Category: Africa

Packing it all in – in defence of package holidays

Travelling Coral.

Package Holiday Coral.

Are you a traveller who plans their own itinerary or a package holiday fan?

I ask because I want to know what defines a traveller.

I started my blog, Travelling Coral, to document my first round the world trip in 2011. It turns out I like this blogging malarkey, so I carried on. I like travelling, eating and I like package holidays. I love to have the sun on my back and writing about where I have been, what I have eaten and I like writing about other stuff too. It is my therapy.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with a package holiday.

The beach bums

When I was on a tour in SE Asia, we stopped a few nights at Langkawi. The resort I stayed in was full of long-term travellers and beach bums, who were just like my brother. Because he had lived on a remote island in Thailand for a few years he had a travellers superiority complex. Like the people at Langkawi he viewed tour groups as fake travellers, unlike themselves, the true travellers.

The digital nomads

We are all digital nomads. I can text on the bus and read my email in a cafe. I can work from home or someone else’s home. I can write my blog in Birmingham and Brisbane.

The travellers that describe themselves as digital nomads mostly work in Chang Mai. The package tourist is everything they wish not to be associated with and don’t we know it.

Travellers sleep on the floor/dorms

When I reluctantly let my brother stay in my home for a couple of nights he refused the bed. He slept on the floor and made a big thing about it (saved me washing sheets). He moaned about how unhygienic western toilets were preferring to squat and wash rather than to sit and wipe.

He sneered at every aspect of my life. My kids (too much of a drag, man) my house (still wanted to stay there) and like those languishing in Langkawi, thought westerners who chose to go to work and pay taxes were somehow inferior to him. My package holidays were nothing like what he did (drug dealing and cadging cash off the mothership) he was cool and I was not because he travelled and I did not.

The Carry On Brigade

Then there are the travellers who have lived on the road for six years with backpacks that they carry on to planes. Like carry on is the only way to travel. Self proclaimed digital nomads that never check their bags. They boast that they only carry seven days of clothes, yet manage to pack in the ipad/applewatch/macbook air and a mirror camera whatever that is. They write e-books about it and feign disdain at people who for whatever reason book a package holiday.

Sexy travellers

You will see this same group of bloggers featured in the top 10 sexy travellers lists (no one likes an old frumpy traveller do they?) selling online courses to enable you to have a six figure income on the road. If I were making a six figure income on the road I would upgrade to first class travel and check in my luggage and not work out of a café in Chiang Mai.

Not all of us can carry on

The type of people who respond with ‘oh we never go on packages’ when I mention on their Facebook Page that there is no way I could travel from Birmingham airport with carry on only.  It always gets weighed and the limit is 5kg, so no I can’t, package holiday or otherwise.

I have travelled with carry on only. Twice from the UK, both times with Easyjet out of Gatwick. Once they insisted that a tiny sling purse counted as a second item of hand luggage and I had to put that in my bag. Crazy, but rules are rules. #jobsworth .

*update

In Australia last year (August and September 2016) we travelled carry only on domestic flights to Tasmania/Darwin/Alice. Checked in online and hoped we were not stopped at the gate. I am more pro carry on now. Also had to dump 11kg of clothes in Melbourne as I overpacked for the 4 month trip.

Not a travelling snob 

While I go on package holidays I rarely have anything in common with most of the passengers on my plane. Particularly those with names on their t-shirts who clink on all the duty-free they can and buy perfume and makeup in the sky, I don’t really get them at all.

I genuinely hope that they are not in my hotel. I do. That is not me being a snob, it is me being me. I would not want to spend a week with a bunch of saga louts nor a bunch of toffs who snort coke. It is not who I am. I do like meeting new like minded people and as such have made friends with ambulance drivers, tube drivers and someone big at Weta on my travels. I am interested in people but not ready to fill my life with buckets of booze and karaoke. Except for that one time in Krabi. We don’t talk about that.

When I go to Turkey the ‘I have my name on my t shirt in case I forget who I am in Bar Street’ brigade get on the big packed bus to Marmaris, while I and my family are the only ones on the minibus to Dalyan. Phew. Dickhead Dave, Saucy Sue and Peter the Plonker who had beer for breakfast at the airport pub may visit Dalyan to wallow in the mud for the day at some point, usually as part of a transfer deal with the tour company, but that is it.

I get my Dalyan with the locals and the Dutch who have made it their second home. I watch the sleeping Dalyan Dogs and live like a local.

Husky on Ice

I go have a beer with Fatih, say hi to his mom Rose (one of the best cooks in Dalyan) and Aycut and his jeep, that frequently breaks down, gets our business every time. When he gives lift to random strangers and pops to see his mom when taking us on a trip, that is a bonus. The rep for my hotel invited us to his family home. The owners of Metin, the family run hotel we stay at, entrusted me with their daughters passport renewal forms. That is how we do package.

What we don’t do is lie on a sunbed, work on our tan, eat English breakfasts, drink Carlsberg and stay in the hotel complex. We catch buses and go for long walks. We get lost in thunderstorms, narrowly avoid being struck by lightning, get woken by earthquakes and run the bar for Fatih when he joins in the water polo match. And yes some days we may swim and sleep because we can. Because we are on holiday.

In Malta we got the cheapest hotel and were out all day exploring by bus. We went there to sus out whether we would want to live there. We don’t. Another package because it suited us at the time.

Our first All Inclusive was in Marrakech, which we loved. Our second in Tunisia, we hated. Before that it was usually self catered to keep the costs down and meant that I didn’t have to dress for dinner.

And that is the point. We do what we want to do. If Carlsberg and chips is your thing, good for you, enjoy. Just don’t call me a snob for choosing not to.

If sitting in a cafe as a nomadic blogger in Chiang Mai is your thing, great. Go write that book about how you travel with only one pair of knickers and flip flops. I won’t buy it.

None of us are superior to anyone, tourist or traveller or staycation lover. No, not at all. It was a digital nomad, What’s Dave Doing,  who gave me the best advice when I was planning my first big trip. Supportive and informative. He is still travelling (slowly now) and I am pretty sure he checks his bags. Dave goes home and sees his family and likes western toilets and comfortable beds, but will sleep on the floor if he has to.

Sorrento here we come

Next week Phil and I are off to Sorrento for a week. I went to Thomson Holidays, after some research on the interwebs, and booked a package holiday.

Yes I could have booked it online. I didn’t because there is only one travel agent on my high street now. Use it or lose it, be it butcher, baker or holiday maker. The staff there are lovely, remember my holiday disasters and know why I don’t do cruises.

Sorrento is a holiday. A much needed holiday after a downsizing house move, a bereavement and every other weekend visits to a hospitalised terminally ill mom/mother in law.

And I will not be taking carry on only. I am packing a posh frock, and some real shoes. I will take sandals and linen tops and trousers and jeans and shoes and as the weather is warm in the day and cool at night, some scarves and a cardie. I may even pack my trusty kagool.

Housesitting in Melbourne

In a few months we are off to Melbourne to house sit, travel in Australia a bit and then after three months there, we go to New Zealand for a month. I sketched out a plan on the back on an envelope, went to STA, and now flights are booked and not much else. I have no idea how we get from Sydney to Brisbane yet. We will work it out. That to me is travelling, a mix of part planning and part seeing what happens.

Packing light

This was my packing for Greece in 2014. A seven day unpackaged holiday, where we flew to Crete,  took a night ferry to Piraeus,  had a day in Athens and then cruised to Santorini for a couple of nights. All the others dragged their huge suitcases to their hotel and stayed in one place. At the airport on the way home I asked some of them if they had been to Knossos. They asked me what Knossos was. #sigh

I pack light. This wheeled backpack from Ikea is just over the measurements for hand luggage on most domestic flights from the UK. And while we travelled light, it was over 5kg.

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Package versus DIY

Before booking the Sorrento package, as an experiment, I checked out skyscanner and various booking websites to see if I could organise a break cheaper than the package. I couldn’t. I could get cheap flights and if I had wanted to backpack in hostels, I probably could have just beaten the prices. Room only in modest hotels were around £80 per night. I could have got a 7 night all inclusive package for £600 if we had been able to go this week. We couldn’t due to work and family commitments. For less than that we have 7 nights half board and, as Sorrento is renowned for being expensive, that is good enough for me.

Spend my tourist dollar in the community

When we go to Sorrento are we going to lounge around the pool? Probably not. We will catch the train to Naples and find the pizza James Martin raves about. We may take a water taxi to Capri and explore the island. Visit Pompeii and Herculaneum at the very least. We will use public transport where we can and maybe take a trip to a farm and make pizza. The food walking tour looks fun too. I like tours, I like meeting like minded people and sharing the experience. Phil and I also like going off on our own and exploring.

What is important to me is making sure some of my tourist dollar is spent locally. Booking a package and eating only in the hotel, it isn’t. If I am AI and never leave the complex, only RIU and TUI make any cash. In most cases Thomson and Thomas Cook have bed blocked the hotel for a knock down price and the staff are paid the minimum wage.

In Malta we ate in a family run pizzeria and bought pastizzi from the pie shop. We used local buses and put our money into the economy.

This was almost impossible to do in Tunisia and boy did it need the tourist buck. Even our taxi driver worried for us when he took us to Sousse. It was a country in crisis. So sad now that those hotels, the main source of employment, lie empty.

An ex work colleague once moaned to me about her holiday in Kenya, how dirty everything was outside her hotel. She was horrified at how the locals lived and she didn’t want to see that. I explained to her that while tourism may offer the locals employment, the big hotel chains offering AI deals are in effect, stealing the business from the local small traders. And it doesn’t make any difference what the business is, holiday, retail or the coffee shop. Ask yourself why McDonald’s pop up in almost every resort and city now? Why, when in Melbourne, would you choose a Big Mac over the many wonderful burgers this city offers? Think where you spend you money, please. If you spend it with a local independent, the money stays in the community.

I do sometimes steal McDonald’s wifi though. When a bed bug ridden Maltese hotel charges for it.

Find the family business

This is why I seek family run businesses when I can when travelling. At home I choose indies over Costa and the corner shop over Tesco, Meatshack over Maccie Dees. If I stay in an AI or half board I make sure I get out to the local businesses be they cafes or tour companies and use them. For my forthcoming Australia trip I am using Aussie based tour companies and where I can, family run companies such as Melbourne Coastal Touring and West Oz Active.

Travelling with grannies and children

When the children were young, we almost always booked package holidays. It was easy, my children learned to swim in the sun, made holiday friends, and I had peace of mind. Both Phil and I had stressful jobs and all we wanted to do then was flop. We did once take our then 3-year-old daughter island hopping in Greece, with 50 something granny aka Travelling Sylvia leading the way.

Santorini post card

We found accommodation as we got off the boat. The owners held photos of their rooms for rent and took us there on the back of mopeds. Of course now we use booking apps but I still see rooms for rent signs in Greece.

Holidays at home can cost more than a package

I also have unpackaged holidays in the UK, using small independent Bed and Breakfast accommodation. When our Nile trip was cancelled in 2011 we took a tour around Wales and stayed in some excellent rooms. It cost nearly as much as the Nile cruise though, with food and petrol on top of the £80 or so a night accommodation.

And that is why package holidays are popular, they are mostly affordable. That is what many people want. If they have busy lives and only two weeks off to have a break, most people will probably choose what is generally a safe and predictable option for a holiday. Eat, drink, relax. And so do I, sometimes.

Yet now I have travelled more I choose packages that will offer me the adventure and independence I prefer.

We chose Sorrento because we have never been before, it offers a variety of things to see and do and because we needed a break. It was cheaper than 7 nights B&B or hiring a camper in England and I am saving my dosh for our Antipodean adventures.

The point of this post is not to praise package holidays, nor denigrate people who take them. I have friends who for environmental reasons won’t fly. My carbon footprint with three long haul flights in the past 5 years is huge. I do my best to balance this with using public transport and walking as much as possible. I don’t waste food. I turn off lights and use environmentally friendly products. I am not perfect nor strive to be.

Love them or hate them

Package holidays are like Marmite, love or hate them I suppose. But don’t think you are superior if you call yourself a traveller not a tourist. Because I will see you at Pompeii and at Knossos, at Hadrian’s Wall and on a beach in Krabi. That is what people who are interested in the world do, tourists and travellers.

I am a traveller, a tourist, a holiday maker who wants to see the world, feel the sun on her skin, taste new food, discover new places and people and return to places I love. Package holidays have made the world accessible to people who would never had left the comfort of their own back yard otherwise. Who knows, one day they may push past their comfort zone and go further, go independently and go travel. Or they may just sit by the pool and work on their tan, because that is what makes them happy. Who am I to judge?

So don’t judge me. I like package holidays. Sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling Sylvia – what my mother did on holiday

I am still wading through the pile of photographs, both mine and my mothers. Hundreds of them, mostly being thrown away before we move house.  Mom kept all hers in labelled shoe boxes. Duplicates and bad photos. Stored for decades and never shared. Organised clutter.

Occasionally I find ones with real significance. To discover that Mom had taken a photo of a church, that years later I chose as a place to scatter her ashes, was moving and very comforting.

Santorini church

And then there are the ones that make me smile. The ones that capture her personality, the things she did on her holiday. The maddening things and the silly things, that remind me of her and of happy times.

My mother liked to go on holiday. She was a school teacher, in the days when a six week holiday was a holiday for teachers too. She took full advantage of those extended holidays.

Mom often went on a whim, and travelled solo often.

One Christmas, when this celebration was still a big deal for me, she announced she was going to Bulgaria, to a ski resort.

And had Christmas dinner with strangers.

Watching people ski.

Wearing appropriate ski resort wear.

Having her picture take with characters.

And riding on fast things.

Then there was the time she went to Croatia just after the war for independence. And Turkey, always by herself and always making friends. mom 1

Turkey – getting muddy.

She went to Greece a lot, usually with her sister in law, Brenda. Brenda was a carer for her husband, who had MS, so this was a welcome break for her.

One year they went to Tunisia.

They did like dressing up.

And riding Camels.

She generously took me and my family on holiday too. I am glad I have those memories and will be keeping these photos of happy times.

Even when she took us long walks and we got lost.

In Spring 2011 I went to Dalyan with my husband. Mom hadn’t come because she was struggling to get  travel insurance due to her illness. We had been there a day when I got a text from my son.

nan says she will meet you in the market on sat

As I said she did things on a whim.

Our last holiday together was in 2011.  I booked a lovely house overlooking the river at Fowey, with a balcony where she could people watch.My mom enjoying the peace and quiet

This is what my mom did on holiday.

She also climbed into cages with tigers in Thailand and went on a micro light plane in Dalyan, not found those photos yet. Look out for part two.

 

 

 

 

 

Marrakech and why 4* luxury doesn’t have to break the bank

The pool
The pool

I don’t think I have ever stayed in a 4* hotel let alone go All Inclusive so I was a bit apprehensive when I booked a week away just before Christmas 2013.

I had come across an article about Marrakech whilst reading the newspaper in the very cosy bar of The Aysgarth Falls Hotel during a mini break to the Yorkshire Dales

2013 had been a tough year for me and the idea of a pre Christmas break seemed like a very good idea indeed. (Those of you who read my blog regularly will be aware that my mom passed away early 2013 and I have had a struggle clearing her clutter and managing my own health for most of the year). So yes I needed a another holiday.

It became a very good idea when I looked up some package holidays and saw the prices.

I don’t usually talk about how much my holidays cost, but on this occasion I will just to put it perspective what an amazing bargain this holiday was. I am always being asked how I afford so many holidays, the answer is that I make sure I get a good deal. If the price isn’t right I don’t go. There are still really good deals to be had. I also never, ever pay for inflight meals or to guarantee sitting together. Utter waste of money. So here goes.

One week, All Inclusive, gym, indoor and outdoor pool, free shuttle bus to the city,  for two people came in at under £600. ($996 approx). Including flights from my local airport in Birmingham, England. It seemed a unbelievably good bargain. After all we had paid around the same for a grotty bed bug ridden 2 star B&B hotel in Malta only a couple of months ago. Our B&B in Yorkshire was costing us about £80/$131 a night. With all the additional costs of fuel in the car and other meals we were paying about £110/$183 per dayThis holiday worked out at £85/$141 per night.

So of course I booked it.

I had no idea what to expect. I have travelled mainly in Europe and so called First World countries. I have been to Turkey a few times and travelled in SE Asia so thought that I would have been prepared for Marrakech.

I was wrong. Nothing can prepare you for Marrakech.DSCN9745 - Copy

As we drove from the airport to the hotel my face was glued to the window of the coach. There were actually donkeys in a 4 lane road surrounded by lorries, buses, cars and mopeds. And bikes, lots of bikes. Moped riders wore helmets, unfastened of course, and bike riders caught lifts from them, one foot on the moped and one foot on the bike pedal and holding on to the rider. Crazy mad dangerous.

I liked this place.

Our hotel was the RIU Tikida Palmeraie Marrakech and is a few miles outside the city, and was an oasis of calm. I was a bit very overwhelmed by all the luxury, the fact that our cases were delivered to our rooms. We were travellers for goodness sake, not holiday makers. Would I have to dress for dinner? Would everyone think we were the scruffs? Would I have to tip?

On the plane there had been some obnoxious, wealthy business men who talked loudly and verbally abused the attendants throughout the flight, and they were at this hotel. My heart sank, we were definitely the poor plebs here.Then I saw they had golf clubs, so reckoned I would not be seeing much of them. They had not brought wives and partners, this was a boys only trip.I imagine their partners had whooped with joy as the nobs their hubbies had left the house and had dashed down to to the Bull Ring with the Amex pretty swiftly.

Marrakech has some very good golf courses. Indeed I noticed that more golf resorts were being built on the outskirts when we were on trips out of the city. And there is a lot of space to build on, and boy are they building. All shiny four and five star hotels. Yawn, golf.

Our room was lovely and we had different swan towels every day. And yes of course I took pictures!

We discovered that we could, like Hobbits, have a first and a second breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. (We never did). There were three place to dine, the main restaurant, plus tables at the Moroccan and Italian themed restaurants could be booked. That said the main one served such a wide range of food, including Italian and Moroccan dishes, so these themed places were just a bit more cosy and intimate for a special meal. And all the drinks, soft and alcoholic, were of course included.

So used are we to being frugal, we forgot that the drinks were free and caught ourselves wondering if we could afford a drink in the bar. Then we remembered we had those little bands on our wrists and we were ‘All Inclusive’.  It was a novelty to have a brandy after dinner, or a G&T before. And the waiters always filled up your glass with wine as soon as you put an empty one down. The buffet was so varied, the quality so very good and we tried lots of new foods. It was easy to balance the less healthy indulgence in cakes when you knew you had had lots of salads.

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Two things had worried me about All Inclusive. That people would pig out and overload their plates with food and waste food, and, because the drinks were free they’d get drunk and behave like louts. And I don’t just mean us. To be fair we didn’t stay up late and drink with the many who watched the various entertainment acts at the hotel, yet we never heard any rowdiness, nor witness people getting pissed around the pool by day. This was not the Benidorm nightmare I had dreaded. It was all very civilised without being stuffy. Jeans were ok for dinner, shorts, bikinis and football shirts were not. Correction, football shirts did begin to make an appearance around the pool and a breakfast. That was because Morocco was hosting a big football tournament and many of the fans from Brazil were staying at our hotel.

When we did an open top tour of the city, the bus was packed with Brazilian football fans waving flags and shouting to fellow fans as we passed. In England you would get off a bus if 50 football fans got on, and wonder when the police would be needed. Here, it was all good fun, no nasty rivalry between fans.DSCF7451 - Copy

We couldn’t fault the hotel or staff and there was no pressure to tip. We began to relax and then we took the bus into the city and decided to explore the Medina. And that is when the adventure begin. If only I had been able to read this by The Wagoners Abroad before I went (I couldn;t have cos we went before they did) or this by Life Out of the Box (again, we were there first) but if you are thinking of going to Morocco, I would recommend you read their blogs as they are excellent guides to coping with preparing for Marrakech. I hope that my subsequent posts about our experience will be helpful too.