Bucket Lists

Working in the industry that I do, I have been extremely lucky to have already covered a lot of my bucket list and nowadays the world is a lot smaller than you think. With seat sales it is easy to get some real bargains to far flung places you may have only dreamed about. Why not share your bucket list with me, you never know what you can achieve until I try and price it up. Its surprising how far you can go often for Europe prices.

So first of all thinking of those jaw dropping once in a lifetime moments

1. Taj Mahal  and northern India – You don’t see Taj Mahal until you go through the gates and it is then the sheer size of what appears in front of you, but this is just one of the most magnificent and beautiful man made structures I have ever seen with influences from so many different religions and cultures making the most wonderful variety. Structures that stand out so ostentatiously in a sea of crowds and poverty. You just cannot believe the intricate details, bejewelled inlays and carvings, the beautiful symmetrical patterns, the erotic statues of Khajuro, the abandoned city of Fatephur Sikri

2.  Machu Picchu – The steep path seems to wind and wind and wind up the mountain but with no signs that the magnificent ancient city that lies beyond.  Even when you join the throngs of tourists going through the gates there is no sign of  it.  Our guide took us past the plaques remembering Hiram Bingham, up the staircase alongside some old houses, round the corner, and there it is wow!! An entire city lies like a carpet before your very eyes just like that.  There will come a time when you will no longer be able to walk among the ruins and feel the stones so visit it while you can. The Peruvians are so welcoming and the scenery is so beautiful

3. Tulum – The only ruins in the world that are on the sea, carvings thousands of years old and reasonably well preserved considering the destructive salts from the sea. Huge iguanas are now the only occupants of these ancient dwellings and then you get down to the gorgeous white sand and crystal blue sea, beautiful

4. The Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza – Not spectacularly beautiful perhaps but the sheer scale of them is jaw dropping.  The wonder is realising just how old these pyramids are, how they built them to such precision and why they were built as tombs.

5. Glacier Bay Alaska – A day at sea is usually a pretty dull time looking for on board activities or reaching for that big, chunky book and lazing on deck, but not so in Alaska, little icebergs float like little sapphires in the sea, larger glaciers tower as far as the eye can see. Whales are plentiful. Birds nest peacefully on the little islands

6. The Matterhorn – Mountains are generally a rugged mass stretching for miles with various crags and crevices, waterfalls and patches of snow here and there. Matterhorn just seems to be the classic pointy mountain drawing seen on chocolate boxes

7. Ulva Island New Zealand – Where? A tiny island off Stewart island New Zealand, only accessible by speedboat and only occupied by birds, thousands of them. The only sound you can hear is the call of birds and the rustling of tree branches

8. The Seychelles –  The granite islands of the Seychelles are unique, beautiful white sands against a contrast of huge black granite stones

9. Anse Chastanet, Ladera, Jade Mountain and Sugar Beach – All of these have a jaw dropping view of the Pitons in St Lucia

10. Ephesus – better preserved ruins than Pompeii but probably not as well known near Kusadasi Turkey

11. Inisheer and the Cliffs of Moher – I was lucky enough to go to Inisheer on a beautiful sunny day when it was 24 degrees and the sea was calm, Inisheer at its very best. We were lucky enough to sail right at the base of the Cliffs of Moher. Truly memorable

12. Pompeii – Not as well preserved as I imagined but the colours of the frescoes are still bright and the whore houses clearly marked, very weird

13. The salt pans at Maras Peru – Salt pans stretched out like a patchwork quilt, awesome

14. Kuranda Railway Queensland Australia

15. The Colosseum Rome – What an eerie place. Being there and reading the barbaric stories of gladiators and slaves sends a chill right through your bones

16. Train journeys in Sri Lanka – It’s not the most comfortable rail journey, that’s true but so unique, carpets of tea plantation from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy and then rainforest from Kancy to Colombo

17 Halong Bay Vietnam – True there are a lot of junks around and a lot of people but once you get away from the main areas it is so peaceful and spectacular. The food is absolutely delicious too.

18. Bay of Islands New Zealand – So peaceful and at night you can see two galaxies and the Southern Cross – amazing

19. Sand Dunes – Sossusvlei- Namibia – Huge dunes with red sand and dead trees giving a unique desert character unlike anywhere else

Places still on my bucket list

1. South Africa

2. Thailand

3. Borneo

4. Chile

5. More of Australia

6. Niagara Falls

7. Iguassu Falls

8. Zambia and Victoria Falls

9. Cornwall and The Isles of Scilly

10. Madagascar

11. Safari in Kenya

12. Tanzania

13. Costa Rica

14. Bali

What is still on your bucket list? It may be affordable and doable than you think. Let me try and achieve your dreams. Contact me and let’s discuss it 020 3432 4740 or email Cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

Why you should book early and some money saving tips

If you book early you will get the best flight and hotel deals. There are often early booking deals, blocks of seats on first come first served. Late deals are mostly a thing of the past. This is especially true over school holidays but they are even getting scarce in June nowadays.

Early booking offers, free night offers etc. are often available if you book this far ahead but if you leave it until the last minute you get what is left or what has been cancelled. When LowCostHolidays went bust last year the hotels wouldn’t honour the accommodation as they had not been paid and then many of them resold it at the rack rates rather than the contract rates and the drop in the currency post Brexit compounded the problem. There difference may not be as great for next year due to poor currency rates but they are unlikely to improve later.

Sometimes booking a flight and hotel together is actually cheaper so tempting as it is to book a cheap flight it is still worth checking that the bundle isn’t a cheaper way of doing it. For instance I did an multi centre USA enquiry which required me to book a minimum 3 nights accommodation so I was able to quote £970 including 4 nights accommodation in one of his 2 destinations or £1048 without any accommodation at all.

Taking advantage of seat sales can get you some real bargains. I bought a ticket for myself last September travel February London-Dubai-Sri Lanka – Singapore-Kuala Lumpur-London £560. I can’t always predict when seat sales will happen and it is different airlines at different times but usually at slow selling times, over Christmas, May-June and September-October

Be prepared to fly on “funny airlines” eg Turkish Airlines and Qatar are consistently voted top on Skytrax be prepared to fly indirect. Sometimes the break, although adding to your journey gives you a chance to stretch your legs

If you see a bargain whether that is a seat sale, early booking offer, something on Avios points etc. book it sooner rather than wait for a better offer. Sometimes a better offer does come along but more often they don’t

Be flexible eg midweek, early morning, late at night – this could save you a lot of money

Free child places for families still exist with the major tour operators, Thomas Cook and Jet2 even in the school holidays but they go quickly so you need to book either as soon as the brochures come out around September or round about now with the January launches but if you don’t want kids around you avoid school holidays and get cheaper prices too so generally avoid mid February, Easter, late May/early June, late July to end August, late October and New Year or at least travel out just before school holidays and/or return just after they go back but bear in mind that European accommodation is high season from June to September as Irish and European holidays are longer than ours

Buying your accommodation now for later in the year, in most cases you can pay just a small deposit usually £25

Read reviews to get a big picture but do take them with a pinch of salt. You will never please everybody and if you are expecting a de luxe apartment with all mod cons in Greece you will be disappointed. We have our own reviews as well as Trust You Reviews and wherever possible I only offer over 8/10

Travel in the rainy season or off season. I’m not suggesting going in the height of the monsoon but if you look at the first or last week of the rainy season for instance, you would be really unlucky to encounter two weeks of constant rain. You are more likely to have really high humidity and half an hour of heavy rain and it doesn’t rain in the bar but you can get some really good bargains.

Don’t always listen to friends. My friends love Magaluf. I don’t as I prefer something quieter and a bit more cultured.

Try not to leave holes to fill in later if you are unsure they can be filled. Plans can change eg staying with relatives and this can’t be helped but generally it is better to know that there is a plan A and a Plan B. I have had many clients who assume it is easy to fill the holes later but firstly there may not be availability later and secondly it may not be possible to easily get to the bits you left out as the routings may have changed and then you are stuck with having to do something that may not be happy with.

It is my job to plan a route that works best with your dates. It is much easier to plan what works first and then fill the holes afterwards than to book bits and pieces and then find it can’t be done.

Make sure passports are well in date and valid for the country you are visiting especially if you book a long way in advance. Some countries require 6 months beyond the return date. If possible have this to hand when you book your holiday/flight. I usually have to put dummy details in and it is harder to change them than put them in in the first place. I get people every year that have to get emergency passports because they think it is valid.

Make sure that you have visas if required for the country you are visiting. It is easy forget that you need visas for some popular destinations like Cuba, Goa, Sri Lanka, Australia, USA and now Canada

Make sure insurance covers your needs. Do you have a pre existing illness. You need to tell them otherwise you wont be covered

Check well in advance with your GP whether your destination requires vaccinations or malaria tablets. Are yours up to date? You may need the jabs several weeks in advance or to start taking your malaria tablets a couple of weeks in advance

 Organise excursions in advance. They are often cheaper in advance and some things do get full eg Eiffel Tower, Disneyland Paris, La Scala operas and The Last Supper

Transfers can often be cheaper in advance eg Malta taxi 25 euros locally £12 booking in advance, Majorca £25-39 euros in resort £10 in advance with meet and greet and how nice to be met by a driver who will help you with your cases

If you travel often keep a few small euro and dollar notes and larger coins, they are always useful for tips, bus fares etc. It is usually cheaper to hold on to them than change them back.

Book car hire well in advance for peak season as they do run out and make sure the boot is big enough for your luggage. It is cheaper to upgrade in advance than in resort

Please give me a call on 020 3432 4740 to organise your next hassle free trip

 

The Importance of ATOL and Financial Protection

I will be upfront and admit that 2016 was a difficult trading year for various reasons, but the collapse of LowCost Holidays was catastrophic, not just because they were a big company but also because the announcement was made at the very height of the season when it had the biggest impact.

Travel Counsellors used their bedbank arm LowCostBeds . This alone affected a staggering 4,000 of our customers. It was this situation that made me feel thankful that I work for a company that cares and also that offers the financial security and the manpower at head office to keep on top of the situation. Many of them gave up their own time and worked through the night to offer solutions and pay the hoteliers to make sure that our clients could go ahead with their holidays as planned

I personally had no clients booked with LowCostBeds as I wasn’t happy with their levels of customer service so I tried wherever possible to book I slightly more expensive option and I often absorbed the difference myself.

Even though I wasn’t in the difficult position of having clients with LowCostBeds, I still got the fallout from several of those that had booked their holidays with LowCostBeds. They got in touch with me mostly via Facebook messenger to ask me to find alrternative accommodation as they were left with flights but no accommodation and no refund.. In most of those cases I was unable to find cheap alternatives as it was high season and there wasn’t much available and of course the hoteliers in most cases resold their accommodation at the going rate rather than the early booking contract rates and who can blame them? The fall in exchange rate post Brexit didn’t help either. The ones that booked early saw the benefits of paying just a deposit and securing a more beneficial exchange rate.

So here’s a reminder of how the LowCostHolidays situation arose. In 2013 a new law was passed which required any flight to or from the UK combned with car hire and or overnight accommodation overseas must be ATOL protected. LowCostHolidays moved their base to Palma which meant they never agreed to ATOL so when they went bust most of the flights were protected as these have to be paid for in advance but they did not pay the hoteliers so most of their clients lost their accommodation. With ATOL both the flight and the accommodation is protected.

Travel Counsellors were the first agency in the UK to agree and sign off our ATOL certificate. We agreed terms over and above the minimum required in that we don’t have to add accommodation within 48 hours. We have no limit but as soon as we add on accommodation we also add ATOL protection, whether this is a business or leisure trip.

If you book on the internet with Ryanair and Booking.com, Trivago or Late Rooms separately there is no such protection so if the accommodation in that instance had been booked through a company that went bust in many cases they would have no protection and there isn’t a compulsory regulatory body for hotels as there is with package or flights. Most of these companies are brokers so they just search the cheapest options. I do this as well but manually which means I check reviews through Trust You and out own clients and I check location as well. There have been a lot of cases of clients who have had to pay their hotel bills again or that have been scammed by accommodation that didn’t exist even with well known and heavily advertised  sites

So what happens if it’s not covered by ATOL eg if the journey starts in Bordeaux for one of my French clients or if the entire journey is by rail or coach. Travel Counsellors has a special insurance in place to cover these and this is what we used to reprotect our clients who were booked with LowCostBeds and Holiday Brokers.

Sometimes other events happen, bad weather, natural disasters or illnesses and we on hand to help with those situations too. Our Duty Office sometimes even email us before it is on the news and monitor which clients would possibly be affected.

Many hotels and airlines overbook during busy times. This is one reason why I always email hotels in advance to remind them of special requests birthdays or anniversaries, first timers, repeat customers, any excuse really for contacting them and just reminding them that we care.

So how about booking flight only online?

If there is a proposed strike we can keep on top of the situation and offer solutions. As we use a live system we can often bypass having to phone the airline and request

If an airline goes bust we have insurance in place to reprotect or refund or clients. The last huge failure was XL but more recently Monarch had an 11th hour reprieve. We had all the tools in place for a bail out but thankfully we didn’t have to use them and Monarch lives on.

First of all I would say if you do book a flight online, at least use the direct airline website and not a third party website. These are rarely live and you don’t know who you are booking with. Furthermore there is nothing to stop them increasing the fare after it has been booked.

I had a phone call recently from a lady who searched “cheap flights” on the internet and is now worried that the company she has paid a hefty deposit to doesn’t exist. I did some digging. The parent company that she named is based in Hyderabad in India and the subsidiary she booked through is a call centre apparently sharing its ATOL number with 2 other agencies so I would question whether this is even their own ATOL licence. I called the “agency” with a London phone number. The website invites you to to leave a massege on their contact details. This also told me that their website had not been professionally done, another warning sign. I asked them where they were based and for their ATOL number and they wouldn’t divulge either of those things. They may be quite legitimate but it would certainly ring alarm bells with me. I would certainly question where my money was going, as did this lady but too late unfortunately.

Currently the market is highly volatile with currency exchange rates and it is highly likely that many companies are on a knife edge and will fail particularly if they are working on tiny profit margins. Travel Counsellors has a failure insurance, its own ATOL licence and two IATA licences depending which fare structure we use so I can book your flight with peace of mind at a competitive rate.
If you are going to Australia I can offer a visa free as part of the service, otherwise I do offer advice about entry requirements but it is up to you to check your passport is valid and that you have the correct entry requirements.

I also had a client during the summer that had booked online and needed to change her flight. This proved to be really difficult as we had to track down the agency to get the reference numbers and then they didn’t want to help. They also wanted to charge her much more than I would have done.

Very few online agencies will offer you any advice about entry requirements, prebook your seats for you or book special meals or help with check in.

Surely the internet is cheaper? Surely travel agents must be making a huge profit? Well these are questions I can answer. The internet is sometimes cheaper, but not always and yes we do make a profit, but probably not as much as you think. Does anybody work for nothing? I’m pretty sure you don’t. In fact I work very long hours to ensure that you have a suitable and secure holiday at a competitive price and I know speak for most of us who work in travel. We are on hand 24/7 to sort out any unexpected problems.

If you would like a hassle free and fully protected holiday please contact me cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

Fam Trips

Fam trips, otherwise called famils or educationals are often seen by those outside the industry as a “free jolly” and indeed a few of them are but they are and should be far more likely to be a very full on and exhausting experience packing in as much as is humanly possible and a bit more into as short a time as possible. For instance I have been to Hong Kong and Namibia for just 3 nights and recently Slovenia for a day and a half but although exhausting it really does help us to have a true and deep understanding of the destination rather than just a few pictures and a brochure description which can look very glamorous and colourful but doesn’t tell us very much about the destination. To be honest it is good to have a balance of a true educational experience with just enough free time to explore ourselves. I personally try to apply for the ones I haven’t been to or only very briefly and want to understand the destinations better in order to be able to sell them to the right customers.

Having knowledge of the entire world even for the most experienced of us is impossible but the better the knowledge we have of a broad spectrum of destinations it helps us to make comparisons between possible destinations and to think outside the box offer possible alternatives and new and different ideas for a curious public so it is beneficial in that way too hence my recent trip to Slovenia which has so much to offer as a destination.

This is in response to a Linked In article from the perspective of a local ground handler or DMC (Destination Management Company) and it was indeed interesting to read that side of the story.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/do-travel-agents-really-need-go-fam-before-you-sell-zvonimir-androi%C4%87

1. There are many destinations that I sell that I haven’t been to for sure but I still feel that I need to see the destinations to understand them better. What does it feel like? What are the best areas to consider when selling a destination? How well do they speak English? How easy is it to walk around? Do I feel safe? Are the people friendly? How good is the service? What does the food taste like and how well do they cater for vegetarians and special diets? Could I recommend the market or the shopping? How do they cater for the disabled? How busy is the traffic? How long does it take to get from A to B? What tours and experiences should I recommend? How much does a cup of coffee cost or a beer? There are quite a few countries that I have sold many times but have felt completely different once I experienced them.
2. I like the ones run by tourist boards as this is the best and most unbiased overview of the country and they try to include the best the country has to offer.
3. Even if I go on a fam and don’t get a suitable enquiry I can feed in afterwards I do blog about it, post pictures, use social media and help all my colleagues to sell it too so there are more ways to promote it than simply selling it myself.
4. If I were to sell a destination that I have been to I am more likely to recommend restaurants, excursions, experiences and various add ons thereby helping the client to have a better opinion of the destination.
5. I am more likely to be passionate a place that I have seen, touched, smelt and felt.
6. For every fam trip that I’ve been on there will be another 30 destinations that I have paid to go to on holiday myself and for most of my holidays I create my own fam, going to lots of places and going on a few tours.
7. There are places that I do sell and really need to experience that I either couldn’t afford to go to or my husband has no interest in whatsoever. These include South Africa, Thailand (I have been to Chiang Mai) and Iceland .
8. Fam trips should include using public transport at least once wherever possible. This is particularly important within cities.

My Favourite Destinations

I often get asked what my favourite destination is. I have been to many places and each and every one brings back its own memories and there have been very few places that I actually hated so choosing the ones I like best is really difficult. I really can’t decide on a number one so these are in Alphabetical order

Canada – Our Canada and Alaska trip was pretty amazing. We covered Alberta and BC. So clean and fresh and we found the Canadians very friendly. We would love to return to Toronto and Quebec and see Niagara and the French part of Canada

Cancun – I was pleasantly surprised how lovely Cancun is. Beautiful white sand beaches but also history and nature. What makes Cancun different is the Mayan culture which is evident along the Mayan Riviera. Tulum has the only ruins in the world that are on the beach.

Elounda – There are few places that I would return to again and again but Elounda is one of them. I now have many friends there who remember us year after year. The half mile walk from the waterfront round the bay to the Elounda Island Villas is a really lovely walk  and there are so many restaurants we still haven’t tried them all. There are some lovely little traditional villages up in the hills with spectacular views of Spinalonga and across the bay.

Grenada – I love the Caribbean and the relaxed way of life but I particularly love Grenada which still feels like the Caribbean, not too built up and the capital St George is really pretty with an interesting colonial past.

India – India is an experience. Many people say this and it really is the most chaotic but at the same time the most peaceful and spiritual place, difficult to describe what I mean, but you have to go and experience it yourself. The poorest people live next to the most lavish and beautiful palaces, not just the Taj Mahal but many other forts and palaces that we saw in Agra, Jaipur, Delhi, Kujaraho and Varanasi. The Indian people are so accepting of other religions and cultures, a great example for others to follow.

Jerusalem – I felt a special spirituality in Jerusalem. Inside the city walls, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Armenians live side by side, each have there own cultures and it makes it a really interesting place, thousands of years of history are there and it touched me in a way that I just can’t describe

Mauritius – Mauritius was a place I loved and would definitely like to return to. I was surprised how much there was to do and the delightful combination of French and Creole cooking is absolutely delicious

Paphos – I have visited Cyprus more times than any other country outside the UK. I have seen a lot of changes in Paphos and thankfully mostly for the better. It is very easy, home from home but it still has enough history and Greekness to keep going back. Last time we stayed in Coral Bay as well and it is now very much a separate resort rather than just an extension of Paphos.

Peru – My one and only visit to South America. I loved Peru, the colourful markets, the crafts, the friendliness of the people. Macchu Picchu was absolutely amazing but we also loved Puno and Lake Titicaca. We just loved the whole experience.

Queensland – Queensland is vast, almost a country in itself where rainforest meets reef. There is so much variety in Queensland. Beautiful beaches, amazing scenery, The Great Barrier Reef, Kuranda Railway, colourful birdlife, theme parks and a relaxed way of life

Singapore – My favourite city. I love the way that all the different cultures live in harmony and have all bought their own uniqueness to a clean, modern and exciting city which is so easy to get around. Some of the newer attractions are absolutely amazing

Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka is beautiful. Lots of rainforest inland and tea plantations. A colonial past and lots of UNESCO heritage makes it a really interesting place to visit

Switzerland – I could never get bored with Switzerland. Those mountains are huge and very real and the scenery is so spectacular. The air is so clean and the mix of German, French ad Italian is unique. I have done most of the classic rail journeys and covered most of the country. I particularly love Zermatt, Interlaken and Lake Lugano

Vietnam – Only a short visit to Vietnam but it was a place I really loved and I like to see it again at a more leisurely place. The food was so good and the service and standards are very high.

 

 

Slovenia 

Slovenia is much closer than you probably think. Our easyJet flight was just short of two hours. 
Ljubljana airport is less than half an hour from the city itself, a similar distance to the ski area and just a bit further to Lake Bled so you can have three different kinds of holiday less than an hour from the airport and the coastal areas of Portoroz and Piran within an hour and a half so within this tiny country a two centre is easily doable. 
We began our weekend at Lake Bohinj which is stunning even on a cloudy winter day. It is very peaceful as there isn’t a lot of hotels there and it’s a huge area. 
It was a trip back in time to Lake Bled and memories of Yugotours came flooding back with familiar hotels that have hardly changed since the seventies. Lake Bled was very popular as a 2-centre holiday with Dubrovnik or Split. We had lunch at Grand Hotel Toplice which is a classic 5 star hotel with a stunning view over a Lake Bled. There is a golf course nearby as well. We tasted some local specialities of the region, beautifully presented as well as tasty. After lunch we took a boat over to Bled Island and rang the church bell to wish our loved ones good health. The church is small but very interesting as there are excavations from 10th century, frescoes from 14th century and a beautiful 18th century altar 
We arrived in Ljubljana in the evening in time to see the lights. The same artist has designed the lights for the last 16 years and they have different themes. This year’s display is Respect for Life and it is really unique. Ljubljana is almost all pedestrianised so it is really easy to walk around the city centre and browse the Christmas market, the river, the unusual and quirky sculptures, the unique triple bridge, the Butchers bridge with thousands of locks and Dragon Bridge with the symbol of the city at both ends. Ljubljana has some amazing and well preserved architecture. It is a very young city with an average age of just over 30 so there are some great bars and an outdoor culture even in sub zero temperatures families can be seen outside bars and cafes by the riverside. It is a really pretty city that feels safe and the locals nearly all speak perfect English. 
We had an amazing meal in AS Aperitivo with Matej and Mattej our lovely hosts from Luxury Slovenia. A few courses and bottles of wine later and their truly decadent strawberry cake is highly recommended. Late at night it becomes a disco which opens until the early hours of the morning. 
We did a food tour with Ljubljana tourist board in the afternoon with an excellent guide in which we walked a bit, ate a starter which was sausage for the meat eaters and pearl barley and vegetable soup for me, walked a bit more, talked about the history of the city and then stopped for another course. The tour took around 4 and a half hours and covered every part of the city ending at sunset on 13th floor of what used to be Slovenias highest building. 
Our stay was brief just a day and a half but it is certainly a place to revisit and a weekend break I would definitely recommend, perhaps at a slightly more leisurely pace! 

The holiday I want Santa to put in my stocking

My networking question for the week was “If Santa put a holiday in your stocking where would you want to go and who with?”

All of my networking group actually wanted to be with their families and friends which is all good news!

Ambitions varied from France to Round the World and the point of the exercise is firstly that I can help with just about anything, secondly that I love to create dreams and thirdly it may not cost as much as you think s there may be ways of thinking outside the box.

The Cuisine tour of France. Wherever you go in France you don’t have to go far to find some delicious food and wine. A few ideas would be using the Eurostar direct to Avignon, or fly to Bordeaux and self drive to the local vineyards or take one of the many day tours that are offered either in advance or locally or a short seine river cruise with Avalon including their Taste of Normandy tour.

Venice can be a very expensive trip if you want to stay in a hotel overlooking the Grand Canal in peak season, but there are other ways of economising. I recently organised apartments in Venice for my clients right in the centre of Venice Island. This was hundreds of pounds cheaper than staying in a hotel in a similar location, using Easyjet and using the public vaporetto from the airport is considerably cheaper than organising a private transfer. Travelling midweek can not only make it cheaper too but you can also avoid some of the weekend crowds

Another two Italy requests, one for Amalfi Coast. The most economical place to stay along the Amalfi coast is Sorrento and it also has the advantage of being a year round destination with a range of accommodation from basic apartments to 5* de luxe and there are several ways of getting from Naples airport to Sorrento. The further away that you get from Naples airport, the more expensive and exclusive the accommodation but also the cost of taxi transportation is very high. The other alternative is self drive but the average cost of parking is around 25 euros a night.

Another wanted to self drive around Southern Italy and this is a great idea but again factoring in parking costs can add a lot to the holiday, so looking at apartments or villas without a private pool to use as a base or staying away from the main cities in country residences can be lovely way to admire the countryside, meet local people and eat some authentic Italian cuisine. It is also worth looking at May or September for still pleasant weather with less crowds

Menorca with friends – depending how many friends it can often be cheaper to hire a villa and a minibus and avoid school holidays. June can be a lovely time to visit with some real bargains and there are many low cost flight options too.

Iceland with the family. Iceland is in huge demand at the moment with both summer and winter reporting record sales. It has so much to offer, wildlife, northern lights, volcanic activity, boat trips, whale watching. There are buses in Iceland but the best way to get around is to hire a car to get to other parts of Iceland outside Reykjavik

Slightly further afield is Egypt into the desert. Although possible, there can be security issues with this, so it is strongly advised to join a tour group and certainly at the moment I would suggest either Jordan, Israel, UAE or Oman as safe alternatives with a real authentic desert experience.

The rest had more ambitious ideas. Maldives is that get away from it all experience and although there are some “value” options it is not a cheap destination. There are no longer any charter flights and the limited choice of flights fill up fast but it might be worth considering indirect flights with Qatar or Emirates to reduce the cost, also considering a twin centre with less nights in Maldives can be an option that will reduce the cost.

Two people separately chose Hawaii. I would strongly suggest visiting more than one island as they are so different in character. One way to see them is to take a 7 night cruise on Pride of America. This is the only ship that is licensed to base in Hawaii and not only does it save several days crossing the Pacific but it is also a fraction of the cost of cruises that sail from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Hawaii is a very long flight so I would advise a stopover of at least one night in one of the American cities to break up the long flight and adjust to huge time difference. Flights to Hawaii can be very expensive in the summer so it is worth looking for seat sales with United or American Airlines from time to time. Hawaii is a year round destination so its best to avoid the peak summer, Christmas and Easter to get the best possible fares.

Peru is an absolutely stunning destination with lovely friendly people. Although accommodation is reasonably priced, it isn’t that easy to get around independently and also if you have any sort of breathing difficulties like asthma, altitude sickness can be a problem and therefore it is strongly advised to stay in Lima for a day or two just to adjust to altitude as well as jetlag. Lima  can be very daunting at first as it is a vast and busy city with lots of traffic so it is good idea to have a guided tour booked to get the best from it. Ideally you should be physically fit to get the best from a trip to Peru but it is something to do once in your life, ideally in your thirties.

Japan is another amazing destination but probably difficult for a family. Rooms all over Japan are tiny so getting family rooms is a huge challenge. Japan has the advantage of a fast and efficient rail network so it is really easy to get from A to B with a Japan Rail Pass

A Caribbean cruise. What advice would I give on this? To get the very best from a Caribbean cruise, choose one that starts and finishes in the Caribbean itself. Most cruises start from Miami and these do tend to be cheaper as there are so many of them but starting from the Caribbean means seeing more of the Southern Caribbean and some more authentic islands. There are some good bargains at the tail end of the hurricane season from September to November.

Montana and Yellowstone scooter holiday, what a lovely idea! I went to a promotion recently and Montana looks so scenic. Flights would be indirect and it is worth looking at seat sales and also avoiding the peak summer months. There should be some decent bargains around in May or June and maybe early October. May can still be quite chilly but June should be quite warm and pleasant.

Ecuador is the gateway to Galapagos, however there is a fair amount of crime in Ecuador so an alternative to consider as a gateway is Chile which in itself is a diverse and interesting country and it is still easy to get to Galapagos. Most Galapagos cruises are about a week long and sea sickness can be an issue as boats are small and it is the Atlantic but something to do once in a lifetime certainly.

And finally The World Tour – wow!! Of course you could plan a round the world flight and call on some kindly friends and relatives. These days it is often less expensive to do one trip to Asia and Australasia and another trip heading west to the Americas as round the world fares don’t work as well as they did 10 years ago but failing that, a round the world cruise would be an option to consider as you only need to unpack once and you have all your meals included so if you break it down per day it is actually really good value and you really do get to see parts of the world that are difficult to get to.

 

The Danube

In September we took a river cruise along the stretch of the Danube from Budapest to Passau covering 4 countries Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany so it was interesting to see the contrasts and different cultures of each place.

The Danube cruise we felt was generally less picturesque and leisurely than the Rhine but it is a great way to see the classic cities of Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna on one trip and it is extendable at both ends. We also felt that we didn’t get enough time to appreciate each place.

Budapest is an interesting city which has a lot of similarities with London. The Parliament building standing majestically on the riverbank dominating the skyline and the castle on the Buda side. The bridges remind me of London, chain bridge and Elizabeth Bridge both resemble London’s Victorian bridges. Budapest has an underground and a tram system which will help you get around the city cheaply and efficiently. An integrated day pass is around £5. Budapest has some great bars including the famous Buddha Bar. Budapest cashes on its reputation as a former communist capital and has a Communist themed bar, lots of Russian memorabilia but it does mean there are some interesting souvenirs to buy. I realised quite early on that a Danube cruise isn’t ideal for the disabled and Budapest was unfortunately a bit of a challenge for the wheelchair passenger on board.

After passing round the picturesque Danube Bend we reached Esztergom which has a massive cathedral, the largest and most impressive in Hungary. At first sight this looks impossible to reach but eventually I found a gentler road leading to it and a lift to get to the cathedral itself. It was worth the hike. Some parts of the cathedral, the Cupola and the treasury are at an extra charge but there is enough to see without having to pay and it is a very impressive Catholic Cathedral. There is fabulous panoramic view from the top. Esztergom although quite small, also has a couple of museums and art galleries.

Our next stop was Bratislava which I went to last year so this time we went to the shopping arcade which was closed last time as it was Sunday. The mall has all the well known brand names but at cheaper prices than neighbouring Austria. The Viennese get the train to Bratislava to stock up on cigarettes and booze at the weekends. The mall is very close to the centre so once I got my bearings we ventured into the “House of Beer” in the main street which we discovered last year.

From Bratislava, we had a brief stop in Linz which is a large and industrial city in Austria, hardly chocolate box but it does have a very impressive cathedral which is well worth seeing.

From Linz, we sailed straight to Passau in Germany. We liked Passau, very walkable and set on two rivers, it is a really pretty town with character and plenty to see. It was lovely just to walk around and sit by the river as we had a few hours there. The shopping is good  and there is a large shopping mall but also a more traditional high street leading to the ancient fortress and cathedral. Ancient and modern works well.

Melk was our next stop and the famous Melk Abbey and Gardens are almost vcertainly bigger than the town itself. I would have liked to spend longer at the Abbey and I didn’t have enough time to see the gardens (extra charge) but I did walk up to the viewpoint which was lovely. Most of our group went onto Durnstein by bus which gave them longer at the abbey but I took the electric bus down and cruised along to Durnstein. This was a good decision as this  was by far the prettiest and most leisurely stretch of river on the entire trip and I would hated to have missed the experience with the other 15 that stayed on board.

Durnstein was also very pretty but also expensive and touristy but the walk up to the the top was worth the view over the picturesque Wachau Valley.

Vienna was out final stop but the ship docked a few miles from the city so most of the group were disappointed that they saw very little of Vienna. Fortunately our flight was a late one so we left our luggage at the airport and ventured into the city for a few hours, so I would strongly advise extending your river cruise by at least one night.

 

 

 

Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets have become increasingly popular all over Europe and even here in the UK. It is a great excuse for a weekend break to stock up on unusual Christmas gifts and food and drink that you won’t find on your local supermarket shelves. Many hotels have 3 nights for 2 or similar offers at this time of year so there are some great bargains

  1. Germany is probably the most well known for Christmas markets and in particular Cologne. They have at 7 in the city so wherever you decide to stay in the city there will be one nearby. Also worth a mention Nuremburg, Dresden, Stuttgart, Berlin

http://www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk/cologne_christmas_market.php

2. The UK

The Telegraph has a good article on the best of UK Christmas markets.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/articles/britains-best-christmas-markets/

3. Switzerland

Switzerland isn’t a cheap destination, far from it, but Christmas markets tend to be more traditional and less touristy and Switzerland has that lovely snowy mountain real Christmassy feel to it

http://lenews.ch/2015/11/25/9-swiss-christmas-markets-that-will-get-you-in-a-festive-mood/

4. Austria

Austria is another country that sets the scene for a picturesque, snowy scene. Vienna has 4 Christmas markets, one of them at Schonbrunn Palace which is in itself a beautiful setting

https://www.wien.info/en/shopping-wining-dining/markets/christmas-markets

5. Budapest

You get a lot of weekend break for your money in Budapest and you can also spoil yourself with very reasonably priced thermal baths, sadly shopping isn’t as cheap as it used to be but you can buy some very unusual and quirky gifts

http://www.budapestbylocals.com/event/budapest-christmas-fair/

6. Prague

Prague is a really pretty and romantic place to be for a traditional Christmas market feel

https://www.pragueexperience.com/events/christmas-markets.asp

7. Belgium

Bruges and Ghent are very pretty little towns and both have the advantage of access to Eurostar so you don’t have to fly there

http://wonderfulwanderings.com/christmas-markets-belgium/

8. Spain

It doesn’t have to be cold to have a decent Christmas market. Madrid, does get deceptively cold in winter as it is at a high altitude but Barcelona stays warm all the year round and they also have a decent Christmas market

https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/events/christmas/barcelona-christmas-markets.html

9. Denmark

Denmark often gets snow in December and Tivoli Gardens is such a picturesque scene for a Christmas market.

http://www.visitcopenhagen.com/copenhagen/get-spirit-copenhagens-christmas-markets

10. Strasbourg

Last but not least, a little more difficult to get to but worth the trip

http://noel.strasbourg.eu/en/marches-de-noel

For these and other ideas or if you’ve been to a lovely Christmas market that isn’t on the list and you think I should add it, please call me on 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

Christmas Gift Ideas 2016

Apart from selling holidays there I many experiences I can offer both here and overseas. Here are some ideas for that difficult people in your circle who already have everything

  • A weekend break, either here in the UK or abroad. There are hundreds to choose from
  • A mini cruise, there is currently a buy one get one free offer on CMV to Amsterdam and Antwerp, an outside cabin is £644 for 2 people, inside is even cheaper
  • London Eye Champagne Experience from £34.50pp
  • The View from The Shard with Champagne  from £36.27pp
  • Dreamworks Shrek’s Adventure from £14pp (adults and children are the same)
  • Kidzania from £4.65 adult £13.95 child (4-14)
  • Lunch and dinner Thames Cruises
  • Theatre tickets
  • Afternoon teas
  • Ghost Bus Tour
  • Themed Walking Tours, Dr. Who, Harry Potter, James Bond, Film locations, Made in Chelsea, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper, Krays Gangster
  • Football and Rugby stadium tours, Wembley, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Twickenham
  • Paddington Bear Bus Tours
  • Shakespeare’s Globe
  • Thames Speedboat Experience
  • Pamper and Spa Days
  • Champagne Balloon Flight
  • Clay shooting
  • Family Steam train experience
  • Design your own perfume
  • Go Karting
  • Wine Tasting
  • Supercars Experience
  • Flying Lessons
  • Helicopter Experience
  • Fairy school
  • Spy HQ days
  • Scuba Diving
  • Skiing or Snowboarding Lessons
  • Meerkat Encounter
  • Crafty Kids
  • Bungee Jump Voucher
  • One Day Photography Course
  • TV Presenter Experience

For these and more please contact me cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com 020 3432 4740