It's hard to describe the feelings I had when I first stood in front of an elephant...Not because I felt scared or threatened but because I had never felt such admiration for an animal before.

I reached out as her long, floating trunk came to meet my hand with amazing accuracy. Her nose was wet and cold and I could hear her sniffing my palm enthusiastically for treats.

Her waving, cloth-like ears were a sign she was happy. I smiled at her as she took a piece of watermelon from my hand, rolled it up in her trunk and passed it into her mouth with ease.

Her name was Saza, she was 70 years-old and one of the most beautiful creatures I'd ever met.

Just simply being near to her, I felt such a connection to this gentle giant.

Saza's thick skin was dotted with long black hairs and felt rough to the touch. It was like running my hand over a damp, wrinkled piece of sandpaper. She had spent most of the day covering herself with dirt so her grey tone had turned more of a coffee-like blend of yellow and brown.

It was November 2016 and I was volunteering at Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in Northern Thailand, a now world famous rescue and rehabilitation centre for elephants, cats and dogs.

I had chosen to go to ENP right at the end of a 13-month backpacking adventure. I didn't yet know that week would completely change my perspective on life and humble me beyond words. 

Feeding and bathing times were the happiest, the moments when I saw that the elephants still trusted humans despite their ordeals.
Me and Elena in the river bathing one happy elephant (thanks to the basket of fresh watermelon).
Preparing fruit and harvesting corn were the times where I saw the connection between the volunteers and just how much we all wanted to help care for the elephants.

It was the laughter, the days of hard work and the beautiful people I met at ENP that made it the week that it was. The week that made me realise I love people just as much as I love animals. 
Me (bottom left) and friends Elena, Hannah and Katie with our four volunteer leaders (middle).
But along with the good times came the hard times...

I came to learn of the horrific abuse that the majority of the elephants there had suffered for most of their lives. The abuse and neglect being why they could no longer be returned to the wild.

Some were either partially or completely blind, some had scars and some simply were too nervous to be around anyone other than their mahout (their keeper).

It broke my heart to hear how some elephants had been blinded by sling shots or had broken bones due to forced riding or logging work. One had even lost half of her foot from stepping on a landmine while working.

"How could anyone treat these magnificent creatures this way?" I asked myself repeatedly.

Each day that I was lucky enough to touch one of the elephants, I looked up at them in complete awe.

Their sheer size emphasised to me just how powerful nature can be and gave me an appreciation of my place in the natural world.

I hoped they knew that no one would ever hurt them again.
The elephants adored corn in huge quantities! 
The magic behind this place exists because of one woman. One woman who has been rescuing elephants across Thailand for more than 25 years.

Her name is Sangdeaun "Lek" Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature Park and Save Elephant Foundation.

I was lucky enough to meet her, chat to her about her amazing work as well as sit in on one of her talks.

According to Lek, her efforts have meant she has previously received threats and given a bad reputation in some areas of Thailand.

But she hasn't let this stop her.

Today, Lek relies on the hundreds of ENP volunteers to help spread awareness of elephant suffering all over the world. 

She believes that social media and word of mouth can help stamp out the abuse of elephants in the tourism industries. "You have the most powerful tool in your hands...It is social media. Use social media to go and spread the word," she urged.

Lek (right) spending quality 'mud-bath' time with the elephants.
Since rescuing her first elephant in 1992, Lek has dedicated her life to elephants in need and helping them through their rehabilitation

"I love it when I see their suffering come out and they become playful," she said. 

Although Lek has now rescued over 70 elephants, the park is still surrounded by camps that promote and sell elephant rides.

Behind the scenes, it is commonplace in these camps for calves to be separated from their mothers and nannies so they can be easily trained for riding, performing or street begging. 

Lek explains that the female elephants at ENP still have a natural instinct to care for these calves. 

"Today you might have seen that one of our elephants tried to cross the river because they are training baby elephants in the camp up there. The babies suffer without their mother," she said.

"Our female elephants here are very upset," she added. 

For me, as someone who fully supports Lek and the stoppage of elephant tourism, this was a heart wrenching reminder that more work still needs to be done.

But for now and as one person trying to help, I am just grateful that people like Lek and her team at ENP exist. If it wasn't for them, many of the rescued elephants wouldn't have survived. 

I am still grateful, three months on, that volunteer opportunities like this are available and I was lucky enough to experience it.
An amazing group of people. The ENP volunteers: 7th-13th November 2016.
I came out of that park a changed person. As our herd of minibuses rumbled down the dirt road back towards Chiang Mai, I took one last glance back. I knew every penny had been worth it. 

I would miss seeing the elephants, dogs and cats everyday. I would miss waking up at sunrise to the sound of elephant calls and I would miss being part of something amazing.

I hope I'll be back one day. Until then, I can take comfort knowing it was the best decision I made on my entire trip.

If you would like to volunteer at ENP, here's the details:

My one-week volunteering placement cost me 12,000 Thai Baht (THB) which converts into roughly £270 (January 2017). This price included three meals each day and shared accommodation at the park.

Take a look at the ENP website for volunteering details and pricing here
Can you be a backpacker and still have green beauty products? That was the question I asked myself before I came travelling.

Eco products aren't exactly known for being the cheapest and can be hard to get hold of depending on where you are.

So, being the inquisitive character that I am, the next thing I did was set myself a goal...

To get out into the world and investigate for all the eco-conscious adventurers out there. 

After all, it's a team effort in the fight to save the planet and animals.

And low and behold, I found some real gems (with minimal effort) during my travels to keep any green-minded explorer happy. Hooray! 

So here is my list of the green beauty products I couldn't live without during my Australia and New Zealand travels:

Ecostore Volumising Shampoo and Conditioner:

I only found out about this brand when I was half way through my Australia trip but I've been in love with Ecostore products ever since. 

What I love about this brand is that they are big on reducing their carbon footprint and even make an effort to make their bottles out of renewable sugar cane plastic!

The plant based, vegan and cruelty-free ingredients are great for any ethical, beauty-loving backpackers.

Even though the 220ml bottles look small, these two have lasted me over two months, even with my very frequent hair-washing routine!

The scent is delicate and refreshing, just what I need after a hot day at the beach or a long journey. Plus, it made my hair feel squeaky clean (quite literally.)

Available in Woolworths stores across Australia and Countdown stores across New Zealand, it isn't hard to come across this great brand.

Visit the Ecostore website here to shop and find out more.

Thankyou Botanical Geranium and Rosewood Body Wash:

I'm a big believer in having a good shower gel to hand when travelling. It is up there in my most important beauty essentials to make me feel better after a long flight or road trip.

So I introduce this bottle of pure shower happiness to you all.

This wonderful stuff ticked all the boxes for me. Animal friendly, check. Vegan friendly, check. Ethical brand, check.

The only downside is that this 500ml bottle isn't exactly travel friendly size. However if you can fit it in your rucksack then I urge you to try it. It'll last for a long while and the smell is devine!

Thankyou products (including a variety of body and hand washes) are available in most pharmacies and Coles stores across Australia.

Visit the Thankyou website here to learn more about their approach to combating poverty with their products. 

Nature's Gate Clear Formula Deodorant Stick:

I recently found this for the first time in a Life Pharmacy store in New Zealand and I immediately snapped it up. (Despite the hefty $14.99NZD price tag.)

I was in complete shock that I had come across a deodorant that was natural AND not tested on animals outside of a Lush store.

For research purposes, I had to test this out. (That's a lie, it was more like 40% research purpose and 60% feeding my green beauty addiction.)

For anyone who is unsure on natural deodorants, it's important for me to add that I didn't hold back when testing this one out. 

I put this stuff to its ultimate test by using it in the sticky, sweltering heat of Bangkok, Thailand. 

I was thoroughly impressed with how well it worked. It lasted mostly all day before, like any perspirant, (natural or not) it needed re-applying on to clean skin.

It doesn't leave white marks on my clothes or leave a sticky residue on my underarms when washing it off.

Lastly, I loved the fresh, floral scent and the convenience of a smaller deodorant bottle while travelling.

Take a cheeky peak at the Nature's Gate website for more products and information here

And there you have it! My haul of green beauty for busy, eco-conscious backpackers. Proof that ethical can be achieved on the go!
I waited patiently for my bag in Wellington airport after flying for what seemed like five minutes from Auckland.

I felt strangely nervous and out of place travelling alone once again.

Just an hour before, I had left my partner, Ben, in Auckland airport where he would catch a flight to LA for work.

We had just finished an amazing four-week tour of New Zealand together. I'd had the time of my life driving round both islands and experiencing white (and black) water rafting, skiing, abseiling, skydiving and canyon swinging.

Skydiving over Lake Wanaka - one of the best experiences of my life.

It had all gone too fast. Before I knew it, I was saying my goodbyes and going back to Wellington to find work before my trip to Thailand in November.

I had come back down to Earth with a thump.

I felt a pang of loneliness and a knot in my stomach forming when I stepped outside the arrivals lounge. I told myself;

Take a deep breath and shake it off. Everything is going to be OK.. 

I caught the shuttle bus into Wellington city centre and I headed towards the YHA hostel where I would spend the next three nights.

Eventually I started to feel more settled and comfortable. I made a few friends, got some groceries to last me a few days and started to venture round the sights of Wellington.

A view of the city from Wellington Botanic Gardens

Although it feels like a decade since I first got here, that was just over a week ago. 

And despite my best efforts, my plan to find work hasn't gone too well. OK, I'll be honest, it hasn't got me anywhere. Result being...

Feeling totally out of my depth.

At first, I had a hard time understanding why things weren't exactly working out the way I had hoped. Was my CV not good enough? Had I put enough effort into the 40+ job applications I had gone through?

Then I had a light bulb moment. Just the other day, I realised that I had spent the last two weeks stressing, going round in circles in my head everyday and it was making me feel awful.

I had to let go of plan A and start working on a plan B.

I decided that I'm going to stop job searching here in Wellington and go to Thailand two weeks earlier than planned to finish my 13 month trip on a high.

I didn't waste any time. I started looking at flights straight away and making alternative plans with my travel buddy who I would be meeting in Bangkok.

After sorting everything out, I've now got just under two weeks to wait until I leave New Zealand. 

I've thought to myself, time and time again, that I could feel sad about leaving when I've still got another 10 months on my visa but I want to see this experience as a positive one.

I feel so lucky when I think about my time here. I got to see pretty much all of NZ and do so many amazing things.

Skiing at Cardrona Alpine Ski Resort

I simply can't feel negative about this move. It just isn't the right time for me. 

And I'm still deciding on whether I will come back in the new year. But for now, I'm happy trusting my head and heart to live in the moment.
Photo by J 2011. Source link here

In the past few months, I've been the most impatient I've ever known myself to be.

And I've always known I can be pretty darn impatient.

It all started back in March, when I was a few weeks away from a trip back up the East Coast with my mum and sister.

I had booked my flight to Sydney, got some new clothes and thought about how excited I was to see some of my family again after six months.

But time dragged, and I mean it REALLY took its time. One week would seem like a decade and the more I thought about getting away, the lonelier and more frustrated I got.  

I would ask myself: "Why am I wishing time away?" and feel instantly guilty about being here in Australia and feeling this way.

I was told that I shouldn't waste time being sad, keep myself busy and to remember that I'm on the trip of a lifetime in a spectacular place.

But does being on this trip mean that I automatically cannot feel down or fed up? Where is the line between feeling fortunate and lying to myself?

Surely, it's perfectly OK that, even when travelling, I will still have my bad days (or weeks)?

I'm the kind of person who believes in expressing my emotions and that it's better to deal with them than push them away. If I feel sad or down, I usually just go with it, talk about it or let it ride out. 

It doesn't matter where I am, it's more about who I'm with.

So after my trip with my family and returning to Melbourne (heartbroken from saying goodbye), I found myself alone again faced with the reality of three more months of working and saving.

I don't want to sugar coat it...Some days were really hard and I felt like giving up.

But I think it's important to add that all of this is not to say that things have gone badly for me. In fact, I will always feel grateful for how amazingly lucky I've been here.

Over the last six months, I've had somewhere amazing to live and managed to get a great job. I've gone exploring all over Melbourne, met fantastic new people, road-tripped along Great Ocean Road and eaten some beautiful food. 

And those are only some of the highlights!

So overall, things have improved and looking back, this whole experience has given me a new perspective on what really makes me happy...

Love, laughter and adventure.

I know these things sound like a cliche. But I now know that my impatience, my upset and the nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach was from not having these three in my life.

Now, with three weeks before I leave for Western Aus, I've made new friends, booked the next leg of my travels and seem to be much more settled in myself (thank goodness).

Looking back now, a lot has changed for me since I first stepped off the coach into Melbourne in December. It's been a roller coaster but a chance to survive and cope on my own.

The realisation of how low my savings were and how much I needed a job at that point threw me into the thick of it. 

And despite my efforts at the time, I was naive to think it would be simple to get a job in a competitive city that I didn't know very well. 

But you know what? I've fought my way through and lived and worked in another country which is an experience I've always wanted to try.

I've stuck it out so I'm pretty proud of myself.

I guess I lost touch with what I was doing in Aus and why fate has lead me here. I let the mundane things in life take over and stress me out. 

I forgot to keep my end goal and my dream at the front of my mind.

I lost my way for a while but I'm OK with that.
Backpackers by Garry Knight 2008. Source link here
1. DO get a combination padlock

This is my first tip for a very good reason. I came backpacking without a padlock (my first mistake) and I realised very quickly that I needed one. 

When I reached my second hostel, I decided to buy a key and padlock set from reception. That was my second mistake.

Within a few days, I had locked the keys inside my locker and had to get the hostel manager and a pair of bolt cutters to help me out.

That was the end of that padlock and mistake number three.

On my next stop, I ordered a combination padlock online for around $4 AUD and it has worked a treat for my entire trip so far. I use it in all the hostels I stay in, at the gym and occasionally on my backpack.

It's great for peace of mind as I use it to secure my stuff away in the lockers or under-bed containers that are available in most hostel rooms.

And the best part of having one... No chance of locking myself out! 

Buying one of these beauties has been one of the best things I've done and I would recommend any fellow travellers do the same. 

2. DON'T leave your laundry in the washer/dryer for too long

I know it's all too easy to forget about your laundry once it's gone into the washer or dryer. I forget about it all the time at home and leave it sitting around for hours.

But hostels are not the place you want to be doing this. 

Although it's (thankfully) never happened to me, I have heard plenty of horror stories about laundry being stolen from unattended wash rooms.

And if you thought you were safe using the communal washing lines then think again... 

I had the annoying experience of quite literally watching my washing dry at one hostel as there were rumours of people robbing clothes. 

My tip is to use a dryer (if you can) and set a timer on your phone to remind you when it finishes so you don't have to sit around guarding the machine.

Other than that, the next safest thing to do is to hang clothes up around your bed in your dorm but that can get irritating.

3. DO make use of the social areas, movie/game nights etc

I met most of my friends and got talking to some really great people all through socialising in the common areas of hostels. 

You'll be surprised how many people will hang around in there pretty much all day and gather there in the evenings for nights out. 

I also went along to movie nights that the hostels would put on sometimes. Not only are they really cosy but you can meet some fantastic new people (especially if you are on your own.)

4. DON'T leave your things all over the floor in your dorm

If you're staying in shared dorms, this is an important one. 

No matter how relaxed you may feel or how much you think you can trust your new roomies, remember to be cautious in hostels. 

Hostels are bustling places where people are constantly coming in and out and often security is not at an all time high. 

Doors can be left unlocked, visitors could be walking in with friends and not everyone knows each other.

If you leave your things lying around, you probably won't notice so much if something were to go missing until it's too late.

Popular things that are taken include; phone charger cables, adapters, make-up, shower gel, shampoo etc.    

Clothes can also be a valuable asset, especially if they are clean. And yes, I have been told that includes underwear! Gross, right?

5. DO always check the 'free shelf/fridge' in your hostel kitchen

Simple (and bulky) cooking ingredients that people don't think to buy like: cooking oil, butter, vinegar etc. are often always left on the free shelf or in the fridge.

It's always worth a quick look in both to see if there is anything you need.

You'll be surprised how many times checking up on the shelf can do you a favour! Just make sure you return it for others to use, it's backpacker/hostel code.

6. DON'T let the negative points put you off staying in hostels!

After reading this post, most of you (who haven't gone travelling yet or haven't stayed in hostels) will probably think that they sound like the worst places ever.

But, trust me, they really aren't.

Hostels are fantastic for travellers on a budget and I find that they are a great place to meet new people because they are so open and communal.

Often, there will be specific hostels that are talked about on the backpacker grape vine for either being fantastic or really bad. This gave me a good idea of where to stay at each location.

There are aspects of them that are not so nice (depending on where you stay) but I wouldn't still stay in them if the bad overrode the good.

As a backpacker, I've found that there are tips, tricks and things to be wary of everywhere I go. Hostels are actually the least of my worries.

Except if there are bugs everywhere... If there are then I'm out of there.

I've been living in Melbourne now for just over three months and it has to be said that it's a fantastic city.

From the trams to the street art and creative buskers, I love the atmosphere and sense of freedom everywhere I go.

There is a certain magic in the air here that always makes me feel so inspired and part of something.  

The original plan was not to settle for too long before moving on but...real life happened and my travel funds weren't looking too great either.

With my long-term living arrangements sorted, I worked with what I had and started looking for work in the Central Business District.

That was around two months ago.

Thankfully, after several dead end job applications and help from a dear friend, I'm going to start a great job soon and begin saving for the next leg of my trip; Western Australia.

Meanwhile in all that time, I've spent my spare days exploring the suburbs and the city. 

The result being that I've now developed a handful of favourite places.

Whether it be just a good place to sunbath, chill out or simply go for a walk, I thought they were worth a share from one Melbourne backpacker to another.

St. Kilda Beach

On a hot, sunny day, St. Kilda Beach is the place to be. Both locals and backpackers flood here for a good spot of sunbathing, lunch or watersports.

My favourite thing about this part of town is the atmosphere. There are always events going on and it's full of life no matter what I'm doing.

My favourite thing to do is chill out with a book and watch the world go by from the beach front. There are spectacular views that spread all the way from the city right along to Brighton Beach.

Just a short walk up from the sea front, there is also the famous Luna Park and a whole host of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops.

If you're paying a visit, it's a must see place!

The Botanical Gardens/Kings Domain

This park is as large as it is beautiful...So it's pretty darn huge! It actually has many different sections and the Botanical Gardens is only one part.

It is home to a beautiful war memorium, thousands of species of trees and flowers and several outdoor events throughout the year.

This place made the list simply because it is a green, peaceful paradise in amongst the madness of the city. I love to grab a blanket and a nice sunny spot and just relax here some days.

It's also a great place for a good, old fashioned stroll. 

The Botanical Gardens is a wonderful, scenic route and you can learn all about the conservation efforts in the park at the same time. 

Melbourne just wouldn't have the same charm if this magnificent, central patch of nature wasn't there. 

It's a place where families, groups of friends and local events come together on weekends and summer days.

Albert Park

I'm actually lucky enough to be living within 10 minutes walk from this beautiful spot.

Lined with palm trees, bustling with water sport activities and home to the Formula 1, this park is very much a part of South Melbourne's appeal.

It's great for a place to run, walk or just to take in the city view from across the lake. It really is such a diverse space.

I've learnt from living close to a bustling city that I'm definitely one that needs a good green space to get away to every now and then.

But although I've done quite a bit of exploring since I arrived, I still have places on my list to visit.

I have only taken myself on two tours since I arrived here in mid-December; the City Sightseeing Bus Tour and a short Yarra River cruise.

Usually I would be more inclined to pay for other tours but actually, I've really taken to exploring on foot and by tram in my own time.

Because what's the big rush?

I've stumbled across so many little hidden gems in the city streets because I've just been wandering around. 

That's one of the reasons why I really have been enjoying living in Melbourne.

Much to my surprise, I've even began to use the trams and buses like I know exactly where I'm going. 

This is a big deal for me.

Funnily enough, I've actually become so used to being lost that I no longer feel embarrassed by it! I now usually wait for a kind stranger to take pity on me and ask me if I need directions.

So until my next Western Aus adventure in June/July, I will be working and saving away here in Melbourne. 

Watch this space for updates!

Since arriving in Australia, I've been busy looking for great, natural products to review and test.

Twelve weeks ago, I actually thought (rather naively) that it might be harder to get hold of eco beauty products out here.

But much to my surprise, Australia seems to have a much better (and more popular) market for green beauty than the UK.

And for the time being, I really don't mind immersing myself completely and utterly in that market.

However, it does mean that when I eventually return home, quite a few products will be coming with me.

It would be silly of me, as a keen environmentalist. not to take advantage!

Below I have listed out the products I'm currently trialing.

Organic Care heat protect shampoo

This product is a fantastic all rounder in my eyes. It's cruelty-free, vegan and free from petrochemicals, sulphates, parabens and sls.

I also loved that this plant derived formula goes quite a long way in my hair. The thick, honey-like liquid lathers up nicely without me having to use a huge amount. Plus it leaves my hair feeling noticeably clean and soft.

I usually don't opt for heat protect products when I'm the UK (mainly as I don't heat style my hair that much) but out here in Aus, I decided to change. My snap decision was mainly due to the intense heat and sunlight that I expose my hair to everyday.

So when I was busy reading the label, I was very happy to find that the oat peptide in this shampoo actually helps to protect against UV, styling and general heat. Fantastic!

It didn't take all that long before I was handing it over to the cashier. I was happily convinced. 

For a natural product, this stuff smells wonderful (I've got a bad habit of repeating myself here but what the heck, I love it anyway).

If I didn't see the bottle, I could easily mistake it for any other floral shampoo. It has a wonderfully sweet and earthy scent that lingers in the room and my hair for hours after my shower.

Sukin Botanical Body Wash

In my eyes, a good body wash is imperative, especially more so now that I spend 99% of my time overheating.

I decided to try out Sukin body wash after seeing it in every supermarket and pharmacy down the coast. 

Safe to say, it caught my attention.

And it must have been fate that it did. It's free of sulphates, parabens, synthetic fragrances, mineral oils, artificial colours and completely cruelty-free.

It also has some gorgeous, skin-loving ingredients including; rose hip oils, avocado, lavender, chamomile and jojoba.

What's not to love?

In the body wash range, there are a few different scent options including; original and coconut and lime. But with me being a lover of earthy scents, I went for the original.

Before anything else, the rose hip and lavender oils hit your nose first, followed by a zesty helping of the tangerine peel oil. After this, the ingredients seem to mix and introduce to create a strong, earthy and soothing musk.

If it came as a scented candle, I'd be buying that too.

One of the best things about Sukin products is that you can get them in the UK too.

It's a tad on the pricey side and the bottles aren't exactly travel-friendly but you get plenty for your money and it's a premium natural product that actually works.

I will definitely be buying this again.

Australian Pure Beauty Sensitive Face Wash

This has been a great face wash to have during my travels and after long, hot days at the beach.

Here in Aus, they definitely seem to know the importance of a good facial wash, especially during summer.

It's refreshing on my skin and removes impurities and make-up easily. It also has a gentle and soothing scent thanks to the natural ingredients list.

It contains a plant based blend of Australia's native lilli pilli and wattleseed alongside lavender, sandlewood and patchouli oils. (That's just naming a few!)

Last but not least, this is another cruelty-free and naturally sourced product. Hooray!

The only criticism I would have about this product is the pump-style bottle. It hasn't exactly been the easiest to travel with and I've found that it leaks unless stood upright.

And from a backpacker's point of view, that's really not ideal.

So for now, that's my Aussie green beauty trials! I'm still going to be on the hunt for new products to review so keep an eye out.

Have you found any international green beauty products that you'd love to share? Comment below or get in touch!
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