Lake Michigan

Think of Michigan and you think of Detroit and Lake Michigan but as we discovered, during our short stay, there is so much more to Michigan. 
After an overnight in Ann Arbor, the very pleasant and student town for the university of Michigan, which is very close to Detroit, we made our way up to South Haven which is a yacht harbour and a very popular resort mainly with local townies from Chicago and Detroit. Many of the condos are privately owned as holiday homes, so consequently, it gets very busy in the summer. Fishing is also a popular pastime here. South haven has a small museum dedicated to the aircraft which crashed into Lake Michigan. At the time it was the USA’s worst air disaster and there were no survivors. We were lucky enough to have good weather and watched the the most beautiful sunset by the lighthouse.
Saugatuck is a much smaller, sleepy little place with wild sand dunes. After a thrilling ride in a jeep up and down the sand dunes and having spent the afternoon on the submarine and aircraft carrier, we had dinner in Muskegon and watched another beautiful sunset. 
The most memorable things about Lake Michigan are its stunning sandy beaches, the amazing sunsets and some interesting little museums. 

Ann Arbor

You may never have hear of this delightful little town but you may well have heard of University of Michigan, the learning center for many future lawyers and doctors.

Where is Ann Arbor? Just 45 minuted from Detroit but chalk and cheese to its bigger neighbour. Detroit is the city of cars. Ann Arbor is for strolling, studying and socialising.

I tried to google the origin of the name and it is uncertain. Speculation is that it was named after two of the founders’ wives both called Ann who used to sit under a tree (arbor is latin for tree)

At first sight Ann Arbor is a pretty, small American town with lots of trees and quaint old wooden buildings but a short walk brings you to the main street, lots of lively bars and restaurants and it is easy to imagine hundreds of students enjoying a beer or two. There is also a Michigan University shop where sweatshirts and memorabilia go like hotcakes but at a little more than student prices!

Most of these students start their journey with their parents by staying overnight before visiting campus at the wonderfully quirky The Graduate hotel. It is a very tall hotel, but somehow it still has a small and boutiquey feel. It is student themed but very well done, not tacky and with neat little touches like student card room keys, photos of kids on the walls, portrait paintings done by local artists or possibly students, blackboards around the reception area with geometry and equations written on them in chalk. More blackboards used as notice boards and a comfortable outdoor area. The rooms are also student themed and have a lovely view of the city.

The main street has lots of independent shops, restaurants and Nickels Arcade. Michigan are very proud of their old 1928 cinema which still has a booth outside like in the old movies, a popcorn machine in the foyer and a beautiful original interior reminiscent a small London theatre. The developers wanted to demolish it but the locals fought and won.

One independent and really interesting mini chain is Zingerman’s Deli which consists of the deli, the roadhouse, the creamery and the bakehouse. The Deli is no ordinary deli.It is quirky and fun. Not only it has food and cook books from all over the world, a salad counter with dishes like Killer Quinoa, It has a children’s play area, an outdoor cafe, gifts for graduates and notices of local events. It is truly a community meeting place.

The university itself has a beautiful library, the oldest building dates back to 1838 and I could just imagine Hermione plotting up with Ron and Harry, not what you would expect to see in America at all. It was just so quaint.

We spent a good couple of hours walking around the campus and the town itself so while it is small it is far from sleepy and a piece of my heart was left there. I could happily live somewhere like this.

My Kind of Town

Chicago is….

The Windy City wasn’t originally so called because it is windy, although it actually is. It was because the politicians at the time talked a lot of hot air and the politicians elsewhere nicknamed it the Windy City and it stuck.

Chicago is a large city but actually the centre isn’t that big and most of it is quite walkable and it feels relatively safe. Public transport is excellent too so it is perfectly feasible to visit Chicago without being dependent on a car and anyway its really expensive to park. The metro . affectionately known as “The EL” because its elevated, is one of the oldest metro systems in the world and it runs out to the airport. Buses also run  quite frequently round the city.

So why should people visit Chicago rather than New York, Boston, Washington, LA or Miami?

Chicago is plenty to do and see in its own right and it absolutely deserves to be on the itineraries of far more visitors.

I could have easily spent an entire day just walking around Millennium Park. For music lovers, throughout the summer there are free concerts. For art and science lovers, “The Bean” is fascinating. It is a huge installation by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, originally called Cloud Gate but it looks like a bean so the name stuck. It reflects the city skyline and the people in the park in an interesting way. It isn’t the only weird art installation in the park, there are frames made of shredded tyres and children splashing around in the uniquely designed fountains.

For shoppers the first stop is the Magnificent Mile – officially North Michigan Avenue and less than a mile but this is where you will find all the famous designer names and there are plenty of outlet malls within easy reach of the city.

We took the Big Bus Tour round Chicago. I have been on quite a few of these before in various parts of the world, but I have to say this is the best one I’ve been on. Each one has a guide who is both knowledgeable and entertaining, none of this earphone and naff music while stuck in traffic nonsense. As well as Millennium Park and Navy Pier, the bus stops at some of the city’s best museums, The Art Institute, The Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and Field Museum

I would recommend a riverboat while you are in the city. Ours was run by Chicago Architecture Boat Tour which is more interesting than it sounds. Our guide was very informative and told us all about all the buildings along the river from art deco to ultra modern and it was interesting to hear how the river developed. Chicago river is a bit of an oddity as it was forced to flow in reverse so that Chicago’s raw sewage doesn’t flow into Lake Michigan but instead into the fast flowing Mississippi riv er and out to sea. It also means that most of Chicago’s drinking water comes from Lake Michigan The riverwalk is a really pleasant and important feature of the city. There are different sections, street theatre, a children’s playground and the newer buildings are designed to reflect the city skyline from the river

Another place to while away a few pleasant hours is Navy Pier, walk around, ride on the wheel, visit the shopping mall, the greenhouse, the temporary Rolling Stones exhibitionism, take a boat trip into Lake Michigan (this can be rough) or just sit and watch the world go by in one of the bars or eateries.

Chicago has its fair share of very high buildings so it also possible to get a birds eye view from Willis tower or 360 Chicago. If you are feeling really brave you can experience The Tilt which is a unique way of seeing the city from 1000ft up. It is the only one of its kind in the world.

For foodies, Chicago is for you too. Chicago has some of the top restaurants in the world

If you have time to go further afield you don’t have to go far to find some absolutely stunning beaches or sand dunes around Lake Michigan, many less than an hour away by train. It is difficult to believe that in the middle of America thousands of miles from the sea that some of the loveliest beaches I’ve ever felt or seen, exist, even in Chicago itself, so for a city and beach combo  in the summer months you don’t have to go to Miami or San Diego, you could take advantage of one of the many daily direct flights straight to Chicago and combine it with a short hop to Indiana or Michigan.

We were extremely lucky with the May weather and Chicago can be windy and bitterly cold in the winter so the ideal time to visit is summer, but Spring and fall/autumn is a lot less crowded and there can be some great bargains too.

If you are interested in booking a break to Chic ago or combining this with other destinations please feel free to contact me for the best deals 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

 

 

Pure Shores Poem

This is a poem I wrote with a little help from my friends for our final presentation by the “Pure Shores” group. I have tweaked it a little so it makes sense in this context. We visited Detroit, Lake Michigan, Indiana and finally Chicago. Here are our experiences in verse

 

Detroit has gone through huge regeneration

That’s certainly changed our prior perception

Henry ford museum was a big surprise

Some fantastic exhibits we couldn’t believe our eyes 

Rosa parks wouldn’t give up her seat

The actual bus exhibit was such a treat

John f Kennedy was shot in 64 

The actual car exhibits there with presidents cars and more

All the raw talent from Detroit streets 

Studio A was where they would meet

Hitsville USA with its Motown roots

Temptations, four tops in 2-tone suits

Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinsons’ stories were told 

From humble beginnings millions were sold 

In Ann Arbor we stayed in The Graduate 

A student themed hotel which was really great

Our tour guides had fantastic stories to tell 

They presented Michigan university ever said well 

There are some great bars in this little place

Great places for students to meet face to face

The golden sand beaches of Michigan Lake

Are really stunning and the sand isn’t fake 

The dunes are real and they’re just like the beach 

And from Chicago they are so easy to reach 

Oval Beach is in the worlds top 25 

And not the caribbean what a surprise 

Indianas national park is the most diverse 

And Pinhook bog is where we went first 

From a floating platform we saw how plants grow

Facts about carnivorous plants fascinating to know 

In Valpo we actually made front page news 

They were really interested in our views 

I’d love to recommend this place

They’re so welcoming, Valpo is ace 

At the broken wagon bison farm there were Bison big and small 

So huge, yet so cute, about 100 all in all 

Daisy the Bison was ever so sweet 

She followed the van for her little treat 

 

By contrast Chicago with its buildings so high

Our eyes keep looking up to the sky

And who can resist the Magnificent Mile?

The bars and restaurants will make you smile

Chicago has shopping bargains galore

Where’s my credit card, I really want more!

At Millennium Park we stopped at The Bean

One of the coolest things I’v e ever seen

No wonder Millennium Park is number one

There’s entertainment here for everyone

They say the best things in life are free

So Chicago is definitely the place to be

Would you believe such a stunning beach

Would be within such easy reach

Of Chicago’s busy enormous city

And nearby small towns are so quiet and pretty

In Chicago even without a car

With good public transport, you can go far

You can get there from the UK and Ireland many times a day

With United, American Airlines and BA

 

 

 

Valencia

Where in Europe can you get a city with a beautiful sandy beach, plenty of green space, lots of museums, magnificent architecture, gastronomy, shopping and history? Yes Valencia really does have something for everyone. Thanks to EasyJet and a good range of accommodation from self catering to de luxe, it is a very affordable break.
The city has a very efficient transportation system consisting of metro, trams and buses. Buses are very frequent so it’s really easy to get around and there are plenty of pedestrianised side streets if you prefer just to stroll. If you would rather cycle it is easy to hire a bike and take advantage of the cycle lanes throughout the city. We used a 72 hour Valencia card to get around. The card also includes two vouchers for tapas and a drink.
There is some beautiful architecture throughout the city, old and new, impressive doorways, wrought iron balconies, shining rooftops, examples of Art Deco , mosaic tiles, stonework and bridges. At the other end of the scale is the City of Arts and Sciences, a fantastic example of modern architecture.
Valencia was the original home of Paella and there are plenty of places to sample these washed down with local red wine which is cheap and rather good and there are many Tapas bars all over the city. You must also visit the Central market, the biggest indoor food market in Europe where you can see Serrano ham being freshly sliced, spring onions the size of tennis balls and colourful misshapen tomatoes all in a beautiful old building with stained glass windows.
Even if you are not interested in museums, the City of Arts and Sciences is still well worth a visit. It is a very impressive cluster of futuristic museums originally built for the expo. These include Oceanagrafic, Hemisferic and the Science Museum
In the old part of the city there is the bullring and next to it is Estació del Norte the station which is a lovely building inside the booking hall and outside. The cathedral and Silk building are also worth visiting but go early as the old centre gets very crowded later in the day.
Jardin del Turia is a long strip of parkland right through the heart of the entire city on a dry riverbed that runs from the City of Arts and Sciences to the west all the way to the Marina to the East. All along this stretch of parkland are ornamental bridges that are all slightly different and some have interesting sculptures and lights.
Away from the buzz of the city, the long, sandy beach awaits and you can have lunch in one of the many seafood restaurants along the front, hire a bike and cycle or just stroll along the the promenade and watch the world go by.
Apart from a couple of Irish pubs, Valencia generally has more of a cafe and tapas culture but despite that we came across half a dozen stag and hen parties on Saturday night so for a more cultural or gastronomic experience it would better to go midweek.

Indiana

We only spent less than 36 hours in Indiana but they were so friendly and welcoming, we felt we had been here a lot longer. Here in the UK, if you asked anyone to name all the states beginning with The letter I, I think some would struggle to even mention Indiana but now I have been there and seen it for myself, Indiana is definitely one that will stay with me forever.

Did you know Indiana National Park is not the biggest but it is the most bio diverse in the USA

We arrived at Indiana Dunes Visitor Centre in the morning. Our first step was to be Pinhook Bog. Pinhook Bog is a preservation area of carnivorous plants floating on top of 16m of water. To experience this involves walking across a floating platform with our experienced ranger. She was so knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna in the area.

After lunch, we headed to one of the loveliest beaches you will ever see. An inland beach on Lake Michigan and miles of natural sand with tidal waves and the skyline of Chicago across the lake. It is hard to believe that this isn’t a well known oceanside beach

Later on we experienced the 3 Dune challenge or a series of easier walks for the less fit.  There are so many colourful birds and butterflies as well as three distinct landscapes oak trees, tall grasses and marshland as well as the sands of the dunes.

In downtown Valparaiso, affectionately known as Valpo locally, we got the warmest smiles and and welcome from the loveliest little American town full of small independent shops and restaurants. Elements wine bar has just opened, what a great idea, swipe a card for wines on tap and pay at the end. We had dinner in Pikks Tavern and the next day, lunch with a visit round Valpo Velvet ice cream factory and a sample of one of around 50 flavours to choose from. We were blessed with beautiful weather so we found a bar with outdoor seating to chill and relax. Once again we were welcomed with open arms

We visited Broken Wagon Bison Farm. This farm has over 100 bison of all shapes and sizes from baby ones to fully grown. These huge beasts are so cute and all have their own personalities. The crafty one, Daisy follows the truck back as she knows they will give her a little treat. It works every time!

We had the chance to briefly visit the biggest collegiate chapel in the US and the second  biggest in the world. There are some lovely mosaics outside, seating for over 2000 and the organ with 106 pipes,  but the most impressive thing of all about this chapel are the beautiful stained glass window which is 3 storeys high.

I really will fondly remember this friendly little town just a short distance from Chicago

Our overnight was Inspiration Wood Cottages. You do need a car here as they are a good distance from town but again the warmest, friendliest welcome in lovely spacious cottages. Our cottage slept up to 8 people.

Indiana isn’t just a small forgotten state beginning with I, it is a place I will always remember with great fondness for its beautiful beaches, lovely scenery and its friendly welcomes.

 

 

Detroit

Did you know Detroit is the only US city which has Canada to the south? Literally across the river is Windsor, Ontario   Detroit was the original Motortown the home of Henry Ford and his friend Thomas Edison who had the original light bulb moment.

Ford and Motown are what made this city and I would recommend you spend a couple of nights here to do both.

Most of our group went on a 10 mile cycle ride along the riverbank but knowing that I’m a little less fit than I used to be I chose DIA instead. There are both classic and modern paintings by famous artists and they well classified through 3 floors and some local high school art which I found really interesting and particularly some of the posters depicting some powerful messages that we could all learn frm, but the one thing that makes this museum unique and worth a short visit are the incredible murals by Diego Riviera which depict the industrial revolution. There is so much detail in these floor to ceiling murals so you could study them for hours and keep finding little details that you didn’t notice before.

Hitsville USA, the home of Motown, was a house with humble beginnings, Berry Gordy Jr. started the Tamla and Motown labels with the raw talent from the streets of Detroit, many of whom worked for Henry Ford. Diana Ross, Jackson Five, Smokey  Robinson, The Tempations and many others started out from this house which has preserved as much of its 60’s interior as possible. The museum idea was started by Esther Gordy   Henry Ford Museum, Rouge Factory and Greenfield Village deserve at least a full day as the area is so vast and there is so much to see.    At Rouge Factory, The display of Ford cars from the 20s to the future. There is a 30’s model with a letter from Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde thanking them producing the V8 which was the car he loved to steal.

There is a 4D movie telling us about the car of the future which is pretty amazing. We walked round the Ford production which was fascinating to watch. I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do though, I’ll stick to travel!

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is so much more than just about cars. There are so many interesting exhibits, including JFK’s motorcade as well as those of other presidents, the actual bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, an action which sparked off the civil rights movement, a Klu Klux Klan costume, the theatre chair where Abraham Lincoln sat when he was assassinated, an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile which is a hot dog shaped car, Henry Ford’s private plane and so much more!

Detroit has some good restaurants and the ones we went to were great , Granite City inside The offices of General Motors and Hop Cat where many visitors have their names scratched into the tables and which had a choice of 130 beers so to sum up Detroit, it’s all about cars, music, beer food, good museums and best of all, fun.

The Other Side to Cyprus

I have been to Cyprus many times but never to the north. My expectations were that it would be a different experience but I don’t think I realised how different it would be. They still use UK 3 pin plugs and they still drive on the left but there the familiarity ends.

So what makes the north different? It is much greener which surprised me as the climate is the same. The general feel is that of a Turkish resort the signs are all in Turkish, the street names are Turkish, kebab shops are plentiful and the currency is Turkish Lira but without the hassle of haggling nor being pestered by persistent restauranteurs constantly plying for your business. The atmosphere is very chilled and relaxed and it is a very safe and clean destination to visit. The majority living there today are either born Turkish Cypriot or foreigners that have taken advantage of the very cheap property prices. Living costs are generally considerably lower than in the South. 

 There are two ways of getting there, either with a touchdown or flight change via Istanbul to Ercan airport or through Larnaca and crossing the border with a longer transfer time. 

The main resorts are Kyrenia and Famagusta but there is far more to this northern oasis than just beaches. 

The roads are reasonable with some good motorways but public transport isn’t brilliant. There are a few buses serving the main towns and resorts and dolmus but not to the extent of either Cyprus or Turkey. The range of holiday excursions is excellent and prices are good. 

 I was surprised to learn that North Cyprus has 25 casinos, mostly within the 5 star hotels and a few standalone so it’s a much cheaper opportunity to win your holiday money back than going all the way to Las Vegas! 

 Kyrenia is a very pleasant harbour where you sit and watch the world go by whilst drinking a cold Efes beer and a very reasonably priced meal but Kyrenia has another facet of being a very busy shopping street selling fake designer bags and soft leather shoes. Kyrenia was also a walled city and the remnants of the wall give it a unique character. 

 Famagusta was a thriving resort in the late 60’s and in fact the main resort of Cyprus with arguably the best beach but the invasion of 1974 abruptly changed everything. The famous ghost town of Varocha is a vast area with hundreds of abandoned hotels, shops, houses and other buildings and is on a much bigger scale than I imagined, previously having only seen it through binoculars, a very sad reminder of the result of political and ethnic division, literally stretching all the way along to the border almost to Ayia Napa across the border. 

 Famagusta is a bustling town steeped in history and full of character. As well as being a good place to shop and a thriving port, it has ancient churches and mosques including St Nicholas which was a cathedral and still looks like cathedral with a minaret stuck on the top but it’s been  a mosque since 1571 when the ottomans so it is a bit of an oddity but the square is also surrounding in walls and ancient buildings dating back to 285BC so it is a really interesting and unique place to visit. 

 I really enjoyed the visit to 13th century Bellapais monastery which was originally built as a Catholic monastery but became Greek Orthodox after the Ottaman invasion 1571 and remains so to this day. As it is up in the mountains, the approach to it is hilly so it is difficult for the less mobile but well worth the climb past craft shops, inns and boutique hotels but it is worth the climb as the top rewards you with an amazing view from the top and photo opportunities galore. 

 Some of the hotels are huge with over 800 rooms. There are quite a few hotels that have larger rooms and waterparks so they are ideal for the family market. Meals tend to be buffet style but most hotels have a la carte restaurants too so there is plenty of choice for the fussy eater and for vegetarians. There are some nice boutique hotels around so couples are catered for as well. There is also the Korineum Golf & Country Club so it also works as a golf and spa destination.

The Dangers of booking DIY

Why would you do everything yourself?

To save money obviously.

My answer to that is not necessarily. Firstly yes of course travel agencies make money but they do so by negotiating contracts and often these are cheaper than booking direct. As agents like myself have been around a long time we have learnt all the shortcuts and routings that we need to make things work as cheaply and smoothly as possible. We also have fares that must only be used with accommodation. These can be hundreds and even thousands of pounds cheaper and in many cases they can cover the cost of the accommodation but the terms of the contracts must be strictly adhered to and if this is somehow bypassed either the agent or the client is subject to a hefty surcharge for abusing the system and in extreme cases the agent can have their licence revoked. This can also apply to unused return flights so I’m sure you can understand why as a professional agent I wouldn’t take the risk, would you?

If you look long and hard enough and if you have the time to research it you could almost guarantee to get it cheaper in the end but you have now used your valuable time saving a few pounds here and there and left yourself open to all sorts of challenges.

Exchange rates are unpredictable so if you book something in dollars or euros today, what you actually end up paying can be very different if you don’t prepay for that reservation. The euro and the dollar have already lost their value against sterling by around 15% in the last year and it is likely to drop even more. If you prepay let’s say a hotel reservation today, often all we need is a £25 deposit and the rate is guaranteed even if the exchange rate changes, Admittedly that can also go the other way but if its still available it is possible to rebook at the new rate and I am happy to do that, but at the moment at least the trend is that everything will go up over the next few months rather than down

The whole point of having a package or ATOL flight plus is so that we as agents have to use our ATOL licence or that of an approved tour operator so that if your flight or hotel goes bust you will be reprotected or offered a refund if that happens before you go or the CAA will get you home if it happens while you are in resort. Full ATOL also protects the health and safety aspect of your holiday. Please feel free to read more about ATOL and check that we are a genuine ATOL licence holder on the CAA website https://www.caa.co.uk/atol-protection/

Low Cost Holidays got round this by moving their operations to Spain so they kept their prices low and this kept everybody happy but they were operating on a knife edge with very low margins but they still had overheads and staff to pay and eventually they realised post Brexit that they didn’t have enough money to pay the hotels so they folded in July 16 leaving 140,000 affected in the height of the season when there was no longer any availability at the cheap rates they had quoted. Many of the hotels simply resold the rooms at a higher rate to anyone willing to pay the premium as they were stuck with the flights.

Another excellent, well established and solid tour operator, Anatolian Sky went bust last year not because of Brexit but because terrorism affected the sales to their main destinations, Turkey and Northern Cyprus to such a large degree they could no longer survive.

The effects of Brexit and exchange rates are still unpredictable and it is highly likely that at least one large hotel agency and a tour operator will disappear over the next few months. There is no regulatory body for hotels like there is for flights or packages so virtually anybody can set up an internet hotel agency and if it goes bust and you have prepaid your only redress is the credit card company but as many found out with Low Cost Holidays it would be virtually impossible to get the same rate elsewhere at a later date and you still have to wait to be refunded so you will have pay again and usually at higher cost.

Another danger is that if you book on the internet, the site could be fraudulent. Even if it has an ATOL licence, this may not belong to them or they could be using a false one. Additionally anyone issuing scheduled flight tickets must have an IATA licence. There are many sharks out there waiting to take your money and the amount of money taken by fraudsters is staggering. I can’t find the exact figure but it does run into millions and many of these sites are reached through well established brokers or because they look genuine but they have actually copied a genuine site and have a slightly different email address.

I recently came across a potential client that decided to book a flight to South America via Houston as it was £150 cheaper. It turned out in the end that one of them had a previous criminal record and wouldn’t be allowed to transit the USA so sadly they lost all their money.

Another recent enquiry had a client wanting to go to the Caribbean. He said he found a cheaper flight than I offered but thankfully we realised on time that the “connecting” flight was a day later so he would have had the added hassle and expense of overnighting in Miami.

Another client phoned from the airport to say he wasn’t told that he need a visa to go to Australia. This is a service I provide free of charge when I book the flights or when I get passport details if they are not available at the time of booking.

As an agent, of course I would say all this, after all its my job and my survival but trust me I have seen many. many scenarios where clients have risked their money and lost. I have just given you a few examples of the sort of things I encounter frequently. So what protection do I give as a Travel Counsellor?

We have a full ATOL licence and in fact we were the first in the UK to get approval. We have two IATA licences, one for our published flights and another for our negotiated contract fares and packages.

Everything we book, not just packages, but also flight only, hotel only, transfers, car hire and attractions are covered by insurance so if a a company we use goes bust we reprotect or refund under our ATOL licence or for non ATOL we can use our insurance to reprotect that particular element of your booking. An example of this is when Low Cost Holidays went under we protect 4000 client, either by rebooking with another company or paying the hotels direct. Our insurance covered that.

Another important point is that if anything goes wrong eg strike, natural disaster, illness etc. our duty office and our local handling agents can work with us to help with language difficulties, logistics and time zones. If you DIY, it does make it a lot more difficult to coordinate or track if anything does go wrong especially in a very different time zone. It is also a lot more difficult to contact you in an emergency if the flights change or cancel at the last minute. I can usually email the hotel but if I don’t know where you are staying or if you have wi-fi, I only have your mobile/cell phone to fall back on.

You may wonder if I book my own holidays direct online to save money as I know the shortcuts. Actually you may be surprised to learn that would rather pay a little extra to have my own arrangements insured and with the peace of mind of knowing that I have somebody to contact in resort and that I haven’t exposed my credit card to a possible fraud so there are very few occasions where I would actually book directly.

If you want the reassurance of a holiday that may or may not cost a few pounds extra but with the added layers of proper 24/7 support, financial protection and the advice of an expert email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com or call 020 3432 4740

How to make the most of your business trip

If you are paying yourself, can you use Easyjet or similar low cost airline and save some money. Sometimes if you need luggage a bundle can work out cheaper than the lowest plus luggage. If your plans are likely to change

If you are paying yourself, it is also worth checking whether a package will reduce the cost of the trip as ATOL holders often have special IT air fares which have to be used with accommodation and it usually also means you don’t have to stay a Saturday night. You can also benefit from paying just a deposit if it more than 12 weeks ahead, early booking offers, free night offers etc. The exchange rate at the time of booking will apply so there are often savings on this too.

As an example I can currently do a business class return with 7 nights in Hong Kong for a single person 4* for £2600 and in Economy this would be around £1100

It is worth remembering that a Saturday night stay can also reduce the cost of your flight and staying a Sunday night is often cheaper if you stay the weekend so it might be worth extending your trip to explore the place you are visiting or else go to another nearby destination without using up your own annual leave eg conference in Zurich would give you the options of flying into another Swiss destination eg Berne, Geneva or Basle or even Milan in Italy, staying there a night or two and travelling up by train in time for the meeting. You can often use low cost airlines, rail fares or if you for instance having a meeting in one city you can use an indirect flight which allows you to stopover in one or both directions eg a meeting in Hong Kong might allow you a couple of nights in Dubai or a meeting in San Francisco might allow you a couple of nights in New York, obviously at your own to expense but still cheaper than buying an entire package to that destination from London.

Do you have airmiles or Avios points? First of you might already have enough points to cover your trip

I can arrange car hire or local flights for you as well or if your company has organised your trip and you want to extend it get your company to organise a flexible ticket or if possible get them to book you the dates you want to extend the trip, I can then organise hotels, local transport, transfers, local tourist cards, tours, and skip the line tickets for various museums for you and in some cities I can get Dine4less cards which offer up to 25% off meals.

If the conference are not supplying your hotel, as long as I have a reasonable amount of notice I can often find a cheaper hotel or apartment for you within a few minutes walk or within easy access by public transport

If it’s a conference they might already have a pre negotiated  group  rate. It is first of all worth checking this as the public rate for that hotel will probably go up. The rate for any extra nights will often be cheaper

I have special rates on airport hotels at all UK airports and if you choose one with a club lounge eg Hilton Gatwick you can then take advantage of free snacks and drinks.

If you have a frequent flyer card on let’s say BA you can use Qatar, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, JAL and a few other airlines to get mileage points, similarly Virgin will also allow you to travel on Delta in the USA and Star Alliance will allow combinations on United, Air Canada, Luthansa and Thai amongst others. It is worth keeping an eye on seat sales to get the best airfares and if you travel in business class you can use the airport lounge and also accumulate your own mileage points. If travelling in economy I can often book a public lounge for you so that you can work in peace and have a snack and some drinks before you go for instance No 1 Lounges are pretty good at Heathrow and Gatwick

If you have the budget for a good hotel in your destination you could book the club floor.  Most of the chain hotels and larger hotels do these. Particularly useful in Middle East and Far East destinations. You can then prepare work on your laptop and have snacks or drinks included at odd times. I have often found this useful as the club lounge is usually brighter than the room and I can work over a few drinks and a snack with reliable free wi-fi and have power points in accessible places without having to unplug the telly or the lamp.

We have the TCAPP available so that you can contact me by phone or email just at the touch of a button and you can also view all your documentation on your phone once you set up an account. It is all free of course

Buy a multi USB plug with European and US attachments, they are currently £12.99 on Amazon and that will save you plugging in one thing at a time like I did last year in Greece, lesson learnt, you can charge your smartphone and tablet at the same time without having to unplug the lamp and TV in your room

I am looking for small businesses and sole traders who need to travel regularly. Who do you know who might need my services?