Summer Travel Tips

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Summer is the perfect time to plan a trip, or even just a staycation! School is out, giving parents a time to bond with their children on maybe a roadtrip or camping escapade. My fondest childhood memories are of my family and I sharing meals together in the South of France or in Singapore, depending on where my Dad was working. With the internet making it easy to gather ideas for an all inclusive holiday, or a journey to an exotic location, anything is possible!

Our family is in the process of making our own travel plans, which may actually turn into a long term move: we’re headed to Vancouver come June. My Mother ( currently based in LA) will be joining us as we explore beautiful BC and find out if it’s the right home base for us. Since we’re in planning mode, I wanted to share with you my top summer travel tips for everyone who is getting ready for summer vacation!

Pack Light

No matter where you go nor how many of you are going, always pack light. This especially applies when you have kids as well as if you are flying internationally. Overpacking is much worse then underpacking and creates more stress as you lug everything around while balancing your children on one hip and your laptop on the other, while carrying your passport and travel itinerary. Not fun, so don’t do it! To give an example of how light we pack as a family of three, we never flew with a stroller! Choosing a sling or wrap for a baby gives you extra flexibility when walking the cobbled streets of Europe ( which typically get crowded during the summer months).

Map out restaurants before you go

Have dietary needs or kids with a fickle palate? Happen to be a major foodie that wants to know where the locals eat and not opt for fast food or an overpriced hotel restaurant? Research restaurants in your planned destination before going, and if necessary make reservations. We always have a better vacation when we do this as opposed to randomly walking the hot streets of Kuala Lumpur ( like we did today) trying to find a 24 hour restaurant as our plane got in late.

Download some new travel and photography  apps

Being the appaholic that I am, I’m always searching for good reasons to download apps ( especially the free ones) and I’m perpetually intrigued by how innovative they are becoming; Stellar is a good example. You can create an online story using a variety of multimedia and cool fonts and share them with your friends/family. Photography apps like Instagram are my very favorite, especially while traveling as I can easily share photos with readers and get feedback on places to visit, things to see, etc

Make new friends before you leave home

The best way to enjoy a new place and find the must see attractions is through connecting with locals. The best way to do that before you go is online, through social media or sites such as Tripoto. I’ve planned most of my recent trips through interacting with locals in my designated vacation destination this way and it always makes vacations more interesting. Plus locals know where to go ( I keep repeating this for a reason!) They’ll give you advice on what to pack and what you can pick up when you are there.

Do you have any travel plans this summer? Share them with me below.

 

 

Getting the Most Out of Your Trip to Vietnam

Getting the Most Out of Your Trip to Vietnam

Vietnam is a beautiful country that attracts thousands of travelers each year. From its friendly people to the gorgeous scenery, it is certainly a place not to be missed! You can have a great time travelling around Vietnam, and eat well and sleep comfortably without paying a fortune. As is usually the case, you just need to make some preparations and take a few precautions.

Visa and Passport

You will need a visa and a valid passport to get in the country in the first place, but make sure that your passport is valid for six months after your arrival and for at least one month after your visa expires. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Literature and Certificates

On a similar note, remember than while Vietnam is a friendly place full of friendly people, it is still a country with an authoritarian government. Do not carry anything that could be considered anti-government literature when you go through customs. You could get in trouble. It’s also sensible to remember that you are in a communist country, so be careful about taking photographs of political events or anything to do with the military. You do not want to have your iPhone confiscated.

Pickpockets

Vietnam is a pretty safe place to travel but exercise the usual, sensible precautions against pickpockets, especially in big cities like Hanoi, Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.

Money

When you are travelling around Vietnam, remember that the US dollar is legal tender so carry some around as a backup, just in case your bank or hotel can’t change your traveller’s cheques. Usually it is possible to cash your travellers’ cheques for Vietnamese dong at major banks in the larger towns – do not rely on small town banks offering the same service. Bear in mind that ATMs are found only in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, although some places have started to accept the major credit cards. On the subject of money, a tip with an American coin will be greatly appreciated by taxi drivers and hotel porters.

Vietnamese Cuisine

You can eat very well without spending a lot in Vietnam, especially if you stay out of the pricier, tourist-oriented restaurants. After all, Vietnamese food is famously good, so why not experience it in a more authentic setting? An American author once said it was either like Asian food prepared by a great French chef, or French food prepared by a great Asian chef. As always, it is a good idea to see what the locals eat and follow their example.

Accommodation

It is pretty easy to find somewhere to stay in Vietnam, whether you prefer the top rated Vietnam hotels or the guesthouses that abound in the cities. Most have a meal included in the price, which will not be high.

By considering these facts carefully and by taking a few wise precautions, you should be more than prepared for your travels in Vietnam.

3 Things YOUR KID wants to do in Birmingham

I won’t lie. 

We’ve outgrown Phuket island life and have been searching the web for new stomping ground.

Obviously we have a list – a quota – for our potential cities and countries.  And upon meeting some of the main points, we hope to spend a few days experiencing the lifestyle and vibe while seeing how our daughter, Kaya, reacts to the change.

So…  First on the list, is actually quite surprising, seeing as I worked in the city over 10 years ago and never thought I’d be looking back.  But after it hit so many unexpected points, I just had to make it one of our candidates.  I mean come on – it’s an Asian/Indian foodie’s delight touting the famed Balti Triangle – packed with over 50 SE Asian restaurants.  I mean the city has an unofficial count of 179 mostly Kashmiri influenced Indian restaurants!  It was UK’s Curry capital in 2005! This calls for a visit. Hotel Direct book me a room in The Cube please.  Don’t have it? Alright then, just suggest a few on your “Most Popular Hotels” list.  Thank you!

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Birmingham, England.  Yes, the Brums!

So we’ve created a list, not for the parents, but for the kids – cause we’re doing this as a family and what’s more appropriate for Europe’s ‘youngest’ city – It’s true!  40% of the population are under 25!

3 Things YOUR KID wants to do in Birmingham

1)       Cadbury World

A family trip to Birmingham must start where life began.  In chocolate.  With chocolate.  Okay so maybe not literally, but if you live or have at one point journeyed to the eastern hemisphere of the world, you know that Cadbury chocolate, candy and sweets are tops.  Dairy Milk may just be the king of milk chocolate.  And everyone knows about Cadbury eggs!  So why not take a journey to Cadbury World!  Enjoy the best history lesson – where chocolate began, enjoy seeing the original Cadbury shop on a replicated Bull Street (complete with actors!), watch the magic in action as they describe the ingredients and what makes a their milk chocolate exquisite, take a ride through a Cadbury wonderland for the kids, and partake in the Interactive side of Cadbury with simulated “chocolate rain” (song not included).  After all the fun, there’s even a 3-storey play area for the kids to burn off any excess sugar highs.  You’ll have to run past the world’s largest Cadbury store, lest you succumb to temptation that has been brewing since you bought the tickets!

2)      Library of Birmingham

You can’t miss the largest public library in Europe; the 9 Floor (11 if you count the 2 ground floors) Library of Birmingham.  This 400K Book library has a glass elevator, 2 gardens – one for ‘discovery’ and one for serenity, a top floor Shakespearean Memorial room, and an excellent Children’s Library set away from the more quiet areas of the library.

new-birmingham-library11library1 library2 library3

The Library of Birmingham

If the architecture doesn’t draw your kids through the doors, perhaps show them this video about a special collection of books and games, called the Parker Collection.

3)      RoguePlay

And after a trip, you can walk around the city center while enjoying sights and sounds of the boats and canals.  Head on over to Bull Ring for some shopping or even better yet, get the kids enrolled in a Circus skills workshop at RoguePlay.


Usually only once a month, these 2 hour workshops are for kids 7-15 (don’t worry they do have more intensive classes available for the older teens) and “introduces them to a range of Aerial and ground based Circus skills.”  Trapeze, aerial hoops and ground acrobatics all taught by professionals in a safe environment.  But plan ahead – I’ll repeat – these are available only once a month!

 

If you are staying for a longer period of time, you can explore other kid friendly attractions like the Birmingham Nature Center, the BBC public space at The Mailbox where you kids can take part in making their own radio drama complete with sound effects on a tour of the BBC public space, and if they’re truly thespians, take on a day trip over to Stratford-upon-Avon!

Theatre Breaks in Edinburgh

 

It’s not just London that holds the torch in terms of theatre breaks. Edinburgh has several fantastic theatres, all showing world class productions featuring stars of the stage and screen. Stay in the Edinburgh Central Hotel and enjoy an enviable location in the heart of the city, allowing easy access to the best theatres and entertainment venues. Some fantastic shows coming to Edinburgh this year are:

Wicked

Showing at the Edinburgh Playhouse between the 19th of November 2014 and 10th of January 2015, this is a production not to be missed. Telling the untold story of the Witches of Oz, this hugely popular show features amazing costumes, a captivating story, toe-tapping show tunes and technical wizardry. It’s simply amazing and your friends are sure to be green with envy when you tell them you have tickets to this magical show!

Fame The Musical

Showing at the Edinburgh Playhouse between the 21st and 26th of April and based on the Oscar winning film Fame and the TV show of the same name, it’s a high energy, action packed singing and dancing extravaganza that will have you dancing in the aisles. Following the journey of a group of wannabes as they embark on their quest for fame of their own. A great feel good show.

Calamity Jane

Fans of the hit musical movie Calamity Jane will love the stage production. Featuring all of the popular musical numbers from the film, you’ll love watching sharp shooting tomboy Calamity Jane as she causes trouble wherever she goes, before watching this unlikely heroine fall in love with her nemesis Wild Bill Hickock. Showing at the Edinburgh Playhouse between the 23rd and 27th of September.

Singin’ in the Rain

This glamorous show full of excitement, romance, charm and comedy comes to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre between the 25th of February and 15th of March. One of the world’s best loved musicals, it is certainly worth booking tickets to see this fabulous show if it’s on while you’re in town.

There are, of course, plenty of other fabulous shows to see while in Edinburgh. Theatre is undeniably a wonderful part of this lively and theatrical city, but music plays a huge part too. Here you’ll find concerts from the likes of the Manic Street Preachers, Little Mix, Boy George, Matt Cardle, New Faces, The Feeling and One Direction who are playing at the nearby Murrayfield Stadium on June the 3rd. You’ll find comedy acts like Lee Mack, Sarah Millican and Ross Noble on stage here too.

Food goes hand in hand with theatre in Edinburgh and you’ll find many a great pub and restaurant offering special deals for theatre-goers and some even providing pre theatre entertainment. One such place is the Theatre Royal Bar, situated right next door to the Edinburgh Playhouse. This pub is as close to the heart of theatreland as you can get! Furnished with crystal chandeliers, dark wood, draped curtains and show posters which give even more of a hint to the theatrical roots of this bar, it is the place to go in the city for pre theatre drinks or a meal.

Whichever show you choose to see while in Edinburgh you’re guaranteed an amazing, toe-tapping time. Don’t forget the maltesers!

The Heritage Bangkok

The Heritage Bangkok: A Cute Boutique Hotel

 

The Heritage BangkokThe Heritage BangkokThe Heritage BangkokThe Heritage BangkokThe Heritage Bangkok

I have a thing for boutique hotels and guesthouses, and Bangkok has loads of them. Well Thailand in general! The Heritage Bangkok has a retro vibe, set amidst the trendy area of Silom. There are plenty of restaurants in walking distance and thankfully, the hotel’s restaurant was also fantastic and not too expensive.

The rooms have interesting lighting, giving it a semi motel feel. Lots of orange everywhere, mixed with brown sofas and hanging lights. It was a total contrast to when we stayed at the Oriental, but I still liked The Heritage in Silom.

The main attraction for our little one was the rooftop pool overlooking the city. We had a blast hanging out there, despite us getting locked in the bathroom when a friend visited..which brings up the downside of the hotel: the gym and locker area was a bit rundown, as was the deck. There was also no bar open for all of you who like to have a cocktail ( or two) when on vacation. You’ll have to head downstairs for one instead and hangout in the lobby or restaurant.

The Heritage feels perfect for those on a budget but that want something other than a hostel. I would say it’s ideally suited for singles and couples as there isn’t a play area for kids and the pool isn’t exactly kid friendly, but all in all when we return to Bangkok we may end up back at the Heritage in Silom.

To find out more about them, check out their website and Fanpage.

 

 

 

family travel

200$ Cash giveaway!

family travel

I am sooo happy to join several of my favorite travel writers to bring you a fun giveaway just in time for the Chinese New Year! These ladies have joined together with me to offer one lucky reader $200 in cold, hard, Paypal cash. Yep. We could all use a little money about now eh? Also, it’s never a terrible thing to splurge every now and again. Here’s to hoping you win! Don’t forget to read the rules as well as enter daily via twitter! The more entries you put in, the more likely Mr. random robot rafflecopter guy will pick you. :)

giveaway

1.Scattered Seashells || 2. The Nectar Collective || 3. Postcards from Rachel || 4. Simply Clarke || 5. Eat, See, Do || 6. Diaries of an Essex Girl || 7. The Happy Type || 8. Venus Trapped in Mars || 9.Northern Belle Diaries || 10. The Bradleys || 11.A Moving Story || 12. Living in Another Language

TERMS + CONDITIONS:

1. Winner will be notified February 7-10th.
2. Winner will be verified. If the winner cannot be verified, a new one will be selected.
3. The winner has 48 hours to claim their prize after the notifying email has been sent out.
If they do not respond to the email within the 48 hours a new winner will be selected.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Cruising with the family: What entertainment can you expect?

Cruising with the family: What entertainment can you expect?

Cruising with the family: What entertainment can you expect?

Going on holiday with the family can be a mixed blessing at times. While it’s always great to have your nearest and dearest by your side, there are quite a few pitfalls to look out for. You want to make sure that the kids can have fun while you’re not bored witless. You want to ensure that everyone is safe and that there are enough things for you to do for the duration of your holiday.

Keeping everyone happy is usually the first thing on your mind when on a cruise, but how easy is it? Most cruises tend to be family-friendly nowadays, with bars and saunas for the adults and waterparks and arcade games for the kids. What you can expect to find on a cruise will vary from ship to ship, but some cruises have been tailored to families more than other passengers.

Cruising with the family: What entertainment can you expect?

On-board entertainment

Cruises from operators such as Disney are known to be the sort of thing families will love. What makes family-friendly cruises so alluring is that they tend to have such a long list of activities on board that it’s almost impossible for passengers to succumb to boredom, no matter how impatient they can get!

Usually, every cruise ship will at the very least have a swimming pool, if not two. There’s always a chance that there’ll be a waterpark complete with slides, diving boards and paddling pools for the toddlers. However, you do need to accompany any kids under the age of nine on some ships, but there are members of staff poolside to see that the kids are behaving themselves.

Nights in, nights out

On an evening, there’s usually an opportunity to see a spectacular stage show. Disney are one of a number of cruise lines providing such shows, putting plenty of work into them in order to keep adults and kids alike entertained. Also, some ships have on-board cinemas which show the latest Hollywood family blockbusters and a few timeless classics.

Away from the on-board theatres, there are places where you can sit to dinner as a family, ordering from a long and diverse menu which caters for all palates. Aside from that, you could play a few sports like tennis or crazy golf or spend some time in your cabin, kicking back with a DVD or watching what’s on TV.

Going onshore

To shake things up a little, it might be worthwhile going on a shore excursion. They usually take in sights such as major landmarks, beaches, islands and big cities like New York, London and Cairo. They can help to offer a change of pace if it’s needed, while they’re pretty safe too as you’re usually accompanied by a tour guide.

Cruising with the family: What entertainment can you expect?

Turandot, Arena Di Verona, Italy

Tuscany’s top festivals: What can you expect from them this year?

Tuscany’s top festivals: What can you expect from them this year?

Widely recognised as one of the most scenic regions in Italy, Tuscany is also known for how it has embraced high culture. In just about every major city and town, you’re likely to find at least one art gallery, museum or opera house, while in the major settlements such as Florence, there are so many places to get your fix of theatre, opera or visual art that you may lose count!

 

Meanwhile, neighbouring Umbria has plenty going on all year round. However, it seems that the best way to soak up the culture of this part of Italy is to visit some of the year’s major festivals. Some of them are ideal for taking the kids to, but which festivals tend to attract the most attention from locals and foreign visitors?

festivals

Siena Palio

In the historic city of Siena, this festival is the best one to go to as a family. The Palio is a historic horse race which takes place on two dates every year. In 2014, the races are on July 2 and August 16. The races themselves take place in the Piazza del Campo in the centre of Siena, where crowds gather in temporary stands to cheer on the competitors.

Before the races happen, there’s a whole afternoon of entertainment, where flag-wavers and other performers take to the square in medieval clothing, doing their best to entertain the crowd. The whole ceremony and the competitive nature of the Palio will keep everyone attending entertained from start to finish.

Siena Palio Festival

Umbria Jazz Festival

Taking place in the Umbrian capital of Perugia, this event spans over two weeks in the middle of July. Some of the biggest names in the world of jazz make their way to the festival, which is spread across various venues around Perugia and other parts of Umbria. Tickets tend to sell out for the festival pretty quickly, so it’s best to try and buy in advance to avoid disappointment.

Puccini Festival

Classical music is synonymous with this part of Italy, with this festival named in honour of one of the country’s greatest ever composers being proof of that. The Puccini Festival takes place in Lucca, the home town of Puccini himself and runs from July until August, taking in many of his classics as well as works from other composers.

The festival is a must for anyone with even a passing interest in classical music. To make sure you can go to as many events during the festival as possible, you could buy a seasonal ticket in order to save you money and make admission to the various performances and venues much easier than it would be when buying a standalone ticket.

Turandot, Arena Di Verona, Italy

Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot