Based in Chatham

Sam Friday

Available for new enquiries

It's Nice To Meet You

Welcome! I'm Sam. I'd love to help you create and enjoy an amazing holiday or adventure that will stay in the memory for life.

The world has limitless opportunities for exploration and discovery; the untouched jungles of Burma, blissful beaches of the Maldives, or the majestic snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. For some, those dreams and aspirations always seem a little out of reach or a little too audacious. But I have fantastic news for you! Whether you're a rookie sun-seeker or an intrepid adventurer, I can help turn your dreams into reality. I love to help people like you reach the best destinations the world has at our feet.

I'm passionate about travel and adventure. Having been to 50 countries, I've enjoyed the privilege of visiting some of the most exotic places on the globe including Australia, Africa, North America, and South East Asia. I've embraced the perils of nature by scuba diving some of the ocean's best coral reefs, abseiling Table Mountain, and summiting Mt Kilimanjaro. In contrast I've also chilled on picturesque beaches in the Caribbean, Dubai, and Thailand, and I've explored some of the world's most electrifying and diverse cities, like NYC, San Francisco, Vancouver, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Sydney.

Born in Maidstone and residing in Medway with my dazzling wife and three girls, I have over 20 years’ experience in customer service with seven of those in the travel industry, extensive first-hand travel knowledge, and a warm, friendly aura. I'll take time to get to know you, so together we tailor your holiday to your tastes and aspirations, whether your dream escape is to unwind on a white sandy beach with a cocktail, or to explore a new culture, or even an action-packed high-octane adventure. All can be arranged at your convenience, from the comfort of your home.

I have unlimited access to the world’s finest hotels, airlines and destinations, but have freedom to build bespoke itineraries at affordable, fully protected, prices. I'll take care of everything, your dedicated travel concierge offering a personal, first-class service, giving you complete peace of mind and leaving you free to enjoy the excitement. I'll even give you tips on what to pack in your suitcase.

If the idea of a hassle-free, personalised getaway stimulates your senses, why not drop me an email or give me a call? I'd love to hear from you.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page."
(St Augustine)


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Whatever your holiday needs I'm here to help you, so simply give me a call or send me an email with your contact details on and I can get things started for you:

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

Hunting for the Auroras in Arctic Norway

21 March 2022

I’ve been above the Arctic Circle before, but only just: it skirts Rovaniemi in Finland on the north of the town. Before that, the closest I got was Iceland. Tromso is 200 miles above 66 degrees latitude, and so far north it’s the same distance to the North Pole as it is to my home in Kent. My sister and I arrived late on a Sunday in mid-March. We caught a bus from the airport to Tromso centre, and left the city’s island across the long, high bridge, south-east onto the mainland. A clear, chilly night with snow and ice on the ground, the lights of the city shone brightly on the fjord below. The Arctic Cathedral, an impressive piece of construction, greeted us as we walked. It’s easy to think it was built recently, judging by the stacked triangular design, but it was built in 1965! Its design, inspired by arctic nature, is easy to see: it looks like broken shards of ice floating in the sea. As we navigated around the structure, I looked up, and there above us was our first glimpse of green streaks in the dark sky. We’d only been in the country for barely an hour, and before we even started hunting for them, there they were, teasing us to stay awake into the early hours. After we found our apartment we headed back out and enjoyed an amazing 30-minute display of the dancing auroras. We were elated to have seen the natural phenomenon on the first night. Viewing Tromso from above is an essential experience, and there’s no better way than via the Fjellstua cable car. It takes you from 50m to 421m above sea-level. The views from the top are incredible. You can see the whole of Tromso, from the Arctic Cathedral, across to the airport on the far side of the island, and beyond to the backdrop of snow covered mountains. We hiked to a peak 1.8km away, up an increasingly steep gradient with our boots frequently sinking into the deep snow. We were passed by a runner making her way to the summit in spiked trainers! The Norwegians live for the outdoors. This was the epitonmy of their saying "Friluftsliv" (open-air living). After an hour we reached the peak at 650masl with a sense of triumph, nevermind that it took the Norwegian 10 minutes in her gym gear! Vistas from the summit were amazing, with continuous white mountains stretching as far as the eye could see. On our way back down, the sun shone on to the Tromso valley, making the vistas even better. Returning to the cable car station, we enjoyed a window view in the cafe and replenished our calories from our mountain mission with a very expensive hot chocolate and almond cake. That evening, with clear skies once again, we ventured out into the country with our rental car and found a dark spot to maximise our aurora hunting chances. We didn’t need to wait long. Within five minutes we saw a dark streak across the sky. We thought at first it was cloud, or even a star constellation. But then it morphed into dark then light green and even a little purple, and soon the whole sky was filled with the auroras right over our heads. The spectrum was so bright. It was stunning. We were very blessed. The next day we drove south down the E8, one of the most picturesque roads in Europe. We were headed for the Lofoten Islands, but to break up the 500km journey, we overnighted in Narvik. Narvik is an industrial town with ice-free, deep waters making it suitable for shipping. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, it’s another picturesque setting. We found a good lookout point high above the city to get a better perspective. It has a certain rustic charm about it even if it’s not a masterpiece. On a drizzly day, we headed south-west towards the Lofoten Islands. Regardless, the scenery along the E10 remained awesome. Our first stop was the fishing village of Henningsvaer approximately halfway to the islands. This town is famous for having an extraordinary location for a football pitch. The settlement is built on flat land which juts out into the Norwegian Sea. It has a natural harbour which makes it perfect for fishing boats. Continuing further out to sea, there is a larger piece of flat land where they have built the pitch. It’s best appreciated from the air, and is a sight you don’t expect to see this far north of the Arctic Circle. The town has one of the most unique gift shops. You can see the potter and glass maker applying their skills here at the Engelskmannsbrygga. These women display their finely crafted glasswork and ceramics in the tastefully designed minimalist shop. The quality and the story behind handmade local goods is unrivalled and justifies the price tags. We drove further west along the archipelago, the scenery becoming more dramatic as we went. Snow covered mountains with near vertical drops. Bridges stretching across the water connecting the rocky islands. Beaches with white sand. Crazy winter surfers riding the waves as they rolled in from the Norwegian Sea. We made it to our cabin (hytta), in the hamlet of Hamnoy. A collection of these cabins were set on the limited amount of flat terrain, with some hanging over the waters’ edge on stilts (as was ours), all at the foot of another dramatic mountain range dominating the scene and making everything else seem miniature. The next day brought strong winds and showers, but interspersed with sunny spells giving opportunities to hike and shoot pictures. We hiked a few kilometres up to a waterfall, and we drove to the end of the road at a place (I kid you not) called A. We had a good day exploring and taking in the scenery. What makes the Lofoten Islands so picturesque is obviously the dramatic mountains and clear sea, and the old fishing boats and little wooden cabins clinging on to the rocks. It’s this combination of nature and the traditional way of living that gives it so much character and makes it so captivating. Even with the harsh weather it was stunning, but perhaps I’ll need to return in summer to further my experience of this amazing, and relatively unknown, slice of Northern Norway. To see the Northern Lights, visit Arctic Norway from September to March. Give yourself at least four nights to maximise your opportunity of a clear night. You can go on an organised tour, or rent a car and drive yourself. But don’t bank all your expectations on seeing them. If you do, it’s a bonus, there’s plenty more to see and do, like hiking, dog sledding, and snow mobiling. Tromso town itself has quite a good night-time vibe at the weekends with plenty of restaurants to choose from.

Croatia: Why I Love It!

20 June 2022

We sat at a table at the Split airport outdoor café. We had just handed over the keys to the rental car, and we were killing a bit of time before checking in for our flight home. As I enjoyed the last of the Adriatic sunshine, I was genuinely gutted to be going home. I can’t remember feeling like this about returning to Blighty for a long time. We had been exploring Croatia for two weeks. This being the second visit in two years. Last year we drove to Croatia through Germany, Austria & Slovenia, returning via Hungary, Slovakia & Czech Republic. We Stayed in a cool glamping tent on the Dalmatian Coast near Biograd. During our 6 nights stay there, we managed to visit the historical towns of Sibenik & Zadar, and two of their national park gems – Krka & Plitvice, finishing with a night in the capital Zagreb on the way to Hungary. This year we had flown, kicking things off with a few nights on the beautiful island of Brac, famous for its white limestone which is used to make anything from houses to jewellery. We stayed in the stunning town of Pucišca, in an apartment on the hillside with amazing balcony views over the calm natural harbour waters and the surrounding white limestone houses with terracotta roofs scattered around the town square and up the steep hillsides. After enjoying a few days on the beaches, (mostly paddleboarding) including the famous Zlatni Rat beach near Bol, which juts out like a rhino horn into the sea, we headed back to the mainland, near Trogir, where we shared a week in a stunning large villa with family and friends. Apart from the private pool and the sea views from our bedroom to keep us entertained for the week, the highlight was the day we hired a powerboat to help us explore some more hotspots of the Adriatic. Having done my powerboat licence back in the UK specifically for this reason, it was great fun being the skipper of our own boat large enough for all 10 of us, and complete with a fridge and toilet. Albeit the toilet was so small it was like trying to do your business in a shoebox. The others left for home after the week, leaving my girls and I by ourselves once again. We headed south to enjoy a few nights in the jaw-dropping city of Dubrovnik. So, what is it about Croatia that we love so much? Enough to compel us to book for a third year in a row less than a week after returning home. Here’s a few features that give Croatia that... je ne sais quoi! 1. The Adriatic. The clarity, warmth, and colour of the water along the Dalmatian Coast and her many islands is just idyllic. You can sit at the water’s edge mesmerized by the turquoise and aqua blues as the sun shimmers off the surface. The warmth as you dip your toes in entices you to go further. It gives kids a comfortable and safe place to play (apart from the odd sea urchin) 2. The Islands. With over 1000 Croatian islands to explore, you’ll never grow bored. Each one has its own unique identity. For example, Brac, the largest of the Dalmatia islands, is a world away from the mainland which is a short ferry crossing in distance off the main coast. Much less developed and charming in its own way. 3. The Mainland. Much of the attention Croatia generates is of the Adriatic coastline, and with good reason. But travel inland a little, and you can find yourself in a mountainous wilderness beckoning you to don your boots and get hiking. Mix in some of the national parks, like Krka - a beautiful waterfall frequented by swimmers and paddlers, and the heavenly Plitvice which is one of the most incredible places I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing – a true Garden of Eden, and you’re left with an enticing cocktail of places to explore. 4. The Cities. Dubrovnik is a beautiful city. Rich in history, edged by its timeless city walls, and sandwiched between mountains and that glistening Adriatic. But there are other cities along the coast which are perfect bridesmaids to compliment the bride. Šibenik & Zadar, each with their own charm. And Split, a larger city, in fact Croatia’s second largest, while the outskirts are not particularly a head-turner, the Old Town is a tourist magnet and for good reason with its limestone Diocletian’s Palace. Zagreb, the capital is also a day well spent, wondering around the streets, taking in the rich architecture, history, and culture. 5. I’ll add a few final ingredients into the mix. a) Of course, the weather is a big reason why we love Croatia. Summer sunshine is almost guaranteed, and when there is a cloudy day, the downpours tend to be quick and heavy, which can be refreshing and quite exciting with the accompanying soundtrack and lightshow of thunder and lightning. b) The short flights from the UK of barely over 2 hours is welcome. And the choice of 2 or 3 airports to choose from keeps it competitive and convenient. c) I believe the Croats have a reputation for being a little abrupt, but the hospitality I have received from many would contradict that. All the hosts of our accommodation bookings have been welcoming and helpful. And when my rental car was towed away in Split for a bad choice of parking, a local came to our rescue and drove us to the impound, translated for us, and refused to accept a gift for his help. If it weren’t for him, we would have been stuck, but with his kindness we were back on the road in less than an hour, albeit a little bit poorer. d) And finally, the roads. They are good quality, especially the main highways, which are toll roads, but very cheap, and very fast. It means you can get from the north to the south in really good time. In essence, Croatia is a real favourite of mine. I’ve been to 48 countries and am itching to see more. But Croatia is a place that keeps drawing me back to explore more, embrace more, enjoy more, and create more moments that matter.

Six Reasons why Oman should be your next place to visit.

11 June 2019

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Oman with my 12-year-old daughter Marnie for just three nights. I was surprised how much I liked the country and knew straightaway I needed to make a second, longer visit. We had one night in the amazing Kempinski hotel in Muscat before we headed out to explore in our hired 4x4. It's a beautiful country which needs to be on your list of places to visit. Here are my six reasons why: 1. Hot, subtropical climate: A perfect winter sun destination, and in the very hot summers you can stay in the Jebel Akhdar mountains where you’ll enjoy pleasant 30° temperatures. 2. Epic scenery: Wadis, Deserts, Mountains, and azure waters, giving you a plethora of things to do like scuba-diving, hiking, sand-surfing, & stargazing! 3. Amazing hotels: The Kempinski & Chedi in Muscat. The Anantara & Alila in Jebel Akhdar. The Deluxe Tents at Desert Nights. 4. Excellent Driving: Massive investment in new roads but not many cars using them, a great choice of affordable rental cars, and very cheap fuel! 5. Clean, Orderly, Above & Beyond: The Omanis don’t do litter, and they don’t do mediocre. Even their zebra crossings are interesting! 6. Nice flights: With Oman Air flying a Dreamliner daily from London, you’ll have the most comfortable flight available. If you’d like help planning a trip to Oman, I’d love to help.

Canadian Pioneer with Trek America - Part One

04 September 2018

The morning of day one with Trek America commenced at the Hilton Newark Airport. The lobby resembled a busy beehive as the trek travellers of various groups sort to connect with their respective leaders. Approximately six groups were about to embark on their chosen itinerary on what was one of Trek America’s busiest days of the year. We hooked up with our tour leader - the Memphis born, long haired, hippy resembling, sleeveless topped – Tailor Potter (aka Teapot)! Most of our newly assembled group had connections with the American summer camps, either as leaders or facilitators. So it was that Kiwi Sammy and Brits Kieran and Meg joined us after their camp service had come to an end. Adam, Former Camp Director, now facilitating others with working adventures abroad, joined us to experience a Trek once again after his first one sixteen years ago aged 19! Meg’s sister and teacher Hannah, Sydney based police officer Hayley, and London accountant Katie made up the rest of the group, me being the oldest, and closest to the upper age limit of 39! After making acquaintances and a briefing from Teapot, we made ourselves comfortable in our 14-seater minibus complete with luggage and equipment trailer, hit the interstate and headed towards our first destination – Niagara Falls. The journey took about 7 hours and included pleasant scenery which made it pass quickly by. It is possible to do the 400-ish miles from NYC to Niagara in a day without it feeling like it’s survival of the fittest! The mist produced by the force of the falls can be seen from miles away as it ascends into the atmosphere, like a burning fire sending out smoke signals. I imagined what it must have been like for the pioneers who first discovered the falls. I had concerns about Niagara Falls before the trip - concerns that this immense force of nature has been diluted by tacky hotels and casinos. However, upon arrival on the USA side, I was pleasantly surprised! Yes, it’s developed on both sides, but it’s not the Blackpool Pleasure Beach I had feared. The developments merely serve as a backdrop behind the centre-piece. No visit to the falls would be complete without a trip on the Maid of the Mist, or if from the Canadian side the Hornblower. And that’s what we did to experience the awesome force up close. Waterproof ponchos are provided, and for very good reason! After setting up camp we returned to the falls after dark for a spectacular firework display which happens every night at 10pm. The falls are also colourfully lit up in a changing variety of colours. The following morning, we crossed the border and into Canada for the first time. We headed for Toronto, Canada’s most populous city. Modern and cosmopolitan, with a picturesque skyline featuring the prominent and iconic CN Tower reflecting off the surface of Lake Ontario. Various districts including a China Town, a financial zone, and a pleasant waterfront with a selection of bars and restaurants make it a great stop for a couple of nights before heading onto the Algonquin Provincial Park. Camping inside the park we had to be disciplined with our food storage to reduce the risk of bear visits! Although I’d welcome the sight of a bear I’m not sure I would appreciate one sniffing round my tent. We were blessed with a symphony of wolf howls throughout the night though. The previous afternoon we embraced a hike through the forest in the pouring rain. The following morning was drier thankfully, making our next hike clearer and a little more comfortable. By the afternoon the sun appeared, and we enjoyed a fantastic canoe trip on the aptly named Canoe Lake as no motorboats are allowed. It was a superb few hours of being at one with nature, exploring the inlets while peacefully waiting and hoping for some wildlife activity. Our canoe guide (nickname Bear as he’s a well-built Mexican and owns several bear t-shirts) was brilliant. He knew the lake like the back of his bear-sized hand and gave us the perfect connection with nature. He also told us the lengthy and intriguing story of Tom Thomson, a well-known local artist from the early 20th century whose death in the lake is still a mystery. Officially he drowned, but evidence points towards some foul play. I could have stayed in Algonquin longer. It’s a lovely place dominated by unspoilt forest and lakes. It’s a popular getaway destination for the Toronto city workers as it’s only 2-3 hours away. On to Montreal it was though. Montreal comes second to Toronto on population. The Metro (underground) system was one of the best I’ve seen. With modern, clean trains and spotless stations. It made it easy to get around the city. While Toronto is cosmopolitan and business like, Montreal is a little hip-hop and very French! The main attraction is the incredible Notre-Dame Basilica which boasts the most exquisite interior I have seen in a place of worship. And the surrounding streets take you back into what you might imagine to be an historical European city. My favourite experience though was the Jet Boat on the rapids! If it wasn’t for the rapids on the St Lawrence river, Montreal would not exist. The original settlers sailed upstream, but met the rapids making it impossible to go further. It was fitting that we ventured out to experience them on a modern day Jet boat. The rapids are said to be some of the best in the world. This is not a quiet, leisurely cruise. This is a raw, adrenaline-filled adventure where you will get very wet as you dip in and out of the white waters, one of them aptly named ‘Brain Washer’! We took the scenic route to Quebec City via some quiet villages with their impressionable churches. This small and quaint city with its’ abundance of French architecture is one of the oldest cities in North America and is very historical with a good selection of souvenir shops, cafes and bars. Montmorency Falls is not far from the city where you can zip-line across the 83m tall falls, if that’s what floats your boat! Two nights here is ample.

Canadian Pioneer with Trek America - Part Two

04 September 2018

It was time to leave Canada to head back into the USA and the State of Maine. First impressions coming from the border was a little underwhelming. From the beauty of Canada and the well-maintained houses, inland Maine was frequented with run-down trailer houses and people with excessive hoarding issues. But arriving at the Atlantic coast and the lobstering town of Bar Harbor and the Acadia Nation Park, the increase in wealth and quality of life was evident. The evening of our arrival we enjoyed one of the highlights of the trip – a sunset kayaking expedition. The water was so calm with little breeze, and the colour of the sky gave the surface a silky deep-blue appearance. It was bliss paddling around the untouched woody islands. We were blessed with the sight of a seal popping his head out of the water to check us out. And a young bald eagle stood proudly, perched on a tree on an island where human footsteps are prohibited. The Royal Caribbean ship Anthem of the Seas left the harbour after its’ port of call came to an end, and we watched the last few minutes of the sun disappearing before heading back to the marina where I enjoyed a spontaneous dive into the water (it was a very hot day)! The next morning, we embraced one of the most enjoyable hikes ever! The Precipice Trail takes you to the peak of Champlain Mountain. Not the highest on the Eastern Seaboard (that’s its’ neighbour Cadillac Mountain which has a road to the top). What makes it so interesting are the incredible views of the coast line, and the need for iron rungs to make it possible to climb as the face is so steep in places. Once summited, we took the South Ridge trail to Sand Beach where after a morning of hiking we took a well-deserved dip in the sea! No visit to Bar Harbor would be complete without dining on lobster. That’s why the town is there in the first place. Only the residents are authorised to set lobster pots to keep the numbers healthy. The evening was spent with lobster and a chilled white wine – the perfect end to what was a truly memorable segment of the tour. Our final stop was Boston. Not having visited before, I didn’t know what to expect. I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and will revisit one day. The Freedom Trail runs 2.5 miles through the city and is marked with red bricks all the way. Starting at the Boston Common and finishing at the USS Constitution (the World’s oldest floating naval ship), it takes you past sixteen locations significant to the history of the United States. For the first mile we had a guide dressed in costume from the era tell us about the events that led up to the independence of America and the patriots involved, not least Samuel Adams. To my shame, the first time I was aware of that name was on a beer bottle! But he was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the man responsible for the Boston Tea Party, where a shipment of tea was thrown into Boston harbour over a dispute about taxes. He was the cousin of John Adams – the first US President. We walked the whole 2.5 miles of the trail and ferried back across the harbour to downtown Boston. Adam and I then enjoyed a cold Samuel Adams lager in the Beantown Pub opposite the final resting place of the cold Samuel Adams. A fitting end to an amazing two-week trip in a corner of the Globe abundant with natural beauty and fascinating history.

Our top tips for planning your dream honeymoon

09 January 2018

Your honeymoon is a chance to enjoy your dream holiday, giving you time to unwind and enjoy each other's company after all the excitement of your wedding day. It marks your first shared experience as a married couple. And just as your choice of venue for your wedding day reflects your own personalities, you'll want a honeymoon destination that suits you both too. Remember - there is no obligation to lie on a beach for two weeks. "When should I start planning my honeymoon?" I will take the time to get to know you and find out exactly what you want from your honeymoon. Planning ahead allows time to budget accordingly. However, don't worry if you haven't left a lot of time - we will find the perfect holiday that is unique to you both. "Where in the world?" Australia and South America are amazing destinations, but not if you have only one week for your honeymoon. There are so many beautiful destinations available a little closer to home too. Picking an exotic location is ideal if you have enough travel time and don't mind long flights. You must also remember to take the time of year you plan to travel into consideration. "A quiet, relaxing time together" If all you want is to spend time together and the stress of long-haul flights isn't your thing, then a beautiful boutique hotel in Italy may serve you just as well as an all-inclusive Caribbean beach holiday. 'A taste of adventure and action' Perhaps you've both always wanted to do something a little bit different and adventurous? Whether it's an African safari, white-water rafting, snorkelling, trekking or even skiing, make sure that you both have the same idea of what you're letting yourself in for. Your honeymoon is not the time to try somewhere unusual that you're not going to like. 'Sun, sea and sand' Walking hand-in-hand through the surf on a white sandy beach is surely the definitive honeymoon scene. Just be sure - especially if you are active types - that you really do want to be lazing around for all that time. You might consider combining a tropical beach with a week of adventure, action, or even a cruise. 'Best of both worlds' Honeymoons are supposed to be romantic - but even the most intense love-birds need a break! A very popular choice is a 'dual centre' break, combining a week of beach-based relaxation with a more active or city-based week. 'Cruising the ocean waves' Why not take in several destinations in one trip without needing to be continually packing and then unpacking by spending your honeymoon on-board a luxury cruise ship? You could cosy up inside your own luxury cabin - maybe even one equipped with its own private Jacuzzi made for two. Picture yourself enjoying a candlelit dinner in a luxury restaurant at sea, or waking up in a new destination to discover every day. A honeymoon cruise offers all of this and more. Let me take the stress out of some of your wedding planning and organise your dream honeymoon for you. With us, it's personal.

Sri Lanka Family Adventures

26 September 2017

The combination of being an adventure travel lover and a parent of two kids of primary school brings challenges in finding the right summer holiday to suit the whole family. And being a Travel Counsellor carries additional pressures because if I got this one wrong, while I seem to get all my clients holidays right, my wife would not be happy! The task set before had this short-list: the six-year-old wanted monkeys, the ten-year-old wanted tellies on the plane, and the one in charge did not want to cook. As for me, my desires are the same as always - to embrace different cultures, to explore new horizons, and to get lost in some wilderness. The place that ticked off all these desires and remained affordable for a family of four was Sri Lanka! After our first night in Negombo, we headed off into the centre of the teardrop island to the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. One thing I never really considered after meeting the Indian elephant now compared to my previous five trips to Africa, is how much better natured these guys are compared to their larger and more aggressive cousins. You can get much more up, close and personal with them. The Pinnawala is famous for the multitude of Instagram shots of the elephants bathing in the river. And it's worth a visit just to see it for yourself. However, the 'bottle feeding' was a bit of a circus act as they weren't the cute little babies we were expecting, more like adolescents. And it was more of a performance than a natural setting. I'd probably recommend a lesser known sanctuary which is less Hollywood and a bit more authentic. That night we were in for a little treat. We were staying near Sigiriya Rock in a little place called 'The Other Corner'. This was a wilderness meets luxury experience with a rickety drawbridge to conquer before entering the complex of straw-roofed huts. Monkeys frequented the grounds, bird-song was a constant backing track, and the resident naturist (not a nudist as my first thought) was on hand with his binoculars and an expensive camera to bring closer the surrounding wildlife. There was plenty of space in the huts for the four of us, and the pool was obviously a welcomed sight after a hot day. Add to that the exquisite food served to us by the restaurant, it was a true hit! The ancient city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Polonnaruwa was the order of the next day. Built in around the 12th century, it was great for the kids to experience this journey back in time. When entering certain areas, we had to remove our shoes and hats and cover our shoulders. It was a boiling hot day in the mid-thirties and the sand was at points like walking on burning coals! We were glad to have a driver with an air-conditioned car to take us round the various sites. Others were on push bikes! That evening, as the heat relented, Jo and the kids went back to the jungle lodge while I went to climb Sigiriya Rock Fortress. Not for the faint-hearted - there are some scary bits! But when you reach the top, you are blessed with some amazing views. How they managed to build a fortress at the top of this 200m high rock I'll never know! On to Kandy where we enjoyed lunch in a high-rise restaurant overlooking the city. Then we drove round the pleasant and very well-kept Kandy Lake to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, said to contain a tooth of the Buddha. You don't actually see the tooth so it's either hidden for safety or it's the biggest money-making hoax on the sub-continent. Either way, the architecture of the temple is excellent and well worth the entrance fee. Since British rule came to an end in 1948, the railway network has stood still. Which means the rickety old trains trundle down the tracks at the speed of Sir Mo out for his morning jog. But that's what makes it interesting. And so it was that we caught the 8:30 (ish) train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Tourists usually pay the extra to sit in first class where you get, well a seat. I guess that's more than commuting to London though! But the real attraction of this particular route is the rolling hills of tea plantations. It truly is a great experience, hanging out of the open door and enjoying the ever-changing scenery. At one point the train stopped and reversed back about half a mile. We never did find out why, either the driver jumped a light, or he forgot to pick up some passengers. Who knows? South of Nuwara Eliya you have the Horton Plains National Park, where some great hikes across the plateau and some wildlife spotting can be enjoyed. Sadly, we were pushed for time as we had to make it to Yala National Park before sundown. Yala was the final piece of our brief tour of the island but it was our favourite bit. Compared to African safaris, you don't have to travel far before you see some wildlife. Elephants were numerous, and many other species where visible but the elusive leopard did not come out to play for us. Apparently, one crossed the road just before we arrived on the scene. We stopped at a rest-stop near the roaring sea and witnessed an epic thunderstorm. It was a great experience - the kids loved it, the wife loved it, and I finally realised that I was out of the danger zone and had created the experience that I was tasked with in the brief…plus a little more! To top it, the arrival at our luxury lodge, the Cinnamon Wild Yala, finished a great day. The lodges were kitted out with a safari style décor with ample space for families and, after a quick night time dip in the pool, we enjoyed a fantastic dinner. Once the kids were tucked up in bed, I tried to venture out to the beach but I was stopped in my tracks by the porter who warned me of the snakes and elephants and that he couldn't allow me to venture any further. The following morning, I did venture out to that beach, and for me it was the piece de resistance! You see, I love the isolated wilderness and the sense of a little danger. I was the only person on that virtually untouched, unspoilt beach. The powerful waves were crashing up onto the rocks, the air was clean, the sun warm, and there was evidence of elephant activity (poo!) I could have stayed there all day, I felt so alive. And those are the moments that keep me exploring this planet and helping others to do the same, to find their moments of wonder. Sri Lanka is a fantastic option for a family holiday. It's full of friendly people, diverse cultures, amazing scenery, and ancient history. It needs to be explored, and in doing so you can give your kids an education and adventure they'll never forget!

Morocco - Hot, Neat, Beautiful, & Safe

19 April 2017

North Africa has been a part of the world that frequently appears in our news. I feel that many holiday makers choose to avoid Morocco in favour of the 'safer' option of the Med or the Canaries. But to dismiss the Kingdom as a holiday destination would be a shame. Upon landing in Marrakech with a group of fellow Travel Counsellors, we made it through the newly constructed airport, and out onto the North Africa soil. I was surprised how clean, well maintained and tidy the city streets were. Being my fifth visit to Africa, albeit my first to the north of the continent, I'd grown accustomed to the dusty and rough roads normally associated with this vast landmass. But the investment in infrastructure was clear to see. However, the Moroccans have held on to many of their traditions which can be experienced in no better way than in the Souks. The Souks are a labyrinth of small streets where products are made at the back of the shop and sold at the front. Anything from shoes to padlocks. This is the place where your bartering skills are put to the test. I bought a chess set for my daughter. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we agreed on 100 dirhams - about 8 quid.  You have to keep your wits about you when walking through the Souks - the constant tooting of mopeds and the worry of one of them clipping your elbow can be a little disconcerting. But don't let that put you off as that's all part of the unique experience. We ventured past the Koutoubia Tower, the tallest building in the city, and on to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square where the snake charmers and somersaulting monkeys did their thing. After a long day of travelling and sightseeing, dinner and a drink or two were well overdue! The following day we toured the exquisite Beachcomber Royal Palm Resort. An hour out of Marrakech brings you to the only Beachcomber outside of the Indian Ocean. Built with the backdrop of a manicured golf course, the welcoming hall certainly had the 'wow' factor. With its monumentally high ceiling and hanging curtains so long it's surprising they didn't tear under their own weight, with views through to the pool which resembled a mosaic masterpiece. Everything about this three year old hotel set a new standard. The kids' club, the spa, the fitness centre, the suites, and the attention to detail in the décor. It was amazing! Perhaps surprisingly though, the cost of the drinks at the bar were quite reasonable. A beer cost roughly what you'd expect to pay in any hotel bar - approx. £4-5. In the foothills of the Atlas Mountains you'll find a new development - the brainchild of property developer Anwar Harland-Khan. The British educated son of an Indian father and a Norwegian mother purchased the land seven years ago on a whim. He was told the soil was infertile and a the presence of a water source to feed the land was unknown. After purchase, he employed the services of a dowser who located an underground water source with astounding accuracy. The development, which includes a six bedroom hotel and several villas, took seven years to get to the stage where guests can stay. Partly because no heavy machinery was used in the construction, but also because of Anwar's incredible attention to detail. I get the impression that although a return on the investment is important, he was not prepared to compromise on his ethos and vision for a sustainable and luxurious resort where guests can enjoy locally sourced food, manicured landscaped gardens, and a relaxed, tranquil atmosphere. The L'Amandier Luxury Boutique Hotel officially opens to guests in June. We had the privilege of being the first travel providers to visit the resort. It's all about the amazing views of the white-topped mountain peaks and the easy access to them for hiking, biking, and skiing, etc. but without compromise on luxury and relaxation. And with its 1000m elevation above sea-level, it keeps the heat a couple of degrees cooler than down below which can get too hot to enjoy during the summer months. If your budget can stretch far enough, you can purchase one of the villas, use it when it suits you, and let the hotel look after guests in your absence. And what fantastic villas they are - built around a central hallway with a glass roof, private plunge pools, and roof-top terraces to maximise the views. On to the Atlantic coast and the bohemian town of Essaouira. With a gorgeous beach and western horizon sunset, it was a good choice of venue for us to explore. Like Marrakech, the town has a medina - an old town typically with a walled area containing a maze of small streets selling all kinds of stuff. I felt safe and unpressurised when strolling through the streets. Never hassled to buy or excessive begging. We visited a lovely riad hotel - a Moroccan tradition of building houses with rooms surrounding an open square courtyard and crowned by a roof terrace. If you're looking for an authentic Moroccan experience, this was it. Morocco is truly a great option for a short break to grab some warmth in the colder months. The flight time is just over three hours. It's also a great alternative to your family summer holiday. With an abundance of Atlantic and Med beaches, the awesome Atlas mountain range, the Sahara desert, some chic but traditional bustling cities, and an excellent choice of luxury hotels and resorts, if you can put the concerns of North Africa to one side, it's what you might call, a no-brainier!

The Land of Fire & Ice

15 November 2016

After landing in Reykjavik and dumping my bag in the hotel, I headed straight out to explore the city. I walked along the promenade which meets the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently, the best spot in Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights as the sky darkens over the ocean where light pollution is minimal. I came to the Harpa Concert Hall, completed in 2011 for the cost of €164 million, when Iceland had money. The Icelanders say the building is the best thing the banks left. It is a fantastic construction that changes colour by day by reflecting the sky. The main street in Reykjavik for restaurants and shops is Laugavegur, and it was there I found a little place called ‘Public House’, what a great name! The beer was half price, otherwise it would have been close to £8! I didn’t quite fancy the cured puffin on the menu, it wouldn’t seem fair to eat something cute, and so I went for the Piggy Smalls instead, which is a doughnut with pulled pork shank. A slightly odd combination but boy was it tasty! The next morning, I was picked up by our representative from On The Go Tours. A group of us would be spending the next few days together on a tour of this amazing and unique island. We whizzed around the city stopping at various landmarks including the City Hall and Volcano House - a museum where you can learn all about Iceland’s geothermal activity before you go to see it for real. Well worth a visit, and I was even given a pot of ash from the infamous irruption in 2010 which grounded the airline industry to a halt for several days. Volcanos are regular occurrences in Iceland and often much bigger than Eyjafjallajokull. It’s rare we hear about them in our media, but this abrasive ash had the potential to wreck jet engines. It’s ironic that from the disruption the volcano caused, tourism in Iceland increased and is now their biggest source of income. The world publicity put Iceland on the map. Along the Golden Circle route, we visited the UNESCO world heritage site of Thingvellir National Park. The separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates is clearly evident as two vertical ridges stand parallel to each other with flat terrain in between. On average they move apart some 2cm per annum. Moving on to the hot erupting springs Iceland is so famous for, which fascinated me as a boy and I was now to witness for real. The two largest geysers are Geysir and Strokkur, although the latter is the only active one now. It spouts 30-40 feet into the air every 5 to 15 minutes to release the pressure. There are hot springs spread throughout the critical areas of Iceland and many are used to supply free water to the 330,000 Icelanders! Back on the tour bus, our guide told us the story of the land owner of Gullfoss, a double waterfall that tumbles 34 metres into a canyon. The landowner was going to sell the land to a construction company who would build a hydro-electric plant on site which would then kill the waterfall. The daughter was so distraught at the possibility of no longer having ‘her’ waterfall, that after lobbying the government and her father to not sign the agreement, she threatened to throw herself into the falls and end her life. I didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about until I stood in awe looking at the massive powerful spectacle in front of me. Fortunately, her father scrapped the plans, and thanks to her dogged determination, explorers from around the globe can still enjoy the magnificent sight. It was one of those moments when words are unnecessary as eyes and ears have too much to absorb. But that was just the start of nature’s extravagance present on the island! The next morning, after sleeping in a log cabin next to a lake in Hella, we followed the road along the south coast heading east. We stopped at a beautiful black sand beach where the waves were crashing in and the rocky crags jutted out into the sea just down the coast. The sun had not so long ago risen above the horizon making it a photographer’s paradise. We drove through the 600-square km lava field left by what Icelander’s call ‘The Monster’. Laki last erupted in 1783 over an eight-month period, and poured out tonnes of toxic gases into the atmosphere which killed 50% of livestock and 25% of the human population on the island. The aftermath caused a drop in global temperatures which meant crop failures in Europe and possibly droughts in Africa and India. Diamond beach is where shards of ice from broken up icebergs get washed up on the beach, hence the name. And inland a little is where these icebergs float in the glacial lagoon. The colours of the icebergs were amazing…some black, some blue, and some white. And it’s here where two James Bond films were shot. The next morning, we visited a couple more waterfalls as we made our way back along the south coast towards Reykjavik. The 60-metre tall Skogafoss, and Seljalandsfoss which you can walk around the back of, if you were prepared to get a little wet. And then onto another beach called ‘Black Beach’. This one was voted by an American magazine in the 1980s as being in the top ten beaches in the world and is the only non-tropical beach in the list. With its black sand and vertical cliff face housing puffins and other sea birds, rocky crags and caves, you can understand why it is regarded so highly, but it is not without its dangers. The monstrous Atlantic Ocean waves can catch you by surprise if you turn your back on them, which it has done in the past, claiming the lives of one or two. That’s the thing about Iceland, like a snow leopard it’s beautiful, but take one too many risks and it’ll rip your arm off, or worse! In the evening, we dined at the Icelandic Bar where, if you’re so inclined, you can try whale. A visit to this quaint little restaurant is well worth it, the food is excellent, and the service prompt and friendly. The fact that the nights were too cloudy for the Northern Lights didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the trip as I loved every minute of it. Getting out in the open and experiencing the breath-taking scenery is what makes me feel most alive. And it’s given me an excuse to return, when I’ll do some harder adventures, leaving behind the crowds. Glacier walking, Ice diving, and volcano hiking are all on the menu. And the Blue Lagoon? Yes, I did it on the last morning on the way back to the airport, and it’s amazing. The feeling of standing outside half-naked in near freezing temperatures just before you dip into the 37 degree milky light-blue water is worth every penny. If you’re looking to do something completely different, maybe for a romantic weekend, you'll not regret this!

A Taste of Ireland

03 September 2016

Ireland is not the most obvious of August family tourist destinations, but it was a recent Top Gear episode shot from the majestic and rugged western Ireland coastline that lured me in. My wife, two kids, and I ferried across from Pembroke and were immediately taken by the unspoilt countryside and well-kept homes dotted along the roadside. Our first stop was two nights in the Park Hotel, Dungarvan, where we were conveniently located for the medieval town of Kilkenny. Ireland is full of some of the world’s best historical castles and Kilkenny is no exception. The 13th century castle is the central attraction of this quaint little town with its array of churches and windy back streets. We decided to take the small tourist train to see the main features as the kids were desperate for a ride. But it’s actually a great way to sightsee for its convenience and low cost. Onwards we went to our second castle visit - Blarney Castle. Made famous not necessarily for its beautiful surrounding gardens and its history, but for the Blarney Stone! I have heard of it but I never really understood what it was all about until our visit. We queued from near enough the bottom of the castle’s spiral staircase, all the way to the top turrets as one-by-one the paying visitors laid on their backs to hang over the edge of the castle wall while someone held their legs to kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that when you do this you inherit the gift of the gab. The story ensures that the paying guests keep coming, and actually it makes the whole occasion just that little bit more fun. My imagination wondered as I thought what our own 1000-year-old castle in Rochester would be like if it had a similar story behind it. What a great money spinner! The evening was spent exploring Cork and chilling in the excellent hotel – The River Lee. With exquisitely designed contemporary communal areas and a great view from our room across the valley, it’s a hotel I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to others. On to Killarney National Park and the Torc waterfall. Beautiful park and awesome waterfall - it reminded me of the Lake District. Well worth the stop-off as we proceeded to join The Ring of Kerry. On this famous ocean road which skirts the Atlantic Ocean you will find some tranquil beaches and some breath-taking vistas. Our hotel in Limerick, the boutique Absolute Hotel, had a tough act to follow, but in fact the room was so large with such fantastic décor which hints towards the city’s industrial past, it just about trumps it and wins my nomination for one of the best four star hotels I have stayed in. Situated next to a canal, we dined in the Absolute Bar & Grill. The food was amazing! I’d recommend the salmon and beetroot starter! The Cliffs of Moher are Ireland’s top natural attraction, with up to one million visits per year. And it’s not difficult to see why. At their highest point they drop 214 meters to the sea. It’s not until you leave the safety of the visitor centre boundaries that the adrenaline really starts to pump. You can walk right up to the edge of the overhangs to look at the sea far below. I must admit, a lot of ‘what ifs?’ went through my head. Dublin, and the morning what spent in the Guinness Storehouse. I didn’t know what to expect really, but we all really enjoyed it…it was fantastic. We spent the best part of three hours discovering the story of Guinness. However, what I found most interesting was the positive impact that Arthur Guinness had on the city itself with social welfare projects and charity donations. He and his wife had 21 children, but only 10 of them made it to adulthood. How heart-breaking those times must have been? But what a legacy the man made after his business is still there, on the same site some 250+ years later. The water used is channelled in from the surrounding hills for its purity which has been the case since the start. And the site now covers a huge area of the city. Once through the taste experience and pouring mastery you can ascend to The Gravity Bar for a 360? view of Dublin, to be enjoyed, of course, with a pint of the black stuff! The evening was spent wondering the streets of Dublin. It was a very lively night with the bars full of drinkers enjoying live music. We visited the world famous Temple Bar before dining at The Shack for some real Irish cuisine. Ireland requires more than one visit to do it justice. There were many places we didn’t get to experience, the Dingle Peninsular and Galway to name a couple. It truly is a beautiful country, with a mixture of medieval castles and interesting ruins which tells a story of its history. Lush green country side with some eye-catching modern houses, and some lively cosmopolitan cities. Wherever you find yourself in the planet, you’ll never be too far from an Irish bar, and their music will always find a way onto your radio, which speak volumes of the impact this small country and its culture has had in this world.

Under the Skin of Cyprus

13 May 2016

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit Cyprus with eleven other Travel Counsellors courtesy of the Cyprus tourist board. After we touched down in Larnaca with Aegean Airlines in the early hours of the morning, we headed for the Olympic Lagoon Resort in Ayia Napa. We received a warm, early hours welcome with croissants and pastries, which all of us were too tired to eat. After a few hours of sleep we awoke to a glorious warm morning, with something bright in the unbroken blue sky, the likes of which we haven’t seen in the U.K since… I can’t actually remember! The resort is a collection of pools and rivers surrounded by a variety of rooms and apartments. Some with private pools, some with small gardens. It’s perfect for families with a vast array of things to keep the little nippers entertained and being a parent myself I would consider returning with them in tow. Not too far from the resort while on a run I found the beach. The idyllic little cove boasted soft sand and crystal clear, calm waters. I went for a dip and had to walk for a couple of hundred meters before it was deep enough to swim, making it a relatively safe environment for your kids to play. It was the best beach I was to experience on the island during our time in Cyprus. Ayia Napa town has long been associated with young intoxicated Brits partying into the early hours of the morning. However, our Cypriot guide assured us that this is now a bit of a myth as only ten percent of holiday makers to Ayia Napa are 18-30 years old. And I’m inclined to take his word for it because my experience of Ayia Napa is that it seemed an orderly and well-kept little town and well worth a visit. If nothing else visit the Monastery which has been standing on the hill since the 15th century. Back at the hotel in the early evening when the bright thing in the sky was going down, the resort switched on it’s vast array of coloured lights bringing to life the numerous lagoons, rivers and pools around the place. It really was a postcard picture. We dined outside with the hotel management after a tour of the resort which showed us all the facilities and entertainment available for the guests. We were impressed, especially the catering for families with it’s baby room and computer gaming room. The evening entertainment in the poolside bar which included singers and acrobats also looked enticing and well-polished. We drank coffee at the recently built Limassol marina while admiring the luxury yachts moored up along the edge. Stelios, our Cyprus tourist board friend, informed us that there are plans to build similar marinas in both Ayia Napa and Pathos. My impressions so far was that Cyprus is enjoying an affluent period in it’s history and that tourism is at the forefront of that. Next thing to mention is the wine tasting session at the family run Zambartas Winery up in the hills near Limassol. Like any Travel Counsellors event that involves a sniff of alcohol, we all seemed to enjoy it very much. After a few rounds of tasting the whites, pinks, and reds, out came the Euro notes purchasing as much as could be squeezed into suitcases. So proud of our contribution to the local economy. So on to Pathos we ventured. The ancient UNESCO Archaeological Park which houses roman mosaics is well worth a visit and the fact that more areas of archaeological interest are still being uncovered adds to the mystery of the place. Interestingly, there is an old lady who still lives in the middle of the site because she refused to be moved from her home when the first discoveries were made back in the eighties. Fair play to her! The Tombs of the Kings, also a UNESCO site, is where you will find tombs carved into the rock dating back to the 4th century BC! I believe there are still more of these tombs to be excavated. Who knows what they will find? We visited many hotels along the water’s edge of Pathos but the one that really stood out for all of us was the Elysium. This was one of the most classy and exquisitely designed hotels I have stepped foot in. It was fantastic. It wasn’t like a tacky 5 star you might find in Las Vegas. Nor was it an ultra-modern statement of wealth you’ll find in Dubai. It’s one I wouldn’t think twice about sending my clients to. Rumour has it that the Beckhams have stayed there, although Nicky (a fellow TC) was a bit miffed that David never mentioned it to her! Cyprus also has much to offer passed the beach and out to sea. We had a meeting with a local Scuba Diving operator called Cydive. The facilities they had were excellent – their own training pool, a drinks bar (non-alcoholic thank goodness!) and a shop. I managed to squeeze in a quick dive with one of the instructors there just off the edge off the sea wall. But the real magnet which attracts many divers from all over the world is the Zenobia Wreck. This ship sank in 1980 along with her £200 million worth of cargo. It’s in the top 10 wreck dives in the world and I seriously need to get back out there and dive it! On the final day we were given a tour of the Aphrodite Hills Resort - a large collection of apartments and villas surrounding a golf course and other sporting facilities including a football academy where Rio Ferdinand has taught. We were given the privilege of a tour round some of these villas, including a five bedroom, five bathroom with a view to die for. Most of them had private pools, and surprisingly they were listed at affordable prices, especially if you were to split the cost with friends. We were then treated to a golf lesson at the driving range followed by an amazing three course lunch at the clubhouse courtesy of the management. After being wined and dined pretty much constantly for the whole five days, it was time to say goodbye to that bright thing in the sky and back to good old Blighty we returned – to our friends and families who for some reason just couldn’t except that it wasn’t a holiday and it was actually all part of the job! If you would like to know more about Cyprus, or are thinking about visiting, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Wild Camping in the Masai Mara

15 April 2016

The year was 2012 and I was in Africa with a small team of three other cyclists and two guys in a support vehicle. We were cycling a semi-revolution of Lake Victoria – the second largest fresh water lake in the World. We started the eight day journey at the south of the lake from Mawanza in Tanzania and we were heading anti-clockwise through Kenya and round to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I was on a borrowed bike as my pride and joy was damaged in transit and unrepairable with African resources. The bike had a chain that was too short for the gear linkages meaning that if a gear too high was selected it would jam completely and I’d be forced to stop and fix it. Add to that the seat which had a habit of moving or should I say collapsing unexpectedly, I think it was fair to say I was not a happy bunny. 500 miles on African roads with that pile of @%#*! Despite my grumpiness that first evening we were blessed with a real treat. We found an abandoned camp site on the banks of the lake. We pitched our tents on the tranquil beach and enjoyed a hard earned dip after covering 80 sweaty miles in the hot sun. We started day two skirting the awesome Serengeti. Our attention was on anything but the road ahead, as we spied out the African wildlife beside us. Day three we finished in the Kenyan town of Migori. That same evening we choose to stash the bikes and head off in the support vehicle along the 80km road to the Masai Mara. That journey was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. It was like driving down a dry river bed with lumps, bumps, and craters a constant menace for the entirety of the journey. We didn’t have a 4x4 designed for that sort of hammering and abuse, we had a Toyota Noah – an MPV. There were times when we feared the vehicle was on the verge of toppling over. And on one occasion we had to run back down the road to collect the rear bumper which had just been ripped off. Four and a half hours later we reached the gates of the Masai Mara and entered the park. In the pitch of darkness we set up camp with the help of our two new friends – our hired guard and his assault rifle, employed to protect us from any wondering lions or hyenas! After a journey like that the thought of an over-curious dangerous animal wondering into camp was actually a rest bite in comparison. Now I would like to say that the experience of camping in the wilderness was one of the most awe-inspiring, humbling experiences of my life. But in reality it was the time of the European Cup. Myself and my friend Adam using the internet data on his phone spent the evening listening to England play terribly against some lesser known team. What with the shenanigans of the day we happened to fall asleep in the tent while still listening and using data. Adam had the mother of all phone bills when he arrived home. So the following morning we were up before the crack of dawn to see more of the mighty Masai Mara. We weren’t disappointed! Now I’ve done one or two safaris in Uganda before this, but the concentration of wildlife here was staggering. Lions, cheetahs, hippos, elephants by the dozen, giraffes in their hundreds. By the end of the day we were growing bored of spotting our long-necked friends. Male elephants charging at each other will remain in my memory for a long time. We opted to take a different route out of the park that evening. One that in distance was much further but would prove to be safer – apart from the time after dark when an elephant and her baby crossed the road close in front of us. After braking hard she turned her head to stare at us. Visions of an angry charging mother flipping the vehicle over flashed through our heads. But before we geared into reverse the animal continued on her journey. After camping again, being ripped off by a guard who charged $100 to keep watch all night only to knock off soon after midnight, and almost running out of fuel, we eventually got back to our bikes with the knowledge that we now had to cycle two days in one – 106 miles to get to our next port of call – Kisumu – a busy city on the banks of Lake Victoria. Another two days passed cycling hard through Kenya eventually arriving in the Ugandan town of Jinja. This is where the Lake forms into the majestic river Nile. We found an idyllic camp site with a bar serving cold beer, there was a T.V., a group of friendly students and a pet monkey. We thought we’d stepped into paradise until we came back down to earth after watching Roy Hodgson’s men go out on penalties…AGAIN!!! After a hot and tiring final day on the saddle we rolled into Kampala, where we were escorted by a Ugandan T.V crew and an entourage of supporters. We finally finished our epic 536 mile ride at the Viva Kampala Office – the charity who we were raising funds for and whom my sister works for. It had been an experience to savour for life and it was the spark that started my future adventures. The excursion was a mixture of highs and lows but going through these experiences and coming out the other side instils in you a steel and a resolve, and an ability to cope with whatever life may throw at you. I’d recommend anyone to step out of your comfort zone and take a bit of a risk every now and then. You won’t regret it. Just don't travel in a Toyota Noah!

Kilimanjaro Summit

29 March 2016

In December 2015 I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro - the highest point in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. The experience was both fun and exhausting, especially summit day, which was physically the hardest 24 hours of my life. The air at that altitude contains half the oxygen compared to sea-level, so your heart has to work overtime - even when resting. Anything more than a plod will leave you completely breathless. Throbbing headaches and vomiting are common. Mix that with the below freezing temperatures and you realise that this is not a challenge to take lightly. Many don't make it to the summit because altitude sickness ends their climb. I was asked to write about my experience, and my thoughts brought me to pen a poem. So here goes... In the pitch of darkness we arise, Our time has come to earn the prize. We have the night to reach the top, Determined that no one shall drop. Four days of ascent to get to this stage, But that's passed now, we're on a new page. Off we set, our guides lead the way, Slowly! Slowly! We do as they say. Cold is the night, the stars shine bright. But we cannot see the mountain's might. With every step the effort is more, Less air to breathe, cold bites to the core. The brain throbs at the skull, The heart thumps at the chest, This is going to be our toughest quest. Hour after hour, we climb the steep track, The night is relentless, so cold and so black. How long 'til we feel the warmth of the sun? How long 'til we see that summit come? Finally, finally, we reach the crater's rim, And the sun's rays shatter all that was dim. All eleven of us make it to this height, The worst is over, the summit is in sight. For a moment we forget our physical state, Emotions flow, our triumph is great. Just a little further we must go, Around the rim and through the snow. Finally, after a little more time, Together, we finish this monstrous climb. On the summit of Kili we stand, The highest point on African land. Above the clouds and glaciers, we absorb the view. The sun so strong, the sky so blue. After some hugs it's time to move on. The moment was short and now it's gone. We endured so much on that final climb, But the memories and joy will last a lifetime. Thank you God for keeping us strong, You really were with us all along. For children at risk, the funds we raise. Our giving will improve their future days.

My customer stories

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I'm off to New York later this year and it is thanks to Sam. I had spent hours searching for the ideal package for my long awaited New York adventure and wasn't getting anywhere fast and was beginning to think that I was being a bit of a demanding diva! A friend of mine recommended Sam, I had nothing to lose so I dropped Sam an email. It is fair to say that my email wasn't overly informative, it was a plea really to help make my New York adventure wonderful! Well, Sam responded within minutes to my plea - I gave my budget and dream list. Sam found the most perfect hotel, in the most perfect location with perfect flight times. Sam is easy to speak to, knows his stuff and from what I've seen so far goes above and beyond to ensure the best holiday is found. I'm not going to New York until November but can now say I really am counting the days as I can't wait to see what is waiting for me in New York. Would I use Travel Counsellor's again? Well yes of courst that goes without hesitation.

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Sam Friday is wonderful. I often ask him to find flights for rather complicated travel needs and he always go over and above to find the best possible solutions and takes the initiative in considering the passengers' needs. I would not hesitate to recommend him to family and friends, and have on several occasions. Five star service from a top bloke!

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Would highly recommend Sam Friday. Really good communication, took away all the stress and hassle from searching myself, plus a great price too! Can’t wait for my trip to Iceland! Thank you Sam

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We were thrilled by all the arrangements you had made on our behalf. The flights were very good with wonderful care from Singapore Airlines - courteous, and very caring. Assistance was provided for us both at every stage and was most appreciated. The hotels were fine, too, and the arrangements such as the shuttle at Auckland worked without any hitch. All of this enabled us to have a truly memorable holiday and we are very grateful to you for the part you played on our behalf. Thank you very much indeed. We would be very pleased to recommend you what you do to others. Now we are getting over jetlag which always seems worse coming back here!

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I would have no hesitation in recommending Sam as your Travel Counsellor. He put together a truly wonderful trip to Iceland for 6 of us to celebrate some big birthdays - and we were not disappointed. Everything was organised in a highly professional and knowledgeable manner and it really took the stress out of putting a trip together ourselves. Nothing was too much trouble. A few days before the trip, the weather in Iceland really closed in. Sam sent through helpful websites and links and checked forecasts for us - he really put our minds at ease - even checking we were Ok once we had arrived. It was great to think that while we were there, if there had been any difficulties, things would have been sorted out for us. Just want to say a big thank you to Sam for such a great trip - already thinking of the next one, so we will be in touch.

Sent by Sarah Nolan

I was introduced to Sam last year and I’ll never look back. For me the service Sam provides is professional, personal and premium! I no longer have to type the word “cheap flights” into google or spend hours on trip advisor checking if the accommodation has creepy crawlies or walk to high street travel agents in the rain just to be sold a generic package holiday! Sam listens to my ideas, my plans, my budget, my thirst to see the world and helps, with excellent advice and recommendations based on experience and knowledge of the travel industry. It’s such a pleasure booking my trips with Sam, he handles all my queries promptly and always checks in on me before and after the trips! I would highly recommend Sam whether you’re just looking for a short city break, a beach holiday or an adventure around SE Asia. All of which I have booked with Sam. I look forward to a year of more well organised and some spontaneous trips in 2018 booked via Sam at Travel Counsellors.

Sent by Ian Stedman

We wanted a trip that was a little out of the ordinary, and Sam found exactly what we were looking for. Given the unusual nature of the trip, and the restrictions on numbers of travellers allowed, Sam appreciated, in a way that we hadn't, the need to getting a booking underway at an early point in time, and conveyed that to us in a way that emphasised the importance, without being pushy. I have no doubt he genuinely has the best interests of his clients at heart, and cares that we have a great trip.

Sent by Emma Haggarty

We've been so pleased with the service we've had from Sam so far - he's helped us to create the honeymoon itinerary of our dreams! But also one which works on a very practical level! Sam was very knowledgeable and has been a pleasure to work with.. the champagne surprise to celebrate our booking was a lovely personal touch :)

Sent by Emma Jacobs

Sam was recommended to me by a friend. Sam was pleasant and patient with great communication, making it all a smooth and an easy process. I would most definitely contact him again in the future for my travel plans.

Sent by Suzanne Heard

Ever since I can remember I have wanted to see a panda bear and stand on the Great Wall of China. Thanks to Sam, he made it possible. He put together an adventure that combined a diverse combination of cultures. I started my travels in Russia, then China, moving on to Nepal and finally Muscat. Every transfer and flight went smoothly, every hotel provided me with a more than adequate service. The rooms were beautiful and staff so attentive despite the sometimes language barrier. Sam was always there for me, regularly emailing to ensure everything was good. I really cannot praise him highly enough for all his hard work. This isn't just a job for Sam, it's a vocation! It's so clearly evident that it's his passion. Sam doesn't do 100%, he does 110%. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Sam to organise your holiday. He is so professional, reliable, trustworthy, enthusiastic, and confident in his work. He made my dream come true and he can do the same for you.

Sent by C Challinger

Very efficient, friendly and helpful service. Sam listened to what we wanted and found us exactly what we'd asked for. His after sales service is fantastic too. Loved the bag of essentials and goodies that were on our doorstep to welcome us home. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending him.

Sent by Barbara Adams

Met Sam at a meeting and his assistance, speed, and quote price were all excellent. Will certainly promote him. I am organising a two stay travel to US and Canada. He also came up with a competitive insurance quote. Well done that Sam!

Sent by Chris Jenkins

Sam is very approachable and sincere, honest and trustworthy - qualities in short supply in today's world! He keeps in good communication, and works to find the best deal quickly to suit the customer. It is a win-win situation, as the customer has no stress in organising their trip, and the service comes at no extra cost - in fact the good deals provided can be cheaper. I have already recommended him to friends

Sent by Martin Lee

Sam cares about his customers and always offers that little extra that you just cannot get from the internet or high street. I would recommend anyone in need of inspiration for their next holiday and anyone in search of excellent value for money to give Sam a call and utilize his great travel knowledge and his caring personal service.