"Quotation 50"
TRAVEL_ADVICE

I wrote an advice column in the Sunday Times for six years, in which I answered reader questions on travel. Thanks to my own trips, my time working for the airlines and selling travel at Trailfinders, I've always genuinely enjoyed helping friends and readers get the most from their holidays.

So here are items of travel news - sometimes small, but still significant, with travel advice weaved into them. A little preparation before a trip helps you go a long way...










YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2250 views   
Why the original Disneyland is still the best, even after 62 years...
posted by Richard Green on 11/05/2017
 

The original Disneyland in Anaheim, Los Angeles, was the cherished dream of Walt Disney himself – who designed, opened and ran it. From that July day in 1955 till now, it’s still a place where children and adults excitedly stream through the turnstiles for a cracking day out. Even if you don’t do theme parks, don’t have kids, or become nervous around large costumed mice, this is the most authentic of theme parks, and largely because of that I'd say it is the best too.

Walt and his mouse greet visitors to Disneyland; a statue unveiled in 1993. Photo Disneyland

When Walt Disney bought the 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim, the Santa Ana Freeway aside, it was a semi rural area. The park has though long since been enveloped by sprawling LA. It was very much his brainchild, and he was closely involved in all aspects of the project, from the five distinct 'lands' right down to how far away to place the bins from food outlets.

It’s smaller than the global offshoots in Orlando, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris and Shanghai, but aside from the holiday weekend squeezes, when it does get extremely busy, it feels more intimate than the other parks.

Over 500 million visitors have strolled down its iconic Main Street since it opened, and spread out across the 34 hectare park you’ll find the original Sleeping Beauty Castle, which is loosely based on the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and looks taller than its 23m thanks to forced perspective where features at the top are deliberately made smaller, and a suite of terrific rides like the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Jungle Cruise.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, based on Bavaria's Neuschwanstein original. Photo Disneyland

Many of the historic old rides here are perfect for younger children and aren’t replicated in any of the newer parks, like the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (actually remodelled from the original 1959 ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ ride, which featured a certain Captain Nemo), and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride (which isn’t wild to anyone over nine years old, but is utterly charming however), and Tarzan’s Tree house (former faux forest perch of the Swiss Family Robinson).

Walt loved mechanical toys and kept a robotic bird caged in his office. His extraordinary imagination gave this concept flight in the Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s an amusing feel-good take on the Tiki craze that swept the USA in the 50’s and 60’s, where Polynesian styles and culture were all the rage. People wore Hawaiian shirts, drank at thatch hotel bars, and surrounded themselves with seafaring bric-a-brac. The 225 Audio-Animatronics creatures of the Tiki Room have been restored, but the master of ceremony Macaws squawk in their original 60’s voices.

Just a blurred few of the half a billion people to have strolled down Disneyland's Main Street. Photo Disneyland

The original Pirates of the Caribbean ride is unbeatable. It starts peacefully in a night-time bayou, before the boat you ride in passes under a skull warning that ‘dead men tell no tales’ and descends a modest flume to a subterranean world of broadsides, Jolly Rogers and pillaging. It’s astonishing to think that the spectacularly successful film franchise was based on the original Disneyland ride, and not the other way round, and if anything the original ride’s theme tune is even catchier than the film’s.

Yo Ho Yo Ho, a spin-off-movie-franchise-life-for-me. Photo Disneyland

A visit to Disneyland isn’t all about nostalgia either – The Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, themed on the history and culture of the state. And within it, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street opened in 2012; the former homage to the Disney-Pixar film, and the latter a representation of 1920’s LA. The next big opening is a dedicated Star Wars Land, but no date has been confirmed for that yet.

Any trip to LA’s Disneyland is to experience the wonderful world of Walt Disney’s imagination, but to discover this in more detail the park runs excellent ‘Walk in Walt’s Footsteps’ tours that lasts 3½ hours and include a private lunch or dinner on the terrace of the Disney Gallery.

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Reasons to be cheerful: the original Disneyland is more intimate than the other parks, and that Walt Disney himself was so heavily involved in the design only adds to the sense of history. If you stay at a hotel inside the park you are walking distance from the attractions. 

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You can't always get what you want: the park is less spread out than the newer ones, and with narrower paths it heaves on holiday weekend, and especially at Thanksgiving. Also traffic around the park can be very heavy in the LA rush hours, as day-to-day commuters use the freeways and roads skirting the park.

puzzle

Fitting Disneyland into a holiday: the park has four hotels - great for hassle free access to the park, but a tad pricey. Disneyland is a 65-kilometres from Santa Monica and 50 kilometres from Long Beach - when the freeways are behaving, that’s fair enough, but be sure to avoid the rush hours. I'd say Santa Monica, Venice and Hollywood make good bases for a stay in the city.

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Getting there: the closest airport to the park is John Wayne Orange County Airport - see My Bathroom Wall for other airports named after famous people, including George Best, Indira Gandhi and Cristiano Ronaldo. John Wayne Airport is a 20 minute drive from the park, and has mainly domestic flights - airlines include Southwest, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta. Most international passengers arrive at the busy Los Angeles International Airport, which is just under an hour by car.

weather

When to visit: LA is a year round destination, which doesn't really see extremes in temperatures. The best time to visit is from March to May and September and November, when temperatures are in the 60-70 range. Summer sees temperatures in the 80s and heavy smog levels, while winter is a little chilly and rainy.

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More info: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/, and Visit Aneheim 

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Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

 


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
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After February's Saratov Airlines crash, are Russian carriers safe?
posted by Richard Green on 12/02/2018
 

Recovery underway at the crash site Argunovo, about 80 kilometres southeast of Moscow.

The short answer is yes, probably, providing that you stick to the larger airlines like Aeroflot or S7 Airlines. However, it that doesn't deminish the depressing deja vous of yet another Russian plane crash, especially as it comes after a record-breaking 2017 in which there wasn't a single fatal crash of a passenger jet airliner anywhere in the world.

I say 'yet another' because a few years back it seemed that crashes in Russia had become monotonously regular. The situation has improved in recent years, but the collective memory when it comes to air crashes is long, and Aeroflot suffered a spate of accidents in the 1990s.

This accident hapened on February 11th 2018 and involved Russia's Saratov Airlines. One of its Russian-built Antonov-148s had taken off from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on an 2 1/2 hour scheduled flight to Orsk in Southern Russia, before it came down in wintry conditions shortly after take off, killing all 65 passengers and six crew onboard. 

The crashed aircraft on a previous flight; Saratov Airlines Antonov-148 registration RA-61704. Photo Saratov Airlines

Russia had a poor airline safety record, which wasn't helped by the country's often atrocious winter weather and a feeling that some of the smaller carriers have poor maintenance standards. The real bogeyman was the idea that Soviet-built aircraft were inherently less safe than western-built models.

Either way, the vast majority of airlines based in Russia now fly the latest western-built Airbuses and Boeings and have retired all of their Soviet-era kit. Even the small carrier involved in the latest crash is moving over to new Brazilian built Embraer's.  

An Aeroflot Airbus A320. Photo Aeroflot

Aeroflot has improved training, service and safety. And despite its chequered past - it suffered 127 crashes since 1953 - it has made enough strides forward for The Telegraph to run an article in 2016 entitled - 'Aeroflot: from world's deadliest airline to one of the safest in the sky'. A good resource is Airline Ratings, which gives expert safety ratings on over 400 airlines. Aeroflot scores a safety rating of 6/7, which is the same as Air France, Air India, Kenya Airways, and S7. Incidentally real shockers with a safety score of just 1/7 includes Air Koryo of North Korea, and Nepal Airlines. 

A lot has indeed changed, and in the soft standard sense, Aeroflot is now a four star carrier in the Skytrax ranking system. This places the carrier as equal to dozens of other four-star carriers like Aer Lingus, Air France, British Airways, Emirates and Qantas.

Snazzy new crew uniforms to match the snazzy new livery. Photo Aeroflot

I’ve survived using Aeroflot several times, as many millions of other passenegers have throughout its 95 year history. These days it's even in the Star Alliance global affiliation of carriers, yet if there is an easy choice between a lesser Russian airline and the likes of BA, Lufthansa or the local but safe S7 Airlines airlines (which is a member of the OneWorld Alliance), then I'd tend to go for them.

S7 Siberian Airlines. Photo Aero Icarus/Flickr

That deals with the airline, but what about the safety of the actual plane that you are booked to fly on? Well if it's a well known and reputable airline, you don’t really need to worry. However, for smaller airlines in Russia - and also Africa, South America and parts of Asia, it’s good to know a little about the type of plane that you are travelling on.

The code on your itinerary will help here – a B777 is a Boeing 777 for example and has a tremedously nerve-soothing safety record, whereas YK-42 is a Yakolev Yak, which doesn't.

You won’t know the exact aircraft due to operate the flight, but look at Air Fleets, type in the airline, and it lists the fleet, and you may be able to get a good idea. Click on a few registrations of the plane type that you could be flying on and you’ll see the age of those planes and its previous owners, if they are second hand.

Aeroflot Boeing 777 at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport in Kamchatka. Photo Aeroflot

Attitudes to risk vary, but I wouldn’t be flying on anything too old; say more than 20 years would make me feel a bit nervous. And as for the Boeing 737-200 registration ZS-IJJ operated by InterAir of South Africa, well it was delivered to Cameroon Airlines in 1972, forget it! 

There’s no rule for assessing a plane’s previous owners either, but if it was bought second hand from Lufthansa or British Airways let’s say, then it will have been looked after. It’s not so good if you see a plane’s been passed around many lesser-known African airlines, where maintenance standards may be questionable.

Look too at the EU list of airlines that are banned from entering European airspace on the grounds of safety. If you can, avoid flying any of these airlines http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban/index_en.htm

One more thing...

This is going to sound ludicrous, but alas it’s horribly true. In March 1994, while captaining Aeroflot flight 593 from Moscow to Hong Kong, the pilot's two children were in the cockpit. The captain allowed his 16-year-old son to sit in the pilot’s seat, where he accidentally switched off the autopilot. The following loss of control led to a fatal nose dive and the plane ploughing into a Russian mountainside, killing all 63 passengers and 12 crew on board.


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2149 views   
Is Cologne worth staying in for a day or two...?
posted by Richard Green on 01/06/2017
 

I'm planning to see some of Europe by train and as I it seems I will have to change trains in Cologne, is it worth staying for a day or two?

I'd say yes, for sure. It's true that Cologne isn't in the top tier of Europe's city break destinations, but it has a lot going for it. It’s an energetic place with a magnificent Gothic cathedral that looks a little like it may have just burst through the earth's crust. The lively Old Town has a redeveloped riverside district called Rheinauhafen, and there are great museums.

The train station is right by the gigantic double-spired cathedral called the Dom. It’s about the most jaw-dropping exit from a train station you can imagine - perhaps only pipped by the exit from the main station in Venice, which delivers you down some steps by a canal and commotion.

Apparently, the Dom took 600 years to build and most certainly gives Milan’s more famous Duomo a run for its money.

Be sure to climb the south tower for a peek at the world’s largest swinging bell ­- St Peter’s Bell, weighing 24 tons - and for the panoramas from the 300ft high viewing platform. You can play 'spot the Romanesque church' from up here, as there are 12 others in the city.

Museum-wise, start at the modern Ludwig Museum, which has an excellent collection of 20th-century and contemporary art. Or for something more whimsical, head to the hybrid old-meets-new construction by the Rhine, housing the very entertaining Chocolate Museum. There’s a good Sports Museum in the city too.

Punters about to get stuck in at the Chocolate Museum. Photo Schokoladenmuseum

In the evening, the Old Town’s street life pulsates, as revellers head here to down small glasses of the famous Kolsch beer, and fill the many busy cafés and restaurants. Watch out though, the less than half pint glasses and super-speedy table service have a way of creeping up on you.

For somewhere to stay, the three Hopper hotels are a good bet. The latest of the trio is St. Josef’s which, like the other two, occupies a historic building (this one a former Kindergarten cum soup kitchen for the poor) and has design-style rooms and a classy feel. Alternatively, St. Antonius is close to the train station and the Et Cetera is in the trendy Belgian Quarter. Personally I'm intrigued by any city with a bona fida Belgian Quarter. 

For something very different there’s the Hotel im Wasserturm, which was converted from what in its day was Europe’s biggest water tower. It's now a design hotel with a spectacular roof terrace - be sure to visit even if you aren't staying.

One more thing...Eau de Cologne (Cologne Water) is usually abbreviated as just Cologne and can be traced back to Johann Maria Farina, who first mixed the citrus-spirit perfume in 1709. Today it has become a generic term for perfume - especially men's - in the way that Hoover, Speedo and Jacuzzi have done for all the similar products associated with thiers. There's a museum attached to the company premises now, which is run by the eighth generation of the family. See www.farinahaus.de and www.farina1709.com

An upstart perfume called '4711' was created by a rival in 1799 and is still going strong too. Eau de Cologne is still produced today, and you can visit its imposing shop. See www.4711.com

The 4711 shop then and now. Photo House of 4711

puzzle

Fitting Cologne into a holiday: Cologne makes for an interesting city break, and Dusseldorf is just a 20-minute train ride away. Anyone Interrailing will likely pass through the city, as the train station is a major hub for regional and internation trains. 

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Getting there: Cologne Bonn Airport is 15 kilometres southeast of the city and handled over 10 million passengers in 2015. There are flights to most major European cities, plus Eurowings has flights to Bangkok, Havana, Las Vegas, Miami, Orlando, Windhoek and others. Train services from the city include Brussels in under 2hrs, Berlin around 4hrs and Paris around 3hrs.

weather

When to visit: Spring is popular as temperatures become warm and the beer gardens come into their own. July and August are high summer - warm, but tend towards being a little humid. September to November and April to June are pleasant for sightseeing, though it's the Autumn that has slightly cooler temperatures, colourful foliage, and cheapest hotel prices. Winters are chilly or downright cold, but Cologne has good Christmas Markets.

35 More info: see www.koelntourismus.de and the German national Tourist Board.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2340 views   
Which is a good cable car to ride during a summer break in Switzerland?
posted by Richard Green on 07/05/2017
 

Summer panorama from the summit of the Schilthorn, at 2,970 metres. Photo Schilthorn Piz Gloria

Switzerland has many great cable cars that are knockout during the summertime too. The views are every bit as stunning/terrifying, the hiking superb, and there's better chances of enjoying clear skies outside of winter too. And the gondola operators have worked at making their rides year round attractions, with exhibitions, restaurants, lookouts, and hiking trails. So if you are heading to Switzerland this summer, here are six fabulous gondola rides to chose from. 

Schilthorn is the most famous cable car in the country, thanks to Bond and Blofeld doing their thing in the 1969 film, On her Majesty’s Secret Service. The 360-degree views are outstanding (or terrifying, depending on your attitude to being suspended thousands of feet from the ground from a wire), and particularly so out across the wall of peaks to the south. You can see the Jungfrau, Eiger, and if you are lucky, even Mont Blanc.

The Piz Gloria is the summit's centrepiece revolving restaurant - it appeared as Bond villain Ernst Blofeld's mountain top H.Q.. Today it cash's in on its Bond connection with a small Bond exhibition that includes a helicopter simulator and a cinema showing clips from the film, and a menu that offers a James Bond Brunch, James Bond Spaghetti, and an 007 Burger.

The summit is 2,970m above sea level, and the lower gondola station is in the village of Stechelberg, about 18 kilometres south of Interlaken. See Schilthorn Piz Gloria

Titlis Rotair: is a large rotating gondola that climbs to its 3,020 metre summit. There are four eateries at the top - fine dining to snacks, as well as magnificent views and a year round Glacier Park, where you can ride a modern six-seater chair lift called the Ice Flyer, walk through the glacier itself inside the Glacier Cave, or whiz down the ice Snowtubing.

The Titlis Rotair rotating gondola. Photos EngelbergTitlis

Thrill seeking should also walk out over the Titlis Cliff Walk - a suspended narrow walkway at the summit that's 500m above the ground. There's tobogganing too (with a moving walkway to take you back to the top), plus hiking, mountain biking, a Via Ferrata, and boat hire on the Trübsee.

The via ferrata in summertime. Photo Engelberg Titlis

The cars start from Engelberg, which is 35 kilometres from the central Swiss city of Lucerne. See www.titlis.ch

Klein Matterhorn: Zermatt is the cute gateway town for viewing the country's most iconic peak, the Matterhorn. This uniquely craggy mountain has been drawing visitors and climbers since before the opening of its first hotel in 1838. The mountain itself was conquered in 1865 by an ill-fated expedition in which four of the seven man group fell to their deaths on their decent.  

The gondola ride here will push your nerves to their limits, as it's the highest cable car ride in Europe. The upper station is just 60 metres below the mountain’s 3,883 metre summit and the area around is branded as the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. 

A gondola with the Matterhorn in the background. Photo Zermatt Matterhorn

A tunnel and escalator that's built into the rock leads from the top to the highest sightseeing platform in Europe, from where you can see 38 four-thousand-metre peaks. And if you fancy tackling your own 4,000 metre peak, then it's just a 2.5 hour hike to the top of the Breithorn (4,164m).

Gazing at the imposing south face of the Matterhorn in summer. Photo Zermatt Matterhorn

The cable car system starts in Zermatt, which is close to the Italian border in southern Switzerland, is about 230 kilometres east of Geneva. See www.zermatt.ch

Mt Säntis: is the the cable car to head for if you are in eastern Switzerland. There are fabulous views over Lake Constance from the summit station. It’s not as high as many of the other Alpine peaks, but what it lacks in height it more than makes up for in prominence, and on a clear day from its summit you can see six countries - Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Italy. 

Unimpeded views at the summit. Photo Santis der Berg 

There is a restaurant that serves traditional Swiss cuisine, and on full moon nights, a special evening ascent with meal and music. There are sunrise ride deals too, every Sunday in July and August. And the normally restrained Swiss pin their largest national flag - which measures 120x120 metres - for their national day in 2009. Unfortunately it was torn and destroyed by the wind. 

The usually unchauvanistic Swiss pinned the world's largest (Swiss) flag here in 2009. Photo Santis der Berg 

The summit is 2,502 metres above sea level, and the car starts in Schwägalp, about 100 kilometres east of Zurich and 70 kilometres south of the German city of Friedrichshafen. See www.saentisbahn.ch

Pilatus Kulm: opened in 2015, the so called 'Red Dragon' aerial cableway runs to the top of Mt Pilatus and gives fabulous views of Lucerne and its eponymous lake. It's also the destination of the world's steepest mountain railway (proceeds at an angle of 48% in places), so it makes sense to travel up in the cable car and then down by train, or vs. vs. 

The snazzy new gondolas of the 'Dragon Ride' from Fräkmüntegg to the Pilatus Kulm. Photo Pilatus Luzern

By the summit station is the venerable Hotel Pilatus-Kulm that was built in 1890 and recently restored. A young Queen Victoria rode up Pilatus on a horse in 1868, and the hotel's Queen Victoria Restaurant honours this. And staying in the hotel means you are in poll position to watch the dawn break over the Alps. 

Richard Wagner was one of the famous guests of the summit hotel. Photo Pilatus Luzern

The car starts at Fräkmüntegg and ascends in one sweep to the 2,132 metre summit at Pilatus Kulm. See http://www.pilatus.ch

One more thing...Tin tobogganing is a summer craze in Switzerland, and the one near to the base station of the cable car is the longest, at 1,350 metres. See Rodelbahn Fräkigaudi

Stanserhorn: it had to happen I guess, but some bright spark has invented an open top gondola, and the one at Mt Stanserhorn is the world's first. Tagged the CabriO, its gondolas are double decked, allowing you to stand inside as normal, or to stand on the roof.

A bit too 'Where Eagles Dare' for my taste, but terrifically innovative. Photo Stanserhorn CabriO

There is a star shaped revolving restaurant at the top that takes 43 minutes to swivel you around a 360 degree panorama of central Switzerland.

View from the top. Photo Stanserhorn CabriO

The summit is 1,850 metres above sea level, and the cable car is easily reached from Lucern, about 27 kilometres away. See Stanserhorn


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2677 views   
How to survive a flight delay...
posted by Richard Green on 02/05/2017
 

Bored and frustrated passengers enduring a delay. Photo Flickr/Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuno

A long flight delay is a heart-sinking ordeal: fraught with frustration, jangled nerves, and expense. Fear not though - with the right attitude and a little resourcefulness, there are ways to improve a bad situation. Here's how you can come through a delay unscathed.

Before the airport: add your contact details to the booking and download the airline’s app to get SMS alerts in case of a delay. Unless told otherwise, check-in for the original scheduled departure time, as airlines switch aircraft around and a delay can suddenly shorten. Arriving at the airport in good time helps, as passengers arriving first get rebooked onto other flights first, before they fill up.

Keep your cool: stay calm and be nice to airline staff and you’ll have more chance of help anywhere in the world, but in Asian and Middle Eastern etiquette it’s essential not to loose your head.

Make the most of the airport: if you are delayed in Singapore’s Changi Airport, you can take a stroll in the butterfly garden, swim in a rooftop pool, or catch a movie in a 24-hour cinema. Wherever you are, ask about facilities at an information desk or search the airport’s web page. You’ll probably have to stay airside (the part of the terminal past security), but shop browsing and a nice meal can help.

One of several relaxing garden areas at Singapore's Changi airport

Packing: pack essentials in your hand luggage as you won’t have access to hold luggage once it’s checked in. Toiletries and a mobile phone charger are good to have handy, and n array of diversions if travelling with children. If it’s a long delay and your carry on bags are bulky, use left luggage.

Speak to your airline: ticket desks become besieged in a bad delay, so try speaking to your airline by phone and follow it on twitter too.

Buy lounge access: many airports have pay-to-use lounges, and Priority Pass lets you use 1,000 of them for £15pp per visit (plus £69 annual fee). Or try Plaza Premium Lounge, Executive Lounges, and No 1 Lounges.

The Premium Plaza Lounge at London's Heathrow Airport. Photo Premium Plaza

Leaving the airport: it’s not advisable to leave an airport during a delay because the delay may be unexpectedly reduced. However, if airline staff give you the go ahead (and have your phone number) a nearby attraction or meal can be a godsend. Munich airport’s Visitor Park has a viewing mound overlooking the runways, historic aircraft and a children’s playground, and Hong Kong has a nine-hole golf course a short walk from the terminal (nine-eagles.com).

Catch up on sleep: in an overnight delay, your airline might pay for accommodation. With shorter delays, you can book airside hotel rooms by the hour at some airports – like Dubai, London Gatwick and Heathrow – while Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Delhi, Dubai and Hanoi have high tech sleeping pods. See sleepinginairports.net for useful tips on the best places to nap across hundreds of airports.

A room in the airside Aerotel at Singapore's Changi Airport. Photo Premium Plaza

Insurance: check that your travel insurance covers expenses incurred on a long delay before booking into the swankiest airport hotel. If flying in the European Union and you experience a non-weather related cancellation, or delay of three hours or more, you may be entitled to compensation of between €250 and €600pp. EU Claim simplifies the process and takes a commission from successful claims.

Avoiding delays: early morning flights tend to have better punctuality, as the aircraft has probably overnighted at the airport. Plus weather type delays that effect a number of flights build up through a ‘ripple effect, which can amplify through the day. Beware of the last flight of the day: if it is cancelled there's no chance of a later one.


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2868 views   
Some luggage packing tips to ensure you always arrive with what you need...
posted by Richard Green on 11/04/2017
 

I applaud the panache, but this chap's packing priorities leave room for improvement

The over-arching rule for packing is not to pack too take too much - the world has grown small, and most things are available in most places should you need to buy something that you have forgotten. And always leave room to buy local souvenirs, handicrafts, booze or clothes.

That said, it never ceases to amaze just what things different people regard as essential. One friend of mine carried in his backpack a fairly large cuddly toy dog and a full sized pillow, for example. And 'The Man of the People' on the bathroom wall was a plastic toy found abandoned in a student bar in Lancaster, that I took on several long trips for no apparent reason.

Personal mascots and eccentricities aside, here are a few tips to getting it right, so that at least you know that at least that aspect of your holiday, despite what may happen on at the airport, on your flight, or transferring to your hotel at the other end, isn't full of surprises.

The art of practical packing...

Make a packing list, of essential everyday items that you may - in haste - otherwise forget. Things like a plug adaptor, sunscreen, mobile backup power pack.

Following on from the above, keep a small bag ready stocked with what you'll need for a trip. Or it could be a section of a drawer, you choose, but it means that you are less likely to forget something and are all set should you have to fly off at the last minute. A larger plastic bag is good for damp/wet swim stuff and towel when packing to return home.

If you are staying somewhere with an iron and board already in the room, then all well and good. If not then roll clothes before packing them, rather than folding them. It may sound naff, but it uses surprisingly little space and avoids deep creases of the kind that folding causes.

Pack small see through plastic bags for your liquids and gels to pass through security are a good idea for UK airports these days, but slightly more robust Ziplock bags are good too for keeping items together, and dry, like USB sticks, adaptors, and headphones. It's also handy to prevent any leakage from liquid toiletries that may be stored in the aircraft's hold.

I found myself becoming dangerously obsessive about the weight of my items on very long backpacking trips. Scan or photocopy only the section of a guide book that you need - say Kashmir rather than carting around the entire 800 page tome on all of India - is sensible.

Weighing your luggage at home to avoid excess baggage charges and unnecessary worry - either on a bathroom scale, or with a nifty hand held device. 

Buy luggage that itself is lightweight. It's pointless carrying around needless weight in the form of luggage, when there are perfectly strong and attractive lightweight options on the market.

Check your airline's website before travelling, to find out the weight and dimension allowances for carry on and hold luggage. This varies from one airline to the next, but the good people at Samsonite have done the legwork and have researched a comprehensive list of weight and dimensions permitted by airline - http://www.samsonite.co.uk/hand-luggage-size-restrictions-dimensions/

It might seem over cautious, but believe me, every day on every baggage carousel someone will pick up and take away the wrong bag by mistake. It's an easy problem to solve - just personalise your bag with a brightly coloured ribbon, sticker, or luggage label.

Some bags do go missing, usually only for a day or two, so packing with calamity in mind can't do any harm, and can leave you unruffled even in a lost bag situation. The key here is to split some items across your carry on and hold luggage - so for example, keep medication and other vital or* valuable belongings in your carry on bag. Add in a few pairs of underwear, swimming shorts, and enough clothes to see you through the first day away. If you are travelling with your partner, then you could split some clothes between your two bags, so you are both covered in the event of a bag going astray.

There are several companies that can take the headache and backache out of lugging your luggage on a journey, by collecting your luggage from your home and deliver it to your hotel. You can do this within the UK, throughout Europe, or across the world, and as well as suitcases, you can ship ski equipment or golf clubs. Book online or over the phone at least a couple of days before you are due to travel (you can track your delivery via the website after collection). A bag weighing up to 30 kilos delivered to another part of the UK is about £30 each way, or about £50 for deliveries to Europe. Ski boots and skis are about £50 each way to the Alps, or a golf bag about £60 each way to Portugal. 

A passport, camera and notebook are solid packing suggestions; a plastic plane though - probably not

Contact Carry My Luggage, First Luggage First Luggage , and Excess Baggage Company

One more thing...I've been asked many times if it Is safe putting your address on a luggage tag for all the world to see? It's usually related to the fear of returning home to an emptied house - presumably by burglars burglars noting down the address realising that you're abroad.

You'd have to be incredibly unlucky to have your house burgled as a result of someone opportunistically happening to read your luggage labels, but it isn't unheard of. Indeed there have been cases of organised gangs using airport accomplices to gather addresses from passengers’ bags as they wait in the check in queues.

Either way, it's an unnecessary risk, as you don’t need to put your address on a label. I put my name, the hotel I am heading for, and my phone number, which will suffice in the even of the bag being misshipped - i.e. sent to the wrong destination.

Incidentally any bag that is temporarily 'lost' will likely be opened by the airline or customs authorities. In this case it can help to have packed something unusual inside your luggage - 'The Man of the People' let's say, as it will help identify the bag as a match for yours from the description you'll be asked to give of its contents.

Not a dirty-airport protest by baggage handlers, but public art in Sacramento County Airport. Photo Flickr/anselor


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
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Is a dreamy overwater villa always better than a beach room?
posted by Richard Green on 04/04/2017
 

The classic Bora Bora shot of the sun setting behind a string of overwater villas

Overwater villas are wonderfully romantic, of course. They have private steps down into the sea and are therefore brilliant for swimming and snorkeling. They feel supremely decadent, make for glorious photos and hands down provide the best bragging rights at dinner parties.

And yet, there are a few factors to keep in mind when choosing to book an overwater villa...

Overwater villas mean no shade, wooden planks too hot for barefoot, tightly clutered villas, and long walks to the bar. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Barefoot Luxury; think again

For starters, if you have daydreamed for month about enjoying some truly barefoot luxury on your next holiday, then I have to disappoint by passing on the fact that getting to and from your villa - or even from your front door to the electric buggy - will need some footwear.

Resorts place large jugs of water with ladles in them to stop guest's feet burning on the hot walkway. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Those attractive wooden walkways looks great and give that lovely landing stage or yacht club ambience, but they swiftly heat up in the sun and are blisteringly impossible to tramp along bare foot over. Some places provide buckets of water with wooden ladles in them so that you can douse your feet, but after a while it just feels a bit of a fag.  

The long walk home

Okay, so having to don flip-flops is hardly the end of the world, but even with suitable footwear the walk from your villa to back to the main resort can be a longish one. And you'd be surprised how many times a day you'll be making the trip - for breakfast, for a dip in the pool, group yoga on the beach, for a cocktail, lunch, to meet your friends, dinner...well you get the picture.

The larger resorts have many buggies and a system of taking guests to and from their villa to the mean resort in them. The first time is a little thrill. The second to the firth go is fine. And I know this is hard to believe, but after that a 10-15 minute delay in your buggy arriving can start to grate.

The long schlepp home from lunch. Photo My Bathrom Wall

A good compromise here is to ask for an overwater villa that isn't at the end of the pier, as it were.

Noisy neighbours

Mind you, if you do book a villa at the end of a frond of rooms, you probably won't hear any noise from other guests as they walking to and from their rooms – sometimes late at night, and sometimes a little worse for wear - or the passing staff buggies taking guests hither and thither, or personnel for room cleaning, or room service.

"I'M AT MY OVERWATER VILLA!" is a common phrase from other guests passing by. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Less room to stretch out

As it happens, beach villas are almost always more spaced out too, and they often enjoy some shade from the island's palm trees. Even if the island didn't originally have any trees on it, which is often the case, then it will be planted with a fairly dense cluster of palms at its centre. This is in contrast to the fierce burning sunshine that you'll be toiling under on the treeless and snaking wooden walkways.

Overwater villas may be built closer together than you think. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Children in deep water

For families and those travelling with children, it is an awful lot easier to relax with little ones when you are on dry land and can control the time that they may have near to the water. The over water villas - by definition - come with the added hazard of having ledges, decks and steps right (all slippery after you've had a shower, or a rain shower from the clouds). And there's no gradual increase in the depth of the water, as there is on a beach. The over water villas are built out over water that is immediately deep enough to be safe for swimming and diving. 

The posher the resort the less likely it is to have child-proof barriers around the villa's decking. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Strong swimmers only

The same goes for anyone who isn't a strong swimmer. All of the overwater villas have a flight of steps leading down into that gorgeous turquoise sea, but chances are that you will be immediately out of your depth - perfect for snorkelling, but not so hot if you happen to be a bit of an unsure swimmer.

Sitting out stormy weather

And if you should be unlucky enough to hit a patch of poor weather, then the noise of the waves slapping against the villa's stilts can be irksome at night, plus you may just be the sort of person who just feels more comfortable to ride out a storm on terra firma.

Make way for buggies transporting guests, staff, laundry, and room service. Photo My Bathroom Wall

 


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
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Frequently flyer clubs are still worth joining, even if you don't fly frequently...
posted by Richard Green on 15/03/2017
 

An Air Mauritius Airbus A340 arriving at at it's home airport; a popular destination for freebie flights. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Airline frequent flyer schemes get a pretty bad press these days, largely as they have got less generous and more pernickety over the years. But the fundamental point is that you can still get something for nothing, and when the prize is flights and upgrades, they remain worth joining.

Even if you rarely take a flight or always buy the cheapest tickets, you should enrol now. Choosing which scheme is best for you and figuring out how to make the most of the points is fiendishly complicated - I know as I've joined more than a dozen of the clubs in order to figure it out.

Distilled from my experience, here are 10 points to help you get the most from frequent flyer schemes…

1: Concentrate on one club to maximise your collecting speed. Airlines are grouped into alliances – where you can earn and spend across all members of one alliance by being in a single club - so join a club from each of the biggest two alliances – Star and OneWorld - so that you’ll be covered for most of your flying, whichever airline you choose.

2: Get an affiliated credit card to earn points whenever you spend, and look out for enrolment bonuses, which can be up to 20,000 points - providing you use the card in the months after getting it.

3: Double dip to get twice the points on purchases. Over half of all frequent flyer points are earned on the ground, by shopping with airline ‘partner’ shops or spending on an affiliated credit card. For example, link a Woolworths Everyday Rewards card to your Qantas frequent flyer club and earn Qantas points from both the Qantas credit card and the Woolworth’s Everyday Rewards on each purchase. 

4: Pool family spending so that other family members’ flying and spending go into one pot, helping the points to accumulate faster. You can pool points in the schemes of Virgin Australia, British Airways, Japan Airlines and others. Qantas allows transfers between family members up to four times a year.

5: Booking strategy: think of booking flights with points just as you would with cash. That means, try to book early, avoid holiday periods and, if you can, stretch a weekend break to miss flying out on Friday and back on Sunday – the busiest days. And if you don’t have enough points for a flight, there is usually the option to spend fewer points to get an upgrade, or on hotels, hire cars, and also general online shopping with many high street brands.

6: Ask about partner airline flights – many schemes only show their own airline flights on the Website booking page. Call the scheme reservations centre and the agent will give you more options on other alliance member airlines. It doesn’t cost more points to change planes en route to your destination, and looking at other airlines can mean getting seats even when direct flights are already booked up.

7: Rather than spending points on short flights where everyday fares are kept low with competition from budget airlines, save them for trips further afield where you’ll save more. And whichever airline scheme you are in, open jaw trips generally don’t cost extra points, so you can fly, say, into Auckland and back from Christchurch.

8: Find which schemes are best. Figuring out how the schemes differ is a mammoth chore, but webflyer.com has done it for you. It rates different clubs across lots of criteria and gives points out of 10 for club member rating and ‘our rating’. The Freddie Awards (freddieawards.com) are member generated and give a good idea as to the current best clubs: Virgin’s Velocity scheme came top in all five award categories in the Middle East & Asia/Oceania region.

9: Don’t forget budget airline schemes. If you fly budget airlines overseas you needn’t miss out either, as some have frequent flyer programmes too. They are generally admirably simple and easy to use. Budget airlines with schemes include Air Asia, Air Baltic, Cebu Pacific, Norwegian, Southwest and Vueling.

10: It’s no nest egg. If you have a stash of points, don’t view them as you would with money and save them for your retirement. The generosity of the schemes is likely to keep reducing over time. So if you have a wodge of points saved up, do yourself a favour – spend them!


YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED
   2487 views   
How to avoid the Calcutta-splutter...
posted by Richard Green on 07/03/2017
 

Inspecting the finer points of Calcutta. Photo My Bathroom Wall

I've never been one to obsess over travel hygiene, in the sense that the usual hygiene you'd use at home tends to suffice. In fact I bristle at the sight of tourists brushing their teeth in bottled water, or refusing to eat food offered on a train by compartment compadres.

Yet there are a few sensible points that can keep you healthy whilst away from home. Not least is eating Indian food in India, Indonesian in Indonesia, and unless you go very posh indeed, avoiding filet mignon at small shack restaurants.

I've often been asked how to avoid getting food poisoning while travelling, especially in India. There are different attitudes to hygienic travel about the place, with some tourists eating bananas as their 'street food' and only brushing their teeth in bottled water.

One reader even asked me if they could contract 'Delhi-belly' by handling money, and so wondered if it was possible to sterilise their bank notes? Well it's true that bank notes get into flimsy and filthy states after prolonged use anywhere, but it's impractical to sterilise them or to avoid handling them. 

Here are some more sensible precautions...

1) I'd say that the best thing to do when travelling in India – or others countries like it – is always to wash your hands before eating. This is easily done as you are falling in line with local custom. Even the most modest roadside shack will have a tap and sink to one side of it, and locals use it religiously prior to eating a meal.

2) Ice and salads were the bogeymen, but most ice is made from treated water these days, especially in hotels, and salads are generally washed in treated water too.

3) It makes sense to eat at busy restaurants (the high turnover means food is more likely to have been freshly cooked) and avoid ordering off piste – I’d always steer clear of bolognaise or goulash on what is otherwise an Indian menu.

4) Street food gets more than its fair share of blame, but it’s a crying shame to miss out, and if something is sizzling right in front of you should be ok.

5) Drinking bottled water is the best way forward, but it's not at all wise to buy a bottle stored in the open down a dusty side street and then put your mouth around the opening. If you can. do as the locals do and perfect a way of drinking from the bottle without your lips touching the bottle.


 
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