annabel’s top tips for taking the trauma out of travel
Oh, but wait. Somehow you’ve got to navigate the torturous process of getting there. And back. And when I say process, I mean the one that involves lost passports, tailbacks on the M25, ill-judged luggage allowances, toddler tantrums at the airport and arriving at your destination to find that your family of five are going to have to contort themselves into a small Fiat. And that’s just the holiday itself.
Once back on home soil, comes the mobile phone bill detailing a plethora of extra charges - some of which you never knew existed - and the bank statement that shows you have been charged the equivalent of another holiday for using your card. Are we being negative? Yes, well a little perhaps, but the point is that coping with the administrative side of your holiday can be incredibly stressful.
The good news? There are plenty of things you can do to prepare in advance and avoid these, erm, little mishaps. Interested? Read on for our quick and easy tips to take the trauma out of travel.
An expired passport is the ultimate travel faux-pas. However, it can be easily avoided by putting a reminder in your calendar three to six months before the expiry date (remember that some countries require your passport to be valid for six months from your date of departure). Be mindful of busy periods (the run up to Christmas and the school holidays) when waiting times can exceed three weeks. By far the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to renew is online.
Book flights as early as possible to avoid inflating prices. Compare prices easily using skyscanner.net and use the website to check prices on different dates. Flying a day earlier or later can save you a fortune.
As your flight day approaches, check in on-line. This is something that annabel does as a given for their clients. Email a copy to yourself, print a paper copy or just pick it up off the app. Whichever way you do it, it saves a lot of time and queues at the airport, leaving more time for shopping, eating, drinking, relaxing and legging it to the departure gate.
Don’t be complacent about this or you might well end up in the place nobody else wanted to stay. Plan and book well in advance. You can’t go wrong with personal recommendations, but if that’s not an option, try Pinterest, Instagram, Trip Advisor and Booking.com for inspiration and reviews. Whatever you’re considering, do check Google maps to establish the location. ‘Just outside Nice’ could be a pleasant seafront stroll away from the opulent Old Town or it could see you up a mountain in the Alps with an hour’s stomach-churning drive to the beach.
These days mobile phones are as fundamental to travel as our passports. They generally serve as travel agent, map, tourist guide, boarding pass holder and entertainment, to name but a few. However, in order to access all of the above, you need data and extortionate data roaming charges are notoriously problematic for even the most discerning techie traveller. The best thing you can do is turn off your data roaming before you even board the plane, but – and this is a big but – that obviously negates the point of having it in the first place. No data – no internet. So what can you do instead?
If you’re travelling within the free-roaming zone in Europe, you won’t need to make any changes to your current tariff but if you’re going further afield, check the international bolt-on tariffs with your mobile provider. They will almost always improve your deal and, for an agreed sum, can usually provide free local calls and free calls back to the UK. You can also get a capped data amount per day which can then be rationed out to your teenagers via your personal hotspot whilst hopping between free wi-fi zones.
Remember that streaming videos and downloading are the biggest culprits of data draining, so make sure you download films and apps before you travel or at least when you’re in a free wi-fi zone. In terms of apps, there are some that we never leave home without: google maps, google translate, booking.com, air bnb and the airline’s app from which you can manage your flight booking. Oh and make sure you’re picking up your Avios!
Whatever’s your thing - sloth-spotting in Costa Rica, sunset surfing in Sri Lanka or glugging your way round northern California’s vineyards - it’s a really good idea to book trips, tours and activities in advance. The same goes for ski hire, lessons or guides and even for eating out. It will ensure that you eat at the more reputable – or palatable - restaurants. And don't forget the childcare! Book early to ensure the nanny, crèche or holiday club is ready and waiting for you on arrival.
Ask anyone what’s the cheapest way to spend money abroad and you’ll get an array of conflicting advice. Card? Cash? Cash from the bank? The Post Office? The airport? The differing advice is largely due to the fact that the situation frequently changes, as do bank charges, exchange rates and commission rates. It’s a good idea to look into your bank’s charges for using cards abroad to avoid getting stung (and only finding out about it once you are home). Monzo cards are definitely worth considering – they offer competitive rates with no added fees or charges on card payments and free cash withdrawals of up to £200 every 30 days. In terms of cash, Co-Founder of annabel, Annabel Bunch, advises, ‘I always order on-line through the Post Office and collect in advance rather than succumbing to the commission rates at the airport.’
We are certainly not travel experts or operators but we are skilled and experienced planners. Having tried and tested how best to plan a trip, we know that having everything written down chronologically in one place is by far the best way to avoid stress and unforeseen problems. It really is worth spending time on this. Include information such as booking references and confirmation numbers, contact names and restaurants.
Write or type your itinerary (you can upload and save into iBooks as a PDF) or keep a physical file and include your passports and other paper documents. Download a free annabel itinerary template here or, even better, consider employing a third party to prepare it for you.
An annabel client recently said, ‘As I get ready to leave for my summer vacation, I am passed a folder detailing flights, car hire, maps, restaurant bookings, boat charters, guest schedules, key contacts, food deliveries and best beaches – yet another skill my PA takes on – Tour Operator!’
Other useful information to add to your itinerary is your travel insurance cover and policy number, along with the 24-hour emergency number. You should obviously take your driving licence with you if you are hiring a car abroad but beware of the will they/won’t they no-deal Brexit which will mean you are also required to hold an International Driving Permit (IDP). The same applies for a number of other countries, such as the US and Japan. IDPs are quickly and easily obtained from the Post Office.
‘Why on earth did I bring that?’ are the words you no longer need to utter if you follow our advice for packing smart and selectively. Less hassle, less choice, less washing on your return! Check the luggage allowance on the airline’s website well in advance and have a pre-prepared packing list to suit your trip (camping, skiing, city break, beach holiday). No matter how prepared you want to be for any eventuality, you’re unlikely to need a ski jacket in Ibiza. Keep a go-to packing list for carry-on luggage and make sure you are aware of the restricted items (leave the corkscrew at home!).
If flying, save your mental health and leave early to avoid the stress of arriving too late to park the car, find the shuttle bus, check in and get to your gate. Using a valet service for car parking is a sure-fire way to ease airport angst: park, drop keys and step seamlessly into the terminal. See being early as a bonus. Stock up on tax-free shopping (check it out before you go at globalblue.com) or relax in the lounge. If you’re a frequent flyer, take advantage of the benefits of schemes like Priority Pass or Lounge Key, allowing you access to the more exclusive lounges at most international airports. Many banks and credit card companies collaborate with these services, so it’s worth checking to see if you are eligible.
If you’re driving in the UK, again, leave early. Dodge the cursed commuter traffic or holiday hell-drivers and you will halve your driving time. Little children sleep; teenage children sleep, meaning you can get to your destination without even an ‘are we nearly there yet?’ or a ‘can we stop at McDonald’s?’.
If, like many, you have over 10 million photos on your laptop, you might want to consider making a photobook of your holiday. Capture the memories of your holiday – it might be the only thing the children have to inherit! Annabel consultant, Kate Jefferson, will create a beautiful momento of your trip if you have already moved onto planning your next adventure.
So, whatever trips you’re going on this Summer, prepare, plan and pack light. You’ll never have to lie about how relaxing your holiday was ever again. Bon voyage!