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    The Ultimate Travel Guide to Agra, India

    Welcome to my guide to Agra, the city after Delhi on the golden triangle tour. Agra is home to arguably one of the most beautiful attractions in the world and architectural hotspot to lots of other charms bequeathed by the legacy of the Mughal empire. With lots of tombs and mausoleums, there isn’t a dull moment in this hustling, dusty, boisterous, intense and entertaining city.

    Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to see the Taj Mahal. I’ve always been fascinated by India’s history. I arrived, and overheard a tourist‚ “he built this palace for his wife, and I can’t even get a text back”. If you’re this funny traveller or have this sense of humour, I’d like to be your friend.

    Right, let’s fly to Agra, together!

    Top 5 Things to See and Do in Agra, India

    Taj Mahal – this world wonder is more breathtaking than I anticipated. It’s utterly magical. I’ve been to my fair share of overhyped tourist attractions — this isn’t one of them. Located on the picturesque Yamuna River, it’s a snap-happy wonderland! Wear bright colours; the backdrop is a lush white marble. Prepare to be hassled like a celebrity, it’s flattering at first, but if you feel uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to decline (politely!). Top tip, If you want: A) a decent photo without random body parts B) not to be elbowed, I would advise arriving super early! I appeared in the afternoon, and as a bizarre punishment, I got crushed. Don’t be me!

    Mehtab Bagh – this is where you can get the best views of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna River. If you like your viewpoints, I thoroughly recommend a sunset visit. Perfectly aligned with the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank; these gardens were where the black Taj was supposed to be. I’m fascinated by the story of Mehtab Bagh, but I won’t give too much away – as a tour guide will be bursting to tell you. Get your archaeology hat on as you can still see the remains. Want a memorable photo? Hire a boat in the day during the non-monsoon season.

    Musamman Burj – you have to see this place, it’s where Shah Jahan lived out his last years before he died. Our jaws dropped when we got there as it’s so beautiful. It’s an octagonal tower with poignant views to the Taj and Agra: an architectural goldmine, the lattices are carved in delicate, white and bright marble. There are heaps of snap-opportunities at this glorious monument.

    Sikandra Fort – a hidden gem which is located about 13km away from Agra Fort. The disadvantaged locals are newly benefitting from this tourist attraction. It isn’t as popular as the more prominent attractions, yet so worth it. It’s the last resting place of Mughal emperor Akbar. His beautifully carved, red-ochre sandstone tomb is set amidst a lush garden and pays tribute to his love of arts, literature, philosophy and science.

    Agra Fort – I wasn’t as impressed with this monument as the others, but it’s worth a visit. This strong Mughal red sandstone fortress manifests many fairytale-like palaces and mosques. High walls surround the area designed to keep invaders out. Beware of the cheeky monkeys running around!

    Transportation

    India can be a bumpy experience when it comes to hopping between attractions. There will be hordes of keen rickshaw-wallahs, souvenir peddlers and unofficial touts & guides outside most attractions, whose persistence can be bothersome. A tour will make your journey a smoother experience, and they will pick you up from your hotel or hostel and take you back. If you’re a backpacker, I recommend here. For day tours hop over to here and here. For all-inclusive golden triangle tours which are hassle-free click here.

    Accommodation

    Around two to three nights in Agra is all you need. There’s not much to see in the city.

    Backpackers – I haven’t stayed in a hostel in India so that I won’t recommend one, but I will always recommend my hostelbookers.com and hostelworld.com, I used both of these when I went backpacking.

    Vacay-ers – the best hotels will have a view of the Taj. Want five stars? This one is for you. Otherwise, this one is decently priced and has everything you need with a view. We stayed here, which has fun Indian craft activities and entertainment during peak season.

    Food

    My friend did some research on best places to eat in Agra, and we saw good reviews for Pinch of Spice. It’s not the best for decor, but it’s cheap and ideal if you like your Indian food accompanied with other cuisines. I had a paneer curry with fried rice and prawn toast, which felt like a blessing as I had been eating only Indian food that week. The Thali at our hotel (Taj view) is tasty too; we ate on the roof terrace with a picturesque view of the Taj.

    Closing

    I hope you found this post useful. India has been on my bucket list since I was a little girl, and I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Remember to come back for my ultimate guides to the beautiful Rajasthan and Jaipur! I’m always keen to hear about your travels so fling me a comment if you have anything to share or any Q’s!

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    The Ultimate Travel Guide to Delhi, India

    India is fascinating. At every turn: whether shocking, enlightening or confusing, there is a scene to captivate you — that’s the beauty of going to a country with an extraordinary, culture-rich and fascinating history.

    Delhi is a character: manic, unpredictable and not for the faint-hearted. With great tourist attractions and markets, Delhi’s economic development is seriously booming.

    I have to be honest with you; I don’t recommend spending a lot of time in the capital as there are more breathtaking places in India. Delhi is a stop shop which will facilitate you to your next ventures, like Agra, Rajasthan and Jaipur. I highly recommend going on a tour from Delhi. If you’re a backpacker, I recommend this and this. If you’re going on holiday, I booked this package. Otherwise, this, this and this are all reputable.

    This is the ultimate guide for Delhi though, so go to the places I recommend and you’ll have a wonderful time. I’ll be doing guides for Agra and Jaipur too so look out for those.

    travel-guide-to-delhi-india-Humayun’s-Tomb

    Top 5 Things to See and Do in Delhi, India

    Jama Masjid – Built by Shah Jahan (the emperor behind Taj Mahal), this holy mosque is truly remarkably beautiful. It is a place of worship so please dress conservatively (cover up your shoulders, chest and legs) and take off your shoes at the door, put them in your bag or leave them at the door for a cheerful 100 rupees (£1). Attire is available for hire at the entrance. I received mine as complimentary with my tour; below is a pic of me sporting the yellow trend.

    Humayun’s Tomb – this UNESCO heritage site is the perfect introduction into India’s architecture and an opportunity to learn about the history of the Mughals. The Tomb rests through a walkway of lush gardens, I highly recommend it as your first trip of the day, we went early, and it was empty! Insta-yay!

    Chandni Chowk Market – This market is an experience and a half, keep your wits about you. A maze of streets, with local sellers encouraging you to buy their goods, spilling out from every stall. It’s a long, narrow road. Walk on the left of the street, or you’ll risk a thump by a passing rickshaw. If you’re not planning to buy anything, hail a ride instead. Known as Aladdin’s cave, buy your spices, fashion to jewellery here. Remember never to accept the first price and come equipped with haggling skills. Don’t feel pressured to buy if you don’t want to. Just say “no, thank you” and walk away.

    Red Fort – I became way too invested in the history of this monument. I even Googled more information at dinner to get the full scoop. If you are heading to the Taj Mahal, you need to come here. I won’t give the story away, but it’s a red sandstone fort designed to keep invaders out and houses many museums.

    Qutub Minar – A sun-soaked, tall, red sandstone minaret; It’s one of the most popular attractions in Delhi. An archaeological minefield, roam around ancient ruins and tombs decorated in detailed Arabic inscriptions.

    travel-guide-to-delhi-india-Humayun’s-Tomb-Jama-masjid

    Transportation

    We flew via Virgin Airlines as we found a bargain on the Secret Escapes Golden Triangle package, otherwise I recommend shopping around on Skyscanner, Sta Travel and Holiday Pirates.

    Local city transportation is cheap, but be careful. To be on the safe side, get an Uber instead of a taxi. If you’re going a reasonably short distance, you can hail a rickshaw ride but remember to bargain! Most Westerners hire private drivers as the norm in India; your hotel will have a travel desk where you can seek advice. We booked a mix of both Ubers and private drivers.

    Accommodation

    Backpackers – If you’re backpacking (first of all, I’m very jealous because that was me four years ago and I hope you’re having a wonderful time), I recommend booking through HostelWorld and HostelBookers. As it’s India, please do your research thoroughly. Grab a cuppa and get yourself ready for a big review-checking sesh.

    Vacay – For safety reasons, I recommend five-star hotels in India. I was sceptical, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Our local tour guide warned us about makeshift hotels in the city. There have been horror stories including dodgy cameras in the rooms (I know, wtf?!). Hotel prices are decent. We stayed at The Suryaa New Delhi, it’s located a touch further away from central but was handy for our driver to get us to our next destination: Rajasthan. If you’re willing to splurge, the most ‘Instagrammable’ hotel is the luxury Taj Mahal Hotel or any of the Taj Group owned hotels. Top tip: book a hotel with a well-rated restaurant as you do not want to wander around Delhi in the evening.

    Food

    Food is very cheap in India. But be careful! You’ll be so lucky to miss out on Delhi belly. I would love to tell you that it’s easy to avoid, ahem, stomach issues due to poor food hygiene. But this is just one of those risks with eating foods that are unfamiliar in your usual diet. As a general rule, hotels are fine.

    The places I recommend are The Varq at the Taj Mahal hotel. I will never forget the mouthwatering Varqui crab dish. I’ve decided I won’t be eating curry in the UK anymore because it does not compare, ha! Dhaba at Claridge’s does a tasty Thali (seven different mini dishes of curries, dal and rice), the interior is set up as a very cool ‘dine on a truck’ theme. Otherwise, to save you a trip running around Trip Advisor restaurant reviews, Delhi’s version of OpenTable is called Eazy Diner, scroll through reviews written by Delhi locals!

    The Varq

    Wifi

    Wifi is like gold and is expensive in India. Even the five-star hotels charge for Wifi! I recommend buying a sim card (which is cheap) and using the data from that; it’s also useful for emergency calls. As always, check out what your network provider charges for calls in India, O2 provides free local to local calls in India as part of my monthly contract.

    Departure

    I know what you’re thinking, you’re debating whether to add India to your bucket list?

    I would tell you to go in a heartbeat. Keep your wits about you, be smart & open-minded and you’ll be fine.

    I hope you found this post useful. Remember to come back for my ultimate guides to the beautiful Rajasthan and Jaipur!

    Dhaba

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    Location: Delhi, India
    Secret Escapes Golden Triangle

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    How to make money from blogging

    Once upon a time, blogging was nothing more than a digital diary. Today, it has empowered a generation of #DigitalBosses. I’m so proud of the Blogosphere community, but there is still a lot of scepticism and speculation when it comes to the topic of monetisation.

    The most common question I get is ‘how do you make money from blogging?’. Last summer, I wrote a 101 guide on how to start a blog, I solemnly swore that I would save the money-making side for a full-length post because I knew it would be a detailed cracker.

    I have the best of both worlds; I worked in Digital Marketing (Affiliate) for years before I became a #LifestyleBlogger, Model & Digital Consultant full-time, so I have an inkling of what advertisers and influencers want.

    If you’re a blogger, you probably know how a lot of this works, but for ease, I’m going to explain how it works to a complete beginner so that everyone can understand it.

    To make this easy to digest, I’m going to split up the sections: Brand Partnerships, Affiliate Marketing, Display Advertising and Public Relations (PR).

    Brand Partnerships (Fixed Fee)

    Brand Partnerships is primarily ‘Sponsored Content’; this is when a brand pays you a fixed fee to write, YouTube and/or Instagram about a product or service.

    The way it works is that a brand would contact you with an introduction of a product, and if agreed, a contract is drawn up with objectives of the campaign. A brief usually has all of the deliverables required, and this includes information about the product, which key messages should be said, hashtags to use and social media handles to tag.

    This form of payment has the most scope of flexibility because the brand marketing department usually has the highest budget (some companies assign this budget from the same pot of TV and radio advertising).

    Affiliate Marketing (Variable Fee)

    Affiliate Marketing is my expertise, so I’m hoping, I can explain this simplistically for newbies. It’s when a brand (e.g. ASOS, Amazon, Groupon etc.) pays out a commission to a publisher (blogger, or any website that promotes products) for every sale generated.

    E.g., when someone clicks on my blog and then spends £100, I earn X% of total basket value (excluding delivery & VAT).

    Commission range averages 5-15%, and it’s not paid out if the buyer returns the item. If you want to know how the technical side works, it’s all tracked by through the URL which drops a cookie and captures the data. The data goes to a network so they can calculate how much each everyone earns, but you don’t need to know any of this unless you work in the affiliate industry. You just need to know that there is no additional fee for the buyer who is purchasing the products.

    There are lots of Affiliate Networks, and I started my career working at one of them, but I currently use RewardStyle who power my shop widgets, I find them very easy to use. Do let me know if you would like me to refer you and I’ll hook you up!

    Display Advertising (Variable Fee)

    This is when a brand (or media agency working on behalf of a brand) pays you per 1000 impressions or views (CPM cost per mill) or clicks (CPC cost per clicks) generated from your website or YouTube.

    I currently don’t work with any display partners because I personally find ad’s on a website super annoying, I also don’t have YouTube, but an example would be:

    E.g., when someone clicks on a banner advertisement on my website or YouTube video, I’ll earn £XX per 1000 interactions (impressions) or clicks.

    CPM’s used to be fixed, but YouTube has created an algorithm, and each YouTuber’s rate is dependent on content, time of year, how many videos you make etc.

    Public Relations – PR (Fixed Fee)

    You can build great relationships with PR agents; they tend to be the most friendly! Once you’re on their mailing list, they will send products, gift cards or services for you to trial. There is usually no obligation to promote products unless you sign a contract.

    PR’s will choose their influencers based on their audiences being the right fit for the product, for example, McDonalds PR isn’t going to contact a fitness influencer (unless it was some ironic promotion) because that wouldn’t be a right fit for the campaign.

    On the topic of audiences, this video explains how to build them.

    Remember that Influencers do also have to declare if there are paid, this is seen in hashtags using #ad or #gifted or #presstrip. I’m being paid to write this article by promoting the links in the post.

    Like any other job, Bloggers do have to pay taxes (this company is making tax digital) so it’s useful to monitor regulations changes. Videos like this are helpful.

    And that’s that! I hope the above advice helped explain the monetisation side of blogging and that you’re all clear as a consumer.

    What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you.

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    The career advice I wish I was given


    When I was a little girl, I was the daydreamer in the classroom: head in the clouds, chin nestled into the palms of my hands. I’d imagine myself as this big shot, high-flying businesswoman.

    She’s-independent-organised-but-somehow-has-time-to-be-s**t-hot. Like a triumphant movie moment; she glides into the building in power heels, head held high. Her hair smells of some L’Oreal advert. Her flustered employees crowd around her as she answers their queries in her quick-witted state. Oh, she knows she’s worth it.

    Sometime later, I shuffle into the lift in pumps that I keep forgetting to throw out, eyes half open, while trying to unknot my tangled I-just-out-of-bed-so-please-f**k-off hair. I land into the office, screaming every obscurity to myself. ‘Oh F, I haven’t done this! Oh b*llocks, I forgot this!’.

    I would love to tell you that my early career was just like my fantasied movie. I wasn’t quite prepared for reality when I graduated. Here’s my ultimate guide on building a happier career.

    Be confident in your abilities

    Remember, you went through studies, research, tedious application process and interview/pitch to get where you are. The most important thing I would have told myself was to know my worth. Know what you want and have faith that you deserve it. Be kind to yourself; you deserve this role. On day one into my graduate job, I received my first set of emails, and I overanalysed Every. Word. It felt like no matter what the email said, I felt like everyone in the business didn’t like me. Today, I don’t overanalyse in the unnecessary; I’m there to work to the best of my ability, make a positive contribution and get paid. You’re not going to get on with everyone, that’s just business. Own it through your work.

    Learn how to manage upwards

    Learn how to manage your manager/client. And not in an I’m-a-smartass-I’m-trying-take-your-job kind of way (that will result in the opposite effect). Regardless of whether you plan to stay or leave in some time, learn how your manager works. Some will want you to get the job done, and others will appreciate social interaction more than others. Some will request pieces of work ad-hoc and others will set deadlines. Managers are humans too, they’ll have good days and bad days, but knowing how to adapt to their organisational and communication style will make a heck of a difference.

    Work smart, not hard

    Society has taught us that the number of hours you input is directly proportional to the amount of productive output that you produce. Well, F that. Working smart is about having the self-awareness about your work style, as opposed to increasing your (ineffective and inefficient) hours. I wrote about this in detail here.

    Surround yourself with supportive people

    One of my biggest failings in life is thinking that I can do everything on my own. To grow in your job, you need to surround yourself with people who will help you do that. The workplaces I’ve enjoyed are the ones who had the most cohesive teams. Alongside your day-to-day role, support your colleagues; you are all working towards a common goal. A good working relationship is a two-way street: a good manager will be supportive, listen to what you have to say, and take action. A bad manager will not trust you, be controlling, have no interest in what you have to say or your development. If you don’t get along with your manager, then there will be someone else in the company who you can source as a mentor. I look for people who ignite my creativity, encourage me to work harder and challenge me.

    Speak up

    Whether you have spotted a few things that could be improved, or have some great ideas, you should feel comfortable to speak up (if you feel like you can’t, then I’ve learnt the hard way that you’re probably in a weak environment). The saying, ‘there’s no such thing as a stupid question’, is true in this case. Asking questions will enable you to be better at your job and if said in front of the right people, can benefit you in terms of career progression. I’ve said plenty of silly things, but I rather receive the correct answer than for the issues not to be resolved.

    Avoid gossip

    Gossip, politics and red tape lurks in every organisation, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s straightforward to become close friends with someone in your company, but unless you fully trust them, avoid saying anything that you wouldn’t want your boss to hear. The same applies to clients.

    When it comes to your career, there’s a lot of pressure to do well. My parents had high expectations, and I watched them work hard to provide for us. But, if there’s one piece of advice I could give, remember that no amount of money is worth more than your health, so look after yourself. Your career will only work if you put you, first.

    I would love to hear your career experiences so far and your most important words of advice! If I’ve missed a key tip, feel free to leave me a comment. I always reply when I can.

    Location: Les colonnes de Buren, Paris

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    Top 10 fun ways to celebrate your Birthday

    Last month was my Birthday, so I wanted to share ten fun ways to celebrate your next one. If you have a friend who’s struggling for celebratory ideas, send them this post!

    As a child, I celebrated on the giant slide at the Jungle Gym, then congratulated my own bravery with a Thomas the Tank themed kid’s meal at Little Chef. Sadly today, I’d probably be chucked out if I tried to replicate my childhood tradition, so let’s go for alternatives which are close, yet appropriate.

    If you’re bored of celebratory meals and boogies, then I’ve written this for you. This post is in celebration with the fun squad at Swingers who provide: fresh cocktails, popular street food and (some) healthy competition with your friends.

    1. Crazy Golf (which I did this year)

    Swingers have every celebration covered. It gets busy but there are two nine-hole crazy golf courses at each venue. Everyone can order cocktails at the bar and on the golf pitch – the service is amazing. There’s the option of having your drink of choice served to you whilst you play! You don’t need to fuss over any dietary requirements because there’s a good range of street-food vendors at the venue. I recommend booking a table slot in advance so you and your mates can celebrate your best-golfing efforts and feast together. With a 3D photo podium, golfing buggy and flower arch there’s plenty of Insta-ready photo opportunities so you can treasure all of your Birthday memories.

    2. Karaoke

    You don’t have to be blessed with X-Factor worthy vocal cords to enjoy Karaoke! Popular in Asia, assemble all of your drinking buddies, pick your best fancy dress prop and sing like seals with your loved ones in a private room. A lot of venues now have swishy music technology with specialist drinks service, pizza & bar snacks and photobooths!

    3. Axe Throwing 

    This one looks and sounds dangerous but all coaches are fully trained and qualified to ensure you have a fun but safe experience. If you’re stressed (perhaps from turning a year older) then why not organise a healthy competition to sling your axes against your friends or colleagues. I like this one because there’s plenty of time to socialise between throws. It’s also great for bringing friends who may not know each other, together.

    4. Escape Rooms 

    I recommend this option for your geeky bunch of mates. If you were the kid who watched Crystal Maze and screamed at the TV: “I could do that!”, well, now you can! Gather your mates and go on a real-life adventure where you solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues and to complete the tasks. It’s a lot harder than it looks as there’s a set time limit to unveil.

    5. Dart Club 

    I know what you’re thinking, ‘why has she added this one?’ Honestly, it’s not an older gents sport anymore. Darts is becoming more popular with all ages and they’re opening a lot more branches in the UK. This one is for your therapeutic bunch. A lot of the venues provide delicious sharing food too.

    6. Bowling

    I have so many fond bowing memories as a kid. If you haven’t gone for ages then relive your childhood because it’s the best feeling ever. Bowling alleys are known to be filled with sticky carpets and warm beer, but now there are lots of boutique ones which have really good food, fine cocktails,
    craft beer and excellent service.

    7. Trampolining or Climbing

    If you’re a sporty person and you have lots of active mates then you guys will have so much fun Trampolining or Climbing. It’s healthy, awesome fun. Some venues have resident DJs, planned parties and special events so check out what’s jumping around at your local one.

    8. Go-Karting

    This one is for the adrenaline chasers. Trying to overtake your mates is the fun part. I love driving so being able to crash is satisfying. A lot of venues have great hospitality facilities so celebrate your success after the race in the bar afterwards!

    9. Clay Pigeon Shooting / Archery 

    Gather your squad to take a trip to the serene countryside to master weaponry skills. With clay pigeon shooting, all will be given training on how to use a shotgun. If you’ve always wanted to try your hand at archery then the coach will teach how to aim your judgement. My idea would be to get everyone to the pub later to celebrate your victories!

    10. Secret Cinema/Garden/Foodie Club 

    If getting your mates anywhere out of the city is too much of a hassle then get everyone to buy tickets for Secret Cinema, festival or a Foodie club. It’s a great way to bring everyone together for a fun evening and lots of laughs.

    If your friend’s Birthday is coming up and they’re struggling for ideas then send them this blog post and have a wonderful time.

    Have I missed any activities that you’re burning to add to this list? Let me know! It’ll be great to share with each other the best ones.

    Location: Swingers, The City

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