Is holiday planning worth the pain? Follow this simple, stress-free travel guide and take the hassle out of your next trip…
Holidays, eh? Who would bother planning one? For a start, booking flights are a minefield – and that’s before you even look at visas, suitcases and what you need to pack. But believe it or not, there is an art to travel preparation – whether it’s a short holiday or a long trip you’re planning. And as long as you have the basics covered, everything else should be a breeze. So what is this stress-free travel guide? Look no further. The following top 10 tips are what I base every trip on and they have never failed me…
1. Don’t book weekend flights.
It’s not always the rule, but generally fights from Friday night to Monday morning tend to be more expensive. Why? Because that’s when most people leave and return – understandably to make the most of their time off. Business trips tend to head off on Monday mornings, too. And on low-coast airlines, prime time slots in the early morning and late night tent to be pricier for the same reason. A Tuesday or Wednesday flight is often cheaper on most airlines.
2. Clear your cache
You know how Facebook always seems to show you ads from websites you’ve recently been browsing? Well that’s because your IP address (a distinct code linked to your computer) logs your visitor history in the form of ‘cache’ – telling the Internet gods exactly what you’re interested in. Hence very specific advertising tailored to your desires. In the same way, when you search for a flight route, the internet remembers your query – and next time you get searching (which indicates you might be serious about booking that ticket) the prices will mysteriously hike up. This happens even when you use different websites. Delete your browsing history and they’ll often budge back down.
3. Be flexible
Don’t just check one website for flight prices – compare a few different prices and preferably over a few dates. In fact, most flight searches now have a ‘flexible dates’ box to tick, to show you don’t have to travel on a certain date. The more flexible you are on your dates, the better. STA Travel is great for low, affordable flights all over the world and shows you the price differences over a week from your chosen date. Just watch out for budget airlines that require you to pay extra for check in luggage, seat booking and food on board.
4. Plan visas early
There is nothing worse than getting to the airport and not being allowed to board the plane (which Check In staff can do) because you haven’t pre-organised your visa. A lot of countries now allow you to book your visas online and either pay via their embassy website or obtain a visa on arrival. Everywhere from the US (ESTAs) and Australia to Sri Lanka and Kenya are on board this e-visa method. Check the FCO website as soon as you confirm your dates to check what kind of visa you need – some applications can take a day, a week or longer, if they are submitted through an embassy. And remember, if you are applying for a visa on arrival, make sure you have USD on you as that and the local currency are most likely to be accepted.
5. Check in online
This could, literally, save you hours at some airports. Most airlines allow you to check in online between 24 and 36 hours before you fly. You can choose your seat, any special meals or other requirements and print boarding passes on most airline websites through the ‘Manage Your Booking’ section as soon as your tickets are booked, too. You’ll be surprised at how many people don’t check in online when you stroll by them in the ‘bag-drop’ queue.
6. Splash out on a sarong.
Remember that sarong you bagged for a bargain on the beach in Thailand? That is probably the most versatile piece of material you own. Sarongs can act as beach towels, skirts, tops, shawls, head-scarves and double up as a bag if yours unexpectedly falls apart. I’ve even seen them used as slings (when bandages are in short supply), baby carriers and – from my own experience – they make very handy shelters for camera equipment when the rain catches you off-guard. Another great example is when you might be visiting a temple or mosque and forgot to bring something to cover your shoulders or knees. Practise making it into a dress, headscarf and skirt beforehand so you never get caught short.
7. Invest in duct tape.
Seriously, duct tape is a lifesaver. Your suitcase cracks: duct tape it. The backpack rips: duct tape it. A zip is busting: duct tape it. Your headphones snap: duct tape it. A luggage tag falls off: duct tape it. Your charger chord come loose: duct tape it. You are worried about something being snatched from inside your bag. Duct tape it. You sit under a broken air conditioning duct and it’s bloody freezing: duct tape it. Duct tape has saved my sanity on many occasions.
8. Carry spare clear zip-lock bags.
When international airports upped their security after 9/11 and introduced the idea of the zip-locked bags (to carry liquids and gels under 100ml in your hand luggage), they didn’t realise what genius they were bringing into our lives. Zip-lock bags are great for travelling – they store the above-mentioned liquids, they hold snacks for day trips, keep items that may leak separate from your clothes, keep charger chords and adapters protected from rain. Buy a few from the supermarket beforehand. Now, we just need to invent a security-friendly non-plastic alternative and everything will be perfect.
9. Pre-prepare for security
Going through security is stressful enough without being ready for it. Especially when you’re at those super-serious security checks that ask you to take off jumpers, shoes and other random bits of clothing. So give yourself a hand – before you even arrive at the airport, make sure any cosmetics, medicines or liquids are all in a 100ml or smaller container and are stored together in one transparent medium or small-size zip-lock bag. Keep this bag in an outside pocket in your bag, so you’re not searching for it.
Wear comfortable and easy-to-remove shoes – that way you’re not grappling with laces at the last minute. Keep your laptop or tablets in an easily-accessible pocket and be ready to remove them from their casing. Don’t keep coins, phones etc… in your pocket. Just keep them in your bag until you are through security – again ensuring you’re not trying to remember to put a million items down on the security belt. And finally, if you do have a jacket or jumper with you, stuff it in your hand-luggage before you even start queuing. The stress-free security experience is worth it, trust me.
10. Carry an empty refillable water bottle
Yep, you read that right. Refillable water bottles are one of the most important tools you can have while travelling – meaning you’re not buying disposable plastic bottles every time you need a drink (we’re all trying to stop single-use plastic – remember?) But, remember you can’t take liquids over 100ml through security checks – so there is no point filling up until you’re on the other side of Departures. Some airports have additional security checks at the gates (Dubai airport is one of these – and particularly for flights going to the USA), so there’s actually no point filling up your bottle at all there. In that situation, you can fill up on the plane. More and more airports (particularly in Europe and Asia) not have water fountains throughout the inner departure terminal.
Et voila, stress-free travel, here you come.