Thursday, 29 March 2012

Packing - backpacking. A cycle trip through Vietnam

Packing is probably the most exciting part of preparing for any trip - but it can sometimes seem the most difficult. Deciding what can take can take hours. While preparing for my cycle trip through Vietnam I had to think long and hard of what I would need, especially as I am heading to a part of the world I have never visited before. What I have chosen maybe wrong, but I won't know until I get there. However based on my backpacking experience and reading into the conditions of Vietnam at this time of year I am pretty prepared. 

Not only have I packed the essentials (you know, the underwear, socks, deodrant, soap, tooth brush, change of shorts and t-shirts) but I have also bought some exciting new accessories. 

However how do you approach packing? This is my little guide:
1. Open all drawers and wardrobes, I have a bag I store all my holiday gear, this makes it quicker and more simple
2. Get your track sac - which luggage is going to be best for your trip?
3. Pull out the neccessities and lay them on a floor or bed, think being back in cubs/scouts for the weekly "Kit inspection"
4. Choose all the clothes you'd like to take
5. Write a list
6. Check your list
7. Double check how much you are taking - do you need that many t-shirts and shorts? OR can you wash some in the sink on the way?
8. Packing itself, everything you need immediately should be at the top and that you don't think you need at the bottom, my sac (as pictured) is mixed - I packed some t-shirts, then shorts, then t-shirts then shorts again, saves having to empty the whole back
9. Make sure you have room to buy new things while travelling
10. Check the weight.

ITEMS PACKED FOR MY TRIP: 2 trainers, 1 Havana flip flops, 8 pairs of underwear and ankle socks, 7 t-shirts/vest, 4 shorts, 2 cycle shorts, 1 helmet, 2 sun caps, mosquito sweater, sweater, mosquito net, face mosquito net, cycle top, waterproof, umbrella, 3 long light trousers, first aid kit, 2 shirts, hidden money pouch.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Magic of Voucher Sites for Hotel Bookings

Group-On, Living Social and Deal Monster are just a couple of the businesses now offering exclusive and hard to resist deals. Want lunch for £2? Want a massage for 75% off? Want to go on holiday at a stupid price? These sites offer everything at such a bargain it is hard to believe.

In fact people buy these vouchers purely for the offer presented to them, but did you know that a majority of people fail to cash in their voucher? So these businesses are making Big Bucks.

I've been victim to these vouchers sites, I've bought lunch deals and day trips, I've laughed at the price I was paying - but I can assure you now, when I came to cash in these vouchers I was less than happy.

The problem with these vouchers is there are so many restrictions, so if you are buying a voucher to stay at a hotel or it is a holiday deal CHECK the Terms and Conditions:
- Where is the hotel located? Is it easy to get to?
- When can you book the hotel? Is it limited to seasons and weekdays? Is it a particular type of room and you cannot upgrade?
- What is included in the voucher?
- If a flight is included check what airport and airline you maybe flying with.
- Does the hotel have the right to cancel the booking?
- Can you rearrange?
- How long is the voucher valid for?
- What happens to your rights if your voucher offer is discontinued within the validity period?

One of my travel friends bought a golfing holiday only to be told he could only depart from London Luton with RyanAir and had to fly on specified dates that took weeks to negotiate and confirm by the hotel. The hotel was pretty reluctant. My friend has to book transfers from the airports and the cost of these alone escalated the price of this trip.

Don't get caught out by exclusively amazing can't resist deals - they could end up being a BIG waste of money.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

West of LA - Santa Monica, Venice, West Hollywood

By Jon Fairbanks- Gay Travel Team Member and

Santa Monica is known for its laid-back atmosphere, world class hotels and beautiful beaches.

Less than two miles from the central strip of Santa Monica you’ll find the most well-known gay beach in the Los Angeles area, Will Rogers Beach in Pacific Palisades. It’s a small, nondescript area but for soaking up the sun, playing a game of volleyball with some bronzed hotties or taking part in a yoga class it’s a time drifter.

The Santa Monica Pier offers a peaceful and eye-capturing view of the ocean. Once you get past the gaudiness of the amusement park, you’ll find that the Heal the Bay Aquarium is phenomenal and the street performers will give you a little amusement.

Whether you’re looking for a great steakhouse, sushi or amazing Thai, there’s a venue for every taste. Seafood lovers will definitely want to experience The Lobster located next to the iconic Santa Monica Pier. The surf and turf is just as incredible as the view

West Hollywood is the most popular, but expect a small trek to get there. It’s 10 miles away but heavy traffic can make it into an hours journey. A car is an absolute must.

If you’re looking for something more low-key, consider a short trip into neighboring Venice. The city is a haven for artists, surfers and anyone who enjoy the wafting scent of Marijuana on every corner. Abbot Kinney Boulevard is the heart and soul of the Venice community, lined with coffee shops, eclectic boutiques and restaurants serving exotic cuisine. This is also where you’ll find the area’s only gay bar, Rooster Fish.

For more than three decades Rooster Fish has been the only game in town for the gay and lesbian Westside. When you first walk in, you feel like you’re in a straight college bar, not a beach city gay bar. It’s a small venue with two rooms but it’s a popular spot that attracts a wide variety of patrons, straight, gay, male and female.

Rooster Fish offers a great Domestic Bliss Happy Hour all week long with drink specials starting at just $3.50 from 5-7pm. There’s also an outdoor patio BBQ each Sunday from 1-6pm, where burgers and hot dogs are served.

If you’re in the Venice area at the beginning of the Month, check out First Friday. This is an incredible event where a slew of restaurants, galleries and boutiques stay open until 10pm, allowing locals and tourists to meet shop owners in a festive setting.

Santa Monica, Venice and the rest of the communities located on the Westside of Los Angeles offer gay visitors a vibe that can’t be found in any other area. This beachfront area attracts Hollywood celebrities, college students, artists, executives and musicians. Whether you live in Minneapolis or Downtown Los Angeles, you instantly feel like you’re on vacation when you arrive in town.

So what’s the most important thing each and every visitor must do in Santa Monica, gay or straight? Nothing! Whether you’re hanging out on the beach, lounging by a hotel pool or sipping espresso on a cafĂ© patio, take time to rest, relax and soak up the sun.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Photos - Walking Nice, France

These photos were taken in Nice and in Draguignan in the South of France. What an absolutely gorgeous place to visit and in the summer the dry winds, hot sun and blue skies will create some magic moments and memories. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Brother, I'm gay too - when you're not the only gay in the family

With thanks to So So Gay

We’ve heard it before – coming out is not as easy at it ought to be, but when two of you in the family are gay, how difficult is it for the second to come out?

Since my brother came out to me I soon realized I wasn’t unique, let alone being the only ‘gay’ in the family but being the only family with two gay sons. It turns out it’s more common than I thought. It seems with every turn I make I meet a gay with a gay sibling. Here are some of our stories, starting with my own:

My story
Before I came out I planned putting my sexuality on hold for the sake of my brother. I thought, that just maybe I could get married, give my parents grandchildren and let my baby brother have an easy life. Mum scuppered that plan by the time I hit 18, sat with her marigolds she told me I was gay. Cat out the bag, what would my brother think…
It soon transpired that my younger brother had a girlfriend, he lived with me for a year dating girls. Then one fine September evening just four years ago at a pub in Borough he spills the beans. He’s gay, had a boyfriend and had been hiding this secret life for several years. Disbelief? no. But certainly an awakening to what would come next. My brother, the one to bring the next generation to the family? That’s not going to happen.
Four very difficult months and in time he came out to my parents. For weeks I consoled my mum and dad while trying to support my brother the best way I could. In a year the family was closer than it ever had been before, more honest and happier with each other. I realized I had it lucky but my 23 year-old brother had to hide, and had to wait.

My brother, Ross:
When mum told me Ryan was gay I really didn’t know why he didn’t tell me himself but I certainly understand now. Coming to terms with my own sexuality was incredibly difficult, I felt this huge responsibility to get married and provide grandchildren. I knew I’d hurt my parents and it was the last thing I wanted to do.

I ended up in a state of denial for many years, having girlfriends, pretending to be straight and finding ways around facing the truth. For the first few years I hid my relationships from everyone, including friends – I was terrified my family would find out. How could I tell my parents that they have two gay sons? It would be such a big shock and devastate them. Not just their feelings but how they would have to deal with the wider family/friends having two gay children – the pressure was immense.
There was never going to be the right time to tell them or Ryan. When I met my current boyfriend I felt there was no turning back, I wanted to be happy and I wanted my parents to meet him. So my brother was the first person I told – after a couple of bottles of wine. He accepted it so much better than I expected and went on to support and guide me telling mum and dad. He left it to me and I feel that was the best thing that could have happened.

I told my parents in stages, and each stage seemed all the more difficult – but once it was out in the open I felt like this huge weight, that they would be extremely disappointed with me, had lifted from my shoulders. Now I feel the family is much closer than it’s ever been, we can talk openly about the subject, our feelings and our boyfriends. Mum and Dad are incredibly supportive, we couldn’t have asked for better parents.

My brother came out to the family when he was 20, it was not a surprise to any of us. I then felt pressure not to come out because it would make my parents feel bad to have two gay sons. I told my father when I was 37, and he told my mother. We do not discuss it as it makes them both extremely uncomfortable. I have never come out to my brother but I assume he knows.

Karl, London
It took me a while to break the news, in fact not until I was 38. I told my brothers about 10 years ago, while he was shocked he was really cool with it. Though my cousin outed him about 5 years before. I was a bit annoyed at first, but mainly because I was one of the last to find out.

When I came out to him it gave us something that we both had in common and that might also contribute to why we are close now. Having a gay brother made it a lot harder for me to come out to my parents. I felt the pressure of not being able to give them grandchildren and not carrying on the family name. In the end I realised that being honest with them and living my life happy was more important.

My parents found out I was gay when they were snooping through my computer when I was 15. Being the first to be outed I got all the unpleasantness, when it came to my sister it was pretty much a walk in the park. A few months after leaving home, when she was around 13, I found out she was gay.  We are definitely closer, there are no barriers between us. It’s really brought the family together, strangely.

Robert, London
My brother came out to me when I was 20 he decided to tell me after meal during the Christmas holidays. I burst into uncontrollable tears and in my brothers eyes it must have looked awful. I came out a couple of years later to Mum she listened intently and it was acknowledged but not openly discussed again and certainly not in the company of my father.

Thomas –
I have two older sisters and one twin brother. The oldest sister is a lesbian, and my twin is gay too. I told my family in stages. I was most afraid of telling my twin brother because I had too much to lose if he wouldn't accept me. When my twin came out it was a relief, because we could talk again about men and share ideas and beliefs. My mum still struggles with it sometimes and my dad gracefully accepts all his children.

I was the youngest and also the first to come out. I learned from my brother that he was gay when he told me he had a boyfriend about 1.5 years later and I learned of my sister from my straight sister "by chance".

Brother of Thomas - Sam
I was around the age of 22, after the coming out of my brother. It was not an "official" coming out for me. My brother told me after he had split up with his first boyfriend. I was a bit disappointed that I was not the first to know, being his twin. But as twins we are always close. I don't think this has changed.

Lee –
I told my parents not long after my 22nd birthday when they came to visit me at university, and I told my brother a few days later. I knew he would be cool about it, but that didn't make it easier to tell him before having told my parents! But I had known my brother was gay four years before. It wasn't at all a surprise to me, although did make me feel guilty about my own homosexual thoughts. I wasn't completely open with myself then, so I thought I could make myself like girls more and that would be fine.

Knowing my brother was gay definitely made it a LOT harder to come out. The pressure was on me to be the provider of grandchildren, so I knew I would be a disappointment. I was worried that my parents would feel that they had done something wrong, ending up with two gay sons. I came out rather accidentally and awkwardly to them during conversation.

Paul – brother of Lee
I was 24 at the time when I 'officially' came out, although my mum had always known from an early age, finding magazine and newspaper clippings under my bed. My mum asked me to be honest with her. I did. My brother said he already knew due to my internet browsing history and said that nothing would change between us.

However he told me over the phone. I was actually speechless when he broke the news. That was the last thing I was expecting! I never had any inkling that he was gay. At first I felt that he was 'stealing my thunder' - that being gay was 'my' thing.

I came to realise that the burden I had shifted onto his shoulders of being the one to give our parents grandchildren had expired. Our mum took it badly. I had to mediate between my mum and my brother, I had to explain where both parties had probably offended each other and how they could see common ground.