Tips for healthy eating while travelling

One of the delights of travelling is the chance to experience new cuisines and sample authentic ethnic foods. Enjoying a delicious meal in a foreign city is as good as visiting the national museums – you learn about the traditions, culture and people from the food they share with you.

In the excitement of discovering a new country, however, there is always the temptation to go overboard. Who can say no to “just one more” bite? You’re on holiday after all!

But sometimes a sudden introduction of a new food can upset your digestion or disrupt your healthy eating habits. Here are a few tips to help you eat healthy on the road.

Be prepared
If you have dietary restrictions because of allergies or health conditions, or take medication regularly, make sure you know in advance what foods are common at your destination. A lot of restaurants publish their menus online, so you can get an idea of the sort of food, and the types of restaurant, that you should expect.

Spend a little time planning how to substitute your usual treats. When you arrive, try and stick to your normal eating schedule as much as possible. Keep a small snack in your handbag or daypack, just in case there are delays.

You can sometimes bring in snacks from the UK, but this varies from country to country. Be sure to check before you go, so that you don’t fall foul of customs!

Before you go, finding restaurants on TripAdvisor, or other online sources, can be useful. That way, you won’t just stop at the first fast-food place you find when you’re hungry and gorge on unhealthy food, while missing the local treats on offer.

Vitamins and medications
If you take vitamin tablets or other health supplements, you may wish to take these on holiday with you. That way, if you can’t find healthy options, or fancy spoiling yourself, at least your body can get some of the nutrients it needs.

If you take medications, check before you go whether there are any specific foods that you should avoid, and whether you can combine your medications with alcohol. Check with your pharmacist if you are unsure, and read the information that comes with your medication, even if you’ve been taking the medication for a while: it’s useful to remind yourself of things you might have forgotten.

Some foods and drink can prevent medicines from fully working. For example, the painkillers paracetamol and codeine are metabolised by the liver, so drinking alcohol as well can put a lot of stress on the liver. Thinking of a classic breakfast buffet, grapefruit can interfere with statins, and milk can interfere with some antibiotics.

Master the art of nibbling
Do taste the local speciality, but don’t binge on it. Give your body time to adjust to unaccustomed seasonings and sauces. Share a plate of starters with your partner or table mates, so you can sample without overeating. Eat slowly to savour every bite. If you discover something you really enjoy, learn how to pronounce it correctly so you can order it again!

Ask questions
In a new restaurant, tell your waiter or waitress about any dietary restrictions you have, so they can advise you about certain dishes. Ask for the house recommendations. If the menu doesn’t explain a dish adequately, ask how it’s prepared. Do express your appreciation to the staff for their consideration.

Be aware that not all countries are as used to dealing with food allergies as the UK. There can also be language barriers and a lack of training: some staff do not fully appreciate what “dairy” means, and all the items that it includes, so you might need to spell out all the things you can’t eat (e.g. butter, milk, yoghurt, etc.). If in doubt, play it safe!

Drink water and avoid dehydration
Drink plenty of water every day. Keep a bottle of water in your jacket or bag. Staying hydrated keeps your energy level high, reduces overeating, and helps your body flush out toxins and waste.

Bottled water can be purer than tap water. In some places this isn’t a problem, but in other areas, drinking the local tap water (including ice in drinks) can make you ill if you are not used to it. Check online, and in your travel guide.

Sometimes, feeling hungry can really just mean you are dehydrated, and it’s water that your body needs, not food. This can lead you to over-eat and not get enough fluids: a double whammy!

Alcohol
Enjoy the wine and spirits with a little common sense. Locally brewed beer can be a pleasure, and a wine or whisky tasting can be a highlight of your trip. But too much alcohol can lead to dehydration or can lead you to make poor food choices. When it comes to alcohol, aim for quality, not quantity!

Be aware that alcohol can make you more intoxicated and dehydrated when you are flying, due to the effects of altitude and cabin pressure, so be especially careful around the start and end of your holiday.

Shop locally
When you come across a neighbourhood market, stop and shop. Locally-grown fruits and vegetables will often be fresher and more economical that supermarket purchases. It’s also an adventure in and of itself to navigate a foreign grocery, with all its sights, sounds and aromas. Pick up fresh or dried fruits, cheese, bread and pastries, find a scenic spot, and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Come home healthy!
Like music, food is a universal language. You may come home with new recipes to try in your own kitchen, or a new appreciation for a food you once disliked. Above all, though, come home healthy.

Tips for travelling light

In the world of travel, light is better. The advantages of being able to travel light include saving time, energy and money, all of which translate into a more enjoyable trip.

Why would you want to travel light?
Of course, the easiest way is to travel with a smaller suitcase!  Travelling with carry-on luggage that can fit into the overhead bin in the plane means no lost luggage and no waiting at the luggage carousel. Not having to pay for checked luggage on a plane, or tipping porters, also saves money. Smaller, lighter luggage is easier when navigating stairs, trains, buses or taxis, and when getting through crowds of people.

For carry-on or checked luggage, the first consideration is picking lightweight luggage. Choosing light luggage can save more than two kilos in weight for a carry-on, without sacrificing wheels or durability.  Soft-cover luggage can be more convenient, but you can buy hard cover suitcases that are also lightweight. Search Google for “lightest suitcases” to get some ideas.

Packing Light
Packing for warm climates is easier and requires less clothing. Clothing should be made of lightweight material, mix and match and be able to be worn in layers. One rule of thumb is that all tops should match each other and match all bottoms, drastically reducing the number of articles of clothing that are necessary.

If this sounds boring, add in a fun accessory. For women, scarves are not only light and versatile, but are also safer than wearing jewellery.  Leaving the jewellery at home saves space and weight too!

Clothing that can be worn for more than one occasion or purpose also lightens the load. Pack one good, simple piece that can be dressed up or down with a scarf, belt, or tie.

Since shoes can be a heavy article of clothing, having shoes that are multi-purpose reduces the number of pairs required. Also, pack the lightest shoes and wear the heavy ones during travel.

Packing the Shoulder Bag
Reducing the small items in your shoulder bag may not seem like much, but definitely contributes to the ease of travelling light. Books can be reduced by using an electronic reader such as a Kindle, an iPad, or even just by using the free Kindle reader app on your phone. You can also exchange books with your fellow travellers, rather than carrying multiple books yourself.

Medications can be counted out for the number of days of the trip plus a few extra, always remembering to have a copy of the prescription in case you need more medication in an emergency.  Keep medications in your shoulder bag, close to hand.

If you want to travel with a water bottle, a flexible, refillable one is lighter and more convenient than a hard bottle. Remember the bottle must be empty when you pass through security, but you can fill it from a water fountain after security.

Cameras and smartphones
Bulky cameras and attachments can now be left at home because smartphones can take good quality photos, particularly with special clip-on lenses. The new Google Pixel phone, and the Samsung Galaxy S7, have particularly good cameras.

Final Check
As a final check, either lay everything out together or pack it a day or two in advance. The day before the trip begins, remove two items!  Looking at the remaining items, ask yourself if you really need if and if you are sure you will use it or wear it.

You can use a luggage scale to confirm the weight – digital and analogue scales are available – or you can stand on a bathroom scale with and without your luggage to measure the weight difference.

Advantages to seeing Europe in winter

A winter holiday? It may not be the most traditional choice to go away when the nights draw in. However, there can be quite a few unexpected advantages for those who choose to go abroad from late November to early February.

Here’s how you can get the most out of a winter break.

Warmer climates
According to the Met Office, the United Kingdom has an average temperature of around 4C (40F) during winter. If you’re looking to escape the biting air and freezing rain, a holiday in the south of Europe could prove ideal.

The temperature in certain cities such as Seville and Athens will rarely go below 20C (68F) and 10C (50F) respectively during winter, due to the climate of countries such as Spain and Greece.

The warmer weather also means that key outdoor sites in the Mediterranean, such as the Parthenon and Real Alcazar, don’t close to the public.

Shorter queues, thinner crowds, and better availability
For almost all European countries, the winter months are seen as an off-peak time for tourism. Certain attractions, such as the city of Venice, have a (not undeserved) reputation for becoming ghost towns. This is often due to a drop in temperature and a rise in rain, but it can also be down to fashion – people don’t go, because people don’t go!

But this need not be a disadvantage. If you are planning to travel mainly to see the sights, take photographs, or visit heritage sites, the comparative lack of people in winter could prove to be a significant boon. As well as simply helping with getting around, the lack of summer crowds means that you may have a better chance to explore unhindered.

This doesn’t just apply to visiting open streets and plazas. You may have a more enjoyable time visiting larger museums, such as the Louvre in Paris. Heavy summer crowds are somewhat notorious for blocking views of the art, defeating the point of going there!

Queues to get into certain buildings and landmarks will also (typically) be much shorter. Additionally, metropolitan hotel rooms are often easier to find and book.

However, beware disappointment when trying to late book accommodation in popular seasonal locales such as Rovaniemi, Finland, which bills itself as being the “official” home of Santa Claus! Winter availability can go down as well as up.

It’s more affordable in winter
Winter travelling at off-peak times can often be a good way to get the absolute most out of your holiday budget. Rail fares, air fares, and nightly hotel rates can all prove substantially lower, as there are fewer travellers. Special winter discounts or deals are sometimes available for tourists.

Potentially, these lower prices could allow you to extend your break further or visit more places than you would in the summer. It could also allow you to get more value out of the present pound to euro exchange rates.

The time immediately around Christmas is generally an exception: travel costs tend to go up dramatically.

Winter-only attractions
Some countries also have natural and cultural attractions that can only be seen while travelling during midwinter, and we look at those in more detail further on in this newsletter.

In the darkest months, the northern lights can often be seen in Scotland, Norway, and Finland. For the adventurous, winter is also a great time to watch snowsport in the Alps and elsewhere. And of course, the Christmas markets in Austrian and German cities such as Cologne, Vienna, and Munich are world renowned.

Travel apps: weather and travel guides

Modern technology can give us a wealth of up-to-date information about our holiday destination. As Samuel Johnson said, when two English people meet, their first talk is of the weather, so let’s start there. 

WeatherPro covers weather for Europe

Having tried out a few weather apps, the best seems to be WeatherPro. It covers weather for the whole of Europe (and beyond), and gives forecasts for individual towns and cities, or sometimes even different places within the city. Of course, this means it will work at home as well as when you’re on holiday.

You get clear forecasts, broken down hour-by-hour, showing amounts of sun and rain forecast during the hour, which is very useful to plan when you want to do your outdoor activities like going to the beach, and when you want to be inside to avoid the rain.

You also get satellite and radar images, so you can see cloud and rain as they move across the skies, and see whether you think you’re going to avoid the showers!

Forecasts with WeatherPro are usually quite accurate for today and tomorrow, but science hasn’t yet really mastered making predictions beyond this, so no app will be particularly accurate once you get to three days out or more.

WeatherPro costs a few pounds for a yearly subscription, but in our experience it’s an app you will use every day, whether at home or on holiday.

See WeatherPro for iPhone or WeatherPro for Android

Travel guides on Kindle, written by locals

Traditional guidebooks still have their place, and at least the battery can’t run out with a book! But Amazon Kindle (and other similar eReaders) has opened up the world of travel writing to a much wider range of people. 

This means that locals who live in a town or city have started to write their own guidebooks, and sell them through Amazon quite cheaply. Often, you will see the publisher listed as “CreateSpace”, which is an Amazon-owned tool allowing people to publish their own books. This ability to sell their work means that the best writing is often on Amazon through these guides, rather than on free websites. 

The Kindle editions are often quite cheap, and you can keep them on the free Kindle app on your phone, to save them from bulking out your bag.

The self-published guides are often quite different to the Rough Guide, Lonely Planet, and Dorling Kindersley books. They tend to be shorter, and they often focus on some of the less touristy activities that you wouldn’t otherwise find out about. It’s also an interesting window into the culture of the locals, to see how they view the place they call home. 

Amazon tends to hide these guides that are written by locals, preferring to push the books by the big travel publishers, so you have to search around a bit. A search such as “Vienna by local” or “Paris by local” can get some good results though.

A few example guides written by locals: ViennaParisMilan.

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Travel tips: Preparing for an autumn trip to Europe

The autumn months are a good time to visit Europe: queues are shorter, cities are less crowded, and the scenery can be spectacular in its coat of gold and red foliage. Here are a few tips to prepare for travel in autumn:

Check opening times

Outside of larger cities, some tourist destinations either close or reduce their opening hours during the low season. 

Museums, parks, thermal baths and other attractions may not be open all day every day. The same is true for businesses: for instance, many shops and public services in Cyprus and the Greek islands reduce their opening hours from early to mid-October onwards, depending on how busy the resort is.

If you have a particular sight you can’t miss, make sure you check its low season opening hours when planning your trip. Monday seems to be a common day for attractions to be closed.

Take clothes with layers

Even on warm days, evenings can get a little chilly, so layered outfits are a good idea. A light cardigan or jumper doesn’t take up much room and will come in handy when night-time temperatures set in. Since the weather can vary a lot at this time of year, take a mix of lighter and heavier clothing, so you can be prepared.

Preparing for rain

To prepare for rain in advance, look on the internet before you travel, and plan a few activities and places you could go to if it’s raining. Then when you wake up and things look bleak, you won’t have to struggle to find something to do! This is a time of year when a guidebook can be handy. You can download a Kindle version onto your phone if you think you might need it when you’re out and about, or check travel apps like TripAdvisor.

Europe’s hot summer destinations stay mild throughout the autumn, but the weather can be a little unpredictable. For instance, Dubrovnik stays in the high teens and low twenties throughout much of the autumn, but rain showers are common, particularly in November. A light rain jacket or a travel umbrella will take care of any unexpected showers. 

Staying hydrated

Hike through Malta’s hilly countryside in July, and you’ll be very conscious of the bright sun. Walk the same terrain in October, and it won’t be as noticeable, but you’ll still be facing temperatures into the mid-twenties. In milder weather, we can sometimes forget that we still need to remain hydrated. Be sure to take a bottle of water with you when you go out.

Think about the sun

Even though the sun isn’t as strong, if you’re out in it for a long time you can still burn, so be sure to take some suncream with you, just in case.

With the sun being lower in the sky during autumn, you are still likely to need sunglasses, so don’t forget them.

Lower prices, smaller crowds and mild weather make autumn a great time to get away from the grey and visit Europe. With the right preparations, you’ll be enjoying the post-summer sun in no time.

Staying safe in the sun

Many of us a fully aware that our skin can suffer if it is exposed to excessive amounts of sunshine, something that we often go on holiday in order to find.

Applying sun cream and wearing a sun hat are obvious measures that we can all take when heading to sunnier destinations, but these are not the only things that you should do. The heat from the sun can have more debilitating effects than simply causing sunburn.

Here, we’ll take a look at some points you may not have considered. For more advice, see the NHS Sunscreen and Sun Safety page.

Sunscreen
For some, the only measure they take against the harmful UV rays that the sun throws out is to use a sunscreen, typically when they hit the beach. However, you should try to get into the habit of applying a sun cream before you head out, so that you can make sure your body is fully covered, particularly if you intend getting down to your swimsuit at some point.

Medical advice states that you should apply sunscreen half an hour before going out into the sun. The NHS recommends choosing a sun cream that is rated with at least SPF of 15 and at least four-star UVA rating (five-star cream is available too). Other creams might help, but not provide such strong protection. You should frequently reapply the protection, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Don’t forget that you can also get sunburn when it is cloudy!

If you don’t get on well with sun creams – perhaps you find them sticky or unpleasant – then you can now also get sprays that spray a liquid sunscreen. This can be more pleasant for some people than a cream, but sometimes the sprays are alcohol-based and can dry the skin a little.

Protect your eyes
As well as protecting your skin, it is important to make sure that your eyes are fully safe. Exposure to bright sunshine can lead to problems with your eyes such as cataracts. Therefore, invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Adequate ones will have a CE mark or a UV400 label on them. This way, you can be assured that they offer full UV protection. If you find that you are still squinting, then seek some shade or wear a brimmed hat to help offer your eyes more shelter.

Taking medicines? Take extra care in the sun!
Fair-skinned people, those with freckles or lots of moles, and children need to consider sun protection more than other groups.

However, some routinely taken medicines can also put you at risk. If you are taking a tetracycline, an oral hypoglycaemic drug or a diuretic, for example, take additional care or seek specific medical advice.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
To avoid these unpleasant and potentially serious conditions, drink plenty of water and avoid excessive activity in the heat of the midday sun.

For first aid if you suspect these conditions:

  • Lie down in a cool place
  • Remove any unnecessary clothing
  • Cool your skin with wet towels or wet sheets
  • Drink fluids, including water and a rehydration drink
  • Consider getting professional medical attention

It’s useful to take rehydration sachets on holiday: not only will they help if you get heat exhaustion or heatstroke, but if you get a dodgy tummy they can also be useful!

For more detailed advice, see the NHS advice on heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

Travel apps: currency conversion and language translation

Let’s start this month with an essential type of app when you’re travelling abroad: a currency converter.

One of the most popular is XE Currency, which is free, and available for iPhone and Android. It gets live exchange rates from the internet when it can, or it uses the last rate it was able to get if you’re offline.

XE Currency for iPhone
XE Currency for Android

Unfortunately, most currency apps give you the exchange rates that banks themselves use, rather than the actual rates you’ll get as a tourist, so after you’ve done the conversion it’s best to think of everything as actually a little bit more expensive than the app is showing you.

The XE Currency app isn’t the easiest app in the world to use when you first get it, but it’s straightforward once you’ve figured it out. (It tries to get you to sign up for an account, but you can click a No Thanks link at the bottom to get rid of that!)

You can then convert euros to pounds, pounds to euros, or whatever else you fancy.

The app can also show you a currency chart of the pound vs. the euro, so you can guess whether the exchange rate is about to get better or worse! (Let’s not kid ourselves here, it’s a guess!)

When you’re abroad, here’s a tip to avoid extortionate data roaming fees. Load up your currency converter app when you’re in your hotel on wi-fi, let it get the latest exchange rates, then set your phone to aeroplane mode and use those exchange rates while you’re out and about for the day.

If you’re on the iPhone and you want a slightly simpler and easier to use currency converter app, try Currency.

Google Translate – foreign language translation
Moving on to look at another essential app, you don’t want to be without Google Translate. It’s free for iPhone or Android, and covers all the European languages you are likely to encounter.

Google Translate for iPhone
Google Translate for Android

The most common and useful way to use the app is to type in a word or a short phrase in the foreign language and have it converted to English. This is useful for reading signs and menus.

If you click the speaker icon, the app will pronounce foreign words to you, which can be very useful. Although it uses a computer-generated voice rather than recordings of real people, it’s still quite an accurate guide.

You can even hover your camera over a word, and the app will read the foreign text and translate it to English. At least, in theory you can do that – in practice this doesn’t usually work very reliably! But give it time, and it will get better; when it does work it’s pretty impressive though.

Since you will probably need to use Google Translate in places where you don’t have internet signal, you can go to the settings in the app and download a language. So if you’re going to Germany you can download the German language when you’ve got wi-fi, and then the app will still work when your phone isn’t connected to the internet.

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TripAdvisor and travel guide apps

In the last issue of this newsletter we started a new series looking at travel gadgets and travel apps. Last time we looked at airline apps, and this month, Ian from our technical team takes a look at TripAdvisor and some of its lesser-known features, and sees if it can replace a traditional guide book.

Tripadvisor is one of the biggest apps out there, and you’ve probably used it, or at least heard of it. The basic premise is that people review places they’ve been to, including restaurants and hotels, both here in the UK and worldwide.

Here’s how to find TripAdvisor:
TripAdvisor Website
TripAdvisor app for iPhone
TripAdvisor app for Android

What’s wrong with review sites?
This approach of what’s known as “crowd-sourced” reviews has a few flaws. Firstly, someone else’s taste might not be the same as yours. They might prefer different things to you, or have a different opinion to you as to what constitutes high or low quality.

Secondly, there is the issue of fraudulent reviews. TripAdvisor acknowledges this phenomenon, attempts to take action to prevent it, and even publishes a Fraud Detection policy on its website.

Fraudulent reviews can include people reviewing their own restaurants and hotels (presumably favourably!), submitting artificially negative review of a competitor’s business, and incentivising customers to write overly-glowing reviews. There are even companies that try to boost an establishment up the TripAdvisor rankings for a fee!

How to avoid fraudulent reviews
The best thing you can do to avoid falling foul of this is to look for places that have lots of reviews. The more reviews a place has, the more likely most reviews are to be genuine, and the more likely that people with similar tastes to yours will have left a review.

From my own experience, if a place is ranked bad it usually is pretty bad, but if it’s ranked very good you’ve got a 50/50 chance of it being worth a visit. Having said this, some of my favourite restaurants are indeed ranked as Excellent by TripAdvisor reviews, so it almost feels like pot luck!

Careful of the location of places you visit!
Also, reviews don’t tend to focus on where the place is located, so you need to be careful. I once went to what TripAdvisor claimed was a great American barbecue restaurant in Las Vegas, which involved us walking down a very poorly lit, seedy back street, with no proper pavement, and ending up outside a neon-lit horror of a place! We pretty much fled for our lives!

I had another faux pax on a trip to Bath, where we ended up walking miles out of our way to a place that was apparently great, but was like some kind of crazy uncontrolled riot when we got through the doors! And the menu was rubbish too!

Fortunately, TripAdvisor gives you the website for many restaurants and hotels, and many places publish their menu on the web. So you can either research some places before you go on holiday, or use your phone or iPad with the wifi in your hotel or in a coffee shop to figure out where to eat next.

A great TripAdvisor feature: downloadable city guides
One of the lesser-known features of the TripAdvisor app is probably more useful than the reviews: you can download an entire city guide. This puts all the information directly onto your phone, so you don’t need to be connected to the internet in order to read it. This is great because quite often when you’re overseas you can’t use the data connection on your phone for fear of racking up a huge bill!

I usually just put my phone into flight mode when I’m away, unless I’m using the wifi. Bonus tip: don’t forget to turn off data roaming on your phone. This means that when you’re away from the UK, your phone will not use the internet unless you’re on a wifi network, so you won’t get charged for it (overseas data charges can be extortionate!).

If you’re not sure how to turn off data roaming for your phone, just search Google for “turn off data roaming on iPhone“, or “turn off data roaming on Android“.

We’ve just come back from a few days in Vienna, and the downloadable city guide proved to be very useful. Here’s why:

Your download includes a map, and your phone can show you where you are. You can then find a place you want to go to, read a review, then see where the place is on the map compared to where you are right now. The little blue dot that represents you will start to move as you walk, so you can check you’re heading in the right direction.

Does this replace a traditional guide book?
In my opinion, no, you still need a traditional guide book (or its modern digital equivalent). I personally find the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Travel books very good, with lots of illustrations (although they are printed on high-quality heavy paper, which makes them quite weighty to tuck in your bag).

A good guide book will give the historical context of the place you are visiting, and will give you a much better understanding of what you are looking at, which routes to take, how to use public transport, etc.

Of course, in this modern age, you can download many travel guides onto your phone or iPad too. Amazon Kindle is particularly good for this.

Alongside the standard publishers, such as Dorling Kindersley, Rough Guide, Time Out, and Lonely Planet, there is a rising trend of non-professional publishing on Kindle, where short travel guides are written by people who live in the city they are writing about. These are often surprisingly good, and often very cheap, costing only a pound or two. I like to read them before I go on holiday, or on the plane, so I don’t waste time when I arrive.

Something a lot of people don’t realise is that you can also download travel guides for a specific city directly from your phone’s app store. For example, bringing up the Apple app store on my iPhone and searching for “Vienna travel” brings up several guides, including audio and video, and detailed transport maps. Some of these are free to download too.

Foreign Office Travel Advice
With the recent security alerts and fears in some destinations, the UK government’sForeign Office travel advice has information for every country you’re ever likely to visit. It’s kept up to date, and it is always a useful guide to check before you travel.

For example, the page on Turkey contains sections on terrorism, safety and security, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health, natural disasters, and money.

Without wishing to sound too grim, if you are ever overseas and find yourself in an unstable situation, you should check the Foreign Office website first, and then check with your airline, who will also publish advice on what to do.

Airlines often have problems contacting passengers who are overseas on holiday, because the passengers’ mobile phones either don’t work, or they don’t have your correct number, and they may be laying on emergency flights for you to return home.

Don’t forget YouTube
I don’t want to end on a downbeat note, so let’s take a look at one last thing this month! A useful source of information for your trip can also be YouTube.

Just search for the place you’re visiting, or a landmark within that city that you want to visit, and you can often find lots of interesting videos. Some videos will be from other travellers, some from professional publishers, and others from official sources such as the tourist board or the owner of the attraction.

Videos can give you a good feeling for whether or not something will appeal to you, how crowded a place can be, and any particular things to see or avoid.

Hopefully that’s given you a few new ideas to get the best out of your next holiday. Oh, and if you’re going to Vienna, go to Figlmüller and order the Schnitzel!

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Brexit – getting good value on your holiday

Although the UK has voted to leave the European Union, the decision has not yet formally come into effect, and will not do so for at least a couple of years.

Nothing changes yet
The good news is that you will not face any immediate obstacles to your holiday arrangements. You will not need additional visas to enter EU countries this summer, and your current European-Union-issued passport remains valid.

Your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) remains valid, allowing access to emergency treatment and healthcare while travelling within EEA countries and Switzerland.

How this affects your holiday money
Bear in mind that the media always likes to dramatise a crisis. That’s how they get more readers and more viewers, by pumping out a story of constant crisis!

So let’s have a look what’s really going on here.

Currencies have been fluctuating in value, and this volatility is likely to remain until the end of the year, perhaps longer, although of course nobody can be certain.

On 23rd June, the day of the referendum, you could have bought 1.30 euros for your pound (you had to pay 77p to buy a euro).

At the time of writing (on 4th July 2016), you can currently buy around 1.19 euros for your pound (you now have to pay 84p to buy a euro).

So it’s become a bit more expensive to buy your euros. Having said that, buying euros is still better value now than it was back in 2013, which wasn’t exactly eons ago, so don’t be too disheartened – the sky most certainly hasn’t fallen in!

Should you buy euros now, or wait a while?
If anyone knew this for certain, they would be able to predict the money markets and would be the richest person in the world! (Maybe we should ask the richest person in the world and see what he thinks!)

So any advice or articles you see in the media about whether to buy currency now or later are complete guesswork! Unless you’ve got a crystal ball, there’s no right or wrong answer here.

The exchange rate seems to have stabilised now, but of course you can never be sure!

The easy way to find the exchange rate
To keep an eye on exchange rates, you can just do a google search for GBPEUR (this is just what the banks call the pound-euro exchange rate). A handy currency converter and exchange rate will then appear immediately within Google.

One note of caution though: Google will show you the rate that the banks use to trade with each other, it’s not the tourist rate, so you will have to pay a little more than this, but it’s a good guide.

You can also see a more detailed currency chart for the past few months if you wish.

Where to buy your currency 
Keep in mind that exchange rates can change quite quickly, so check for the best deal only at the point when you’re actually ready to buy.

The Post Office and supermarkets are still easily-accessible places to buy currency, and they still offer reasonable deals.

You might find a price comparison site such as Money Saving Expert or Money Supermarket useful.

Airline seats are cheap now!
Insiders in the airline industry will readily tell you that right now airline seats are cheap.

The airlines are struggling. The reason for this may surprise you: it’s because the cost of aviation fuel went down so much, as oil dropped from over $100 to around $35 per barrel (it’s gone up a bit since then). This meant that airlines decided to fly far more planes this year than they did last year, because it costs them less to fly.

This extra “capacity”, as they call it, means they’ve all got lots of planes to fill with happy travellers like us, and they’re having to sell tickets at bargain-basement prices. It’s almost turning into a price war – bad news for shareholders, good news for travellers.

It all balances out
There’s no need to panic. You might need to pay a bit more for your hotel in Europe, and your spending money might not go as far, but the cost of your flights will have gone down compared to last year, so probably overall you’re not much better or worse off.

Better-value places for a holiday
Some areas of the Eurozone still retain a significantly lower cost of living than the European average. This means your costly Euros will go just that little bit further.

The best value for money can be found in the east and the south of  mainland Europe: Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Croatia, and Portugal are all traditionally affordable, and each one offers more than their fair share of spectacular rural scenery, and metropolitan excitement, for your trip away this summer.

So have a good shop around online, and prepare to go somewhere a little bit unusual and off the beaten track, and you might just have your best holiday yet!

Tips for packing: Useful items to take with you

Experienced travellers know that the secret to a successful trip lies in the preparation.

Here are some ideas on essential items to take with you to save time and ensure that your holiday is spent in peace and relaxation.

Essential Documents and Medication
Your passport is obviously a crucial item, but every year a surprising number of people have their holiday plans disrupted by forgetting it, or failing to realise that it has expired. Check your passport expiry date when booking your trip, just to be sure!

It’s a good idea to take copies of important documents, and to take pictures of valuable items, with details and serial numbers written on the back so that if anything is lost or stolen, you can easily report its theft and claim on your travel insurance.

A hidden travel wallet or money wallet can be a sensible choice if you feel you might be at risk from theft.

Don’t forget to take any necessary medication, and be sure to stock up on your prescription medications in advance if necessary, although Europe has plenty of pharmacies and hospitals.

Useful over-the-counter medications to take are headache tablets, travel sickness tablets, indigestion tablets, plasters, antiseptic cream, insect bite cream, and also medication for upset stomachs, in case the food isn’t quite as good as you’d hoped for!

Electrical Accessories
Modern technology makes travelling so much easier than in the past. Take advantage of it and download useful apps onto your smartphone before you set off. There are train and flight schedule apps, hotel and restaurant apps to name but a few, so get the right ones for your destination.

The TripAdvisor app is very useful: it lets you download entire city guides, including maps and reviews of places to eat, so that you can view it without racking up expensive data charges on your phone.

Just before you get on the plane, turn data roaming off on your phone. This should stop your phone from using its data connection outside the UK (apart from when you’re connected to WiFi), which will keep your bills down.

Put your phone into flight mode when you’re not using it to make calls, to be double-sure it’s not still receiving emails or using data in other ways. Otherwise you could end up with a nasty surprise when your phone bill arrives!

Flight mode is also useful to save your battery, in case you won’t be able to charge the phone for a while.

A currency translator app is always useful when working out how much something costs in pounds. As a rough rule of thumb though, right now:

  • 10 euros is around £7.50
  • £10 is around 13 euros

A USB world travel adapter is vital if you are taking electrical items. It’s best to pack two adapters, to prevent arguments about who can charge their phone at any one time! An adapter for Europe isn’t the same as an adapter for the USA, even though both systems use two-pin plugs, so make sure you take the correct type!

Don’t forget chargers for mobile phones, cameras, and laptops. To prevent them from getting tangled in your bag, put each charger into a separate carrier bag.

If you don’t want to take too many chargers, an Amazon Kindle with an e-ink screen (as opposed to the type of screen you get on a mobile phone or a laptop computer) can last a very long time without being charged, so you can just charge it before you go away.

Travel in Comfort
Pack comfortable shoes for walking along cobbled and sometimes hilly streets, and pack for changeable weather. Researching the likely weather just before you set off can help guide you in what type of weather to pack for.

If you are going somewhere sunny, buy a good pair of sunglasses that will protect your eyes. (More information on sunglasses here.) You can also buy prescription swimming goggles.

It’s better to buy sunglasses before you travel, so that you can be confident in the level of protection offered, or you can arrange for prescription sunglasses if you prefer. Make sure you get a good sturdy case for them, so they don’t break in your bag. Don’t forget a good sun hat too, and suncream that is appropriate for your skin.

You might find a travel iron or a travel clothes steamer useful, especially if you are packing formal clothing such as a suit. These only cost around £20.

A laundry travel bag is useful for keeping used clothing separate, and especially handy for wet bathing costumes.

Make your journey and stay more comfortable with a two-in-one travel pillow. These convert from a horseshoe-shaped neck pillow to a more standard rectangular pillow.

It can be difficult to drift off in an unfamiliar room, but you can increase the chances of a good night’s sleep by taking good quality ear plugs and a sleeping mask.

So there you have it – hopefully a few new tips to help you pack for your next great adventure!