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When my taxi driver arrived at my Croatian villa to pick me up to take me back to the airport he looked perplexed.

‘Just you?’ he asked, in his best English.

‘Yep, just me,’ I said. (I was getting an earlier flight to Bristol, so everyone else in the group had gone truffle hunting.)

He looked at me:

Croatian villa holiday James Villas

Very important to wear a hat in hot weather you know.

He looked at the villa:

Croatian villa holiday James Villas

‘How you pay for this place?’ he asked me.

Rude.

I wanted to say ‘because I am a successful woman of independent means’, but I wasn’t sure how that would translate. Also, I was staying as a guest of James Villas, so actually I didn’t pay, although I could have if I had wanted to.

‘I didn’t,’ I said, ‘I write about it.’ I mimed using a pen. I don’t think it helped.

Anyway, my point is that a villa holiday in Croatia is NOT AS EXPENSIVE AS YOU THINK. Read on… View Post

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You might think that the weekend just before a big house move would be a BAD weekend to go away, but a couple of days at Bluestone in Wales, away from boxes and bubble wrap, turned out to be just what we needed to recharge our batteries.

I mean come on, who could fail to feel reenergised looking out at this beautiful view?

Bluestone Wales review

Bluestone Wales review

I’ve not done any editing at all to those photos – I wanted you to see how lovely the light was in the evening as the sun started to go down.

It helped that we were staying in one of the upside down lodges, so the bedrooms were on the ground floor and the open plan kitchen and living room space was on the first floor, taking advantage of the view of the lake.

It wasn’t our first trip to Bluestone – we visited a couple of years ago around Christmas time when I made Belle dress up as an elf – but we were keen to come back again in warmer weather to try some of the outdoor activities. Bluestone is set up in a similar way to a CentreParcs style resort, but I actually prefer it to CentreParcs as it’s a lot smaller and easier to get about. The resort centres around a ‘village’, which includes pubs, restaurants, a cafe, shop and spa, plus there are outlying areas for activities. Everything is within easy walking distance although you can hire golf buggies for the duration of your stay if you want to. (Belle was DESPERATE to do this, but they were a bit on the pricey side I felt.) View Post

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A little while ago Belle and I went for a weekend in Newquay, Cornwall. From the beach we could see a large building out on the headland.

Headland Hotel Cornwall

Can you see it?

‘What’s that do you think?’ Belle asked at the time.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, ‘but it looks a little bit creepy doesn’t it? Like it could be an abandoned asylum, staring out to sea.’

Turns it out wasn’t an abandoned asylum at all. It was The Headland Hotel, as we discovered when we pulled into the car park in front of what, in fairness, does have a very grand, traditional feel to it. (I did ask and although it was purpose built as a hotel, it was used as a hospital during World War II, so perhaps I just sensed the ghosts of patients past.)

Inside was very far from hospital chic. Instead it had a very classical, opulent hotel feel. Proper chintz, but in a good way, if you know what I mean. Big comfy sofas and swooshes of curtain, framing gorgeous sea views from what felt like every window.

Headland Hotel Cornwall View Post

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When your children are really little, going on holiday is hard work physically, but at least you know what makes them tick. Keep the ice cream flowing, car journeys to a minimum and abandon all hope from day one for doing anything that you actually want to do, and chances are that everything will go pretty smoothly.

Holidaying with teenagers is a little more complex.

Being a teenager can be heart-breakingly difficult – you can barely understand your own emotions from one day to the next, let alone anyone else’s. One minute they will be clinging to you, desperate for attention, and the next they will be mad with rage because you dared to suggest that they might like to hang out with you at the beach instead of spend all day in the hotel room on Snapchat.

It’s hard work for sure.

Here’s a casual sunset view from a Villa Plus villas, just to inspire you and make you believe it IS worth it.

Much like toddlers though, if you plan ahead and cater for their needs, you CAN all have an amazing holiday, I promise. Their needs might be slightly different – they are far less likely to be bothered about whether you cut their sandwiches into squares or triangles for instance – but they should be easy to satisfy with a little pre-holiday preparation.

I started off by asking Belle, 14, about the things that were most important to her in a holiday, and whether there were any things that she absolutely couldn’t do without in her suitcase.

Villa Plus then chipped in to help me to come up with some tips to help you pack teenage essentials and choose a holiday destination that will hopefully minimise tantrums. (Yours AND theirs.) Villa Plus has over 30 years of experience  when it comes to holidays, with handpicked villas in some rather gorgeous locations across Europe. Their aim to create your dream holiday – a time together as a family that you will ALL love, no matter what your individual needs. They have friendly, bi-lingual staff in each resort too, so peace of mind for you knowing there is someone experienced on hand should – heave forbid – the worse happen, and the wifi stops working. View Post

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Ooer. That sounds a bit creepy doesn’t it?

We weren’t up to anything suspect, I promise, we were just test driving the Hyundai i30. (Although I will say that if you DID want to transport bodies, the Hyundai i30 has excellent boot space.) We wanted to give it a proper test in a good variety of conditions, so we took it down the M5 until the motorway ran out and then drove our way down to stay at a Forest Holidays place in Cornwall.

It was PROPER RAINY that weekend, but I didn’t mind because I really like being in the forest in the rain. Everything smells so lovely and fresh when it rains in the woods, plus our lodge had a hot tub, and there is something very decadent indeed about being outside in the cold, with your whole body in the warm water, sipping a glass of cold white wine.

Belle had really enjoyed the drive down as Fiancé was coming down to meet us from London on the train, so she got to sit in the front. In the Hyundai i30 this meant two things for her.

  1. She got to plug her phone in to the Apple Play thing and make me listen to songs sung (badly) from the girls from Dance Moms.
  2. Every five minutes or so she could casually switch on my heated seat and wait for me to worry that I had wet myself as I felt the spreading warmth.

Both of which she enjoyed thoroughly.

Hyundai i30 review

Looks like butter wouldn’t melt doesn’t she?

Being in the Hyundai i30 made it a lovely drive for me too, especially as I’m used to driving an ancient, mouldy smelling Seat that has done over 110,000 miles and has a driver window wedged closed with cardboard. I could say that anything would seem good by comparison, but I am a genuine fan of the Hyundai i30. In fact, I used to drive one, and so I speak with two years’ experience. View Post

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Why romantic honeymoon destinations? A lot of things I read about weddings tell me to remember that your wedding is just one day, to not spend too much money, that it’s the marriage that matters, blah blah blah…

Sure.*

How about the honeymoon then? That’s at least seven whole days, so it figures that I can spend seven times as many hours daydreaming about it, right?

Absolutely.

After much selfless browsing then, all in the name of research, I’ve picked out six of my favourite romantic honeymoon destinations. Take a look, if you dare, but don’t blame me if you get sucked in and spend the next hour dreaming about having a pina colada in your hand.

Beach-front villa in Paje, Tanzania

When you think honeymoon, this is what you think, isn’t it? It’s sun, sea, sand, panoramic roof top terrace – what more could you want? This villa is one of 11 as part of an exclusive complex, so when you’ve had your fill of secluded lounging you can make use of the restaurant, spa or kitesurfing centre.

romantic honeymoon destinations View Post

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When you think of Butlins, what images spring to mind? If I ask you to picture a Butlins chalet, what does it look like?

I’m prepared to wager a pound that it doesn’t look like this:

Butlins Minehead review

I didn’t think so.

Butlins has spent a lot of money over the last few years bringing their accommodation up to scratch, and it shows. Our Lakeside Chalet in Minehead was fantastic – bright, clean, spacious and designed completely with families in mind. We had French windows, a view over the lake, and everything we needed to spend a comfortable Easter weekend away from home.

What’s nice though, is that Butlins hasn’t lost it’s original charm and one of my favourite parts of the weekend was spotting little retro bits and pieces around the park. View Post

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reasons to visit Kefalonia

I always think it’s nice to have a few aspirational holidays on the back burner, to give you something to fantasise about when you’re stuck in the queue at the supermarket. The planning stage is about 82% of the actual fun of a holiday, so even if you don’t get to ever go on the holiday, you still get the enjoyment of planning it.

Even better of course is to plan a real holiday.

What are your best bits about holiday planning? As the weather was nice, I thought I’d have a little lie on the grass and tell you mine. View Post

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How is 2017 going for you so far? International politics getting you down?

Thought so.

What you need is a holiday. Something like this:

travel secret of happiness

Because who could fail to be cheered by having a casual bit of watermelon on a lilo? I’m not sure of the practicalities of trying to eat such a large piece of fruit on water like that but hey, no one said living the dream was meant to be easy did they?

According to new research from Booking.com, over three quarters of people (77%) book a holiday when they need cheering up and 70% of us believe that travel brings more lasting happiness than material possessions. In fact, according to the results of the research, holidays top most things when it comes to happiness – 49% of the people surveyed even said they get more pleasure from a holiday than from their own wedding day!

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the buzz. There’s almost as much happiness to be found in researching and planning a holiday as there is actually being on it – it isn’t just about lying on the beach, gazing into the sunset. (Although that bit is probably pretty nice too.)

travel secret of happiness

If you want to get the most from your holiday in terms of happiness, then planning is everything. Even just writing this, looking at these pictures and imagining where I might go has given me a little boost, and I’m not alone – nearly three quarters of people (72%) say they get a kick of excitement just from researching where to go on holiday.

If you’re thinking about booking a holiday, why not try these tips to get you in the mood and maximise happiness:

  • Make a bucket list of places you’d like to visit or create some holiday Pinterest boards full of pictures of dream destinations. Like this one.
  • Have a look at Booking.com’s destination finder. It allows you to browse holidays by interest rather than destination, so you can find places to go based on the fact that you like photography, local history, or whatever it might be.
  • Don’t be afraid to daydream. Holidays are meant to be the chance to experience something new so let your imagination run wild should you feel so inclined. I quite fancy watching the Northern lights from a glass igloo in Finland.
  • Share your holidays plans and dreams with friends and family. Dreams are more likely to come true when you say them out loud and talking about plans as a family will help to get you all excited. (75% of people surveyed by Booking.com said travelling with family makes them happier than travelling on their own.)

Once you’ve booked your holiday, then you can really get excited. You get to plan your wardrobe, look at maps, research trips – the works. Reading reviews of where you’re going and looking at other people’s pictures is a favourite way to give holiday happiness a boost and if you were going somewhere like this then you can see why:

travel secret of happiness

Once I have a holiday booked, these are my favourite things to do:

  • If I’m going by train or plane, I like to plan what I’m going to do on the way – I might download a film or maybe buy a new notebook. The travelling should be fun too.
  • Look up local restaurant reviews and think about all the yummy food I’m going to eat.
  • Pack about four different books, imagining I will read them all. (I never do – I am too busy posting pictures of my holiday on Instagram.)
  • Imagine that I will have some kind of Reese Witherspoon/Julia Roberts style ‘moment’ abroad where I suddenly find myself and the meaning of life becomes clear. (Never happens.)
travel secret of happiness

I wish this was from my Instagram feed

Belle’s favourite bits are:

  • Deciding what make-up look she is going to do for going away day.
  • Organising her toiletries into an airport friendly bag.
  • Being the first one into the accommodation – heaven forbid she doesn’t get first dibs on the key. (83% of people in the survey said that the first day of a holiday and seeing their accommodation for the first time are the happiest holiday moments, so she’s not alone there.)
  • Discovering the wifi password.

Do you enjoy planning and researching holidays? Which is your favourite bit about travelling?

Visit Booking.com for more inspiration and holiday your way to happiness!

travel secret of happiness

Sponsored post. Images – Alena OzerovaBalate DorinChantal de Bruijnestockphoto-graf and haveseen – all from shutterstock.

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Coca-Cola Ekocenter Vietnam

Can I just take a little self-indulgent moment please?

About six months into my blog, back in 2010, I remember being sent a free tube of hand cream to review, and being SUPER excited. (I looked up the review and it’s pretty good actually, although distinctly lacking in the image department. If you want to read it you can here. I describe the smell of the hand cream as ‘a bit like an old people’s home – that sort of sterile, overcooked veg, soiled trousers smell’.)

My point is, I never started blogging with any intention of it being a thing, and so every day I’m grateful that this is now what I get to do as a real, actual job. I’d never in a million years have dreamt that my blog would take me to FOUR different continents. It’s such a privilege. I’d never be able to visit such extraordinary places otherwise and I feel honoured to get to do such amazing things and share them with you.

Okay, I’m done, you can open your eyes now.

So, Vietnam with Coca-Cola. (HOW COOL?!)

Coca-Cola Ekocenter Vietnam

I’ve drunk a lot of Coca-Cola in my time, but never been to Vietnam, or to anywhere else in Asia for that matter. I’ve developed something of a travel bug though in the last few years and so when Coca-Cola invited me to Vietnam to check out the work they are doing there to support local communities, well, I wasn’t going to say no was I? 

First up though, I want to address the elephant in the room. There may well be some of you who are reading this and thinking ‘yeah yeah, what do Coca-Cola care about community? They just want to sell Coke don’t they?’ View Post

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It’s been quite a while since Belle and I took a trip to London. We never quite got round to going to look at the Christmas lights and now that Bee has graduated and moved out of London we have even less reason to visit.

We were very much looking forward then to our weekend stay at the Royal Garden Hotel on Kensington High Street, London.

Can you see how excited we are?

review Royal Garden Hotel London

We set off after school on Friday, catching the train from Taunton. To get to London Paddington takes less than two hours and the Royal Garden Hotel is not far at all from the station. As well as being handy for Paddington, The Royal Garden Hotel is in a prime spot for family sightseeing. You’ve got Kensington Palace for a bit of casual royal baby spotting, a huge park for kids to run around, and then loads of fantastic museums all within walking distance. The Science Museum is a must if you’ve never been before, and is less than 20 minutes walk away from the hotel.

This should give you an idea of exactly where we were and what was close by:

review Royal Garden Hotel London View Post

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We’ve teamed up with Villa Plus today to get you excited about booking your summer holiday!

They say that anticipation is half the fun, but I disagree. I actually think it’s more like 80% of the fun.

I absolutely love the build-up to stuff, often more than the event itself. Take Christmas for instance. From early September I’m getting excited, humming Christmas tunes to myself, eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine. I love the planning – buying presents, putting up the tree – it’s all ACE. You’ve got to enjoy that bit haven’t you, otherwise it’s just a big stress of shopping and overspending, and no one wants to think about that.

I’m the same with holidays.

I love spending time thinking about where I want to go and what I might do there. I like imagining what adventures we are going to have, shopping for those adorable mini bottles of shampoo, and generally getting everyone in a holiday frame of mind. I even like the actual travelling part, as that’s all part of the adventure for me.

My favourite type of holidays are the sort where you have plenty of freedom and flexibility. I guess that’s why we always end up self-catering on long breaks – I can’t bear the idea of a whole week spent living to someone else’s schedule. I want to have my breakfast when I’m good and ready thank you very much. The great thing about using a company like Villa Plus is that you get that freedom, but don’t have to compromise on security or reliability – you’re not renting a villa from an ad in the back of a magazine, you’re going to someone you can trust.

(Thinking about holidays got me reminiscing about holidays when the children were little and so I *may* have just spent half an hour or so looking at old photos…)

Villa Plus family holidays

Isn’t Bee a cutie?

Villa Plus family holidays

I think we are looking at a wasp in this picture.

One of our very favourite holidays was with a friend and her son, Ashley, staying in their villa in Spain. It had a pool, and Belle and Ashley spent pretty much the whole holiday in it, while we lay on loungers, sipping cocktails and reading trashy novels. It was absolute bliss – our own little private haven and everyone was happy.

Belle goes on and on about that villa and the pool as her absolute dream holiday. She loves swimming and is desperate for us to go somewhere sunny where she can recreate our Spanish villa experience. Now that Christmas is almost at an end, I wanted to get her excited about the idea of a summer holiday, so we spent some time looking at the Villa Plus website.

Villa Plus are a great option if you like that freedom and privacy that comes from a villa holiday. They have over 30 years experience, and hand pick villas from the very best locations across Europe. They really appreciate what’s important to families when it comes to holidays and most villas come with things like wifi, a private pool and a barbecue.

That’s all our holiday essentials right there. Villa Plus are all about making sure you’ll love your holiday more and nothing is guaranteed to make Belle love her holiday more than a pool and a strong wifi connection.

Please do have a watch of our video and see what you think:

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