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Road Tripping versus Public Transport

Jun 10th, 2016

The last few trips I’ve planned have one thing in common: road tripping. These are my favourite types of holidays to research as there’s so much to do - from designing the optimal route including flight connections and hotel availability, to investigating activities and day trips in many diverse destinations, plus finding top notch restaurants and nightlife too.

 

As a family we love a good road trip but decided to try something new last week - crossing Norway by public transport instead. Once we landed in Bergen we used trains, buses, cycles and big and small ferries to reach Copenhagen. It was so different from our usual trips that I thought I’d highlight some of the positives and negatives of these types of travel.

 

Whichever mode of transport you take, planning your route carefully is a must. Clearly having your own car at your disposal gives you more freedom to head off-track, but in general if you’re travelling to popular destinations or in peak season then you’ll want the security of having all your accommodation booked in advance.  This is especially important if you’re looking for non-standard rooms such as family suites, or staying in locations with very limited options such as National Parks.

 

On our honeymoon (a fly-drive around California) we only booked our first night’s hotel; this worked well for us as we were travelling in October and only needed rooms for 2 adults. 6 years later we returned for a road trip down the Rockies with 7 adults in August and even booking 1 year in advance we found accommodation in the parks to be limited. The amount of travellers trying to secure a room in the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone for that night was shocking and it’s not like there were nearby alternatives!

 

The downside to pre-booking all your hotels is that it reduces the ability for spontaneity, such as stopping an extra night if you’re feeling tired or exploring new places recommended by locals. In hindsight I would have loved another night in Yellowstone and would have sacrificed one of the later nights, but that’s why researching your destinations is so important - you’ll have a better idea of how much you want to achieve in each stop. In general having the peace of mind you get from rolling in to town late at night knowing there’s a guaranteed bed shouldn’t be underestimated. 

 

Travelling by public transport restricts your possible routes, more so in some destinations than others, but it opens up new routes too. Last week we took the DFDS ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen - an overnight journey of 17 hours. We could have driven the long way around in approx 7 hours, but this would have eaten in to one whole day of our holiday and left us with 2 miserable, bored kids (and adults). Our way meant we got to kick back and relax on the fantastic ship with a 4-bed sea view suite costing the same as a night in a hotel, never mind avoiding the petrol and toll charges accumulated en route.

 

If you and your kids are happy to sit in a car for a few hours each day then road trips are fantastic holidays for really exploring a destination. 2 years ago we visited Bavaria, taking cable-car tours, tobogganing, lake trips, bicycle tours, visiting castles and theme parks. Having the car was key as all these locations were spread out and generally off the beaten track. 

 

Last week we experienced similar stunning scenery by copying the popular ‘Norway in Nutshell’ tour (but DIY of course so much cheaper). This route is specially designed to make use of the incredible public transport system and the tour is so popular now that the buses know to wait for the trains and the ferries wait for the buses etc. If you build your own tour you are at the mercy of the transport network, so it’s important to research first and allow yourself extra time if they’re renowned for being unreliable! There’s no point in stressing on your holiday.

 

Another key difference between a road trip and one done by public transport is how your luggage is moved around. On a fly-drive you rock up to the hotel, park up, and a leisurely stroll to the reception is the furthest your bags are carried. It’s a whole different ball game without a car. In Norway be bought backpacks specially for the trip and they were incredible. I bought a 65 litre pack for me and an 80 litre pack for my husband; this meant that there was no danger of me over-filling mine and struggling with the weight. 

 

With this in mind we packed very lightly, possibly too-lightly and could have done with an extra t-shirt or two due to the unseasonably hot weather. Apart from that we were delighted with the bags as they gave us the freedom to hold the kids’ hands whilst negotiating the transport network and climb stairs, walk across cities, and board trains with relative ease. In fact we loved them so much we can’t wait to do another holiday where we can put them to the test again!

 

Also having a car means you can purchase supplies cheaply in local supermarkets and transport them easily with you on your day trips. You need to remember with backpacks that everything you buy, including any booze you pick up in the duty free at departures, is carried with you!

 

On road trips you have to worry about parking too; in Europe the costs can be extortionate in comparison to the price of your room, and availability is seriously lacking in many big cities. Backpacking avoids these costs but involves quite a lot of walking from rail and bus terminals to your hotel so it’s important to bear this in mind and choose your hotel location carefully.

 

Our kids are pretty happy to sit in a car and play on their ipads, but if yours aren’t and they’re quickly bored of looking out of the window, then road trips probably aren’t the best idea for you. Using public transport allowed us much more time to interact and play with the kids on the way, especially on the ferry. And amazingly in Norway the 5 hour train journey from Myrdal to Oslo was vastly improved by choosing the family carriage which had an inbuilt soft play area and lots of baby-related facilities. It was incredible! The area was only small but our two kids played in it for 3 or more hours, as well as making friends with other kids on board and running around without being told off!

 

Whichever mode of transport you use for your next multi-destination holiday, some careful planning and research will help turn it in to a truly memorable trip. Get in touch if you need any help.

 

Where to take your kids on their first holiday abroad

Mar 21st, 2016

My husband (Ant) and I have been very fortunate to have the means and opportunity to travel extensively together during our 20s.  We were blessed with good jobs, a low cost of living, and a desire to experience similar destinations, so we seized this opportunity. We took trekking holidays, road trips, month-long vacations, last minute deals and city breaks, we went on safari, ski trips, slept in luxury hotels, dire hotels and an igloo, and generally enjoyed the freedom that travelling as a couple brings you.

 

However in our early 30s we took what felt like the natural next step in life and started a family. Having the kids didn’t quell our desire to travel, but the practicalities of holidays with 2 kids under 2 took over and we tamed our expectations somewhat.

 

Our first few holidays with toddlers were staycations in and around the UK. We took camping trips to Devon, stayed in baby-friendly hotels on the Jurassic Coast, forest lodges in Cornwall, and chilled out in glamping pods in The Forest of Dean. Days were filled with trips to farms, mini theme parks, beach combing, bug hunts, racing plastic ducks along streams, train rides and bike tours along miles and miles of (flat) terrain.  A far cry from our previous holidays!

 

When we were ready to take the plunge and get both kids on a plane, they were 2.5 and nearly 1.  Choosing where to go on our main summer holiday was difficult for us: we’d never had to consider so many things!  If you’re now at the stage where you’re ready to take the plunge and get your young kids on a plane but don’t know ‘where to go’, then here’s are a list of things to think about. Have a read then check out the picture below for ideas and suggestions on places to try.

 

Reason for travel: why are you going away? Is it a much-needed break from work and you just want to chill? Is the beach calling you? Or do you go by the mantra ‘a change is as good as a rest’? Do you want to see new sights? Let the kids experience new cultures? For many parents, including us, a bit of both appeals. This is the first thing to consider as the answer makes a massive difference to your choice of destination!

 

How long on the plane: If you’re travelling with under 2’s remember they’ll be travelling on your lap.  In my experience babies cope with flying pretty well, it’s the squirmy toddlers that find it tough (as do the parents). You probably won’t fancy long-haul so you’re looking at Europe. 2 hours or less will get you to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Western Europe.  If you can handle another 2 hours you can consider The Canaries, Croatia, Greece, and Eastern Europe as well.

 

Check out this graphic for suggested destinations then read on for other things to consider before taking your first trip abroad.

Click on the image to view full size

When to go: if your kids aren’t yet in school then obviously you’ll want to take advantage of the low-cost of term-time holidays.  But think about the weather - it’s hard enough putting sun screen on a toddler first thing in the morning, never mind the tenth reapplication. Having said that if you plan to spend a fair amount of time in the pool then lots of places don’t heat them.  We went to Crete in May but swimming was out of the question as the kids’ lips were blue after only a few minutes, and it wasn’t hot enough when they got out to warm their little bodies back up. The following year we chose Dubai in May and that was considerably better!

 

Activities: this may be your child’s first trip abroad, but it’s your holiday too.  They may not remember much of it but you will so make sure you make time for yourself and fill your days with activities that will delight the whole family.  

 

Even trips to the beach can become stressful if you’ve forgotten supplies, the kids need the loo, they’re hungry, one doesn’t like sand in their toes etc etc. Whilst there go on a scavenger hunt for shells, rocks, seaweed, hunt for pirates, make sandcastles (with moat of course), do beach-writing, make dinosaur footprints, fly kites, play frisbee, or simply jumping waves will keep the kids happy.

 

If you’re not particularly fond of spending all day on the beach (we aren’t) then find something else nearby to do as well. Ideas include boat trips, water parks, cave exploration, boardwalks, picnics, fishing trips, and shopping in local villages.

 

If you’ve always like trekking holidays then don’t stop now, just remember the kids will need plenty of down time. If they’re a little older why not involve them in planning the walk. Try to make it interesting for them with fun games to play along the way, or search for fairies and trolls and go naturing spotting.  Make sure there’s something exciting at the end too - this will keep their attention and makes for a great reward. 

 

Luggage: if you’re travelling with babies then you’ll need an extra suitcase just for their stuff, however remember under 2’s don’t automatically get an allowance.  When travelling with a budget airline you simply purchase extra bags, but it’s not that straightforward with a package tour. Consider hotels that provide baby supplies like nappies, wipes, monitors and bottle-sterilising services.  Don’t forget a bag (or trunki) full of toys, and minimise your own luggage by leaving at home all those unnecessary toiletries, valuables, towels and excess clothing.

 

Transfers: Try to keep airport transfers short - this will be when the kids are at their most tetchy having been stuck on a plane for hours and then shuffled through a loud and noisy airport. Don’t forget to request child / booster seats or bring your own (trunki do a great backpack version). If you’re travelling independently and have an early flight, make sure you get an early check-in at your hotel too for the same reason!

 

Board: little kids like to eat early, but if you’re half board then you may be stuck with a 7pm dinner. Consider going all inclusive or self catering so you can pick and choose the best mealtimes for you and your family.

 

Kids club: if it’s your first time away the kids may be a little apprehensive about going in to a day club. Mine still are; they love splashing dad in the pool too much. However clubs are good options to have as back-up so check out what activities they offer and make sure you’re happy with the service.

 

Research: finally read up on your destination before you go. Make sure there’s no building work on and that there are no concerns over pool safety etc. These things may not have bothered you as a couple but they will now!  And if you need any help, just drop me a line.

Affordable holiday destinations for Brits in 2016

Mar 5th, 2016

For us Brits, holidays to the USA have become quite a bit more expensive over the last few months.  Tourists are currently looking at exchange rates well under $1.40 per £1, compared with the recent high of $1.70 in June 2014 and $2.00 / £1 back in July 2008 when we were lucky enough to visit; we really splashed the cash on that trip!

 

This isn’t great news for people who already have their trips booked (although I’m still jealous as I love the US whatever the rate!). However if you’re just starting to think about your next big trip then I’ve got a few suggestions for alternative destinations where the exchange rate is looking more favourable for those of us wishing to exchange our British Pounds.

 

Starting with destinations near to our shores; the Euro is still very favourable. After 4 years of a stable €1.2/£1 we hit a high of €1.4 towards the end of last year. Our Christmas ski trip to France was a little less painful this year although as usual we paid over the odds for everything being a captive audience on the slopes! The high rate has wained slightly but is still above the long term average making any Euro-zone country approximately 10% cheaper than we’re used to.

 

A city break to Budapest may be worth considering with the Forint trading at the current rate. Take a dip in the thermal baths, visit the Buda Castle, or climb the steps of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Flights are low cost too and hotels are very reasonable; the 5* luxury Queen’s Court is typically £75pn including breakfast.

 

That said in general it’s looking like the main savings are to be had in destinations a little further away from Europe. If you fancy the delights of North America but want to avoid the expensive US Dollar then try Canada. Their dollar is tracking at nearly $2/£1, up $0.40 compared to 2 years ago. Why not do as one of my customers has: start with a few nights in Vancouver where you can go whale watching and walk around the Seawall of Stanley Park. Then pick up a car and head to Jasper and Banff National Park; spot bears, drive the Icefields Parkway, and go canoeing on Moraine Lake. From there head to Toronto for a city break like no other; visit the islands, scale the CN tower (dare to take the Edgewalk?) and go shopping in St Lawrence Market. Finish off this grand West to East coast tour with a few nights at Niagara; this 14 night trip cost less than £1,500pp (based on 2 adults sharing).

 

Head further south and the Mexican Peso has also taken a recent dip - you’ll get about 15% more for your money now, so why not take this opportunity to explore the famous Yucatan Peninsular and beyond. Don’t bother with an all-inclusive trip to Cancun as your tour operator won’t pass on any of the savings. Instead why not build a DIY holiday starting in the Mayan Rivera; relax on the white sandy beaches, visit Chichen Itza, explore Villahermosa, sleep in a Hacienda, and see the amazing pyramids of Mexico City. Or explore the Pacific coast towns around Acapulco or paddle board around the Baja Peninsular.

 

Why not travel even further south; both the Argentinian Peso and Brazilian Real have been devalued in the last few months. You should be able to purchase nearly twice as much today as you could have as little as two to three years ago. This is great timing for the upcoming Olympics but if you’re not interested in the sporting events then you could always visit the rainforest (April - September are good months), Sugar Loaf mountain in Rio, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, Patagonia, or the winelands of Mendoza (April is best for this).

 

Another location with a favourable currency is South Africa with the Rand devaluing incredibly over the last few years.  Choose here if you want a luxurious safari or wine tasting tour and know you're getting so much more for your money.

 

Also it's a great time to exchange you currency for Indonesian Rupees and Malaysian Ringgits. You could visit both countries with a multi-city trip around East Asia, just like one of my customer’s has; he’s visiting Kuala Lumpur before hitting the beaches and rainforest in Langkawi. Or take a relaxing honeymoon in Bali like another customer did!

 

Finally after a long period of decline (2007-2012), the Australian Dollar has become more favourable once again, now trading at around $2/£1. Escape the UK shores for a 3 week tour like we did (back in 2006 when it was cheaper still). We started in Melbourne where we visited Philip Island to watch the Penguins come ashore. From here we moved on to Sydney where we climbed the Harbour Bridge, explored the Blue Mountains, and relaxed on Bondi Beach. Next came Uluru and the Kings Canyon, before hitting the Beach at Cairns where we snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, visited rainforests and saw crocodiles in Daintree. Our last stop was a few days with family in Brisbane; this is a holiday of a lifetime and we still talk about it regularly nearly 10 years later.

 

Hopefully this has given you a few ideas of how to get a little more for your £ this year. If you need any more help then drop me a line.

Peru: a destination for all budgets

Mar 1st, 2016

Peru has a reputation as a backpackers destination; this isn’t surprising considering it’s a relatively low cost destination, has a rich culture, geographically diverse, and most people are familiar with the site of travellers camping on the Inca trail.

 

However if your backpacking days are behind you, or (like me) the words ‘camping’ and ‘holidays’ don’t coexist, then you shouldn’t rule out Peru as a fantastic destination.

 

My husband and I were lucky enough to travel there as part of a 3 week South America tour in our mid-20s. We had good jobs, no kids, and decided to splash out and travel in (relative) style for parts of the trip, yet in other bits we purposefully kept costs low. Basically we prefer not to do shared bathrooms, dormitory bedrooms, and tents were strictly off limits. 

 

I’ve also recently had the pleasure of planning a 3 week tour for a customer who isn’t in to trekking, prefers not to camp, and was looking to make this a trip of a lifetime. I think it’s important to mention right now that no matter what budget I have to work with, my aim is always to get the best value for money. Doing the research for this trip highlighted the range of options available for travellers with either lots or little to spend, so I thought I’d share some of these hints and tips to get the most for your money in Peru. 

 

Starting with flights, there’s a £200pp difference between direct and indirect flights from the UK to Lima. That’s quite a saving if you looking to minimise your budget, and only a small inconvenience if you choose the right route. However for many people direct flights are a key stipulation, and the price difference isn’t going to break the bank.

 

Most travellers start their trip in Lima: hotels in and around the popular Miraflores region can range from as little as £25pn for a twin room in a guesthouse with excellent reviews (La Puerta Verde), whilst £75pn will get you a room in the 4* Tierra Viva Larco including breakfast. The 5* Estelar is only £95pn.

 

A popular destination in Peru is Nazca; the famous geoglyphs are over 1500 years old and cover an area of over 1000 square metres, making them visible only by air. There is really little else to do in the surrounding towns, so an inexpensive way of including them on your Peruvian trip is to take an aerial day tour from Lima. Expect to pay about £250pp including hotel pick up and drop off. A simple trip to pass-on if your allowance is tight, but quite an experience if you have some spare budget.

 

Obviously Machu Picchu is on most people’s wish list when travelling to Peru, however there are a variety of ways to see the ruins depending on your budget and preference. You can hike the trail, but remember to use licensed guides only and apply early for your pass. If you don’t fancy 5 or 6 nights camping then consider the quicker 2 day trip from KM104. This has you walking the last stretch of the trail then staying in a hotel at the foot of the mountain, before exploring the site on the next day. 

 

For those with a bigger budget you can upgrade to the world famous Sanctuary Lodge hotel at the foot of the ruins, but this costs an extra £300pp on top of the £250pp tour price. I can recommend it though - staying there gives you the chance to explore the area after all the tourists have left for the day and the llamas come back out to play; this alone is worth the money. We had the chance to sleep in a comfy bed yet still be up at the crack of dawn to see the sunrise with those who’d trekked the Inca Trail.

 

When in Cuzco you also have a range of hotels for all budgets: for £36pn stay in the 3* El Mariscal, for £70pn stay in the 4* Sonesta and for £270pn stay at the Belmond Monasterio, which is as it’s name suggests a converted monastery. We stayed there and it was well worth it - so atmospheric and a real treat, if you can justify the price.

 

For travellers on a tight budget who want to see Lake Titicaca you can take the tourist bus on the 6 hour trip across the Altiplano for about £35. For £300 you can take the Andean Explorer train with dining cart and viewing carriage. Both offer you the chance to view the surrounding countryside, but in quite different ways and for quite difference prices!

 

Whilst in the area you could also consider an Amazon rainforest extension, since flights are only 30 mins from Cuzco. I would recommend guided tours as they include trips around the jungle including fishing and hiking as well as your transfers between airport and lodge. You can do as few as 2 nights / 3 days in a comfortable hotel for only £200pp, or as many as 4 nights / 5 days in a luxury eco lodge for £400pp. 

 

As you can see from all these examples, there are areas where you can make great savings yet still experience the real spirit of this amazing country. And if you have the cash to splash there are lots of places willing to relieve you of this problem!

 

Finally it’s worth reiterating points I’ve made in previous blogs about DIY holidays. There are a number of tour operators offering wonderful trips to Peru, but their prices are often eye-watering. The 18 night tour I compiled for my customer, using fully licensed local tour companies with excellent reviews (and often used by the same UK-based travel agents) came in at over £1,300 per person cheaper than the tours advertised in the glossy brochures. 

 

I hate to see people ripped off, and some agents are doing just that! They purposefully make exploring Peru seem unachievable or daunting so as to entice nervous travellers into using their services. But remember it’s still just a flight, hotel and some tours, and as long as you use reputable agents you can get the exact same holiday for a fraction of the price. 

 

And if you want to add bits, or take bits away, you know exactly how much each element will add/remove from the total price. This generally isn’t possible with the high-street agents; even those award winning companies that advertise themselves as bespoke agents clearly have to hide their margin in the price somewhere. That’s why my service is so popular - all the prices are totally transparent, including my own.

 

¡Buen viaje!

Wondering whether you can afford a honeymoon?

Feb 17th, 2016

I’ve had the pleasure of exhibiting at quite a few wedding fairs over the past few months, which has given me a unique opportunity to chat to hundreds of brides and grooms about their honeymoon plans. I’ve also chatted to other mum friends, and as a statistician by training, I naturally took count of the responses ❤️

 

A few people said they didn’t have room in the budget for a holiday (15%), a small group just didn’t fancy one (5%), but the majority of marrying couples do plan for some sort of trip away, and most (70%) travel right after their big day.

 

This brings with it some challenges! Many people want a summer wedding to guarantee the British weather, but August is a tricky time to travel long-haul; many of the favourite luxury destinations are in the grip of either hurricane season (Caribbean), monsoon season (Indian Ocean and East Asia), Winter (the whole Southern Hemisphere), or unbearably hot (Middle East)

 

That’s where the expertise of a travel planner comes in! I’ve been helping quite a few couples with road trips around the USA for their summer weddings, including beach extensions to Hawaii. And clearly you don’t need to travel far for a luxury resort in Europe such as the romantic island of Santorini or The Amalfi Coast. 

 

There are other far-away destinations that escape the extreme weather in August too, such as Bali and The Seychelles; you just need to research carefully. Finally if you’re not after a beach trip then it’s a great time to go sightseeing in cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, or Boston, or an adventure holiday to Iceland or The Alps.

 

The general consensus for those travelling abroad was to try somewhere new, with a bigger budget than normal. This brings more challenges. Quite a few people haven’t travelled beyond their own shores, or at most the near continent, so the wide world can be a scary place. Many people are daunted at the thought of travelling to unknown places, but feel the pressure of making their honeymoon a trip of a lifetime.

 

The high street tour operators and specialised agents are quick to exploit this situation. They see the booking is for a honeymoon and the pound signs are flashing! You’ll find yourself looking at the specialised (often black shiny prestige) brochures promising far flung luxury that you can only dream of. Places like the Far East and Southern Asia with all their iconic sights, mysterious temples, and enchanting beaches glisten temptingly on the page, until you see the price! How much???

 

But why? The holidays are still a flight and a hotel, with a few excursions thrown in. If you spend the time to research your own trip, there are massive savings to be had. 4 of us travelled to Cambodia and Thailand over Easter for £1,000pp staying in top-end accommodation with a private pool. Vietnam is one of the cheapest destinations in the world to visit. The deals are there for the taking, just make sure you get them direct before the tour operators add their profit margin on top. 

 

And the deals don’t just come from the far-away destinations. Easyjet have recently announced they’ll be flying to Santorini, meaning this romantic island is now within reach of budget travellers too. If you’re after a city break, check out mid-week deals when flights are cheaper, and opt to stay in an apartment which offer better value for money. 

 

If you’re prepared to take an indirect flight, places like New York become much more affordable: Aer Lingus are doing some great deals via Dublin and IcelandAir via Reykjavik. There are so many free activities you can do as well, for example Walking the High Line, visiting the museums and Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, The Public Library, Rockefeller Center, Staten Island Ferry…

 

Another consideration for modern couples is children: many people choose to get married after having kids and the question arises of whether to bring them along or not. Clearly there is the added cost to consider, and not everyone is lucky enough to have family who'll step in with long-term babysitting, but the choice of location also becomes more complex. Would the kids cope with long-haul? Can we find a relaxing romantic location that's also kid-friendly?

 

Well I've done some research lately for couples travelling with both younger and older children and have always managed to find gorgeous hotels that tick all the boxes, including in the UK (boutique hotel in Cornwall), Europe (Cyprus family-run villas) and Worldwide (Antiguan family-friendly resort in Carlisle Bay).

 

So if you’re one of those (roughly 15%) of couples who don’t think they have the budget for a honeymoon, maybe, just maybe, you can find something that falls within your price range. My advice is don’t be fooled by the glossy pictures, just take your time, look around, and plan the right trip for you.

Want to chase the aurora borealis?

Jan 29th, 2016

In the past few months I’ve researched quite a few holidays for customers desperate to see the Northern Lights.  So I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve uncovered for the many of you who would like to do a similar holiday.

 

Firstly some info about the lights. To see aurora you need clear and dark sky. The best time to watch for them is around midnight, so expect a late night and don’t plan anything for early the next morning.

 

You may be aware that the aurora reached a maximum in the year 2012, and it was predicted that this maximum would last for 4-5 years, which means you’ve still got time to grab a last minute weekend break.  A solar maximum means that the lights are visible further south than is usually seen in a solar minimum phase.

 

An important factor to consider is when you will travel.  The main time of year to catch a glimpse is November to April, but if you pick dates at the beginning or end then you’re going to need to travel further north.  

Click on the image to view full size

I find this picture helps when planning where to go; it shows the main European zones for aurora activity in the peak of the season.  There are a few airports in the highlighted region that have regular flights, and I’ve researched trips for all of them, so here’s what I’ve found out.

 

Top end of the budget is the famous sunken igloos in Kakslauttanen, Finland. You would need to fly in to Ivalo airport via a connection in Helsinki. The flight schedule isn’t great as the onward leg is usually early in the morning, which doesn’t allow for an inbound UK flight. Therefore I’ve always recommended doing a day or two in Helsinki first to make a longer holiday and easier travel. 

 

The igloos themselves are unsurprisingly very expensive, however you can do it cheaper if you book direct rather than using an online travel company. There are a wide range of activities to fill your days, such as dog-sledding, snowmobiling, and snow-shoe trekking, which all advertise themselves as opportunities to chase the aurora. You should expect to pay approx £1,200 per person for 4 nights including flights from London, 3 nights in an igloo with meals, and 3 full-day tours.

 

If this is too expensive, but you still want the wow factor, then the famous Ice-Hotel in Jukkasjärvi 

is a possible alternative. You would need to fly in to Kiruna airport, again via a connection in Stockholm, but this is another perfect opportunity to extend your trip and visit the beautiful capital. Prices for a night in the ice hotel (-5°c), 2 nights in a cabin, 1 night in Stockholm, flights, and 3 tours is closer to £900pp. For that you could try your hand at ice fishing, or drink vodka in the original (and best) ice bar in the world, or simply sit outside in the snow and wait for the lights (which is what we did!).

 

A cheaper option, especially if you’re at the end of the season, is Tromsø in Norway. It is one of the furthest cities north without having to leave the mainland, and flights are serviced via Oslo. The budget airlines fly into the capital of Norway, but note that they sometimes use the other airport than the one which the connections fly from, meaning a few nights in the city is a great way to make use of your time there.

 

Tromsø has a wide range of beautiful hotels for all budgets, meaning you can keep costs low. The Radisson Blu is centrally located and many tours start from here; prices are about £100 per night for a double. A wide range of tours leave from the city including the usual dog sledding and snowmobiling, but also whale watching and bus tours aimed specifically at chasing the aurora.

 

Finally, one of the cheapest options is Iceland. It is well within the zone for seeing the lights, but you’ll just have to leave Reykjavik behind to ensure no light pollution and a chance to see them in their full glory. Flights here are low cost and plentiful, which helps the budget, and there are also a wide variety of tours to keep you occupied in the day, including a visit to the blue lagoon thermal spa, glacier hiking, and a chance to go inside the dormant Thrihnukagigur volcano.

 

For a city break you’d probably choose to stay in the capital, and there are plenty of accommodation to choose from, including low cost B&Bs, practical apartments, right up to top-end luxury hotels.

 

Another tip I’ve picked up, regardless of location, is to choose your tour operators carefully. Many offer perks as ways to entice you to join their trip over a competitor, but some perks are better than others. One customer commented that the free hot chocolate on a trip was lovely, but was far outweighed by the complimentary photo of her and her husband underneath the aurora which a rival tour offered.  

 

Also be aware that most trips offer a chance to rebook a free return trip if you don’t manage to see the lights. Therefore plan your days carefully. For my customers I always leave them 1 or 2 evenings with no tours arranged so they can take advantage of this offer, and pick their favourite tour to rebook.

 

If you don’t want to take an organised trip and fancy sitting outside looking for the lights yourself, make sure you read up beforehand on the expected level of activity, best location and time for optimal viewing. This website is very good (link) and just click on the Europe map at the bottom for today’s forecast.

 

Also if you want to photograph the lights on your digital camera, read this excellent information provided by Patrick J. Endres (link).

 

Finally if you want help booking your dream trip, why not let me help. Many others have done just that and haven’t been disappointed. Happy hunting.

Thinking about taking your child out of school to go on holiday?

Jan 8th, 2016

For some parents the answer to this question is easy; a loud resounding “no”. Maybe those who are so firmly resolute that their kids won’t be taken out of school are be in the fortunate position of having enough disposable income that cost is not an issue. Or maybe their kids are privately educated and they benefit from holidays that don’t coincide with state schools. Possibly their kids are older and in the middle of exams. Or they may simply value their kids education more than the desire to travel abroad to the popular destinations in the peak of the holiday season.

 

For other parents the answer is a clear “yes”; maybe these families have fixed holidays that don’t align with the schools, such as those in the military or emergency services. These families have little choice if they want to take a family break at some point in the year and would argue that spending time together is more important than missing a few days at school, even with the threat of a fine from the council. Others may be on a tight budget and simply can’t afford (or refuse to capitulate to) the obscene price rises that tour operators force upon us.  Finally some argue that time spent away learning about new cultures and destinations is a valuable addition to their child's education.

 

But for many parents, myself included, it’s a question that torments us every time we go to plan a family holiday. Clearly travel is a passion of mine, but I also value my kids’ education enormously; I still have trouble with trigonometry after bunking off school and missing the lesson where we were taught the fundamentals (SOHCAHTOA anyone???) so I recognise the importance of full attendance. 

 

A few years ago we took our eldest out of his first year of school (reception class, aged 4) to go skiing. The savings were significant, and as he was so young I was assured by friends and family that he wouldn’t miss anything important. Turns out they were learning about 3D shapes and I felt such guilt every time I heard him say a ball was circle rather than a sphere! 

 

So from then on we have only travelled during school holidays but I’ve got some hints and tips to help get the most for your money, and avoid the queues, when travelling during peak times…

 

The best suggestion I have to save you money (in-keeping with my previous blog) is to avoid the package tours and do it yourself. Tour companies hike the prices on pretty much all their holidays during the school holidays, but read on and you’ll see that building your own holiday can come in considerably cheaper.

 

The first tip for avoiding the crowds is to travel off the beaten track. The top resorts in the Med in August are like one big kids club; fighting for sun-beds, queues for the bar, and crowds at all the top attractions. No thanks! Pick your location carefully - not everywhere hikes their prices - particularly when you leave the confines of Europe. We did Thailand in the Easter holidays and the flight prices were identical to the previous month, as were the hotels. Cambodia and Vietnam are also good for budget travellers, as are Bolivia, and Argentina, and a road trip in the US will cost a similar price in Summer as other times of the year.

 

You don’t have to leave Europe to get a good deal either; in August 2014 we took a road trip to the Bavarian Alps, staying in 6 different hotels and none of them increased the prices in Summer. We spent out days taking gondola rides up the mountains, tobogganing back down, and bike tours in the towns and cities. The busiest place was Neuschwanstein Castle, so we just arrived early and took the bus to the top to beat the queues.

 

Other good locations include those not in the Eurozone, such as Hungary, Bulgaria, or Croatia. The big cities like Dubrovnik will be intolerable with thousands of cruise passengers crowding in to the tiny old-town, with mile-long queues for ice-cream. But the charming islands are considerably quieter; why not spend the week on a small 6-cabin gulet to guarantee some peace and quiet.

 

Do your research before to find the top free attractions - even museums such as the Louvre have monthly free days. You can hire bikes for free in Copenhagen, taste chocolate for free at the Lindt factory in Zurich, listen to free concerts in Amsterdam, taste free food in Milan, and listen to free music in Venice. 

 

Another suggestion is to pick your dates carefully. The final week in August is cheaper than the rest of the summer break. Also don’t travel on the first day of the holidays - it’ll be hell and you’ll hate every minute of it. Flights departing mid-week (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) are cheaper than those leaving at the weekend. 

 

Finally a small note on avoiding the crowds when skiing in half term. Firstly try to get away straight from school on the Friday, rather than waiting for Saturday morning. Catch the first lift of the day, it’s not like you’re on a restful holiday anyway. Choose smaller resorts or avoid resorts in the centre of the ski-map; everyone trying to cross the mountains will come through at some point in the day. Get lessons, as ski-schools skip the lift queues and instructors always know the quietest spots on the mountains. Ski at lunch, particularly 12:30-2pm.

 

Whatever you choose, if you’re after help to avoid the crowds and get the most for your money, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do

Package Holidays or Do It Yourself

Dec 30th, 2015

As soon as Christmas is over, many of us start thinking about our Summer Holidays. There are so many things to consider; one of them being whether to get a package holiday or ‘do it yourself’. 

 

Clearly the destination you choose will play a big part in which option you choose, for example most people book city-breaks independently, whereas you’re more likely to favour a package tour if you want a couple of weeks on the beach. And the more popular option when you have kids is to choose a package holiday, for the simplicity and peace of mind. However, it’s no surprise that in my experience, I’d choose a DIY holiday for most of my trips.

 

Let’s start with the negatives of doing it yourself. Buying a package holiday gives you a level of protection you don’t get with a DIY holiday. If you book your flights and hotels from the same seller then you’re automatically entitled to ATOL protection (just make sure their certificates are still valid), but if you book them separately then you’re not. This means if the provider goes bust then you’re not covered; however if you have comprehensive travel insurance you won’t be out of pocket, it’ll just take longer to get your money back.

 

Another negative I personally experienced when booking my own holidays is an anti-climax when we arrived at each new location. I’d spent so long researching each destination that there was no surprise. My husband and kids kept commenting how stunning each place was, whereas I was left thinking “yes, it looks just like it did on trip advisor”. The obvious answer to this is to let someone else do all the research and planning so you still get the wow factor …

 

The final negative is hassle. It can take a lot of time to research all the elements of a holiday to ensure everything is just right, but the savings make it worthwhile. Obviously if you find the thought of booking your own faraway trip daunting then get in touch as that’s what I’m here for! I usually save my customers upwards of £2,000 which more than covers my fee (~£100)

 

The pros of DIY holidays are obvious - you get what you want, the way you want it. Package holidays are very inflexible with respect to flights and transfers whereas when you book it all independently you can choose your preferred departure airport, reserve your own seats, opt for day flights, and arrange your own taxis rather than waiting for everyone to board the resort bus.

 

And if you’re doing a tour, most providers have a fixed list of hotels on the itinerary, some of which may not be to your taste. With a DIY holiday you can pick and choose your accommodation based on your own needs and upgrade as required. With a family this is especially important as many tours won’t cater for family rooms but if you’re picking your own hotel then there’s no issue.

 

Tours generally have inflexible itineraries. My friend recently considered a Vietnam tour but then spotted that it didn’t include Halong Bay! She was told there was no option to arrive in Hanoi 3 days earlier so she could travel independently either. There’s no way I would travel all that way and not see the Bay… Another customer of mine wanted to visit family in Canada (Winnipeg) as part of a big West-to-East tour. However (unsurprisingly) no organised tours went via Winnipeg. The only way was to sort it independently; thankfully I managed to save the family of six £7,500 compared to a similar coast-to-coast tour!

 

Independent travel also wins hands down when it comes to excursions. Package holidays will have a selection of tours offered by the hotel but the costs are often extortionate compared to booking it yourself with a local agent. And the range on offer is limited; you may be missing out on some great local treasures, or if you have a specialised interest (e.g. mountain biking) then you’ll need to organise your own day trips which can be tricky in resort if you’ve not researched beforehand.

 

For many locations, doing it yourself can be considerably cheaper. This isn’t always true when it comes to beach hotels in the Med, as the big holiday companies offer some great deals and by buying in bulk they can pass the savings on. However as soon as you want to do something a little different, for example long haul or specialised travel, suddenly you’re looking at the luxury brochures and the prices rocket. 

 

This needn’t be the case; flights can be pricey, but often faraway destinations are some of the cheapest around. For example Southern Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia etc) are incredibly cheap as destinations go, but high-street tour operators have 14 day tours starting at many £’000’s. 

 

As an example, last Easter 4 of us did 2 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia, staying in luxury rooms for £4,000 in total. By DIY’ing we were able to choose kid-friendly hotels, specify exactly how many days we wanted at each location, and upgrade to a beach-front pool-villa for the final week of our tour. We chose a local departure, night flights, reasonable connections, and booked our own private transfer across the border for peace of mind. There was nothing as good in any brochure, but the most similar was priced at £2,000+ pp, with no child discount!

 

Also by DIY’ing don’t assume the you have to do it all yourself. We’ve travelled around Australia and whilst there taken a few organised tours to get us from one city to another. I would certainly recommend a fully escorted tour in some regions too, such as safaris or wildlife tours. You just need to do the research before and pick the best provider and link all the elements together. Or let someone else do it for you! Drop me a line if you need some help.

Which ski resort is right for you?

Dec 17th, 2015

Click on the image to view full size

If a ski trip is in your plans for the next few months, but you’re having trouble deciding where to go, I’ve created a handy graphic to help.

 

With nearly 3,500 resorts in Europe alone, there’s a lot of choice out there. But in my experience there are a few key questions to answer which will go a long way to narrowing down the selection.

 

First is the time of year. It appears that the season may be getting shorter in Europe and, given the cost involved in a week-long trip, snow-surety is a must if you’re travelling at the start or end of the season. We ski at Christmas, and in previous years many resorts made the short-list, however after last year’s late snow and a similar picture emerging this year, you need to go high.

 

The best snow-sure resorts are those with peaks up to (or over) 3000m in the Alps. These include Val Thorens, Avoriaz, Tignes, Cervinia-Zermatt, Obergurgl, and Verbier, amongst others. It’s important to remember that with height comes extreme cold and wind, so dress appropriately! And the scenery is often bleak as you’re likely to be on a glacier. But to many that’s a small price to pay to guarantee a week on the slopes.

 

If you can travel in the middle of the season then your options are wider. Other considerations include whether there’ll be young children in the party. Many resorts have excellent child-friendly facilities, with great ski-schools and childcare options and some are also car-free. There are a handful of great UK-based travel companies that offer the full package including catered chalets, which are a real luxury when the kids are in tow.

 

Another question to ask yourself is whether you’re after a traditional alpine resort, with the chocolate-box houses and picturesque village squares. Many of the excellent French ski resorts, with their miles of slopes, well managed lift systems, and connected resorts, were purpose-built decades ago and are often unattractively carved from concrete. That isn’t to say all the French towns are like that, and in many resorts newer chalet-type hotels are cropping up and bringing some beauty back to the landscape, but it’s worth considering what type of accommodation you’re after and this will help you choose a resort. 

 

If you’re travelling without kids, you may be wondering what the après ski options will be like - for some it’s a key part of the holiday, but for others that's precious time better spent on the powder! With only a few hours between finishing the last runs and heading back to the hotel for dinner, you need to know where best places are for grabbing a cold beer, necking some cheap shots, and listening to live music whilst dancing on the tables. 

 

Hopefully you find my questionnaire helpful; use it to help select the perfect resort for you and your skill-level, then it’s time to look for the all-important accommodation, flights, childcare, ski-schools, equipment hire lift passes, ... I can help with those too, just drop me a line.

Travelling to 'at risk' destinations

Dec 1st, 2015

After a spate of attacks on westerners in popular holiday destinations, most of us quite rightly question whether we feel safe enough to travel to some of the traditional getaway locations. 

 

If you’ve already got your holiday booked to somewhere that’s now classified as ‘high risk’ then you may be more willing to take the plunge, but if you’re still at the planning stages you’re probably looking at a map of the world and wondering where to go.

 

Historically most people would have considered the popular beaches in and around the Mediterranean to be safe bet, but it would be unwise to assume anything right now.

 

I’ve done a few wedding fairs recently so took the opportunity to ask people where’s currently off their travel list. There were no surprises - Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Turkey were mentioned, which indicates people may be making their mind up based on vicinity to conflict zones. Many European cities were highlighted after the Paris and Brussels incidents, and Greece was quoted by some people due to its location, similarly Dubai. 

 

On the other hand many people were happy to travel anywhere, citing the high risk associated with living in the UK and the desire to “not let them win” amongst their reasons.

 

It’s true that we’ve lived with terrorism in the UK for many years, but historically the attacks were military or political targets. ETA in Spain was the same. This new wave of terrorism is more frightening as the targets are wide ranging and include people going about their daily business or relaxing and enjoying themselves.

 

It’s important to keep everything in perspective though. Nowhere is 100% safe. Whether it’s terrorism or airline security or tragic weather events like the Tsunami on boxing day in 2004, you’re at risk of being caught up in something unpleasant both home and abroad. 

 

So which places were popular for brides and grooms? Well it felt like every other conversation involved a road trip around the USA, including Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, Hawaii etc. These have always been popular honeymoon destinations (we did some of them for ours in 2002), but it’s probably no coincidence that they’re on the other side of the world. And the US is renowned for tight security in the aftermath of 9/11, so maybe people just feel this would be a safer bet. 

 

There were also more unusual destinations mentioned, such as Iceland and Finland - maybe people think terrorists don’t like the cold!

 

Personally I’m of the mentality that I won’t let them win, but that doesn’t mean I’m booking a city break to Kabul any time soon (although I am off to Budapest on Friday). Our holiday destinations have always been driven by the sights we want to see and activities to undertake, and this won’t change. We may just spend a little more time planning than we’ve done before

Going on holiday over Christmas

Nov 12th, 2015

As Christmas approaches, many people see the potential benefit in packing everything up and heading abroad. No more arguments about who’s hosting this year, what days will we see Great Aunt Beatrice, driving on the M6 on Christmas Eve, or cooking a Turkey that looks like it was raised in Chernobyl.

 

Well, we’ve done it before, and are doing it again this year, so here are my thoughts on what it’s like to be abroad over the festive season.

 

Personally we like to go skiing. It’s a cheaper time to travel than February Half term or New Year, and means we don’t have to take the kids out of school. We are lucky in that we have friends who come with us (11 of us in total), which means we’re not alone, but in previous years we’ve made friends with others in our hotels / chalets and have never really felt lonely. People are very welcoming at this time of year and conversations on the slopes and lifts are very jovial.

 

We stay in catered accommodation ensuring it’s someone else’s problem to cook the roast, and by getting up to ski every day we’re not sitting around filling our faces with Quality Street at 10am. Instead we’re out having fun with our kids and friends, and once you throw in a couple of glüwein, for us there could be nowhere better.

 

By being abroad you also naturally avoid much of the ‘hype’ that comes with this time of year and get a good feel of the meaning of Christmas. It’s nice to be somewhere new too and experience a different set of traditions. It’s lovely to have snow on Christmas Day and everywhere is lit up and feels so festive. Santa makes a special appearance, and as we’re on holiday our stress levels are lower.

 

Many people don’t want or like to ski though, and for them it’s a time to hit the beach. A friend regularly goes with her extended family to Lanzarote; she packs Sainsbury’s bacon (her son won’t eat any other type), a cooked turkey roll, and a host of other treats to make it feel familiar, but with some sun and relaxation to boot.

 

To summarise the benefits, for us at least, include the chance to do something we all love as a family, in a festive setting, with good friends and without the hassle of planning and hosting a big Christmas dinner. 

 

However there are downsides. The obvious one is being away from the extended family; we are a close family and see each other regularly, so this is less of an issue for us, as we just meet up the day before we go and pop over when we’re back. For some people though Christmas is the only time to catch up with parts of the family so travelling abroad makes this difficult (unless you all go together!)

 

Presents can be an issue too - with young children, the present pile can be quite large, and there’s no way we could pack even a quarter in to our luggage (there’s no space after the helmets and other paraphernalia). We overcome the issue by opening a select few presents the day before we go, and anything small comes with us, then we do the rest when we come back. And the big fella helps out too - he conveniently takes a photo of the kids’ presents by their beds and leaves it in the stocking, so they know he’s been and what’s waiting for them at home. This takes a big of organising, but Santa is very accommodating!

 

If you decide you fancy getting away from it all this Christmas then you could consider these places:

For short flights and sun you can’t beat the Canaries. Temperatures will be about 22 ºC and there are loads of airlines flying at this time of year. If you’re happy to fly a little further then Dubai is another option and a few degrees warmer.

 

For longer flights it’s a great time to visit the Caribbean as the hurricane season has passed. Alternatively the Indian Ocean is great in December, including Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as is Thailand, Bali and other Asian destinations.

 

If you’re not chasing the sun then skiing is an option or try to spot the Northern Lights over Iceland. Many European Cities have the traditional Christmas Markets too, and I’ve planned a few trips there recently so have lots of information freely available - just drop me a line. Merry Christmas!

Keeping the kids entertained whilst travelling

Oct 30th, 2015

You’ve chosen your next dream holiday but first you have to get there. Whether you’re flying, driving, or getting the train, at some point the kids will be cooped up in an enclosed space. Boredom sets in: if you’re lucky they just whine!

 

We’ve travelled extensively with our kids and I have a few hints and tip that may help. Unfortunately most need some pre-planning, so if you’re reading this on the way to the airport, your options are more limited - maybe buy some games, magazines and sweets at duty free.

 

Firstly choose your transportation carefully. Do your kids get car sick? Are they happy to sit in the same place for a long period of time? Are you comfortable driving abroad? We thought long and hard about last years summer holiday; we wanted to tour Bavaria but had to choose whether to cut down the travel time by flying but couple this with either hiring a car or lugging the bags around on the train. Our kids are happy playing on their iPads for long periods of time, so we chose to take our own car due to the expense of flying, car hire, booster seat rental, one-way drop off costs etc. The price reduction was significant but not for the faint hearted - 7 hours to drive from Stoke-on-Trent to Folkestone on a Friday night was not the best start to our trip.

 

Secondly think about which provider you'll use as this could make a difference on the stress levels. One of the best journeys we ever took with our two was a 7 hour flight to Dubai. We flew with Emirates and the kids were relaxed due to the care and attention of the inflight crew.  They came around with a captains hat and polaroid camera, toys, teddies, kids blankets, and best of all their food came first so we could help them get started without waiting for everyone else to be served.  

 

In my experience scheduled providers beat the charter airlines hands-down when it comes to entertainment facilities on board. Therefore you may be more inclined to stump up the higher ticket price, yet there are still differences between brands. An 11 hour flight to Bangkok with KLM was rather disappointing compared to the Emirates flight: the film options were more limited. Also there was no early meal; it was a night flight and sitting at the back of the plane meant the kids were ravenous and exhausted by the time the food came. The staff seemed less attentive too, which all adds up to a more stressful experience and hard work for the parents.

 

What about during the journey? Well my number one tip is to be prepared. I take a trip to the local pound shop to stock up on cheap toys, magazines, and books before we travel, and then to make it more interesting I wrap each up and turn it into a lucky-dip.

 

Now is a good time to rediscover your inner child and play a few games with them. There are loads of good small travel games that aren’t too mind-numbing or tedious. The more you have, the less likely you all are to get bored. My favourites for primary-aged kids include dobble, pass the pigs, uno, bananagrams, and 100 things Usborne activity cards.

 

If you can afford it, invest in an iPad or other tablet / games console. I understand some people are concerned about the amount of screen time kids get, but they are not going to be corrupted by a few hours playing on a long journey. And if you’re like me, you can fill the device with fun educational apps cleverly disguised as games, which takes some of the guilt away. I never pay for an app (except Minecraft!) - here are some of my favourite (free) apps for primary-aged kids: rovercraft, crossy-road, aa, lumio dragon shapes, and doodlemaths.

 

Make sure you’re well stocked up on food as well - my two can make an apple last 30 minutes, so I’ve always got a bag of food, drinks, and sweets to get us through the tough times. This isn’t the time to be worrying about their diets!

 

If you’re flying with very young kids, I used to take a bottle of milk for take-off and landing to help with the pressure on their ears. Now mine are older I take chewy sweets, but you can also get ‘ear-planes’ for children if they suffer badly. The journey will not go well if they start off in pain.

 

I hope you find these tips useful. In general when you have kids you need to plan ahead, so this is nothing new. The main advice is to choose your holiday carefully; make sure you select somewhere you’ll all enjoy and plan your itinerary to fill the days with fun. Have a great trip.

Holidays in the UK versus abroad

Oct 19th, 2015

Are you thinking about your next trip? Maybe it's with the family and you can't decide between a stay-cation or trip abroad. It's a popular quandry and one faced by our family every year. We've done both, so here are my thoughts on what they have to offer, and maybe it'll help you decide.

 

Let's start with Blighty. OK, so there's no denying it, the number one point has to be the weather. It's often rubbish and has ruined many holidays which would've been amazing had it just not rained. But as the famous saying goes, there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.  

 

As long as you check out the forecast before, and plan a load of indoor activities just-in-case, there really is no reason to let the unpredictable weather stop you from enjoying a lovely UK break. And many people actually dislike the heat you get in continental Europe in Summer, and the cooler weather is a great reason to choose to stay near home.

 

For those of you that hate flying, there's also little other choice, unless you fancy a ferry or chunnel trip to France. That's not to say that travel around the UK is easy. We recently took a 2 week road trip to Germany and the worst traffic jams were when we hit the M20 after leaving the channel tunnel.

 

But if you're travelling with young children, staying in this country can be a big positive. You know your way around the healthcare, and there's no waiting around in airports and trying to keep kids entertained on flights. You can also pack everything you need into the boot of your car; no reading up on the best way to fit the kitchen sink into your suitcase! In fact you don't even need a suitcase - we found 'under-bed' storage bags to be better on our Cornwall holiday as they took up less room.  

 

You can bring your food, crisps, cheese, tomato ketchup, bucket and spade, football, inflatable toys, fishing rods, nets, ... rather than paying a fortune for one in your resort. And your own bikes rather than renting them. If you want to take 20 pairs of shoes including wellies, hiking boots, evening shoes, flip-flops, then you don't have to negotiate with your other half!

 

If your mental arithmetic isn't up to much then having the same currency is a bonus.  And you know how to read the signs, which supermarkets are cheaper, and will recognise all the food in the shops too.

 

But what about abroad. Well we've covered the weather, which is clearly a big plus but don't be fooled into thinking it's always a positive. Last summer we went to Germany and it was over-cast every day. Luckily it only rained once but the shorts never made it out of the suitcase. And this summer we went to Croatia and had to take refuge in our air conditioned hotel as it was 43° outside.
 
The other big positive is the change of culture. There really is no better way to understand the wider world than to experience it for yourself, and this is especially true for children. You can't experience the smell of a Moroccan souk in a book. My kids loved travelling around in a tuk-tuk in Cambodia and riding an elephant in Thailand; there are just some things that can't be done at home.
 
It's also great to surround yourself in a country with another language, particularly for children. For weeks before we travelled I'd been trying to get my 2 kids to say hello and goodbye in French, with no luck. After 1 day of ski-lessons they were saying that and more. There's no substitute for full immersion.
 
Whichever you choose, as long as you plan ahead and pick the spots that you're dying to see, you'll have an amazing time. A little bit of research goes a long way into turning a great holiday into a truly memorable one.

Self Catering versus All Inclusive

Oct 12th, 2015

You've booked your time off work, settled on a destination, and are now looking for accommodation.  But what should you choose?  Do you favour All Inclusive hotels or do you prefer a do-it-yourself Self Catering holiday?

 

Well I've been to both, and here are some of my thoughts on the pros and cons of each, with particular focus on travelling with a family.

 

Let's start with all-inclusive.  This is a great option if you've got a set budget for your holiday and don't want to go over it.  It is often difficult to guesstimate the price of meals and drinks for a 1-2 week break so AI gives you the peace of mind that you'll not run out of cash half-way through your trip.

 

AI is also a firm favourite with families, especially if you find somewhere with free ice-cream.  My 2 boys love the freedom of being able to go up and choose their own drinks and food without me hovering over them!

 

The vast range of food in the buffet restaurants can also be helpful if you are travelling with people who like to eat very different food.  This is more difficult with self catering where you're likely to cook 1 meal for the whole family, unless you're eating out of course.

 

Some people look forward to being waited on whilst away - this is their holiday and they want to relax, not be tied to the kitchen or left tidying up after each meal. I know this is a big plus for me, as I hate cleaning the kitchen at home, never mind abroad.  AI is also good if you're travelling in a big group, since the pressure to cook for so many is quite daunting.

 

On the other hand many travellers prefer to go self-catering.   This is a good option is you like to cook your own food, which is important if your fellow travellers have food allergies or maybe you have fussy kids. AI buffets have a large range of food, but that still might not be sufficient if you are in a group with nut, dairy, gluten allergies etc.

 

It's also a good choice for those with young children who have set meal times which are earlier than some smaller hotels.  I remember a holiday when my youngest was only 12 months old and the half-board hotel had a strict 7pm meal time - which co-incided with his bedtime.  It was such a stress trying to keep him topped up on snacks so he'd want to eat late, and invariably the bigger issue was trying to keep him awake so my husband and I could eat.

 

Self catering also allows you the opportunity to try out the cuisine in local restaurants.  This can be particularly helpful if you're staying in a poor country; although on a recent all-inclusive trip to Crete we did make an effort to eat out in the nearby tavernas to try and help the local Greek economy!

 

You're also more likely to favour SC if you enjoy getting out and about from your hotel and exploring the wider area you're staying in.  It can be quite a hassle trying to be back in time for dinner, so knowing you can grab your meal in any local restaurant that takes your fancy is very liberating.

 

Finally SC can be a nice cheap alternative compared to some all-inclusive holidays.  Buying locally from supermarkets can keep the cost down, although this isn't always the case.  We did a self-catering ski holiday and the prices of fruit and vegatables in the local Spar was eye-watering.  

 

As ever, a bit of forward planning and research will go a long way to helping decide which is the best option for you based on your holiday location and the needs of those in your travel party.  Let me help plan your next trip and make sure your accommodation choice is spot on.

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