Monday 30 December 2019

7 tips for amazing fashion blog photography

So, you've launched your blog and you've got some innovative, creative ideas for content - but you're thinking about how you can achieve amazing imagery to keep your readers engaged. Fashion blog photography may seem intimidating if you've never tried it before, but with some simple tips and advice, you'll be snapping the perfect photos for your blog in no time.

Before I provide you with my tips for shooting the perfect photo, let's talk about gear. There's a variety of cameras that can help you get the best out of your photo shoot, but knowing which one to pick can be tough. When I first started blogging in 2013, I used a really simple DSLR camera; it was ideal at the time because there were very few people who could invest lots of money into better gear, so I didn't really have much to contend with. However, these days, there are amazing cameras available at every price point, from simple and inexpensive Compact Cameras to (Professional) Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras for more serious bloggers.

If you're hoping to make amazing photography a focal point of your blog, here are a few tips that you can use to tweak your technique and get the perfect shot every time.

1. Purchase some cheap photography accessories

Don't worry about expensive backdrops and lighting. Leave that to the pros. Instead, invest in some cheap photography accessories to get the best out of your shots. The following accessories have been seriously handy over the past few years, and they've each cost less than £10 from online shops or secondhand:

- Reflector
- Tripod
- Remote control

Reflectors are great for using if the lighting isn't quite right; you can use them on a sunny day to get rid of a heavy shadow, or inside if there's not enough natural/artificial natural light. Tripods can vary in price, but unless you're filming, shooting wildlife or doing lots of macro photography, you probably won't need a really expensive one. I use tripods in tandem with a remote control when I don't have a photographer to help me (the shots in this blog post are all by me, but if you want to take a look at a shoot I did with a professional, click here).

2. Shoot in overcast conditions

Overcast conditions are ideal, because the clouds disperse the light from the sun, leaving your photos with an even glow instead of a heavy contrast (as I mentioned earlier).

If you have to shoot on a sunny day, make sure that both you and the camera/photographer are under the cast of a shadow (from a tree or building, for example) as this will even out the lighting.

You can shoot in full sun - this might be the case if you're shooting swimwear on a beach. In this scenario, use a reflector to get rid of shadows; but be careful, as the light from the reflector can be blinding in full sun.

3. Use depth of field

Shooting with a shallow depth of field means that the background of the photo will be blurred, while the subject in the foreground stays in focus. This is great for drawing emphasis to your subject's clothes or jewellery.

Shooting with a deep depth of field means that you'll achieve both a sharp background and subject. This is great for drawing attention to an interesting background, and works well if you're shooting at a unique travel destination or other exciting environment. Which brings me to my next point...

4. Find interesting locations

Although I took many outfit photos in my garden at the beginning of my blogging career, I now strive to find more interesting backgrounds to stop my photos becoming too repetitive.

There are so many ideas for backdrops - all you need to do is look at the world around you. Perhaps there's a colourful exterior wall on a building in your town centre, or a tree lined boulevard round the corner. Experiment and see what you're comfortable with.

5. Practice your poses

It might seem silly practicing your poses in the mirror, but professional models do this all the time and there's no reason that you shouldn't. If you're going to be taking photos of yourself to put in the public domain, you want them to reflect your best efforts.

Find which poses both look and feel natural so that you don't appear uncomfortable and awkward while you're shooting your photos. If you're struggling for inspiration, look at pictures of other bloggers on Pinterest or Instagram and copy them to see which ones you're comfortable with.

Take note of the position of your head, the angle of your body, and what you're doing with your arms - it's no secret that arms are so difficult to know what to do with in a photo! Practice until each pose feels comfortable, then mix it up while you're doing your photo shoot so that you don't look the same in each shot.

6. Shoot a variety of images

This keeps your photography interesting and makes you think about angles, composition, and the subjects that you're shooting. I usually take the following shots:

- Full length (the complete outfit, head to toe, with some space above and below to allow for cropping)
- Knee to head (a slightly closer view of the look)
- Head shot
- Accessories

7. Get an Adobe subscription

Adobe Lightroom has been my saviour over the last few years. I really don't know how I coped without it. With Lightroom, you can take a dull, poorly lit photo (within reason) and turn it into something usable for your blog or Instagram. You can create and save presets (like filters) for photos, and even edit large amounts of photos with a few clicks, saving you hours of editing.

Adobe Photoshop is also endlessly useful for editing smaller elements of your photos, like retouching skin or removing a passer by from the background of your image.

I use both of these programmes on a daily basis. You can buy them on the monthly 'Photography' subscription from Adobe from £9.98 - this also comes with Lightroom for mobile, which I also use daily for editing mobile images.

I hope that these tips help you improve your fashion blog! Remember to always stay on the lookout for inspiration - and have fun! P.S. if you're a budding food blogger, you might also want to read my tips for achieving better food photography here!


Monday 25 November 2019

Travel skincare routine for dry skin

Dry skin can be difficult to manage in everyday life. I've known this for a fact since I was around 14 years old and realised that my skin felt like sand in winter and turned into an incurably spotty mess when transitioning into summer.

But having dry skin while travelling can be even worse. Travelling is such an enriching hobbie, and I couldn't imagine life without visiting different countries and taking in sights and cultures, however, it takes its toll on your skin. The plane journeys, the flitting between air conditioned hotel rooms and hot beaches, the different foods that your body isn't used to - all these (and more) are ingredients in a recipe for skin disaster. So it's vital to make sure that your skincare routine is up to scratch!

Earlier this year, I spent six weeks solo travelling in Australia (you can read more about my trip in the travel section of this blog). I left in April, and my skin was in the worst condition that it had ever been - so I was praying that the warm weather and sunshine would do it some good. 

I put together a bag of my absolute favourite products - the products that I would always turn to, time and time again, no matter how many new products I tried. When I'm travelling, I don't get homesick, but my skin does. So I knew that this kind of familiarity was what I needed in case the going got rough.

Here's what's in my travel make-up bag

Dermalogica travel minis

Dermalogica is my go-to skincare brand. I can always rely on their products to keep my skin in check if it gets dry or if I have a breakout. These particular travel minis were gifted to me, but I've been using Dermalogica since I was 18, so I've got all of these in their full sizes as part of my regular skincare routine.

I start by doing a double cleanse, which is Dermalogica's secret recipe to perfectly cleansed skin. I take my make-up off using the Precleanse, which I've always thought smells really fresh and slightly zingy. Then after rinsing that off, I use the Special Cleansing Gel as the second part of the cleanse.

Because I have dry skin, regular exfoliation is essential for removing dead skin. I like to shake a little bit of the Daily Microfoliant into my palm, then mix with a few drops of water until it forms a paste. I just rub that gently into my skin, then rinse away with warm water.

The final step is the Skin Smoothing Cream, which I would usually apply after a serum so that it really soaks into my skin.


A soft, reusable, eco-friendly face cloth, CloudCloth is a brilliant product to have at home or while travelling. What I really love about this cloth is that it's made of a lightweight, fast-drying fabric, which is so handy when you're travelling, as you don't want to be waiting around for things to dry.

It's £12 for three CloudCloths, but they last ages and they're so much better for the environment than wipes.

Under eye patches

When you're sitting around on a long haul flight, there's no harm in catching up on your skincare routine. I usually carry a sleep mask with me while I'm flying so that I can completely block out the light if I want to sleep. Underneath the mask, I can pop on some under eye patches to maximise on some much-needed skin hydration.

These patches from STARSKIN are £8.50 for two lots. They feature coconut juice, chamomile, and more, to keep your under eye area moisturised.

Leakproof waterbottle

No matter how many skincare products you use, you won't get the optimum benefits if you don't hydrate yourself from the inside.

A water bottle is a real must-have when I'm travelling. Nowadays, there are drinking water stations available in popular public spaces across the world. When I was walking around the waterfront in Cairns, Australia, there were points where you could fill up a water bottle almost every 100 yards, so I took my bottle everywhere that I went. It saved me money on buying bottles of water from the shop, and it helped the environment by allowing me to use less plastic.

I look for leakproof water bottles where possible, like this one from Chilly's. It stops the water leaking all over your belongings, whether you're on a plane or catching a twelve hour bus from Byron Bay to Sydney (yes, really).

Clear makeup bag

It always helps when I'm travelling to have a clear-ish makeup bag, so that I can easily see the contents and avoid fumbling around for my tiny kohl eyeliner pencil. I don't really like getting all my makeup out in hotels or hostels for hygeine reasons, so seeing all my makeup inside a bag is so handy.

This makeup bag from Skinnydip is pretty and see-through!

Sunday 17 November 2019

What to wear for working out in winter

I love working out in winter. The gym isn't super hot and stuffy, and you don't have that 'hot weather fatigue' like in summer (or is that just me?). Walk outside after a workout in winter, and you're greeted with crisp, fresh air - rather than walking into a roasting oven in mid-July. Your water stays cold, you aren't absolutely drenched in sweat, and you might even be able to get away with not washing your hair afterwards (long and curly-haired girls, you feel me?).

One thing that's difficult about working out in winter, however, is deciding what to wear to keep you warm and comfortable while allowing you to work out with ease. You want to feel unencumbered by layers, but at the same time, you don't want to catch a chill when you walk outside.

I've put together a list of items that I like to wear for my winter workout. It took me a few attempts to nail the perfect combination, but now that I've found it, it's all I wear. Here's my go-to winter workout look.

[I hope you love the products recommended here! Please note that I may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.]

Cropped hoodie

For me, a full-length hoodie is too much fabric to wear while working out - and you don't want to have to take it off at the gym and carry it around with you. A cropped hoodie is a far better option, giving your body some breathing room during your workout, and keeping you warm once you leave the gym.

Sweat-wicking leggings

When you really go for it during your workout, there's no doubt that you'll get a sweat on. In winter, this situation gets a little uncomfortable when you leave the gym and the cold weather makes you feel even colder because you're sweaty. I like to use sweat-wicking leggings when I work out - they draw sweat away from the skin and allow it to evaporate on the surface of the fabric, meaning that you won't feel drenched after your workout.

These leggings from MyProtein are the same ones I'm wearing in the photo at the top of this post [gifted]. They're a customer favourite on the MyProtein site, thanks to their sweat-wicking design, body-hugging material and high waist. They're really comfortable and easy to move around in, whether I'm doing cardio or weightlifting. And I love the colour!

Ear muffs

These probably seem like an unlikely accessory for gymwear, but they're only for entering and leaving the gym. If, like me, you wear your hair up when you're working out, your ears will be unguarded from the cold weather when you leave the gym. My ears are quite sensitive, and if they're cold for too long, I become susceptible to ear and headaches. Therefore, a pair of ear muffs keeps my ears toasty and ache-free.

You might be wondering why I don't just wear a sweatband - it's because I haven't found one that's warm enough for my ears! I'm also a little adverse to wearing beanies after working out, as it feels a little uncomfortable with all the sweat.

What do you like to wear to the gym during winter? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday 11 November 2019 / Daintree Rainforest, 2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation QLD 4873, Australia

Cape Tribulation rainforest tour with Cape Trib Connections

Daintree rainforest

If you’re staying in Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef isn’t the only attraction available to you (although it is a must-see, especially if you’re thinking about scuba diving – read more about my scuba diving trip in the reef here). The thousands of acres of lush rainforest in the nearby region of Daintree is just a drive away, and totally worth a day trip or even two.

Booking a rainforest tour from Cairns

Booking a rainforest tour was so easy. When I got to Cairns, I visit the Cairns Tourist Information Centre, which has several branches throughout town. The lady at the centre recommended Cape Trib Connections because their tour includes lots of different areas and attractions.

The tour cost $154 (aaround £80 in spring 2019), and it was worth every penny, as it was almost a 12 hour tour with so much to see and do, and an expert tour guide to make the trip as fun and educational as possible.

The Cape Tribulation rainforest tour with Cape Trib Connections

The tour bus picked me up from right outside my hostel in Cairns at around 7am. Peter, the driver and tour guide, greeted me and checked me in. The tour group was small – only around a dozen people – which made it much easier to get to each part of the tour quickly.

Walking around the rainforest

Peter drove us quite a way up the coast to Daintree, where we disembarked for a walk around a small part of the rainforest. We were introduced to enormous Golden Orb Spiders, the smallest of which was around three inches in length. These fascinating (and, for some, nightmare-inducing) creatures are called Golden Orb because of the golden colour of their silk.

Golden orb spider

Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any cassowaries. If you haven’t heard of these before, they’re huge blue and black birds native to Tropical Northern Queensland. They’re pretty rare, with under 10,000 left in the world, so sightings don’t occur very often. However, when they are seen, it’s best to observe from a distance – cassowaries have been known to kill humans with their huge, razor-sharp claws. But your tour operator should be able to tell whether a cassowary is on the offence.

Cape Tribulation Beach

After the rainforest walk, we drove to Cape Tribulation Beach. This is a picturesque bay of golden sand, nestled between two rainforest-shrouded peaks. On one side of the sand, you’ll find hundreds of mangrove trees, which look like they’re on stilts; on the other side, you’ll see crystal clear water. It’s idyllic and so calming. You only need to walk up and down the beach to feel at peace.

Cape Tribulation Beach

We spent an hour in this location before moving on. A quick toilet break treated most of us to a sighting of a massive Golden Orb sitting in the centre of a web outside the toilet block. I’m not exaggerating when I say that its body was only just smaller than a golf ball.

Daintree Ice Cream Co

One thing that I’ve eaten a lot of in Australia is ice cream. However, I have never had ice cream that was as delicious as the ice cream that I tasted at the Daintree Ice Cream Co. Here, there is a huge farm with hundreds of fruit trees growing in plain sight. The ice cream company harvest the fruit from these trees to produce seasonal flavours on site.

Daintree ice cream

Rock up to the cute little shack at the front of the farm and purchase a tub of four flavours of the day. We were able to try yellow sapote, Davidson plum, coconut and wattleseed. I couldn’t decide which was my favourite. Each flavour was so rich and intense; it was a true taste of the rainforest. I’m so sad that I won’t be able to sample their ice cream again until I next visit Australia.

Daintree River cruise

It's hard to pick a favourite part of this trip, but the Daintree River cruise was pretty high up there. We hopped on a boat from the side of the river. There was plenty of room on the vessel, and it was open on all sides, meaning that everyone could get a great view of the scenery.

On the tour we spotted several crocs, each of which were known to the tour operators by name, as all crocs have their own identifiable territories and habits. The eagle-eyed captain was also able to point out birds, butterflies and other unique animals, even from metres away.

Daintree River crocodile

At one unforgettable moment, a huge Brahminy Kite glided towards us, appearing as if it was actually going to fly through the boat. We all watched with anticipation as it gracefully swooped at the last moment and flew away into the distance behind us.

As the trip ended and we began to moor, the tour guide showed us a trick with some archer fish that had gathered by the side of the boat. He balanced a biscuit on the mooring line, prompting the fish to shoot water out of their mouths, knocking the biscuit off the line and into the water. I had never seen this before, and left the trip with a huge grin on my face.

Mossman Gorge

Mossman Gorge was the final location on our trip. In favourable conditions, you can swim in the gorge; however, as it was heading into autumn, we were advised that that wouldn't be possible on this occasion.

We arrived at the visitor centre, where you can find Aborginal art and expensive trinkets and souvenirs. We then took a shuttle to the gorge, where we were left to explore on our own (there are very clear walkways and paths, and everything is signposted). It doesn't take long to walk around this area - probably around 20 minutes at a normal pace.

When you get to the gorge, you'll see fresh water running through giant granite boulders amongst lush rainforest. This actually reminded me of forest walks in Yorkshire; the scenery was very similar.

After completing the walk, we were taken back to the tourist centre on the shuttle, then re-embarked the bus for the journey home. There was a short stop along the way, at an area on the highway with beautiful views of the coast.

Take a look at the Cape Tribulation Day Tour here. See more of my travel posts here and follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith.

Sunday 3 November 2019

7 things to do on a long haul flight

Long haul flight

If you’ve read previous posts on this blog, or you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve been travelling in Australia. Before I left for Oz, one thing that came up in conversation a lot with my friends and family was the long flight. My travel time was 24 hours, including a three-hour stopover in Singapore – that’s a long time to be travelling.

If you’re going on a long haul flight, you’ll have to get a little creative if you don’t want to bore yourself to tears. Here are a few ideas on what you could do while you’re in the air.

1. Read

This tends to be an obvious option. Having been especially busy with work before I left for Australia, I was looking forward to getting on the plane and reading a good old paperback. Pick something long that you won’t finish on the flight, as you don’t want to sit there twiddling your thumbs if you’ve got a fast reading pace.

2. Watch a film

There are dozens of great films on flights these days, and often they’re new releases. On my flight I watched Crazy Rich Asians and Creed II. Watching films makes the time go quicker, and breaking up the time with sleeping and eating will make your long haul flight go by as if it were short haul.

3. Play cards

If you bring a pack of cards with you on a flight, you can easily play a few games of solitaire to pass the time. This is also a way to meet people, as the person sitting next to you might know a card game or two and ask to join you.

4. Walk around

When you’re sitting on a plane for such a long time, there is a risk of deep vein thrombosis if you don’t move around. To get the blood flowing, take a walk up and down the aisles of the plane. Try and do this every hour or so to break up your journey a bit more.

5. Go online

On larger airlines, you can usually take advantage of the in-flight WiFi. At a cost, you can access the internet or social media to talk to your friends, do some online shopping, or research your destination. The cost is worth it if you’re absolutely bored out of your mind and have nothing else to do.

6. Work

If you’re a workaholic like me, bring your laptop onto the plane and do some work from your seat. You won’t be bothered by calls or emails (unless you opt for in-flight WiFi, as above), so you can put in some hours for offline work.

7. Listen to a podcast

There are so many amazing podcasts available to listen to, and a flight is the perfect time to do so. If you use Spotify or iTunes, download a few long podcast episodes before your flight to listen to while on board. I really like My Favorite Murder for true crime and comedy, and Household Name for untold stories about big brand names and businesses.

Whatever you decide to do on your long haul flight, I hope you have a safe journey. Comment below letting me know what your tips are for things to do on a flight, and see more of my travel posts here and follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith.

Sunday 27 October 2019

Great Barrier Reef scuba dive with Passions of Paradise

There’s a reason why Cairns is called ‘the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef’. Here, you can find dozens of opportunities to tour the reef, go snorkelling and try out scuba diving.

Booking your Great Barrier Reef scuba dive

I booked my snorkelling and scuba diving with Passions of Paradise because they had a deal on for an introductory dive for $45 (between £25-£30 at the time (spring 2019)). However, this is on top of the overall tour fee, which was $150. The tour included the mandatory reef levy of $20, a sail to two reefs, tea and coffee, lunch and snorkelling equipment hire. If you’re paying $150 for that already, I would just go ahead and fork out the extra money for the dive because it’s such a unique experience.

I booked through the Cairns Tourist Information Centre, which has several outlets located in town and along the Esplanade in central Cairns. The lady who served me at the Information Centre was friendly and helpful; she booked everything in front of me and gave me leaflets, directions, a receipt and printed booking confirmation (it’s a good idea to hold onto this last one as some tour operators ask for it when you arrive).

I advise booking a few days in advance, even in off-peak season, as tours can get booked pretty quickly. I booked mine five days in advance, which was plenty of time.

Should you shop around for your scuba dive?

I was told to shop around before booking but, to be honest, all the scuba diving experiences I looked at were a similar price. I had browsed online, looked at pamphlets and talked to the tourist information centre, and it was clear that all tours were between $195-$210, unless you wanted something more private/luxury, in which case you would pay far more.

Perhaps it's different in summer; however, I did get the vibe that there was little room for bartering, as the tour operators probably don't struggle to fill spaces.

The Passions of Paradise Great Barrier Reef scuba diving day tour

On the day, I checked in at the Passions of Paradise desk at the Reef Terminal in Cairns, which you can easily reach via the Esplanade. It’s located next to a whole load of swanky (read: expensive) restaurants and hotels. Check in was really easy; they take your name and assign you a passenger number, then give you your boarding pass and directions to your boat.

You also get given a questionnaire to fill in, and this is where you have to declare any health conditions like respiratory or heart problems. If you have any of these, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to scuba dive, as it puts a lot of pressure and stress on these areas of your body. You also can’t scuba dive if you have a flight within 12 hours after your dive.

The boat I sailed on with Passions of Paradise is huge. The tour was full – and I went at the beginning of May, which is the start of the off peak season, so don’t expect a quiet tour with a small group of people.

When you get on the boat, you are met by the lovely Passions of Paradise crew: a group of about half a dozen experienced divers who are so friendly and welcoming. I particularly got on with Jess, who was also from the UK. I was a little seasick and spent most of the sailing time alone on deck, and she came and talked to me and made sure I was okay.

Once you’re on board, you’ll be given a snorkel, mask and flippers. You’ll then have time to fill out your questionnaire and chat to other people who are snorkelling or diving. I met a girl from Spain who was also doing an introductory dive, and was travelling by herself; there’s lots of time to do nothing on the way back to Cairns, so we chatted while sunbathing on deck.

On the two hour sail to your first reef, you can sit down with a tea or coffee and scuba divers will receive an introduction to diving. If you are diving, make sure you listen closely to safety instructions, and get a good look at how the equipment operates. You’ll be given a wet suit, which you can change into on board. They’re pretty difficult to get into and you feel a bit silly when you’ve got your scuba suit and equipment on, but everyone looks the same, so don’t worry too much about it.

The instructors will help you into your equipment. Be careful when you stand up, as the tank is really heavy and you’ll need good legs. I got up and fell right back down again as I didn’t realise how heavy it was. You’ll then waddle with your flippers to the diving deck, where you’ll hop into the water and grab onto a line where your instructor will be waiting to go through the safety exercises with you.

After you’ve got the hang of those exercises, you’ll bop down a metre to the second line, where you can instantly feel the pressure of the water. You’ll need to pop your ears here and every metre or so to clear the pressure and make sure your eardrums don’t burst (yes, that can happen). If you can't make your ears pop at this point, you won’t be able to do the dive. However, if everything is okay and your ears are successfully cleared, you can continue on with your instructor down into the depths of the reef. You’ll get about 45 minutes of oxygen, which is enough time to get you down, swim around a bit, then come back up.

What is scuba diving like?

I had never been diving before, so this was a completely new experience for me. I don’t really like water or swimming, but I knew that I had to dive in the reef just to experience it. After all, doing it might have changed my mind!

I found scuba diving to be such a crazy, weird, unnatural activity – I can only imagine the closest thing to it is floating in space. You're obviously completely weightless (a strange feeling with all that heavy equipment on your back), you can't hear anything, the water seems absolutely endless and you have to breath slowly and consistently through a regulator. However, it’s something I’ll never forget, and I’m so glad that I was able to do it in one of the most mind-blowing locations on Earth.

When I was underwater in the reef, visibility was little more than five metres. There weren’t many fish around as most of them were mooching about the more shallow areas of the reef; however, I did get to see some other unusual marine life, like giant clams nestled within the coral.

As is apparently usual for a first time dive, I spent most of my time concentrating on my instructor and focussing on my breathing and movements within the water. There are so many things you have to keep a check on, like keeping horizontal so that you don’t sink or rise too much, clearing the pressure in your ears and making sure your mask doesn’t fill up with water.

After I had finished my dive, I felt pretty competent with these things. At this point, I could have done a second dive for an extra $45 (I think), but I was feeling a little nauseous so I spent the rest of the time sunbathing instead.

What is the Great Barrier Reef like?

I only went to a teeny tiny part of the reef, so I can’t comment on the whole thing, but what I did see took my breath away. The water is that sparkling aquamarine colour, and the fish are even more pretty; some are rainbow coloured, some appear to be glowing neon.

Before my trip, I was told by many people that the coral isn’t as colourful as it is in photos, and unfortunately they were right. Due to pollution, climate change and a whole load of people in the 20th century touching the coral and even breaking bits off to take home, the coral is dying and is now a beige/grey colour. It’s honestly heartbreaking, and seeing this makes me even more frustrated with humanity’s impact on our natural world.

So should you go on tours in the Great Barrier Reef if you’re worried about impacting the environment? This is a difficult question, as there are pros and cons to reef tours. One pro is that every tour charges a reef levy as mentioned earlier, which goes towards the conservation of the reef. So everyone who pays for a tour is helping to maintain the reef. However, there is obviously an environmental footprint that comes with each visit to the reef – from your transport to Cairns, to the fuel used by the boat, to the harmful chemicals in your sunscreen which transfer from your skin to the water.

I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you should go on a reef tour or not. But if you do, and you choose to go scuba diving, I highly recommend Passions of Paradise for their friendliness, knowledge and experience of diving, and value for money.

Browse Passions of Paradise's diving and snorkelling experiences here.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

What to listen to in autumn 2019

I got back into music this month, after a long (too long) hiatus. Being someone who mostly despised school due to personal reasons, the arts - particularly music - were my salvation. As a friend put it recently, 'the stage is its own world', and it was definitely the one I preferred to inhabit. 

I stopped performing after I graduated because a lack of confidence caused me to believe that I couldn't make anything of it. But after a conversation about my previous life, a colleague convinced me to start writing again. It was also that same colleague who booked me my first gig this week. 

It went well. Better than I expected, and better than I remembered it to be. However, after my set was over, I realised how much catching up I had to do. There's so much talent in my area - people who have been creating and performing music for years. I'm kicking myself for taking such a long break, but I guess life happens. 

As such, I've made it my mission to utilise that Spotify algorithm and listen to a wider variety of genres and artists. The motivation to write music starts with listening to music, in my opinion. 

Here's what I've been listening to in autumn 2019.

Open My Eyes: Live in Suffolk by Connor Adams

I'm gutted I missed this gig - I was in Australia at the time. Open My Eyes: Live in Suffolk is Connor Adams' first live EP, and I'm so glad I got to experience the performance through this record. 

If you haven't heard Connor's music before, this is a great way to get into it. He's a fantastic live performer, filling the venue with driving rhythms and rich melodies. On this particular occasion his band was a showstopping lineup consisting of Nic Keeble on guitar, Georgette Fawley on keys and backing vocals, Alex Lenton on Bass and Toby Houghton on drums. 

The album consists of some of my favourite tracks from the studio record, including Adventure and the title track, Open My Eyes. He's No Good is also a great addition: epic and emotional with beautiful harmonies from Georgette and a cheeky solo from Nic. A new favourite? Just maybe...

Listen on Spotify here.

Anna of the North

I can't give Spotify all the credit for my music recommendations. Anna of the North was suggested to me by one of my best friends. In real life (I know, right?).

The Norwegian singer lays out her youthful vocals over twinkly synths and late-80s drum sounds. Super Urban Outfitters, and not too dissimilar from Sigrid or Astrid S - although I'm sure that comparison has been made many times.

Listen to the playful vibe of Thank Me Later and the lavish tones of Lovers to start off with, then work from there.

Listen on Spotify here.

Die Young by Sheppard

I've listened to Sheppard since the release of Geronimo, and their music always makes me happy. That doesn't change with Die Young, which is all about enjoying life in the present moment.

It's synthy, with a funky, syncopated bass line and those epic layered chorus vocals that Sheppard use so regularly.

Sadly, as it's really, really not summer anymore, I won't be driving down the motorway with the windows down, blasting this song. Maybe it's one for my gym playlist.

Listen on Spotify here.

Make it Right by BTS (feat. Lauv)

Finally, K-pop and Lauv have come together, and the result is perfection.

I'm sad to say I only came across BTS when they collaborated with Halsey, something I'm sure their avid fans would crucify me for. But I can't listen to all the music, all the time (as much as I would like to).

Technically, this is a fairly simple song, but I like the fast tempo and the cute sample mirrored by the vocals in the bridge. Plus, the rapping in the middle 8 makes me want to learn Korean.

Listen on Spotify here.

Keep an eye out for...

A new single by Reno & Rome. From this little preview that they released on their Instagram page, I can tell I'm already going to love it. It's called Sane, and the release date is 24.10.19.

Listen to the rest of their music on Spotify here.

Saturday 1 June 2019 / Kuranda QLD 4881, Australia

Kuranda Village, Skyrail and Scenic Railway

Imagine a village in a wild west-themed adventure park; one with saloons, wide pathways and shops full of trinkets which are probably the same stock that failed to sell in 2001. That's what Kuranda felt like to me. But not in a bad way. More of an amusing, novelty way. You can just tell the village is geared for tourism - it hits that nail firmly on the head - but unlike other tourist attractions I've visited on the otherwise modern east coast of Australia, it provokes a nostalgia for the theme parks I visited when I was a child.

If you're staying in Cairns, which was my first port of call on my east coast Australia road trip, you can access the Skyrail to Kuranda via the suburb of Smithfield. It's also easily accessible if you're staying in Port Douglas or Palm Cove. Buses to Smithfield run pretty regularly from these locations, but if you're not confident taking the bus you can book a tour which will pick you up from or near your accommodation. Click here to visit the Kuranda Skyrail website to view the available tours.

I booked the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway & Kuranda Scenic Railway with return transfers from Cairns & Beaches for $128 (approximately £70 at the time of writing) and it was worth every. Single. Penny.

The Skyrail

I was picked up by a friendly driver who detected my accent and was quick to tell me he had relatives in the UK (as many Aussies do). He whipped the tour bus out to Smithfield in around 20 minutes, dropping us off right outside the Skyrail terminal. From there, I just flashed my tour pass and received my ticket for both the Skyrail and railway.

As I travelled during off peak season, I got a whole gondola to myself. These big green pods can carry five people, so I was pretty content with the ample space and lack of bodies spoiling my view. And what a view it was.

My advice is to face backwards for the first 10 minutes of the Skyrail. You'll get an amazing sight of the sparkling coastline, rainforest shrouded hills and Cairns' suburbs. After that, you'll glide into the far reaches of the rainforest - a sea of greenery as far as the eye can see.

Red Peak and Barron Falls

The first stop is Red Peak, a small station in the rainforest with a free guided tour on an elevated walkway. I had already been on a rainforest tour earlier in the week, so I decided to traverse the walkway alone, which took me less than 10 minutes. There's plenty of signage telling you what's what, and a few birds flitting around to keep your attention piqued.

Barron Falls by Jen Lou Meredith
Barron Falls

Get back on the gondola and fly over some more rainforest before descending through the canopy once again. This time, you'll land at Barron Falls. This, for me, was the highlight of the trip. Walk out onto the manmade viewing platforms to see the falls in all their glory, breathe in the wondrously fresh air and listen to the endlessly relaxing sound of water gushing over the crest.

Barron Falls almost seems like it shouldn't be there. It's like a giant has scooped out part of the rainforest, leaving thousands of litres of water to cascade down bare stone into the river. In fact, local Aboriginal lore depicts the journey of Buda-dji, a carpet snake who travelled from the coast to the Atherton Tablelands, carving out the river and its creeks in his wake. It really is a breathtaking sight and I highly recommend viewing it from the glass platform located 160m above the Gorge.

Kuranda village

The Skyrail takes you over the mighty Barron River on the approach to Kuranda Skyrail Station. You'll get your mug snapped by a photographer as your gondala arrives, and you can purchase the shot as a memento when you disembark. There's a nice shop at the station which sells lots of locally-made souvenirs; I bought a handkerchief for my grandma and some ground coffee for myself to enjoy when I get home.

Barron River

The Skyrail station is located right next to the railway station, so if you're short on time and can't explore Kuranda, you can just hop on the train straight back to Cairns (or wherever you need to get off).

If you do have time to explore, however, simply take a three minute walk into the village centre, where you'll find lots of little shops, cafes, walks and wildlife attractions.

I started off by exploring the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park, Jungle Walk and River and Esplanade Walk - altogether just under 4km of walking, so make sure you take good shoes. If you have to do just one of these, I recommend the Jumrum Creek Conservation Park walk - halfway through you'll come to a very pretty creek where the light filters through the trees and makes for beautiful photography.

Jumrum Creek

If you've walked about as far as you can manage in the North Tropical Queensland heat, head to the shops and cafes for browsing and refreshments. There's lots of art available here, including Aboriginal art, as well as handcrafted items and hippy-style jewellery and clothing.

Past the shops, you'll find the famous Kuranda markets, which are open seven days a week, as well as a butterfly sanctuary, tropical bird aviary and koala park. Although zoos and parks masquerading as 'sanctuaries' make me feel a little uncomfortable, I decided to visit the koala park as I heard that it had a good reputation. Unfortunately, the visit was a let down as the koalas had a really small shared enclosure with just a couple of trees, and 'hold a koala' sessions were being offered, which I personally disagree with for the sake of animal rights.

Koala at the Kuranda Koala Park

The Kuranda Scenic Railway 

Make sure you head back to the railway well in time for your train, as you'll probably want to snap a photo at the iconic Kuranda railway station. Opened in 1915, this station retains much of its vintage charm, and secures its Instagram-worthy aesthetic with the abundance of tropical potted plants lining its platforms. While you're here, you can nip round the tourist shop or grab a snack and drink for your journey.

Kuranda Railway Station

Once it was almost time for my train to leave, I hopped on and sat down. I thought I had an entire booth to myself, when a large family came and sat down beside me. I'm not really a huge fan of kids, so I stuck my headphones in and focussed on the beautiful view, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. One of the staff roaming the train spotted that I was on my own, and very kindly ushered me to my own booth further down the train, where I could watch the view without interruption.

The Kuranda Scenic Railway

The journey is complemented by a commentary on the railway's dramatic history and notes about the landscape. To give you a very brief sneak preview, the line opened in 1891 after nearly 10 years of planning and building, lost contracts and strikes. Tragically, 32 men died in construction accidents while building the railway and its 15 tunnels and 37 bridges.

The journey is 23 miles (37km) in length, stretching from Kuranda all the way into the Redlynch suburb of Cairns. We stopped at one final lookout point for Barron Falls, as well as Freshwater Station where there is a tourist info centre, gift shop and a cafe inside of an old train carriage.

Overall, the whole trip, including exploring Kuranda, took just over six hours. It was a beautiful journey in both directions, with views that I'll never forget and photos that mean so much more than just an Instagram post. 

If you want to see more of my travels, click here to read my blog posts or follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith

Monday 27 May 2019 / Whitsunday Islands, Queensland, Australia

Cruising the Whitsundays from Airlie Beach

It was my last day in Airlie Beach. If I’m being honest, the weather hadn’t been great. Naive little me was expecting sunshine and hot weather in winter, but Australia was delivering a melancholy combination of showers and clouds. Although it wasn’t cold, it also wasn’t ‘outdoor weather’, so paired with my lack of sleep from the previous evening spent slaving away on my laptop, I wasn’t really in the mood for a trip to the Whitsundays, one of Oz’s most beautiful offshore paradises.

In fact, I was so tempted to cancel my tour with Explore Whitsundays, but I knew that I would be wasting so much unrefundable money, as well as the opportunity to see this aforementioned paradise. White sands, turquoise seas, a lookout point to take your breath away. That was all waiting for me, if I could just pull myself out of bed.

Another reason I didn’t want to leave – my bed. But not just any bed, one in a beautiful guest house in the hills of Airlie, overlooking the beach, forest and, further away, the Whitsundays themselves. It was my last day here. Ahead of me, I had a long day on the water, a 12-hour overnight bus journey and a stay in what I would later find out to be a creepy, dated hostel in an eerily quiet Hervey Bay.

Airlie Guest House, on the other hand, was unbelievably perfect. I had my own room and private bathroom, which may seem standard to hotel-frequenters, but after weeks of dorms and shared facilities, I was aching for my own space. I’m a very social person, but I also like to just chill out by myself in order to recalibrate my mind.

So, back to my lack of motivation. I somehow got up and dressed, and my mood lifted slightly when I saw the sun rising over the bay. It looked like there was actually a possibility of sunshine. I ate breakfast on the deck of the guest house as the local cockatoos romanced each other in the nearby trees, before finally saying goodbye to my little slice of peace, quiet and solitude.

I had to take all my bags with me because, as I mentioned earlier, I was getting a bus to Hervey Bay straight after my tour. I looked on Explore Whitsundays’ website and it stated that I could store my luggage, so I brought my bags down to the marina and was met with some confused looks. Apparently no one knew about this service, but they let me store my luggage for free in their office anyway.


There were probably around 30 to 40 people on the ‘bullet’, a boat which takes you out to The Whitsundays in just over an hour compared to the larger, overnight stay boats which take two hours or more. Note that if you take the bullet, you will get wet, unless you bring a poncho. I didn’t do this, and usually I’m pretty overprepared. So I was sitting there, cold and wet, dreading the rest of the tour and the following bus journey. A great start.

First off, we went to a snorkelling point where most people got off to swim around a bit. I stayed on board; I didn’t plan on snorkelling because I didn’t want to get wet, but after the ride out I may as well have. Apparently the water was pretty warm, but some Kiwis remarked on how salty it was and how cold they felt when they got out. It was a super windy day, and being in a boat with little shelter, we were completely exposed to the elements.

Whitehaven Beach

After snorkelling, we sailed to Whitehaven Beach, the main beach that most of the tours frequent. I was really looking forward to sunbathing, and practically ran over to a spot to lay down my towel and work on my tan. However, the sand on Whitehaven Beach is extremely fine, and because it was so windy, the breeze would pick up the sand and deposit it just about everywhere. I had so much sand in my hair afterwards – and I don’t even know how, because I had it tied up.

So, following a pretty unsuccessful sunbathing session, we had some lunch, and then set off on a walk to the lookout point.

If you thought this post was turning into a miserable diatribe, don’t worry. It gets better. Much better.

Hill Inlet from Tongue Point

Hill Inlet serves up some views that I’ve only ever seen in a brochure. In fact, if you’ve ever perused a brochure for The Whitsundays, this view is probably what you’ve seen. You can see Hill Inlet from Tongue Point on Whitsunday Island, which is around a ten minute walk with quite a bit of stairs. Work your way up to the top and you’ll find several viewing points, which are usually filled with tourists – so you’ll probably only get a couple of minutes to nab your perfect shot before someone else starts tapping their foot with impatience. If you can find a quiet time of day to visit – maybe with your own boat to avoid the tours – then do so. I enjoyed this view even with the crowds, so it would be magical without.

Here, you’ll see waters so crystal clear and blue, flowing amongst white gold sand dunes sweeping through the inlet. Together, they make huge ‘s’ patterns which can only be adequately appreciated from above. The inlet is so large that you have to admire it from several different viewing platforms in order to take in its enormity. All that aquamarine is a sight I’ll never forget.

I think we were given around half an hour to view the inlet, after which we got back onto the boat and headed to the marina.

I left satisfied, purely for that last beautiful view. The rest of the trip, I could’ve actually been happy without, as I was still a little bit damp and covered in sand. If I could give you a piece of advice, it would be to avoid booking a day tour on the same day as your bus journey. Which I didn’t actually do. I had booked the tour for the previous day, but Explore Whitsundays had overbooked and moved me to the next day.

I imagine I would have enjoyed a helicopter tour of The Whisundays instead. But hey, you don’t know these things unless you experience them.

If you want to see more of my travels, follow me on Instagram @jenloumeredith

Friday 24 May 2019 / Cairns QLD, Australia

10 fun facts about Cairns

I landed in Cairns a few days ago, and after spending the weekend exploring I've already discovered so much about this tropical tourist hotspot.

If you don't know much about Cairns, it's a small city in the North East of Australia, situated on the coast. It's dubbed 'the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef', and there are dozens of tours to the reef which depart from the Reef Terminal to the east of the city.

1. The airport is surprisingly small

Seeing as Cairns is such a popular place, you might think that the airport would be bigger. It's actually the 7th busiest airport in Australia, but it has just two terminals and only one runway.

The car parks are located directly outside the arrivals and departures entrances (unlike Britain's busiest airports, where you have to take a shuttle unless you pay a premium to park close). This makes it really handy to be picked up or taken to the airport. I caught an Uber from the airport to central Cairns, which cost $15 (around £8) including an airport pickup fee of $2.

2. As soon as you land, the landscape will take your breath away

Cairns is surrounded by rainforest-covered mountains on one side and the coast on the other. When I landed, it was sunset and the sky had turned into a tropical pink blanket over the mountains. While I was waiting for my Uber and admiring this stunning vista, I couldn't help but smile as I knew I'd picked the right destination. On the drive into central Cairns, I caught a glimpse of the coast - it looked so peaceful, just waiting to be explored.

Cairns is incredibly photogenic, so make sure you bring a good camera on your trip.

Pelicans playing with fire on a beach notorious for crocs

3. You can't paddle or sunbathe on the beach because of crocs (not the shoes, although I run away at the sight of those, too)

If you want to spend your holiday on a beach, flitting between the sand and water, tropical Queensland probably isn't for you. There are saltwater crocodiles all over this part of Australia, so it's best to avoid beaches just in case a croc is laying in wait. Unlike other deadly creatures in Australia, crocs aren't more afraid of you than you are of them. They will attack wherever there is an opportunity for a meal, so if there's a sign telling you not to swim - don't swim. 

With this in mind, I haven't actually seen a crocodile on the beach here. But I don't really think I want to.

4. People are out and about all day

Due to the fact that a) Cairns is a city, and b) it's also a tourist hotspot, you'll find people milling about at all times of the day. So if you're worried about feeling isolated, don't! I've been out at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise, and there were people jogging on the esplanade, getting coffee and driving about.

Cairns has a laidback vibe, but it's still lively.

Cairns Esplanade after a rain shower

5. The roads take ages to cross as a pedestrian

Roads in Cairns are really wide compared to British roads. In some roads where I live, you'd be lucky to get two cars passing each other due to how tight the widths are. In Cairns, the roads accommodate large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. However, although there are pedestrian walkways along many roads here, crossing the road is a little more difficult, as it just takes so long. Bear this in mind if you're a slow walker or have a physical disability, and plan routes where you won't have to feel rushed.

I actually prefer getting from one side of town to the other via the esplanade, as it's a prettier walk without any cars.

6. It feels very safe for female solo travel

As I mentioned earlier, there are people out and about in town all day, so I've never felt like I'm alone. That, mixed with a friendly vibe, has made me feel safe and welcome. I've met plenty of other solo women travellers, so the city is obviously well-known for this aspect.

Runners in the Cairns Marathon April 2019

7. The weather here can change in seconds

As I've been writing this, the weather has changed from torrential rain, to high winds, to full sun, and back again. When you're out in Cairns, I would prepare for all eventualities, as you never known what kind of weather you'll get stuck in. One constant is the humidity; summer is coming to an end here now, and it's still humid. I can't imagine what it's like in December!

8. You can't avoid the noise of planes

Cairns airport is a 10-minute drive away from the city centre, so you're probably going to hear a plane several times throughout the day and night unless you're way out of the flight path or you're staying in accommodation with soundproofing. I wouldn't say it bothers me, though. It's not unbearably loud and it doesn't wake me up at night.

Cold brew from Aqua Lagoon Cairns

9. Bats casually hang around in trees on the streets

I was walking to the shopping centre when I heard the chirping of what I thought was a flock of very loud birds. I looked up, and to my amazement I saw dozens of bats hanging in the tree above me. Sadly, around a third of the bat population in Queensland were killed last year in an intense heatwave, so it's wonderful to see them here (hopefully) thriving; although, some locals don't like that they congregate in Cairns and have the potential to spread disease.

I personally love bats and think they're beautiful creatures; but I understand how some people are scared of them thanks to vampire stories and the potential rabies threat. If you're scared of bats, I would avoid walking under large fruit trees, as they are attracted to the nectar.

10. The locals are super polite

I always have so much respect for locals, as a tourist. I understand how frustrating it can be when your favourite restaurants are crowded with tourists and you can't get a seat, or when you have to dodge people throwing their arm out for a selfie almost everywhere you go. And it's even worse when there are really rude or loud tourists who ruin it for everyone. But I didn't come across many locals in Cairns who (at least openly) showed their disdain for tourists. Many people have smiled at me while I'm out and about, apologised if they've accidentally got in my way, and even struck up a conversation with me and recommended attractions to visit. I feel really welcome here, and it has made my stay that little bit more special.

Follow more of my travels here on my blog, or on Instagram @jenloumeredith.
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