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Feature: Kickstart The New Year

The beach at Lanzarote

Every New Year begins with high hopes and grand plans, most of which end up on the scrap heap of unfulfilled promises. To help you get your year off on the right foot, and make this the year to conquer your resolutions, we have travel resolutions to help you stay on the path, spas and treatments to leave behind yesteryears stress and cheap things to do in January - so you can survive until your next paycheck.

Travel Resolutions

New Years resolutions are tricky things to maintain. By the time February rolls around gyms are empty again and we’ve all moved on to worrying about Valentine’s Day. What better way to keep your New Years resolutions than to completely break from the old one; go somewhere interesting and finally fulfill those resolutions, whether its learning the language of love, getting fit, swimming with whales or just living life abundantly.

Swim with the whales

A mother whale nursing her calf

Whale watching is a fun experience, but it has nothing on actually swimming alongside whales. Humpback whales are some of the most expressive sea creatures, each with their own unique behaviours and cute quirks. The best place to catch these gentle gaints of the ocean is on the Silver Bank off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Humpback whales - specifically North Atlantic humpback whales - migrate to this location to breed and calve during the early months of the year from January to April.

Environmentally friendly operators like Conscious Breath Adventures offer you the opportunity to really get upclose to the whales. You can watch as a mother whale nurses her young calf, be part of an elaborate courtship dance and be bathed in the complex whale songs that can go on for days. Male humpback whales perform these songs during mating season and groups of whales often harmonise their song over time, creating one distinctive sound as a unit. Soft-in-water encounters, where swimmers passively and safely engage with whales, can last for up to an hour. The trained guides pick out appropriate whales, depending on their temperament, for encounters that are hauntingly beautiful whilst being respectful of the whales' space.

Learn French

Bonjour.
Bonjour.
Comment vas-tu?
Je vais bien et toi.
Um...me no hablo francais.

If this is a familiar conversation for you then maybe it’s time to take drastic measures to improve your French. Immersing yourself in the French countryside, and the often anglo-averse French people, will force you to improve your ability to speak the language. Soon you’ll parler le langue de l'amour as if you were born there. Programmes like the Institut Linguistique Adenet (ILA) offer French language courses in France. The programme is perfect for staycationers looking for the complete French experience in the sunny climes of Montpellier - in the south of France. The programmes range from the more standard learning curriculum to the intensive 30 lessons a week for students. Plus there are a number of accommodation options available for your stay.

For more information visit www.ila-france.com

Master a foreign cuisine

Pots of spicy Indian food

Why deny yourself the gift of food; whilst others are dieting take time to master a new cuisine. There is literally a smorgasbord of choice from hot Eastern cuisines to the new Pacific Rim cuisines to traditional African cuisine - there is a world to be discovered in food.

If you're undecided about where to go have a look at cookingholiday.co.uk's extensive directory listing of cooking holidays with destinations ranging from Patagonia in Argentina, where you might sample the fine steaks of Gaucho cuisine, to the delights of Turkish cuisine.

For more information visit cookingholiday.co.uk

Get Fit

Everyone wants to feel and look good, but not everyone enjoys the hamster cage that is the gym. If you’re struggling to motivate yourself to get fit how about rewarding yourself with an overseas prize that incorporates getting fit. Do a marathon in a foreign capital, or an Ironman triathlon in an exotic location as reward for the hard work you've put in. Events like the Ironman series run in a variety of locations worldwide with the more exotic including Hawaii (home of the Ironman championship), Cape Town and the Canary Islands. The last being a popular training camp for triathletes of all types, with miles of good roads, great beaches and testing terrain. The best place to base yourself for an active holiday to the Canary Islands is the island of Lanzarote. Not only does it host a leg of the Ironman series, but it is blessed with wonderful facilities for all types of training and other less strenuous activities - like horseriding and kayaking.

For a listing of some of the best that Lanzarote has to offer see www.lanzarote.com

Learn to Scuba Dive

The ocean is as much about what's above (surfing, kiteboarding etc) as it is about what's below it. If you've never taken a dip - a real dip - below then make 2012 the year to get your Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) qualification and go all Jacques Cousteau on the oceans of the world. It is advisable that you learn how to dive before taking a holiday abroad so that you can maximise the time you spend diving, but if you would like to learn abroad Koh Samui - an island off Thailand - is highly recommended. It has many English-speaking PADI certified centres to get your under-water wings and dive spots suitable for beginners.

To find a good dive school in Koh Samui visit www.kohsamui.org and pick from the 18 schools they have available.

For more interesting dive locations see our Top 10 Diving Spots and make sure that you get scuba diving travel insurance for your trip.

Write A Book

A writer on retreat

We know all too well the hell that is writer's block; when every word written feels like a mental marathon. The best cure, practiced by all great writers, is the writers retreat. An escape to somewhere hot and breezy blows away the cobwebs that stifle good prose (and poetry, for those inclined to loftier scribblings). The Greek island of Skyros fits that description to a "T" and is the perfect place to unwind and just let the words come. What's more the Skyros Writers Lab runs courses for aspiring and established writers. Past participants include Booker prize winning writers like Hilary Mantel, James Kelman, and Barry Unsworth.

Top Spas and Treatments

Turn over a new leaf. Start afresh. These New Years cliche’s may not be unique, but the need to let go of last years baggage is universal and what better way to achieve that than a visit to a spa. The selection of treatments and spas we have below will help start of the year rejuvenated and refreshed for whatever 2012 brings - unless it's a Zombie apocalypse.

Ragdale Hall - Ragdale Village, Leicestershire

The spa at Ragdale Hall

The multi-award winning spa, Ragdale Hall, is the perfect place to relieve yourself of 2011's blues and kickstart a healthier year. Set in the tranquil surroundings of the Leicestershire countryside, this spa is the standard when it comes to the business of relaxation and rejuvenation, having recently been awarded the Condé Nast Traveller Readers' Spa Award amongst others (they have a well stocked trophy cabinet). Unlike spas attached to hotels this is just a relaxation space so you know that you're dealing with the experts.

If you fancy some time in nature the estate grounds are open for a stroll or for for some extra-curriculur activities. Those lugging about a male companion can send him away for a Golf Introduction course or a number of male specific treatments.

Must Have Treatment: With a name like Li'Tya (meaning 'the unseen vibration of creation') you know that Ragdale's must-have treatment is something to savour. The three hour long 'The Dreaming' treatment involves head to toe pampering from the Paudi head massages to Mala Mayi Body Wrap to a Miji Jina foot massages - all part of the Li'Tya range of spa products.

Website: www.ragdalehall.co.uk
Tel: 01664 434831

Titanic Spa - Linthwaite, Huddersfield

The swimming pool at Titanic Spa

Nestled deep within the natural landscape of Pennine Yorkshire sits the UK’s original eco-spa, Titanic Spa; a beautifully restored textile mill offering state-of-the-art health and well-being facilities. Titanic Spa possesses a wealth of renewable energy sources and eco-friendly strategies, employed at an additional cost of £1.5 million to ensure the planet benefits as much as the guests.

Their treatments aim to work with your bodies energy to encourage recuperation. Using product ranges from Decléor, Elemis Carita and Pinks Boutique for some truly refreshing massages and facials.

Website: www.titanicspa.com
Tel: 01484 843544

Hay Barn Spa - Daylesford Farmshop, Gloucestershire

Hay Barn Spa at Daylesford Organic

Hay Barn Spa is an all-in-one stop for starting your health lifestyle with an organic restuarant, a creamery, a bakery, a cookery school and a shop - in addition to their spa. The spa itself is a repurposed farm barn converted into a clean refreshing space with the white washed wood complemented by a dash of glass and enough natural lighting to rival a chapel.

Especially great for those of us with resolutions to fulfill are the yoga, pilates and meditation classes that work out the body and the mind in equal measure. The Bamford Body Signature Treatment is well suited to clearing your body of stresses and strains with a foot soak and compress followed by a head massage - 90 minutes of pure pleasure.

Website: www.daylesfordorganic.com
Tel: 01608 731703

Cheap Things To Do In January

It’s hard to wake up on the second day of January. The bank holidays have been enjoyed, the early paychecks have been spent and the buzz around Christmas is over. To add to the mood, we start one of the coldest and darkest months of the year, which has everyone feeling like an orphan in a Charles Dickens novel.

So this month, to help you stave off the January Blues, we’ve decided to take a look some activities you can enjoy on a pauper’s budget. Some are free, others cost little more than pocket lint, but all are well worth leaving the house to get your spirits up.

Bingo!

Bingo Balls

When there is foul weather outside and you’ve only got a tenner or so to spare, you can hit the bingo hall for next to nothing and have a great time with a bunch of total strangers - or your friends, if you can convince them to join you. The game doesn’t require a world of skill, know how or practice, and you can be Best of all, if Lady Luck blows a kiss your way, you might end up leaving a slightly wealthier man. Whether or not you end up winning, you should still walk away with a big smile.

If you’re feeling up to it, take a look at www.meccabingo.com for a full listing of the bingo halls around the UK.

Be On TV

It costs nothing to be part of the studio audience on television: Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing, The Graham Norton Show, Top Of The Pops and all your favourites. It is an fantastic experience getting to see all the prep work and effort that goes into filming a talk show or a reality program - it certainly takes a lot longer than the thirty minutes or one hour you see on tellie every night. You’ll also get to witness the stars and celebs in person, doing what they do best, with the bright lights illuminating all the human freckles on their faces.

As a date night option, it is equally exciting, affordable and impressive. Log on to the BBC website, find your area in the search bar on the top right of the page and start scout away for audience tickets. It’s a great experience getting to see how the magic happens and what goes into the production of a television program.

Go Treasure Hunting

Oxfam, Cancer Research, high street markets and thrift shops - take your pick. There are treasure troves around the country, harbouring hidden gems that are waiting for the right person to come along and discover them. It might be a £2 book that you’ve always wanted but could never find or an £8 dinner jacket that fits you like a glove. There are no guarantees with treasure hunting in second hand shops and markets, but you’ll have a great time looking and certainly won’t break the bank if you find something. As an added bonus, your money goes to people who need it as much as you do.

Public Parks

Hampstead Heath Trees

January is freezing cold for the most part, but there are those rare sunny, mornings that make the grass sparkle and the bear trees sigh with relief. You’ve got to take those small windows of opportunity to get outside, give your legs a stretch and enjoy it while it lasts. There are more than enough public parks to give all 61,113,205 (approx) people living in the UK somewhere pretty and peaceful to enjoy the sunshine. Pack a basket with some brunch (even if you can only afford some cheese and crackers) and take advantage of these free, picturesque open spaces. If you’ve spent the last six weeks bundled up on the couch, taking cover from the wind and the rain, do your body a favour and take it for a walk when the opportunity arises.

For more UK Public Parks see our Top 10 Public Parks.

Visit Your Nearest National Monuments

Odds are you went to see all the national monuments closest to you as a child, but it’s probably been a while and you’ve likely lost that feeling of awe for the great statues, gardens, abbeys and buildings that anchor the present to the past. Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tintagel Castle, Stonehenge, Hadrian’s Wall - it doesn’t cost much to see the standouts, and we’re lucky to have monuments like them around the country. If you are completely bored on a Saturday morning, take a stroll down to your nearest historical site and just appreciate the eras that have gone by to bring us to the year 2012.

Museums And Galleries

Tate Modern Museum

We are blessed with amazing museums and galleries, which are home to vast collections of work from the most brilliant minds in history. We are even more lucky that visiting them is free (for the most part). The Tate Modern, for example, is a free attraction, with the exception of major exhibitions. The Manchester Art Gallery is another free gem that is available to the general public. We could go off naming galleries across the UK, but the best thing to do is get out there and go see them for yourself.

For families with young kids, the Horniman Museum and gardens in Forest Hill (London) is an exciting and cheap winter's day outing - the aquarium’s sea horses and lobsters are always a hit with the children.

Budget/Indie Cinemas

Watching a movie at Roxy Bar and Screen

Watching a recently released film at a main stream cinema will be expensive 99% of the time, but if you look a bit further than your closest ODEON you’ll find some fantastic alternatives. The Roxy Bar And Screen in Borough, London, have free and dirt cheap screenings of old classics, indie films, Premiere League footie, stand up comedy evenings and short films. The membership opportunities (single member for £20 per year or full membership for £40) grant you free entrance to all screenings, for those of you who will end up at the movies more than once or twice throughout the month. There are others like it throughout the UK, which offer something different from the norm - not just in terms of the films you’ll see, but as an all round experience.

For more great suggestions on how to enjoy yourself on a budget, take a look at our Top 10 Things To Do In The UK For Under A Tenner.

Last Updated: January 2012

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

Gugulethu Hlekwayo

A timid traveller, but a traveller none the less; Gugulethu is in his element lost and without a map - preferably with a companion willing to listen to his tall tales. He's our resident expert on the best muffins in town.