Archives February 2019

Airline reviews

You’ve found your flight and you like the price, but before you hand over your hard earned cash, will you enjoy the flight experience?

I’m not talking about turbulence, but what do previous customers think of the airline and the route?

Most travellers now use websites such as www.tripadvisor.com, but few use airline review websites.

One such site is www.airlinequality.com. It is run by SkyTrax, which carries out major passenger surveys. The website is a mix of official surveys and public reviews. It is not always easy to find your route, but the ‘FIND’ option with Internet Explorer may help you to find the right route on a page by page basis by using the airport codes, for example LON-NAS-LON.

Other websites include www.flyerguide.net and www.reviewcentre.com

If you want to scare yourself before you fly, check out www.airsafe.com


Flight websites

There are basically 4 types of booking/reservation websites

  1. Virtual Travel Agencies
  2. Travel Agencies
  3. Tour Operators/Travel Providers/Airlines
  4. Larger service providing websites that also offer flights as well as other services

All offer different levels of backup with a human. It can be assumed that the cheaper the price, then the more expensive/harder to reach the backup human is to contact.

There are also price comparison websites. Some are general sites that promise to save you money on any consumer goods and others are especially for travel. They are not booking websites, and may gain their revenue from affiliate links or by advertising.

If you are travelling alone, ensure that you only search for the price for one person. The website might default to search for two passengers. I talk about Fare Classes on another page. Fare classes mean that there are only so many seats at a particular price.

If there is only one left and you have searched for two seats then you will automatically be given the higher price. Likewise if you are searching for a group, don’t just search for one ticket and multiply the cost.

In any search you need to be able to search for flights only. You will probably find that most do not allow you to depart from a non UK airport. If you are looking for flights starting from another country then the airline’s own site is probably the best place to start looking.

The option of including charter flights would be useful, although this is rare. They will be little chance of having ‘no-frills’ airlines either. In fact in 2009 Ryanair threatened to refuse boarding for any passengers found not to have used Ryanair’s own website in booking their flight.

A flight searching/booking website should show the full price. It used to be common practise to only show the ticket price and then to add taxes and other fees on afterwards. This practise has nearly died out after action by the European Union.

Another useful function is the ability to show the prices for flights on adjacent days. It should also be easy to find the luggage allowances, but this is normally buried in the small print and can be difficult to find.

If you need to know who flies to which destination check out www.skyscanner.net. Alternately, visit the website of your departure airport. They will be either an interactive map of all the destinations, or a search option.

Don’t leave it until the last minute to book; it is very rare for the price to go down, although you may get lucky with a charter flight. Once you have found your route and airlines, sign up to their newsletters so that you get a heads up when a special offer is on.

Always read the small print.

There are loads of hidden ways that the airline can increase its profit by catching its passengers out, such as excess baggage charges.

If you are willing to hang around at airports, check out prices for flying indirect.

For example for some flights from London to Cape Town on 14/6/12 returning 28/6/12, using Expedia’s website (www.expedia.co.uk search carried out 15:45 on 2nd April 2012).

Direct £840.00
Indirect £713.00

With the direct flight with South African Airways you would leave Heathrow at 21:00 and arrive in Cape Town at 10:05 on the 15th. The journey would take 12 hours and 5 minutes. Whereas, with the indirect flight with KLM, you would leave Heathrow at 20:25, and arrive at 21:35 on the 15th. Your journey would take 24 hours and 10 minutes, but it would be saving you over £120.

Check your financial cover should there be any problems if the airline goes bust. If you book direct and your airline does collapse the chances are that you’ll be at the end of a very long queue of creditors. If you paid by credit card and the ticket was more than £100 then your card provider may refund you.

Multilayer paper tickets are now a thing of the past for most airlines. Most scheduled flights from the UK use paperless tickets. These are called E-Tickets and may be emailed to you after the transaction is complete, or you will have the option to print out the number from the website.

In theory you just need to quote your booking number when checking in, but in practise you will probably print the ‘e-ticket’ using your own printer for some reassurance. I think that they’re called paperless tickets as the airlines don’t use paper, not that paper is not used.

Please be very careful when booking online.

A misspelt name can be expensive to change, as I mentioned in my introduction. If you remember, a business contact who booked his girlfriend’s ticket in the wrong name. It cost £150 to change this. So always have all the required passports to hand when booking online.

Don’t just tick the ‘read and understand the terms and conditions’ box. Make sure that you are happy with them before handing over your card details.

So how do you get a good deal? The first way to save money is to book early.

There are also stories on the Internet that prices are launched at midnight, so the cheapest prices are around then, although I have not tried this myself.

You should also avoid holiday weekends/special events/festivals/etc.

The most expensive times to fly from the UK are:

Easter
1st July until 31st August
10th December to 8th January

Example
Heathrow to New York JFK
Departing 30/6/10 flying back on 7/7/10 £369.79
Departing 1/7/10 flying back on 8/7/10 £599.79

Both flights are economy flying with Virgin Atlantic. Prices checked 13:00 7/12/09 on www.triton.co.uk

If price really is a priority, then use two price comparison websites, and up to three booking/reservation agency websites. It will also be worth checking the airlines own website as well.

Try to aim for a midweek/early morning departure/late return flights. You can also use websites such as Travelsupermarket, and Skyscanner to keep track of prices.


Researching and booking flights

Booking flights 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 airport altogether. It is important that you take the time to get the most from your flight booking and prevent the mistakes that many people make when booking a flight online.

Air fares are not guaranteed until tickets are booked or issued (and sometimes not even then if taxes go up before you depart). The only way to guarantee the price is to buy the ticket. So spending time trying to beat the price down may cause you to pay more, as the cheaper ticket could be gone by the time you get back to it. If you like the ticket price, you should book it there and then.

Some sites may allow you to hold the seats before booking, but there is the chance that the price may still go up. The delay in confirming may take you outside of the booking range for that particular fare class for example. Others may store your itinerary, but not the prices or seats. When you return the flight may be fully booked. Even if you give your credit card details, you will not be guaranteed anything until the purchase it made. The card details are just to stop people holding seats with various suppliers. However, ‘live’ agents may be able to hold seats without taking your card details and keeping price as quoted.

It may seem obvious, but the first thing you should do is check your destination. Are you flying to Sydney, or Sidney? Or even Sydney or Sydney? There are plenty of examples of airports with similar names and online bookers do get it wrong. It is not uncommon for travellers to end up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, instead of Sydney (called Kingsford Smith) Australia.

A quick search on Google will find you stories of people who have done just that. This is why airport codes are so important. They reduce the chances of ending up in the wrong place.

 

Airport codes
An IATA code is a three letter code that uniquely identifies an airport. You may have noticed them when flying in the past. The label printed by the check-in staff for your luggage will have the destination airport code printed on it, for example BCN if you are flying to Barcelona.

IATA is the International Air Transport Association, which represents over 90% of the world’s scheduled airlines. As well as producing these codes, IATA has also introduced measures that allow certified agents to print multi layered paper flight tickets and for the introduction of E-Tickets, which has revolutionised the online booking industry.

The IATA code for Sydney, Nova Scotia is YQY and for Sydney, Australia is SYD. Mixing up YQY and SYD is a lot harder than mixing up Sydney, NS and Sydney, NSW. Care should still be taken, as there is also a SDY, which is Sidney (Richland Municipal) in Montana, USA.

This is also important for extras such as car hire or transfers. Another common mistake is to land at one city airport, but hire the car at another. Florida gives us the example of passengers landing at Orlando International (MCO) but booking their car at Orlando Sanford International (SFB), which is around 25 miles away.


Working vacations

Why not work while you are away?

Food and accommodation can be provided for free if you are willing to work for it. However not all working holidays are free. If you are ‘giving back’ then you will be expected to pay for the privilege of working while you’re on your break. You don’t always need to be skilled, but it can help to have experience before you arrive.

Types of holidays include:

  • Environment and nature conservation
    Wildlife surveying and expeditions
    Medicine and health care
    Education and teaching
    Community development
    Agriculture and organic farming

EscapeArtist

EscapeArtist is a website about living overseas and buying overseas property. It began as relocation website providing resources for those who were moving overseas. This is a massive website and although it doesn’t cover every destination you may be surprised by the information that you can find here.

Global Volunteers

Global Volunteers offers ‘Service-Learning’ travel opportunities for travellers looking to participate in short-term projects throughout the world. Fees are required, but there is help if you need ideas on fundraising.

Go Abroad

Go Abroad is a student oriented website and covers studying abroad, language schools, internships, teaching abroad, working abroad and volunteer programmes.

 

iAgora

iAgora is a community for students/young travellers who are looking to work or study abroad. It lists first jobs and internships all over Europe, university reviews and ratings by international graduates, Erasmus and exchange students, and language course deals and reviews.

Transitions Abroad

Transitions Abroad is a magazine with the specific goal of providing information that would enable travellers to actually meet the people of other countries, to learn about their culture, and to speak their language. The website was created to provide a library of articles, programs, best resources and links gathered and updated over the past 30 years.

Work Away

Workaway was set up to promote fair exchange between budget travellers, language learners or culture seekers and families and individuals or organizations who are looking for help with a range of varied and interesting activities. For a few hours of honest help per day in exchange for food and accommodation, a traveller can have the opportunity to learn about the local lifestyle and community.

Working Abroad

Working Abroad is a UK based company that has access to voluntary and professional work opportunities in over 150 countries world-wide. These opportunities are generally for a month or more.

WWOOF

WWOOF is a world-wide network of organisations that links volunteers with organic farmers, and help people share more sustainable ways of living. In return for volunteer help, the hosts offer food, accommodation and opportunities to learn about organic lifestyles.


House swapping

House swapping is a cheap way of going away

Maybe you’ve seen the rom-com ‘The Holiday’? In this film two women with guy-problems swap homes in each other’s countries, where they each meet a local guy and fall in love. Now I can’t guarantee that you will meet someone and fall in love, but you can save money on a holiday if you swap homes with somebody.

All you need to do is register your home on a website. Some websites offer this service for free, while others charge a fee. It will make life easier for you if you swap with someone with a similar family situation. You might not want two or three kids running around your bachelor pad, for example.

An article in the Daily Telegraph predicted that 1.6 million people would be swapping homes to save on the cost of a holiday.

 

House guest
There is also the option of a more basic type of Home Exchange. This is where you put up the other member as a house guest. There are two types; Hospitality Exchange, where you take it in turns to be a host and a house guest, or ‘Couch-Surfing’, where there is no requirement for you to return the favour. Couch Surfing is just a term, you may be staying in a spare bedroom!

Yet another alternative is House Sitting. Here you can look after someone’s home while they are away, hopefully preventing a burglary or just looking after pets. In some case you can even get paid a nominal amount! However you will be responsible for any utility bills.

Make use of any review systems that a website may offer before making contact. Choose a host who is a long term member with positive feedback. Do check your home insurance to be on the safe side.

Airbnb

Airbnb is a community marketplace for people to list and book unique accommodations around the world. It could be for an apartment for a night or a villa for a month. They reckon to offer more than 19,000 cities and 192 countries.

Couch Surfing

With Couch Surfing, you can bypass the typical hotel experience by staying at the home of a local and learning about their culture.

Geenee

Currently Geenee offers free membership. It does offer a cover scheme (for a fee).

Global Freeloaders

Global Freeloaders is an online community to offer you free accommodation all over the world. Thereby saving you money and getting you to see the world from a local’s perspective.

HomeLink

HomeLink was established in 1953 and has helped like-minded families exchange homes all around the world. They are the largest UK-based home exchange holiday organisation. There is an annual membership fee.

Home Exchange

Home Exchange offers you the chance to swap your home, or your hospitality with members from over 100 countries. This is where you host the stranger in your home and then they return the favour. There is a monthly fee.

House Carers

House Carers is a world-wide house sitting directory based in Newcastle, Australia. They have been matching Homeowners with House Sitters for over 10 years.

The Hospitality Club

The aim of the Hospitality Club is to bring people together – hosts and guests, travellers and locals. Members help each other when they are traveling – be it with a roof for the night or a guided tour through town. It is free to join. There are forums where members can swap tips and news.

International Home Exchange Network

With International Home Exchange Network you pay a fee to list your home, but you do not have any extra fees to pay when you exchange.

Intervac

Intervac was started in the early 1950’s by a group of teachers based in Europe. Currently Intervac offers its services around the world and facilitates home exchanges for 30,000 families in over 50 countries. There is a membership fee, but they also offer a free 14 day trial.

MindMyHouse

MindMyHouse provide an online matching service to bring home owners and house sitters together for the free exchange of goods (accommodation) for services (house and pet sitting). There is a membership fee.

Seniors Home Exchange

Seniors Home Exchange offers you the chance to swap hospitality or home exchanges if you are a senior citizen. There is a membership fee and it is an American website.

Singles Home Exchange

Singles Home Exchange can be used by anyone including students, seniors, families, couples or singles, who are looking for decent accommodations away from home.

Stay 4 Free

Stay 4 Free has various levels of membership, starting from free.

Tripping

Tripping is a global community of travellers who believe in making the world a better place through cultural exchange. It covers over 175 countries.

Unusual Hotels of the World
If you want to stay underground, inside an igloo, up a tree or even underwater, Unusual Hotels of the World gives you the chance to book rooms at unusual and unique properties.


Travel articles

Travel articles are easy to find on the internet

There are hundreds of thousands of articles written on various aspects of travel, from the travel section of a newspaper or magazine to the thoughts of an aspiring travel journalist trying to prove their skills. There are even more written by ‘amateurs’ who wish to share their views and experiences with the world.

These are different to travel guide books as they are a lot briefer, and in the case of newspaper or magazine articles, they could be based on an ‘off the shelf’ holiday, as opposed to a general view. The articles written by amateurs will probably be best classed as a ‘blog’.

I have listed some suggestions below:

Of course some TV channels will also have online travel content.

Travel Channel
Michael Palin
NBC


Tourist boards

Tourist boards are still a useful source of information

In most cases the tourist board for your destination country, resort or city is probably the best website to visit for a quick search on sightseeing and special events. On an average website you should be able to find out about visa requirements, museums, theatres, what’s on, hotels, and transport. On a great one you will be given itinerary on how to make the most of your time while you are staying in their area. Sometimes there are forums and newsletters on offer too.

Some of these websites are more interested in providing informative articles, while others are much more commercial.

It is quite straightforward to find a tourist board website, just enter keywords such as ‘barcelona tourist board’ into a search engine’s search bar. However you should beware of imitations.

There are hundreds of websites that look official, but are actually commercial websites funded by advertising and affiliate links. With these types of websites the information provided may only be mentioned as there is a profit in it. Luckily there are a few directories that will make life easier for you.

 

The Association of National Tourist Office Representatives

This is principal lobbying organisation for the world’s tourist offices. From this website you can find brief information and links to over 50 tourist offices.

As well as countries, regions and cities you can also find guides to certain attractions, such as Disneyland, Hollywood, parks, etc. These are extremely useful for doing research into the costs involved in visiting these attractions.

For example, there are a few UK based companies offering tickets to Disneyland Florida, which can give you unbeatable deals. However you may not want what is on offer and using the Internet you can see what would be available should you decide to buy locally.

Just because you buy the tickets here, it does not mean that you will not have to queue when you arrive. Some of these tickets are only vouchers and have to be exchanged onsite, so if you’re going to have to queue anyway you may as well buy local.

Always remember to research the attractions while you are checking out the destination as a whole.

Unfortunately not all tourist board websites are in English. In cases such as these you may need to make use of the translation feature offered by Google. From the ‘MORE’ menu item at the top of Google’s home page, click on ‘TRANSLATE’ and type the website address (url) into the box on the left hand side


Chat with the locals

Want to know what a place is really like? Then chat with a local

Get yourself a ‘pen friend’.

Email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc., has made it so easy to connect to people across the world. Has a member of your family emigrated? Do you know someone who knows someone who lives in Belize? To get more personalised information there is nothing better than asking someone who lives there a direct question. You’d be surprised how many are willing to share their first-hand knowledge.

Of course, don’t forget to ensure that you meet your ‘pen friend’ in person while you are away. Remember only meet up with them if you feel it’s safe to do so.

 

Where Can We Go

This is Britain’s what’s on guide. Use the postcode of your hotel and dates of your stay to find out what’s on while you’re in the area.

Twitter

Use Twitter’s search function to find users in your area of interest. This may take a while, especially if you’re looking for a city with a famous sports team. When you’ve found one or two follow them. If they Tweet a lot then send them a question.

Facebook

To use Facebook, put the town or city name in the search box and go through the answers. If their homepage is open to the public have a read to see if you feel that they will be able to help you, then ask them to be your friend. Or you could search out a page that somebody has set up for your chosen destination and then ‘Like’ it or ask to join. Then you can use it as a forum.


Travel blogs and newsgroups

Travel blogs are a great source of information

You can find some really useful information in blogs, such as opinions, places to avoid; places that are a must see and countless other tips and hints on travel. For the purposes of this book, a blog is an article written by someone just for the pleasure of writing something, such as writing a journal, or they just want to help others by sharing their experiences. If it’s written by a travel professional, then I class it as an article.

Blogs
Blogs can be extremely useful in finding out more about a destination. Maybe the blogger found a really great local café or had a local guide take them on a great tour. You could also find out about any scams that they may have fallen victim to. Some blogs provide an RSS feed so that you can be updated automatically each time a new blog is added.

One website that is full of travel blogs is TravelPod.com. Here you can find blogs on just about any destination. There is a useful ‘search’ function that enables you to quickly find relevant blogs. You can also use this website to write your own blog.

Alternative sites are:

Travel Blog
Travellers Point

They can also be a way of letting friends and family know how you are getting on. The sites listed above can be used to write your own blog, or you could use one of the following general blogging websites. These websites are basically the same; it’s just a question of picking one you prefer the look of.

www.wordpress.com
www.livejournal.com
www.hubpages.com
www.bloguni.com

 

Newsgroups
In the early days of the Internet, way before the web, Newsgroups were the main medium for exchanging tips, asking and answering questions and general sharing. This network of groups was called Usenet.

By joining the right group or groups you can find information on just about any topic. There are drawbacks, such as spam and the attitude of a few users, but they are useful and could be useful when researching any trip.

To access these groups you need a newsreader program, this can be part of an email program or in some Internet browsers. If your browser doesn’t have this feature, then you can use an online email provider such as Windows Live Mail. I personally prefer programs that download the messages locally, but this is a habit formed by the old dial up modem days.

Another way of accessing newsgroups is to use Google. Typing groups.google.com into your web browser’s address bar gets you to the front page. Google has stored newsgroups messages going back to 1995. Travel can be found by clicking on ‘Recreation’. Alternatively you could enter the area of interest in the search bar.

To post to a group you need to log on with a Google account. Spam can be a problem, with automated systems harvesting email address from the various postings. To get round this use an invalid email address such as johnnospam@livenospam.com. When you post. A real person would still be able to contact you by removing the ‘nospams’.

Newsgroups have a set naming protocol, examples are:

rec.travel.africa
alt.rec.hiking
rec.travel.caribbean
rec.travel.Europe
soc.culture.europe
alt.travel

Unfortunately Newsgroups use is dying out, so some topics may be a few years old, and there is no guarantee that you will get a reply.


Online ‘encyclopaedias’, podcasts, forums and blogs

There is so much information available online – if you know where to look

Online encyclopaedias are known as ‘Wikis’. These have their content added by users, so the information is up-to-date, although sometimes wrong. Blogs are the work of individuals (or a group), and are an easy way to share thoughts, experiences and suggestions. Some are journals; others are information on a home town.

Podcasts are basically audio blogs, although some are of a much higher standard than others. Forums are websites that allows you to post questions and to find the answers to question asked by others.

Individual blogs can be hard to find, but helpfully some websites provide facilities for people to write blogs, which makes them much easier to find.

Also RSS feeds can be used to ensure that you are aware of any updates. RSS feeds can be read using software called an ‘RSS reader’, ‘feed reader’, or ‘aggregator’. The easiest way to subscribe to a RSS feed is to click the RSS button on the website (as shown below).

RSS 'button'

RSS ‘button’

The other method is much fiddlier and requires the user to enter the feed’s web address or URL. The RSS reader checks the user’s subscribed feeds regularly for updates and downloads any that it finds. This system allows users to avoid manually inspecting all of the websites they are interested in.

As far as the content provider is concerned, blogs are a great way to share their thoughts as the blogs are free.

 

Wikis and forums

The following websites are a combination of Wikis and forums. So many sites cover all these different aspects of social media, it’s impossible to have separate lists. The big advantage of websites that provide a collection of services is that you can get views from different people giving you a much more rounded feeling of the destination. You may need to register (for free) to gain access to some of the content.

Warning

Just one word of warning before you jump into a forum and ask a question. When the Internet was used by mainly academic people, netiquette was developed. If a newbie did not follow this standard they were told in no uncertain terms to read the handbook (or FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions). Some forum users still follow netiquette, so before you post a question check the rules of the forum and search to see if this question has been asked recently.

Also, you are expected to have done some research before asking questions, so don’t ask for the email address for the New York Tourist Office, for example. Some groups are keen users of abbreviations, and you should be able to decipher these by using the FAQs, or by searching for a definition by using Google. Also USING CAPS IS KNOWN AS SHOUTING, so don’t do it.

About.com

About.com offers content that helps users find solutions to a wide range of daily needs – from parenting, health care and technology to cooking, travel and many others. The About Group is part of The New York Times Company.

Wikitravel

This was put together to create a free, complete, up-to-date and reliable world-wide travel guide. Its content is built by contributors from around the globe.

VirtualTourist

VirtualTourist is a resource for travellers seeking an insider’s perspective. It contains travel tips, reviews and photos from people who have been there and done that. This content is also linked to the contributor’s profile so you can quickly find their experiences from all their travels as well as find out more about them to see if you have common travel goals.

Travelblog

Travelblog.com is a mix of videos and blogs. The main focus if this website is to allow you to upload a short video blog.

TravelPod

TravelPod allows its members to create online travel journals (also known as a travel diary or travelogue). This enables users to share their adventures with everyone back home. Some blogs can be password protected, but others are free to read to enable you to research your trip.

TravellersPoint

This is one of the most comprehensive travel social media sites. It has forums, blogs and travel guides. This site can supply enough information for most trips. Links to booking websites are also included.

Gadling

This is part of AOL Travel. Gadling claims to be the world’s top travel blog. It covers all types of travel, from highly specific travel tips to budget travel and for everything in between.

Concierge

Concierge is a Condé Nast magazine. This website has blogs for those interested in more upmarket travel. The travel guides are written in-house. You can upload your holiday photos and create a Trip Plan so that you can save all your current and past travel information. You can also organise your research for future trips.

Lonely Planet—The Thorn Tree

The postings here are available for anyone to read but you must register with Lonely Planet to post a message. It is also one of the best organised and most navigable travel forums on the Web. There is even a poll option so you can find out where the worst hotel in the world is.

Independent Traveler

This is one of my favourite websites for travel news and opinions. Their e-newsletter is excellent if you’re interested in all aspects of travel. This website offers a useful collection of articles, travel news, and links to various other travel resources. The forums are arranged by destination and by topic.

The following guidebook websites also have forums:

Rough Guides
Frommer’s