Adopting my family

I have spent my life collecting interesting people to be added into my birth family. Sure. I come from a huge extended family. But. I am greedy. I think that when it comes to family, the more the merrier. And so, ever so slowly, my family tree is growing…

It was Grandparent’s day in Kindergarten and I had to wake up to the realization that although there was still a Santa Claus, I didn’t have any grandparents to invite. They had all decided to die before I was born. I know. I would be the only orphan in my class. I had little time to find at least one grandparent. Amy Morgan, the brunette at my table, would have four grandparents representing her at the big event. She snobbily offered to share her least favorite with me. Um. No thanks.

I considered letting my mom attend so that I would have someone to serve a cupcake to, but she would have had to drag the babies along. I was a pretty fussy five-year-old. I didn’t want a grandmother with babies.

I decided to invite the old, gray haired lady who lived down the street. She was honored and told me so. She even got little tears in her eyes to be so generously included in my life. I understood why someone would feel special for getting to come to my class for dessert. Years later I realize that she was about thirty seven, or my age now, when I adopted her. I am really surprised that she didn’t stuff me in a closet.

So. Nana and Grandpa became the grandparents to all six kids in my family. And. If I must say myself, I chose well. I mean. They owned the Corner Store in Zena, NY. I know. Not only could they come to my classroom and watch me sing songs, but I could help in their store after school. Oh. They had more varieties of candy behind the counter than I could count in those days. And. As you can well guess, being a part of their family meant that I could devour any sweets that arrived without wrappers. (I found that pinching the bags worked best….)

They live in Florida now. I know. Can you believe it? When I was a kid they had a candy store. And. Now as an adult they are still making my dreams come true: relatives in Florida! Now that I am a flight attendant, I get to visit them at whim.

Betty is my Colorado mom. See. I would like to say that I have changed a lot as I have aged and that my criteria of choosing relatives has less to do with sugar than character. But, the truth is that Betty is known for her banana cream pies. Great mom to have around. No. She doesn’t let me get away with anything.

“Holly, are you ok?” She asked.

“Better than James Brown.” I said.

“When will you be back at work?”

“The doctor isn’t sure.” I sigh.

“Do you need anything? She softly asked.

”Yes.”

She bristled. Ready to give everything she had. “What.” She demanded.

“Pie. Betty, I’m going to die without your pie.” I say.

“Oh. Don’t you scare me.” She laughed. “Pie can wait. Questions first.” She said. “How bad is it? How many seizures?”

“Oh. Not so bad. Really. Don’t worry. Pie?” I tried lowering my voice for effect. “Betty. I have been waiting a whole month. Let’s eat now. We can talk later.”

She stood holding the pie staring me down. “How many seizures?”

“One a day.”

“That’s too many.”

“I know.”

“How’s the meds?”

I reached for the pie. She held it back.

“Not working yet.”

“Make sure you remember to take them every day, ok..?”

“Yes, Mother.” I agreed.

“…or no more pie for you.” She chided.

My adopted sister Linda and I argue over who adopted whom first.

I recently went to visit her in Arizona so that she could help me forget that I was now protected under the American Disability Act because a portion of my brain died in a car accident twelve years ago, and decided that now, one of the happiest times in my life, was a good time for me to get slapped with the word Epilepsy and experiment with the side effects of medication.

She figured that I needed to join in a water aerobic classes that she was teaching. It was fun splashing around with all of the water logged ladies. In between the exercises there was plenty time for talking.

One lady turned to me. “Oh. Are you the Elk woman?”

“Excuse me?” I said, insulted. Are elks related to seizures?

The lady turned to Linda. “Is this the Elk woman that you were telling us about?”

“Yes.” Linda said.

I know. Not the animal that you most want to be compared to. “Elk woman?” I hedged. No explanation. Nothing. She left me hanging. Oh. Ok. Fine.

Now Linda and I have so many things in common. We recently gave ourselves drastic hair cuts, bought purple winter coats, and have decided that there is nothing wrong with long walks as opposed to short runs. We each have a birthday the day after a major holiday and we can finish each other’s sentences.

Later, after dinner, I asked her if she were also an Elk woman, since we were so similar.

“No. How could I be? I am a vegetarian.” She said.

“Oh. Am I an Elk-woman because I like to eat elk?” I asked, light going on.

“Hey. My husband says that he has never, ever seen a woman put the elk away like you do. He thinks that we could find you a good elk-hunting husband right here on the mountain.” She said, laughing.

“You know. I think that you must be the real Elk-woman.” I said. “You are the one married to the hunter.

And since I am the one writing this column, let me have the last word. Linda, the running, green eating, strong woman who is married to the handsome hunting man, is the real Elk-woman. And I, her adopted sister, am willing to support her by being her Elk-woman sister.

No I’m not sleeping

Buzz. Buzz.

I quickly added another layer of clothing, and bleeped someone in.

There was a knock on my door. Shelby walked in. “Hi. Where’s your camera.”

“Camera know I right it where is?”

She laughed. “Oh did I wake you up?”

I felt the immediate need to lie. “Yes. I sleeping was.”

“Ok. Where’s your camera?”

“No I don’t have one now today.” I said. I went over to the table. Ok. What was wrong with my speech? “I camera have some once purse here in mine.” I said, turning to her.

She laughed. “You must have been really out of it when I buzzed. Just give me your camera, and you can go back to sleep. I’m late for class.”

Ok. I hadn’t been sleeping. I had just sent darlin-man an e-mail. I had been tired all day from the hike I had taken yesterday. But. Something was wrong. Shelby was chatting on and on about her new job.

I turned to her. My voice was too high. “I wasn’t sleep you buzz when.”

“You weren’t? What were you stuck in the middle of a dream or something?”

“I was middle of mailing e’s. Good e-mail. Nothing bad. Legitimate.”

She laughed again. “It’s ok. I don’t mind if you nap in the middle of the day.”

I was growing very uneasy. Something was very wrong. I found the camera. I could hold rational, linear thoughts in my head, but I couldn’t speak clearly. I tried speaking really slowly. “I go to the store for food some times tonight so you can’t take camera back for me today.”

“Ok. No problem. How about tomorrow?”

“No good tomorrow bad too because I go away in the night. Something wrong with talking.”

“I know. I can hear it. I will call you tomorrow to see if it is better. Don’t worry. You are probably just tired.” She gave me a hug. “Go to sleep. I’m late for class.”

I lunched with Nellie the next day. While driving to her house it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn’t be driving.

“I’m out of it much so.” I said, really worried.

“Meds?”

“Maybe. I’m having trouble talking correctly right.”

“Oh, good. Then I get to do the talking for a change.” She said.

Later I tried to cancel dinner arrangements with friends.

“Meds are acting fun. I don’t drive now.” I said.

“We can come to get you!”

We found our way to a great Mexican restaurant where I asked them lots of questions about their jobs, to hide my new speech difficulties. No. They could tell.

“It’s like you are Schizophrenic! It’s so cool. Please. Say something else. Wow. This is a Holly we have never seen. Do you think you will stay like this?”

Ralph came over a few days later. He shrugged. “I don’t notice anything. You are the same to me. Now. Read me a column. I want to take a nap.”

I e-mailed Darlin-man about our date on Friday, asking if he were open to a quiet evening at home. I figured that I could hide my new speech impediment with a movie. I had only e-mailed him all week, mentioning that I wasn’t feeling well.

“So. What’s wrong?” He asked. “You haven’t explained your mystery un-wellness.”

“I’d rather not say.” I said, very slowly and deliberately.

“You can tell me, I’m a Doctor.”

“I don’t want tell you, because you’re Doctor.” My friends had started to wonder if I’d had a stroke. It wasn’t just the speech problems that had them worried, I was also losing my way walking around my own neighborhood. It was a bit troubling to think about.

The doctors would let me know the following Monday that I was having a severe reaction to my meds, easily remedied by lowering the dosage. But. Tonight I wasn’t looking for a cure or a quick trip to the hospital. I really needed to relax.

“You don’t want to tell me? Oh. You must have diarrhea?”

I laughed, sinking into the couch. I was still incredibly exhausted. “No.”

“Vomiting?”

“No.”

“Are you contagious?”

“I don’t know, and you can welcome to call my neurologist, but last time I talked at him he said that Epilepsy wasn’t contagious.”

We laughed.

He sighed and squinted his eyes. “What can I do to make you feel better?”

“Cuddle.”

“You women are so strange, you know that?” He said, gathering me up in his arms. “Always wanting to be held. “What is up with that, anyway?”

Slug Woman

The phone rang.

“Hello.” I managed.

“Hi it’s me. I need a favor…” A voice. Whose voice was that?

“Hi.” I said. Where was I?

“Holly. You ok?” That voice again. Who was that?

“Yeah. I’m sleeping.” Maybe they would hang up. I always hang up when people say that they’re sleeping.

“Oh. Sorry. You awake now? My god girl, it is ten o’clock.” Who… who… who…

“I was up at six. I wrote for a while. But. I needed a nap. Who is this?”

“It’s Shelby. What’s wrong? Are you Ok?”

I know. I shouldn’t get mad. I have been on medical leave now for six months while the doctors toy with the medication for my Epilepsy. Why do my friends always act surprised when I am un-well? “I think that I have contracted some kind of degenerative slug disease.”

“You have been really tired. It’s just part of the medication.”

“I’m just so tired all the time. It want some time off for good behavior. Do you think that the doctors are going to schedule in some ‘well days’ anytime soon?”

“Hey. I need a favor. But. Now I feel bad asking for it.”

“Ok. Bye.”

“Could you go to the library for me and pick up some supplies, and deliver them to the school where I volunteer?”

“Nope. Sorry. This disease has me stuck in bed and I can’t get up.”

She sighed. “I really, really need this.”

“I can’t wake up.” I said, closing my eyes. “My eyes are closed on the matter.”

“Ok. How about if you pick up the books for me, and I can drive by your apartment?”

Yeah. I know. But. Maybe Slug Woman would feel better if she moved around a bit. “Ok. I will get them and meet you at I25 and Colorado. The Albertson’s parking lot.”

“Perfect. Thanks. How about 1:15?”

Oh. Man. That only gave me three hours and fifteen minutes to get that errand done. I got out of bed for the second time that day and moved around. It didn’t help. I couldn’t shake the sleepies. Ok. Fine. Then I would just work with them.

I showered, dressed and applied make up. I know. But. I thought that maybe I could fake myself out, you know, look like I was awake and thereby actually WAKE UP. I drove to the library. The three minute parking space that Shelby had promised would be available was not available. My Slug brain could think of nothing but to drive around the block again. Great. Still taken. I drove around one more time. Great. I had to parallel park. Not it’s not so easy doing it in slow motion.

“Hi. I’m Shelby Colt, here to pick up my books for the school.” I said, as instructed.

“Hi Shelby. Just a moment.” Librarian said, disappearing into the back.

“Was that Colt, with a C?”

“Yes. It is.” I smiled. I sort of figured that they wouldn’t be there.

He called the manager.

“You aren’t Shelby.” She worried.

“I know.” I wanted to tell her that I was Slug Woman, there to steal books to give to poor children. You know. I could be some kind of super hero in disguise. But. You know. It would have upset her.

“I need to deliver the books to Shelby by 1:15.”

“Oh. Dear. I don’t have her books ready. Do you mind waiting?”

I was ushered into the main children’s library. “You can’t wait back here. There are books back here.” Um. There are books up here, too.

Then the manager gave Slug Woman a lesson on how Shelby was going to put each child’s name on each book, before the books were handed out.

“Do you need me to write this down?” She asked.

“No. Thanks. I think I can relay that. But. Thanks for offering.”

I drove across two detours and four highways to find Shelby at the parking lot. I know. But she was doing this reading gig on her lunch break. We arrived at the same time.

“This was so easy! What perfect timing! Thanks so much!” She gushed. “I’ll buy lunch on Sunday.”

The whole errand had taken me the whole three hours and fifteen minutes so far, and I wasn’t even close to being back home in bed yet.

Yeah. So easy.

I climbed back into my car and reminded myself how fortunate I was that nobody was trying to pay me for my time. I locked the doors, reclined the driver’s seat as far back as it would go, and closed my eyes.

It isn’t easy being a Super Slug Woman for your friends.

The look that says it all

I patiently waited till it was my turn. “Hi. My doctor wants to call in my prescription, so I need the pharmacy number.”

The girl behind the counter threw me a look. Oh. I know that look. You know it too. It’s the look you give someone when they ask you a stupid question.

She cleared her throat. “The number is right there on that card.”

“Oh. Great.” I pulled out a business card from the holder. Guess I am going to be needing one of these business cards now that I need a pharmacy in my life. Guess that it’s time to learn some pharmacy etiquette, hmmm?

I took the card and turned to leave. Nope. No number. I was looking for some kind of code. You know. Like Pharmacy number 654 B that would alert my doctor that I was really shopping at the pharmacy that was inside the Mighty King Grocery Store. Because we know that the medical field is all about codes.

“Um. Sorry. But. I don’t see the number on this card.”

She looked at me again. That look. That long, apologetic look for me not knowing how to use the seatbelt in the front seat of the car.

“It is right at the bottom.” She said, a little too politely.

I scanned the bottom. Nope. No 654 B. There wasn’t any strange code. There wasn’t any letters anywhere. “Um. Sorry to trouble you. But. Do you think that perhaps you could maybe show me the number on the card? I still don’t see it.” No. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was completely and totally convinced that I had the only card that didn’t have the code printed on it.

The girl reached through the little window, and with a perfectly manicured long orange fingernail, she pointed to the phone number to the store.

“The phone number? The doctor just needs the phone number?” I gasped.

“Yes.” She said, wanting to laugh, but not sure that she could.

“Oh. Man. You are trying to tell me that I drove all the way down here to get the phone number to the pharmacy?”

Ok. She laughed. Nice loud, slapping the counter laughs. “You drove down here for that?”

“I did!” I shook my head. “Hey. It’s not easy learning a foreign language. I thought that there was some secret code that he needed for calling in the meds.”

“No.” She giggled. “But. While you’re here, let’s get you into our system.”

“Your system?” Um. That sounded scary.

She gave me that look again. Again? Come on. Give me a break. How many looks can you give a foreigner in one day?

“So. This is my very first pharmacy in my big, whole life.”

“No way.” She said, getting the scared look for a change.

“Way. Epileptic.”

“Sorry.” She said. I could tell that she was sorry for her little attitude problem. But. I don’t mind those looks. I collect them.

“Oh. Nothing to be sorry about. Look what an adventure pharmacies can be.” I smiled.

“Ok. Name.”

“Holly Winter.”

“Allergies?”

“Yes.”

She started laughing again. She had to walk to the back of the pharmacy to control herself. The pharmacist came up to join in the fun.

“What’s so funny?”

“Ask her about allergies!” She said, laughing hysterically.

“Allergies?”

See. I wasn’t trying to be funny. But I am a quick study. I had guessed that it wasn’t a true/false question.

I paused. “Several?”

The pharmacist nodded. “What are they?”

“Aspirin? And penicillin?”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

Ok. So. I gave him a good list without question marks. “And, so far I am not allergic to Topamax.”

“That’s what you’re taking?” He didn’t hide his amazement.

“Yes.”

“That’s a new medicine.”

“I know.” Six months on medical leave while they try to master the dosage. I know it’s new. And it is working. The seizures are practically a thing of the past. But. The side effects keep me in a constant flurry.

“We’ll have to order it for you.” He said. He turned to the laughing woman and gave her that look. She froze in her shoes. Isn’t it amazing what a good look can do? See. That’s why I collect them.

“Can you come back in a few days? You’re the only one on this side of town taking it. How’s it working for you?”

I know. My first pharmacy, and already they are asking ME questions. Um. Are they trying to instill confidence?

Gap year travel to India

Whether you’re planning to spend your gap year in one country and travel around it, or want to hop between different nations, there are some things that will require forward planning and a little bit of organisation on your part.

When I went travelling I purchased a round-the-world ticket and spent several weeks in each country. Don’t worry – you don’t need to choose your accommodation for each night in advance. I just booked for my first three nights in India, but my itinerary quickly changed and I ended up moving after one day anyway.

Below are the top tips I think you should keep in mind when planning a gap year.

Be organised, but not too much

I obviously booked my flights between each country, but not internally, as I didn’t want to tie myself to a strict schedule, or waste money on tickets I didn’t end up using. Round-the-world passes represent fantastic value for money and I’d definitely advise you purchase one of these, rather than just booking a one-way or return flight.

If you decide to follow my advice, you’ll have a rough idea of how long you will spend in different places and the departure dates from each country will allow you to plan how much time you have to travel before your flight. I had five weeks in India (which still wasn’t enough – it’s huge), so armed myself with a travel book and decided how long I’d need in each city or town, giving myself a couple of days leeway to guarantee I made the flight to Thailand. I simply booked my train tickets a couple of days before each departure from an internet cafe, giving me the freedom to be flexible.

india-Taj-Mahal-shows-details

Get cash-savvy

Once you’ve paid for your round-the-world ticket, you’ll need to get saving, unless you’ve already managed to put quite a bit away. While you don’t need a strict day-by-day financial schedule, use travel books and the internet to work out average expenses. Look at typical travel, excursion, accommodation and meal prices. Always put down more than you’ll need to account for any emergencies or last-minute plans. I hardly needed anything when in south-east Asia, but I’m glad I saved more than I required, as Australia was something of a shock after Thailand’s cheap beach huts and street food!

india-populationThere are a number of ways to boost your finances, such as working while abroad. To stretch my savings further, I spent more time in south-east Asia than the other countries.

Don’t get caught up in the excitement

So you’ve saved up and got your flight ticket – job done, right? There’s more to planning a gap year than this, as you need to think about the somewhat boring details, such as jabs and visas. Whoever you book your round-the-world ticket with will advise you on the visas you need, but if for whatever reason you don’t have access to this information, check out the British Embassies of the different countries you’ll visit. Their websites should explain any visa requirements. Do this well in advance – but be careful, as some destinations only allow you to obtain a visa during a certain period before you enter the country.

Tell your doctors where you’ll visit and they’ll advise you on your vaccinations. Again, for the best protection, do these well in advance, as some require several trips before you jet off. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of medical treatments, including malaria tablets, and visas either.

Guide to India

India is an incredible place to visit. But before you lose yourself in daydreams of where you’ll go and what you’ll do, you need to sort out the practical side, like what to pack. I’ve put together a quick guide to packing for an Indian adventure – hope it helps!

Dadar-Station_4

Luggage

Now, you might not usually give a huge amount of thought to your luggage itself – aside from whether it is light enough for you to avoid excess baggage charges! – but it’s worth considering it in a bit more detail if you go to India. Why? Well, the pavements can be a lot more uneven and dustier than you’re used to, which means any kind of wheeled baggage will probably be more of a hindrance than a help.

So, it’s a good idea to find yourself a large, sturdy backpack instead. If you don’t have one and are planning to buy one for the first time, don’t just opt for the cheapest you come across. Quality is everything when it comes to how comfortable and practical these are – go for something with supportive straps and good padding and ventilation where the bag rests on your back.

Protect yourself against the sun and rain

Clothes are probably going to be your first consideration when packing, and there are a fair few things you need to think about in this regard. Some of the key factors are:

  • Weather
  • Religion and customs
  • Whether you will be staying in an urban or rural area

I’ll concentrate on the first point for the moment. As you’re likely to be aware, India can be suffocatingly hot – especially between March and June – while it also has a monsoon (typically during July and August, but this does hinge on whereabouts you are visiting).

As a general rule, you should always pack strong sun cream – particularly as this can be pricey to buy once you arrive – as well as sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat and light-coloured clothing. Clothes should also be loose-fitting and breathable, while long sleeves and trousers will help shield you from bugs.

Umbrellas are, unsurprisingly, pretty essential if you’re visiting during the wet season, but they also work as a decent sun shield at other times. A waterproof jacket is a good idea, while layers – rather than heavy coats – are important for keeping you warm during chillier weather.

Dress conservatively

As well as considering the weather, you should also take into account local culture when picking what clothes to pack. While urban areas will generally be fine with westernised clothes, these should still be on the conservative side. This means no shorts (this goes for both men and women), while female travellers should cover their chests and shoulders.

It’s not uncommon for visitors to India to adopt local dress, so it’s worth considering picking up a few cheap bits and bobs at local markets once you arrive.

Packing for rural areas

If you’ll be visiting rural areas, dressing conservatively is even more important, while there are a couple of other bits and bobs you should make sure you have. Sometimes soap is scarce, for instance, so chuck some antibacterial gel in your bag, along with wet wipes and some toilet paper – you’re likely to be very grateful for them! Insect repellent is another good idea, particularly if you’re like me and bites tend to swell up on you.

Cheap breaks in the UK

So you are looking to take that much needed holiday, but only have limited funds. Does that mean that you have to settle for second best? Absolutely not! It is possible that you can still have a great holiday on a budget.

Group bookings

If you have a large family and don’t mind going on holiday with uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews etcetera then it might be a wise choice to all decide to book as a group. Large family or friends bookings are becoming commonplace and is a great way to save money on the cost of your vacation. For example it is possible to hire a large villa in the Mediterranean for a fraction of the cost than you would if you went on your own. All you would have to pay for is your flights, spending money and your percentage of the villa cost and as a result you could well be holidaying in style at a fraction of the cost. UK group accommodation is also great value for beautiful residences.

UK-visa1-shutterstock_363506579Travel insurance deals

You may be surprised what you can find if you shop around and this is exactly the same for travel insurance deals. Travel companies will always try to sell you their insurance and let’s face it…why wouldn’t they? However the reality is that inevitably, it isn’t always the cheapest option. Check out
comparison sights, search online and do some digging for the best travel insurance for holidays. You can unearth some excellent deals if you know where to look.

Stay in the UK

If you don’t mind the weather, then taking a holiday in the UK may not be such a bad idea. This year there is so much going on, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics coming to London as well, there are some great deals to be had. The reason for this is that competition is tough and every tourist board and hotelier is clambering over each other to entice people to holiday in their area. Whether you choose a city break or somewhere on the coast you can have a great time. Pick a nice bed and breakfast in Bournemouth or another seaside resort for a great time (depending on the weather!). If you are canny, flexible on dates and where you want to stay and have a good eye for a bargain, then you will find some really good deals on UK holidays. In addition to this, depending upon how far you want to travel you are probably not paying out for flights in order to get to your destination.

What could be finer than eschewing that foreign holiday this year and relaxing at home, filling your spare time with a few weekend breaks in England, Scotland or Wales? Perhaps so far the summer has been a little wet and gloomy, but the long term weather forecast is not looking too bad, and anyway, just think about all the money that you could save. Even if you visit London you might be surprised to find that there are some great deals going at London hotels.

The beauty of taking a number of weekend breaks rather than a long summer holiday is the variety that you can enjoy. You can combine city breaks, breaks in the countryside, and breaks at the seaside.

City break a’la UK

The favourite city break destinations are London, Edinburgh, York, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Birmingham, and Liverpool. Each of these cities has a great deal to see and do and a lot of culture to experience. Each of these cities holds a festival of one sort or another over the summer, though if it is culture and comedy you are looking for you can’t do much better than the Edinburgh Festival which is a classic affair and the Edinburgh Fringe, which is its comedic bedfellow.

London hosts a multitude of events, but there is also the Shakespeare Festival and the London Film festival. If a slightly heavier scene is your thing, then don’t forget the Leeds Music Festival which has a great line up of bands this year and not all of them are as heavy as the “Eagles of Death Metal”.

Lake District

What could be better than a countryside break in the Lake District? Despite the huge number of visitors that journey there, it is still always possible to find peace and tranquillity on the many lakeside and hillside walks. Perhaps you might prefer a Scottish destination such as Aviemore or Loch Lomond; or a stroll through the rolling fields and gentle slopes of the Cotswolds or the moors of Yorkshire. The New Forest is always a popular destination as are the more challenging hills and spectacular caves of the Peak District.

image7_lgSeaside anyone?

For seaside breaks Brighton has always been a favourite as have Eastbourne and Bournemouth. There is much to see and do in Southampton too, and you could combine a visit there with a trip to the New Forest. One of the sunniest counties in England is Cornwall, and a popular destination there is Newquay which is famous for its Atlantic rollers and excellent surfing beaches with golden sands that extend for several miles.  On the opposite coast in Devon you will find Torquay, another favourite seaside resort, or travel north to Blackpool where you can wander along the golden mile. If you should find yourself in Yorkshire, then Scarborough is always worth a visit. It was one of the first seaside resorts in England and it retains some of that old flavour.

Even if Britain cannot boast the warmest of climates, there are always sunny days and there is never a shortage of things to see and do.

Malaga Guide

Malaga is a popular part of Spain that makes a fantastic holiday for groups of friends, families and couples alike. There is plenty to see and do during a week here, and people of all tastes will be catered for, from partygoers to culture vultures.

malaga-spain-beaches

It is this variety, combined with a warm local welcome and sunny weather, which appeals to so many holidaymakers. Also the fact that a holiday to Malaga is extremely frugal on the pocket recently, meaning you won’t have to break out the online cash loans just to be able to afford the hotel! So, how can you best spend your seven days in Malaga?

iStock_000003658631XSmallRelax on the beach

The great thing about Malaga is that you can pick up car hire from Malaga Airport and be parked up at a city beach in less than half an hour. Malaga boasts a plethora of beaches that are perfect for soaking up the rays, trying your hand at water sports and enjoying the fresh seafood at nearby cafes. El Palo and El Chanquete Beaches are both in the El Palo part of the city and boast a wide selection of eateries, bars and the chance to scuba dive, windsurf and sail at the El Candado Yacht Club. There is also San Andres Beach, which has 3 km of soft, fine sand, lots of green space and a playground, should little ones need some shade or happen to get bored of building sandcastles! The Costa del Sol has 160 km of coastline, so you can get an idea of just how many beaches Malaga is home to.

malaga-26926024-istock.jpg_369272544Get cultural

As tempting as it is to spend your entire week on the beach, make sure you see a different side to Malaga by visiting one of its museums or galleries. If you really don’t want to miss out on the sun, come here after lunch when the rays are at their hottest. That will give you the morning and late afternoon to work on your tan. The Centre for Contemporary Art in Malaga is in the middle of the city and the work housed here spans from the last third of the 20th century to the present day. It’s a fairly new attraction, having opened in 2003, but has made a name for itself and has helped to promote contemporary art in Spain.

The Holy Week Museum is another attraction you can head to and is ideal if you like to get under the skin of your holiday destination. Housed in the former 1699-built Hospital of St Julian, the museum offers beautiful artistry, stunning architecture, archives and an audiovisual centre.

fly-to-malaga-1Explore Malaga’s nature

There are 23 natural protected areas in Malaga that are perfect for family walks and romantic strolls alike. You might be surprised at just how much nature the city boasts, considering it is perhaps most well known for its bustling nightlife and sandy beaches. The Torcal de Antequera Natural Area has a breathtaking limestone complex that covers 12 sq km and was formed around 150 million years ago when geological folding caused it to be pushed up from the seabed. It is thought there are around 700 plant species in the park, while it has been awarded the status of Special Zone for Bird Protection, such is the richness of its wildlife.

If you have a hire car, take the N-331 (A-45) highway from Malaga and head to Antequera, from where you should travel to La Puerta de Estepa. You’ll soon see signs for the park, so follow these all the way there.

11-s.andresmg8788_crop3sub1Hotels

If you’re planning a holiday in Malaga, chances are finding a good hotel is going to be your number one priority. The good news is that accommodation here is really varied, which means it caters for all kinds of budgets. There’s pretty much everything from bare-bones two-star hotels to luxury establishments with lavish spa facilities, so there’s plenty of scope for selecting something to set the right tone for your break.

You’ve got a similar breadth of choice when it comes to location. If you’re keen to get involved in the nightlife or tour the cultural attractions, a city centre hotel is likely to suit you best. But, there’s also accommodation in quieter, more spacious venues. The Parador de Malaga Golf, for example, is in a pretty, secluded spot – so much so that it has room for an 18-hole golf course – with sea views.

Car hire from Malaga Airport

Malaga’s home to more car hire companies than you can shake a stick at – well, the most of any city in Andalucia, anyway. Plus, it’s got plenty of public car parks (including at most beaches), which makes car hire from Malaga Airport a pretty good choice for your holiday transport.

This way, you get the speed and convenience of air travel combined with the freedom of driving. The airport is home to several car hire desks, which are typically open from 07:00 to midnight local time, but some are open for even longer. If they are shut, there’s usually a drop box where you can return your keys if you’re catching a particularly early or late flight home.

The drive from the airport to the city centre is only around 20 minutes, which means you don’t need to worry about having a long way to go after your flight. You should, however, check out the driving laws in Spain – the main ones are listed below.

Driving essentials

Before you start planning to drive in Malaga, make sure you know the key regulations. Among the most important are:

  • You can’t hire a car if you’re under 21, or have held your licence for less than a year
  • In Spain, you drive on the right hand side of the road (and overtake on the left)
  • You need to carry your driver’s licence and registration and insurance documents whenever you’re on the road.

City tips

As mentioned briefly above, Malaga has a fair few public car parks, so it’s pretty handy for travellers with hire cars. That said, you do need to be wary of parking attendants who ask for tips – they’re not always actually attendants. Sometimes people just pretend to be to get some cash from unsuspecting tourists – so bear it in mind and make sure you’re not that tourist.

Health and currency

Among the other practical things you should think about are things like health insurance and currency. You should carry a European Health Insurance Card (this has now replaced the E111, if you’re more familiar with that), just in case you need any medical attention.

In terms of currency, Spain uses the euro. You might hear of a couple of touristy shops accepting international currency, but it’s always safest to assume everywhere will only take euros. If you forget to change your money before flying out to Malaga, you’ll find a bureau de change at the airport.

A family holiday to Jamaica

Everyone knows Jamaica’s home to beautiful beaches, but if you’re planning a trip to the stunning Caribbean isle there are so many to choose from, you’ll need a bit more information before you decide where to go. After all, you don’t want to miss out on any gorgeous stretches of sand.

Bear in mind that Jamaica is one of the larger Caribbean islands – it’s 235 km long and it varies in width between 35 and 86 km. So, you should choose where you stay on your beach holiday to Jamaica carefully to make sure you’re close to the stretches of sand you want to visit.

1383667439780Where’s the best beaches?

Montego Bay

Montego Bay is located in the north-west of the island and is home to some gorgeous stretches of sand. One of the most famous – and most frequented – of these is Doctor’s Cave Beach. This bay got its name after a doctor donated who his beach-front property to a local swimming club. Originally, you could reach the beach from the house via a cave, but this entrance was destroyed by a hurricane.

Doctor’s Cave Beach is a glorious stretch of soft sand with easy access to the inviting Caribbean waters. It’s a great place to relax in the sun, as there are several open-air bars and restaurants in the area, or go for a swim when you want to cool off.

Another bit of Montego Bay’s coastline worth visiting is Walter Fletcher Beach, which is a bit quieter than its famous neighbour. The water here is calm, which makes it great for taking a dip or trying a selection of water sports – including sailing, scuba diving and snorkelling. Visit the nearby Aquasol Theme Park to enjoy a host of rides and other attractions.

jamaica-travelguide-beach-xlargeNegril

Located to the south and west of Montego Bay is Negril, where you’ll find some more beautiful stretches of sand. Among them is Bloody Bay which, despite its apparently gruesome name, is one of the most picturesque beaches in the area. Be aware that parts of the bay are privately owned, but you can still lie back on the public section and soak up the atmosphere. While you’re here, sample some of the spicy Jamaican cuisine on sale at The Office of Nature – an open beachfront barbeque.

If you’re staying in Negril, make sure you spend at least one day on Seven Mile Beach – the longest on the island. As it’s so long, there’s always somewhere to put your towel and adventurous travellers can bare all at one of the nudist sections.

Port Antonio

Travel to the east of Jamaica and Port Antonio is an excellent place to stay if you’re after the ultimate beach break. It’s home to the Blue Lagoon, a truly stunning natural sight where the water’s colour shifts between blues and greens as the sun changes its position throughout the day. The lagoon is fed by a number of freshwater springs, but is connected to the sea by a narrow channel. The best thing to do here is grab a cocktail and enjoy the view.

If, however, you’d like to be a bit more active, head to Boston Bay Beach, which is renowned for having some of the best surfing in the country. It has also earned a reputation for being home to the top jerk stands in Jamaica, so you can try some of the spicy local food after relaxing in the sun.

If you’re travelling with family, I have some advice on how to survive it!

Taking some time off to enjoy sun, sea, sand and family fun can be a great way to spend the summer, however, it could also be a recipe for disaster without preparation.

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Airport survival

If you’re travelling by air, there’s nothing worse than being trapped on a plane with distressed children.  It would be advisable to pack plenty of goodies to keep them entertained and happy. From puzzle books to extra blankets for comfort, there are a number of things you will need to consider packing just for the journey.

One tip would be to let your youngsters to pack their own racksacks with a few toys and games. However, it would be advisable to make sure their favourite is also coming on holiday too.

Holiday activities

Parents may wish to plan an itinerary but it would be advisable to keep it flexible, as the majority of activities will depend on what your children can reasonably manage and take pleasure in. One fun activity could be to hire a car and see the sights. To avoid paying extortionate fees if your little ones damage the car, take out car hire excess insurance. Read the Telegraph’s article on car hire.

Many holidaymakers are unaware of the car hire insurance charges that many of the leading car rental firms make. A top tip is to compare car hire charges in advance.

Why not let your children help to plan your holiday activities before setting off so they will feel ready and excited about it rather than feeling forced to participate.

Trips to the beach can be a great way for both parents and children to relax and have fun.

Hotel checks

Whilst you may have checked out the hotel online to ensure that it is child friendly, it could be worth having a quick check once you arrive. This will help you to establish the ground rules and let your youngster know where is off bounds. In addition, check to see if your hotel room has a mini bar, in some cases, they charge if the bottle is taken out of the mini bar rather than opened. This could be expensive for parents with curious toddlers who like to play with everything within arms reach.

Travel advice

Whether you’re enjoying a few weeks away in a seaside resort or heading to a secluded villa nestled high in the mountains, you’ll always want to reach your holiday destination in style. Of course, once you’ve picked up your bags from the arrival lounge you’ll be keen to get to your accommodation as soon as possible.

Airport transfer tip

Admittedly, figuring out how to get from the terminal to your accommodation (and back) probably isn’t the most exciting aspect of planning any break, but it is one of the most essential. Think about it; how can you possibly do fun things like relaxing by a pool or dining at restaurants if you’ve not got the transport to take you there? To put it quite simply, you cannot. Spend a little time arranging a private transfer in an airport taxi, however, and you can rest easy in the knowledge you’re going to get to your resort in total comfort and in good time.

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Of course, you might think that you can get away with not booking your transport arrangements in advance and instead take your chances with hopping into one of the cabs waiting outside but I think you’re going to come a cropper if you do. The taxi queues here can be very long and if you’ve come through the gates of an especially busy airport, such as New York’s JFK or Paris’s Charles de Gaulle, you may have to queue for ages to get a cab. Arrange your transportation before you leave home, however, and you’ll have a vehicle ready and waiting to take you to your destination. Doing that means you can get to where you need to go that much quicker, meaning your break can get started straight away.

It may sound obvious, but when you’re sorting out your private transfers, you’ll need to think carefully about your travelling party. This not only means figuring out the exact number of passengers you’re going away with (so, of course, nobody gets left behind), but also considering any specific requirements they may have.

If you’re travelling with children, you’ll need child car seats so that they will be transported in complete safety. Although you might be able to pre-book this in advance, doing so is likely to incur a fee. In other cases, you might need to bring your own seats, so it is worth checking in advance with an airport transfer provider to see if one will be provided. After all, you don’t want to have to rush out to the shops at the very last minute to try and find a car seat!

In a similar way, if you or someone else in your travelling party uses a wheelchair, you need to make sure the transfer vehicle you book can accommodate this. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that not all cars are wheelchair-accessible, so it’s worth taking the time to get one that has a ramp or tail lift, as well as straps to keep the wheelchair in place. Whatever specific requirements you have, if you don’t make the effort to arrange suitable transport you’re likely to be left disappointed by the vehicle that comes to pick you up.

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Decide what you want

When trying to find the best holiday accommodation, the first thing you do should be to decide what ‘best’ means to you. After all, one person’s dream location might be another’s nightmare, so it is important to get a clear idea of what you are looking for.
For example, you might have your heart set on staying somewhere right on the beach, think a big fried breakfast included in the price is a must or not be willing to sacrifice having a pool right there in the hotel complex. It’s also worth working out what points you would be flexible on, as this can help you dig out some decent deals, which brings us nicely to my next point…

Be flexible

When it comes to finding cheap rooms to stay in, flexibility really is key. I’m not saying you shouldn’t still be choosy, but by compromising on one or two of the less essential points, you can save a lot of money.

Travel dates are one of the biggest influences on price. If you can work your holiday into an off-peak period – or one that’s quiet for a particular hotel – you can snap up some excellent bargains. Opting for a different type of room can also have an effect, while going for a hotel out of the centre of a city or main resort can be cheaper too.

The thing to remember is to make sure you really will be benefitting. Saving a little money may not be worth it, for example, if it means additional stress, while you could find securing a cheaper hotel deal only means you have to pay more elsewhere. For instance, picking accommodation far away from any attractions is likely to result in you shelling out on travel.

Know where to look

One of the keys to finding the best accommodation is simply knowing where to look. You might be tempted just to jump on Google and run a search for hotels in the destination you’re interested in, but it’s well worth being a little more specific. You see, there are websites designed to help you find decent hotels at a good price that can make both searching and comparing different establishments an awful lot easier.

If you want to do things the old fashioned way, however, there are plenty of high street travel agents that should be able to give you some good advice. Friends and family can also be a real help when it comes to finding accommodation; talk to them and see whether they can recommend anywhere in your chosen destination.

Read reviews

Finding good holiday accommodation isn’t all about price (though it may sometimes seem that way!). After all, you might come across somewhere that’s a real steal, but if the beds are lumpy, the breakfast unappetising and the bathroom looks like something out of a horror movie, it’s hardly going to be a fun stay.

The solution? Reviews! These days, it’s really easy to find reviews from fellow travellers who have actually stayed in the hotels you’re looking at. Go through as many as you can to find the pros and cons, and then balance these against the price for each place. You should then have a good idea of where really offers the best value for money.

Where to holiday? The Maldives or Gran Canaria?

Each year Gran Canaria receives around 2.8 million tourists. It’s little wonder that Gran Canaria has a magnetic appeal for tourists with wonderful all-year-round temperatures that make visitors return year after year.

With the common tourist destinations in the south of the island like Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés and San Agustín, it is the second most populous of the Canary Islands, after Tenerife. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria the island’s capital is the largest city in the Canary Islands with a population of more than 380,000 inhabitants.

If you like the sun step this way

gran-canariaWhile the island is set up for year round tourism, sun worshippers adore the hot Summer while the Spring and Autumn seasons are popular with those who like a milder climate, albeit one where you can still top up your tan. Finding a spot to get away from the crowds is not that hard. The coastline is lined with sandy beaches and a host of quiet coves and bays where you can relax and unwind with clear blue waters, fine golden sands and a sparkle in the sunshine.

10razonesThe 8th December sees the Island celebrate its main festival, the Feast of Nuestra Señora del Pino, the patron saint of the island. The Island is also famous for its carnival in Las Palmas and Easter is also a big celebration. The islands specialty dish is “las papas con mojo” which is potatoes with gravy. “Las papas son patatas” are the typical potatoes of the island served with a spicy sauce. The chorizo is also something that should be tried.

With its sub-tropical climate and sunshine on at least 300 days a year it is the perfect place to come and unwind from the stresses of modern life. One of the main beaches on the island is located in Maspalomas, especially famous for its sand dunes. For holiday makers who want to venture away from the coast you can go inland and you will discover beautiful mountains and canyons, with exhilarating mountain trails.

gran-canaria-map-1The island capital Las Palmas has a large port and a marina and two beaches. It is worth taking a tour of the port. In the old town, visit the Cathedral of Las Palmas and the Museo Canario. There are also many restaurants in the busy streets. The Parmiter Park which is a botanical garden and a zoo are also interesting attractions.

The Maldives, the more luxurious destination

While you’re probably daydreaming of mornings spent sunbathing and afternoons indulging in spa treatments or dramatic dives to see all the amazing marine life, you should familiarise yourself with a few of the practicalities too – things like what weather to expect, what the local currency is and the time difference.

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Climate

As you’re probably aware, the Maldives is one of those lucky places that has year-round balmy climes. The temperature usually stays between 25 and 33 degrees C, with the hottest months being March and April.

Now, just because the weather is consistently warm, don’t make the mistake of thinking that means it’s always going to be dry. If you’re hell-bent on avoiding the rain, it’s best to visit between December and April, when the chance of showers is very small. Generally speaking, the wettest weather is between June and August, when you’re likely to see downpours pretty often.

Currency and tipping

The national currency in the Maldives is the rufiya, the value of which is pegged to the US dollar. You can use both rufiyas and US dollars in most places here, while you’ll usually find the hotels and resorts will charge you in dollars.

When it comes to tipping, you’ll need to accept that the customs here aren’t as cut-and-dried as in a lot of holiday destinations. Pretty much everything already has a ten per cent service charge included (especially in high-end restaurants, so typically you don’t need to worry about tipping in these), but this won’t cover absolutely everything.

For example, if someone is serving you personally on a regular basis – such as if your hotel has a butler service – you will be expected to tip them a small amount daily, usually just a few dollars.

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Time difference, vaccinations and insurance

The time different in the capital, Male, is five hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. While you’d probably assume it’d be the same for the whole country, there are a few islands that are six hours ahead of the UK, so it’s worth checking with your travel agent when you book, just to be sure!

If you’re travelling from the UK, generally you won’t need to have any inoculations before arriving in the Maldives. That said, it never hurts to double check, so you should always have a gander at the latest guidance before setting off, or speak to your doctor.

Sun and sea

Now, most of us will – at least in part – be travelling to the Maldives to soak up some sun and see the local marine life, or at the very least take a dip in the Indian Ocean. Before you get carried away with thoughts of working on your tan and having an underwater adventure, though, there are one or two practical safety points to keep in mind:

  • Give yourself some time to get used to the heat. The sun is incredibly strong in the Maldives, so even if you think it doesn’t feel that hot, make sure you slap on a high factor of sun screen, wear a hat and drink plenty of water. The extra-strong sun cream is especially important during the first few days, when you can easily burn, but even if you do go for a lower factor later in your break, don’t dispense with it completely.
  • Exercise caution in the sea. Water sports are a huge part of breaks in the Maldives, but you need to remember the currents can be strong, while it’s dangerous to touch any sea creatures. If you go on a snorkelling or diving trip, don’t stray too far from the boat.