Category: travel (page 1 of 2)

Greece on a budget

TRAVEL BLOG

Unfortunately, the days of eating out at dirt cheap prices in Greece, seem to have vanished. On a recent trip to some popular island resorts I was shocked to discover that on a direct comparison of restaurant prices, the margins between eating out in the UK and Greece are thinner than ever. However, don’t despair if you are heading to the turquoise shores of Greece this summer. If you aren’t too fussy about what you snack on there are plenty of options to keep you on a backpackers budget.

Avoid the tourist traps!

In any destination, there are infamous tourist traps. Stunning harbourside restaurants, beach cafes and resort restaurants are the most common locations for inflating their prices. It’s tempting not to fall for their allure, but with the exchange rate not far off a 1:1.1 ratio a classic main meal of grilled meat and chips will cost you roughly the same in sterling as it is euros. Thankfully the cost of drinks to accompany your meal, especially wine, in most popular Mediterranean destinations are still cheaper than the UK. Even so, Budget Your Trip puts an average price of €27pp in Greece for the cost of food in one day is and £28 in the UK.

Is cheap still possible?

Don’t despair. There is still a tasty budget option if you are not too fussy about what or where you eat. Although not the healthiest food to eat, the Greek bakeries offer a wealth of tempting morning pastries at rock bottom prices. Many also offer freshly squeezed orange juice and a decent coffee, including the delicious freddo or frappe versions, for just a euro. Lunch and evening meals can also be easily addressed in the bakeries, with spinach and feta spanakopita or cheese pie available for € 1-2

More midday options are available from most takeaways or bars in the form of Gyros or Souvlaki. Stuffed with rotisserie style chicken, pork or lamb meat, the classic Gyros includes a smattering of the healthy stuff in the form of onions, tomato, lettuce and tzatziki. All rolled into a tasty pita. Some combinations even include french fries. Prices are cheap, ranging from € 1.70 – 3.50. The classic Greek Salad, although healthier, aren’t such a bargain food in Greece. They range from €6 – 9 and the classic usually cheap Pizza ranges from € 8 – 10. In the evenings make the most of the happy hour offers on beer and avoid the costly spirits & mixer combinations which can easily catch you out.

 

Airport Hotels – good or bad?

TRAVEL BLOG

Love them or hate them, sometimes an airport hotel is something to be thankful for.

Looking more like a DIY store than somewhere to sleep, these unattractive edifices have their place in the hierarchy of accommodation providers. The often ugly newness of airport hotels does have its advantages though. Effective double or triple glazing, soundproof rooms, lift access, functional layouts, silent efficient plumbing and spacious rooms are just some of the benefits of these bespoke buildings.

Designed for their functionality rather than aesthetic appeal airport hotels don’t pretend to be something they are not. What you book is what you get. However, convenience comes at a price and something more salubrious and attractive can often be found closer to town for the same price if not cheaper.

Personal experience

A frequent business traveller, I have grown to appreciate the existence of airport hotels. Their locations are never glamorous. But as a solo female arriving on a late flight, or leaving as dawn breaks, I don’t really care. A brisk stroll or free shuttle bus is perfect and avoids the complications of unfamiliar further travel.

Pros

These are numerous, but it really depends on your reason for travel. For business reasons, airport hotels are a fantastic solution.
24hr check-in, Early buffet breakfasts, Soundproofing, Good plumbing, Ease of access – free shuttle services or a quick easy walk, Easy to book, Large rooms, Understanding staff, Good transport links

Cons

There are a few cons, aesthetics are the main reason not to stay. Airport hotels aren’t great for holiday travellers unless you are flight hopping. They are often out of town and far from the major sites. They certainly aren’t an option for a romantic weekend either.
Price, Uninspiring locations, Functional unattractive give rooms, Blandness, Part of a chainlack of individuality

Both as bad as each other?

Restaurants – apart from breakfast I try and avoid them in hotels, particularly in the proximity of the airport. I haven’t had a good evening meal in any yet and I have stayed in a quite a few.

Parking – they commonly charge you for any length of stay. Although deals can be found leave your car while you fly to a different destination.

WiFi – limited access, often charged and often poor. There really is no excuse for bad broadband speeds in this superfast age, especially as most are within a stone’s throw of the airport which itself has good communication networks.

Staff – some good some bad, although more pride in their place of work seems to go hand in hand with the boutique hotels rather than the airport hotel chains.

Home vs Abroad

TRAVEL BLOG

Why has there has there been a significant rise in Brits escaping to holiday abroad? When the weather is good, the UK is a green and pleasant land, which offers holidaymakers diverse landscapes, intriguing towns and stunning coastal opportunities. Steeped in history there are a million and one narratives to discover and immerse yourself in. So is it just the weather that makes us travel beyond our borders?

Who?

The stats indicate that staycations have stayed steady since 2016. Good news for the UK economy. However, according to last years ABTA figures there has also been a small but significant rise of Brits taking holidays abroad.

On average we take 3.8 holidays abroad every year. 87% of the population now head out of the country and 26% of us book early to do so. City breaks have overtaken beach holidays in popularity and the traditional two week holiday has been shunned by many. Demographically, if you live in the North West of England, you are also more likely to travel abroad for your holidays.


Why?

According to the stats, UK travellers seem to be making the most out of the temporary pre-Brexit status quo. Ease of access ahead of the imminent separation from Europe seems to be a major factor, as is the fairly stable sterling rate.

Only 12% of French travellers venture abroad. Most take their holidays within their own country. At three times the size of the UK, France offers an abundance of history, a more diverse range of landscapes and ever increasing temperatures as you travel south. But is temperature the only reason why we spend hard earned pounds abroad?  

It seems that other northern hemisphere inhabitants also feel the need to escape their native climate. The Germans seriously love travel and are huge sunseekers. Like the Brits, they frequently head for Spain. 77% of the German population and over 80% of the Dutch travel across their home borders for their holidays. France remains the No.1 destination for both the Dutch and Brits. With Italy and Portugal trailing behind and the US beginning the No.1  long-haul destination


Why not?

Putting aside the weather. Holidaying on our home territory offers a sense of familiarity. You know what you are going to get. The language, food, shops and currency don’t require extra thought or organisation. Car or plane, it doesn’t make much difference now either. Many of the budget airlines (EasyJet, Ryanair and Flybe in particular) offer amazing domestic flight deals, making the stunning far-flung destinations of Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland a quicker and cheaper option.

Although generally better quality, accommodation prices can be the slight hiccup in most staycation plans. Slightly more costly than in Europe, especially during the school holidays, prices often afford a sharp intake of breath. However, with more and more UK providers offering pet-friendly locations, the cost and emotional-benefit of taking your furry friends along tips the balance slightly.

With interesting economic times ahead of us, the inevitable Brexit fallout will undoubtedly change the trends in the travel market. For better or for worse? Who can tell yet!

 

Love-lock fever

TRAVEL BLOG

As a midsummer dream is played out on Russia’s football fields, echoes of Shakespeare’s themes of undying love are evident elsewhere in the Moscow’s iron heart. On Luzhkov Bridge, love-lock fever has spread. Rows of dedicated trees, laden with thousands of padlocks also adorn the surrounding banks of the Moscow River. This rash of public emotion is not unique to Russia either. Love declaration sites are springing up everywhere.

Romantic destinations

Verona, the backdrop for Romeo and Juliet, is seen as one of the most romantic destinations in Europe for such a purpose. Smitten visitors to this beautiful city can be seen adding a token of their own undying dedication to the gate within the courtyard in the form of a love-lock. Although undeniably the most appropriate place to make such a romantic declaration, it is by no means the only location.
If you want to declare your love in form of a small lump of metal, Dubrovnik, is one of the newer additions to the love-lock craze. Budapest, Benidorm, Lanzarote and Malta have also joined the list of bizarre destinations to show some metallised affection.

Lovelocks

Said to be inspired by ancient Chinese custom. But also reported to derive from a melancholic Serbian tale of World War I or prompted by the 2004 movie, Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo. The true origins of the love-lock tradition are uncertain.
Retailers have certainly taken notice of the trend. Love-locks with or without names are available from a variety of online retailers and on the high street via a major British catalogue retailer. Names and initials can be carved on these specialised colourful locks, reinforcing the intent of a lifelong commitment.

The power of love

What was once seen as a very personal declaration has proliferated in a variety of locations to the point of annoyance to some authorities. And the label of willful vandalism has been attached to their presence in many areas of beauty.
In the mistakenly labelled ‘city of love,’ the famous love lock bridge in Paris was dismantled after concerns of a potential collapse. A million locks of up to forty-five tonnes of metal were cited as a contributing factor. The removed symbols of everlasting love have disappeared from public view. On a bridge in Canberra, public safety was given as a reason for their removal. However, not everyone is outraged by the love-lock intrusion and some destinations have adopted their presence as a tourist attraction.

Dodging the pitfalls of holiday car hire

TRAVEL BLOG

If you, like me have rented a few hire cars for your holidays you may be wise to the pitfalls by now. If you haven’t then my advice would be to prepare yourself for a lack of customer service and absence of politeness at the rental desk. Which makes it essential to know your facts in advance in what can easily become an awkward situation.

Book the right fuel preferences

The holiday car hire companies will try their hardest to make more money from you and your rental agreement. One of the ways they do this is to offer a full to empty policy for your rental. Avoid this at all costs. As although they maintain they will refund you the cost of any unused fuel. They will charge you to refuel the car. This is non-negotiable and even if you return the car full, they will still charge you as part of the original policy agreement.

Avoid excess charges

One of the biggest add-on charges at the rental desk is to cover the Excess on the car in case of an accident or any damage during your rental term. Did you know that European car hire companies are fully liable for any damages to their hire cars as they are the insurance holders? This means that although they have the right to pass on this full liability to you when you hire one of their fleet, they waive their right to ask you to pay for all the damage. This is the CDW often listed as included in your rental agreement. As is Theft protection (TP)  and third party insurance (TPL). LDW which often appears on the agreement is a combination of CDW and TP.

Car hire companies can take payment from customers for some damages. This is what is termed the ‘Excess’. This varies greatly between the rental companies and is the maximum the driver will pay towards repairing damage to the bodywork, windscreen etc.

Car hire companies will offer you extra insurance to cover the ‘Excess’. And it is wise to purchase it avoid any payout for damages. However,  Excess insurance can be purchased at a much cheaper rate online and can be upgraded to include personal accident insurance, vehicle cancellation and key loss. Most bespoke excess policies will also include towing charges, which the rental company make try to make you cover separately at the rental desk.

Make sure you have a credit card

Debit cards are not accepted for the mandatory deposit on your car. So the main driver must be in possession of a Credit Card in their own name when collecting the keys for the rental car. It is also essential that the credit card also has enough funds to cover the excess/deposit payment. Without this, the car hire company will not let you pick up the car and your booking will be void. Which means if you have paid in advance you will lose your money.

Late arrivals

There is a general rule in the car hire rental business that if a car is not collected within two hours of the allocated pick up time, it may no longer be available and no funds will be reimbursed. However, it is always best to check the fine print on your policy as some companies have just an hour cut off time. Others are more lenient. So always provide your flight details with your booking and make sure you call your car hire company if you know you are going to be delayed.  Alternatively, check to see if this is covered by your personal travel insurance. You may have the opportunity claim back lost rental funds separately.

Don’t forget to print your voucher in full, including everything that is included in your policy. This help the staff know exactly what you have booked including any extra drivers or equipment. It’s one less thing they can harass you about!

Comparing costs in the Canary Islands

TRAVEL BLOG

The Canary Islands are a popular destination for British travellers throughout the year. Offering attractive temperatures this collection of seven islands is an ideal escape from the seasonal gloom of the UK winter months. However, the weather isn’t the only attractive feature of this attractive archipelago.

Is island life cheaper?

If you have the opportunity to holiday on these lovely islands and don’t take sign up for an ‘All Inclusive deal’ you will be pleasantly surprised by the lower cost of living. The Canaries have a huge trade deficit and their primary exports are bananas, sugarcane, tomatoes, potatoes and tobacco. So it is astounding that some food and beverage items are actually cheaper than mainland Spain.

How do the essential holiday prices compare?

In the UK an average main course in a restaurant would set you back 12 euros. In Spain, this would be 10€. On a recent trip to Lanzarote, I was fortunate enough to sample some great dishes for 8€ and some outstanding dishes for 15€. However, the biggest saving on my holiday came on wine, beer and coffee. With espressos under 1.50€ and cappuccinos averaging under 2€, a mid-morning stop in a beach cafe was an attractive indulgence.

Even the local wine, which was very drinkable, was a decent 5-7€ a bottle on the supermarket shelves and 10-15€ in the restaurants. Cava was more affordable and just as tasty as Prosecco, averaging 3-5€. Bottled beer was cheaper than mainland Spain at under 2€ and draught beer was significantly cheaper than in the UK pubs. Happy hour deals reduced these prices even further with a double gin and tonic temptingly priced at 4€.

On a more sensible note,  fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets were about average for Europe. As were the basic cooking items such as sugar, salt and cooking oil. The only item we couldn’t find cheaper than the UK was suntan lotion, so make sure you stock up before you go!

 

£1.00 = 1.14€ at the time of writing.

 

Last minute holiday deals – where to find them

TRAVEL BLOG

Booking a last minute holiday a few weeks before departure can be excellent value, but you need to free your mind and be open to options. So do you make a beeline for your trusty high street travel agents, or fire up your laptop?

If you have time to surf for deals, the web is your answer. But before your fingers even touch the keyboard decide on your budget. Then be prepared to be as flexible on dates and destinations as you can. Carrying out a general sweep with online agents such as Kayak, Travel Republic or Last Minute of what is available for your dates is your next step. From this, you will get a feel for the destinations and type of accommodation on offer. At this point, you can effectively start to narrow your search.

Set your sights high. Go for the best quality and the best deals first. Be mindful of what suits you. Self-catered, B&B or all-inclusive. And don’t get distracted!

The big names

All inclusive last minute holidays are perfect if you have a strict budget you want to stick to it while on holiday. They are also great if you want a standard 7-night deal which is all-inclusive.

Many of the big operators offer great prices on large accommodation sites with lots of facilities. But venture out of the norm in search of a 5 or 6-night bespoke last minute holiday and you may soon become frustrated. If you haven’t got time to trawl the web for hours have a quick look at the online sites for Thomas Cook or First choice and pop down to the high street branch.

DIY

If you have a lot of time on your hands and have a clear idea of what you want, putting a package together yourself can save a few pounds. According to Skyscanner’s data, it is a bit of a fallacy that flights will always be more expensive closer to the departure date. Booking four to seven weeks can sometimes bag you the best flight fares. Google flights is a useful source for finding the best flight prices across the airlines for specific flights and destinations without having to visit the individual providers home pages.

Once you have narrowed down your search to a destination, an airline and a date don’t forget to reference the airlines own holiday sites for specific last minute deals. Booking a hotel/flight package with BA or Easyjet with them can sometimes be cheaper.

Then use the big accommodation provider sites like Booking.com or HomeAway to collect ideas of what suits you. Don’t forget to cross-reference prices to find the best deal. Sometimes owners websites offer better deals. Happy hunting!

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?

TRAVEL BLOG

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!