Month: July 2016

Geneva Motor Show / Snowboarding

So for my Dad’s somewhat belated birthday present last year, we decided to take him to what might be one of the best motor shows in the world – The critically acclaimed Geneva Motor Show.

Often the place where new models are revealed, Geneva Motor show seemed like the obvious choice. Add to that cheap flights and it’s an even more obvious choice!

We decided to head out there for a few nights to see the cars and to experience the charm of the city itself.

Getting Accommodation

The first hurdle was finding accommodation. The flights may have been a bargain, but hotel rooms in the city were eye-wateringly expensive for motor show weekend, at c.£1000 per night for 6 of us in a mediocre set-up! We had only booked  few weeks prior, so I guess it was what you might call ‘last minute’ and availability was poor.

Cue a search within a 30 mile radius, for more reasonably priced accommodation coupled with 2 cars. A short search later (look here for tips) we found a reasonable apartment in France – a 20 minute drive from the convention centre and airport – for less than £400 for the entire duration of the trip. Add to that the cost of two hire cars (around £150 for both) and the cost is suddenly back within a reasonable range for a weekend away!

Getting There

Getting there was easy – the flight from Manchester to Geneva is relatively short at 1 hour 50 mins. When we arrived, we waited nearly 2 hours for our hire cars! I wouldn’t use dollar / thrifty again IN MY LIFE because of this farce. As a gesture of goodwill, they offered us a free upgrade.

Unfortunately due to being under 30, I was allocated a tiny ‘hairdryer’ car for my rental, whilst my dad was ‘upgraded’ to a large Mercedes 4×4. Whilst this initially seemed like a nice treat, it was one we accepted dubiously, when the attendant asked for £5,000 deposit for it, but only a £500 one for mine. 

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Saturday Night – Why Is Everything Closed?!

We arrived on Saturday night, hungry and tired from the car-saga. We drove to the accommodation, freshened up and headed out to find some food.

8:30pm on a Saturday night and even the fuel stations were closed! The only lights we saw were those on the roads, and the CERN.

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All we had to eat that night was a couple of snacks left over from the journey, sloshed down with some sugary tea.

The Main Event (Sunday)

We awoke the next morning, readied ourselves with our fully charged phones and cameras and set off to the exhibition centre. We arrived early, allowing ourselves the opportunity to find a little snack! Hurrah!

The show itself was brilliant. There were new models, customer builds, new technology and plenty of photo opportunities. The only criticism is that you couldn’t get in / close to some of the best models without having VIP tickets of an invitation, which made it all feel a little bit ‘us and them’ when at some of the stands occupied by the more prestigious marques.

The food on site was expensive (as expected), so we had a small lunch and then headed out from the exhibition at around 2pm. We decided to head into Geneva town centre – a 10 minute drive away – for some food and a wander around.

Geneva Centre – Pretty, but pretty dull.

OK so eating out in Geneva on a Sunday is a near impossibility. In any other city I’ve ever visited in the world, there’s at least a small possibility of being able to walk into a restaurant and get a satisfying meal. On this occasion we were surprised that we couldn’t find any open restaurants (even with the help of Google) so we instead found ourselves snacking on chicken nuggets from McDonald’s, washed down with green tea from Starbucks. You can always count on there being a Maccys and a Starbucks open.

The architecture itself is very pretty and there is a ‘fairy-tale’ look about the place. The few people who were milling about in the town centre appeared to be either homeless or at a loss for something to do.

A kind local Gentleman pointed us in the direction of the more ‘lively’ part of the town –a mere 5-10 minute drive from our current central location, so we trusted the young man – who looked very out of place walking through the old square we were occupying – and set off in that direction.

After struggling to find parking in said area, we identified an underground parking garage and I zipped down the ramp and parked the car. A few minutes later, I walked back up the ramp to find my dad awkwardly shuffling between drive and reverse as he tried to un-wedge the car from a tight turn in the ramp without touching the sides. Given the £5k excess on the upgraded vehicle, it was a particularly tense time. A worthwhile note for anyone wishing to drive in Geneva is that the streets and the car parks and relatively tight on space! Whilst initially the complementary ‘upgrade’ seemed like a bit of a ‘win’ we soon came to realise that there are few benefits to having such a large car in such a small place.

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Geneva centre… on a busier day… when there were people. This is from google images, but serves as evidence that there are in fact people in this town.

Finding Food 

It would have been easier to hunt and kill our own food in Geneva that weekend. Never have I found it so difficult to track down a meal!

We walked the streets of the area for 45 minutes before we noticed a small light flickering on the horizon. We shuffled towards it, only to discover a charming little restaurant. The food was beautiful, and very welcome. It was nearly 9:30pm by the time we had found food, so we were pretty hungry!

Snowboarding in Les Gets (Monday) 

On the way out to Geneva, we saw lots of snowboarding and skiing groups. Feeling impulsive, we decided on our ‘spare day’ to drive the 2 hours from our random French accommodation to Les Gets, buy some snowboarding pants and a lift pass, rent a board and catch the lift up the mountain for a day of snow sports.

Given that we’d only ever snowboarded in Manchester’s Chill Factor-e some 4 years previously, the first hour was a little bit hit and miss. Queue embarrassing ourselves on the ski lifts, falling repeatedly and making poor choices with regards to the many layers of clothing we wore and subsequently had to dump when the sun came out.

By the end of the afternoon we were battered and bruised, but we could make it down the slopes with vigour and (might I add) a small amount of style.

After the light began to dip, we ditched the boards and headed to a restaurant for our last meal before the light home the next morning.

 

Would We Go Again? 

I wouldn’t go back to Geneva for a weekend, purely because there was so little to do in the area. I would however, consider flying in to Geneva for the day to visit the motor show.

I know that sounds crazy, but the flight it short and the exhibition centre is a 5 minute walk from the arrivals gate. You could save yourself the cost of a hotel by taking an early flight from the UK and taking a late evening return flight.

As for snowboarding, I’m looking at going next spring! Yay!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Do ‘Last Minute’ Without Panicking

When is it a ‘Last Minute Holiday’?

Any holiday booked in the last in the 6-8 weeks prior to departure is considered ‘last minute’, but when I talk about last minute, I mean the last 2-4 weeks before departure.

Some people find the idea of leaving planning a holiday so late absolutely abhorrent, whilst others love the thrill off not knowing where they might end up.

So what do you need to consider if you’re considering a last minute trip?

Choose a Destination

Having too many destination options makes searching for the best deal the search-engine equivalent of trying to find the shiniest needle in a hay stack littered with needles. Not completely impossible, but difficult to coordinate.

Many of the best search engine sites – such as travelrepublic, travelsupermarket and holiday pirates – allow you to search for ‘areas’ or for short haul vs. long haul holidays, but sometimes this still leaves matters a little confusing.

Most of the search engines work best if you can tell them where you’d like to go. If there’s more than one place try choosing 5 and then work your way through those destinations before narrowing it down.

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If you can get down to one chose destination quickly, then you can focus your time and attention on that one destination. You don’t have much time, so the less ground you need to cover, the better!

Ask Your Employer If They Can Be Flexible

If you’re looking for a good value last minute break, the chances are that the best deal you find will be 1 or 2 days either side of the holidays you’ve booked off at work. To avoid having to turn down the bargain of a lifetime, ask your boss if they can agree for your holiday to be flexible by a couple of days either way.

Most people I’ve worked with have been more than willing to help me get the best deal possible. Happy, well rested and well travelled employees are not a bad thing! 

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Can your employer flex your holiday by a day or two so you can get the best last minute deal?!

Be Flexible on Hotel Quality and Location

If you’re booking last minute then there’s a good chance that availability will be low in the most popular hotels in the most popular tourist areas. Consider either compromising on quality or location. Personally I’d take a high quality hotel slightly out-of-town over a central low-star hotel any day, but that’s because I’ve had a bad experience in a cheap-but-central hotel and I also don’t mind using public transport to zip into the city centre.

City-fringe hotels are often excellent value for money, so don’t constrain your search to a narrow radius around the city centre.

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Two hotels, for next week, pretty much the same rating – £100+ per night difference in price. One is a 10 minute metro journey from the other. Worth the saving? Most definitely yes.

Don’t Leave Longer Trips To Chance

The same applied for those with complicated itineraries / must see things to do.

Don’t just assume you can turn up and see the main attractions in your chosen desintation. Sometimes the most popular tourist attractions are fully booked several weeks – or even months – beforehand. I was surprised to find that tickets to Alcatraz are typically sold out 6-8 weeks prior, for example. Be realistic and be prepared to miss out on some of the main attractions if you’re taking a last minute trip- or at least be prepared to visit the attractions at less sociable times. For example, if there’s a restaurant you simply must eat in but which is always booked well in advance for dinner, consider eating mid-late afternoon as a compromise.

For tips on planning a multi-centre / longer trip, see my earlier post.

Check Visa and Immunisation Requirements

Some visa applications take more than a matter of days, so if you want to do a last minute trip to one of those places then you need to have all the relevant paperwork sorted out well in advance.

Similarly, if you need immunisation or other preventative medical treatment then often these are required at least 6 weeks prior to the trip. Don’t get caught out – traveling without immunisation is often at your own risk and many insurer won’t cover any treatment you need as a result of falling ill if it was expected that you would have sought the relevant jabs prior to travelling.

Check https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for the most up to date travel and health advice, and be sure to visit your doctor / medical professional 4-6 weeks prior to travel if you think you might want to go further afield.

You can also try the fit for travel NHS site.

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Make Sure It Is Affordable And Scale Back Your Plans If It Isn’t

The chances are, if you’ve left booking your trip to the very last minute, you might not have as much to play with as if you’d booked early and chipped away at the payments! This means that typically the holidays you plan in advance are likely to be a little bit more epic than the ones you don’t.

It’s a total bummer coming home from a trip with a huge credit card bill to pay off over the next few months. Avoid it if you can by choosing a realistic last minute trip!

Make a Quick List, Then Pack Fast.

In my opinion, people stress far too much about holiday packing. It’s not an art form. Roll it. Fold it. Chuck it in. who gives a shit?! It’s all getting squashed anyway. 

Make your like easier and jot down a small list so you don’t forget the essentials (underwear, swimwear, phone charger & toothbrush) and the rest you can make up as you go along. If you’re booking last minute, you don’t always have the luxury of extensive packing time. Don’t make a mountain out of a mole-hill.

For more packing tips, see my post “The 5 Week Wanderer’s Packing Tips”.

Get Currency Before You Go!

Under no circumstances should you leave changing currency so last minute that you have to buy some at the airport. A captive audience is never going to get the best rates. Just don’t do it!

Most Importantly… Chill the F**k out!

Last minute holidays can be a little more ‘stressful’ to plan than those planned months – or even years ­– in advance. Don’t let that make it any more stressful. Wing it a bit. Take a chance. What will be, will be. There’s no point getting all stressed out before a holiday – it’s supposed to be an enjoyable experience!

Get into zen mode and let the holiday feeling wash over you.

Viva Las Vegas (A Second Visit)

It’s very rare for me to be thrilled at the thought of going back to a previous holiday destination (over a new holiday destination – clearly any holiday destination is preferable to not going at all).

Having said that, when presented with the last minute opportunity to return to one of the most ridiculously entertaining places in the world it’s even more rare that I would turn that opportunity down.

So I find myself heading off to Las Vegas for a long weekend with my Husband – celebrating our 12 year anniversary of dating. Yes, we did celebrate that a couple of weeks ago by going to a spa but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating twice… right?!

Last time I wrote about Vegas, I told you about 10 things you shouldn’t miss if you’re planning a visit to Vegas. Given I’ve now done those things, this time I’ll be writing a bit of a diary post instead. Here Goes…

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Thursday 14 July AM / PM- In The Air 

We’re flying with Virgin directly to Vegas – a 9.5 hour flight. I’m not the best with sitting still, so any flight over 2 hours can be a challenge for a near-professional fidget-er such as myself. Having said that, I settle in to the comfy seat, sip my welcome drink and find a good chick flick to kill the first 90 minutes.

In the last few days, some people have made remarks to me along the lines of “that’s too far to go for 3 nights” which I wholeheartedly disagree with! Holiday maximisation is all about getting the most out of what little time off work we actually get in a year. I won’t choose my destination based on a 5-hour flight time limit. It’s not like I’m going to New Zealand for 3 days. Now that would be a bit nuts.

Last time, we flew in from New York, so we were already partly adjusted to the time difference. This time, when we arrive it will be 10pm UK time and 2pm Vegas time. I think another power-hour nap is on the cards if I stand any chance of staying up past 5pm Vegas time!

Thursday 14 July PM – Bellagio Hotel

So we’ve arrived at the hotel and despite only passing through last time, it has an air of familiarity to go with the extraordinarily OTT luxury. We checked in – all the while hoping for an upgrade but without getting one – then headed up to the room.

We take our own bags to the room to avoid the awkwardness of tipping the bell boy. I find tipping pretty awkward and I’m pretty sure I always get the value wrong. Should it be a $2 job or a $20 job? Nobody tells you. Better to just avoid insulting them / unnecessarily overspending. I realise this is a typically British way to get around a socially awkward situation.

So what’s to do when you are jet lagged and struggling to adjust to afternoon middle-of-the-desert temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius?

SHOPPING of course.

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Thursday 14 July PM – Las Vegas Strip / Fashion Show Mall

We headed to the Fashion Show Mall. Foolishly we decided to make the journey on foot. It was only a ‘couple of hotels’ along the strip. Clearly I had forgotten how long it takes to walk past one hotel in Vegas.

40 minutes after we left the Bellagio, we shuffled off the escalator and dived into Abercrombie to recover from temporary heat exhaustion. My green tea frappucinno had done nothing to prevent the feeling that my eyeballs were being air dried by the hot desert breeze.

When we visited Vegas last October, it was hot but not this hot. The summer breeze is akin to turning your hair dryer around and blowing it on your face when its on it’s highest setting. This coupled with the extreme sunlight means there is no relief until you can get into the nearest air conditioned building.

I must have been over-tired, because I didn’t actually buy anything.

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Thursday 14 July PM – Back at the Bellagio  

In our zombie-like state we shuffled back to the hotel and commenced gambling. The beginner’s luck which won us $70 on the slot machines last time failed to make an appearance this time and jet lag had hit well and truly now.

Nap time. That’s what we would do! Then we could get up after an hour and go to the buffet for our evening meal! Genius!

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Friday 15 July AM – Neon Museum

The ‘nap’ turned into a ‘sleep’ and at 6am, wide awake, we found ourselves in the casino. After a couple more unsuccessful bets, we wandered out onto the strip to grab a sandwich from CVS.

There’s something quite interesting about Vegas at that time in the morning – it’s a very different place to it’s afternoon and evening counterpart. There were hoards of runners taking advantage of temperatures 10 degrees lower than they would be at 10am. There were masses of people finding their way to –or perhaps from- work and of course there were those who hadn’t quite managed to find their way back from wherever it was they’d ended up spending the previous night.

We decided to try and make the 8am tour at the neon museum, so hopped on the bus (the Deuce) down to Freemont Street and caught a taxi from Freemont to the museum itself.  You can get a 3 day pass for the Deuce and SDX (the express bus) for $20 for 3 days. The taxi cost less than $10.

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The ‘Graveyard of Lights’ at the Neon Museum

I was told about the Neon Museum by a friend and ex-colleague who had been looking into getting some wedding photos taken there. It’s a non-profit exhibit of iconic Las Vegas signs and includes an outdoor exhibition space delightfully known as the “Neon Boneyard”. Viewing is available to the general public only through booking a place on an hour-long guided tour. A visual history lesson, at $18 pp it’s probably one of the best value things to do in Vegas, and is most definitely recommended!

Friday 15 July AM – Las Vegas Outlet Malls

We hopped into another taxi to the Premium Outlet Malls – Las Vegas North (which again only cost around $10). Despite being tempted by an Alexander Wang bag, I managed to leave with only 2 pairs of shoes from Saks (Coach and Chinese Laundry), a long grey waistcoat from Marciano and a dress and blouse from Calvin Klein. Not quite as damaging to the credit card as that Wang bag would have been!

We had Cheesecake Factory for lunch then hopped back onto the Deuce southbound – hopping off right outside the hotel.

Friday 15 July PM – Bellagio Pool

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After another spell of losing – winning- then losing again at the Roulette table, I decided to try out the somewhat well-acclaimed Bellagio pool. On the advice of our taxi driver – a Las Vegas local – I slathered on the Factor 50 and headed out with a 1l bottle of water and a book. 1.5 hours later, despite being very warm indeed, I had barely tanned as much as an overcast day in the UK. Perhaps factor 50 was overkill?!

Friday 15 July EVE – Finding Food

We succumbed to jet lag once again and ended up having a 2 hour nap. I know – bad idea. Around 9pm we made it down to the buffet, only to find that the queue was approximately 45 minutes long! Given the buffet closes at 10pm, we decided to give it a miss. It defeats the object of all-you-can-eat if you only have 45 minutes to cram in the food.

We headed over to Wahlburger – a fairly new addition to the food offering at Bally’s and conveniently just over the road from the Bellagio. It’s the newest of a chain of burger restaurants headed up by the Brother of Mark Wahlburg.

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A blooming good burger.

I ordered one called ‘The Beast’ and had it with a rather American sounding side order of ‘Tater Tots’ which I’m pretty sure are just smaller, rounder hash browns. I’m not sure why they have a different name. Either way, it was bloomin’ good!

Saturday 16 July AM – Breakfast Buffet 

On our second morning in Vegas I managed to get my buffet fix. We had Brunch at the Bellagio buffet, which was excellent if not a little bit strange. Yes, there are breakfast items available, but there are also many, many non-breakfast items such as pizza, cakes, prime rib and chorizo – not exactly standard breakfast items but nevertheless very enjoyable!

We ate at around 8am, before hitting the casino to spend our remaining ‘designated gambling money’ which was actually only a small kitty to begin with! After exhausting any remaining luck on the roulette table, I found my way back to the pool – this time armed with factor 15.

Saturday 16 July PM – Escape the Room

We met up with our Friend who was staying at the Tropicana Hotel, then headed over to xtreme escapes for an escape the room game. We love doing these games back in the UK so when we found an offer for one in Vegas it made sense to give it a go. We did technically manage to escape, but at 1 hour and 9 minutes we weren’t breaking any records. Not a bad effort for only 3 of us, in what was a far more sophisticated game set-up than the one’s we have played in the past!

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No records set, but still smiling!

Saturday 16 July EVE – Second Buffet of the Day

None of us were sure what we wanted to eat, so the natural thing to do was to head to the MGM for what would be the second buffet of the day! Given we hadn’t had lunch, this seemed completely reasonable.

2 hours and many courses later, we rolled back to the bus stop and caught the Deuce north towards the hotel.

We pondered the idea of going out for drinks, but decided we were content with being a little bit old-before-our-time and decided to call it a night!

Hardcore.

Sunday 17 July AM – Last few Hours

We decided to go out shopping for a few souvenirs (bags of sweets) before we headed back to the hotel and checked out around 9.

We then went in search of a good handbag bargain in Ross and Marshalls discount stores but sadly there was nothing that caught my eye. On the back of a handbag related failure, we headed back to Wahlburger and stuffed our faces once again!

It was then time to head to the airport. Since our tickets were still live, we retrieved the bags from the bell desk, caught the bus to the Monte Carlo (Hotel) which was closer to the airport and grabbed a taxi from there. That might sound really tight (please don’t judge me!) but it saved us $15 in taxi fare.

Flying Home

So I’m currently sat 35,000ft in the air – 2 hours into the flight, having eaten a pretty darn good curry. We’ll be landing in the UK in the morning, having returned to GMT from being 8 hours behind! If I don’t sleep on the plane, my return to work on Tuesday morning (and the raft of meetings I have on Tuesday and Wednesday) could be pretty horrific, so I’m off to catch some Zzz’s.

 

Good night Vegas.

It’s been cracking.

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Probably won’t be seeing this view for a while!

 

 

 

 

 

A Rant About Social Media

It’s a shit rainy Monday and you’re putting off ending ‘breakfast time’ to go and get in the shower because that unfortunately indicates that the working week is about to begin and people actually need you to be on form. In a somewhat foolish move, you whizz onto Instagram to nosey through a few photos. That won’t take long, and doesn’t require much brain power, so it’s all good.

Holy shit.

Why is everyone else apparently on a 52 week long holiday? How can these twenty-somethings afford to swan about wearing expensive bikinis on the world’s beaches whilst I’m cramming my holidays into 5 weeks and paying for them for the other 47?

Not only am I now closer to 30 than 20 (and actually have been for a few years, but was happily in denial), I’m now acutely aware of the fact that my success rate as a ‘globetrotter’ is potentially below par. Add to this the fact that – despite my fitness obsession – in my present state I wouldn’t be able to fit one bum cheek into the bikinis these girls are wearing and #MondayMotivation just turned into #FuckThisShit and #ShitImGoingToBeLateForWork

The Problem With Other People’s Glossy Lives and Perfect Bods

The appearance of a glossy and untainted life can lead to us normal folk feeling somewhat inadequate. Is my three week holiday to NYC, Vegas and California not enough?! Am I ungrateful or simply the type of person who strives for more?

The problem with social media is that people tend to edit out the crap parts of their lives (which they obviously don’t want people to see) meaning sometimes the content is plainly misleading.

Social media is often criticised for not being ‘real’. I know through speaking to some more influential social media personalities that often apparently ‘in-the-moment’ holiday snaps which look relatively natural and ‘ad hoc’ are the result of considerable effort and editing. One such travel and fitness influencer said of her Instagram pictures that in order to be able to post a snap which looks natural, she has to position herself in the correct lighting, prop her phone up on a stool at the right height and take a series of photos (usually around 45 in sequence whilst she constantly repositions herself) and only then can she select the best snap, apply a filter and post it to her thousands of followers.

Packing in Airport

The less glamorous side of my holidays – re-packing my case to make sure I avoid £100 baggage charges

This made me feel quite a bit better about the fact that I am actually quite terrible at selfies and also made me realise the amount of work some of these Instagram-famous personalities put into maintaining this glossy and well-travelled image.

When you consider that, suddenly your own terrible double-chin selfies in front of the Brooklyn Bridge don’t seem quite as horrific.

My Instagram Accounts

I have two instagram accounts. My personal account (@_afrothunder_) is not planned and features mostly food, shoes, exercise and more food – a reflection of my life for the majority of the year.

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loads of followers. NAAAAT. 

My ‘travel blogger’ account (@the5weekwanderer) on the other hand features only pictures from my travels, holidays and days out. It’s not intended to make it look like I’m a full-time professional travel blogger – after all I do this in my spare time – but I do wonder what impression it gives given I don’t post my day to day activities. My feed looks like one long jolly.

 

 

 

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Absolutely smashing it in terms of followers… and sarcasm apparently. 

If you only flicked through the5weekwanderer’s account, it would be easy to assume I was jet-setting all of the time. I can assure you that whilst I would love to travel more than I do, it’s simply not an option which is currently open to me!

Does the fact that my account could be interpreted in this way make me a hypocrite? Does it make me a master of deception?

I think not.

I choose to separate the day-to-day life from the ‘wanderer’s’ life because I highly doubt that my limited ‘travel followers’ would be interested in what I ate for breakfast or my career in finance. Perhaps I should share more of what I do in my career. After all, I’m much more proud of my career than I ever would be of my ass in a bikini, but that’s a whole separate conversation.

What Do Other’s Think?

I invited the opinion of some of my fellow travel-oriented social media acquaintances. I was surprised there was less of a ‘defensive’ response to the question, which was potentially a little bit loaded!

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The Big Question. 

igtravels16 had this to say: “As an accountant who likes taking holiday snaps I see so many people travelling on here and wonder how they do it 😕”

dinelivetravel commented: “Personally, only take photos of where we go and what we eat. One main reason for starting my blog was to give people a totally honest positive view. I was tired of negativity. If we don’t like somewhere, I don’t broadcast it, we simply move on. If there is a negative at a place we visit, I will balance this with what we found as being positive and enjoyable. Surely it cannot all be bad. I juggle the photography and blogging around our full time jobs. We are lucky living in Brisbane to have access to so many wonderful areas for quick weekend breaks as well as an incredible choice of venues for meals. We work hard and reward ourselves when we can. Something we both believe strongly in.”

So it seems that for the few of us who are ‘part time’ social media users and bloggers, it’s all about positively sharing our experiences. Having said that, it’s also relatively clear that none of us really understand how the ‘big players’ of social media manage to be travelling all the time!

Fuelling Wanderlust

 The relevance and usefulness of social media is one of those topics which divides opinion, but unless you live in a cave then you probably can’t avoid interacting with it in some form or other. Despite being occasionally pissed off by social media, I continue to use it and even go as far as to admit that I like it!

There’s no doubt that Instagram and Pinterest have been a catalyst to my ever-growing wanderlust over the past few years. This is one of the more positive influences social media has had on my life. It gives me the images to add to my sense of willing to travel, so my daydreams are more vivid as a result.

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My desire for escapism is also legitimised by the fact that I’m clearly not the only one with travel on my mind! Unlike many, I don’t really want to quit my well-paid job for  the chance to travel all year round. If it was what I really wanted, then I would simply do it. That’s the kind of person I am – impulsive in a considered manner.

I’ll continue to draw inspiration for my next holiday from social media, but with a touch of realism so that my expectations are a little lower than 5* all inclusive Indonesian villa-based spa breaks with daily massages and a personal infinity pools overlooking the ocean.

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Staycation Win – Ribby Hall Spa Hotel

I’d define any break less than an hour away as a ‘staycation’. I don’t subscribe to the view that you need to be at home to enjoy a staycation. Rather, I think that making a conscious effort to slip into ‘holiday mode’ and explore what your local area has to offer – whether you choose to stay at a hotel or not – counts as a staycation.

Last week, whilst musing about potentially hopping over to Vegas again in the coming weeks, a moment of genius resulted in me booking a spa break for my Husband and I.

My experience at Aire Spa in Barcelona had set the spa-bar very high, so I turned to the good spa guide to find a snazzy north-west based luxury spa. I selected Ribby Hall Spa Hotel after a glowing recommendation from a colleague of mine. I called up and booked in for their ‘Spa Dinner Break’ package, before spending the next week counting down to relaxation time!

Here’s the highlights from our overnight chill session, and the reasons I think you should get yourself booked in – pronto!

ribby hall spa hotel entrance

Elemis Resurfacing Facial 

Mr Spence wasn’t fussed about having any facials or massages, so whilst he frequented the gym and checked us in to the hotel I was whisked away for my hour-long Elemis Facial. It was total bliss!

The facial is more than you might expect from the title! Yes, your skin is treated to a series of resurfacing enzyme treatments and masks… but in addition you’re treated to a very relaxing massage of the feet, hands, arms and scalp. It was utterly fabulous and left me so relaxed that I was a bit concerned I might have fallen asleep and snored during the treatment. If I did snooze, the therapist was kind enough not to alert me to it.

Before I left, my therapist noted my product recommendations for me to take away and invited me to take up on of the heated day beds for a drink whilst overlooking the Zen Garden and bar area.

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Taking time for tea overlooking the zen garden

Aqua Thermal Journey 

The spa at Ribby Hall offers a ‘circuit’ of saunas and steam rooms building from a moderately warm aromatherapy room through to a bum-scorching-ly hot sauna. The idea is that you progress through the pleasantly-named ‘aqua thermal journey‘ enjoying the heat interspersed with water therapy pools and an ancient greek style foot bath.

I was delighted to find that the foot baths were emptied and re-filled between each user. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of feet (who is?!) knowing that I was avoiding other people’s ‘foot juice’ was very encouraging!

My favourite part of the aqua thermal journey has to be the Balinese steam room. It’s very hot, very steamy and beautifully scented! The mentholated air fills your lungs and opens the nasal passages and intermittently, a shower of warm water sprinkles from the ceiling – which felt just like the warm rains of Indonesia!

Dinner @ The Orangery

I’ve eaten in many hotels over the years – as a travelling auditor and as a wanderlust-filled twenty-something in the midst of a quarter life crisis. One thing I have learnt is that the food quality is not always in line with the perceived quality of the hotel. 5* hotel doesn’t always mean 5* food, and sometimes a 3* hotel can have incredibly good nosh.

On this occasion the Orangery was actually as good as advertised, perhaps even better.

There’s a tasting menu and an a la carte menu – we opted for the a la carte, given that we always swap our courses half way through, thus sort of creating our own tasting menu. All of the food was exceptionally good! Each dish featured a mix of complimentary flavours and was cooked very well. The staff were friendly, but not to the point where you feel like you have to engage in awkward conversation for just a little while too long.

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As a chocolate lover, I would recommend in particular the dark chocolate fondant I had for dessert – it was so good I wanted to bathe in it!

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Breakfast was also pretty scrumptious – I chose fruit and yoghurt from the continental buffet with some toast, then potato cakes and black pudding with a poached egg for my ‘a la carte’ breakfast choice. Both the buffet and hot option are included in the hotel package, as was £25pp for the evening meal, making the spa dinner package quite good value if you fancy stopping over!

Ribby hall spa hotel breakfast

The Hotel Experience 

The hotel itself was charming and cosy – the rooms are nicely decorated and the bathroom was fitted with a ‘rainfall’ shower as well as a bath and normal shower, which is always nice. I was extremely happy to see a wide selection of hot drinks and ‘real’ milk (none of those weird little UHT cups) in the room.

What’s nice is that there is a shortcut from the hotel rooms to the spa, so you don’t need to wander through the hotel lobby in your towelling robe and swimwear!

ribby hall spa hotel entrance feature

Would I go again?

I like variety, so typically I tend to favour trying somewhere new over staying in the same location. Having said that, I would be inclined to go back to Ribby Hall – especially for a special occasion. It’s the quality of the spa and the lovely food which make this spa break extra special! Given the price (£235 + per couple) it’s not a cheap option for a spa day, but I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, so it was worth every penny!

ribby hall spa hotel welcome pack