All posts filed under “My Travels

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Tips for Solo Travellers

There is something so liberating about traveling alone and being completely anonymous in a city you have never been before. You are free of categories, expectations and conform – you can find your legs and lose the razor for them. There is such internal joy in self-sovereignty, booking your own trip as you go and having complete freedom. Not to mention the counter-intuitive romance in going out to dinner alone, asking for an alfresco table for one and having the waiter bring you out a giant bread basket with only one lonesome roll.  To sit and fully enjoy the atmosphere, unsullied. It is wonderful to stay in hostels and be completely open-minded to meeting new people and to be approachable yourself. I got to know some extraordinary people on my travels whom I would have otherwise overlooked if I were with friends.

It has been a whole year to the week since I first embarked on my European escapades. Yet here I am this weekend, bestowing my patronage upon Peter Alexander and their mid-year winter pyjama sale with such ardent enthusiasm. I come to a realisation (amid a plethora of designer dressing gowns at half price), I need to get a life, and one in a sunnier sojourn.

Deep in the depths of winter and at the mercy of the elements, I have been finding myself indoors googling the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. ‘Fatigue, hopelessness and social withdrawal’. Looking down at my hot-water-bottle strapped to my chest via means of a pull tie from a rather unyielding dressing gown (from Kmart not from Peter Alexander- as MUST SAVE for next trip) and scrolling on Instagram for travel pics on a Saturday night, I google-diagnose myself.

I open the well-worn journal that I kept throughout my travels last year and flick through the many pages of memoirs that I recorded every day over a span of my 8 month travels. I open to a page that has a photo stuck on it. It read this:

Take me where... I want to go

Take me where… I want to go

This photo was taken in Dubrovnik – when the soles of my shoes resonated with my soul. *Sigh*

I find myself living vicariously through my old entries and that exciting epoch of my life. I have learnt so much about myself and the world from traveling solo. I want to encourage other young women to have the courage, confidence and spirit to travel alone. On my journeys and since being back home, I have had so many people say to me, “That was so brave, I could never do that!”
I can’t reiterate enough, how you CAN and should do it. Trust me, I never thought I could do it alone either as I’ve never been too independent (just ask all the different boys who put my IKEA furniture together!!) I had never even entertained the idea of going alone, but when my circumstances changed and the friend I was meant to travel with could no longer continue, I was put in a situation where I had to choose – go home or carry on.. solo! I chose to keep on, and it was a blessing in disguise and the best thing I have ever done.

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I have had some lovely people recently email me expressing interest in some travel tutelage. Feeling flattered by this, as I am no expert and rather a keen dilettante, I would love to share with you my experiences. Over the next few weeks I will release some travel photos, share some hot-spots and anecdotal acumen for the countries I traveled. For now, this post will feature my itinerary, followed by some tips for traveling solo and then some mobile phone aps that literally saved my life. If it wasn’t for the Google Maps ap I can assure you I would be dead in a gutter – and if it wasn’t for the Wine Searcher ap, I would have never been in the gutter. For both experiences, I am thankful.


~Stay in hostels – you meet so many more people  (I recommend booking via:
~Go on a free walking tour in every new city (I recommend booking via
~Always carry with you a good book
~Keep a diary / journal and write in it EVERY day
~ Pack light – you don’t have a companion to lug your suitcase up the stairs for you
~Don’t be afraid to ask for a table for one! Go out to dinner and toast a wine to yourself
~Get a coffee and people watch
~Learn the basic language in each country, attempting to say hello, excuse me and thank you goes a LONG way! (And “what beer would you recommend?” also goes a long way.)
~Exchange contact details with fellow traveler’s – many are doing the same ring route of Europe
~ Keep a folder with all your train tickets, flights, museum admissions etc (I’m a tad sentimental)
~Flick through Tinder to get an understanding of the local names of the region (and the local talent of course) but be safe if you are to go on a date with Gianfranco. PUBLIC PLACE PEOPLE
~Get some flamboyant tourist sandals just because. (TEVA actually have really cool ones!)
~Catch buses from place to place, even country to country! (I recommend booking via FLIX BUS) super reliable, affordable and the views are better!
~Don’t let age stop you – I made friends with a 19 year old and a 90 year old in the same hostel! – Every one has a story to tell
~Read Bill Bryson’s travel books for a laugh and some travel anecdotes and tips
~Rent a bike in every new city
~Pack a picnic for one and eat ALL the cheeses
~Take photos but be PRESENT in the moment. Delete Snapchat. Travel for yourself.

Sky Scanner
XE Currency Converter
Google Maps
Flix Bus
Google Translate
Trip Advisor
Food Spotting
Wine Searcher
Air bnb
Couch Surfing
Tinder (didn’t save my life but taught me exotic names like Guillaume and Moritz)
Spotify (for music and podcasts!)

Serial (season 1)
This American Life
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Under the Skin with Russell Brand
Stuff You Should Know
My Dad Wrote a Porno
The Dollop
TED Talks
Radio Lab

While in the UK: Notes From a Small Island – Bill Bryson
While in Spain: The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
While in France: Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell
While in Czech Republic: The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
While in Italy: Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

Bay of Kotor – Montenegro
Dubrovnik – Croatia
Tuscany – Italy
Positano – Italy
Paris – France
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – Germany
Amsterdam – The Netherlands
Cesky Krumlov – Czech Republic
Skye – Scotland



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Stay tuned for more travel posts!

Iona xx

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My Road Trip around Scotland

The land that brought you haggis, bagpipes, IRN BRU, golf, the telephone, the television, The Proclaimers, penicillin and See You Jimmy Hats is obviously a place worth visiting – not to mention its mythical creatures such as the Loch Ness Monster and more namely the Scottish sun. The latter has only been sighted on very few occasions, and of which, I was lucky enough to witness for 6 days straight as I road tripped around the Scottish highlands. I can tell you firsthand, that when the urban legend does pop it’s scintillating head out from behind the grey unyielding rainclouds, it drenches the land in unparalleled beauty with everything it touches.

I road tripped around Scotland for 6 days in a van and I fell absolutely in love with this bonnie country and its rugged landscape. It all started in Edinburgh where I met up with my Dutch friend Pieter and we hired a travel van through Bunk Campers. It was an affordable Volkswagen that served as wheels, accomodation and most importantly, a wind shield.

We spent the next 6 days traveling up north along the west coast to the northern most tip of Scotland and then back down via the east coast through an exotic cluster of towns called Thrumster, Ulbster, Occumster, Sibster, Bilbster and Badlipster! BADLIPSTER is my personal favourite. However the town called ‘Badcall’ was a close call for funniest name.

The tourism industry call this road route of Scotland the North Coast 500 and it is essentially what we did – but with a few detours thanks to some local knowledge from my relatives and of course the allurement of Google maps and it’s ornate landmarks that had us chasing dirt tracks to discover what they called an ‘Open Air Church’ to which we discovered was just a flashy name for a ruin. We similarly stumbled upon many an ‘open air’ church, house and pub in the consecutive days.. Too bad we were in a Scottish winter where alfresco dining isn’t celebrated far less viable. However the ruins in the remote highlands of Scotland are beautiful in their own right and worth taking the scenic route for.

In that 6 days we saw Edinburgh castle, Loch Lomond, Glencoe, the Glenfinnan viaduct aka The Hogwarts Express, one of Scotland’s most photogenic castles – Eilean Donan, the Isle of Skye (before Harry Styles flew over it in his new film clip – some pop trivia for you), touched the erected Old Man of Storr (not how it sounds I promise), left footprints in the sand on the most remote beach in the UK, and had the best hot chocolate in Scotland – not to mention the best of highland hospitality that led to a sudden spike in tea and scone consumption.

Before I delve into the road trip route, it is important to note that a lot of these remote roads up North are single lane tracks and road etiquette is very important. There are passing places every few hundred metres where you have to pull in and let the upcoming car pass. But because we went in winter the roads were very quiet (save a few of the locals – highland cows, sheep and the like). Peak hour below.

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The photos I have featured below look beautiful and sunny however this is probably not an accurate representation of a Scottish winter. Let’s just say I soon learned (after living in Scotland for two months) that the lyrics of one of my favourite childhood songs ‘Why Does it always Rain on Me‘ by the Scottish band Travis, was not because he lied when he was 17 – as the lyrics would have you so duly believe – but because he lived in Scotland where it always rains. “Why does it always rain on me? Is it because I lied when I was 17?” No it’s because you live in Scotland you daft shite (‘shite’ ever increasingly becoming my favourite Scottish noun). 

But one thing I can say for certain is that what Scotland lack in sunshine – they make up for tenfold in their sunny dispositions. Probably the friendliest most hospitable people I have ever met on my travels and whom I will never forget. I recommend Scotland to any traveler seeking adventure, breathtaking landscape, rich history and one of a kind culture.



DAY 1:

Picked up the van at 11am. Parked in the city and explored the town.

Things to see:
Edinburgh Castle
The Royal Mile
St Giles’ Cathedral
Princes Street Gardens
Arthurs Seat

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DAY 2: 

Woke up to the sun rising and illuminating the Edinburgh Castle on the hill.

Drove to Glasgow.

Wandered Glasgow city. Didn’t spend too much time there but had lunch and wandered around admiring the Victorian and art nouveau architecture that is now home to such a cultural hub. We then made tracks for Loch Lomond via the A82 and stayed the night at Loch Lomond at a place on the waters edge called Duck Bay.

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DAY 3:

Woke up to an amazing sunrise overlooking the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Had breakfast in the company of a very friendly red robin!

Made tracks on the A82 toward the breathtaking mountain scenery of Glencoe and stopped for a packed lunch in Bridge Of Orchy.

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Then stayed on the A82 to Ft William for a ‘wee’ look around the town. In summer you could climb UK’s highest peak – Ben Nevis – but set aside a whole day for this! Amateurs, don’t attempt this in winter unless you have some casual ski goggles, a head torch, a harness, a balaclava to fit under helmet, some crampons – ‘preferably with anti-balling plates’ and some ice axes just casually hanging around in the back seat. We learnt this the hard way as two ignorant punks in North Face jackets and sneakers. 

From Ft William we headed out to Glenfinnan which has the famous viaduct from the Harry Potter movies – the Hogwarts Express. You can have a picnic on the hill and watch the train pass.

We then headed back toward Ft William where we turned off on the A87 to head toward Kyle of Lochalsh. This road will take you past Eilean Donan Castle (in Durnie) which is well worth a visit and a look inside! We stayed the night here on the hill and star gazed!! Most amazing night sky and shooting stars – but come prepared with LOTS of thermals and blankets!


DAY 4:

Woke up to the rising sun peeping through the blue silhouetted mountains.

Then headed toward the Isle of Skye. We stopped in Portree for breakfast (traditional Scottish brekkie with haggis and Stornaway black pudding) and then headed toward the rocky Old Man Of Storr. Parked the van at the bottom and then walked to the top. This takes about 1.5 – 2 hours to walk to the top but WELL worth the view!

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Once we got back to the car we headed out of Skye and toward a very quaint and cute town called Applecross. Had dinner in their local pub called the Applecross Inn – had delicious fresh haddock and chips and home made ice-cream.  By this time it was dark and we headed to Oldshoremore to stay the night.

DAY 5:

Woke up to sheep all around the van! Had brekkie and then headed to Sandwood Bay (most remote beach in the UK). If you put in the GPS it will lead you to the closest parking spot but you will still have to walk about 2 hours before you reach the beach. But well worth it when you walk over the last hill and see the rolling mountains meet the fierce Inner Seas of the West Coast. You have the place to yourself and if it wasn’t for the howling winds and your ten layers of winter clothing ft. thermal underwear you could think you were in Thailand – with the pale blue water and white sand. Just hold on tight to your coconut because gale force winds could see it knock out and kill your companion with one blow.

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Then we headed further North to Durness for the “best hot chocolate in the UK” at Cocoa Mountain. This place is so off the beaten track that we got lost trying to find it but this added to its cozy appeal and the hot chocolate was to die for (if you hadn’t already on the long isolated trek to Sandwood Bay and/or by lethal flying coconut).

We then headed to Balnakeil Bay in Durness which was also very beautiful.

After a brisk walk on the beach it started to rain and so we jumped back in the van and headed to Smoo Cave which is a combined sea and fresh water cave. A true testament to mother natures beauty. We then left en route to Dunnett Head (so we could say “Been there, Dunnett”) and stayed the night at a lookout near a lighthouse. This is the most northern tip of Scotland.

DAY 6:

Woke up to a rainbow over the van and blue skies.

Headed to John O’Groats for brekkie. Had coffee at a really cute and quirky cafe called Stacks.  Must visit! We learned that the cafe was named after the “actual stacks” that hitherto our morning coffee, didn’t know existed!  (another must visit!)


We then headed back toward Inverness which is the capital of the Highlands and a beautiful city with gorgeous old architecture. Checked out Leakey’s Bookshop which is probably one of the most characteristic bookshops I have ever seen. Bought a book and then strolled to the Ness Islands Park which is very magical. In the afternoon we got back in the van and visited Loch Ness on a little pebble shore in Dores before heading to Drumnadrochit for hot chocolate and a visit to Urquhart Castle. 

We then drove back to Edinburgh to return the van and have a long hot shower and a big cry that it was all over. Proceeded to watch Scottish love stories like Braveheart and Outlander while eating Haggis straight from the wrapping with a spoon (it’s too cold to eat ice cream from the tub in Scotland). Oh and FYI, don’t ask what’s in haggis.  It is like the Loch Ness Monster, the Scottish sun and what lies hidden under mens kilts – some things are best left unknown. However Scotland is something to be known.  Trust me.

Will ye go lassie go! 

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MIMCO: From Hand and Heart.

If there is something I love to support, it is ethical fashion.  So when I discovered that MIMCO collaborate with the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) to create collections in support of empowering women and reducing poverty by means of providing work and a fair wage to artisans in marginalized communities, I was jubilant to get on board with their vision and sport their beautiful creations on my latest trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

MIMCO and EFI’s  latest initiative, From Hand and Heart, includes a jewellery collection crafted on the island of Haiti, providing a fair wage and the power to change lives in remote communities. Made from recycled materials, the skilled artisans have utilised cereal packs and hand-rolled ceramics to create each bead individually. These unique bracelets and necklaces certainly infused a playful splash of colour and culture into my travel wardrobe that suited my current bohemian lifestyle perfectly.

I styled my unique beads with a crisp and loose white shirt, some flowy pants and my vibrant MIMCO x EFI beach tote that is handmade in Kenya as part of the initiative. My new bright beads and hand-crafted bags allowed me to assemble an effortless yet brightly accessorized wardrobe while traveling Eastern Europe.


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Now that’s my bag, baby.

The fine art of traveling minimally yet maintaining your own sense of style is hard to master, as I so duly noted when I caught my reflection in a shop window sporting a (safe, but not-so stylish) frontal backpack. But with MIMCO’S latest travel collection I think I have this mastery in the bag, so to speak.

Having made the spontaneous decision to buy a one-way ticket to Europe earlier this year, I recently packed up my whole life into a bag and left en route to sojourns unknown and exciting.

There is without doubt, something romantic about the idea of having your whole life packed up into one bag. But when you’re a bag lover like me, I centered my travel life around three: My suitcase, my MIMCO Tote and my MIMCO Hip Bag – all of equal importance really!

A small hip bag is perfect for balmy nights where you only need your essentials; wallet, phone, ID, lipstick.

The tote on the other hand (or the other arm as the case may be) is my day-trip bag of choice as it fits everything from my camera, snacks, sunglasses and coin purse as well as my passport, a map, and most importantly, a good book.

So while I might be taking my love of bags to the next level by literally living out of them, I have everything I need so long as I can travel.

As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn once wisely said, “Own only what you can carry with you.”

img_8871Exploring the streets in Prague, wearing my favourite MIMCO accessories.img_8659img_8976img_9029img_8923img_9017img_8849img_8655img_8663WHERE TO NEXT?! You’ll just have to wait to find out… (Mainly because I don’t know myself!) img_8874


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Travel Light ft. GRANA

“Travel Light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears”…

…and unnecessary clothing.

A slight literal adaption to one of my favourite travel quotes by Cesare Pavese, and while not as emblematic as its original oeuvre, it gives insightful words of wisdom none the less. You’ll thank me later.

Pre- Europe I had big wardrobe ambitions in mind and thus a big suitcase that was living in fear of the airport scales and the mocking eyes of the more resourceful backpacker.

My mindset while packing was somewhere between the Greek Islands and Berlin and every occasion in between. “I will wear this maxi dress in Santorini,” and “who knows when these leather pants will come in handy,” and “I’ll surely find an occasion for these above-knee-high boots on that one night out in London right?”


In reality, it’s been a slight alteration of the same staple pieces day in and day out with maybe something slightly more adventurous on that weekly trip to the coin laundry to wash said staple pieces.

The moment you realise you need to lug your suitcase up the many bridges in Venice, along the windy cobble streets in Munich,  or up the vertically narrow stairwells in Amsterdam, you quickly realise that the 5kg Doc Martens and three variations of denim jeans in your suitcase are not convenient ‘necessities’ after all.

Thus, I did the much needed clear out and sent majority of my clothing back home, returning unworldly and unworn. I was relentless in my abated suitcase shortlist, leaving only my favourite timeless staples remaining. Namely my trusty GRANA pieces that are versatile, light weight, classic and durable. Perfect for traveling.

The GRANA Silk V- Neck Camisole Denim Mom Jeans:vc_20160916_0178_0111vc_20160916_0160_0094img_8397vc_20160916_0215_0148vc_20160916_0209_0142vc_20160916_0223_0156vc_20160916_0230_0163

Silk V-Neck Camisole

Made by the best silk artisans in the world, this Chinese Silk Camisole is light weight, soft to touch yet tough within, making it a perfect travel staple. What I love most about this little number, is it’s versatility – suitable for day or night, casual or play.

Denim Mom Jeans

Made from traditional ring-spun cotton methods, these Japanese Denim Mom Jeans are super comfortable with a forgiving stretchiness, perfect for those big European dinners where carbs and wine are always on the menu. Also you need to have one pair of  trusty jeans in your travel kit for the unpredictable cooler weather in London, Amsterdam or Paris.


The GRANA Silk V-Neck Slip Dress:vc_20160916_0347_0280vc_20160916_0273_0206vc_20160916_0261_0194vc_20160916_0290_0223vc_20160916_0305_0238vc_20160916_0379_0312vc_20160916_0407_0340vc_20160916_0417_0350

The GRANA Silk V-Neck Slip Dress

This dress is probably the most versatile little number in my suitcase. It is suitable to dress up or down, so you can throw it on over a white tee for a stroll through the flea markets, or you can dress it up with some accessories and wear it on a balmy night out.  Yep, this Chinese Silk Slip has seen the ins and outs of my travels and saved the day on a number of occasions.

So on that note, GRANA are treating my readers to 10% off your first GRANA purchase until the end of October 2016! So jump online here to get your hands on the best fabrics in the world. 

“Vaarwel” for now. xx

Photographed by Jay Tang in Amsterdam, 2016.

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Vietnam Safari

The horizon was a mirage,  juxtaposing the sunburnt orange sand and the powdery blue sky like an impressionist painting of small little brush strokes . The thick grains of burnt Earth composed an endless orange ocean of dips and little ripples that extended to big tidal waves, forming the Mui Ne Red Sand Dunes in Vietnam. The sun was blistering on my back and the sand was hot on my feet as I wandered up the windward side, tip toed along the thin ridge before tearing down the slip-face leaving deep foot prints in the red earth behind me.  I held my sarong to the wind and watched it dance in the strong ocean breeze that helped form this natural wonder. Mother nature is a phenomenal thing.


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Miniature Fruit Haul of South East Asia

Fair to say that miniature fruit was my main accessory whilst traveling South East Asia. There was always a juicy delectable in my hand, in my handbag or in my pocket! Yep, some of these fruits are that mini! I fell in love with the fresh produce sold on the streets or in the market places around Asia, especially the infamous pineapple popsicle!

Oh it’s a fruitful life.


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Bali in Bloom

Bali is the first stop on my South East Asia escapade. I have been to Bali once before as a child but my memory didn’t extend much further than the slippery dip at Water Bomb Park and the “groovy” yellow and pink beading at the ends of my corn rows. Sigh. But the moment we stepped foot outside Denpasar airport, my senses were stimulated and overwhelmed with foreign aromas that opened up the flood gates of time and all forgotten and lost memoirs of Bali came swooshing and gushing back to me. It’s true what they say on ‘How Stuff Works’ (love those guys) that our sense of smell is a memory stimulater more so than any of our other senses due to the neurons in our nose sending signals to the area in our brain that is closely associated with memory. Sorry, I am drifting away from Bali but a fun fact of the day none the less. Besides, one of the peculiar distinctions of Bali is definitely the smell itself.

The aroma is so distinctive. So foreign to me, but strangely familiar from all those years ago. I find the fragrances pleasant. A mix of incense, humidity, spices, smoke and something sweet and foreign my Australian nose doesn’t quite understand or recognize.

But moving on from the nasal trivia, Bali is a feast for all the senses. You never know what dish you are going to get served and some flavours you love in gluttony and others leave a bitter aftertaste. I guess that’s what comes part and parcel when visiting a country so rich in beautiful nature but also riddled in poverty.

One thing so lush and prosper about Bali is the native flora. Nature’s colours paint the landscape in greens, purples, reds, oranges and pinks. There are blossoms everywhere. Yellow frangipani’s, fishtail heliconia’s, water lilies, lotus flowers, and these beautiful Balinese Bougainvillea’s.

Fair to say my brain was tickled pink by the perfumed bouquet that stimulated those trusty olfactory neurons up my nose. Bless those little buggers.


Photography by Ryan Cantwell


Zulu & Zephyr Dress

Lack of Color Hat