Category Archives: Travel Tips

The Best Holiday Destination

The most overlooked holiday destination is your own backyard. It is the one place that you can escape to all year round, yet most people forget that it even exists. Instead people spend time in front of the TV, living their dreams through other peoples existence. Yet the strange thing is that wherever you happen to be in the world, you will find someone dreaming about taking a holiday where you live.

holiday on your own country

You know, there is actually a large chance that you will have seen less of the tourist attractions in your region than someone who has taken a holiday around where you live. In fact, to prove my point, the next time you meet a foreign person walking around ask them where they’ve visited. You will almost certainly listen to a list of places that you’ve considered going to, but decided against it because that what’s the point (after all you live there and could visit these places whenever you want to).local vacation ideas

This aversion to exploring your own back yard is a strange and unfortunate phenomenon. Watching the TV or browsing the Internet you will see plenty of amazing holiday destinations and then start imagining yourself doing things that you’d never consider doing at home (like taking a walk down the beach). Most people just take what is around them for granted. However, as the sun comes out around Europe and the temperatures start to heat up, it is the time to start reminding yourself what makes the place you live in so special.

local holiday

So here’s an idea. If you live in the countryside then take a walk through the fields or go hiking on the highlands or trekking through a forest. Explore the city you live in and visit some of the most famous tourist attractions (there is a reason people come from all over the world to see these places). The best thing about where you live though is that you know all the best places to visit and those secret gems that the tourists have never heard of. Be careful though if you decide to explore your neighborhood, you might find yourself having a better time than you had sitting in front of the TV!

Costa Tours

For over 60 years, Costa Cruises has delivered Italian-style cruise holidays to some of the world’s most beautiful and soul-stirring locations. From the Spanish coast to Dubai, the Caribbean to Egypt’s vibrant Red Sea, it’s no wonder this long-established cruise brand continues to draw customers back to its gleaming ships and packed itineraries one year after another.

So where can you travel with Costa Cruises? The real question is, where can’t you travel?

During the winter months, when it’s cold and drizzly back home, you could enjoy a winter warmer in the western Mediterranean, taking in the delights of Agadir and Casablanca in Morocco, the bustling Spanish city of Barcelona, Ajaccio in Corsica and the beautiful landscapes of southern Sardinia. A new addition to the winter itineraries is the Canary Islands, so look out for sun-baked voyages with Costa Cruises to the volcanic islands of Tenerife and the likes of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, as well as opportunities to visit some of the smaller islands surrounding these popular holiday hotspots.

If you fancy travelling a little further afield, a quick look at the Costa Cruises website will serve up all sorts of different ideas on your next escape. How about Brazil and Argentina in South America, or a mesmerising jaunt to such eastern splendours as Dubai, Egypt, Aqaba in Jordan, and Israel’s beautiful Red Sea town of Eilat.

And of course who could forget the endless charm and desert island-style beaches of the Caribbean? Visit breathtaking Barbados, explore the Dominican Republic or discover the ancient Mayan heritage and golden sands of Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

Parking at the Airport

When you’re planning a holiday, it can feel like there’s a never-ending list of things to do. From booking the flights and organising your travel insurance, to buying local guide books and packing your cases, there’s always something to organise. Getting to the airport is another thing you need to sort out – but it’s certainly not one that you should push to the bottom of the pile. Instead, when it comes to airport parking – whether it’s Glasgow Airport parking or parking at London Heathrow – the sooner you book, the better your chance of saving money.

When you book well in advance you’ll have a better chance of snapping up a special offer. Many airport parking operators regularly advertise discounts on advance bookings, sometimes offering deals like 10% or 15% off the cost of your airport parking. As well as the chance to save money, when you book in advance you’ll also benefit from greater availability. Let’s face it, the alternative is to turn up and trust to luck that there will be an available space which can be a risky, and often pricey, option.

When it comes to booking your space, you can book direct with the airport or by searching for a local airport parking operator. For instance, type ‘Glasgow Airport parking’ into a search engine and scour the local agents (make sure they’re reputable ones!) to see which offers the best price. You can also choose a tour operator, like Thomas Cook, to find a suitable airport parking arrangement. In fact, Thomas Cook provides a fast quote system with the best prices, and a high level of secure parking too – so it may be worth going direct to their website first.

Get that done as son as possible, and it’s one more thing to tick off the list, bringing your holiday that little bit closer.

Avoiding Bed Bugs and Travel Critters

Ask any long term traveller, compulsive backpacker and chronic city-breaker, when the travel bug gets you, you can’t stop. But there is one thing that can put a damper on your addiction. Small, seemingly insignificant, they can turn your stay into a night of itching at best to a week or two in hospital with hallucinations at worst. Here’s a little run down of the bugs to avoid, or put up with when you’re on the road.

Midges: You don’t need to go to the jungles of the Amazon basin to encounter voracious insects. Just head for the Highlands of Scotland and you’ll get plenty of hassle there. Highland midges are notorious UK summer pests. But you won’t only find them in Scotland, any place that has acidic soils will do. That means Scandinavia, particularly in the North (in Norway, they go under the code name knott), or in Russia or Northern China.

If you haven’t ever encountered midges, consider yourself lucky. I have seen the coolest, most self-controlled people loose their mind because of these little beasts. When they come at you, they just don’t buzz around like a mosquito. It’s a cloud of them that will attack. They are tiny and will get in any space they can to get to your skin. Their bite is not proportionate to their size! According to some estimates, midges cost the tourist industry 373 million USD each  year in lost revenue! Any way to avoid it? Well not if you want to go rambling through the Highlands. Although some experts say that the first midge to bite you will release a pheromone advertising how tasty you are. So just avoid that first bite! Also, they don’t like direct sunlight! And as natural repellents go, you can use Citronella, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Neem or Bog Myrtle, which you can find in essential oil form.

Ticks: If midges are a nuisance because of the pain, ticks are very discreet but can have a very real detrimental effect on your health. Ticks are tiny woodland bloodsucking bugs found all around the world, but especially in warm and humid countries. How does an eight-legged wingless bloodsucker get to you? They chill out on the end of twigs and branches waiting for you to brush past. That’s when they hitch a ride and they will crawl towards those nice and warm parts of your body to eat in peace: armpits, groin, ears.

These little guys are potential carriers of a long list of diseases. You probably know about Lyme disease, which can have serious implications for your health. I’m not going to go through all the symptoms here as there is loads of information on the Internet. But the thing is, you need to try and keep them off you. There are different techniques that don’t require you to stay locked in the house! You can keep them from crawling up your legs by tucking your trousers into your socks (I know, not exactly very fashionable), but you can also use Rose Geranium essential oil, mixed with Sweet Almond oil and use this as a repellent. Just cover those areas of exposed skin and those sensitive areas ticks are fond of. When you get home from walks in the woods, check yourself for ticks, with a partner for greater efficacy (and fun?). If you find any, you can remove them with pointed tweezers, just grab them as close as possible to the skin and pull gently without twisting or squeezing too hard. Disinfect the bite, with tea tree oil, for example.

Mosquitoes: Well, we all know about mosquitoes. Actually, some of the worst mosquitoes I have encountered were in Lapland, in Norway. They were huge, bit through clothes and were absolutely relentless. The Laps I met there told me I should just get naked and sit there for a while, and my body would get used to their saliva, which they inject to stop coagulation and actually causes the allergic reaction that makes you twitch and itch for days. I didn’t try that.

If running around naked and teasing the mozzies is an option in Scandinavia, it’s not really possible to do so in the tropics. Although you might be baring quite a bit of skin due to the heat. Mosquitoes in the tropics carry quite a few bacterial diseases, the most infamous of which is malaria. But mosquito-borne diseases also include Dengue Fever, Yellow fever, West Nile Virus, Elephantiasis,…

How to keep the mosquitoes away. Well, there’s not much you can do. Sleep under a mosquito net, wear long sleeves. There are many kinds of repellents, some of them might actually be as bad for you as they are for the mosquitoes (such as repellents containing DEET). I prefer to use natural repellents such as essential oils of Citronella, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Neem or Rosemary, or a fragrant mix of some of them. Experiment with the smells!

Malaria is a problem in many places in the world, and the WHO estimates 660,000 people die of malaria every year. A recent study showed that the parasite also affects the mosquito’s sense of smell, making it three times more likely to bite a human than an uninfected mosquito! The parasite is becoming more and more resistant to drugs, particularly in Cambodia. I have discovered a very effective prophylactic, that can also be used to cure if you get malaria. When I was in Papua, Indonesia for over a year, I used a plant called Artemisia annua. It came as a powder, I mixed it with honey (it is horribly bitter) and had a teaspoonful of the stuff every morning. Kept the doctor away! You can find more information about Artemisia annua here.

Bed Bugs: Bed bugs are making a comeback all around the world. They had disappeared due to the extensive use of pesticides, and particularly DDT. By the time DDT was banned in the 70s and 80s, they had already become resistant to most pesticides, and were itching to get back into worldwide action. And so here they are. These critters are not confined to the developing world, but have been reported in New York, Boston five-star hotels as well as across Europe and Australia. Despite their planetary success, bedbugs are not actually dangerous (except for the few who are highly sensitive), but they are a real pain in the a**!

Bedbugs like to hide in bed frames, mattresses, cracks and crevices or behind electric wires. Just do a quick inspection before you lay down on the bed, exhausted from your day of travelling. They look a bit like ticks, small reddish-brown.

What many travellers don’t realise is that they are sometimes actually carrying their bedbugs around with them! Although they can’t fly, they will happily hitch a ride in your clothes or luggage. They won’t travel on you as they don’t like human heat.

Some tricks to avoid bringing bedbugs home from your travels: keep your luggage above ground, or in a place removed from the sleeping area, such as in the bathroom of your hotel room. Don’t put your backpack or suitcase on the bed to prevent them from crawling aboard. As they like warmth, they might also be attracted to your laptop, so don’t use your laptop in bed (it’s bad for you anyway!). If you get bitten, wash your clothes immediately in very hot water, put them in a dryer or have them dry cleaned. Leave your suitcase out in the sun for a few days or in the cold for a couple of weeks.

Spiders and Scorpions: When you are travelling in tropical countries, keep an eye out for spiders and scorpions. Although you would expect them if you are trekking through the jungle, they can also enter homes and hotels, particularly those in a more rural setting. I have myself had a few close encounters with these eight-legged creatures, and luckily had more of a fright and a hip-hop/French Cancan session than any real harm. Once was as I was hitch-hiking through Thailand, a fruit farmer (lamyai – dragon’s eye: yummy!) let me stay in the rooms used by his seasonal pickers.

I was about to get into bed when I saw movement right next to my bare feet. Looked down and there was a golden scorpion trundling along towards my toes. I jumped away and he and I had a little game of running around, me trying to chase him out of the door, and he desperately trying to run under the bed. I got him out unharmed in the end, sweeping him out with a towl.

Anyone who has been to tropical countries will have noticed the amazing webs spiders weave on electric wires and bridges. That’s fine, they don’t bother me. But getting woken up by a scream (my girlfriend) as a huge Papuan spider is crawling along the inside of the mosquito net (if it’s not keeping out palm-sized spiders, what about mozzies?), that’s another story. Too close for comfort, but nowhere to go as trying to get out would have made it fall right on us. We did get it out (rather I got it out) with the help of a few kitchen utensils, but the spider could leap about a yard at a time and was absolutely not cooperative.

Turning Your Trip into Reality

Everyone needs a holiday and with summer almost upon us, it is the perfect time for an escape under sun. If you don’t have the money, there’s no need to worry, because there are plenty of ways to pay for your trip. With a bit of research you can discover unsecured loans, which might be just what you need to pay for the perfect weekend break, but there are plenty of other options out there for you to think about. Here are a few of the best.

Spend Less

It’s an obvious one, but most people don’t seem to realise quite how much money they could save if they just spent a bit less money each week. Why not avoid that evening down the pub with your mates and simply spend it at home in front of the television? You could make yourself a nice pack lunch instead of going to the supermarket or the bakery and eating out. Of course you’re only saving a few pounds here and there, but you’d be surprised how quickly it all adds up.

Sell Some Things

My house at home is absolutely full of things that I bought years ago and just never use; the beautiful wooden surfboard that has been sitting in its cover for the last three years gathering dust, well that’s at least £300 right there! Those weights that I bought that are propping up my books on the shelf, that’s worth at least a tenner. Then there are all of those old video games and the Playstation that I never play anymore. Not only is all of this stuff worth money, but it’s also being ignored. I’d much rather sell my surfboard to someone who is going to use it and appreciate it than let it sit there for another few years doing nothing. Have a think about what you have lying around the house; you’d be surprised at how much it could be worth.

Personal Loans

As it comes closer to the end of the month, most of us run out of cash, which is exactly what loans are made for! If you think this is the option for you, then make sure to do plenty of research, so you can find find the best bank loan. There are plenty of different options out there, which means there’s probably something perfect for your needs.

Last Minute Deals

Often the best way of saving money on your holiday is simply looking out for the best deals. If you are willing to do the research and you keep an eye out for the special offer and promos, you can make real savings. If you combine budget options, like cheap flights with a last minute package holiday, you can save hundreds of pounds.

Go Budget

We sometimes forget that taking a holiday can cost no more than the transport. House sitting, house exchanges, travel groups that let you sleep on a sofa; none of these options cost any money. Ok, granted, it is budget, but so what? A holiday is a holiday and I guarantee you will feel more relaxed after a bit of a break.

Verizon’s “Unlock” Policy

Recently I learned the hard way that my $700, unlocked, globally capable dual-band iPhone 5 was essentially useless as a phone outside of the US. My disappointment was matched only by my frustration with my carrier back in the States, Verizon.

The main reason I’d bought the iPhone was to have a truly global phone that could work anywhere in the world using local SIM Cards. This is after all is the cheapest way to use your cell phone to make calls, send texts and stay connected to the Internet while abroad.

iPhone

The problem was not with the phone itself, but with Verizon. Before I left the US, I called customer service and had them unlock the phone as they’re legally obligated to do. This in theory would allow me to use third party GSM SIM cards while travelling in South East Asia. Alas, to my great dismay, I discovered that Verizon found yet one more way to screw over its customers.

Before leaving I also suspended my service for two months. This is an obvious move that all medium to long-term travellers make in order to avoid $70/month cell phone bills while abroad. After all, if your abroad you certainly aren’t using domestic cell phone networks, so why pay?

iPhone

Well, the moment I suspended my service, Verizon relocked my phone so I couldn’t use it with any third party carrier. Had I kept paying the bill, I could have used my phone abroad with any carrier – but that would utterly defeat the purpose of having a global phone. This means, in essence, my iPhone is only usable with Verizon. Bullocks.

There are two ways around this problem. 1) Buy your iPhone direct from Apple. You will pay the full price for the phone, there will be no subsidy from your carrier, but it will be truly unlocked. 2) Jailbreak your iPhone. The key to jailbreaking is NOT to update your IOS software to the latest version. It takes hackers a while to roll out new jailbreaks for IOS updates. Also, avoid buying your iPhone from Verizon. Their security protocols make it more difficult to unlock their phones than those of AT&T, Sprint or T-mobile.

iPhone

If I could redo my purchase, I’d buy the phone direct from Apple, and then sign up for monthly plan with T-Mobile. I would NOT sign a two-year contract with Verizon, AT&T or Sprint. The reason is simple – those plans have inflated monthly rates to offset the cost of the subsidy for the phones.

I hope this helps you avoid the same mistake that I made: relying on Verizon for my “unlocked” iPhone.

Getting the Most from Your Iphone

I am an avid photographer and love to travel, so naturally I have a problem: how do I take high quality photos without lugging my bulky and expensive DSLR around? The answer is simple: the iPhone. Thanks to solid optics, a powerful processor and a suite of killer photo apps, I take just as many gorgeous photos with my iPhone as I do with my professional camera. To get the most out of your iPhone camera, keep these five easy tips in mind:

1. Don’t rely on Instagram

The picture below never would have been possible if I used Instagram, because it forces you to take pictures using its default crop ratio. Therefore, wide panoramic shots like this stunning capture of Fitz Roy are impossible. Besides the crop issue, Instagram filters – while good – are stale. If you want your pictures to look just like everyone else’s, then by all means, carry on. But, if you want your photos to stand out and elicit that incredulous “you didn’t take that with your iPhone!” response, then you have to diversify your photo editing apps.

2. Use multiple photo editing apps to get the most out of your picture

My personal favorites are Camera + and Photoshop Express. Unlike Instagram, both of these apps cost money, but its not much. If you unlock all the filters on Camera + and all of the editing features like noise reduction on Photoshop Express, you might spend $15, which is nothing compared to the $700 your iPhone costs. I like to use Camera + to take my photos, because you can precisely set the focus and exposure point using two fingers to simultaneously tap the screen. This leads to better exposed and focused photos from the get go. Once I’ve taken the pic, I briefly edit it in Camera + by adjusting the “scene” (clarity being a particularly useful auto-toning preset). Then I save the image to my camera roll and open it up in Photoshop Express to tweak the exposure, contrast and saturation, and to reduce noise or sharpen the image as needed. I save the photo to the camera roll and open it once again in Camera + and apply a filter (called FX Effects) if I’m in the mood. For an example of what’s possible, see the three images below. The first is the raw image (very blase), the second after one round of editing in Camera +, and the third after tweaking in Photoshop Express.

3. Use HDR

HDR mode is built into your iPhone camera; you can enable it by tapping options and selecting HDR. Its especially useful in dynamic lighting conditions where you have many highlights and shadows. I took the following photo in Ecuador using HRD mode and then edited it using Camera + and Photoshop Express.

4. Shoot during sunrise and sunset

Lighting is everything. True, advanced photo editing apps can take a dull photo and make it pop, but it wont look natural. If you want a vibrant, saturated and dynmaic picture that looks natural and takes minimal editing, then the lighting has to be right. This is why professional photorgapheres will spend thousands of dollars on studio lighting rigs. Fortunately, there is a better free option. The sun. Its the best source of light out there. If you want to make the most out of it, shoot at sunrise and sunset – the magic hour.

5. Get closer to your subject

This advice holds true regardless of the camera. Proximity = intimacy = compelling images. Get in close to your subject, then take a few more steps to get even closer. If its a person your photographing, ask permission first

The Technology for Your Travels

When planning a trip, it’s important to think about how you will stay connected to family and friends back home. It’s a good idea to have a way to get in touch with loved ones in case of an emergency or changed plans, and it can also be fun to have a way to update your friends about where you have been and what you are experiencing. Since many mobile phones cease to work once you leave the country, you may need to look elsewhere for ways to stay in touch.

Many people opt to take a laptop with them. While laptops offer portability and convenience, they also have a few downsides. Here you’ll find the pros and cons of bringing a laptop with you on a trip, as well as few alternative solutions for connectivity on the road.

The Pros​
Bringing a laptop with you will help you be able to connect to the internet from the privacy of your hotel room, provided there is wireless internet available. This way, you can also access your files that you have stored on your hard drive, such as certain documents, pictures, music and movies. You can also use your laptop to upload pictures from your trip, which you can share via Facebook or other social media sites.

Besides having access to your own files, laptops offer greater portability and convenience. You can just put your laptop in your backpack and carry it with you, provided it’s a sturdy model that won’t break easily. For example, you might decide on a Toshiba laptop, which is known for greater durability and lower prices. Or, you can buy a case that will protect your laptop if you drop your bag by mistake.

The Cons
While it may be more convenient to have your laptop with you, there are a few negative aspects to be aware of. Because a laptop is still considered an expensive item, it can invite theft, which means you should always be aware of your surroundings and make doubly sure you are in a safe location. This can be particularly difficult if you are travelling in a place where you do not speak the language or know the culture well.

In addition, laptops are still delicate and can break easily. Add that to the fact that while they are small, they can still take up a lot of space in your backpack. If you don’t want to lug it through Bangkok’s night market or the souqs of Marrakech, it might be best to leave your laptop at home.

Alternative Solutions
Instead of your laptop, it might be better to take something smaller and more discreet that will still allow Wi-Fi access. You can bring a smartphone or tablet that you can set to “Airplane mode” and still connect to the internet. These devices can also function as cameras, making them doubly convenient. That way, you can stay connected to home without being weighed down.

Best Free Museums in the World

London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, but it also boasts many of the world’s best free museums. The city is a great stop for the budget minded traveler. You can literally spend a week exploring its world-class museums, parks and gardens while not spending a single dollar on admission.

London Millennium Bridge

Having lived in London as a poor foreign exchange student suffering the hardships of 10-dollar pints and sky-high rent, I got to know my museums really well, especially the Tate Modern. I loved walking from St. Paul’s Cathedral across the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank of the River Thames where the Tate is located. From the bridge you can enjoy the best views of the city, and an incredible approach to the former Bankside Power Station. This gem of a building houses the Tate Modern. It’s the ideal space for the massive modern art installations that make the museum famous.

London Tate Modern

Smithsonian Institute (Washington DC, USA):

Washington DC, perhaps inspired by London, charges no admission to its vast system of national museums. I have spent many a day wandering around the National Mall, a park in middle of Washington DC, checking out the various free galleries that make up the Smithsonian Institute. Amongst them is the Natural History Museum where you can stand side-by-side ancient Tyrannosaurus Rex skeletons and giant Serengeti Elephants. A short walk across he Mall is the National Air & Space Museum, which houses the pioneering aircraft in flight and space exploration.

Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Getty Center (Los Angeles, USA):

The Getty Center in Los Angeles is perched atop a hill in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. As you can imagine, it has spectacular views of the city and ocean. Visitors ride a tram from the parking lot to the 1.3 billion dollar museum complex, which is as famous for its architecture and gardens as it for the art. If you’re in L.A., perusing the galleries and lounging in the gardens of the Getty Center is great way to spend an a sunny afternoon.

10 Reasons We Hate Travel

Everyone says travel opens your mind, that you’ll see amazing sites, meet great people and form lifelong friendships. You will experience different cultures and taste amazing and exotic foods. Well I’m here to reassure you that they are all wrong, travelling sucks and you should never do it. Here are ten reasons why:

Reason Number 1
Why travel the world to taste exotic dishes when eventually culture will just come to you. Your local Chinese serves great chips and I’m sure there’s an Indian restaurant down the road that serves kebabs. That’s authentic food, so why bother travelling half way around the world to experience authentic Japanese Sushi or eat exotic tropical fruits. Waste of time and energy.

Reason Number 2
There is no need to travel to see amazing things, just turn on the National Geographic Channel and you’ll end up seeing most of the world in one evening. Plus with Google Street view you can explore most cities from your own laptop. Who needs to experience things first hand anymore, stare up at an African night sky or walk through an Indian market?

Reason Number 3
Travelling is expensive, so why would you give up a job stacking shelves in the supermarket for something as stupid as seeing a different country. Be sensible and stick it out, because one day you might become the Manager.

Reason Number 4
Your skin can’t handle hot weather; it makes you come out in red spots. In fact you can’t really handle cold weather either, so the best bet is to stay just where you are. What’s wrong with grey skies and a summer that lasts just two weeks anyway?

Reason Number 5
You have more than enough friends as it is. You don’t need to ruin your social scene by talking about the great sites you just visited or the amazing experiences you just had. Far better to focus on the more important things in life, like the fact that your neighbour has the biggest TV you’ve ever seen.

Reason Number 6
Your money won’t go far if you’re travelling in China or any number of other countries in the world. Fifty cents for tasty street food is just too overpriced and why would you want a tailored suit for $100? Better to spend the night at your local bar buying drinks for $10 a shot.

Number 7
It’s been proven that English is the best language in the world because everyone around you is speaking it. There’s no point in trying to learn another language and risk learning about new cultures. It’s more important to fill your head with useful facts, like what’s on TV this week.

Number 8
Having an adventure or an unforgettable experience is over rated. In fact it’s completely forgettable, so there’s no need to skydive in New Zealand or swim with a Great White in South Africa. What fun would that be? Better to stick to the monotony of your regular 9 to 5.

Number 9
People who smile and invite you into their homes are probably paedophiles. Anyone who is being generous probably wants something from you. The best thing to do is to surround yourself with people who never smile and look completely miserable, at least then you’ll know you’re safe.

Number 10
Like a cat you have nine lives, so what’s the point in making the most of this one. Don’t worry; you can always push the boat out when you come back for round two. It’s not as if you might end up looking back and regretting the opportunities you missed.

Phew, that was hard! Now onto 1001 reasons why travel will change your life