With Christmas behind us and summer still far out of sight, it’s easy to feel a bit fed up this month. So now is the perfect time to treat yourself to a last minute break. Here are a few of my favourite affordable winter getaway ideas…
Best for: Culture and food.
This week, the temperature in Athens is around 14°C – which is seven degrees warmer than it is in London. Despite the mild weather, this funky city is still fairly overlooked as a winter destination – making now the perfect time to visit. Low season means more availability and better accommodation prices in what is already an incredibly cheap city.
Best for: Winter sun.
Just four hours from London, the warmer climes of Morocco are within surprisingly easy reach. Regular budget flights, low prices, and plenty of availability during low season make Marrakech a favourite for cheap winter getaways. If you want to relax by a pool, book yourself into one of the resorts in the Palmerie, an oasis just outside the city. Or opt for a cosy riad in the heart of the medina, where you’ll be right by the bustling souks and all the street food your heart desires!
Best for: Staycationing.
Don’t want to leave the UK? Exploring your own backyard can be a great way to save on travel costs, leaving plenty left over for treating yourself. The historic city of York is in easy reach of London by train, and it’s surprisingly affordable. And with dozens of cute independent tea shops and cafes around the city, there are plenty of places to duck out of the rain if the British weather doesn’t cooperate!
Best for: Snowy cityscapes.
If it’s a real taste of winter you’re after, head to Eastern Europe. A dusting of snow makes the spires and steeples of pretty Riga even more beautiful, and snowfall is very common this time of year. Still relatively overlooked in favour of more famous Eastern European cities like Tallinn and Prague, Riga is one of the lesser known cheap winter getaways in Europe. And it’s a really beautiful one.
The Jurassic coast, a 95 mile stretch of coastline running from East Devon to Dorset, is a World Heritage site featuring 185 million years of history. Layers of sedimentary rock allow geologists to read the history of this coastline across the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods – and the cliffs here are rich in fossils.
I grew up in south Dorset, and spent my childhood summers playing on the beaches or rambling along the cliffs of this stunning region. These are some of my favourite cliff walks on Dorset's Jurassic Coast...
Old Harry Rocks
The bright white chalk stacks jutting from the sea at Handfast Point are just one example of the unique rock formations and amazing landscapes along the Dorset Jurassic Coast. Starting at Studland Bay, the circular walk to Old Harry Rocks is one of the easiest walking routes in Dorset, but it takes in one of the area's biggest attractions.
My personal favourite Dorset cliff walk is another easy one – and it ends at one of my favourite local pubs! The route from Bowleaze Cove to Smuggler's Inn at Osmington Mills follows a short section of the South West Coastal Path, and takes around an hour. You'll pass Redcliff Point on the way, an area that's particularly rich in fossils. And you'll finish at the historic Smuggler's Inn, once the hangout of a notorious smuggler gang.
A circular walk from Lime Regis to Charmouth along the beach, and back along the cliffs, is another of the Jurassic Coast's classic walking routes. And if you're interested in fossils, this is the place to come! Charmouth is one of the best places to find fossils in Dorset, and the Heritage Coast Centre here displays some of the best finds.
Ringstead to Durdle Door
No list of what to see in Dorset is complete without mentioning Durdle Door, a natural limestone arch and a real Dorset icon. There are easier walking routes you can follow to it, but the walk from Ringstead to Durdle Door, while tough, is one of the most rewarding.
St Alban's Head
Starting at Worth Martravers (the town with the most Dorset-sounding name in Dorset!), you can walk to the rocky headland of St Alban's Head via Seacomb and Winspit. The quarry at Winspit was used as a set for several old Dr Who episodes, and it's a pretty interesting spot to explore.
With winter fast approaching, it can be tempting to bunker down and prepare to stay indoors for the next few months. But despite the short days and bad weather, it's important to stay active and get as much time outdoors as possible. Cycling is a great way to do this, although it can be challenging. Here are a few tips for winter cycling which may help...
Winter Cycling Gear
Bike racer and cycling blogger Juliete Elliott points out that your feet are often the first things to feel the cold when you're cycling. She recommends layering a decent pair of cycling shoes with either waterproof socks or some warming merino socks, as well as a pair of waterproof overshoes.
Invest some time to find a decent pair of gloves that will keep you warm, without impeding your movement.
Buy cycling-specific winter gear since this will have been designed with the shape and position of your body when it's on a bike in mind.
Dressing for winter cycling is all about layers. Start with a base layer of thermal bib tights and a wicking thermal vest or long sleeved top, then build from there. Remember you'll heat up as you cycle, so it's a good rule of thumb to dress so that you're slightly cool when you start the ride.
Winter Cycling Gear Essentials: waterproof jacket, thermal bib tights, thermal base layer top or vest, windproof sweater, overshoes, windproof gloves, and clear or lightly tinted glasses (to keep rain out of your eyes).
Winter Cycling Tips
Be sure to winter-proof your bike. Fit mudguards to prevent mud and water from puddles being splashed up your back, as this will not only ruin your clothes but can make you pretty cold too.
Remember your traction is limited on wet roads, so think ahead and stay safe. Brake before turning, and lean your bike, rather than your body, as this makes it easier to correct any potential skids. Remember that surfaces like metal, cobblestones, and paint can be very slick when wet, so watch out for them.
Have lights with you at all times. Gloomy and overcast days can be pretty dim, and with night setting in ever earlier you may be caught out in darkness. Get some small, bright LED lights and make sure they're fully charged before each ride.
Hone your skills, take care on wet or icy days, and be prepared. Cycling in winter is definitely more challenging, but it's great practice and can help make you a better cyclist. So get out there!
We’ve all heard of Leave No Trace. And it means exactly that - NO trace. Not, just a little bit, now and again. No trace, means no trace. And we say this for many good reasons.
We go in to nature to benefit from the scenery and the ‘raw’ experience we get from connecting with the natural occurring environment around us. If we don’t adhere to the Leave No Trace advice, then we change the very environment that we are making such an effort to immerse ourselves in. We are ruining our own experience, and that of others.
The Leave No Trace seven principles are:
(Leave no trace Center for outdoor ethics)
1. Plan ahead and prepare
2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
3. Dispose of waste properly
4. Leave what you find
5. Minimize campfire impacts
6. Respect wildlife
7. Be considerate of other visitors
On a recent hiking day through the Mournes, I walked by one of my favourite areas, only to see it had been left in a mess. This breaks my heart as it ruins the beautiful views and proves a potential danger for humans and animals. All that rubbish, broken glass, sharp debris, and uncared for natural environment certainly didn’t add to my experience.
Granted, this was probably caused by people who don’t appreciate the environment as much as I do, however it can be easy for all of us to forget ourselves a little bit sometimes, so it’s certainly worth being mindful of the Leave No Trace advice.
Some top tips that we can all do to help adhere to this guidance can include the following easy steps.
1. Reduce the unnecessary items that we bring with us
We can reduce the risk of leaving a trace if we leave behind items that we don’t even need on our adventure. The main culprit is often packaging from food and newly bought items for your trip. Before you sling that bag over your shoulder, just do a quick check to see if you can take food out of pre-packaging, discard the cardboard packaging from your new batteries, or replace your plastic water bottle for a reusable one (empty ones don’t blow away as easily).
2. Take home all rubbish
It seems obvious but it is amazing how often this simple tip isn’t adhered to. Make sure you pop any litter in your bag securely to dispose of when you get home, especially plastic bags! (these become great kites when the wind picks up!). This also includes apple cores and banana skins – if they weren’t there when you arrived, then don’t leave them behind. They weren’t a natural part of that environment so they don’t belong there! Take them home with you and put them in the bin.
3. Don’t feed the wildlife
As cute and exciting as it might be, we shouldn’t be feeding wild animals in the great outdoors. Doing so can alter their health and their behaviour around humans. Be mindful that this doesn’t mean just actively feeding them to get that amazing photo for Facebook! Dropping old food or leaving access to bags with food in it overnight, can also attract wildlife to munch on your hiking goodies.
4. Before and after photos
We all love our photos, especially when out in nature. So, try to get in to the habit of checking your area before moving on, ensuring that you have lifted all your belonging, all your rubbish and it looks just as it did when you arrived and took that first ‘Whaow Moment’ photo.
5. The sounds of nature
The beautiful and natural sounds of the great outdoors really is something to behold and appreciate. However, it can hard to embrace this if there is loud music blasting from an iPhone as you trundle along, or from a portable speaker at a campsite (especially on an evening time!). Bear in mind that although you may be having a great time bopping away in your outdoor disco, the great outdoors is a shared space and others may be trying to have a different kind of experience.
So next time you hit those trails, remember the good old saying, ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’.
Ever the over-packer and over-planner, packing for a short city break was always one of my toughest challenges. Especially if I'm travelling with just hand luggage. But I've finally mastered the art, so I thought I'd share my top packing tips with you.
These are my top tips for packing light for your next trip, along with a few of my top city break essentials to help you plan...
A neatly packed case can fit a lot more in, so it's worth investing some time to do things properly. I use packing cubes, which are lightweight, fabric cubes with zippered openings, to neatly store and compress my clothes. This helps stop them getting wrinkled, and keeps them separate from the rest of my luggage – adding order to my case and creating extra space.
Organisation is Key
Create a city break checklist and get organised!
Decide on the outfits you want to take and only pack the things you need to create those outfits. Try to get inventive with clothing that can be used in more than one outfit. Choose a base tone or colour, and structure the rest of your outfits around it, so that everything can be easily mixed and matched.
Look up the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If it's set to be hot and sunny, don't waste space on a jumper or umbrella “just in case”. You can always buy an emergency poncho if your luck takes a turn for the worse! And if you're travelling in winter, wear your bulkier items on the plane, and pack a few lightweight layers to go under them in your luggage.
City Break Essentials
Assuming you're going to be away for a weekend, that's just two nights and three days. So, you only need to pack two evening outfits, and two daytime outfits – because you'll be wearing day one's outfit when you leave your house. If you're savvy, this also means you probably only need two pairs of shoes too.
Here's a city break checklist for a typical two night trip:
- One pair comfortable, lightweight walking shoes (I like Sketchers GoWalks)
- One pair smart evening wear shoes if needed
- One pair skinny jeans or one pair leggings – to be dressed up and down for day and night
- Two casual tops / two casual dresses / one of each
- Two dresses / two smart tops / one of each
- Undies for two days
- Swimwear if needed
- Travel Adaptor
- Overnight toiletries (remember most hotels provide a lot)
- Phone charger
- Small bag or foldable rucksack
- On the plane: one casual dress or long t-shirt, leggings, lightweight jacket
One last pro tip: try not to worry! I have a tendency to stress pack, and cram all kinds of “just in case” items into my luggage. But I try to remind myself that as long as I have my passport and phone on me, pretty much everything else can be bought or replaced. That thought certainly makes packing feel less stressful.
Whether spending time in nature is a new hobby for you, or whether you are a nature junkie, there are a few simple things that you can do to make your time outdoors more enjoyable.
1. Bring Water
It seems an obvious thing to say as we all know we should keep hydrated when we go on a walk, however many people forget to bring water with them. Perhaps you intended to set off for a quick dander but that pleasant walk can often turn in to a long exploration and therefore it’s important to have water to hand. There is nothing worse than feeling the effects of dehydration, and this can certainly ruin a very pleasant walk. So don’t get caught out!
2. Forget social media
We all love to share with our family and friends what we are getting up to and take pleasure in showing them the wonderful places and breath-taking views that we are lucky enough to encounter, however sometimes we can lose focus. Sometimes we may find ourselves documenting our time in nature for others who aren’t with us. Now and again it can be a good idea just to keep your phone in your pocket, forget about updating the rest of the world about that beautiful autumn tree or the roaring sea – they probably don’t appreciate it as much as you do anyway – so take a breath and just enjoy it for yourself. Embrace the moment for what it is. Your friends and family will experience their own connections with nature in their own time.
3. Bring layers
As we are all too familiar in Northern Ireland, the weather can change quite quickly and it’s not unusual to experience all four seasons in one day. Therefore it’s worth bringing an extra couple of layers and a pair of gloves, especially if you are heading outdoors on an evening time at the moment as those cooler nights are certainly on the way. You will be grateful for the extra warmth and comfort if you want to stretch out that time in nature by just (another!) ten minutes.
4. Close your eyes
Undoubtedly it’s fantastic to watch the beauty of the great outdoors and let it hypnotise and mesmerize you, but now and again take some time to sit, or even better lie down, and close your eyes. Let the natural surroundings become more alive for you and let it wake up all your other senses. This can truly make your time in the great outdoors much more rich and rewarding.
Just as kindness breeds kindness, happiness is contagious. Even to yourself. So be mindful of your inner and outer feelings and appearance as you set off outdoors, and start your adventure with a broad smile on your face, and keep it there. You will be amazed at how much more relaxed and enjoyable your find your time exploring the world around you.