29 July 2015

Travel For Next To Nothing - 10 Tips and Tricks To Help You Save Money and Travel More

I always seem to get asked how I afford to travel so much. This post should answer some of these questions. There are plenty of people who have this notion that you need to be rich or have lots of money to be able to travel. You don't! I am living prove of this, trust me. Contrary to what people may believe, I am sorry to disappoint you, I do not have a couple of Irish leprechauns churning up gold coins in my imaginary spare room - well not anymore anyway. I love it when people say to me "Bee, I can't afford to travel as much as you do".  'First things first, if you go to Starbucks, Cafe Nero, Costa, Boots(meal deals) or any other cafes that you grab food at, a couple of times a week, then you can definitely afford to travel! 

I am sure you are asking yourself, Bee, how the hell do those things relate? Hold on, I will explain. Okay, so let's take Starbucks for example, a latte costs £2.95 a cup, and if you were to add a panini and/or one of their sweet cakes or snacks, you are well into about £7-8. If you go to Starbucks at least 2-3 times a week, that's about £96 a month! Guess how much a weekend in Copenhagen cost me?! I paid £20 a RETURN, for a return ticket! Which obviously meant Bee was supper excited that she thought of buying another £20 return ticket for the boyfriend to come along for the experience. So out of that £96, we have spent £40 on plane tickets with £56 left in change. I also booked a lovely little studio in for the weekend which only came down to £45, which still leaves you another £11. You can put that towards your food or any other tourist  stuff you want to do - most of which are FREE! You can check out some of my posts on Copenhagen as well as my guide on things to do in Copenhagen. Now, I am not saying that visiting Copenhagen will only cost you £96, I am merely using it as an example to illustrate just how inexpensive travel can be with a little change in lifestyle. On the other hand, if you become a danger to society without your caffeine fix then, by all means, keep that Cafe Nero or Starbucks routine (I would hate to see you on the six o'clock news). Instead save £20 from your wages a month or whatever you can afford, or walk to work instead of buying that daily bus/train pass.

Anyway, this was not a post on travelling to Copenhagen for that you can check out my quick guide to Copenhagen. I also not a believer in totally maxing out the credit cards just so I can get a quick fix to my itchy feet and incurable wanderlust because that credit card statement will be waiting for you when you get back home. If you have one, make sure it comes with rewards(check out my link to the points guy below)! Travelling on the cheap doesn't mean you miss out on luxury. It's ok to be a cheapskate that loves luxurious things in life. Marriott hotels don't come cheap and yet I have stayed at many for FREE! I have stayed in lodges right on the banks of the Zambezi with the safari animals roaming right before me, and that didn't cost me half as much as people would think. If you want to travel more, or travel for close to nothing then I am sure the travel tips below will help you do just that. I have put together some of the travel tips I live by, that can see me travelling short and long haul a couple of times a year without messing up my credit score or selling my kidneys for a plane ticket.

1. Be Loyal, Because Loyalty Pays

I travel quite a bit for work. My longest project was in Peterborough for about a year and about 6 months of that, I basically lived at the Marriott Hotel. So I signed up for their rewards scheme. In a period of a few months, I had racked up 250,000 points! Guess what that got me. That got me 10 beautiful days in Hong Kong! My colleague who was on the project longer than me had racked up enough points to go to Maldives with his then girlfriend(now wife), that's flights and hotel for a week for two people. ALL FREE! Also getting to Peterborough was by train from London to Peterborough via East Coast Trains at Kings Cross, now run by Virgin trains. I signed up for their rewards as well. I earned enough points to go to travel to Edinburgh via first class too. Not mention I still had plenty more points to spare. You can read my post on Top 10 Things To Do In Edinburgh for more. Also when a train is late/delayed/cancelled I don't even get upset anymore, because if it's late/delayed for 30 minutes, you get half your money and 1-hour plus, you get your full price back in vouchers.  To use whenever you please. So sign up for those loyalty schemes if you want to travel. These will allow you to either use for travel or other things like spa days, flights, hotel stays or voucher to use in retail stores.

26 July 2015

Gecko Ridge | An Oasis In The Heart of The Namibian Desert

Have you ever seen the sun set, and the moon rise? All in one night! Well Namibia gave me that gift last year, at Gecko Ridge. Our own little oasis in the desert. I have always believed that where you stay when you are on a holiday or an extended road trip can make or break a holiday. Staying in the busy, noisy and hectic parts of a city when you travel doesn't do your search for rest and relaxation any justice, nor does staying so far away that it makes exploring difficult. My African vacation last year saw my boyfriend and I explore Zambia, before driving to Botswana for his first African safari vacation, then extending our road trip to Namibia's dessert dunes. This was of course where we were going to be doing the sand boarding in the desert dunes, the thing that bucket lists are made of.  It's been on my bucket list for a long, long time. My brother who now lives in Botswana, joined us for this part of the trip too, which also made things easier as we could take turns to drive the long distances. If you are a lover of road trips I would highly, highly, recommend driving in Namibia! The roads are endless with beautiful backdrops of mountains and desert landscapes. There are many stops for markets, small townships along the way, not to mention the road sides have small tables and seats built for pit stops for a break from driving or just a stop for lunch. It's great to see that the road sides have designated stops, almost as if to encourage resting between long drives.

With a hectic and packed itinerary, I wanted us to have peaceful and comfortable places to stays. Having driven 10 hours from Maun in Botswana, we landed in Windhoek, Namibia late in the night. With a few hours to explore Namibia's capital the following day, we then set off for the Skeleton coast, but based ourselves in Swakopmund. People almost always assume visiting Africa is expensive. Its not! The main expensive thing is the flight but even that these days, if you know where to look you are in for an adventure. You will find most of the hotels typically available in Europe and most come with an even better view of nature than a view of the concrete jungle. Our stop in Windhoek for the night cost well £100. So you will get more for you money too. That's for a small suite, and a double room, all including breakfast for the 3 of us. This was also a last minute booking because we couldn't find the hostels we thought we were going to stay in,  having arrived so late and me getting a little bit on the hungry and cranky side. This was very much last minute of the next available place I could find.

With only a day to explore the capital we set of for Namibia's Skeleton Coast. This is the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean and stretches up towards Angola. The local people refer to it as "The Land God Made In Anger" while the Portuguese sailors apparently refer to it as "The Gates of Hell", because whale and seal bones as well as the many shipwrecks that litter the shore. We based ourselves in Swakopmund. A town that seems as if it had been plucked right and of Germany and dropped in Namibia. Architecture and language spoken is mostly German. As beautiful as the town is with its gorgeous beaches on one side and sand dunes on the other. I wanted a low key and quiet spot. I found Gecko Ridge Guesthouse in Swapomund. The owner an architect who made a deal with the land owner to be paid in land for helping the owner of the land to divide the acres of desert lands he owned. His portion of the land he builds this beautiful guest house which also comes with private chalets on the grounds. For more options on where to stay in Swakopmund, check out this list of hotels and guest houses in Swakopmund.

20 July 2015

The Colours Of India

Humayun's Tomb in Delhi
I have yet to come across a wanderluster(read travel addict) that has not dreamed about travelling to India. The very mention of the country conjures up pictures of bustling cities in India's capitals, with tuk tuks meandering through chaotic and congested traffic, food sellers at the markets enticing you to taste their aromatic currys, colourful saris cris-crossing the streets in warm and toasty weather of course. I have longed for a trip to India to ever since I was a teen. Imagining what it would be like to set my eyes on the Taj Mahal in Agra, visiting the Golden Temple of Goa, taking a boat ride to see the Water Palace in Jaipur or just taking a train journey from city to city and letting views and colours of India unfold before me from my train window.

This dream of visiting India came true two months ago when my boyfriend and I embarked on a quick trip to Delhi. Quick for me but longer for him as he was there on month long business trip. My trip was short and sweet but included visits to Agra, Delhi and Gurgoan. India is everything you imagine it to be and so much and more, and thankfully it was without the 'Delhi Belly'. The crazy traffic or  rather 'organised' chaos, in addition to the bustling madness, there is the people aspect; lovely, warm and welcoming. But, as welcoming as everyone was I was also a little taken back with the people staring. In many other countries I have been to, considering I was either visiting some European countries or East Asia where there aren't that many black people, I obviously stood out like a sore thumb, so the staring wasn't a surprise, somewhat. This time I was in India! Where people are only a few shades lighter than my chocolate hue, if not the same shade of chocolaty goodness. Yet, I still found myself being photographed(some asked and some were just sneaking in shots - I am guilty of that too, รก la "street photography") and in some cases mobbed a little. Perhaps it might have something to do with me strutting about in my big hat, which by the way was stolen just hours before I boarded my flight back to London. I was a little gutted as I bought it in Namibia last year and its been with me through my little African expedition through Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. Whoever has it has some major attention to look forward to.  My attention grabbing in India only fell short of being asked to give autographs. Some moments were so funny, I had parents saying their children would  like to take a picture with me, then only for them to jump into the picture too. Yeah, sure your 3 year old asked to take a picture with me. They were all really sweet about it too. And no this definitely doesn't put me off heading back to India(if one didn't have to do the work thing, one would be heading to  Heathrow airport checking out the next flights to India).

Soon after I got back I got an email introducing me to some of India's charm through aromatic teas, oils and scented room infusions via Great Rail, as an introduction to Great Rail's infographic on the Colours of India showcasing some of what you can see on the rail journeys through India. Had I not just been to India I would have probably shed a tear at being enticed to immerse myself in be bold colours of this beautiful country electronically, instead of a ticket back to India to fully experience it first hand. Luckily I have seen some of India's stunning and beautiful architecture, learnt about some of its past empires and what they brought and contributed to India's cultural heritage, from temples that have stood the test of time, learnt about art left behind by Persians and how this has now blended in with styles of architecture and the imported rags from India still using Persian methods. Truly majestic sites that leave indelible marks that will forever conjure a smile with each recall of my explorations in the hustle and bustle of the towns I passed through. Both  on my own explorations and those with my boyfriend, before I left him to get on with a month long work venture.

I already miss seeing the beautiful temples all around New Delhi. Yes, even the cows chilling under the trees to avoid the heat or the ones roaming the roads freely. I miss it all. I am hoping to return soon, as there is just so much to see and explore in this beautiful country and hopefully be reintroduced to colours of India through the Great Rail's train journeys across India.

In the meant time below are a few pictures from my visit in India with plenty more to come. I took what seems like a million of pictures, so look out for more posts to come with tips on getting around Delhi, top things to see and do in  both Delhi and Agra.

14 July 2015

Copenhagen | The Black Diamond

It's possible that I may have  been an architect in my previous life because as much as I love travel for the people aspect, in getting to mingle with locals and getting to know local traditions, architecture is another draw for me. Whether I am in a foreign city or quietly spinning at the bottom of London's amazing  and continuously changing skyline to capture the beautiful marvels in today's concrete jungles. The beauty of architectural creations is undeniable.

On my trip to Copenhagen a few weeks ago, in addition to visiting places like The Marble Church, Amelienborg Palace and the Little Mermaid, the Black Diamond in Copenhagen was towards the top in my list of Top Things To Do In Copenhagen. The Black Diamond, clad in black granite known as Absolute Black was imported from Zimbabwe, then cut and polish in Italy before ending up on what is now the Black Diamond. A modern and striking building, the granite is known to sparkles as the reflection of the water on the edge of the canal, where the build lies reflects the marble and glass exterior. It's a modern extension to an old Royal Danish Library that you can also access through the new building.

After wondering around the city and thinking that I had all the time in the world, I arrive at the library just 5 minutes after they closed the escalators to the upper flows that give impeccable views onto the canals towards Christianshavn. They shut the upper floors to the public at 7pm although the place is still open so you can still mingle and enjoy the beautiful interior of the building. Other than just functioning as a library, the other draws to this building is the Jewish Museum, Per Kirkbey's impressive 200 square meter painting on the ceiling of the Black Diamond(you can see part of it in the shots below), a concert and theatre hall with 600 seats and my favourite; National Museum of Photography, of course!

I am not  sure whether the reasons have anything to do with diamonds being a girl's best friend, but, during bright summery days expect the steps outside the library to be filled with people chattering away to a drink or two from the cafes and restaurants within the library. Below are  some shots from my explorations of the nukes and crannies of the building. If you want to get to the top make sure you check the days and times that is open to the public. There are also guided tours details of which can be found on the library's page here.

12 July 2015

Hampton Court Palace

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People are fascinated by monarchy for many a reason and as the summer draws in, I love nothing more than exploring palatial gardens or the many beautiful parks in London. Most of which have historical links to royal families such as the beautiful Italian Gardens in Hyde Park or the Secret Garden in Regents park. Their perfectly manicured lawns, clipped hedges, imported trees from around the globe, their elaborate use of water around the gardens with mythological statues and pavilions all draw you in as you a explore the story revealed by the landscape artists. The perfect setting for summer picnics in colourful surroundings.

8 July 2015

Thorpeness | Rediscovering England's Best Beach Side Towns

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Who says you need to go very far for a getaway. Thorpeness is one little English town oozing with countryside charm. If you are a lover of all that is quintessentially English, then you need to add it to your list. Never mind that it was a wealthy Scott who made his fortune designing railways around the world who decided to buy land in Suffolk in 1910 and develop it into a private holiday village, where he invited his friends and families during summer months. The development included a country club with tennis courts and a swimming pool. This was of course we were booked into for a weekend of rest and relaxation. With great sea views to boot! Yep, I was in need of some vitamin sea, though much like most seaside towns in the UK, weather is no guaranteed.

One of my recent posts I shared a couple of tips on how to switch off and enjoy your holiday. I certainly hope that was helpful or provided an insight into what I tend to do on most of my weekend getaways as well some of my longer holidays. I try to practice what I preach here as some of you may have noticed that my trip to India(a few instagram posts here) was not announced nor did I tweet it, Instagram or Facebook anything while I was out there, which left me to just enjoy it all and take it all in with my eyes and that of my Nikon. The only time people knew about it was when I was back in London and posted one or two photos. Sometimes that is needed to really get in tune with the place. With this post I was hoping to show you some of England's beautiful escapes without having to jet off. Especially for those that want to explore a bit more on the UK than just staring at the London Eye and Big Ben when they land here.