I was on the move again last week.
After my trip to the spa I felt refreshed and ready to take on the world – until I tried to find parking at Birmingham airport!
I was off to Belgium with work so it was a fairly short flight, thankfully. I hopped in Sheila – that’s my car, not a colleague – and made my way to the Midlands.
Well, for those of you unfamiliar with the roads around Birmingham let me describe them for you: it’s like a plate of spontaneously combusted spaghetti.
My state of relaxation was fading rapidly as I negotiated the seemingly endless stream of motorway and traffic lights en route to the airport.
I left with a smile on my face but ended up at the departure gate with a look similar to a flood victim stranded on the roof of their home.
Belgium here I come!
Anyway, the trip itself went without any hitches but the return journey was waiting.
Ready to pounce.
Smirking smugly at my inability to navigate the highways and byways without resorting to a barrage of profanities and the very real prospect of driving off a cliff.
I made it home without driving Sheila over a 50ft drop, but I think I need another weekend away.
Modern life is tough!
I’d been feeling a bit stressed out over the past few weeks – and considering how much travelling I've done recently it’s hardly surprising.
Sure, when normal people travel they’re usually on their way to somewhere warm where an inviting beach and a cold drink will be waiting for them, greeting them like an old friend.
But for me, the past little while has been nothing but a nightmare.
Firstly, I was involved in a delay at Heathrow for over 11 hours as I waited for a flight to New York. Yup, you read that correctly: ELEVEN HOURS!
Normally I can while away the hours by getting some work done on my laptop or listening to music or watching films – but not on this particular day.
For some reason the charger on my trusty netbook decided to give up the ghost and I was left twiddling my thumbs, sobbing into a crossword and wishing I could fall and break my leg, just to provide me with some excitement!
I know that sounds masochistic but it’s true!
Add to this a delay on my return journey, my bus breaking down on the way from the airport and losing my passport somewhere along the line and you get the measure of how things have been going recently.
So when I fell through the front door and my mum excitedly announced we were heading on ANOTHER trip, I wanted to cry. Or murder her. One of the two.
When she told me it was a spa holiday, though, I could have hugged her – it was exactly what I needed.
All it meant was a 200-mile drive…sigh!
It was worth it, though, I felt absolutely amazing after a weekend of total relaxation. Massage, facials and manicures meant I returned home with my usual cheery glow.
Until the next 14-day delay at Heathrow, of course.
It was a damp September day. I glowered at the alarm clock dancing its inimitable morning melody. Obviously mocking me, I thought.
Nope, it actually WAS 4.30am.
I stumbled from bed, tripped over the cat and managed to jam my finger in the door as I walked like Frankenstein’s monster to the shower.
Tremendous start to the day.
I was flying to Edinburgh for the weekend. My friend had decided to get married. I know, I know, bless her, she obviously doesn't understand what she’s getting herself into…
I was running late again as the countdown to my flight loomed large. Luckily, I’d taken advantage of airport parking for the second time. Eagle-eyed readers will remember my raving about it in the last post. Well, guess what? I'm hooked. I'm an airport parking junkie.
But airport parking is like buses. Not literally, you use your car. What I mean is, until recently I wasn't even aware this service existed. Now, however, I've found THREE companies offering to park my rusty motor as I wave manically from the plane.
This time I opted for I Love meet and greet to deal with the discarded takeaway wrappers and dodgy brakes in my trusty Sheila (that’s my car’s name). In their capable hands, I'm sure she’ll be happily waiting for me when I return. Not sure if I’ll be so pleased to see her, though.
Edinburgh was fantastic. Such an amazing place with sooo much history. As with all weddings it rapidly descended into drunken mayhem as traditional Scottish dancing took hold. It was a whole new world to me. Strip the willow? No idea!
But I’ll definitely be back, that’s for sure!
As with most things in the modern world, the convenience factor of a product is a major selling point when consumers are pondering where their hard earned cash should be spent. Questions like “Do I really need it?” “Will it make a difference if I DON't have it?” and “What’s in it for me?” are commonplace amongst the discerning shopper.
Going on holiday is no different.
Deciding where to purchase your foreign currency from is a major decision for the cost-conscious sun seeker. In these economically unstable times it really is the carefree traveller who ignores the exchange rate and sprints towards the departure gate clutching a fistful of dollars and a manic grin.
For the savvier holidaymaker, however, it’s prudent to shop around - saving yourself some cash in the process - and make your trip all the more memorable. Check the rates before you hit the high street by using a site like xe.com. I use it all the time, and knowing what to expect before you get there is easier than guessing whether the rate you’re offered is decent.
In addition to saving money, it’s wise to consider how you can save TIME if your journeys to the airport normally involve shoving your belongings into a suitcase and knocking the bins over as you career out of the driveway – and finding a parking space before reaching your terminal can be an added nightmare.
Luckily, I have a solution.
Companies like meteor meet and greet and Pink Elephant offer a valet parking service to cut down your journey time from home to terminal. Simply drop your car off when you arrive, they’ll park up in one of their secure storage depots and, when you’re back, they’ll drop it off. Easy!
Time is money and money is time. When you’re jetting off abroad, both are as valuable as each other.
Remember the postcard!
What with extra baggage costs and charges for carrying luggage that's too heavy, we want to try and travel as lightly as possible.
One way we can cut back on how much we travel with is to use our trusty smartphones to carry as much information as they possibly can.
This can save on countless pieces of paper, heavy travel guides, itineraries and endless lists. Not only can you use all the features your phone already has, like the calculator and the notes pages, there are loads of apps you can download to help make your trip less stressful and a bit more organised.
Here are a few of my favourite apps - most of these are only available on the Apple App store, but, if you have an android handset, have a look, there will be similar apps out there.
First up I would recommend downloading FlightAware, an app to help you track your flights; all you have to do is pop in the airline and the flight number and it will let you know of any delays or problems.
Next up you should download Kayak, which will does all sorts of great things; from helping you look for flights, hotels and car rentals, to converting currency - and even a packing list to help you work out what to take - this app will multi-task to help you organise your entire trip.
If you are travelling with friends, or with a partner who wants to make sure you split everything, then download Trip Splitter, an app that helps keep track of expenses, and work out costs.
My final recommendation is WiFi Finder, which does what is says and literally looks for Wi-Fi hotspots - and places that offer free Wi-Fi - so you can check your e-mails and stay in touch with people without ending up with massive data roaming charges on your return home...
Travelling solo can have its good and bad points.
Being alone gives you the time and opportunity to set up your trip exactly as you want it and at your own pace.
How you spend your time when you travel alone is up to you - and that can give you a fantastic sense of freedom.
However, it can also end up being quite lonely as you see the sights and don’t have anyone to share the experience with.
But there is a great way you can travel alone and still have company - and that is to connect with people online before you go away.
There are around 150 million people signed up to Badoo worldwide and they are all looking to meet new people. All you have to do is register and you too can start meeting new people across the world.
If you register before you leave then you can spend some time before you go getting to know new people, finding out if you share common interests and what they enjoy doing. Then, once you arrive, you can carry on chatting and arrange to meet up and get them to show you some of their favourite things to do.
Doing this will help you to really get a feel for the local culture and get the most out of your experience. It also means you can spend some of your trip alone and some of it with company, allowing you to get the best out of travelling solo whilst not getting too lonely.
You can book your trip online, organise and plan your days, and now you can make new friends, all before you even step on a plane.
Travelling, they say, broadens the mind and cultivates your ethnic appreciation.
That’s what they say.
Embarking on an annual pilgrimage to the world’s hotspots, however, seems to have become an excuse for misadventures with alcohol and a disrespect of local cultures – with a degree of sunburn that Valspar would struggle to match on their color chart.
Travelling abroad in today’s climate brings a certain amount of social responsibility for the discerning sun-seeker.
No longer shall the pursuit of tropical heat involve only a worry about drinking the local tap water.
This is much more serious; your homeland depends on you.
It may seem like a striking statement – and a massive burden on your Speedo-clad body – but let me explain.
Once your flight lands in a foreign country it is your nationalistic duty to become a dignified representative of your own kingdom.
This does not mean thundering out the national anthem as your sandal stamps the tarmac, though.
Avoid becoming a ridiculous stereotype of your proud nation by following my five tourism tips – and dodge the waiter’s fingers – or worse – wiggling in your cocktail.
1. English is NOT a universal language
Remember the tiny village in France you’re rumbling through may not have quite the same grasp on your mother tongue.
Learn a couple of phrases to get you out of a sticky linguistic situation – it’s always a good idea.
Shouting louder and pointing is NOT an effective method of communication.
2. Wear sun cream – for the love of God – wear sun cream
Your pasty, vest-wearing frame may be suitable for wandering aimlessly around drizzly seaside resorts, but the same approach under an indiscriminate sun will cause problems.
Wear sun cream. I repeat, wear sun cream.
3. Sample the local food – yes, really
You haven’t travelled 8000 miles to check out the décor of the Bangkok McDonalds.
Globalization may be curtailing the adventurous spirit of the modern traveler, but swim against the tide and stick that honey-glazed cockroach in your mouth.
Go on, you might enjoy it.
4. You’re on vacation, give the camera a break
Snapping away like Annie Leibovitz in an espresso storm is guaranteed to provide hundreds of lovely photographs to fawn over when you arrive back home.
But do you really want to view Vienna through the eyes of a lens? Put the camera away and enjoy your vacation – your memory bank will thank you for it.
5. Don’t be drawn into maps
This is a difficult one. Sure, finding your way around is important – no one wants to stumble into the worst neighborhood in Mexico armed with backpack and a novelty sombrero.
Figure out where you need to go, stick to safe areas and, most importantly, ask a local if you get lost. (This is where your language skills come in handy).
DO NOT stumble around with your map blowing at half mast, tripping over your sandals whilst you shout and point at an unassuming native.
You have been warned!