Internships are a lot like casual dating

Internships are a lot like casual dating. You find the ultimate internship/unpaid placement, and you know it’s a match made in heaven because your interests and skillset is so like the company ethos, you think it may have been written just for you.

This is it, you tell yourself. All I have to do is prove myself for three months and I’m in.

The interview goes exceptionally well: you manage to talk about yourself enough without sounding like a dickhead, and you asked them questions too, which is important, apparently.

You think that you were friendly yet engaging, corporate and courteous. You start to dream up your future in the company and envisage what lies ahead. What will you wear on dress-down Fridays? Will you have lunch in that nice Japanese place?

you manage to talk about yourself enough without sounding like a dickhead

A week crawls by without any word, and you begin googling the job advert to see if it is still online. After ten days you consider ringing your network provider to check if your SIM is working but then, suddenly you get a call from the company offering you the position. They need you now! Can you start today?

You say of course far too quickly, and throw together an outfit that says ‘hire me’.

The internship starts off exciting and fast-paced. Although there isn’t a promise of a permanent job at the end, you’re confident you can win them over. You embrace every task with gusto but soon you realise the company can’t commit to a set schedule.

They keep letting you down.
They’re having some ‘development’ issues and aren’t sure which days they will need you.
That’s fine, you say, I’m not doing anything else, I can come in whenever.

friends question your priorities when you miss a birthday celebration to alphabetise accounting files on a Friday evening.

What was once a ‘learning curve’ soon morphs into a linear plateau and eventually descends into a downward spiral. The company is taking the piss and you’ve heard rumours that some of the other interns are PAID?! Still – you change plans regularly so you can work for them at the last minute. Friends question your priorities when you miss a birthday celebration to alphabetise accounting files on a Friday evening. It might still lead to something, you protest. Maybe they will make it official?

You don’t even bat an eyelid when your boss tells you that you can’t get an invite to the Christmas party as it’s for permanent staff only and unfortunately that’s how it’s always been. You smile sweetly, and tell him that you must have got confused, although you’re certain someone in HR sent you an email.
Was this a mirage? What is real?

You tell your boss that you’ve already made plans anyway whilst trying to sound aloof. You stay in all evening and spend three hours re-cropping your photo on LinkedIn
.
On Monday the Christmas party talk is making you jealous and later you are called to your boss’ office. The company is sorry but one of the other interns has really excelled, and they’ve been here for a lot longer. It’s not you it’s them and if they could, they would take you all on. Stay in touch, your boss says, we’ll keep you on file.We still need to keep our options open at the moment.

Pissed off, you return to your desk for the last time.

You’ve put your all into this. You are the missing cog in the company wheel. Without you there is no wheel. You worked hard, what went wrong? You wrack your brains and vow to go on a journey of self-improvement, starting with your hair.

without you there is no wheel

Were you too keen? Maybe you should have made more coffee. Or the coffee you did make was of substandard quality. Fuck the coffee; you should have made more tea!

You resolve to tell all your friends about how shit the company is, warning them never to accept internship offers in a similar vein. You spend your last tube journey home thinking about the sushi you never got to taste in that Japanese place.

Next time, next time you’ll know how to play the game.

Dealing with travel envy/tunnel vision

Dealing with travel envy is tough when you’re deskbound for the foreseeable future.  My best mate is currently doing a Kim K in South America…

zoe hair

And finding Nemo in the Great Barrier Reef

zoe fish
(Insta: @dctrze)

Meanwhile I’m trying to navigate the pre-9am Northern Line without imploding every time someone does that misleading newspaper-bag-book shuffle which makes you think they’re going to give up their seat at the next stop but they actually stay put and you look like a dickhead for moving too close to them. It gets me every time.

zoe blog

Anyway I really like my job, but there are times when I scan my newsfeed for some important, cutting edge, proper news and am faced with yet another friend living it up on an exotic Continent. I’m even getting jealous of people in Vietnam and Thailand even though I’ve been.  Loads of old school mates are asking me for travel tips on South East Asia and obviously I’m happy to oblige but I actually get really bad FOMO every time someone orders a different pizza topping to me, so it’s no surprise I can’t deal with all these elephant/diving/hiking pictures.

Everyone has a set idea of how their life should pan out after the structures of school and University destabilise around them.  Whether it’s heading into a grad scheme, a dream job or venturing to the other side of the world, everyone has a ‘life plan’ or at the very least a ‘5 year-plan’ (like Russia’s but less oppressive and more economical). But sometimes having a set idea of exactly what you want to do can be damaging to your happiness in the long-run.

When you’re so focused on reaching a certain goal all the possible opportunities that appear on the way can blur into insignificance through tunnel vision. You accidentally miss things that could benefit you had you been paying more attention at the time.  Chasing a dream far away in the future can mean some people lose focus on the present, and what happens if they get there and it’s not everything they hoped for? Will they still feel that the journey has been worth it?

What I think is important right now, is living for right now. And I don’t mean that in a ‘Yolo’-esque way; flipping tables, popping bottles or justifying any morally questionable behaviour by prefixing it with ‘fuck it!’ I just mean being present and aware of what you have at this very moment in time. Having ambition is vital but I’m realising that the ‘path to success’ or the ‘road to happiness’ (whatever that really means) is non-linear and probably lined with pot-holes and that’s fine. As a wise rapper one said: “It’s the journey that teaches you about your destination”  -exactly Drake, exactly.

How do you deal with travel envy? Any ideas let me know…

10 hard truths learned since graduation

Wait, what that was Uni? Why wasn’t it made clear to me before starting that these things would only dawn on my after I was finished?

  1. Your skinny days never started are over. You’ve restarted an intense and passionate love affair with carbohydrates now you have access to a perpetually overflowing cupboard back at home and you see no reason to stop this.
  2. Money is fluid and what you spend , you will soon make back again as long as you don’t live the Waitrose lifestyle on a Morrisons’ wage. (NB: I love Morrisons’) Working may mean you can afford to upgrade from K to Kopparberg, but that niggling voice in the back of your head telling you to save just gets louder.
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. Buying cheap shoes is never worth it.
  4. You will only ever wake up with that internal feeling of sheer bliss and unrestrained freedom on a bank holiday or Sunday. On every other day there is shit to be done and it doesn’t do itself. (NB: If you want to recreate this feeling on a more regular basis, consider moving to a country with 20+ bank holidays such as Colombia or Argentina).
  5. You don’t have to be told to go to bed. Ever. (10pm just makes more sense when you’re up at 6.30am).
    University, hard truths,
  6. Staying in touch with friends when you don’t all live in the one place isn’t easy. Your friendship landscape is going to be drastically repainted after University which may or may not make you feel sad.
  7. Hangovers hit you harder, last longer and elicit less sympathy from those around you the older you get.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  8. Cheap vodka, cheap food, cheap nights out and cheap encounters will eventually get the better of you and slowly ebb away at your soul. Wherever possible, go premium.
  9. You will always find time to binge watch TV shows.
  10. Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you will suddenly realise how to pay tax, work the radiator or use pak choi in a recipe. These things may or may not come to you in the next decade.

 

Outlook: The good, the bad, the ugly

Waking up every morning to the low rumble of bass in the midsts of the Croatian country side, seconds from the beach and surrounded by thousands of other not-too-rowdy revelers has become an annual tradition among bass-music lovers from all over the world – and it’s easy to see why. Now in its seventh year, and attracting crowds of around 5000, Outlook is the anti-archetypal, chameleon festival that can’t really be pigeon-holed.  

THE GOOD

-Venue
Night falls and you follow the dirt paths illuminated by stage lights in the distance to the disused roman fort: a labyrinth of open-air, 40ft, stone-walled venues transformed for a few days each year.  The dungeon, the courtyard, the ballroom, and the smaller courtyard…there’s no better place to spend all night raving. And you always seem to forget you’re outside.

Photo: Chloe Edwards

-The crowd
Everyone envisages a certain ‘type’ of festival-goer before they arrive,  but in all honesty the crowd at Outlook has to be as diverse and eclectic as the music on offer. Think less plunging vests, and biro-esque tattoos, and more…super-smiley tech professionals and glittery students. NB: I realise that neither of these categories will appeal to some, so I’m just going to say: crowd = all good.

outlook beach girls

So diverse

 

-The weather
Sun is a source of serotonin – so remember to drag yourself OUT of your sweat-pit tent and sleep it off on beach. Temperatures generally reach the mid 30s. Strangely about two years ago, there was a lot of rain… but fortunately no dampened spirits, so I hear.

Photo: Chloe Edwards

-The boat parties
Spend the extra £30 before you go and book one of these. Day-time boat parties are just as raucous as the ones that kick off at nightfall. I lost my shoes but still managed to last three hours on-board the top deck swaying to house in the blazing hot sunshine with an Eton Messy DJ telling the crowd that we were “all looking beautiful”  despite the fact I was nearly debilitated. Half my group overdid it the night before and spent most of their time on the bottom deck spewing over the side. Do not peak before your boat party – the day time ones usually start at about 1pm.

outlook boat better

-The music
Reggae, bass, house, dubstep, grime, electronic music and a whole lot of weird stuff played through some of the world’s best sound systems.

Photo: Chloe Edwards

-$$$
Where else can you get all this for £135? WHERE?

THE BAD

-Thefts
My friend left her new Nikes outside the tent just before a pre-fort nap at 4pm. The audacious theft (which was witnessed by our tent-neighbours) happened in our campsite before it was even dark, so hide yo kids, yo wife and yo shoes. Or get a locker. Luckily the shop on site sells fake yet comfy crocs for when this inevitably happens. (See below).

Replace your edgiest shoes with these

Replace your edgiest shoes with these

-The music
Ok for us, four days of earth-shattering, skull-crushing beats at 140bpm took its toll on our souls… just a little (one night there was just so.much.trance) but as I said before the music is pretty varied, and if you want commerical you can always head to V-festival.

One Direction merch available in town

One Direction merch available in town

-The food
Who really eats at a festival anyway. When you do remember, there’s a supermarket. And salad, chinese and burger stands. NB: Choose the former, your body will thank you for it later. Although fast food is a little more expensive than the nearest city (Pula)  it’s nothing on UK festival prices, with each meal just under a fiver.

-Camping
Let’s not pretend it’s anything it’s not. Hostels also available nearby.

O camping

My camping buddy’s thoughts on her tent

-Flights/Croatia Airlines
Don’t book with Croatia Airlines if you can help it; they change your flight details weeks after booking  and can’t correspond well enough in English to let you know about it. Also book well in advance. I’ve heard of people having to sell their comparatively cheap festival tickets, because they left  booking  a flight until a few weeks before, when companies charge up to £400 to fly to Pula (the city where the festival is based) or even Zagreb  (where we flew to three hours away from Pula and easily accessible by bus).  Some people save more by flying to Venice and making their way from Italy…but that really is long.

THE UGLY

-Authenticity is what the Croatian festival scene is aiming for and in most respects, this has been achieved. For the past few years Croatia has been marketed as the new, cooler Ibiza with quieter beaches and louder music, where students flock to ponder their existential crisis, as opposed to actively encouraging the onset of another one. However, it is perhaps due Croatia’s  infancy as a party destination, or the fact that in a festival environment hedonism is so easy to capitalise on, that you forget that not everything on offer is as… authentic as it might seem. Luckily, Croatians are a friendly bunch and seem to give refunds.

outlook signs

 

 

Could you hack it as a holiday rep? Working abroad: the truth

Let’s be honest: if you haven’t already been on a warts-and-all package holiday before university, you’re tempted now, right?

The recent spate in reality TV travel shows has exposed 18-30 clubbing holidays as the ultimate hedonistic paradise. Brits in various states of undress wade through a sticky jungle of vodka, sweat and risqué drinking games, all in the search for ultimate escapism. Only dulling glow sticks, dripping body paint and flashing neon lights illuminate the debauchery: Welcome to ‘The Strip’ – the clubbing epicentre of Kavos, Malia, and Magaluf, amongst others.

Majorca by day... Flickr: Tony Steele

The holidays displayed on the telly would have us believe these destinations are losing their shine. However last year Spain, Greece and Cyprus were still amongst the top ten vacation destinations for Brits [1] – and with some young people choosing to work abroad too, do they deserve to be demonised?

Becky Long, a 20-year-old English Literature finalist at the University of Warwick, spent the summer working as a club promoter in Zante and says the attraction for students is clear.

“The drinking culture is quite similar to that of university,” Becky explains. “It’s very much like Fresher’s again, which is why students still visit.”

With bars and clubs offering remarkably cheap drinks deals – “where I worked, it was €10 (£8.26) for an unlimited bar all night,” she adds – booze is the main culprit for holidaymaker’s bad behaviour.

Becky remembers one terrifying night in particular. “People do stupid things” she says. “One night, a friend was dancing on the edge of a roof, absolutely paralytic. We managed to get him down but it was scary.”

Each year, thousands of Brits are lumped with a hefty hospital bill after alcohol-fuelled antics end in disaster. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) states that Spain “continues to be the country with the highest number of Britons hospitalised”, with 899 cases in 20131.

Tragically, seven British nationals fell to their deaths from balconies in the same year[2]. If an uninsured person dies abroad, any treatment they have received and their repatriation to the UK is unlikely to be covered: “Bringing a body back to the UK can cost thousands” the FCO warns[3].

DIGITAL CAMERA DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s also important to remember that it won’t be as easy to find the same level of medical and personal care on the strip as it would on campus. Local attitudes and customs will not be the same as you’re used to back home.

“I know a girl who had been in Zante for over three months and needed a sexual health test and there are very few clinics that do this.” Becky says. “She said the whole experience was a lot more stressful than in the UK.”

Always take the same precautions as you would back home – what happens abroad doesn’t always stay there. In the case of a sexual assault, find your nearest embassy or consulate who can help with contacting police, explain local procedures, and get in touch with family if needed.

Worker’s paradise?

For those looking to fund their trip as they go, there are bar jobs aplenty if you’re confident, punctual and thick-skinned.

Becky recalls her first few nights promoting on the strip for very little money: “It’s tough. For the first three days I worked seven hours for €15, it was ridiculous. I demanded more after threatening to leave and eventually received €30 for six hours – and that’s really good on the strip. Hours are longer for the barmen, but if you want to be a shot-girl you basically live off your commission.”

Thefts are also common in clubbing holidays, with passport and phones amongst the most popular items stolen.

“In Zante I didn’t bring anything out with me each night,” Becky recalls.  “However, people were targeted every night on the strip – I think tourists are more likely to have things stolen.”

More than 28,000 Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are issued around the world every day by the FCO[4]. However, obtaining one can take several days, which may cause additional expenses on top of the £95 fee. What’s more, you will need to get a new passport on your return home, adding another £81.25, using the “Check & Send” service. It’s a good idea to keep a photocopy of your passport on you, and remember that items aren’t always safer on your person. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have loads of top tips on staying safe abroad, visit https://www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo, alternatively joinwww.facebook.com/fcotravel or follow twitter.com/fcotravel

If you’re going for a good time, rest assured these clubbing holidays won’t disappoint. “I would recommend visiting a resort like Zante. For the most part I felt very safe and I met people from all different backgrounds” says Becky. “You just have to retain a bit of common sense…”

Don’t let the fishbowls cloud your judgement – Know Before You Go.


[3] https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-insurance

[4] http://blog.allcleartravel.co.uk/passport-expense/

Majorca by day…
Flickr: Tony Steele

Erasmus: Living in Berlin for a year

This post is from the FCO’s Global Ambassador Abi Awojobi, 21, who is living in Berlin for a year through the Erasmus program at her uni – the University of Warwick in Coventry.
The Erasmus scheme is a European Union (EU) exchange program whereby any student in higher education can apply for a grant and study overseas in neighbouring EU nations.
Here Abi tells us why living in Berlin has been the best decision she’s ever made…

“What makes a city great? It’s difficult to say. But I can tell you, whatever it is – Berlin has it. I’ve been studying at Humboldt University in Berlin for almost 4 months now and I have well and truly traded in my brolly, scones and PG tips for some Lederhosen, Currywurst and Pilsner Bier. Having grown up in the concrete jungle that is South East London, I thought mastering student life in Berlin would be a breeze. The city is much smaller, the people much nicer, plus I have a German A-Level to back me up. What else could I possibly need? Well I’ve discovered that there’s a lot more to Berlin student life than you can learn in any guidebook. Lucky for you, you don’t need any guide book. I’ve compiled a comprehensive 3 point plan of everything you need to do (or not do) in order to enjoy your time here.

abi 3  abi 5abi 1

Rule number 1: There is no ‘city centre’
The biggest difference between London and Berlin is probably the lack of a centre. Of course, the georgraphical centre of the city is  ‘Mitte’ but the city doesn’t operate in the same sort of concentric way that London does. Berlin is made up more of what I would call districts, and each district is like a mini-centre in itself. This is interesting because in Berlin, everywhere is connected by public transport very efficiently and, because of its size, everything is much closer to everything else; however, Berliners tend to spend most of their time in their own neighbourhoods, and people still tend to think in terms of east and west. What this means is that you are more likely to find the best parties, restaurants and people somewhere off the beaten track. When you visit, do not make the mistake of thinking that the heart of Berlin is waiting for you, next to the Reichstag and the Brandenburg gate.  Don’t be a tourist. The most fun I’ve had since being here has taken place in the in the area where I live, and surrounding it. This leads me nicely on to rule number 2.

Rule number 2: Your housemates are not necessarily your new BFFs…
In Berlin, most students and young professionals live in a ‘Wohngemeinschaft’, or ‘WG’ (pronounced ‘Vay, Gehy’), which translates literally as ‘living community’. It’s a similar concept to a flatshare, but with a few differences. Usually there’s only one or 2 bedrooms going in a WG at any given time, and you’re usually sharing with people a bit older than you who are not necessarily students. Housemates aren’t viewed in quite the same way here as they are in the UK. In the UK, as a student, your housemates usually form a core part of your friendship group and your social life. They are the ones who pre-drink with you, remind you what six means again in Ring of Fire, and queue up with you by the kebab van after a long, heroic night of jäger-induced bassfacing. In Berlin however, housemates are just people you live with.  And you don’t really choose them. They have to choose YOU. When you find a room going in a WG, chances are, about 30 other people would have viewed the same room on WG-gesucht.de. So what this means is that there’s a lot of demand, but minimal supply. Therefore, according to the laws of economics, which I have extensive knowledge of, this gives the current housemates in the WG the right to hold an X-factor-esque screening process in the search for their potential housemate. My advice? Be sure to put yourself out there and make different friendship groups.

Rule number 3: Pace yourself.
In the UK, a night out is a sprint. In Berlin, it is a leisurely stroll: Think Mo Farah, not Ussain Bolt. The nightlife in Berlin is probably what makes it so unique. When people in England are coming home, Berliners are just going out. A typical night out here will start with pre-drinks at someone’s apartment at maybe 11 (I think the apartment thing is not very Berlin though, they would go straight to a bar, after maybe pre-eating at home before).  Hang out there for a bit, move on to a bar around maybe 12.30, and then head to the club around 2/3am, and then stay till whenever. By whenever, I literally mean whenever as in I don’t actually know when the clubs shut here. I’ve never witnessed the shutting up process, and the earliest I think I’ve ever gone home is 6am. The clubs are set up differently as well. The music is definitely the key focus and the Techno scene is what Berlin is famous for. I was not at all a techno fan when I arrived, but I can’t explain how good the music is. Club like Ritter Butzke, visionaire, Rummelsbucht and of course Berghain are must-sees.

Rule number 4: Every day is take-out day
This rule speaks for itself. Food is cheap, and food is good. The kebab was invented in Berlin and your whole experience is worthless until you try one here.”

Considering an Erasmus? It’s a great way to explore another culture, and the EU grant is free to all students! (Certain criteria must be met). For insurance tips, local culture knowledge and other ways to stay safe and healthy abroad, visit www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo.


What do you want to go there for? Bad travel advice that you need to ignore

You’ve been planning a round-the-world trip after Uni for as long as you can remember; you’re finally going to have that gap year and be that person whose prerequisite before changing their profile picture is that is has to be on a beach, up a mountain or on some sort of exotic animal. You’ve bought the backpack, the camera and made an eclectic ‘road trip playlist’ to match your new open-minded outlook on life. You’re ready. But certain people don’t get it – they’re  killing your vibe.
“Everyone who goes to Barcelona is a victim of crime” says your Mum who doesn’t get the concept of Interailing.
“You’ll get arrested for trying to access Facebook in China” says  your mate who’s never left Europe.
Forums, friends and family can all be excellent sources of advice, but they can also help spread common myths about traveling that may put you off. Don’t believe all the hype; do your research and ask people who have traveled your proposed route and are of a similar mindset. Here’s a list of the worst and most commonly spread travel advice.

 

1. Don’t worry about learning the language because everyone speaks English
Without a doubt, this has to be the most useless and narrow-minded expression, heard thankfully, from a minority of travelers. Taking the time to learn even the basics of another language will make your time away so much easier as you communicate and integrate with the local community. And according to the British Council only 800 million people speak English around the world today…out of 7 billion. Time to get practicing.

2.Change all currency before you arrive
Would you travel around your home country with currency worth thousands strapped to your thigh? If the answer is no, chances are you probably don’t need to do the same abroad. Most people split their money among their backpack, person and bank account. Pre-paid travel cash cards can also be an excellent way to beat extortionate bank charges.

3. Don’t eat any street food. Ever.
Ok, there’s a small chance that curry could be rat-catch of the day from the local gutter, but then again do you know what rat tastes like? Of course you don’t. If those chicken sticks that have been sitting out in the sun all day are pink in the middle, then it’s not worth boasting that you can eat for less than £1 a day, but generally street cuisine is one of the best ways to discover authentic local culture.  Remember you can get food poisoning in restaurants as well (I was once debilitated by salad in Spain) so choose where you eat wisely.

4. Book everything in advance
How you plan a trip depends on what kind of person you are. There are those who need copies of all receipts and strict itineraries (fun),  and those who prefer to leave most things to fate (more fun). Obviously a combination of both practices is advisable. For example with the Inca trail in Peru, booking in advance is a must.  If you want to go scuba diving or learn to snorkel, you can sort that out when you arrive.

5. Spend a lot of money on jabs
There is a wealth of misinformation out there on injections and jabs. Did you know that in most cases you don’t need any immunizations to visit Australia? To be certain in all cases, see your GP or visit the NHS website.

6. Don’t travel alone as a female
One of the most hotly contested travel debates – should you go it alone as a girl? The answer is most probably dependent on where you want to go. Some parts of South America pose similar risks for men and women, whereas visiting India and the Middle East can be more dangerous as a woman. As long as you follow basic safety precautions though, you should be just fine.

 7. Don’t rent a car/moped abroad
If you can’t drive back home then this is a piece of advice that really shouldn’t be ignored. If you can drive and don’t want to see the sights on foot, then choosing the right renting-company and vehicle is imperative. Renting a car in the US and Europe when you’re under 25 can be a costly process, and plenty of travelers return from Asia and the Americas with warnings against hiring bikes from companies which are out to scam tourists. Remember insurers don’t often cover this type of independent travel.

8. Keep your passport on you at ALL times
Awful advice your parents will probably drum into you at the airport, and which you will realise is awful when you stagger home from the beach bar at 4am in tears after realising your only form of ID flew out of your back pocket and into the Indian Ocean after one too many Mojitos. There will likely be safer places (hostel lockers, safes) to store your passport than on your person at reckless times like this.

 More detailed advice is available on the FCO website at www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo and you can also follow them on Facebook (facebook.com/fcotravel) or Twitter (twitter.com/fcotravel).

Know before you go.

 

I spy a scam in Bangkok…

Image
Bangkok is a place which remains etched on the memories of all who visit it; a place of mind-bending surprises and eye-watering juxtapositions. It is a frenetic circus of bustling markets, spicy food and neon-lit clubs. It is also a tranquil space of stunning temples and beautiful architecture. This year Bangkok is the world’s most-visited capital city,[1] and with such a varied landscape, no wonder many travelers start their Asian adventure with a stint in the country’s animated capital. But how easy is it to stay in a place known to some as ‘scam city’? According to Sarah Peth, Senior Pro Consul in Bangkok, 180 British nationals were arrested and 231 hospitalised in Thailand last year [2] – but should this really act as a deterrent for those on a quest for Thai culture?

Khao San Road is Bangkok’s backpacker hub, where you can zig-zag between raucous bars and street performers, haggle for clothes or indulge in a street massage and watch the world unfold before your eyes. The food carts perched on the pavements offer a diverse selection of Thai cuisine; huge portions of pad thai (flat noodles with chilli and egg) for around 60p, and mouth-watering tropical fruit kebabs. Just make sure meat dishes are served piping hot, and the fruit and vegetables fresh. If you’d prefer a fine dining experience, Bangkok’s restaurants boast a plethora of global food; three courses and a cocktail is less than £10 – and that’s at the top end of the scale!

The shopping experience in Bangkok is unlike any other. The Kaoh San Road market is an overwhelming display of the trashy and tremendous where you can find anything from tie dye t-shirts to knock off DVDs. Don’t be afraid to haggle but always be respectful -Thai people don’t like losing face. The Chatuchak Weekend Market’s half an hour from the city centre and offers a slightly more authentic shopping experience, so set aside a few hours if you want to explore this 35-acre market-maze which sells snakes and second-hand items.

Getting around Bangkok can leave tourists susceptible to the most popular scams. Three-wheeled open door taxis called tuk-tuks are popular amongst tourists, but always agree on a price before you hop in. Emilia, a student at Oxford Brookes University was caught out by a local tuk-tuk scam.
She said: “On our first day in Bangkok, a man selling maps told us that the best way to see the city was by tuk-tuk. He brought us over to one of the cars and agreed a price with the driver – about 20p for the whole day which was so cheap.”[3]

Unfortunately this bargain price was too good to be true. The tuk-tuk driver took Emilia and her friends to the agreed place but also stopped off at a tailors, a jewellery shop and a fake tourist information shop where the girls were persuaded to make a booking for activities and handed over £170 each.

However upon returning home, they researched the information centre and found reviews advising them not to trust the shop.  The girls had handed money over to an unofficial tourist agent called ‘ITAT’ – in Bangkok the official tourist bureau is called ‘TAT’, but Emilia and her friends had been brought into one of the many imitation shops which lure travellers in with fake logos and uniforms. A number of local businesses in the area work in conjunction with tuk-tuk drivers to increase tourist exposure to their shops, and drivers will often stop at places not originally agreed on the route or leave travellers in the middle of nowhere.

When Emilia and her friends returned the next day to demand a refund, the man with whom they had made the booking wasn’t there, and the other travel agents refused to hand back any cash.

It’s vital when travelling abroad that you research the local laws, customs and potential scams before you arrive. The FCO regularly updates its website with travel advice and helpful tips on every country around the world. There’s also information on how to plan and stay safe on your gap year.

More detailed advice is available on the FCO website at www.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo and you can also follow them on Facebook (facebook.com/fcotravel) or Twitter (twitter.com/fcotravel).

For any of you who have a smartphone, there is a great free app called Plan.Pack.Explore which gives you all the info you might need before going. It is also available on their website at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/plan-pack-explore-a-new-guide-for-travellers.

Know Before You Go.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23433149

[2] Sarah Peth,  Senior Pro Consul in Bangkok, as interviewed 5th September 2013

[3] Emilia, a student from Oxford Brookes as interviewed October 4th 2013

Itinerary: How to ‘do’ Vietnam

It is due to the delicate history, breathtaking landscapes and gradual – and sometimes reluctant- acceptance of Western tourists, that Vietnam possesses an innocence and fragility unlike any other country in Asia, luring backpackers from every corner of the globe. When travelling around Vietnam (buses are the preferred backpacker mode of transport and are equipped with beds) you get the sense of a culture that is only really now, coming into its own and is becoming more and more vibrant by the day. This is reflected in the tremendous economic growth enjoyed by Vietnam in recent years; Goldman Sachs predicts that Vietnam will be the 35th largest economy by 2025, Tony Blair is set to take up a post as a new government advisor (hmm)  and although the currency is pretty much worthless outside of Vietnam (which is still Communist to this day)  that’s not bad for a country that was ruled by France for 150 years. Photo: Georgina Lawton If you’re a Westerner expect to have your picture taken (often without permission) in some parts of the country. For girls, being especially pale is considered beautiful so ladies you can leave the fake tan at home. Strapping lads can prepare to pose for the locals, and those of you with big hair expect to get it touched up a lot. As a female, being blonde doesn’t draw as much unwanted attention as it would in India, and the kind of attention you can expect is harmless – just a new found fascination with tourists rather than anything too threatening. Remember that the Vietnamese (like the Thai) are not naturally aggressive. If you’ve got a few weeks in Vietnam it’s best to start in either the capital city of Hanoi in the North or Ho Chi Minh in the South and work your way up/down stopping off at the best places on the way via bus or bikes. Here are my highlights: Ho Chi Minh -(Also known as Saigon) showcases the darkest remnants of a culture desecrated by war through the harrowing imagery in the National Vietnam War Museum which is not for the fainthearted. -The Mekong is a river which runs through Southern Vietnam. ‘The Mekong Delta Tours’ as they are called, can be done anywhere in the region and the packages vary from a day on the river where you can see the  famous floating markets, to an overnight stay with the locals. Worth doing but search around for the right price and package for you. Photo; Georgina Lawton -Amazing quality restaurants in District 1 where the backpacker buzz spills out onto the street and the crazy traffic and dried-squid food carts make stumbling home a hazard even for those who remain sober. Bag-holders beware – motorbike bag thefts occur ever night. -Exploring the Chi Chui tunnels (built underground by the Vietcong during the war) was also really interesting but don’t climb in if you’re claustrophobic. Dalat  Photography; Georgina Lawton -A bit of a ghost town but lovely scenery. I wouldn’t recommend spending more than 2 nights here. Beautiful waterfalls and a fun national park called ‘The Valley of Love’ where we got our picture taken with the local tourists about 6 times (at their request of course). There’s plenty of picturesque pagodas (temples) but you don’t need much time to see it all. I felt like Rihanna being hounded by the papparazi here until it started to get annoying. Hoian -Best. Markets. Ever. You can half the price of anything you want in Hoian, and people come from all over the world to have dresses, bags, shoes and suits tailored for a fraction of the price they would pay back home. -It’s also breathtakingly beautiful in the Old Quarter where the whole area is illuminated by eclectic lanterns and floating candles on the river. Classical music fills the air whilst tourists stroll amongst the street entertainers. The atmosphere here is magical. Photography; Georgina Lawton -The one club in the area -’Volcano’- leaves tourists with no choice but to submit to the all-you-can-drink-for-80,000VDN-deal each night. As this equivocates to around £2.50 as you can guess the club gets pretty busy and isn’t actually half bad… Nha Trang -Great for going out, and by great I mean there is more than one club and the police don’t shut it down at 1am, as is the norm in Hanoi. -The mud baths here are a relaxing antidote to the party atmosphere, and for about £20 you can spend the whole day in a heated pool and get a massage too. Bliss… -For the same price, you can also spend the day at Vinpearl – a theme park accessed by the worlds longest cable car – which also includes a water park, aquarium and amusements.

Mud Baths, Nha Trang By Georgina Lawton

Mud Baths, Nha Trang By Georgina Lawton

Hanoi -The capital is a little less friendly than Ho Chi Minh city in the South but there’s still a great buzz even if all the clubs are shut before you’ve finished your first mojito.  But don’t worry – if you stay at Hanoi Backpackers in the centre of the city there’s plenty of reps who know exactly who to call and where to take you when the police disappear. Expect what look like back-alley shops to transform into some weird and wonderful underground clubs. -Some of the best street food in Vietnam can be found in Hanoi, and be sure to try the real beer and the dried squid if you’re brave enough, which is a local delicacy. Photography; Georgina Lawton Photography; Georgina Lawton Halong Bay -If you started in Ho Chi Minh and worked your way up to the top of Vietnam, Halong Bay is certainly saving the best ’till last. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, a trip to this destination will stay etched in your memory for years to come. Whilst travelling, I had heard nothing but rave reviews about the cruise through the bay organised by Hanoi Backpackers and it didn’t disappoint. Three boats with up to 70 people sail through crystal clear waters and towering pillars of limestone rocks in the afternoon. As the boats anchor up for the night expect boat hopping, boat jumping, drinking games and questionable music blasted out as the reps get everyone in the party mood until you can take no more. Night two is spent on your very own paradise island where rockclimbing, tubing, canoeing and food is all included in the day. £130 (with no alcohol included) seems pricey in Vietnam for just two nights but believe me when I say you’re paying for the most hedonistic, laughter-filled two days of your trip, all amongst spectacular scenery. Take me back… Want to go to Vietnam? Haven’t been? Let me know.

Top 5 European Christmas break destinations

It’s that time of year again, when the blistering winds and icy conditions mean we can all pile on at least another 10lbs and successfully disguise it beneath thick wooly jumpers, knitted cardigans and gilets (if you’re that way inclined). However despite the national weight average increasing tenfold, more and more people are searching for a romantic locations to visit with loved ones this Christmas. Europe promises a range of yuletide fun whether you’re single, married or sworn off dating/traveling with a significant other completely. Here’s a guide to five of the best Christmas cities in Europe, with a some travel tips from the Foreign Commonwealth Office so you can Know Before You Go (#KBYG).

Pont des arts, Paris

Pont des arts, Paris

5. Paris, France
Known as the City of Love, or the City of Light, Paris has long been considered one of the most romantic (and expensive) cities in Europe. Christmas markets in Paris and elsewhere in France have their origins in the northern Alsace region, which has belonged to Germany at various points in history and therefore draws on German Christmas market traditions stretching to as early as the 14th century.

Where to go:
-That really cute bridge with all the locks on it? Pon de arts. Locks of love are the padlocks couples hang on the bridge in district 6. The practice started in 2008.
-The Christmas Market at La Défense has 350 stands and is one of the largest and most festive holiday markets around. Or visit the Christmas Market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, the largest within Paris’s city limits.

Know Before You Go with the FCO:
-Pickpockets and petty crime is common in some areas of Paris. Make copies of your travel documents and keep valuables in a safe and reliable place.
-Remember it is now illegal to completely obscure your face in France. Failure to do so may result in a  €150 fine.

Lake Bled

Lake Bled

4. Lake Bled, Slovenia
Bordering Italy, Croatia, Austria and Hungary, this land-locked country has some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe which are all the more beautiful in Winter.

Where to go:
-Lake Cerknica is Slovenia’s stunning ‘shrinking’ lake and sometimes disappears altogether. Rent a romantic cabin and check out the museums in the area.
-The landscape around Lake Bled is some of the best for skiing. Perched on a cliff 100m above the lake is 11th century Bled Castle. You can’t stay here but you can stay in some of the luxury hotels in the area.

Know Before You Go with the FCO:
– There is currently a low threat of terrorism since protests in November 2012.
– If you want to ski, call the Slovenian Tourist Board in the UK (telephone: 0870 225 5305) for weather and safety conditions. Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. There is a danger of avalanches in some areas.

Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland

3. London, England
The UK may not be able to deal with the snow at Christmas (which manages to stop all public transport in its tracks) but the capital city has enough going on to satisfy even the most Christmas-phobic of tourists. 

Where to go:
-Hyde Park transforms into the Winter Wonderland fairground (above) from November 22 – January 5th. It’s free to enter so you can browse the stalls and take in the festive atmosphere, or pay to go ice skating, see a circus show, or take a ride on the big Ferris wheel.
-If you visit on a clear day, a trip on the London Eye provides spectacular views of the city.
-Check out the spellbinding Christmas light display in Oxford Street whilst you shop
-On December 14th and 15th, Christmas carol concerts are taking place in the Royal Air Force Museum, Barnet.

St Stephen's

St Stephen’s Basilica

2. Budapest, Hungary
Over 40,000 British nationals visit Hungary each year. Budapest is one of the most beautiful capitals in the world with two different city parts on the banks of the Danube, Buda and Pest.

Where to go:
-The capital city of Budapest is home to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. Get lost in Vörösmarty Square -the heart of the city-  where you can get distracted by puppet shows, live music and handmade crafts from 10:00-20.00
-Budapest boasts some of the world’s best bath houses; the perfect place to warm up after a day shopping in the snow.
-The decor inside the stunning St Stephen’s basilica (above) is not to be missed.

Know Before You Go with the FCO:
-There is currently a very low threat of terrorism in areas with a high tourist/expat community.
-Carrying your passport at all times in Hungary is the law.
-There are strong penalties for anyone caught with drugs.

Geneamarkt

Geneamarkt

1. Berlin, Germany
The Germans appreciate Christmas like no-one else in Europe, and during the festive season Berlin is transformed into a fairy-tale-like wonderland with a diverse selection of markets to suit every taste.

Where to go:
-Despite the small fee to enter, the Gendarmenmarkt is considered the best festive market in Berlin. Its excellent location combined with the variety of live street musicians and great selection of local and handmade items to buy, makes it a must-see
-Some of the best celebrations take place on Christmas eve. If you’re around then, head over to Brandenburg Gate to watch a spectacular fireworks display.

Know Before You go with the FCO:
-Crime levels are broadly similar to the UK. Take sensible precautions to avoid mugging, bag snatching and pick pocketing. Be particularly vigilant at airports, railway stations and Christmas markets. Do not leave valuables unattended.

 

What do the FCO actually do?

Last year the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) provided travel advice for 3000 students, but what is their role abroad? And what can they actually do for you if things go wrong?

Officially “The FCO promotes British interests overseas, supporting our citizens and businesses around the globe.”
In (almost) every country there is a British embassy  which is dedicated to supporting British nationals who might need assistance when travelling there. These services are called consular services. A consul is the person that provides this help on behalf of Britain.

Things they can do:

  • replace travel documents
  • issue emergency travel documents
  • offer advice and support in case of an emergency
  • contact family members in case of emergency
  • visit nationals that are imprisoned
  • liaison with local police officers in difficult circumstances
  • register births of citizens in foreign country
  • help during natural disasters

Things they can’t do:

  • pay for legal advice, flights, or any emergency requirements
  • get you out of jail!
  • change currency
  • translation and interpreting services
  • offer any legal advice
  • negotiation of special treatment, bail, or early release from prison
  • help you find a job

The FCO offers a range of services that may come in useful one day but it’s imporant to remember that they can’t grant you three wishes!

The best way to take advantage of the FCO services is online: KNOW the risks, laws, local customs and where to get the best travel insurance BEFORE you go anywhere. Check out https://www.facebook.com/fcotravel or tweet @FCOtravel for all the latest advice.

Know Before You Go.