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Holidaysafe Reviews – One Day in Venice

Posted on August 08, 2017


Spontaneous Travel

I am the type of traveller who likes to plan every second of each trip, and this is never truer than when I plan a city break. There is always so much I want to see and do, that I have to organise my time meticulously , pre-booking tours and adding as many queue jumps as I can find. The weeks before each trip are filled with excited research, down to restaurants and cafes where I can immerse myself in the city and watch the world go by.

Why am I telling you this? I think it’s important to set the scene, so you can understand my reaction when my husband presented me with a day trip to Venice for my birthday. As well as being extremely surprised and grateful, the ‘control freak’ side of me was instantly panicking. My husband is not a planner, and usually leaves everything to me, so when I asked what we were going to do when we got there, he simply answered ‘see Venice’.

Getting There

We left home at 3:30am the next day, and boarded our plane at 6am. When we arrived at Marco Polo Airport, we set about finding a water taxi to take us into Venice. You can get a road taxi but travelling by water just seems fitting, and gives you great views of the city as you arrive.

A return ticket cost us around €30 each and we only had to queue for about half an hour before boarding a group boat. The trip took around an hour and a half, and dropped us right next to Piazza San Marco (or St Mark’s Square).

Choosing a Gondola

The first thing I wanted to do was secure a Gondola ride. Yes, it’s very touristy and overpriced, but I could not recommend this more. We strolled through the quaint streets until we reached the Grand Canal, where we found a very nice gondolier with a golden boat.

A 30 minute private ride cost €80 for two (I know), and took us along the Grand Canal, around tiny waterways and under beautiful bridges. There are many different companies offering Gondola rides around Venice, and all will cost around the same amount (unless you opt for either an hour long ride, a sunset ride or a serenaded ride), but we were recommended to use one departing from the Grand Canal.

The thing I was most struck by was the silence of the tiny canals, compared to the hustle and bustle of the streets. Away from the metropolitan shops and surrounded by picturesque architecture, it didn’t take much for me to imagine we had stepped back in time.

Eating and Drinking

After we stepped back on to land, we set about finding somewhere for lunch. I would recommend heading away from the extremely overpriced restaurants in Piazza San Marco itself, and exploring the side streets instead.

We happily wondered around for about an hour until we settled on a restaurant in a quiet alley, surrounded by souvenir shops. We ordered pasta and pizza, and watched the world go by for a while. The food was more than we would usually pay, but it wasn’t overpriced and was good quality.

Later in the day we couldn’t resist ordering coffee and cake in Piazza San Marco, and the bill came to a whopping €70! Venice is notoriously one of the most expensive cities in Europe, so if you’re on a tight budget make sure you learn from our mistakes and avoid the most touristy areas!

Exploring Venice

The best way to really experience a city is always to make time to explore and get lost, and I feel like this was especially true of Venice. Around every corner we found another beautiful bridge, amazing shops or handmade craft markets.

However, a quick Google will also reveal a ‘top five things to do in Venice’ list, which I found as below;

  1. Piazza San Marco
  2. Doge’s Palace
  3. Saint Mark’s Basilica
  4. Grand Canal
  5. Bridge of Sighs

The top three are all within Piazza San Marco and are free to enter, but without pre-booked queue jumps you may find it difficult to tick numbers two and three off your list. We managed to find a queue jump site online, and within five minutes of paying €2 each online we were in Saint Mark’s Basilica. Please note, women will need to have their shoulders covered to enter the Basilica, and they will charge you for shawls.

St Mark’s Basilica was first built in 828, but since then it has been rebuilt and refurbished many times, making it the break taking building it is today.  The ceiling is formed of millions of tiny golden tiles to create beautiful pictures, and the outside, in all its gothic glory, is just as amazing.


The Bridge of Sighs is also free (to look at,) and can be found by walking ten minutes away from St Marks’ Square along the edge of the city.  The bridge is unusual because it is an enclosed walkway, but it’s the history which makes it worth a look. The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last thing convicts would see before they were taken to prison. The famous poet Lord Byron gave the bridge its name, after suggesting that the prisoners would sigh at their final view of the beautiful Venice.

Getting Home

Thoroughly knackered, we hopped on the next water taxi (they run like clockwork to the timetable), and returned to the airport ready for our 9pm flight home. Nothing ever runs quite to plan, so after a few delays we eventually arrived through our front door at 1:30am.


Can you visit a city for a day and feel like you’ve really experienced it? Yes. The trip made me realise that you can be more spontaneous when it comes to travel plans, and still feel like you made the most of it. I will never be as laid back as my husband, but I would recommend anyone (especially those on tighter budgets) to consider day trips or weekend breaks as viable options.

What are your plans for next weekend? Do you really want to spend another Saturday cleaning the house and mowing the lawn? Why not have a look at flights and see where your next adventure could be.

Further Reading

Holidaysafe Reviews – Honeymooning in Mauritius

Posted on May 15, 2017



Everyone (including pre-wedding me) assumes that arranging your honeymoon should be one of the best parts of planning your wedding. For some that may well be true, but in reality there is a lot of pressure on your honeymoon to not be ‘just another trip’.

To start the process, my then fiancé and I sat down and wrote a list of the things we wanted from the perfect honeymoon. Phrases like ‘once in a lifetime’ and ‘paradise’ were immediately written down, along with lots of conflicting ones such as my ‘relaxation’ vs his ‘lots of activities’.

Usually we book all of our trips ourselves, but in this instance (and faced with a long list of expectations) we relied on the expertise of a high street travel planner. I have to say it was well worth it, as she quickly wrote off several of our destination ideas because they were 1) out of season, 2) out of budget, or 3) too boring.

That was when the idea of Mauritius was first suggested. It was a lot cheaper than somewhere like the Maldives, offered beautiful beaches, lots of activities, amazing food, diverse culture and some amazing hotels. We quickly booked, and three days after our wedding we set off on our 11 hour direct flight.

The Basics

We chose to stay at a hotel on the North West side of the island, not far from the island’s capital of Port Louis. In April Mauritius is nearing its winter (peak summer is Dec – Feb), but we still enjoyed temperatures of between 26° and 30° every day. It did rain a few times, but far from the rain we know in the UK, these showers were warm and over in around 15 minutes (just enough time to grab another cocktail).

The local currency is Mauritian Rupees, but Euros and Dollars are also accepted. You don’t need a visa if you’re staying less than three months (you just need to complete an entry and health card on the plane before you disembark), and most hotels offer a mix of 230V/50hz plugs.

Water Sports

For our first few days we were glued to our sunbeds, enjoying the beautiful pool and beach, but we quickly wanted to explore more of the island. Firstly my husband set about booking as many water sports and activities as he could, including water skiing, paddle boarding, sea kayaking, snorkelling and glass bottom boating. If you go all inclusive, these should all be included free of charge, which can be a great saving.

Exploring the South

Next we moved our attention to exploring the land, and booked a tour of the south of the island. If you prefer to explore without a tour guide, it’s pretty easy to rent a car and take yourself off for the day. The roads are all well-made and easy to navigate, plus they drive on the left, however the driving standards are a little ropey in my opinion (think driving in central London but everywhere).

We opted for a professional tour guide, who immediately explained to us that Mauritius is a real melting pot of French, Chinese, Creole and Indian cultures, which not only creates some mouth-watering food, but also means you can explore everything from cities to rainforests and churches to Hindu temples.

During our tour we visited the Black River Gorges National Park (boasting more flora and fauna that you can process), the Chamarel Waterfall (the highest waterfall in Mauritius), the Seven Coloured Earth (one of the most famous things in Mauritius), the Trou aux Cerfs crater (a dormant volcano), the sacred Grand Bassin lake and Hindu temple, plus the mesmerising Ship Model Factory in Floreal.


This gives you a taste of just how much there is to do and see on the 2,040 square km island. I could easily have spent another week exploring, and I practically had to drag my husband away from the water skis…

In summary, it was the perfect honeymoon destination for us, but it would be an injustice to label Mauritius a couple’s only destination. It offers so much more than romance (which the sunsets alone offer in abundance), there is plenty for seniors, groups and families too.

Looking for a paradise destination, with plenty to see and do, fascinating history, interesting culture, fantastic food and beautiful beaches? Then Mauritius is the destination for you.

Further Reading

Holidaysafe Reviews – Sightseeing in Rome

Posted on March 21, 2016

Rome has always had its place on my bucket list, mainly because I love history, and it is one of those amazing destinations where you can get a real taste of the past. So in 2015 I packed my best walking shoes and headed over to Italy, guidebook and pocket map in hand.

There is so much to see and do in Rome that I definitely didn’t do it all. However, for anyone planning a city break, I thought I would share my highlights.

There are five things I would like to highlight right from the start;

  1. Book everything in advance, from queue jumps to airport transfers, I promise they will be worth their weight in gold. (Especially as it was recently estimated that tourists spend an average of 7 hours queuing for the main attractions in Rome.)
  2. Only use white taxis, these are official (like black cabs in London) and shouldn’t try to rip off tourists. Having said that beware of all taxis at the key attractions like the Vatican, always ask for a rough cost before you get in the taxi, if it sounds like a lot walk away and ask another driver.
  3. Zebra crossings do not work the same way as in the UK, you basically need to see a gap in traffic and start walking – then they will stop for you. Actually driving in a bus or taxi is also a bit of an experience.
  4. Beware of pick pockets at the main tourist hotspots, leave valuables in your hotel safe if you can, or use a bum bag.
  5. Rome can get extremely hot over the summer months, so I opted for an end of season break in September – this helped with the heat but not the crowds. We managed to get a really great deal on a hotel in the centre of Rome, which meant we could walk almost everywhere and really immerse ourselves into the hustle and bustle.

After getting an early morning flight we headed straight out and immediately found the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II. Known locally as ‘the wedding cake’ for its flamboyant and pure white marble design, the monument was built 1885-1911 as a tribute to the first King of a united Italy. The inside of the building is very beautiful and the view is spectacular – especially if you’re happy to queue for a lift right to the top.

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele ii

Next we headed over to the Villa Borghese gardens for amazing views of the Seven Hills of Rome (make sure you’re there at 12pm for the daily cannon fire). Then we walked up and down the Spanish Steps and wondered around the famous house where John Keats & Percy Shelley lived, for a taste of the Romantic period.

Spanish Steps

After that we stumbled across the Trevi Fountain, which unfortunately was being renovated during our visit, which meant we couldn’t throw a coin and make a wish. However, the fountain is always worth a visit, it dominates the small square at over 80 feet high and 160 foot wide, and is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome.


The next day we had booked on a tour of The Vatican, St Peter’s Basilica and The Sistine Chapel. Beware, there is a lot of walking involved here, very few opportunities to sit down, and is always extremely busy. The Vatican is beautiful but I found it a bit underwhelming – maybe it was the crowds. It is still worth a visit; even just to say you’ve visited the smallest country in the world.

Rome, Vatican city

The Sistine Chapel is extremely famous for its amazing ceiling and wall painted by Michelangelo, and the history of this artwork is really interesting. The only problem is you only get 10 minutes in the chapel, and it’s always packed full of people. Make sure you read up or get your tour guide to explain the different pieces of art, how and why they were painted, plus the risqué nature of the ‘The Last Judgment’ wall.

Sistine Chapel

St Peter’s Basilica is extremely famous within the Catholic faith, as it is said to be built on the resting place of St Peter, one of Jesus’ Apostles. The building is very beautiful, but again I felt the grandeur of the place was disrupted by all the crowds. Personally, I found more ‘wow’ factor in small ornate churches I stumbled across whilst walking around Rome – they are always worth a peek inside.

Interior of St. Peters Basilica

On our final day we had booked on a tour of the Coliseum, the Roman Forum and Palentine Hill. I have to say this was my favourite day, as we were extremely lucky to get a retired roman archaeologist as our tour guide. She was absolutely brilliant at bringing the history to life, explaining common misconceptions, and infecting us with her passion – so much so that I was actually happy when the tour ran into its fourth hour!

Coliseum in Rome

If you want a real taste of Ancient Rome then the Coliseum and Roman Forum are a must visit for you. Some of the ruins have been really well preserved, and armed with a good guide book or knowledgeable tour guide, you can quickly determine what everything was, and how it would have looked. You can also find the spot where Julius Caesar was cremated in the public square after he was murdered.

Roman Forum in Rome

Finally we headed for the Pantheon, a 2,000 year old temple and one of the best preserved monuments of Ancient Rome. The diameter of the building is equal to its height, so it really is a feat of engineering. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but inside it is beautiful, with several famous people buried inside. The Pantheon is located in the Piazza della Rotonda, which is a great place to grab some food and watch the world go by, but beware you will pay for the view.

The Pantheon

My final piece of advice is to walk everywhere – especially at night when Rome really comes alive. Obviously don’t walk down any dark allies on your own, but wander the back streets to find amazing restaurants, street performers and handmade gifts.

Holidaysafe Reviews – Christmas Markets in Germany

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Christmas is notoriously weeks of hard work, planning and manic shopping for a few days of family, food and TV – which are over in a flash, leaving us broke (but a few pounds heavier) and wondering what happened to that real Christmas feeling of childlike wonder and excitement we used to get? In an attempt to rediscover my Christmas spirit, I decided to head out of the UK, and over to Germany.

Merry Christmas - Germany

You may be thinking I’m a complete Scrooge who obviously hates Christmas, but actually – I love Christmas! I love spending quality time with my loved ones, going for long dog walks in frosty parks and watching people open presents I’ve carefully picked for them. The bit I don’t really care for is the commercial madness, all wrapped up with endless Christmas songs and crazy shoppers.

That is why this year I decided to skip the high street and try to find some classic Christmas spirit in a small part of Germany called Aachen.


Aachen is steeped in Roman history and beautiful architecture, like the awe-inspiring gothic Cathedral which was Germany’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aachen is also situated very close to the borders of Belgium and the Netherlands, making it the perfect pit stop for any European traveller.

However, during the winter months its Aachen’s Christmas markets which really attract travellers.


The streets are filled with beautiful market stalls, selling everything from delicious bratwurst and reiberkuchen, to hand crafted jewellery and children’s toys.


We walked around and admired the carol singers, twinkly lights, and beautiful gifts with friendly fellow travellers from all over the world – and even shared a small china boot full of mulled wine with locals. While I enjoyed my warming tipple, I couldn’t help but be infected by everyone’s Christmas cheer!


Whether you’re looking for some unique hand crafted gifts which will last longer than Boxing day, or simply your Christmas spirit, I would definitely recommend a quick weekend trip over to Germany, to have an true taste of Christmas.


5 Hidden Gems of South America

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South America is a continent which boasts an incredibly diverse experience, from the bustling streets of Sao Paulo in Brazil, to the breath-taking beaches of Chile; there really is something for every type of traveller.

With so much to offer it can be easy to get overwhelmed with choice, so we have hand-picked a couple of the most incredible sites not to be missed if travelling through South America.

1. Lake Titicaca

Located on the border between Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America. Taking a boat trip on the lake will give you a better picture of just how vast this body of water really is and soaking up the scenery on the water is the best way to do it.

The lake is home to the indigenous Uros people, who still to this day live on manmade reed island clusters on the lake itself. The reeds which supply the Uros with material for their island homes, is also used for building their houses, cooking utensils and jewellery.

The Bolivian side of the lake is home to the Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun), with no roads on the island it is not the easiest place to navigate, but with nearly 200 Inca ruins dating back to the 15th century it really is a destination not to be missed.

Lake Titikaka, Peru

2. Easter Island

The mysterious Easter Island has captivated travellers for generations, drawing tourists from all over the globe to see the famous Moai Easter Island heads, the origin and construction of which still puzzle experts to this day. While it is well known for its archaeological importance, there is much more to discover than the ancient statues.

The beautiful landscape is ideal for hiking and trekking for lovers of the great outdoors, with a host of trails taking you from the beautiful coastline to the edge of Rano Kau, an extinct volcano towering above the island.

The island itself is relatively small, and takes just two full days to visit all the archaeological sites it has to offer. Once you have explored the ancient statues and ruins, there are two beautiful white sand beaches on the island.

Anakena, on the north of the island is perfect for body boarding and surfing, and Ovahe, which is surrounded by breath-taking cliffs not far from Anakena.

Easter Island, Chile

3. Machu Picchu

Sitting 7,000 Feet above sea level resting on a mountain top between the Andean Mountain Range, Machu Picchu is considered the main tourist attraction of Peru and one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

One of the best ways to truly experience the ruins is to follow the Inca Trail which meanders through the Andes. The 28 mile trek combines incredible mountain scenery, tropical forest and ancient tunnels and ruins before finally leading you to the ancient citadel.

While the hike itself is not overly intensive, due to the high altitude and low oxygen levels, it can become a lot more difficult. It is wise to take this into consideration when planning your trip.

Machu Picchu

4. Patagonia

Patagonia is a land of true extremes. From endless grassy plains and stunning coast lines to breath-taking glaciers, it is a true wonder. The diverse scenery has long been a popular destination for would be explorers and holidaymakers alike.

For those looking to take in the beauty of the area the Perito Moreno Glacier is the picture postcard shot. Appearing as a wall of ice, the glacier is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field located in the Andes system shared with Chile.

Patagonia, Chile

5. Angel Falls

No list of South American wonders would be complete without including the highest waterfall in the world.

Located in the heart of the Canaima National Park in Venezuela, the falls tower an incredible 979 metres above the dense jungle below. The falls are so high that by the time the water reaches the ground, it becomes tiny water particles and often turns to fog.

While the top of the falls offer breath-taking views across the park, the base of the falls should not be missed either.

Arguably the best way to experience the falls is to take advantage of the dugout canoe trips which are available following the Carrao and Churun rivers taking you to Ratoncito Island, where the falls are located.

Angel Falls

Holidaysafe Reviews – Corfu

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After the recent Channel 4 smash ‘What Happens in Kavos’, people may be forgiven for thinking that Corfu has nothing more than bars, clubs and great weather – however the little Greek Island has so much more to offer, as I discovered in my recent trip.

I could sit and write a long review of my trip to Corfu, but instead I decided to list my top 10 reasons why you won’t regret a holiday to the beautiful Greek Island;

1. Greece has unfortunately been in the grip of economic problems for several years now, and so holiday companies have dropped their prices significantly to try and attract travellers and boost the economy – therefore there are some fantastic deals to be had.

2. The views and beaches are absolutely breath taking. We decided to stay in a villa high in the hills of small village called Kalami, which gave us amazing views right across to neighbouring Albania. Corfu is filled with little towns like Kalami, which all have their own secluded beaches, each with its own set of fantastic local restaurants and entertainment.


3. The weather is really great over the summer months – we had beautiful days of 32°C, with clear blue skies (ensure you bring sun screen.)

4. Speed boat is the best way to get around. This may sound over extravagant, but the roads around Corfu are not great if you don’t have a lot of experience driving abroad, or if you suffer from travel sickness. One day we decided to head to the main Corfu town (Kerkira) to explore, and a return trip by boat was only €20 per person, which meant no traffic, a cool breeze, a different way to explore the island and a great experience.


5. For any film buffs, the 1981 James Bond smash hit ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was filmed in Kalami.

6. Unfortunately Corfu doesn’t offer many conventional Greek ruins, but history buffs will enjoy visiting the ‘Old Fort’ in Kerkira, which is a fantastic fortress built into the hills. The Fortress offers years of military history and amazing views for miles in all directions (we climbed right to the highest point, but the views from all levels are great). There are also some great museums, one of which displays some beautiful ancient art from around Asia.


7. For any literature buffs, Kalami was home to famous Durell family, with Lawrence and Gerald both writing about the island.

8. Corfu offers you the chance to experience an authentic taste of Greece, with fantastic food (I am still having withdrawal symptoms from pita bread and Tzatziki) and great entertainment. One evening we headed to a tavern on the neighbouring beach for a ‘Greek Night’, and far from being cheesy we had the opportunity to watch some famous Greek dancing and plate smashing!


9. The best thing to do in Corfu is simply to relax and wonder – wonder the quaint streets of Kerkira and explore the local shops and restaurants, wonder around the little coves and discover secret beaches and great restaurants (obviously ensuring you bring plenty of water.)

10. I’ve saved the best till last – the sea is gorgeous; I have never seen such clear turquoise and blue waters. We spent our days relaxing on the beach, watching a mix of small boats and yachts lazily pulling into the cove on a quiet adventure. If you find it hard to sit still on holiday, you can rent Kayaks, rent boats, and even head to Albania for a day trip.


For these reasons and so many more, Corfu is now one of my favourite summer holiday destinations, and we’ve already decided it will be our destination of choice next year. On our next trip, we are really keen to do some Island hopping, to explore some of the other gems Greece has to offer.

Holidaysafe Reviews…Searching for the Northern Lights in Iceland

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When I left University and turned 21, I decided it was time to make a bucket list of all the places I wanted to visit. Instead of taking a gap year, I decided to save up, and try to visit one new place every couple of years. In 2013 I decided it was time to tick something else off my list, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, I wanted to see the Northern Lights.

The lights are caused by solar wind, where ions escape from the sun and float through the solar system, they are then caught in the Earth’s magnetic field, and as the ions travel towards the poles they collide, causing the amazing colours. Green colours are quite common, but reds, pinks, yellows and blues can also be seen.

Northern Lights

I had always been completely fascinated by pictures and videos of the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, and because 2013 was meant to be the best time to see the lights for eleven years, I decided to head off.

My first dilemma was which country to visit, as the lights can be seen from Scotland and sometimes even England, but you have a better chance to see them the further north you head. I decided to pick our destination based on price, flight distance (as we only had four days) and other traveller’s blogs and reviews. After some internet searching we found a fantastically competitive package deal for a trip to Iceland.

We booked the holiday which included flights, a great hotel, airport transfers, entry to the Northern Lights Museum in Reykjavik, and a Northern Lights tour. We booked a four day stay, and decided to book the optional Blue Lagoon visit on the advice of a friend who said it ‘was not to be missed’.

Everything went off without a hitch; however there are three things to be aware of when planning a trip to Iceland;

Seljalandfoss waterfall at sunset in HDR, Iceland

  • The only issue we found was that nowhere had any Icelandic Krona, not even at the airport (!), but we found a cash point as soon as we arrived. Everywhere we visited excepted card payments (even vending machines), so cash really isn’t a necessity except a small supply for emergencies. Iceland is not a cheap place to visit, however we found everything quite reasonable, as we ignored touristy places and headed to local shops and restaurants.
  • Before we had even landed a flurry of snow started to fall, so much that our plane had to circle the run way a few times to allow the airport staff time to clear the run way. This meant that Iceland was very cold – very cold, luckily we had packed all the right clothes, but it’s important to be prepared for the weather. (Hats, gloves, jumpers, waterproof shoes and coats, and under layers.)
  • Iceland has extremely short days during the winter months, and during our quick trip the sun rose at around 11:30am every day and started to set around 3:30pm. This was quite weird, especially in the mornings; however it meant that we witnessed breath taking light shows twice a day, as the sky lit up like fire and then dissolved into blue hues.

As soon as we landed in Iceland, I felt like I had arrived in some kind of winter wonderland. I have never seen landscapes more beautiful, and I immediately felt bad that I had only picked Iceland because of the Northern Lights.

After arriving at our hotel, we decided to wonder through the main shopping streets of Reykjavik, and as it started to snow again we shopped for Christmas decorations and stopped at some great cafes. As we wondered, we came to the end of the road and were suddenly greeted by a beautiful lake framed by spectacular mountains. Overlooking the peaceful scene was a Viking boat sculpture made of metal, which reflected the landscape and seemed to fit in perfectly. This will now remain my ‘peaceful place’.

Reykjavik, Iceland

On our third day we visited the Blue Lagoon. As I mentioned above, we only booked this on the advice of our friend who said we would love it, however I had my reservations and I was worried that it would be absolutely packed with tourists. I have to say that it was the best day of the entire trip, and I would recommend everyone to visit the Lagoon. We arrived early and were greeted with fluffy robes, towels and drinks vouchers. The whole experience was totally bizarre; I stepped into the -2°c air in only a swimming costume, and hastily took some pictures before running to the water.

Destination - Iceland, Blue Lagoon

The lagoon is an amazing blue colour due to the algae and high salt content in the water and the natural pool is heated by geezers which spurt hot water. The water can reach up to 40°c degrees in some areas, so the mix of temperatures is really quite amazing, and as we spam past snow covered rocks with a back drop of mountains, I felt like I had walked into something from Lord of the Rings! Dotted around the lagoon are baskets filled with volcanic mud, and naturally we decided to cake ourselves in it, and I have to say my skin has never felt softer! The only thing to beware of is that the high salt content will leave long hair feeling less than soft for a few washes.

Now it is time to discuss the Northern Lights tour. On our second night we joined a coach full of travellers at 10pm in search of the Lights, we drove far away from any light pollution and into the pitch black of the mountainous areas. As we drove, everyone waited with baited breath for a glimpse of colour in the sky. Just as I was starting to node off around 1am, we were summoned off the coach into the -5°c wind. I glanced into the black sky, and could just make out a greeny cloud, almost like the orangey clouds at sunset, however within seconds the colour had vanished. Unfortunately we had caught the very end of the lights show. Our tour company very kindly offered us a free ticket for the next tour on our last night, but that was cancelled due to cloud cover.


Therefore, I can’t really tick the Northern Lights off my bucket list; however I don’t want to send this story on a low because I wasn’t disappointed. This has given me an excuse to return to Iceland again, and perhaps to even venture further north to somewhere like Canada. Iceland has become the destination to see the Northern Lights, however anyone visiting should take time to appreciate the fantastic place that it really is – and next time I plan to visit the Golden Circle, stay in an ice hotel and do some Husky Dog Sleighing! Fingers crossed I will spot a full lights show during my next trip.

Holidaysafe Reviews – Backpacking in South America

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South America has long been a popular destination for backpackers from all over the world. The various countries within the continent each have something unique to offer so it’s almost guaranteed that a trip to any of them will be an adventure to remember.


The largest country in South America is hosting both the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games in the coming years, likely to make it even more popular with tourists than it is already. The natural habitat in Brazil has been appealing for many years, with people coming to the country to visit things like the Amazon Rainforest.

Rio has become a popular destination for its beaches and the world-famous Carnaval, as well as its New Year’s Eve parties. The statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the city and has become an icon for the whole of Brazil. There are several hostels around the city, making it easy for backpackers to find a place to stay, even at short notice. It goes without saying that the appeal of the fast-moving, developing city makes it a haven for travellers.

Christ the Reedemer, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


Peru is probably best known for having been the home of one of the most advanced ancient civilisations, the Incas. Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic destinations in the world, often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas. You can trek up the mountain to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site but make sure you pack for a long arduous day. It will be hard work but the view is likely to be well worth the effort.

If you want to visit the other areas of Peru, you’ll find a number of different places offering vastly contrasting experiences. From the Pacific west coast, to the tropical forests, to the bleak mountains of the Andes, Peru has a lot to offer the hardcore, experienced traveller as well as the newbie looking for a less intense trip. You can make camp at various destinations all over the country so if you want to really get to grips with the country, take a tent and go travelling the traditional way.

Machu Picchu


The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires has an established reputation as a cosmopolitan, chic city, consequently making it a hugely popular tourist destination. It has one of the busiest ports in South America and is often thought of as being the South American version of Paris. There is a strong influence of European culture in the city, which features symphony orchestras, museums and libraries. There are also several preserved homes of notable artists, writers and composers.

The Iguazú National Park has waterfalls and jungle that are ideal for a trekking trip or, if you fancy something completely different, Los Glaciares National Park has permanent glaciers that will give you some stunning photographs. Be sure to book your hotel or hostel in advance to ensure you can get into the best ones; the location of your base can make the world of difference to your trip.

Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires

Take a tour

South America is huge and has a whole host of other countries that are well worth visiting. Guyana, Suriname and Ecuador are perhaps not as popular as the countries mentioned above but still have plenty to offer backpackers. Try planning a route that allows you to circle the continent and take in as many of the different countries as you can.

Ideally, you should give yourself several weeks to travel to different destinations and visit a number of cities in each place. The national parks cover hundreds of miles so you can see so many different things on just one day trip. The more you can see, the better your trip is likely to be. Make a detailed itinerary before you go and ensure you’ve pre-booked most of your places to stay. This will ensure you don’t spend too long in one place and can be sure that you get to visit everywhere on your list.

Holidaysafe Reviews: Backpacking in Europe

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Europe is an ideal place to visit if you want to see other parts of the world but don’t feel comfortable being too far away from home. It is easily reachable and you have a whole wealth of countries you can visit during your trip.

Northern Europe

If you are planning to visit northern Europe, you would be wise to take a few layers with you. The weather is, as you would expect, a lot cooler than what you may be used to in the UK. However, you’ll also find that these countries offer a lot of unusual things that you would never find at home. In Iceland, there is the Blue Lagoon – an open-air, hot spa, which is quite an experience when the air temperature drops. You can bathe outside in the hot water and use the silica mud on your skin to help improve a number of different skin conditions.

If you want to check out some beautiful architecture and take part in awesome winter sports, make sure Sweden is on your list of places to visit. Ice skating, sledging and various other sports are popular over there, with the weather creating the perfect environment. Be sure to check out the Ice Hotel as well for a unique stopover.

Reykjavik, Iceland

Central zone

If you head down towards the countries in the centre of Europe, you will find that you have a lot to explore. Head to Belgium to check out the world famous chocolates and travel across to Germany to see the Nurburgring and take a car round the track if you dare. The canals of Hamburg, the history of Nuremburg and the stylishness of Dusseldorf are all worth visiting on your travels.

Many people choose to take a train or a car as their form of transport across Europe, giving them freedom to make their own schedule. Driving enthusiasts will fall in love with the roads through the Alps and across Switzerland and Austria. Frequently featured on motoring shows and in movies, some of these roads give breath-taking views of the mountains – and the countryside stretches out before you, just waiting to be explored.

Hamburg and port

Head south

If you want the warmer weather, visit the southern countries of Spain, Italy and Greece. These are steeped in ancient history so make sure you pack a guide book. The Coliseum in Rome, the Acropolis of Athens and the Tower of Hercules in Galicia are all worth checking out if you like your history lessons.

The weather tends to be a bit warmer here so head down to the south in the summer months to make the most of the sunshine. Al fresco dining is the thing to do in the warmer weather and a lot of the countries in southern Europe are chock full of little cafés or eateries so be sure to sample the local cuisines. There are also various music festivals that take place throughout the summer so if you’re into your music, make sure you book some tickets, pack a tent and get ready for a trip of a lifetime.


Holidaysafe Reviews – Backpacking in Thailand

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Thailand has long been a popular choice for backpackers from all over the world. It offers everything from cheap food and drink to stunning views so it’s no wonder that people flock there year after year.


When staying in Thailand, you may be surprised to discover just how cheap the accommodation is. You can get your very own hut on the beach – complete with spectacular views of the ocean – for considerably less than you’d pay for a grotty room in a hostel back home. At the Sai Thong Resort in Koh Tao, you can get a fan-cooled wooden bungalow, furnished with a balcony, private bathroom and even a hammock.

If you fancy something a little different, Koh Yao Noi has a community homestay programme where you stay with a host family who will give you an insight into how the locals live. The accommodation is basic but you will get to explore a beautiful island as well as take day trips to secret beaches and various remote islands. This is an ideal accommodation solution if you want an unforgettable experience.


Food and drink

Thai food can range from being incredibly hot to very bland so it’s likely you’ll find something you like, whatever your preference. Prices vary depending on where you eat and you’ll find you have the option of air-conditioned, Westernised restaurants to food carts found on street corners. Snacking regularly is popular in Thailand so expect bite sized portions that you can pick and choose from.

It’s worth sticking to bottled water because you may find that local water doesn’t agree with you, particularly if you have a sensitive stomach. Thailand is known for selling ridiculously cheap food and drink so you can rest assured that it will be considerably cheaper than the prices you’re used to paying back home.

Thai Food and Jasmine Rice


Thailand is famed for its Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan, with several thousand people coming to Haad Rin beach every year. Clubs, bars and cocktail lounges are crammed in, every type of music is playing and people dance on the beach and cool off in the Gulf of Thailand. If you are travelling to Thailand, this is something that simply cannot be missed. Of course, many people travel to Thailand to take in the local culture and see some of the most stunning sites. You will be spoilt for choice when it comes to places to visit. The Khao Yai National Park is home to five types of forest so if you want to venture into the jungle, you could be in with a chance of seeing tigers, elephants, gibbons and a range of tropical birds.

Wat Phra Singh is one of the most visited temples in Chiang Mai and is home to one of the most revered images of Buddha in the city. There is also a range of amazing Lanna art and architecture in the temple so if you want to find out more about the real Thailand, it’s a great destination to visit.

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