All Posts Filed in ‘Travel

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Cornwall 2012

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Having been to Cornwall a couple of years ago we thought it was time to go back. We spent a week staying near St Austell and our mission was to ensure our new dog Billy was as tired as possible at the end of every day. This meant visiting sandy beaches he could run along. I think you’ll agree: mission accomplished!

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Snowboarding, Morzine, 2012

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Regular readers may recall I went on a friend’s stag do snowboarding way back in 2009 and that I had a fantastic (but knackering) time. It was such a great laugh that 6 of us went again to Morzine in France (about an hour from Geneva) and, it won’t surprise you to hear, I took a few photos!

Europe has seen some incredible snowfall this season but also some startling low temperatures – certainly the coldest I’ve boarded in. However the conditions will still superb and a great time was had by all. Enjoy the photos! 🙂

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The Return Of The Return To The Isle Of Arran

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Having been to the Isle of Arran a couple of times before (here and then here) we had a couple of weeks holiday and decided to spend one of them returning to our spiritual home. We’ve always been blessed with perfect sunny weather when we’ve visited in the past and this year was no exception. Arran is an island an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland on the west coast of Scotland and is a great place to chill out on sandy beaches, hike up challenging mountains, bike around miles of forest tracks, sit in cafes and enjoy fine dining. When my lottery win comes in we’ll buy a house there in a shot! As usual I took a few photos…

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My Kind Of Hand Luggage

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I make no secret of the fact that I love luggage. Whenever I see luggage in a shop I imagine standing in some far-flung country waiting for it to come off the plane. Or slinging it over my shoulder as I check into a 5 star hotel. It’s not just the luggage, it’s the potential I see in it for adventure. While you’re travelling you’re relying on this thing to carry everything you need with you, that it won’t abandon you or let you down, that it’ll be a constant companion and even though it’s an inanimate object, it’s shared your adventure with you and lived to tell the tale.

I wrote a while ago about my current strategy of flying with hand luggage only in a bid to avoid queueing to checking it in, waiting for it at the other end only to discover it ended up in Bora Bora while you’re in Stockholm and that it’s Winter and you packed your warm clothes in it. I spoke about the bare essentials you need to survive up to a week with just that one bag but I didn’t really go into much detail of the actual bag itself. Anyway, since that article I’ve been using a Briggs & Riley 17″ expandable rolling brief – which is just a fancy way of saying one of those cases that has a telescopic handle, wheels, fits in an overhead compartment on a plane and can carry enough kit for a week-long trip. The case itself looks like this (click on the pictures below to read some details):

The case rocks and I’d heartily recommend it. What’s particularly impressed me about the case is that it’s clear every detail has been carefully thought through. I’ve travelled enough that I’ve noticed various things that have bugged me about previous cases – however this one is pretty much perfect.

First of all, it’s expandable – something that’s much more useful than I realised before I got this case. It must be some strange law about travelling that when you pack your bag you think to yourself “it’s a bit of a squeeze, but don’t worry, when I come back there’ll be less in it and therefore much more space for a couple of presents”. However what actually happens is that no matter what you do, you can’t fit everything in as you pack to come home and you end up having to crush everything in hoping it won’t burst. Cue the expandable case. If you keep it in its smaller size when packing on the way out, then coming back you can expand it and you have a very useful extra bit of space to pack in those new Hawaiian shirts. If you’re not flying but are going to stay with friends for a few days then instead you can use that extra space to fit in your dancing shoes (something you probably won’t bring on a business trip). So the expandable clothes section makes the case an absolute winner.

I always take my laptop and an assortment of cables and chargers with me wherever I go (such is the enslavement technology brings). So having a stiffened storage compartment is essential to stop those 3 pin plugs from stabbing through your shirts. Also, since I travel with hand luggage only that means bringing bottles with shower gel, shampoo and toothpaste with me. I know from experience that if you put your toiletries into a compressible bag then you find the first thing you do when arriving in the hotel is wash the shampoo out of all your clothes (it’s amazing how much damage one small bottle of shampoo can do). So the fact that my case has a stiffened compartment means I can put my laptop, cables, plugs and toilet bag in without worrying about damage or spillage caused by bottles being crushed no matter how rough someone is throwing their bag into the overhead luggage compartment.

One thing that’s ticked me off about previous cases is the way the designers decide what you should put where. You’ll find a perfectly good sized section that’s ruined by having a bunch of separators sewn into the case that effectively means you can’t neatly fit things in unless they’re a specific size. Normally I get the scissors out and remove the separators! However my current case doesn’t enforce that organisation on you – there are separators, but you don’t have to use them and they don’t compromise the raw size of each section. And when you think you might be attending an ambassador’s reception you’ll need that extra bit of space to fit in your bow tie and cummerbund.

Some of the other cool features my case has include a very useful magnetic pocket right on the front. This is ideal for putting travel documents or newspapers into for easy recovery (handy when standing in a queue or at passport control). Likewise there’s another useful zip pocket right on the front that’s ideal for putting your passport into that you can get at quickly. It comes with a detachable laptop pouch that you can quickly remove to pass through an airport scanner separately without having to fiddle around fishing it out of the case – it’s designed to come out quickly and go back in the same manner. It even comes with a shoulder strap – something very rare in cases like this and makes life easier when you’re forced to walk up long flights of stairs. Finally, the material the case is made of it seems very hard wearing but not too hard, so it looks like it’ll last me many years and can be compressed somewhat to fit into whatever space it needs to (very useful when you’re travelling on certain low cost airlines).

As I said at the start, I love luggage and could talk about it all day – I think my ideal job would be as a luggage designer! Anyway, if you’re looking to cut down on travel time and go hand luggage only, I’d definitely recommend my Briggs & Riley 17″ expandable rolling case. As with most things in life you get what you pay for and if you want to own a piece of luggage you can rely on that you can take to the edge of the earth and back and still have room for a packet lunch knowing that it’ll take everything you can throw at it, then go get yourself one! Alternatively they have a host of other cool cases. Although I’d better not look or I’ll spend hours staring at them imagining taking them to far off lands! 😉

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Hogmanay at The Clachaig, Glencoe, Scotland

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My good lady, a couple of friends, their dog and I spend 4 days over New Year staying at the famous Clachaig Inn up in the wilds of Scotland and were treated to great food and drink, beautiful scenery, cold but crisp weather and a good bit of walking. Anybody who’s ever been climbing or hiking in the area will know what a gem the Clachaig is and we were not disappointed!

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John’s Guide To Travelling With Hand Luggage Only

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The Problem

An Airport QueueOne of the most tedious parts of flying (apart from being forced to fly economy class) is luggage. With the introduction of checking in online you can beat the queues to check in! Unfortunately instead you have to queue for just as long to drop your luggage off, so no gain at all. Next, when you arrive you have to go and collect it which means standing around for 20 minutes waiting for the luggage to be unloaded from the plane. Then you wonder if your luggage actually made the trip with you (if not you’ll end up in a world of hurt). When it does finally turn up you have to battle to get it then queue again to get through passport control with a lumbering suitcase. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to do any of that?

The Solution

Which brings me onto flying with hand-luggage only. For my recent trip to Los Angeles I decided to not check any luggage in at all as an experiment. I scoured the web far and wide for advice and the perfect piece of luggage that would be small enough to fit into an overhead storage bin on the plane, have enough room for 5 days worth of clothes along with compartments for my laptop, washing kit (more about that shortly), books, glasses and everything else I’d need for my trip.

The Luggage

After much research I settled on the Wenger Patriot case. It ticked all the boxes: it had a section for clothes, a removable laptop case (so that you’ve got another smaller bag to carry around at the destination), a pocket for magazines, a handy pocket that perfectly fits things like passports, boarding cards and directions to hotels and a roomy front section filled with pockets and sleeves for all the other things you need like phones, chargers, adapters, books and so forth. And most importantly it’s got a telescopic handle that makes wheeling it around an airport dead easy. You almost spend more time queueing to have your passport checked than actually flying these days so to not have it slung over your shoulder is a real bonus. It goes without saying that the bag meets all the regulations of hand luggage size so doesn’t even raise an eyebrow from the cabin crew.

The Wenger Patriot Bag

The Toiletries

These days you can’t carry normal sized bottles of shower gel, deodorant, shampoo and so forth on as hand luggage. Instead you have to put small quantities of each inside a clear plastic bag for inspection (as if liquid explosives were the only option for a would-be terrorist) which is a bit of a pain if you need a week’s supply. Sure you can rely on using the products you’ll find at your 5 star hotel when you arrive, but for those of you with sensitive skin or allergies that’s not an option. Fortunately Boots have a range of handy travel accessories like small bottles you can decant your favourite shower gel and conditioner into (I’d recommend you use separate bottles). For deodorant Lynx make these rather metrosexual perfume-like mini deodorant sprays called bullets. Now you wouldn’t catch me putting one of these in my ‘man bag’ (whatever that is) for a night out but they’re ideal for hand-luggage international travel. Add a small tube of toothpaste and a razor (yes, you carry disposable razors on as hand luggage) and you’re all set!

The Clothes

Generally I pack n+1 pairs of socks and pants where n is the number of days I’ll be away. I then throw in a spare pair or so of cut-off sports socks for special occasions. A few t-shirts, long sleeved tops, a shirt and a pair of ‘New Zealand’ trousers (they’re the ones that have zip-off legs that turn into shorts – two garments for the price of one) cover everything else and as long as I’m wearing a jacket that’ll get me through the local and destination weather I’m good to go. Oh, it can’t hurt to throw in a Hawaiian shirt if you’ve got room – they’re good for those unexpected party situations.

The Screaming Baby Blockers

My iPhone goes wherever I do so I can listen to calming music while flying / queuing for passport control / waiting in the departure lounge. So I bought a pair of the souped-up Apple iPhone earphones that you insert deep into your ear canal. They have the benefit of blocking pretty much all external noise so while you listen to podcasts and Boards of Canada you’re oblivious to that screaming baby in the seat next to you. Note that if you’re flying business class (as you should be) you’ll be far less likely to have a screaming baby next to you but the earphones will help block the irritating toothpaste company executive next to you telling you about the latest tongue scrapers and what their profit margin is.

The Results

So as I said at the start I decided to test this travelling without check-in luggage and I have to say it was a complete success! I didn’t find myself waiting around quite as much and I didn’t have that nagging feeling that my clothes weren’t going to turn up when I arrived – I had everything on me at all times. Of course when Microsoft decided to hand out laptops to everyone who attended the PDC my first thought was “how the hell am I going to fit that in my bag?!” but fortunately I was able to get one of my colleagues to put my Hawaiian shirt into his check-in luggage and I was all set.

So I think that from now on any trip I do of less than a week (except a snowboarding holiday – I’d never get my board in my bag) I’ll go hand-luggage only and cut out all that hassle of queueing and checking in bags safe in the knowledge that I’ll never be separated from my kit and can breeze through an airport like I own the place!

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A Weekend In Lyon And The Fete des Lumieres

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My good lady and I just spent a long weekend visiting our friends in Lyon, France. It just so happened that the annual ‘Fete des Lumieres‘ was on this weekend so we went to see what all the fuss was about. It turned out to be pretty cool with light, video and all sorts projected onto the myriad historical buildings throughout the city. All in all a great weekend with great friends, wine and food!

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A Week In St. Ives, Cornwall

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My good lady and I just spent a week in the village of St Ives in Cornwall and were blessed with stunning weather, sandy beaches, great food and lots of great little shops and art galleries to explore. We came back with slight suntans, a lovely oil painting, memories of many delicious meals including one at Jamie Oliver’s 15 restaurant (which really was amazing), but above all we returned relaxed and refreshed, not wanting to leave. Which I guess is the point of a holiday! Not surprisingly I took a few photos to document the visit…

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A Road Trip From Skye To Torridon To Aviemore

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Following on from our weekend at Plockton my good lady and I continued our road trip to the wilds of Torridon in north west Scotland. To midge country and beyond!

Of course anybody who’s ever been camping in north west Scotland will have experienced for themselves how blood thirsty and incredibly annoying the local midges are. These are tiny insects that swarm, come out in the evening and love it when it’s wet and rainy. The interesting thing about them is that they fly in swarms and as soon as they smell a human they attack en masse, all land on you and all will bite you. It’s like death from a thousand needle pricks! Fortunately Avon Skin So Soft stops them from biting you (as used by the Royal Marines) although it doesn’t stop them from landing on you.

Anyway, we spent a few days camping in Torridon before moving over to Aviemore before heading south. As you’d expect we took quite a few photos too and covered 1200 miles in total!

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A Couple Of Days In Plockton

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Myself, my good lady and friends Nick and Siobhan spent a couple of days in Plockton, an idyllic village in the north west of Scotland. Oh, the sun was shining too!

Plockton was made famous by being the location Hamish Macbeth (the break for Scottish actor Robert Carlyle) was filmed in but to me it’s always been a lovely, tranquil and beautiful little harbour village in the north west of Scotland. What better place to spend a weekend with friends while the sun’s shining?!