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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On Wednesday Belle and I went for a day out in Exeter.

Even though we live relatively close, we hardly ever go to Exeter. I’ve no idea why. It seems crazy really that our city of choice is Bristol, even though it’s further away. I think it’s just because we don’t know Exeter as well, so we don’t know about things like good parking spots. The last time we went we ended up spending as much on parking as on the petrol to get us there and back in the first place. We don’t tend to go on the train because the main station in Exeter is a bit far out of the city and the station in Taunton is about a 25 minute walk from us, which makes it a bit of a trek.

When we decided then that we fancied a day out in Exeter, we thought that a coach might be the way to go. The bus station is pretty central and it would mean we wouldn’t have to worry at all about where to park. It would also mean that Belle and I got to chat properly on the coach, rather than her just sitting there in silence while I stare straight ahead. (Who am I kidding? She played Minecraft all the way.)

We used the GoEuro website – (GoEuro rebranded as Omio in 2019, so the updated site is here) – to do some research. It compares times and prices across different methods of transport to find you the best option. There’s even a box to tick to tie in your search with Airbnb if you are going on a longer trip and need accommodation too.

GoEuro book coach to Exeter

Funnily enough, flying to Exeter wasn’t an option for us. View Post

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As you know from my rather bizarre cemetery story, I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago. When I have a bit of spare time in a new city I like to try to find more unusual things to do, rather than the obvious tourist stuff. Anyone can visit the Eiffel Tower – I wanted something a bit more off the beaten track.

I’ve always been a big fan of graffiti, so I decided to see if I could find some cool graffiti in Paris to take pictures of. I know that technically it’s vandalism, sure, but when it’s done well, it’s amazing – the skill that goes into good graffiti is incredible. 

First up, I went to have a look at a little bit of the Petite Ceinture. The Petite Ceinture is a 20 mile loop of railway, built about 150 years ago and abandoned in the 1930s. It’s an incredible phenomena – this vast expanse of neglected land running through the heart of the city, that has become a much needed home to animals and humans alike. I accessed it through a little open door in a side street, and had to walk past some makeshift shelters and tents and climb some old stone steps to get up to the track.

Petite Ceinture Paris View Post

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Cimetière du Père Lachaise

Raphael, a 63 year old Parisian man, took my phone from my hand. ‘Go on,’ he said, waving me towards the grave of Victor Noir, a French journalist shot dead in 1870.

‘Rub him there – that’s right!’ he said, taking a series of photos. ‘Now you will have twins!’

No, that’s not a line from a novel, that’s my life.

I’m not sure how, for an afternoon at the end of November, it became my life, but it was quite good fun. View Post

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I was going to start by saying something like ‘I love Cornwall’, but then I realised that’s probably about the most obvious statement ever. I mean, have you ever heard anyone say ‘Oh God no, I hate Cornwall. All that beautiful coastline and those picturesque fishing villages? Not my thing at all.’

Nope.

So let’s take it as a given that Cornwall rocks, and I’ll just tell you about the hotels we stayed in. 

Our first night was spent at the Royal Duchy Hotel in Falmouth. We were very pleased to have been invited to Falmouth actually, as my Dad and step-mum moved there last year, plus my step-sister and her family live down there, so we could get to hang out with them for a bit, which is always nice. I have a rather adorable two year old niece down there, who is just about the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen, so most of our hanging out time was really just me gazing at her.

Anyway, the hotel.

Safe to say it was FANCY with a capital FAN.

It felt like a cross between one of those classic seafront hotels, with the big picture windows overlooking the sea, and a luxury city hotel, with sleek furnishing and top notch finishes. But the right bits of both. The communal areas were cosy and friendly, and the service was impeccable. The staff made a real effort to chat and to make sure you had everything you needed, and we spotted quite a few older people dining on their own in the evening. I always think that if you have regulars who are happy to come back again and again, on their own, then that says a lot about the quality of the service.

First things first though, we went up to our room and I did a little tour. I have to remember to take photos and make my videos as soon as we arrive at a hotel, as we are so messy when we’re away – within about five minutes it looks like six suitcases have exploded in the room, and that’s not aspirational for anyone.

I made fiancé wait outside in the corridor, hid our bags in the wardrobe, and made this for you:

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stress free family holidays

What makes family holidays stressful for you?

I remember one holiday I had about ten years ago that was pretty stressful in the grand scheme of things. It was with an ex-partner, with whom I had a rather difficult relationship. I told him I didn’t love him anymore and wanted us to break up. He told me the only friends I had were on Facebook because I was such a shallow human being.

Fun times!

For most (normal) families, I think holiday stress normally comes from things like booking the holiday in the first place. Or that’s what Villa Plus found when then did some research recently at least. Funnily enough, respondents didn’t mention ‘dysfunctional relationship with partner’ as a factor. Instead, 73% of UK holidaymakers are worried about terrorism when booking a holiday, and nearly half of us get stressed out reading negative reviews after we’ve made our booking.

It’s even been given a new name. ‘Fearcation’. Leading Psychologist Dr David Lewis says it’s what happens when “the stress of booking a holiday is outweighed by the benefit of going.”

“They say knowledge conquers fear,” says Dr Lewis, “but, especially when booking a holiday, concerns over how reliable that information is can result in paralysing ‘Fearcation’ with high levels of stress and anxiety that can ruin your enjoyment and spoil your plans.”

Sound familiar?

Fear not!

I’ve put together seven top tips to help make family holidays less stressful.

You’re welcome.

1 – Choose your partner wisely

If the thought of going on holiday with them makes you feel a bit squeamish then are they really the one for you? Come on, you can do better than that.

2 – Keep your holiday paperwork organised

One of my main holiday stresses is worrying about tickets. I have this paranoia that I will turn up somewhere and have forgotten my tickets, or I’ll have my booking but the hotel will have no record of it.

Luckily I have this to keep all my documents in. I actually won it in a competition that I entered three times – once as me, once as Belle and once as fiancé. I forgot to tell them, (obviously), and when fiancé won he nearly deleted the email as he didn’t know what it was about. When he casually told me about this spam competition email he’d got I properly shrieked. I think he was a bit taken aback. I really wanted it though. True story.

3 – Get your information from trusted sources

I’m sure if you look for long enough you can find a negative review about anything. You could read negative comments about even someone as lovely as me I expect, if you tried hard enough. (And I didn’t send them straight to spam.) Rather than getting yourself all in a panic because one person three years ago had a problem with their room at your chosen hotel, stick to recommendations and opinions from people you trust who have first hand experience. Asking friends and family, like the good old days before all your friends existed only on Facebook, is normally the best way.

4 – Leave the children at home

Only kidding! It wouldn’t be fun without them would it? Okay, it might be, but they have their perks. Like you can legitimately go to the ‘kids attractions’, which we all know are the best bits really.

5 – Book your holiday with Villa Plus

Well, I would say that in this post wouldn’t I? But seriously, Villa Plus are worth a look. They’ve got over 7,250 independent reviews on TrustPilot and lots of photos of each villa, Google maps and floor plans. 360 degree videos are being introduced too, and more will be rolled out over time, so you can have a good nose before you book. Most of their villas include things like wifi and private pools as standard.

6 – Brush up on your language skills

Feeling confident about the local language will make you feel far less stressed about all the things that might go wrong. The Google Translate app will come in handy here, but you might want to learn a few key phrases in advance. I’d suggest:

‘Can you please point me in the direction of the hotel kids’ club?’

‘A large gin and tonic please.’

7 – Become a man

If you’re not one already. A little drastic perhaps, but the Villa Plus research showed that women are the ones that get most stressed out by the holiday booking process. ‘Women are much more likely’, the study shows, ‘to shoulder the burden of choosing where to go.’

On the plus side, that does mean we normally get to choose where to go, so you know, pros and cons.

What do you find most stressful about family holidays?

stress free family holidays

Ice cream – the recipe for any stress free family holiday

Produced in association with Villa Plus. Header image – Sunny studio/shutterstock.

About the research – The research was carried out by onepoll between 02/09/2016 and 06/09/2016 amongst a panel resulting in number respondents type of respondents. All research conducted adheres to the MRS Codes of Conduct (2010) in the UK and ICC/ESOMAR World Research Guidelines. onepoll is registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office and is fully compliant with the Data Protection Act (1998).

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I always look forward to the summer holidays with a mix of emotions. I’m excited about not having to get up early every morning, (and by early I mean at about ten to eight, in time to make a quick sandwich for Belle and try to look involved), but also anxious about juggling work, and keeping everyone entertained.

As it turned out, this summer fairly whizzed by. Belle went off to stay at my sister’s for a week, (flying to Ireland on her own!), and then we all went over a couple of weeks later for her wedding.  (My sister’s not Belle’s.) Belle and I went to Newquay, we threw some axes, it was all going on. On the final weekend of the summer holidays, we had one final hoorah and went of to Valleyfest for the weekend.

Valleyfest is a diddy little festival, with a foodie twist, held on the edge of Chew Valley Lake. This sets it apart from all of the other festivals I’ve been to, as you have a stunning view of the water from everywhere in the site. Now admittedly, the weather was pretty shocking, but even so, it was  beautiful.

Valleyfest

We were there for the whole weekend, but were very lucky as we were put up by Tinkerbell Tent Hire, who were providing the glamping for Valleyfest. (I.e. the tents for people like me who are too lazy to knock a couple of pegs into the ground.) We were really grateful for it, as the winds did get up on Saturday night, and if we’d had been in a tent that I’d put up, we’d probably have blown away. Tinkerbell Tent Hire also hire out tents for things like weddings, so they are definitely worth a look.  View Post

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