As promised this post is the next installment of my travel tips for you. As you'll have learned from my last post I love to research, and if I was to only give one tip, it would be, "know before you go".
We have plenty of options in the 21st century and for some people this is precisely the problem. Where do you start? There seems to be a myth circulating that if you shop around online you can get the cheapest deal but this isn't always the case. Travel agents or tour operators buy their room and flight allocations in bulk and sometimes it is more a case of when you book rather than who you book with that can make the most difference. Book early with a tour operator and you can take advantage of early bird discounts that promote a lot of sales early on in the season. Book late and if the season has been slow you may find the agents are trying to sell off their allocations and you also get a good deal. However if you book at a peak time when demand is steady then you may end up spending more than the person in the room next door.
On the whole I don't have a preference between booking in person in a dedicated travel shop and booking a trip myself. The benefit of using a tour operator is that if you choose a good one you may get the opportunity to speak to a good advisor who has actually been to your destination and maybe even the accommodation you are researching. First hand accounts can be really helpful, but more on this later. The other benefit of booking with a tour operator is the protection of ATOL. I won't go into the nitty gritty of this organisation but most, if not all of the UK's tour operators are required to hold an ATOL License to sell air travel. The purpose of this organisation is to provide refunds to travellers who find themselves affected by an event that results in the airline being unable provide travel to passengers. Sometimes they are called upon to arrange flights home and also accommodation to those who may otherwise be stranded abroad if a company goes out of business for example. If you buy a package from an ATOL licenced agent then you will be protected. Find out more about ATOL and the CAA here
It is a large generalisation but most of us now have smart phones or tablets that allow us to easily access information on the go. I am a bit of an app hoarder (if you follow me on Twitter you may have seen my frustration at backing up my full iPhone last week)and I love looking for travel apps.
Like most women I have a tendency to pack twice as many clothes as I need. They say that you should pack what you want, then only take half...I find packing the most stressful bit of the pre-holiday build up if I'm honest. Luckily I love lists and the Packing app allows you to add "bags" and items you want or need to take and check them off as you have packed them. Ok, so I am making it sound a little nerdy but it's actually very helpful as you can save different "bags" for different trips and use it for reference next time you go away to save the packing angst. It also has a handy calculator to tell you what you should pack based on how long you are away for. I use it as a bit of a reality check!
This website allows you to check the layout of aircrafts to suss out the best seat position. If you're not a plane spotter and don't happen to know the model of aircraft you'll be flying in (trust me, some people do!)you can search by airline or flight number to find the cabin type. Again, this may seem a little excessive to some but have you ever been on one of those nightmare flights, stuck at the back in the corner with no window? If you check with Seat Guru before you complete online check in you can guarantee a decent seat and ensure a more comfortable journey.
Most airlines now have their own apps which allow you to check in, store boarding passes and check live arrivals and departures data. These apps can be useful with eliminating the amount of paper you have to carry with you and mean that you can check you flight data at a moments notice. Here's EastJet's as an example.
Other websites and resources
This particluar resource has people divided. I think it's a great website to use, if you take what you read at face value. I use it as another reality check, to compare brochure lingo with real visitors experiences. The brochure may say, " panoramic ocean views", when in reality the hotel is located on a cliff top and its a 15 minute hike to the beach. Not so bad on the way down but not so fun at the end of the day. Sadly a lot of people use it as a way to vent when things go wrong, and they hope that by posting a scathing review it may well force the hotel or tour operator into action at best and at worst show the place up and potentially lose them custom as a, "serves you right". It's worth reading these reviews though, as if the reviewer is complaining about seemingly petty gripes that resonate with you, then maybe it isn't the hotel for you... I also use the forums to ask questions and got some great help before a med cruise I took last year and found a dune safari company for my trip to Dubai and discovered Prague on Segway. My top tip with TA is to read every review with a pinch of salt, take into account where the reviewer is from as standards differ all over the world, and ask questions to local experts to find out what you really want to know.
This weather website is a staple of mine all year round and not just for when I go abroad. It provides detailed statistics, 7 day forecasts and even logs historic data. Definitely well worth a look if the weather will affect your enjoyment or your plans whilst you are away.
Xe.com currency exchange
XE.com offers currency conversion tools and a handy calculator for all the world currencies. On the main website page is a conversion table for at a glance comparisons. I use it to compare the rates against the high street retailers where you can exchange currency and believe it or not I find Marks & Spencer to offer the best rates most often. Exchanging your money back after your trip can be a bit of a sting in the tail, so do your research, look at how much activities, food and transport are likely to cost you and use XE to work out how much cash you need to take. Its always better to give yourself a bit of a buffer but most shops worldwide will accept recognised credit cards and often these get you the best rate of exchange.
I hope you have found these little pointers useful, what are your top pre-trip tips? Do you have a favourite travel website or app?