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Blenheim Palace

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Blenheim Palace first got on my radar in the spring when I was searching for a good place to have a picnic within an hour or so radius from our house. I had never heard of it before, but I was instantly in awe of the photos of the palace itself, as well as the surrounding gardens and grounds.

When my sister Sam came to visit in June and expressed interested in visiting Oxford, I figured it would be a good opportunity to visit Blenheim Palace as well. It’s just a short bus from the heart of Oxford and it made for a great spot to meet up with Luke who had been working that day. Unfortunately, we missed our bus by a few moments and I misread the bus schedule, skipping over the next one in 30 minutes and instead assuming the next bus wasn’t for an hour. So Sam and I ducked into a pub to watch a World Cup match that was on and arrived an hour later than we had planned. We bought tickets for the palace and the grounds and just barely made it into the palace before they closed the doors for the day. Meanwhile, Luke was stuck in terrible traffic and arrived so late they wouldn’t even let him into the palace area. Sam and I hurried through the palace and met up with Luke outside to explore the water gardens until closing.

Luke and I were able to convert our tickets into annual passes since we had opted for the gift aid when we bought them. Since we had a whole year to come back, I’ve been waiting to share any photos from Blenheim until we could spend more time there. We went back in August and did the free audio tour of the palace. They also had a special exhibit of Yves Klein art throughout the palace, so there was an interesting mix of art in every room. Today, I’m sharing photos from both visits.

So what exactly is Blenheim Palace? It sounds like a place where the Royal Family might live, but actually it’s the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace, and the principle residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is open to the public most days of year.

The palace is named after the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria in 1704 and was intended for John Churchill, later styled 1st Duke of Marlborough, as a reward for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of the Spanish Succession, culminating in the Battle of Blenheim. However, soon after construction began it became the subject of political infighting, leading to Marlborough's exile, the fall from power of his duchy and lasting damage to the reputation of the architect Sir John Vanbrugh, who designed it in the short-lived English Baroque style.

Blenheim has been the family home of the Dukes of Marlborough for nearly 300 years, currently run by the 12th Duke. In the late 1800’s the palace and family were saved from financial ruin when the 9th Duke married American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, a dream match for her mother, but resulting in a loveless marriage for both parties, as they were both in love with another before the match. Consuelo’s dowry was so large that her husband was able to redecorate the parts of the palace in the style of Versailles.

When the 1st Duke, John Churchill, died, the title was passed to his eldest daughter, Henrietta, who became the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough in her own right through an Act of Parliament since both of John’s sons had proceeded him in death. Like her father, Henrietta outlived her sons, including her eldest son William who married, but died without children. Because of this, the Dukedom then passed to her eldest nephew, Charles Spencer, making him the 3rd Duke. Because of this, the title remains in the Spencer-Churchill family.

Now, let’s talk about those famous surnames for a moment. At the palace, you can find a family tree linking the 1st Duke of Marlborough to two of the most famous figures in the 20th century: Lady Diana Spencer and Sir Winston Churchill. While they are distantly related, both Princess Diana and Winston Churchill come from the same line that joined the Churchill and Spencer families, Churchill’s paternal grandfather being the 7th Duke.

Winston Churchill’s history even began at the palace itself, being born early there while his parents were staying during renovations on their London residence. The room where Churchill was born remains a memorial to him as part of a larger exhibit about his life. In the room, you’ll see the bed where he was born, along with locks of his curled hair.

My favourite room in the palace is the Long Library. On one end, you’ll find shelves of books, many being rare 1st editions, surrounding a very flattering statue of Queen Ann with exquisite detail. On the other end, you’ll find the pipe organ, built in 1891 for £3,669 and featuring over 2,300 pipes, making it the largest organ in private ownership in Europe. The Long Library has served as an exercise room for the ladies of the palace, a school, and even a hospital. While it was a school, a few boys stole a couple of pieces from the organ, which were then replaced. Upon their death, one of the widows found the pieces and sent them back to the Blenheim Palace anonymously with an apology for what her husband had done in his youth.

Today, the palace is open to visitors most days of the year and occasionally puts on special events on the grounds and inside the palace itself (like the Yves Klein exhibit while we were there in August). Both times we visited, in June and in August, there were car shows going on outside and we have tickets to visit during their Christmas festivities in early December, which included an illuminated walk through the gardens, holiday decor in the palace, and a Christmas market in the courtyard. It occasionally serves as a filming location for films and TV shows, including Spectre, The Royals, Cinderella, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and I believe W.E., a film directed by Madonna.

With its proximity to Oxford, you should absolutely visit if you’re in the area. If you’re local(ish), it’s worth it to turn your ticket into an annual pass so you can enjoy the palace and the gardens all year. While we won’t be back until Christmastime, I’m looking forward to packing a picnic lunch for a lovely summer day in 2019.

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5 Tips for Beating Jet Lag

TravelHannah DrakeComment

I never really experienced jet lag until the first time I travelled to England. The furthest away I had been was only the east coast, just two time zones ahead of Colorado and that never messed with me too badly. Now, long haul, transatlantic flights are all the more present in my life and I hate being jet lagged, so I'll do anything to beat it.

Jet lag happens because our bodies function on circadian rhythms, which naturally tells us normal times to do things like eat and sleep. Changing time zones, though, really throws things out of whack, so it can mess with you in a number of ways: fatigue, memory or concentration problems, bowel problems, loss of appetite, and indigestion. The first time I visited England, we left Denver around 21:00 on Saturday, flying through the night. I was able to get a decent night's sleep, you know, for an airplane, and woke up when we landed in London around 12:00 on Sunday. I thought I fell into an easy rhythm right away, but by Wednesday, I was incredibly jet lagged. I was clumsy and careless, dropping a container of freshly boiled water on the street and later a bowl of cookie dough which exploded all over the kitchen. Yikes.

People say west is best, east is a beast, but that hasn't exactly been my experience. Flying between Colorado and England, which are seven hours apart, I've almost always struggled more in Colorado, whether that's where I'm travelling from or where I'm travelling to. When Luke and I were there over the summer, we regularly woke up between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning, even taking care of a few things during usual business hours in the UK while we were up, since we were used to it being mid-morning. When I've travelled to England, I've been able to get on a decent sleeping schedule right away every time and that's made a world of difference.

No matter how jet lag shows up for you, there are things you can do to try to combat it, even starting before you leave.

CHOOSE THE BEST ARRIVAL TIME

Most people will tell you to try to arrive during daylight and I agree. I'll just take it one step further. My advice to people is to try to arrive around midday. I understand that with flight prices, you need to do what's best for your budget, but if at all possible, shoot for an arrival time around 12:00. If you're checking into a hotel, you'll only have a few hours before check in (usually around 15:00-16:00) and the hotel might be more lenient on letting you check in early or just letting you leave your bags at the front desk until you are able to check in. I would also advise that you fill your first day with sight seeing, something that will both keep you up and wear you out. My first day on that very first trip was perfect. We landed at noon, stored our bags at the train station, grabbed lunch, walked around London, took a lively train journey to Birmingham, and did even more walking. By the time we got to where we were staying late that evening, we were all worn out and fell asleep easily. Staying busy and on your feet will ensure that you stay up until a normal time to go to bed (even if it's a bit early) and make sure you're ready to sleep when you get there. And only having to fill half a day with activities, only having to stay up a few more hours, makes all of that a lot more bearable. 

GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP BEFORE YOU LEAVE

Most people will say this is actually the most important part of prepping for a trip. Try to avoid staying up late to finish all your last minute tasks the night before and get to bed at a reasonable time. No matter what happens on the flight or your first day travelling, at least you got a decent night of sleep before you left.

STAY HYDRATED

You've probably heard that hydration is key in beating jet lag. That includes before your flight, during your flight, and after your flight. Water is so essential to our health and it's truly amazing what your body can do when you properly hydrate yourself. This also means, though, avoiding the bar. I certainly wouldn't say no to one drink at the beginning of the flight if it helps you sleep, but consuming alcohol in access will dehydrate you significantly. And toasting to your trip as soon as you land probably won't help you stay up either. Also, I saw that one of my friends recently did a hydrating face mask on her transatlantic flight to help keep her skin feeling good while she travelled.

KEEP YOUR ROUTINE

You know I love a good nighttime routine. I think everyone should have an established routine before going to bed and there's no reason why you can't keep that routine when you're travelling, even if you have to modify it slightly. Take that 21:00 flight for example. I usually go to bed around 21:30 (later on weekends), so if close to the beginning of the flight, I head to the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, etc. like I would at home, my body should get the signal to start winding down for the night, helping me to fall asleep more easily. This means you'll likely have to pack some toiletries in your carry on (assuming you've checked a bag), but you can pop over to Target to pick up some travel sized containers to only take on what you need. That'll come in handy later anyway...

FRESHEN UP WHEN YOU LAND

If I've just landed on a trip and I know we're going to be out all day, the first thing I'll do is head to the bathroom to freshen up. Since I've packed toiletries in my carry on (including a washcloth in a baggie), I just need to do three things to make me instantly feel better: brush my teeth, put on more deodorant, and wash my face. Immediately, I lose that gross, grimy airport feeling and start to feel like myself again. And if you can't get to the hotel or wherever you're staying shortly after you land, pack a change of clothes, or at least underwear!

I'm curious, what's the longest travel day you've ever had?

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Guest Post: How to Plan a Solo Trip

TravelHannah DrakeComment

Another Friday, another guest post. Today, and for two more weeks, I'll be sharing guest posts from some of my favourite bloggers & photographers and people I'm lucky enough to call friends.

Today, I want to introduce you to my friend Gennean! In her words: I’m a twenty-something gal currently living in California who recently returned from the trip of a lifetime — a four and a half month journey through eleven European countries. And it was actually toward the end of this trip that Hannah and I met in real life after following one another’s blogs and Instagram for a while. We met on a rainy London day at a cute shop called Biscuiteers where we drank cream tea and swapped life stories for a good few hours. I was at the end of my big European adventure, and it was so lovely to process some of the things I’d seen and learned over the last few months with a sweet, new friend.

Truly, I could have sat there and talked to Gennean for h o u r s more, but I had to catch the train back to Birmingham! I cannot wait for our paths to cross again, and in the meantime, there’s always Instagram!


For some backstory, after paying off all of my student loan debt in 2016 and saving for about a year, I quit my full-time job in Nashville and moved back home to California for a few months before embarking on my adventure across the Atlantic earlier this year. Of course, there is so much that goes into this story — from the fear of leaving the comfort of my life in Nashville to trusting God to work all of the details together — but some of the most frequent questions I’ve been getting as of late are around the practicalities of planning a solo trip. Whether you are going away for four days or four months, here are some of the things to keep in mind when planning a solo trip:

BUDGETING

First things first, let me say this: you should not go into debt for a trip. Ever. If you cannot realistically afford a holiday within your current means, I honestly don’t think that you should be taking one.  This has always been my mantra, even (and especially) while I was paying off debt. If I wanted to take a few days off here or there for a long weekend, I would always save for it beforehand. So this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take trips if you have debt; it just means you have to be more intentional in your planning.

Speaking of planning, creating a budget is one of the first things you should consider when planning for a trip. It may seem tedious or annoying, but having a plan for your money is a great way to start the planning process. It was the first thing I worked on with my Europe trip, because I needed to know just how much money I would need to save before I could start getting into the nitty gritty details.  You can do this with pen and paper or create a spreadsheet (my preference, that way you can access it easily from anywhere) that includes with all of the necessary categories of spending for your holiday. For my multi-month long trip, my budget included the following:

  • Round-trip flight

  • Food ($X per day, multiplied by X days)

  • Lodging ($X per night, multiplied by X nights)

  • Other Travel Expenses (train, bus, etc.)

  • Entertainment + Fun

  • Travel Insurance

  • Miscellaneous

  • Recurring Bills (Giving, Phone, Insurances, etc.)

Placing all of these categories into a formulated spreadsheet that showed total numbers can really help with saving the money you’ll need. You can adapt your budget as necessary for your trip, but this is a good place to start. While actively saving for your trip, you can do a few different things to keep your travel funds apart from your other money to avoid spending it prematurely, like withdrawing cash after each pay check and keeping it tucked away or creating a separate savings account for the trip. For more tips on saving money for travel, check out my more detailed post.

PACKING TIPS

Packing for a trip tends to elicit one of two reactions: freaking out about planning and just throwing whatever into a suitcase, or getting all kinds of excited and creating a detailed document with each and every item to pack based on the weather and activities planned. I tend to fall into the latter category of human, and almost always create a spreadsheet where I compile a list all of the things that I want to pack for an upcoming trip. I realize this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve found that preparing ahead of time can really save you both time and potential headaches in the future. Not only will you have better and/or the right things ready to go, but your bag will likely be lighter as a result of planning ahead. And remember, in most cases, you can always run to the store if you really need something that you didn’t pack. When it comes to the practical stuff, like actually getting your stuff into a bag, some people debate the folding vs. rolling methods, but have you heard of packing cubes? They are a lifesaver! Not only do they keep your things organized, but I’m convinced that they also help you get more into your bag than you could without them! So fold or roll to your heart’s content, but make sure you’re using some packing cubes. Lastly, be sure to think through what things might be available to you that you can skip packing, like a blow dryer, toiletries, etc. in order to make more space in your bag. I had to be really specific with what I packed on my Europe trip, which you can read more about here.

My biggest piece of advice when it comes to packing is this: be realistic, and try to adopt a minimalist mindset if you can. Do you need two jackets for a summer trip? Or three pair of shoes for a 4-day weekend? Try to pack intentionally, choosing items you can mix and match to create more outfit choices. Less might really be more when it comes to packing, as having less stuff could free up your mental and emotional space, giving you more room for more experiences and memories. And that’s what really matters, right?

SAFETY TIPS

Traveling by yourself, especially as a woman, can seem scary. Trust me, I totally get it. I had plenty of well-meaning people express some concern when I started talking about my plans to travel for a while. While I appreciated their concern, I’m here to tell you that traveling solo does not have to be scary… but it does mean being more aware and a bit more cautious. Some safety tips are fairly common sense, like avoiding dark, desolate areas (especially when you’re alone), not telling someone you just met where you’re staying, and not flashing around cash or expensive items, especially in heavily tourist-filled areas (like the Colosseum in Rome). Along with those, here are a few of my personal tips for staying safe while traveling solo:

  • Try to look like as much of a local as possible. You can do this in a number of ways: walk confidently and look like you know where you’re going, feel free to make eye contact with people on the street, and don’t wear something that screams “tourist,” like a money belt or big camera. This will help you to not stick out as a potential target to scammers or thieves.

  • While exploring, keep your headphones on you. Whether you choose to actually listen to music, a podcast, or an audio book or not is totally up to you, but having your headphones in can help you avoid any potentially awkward conversations. Plus, you will actually end up looking more like a local this way.

  • Keep your eyes up and off your phone. You should definitely know where you’re going, so if that means peeping at Google Maps from time to time, that’s totally okay. But don’t be so focused on your phone that you miss what’s happening around you. Not only can this make someone an easier target, but it keeps you distracted and less able to potentially defend yourself.

  • Lastly, try to always be aware of your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you need to be on hyper alert all of the time, but take mental note of what’s going on around you and make decisions from there. If something feels off, move on. Know yourself and trust your gut.

Ultimately, when traveling solo, remember keep your head up, eyes open, and be as prepared as you can, but most of all, remember to have fun! This is an experience to be savored and enjoyed, so make sure you’re embracing every moment!

THE TRUTH ABOUT TRAVELING SOLO

Traveling solo is simultaneously totally amazing and super hard, and that — I think — is the beauty of it.  There’s something so very special about exploring on your own, because you will be challenged to grow in so many ways: you will edge out of your comfort zones; you’ll experience exhilaration and exhaustion and loneliness in the same breath; you will learn boundaries and how to take care of yourself; your confidence will soar and you’ll learn when to ask for help; you’ll do things you never thought you could or would; and you will see some absolutely stunning places and meet beautiful souls along the way. You will grow, you will change, and you will be better because of it.

I hope that some of my tips for planning a solo trip — from packing to budgeting and staying safe — have inspired you to take one in the future. I’ve chatted with some people in my circles who’ve said they don’t think they could ever travel by themselves, but let me squash that thought. Letting fear stop you from trying something new is no way to live, and I promise that you have what it takes to do it yourself. So whether it’s a long weekend or a few months, taking a solo trip has the potential to be absolutely life changing…so what are you waiting for?

You should follow Gennean on Instagram, too.