Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top Tips for Travel for the Year Ahead

Pól Ó Conghaile has just been named the Travel Extra Travel Journalist of the Year, awarded for “his exceptional body of work” including articles written for the Irish Examiner and the National Geographic.

TWO-thirds of Irish workers don’t take their full annual leave, according to a survey by Hotels.com. Respondents fail to take the holidays to which they are entitled “because they are too busy” or “they just don’t get around to taking them”.

This is at odds with how much we complain about stress. It can’t be entirely about the money, either. Surely, most of us can afford to take a day or two off to explore our own backyard?

Then, it struck me. Travel has changed over the recession. Because so many of us have been financially pinched, we haven’t kept up with those changes.

Thomas Cook’s decision to cease operating Irish charters, from April 30, demonstrates that traditional holidays are in flux.

‘Dynamic packaging’ is one of the travel buzzwords du jour, with licensed and bonded online companies, like budgetair.ie, clickandgo.com and lowcostholidays.ie, allowing consumers to package scheduled flights with accommodation into holidays that suit.

That means more midweek departures, a wider selection of readily accessible short breaks, and real savings — provided you travel off-peak

Faced with increasing competition online, not to mention the fact that Aer Lingus and Ryanair now fly directly to destinations like Malaga, Corfu and the Canary Islands, tour operators have had to get creative. That’s good news for holidaymakers, as anyone flicking through the special offers, package deals, and holiday suggestions in today’s Weekend travel special will see.

Thomas Cook is on the way out, but 2014 sees Falcon fly to Rhodes, direct Aer Lingus flights to San Francisco and Toronto, from April, double-daily services from Dublin to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and a host of new Ryanair routes from Shannon, and other airports.

I still advise talking to a travel expert before booking a holiday.

That applies particularly to families, and for big splashes, like honeymoons. Transfers, reps and free-hold baggage are incentives, too.

1) Get your timing right...
Travel will always change, but certain truths remain evergreen. Holidaymakers with the freedom to travel off-peak (i.e. outside of weekends and school holidays) score the biggest savings. Even changing your departure by a few days can make a difference. Going to press, for example, a week’s skiing with a four-star hotel booked through Topflight (topflight.ie) in Söll, Austria cost from €1,179pp over the mid-term break (February 16-22). A week later the same holiday was €831pp.

2) Save the date...
Ryanair is the surprise travel story of the decade, with customer service improvements now including allocated seating, lower airport baggage fees and free small carry-on bags. June 1 ushers in ‘high season’, which sees Ryanair boost fees for the first 15kg bag from €15 to €25 and Aer Lingus up its lowest rates on 15kg bags from €15 to €20. ‘Low season’ rates return on October 1. Limit fees by restricting yourself to carry-on allowance.

3) Take to the river...
River cruise ships are smaller than their oceangoing counterparts, making not just for a more intimate experience, but for unrivalled access to inland towns, cities and countryside. Excursions are a big feature of programmes by Uniworld (uniworld.ie) and AmaWaterways (sunway.ie), and this year sees Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) publish its first river cruise brochure.

4) Try a luxury hostel...
2014 will be a breakthrough year for luxury hostels (or ‘poshtels’, if you prefer). They combine a more comfortable experience with the communal vibe and affordability of a hostel. Check budgettraveller.org for a list of the hottest properties in Europe, along with their en suite rooms, pools, saunas and more. The blog’s author, Kash Bhattacharya, is one of the experts in the area.

5) Value your time...
Experiential holidays will continue to grow in 2014, with niche offerings like foodie tours of Little Italy (New York) and cycling in the Dordogne (France) hooking into our increasing interest in memorable and shareable trips. Budget travellers will go to great lengths to save money, instead of spending two weeks on honeymoon in a four-star hotel, why not splurge on10 days in a five-star, or treat yourself to a direct flight?

6) Skip the queues...
Why do we persist in rocking up at the world’s biggest attractions without booking in advance? We book flights and hotel rooms ahead, and the same should apply for flagship attractions like the Vatican, Louvre or Rijksmuseum.

7) Pick a better airplane seat...
Flash new travel apps come and go — it’s the ones that stick around that matter.
Skyscanner is brilliant when it comes to comparing flight routes and prices, I’m predicting much more from Hotel Tonight in 2014, and SeatGuru.com is a good bet for getting the best possible seat on the plane.
Say I’m flying from Cork to Lanzarote with Aer Lingus next Saturday. By entering the airline, date and flight number (EI876) into SeatGuru’s app, I can pull up a map of the Airbus A320 on the route. There, I learn that not just the back rows (29) have limited recline, but so does Row 11 as well — due to the exit row behind.
Little things can go a long way — especially on long-haul flights.
If you’re travelling long-haul, check in online 24 hours ahead. “That’s when travellers with elite status often get upgraded,” says Wendy Perrin of Condé Nast Traveler. Eagle-eyed economy class passengers can pounce on the seats they leave vacant.

8) Do’s and don’ts for Disneyland Paris...
Disney’s current ‘Yes’ Days promotion offers up to two free days per family, so it’s certainly tempting to price up a trip. A successful visit depends on a few simple steps, however — namely using the Fastpass, reserving restaurants in advance, bringing the buggy and travelling midweek.

9) Shop around...
Before booking a holiday, check prices with several operators. Or better still, use sites like holidaysonline.ie — which provide results from several operators like Topflight, Sunway and Falcon.
The Irish Travel Agents’ Association (ITAA) posts weekly special offers from its members on itaa.ie offers too. It’s a great resource for holiday bargains hot off the press.

10) The kids are all right...
Finding a family-friendly property is easier said than done.

One of my favourite new family travel websites is kidandcoe.com. It not only selects cool, family-friendly properties in destinations all over the world, but lists the specific criteria that parents want to check — such as whether there’s a lift, dishwasher, changing table or high chair — as well as personal impressions and neighbourhood tips.


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