Lifestyle

AD | Holiday-ing on a Budget

Posted on 4 min read

This post is a sponsored post written in collaboration with Holiday Gems

As I’m writing this post it’s reached 27 degrees outside… in Yorkshire! The random April heatwave that approaches and leaves just as fast well and truly hit and I don’t know about you but I am revelling in the holiday vibe; all the sunshine and clear blue sky glory.

A sudden outburst of Vitamin D makes me feel three things:

  1. Motivated and mood boosted.
  2. A sudden desire to venture to the exuberant outdoors, pasty arms and legs on show, sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar, swapping chocolate for watermelon, wiping the supermarkets clear of salad, and soaking up the aroma of warmth (there is most definitely a certain smell that comes with hot weather, don’t fight me on this.)
  3. Nothing but excitement for summer holiday plans.

Summer is just around the corner which means it’s about this time of year when you start to think about what’s on the vacation agenda, when that sudden rush of wanderlust hits full force and before you know it you’re sat daydreaming about golden skin, sandy beaches, and all the luxuries of freedom and relaxation that come with. Luckily, I already have one trip abroad booked and in three months time I’ll be living it up in the canaries with my best friends. Flying off to Gran Canaria with Holiday Gems is just one of the options I’m about to shout about – both because this year the beauteous island is my destination of choice and it’s just one of many short haul destinations that can fulfil your cravings at a cheaper price!

The lavish travelling bug is flaunted around so often these days, especially in the blogger community. You only have to open your Instagram app to find a feed full of palm trees, opulent bikini shots in the tourist hot-spots, a foodie feast beside a hammock, and those professional picturesque landscapes that increase your bucket list of places to visit by the dozen. So much so, that it’s easy to forget that for some people this just isn’t the norm.

I actually really do enjoy living the poetic visuals vivaciously through other people (and through a screen) – my hats go off to those successful enough to land these trips of a lifetime and for those who can afford to make several journeys on a jet. Selfishly, it means I can appreciate the gorgeous imagery and I have a soothing escape to dream about!

But I’m just not one to join those fortunate people.

(Or at least not yet.)

My idea of bliss can vary anywhere from a few days away at the seaside, a road trip to another city, or a do it yourself budget flight to Spain. Realistically, it all depends on what I can afford. As much as I wish I could be radiating superiority in the Maldives, a one week basic break is enough to satisfy my desires to travel the world until I’m at the point where I have the opportunity to do it.

I think it’s helpful to remind yourself that you don’t always have to live up to the showy standards to bask in the beauty of breaks. Envy is normal, of course it is. Who wouldn’t be a teeny bit jealous of those picture perfect views, strolling the swanky streets, experiencing famous architecture, and dangling on the edge of paradise with your girl gang beside you? I know I’d be ecstatic to be able to partake in this kind of adventure but for now I’m happy to be just having time out from reality in the heart of Puerto Rico, feet up by the pool, stuffing my face with Lays crisps, giggling with the friends I hold close to my heart, and more than likely drinking too many Malibus and dancing the night away.

I think in today’s economy the more money you can save, the better, and that’s the first step to finding your ideal bargain deal. There’s various other steps you can take; picking the quiet time of year, using price comparison tactics, considering those extras that aren’t an essential, signing up for alerts, planning geographically, but as a starter it’s getting the site right and Holiday Gems has it all!

Whatever reasonable getaway you have in mind, you can find in an instance. Whether you fancy hitting the Costa Blanca coastline of booming Benidorm or sitting back and taking it easy in the quiet cave of the Algarve, sightseeing, shopping and venturing on excursions in the stunning shores of the Canary Islands, or admiring the atmosphere in the areas that are both rich in culture and contain the sunny climate you yearn for such as Italy and Croatia. Just a few hours on a plane and as cheap as £109pp, it’s a possibility you just can’t afford to miss.

Budget holidays can be just as valuable and rewarding as expansive holidays, without a doubt. Not to mention, there’s plenty of places worthy of exploring; those hidden gems that are understated because they’re not considered popular or because there’s ~bad rep~ appointed to them. You can find the beauty off your own back, at your own pace, and individual to the naked eye.

What’s most important is, you do you!

Have you got any holidays planned this year? What are your all time favourite short haul destinations?

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A Three Course Secret Supper, Bar & Kitchen @LS1

Posted on 7 min read

A couple of months back I wrote about my visit to the Crowne Plaza in my Self Care post – raving about my super soothing spa experience and my appetising afternoon tea delight at the new and improved Bar & Kitchen @LS1 within the hotel. Fast forward a few weeks and, coincidentally, another email arrives in my inbox inviting me back along for a taste of the full package as part of their special secret supper event. One to one guidance and a chat from the renowned in-house head chef Lee Miller, an exclusive sneak peek at the brand new spring menu, and copious amounts of stupendously cooked cuisine straight from Yorkshire’s finest – it was set out to be a gratifying evening all round!

You know they say you notice the intricate details of something or someone on a second investigation? Well that’s exactly what happened with me strolling back into the restaurant tucked away at the corner of the lobby. The second time round I was really able to appreciate the cosy, homely essence of the place; especially at the time of day when the (lack of) sun was about to set and dusk was close by.

The hidden gem isn’t what you usually expect of a hotel – both in modern Scandi inspired setting and delectable food quality – and that’s what makes it so unique. With its laid back, relaxing feel, and interjection of a vast touch of local trade, it steps away from fine dining whilst still bringing in that passion and flare.

Greeted with a glass of prosecco and some fruit mixers upon a marble table, artsy decor, carefully laid tables, swinging chandeliers, and a host of hospitality top dogs, press, prs, and some other lovely Leeds bloggers for chatty, cordial, and welcoming company, any anxieties that I have about attending events alone had vanished in just a few seconds!

To get us started and warmed up before the big extravaganza from the main man behind the delicious dishes as he slaved away attentively in the kitchen, we were delivered a simple platter of tear and share Yorkshire puddings, rarebit, and marrowbone gravy for dipping which was renowned Liquid Gold by a fellow full time blogger Nadine on her first foodie visit (and she was more than right, fyi! I told you the company was grand), so that was of course an instant winner in the eyes of the self proclaimed Yorkshire pud enthusiast; aka me.

After some further musing around as we devoured our appetiser, it was time to gather together and sit down ready for the three course I was more than ready for (note to self: drinking on a fairly empty stomach in post gig recovery after a long day travelling to and fro Manchester isn’t always a swimmingly good idea, swimming being the main word here). I was seated with a bunch of friendly folk, including two staff members who were so affable, so easy to talk to, and genuinely interested in our thoughts, opinions, ideas, and any constructive criticism – it made the experience even more real and authentic.

Lee was just as warm and accommodating, although I was informed he is the feisty kind when he wants to be. I guess fantastic food comes at a price and that price is a streak of bossiness and extreme determination!

Himself and Stephen Hornsby, the general manager at Crowne Plaza, introduced us to the tasting night, telling us what we should expect, what the hard working team behind this newly refurbished and improved space stand for, and talked us through the spring dishes they’re ready to introduce widely.

I was instantly inspired by Lee and the way he spoke about his passion and his career, so much so that for the first time at a food event I took some notes down on my phone. You could really feel the enthusiasm and the zest that radiated from him as he took us on his journey to becoming a chef and what trademark he believes in bringing to a place he’s called home for 10 years.

Lee built his way up as a chef, beginning with an NVQ, a movement of work experience in different places, and now he holds a licence of 22 years in the making which makes him a man of knowledge and expert skills!

What stood out for me, personally, was the established creations he metaphorically and literally transports to the table. He is all about partnering with local Yorkshire produce; on the farms, in the suppliers trade, and even as nearby as down the road. His cheeses are sourced in Wakefield, and some even include the famous cheese served to the queen once upon a time!

The entire arrangement of carefully fabricated dishes are freshly prepared with the Yorkshire flair in mind and developed to match his own penchant for homely dishes. Using the finest ingredients from the local commerce, the menus are synonymous with the region, they incorporate some of the country’s favourite comfort food, bursting with flavours and taste and most important, a contemporary Yorkshire twist! Having this exclusively in their arsenal maintains a distinctive approach they can be proud of!

Something that caught my attention was the mention of how Lee bakes bread. Bread is my absolute weakness but I have to be careful what kind I eat as bloating and aggravation of IBS symptoms is often very common with my doughy indulgence. However, Lee spoke about bringing it back to basics, excluding e-numbers and minimising intolerance with his choices, and he was so on point with what he was saying. The wholesome warm roll straight from the oven wasn’t only just the most deliciously soft and mouth watering roll I’ve ever tasted, it also didn’t give me that horrible aftermath feeling and that in itself gets mega bonus points.

With our gold menu with the option of starter, main, and dessert, I felt like a queen myself as I rolled it out in front of me contemplating on what to go for. In the end I opted for the Yorkshire Charcuterie Board (which we all found out was a bit of a tongue twister to say), the 6 Hour Braised Beef Cheeks, and the Rhubarb and Strawberry Bakewell Tart with ice cream on the side – all absolutely cooked to perfection and probably the best three course meal I’ve had in years.

The board had a selection of cured meats; chorizo, salami, and air-dried royal ham, along with home marinated vegetables and the most pungent house Henderson relish which was gorgeous. I cleared my plate in the shortest amount of time and I couldn’t even stop myself, that’s how good it was. As a fussy meat eater, it’s a testament to the chef – it’s made me want to delve further into the chilled meat section of supermarkets, but I doubt any will live up to the impeccably presented platter.

The main was strips of beef on top of a ball of creamy colcannon mash potato and buried pockets of vegetables covered in Leeds’ very own brewery ale gravy. There’s only one word: scrumptious! The slow cooked meat was so succulent you didn’t even have to chew it, it just fell off the fork and melted in the month. The rich, relishing flavours oozed through with the combination of components and it really did just feel as though as I was back home savouring a traditional Sunday dinner made by the family cooking I adore.

As much as I didn’t want it to end, it had to sometime, and the rhubarb and strawberry bakewell tart was the optimal finisher to a worthy menu basking in the British! You could tell it was homemade straight away. You know when you’ve baked and the stench wafts through the house and then you bite into the spongy pastry and a rush of sweet heaven rushes through you? That’s exactly how it felt tucking into the slice that was crusty around the edges and soft in the middle. It was just the right amount of tangy and catered to my mega sweet tooth!

The attention to detail and care that takes place in the Bar & Kitchen @LS1 is obvious, and once again it was painted to us during the final stage of the night (handed over with the cutest box containing two miniature desserts to try for ourselves… culinary genius and generosity!).

Lee came back out to get the verdict and nothing but positive approval was fed back to him. He said the experience of the night helped him and his team during the constant learning curve and expression of the kitchen and that it put in that curveball helped them understand and develop, to be able to play with real foods and cater accordingly to society.

With so much visible passion and time behind the food, the connection that Lee strives for is instinctively formed. Portions that are just enough to leave you comfortably content, and the simply sharp recipes, are five stars all round. The entirety of the food is totally seamless and not overpowering in the slightest; completely different to most of the naff and bland hotel food I’ve had in the past.

Bar & Kitchen is in a league of its own and although it’s not amongst the major central restaurants, it definitely has the same (if not more) power and promise. Trust me when I say it’s not to be overlooked and overshadowed just because it’s centred within a hotel!

There’s a constant theme running through Lee’s ethic and that’s customers enjoy what they believe in. The intimate community he aims to create is what food is about – getting people together and just purely enjoying it.

And that we did.

Thanks so much to Sam for inviting me, I had a whale of a time and was honoured to be part of an important bunch. I’ll definitely be back, I’ve already raved to my family about how we need to treat ourselves to a trip sooner rather than later!

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Exercise and Chronic Pain – The Be All or End All?

Posted on 7 min read

This post is a sponsored post written in collaboration with Jack Wills

For most able bodied people, working out is a simple decision of “Do I fancy going to the gym today? Do I move around from the comfort of my own home? Or do I just take a short break and continue with my usual exercise routine tomorrow?”. For able bodied, perfectly healthy and laboriously agile people, it’s cardio and weights, it’s exerting yourself with high levels of fitness, it’s feeling the burn in a beneficial way, walking away from equipment feeling pumped and energised and full of satisfaction.

For me, it’s daydreaming about getting into shape this way from my designated den of duvets and static rest. It’s making the most of the athleisure trend by using it to my own self care and comfort.  It’s browsing the likes of go to high street retailers like Jack Wills for Women’s Joggers wishing I could make the most of the casual comfy wear by going out for a run with amenity instead of slugging about like a zombie acting out and attempting to desperately find relief. For me, it’s so much more than an impulsive, quick, get up and go, and I think for most spoonies it’s a similar situation every single day.

When you have a chronic illness and/or chronic pain, being mobile and frequently physically active is tougher than it appears to be and is advised to be.

With the amount of times I’ve had family and friends, ill-informed individuals, and even healthcare professionals tell me exercise is necessary for recovery, insist that I need to build up my strength, get my limbs moving, condition my muscles, and help me escape my mind for a while, I could start up a booklet of failed advice not to give to a person who already struggles with knowing irreversible brain damage has impacted their life for good.

(And the rebuked stare that follows when I inform them increased activity will do nothing but elevate my pain is just as priceless, tbh.)

Speaking for myself; it’s so hard to explain to people about the kind of pain I have. I tried to get my thoughts and understanding out when I revealed for the first time that I was a stroke survivor, but nothing really compares to the right here, right now sensation.

My pain is not coming from the joints or the limbs, it’s coming from the signals in my brain that can’t pass through properly causing haywire to the left side of my already impaired body. It’s burning nerve pain; sometimes moderate, often severe, even excruciatingly intolerable to the point I’m flopped out unresponsive to the normality of the world around me.

It’s not just a few aches or a strained ligament that can be cured by popping a pill, changing my posture, or with a good half hour on the bike. I will always have seriously debilitating chronic pain no matter how much exercise I do or don’t do!

The tale of exercise allowing people to reduce the awareness of pain and enabling you to overcome limited functioning isn’t always true and the guilt that comes with not being able to apply this to your own self is only set out to discourage you further.

There’s only so much we can hear and bear before we combust with frustration in a plea to stop throwing this mentality on to us when only we know the utmost of what we can and can’t do.

I think when you unveil the fact you have chronic pain, somehow it’s automatically labelled and linked to one solo category but there is no such thing, a generalised type of pain is non existent.

Exercise is complex but so is chronic pain.

There isn’t a universal division and everyone is different – different abilities, different conditions, different triggers, different perceptions. What applies to one person may not apply to another and that’s important to remember when considering how you can balance your movement with your pain.

Some days obviously are better than others. You most likely will be able to do more one day and nothing at all another and that’s what makes it more difficult to judge.

I remember putting myself through agony and pushing myself above the passable scale a few years back as I committed to an intense plan that would be hard enough for anyone to achieve, never mind someone with disability, and it did start to rule my life.

Was I happier with the appearance of my body? Yes. But was I suffering greatly without a breather? Double yes. Which means in the long term it just wasn’t worth it for the sake of my own health.

Now, as the years have rolled on, I feel like my pain has worsened for many contributing factors – but the lack of exercise certainly isn’t one of them.

I’m not going to miraculously find a cure by hiring a personal trainer or signing up to the gym – in fact that’s just two of the issues we do face with chronic and often unpredictable suffering.

Committing to a session or a dedicated sport just isn’t feasible when you have no idea how you’ll feel when waking up in the morning, not to mention the after effects, and the scary thought of being within an environment where everyone around you is strong and able and you’re just… not.

I mean, dedicating 5 days a week to hitting the gym and working your arse off? No way. I’d be extremely lucky to go 5 days without collapsing with exhaustion!

Truth be told, the last thing on your mind when you’re in agony is to get up on your feet and start bouncing around. (Hey, half the time I can’t even move from my bed and when I manage it, all I do is move to the sofa).

You do have to remind yourself the no pain no gain agenda does not refer to a person with chronic pain who just cannot exercise on the regular due to the inflation of pain it inflicts.

Look at it this way, when a sportsperson develops an injury they are immediately withdrawn, stop carrying out activity, and are told to rest up. Their hindrance will affect their performance, and it’s exactly the same for us spoonies.

Now, after that very lengthy interpretation (and a little bit of a rant, you know me once I get started) I also want to point out that although having a chronic condition may restrict you, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely inoperative and goals are unattainable.

As I said, everybody is different. If you feel as though you can manage some gentle exercise, go for it! If you know full well it’s going to aggravate your pain, then don’t put yourself into that downfall position. You have to decide in your own time, pace yourself, live within your limitations, and work in your own range for your own good.

There’s plenty of things you can do and it can be so helpful to find your direction and your own stepping stone. Little and often is my motto and I stick to that in line with my body – I listen to what it’s telling me and I go without force.

It doesn’t even have to be the actual and typical exercise (you know, the yoga, the meditation, the treadmill, the push ups and the pull ups) it can be something as simple as taking 5 or 10 minutes out for a walk, stretching yourself out as you lay in bed, raising your legs, or on the bigger scale – swimming, hydrotherapy, and other water based activities that may provide some relief.

It’s a great way to recharge yourself and gradually build your stamina, even if it is for a short amount of time or if you can only manage a couple of steps. Anything is better than nothing and any improvement is praise worthy. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing or a mighty challenge it just has to be achievable for you. Progress has to start somewhere and there’s no time limit in reaching that.

This is all from personal experience and believe me when I say I know that getting up and taking a shower is an accomplishment to be proud of in itself! Any sort of activity when you’re bed bound is definitely something to pat yourself on the back for but it is such a positive thing to have that little implementation in your life that does grant you a way to stay and keep active (and there’s plenty of useful resources online to guide you if you’re stuck in limbo).

Despite me stating exercise can often have the reverse effect on someone with chronic pain, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making the most of those days you feel better and well enough to take a stride forward towards supporting your body in becoming more supple.

Exercise is proven to have so many healthy advantages, both for the mind and the body.

It’s a great way to de-stress which in my case can help reduce pain and it can release those endorphins to make you feel happier which in time can also be vital to how your brain reacts to pain. If in a steady, stable routine, it can boost your energy and motivation meaning you’re able to feel more alive even in those times of despair.

Depending on your type of pain, it may actually be able to aid the tension and stiffness to relax and reduce those pain levels. It can rejuvenate your skin, it can increase brain memory, assist your needs if handled with care, and most importantly give you some control which isn’t always present when trying to manage a long term and permanent medical condition, alone.

But, in the end and when taking everything into consideration, you’ve got to always be mindful of the fact exercise is supposed to make you feel better, not worse.

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Dining Experience @ Lost and Found, Leeds Club

Posted on 4 min read

A few weeks back now (Galentines Day to be exact) I had the pleasure of spending my Tuesday evening in the company of three of my favourite ladies and the newest sumptuous joint in Leeds. The Lost & Found already has a site on Greek Street but now they’ve unveiled another free spirited professor in the iconic Leeds Club building on Albion Place (aka my ultimate spot for charming, traditional buildings that are not only picturesque but provide some of the best food and drink names in town!)

I was lucky enough to attend their soft launch event before they officially opened to the public on the 16th Feb… and oh how lucky I felt. Walking in there felt like stepping foot in an enchanting whimsical world of mixology, seasonal cuisine, and a bloggers’ dream, with its high ceilings, flowered, woodland trimmings, winding staircase, marble top tables, and extensive cocktail collection.

It’s such a beautiful restaurant, the kind of place that gives you a relaxed, cosy feel twinned with authentic class where you can’t help but feel a lot more high and mighty than you would at home on your sofa with your feet propped up and beans on toast on the menu. With two main rooms; the lavish bar downstairs set into separate areas, and the main restaurant area upstairs, along with an exquisite secret bar and the prettiest interior, you’re onto an all round winner right away.

The place was heaving with glory and delight from all walks of life; a warm and friendly atmosphere with the attentive service to match, and aside from the fixed sharing platter starter of mixed warm breads and antipasti – which were bladdy deliciously appetising may I add – we were able to choose anything we desired from the main menu, complete with unlimited cocktails and a dessert to finish.

Thankfully the choices complied to all our varied tastes! And when I say there was something for everyone I really mean there was something for everyone with my mum, the fussiest eater in Leeds, in attendance. Her having zero complaints about the feast is pretty much equivalent to a bachelors degree in cookery, to be honest. That’s when you know the quality of  food is at the very top!

We all ordered different – I went for the Chicken Milanese with a sourdough crumb (£12) and a side of skinny fries (£3.50) which tasted almost identical to McDonald’s chips – only with a little more savouring class.  I’d had the Chicken Milanese whilst in Spain a few times before and this one didn’t disappoint to the ones I’d already previously tried and tested, the sourdough adding that extra tang. My mum opted for the 8oz Sirloin Steak (£18) in a request of well done and she said it was cooked to perfection. It’s rare I head out to eat with my mum without her sending a steak back in disapproval so this really does determine the efforts of the chef. She asked for well done, she got well done! My friends, Beth and Jade, who aren’t bloggers just guests who got to experience a piece of the action for the night (they’re privileged to have a friend like me js), went for the Wagyu Beef Burger (£13) and a side order of fries, and the Peri Peri Chicken Pizza (£11.50) and by the looks of the empty plates and the thumbs up for being finger-licking good, it was thoroughly enjoyed all round. Plus, the look of the mountain of melted cheese alone is mouth watering!

Moving on to dessert (despite our stomachs being satisfyingly and maximally filled) we opted for the Millionaire’s Shortbread (£8) and Passion Fruit Cheesecake (£7). We were informed they would be served deconstructed which wasn’t something I was familiar with but something which I was definitely intrigued by. Turns out, there’s just a lot more crumby contents and it’s a little messier, but it tastes just as nice. The chocolatey essence in the shortbread was ravishing and totally addictive to a sweet tooth fanatic like moi but after a few minutes of stuffing my face it did get slightly overpowering. I reckon you could get away with sharing a dessert if you feel like shelving greedy cravings for the night (which isn’t always easy, I feel you. The more chocolate, the better.)

Cocktail wise, we went somewhat overboard. Stocking up on the sparkling prosecco based cocktails and the classic spirits and managing to down three each until around 10:30pm. I think (my brain is still a little foggy from that night, I swear) we consumed multiple of the A Penny For The Cat (£8.95), St. Clementine’s Garden (£9.25), and Fine & Dandy (£8.75), which not only awakened the tastebuds but worked wonders for the ‘gram.

By the end of the night the general consensus was that A) we were delectably fed and watered more than we ever could have imagined, B) for what you are given and the quality of the grub, it’s well worth the price tag, and C) we definitely should have watched what we were drinking instead of giggling our way through the cold February evening.

Before we stayed fix abode until closing time, we made our way out as discreetly as possible – bellies heavier and heads lighter but with a fun few hours to treasure and a promise to head back sooner rather than later.

(I’m already thinking about summer plans with the natural light as an advantage. IMAGINE how stunning it would photograph in the daylight with a refreshing cocktail for company!!)

Have you headed down to Lost & Found yet?!

*Food and drink were all kindly complimentary in exchange for a review. All thoughts, opinions, and photos are my own.

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Taking Some Time Out For Self Care

Posted on 4 min read

Self care is talked about a lot these days. It’s a common topic with different implications on what it actually means but to me, I think it’s personal and discrete to the individual depending on what road their journey is taking them on.

Your journey is connected by your mind, your body, and your soul, and it’s okay for that to differ from day to day. Taking care of yourself and dedicating time to make your life easier, healthier, and happier, is not a standard one time deal nor concept.

Some days you can crave some luxury treatments. Some days you might just want to log off social media and take yourself off to bed earlier. It can be as simple as choosing to be selfish, or as complex as ridding of the toxic accompaniments you surround yourself with. You can associate it with self love, positive thinking, and being kinder to yourself, putting every reckless thought aside to remind yourself you are worth it even if you’re struggling to reach the standards. Or you can take your overworked mind and strenuously burned out body and give yourself a well needed rest.

There’s the basics; having a long bath, exercising, drinking lots of water, eating your favourite meal, laughing till you cry, then there’s the learning, the investing, and the maintaining power. It’s so ridiculously complex that it’s impossible to pinpoint, when the choices you make and the techniques you practice and carry out are for yourself and yourself only.

For me, most of the time, it’s about putting my mental health first.

Dealing with unpredictable and intolerable chronic pain that stops me from achieving so many normal things I’d love to do is damn difficult and although I’m skilled at masking a facade, it does get me down. Low mood and bouts of anxiety can often hit me without warning and I do find myself stuck in a dark place I’m fighting to get out of.

Not only that, I can be pretty tough on myself when it comes to comparison and belittling my worth, and paranoia is a real problem. Sometimes I find it difficult to separate what I should be doing and what I am doing, and I have this recurrent habit of feeling guilty for not being productive enough when I do focus on myself, chill out, and end up achieving a big fat nothing (if having a day in front of the TV and getting attached to more fictional characters counts as nothing, anyway).

But it’s time for that to stop.

Cutting off the real world for a little while, having some ‘me time’ and taking that time to just breathe and herd yourself to your eased peak can be so cleansing and healing – and it’s nothing to mull over when in the long term it can benefit your energy levels and your overall zest for life.

I found that out when I visited the spa within the Spirit Health Club at the Crowne Plaza in my delightful hometown of Leeds a week ago today. It was a joint Christmas present for me and my mum from my brother which in itself is enough to warm the heart strings because if there’s anything to spike some respite it’s some family thoughtfulness gifted to you, right?!

Despite being ten minutes away and walking past it on several occasions I’d never been inside and I was unaware of what they offered, but boy was I missing out! From its stunning interior, to its rustic design, their conspicuously alluring staircase, cosy bar and restaurant area, and their heavenly spa – it has everything you’ll ever need to bring some tranquillising peace and calamity to your busy schedule, your hardship, and your negative thoughts.

We started off in the pool area – with our towels, gowns, and sassy swimsuits to hand – and ended with a belly pleasingly delicious afternoon tea for two. The bright and airy room featuring some loungers, the sauna, steam room, heated pool, and jacuzzi was so instantly inviting, the huge windows letting in the prettiest natural sunlight and the quiet of the place spiritually soothing to the senses. If you closed your eyes for ten seconds, you could almost imagine you were abroad in paradise and not in the middle of a rural city on a freezing cold February day.

It was just such unwinding bliss. Having a few hours to cherish that quality mum/daughter time, soaking in the warm bubbles, chatting about the trivial matters, replenishing and ridding of the toxins in the stifling spaces, and clearing the mindset to a wholesome mark.

Finishing the day with some finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and the daintiest collection of cakes completed such a lovely, carefree, comfortable day of opulence.

I got home and felt absolutely wiped out and loose on the limbs but that just goes to show how much I needed to release that tension.

It’s so easy to forget to dedicate that essential break to recover from your battered exhaustion and that mental fog when you’re constantly on the go and stranded in that negligent bubble that’s hard to shift. Sometimes you just have to press pause, deflect from the stuff bringing you down, and find a way to uplift your spirits and make yourself feel better.

And with today being both Galentine’s Day and Pancake Day you can use that as an excuse to pamper your taste-buds, your skin, and your soul; either alone or partnered with your solid friendships. Or failing that, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner which means us singletons can take this advice and put it into action for ourselves.

Because there’s nobody more important than you.

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#BlogAtTheBeach – Talks and Tips with icelolly.com

Posted on 15 min read

When I was informed by the lovely Hayley at Tea Party Beauty that there was an email waiting for me with an invite to icelolly.com‘s fifth (and my first) #BlogAtTheBeach, I was a sharp mix of excited and apprehensive. I’ve always followed the buzz of their popular events but only via social media and this time I had the opportunity to head down to a distinctively themed function itself.

I can’t help but worry I’ll be a little out of place at these kind of events, surrounded by all the girl bosses who have smashed their way to the top and are circulating and thriving in their established friendship groups, when I’m just a mediocre blogger who hasn’t grown at the same speed and success rate over the years. BUT it turns out worrying is just my forte (no shock there) and there was absolutely nothing to be nervous about.

To say I didn’t make the best instant impression as I stumbled into the venue and nearly fell flat on my face as my clumsiness took over my awareness and a small step obstructed the way, I thankfully managed to settle in right away (nothing like acclaiming your ditsy name as a conversation starter, right?!).

Everyone was there for the same reason – to network, to support and uplift each other, to encourage, to inspire, to learn, to share their unique qualities, and to just sit back and have fun – and I superficially ticked all those boxes. The entire room was filled with friendly faces, passion and ambition, and 85 bloggers ready to show (or snow) a studio turned ski resort what we were made of.

As we grabbed our name badges, mingled and chatted to some new and old faces with a cup of complimentary mulled wine, notebook, and camera in hand, I grabbed my front seat like some sort of VIP whilst the icelolly.com team were preparing to introduce the three main speakers of the day from three prestigious names in the blogosphere; Kirsty, Bee, and Kaye. What I loved the most is how approaching the marketing team were, speaking so highly and postively about the influence bloggers have on their brand and hosting competitions exclusively for us to take part in (this time it was some beaut watches up for grabs). They were happy to chat, to take on ideas, and to put forward and stress that to use a platform for collaborative effect is a major strategy in their consuming media. Followed on by an insightful few hours of talks and presentations complete with tips, tricks, advice, shout outs to those bloggers unattended but still killing it, and improvised details that added that genuine touch, really put into perspective why I enjoy being part of such a nurturing, ever-growing, and fast becoming authoritative community.

First to take the stage was Kirsty, a travel blogger who’s recently took the step into freelancing with her extensive knowledge behind her, and boy did that show! Her topic of the day was ‘How to Pitch Successful Travel Collaborations with Brands’ and with the current unnecessary and damn right out of order drama over on a certain bitterly exploitative FB page at the moment, championing pitching couldn’t have come at a better time.

Now, I could take you through step by step but 1) you’d most certainly get fed up halfway down the lengthy essay, and 2) the slideshows from the three ladies are now up on IceLolly’s blog for you to read and download.

Instead, I want to briefly touch on the guidance given and what I learned and took away from the talk.

A ROUNDUP OF KIRSTY’S TIPS:

  • Don’t beat about bush, get straight to the point and tell brands what you want.
  • Ensure it’s relevant to your blog and your speciality as the most effective pitches are the ones that fit your niche.
  • List three things that makes YOU unique – the more unique you can be with your ideas, the better.
  • Show examples of your work!
  • Don’t use a template email or a copied wording because it will be transparent.
  • Tell them what you can offer, is it your SEO, your social media skills, your photography? Add depth, a quirky twist, and put it on a plate of “here’s what I’ve done, this is the content I’ve created.”
  • Don’t let lack of followers put you off as they’re not always relevant or top priority. Draw focus away from your follower count to emphasise on your favourite approach, engagement or photography instead!
  • Don’t over promise, be realistic with what you can do in return, but also be specific from the off.
  • Don’t be afraid to directly ask for what you want.
  • Pitch ideas they can visualise.
  • Be specific on the collaboration – is it social media takeovers, sponsored blog posts, vlogs?
  • Explain how your input will benefit their brand.
  • Do your research and keep track of what they represent by checking up on their channels.
  • Ask yourself if they really are a brand you admire and aspire to work with – there’s no point just diving in to all corners.
  • Use LinkedIn wisely – it’s a very handy platform and the perfect place to find relevant contacts and connections. Fully optimise your profile and connect to brands to the make the most out of the professional marketing tool.
  • Set up spreadsheets to audit your schedule and to make a note of who you have and haven’t pitched to.
  • Create and update a media kit as it helps and boosts your trademark enormously (something I definitely need to do!)

WHAT I LEARNT:

  • Followers aren’t the most important part of a pitch and if you can tick the boxes of being a good fit for the brand then you’re still in with a chance of achieving that dream partnership.
  • To remain cool and confident is key and you have to drill it into yourself – what’s the worst that could happen?
  • You have to think of it as a bringing in business opportunity – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with reaching out to pitch a potential collaboration, it’s how people get to know you, how people recognise you, and how you build a name for yourself. It’s how businesses and the freelance industry work and offering a perfectly reasonable service is not a crime. If brands are there to callously chastise, demean, and dirty you when you do, and are willing to work hard, then they’re not worth it.
  • Don’t think chasing them up is being rude, reaching out shows them that you do care and are determined.
  • Being more personal is more effective. Point out and congratulate a brand’s triumphs, tell them what it is you like about them, and develop a way for them to subconsciously see you for future reference, even if not now.
  • Tailor picking is the best way to do it as then it’s specific to you and not just everyone, it has to be something you truly want to feature.
  • People are scared to reach out because of lack of time, or not knowing what to say, but you can’t let the hang ups get the better of you and you can’t let a refusal get you beaten up.
  • Learning valuable sales skills, growing your blog and receiving more content opportunities is only going to spur you on more!
  • But mainly you have to create your own opportunities, do it yourself, be your own cheerleader! Kirsty has definitely given me the boldness and courage I need to just hit send.
  • It was so elevating to see how Kirsty has grown from strength to strength and to take that conduct away with me to adapt to my own blogging career!

WHAT THE ICE LOLLY PERSPECTIVE SAID:

  • Engagement is absolutely key, it’s all about how you draw in audience!
  • If you’re not listening or reacting, then the number of followers may as well be non existent.
  • Brands do get lots of enquires so it’s important to prove why you’ll be the best, most impressive candidate, and how you’ll stand out.
  • Finding common ground and being flexible and negotiable is a leading aspect.
  • Sometimes pitches will be missed, there’s certainly no harm in chasing emails because it shows you’re passionate and you really want to do it!

Next up, we had Queen Beady living up to her name. Bee is such a joy to be around and as soon as she got up in front of the microphone you can tell why she’s so well liked and why she’s such a bad-ass blogger prospering in all directions. Throwing out Celebration chocolates to those who answered questions, making light of those curve balls, rolling with the punches, and prompting lots of giggles in return. Her natural authentic personality really shone through and highlighted that calling she puts in the spotlight!

A ROUNDUP OF BEE’S TIPS:

  • Don’t take opportunities in what don’t fit and you don’t enjoy because everyone will see right through it.
  • Do less of what you don’t love and make writing about your enjoyment in life the forefront.
  • Don’t force it and don’t write for the sake of it as it will be obvious to your readers.
  • If you need a break away for days, or even weeks, allow yourself to take them. You’ll more than likely come back more motivated and refreshed.
  • INTERACT. Be genuine and responsive, converse with those who leave comments, leave a question at the end of a post to encourage people to engage with you etc.
  • Ways in which to be more productive include: setting your alarm an hour earlier, using your lunch breaks wisely, meeting up with friends for blog-related social gatherings, scheduling your posts the night before, surrounding yourself with an environment you’re concentrated and comfortable in.
  • Take your camera everywhere with you because you never know when inspiration may strike (one of my favourite tips and one I can definitely relate to!)
  • Think of your top 3 achievements, what they translate to, and why they’re advantageous.
  • Being able to show brands why they need to work with you is paramount. Provide hard evidence that you do make a marked effect.
  • Find your style of voice, your passions, and think about what makes your blog stand out from the crowd.
  • Emulating someone else’s success won’t get you far! You are your own person for a reason.
  • Familiarise yourself with SEO: include a link with a high DA, optimise your social channels to drive traffic, learn your keywords.
  • Reinvest back into your blog to reap even bigger rewards. This can be done in so many ways, for e.g. grabbing a fancy design, having a makeover, purchasing a new camera or lens, booking those cheap flights, enrolling yourself on a blogging course, working with professional photographers, going self hosted so you have more creative control over your site. Just keep it fresh and updated and in turn this will continue to develop your skills!
  • Transfer skills you have learnt from work or uni or any other primary notion to boss your blog. They really can be incremental to the running procedure!
  • But whatever you do, don’t let it take over your life, recognise when you’re heading for a burn out, know when to stop, don’t force it, and have a breather.

WHAT I LEARNT:

  • We all have the same amount of time in a day as Beyonce but none of us have an entourage the size of Bey’s. This really stuck with me because it’s true, it’s the reality. No matter how talented and incredible you are at blogging, you will never compete or be at the standard of a blog that has it all and is at the top of the market. You are in this alone but you can do it; be savvy, juggle time effectively, and keep the momentum going.
  • No one can do you and there’s no right or wrongs. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I prefer the long, wordy posts compared to the listicles and that’s okay – that’s what makes me, me!
  • Once the pennies start rolling in it’s a fantastic feeling (I already knew this but it’s nice to stimulate yourself and your mindset.)
  • Understanding your camera makes a hell of a difference. Test out different styles, reevaluate to your lifestyle, go outside to gain a new perspective, work with what you’ve got and not the typical cliches!
  • It’s perfectly okay to big yourself up! You matter, you have credibility, people are interested in your work. I’ve certainly been encouraged to sell myself and add value without feeling guilty.
  • Once you’ve found your voice in the blogosphere it will all flow naturally but interchange and mix it up because it will amplify your niche.
  • Sitting and recording yourself on voice memo to see if your speaking voice fits with your writing voice is a handy technique (for someone who cringes to the point of second hand embarrassment at the sound of my own voice, this is definitely something I want to test out and take on board!)
  • I need to make the most of weekends and breaks. Take blog photos in batch, plan, and capture as much content as you get because then it won’t feel like you’re stuck in limbo and you have lots of projects in process to be working on.
  • Thinking about and continuing to talk about the achievements you’re proud of is practical, it’s good to be reflective and it will be fruitful for brands.
  • Pay more attention to and ask my following what they want to see, number one tip for overcoming the insta algorithm is to optimise your content so I need to give it a more of an endeavoured try!
  • You have to think of your blog as your own little business and use your skills efficiently wherever you can.
  • It’s totally tacky to copy someone else! Simply decide what works for you and that authentic blogger title will arrive in no time.

WHAT THE ICE LOLLY PERSPECTIVE SAID:

  • Pretty much exactly the same as Bee because, you know, she’s a pro.
  • Having a niche is what sells it.
  • Brands do want to know about your achievements but the determined factor is all about what creativity and ideas you can offer!

For the third and final talk we were blessed with the presence of the famous Kaye Ford who’s behind Fordtography and her own personal blog, and of course behind the most talked about and most desired imagery within the blogosphere. If you haven’t heard of Kaye or seen her work then where on earth have you been? I adore her work, she’s seriously talented, and has a real eye for capturing the heart of both people and landscapes. I may or may not have fangirled a little (okay a lot) but how can you not, she is ultimate goals, and the ardour oozes from her. She was on hand to provide her travel photography tips and we were all more than keen to hear!

A ROUNDUP OF KAYE’S TIPS:

  • You don’t always have to focus on your travel buddy. Stop and think about who you’re taking photos with, aim for a more visually interesting photo and focus on landscape rather than your company.
  • Find ways you can counteract.
  • Don’t be a carbon copy of the same old shot you’ve seen a thousand times before.
  • Don’t look to produce the same content in popular locations as everyone else, don’t take pictures of your typical scenario, be individual and think of different ways you can play around with angles.
  • It’s more about capturing the essence and atmosphere of a place in a more memorable way rather than it being samesy.
  • Know beforehand what areas you want to visit and where you want to go. It’s a case of organising your schedule, making time and spending time. There’s no limit but it’s good to know the specifics!
  • Include tourists in shots, utilise the naturalness that gives a sense of regularity with a vibe. Embrace people, shoot through them, use their head as a block out part, don’t erase a crowd in a high tourist area.
  • Always shoot in raw so you can edit the white balance to your satisfaction.
  • The recommended is to always use your camera in manual.
  • Learn the bare basics of your camera, experiment, test and trial, and carry it around everywhere! The key is to teach and educate yourself so you can get the most out of your baby.
  • Respect wishes. If photography isn’t allowed in some restricted areas, then do not go against their policies just because you want to update your Instagram.

WHAT I LEARNT:

  • Having anxieties about travelling solo is fine. If Kaye can still produce the quality she does with people around her, then so can I!
  • Kaye finds buildings boring. It’s assuring to know a respectable and renowned photographer doesn’t feel the pressure to encapsulate architecture because simply, bricks really aren’t that interesting, are they?
  • People in the picture make it more alive. I no longer have to stand and wait for people to vacate before I take a photo because I’ve seen the ways the passing of the public can enrich a scene. It’s gonna save me a lot of time!
  • People never move out of the way in Iceland. It’s impossible to avoid. Handy to bear in mind if I ever head on a trip there (I’m already thinking about how I can use the tourists to my advantage).
  • Taking a snap of the whole scene is not always as efficacious as centring on precise parts. For e.g. Kaye shot from the window of Edinburgh castle with the frame in focus and the beautiful background in the distance and that made the end result more unique.
  • Snow will always have blue tones. Ideal to remember for the blustery winter we’re having! Remember to shoot in raw so you can edit!
  • Don’t be afraid to edit. This is major!! We all know over-editing is silly but we also know every photographer edits their work. You have the basis, and with editing you can enhance to its aesthetic potential!
  • Buying a camera to use for blogging? Don’t read the manual, go to YouTube and find a how to modern instructional piece.
  • Try and squeeze as much as you can into your hand luggage, you’ll be surprised how much you can fit in there with the allowance!
  • When travelling, you only really need the bare minimum camera gear – a 50mm lens, a tripod, and a long shutter. It’s all about playing with the settings and adjusting them appropriately.
  • A simple change of f-stop can make a photo less flat in an instance.
  • 50mm is very close to what your eye naturally sees.
  • Shoot directly or from above and then you’ll avoid shadows and double chins.
  • It’s so easy to use everyday essentials as a magnifier. She suggested making a rainbow with the reflection of a CD and it’s something I’m now desperate to try out.
  • I’m also at the stage where the mode is being switched to manual opposed to the aperture priority I usually use. I will master it! It’s time for upped change.
  • Kaye is a kinesthetic learner, and I’ve come to the conclusion so am I!
  • “It’s like Harry Potter; you don’t choose the wand, the wand chooses you” my favourite quote to come out of the day and the perfect way to end the seminar. Whatever camera you have, whether bridge, or DSLR, cheap, or expensive, it’s yours!

WHAT THE ICE LOLLY PERSPECTIVE SAID:

  • Kaye’s a genius.
  • That’s pretty much it.

And that marks the end. Congratulations if you’ve made it here, and I hope you’ve managed to get some valid information from my heavy post. Even if you weren’t there on the day, please feel free to contribute with your own blogging tips and your own achievements in the comments!

I’ma finish off with my hands held high to the entire IceLolly team! To say they are an independent site purely running to help you find the best deals for your ideal holiday, and drawing in 20 millions visitors a year, the way in which they connect and respond to the influencer market really is praise worthy and oh so very apt. They know what we want, they know our aim is to achieve our blogging goals, and they manage to arrange annual events to sustain and reinforce this with their especial backup and full surveillance.

(The fact it’s exclusively a Leeds event is just a bonus. I mean, I’m absolutely not biased when it comes to my hometown pleasures, nope.)

My head is filled with a whole load of initiative and I’m still feeling the galvanising spirit but if I was to take just one thing from Blog At The Beach it’s that bloggers really are mighty. We’re writers, we’re photographers, we’re editors, we’re social media assistants, we’re SEO experts, we’re life coaches, we’re personal motivators, we’re designers, we’re decorators, we’re dozens of other professions all rolled in to one and THAT is a win!

We win at life.

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