Month: May 2016

10 Reasons it’s OK to be Homesick on Holiday

1. You Miss ‘Normal’ Food

After a couple of weeks of eating out in nice restaurants and having full breakfast buffets, it’s OK to crave a simple ham sandwich or beans on toast. Don’t feel bad about it!

If you’re in the USA and you’re from Europe, you’ll probably find the ‘Chocolate’ in the supermarkets there resembles sweetened wax and ‘strawberry laces’ more like oiled plastic- and that’s the good brands!

I like to try local foods when I’m travelling but all that rich food – however tasty – can get a little bit tedious after a few weeks away.

Hong kong Street Food

There’s only so much street food my stomach can handle.

2. You Miss Your Duvet

My bed is the best bed in the world. I’m pretty sure that’s what every tourist thinks after a couple of weeks of travelling! Even if you’re staying in the plushest of hotels, you can’t beat getting into your own bed at the end of a long day – especially if it’s freshly washed that day. It’s better than 5*, for sure!

hotel bed

A hotel bed is NEVER as good as your own bed.

3. You Need a Proper Brew

I’m a certified tea lover. I probably drink between 10 and 15 cups of tea (many different varieties) throughout the day in the UK. If there’s one thing the British do well, it’s drinking tea.

When I’m visiting a country which doesn’t share my enthusiasm for a good blend, times can be hard. Any cup of tea made with a little capsule of UHT milk isn’t going to compare to my at-home loose-leaf blends sipped from fine china with a dash of fresh milk.

That’s why the first thing I do when I’ve hauled my case back into my house from the car is to pop the kettle on!

4. You miss your crew

Friends, family, dog, cat, goldfish…

It doesn’t matter who or what they are. The people you surround yourself with are what makes your life complete! Even if they drive you to lunacy on a daily basis you can bet you’ll miss them when you’re on holiday!

5. Your hair is terrible

Hotel showers can be unpredictable at the best of times and when you have thick afro hair like mine which has been damaged by years of bleach and GHDs, rinsing shampoo and conditioner out requires a decent level of water pressure. My shower at home is genuinely one of the best showers I’ve been in, so when I’m stood in a tiny cubicle waiting for a trickle of lukewarm water to slowly remove the mass of lather from my scalp I can’t help but pine for my own shower back home.

Not only that – when I’m on holiday, everything electrical seems to perform poorly in comparison to when I’m at home. My laptop charges slowly, as does my phone and if I want to blow dry my hair I’d be better asking my husband to exhale through a toilet roll tube than I would be using my hair dryer.

bad hair day

Heat + Shampoo residue + Chlorinated pools = Terrible holiday hair. 

6. You’re Petrified of Using Your Phone

Charges for all those photos you’re Instagram spamming your friends and family?

Charges for google maps you used to escape San Francisco before there was a full on navigation-based domestic?

Charges for listening to the voicemails that recruiters have left you because you don’t recognise the number and you’re worried it could be important?

Phone bill anxiety is one of those crappy things tat ruins a holiday. At least when we’re home we only have to worry about being charged for a picture message sent as MMS when one of our iMessages won’t send.

7. You Actually Quite Like Roundabouts and Manual Gearboxes

Driving overseas can be a pain if you’re on the wrong side of the road or in a car that you’re not used to (or both). Whilst I don’t find driving overseas particularly challenging, it’s no stretch to say I have to concentrate more to make sure I’m as alert as I would be normally in the UK.

Being alert to local road rules (turning right on red lights in California?!) and remembering you don’t have a clutch is a bit taxing.

Take me back to my right-hand-drive manual… Pronto.

automatic car

Automatic gearbox? meh. 

8. You’re sick of other people

Living out of a hotel is much less private than living in your own house. You’ll need to say hi to the hotel concierge when you past them, eat your meals surrounded by other people and served by other people. You’ll have people coming into your room to clean for you and in many tourist destinations you’ll have people constantly trying to sell you something – be it Jade in Hong Kong or strippers in Las Vegas.

Most of these people will be lovely, but it’s possible to get ‘people overload’ and become a little bit tired of making conversation with well-meaning strangers!

9. You miss TV

OK, so I don’t actually watch that much TV but when I’m on holiday I realise that the quality of programming in the UK is actually pretty high. I want to be able to watch the news at any time of the day and be able to view informed documentaries as well as reality TV with a very low educational value… even if it is just background noise whilst I eat my breakfast and read on my phone.

10. You can resume standard queuing protocol

So you’re at a breakfast buffet and you have a plate in hand. The person in front of you replaces the service spoon and you shuffle along to pick it up. BAM. Out of nowhere, a human less educated in the queuing protocol picks up said spoon and helps themselves. They’re working their way along the buffet in the wrong direction – against the flow of people traffic.

What kind of reckless individual does that?! The first time it happens, you’re able to brush it off as a one-off encounter with a rude individual. After a few weeks, the lack of British-style manners is a little too much to bear and you crave the certainty that comes with joining the back of a queue – and the knowledge that you’ll get your turn when it’s fair and equitable, even if it means it takes an extra 7 minutes to get to the parma ham.

So it’s fine to be homesick. Just make sure you don’t get so homesick that you can’t enjoy your holiday, because i’d bet good money the very things you missed on holiday will be doing your head in wishing a few days of getting back!

 

 

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How to Save Money on Hotels!

If you’ve read my Bio then you’ll be aware that I used to work for LateRooms.com. Before I worked there, my experience of booking hotels had been confined to the odd business trip with work and an occasional package holiday. Working in the travel industry was a real eye-opener –  but not because of any particular ‘insider’ knowledge.

Instead, what surprised me the most is how little I understood about the best way to shop for a hotel room.

Here’s my top 10 tips on how to get more for your money when you’re shopping for hotel rooms!

Untitled design-2

Did you say… ‘SAVING MONEY’?! Yes please. 

1. Meta-Whaaaaaat?!

Metasearch means instead of getting results from one search engine, you’ll be getting the best combined results from a variety of engines. In the context of hotels, this means you can go onto one site and search for the best prices over a series of hotel providers.

TripAdvisor, Trivago and Kayak are examples of this and are good tools to use to check initial prices.

On thing to be mindful of with using metasearch engines is that not all hotel providers are on them which of course means the best price might be elsewhere on the internet! In fact some of the bigger providers specifically are not listed! Be careful of this!

2. Don’t assume direct bookings are the cheapest

One thing people always used to say to me was that I should book direct for the best deals. My experience has taught me this isn’t necessarily the case. Sometimes this might be because there are pricing agreements in place with the agents which mean that they have ‘best price guarantees’ or similar.

Sure, check the direct booking rates, but don’t just assume it will be the best available rate.

3. Don’t assume late bookings are the cheapest bookings

Last minute trips used to be dirt cheap but in recent years the way prices change as the arrival date gets closer is a lot less predictable.

Unless you’re willing to be flexible, book early for a better chance of getting a hotel you like for the price you like.

4. Book now, even if you don’t know if you’re definitely going!

As soon as you have dates in mind act fast to get a hotel booked. This is especially the case where you’re travelling for an event! When I got a place in the Great North Run, I forgot to get myself a hotel booked and ended up looking for one 5 months ahead of the race. By this point, availability was very low in the area and prices for hostel like accommodation were astronomical!

Considering a lot of hotels and booking agents have free cancellation policies, there really is no harm in getting something booked as early as possible. If you find out later that you don’t want to go or that you’d rather stay somewhere else – you can change it!

5. Can’t reduce the price? Get upgraded.

Price wars between hotel booking agents can only drive the prices down so far before there’s a matter of pennies in it. If there’s not much in the price between a direct booking and an agent booking, that is the best time to call the hotel directly.

Whilst they might not be able to offer you any discounts, you might be able to snag some cheeky little upgrades such a better room type, champagne in the room or meal vouchers. Worth a try, right?!

6. Be flexible on Location

It’s always worth considering staying a little bit out of town, especially if you’re going to be hiring a car. We saved hundreds of dollars staying slightly outside of the main park when we visited Yosemite and saved over 350 euros by staying 15 minutes outside of Geneva when we visited the car show there.

Many cities have excellent public transport links so you could save yourself a small fortune simply by being willing to take a short tram ride from your hotel tot he tourist hotspots.

Having said that, if you really want to be in the right part of town – don’t settle for less. Know what you want and be prepared to stump up when you really have to. When we visited New York we knew we wanted a nice hotel near Central Park and close to a big Subway station so we didn’t have to cart our suitcases too far!

7. Don’t be bamboozled by star ratings

A 4 star hotel in New York is likely to be a very different standard to a 4 star hotel in a developing country. Use your brainp and don’t be afraid to go for a more basic (and lower star rating) in big modern cities in order to save a bit of cash.

It’s about ignoring your inner snob when the time is right. Choosing a lower star rating need not be a bad thing – many lower star rated hotels have amazing customer review scores. Check out TripAdvisor for honest consumer reviews if you’re a bit concerned you might end up slumming it by accident.

8. Don’t pay £25 for breakfast

Sounds obvious. In practice though often the room rates for bed and breakfast are equal to room only plus breakfast costs.

In other words, unless there’s a discount involved with booking B&B then you might as well give yourself the flexibility of deciding whether you’d like a hotel breakfast on the morning of that meal (provided you’re up in time and not too jet lagged to eat)!

Also, watch out for extortionate breakfast costs disguised as part of the overall cost of your hotel stay. If you wouldn’t normally pay £25 for breakfast in a restaurant, why are you paying for it in your hotel?

9. Don’t pay for what you won’t use

That luxury hotel with a gym, pool, spa, 24 hour room service, inclusive drinks, inclusive washing and ironing service and free wine reception on a Friday night might  sound like excellent value for money but it really isn’t unless you were planning on using those services anyway.

Let’s be honest – every person who stays at that hotel is paying towards covering the cost of the whole operation inclusive of those added extras. If you don’t need it, don’t pay for it. Either go room only or find a hotel which offers a more tailored pricing option.

10. Plan properly!

Study the art of holiday maximisation so you can make the most of both your time and your money when booking your holidays. Take advice of the professionals. Follow blog posts and speak to travel agents so you can make informed hotel choices and be excited about your stay!

Happy Hotel-booking!

 

 

 

 

 

grand canyon helicopter

8 Reasons to Book a Grand Canyon Heli-tour

In my holiday maximisation post, I explained how I’d decided to take a helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas. The thing about Vegas is theres so much to do that it can be quite difficult to fit everything in. If there’s one thing you simply cannot miss then it’s a swift visit to the Canyon.

It was especially important to us to make the most of our first two nights in Vegas as our good friends Heidi and Dale were there for those days as well! Hurray for holiday overlaps!

We planned the Grand Canyon trip together in advance of our holidays and we agreed that the most efficient and exciting way to visit one of nature’s finest creations would be to take a helicopter tour.

In case you’re not convinced, here’s 8 reasons why you should take a Helicopter trip to the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas.

Sitting Grand Canyon

Hello from the west rim.

1. Save Yourself 8 Hours

If you’re a traveller with limited time, you need to be able to make the most of each hour you have in your destination. For me, this meant avoiding the 12 hour round coach trip in favour of a 3.5 hour round helicopter trip.

Despite the coach trip being slightly cheaper, when you consider that you have ‘spent’ an additional 8 hours of your trip to save c.$100, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such good value after all.

When you’re back sipping bud light by the lazy river at the MGM hotel by lunchtime having already seen the blazing sun rising above the Canyon, you’ll be extremely thankful you’re not sat on a hot bus still making your way there.

2. See the Amazing Landscape

An inadvertent benefit of taking a helicopter the Canyon is the incredible views you’ll get as you take the 45 minute flights there and back. As the helicopter route is slightly different on the way back, you get to see as many sights as possible including Lake Las Vegas, Lake Mead, Hoover Dam and the Bowl of Fire.

You simply won’t want to put your camera down!

grand canyon

The vast-ness was indescribable.

Queue lots of furious photo snapping and stories from the pilot about the history of the area – which includes some pretty ridiculous property price increases and unfortunate town planning incidents.

Hoover Dam Back

The Hoover Dam from ‘behind’

3. Conquer Your Fear

I have always found myself pretty at ease with flying in general, but more fearful of helicopters. I think it’s something to do with the spinning-out-of-control and unable-to-glide thing they do when they wipe out in action movies that makes me a little more wary of them then I am of a 747.

90 minutes in a helicopter not only helped me get over this fear, but left me wanting to embark on helicopter flying lessons!

grand canyon

Maybe one day I’ll pilot a helicopter… right after I win the lotto. 

4. Strip Flyover

At the end of the flight back we looped back over the strip. This, for me, was added value given that you can pay upwards of $100 for that experience alone. If you decided to do the sunset trip to the canyon then you’d fly back over the strip at night in all it’s magnificent light-polluting glory.

grand canyon

5. Champagne Breakfast in the Canyon

Not many folks can say they sipped champers in the Grand Canyon before 9am! Heck, we’re on holiday. The time doesn’t matter! Pass me the bubbles!

Helicopter grand canyon

6. Good Value for Money

If you’re already in Las Vegas and decided against a visit to the Grand Canyon because it is ‘expensive’ then consider this alternative point of view:

  1. The incremental cost of visiting the Canyon is significant, but not disproportionate to the service you’re getting.
  2. The total cost of coming back to The Grand Canyon at a later date because you feel you had missed out is far greater than the several hundred dollars you’re pay now.
  3. It’s not much more expensive than the bus.

7. Bucket List Win

Visiting the Grand Canyon isn’t exactly a rare item on a travel-lover’s bucket list, so why not take the opportunity to knock this one off in style!?

You’ll have little choice but to take the long route when you visit Machu Pichu, so you might as well take this one as an easy win.

grand canyon

8. You Deserve It!

Errr… it’s a holiday. You’ve worked your sorry ass off all year to get to this point so why deny yourself now?

It might feel like a great extravagance when you’ve already haemorrhaged money in the shopping malls and spent more on drinks than you’d spend on a month’s food at home, but this is where memories are made.

It’s worth it and so are you!

Our Tour Details

We booked our tour with Maverick Helicopters, Choosing the Wind Dancer Breakfast Tour which took us out to the west rim and took approx 4 hours from hotel pick up to hotel drop off! I would rate the tour 10/10 for quality, value and convenience! A fabulous tour, and an experience I would thoroughly recommend!

 

 

The Taboo That is… Travelling as a Couple

Sometimes people are surprised when I say I’ve only ever really travelled with my Husband. It’s almost as if it’s disappointing that I’ve not run off ‘travelling’ on my own and mingled with other single twenty-somethings on a beach getting wasted.

I recently stumbled across a blog post with the title “14 Breathtaking Countries to See Before Settling Down” and it made me wonder whether there is a general consensus that travelling (and other fun things in life) need to be done before you ‘settle down’.

Is there even really a need to ‘settle down’ totally? What does that mean? When I got married two years ago it marked the start of a new adventure rather than the end of a life I loved and wouldn’t ever see again! If settling down isn’t to do with marriage, is it houses? I was a homeowner 10 days before graduation, so I don’t feel like I have impending mortgage doom looming on the horizon either.

Perhaps then, it is children? I don’t have children but if I do, then they’ll be coming on holiday with me, even if it’s a budget stay-cation to a random place in the UK that we’ve never laid eyes upon before.

I’m of the opinion that settling down need not be the prison sentence people think it is. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to travel with anyone other than the very person I’m settled down with – and here’s why:

Complete relaxation

When in the company of your partner, you know you can completely switch off. I don’t need to worry whether we’re doing something they want to be doing, or secretly wondering whether he’s having a good time because if he wasn’t, you know damned well they would have said so.

‘Extra’ space on the plane

You can almost guarantee that on a long haul flight, at some point I will have a claustrophobia related hissy fit. Queue husband offering for me to sprawl out into his personal space and get some shut-eye. He’s a good ‘un.

There Need Not Be Toilet Shame

Travelling brings out the worst in everyone’s gut, no matter how hardy you are. At least if the person you’re sharing your hotel room with is your husband then the chances are he’s seen it all (or smelt it all) before.

You can relax and try that local delicacy (whatever the hell it is) without having to concern yourself with seeking out Immodium later.

How very attractive.

There’s Always Someone to Hit the Ball Back

How would I play ping pong or table hockey on my own? If I was travelling with friends, they might not want to play, and there’s much less chance (and reason) for a friend to compromise than the other half!

Travelling with a partner can mean you occasionally have to compromise, but you know that when it comes to doing something only you want to do later – that same person with have your back!

You Already Know You Can Live With Them

I love my friends – of course I do – but I simply do not know whether we could travel together for three weeks. It’s unchartered territory.

Fuses can be short when you’re jet-lagged. When you’re having an adult tantrum in the isle of a plane because you’ve been sat still for 10 hours and you still can’t sleep, you need to know you’re with the one person in the world who can call you on your sh*t.

You Don’t Have to Narrow Down Food Choices (as Much)

It’s nice to be able to go halfsies on a hotel or to split the bill when you go out for your evening meal, but I imagine you could do that with a friend anyway.

The couple benefit is thus:

You order a meal each (on agreement of the other party) then mid way through, you switch. We went through most of the USA feeling like we’d had 6 courses for dinner rather than 3 because we applied this couples-eating logic, even to things you bite and not cut.

I’m sure some friends would be willing to do this, but it’s much less likely that you’ll get them to agree to ordering something you both like. We’re a couple who both eat anything and everything (except peas), so choosing two meals off a large menu is easy-peasy!

Death Valley Steak

Giant steak for two? Yes please. 

Ahem. Shared Experiences and Stuff.

It’s sort of soppy, but it’s actually quite nice to hop around the world making joint memories, right?!

hiking boots

Adventuring together. Awww.

You Can Still See Other People!

Not like that.

Just because you’re traveling as a couple doesn’t mean you’re excluded from being able to socialise like a human being. You are not mute or invisible due to your settled down status.

You might even find that you make friends, like our San Diego jacuzzi friends. We started chatting about beer, and 2 hours later we were still putting the world to rights (which somewhat oddly included a long conversation about the implications of fracking in Tulsa, Oklahoma)!

the 5 week wanderer barcelona

Why wouldn’t people want to talk to those friendly faces… Right?!

The Verdict:

Other than the fact that you (hopefully) get on pretty well with your partner, there are benefits to travelling together and I’d like to think  they outweigh the chance that I’m missing out on solo travel experiences. Besides, as ‘the group’ slowly couple off and settle down as well, there’s a whole raft of stag and hen parties to look forward to where I’m quite sure we’ll get our fill of travelling separately!

36 Hours in London

Last year it came to my attention that I had never visited London as a tourist.  As an Accountant working for KPMG Audit in Manchester, I had worked and trained in London for weeks on end. Although I had seen a a fair bit of London, it was usually when I was en-route to a hotel, the client’s offices or the restaurant of choice for the evening.

I decided to go and spend a Saturday seeing the sights, tourist style and  give my own take on it.

Here’s how the day panned out, what I saw and what I thought about it. All opinions are my own and are not intended to offend!

Getting There

We left the house at around 6am, walked to the station (Warrington Bank Quay) and hopped on the Virgin Pendalino which delivered us to Euston in 1 hour 45 mins. It was a welcome change to take that train without feeling like I had to work on-route. Instead I slept most of the way apart from when I woke up needing a cup of tea and a breakfast sandwich!

London Euston Tube Station

Our hotel was only a short walk from the station. Really short – like 250m or something. We dropped our overnight bag and set off on the tube to Camden.

Score? 10/10!

Camden 1.0

Only  few of the larger shops were open as it was before 10am (apparently thing kick off a bit later in the south – not sure why… Seems unreasonable) so we walked along the river with a green tea latte and then made our way back to the tube stop. Even if you’re only there for a couple of days, sort yourself out with an Oyster card – much easier than faffing about with tickets, and probably cheaper but if I’m honest I didn’t bother to work it out. I don’t like doing finance-y things when I’m out of work!

2/10 – pretty but I’m not impressed with people having a lie in when I want my second breakfast!

Camden tube station

No people… anywhere!

Borough Market

If you like street food – you’ll like borough market. Think artisan bread, baklava, macarons and cheese. Need I say more?

Score? 10/10 – not to be missed!

Borough Market

Bread Jenga at Borough Market

st. Paul’s Cathedral

We walked from Borough market to st. Pauls. The weather was glorious so it would have been criminal to hide away on the tube (I also wanted a record-breaking day on my Fitbit so I could beat my dad).

We took a couple of photos and sat on the grass for a little while admiring the view, before wandering over the bridge to the Tate Modern.

Score? 6/10 – quote pretty but really it was more of a time filler whilst we waited for the city to wake up.

Tate Modern

Some alright art. Free entry, but donations encouraged.

To be honest after walking around in an empty space on the ground floor searching for some artwork I decided it was no surprise that entry was free.

The atmosphere was highly pretentious and a little infuriating.

Time to move on… Places to see and all that Jazz!

Score? 1/10, and only a 1 (as opposed to a zero) because of the entertainment value of some of the more obscure exhibits like the crayon bondage mask which was actually pretty cool and deserves applaud.

Trafalgar Square

Busy and bustling as you might expect on a sunny saturday, the square on this particular day was home to a series of street performers.  A lively atmosphere and lots to see made this the perfect spot to stop and people watch for 20 minutes, given there was a high proportion of people in the area behaving in a somewhat excitable and unusual manner.

Score? 5/10

trafalgar square

Tower Bridge

Oh jeez. Good look taking a selfie here without someone photo bombing – intentionally or not! I know this is a ‘must see’ on the London tourist list but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite a busy as it was!

Crowds aside, the sun was beaming down and the view was rather pretty.

Score? 7/10

tower bridge london

Buckingham Palace

The queen was home, so the atmosphere around the palace was pretty cool. I often wonder what the perception of the Royal Family is outside of the UK. The adoration of the visitors clinging to the railings around the palace suggest that the general feeling is good!

Score? 5/10 – worth a visit but not much to see unless you see changing of the guard, which we missed!

buckingham palace london

Downing Street

As a student of politics, I used to muse about what it would be like to take residence in downing street. I thought it would feel stifling and oppressive – like you were a contestant in a terrible reality TV programme like Big Brother.

When we arrived at downing street gates my musing opinions were confirmed. It looked much smaller and darker than on the TV and access seems so much more limited. Security was so tight that there was an unseen barrier between the street and the tourists on the other side.

The whole scene was intimidating and I most definitely wouldn’t want to live on that street. It’s a good job I’m an accountant instead of PM. What a relief.

Score? 8/10 – go and see it for yourself!

Camden Market 2.0 – around 4pm

Hurrah. The hipsters finally dragged themselves out of bed! The shops were open and the stalls in the market bustling with trade. The sun was out and everyone was merrily eating and drinking.

I bought a burger and sat eating it on a ‘communal picnic bench’ type thing (probably re-purposed out of something else, like a lot of hipster stuff is). The middle-aged guy sat next to me started photographing the arse of a woman stood in front of us and making strange noises. I don’t think the woman knew, but she moved away before I could even think about alerting her to the behaviour. We swiftly finished the burger and moved on ourselves.

We had a wander round the stall. There’s a lot of random stuff, including old board games (like you’d find at a car boot but for one-hundred-zillion times the price) and mouse-based humane taxidermy.

Camden is quirky, but try-hard quirky. It’s like everyone is trying so hard to be different that they’re all in fact the same!

Score? 8/10 once open! plenty to do and see, and good food.

Chocolate churros. camden market london

Oooh yeah. Chocolate Churros.

Hyde Park

After rushing around most of the day it was time for a rest! We wandered to Hyde Park and decided to hire a Pedalo on The Serpentine lake.

As it happens, being on a pedalo against a gentle breeze is far from a rest, but lots of fun!

Score? 10/10 – fab park and hire was good value!

hyde park london

Piccadilly Circus Area & Leicester Square

We changed at the hotel before heading back out for food. Leicester Square is full of people at night and although not on the same scale, has a similar vibe to Times Square, New York.

There’s another giant guy being paraded around outside Ripleys’ Believe it or not and a massive M&Ms store.

We sat and took it all in for a few moments then headed to Jamie’s Diner for a good feed.

Score? 7/10 – a good area to visit for lazy evening food and drinks, but highly commercialised and touristy

jambs diner london

Oxford Street Shopping

It wouldn’t be a city break without a spot of shopping! We were up relatively early the next morning, so checked out and left our bags at the hotel before heading into town for retail therapy. By early afternoon it was nearly as busy as the Trafford Centre is on a Sunday so we decided to head back up North!

Shopping Score? 7/10

Home Sweet Home!

As much as I enjoyed my brief flirtation with being a tourist in London, it made me more grateful for what we have on our doorstep in Manchester, Liverpool and Chester.

Score? 10/10 – after all, it’s always nice to be home! 🙂

 

 

Holiday Packing Tips

The 5 Week Wanderer’s Packing Tips

Asking me to pack for a holiday is like instructing me to put an elephant into a locket. At any one time at home my clothes are distributed between my walk in wardrobe, my spare room (on the drying maiden), the washing pile and the washing machine.

When you put them all together (which is rare, because I’m never that on top of the laundry) I could probably fill 10-15 large suitcases despite the fact that I flogged a load on eBay and sent 6 black bin bags to the charity shop this year alone.

Having been on two three-week holidays in the last 2 years, I’ve had to learn to pack properly! This post contains my top tips for travel packing – based on my experiences and obsession with shoes, bags and shopping!

 

DO Underpack

It’s simple really. You’re probably going to go shopping when you’re on holiday. If it’s a city break, there’s a good chance there will be daily shopping involved! Take New York. What right-minded fashion-loving individual would travel to new York with a full suitcase?

If you have one beach bag, a clutch bag, a backpack and a medium-sized-tote-bag already in your case then it’s suddenly much harder to justify buying that Marc Jacobs black number.

Another bonus to under-packing is the obvious benefit of being able to bring back more goodies. Just don’t fall foul of the baggage weight limit like I did when we came back from Barcelona last week, or you’ll have to find a way to get the 10kg additional baggage onto the plane without it going on the scales. Queue wearing all the jewellery you own and layering so many items of clothing that you can barely get through security.

Packing in Airport

This is what happens when your Husband doesn’t leave room for his many in-holiday purchases. Your have to wear everything on the way home, abandon barely-used toiletries  and repack the case in the airport. Do I look impressed?!

DO Take Hold Luggage

I do understand why people take hand luggage only, but when you’re going away for a week and have to cram everything you own into a tiny suitcase for the sake of saving yourself a pocket-money-change amount, I question whether it’s really the best use of your energy. Dump the bags, pick up a cocktail and wait for your flight without heaving your belongings around the airport like a pack-horse.

Besides, if you think you’re getting one over on the airlines by foregoing your hairdryer, wearing your biggest heels to the airport and taking cabin baggage only for a week’s holiday, you’re wrong. As much as I like value for money (comes with territory when you work in finance), unless I’m only going away for a couple of nights my bag is getting checked into the hold!

DON’T Use Packing Lists Written by Backpackers

Unless you’re also going backpacking, travel packing lists are often not only irrelevant but tediously boring. “3 long sleeved tops and 3 vest tops for mix-and-match layering” will never be going in my suitcase, let alone on my body – It’s not 1992 and I’m not in a girl-band.

Yes, I pack sensible clothes (including sports clothes for trekking about in) but I draw the line at dressing like someone who’s been hitch-hiking for the last 35 years without making it to a shopping mall. Anyway, who goes away for 3 weeks and only expects to wear flip-flops and hiking boots?! That’s asking for blisters.

Do use a packing list written by someone like you who is going on a similar holiday. Otherwise, I’m pretty sure you’ll be either bringing back most of the case unworn or throwing it out to make space for your new purchases!

New balance trainers

No, you can’t pack all of those.

DO Pack Your Ludicrously High Heels

Holiday life isn’t the same as day-to-day life. If you can’t wear your most impractical stilettos in Vegas, where can you?

Pack for excitement and fun even if it means you can’t walk more than 100m without needing to sit down. Hell, treat yourself to a taxi – you are on holiday after all!

DON’T Sweat the Small Stuff

Unless you’re going to Siberia or the jungle you can probably buy most of what you need when you arrive at your destination, so there’s no need to have a hissy fit when you inevitably forget to pack a toothbrush.

The people of Hong Kong also need toothbrushes, so the corner shop will stock them and it’s not like shampoo is a rare commodity in a hotel.

DO Wet Your Swimsuit

How awkward is it when that bargain white and gold bikini that shows your tan so well also shows off your ass-crack and nipples as soon as it comes into contact with the sea?

I wouldn’t know, because I always check my swimsuits for see-through-ness – especially the cheap ones!

Bikini Swimsuit

Don’t give people an eyeful at the pool. Test that swimsuit!

DO Pack a Darker Foundation

If you must wear foundation (personally I tend not to, especially on holiday) then make sure you account for the change in skin tone when you expose yourself to sunlight.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times where I’ve seen girls queuing up to get on the return flight looking like they bathed in gravy then dipped their face in flour. Not a good look, and easily avoided!

DO Carry on Valuables

Take your camera, best jewellery and posh handbags in your carry-on luggage. You don’t want to misshape your Mulberry in the hold or have your beloved Chanel* travelling around the world without you.

I know plenty of people who have had luggage delayed or lost, and although most of them eventually got them back they were often dirty, smelly, wet or torn.

If there’s something you can’t bear to lose but have to take with you on your trip, keep in close to you at all times!

If you must put bags in the hold (i.e. if you buy a few on holiday and need to get them home) then stuff them with clothes and put them back in the dust bag so they don’t lose their shape!

* If only… A girl can dream!

DO Pack Several Pairs of Sunglasses

Being mixed race, I tend to tan very easily, which means that when I return I typically have tanning stripes. As you can imagine, its also very easy for my to end up with terrible un-tanned areas around my eyes which looks ridiculous once you return to the less-than-sunny UK.

The effect of this is much worse if you’re a fan of big outrageous sunglasses like I am! Limit the damage by packing several different pairs and rotating throughout the holiday – the more different the shape the better!

sunglasses

DON’T Be Ignorant!

Always be mindful of differing fashion conventions and pack so you can observe cultural rules. High waisted denim Levi cut offs that show your underbum crease and a lace ‘bralette’ are probably not OK for a trip to the UAE.

DO Buy Quality Luggage

I don’t mean pretty luggages, or designer luggage or even the lightest ever luggage. Buy luggage which will last many miles of travelling, is flexible and expandable, water resistant and easy to live out of for weeks on end!

My luggage of choice is Eastpak – My Husband and I both have a backpack and a suitcase/holdall that my Dad bought us as wedding gifts before our honeymoon. Crap luggage is false economy, especially if you’re replacing them every few years! These bad boys have a 30 year guarantee, so it’s a worthwhile investment!

Eastpak baggage

Overall, Just don’t stress!

You’ll probably forget something, but it probably won’t even matter once you’ve arrived at your designation and begun to get into ‘holiday mode’.

Happy holidays!

If you wish, feel free to contact me @ the5weekwanderer@gmail.com or follow me on Instagram or twitter!

sagrada familia

The Best of Barcelona in 3 Nights

It’s easy to understand why Barcelona is a highly desirable city break destination. The lure of fabulous food, amazing architecture and the laid back trendy beach atmosphere is hard to resist! With so much to do and see in the city in only a short space of time you’d be forgiven if you were feeling a little bit overwhelmed.

With a little help from the fabulous Ornella and co at the Ayre Hotel Gran via I managed to combine sightseeing, relaxation and pampering with a little bit of shopping and a lot of eating – all in just 3 days in the city!

Here’s the basic gist:

Day 1: The Action Packed Day (10am – 4pm ish)

Ornella had kindly provided us with a map and the most efficient way to see the many of the main sights in one day. A lot of the sights are within walking distance of each other but depending on where you are staying, you might want to take the metro to our starting point – Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia

Despite construction beginning in 1882, it’s anticipated that it will take until 2026 for building works to be completed. Don’t let that put you off visiting – the gothic architecture  is a must see and understandably Barcelona’s top must-see site!

We didn’t go inside, but for €15 you can. Get there early to avoid the masses. It was heaving when we arrived, which was around 11:30am by the time we had walked there!

sagradafamilia

Avinguda Diagonal

This 11km long avenue divides the city, running from west to east. It’s home to several impressive buildings (below), many faculties of the University of Barcelona and lots of the designer shops!

avinguda diagonal

Casa Mila

A Gaudi creation and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Expect crowds of picture snapping tourists that spill out into the road! Beware of cyclists and local drivers who (quite reasonably) drive along the road expecting the crowds to disperse from it!

casa mila barcelona

Casa Batllo

Another Gaudi masterpiece! Personally I think it looks like something off a fantasy film set – it’s quite Harry-Potter-esque! It’s one of three buildings which make up the Block of Discord along with Casa Amasser and Casa Lleo Morera.

Good photo opportunities but by this point I’ve had my share of architecture for the day, so we head off into a few shops. As a side note, the shops don’t tend to open until around 10:30am – probably because everyone seems to be up so late eating dinner!

casa batlo

La Rambla

La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) is a 1.2km tourist centric boulevard where the centre is pedestrianised and lined with souvenir shops, bars and cafes. At one end is the Columbus Monument. We didn’t stick around at La Rambla on this day, instead choosing to come back for lunch another day and to revisit ‘La Boqueria’ Market!

Placa Reial

Just off La Rambla, this pretty square is flanked by bars and restaurants and is a little bit quieter than La Rambla itself. Nice for a momentary retreat, but be mindful that there are a lot of street performers in the square. If you’re anything like me you will probably find ignoring their requests for loose change tiresome and decide to move on fairly quickly!

placa reial

A bit of shopping…

At the top end of La Rambla there are more shops. Mango, Zara, Bershka and Pull & Bear fans rejoice – Prices are around 20-30% cheaper than in the UK! We spent a couple of hours wandering around the shops and getting a couple of drinks as we walked back to our hotel, some 1.5 miles away!

Day 2: Spa, Sun, Sand and Shopping

Aire de Barcelona Spa (allow 2-3 hours)

When you imagine a spa in the middle of a city, this isn’t what initially comes to mind. Most spas are in a hotel or health club and lack individuality, but Aire have managed to buck the trend completely!

The spa is based on a modern revival of ancient Roman baths – meaning it is immensely stylish and a real treat for the senses. From the moment you walk through the door the high arched ceilings, ambient lighting and fragrant air put you immediately into relaxation mode. This spa has won many awards, including accreditation as the best international spa from Conde Naste Traveller Spain and a certificate of excellence from TripAdvisor (as well as being the number 1 spa in Barcelona).

There are 6 different ‘baths’: one around body temperature, one slightly cold, one ice bath, one hot bath, a jacuzzi and a salt pool where you can float more easily!

We opted for the somewhat luxurious ‘Hammam experience‘ treatment which included a lime scrub and a full body massage as well as access to the baths and steam room.

The place is so clean I would happily eat my lunch off the floor and as a tea worshipper, I was also ecstatic to discover that there was complimentary unlimited hot sweet minty-fresh tea. The cherry on the cake, you might say!

If you’re in the city, make time to come here – you WILL NOT be disappointed!

 

are spa barcelona

One of the baths at Aire Spa Barcelona

The beach!

Having a beach in a city is a real luxury and one of the reasons Barcelona is so popular for city breaks, stag and hen parties and locals playing sports. The beach is big and sandy so it’s not too crowded and there are plenty of bars and restaurants so you really could spend all day here basking in the sun!

barcelona beach

Shopping

A 10 minute walk from the W hotel (at the end of the beach) takes you to to the Maremagnum shopping centre, so if you’re in the area it’s worth nipping in there for a bit of a ‘mooch’ (as my mum would put it)!

Day 3:

Mercat Del Encants (1-2 hours)

Head to the market which is only a stones throw from the ‘Glories’ stop on the L1 red line of the Metro for an eclectic mix of antiques, tech, fabrics and fashion. Expect to see lots of Zara seconds and other branded shoes in piles on the floor. Good luck finding a matching pair after 10am, when everything has been thoroughly mixed together! Some pairs were as cheap as €3 and had very little damage, so there are definitely bargains to be had if you have the patience!

If you fancy more of a ‘geek-out’ head to the shop called ‘Dacasa‘ in the market for some interesting gifts and nik-naks.

fleamarketLas Ramblas (1-2 hours including lunch)

Since we were in this area again, we stopped for coffee and a snack in one of the many food places on La Rambla. Expect to be ‘treated’ to entertainment by yet more street performers who may then ask for a tip and to be invited into every restaurant along the road. If you want less hassle, carry a bag of sweets very visibly – eating or drinking is the biggest deterrent for the restaurant ‘marketeers’!

Whilst there is a buzz about the place, La Rambla is clearly tourist-centric and can be a little bit less ‘authentic Barcelona’ as a result! Worth visiting for a drink, but not my favourite part of the city as I hate being hassled!

Similarly, it’s much less relaxing when you’re in a bustling crowd. There don’t appear to be many locals here at peak times – possibly because it can be a bit overbearing and slightly tacky compared to the other areas of the city we visited. When I say tacky, I mean relative to the rest of the very sophisticated city. The tackiness rating would be a 1/10 where Blackpool is a 10.

 

La Boquera Market (allow 30 minutes -1 hour)

La Boquera is an indoor market just off La Rambla which dates back several hundred years. It’s packed full of food stalls including a couple of bars where you can sit and eat at the counter.

The stalls on the outer ring of the market are aimed at tourists and the prices reflect it. Walk into the centre of back of the market (away from La Rambla) for a bit of a quieter experience and up to 50% off prices you’d see on the La Rambla side!

The market is very busy, so pay special attention to any valuables!

dragonfruit

Fruit from La Boquera Market

Gothic Quarter (allow around 1 hour)

I love the Gothic Quarter! Coffee shops, architecture, narrow passages and small shops with lots of little trinkets make it a lovely place to take a bit of time out and wander around!

It’s still quite touristy, but much less in-your-face than La Rambla!

gothic quarter barcelona

The Olympic Stadium

For a great 1-2 hour stroll and fab views out over the city, head to the Fira de Barcelona area and take the many escalators up to the parks and olympic stadium. It’s tranquil, pretty and ambient in contrast the the busy city below.

This was the last thing we did before we left for the airport, and I’m glad we managed to fit it in!

Other stuff:

Where we stayed:

We stayed at the Ayre Hotel Gran Via. I booked this hotel for the following reasons:

  1. The positive reviews on TripAdvisor
  2. Proximity to public transport and the fact it was walking distance to all the major attractions in the city
  3. It was away from La Rambla, therefore better value and less likely to be noisy!

The hotel was fab – the staff were amazing, very friendly and welcoming without being overbearing! The closest metro station was a 2-3 minute walk away and the AeroBus (to and from the airport) stop was 20m from the front door of the hotel!

Food:

The best Tapas we ate was at Michelin starred chef Carles Abellan’s  Tapas 24. Quite simply, it was incredible food. It’s extremely popular – as you would imagine – but doesn’t take reservations. You instead walk-in and stand and wait for a table!

We only waited around 20 minutes and it was well worth the wait! This restaurant shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Barcelona! The only caveat would be that if there are more than 4 of you, it might be a long wait for a table!

Try the McFoie Burger for something a little different, and the ham croquettes for an immensely good version of a classic.

 

mc foie burger tapas24

The ‘must try’ Mc Foie Burger

The next best meal was actually at our hotel! We ate in the bar there on the first night (when we arrived at 10:30pm) and were pleasantly surprised by the very tasty tapas – so much so that we ate there again just before we left for the airport!

I was much less impressed with the somewhat oily pizza we had on La Rambla – that was distinctly average!

Getting around:

We walked a lot when in the city because the weather, atmosphere and architecture make the views stunning.

We ‘supplemented’ the walking with a T10 multi-trip metro ticket. Basically you buy one ticket and can use it up to 10 times – or 5 times each if you’re sharing one ticket as a couple (which isn’t sneaky – it’s actually permitted)!

Pick-pocketing:

The tourist areas of Barcelona have a terrible reputation for pick-pocketing, but you don’t need to be afraid. Just be sensible! We carry a backpack when we go exploring but we use a combination lock to make sure nobody can get in it except for us!

Keep wallets and phones in front pockets only (not loose ones) and beware of being stopped for ‘surveys’ or being walked into when there is plenty of room as these could be moves engineered to swipe your valuables – but this is fairly obvious and you should be operating this level of scepticism in any busy place rather than just when on holiday!

That’s all for now!

If you have any questions or just like to chat about travel, drop me an email on the5weekwanderer@gmail.com, follow me on twitter and Instagram or subscribe to the blog and comment on here!

If you’re planning a trip, check out my planning page for more tips!

The 5 Week Wanderer

 

 

Death Valley and Yosemite National Park – 3 Nights

When we decided to take our US road trip, we were well aware that the route we’d chosen was a well trodden path. Luckily for us, some of the feet that had recently trodden it happened to be sat at the same bank of desks I was, and were more than happy to tell me what was a must see and what could be missed.

When we had three weeks to fit in New York, Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite and the drive from San Francisco to San Diego – it’s quite important to prioritise. It was holiday maximisation in it’s purest form!

With the help of colleagues and our pal Neil at Trailfinders – we decided on 1 night in Death Valley and 2 nights in Yosemite (to allow for one full day hike).

Driving from Vegas to Death Valley (2 hours)

The drive is relatively short and easy and most people do it without stopping. The only added complication for us was that we were racing against a storm in the desert which would ultimately (although we didn’t know this at the time) close all roads in and out of the park!

death valley sky

The sky before the storm started to gather!

We chose a Dodge Challenger for our car but any car would cope perfectly fine with the terrain. Some people think you might need a 4×4 to take through the National Parks, but from what we saw a scooter would have coped, so don’t be up-sold on your hire car through fear of not getting up some small hills (unless they are expecting snow or something where you need chains,in which case you should listen).

Dodge Challenger

The hire car!

Staying in Death Valley:

We chose the Ranch at Furnace Creek as it was right in the middle of everything and directly on route.

It has it’s own diner, restaurant, pool and even a museum! It’s a stones throw from Death Valley visitor’s centre too, which is good because that’s as far as we could go once the roads were closed – and where the rangers are based.

 

The freak weather:

Death Valley is one of the driest place in the world, but obviously my ability to attract non-afro hair friendly weather isn’t unique to the UK.

The storm we raced past on the way to Furnace creek caught us up after lunch having caused flash floods which washed away significant portions of the park’s roadways. Everyone in the creek was grounded whilst the grey skies blocked most of the sun!

Death Valley floods

Those poor folks were trying to get back from Dante’s View when the mud slide decided to block the road! 

What we missed in Death Valley:

We had planned to go and see Dante’s view and Scotty’s Castle – both a 20 minute drive from the ranch, but both were closed off due to flood damage to the roads!

A Foodie’s Highlight!

We stayed in the ranch for our evening meal – partly because there are few other options. Being a captive audience, my expectations for the evening meal were relatively low!

As it happens, The restaurant at the Ranch is home to possibly the best steak in the world ever (that I have tasted, at least – I’m happy to be proven wrong should someone fancy feeding me even better steak)!

This steak comes on a plate the size of a Christmas turkey plate, still on the bone! Although our waiter advised it would serve two (much to Spence’s scepticism), it could easily have gone three ways! It was cooked to perfection – medium/rare, obviously – and was seasoned beautifully!

Excellent nosh.

Death Valley Steak

 

Driving to Yosemite (5-6 hours)

If it’s open, take the Tioga pass for some epic scenery and amazing views. The drive itself is pretty easy going, with a bit of a winding climb and some steep drops by the side of the road which might cause some vertigo sufferers’s to throw a wobbly.

The road is wide though and well maintained – if you’ve driven over the snake pass in the UK or around the mountain roads in New Zealand then this will be a walk in the park!

 

Tioga Pass snow

Snow on the mountains on Tioga Pass Road

Arriving in Yosemite

If you come in from Death Valley side, you’ll know you’ve properly arrived when you pass through the archway in the rocks – be prepared with your cash or park pass at this point so you don’t hold up the queue!

Yosemite Gate

There are plenty of car parks in the park itself which was handy given we had chosen to stay outside of the main park. Expect to walk 5-10 minutes from the car to the visitor’s centre.

The Hikes

Yosemite is a hikers dream! Much like the Lake District in the UK, there are several popular and well trodden paths you can choose to walk with little to no hiking equipment or experience. We chose the badly-named “4 mile trail” which is actually over 5 miles long and very much a ‘climb’ rather than a wander!

One of my colleagues said he had been up and down this path in around 3 hours, but when it took us 4 hours to reach the summit, we decided to take the tour bus back down to the car. We decided this was useful (rather than lazy) as the tour guide explained some of the traditions of the area and talked about the local wildlife, including mountain lions and bears!

It turns out that ascending the 4 mile trail was the equivalent of climbing over 350 flights of stairs – no wonder my glutes were on fire! The reward at the top is the amazing view of Half Dome and the valley from Glacier Point, which is well worth every step!

Glacier Point View

The view from Glacier Point

 

If you fancy a more leisurely stroll, try getting the bus to the top and walking down like most of the people we passed were doing!

If you’re feeling brave, you could try the 12-hour-round Half Dome hike, but be sure to check accessibility before you travel as the availability and safety of the route changes drastically with the seasons.

Novice Hikers Tips

Yosemite is a National Park and a place for wildlife so you need to be mindful of that fact. If you see a bear, quietly retreat if possible and drop your bag if it contains smelly food. It shouldn’t, because you shouldn’t have any smelly food on you!!! If you see a mountain lion, again retreat if possible but if it approaches the advice is to make yourself as big as possible so as to make yourself look scary. Think Scully from ‘Monster’s Inc.’.

If you’re not sure about anything – ask at the visitor’s centre before you set off for your hike!

Do not feed the squirrels, despite the fact that they brazenly court any human with any type of food. There are signs everywhere explaining why we shouldn’t feed them, but a surprising amount of people ignore them!

Yosemite Squirrel

Don’t be fooled into feeding this cheeky little b***er!

 

Yosemite Food and Drink

There are plenty of food outlets in the park, including a shop and cafe at the top of the 4 mile trail – near Glacier Point. There’s also the ‘Curry Village’ where you can find further food outlets. We didn’t eat there though so I can’t comment on the food!

Where to Stay

Staying within the park is significantly more expensive than staying slightly outside the park, hence why we chose the latter. We were not interested in camping so there was little benefit to being in the park itself for us.

Instead we chose to stay in nearby El Portal, a 15-20 minute drive from the middle of the park and very peaceful! We chose the Yosemite View Lodge which has two restaurants, large rooms, an on-site convenience store, several pools and great balcony views over a stream at the back of the lodges. Whilst not modern or particularly luxurious, the rooms were clean and well-equipped and the staff were great – all in all, pretty good value!

 

Yosemite View Lodge

The view from our balcony at Yosemite View Lodge

Other Top Tips:

Buy a park pass- either separate or multiple-multiple usually better value if you’re doing more than 2 parks. We didn’t realise this until we had been to 3 parks and the guy selling us the third pass thought that it was a good time to highlight the fact we had essentially overpaid.

Had we done our homework, we could have bought the multiple park pass and used it for Yosemite, Death Valley and Muir Woods)

Make sure you check the status of the Tioga pass on the internet or by asking at your hotel (who will receive road information from the park rangers). If the weather is so bad that there is a risk of road closure, they might advise an alternative (but quite a bit longer) route!

Over and out.

That’s a quick round up of what we did, but there’s loads of options when it comes to spending time in the national parks.

Here’s some of the best resources I found when planning our visit:

National Park Site

Good 4 mile trail overview

Dante’s view

Yosemite Hiking

Bye for now!

 

To Tour or Not to Tour?!

When is it worth booking a tour guide?

Visiting a new place can be daunting. You’re putting yourself in a foreign land, with only the knowledge acquired through Google, family, friends and your travel agent.

It’s easy to feel intimated or overwhelmed with the opportunities to explore. Just this morning I bobbed onto TripAdvisor to finalise my Barcelona 3 Night itinerary and  I was met with 558 things I could do as a tourist in Barcelona. That’s a lot to cram into a short city break – so how don we whittle it down?

One way to make sure you see the main sights is to book a tour, but with so many tour options covering so many different interests, it can be very difficult to decide whether to bother at all.

So when is it worth booking a tour? Let’s consider the pros and cons of organised tours… and the I’ll decide whether to bother booking one or not!

The benefits of a booking a guided tour

You don’t miss a thing

If you’re a bit lazy when it comes to pre-holiday research or you have serious FOMO, then booking a tour ensure you’ll see the main tourist hotspots and get an overview of the historical, artistic or natural significance of each site. Easy win!

The tour guides have geographical knowledge 

Being on a tour means you don’t need to concern yourself with the location of the places you’re going to visit. Be it a walking tour or a bus tour, if you’re a crappy navigator you could save yourself a lot of frustration by leaving directions to the experts.

If the places you’re visiting are quite spread out then a tour can actually be a cost effective way to transport yourself between them, so it’s still worth considering a tour even if you got your orienteering badge from the guides when you were 10.

History and Narrative

You get more from being guided by someone who has in depth knowledge of the cultural significance of a tourist attraction than by simply walking to it, looking and snapping pictures.

If you’re less inclined to read tourist information or buy a paper guide, then booking on a tour is a great way to get some background whilst you snap away on your camera and upload pictures to Instagram. Multitasking. Boom.

Exclusive access & Special treatment

Sometimes the tour companies have a deal with the attractions so you can effectively cut the queue and therefore see the attractions faster. Similarly, they might have access ‘behind the scenes’ so you might be able to get closer to some art, artefacts or simply a better view.

Security and safety

I’m not encouraging anyone to visit somewhere which is ‘unsafe’ but there are certainly places I would like to visit where there is economic deprivation and a higher risk of criminal activity. If I wanted to explore these areas I would book a tour because local knowledge and security would be important to my experience and would let me relax a little bit more (which is what I want from a holiday)!

guided tour

Some tours simply need a guide for safety reasons!

It’s efficient, and requires little to no planning!

Book a tour in a few clicks, turn up and let someone else do that hard work for you. It certainly sounds attractive!

When is it best to go it alone?

Irritating People

There are some really annoying people in the world and it’s very possible that you’ll be stuck on a bus with at least one of them for the duration of the tour. I’m a sociable person, but being forced to socialise with random people in a confined space is not everyone’s cup of tea!

Price

There are some tours which are ‘free’ or request only a small donation at the end of the tour. Others are pre-bookable with varying fees depending on the inclusive activities and the size of the group.

Either way,the decision to book a tour is obviously swayed by budget.

Sometimes you don’t want to see everything in the tour

If you only really want to see 50-75% of the places and attractions in the tour, is it really worth it?

When we visited Hong Kong, we took a half day tour and there were some things we weren’t that bothered about seeing (such as a jade showroom). Lesson learned? Only book tours which contain everything you want to see, but not much else.

Want to hang around somewhere longer?

When on a guided tour, you’ll typical jump off the bus and then spend a limited time at each ‘destination’ or ‘hotspot’ meaning you have to whizz round or at least be selective in what you do at each place.

Need a toilet visit? Might want to hold it in, or you could miss a priceless art exhibit.

When you want to ditch the watch

Spontaneity is something we often crave and cannot establish in our day to day lives. The constraints of our work schedules, workout schedules, meal times and fitting in family and friends lends itself to routine.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but when on holiday it can be nice to dance to your own tune. A tour is sort of more like a line dance than a freestyle twerk-in-the-kitchen whilst you’re emptying the dishwasher. I’m much more inclined to do the latter!

Ditching the tour and wandering around a city yourself means you can leave the watch in the hotel room and just wing it, which can be quite liberating in itself!

So what’s the verdict?

For Barcelona, I’ve studied the content of the top 10 tours (per TripAdvisor) and plan to visit them in my own time. The city is small enough to navigate easily myself and I want this break to be leisurely!

That’s not to say I wouldn’t book a tour again – just not this week!

Planning a trip? Head to the holiday planning page for more tips and tricks – or check out what I got up to in the places I’ve visited!