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Archive for July, 2013

6 Essential Home Security Tips When Going On Vacation

Essential Home Security Tips When Going On Vacation

Going away on vacation may be the time we all look forward to each year but for the security-conscious individual it can also be a time of concern. Leaving your home unattended for long periods of time can significantly increase the risk of a chance break-in that goes unnoticed or a more organized attempt based on lack of activity around your property.

Fortunately there are a range of common-sense steps that can be taken that will significantly reduce the chances of your home suffering criminal attacks in your absence.

Check Your Insurance

Before you leave for your vacation, ensure that your household insurance policy is in good standing. This should ideally protect not just your property itself but also contents insurance so that any items that might get stolen or damaged can be easily replaced on your return.

For extended vacations, it may be a requirement for you to inform your insurer of your absence so they are aware of the increased risks involved.

Tell Your Trusted Neighbors

Do you live in a neighborhood with a “community” feel where you know and trust many of your neighbors? If so, having a frank discussion with them about your absence can be a wise move.

By alerting your neighbors, should any activity be observed in or near your property in your absence, neighbors will be more likely to raise the alarm and help to keep your home safe and secure from criminals rather than just assuming it is you or your family moving about the property.

Third Party Security Checks

Another beneficial tip is to leave a key and contact telephone numbers with a friend or family member that you trust. Ask them to be the first point of contact for any emergencies and provide their details to your immediate neighbors.

Furthermore, asking that individual to visit your property for a quick inspection twice a day (morning and evening) – or even house-sit while you’re away – helps to not only encourage activity around your home but also to spot any issues that may arise quickly.

Timer Switches

A range of different timer devices are currently available and can help give the impression that your home is inhabited even while you’re away enjoying the sunshine.

For example it is possible these days to not only have lights that turn on and off randomly during the hours of darkness but to even make noises such as dog barks from time to time. All can serve to dissuade crime when a potential criminal is led to believe that your house in inhabited.

Mail Deliveries

One tell-tale sign that can out you at a disadvantage when away is a potential build-up of mail. Depending on the design of your home, this pile of letters may be visible from outside, suggesting that the occupants are away and so break-ins may be easier.

There are a number of options available to avoid this issue. Firstly consider asking your trusted friend to move your mail to a hidden part of your home on their regular checks.

Secondly, the postal services in some countries will actually “hold” your mail at the post office which you can then collect on your return.

Lastly, a simple tool that can work well is to create a simple “screen” that camouflages post as it is dropped through your door. In one example we saw recently, the occupant had red curtains fitted over the inside of their door.

By placing a piece of red cardboard up against the window inside the property, mail that was delivered fell behind this cardboard but in front of the curtain. From the outside of the property – looking through the frosted glass of the door – mail was completely hidden from view as the cardboard “screen” perfectly camouflaged in front of the curtain.

Home Alarm Systems

Finally, for greatest peace of mind, you may want to consider installing one of the many effective yet low-cost home security systems. These systems can not only arm your home with a powerful alarm system should anyone try to gain entry but more so many of them also come with a number of CCTV cameras.

In the case of a successful break-in, these cameras can be tremendously helpful to the police both for identifying the criminals and for proving the legitimacy of any insurance claim you may make.

The best systems will even let you access them remotely from your laptop or smart phone, so you can rest easy while away being able to keep a close eye on your home even when you’re hundreds of miles away.

Ben Smith is an expert in home security and recently started a new blog at Home Security Geeks.

Little Known Ways to Spend Family Holidays

Active families need active holidays

The sunny summer weather presents tons of opportunities for creative getaways that combine exotic locations and calorie-burning excursions. If you and your family are an active bunch, then lounging in a beach chair just won’t do. Instead, pack your trainers or hiking boots and jet off to more exciting destinations. Coming up short on ideas?

Check out some of these top active family holiday options:

Alpine Adventure Holiday

Cool crisp mountain air, villages straight out of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, and gorgeous landscapes are just a sliver of what is waiting for you in the Alps. Though most associate this great European mountain range with winter holidays, it is just as appealing in the summer months. The French Alps in particular are home to several mountain biking and adventure sport havens.

The alp chalet during the summer time

Winter chalets are transformed into lovely summertime residences where families can relax in between cycling, hiking and horse riding excursions. France alone has hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of pristine mountain roads that offer incredible views. You can choose to go it alone or take a tour on a bicycle, on foot or on a horse. Tours feature everything from beautiful Alpine landscapes to idyllic villages seemingly untouched by time. To enjoy the best of the Alps in the summertime, we recommend that you head to popular destinations like Morzine, Les Gets or Alpe d’Huez, where you’ll be spoilt for choice for luxury chalets, delicious food and lots of sunshine.

Underwater Adventures in the Red Sea

Looking for all the luxury of an all-inclusive holiday with a touch of excitement and adrenaline? Look no further than Egypt’s Red Sea resort areas. The shoreline is lined with all-inclusive 4* and 5* star resorts offering all the amenities you could imagine and then some. This is especially convenient for families with younger children, as these resorts tend to have babysitting and play facilities catered especially to kids. The best part about a Red Sea holiday is, naturally, the sea! Octopus in Red SeaWarm, crystal clear and full of amazing coral reef habitats, the Red Sea offers some of the best snorkelling and diving sites in the world. Many spots are just a few hundred metres from the shore and are full of colourful fish and corals. On land, you’ll also find yourself within striking distance from amazing cultural destinations like Petra in Jordan, Jerusalem and Luxor. Your best bets for an activity-filled Red Sea holiday are in resort towns like Sharm El Sheikh, Taba and Hurghada.

African Safari

 

A trip to Africa combines adventure, activity and amazing wildlife all into one. South Africa’s Eastern Cape and Kruger National Park are best suited for family holidays. If you’re travelling with younger children (under 12), the Eastern Cape in particular is ideal. Consisting of lush green rolling hills and beautiful plains, the Eastern Cape is home to ‘The Big 5’ (elephants, lions, buffalos, leopards and rhinos). Giving your family the opportunity to see these amazing creatures in their natural environment makes for an incredibly rewarding and eye-opening holiday. There are plenty of great safari-themed hotel and accommodation options available in both the Eastern Cape and Kruger National Park. Each day brings another opportunity to set out onto the beautiful African plains to view animals up close. There will also be plenty of time for you and your family to learn about the area’s history and native culture.

Families who enjoy activities and adventures are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a summer holiday. Whether it’s wildlife, culture or a pure adrenaline rush you’re after, there’s something out there for you. The important thing to keep in mind when booking a holiday for yourself and your whole family is to make sure you address the needs of everyone. As a general rule, it’s best to pick a versatile holiday destination that includes multiple activities that all family members can enjoy. In the end, remember that a summer family holiday is all about having fun and spending quality time with your loved ones. Whatever you end up choosing, you’ll be sure to end up forging lifelong memories together.

Featured images:

Mikey D is a freelance writer, who enjoys acctivity holidays from mountain biking to kayaking.

Benefits Of Booking a Vacation Rental vs a Hotel Room

Vacation rental cottage room in Santa BarbaraWhy Hotel when you can vacation rental?

We have been programmed by the package holiday culture to immediately think of booking a hotel room when they go away for a few days or a holiday.

However, booking a serviced flat, or a vacation rental, in your holiday or business destination can not only prove cheaper – it can also offer more flexibility and also means you are not tied down to a hotel meal plan and can even cater for yourself.

Some vacation rentals are purpose built and managed by managing agents for the landlord or owner, which may be a company or a private individual.

Luxury and Unique

Staying in an executive apartment can mean finding somewhere more luxurious and stylish than a hotel room – and staying in a privately owned vacation rental might mean your holiday is spent in a unique apartment or a house with home comforts, rather than a hotel room which may look like every other hotel room you have ever stayed in.

and There Are More Perks

Here are a few benefits to choosing a vacation rental rather than an hotel when on a city break or holiday:

  • Children – staying in hotels with children can be stressful and inconvenient – especially if your kids have problems sleeping, only like certain foods, or need a special diet or medication. Installing the family in a serviced apartment means you can carry on with your normal routine, while enjoying the excitement of exploring a new city or resort together.
  • Facilities – vacation rentals need to attract visitors and so will usually be fully equipped with Internet connection, TV, kitchen, power shower and comfy beds. You can also look for vacation rentals which meet your specific requirement instead of having to put up with whatever facilities the hotel offers.
  • Peace – hotels can be bustling places and soundproofing is not always very good, especially in older or cheaper hotels. Serviced flats are usually inspected by a managing agent and brought up to certain standards, and peace and privacy will be a major consideration, as well as security.
  • Romance – hotel rooms can be difficult places to kindle a romance in unless you can afford a soundproofed penthouse suite. Choosing a vacation rental means you can look for somewhere a bit more private, a bit more romantic – and without the annoyance of other guests constantly marching up and down the corridor outside, singing in the shower – or nudging each other and winking over the breakfast buffet as you walk past.
  • Standard of accommodation – serviced flats and apartments can often be in the center of cities and resorts, or are conveniently placed for public transport. Look for privately owned vacation rentals if you want a home away from home – or look for an executive apartment in a designated serviced block for transport links into the city center and a location close to an airport.
  • Tariff – hotels in major cities can be really expensive if you want a good standard, but cities like Rome or London or Barcelona will all have flats and apartments for rental long- or short-term. If you regularly travel to a city, finding an apartment you really like can be hugely beneficial and takes the stress out of hotel life – strike a deal and a special rate for regular occupancy and it really can be like having a home away from home.

Keep in mind though when you don’t book a package holiday, your holiday isn’t protected by the Package Travel Regulations therefore you won’t be able to claim back compensation if the accommodation didn’t match the standards you were expecting.

Peter Anderson – I love to blog about holidays abroad, traveling and sight seeing! I just love holidays and travel but it’s always important to remember things cannot always go to plan… Google+

Florida Theme Parks – A Survival Guide

Families love traveling to Florida and visiting the theme parks. There is enormous excitement for kids when they realize that Orlando is dedicated to their entertainment. As parents, the whole Florida experience can be exhausting and a very expensive affair. Read on and discover some handy hints to help your trip to the land of the mouse go very smoothly.

Mad Tea Party

Spend, Spend, Spend

There are so many brightly colored knick knacks, there are so many souvenirs that you simply must have. Disney are experts in convincing us to part with our dollars. Walking through the gift shop to the exit makes it hard to resist the lure of a Mickey Mouse mug.

Ears Souvenirs

Try setting a strict budget for buying such things as the price of the glittery treasure in the form of a Tinkerbell wand will eat into your holiday spends immediately. Try shopping in some of the local supermarkets such as Wal-mart as they often stock bona fide Disney items but at a fraction of the cost.

souvenir / disney nuts set

Eat, Eat, Eat

Feeding a family in a theme park can be tricky on a budget. Taking a picnic can really help to alleviate the cost – try taking a cool bag with you and disposable plates.

Picnic

There are many different places to eat in the theme parks and another way of minimising costs is to buy a dining package before you go. Most parks have a flat rate voucher that you can use in selected restaurants as many times as you like for the day. It is a good idea to purchase such a voucher because the family can then eat twice – lunch and dinner. There’s also snack time to think about for growing kids so it is a good economic decision to buy a voucher.

Burger at Hardrock Cafe

 What to Wear

If you are a Florida theme parks virgin, read this paragraph very carefully as it will save you lots of pain and discomfort. Dress as though you are embarking on a lengthy hike through a steamy, humid jungle. Do not worry yourself with wondering if your handbag matches your shoes.

Grizzly River Run 1

Everything should be practical and extremely comfortable. There is a great possibility that you will get wet – either because of a tropical storm or because of a water ride with a big splash at the end. Fashionistas can breathe easy for the duration of their visit.

universal studio florida

 How to Get Around

Waking up at dawn is a good idea in Florida. The light is wonderful but more importantly you need to arrive at the gates before they have opened in order to beat the queues.

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Traveling to the parks really depends upon where you are staying. There are several free shuttle buses that operate between hotels and parks but they will cut into your time as there are many stops to make. Hiring a car in Florida is a cheap and easy alternative that will give you the freedom to see a lot more of the county without depending on costly taxis or public transport. Click here for an alternative to public transport.

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Enjoy your holiday and if you plan in advance, you really could have the holiday of a lifetime.

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Written by Elizabeth James who loves scuba diving and traveling around the world.

Planning Winter In Summer: 5 Ways To Save

We are right smack dab in the beginning months of summer on this side of the globe, and man can you feel it. The sun is bright, the heat is just at that perfect balance between tanning and roasting, and school is out until September. Is there anything better than what summer has to offer?

Thinking of holiday time in the middle of the summer

Actually, yes: preparing to for the winter. It might seem a bit early to be thinking about it, but planning your November to February months now can save you a whole lot of money. Plus, it will be there when the windchill hits its peak and you find yourself tired and lethargic. Best to get things moving.

Here are five ways to save when the days turn cold.

1. Buy Winter Clothes

They might not be on the racks in stores, but if you go to the websites for various brand you will find a ton of winter stuff in clearance straight through the summer. These are usually marked down to ridiculously low amounts as the company tries to get rid of the stock left over from the colder months. Buying now, especially children’s clothes, boots and coats, will save you a ton of cash in the long run. Of course, you will have to be careful about how you store it to keep it in perfect condition. But it is worth the effort. Last year, I bought an entire winter wardrobe for myself, my two kids and my husband for $150 using clearance shopping.

2. Buy Winter Accessories

Goggles and many other ski accessories

Do you like the ski? Snowboard? Go sledding with the family? A lot of outlet and sporting good stores will have winter stock through the year, as will their website. Buying things now will take advantage of a lot of sales they have going on, especially if you go to a place dedicated to winter sports. A friend of mine bought snow shoes and skis last year during July for 50% off. Deals like this are really common, so keep an eye out. You can also sometimes get discount passes to ski lodges that can be used in the winter time. Just make sure you read the fine print before you buy.

3. Start Looking For Indoor Activities

Start looking now at fun, cheap things to do in your area during the winter. My favorite are indoor inflatable bounce places, movie theaters and rec centers that have pools, courts, gyms and even classes for kids. Some have deals where it gets cheaper the longer you have a subscription/membership. Or that let you buy passes at a discount in the summertime.

4. Plan That Getaway

Skiing down the hill

Have you been on travel deal sites lately? A ton of them have these vacation packages that are good through the rest of the year for really cheap. Here are just a few winter vacation saving opportunities you can check right now: Powder Pass, Winter Deals, Winter travel rewards. I saw a luxury getaway in Aspen for a fraction of the usual cost the other day, and I was sorely tempted to buy it. Plan your winter trip now and you will get great deals. Especially if it is for an off-season date, which means no travel around the holidays. Try to go in November or February.

5. Start Holiday Shopping

My family always laughs at me about this one. Even the early shoppers don’t think you should start before October. But I like looking at summer sales and taking advantage. Not only is it cheaper, but it saves me a ton of time and stress when the holidays roll around. All those parties, activities and everything on top of work? I like not having to think about gifts when that time rolls around.

Have a tip for planing out your winter in the summer? Let us know int the comments!

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Annie is the lifestyle and travel blogger with the variety of interests. You can follow her on twitter as @ViralMomTweets

Top Five Destinations For A Wild Hen’s Weekend

Two Ladies In A Casino

These days hen dos are about more than downing dubious drinks and watching a dishy bloke stripping down to his smalls. According to The Telegraph the “UK hen and stag industry is estimated to be worth up to £500m a year in the UK. Hen parties are routinely weekend-long (or more) affairs” . While many complain about the cost, which is estimated to be an average of £157 per person, most participants will admit that, “hen dos can be really fun; it’s an opportunity to spend quality time with girlfriends, there’s always the possibility that the random activity you’ve never tried before, say pottery making, might be your secret talent. And it’s a chance to get to know any new faces before the wedding.”

The Guardian listed a range of alternatives for hens sick of the typical debauched weekend. They suggested the “coast of Montenegro, a cheaper, quirkier alternative to Croatia or pretending you were to the manor born by taking over a country house.” But before you head off, be sure to consider the less-exciting but important factors of travelling abroad. Even though it’s only for a weekend, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. It might seem over-prepared but if you consider the kind of high jinx that you’re likely to fall into, getting some basic medical and accident cover is wise.

Sense and sensibility

Another concern whether you’re travelling a short distance to the Continent or a little further to the States, is to think about money. Buying some euros or dollars in advance, for a fixed rate and loading it onto a travel card is the ideal way to manage your money while overseas. Having a travel card is as convenient as a credit debit card with the added bonus of being safer, because if it’s lost or stolen, your personal bank account won’t be at risk.

Finally, in the interest of those attending, keep the costs as low as possible. Research online with price comparison sites to secure the best deals on flights and accommodation. Often just by asking for a discount for a hen’s weekend, you will find operators willing to knock a little off the top. Consider bringing some of your own supplies like food, alcohol and whatever else you need to make it a memorable trip.

Whether your passion is for food and drink, active adventuring, pure pampering, or just having a grand old time, these are five destinations worth exploration.

Culture Vultures fly to Barcelona

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona is paradise for hens looking for art, culture and food. Gaudi’s city is a riot of stunning architecture, packed with attractions to sink your teeth into; the Picasso museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and even a Chocolate Museum! Wander Las Ramblas and witness stunning street performance before heading off the main drag for sensational food – and, of course, big jugs of full-bodied sangria. A tapas trail is the perfect, relaxed way to make independent discoveries – ducking in for a drink and a bite to eat wherever takes your fancy, for as long as takes your fancy. Inspired by the food? Book your group into a Spanish cookery lesson to master the dishes you’ve sampled.

Lots of lovely wine in the Loire Valley

Exquisit Wine Tasting

If a tipple tickles your fancy and you fancy learning more about the tipple in your glass, head cross-channel to the Loire and take a tour of the area’s abundant vineyards. The river is the longest in France, wending its lazy way through the ‘Jardin de France’, which encompasses a quintet of wine micro-regions ripe for discovery. The Loire’s output caters for fans of Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume and many more. Visit the area’s Chateaux independently or as part of a guided group – tasting, purchasing, learning, or just soaking up the sun and verdant, vinous atmosphere.

4×4 tour in Poland

4x4 in Poland

Tank Girl-types will be bored by a conventional hen. But there are plenty of destinations offering action-packed, hands-on activities to sate appetites for adventure. Jet off to Poland and discover the picturesque countryside in a 4×4. It’s a great chance to see wilder, unspoiled parts of the countryside, allowing access to minor roads and green lanes. Some tours are eco-friendly, perfect for petrol heads with a conscience. If you fancy learning about wildlife and history, these guided explorations are led by knowledgeable English-speaking guides. Self-driven off-road tours plan in stops at lesser-known places of interest, with participants traveling in small convoys of up to four vehicles. If you’d prefer rough terrain and getting revved up on adrenalin, try Krakow’s ‘off-road rampage’ experience. Just ensure your group has plenty of clean drivers’ licences, or no-one will be going anywhere at any speed!

Casino-hopping in Las Vegas

Hit up Las Vegas, where the stakes are high, the food and drink are cheap and plentiful, and even just playing a few slot machines and watching the weird and the wonderful of Vegas go by is experience in itself. Hotel accommodation is affordable, but the sights you’ll see are priceless. Wander the strip and take in the amazing neon illuminations, and catch a show or two – an Elvis tribute act, perhaps, an all-singing, all-dancing cabaret, or one of the big names Vegas regularly attracts.

Pampering in Phuket

Pampering in Phuket

Your hen weekend may well be the last chance you have to do absolutely nothing for a rather long time. If the thought of being stroked, pummelled, anointed and massaged into submission before being delivered to a stunning white beach to recover from all the relaxation pushes your bliss button, Phuket will suit you a treat. Patong is known for its massage parlours and skilled therapists, many using organic, natural products in their practice. Treatments cover everything from head to toe, quite literally, with both facials and foot massages on the menu. Local herbs often play a part in tonics and balms, treating every sense. A spot of pre-wedding refreshment and revitalisation will leave you relaxed and ready for the big day.

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Featured images:

Jessica Bourne reports from Chester and loves writing about a range of lifestyle topics from fashion and gardening to travel and finance. Jessicas’s mission in these miserable economic times is to help readers budget for life’s little luxuries. You can read more of Sarah’s articles in a wide variety of blogs and websites.

Top Tips For Travel Etiquette

Travel Etiquette tips

When planning any trip abroad, it’s important to ensure you understand the country’s expectations of visitors to avoid offending the locals or your hosts. Although you may be planning to visit a popular tourist destination, certain behavior considered acceptable at home may not be as easily tolerated abroad. Follow this simple guide to a few countries and the best tips for appropriate etiquette.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is a popular business destination, with many businessmen and women traveling there for meetings and conferences. Whilst a business environment will be very different from a holiday environment, it is important to understand the appropriate etiquette for meeting and greeting your hosts.

When greeting your hosts, it is important to make eye contact and offer a light handshake with members of the same sex. It is not normally considered appropriate for men and women to greet each other in public. In Saudi Arabia, it is custom to greet each member of the group individually, often exchanging a few words of greeting or small talk and again, remember to make eye contact because this adds comfort and intimacy to the conversation.shaking hands

You may find that Saudis are accustomed to standing close to each other and touching arms or shoulders during conversation. Though this may be considered too intimate in some Western societies, try not to draw back as this may appear rude.

Other things to remember:

Saudi Arabia is a strongly Islamic society with some strict rules and expectations regarding dress. Do not wear revealing clothes and try to keep shoulders and knees covered. Women are advised to carry a headscarf.

Men and women are expected to socialize only in their same-sex groups and it is deemed improper for women to travel alone without a male escort.

India

India has a different approach to meeting and greeting. Unlike to close touching of Saudis, many Indians prefer to hold their own hands together and nod or bow. India also has a caste system in which those of a higher caste are expected to behave differently to those belonging to a lower caste.India Taj Mahal

If invited to a family home, it is polite to take a small gift such as flowers or sweets. Greet your hosts with a smile, eye contact and a slight bow, perhaps whilst saying the common “Na mastay”, meaning “I bow to the divinity within you”.

Other things to remember:

Though revealing dress is not prohibited, it may arouse certain amounts of curiosity among locals who would expect that those of a higher caste would wear more clothing than those of a lower caste. It is recommended that women visiting India should wear long trousers or skirts with shoulders covered.

Thailand

Thailand is a popular holiday destination, partly due to the country’s natural beauty and the friendly, approachable nature of the locals. The key to proper etiquette in Thailand is to keep calm and avoid confrontation. When greeted, remember to smile and make eye contact to match the friendly atmosphere.

During conversation, it is considered highly offensive to criticize the King who is highly regarding among Thai locals. Though it is unlikely to come up in conversation, it is advisable to take precaution as it has been known for people to be imprisoned for disrespecting the royal family.

Other things to remember:

Buddhist monkIn some areas, you may see Buddhist monks. It is important to remember that monks lives are dedicated to Buddha and are separated from the rest of the world. For this reason, it is not worth trying to interact with monks and it would be rude to try to take their photograph without permission.

Before you travel to any country, do some thorough research on the area. Whilst you will find that most tourist areas and beach resorts will be more relaxed and tolerant of visitors’ behavior, it is always best to understand the appropriate etiquette to avoid causing offense.

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Victoria likes to travel in her spare time and has learned a lot about travel etiquette. She shares her tips with a cheap glasses retailer, Direct Sight.

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