Category Archives: Travel Tips

Travel tips to help you make the most of your European trips. Tips on the best things to see, places to stay and eat in European destinations.. The lowdown from locals and experienced European travellers to help you plan your travels.

Brittany Ferries

Ferry Versus Plane for Holidays in France

Brittany Ferries’ infographic highlights some of the advantages of travelling from the UK to France by ferry versus plane.

The comparison is based on a holiday to the Loire Valley for a family of two adults and two kids. The journey by ferry would entail driving your own car to the UK ferry port, the ferry crossing from Portsmouth to Caen and the drive to the Loire Valley. The journey by plane would entail driving to your UK departure airport, flying to Nantes and picking up a hire car at the airport to drive to the final destination.

Check in time for Brittany Ferries is 45 minutes before departure, compared to two hours for flights. Travelling by ferry would avoid the drive to the airport, transfer from the airport car park to the terminal buidling and queueing up to drop off your hold luggage and to get through airport security.

To me, the biggest advantage of travelling with your own car and crossing the Channel by ferry is that there are no luggage restrictions. I’m geting fed up of squeezing all my luggage into one carry on case to avoid hold luggage fees, bag drop off queues and waits at the luggage carousel on arrival at the destination. Never mind the confusion over the differing maximum dimensions and weight of that cary on suitcase between the airlines.

You can fit in loads of luggage in your car, even in a supermini. This is a real boon, especially when travelling with kids. I remember how much gear I needed to take even for a day out, never mind a holiday. If your kids are small, you can use the foot wells at the back seats as extra storage space.


Ferry Versus Plane for Holidays in France

Image source: Brittany Ferries – Ferry VS Plane to France

It’s easier to keep kids entertained on a ferry than a plane. A ferry offers more space to move around.  When you’re on a plane you can be wedged into your seat, with a baby on your knee, unable to even walk up and down the aisle during trolley service. There’s the option to pay for a cabin on the ferry if you want some private space. Click here for information on the various Brittany Ferries routes to France.

I’ve never had a problem getting a seat next to my travelling companian(s) on ferry. With most airlines, you now have to pay an additional fee to select specific seats; the free allocated seats don’t guarantee that everyone in the party will sit together.

Another advantage for me is the free WiFi on board on Brittany Ferries. Although I can get online through Vodafone Euro Traveller, it costs me £3 a day to use my UK allowance, which only includes 1.5GB of data per month.

It can be a real hassle picking up a hire car when you arrive at your destination airport. There’s usually a queue, when all you want to do is get going to your final destination.

Not having to pay for car hire could make your holiday cheaper. You need to watch our for fairly hefty excesses, payable if the rental car is damaged of stotlen,  even on supposedly all inclusive prices with car hire firms.

Diesel is cheaper than unleaded petrol in France. As we have a diesel car, we’d be able to take advantage of this. Whereas, it’s usually more expensive to rent a diesel than a petrol car, so the additional cost of renting a diesel car would negate the savings made on cheaper diesel.

If you’re thinking of taking your car to Europe, check that your car insurance offers EU cover as standard, some insurance companies charge extra for this. Our M&S premier car insurance also includes European breakdown cover.

war horse

Why You Should See War Horse When You Visit London

On my most recent trip to London, I decided to look for some cheap theatre tickets. A lot of the lower priced tickets, starting at £10 for a midweek evening performance, were for shows which didn’t receive the greatest of reviews.

When I found a ticket for ‘War Horse‘, which gets rave reviews, priced at £17.50 for a restricted view seat on lastminute.com, I thought it was a good deal. I also thought it appropriate to see a show based on the First World War, as it’s the centenary of the beginning of WWI this year.

Why You Should See War Horse When You Visit London

Although I’d read about the wonderful life size horse puppets, they were absolutely amazing. The ‘horses’ movements and behaviour, e.g. their ears pricking up and changing direction, their play fighting and breathing, was so realistic.

Why You Should See War Horse When You Visit London

I did wonder what the view of the stage would be like from my cheap seat. I didn’t know my seat number until I picked up my ticket at the box office just before the performance. I was in the first row of seats in the balcony, with a a side view of the stage. The restricted view was because of the safety rail on the balcony. However, by leaning forward slightly, my view was uninterupted. You can pay up to £90 for a seat right in front of the stage.

So if you’re visiting London, go to see ‘War Horse’; it’s an outstanding show.

best things to do with kids in uk brid of prey

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

If you’re after a slightly more purse-friendly holiday this year, or simply just want something a little closer to home, there are loads of places you can go in the UK that certainly won’t disappoint when it comes to keeping the whole family happy.

If you’re looking specifically for great things to do with the kids without the 9 hour flight to Disney Land Florida, or without having to update the passports, we’ve handpicked some of our favourite family activities and adventures the UK has to offer.

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

Museums

Depending on what you class as a museum, there are over 2,500 museums in the UK alone. Therefore you’d not exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing one that will keep your family entertained. From interactive discovery museums such as W5 in Belfast and Eureka! in Halifax, to more traditional and classic museums to inspire, such as the Museum of Childhood in London (pictured below), there’s something for all kids, no matter how big or small! Help your child channel their inner artist too, in one of the many art galleries across Britain.

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

Theme Parks

If your family thrives off adrenaline and excitement, a theme park holiday, or at least a day dedicated to thrills and rides is sure to get their heart’s racing. Some of our favourites include Alton Towers in Staffordshire, LEGOLAND in Windsor, Thorpe Park in Surrey and Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight.

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

Zoos and Aquariums

The UK is great for animal lovers, with loads of different zoos, aquariums and safari parks to show your little ones some of the wonders of our animal world. Edinburgh Zoo is one of the best stops in Scotland as it is the largest wildlife attraction in the country. As for England, Chester Zoo and Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire are some of the best ones. For a completely different wildlife experience, The Magic of Life Butterfly House in Aberystwyth is a great choice.

Beaches

If you want a beach whilst on your holiday, who said you had to travel far?! The UK is home to thousands of beaches, and whilst we can’t promise 40 degree heat, if you time it right you’ll definitely enjoy some sun and without the pain of a flight. The kids will no doubt love a few nights away in a lovely little bed and breakfast as you all head out with your buckets and spades. With companies like UK Breakaways, you can even opt for a hotel located right next to one of the beaches for a truly relaxing short break. Some of our favourite beach locations include Cornwall, Great Yarmouth and Dorset.

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

…and for something completely different

If your kids really love something completely different to what usual holidays consist of, amaze them at some of the attractions the UK has to offer that vary from the norm. From play centres to cave tours, wax work museums and roller rinks, adventure playgrounds (such as the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens pictured below) and treasure hunts, you’re never far away from something to put a smile on their faces.

The Best Things to do in the UK with Kids

Trip Planning: Short Breaks Versus Longer Holidays

Most people feel that they don’t have enough paid holidays from work. The legal minimum paid holiday entitlement for full-time workers in the UK is 5.6 weeks, which is 28 days. So how do you make the most of that annual leave? Do you go for more short breaks or reserve it for a couple of longer trips?

Trip Planning: Short Breaks Versus Longer Holidays

Personally, I’m not keen on trips when I’ll be abroad for fewer than three nights. At least with this length of trip, I’ll be in my destination for longer than I’ll be travelling. Even for a UK short break, I prefer a minimum of two nights.

Although it gives you another night without using up annual leave, going away over bank holiday weekends is likely to be expensive. Some employers may insist that you take bank holidays off, which gives you less flexibility in your trip planning. One of our son’s employers ignores bank holidays, which suits him.

If your employer offers flexi-time you may be able to tag on an extra day to your time off. Even taking a half day off could mean that you don’t have to be in at work until lunchtime if you have a late inbound flight on your return.

Short trips abroad are more doable with direct flights. Whereas, if you have to leave enough time for flight connections, especially with the budget airlines who won’t put you on a later flight free of charge if your first flight is delayed, this eats into too much of your trip. The flight timings also impact a lot on short trips. For example, if you’re going to have to get up at 3am to catch an early morning flight, you might not feel like doing much when you arrive at your destination.

Trip Planning: Short Breaks Versus Longer Holidays

Frequent short breaks can be more expensive, as you’ll  be paying more in transport costs.

Going to a long haul destination isn’t going to be so viable on a short break, as the flight will be longer and more expensive. If I went somewhere like Australia, I’d like to go for 3 or 4 weeks but then some employers aren’t keen to give you more than two consecutive weeks off work.

You may have the option to buy extra holiday time. Our other son can exchange up to three weeks pay for holiday. Last year, he took two weeks extra off work. However this year he reduced that to one week extra holiday, as he didn’t get a pay rise.

While one of the advantages of self employment means you have no restrictions on how much time you take off work, the disadvantage is that time off isn’t paid.

How to you approach trip planning? Do you prefer a lot of short breaks, fewer longer holidays or a mixture?

 

calculator

Tips on Saving Money for Travel

If you’re keen to travel more, then you need to find ways to save up the cash to pay for your trip(s). You’ll either need to spend less or earn more. If you can manage both, all the better.  Below are my tips to help you save money for travel.

Set a Target

You need to have a financial target; whether you plan to take more frequent tips from our home base or a longer trip.  Do some research on the cost of your proposed trip(s) to give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save.

Reduce Expenditure

  • Cut down on takeaways; buy ready-made meals to heat up at home or cook from scratch.
  • Have fewer drinks when you’re out. Have a glass of tap water between drinks, or make your drink last longer.
  • Shop around for the best deals; use price comparison sites to find the best deals for insurance, gas and electricity.
  • Shop more at discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. I find that Home Bargains are great for cheap brand name food and household items.
  • Look at creative ways to save money such as getting to grips with DIY,. thereby saving money on tradesman, learning to sew.and hosting a swishing (clothes swapping) party.

Draw up a monthly budget to see how much you can afford to put into your travel find every month after covering your living expenses.

Get the Highest Rate of Interest on Your Savings

Tips on Saving Money for Travel

Open a savings account specifically for your travel fund. Set up a standing order from your current account for that monthly sum to be automatically transferred into the savings account. Find the savings account with the highest possible rate of interest. If your trip takes place in more than a year, you could get a guaranteed rate of interest in a fixed rate savings account. The highest rate I could find for on a one year fixed rate account was 2.0% from BM Savings. You can get some good rates of interest are in regular savings account; the Nationwide pay 2.5% if you deposit between £500- £1,000 a month. The Santander 123 Current Account pays 3% interest if your balance is between £3,000 – £20,000. There is a £2 a month fee but I more that cover this by cashback earned on household bills paid by direct debit. You need to stay in credit for this account to be worthwhile.

 Use Your Cash ISA Allowance

In the current tax year you can put up to £5,760 in a tax-free Cash ISA. If you don’t have to pay tax on your savings, they will grow more quickly. Virgin Bank is offering 1.75% on their instant access Cash ISA. If you hold a main current account with the Nationwide, their Flexclusive ISA Issue 5 is paying 2%.

Save Up Credit Card Cashback

I get 3% cashback on my Aqua Rewards Credit Card on a spend of up to £3,330 per year and 1% cashbacl on my Barclaycard Mastercard. As long as you are buying things that you’d buy anyway and you pay back your credit card in full every month, it’s free money which can bolster your travel fund.

Increase Your Income

Take on a second job; not only will you earn more money but you’ll have less free time in which to spend your cash. You may be able to find a temporary job in a store in the run up to Christmas or find some bar work. You could also make money online by setting up a site or blog. Don’t think that you can just throw up a site, add some affiliate links and the money will pour in. Choose a topic in which you’re interested and knowledgeable. The advantage of this is that you fit in the work when it suits you from home.

Stay Focused

Tips on Saving Money for Travel

It’s all to easy to get fed up with trying to spend less and save money and be tempted into a spending spree. You need to stay focused on your trip and how much your enjoy your travels.

Your Tips for Saving Money for Travel

Please leave your tips as a comment.

Rates of interest correct on 1 November 2013.

dfds ferry

Is the Ferry a Smarter Way to Travel?

With air travel sometimes being more of a hassle than a pleasure, the ‘Smarter Way to Travel’ game highlights the benefits of travelling by DFDS Seaways. The game emphasises that although ferry may not be the fastest way to travel, it’s out ahead on entertainment and relaxation per mile. There are four different European travel scenarios for playing; as family, solo traveller, couple or group.

I tried out the ‘Smarter Way to Travel’ for couples. I certainly agree that it’d be almost impossible to have a romantic meal on a plane. For a start, you can hardly move your arms to cut up your food with being in danger of either getting a bash from a passenger or a member of staff passing in the aisle or the passenger sitting next to you getting pretty narked as you elbow them for the umpteenth time.

Is the Ferry a Smarter Way to Travel?

One of the things that I like best about travelling by ferry is the ability to move around freely.  I hate having to mainly stay in my seat for a few hours when flying. Weather permitting, you can go for a walk around the deck on a ferry to get some fresh air. I don’t like being a in a pressurised cabin for hours.

We don’t have any pets, but I can see that being able to take your pet on the ferry, which costs from £19 per crossing, would be an advantage. It would also save on kennel or cattery charges. You wouldn’t be worried about how well your pet was being cared for in your absence . Your pet would need to have an EU Pet Passport to travel on a ferry. It was quite funny that ferrets were specifically mentioned when I read the terms and conditions for pet travel. Do you know anyone who takes their ferret on holiday with them?

We did the DFDS Portsmouth to Le Havre crossing as a family with our sons when going on a holiday to a caravan park near Deauville in Normandy. We took the overnight crossing from Portsmouth paying for a four berth cabin, so that we could get some sleep. I doubt if I’d have slept at all on a reclining seat on the ferry. It cost approximately £60 extra for the cabin. That was around what we would’ve paid for a hotel for the night, but the advantage was that we were doing part of the journey while comfy in bed.

Is the Ferry a Smarter Way to Travel?

The big advantage of being able to take our own car was that we could take lots of luggage. Also, it was much cheaper to have own car compared to paying for car hire for our ten days in France. Our motor insurance covered us for trips of up to 30 days in Europe and European breakdown cover was included in our car insurance  However, when we had a flat tyre on the drive back to the ferry, it was quicker for my husband to change it. than to wait for the breakdown patrol to arrive. The worst aspect was taking all our luggage out of the boot to reach the spare wheel.

gellert spa

Five Places in Europe I’d Love to Visit

As a travel writer and online publisher, I’ve visited a good number of European destinations, but there are still plenty left on my wish list. Here are five of places in Europe I’d love to visit.

Aarhus, Denmark

I’ve been to Copenhagen, the Danish capital, and was struck by the warm, friendly and helpful locals. Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark. I’d like to visit during the Aarhus Festuge (Festival), which has been running since 1965, in late August/early September. The festival theme for 2014 is ‘Same, but Different’.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

Aarhus Art Museum by IK’s World Trip

Corsica, France

My husband attended a conference on the French island of Corisca two decades ago and thought it was beautiful. The water in the photo below looks so clear and calm; ideal for not too proficient swimmers like me. It’d be lovely to take the Trinighellu (little train) from Ajaccio to Calvi; the route traverses the interior of the island as well as a coastal strip.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

Sperone Beach in Corsica by Andrea Castelli

Stockhom, Sweden

I’ve been to Sweden once, to Gothenburg on the west coast. I’d read a lot about Stockholm, as a former Europe a la Carte writer lived in the city. I’d probably visit in the Summer to make the most of the light nights. I’d take a ferry out to the Archipelago, which has 30,000 islands and islets, to watch the sunset.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

Stockholm by Edward Stojakovic

Budapest, Hungary

The highlight of a trip to Budapest would be enjoying the Gellert Baths and Spa. The interior baths, which opened in 1918, are likened to a cathedral because of the Roman style columns.The outdoor pools were a later addition. I’d try to plan my visit to coincide with the Sziget Music Festival, which takes place in August on Old Buda island in the River Danube.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

Gellert Spa in Budapest by Sandra Cohen-Rose & Colin Rose

Update 29 March 2014 – I’m off to Budapest for three nights next month.

Sicily, Italy

I’ve seen a lot of the Italian mainland including Bergamo, Venice, Trieste, Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche and Puglia, but I’d love to see the island of Sicily. I’d take the cable car which goes part of the way up Mount Etna. I’d also visit Agrigento, on the island’s southern coast, originally known as Akragas, one of the best preserved Greek archaeological sites outside Greece.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

Agrigento. Sicily by Scott Wylie

Vis, Croatia

The island of Vis, once the hideout of president Tito, only opened up to foreigners in 1989. It’s the Croatian island furthest from the mainland, reached by ferry from Split. The beaches, local seafood and wine are all said to be top-notch.

Five Places in Europe Id Love to Visit

The island of Vis by Mario Fajt

You can find some more ideas for the best places to visit in Europe in this article on dream holidays and our own Europe a la Carte Dream Travel Itinerary collated from readers’ tips for the blog’s fourth birthday.

sew over it

More of the Best of London Tips

I’ve been to London several times since we published the ‘Best of Things to Do in London‘ on Europe a la Carte. Here are some more London tips, to help you plan your next trip.

Ride the Emirates Air Line Cable Car

I enjoyed my ride on the Emirates Air Line cable car from Royal Victoria Dock to North Greenwich.

More of the Best of London Tips

 Emirates Air Line cable car

Walk the Regent’s Canal from Mile End to Victoria Park

I walked along Regent’s Canal from Mile End to Victoria Park. There’s a beautiful lily pond outside the Ecology Centre and lots of sculpltures alongside the path.

More of the Best of London Tips

Lily pond at Terraced Gardens by Regent’s Canal near Mile End

Discover Brixton

I spent most of my time in Brixton in Brixton Village, which has a mix of shops, stalls, cafes and restaurants. It was really hard to decide where to eat, but in the end I plumped for a Mexican restaurant.

More of the Best of London TipsEn

Entrance to Brixton Village

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sheweeextreme

Review of Shewee

As soon as you leave home you can run into problems when you need to pee. Whether that be lack of toilets e.g. in the countryside, not knowing where the toilets are in a strange city, or being stuck in a traffic jam. Even if you do manage to find a toilet, some can be distinctly unsavoury. The Shewee portable urination device can help with some of these issues, as it enables women to pee without removing clothes and standing up.

Review of Shewee

Shewee portable female urination device

I decided to buy the Shewee Extreme which comprises of a Shewee, an extension tube and a carry case. The downside is the case is too large to fit in a small handbag and would use up quite a bit of precious space if you travel light with only one carry-on bag.

Review of Shewee

Shewee Extreme

The extension is advertised as being useful when you are wearing bulky outdoor clothing but I thought it would make it easier to direct urine into a container.

Review of Shewee

Shewee with extension

The first time I tried the Shewee to pee standing at the toilet, to my surprise, and relief, it worked fine. I then tried it with the extension tube in a bottle, which all went smoothly. The Shewee is constructed of water repellant material and you just need to shake it for it to dry.

I’ve also reviewed the Whiz Freedom female urine director and the Uriwell unisex portable urinal.

If you need to pee when you’re in the countryside having a Shewee means that you can don’t have to exposure you bottom to hazards such as nettles when you crouch down. If you would rather not sit on the toilet seat, you can avoid hovering above the seat.

Have you used a Shewee, how did you find it?

Disclosure

I will receive a commission if you purchase a Shewee through the links in this post.

 

threatening clouds over valley cemetery

Back Walk in Stirling

If Stirling Castle is closed or you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, you can still have a very interesting and scenic walk. You’ll find the steps down to Back Walk at the top left corner of the castle car park. Back Walk is the oldest publicly maintained road in Scotland, following the perimeter of the Old Town walls.

Back Walk in Stirling

Sitling Castle

Back Walk in Stirling

Wallace Monument from Stirling Castle Esplanade

At the bottom of the steps are the Old Town Cemetries.

Back Walk in Stirling

The Church of the Holy Rude behind the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

Threatening skies above the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

Looking toward Dumbarton road from the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

Headstones in the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

The Star Pyramid in the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

Stirling Castle walls from the Old Town Cemeteries

Back Walk in Stirling

Looking down from Back Walk

As you descend, the leaves on the trees obscure most of the views. Back Walk ends beside the Albert Halls, just up from the main shopping area in Stirling.