All-inclusive in Spain: the pros and cons of the package holiday

So this is what we work all year for! A holiday in the sun. We are having an all-inclusive week in Cala D’or in Mallorca. We fancied some sunshine and that is exactly what we are getting! The views are also stunning here, with clear blue sea and bright blue skies. Gorgeous. Check out the face in the rocks in the pic below!

As with anything we buy, we searched for a good deal before booking. We found the best price on Teletext Holidays. I didn’t know they still existed! Incredibly, when we looked, the all-inclusive was a cheaper price than half board. How can that be? It seems holiday pricing structures move in mysterious ways.  

We flew with Ryanair. The flight was absolutely fine with no problems or delays. However, I found the online check-in process frustrating and misleading. They wouldn’t let you check in more than seven days in advance unless you paid, and you couldn’t reserve seats until you had checked in, which they also charged for. I wanted to make sure we sat together so we had to pay more – around £50! I think this could have been reduced or avoided but, as I said, it was bewildering. We also had to pay a 15 Euro local tax when we arrived, which we weren’t expecting. We had a cup of tea on the plane but  brought some fruit and baguettes with us to save a bit of money on food whilst travelling.

I have never been on an all-inclusive holiday before. I usually like to self cater to keep my budget low. I wasn’t sure how the food would be, but so far it’s pretty good. Lots of salads, fruit and veg, free wine or beer, and you can have as much or as little as you fancy. However, this hotel is busy and so is the dining room, so not the place for a quiet meal. 

As well as your meals, you can have drinks and snacks throughout the day as part of the all-inclusive deal. We will be putting on weight!

The room is good, clean and basic, but there is no kettle! We couldn’t find a cup of tea anywhere when we arrived yesterday – something of a crisis for us tea swilling Brits 😀. We did have a very strong coffee at the hotel beach cafe in the afternoon but there was no tea there or in the restaurant. Apparently we had to find the sports bar, but we were too tired. Having been up to catch our flight at 3.45 am it had been a long day. 

Which brings us to our next problem: our room overlooks another bar, where there was loud entertainment until midnight. This will be ok when we are out in the evenings, but not when we want to relax in our room. I guess they intend you to chill in the sports bar with your evening cuppa! We are going to ask them to move us today. But it seems quite full so I’m not sure if it will be possible.

So, off to breakfast. If I don’t find tea, there will be trouble!

Incommunicado – almost


One thing staying in a very basic caravan in the middle of nowhere with no phone, tv or wi-fi tends to remind me is how little I really need these things. I think this is why I love coming here. It is so quiet and peaceful and the endless chatter and noise of every day life – the TV programmes, the lure of the Internet, emails, the radio – just don’t exist. We don’t have even a phone signal! I find I miss them very little, although we have had a fix of wifi on our travels most days for a quick check on Mr S’s business and have been able to text the kids and our parents.

It also reminds me how much time I waste online! Facebook, Instagram, blogs – and I sit in front of a PCs all day at work so you would think I would want to get away from technology when I am home. It’s never that easy, of course, as the world is run by the Internet these days and it is a wonderful tool in many respects. 

A root around the charity shops


As I say though it is great to have space from it. I remember a time before the Internet – yes, I am getting on a bit – when you went on holiday and your only communication to anyone at home was a postcard! You knew what was happening in the world by buying a newspaper. My girls would think that a bit antiquated!

We have another sunny day here in Wales so need to make the most of it. This is a quick stop for a coffee and a bit of free wifi in the library. But I’m throwing technology aside now – off for a blow along the beach and a root through any charity shops we come across. Yes, some things don’t change just because we are on holiday! 

imageWe have just returned from a week’s holiday in the Lake District in Cumbria, possibly my favourite place in the world, and what a glorious week it was. It is a beautiful place anyway, but we were blessed with warm weather every day – the raincoats never came out of the bags, which was a first for me – I have been coming since I was 16 and expect to get rained on as part of the deal! The heavens did open on our last evening and it bucketed down all night and most of the way home, but we didn’t mind that.

We did some fabulous short walks. I would have happily dragged everybody a bit further, but I know there are limits when persuading teenagers up hills and across the fells. We walked around Rydal Water, popping in for tea at William Wordsworth’s house en route. imageWe visited the John Ruskin house overlooking Coniston Water and had our lunch in his gardens. We went up to the waterfalls along the edge of Ambleside to wear everyone out, then drove to Glenridding in Ullswater and snuck into the grounds of a hotel to get to the water’s edge and admire the fabulous views of the lake and mountains beyond. We ate delicious cakes at Chester’s Cafe at Skelwith Bridge, just behind the caravan park we stayed at, recommended by my Mum. It was certainly very busy and popular. imageWe also went to Wordsworth’s birthplace at Grasmere and saw the family graves in the local church. Grasmere is a pretty enough place, but these days really just a collection of gift shops.

We had a lovely short boat trip across Windermere to Wray Castle and then the visitor centre at Brockhole. However we made the mistake of paying to go into the castle. I am usually a fan of the National Trust but we were not impressed. It is in the process of being restored and is unfurnished. There is really nothing to see except a lot of rooms waiting to be refurbished and mostly covered in woodchip wallpaper. They had tried to make it more of a family attraction by filling the rooms with toys and dressing up outfits, but that wasn’t much good to us. I resented paying the entrance fee to be honest and felt we had been duped. I would say don’t bother unless you are NT members – just have a look round the outside for free.image

If you have a camper van or tourer caravan I can absolutely recommend the Skelwith Fold caravan park just outside Ambleside : lovely generous pitches in a beautiful setting and the park itself is spotlessly clean and tidy, with a good shop and helpful staff. I am very lucky to have my generous cousins who don’t mind letting the extended family stay in their static from time to time.

I brought the ingredients for many of our meals in advance from Aldi, and most of the time just had to buy meat or salad to go with the pasta, salad or rice we already had. We also bought fresh bread every day from the campsite shop and took a picnic and flask out with us. We had one big blow out, eating at Zeferelli’s restaurant in Ambleside. I had forgotten it was actually a vegetarian restaurant, and thought there might be a mass walk out when the family realised, but they stayed and we a had a most delicious meal (for example, I ate a wellington filled with nut roast and DD3 had a most creamy and delicious blue cheese lasagne).

My holiday fund is well and truly depleted and it is frugal all the way now. Fortunately I have a language student coming for three weeks from Sunday, so I need to prepare! Onwards and upwards! Are you going anywhere nice for your holidays, or planning a staycation?

Would you swap your house (if only for a week or two)?

So, you would love a holiday but even a campsite seems too expensive? Or perhaps the great outdoors isn’t your thing and, if  you don’t have all the gear anyway, camping is only a cheap option if you plan to use it every year.

Don’t get me wrong, I love camping and had some brilliant holidays in the uk and France when the kids were younger.  However, sometimes a few home comforts are nice!

The other thing I have done for a cheap holiday is house swap. I know it sounds terrifying and many people would be nervous about letting complete strangers take over their house for a fortnight, but in my experience it can work brilliantly.

We had two lovely holidays in Brittany and one in Normandy. Another in Segovia in Spain didn’t work so well but that was more the weather than the accommodation. Nice apartment but no air con and the hottest summer Europe had seen in years (2003). We couldn’t come home because of our house guests! Fortunately we were able to  visit friends in Barcelona who had a pool to cool things down then more in France, which was still hot but you could actually move during the day!

breton houseAll were respectful of our home and left things clean and tidy, although one of the properties in Brittany was a bit on the grubby side when we arrived.

So, the upsides of house swapping:

The accomodation is free!
It is a real home from home – better equipped than any holiday apartment would be
You have someone looking after your home so that it isn’t left empty
You can even exchange pets! Our cats were fed and we became foster carers to some chickens!
You can save on car hire and exchange cars too, although we never did this
If you exchange with a family your kids get to play with all their kids toys (so you need to put away anything precious)
Your hosts will usually leave you lots of local tourist and bus information
You can exchange in the UK or abroad

The downsides:
It is a risk – although it is your interests and theirs that they look after your stuff you can’t guarantee that they won’t help themselves to your best silver
They can pull out even if you have already booked your travel
You need to give your house the biggest clean of its life so lots of work before you go
It needs to be in good decorative order

I would advise you to use an agency – there are lots on the internet. Be realistic about who you try to swap with; the proud owner of a villa with a pool in the South of France probably won’t want your three bed semi in Ordinaryville. Be honest about your property – you want your swappers to be truthful with you. Have a neighbour keep an eye and someone they can contact if there is an issue. We had problems with the plumbing at one place but our contact sorted it out.

When my house is in better shape I will definitely be house swapping again!