Archives 2019

Travel basics and tools

This page describes websites that you may need to help you to research your trip. As well as the web address, I have also given a brief description of the functions of the website. I have grouped the websites according to their type or use.

You may find some of these links on travel websites on the page/menu option called ‘Travel Tools’. Others may be websites in their own right.

I recommend that you set up a ‘Travel Basics and Tools’ folder in your browser’s ‘Favourites’ option to ensure that these sites are always close to hand.

 

The weather

When I’ve spoken to holiday makers, one of the most common mistakes is getting the weather wrong. Yes the holiday is a bargain, but will you be staying inside the hotel during your stay and not on the beach?

All travel brochures have tiny graphs that give a rough indication of the average weather conditions. But are these averages the average highs, lows or just the average? One tour operator gives a brief introduction to the weather in Mauritius listing the average temperature and rainfall. There is no mention of the cyclone season that runs from November to May.

You may already have your favourite weather forecast website, but I have listed a few here. They are mainly American biased, but should still prove really useful in determining the best time to visit a particular destination, or to find out what you should pack if you are already booked.

AccuWeather
This website provides local forecasts for everywhere in the United States and over two million locations world-wide. They also provide more detailed information to paying customers. Their HQ claims to have the greatest number of forecast meteorologists in one location anywhere in the world.

BBC 
Input the city and click on search. This British site uses information provided by the Met Office

CNN 
Weather information is found in a similar manner to the BBC site. The site also contains information such as weather maps and allergy reports.   There are also links to weather emergency sites such as disaster relief and NOAA weather radio.

Intellicast 
This website forecasts the weather for 60,000 sites in the U.S. and around the globe. It offers detailed local forecasts to hurricane tracks, severe weather warnings and international conditions.

The Met Office
The home site for the Met Office, which is a Trading Fund within the British Ministry of Defence. The site also provides a useful iGoogle gadget to send customised weather information direct to your desktop.

The National Severe Storms Laboratory
If you’re really worried about the weather, then perhaps you should check this site out. Their team is committed to their mission to understand the causes of severe weather and thereby give out better warnings.

Weatherbase 
This isn’t a forecast website; instead it lists the average weather conditions for various locations throughout the world. They have collected, from a number of sources, comprehensive information for 16,439 cities world-wide. It doesn’t cover everywhere, and some locations such as Sharm el Sheik will take some detective work, but it is on the whole very useful. You can even switch between imperial and metric units.

The Weather Channel 
This site is operated by the Weather Channel cable TV channel and has over 40,000,000 hits every month. Most of the cities in the world are covered. You just have to enter the city name into the search box and click ‘go’. If there is more than one city with the chosen name, then a list of options in a drop down menu is generated.
There is also other weather related information on this site including weather maps, weather headline news, tropical updates and storm watch. It is also possible for users to customise the weather information that they wish to receive from the site.

Weather Underground 
Weather Underground is committed to delivering the most reliable, accurate weather information possible. Their state-of-the-art technology monitors conditions and forecasts for locations across the world, so you’ll always find the weather information that you need.

As with the previous sites, there is a search box. This one will also accept the airport code.  If your search term generates a list, just click on the location of interest. Depending on the location you could be shown the current conditions, including information such as temperature, wind-chill, humidity, dew point, visibility, flying rule, and wind speed, a five day forecast, a seven day forecast, historical maximum and minimum temperatures. It is also possible to find astronomical times, and links to other sites that provide satellites and radar images, ski conditions, weather maps, and marine weather.

Worldclimate 
A similar site to Weatherbase, WorldClimate.com gathers in one place a world-wide range of climate data in an easy-to-use form.

Weather2Travel 
Weather2Travel.com also provides climate content providers with extensive coverage that spans major cities and holiday destinations in every country of the world. It combines historical data with short range forecasting. It also has a more graphical interface than Worldclimate and Weatherbase.

This website also suggests destinations based on weather in your chosen month of travel.

World Meteorological Organization 
Weather information from the United Nations. It’s a great website if you are really into weather, but it does have forecasts, including smart phone apps.

YoWindow 
This isn’t really a website to use when making travel plans. It’s just a bit of fun. It uses a set landscape picture to show the current weather conditions of your place of interest. So you can choose a beach, a farm or even an airport and the scene will match the weather.

Time difference websites

With the fall in telephone call prices and the increase of travellers booking direct with companies in other countries, more and more people need to know the local time or the differences between time zones.

Some websites include a time difference calculator as part of their ‘package’, but there are sites that specialise in time difference, and can also include useful information such as dialling codes.

Search Engines
Using the search box you enter something similar to ‘current time in new york’ and click search and at the top of the listing you will get:

Time is 11:04 am on Thursday, Aug 6, 2009 – Albany, New York
This works on Yahoo!, Google and Alta Vista

Time and Date
This is a customisable website, and has useful features such as a World Clock which displays the current time in over 150 cities, a meeting planner, a calendar, and a Personalised World Clock where you can specify up to 25 locations.

It is also possible to find out daylight savings time information, the difference between a cities time zone and Greenwich Mean Time, sunrise and sunset time, dialling codes, and latitude and longitude.  The time zone converter will calculate the differences between times of two cities.

Time Zone Convertor
A ‘one stop shop’ for finding out the time around the world. As well as a time convertor there are tools to help you to plan events, find out your time zone and city times.

World Time Server 
A website that is similar to Time Zone Convertor, so it offers all the time tools that you could think of, as well as apps for your own website or computer.

Weights, measures and distances

The metric system is used almost world-wide (apart from Myanmar, USA and Liberia apparently), but there are still travellers that use other ways to measure or weigh something. Clothing can be especially difficult to work out, do you need a shoe sized 10, 44 or 10.5?

Search Engines

In the search box type in something like ‘convert 874 km to miles’ to get the answer. In Google you can also do the following:

1.59 euros/litre to dollars/gallon

This will produce a response similar to 1.59 (Euros / litre) = 10.3863243 U.S. dollars / Imperial gallon

Angelfire 
This website as a basic distance chart.

Indo 
This website for Bali and Indonesia has a distance converter and a currency converter. It doesn’t cover everywhere, but may be useful when travelling across the United States.

JohnnyJet 
This is a portal similar to Tyzo, with links to various tools and information providers. This clothing chart also includes Japanese sizes.

O and A 
This site also has links to convert shoe sizes, volumes and temperatures.

OnlineConversion 
This is a website that converts the size for you.

Travel money

Currency conversion

There are loads of websites that offer a currency converter as a feature. Some just show the current rate, while others will work out the conversion for specific amounts. Some sites are more up-to-date than others, but the worst case should be yesterday’s rates, while others will be within the last 30 minutes or so.

It can also be possible to find historical data. Search engines will also calculate rates for specific amounts by entering your requirements in the search box.

Search Engines
Using Google, searching ‘convert 150 usd to sterling’ gives a result similar to

150 U.S. dollars = 89.2804 British pounds

FXconverter 
This site offers a wealth of information, including historical data and a ‘cheat sheet’ which is a table of some conversions between two major currencies so that you have a rough guide to hand.

Universal Currency Converter 
Similar to FXConverter, this site also has historical data and an easy to use calculator. Just type in the amount and select the two currencies using drop down menus and click on ‘GO’.

It also helps you to keep a check on your travel expenses with an online form that calculates how much in your own currency you have spent, or if you are travelling for work, how much that you should claim from your business.

Cash and ATMs

In the past you had to visit your bank (or currency exchange) to obtain local currency for all the countries that you were visiting. Now practically wherever you land you will probably be able to use your bank or credit card to obtain currency by using an ATM.

MasterCard 
Using a drop down menu you can find an ATM in over 210 countries. You can filter the results to include only those that are surcharge free, wheelchair friendly, drive through or are open 24 hours.

There is also an iPhone App to help you to find an ATM while you are on the move.

Visa 
There are over 1 million ATMs throughout the world and this website will help you to find the nearest to you, or your chosen destination. Again, you search with the aid of drop down menus. The advance search option is handy if you are unsure how to spell the town or city.

Emergency Money

If you’re having a crisis and need money fast, then you’re in luck. It’s now a lot easier for your family and friends to send you some extra cash by a money transfer. The person helping you takes the money into an agent in the UK, and you go into a local office with your ID and draw the cash. This isn’t cheap, but if you haven’t got your cards then it’s probably the only way to get cash quickly.

MoneyGram 
This is probably the easiest one for your rescuers in the UK as they can use any Post Office branch. MoneyGram® agents are in over 256,000 locations in 192 countries and territories world-wide.

Western Union
This is probably the company that everyone thinks of when it comes to moving money around the world. You can set a transfer up either online or in an agent’s office/shop. It offers more than 400,000 locations world-wide.

Electricity and telephone sockets

International travellers who are used to packing their electrical appliances, phones, computers, and handheld devices often need information on electrical power and outlet configurations, telephone connections for modems, the use of cell phones, and special equipment.

Only one adaptor is needed

Always take a 4-way extension lead with you. Then you can use one adaptor to power up to 4 items (as long as you operate within the power rating of the adaptor; using four hairdryers at the same time is probably a bad idea). If you’re in a budget room, only use one appliance at a time. Local electrical standards are not always as high as those in the UK.

Finally, always check that your appliance will work with the voltage used in your destination. Computers, most phone chargers and radios should be ok, but hair dryers and hair straighteners may not work with lower voltages.

Travel Images

Here you will find diagrams of the various plugs and sockets, along with a list of the voltage and frequency for electricity supplies around the world.

Travel gear

You need to ensure that you have the correct clothing and equipment when you reach your chosen destination. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Specialist companies may also be able to supply suitable lightweight clothing to ensure that you don’t fall foul of the luggage allowance and excess baggage.

Gap Year Travel Gear 
Not the company to use if you’re looking for specialist adventure equipment, but they do specialise in gear for backpackers and travellers. Their products are aimed at being cost effective, lightweight, compact and practical.

Nomad 
As well as stocking various outdoor clothing, this site also offers camping equipment and medical advice and information for travellers.

Roaming Fox
Another ‘one-stop-shop’. This website also offers travel tips and advice.

Packing

This is one of the most important activities for your trip. How many times have you arrived and found that you have left something behind?

There are numerous websites that show how to get the most of your package space and some offer suggested packing lists.

One Bag
This Website offers exhaustive detail on the art and science of travelling light with nothing more than a single (carry-on-sized) bag.

Packing List On Line
Create a personalised packing list by using drop down menus and answering questions.

Travellers Point
This list was created with the help of members of the website’s forums. These are keen travellers who’ve been there and done that.

Universal Packing List
This website helps you to design a packing list for any destination and activity.

Religion

You may need to find somewhere for you to worship and to experience how your religion is practised locally.

Islamic Finder 
This is a comprehensive website and is very useful for the Islamic traveller. It is run by a non-profit organization and lists mosques, Islamic organizations, Islamic centres, and Muslim owned businesses all over the world. Another feature is that it provides prayer times for more than 5.2 million cities world-wide along with information about their Qiblah direction, distance from Kaaba (Makkah), longitude, and latitude.

Kosher Delight 
This is an online Jewish magazine. It is a very comprehensive site, as well as news and recipes; it lists Synagogues, Chabad Houses, etc. and Kosher hotels and restaurants.

Masstimes 
This website is managed by the Ministry of the Mass Times Trust, and was originally set up to help Catholics travelling around America. It was then expanded to help Catholics with handicaps, migrants, pilgrims, refugees, and travellers find a Mass or other worship services throughout the Catholic World.

Tipping

When abroad, the British start doing something different; they start to leave tips. But how much should you leave, and would it be appropriate?

It’s not as though tipping is an everyday occurrence in the UK, so this can get quite stressful for some people. Of course, you could just visit other countries where not tipping is also the norm.
Some tips are more voluntary than others. In my opinion, tipping is a hidden cost to a cruise as you are automatically charged a set amount.

Also if you’re on a driving holiday you may have heard of children offering to ‘guard’ a car for a small fee. If you don’t pay them, who knows?

So if you’re going to tip always get low denomination notes when changing your money, and keep this ‘tips cash’ separate. After all, after a long flight it’s all too easy to give $100 instead of $1.

Also, leave a small gift for your room cleaner every day. That way you always ensure that they get a tip. You might leave on your cleaner’s day off, so someone less deserving may pick it up.

The tipping custom for your chosen destination can be found from sites such as these.

Wikipedia 
One page from this famous mine of information. It doesn’t cover everywhere, but you can edit it if you feel that something is wrong, or if you have knowledge of tipping in a country that has yet to be covered.

The Original Tipping Page 
This site has links to other websites with information on tipping. Unfortunately not all of them are still working. However there is a working link to a website that names and shames lists bad tippers – you have been warned!

Travel tips

The Internet is full of experts (I’m not the only one!), so make full use of them by using the ‘Travel Advice’ sections on websites. These vary from basic FAQ sections to mini guides on subjects such as buying flights, packing, what to do in an emergency and keeping kids happy while travelling.

The Practical Nomad
Edward Hasbrouck is The Practical Nomad. He is an authority on international travel, on airfares and how to get deals on the Internet. He is also a blogger and author of the Practical Nomad series of travel how-to and advice books.

Rick Steves’ Europe 
This website aims to inspire, inform and equip Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable and culturally broadening.

Travel Phrase 
Not travel tips as such, but a website that has translations of common phrases that a traveller might need.

Translation

When you use the Internet to research your trip you may come across websites written in the local language. If you can’t read the local language, you need to translate it somehow.

The following websites are to be used as a guide only. They should not be used to translate legal documents, or to be used for medical notification, such as for a severe food allergy. In instances like these, you need to speak to a professional translator.

Babelfish
Cut and paste the test into the box (max 150 words) and then using the dropdown menu select the languages. You can also translate a website but putting the web address (url) into the ‘Translate a Webpage’ box.

Free Translation 
According to the owners, this website uses the most powerful automatic translation engine on the market. It allows users to obtain free translations of both text and web pages. The translation is generated by a computer and is displayed instantly. The main feature of this website is that the user is also dynamically shown the cost of having the same text professionally translated by a company called Click2Translate Express.

Google
Google, the site that seems to do everything, has a translation tool. It can be used to translate bits of text, or a whole website. For some translations it also has a speaker button so you can hear how the words should be pronounced.

To access this service from the Google home page click on the ‘More’ heading in the index bar at the top of the page. Then you can paste in the required text, select the languages and then click on ‘Translate’.
To translate a whole website you need to click on the ‘Website Translator’ option near the bottom of the page.

Travlang 
This website provides a variety of useful tools for travellers, students and any other individuals interested in learning a foreign language. It also provides the user with links to some of the best places on the net already providing some related services.


Collecting and returning your rental car

Collecting your hire car

You shouldn’t collect a car in the dark as you do need to make a note of every scratch and dent before you drive away.

If you are travelling in a group, and you trust everyone, the main driver could leave the luggage reclaim and go straight to the car rental office and beat most of the queue. Remember that this should not be done if duty free is in your luggage.

If you feel lucky book a popular budget model and then take your time getting to the front desk. They may then run out of your model and you could be in line for a free upgrade (or you could get a much worse model if it’s really busy).

Credit card required

You will need a credit card when you collect the car, for security. It is unlikely that a debit card will be accepted. Some companies may insist on using the same card that was used to make the booking, so make sure that you know if this is the case.

If you are sent to collect your car from a large car park and you notice damage, don’t drive it back to the office, leave it and go back to the front desk to complain and insist that a member of staff comes with you to complete the handover.

Make sure that every part of the form is filled in; if a part is not relevant, put a line through it. Record the mileage and how much fuel was left for you. Make sure that you understand the fuel charges, do you need to return the car empty or full? If it has to be full and you haven’t been given a full tank, make sure that this is noted on the paperwork and agree (with a signature) what you should do when returning the car. Also, if you have to fill up the tank, make sure that you keep your last receipt if it has the date and time so that you can use it as proof for any disputes.

It’s down to you

It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that the car is road legal. Some countries have laws such as reflected vests must be carried, or in France it is illegal to have a Satnav that lists fixed speed cameras. When you collect the car, ensure that you have compiled a checklist of the local laws so that you can check that you have been supplied with all the necessary equipment.

If you need a child seat it is probably better to bring your own. These do have to be ordered well in advance, but they can still be missing. These can usually be carried for free by your airline. Not only will it be a better fit for your child, it is probably more hygienic as well.

Finally make sure that you know all the emergency telephone numbers and the instructions that must be followed should you break down or have an accident.

Before you drive off, take a few minutes to become familiar with the car.

Returning your rental car

If you have to drop off the hire car when the office is closed, try to take photos of the car near the office to show that there isn’t any major damage. If the office is open but they are ‘too busy’ to check the car over, write ‘DECLINED TO INSPECT’ over the form.

If you did have an accident, you should obtain your own local quotation for the cost to repair the damage (but don’t get the work done). You can use this if you feel that you are being charged too much.

You may have had an imprint of your credit card taken when you collected the car, so make sure that you get this imprint back and that you destroy it.

It can be cheaper to hire a car locally, but if you have a problem it can be difficult to resolve once you are back home. If you use a multinational company, your local office should help you to sort it out.

There is help available if you have a dispute with your hire car firm

British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association
The BVRLA is primarily to promote the interests of its members, but there is a code of conduct for its members to follow and you can complain to the Association if you feel that the service that you received means that the member is breaking this code.

European Car Rental Conciliation Service
The ECRCS helps customers with unresolved complaints concerning cross border vehicle rentals within Europe. However, there are only around half a dozen members of this service.


Car rental – hidden charges and selecting the right car

Hidden charges – don’t get caught out

Are there any local fees that are not covered when booking your car? There may be local sales taxes that have to be added, which may or may not be listed in your quote. Extra fees can include;

Car Rental Taxes – local taxes including VAT, surcharges for using an airport office. This could add more than 30% to your final bill

Car Rental Drop-Off Charges – An extra fee if a car is returned to a different location than where it was picked up.

Selecting your car

When selecting your collection point, choosing the airport does have a lot going for it, as you can soon be on your way.

However this may also cause you some problems;

Jetlag – do you really want to be driving in a strange place when you’re a little jetlagged, or if you have been flying for 12 hours?
Darkness – it may be dark when you arrive, so how can you check your car for damage before you drive it away?
Cost– Convenience always comes with a premium
Queues- With everyone wanting a car from the airport, you may have to queue for a while

Sleep it off
If you are arriving late in the day, consider staying in an airport hotel so that you are refreshed before you collect your car, or stay in a hotel in town. For the same price as an airport pick up you might be able to get the car delivered to you.

Check the minimum and maximum ages allowed for drivers if you want to share the driving. You may have to declare any driving offences so ensure that you have all the drivers’ paperwork with you when you book. Don’t forget to take it with you too.


Car hire

Hiring a car is one of the easiest things to do on the Internet.

The traveller knows what type of car they want or how much that they want to spend and as long as they get it from the cheapest source, they don’t care who supplies it.

Combined with price comparison websites, it couldn’t get any easier.

Do your research

However, just because it’s easy to do, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to do research before you book the car. It is easy for con artists to set up a webpage and get it onto a comparison website. This did happen in November/December 2011. A fake company used a name similar to a trusted brand, put up really cheap prices and waited for the cash to flow in. This was definitely a case of ‘too good to be true’.

The basic operation of the car rental websites is generally the same, giving availability and prices. Just like airlines, some offer rewards for regular customers. If you regularly hire a car it may be worth signing up, even if you only get to queue jump at busy airports.

But for more choice a good starting point is an online travel agent site such as Expedia or Lastminute. Here you may find a selection of different car hire companies for you to choose from. When you have found the right deal, you could then try the direct booking website.

That said, it may be cheaper to hire a car with a different company to your flights and hotel, but ensure that you know your cancellation rights should there be a problem. Booking everything through one company does make life easier if there is a snag with your trip.

 
 

Hire car insurance

The starting price for your car rental may be quite cheap, but just like a low cost airline ticket the extras soon start to mount up.

This is what makes price comparison difficult as you have to get right to the end of the booking process to get an accurate costing. It may be tempting to forgo some of these extras, but this may cost you in the long run.

Even if you do go with all the insurance extras, you may still be exposed to bills of £1,000 or more due to the excess.

The common insurances on offer are:

  • Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) – This is also known as Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). The purpose of this waiver is to limit your exposure if the car was damaged, which could be large, especially if the car is written off
  • Theft Waiver – If the car is stolen, you don’t have to pay for the replacement, just part of it
    Personal Effects Coverage (PEC) – provides protection against loss or theft of personal belongings from the rental car
  • Additional Liability Insurance (ALI) – protects the renter and other named drivers against claims made by third parties for bodily injury/death and property damage caused by the use or operation of the rental vehicle
  • Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) – provides accidental death and medical coverage for the renter and additional passengers during the time they are riding or driving with you

When you collect the car you may be offered the chance to reduce the excess with another fee. This can be expensive, maybe £15 a day. There is an alternative; you can pay an annual fee with a UK based insurance company, which will be for a fraction of the cost.

You will still have to pay the excess, but you can then reclaim this using your insurance.

Off road

You may not be covered for damage to the tyres or glass as standard, so you need to know where you stand if you get a puncture. Also you may not be covered if the car is driven off a paved road. In some countries this may be impossible due to the infrastructure.

Always check with your existing insurance to see if you are covered. You may already be protected in some way and there is no point in paying out twice. If you are covered make sure that you bring the relevant paperwork with you, along with emergency telephone numbers.


General travel tips

I have grouped together useful travel tips on one page.

FAMILY HOLIDAYS

School holidays really ramp up the costs of a holiday. So what can you do to keep costs down? Try the following tips (or leave the kids at home).

  •  Book early – Tour operators need your money, so if you book and pay well in advance then there are special deals on offer, such as free kids’ places. Booking early also means that you’ll get your resort of choice. If you are flexible and you don’t care about having a family room, last minute bookings can save you money, but could result in an unhappy experience
  • Be clever with your dates – You may be tied to school holidays, but don’t just go in the first few weeks. Check the dates for the whole of the school holiday period. Don’t just do the traditional Saturday to Saturday, go and return on Wednesdays if you can
  • The first weekend of summer is not a good time to go away unless you like people watching. I did it once to experience the airport and you can tell who is not going to have a relaxing time away
  • Be flexible – Self-catering? All-inclusive? Spain? Portugal? If the weather is the most important thing to you, shop around for the cheapest country. You don’t have to go where everyone else goes. A great 3 star hotel could be a better bet than a poor 5 star. Look at the facilities offered at 4/5 star hotels. If you’re not going to use them all, then look at a hotel with less to offer but with superior service.

 
 

HONEYMOON TIPS

Plan Your Honeymoon

OK, perhaps you’re just thinking of chilling out on the beach and nothing else (well nearly nothing else). However, this trip is the start of your new life together, so make it special. Also, planning can help you to save money, which is handy when you’re also paying for a big wedding.

However, don’t overdo the planning by having an itinerary for every minute of the day. Spontaneity is romantic. This trip is for both of you, so you should both be involved in the planning. The groom can still keep the destination a secret even with checking that the bride gets to do what she would like to do while away. Also you don’t have to be together 24 hours a day, so have some time apart as well.

The most important hotel booking? The wedding night! Are you sure that you have somewhere to stay after the reception?

 

  • Passports – Some couples may get carried away and book the trip with the new married name. Don’t! If the passport doesn’t match the flight ticket you won’t fly. Also if this is your first trip booked by the groom does he know his bride’s full name as recorded in her passport?
  • Don’t wait too long to book – I had a client who took 4 months to make his mind up about booking the hotel for his honeymoon. He finally said ‘book it’ and it was too late. If you have found the ideal location book it as soon as possible. Top honeymoon destinations are like wedding venues, they fill up well in advance. You can only book flights eleven months in advance, but some hotels can be booked a couple of years ahead
  • Don’t leave right after the wedding – Of course this doesn’t apply if you’re getting married at your honeymoon destination! After your wedding you’re going to be on a massive high. So just take some time to gently come back down to Earth. The day after the wedding is a massive shock to some as after all that planning and being the centre of attention, it’s all over
  • Remember your sense of humour – Relax and let some things go. Don’t let the beginning of married life be marred by a few mishaps. Complain if needs be, but don’t go over the top
  • Don’t book a twin bedded room! – Are you sure that you’re getting the right type of hotel room?
  • Pack ahead of time – Use a check list and pack all you need for your honeymoon before your wedding
  • Tell everyone that you’re on honeymoon – This probably won’t get you a free upgrade on the flight, but the hotel, cruise ship, restaurants, etc. may be able to add something extra to your experience
  • For trip ideas check out www.honeymoons.com and honeymoontravel.net/destinations.html. American websites just seem to be so much better at presenting honeymoon ideas.

 

TRAVEL STRESS TIPS

A lot of people don’t take holidays or short breaks often enough. In fact, I’ve come across people who never get away. Many that do manage to get away are now taking their work away with them.

 

This means that they don’t get a break as they’re still in the work mind-set that they’re trying to get away from. Taking a good amount of time away from the stresses of daily life gives you the break that you need to refresh your life and to be better equipped to handle whatever your boss, colleagues or customers give you.

 

There are super exclusive resorts that offer the perfect stress relief break, but they do charge a premium. So how do you find a stress free holiday when working to a budget? Here are my top ten tips.

 

  1. Use a travel researcher to do all the hard work in finding you the right holiday
  2. Luggage can cause your stress levels to rise as you manhandle it to the check-in desk, then wait at the luggage carrousel for it to (hopefully) come back to you at the other end. Use a company that will send your luggage away so that it’s waiting for you at your hotel, and will then send it back home for you
  3. Use a chauffeur to take you from your home to the airport. Or use a ‘Meet and Greet’ parking service. Then you don’t have to worry about parking your car, or finding it again. Also, use an airport lounge to get away from most of the other travellers and their noise.
  4. There are few days in the year when you should not travel. The first few days of any school holiday are chaotic. I tried it once to experience it. Never again. Try to fly outside school holidays if you can. If you can’t, then stick to the middle range of dates
  5. Don’t forget to check school holiday dates for other countries. There’s no point in avoiding UK school children, if you end up surrounded by kids from another country. USA Spring Break means thousands of excited and drunk American teenagers/early twenties in resorts in Mexico and other Caribbean destinations. Here, sleep is not an option
  6. Keep away from the main resorts and head out to small villages. Here the pace of life will be slower and there is less chance of staying near an all-night disco
  7. If you are worried about ‘foreign food’, then contact nearby restaurants a few weeks before you go. Explain that you have a special diet and ask if they can cater for it. Most do when given enough notice
  8. A weekend break can work wonders (if you leave the laptop and phone behind) so just head off to another location in the UK if you really can’t get away
  9. If you have to take your work phone with you, use an answering service to screen your calls. They can then leave you a message at your hotel or send you a text/email so you can call back when you are ready (and you won’t get calls in the middle of the night if you are quite a few time zones away)
  10. Finally, just make sure that you get away!!

 

TRAVEL SCAMS

While you’re away, you will probably be more relaxed than usual and more trusting than you would be back home. Ensure that you don’t have your trip ruined by falling for these common scams.

  •  Always ask for ID – When you are approached by anyone claiming to be an official, always ask for ID
  • Hide Luggage Labels – When at your departing airport, you don’t want anyone to know your home address and when you’ll be back. Some of my clients use my company’s address instead (the label is marked ‘care of’). So if lost luggage does need to be delivered somewhere, it can come to my business. The client’s address remains private. Can your travel company offer this? You could also use your work address. Always ensure that your contact details are also inside you case as external labels are easily lost
  • Never except anything from a stranger – Such as drinks in glasses or open bottles. Don’t carry anything back home to post unless you can open the package or letter. This also includes the offer to share a cab
  • Watch out for distractions – This type of robbery comes in many forms. You could even provide the distraction yourself just by being unaware of your surroundings. Always keep an eye on your belongings, even at airports. If anything unusual happens around you, such as a fight or somebody cleaning something off your clothes stick, your hands in your pockets after securing any bags. Get away as quickly as possible
  • Hire Cars – always check cars thoroughly before driving them off the forecourt. Take pictures if possible, including the hire company’s representative. If you are arriving at night an overnight stay in an airport hotel could be a lot cheaper than being charged for a scratch that you didn’t see when you collected the car. Make sure you know if you are to return the car full of fuel, or empty. You may feel that filling the car up away from the airport and topping up just before you return the car is a good idea. However, it’s easier to use a receipt showing a large amount of fuel than one with a few litres if you are fighting a claim against being over charged

Train websites

You may find that some of your preferred hotel and flight booking websites don’t have a train option. If they do, it may only be for one or two countries. There are specialist websites that make light work of booking tickets, and getting the right tourist passes. For basic journeys you may find it easier to go direct to the rail company’s own website.

 

Orient Express 
No longer just about trains, this company now offers luxury adventures around the world. There are still some train journeys on the iconic train, but hopefully without any murders (sorry, I had to).

 

Australia

Rail Australia
Rail Australia is an alliance between Australia’s major tourist-oriented rail operators. From this website you can access all the member websites.

CountryLink
CountryLink provides long distance passenger rail services, supported by an extensive coach network. Their fleet of XPT and XPLORER trains and road coaches provide services to more than 360 destinations throughout New South Wales and to interstate destinations including Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne.

Great Southern Rail 
Great Southern Rail operates four trains: the Indian Pacific (Sydney-Adelaide-Perth), The Ghan (Adelaide-Alice Springs-Darwin), The Overland (Melbourne-Adelaide), The Southern Spirit (2 Transcontinental Journeys). Their aim is to offer unique and memorable outback adventure experiences with all the comfort and service synonymous with two of the world’s great train journeys.

Queensland Rail
Queensland Rail Travel claims to have the largest and most comprehensive network of long distance and tourist trains in Australia.

Transwa
Transwa is the Western Australian Government’s regional public transport operator, and has more than 275 destinations in the southern half of Western Australia.

 

Canada

VIA Rail
This website is a comprehensive guide to the Canadian rail network. One of the best services of this network is that in some areas you can arrange to stop the train between stations. This is great for those who really want to get away from it all. This site does not include the famous tourist trains that run across Canada. Although, if you travel across Canada using VIA Rail, you will get to travel with the locals.

Rocky Mountaineer 
Trains and holiday packages for those who want to travel across Canada by luxury train.There are four distinctive rail routes, rich in natural wonders, through British Columbia and Alberta. The trains have various classes of travel, the more you spend the better the view from your seat.

 

France

SNCF Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français
SNCF is France’s national state-owned railway company. It operates the country’s national rail services, including the TGV, France’s high-speed rail network, and the overnight and local services.

 

Germany

Deutsche Bahn 
Deutsche Bahn is responsible for the running of all German Intercity-Express, EuroCity, Intercity and Regionalbahn trains, and many commuter-oriented urban Stadtschnellbahn (S-Bahn) metros. This is an excellent website for finding train timetables for Europe, including small towns and international connections. You can print just the train schedules you need. There is also the DB Navigator app so you can check train times using your mobile phone.

 

India

India is home to the world’s largest railway system.

India Rail
India Rail is a travel agency, so it concentrates on rail packages. It is a good website to visit for ideas.

Indian Railways 
Indian Railways carry over 11 million passengers per day. This website provides timetables, availability and fares for up to 3 months in advance. It also covers the various passes that are available to foreign travellers. To book online you have to visit another website – www.irctc.co.in

 

Italy

Trenitalia 
Most of this website is only in Italian, but the search functions are available in English. From here you can book intercity, local or international journeys.

 

Japan

The national rail network is split into six different regional companies. Passengers may travel across several regional companies without having to change trains and without purchasing separate tickets. Although the number of trains that do run between the regions has been reduced over the years.
The companies are:

Central Japan Railway Company
This network is based in the Chūbu (Nagoya) region of central Japan.

East Japan Rail Company
The East Japan Rail Company covers the Greater Tokyo Area, the Tōhoku region, and surrounding areas.

Hokkaido Rail Company
This network is based in Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan.

Kyushu Railway Company 
This company operates intercity rail services in Kyushu, the third largest island of Japan.

Shikoku Rail Company
This network is based on the island of Shikoku.

West Japan Rail Company
This company operates in western Honshū.

 

Spain

RENFE 
This is the Spanish state owned rail network. Not every information page has a version written in English.

 

United Kingdom

Eurostar 
This is the high speed link between London, Paris and Brussels. It also connects to Disneyland Paris and to over 100 other destinations across Europe.

National Rail
The National Rail Enquiries website can help with any passenger rail enquiry for travelling on the National Rail network in England, Wales and Scotland.

 

USA

Alaska Railroad 
This is the last full-service train service in the USA. It uniquely carries both freight and passengers throughout its system. It doesn’t cover the whole state; it connects Alaska’s two largest cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks. It does also go to Denali National Park, which is the home of the tallest mountain in North America.

Amtrak 
This is the website of the US national rail network. When buying a ticket the delivery option is available to addresses in the continental US, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada. The other option is to use Quik-Trak, which is Amtrak’s self-service ticketing kiosk. Unfortunately, these kiosks are not available at every station.

 

MISCELLANEOUS WEBSITES

Rick Steves’ Europe – Eurail Passes 
This is an American website, so the booking options may not be of much use to you. However, this is a great source of information on rail travel across Europe and the various types of tickets that are available. If you’re not sure what you need, visit this site to help you plan. It has a really useful summary of what countries, or where in a country, you should explore if you have limited time.

Inter Rail 
Inter Rail Passes allow you to travel in 29 European countries and Morocco. This massive area is divided into 8 zones. The passes can be for use in 1, 2 or all the zones. They are valid for 16 days, 22 days or a month. There may be supplements for some intercity or high speed routes.

Rail Europe
Rail Europe is the UK arm of SNCF. This website is useful for planning trips (major city to major city) across Europe. It also offers some local journeys in Europe, as well as rail passes.

Thalys 
Thalys International provides passenger rail transport services on behalf of the Belgian, French and Dutch railways to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne.

The Man in Seat 61
This site was put together by a former British Rail station manager. It aims to help travellers who want to travel by train or by ferry, but don’t know how to go about it. It only supplies information, you cannot book tickets. To book you have to follow links to commercial websites. Some may find the amount of information shown on each page overwhelming. The text is quite small and you may need to adjust your web browser settings.

 

METRO SYSTEMS

Most major cities and large towns have a local rail service. These are known as metros, subways, or in the case of London- the underground or Tube. You can book tickets and passes online, but the most useful functions of a metro website are the route planners or maps.

Urban Rail
This is a website that gives a general overview or metro systems around the world. It also has links to other relevant sites. This website is similar to Seat 61 as its run by an enthusiast.

Major Metro Systems

Australia
Melbourne
Sydney

China
Beijing
Hong Kong 

Germany
Berlin
Munich

India
Delhi

Italy
Rome

Japan
Tokyo

Spain
Barcelona
Madrid

UK
Glasgow
London

USA
Chicago
Los Angeles
New York
San Francisco
Washington DC


Travelling by train

Murder on the Orient Express might be a little too much excitement for you, but trains are an overlooked method of transport. Seen as slow and old fashioned by many, this mode of transport is making a comeback as more are concerned about the ecological impact of their travels. Trains are also a great way to see the countryside, and to get immersed into local culture. It can be cheaper too.

The Internet has made it much easier to research train journeys anywhere in the World. In most cases, the websites have an English option as well. If you can’t see an option for an English language version (possibly a button marked ‘EN’, or with the Union Jack), try adding ‘/en’ (without the quotes) to the end of the URL. If this doesn’t work, then Google Translate may help.

When using websites that are based in another country, you may find that you may not recognise place names as they will be spelt in the local language. So ensure that you have the various spellings to hand.

The prices will probably be in the local currency, so you should have a currency converter handy as well.
When searching for trains, you may find that some websites cover the national rail network while others only cover specialist lines, such as Eurostar.

The basic search method, once you’re on the website, is similar to searching for flights. All you have to do is enter you departure and arrival stations, dates and times. Unlike flights, you’ll probably get plenty of options before and after your desired time.
Things to look out for are;

  • Available train lines
  • Is the train a local one (it stops at all the stations along the route) or an intercity (only stops at the larger stations)?
  • The number of stops
  • Services onboard (including dining)
  • Approximate travel time
  • Classes of travel

You also need to check if the tickets will be posted to you, if it’s an E-Ticket, or if you have to collect them at the departure station (from a ticket office/booth or machine).

Classes of Travel/Ticket

Just like flights, there are various different classes of travel, so make sure that you sit in the correct compartment. They also have Fare Rules; some tickets can only be used at certain times of the day. If you travel in the wrong class, or at the wrong time you may get a penalty fine. Finally, a ticket does not guarantee you a seat. You may have to reserve one (at an extra cost).

Some trains are overnight and have an extra class of travel, called a ‘sleeper’. A sleeper could be a fold down bunk in a normal compartment, or there could be a section of the train just for beds, called a sleeper compartment. These compartments may offer washing facilities and lockable doors. Even if they don’t, the beds are larger and there is more privacy.

Rail Passes

Rail passes can help to make ticketing simpler, as you can put most, or all, of your trip onto one ticket. A Eurail Pass, for example, can over a set period, provide unlimited travel in a country, a region (2 countries), a section (3, 4 or 5 countries) and a ‘Global’ pass will allow you to travel in all 23 member countries.

As with buying flights, you should read the terms and conditions of sale before booking your pass. Don’t forget to price up your planned journeys using ‘normal’ tickets. If you’re not planning on travelling every day, as a pass may workout more expensive.

To find train schedules online just search for your des¬tination (country, region, or city) and the phrase ‘train’. You will find that most countries have a national rail network of some kind, or there are companies that specialise in providing all the booking information that you need on one website.


Single travellers

Single travellers can feel that they are being penalised just because they decide to travel on their own. The ‘single supplement’ is regarded as unfair as the price increases during the school holidays.

This problem is basically down to the way that travel companies advertise. They obviously want to be seen as offering a bargain, so they advertise holiday prices in a format that makes them seem as low as possible. This usually means that they use £per person. This price is determined by dividing the room cost by the maximum number of adults that can be fitted into the room.

The room is the same price whether or not the maximum number of adults are sharing it. This gives rise to the ‘single supplement’ which is used to ensure that the full room price is paid for the booking. When a single supplement gets unfair is when the travel company adds extra to make up for any shortfall in what they think they would have made had two adults travelled.

It’s not just singles who have to pay more, couples and families do as well (it’s called ‘under occupancy fee’) if it’s decided that more than 2 can share the room.

So how can you pay a fair price of you are travelling alone?

  • Only stay in hotels with single rooms. A single room can actually be cheaper than a per person priced double. But not all hotels offer these, and if they do there isn’t many to go around so book well in advance
  • Offer to share. If you fancy a group touring trip, find out if most of your fellow travellers are travelling in pairs. If they are, see if the company is forward thinking enough to put you on a wait-list for a tour with a greater number of single travellers. Then if you feel comfortable with sharing with a same-sex stranger, offer to share a room with another single. Make sure that they’re a good match though; you don’t want an early bird if you like to spend as long as possible in bed
  • Travel off peak. Any booking is better than no booking, so try for a special deal when the hotel is quiet/mainly empty
  • Check which companies offer a lower supplement. Most resort hotels are offered by numerous tour operators, so shop around
  • Last minute deals. As with off-peak, any booking is better than no booking at all
  • Use a membership service to find a travel companion. There are Internet groups that give you the chance to get to know somebody before travelling with them as a companion. This is much better than the old published directories that used to be available.

Safety Issues

I’m sure that you realise that travelling alone makes you more vulnerable to crime, which is mostly theft, as opposed to crimes against the person. This petty crime can happen on trains, in the airport or even in the hotel lobby; in fact you should never leave your stuff unattended, even if you need to pay a visit to the toilet. If you have a nap make sure that if anyone tried to move your stuff, you will be woken up. Always ensure that at least one person knows your movements and do keep in regular contact to update them on your itinerary.

Only use taxis from official taxi ranks, or use taxis recommend by your hotel. Yes it will cost more, but you will be safer than just calling one in the street. It would be an idea to avoid going on your own to remote areas/ruins. Seek local advice or take a recommended guide.

Single Traveller Websites

The Women’s Travel Club
This isn’t really a club, but an American based tour operator specialising in travel for women travelling solo.

Companions 2 Travel
Companions 2 Travel helps solo travellers to find travelling companions. There is a membership fee, which can be for a year or just for a month if you only have one trip in mind.

Travellers Connected
Travellers Connected is a community where you can find travel companions, or ask/share advice.

Where Are You Now
Where Are You Now (WAYN) is a travel and lifestyle social networking community website with nearly 20 million members in over 190 countries. WAYN helps you to connect to like–minded people based on your past experiences, where you would love to go and what you would love to do.

 


Travel insurance tips

  1. Before you leave you should scan your policy and email it to yourself using a web based email account such as Hotmail. Then if you lose the copy that you have taken with you, you can easily get another copy. Have the policy number stored in your mobile’s memory (not the SIM card), along with the contact numbers
  2. Your email should also include all the emergency contact phone numbers. Also leave a copy of your paperwork with a family member or friend in case the internet is not available due to a natural disaster
  3. Make sure that everyone travelling with you knows how to find the details. If you are travelling in a group, make sure that you know how to get each other’s information
  4. Always report any theft or loss to the local police within 24 hours. Do not let anyone suggest that you delay this (such as the hotel manager). Make sure that you have records of everything that you might claim for (such as receipts and photographs)
  5. Always make sure that you keep the receipts of any costs that you incur (travelling expenses to report lost passport, meals when delayed, etc.)

  


Travel insurance – theft, loss of possessions, accidents, disasters and terrorism

Theft and loss of possessions

The chances are that the cover provided (typically around £500) will not cover you for all your losses should your suitcase go missing. With more people taking gadgets away with them, the amount you need cover for soon increases.

You do need to make sure that you have adequate cover for lost cases as the airlines will only pay out the minimum set by an international agreement (the Montreal Convention gives a maximum of 1,000 Special Drawing Rights, which is around $1,500).

If you declare how much the case is worth at check-in, you should be given the option to pay a surcharge and this payment will then reflect your declared value). But it’s probably easier to claim on your insurance.

If your luggage is lost by the airline, remember to get a Property Irregularity Report before you leave the baggage reclaim hall.

With E-Tickets, the loss of your flight ticket is less important than it used to be. All you need is the reservation number and your passport. If you are issued the old fashioned multi-layer paper tickets, then you need your insurance to cover the cost of replacements.

Check with your airline on their policy on replacing tickets to see how much cover you need.
It is expensive to replace a lost passport, so look for cover of at least £250 per claim. This should cover incident costs such as getting to the embassy to arrange a replacement passport.

As with lost (other than the airline losing your case) or theft claims in the UK, you will need a crime number from the local police. This must be done within 24 hours of the incident or noticing that the items are missing. Your actions leading up to loss or theft may mean that the insurers will not pay out.

For specialist equipment, you may have to pay an extra premium. If you can’t fit the valuables (including camera equipment and laptop) into the room safe, use the hotel’s main safe. A locked suitcase in your room is not taking enough precautions. As with all insurance policies there will be an adjustment for wear and tear.

The amount of cash that you’re covered for is also important. Will it be enough?

 

Accidents

It’s not just cover for you should you be in an accident, you must also be covered in case you cause the accident. This is called Personal Liability Cover, which should protect you in any claim for damages (including legal fees) against you.

This is where the numbers can get really large, such as £2 million.

If you need to sue somebody, or if your family need to sue because of your death, then you need cover for legal expenses. It’s difficult to know how much cover you need for this, but you will probably be covered for around £20,000.

Car accidents may not be covered and you will need separate cover if you hire a car.

 

Disasters and terrorism

The UK summer break coincides with possibly disruptive weather in other locations around the world.

For example, from 1st June until 30th November it’s the Atlantic Hurricane Season, so if you head to the Caribbean during this period there is a slim chance that your holiday may be disrupted.

The good news is that if you’ve booked a package holiday and you’re caught up in a natural disaster, the tour operator will have to bring you home and if this applies, to compensate you for any remaining days that you missed. In some cases they may offer to switch you to an alternative destination. This may mean a surcharge if the new holiday is of a higher value.

Your travel insurance should cover you for medical costs, or loss of possessions. If you’ve put your own trip together you may find that a basic policy will not compensate you for loss of any remaining days.

Terrorism and war is different. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issues advice about travelling to other countries. If the FCO advises against travel to a particular country, then you will find it to be more of a challenge to get insured.

If the FCO only advises against travel to a particular part of a country, it gets more complicated. You must avoid these blacklisted areas to be covered.

However, even if your destination does not appear of an advisory list, your insurance still may not cover you in the event of a terrorist attack.