Sunday, August 9, 2009

8 reasons to try freelance journalism

1.You are your own boss. As a freelance writer you can enjoy an independence rarely experienced in other professions.

2.Your source of material and work is endless.

3.You can specialise in your passions.

4.You can work from home. Your costs are miniscule and your only essential tool is a computer and a phone.

5.For every story you write, you will learn at least one new fact.

6.For every story you write, you will meet at least one new person.

7.Your hours are flexible. Freelance writing is something you can do part-time. Unless you are out on assignment you can work from home, at the times that best suit you.

8.A hobby can become a career. You can turn any interest you have into profit by being published. If you have a passion for travel, adventure, show business, the arts, health and fitness, food or finance you can turn this into a money-making pursuit. Similarly if you have a professional skill, readers would like to hear from you.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Until two years ago I was a DIY holiday addict, taking great pride in organising my personalised holidays abroad. After several years of boycotting the traditional holiday route, close friends convinced me to go on a hassle-free package holiday to Portugal. Eager to join them, I followed their plans to book with a well-known agent, all the time expecting to be disappointed by typical package holiday standards. I was more than shocked when we arrived at our MTV cribs style apartment overlooking the marina in Lagos. As I settled into the week of sun and relaxation, I realised I had forgotten what it feels like to let someone else do all the hard work (i.e a travel agent vetting out resorts, tailoring a holiday to our interests, and organising our transfers) so that all we had to worry about was what we wanted to eat and drink next. Three package holidays later and I am a firm believer in both DIY and package holidays. While organising your own itinerary from hotel to flight involves a sense of achievement and often a bargain, the value of the travel agent should not be underestimated either. The professional assistance and savvy they provide often outweigh the modest charges. This I have experienced first-hand.


While you won’t always get a better deal with a travel agent there are some good reasons to book with them.

Specialised knowledge: Good travel agents know the main destinations, and what they don't know first-hand they can find through databases designed for agency use.
Time Saving: If you value your time, an agent is indispensible. A five-minute call to a travel agent allows you to avoid many hours of tedious search through online sites.

Good Deals: Good agents know what's available online as well as special promotions that may not be available to the public. Also free child places, two for one deals etc.

Airline Ticket Tricks: Online booking is easy for buying a conventional one-way, round-trip, or multi-stop air ticket. But on more complicated international tickets, agents know some cost-cutting tricks that you could never find online.

Problem solvers: When something goes wrong, before or during your trip a travel agent is your best source of help. If it goes bust you get refund. This is in contrast to online bookings, which often result in tales of woe.

Safety: When travelling to areas that you aren’t familiar with, or if it’s your first time visiting a particular country, booking with travel agents can be good as they organise transfers, induction talks etc


Certainly, travel agents aren't for everyone. Lots of you probably enjoy the thrill of the hunt for travel deals.

Laziness: Some lazy agents try to sell you what's easiest to sell rather than what's really best for you - a package tour rather than independent travel, for instance, or a railpass instead of individual rail tickets.

Preferential Treatment: Some agents try to steer you to their preferred suppliers -airlines, hotel chains, and cruise lines that give them extra bonuses or override commissions—rather than the supplier that's best for you.

Restrict travel plans: Often travel agents can’t be flexible with your package holiday as you have to travel certain days and stay for certain amount of nights in some places.

Wasting times with transfers: On some package holidays you could be four hours on a bus to your resort when it is only a fifty minute journey. This is because the drop off and collection of other guests. It can take a day out of your holiday in some cases. Also times of airport transfers can be at an unearthly hour.

• Find the best agent by referral from friends, business associates, or family members who have a good agency relationship.
• If for some reason the travel agent closes down there is a robust consumer protection scheme. Nobody loses out on their holidays – either another travel company steps in and the booking is honoured or the customer gets a full refund. The Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995 requires tour operators and travel agents to protect you in the event of their becoming insolvent (bankrupt). The Commission for Aviation Regulation licenses travel agents and tour operators in Ireland. All tour operators and travel agents are required by law to enter into a bond before they are licensed. This bond protects the interests of the customer and means that if the travel agent or tour operator becomes bankrupt, the Commission then administers the bond. This usually involves the Commission assessing individual claims from customers of the failed tour operator or travel agent, making refunds to customers who have purchased holidays and where necessary, arranging for customers who have been unable to begin or complete their holiday to be brought home. For information on consumer rights visit or to make sure travel agent is bonded visit
• The safest way to get protection when booking travel arrangements is to use your credit card. As long as the transaction bears the name of the company you are booking with, say the airline, your credit card issuer should refund any losses.
• Don’t be fooled into thinking you have financial protection when you book a hotel or rent a car to go with your low cost flights. This might feel like a 'package' holiday, but it is not and you are not covered under the bonding laws. If one of these companies goes out of business, you risk losing your money.

No refund: Many internet deals are non-refundable, so tourists who accidentally click on the wrong dates or otherwise mess up their booking can find themselves out of pocket.

Currency charges: The biggest trap when booking online is websites that use multiple currencies, and can overcharge.

Wrong place: Beware of booking hotels with similar names, a problem that has caused many tourists to end up in the wrong place. Places too e.g., Sydney in Canada instead of Sydney, Australia or Melbourne, Florida instead of Melbourne, Australia.

Booking Fees: Some online sites have booking fees, though many have dropped these in recent months.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Don’t be a vaccine virgin

Getting the right jabs before travelling is vital for a safer and more enjoyable trip

• A bottle of mosquito repellent, suncream and a packet of Motilium are not enough for travelling to certain countries. Whether you are taking a safari to Africa, volunteering in South America or backpacking through Europe, you should be aware of the health risks linked to international travel.
• You will not need vaccinations to visit any European country, unless you have visited a non-European country shortly beforehand. However vaccines should be considered if you are travelling to areas outside of Western Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Numerous destinations require certain vaccinations, some six to twelve weeks in advance.
• The first step it to make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic to have a basic check-up and find out if any health checks are required. Not all tourists to countries where there is a potential risk of infection need to be vaccinated. However it is important that you discuss your personal travel plans with a doctor so they can determine the correct vaccinations for your trip.
• An early start to the vaccine process is particularly important if you plan to travel with children. The BCG vaccination against tuberculosis (TB), for example, should be given at least three months before your child travels. Certain vaccinations are compulsory while others are recommended, but the decision is ultimately left to your own discretion. However, it makes sense to do everything you can to guard against illness and disease while you are away.
• Protection against Yellow Fever is essential. This is a potentially fatal viral disease carried by certain mosquitoes in parts of Africa and South America. Yellow fever vaccine is only available from approved medical practitioners and must be given at least 10 days before travel to infected areas. You can obtain a list of locally approved yellow fever vaccinations providers from the Department of Health. Yellow fever may be spread by an infected traveller, so if you are travelling to a country where the disease is a risk, you may need a certificate showing proof of vaccination. Without this certificate you may be refused entry to some countries, or required to be vaccinated upon arrival.
• Like all necessities, vaccines don’t come cheap. They are not free in Ireland through the public health system - even if you hold a medical card. You will have to pay the full cost for vaccinations.
• You can find out more about healthy travel and vaccinations from the World Health Organisation: or the Tropical Medical Bureau on 1850 487 674

Survive the red eye flight

Get the best seat possible: Be sure to avoid being stuck in the middle seat of the back row. To maximise your chance of catching a few winks you can opt to pay extra for the comfort of a roomier seat in business or first class. If you cannot afford this, just ask for the best seat going in economy or else chance asking for an upgrade. If you are in economy, get a window seat if you have a strong bladder and want to rest your head against the window. Otherwise request an aisle seat as it’s far better to be disturbed, than to disturb.

Be careful about what you ask for: If you request a seat with extra leg room, chances are you could be placed next to the toilet area on the plane. You will only be only too delighted by the constant queue of people standing next to you waiting for the loo while you try to sleep. Insist that you do not want to sit next to a toilet.

Pack flight essentials: Include a small bag in your carry-on, filled with items that put you in the mood for sleep. With ear plugs, an eye mask, a travel pillow, and warm socks you will ready for bed.

A little help to sleep: Some rest easily with either a prescribed sleeping aid or an over-the-counter medicine. There is no one wonder drug that works for everyone. Talk with your doctor about what will work best for you. If you decide to take anything, first take it at home well before your trip to ensure that it does not cause any unwanted side effects. If you are able to take aspirin take one every 10 hours to thin your blood and avoid blood clots while flying. Make sure the aspirin is in its own box, do not take loose. Seek medical advice on this tip before you fly.

Eat wisely while on board: While no specific clinical research has been done to find out if fatty in-flight will trigger DVT in theory eating stodgy meals could make a difference. It’s recommended to stick to the lighter options. Oily fish is rich in beneficial oils that help to reduce the tendency for blood to clot. Salmon is a good option: if it comes with a creamy sauce, try to leave this on the side. It may even be worth taking fish-oil capsules for a week before and after you fly and making a conscious effort to eat more foods fortified with omega3, such as certain brands of eggs, milk and yoghurt.

Choose comfortable footwear: Remember that compression of the cabin will increase your shoe size by one size. So, if you take your shoes off, be prepared to walk off the plane without them on, as they might not fit back on. I suggest trainers.

Refresh and revive: When they bring round the hot towels during the flight put it over your face and breath through it, it sorts out all your nose, mouth and ears which will become congested by the cabin pressure air. Once you’ve cleared out your head, then use the towel to clean as much as your arms and neck as you can.

Avoid bed on arrival: When you land in your final destination, it can be very tempting to head straight to the hotel bed. Many red-eye regulars skip the nap that first day and then go to sleep early that evening. The aim is to wake up the next day feeling relatively in sync with your new time zone.

Take it easy the first few days: It is all about resetting your body clock to the new time as quickly as possible. Ambition is the enemy after a long red-eye flight. Keep your plans for that first day as simple as possible. If you plan to rent a car at the airport and drive on to another city, be sure to consider whether you will feel alert enough to safely do so.

How to travel in a recession

Don’t let the credit crunch put a halt to your globetrotting

•Flexibility is key. Airfares can vary by several hundreds depending on the day of the week. Travelling whilst most people are still at work will save time and money, so try booking your ticket for a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday to save some cash and aggravation.

•Be spontaneous. There’s nothing more invigorating than throwing caution to the winds and taking that last minute trip. But in order to protect your wallet from the increasing oil prices that are driving up the cost of flights, you'll need to book now if its savings you’re after. Costs for airfare, hotels and hired cars for the most part follow the thermometer – as the temperature rises, so do the prices.

•Open your mind: Not everyone knows where and when they want to go for their next holiday. Travelling further afield is hardly inexpensive, but you can make your hard earned euro stretch as far as possible by heading to any destination accepting (or linked to) the U.S. dollar. Consider sunning yourself on the beaches of dollar-based Caribbean islands like Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

•Look for signs of price weakness. Travel agents or companies that have already reduced their prices may be prepared to snip again. Politely and coolly ask for a discount. It always helps to mention that you are looking at their competitors who are willing to offer a better rate.

•Do your research online. Often prices on the airline or tour operators’ website can work out cheaper than booking over the phone.

•Be clever about hotel breaks. City hotels tend to be less busy at weekends so prices are often more flexible. Country hotels often have more availability in the middle of the week. When a hotel has unusually low occupancy rates you also may be able to negotiate a cheaper rate, an upgrade for standard price, or get free breakfast -there is nothing to lose by asking.

•Get your timing right. To book a package holiday try phoning the travel agent one to three weeks before departure. For hotel stays wait until one to five days beforehand.

•The best way to get a free flight or upgrade is to use frequent flyer miles. With frequent flier miles available with most large airlines, it is easier than ever to accrue free travel.

Chocolate Addiction

Part of the myth surrounding chocolate is that if it tastes so good, it must be bad for your health. Not so, it seems. “Chocolate can be a component of healthy eating so long as it’s in moderation and not over-indulgence,’ says Dublin-based nutritionist Michele Van Valey. “I love dark chocolate and eat about one to two squares of it about five times a week.” Also recent nutritional research has identified many health benefits of chocolate. While that is no license to let loose on a massive chocolate binge, there are several solid reasons why we should not ban it from our diets just yet.

1. It stops bad moods
Chocolate is well known to be a mood lifter; as it stimulates the brainwaves and lowers the stress levels. We want chocolate in times of stress, anxiety, and pain. Chocolate is a natural pain killer and this could be the reason why lots of people stuff themselves with it when they are upset or angry. Actually they are unknowingly helping themselves out by eating chocolates. When your lower your stress levels, the more relaxed you become, which in turn is a plus for your health. Chocolate can soothe the savage beast in all of us (particularly women, and especially at a certain time of the month). So if you are feeling moody, irritable, or even depressed, eat a piece of some good chocolate to feel better.

2. It prevents illness
Chocolate and health may seem like an oxymoron. However, chocolate may be a lot better for your health than you ever imagined. Firstly it is a great source of energy. Also chocolates raise antioxidant levels in your blood, which helps to fight against foreign bodies that can cause illnesses. With less of these foreign bodies in your blood, you are less likely to get ill from viruses or other things that could affect your health. “There have been a lot of studies about the nutritional benefits. According to nutritionist Michele Van Valey, “flavenoids are said to boost cardiovascular health by relaxing blood vessels and improving blood flow in arteries and reducing blood clots.” It may also lower high blood pressure.” Dermatologists have also determined that chocolate does not cause acne.

3. It makes us feel good
What is it about chocolate that makes so many of us swoon? There is something undeniably irresistible about it. The word itself is sensual and romantic; never mind the creamy, silky texture, the deep, dark, colour, the exquisitely rich flavour, and the tantalising aroma. It’s believed that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and makes us feel good, which in turn makes for a healthy sex life. High levels of serotonin can produce feelings of elation by increasing serotonin levels. “If chocolate raises serotonin, which is the feel good hormone, it must bring happy feelings,” says Michele Van Valey. Chocolate lovers often describe the melting chocolate feeling as a moment of true ecstasy. It’s the cocoa butter in chocolate that gives it the rich and creamy texture that we love so much. So whether it is a good peanut butter filled chocolate, chocolate covered raisins, or a Terry’s chocolate orange, you will experience deep satisfaction as you indulge.

4. It is not bad for your teeth
Forget the myth that chocolate will ruin your teeth. As long as the chocolate consumed is not too sugary and sticky, it will not harm them. Studies have shown that chocolate causes less damage to teeth than other foods with the same amount of sugar. Apparently the nature of chocolate makes it easily rinsed from the mouth by saliva, leaving it in contact with teeth for a shorter time. Chocolate also contains tannins, which inhibit the action of cavity causing bacteria, perhaps by not allowing them to stick to the teeth. Cacao, the source of chocolate, contains antibacterial agents that fight tooth decay. “The cocoa content in the chocolate is what is considered the healthy component,’ says Michele.

5. It is a natural drug
Sometimes we get these intense cravings for chocolate. That is because chocolate contains a natural 'love drug'. Although you would have to eat several pounds at one sitting, chocolate has been found to contain chemical compounds that stimulate the same receptor sites in the brain as marijuana. Chocolate is not physically addictive, even though some people crave it. It tastes divine, which is reason enough to want to eat chocolate regularly. Even if you think of yourself as a chocoholic, your body will not experience withdrawal if you stop eating it.

While the above reasons should encourage any chocolate lover to keep indulging, there are particular chocolates that are better than others. This may not be news to some but others who have been happily consuming chocolate all of their lives are often unaware which chocolate treats are best.
• The higher the cocoa content the more beneficial the bar.
• Choose the darkest, richest chocolate you can find made with quality cocoa butter. Chocolatiers such as Lindt make dark chocolates containing 70 percent or more cocoa. The average chocolate bar contains about 40 percent.
• If you don’t like dark chocolate choose chocolate with nuts or orange peel.
• Avoid anything with caramel, nougat or other fillings as they are just adding sugar and fat which erase many of the benefits you get from eating the chocolate.
• Chocolate may taste good with a glass of milk but research shows washing your chocolate down with milk could prevent the antioxidants being absorbed or used by your body.
• 1 oz of chocolate a day is said to be a healthy amount.

Celebrities who go crazy for chocolate

Colin Farrell
Nicole Richie
Charlotte Church
Jessica Alba

The Permanant Blowdry

Frizzy, dry and temperamental: three words that best describe my hair. It’s as unpredictable as the Irish weather. On the rare occasion it falls into Farrah Fawcett waves, but more often than not it springs into a curly mess. Of course hair straighteners have been a recent blessing to those of us with unruly hair. But since I am not into the poker straight look nor have the time to blow dry a slick style every morning; I had resorted to a permanent frustration with my untamed mane. That is until I heard about the permanent blow dry.

At first it sounded too good to be true, that this simple process could transform my highlighted hair into perfect strands, lasting three to four months no matter how many times I washed it. The revolutionary treatment – pioneered by Gil Conclaves at London hair salon Daniel Hersheson’s – is already a favourite of many celebrities including Gisele Bundchen. If it’s good enough for gorgeous Gisele, I needed no further convincing.

For such dramatic results, the treatment itself is relatively fast and pleasant. Taking under two hours it starts with a deep cleansing shampoo followed by a quick blow-dry. Then it’s time for the crucial magic potion. A sweet scented lotion is generously applied to the hair and blow-dried in before being sealed in with straighteners. Unlike other treatments of its kind natural ingredients are used to protect the hair from breakage. Apparently the more damaged and coloured your hair, the better the results. (For once my hair had the upper hand on girls blessed with glossy dark locks). Aside from the strong smelling lotion, my hair had an obvious shine, if a bit too much static, immediately after the treatment. The sceptic in me was not fully convinced of its success rate until a few days later. For the best results you must not wash your hair for three days, not tie hair up or get caught in the rain. After that you can wash it as normal and leave it to dry naturally.

For a guarantee of good results I left my hair for five days before washing it. Never have I been so eager to watch my hair dry naturally. Gobsmacked with the outcome, I still can’t quite believe my hair dries perfectly after every wash. Having frizzy hair from my teenage years, water has always been my nemesis. Now I almost sing in the rain, safe in the knowledge my hair is literally a frizz-free zone. I have also tested my hair out in the intense African heat, with impressive results. A month since the blow dry and it still works in rain, hail or shine. Although this particular blow dry requires a visit to London, it’s worth every penny of the £200 price tag. It is a life-changing treatment for someone who wants time salon hair every day, with zilch effort.

To make an appointment at Daniel Hersheson’s located in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge call 00442072018797 or visit

Proof that wine is good for you

The Italians have a saying that one barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints. And the Italians arguably have a longer running relationship with wine than any other modern culture. In fact both the Italians and French view wine as the water of life: it is deeply entrenched in the cultural psyches of both areas as a vehicle by which you achieve health and live a good, meaningful existence.

In today’s fast paced lifestyle, wine apparently helps address the big kahuna of problems in most people’s lives – which is of course stress. While it is true that alcohol in itself reduces emotional stress when consumed in moderation, wine adds an additional quality that is reflected in how it is enjoyed. More than 90 scientific reports have been published since 1991, providing strong evidence for the wine and health phenomenon. These findings clearly point out that moderate wine consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle. New research is beginning to uncover the presence of powerful antioxidants in red wine that are known to reduce blood clotting, reduce risk of heart attacks, and even help combat some forms of cancer.

This is all of course assuming that wine is consumed in moderation, defined as roughly a glass or two of wine every day. Wine also aids in digestion, stimulates the appetite and combats neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It has even been found to help combat both anorexia and obesity.
Research has determined that what distinguishes the health benefits of wine from other alcoholic beverages is the notable presence of tannins and isocyanine. The implication for women is particularly important, as a Harvard University study has found that a glass of red wine a day can reduce heart attacks for women by 25%. In addition, wine has been found to lessen and in some cases bring a stop to the degenerative effects of osteoporosis. A scientific team in Denmark was the first to uncover the remarkable phenomenon that, on average, the French have far lower cholesterol levels and fewer heart attacks than most other nations because of their moderate and daily consumption of red wine.

Research published in the specialist medical magazine ‘Thorax’ suggests that each daily glass of red wine gives 13 per cent protection against cancer when compared with non-drinkers. This new research suggests that red wine, in moderation, could also protect against lung cancer- one of the most common cancer types in Ireland. According to health expert June Russell when compared to beer or liquor drinkers, and even non-drinkers, those who happen to drink wine have lifestyles that are healthier. ‘Wine drinkers are thinner and have more normal weights, they exercise more, smoke less. Those individuals who drink wine also happen to be better adjusted, less neurotic and depressed, and have a higher I.Q,’ says Russell. These many lifestyle factors account for improved health and decrease the significance of wine consumption.

Some go so far as to say that making wine a part of your daily eating rituals can do as much for your health as a herbal remedy or a TV programme. On that note I am off to pour myself a generous glass of full bodied red wine…..