social media

Struggling to grow on Instagram?

Growing your presence on Instagram can feel like an uphill battle that never gets easier. You can put months and months of effort into your account, and never gain anything from it. I certainly felt this at the start, much like the majority of users. Around two years ago, I made the decision to try to expand my Instagram, before this I just used my page to upload random, pointless and plain terrible photos for no apparent reason. Around July 2015 I was hovering around 800 followers, nothing special but certainly not terrible either. By December 2016, I had finally reached my goal of 10,000 followers, before rapidly extending this to 26,000 six months later – now I’m just along for the ride and I’m not really sure where I want to go with Instagram. Moving this to one side though, there are definitely ways to improve your Instagram faster, so I’ve made the following list for you:

Stick to a theme

If you want to gain a strong audience, you should decide on a theme and stick to it. That’s not to say you can’t sometimes post fitness/food photos on your beauty-based page, but if you’ve gained your followers through posting beauty products and make-up tutorials, chances are that your followers are more interested in seeing this. Personally, I always like to break my photos up. My instagram primarily focuses on travel or shots of the surrounding landscape which can easily become very monotonous, like most themes, when posted about daily. Likewise, I love beauty accounts and I wish I was talented enough at make-up to run my own. But I can’t count how many accounts I’ve come across where the last fifty images have been a product on a backdrop. Every five(ish) posts, I’ll change it up and throw in a fashion photo, or perhaps an dog pic because who can resist them! This can be both an advantage and disadvantage in itself. I’ll gain some followers from audiences that I normally wouldn’t have, but I’ll also forfeit likes, as my regular followers aren’t overly-interested in what outfit I decided to wear that day.

Keeping on top of daily posts

This is probably the most important tip – posting daily is so so important if you want to retain your followers.  There have been far too many times where I’ve been lazy and haven’t posted in week or two and suddenly my follower count has dropped by 100. Posting daily not only keeps your current followers interested, but it means you’ll appear across other feeds more often. Quite simply, the more active you are, the faster you’ll grow (although how quickly depends on if you follow the other tips here). Now, this is one of the most difficult tips to stay on top of, because unless your full-time job is photography, or you live somewhere exciting that has photo opportunities every day, you’re going to struggle. I’ve recently found myself running out of content to post, so have turned to shoutouts. Shoutouts are a great way to not only help yourself, but help others too. Find users with content you like and offer them the opportunity to feature on your page – it keeps your account active, but also helps your instagram community grow themselves.

Hashtags might seem desperate, but I can’t express how important they are

Is it just me who thinks hashtags are like a desparate plea for likes? Probably. I used to be so ashamed of hashtags that I’d post an image, and then quickly delete the hashtags five minutes later (just long enough to get some likes, but not so that everybody saw). Now I’ve learnt to embrace the hashtags. Honestly, they work, and there is no better outcome than clicking the hashtag you just posted, and seeing your image sitting there in the ‘top posts’ section. Hashtags allow other users with similar interests to find your profile. Most of the time this just correlates to an increase in likes – but get enough likes and your photo can be in ‘top posts’ for days. So hashtag away, as many as you can think of – the more the better, but make sure they’re relevant, and avoid the overcrowded hashtags like ‘likeforlike’ because they get posted so often, that your image will just drown in the thousands of other images sitting in that feed.

Search hashtags to find similar users

The easiest way to find other users with similar interests to yourself is by searching a hashtag. For example, I love landscape photography, so I might search #landscape #sunsets #nature etc. and there we go, hundreds of images posted within the last five minutes that I can like to my hearts content. The best part about this is that it means all the users posting are active. You can click and view profiles, like as you please and give them a follow if you’re really interested. There is absolutely no point in running down the list and hitting follow on every user. Gone are the days where everybody would just follow you back because it’s no longer just a numbers game, but an engagement game too (the next tip don’t worry). If you want people to follow you back, you need to show your worthwhile their follow. I almost always ignore people that follow me on Instagram that don’t leave likes and comments on my images. There are usually the people that un-follow you a day later anyway. On the flip side, somebody that showers me with love and makes out that my profile is the best they’ve ever seen will always be worth a profile view as a minimum.

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Download an engagement app

This isn’t necessarily a tip to grow your followers, but will make your profile much more appealing to brands. Engagement on Instagram is so important. As a minimum, for a brand to work with you, you’ll need a 10% engagement rate. In simple terms, this means if you have 10,000 followers, you need to be achieving 1,000 likes per photo. Engagement apps will allow you to banish them pesky ghost followers, make your engagement rate increase and allow you to market yourself better. Not only this, they’re also a great way for you to determine how well your posts are doing. I personally found this great for when I was just starting Instagram for a few reasons. Firstly, they list the followers that do not engage with your images. Is this because you’re ignoring their profile? Go offer some likes and see the outcome. Secondly, the time of day that you post your image can massively alter the engagement. If you aim for a high engagement rate, your image will reach more feeds. Deduce the best time of day for your followers –  if the majority of your followers are located across the world from you, they may never see your image to start with. Apps will also allow you to observe other statistics such as average likes per photos, posts per week etc. which can provide insight to whether your account is improving.

Following these tips has allowed me to grow my profile significantly over the last six months. It may seem like hard work at first, but it does get easier. Once you get more followers, it certainly becomes easier to gain them. I wish you all luck with your Instagram journeys, don’t give up too soon x

Fitness, Health, Running, Travel

How to Combine Fitness and Travel

Recently, I’ve found that trying to stay fitness motivated whilst travelling is one of life’s biggest challenges, and no I’m not exaggerating. I love to exercise. I spend countless hours at the gym pretty much every day of the week, or whenever my busy work schedule allows me to. If I can’t get to the gym, I’ll be on the treadmill at home, or take the bike for a spin on a warm summer’s day down the vast country lanes that surround my area. Even if you don’t enjoy the concept of exercise, you tend to at least feel guilt-tripped into doing it. For some odd reason, the view I have of exercise suddenly changes whenever I go away from home. I’ve been on sun holidays before now for two weeks and not done a minute of exercise. Whether you’re going away for three days or three months, such a sudden change in exercise routine can really throw you off once you’re home. Suddenly, you can’t run that 10K anymore, or you can’t lift the same weights you once could.

In the past couple of trips I’ve taken, I’ve made an effort to stay on top of my exercise routine. Albeit, it’s nowhere near as intense as my home schedule, and does not incorporate the same activities (I really wouldn’t fancy the extra-weight airline fees for taking 20kg of weights in my suitcase), but it’s at least doing something to battle the extra calories I’ll be taking in from trying all the unique food. So here are a few tips that I’ve tried and tested over the years to ensure your exercise regime doesn’t falter:

Every minute counts

The phrase I constantly repeat in my mind whilst motivating myself to exercise is “you’ll be lapping everyone on the sofa”.  I once saw it on a poster about three years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since, just because of how true it is. It doesn’t matter if you do five minutes or two hours of exercise, you’ll always have that sense of pride that you’re beating all the people that decide to spend the day sitting around. Personally, I like to aim for a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of running per day, equating to 2-3 miles. I find this the perfect amount – I feel great in myself, and energised that I got up and going, but it’s not enough to make me ache and feel exhausted for the rest of the day. Just because this is my perfect amount – it may not be for you. Even if you can do a ten minute run, or fast walk, at least you’ve managed to get yourself going – at the end of the day, something is better than nothing.

You only need to wake up thirty minutes earlier

Now, I find the best time to exercise is in the morning. By the time I’ve spent a day out, and I attempt to run in the evening, I usually feel exhausted no matter how well I plan not to. There are often days at work where my hours change, and I find myself starting at 10:00am. These are one of my favourite days just because I can get my daily exercise out of the way before work even begins! Some may say that is commitment, but once you do it once or twice, it becomes normal. Plus, there is nothing better than starting the day off with a workout buzz. I follow the same principles when I travel, get it over and done with before breakfast, and you can enjoy the entire day without fearing the run you have to do later. Setting my alarm thirty minutes before I normally would gives me the perfect amount of time to do some quick cardio and cool off before jumping in the shower. Alternatively, a thirty minute quick-paced strength-training session also works wonders – or switch it up each day if you get bored easily.

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Don’t forget your running shoes

There is never an excuse to not take your running shoes. I always used to use the excuse “I can’t fit them in my suitcase” before promptly removing them and storing them back in the wardrobe to gather dust. If you really cannot fit them in, wear them. Running shoes are fantastic for travelling, especially city breaks because they can double up as not only your running shoes, but comfortable and durable shoes to walk countless miles around urban streets in. My boyfriend once stated that the best way to see a city is to run around it. In a way I guess he’s half correct as you can cover ground faster and explore places you normally wouldn’t have. Let’s not stop there though, there are so many items you can squeeze into a suitcase that would compliment your exercise plan, such as skipping ropes, resistance bands or ab rollers. A lack of space is really not enough of an excuse, so don’t let yourself believe it is!

Body weight exercises (and household objects) are your best friend

For years at the gym, I used to stick to resistance machines (yes, I realise my mistake now). Picking up dumbbells, or using my own body weight was something I never even considered. Probably because this meant walking into the “men’s section” of the gym where the mats and weights were located – oh I’m so glad the days of fearing that area are long gone. Over the past year, I’ve managed to push my strength-training to a whole new level. I genuinely spend hours researching into different exercises, how to form myself correctly or watching other gym members. Before you go away, look into some body weight exercises and jot them on a list – form an exercise plan so you know what to do each day – remember to do around three sets of twelve repetitions and stick to specific muscle groups e.g. legs, core. Some of my favourite body weight exercises that can be completed on the go are; squats (and single-leg squats), lunges, push-ups, planks, calf raises, pull-ups (depending on what’s available), wall sits, leg lifts and mountain climbers – so there’s a start if you don’t normally tend to focus on body weight exercises. Another great tip I can provide whilst on this subject is do not underestimate household objects. Any object can act as a weight. Before I purchased dumbbells at home, I used to fill two empty two-litre bottles with water, and use them whilst performing most of the exercises listed above. It may have looked crazy to any neighbour, but I was trying to work with what I had!

Don’t just eat carbohydrates

This is one point that I’m terribly guilty of – binging on carbohydrates when I travel. Consuming fruit, vegetables and lean protein tends to be thrown out the window, and I spend the majority of my time eating bread and rice based cuisines. The biggest problem with carbohydrates is that they’re cheap. If you’re struggling for money, or you’re saving money for particular activities whilst out on your adventures, of course you’ll turn to the cheapest foods, but this usually isn’t beneficial for your waist. The golden rule I try to stick to is making sure that every 3 or 4 meals out of 5 are healthy. This consists of lean protein sources, vegetables, fruits and a tiny portion of carbohydrates if I’m feeling particularly hungry. It would be silly to completely restrict yourself from eating nice foods abroad, but there is a balance to maintain. My favourite eating routine to follow is usually a small breakfast to keep you going until lunch time, and then either a larger lunch OR dinner – only try to have one large meal per day no matter how difficult it may be. Being committed to eating well can be hard when you travel, but healthy foods don’t have to be boring. Just think, if one day you decide not to have that extra alcoholic drink, you can instead spend a little more on a more nutritious meal – your body will thank you for it later.

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Have fun

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring! There are always plenty of activities that incorporate exercise, even if you don’t realise it. A couple of years ago, my boyfriend and I visited the beautiful island of Majorca for a short break away. It just so happened that the one week in September that we decided to go, we were plagued with rain and thunder every day (typical). Of course, this made lounging on the beach or by the pool pretty impracticable, so we decided to research into other activities. In the end, we went on a horse-trek through the Majorcan mountains. For people that don’t regularly ride horses, our core and legs were sure numb afterwards – little did we realise we’d engaged in a three hour workout. Hiking is another one of my holiday favourites, there is always a national park or a hill nearby, ready to provide you with some beautiful, natural scenery. If you’re out on a sun holiday, how about water sports or kayaking? Snorkeling is also a great, family activity. Observing vibrant fish in crystal clear waters is always a mesmerising experience for any age. Ultimately my point here is that there’s never a shortage of things to do – go out and try something you wouldn’t usually do.

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So there it is. Most of the time, there is never an excuse to skip exercise. Exercise doesn’t just have to be slogging it out in the hotel gym, it can be fun and engaging too. It can be a mental battle in itself, but if you put yourself up to the challenge of keeping fit whilst away, I guarantee you will.

Travel, Uncategorized

Does Cuba take the title?

Where’s the best place you’ve visited? One of life’s most difficult questions. I’m only twenty-one, so my list of places I’ve traveled to isn’t exactly impressive, but I’ve at least made an effort to get out and about as much as possible. Such a simple question sends countless memories through my head, and attempting to decipher “the best” is near on impossible. I have no preference with the trips I take. I love visiting warm countries for relaxation (but not the beach because sand makes my skin crawl), I love city breaks, I love trips infused with history, and I love trips to the tallest mountains.

Whilst the likes of Asia and South America are untouched by myself (for now), I’ve had plenty of trips elsewhere, from big cities such as New York and Prague, to small island getaways such as Cuba and Cyprus. I’ve walked gems within the UK, Portugal and Spain from popular tourist hills to mountains left practically undiscovered and scattered in Iberian Wolf tracks. When organising my trips away for a given year, I’m sure to include all of these for the best travelling experience.

If I had to choose right at this moment, Cuba would be the clear winner. However if you’re anything like myself, this is not determined by the quality of the beach. Unfortunately, I despise not only sand, but sea water as well. I almost think this would take all the enjoyment out of a beach break if I didn’t enjoy the experience of being somewhere new and exciting. Obviously due to Cuba’s location in the Caribbean, the turquoise sea and white sands are enough to entice anybody.  For me, Cuba was magnificent just for being Cuba. Being there is a whole new take on how you view history, reading about the 1950s is a largely different to physically stepping into it. Cuba is a mix of everything that I love. Okay, there weren’t many hills to climb, not that I’d really fancy it in the 40 degree tropical climate, but the country is bursting with history that is apparent just from walking out the door. Havana is situated not far down the road,  with its grand architecture and old american cars patrolling the streets, there’s no wonder that Old Habana is considered a World Heritage Site. If history isn’t necessarily for you – there’s plenty of other activities to do. From visiting rum factories (and buying the best rum in the world for a mere £4), to swimming with dolphins and snorkelling with vibrant fish out on the reef.

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A valley en route to Havana – well worth stopping and viewing for an hour.
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Does the crystal clear water win your heart?

Although this ultimately answers the question to begin with, perhaps a more realistic answer would be “who knows?”. The memories I made in Cuba are something I’ll cherish for a lifetime, but who’s to say the next place won’t be just as exhilarating. There’s nothing more exciting than stepping fresh off a plane, ready to take on what’s in store for the next week or two. If you were to ask yourself  “Where’s the best place you’ve visited?”, what would you say?

 

Travel

Budapest – When in Eastern Europe

Budapest – a surprisingly breathtakingly beautiful city. Before we ventured three hours across Europe, we had no idea what to expect. Right down to the last minute we had convinced ourselves that we would be doing a joint Vienna/Bratislava journey. Whilst I’m sure these two cities are equally beautiful, we are grateful we’d changed our minds. Informing friends and colleagues of the trip we were due to take was a little different to the excitement we were experiencing – “Why are you going there?” “There are so many nicer places to visit in Europe”. Gladly, it ended up being one of my favourite places in Europe to date, falling shortly behind Krakow, Poland. From the grand architecture, to relaxing thermal spas, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Budapest.

Snuggled in Central Europe on the River Danube, Budapest offers a mixture of cheap and cheerful, all the way to luxurious five star hotels with top restaurants and cafes. There’s so much to do for everybody. Whether you want a relaxing time, a break full of culture, or to scratch another country off your travel map, Budapest can cater for all.

Where we stayed

 Usually my boyfriend likes to drag us to hotels. He’s snobby and ridiculous when it comes to booking anything less than what he deems a standard price (usually this is something like a Hilton or Marriott) – don’t worry, I’m slowly trying to change this. We like to take it in turns for our trips away from home, and with Budapest being my chosen destination, I got to choose where we stayed. Whilst hotels are usually nice, stress-free and avoid the hassle of making breakfast yourself, we found the prices in Budapest to be a little steep during the time we visited, with the majority of reasonably priced hotels located miles out of the centre. I took this as the golden opportunity to try Airbnb. Countless friends have been on adventures across the globe using the site, so why can’t it work for us too? What a positive experience it was indeed. We managed to get a modern, clean studio apartment located right in the city centre. Located thirty seconds from Andrássy út, and only twenty minutes (walking this is) to the famous Chain Bridge, we really were in the prime spot. The hosts were lovely and willing to help with any of our questions, and we bagged all of this for £30 per night. Due to the fact we visited over the Easter holidays, this was around half the price of the cheapest hotel and miles closer to anywhere worth visiting.

What we did

Budapest is full of things to do. It offers not one insight, but two – Buda and Pest. Originally two cities located on either side of the vast Danube, they merged to form one entity in 1873. Buda offers immense culture, medieval streets, roman ruins and plenty of museums, whilst simultaneously offering alluring views over to Pest, where you can walk along the many promenades or grab a coffee in world-famous coffee houses.

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The view from Gellert Hill, Buda over Elizabeth Bridge and Pest

Our adventure across the city began on a warm Monday morning. Fresh off the plane, and ready to conquer, we set off across Budapest, trying to navigate our way through the neo-renaissance buildings. With the forecast for the next four days expected to be rain, snow and more rain, we decided that despite waking up at 4am to travel to the airport that morning, we would tackle Castle Hill. Considering this was our first real view of Budapest, we were swept away and spent hours just staring across the river to the crowds passing by beneath us. Honestly, this would be my biggest recommendation. Walk Castle Hill the second you arrive, and see Budapest from a whole new perspective. Not to mention, it also helped with the bearings for the next four days. The only downside to this was that, upon climbing the hill, we found out museums are closed on Mondays, and to further top it off, we arrived on Easter Monday. Now we knew finding an open supermarket would be difficult, but not quite as difficult as it was. Every single supermarket across the city was closed, resulting in us raiding an off-license for cider, chocolate sauce stuffed croissants and pom-bear crisps to fill us up. Perhaps this’ll teach me to plan ahead properly next time…

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The first day in Budapest – typical tourist photos on Chain Bridge

I’m struggling to distinguish my favourite part of the trip, torn between monstrosity that is Gellert Hill and on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the relaxing Széchenyi thermal baths. My reasoning for Gellert Hill perhaps, is that many people decide not to walk it. Admittedly, it’s not for the faint-hearted. All in all, the walk up is only about twenty minutes, but as nice as this sounds, it’s also a 230 metre climb. In my opinion though, the views are the best in Budapest. Yes – better than Buda Castle, and better than Fisherman’s Bastion (this is still a must for the cliché tourist photo). Also if you make it to the top, not only is there the Citadella with the controversial Liberty Statue (Szabadság Szobor), but there is a lovely Hungarian woman selling a six flavours of slushie. Albeit, she speaks no English, so my poor boyfriend who originates from Hull (if you’ve ever heard the accent you’ll understand why she couldn’t understand), spent a good fifteen minutes trying to explain what a mixed slushie is.

Then came the rainy days. On Wednesday, I was hopeful at the start of the day. Peering out of the window at 8am, thick snow was falling. Knowing full well that Eastern Europe is prone to a lot of snow during winter months, and this being the first time I’d seen snow this year, I was ecstatic, ready to get out and snap some photos. Obviously, it didn’t last. By 10am, it was raining, not just some light rain, but torrential rain which continued through to the Thursday Afternoon. We took the time to visit many of the museums that Budapest has to offer, and completed a tour around the Parliament Building. Personally, I found the Hungarian National Museum was the best in Budapest. I left feeling well informed with a new bank of knowledge about the History of Hungary. On the other hand, my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed the House of Terror. It was interesting and offered personal accounts of the traumatic events that have occurred previously, but if you become switched off by reading subtitles on videos upon videos, this museum is not for you, and honestly, I found I learnt more from the leaflet they handed you at the start, than what I learnt walking around the actual museum for two hours. One bonus though is the great location of the House of Terror in relation to coffee houses. Venturing a little further down Andrassy street, we found countless independent coffee shops at reasonable prices, so grab yourself one of these because soon you’ll be going back home and paying £3 for a watery Starbucks. We both agreed that the highlight of the rainy day, was the Parliament. The tour itself was fascinating, through rooms laced with pure gold, the change of guard surrounding the crown jewels and to the chamber itself. Certainly a must see for the small fee that it is (£6 each for EU citizens). If you get wound up by others in-capabilities to form a queue, please avoid. We stood there patiently, as British people do, whilst everybody else decided to push ahead and swarm the one barrier that was letting people through.

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A room laced with real gold – Hungarian Parliament Building

Our trip was rounded off by a walk down to Hereos’ Square, the Széchenyi baths, and ultimately a lovely little Italian, before heading to reclaim our luggage and make the final journey to the airport. If you’ve never experienced outdoor thermal baths before – please go to these. We arrived at the baths around 10am, and honestly I would certainly recommend you did too. By the time it got to midday, it was uncomfortably busy, and far from relaxing. The price is a little steep and sets you back 5000 HUF each, which at the time was around £15. For a couple of hours in some warm baths, this is extortionate, but for the novelty and one-time experience, we thought why not? Our final day of the trip was bright blue sunshine (typical) but only a mere 12 degrees, and these baths were perfect for warming you up on an otherwise frosty-feeling day. Although, do take flip flops. I think by the end of our time at the baths, we honestly thought we might get frostbite on our feet. If you don’t want to venture outdoors, there are plenty of indoor baths, all of the beautiful neo-baroque architecture.

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Széchenyi Thermal Baths

By the end of the trip, we had walked an impressive 50 miles in four days. We were a little too stingy to pay for the public transport when our feet could carry us, despite the appalling weather. Perhaps the best outcome though, was that I had successfully managed to convert my boyfriend (who usually doesn’t travel outside of the UK) to a European city adventurer – not only this, he’s already talking about booking out next city break.

Until next time.

Amie.

 

Be sure to check out my photo gallery page if you’re interested in more fun photos from the trip!