Tomorrow, my blogging life comes full circle.
I’ll be going back to Lake District and the YHA Ambleside after a gap of 5 years.
My Lake District trip was the first ever professional assignment I undertook in my fledging blogging career.
I had been blogging for 6 months. It was my first blog and it was called Europebudgetguide.com . Not the world’s most sexiest blog name but it did what it said on the tin. The blog was born out of my frustration of not being able to afford to travel. The next best thing after not travelling is the pleasure of writing and reliving past travel experiences. In this sense starting a travel blog can be very therapeutic. It saved my life.
I was juggling 3 jobs at the time to make ends meet. I was working weekends in a Edinburgh airport hotel bar serving thirsty farmers who had come to Edinburgh for the season to sell their livestock. During the day I worked in Blackwells bookstore. It was minimum wage but the work was easy. I met a wide variety of interesting people looking for everything from architecture handbooks to dark sounding, unpronounceable Scandic crime novellas. In the evening I sold advertising for a local monthly green lifestyle magazine. The money wasn’t great but I also enjoyed the privilege of writing the travel column for the magazine.
At the time, it felt like a step to somewhere promising.
The anticipation and excitement of picking up a magazine fresh off the press…seeing your name and work in print has to be one of life’s greatest joys.
Summer of 2009
I had my heart set on visiting Germany. It was a country I had never visited but always dreamt of visiting since I was a kid. In March that year, I took advantage of a flight sale on the new Ryanair route from Edinburgh to the obscure little known city of Altenburg situated in the country’s lower Saxony region.
I stayed up till midnight of the promised flight sale. After hours of doggedly persistence during which the site crashed several times, I managed to bag myself a bargain basement £10 return flight.
After weeks of planning and calculation, I reckoned I would have to save at least £100 to enjoy a 4 day break. It meant sleeping in 12 bed dorms, visiting only free visitor attractions and restricting myself to 2 beers a day. I didn’t care if I had to live off bread and water. The excitement of discovering a new city, a new reality was for me is life’s greatest adventure
At the time I had still a hefty part of my student loans to pay off. Which meant all my savings were being quickly swallowed up by debt collectors. After months of living like a monk in solitary confinement with no social life whatsoever, trying to scrounge money by selling travel guides on Ebay and cutting back on my beloved Skysports football package, I still found myself desperately short of funds and regrettably had to cancel the trip.
I don’t know what gets you down but for me the idea of not being able to go on holiday has to be the most depressing thing ever. The lack of money as well as the lack of a definite career direction left me quite disillusioned with life.
Then in my darkest hour ….came a glimmer of hope.
With much fanfare , Megabus, the pioneering low-cost bus service launched Megatrain, a new low-cost train service.
After playing with a variety of dates in June I was excited to find an incredible £2 return fare. It was a Virgin Train service- the best and most modern trains you can find in Britain. I could go as far as Oxenholme in the heart of Lake District from Edinburgh. It was an off-peak, midweek service which was fine by me given the flexibility of my working hours at Blackwells.
Nevertheless given the lack of funds, I still had to be creative in finding ways of how to fund the rest of my Lake District adventure.
It was then that I decided to sum up the courage and email YHA to ask if they would consider giving me 2 nights complimentary accommodation in their beautiful Ambleside hostel . In return, I would review the hostel on my blog which at the time enjoyed a modest but loyal following of 500 visitors a month. There were comments flowing in on my posts and I had started receiving emails from readers asking me for tips based on destinations I had reviewed. Humble but encouraging beginnings. Also, just 2 months back in April, I had joined the social media revolution and signed upto Twitter where I had already garnered 300 hundred followers.
I spent a lot of time putting that pitch and email together to the YHA. I proposed to do a series of features on the blog of how to enjoy Lake District on a budget with the YHA at the heart of the experience. I sent it, not sure if they would consider my request. So when I got a phone call the following day from Hannah Curzon in the PR office, you can imagine the shock, excitement bursting through my veins. It was a seismic moment in my blogging career. I explained to her what my blog was about and after a pleasant 10 minute conversation, satisfied by my authenticity and passion was very happy to look into my request. I waited nervously for a few days to hear back from her. Within 3 days of our phone call, I finally got the email I had been dreaming of.
Further to our conversation a moment ago I can confirm that I have booked you in at YHA Ambleside on Saturday 20th June. Ref: 36736. The booking has been made in my surname CURZON.
They no longer run the Shuttlebus from Oxenholme station but from there you can catch a train to Windermere then the 555 or 599 bus to Ambleside.
YHA will cover the cost of both of your accommodation, but we cannot pay for your meals.
I hope you enjoy your stay.
It was one of the happiest days in my life. Besides the joy of securing accommodation, I finally felt like I was finally going somewhere with the blog. Suddenly, life seemed to be filled with exciting possibilities. The promise of more adventures ahead.
The success of my first ever press request emboldened me. I then spoke to Lake Windermere cruises (which left from in front of the YHA Ambleside hostel and ferried passengers across the lake) to see if they would look into providing me with a two day pass. Within hours I got a nicely worded reply saying that they really liked my blog and would be happy provide a pass for me. I then got in touch with the lovely folk at the National Trust to see if they could give me access to Hill Top, the idyllic cottage which Beatrix Potter called home for many years. Again, the response was positive. All of a sudden, I was beginning to look forward to an action packed holiday. My first professional blogging assignment.
It was a great trip.
The weather gods were kind to me and the sun shone for an entire 4 days. I lived off a strict daily diet of fish and chips with mushy peas ( Vinegar Jones in Bowness-on-Windermere!) , Lakeland ice-cream and the biggest scones known to mankind accompanied by ridiculous amounts of strawberry jam and clotted cream. When the sun is out, there are few more beautiful places in the world than Lake District. Add to that the wonderful cumbrian hospitality, the beguiling charms of the lakeside scenery and the unique literary heritage that this part of the world offers and you have the ingredients of an engrossing summer break.
So after all those years, it is with great excitement that I return back to the area and the hostel where my blogging career began. My blogging life comes full circle.
The opportunity of the revisit arose thanks to a chance conversation at World Travel Market with the wonderful people at YHA Hostels who had recently undergone an extensive £22 million renovation of some of their historic properties.
Their newly refurbished properties offer a new generation of people who have never visited a hostel before, the chance to sample the hospitality that YHA hostels are famed for with the added edge of the social experience that their cool onsite bar and social spaces offer. Plus you have the added comfort and choice of staying in their brand new stylish dorms or one of their private ensuite rooms depending on your budget.
The YHA’s newly refurbished hostels I’ll be visiting are located in some of England’s most historic and scenic spots. From the dreamy location of Ambleside at the mouth of Lake Windermere to the romanesque, picture postcard pretty York and then discovering the bucolic charms of the idyllic university town of Cambridge…..through this English #perfectroadtrip I’ll be able to give you a flavour of what this country has to offer tourists who are looking for a great experiences on a budget.
So if that sounds like you…please do follow me on this unique 16 day trip that will take me through some classic English hotspots.. Lake District-Grinton-York-Stratford Upon Avon-Cambridge- South Downs and ending in London: will be a great roadtrip.
I am excited that I will be accompanied by my good friend and talented video blogger, Mr Peter Parkorr from TravelUnmasked.com
We’ll be creating a short film of our experience so you can experience the highlights of our exciting roadtrip ahead.
While we both share a huge passion for travelling in style on a budget we have quite different interests. So this trip presents an interesting challenge! We are both quite flexible and open minded about what we plan to do in each city so that element of unpredictability about the trip adds an air of excitement.
We’ll be using various tools along the way to plan our #perfectroadtrip across England. We have a partnered with the excellent travel planning tool- GoEuro which besides helping travellers calculate journey times and the best possible route, will also offer us the cheapest possible transportation route- train, bus or car. Plus the wonderful people at Visit Britain will be aiding our quest, sharing with us tips and ideas of things to do along the way.
This is where you can also play a part and come into the equation. Both me and Peter would love to hear from you if you have any suggestions for our #perfectroadtrip .
I finish the post with an important question-
What are the most memorable things you can experience on an English #roadtrip ?
Leave your suggestions below in the comments section or if you are on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram , share them using the hashtag #perfectroadtrip so we can read and share your tips.
Huge thank you to the amazing people at YHA Hostels, Visit Britain and GoEuro for supporting our trip.
While this trip has been made possible through their kind support, all the thoughts represented here are my own.