Long haul (economy!) flying essentials

As a long haul novice flying solo back in 2012, I got everything a bit wrong. I overdid it on the inclusive food and drink (and threw up during my transfer…), wore my walking boats to save space in my bag without bringing any alternative footwear for the 13 hour flight, and I dressed for the hot climate at the other end (trekking outside Beijing) as if getting changed EVER AGAIN was simply not an option. 7 years – and countless flights – later, I’ve learned a few things, and I thought I’d share some of my ideas in a post, in case it helps just one other flyer survive their first long haul flight in economy class…

First, dress for comfort! I don’t mean you should ignore the climate at the other end (and layer up for that exact reason!) but the 12+ hours before you get there are pretty important too, and nobody cares what you look like once those lights are dimmed. So think leggings, harem pants, joggers etc. And for the girls, a comfortable and well-fitting bra – I know it’s a flight not a HIIT class but it’s a long time to cope with bra niggles. I usually wear flight socks too, which is even more reason to wear joggers not a sun-dress.

I tend to take a packed-to-the-brim backpack with enough to survive the flight and my first 48 hours if my checked luggage doesn’t join me at my destination – and yes, this has happened to me before. Of course it’s not a zombie apocalypse and there are shops outside the UK, but who wants to waste time shopping when you could be exploring!

So here goes, my suggestions for what to pack for your first long haul flight…

1. Slippers – for ultimate comfort. Remember to pack a washable pair, as they won’t be pleasant after your return flight!

2. Chilly’s Bottle (or similar) – carry through security empty then top up with cold water before you board. A chilly’s bottle will keep the water cold for your flight so you don’t have to keep requesting it, but remember to top up again or save some for immigration, as this can be hot, air-less and long!!

3. Spares – undies, swimwear, change of clothes, whatever you think you’ll need to cover your first 48 hours.

4. Guide book with basic language translation for your destination – It’s just basic courtesy to at least attempt to speak the language. It’s also an ice-breaker when you check your pronunciation.

5. Climate specifics – scarf/hat/gloves, insect repellent, sun-screen…

6. Nap kit – think ear plugs, eye mask, neck pillow – handy to protect yourself against the snorers. The easyJet fearless flyer course has cured my all-encompassing fear of flying, but I’m still pretty vigilant during flights (as though I’d be any sort of help in a mid-air emergency) so I struggle to nap. A good neck pillow and some downloaded meditation tends to help. I love my Isaac Mizrahi neck pillow, it’s super-soft and filled with clever supportive foam.

7. Hydration – for the outside this time, as flying really dries out your skin. I love Origins Original Skin Renewal Serum with Willowherb. Remember a hand cream, moisturising anti-bac hand gel, and lip balm too.

8. Entertainment – book, tablet, notebook, headphones – whatever will help you pass the time! Even if the airline has an amazing film/tv selection, tech issues for the entertainment system can disrupt your fun (does this happen to other people or just flights I’m on?!), so take a few things to keep you going.

9. Hygiene and cosmetics – toothbrush and paste (some airlines provide this, some don’t), make-up (remember to separate your liquids for security), comb, hairband, compact mirror, roll on deodorant, whatever you need so you can step off the plane feeling vaguely human!

10. Things you don’t want to lose – on the whole I tend not to travel with unnecessary valuables, but I do carry a camera and kindle, so I keep these with me in case my baggage doesn’t reach the other end or gets damaged in transit.

I hope this helps if you’re packing for your first long haul flight – or if you think I’ve missed something crucial or just disagree about the essentials, share your ideas on Twitter: @TBSTraveller

Above: A few of my travel favourites.

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Finding something wonderful in Rhodes

Compromise is a tricky thing, and usually means doing something you don’t really want to… so when it comes to holidays, compromising can be tough! In our house, we tend to take it in turns to pick trips from our … Continue reading

Edinburgh: 10 Must-dos in the Scottish Capital

Edinburgh is a beautiful, buzzing city and there’s always something new to explore. Last year I took Mr TBST to this awesome city to celebrate his 30th, and we later returned for the Fringe Festival and Military Tattoo, squeezing in as many classic Edinburgh experiences as we could.

You can fly to Edinburgh with ‘budget’ carriers from a number of UK cities, and there are great rail and bus links. If you’re flying, the Airlink return transfer from the airport is cheap and cheerful and the bus will take you into the city centre. And if you’re looking for reasonably priced and central accommodation, the Hub by Premier Inn is compact but friendly and just off the Royal Mile.

So here are my personal top 10 recommendations for an Edinburgh first-timer…

1. Take a walking tour. OK yes this may be a little obvious, but Edinburgh truly is a walking city, and you can take your pick of tours: Historical, Haunted, Sherlock, Harry Potter…. the choice is yours, but definitely take a tour, get your bearings and maybe even learn something. Many are free, and most are advertised along the Royal Mile. My favourite was the Sandemans ‘Dark Side’ tour with the brilliant Angus.

2. Join the gin craze at the Edinburgh Gin experience. Confession time… This gin is so good that we paid for checked luggage to fly our new gin supplies home! The Gin Connoisseur Tour will introduce you to some Edinburgh Gin classics, and by the time you leave you’ll be firm friends. Try the Navy Proof gin… if you dare!

3. Try something a little different at the Panda and Sons speakeasy. If you like your cocktails with a side-helping of prohibition-era glamour and pictures of animals wearing clothes, this is the spot for you. This kitsch secret bar is hidden behind a barber shop front with a false bookshelf door, and if you can find your way in you can reward yourself with a cocktail served in a take-away box – or something equally creative from their unusual menu.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat. Head out early on a clear day for spectacular views, and clear your head after all that gin! So pack your walking boots, it’s worth the hike.

5. Get lost in the past at The Real Mary Kings Close. The eerie underground streets are the true Old Town, with 400 years of history to share, and the brilliant actor-guides will entertain you while giving a very real history lesson.

6. Pay your respects to Greyfriars Bobby. This beautiful commemorative statue to a loyal pooch is popular with visitors and always attracts a crowd.

7. Get swept up in the excitement of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I admit I was sceptical as I thought military bands might be a bit stuffy, but the event brings together entertaining performances from global military groups, and Edinburgh Castle is the perfect setting for this annual August event. The iconic lone piper is both haunting and beautiful, and the fireworks and visuals are super. Just remember to wrap up warm!

8. Indulge in a full Scottish breakfast at Whiski bar. This friendly bar is quickly becoming a tradition for our Edinburgh visits, offering reasonably-priced Scottish fare on the Royal Mile.

9. Stroke a bald cat in the Maison de Moggy Cat Café. Feels like velvet. Promise.

10. LOL at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Famed for its comedy, this August festival is about so much more, with drama, dance, cabaret, street performers, talks, burlesque… Navigate the frankly overwhelming Fringe programme or just see what takes your fancy. It’s a down-to-earth festival with artists flyering their shows up and down the Royal Mile and beyond, so you’ll have plenty of choice. At last year’s festival we spent a lot of time at Whistlebinkies, and the Waverley bar on St Mary street had some great comedy too. Some of the best (and worst!) things we saw were spontaneous and free – it’s all worth a punt. After all, laughing is good for you!

So that’s my top 10 Edinburgh first time activities, and I’ve just realised that most of them involve food and drink. No surprise there I guess!

Happy Travels x

70ish hours in charming Ljubljana

After a blogging sabbatical while I started life as a student, I’m desperate to write for pleasure again! I’ve squeezed in a few trips, so I’ve some catching up to do, and I’ll start with beautiful Slovenia.

Mr TBST and I headed to this tiny yet justifiably proud country in southeast Europe for an Easter break, flying into Ljubljana from Bristol on Easter Sunday. Home to around 2m people, the first thing we noticed was how friendly the locals are! Our taxi driver waited over 2 hours when our plane was delayed and still had a smile on his face when we reached Arrivals, and our air bnb host rocked up on her bicycle at midnight when the flight delay made us late.

Ljubljana is an easy city to explore and it really has got it all… Cafe culture, orange wine, a crazy pastiche of architecture, and of course the obligatory free walking tour! Ljubljana was named 2016 European Green Capital, and central Ljubljana is pedestrianised and relaxed – you can book a free electric golf buggy-style ride if you want to get across the Old Town quickly, or you can meander along the Willow-lined river at your own pace. Treat yourself to the free daily walking tour (https://ljubljanafreetour.com/). Expect the usual – humour, history, quirky tales… oh and a free shot of honey liqueur, yum! Ljubljana Castle is worth the steep uphill wander too (or save your thighs and jump in the furnicular!), and while you’re in the area grab lunch at Vodkinov Hram – a great spot for goulash, veggie croquettes and a shot of something local to finish off the meal.

And if you enjoy sampling the local cuisine and beverages as much as we do… Slovenian beer is great, grab a Lasko, or seek out a trendy micro-brewery. Wine-lover? Slovenia shares a border with Italy, so maybe it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Slovenia produces good wine. Sadly they only export about 10% of their wine production, so it’s unlikely to pop up in your local Sainsburys, but when in Ljubljana, you can go wine-tasting with the knowledgable Boris in a 300-year-old cellar (https://winetastingljubljana.com/). Boris will introduce you to seven wines, including orange! Slovenia is a hotspot for orange wine production. Technically a white wine, orange wine production uses a traditional process to produce a delicious amber liquid more often found in Michelin starred restaurants. More of a foodie? Slovenian cuisine is a beautiful fusion, influenced by their Italian and Hungarian neighbours, among others, and some gorgeous traditional delicacies of their own (try the Bled cake!). Ljubljana isn’t the most noticeably vegetarian-friendly city I’ve visited, but I had several fantastic omelettes, and Chefs were happy to adapt recipes to suit. Head to the top of the skyscraper for breakfast or a slice of the incredible layer cake, and as always if you head away from the tourist hotspots you can find some little gems of cafes.

Ljubljana is full of rustic charm and beauty, but outside of the city is where I really fell in love with Slovenia… mountains, vineyards, glacial lakes, ski resorts, it’s a very special place, and exploring it feels like you’re being let into a well-kept secret.

There is public transport from Ljubljana out to the famous Lake Bled (30ish minutes drive), or you can book a tour that’ll take you further afield without any faff. We booked a one-day small group tour through Viator and it was INCREDIBLE. We expected to be squashed into a stuffy coach and shepherded around at fixed stops, but honestly we couldn’t have been more wrong. Our guide picked us up from our apartment in a new and super-clean people-carrier, and we found there were just 6 of us on the tour. The itinerary was negotiable and our guide rearranged the day based on the weather forecast. Top Man.

We started with Lake Bled, taking a traditional pletna to Bled island. Pletna are wooden rowing boats with colourful awning, expertly steered by local boatsmen. The tiny island has a church, temple, gelato shop and cafe, and very little else, so you don’t need long there, and when you disembark you’ll helpfully be given a designated time for your return journey (this website is v helpful: http://www.bled.si/en/what-to-see/natural-sights/the-bled-island). While in Bled, enjoy a sparkling Slovenian wine overlooking the lake, or try the Bled cream cake. There’s a decent walk around the lake, and of course the castle overlooking it. Dotted around the lake are boathouses and pretty houses resembling Swiss chalets. There’s a relaxed vibe, and it’s easy to lose track of time pottering around the gift shops.

We then headed to the third most visited attraction in Slovenia: Savica waterfall. This is worth the short (approx 25 mins) uphill hike! It’s mostly stone steps, but when we visited we were battling remnants of snow and ice. It’s worth taking walking boots (I did it in converse daps and it was a bit hairy). This is close to Lake Bohinj and the Mount Vogel ski resort, so, still inappropriately dressed (it was sunny on the ground, honest!), we took the Mount Vogel cable car up 1.5km, where we found snow, and lots of it, as well as spectacular views of Lake Bohinj. Grab a beer in the ski lodge or hit the slopes, before heading back to the city.

I went to Ljubljana expecting a great city break, but what I got was so much more! And with short flight times from the UK, Slovenia is an easy and beautiful country to explore. Enjoy!

Frolics on the French Riviera – Top 10 Nice Highlights

The best thing about the beautifully crafted Sky Atlantic show Riviera were the endless captivating shots of clear blue sea, and sunshine glittering on the water… clichés galore and I LOVED it. I spent 10 episodes drooling over the scenery (much more interesting than the show!), and … Continue reading

Live like a local in Sala Comacina

A few weeks ago Mr TBST and I headed to the pretty, sleepy village of Sala Comacina on the edge of Lake Como. We’ve been crazy busy since our honeymoon, and it was finally time to rejuvenate in one of my favourite places in the whole world – Italy. Each region and city is different from the last, but will greet you like an old friend you can’t wait to join for a chilled drink on a sun-soaked terrace. This year I wanted to explore somewhere new, and if it’s good enough for Mr Clooney…

We found our perfect hide-away on Air bnb – Suite Regina in Sala Comacina offers guests a floor to themselves; a large bedroom with balcony overlooking the lake and a huge bathroom with claw-foot tub and waterfall shower. Hello serenity!

To reach Sala Comacina, we flew into Milan, took the airport express train as far as Saronno, then hopped onto a regional train to Como itself. From there, Sala Comacina is a C10 bus ride away. This post-flight trio took us about 2 and a half hours, but was super easy and the bus tracks the edge of Lake Como, so it’s a very special introduction to the region.

On arrival, our lovely host Wendy gave us a tour of the village’s bars and restaurants, some of which get booked-up for dinner several days in advance, so I’d recommend planning and pre-booking if possible. One of my favourites was the Lido Di Sala Comacina, where you can dine al fresco from a simple but delicious home-cooked menu, with a gorgeous house wine. Locals in every bar/café in the village greeted us with “ciao” and a nod when we walked in, giving us that cosy feeling of familiarity, and plenty of opportunities to try out our Italian lingo (and gesture wildly while speaking loudly in English).

The Italian lake-side streets are incredibly narrow and parking in the villages is limited, so trains, buses, lake ferries and water taxis are the best way to get around, and make it very easy to explore further afield. A ferry-journey away, the “Pearl of the Lake” town of Bellagio offers a panoramic view of the Lake, and its narrow, cobbled streets are full of boutiques, wine bars and tucked-away roof terraces. Isola Comacina is the only island on Lake Como, and its historic ruins, picnicking spots, and viewpoints make it worth a visit. The island can be reached by water taxi from Sala Comacina, or by lake ferry from many of the other towns. Tip: Take your own refreshments onto the island, 2 cans of soft drink and 2 small ice creams cost us almost £20.

Lake Como is naturally and unapologetically romantic, with the kind of distracting beauty that grabs your attention and won’t release it. Waking up beside the Lake and eating fresh pastries on the balcony feels like pure indulgence, but budget airlines and self-catering accommodation make Italy a great, flexible option for couples on a budget, and whether you visit for 3 days or 3 weeks you’ll take something indefinable away with you.  I would visit again tomorrow, and the next day, and for the rest of my life.

Ciao!

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Above: Beautiful architecture in Sala Comacina

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Above: Bellagio

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Above: Sala Comacina village, as seen from the lake