Picking a hotel in London isn’t an easy task, even in the Internet age, but when I was nudged in the direction of the Mercure London Bridge, I soon stopped dithering; it has a four star rating and comes recommended by Expedia, Hotels.com and Booking.com. I recently checked in for a one night stay, armed with my camera and notebook to report back to you.
If you’ve never heard of the brand before, here’s a quick primer. There are over 700 Mercure properties around the world, often with unique selling points, including the Ink Hotel in Amsterdam (part of the MGallery Collection), based in a former Dutch newspaper office. Closer to home, Hythe in Kent has the Imperial, a sprawling Victorian house complete with a spa and golf course. London has several different hotels under the brand, from Kensington to Greenwich, and a Hyde Park branch will open in October 2015.
It’s a country with beaches, tropical rainforests, mountains and deserts, dotted with Mayan temples and vibrant cities; yes, Mexico is anything but one-dimensional. One minute you could be listening to a mariachi band in a zócalo (town square), the next you could be wandering through a national park or getting to grips with water sports.
With so much to see and do, it can be hard to build your perfect itinerary. So, to kick-start your Mexican holiday inspiration, I’ve narrowed down some of the best things you should do during your trip.
Calling all travel addicts: who fancies a weekend packed with famous explorers and leading tour operators giving you insider tips and inspiring you to book your next big voyage? Yep, thought you might be tempted…
The Adventure Travel Show will take you off the beaten track, introducing you to unique experiences, including trekking holidays, eco-friendly breaks, volunteering opportunities and wildlife tours. You’ll be able to learn about remote places and plan your own incredible journeys along the way. Now in its 19th year, the show comes to Olympia London on 17th and 18th January 2015 and is an unmissable event for anyone who wants to explore more of the world.
People say memories are one of the best things you can bring back from a trip, but I’m willing to bet photos come a close second for most of us. However, it can be a challenge to get a beautiful shot when you’re far from being a pro.
The good news is, it doesn’t take long to build confidence and ability behind the camera. Start getting to grips with photography now and you’ll be able to put your skills to the test when you’re next on the road.
Basic Beginner Tips
Think about composition. What story are you trying to tell in your picture, and what do you want to include or exclude from it? Move away from putting your subject in the centre all the time, and get to know the rule of thirds: imagine your screen divided into thirds each way (nine little squares) then have the subject intersecting the points where some of those squares meet.
Now we can admit we’re not safe from pouting posers in the shadows of a city gallery or on a sun-bleached Thai beach, perhaps it’s time we all acknowledged the growing trend of the self-absorbed holiday. You know, the one where the background is fairly immaterial, an all-inclusive resort or a luxury yacht is hungrily booked up and the tourist doesn’t actually have to tour anything. They might venture out on a very occasional excursion, but it will mainly be an exercise in creating photo opportunities (starring themselves) and trying not to engage with anyone who doesn’t speak impeccable English.
Long-suffering readers of the blog will know that I’m in my element when I’m tracking down unusual or obscure sights on my travels, but I know not everyone finds it easy to do the detective work, especially if you’re short on time or patience.
I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t take much of an effort to really research a destination, so that’s why I was pretty chuffed to see Expedia throwing down the gauntlet to travellers with the launch of their new interactive map, called Hidden Places, centred around Dubrovnik, in Croatia.
You’ve managed to save up and pay for your next adventure – congratulations – but there’s one more financial challenge ahead. How do you keep tabs on your holiday money and stretch your budget when you’re away?
Being an inherent cheapskate, I feel duty-bound to pass on some of my advice, which hopefully you’ll find useful. Here are my top tips for fellow travellers:
Become a Champion Haggler
Obviously this isn’t one to pull off if you’re visiting a posh department store abroad, but when you’re heading for markets and smaller shops then it’s worth remembering your bargaining power. When the seller gives you their opening price, offer them about 50% less, which will show them you’re not looking to pay more than you should have to. You’ll then have some leeway when it comes to negotiating a final price, whereas if you’d immediately offered the seller 75% of the original price then you’d be unlikely to get much of a discount overall.
This autumn I embarked on my first totally solo trip, taking on the Czech capital of Prague for three nights of intensive sightseeing. These are some of the little moments that proved I was right to go it alone; the times when I knew it was okay not to be part of a group or, as the copywriting cliché goes, ‘with that special someone’ (highly unlikely, as a man has never treated me to a city break, though two have taken me on dates to Burger King… but I digress).
You know Prague is perfect for solo travellers when you can…
I’ve taken three bites of the Big Apple so far, and I’m eager to take a fourth chunk out of the city with yet another trip to New York. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t deserve to be ticked off a list only once; each time I’m there, I do totally different things, from hanging out at the UN Headquarters to appearing in the background on Good Morning America, and it feels like a new side to NYC is revealed. I also have some great insight from my sister Nancy, who lived in the city for a year and has been back a few times since.