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Get set forthe summerholidays
Written by: Jeremy Head, award-winning travel writer and photographer, occasional TV presenter and author of the Frommer's Guidebooks to Andalucia and Seville.
Have you booked yours yet? If so, you might be breathing a sigh of relief, particularly if you booked it online. There's so much information to wade through, just booking your holiday can feel like a major endeavour. But don't leave it until the last minute to finalise the other details. Summer holidays are the highlight of the year for most of us, but they can also be pretty stressful – particularly travelling to and from the destination. Here's my handy guide for ensuring your holiday is as hassle-free as possible.
Small print and
Passports, visas – I've had my share of last minute panics. Applying for a new UK passport by post takes at least three weeks and can take as long as six during busy periods. And it's not always just about having a passport that's in date. So dust yours off and take a look. Some countries, like South Africa, require a certain number of blank pages in it when you arrive; some require at least six months' validity. For trips to the US, you need an ESTA from the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation which you must apply for at least 72 hours before travel.
Visas for some destinations – like India, China and Russia – can take several weeks if you apply by post. If you're in a tight spot you can usually get a UK passport and most visas within 24 hours – but you have to go and queue in person at the passport office and the relevant embassies. And if you're planning to drive overseas you may also need an
International Driving Licence which you can buy at some post offices over the counter.Visas for some destinations – like India, China and Russia – can take several weeks if you apply by post.
Ditch the teabags –
Top kit to take away
You can get holiday essentials anywhere these days, but Brits still spend almost as much before they travel as when they are away, according to ABTA. Here's a selection of handy kit you might want to pack.
1)Travel adapter: Europe and US only plugs are widely available.2)Travel bottles: Avoid problems at security and travel lighter by decanting lotions into small travel bottles.3)Universal sink plug: Many cheaper hotels don't have basin plugs and this will be handy for occasional hand washing.4)Dry bag: Ideal for beach breaks – just bung everything valuable in one for complete protection.5)Ear plugs and eye mask: Cheap and compact, both are handy if you're a light sleeper.6)First aid kit: Make sure you have the basics covered – just in case.
Getting to the point
Travelling to somewhere like Thailand or Mexico? Many UK holidaymakers do so without considering vaccinations against unpleasant diseases like cholera or diphtheria – some of which can kill. Certain parts of the world require a vaccination certificate for yellow fever too – in particular, most of sub-Saharan Africa. So, if you're travelling somewhere even just a little more exotic, then consult your GP about appropriate vaccines and anti-malaria medications a couple of months before you travel. I also check the excellent country guides on the National Travel Health Network and Centre website.If you're travelling somewhere even just a little more exotic, then consult your GP about appropriate vaccines.
Keep cool and get covered
According to the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) as many as one in four of us still travel without adequate travel insurance. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) provides first aid cover in participating countries (all EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Lichtenstein and Switzerland), so apply if you're travelling to Europe. You can apply online and it takes about a week.
If you have one, ensure it hasn't expired. Most people don't realise that they need to be renewed every five years. Remember the EHIC isn't a replacement for travel insurance. If you need prolonged treatment or repatriation, you could end up with huge hospital bills – and the EHIC doesn't cover you for loss or damage to personal items. So make sure you're properly covered.
If you travel even a couple of times a year, you'll probably find an annual policy is best value – they typically cover an unlimited number of trips in a year as long as
none are longer than 30 days. There's some really useful advice on choosing the right policy for you on the Which? website.If you travel even a couple of times a year, you'll probably find an annual policy is best value.
Get the flight right
Flying used to be easy. Show up, check in, get on. These days, with far more people flying, complex security regulations and low-cost airlines charging extra for everything, it's often genuinely stressful. Check in online if you can to avoid queues at the airport. It's usually available 24 to 48 hours before departure and you can usually select your seat too. You may also be able to pre-book a fast track service that gets you through security quicker – check individual airport websites for details.
If I'm driving to the airport, I often book valet parking. The price difference between this and having to park miles away and get a transfer to the terminal is often as little as £10 – good value if you've got little ones and pushchairs to lug on and off buses.
Be organised with your luggage. Know what the weight restrictions are. These days I weigh my bags with a luggage scale to help avoid excess baggage charges.
Check which items are banned in hand luggage and pack accordingly. And get to the airport in plenty of time; if I'm flying long haul I turn up three hours beforehand. There is nothing more stressful than worrying about missing a flight.Be organised with your luggage – know what the weight restrictions are.
Heathrow Airport is Europe's busiest airport, handling some 70 million passengers a year. With that many people getting on and off planes, there are bound to be a few things forgotten. In fact there's a dedicated team of 30 people trying to reunite the 100,000 or so items that get left behind each year with their owners! Just a few of the items currently held include:
1)10,585 iPads, laptops and other computer gear2)5,840 pairs of glasses3)1,825 watches4)One set of £100,000 diamond earrings5)One television6)One false leg
Any items which go unclaimed for over three months are given to charity where possible.
I simply couldn't believe how much more complicated travelling became with the arrival of baby Joseph (now just coming up to three). Travelling with children can be a huge challenge, particularly younger ones. Check luggage allowances for your children – they vary from one airline to the next, particularly the low-cost carriers. Check policies on carrying pushchairs and car seats too. It makes even more sense to arrive early at the airport when travelling with children – everything takes longer. Think about the flight times and work out when they will want to eat. It may be worth arriving an hour or so earlier and eating before boarding if that means children are fed and happy once you're airborne.
Keeping them amused on shorter flights can be harder work than long ones, as there's often no seat-back TV. An iPad or portable DVD player can be a real lifeline here. Pack some sweets or chewing gum for children aged over three to suck or chew to help equalise the pressure in their ears as you climb and descend.
There is one minor advantage to travelling with children – you usually get to board the plane first, which gives you more time to bag space in overhead lockers and get settled.
Finally, if you're hiring a car abroad, check whether infant seats will be supplied. Many car rental companies provide them, but often they need to be pre-ordered at extra cost. If you're travelling with a baby, you may decide to take your own baby car seat – most airlines will carry these for free.
Now see what the travel pros pack – and measure your prep against our checklist.
Ever wondered what travel writers pack for trips? Some of these confessions were a little surprising!
Travel writer for Elle and Hello, Lee Cobaj:
Hair straighteners. Otherwise I'd be wandering hot countries looking like Diana Ross in the Chain Reaction video.Street photographer Katie Jane Cockerill:
Pinky, the little pink bunny soft toy I've had since I was tiny.Guidebook writer James Stewart:
Foam earplugs essential: little kip = poor work.National Geographic columnist, David Whitley:
A camera dry bag. Always forget it and have to buy a new one for kayaking.Travel blogger, Pam Mandel:
A headlamp with a red light mode – less likely to wake others up if you're sharing a room.Freelance travel writer, Victoria Trott:
Lavender oil to sprinkle on a pillow to induce sleep.
Your pre-holiday checklist
Here's a checklist of things to do and when to try and get them done.Eight weeks before you goCheck your passport.Check visa requirements and apply.Buy travel insurance.If travelling to Europe, apply for an EHIC.Check vaccinations with your doctor.Six weeks before you goBook car hire.Find out if you need an International Drivers' Permit.Book airport parking or transport to the airport.Three weeks before you goCheck paperwork/tickets from your airline and tour operator.Check weight restrictions for carry-on and checked-in luggage.Order foreign currency. Online is usually most convenient and often cheaper.One week before you goMake copies of travel documents – upload to a web-based email or leave with someone at home.Buy games for the children to keep them occupied on the journey.Two days before you goCheck in online.Review flight times and work out your route to the airport. Factor in plenty of time.Pack – weigh luggage and double-check requirements for liquids in hand luggage.
The views expressed here are solely those of the author,
and do not necessarily reflect the views of M&S Bank.
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