Travelling tips from my holiday to England, Italy and France

Having recently travelled to England, Italy and France on holiday  I thought I’d share some of my tips and experiences.

This was our basic itinerary:

  • Fly to London, stayed 1 night and then flew to Italy.
  • 6 days in Italy which comprised of 2 nights in Rome and 3 nights in Florence.
  • 2 nights in Nice, France and then back to London for 6 nights before heading home

Booking flights and trains

I used Hipmunk.com  to find the cheapest tickets / airline. I then go and book the flight directly on that airlines website. In this case, Qatar Air had by far the cheapest flights as well as the shortest layover getting to London. Don’t just blindly book the cheapest flight you can find. Try and minimize flying time and time spent waiting at airports for connecting flights. All that time waiting is time you could spend on holiday which is worth money to you.

The other flights I booked were to London to Rome and back from Nice to London. We booked these flights with Easyjet, once again using Hipmunk to find the most cost effective flights paying close attention to when we would arrive in Rome. The cheapest flight arrived in Rome at 11pm, a complete waste of a night in Rome. We caught a flight that landed in Rome around lunch time that was more expensive, but it felt like we had a whole extra day in Rome because of this.

We used trains to get from Rome to Florence and then again from Florence to Nice. Book these tickets once you arrive in your destination country at the train station you will depart from. You’ll get the best prices and quickest routes. I struggled for hours online trying to find a train from Florence to Nice in France because you are switching trains and train companies. At the station though, the ticket sales counter booked everything in 2 minutes!

Booking accommodation

Finding a place to stay in a foreign country is can be really tricky. I used a combination of Tripadvisor for reviews, ratings and photos and then Hotels.com for booking all my accommodation.

Picking a place to stay started with first choosing the main attractions we wanted to visit. We wanted to be within 2/3 minutes walking distance of the Trevi fountain in Rome, so I used this landmark on Hotels.com as the place to find hotels nearby (Hotels.com is more accurate with pricing and availability than TripAdvisor). So after picking a few hotels, I read their reviews, ratings and photos on TripAdvisor. Take all the reviews with a pinch of salt though. The most important thing is to pick up on trends in the reviews – from things like “breakfast is actually served at a bistro down the road” or “the host Francesca is amazing”. The user photos also easily show you how clean and neat a place is as well as gives you a better sense of the size of your room and bathroom that the professionally shot hotel photos don’t. For me the order of importance for a room is: cleanliness of bathroom, cleanliness of bedroom and lastly size. Once I found the hotels I wanted to stay at, I booked them on Hotels.com. Pricing across all these travel booking sites is pretty much identical, but on the odd occasion, I always found hotels.com to offer the cheapest rates. Online booking sites are also without fail cheaper than going directly to the hotel’s website itself.

What to do and where to eat

Top 10 lists of things to do in “this city” are all over the web, so research those and make a note to visit those spots. For transport around Rome and Florence, we used those hop-on hop off city busses. They might sound too touristy, but they are a great way to see a city and get you from A to B without being ripped off by taxis and the likes. You also learn a thing or 2 about the city while driving around!

Tripadvisor also has lists of day trips and excursions. We did the “#1 thing to do in Florence on Tripadvisor” which is take a day tour of Tuscany and it was one of the highlights of our holiday in Italy.

Finding a place to eat is easy. Finding a memorable place to eat is not. I often used Foursquare and Yelp on my phone to find places. Another tip is to ask local people working in retail shops when shopping for advice on places to eat. Your hotel might send you to places that are affiliated to the hotel and therefore get kickbacks or commission for sending you there, where as shop assistants really just want to help!

What to pack

No matter what, you will always pack too much clothing. I can tell you not to, but you will still do it. Buy clothes and dry clean stuff if you do run out when you are on holiday. It’s really that easy.

Different holidays and countries require different types of planning and research, so ask your friends and family for advice. Everyone’s experiences and memories are different, so go out there and find it out for yourself.

Just a simple idea 9 months ago, is now my 2nd business!

I pretty much stumbled into Whitespace, the web design and UX agency I started some time ago. All that really happened was I took a step up from freelancing part-time, to retainer work, to full time, to having a business partner. No real start date to speak of or a launch per say. you could call launching the company website a start – but we had been operating for a long time before that though.

Launching my second business to the world on the 1st of June 2012 has been one major accomplishment for me personally. We actually took an idea, built and launched it. The idea was the easy part. Making a tangible, real world product from the idea? That is what I’m most proud of.

What is HumanWrit.es?

HumanWrit.es sells the Writable, a 192 page, square, hard cover notebook, that for every Writable we sell, a classroom of 10 kids receive an exercise book.

The inside cover of the Writable

It is a high quality notebook that I want people to buy and use irrespective of the story of giving, because if you love using the book, you’ll continue to buy Writables, which means HumanWrit.es will be able to continue to help children in need!

The story of how Adrian, Rich and myself came up with HumanWrit.es is another blog post on its own, but for now, being able to sit here, with a brand new business 9 months after dreaming up the idea is one of pure excitement.

For now, I’m focused on both Whitespace and HumanWrit.es, however the latter takes way more of my time and effort. It’s an entirely new industry and I’m learning so much each and every day.

I can’t wait to see where HumanWrit.es will be in 3, 6 and 12 months time and here is to that journey!

How to make an amazing Nespresso iced coffee at home

I’ve been trying to make a decent iced coffee at home with my Nespresso machine, but everytime I’ve tried, it just doesn’t have the right sweetness or coffee flavour that you find in coffee shops. So after some experimenting and asking a few coffee shops how they do it, I’ve managed to perfect a home-made Nespresso iced coffee!

You’ll need the following:

  • 2 x Nespresso pods
  • dash of milk
  • vanilla syrup
  • ice blocks
  • blender

Make a double espresso and add a dash of milk. The key here is don’t skimp on the double espresso by making a single lungo. There is a reason why iced coffees cost well over R20 in coffee shops. They are all using double espressos!

Add to the double espresso around 20 – 25 ice blocks, 2 or 3 big tablespoons of the vanilla syrup and BLEND!

Pour into a glass, grab 2 straws and enjoy.

Some important tips

The key to the iced coffee is making a double espresso and using a syrup to sweeten. It doesn’t have to be vanilla flavoured syrup, but that does add a really great flavour. You can easily make sugar syrup at home too. Here is a simple sugar syrup recipe. You can store the exces sugar syrup in the fridge for use later.

How Doctors Die

Doctors don’t die like the rest of us.

It’s not a frequent topic of discussion, but doctors die, too. And they don’t die like the rest of us. What’s unusual about them is not how much treatment they get compared to most Americans, but how little. For all the time they spend fending off the deaths of others, they tend to be fairly serene when faced with death themselves. They know exactly what is going to happen, they know the choices, and they generally have access to any sort of medical care they could want. But they go gently.

After reading this article by Ken Murray, it definitely made me think about the “what ifs” when my time comes to make those decisions. Great read.

Snowboarding in Africa!

Ive just returned from an amazing 7 day holiday to Afriski in Lesotho. I dont think many people would believe there is a great ski resort with real snow only a few hours drive from Johannesburg!

The resort has a number of wooden cabins, apartments and backpackers lodge to cater for pretty much any size family or group. There were 10 of us and rented one of the largest cabins for 5 nights.

There is also a restuarant and cafe / pub that comes to life after the sun goes down.

They have 1 beginner training slope for ski’ers, an intermediate slope for beginner snowboarders and then their main 1km slope. They also create snow most nights, so during the winter months, even when it hasn’t been snowing, you can almost be assured of being able to snowboard and ski.

It took me about 2 days to learn to snowboard whereby I’m now totally comfortable going down the big slope and had the confidence to try new things. After the first days lessons I was so bleak. I couldnt seem to get anything right, my body was aching and I was so upset that I had spent all this money to get to Afriski and that I’d be there for a couple more days and couldn’t stand up on the snowboard! A good nights sleep and me dreaming about snowboarding seemed to fix that. It’s amazing what the sub-conscious can do.

I highly recommend anyone that is planning an overseas snowboarding holiday to hit Afriski first to get your snow legs and then head off to Austria, Switzerland and the likes.