Tag Archives: Travel Tips

Thai Island Hopping: Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan

Koh Nang Yuan boat offshore from eco-friendly island

Thailand is one of those rare places that looks just as good as the postcards would have you believe. Bright turquoise sea, colourful markets and those beautiful green forests – it’s basically like stepping into an HDR photo.

The three main islands on the Samui archipelago, Koh Samui, Koh Tao and Koh Pha Ngan, all have their own merits, so I suggest you don’t get picky. Enjoy all three in their own right.

Koh Samui

This is the most famous of the eastern Thai islands. It’s a really fashionable destination, and not just for those of us on a shoestring budget – you could rock up to the Six Senses, or The Library, which TripAdvisor called ‘the trendiest hotel in Thailand’. If you’re lucky, you might catch the likes of Mick Jagger performing at the Secret Garden Sunday Sessions on Big Buddha Beach.

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Beauty and the Baggage: Beauty Products to Pack or to Buy Abroad

Smiling retro woman with curled hair holding bar of soap in magazine advertisement from Life, 1950s

Even if you’re not that interested in make-up in everyday life, travelling can change that. For one thing, any combination of jet lag, rough ferry crossings, late night road trips and weird eating patterns can play havoc with your skin, and that’s before sizzling heat or bitterly cold winds come into the equation too. Suddenly a slick of colour or a soothing skin cream seems like a very good idea, and it’s the perfect time to invest in travel beauty products.

With a slew of special offers running in high street stores all year round, World Duty Free isn’t always the cheapest place to shop. Rather than pinning your hopes on airport bargains, I suggest you stock up on basics before you travel, and save some room in your suitcase to bring home new and distinctive beauty products – either for yourself or to use as souvenirs. And if you go to South Korea, expect beauty-savvy friends to be insanely jealous, as it’s a mecca for cosmetics.

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Testing the Three Day Official Dublin Pass

Ha'penny bridge spanning the River Liffey with hotels and shops on one side

I recently blogged about the Freedom Pass from Dublin Sightseeing, but my city break also involved another sightseeing card (yes, I like to spread my favours): the Dublin Pass, which gives tourists free entry to 33 leading attractions.

Adult prices vary from €39 (£29) for one day or €61 (£45) for six days’ access. My three day option cost €71 (£52), which worked out at €23.66 (£17.33) per day, and I was determined to see as much as possible during that time.

So what sealed the deal? As with my Freedom Pass experience, the convenience factor is one big incentive: carrying less cash saves time. With the Dublin Pass you get a free one-way Aircoach transfer, and you can skip the line at some of the city’s most popular sights. To get your attraction tickets, the staff scan your pass using a mobile app. Here’s my verdict…

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Sightseeing in Dublin with the Freedom Pass

Sightseeing green bus on Merrion Square in city centre

Dublin is mostly a walkable city and, though you can navigate it easily, there are always extra things to be seen from the road and from the experts. When I visited last week for a short break with my parents, I knew a bus tour would be on our agenda, but we wanted to get the best value for our Euro.

I chose Dublin Sightseeing’s Freedom Pass as it seemed like good value for money: €33 (or £24) provides three days’ unlimited hop-on hop-off bus travel on two sightseeing routes, plus public bus travel (the blue and yellow buses you see everywhere), a free Pat Liddy walking tour and free entry to the Little Museum of Dublin, alongside a range of attraction discounts. Not bad for the equivalent of €11 (£8) per day. But would it be useful in reality?

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Paris Tips for Families and Solo Travellers

Pompidou Centre with unusual architecture in central Paris steel pipes and grid

Whether you’re travelling en famille or you’re flying solo, you know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all city break. As there are far too many existing Paris guides aimed at couples, I’ve aimed to redress the balance for the rest of us with these tips, following on from my guide for first-time visitors.

Paris with Kids

I recently compiled a city break itinerary for a family of five, so I can promise you this city is child-friendly. It’s just a case of finding what will keep everyone entertained…

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Paris Travel Tips for First Time Visitors

French capital with rooftop scene in miniature mode and Eiffel Tower in background

The city of light can be dazzling, which may explain why it’s on so many travel bucket lists. Paris seems maze-like and full-on at first, with its different arrondissements (neighbourhoods) and its constant trendsetting, but once you start wandering you’ll see it’s not so daunting after all. Are you ready to explore?

Your First Trip to Paris: The Basics

Start as you mean to go on…

  • If you’re travelling from the UK, choose the Eurostar over planes. Charles De Gaulle airport is nowhere near where you want to be, and it’ll cost €10 for a train ticket to the city centre, whereas the Eurostar takes you straight to the Gare du Nord.
  • The Mayor of Paris’ website has a ‘First time in Paris’ guide full of tips – I like the sound of the helium balloon tour in the André Citroën Park (weather-permitting).
  • Using the Metro is pretty straightforward, and the ticket machines have an English language option. Buy a carnet which gives you 10 tickets – much easier than buying a single or return each time. Try to avoid travelling at rush hour (09:00-10:00 and 18:00-19:30).
  • Read the free Metropolitan magazine on the Eurostar for up-to-date events listings and more ideas of what to see. Text is in English (phew!).
  • The big Tourist Office is at 25 Rue des Pyramides, near the Opera metro station.
  • Find out which local markets are on during your stay – useful for buying fresh food or souvenirs.
  • Safety tips are as standard for any European city; keep an eye on your valuables, be wary of walking alone at night in quiet areas, and don’t react to tourist scams (e.g. someone asks if you’ve dropped a gold ring, in the hope of distracting you).
  • We all know the French are a stylish bunch, but save your Louboutins if you’re seeing Paris on foot. Swap them for a pair of unisex Stan Smith trainers by Adidas – loved by the ever-chic Phoebe Philo of Celine, seen in a 2013 issue of Vogue Paris and sold at hot designer boutique Colette, where Pharrell Williams even issued a limited edition customised Stan Smiths range.
  • Browse one of my previous posts for things to see and do on a budget when you get here, including the Pompidou Centre.

Key Attractions

You don’t have to do these, but you’ve heard about the hype…

  • I won’t big up the Eiffel Tower – you’re either desperate to visit or you’re not bothered, let’s be honest – but get alternative city views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame. The Arc de Triomphe is open from 10am-11pm, with free entry for under 18s. Adult tickets cost €9.50. Notre Dame is open 10:30-18:30 Mon-Fri and 10:00-23:00 Sat-Sun. Tickets are €8.50, and queues move quickly.
  • Montmartre’s famous Sacré Coeur church is open daily from 6am-10:30pm. The nearby Musée de Montmartre (2/14, Rue Cortot) is on a side street, and it’s open every day from 10am-6pm. There’s also Paris’ last working vineyard, Clos de Montmartre, opposite.
  • If you won’t rest until you’ve seen the tiny Mona Lisa, pre-book your Louvre tickets to cut down some queuing time. The Paris City Pass gives you free entry here, and to many other museums and galleries.
  • Desperate for a Seine cruise? High-end evening trips can cost up to €180pp, which isn’t good value in anyone’s books. Instead, the Paris Tourist Board has a range of daytime cruises from €6pp. Bateaux Parisiens has lunchtime trips from €33pp, including a one hour tour; if you get a Paris City Pass you’re entitled to a one hour Bateaux Parisiens Seine cruise (without food) for free.
  • Loads of major museums and galleries are closed on a Monday or a Tuesday; many restaurants can also be closed on a Sunday or Monday. Always check listings before you travel!
  • The Musée des Arts et Métiers (60 Rue Réaumur) is a bit like London’s Science Museum, with exhibits covering science, technology, energy and communication, including Foucault’s pendulum. Visit from Tues-Sun, 10am-6pm, and late night on Thurs until 9:30pm. Tickets are €8 for adults and €5.50 for children.

Food and Drink

Not every meal is baguette-based or best consumed with wine…

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Visit The Family Travel Show for Half Price

Parents and young children walking on the sand next to the sea

When I was a child, family holidays involved picnics and windbreaks, intensive AA map reading and taking a punt on whether a hotel would be anything like the brochure suggested. Today’s families are so much better informed and really do have the world at their fingertips, with parenting blogs, specialist magazines, in-car SatNavs and travel review sites to help them plan adventures. However, with so much choice, making decisions can be just as tricky.

That’s where The Family Travel Show comes in – it’s the first consumer event designed just for families, providing hands-on advice and talks. Here’s what to expect, and how to save 50% on the price of your tickets (you’re welcome!).

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Emotional Baggage: Finding Travel Insurance for Depression

Rain on window against grey sky

Lawrence Durrell once said that “Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.” I’m a big advocate of travelling for wellbeing, but I’ve also blogged about what it’s like to be away when you’re depressed, and how you can get through it. One big issue remains: finding travel insurance to cover depression can be a bit of a nightmare because, as the FCO says, it needs to be declared as a pre-existing medical condition. That policy will protect you from any health-related issues that may crop up during your trip, but you’ll pay a lot for the privilege.

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In Defence of Organised Group Tours

Dancing figures from Thailand found at ceremonial site

Some people have a thing against organised tour holidays. They think there’s no adventure involved, that it’s all about strict plans and blithely following the leader, with no room for fun or independence; I’m going to prove it’s far from the truth. My three group tour experiences were very different, but they all helped me to get more from the country I was visiting, and they were anything but dull.

First I headed to Berlin, Dresden and Colditz with Riviera Travel, a British company that mainly has middle-aged and mature customers – I went with my mum and I was the only one of the entire group not to have either a husband, a pension plan or the symptoms of the menopause. However, I learned loads and had plenty of free time to explore, even making it to Sachsenhausen for the afternoon.

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Istanbul: A Safety Guide for Solo Female Travellers

Bosphorus boat ride at sunset across two continents

Time for my first blog takeover! Guest blogger Hanna, from Italy, is here to give you her tips on travelling alone as a woman in Istanbul.

Regular readers may remember I’ve written about solo travel in New York and going solo in Prague, so it was great to get Hanna’s perspective on visiting Istanbul – a city that spans two continents and has its own Women’s Library promoting the history of women in Turkey (somewhere for the bucket list)…

When word got out about my plans to travel to Istanbul, I was flooded with the usual objections and warnings from people I knew, especially as I’m a lone female. Yet Istanbul was perhaps one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken, despite the stereotypical image of the country as being unsafe.

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