anxious that I have sorted everything before leaving, getting emotional saying goodbye to my French family as well as walking through this town I have called home for the past year stroking the window of my fave boulangerie and waving cheerio to the drunk homeless man on the corner. As well as getting stressed with cancelling contracts, saving important documents, trying to speak to a person not a robot at my bank and working through list after list of things I need to get done including my nifty travel hacks here. But it is all coming together hurrah!

My bag is now nearly packed and I thought it might be useful to share just what I have crammed inside.

2 black leggings (one thicker for hiking and one thin to layer or wear in cooler evenings)
2 pairs of thin comfy trousers (I will wear one on the plane and the other can double up as pjs to protect my pins from hungry mozzies)
4 vest tops
2 t-shirts
1 thick snuggly jumper
3 shorts (This may be a bit excessive but I have a nice pair, a pair for hiking and obligatory denim shorts)
4 socks (Including two thick hiking ones) 2 bras 2 bikinis 5 underware
1 sundress (for city strolling and for over my bikini)
1 sarong (that can also be used as a scarf, towel and beach coverup)
1 travel towel (I have one of those micro fibre ones which packs up really really tiny)
Flip flops, hiking boots and pumps to travel in (These last ones may end up being binned)
1 hat (to stop my bonce from burning)

Tips:

  • Rolling clothes rather than folding is a real space saver
  • Layering will be your best friend so think thin
  • Stuff socks into your hiking boots
  • Pack clothes that you won’t mind if they get stained, ripped, or eventually chucked down the line
  • Dark colours will allow you to eek out another day or so before washing!
  • As you will be taking so many photos to remember your time away it’s a good idea to choose clothes that will not be too dated in years to come. I find that plain dark tops work well.
  • Embrace the backpacker look as explained here!

I have also prepared a small first aid kit, a bag with my gadget chargers and a toiletries bag that has been decanted to within an inch of its life! Phew. So all the above will be my little house and wardrobe for the next few months! Wish me luck.

Food You MUST Try In France

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I still have no idea how French women stay so slim as temptation is everywhere in this country, from rich pastry cakes, crunchy fresh bread, lashings of thick cream, meat bathed in thick sauce all washed down with obligatory deep red or crisp white wine. But if you can’t beat them then join them hey?! Here is what I think you NEED to indulge in when you are next in France (just don’t blame me if your waistband gets a little tighter):

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Croissant – These staple breakfast pasties smell so enticing when freshly baked. I swear they pump extra mouthwatering smells out of the boulangerie (bakery) to entice you in. Spread it with jam, butter or Nutella as long as you remember to use the back of a teaspoon as I posted about here. Extra French points if you dunk it in your bowl of hot chocolate or coffee.

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Baguette – I was so confused when I saw my boyfriend stood in the supermarket bakery with a baguette to his ear and eyes focused in concentration like some sort of bread whisperer. Turns out he was doing the ‘crunch test’ which involves squeezing the baguette slightly to hear it crack softly. You want a gentle crispy noise that isn’t too soft or too hard. He was like goldilocks of the bread world, trying to find one that’s just right!

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Fruits de Mer – Don’t be shellfish give this dish a go! A mixture of raw and cooked crustaceans including sea snails, oysters, cockles, crab, shrimps, mussels… all served on a bed of ice with crusty bread and mayo. Super simple but can be quite pricy depending on the season.

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Frogs Legs – I posted here about my experience trying these little blighters. Whilst they might not be everyone’s cup of tea I would recommend that if you have the chance to sample this famous dish then you should, as they are not as easy to get hold of as you may think.

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Meat Fondue – Hot oil+naked flame+raw meat = Fun night in! Get everyone huddled around the table piercing thick chunks of meat onto skewers and dunking them in the volcanic hot oil that is bubbling away in front of you. Simply leave it in for as long as you like it to be cooked and there you go! A fun and unusual dinner party but maybe not so suitable for clumsy/drunk people.

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Crepes – These super thin pancakes can be found in a range of sweet and savoury fillings. From the classic chic crepe with sprinkles of sugar to packed melted cheese, ham and runny egg. Oh yes. Pancakes do not just need to be saved until shrove tuesday!

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Chouquettes – Sooooo good! *licks the screen* Teeny tiny mouthfuls of light choux balls covered in globs of thick sugar or chocolate drops are one of my fave things to get from the boulangerie. Just let’s not think about the calorie levels as everyone deserves a treat now and then right?

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Aperitif – Pre dinner drinks are not that uncommon back home but over here as much care and attention is given to the aperitif as the main dinner. Don’t be swigging a glass of rose wine as you finish getting ready or do your makeup oh no! You need to all be sat together popping champagne corks, passing round platters of perfectly proportioned amuse-bouche and grazing on saucisson, olives, crackers, blinis and crudités. Just make sure you leave enough room for the rest of your dinner!

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Cheese – I am more of a sweet than savoury girl but even I have difficulties saying no when the cheese plate gets passed around after the evening meal. Yes every evening meal! From stinky Roquefort to gooey Camembert to melting brie and creamy goat’s cheese the cheese shops and supermarket aisles are packed with choice for fromage fans.

Have you got a fave French dish?

Testing Out Hiking Boots

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I surprised myself at my level of fitness after completing a jaw droppingly beautiful hike round the Himalayas last year where my ugly but practical hiking shoes were tested to the limits. After wiping off goat and donkey poo I decided to try out some new boots with ankle support, which I didn’t have last time. You can see more backpacker style here but lets all agree that finding nice looking walking boots is a mission impossible? Mmm sexy.

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As it was the European Patrimoine weekend where loads of museums, art galleries and tourist attractions were free (even the main attractions in Paris are free, which is a perfect time to visit if you are travelling on a budget just expect a whole lotta queues!) it was a great excuse to check out the World War Two barracks at the top of the cliffs in my French town and test these boot babies out with a windswept walk.

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When the town was occupied by the German troops during the war they built barracks, a hospital and hidden concrete shelters that acted as vantage points over the sea. We joined a tour and were led through sturdy structures in the near dark with just the sound of crashing waves and howling wind ringing in our ears. It was pretty eerie!

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After the history lesson and wanting to stretch our legs as well as take in the view we ambled across fields, dodged cows and got slightly lost to see how the grip of the hiking boots held up. Breathing in good old sea air was the perfect hangover cure that soon woke us up and cleared our heads so we could make it back home safely!

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I definitely didn’t wear the right socks for the heavy boots as afterwards the back of my ankles were red raw! I still haven’t decided if I will stick with my old faithful shoes or take my clodhopping boots when we go to South America. Have you done much hiking? If so which type of shoe or boots would you recommend?

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Pre-Trip Panic!

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With the countdown to our South America trip already chiming away I am starting to get that anxious feeling of Pre-Trip Panic! You know the one where you are scrambling around trying to get everything ticked off your to-do list, staring at the mountain of things you NEED to pack and knowing that you will have to make some tough choices on what (i.e. most of it) will get left behind. It’s like Sophie’s Choice of the suitcase world, even though you have procrastinated watching Zoella and Lift Prank videos putting it off. Does anyone else do this?

So to calm myself down what better way than to make a good ‘ol list and try to make sure everything gets done that needs to get done:

Pack – I think I have everything I need and am desperate to try and keep my bag as light as physically possible. Wish me luck. But I already know I have too much stuff so am preparing myself to pack and repack about 10,000 times with much crying and clinging on to clothes in the process.

Travel Insurance – It is a minefield of policies, deals, information and stress inducing crap out there in regards to spending money that will save your ass. But if you saw my post yesterday where I questioned just how important is this pricy piece of paper you may understand the essentials a little better. I am spending waaaay to long on this task so am determined to get this sorted today.

Accommodation- I have booked the flights but so far not began the search of where we will sleep the first night we arrive. My go-to websites for this are Hostel World and Booking.com but I really should get this sorted soonish otherwise I wonder how comfy the sand on Copacabana beach is?

Sort Money Out – I wrote a post here about how to be a savvy spender but I haven’t decided how much we will take as cash or sorted this out yet. I don’t like travelling with wads of cash but we will need enough so at least when we arrive we can get food and to wherever it is that we will be sleeping. My bestie told me about these travel cash passport cards which I may peruse. Have you used them before?

Choons – My iPod is desperate for a good overhaul as all the songs that currently sit on the small grey thing are either really old, heard a million and one times or too embarrassing to be seen singing along to in public. I like to have new music for each trip/country I go for the happy memories. I still get shivers when I hear One Day Baby as this was on repeat when I got my tattoo. Speaking of which I am very much tempted to be adding to my small collection whilst we are away…

Technology – I am taking a small teeny tiny laptop to allow me to keep writing and blogging thankfully my lovely mummy has lent me hers but I need to remove all her files to make space for ALL of the photos I will be taking. Seriously snap happy!

The other things I need to sort are cancelling contracts, telling the bank I will be away so hopefully they don’t put a stop on my card and boring bits like that really. Now I have written this all down it doesn’t look like too much actually. Maybe I can go and faff around on You Tube for a little longer after all.

How Important Is Travel Insurance?

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When I went backpacking last time I spent a small fortune on travel insurance as I was overly anxious about all the bad things that could/would happen to me especially as I was going solo. Turns out I surprised myself and didn’t lose anything/ break anything or die. Go me.

So therefore that money could have been better spent on the trip itself surely? But as the saying goes it is better to be safe than sorry. As if anything had happened I would be in a whole heap of crap/bankrupt/in jail. I read somewhere that coming home having not made a claim is the best case scenario. Just irritating you can’t reclaim it back after!

Depending on where you go and how long for travel insurance can seem quite costly but if you break it down by how much this will cost you each day you are away it doesn’t actually amount to much but it will save you loads of hassle and cash if you don’t have it. Some say it is the single most important thing you can buy for your trip. So with that in mind I have been scanning the interweb for the best deals and the greatest coverage on travel insurance for our next trip to South America but as there are so many companies out there all with differencing plans and rules it can be a minefield.

A backpackers faveourite is World Nomads who have excellent reviews for their customer care but it is also handy to check out some of the price checking comparison websites such as TravelSupermarket or GoCompare to see who ticks all of the below boxes for you!

What to look for:

Medical Expenses – The most important feature on your travel insurance policy is for your health. Covering your stay in a hospital, repatriation and emergency evacuation (ie. getting you out of a dangerous place and bringing you back home but make sure they include the flight not just the medical set up), ambulance costs, medication etc as these can all add up depending on where in the world you are. Look for a policy that covers at least £100,000 but most are in the region of £3million.

Be Honest - If you have a medical condition it’s worth making sure you explain this clearly to your insurers before you take out the claim. These guys can be quite sneaky so if they can find a way to get out on a loophole like this they most likely will.

Cancellation – If you have to cancel your trip for whatever legit reason it’s worth having this on your travel insurance policy so you will receive what you have already paid out depending on how much you have paid already.

Bags- It needs to cover if your bags get are stolen, damaged or destroyed as well as delayed. But how about making sure your passport is covered as it’s more than likely you will be out and about with this deep red friend than your huge bag. Some companies include passport/travel documents in with their baggage coverage others keep this separate either way make sure it is covered.

Gadgets – With more and more people travelling with pricy electricals such as ipads, ipods, iphones, laptops, DSLR’s, GoPros and other techno chic appliances it is worth checking you have enough coverage for these things on top of your normal bag coverage.

Personal Liability – If you accidentally do something that causes harm to another human being then any legal fees will be covered by this.

Financial Failure – If your hotel/airline/tour company/car hire goes bust then you will receive the money you paid out before they went into liquidation. Make sure your policy covers non ATOL protected trips too.

Crazy Sports – Always check that those insane activities are covered in your travel insurance as not all extreme sports are covered such as paragliding or bungee jumping unless you pay extra to add it in.

Check Ts & Cs - It is worth reading all the small print as then you will know what you aren’t covered for too. Most insurers spell out quite clearly that if you are under the influence of alcohol, drugs or reckless behaviour then you can kiss bye bye to that claim.

Paper Trail -Make sure you keep a copy of all your receipts if you do need to claim and before you go have the emergency hotline phone number saved in a safe place. Hopefully you will never have to call them but just in case.

Right I’m off to get mine booked – wish me luck!