Before you travel
- check the Foreign Office travel advice pages for a summary of what’s happening in the country you are visiting. Sign up for email alerts and you’ll get the latest updates for that country. The following site will give you advice on individual countries (https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- follow @FCOtravel on Twitter to get the latest travel updates and advice
- find out where the nearest embassy is and check their website to find out what services they offer and their opening times
- make sure you know the number to contact the emergency services. You can call 112 to contact the emergency services in any EU country
- research the health risk on the NHS travel health information page as soon as possible before travelling, and if necessary visit your GP or a travel clinic for any required vaccinations/ medications
- if you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you take enough medical supplies for the duration of your visit and any unexpected delays. Medical supplies may be subject to supply constraints in some countries and in remote areas. Pack medicines in different bags so if one is lost, you still have a supply of medicines in the other. Carry your prescription in case you have to show this to a medical professional
- make sure you’ve got correct visas for the country you are visiting and that your passport is valid Remember to check your passport's expiry date before you book. Some countries demand your passport's valid for at least six months
- make a note of your passport, fronts and backs of your credit, debit and prepaid ATM cards, traveller’s cheques, insurance policy numbers, flight numbers and other crucial information. Leave copies of them at home or travel with secure digital copies. If any document gets stolen, you can retrieve the information and give this to the local embassy
- make sure you fill in the emergency contact details in your passport
- tell family and friends where you are going and leave them your contact details, insurance policy details and your itinerary and/or store them online using a secure data storage site If you are travelling alone and for a lengthy period, whenever you move to a different locality or register in a new hotel, message your contact at home so they can monitor your progress and note any prolonged periods of non contact
- make sure you have enough money to cover emergencies and any unexpected delays. Consider taking more than one means of payment with you (Cash, debit card, credit card, travellers cheques)
- find out if travellers cheques are appropriate for your destination and keep a separate record of their numbers
- invest in a good travel guide to help you plan your trip . Be aware and sensitive of any local customs
- if you’re going to be driving abroad, make sure your licence is current and valid and be aware of the driving laws in the country you are visiting
- check the HM Revenue & Customs Travel website for information on duty-free allowances, banned goods etc.
Planning your trip
- If you’re planning a DIY holiday don’t search the first knock-down flight site you find. If you don’t know when and where you want to go via scheduled airlines (Eg, BA, KLM), maybe try Skyscanner for ease and TravelSupermarket for breadth
- If you're off to a traditional package holiday destination, charter flights may have spare capacity on tour operators' bespoke planes so try TravelSupermarket Avro and FlightsDirect
- If you like flying with a specific airline or know the exact flight you want, 'codesharing' could be a way to get a flight with that airline, via another one. It's when airlines buddy up to sell seats on each others' flights, sometimes at a different price. This works best on popular medium or long-haul routes - simply book via a partner airline to grab a seat on the same plane for less (e.g. an American Airlines return flight from Heathrow to New York's JFK airport for the beginning of October may cost around £438)
- if you book directly with American Airlines, Book that same flight for £403 if you book via Finnair Best seats can be secured via specialist sites like Seatguru or Skytrax. You can check the plane's seating plan and see whether 18E beats 19C. If it's a budget flight with unassigned seats, just turn up early and lurk by the boarding entrance!
- The internet's great for flights or DIY city breaks but if you're going away specifically for 7, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, then try a good old-fashioned package holiday. The tour operator will provide flights, connections and accommodation for one price. They're best suited for standard breaks of standard length. So if it's a traditional holiday destination like Florida or Crete, it's worth checking to see if you can get a package for less than the DIY route. Tour operators make holidays while travel agents sell them. Therefore, many big tour operators’ holidays are sold by multiple agents
- If you’re booking one, once you’ve found a specific deal, try calling up different agents to see if they can beat the price. Package holidays also usually have added ATOL and ABTA consumer protection, though always check when you book to be sure
- Massive savings are possible in the late market. Of course there's restricted choice and you may need to be flexible on locations, flight times and able to travel at very short notice the weight allowance for budget airlines can be lower than elsewhere, at roughly 15kg to 20kg. Yet there are nifty ways to get round this. Most airlines will give you a free 10kg hand luggage allowance (Except Thomson, which only gives you 5kg). It's amazing what you can fit in - use your home scales to help! To minimise weight, wear your heaviest clothes and shoes. If you're near the weight limit, put heavy gear in your pockets, then stow your jacket under your seat on the plane. Check the airline websites for restricted items.
The secret hotel section at Lastminute.com has bargains on four- and five-star hotels worldwide, because you only know the description and star rating before you pay. This means rock-bottom prices for classy establishments. Remember the star rating system isn't standardised worldwide though. It’s usually just an indicator of facilities, rather than quality. A 5* may not live up to its hype - it just means it has extra facilities, so don't just rely on this. The star system differs within countries, never mind worldwide so once you decide on a hotel use TripAdvisor to find feedback on the establishment.
If you do like the look of an unknown hotel on Lastminute.com try cutting and pasting key phrases into Google to discover which hotel it is. Once you know the hotel’s identity, check reviews on TripAdvisor to see if it’s really a bargain compared to what you can get on the top comparison sites.
Get travel insurance as soon as you book. If not, you won't be covered for cancellation or changes. If you go away two or more times a year, annual policies are usually cheaper. Don’t travel without insurance – make sure it covers you for any activities you are likely to undertake including extreme or water sports. If you travel at least twice (Including weekend breaks) in a year, an annual policy usually wins (e.g. HolidaySafe(Lite) Cover is £13-£19 in Europe (£23-£28 world)).
Make sure you buy and pack all your accessories in advance of travel. Leave it to pick up travel accessories such as adapter plugs, eye masks and travel cushions at the airport and you risk paying the inflated prices reserved for last minute shoppers. Many travelers buy new bottles of sun lotion every time they jet off, yet opened bottles can still be effective for up to two years. The British Skin Foundation says: "The main thing to keep an eye on is the Period After Opening (PAO) number on the back of the bottle”. This normally looks like a jar with an open lid with a number next to it (e.g.12 or 24). This is the number of months you ought to keep and use the product for before throwing it away once opened. Budget airlines make extra cash by selling snacks to hungry flyers at sky-high prices, so a splurge on airline snacks could easily undo the savings you made on your ticket.
Plan ahead and bring your own snacks. The same rule applies for converting currency. You're a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal, so you'll probably be lumbered with the worst rates. If you’re going to carry local currency, make sure you exchange before you travel. Your debit card can often be the cheapest and easiest way to pay for things when you’re on holiday, and using it lets you spend your money the same way as you do at home. It also allows you to withdraw money from ATMs abroad as you go, so you don’t have to worry about buying the right amount of foreign currency beforehand or carrying large amounts of cash while travelling.
If your bank is a member of the Global Alliance you’ll be able to use your debit card in partner banks’ ATMs worldwide, with no transaction charges (Other charges will apply) so it’s worth checking before you go. Withdrawing cash from a debit card at a foreign ATM will attract a small fee, but the exchange rate you’ll get is based on the wholesale rate– usually much better than what you’ll get at a currency exchange while on holiday. Find out from your bank what the daily withdrawal limit is so you don’t leave yourself low on funds. If your card is linked to the major global payment schemes such as Visa or MasterCard, you’ll be able to withdraw cash in hundreds of countries worldwide at more than a million ATMs. Most ATMs in non-English speaking countries have an English-language option.
While you are away
Don’t get carried away and let your common sense take a vacation too. Remember:
- think about what you are doing at all times and trust your instincts. Don’t take risks that you wouldn’t take at home
- don’t get so fully engrossed in the sights that you forget to look around now and then so you can be aware of any suspicious looking people intent on theft and other crimes. If you are the victim of a crime, report it immediately to the police and ask for a copy of your statement. You’ll need to provide this to your travel insurance company with your claim
- don’t openly display valuables such as money, mobile phones or digital cameras and consider using a money belt or padlock on suitcases, backpacks and hostel lockers. Try not to carry expensive gadgets at all - leave your fancy headphones and music system at home.
- Make use of hotel room safes if available, and hide a small amount of emergency cash in an unusual place that may not be detected by a thief. Secure you room at night with a simple door wedge
- find out about local customs and ensure you dress and behave accordingly. Obey local laws as there may be serious penalties for breaking a law that might seem trivial at home . Find out what could be termed offensive behaviour at your destination, to avoid provoking people by accident
- Find out which areas of your destination are considered safe and which are considered “shady” by the locals so you can avoid these
- be careful when taking photographs, videos or using binoculars. Such activities may be misunderstood, especially near military installations
- consider taking your mobile with you or buy a cheap one while you’re away. Store useful numbers such as the local police and the nearest embassy or consulate. Add an ICE (In Case of Emergency) number to your contacts. Check with your service provider to make sure your phone works abroad and what the charges there will The last souvenir you want to bring home with you is a massive phone bill
- respect the environment – don’t buy wildlife souvenirs, conserve resources like water and don’t drop litter
- check import regulations for food and plants before you attempt to bring them back to the UK.
Con artists love to prey on tourists, so be on your guard against these common scenarios.
- Bar scams: This are typically worked on solo travellers, who are approached by another “traveller “claiming to be a lone out-of-towner (like you) who's heard of a great bar. After enjoying a boozy evening with a crowd of new friends, you are the one left with an outrageous bar bill.
- Druggings: These scams are unlikely but do happen, especially on trains. A new ‘friend’ slips something into your drink or food and then steals your valuables while you’re a out of it!
- Fake cops: They’ll often appear at the end of teamwork cons involving currency changers or arguments about money. If approached by someone claiming to be a police officer who wants to settle a fine on the spot, offer to go with them to the nearest police station.
- Flat tyre ruse: While driving you stop to help someone with a flat tyre (Or someone stops to help you change your tyre – which they've just punctured in the car park). As you change the tyre, an accomplice empties the interior of your car.
- Swapping banknotes: You pay for a taxi fare or a train ticket with a larger banknote The taxi driver or ticket seller deftly palms it and produces a smaller denomination note, claiming that you actually paid with this. Travelers will often accept their word out of confusion or because they’re in a hurry.
- Touts and unofficial guides: Be wary of people directing you to specific hotels or shops – they'll usually be collecting a commission. Friendly locals who offer to show you around tourist sites may demand a hefty payment afterwards.
- Pickpockets: These most active in dense crowds, especially in busy train stations and on public transport, and can steal your wallet or camera in the blink of an eye. A common ploy is for one person to distract you while another whips through your pockets.
- Parked cars: Parked cars, particularly those with foreign number-plates or rental-agency stickers, are prime targets for petty criminals. While driving through cities beware of thieves at traffic lights – keep your doors locked and the windows rolled up high to prevent quick grabs from thieves on scooters.
By all means let your hair down, but not your guard
If you're confronted by a thief, don't fight back. Just give them what they ask for and be prepared to give up your valuables. Your money and passport can be replaced, but you cannot!
It’s very unlikely that anything will go wrong so enjoy your summer break! Looking for inspiration try: