Friday, 20 March 2015

Top Tips For Planning A Trip Away...

Decided where you want to go but wondering what step to take next? Me and Si love to travel and try to get away as often as we can. I always find that we do the same things prior to a trip and we're going to Tallinn, Estonia soon, which inspired me to do this post. Here are my top tips for planning a trip away yourself, whether abroad or in your home country (bare in mind, this is what me and Si do, it's by no means the best way or the only way of planning a trip)...

How are you getting there?

- If you need to look at flying to your destination, Si recently discovered that Google now compares flights. If you search 'flights to ...' in Google, it should come up at the top of the page. We booked our flights to Tallinn, Estonia this way as it was the cheapest. Skyscanner is another company we have used in the past. When flying, we always have a quick look at what we can and can't take to our chosen destination, just in case you are going somewhere where they have specific policies. Airlines tend to have different allowances for the weight of your luggage, so consider how long you're going for, what you think you will bring back etc. You can of course buy extra allowance, but compare the price of flights with the luggage allowance/price to add extra and see what works out best for you.

- If you are travelling to your destination by road and don't have access to a car, I'd recommend taking a look at National Express. We used this company to organise our transport to the airport that we are travelling from to go to Estonia. When you enter your initial journey info, results will tell you the time it will take to get to your destination and prices. You can change the times there and then to see if there are any quicker or cheaper journeys.

- We also used The Trainline to see if it would be cheaper or whether there were more convenient times to get to the airport, but in our case, as we have an early morning flight, it was cheaper and more convenient in regards to time, to get a coach. The Trainline is a company that we often use, so it's definitely one to consider having a look at to compare prices.

- If applicable, you might want to think ahead to how you're going to get from the airport/coach/train station to your accommodation. If you arrive during the day and it's within walking distance, you might want to take in the first sights by walking, otherwise have a look at reputable taxi companies or the regularity of public transport at your destination and see what will be better for you. Planning beforehand will give you more confidence when you arrive in a place that you don't know that well and it will give you more of a heads up just in case there are people around trying to fool tourists with high taxi prices etc.

Where are you staying?

- Me and Si use, Trivago and HotelsCombined to look for the best deals for accommodation. A lot of people use, so there are a lot of reviews on the website where you can see how different forms of accommodation have been rated. Trivago and HotelsCombined are comparison websites, so you can make sure you're paying the smallest price for exactly what you want. If you require further help when choosing a place to stay, check out Tripadvisor as it has reviews and ratings for accommodation.

- When we've booked where we want to stay, we usually look at the direct website of where we've booked. Hotels, hostels, guest houses etc usually have their own website where you can find out a lot more in-depth info about the place you're going to be staying. I like to look at what facilities they have to offer, the food and drink they have available, if they have spa/beauty facilities, check in and check out times, what's included in the room, local transport links, how far it is away from the local airport, train/coach station etc. By doing this, you can often find out more than you initially knew when you first booked the accommodation and knowing more always makes me even more excited to go!

- In regards to flights and accommodation, it's rare that we use a travel agent, we usually just book it all ourselves. The majority of the time you'll get a better deal as you aren't having to pay commission. Also, if you're flexible in terms of the dates in which you can go away, do a couple of searches for different dates for both flights and hotels. Different factors can affect prices, such as weekends, special events in your chosen destination or holidays (in your current or go-to destination).

What To Do?

- I like to get our place of stay up on Google maps. You can often see what is around your accommodation, for example, supermarkets, places to eat and local attractions. You can then search for these places online and check them out in more detail. A supermarket is one of the first things we like to seek out when we arrive at our accommodation, to get essentials for our room.

- We use Tripadvisor and Google to find out more about places of interest in more detail. Using Tripadvisor allows you to see how such places are rated by people who have been there previously. I like searching for where we are going on Tripadvisor and looking at the separate categories, for example, restaurants, attractions and places of interest. I then research such places in more detail and make a note of places not to be missed so we have them as reference when we are there. You'll also be able to read about places that maybe aren't worth your money/time, especially if you have a limited amount of time to explore or are exploring by foot. You don't want to spend time walking somewhere for it to be a disappointment, so researching beforehand will make sure you don't waste your time/money. You might even get a better deal by buying tickets for such attractions/places of interest before you go or you might find vouchers online to use whilst you're there (Tallinn has a card that you can buy (designed to save you money), that allows free entry onto public transport, into many attractions and further discounts in restaurants - looking to see if your chosen destination has something like this, could save you a lot of money). Me and Si have already researched a lot of things to do in Tallinn, including a day trip to Helsinki. We are there for five nights, so planning beforehand has saved us time and we are going to Tallinn being a lot more informed than we were last month, before we'd booked this trip.

- Wherever you are going, type it into a search engine with the word 'visit' in front of it. I always do this and every time I get a tourism website come up for the place we are going to. Websites like this not only show you what your chosen destination is known for in terms of attractions, food, places of interest etc, but you will also learn a lot of important, valuable information. You will often find out facts about your chosen destination, weather info, what the currency is, any laws you should abide by as a tourist, entry requirements, the official language, things you should know before you travel, important telephone numbers, whether you need a visa, any vaccinations you should have etc. Every destination will be different and if you're going to a place within your home country then you might already be familiar with things, but this is a great tip if you're going abroad to somewhere that is a little different to what you're used to. Lonely Planet is also a great website to get destination information, expert advice and travel tips. Using these websites, you should also be able to find out or get links to important things such as a country/city discount or travel card, travel timetables, events that are being held, day trips you can take etc.

Things To Remember!

- Travel insurance is my number one tip of things not to forget. We have learned first-hand that travel insurance is something you need. You might think that everything will be okay and that nothing will go wrong, but don't take that for granted, something could happen and you need to make sure you're protected. We use Money Supermarket to compare travel insurance. You enter a small amount of info and a lot of results will come up, including brands that you might not of heard of before. If I'm honest, we go from the top and scroll down until we recognise a brand name, such as Virgin or Debenhams (which can still be inexpensive). The policy price, excess, amount covered for medical, cancellation, baggage etc will be stated and you can choose the travel insurance that's right for you. You can also add optional features, such as gadget cover, missed departure and wedding cover.

- We tend to make sure we have English money (mainly for the airports and the flights), foreign currency cash and our debit card with us when we go away. If you're looking for foreign currency, I recommend looking around. We don't tend to use any websites for our foreign currency, we just look around locally and check the rate in banks, supermarkets, the post office and travel agents. That way we know we're getting a good deal rather than just going to the first place we come across. We always get any foreign currency we need before we go and only use our debit card if we really have to.  If you are going to be using your debit/credit card whilst you're away, let your banks know. If you're staying within your home country, this isn't something you usually have to do, but if you're going abroad then it's good to let them know. This way, your cards won't be declined if they presume fraudulent activity. This is always on our to-do list before we go abroad.

- Save space in your luggage by getting miniatures when it comes to beauty products. If you're travelling somewhere and the weight of your luggage doesn't matter, then it's all good! If not, then getting miniatures is going to be a good shout, as packing your normal sized products can really take up a lot of your allowance. Asda and Boots are usually good options for miniatures and they usually have a wide range. Otherwise, you can get little decanter pots and bottles. Primark and Poundland are good for things like that.

- This is more applicable if you're going abroad, but if you want to keep in touch with people back home or even use the Internet whilst you're away, it's a good idea to see whether there are a lot of Wi-Fi hotspots where you're going to be (me and Si have looked into this and we're lucky that there are a lot of Wi-Fi hotspots all over Tallinn). If not, then you can contact your provider and work out how much it's going to cost you to make calls, text and use the Internet (if needed). They might even be able to do a deal for you during the time you're away. If you're on PAYG it's more controllable, but the last thing you need is being on a contract and using your phone wherever you are and coming back to a sky high bill.

- Photocopy important travel documents such as your passport, hotel/flight info, itinerary, your European Health Insurance Card (if you have one) and travel insurance documents, just in case you lose any of this info, have to prove anything or wish to leave some info back home with someone. Also, don't forget to fill in the emergency contact details on your passport!

- Make sure your passport is valid! Some destinations require that your passport be valid for 6 months after the date you travel. Me and Si got married (as you may know!) in September 2014 in Cyprus and we had to renew our passports when we returned as they were due to expire within a few months. So now we have new passports for our upcoming trip. The passport office tend to add any remaining months from your old passport onto your new one. If you need your passport for where you're travelling, it's worth checking that it is well in date and that you'll be able to travel with it if there isn't long left on it.

- Consider getting Tag&Track luggage labels. If any of your luggage happens to get lost, it can be easily located if you have these labels on. It might even be the case that whoever finds your luggage can locate you before you locate your luggage, this is because all of your details are linked to the pack of labels upon purchase. Me and Si got these when we booked our wedding last year and the good thing about them is that they last for a year! One pack should be enough for two to three people. You can read more about this pack and purchase it for £14.95 plus p&p on their website.

Lastly, enjoy your time away to its full potential. Don't be afraid to go somewhere a bit different and get involved in amazing experiences. Do your research beforehand, check it's safe to travel there, be open-minded and have a great time. Me and Si went on holiday to Tunisia in 2009 and we'd done our research and found out it was absolutely fine to go there. Some people we know weren't so sure and thought it'd be dodgy, not unsafe but probably not their kind of thing. However, we had one of the best experiences of our life, going on an overnight trip and taking part in some amazing activities such as riding camels over the Sahara dessert until the sun set! It was so surreal and something we will always remember. Do something you wouldn't ordinarily do if you can and make it a trip to remember!

What are your top travel tips?

Thanks so much for reading!
Gem XxOo
Images are courtesy of Pinterest, Imgarcade, Wild Junket, Backpacker Guide New Zealand, Be My Guest, Go Blue Tours and I Am Not The Babysitter.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Legally Blonde: The Musical...

On Tuesday 10th March 2015, I took Mother dearest to our local Grand Theatre to see Legally Blonde: The Musical. It was an early surprise for Mother's Day, but I sneakily asked if she remembered the film a month or two before, to get an idea as to whether she'd fancy going to see it and if she knew a little about the film. She said that she did, so I booked tickets for us to sit in the stalls. I was so happy when the 10th came around as I was looking forward to it for ages!

I love going to the theatre, especially to see musicals and film/book to stage adaptations. I get such an adrenalin rush after seeing a theatre performance. I come out feeling fantastic, singing parts of songs that might have been in the show and talking about the show with whoever I go to the theatre with or whoever will listen, ha ha! I love to sit in the stalls when I can, just to have an optimal viewing position and be able to see facial expressions etc. With this performance, as it was amateur, the prices were pretty decent for stall seats.

This musical was based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the famous film starring Reese Witherspoon. If you aren't familiar with the story, it's about a blonde, happy-go-lucky woman called Elle Woods. Elle loves her family, friends, Chihuahua Bruiser, the colour pink and at the beginning her boyfriend Warner. Elle's life gets turned upside down when her boyfriend, Warner, dumps her so he can get serious with his life and attend Harvard Law. Determined to get him back, Elle uses her charm to get into Harvard Law. Once there, she struggles with peers, professors and Warner. With the help of her friends, Paulette and Emmett, she quickly realises her potential and sets out to prove herself to the world, strutting her stuff, telling people about themselves and finding someone who loves her for her along the way.

This amateur premiere production was performed by the Wolverhampton Musical Comedy Company. The first thing I thought after the show was that it was one hell of an amateur performance. It was as good as any West End performance that I've seen. The acting was superb, the singing was fabulous (I still have the songs in my head!) and the dancing was top notch. Katie Astbury who played the main role of Elle Woods was simply outstanding. She was pretty much in the whole show, acting, singing and dancing and I take my hat off to her (and the whole cast) for remembering everything! That's what terrifies me the most about theatre performances, when I think about myself in their shoes, remembering all the spoken words, the lyrics to songs, the dance routines and trying to be a different person on stage. Those that perform in theatre productions are a huge inspiration to me and I assume a lot of other people. At just 19, Katie finished her studies at a local school last year and although she has played a few roles in the past with various companies in the West Midlands, this was her first role with MUSCOM and what she describes as being the most challenging role she has ever played. I just want to put it out there and say that you did the role justice girl! #snaps.

Katie Astbury as Elle Woods & Fiona the Chihuahua as Bruiser.

The show was two and a half hours long, but I didn't want it to end if I'm honest. It was fast-paced, colourful, engaging and there were plenty of laugh out loud moments along the way. Being amongst the audience you could hear that people were eagerly awaiting the famous bend and snap scene, as well as the scene where Elle wins her court case at the end. That's the thing with film to stage show adaptations, people always look forward to the most famous scenes and this performance didn't fail to please from start to finish. Paulette Bonafonte was portrayed excellently by Harry Golightly, she was quirky and hilarious. The arrogant, full of himself Warner Huntington III portrayed by Tye Harris was spot on and the friendly, supportive nature of Emmett Forrest portrayed by Liam Sargeant, who stuck by Elle the whole way through Harvard Law, was genuine and admirable. The whole cast were wonderful and you could really see not only how much hard work had gone into the production but also how much everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves! No one was lagging behind and I predict that they'll all go onto bigger and better things.

We do have West End performances come to our local theatre but we have just as much amateur performances and they aren't something that put me off. For those of you that aren't as keen as you prefer to see well-known faces perform, I'd say give it a go, you won't be disappointed! I've loved all amateur performances just as much as any West End production that I've seen and just because the individuals are amateur, doesn't mean they are any less talented or rehearsed. A lot of time and effort go into these performances to make sure they are flawless and that audiences will enjoy every minute of them.

Have a look at amateur theatre companies near to you and see what productions they are putting on. It really is a fab afternoon/evening out and you'll be supporting local talent!

Legally Blonde: The Musical is on from the 10th-14th March 2015 at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre. I know that other amateur companies from around the country are also performing this show throughout the coming year, so keep your eyes peeled!

You can find out more about MUSCOM on their website.

Are you a fan of the theatre? What's your favourite theatre production?

Thanks so much for reading!
Gem XxOo
Images courtesy of Grand Theatre and Native Monster.
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