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!

Tips for driving in Europe

Taking your car abroad, by ferry or Eurotunnel, lets you travel long distances in comfort, and explore places you might not be able to reach otherwise. However, the idea of driving in Europe can be daunting, particularly if you haven’t done it before.

Before you go
If your car is due a service, get this out of the way before your holiday. Check the condition and pressure of the tyres, and make sure fluids are topped up.

If you have breakdown cover, check whether European travel is included. If not, you will need to take out a separate policy covering the period when you’ll be away. You should also inform your insurer that you will be taking your car abroad.

Some countries require you to carry certain items, so be sure to check the specific requirements for each of the countries you will be passing through on the way to your final destination. In Spain, for example, motorists must carry a warning triangle, hi viz jacket, and spare wheel. If you need glasses to drive, you should take a spare pair.

You will also need to take your driving licence, insurance certificate, V5, and MOT certificate if applicable.

Invest in a European road atlas. If you have a sat nav, there may be a European map pack already installed or available for download.

Be aware that in France, it is illegal to carry a device that can warn you of speed cameras, so turn this feature off if your sat nav has it.

On the road
It’s easy to forget to drive on the right when you leave a motorway or set off after a break. A sticky note on the dash will remind you. Roundabouts can be confusing, so follow the arrows.

Be aware that while you are driving abroad in a UK right-hand drive car, you will be further from the centre of the road than normal, making it more difficult to see ahead.

Motorways are a fast way to cover long distances, but you may incur tolls for using them. Toll booths are usually automated. When approaching a toll, make sure you select a lane marked as taking cash or card payments, rather than a payment tag.

In some countries, including Switzerland and Slovenia, you will need to buy and display a motorway pass. Alternatively, choose a non-motorway route and enjoy the sights along the way.

With some advance preparation, you can enjoy a safe and worry free driving tour filled with memorable stops and spectacular scenery.

Useful links

UK Government advice on driving abroad 

AA European Driving Advice

RAC Driving Abroad 

Compulsory Equipment when driving abroad

Enjoying the Best of Europe’s Feast Days and Fiestas

Each European country has its own unique cultural heritage, and nowhere is this more apparent than in each country’s feast days, fiestas, and festivals. To really get a feel for the local culture – and soak up the sights while you’re there – you can time your holidays to coincide with one of these marvels.

Semana Santa and Feria
If you have not yet experienced the heady joys of Semana Santa or Holy Week in Spain, then you have a real treat ahead.

All Spanish cities celebrate this traditional Catholic event with parades and pageantry, but none does it better than Seville, where medieval church confraternities take their plaster saints from inside the churches and parade them through the city’s winding streets for hours in a show of penitence and emotion.

It’s a strangely affecting experience, but if you prefer fiestas of the more secular variety, then Seville’s Feria de Abril, or April Fair, sees the streets filled with stalls of delicious foods; the local tipple Jerez flows freely, and the sevillanos take part in flamenco dancing.

The Budapest Spring Music Festival
This prestigious cultural festival takes place in the appropriately harmonious surroundings of this elegant capital city, and public buildings are commandeered for the length of it. With folk dancing, opera, church concerts, ballet, theatre, and all manner of exhibitions, this festival is a real must for culture vultures.

Scandi-style Celebrations in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark
Did you know that 17th May is Norway’s Constitution Day? On this day every year, Norwegians celebrate independence from Denmark with colourful children’s parades. In Oslo, the Royal Family comes out to wave at the cheering populace, everyone eats ice-cream, and the atmosphere is generally joyous.

In June, Swedes and Danes celebrate the shortest night of the year with singalongs, bonfires on the water, and picnics in the open air, while young women wear crowns of flowers.

When Irish eyes are smiling
If you have the stomach for it, Dublin’s St Patrick’s Day parades and four-day parties are the best in the world. If you prefer something a little more literary, then Bloomsday on 16th June pays homage to Ireland’s arguably greatest writer, James Joyce, where the people relive the events of his novel Ulysses (set on 16 June 1904).

Ireland also celebrates in cultural style with the annual Dublin Dance Festival and Drogheda Arts Festival, both in the Spring or early summer, when temperatures improve.

Travel Tips for Single Travellers

Travelling solo can be an exhilarating experience: you can immerse yourself in new surroundings and different experiences without needing to worry about the different tastes and requirements of companions. It is the perfect opportunity for self-indulgence.

Of course, you may have some concerns, but with a little forward planning, you can save money and enjoy a memorable holiday. Here are a few tips for novice single travellers:

Keeping Safe
When travelling alone, you don’t have anyone to watch your back, so taking a few common-sense precautions will help you to stay safe:

  • If driving alone, make sure that your hotel will still be open if arriving late at night.
  • Keep to public, open spaces, especially at night. Follow your gut instinct and if something feels wrong to you, remove yourself from the situation.
  • Try to blend in with the locals: don’t pore over guidebooks too obviously and don’t wear flashy jewellery or touristy T-shirts.
  • Leave a copy of your itinerary with friends at home and keep in touch regularly by phone or email.
  • Be aware of the new friends you are making. Con artists may present themselves as charming companions but keep your guard up, as they often target single travellers.

Worried about being lonely? Try an activity holiday!
Activity-based holidays are a great option for solo travellers. You could learn to surf, explore a different cuisine, or try a painting course, without worrying whether your companion is getting bored; many residential courses do not charge a supplement for single guests.

Being in a group of like-minded people means you will always have someone to chat to and you will probably find you are not the only solo traveller in the group. Just do a search online to find specialist activity holiday companies that fit your hobbies and interests: you’ll be surprised at what you find!

How to avoid the single occupancy charge

According to Which?, the supplements that holiday companies and cruise lines impose on single travellers can range from 25% to 100% of the cost for those travelling as a couple, so travelling solo can prove expensive.

If you are on a tight budget and don’t mind sharing, ask your tour operator if it is possible to share a twin room to avoid extra charges. Are you flexible on dates? Try or for last-minute bookings, when tour operators may be more willing to waive single supplements.

Cruising can be an attractive choice for a solo holiday. Several cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean and P&O, offer single cabins that do not attract a supplement. Book early as they usually get snapped up!

Net Savings: How to really find better holiday deals on the web

Booking travel online can unlock big savings and great deals. The trick is knowing where – and how – to find the bargains. Here is some practical advice for doing precisely that.

Break old habits: stay flexible
Staying flexible is the first rule of saving on travel costs. If you are retired or semi-retired, then you’re probably already used to off-season travel and avoiding those peak times. But staying flexible is an approach you should apply to other factors in your booking, too – starting with your initial web searches.

Some websites are built with subtle mechanisms that adjust the prices of offers for individual users. If you are the sort of person who only ever searches for “weekend city breaks” for example, you may find you are only shown the top prices for these searches in future. Vary your search terms every time you browse, and you’re less likely to get caught in this trap.

Despite what common wisdom may claim, there are no set-in-stone rules for when the best time to book online may or may not be. While it is true that you often save by booking early, you are just as likely to find that some of the best deals are only released at the last minute: when a travel agent, hotel or airline is keen to ensure they are fully booked during an otherwise lean period.

It is a complete myth that it is cheaper to book mid-week, or late at night: if it were, then everybody would do it, and the prices would go up!

Exclusive deals are often on social media and email
Social media is not just for staying in contact with friends and family; it is the new frontier for marketing and e-commerce. All businesses – travel and leisure companies included – focus a great deal of attention on winning social media support.

To encourage people to follow them, travel companies make some discounts and offers only available to their followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter. So get involved and you might find a bargain!

After many years of sorting through spam emails, most of us are reluctant to sign ourselves up to any kind of bulk advertising mailing list. But this is a big mistake when it comes to travel, because booking companies regularly send out emails with genuine offers and exclusive discount codes. Some of these offers cannot even be found through the main website.

So although it goes against every instinct you might have about mailing lists, you really should be signing up for those travel newsletters. If you are particularly concerned about not filling up your inbox, you could always create a separate email account just for newsletters, on a site like Yahoo Mail, Gmail, or Hotmail.

The bottom line for cheaper travel on the web is to stay constantly informed. Start thinking of the deals you see on booking sites as being like a constantly revolving conveyor belt: if you keep watching long enough, the same items may just come back around at a lower price. And, if your travel plans can stay flexible, you are sure to find something that appeals.

Money Saving Tips For Travelling in Europe

The relatively strong pound is good news for us
With a relatively strong pound at the moment, holidaymakers from the UK can find some exceptionally good deals when travelling to destinations in the Eurozone. In addition, the cost of buying some other European currencies has fallen in recent years, such as the Lev in Bulgaria and the Kuna in Croatia.

Therefore, British travellers do not necessarily need to stick to southern European destinations that use the Euro, like Greece, Italy and Spain, to take advantage of the pound’s buying power.

When booking your accommodation, it is often – although not always – preferable to go to the hotel or holiday letting agency directly and to pay in the local currency.

Travelling Locally
For many sorts of resort-based holidays, local travel often just boils down to arranging transfers to and from the airport. This is seldom the case with city breaks, however, where getting about each day can be a considerable expense. In most European metropolitan areas, public transport remains the best way of getting about. Not only does it allow you to really experience a city as the locals do, but it is often the most cost-effective way of travelling.

Opt for block tickets which allow you to roam over the course of your stay, because this is commonly cheaper than buying tickets individually. Systems similar to the famous ‘carnet’ of ten tickets that can be bought on the Paris Metro now exist all over Europe. For example, in Rome you can buy passes which allow for one, three or seven day travel, as preferred. In Lisbon, choose a Lisboa card which offers access to the Metro, buses and trams.

Most cities require travellers to self-validate their tickets, so remember to do this to avoid unwanted fines.

Uber – an alternative to taxis
As a cheaper alternative to taxis, many travellers now use Uber, which is a very popular service. Uber is an app for your mobile phone, which knows your current location and can usually get a car to you within a few minutes (it even tells you how long it will be, and you can see your car arriving on a map).

When you install the app onto your phone you link it to your credit card, and then payment is all automatic, so there’s no fumbling around with strange foreign currency to pay the driver. It’s actually very simple to set up and to use, and you can often get good discount codes for your first trip – just do a Google search for Uber discount codes.

(Note that Uber drivers are not subject to the same city licencing codes as conventional taxis, which some people believe has implications for your safety.)

Find Some Free Things to Do
Look for museums and exhibitions which don’t have an entrance fee. Often, even those which charge will allow free access on certain occasions, such as the Louvre in Paris, where it costs nothing to enter on the first Sunday of each month from October to March.

Be a culture vulture: fit an opera into your next European holiday

Prague, Vienna, Venice, Rome: cities we all long to tick off our bucket list. These, and many other destinations in Europe, offer wonderful places to visit during the day. But are we possibly missing a trick by not enjoying the world-class entertainment that lies behind their doors in the evening?

There is possibly no better way to soak up the history of your holiday location than to spend a night at the opera. Many composers – Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Wagner – saw their works premiered in Europe’s most beautiful theatres, several of which have changed little since their 18th and 19th century heydays. Watching and listening to the masterworks of these great musicians in the houses where they were first performed is a spellbinding experience that nobody should miss.

A quick guide to some famous names
The Czech Republic’s Národní divadlo; the Wiener Staatsoper in Austria; Italy’s Gran Teatro La Fenice and Teatro Costanzi; all venues that have borne witness to some of the most historic moments in opera: the first outing of Don Giovanni, the libertine that made Prague adopt Mozart as one of their own in 1787; the astonishment felt by audiences as they discovered that Verdi had made a courtesan his heroine in La Traviata in 1853; and Puccini’s ultra-realistic tale of love and murder, Tosca, attended by Italy’s prime minister, Luigi Pelloux, and Princess Margherita of Savoy, in 1900.

Don’t speak Italian or German? Not a problem!
Always check with the venue, but typically you won’t need to rely on your imagination to understand what’s happening on stage. Europe’s major theatres are equipped with technology that provides surtitles in English (often as text shown on a screen alongside the stage), allowing you to follow every twist and turn of the drama.

The programmes published by the theatres provide lavish introductions to the works, their librettos (the script), and the circumstances of their composition, ensuring that you will come away from a performance not just with the music ringing in your ears, but with a deep knowledge and appreciation of how each opera came into being.

Coming up this winter
Some of the greatest works ever created for the theatre will be live on stage this season: in December, Aida, Verdi’s epic tale of love amidst war between the ancient Egyptian and Ethiopian kingdoms, comes to the State Opera in Prague, while in January, Rossini’s glorious slapstick comedy, The Barber of Seville, will tread the boards at the Vienna State Opera.

For the full picture, all you have to do is type the names of the theatres into your web browser search and you will be just one click away from an experience you will never forget!

Tips: The planning that can make your holiday truly memorable

As overseas holidays become more commonplace, it’s easy to ignore the detailed planning that can make your trip truly memorable. Here’s a few things to consider when planning your next trip:

Holidays are a journey, not just a destination
You can start your journey in style by thinking about your choice of transport. The fastest, cheapest and most direct route is not always the most enjoyable. A flight from London to Brussels may take a fraction over an hour, but why fly when the Eurostar provides such a relaxing experience? You save time by avoiding airport check-ins, and you have more scenery to enjoy along the way.

Similarly, a holiday in the south of France can begin with an entire mini-adventure before you even arrive if you opt for a ferry ride and a laid back drive through the French landscape instead of a direct flight.

Choosing the best airport to fly into
Low cost carriers, especially Ryanair, keep their costs down by flying to what are known as “secondary airports”. These can often be a long way outside the city they claim to serve, meaning you will need to take a coach, a train, or hire a car in order to get to your destination.

By contrast, easyJet tends to fly to more “primary airports”, which are usually much closer to the city they claim to be in, meaning that although you might pay more to fly to that airport, you will almost certainly then pay less to get from the airport to your accommodation.

Of course, sometimes a secondary airport will be closer to your hotel, so take a quick look on Google Maps and find exactly where you are staying, and then see which airport is closest for you.

Plan for events, they can make or break your trip
Keep in mind that no place stands still all year round. Many of Europe’s most popular destinations offer all kinds of festivals, carnivals and special events. Consider how these might affect your own, personal plans, from increased costs, to unexpected crowds.

Equally, it is worth investigating the local monuments, historical sites, and museums before you venture off. Whether you have chosen a city break or a rural retreat, most people like to take in one or more of the famous attractions when they are visiting a new country. Just as in the UK, the admission fees for these locations can vary from place to place, or at different times of the year.

Over 60s should also look for places offering free entry to their age group – because even on holiday the discount factor can sometimes be all it takes to choose between one destination and another!

“Cheap” deals aren’t always the cheapest
When you book flights, remember that a lower up-front fee can often equate to much higher total costs, should you require any additional services. Budget airlines make their money on the “extras” – from food and seat selection to baggage allowances or accommodating any special health and dietary requirements.

If you think you may have to ask for extra services during your journey, maybe consider paying a little bit more to begin with, to avoid the hidden charges later on.

Price comparison sites can be misleading in this regard so don’t just choose the “cheapest” price, dig a bit deeper and consider national carriers such as British Airways, or Air France KLM, as well as the low cost carriers such as easyJet.

The best way to get the overall price, including all extras, taxes, etc, is to do a booking on each provider’s website and go all the way through until the last point where it asks you to pay. Then you will see the final, total price. When you’ve added everything up, you might get a surprise as to who is actually cheapest for you!

Stay Safe: check the government advice web site
Above all, stay safe. Research the local culture and how social and personal opinions may be different from one country to the next.

Within Europe these considerations can be as mundane as dress codes in public places such as bars and restaurants, or as important as your legal rights and medical entitlements.

There are also local customs as to how one is expected to behave. A good guide book will fill you in on the details, so it’s worth spending a few pounds to make sure you don’t get yourself into trouble!

The UK Government maintains a Foreign Travel Advice page which covers 225 countries, giving you details on safety and security, any terrorism advisories, local laws and customs, natural disasters, money, etc. Their advice changes from time to time as the political landscape changes, so it’s worth checking it just before you travel.

Keep in mind that health care is provided and funded differently in most European countries. Stay protected with EHICPlus traveller’s insurance and always keep your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you as you go.

Keep these tips in mind, and you are sure to have a fantastic time!

Travel tips to make your holiday a gastronomic delight!

Eating out, when you are away from home, can be something of a double-edged sword. Stay on the tourist trail and you may only find high prices and food that it is a pale imitation of authentic fare. But equally, if you leave things to chance, will you be fortunate enough to discover that one gem in a hidden backstreet?

Here are a few tricks of the trade that will improve your chances of eating out as well as the locals.

Do not fall back on your hotel every day for breakfast
If you have planned a busy day, the hotel breakfast might be the best way to get off to a quick start. But make sure that you leave plenty of time during your stay for breakfast in a nearby café. If it is bustling with orders from those heading out for a day’s work at the office, the food on offer has to be genuine, sincere and designed to satisfy the healthiest appetite.

Have a packed lunch and do your research
Plan a day, early on, when you will not eat out at all. This is your day for research! Wander into town and the likelihood is that you will find a restaurant on every corner. Have a peek inside. Take a look at the menu. Is it still doing a rip-roaring trade after the lunch service has ended? By the end of the afternoon, you will have found half a dozen places you cannot wait to eat in.

Search for the market and you will find the restaurant
We marvel at the range of produce found in many European cities, and much of it is destined for the tables of nearby restaurants. Find out which day is market day in your holiday destination or, if you are fortunate enough, hunt down the town’s food hall or market. The chances are that you will be able to eat there too and enjoy the freshest meat, fish and vegetables cooked to simple local recipes.

A few dishes are better than many
A restaurant that caters for every taste may have a menu that will take longer to digest than the meal itself. If a restaurant only offers a few choices, or even just one signature dish, you can be certain that each has been cooked with a lot of love and experience. They are also likely to taste better than the same food prepared in places that at first sight might be considered far more upmarket. For example, Figlmüller in Vienna is a restaurant that built its well-deserved reputation on serving a giant schnitzel!

No one restaurant can be to everyone’s taste, but following these four simple tips should guarantee that you do not go hungry on your next trip abroad.

Travel Tips: How to Travel Like A Local

For a new generation of travellers and holidaymakers, spending two weeks on a sun lounger without meeting a single person outside of the hotel just isn’t going to cut it. While some real relaxation time is definitely on the agenda for most of us when we go away, we also want to experience a little of the culture, see a few important sights, and mingle with the locals. Some top tips for holidaymakers seeking an authentic experience in Europe are given below.

Order A Local Coffee
Simple, and yet taking coffee with the locals gives a real insight into a country’s psyche. In Italy, stand at the bar with the people on their way to work and order a cappuccino or latte (but never after 11am – for Italians, milky coffee is a breakfast drink). It’s cheaper to stand or perch at the bar than to take a table, and a small coffee with a pastry is likely to only set you back around £1.50 in a local place. In Spain, order a cortado (one part espresso to one part milk). In Vienna, the local favourite coffee is a Melange, similar to a cappuccino.

Take A Cookery Class
The food that’s predominant in a culture says a lot about that culture, and the teacher will usually be a native, too. Cookery classes are a fun and inexpensive way of getting in touch with your host country, and you’ll have a new skill to share with your friends when you get home, too.

Go Beyond the Big Name Sights
It’s natural to head for the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Guinness Storehouse if you’re in Dublin. And you should see these things. When you’ve taken your photos though, have a wander through the backstreets, or, even better, see if you can get tips from a local for finding a really authentic local pub, restaurant, or other local highlight. There are also tonnes of “expat” blogs online too, and with articles on things such as “the Hidden Florence”, with a little research you’ll get beyond the tourist traps in no time.

Order Food Like A Local
In Italy, adding cheese to a pasta dish with fish is considered a no no. In Turkey, a dish called menemen is eaten as a weekend brunch food (it consists of vegetables, baked eggs, and cooked tomatoes). Turkish salep is also not to be missed: it’s a hot drink made of orchids which just isn’t available outside of the country as the orchids are not exported. In Berlin, make sure to order Berliner Weisse beer: you can either have it plain, or flavour it with a green or red syrup (the green one is herby and the red one fruity).

So, find out what the typical local treats are and enjoy!