Monday, April 30, 2012

No Ticket? No Problem! Enjoy the Olympics Outside of London on your UK Summer Holiday

This sponsored post comes to us from Skyes Cottages. A great resource for all your UK vacation rental needs. They have competive rates and lovely properties.

Yesterday marked 100 days until the London 2012 Olympics, when the world will converged on the capital city and truly become a global city for the duration of the games. While most of the sporting events will be taking place in and around London, the organizing committee is keen to make sure that everyone around the country can get involved. Yesterday 22 ‘live sites’ were announced, where locals and visitors will be able to gather together across the UK to experience the excitement of the games.
If you would like to be involved in the electric atmosphere of the Olympics but don’t fancy paying the astronomical prices that will be charged in London then these live sites are the way to go! Here you’ll get to mingle with local people and get swept up in the action shown on the giant screens.
With 22 live sites set up across the UK you are sure to never be very far away from the action while on holiday. Here are three great site locations to consider.
Plymouth, Armada Way
The historic town of Plymouth on Cornwall’s south coast was launched on the Year to Go milestone on the 23 July, 2011. As with the other screens, all of the Olympic actions will be shown during the course of the games, but there will more Olympic action for visitors to take part in on the run up to the Games. On Saturday 19th May the Olympic Torch will make its way from Land’s End, the extreme Westerly point of mainland Britain, to Plymouth where it will be used to light the Olympic Cauldron during the UK’s first London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay Evening Celebration event. Live entertainment will also mark the historic occasion, which is sure to be something to experience!
 Belfast City Hall
The screen that will be used to show the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games has been live in the grounds of Belfast City Hall for almost a year now and has quickly become popular with Belfast locals and visitors of the city alike. The big screen has already been used to show coverage of major sporting events such as the men’s Wimbledon tennis final, as well as local cultural events like the Lord Mayor’s Parade. The Belfast live site has a capacity of 4000 and admission is free. Seating at the site will not be provided but visitors are welcome to bring their own chairs and spend the day soaking up the Northern Irish atmosphere, which is sure to be unlike anywhere else!
Derby Market Square
The screen in Derby’s Market Square has been a permanent fixture since 2007 and is regularly used to show sporting and cultural events from around the UK and the world. Coverage of the games begins in Derby on May 18th, with live coverage of the arrival of the Olympic torch in the UK from Greece, and on May 21st a series of movies will be shown to commemorate 100 Days to Go to the Paralympics. From Friday 27th July to Sunday 12th August Market Square will become Olympic Central and will broadcast all of the Olympic action, beginning with the Opening Ceremonies and continuing throughout the games.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that London is the only place in the UK to experience the Olympic spirit! With events being held up and down the country visitors can still enjoy what is sure to be the event of a lifetime, without paying above the odds for accommodation in London.
If you are planning to spend your summer holidays in the UK and are looking for reasonably priced accommodation then take a look at the holiday cottages offered by Sykes Cottages. With great holiday cottage options located throughout the UK and Ireland you are sure to find the perfect holiday accommodation for your UK summer trip, whether you are looking for one of the many picturesque Yorkshire Cottages or a secluded cottage in Cornwall.
You can also find Sykes Cottages on Facebook | Twitter

Friday, April 27, 2012

When Downsizing is a Good Thing

Packing light is trending with travelers all over the world. Not only can it save you a lot of money, but it can also save you time. Isn't it easier to just go from outside to the terminal and back again? No pesky stops at the front desk to check a bag and no annoying waiting around the baggage carousel praying that your luggage actually made it to your destination with you. If packing less is hard for you, how about just packing smaller items? Start with your 3-1-1 bag and work you way on to clothing, shoes and accessories.

My downsized makeup products
The sheer variety of items on the site is what makes it number one on my list. It's your one-stop-shop for all things mini. You can find beauty items (shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, lotion), health products (aspirin, eye drops, toothpaste, antacids, antibacterial wipes), travel comfort stuff (eye masks, neck pillows) and food packets (salad dressing, ketchup, single-serve cereal). There’s almost nothing that you can’t buy on Minimus, and after you’ve loaded up your cart with awesome mini things – I mean, who doesn’t take BBQ sauce packets on all their vacations? – you can take advantage of their free shipping on orders of $20 or more. I have almost never seen a minimum order that low for no shipping fees. That makes them double cool in my book!

It's a little unfortunate that Minimus is only based in the U.S., but here's something amazing that can help my international friends with shipping from this company and many others:
Minimus has partnered with, where international customers can setup a U.S. mailbox, and have packages from a variety of companies shipped to their mailbox. MyUS will consolidate the packages and ship them to over 200 countries. You can save up to 80% off shipping costs. So, order your $20 worth of merchandise (which isn't hard), get it delivered to your U.S. mailbox for free and then pay for shipping from there, instead of paying double shipping and making it a complete waste of time and money. I'm sure there are other American companies you're dying to order from.

Monday, April 23, 2012

American Food Around the World

When my husband and I visit the UK or Europe, we find that we miss some of the things we take for granted here in America. One of these things is unlimited drink refills. Another is having enough ice in a beverage to make it cold. Having the ice melt from the warmth of your drink before it even hits the table can be frustrating, especially when you pay up to £4 for a soda or ice tea. When we need a bit of home, we hit up the place we know will be the same everywhere we go, whether it’s in San Diego, London, Paris or Rio de Janeiro. The setting may be different and the restaurant may be a different size with different décor, but Hard Rock Café is always on our list of dining venues.

As much as I love trying new cuisines and unique foods, there’s something to be said for having the opportunity at hand to enjoy something familiar. It’s not just the giant icy soft drinks that can be had a the Hard Rock, but the music videos, the cheeseburgers, the wait staff. Everything about it spells comfort for us and we know it can give us a bit of home. The food isn’t haute cuisine, but it is delicious and flavorful, as well as budget-friendly. No matter where in the world you visit Hard Rock, the prices are pretty similar, as is the menu. There are some of the same items on every Hard Rock menu and then their twist on local favorites. Americanized, if you will.

Eric's totally blissful over his monster icy Diet Pepsi
In Hawaii, we were treated to one of the locally caught fish as a yummy sandwich and you can get local specials at ever café from South America to Asia, making it a great stop for travelers and locals alike. Get something you are accustomed to or try something you’ve never heard of before. The portions are hearty, too, so if you aren’t starving when you get there, split an entrée. It’s certainly not uncommon to see diners sharing dinner and a dessert.

Everywhere we travel that a Hard Rock is available. We make a point to visit for lunch or dinner. In fact, in our travels, we've dined in the smallest Hard Rock - Cozumel - and the world's largest - Orlando. I’ve even joined the All-Access Pass membership. It enables us to earn points on dining and Rock Shop purchases, as well as priority seating with your membership card. You pay to join, but you also receive a credit on your card of almost the same value that you can use in the rock shop, the café or the online store. Many locations have live music as well. Find out everything you need to know, including the address and menu options on Hard Rock Café online.

Eric and I at the world's smallest HRC in Cozumel

Friday, April 20, 2012

Appetise: When Your Appetite is Talking

There are times, even on holiday, that I just feel like going back to my room and curling up with a book or in front of the telly. My feet ache and I’m sick of looking at people and I want to snuggle up in a blanket and wait to emerge until the next day. Of course, this isn’t useful if I’m also hungry. Usually, it means I have to pull on some decent looking clothes, look presentable and go out to get something. Do you ever have this problem? Cue Appetise. Browse hundreds of restaurants across the UK and order your meal right online. Convenient! You don’t even have to talk to anyone.

You can pay by credit card online when you finalise your order or pay cash when the food is delivered. It’s takeaway without the trouble! Some restaurants charge a small delivery fee, yet others charge nothing at all. On top of it all, Appetise is completely free to use. Restaurants are being added all the time and delivery areas are expanding as well. While you can easily order food in most regions, from Bath to Worcester, there are still some places where Appetise isn’t available…yet.

So, when you don’t feel like going out or just don’t feel like cooking, hop onto Appetise and search for some delicious takeaway from your favorite restaurants – or one you haven’t tried yet. Many restaurants offer specials and discounts, too, so no matter what, you’re a winner, and soon, no longer hungry.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Guest Post: The Best Underground Attractions of Wales

Today's guest post was brought to you from Mike at British Travel Guide. Please go check out his page.

Wales is a small, very mountainous country located to the West of Britain. It has a rich history and a population of about three million people. The main languages spoken are Welsh and English. As a tourist destination, one of the most popular areas of interest are the underground attractions of Wales which are twelve in number. They include old mines, a hydro-electric station and a river tour, among others. A trip to Wales can be very exciting for those who love exploring the underground world.

Electric Mountain is located right on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. What you can do is take a tour round Dinorwig Power Station which goes into the Elidir Mountain. You will get to see a comprehensive display of the history and development of hydro-electricity. There is also a natural science exhibition that explains the history of Snowdonia and the geological history of the many mountains in Wales and how they were formed during Ice Age. You also see the massive manmade cavern which is in the deep underground of Elidir Mountain. This tour is one of the most fascinating underground attractions of Wales as it is entertaining as well as educative.

Sygun Copper Mine is located in the Beddgelert village in the Gwynant Valley which lies squarely in the heart of Snowdonia National Park. The tunnels and caves will allow you to explore the old copper mines. They have been restored to allow visitors to explore them but the restoration has not taken away the originality of the mines. The caves have since then formed beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations which are tinted by iron oxide. These form a great opportunity to take photographs which can form interesting art pieces for you. In addition to the tour in the mines, you can also take part in panning for gold, archery, pottery painting, metal detection of old coins, an adventure playground with a bouncy castle.

King Arthur's Labyrinth & Bards' Quest is an exciting story telling tour and is one of the more popular underground attractions of Wales as it caters to both children and adults in a highly entertaining manner. It is located in Corris at the Braich Goch Slate Mines. You take a boat ride underground on a river which will take you through a waterfall into the Labyrinth. As you take the journey, you will be regaled with tales of the well-known King Arthur and other stories of famous Welsh legends.

The stories are told with accompanying sound effects and lighting. The tour is good in all-weather because when it is hot, it is dry in the underground labyrinth and when it is wet, it is dry. There are beautiful crafts at the Corris Craft Centre which you can purchase and the Crochan café serves delicious Welsh meals in addition to having outdoor seating which gives you a huge appetite from all the fresh air. The underground attractions of Wales will be a fun and exciting way for you to explore the rich historical and geological attractions that Wales has to offer.

Don't forget to check out Mike's blog: British Travel Guide| Follow him on Twitter: @payt

Friday, April 13, 2012

Products We Love: Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments

I am addicted to lip balm, and not just any lip balm. I happen to only carry around Alba Botanicals SUN lip balm made with soy instead of beeswax. Inconveniently, I can only find it at one natural store around here and if they are sold out, have to purchase a bunch online (you know, to make it worth the shipping). I have lip balm everywhere. In my purse, in my toiletry bag, in my office drawer, in my medicine cabinet. It is hard for me to branch out and find a lip color that I can stand up to my need to moisturize my kisser.

Last time Sephora sent me a VIB bonus (yes, I spend way too much money there), I received $20 off my purchase. I thought it was my chance to try something new that might also be a great travel product and help me color my lips while also softening them. Well, I found it. Fresh sugar lip tints are where it's at. It's natural, moisturizing, contains SPF and completes your beauty routine. You might not be able to purchase from Sephora in the UK, but you can find Fresh products in stores and through Amazon.

I purchased the sugar plum lip tint with lip polish. The polish smells lovely and exfoliates your pout. It leaves behind a yummy flavor as well. Finish your face with your favorite color lip tint. There are five to choose from including coral, sugar plum, sugar passion, sugar rosé and sugar honey. Great for any look you are going for and any complexion. Pale, tan or ethnic skin tones will find a complimentary color. 

Fresh lip tints are a fab addition to your travel bag. You get two products in one, which makes your 3-1-1 bag easier to pack, plus they go on smoothly and are fresh and light feeling, so you never feel overly made up. Perfect!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Superbreak for Super Savings

If you’re planning a trip to Europe or (to/within) the UK, this site is for you. Their motto is “London for Less” and they really deliver. While they have listings for other countries, they have amazing deals particularly for England. Book a “short break” with them and you could be looking at a package that includes accommodation and an activity, theater, concert tickets, dining or theme park admission for a huge discount. If you plan to stay longer, you can add more hotel days as well. I’ve found that Superbreak has some of the best deals on UK hotels on the Internet.

If you could stay and play for less than you would by just booking a hotel, why wouldn't you? Great holidays don't have to come at a hefty price, and Superbreak really shows you the truth in this. Now you can even book Eurostar breaks, too, which can save you even more if you like to travel by train. What else is great about Superbreak? No booking fees, they have over 25 years' experience and now they have a rewards program that can get you free holidays! Sign up for their newsletter and get amazing offers right your your inbox each week. Can't beat that for easy holiday planning.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Wake Up in a Whole New Country

Wouldn’t you love to go to sleep in London and wake up Glasgow, or the other way round? Cue the Megabus sleeper coach that is not just convenient, but it’s also affordable. Cheaper than flying, and less inconvenient than driving yourself, because you can sleep the entire way, wake up refreshed and get to seeing the sights. There’s only room for two dozen happy travelers on each of the three refurbished sleeper coaches, but the 8 hour ride will fly by, because each journey takes place overnight.

Get your own sleeping berth to snooze in from £1-40, which includes an overnight pack full up with goodies: toothbrush, toothpaste, a bottle of water, an eye mask and a luggage label. Plus your berth is outfitted with a reading light, electrical outlet, privacy curtain, duvet, pillow and blanket and the whole bus has WiFi, so if you can’t sleep, you can check email, surf the net or blog about how fab the bus is! There is also a loo and refreshments available to passengers.

Cheaper seats/berths/tickets are reserved for those that purchase in advance, so the longer you wait, the less budget it is, but buses run 7 days per week, so you can conveniently travel between England and Scotland and still get home in time to make it to work that same day. What a great idea for business and budget travelers alike! Another plus to traveling overnight by bus? It’s more Earth friendly. And I bet you never felt this rested after any flight.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Do You Have The Time?

Doesn’t the Prime Meridian sound cool? Like it’s something out of a sci-fi movie that the villain is trying to steal in order to take over the world? Unfortunately, it isn’t something so spectacular, but it’s still something I recommend to anyone planning a trip to London (or for those who live in London to go check out). Take the tube or river boat to Greenwich and check out the Greenwich Observatory. Not only does it tell you all about time zones, but this is where all time zones originate from. Ever wondered what GMT stood for? Well, it stands for Greenwich Mean Time. GMT is the time all other time is figured upon. Greenwich Mean Time is the only time that matters. In Portland, we are GMT -8.

While there are some really amazing other things to be found in Greenwich, you’ll want to make sure you wander outside the observatory and stand on the actual Prime Meridian. Put one foot on each side and you’re standing in both the eastern and western hemisphere at once! In fact, what’s even more interesting is that you are standing at 0. 0 degrees longitude, 0 degrees latitude. Does that mean you’re also somewhere and nowhere all at once? Maybe! It’s even free to do, so why not? Don’t forget to bring your camera. Get photographic proof of your existence, as well as beautiful views of the grounds and London.

Visit the first shop in the world on your way to or from the boat or tube station.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chislehurst Caves: The Underground Town

It’s not often we get to see what happens underground, which is a shame, because many times it can be super cool. In the past few years I’ve been fortunate to see many underground attractions, like Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels. One of the others I add to my list is Chislehurst Caves. A short train ride from London will get you there and it’s not a far walk from the station. Chislehurst Caves was listed as an included attraction with our London Pass, so we figured with our free day, we should go check it out and then either head on to Windsor Palace, Eltham Palace or head back into London to hit up the zoo. We are always on the lookout for fun and unusual places and we enjoyed the novelty of taking a train, so we made plans to check it out.

“Orpington, this is Orpington.” The robotic woman’s voice announcing the stop made it feel like we were stepping into a sci-fi adventure. Oddly enough, Chislehurst Caves was similar, having been used in the original Dr. Who show as the set for The Mines of Solos. Of course, we didn’t know that yet. We didn’t really know what to expect. Having visited near opening and also in the middle of the week in the late fall, we ended up at the Caves and found ourselves practically the only tourists there. There were a few visitors, but it appeared that they were just leaving. As a result, we had a tour guide all to ourselves and were able to ask all the questions we wanted, chit chat about TV shows and get a closer look at some of the sets and artifacts.

Stage that has seen acts like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd
What drew me to the caves in the first place was not the fact that they were chalk mines and mined for bricks for London buildings or even that it was used as the set for multiple shows and movies or a concert venue for up-and-coming acts like the Rolling Stones. I mean, sure, those things are interesting, but the fact that it used to be an air-raid shelter. During WWII thousands of families took shelter down in the caves and a whole city was built and life was conducted underground. Imagine going to school, church, the doctor and then going “home” in the labyrinth of caves to escape the horrors of war. The caves housed over 15,000 people at that time.

The caves may seem creepier than they would if they were lit up, because you carry a lantern throughout your 45 minute tour. The shadows can play tricks on you and you also wonder what lurks in the darkness beyond the circle of light cast by it. The walls have a twinkle to them, from the flint that is also found there, and was a big reason that Dr. Who used them to film in. You will see some items that were left behind when the caves were closed as an air-raid shelter and wonder if it was just as frightening when those people were living there. Each family was assigned a set of bunks to call home and were allowed to bring only what they could carry, which couldn’t have been much.

Even now you can view remains left from WWI, when it was used to house artillery. Bring a sweater and your camera, plus make sure to wear good walking shoes, as the ground is uneven and you will walk about a mile down there. Make a detour to the gift shop and café on your way out to commemorate your visit and also help to keep the caves open and available to tour. Prices are very affordable and only cost 5£ for adults and 3£ for seniors (over 60) and kids under 16. Under 3 are free! I would certainly suggest this as an addition to another activity out of the city if you will be taking the train, as it will give you an excuse to buy a day pass (if you don’t have the transportation option on your London Pass or an Oyster Card) and make the most of your money. If you’re driving, Chislehurst Caves is easy to find and also has free parking. Score!

Need more reasons to visit London? Check out London Pass and these articles I wrote on how to do it on a budget!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Keeping Track of Your Miles & More

Do you find that you have a million rewards numbers for all your stuff? Not just frequent flyer mile numbers, but car rental membership numbers, hotel programs and more. I think we all have that problem these days, with every company trying to get you to sign up for their program. They want to research how customers spend their money and they give you certain benefits to make it worth your while, too. Well, besides not being able to remember all those numbers, it’s also pretty much impossible to keep track of all your points and miles without help. One of my favorite sites to keep track of all my reward programs (including dining rewards, like TopTable) is Award Wallet. You can store all your membership details, including log-in with them for free.

And now they offer something even cooler. It’s called the One Card. Upgrade your Award Wallet account to Plus (to keep track of more points, expirations and ways to show you how to keep your points from expiring) for $10 or more and get a credit for the OneCard. It has room for 30 rewards programs and membership numbers, plus, it is the size of a credit card, so it fits right in your wallet. Another plus? It has a magnetic strip with all your info, so you can also use it to check in super-fast at airport kiosks instead of using your credit card or needing to find your confirmation number.

Don't be these people with their huge bags to be checked.
You know what this means? It means if you are a smart packer and go carry-on only over the holidays, you can skip the long check-in lines, quickly print your boarding passes while everyone else waits to check their bags and have all your program info in the palm of your hand, in case unforeseen circumstances cause you to need to contact any of them to change your plans (all your account info – not your log-in – will be printed on the card).

Delayed or cancelled? No problem!
Award Wallet is the only website I know of that lets you choose your own price to upgrade

your account. That’s right! They want you to pay what you believe the service is worth. Whether that’s $5 or $20 per 6 months. If you’ve already signed up with Award Wallet and have upgraded your account, pay another $10 for your One Card and your upgraded membership will extend an additional 6 months.

Award Wallet's ease will make you feel like this!
So, if you’re tired of trying to corral all your membership cards in one place when you travel (or plan your travel), join me on Award Wallet and learn when your points increase, decrease and are close to expiration. Also, if you can’t remember you log-in for those million programs,

you can click right through Award Wallet and instantly get logged in. Convenient!