Staying safe in the sun

Many of us a fully aware that our skin can suffer if it is exposed to excessive amounts of sunshine, something that we often go on holiday in order to find.

Applying sun cream and wearing a sun hat are obvious measures that we can all take when heading to sunnier destinations, but these are not the only things that you should do. The heat from the sun can have more debilitating effects than simply causing sunburn.

Here, we’ll take a look at some points you may not have considered. For more advice, see the NHS Sunscreen and Sun Safety page.

For some, the only measure they take against the harmful UV rays that the sun throws out is to use a sunscreen, typically when they hit the beach. However, you should try to get into the habit of applying a sun cream before you head out, so that you can make sure your body is fully covered, particularly if you intend getting down to your swimsuit at some point.

Medical advice states that you should apply sunscreen half an hour before going out into the sun. The NHS recommends choosing a sun cream that is rated with at least SPF of 15 and at least four-star UVA rating (five-star cream is available too). Other creams might help, but not provide such strong protection. You should frequently reapply the protection, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Don’t forget that you can also get sunburn when it is cloudy!

If you don’t get on well with sun creams – perhaps you find them sticky or unpleasant – then you can now also get sprays that spray a liquid sunscreen. This can be more pleasant for some people than a cream, but sometimes the sprays are alcohol-based and can dry the skin a little.

Protect your eyes
As well as protecting your skin, it is important to make sure that your eyes are fully safe. Exposure to bright sunshine can lead to problems with your eyes such as cataracts. Therefore, invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Adequate ones will have a CE mark or a UV400 label on them. This way, you can be assured that they offer full UV protection. If you find that you are still squinting, then seek some shade or wear a brimmed hat to help offer your eyes more shelter.

Taking medicines? Take extra care in the sun!
Fair-skinned people, those with freckles or lots of moles, and children need to consider sun protection more than other groups.

However, some routinely taken medicines can also put you at risk. If you are taking a tetracycline, an oral hypoglycaemic drug or a diuretic, for example, take additional care or seek specific medical advice.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
To avoid these unpleasant and potentially serious conditions, drink plenty of water and avoid excessive activity in the heat of the midday sun.

For first aid if you suspect these conditions:

  • Lie down in a cool place
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing
  • Cool your skin with wet towels or wet sheets
  • Drink fluids, including water and a rehydration drink
  • Consider getting professional medical attention

It’s useful to take rehydration sachets on holiday: not only will they help if you get heat exhaustion or heatstroke, but if you get a dodgy tummy they can also be useful!

For more detailed advice, see the NHS advice on heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Travel apps: currency conversion and language translation

Let’s start this month with an essential type of app when you’re travelling abroad: a currency converter.

One of the most popular is XE Currency, which is free, and available for iPhone and Android. It gets live exchange rates from the internet when it can, or it uses the last rate it was able to get if you’re offline.

XE Currency for iPhone
XE Currency for Android

Unfortunately, most currency apps give you the exchange rates that banks themselves use, rather than the actual rates you’ll get as a tourist, so after you’ve done the conversion it’s best to think of everything as actually a little bit more expensive than the app is showing you.

The XE Currency app isn’t the easiest app in the world to use when you first get it, but it’s straightforward once you’ve figured it out. (It tries to get you to sign up for an account, but you can click a No Thanks link at the bottom to get rid of that!)

You can then convert euros to pounds, pounds to euros, or whatever else you fancy.

The app can also show you a currency chart of the pound vs. the euro, so you can guess whether the exchange rate is about to get better or worse! (Let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a guess!)

When you’re abroad, here’s a tip to avoid extortionate data roaming fees. Load up your currency converter app when you’re in your hotel on wi-fi, let it get the latest exchange rates, then set your phone to aeroplane mode and use those exchange rates while you’re out and about for the day.

If you’re on the iPhone and you want a slightly simpler and easier to use currency converter app, try Currency.

Google Translate – foreign language translation
Moving on to look at another essential app, you don’t want to be without Google Translate. It’s free for iPhone or Android, and covers all the European languages you are likely to encounter.

Google Translate for iPhone
Google Translate for Android

The most common and useful way to use the app is to type in a word or a short phrase in the foreign language and have it converted to English. This is useful for reading signs and menus.

If you click the speaker icon, the app will pronounce foreign words to you, which can be very useful. Although it uses a computer-generated voice rather than recordings of real people, it’s still quite an accurate guide.

You can even hover your camera over a word, and the app will read the foreign text and translate it to English. At least, in theory you can do that – in practice this doesn’t usually work very reliably! But give it time, and it will get better; when it does work it’s pretty impressive though.

Since you will probably need to use Google Translate in places where you don’t have internet signal, you can go to the settings in the app and download a language. So if you’re going to Germany you can download the German language when you’ve got wi-fi, and then the app will still work when your phone isn’t connected to the internet.

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Granada: a city overflowing with history

If Spain means more to you than just sun-soaked beaches, don’t miss the chance to visit the beautiful inland city of Granada. Nestling at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada makes a superb centre for a city break.

What to see in Granada
Everyone will tell you that you must visit the Alhambra – and everyone is absolutely right. You can spend hours at this astonishing medieval palace complex without seeing everything.

Built by the Moors in the early 14th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site contains both extraordinarily intricate architecture, and stunning gardens added by later Christian rulers.

The city’s Moorish heritage is also on display in the Albayzin quarter, a short taxi ride from the Alhambra and among the oldest parts of Granada. The magnificent Renaissance cathedral was added after southern Spain’s return to Christian rule in 1492, and it towers over the winding lanes that thread their way through this intriguing district.

Culture and cuisine
Granada’s patron saint is celebrated on the last Sunday in September. Processions and festivals abound, while churches are decorated with large displays of flowers brought by the faithful.

On a different note, the Casa del Arte Flamenco regularly hosts superb performances by this traditional Spanish dance’s finest exponents.

If all that makes you hungry, enjoy Andalusian dishes such as gazpacho soup, enlivened by the use of garlic, pepper and other spices befitting the city’s Arab heritage. Alternatively, visit a Moorish-style tea room such as Teteria y Restaurante Marrakech and relax in splendour while tea is served from silver pots.

Where to stay
Despite Granada’s wealth of attractions, there are bargains to be found. The Palacio de Santa Ines, as palatial as its name suggests and a stone’s throw from the Alhambra, charges around £90 a night in mid-October.

Slightly further out, the Room Mate Leo costs around £80 a night and is renowned for its helpful staff; some rooms have private terraces, from which there are breathtaking views across the city.

Discover the hidden treasures of Majorca

With its beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters, and an agreeable year-round climate, it should come as no surprise that Majorca is Spain’s most popular island destination for tourists and sightseers of all ages.

Yet, over the years, this paradise in the Mediterranean gained a reputation for hosting some of the more raucous holidaymakers that head to the Med for a fortnight of sun, sea and sangria within the confines of the island’s many resorts.

But beneath the popular image of party towns and package holidays, there is another side to Majorca that is waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous visitor.

Natural beauty
It is an island of extreme natural beauty, ancient culture and monuments, and a calm, peaceful approach to life. It is, for this reason, that one of Europe’s top destinations is also something of a hidden treasure: Majorca is the perfect tonic for holidaymakers seeking relaxation by the sea.

The island has no shortage of spectacular sites and memorable landmarks to make this a holiday of a lifetime. The 550km of coastline is punctuated at regular intervals by rustic fishing villages and picturesque coves.

Three places worth a visit
To the very north of the island lies Alcudia, one of the island’s most attractive stretches of water. With its broad beach and clean, shallow waters, the bay makes for one of Majorca’s most popular seaside destinations. The area provides typical resort facilities, as well as water sports for those seeking an action-packed holiday experience.

However, the coastline is most popular for its tranquillity. Inland, you will take a trip back in time, walking among the ruins of ancient Pollentia, once the Roman capital city of the Balearics. This uniquely atmospheric location is irresistible for any visitor seeking an insight into the island’s long and distinguished history.

In the south, a short journey along the coastline from the famous resort town of Magaluf brings the promise of another of the island’s great cultural destinations: Palma de Mallorca. The gothic cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma (known locally as La Seu) dominates the skyline, and is a beautiful attraction both during the day and at night.

Great value for money
More than four decades ago, it was the affordable luxury of this island economy which helped to establish Majorca as a tourism hotspot. Today, while the costs are generally above the average of mainland Spain, the island continues to represent fantastic value for money, thanks to the high quality of services.

Look beyond the resort towns and the primary attractions, and the intrepid explorer will discover hospitality, accommodation, and local cuisine that all rank among the best in Europe.