As part of happiness year, we think that a travel segment is most important. A little vacation away is just what we all need from time to time to get away from life’s everyday stresses and to just have some quality time with our families and loved ones. So whether you’re looking to jet off somewhere tropical with your partner, head off for a girls weekend or looking for an epic family vacation, here’s our top tips on getting the most for your money.
Let’s start with where to go. You may already have a destination in mind. You may have even booked it. But for those of you that need guidance and inspiration, this is a segment for you.
Every year the top travel guides fight to compile their must visit hotlist for the coming year. Lonely Planet being one of them. And as their reviews and compliations are backed by research and experience, we feel they’re the true experts in this field. Here are their top 10 countries to visit in 2016:
Once you’ve picked your destination, using the search function at the top of the site, check out the various articles, recommendations and details of your chosen destination to help you be more informed and get the most out of your vacation.
In addition to the country guide, Lonely Planet have also selected the 10 top cities to visit and top 10 regions if want to open your horizons to more specific locations and potentially more affordable destinations.
Booking your holiday
Using travel agents
For a fuss free holiday, a travel agent is the place to go. Whether you’re working on a budget or have your heart on a particular destination, a travel agent is an easy way to get the holiday you want. Though there are some considerations when going down this route:
Advantages to using a travel agent:
- Even travel agents run sales and they’re all kicking off now- you can save anything from £40pp to £400 off your total booking. Each agent will run different offerings so it may still be worth shopping around.
- You don’t have to pay for your holiday up front (unless you’re travelling within 8 weeks of booking). Usually you’ll pay a deposit per head (which is dependent on the total cost of the holiday) and pay the remaining balance within 8 weeks of your trip and even make payment arrangements in between which really helps spread the cost.
- It’s totally fuss free- you can save tons of time by visiting an agent and you’ll have a dream vacation booked within 30 minutes (if you know what you want).
- They’ve long term relationships with other agents, airlines, hotels and partners to try and bring you the best deals. Depending on the type of break you’re booking, they can save you a lot of money with or without a sale. You’re also more likely to get a bit more luxury for your money.
- Consultation appointments are free! There is no harm in pricing up everywhere to get the best deal you can.
- You’re protected. If you’ve booked your package holiday through an agent, you’ve got the security should anything go wrong (you’re looking for ATOL protection)- though do take out insurance as well (and check what that covers)!
Disadvantages to using a travel agent:
- They’re not always cheaper. If you’re looking at quite a straightforward holiday, you can probably save yourself quite a significant amount of money by booking it yourself, see below top tips. Also remember they’ve got to factor in their costs.
- Sometimes they’re only doing a comparison search like you could. Except their costings and packages are rigid.
- They can be pretty limiting. Package holidays come as a package so it can be challenging sometimes to get the holiday you’ve specifically dreamed of.
- They have goals and targets to meet and could encourage you to book something else entirely.
There are a whole host of sites out there that can make booking a holiday easy, and much more affordable than a travel agent. I always start with a basic search at home before comparing prices with agents. It helps me make informed decisions about my dream vacation for the year. Here’s my top tips on a DIY holiday:
- When it comes to pricing up your flights head to a comparison site like Skyscanner. You can specify the search based on cost, duration and more. If you’re looking to keep costs down, SkyScanner allows you to search for an entire month. This brings up a table of the month and shows you the cheapest days to fly. Also, a stop over, although will increase your overall duration will more than likely bring the overall costs down. If you’re looking to do a multi-stop journey, the search function on these sites can accommodate that too! I’d also do a check with airlines directly just to make that comparison too- nothing like being thorough.
- Sites like booking.com have made the whole process of finding a hotel that you like and has the facilities you desire that much easier. Once you’ve picked your location and dates, you can use the filter function to find the right hotel for you. What’s more, you usually get a great array of photos to see exactly where you’ll be staying and the customer reviews give a greater indication of what it’s really like. What’s more, most hotels on booking.com offer free cancellation usually right up until your break.
- Don’t forget how you’re going to get from the airport to the hotel- consider hiring a car, taking advantage of a shuttle service (check to see whether your hotel offers this service).
- Doing a multi-stop vacation? Compare all modes of transport to see what is the cheapest. A few years ago we’d done a 2 week European tour (booked ourselves) and managed to go to 5 cities and return home for £500 (for 2 people). We’d assumed driving would be the most economic and convenient way to travel on such a trip, turned out it wasn’t!
- Share a villa: Obviously you’ll get the better deals out of the school holidays (great if you’ve got the flexibility of course) but going with friends and family members is a great way to get the vacation you’d like for a reduced cost. Split the cost of the rooms amongst the group, set some boundaries (e.g. you’ll not do every activity together, you’ll share the cooking/food cost responsibility etc.) and make sure the rooms/villa meets the individual needs/requirements of others before booking/committing.
- Use booking.com again! They offer breaks all around the world so pick your location and search for what you’d like. Do a bit of research on the hotel and the area to see it meets your needs. This is ideal mostly for searching for hotels though so if you’re looking for a house share;
- Google will bring up endless options when it comes to searching for ‘holiday lets‘ or ‘cottages to rent‘ or ‘house share for holiday‘, my top tip here is to research the company you’re going through through sites like Tripadvisor. Other people’s experience is more likely to put your mind at rest. A further tip is to pay on credit card. If you’re really uncertain but looks so amazing, you’ve got a lot more security with paying for a trip on credit card then you do on a debit card- ensure the processing of the card is secure by looking for a HTTPS link in the search bar. One further tip, find the name of the place you like and search it out through sites like booking.com– you may even get a better deal.
The little extras
Don’t forget excursions. You can normally book these alongside your vacation if you’re going through the travel agent route. However, shop around. Sites like Attractiontix, like travel agents, secure so many tickets at a discounted rate and are therefore able to offer better deals with no bricks and mortar shop to finance, they’ll likely beat the prices agents offer.
Again- it’s all about research. Get advice from friends who’ve already travelled there or look around on forums for advice. Sometimes, you’ll find it’ll be more cost effective to purchase when there as the hotels can offer deals or you can book with the excursion company directly e.g. Vegas I’d recommend buying your show tickets when you’re there, New York you can shop around though they do offer on the day cheaper seats (we booked ours in advance and was much cheaper) though the City Pass was better to buy in advance. Saving money throughout the chain of your holiday will ensure a better time and more cash to do more of what you want.
Don’t forget insurance– in addition to any protection offered with your flights, package holiday or hotels make sure you have travel insurance that is appropriate to your family (are you all covered or just you?), your needs (specific medical conditions) and your trip (EU vs. international is very different). This will ensure that if you fall ill, lose your belongings or something happens to the flight/hotel/travel companies before and whilst you’re away you’re covered. TIP: Just check what the excess payment is.
Do you need any injections for where you’re travelling? Check this out on the NHS Travel Vaccinations page and make sure you book for any treatment required. Note: You’ll be expected to pay for some vaccinations.
Changing your money
Personally I like to travel with the Cash Passport as it’s fuss free and super convenient. You’ve the security of a credit card and the benefits of a debit card and is suitable for 7 different currencies. I’d recommend a solo currency card as you’ll not be charged for the use/reload of the card though if you’re a frequent traveller and would like the additional 3 currencies available on a multi-currency card, look into this option. The major benefits of this card is 0 charge for purchases, ability to withdraw cash abroad (for a nominal fee), security in not having to carry around lots of cash, and the fluctuations in exchange rates that you’ll likely get with the use of your debit/credit card abroad. If you’re going to need a different currency, see what the travel agents are able to offer you for safer travelling.
Don’t be stung on bad exchange rates:
- Shop around: do a quick search to see who’s offering the best amount. Google will give you an exchange calculator but this doesn’t necessarily reflect what the market will offer. Check travel agents, post offices etc. which can mostly be found online;
- Watch out for travel agents: I’ve been stung majorly by agents before. You’ll notice they no longer promote their rate of exchange so make sure you ask what it is before committing. You can even tell them the best rate you’ve found and where you’ve found it from and they may match or at least offer something near. If you just process an exchange without checking this, you’ll likely get less than you could.
- Before going to an travel agent- check online to see if they’re offering an exchange deal. Sometimes it’s better to order online and collect in store as you’ll get the best rate this way. The person at the counter can’t necessarily offer the same deal. Every penny matters when it comes to exchanging currency.