Original Gift Ideas for Travellers & Travel Lovers

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It’s that time of year again; I’m not entirely sure how but it is. 2017’s blogging schedule may have been somewhat inconsistent but it seems like only yesterday that I was packing for my first adventure of the year, a brief but long overdue February return to the motherland that saw me attend the most epic wedding I have ever been to (including my own!)

festive Christmas places New York City

In the aftermath of the Christmas festivities and falling right in the centre of birthday month, I vividly recall feeling a little overly plump to be sporting a slinky evening gown for the wedding functions. Yet somehow, the months have rolled on in the tumultuous way they always seem to and I find myself here, on a particularly frosty November night, distracting myself with trashy TV, whilst I endeavour to complete the self-enforced task of compiling this year’s travel gift guide.

Marina Skyscraper Views Singapore

This one’s for all those live-for-the-moment, travel-mad jetsetters in your life. And as per my previous travel gift ideas post, all of these items/experiences have been tried and tested by yours truly and most of them are gifts that other people have rather thoughtfully given to me for previous birthdays, Christmases etc. There are no affiliate links in this post so I won’t be making any dough if you pinch these ideas. My goal today is simply to share the love, hopefully making it that little bit easier for those of you of you tearing your hair out for original travel gift ideas. Just call me travel Santa.

Christmas time Bruges

If, however. the overly commercialised, billion-dollar industry that is Christmas shopping ain’t your scene, then feel free to ignore my gift guide and do what Pumpkin and I are doing instead – we have scooted off to the other side of the world just before the mayhem starts so that we can live in blissful ignorance of the Christmas shopping chit-chat engulfing the high streets and avert our eyes from the archetypal English drizzle engulfing the atmosphere.

Sorry Ma and Pa, BFF and colleagues, this year, you’re all getting duty-free M&Ms (fear not though, we’ll treat you to those cute tins with the big grinning M&M,  perched garishly on top.)

Views of Singapore at Night

My 2017 Travel Gift Guide

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Dining in an Igloo in London

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Before we get into the igloos (literally and proverbially) and before I wax lyrical all about how I treated Pumpkin to a sporadic weekday breakfast one frosty November morning, I must ‘fess up as to why. (I should probably  keep schtum about the truth to preserve what is left of my reputation but where is the fun in that? Your lives are too busy for a dull read after all.)

Coppa Club igloos London

You see, the truth is, I might be a grown up and a professional entrusted to look after the health and welfare of the public but I also happen to be the woman who locked herself between her own two front doors, requiring a valiant knight in shining armour to come and rescue her.

I may even be the woman, who managed to do this twice.

Tower Bridge in sunshine

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Afternoon Tea at Colonnades, Signet Library, Edinburgh

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Ever been accused of gifting to others what you secretly want yourself? I admit that I have been guilty of this on many occasions (apart from that time I bought Pumpkin a metallic blue, multi-purpose, mini screwdriver from the Danish design museum in Copenhagen a few months after we had met.) That was a gift he could rest assured had been given with only the recipient in mind; you only need to know me for two minutes to know that my DIY skills are comparable to an average toddler.

He treasures and makes use of that mini screwdriver as much now as he did then and I don’t think any item I have given him since has come close to replicating the touched and weirdly delighted look on his face that day (it’s a screwdriver not a holiday to Hawaii but whatever floats your boat, husband.)

What if I were to tell you, though, that before I had even booked the train tickets to Edinburgh for his birthday weekend away this year, before he’d even given me the go ahead for the trip, I had already booked the afternoon tea. The confessions are coming out now and it’s starting to feel like therapy (or court.)

Colonnades Signet Library Edinburgh

This was to be our maiden visit to Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in my defence, ordinarily, I would have taken him out for a slap-up evening meal but with the risk of formal dinners clashing with performance times, afternoon tea seemed like a safer bet and always has a way of feeling like a celebration in itself no?

best afternoon teas Scotland

Still not convinced? My feeble arguments wouldn’t withstand the legal process but it is the outcome that matters and my motives aside, the outcome here was that Pumpkin loved it. Afternoon Tea at the Colonnades at the Signet Library in Edinburgh was anything but ordinary. And aside from cheeky bloggers trying to squeeze in extra scones in the name of spousal birthdays, there are a whole cohort of you, who I believe will be just as enamoured with the Signet Library Afternoon Tea as we were.

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Visiting the Golden Rock Temple, Myanmar

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The Road to Gold

A half an hour boat transfer, one hour car transfer, one hour domestic flight (that was ninety minutes late), followed by a three-hour taxi ride at the other end – and finally, embraced by the glowing arms of the evening sun, we had arrived. Add to this the recent spate of severe gastroenteritis that had afflicted one of us (unsurprisingly not the one penning the tale with the fuzzy retrospective warmth) and the journey seemed even more arduous.

what to see in Myanmar

Pumpkin has survived Delhi belly many a time but 2016’s Burma belly saw him at his most vulnerable, yet still he powered through our day-long marathon without even a hint of complaint or self-pity.

We had traversed the country to see the Golden Rock – but it struck me that mine had been next to me the entire time.

best of Myanmar Burma

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The CineKamari Open Air Cinema, Santorini

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The years might be advancing upon me but as things stand, I am nowhere near prepared to consider myself old. My eyes still sparkle when I see ice cream cones covered in rainbow sprinkles, I still have an irrational affection for all things Hello Kitty and whilst my friends are busy talking potty training and kitchen renovations, all I find myself dreaming about is my next African safari, my maiden voyage to Machu Picchu and that magical day I might finally see the pandas in China.

best outdoor cinemas

I am Peter Pan and whatever my date of birth may be, I still feel young at heart (though I suspect there have been many episodes in my life where Pumpkin would have been tempted to replace the word, “young” with “immature”.)

must sees in Santorini

As much as I hate to use the phrase, “my generation,” it is indeed mine that has grown up during some of the most formative and pivotal digital changes in recent times. When I started school, I was writing essays. No, really writing them. By the time I finished, they were all typed. In those year eight IT lessons, I had never even heard of the internet but by my last day, I was proficient at using it. For my 15th birthday, I wanted a Discman to replace my Walkman but ten years later, no one was using either and don’t even get me started on what ever happened to Napster, Will and Grace or Blockbuster video rental.

Santorini movie theater

One thing that has remained, however, throughout all these changing landscapes, has been the dinner and movie phenomenon.

Santorini highlights

The screens may have widened over the decades, the graphics clearer and the popcorn menu extended to nachos but the fact remains that whether you are 18 or 48, whether you grew up in the 1960s or 1990s, this particular life pleasure is timeless. For as long as there are boys and girls to woo, there will be dinners and there will be movies.

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A Ponta Delgada Travel Guide, Sao Miguel, The Azores

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It is Pumpkin who first peers out over the yacht-studded marina, the boats bobbing like origami ornaments in the late afternoon lull.

Azor Hotel room view

This time, it is the balcony of our new abode where he surrenders, a welcome change from the corner of the bathroom, where he and his Instagram husband comrades have been imprisoned many a time before, whilst their often self-absorbed blogging wives photograph the room from all angles. The “it’s for the blog” drone fails to inspire him, the “I need to tweet this” challenges his core beliefs on human needs.

Ponta Delgada hotel reviews

Quietly, he has the last laugh. He recalls why we have really come here, the depth of his sentiment swelling in comparison to the paucity of his conversation.

marina views Sao Miguel Island

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A Sunday Stroll at Virginia Water, Surrey

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For the benefit of my readers outside the UK, let me start by telling you that Surrey is a leafy county in the south-east of England and just outside London. Frequently cited as one of the most sought after regions of the country to live in, its proximity to the Big Smoke makes it prime property along the commuter belt.

VIrginia Water Surrey blog

Surrey’s sprawling suburban mansions see its streets filled with young families seeking reams of school choices and with green-fingered pensioners, deserving of a more serene retreat in their retirement. More personally, for me, it also happens to be where I spent most of my childhood, a county I pop back to every two or three weekends, usually when I am craving a fix of my Mum’s biriyani.

lake views Surrey

It wouldn’t be proper to describe Surrey as my former home, when candidly, in my somewhat clingy heart, it will always remain my other home.

day trips from London

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Tasty Tapas at Taste of London

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Since joining the blogosphere, trending hashtags have led me into a realm of annual festivities that I never would have imagined even existed.

Taste of London Blog Review

When the three words, “World Chocolate Day”, start appearing on everyone’s Twitter feeds, I can’t help but scroll through my gallery to see which of my decadent cocoa-filled treats I can upload before rummaging through my drawers at home for the remnants of an old Milka bar.

Spanish cookery demo

And when everyone starts sharing photos of pizza in honour of National Pizza Day, I allow myself to tuck into the doughy isosceles without even a glimmer of guilt.

Pintxos Tasting

On World Tapas Day however, by its very definition, one is compelled to dabble not in one treat but in dozens, from the meat to the veg, the savoury to the sweet and even a drop of vino, though like any good teetotaler, I make my spouse smile by reserving my glasses of Spanish whites for him.

Spanish wine Basque country

Far be it for me to spoil the party with a no-show and I am all about the cultural integration so with a series of other watered down excuses, I tried to conceal my excitement as I accepted an invitation to the Spanish Tourism Board’s #TastePintxos Event at the Taste of London Festival.

olive anchovy peppers

16 years in this city and not one previous visit to said foodie and restaurant festival?! Perhaps you can see why I stick to travel blogging and not food.

Spanish restaurants London

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An “Oh Lord” Moment at Lord’s Cricket Ground

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A cloud of guilt encroaches upon the introduction to today’s light-hearted tale. To think of my parents’ selfless grafting throughout their working lives, to think of the hardships they went through in order to give us the best possible start in life, the precious pennies my Dad wasted, yes wasted on tennis coaching, badminton lessons, hockey sticks, even a basketball lesson once, blinded by his hope that my sister and I would one day evolve into sporting champs.

London blog opportunities

That we had no hope of doing so was apparent to most (including ourselves) but my Dad ploughed on. Not all children are capable of all things but try telling that to a proud parent, whose judgement is shrouded in bias and heartfelt belief in their omnipotent babies.

Lords Cricket Ground Blog Event

Generally one bowls better when one has one’s eyes open…

Still, my Dad is an intelligent and deeply perceptive man and I suppose it wasn’t a ludicrous assumption in his mind that we would one day feel at ease in at least one sport, particularly when we were cut from the same cloth as he and his brother – university champions and trophy holders in badminton and tennis respectively. I may have spent my lifetime blaming my short stature for my lack of sporting abilities but shorter individuals have gone on to acquire greater accolades.

I paid homage to my high school music teachers recently here but I struggle to even recall the names of their PE colleagues, perhaps a reflection of my dis-engagement with games lessons.

top London cricket grounds

It was a trend, however, that would extrapolate beyond the borders of physical sporting competences, merging seamlessly into sport-watching territories. I haven’t the foggiest how rugby works, or how anyone can keep a straight face when watching a scrum/huddle and my father stopped inviting me to the cricket after the time I asked him where the wicket was, whilst we were seated at The Oval, one of the most eminent cricketing grounds in London.

Lord's Cricket Ground Blog Post

Fortunately, my unanticipated interest in tennis and football have spared me from complete disowned status by the men in my life. (For a glimpse of me in my football element, check out my night at the Maracana football stadium in Rio.)

Never would I have imagined, therefore, that 2017 would be the year I would play cricket with a former England international player.

Allow me to rewind.

Marylebone Cricket Club events

An Exclusive Evening at Lord’s Cricket Ground

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3 Days in Berlin for £300 #CheapflightsChallenge

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£150 a head, I pondered. Even my primitive mental arithmetic skills had allowed me to slice 300 in half with refined precision. I reflected on how far this could carry me in my own city, with its rocketing cost of living. I reflected on my city, which visitors from around the globe repeatedly denounce as inordinately expensive. My London-savvy brain rattled off a list with the chaos and velocity of jelly beans from a sweet dispenser:

  • A meal at a swish restaurant, complete with fanciful amuse bouches and dainty petits fours.
  • A pair of boots from the high street (or an empty cardboard shoe box from Russell and Bromley.)
  • A hair cut, colour and blow dry.
  • Two well-located theatre tickets.

Such funds could whittle down into an emaciated mess within a matter of hours in London so surely the proposed task was impossible?

German Parliament

The German Parliament Building

My index finger hovered tentatively over the mouse as I re-read the email, the uncertainty of my decision-making reflected in its feeble, wavering movements. The idea of accepting the challenge and failing with a wide berth filled me with a premature sense of shame, yet giving up without trying was more unpalatable still.

Berlin street art paintings

I looked back on the diversity with which I travel, exploring everywhere from Argentina’s glaciers to wacky museums in Budapest. I remembered how I loved the cosy Pisa B&B and the luxurious Bali hotel villa in equal measure and took pride in the fact that I thrive on playing around with budgets and accommodation types in order to get the most for my money.

Berlin city break

I wasn’t raised to shy away from a challenge, let alone one that was focused around finding value for money, something my parents always taught us so well and thus, with a confident “count me in”, I accepted, determined to pull this off with aplomb.

Bundestag Reichstag Building Berlin

The Cheapflights Challenge

My Cheapflights Challenge was to use a little pouch of dough (£300 to be precise) to plan a fabulous 2 night getaway for two adults to Berlin. Within that budget, I had to include flights, accommodation, activities and spending money. “You will never be able to do that” I kept hearing from those around  me.

I sang from the same pessimistic hymn sheet.

I would soon learn, however, that you do not necessarily know what is achievable until you try it.

bear monuments Berlin

Bet you didn’t know you can find bears in Berlin

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