Michael Cullen, Editor-in-Chief of award winning boutique hotel and rental site, i-escape, shares some favourite sites.

Michael Cullen is the Editor-in-Chief of the award-winning boutique hotel and rental website, i-escape, which has just been re-launched for 2016 with a fresh new look and some extra features. These include bigger photos, mobile-friendlier booking, and the ability to search its 1,500-strong collection for its editors’ favourites in categories from Great Outdoors to Spa, Foodie or Beach.

The team at i-escape still visits every property (Michael nobly managed trips to Vietnam, France, Spain and Turkey during 2015); they write some of the most honest and detailed reviews around (readers love their ‘Highs and Lows’); and they offer a free booking service, with extra gifts for i-escape guests. The company – now numbering 25 staff and dozens more roving reviewers – is based in Bristol, where Michael lives with his wife and son.


RE-foundobjects - I came across this collection of quirky homeware and retro feel-good gifts while searching for Christmas presents and I’m still hooked. I love everything, from stylish walnut crackers to vintage O/S maps, from sea aster soaps to “no-shade-required” filament light bulbs (a ‘giant globe’ hangs in our corridor at home). And its menswaRE page is perfect for tricky uncles. It’s run by a couple of ex-fashion designers in rural Northumbria, who source many products (tagged ‘Regd’) in the UK.

MoneySavingExpert - This well-known and widely trusted site took a bit of a rap when its founder, Martin Lewis, stepped down as Editor-in-Chief last year, but I keep finding new deals to satisfy my inner bargain-hunter – and not just in the boring banking and insurance sectors. I just bought a 100-page hardcover A4 photobook for £19 (normally £79) from BonusPrint – whose website is clunky, but print quality excellent – so I now actually look at my old travel photos, plus I have a backup if my hard drive dies.

Jotform - I periodically unleash my inner geek on this form-designing site – like Survey Monkey but with more bells and whistles, and fewer sneaky charges – and we now use it for peripheral i-escape activities, such as inviting new hotel recommendations for our collection. It can do all the clever stuff – visual tricks, tailoring questions based on previous answers – and then send submissions to our google docs, flagging the promising ones. The support team is fast and helpful, too.

Danger Mouse Game (UK only) - There’s a bewildering array of children’s entertainment out there, but (to my relief) our 7-year-old son loves this spiced up Donkey-Kong-esque challenge, based loosely on the animated BBC series. And I love listening in for the wry asides and wordplays, voiced by Alex Armstrong and aimed squarely at parental onlookers, which outdo even Connery’s Bond for deadpan. And yes, I do sometimes have a go myself after his bedtime. Turns out that dodging snapping toilet seats is a great release.

YR - Everyone has their favourite weather forecaster, but this one – despite being based in Norway – just seems that bit more accurate for Bristol than the Met Office et al (which usually seem to show the rain+sun symbol to cover themselves). It gathers data from a wide range of sources, and presents them neatly, with long-term (7-day) options and a nifty hour-by-hour meteogram for a quick visual summary of the day ahead.

TED Talks - Sometimes I wonder if the internet took a wrong turn, but not after listening to a good TED talk. This is what technology is for – sharing inspiring ideas, not photoshopped selfies – and the best of them rekindle my middle-aged-man’s wavering faith in humankind. Ben Goldacre, Hans Rosling, you know the kind. Yes, there are some duds, the tone can be a bit evangelical, the audiences occasionally orchestrated, but I love it.

Favourite App - Strides (free, ios and Android) - I’ve just started using this to track my New Year’s Resolutions – swimming thrice weekly, working less at night – and so far, so effective. Ok, it’s only mid-January, but it’s a start! You can set all your targets, reminders and type of goal - ‘consecutive’ to build good habits, ‘milestone’ for deadline-oriented projects etc. It’s got sleek visuals, and the tone is somehow less irksome than other tracking apps. I even found myself adding a few of their suggestions – to laugh daily and improve my posture.

13 January 2016