The House Doesn’t Always Win

There are many ways to enjoy the famous casino town, but there is only one way to do it on a budget. Sarah Loughlin visits Las Vegas to try her luck living on £10 a day.

We had been traveling up the west coast of America for over a month with not a care in the world. Spending the last of our student loans on beer and pizza slices. After paying for a hotel, and a trip to the Grand Canyon I had calculated we had $16 a day to last us our stay in Vegas. This roughly equates to £10, not a lot to feed yourself and provide entertainment. When researching Vegas it was largely $50 all you can eat buffets and $100 tickets to a musical. I was fairly convinced not only would we starve to death, but we would also have to stay in our $7 per night hotel room for the entirety of our visit. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of all the places we visited on our trip, we lived like kings in Vegas!  Here are my five top tips for living it up on a budget…

1.       Free drinks – Whether it’s your morning OJ or your 6pm sun-downers. If you are playing in a casino it’s free. Sit down at one of the many 1¢ slot machines and play away while getting the attention of one of the waitresses; you never know you could end up winning yourself some money while you wait for your mid-afternoon coffee!  Always carry an ID with you and remember to tip your waitress, $1 will do it.

2.       Free gambling – If you sign up as a casino member they give you free money! If it is your first time in Vegas you will want to see everything, including the many casinos that line the world famous ‘Strip’. Every time you go to a new casino find the membership desk and sign up, most casinos will give you a membership card with pre-loaded money on it. This can be anything from $5 – $20 – you can’t withdraw it as cash, but once you have played it all any money you win is yours! One evening I came out of the Cosmopolitan after several glasses of prosecco with $10 more than I started with!

Vegas, Las Vegas, travel, budget travel, gambling, casinos, holiday, usa, america, nevada

3.       Free entertainment – There is so much to see in Vegas that is completely FREE! For example the light show in Fremont Street downtown and the Bellagio Fountains. The thing I enjoyed most about Vegas was walking around soaking up the atmosphere; you will be totally taken aback by the grandiose scale of everything. Buildings not to miss include: a huge pyramid (Luxor Hotel and Casino), a life size castle (Excalibur Hotel and Casino), and the indoor canals with actual gondolas on them (The Venetian Hotel and Casino).

4.       Free food (almost!) – Keep an eye out for food deals and ‘happy hour’ food offers, I can’t tell you the amount of food we found for $1, burritos, tacos, pizza slices, it was incredible!

5.       Free nightlife (one for the ladies!) – As a group of two girls we were given free entry to most of the clubs – but it was midweek – so if you are going at the weekend don’t rely on it. One of the best nights we had started out as a quiet drink at some penny slots, until one of the promoters gave us a flyer for free entry to the nightclub and free Champagne. We sipped bubbly until midnight when the free booze ran out, had a few cocktails at the penny slots, and then went back in at about 1.30am when it got busy to dance the night away!Vegas, Las Vegas, travel, budget travel, backpacking las vegas, gambling, entertainment, cheap vegas

Stay at the AAE Las Vegas Palace Station Casino $7 per person per night based on two people sharing. Free Airport Shuttle. Free Shuttle to the Strip (only until 11pm – taxi’s are about $10 to get back if you don’t want to stay out all night!). We had a huge (by European standards!) room with a double bed each. For the price we paid I expected to come out with bedbugs, but it was really clean. The pool was nothing special, but ideal for a chilled out day reading your book/ sleeping off your hangover.

 

 

Get Me Outta Here! The November Edition.

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for holidays in November.

Unless you have been locked in a darkened room for the last few weeks, you will have noticed its becoming decidedly wintery. Although this means that soon enough the ski resorts will start opening up, and the Christmas markets will be in full swing. For now, well…its just a bit soggy.

So to while away your time until it is socially acceptable to don christmas jumpers and drink mulled wine in the afternoon, here are a few insanely good deals to get some last minute sunshine before the festive season officially commences…

A Weekend Break:

Three nights exploring Marrakech, Morocco – Saturday the 29th Of November- Tuesday 2nd of December £296.

Book via Voyage Prive and stay in the 5* Kenzi Menara Palace. Flights, accommodation, breakfast and private transfers are all included as well as one free day in the spa. This hotel has great reviews on Trip Advisor and loads of facilities including both an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts and a volley ball court. This deal is based on flying from Stansted with Ryanair, although there are alternatives if the thought of driving to Stansted at 2am makes you want to stay at home in the rain!

The weather is due to be 20 degrees and sunny in Marrakech next week, perfect for chilling by the pool or exploring the town. This deal is only available for three more days, so don’t miss out!

If you have not been to Marrakech before check out Elle Croft’s handy guide.

A week in the sun:

Seven nights soaking up the sun in Hurghada, Egypt – Tuesday the 2nd of December – Tuesday the 9th of December £342.

I know this is strictly in December, but it was good a deal to ignore! Fly from London Gatwick with Thomas Cook staying at the Sunrise Royal Makadi Resort, which has great reviews and it’s an All Inclusive hotel, so everything is covered!

This Hotel has been given a Travelife Award which means they take great care of their environmental and social impacts within their local communities. To see how choosing a hotel like this can mean you go on holiday, while saving the world, keep reading…

The weather is due to be sunny and in the mid 20’s all week, perfect weather to catch a few rays and read a book! But if lounging by the pool is just far too relaxing, here are my top five things to do in Hurghada:

1. Ride a camel… Those of you who have read my previous post’s will know that my Dad and I tend to get carried away when embracing history and culture, camel riding was no exception! My sisters were mortified to see us running around with our camels pretending we were ancient Egyptian explorers.

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Dad and I pretending we were Egyptian Kings, exploring the desert…

3. Go Scuba-diving… I tried diving for the first time in Egypt and absolutely loved it. The Red Sea is renowned for their great dive spots, and it wasn’t too pricey compared to some other destinations. If you don’t fancy scuba-diving, try snorkelling, you can still see a lot of the amazing coral and wildlife just buy swimming around on the surface. TOP TIP: Always take care when snorkelling and diving, the coral is very delicate and touching it or treading on it can easily kill it.

2. Spend some time in the desert…. There are a lot of different activities and excursions to choose from so pick something that suites you and head out into the desert for the day, you won’t regret it! TOP TIP: Remember to take a jumper if you are staying into the evening because it can get cold quite quickly.

desert

Excursion to a Bedouin Camp, and more camel riding!

4. Visit the Marina…. take a taxi down to Hurghada Marina for a wonder around the shops and bars. It’s a great atmosphere in the town, remember that haggling is a part of the culture over there so give it a go! TOP TIP: Book a return taxi from the hotel and arrange to meet them at a set time and place, this way you don’t have to worry about getting home.

5. Have a cheeky afternoon beer at the pool bar… there is nothing like catching up on the days events over a beer to cool off in the afternoon sun. Whether you have been playing volleyball, taking a nap or reading a great book, it’s always good to pencil in an afternoon refreshment or two!

pool

My sisters, pretending they didn’t know me when I came back from an afternoon running around with camels…

 

Two weeks in the sun:

14 nights saving the world in The Gambia – Friday the 28th of November – Friday the 12th of December.

Book with The Gambia Experience and stay at Kombo Beach, for just £551 per person based on two people sharing. This includes your flights, transfers, accommodation and breakfast.

In my feature ‘Go on Holiday Whilst Saving the World’ I discussed how you can really make a difference in places such as The Gambia, which as a developing country relies heavily on the tourist trade to make money. You can make your money go a lot further by choosing a hotel such as Kombo Beach, which has great reviews as well as being recognised by Travelife as a hotel that is making an effort to look after the environment and local community. Kombo beach works with Gambia is Good (GiG), a business which supports thousands of remote local farmers by linking them with the tourist market. Kombo Beach buys fruit and vegetables from GiG, as well as serving locally produced beer at the hotel. They also monitor their environmental impact in terms of energy and water usage and try, where they can, to improve on it every year. This hotel really goes the extra mile to look after its staff, during the rainy season when the hotel is closed they try to employ staff as handy men in the hotel, if that is not possible they provide them with food packages each month.

As if saving the world was not reason enough to go, the weather for next week is due to be in the mid 30’s! So you will definitely pick up a healthy glow in time for the office Christmas party!

For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Sunday the 23rd of November; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!

Get Me Outta Here! The September Edition.

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for holidays in September.

As the summer comes to an end its time to take advantage of those great travel deals and make the most of the nice weather in Europe. Whether its a long weekend in Spain, staying in a tree house in Turkey, or quite simply a ridiculously cheap holiday in Greece, these are my top September picks:

A Weekend Break:

2 nights in Barcelona, Spain: Saturday the 20th- Monday the 22nd September

Fancy a sangria on the beach this weekend? Who doesn’t! Barcelona is the perfect place for a city break, you can spend the morning sight seeing and the afternoon soaking up the last of the summer sun in a deck chair! It is due to be a balmy 27 degrees C out there this weekend!

Flights and Accommodation with British Airways From London Heathrow for just £150.50 per person based on two people sharing. The deal includes a hotel which is about a 20 minute taxi ride from town, but if you fancy somewhere more central there are several hotels to choose from.

Top 5 must see in Barcelona:

Las Rambla – The 1.2 km long pedestrianised central road in Barcelona. This leafy street is a great place to meander around looking the the shops, or maybe stopping for a sangria to do some people watching. Keep an eye on your bags though, I didn’t experience any problems, but it is said there are pickpockets in this area.

Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria– A huge food market located off Las Rambla, where you can find everything from fresh fruit to cows tongues! This busy bustling market is a great place to grab a fruit smoothy, or a snack from one of the bakery stalls to keep you going until dinner! If you are squeamish stay away from the meat stalls – I turned a corner while looking for my friend and came face to face with a skinned animal head! The market is closed on a Sunday, so make sure you add it to your Saturday to do list!

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Parc Güell – This park, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, was designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. There are mosaic sculptures and buildings set amongst the foliage with foot paths to guide you around as well as view points to stop and take a few holiday snaps. Although it is not walking distance to the Las Rambla, it is definitely worth a visit, there is something for everyone. Whether you love art and history, buskers and live music, or just amazing views. There is a part to the park that is free to access, but if you want entry to the main section it will cost €7 per person (we just did the free bit).

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Barceloneta – the city’s 7km long beach front, was a pleasant surprise. The sandy beach itself is very clean and has a great atmosphere, and it is only 20 minutes walk from the center of town. There are also nice bars and restaurants along the beach front.IMG_1908

Eat some Spanish food: Luckily there were no ‘hanger‘ incidents like on our visit to Rome, so I ate at some great places in Barcelona. La Taberna del Cobre has fantastic tapas and sangria! They have a nice courtyard for sitting outside in the sunshine or a cosy restaurant inside if it is a bit cooler in the evenings. I would recommend the croquettes, they were my fave! Around the corner from the restaurant is a quirky little cocktail bar, perfect for a pre-dinner drink or the start to your epic night out in Barcelona. TOP TIP: the Spanish tend to eat and go out for drinks a lot later, so do not be put off if a restaurant or bar is empty at 8pm – it will be full of people by 10.30pm!IMG_1919

A week in the sun:

Seven nights relaxing in Crete, Greece.

This offer from Thomas Cook is quite literally almost too cheap, £106 per person for flights, transfers and accommodation? It is certainly cheaper than spending the week at home in London! Leaving on the 23rd of September from Stansted for seven nights these self-catering apartments, which are only a short walk from the beach have great feedback on Tripadvisor. It is due to be around 30 degrees C next week, so if you just fancy relaxing and reading your book by the pool this would do the trick!

Two weeks in the sun:

14 nights in a tree-house in Çıralı, Turkey.

My pick for two weeks in the sun this month would be Çıralı in Turkey. I have read so many great things about this place! Far removed from the typical Turkish All Inclusive beach holiday, you can expect hiking, climbing, mountain biking and maybe even some turtle spotting!

The unique backpacker style tree house accommodation famous in this area of Turkey is what particularly attracts me to this place. There is a lot of History here with the ruins of the ancient city of Olympus to visit, as well as sights such as the Chimera – eternally burning flames that are kept alight by natural gases seeping out of the ground. It is also close to some great beaches if you fancy a few days of relaxing among the sight-seeing and activities.

The nearest airport is Antalya, there are plenty of flights from the UK to choose from, all under £100. Being an overly excitable and impatient person, now that I have learned a bit about it I would hop on the London Stansted with Thomson tomorrow evening! At only £98.98 per person, why not! The other benefit of booking so late is the slightly more accurate weather forecast, which looks incredible next week: 30+ degrees C!

I found a place called Olympos Woods Treehouses who have positive reviews on both booking.com and Trip Advisor, and at only £187 for a tree house (£93.50 per person based on two sharing) for 13 nights you cant go wrong! If that doesn’t take your fancy there are plenty of tree houses to chose from in the area.

The Olympos Woods Tree-houses are a two hour drive from Antalya airport, set back from the coast about 30 minutes from the beach. The Thomson flight lands at midnight on Friday so if you didn’t fancy driving that evening you could grab a hotel in Antalya. Again you are spoiled for choice when it comes to hotels but IC Hotel Airport is only 600 meters from the airport and has good reviews. The hotel also responds to feedback on TripAdvisor which is always a good sign. It is £81 per night for a double room on Friday the 19th of September.

Car hire is very reasonable at only £190.59 for the entire two weeks. Due to the remote location it is probably handy to have a car, but there are also transfers and public buses available.

For tips on searching for great holiday deals see my post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Thursday the 18th of September; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for holidays in August.

One of the most frustrating things in life, second only to not being able to open a jam jar and losing your keys, is finding a week where both you and your travel-buddy are free, only to discover it’s smack bang in the middle of the school holidays.

August can be a pricey time to travel, but there are always some great deals out there. Whether it’s a cheeky weekend break in Europe, or a dream trip to the Caribbean, these are my top picks for the next few weeks:

A Weekend Break:

Two nights in Rome, Italy: Friday 15th August – Sunday 17th August

Flights from London Heathrow and 4* Hotel accommodation for just £167 per person based on two people sharing.

Book a package with British Airways, using their holiday finder to get the best deal. There are 47 different hotels to choose from for this weekend!

BA, British Airways, hotel, Rome, Italy, Flight, weekend

Top 5 must see in Rome:

The Colosseum – Building began in 70 AD for this ancient Roman amphitheater, which was the largest in the Roman Empire, and now the largest in the world. It was used for gladiator fights among other things. While there we got in to the ancient Roman spirit with the aid of some children’s fancy dress from a nearby souvenir shop! €12 entrance (plus €5 for guided tour). 

colusseum

The Vatican – It is well worth getting a guided tour for the Vatican, you might not get to see the Pope but if like me you are not up to speed on your history it will be full of fascinating facts about the Church, Italy and Rome. Plus, you can’t go to Rome and not see the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo himself! TOPTIP: Remember to take clothes in your bag to cover up, you must cover your knees and shoulders when inside. €30 for a pre-booked guided tour. 

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The Spanish Steps – If you like people watching this is a dream come true! Tourists and locals alike sit on the steps chatting and going about their day. TOPTIP: for a cheap night out, buy a gelato to go and find a spot on the steps to watch the world go buy. Free to visit! (+ A few euros for a gelato!)

gelato, italy, rome

Chocolate, Pistachio and vanilla, YUM!

The Trevi Fountain – Said to be the most famous fountain in the world, it stands at an impressive 26 meters high. Legend has it that that you have to throw a coin with your right hand over your left shoulder for good luck. There is a great atmosphere around Rome’s Largest Baroque fountain, especially in the evenings. Free to visit!

fountain, trevi, rome, italy, weekend, sight, sight-seeing

Eat some Italian food – At this point I would really love to tell you about a fantastic restaurant to visit that has the most amazing Italian food. Unfortunately one of our group suffered from severe ‘Hanger’, which if you have not come across it before is one of the most undesirable traits in a traveling companion. Hanger is anger caused by hunger. This leaves the sufferer very shirty and unable to make rational decisions. The long and short of it was we ate at the first place we came to, which tuned out to be a very average pizza place. But luckily Time Out do have some good suggestions.

hangry, italy, pizza, rome, food

Hangry menu reading at the particularly average pizza place.

A week in the sun:

Seven nights surfing in the Algarve, Portugal.

If like me you run out of holiday allowance at work about 3 months into the year you will be desperate to make use of the upcoming bank holiday (25th August). This is one of the most expensive times to travel, but these flights with Thomson airways to Portugal are a steal!

  • Fly from Gatwick, Luton, Birmingham, Doncaster, Stansted or Manchester from £33.99 one way on Saturday the 24th of August.
  • Returning on Saturday the 30th of August via Dublin. Fly from Faro to Dublin with Ryanair for £71 (flight times: 07.00-10.00).

Then after a day in Dublin seeing the sites, or having a few post holiday pints, take a flight back to England later that evening or even stay the night in Dublin and take a flight back on the Sunday. Use Google flights to help you find the cheapest way home. Flights start from around £30.

  • Dublin – Stansted 22.10-23.20 £30 with Ryanair
  • Dublin – Manchester 21.35-22.35 £35 Ryanair

Or if you fancy the week after there are direct flights with Thomson from Newcastle (£68.98 return) or Birmingham (£98.98 return) to Faro 28th Aug- 4th September.

There are plenty of surf schools about on the Algarve. Browsing the web I found Extreme Algarve who can sort out your accommodation and surf lessons, they also have some handy tips about getting to and from the airport! Their ‘Surf and Stay’ package will cost you €410 Euros based on two people sharing and includes a five day surf course and equipment, accommodation, breakfast, pick nick lunch on surf days and beach transfers. They also offer a host of other activities including kite-surfing and stand up paddle boarding.

Two weeks in the sun:

14 nights in the Caribbean.

This is not the driest time of year for the Caribbean, but at these prices I think I would take a few thunderstorms in exchange for some scorching island sun! My pick for a two-week holiday would be 28th August to 11th September flight only from London Gatwick to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with Thomson airways (£359.98 return).

There is such a huge variety of accommodation available in Punta Cana depending on your taste and budget. I found accommodation for as little as £100 per person for two weeks based on two people sharing. But you know what they say; you get what you pay for! So always read the reviews before you book. Check out www.booking.com to find the right accommodation for you.

There is a lot to do in Punta Cana, from snorkelling and diving to playing a few rounds of golf, and even trying your luck at a casino or two.

More activities available in Punta Cana:

Fishing

Yacht Rentals

Horseback Riding

Paddle Board

Kayaks

Windsurf

Paddle Boat

Dingy or Catamaran sailing

If you do want to use that handy bank holiday day to preserve your precious holiday allowance from the office why not try one of these alternatives:

For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Wednesday the 13th of August; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!

How to fly for £17 return

Sarah Loughlin’s big top three for flights, hotels and holidays…

I don’t know about you but if left unattended on the internet, after checking for any new Facebook notifications, I always end up holiday shopping. It might be a bit odd, but I think I enjoy researching holidays almost as much as going on them! For those of you who can’t think of anything worse than trawling through the internet comparing hotels, here is a handy little guide to make it as quick and painless as possible.

Three Golden rules to get you started:

1. ALWAYS check tripadvisor.com or other hotel review websites before you book.

2. Research the weather for the time of year in your destination, you don’t want to book a dream holiday to Bali only to get caught out during rainy season!

3. Buy a cheap travel guide from Amazon/ Ebay – they often have an itinerary, or ‘top 10 attractions to visit’ pages to give you an idea of what is on offer, and also a handy map for getting around (ideal if you don’t have time to do much research).

 

BIG TOP THREE – I just want flights…

1. Sky scanner – Things I love about this site…. you can search by anytime, anywhere. You can filter by length of journey, number of stops, airline, and sort by price/ journey time. Ideal for finding the best prices, and getting some holiday inspiration!

Today’s cheapest flight searching: UK – everywhere for the whole year was £17 return from Birmingham to Dublin in June 2014.

Don’t like the sound of that? Well, there were also 27 different locations you could fly to from the UK for under £50 return.

BUT wait….. it gets better….

 

2. Google flights – Things I love about this site….. there is an interactive map, you can filter by air-miles, and there is a multi-city option. BUT you have to know your dates, and it doesn’t always show all flight options so shop around!

FYI Kayak (http://www.kayak.co.uk/explore/) offer a similar website and you can search by month rather than specific dates BUT there are limited filtering options which are not very accurate.

 

3. Thomson flights – deal finder – Things I love about this site…. you can be as specific or vague as you like, you can filter by destination, departure airport or duration. It is great for last minute deals, and good value long haul flights if you are going outside of school holidays. Also ideal if you know where you want to go but are flexible with dates and want the cheapest deal. BUT it will only show you Thomson charter flights, so you are limited to the destinations they feature.

flight deals, holiday deals, travel ideas, travel feature, holiday, cheap holiday

flights.thomson.co.uk/thomson/en-GB/farefinder/start?vlid=dealsnav

 

BIG TOP THREE – I just want a Hotel…

1. Booking.com – Things I love about this site….it always has a lot of accommodation to choose from no matter your budget and you can normally pay when you get there, or cancel very close to your travel date if you change your mind. BUT… you have to know your dates and destination.

 

2. AirBnb – Things I love about this site….  it gives you the opportunity to stay with locals, what better way to find out the best places to visit than from the people who live there! Great search and filter options. BUT… be aware that even if you have ‘booked’ and entered payment details on the website your accommodation is not confirmed until your host emails you to confirm it.

 

3. Hotel Tonight – Things I love about this site….it’s a cool easy to use app with great pictures and information about each hotel, great for last minute impromptu trips. You can even set yourself alerts for when hotels go on sale. BUT it is only available via the app, it is not in all cities yet and you can only book on the day.

 

BIG TOP THREE – I want the whole package! (flight + hotel)

Travel republic -Things I love about this site…. it is really good value, has a great great map view, and shows you lots of board options so you can easily see the best price. You can also filter by customer rating so you can find the best hotel for your budget. BUT you have to be quite specific about where you want to go, and although 95% of the time I have had no problems booking with them, their customer service is not the best!

 

BA holiday finder – Things I love about this site…. you can search by temperature, and be as specific or vague as you like; when you click ‘more details’ it tells you the flight times and gives you a calender view so you can see other dates and prices.

Great value short breaks, even over popular periods such as public holidays. There are several packages under £200 for this coming bank holiday weekend (Saturday 24th – Monday 26th of May) to destinations such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris and Stockholm.

BUT the only drawback is you have to narrow it down to which month you would like to go and is limited to destinations British Airways fly to.

 

Thomson holidays – Things I love about this site…. it is great for last minute package deals with and easy to use website and very flexible search/ filter facilities. BUT the options are normally limited to the destinations covered by Thomson airways.

FYI Thomas Cook holidays offers a very similar website which is worth checking out: www.thomascook.com/lp/1z6-deals/

 

Happy shopping!