Sunday, March 16, 2014

Be your own travel agent

Castle Howard, Yorkshire. I am BUSTING to see this place. Source
When I took on the task of organising our holiday to Europe, I really had no idea what I was in for. Sure, I've arranged overseas trips before, but (surprise!) booking airfares, accommodation and transfers for a two week trip to south-east Asia is rather less challenging than doing the same for a seven week long trip across six countries.

It's been consuming my life for the past three months, as I've studied Lonely Planet guides, trawled countless tourism, airline, railway and review sites and Google-mapped various alternative routes between potential destinations. Exhausting, and also a big part of the reason there's been very little blogging going on. (The acquisition of a PVR earlier this year might have also contributed. All those recorded episodes of Orphan Black, Downton Abbey, Lillyhammer and Love Child aren't going to watch themselves, you know)

But this afternoon I've finally booked our last couple of nights' accommodation, so we're just about done. Well, apart from arranging hire cars and waiting for Renfe to release train tickets to a couple of Spanish destinations. Why on earth you can't book a Spanish train three months out, I don't know...

The Alhambra, Granada. A grand finish to the Spanish leg of our trip. Source
One of the reasons that the whole thing was so difficult was that we wanted to go everywhere. And of course, there's only so much ground you can reasonably cover in seven weeks. We didn't want it to be one of those trips where you see fifty cities in thirty days. I mean, what's the point of that? We like to get a feel for the places we visit, enjoy the local sights, customs and food - and you can't do that if you only have a couple of hours allotted in a place. We also hate to be constantly on the move; it's exhausting. We'd rather do a few destinations well than do a lot of destinations without seeing much of any.

So narrowing down our choices has been the most difficult part of the whole exercise. I desperately wanted to visit the Loire Valley in France, but that particular region got crossed off the list early on, because we also needed to be on the other side of the country for some alpine action. *sigh*

Spain is tricky because we didn't want to drive and the trains don't necessarily go directly between cities. We wanted to pop up into the Basque region for a brief taste of pintxos (OK, and maybe some wine). That was easy enough. Getting out of there wasn't so simple. The solution was to stay an extra night, then take an early flight to Madrid. I'm still working on moving us from Seville to Granada, however. Keep your fingers crossed, OK?


Keswick, The Lakes District: Our first destination in England. Source
Then in England, we had to work around the Tour de France. Given that we'd be in the UK whilst days 1-3 of Le Tour were happening in Yorkshire, it would be crazy not to take the opportunity to catch some cycling action. Boy, did that take some organising! First you have to find accommodation along the route that isn't booked out... then you have to figure out how you're going to get in and out of there with road closures, heavy traffic and so on. Due to the logistics of working around a major event, we've had to ditch the idea of visiting some other parts of England. The Cotswolds made the final list though - thank goodness for that.

The magnificent medieval city of Carcassonne - our final stop in France. Source

But in the end, we have an itinerary we're happy with. There'll be plenty of castles, abbeys, ruins, museums and beautiful scenery to keep us happy.

Only seventy-seven days to go now. Can you feel the excitement? :D



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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Summer days

Oh, look: it's February already. How did that happen....? Yes, I'm being very slack on the blogging front, but I have plenty of excuses. Here's a quick summary.

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I've been back at work for a couple of weeks now and time seems to be a scarce commodity - not helped by the fact that the entire first week I struggled with sleep. Holidays mean late nights and later than usual starts, and sometimes even afternoon naps. All very nice, but the altered routine comes back to bite me on the arse when I have to return to normal.

I seem to be slipping back into my usual pattern again now though, FINALLY. In bed by 10:00pm (ish) and up around 5:30am. So I'm slowly easing back into my early morning training regime and feeling less shattered by mid-afternoon than I was a couple of weeks ago.

Speaking of sleep, a friend from work put me onto a great little app that tracks your sleep quality as well as waking you when you're in a light sleep phase, rather than jolting you out of really deep REM sleep. It's called Sleep Cycle and I'm liking it so far. On the mornings when I feel as though I had a crappy night, the app tells me that indeed, I did. I'm also finding the alarm quite good. If you're worried about having your phone next to your head all night, I'm told that switching it to flight mode is the go. Not entirely sure about that, but I've been doing it anyway.



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Here are some highlights of the past couple of days:

Watching the sun rise over the parkland on Friday.


Coming across this bloke on our usual Saturday bike ride:

Eastern long-neck turtle
My old mates, the kangaroos. I never get tired of these guys:

There were squillions of them about, but two chatty women scared the rest of them off. 
On the wildlife front, I also discovered a banjo frog in our back yard last night. I have a "thing" for frogs, so was beyond excited about that. I'm now considering how to get a pond into our tiny space to encourage more amphibians to come visit.

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I haven't been very productive in the kitchen lately, but I did come up with this strawberry and rhubarb compote last week. Breakfast was a no-brainer for me all week. :)



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I have a few fun activities lined up over the coming weeks. We have two weekends away planned in February and March, plus I'm a little theatre piggie at the moment. I saw Grease last Friday (lots of fun!), and I'm off to see the MTC's production of Noel Coward's Private Lives in a couple of weeks. Plus I've bought tickets to three Australian Ballet productions this year and the first one is coming up in March.

I'm also booked for Filex in early April and can't wait to catch up with Liz and hopefully a few other interstate fitness industry friends. The Australian Fitness Expo runs simultaneously with Filex and is always good fun too, so if you're at all interested in health and fitness, get yourself along there. Don't forget, if you work in the industry, you get free entry to the expo, even if you're not attending Filex. You just have to register online and provide proof of employment/industry qualification.

We also have a list of movies we'd like to see, but we're struggling to fit in the time. We even have gift cards from Christmas to pay for them, so will have to make the effort.

By the time I'm finished with all that lot, Easter and ANZAC Day will be imminent and then it'll only be five weeks until we leave on our European trip. I have a feeling that autumn is going to fly by. :)




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Sunday, January 19, 2014

How to survive a heatwave

I know I've whinged rather a lot about the lack of summer weather we've had here in Melbourne. In future, I must remember that old saying "Be careful what you wish for because your wish might come true." Summer arrived last week with a vengeance and we endured temperatures in the mid-forties all week. No, I'm exaggerating - it was only 39º on Monday.

Melbourne, roasting in the intense afternoon heat.

With temperatures in our area hitting 46º, I'm thankful that the relative humidity ranged between 10 and 16%. Dry, baking heat beats revolting muggy wetness any day. We ran our evaporative cooling every afternoon and left it on low overnight and the house stayed comfortably cool.

My social media feeds were full of people complaining about getting no sleep, but I was happily snoozing every night. Under the doona.  Yes, I am quite smug about it.  :)

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On Friday, we had our six-monthly family appointment with our city-based dentist. Lucky for us, the trains on our line didn't go into meltdown, so we made it in and out without any dramas.

Bike Boy had an interesting experience on the tram though. The aircon broke down when he was halfway between his office building and the dentist so the driver stopped the tram and announced that everybody had to get off. Apparently you can't transport passengers in a tram without air conditioning on a 40º+ day. It's OK to push them all out into said 40º+ heat though and make them wait endlessly for another tram... or walk. Insanity.

Baking heat. I thought my eyeballs would explode and my hair start to smoke...

After our appointment and some lunch, The Baby and I hung around at the casino for a bit, taking advantage of air conditioning and (overpriced) cold drinks. Eventually we had to make our way back to the station to head home. So we foolishly bravely decided to head back to Southern Cross railway station via the Seafarer's Bridge over the Yarra. This takes you back to the Flinders/Spencer Streets intersection via the west and north sides of the World Trade Centre. I don't recommend this route in 45º heat and blazing sun because, as we discovered, there is NO SHADE.

When we finally made it to the station, we headed into Woolworths on the concourse to buy a couple of bottles of water. In a stroke of brilliance, we detoured into the bottle shop and the walk-in beer fridge, where we loitered for rather a long while. Ahhh...

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Dinners have of necessity been quick affairs. Who wants to stand over a hot stove in this kind of weather? Even the barbeque was an unattractive prospect, because it meant going outside into the furnace. Jamie Oliver came to the rescue more than once - I broke out 30 Minute Meals and whipped up some tasty feasts.

This green curry with chicken and kimchee slaw was a big hit. Rice in bowls, topped with green beans in curry sauce, a piece of crisp-skinned chicken and a tasty slaw, complemented with some crunchy and refreshing lettuce, bean shoots and fresh coriander leaves. A squeeze of lime and some toasted sesame seeds were the finishing touches.


I rarely follow one of Jamie's recipes to the letter. Normally I use ingredients we have on hand, so if I'm missing something, I just substitute. In this case I used rice instead of noodles and since I had no radishes, I added some finely sliced red capsicum to the slaw, more for colour than anything else. I also left the onion out of the slaw, as raw onion is one of my problem foods. Instead, I served it separately in a small bowl for the rest of the family to add as they pleased.

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A heatwave calls for frozen desserts. Duh, of course. This is my current favourite thing:



I love ice cream, but it isn't very kind to me. I've experimented with gelato a couple of times and had less of a reaction than with ice cream, but sorbet is guaranteed to be problem-free for me. Unless of course it's made from peaches or cherries or some other fruit that I can't eat.

Mango sorbet and raspberry sorbet are my current faves. I may just eat them daily until summer is over.

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For those of you who also suffered through last week's horrendous conditions, how did you survive the heat? Share your tips for keeping cool - I'm sure there's plenty more hot weather in store for us, so they'll come in handy.



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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Healthy food - what is it?


This time of year makes me cross. No, I don't mean the long-awaited but quite extreme heat wave that we're finally getting here in Melbourne. I mean the explosion of New Year misguided, dangerous or just plain wrong nutrition advice in my social media news feeds. Not to mention in newspapers, magazines and as a topic of conversation in offices everywhere.

Yes, it's January and you know what that means: everybody and their dog is On A Diet. *sigh*

OK, so you need to lose some Christmas kilos. Here's what NOT to do.

DON'T waste your money on pills or potions that promise fast fat loss. They're a scam.
DON'T jump back into that old program that you've used umpteen times in the past, because clearly it ain't working.
DON'T take advice from your mum's next-door-neighbour's cousin who had great success with the Fast Weight Loss for People With More Money Than Sense program.
DON'T follow any program that: excludes food groups; uses "learn about the FIVE FOODS YOU SHOULD NOT EAT to lose weight!" as a marketing ploy; that involves compulsory purchase of expensive "super foods" or supplements; that involves skipping meals or replacing them with liquid "meals" or that declares that one food (sugar/wheat/meat/whatever) is the cause of the world obesity epidemic.

I'm sick and tired and frankly saddened by the number of people I talk to who have jumped from one diet to another over the years and are now battling body image issues, an eating disorder or physical health problems as a result.

Most of the claims made by various nutrition (self-appointed) gurus have zero scientific basis to back them up. Some of them are just plain stupid. Witness these gems:

Gluten is a type of glue. Um... actually, I'm pretty sure it's a protein.
Lettuce is high in sugar. No. So much stupid in one person. Ugh.
You need to eat only low-carb fruits. All fruits are predominantly carbs. They also pack a vitamin, mineral and fibre punch, so yay, fruits!
You won't lose weight unless you cut out fat/carbs/sugar/wheat/whatever. Fat loss is a result of caloric deficit. You can eat any types of foods and still lose weight if your total food intake is less calories than your energy output.
Just eat clean. What even IS that? As Liz pointed out the other day, it means different things to different people. It might be sensible... or it might not, depending on your interpretation. Please stop saying it, you sound like one of the crazy diet ninnies.
Wheat will make you senile. Sugar causes cancer. Blah, blah, blah. Aargh. AARGH!

Here's what I've learned, from actual science and actual experience:

You could lose weight eating McDonalds, so the weight loss link to any one food or food group is spurious (Just so we're clear, I'm not recommending you do that, OK?). If you reduce calories to below the amount you actually require, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight. It's simple maths.

We need a variety of foods for optimum health. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, grains, fats*... If you regularly only consume the same few veggies and fruit, you're doing yourself no favours. If you avoid grains and starches, you're doing so unnecessarily.

No "superfoods" will provide you with all the nutrients you need. Yes, things like chia seeds, goji berries and quinoa contain some important nutrients, but so do other, much cheaper foods. Like broccoli. Or blueberries. Or salmon, steak and potatoes.

Chocolate, cake and wine are a few of life's great pleasures. You absolutely CAN continue to eat those things and lose weight, get stronger and fitter, improve your health or whatever your goals may be. In my brief foray into figure bodybuilding competing, I feasted on pizza, scarfed down M & Ms and sipped a glass or two of wine on a regular basis. No, not daily... but every single week I worked in a treat or two. And our home-cooked Indian and Thai meals, plus potatoes, bread and whatever fruit I wanted were just part of my normal meals. Not to mention chocolate souffle omelettes. I got stupidly lean eating the same foods I normally eat, just in smaller amounts.

52kg, full of energy and fuelled by chocolate souffles.

So, what's my definition of healthy food? A wide variety of foods, in quantities that meet your personal nutrition goals, support your lifestyle, taste great and provide you with enjoyment. If you're struggling to stick to your current eating plan, feel as though you can't eat out at a restaurant or cafe, or find yourself harbouring feelings of resentment and deprivation, you need to take a long, hard look at what you're doing.

What works for you? And is it backed by real science?



*Obviously the exact foods you eat will depend on allergies, intolerances, whether you're vegetarian, personal likes and dislikes and so on.



For more sane advice on nutrition, check out these articles I came across recently:

Evidence Magazine: Why "Clean Eating" is a Myth.
The Atlantic: This is Your brain on Gluten - Warning: this is a bit of a long read, but worth it.
Foodwatch: Why Quitting Sugar Guarantees You'll Lose Weight


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Friday, January 10, 2014

Summer love

Things I love about summer:

1. It's not winter.


Sunshine and heat, bleached grass and blue skies: My natural habitat. :) When the wind isn't blowing me off my feet (come ON, Melbourne! Get your act together), I'm loving the sunny weather and getting out amongst it as often as I can. Daily walks are becoming a "thing" again, and the bikes will hopefully see a bit more action over the next week too.

2. Fresh summer fruit.


Who can afford raspberries out of season? Not me... frozen berries are great, but there's nothing like the sweetness and tang of a fresh, firm raspberry.

I made my choc-banana pancakes again this morning, but left out the chocolate and added raspberries to the batter instead. And of course the remaining fruit got dumped on top of my breakfast. Noms.

3. Quick, easy and light meals.



This san choy bow is the duck's guts. I made it for dinner on Tuesday and am eating the leftovers for lunch. It literally takes a minute to prepare when the filling is already in the fridge. Get the recipe here.

4. Free, fast drying



I cannot stand wet washing hanging around the house. Yes, we have a super-duper dryer, but electricity costs are obscene, so I prefer not to use it unless I'm desperate. Hurrah for weather that gets the washing dry in an hour!

5. Long, lovely evenings.


There are benefits to living in a southern latitude, and one of those is the long summer days. (We won't speak of the short winter days, OK?)  It's a pleasure to be able to walk to the milk bar at almost 9:00pm in daylight, wearing nothing but shorts and a singlet, and to witness the sun setting over the billabong.

What are your favourite things about summer?


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Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Yoghurt, how I love thee - product review

My love of yoghurt is well-known. Being diagnosed with lactose intolerance last year didn't bother me on most fronts. I mean, I mostly drink long blacks, so giving up my occasional latte wasn't a big deal, and although I do like milk, it's not something I can't live without. Not so yoghurt.

The thought of never again indulging in the creamy, tangy delights of a thick Greek yoghurt brought tears to my eyes. Until the dietitian said the magic words: Jalna has next to no lactose; you should be fine with that.

I was relieved. Not only could I still have yoghurt, but I could have one of my favourite brands. So I've continued to happily stock the fridge with Jalna's Greek yoghurt (only they like to spell it yoghourt - whatever) safe in the knowledge that I'll have no nasty after-effects.

Recently I spotted a couple of newcomers to the Jalna range in my supermarket, but being a creature of habit, hadn't deviated from my usual rut tried and true favourites to give them a try. So when I was offered the chance to take them for a test drive, I was more than happy to do so.


The two new flavours are Sweet & Creamy Greek, which comes in a 1kg pot and an addition to the Premium range, Citrus Splice, which is available in individual 200g containers.

Being in a very lazy mood on holidays and short on ingredients, I haven't done anything fancy with either - but that turned out to be a good thing, because neither needs any zhooshing. They're perfect just as they are, or accompanied by something simple like fruit, nuts or muesli.


Ta-dah! Yesterday's hastily assembled breakfast. Sweet & Creamy Greek yoghurt, some orange segments and a sprinkling of granola that was in a gift hamper I got for Christmas. 


The verdict? Not too sweet, but no maple syrup or other sweeteners required... The sweetness comes from fruit juice concentrate, so no nasty-tasting artificial sweeteners here. The tang of traditional Greek yoghurt is still there, and it's every bit as thick and creamy as I would expect.

I'm a big fan of Jalna's Premium range (mmm, strawberry...) and the Citrus Splice didn't disappoint. Remember those ice creams from your childhood? Biting through the citrus-flavoured ice outer layer, then reaching the creaminess of the vanilla ice cream in the middle - it was the perfect summer combination. Well, this yoghurt has captured the essence perfectly. Creamy, sweet and citrusy, all at once. YUM.


The ingredients get a big tick from me too - milk, milk solids, fruit juice concentrate, natural lemon/lime/orange flavour and the live cultures are all that you'll find here. No artificial flavours, colours or sweeteners.

Jalna gets a massive thumbs-up from me on a number of fronts:

-They're Australian owned and their products are Australian made.
-They're chock-full of probiotic cultures (3 million+ per 100g).
-There's nothing artificial added.
-They are the thickest, creamiest yoghurts I've found.


This morning I made slightly more effort with breakfast, still going for a yoghurt/fruit/granola combo, but layering it parfait-style in a glass so it looked pretty. Aww...


I think these are going to be making a regular appearance in my breakfasts for the rest of the summer.

Hmm. I have half an idea for a mousse-style citrus dessert using one of these yoghurts...will try to stir myself out of my holiday laziness and give it a whirl. Stay tuned.


If you'd like more product information, check out Jalna's website for all the details.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post; no payment was received for reviewing these products. I did however receive free product for the purposes of this review. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.


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Monday, January 06, 2014

Holiday happenings - a.k.a. a post about nothing

I have two more weeks of freedom before I have to return to the hum-drumness of office life. So far, I've crammed a ton of nothing very much at all into my time off.

Of course, there was Christmas, and we've been to a couple of BBQs, but other than that, I've been a boring old homebody. Our New Year's Eve consisted of some fabulous home-cooked tapas, a bottle of French champagne and a Vin Diesel movie on TV. Exciting, no?

The bubbles were good, the food excellent and the movie? Um. Vin Diesel. 'Nuff said.
I have managed to grab some bargains in the sales. A gorgeous dress from Jigsaw, reduced by $150 and some new fitness gear at stupidly low prices. I'm not really a pink kind of girl, but when it's on sale, you take whatever colour you can find in your size. There always seem to be so many gorgeous colours and styles in size 6 and size 14. *pouts

Love my new ASICs, even more so at $50 off.
I've committed to participating in a couple of social media "things". It's been a while since I've joined Fat Mum Slim's Photo-a-Day challenge, so January seemed a good time to get back into it. I haven't been especially inspired by any of the prompts yet, but I live in hope.



I'm also doing Katrina Chambers' Everyday Gratefuls challenge, which involves expressing gratitude for something daily. I'm posting mine mostly on Twitter. (If you're looking for it, the the hashtag is #everydaygratefuls)

There's been a bit of cooking going on too... I've posted a couple of recipes over at Fitbodies Food, including these choc-banana pancakes:

Really, really good!
Today got off to a very slow start, thanks to a poor night's sleep, but I have managed a gym workout, got a couple of loads of washing out on the line, browsed Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, read the first two pages of a new book and have defrosted some chicken mince to make san choy bow for dinner. I think that's quite enough activity for a holiday Monday, don't you?

Are you still on holidays? If so, are you making the most of the extra time, or are you (like me) being completely and utterly lazy?

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Friday, January 03, 2014

Secrets of a stingy traveller



I used to listen to other people's travel tales with wonder and more than a little envy. I mean, travel is so expensive and, like everyone - well, maybe not Gina Rinehart, but pretty much everyone else - there are so many other demands on our family budget that an overseas holiday seemed like an unattainable dream.

Oh yes, this is happening!

We don't expect luxury, but we're too old for grungy backpacker hostels and we're definitely not interested in camping. Ugh. Then you have to factor in the cost of airfares, meals, entrance to museums and monuments, travel within your destination cities and all the little extras. Those can really add up.

So I thought I'd share some of the strategies we've used to help pay for our previous overseas trips as well as the one we're planning right now. None of it is rocket science, but maybe there's something here that might help those of you dreaming about a holiday and wondering how to fund it.

I wonder where that plane is heading...?

1. Budget airlines. A lot of people I've spoken to seem to be afraid of any airline other than the big names like Qantas, Singapore and so on. But seriously, there are some bargains to be had without compromising safety at all - you just have to be prepared to do without the little extras. I won't consider some of the super-cheap Chinese or eastern European airlines with dubious safety records and who-knows-what kind of financial status, but there are plenty of reputable names to choose from.

We've used both Jetstar and Air Asia for overseas jaunts in the past. Jetstar regularly has super-special deals, you just need to sign up to their email list to find out about them. We've picked up Melbourne to Hobart fares for $59 and Number One Son recently holidayed in Japan, flying Melbourne to Tokyo with Jetstar for a reasonable price, but here's the kicker: the return airfare only cost $1. Flying with Jetstar also allows you to use Qantas lounges if you're a member.

Air Asia doesn't come with a lounge membership, but it most definitely is cheap. The two of us flew in and out of Kuala Lumpur on our last trip for the grand sum of $535. We also travelled from KL to Penang for $30. I know! Crazy. Both airlines have frequent flyer schemes too: Jetstar's is linked to the Qantas program, while Air Asia runs its own BIG points scheme.

Of course there are many other budget airlines as well - keep an eye on fare comparison websites such as Skyscanner or Zuji for the best deals and then check out on line reviews to help you decide whether the rock-bottom cheapest airline is actually worthwhile.

The downside of budget airlines is that you get nothing but a seat for your money. Checked luggage is extra, meals are extra, choosing your seat is extra... They also cram more seats into their planes so you have slightly less leg room than with a full-priced economy airline. We don't care. For an 8-9 hour flight, we can cope. We pay for checked luggage, but nothing else. Our carry-on bags contain our iPads and noise-cancelling headphones, some bottled water, a snack or two, and an airline "comfort pack" we got for free on a previous flight: blanket, socks, inflatable neck pillow and so on.

For long-haul flights though, you're probably better to either break your journey or to wait for the big airlines to advertise their super-specials. 20+ hours in a budget airline seat is more than even my stingy little soul can stand.



2. Online hotel booking sites. For Asia, you can't usually beat Agoda, but there are heaps of others to choose from. Booking.com, Expedia and Hotels.com are just a few. Sign up for email notification of additional member-only discounts.

One of the things I like about Agoda is that you accrue points for your bookings, and also for reviewing hotels that you stay at. You can then turn those points into discounts off your future bookings. On our last trip, our points allowed us to spend a night at the posh Ritz-Carlton in KL and one at the swanky Furama resort in DaNang, for the same cost as a basic 3-star hotel. Then I used the leftover points for our anniversary weekend at the Sofitel here in Melbourne.

Most of the sites include guest reviews and photos, so you can be pretty confident about what you're booking. It's also a good idea to do a quick search on Trip Advisor, as there are generally a lot more reviews available there. I've not once been disappointed in a hotel we've booked this way.



3. Free travel insurance. Travel insurance can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for a basic policy, but some credit cards offer free cover if you pay for your trip (or part of it, with a minimum spend) with your card. Of course, you need to check the policy carefully to see that it covers everything you need, but the major credit card providers these days offer good cover.

If your card has an interest-free period, make sure you clear the balance before that runs out, to avoid paying interest. If you don't have an interest-free period? No problem - pay with your card and transfer the funds in immediately. You still get the insurance cover, but no hefty interest charge.



4. Museum and transport passes. Entrance to all the tourist attractions you'd like to see can be quite expensive, but there's usually a way to make considerable savings. Some cities have free entry to many museums and galleries on certain days, so if you can time your visit right, you can go nuts. In Paris, for example, there is free entry to many attractions on the first Sunday of the month. There are other free times for young folks under 26 and/or for teachers.

For the rest of us, there are deals. A Paris Museum Pass can be purchased for 2, 4 or 6 days at a relatively small cost and will let you into 60 museums and attractions without further cost and without queuing. In the UK, you can buy a Heritage Pass for $42 that gives you entrance over nine days to more than a hundred attractions.

Other cities and countries have similar deals. You can often buy your passes online and pick them up from a tourist office when you arrive to save on delivery costs.

Many major cities also have hop-on/hop-off public transport available, by bus, ferry or tram. Some are free, like Melbourne's City Circle tram; others have a small cost, but you can get on or off as often as you like over the period of your ticket, which is a big saving on multiple fares. We plan to use the Batobus in Paris, and London has a bus service.

It's well worth spending some time researching cost-saving options before you go.




5. Loyalty points - as good as cash. If you happen to have a loyalty scheme attached to your credit card, or Coles FlyBuys, Woolworths Everyday Rewards etc, make use of them. Woollies cards give you the option to convert your points to Qantas Frequent Flyer points, so you can use those to directly pay for airfares or hotels via Qantas.

I prefer the Coles scheme, because FlyBuys can be converted to cash (the Woollies scheme might allow this too, but I haven't checked). We turn our points into FlyBuys dollars when we've accrued a couple of hundred dollars worth and spend those on groceries. The "real" money saved then gets banked into our travel fund. You can also boost your points balance by doing Coles online surveys. www.tellcoles.com.au allows you to do one Coles supermarket survey per month - and you can do the same for Liquorland. Each survey gives you 1,000 bonus points, which converts to about $5. Two surveys per month over a year gives you $120 you didn't have before. Not a huge amount, but there's a night's accommodation paid for (or even two nights in some parts of Asia), just for five minutes of your time a couple of times per month.

There are other bonus FlyBuys offers too, which give you anywhere from 100 to 5,000 points for buying certain items - but don't get sucked into buying stuff you don't need just for the points. I read my email each week and note what the current offers are, and IF it's something we buy anyway, I pick it up on my next shopping trip to boost our points balance.

We also get points on our credit card, so that baby gets used to pay for groceries and all sorts of other regular expenses. On pay day, cash to cover those expenses is put aside and on the due date for payment (and not a day before), the credit card balance is cleared. Maximum points, no interest, no charges. Then those points can also be converted into cash, freeing up more of our own money for savings.

Altogether, we can accrue around $1,000 a year through loyalty schemes without much effort on our part at all.



6. Saving. Yes, I know - saving isn't sexy, and it takes so loooong. But here are some of the ways I make our savings grow a little more quickly:

Budget for a regular savings amount. Whether you get paid weekly, fortnightly or monthly, set a pay day savings amount and make it non-negotiable. Open a separate, high-interest account and set up an automatic transfer via your online banking so the money is gone before you even get to the ATM. Even better, if your bank or credit union offers a Christmas Club account, open one: you can deposit all year, but can usually only withdraw funds between November and January. I use mine to save for Christmas and the kids' birthdays, but I added extra last year to help pay for our holiday. Christmas and birthdays are all done, and the surplus funds are now in the travel fund account.

Stop buying lunch/coffee/magazines or whatever your daily indulgence may be. Even my super-cheap $2.50 takeaway coffee adds up to a whopping $500+ per year. So I bring lunch from home, take my kindle to work for lunchtime reading and keep a box of tea bags in my desk drawer. All up, that's more than $2,000 saved over a year. Do I miss those things? Now and then. But I think about my savings goal and I quickly get over it.

Empty the change out of your purse each day and put it in a money box. Those $1 and $2 coins really add up, but even silver accrues into a nice little sum over a few weeks. I trot into the bank once every three or four weeks or so and toss anywhere from $30 to $80 into the coin counting machine. Sure, I end up with a lot less cash to spend, but then - what do I really need to buy? Petrol and parking are budgeted for separately and everything else I'd usually pay cash for is just discretionary spending. If it means more travel, I can probably live without that extra pair of shoes/gym top/gadget.

Sell your unwanted crap. I go through fits of selling stuff on eBay. I prowl through the house, looking for anything we don't use and assessing whether anyone else is likely to want it. Furniture, books, clothing, knick-knacks...people will buy pretty much anything. Last year I raised around $500 from sales of stuff I no longer wanted.

Take on extra work. If you're really keen and can spare the time, look out for opportunities such as elections, the census (only every five years, unfortunately) or paid surveys. I worked at the federal election last year, which is a long, brutal day, but it added a neat $500 to the kitty. There are lots of other easy ways to make some extra cash, depending on your talents and available time - take in ironing, tutor high school students, mow lawns...

There are millions of ways to save money and I'm not about to try to cover them all here, but you get the idea.




Like I said, not rocket science.

If it really is your dream to travel, make it happen. Life passes by in the blink of an eye, so don't waste a moment of it. It may take time to achieve your goal, but it's never too early to start planning. Set a goal, make a plan and start working on it. Before you know it, your dream holiday that you began planning and saving for a year and a half ago will be only five months away... Holy crap, where did that time go?

See what I mean? :)


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