Lefkes: The Ancient Capital of Paros

Normally I’m quite on the ball when I travel, I look up all the places to go and I know the destination inside and out before I have even stepped on the plane. But my trip to Paros was different, this was a holiday with my sister, this wasn’t a photography trip. However, anyone that knows me knows that part of my enjoyment of a holiday is taking hundreds of photos, I can just take them without the pressure of having to capture certain content. My sister knew I would be wanting to visit some different places on the island and it was actually she who stumbled upon Lefkes.

I had seen photos of this town before but I never knew where exactly it was, so I was pretty chuffed to discover it was only a 20-minute drive from where we were staying in Naousa!

Lefkes is a traditional mountain village in the heart of Paros Island. Whilst it is not on the coast as many of the other towns and villages, its mountainous location means you still get stunning sea views and you can see out to the island of Naxos, it also means you can find a bit of a breeze! The village was the original capital of Paros, now Parikia, and began to thrive in the 15th century. The original residents came over on boats from Crete, they built their village on the mountain to protect them from pirates.

Walking through Lefkes is like walking through time, backwards. The whitewashed sugar cube houses are still inhabited by local people. The population of the town dropped rapidly as many of its people moved to Athens for economic reasons, however, now that tourism has reached the island, the 545 inhabitants are able to live a largely peaceful life with some economic prosperity.

You can walk through the town on foot, there are parking spaces available too, however, there are no cars able to get into the village centre (one of the many reasons why Lefkes has remained so unspoilt). It is a photographer’s paradise, and if I had the time to get back into painting, I would have loved to sit here with an easel for the day and painted until my heart was content.

There are a number of churches in the village, as well as tavernas for eating and drinkings and a couple of tourist shops too. The Church of Agia Triada (Holy Trinity) is the largest church and overlooks the village. This Byzantine church is made of fine white marble that shines in the sun, it is also home to rare and valuable Byzantine icons that you can look at. Luckily the village has retained its authentic feel, with many of the residents tending to their olives, grapes, chickens and even donkeys! I imagine if we all had the chance to live here for a while we would have improved attention spans, blood pressure and our stress levels would be minimum!

My sister and I visited in early June which I would highly recommend. The sun shone and the temperature peaked around 27°C (80°F), we were treated to undisturbed views over to neighbouring islands. It was also a pretty quiet time to visit, I know during the height of summer some tourist buses arrive, I would have been slightly gutted had that happen when we came…

For those who don’t drive, you are able to visit Lefkes by bus from larger towns and villages such as Parikia and Piso Lavardi. If you want to visit by bus from Naousa you will need to first get a bus to Parikia and change to get one to Lefkes. You are also able to get a taxi from Parikia and Naousa which cost around €10-€15 and takes just 15 minutes. Please note if you have mobility issues you will struggle to walk in and out of the village as it is very hilly with some steps.

Is Paros The Best Island in Europe?

The readers of Travel and Leisure magazine have recently voted Paros as the best island in Europe, and the second best island in the world. I decided to try it out for myself and on 5th June I boarded a plane from London Gatwick to Mykonos before heading to Paros to experience the island for myself.

There are thousands of stunning islands in Europe, and like Paros, many of these are in the Mediterranean. I am sure we have all heard of Santorini, Sardinia, Ibiza, Mykonos and Corsica etc, but how many of us would have known where Paros was if we had been asked 5 years ago? I certainly knew of many Greek islands, but not this one.

In June 2018 Paros saw 77,594 visitors to the island. The island is in the stunning Cyclades Islands of the Aegean Sea, just 5 miles from neighbouring Naxos. A brilliant spot for windsurfing, Paros is home to a number of stunning beaches, as well as a sprinkling of picturesque towns such as Naoussa and Lefkes.

I have visited a number of Greek islands including Mykonos, Corfu, Lesvos and Kefalonia, but nowhere quite took my heart like Paros did. But why? The towns themselves are characterised by those typical Greek, whitewashed streets with pink Bougainvillea raining down on them. Beautiful fishing villages and ports can be found all over the Aegean Sea, and the Mediterranean as a whole. But being able to walk through the streets of Naoussa during one lunchtime in June, I thought I had reached heaven. For this island did not seem quite so overrun as so many others do, my sister and I at 1pm had a vast amount of the harbour to ourselves, we enjoyed a seafront meal without being surrounded by hoards of people.

Don’t get me wrong, Mykonos is beautiful, Kefalonia and Corfu too, but when you add in the peace and quiet, you know you have really reached somewhere special. But what lies in the future of this quaint island? In 1998 Greece saw 6.2 million tourists. In 2018 this number reached over 32 million. Nowhere in Europe has seen such a sudden and sharp growth that Greece has. Whilst it is great for the struggling Greek economy, I do believe we are at serious risk of trampling all over the charm of these islands.

The islands offer a maze of stunning streets, ones that look like they belong in a painting rather than real life, but what happens when you have 5 cruise ships bringing in 15,000 visitors alone each day? These streets get blocked up, prices increase, the islands chase the tourism rather than focusing on the historic charm. Luckily, Paros does not tend to get these cruise ships (other than the odd much smaller one), instead, they stop in nearby Mykonos, and I truly believe that is why the island has remained as wonderful as it is. But times are changing and with Instagram putting this island firmly on the map, I imagine beautiful Paros will undergo some serious changes over the next decade.

When I spoke to one of the locals she told me how she hopes Paros Airport will grow enough to bring in more tourists. Currently, you are unable to fly direct from the UK, I felt like hugging her and telling her everything she needs is already here. However, when these people rely on and make their money from tourists, you can’t really blame them for wanting more, can you?

Can Mykonos Really Be That Beautiful?!

10 years ago if you had mentioned Mykonos to me, I wouldn’t have a clue where it was. Fast forward to 2019 and we can all recognise a photo of it straight away. Thanks to Instagram, there are various places around the world that have gone viral due to their beauty. Mykonos is one of them.

However, I have been disappointed by a number of places I have first seen on Instagram, so when I was boarding a plane from London to Mykonos, I reminded myself not to get too excited, all those photos I had seen had probably been taken at 5am and edited to the max.

We arrived on the island around 9pm (thanks Easyjet for the delay!) and it was dark. We took a taxi to our hotel and instantly I felt like everything would be okay. Our hotel was absolutely gorgeous, and considering we hadn’t paid that much for it, it was a bit of a bargain too. It was a classic whitewashed, sugar cubed building, with a pool overlooking Mykonos Town.

The next morning I set my alarm for 7am, I wanted to find my way into town before the rest of the tourists. However, upon doing this, I realised a few hours later that I really didn’t need to! You see, in Greece, people don’t really get up too early. Mykonos is not a party island in the sense of Ibiza, but there are a good amount of bars and clubs that people sleep until midday. The people you see wandering around at 9am are either locals who are setting up their shops for the day or cruise passengers!

It became apparent within a few minutes that Mykonos is not only as beautiful as the photos online suggest, but even more so. Because in a photo you cannot capture the sounds, the smells, and the atmosphere.

I was only on the island for a few days, because of this I didn’t really have the time to go too far. My sister and I were spending the majority of our time on the nearby island of Paros, Mykonos was just our stepping stone. Mykonos is dotted with stunning boutique hotels with incredible infinity pools, thanks to the nature of the island’s terrain. It is a hilly island with picturesque towns spreading out towards the sea. I am sure there are many beautiful villages to explore, but Amie and I stuck to Mykonos Town, the largest town on the island and also the most convenient place to base yourself when you want to be close to the airport and the ferry port.

Mykonos Town is a maze of white streets with chequered pavements, blue shutters and depending on what time of year you visit, lots of pink bougainvillaeas. The main attraction is Little Venice, a collection of streets that lead down to some fantastic bars and restaurants on the seafront. This is also a great place to be at sunset!

Mykonos Town and the island as a whole is also home to a thick dusting of gorgeous churches, perfect for sheltering in when you need a rest from the sun. The reason there are so many is due to an ancient law in which islanders had to build a church on their land before they could build a house!

As you can see from the photos, you don’t have to be a photographic genius to show off the island’s beauty. Those who have followed me for a while know I am a photoshop novice, and whilst I use Lightroom to add filters over my photos, I have no idea how to add or take away objects from a photo, what you see is quite honestly what you get. This is the Mediterranean at its finest.

Week 1 of getting a puppy: What to expect

Okay so you have spent a year stalking random dogs on Instagram and tagging your husband in them all saying ‘pleeeaseeee can we get one!?’, or is that just me? Just kidding, it was actually my husband that initially raised the idea of getting a pup! However, the process between liking dogs and actually committing to one is much more complex than seeing a picture, going out and bringing an adorable bundle of fluff home.

I won’t go too much into how Alex and I finally chose our puppy Baxter, I will write something separate on that. But here you can expect to find the reality of week one with an 8-week old puppy.

Alex and I had read many horror stories online, people telling us puppies cry all night and we won’t sleep through the night for the next 6 months. We read that our puppy would be distraught leaving his home and he was for sure going to throw up in the car. We assumed it would be a week (or a month!?) of wiping up wee and having our furniture ruined, but it wasn’t half as bad as the online dog authors would have us to believe.

When we picked Baxter up, he was more than happy to come with us. Our journey home was around an hour and he didn’t cry or whine once. He was a little wriggly, and thirsty, so we had a portable dog water bottle which was a Godsend. We got out our car (that was full of newspaper because we assumed he would be sick/pee himself, he didn’t) and took him into his new home. We took him straight out into the garden and put him on the grass where he did a wee, we gave him lots of praise, cuddles and of course a treat. We then took him inside and put him on the floor and let him explore for a while, we were relieved that he ignored our shoes.

We didn’t want to put too much pressure on Baxter so day 1 was all about letting him decide what he wanted to do and when. In the afternoon we showed him his crate (where we hoped he would sleep), enticing him in with treats, keeping both doors open so he knew he could get out. We also put a water bowl inside his crate and that seems to be his go to drink now which is great, he already was seeing the crate as a safe place.

For the rest of the afternoon, we zigzagged between playing in the house and taking him out into the garden to pee. I think we only had one or two accidents inside. We had bought a lot of toys for him (dogs get bored easily and like variety), but we only gave him a few so he wasn’t overwhelmed.

Day 1 was a success, we had a slight scare in the evening, however. We sat down to watch Eurovision and Baxter was tired from playing, his breathing rate went from very fast to VERY shallow. So shallow that we thought he had stopped breathing altogether. In a blind panic we tried to wake him, he was very floppy and unwilling to wake up, cue Alex and I bawling our eyes out thinking we had somehow killed our dog on day 1. However, after around a minute, Baxter decided to wake up and find out what all the fuss was about. This episode taught us two things, firstly that we needed to always be aware of who to call in an emergency and what to do, and secondly, a dog that is in a deep sleep doesn’t want to be woken up and it takes him/her a while to be fully alert. It is also completely normal for dogs to breathe slower when they are asleep, no need to panic!

Once Baxter was back to being his sleepy self, we picked him up (around 9:30pm) and put him in his crate, along with some of his cuddly toys, blanket and a blanket with his mum’s scent on too. We left his water bowl in the crate too, not everyone thinks this is the right thing to do but we found that after 3 days and it’s part of his routine to have his water in there now.

He was very good at going into his crate, we gave him a treat to occupy him whilst we shut the door and put the blankets over it. We cover almost all the crate with blankets so it feels like a den for him, but it’s important to make sure he can breathe in there, so there needs to be enough air circulating!

Baxter did cry a little when we first shut him in the crate, we felt so mean! When I had a dog growing up, we didn’t have a crate for him, so I really wasn’t used to putting a dog in what looked like a cage! But he stopped crying after around 5 minutes and this is when Alex and I decided to go to bed as we didn’t want to disturb him. After having our showers and getting ready for bed, we heard Baxter whimpering for around 5 minutes, then all went silent. We ended up going to sleep around 10pm (usually we would go to sleep at 11:30 or around then), we were expecting to be woken up regularly through the night.

However, Alex and I slept and slept and did not get woken up, then we woke around 4:30am, because Alex had a sore throat. We looked at the time and started to worry that we hadn’t heard a peep from Baxter. We originally planned to get up during the night and take him out to the toilet, we thought he would cry if this was needed. We both started panicking, thinking our beloved pooch must be dead! Alex went downstairs to check on him, he didn’t want to put me through the trauma of finding a dead puppy! When he lifted the blanket up and peered inside, Baxter was sat up looking at him! Hurrah! He was alive! To celebrate, Alex took him out to the toilet then popped him back in his crate and came to bed.

Silence fell on the house again, but Alex couldn’t sleep due to his throat, so he ended up going downstairs and sleeping with Baxter on the sofa (or trying too…).

On day 2 we gave him his breakfast around 7am, then played with him for around an hour and let him sleep. We then played with him some more, wanting to tire him out as we were taking him to Alex’s mum’s house. Alex’s mum Jo is our main doggy sitter for when Alex and I can’t be at home, so we wanted him to get used to her and her house as soon as possible.

Transporting Baxter 10 minutes down the road to his ‘grandma’s’ house was also easier than we thought. We bought him a medium-sized, soft car carrier with a built-in fluffy floor that feels like a blanket (yes, we spoil our dog). We gave him a treat for going into the carrier so well, and strapped him into the car, he whimpered at first but was then good as gold again. He enjoyed exploring grandma’s house and loved her big garden. He spent the afternoon playing with a big football, learning how to kick it around.

The one mishap we had was when Baxter fell into the fishpond… Alex and his lightning reactions fished him out within seconds but he was one soggy doggy for the rest of the afternoon and he was in shock. It’s important when/if this happens that you try and get your puppy dry as soon as possible, spaniel’s are very prone to ear infections so this was our main concern.

Night 2 was another success, I heard him whimpering for around 30 seconds at 4am but then he went straight back to sleep!

Sleep

Sleep was the thing I was most concerned about, I had read SO many conflicting things. Some people saying he will wake me every two hours, some saying he shouldn’t have water in his crate, some people even insist on having dogs in the bed (no happening in my house!) and some say you should get up in the night and take them for a toilet break.

Baxter’s bed time routine goes a little something like this:

  • Dinner at 6pm
  • Toilet break
  • Playtime for an hour
  • Toilet break
  • Nap & sofa snuggles from 7pm-9pm
  • Toilet break
  • 15 minutes play
  • Last toilet break
  • Into his crate

So far this has not failed us (touch wood) and he manages to sleep through the night without having an accident. We do not restrict water before bed as we believe if he wants water, he is thirsty and needs it. The last 15 minutes of play is gentle playing, we don’t want to get him hyper but we want him to be tired enough to sleep. The sofa snuggles at night are our favourite, he is extremely calm and a lot more sleepy than in any point during the day. He becomes very tired from 8pm onwards and just wants a cuddle. We do not recommend poking and stroking them when they are asleep, just let them be, as tempting as it is to fawn over them.

Biting

Biting, after sleeping, was another of my concerns. Our downstairs is open plan and we have a glossy kitchen. We were really worried he would bite the heck out of the furniture. However, he so far has not attempted to bite the furniture at all, he licked the breakfast bar and decided he didn’t like it.

When he is excited, especially in the mornings and especially when Alex gets home from work, he can get scratchy and bitey. This is him playing, this is how he played with his siblings and is totally normal for dogs. This is what winds me up the most, but it’s important to stay calm and not shout at your dog, you don’t want him to be scared of you or his new home!

When Baxter starts nipping us, we say ‘ouch’ very loudly, and look away from him and ignore him completely until he has calmed down. It’s only week one so we can’t expect miracles from our puppies. In week 1, do NOT wear expensive or new clothes! He put holes in two of my dresses and then I decided from now on, I will wear scruffy clothes until he has learnt not to bite. He especially loves dangly things and floaty sleeves! Oh, and frills…

Toilet Training

Luckily for us, we have laminate flooring across the whole of the downstairs (except the study). This means any accidents can be cleaned up quickly and no fuss is made. If your puppy has an accident inside, there is no need to tell him off, just don’t give him any praise.

We originally took Baxter outside every hour for a wee, each time he would wee we would tell him well done! And give him a treat. We have had minimal accidents indoors with this approach. However, one thing I have noticed is sometimes we will take him out for a wee, he does one, then he comes inside and after 10 minutes pees on the floor. So now after each wee he does outside, we take him back out for another one 5-10 minutes later as sometimes they don’t let it all out!

If your pup does pee in the house, normal household cleaning products won’t fully break down the smell. So whilst we cannot smell it, your puppy can and may end up peeing in the same spot again. You can find special dog stain removers that break down the smell!

Food

Unlike adult dogs, puppies need food more regularly throughout the day. We felt it was important to get Baxter onto a routine as soon as possible so he has set meal times. He has a medium sized breakfast at 7am, a medium sized lunch at 12pm and he has a slightly larger dinner at 6pm. In between, he will have some treats which really helps with training. By keeping a routine with his food, it has really helped him cope with the household changes from moving from his original home and has offered him a great sense of comfort and security.

Socialisation

Whilst puppies are not allowed out (except for the garden) until they are fully vaccinated, it is really important you socialise them with all types of people, and if possible, other dogs.

The first day we had Baxter we kept him at home so he didn’t feel too much change. My mother and father in law came over to meet him in a very calm and more familiar environment. On day 2 we took him to my mother in law’s home, we wanted to get him used to her house as she will be the main carer when I have to go away for work.

He loved exploring her house, we made sure to stay by him so he felt safe, we walked him around her garden as well so he could familiarise himself. My mother in law gave him some of his own toys and had bought some the same as he has at our house, she has also bought him the same bed.

The next important bit of socialisation came when I invited my sister over with her two young children April (4) and Luna (19 months). Both kiddies are terrified of dogs, and Luna is terrified of all things fluffy. Dogs are able to sense situations well and Baxter was on his best behaviour immediately. We put his harness and lead on him so we had control over him at all times, we didn’t want him playing chase and scaring the girls. He mostly sat and watched the girls play, April plucked up the courage to stroke him and walk him on his lead. Both April and Baxter got a little overconfident and Baxter became more playful which ended up scaring April and causing some tears. This scared Baxter a little but it was important we got him used to all situations so we were happy with how things went.

Even though you can’t take your pup out until a week after he is fully vaccinated, you can still take him for walks. Alex and I took Baxter for a 20-minute walk around town. This gets him used to all the sights and sounds of the area, from sirens to lorries, to buses and aeroplanes! He definitely doesn’t like motorbikes…

Training

On day 1 we had Baxter sitting on command. Of course, we got a little ahead of ourselves thinking we had the world’s most intelligent, well-behaved dog in the land. We don’t, although he is pretty good!

How did we get him to sit? Treats.. lots of treats! Hold the treat in front of him and above him so he has to look up. Tell him to sit, he will instinctively sit as he looks up at the treat, we then give him lots of praise, and the treat, for sitting down. We have also managed to get him to ‘stay’. At first he would stay for about 1-2 seconds, now he will stay for a good 5+ seconds. Again, we used treats to do this, he learnt he would get a treat until he was invited to eat it.

The thing we struggled more with was ‘drop’. Dogs explore the world with their mouths so they want to put everything in it! In the first week we didn’t want to give too many commands so didn’t really work too much on drop. But him biting my clothes and refusing to let go did start to wind me up. Week 2 I started working on him to drop, 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening (not when he has just woken up or when Alex got home, puppies don’t take notice of commands when overexcited).

He has gotten a lot better, although he can often take some time to think about whether he actually wants to drop or not. I play a game of tug of war with him, I then tell him to sit, which he does, and I hold the toy still. I then bring out a treat, as I waft the treat under his nose I say ‘drop’, and he then makes a choice of treat or toy. Treat will win 9 times out of 10, so as he releases I tell him ‘good boy for dropping’ and feed him a treat. On day 2 he would drop before seeing the treat… result!

One of the most important parts of puppy training is positive reinforcement, praising the pups when they do something right! Then you will have a happy, well behaved furry friend.

Let’s All Move to Norfolk!

I don’t know what you know about Norfolk, but I can’t be the only one that instantly thinks of Norwich’s most famous broadcaster, yes… I am talking about Alan Partridge. But let’s be real here, Norfolk is a lot more than a comedic parody act that we all love to hate.

Norfolk, in the far east of England, has an interesting Saxon history. Being set within the right-hand side ‘bulge’ of the United Kingdom, this is one of the first areas that our Scandinavian neighbours arrived it. Norfolk was the northern half of the Kingdom of East Anglia and was ruled by the Anglo-Saxon Wuffing dynasty, unfortunately, we don’t know all that much about the people, it seems they didn’t like writing things down… Norwich is the hub of the county and was even the largest city in England after London during the medieval times, right up until the Industrial Revolution. This surprises some, Norwich is often thought of as a ‘country city’, surrounded by thousands of fields and undeniably is one of the most secluded cities in the UK.

Because of its isolation, Norfolk is one of the least densely populated counties of England, but this also means you can buy a beautiful home for the fraction of the cost of houses in the home counties. Norfolk is beautiful, with one of the longest coastlines in the country, perfect for dog walkers, country lovers and people who just enjoy clean air.

Below are some of my favourite houses currently on the market in this not so small corner of England:

The Green, Saxlingham Nethergate

In a world of ever increasing house prices, it seems nuts to me that it is possible to buy a beautiful period property with over 3 acres of land for just £595,000 ($759,000 USD). No, I’m not saying that’s affordable for everyone but when you consider a 3 bedroom home in Hertfordshire with a tiny garden costs far more than this, it is a bit of a steal.

This Grade II listed cottage dates back to the 17th century and has been recently updated by its current owners (underfloor heating included) so you don’t have to do a thing!

The Street, Wramplingham

A little more pricy than the house on the green, this Georgian country home is on the market for an eye-watering £1.65 million, but it is set within 6 acres of stunning gardens. The house is Grade II listed but an extension has been added onto the back of the house so it has undergone a level of modernisation.

The downstairs reception rooms make full use of the views out into the garden and there are a number of bay windows (my favourite!)

Belmont Grange, Scole

With 3 cottages that can be let out, £2 million doesn’t seem like the worst price tag in the world. After all, Norfolk is a very popular holiday destination, so during the high season, there is a fair amount of money to be made!

Morningthorpe, Norfolk

This beautifully restored manor house is on the market for a cool £1.6 million! Its charm, beauty and grandeur make it a great home to possibly turn into a wedding venue or something of the like.

Grade II listed, this home dates back to the 17th century and has oodles of its past dotted all around, it was substantially extended in the 18th century but still has the original staircase built in the 1600s. All the bathrooms have been refurbished, a brand new kitchen wing, the introduction of heating and the roof has been completely replaced too.

Whitwell, Norwich

This Grade II listed home is currently under offer to one very lucky buyer. With total privacy and seclusion, the residents of valley farmhouse can enjoy the full country experience at this house. There is also an onsite barn that can be converted into a number of different venues or uses.

It is thought the home dates back to 1700 and fell into disrepair until the 1970s when a previous owner bought and refurbished the property.

All properties can be found via the Savills and Knight Frank websites. Please note this article is in no way affiliated with either business.

London: Wisteria Watch

It’s that time of year, we have seen the cherry blossom, the magnolia, and now it’s time for the wisteria, perfect purple petals cascading down some of the most beautiful houses in London. The wisteria is like a fairytale, and walking around houses that cost millions of pounds might make you feel like you are in one for a few hours. Oh, did I mention the smell? Wisteria doesn’t just look pretty, it smells delicious and the fragrant scents waft from the branches all the way down the streets.

Whilst London is a large city with great transport links, there is nothing better than seeing each area on foot. For that reason, I won’t pinpoint each location in this write-up, where is the fun in that? Take a walk through London’s Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and see which of these gems you can find…

These three (above) are all on streets next to each other, so once you find one, you will be sure to find the others! Don’t underestimate these beautiful flowers, the vines they grow on spread fast and aggressive, the branches can even snap some objects that get in the way of their path.

My favourite doorway in Holland Park, when the wisteria is out that is! Wisteria vines will work their way into any crook or cranny they can reach, so it’s generally advised to not plant them too near to your home… oopsie!!

There is no shortage of pink doors either, across the whole borough! If you keep your eyes peeled in Notting Hill you can even find one complete with goggly eyes, no wisteria though sadly! Sun is essential to the growth of wisteria, so don’t be surprised if you walk down a street where one side is covered in wisteria and the other side is bare as a baby’s bum!

This street in Chelsea, Cheyne Walk, used to run alongside the River Thames, however, after the construction of the Chelsea Embankment, Cheyne Walk now runs parallel behind it. Cheyne Walk takes its name from William Cheyne, Viscount Newhaven who owned the manor of Chelsea until 1712. Most of the houses were built in the early 18th century. It’s a nice spot to be, probably why Mick Jagger lived here!

If you decide to take your dog on a walk to see these flowers in bloom, just be wary that wisteria is poisonous to animals, and humans! The first Wisteria was brought into Europe in 1816 by an English man. If you fancy planting some of these yourself, don’t worry if they don’t bloom first time around, wisteria is notorious for taking years to flower!

How is Instagram Changing The Way We Travel?

Around a year ago someone wrote on Instagram ‘where would you travel to if you couldn’t post it to Instagram’. There were so many places popping into my head, Antarctica, Zanzibar, the Maasai Mara, New Zealand. These places alone made me realise why it was such a good question, for these are the places we should be going to anyway.

Most people would look at pictures of the places mentioned above and think, well they are beautiful so why wouldn’t you Instagram them? I agree, they are stunning, however on Instagram we all get stuck in a niche, and as beautiful as a lioness and her newborn cubs are if I post that on my Instagram I can guarantee my followers would either scroll past or at least do a double take on who posted them.

As soon as you start travelling for Instagram, the sooner the joy of travelling leaves you. It becomes a job, a mission to get certain photos. I get pre-travel anxiety… what if it’s busy? What if the weather is bad? What if I don’t get any nice photos? For two years this was the norm for me, I didn’t question it. But recently I realised I wasn’t enjoying these places as much as I should, I wasn’t sitting back and watching the world go by, I was watching everything through a lens.

Travelling for myself

In March I booked a trip to Thailand with Alex, a gift for his 30th birthday. Usually, when I go abroad I reach out to hotels and ask if they would like to collaborate with me, this is where I stay at their hotel for free in return for publicising them on my Instagram account. This is pretty normal when you are a travel blogger, but as soon as you do that, the trip becomes a work trip. The reason we do this is that we could never afford to travel to all these places if we were constantly paying for hotels, our followers enjoy seeing our travels and this makes it possible, so I’m okay with that. I know some people are against such collaborations but as long as the user is being honest in their reviews, I believe it can benefit the brand, the traveller, and their audience.

Thailand was to be different for us, this was a gift from me to Alex, this was a time he desperately needed to relax and so did I. So I went online one evening and I booked the whole thing outright, my bank balance was in a fair bit of pain, but the excitement and thought of going on holiday to relax outweighed that scary feeling of clicking on ‘confirm payment’.

On the plane I felt relaxed, there was no anxiety of ‘what if I can’t get any good photos?’. For four days we stayed on an island named ‘Koh Yao Yai’ in the Andaman Sea. For four days 23 hours of my day were spent without a camera in my hand. I took some photos, but they were just holiday photos, as I would have before Instagram came about, no pressure. Those four days will stay with me forever, pure happiness and relaxation. I have never been so calm and neither has Alex. He often benefits from the travel collaborations I partake in, but if I’,m honest, my constant need to photograph things does get on his nerves.

Not surprisingly, the world didn’t burn down around me because I wasn’t Instagramming every day and sharing every moment of my trip. My followers all wished me safe travels and a happy holiday, to be honest, they were probably in need of the break too! They were all still there when I did check in, and when I did post photos of my holiday they told me to get back to relaxing, and rightly so.

The last few years I have been going through phases where I think ‘what is the point in life?’. Not in a morbid or depressive sense, I genuinely was confused. Were we supposed to wake up, work, eat, go to sleep and repeat every day? What was I supposed to be doing now that I freelance? Should I be doing something every moment of the day in order to be productive? I used to go on holiday and love every second of it, this was before Instagram before I was taking photos of everything, but now I find myself worrying that if I’m not taking photos then I am wasting an opportunity.

I can’t believe it took me a few days in Thailand to realise that the point of life was not the same for everyone, even between Alex and I I’m sure it’s different. For me I have learnt the point of life is to be happy in each and every moment, to always be present, to realise that I don’t always have to be doing something, seeing something or sharing something.

I don’t think it is just me that is guilty of this, I don’t think it’s just full-time Instagrammers that are guilty of this, I think we all are in part. We all share snippets of our lives on Instagram, and usually, these tend to be the best snippets. But this is destroying the way we travel, and it is destroying the enjoyment of travel. We are choosing picturesque locations to point and shoot rather than choosing life-changing experiences and interactions.

Finding a new world

Instagram has connected the world in more ways than we can imagine. How many of us have discovered incredible new locations through this platform? I certainly have. If it wasn’t for InstagramI’m not sure my husband and I would have found El Nido 5 years ago, a beautiful place in the Philippines and one I will never forget. I am off to Paros in the Greek Islands in June, again, I would not have known this place to exist had I not seen it on Instagram. I am taking a break with my sister, again I have no pressure at all to post a thing, so it is a week in the sun I can just enjoy with her, relax, and if I want to whip out the camera I can do it on my own terms.

Keeping it real

Personally, for me, I try and keep my photos as real as possible. There are some incredible photos out there, people who are talented at photoshop and naturally want their photos to look as best as possible. But for me, I have been disappointed in certain locations I have seen on Instagram compared to what they were in person. When you have a certain amount of followers I believe you have a responsibility to be truthful, if you know your photography is influencing others to visit specific destinations, then be honest with your editing.

There has been a rise recently in the people that I follow who share ‘behind the scenes’ of their photos, I love this, it takes their audience on the journey from shooting the shot, editing it, and posting it. It gives their followers a taste of the real thing and the perfect version, that’s fine by me, people know what they are getting into. I have seen amazing ‘visual art’, Instagrammers who create magical scenes in real places, they can fill the sky with stars, add a perfect rainbow behind the Eiffel Tower, and even get a picture-perfect shot of Big Ben from a plane window. Of course these scenarios are often not possible, if you look up at the sky in any major city you will notice the light pollution has destroyed our chances of seeing the stars, anyone that has flown into London City or London Heathrow Airports know you can see major landmarks but they are far too distant to capture in a half decent photograph. The Instagram accounts that post these images will often provide a disclaimer, their audience knows it isn’t real but they enjoy the art, that’s fine by me. However, I have seen instances where an image is clearly faked, the author has written about it as if it’s real. Their audience comment on these images, telling them how beautiful the location is, how much they want to see it for themselves. These comments are often left unanswered, so people will travel to these places expecting to see something that does not exist, that is a sure way for someone to end up disappointed.

Erasing ‘undesirable’ locations

I hadn’t thought about this too much until I was in London the other week. London has become one of the most Instagrammed cities in the world, and it’s not surprising. We have many recognisable landmarks, incredible history, great people and on every street corner there seems to be a restaurant decorated entirely for the purpose of enticing ladies and gentlemen who wish to take a snazzy photo.

What I am about to explain is something that I am personally guilty of, and many of my friends. This isn’t a dig, like I said, it is something that I do but only recently have I realised this. London is a huge city with over 8 million people in it and 32 different boroughs. But unless you live in London or are particularly familiar with it, you have probably never heard of Hounslow, of Enfield, you have probably never seen the high rise council blocks in south-east London, the sound of police cars whizzing to their next location. The rubbish on some of the streets, the homeless men and women who have no place to go, and the street fights on a Friday night. No, they aren’t ‘picturesque’, not in an Instagram sense anyway.

In London, we like to see the colourful houses of Notting Hill, the cherry blossom of Greenwich Park, the bookshops of Chiswick, the fancy cafes and houses of Kensington that we could only ever dream of one day owning. In fact, it is rare for me to see on my own feed even images of the famous landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. When I go into London with the purpose of taking photos, every place I end up tends to be a street in which houses cost millions of pounds. But behind these homes and pretty facades are tower blocks of men, women and children living in poverty. Take Grenfell for example, a story that shocked the world, a fire in which over 70 innocent people died because the local council cut corners to save money so its most vulnerable residents were not sufficiently protected. Did you know Grenfell Tower, not just a haunting shell of a building, can be seen from those areas of Notting Hill in which we all stroll through and share photos of flowers from?

We have all portrayed London as a very middle-class city, one which is pretty, ornate, and dare I say whitewashed? Not one that is currently going through a crisis of knife crime, lack of police resources and families who are struggling to feed themselves. I’m not saying London is bad, far from it, at the end of the day it is beautiful, it is democratic, anyone who lives there is living a much better life than many other places in the world, but it is not the perfect world you see on Instagram. I am sure the Parisians would say the same about Paris, I am sure those who live in Naples don’t spend every weekend driving along the Amalfi Coast stopping for lunch in Positano, this is a worldwide issue.

Why Instagram itself is guilty

I’m sure when Instagram was created, the two men behind the idea never dreamed that it would turn into what it is today. It speaks volumes that they have left the company they made, because they didn’t like the direction it was taken in.

The algorithm was brought to Instagram after it was taken over by Facebook. This algorithm often rewards those who post photos we can all recognise. This is because it is natural for us to double tap on an image we see often and have been conditioned into thinking is perfect. Views of Amalfi Coast, Santorini sunsets, swings over Bali and pictures of cake in front of Peggy Porschen’s very pink facade.

We see these images over and over again, but I don’t think the blame lies solely on the user, but with Instagram itself. The algorithm, whilst somewhat useful at times, more often than not doesn’t offer the chance for a photographer to take a new creative direction and try something they haven’t done before. I could post 10 photos of the same street in Castle Combe all from different angles, I would probably get a huge amount of likes on this, but, is that really what I want to do? Instagram is addictive and competitive, it has been created like this on purpose. It was designed to hold our gaze for as long as possible, we all fall in the trap of posting what we know will do well because let’s be real, more likes feels better than fewer likes doesn’t it?

Overcrowding

Thanks to Instagram, new destinations are constantly being thrown into the spotlight. Destinations that once had a very small tourism industry are suddenly being inundated by hoards of tourists. The infrastructure in these locations often buckle under the strain, but of course, you wouldn’t know that from a photo would you?

Authorities in Thailand had to close a beach in the Phi Phi Islands. This beach in Maya Bay was firstly famous from the Leonardo DiCaprio film ‘the Beach’, so received a lot of tourism from this. However, in the last few years, the tourism blew up to unprecedented levels, thanks to the constant stream of images we would see online. Too many tourists caused terrible damage to the marine life and ecosystems in the immediate area, the beach is now closed until the reefs have returned back to what they once were.

It’s not just Thailand that is being damaged by tourism, but places all over the world. Take Santorini for example, one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, now under a constant stampede of feet. Santorini has become one of the most recognisable images on Instagram, because of this their tourist numbers have exploded. In 1998, Greece peaked at 6.8 million tourists, in 2019, 15 million, in 2018 that number has reached a whopping 32 million tourists and there is no sign of that number dropping. It has seen the highest increase of any European destination! It is important to not the second largest jump in tourism was between 2010 and 2014, numbers increased by 7 million. Instagram was released in 2010, the largest jump has been between 2014 and 2018 where it jumped ANOTHER 10 million, this is the period in which Instagram saw the biggest boom in new users.

Any visitor to Santorini will be happy to tell you the truth of the destination… a beautiful island currently being destroyed by tourists who think they have a right to access people’s private properties for a photo, who climb across the roofs of resident’s homes so they can get the best sunshine shot, and the poor donkeys forced to carry heavy tourists up and down hills. I have not been to Santorini, and although I have been itching to see it, I don’t think I will be going anytime soon. This has been one of the major reasons I chose Paros for my personal holiday instead, although I fear that will one day end up the same.

The cost of a selfie

Just that phrase makes me shudder, it makes me feel like I am a parent whinging on at my child. But it’s true, how many people are putting themselves at risk for a photograph, just for Instagram? I have personally done it, stupidly, I actually had someone shout at me for it.

In 2015 an Australian tourist fell to her death in whilst trying to recreate the famous Instagram image at Trolltunga in Norway, a rock that juts out 700 metres above Lake Ringedalsvatnet. Despite a serious hike to get up and down to the rock, tourists come up in their hundreds to take a photo, some even have the audacity to complain about the lack of toilets and mobile signal at the top, as if this rock is some sort of set up tourist attraction rather than a natural feature in a beautiful landscape.

The solution?

Travel mindfully and don’t mimic others. Travel to the places you want to travel to, if you see something you like on Instagram, do your research, read reviews and check all is as it seems. Remember to live in the moment and watch the sunset with your eyes, not through your phone.

This is all advice I want to follow, I will keep sharing my experiences on Instagram and the places I visit, but I will be travelling where I want to go and not spending the entire time getting the ‘perfect shot’.

What it’s like being a Travel Consultant

As many of my readers know, I was once a travel consultant for a well-known luxury travel firm (tour operator) in the UK. This was my dream job (well I thought it was), and one I was in for around a year and a half, so I think I got a pretty good taste for everything the jobs entails. This article is about my experience, how I got the job, and what it entails!

Travel Agent vs Tour Operator

What many people don’t realise is there is a difference between a travel agent and a tour operator and the difference in the two jobs. I worked for a tour operator and my title was ‘Personal Travel Expert’. The difference? A travel agent is an agency that sells products from tour operators and hotels/airlines etc, a tour operator is the one who creates the initial package. So… a travel consultant working for a tour operator will sell their own product to a customer OR a travel agent, a travel agent will sell a package put together by a tour operator. I hope that makes sense?

Personally, for me, I think working for a tour operator gives you an extra level of expertise as you get to really know your product, you know exactly what you are selling and you are often specialising in specific destinations. That being said, travel agents have to learn about and remember details on a huge amount of products, that can’t be easy, and the clientele is often different too.

The Application Process

Before working as a Personal Travel Expert (I will call it a ‘PTE’ from now on), I worked in sales support for an upmarket African safari company. I wanted to take a step up to being the actual sales girl, rather than supporting sales staff. It was a natural progression for me, In December 2014 I quit my job in sales support and went travelling with Alex for 8 weeks to Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines (best experience ever, except the food poisoning..). On my return, I moved my life from Market Harborough in Leicestershire, down to Hertfordshire to move in with Alex. It just so happened that in the last few weeks of our Asian trip, a job became available in Welwyn Garden City at a luxury tour operator. I was so excited, I felt like my prayers had been answered, the timing was perfect for me and this was my absolute dream job!

The application process started with writing a short essay on my travel experience and why I thought I would be good for the job. This suited me well as I had no prior experience in selling directly (only supporting), and my main expertise for this job was the amount of travelling I had done. I sent the application off and enjoyed the rest of my holiday. After arriving back into England I received a call offering a telephone interview, I clearly passed this as I was then invited into the store where I would have an interview with the store manager and area manager.

I had to do a fair amount of preparation for the interview, I was offered three customer scenarios and had to put myself in the position of the sales consultant, the area manager would be the customer. The scenario I chose was selling a holiday to the Maldives to a honeymoon customer, there were more details about their wants but I can’t remember exactly. A week before the interview I visited the store to grab some holiday brochures, I wanted to be really prepared. I spent hours flicking through the brochures in order to find the perfect holiday for the customer, I was really nervous about the interview as I am very shy at first and I had never done a role play for a job before, so I didn’t know what to expect. The manager and area manager were both lovely people and I instantly felt at ease, the interview was a lot less intense than how it appeared on paper.

During the interview I was asked all the normal questions you would imagine for a job, we went into great detail about my personal travels, and the role play only lasted for around 5 minutes, the area manager acted as a fairly easy customer so it wasn’t too daunting.

I was offered the job within a few days, the store manager called me telling me she would love me to join, I was over the moon!

Training

For what many might see as ‘just a travel job’, the training was pretty intense. It would be a total of 6 weeks training, 5 weeks of which would be spent at the company’s head office in Surrey (around 1 hour 30 minutes from where I live). I was really nervous at first, training was done in groups so all new starters would be trained together, I had to pack my bags and drive down to Surrey and the first night spent in the hotel before training commenced I had no idea what to expect.

On day one I felt so much better. Everyone in the head office seemed very friendly and I was in a tiny group of three for the training, I was with a guy from Kent and a girl from Cambridge and we all got along very well.

The training was full on and covered a range of topics, there was a huge emphasis on the brand and its values which I appreciated, this definitely seemed like a brand I wanted to work for and a brand which cared about both the travel and its customers, which it genuinely did to be fair.

After a few weeks of training, I then had a week in the store where I would practice putting together itineraries (the systems were intense and looked like Teletext), picking up the phone, and basically shadowing the other PTEs. This was pretty overwhelming at the time and I felt completely out of my depth, but I put that down to being new. We then had our final weeks in Surrey where we learnt about (the majority of) the computer systems and booking process and then had to practice roleplay together of selling holidays, this including popping champagne correctly, making the perfect cup of coffee, and remembering to offer our ‘customers’ chocolates.

My Store

As I mentioned above, my store was in Welwyn Garden City, a small/medium sized town in Hertfordshire (ignore the fact the town name has city in it, it is most definitely not a city). Welwyn Garden City is a nice place, if you ignore the kids that get bored during school holidays and harass you when you are tucking into some chips in McDonald’s, our clientele had a lot of money and the store was actually based within a John Lewis store (that is a middle-class department store for those unfamiliar with our UK shopping!).

At the time of joining our closest stores were Brent Cross (30 minutes), Cambridge (1 hour), and Milton Keynes (45 minutes). We had a decent catchment area of customers, although Brent Cross wasn’t far away, it was rare we had an overlap in customers as theirs were very much London based, our catchment area covered most of Hertfordshire, some Essex, some north London and a bit of Bedfordshire.

As I mentioned, our customers had money, BUT the footfall in our store was limited. The town is small, we were tucked away in John Lewis, and people in the local area tend to work in London, so weren’t around to just waltz in and chat with us. I struggled with this at first because I hate picking up the phone… most of our enquiries were through the phone rather than face to face and I hated having to put customers on hold when I was still learning and didn’t have a clue what to say to them (this got better, don’t worry). I much preferred the email enquiries, these would either be direct to our store, or they would come from the central system. There was also a web chat feature on our website so we would often chat to customers through this.

My Colleagues

When I first started, the other girls working in my store changed a fair bit over time. My manager, Becky, was lovely and I got along with her great, we are still friends now. Two girls that were there when I started, also lovely, but were only around for a few months. Then there was Jenny, who showed me the ropes and kept me calm when I was having a flap, Jenny was there for about a year whilst I was there and I don’t know what I would have done without her, she kept me grounded. When working in travel you often meet likeminded people, people you can’t really get along with, but you also meet colleagues that can be completely ruthless.

This leads me to the process of bookings… I will go more into detail in the next section, but the thing I really struggled with during my time here, was other employees stealing bookings! Yes, it happens, and no, it should not be allowed in my opinion!

Like I said previously, our store was small, with little footfall, this meant taking ‘central bookings’ – ones in which customers called the mainline rather than directly to their local store. The issue with this is you would often spend hours and hours putting itineraries together for them, and then when they would call up to book, they would call that central line again. Usually, this wouldn’t happen, as you would email the customer directly with their itinerary and correspondence would continue via email, you would build up a rapport with them and they would take your email/number so they would always contact you specifically again. However, there were some customers that just did not have the loyalty, no matter how much work you did for them, or there were the impatient customers that wanted to book exactly on their terms, so if you were on your lunch break or a day off, they would contact you and be annoyed you weren’t in store, instead of waiting they would book with another PTE.

I will never forget the first time I had a booking stolen from me. I can’t remember where exactly the holiday was to, but I did a fair bit of work on it. I then came in from a day off, went to check all my open enquiries, and I saw that my customer had booked with a guy in Liverpool. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, we worked for a base salary and relied a lot on commission, so he was able to earn commission on a holiday he spent 10 minutes booking, rather than me who got absolutely nothing for days and days of work. I still remember him and every time I see his name crop up on Facebook, I feel rage! It has been 4 years… Clearly, I am not good at letting things go.

The fact this was allowed to happen really bothered me, I was not someone that felt comfortable about stealing someone else’s hard work, doing not much at all, and reaping in all the rewards.

Customers

The expectations our customers had were very high, these were not your average package holidays to Benidorm, these were tailor-made holidays and often once in a lifetime holidays for people. Because of this, we had to tread carefully and be sensitive to the customer’s wants and needs. I can honestly say, the whole time I was at the company, I never really had any issues with customers, except one man who made me cry down the phone.

The importance of keeping your customers happy was managing their expectations, you couldn’t promise them the world in the hope of making a sale. You couldn’t sell them a holiday that wasn’t 100% right for them, or you would feel their wrath on their return.

I did have many customers that were high maintenance, some almost drove me mad. It’s important to remember that what may not seem like an issue to you, or important, might be make or break for someone else. It was our job to make the customer feel important and special, it was the ethos of the brand, after all, we would offer them champagne, speciality teas, and fancy coffee, so we had to expect the fact our customers felt like they were our only customers! I will never forget the lady who left her kindle on a plane and told me I needed to find it…

Salary & Targets

Most, if not all, travel consultancy jobs offer a base salary and targets, meaning you can earn a commission on top of what you are paid. This is the same for travel agents and tour operators, the difference being in some companies, the commission is capped.

My starting base salary in 2015 was £18,000 ($23,500 USD). For where I live, that is definitely on the lower end of the salary scale, the cost of living in Hertfordshire is massive, housing is expensive and so is transport, so it wasn’t great. However, along with my commission, I ended up earning £26,000 in my first year ($34,000 USD) which I was happy with.

When working in travel, the salary tends to be low. Companies think they are doing YOU a favour by giving you a job, most people love to travel and there are perks, the jobs can at times be great, so therefore people are all too willing to accept a lower salary, which I think is totally wrong. The job caused me a lot of stress, Alex always told me I didn’t get paid enough to stress that much, and to be honest he was right. But when you are there in that job, it’s easy to feel like a small issue is the end of the world.

Now onto targets, I have no issue with target based commission, at the end of the day it is what drives you to always do a better job, which is better for your own work ethic, and better for the company’s sales results.

However, the targets in the company where I worked were not uniform across the company. Every store had a different target based on it’s previous sales, and the targets changed monthly, your commission would also differ each month depending on how much discount you gave, or how you were rated in customer satisfaction surveys.

This is where some of my issues began. We worked in the smallest store in the country, in one of the smallest towns, our footfall was extremely low and we had to fight for every customer and booking. It was extremely rare to have someone walk through the door and want to book a holiday, after all, you don’t just pop into John Lewis to buy a holiday to match your sofa. I am very hardworking, I love to please, so I do everything I can to succeed in a job, I am very scared of failure and always strive to do better. I would come into work early, leave late, check emails on my days off, all because I wanted to do well, I wanted to earn a good amount of money, and I wanted my manager to be happy with me. Because of this, I actually ended up being one of the top sellers for the company all within my first year, I was one of 30 out of over 300 to hit £1 million in sales for the year. I was doing very well, and I was proud of myself. But I had to hunt for these customers, I would spend all day on web chat waiting for them to talk to me, I would always be checking the enquiries coming into the mailbox, I would pick up every phone call I could. I was burning out, completely stressed, but I was selling. The issue? Every month my target would increase, it just kept going up and up… all because I was doing well. This left me constantly feeling like I wasn’t doing enough for the company, I was working my arse off and never getting a break. Yet there were stores with three times our footfall, getting triple the enquiries, but their target was half of mine. There were stores in affluent areas such as Kensington, Oxford Street, Cambridge and Bluewater, all with lower targets than mine.

The major problem with that, is someone who was doing half the sales I was, was hitting their lower target and earning a good amount of commission. For me, I could sell double the holidays, make double the amount of money for the company, miss out on my target (which was at times £180,000 a month – thanks January!) by just £1 and not get paid a single bit of commission. I struggled with this throughout my entire career at the company, and whilst my manager empathised with the situation, no one else gave a hoot about the discrepancy in pay across the board. This was one of my major reasons for leaving.

Fam Trips

After being negative about the commission, I thought I would move onto a major perk, the fam trips! Fam trips are short for ‘familiarisation trips’ and are put together by tourist boards or hotel groups and offered to travel industry employees. These trips are so employees can learn more about their products which will, in turn, increase sales in that area, and it worked.

I took two trips during my 18 months of work, my first was to Mexico, and the second was to Antigua. Even better, because I was working for a company specialising in luxury travel, the hotels were always incredible and more than I could ever afford, yet I didn’t have to pay a penny. So for a week would enjoy the luxury life before coming back and turning that new knowledge into sales.

If you are looking to see the world but can’t afford to, this is one of the best ways to complete your goal. Not only can you enjoy the fam trips, but many hotels you work with will offer heavy discounts on your personal trips too.

Personality Type

This one is important to me. Whilst working in travel I saw a high turnover in staff, this meant I worked alongside a lot of people, all with their own individual personalities. I could see a clear correlation between personality type and how long the employee stayed in the business.

Working in sales, as anyone knows, is ruthless, selling holidays is no different. There were people who did amazingly, these were the people who were able to sell ice to Eskimos. Ethics were an important part of the job, or often lack of.

I worked alongside someone who could sell to anyone, they hit their target every month, every year they went on the ‘top sellers trips’ and were earning thousands in commission. But what I also noticed was that this person was a compulsive liar, dismissive and patronising. I would often hear him have conversations with clients that I would have to step into because he was outright lying to them. He would sell products to customers he had been speaking bad of 5 minutes before the customer walked through the door. He didn’t care what he had to say (or lie about) in order to get the sale, therefore, being a successful travel consultant seemed like the perfect match for him!

My problem is I couldn’t lie to customers, I wanted them to experience their dream holiday and if that wasn’t with me, then it wasn’t with me. I wasn’t going to shove a product in front of their face that wasn’t right for them, I wasn’t going to upsell them on something useless because I wanted to earn more commission, I just couldn’t do it. I often had clients come in with a limited budget and sometimes I felt like they would be able to book a better suited holiday with a competitor, instead of selling myself to them I would rather be honest and tell them they could get more for their money elsewhere. If I saw a customer really struggling with the price but really wanting my product, I would often discount and therefore earn less commission. The irony is that I genuinely wanted what was best for the customer, which is part of the ethos of the company, but that’s not how you make sale after sale. The employees that were rewarded were the employees that sold the highest value holidays, the company didn’t truly care if the customer was getting screwed over in the meantime.

So, if you, like me, act on feeling and emotion more than anything else, I would honestly say this is an environment you would struggle in.

Working Hours

Travel is not a Monday-Friday 9-5 job. Nearly all travel consultants are required to work shifts and to work weekends. I naively assumed when I accepted the job that I would only work one weekend a month. Turned out I was working two full weekends and one half weekend. I would have one weekend off a month (if I was lucky).

For some of my colleagues, this was great, as their partners also worked similar shifts and they would still be able to spend quality time with each other. For me, it just didn’t work. Alex worked Monday-Friday 9-6, and I was working sporadic days during the week and most weekends. We were planning our wedding at the time and it made it almost impossible to get anything done. What should have been an incredible year for us turned out to be one where we just didn’t see each other all that much.

Tailormade vs Package Holidays

Another major difference between companies is whether you are tailor making the holiday for your customer or just selling a package. In my job, all holidays were tailormade, down to every last detail. This was the most fun part of the job, actually putting the holidays together, learning about travel logistics, and finding a solution when you think someone’s dream trip will be impossible.

Whilst being able to sell a package holiday would be much less work, I think I would have found it relatively boring.

Making Mistakes and Problem Solving

When booking someone’s holiday, it’s easy to make a mistake. Just mistyping a name on a flight booking can result in having to book (and pay for) completely new tickets.

Everytime someone called me to confirm their holiday I would go into a blind panic, checking details over and over again to make sure they were always correct. But because I developed such bad anxiety over the job, my heart would race and even though I was checking through everything on the screen, it was really hard to take it all in. I was also aware that there was someone on the end of the phone and I didn’t want to leave them on hold for hours on end making sure everything was okay. This led to me making mistakes, not overly often, but I did make them.

My most costly mistake was booking someone flights to and from Marrakesh when they were supposed to be flying to Agadir. Don’t ask me how I managed that, I really don’t know, I even booked them with my clients looking at my screen. The problem wasn’t picked up until a few days before the client was travelling. I was on my own in the store because it was Christmas time and a quiet time for holiday bookings. My client called me to tell me his tickets were showing Marrakesh and not Agadir, my stomach sank as I told him I would look into it and call him back.

Turns out it was my mistake, I booked the wrong flights. My customer lived locally so was travelling from Stansted airport, about 35-40 minutes away. When I looked at flights to Agadir, there were no flights from Stansted, or Luton, or even Heathrow, the only ones I could book for him were from Gatwick Airport which is at least an hour and a half by car, and the likelihood of getting stuck in Christmas traffic on the M25 was all too high. I just sat in my chair and sobbed for a while, too scared to call the customer and too scared to call my area manager (my manager wasn’t in that day).

In the end, I had to rebook flights from Gatwick to Agadir, at a loss of around £1000 to the company (fortunately this wasn’t the sort of company that would take it out my wages). My area manager at the time was really nice about it, the customer, however, was fuming that he would have to travel to Gatwick, there was nothing I could do but apologise and I felt sick about it for days.

It was the risk of these mistakes that made me feel sick every time I clicked ‘confirm’ on a booking. I know the above was my fault, but there are other things that can happen during the booking process that are completely out of your control. Flight prices are quoted live and therefore cannot be guaranteed, if I explained to you the way in which flight pricing works it would blow your mind. I had times where I had quoted a customer for a holiday, they would call up the next day to book, I would go to confirm it and the price would have increased by £500. There were times the IT guys would input prices wrong on the system, I would then have to call the customer and tell them a mistake had been made on the price. Sometimes hotels would sell out during the enquiry process and holidays I had worked so hard on would no longer be available to customers.

Reading this back now, I know it doesn’t sound like the end of the world to me or the customer, but quite often that customer had been saving for months for their holiday for it all to come crashing down in the booking process.

Advice

I don’t think I could ever be a travel consultant again, I got so screwed over and belittled whilst in the job I just don’t think I could put myself through it again. However, there is some advice I would like to give before you find yourself in that position.

Put yourself first – I was very bad at speaking up for myself, even my manager would tell me I need to be more vocal about things. Don’t get me wrong, I am a very chatty person and often quite loud, but when it comes to confrontation, it’s just not for me. If I found myself working 8 days in a row I would keep quiet and not say anything, if I had an important event on a weekend and was told I couldn’t get the day off, I wouldn’t argue it, if I found something unfair, I just wouldn’t say anything. This meant I put myself in the position of ‘doormat’, people knew I wouldn’t say anything so I always drew the short straw. I wish I had stood up for myself from day one, I realise now to be successful in life you have to be assertive, you can’t become a pushover.

You don’t get paid enough to stress – These were Alex’s magic words and I realise now he was 100% right. Getting paid £18k a year to lose sleep every night is just ridiculous. Put things into perspective. When I was feeling stressed and under pressure, I would remind myself ‘atleast you’re not a doctor and have someone’s life in your hands’. It’s true, holidays are important to people but losing sleep over a flight delay is just crazy, that person will get annoyed for an hour maybe but 1) flight delays are not your responsibility and 2) you haven’t killed the customer’s wife.

Don’t take on too much – I was always told I needed to be taking calls, even when I was snowed in by enquiries. It is better to take 5 enquiries and work through them effectively, rather than take 10 enquiries and rush them. I always thought taking 50% more enquiries would mean 50% more bookings, but you cannot convert a customer into a sale if you are not putting enough quality time into their requests.

Don’t check your emails from home – This is the WORST thing you can do! There was nothing I hated more than checking my work emails on a day off and seeing a million things going wrong at work. A day off is a day off and you should not be interrupted under any circumstances. You are not getting paid to have your day completely ruined.

Don’t forget to enjoy the job – I absolutely loved the actual job, the creation of people’s once in a lifetime holidays. I loved putting together all the details, researching the hotels and bringing a dream to life to people. It is so fun and extremely rewarded, you also learn so much about new destinations. I forgot to enjoy it after a few months and that is a big regret of mine.

Conclusion

Not much of a conclusion as my advice was my conclusion, I just wanted to apologise for this being so long and possibly uninteresting. I realise now why people start Youtube channels. It would have taken half the time to say all this if I had done it verbally!

Finding Spring in London

The weather has been a bit odd the last 12 months… we started March 2018 with a lot of snow, summer was the hottest I have ever witnessed, winter was cold, February we saw 20 degrees in London, and March was back to snow again. It’s not just our fashion this affects, but the flora and fauna too! Because of the unseasonably warm February, spring came to the UK early, especially in London, and the blossom was blooming weeks before usual.

I headed out early March to see the magnolia, for whatever reason, I just prefer it to the cherry blossom, although both are beautiful. Many people had sadly planned trips in April to see the blossom flowers and unfortunately will miss it, but fingers crossed they can witness the wisteria instead…

If you are looking for an article on where to find the cherry blossom, I can’t help you there as I didn’t look for it this year, although judging my Instagram, I will tell you now to just head to Greenwich Park and you will find some. This is all about my favourite magnolia locations!

The Boltons

Ahh, the Boltons! You may not have heard of it, as I hadn’t until I found it. The Boltons is a residential street tucked between Chelsea and Earl’s Court. The houses here are huge and very imposing but in a very elegant way. The Boltons is not only a beautiful place to live, but a very expensive one, for this is the second most expensive street in the whole of London.

The Boltons was built in the middle of the 19th century by architect and journalist George Godwin on land which was originally market gardens, the street is still set around communal gardens today. There are just 28 Victorian villas along this street, beautifully kept and in a prime location, this is why the prices are what they are, houses here do not go up for sale regularly.

St Leonards Terrace

A short walk from Sloane Square Underground Station and the King’s Road is St Leonard’s Terrace, a quiet residential street facing out onto a park area. This is another spot I could live in quite easily, but where in Chelsea isn’t beautiful?

There are a number of magnolia trees along here, this was my first spot and I loved spending time here photographing the flowers. The street was pretty quiet but there were a few people coming out of their houses, walking their dogs etc, no one seemed to mind me taking photos!

Bramerton Street

Probably Instagram’s most recognisable spot during spring, Bramerton Street! Bramerton Street is a beautiful street lined with very expensive houses, located just off the King’s Road in Chelsea (this is within walking distance from St Leonards Terrace). At the end of Bramerton Street, where the road joins Glebe Place, is a gorgeous magnolia tree that climbs a pink wall. It doesn’t get much more ‘grammable than that does it?

Launceston Place

Back in Autumn I walked up Launceston Place and didn’t take much notice of it, yes the houses were lovely but there are lovely houses all over the UK. I was heading to Kynance Mews which adjoins Launceston Place, a lovely spot to see in Autumn! However, stepping onto this street in March made me feel like I was stepping into a brand new place. The houses had transformed, not because they had been knocked down and rebuilt, but because of the beautiful blossom and magnolia that now hung over their windows!

Victoria Street, Kensington

A (very) short walk from Launceston Place is Victoria Street, another treat for the eyes if you are partial to a few magnolia flowers!

There are other great places to spot spring flowers if you have the time it is well worth a walk around Holland Park and Notting Hill. I wore ridiculous shoes so by 3 pm I was in so much pain with my feet and wanting to go home (I was also starving and desperate for some chocolate…) so I missed out on the Notting Hill magnolia this year! Oh well… There is always next year! ♡