Friday Commentary: National Gardening Week

April 18, 2014 at 5:00 AM

This week our panel share their favourite gardens

Sandringham gardens Photo: Karen Roe

Sandringham gardens Photo: Karen Roe

Versailles Palace, Claude Monet and Minnesota. That might seem like three random things plumped together, but they all have one thing in common: beautiful gardens. From Keukenhof’s tulips in the Netherlands, to Gardens of Cosmic Speculation in Scotland, there’s just something about that heady mix of fragrance, colour and fresh air that brings out the best in us, our countries – heck, nature itself. This week is National Gardening Week, and here at we know two things: firstly, that here in the UK we’re famous for our love of gardening (let’s NOT bring up hosepipe bans); and secondly, that gardens are an integral part of any home – either here or on holiday.

And in that leafy vein, our question to the green-fingered panel this week:

“What is your favourite garden to visit in the UK or abroad and why?”

Friday Commentary: National Pet Day

April 4, 2014 at 7:08 AM

It’s time to celebrate our furry friends…

celebrate national pets day with us

Where will you celebrate National Pet Day?

Did you know this April is National Pet Awareness Month? And did you know Friday the 11th is set to be National Pet Day?

Yep – you can assume that all those slobbery, boxer-dog kisses have been asking you for even more attention. And why not? After all, the saying “it’s dog’s life” didn’t make it into history for nothin’. They wake us up in the morning with a pawing or rough-tongued lick to the face – acting as alarm clock (or perhaps just begging for breakfast). They drag us out of bed to take a long walk along the beach – acting as personal trainer (or perhaps just out to play ball). They stand guard at home all day – acting as security guard (or perhaps just chewing up our brand new, designer cushions). And by night time? We have our very own counsellors. No, they don’t exactly ‘chew the fat’ (well, sometimes – acting as live rubbish disposal is also a pretty great perk at bad dinner parties) but they do lavish us with unwavering love.

No one’s keeping tabs on who benefits from the pet/master relationship, of course, but our animals – big and small, furry and not so furry – are constant companions who deserve a day out. In that vein, how will you celebrate with your four-legged, winged and gilled friends this month? And where will you take them? This year marks the silver anniversary of the event – 25 years of promoting pet ownership and helping pet charities, and as such, there are dozens of fun and educational activities taking place up and down the UK.

Fundraisers; group walks; charity balls; pet first aid courses: there’s sure to be something happening near you and your pal. Or perhaps you’ll just spend a day roaming the hills, or snuggled up by the fire. Here’s what our HomeAway pet-friendly panel are getting up to.

“Where in the UK will you take your pet on National Pet Day”?

Friday Commentary: Mothering Sunday – do mothers get a good deal?

March 28, 2014 at 4:57 AM

This week’s debate from our panel of experts

time to spoil mum with breakfast in bed

Time to spoil mum with breakfast in bed

This weekend, mums up and down the country will be woken up by excited children, glowing with pride at the home-made gifts they’ve crafted (with a little help from dad), together with a well-deserved breakfast in bed and a hand-made card sparkling in glitter and glue. Well, that was Mother’s Day when I was young; today we’ve moved past the old Mothering Sunday tradition of picking flowers on the way over to see mum, and certainly past the drab bunches of petrol-station flowers I remember. Today, there are many more opportunities to spoil mum, from spa days and short breaks away, to unusual gifts like 3D chocolate selfies (but let’s face it – not many mums will really want to bite their own heads off…).

Throughout our childhood, mums are there for us every day: providing us with a helping hand; picking us up after scraped knees; ever called upon to be our shoulder to cry on. With that in mind, maybe mum should be treated to a day of pampering more than just once per year. Do mothers get a good deal when the family heads off on holiday? Or is mum still stuck in the same routine, just in a different place? As we celebrate the centenary of Mother’s Day, is it enough that it’s just once a year, or do mothers really deserve a holiday too?

This week we rounded up our panel of experts and asked for their thoughts on whether mum gets a good deal, at home and when away.

Friday commentary: Is it fair to fine parents for term-time holidays?

March 21, 2014 at 6:25 AM

The weekly debate from our panel of experts

family holidays fine in term time?

Should family holidays carry a fine in term time?

There has been a lot of debate about the rising cost of family breaks during school holidays. It has been an emotive issue and one which our panel of experts took a look at in our first Friday commentary. We have seen parents take to social media and groups lobbying for government intervention and price regulation, resulting in a parliamentary debate. The travel industry respond by stating it is responding to a simple case of supply and demand, coupled with the summer season being the only time several large operators turn a profit.

Over the last couple of months since this story first came to the fore we have seen a plethora of ideas for how best to deal with the situation be suggested. One idea which seemed to gain traction has been a proposed reduction in air passenger duty during the summer holidays; this has been supported by the airline industry and Michael Gove, the Education secretary. Scrapping the tax in summer could save a family between £52 & £376 on an overseas holiday. A controversial suggestion has been to take the kids out of school for a term-time break, an option which (though once acceptable) has been banned by recent legislation, and now incurs a hefty fine, as Stewart and Natasha Sutherland found out.

Both sides of the argument have responded to this with holiday companies offering to pay parents’ fines and the Department for Education stating that:

“Poor attendance at school can have a hugely damaging effect and children who attend school regularly are nearly four times more likely to achieve five or more good GCSEs than those who are regularly absent. Parents should never simply discount a possible penalty notice from the cost of a cheaper holiday, because this is a criminal offence and when doing so they are always risking prosecution.”

This week we put it to our panel of experts: “Is it fair to fine parents who take their children out of school during term time to save money?”

Friday Commentary: Safe travel

March 14, 2014 at 8:18 AM

Staying safe whilst on the move isn’t always easy


Stay safe and avoid conflict spots around the world

Stay safe and avoid conflict spots around the world

Events in recent months and years have turned once safe and popular holiday destinations, such as Cairo in Egypt, Bangkok in Thailand and Ukraine, into virtual no-go areas. Egypt has seen a decline of 28.9% in January with visitor numbers down to half their 2011 height of 1,147,962. Whilst the recent shutdown of Bangkok during the protests has given tourists pause for thought.

At the same time as people are reconsidering holidays to Egypt and Thailand we have also witnessed the unfolding situation in Ukraine. Last week at the worlds largest tourism fair, ITB in Berlin, Ukraine’s tourist board was trying to make the best of a bad situation with images of the protests in Kiev being used as an image of hope and change, something they believe will inspire some of the 80,000 tourists which visited from the UK in 2013. Elena Ovcharenko, head of public relations and marketing for Kiev’s tourism office spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald and said the following of Kiev: “I think it’s our story at the moment – it’s the sad side of our story but we’re proud that Ukraine has these heroes and people who weren’t scared to defend the interests of their country,”

With HomeAway having rentals in Egypt, Thailand and Ukraine we thought it would be timely to look at how to stay safe when abroad and what to do if the unexpected happens. So we asked our panel of experts their advice on safe travel, and where would they stay away from?