Is The New York Pass Worth It?

Wednesday, 29 November 2017
When I visited New York for the first time last summer I didn't know if I'd ever return to the city and wanted to try and see as much as possible. I was recommended the New York Pass by a few people and decided to purchase the 3 day pass for my trip. It definitely wasn't a cheap decision but I was able to get the pass on sale for $203 so I decided to go for it. The pass can get you entry into over 90 attractions around NYC and also allows you to skip queues in some locations (also queue skip options will still have queues because hello, New York). I was able to gain back the monetary value of my pass but I've often wondered if it was actually worth it for other reasons so I decided to put this post together for anyone who may be considering purchasing one. Before we get down to the numbers I just want to discuss what I thought the pros and cons were of the pass.

  • The pass enabled me to skip the queues at several locations which was really handy as New York crowds are unlike any other city I've been to (except maybe New York).
  • The free guidebook and map of New York was really handy for when I wasn't able to use Google Maps.
  • The pass overall saved me money. 
  • I was able to buy my pass on sale and have noticed that they often have sales, so if you're planning your trip in advance it's unlikely that you'd have to pay the full retail price.
  • Multiple bus tours are included in the pass. I didn't do these but they are pretty pricey so if you want to do one it almost guarantees you'll make the money back.
  • I did some activities I wouldn't have initially thought of because of the pass. 


NYC for Book Lovers

Wednesday, 22 November 2017
I am a book fiend. The library has kept me satisfied for the last few months but I found myself feeling some urges.... urges to shop. Urges to shop for books. I suggested that I wanted to do a little book tour of New York and some of my friends were also keen so we found ourselves dedicating a rainy Sunday to visiting some of New York's best bookstores and libraries. We arrive in NYC through Grand Central so we decided to get the subway as far downtown as we were going and work our way back to the train station. And due to timing, we limited ourselves to Manhattan only - although I'm sure some of the other boroughs have some fantastic options!

Our first stop was the Housing Works Book Cafe, a secondhand bookstore and cafe that is run entirely by volunteers and raises money to fight AIDs and homelessness. We were a little hungover so got some coffee/tea from the cafe and sat for a little while before perusing the shelves. I also had a cheddar and spring onion 'biscuit' (scone) which was delicious. I was particularly drawn to their uncorrected proofs section where I picked up two books that are being released soon. The books were both $5 but they actually had some sort of sale on so it was $7 something. I rounded up my purchase as a donation as it's a good cause!


Broadway Review: Waitress

Sunday, 19 November 2017
I absolutely love going to the theatre. I've never been too keen on the cinema but I've always found that the theatre just captures my attention so much more. I can sit in the theatre and stay captivated for hours. Seeing as I have the benefit of living about an hour from Broadway for the next year - I really wanted to make the most of it by trying out some new shows. Whilst a few of the classics are on Broadway at the moment, the first show that I went to see was Waitress. This show has been getting a lot of attention at the moment as Jason Mraz has joined the cast for a few weeks but before he joined the tickets were pretty cheap and we were able to bag some for $45 each.


Recipe: Spiced Apple Muffins

Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Have you ever baked something, expecting it to come out ok, and it actually turns out to be much more delicious than you thought it'd be? That's what happened with these spiced apple muffins. I'd been baking something every week for the weekly GBBO night I've been hosting but one week I realised I didn't have much at home and I really could not be bothered going to the shops to pick up ingredients. And thus my spiced apple muffins were born. My go to muffins are blueberry but as I didn't have blueberries I tried apples instead. Substituting some of the white sugar for brown sugar and adding some spices to give them a richer taste than the usual blueberry muffins.

And they were a total hit. I ate two fresh out of the oven, still warm, moist (lol) and delicious. The perfect little autumnal treat. My friends devoured them at bake off night and I've made them several times over the last few weeks - tweaking the spice until I got it just right. A few of my friends asked me for the recipe so I've decided to share it on my blog. Apples are in season at the moment, deliciously crisp and tart so take full advantage of that and try some of these beauties. So much tastier and cheaper than a pumpkin spice latte!

Why I Deleted 300 Instagram Followers

Sunday, 12 November 2017
A few weeks ago I sat down and spent a considerable amount of time going through my Instagram followers and deleting them. Which for someone who is trying to grow their Instagram following seems like a highly irrational thing to do. But hear me out, there was some method to my madness.

So we all know that Instagram has been a bit of cunt recently. With poor engagement and shadowbans left right and centre it's really hard to remain motivated when you're trying to authentically grow a following. Especially with people getting crazy high follower counts just using follow unfollow bots. It just seemed like every time I checked my account I'd lost 10 followers. I had almost 1'700 followers but over the last few months, I was struggling to hit 100 likes on my photos. And a lot of those likes were coming from hashtags, not actual followers. 

So I have x amount of followers. But only y amount of those are regularly liking my pictures, watching my stories and genuinely engaging with me. So those are the valuable followers. Then x-y = inactive followers. I wanted to delete these followers because I want to feel like the people who follow my account are actual genuine followers.

I went to my Instagram followers and scrolled right back to the beginning and then I went through all my followers and deleted people who fit into the following 4 categories. There's no real way to delete someone as a follower so I had to block people and then immediately unblock them which removes them as a follower. This ended up being about 300 of my followers. 

1. People who haven't posted on Instagram in years.
I've had my Instagram account since it launched on Android and therefore it would make sense that a few of the people who have followed me since they are no longer Instagram users. So if someone hasn't posted a photo since 2014? It's unlikely that they're going to be seeing my photos so what's the point in keeping them around? Having a higher follower number is impressive but if you aren't getting the engagement rates to match is it worth it?

2. Duplicate accounts.
A few people I know have multiple Instagram accounts so I went through them all to work out which ones they were actually using and then deleted the rest. Simple. 

3. Creepy men. 
Bloody hell, I don't think I even realised how many weird men were following me on Instagram. I went through and deleted anyone whose profile looked a bit shifty. Maybe 32-year-olds from Oman are following because they like pumpkin patch photos but to be honest, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with having older men who don't appear to speak English seeing all my photos so... goodbye! I actually got a DM recently from an account I hadn't removed as a follower basically confessing love to me so it just goes to show you never know who's looking at what you put out onto the internet. 

4. Companies/stores who don't interact with my content. 
It seems to be tactic that when some small businesses/stores are starting their Instagrams that they'll follow an absolute tonne of people. I guess in the hope that people will follow them back. Which is fair enough but as I want genuine followers who want to engage with my account and like my photos then that's not for me. If it is an account that's followed me recently then I've kept them but if it's a store that followed me 3 years ago and hasn't liked any photos since then? Goodbye!

And how has it been since then? If anything I've actually noticed an increase in my engagement. I'm now getting at least 100 likes per photos which means that my percentage engagement has actually doubled. But perhaps the biggest difference is in my motivation. When I see my follower count drop I'm no longer thinking 'ah what am I doing wrong?' I think 'ok, that person didn't like my photos and that's ok' and I just want to keep on doing my thing and creating fun photos that I love. 

Would you ever consider deleting Instagram followers?

Twitter @honestlyrussell // Instagram  @honestlyrussell // Pinterest @honestlyrussell

Exploring Washington, D.C.

Sunday, 5 November 2017
When I made my first visit to the US in Summer 2016 I really wanted to visit Washington D.C. However, the travel options didn't work out well for it and so, unfortunately, I had to give it a miss. So it was definitely high on my travel plans when I found out I'd be spending the year in the US. I finally got to go last weekend and it was an amazing experience. Because it's a little further than most places I've visited so far I decided to take the Friday off work so that I could get the most of my time in the city. I arrived around 1pm and had a little wander around before I checked into my hotel. Unfortunately, I had a bit of a migraine that developed on the train so I don't actually have many photos from my first day as I had a little nap at the hotel to try and get rid of it. I stayed at the Embassy Row Hotel which was fantastic and I'll be reviewing it soon.

Part of my inspiration for visiting DC was the opportunity to meet Jess. Jess was one of my very first blogging friends and we've been chatting online since 2012. My first-year flatmate, Meredith, also lives in DC and I hadn't seen her since she finished her year abroad. As they were both busy on Friday night I decided to get a ticket to the DC Improv, a comedy club not far from my hotel. I booked a ticket for the DMV showcase which featured  4 local comics and was really good fun. I used to go to a lot of stand up comedy back in Edinburgh and the night really reminded me of how much I love it. This was a great way for me to spend my first night in DC as I didn't feel awkward doing it alone and getting to sit for a while in the dark is actually pretty great when you're not feeling great. After the show, I took a quick walk around the city and then got an early night. Look how comfy the bed looks! 


October Reading Wrap Up

Wednesday, 1 November 2017
Ah, October, autumn is here and that means it's book reading season. Nothing like getting cosy and reading a good book with a cup of tea. I read a lot of good books this month and again, I've been loving the selection that my local library has to offer. I also completed my GoodReads Reading Challenge for this year - 52 books down already. I was really surprised by this as I've never met my goal so early. I think it's because of all of the graphic novels I've been reading recently. I'm thinking about writing a blog post about my graphic novel recommendations. Let me know if that would interest you!

I See London, I See France by Sarah Mlynowski
Sydney and her childhood best friend, Leela, are off to backpack around Europe for the summer. Sydney has never left the US as she's been living at home to care for her mother who has severe agoraphobia. It's set to be a summer of fun until Leela's cheating ex-boyfriend and his attractive friend show up in London. This book was a lot of fun and it really made me want to go travelling. It was a nice easy read but I felt that a lot of the characters lacked a bit of depth and some of the conversation seemed a bit unrealistic. I did like this book a lot though and it's nice to see some university age characters for once. 4/5 stars.