Category: travel (page 1 of 2)

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!

January flight sales – are you tempted?

TRAVEL BLOG

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

TRAVEL BLOG

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.