Archives February 2019

User travel reviews

What do other travellers feel about a hotel?

Picking out the best restaurants, hotels, tours, etc., is tough. With Social Media you can let others do the work for you. This is done by reading reviews written by travellers who have been there before you.

By using websites such as TripAdvisor, you can pick out some top destinations and all they have to offer before you book. If used properly they can also help you to avoid locations with poor facilities and reputations.

The most common user review website for travellers is TripAdvisor. However there are loads of others. Some are easier to use than others and there are some that are UK based.

The secret to using these websites is to read why somebody has given their review and to see if that would cause you problems or not.

A couple on a honeymoon might not enjoy spending two weeks at a family biased hotel, and would you and your family enjoy spending time at a hotel given 5 out of 5 by a teenager on his first holiday without his parents? Also, please be aware that some hotels may be giving their own reviews so try to get as many opinions and use as many websites as possible before making up your mind.

 

Review websites

TripAdvisor
This website has around 30,000,000 visitors a month and around 10,000,000 reviews. It is part of Expedia, so booking tools are quite prominent. Reviews are listed by the submission date and not by rating. This allows you to build an opinion on the running of the hotel over a period of time.

Holiday Watchdog
This site provides travel and holiday reviews of hotels and accommodations world-wide. With hundreds of reviews being added every week, Holiday Watchdog remains one of the best sources of fresh travel content in the United Kingdom. Not always up-to-date with the less popular destinations, this website is part of TripAdvisor.

Hotel Chatter
Hotel Chatter covers everything related to hotels and lodging around the world. This includes reviews, which celebrities are staying where, hotel industry news, tips for booking online, the hotels you should stay away from, the hotels you should book, and more. This website doesn’t have a comprehensive database of reviews.

Review Centre
This website has reviews on just about any consumer item that you can think of. It has a limited database but is probably more up-to-date than holiday-truth and realholidayreports. It is also UK based.


Travel guides

Some of the best known web ‘guide books’ are provided by the publishers of printed guide books, such as Rough Guides, Fodors and Lonely Planet. Other professional ones may be put together by companies that you may not have heard of, but are ‘big’ in the world of travel. For example, World Travel Guide.

This has been put together by a commercial company, Columbus, who also supply travel guides to travel agents. As it’s a commercial company, they need to finance the website, so there are numerous adverts and links which can be annoying, but you can quickly find out information on a country. Some more unusual/less popular destinations may have limited information.

As with printed guide books, some websites are general and cover the whole world, while others cover particular parts of the world, countries, cities, or resorts. Other sources also provide guides, such as newspapers and travel magazines who both publish articles from their printed versions.

Broadcasting companies may also do the same, with the chance to playback old shows or to read news stories on travel.

Using such varied professional articles, guides, programmes and news stories, you can build up your own travel guide based solely on your own needs. This is important as every writer has their own style and take on what is relevant.

It can be still be difficult to research somewhere off the beaten track

Even by using the Internet, finding information on less fashionable destinations may be as difficult as using a printed guide book. What I have found when researching the niche destinations is that many websites copy information from the same source, so you may find the same information time and time again, which is very frustrating.

If you need to print the information from the website, check to see if the site offers a print option. This will save paper as only the content should be printed.

 

Travel guide websites

World Guides
This website aims to provide up-to-date travel and tourist information for countries and cities throughout the world. The guides give the visitor travel tips, information on tourist attractions, major landmarks, monuments, excursions, accommodation, shopping, restaurants, city transport, airports and more.

It has around 600 travel guides, along with maps, pictures and a weekly travel blog. The travel blog has destination reviews, updates on the website, travel news and other travel related stuff.

BootsnAll
BootsnAll Travel Network is a community of online resources and travel guides. The purpose is to connect and inspire independent travellers. It is an American site and it also provides a booking service.

Lonely Planet
Over five million people visit LonelyPlanet.com each month (according to the website). They visit to discuss, dream, plan and sometimes to book travel. Their destination pages cover thousands of cities and countries, so unless you are going somewhere really unusual, you’re sure to find the info that you need here.

Fodors
Fodors is reported to be the world’s largest publisher of travel and tourism information. Their website covers nearly all you would need to know about a destination, including restaurants, nightlife and sightseeing. This site also has a forum where travellers can share their experiences and offer advice.

Frommer’s
Frommer’s started in 1957 with their guide book ‘Europe on $5 a Day’. It has now grown to over 300 guides. Their goal is to help their readers to explore destinations like a local. The website offers extracts from these books, articles and a forum.

Rough Guides
Rough Guides started in 1982 when Mark Ellingham couldn’t find a guide book that met his requirements while travelling around Greece. Mark teamed up with Martin Dunford on his return to the UK and the Rough Guides series of guide books was born.

Now Rough Guides cover more than 200 destinations around the globe and subjects as diverse as Climate Change and Pregnancy. This website has extracts from the guides, article and a forum.

Insight Guides
The Insight Guide website is really there to sell you copies of their books, but as Insight has a reputation of being a very visual travel guide, there are some great pictures on the website. There is a useful ‘inspire me’ option where you can be taken to brief articles written about a few inspiring destinations.

Time Out
As guide books have websites, so does the most famous series of magazine city guides. The guides are mainly written for the younger traveller, but there are still some really useful ideas on this site for city visitors of any age.


Government advisories

Is it too dangerous to visit?

Now some might feel that the best place to start looking is by using a guide book. But I just want to mention that there is no point researching somewhere if afterwards you find that the Government says that it’s too dangerous to visit.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth website lists the current advice for UK travellers to any recognised country in the world. If they say do not visit then you will not be able to get travel insurance for that destination.

It also offers advice on local issues within countries, such as crime hot spots. Sometimes the advice is not to go to a country full stop, and other countries may just have warnings for certain areas. Of course it’s a very dry read and there are warnings for just about every country, so before you get too worried, check the advice for somewhere that you have recently visited before you make a judgement.

This website gives you the option of registering for email alerts, so that if the advice on a country you are interested in visiting changes, you will be one of the first to know.

Sometimes the UK Government might decide that a place offers no real risk to visitors, but other countries might. If you are going to the Far East, it might be worth checking the advice given by the Australian Government. Other options are the Canadian Government or the USA

These websites may also give you basic travel information such as Public Holidays, local currency and languages.

 

Travel health

You should check the health requirements of your chosen destination. The Department of Health’s website is not that user friendly when looking for travel advice, so you may need to spend some time searching around to find the advice that you are looking for.

A better website is the one produced by the Scottish Health Service.

However, you should always check with your GP for up-to-date information.

Of course if you really want to go overboard with your health research, you could check out the Hospital for Tropical Diseases (HTD) website. This is the only National Health Service (NHS) Hospital dedicated to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of tropical diseases and travel related infections.

If you are interested in the latest global disease outbreak issues, then visit the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

Do you need a visa?

If you arrive in a country without the required visa, it will be a very short trip, probably just one night in the cells. For entry requirements, you need to check with the local consulate or embassy. These can be found by visiting Project Visa or Embassy World, but neither is comprehensive, so Google may have to be used instead.

Please be aware that requirements for visas can change overnight, so always keep a check on the requirements.

Your passport

It goes without saying that you should ensure your passport is still valid. Some countries will not let you in if your passport has less than six months to run after the date of entry. Others require two or more blank pages for the visa on arrival system.

All you need to know about your UK passport can be found here.


The right vacation destination

There is so much vacation information out there

Since travel companies moved onto the Internet, travellers have taken advantage of the savings that they have found by shopping around on these travel websites. However, not all of them have used the Internet to research their chosen destinations or have taken advantage of the wealth of travel resources that are available online.

Although there is so much information out there, it can be time consuming to find what you need. The trick is taking the time to plan where and how to look. It is important to take time in doing this, after all, despite what some airlines might tell you, the destination, and not the journey, is the main part of the trip. There’s no point being somewhere just because it’s cheap if it doesn’t meet your needs.

Your starting point depends on your requirements. We all have them from “I don’t care where we go as long as it’s hot” to watching a solar eclipse. So before you start researching, take the time to write down the holiday ‘must haves’.
The common method of finding a destination is to go to a large travel company’s website and search for whatever vacation meets the price range. For others, the starting point is somewhere that is a direct flight away from the local airport. Then it’s just a question of visiting the airport’s website and checking out the possible destinations.

It is not possible to list all the possible types of holidays as everyone has different needs. The purpose of this chapter is to show you how to investigate destinations so that you can find out for yourself if it offers all that you need.

You may have an idea in your head on where to visit. Maybe you saw it on the telly and fancied it, or maybe you read an article in a paper. You may want to use a travel brochure to find a suitable location. However, these should be used only to find out what you will get for your money from the hotel/travel company.

Brochures and websites from travel companies only want you to focus on what they want you to know about. They may include the fact that the town centre is a bus ride away, but may neglect to tell you that the bus stops running early on Thursdays.

One particular part of Tenerife is promoted as the ideal location for families and party goers, but if you investigate this area on the web you may find that it’s also ideal for lowlifes and drug dealers. The Internet will help you to find what the tour operators miss out.

It is also possible that you may have bought a guide book. Guidebooks are very convenient to read in bed, on the train or anywhere else you like to read, but they are out of date before they are printed. They are also the views of just one person, so unless you want to buy three or four books you may only get a blinkered view of the destination of interest.

Online guides are also produced by traditional publishing companies, with free snippets from their books, and more information may be available if you subscribe, by trade organisations with a commercial interest in the location, government funded tourist boards or they can even be written by amateurs with a keen interest in a particular location.

All have their uses in helping you to find the right place to visit.

What to think about

Before you start to search you really should consider the following;

  • If you are not travelling alone, what does the rest of your party want to see and do?
  • If you live in a city, will a city break feel like you’ve gone away? Think about going on a trip with a lot of contrast to your home life
  • Do you have the energy levels for a full on trip, do you need a ‘fly and flop’ holiday, or a mixture of both?
  • What is your ideal climate? Would it matter if you were too cold, too hot or too wet?
  • How long are you willing to travel for to get to your destination?
  • Does it matter if there is a language barrier?
  • Are you or one of your fellow travellers a fussy eater? There’s no point going somewhere if there is nothing to eat

Using internet tools to plan vacations

How to use the internet to plan and research holidays

The following assumes that you know how to access the World-Wide-Web and can use email. The following is a brief introduction to Internet use.

Search engines

The Internet has a vast amount of information available, but sometimes finding what is useful for you can be like finding a needle in a massive haystack. In this book, the tool that is used the most is an Internet browser, either to directly access a webpage, or to find it by using a search engine.

When it comes to search engines, the name that comes to mind is probably Google, although some less confident computer users may use Bing as this is the default set on most Windows PCs. Search engines do not search the Internet in real time, but trawl through a massive database of downloaded websites, and as a database is used, it is possible that the page suggested no longer exists, or has changed in some way.

You may find that you don’t find what you are looking for if you stick to one particular search engine. As well as Google or Bing, you could try one of the following.

Lycos

Ask

There are some websites that carry out searches on more than one search engine at a time, thereby saving you from using each engine individually.

Dog Pile (Zoo)

Using a search engine

To get the most from any search engine you should take the time to learn how to use it properly. When carrying out a search you can save time by using the correct search term and removing any term that is not of interest. Before your next search, take a look at the search engine’s FAQ or search tips page so that you can familiarise yourself with the best search methods for that particular website.

The words that you enter into the search bar are called keywords. One keyword will probably give you too many options and more than 8 is probably too many.

For example

holidays gives around 873,000,000 results
cheap holidays gives around 332,000,000 results
“cheap holidays” gives around 6,450,000 results.
“cheap holidays” – spain gives around 5,340,000 results.

Using the quotation marks in the third search reduces the number of results, as only the pages that contain the phrase ‘cheap holidays’ are listed. With the second search all webpages that contain the words ‘cheap’ and ‘holidays’ anywhere on the page are listed.


With the last search only pages that contain the phrase ‘cheap holidays’ and do not include the word ‘spain’ are listed. The – sign must have a space before it and must be immediately in front of the word to be excluded so that it’s not mistaken for a hyphen. With Google, it can be used to exclude whole websites as well, which is handy if you know that the website in question just doesn’t have the required information, or if you have already searched it. Other search engines might allow the term AND NOT instead of the – sign.

For example
spain –site:guardian.co.uk will exclude the Guardian newspaper’s website from your results.

The OR operator can be used to narrow your searches down.

cheap holidays spain OR germany will show pages that have either ‘spain’ or ‘germany’ mentioned. If OR is not used then only pages that mention ‘spain and ‘germany’ will be listed. The ‘OR’ must be in capitals. The symbol | can be used instead of OR, but it’s probably quicker to type OR than trying to find the | key!

Google also allows you just to search the contents of one website
spain site:lonelyplanet.com will only search for the word ‘spain’ on the pages of the Lonely Planet website.

There are exceptions to the search rules about punctuation and common words such as ‘and’ and ‘the’ when used in searches. If you are having problems in finding a relevant search, then remember to check the search engine’s tips or FAQ pages.

Searchbots

A Searchbot is a piece of software that continuously searches the Internet for you. This can be quicker and easier than searching numerous search engines yourself and a Searchbot can compare and combine the results for you. It might even be able to answer a question for you.

There are various websites where you can build a Searchbot, such as www.searchbots.net which tries to make the process fun by allowing you to design your own robot. However, a simpler way is to set up a Google Alert. Then every time your chosen search phrase is found by Google you get an email.

You do need to set up a Google account to use this service. A Google Alert can be used to monitor the news for your chosen destination and you can set it so that you are notified when Google has found a new article about your destination.

When you set up an alert you can use the same tools as when doing a Google search to ensure that information that isn’t relevant, such as share prices, is not sent to you. You can also set the reports to a frequency that suits you best, from as soon as it happened to once a week. www.google.com/alerts


Find the right weather

In the old days of using brochures, the weather was shown by a tiny graph. It may have had a comparison with the weather in New York for the same month. These don’t really tell you much, such as was it wet because of monsoons, or typhoons or hurricanes etc.?

When looking at summer holidays in the Caribbean, for example, I used to be shocked by those who didn’t know about hurricane season, or say that it wasn’t hurricane season last year. I came across quite a few people who had been misled by travel agents.


Hurricane Season

I had one case where a customer wanted a honeymoon. I explained about the Atlantic Hurricane Season, but another travel agent had recommended Aruba that he said was not in the hurricane belt.

This was not true, but as even Aruba’s own tourist board used to mention that it isn’t hit by hurricanes, you can’t blame him for giving the wrong information.

Using the internet I was able to provide copies of studies on hurricanes on this particular island, and I also explained how hurricanes a hundred miles away can cause weather problems locally.

On the month of the honeymoon Aruba was flooded by the rains of Hurricane Felix.


Find the right location

The location is the most important choice to make

Unless you are looking for a ‘fly and flop’ holiday, this is probably the hardest choice to make as so many factors are involved in finding the perfect location.

The location can be an easy choice. If you are looking to take part in a particular activity then the location will choose itself. For example, if you want to see Humpback whales, then you need to find the best place in the world to do this within the restriction of your dates. If you want to see or take part in a particular festival this also makes the choice of location easy. It is also fairly easy if you are limiting your trip to nonstop destinations served by your local airport.

Fly and flop

For a fly and flop holiday, tour operator websites can be useful as they will list the positive features of a particular resort. Do remember that only the positive features of the hotel/resort would be listed by tour operators.

The best use of a tour operator website is just to find out what you will be getting for your money if you book with them. Resort and hotel information should always be backed up with your own research.

So you need to check out your favored location for the ‘truth’. The common way is to use review websites. There are plenty to choose from, some are more comprehensive than others.

If you are researching an unusual trip, you may find that you will come across multiple websites where exactly the same words are used to describe the trip. Plagiarism is alive and well on the Internet. This does make life a little harder sometimes.

Ask someone
Forums or discussion boards can help you to choose your location. These are special websites where people ask questions and hopefully more knowledgeable people post the answers.

When you have found the right location, you now need to check for travel advice for that country. This includes visa requirements, vaccinations, and safety. The websites mentioned earlier may list this information, but there is a strong possibility of it being out of date.

It’s down to you

You should always check for health requirements, such as jabs before you book. Some medication can only be obtained through a private prescription, and can be expensive. Always check with your doctor for up-to-date advice.

It is the traveller’s responsibility to ensure that they meet the country’s entry requirements. You need to check with the local consulate or embassy. Please be aware that requirements can change overnight or after you book, so always keep an eye out for changes.


Plan your travel with the help of the internet

In the old days, you just went to your local travel agent and booked their recommended trip. With the rise in Internet use, more and more people are now staying at home and booking their holidays on a website. Unfortunately, too many people get to their computers and just type in prices and dates. If you speak to these Internet bookers, they nearly all go on about the bargain that they have found, but the Internet offers much more than cut price holidays.

For example, you can read what others have thought of your chosen hotel, and learn some of the language of your destination, or even check the weather before you arrive. However, planning a trip can sometimes be more work and stress than what you’re trying to avoid, and while the Internet can make things much simpler, it does take a lot of your spare time. It may sound easy to plan a trip without a travel agent’s help, but planning a trip on your own requires a good amount of research. This is especially true when you are travelling somewhere new.

Where should you start with your travel planning?

The hardest part is deciding on where to start your research. Are you activity led, weather led, or have you always wanted to visit somewhere in particular? The starting point depends on what you want to do while you are away. While you are thinking about the major reasons for your trip, don’t forget that by the time you have arrived, it may be too late to find out how important the little details were. So remember to list all your personal comfort requirements before you start researching.

So how can you use the Internet to plan and research your next trip? Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as going to one website. When you want the perfect holiday match you have to look around.

Start early

You should start researching early to ensure that you get the best possible selection, and hopefully an early booking discount. You should keep your holiday research information in one place. I prefer printed copies of information instead of keeping everything on my computer just because I find it easier to read from paper. Whichever method suits you best, just ensure that you don’t lose it!

If you’re planning a trip for a group of friends then an online method of storage is the best method as all members of the group can access and amend if necessary. Google Docs (https://docs.google.com) is probably the easiest to access.

You shouldn’t worry about the price for now; just brainstorm what you are looking for in your trip. Make a list of the activities you would like to enjoy on your trip. If you’ve always booked a ‘fly and flop’ holiday in the past, then listing activities may be a bit of a challenge at first. Do you want to see particular animals, gamble, take part in a festival or just play in the sea? What about sporting activities, sightseeing, or fine dining? Rate your activities in order of importance.

Before you go online, ensure that you have made a checklist. It is so easy to get distracted while searching around the Internet that without a list of requirements to keep you on track you could end up watching videos of cute cats instead of sourcing the best cocktail bar in Barbados.

Now you are ready

Now you can start browsing the Internet, using the places and activities you have chosen as keywords in your search. You can now find out if the places on your list will match your desired vacation activities. Consider the activities at the bottom of your list as dispensable, if all other aspects of the destination match your needs. You will find dozens of websites for each location which will provide information on where you can stay, what you can do, and also provide maps and contact information if you have further questions. Following the steps above, narrow your list to your top two or three destination choices.

Remember that all the companies can’t all be the cheapest, and that the cheapest isn’t necessarily the best deal. In a lot of cases the ‘lowest price guarantee’ that some sites may offer may not be worth anything due to the small print and slight variations in the holidays.

Finally a bookable website is not like speaking to a professional. It will give you what you’ve ordered. You won’t be told if your booking doesn’t make any sense.


The basics of travel planning

Do start planning your travel early

If you want to have the trip that you’ve always dreamed of, you must start researching early. Last minute bookings may save you cash, but what if you or your travel partner really wanted to stay at a particular hotel or do a special activity? Procrastinating may mean not getting your fifth choice, let alone your second or third.

Do have a flexible budget

You should also have some flexibility in your budget. I’m not saying that you should go crazy, but you never know what your research may turn up.

Do get advice

You wouldn’t buy a second hand car without doing some checks first, so why would your holidays be any different? Professional advice may be expensive, but there is loads of free advice on the internet if you know where to look.

Always check your passports

Not only should you check passports to ensure that they meet the requirements of the country or countries that you are travelling to, but always book with the passports close to hand so that you don’t book tickets in the wrong name.

Don’t pack too much

When flying, always ensure that you know the luggage allowances. Excess charges can take a massive chunk of your budget.

Don’t ignore the fine print

Always, always, always read the terms and conditions of the sale before handing over your money. Ensure that you know how your money will be protected. Is it a package holiday or a trip made of numerous separate contracts? Pay special attention to asterisks and other advisory signs. These will indicate disclaimers and other conditions. Pay extra special attention to expressions such as ‘other restrictions may apply’, ‘subject to availability’ and ‘subject to change’

Plan for trouble

Things can go wrong and delays can happen. If you have a backup plan then you will be an oasis of calm while all those around you panic.

Don’t forget to enjoy both the research and your trip!


Booking travel starts with a plan

So you want to get away, but where and how? Where would you like to go on your next trip? Do you want to stay in a hotel, in an apartment, at a commune or even stay on someone’s sofa? What health precautions would you need? What is the hotel really like? Will the weather be bad?

Traditionally looking for a holiday meant going to the local travel agent or looking at ads in newspapers. However, travel advertising is obviously designed to attract your interest while steering you toward taking some action that will lead to a sale.

On the whole, these ads are not structured to provide all the information you need to ensure that you make an informed decision. An independent travel researcher or advisor can help, but so can the Internet. If you know where to look, that is.

There are thousands of easy-to-use booking websites, but how do you choose the best destination, transport, accommodation, etc. for booking travel?

Cheap holiday or expensive mistake? 

It is just as easy to make an expensive mistake as it is to get a cheap holiday. With a bit of time and some know-how, the Internet will open up a world of information, from brochures and booking websites and other travellers using forums and message boards. Travel is no longer only available from travel agents or tour operators. Even complex trips can now be planned and booked online.

If you are not comfortable booking your hotels and flights, there are hundreds of agents who will do it for you after you have completed your research. And as you have given the agent the entire itinerary, you will be able to get massive discounts on the booking.

Finding a holiday is easy, finding the right one however….

Just because the Internet is easy to access, it does not mean that finding the solution to your travel plans will be a quick process. The information you find will only be as good as the questions that you ask. Is it really worth spending three hours searching to find a $25 saving?

So each search should only be carried out once you have decided what you are looking for.

To paraphrase Stephen Covey ‘begin with the destination in mind’. Write down all your questions before you start, but be prepared to go off at a tangent as answers give you more questions. As long as you make notes you will end up with your ideal trip or maybe proof that it’s really not feasible. Booking a travel product online can be as easy as filling in your name and payment card details, but you may be missing out on better flights, deals or maybe you may be booking the wrong holiday altogether.

Number of days or nights?

Please beware that when comparing holidays confusion can sometimes come from the specific number of days of a cruise or tour. Some ads describing the same basic length of a tour might say seven days, while others say six nights. Just to help, some websites might have a headline of seven days but the body-copy says six nights. Always ensure that the duration of all the holidays you are comparing are written in the same format. I like to use the number of nights in the hotel as my standard. A nine day holiday may include two nights flying and only seven nights in the hotel.

Don’t Rush

A great holiday needs good preparation. Taking a few simple steps before you book your trip can save you heartache, time and money. This Travel Researcher Guide will show you how to get the most from your next trip and how to prevent the mistakes that many people make when booking online. It also contains information on frequent flyer clubs, lost luggage, compensation for cancelled flights and much more.

REMEMBER: Do not send credit card information by email, or give your details if you are not certain that the website is secure.