Travel tips: Travel light, travel smart!

Today, many people travel light, taking only a cabin bag. With good planning, you can have all you need for a great holiday, without the hassle of a large unwieldy suitcase!

Advantages of only taking a cabin bag
The biggest advantage is cost: all the ‘no frills’ airlines charge for the privilege of taking a checked-in suitcase in the hold.

Speed is the other big bonus, with no need to wait for the luggage carousel. In fact, a small cabin suitcase on wheels will prove easier throughout your holiday as it is highly manoeuvrable and easy to lift in and out of coaches, minibuses, and taxis.

Essential information on cabin bags
A sturdy cabin suitcase with retractable wheels, or a comfortable travel bag or rucksack, is the key to success!

It is essential to check what size restrictions are imposed by the airline you are travelling with, because the maximum dimensions do vary between the airlines.

For example, the easyJet maximum size is 56 x 45x 25 cm, whereas Ryanair only allows a tiny bag of 35cm x 20cm x 20cm, with a larger size being forcibly checked into the hold (free of charge) if you take it to the gate.

Here’s an airline industry secret: airlines are massively struggling with cabin bags, because the aircraft simply don’t have enough overhead locker space! Many airlines are starting to either charge for cabin bags, restrict them to very small sizes, or forcing you to check them into the hold. An unwelcome trend!

It is important to check whether ladies are allowed to carry a handbag plus cabin bag, as it is a frequent sight at departure gates to see female travellers trying to squeeze their handbags into their already over-full cabin bags so that they can board the flight!

Tips for packing your clothes
Pack clothes that colour coordinate, can be worn in layers should the weather be cooler than expected, and can be ‘dressed up’ for the evening.

For ladies, packing plain tops that can be ‘dressed up’ with a pretty scarf or coloured necklace is the perfect solution for turning daywear into evening glamour!

A golden rule is to wear your heaviest/ bulkiest clothes when travelling; these can include a light jumper or sweatshirt plus, bulky shoes or trainers and a light jacket.

An extra layer could be beneficial if you have early morning or night flights, when it might be cold at your destination.

Clothing that doesn’t crumple easily is a bonus, but hanging any creased clothing on a hanger in a hot, steamy shower room is a great remedy!

If you are planning to visit churches, monasteries, or more formal places, it is a good idea to have one pair of long trousers and a top with sleeves.

You often only need to pack four or five outfits, as you can pack a small amount of hand-washing laundry liquid, often sold as “Travel wash”, confident that everything will dry quickly in warmer countries!

As for toiletries, you can often pack very light, and just buy things at a local shop when you arrive.

Technology for your travels
There’s no need to pack heavy reading material these days, as you can load your Kindle or smartphone with all your holiday reads and music. At the airport there are often free newspapers and magazines that can be enjoyed during the flight and handed in as you leave the aircraft.

Write a large reminder to pop on your packing pile to remember to pack your mobile charger – and a plug adaptor! The World Standards website can show you which type of plug adaptor you’ll need.

Sadly, many people damage their gadgets on holiday. This is sometimes covered by your travel insurance, but for extra peace of mind you might also want to consider a policy like our Premier Gadget Insurance.

Helsinki: A capital city with warmth

When asked about Finland, the first thing most of us will say is “It’s cold!” Although that may be true of the long winter months, it could not be more wrong about the people: they are smart, resourceful and friendly. (Although surprisingly there is no direct translation of the word “please” into Finnish.)

They invented the sauna to stay warm, and have an education system that tops the world, making communicating in English very easy.

So what does Helsinki have to offer travellers on a city break?

What to visit
Suomenlinna is a huge fortress that was built by the Swedes to protect the city in the 1700s. It is so huge, in fact, that it spreads across six islands! Since the Russian invasion in the 19th century it has been left largely untouched, making it a real trip back in time. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To visit all you need to do is hop on the ferry, which takes about 20 minutes.

Temppeliaukio Church, also known as the rock church, is one of the most iconic and most photographed buildings in Helsinki. The circular church is quite modern, opening in 1969, and has been carved out of the rock and topped with a copper dome. When approaching it looks more like a UFO than a church!

The Sibelius Monument is one of Helsinki’s must-visit locations. It is dedicated to the great Finnish composer Jan Sibelius. Not only is it one of the most breath-taking sculptures you will see, it is interactive too. By placing your head into one of 600 different pipes you can make your own music.

Helsinki Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. It was built to honour Russian Tsar Nicholas I in the 19th century. The steps leading up to the cathedral are a popular meeting place for locals, and make a great place to take some holiday snaps.

The sauna is an integral part of Finnish society, and a must-do activity when in Finland. It is so popular that for a population of 5.5 million people there are estimated to be over 3 million saunas, one per household! This means that wherever you choose to stay you will more than likely have a sauna you can try. If not, don’t worry, there are some great public saunas around the city.

For other unusual entertainment, the Formula 1 Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen part-owns a karaoke bar in Helsinki called Wallis (probably named after the 1976 F1 world champion James Simon Wallis Hunt).

Eating Out 
Eating out in Helsinki is more expensive than in the UK. On average you will pay around £15-25 for a main course. However, there are some great restaurants to choose from.

To try traditional Finnish food made with fresh in-season local produce, head to Grön. If you want to treat yourself, Helsinki has four Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from.

When to visit
The best time to visit Helsinki is during June and July, when you can enjoy the near 24 hours of sunlight, with temperature highs of around 20C (68F).

Want to know more? Visit My Helsinki and see what you can find!

The delights of Porto: foodie culture and wine cruises

Fabio Mendes has travelled extensively in Porto, so we asked him to give us his very best tips and advice for a great holiday.

There are plenty of reasons why Porto won the award for Best European Destination at the World Travel Awards in 2017. If you enjoy history, excellent food and wonderful views, you will agree that Porto deserves this title.

Porto is the largest city in Northern Portugal, and gives its name to the famous dessert wine, port. The city combines its historical roots and modern aspirations, in a setting which at first seems similar to its famous southern sister Lisbon, but feels quite different.

Placed at the margin of the river Douro, Porto represents an entire region proud of its uniqueness.

When to go, and how to reach Porto
Due to its more northerly location, Porto is spared from the typical Portuguese heat. Average temperatures between 20C (68F) in May and 25C (77F) in August, and almost no rain at all, offer perfect conditions to explore the city.

The airport of Porto is served by easyJet, Ryanair, British Airways, and TAP Portugal. Upon arrival, you will easily find public transport to the city centre right in front of the terminal.

To move around the city, you can buy a Porto Card day pass for six Euros, with discounts if you want a card lasting more than one day. This price includes the rechargeable card. With this pass, you can even use the public elevators, which bring you from the lower to the higher parts of the city. Make sure you always activate the ticket upon entering all transport and that a green light flashes afterwards.

What to see and do
If you arrive by train, the São Bento Station is a good first sight to behold. The impressive hall, completely covered with the famous Portuguese blue tiles, gives you an incredible first impression!

Walk down the narrow streets towards the river. You will reach Ribeira, the part of the city right by the river and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can stroll along the promenade until you reach the Dom Luis I. Bridge, designed by Gustav Eiffel, or just enjoy the scenery sitting at a café and drinking port.

If you are up for learning more about the Age of Discoveries, head to the Casa do Infante. Nowadays, this antique building houses a museum about the history of the city, but it is also the birthplace of Henry the Navigator, the famous mastermind behind the Portuguese discoveries of the New World. I can also recommend visiting the Palacio da Bolsa, a building that took 30 years to finish; its main purpose was to impress visitors to the city!

What to eat
Not many cities can claim to have such a vast offering of delicious restaurants as Porto. Typical Portuguese dishes are quite simple, and that means that plenty of places will offer you good food. In Porto, it’s actually difficult to stumble upon a restaurant where you will be unhappy.

The most famous dish in Porto is the Francesinha. It’s a sandwich made of different types of meats and sausage, with a fried egg and molten cheese on top. The secret is the sauce, and every single restaurant is proud to announce that their sauce is the best in town. The servings are usually so generous that many people can’t even eat it all.

Another creation of Porto is Tripas, which is a tripe stew that has been eaten in the city since the 15th century. Probably not the tastiest option, but surely one to tell your friends at home about!

Seafood and fish dishes are highly recommended too. Restaurants easily source fresh and high-quality fish at the local markets. You can try the local octopus salad almost everywhere, and it’s perfect as a side dish! Usually, lunch for two, with a bottle of house wine included, should not cost you more than 35 to 45 Euros.

The Port Wine Experience
It’s impossible to escape the sweet wine in Porto. Made world-famous by the British, you can have a small glass everywhere in the city for less than the equivalent of £2. To get the full experience, cross the river to the south side and visit the Port Wine cellars. Most of them offer guided tours, including a Port Wine tasting at the end. Graham, Sandeman’s and Cockburn are just some of the most famous names where you can learn all about the wine.

Another highlight is the river cruise offered by several operators. You will sail upstream, out of the city and into the heart of Northern Portugal to see where the grapes used for Port grow. It’s possible to visit the actual vineyards, sometimes with the guide being the owner himself.

In June, the Douro Fair is an excellent opportunity to taste the specialities of the region, not only the wines.

For the return to Porto, use the historical train for a memorable trip back in time!