Category: travel

Travelling light? – beware of weight restrictions

Travel blog

Travelling light is not just about being careful with your money. Speed and weight are an attractive factor for minimising your luggage. However, the goal posts constantly sift and some airline weight restrictions are shockingly low. So doing your homework is essential before you book.

Speed

Flying with only hand luggage with a pre-printed boarding pass gives travellers the freedom to skip the check-in queues. It also saves precious minutes waiting for luggage to drop onto carousel when you land and excludes the chance of lost luggage. The downside to travelling light is joining the rush to jam it into the aircrafts overhead storage lockers.

Weight

Gone are the aching shoulders and backs from loading and unloading the car or taxi. Or struggling up and down stairs at the train station. Hand luggage with wheels allows any traveller to glide effortlessly through the airport like the airline staff. However, with reduced weight comes the unfortunate reality of a restriction in content. Travelling light is perfect for short holidays, hot destinations or somewhere with laundry opportunities. But not so great for those winter holidays to colder climates.

Budget airlines

The budget airlines, Flybe, RyanAir and Easyjet have allowed many travellers to become masters in the art of travelling light.  And their generous weight allowance can allow most travellers to pack adequate clothing for a few weeks.

Shockingly holiday specialists Thomson offers the lowest weight of hand luggage on their flights. A mere 5kg. Thomas Cook is not much better with just 1kg more. Both companies flight prices keep them out of the realm of the budget airlines. And both charge for hold luggage if you book flights independent of their package holidays. Just a little something to watch out for when heading for the sun this summer.

Geneva – a great destination anytime of the year

TRAVEL BLOG

Surrounded by mountains the historic city of Geneva is a fantastic destination for a holiday at any time of the year.

Culture

Perfectly petite the historical centre of Geneva just takes a few hours to explore on foot. Its stunning architecture oozes flavours of both France and Germany. And the cobbled streets are lined with tempting cafes, restaurants and boutiques.  However, to really get a feeling of this vast city, make a beeline for the Cathedral of St Pierre, which offers stunning views from its tower.

Lake

It’s hard to ignore the largest lake in Central Europe which divides the city. It is perfect for swimming on hot stuffy days. Sightseeing from a boat. Or just walking beside. The mountain vistas on offer are spectacular. Lac Leman, is bordered by some beautiful cities. Lausanne, Montreux and the stunning medieval village of Yvoire are just a few worthy of a mention and a visit.

Wine

Only 2% of Swiss wine is exported from its 15,000 hectares of vineyards. Most of which are produced within the cantons of Geneva. Unusually red grape varieties don’t dominate here.  Which allows the subtle delicate white wines, which rarely leave the region, to be the cream of the crop.

The unique wines from the nearby Jura, are grown at an altitude of up to 400m. The speciality wines include Crémant du Jura. A sparkling tipple made from unripe Chardonnay grapes and Vin Jaune. This late harvest wine is created from Savagnin grapes. Left to ripen as much as possible, they are fermented for up to 6 years to create an intense flavour.

Cheese

You can’t review a corner of France or Switzerland without mentioning cheese. Gruyère, Mont d’Or, Comté, are all created from the high pasture flora of the Jura by some very special cows. Each cheese oozes a flavoursome character of its own and holds a definitive place on any local menu.

Bon Appétit!

Traveling to South Korea for the Olympic games?

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Are you one of the lucky ones heading to the Olympic games in South Korea next month? Well if you are there are a few import restrictions you need to be aware of.

Generally, the Korean customs are on the hunt for illegal foodstuffs and expensive luxury goods brought back by returning residents. However, there is a list of forbidden items which for some people are everyday necessities.

What is banned in South Korea?

Bringing any type of narcotics, some steroids, performance enhancers and growth hormones are prohibited. Even some of the everyday prescription drugs such as sleeping pills, appetite suppressants and ADHD treatments are banned in South Korea.

These include Concerta, Adderall, Vyvanse, dextroamphetamine and some inhalers with pseudoephedrine. Many of these are classed as stimulants and are illegal even in the original bottle, with a prescription or a note from your doctor.  So if they are a necessity in your life, notify the South Korean Ministry of Food and Drug Safety before you travel.

Don’t forget to double check your laptop too.  Anything deemed as potentially harmful to public security or South Korean customs is forbidden. So offensive downloads, especially sound recordings or films & videos, could cause a problem.

Other advice

If you use a weekly pill dispenser, to make your life easier. The general advice is NOT to load the compartments before you travel. All prescription drugs whether illegal or not must be carried in their original packaging. Parents and carers should also be aware that third parties should NOT carry prescription medications for another person.

If you are planning to continue your travels after the games. The three month supply limit is also something to take note of. Unfortunately, in most countries, ignorance is not a defence and violating local laws can serious repercussions. So make sure you know the restrictions of your country of destination. Oh and have a great time!

January flight sales – are you tempted?

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With the dreariest months of the English winter still to come, are you desperate for a sunny, hot getaway? I know I am!

If you are, there are some amazing bargains in the January flight sales to tempt you. With Norwegian amongst the airlines offering transatlantic flights, at prices now comparable with those of European flights.

Who are they?

Norwegian were named the ‘World’s Best Low-Cost Long-Haul Airline’ for the third consecutive year in June 2017, at the Skytrax World Airline Awards. Voted for by the travelling public, Skytrax claims their industry awards are “the Oscars of the aviation industry”.

Now the largest airline in Scandinavia and the ninth-largest airline in Europe Norwegian offer a range of fare options. Their Premium fare receives the more favourable reviews.  At twice the price of the basic Low Fare, it isn’t economy class.

What do you get for your money?

Tripadvisor and Airline Quality reviews tell the true economy flight story. Comments on both the airline and the basic Low Fare are varied. Although cheap, Norwegian’s Low Fare is as basic as it comes. No food, no drinks, no blanket, pillow or headphones, no hold luggage and a restrictive 10k of hand luggage.

If you are aware of this ‘no frills’ fare, no problem, you can bring your own supplies. If being prepared isn’t your strong point, many of these elements can be purchased during the flight with a swipe of your credit card. Or better still, you can upgrade to the next level on the Norwegian airline fare scale, the Low Fare +.  Although this still doesn’t buy you any more than the standard 31 inches of legroom.

Budget airline vs the big players?

Norwegian’s basic Low Fare definitely undercuts the prices offered by the major league players. However, when comparing the more suitable Low Fare + to the equivalent, long-haul flights offered in the January sales by BA, Virgin Atlantic and even Air New Zealand, the price difference shrinks dramatically to less than £20.*

*Flight comparison Sat 17 Feb – Sat 3rd March 2018

Airport lounging

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I recently discovered a fantastic opportunity which for me has revolutionized long-haul travel. The airport Lounge!

The concept is not a new one, they have been the privilege of frequent flyers since the late 1930’s when American Airlines started the trend at New York’s LaGuardia airport. Originally a promotional tool to boost the airline’s bookings, the airport lounge has since become an expected perk by business class travellers.

However, economy class passengers can now have access to this little slice of luxury. Pay-per-use airport lounges are now affordable to all travellers. Although not as well appointed. These lounges offer a welcome sanctuary from the noisy bustle of over climatised departure lounges. A safe haven to relax in comfy chairs with access to cleaner bathrooms, the internet, and multiple charging points.

For long-haul travellers with an enforced stopover, like I had. Airport lounges offer a chance to regain a sense of routine after some severe body clock disruption. The regularity of mealtimes, a marker of normality in a day, is often thrown off balance when crossing multiple time zones. But this displacement can easily be addressed by attacking the abundant food buffets on offer in most pay-per-use lounges. Breakfast, lunch and evening meal options are always available and provide an added boost to the meagre in-flight meals. A hot shower,  massage or even a quick nap in a ‘sleep pod’ can help also help to regain a sense of well being in preparation for the second or third leg of a long journey.

Priority Pass, Holiday Extras, and gosimply are just a few of the online services offering independent pre-bookable access starting from as little as £13.50. They offer a range of packages to suit your budget ranging from the length of stay, spa facilities, food and beverage options

Diners Club InternationalAmerican Express, and HSBC offer lounge access free to their account holders. The HSBC Premier account priority pass membership provides invaluable access to over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide. So it may be worth checking with your credit card before you fly to see if you are entitled to a free pass.

 

Travel Insurance – check the fine print

TRAVEL BLOG

I don’t travel without insurance. Unfortunately, I was recently delayed in Bali while Mount Agung decided to have a smoking tantrum. Needless to say, my policy was useless, so here are a few things to consider when you next think you are covered!

When booking insurance cover for your holiday it always seems unlikely that those small clauses about terrorism of volcanic ash will ever be applicable. Unfortunately, both have recently happened and many travellers have been left bewildered and out of pocket.

The fine print on most policies is exactly that, fine print. So close inspect of your insurance and the airline rules & regulations when you book is now essential to avoid extra costs.

The ash cloud thrown into the airspace above northern Europe in April 2010 by the Icelandic eruptions caused panic amongst the European air industries and insurance companies. As a result, very few now offer cover for a volcanic incident.

The airlines are the only industry ready to offer full refunds or rescheduling at no extra cost in the event of cancellation due to such natural disasters.
Cathay Pacific, one of the biggest Asian airlines is currently advising passengers that, ‘flights still scheduled to operate may face disruption due to meteorological conditions on the day’, but that they will endeavour to update passengers with the latest status as soon as possible. However, this is little comfort to those who may be facing extra costs while their fleet is grounded.

Ironically coverforyou.com and Flexicover are two the many insurance companies who do not provide standard cover for missed departure claims arising directly or indirectly from volcanic eruptions and/or volcanic ash cloud. However, there is one receive some level of compensation if such an unlikely natural disaster arises. Only available in advance of your travel, bespoke Volcanic Ash Cover is available from Columbus and Aviva. These optional extra policies are the only way of guaranteeing you will be eligible to make a claim arising from the disruption caused by volcanic eruptions and the ash thrown into the atmosphere as a result.

Driving in Europe this winter – are you prepared?

TRAVEL BLOG

So far it has been a fantastic beginning to the winter season in Europe. With the first opening of a few resorts, it is a timely reminder to skiers to organise all the little extras that will make travelling to and from the resort as hassle-free as possible.

In the alpine regions of Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, significant levels of the white stuff have already fallen. Wepowder is predicting that depths in these areas will continue to build, bringing what could be a perfect start to the winter season for many snow lovers.

The increasing snow levels bring with them the possibility of difficult road conditions for many self-drivers, so it is essential to be prepared. In some European countries, it is obligatory to use snow tyres between November and March and most advise carrying a set of chains in high altitude areas in case of extreme weather conditions. If you aren’t properly equipped you could face a fine for causing a road obstruction and the AA recommends double-checking the fine print on your insurance policy for information on liability.

Be prepared…

If you are hiring a vehicle, double check that snow tyres or snow chains, or preferably both, are included in your rental package. Car rental company Hertz is one of the larger suppliers who offer a range of snow accessory packages in Switzerland, France, and Austria, which include both winter tyres and chains.

In most snowy conditions, snow tyres are enough, but extreme conditions or steep slopes inevitably require snow chains. Difficult to fit, it is best to be prepared and read the instructions in advance. Or if possible, practice putting them on before you ascend the mountain roads.

The little extras…

Other essential items to make the fitting process easier include a waterproof membrane to lay on the ground, a torch, a spare warm jacket, and gloves. If possible always choose a well-lit layby so you stay safe, away from passing traffic.

Shades of California – travels in Portugal

TRAVEL BLOG

I recently ventured to Portugal on a work trip. It was the first time I had revisited the country since a child, and my memories were limited to the acrid smell of drying sardines, long sunbaked road trips and my mother having her bottom pinched.

This time my travels in João Rodrigues Cabrilho’s country of origin took me through densely planted eucalyptus and umbrella pine forests towards an overnight stop near the village of Santa Cruz.

No doubt named a long time before the Californian coastline town, the heat and the flora were remarkably similar. Even the ocean, which I had been desperate to escape into after a hot dusty drive, was shrouded in the fog which often hugs its Pacific counterpart.

The next day the similarities to the sunshine state continued. Comporta, on the edge of  ‘Portugals best secret beach spot’, resembled a deserted Mexican style Hollywood stage set, complete with storks, nesting high on telephone poles and church bell towers.

To enter the bustling metropolis of Lisbon, I was transported over the water on a slightly flimsier version of the sunshine state’s jewel in the crown, the golden gate bridge, only to be faced with a swarm of brightly coloured vintage trams as I negotiated a pathway through the narrow streets to meet friends for lunch.

Thankfully, my new memories of the country are of the coastline which so resembles one of my favourite destinations in America, the overwhelming beauty of the tile-clad buildings and the refreshing taste of Vino Verde.