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Monday, 23 January 2017

How to plan a budget friendly family holiday in Spain

Many of us are seeking to avoid the grey days of January by planning our family summer break.  Just the thought of warm sun and blue seas is enough to cheer anyone up.

But with January's credit card bills about to plop onto the mat (or inbox), there's Christmas to be paid for first.

It's all a financial balancing act, isn't it?

Cala de la Grandella beach in Spain
Image credit: Cala de la Granadella
But there are ways you can plan your family summer break now without breaking the bank.

Agree on a destination that suits everyone

There's no point booking to tour the mountains if your teens prefer to lie on the beach listening to their iPods.

And older relatives probably won't want to stay in a noisy resort.

Sit down with the whole family and agree on a destination that has something for everyone such as Spain.

Spain is the number one destination choice for family holidays in Europe and it's easy to see why.

The country is renowned for its long sandy beaches and has over 300 days of sun a year.

There are many beautiful cities such as Barcelona, Madrid and Seville and renowned cultural sites like the Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada which is an Unesco World Heritage site or the Guggenheim Bilbao gallery designed by Frank Gehry.

Image credit: Barcelona Cathedral

Then of course there's the food - tortilla, cured meats (jamon, chorizo, salchichón), Spain's famous bean stews, paella, the seafood and the wine!

Create a budget

It's easy to get carried away so create a budget which takes into account all the incidentals - airport taxes, transport to and from your resort, day trips, eating out, souvenirs, additional mobile phone charges....

That way you can prevent too many nasty shocks when you get home.

You may find that you need to compromise - say on the quality of your accommodation or on your airfares but there is plenty of great budget accommodation to be found, particularly if you are going self-catering.

Personally, I prefer to rent the best quality accommodation I can and then cut back on meals out or package day trips if need be.

The Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain
Image credit: The Alhambra Palace, Granada
Interestingly, the latest figures from the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (ine.es) show that British tourists to Spain spent an average of €130 per day on their holidays in 2016 (between January and November) with approximately one third of that being spent on travel (flights) and accommodation and another third being spent on food and activities.

That puts the cost of an average 10 day break at €1300 or £1128 according to the current exchange rate.

A great incentive to start seeing where you can cut some costs!

Go off peak

This is a huge bone of contention with parents of course and most of the time it is just not possible if you don't want to risk the censure and possible fines of your local education authority!

All you can do is be as canny as possible with your budget and try to save as much as you can by booking well ahead and giving yourself plenty of time to save.

Spanish Paella
Image credit: Spanish Paella

Don't forget travel insurance

If there's one area you definitely shouldn't scrimp on it's travel insurance.  You hear so many horror stories about holiday makers who have been taken seriously ill and left stranded because they do not have the money to pay for their medical care.

Make sure you have a valid European Health Medical Insurance Card which gives you the right to have state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland. The card covers treatment that is medically necessary until your planned return home. Treatment should be provided on the same basis as it would to a resident of that country, either at a reduced cost or, in many cases, for free.

Check your passports now

Are your passports in date?  We are all familiar with the logjams that tend to hit the passport office toward peak holiday season and the rush to either get to your local office or a hefty extra charge to get your renewal sorted out in time.

Go self catering

Personally I am a huge fan of self catering and it would always be my first choice where family accommodation is concerned.

You can come and go as you please.  You don't have to eat out or eat at times that don't suit you and you don't have to leave your room to let house-keeping in!

You also don't have to worry about little ones making a noise and there's no competition for sun-loungers around the pool.

Spain-Holiday.com is the leading holiday rental website for Spain and it has 1000s of family-friendly villas and apartments to choose from.  You can even contact the owners direct with any special requirements you may have.

You can even refine your search for a holiday rental property according to the distance from the beach.

Join up with another family

You can save costs by booking a joint holiday with another family.  I'd make sure that you really get on though, but you could take it in turns to babysit, cook or do the driving.

Shop locally and eat in

Experience the authentic Spain by shopping at the local markets and trying some of the local produce.

For example, there's Feria, Seville's oldest food market which sells produce in two market buildings beside a beautiful 13th century church.

Or then there's Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona where you can see hanging jamons and pass fresh fish stalls as you make your way to sample fresh tapas at one of the bars near the back of the Boqueria.

Whatever type of holiday you are looking for, Spain has loads to offer and there are plenty of opportunities to keep your budget on track.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

I've Taken The LighterLife Fast Blogger Challenge

Weight is such a subjective thing, isn't it?  There's the weight we are supposed to have for optimum health and then the personal weight we have where we feel at our best.

Many of us fall over both of these figures on the weighing scales.
Lighterlife Fast shake & my weight
My starting weight at 10 st 3lbs
There are acres of material on the subject of diets.  A new trend appears every few months or so which generally requires an expensive trip to the supermarket to stock up on Quinoa, Kale and, given the current 'national courgette shortage', the humble rival to the cucumber.

But who has time for all that?  And if you struggle with your cooking mojo, you really aren't going to whip up something with miso, fish stock and noodles when the kids are demanding fishfingers.

My interest in the 5:2 diet (or intermittent fasting as it is otherwise know) began when I read that eating this way has greater implications for our health than the other diets I have come across.

It is claimed that intermittent fasting can

*increase lifespan
*improve cognitive function
*protect against conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
*protection from disease in general.

Intermittent fasting is where you eat around 500 calories for 2 days a week and then eat 'normally' for the remaining 5.

The jury, of course, is out as usual but logic tells me that most of us eat far too much.

Even as long ago as 1600, the physician Thomas Moffet had this to say:-

"Men dig their Graves with their own Teeth and die more by those fated Instruments than by the Weapons of their Enemies."

You get the feeling this is really not a new problem, don't you?

I am currently 10 stone 3lbs which is about 7lbs over where I would like to be.  I'm actually a stone heavier now than I was on my wedding day on 25th November 2011 and now I am on the brink of Menopause, I am aware that weight loss might be more of a challenge than it was previously.

All of which is a rather long preamble to say that I have currently taken on the LighterLife Fast blogger challenge to try their 5:2 Weight Loss Made Easy Diet where you simply choose from 4 out of a wide selection of their products including soups, shakes, ready meals and bars.  

They say that a combination of any 4 of their products will give you 100% nutrition - i.e. 100% of the recommended intake of vitamins and minerals with plenty of protein and fibre.

LighterLife Fast is a 5:2 range designed to maintain your weight or help you lose 1 or 2lbs a week, so a small and steady weight loss programme.

The products are exclusive to Superdrug and you can buy them online.

I will be taking on this challenge for one month and tomorrow sees my third fasting day (or the first fasting day of my second week).  I am fasting every Monday and Thursday which leaves the weekend clear for 'normal' family meals.

Selection of LighterLife Fast products

Here's what I've found so far:-

* you don't feel hungry and it doesn't feel like fasting
* the products taste good and there is sufficient variety to get you through the day
* you have to resist the urge to eat extra the next day to make up for your deprivation!
* you need to have pretty strong motivation to stick to it.
* it's a bit odd not eating when the rest of the family are tucking in to regular meals.

This is the ideal diet, I suggest to try before a special event like a wedding or in preparation for hitting the beach this summer.

I'll be reporting back to let you know how I've got on and I'm hoping that this way of eating might be something I can do on a longer term basis.

We'll see.

How Being An Optimist Helps You Win

Don't you find you are naturally drawn to optimistic, upbeat people?  I do.  Well some of the time at least.

I am aware, though, that maintaining a "glass half full" outlook is probably better for me than being a Mrs Mardy-Guts.

Founder of www.vavistalife.com, Health Expert and NHS weight loss consultant surgeon Dr Sally Norton spells out the benefits of optimism below.

Happy group of people jumping in snow

Many people see positivity as a genetic trait – something they are either born with, or not. In the same way that we might talk about our eye colour or height, many of us will describe ourselves as naturally optimistic or pessimistic.

However, your brain can change!

In the same way that we can train our brains to appreciate healthy food, we can train ourselves to have a more positive outlook on life.

When you find yourself thinking those negative thoughts about yourself, your circumstances, or even about others, STOP!

Instead, force yourself to think of three positive things instead – there will always be something. If you persevere with looking for the good, instead of the bad, it will become a habit.

It’s well worth the effort – the benefits of being more optimistic are now being recognised in numerous studies …

Improved heart health

According to a new study from the University of Illinois, having a positive outlook on life could provide you with better heart health.

The study of more than 5,100 adults, found that those people who were most optimistic, were twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, compared with their pessimistic counterparts, with significantly better blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Not only this, but the optimists were also more likely to be physically active and have healthier BMIs.

woman jumping for joy
Image credit www.vavistalife.com
More likely to succeed

You might think that succeeding would lead you to feeling happier, but in actual fact, it works the other way round.

Studies show that positivity and a happier outlook will increase your chances of success.

For example, did you know that ¾ of our success at work is linked to our optimism and how well we manage and deal with stress, rather than our IQ?

And being positive could help you to achieve better results in smaller tasks – in fact, studies have shown that people who are encouraged to think positively before a maths test actually did better than others!

Better chances of ditching the junk food

Struggling to lose that last half a stone? We all know that when we’re feeling negative, we instinctively turn to sugary and fatty foods that will give our bodies a quick burst of energy and feel-good hormones.

However, this is swiftly followed by a crash in our blood sugar levels – leaving us feeling even worse than before.

These junk foods also do little to help us lose any weight, adding to those negative feelings that left us reaching for the junk food in the first place!

So instead, try focusing on the positives – think about how hard you’ve worked so far, and how good you’ll feel when you finally reach your goal weight, and you’ll find those negative yearnings for junk food soon dissipate!

Chopped fruit and granola with strawberries

More likely to stick with your fitness goals

Thinking about fitness in a negative way will make you more likely to bail at the first opportunity.

Studies show that a positive frame of mind helps people to stick with their fitness regimes as well as their healthy eating goals.

Once you get exercising, that positivity is helped even more by the endorphins or feel-good hormones that exercise releases.

If you find that the thought of heading to the gym leaves you feeling miserable, then ditch the gym!

Try finding different ways you could keep fit – fitness classes, swimming, or brisk walks in the fresh air.

There’s something out there for everyone, and when you’ve found an activity that you really enjoy, those positive feelings will make you more likely to stick with it for the long-haul.

Some pretty good reasons to try to be less Eyore and more Tigger, I'm sure you'll agree!
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