Ten things that your low-cost airline does better

We asked our Secret Cabin Crew informer to sit back and give us his thoughts on the world of the skies. Does budget always mean low quality? Far from it!

At the start of a new decade, it’s good to reflect on where we’ve been, and where we might be heading next. Air travel is very common these days, but it wasn’t always as simple, practical and affordable as it is today. 

Starting in the 1980s with Ryanair, and the 1990s with easyJet, low-cost airlines have changed everything. These airlines took their chance when the government eased flying regulations, and they opened the door for millions of passengers each year to visit exotic and exciting destinations.

Now we’re in the 2020s, here are ten things that your low-cost carrier often does better than older flag carriers, and tips on how to get the most out of your flying.

1. Price

Low-cost airlines have not only made air travel more affordable, they’ve also forced older carriers to cut their prices in order to compete. 

Low-cost airlines also introduced a style of pricing called “yield management”. This is where flights go on sale almost a year in advance for an ultra-low price, often less than the cost of the taxi to get you to the airport! 

A low-cost airline won’t always be the cheapest, and you need to compare the cost of airlines once you’ve added your seats, bags, and any in-flight food you might like. But overall, their price tends to be very appealing.

2. Promotions

In the old days, it was unthinkable to find great deals and promotions on flights. With low-cost carriers, the game has changed. easyJet, for example, runs several large price promotions throughout the year. If you have the easyJet mobile app on your phone, you can get alerts for when the airline has a sale. 

Price comparison sites, such as Kayak, also let you set an alert for a specific route and let you know when flights go down in price.

3. Cutting out the middle man

Most low-cost airlines sell at the cheapest prices on their own website, and you won’t get those tickets any cheaper by going to anyone else’s website. Often it looks like you might, but those other sites will add booking fees that will increase the price.

4. Pay for what you need

With a low-cost airline, you only pay for what you need, knowing that anything else is a bonus. There is no need to pay for luggage or food if you don’t need it.

Older carriers such as British Airways used to have all those extras included as standard in the ticket price, but in order to compete they have also started to sell only the basic fare, and price everything else as an extra. These extras, such as seats and bags, are called “ancillary revenues”, and they’re a huge money-maker for the airlines now.

5. More destinations

Airlines such as Ryanair fly to what the industry calls “secondary airports”. These airports tend to be further out from city centres, and don’t charge the airline as much to land there. In fact, some airports even pay the airlines to land there, because the area wants the tourists that the airline can bring them.

This has opened up many places for us to visit that otherwise would not have been served by the older airlines. 

6. Staff

The best low-cost carriers often win awards and nominations for their lovely staff and crew.

From unforgettable funny moments to sincere and humble approachability, you’re often well looked after with a low-cost airline. Crew are often trained to the same standards as elsewhere in the industry, and of course must be trained in safety matters.

7. Technology

Low-cost carriers are usually the first adopters of new technology. 

Whether it’s using a smartphone app to hold your boarding card, to buy an upgrade, or to guide you around the airport, they aim to make your life easier and to put you in control. Easy check-in, automated bag drops, and priority boarding can help you enjoy your flight that little bit more.

8. Punctuality

This might come as a surprise, but low-cost carriers tend to have roughly the same “on-time performance” as legacy carriers. Running on tight schedules to make the best use of the whole flying day means that they tend to run a smooth operation. 

Punctuality figures from the travel data provider OAG show that the punctuality of low-cost airlines has actually been falling for the last year or two though, and the older flag carriers are back on top. However, as the skies and airports become fuller it is becoming harder for any airline to guarantee punctuality.

Airlines realise that passengers hate disruption, and it’s no fun for the staff either! So low-cost airlines such as easyJet have recently been investing lots of money into trying to minimise disruption, and to handle it better when it occurs. This includes padding the flying schedule with a little more time to catch up with any delays, and finding ways to communicate better with customers if their flight is delayed.

All airlines operating flights to or from the European Union are bound by a regulation called EC261, which specifies when compensation is available for flights that aren’t on time. This puts low-cost airlines and older carriers on an equal footing. After Brexit, this regulation will still apply to us here in the UK.

9. Maintenance

Aircraft maintenance is something taken very seriously by airlines and regulators, and follows strict rules and constant monitoring. Many airlines also have systems where the aircraft can radio ahead if it detects a fault, so that the maintenance team can have new parts ready and waiting as soon as the aircraft lands.

10. Newer aircraft

You’re more likely to fly on a newer aircraft with a low-cost carrier than with an older carrier. This is because a newer fleet of aircraft requires less maintenance, so can be in the air for longer, earning the airline more money. 

Airways Life reports that the average age of the easyJet fleet is 8 years, for Ryanair it’s 8.5 years, and for British Airways it’s 13.8 years.

Plus, more modern planes are usually more comfortable—another win for passengers!

It’s an interesting time for airlines. With a new boss taking over from Willie Walsh at the helm at British Airways, will the flag carriers be able to fight back, or will the low-cost airlines continue to call the shots? We think the battle will be won and lost on price, punctuality, and customer service.

A journey to New Zealand’s most enchanting places

Loved throughout the world for its stunning natural landscapes and rich Maori heritage, New Zealand caters to outdoor-minded and culture-loving travellers alike. If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings films, you’ve already seen the kind of stunning natural beauty that’s on offer.

When to visit New Zealand

Because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, February is the last month of the summer. March and April are still pleasant, but after that you’re best to skip their winter and wait until Spring arrives in October or November.

Although rainfall is fairly equally spread across the year, February and March are some of the driest and sunniest months. Bring a waterproof jacket, as the weather can still change drastically from a bright period into an unexpected downpour. It’s advisable always to wear a cap or hat, as the UV rays are powerful.

The gorgeous North Island

New Zealand is made up of two main islands: the North Island and the South Island.

The largest city in New Zealand is Auckland, and although it’s not the capital city (which is Wellington), around 1.5 million of New Zealand’s 5 million inhabitants live here.

For plenty of travellers, Auckland is the first stop of their journey. It’s a vibrant destination humming with activities. Watch the city and the surrounding bays from almost 600 feet above the ground at the Sky Tower, take a relaxing stroll in the Auckland Botanic Gardens, or treat yourself to an enchanting dinner cruise in Waitematā harbour.

Outside of Auckland

Whether you’re looking for relaxation or an active holiday, the North Island has activities for all types of travellers. Tackle a hike in the barren, volcanic landscapes of Tongariro National Park, or soak up the stunning coastline of the Coromandel Forest Park. You can join a kayak tour that leads to rock arches and coves, of which Cathedral Cove is the most imposing. 

Further east, the Bay of Plenty offers fine sand beaches and the scenic Kaiate Falls for you to explore by foot. 

To experience Maori culture and the geothermal baths, head to Rotorua, three hours south of Auckland. The coloured rocks and pools make it well worth the trip. Just be warned: the whole area really smells of sulphur! At least you know the thermal spas are authentic.

You can also take a ferry north from Auckland to Tiritiri Matangi, an island dedicated as a wildlife sanctuary. There are spectacular walks, and it’s a great place to explore.

Wellington

The city of Wellington is at the south-west tip of the North Island. For stellar views of this coastal region, climb up to Mount Victoria or ride a cable car to Kelburn Lookout. 

Te Papa Museum, the Museum of New Zealand, will give you an excellent introduction to New Zealand’s culture, Maori art, and natural history. Exhibitions display the way that New Zealand is shaped by tectonic plates, its flora and fauna, and the heritage of its inhabitants. The entrance to this museum is free.

The mountainous and beautiful South Island

The South Island is widely held to be even more picturesque and beautiful than the North Island. 

Dotted with snow-covered peaks, towering glaciers, and numerous scenic walking tracks, New Zealand’s South Island is a dream destination for outdoor-minded travellers. Summer and autumn are the best seasons to get your hiking gear out and explore some of the countless trails in Fiordland National Park, like the multi-day Routeburn and Kepler Tracks. Shorter treks, such as the Humboldt Falls Track and the pathway to Lake Marian, offer fantastic scenery as well. 

Walking on top of a glacier is another unique experience on the South Island. Accompanied by a guide, you can trek on the thick ice of Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. Various companies organise helicopter tours and guided glacier hikes.

The western fjord Milford Sound, which opens into the Tasman Sea, is well-known for its magnificent mountains and scenic cruises. Here, you can savour a refreshing shower under the Stirling Falls, and go on a day cruise of the area.

Travelling to New Zealand

New Zealand is the furthest from the UK that it’s possible to go. It’s two flights, each of around 12 hours. Our newsletter editor Ian, who’s tried a few different ways to make this trip, tells us:

“I love New Zealand, and several of my friends liked it so much when they visited on holiday that they emigrated there!”

“The first time I went to New Zealand I flew via Tokyo, with only three hours connecting time between my flights. It was just too tiring—when I finally arrived I was shattered, and it took me a few days to fully recover from the jet-lag! (By the way, Wikipedia has a surprisingly detailed article on jet-lag with some useful tips.)

“A much better way is to fly via Singapore, and allow around ten hours between your flights, so that you can sleep at the transit hotel in Singapore Changi Airport. Once you’ve had a sleep and a nice shower, the second flight is much more pleasant. Once you arrive, you’re not too tired, so actually you don’t lose any valuable time from your holiday.

“I once connected via America on the way home, stopping off in San Francisco for three days. It made my trip a true voyage of discovery! Most people find time-zone adjustment easier when flying from east to west, so you could take in a tour of America on your way to New Zealand.”

Once you’re in New Zealand, a popular option is renting a camper van, which provides you with the convenience of both accommodation and transport. 

So if you’re looking for sun and scenery at this dull time of year, head to New Zealand for the trip of a lifetime. On such a long trip, our Go2 Travel Insurance could be the ideal insurance cover for you.

Events and inspiration for a short break in Europe

Looking for a great excuse to head to Europe in the next few months? Here are ten events for an enjoyable short break between now and May.

Netherlands Ice Sculpture Festival, Zwolle, the Netherlands

Dates: 14th December 2019 to 1st March 2020

Over 100 ice and snow sculptures, made by world-famous artists, are displayed during the three months of the festival. It’s a totally family-friendly event, with exciting activities for both kids and adults, so you won’t regret visiting. Zwolle is only an hour away from Amsterdam by train too, so you can make it a day trip.

Carnival of Venice, Italy

Dates: 8th February – 25th February 2020

In Europe, the month of February is known for its carnivals. The colourful events are held all over Italy, Spain, France, and other southern countries. The most famous and fabulous of all is the Carnival of Venice. The program is full of interesting events and parades. You can choose any day you like and you’re sure to spot something interesting at this festival of colour and light. 

Carnivals of all kinds also happen in Las Palmas, Nice, Cologne, Cadiz, and Tenerife.

Lemon Festival, Menton, France

Dates: 15th February – 3rd March 2020

Started in 1933 as a fruit show, this event has grown significantly since then and has become world-famous, bringing in around 160,000 visitors every year. The city of Menton, situated only 20 miles from Nice, is proud of its lemons, which are known all over the world. The festival boasts a colourful carnival atmosphere and a vibrant programme which differs from year to year.  

Berlinale, Berlin, Germany

Dates: 20th February – 1st March 2020

One of the world’s largest film festivals and media events, Berlinale has been held every February since 1978—before that, it was a summer event. Each year, around 400 films are shown in different selections and 20 of them win awards. Visit the Berlinale website for this year’s programme. If you are a visual arts enthusiast, you can’t miss this event!

Taste Florence Food Festival, Italy

Dates: 7th – 9th March 2020

The festival presents products and ideas brought to Florence by 300 different food companies from all over Italy. It’s a real haven for lovers of Italian food. You can also enjoy the cultural heritage of Florence, and adore the warm Mediterranean climate of Italy.

Las Fallas Fiesta, Valencia, Spain

Dates: 15th – 19th March 2020

This festival is known all around the globe for its traditional costumes, fascinating music, fireworks, great satire shows, and plenty of lights. The event is held in the city of Valencia, Spain, known for its warm winter, great Mediterranean climate, and many exciting events. 

Feast of San Giuseppe, Florence, Italy

Date: 19th March 2020

Every year, on 19th March, the Italians commemorate the Roman Catholic feast day of St. Joseph (known here as San Giuseppe). They have a colourful street procession and tasty food. The traditional food of the festival is zeppola: deeply fried dough balls, shaped into nests and filled with custard—sort of an Italian doughnut! Different tournaments take place on this day, and bonfires are lit in the evening. 

Keukenhof Flower Garden Spring Festival, Lisse, the Netherlands

Dates: 21st March – 10th May 2020

Keukenhof, situated in Lisse, between the cities of Amsterdam and The Hague, is a 79-acre flower park, known all over the world. It is open every year from March until May and offers the most incredible and unique flower displays, consisting of tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths. The park boasts 800 different kinds of tulips alone. 

Also, the Bloemencorso Flower Parade is held every year in April. This year it will take place on 25th April 2020 between the towns of Noordwijk and Haarlem. 

Koningsdag (King’s Day), Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Date: 27th April 2020

On 27th April, the people of the Netherlands celebrate the birthday of their reigning monarch, King Willem-Alexander. Although celebrations are held throughout the country, the main event setting is, of course, Amsterdam, which becomes a huge flea market. People wear orange or paint their faces in the colours of their national flag: red, white, and blue. Parties are held all over the city. If you are not a party person, you will definitely enjoy the street theatre performances. 

Mostra delle Azalee, Rome, Italy

Dates: mid-April to mid-May

In the middle of April, the Spanish Steps, a popular tourist spot in Rome, is decorated with hundreds of vases with azaleas. It’s been a tradition for 80 years, and these brightly coloured, beautiful pink, white, and red flowers remain decorating the stairs until mid-May. It’s a sight worth seeing.

Now all you’ve got to do is choose an event and book your trip. Don’t forget your travel insurance!

San Marino: a day trip to the world’s oldest surviving republic

Travel writer Julia Hammond spotted an unexpected face while touring the San Marino parliament..

I knew very little about San Marino before my visit, other than that it is one of the smallest countries in the world. Pub quiz trivia: it’s also one of only three countries in the world, together with Lesotho and Vatican City, which is totally surrounded by a single country, in this case Italy.

Small places are perfect for a day trip, especially as I was on a return trip to the nearby Italian city of Bologna. It’s a short ride by rail on the high-speed Frecciabianca train to the seaside resort of Rimini and, from there, a five euro bus ride inland to San Marino. 

A souvenir visa

San Marino, I soon learned, was the oldest surviving republic in the world by most people’s reckoning, founded in its current state in AD 301. From its perch on Monte Titano, the inhabitants had been able to see would-be invaders coming and make the necessary preparations in good time. The lady in the tourist office was keen to impress on me the importance of this enviable status while she sold me a souvenir visa for my passport.

British passport holders don’t need a visa, she said, but the stamp was popular with visitors like me. I was happy to pay. (It soon became the shortest-lived visa I’ve ever received. A few weeks later, my dog chewed that same passport into tiny pieces, though that’s another story.)

Parliament and Abraham Lincoln

On days when parliament isn’t sitting, tourists are welcome to visit the Palazzo Pubblico, the name for the grand building which houses its chamber. The important business takes place upstairs, accessed by a grand staircase. At the top of the stairs I noticed a bust on the wall that looked familiar. On closer inspection, I saw it was Abraham Lincoln. 

Intrigued, I enquired as to what a US president was doing on a wall thousands of miles from home. It turned out that at the start of the American Civil War, The Most Serene Republic of San Marino had offered the great leader dual citizenship in recognition of the “high consideration and fraternity” they felt with the USA.

Rubber duck store

A more recent president could be found around the corner, on a shelf in the San Marino Duck Store. This quirky shop sold all manner of rubber ducks, featuring designs as eclectic as a pink flamingo, the Statue of Liberty, and a Star Wars stormtrooper duck that lit up in a rainbow of colours when put into water. Joining them on display was The Donald, alongside other famous faces including Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe and Harry Potter.

Three Towers of San Marino

But I hadn’t come all the way to San Marino to shop, even if it was a duty-free haven. Instead, I schlepped up to the first of the country’s trio of towers. Known as the Guaita, it’s the oldest of the three fortifications, built in the 11th century. 

Once, it was a prison, and the graffiti its inmates had scratched onto the walls was almost as beautiful as the view through the barred window. From its walls, the views across to the Apennines and Adriatic were breathtaking. Under a blue sky, the second tower called the Cesta could be seen in the distance. A path linked the two, with the Museum of Ancient Arms the reward for those who made the hike. The third tower, the Montale, is closed to the public. 

Museums

San Marino’s cobbled streets are home to a number of museums. There’s a museum of torture, a wax museum, and a tiny place devoted to emigration—people who left San Marino—that only opens on request.

I settled for the lowbrow Museum of Curiosities and spent an hour giggling at an eclectic collection covering everything from centuries-old platform shoes designed to cope with Venice’s floods, to a life-sized model of the world’s tallest man, who grew to be almost nine feet tall. 

San Marino packs quite a punch for somewhere so small. The only problem of going for a day trip, you’ll find, is that you’ll need to go back to fit everything in.

Tips for flying with a toddler

Planning a family trip with a toddler along for the ride? Here are a few tips to help.

Planning with your airline

While you’re booking your flight, check with your airline as to what hand luggage allowance they have for infants and children. It can be handy if you can take a separate bag for your little one.

If your flight includes meals, check what the options are for toddlers or small children. You’ll often need to order a special meal in advance.

Make sure you check in for your flight as soon as check-in opens. Sometimes this can be a week in advance, but with easyJet you can check in online 30 days before your flight. Checking in early gives the airline the best chance to seat you all together if you haven’t purchased specific seats.

Depending on your child’s exact age and the type of travelling you’re doing, there are plenty of options for how to best carry them, including a bassinet, CARES harness, pushchair, etc. Your airline can help advise you, and there’s a good article on flying with a toddler that shows you some of the options. 

Choose your seats carefully

Be strategic when selecting your seats. Generally a window seat is the best for a toddler, as looking out the window will give them an extra form of entertainment and distraction. It will also leave you in between them and the aisle, making an impromptu adventure away from their seats less likely.

Most airlines will sit an infant under 2 years old on an adult’s lap. However, you can usually book them their own seat, if you’d prefer. You’ll probably need to phone the airline to arrange this.

If you’re using a CARES harness, phone your airline before you book your seats, since there are rules around which seats can accept them.

Keep them entertained

Make sure you have a variety of entertainment to keep your toddler occupied for the whole trip. It’s generally a good idea to limit toddler’s screen time at home; however, a long flight is not the time for this! 

Take digital and non-digital options. Don’t forget to pack a spare battery and charger cable for your phone or tablet (Anker make reliable and cheap battery packs). You can pre-load your devices with games, television programmes, and films, because you won’t have wifi on the plane. You can buy children’s headphones to make sure they don’t disturb other passengers too much.

Non-electronic entertainment such as colouring books, picture books, cuddly toys, or stickers can be extra options if they get bored with their devices. The longer the fight, the more options you should have. The company Keep Em Quiet produces special entertainment packs for just this purpose, so have a look at what they offer.

You could even wrap up some of your activities or snacks as presents, and give your child a gift for good behaviour every half an hour.

If your child is a little older, don’t forget games like i-spy that don’t need any equipment, or pretend that they’re the pilot or a member of the cabin crew, and play through everything that usually happens on board.

At the airport, a Trunki ride-on suitcase will give a toddler something to play with. 

Time your flight to fit the toddler’s sleep schedule

If possible, book your flights to suit your toddler’s sleep schedule. A late-night or early morning flight is generally not a good idea if it will cut into usual sleeping time. A mid-morning departure time often works well. You may even get an hour or so respite if you can make afternoon nap time happen while on the plane. 

However, if you are flying long-haul, your best bet is probably going to be a night flight so they can spend a decent portion of the flight asleep.

Bring snacks

Having a variety of snacks is an excellent way to keep occupied and happy. Non-messy snacks are the easiest to manage and can be brought out at strategic moments to help avert meltdowns. Don’t be above bribery in this situation! Bring wet wipes to clear up any mess.

Don’t forget to buy things like bottles of drinking water once you’ve gone through airport security; the liquid limit is still 100ml.

Go for walks on the plane

Get out into the aisle and go for a walk to give your toddler some space so they don’t feel so cooped up. Letting them blow off a little steam and use up some energy will make them more likely to stay settled when you return to your seats. Try to plan your walks between meal and drink services so you’re not getting in the cabin crew’s way.

Make sure they’re comfortable

Pack extra pillows and blankets to keep your toddler as warm and comfy as possible, and bring their favourite pyjamas or other clothes to change into on the flight. The more comfortable they are, the happier they will be, and the more chance they will get some sleep.

Feeling ill on board

You might take a small bottle of Calpol for the flight, in case your toddler starts feeling ill. Sore ears, as a result of the change in pressure, can be a problem too, so have some food or drink that your child can swallow during the climb and descent parts of the flight—swallowing equalises the air pressure in your ears, and makes things more comfortable.

Take some sick bags and spare nappies that are easily accessible. Keep some extra clothes handy as well, not packed in your suitcase, for an emergency change!

Try to relax and not stress too much!

If you’re stressed out, your toddler might pick up on your mood and become unhappy. At the end of the day, there’s not much you can do once you’re on the plane, so just relax and try not to worry. Remember you’ve got a wonderful family holiday to enjoy on the other end!

Why is Mauritius so popular? Beaches, catamarans, and more.

This year we’ll start taking a personal look at holiday memories you might like to recreate for yourself. This month, Lara Whybrow tells us about her travels to Mauritius.

An old favourite among tourists, Mauritius is absolutely gorgeous, and most travellers have been back many times to luxuriate in its lush flora and spotlessly clean beaches. It’s a volcanic island, famed for its beaches, reefs, and lagoons. 

We booked our holiday through a specialist travel agency that has lots of interesting information on Mauritius. 

My mother, a sprightly 55-year-old, found the atmosphere decidedly rejuvenating, and I hadn’t seen her so bubbly in ages! She dragged me off to what sometimes seemed like endless attractions, but it got me out of my comfort zone as I’d no doubt have laid on the beach all day. 

The bustling energy of the markets proved a little too much for me at times, but I definitely couldn’t complain about the variety of sarongs, shawls and dresses, as Mauritius has a bustling textile industry and the markets are full of goodies. 

Attractions on offer

We went on a spectacular catamaran cruise and went to a fascinating visitor centre showing how sugar is produced in Mauritius. You can also visit a casino, and spend time at the Waterfront shopping and restaurant complex. You can swim with dolphins too! There are also tours which include many of these attractions.

There are plenty of beaches and sports activities if that’s your thing—it really is a holiday that can be whatever you want it to be.

The weather can be changeable

Most Brits will feel somewhat at home in Mauritius at this time of year. It’s a small island in the southern hemisphere, on a similar latitude to northern Australia, but it’s only a 12-hour flight away from London. 

Between January and March you can expect temperatures up to around 30C (86F) during the daytime.

We’re now in the hotter and wetter time of the year, but the rain tends to come in quick bursts, so there’s lots of sunshine even on wet days.

On some days the moody weather would be a little chilly and overcast one minute, then the next it would break out into sun and leave you rushing barefoot into the nearest shop to get some cooler clothing. Be prepared for any kind of weather when going on an outing!

Travel was easy and enjoyable

Getting around is easy enough in Mauritius. Uber isn’t available though, so we used taxis and buses when we weren’t with our tour group. 

The taxis weren’t cheap, so we decided to try out the public transport. Early one morning we set out to wait for the bus at the stop by our hotel. It turned out to be painless and very cheap! The buses were quite regular, and were not as overcrowded and rickety as some of the buses we had taken on our travels in other countries. Definitely not shiny and new though, but then again we were in Mahebourg which isn’t as “touristy” as other places. 

Using public transport allowed for some light exploration. My mother wanted to focus on ticking off sights on her checklist so that she could feel like she had seen it all, and I wanted to do the same but in my own way: I wanted to see the everyday side of existence in Mauritius, the way the locals lived. 

So we took the bus and got off at a random ordinary suburb stop, then walked around until we got tired. Since Mauritius is largely French-speaking it was a little tricky at times, but people were kind when we needed help. The streets were relatively clean and peaceful, with quaint old houses bordered by neat little gardens. Vivid splashes of colour from bougainvilleas flowers everywhere completed the scene. 

Mauritius has a wealth gap, but it isn’t as glaringly obvious as in other places. Shopkeepers will close early sometimes to enjoy a nice afternoon at the beach with their families. 

Expectation meets reality

Our hotel, the Blue Lagoon, was perfect: excellent food, immaculately clean and all the appliances in the room worked. The hotel spa staff were top-tier and gave excellent aromatherapy massages, pedicures and other treatments. 

The dining hall and bar opened right onto the beach, so we could enjoy morning breakfasts and sunset cocktails in the most pleasant of surroundings. 

The image I had in my mind of Mauritius was of a friendly tropical place, where I would have the time of my life and would feel like those smiling people in the idyllic travel ads. I was not disappointed! Mauritius is a popular place for a reason, and it’s worth considering for your next beach, culture or foodie holiday.

Coach holidays to Europe: the stress-free way to get away

Holidays often mean hours stuck in airports, with endless queues and invasive security checks. Yet many of our customers never have this hassle and stress, because they travel to Europe by coach.

If you’ve not looked at coach travel recently, it’s a real eye-opener. You’ll get some incredible ideas for holidays by browsing some of the websites that we’ll mention in this article.

These kind of guided coach tours are useful if you haven’t been to a place before. You can see the main sites without having to worry about exactly where you’re going, or how to find your way there.

There are several national coach firms in the UK, including ShearingsLeger Holidays, and National Holidays, which will all take you to Europe. They have special Christmas Market tours, and also offer year-round travel to lots of interesting places.

Shearings

Shearings visits more than 30 countries. They have Christmas market coach trips to Strasbourg, Copenhagen, Prague, and Brussels. Their packages include transport and accommodation. The tours tend to have a ferry crossing at Dover, and you can see an itinerary for each day of your trip. This can be useful if you want to see several places on the same holiday, but don’t want the worry of having to organise it yourself. 

They have modern coaches with lots of legroom, wifi, and air conditioning. They also allow you to book by phone, which can be handy if you have any questions or would prefer to speak to a real person.

Leger Holidays

Leger Holidays also has Christmas market coach trips. They have packages going to Bruges, Arras & Lille; Bavarian Christmas Markets in Nuremberg, Bamberg & Würzburg; and Copenhagen, Lübeck & Münster. 

For something different, try their tour Christmas Markets in Ypres & Lille and Battlefields of the Western Front. You can even spend Christmas in the Bavarian Forest.

They also have a phone number to speak to someone who can help you.

National Holidays

National Holidays have some interesting packages if you want to go away for the whole of Christmas and new year. You could visit Lake Garda in northern Italy, with an excursion to Verona. Or you could go to Tossa de Mar in Catalonia, Spain, with an excursion to Barcelona.

Coach holidays in 2020

Beyond the Christmas Markets, there’s a wide world of coach holidays in 2020. 

If you fancy a classic train ride, take a coach to the Glacier Express in Switzerland, and take the 180-mile journey from the pretty Alpine resort of Zermatt, close to the Matterhorn, on to Davos or St Moritz. 

Disneyland Paris is always popular, and you can go there by coach too.

Specialist tours
In the spring, you can visit the European bulb fields. Keukenhof Gardens is one of the largest flower gardens in the world, where you can see seven million tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and flowering bulbs!

You could also go to Sicily, In the Footsteps of The Godfather, and explore the places where Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy was filmed.

Many coach tours visit several cities—like a cruise but on the road! Shearings run a trip to Prague, Vienna and Budapest; a fireworks tour Rhine in Flames which takes in Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, and Bonn; or the Great Cities of the Danube from Passau to Linz, including Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava.

Foodies will like special coach tours tailored to their gastronomic needs. Italian Flavours, Ferrari and Pavarotti visits many high-quality food producers, the Modena home of opera singer Pavarotti, and Maranello, famous for being home to the Ferrari motor racing team. 

Tuscan Sights and Culinary Delights mixes the beautiful scenery of Turin, Pisa, Elba, Lucerne, and Reims with pizza, artisanal pasta, and salami.

If you’re planning ahead, in September you could take a coach to the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, one of the world’s most historic and fastest motor races.

We’re sure you’ll agree there’s such a wide range of coach holidays on offer that it’s worth exploring further, to get inspiration for your travels. So click on the links here that most appeal to you, and see where a coach could take you! Happy travels!

Dubai: A lovely warm holiday in the winter

Still unsure about where to go on holiday this winter? If you and your family are looking for an escape from the harsh cold weather, Dubai is your answer!

The most pleasant weather begins in December and lasts until February. Temperatures get up around 27C (81F) in December and January, so the weather is perfect for sightseeing and entertainment.

The best thing about winter nights in Dubai is the long walks in the city. The friendly fellow tourists can be seen stopping for a hot cup of cocoa or an ice cream. Every few blocks there are small carnivals, as part of the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) which runs from Boxing Day until the end of January.

Something for everyone

The city is filled with a huge variety of places and experiences suitable for all age groups. From unbelievable gardens to theme parks, from shopping malls to the best restaurants in the world, from water parks to beaches and carnivals, Dubai has it all! Let’s take a look at what you can do in Dubai in December and January.

Beaches

The latest addition to the impressive lifestyle of Dubai is La Mer beachfront. It has restaurants, a cinema, its own water park, and is the perfect place for family. The best part? Entrance is free!

The Marina Walk is another great attraction that allows you to take a walk among the beautiful paved streets. Surrounded by great hotels and restaurants, this walk ends on the beautiful Marina Beach.

Astonishing gardens

The world’s largest natural flower garden is the Dubai Miracle Garden, and everything it holds is sure to take your breath away. A display of around 109 million flowers in all shapes and sizes is not to be missed. A particular highlight is a real Emirates Airbus A380 aircraft, covered in more than 500,000 fresh flowers and living plants. The entry fee is £8.50 (AED 40) for adults and £6.50 (AED 30) for children under 12 years.

The Dubai Butterfly Garden is inside the same garden, although it requires a separate entrance ticket. It is home to more than 15,000 exotic butterflies, kept under four temperature-controlled domes. The entrance fee for adults is £10.50 (AED 50).

Action and adventure

Dubai is home to some of the best theme parks in the world. Motiongate Dubai is inspired by Hollywood. Legoland needs no introduction! You’ve also got Bollywood ParksWild Wadi Waterpark and IMG Worlds of Adventure.

Driving over sand dunes and seeing the never-ending stretch of the desert is a sight to behold. The drivers who take you on these trips are highly skilled and will make sure you remember this ride for a long time. Depending on which trip you book, the safari might end at a beautiful camp where you will experience true Arabic culture. When the tourists settle in, and the sun sets, the performances begin. Musicians and dancers show their skills, followed by dinner. Be sure to dress in warm clothes and take layers of clothing, as the nights in the desert can get pretty cold.

Shopping

During the Dubai Shopping Festival the discounts are huge! You’ll get a world-class shopping experience in the humongous Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates. Dubai Mall is a genuine attraction, with its Dubai Aquarium and Ski Dubai, the first indoor ski resort in the middle east.

Sightseeing

The right place to taste the world is the Global Village. The mix of 90 cultures in one place is something no one should miss. People from every country display their culture in the form of clothes, food and other specialities. The entry fee is £3.20 (AED 15). The best time to go there is a little before sunset. This will give you time to see everything in daylight as well as at night, where the true magic of lights begins.

The world’s largest dancing fountain is the most popular free tourist attraction. It is set in Burj Khalifa Lake between Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa, which is the tallest building in the world. There is a show every 30 minutes where the fountain dances to different songs. It is an experience like no other! For a better view, make sure you reach the fountain boundary five minutes after the previous show ends: December and January are popular months, and it can get very crowded.

There’s so much going on in Dubai that you’re bound to find something to interest you. So if you’re looking to get away from the cold, make this the winter you visit Dubai! Don’t forget to take out our Go2 Travel Insurance before you leave.

Kraków: A beautiful Christmas market, Chopin, and… axe throwing?

If you fancy a short European city break for three or four nights, and you don’t want to break the bank, try Kraków in southern Poland this December. There’s a lot to explore, with a flight time of only two and a half hours, and you might just get some snow to put you in the Christmas mood!

Kraków Christmas Market

As it’s December, let’s start our exploring with a trip to the Christmas market. The Irish Times named it one of the top ten Christmas Markets in Europe, and it’s well worth a visit.

The market is held every year in the beautiful main square, Rynek Główny, which is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe.

You’ll find excellent first-hand accounts on the web of what the market is like, and detailed information of all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes that you can experience. These articles will do a great job of selling you on why you need to go to Kraków this Christmas! Visitors also report that the prices are very reasonable.

There’s everything you’d expect at the market: Christmas trees, amazing decorations, Polish pottery, gifts, mulled wine served in traditional wooden barrels, and lots of food. Meat and cheese dishes are plentiful. Entertainment is provided by local ensembles singing carols, and you’ll find proper carol concerts too.

An unusual and unique tradition in Kraków is the display of Christmas Cribs, known as szopki—they are very ornate, and look like a nativity scene mixed with a dolls house.

You can even book a tour of the market, which includes a trip to an authentic Polish restaurant and explanation of Polish Christmas traditions. The tour also helps to support local cultural heritage by taking you to a small, local gallery to see how traditional hand-painted glass baubles are made.

What else is there to see?

The historic centre of Kraków is a UNESCO world heritage site. You can explore the medieval history and take a stroll around the public parks. 

You can see churches, such as St Adalbert’s Church and St Mary’s Basilica, and visit Wawel Royal Castle

You’ll also find plenty of fascinating museums and galleries. The Historical Museum is made up of 14 branches throughout the city.

The MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art is notable for being built on the site of Oskar Schindler’s famous factory; it’s a modern warehouse museum with glass floors and slanting roofs, presenting 4,000 works from the last two decades.

When you need a rest, visit a milk bar for traditional food and drink. The milk bars have a fascinating history, dating back to communist times, and provide homemade meals at very low prices.

Culture in Kraków

The most famous Polish musician is the great piano composer Frédéric Chopin, and you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to hear his music performed in Poland. The Chopin Gallery has regular one-hour piano concerts, performed by wonderful Polish pianists. The concerts get great reviews and cost less than £15 to enter.

For something a little bit odd, take a ten-minute walk north from the main square to Bad Axe. It promotes itself as “the premium Viking-styled axe throwing club, where you can learn how to safely throw axes”. It’s got to be worth a try, right?

Travel to Kraków

There are plenty of easyJet flights to Kraków airport from all over the UK. The city is 20-minute taxi ride from the airport, and the Uber taxi app also serves Kraków, to help you get around once you’re there.

Accommodation is reasonably priced, especially on Airbnb. £30 a night goes a long way here! There are also lots of traditional hotels to choose from.

If you’d like to have everything arranged for you, Newmarket Holidays runs a four day trip to the Kraków Christmas market. Leger Holidays also has package tours to many of the Christmas markets in Europe.

When it comes to Kraków, there’s so much to do that you’re bound to find a whole host of things to interest you. So here’s to festive good cheer in Kraków this year!

Europe’s best Christmas markets

Travel writer Julia Hammond is obsessed with European Christmas markets. Here she gives us a personal tour of her favourites that she has visited.

Magical Salzburg delivers festive cheer

In winter, under a carpet of snow, crowds of shoppers wrapped up in scarves and hats throng the Christmas markets. Nowhere in Austria, not even Vienna, does it better than Salzburg. 

Several excellent markets are scattered across the city, and the largest clusters around the steps of its imposing cathedral. The first Advent market was held in the city in the late 15th century. These days, at the sprawling Christkindlmarkt, stalls are laden with glass baubles, local handicrafts, and sweet treats. Strings of fairy lights and the cinnamon scent of glühwein on the frosty air add to the festive atmosphere.

Words like enchanting and magical pepper the travel pages at this time of year but for once they are more than just hype. At Hellbrunn Palace, the famous trick fountains take a back seat to a handicrafts market. Here, the quality of the merchandise is high. There are no cheap Chinese imports here. Instead, hand-blown glass, felted wool cushions, and locally carved wooden ornaments are the order of the day. Never has a bus ride to the suburbs been so worth it.

Advent is extra-special in Bavaria 

Although Austria is great, it’s Austria’s next-door neighbour—Germany—that tops the table in the Christmas market league. Nuremberg, in the north of Bavaria, stages arguably the best Christkindlesmarkt in the country. It also has the advantage of excellent transport connections to markets in places such as historic Bamberg and uber-quaint Rothenburg ob der Tauber

As in Austria, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a locally-made souvenir. Nuremberg’s signature snack is Drei im Weggla, three slim but tasty sausages tucked inside a crusty bun. Follow it with spiced lebkuchen, a soft gingerbread eaten on the go.

Worthy of a special mention are the markets of nearby Regensburg, an easy train ride from Nuremberg. There are several markets in the city; cross the stone bridge at the Spitalgarten to visit a living nativity scene complete with farm animals. 

The best market, though, is the Thurn and Taxis market, set up every Advent in the grounds of beautiful (and conveniently central) St Emmeram Palace. Braziers full of seasoned logs and mugs of steaming hot spiced apple juice will warm your cold fingers, while swags of freshly cut fir decorate the popup shops. Lit by candlelight and torches, it’s a delightful sight and sure to get you in the mood for Christmas.

Try a Scandinavian Christmas market experience

For something different, try the Danish Christmas markets. Copenhagen hosts several Julemarkeder (Christmas markets). The Kongens Nytorv market is one of the most central, while the stalls that cluster on Nyhavn’s cobbled quays have perhaps the most picturesque settings. Pick up a hand-knitted Nisse man: a mythological creature from Nordic folklore who will look after you and your property, so long as you take care not to offend him.

It’s hard to beat the market that fills historic Tivoli, despite the hefty price tag to get in. This theme park is unrivalled when it comes to displays and decorations, and in December, you can combine its rides with a mug of gløgg (mulled wine). 

So there you have it. Europe is full of wonderful Christmas markets—which will you visit this year?