Monday, February 28, 2011

How to apply for a visa successfully (Part 2)

This is the second part of my How to Apply for a Visa Successfully post.  You can read the first part here. 

  • When applying for a visa, one of the first things I do is get a folder, one with an inner flap that I can tuck documents so they don’t fall out.  Avoid folders that need documents to be perforated to be filed.  Some of the documents you will need in your visa application will include important things like birth certificates, school certificates or share certificates.  These are not the sort of documents you want holes in.  Other than that, the kind of folder you choose really doesn’t matter.  The last folder I used was bright pink to put a smile on my face as I went through the (long and boring) visa application process.
  • Never assume that you need a visa application ‘agent’ to get you a visa.  You can make most visa applications yourself and save yourself (shopping) money in the process.
  • Go on the internet and research the application requirements of the visa you want to get.
  • Make a list of all the documents you are required to present to make a visa application then make a list of documents you think would assist in showing you in a favourable light even if such a document was not asked for.  You never know what might be useful.
  • Apart from a letter of invitation from a friend inviting you to stay with them, documents that might also aid with your visa application particularly to the UK are your friend’s payslips and bank statements.  These are very sensitive documents but I have been pleasantly surprised by friends who have willingly sent me these documents to aid my visa application. 
  • I usually write a personal statement addressed to the Consular Officer of the Embassy or High Commission and present it with the regular documents required by the office.  The point of my personal statement shows that I’m a responsible citizen and that I intend to come back to my country after going on holiday.  It usually contains why I’m going on holiday to that particular place, who I plan to stay with or where I plan to stay, information on where I plan to stay if I won’t be staying with friends, my career history (in brief!), how much money I have saved and what I have going for me here that illustrates I’ll return home.
  • The visa application process can be long and frustrating especially when it comes to getting documents from banks, tax offices and so on but if you give yourself a long time to prepare, write a To Do list and tick things off that list as you go it becomes less frustrating and almost fun because each step you take moves you in the direction of a wonderful holiday.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

How to apply for a visa successfully (Part 1)

How to apply for a visa successfully (Part 1)
As this post turned out longer than I expected once I had it all written up, I decided to split it into two.  This is the first part.  You can see the second part here. 

The first thing I have to point out is that this article doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get every visa you apply for from now on.  What it does do is show you how to apply in such a way that you are very likely to get the visa you apply for.  Another thing to note is that different embassies require slightly different documents and information from visa applicants.  Indeed, people applying for different kinds of visas from the same embassy need to provide different types of documents.  This post cannot cover how to apply for every single type of visa for every country in the world but it will offer general advice that will probably be useful to visa applicants. 

Having said that, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of applying successfully for a visa.
  • My basic belief when applying for a visa is ‘honesty is the best policy’.  I don’t say that my father is sponsoring my trip when in actual fact, it’s my boyfriend who is doing so, I don’t say I earn N5million naira a year if I earn N2million and I don’t present false documents.  If inspite of my being honest I don’t get the visa, I believe it wasn’t meant to be/ I can re-apply/ there are loads of other countries in the world to visit some of which don’t even need a visa for entry.
  • First things first: start researching how to apply for the visa you want several months before you plan to go on holiday.  This gives you plenty of time to apply for documents such as bank statements and health insurance which you may need to present at the embassy. 
  • It goes without saying that you need a passport (that will not expire within 6 months of you applying for a visa) and to pay a visa fee when applying for a visa.  This may seem obvious but you would be surprised at the number of people who try to apply for visas with expired or nearly expired passports or who don’t realise they have to pay a visa fee or who pay the wrong amount.
  • Apply for the visa you want a few months before you intend to travel.  This is particularly useful as if you apply for visas at peak periods like summer or Christmas, it’ll probably take a longer time for your application to be processed.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Pack for Short Trips

There are people who seem gifted at packing; their packing process is organised, clothes come out of the suitcase or bag wrinkle-free and they seem to have the right outfit for each event.  It’s admirable.  For most of us though, packing is a nightmare and packing for short trips, say 4 or 5 days is even more difficult as dumping most of your wardrobe into a small suitcase wouldn’t work.  If packing has never been your forte, you’ve come to the right place.  This post will give tips on how to pack for short trips and in the future, I’ll do a post with tips on how to pack for long trips.

  • When packing for short trips, you need to know how many days exactly you’ll be gone for so you can plan properly.  You also need to be sure what sort of trip you’re going on.  The clothes you would pack for a business trip with a possibility of a few formal dinners would be different from the clothes you would need for a beach holiday.
  • Choose one style of packing.  This means, if you want to roll your clothes into your travel bag, roll all of them.  Don’t roll some of the clothes and fold the others.  It’s a sure way to make sure all your clothes come out wrinkled.
  • Think creatively when it comes to your clothes and learn to combine what you’ve got.  If you’re going away for 3 days, there’s no point in taking 3 pairs of jeans.  All you need is one pair and 3 different tops.  Then maybe pack a dress and heels or a pair of proper trousers and a dress shirt for going out.
  • To save myself the stress of ironing (one of my least favourite activities), I generally pack clothes that stretch or that contain Lycra as these ones are less likely to need ironing.
  • I love shoes as much as the next girl but there’s no need to pack 5 different pairs even if you’re going to be away 5 days.  At most, you need a pair of comfortable walking shoes (which you can wear when travelling), a pair of proper shoes for dinners or formal events and an extra pair just in case ;-)
  • Put soap, shower gel and body lotion and anything that can spill or stain clothes in a Ziploc bag.  Decant your favourite gels and lotions into small containers to save space in your travel bag.
  • Packing underwear is easy.  Simply toss your smalls on top of your packed clothes and smile at immigration officials’ discomfort if they search your bag.  Naturally, this only works for women J
  • Mentally wear the clothes you’ve packed for each day and each event you plan to attend to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything and that’s it.  You’re packed and ready to go.

What are your top packing tips?  Go ahead and share them in the comments box.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Stay healthy on holiday

Holidays are supposed to be fun, exciting, relaxing times (depending on what kind of person you are) but illness can pretty much spoil them.  Even mild illness can ruin a vacation and mar the memories of what would have been a great time.  It doesn’t have to be that way though.  Here are a few things to keep in mind in a bid to have a healthy holiday:
  • If you’re going to a country where there’s a possibility of getting malaria like Cheryl Cole did when she went she apparently went to Zanzibar, make sure you take anti-malaria medication before you go on your trip.  Ask your doctor for more information about what medication to take.
  • In the same vein, if you live in an area where malaria occurs, take anti-malaria medication before you go on holiday to a country that has little occurrence of the disease.  This is so that you don’t fall ill with malaria in a country where knowledge and perhaps treatment of the disease hardly ever happens.  Take the same medication with you on holiday as sometimes malaria doesn’t rear its head for days after being bitten by the mosquito that causes the disease. 
  • Take basic medication like painkillers and medication that treats running tummy with you on holiday.  This is so that if you do get the odd headache or tummy upset, you can easily take care of it without worrying about where the nearest pharmacy is, whether you need a prescription or how to say “I have diarrhoea” in a foreign language.
  • While it’s good to be adventurous with food when on holiday, do so within reason.  If you’re not sure what’s in a particular meal, ask.  This is particularly important if you’re allergic to certain foods.  For example, I have a friend who is allergic to a particular kind of fish and will fall ill if he eats anything that has been cooked with it even if he doesn’t actually eat the fish.
  • When eating street food, choose food from stalls that have lots of customers.  If the food from a particular stand makes people ill, it’s unlikely to be popular especially with people who live in the area.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel in a new city, ask the hotel staff for their own personal favourite places to eat (outside the hotel, of course).  They will often recommend food that is delicious and cheap!
  • Above all, use common sense.  If the food looks dodgy, trust your instincts and avoid eating it.

*Please speak to your doctor before taking any medication.

                                             Nina Matthews Photography

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to stay happy when you get back from holiday

If you’re like most people, you look forward to your annual holiday desperately and anticipate your return to the daily grind with dread.  Of course, this isn’t ideal.  Everyone should be as eager to return to their ‘normal life’ as they are to go on holiday.  This doesn’t hold true for many people though so until we all find a way to be as happy to get back to our lives as we are to go on holiday, here are a few tips to make returning to the normal schedule as happy as possible.
·         Make sure you’ve stashed some money at home/ in an account you didn’t have access to when you were on holiday so you’re not flat broke when you get back.
·         Make your bed and clean your room/ house before you go on holiday.  This makes it easier for you to settle in when you get back.  Besides, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as lying down on a well-made bed when you’re tired.
·         If you took your laptop with you on holiday, download your photographs onto it at the end of each day otherwise download them onto your laptop as soon as you’re home so you can re-live those great moments whenever you want.
·         Plan lunch, a night out with friends or whatever takes your fancy for the day after you return from vacation.  It gives you something to look forward to plus gives you the chance to re-live your holiday. Again.
·         Start wearing the clothes and displaying the curios you bought while on holiday to lift your mood instantly.
Perhaps the most important tip though is to create the sort of life that you would love to come back to after a refreshing holiday.

What do you think?  Are there any things you do to keep yourself in a good mood when you come back from a vacation?  Put them in the comments so we can learn new tips.
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

How to have a holiday romance without the heartache

                                                   Photograph by Nattu

Okay, first of all I have to admit I can’t advice on how to avoid heartache completely after a hot but brief holiday dalliance but I can tell you how to reduce the hurt you might feel.  But wait, before we get to the point of (possibly) having your heart broken, let’s start with how to have a holiday romance at all.
Naturally, the first thing is to go on holiday.  Sounds pretty obvious but stay with me here.  The next thing to note is that you don’t have to travel to far-flung places to be on holiday.  All you need is to take a break from your regular work or school schedule.  In fact, if we widen the description of a holiday romance further, you don’t even actually have to be on holiday yourself – you just have to be involved with someone who is.  It’s a holiday romance for the other person and therefore, for you too.

If you do decide to travel somewhere exotic, your chances of having a holiday romance increase if you travel alone.  See my blog post on how to go on holiday alone for more on this.  If you do travel with friends or family, make sure you go out on your own sometimes so people have the chance to talk to you without wondering if  your buddies are making fun of their chat-up lines.  Remember to stay safe when you do go out by yourself, always let your friends know where you’re going and when you plan to be back.

I think the most important way to attract people to you whether you’re on holiday or not is to be (or at least appear) happy and confident.  If you do hit it off with a sexy waitress/ barely adult university student/ attractive business person, have fun but do remember that if you’re only there for a few days, it’s unlikely to lead to a lengthy, all-consuming romance.  That’s the first step towards not being heartbroken when the fling ends.  Other ways to remember the romance with fondness and not regret are to take lots of pictures together but skip the exchanging email addresses/ phone numbers part.  How likely are you to keep in touch with your Spanish lover if your grasp of the language is limited to ‘hola’?  Most of all, don’t make promises you know you won’t keep (“I’ll call you everyday”), tag the (brief) relationship under your experience folder (in your head, not your CV) and remind yourself from time to time how exciting your holiday was.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Labadi Beach Hotel, Accra, Ghana

Labadi Beach Hotel is part of the Legacy chain of hotels which has South African ownership.  I went to Accra, Ghana in December 2008 with a friend and decided to stay at Labadi Beach Hotel (LBH) following a friend’s advice.  I had asked for the hotel to pick us up from the airport which they did.  LBH is only about 10km from Kotoka International Airport and the ride to the hotel in the (air-conditioned) bus was cool although there was quite a bit of traffic to get through on the way.

Once we arrived, the driver insisted on carrying our luggage into the hotel although all we had were little suitcases we could manage and were already carrying ourselves.  Carrying our suitcases was probably part of his job but it made us feel a little special all the same.  At reception, while our reservations were being checked, we were greeted with cold towels and glasses of cold fruit juice which were a nice relief after the ride from the airport.

After filling out forms at reception, we were shown to our rooms.  Ours was a double with two single beds.  It had a bathroom ensuite, TV (with a few DStv channels and Ghanaian channels), fridge, a little sofa and my favourite thing, a little balcony with chairs on it looking onto a lawn.  It was calming to sit there early in the morning or in the evening just reading or sipping drinks.  The bathtub in the bathroom had red marks around the drain but apart from that, the bathroom and room were clean and attractive.

LBH has two restaurants: The Primavera Restaurant which served mostly Italian meals and the Akwaaba Restaurant which served Ghanaian and Continental meals.  We always ate in The Akwaaba Restaurant because it seemed to have a wider menu:  in addition to a buffet, morning, noon and night, you could choose meals from a set menu.  Our reservation included free breakfast from the buffet so we generally ate there before going out.  The buffet always had a mind-boggling array of food and it was always fresh.  The best thing for me about LBH was the food!

LBH has a swimming pool, children’s pool (amongst other facilities) as well as a private beach.  By private beach, I mean that a part of the beach was cordoned off and loungers were placed there.  However to get to the sea, you had to leave the cordoned-off area.  On LBH’s private beach, you could order drinks and snacks making a day at the beach feel luxurious.

LBH’s staff were always attentive and eager to help whether you were lost, couldn’t figure out how to open the door to your room or needed to know what the best bars in Accra were.  LBH has a cocktail bar where in the evening, you could sit, have drinks and listen (or sing along) to the songs the pianist played.  After a few drinks and a bit of makeshift karaoke, going in search of Accra’s nightclubs might seem like too much trouble.

Checking out at the end of our stay was quick and problem-free.  On the whole, staying at LBH was a pleasure.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to go shopping on holiday without going broke

                                         Photograph by NeilsPhotography

Ahh…shopping.  One of the greatest delights available to man.  If you’re going on a strictly shopping holiday, this article might not be too useful to you.  After all, your planned holiday schedule will probably be:  eat, shop, sleep, wake up and repeat.  For the rest of us who go on holiday and intend to do some shopping on the side, a more detailed plan of action might be required.  This plan should begin before you actually go on holiday. 

Before you set off on your merry shopping way, determine your budget.  Yes, budgets are boring but if you want to come back from your holiday feeling on top of the world instead of down in the doldrums, they are necessary.  There’s no need to open up Excel to create a shopping budget (not unless you really want to, anyway); just decide how much you can dedicate to shopping alone.  This amount should exclude money for transportation, feeding and of course accommodation. 

A good way to come up with a budget is to determine how much you can spare for shopping then calculate its value in the currency of the country you’ll be visiting.  You can get exchange rates from websites like or better still, call up your bank and ask them.  What I usually do is determine how much I’d like to spend on shopping in the currency of the country I’ll be visiting then I’ll change it to the currency of where I am.  If after this calculation, I find I can’t afford my dream shopping allowance, I adjust the figures until I reach an amount I can spare.

This may not work for everyone but I prefer to carry most of my shopping money in cash and put ‘emergency’ shopping money on a debit or credit card.  Of course, one can argue that emergencies aren’t exactly relevant to shopping but I’m sure true shoppers out there would beg to differ.  I use the emergency funds on my card for things like buying a last-minute present for a friend or buying books in duty-free.

OK.  Now you’ve sorted out how much money you have to spend on shopping so you’re ready to hit the shops!  Not quite.  Malls are enticing places filled with tempting shoes determined to go home with you.  Be prepared.  What I usually do is make a list of the things I really really want before I hit the mall/ shopping centre/ souk.  That way, my subconscious is focused on the things I want and I’m less distracted by the things NOT on my list.  That’s not to say I don’t go home with more bangles and tubes of lipgloss than I had intended to buy but it means I hardly ever buy things then wonder what I was thinking when I get home with them.

If there’s something I desperately want (usually a big, black handbag).  Once I spot it, I stroke it, stare at myself in the mirror while holding it, take a mental picture of it then go home.  Without it.  If I’m still thinking about it 2 days later, I know it’s something I really want and hurry to the shop begging them to take my money (not really, but you know what I mean).  I find that purchases like these are the ones I love and use the most.

So now you’re prepared and can confidently go shopping on holiday without worrying about going back home broke.  What about you?  Do you have any tips about shopping on holiday?

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Go on holiday with friends and come back friends

Like I said in an earlier post, solo holidays are fun but even I have to admit that ‘holidaying’ with friends is even more fun.  However, there are many stories of people going on holiday together and by the time they come back, they are hardly speaking to each other.  I’ve gone on holiday with friends and family and we (mostly ;-)) still love each other so allow me to give you some tips on how to go on holiday with a friend and come back friends.
·         The first and maybe most obvious tip is to go on holiday with someone you know very well.  It would surprise you the number of people I barely know who have asked me to go on holiday with them.  Doing so is a recipe for disaster even if you’re the adventurous type.
·         Try to decide the basics together.  Both parties are more likely to be happy if they are both satisfied with things like choice of hotel and number of days you’ll be away.  If one person doesn’t care about such mundane things, the other should take up that task but keep the other person informed of all decisions.
·         Decide together what you guys would like to do while on holiday.  If your friend’s idea of a holiday is eating and lying by the pool while yours is seeing as many museums and historical monuments as possible, you might be in for a trying time.
·         Decide who will be in charge of what while on holiday.  For example:  before my friend, Yetunde and I went to Paris (the first time for both of us), we decided she would be in charge of transportation (map-reading and deciphering the Metro) because she works in transportation and I would be in charge of communication (because I speak a little French).  It worked out very well.

Yetunde and I at the Louvre, Paris

·         Learn to compromise.  Sometimes, when I’m on holiday, my friend wants to go somewhere I’m not interested in going and vice versa but we go to both places together.  It makes things more fun plus you never know.  You could discover something new that you like which is how I discovered long bicycle rides can be fun.  Even if you wind up taking a taxi back home.

Going on holiday with a good friend can be filled with fun.  To see how other people manage it, click here to see how blogger extraordinarire, Gala Darling and her friend, design aficionado, Nubby Twiglet went to Paris and had a great time. 

Have you ever gone on holiday with a friend and had a wonderful or an awful time?  Tell us in the comments.
Yetunde and I at Windsor Castle in the U.K.

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