Friday, March 30, 2012

Half-Off Dining With the Hi-Life Card

Dining out is often one of the most expensive parts of a vacation, and while I love getting a vacation rental or an apart-hotel, so I can make some of my own food, but I always want to get out and try some delicious local foods. Whether you’re dying to try haggis or just some crispy fish and chips, the Hi-Life card can allow you to do it for less. Get 2-for-1 meal at over 3,500 restaurants in the UK.

The best thing about the Hi-Life card is that it’s so easy. You only need the one card. You make your booking via telephone (at those restaurants where it’s required) and present your card when you dine. Use it for both lunch and dinner and enjoy an amazing food experience. Still not convinced? Your card is valid for a year from purchase and you can eat at restaurants owned and operated by celebrity chefs, such as Michael Caines.

New restaurants are being added all the time. Sign up for the newsletter to be kept updated on the ever-growing list or read the Hi-Life blog. You can even get discounts off things that aren’t food, like spa gift certificates, exclusive offerings just for Hi-Life card holders. Pretty cool, right? What about needing to find dining options on the go? Download the mobile app and find participating restaurants on your phone, using a customized radius, depending on how far you’re willing to go for your meal.

Get even more dining options when you sign up for the platinum membership. Either one you choose is pretty affordable and will save you a bundle on dining out all across the UK: Join for 12 months for £49.95 or get the platinum membership for £85.95.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Beauty and History of the Cotswolds

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

The Cotswolds area is generally regarded to be the most quintessentially English area of the UK and the place to visit if you are looking to experience the England of yesteryear. Situated in the southwest region of England, the Cotswolds are the largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country and is a popular holiday area for both English and international visitors. There is so much to see and do in the Cotswolds, from relaxing weekends spent wandering the ‘wolds’, or a week long cultural escape spent exploring the stately homes and museums of the area. Web Cottages have a great selection of Cotswold cottages in the region, as well as some great suggestions for where to visit when you are in the region.
Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare’s Birthplace – Stratford-upon-Avon
The writings of William Shakespeare are famous the world over and there are few places in which to feel connected to English history than at his birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. This beautiful little village is home Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust and here you can visit the home of his birth, the family cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway, and the homes of both his mother and daughter. The Trust runs a variety of Shakespeare themed events throughout the year that are sure to be interesting to both fans of ‘The Bard’ and those with just a general interest in the famous playwright. What better place could there be to introduce children to the classics of Shakespeare? They can even participate in a real archaeological dig!
Westonbirt Arboretum
Westonbirt ArboretumGloucestershire
There are few places that offer a more relaxing day out then a beautiful English country garden, and Westonbirt Arboretum is no exception. This National Arboretum set in the stunning south Cotswolds offers endless activities for visitors including nature trails, staff led tours, a shop and plant centre, and restaurant and cafe. From August 25-27 Westonbirt will host Treefest, a four day family festival with live music, local food, and creative workshops. One of the most unique draws to the festival will be Big Carving - three expert wood carvers use their skills to transform tree trunks into works of art that will be installed along Westonbirt’s new natural play trail in Silk Wood. That is sure to be something you won’t see every day! Tickets to the event are sure to sell out fast so make sure to start making your plans early!

Ragley Estate

Ragley Estate – Alcester, Warwickshire
If there is one thing that the English do exceptionally well it is a state home. Ragley Estate is today the family home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford but welcomes thousands of visitors a year to experience the grandeur of the Robert Hooke designed Palladian House. On a bright summers day you can spend hours exploring the 400 acres of parkland that was designed by the famous Capability Brown, and includes 10 hectares of formal gardens surrounding Palladian House. For the more adventurous in your group, there is an Adventure Playground with a 3D maze, trampoline, climbing frames and swings. Ragley Estate really does have something for everyone.
The Cotswolds region really is a wonderful place to experience all the best of England. You are sure to be enchanted by the beauty of this unique area, and you will quickly understand why so many people come to visit the area again and again. Visit for a wonderful selection of Cotswold holiday cottages.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Real (Affordable) Tropical Holiday

You live in the UK, where it can be sad and dreary the majority of the year. I know, I live in the American equivalent: Portland, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest. It’s overcast and/or rainy a good portion of the year and if you go to the beach, you usually have to wear a jumper or take a brolly with you. Getting away somewhere warm is usually on most people’s minds, especially in the winter when it’s cold and raining and you hate life. Luckily, we can jump on a plane and go to Southern California, but having been there a million times, it’s not quite as exciting as it was the first hundred times you’ve been there.

I bet you feel the same in the UK. All your usual getaway destinations seem kind of boring and you’re looking for somewhere new, that’s affordable and is good for the whole family. It’s hard to find a place like that in the middle of winter. Jump on a budget flight to Germany any time of year and experience tropical weather, beautiful beaches, family-friendly water parks and even ride in a hot air balloon over a rainforest. What is this magical place? It’s Tropical Islands, the world’s largest indoor rainforest.

Stay for the day or stay for a week. It’s open 24 hours a day 365 days per year. Make it a budget or a luxury holiday, because you can choose from camping to all-inclusive packages and everything in between. You can even camp in the dome, starting from € 24.50 per bed. Beds sleep two and each tent can sleep up to four. Just coming for the day?

Admission to Tropical World is € 29.50 for adults, € 24 for kids 14 and under and those under 4 are absolutely free! Admission to Sauna Landscape, which gets you admission to the Tropical Spa and Sauna complex as well as free parking space and shuttle service is the same, but you can save and get a Kombi ticket with admission to both landscapes. Entry to the whole of Tropical Islands is just € 37.50 for adults, € 24.00 for children 14 and under and free for children 3 and under. This saves adults €4.50, which is a heck of a deal.

It’s just like travelling to that tropical getaway you’ve been dreaming about, but closer and somewhat more affordable. You’ll never be bored at Tropical Islands, between shows, restaurants, the beach, the water park, miniature golf, shopping boulevards and a whole lot more. There’s even a kids club.

Don’t get shut out! Buy your tickets online and arrive by 11am to get guaranteed entry!

Have you visited Tropical Islands before? Did you love it and was it a great relaxing vacation for you and your travel partner or family?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Group Buying Power Saves You 50% or More

Anything that can help you travel more cheaply is a good thing in my opinion. An even better thing is something that can help, virtually, anyone save on trips. It’s rare that I find a website that works for just about everyone and also boasts a 50-90% savings on everything they offer, but I have found just that. It’s likely many of you have already found it, too, but didn’t realize how truly useful it is for traveling. I’m talking about Groupon. It’s seriously my favorite daily deal site and I’ve used it at home and away and saved gobs of money. Today is all about the goodness that is Groupon.

For those of you who don’t know what Groupon is, it’s a pretty simple concept: Each day there is a new deal put up from a local company. They can be a salon, tour company, restaurant, yoga studio, shop or any number of other things. They will offer one rockin’ deal for Groupon customers. The discount is always AT LEAST 50% off. They will have a minimum number that need to be purchased for the deal to be valid, which means if you “buy” and they don’t reach the number they need, then your card won’t be charged for your order. If they do reach their desired number of purchases, then everyone who buys that day will get the awesomely discounted whatever they are offering. Groupon means “group coupon”, so that explains why they need more than just one person to take the deal in order for it to help both you and company offering the deal. Companies get their name out to customers, customers try them out and everyone wins!

I can attest to the money-saving aspect of Groupon on vacation, because last year we went to Hawaii and we booked all of our entertainment and some dining by using Groupon Honolulu. We’ve purchased 2 tours (one full-day and one half-day) and a snorkeling trip that also features an on-deck BBQ. How much did we save on just those 3 things? Almost $250 (approximately £163). We did think about buying a Go Card for our trip, but we were only there for 7 days, so we knew we would be doing other activities that were either free or inexpensive on their own: the Dole Plantation, Honolulu Zoo (which would be ½ off if we had a current zoo membership), the beach and the International Marketplace. I love a GoCard, but if I can’t get the full benefit of it, then I would rather not spend the money on it. What did I do with the money I saved? Bought tickets for a luau, of course!

Not only did we save on activities, but when I received emails from Groupon that included restaurant discounts, I looked at where they are located in relation to my lodging and then purchased accordingly, since going out to eat in Hawaii can be relatively expensive. We purchased a few certificates for dinners at nearby restaurants and one for Wahoo Fish Tacos for lunch to mix in with our expected trip to both Chili’s and Hard Rock Café (we have neither in Portland, so we do look forward to eating at these when we travel), our lunch at the Dole Plantation and then whatever we chose to make ourselves in our included kitchen. Our trip turned out to be much more affordable than we first expected, with the help of Groupon, which allowed us to put more money aside for our return trip to London in the fall.

And now Groupon has teamed up with Expedia to bring you fantastic(er) deals on travel! With amazing discounts on luxury hotels and accommodations, you can’t afford NOT to travel well while still on a budget. The rates may not be slashed to 90% off, but they will be great and you’ll drool over their gorgeous photos and long to go everywhere all at once.


So, how do you sign up for Groupon? It’s easy and free! In fact, you can use your Facebook account to sign in if you want. Use either your home location or your next vacation destination as the one you wish to get deals for and then look for them in your email. You can click through to look at your local area as well, and your preferred destination anytime you want.

Use Groupon all over! Use it to save on date night at home, be a tourist in your own city, get pampered or save on everyday things. That’s right, you can purchase BOGO certificates for bowling, 50% off dinner, discounted massages or facials and even save on oil changes for your car. The possibilities are virtually endless.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How the Other Half Lives

On the advice of a local in Kent, we took the bus from Chislehurst Caves to Eltham Palace instead of Windsor. It turned out to be one of the most interesting afternoons we’ve spent out on our travels. Eltham Palace was an attraction included with our London Pass and since we had never heard of it, we figured we might as well give it a go. It certainly would not have been on many tourists’ lists of things to see. This 1930’s Art Deco mansion was built by the Courtauld family, next to the original Eltham Palace, the childhood home of Henry VIII.

Upon entrance to the house, you are asked to wear shoe covers, in order to keep the floors as clean as possible. It looks like you can no longer take photos inside the mansion either, but luckily, that wasn’t the rule when I visited, so I took plenty. Eltham Palace is an amazing piece of history that is a bit out of the way for most travelers, but if you plan ahead and figure out how to get their on the train, you should have no problems finding it. You certainly won’t be disappointed you made the effort. The house is amazing and the gardens are gorgeous as well. Admission costs £9.30/£5.60 for adults and children and includes an audio tour, which can also be taken in other languages.

The Courtaulds were so wealthy that they had a lemur as a pet and completely revamped the gardens. Stephen Courtauld raised orchids in greenhouses, while Virginia turned her attention to raising roses. You can enjoy the gardens on a fine day by bringing a picnic or strolling through them after a visit to the tea room.

The old school elegance and opulence is apparent in every detail of the palace and it’s no wonder that it’s a popular venue for weddings. Originally a gift to King Edward II, it was often used for Christmas celebrations. There was certainly no shortage of room for revelers. The great room is the only standing room of the true Eltham Palace and it is incorporated in the newly built mansion. It even has a moat with a drawbridge! You should definitely add this to your must-see list on your next visit to London or make it a day trip if you call The Great Smoke home.
The Great Hall  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Visiting 221B Baker Street

It’s one of the most famous addresses in London, if not the world. Almost everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes lives at 221B Baker Street and even though he’s a fictional character, you can visit the home of the renowned detective that solved countless cases throughout Arthur Conan Doyle’s book series. From the Hound of the Baskervilles to the Valley of Fear, wander through Holmes’ study, bedroom and more down on Baker Street at the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Don’t turn around and assume the museum is closed when you find that there IS no 221B in sequence on Baker Street. The historical building is run by the Sherlock Holmes International Society and protected by the government. It still boasts the correct number, but it’s a bit further down the street than expected. Admission is fairly affordable at £6 for an adult and £4 for ages 16 and under.  

Explore the home of Holmes and Watson and you may even get to try on the famous detective hat and hold the magnifying glass. I did! Sit in the study, wander around Watson’s bedroom and also Mrs. Hudson’s room (the landlady). On the top floors you will find “evidence” and their stories as well as figures depicting characters from the mysteries, which can be a bit disconcerting, but still interesting. You feel as if you’re stepping back in time when you visit the museum and can find some unique and fun souvenirs at the gift shop before you leave.

Some of the steps are a little narrow and the museum itself isn’t all that wheelchair friendly, but make sure to check out the tiny attic loo and bring along your camera to snap a shot of yourself with “Holmes”, the Victorian maid and on the steps outside the door showing the infamous address – possibly with the “bobby” on security duty.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Go For a Walk

London Walks has the most diverse tours of London, available any day of the week. Costing £8 per person, they are some of the most affordable tours of the city, covering everything from St. Paul’s Cathedral to Harry Potter. Walk in the steps of John, Paul, George and Ringo with the Beatles’ Walks or taste local brews or cuisine with the Pub and Food Walks. Each outing is roughly one mile, usually has a resting point and lasts for an average of two hours. Fodor’s rates them “the first and best of the walking tour firms”.

Even if you live in the city, this is a great day out and may give you a totally new view of your city for an affordable price. There’s always something to learn, too. You never have to make a reservation. You just turn up at the tour’s starting location, pay your money to the guide and enjoy a stroll around London, learning about the city’s history on themed tours. I am definitely making time in my schedule to take at least a few tours on my next trip, including the Thames Walk where I may find some buried treasure!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Living the Life IKEA

Stepping into IKEA is kind of like stepping into a whole new world. Everything is so shiny and sleek…and space-saving! Ever wonder what it would be like to live there, or live in a house that was entirely made up like those in the showroom? Soon, you might get your chance to. After the Olympics are over, IKEA plans to start building a neighborhood in Stratford, East London. 40% of the 1,200 homes built will be 3-4 bedrooms and you’ll also be able to visit shops, restaurants and cafes, as well as work in the offices, use the healthcare facility and send your children to IKEA school or nursery.

At 26 proposed acres, like the IKEA warehouse stores, you may never have to leave. You will have to furnish your own home or flat, which you can choose to do with IKEA furniture or not. With a projected build time of five years, you have some time to save your pennies and also make plans to visit any of the other worldwide IKEA neighborhoods in Poland, the Baltics and Romania. If nothing else, it will be an interesting way to waste a day out once the project is completed. Even though the neighborhood is said to have no afilliation with the actual stores, I do wonder, though, if your house and favorite coffee shop will still have names you can’t pronounce, like Försiktig and Rönnskär.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Products We Love: LUSH Cosmetics Solid Shampoo Bars

I was introduced to shampoo bars when I went to Disneyland and LUSH Cosmetics had just opened a store in Downtown Disney. My mom was in love with the bath bombs and other girly stuff and I was fascinated by the fact that you could rub soap on your head and not have it turn into a disaster. I bought an oatmeal one that claimed to moisturize and tame hair. With thick curly hair that tends to frizz if not treated properly, both those things were a plus. I tried it out and LOVED it. I only wished they also had them as a conditioner. Now they do!

The LUSH shampoo bar line comes in many different scents and ingredients, so you can pick just the right one for your hair type. The Jungle Solid Conditioner only comes in the one scent, but for my unruly hair, it did more than expected. It smoothed and detangled and was easy to use. It does have a high floral fragrance, along with other smells, but even with my allergies, it isn’t bothersome.

These are greatly affordable and you can even get an aluminum case to keep them in when you travel, so they go from bag to shower and back without needing to wait for them to dry out. If you have a LUSH store near you, you can take the time to browse the many different kinds of shampoo bars they have, though, I’ll have to warn you that everything starts to smell the same after a while, because all the scents are mixing together in the small space. The shopping experience goes just as well online, without the watery eyes.

These are one of my favorite travel items. Not only do you save space by not bringing a liquid, but these are super easy to use, make your hair silky and moisturized, keep the frizz down and don’t spill all over your stuff in your bag.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day in Ireland

The Emerald Isle is a top destination on many travel bucket lists, but what most of those people don’t realize is that Ireland can be so affordable. For those that want to spend the St. Patrick’s Day holiday there, they can do so on a budget. Aer Lingus Vacations wants to help you make your vacation dreams a reality with this great deal:

Spend six nights in Ireland, complete with daily breakfast, round-trip airfare from New York (other departure cities available) and rental car. All this, including a stay in a castle from just $999 per person. Everything outside of where you stay is up to you. Drive all over Ireland to see what you want. Book by February 29 for this deal. If your budget is fairly limited, you can find some affordable activities:

Visit the national museums – The national museums that are centrally located in Dublin have free admission and they are a great way to learn about the history of Ireland for nothing. National Museum in Kildare StreetNational Museum in Collins Barracks and Natural History Museum are just a few of the ones that you can enjoy for free.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral – For just €5.50 admission, you can celebrate the church’s namesake. You can get in for free if you are there to worship, but know that all your entry contributions directly go back into the church upkeep.

Discover the native plants and flowers of Ireland at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Arrive on a Sunday and get a free guided tour at noon or 2:30pm. The gardens are great any time of year, as there are plants growing all the time, including fruits and vegetables.

The nature preserve on North Bull Island is a little-known tourist destination. Some 25,000 wading birds also reside on the island’s bird sanctuary. You can also visit the Royal Dublin Golf Course, for those of you that like to golf around the world.

Visit and learn about 23 different tourist attractions in Dublin when you board the Hop-on Hop-off tour bus in Dublin. Obviously, I am a big fan of the double-decker bus tours, because you can stay on for one circuit and get a whole guided tour and you can also get on and get off at any of the stops. It helps you save on transportation (or having to drive around and find parking) and tour guides. The bus will run you €16 (€6 for children) and if you buy tickets online, you can save 20% off! You won’t waste any time between stops either, as the bus runs continuously every 10-15 minutes.

If you have a bit more money in your budget, spring for a Dublin Pass and get entry to over 30 attractions and skip the ticket lines. Enjoy activities, like the Dublin Zoo, Christ Church Cathedral, Guinness Storehouse and more from just €35. Each pass comes with a map and guidebook and gets you discounts to shops, restaurants and other awesome things you’ll want to see and do. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Your Ticket to London

I'm talking, of course, about the London PassYou pay one price and this little card can get you into over 55 attractions in the London area. It allows you go straight to the head of the line and, since you’ve already paid, you don’t have to keep looking over your budget to see if you can afford to do something else on your trip. If it’s on the list, you’re covered. While not “cheap”, the London Pass is affordable and especially useful if you are spending a week or more in the city. You probably won’t visit all the attractions covered, but if you did you could save over $800. Even if you just visit half, you’re getting a significant savings on your trip.

Wellington Arch
This is a fancy way to get to be a tourist in your own town, or affordably do things you've always wanted to do when you visit. You’ll need one per traveler and you can buy them for different travel lengths, from one to six days. You can purchase the card without the transportation option to save even more, if you plan to do more walking or driving than tube-riding or you already have an Oyster card.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Travel by Train and Save Big

Welcome to Shereen Travels Cheap UK, the official offshoot of Shereen Travels Cheap that focuses on all things United Kingdom related! Each post will bring you money-saving tips for travel to and within the UK and awesome places (activities, tourist attractions, restaurants, etc.) and products that will help you stretch your budget. Each week you’ll see three (shorter than my average) blog posts – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – that will enable you to plan a better and more affordable trip, get out on a “cheap” day trip or find something new in your own neighborhood. If you like what you see, tell others about it and subscribe via email or the RSS feed.
If you have photos you’d like to share, feel free to email me with a link to a Flickr, Picasa, Shutterfly or similar album. I’ll give credit where credit is due if I use them in a blog post! Bonus points if you also tell me about some great little place you visited and give me details on it. I want this blog to also be as interactive as possible.
For my first post, I found this fantastic website that saves you 50% off activities and more, just by presenting your train ticket! This is fab for those visiting other parts of the UK.
Who doesn’t love discounts? Unless you’re some fancy pants rich person who doesn’t need to save money, I think you’re with me in loving a deal. If travelling by National Rail, then you could get 2-for-1 discounts on top London attractions, theatres, exhibitions, restaurants and more cool stuff. How can that be? Days Out Guide has vouchers you can print out to get these amazing discounts, so you can holiday for cheap.

Using your vouchers are easy. Sign up for a free account on Days Out Guide. Search the county you are traveling in for the perfect activity and then fill out the short voucher application to get your discount! When you are able to print out your 2-for-1 voucher, bring it, along with your train ticket, to present at your attraction of choice and SAVE! Keep more pounds in your pocket, so you can do more or just travel for less.

What kind of awesome attractions are available? What about the London Eye, City Cruises, Benjamin Franklin House, Beatles Bus Tour and Dinosaur Isle? There are hundreds of choices throughout Great Britain, from Aberdeenshire to Yorkshire. Every time you travel, you can see new things for less money. Do the usual tourist stuff and then do some off-the-beaten-track activities your next visits. Pretty great, right? 

Do you experience with Days Out Guide? Did it save you a bundle?