2015: The year I became a travel addict

There were a few things that led to my travel addiction. A stressful job, settling into married life and my complete non-desire to have children led me to think, ‘what next’? I’ve always been a fan of going on holidays, but 2015 was the year I made it my hobby. I dedicated all my spare time to day trips, weekends away and saving money for bigger trips. It’s also the year I started blogging.

Now I know my list of places visited in 2015 is not in the least bit impressive compared to every other travel blogger out there, but this is just the start. I already have plans to double my travel plans in 2016, and I can’t wait to write my 2016 travel highlights this time next year to see how far I’ve come (quite literally!)

I haven’t had a chance to write about each and every thing on this list yet, but I will! For now, here are my travel highlights from 2015.

January

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea

I started off the year in style, with a visit to The Chesterfield Hotel in London. To celebrate the release of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End, they had designed an afternoon tea in the style of something out of the factory itself! My friends and I were treated to staples including scones and finger sandwiches, as well as Wonka bars, popping candy drinks, Oompa Loompa cupcakes and even a golden ticket at the end! It was a really interesting twist on afternoon tea, as they all tend to offer the same thing nowadays…

February

Day trip to the Shard

Another day trip to London! This time, we took a trip up the Shard for a fabulous view of the city. Even though the weather wasn’t great, we could still see for miles. This might sound odd, but my favourite part was actually the toilets! Each cubicle has a floor to ceiling window making them the toilets with the best view in the whole of London. While in the City, we also visited the West End to see Les Miserables. It was fantastic!

March

Cardiff castle

For our first trip ‘abroad’ in 2015, we decided to have a bargain weekend away in Cardiff. We hopped on a train, booked ourselves into a hotel and explored the city. It’s home to some wonderful restaurants, bars and things to see. We took a tour around the castle and wandered down to the coast to see the bay and the Millennium Centre. It was a lovely weekend and we were really lucky with the weather – just look at that blue sky! But ignore the clouds…

April

Jersey hen do

In April, I finally made it out to Jersey to visit my friend Jo for her hen do. We not only wanted to send her off into married life in style, but also explore the island that she has made her home for the past few years. Jo’s bridesmaids had organised an open top bus tour that took us to the German war tunnels, the beaches, La Corbière lighthouse and the capital of Jersey, St Helier. Now that’s my kind of hen do!

May

May was relatively quiet on the travel front, but we did make it over to Cheltenham for a weekend to celebrate the wedding of our friends, Aysha and Tom. It was on one of the hottest days of the year so they were able to have their ceremony outside in the sunshine. It was just beautiful!

June

Valencia

In June, I had one of the best experiences of my life. I packed my bags and headed off to Valencia to spend a week in a Spanish language school. I had no idea what to expect. At best, I thought my Spanish would improve a bit and that I’d get some much needed Vitamin D. In reality, my Spanish became a whole lot better, I made some wonderful friends from across the world and I fell in love with Valencia. It is the most beautiful city and has absolutely everything you could ever need – sunshine, history, culture, beaches, delicious food and nightlife. I can’t wait to go back.

July

Glamping near Bath

I find it really difficult to pass up a deal, so when I came across a Groupon for a glamping trip to Warminster, I grabbed my friends, packed my wellies and asked Tim very nicely if he would drive. We spent the weekend in a bell tent with proper air beds, duvets and marshmallows roasted on an open fire. As the ‘glam’ is supposed to mean ‘glamorous’, we had expected decent toilets and hot showers, but were met by a hole in the floor and ice cold water. Still, you can’t have it all, so we held our noses on both counts and made do. While in the area, we enjoyed day trips to the beautiful city of Bath (above) and Longleat Safari Park. A great weekend after all!

August

Cuba

Cuba has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and, in August, we finally made it! Drawn by its charm, scenery and, of course, the mojitos, we spent two weeks in the summer on a G Adventures tour of Havana, Vinales, Maria La Gorda, Saroa. The tour itself was a bit hit and miss – some of the towns we visited didn’t seem worthy of a visit, but there were also some gems, like the bright and bustling city of Havana and the lush, mountainous scenery of Vinales. The people were also wonderful, and the mojitos really were the stuff dreams are made of.

September

Morocco

To celebrate our first anniversary, we spent a long weekend in Marrakech with Tim’s brothers and their significant others (including fellow bloggers, Simon & Hayley). It was our first ever trip to Africa, so we were determined to do it to the full. We visited all the major sights, including the Jemaa el Fna, Bahia Palace and Majorelle Garden, all the time with our bellies full of tagine and the sweetest mint tea. Being the only guests in the whole place, we were spoilt in our riad with the most delicious full breakfast cooked every morning. We felt like Moroccan royalty!

October

STA Travel Show

In October we had yet another day trip to London. But this time, we weren’t drawn by any sights in particular. Instead, we went to the TNT/STA Travel Show in London to pick up some 2016 travel advice and see what deals were on offer. Not able to settle on a 2016 destination, we left empty handed apart from a very large number of free pens. Read more about that and the 10 things we learnt at the TNT/STA travel show.

November

Bristol Christmas Market

When you love Christmas as much as I do, you need that festive fix as soon as possible. November seemed like a great time to start, so we decided to spend a weekend with our friends seeing what Bristol had to offer in terms of festivities and good food. Lots, it turned out. We spent hours wandering around the Christmas market and even longer in restaurants to end up with shapes that would even rival Santa. Read more about our 24 hours of Bristol foodie heaven.

December

Winter Wonderland

Yep, you’ve guessed it… London again. I should make a 2016 resolution to visit it less! In December, I spent a day at Winter Wonderland. Though it’s incredibly commercial and always busy, I love Winter Wonderland. It makes for a great day out with food, drink, shops, rides and various other attractions. My friends and I mixed with snow leopards made of actual snow and ice queens made of actual ice. It may have been cold, but it sure was fun.

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2015 has been a great year, with so many travel dreams under my belt but even more travel dreams in my head. I can’t wait to get my 2016 travel on, because I know it’s going to be even better…

How was 2015 for you? What are your travel plans for 2016?

How to spend NYE in NYC

It’s been five years since I spent New Year’s Eve in New York. Since then, nothing has even come close to matching it. I’ve also been back to New York at other times of the year, but NYE in the Big Apple has to be the best.

If you’re planning a visit (or even if you’re not, this might persuade you to do so), here are my Dos and Don’ts for a New Year’s trip to beat all others.

Do embrace the most wonderful time of the year 

New Year's Eve in New York

There’s something so special about the City where so many wonderful Christmas movies have been filmed – Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone 2, Elf… In New York, you too can witness the magic! See the Christmas lights, go ice skating at the Rockefeller Centre or marvel at the hundreds of Christmas trees across Manhattan. New York City really is one of the most magical places on earth over the Christmas period, and it’s easy to see why.

Don’t bother with Times Square at midnight

Times Square hosts the most famous New Year’s Eve party in the world, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Over a million people cram in to the square from 3pm, with no access to public toilets, refreshments, or alcohol. If you can handle all that, you can enjoy live music, celebrity guests and light displays. If only you could see anything other than the back of a stranger’s head…

There are ways around it, though. You can get there really early to save a prime spot by One Times Square, but for that, you’re sacrificing your comfort, thirst and hunger. You could also book a hotel room overlooking Times Square, but for that, you’re sacrificing a whole lot of cash.

Do see what the rest of the City has to offer

New Year's Eve in New York

If being crushed in Times Square doesn’t seem like your cup of tea, do some research to see where else you could bring in the New Year. We spent the night in Central Park instead and had a fantastic time. You can come and go as you please, whilst enjoying an amazing fireworks display, live bands and a wonderful open-air club atmosphere while the countdown is projected on to the Naumburg bandshell. The Park also hosts a midnight run if you prefer exercise over parties.

Don’t expect it to be warm 

Oh my god, December in New York can be freezing. Prepare for snow, icy winds and bitter chills. Despite living in England, this trip gave me the coldest temperature I have ever experienced in my life. Remember to pack lots of warm clothes, gloves, coats, scarves, hats… I even wore thermals and I’m not afraid to say it!

Do spend a night on Broadway

New Year's Eve in New York

Seeing a Broadway show is a must for any visit to New York. We chose Billy Elliot, which was actually a strange choice for us as it’s full of American actors putting on dodgy Northern English accents. That just made it even more entertaining for us, though.

There are other equally fantastic things to see, and you can get last minute seats at bargain prices by visiting the tkts booths in Times Square for same day performances.

Don’t queue for the Empire State Building

New Year's Eve in New York

The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic sights in New York. But like most other things in the City, it can get awfully busy. If you’re still intent on visiting, I’d recommend buying tickets in advance, which you can do at the official ESB website. Some tickets mean you can jump the queue which, if you’re only in New York for a short visit, will be a God send.

However, you could avoid the queues altogether by visiting the Top of the Rock instead. You get just as good a view, (if not better because you can actually see the Empire State Building), it’s not as busy and it’s cheaper. What’s not to love?

Do unleash your inner kid in the Toys R Us store

New Year's Eve in New York

Toys R Us on Times Square is home to some wonderful sights. You can see anything and anything made out of lego, an animatronic T-Rex, a life size Barbie dolls house and even a fully functioning indoor ferris wheel! The store is just like a theme park, but completely free! This makes it a great place to get away from the cold when it all gets a bit too much.

Don’t overdo breakfast 

New Year's Eve in New York

It’s very easy to eat too much in New York, especially at breakfast time when a Full English is considered a starter. The portions are so big, it’s tempting to eat a full day’s worth of food in one sitting. But with so many wonderful places to eat, you really should save yourself.

One of our favourite meals was a seafood platter at Bubba Gump, complete with side salad, soup and cocktails. We would never have experienced that if we were too full from breakfast!

Do visit Madison Square Gardens to see the Knicks

New Year's Eve in New York

One of my favourite things to do in New York is watch basketball at Madison Square Gardens. It’s so much fun cheering for the Knicks, wearing a massive foam hand and tucking into a hot dog surrounded by thousands of die-hard fans. If you don’t know much about the sport, I’d recommend reading up on the rules before you go so you can follow a little of what’s going on. You can book tickets in advance from home via Ticketmaster and pick them up at the stadium for a really entertaining night.

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New York is a fantastic place to visit, no matter what the time of year. But to see it at its best, you really can’t beat New Year. By following my advice, you’re practically guaranteed a memorable stay. 

Have you ever been to New York over New Year’s Eve? How did you spend the night?

The best places for Winter sun

Winter is, without a doubt, my least favourite time of year. In the UK, we are ‘treated’ to rain, short dark days and long cold nights. It’s enough to seriously affect the mood of Brits. In fact, between 3 and 6% of people in the UK are thought to have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a form of depression brought on by the start of winter. As many as 13% suffer from a milder version, commonly known as ‘winter blues’.

Symptoms of both can be treated with light therapy, regular exercise and counselling, but my advice? Holidays are always the answer! Escape the winter blues with a visit to some of my favourite destinations with guaranteed winter sunshine.

Cuba

Havana Cuba

Best time to visit Cuba: November – April

If you like culture, history, salsa music, good food, sunshine, mojitos, beaches, cities, mountains, waterfalls, [insert every other beautiful thing known to man here], you can’t go wrong with Cuba. Please remember there is so much more to the island than Varadero (the largest all-inclusive area in the Caribbean), but if you must go there, at least visit Havana for a few days first. The city is one of my favourites in the world – where else can you be transported back to the ’50s in a chevy or choose how much rum goes in your cocktail?

Cuba is at its best in the dry season between November and April, when the country enjoys a typically Caribbean climate. However, we visited in August, which is considered the wet season. You can still enjoy good weather, but it tends to get hot, humid and very wet. If you’re anything like me, the mosquitoes will eat you alive in summer, so winter really is best.

Thailand

Thailand

Best time to visit Thailand: November – February

Thailand is a great choice for people wanting a varied holiday. Bangkok is a must for city dwellers, Chiang Mai will satisfy adventurers while the Thai islands and coastline are perfect for those looking for a more relaxed stay. Or, like us, you could even do all three! (Read more about our Thai adventures here). It’s also a food lover’s paradise and really great value for money. Thailand is a place that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

We visited in November, which is known as the cool season. It’s a great time of year to go as it’s dry, warm (they call it the cool season but temperatures can still reach over 30°c!) and the green landscape is flourishing thanks to the end of the rainy season the month before.

Mexico

Tulum Mexico

Best time to visit Mexico: November – April

I cannot think of a bad thing to say about Mexico. I absolutely love it. Wrongly accused of being one of the most dangerous countries in the world, I was transfixed by its gorgeous people and its stunning scenery. Mexico City is vibrant and full of Aztec history, certainly enough to keep you occupied for a few days’ visit. I also strongly recommend a trip to the Yucatán peninsula, where you can witness the blend of Mexican and Spanish cultures in the colonial town of Mérida as well as the Mayan ruins in Tulum and Chichen Ítza. The main resort area, Cancun, is also a lot of fun and a great place to relax after all that sightseeing.

Much like Cuba, Mexico is best visited in its dry season between November and April, but it can get very busy during these months. November is probably the best month to go to avoid the crowds with perfectly warm and dry weather. We chose to risk the hurricane season in October as flights were much cheaper. We still had wonderful temperatures, and only saw rain twice in two weeks! We thankfully missed the hurricanes too!

Southern Spain

Seville southern Spain

Best time to visit Southern Spain: September – October

For those that know me, seeing Spain on this list will be no surprise. Southern Spain is home to some of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and with mild temperatures year round, why wouldn’t you want to go? Seville is a great place to base yourself in the area, and a destination in its own right thanks to the largest Gothic cathedral in the world and plenty of other monuments and sights. The moorish influence is clear in Granada’s Alhambra – a stunning complex of palaces and gardens.

However, my favourite City in southern Spain has to be Córdoba. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with its fabulous mosque/cathedral hybrid, it’s easy to see why. The building was originally built as a Catholic cathedral, but after being demolished by the Muslim Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman I, the site became home to a grand mosque. Since then, it has been converted back in to a Catholic place of worship, but still retains its moorish architecture and features. It’s just beautiful.

Though winter might not be known as the best time of year to visit southern Spain, it’s still a great place to go if you want some winter sun without travelling too far from home. Plus it’s ridiculously cheap! Summer months in Spain can be expensive, unbearably hot and tourist heavy, so they are best avoided.

California

California winter sun

Best time to visit California: September – October

A safe bet for some, California has an endless list of things to do and see. From the vibrant city of San Francisco in the North, the waterfalls and natural beauty of Yosemite National Park to the beautiful beaches along SoCal and resorts and theme parks of Los Angeles, there really is something for everyone. Plus, just 20 miles from San Diego to the Mexico border, you could even tick off two countries in one go (though there are much better places than Tijuana!)

California is called the Sunshine State for a reason, and boasts mild temperatures and sunny weather all year round. I visited in February and honestly can’t remember seeing a cloud in the sky. It was beautifully warm, and I managed to avoid the crowds that flock to the area during the summer.

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We really are spoiled for choice when it comes to places to visit during winter. Where are your top destinations to visit at this time of year? 

Skiing: Is it worth it?

When I was 7, my Grandad introduced me to a BBC documentary called ‘On the Piste’ from the ’80s.  It follows a group of Brits on their first ever attempts at skiing in the alps and has hilarious consequences. If you’ve never seen it, I want to introduce you to one of the funniest clips from the show, and the legendary Kevin. It still has me crying with laughter.

Before then, I had never heard of skiing, let alone thought about doing it myself. But the documentary changed my mind. It made skiing look like the most fun you could ever have – I just didn’t realise it would require the investment of so much time and money.

Equipment, lessons, transport and accommodation were all far too expensive for me to even consider a trip, so when I had the chance to visit Val d’Isere on an all-expenses-paid company incentive, it was a dream come true. Granted, I still needed to buy my own clothes and take a few lessons at Snozone before I got there, but that accounted for only 25% of the £482* people spend on the average Val d’Isere ski trip (and that doesn’t even include transport).

But was it worth it? Let’s take a look…

The preparation

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If you’re going skiing for the first time, there are a few things I recommend investing in pre-trip: skiwear and ski lessons. Skiing is surprisingly daunting. If you don’t believe me, try strapping two planks to your feet and hurtling down a slippery hill.

It really helped me feel fully prepared to have bought warm, comfortable clothes that would protect me from knocks and the freezing temperatures. My pre-trip shopping list included ski jacket, fleece, base layer, salopettes, gloves, hat, goggles, snow boots… in fact, everything you can see in the photo minus the skis, poles and ski boots (not pictured).

But much more valuable was the beginners ski course I took at Snozone in Milton Keynes a few weeks before the trip. Having the opportunity to learn to ski on real snow with an expert coach meant that, when I actually got to the resort itself, I felt confident I had at least a few of the basics down.

The journey

DSC05112

If I’m totally honest, the journey was a bit of a pain in the arse. From our office, we took a coach to the airport, a plane to Geneva and then another coach up the windiest and highest mountain roads for 3 hours. I found myself gripping the seat in front of me with my knuckles turning white as I contemplated the sheer drops either side of the road!

Though the journey was long, that only added to the anticipation and there was plenty of beautiful scenery to keep me occupied.

The stay

Val dIsere

Imagine being able to enjoy this view every morning – stunning. That’s what we were treated to at the Hotel Aigle des Neiges, Val d’Isere, a 4* hotel slap bang in the middle of the resort and just a few minutes’ walk from the ski slopes. But with the hotel’s most basic room costing upwards of €199 (£144) per night, it has a hefty price tag.

However, accommodation is extremely important on ski holidays as it’s the place you go to thaw out and rest after a physically demanding day of skiing and apres-ski. There are cheaper places to stay, but I loved our hotel because it was comfortable, warm and welcoming. It also had everything you could need to get away from the snow, including a spa and an excellent restaurant and bar complete with open fires.

The skiing

Val d'Isere

This photo makes me laugh. Please ignore the smug child behind me looking like a complete natural while I look chuffed to even be standing upright.

I’m obviously stating the obvious here but skiing is, of course, the main reason people go on ski trips and Val d’Isere is a great place to learn. We had beginners lessons each day of the trip, and they were brilliant. It reminded me so much of On the Piste that I got the giggles all the way through. We even had our very own Kevin in the form of my colleague, Lalit, who got stuck coming off the button lift leaving a wake of destruction as skiers domino-ed behind him. It really was hilarious.

I had my very own On the Piste moment getting off the chair lift on the green run. I was so nervous about getting off that I did it too hastily and went face-first into the snow. It took two grown men to get me back up, only for me to fall over pretty much straight away.

The more experienced skiers in the group enjoyed the blue, red and black runs, and we all agreed the skiing was fantastic.

The fun stuff

Apres ski in Val d'Isere

Apres-ski is an absolute riot. It literally means ‘after skiing’, and includes any form of entertainment available to skiers when the ski lifts shut and the sun goes down. Val d’Isere offers designer shopping, hiking and other sports, but the most popular form of apres-ski involves alcohol.

There are numerous bars in the centre of the resort, all with special offers and loud music to keep you busy until it’s time for dinner. One of the most famous places to spend apres-ski is La Folie Douce – a massive open-air dance party held at the top of a mountain with DJs, cabaret acts and dancers. It’s the most fun ever. If you’re a party addict, I’d even go so far as to say the apres-ski is worth a visit to Val d’Isere all on its own.

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Overall, I had a fantastic trip and think skiing is something that everyone should try at least once. I might just wait until I’m a millionaire before I go again…

Have you ever been skiing? Do you think it’s worth the money?

*This figure came from a report by Post Office Travel Money on the average cost of ski holidays. Read more if you’re interested!

How to survive until your next holiday

If, like me, you live for the holidays, it can be really tough to get through a long and intense spell at work before your next trip away. When you have something as exciting as a holiday to look forward to, waiting just seems to take forever! So what can you do to make the time go faster?

Here are some of my top tips on how to survive until your next holiday.

  1. Get in to a weekly routine
    Go to work, go to the gym, watch a new TV series… the more you follow a routine, the more your mind and body will get used to it. Your routine will become really easy to stick to, and your holiday will be here before you know it.
  2. Look after yourself
    Remember to eat healthily and exercise regularly. This will allow you to concentrate on other things, whilst making sure you are well for the holiday itself.
  3. Distract yourself with day-to-day things
    Start a new project or keep busy with your hobbies to help the time go faster. You could start a blog, take up baking or photography – anything to keep your mind off how slowly the time is going!
  4. Get away from it all
    Plan day trips or weekends away to new and exciting places. This will make the work week go faster as you’ll have things to look forward to as a reward for your hard work.
  5. Space annual leave throughout the year
    By organising your annual leave throughout the year, you’ll have less time to wait between holidays. It will also help keep you fresh and avoid burn out by working for shorter periods at a time.
  6. Plan parts of the holiday
    There’s no harm in organising where you’re going to eat on your first night, how you’re going to get to your hotel, what’s on your must do list… You can research your destination to make sure things are ready for when you do actually go.
  7. Try learning the language
    If you don’t share the mother tongue of your destination, you can keep yourself busy by learning the lingo. Listen to CDs, read phrase books and foreign language news. Why not go to a class? It’s an investment and a great way to immerse yourself in the culture of where you’re going.
  8. Treat yourself
    Organise dinners out with friends and family, or treat yourself travel essentials for your trip. By rewarding yourself along the way, you’ll be less resentful of the hard work you’ve had to complete to achieve your holiday.
  9. Allow yourself to be excited
    It’s okay to be excited! Look at pictures of where you’re going, read reviews, talk to people that have been before… it helps to get the excitement out every once in a while so that you don’t explode!
  10. Book another holiday
    This is my ultimate aim for the rest of my life – never go on holiday without having another one planned. That way, when you do get back home, you will have another holiday to look forward to!

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What do you do to keep yourself distracted before a holiday? Do you have any more top tips to share?