Our Time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando.

By Laura Jemetta

Are you heading to Orlando? Excited to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Then you don’t want to miss this series – read about our Wizarding World itinerary, our planning strategy and tips and tricks for budgeting at the parks.

We spent three days at Universal Studios Orlando, which meant that we essentially spent three days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World is one of my favourite places in the world after those three days, and I learnt that like Disney World, a little bit of planning goes a long way on a trip to Universal.

Universal Explained

For those who don’t know, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a land inside Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios is split into two parks, (not including the water park), and the Wizarding World itself is split into two as well, with one half in each of the parks: Hogsmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios proper.

Okay, there’s good news and bad news about this set-up. The bad news is that if you want to visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you will need to buy a separate tickets to each of the two parks. I know that sounds kind of sucky, right? If you don’t want to get just half an experience, you’re forced to pay twice, essentially. But the good new I have for you is this: the two separate parts of the Wizarding World are connected by the Hogwarts Express, so you can easily travel between them if you have your two tickets.

So, do you recommend getting a ticket to both parks? I guess there’s no simple answer to that question, but if you want to get the full Wizarding World experience, and you can afford it, yes. Seeing Diagon Alley without Hogsmeade will mean that you won’t get to ride the Forbidden Journey, or see the Hogwarts Castle. And only going to Hogsmeade means you won’t get to experience the unique magic of Diagon Alley, or go to the Leaky Cauldron. Also, you will not be able to ride the Hogwarts Express without a ticket to both parks, so if you don’t want to miss out on that experience, then buying a park-hopper ticket (allowing you entry into both parks), would be something to consider.


Getting Your Planning Started

You have a few decisions to make once you know you’re going to Universal Studios:

  • How many days you want to spend at the Parks
  • How many of the Parks you want to visit
  • Whether you want to add Express Passes onto your tickets

We booked our tickets when we were still back home in Australia, and that worked out great for us. Like I said, we decided on three days at Universal because we wanted to have ample time to see both sides of the Wizarding World, as well as to explore the rest of the parks. That ended up being a perfect amount of time for us to ride every ride we wanted to, multiple times!

Should I buy Express Passes? In a word? No. I really believe that you don’t need to pay for Express Passes to skip the queues, because there is a way to do it for free! Check out my post about Universal’s Best Kept Secret to read all about the Single Rider Line – the free way to skip the queues at Universal Studios. In short, if you don’t mind not sitting directly next to your friend or family member on the rides themselves, then you can queue in the much shorter Single Rider line, for free. On our first day at Universal, we inquired about Express Passes, but just couldn’t justify the extra cost (approximately $100 USD). When we realised that most of the rides we were most excited about had a single rider line anyway. we were so glad we didn’t pay that extra money. It was like getting those Express Passes for free – and you can too by using the Single Rider line instead!

Our Itinerary:

We started out at Universal Studios proper on Day one at the parks. We were so excited to be there, so our plan was pretty simple: make a beeline for the Wizarding World. We took one of the earliest shuttles available from our hotel, and were at the park early.

TIP: It’s a longer walk than you think from the buses, and through the City Walk to the park entry, so add on a bit of extra time (roughly 15-20 minutes) to your travel time if you’re trying to be at the parks at a certain time.

Once we’d queued up and had our tickets scanned, we headed straight for ‘London’, where the entry to Diagon Alley is. We took a wrong turn, and ended up walking the longest way there, but we finally made it across the bridge and into London.

A cool detail about the Wizarding World is that, like in the books, the entry to Diagon Alley is non-descript. It’s as if you could walk right past it if you didn’t know what you were looking for (which is kind of the point for us Muggles, right?)

Like in the Philosophers Stone, the entry to Diagon Alley is behind a brick wall, and once you make it through, you’re greeted with the Diagon Alley from both your imagination, and the films. Pair that with the stirring Harry Potter score wafting through the air, and you have a real tear-jerker moment. (For me anyway!)

As you enter, the first thing you notice will probably be the giant dragon on top of Gringotts – especially if you catch it breathing fire! You’ll recognise familiar sights everywhere – from the shops from the books to the cobblestones – everything feels like coming home. Once we had arrived and taken it all in, we headed straight for Escape from Gringotts – all the tips I’d read prior to arriving said to get straight in line for rides because wait times can get astronomical as the day goes on.

Escape to Gringotts takes place inside the aforementioned dragon-topped Gringotts Bank. To queue for the ride, you actually wind through Gringotts, including a walk through the hall with the goblin bank tellers. Even at that early time of the morning, the wait was pretty substantial, but I think Gringotts is my favourite Wizarding World ride, and the waiting is worth it (even if you’re not using the Single Rider Line!)

After the ride, we spent quite a bit of time wandering in and out of the shops in Diagon Alley – (just a warning, some of the ‘shops’ in Diagon Alley are just shop-fronts). But you can actually walk inside so many of the shops you’ve read about, like:

  • Madam Malkan’s
  • Magical Menagerie
  • Ollivander’s
  • Florean Fortescues
  • The Leaky Cauldron! – My favourite

To me, the shops in Diagon Alley are more than just shops – even if you’re not going to buy anything, (which you don’t need to in order to enjoy the Wizarding World), I highly recommend taking a leisurely walk through the shops – it’s magical. Try to pick up on all the little details from the books and films – and there are a lot of them – that show just how much thought went into the design of the park.

By the time we’d been in and out of the shops, we decided it was time to do something at the top of the list for the Wizarding World – (for me at least!) – try Butterbeer. This was honestly one of my favourite things about the Wizarding World – it’s one of the tastiest and most tangible things that was brought to life from the books, and I loved it. We decided to get our first Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, which I thought was a pretty damn cool place.

TIP: There is almost always going to be a queue for the Leaky Cauldron, even really early in the day, because they serve breakfast! But it’s worth the wait at least once for the decor and atmosphere alone. It’s one of the coolest places in the Wizarding World, serving traditional English fare, or you can just order a Butterbeer like we did on our first day.

Next, we decided to move on to Hogsmeade, so we went to board the Hogwarts Express. The whole queue for the train is so well done – it’s designed to be like a real London train station, (Kings Cross, to be exact). ‘Station Attendants’ scan your park ticket again (to make sure you have a park-hopper ticket), so you will need to have that at the ready. Then you wind your way through the station, through an English convenience stand, (where you can purchase real British lollies and snacks), and then through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4.

TIP: There is a really cool detail as you go through to Platform 9 and 3/4, and it’s a great photo opportunity. If you’re travelling with someone, get them to stand back back around the corner as you walk through the arch, because mirrors create an illusion that makes it appear that you are actually disappear through a brick wall. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean!

Platform 9 and 3/4's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, Orlando

Next, it was time to board the Hogwarts Express. Now, we found that there was always quite a hefty wait for the train, but it’s worth it! Not only is the Hogwarts Express a convenient way to get between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, (and a great chance to sit down for a while!), it’s also an immersive Harry Potter experience in itself.

The Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

Once you get to the front of the queue, you board the train, you get to sit in a real train compartment and enjoy the ride from Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure. It’s a short ride, but there are special effects that make it feel like a real train journey, (I’ll leave those as a surprise for you to experience yourself!)

TIP: Make sure you ride the Hogwarts Express at least twice – once from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, and once back the other way. You get a different train experience in each direction!

Hogsmeade is pretty magical – the first thing I noticed was the ‘snow’ topped buildings, which is quite the juxtaposition when you’re sweltering in the Floridian heat! Again, the sweeping music as you enter really pulls at your heartstrings, and Hogsmeade feel a bit like home.

Honeydukes lolly shop in Hogsmeade. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Studios, Orlando.

So, Diagon Alley is probably my favourite part of the Wizarding World, but Hogsmeade has Honeydukes, which is my favourite shop to visit. Candy-coloured and candy-filled, it is the lolly shop of dreams. I got a little carried away with the chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts, but it was just so cool to be able to purchase those sweets from the books!

Undoubtedly the best part of Hogsmeade though, is the Forbidden Journey, which was Kate’s favourite ride. It always has an astronomical queue, but it’s one of the best rides in the whole park.

TIP: Of course, I’m going to remind you to take the Single Rider Line whenever you can for the Forbidden Journey, but make sure that you use the regular line at least once, because you will get to wind your way through Hogwarts if you do. See the Herbology Greenhouses, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledores office, and more while you wait in line. It’s something you have to experience at least once!

After the Forbidden Journey, we explored Hogsmeade which, along with Honeydukes, features The Three Broomsticks, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and plenty of Butterbeer stands. To be honest, there is more to see and do in Diagon Alley, but Hogsmeade can sometimes be a nice break from the business of Diagon Alley. We found it was generally a little quieter in Hogsmeade, (except for around Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey!)

We spent the next two days at Universal Studios doing two things:

Number 12 Grimmauld Place at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Orlando
  1. Going back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade: We explored everything – and I mean everything – that the Wizarding World has to offer. We had a lovely meal at the Leaky Cauldron. We had a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks. We wandered in and out of every shop, perusing everything and carefully deciding on the souvenirs we wanted to buy. We watched the shows in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We got an ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s (butterbeer for me!) We hung out in London too – we got pictures in front of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and got connected to the Ministry of Magic in the London phone booth! And we rode the rides. Over and over again. The Wizarding World rides are some of the best I’ve ever been on, and I didn’t get sick of them, even when we were going on them repeatedly. We did everything there is to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I still want to go back someday soon. If that doesn’t indicate how great a place it is for a Harry Potter lover like me, I don’t know what will.
  2. We explored the rest of Universal Studios: This is important – we’d paid for tickets to Universal Studios as a whole, so of course we were going to get the most for our money and explore the rest of the parks. Three days there allowed us to see all of the Wizarding World, and see the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal has a lot of offer – from themed worlds from some of your favourite films, to some of the best and most thrilling rides you’ll find. I highly recommend the Hulk roller coaster, the Rip Ride and Rock It roller coaster, and the Mummy Ride to name a few.

There you have it – the third, (and most comprehensive!), part of my Universal Series.

Please let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are about my Universal Studios Series – did you get any good tips or inspiration? I certainly hope so!

Thanks for reading, whether you’re an old or new reader! We appreciate your support so much!

A Day at Highgate Cemetery

By Kate Arnold

Highgate Cemetery London

One of my favourite days I spent in London was taking a day out to visit Highgate Cemetery, a beautiful, quiet place, where I spend hours wandering around, looking at old graves that have been overtaken by nature. Many of the plants and wildflowers have been planted and grown without human intervention, creating an environment overrun by nature, which is incredibly soothing, especially after experiencing the hustle and bustle of London.

highgate cemetery London
Gaves overtaken by nature

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to the cemetery from London by tube. Get on the Northern Line heading towards High Barnet and get off at the Archway stop. Don’t go to the Highgate stop, it’s a much longer walk. From Archway Station exit towards Highgate Hill. From there you can either walk over Highgate Hill to Waterlow Park or alternatively take the bus (210, 143 or 271) two stops to Waterlow Park and cross the park to get to the Highgate Cemetery Gates. For more information about how to use the tube check out my article Your Guide to the London Underground.

East Cemetery

Highgate cemetery London
Two headstones collapsing against one another

The East Cemetery is known for containing the tomb of Karl Marx, which has been listed as a Grade I site for historical importance. You’ll also find the graves of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author George Eliot (whose grave says Mary Ann Cross), anatomist and surgeon Henry Grey, who authored the compendium Grey’s Anatomy and Academy Award nominee Diane Cilento, who was an Australian actress and author.

You can either wander around the East Cemetery at your leisure or you can join a guided tour run by one of the cemetery’s volunteers. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £4 for members and children. General admission to the East Cemetery is £4 for adults and free for children under 18.

Fireman’s Corner

You’ll also find Fireman’s Corner in the East Cemetery, which is where 97 members of London’s Fire Brigade have been laid to rest. This memorial to these service men and women was erected by the widows and orphans of London’s firemen and is cared for by the Brigade’s Welfare Section.

West Cemetery

The West Cemetery is only admissible via a guided tour, which runs for around 70 minutes and costs £12 for adults and £6 for children aged 8 – 17. No children under the age of 8 will be admitted. A ticket to this tour will also allow you general admission into the East Cemetery. Bookings are essential for tours Monday to Friday, which run twice a day, commencing at 11 am and again at 1.45 pm. Weekend tours are sold on a first come first serve basis and run every 30 minutes from 10.30 am to 3 pm. Tours will still run in light rain and the paths can get muddy and slippery and are steep in some parts, choose your footwear accordingly.

Egyptian Avenue

The West Cemetery is also home to the Egyptian Avenue, which is also a Grade I listing for historical importance is so called because of the Egyptian style architecture. This avenue of tombs leads to the Circle of Lebanon.

Circle of Lebanon

An ancient and enormous cedar tree stands at the heart of the Circle of Lebanon, it is so old that it long predates the cemetery that has risen around it. Tombs surround the base of this giant tree, which is still a focal point of the cemetery’s landscape.

Terrace Catacombs

Inside the Terrace Catacombs is a hall stretching over 80 yards, which is lined with 825 recesses in the walls, each tall enough to accommodate a coffin standing on its end.

What You Should Know

We all know how rainy it can get in the UK and the paths can get muddy underfoot, I recommend you break out your wellies or another waterproof, closed toe boot. Don’t let the rain deter you from going though, the cemetery looks even more beautiful during light rain.

George Micheal was buried at Highgate Cemetery in 2017, however his grave is in the private section on the cemetery an cannot be view by the public. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other interesting people buried in the cemetery and there is a memorial garden dedicated to George Micheal outside his home in Highgate, which is tended to by his fans.

Have you been to Highgate Cemetery? If you have or you’ve been to any other amazing cemeteries around the world, let us know in the comments.

Xen. Is Having A Giveaway!

To celebrate hitting over 100 followers on both Instagram and Twitter, we are having our very first giveaway!

Giveaway prizes!

What are we giving away? 

  1. Travel Memory Box: This box is for all your travel mementos – ticket stubs, brochures, photos, playbills and anything else you want to save from your travels. Inside is a mini-photo-album (perfect for Polaroids and Instagram’s), photo cards, sticker sheets and a gel pen.
  2. Travel Diary: We’ve selected the perfect travel diary for you, (the style that Laura always takes with her when she travels). Made of a mist grey PU leather, with 240 lined pages and a press-stud closure, it’s the perfect place to record all your travel adventures in.
  3. Ballpoint Pen: We’ve also included our favourite pen from Kikki K – it writes perfectly and won’t bleed through the pages of your diary!

All products are from Kikki K – one of our favourite places in Australia to get travel-related stationary – though this giveaway is not sponsored.

To enter all you have to do is:

  1. Follow Xen. on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram
  2. Like this post
  3. Comment below and tell us where you would travel if you could get on a plane right now

We are pleased to say that the Giveaway is open internationally and closes on Sunday 20th January at 11.59pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time)

Good Luck and don’t forget to enter soon so you don’t miss out!

-Laura and Kate, the Xen Team

The 5 Best and Worst Hostels I’ve Stayed At

By Kate Arnold

I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my time travelling and some are winners and sometimes, well, you get what you pay for and as we all know, whether you are on a top or bottom bunk can make or break the experience of a hostel. Here are five best and five worst hostels I’ve stayed at:

The Best

  1. The Freehand | Chicago, US – This hostel is lovely. I stayed in a four bed dorm, which had an ensuite bathroom attached. The beds were comfortable and big bunks built into the wall, with curtains for privacy, personal lights and power points. Everything I want in a bunk bed. The Freehand is conveniently located in Chicago, I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Bean and theatre district. There is a communal kitchen where breakfast of cereal or toast is free.
  2. St. Christophers Inn | Paris, FR – I stayed in an eight bed dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which also had similar bunk beds to the Freehand, with curtains, personal light and power points. The hostel has an attached restaurant/bar call Belushi’s, which makes a killer burger, just what was needed after a rather rough day in Paris. Walking distance to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co and the train station Gare Du Nord, which will get you everywhere else you want to go in Paris.
  3. Broadway Hotel n Hostel | New York, US – This hostel didn’t have great bunks like the above mentioned, in fact the room was tiny and only contained one bunk bed, a sink and locker. The reason it’s on the best list is because of the price. For New York it is very reasonably priced and located close to a subway station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines, which go through Times Square and all the way down to South Ferry near Trinity Church, the 9/11 memorial and the Staten Island Ferry. Read about finding budget-friendly accommodation in New York here and the Hamilton-lover’s guide to New York here.
  4. St. Christopher’s Inn | Edinburgh, UK – Though not a great as the St. Christopher’s in Paris, the Edinburgh location definitely make the best list. As with the Paris location (and all St. Christopher’s as far as I know) there is an attached Belushi’s. The dorms just had normal plebeian bunks but they were more comfortable than most.
  5. International Budget Hostel | Amsterdam, NL – The International Budget Hostel wasn’t as budget as the name might imply but that’s because EVERYWHERE books out in Amsterdam durning the summer. The stairs to get up to the reception are pretty perilous and the wifi only worked in the reception. But this hostel is well placed in Amsterdam, I walked everywhere I went, very close to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. Read about 10 hidden gems of Amsterdam here.

The Worst

  1. Wild Zebra Backpackers | Wellington, NZ – This is by far the worst hostel I’ve stayed. The door to my dorm room didn’t open properly and the staff just told me it was fine. There was damage from the earthquake, which is hardly their fault, but still undesirable. The dorm room wasn’t very clean I had to find a communal room just to charge my phone because there weren’t enough in the dorm.
  2. Haka Lodge | Taupo, NZ – I only stayed in Taupo for one night and admittedly I didn’t spend much time at the Haka Lodge but the bed was so hard to get into because of an awkwardly placed ladder. If I’d had a bottom bunk I’d probably feel differently about this place.
  3. The Backyard Inn | Rotorua NZ – What sticks out about the Backyard Inn was that it was an uncommonly hot day in New Zealand and none of the rooms had air conditioning. On the plus side they had a pool but when I jumped in to get some relief from the heat I realised it was a thermal pool at it was hotter in than it was out. It would be great for colder days though. Also I had to pay for wifi, which is a no-no for me.
  4. Fat Cod Backpackers | Picton NZ – The Fat Cod doesn’t foster great memories in my mind because of the staff. They were generally unhelpful and abrasive. They wouldn’t let me use a phone or even tell me where I could use one. The dorms were okay, there were no bunks just six single beds. The hostel was close to the beach and some walking trails, which had lovely views that were worth the visit to Picton.
  5. Banana Bungalow Hollywood | Los Angeles US – For a hostel in the middle of Hollywood The Banana Bungalow sure should have air conditioning. The dorms were fine but not great and the area didn’t have that much that I was interested in. On the plus side the offered cereal and toast breakfast for free and shuttles to places like Santa Monica. Read about our short stay in Santa Monica here.

Let me know about the best hostels you’ve stayed in below! I’m always looking for recommendations.

14 Things to do when you’re Bored in Economy

Photo out of airplane window and night
Blurry airplane-window photo

By Laura Jemetta

Okay, I’ve got a list for you today. Now you might know by now that as much as I love travel, I’m not the best flyer. In fact, I’ve written about it in detail in my post about how I get through long haul flights. Long Haul flights can be really boring – and when you live in Australia, it’s a long haul flight to get just about anywhere! So below is a comprehensive list of things you can do during a flight to keep yourself occupied.

  1. Write in a travel diary: This is something I do on every flight that I take; after the meal service, I take out my travel diary and write my first entry of the trip. It’s usually short, and mainly describes the what the airport experience was like and how excited I am for the trip. Also, if I’m really bored, sometimes I’ll just write about how bored I am.
  2. Watch a Film: one that you’ve always meant to see, a new release that you’re excited to watch, or an old favourite of yours, that you already know you love. Even if you only watch one movie, that’s about two hours taken up already.
  3. Do a Crossword: I really enjoy crosswords – I always have. So sometimes when I’m in the airport, I buy myself a crossword book to start on the plane. Of course, a more cost effective option is just to bring one from home, but ether way, crosswords will keep your mind occupied, hopefully for a good stretch of time.
  4. Start a TV show: Okay, so this might not deserve a it’s own entry, but you can also start a new show on the flight, which I actually find preferable to watching films. I don’t know why, but something about watching multiple, ,shorter episodes of something gives me the illusion that time is passing faster. My favourite thing to do is to start something fun and a little bit trashy – when I came back from the US, I started watching Riverdale, (which I can’t seem to stop watching even now, no matter how outrageous it gets!)
  5. Answer my Travel Journal Prompts: which you can find here. I really enjoy more structured writing tasks when I’m journalling, (as well as freewriting), so I developed a list of prompts that you can answer pre-trip, during your trip, and post-trip. Don’t forget to check them out!
  6. Read a great book: In the past, I’ve overloaded myself with books when travelling – I used to take both a fiction and non-fiction title, ‘just in case’. But now I think all you need when travelling is a book that you really love, and haven’t re-read in a little while. That way you know you’re going to enjoy what you’re reading, and there’s no disappointment.
  7. Budget for your trip: I’m assuming most people will already have done this before leaving, but the plane could be a good time to work out how much you want to spend each day and where you’re going to spend your money and where you’re not. You can also start tracking your spending now, if you spent any money in the airport.
  8. Explore the Lonely Planet app for the city/cities you’re going to: I love this app! Now, the guides on there aren’t the complete guide that you’ll get if you buy the hard-copy book, but they are full of information about places to eat, accommodation, and the best things to see in that city. Why not explore the app and get even more excited for your destination?
  9. Make a list of all the places you want to eat/see/go: (If you haven’t already). I’m a list person, so I’ve usually done this weeks before departure, but if you haven’t you can use the info from the Lonely Planet app to make a list of all the places you want to visit.
  10. Play a Game: I love board game, and there are quite a few that you’ll be able to play in the confines of Economy. You could play solitaire, or another card game with your seat-mate, scattergories, a modified version of pictionary, or some sort of trivia game, (there are lots of free trivia apps so that you can pretty much play trivial pursuit without all the pieces and cards).
  11. Get some sleep
  12. Write something: You know I’m a writer, so I like to spend a great deal of my spare time doing some form of writing. I’m trying to write a novel, so a flight is a good stretch of uninterrupted time to get some writing done, but you could also write a letter, (to yourself or someone else), poetry, (write an ode to travel-boredom), or some non-fiction, (start a memoir?). Whatever floats your boat.
  13. Do some colouring in: My mum is a huge fan of colouring books – she finds it a soothing and relaxing hobby. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, (severe lack of patience), but creating something with your hands can be a really nice, mindful thing to do. Pack a colouring book and a small pack of pencils/markers, and you’ve got another activity to do.
  14. Listen to something: Music, a podcast, an audio-book. I sometimes put my headphones in and try to fall asleep to my music – it blocks out the noise of the cabin, and makes it a little easier to sleep.

Leave me a comment if you made it to the end of this post – tell me if you have, or plan to use any of these tips on your next flight!

Don’t forget to like and follow if you would like to see more content like this – we appreciate your support so much!

Xen is looking for Guest Posters!

That’s right! We want to work with YOU.

Do you have a fantastic travel story, or a must-read travel tip that you want to share? Do you want to give us an insight into your hometown? Or have you traveled somewhere we haven’t featured on the blog yet?

Well, we would love to feature your work on Xen! Shoot us an email (find this in our FAQ section), or contact us on our Instagram or Facebook, and let us know how you would like to contribute to Xen. Whether you’re an emerging or seasoned writer; planning your very first trip or a veritable nomad, we want to hear from you.

Submissions of all lengths will be considered, and those that fit with the tone and style of Xen will be highly regarded. Take a look at some of our posts to get a good idea of what we’re all about, and then let your writing do the talking.

We can’t wait to hear from you!

-Laura and Kate, The Xen Team

My Travel Goals for 2019

By Laura Jemetta

It’s New Years Eve today, and I’m already thinking and planning all the travel I’m hoping to do in 2019. In reality, I’ve been thinking about it since my last trip to Hawaii earlier this year, but now I thought it would be fun to share these goals with you!

  1. Go to New York. Twice – That’s right. I’m planning on visiting New  York twice this year. Once will be with Kate in August, it’s looking like the second time will be during Christmas time with my family. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and I would probably visit 10 times a year if I could afford it! Most of my plans for visiting New York again involve seeing shows, (which you will find out about below), but I’m also excited to have some other uniquely New York experiences.
  2. Take my first solo flight – I won’t technically be taking a solo trip in 2019 (as far as I know), but I will be taking my first solo flight and meeting Kate in the US next year. I’m looking forward to the new experience, and I’m confident that I’ll be able to handle everything airplane travel brings, by myself.
  3. See London – 2019 is going to be the year that I finally visit England. My Dad was born in London, but I haven’t managed to make it over there yet. I’m excited to visit and do all the touristy things (read: see more shows). I think I’m most excited to do the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour, which has it’s own entry in this list!
  4. Visit Family in England – We have lots of family in the UK, so I’m excited to travel to London and Manchester to visit them. Some of them I’ve not met, and some of them have visited us in Australia, so it will be nice to see them in their own hometown.
  5. Go to Sara Beth’s for Brunch – I know there is so much wonderful food to be found in New York, but I’ve always had this thing about having brunch at Sara Beth’s. Now, I’m not sure if it really is going to be the best brunch ever, or if it’s one of those touristy things, but next year, I’m just going to try it!
  6. Drink Hot Chocolate in Central Park – When I was in New York last year, there was a strange heat wave going on, even though it was late September. So since then, I’ve been dreaming of being in New York in the cooler weather, and I can’t think of anything better than wandering Central Park, rugged up in a coat, with a hot drink in hand.
  7. See Hamilton on Broadway – As much as I love Hamilton, (and I do. A lot.), I was really late to the party. Kate tried to get me to listen to it for a couple of years, before I actually did, and now that I have, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it earlier, because I could have seen it when I was in New York last year. So: seeing Hamilton on Broadway is pretty much top of my list for New York next year.
  8. See Frozen on Broadway – Okay, if you don’t know by now, I love musicals. And the plan for next year is to see as many shows as possible in New York. I really want to see Frozen the Musical – I actually re-watched Frozen last night, and all I was thinking about was how amazing it will be to see it on stage!
  9. Do the Warner Bro’s Studio Tour in London – So this is probably the top of my list if things to do in London. You probably know by now how much we love Harry Potter here at Xen, so I’m so excited to experience the next best thing to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, when I’m in London.
  10. See the Rockerfeller Center Christmas Tree – To me, there’s nothing more iconic about Christmas in New York than the Christmas Tree at the Rockerfeller Center. There’s something so magical about it, and I really hope our Christmas plans work out, so that I can see it in person in 2019.

Let me know some of your travel goals for 2019 in the comments below – I’d love to hear! Don’t forget to check out my posts about my adventures in New York in 2017 – like my tips on free things to do in New York City, and my guide to the Subway system in NYC!

Stay tuned for lots of exciting posts in the New Year about Kate’s trip to Peru, and my travels to the US and UK!

Santa Claus Around the World

By Laura Jemetta

For Day 10 of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas I thought it would be fun to take a look at what Santa Claus looks like in different countries around the world. Check out this post where I got my information about Santa from.

France: Pere Noel

In France, Pere Noel – which translates to Father Christmas – wears a long red cloak and fills children’s shoes with gifts after Christmas Eve mass. Traditionally, he also travels with Pere Fouettard – which translates to the ‘whipping father”.

Spain: Los Reyes Magos

In Spain, children are actually visited by three jolly figures on El Dia De Reyes – which is the day that the three wise men reached the baby Jesus. In the days leading up to El Dia De Reyes, the children in Spain write letters to their favourite Magos, asking for gifts. Then, they leave sweets out for the Magi, and hay for the camels they ride on, and the next morning, the shoes that they leave out are replaced by presents.

Russia and Ukraine: Ded Moroz and Snegurochka (Father Frost and Snow Maiden)

Traditionally, Father Frost would punish misbehaving children by kidnapping them, but this story has softened over the years so that he travels all over the Slavic Region on New Years Eve, bringing gifts to kids with his happy companion the Snow Maiden.

Iceland: Yule Lads

The Yule Lads are 13 mischievous elves who play tricks on Icelandic children. During the 13 nights leading up to Christmas, children leave their shoes by the windowsill, in the hopes that the Yule Lads will leave them goodies. Children who misbehave receive rotten potatoes in their shoes instead!

Finland: Joulupukki or Yule Goat

Nicknamed the Finnish Santa, the Yule Goat was initially a malevolent spirit associated with Norse Mythology. Nowadays, Joulupukki goes around the each house and asks ‘are there any well behaved children here?’ He travels around in a non-flying sleigh pulled by reindeer and delivers gifts.

Italy: La Befana

La Befana has been part of Italian folklore since the 8th Century, and she is a cheerful witch who flies over Italy on her broomstick. According to the folklore, the three wise men actually came across La Befana’s house on Christmas Eve, and after she invited them in, they invited her to go and see the baby Jesus with them. Nowadays, the story goes that she flies over Italy on the Eve of the Epiphany, and leaves toys and candy for the children.

There you have it – a few Santa Claus traditions from around the world. Please tell me in the comments the folklore or traditions in your country! I’d love to hear!

My Christmas Wishlist: Things I Need for my Trip to Peru

By Kate Arnold

As you may know, I’m going on a big trip next year. Firstly I’m going to Peru, where I’ll be staying for five months and teaching English for a good portion of that time. Then I’m going over to the States to re-visit New York and see a bunch of shows on Broadway and then to LA where I’ll hopefully spend a magical day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter before going home.

Trips like these require supplies and here are some things on my to-buy list that I still need to pick up before I leave in March. Maybe, if you know someone who is doing a big trip like me, it will help you find something to put in their stocking this year.

  1. An electrical adaptor – pretty standard, Peru (as far as I can tell) uses two different types of electrical plugs, one is the same as the US, the other one… why is this information so hard to find online?
  2. A surge protector – these are weirdly difficult to find and I do not want to fry my phone or my laptop
  3. A strong mosquito repellent – maybe this is a weird one but Dengue, Zika and Malaria are a risk in Peru
  4. Malaria pills – see above
  5. Hiking boots – Machu Picchu, here I come
  6. A portable phone charger – so far I’ve travelled without one but this is the trip I cave and get one for
  7. A travel document wallet – I’ve never travelled with one of these either but this time I’m going to have so many more documents and flights and accommodation bookings that I need to make sure I can keep it all in order
  8. Locks – for nights that I stay in hostels and need to lock my valuables in lockers
  9. Luggage tags – not because I want aesthetic luggage tags that match my passport holder and document wallet but because I bought a brand new suitcase to take on this trip and I still don’t have any luggage tags for it
  10. RFID passport cover – these passport covers protect your information from being lifted when it is getting scanned, when I think about all the personal information I had to give to get my passport, as well as how easy it is these days to be hacked or have your identity stolen, this is crucial
  11. Socks and underwear – I don’t have to explain this one, do I?

If you are still in need of gift ideas for the travel-lovers in your life make sure to check out Laura’s article. And don’t miss our other articles in our 12 Days of Christmas series like Laura’s and My Top Christmas Holiday Destinations as well as Laura’s Guide to Melbourne at Christmas and My Experience at Carols By Candlelight.

Have I left anything out? What else do I need for this trip that I’m forgetting? Let me know in the comment section and let me know it you’re going to get anything on this list for any travellers you know.

Laura’s Top Five: Christmas Holiday Destinations

Today is Day Eight of Xen’s 12 Days of Christmas! Today I’m sharing my wishlist of destinations I would love to see at Christmas time. I’ve never been in a different city during the Christmas season, but I’d leave Melbourne for a Christmas in any of these five places. 

1. New York

I already love New York – the bustling, frenetic energy, the sprawling city-scape, the melting pot of art, culture, history and entertainment; I love it all. And I think the only thing that could make me love NYC any more is combining New York and Christmas. I’m thinking, Going to the Winter Village in Bryant Park, seeing the Rockerfeller Center Christmas Tree, and walking through Central Park with a hot chocolate. You can also check out my post about 5 free things to do in New York, and my Budget Friendly Tips for New York Accommodation, if you’re going to be in New York over Christmas. 

2. Manchester

My Dad grew up in Manchester, and I haven’t been there yet! I would love to see Manchester at Christmas, and to meet the English family that I’ve not met yet. I think it would be really lovely to be in England at Christmas time, and to celebrate a proper White Christmas with the family that I’ve spoken to on the phone and heard so much about. 

3. London

I also have lots of family in London, and there’s so much I want to do and see in London, so I think it would be the perfect Christmas destination. I’d love to see the lights and decorations at Harrods, and to do Christmas shopping on Oxford Street, and of course, to see a couple of shows! Perhaps at the top of my list is the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour – which I hear gets a special Christmas makeover this time of year. It sounds like the Harry Potter tour would be even more magical in December – though I’m wondering if that’s even possible considering how much I love Harry Potter! If you’re going to be in London around Christmas, don’t forget to check out Kate’s guide to the London Underground

4. Berlin

I have an idea of a perfect Christmas in my mind: it involves a snowy European city like Berlin, with me rugged up to the max (gloves needed!), and perusing a Christmas market sparkling with fairy lights. We don’t really have anything like the Christmas Markets of Europe here in Australia, and I would love just once to experience one. Combine that with Berlin being almost top of my European to-do list, and you have once of my ideal Christmas destinations. 

5. Honolulu

If you’ve been reading since Xen started, you’ll know that I love Hawaii. I’ve been twice, and I think it’s one of the most beautiful and atmospheric places in the world. The people are absolutely lovely, and the spirit of Hawaii is warm and bright. With that in mind, I know I would love a Hawaiian Christmas – one that is ‘green and bright’ like here in Australia. I imagine a Hawaiian Christmas would be slow and relaxing, spent soaking up the beautiful weather, probably with a trip down to the beach, and in the midst of a stunning landscape. It sounds perfect to me! If you’re thinking about a Hawaiian Christmas, check out my post about 5 Ways to See Oahu, to get some ideas on unique ways to experience beautiful Hawaii. 

There you have it, my Top Five Christmas Holiday Destinations. Tell me in the comments where in the world you would love to spend Christmas, and don’t forget to check out Kate’s Top Five here