Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Prepare for Volunteering Overseas

Deciding to head overseas to volunteer is really exciting, since it has all the promise of adventure, as well as giving you a chance to make a positive difference to the world. Any kind of jaunt abroad requires a little preparation, but volunteering trips often need more attention than others.

I've put together a basic guide of how to prepare for volunteer work abroad below - I hope it helps!

Step 1: Work out a budget

Once you've booked your trip, flights and such, the first thing to work out is a budget for while you're there. The simplest way to start this is by looking at what your chosen tour operator includes in the price. For example, they might offer to cover some of your food costs or pay for your accommodation - what you get will vary from one company to the next.

After you've got that clear in your mind, you should look into how much living costs are in your chosen destination. This way, you can begin to get a picture of how much day-to-day living might add up to. As well as considering the prices of things like food, drink and accommodation, you should also think about whether you will need to pay for any additional transport or activities.

Step 2: Talk to your doctor

Next on your list should be arranging an appointment with your doctor to discuss whether there are any vaccinations you will need before you travel. This is perhaps the most obvious aim of your appointment, but don't forget to talk about your trip in a little more detail.

By doing so, your doctor can advise you how to handle any underlying medical conditions you may have before you go away, as well as giving you tips on how to avoid getting sick in the places you plan to visit.

Step 3: Insurance

It's likely you've already got travel insurance on your to-do list, but it's worth bearing in mind that you'll need to read the small print carefully to make sure the package you get is actually appropriate for your trip. Think about any unusual activities that might need to be covered, your medical needs and how long you will be away for.

Step 4: Research the local culture

The next step is to prepare yourself mentally. It's likely you'll be entering into a culture that's wholly different from what you're used to, and one of the best ways to prepare is to make sure you know what to expect. This has the added benefit of helping you integrate with the locals more easily too.
Learning a little of the language is one of the most useful steps. Don't worry, there's no need to become fluent (though you can if you like!), but knowing some basic terms can really help you settle in, feel more at home and make friends.

As well as learning how to say hello, please and ask where the bathroom is, you should also do a bit of research into the culture itself. Are there any gestures that are considered rude you should avoid, for example? Or is there a polite way of addressing people you should use in the country you're visiting? Knowing cultural quirks like this can really help ease your way into local society.

Step 5: Pack smart

Finally, as any keen traveller knows, you need to be smart with your packing. Think about what you really need to take and be as ruthless as possible to avoid overloading yourself. Pack appropriate clothing - and make sure it's comfortable - as well as any medicine you require.
One of the most important things to remember is to take a comprehensive list of emergency numbers with you, such as a contact number for the airline and tour operator and the number to dial for lost or stolen credit cards. You should also give people at home an emergency number they can reach you on.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why visiting Camp Nou is a must in Barcelona

Barcelona is a stunning Spanish city that is home to a wealth of churches, museums and galleries that all make it a top cultural spot to visit. But sports fans will no doubt also be keen to take a look at one of its other major attractions - Camp Nou.

The football stadium is where Barcelona FC has played since 1957, making this an historic site for sports enthusiasts. It's located at Carrer d'ArĂ­stides Maillol, so you can either book hotels in Barcelona that are close to the stadium or decide to stay somewhere nearer to the other attractions, like Las Ramblas. Either way, the city's metro and bus service will ensure you're never too far away from the biggest tourist spots.

Below are my top reasons why stopping off at Camp Nou is a must.

Its history

Camp Nou has an interesting history that goes beyond the age of the stadium. It was designed by Josep Soteras Mauri, Lorenzo Garcia Barbon and Francesc Mitjans Miro to provide capacity for more than 93,000 fans. A bigger ground was required due to the growing popularity of Barcelona FC, helped by the signing of Ladislau Kubala, who was a very respected Hungarian player.

The building project cost millions of pesetas, resulting in the club spending several years clearing its debt. To find out loads more interesting facts, stop by Camp Nou's museum. A mixture of trophy-packed display cabinets, interactive screens and temporary exhibitions all make this corner of the stadium a fascinating place to visit.

Its sheer size

Camp Nou is huge and you'll be blown away by its size when you approach the ground, and even more so once you step inside. It's got a capacity of 99,354, making it the biggest stadium in the whole of Europe. Believe it or not, it was actually going to be extended to house 120,000 football fans for the 1982 World Cup, but new regulations regarding standing areas soon put paid to these plans. Rising for 48 m and with a surface area of 55,000 sq m, it's certainly big enough - for now, anyway!

The Camp Nou Experience

If you really want to get a feel for the stadium, get yourself booked on to the Camp Nou Experience. As soon as you've sorted your flights and hotels in Barcelona, your next step should be getting a place on this tour. You get to see and hear loads of different things, such as visiting the museum, exploring the multimedia area, discovering the grandstand and seeing what the view is like from the press boxes. Throw in the thrill of standing in the players' tunnel and checking out the pitch and very swish changing rooms, and you can see why it's an amazing experience for football fans.

The club shop

Barcelona FC's football strip is one of the most recognisable in the world, so get yourself a reminder of your time at Camp Nou by picking up some of the latest kit. There are plenty of items to choose from, and not just the team's official strip. You can bag a hoodie, nightwear, cap and tie, as well as bags, balls, games and toys.

If you've been lucky enough to visit Camp Nou when on holiday in Barcelona, what was your favourite bit and why?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

3 Top Places for a Family Day Out in Devon

If you were to ask me what my perfect staycation would be, I would have to say self catering in Devon. It's so relaxing to simply get up and eat when you want - and you are also surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the UK.

I think the county is a great place for families to visit as there is so much to do, whether you are outdoors lovers who like going on long walks, or you prefer to delve into a destination's past by going to museums.
Here are three of the best places to visit if you are on a getaway with your kids.

The Milky Way Adventure Park

This theme park is home to the longest, tallest and fastest - and probably the most thrilling - roller coaster in Devon, and makes for an exciting place to spend the day. Indeed, a trip here could well be the high point of your kids' holiday.

Of course, it's not all about adrenalin seeking, and there's also plenty to keep younger children amused, like the 85,000 sq ft of indoor play area. In addition to that, there are craft stalls, assault courses and even activity areas for toddlers. You can easily spend the whole day here, as there are places to eat and drink. One's thing for certain - your kids are sure to sleep well that night!

Pennywell Farm

If theme parks are one thing that is guaranteed to please young holidaymakers, the chance to cuddle cute animals is another. Luckily, you can do just that at Pennywell Farm, a multi-award winning activity park that is the largest of its kind in the south-west. As well as being home to dozens of friendly animals, it also has rides and play areas, so you can easily spend the day here.

Perhaps the most famous inhabitants of the farm are the miniature pigs. These have been specifically bred to stay smaller than an average pig, and they are also so friendly some people decide to acquire them as pets. At birth, these pigs weigh just 8oz and will grow to be around the size of a Springer spaniel - which is about a fifth of the size of a normal pig. Theses miniature pigs are for sale at the farm, but you may prefer to pet one rather than take it home.

Other inhabitants include reindeer, shire horses and ferrets, while there is much more to do, like ride on the Red Rocket tractor or the Rainbow Railway. You can also race each other on the Run Rabbit Ride Go Carts - why not make it a family tournament?

Morwellham Quay

This is a place that makes learning fun, so your children could come away from their holiday having found out much more about the place they are visiting. History has been brought to life at this museum by the people who work here and all dress in 19th century costume.

Nestled in the Tamar Valley, the attraction is home to a narrow-gauge railway that you can ride to the George and Charlotte copper mine, where you can have a peek at the underground workplace where many locals would have spent long days during the Victorian period. If nothing else, your kids will appreciate that they aren't facing a future working in such conditions!

Wherever you choose to go, your little ones will be tuckered out by the time you get back to your holiday home!

Do you regularly visit Devin? Where are your top destinations for a daytrip?

Monday, August 13, 2012

How to save money on a family holiday to the Seychelles

How to save money on a family holiday to the Seychelles

Family holidays are always highlights of the year, but they can be extremely expensive, especially if you want to jet away on a trip somewhere exotic like the Seychelles. For a chance to experience a holiday of a lifetime on a shoestring, read our tips.

Choose your holiday deals carefully

This might sound obvious but getting the best deal for a family holiday on an island in the Seychelles involves spending a lot of time doing your research. These days, you'll have plenty of choice of tour operators, airlines and travel agencies, so make sure you look for deals in all of these establishments.

By shopping around and comparing quotes, you'll get the best offer and save a bundle in the long-run!

Don't forget, peak times such as school holidays bring up flight and hotel prices considerably. So, if you have little ones that aren't of school age yet, you could look at travelling outside of the expensive seasons to save money. Be flexible with your time as well by looking for flights that leave on a weekday or at unsociable hours. These are often less popular among holidaymakers and therefore cheaper, but if you have got young children, you'll be used to being up at all hours anyway.

If you used to travel a lot before the kids came along and are pretty confident you can book your own accommodation, take advantage of these skills by arranging your flights and lodgings separately. You may find this will save you money, particularly if you're looking for self-catering accommodation. But should you think it'd be easier to stay in all-inclusive hotels with your little ones, it might be more cost-effective to go for a package holiday.

Become a local and make your money last longer

Once you have landed in the Seychelles, there are also many ways you can stretch your budget. Firstly, choose somewhere to visit that isn't in the most popular destinations. Many people stay on Mahe or Praslin - the largest and second biggest islands - as this is where they'll find idyllic beaches, large resorts and crystal-clear waters.

However, if you're willing to go off the beaten track, you could find some quieter - and cheaper - gems of your own. Do some research before you leave and find a destination that is further out of the Seychelles's cities or main tourist resorts. You'll find these definitely save you some cash, while giving you and your children a chance to see a more authentic side of the nation.

In fact, immersing yourself in the local culture will both save you money and enable you to have a really fulfilling and rewarding experience. How many kids will get the chance to say they have see how Seychellois people really live?

As well as picking somewhere more traditional to stay, go on low-cost excursions to cut down on your spending. These include shopping at local markets where you can put your haggling skills to the test, visiting fishing villages to learn more about the livelihood of locals, and taking a trip to Valle-de-Mai on the island of Praslin. This last excursion will enable your kids to run through a real rainforest and possibly spot the world's largest seed, coco de mer. But don't try to pick it up, as these can weigh up to 30 kg!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ghosts, Whisky and Tartan an Irresistible Combination?

We’ve heard a lot about ‘staycations’ this year, and to be honest we weren’t convinced about trading in the Seychelles for Skegness but needs must, so with Hawaii cancelled this year we went scouting for places in Britain that are really worth it for your precious holidays. Well I hope you appreciate our hard work because several very, very soggy weeks later we’re actually holding a bit of a grudge…

But all was not lost we discovered one city that really withstood the weather for things to do, places to eat and stunning architecture; but it was a wee bit hilly. I’m talking of course about Edinburgh, so we’ve broken it down into top 6 things to do in our new favourite city.

1) Deep fried mars bar?

No! Well yes you probably can but we won’t allow it.  Spend some of the money that Easyjet didn’t rob from you this year on one of the city’s amazing restaurants. As a starting point try 21212 – yes that’s what we thought about the name as well but it’s the envy of Michelin starred restaurants and with stunning dishes like their creamy gourmet mushroom risotto it can be forgiven.

2) Hell on earth you say? Two tickets please

Whatever you say about this city no one can deny it’s old, and we all know what old means: ghosts and ghouls and spooky things - excellent stuff.

Now we have to admit we’re sceptical but this tour did give us the heebie jeebies.  The tour of the under-city describes itself enticingly as the closest thing to hell on earth possible. Personally we thought hell would be rather warmer. The underground city is a series of vaults built under the city in 1788, originally designed as a kind of underground shopping mall for tradesmen and it was reputed to have been used by the serial killers Burke & Hare to dispose of bodies. Despite this brilliant start it was too inhospitable for olde times shopkeepers and they abandoned it and the poorest inhabitants moved in.

Now they are mainly used for tourist thrill and chills and even if you’re not of the ghost hunting ilk these are well worth a visit for historical interest alone.

3) Get classy

After a bit of ghost hunting you may need some culture so take a walk along the riverside and enjoy The Scottish Gallery of National Art, located along the water of Leith Walkway, which is dotted with sculptures by Henry Moore and Edinburgh's own Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Fresh air and some beautiful art is a great way to spend a relaxed afternoon strolling.

4) Suits you sir

Discover your inner Braveheart and visit Edinburgh Old Town Weaving Co. to find out how it’s done. Have a look at the tartan guide and, of course, find your own clan history and get the kilt to go.

5) One for the road?

Finally get a real taste for Scotland and have a tipple. Find out the history of their liquid gold with The Scotch Whisky Experience.  No dry lectures here – the tour includes a barrel ride. Then ends, of course, with a shop full to the brim with delectable whisky

6) Stay in Style

Edinburgh can boast some of the finest city hotels in the whole of the UK, including the wonderful George Hotel in the very heart of the city. This grand old hotel won the prestigious "best hotel in Edinburgh" in the Scottish hotel awards last year, so why not treat yourself to some stunning style and luxury. Click here to visit the official George hotel website.

With these trips and treats Edinburgh’s the place to be for culinary and cultural delights. So despite the rain we thoroughly recommend Edinburgh for this year’s staycation, as long as you can hack a hangover…