5 Years On - Can You Travel? Geneva Airport Railway Station

5 Years On – Can YOU Travel?

It’s just 5 years since we “found our wings” and started to travel outside of the UK, where we live. In our view we don’t get away that much, especially compared to other bloggers I read. But we enjoy ourselves and spend a lot of time looking for new places and ways to travel more. Can YOU travel. Our answer was a resounding yes!

So this post is aimed at people perhaps a bit like us. Call us “baby boomers”, “empty nesters”, “silver surfers” or whatever (I hate labels). The kids have grown up and left home. You still need the 9 to 5. The attractions of a tent on a budget trip are not what they were 20 years ago? You look at the adverts on TV and read a few travel bloggers? And wish you could travel.

We are not about to sell the house or blow the pension pot, but we will travel when and how we can, see some interesting places, eat some good food, and have fun.

Destinations – We Went There

Can You Travel - a fishing boat at Bazaruto Islan in Mozambique.
A tourist fishing boat at Bazaruto Island, with sand and fantastic blues and greens of the receeding tide in the background. Many boats are available in the area, from canoes to large dhows and state of the art fishing boats like this.

Looking at some of the travel blogs around, it would be great to say we have been all over the world. We have not, but we visited some interesting places.

  • 2014Ireland and later, the Isle of Wight. And don’t forget Tenby as well. And the wish to travel was growing. The travel bug was starting to bite!
  • 2015 – Santorini, and that fantastic Christmas break in Mozambique.
  • 2016 – Nerja in Spain and Durban in South Africa.
  • 2017 – Valras Plage and Beziers and Carcassonne in France and Hermanus and Umdloti in South Africa.
  • 2018 – Gstaad, Bern and more in Switzerland. A couple of family events took us on many day trips in the UK with visiting family. (Top picture is Geneva Airport railway station).
  • 2019 – So far a couple of day trips to London and Oxford. Thinking about the rest!
  • 2020 – The ideas are already buzzing! A “big trip” at Christmas?

And don’t forget other day trips to London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Hastings and more.

Obviously we are operating from the UK, where we live, but there’s normally a way, wherever you may be.

Our aim is to travel more – Working on that one.

So How Do You Travel?

At the beginning of the year, we start with a list of possibilities. Then it’s a matter of bringing the budget together and going. Simple really. Most of the time, anyway.

If there is a “big trip”, i.e. a long haul, expensive one, in the list we can be saving and planning for that over a year ahead.

For European trips we’ll kick a bunch of ideas around and book a month or two ahead.

Whenever or wherever we go, here are the questions we ask.

How will you pay for it?

Travel - Earn it or save the dollars

For many this is where your travel thoughts stop! Travel is expensive! Isn’t it?

Well, let’s put it this way:

  • If you want to just hop a business class flight to Jamaica and stay in a five-star resort for a week you probably won’t have much change from at least US$12,000 for a couple.
  • Pick your time carefully and three weeks in two locations in South Africa, economy class and self-catering will set you back around £3,500.
  • At the right time of year a week for a couple in Europe, all in, can be as low as £900.

Backpackers will tell you how much cheaper you can do it. I don’t know about you but my backpacking days ended a decade or two ago!

We are not talking about year long trips, so there are only two ways to finance your travels:

  1. Save from your income, whether that’s your job or some form of pension income;
  2. Earn some extra cash.

As a couple, if each of you can save or bring in £1 per day (=£14 per week, £60 per month, £730 per year) you are close to that week in Europe.

Save or earn £10 per day extra and you could go to South Africa, Australia, or similar.

Take that luxury trip to Jamaica when you win the lottery!

Tip: Remember also that what you spend at home on meals, going to the pub, etc., is money in your pocket for the trip.

Tip: Look at using customer loyalty points on store cards and debit and credit cards which accumulate points which can be swapped for travel.

What we do: We save each month, but also look for other means to make some cash.

When will you travel

When wil YOU Travel

As “older travellers” you don’t have to worry about the kids, school holidays and the like. So choose a time that suits you. Having said that, the first thing I do every year is fill in the school holidays in my planner. In red. That’s when we don’t travel because the crowds are there and it is more expensive.

Typically prices are lower in the “shoulder” seasons, especially in the first half of the year.

What we do:

  • Use Google calendar and fill in the school holidays.
  • Then create a calendar with the seasons in possible destinations.
  • That tells us when we are likely to travel. Except when we don’t! Like going to Mozambique at Christmas!

Who will travel?

Traveling with friends can be tricky. It’s a good way to break friendships. But with the right friends its a great way to share the cost. Do leave each other room to breathe and be accepting of each other ways. We’re all different.

What kind of Travel do you want?

We are not big into visiting iconic sights and places. Great, if we are close, but that’s not our main aim. In Switzerland we had an unexpected free day, so we hopped on a train and went to Bern. Why? It was a good idea at the time and great fun!

Tip: Decide what you want to see and do. Be clear on this one. If you are into weekend city escapes, or magical beach holidays, or walking holidays, then plan to do those things. Travel for fun!

Where do you want to stay?

Our Hotel in Perivolos, Santorini
Our Hotel in Perivolos, Santorini

Some enjoy the all-inclusive, sit by the pool trip. Others will only ever go self-catering. Some want five star, while others are happy with a hostel. Where would you, realistically, like to stay?

This can be tricky. Opt for self-catering and you can find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no access to interesting places. Opt for an expensive all-inclusive deal and you could find that the restaurants down the street are much more interesting. But now you have blown the budget.

What we do:

We will always opt for the self-catering option first. And then do our homework. In Santorini and Nerja we chose a bed and breakfast, flights and hotel deal. That meant we found places for lunch and dinner away from the hotel. We ate well! On our 2017 South Africa trip it was all self-catering, except when we chose to go out.

Tip: A bit of homework is necessary, and can be done easily using Google Maps – simply zoom in on the place you are heading for. The ideal is a self catering spot with a cafe, restaurant and store, probably a small supermarket, within 10 minutes walk. The cafe for breakfast and restaurant for dinner with the store supplying everything else.

How will you eat?

Cheese fondue for one at Gruyeres.
Cheese fondue for one at Gruyeres.

A big part of our trips is enjoying local cuisine. Strange as it may sound, that often means skipping the big flashy restaurants and hunting down the popular local ones.

Most hotels, we have found, serve very toned down meals to try and meet everyone’s tastes.

What we do: We have a light breakfast. Every day we aim to eat out once, but look for the simple local spots. the food is often better and more representative of the local cuisine. Then we will buy simple food like cold meat and salad and eat that on the beach, or even in our hotel room.

Tip: Ask a local!

Greek food – Santorini, in a restaurant in a cave.

How will you get there?

Switzerland – A train at Lausanne station

If it’s a long haul trip, you have little choice but to find the most economical flights.

Short haul generally means using a budget airline, as much as you may hate those.

But look at your options and preferences. Train travel to and in Europe is an attractive thought and something we haven’t tried. Bus travel and self drive are options as well, though we don’t find either of those attractive.

What we do:For Europe we have typically used the budget airlines, which are never fun. For future trips we are thinking carefully about the train.

Then Go

Then we just go. And enjoy.

Okay, there is normally a bit of anxiety attached. Will the plan work? Will the budget work? But that is all part of the fun.

Can YOU Travel

5 years on – Can YOU travel.?

Yes, we can. You can too. It does take a bit of effort, but it’s worth it!

Give it some thought.

Drop us a comment with your thoughts.

On a sunny day in the town of Nerja, in Andalucia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The Balcon de Europa, giving a fantastic view of the sea and nearby coastline, is a 19th century monument. Here’s the view along the boulevard looking back towards Nerja.

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5 Years on - can YOU travel? We can. Visit us and see how we go.
Westminster Abbey in London

Being London Tourists

Starting with a family wedding in May, the spring and summer have been filled with activities. Now i’m trying to catch up. Here’s part 1.

From home we can be anywhere in London in under 2 hours. It’s a trip we do occasionally just for fun, or sometimes on business. We recently had a visitor stay with us on a first visit to the UK. That was a good excuse to head south and be London tourists. Here’s part one of our visit, where we started with a plan, lost the plan and just enjoyed ourselves. No deliberate visits to iconic landmarks. Just doing a day trip to London.

Trains and Underground – Getting to London

The entrance to Marylebone Station in LondonSo for us it’s a quick drive to the station and a little short of an hour on a Chiltern Railways train, and we are at Marylebone Station.

Like many in the UK, we take this train ride for granted. It’s easy to forget that many countries simply don’t have this luxury. So the trip to London becomes a bit more of an adventure.

Love it or hate it, if you don’t do it often, the London Underground becomes another part of the adventure. Of course, depending on where you are going, the iconic London bus offers a slower but more scenic way to travel. In a hurry? Catch an Uber or a black cab.

Sometimes it can be enjoyable to simply walk. Some of London’s Underground stations and bus stops are quite close together, and a sightseeing walk can be fun. Finding your way around London can be tricky, but I strongly recommend the Citymapper app on a smartphone. Citymapper does give problems at times as a walking guide. Google Maps is a better tool for walking in London.

Marble Arch in LondonMarble Arch

We did have a plan. Somehow we lost the plan and we ended up at Marble Arch. Who knows why, but it was a good start.

Marble Arch was originally built at Buckingham Palace, but was relocated to its current location when Buckingham Palace was extended during Queen Victoria’s reign.

From there it’s a short walk to Hyde Park, empty on this Friday, but a good spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, sitting on the grass on a warm spring day.

Hyde Park

Spend time in London and you will see, wherever you go, some part of the history of the city. Hyde Park is no exception. Created by Henry VIII in the 16th century as a hunting park. It was opened to the public in the following century, and remains a public park today. It has frequently been the site of protests and public events.

Having a cup of coffee at Hyde Park.In modern London, in summer, Hyde Park is known for free, weekday rock concerts. These are generally paid events at the weekends which have to be booked well in advance, such as the Eric Clapton and Friends event which we attended in July.

Many first-time visitors (including me in my first visit) are often very surprised at the green space, like Hyde Park, in London. Visitors from some countries do perceive London as a polluted concrete jungle. Indeed, I know those have never visited the UK, who believe that is a good descrption of the whole country!

Animals in War Monument

On Park Lane at Hyde Park we discovered a monument which I did not know about. The Animals in War Memorial commemorates the animals which have served the armed forces over the centuries.

The modern military is highly mechanised, powered by the internal combustion engine. It’s easy to forget the many animals, including donkeys and horses and others, which took armies to war.

The Animals in War Memorial in London

Parliament Square

A short tube ride took us from Hyde Park to Parliament Square.

Westminster Abbey in LondonAlthough a relatively recent site, having been created in the 19th century, Parliament Square sits in the middle of a number of buildings of historic and current importance. There are a few (see the link above) but the most noticeable for the visitor are The Palace of Westminster, or the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. It is a “must” for the foreign visitor.

The queue to get into Westminster Abbey was long, probably partly because we visited on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend, so we didn’t try to get in. It’s a good idea to book ahead and get there early if you want to visit the Abbey.

Many of the photos in my London at Night Gallery were taken a few years ago at Parliament square and nearby, around Westminster Bridge. In a way it brings some iconic London features together – many red double decker buses passing by, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

One downside on this trip was the fact that Big Ben is undergoing repairs and is shrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting, as it will be for a few years.

Parliament Square

A look across Parliament square. Sadly Big Ben is covered up

Food Market

South Bank Food Market in LondonA walk across Westminster Bridge and along the River Thames took us to the Southbank centre with its many pubs and restaurants. Our aim was the Southbank Centre Food Market, which we know from previous visits.

The Southbank Centre Food Market features food from all over the world. Take your pick of many different food. Sample a bit of each and have a great meal. We bought a selection of British pies, curries and eastern food, all washed down with fruit juice and craft beer.

On a number of occasions a group of us has bought our selection of food and taken it to nearby Jubilee gardens, under the London Eye, to share and enjoy the meal.

South Bank Food Markert in London

South Bank Food Market – Pimms right next to Korean BBQ

Visiting London

This little visit, up to this point took us to early afternoon. We covered a lot of ground, but London still has much to show off. Our plan collapsed, but we have been there often enough to still take our visitor to some interesting spots.

Watch this space – plenty more of our London jaunt to come.

 

 

 

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Oia Donkeys

  Oia. Beautiful white buildings, blue seas, fantastic views. And donkeys.
Arrive at Oia by boat and you have two simple choices – ride a donkey to the top of the cliff or take on a vary steep walk up the cliff path.
Here, the donkeys are heading home as the day heads towards sunset. from 500px Oia Donkeys
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Working on the iPad

5 Key Travel Hardware Items (Travel Computing Part 1)

Working on the “big” screen in the garden.

Travel Hardware

Travelling? Working on your blog? Processing photos? What hardware do you need? The answer is pretty simple – your travel hardware needs a hybrid, light weight computer like the Microsoft Surface. That will cover everything you need.

BUT does it?

A decently powerful hybrid computer is expensive. Is it the answer if you do short trips? A couple of weeks and long weekends at a time? I would rather be spending my hard earned budget on the trip! Aside from that I have no need of the “travel computer”when I am not travelling. At around £800 for a decent hybrid system that makes it very expensive!

As an IT Manager I am surrounded by all sorts of technology and often called upon to find a build working solutions. Over our recent travels I have made a point of trying out various solutions, generally leaving the laptop at home.

In this, first article, on the subject of travel computing I’ll be taking a look at the other options available, And they may surprise you.

What’s the Point?

In deciding on your travel hardware you need to be clear on what you want to do. Here’s my requirements list:

  1. Process photos, including those on my DSLR, and post them to Instagram, Flickr, perhaps 500px;
  2. Write blog posts, both quick, short posts, and longer ones, and promote them;
  3. Take notes and note locations;
  4. Post and check in on Facebook;
  5. Reply to e-mails, social media and the like;
  6. Play some music;
  7. Read books;
  8. Keep in touch with family on SMS, WhatsApp and the like.

Pretty much everything that most of us want on holiday. Obviously doing all of that needs a combination of hardware, software and connectivity. For now let’s just look at the hardware and come on to the rest in later articles.

My Travel Hardware

My travel kit contains five key pieces of hardware which allow me to do everything in the list above.

1. Smartphone / Mobile phone

Most, if not all, readers of this blog are likely to carry an Apple or Samsung, or other Android smartphone. Both iOS and Android support common apps which will do everything in the list. In fact the mobile phone is the cornerstone of most of these processes, for the simple reason that it is the device which you will generally be carrying. It’s also the device you are likely to be using for a WiFi hotspot for others. Mine frequently has a couple of other devices attached via a hotspot when we are on holiday.

At present my phone of choice is the large screen Samsung Note 4 with it’s stylus. In fact most of the modern phones with their larger screens will match anything I can do on it. The key here is to have as much storage as possible. This is where the Androids score, as they use a micro SD card, as opposed to the bigger cost of the larger capacity iPhones.

In the next couple of articles I will discuss the software and connectivity issues.

2. A 10 inch Tablet

The bigger screen of the tablet simply makes it easier to use. There is another consideration, though. That is battery capacity. Continual use on a WiFi or 4G link does drain the mobile phone pretty quickly, while the tablet will last significantly longer.

My device of choice at present is an iPad 3. So i have the best of both worlds – Android on one and iOS on the other! For quick weekend trips the iPad will often stay at home and everything will rely on the mobile phone.

A key requirement of my systems is that everything is sync’d (within reason depending on connectivity). Like many I struggle to sleep on long haul flights, especially being over 6 foot tall. Using the tablet, loaded and sync’d with the phone, I have a couple of days of music loaded. I simply start the music, put on headphones and that soon helps me to drift off. As part of sync, all of my Kindle books are also available.

Using an Android phone to blog

Blogging from a mobile phone, with a view of the sea from a hotel balcony.

3. Bluetooth Keyboard

At this point some of you will have said “you can’t be typing on a mobile keyboard all the time”. Some may have noted the keyboard. The bluetooth keyboard is probably the most important productivity aid in the whole process!

Bluetooth keyboards are not expensive, and there are many types available. I use two:

  • A small, rechargeable keyboard. It’s most useful for short “hand luggage only” trips, though in use it is a bit small;
  • The larger keyboard shown in the photos. Note that it is the same keyboard, just connected to a different device. This one is AAA battery powered, which means that I can pack it in checked luggage – something you should never do with a rechargeable lithium battery device. Its larger size does make it cumbersome in hand luggage.

Compatible with just about any device, the keyboard really takes most of the pain out of using the mobile devices.

 

4. The “On The Go” OTG Hub

Most of the more recent Android devices have the built-in OTG functionality. Basically this gives the device the ability to access files, such as photos, on an SD card, USB memory stick or external hard drive (with additional power). It’s a quick and easy way to load photos to the device for processing, posting, backup, etc. It’s an inexpensive but incredibly useful add-on to the system.

In my setup the OTG device will obviously only work with the mobile phone. Given the right software (see the next article) that’s not a problem. The iOS world has it’s own similar devices, which I have never bothered about, as My initially investigation of them suggested they were expensive and had limited capability.

5. Power – the Backup Battery

The iPad has sufficient battery capacity that I have never bothered about spare power for it. Any modern mobile phone, when asked to move around, stay connected and run location services, consumes battery capacity quickly. Here’s what I use:

  • A solar battery backup. This delivers about 60% of the full Note 4 charge, and is VERY slow to recharge on solar. It generally is recharged from mains power, but will run the phone directly from the solar panel in a pinch;
  • A second battery, recharged from USB, which delivers around 70% of the charge to the mobile;

On rare occasions both batteries have been necessary, but generally one or the other does the job nicely. Here’s a similar but higher capacity unit:

 

Other Bits and Pieces

Depending on what you want to achieve there are many accessories available for both the iOS and Android worlds. For example I find a stylus is a vital tool. There are also adapters to let you display the screen on a TV. It is really up to you. These are the five most important pieces of hardware in my kit.

And they are not only limited to holidays. On more than one occasion at work, but out of the office I have used both devices to access spreadsheets, and even server screen using VPN and RDP software. In fact I frequently don’t use my PC e-mail software at work, opting instead to use one or the other or both mobile devices.

Looking to the Future

Typically technology prices come down over time, so it’s worth watching the market for bargains, both in the hybrid computer arena and the tablet space. For the present a fully featured Windows 10 system really needs to be one the better / more expensive hybrid laptops. Having said that, there are a number of lightweight laptops with 2GB RAM and Windows 10 available at low prices. I am cautious as these are very small systems to run Windows. Hopefully, in due course,  I’ll have an opportunity to check out one of those devices. From the specifications, I suspect that their performance will be similar to an iPad or Android tablet. They may be a good alternative to the tablet in this article. Then again maybe not (I am NOT a Windows fan).

To Conclude…

Staying connected, blogging, uploading photos and so on does not need an expensive, lightweight computer. While there is no argument for long term travel – I would haul a laptop along for that, on a short trip that’s not necessary.

In two more articles to come, I’ll cover the software which powers it all and some of the connectivity issues which come up in short trips away.

Please let me have some feedback if you are interested in more on this topic.

 

 

 

 

Morning on an empty beach at Umhlangs Rocks

Morning on an Empty Beach

Morning walk on am empty beach, with Durban on the horizon.

A morning walk on a beautiful beach at Umhlanga Rocks, kwaZuluNatal, South Africa.

It could almost be a desert island. Look closely at the horizon – that’s Durban, with a ship leaving harbour. Nice illusion, but still great to walk along the beach in the morning, all alone, with just the sound of the sea.

from 500px Morning on an Empty Beach
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Santorini Catch Up

So next week we will be away on another jaunt. Christmas saw us having an African holiday.

And I am still trying to catch up on photo editing for our Santorini trip 9 months ago.

A couple of pages have been updated in the Santorini galleries, with another group of photos to come. Enjoy, while I catch up.