Tag Archive | Experience

Europe Express 2016

My Topdeck bus

The bus that took me through Europe

It’ s been a while, but now that I’m well into the planning stages of my next Europe adventure I’ve been reminiscing a lot about last years trip and figured I should get my butt into gear and share all the wonderful experiences I had (while I can still remember them – at the moment they still feel like just yesterday).

As part of our first time venturing to the UK and Europe Jess and I were discussing where we would most like to visit in our few weeks together; a few places came up which made me think perhaps a tour might be the best way to see a lot in a small amount of time. We also figured this would be a safer, time saving option as well as an opportunity to meet some new people.

(Both of us really wanted to see Ireland so we hired a car and spent a week driving round the South of Ireland – but that’s a story for another post).

Next began the process of narrowing down which tour company and exactly which tour would meet our criteria (seeing places we wanted, not too rushed and not toooo much partying with a lot of sightseeing opportunities).
On our list were a few places including London, Paris and Venice. After comparing a few Contiki, Bus-about and Top Deck tours, we narrowed it down to one of two Top deck tours; eventually deciding on the Europe Express covering 5 countries in 11 days. This option was most appealing as it had two nights in the most interesting places, so we could drive for a day, have an evening enjoying some local activities, then have a full day to explore, have another night to relax and then drive on to our next destination the following day.

The Europe Express begins with a pick up in London, a bus trip via the Cliffs of Dover, a ferry ride over to Calais, and more driving down to Paris. All the rest is bus trips (with a lovely driver and very interesting tour guide to keep us entertained) during the day between destinations stopping for two nights in Paris, two nights in the Swiss Alps, two nights in Venice, one night in Munich, one night in Rhine Valley, two nights in Amsterdam then back onto the ferry and finishing where we started in London.



  • Driving tour of Paris & gourmet picnic by the Eiffel Tower
  • Walking tour of Venice
  • Vaporetto ride in Venice
  • Walking tour of Munich
  • Visit former concentration camp Dachau
  • Stay in the scenic Rhine Valley castle region
  • Walking tour of Amsterdam
  • Canal dinner cruise in Amsterdam
  • Dutch cheese & clogs demonstration
  • 10 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 6 dinners
  • 8 nights in hostels & 2 nights in bungalows (twin share cabins) at European campsites

Optional activities (make the most of these if you can – although they do cost extra)

-Traditional cabaret show in Paris
-Scenic river cruise on the Seine
-Bike tour of Paris

Swiss Alps
-Scenic excursion to Jungfrau (‘The Top of Europe’)
-Scenic helicopter ride in the Swiss Alps
-Skydiving in the Swiss Alps (100% recommend this!! one of my top 3 fav moments from my 5 weeks in Europe!!)

-Gondola ride in Venice

Rhine Valley
-Rhine Valley river cruise

-Bike tour of Amsterdam

I will write more about each place we went to so if you are interested in doing either the tour, or the places on your own hopefully you can find some helpful tips there.

I highly recommend doing a tour like this for your first time travelling – especially if you are alone. I loved every minute, met some amazing people, felt I got a good taste of Western Europe and know where I would definitely go back when I next get the chance.  The tour guides and bus drivers were incredible, they have great knowledge of the countries with heaps of suggestions for extra things to see and places to eat in your free time. Also fantastic stories to share about other countries they’ve been and crazy things that have happened on other tours they’ve done.


Finishing My Degree

The final weeks of my university came up so fast. All of a sudden I had been at university for 3 years; made a lot of friends, absorbed a whole lot about marketing and communications from my lecturers and made the most of opportunities that were available to me as a student. I became the president of the communications club for my final year and through that I gained a lot of experience in organising events and gained insights into the working world of communications careers.

It is quite a daunting thought to know that the way of living you have known for a significant portion of your life is now over and life as you know it will change forever! The end of an era! In saying that it is also extremely exciting; like beginning a new adventure.

Looking back at my time at university I am grateful to all those in my life that helped me gain as much as possible from my studies. Lecturers, my bosses and workmates, industry professionals, and classmates all offered their own advice or assistance and were part of my journey being a student which helped me to make the most of the opportunities that were around – even if I didn’t see them as opportunities initially.  Meeting such a variety of people who all have different ways of studying, opinions on subjects and levels of academic learning gave me amazing insights into how people work and what works for me. During this time I learnt an incredible amount about myself, my abilities and the potential I have. By studying I learned different skills including time management, working with a variety of people, expectations from others in all different aspects of my life and how to create a good work life balance. I found it very important especially as the assignments were bigger and worth more that I set aside “me” time, where I could just watch a movie or go out to dinner with friends and not feel guilty for not using that time to study. I am the kind of person who likes to say “yes” often. Yes I can run that club, yes I can manage that sports team, yes I can work part time, yes I can study full time, yes I can look after children and pets, yes I can fit in time with my friends. So many YES’s that it took me a while (and someone blatantly telling me) to realise that it is okay and sometimes preferable for both parties to say NO!

In reflection the main learning’s I have from my university days (at this stage) are:

1. Work/life/study balance is extremely important. Make the time to spend with your friends and family/pets without distractions, when you study – make sure it is effective; minimise procrastination. Work when you can and learn as much as you can from your workmates – they will help you when it comes to the real world and working full time – whether it’s simply as a referee on your CV or networking to get you a job, or making suggestions on how you could use your degree and work experience to create a career – other people see and think very differently so always be open to hearing their thoughts.

2. Take as many opportunities as you can (without overloading yourself). Being a student is a huge advantage when it comes to opportunities and networking. People love to help you when you are showing initiative and helping yourself. The more events you can attend, clubs you can be part of, and people you can meet the better off you are – these people all have knowledge and wisdom that could help you in any aspect of your life in the future so be sure to build networks and keep in contact – don’t burn any bridges! Even you fellow classmates could be in a position that could be beneficial to your family or career in the future so keep your options open. My mum always said ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ and the older I get the more I realise that is completely true! So network your heart out – practice and learn how to do it well, it will put you in good stead for the rest of your life!

3. Become friendly with your lecturers and tutors. As well as building them into your network, this is helpful during your years at uni, as I mentioned earlier – people are happy to help when they see you are helping yourself. If you show you are trying and interested in the paper then lecturers and most tutors will go above and beyond to help you when you ask. If you never come to class and are always late handing in assignments there is a very minimal chance you will get a grace period, even if your car really did “break down” on the day of your presentation. I was lucky enough to get extensions on a few assignments because I knew the lecturers well and was attending events that were assisting my studies and benefiting my career possibilities. The lecturers wouldn’t have thought twice about giving me a fail if I hadn’t been an “active participant” in my own learning. (I’ve seen it happen to others who don’t care and are of the mindset that ‘C’s get degree’s”. Well they may get a degree but they won’t help you get a good job,  or a career!

4. Take risks – put yourself in situations that normally would scare you – you never know what you may achieve from it. Of course I mean this in a safe learning environment! For example as an elective paper I took ‘Public Speaking and Professional Speech writing’. I get nervous when I talk in front of people – whether I know them or not, so this was a challenge for me. However, I knew a lot of the other people in the class were feeling the same and I figured that it would be a good way to learn techniques of how to prepare speeches effectively, and deal with nerves in a tough environment so when it came to doing it in a job (for example if I needed to pitch to a client) I would have these skills to call upon. Interestingly enough I found this paper was helpful in preparing for interviews and talking to the interviewer as it is somewhat a practiced speech, just occasionally the questions are worded differently. This speech class also made me feel more comfortable and in control when I was cold calling companies to organise trips for my club and when I had to speak at our AGM and other events.

5. Grammar is key. This not only helps you get better marks in your assignments, but also makes you look professional in other areas of your life. It definitely improves the chances of your CV being considered when applying for jobs too. Spelling is a personal pet hate of mine and I happen to notice it everywhere – on websites, even in books I read (which I thought had their own editor + computers these days have spell checkers!), the worst is from schools of education though – you think that if they are going to teach you then they would at least be able to spell properly! I can’t understand how someone can grade you on grammar and spelling when their own instructions have errors in it… Writing, grammar and spelling – learn how to do it well was the advice I received from every communications professional I visited throughout my time with MCSA. So take the time to edit and proof-read, you will be surprised at how much you notice after even just an hour of not working on an assignment and for this reason…

6. Be prepared – start assignments early. As early as you can write a mind map (brainstorm), do your first draft, second draft, third draft and final draft. Then take a look at the difference in quality between your first and final pieces – you will see the effort that went in pays off in the end. Also pay attention to the marking schedule – lecturers use this as a guide, so to ensure you are answering the right questions use this as your guide. Trust me it makes a huge difference and the lecturers will notice, both if you have or haven’t used it.

To conclude – finishing university is bittersweet. I am no longer a “poor” uni student, however, with that I now have a much stricter daily schedule and less “holidays”. I enjoyed my time being a university student and all the experiences and friends/networks I built during my time studying. I am also extremely excited as my hard work for the last 3.5 years paid off; the piece of paper telling me I had completed my degree and could now apply to graduate (and the one saying I had been accepted to graduate) came in the mail – so it’s official, I have a degree!! I also got offered a full-time permanent job which I start on Monday – the first step in my career and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. So while I am going to miss the lifestyle of a student, I am looking forward to being a “grown up” in the real workforce.

Degree: Check

Degree: Check

I hope that my advice helps, and I would love to hear if you have any of your own to add!

Volunteering at Tough Mudder NZ

I LOVE volunteering!
Why do I love it? Well like Booker T. Washington says “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else”.  It’s not that I do it to make myself feel better, it just so happens that when you help others it is a natural repercussion that you do feel better about yourself, your life, and those around you. I love meeting new people and getting to know them, even if it is just a quick hello in the street or high 5 as they run past with a smile on their face, I know that what I am doing has an impact on their lives whether big or small. Interestingly enough there is a TED talks video I watched recently about “Lollipop moments” which talks about exactly that. Those moments, that to you may be a simple gesture and you forget about tomorrow, may mean the world to someone else or create a drastic change in their lives. Here is the link to the clip if you are interested in watching further.
My latest volunteering experience was at Tough Mudder in Auckland on Anzac weekend. Abbey (my sister) and I had both put our names down to volunteer on the Saturday and Abbey was running it on the Sunday. Unfortunately I am still recovering from an ankle injury so didn’t want to risk it getting worse by running the course. Being a close family like we are, mum had come down to drive us to and from the event, it just so happened there was space for her to volunteer on the Saturday (AND Sunday) as well. Getting up at 4am on a pitch black cold and frosty morning was the hardest part! Once we put all our gears on and got on the road we forgot how early it was an started to feel the anticipation of what was waiting for us. This was the first time the Tough Mudder had been run in NZ so other than USA course Youtube video’s we really didn’t know what to expect.
Breakfast panini at Tough Mudder New Zealand

Tough Mudder panini

NZ Tough Mudder Volunteer t-shirt

Mum sporting her volunteer t-shirt

 After an hour of driving we reached Hampton Downs raceway. It was a lot bigger than I had imagined, and there were already a lot of volunteers there getting amped for the day. We wandered on inside and registered for the day, picking our stations – Abbey and I started on a water station, and mum was delegated to the next free obstacle which happened to be the Electric Eel! We were given our bright orange t-shirts and a delicious bacon and egg breakfast panini then grouped outside for our briefing. Each station was allocated little boxes with radios, maps and instructions for set up, then we were driven off to our separate locations.
Tough Mudder NZ water station

Abs manning our water station

Tough Mudder NZ Water Station

Tough Mudder water station

 As Abbey and I were on water station 5 (at the 14km mark) it meant the first hour was down time (apart from the one super speedy guy who finished the course in 1.5hours!!!), so we made friends with the couple who were in the High Five zone next to us and jumped in on high fiving everyone who ran past. This is where our enthusiasm began! My sister is a naturally loud person so she was shouting “woohoo” and getting really into it from the first group who ran through. This put me in a great cheering mood too; I managed to get both hands muddy pretty quickly and somehow got a few photos in!
Tough Mudder NZ Hi five zone

Hi five zone

Tough Mudder NZ Hi five

Giving out Hi fives

Tough Mudder NZ Hi 5

More Hi five’s

The next four hours were spent at our water station, initially we had the tables set up with empty water cups, then we though it’d be nicer if we filled the cups so the runners didn’t have to stop and get the taps all muddy. After a few groups came through though we realised there were too many runners and not enough time to fill all the cups, so we resorted to holding two piles of stacked cups on the side of the path and handing them out as the runners went past. This worked like a charm and gave us more time and energy to be support every runner and yell out positive comments to on coming groups. This was my favourite part of the day; seeing each person light up when they saw us, and smiling or commenting back when we encouraged them!
 We were allowed to swap to volunteer on obstacles, however after having a walk around some at lunch time we decided we were quite happy with our little motivational water station set up! We got a chance to chat to some of the mudders while they were filling up their water and having that personal connection with each one as they came past was what made our day. We went home buzzing from the enjoyment of having helped make the event a success and keeping people’s spirit’s up. Water station 5 was the last water stop for the final 6k’s of the course so we had the most important job (in our own minds anyway!)
Tough Mudder NZ tyre obstacle

Tough Mudder NZ tyre obstacle

Tough Mudder NZ Mud Mile obstacle

The Mud Mile

Tough Mudder NZ Electro Shock Therapy obstacle

“Electro shock therapy”

The event organiser’s were fantastic, especially Chris (our zone leader) and Stormy, they made the extra effort of going around every single volunteer and thanking them personally for helping make the event go so well. Along with our delicious breakfast panini’s, and our bright orange volunteer shirts, they also gave us a yummy lunch (filled roll, Moro bars and bananas!) and a free Export Citrus beer at the end of the day (I don’t normally drink beer as I can’t stand the flavour, however this citrus one was delicious and it’s a very low percentage too – the perfect girly beer!).
Tough Mudder NZ volunteers

Covered in mud at the end!

So we helped out and were spoiled with much appreciation and thanks (surprisingly a lot of Mudders said their thanks mid course, and even after the finish line came up especially to say thank you). This is exactly why I LOVE volunteering, it might not mean much to us (although we had a great time), to just one Mudder it could have been the difference between stopping and carrying on. You don’t know who or when, and that’s half the fun, it makes you determined to do a great job just for the chance there will be that one “lollipop moment” in someone’s life.

Life is how you FRAME it

Framing: the individual’s perception of the meanings attributed to words, phrases, events or actions.

How and why we think the way we do is based on our own preexisting beliefs, attitudes, and opinions.

Photo from  Anne-Katrin Arnold & kfergos -Flicker

Photo from Anne-Katrin Arnold & kfergos -Flicker

A key learning from the RYLA leadership camp I recently attended was the theory of framing, and how influential it is in every day life. We learnt that “thinking creates feeling creates behaviour”. The way you think about an event creates the way you feel about the event, and in turn reflects how you react. This can be both the immediate reaction, or how you feel and react years later.

For example if someone cuts you off when driving – what happens next?

You think: “Damn you! I’m in a hurry, I can’t believe you were so rude cutting in front of me”

You feel: Angry

Your behaviour: Beep your horn, yell at the driver etc.


You think: “Gosh I bet that person was scared when they realised how close they were to my car”

You feel: Relieved the cars didn’t collide, empathetic for the other driver

Your behaviour: More aware about your own driving and others on the road

In this example there are two completely different outcomes, solely based on the initial thought of the event. This demonstrates how your thought turns into your associated feeling which creates a reflective behaviour.

My experience at camp was a bit different to the driving example. It was during the afternoon activity after we had our session about framing.

There were a lot of wasps around, everyone was jumping and screaming when they came near. I was eating a filled roll and a wasp flew onto my roll, I simply just stood there calmly and said “oh would you please go away”, and as if it heard me it flew off. Someone noticed and said “gosh you are calm”, my response was “they’re only being friendly”. It turned out that was a perfect example of our learning’s about framing that morning; the way I perceived the wasps presence was different to that of my class mates, and instead of running around and angering the wasps I felt relaxed and had a calm reaction which meant the wasp just moved on.

My personal experience with the wasps and realisation of the framing I have has made me notice how different the people around me frame situations and it has reinforced my confidence in my positive attitude. My friends always used to refer to me as the bubbly, happy, positive person. Recently I thought I had been losing a bit of this positive expressive-ness, however, over the last week since finishing camp I have noticed that when talking about or interacting in an event I always have a positive frame around it. Luckily, this generally influences those around me to feel better about the event and simmers their reactions. Although, I have noticed with a few people, who have completely opposite framing, the transition from thinking – feeling – behaviour can happen so fast that there is no chance for a positive influence before they have reacted to the situation.

I feel this is a great learning as I will be able to use it beneficially in both my personal and professional life. By acknowledging how the people around me frame the events that happen to them, I can learn more about their deep seated core beliefs, as well as preempting their reaction in certain circumstances by changing the way I present the situation to them. The knowledge I now have of framing can lead to more mutually positive relationships in all areas of my life, and a greater understanding of individuals and their behaviours in general.