Valencia

Where in Europe can you get a city with a beautiful sandy beach, plenty of green space, lots of museums, magnificent architecture, gastronomy, shopping and history? Yes Valencia really does have something for everyone. Thanks to EasyJet and a good range of accommodation from self catering to de luxe, it is a very affordable break.
The city has a very efficient transportation system consisting of metro, trams and buses. Buses are very frequent so it’s really easy to get around and there are plenty of pedestrianised side streets if you prefer just to stroll. If you would rather cycle it is easy to hire a bike and take advantage of the cycle lanes throughout the city. We used a 72 hour Valencia card to get around. The card also includes two vouchers for tapas and a drink.
There is some beautiful architecture throughout the city, old and new, impressive doorways, wrought iron balconies, shining rooftops, examples of Art Deco , mosaic tiles, stonework and bridges. At the other end of the scale is the City of Arts and Sciences, a fantastic example of modern architecture.
Valencia was the original home of Paella and there are plenty of places to sample these washed down with local red wine which is cheap and rather good and there are many Tapas bars all over the city. You must also visit the Central market, the biggest indoor food market in Europe where you can see Serrano ham being freshly sliced, spring onions the size of tennis balls and colourful misshapen tomatoes all in a beautiful old building with stained glass windows.
Even if you are not interested in museums, the City of Arts and Sciences is still well worth a visit. It is a very impressive cluster of futuristic museums originally built for the expo. These include Oceanagrafic, Hemisferic and the Science Museum
In the old part of the city there is the bullring and next to it is Estació del Norte the station which is a lovely building inside the booking hall and outside. The cathedral and Silk building are also worth visiting but go early as the old centre gets very crowded later in the day.
Jardin del Turia is a long strip of parkland right through the heart of the entire city on a dry riverbed that runs from the City of Arts and Sciences to the west all the way to the Marina to the East. All along this stretch of parkland are ornamental bridges that are all slightly different and some have interesting sculptures and lights.
Away from the buzz of the city, the long, sandy beach awaits and you can have lunch in one of the many seafood restaurants along the front, hire a bike and cycle or just stroll along the the promenade and watch the world go by.
Apart from a couple of Irish pubs, Valencia generally has more of a cafe and tapas culture but despite that we came across half a dozen stag and hen parties on Saturday night so for a more cultural or gastronomic experience it would better to go midweek.

Indiana

We only spent less than 36 hours in Indiana but they were so friendly and welcoming, we felt we had been here a lot longer. Here in the UK, if you asked anyone to name all the states beginning with The letter I, I think some would struggle to even mention Indiana but now I have been there and seen it for myself, Indiana is definitely one that will stay with me forever.

Did you know Indiana National Park is not the biggest but it is the most bio diverse in the USA

We arrived at Indiana Dunes Visitor Centre in the morning. Our first step was to be Pinhook Bog. Pinhook Bog is a preservation area of carnivorous plants floating on top of 16m of water. To experience this involves walking across a floating platform with our experienced ranger. She was so knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna in the area.

After lunch, we headed to one of the loveliest beaches you will ever see. An inland beach on Lake Michigan and miles of natural sand with tidal waves and the skyline of Chicago across the lake. It is hard to believe that this isn’t a well known oceanside beach

Later on we experienced the 3 Dune challenge or a series of easier walks for the less fit.  There are so many colourful birds and butterflies as well as three distinct landscapes oak trees, tall grasses and marshland as well as the sands of the dunes.

In downtown Valparaiso, affectionately known as Valpo locally, we got the warmest smiles and and welcome from the loveliest little American town full of small independent shops and restaurants. Elements wine bar has just opened, what a great idea, swipe a card for wines on tap and pay at the end. We had dinner in Pikks Tavern and the next day, lunch with a visit round Valpo Velvet ice cream factory and a sample of one of around 50 flavours to choose from. We were blessed with beautiful weather so we found a bar with outdoor seating to chill and relax. Once again we were welcomed with open arms

We visited Broken Wagon Bison Farm. This farm has over 100 bison of all shapes and sizes from baby ones to fully grown. These huge beasts are so cute and all have their own personalities. The crafty one, Daisy follows the truck back as she knows they will give her a little treat. It works every time!

We had the chance to briefly visit the biggest collegiate chapel in the US and the second  biggest in the world. There are some lovely mosaics outside, seating for over 2000 and the organ with 106 pipes,  but the most impressive thing of all about this chapel are the beautiful stained glass window which is 3 storeys high.

I really will fondly remember this friendly little town just a short distance from Chicago

Our overnight was Inspiration Wood Cottages. You do need a car here as they are a good distance from town but again the warmest, friendliest welcome in lovely spacious cottages. Our cottage slept up to 8 people.

Indiana isn’t just a small forgotten state beginning with I, it is a place I will always remember with great fondness for its beautiful beaches, lovely scenery and its friendly welcomes.

 

 

Detroit

Did you know Detroit is the only US city which has Canada to the south? Literally across the river is Windsor, Ontario   Detroit was the original Motortown the home of Henry Ford and his friend Thomas Edison who had the original light bulb moment.

Ford and Motown are what made this city and I would recommend you spend a couple of nights here to do both.

Most of our group went on a 10 mile cycle ride along the riverbank but knowing that I’m a little less fit than I used to be I chose DIA instead. There are both classic and modern paintings by famous artists and they well classified through 3 floors and some local high school art which I found really interesting and particularly some of the posters depicting some powerful messages that we could all learn frm, but the one thing that makes this museum unique and worth a short visit are the incredible murals by Diego Riviera which depict the industrial revolution. There is so much detail in these floor to ceiling murals so you could study them for hours and keep finding little details that you didn’t notice before.

Hitsville USA, the home of Motown, was a house with humble beginnings, Berry Gordy Jr. started the Tamla and Motown labels with the raw talent from the streets of Detroit, many of whom worked for Henry Ford. Diana Ross, Jackson Five, Smokey  Robinson, The Tempations and many others started out from this house which has preserved as much of its 60’s interior as possible. The museum idea was started by Esther Gordy   Henry Ford Museum, Rouge Factory and Greenfield Village deserve at least a full day as the area is so vast and there is so much to see.    At Rouge Factory, The display of Ford cars from the 20s to the future. There is a 30’s model with a letter from Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde thanking them producing the V8 which was the car he loved to steal.

There is a 4D movie telling us about the car of the future which is pretty amazing. We walked round the Ford production which was fascinating to watch. I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do though, I’ll stick to travel!

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is so much more than just about cars. There are so many interesting exhibits, including JFK’s motorcade as well as those of other presidents, the actual bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, an action which sparked off the civil rights movement, a Klu Klux Klan costume, the theatre chair where Abraham Lincoln sat when he was assassinated, an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile which is a hot dog shaped car, Henry Ford’s private plane and so much more!

Detroit has some good restaurants and the ones we went to were great , Granite City inside The offices of General Motors and Hop Cat where many visitors have their names scratched into the tables and which had a choice of 130 beers so to sum up Detroit, it’s all about cars, music, beer food, good museums and best of all, fun.

The Other Side to Cyprus

I have been to Cyprus many times but never to the north. My expectations were that it would be a different experience but I don’t think I realised how different it would be. They still use UK 3 pin plugs and they still drive on the left but there the familiarity ends.

So what makes the north different? It is much greener which surprised me as the climate is the same. The general feel is that of a Turkish resort the signs are all in Turkish, the street names are Turkish, kebab shops are plentiful and the currency is Turkish Lira but without the hassle of haggling nor being pestered by persistent restauranteurs constantly plying for your business. The atmosphere is very chilled and relaxed and it is a very safe and clean destination to visit. The majority living there today are either born Turkish Cypriot or foreigners that have taken advantage of the very cheap property prices. Living costs are generally considerably lower than in the South. 

 There are two ways of getting there, either with a touchdown or flight change via Istanbul to Ercan airport or through Larnaca and crossing the border with a longer transfer time. 

The main resorts are Kyrenia and Famagusta but there is far more to this northern oasis than just beaches. 

The roads are reasonable with some good motorways but public transport isn’t brilliant. There are a few buses serving the main towns and resorts and dolmus but not to the extent of either Cyprus or Turkey. The range of holiday excursions is excellent and prices are good. 

 I was surprised to learn that North Cyprus has 25 casinos, mostly within the 5 star hotels and a few standalone so it’s a much cheaper opportunity to win your holiday money back than going all the way to Las Vegas! 

 Kyrenia is a very pleasant harbour where you sit and watch the world go by whilst drinking a cold Efes beer and a very reasonably priced meal but Kyrenia has another facet of being a very busy shopping street selling fake designer bags and soft leather shoes. Kyrenia was also a walled city and the remnants of the wall give it a unique character. 

 Famagusta was a thriving resort in the late 60’s and in fact the main resort of Cyprus with arguably the best beach but the invasion of 1974 abruptly changed everything. The famous ghost town of Varocha is a vast area with hundreds of abandoned hotels, shops, houses and other buildings and is on a much bigger scale than I imagined, previously having only seen it through binoculars, a very sad reminder of the result of political and ethnic division, literally stretching all the way along to the border almost to Ayia Napa across the border. 

 Famagusta is a bustling town steeped in history and full of character. As well as being a good place to shop and a thriving port, it has ancient churches and mosques including St Nicholas which was a cathedral and still looks like cathedral with a minaret stuck on the top but it’s been  a mosque since 1571 when the ottomans so it is a bit of an oddity but the square is also surrounding in walls and ancient buildings dating back to 285BC so it is a really interesting and unique place to visit. 

 I really enjoyed the visit to 13th century Bellapais monastery which was originally built as a Catholic monastery but became Greek Orthodox after the Ottaman invasion 1571 and remains so to this day. As it is up in the mountains, the approach to it is hilly so it is difficult for the less mobile but well worth the climb past craft shops, inns and boutique hotels but it is worth the climb as the top rewards you with an amazing view from the top and photo opportunities galore. 

 Some of the hotels are huge with over 800 rooms. There are quite a few hotels that have larger rooms and waterparks so they are ideal for the family market. Meals tend to be buffet style but most hotels have a la carte restaurants too so there is plenty of choice for the fussy eater and for vegetarians. There are some nice boutique hotels around so couples are catered for as well. There is also the Korineum Golf & Country Club so it also works as a golf and spa destination.

The Dangers of booking DIY

Why would you do everything yourself?

To save money obviously.

My answer to that is not necessarily. Firstly yes of course travel agencies make money but they do so by negotiating contracts and often these are cheaper than booking direct. As agents like myself have been around a long time we have learnt all the shortcuts and routings that we need to make things work as cheaply and smoothly as possible. We also have fares that must only be used with accommodation. These can be hundreds and even thousands of pounds cheaper and in many cases they can cover the cost of the accommodation but the terms of the contracts must be strictly adhered to and if this is somehow bypassed either the agent or the client is subject to a hefty surcharge for abusing the system and in extreme cases the agent can have their licence revoked. This can also apply to unused return flights so I’m sure you can understand why as a professional agent I wouldn’t take the risk, would you?

If you look long and hard enough and if you have the time to research it you could almost guarantee to get it cheaper in the end but you have now used your valuable time saving a few pounds here and there and left yourself open to all sorts of challenges.

Exchange rates are unpredictable so if you book something in dollars or euros today, what you actually end up paying can be very different if you don’t prepay for that reservation. The euro and the dollar have already lost their value against sterling by around 15% in the last year and it is likely to drop even more. If you prepay let’s say a hotel reservation today, often all we need is a £25 deposit and the rate is guaranteed even if the exchange rate changes, Admittedly that can also go the other way but if its still available it is possible to rebook at the new rate and I am happy to do that, but at the moment at least the trend is that everything will go up over the next few months rather than down

The whole point of having a package or ATOL flight plus is so that we as agents have to use our ATOL licence or that of an approved tour operator so that if your flight or hotel goes bust you will be reprotected or offered a refund if that happens before you go or the CAA will get you home if it happens while you are in resort. Full ATOL also protects the health and safety aspect of your holiday. Please feel free to read more about ATOL and check that we are a genuine ATOL licence holder on the CAA website https://www.caa.co.uk/atol-protection/

Low Cost Holidays got round this by moving their operations to Spain so they kept their prices low and this kept everybody happy but they were operating on a knife edge with very low margins but they still had overheads and staff to pay and eventually they realised post Brexit that they didn’t have enough money to pay the hotels so they folded in July 16 leaving 140,000 affected in the height of the season when there was no longer any availability at the cheap rates they had quoted. Many of the hotels simply resold the rooms at a higher rate to anyone willing to pay the premium as they were stuck with the flights.

Another excellent, well established and solid tour operator, Anatolian Sky went bust last year not because of Brexit but because terrorism affected the sales to their main destinations, Turkey and Northern Cyprus to such a large degree they could no longer survive.

The effects of Brexit and exchange rates are still unpredictable and it is highly likely that at least one large hotel agency and a tour operator will disappear over the next few months. There is no regulatory body for hotels like there is for flights or packages so virtually anybody can set up an internet hotel agency and if it goes bust and you have prepaid your only redress is the credit card company but as many found out with Low Cost Holidays it would be virtually impossible to get the same rate elsewhere at a later date and you still have to wait to be refunded so you will have pay again and usually at higher cost.

Another danger is that if you book on the internet, the site could be fraudulent. Even if it has an ATOL licence, this may not belong to them or they could be using a false one. Additionally anyone issuing scheduled flight tickets must have an IATA licence. There are many sharks out there waiting to take your money and the amount of money taken by fraudsters is staggering. I can’t find the exact figure but it does run into millions and many of these sites are reached through well established brokers or because they look genuine but they have actually copied a genuine site and have a slightly different email address.

I recently came across a potential client that decided to book a flight to South America via Houston as it was £150 cheaper. It turned out in the end that one of them had a previous criminal record and wouldn’t be allowed to transit the USA so sadly they lost all their money.

Another recent enquiry had a client wanting to go to the Caribbean. He said he found a cheaper flight than I offered but thankfully we realised on time that the “connecting” flight was a day later so he would have had the added hassle and expense of overnighting in Miami.

Another client phoned from the airport to say he wasn’t told that he need a visa to go to Australia. This is a service I provide free of charge when I book the flights or when I get passport details if they are not available at the time of booking.

As an agent, of course I would say all this, after all its my job and my survival but trust me I have seen many. many scenarios where clients have risked their money and lost. I have just given you a few examples of the sort of things I encounter frequently. So what protection do I give as a Travel Counsellor?

We have a full ATOL licence and in fact we were the first in the UK to get approval. We have two IATA licences, one for our published flights and another for our negotiated contract fares and packages.

Everything we book, not just packages, but also flight only, hotel only, transfers, car hire and attractions are covered by insurance so if a a company we use goes bust we reprotect or refund under our ATOL licence or for non ATOL we can use our insurance to reprotect that particular element of your booking. An example of this is when Low Cost Holidays went under we protect 4000 client, either by rebooking with another company or paying the hotels direct. Our insurance covered that.

Another important point is that if anything goes wrong eg strike, natural disaster, illness etc. our duty office and our local handling agents can work with us to help with language difficulties, logistics and time zones. If you DIY, it does make it a lot more difficult to coordinate or track if anything does go wrong especially in a very different time zone. It is also a lot more difficult to contact you in an emergency if the flights change or cancel at the last minute. I can usually email the hotel but if I don’t know where you are staying or if you have wi-fi, I only have your mobile/cell phone to fall back on.

You may wonder if I book my own holidays direct online to save money as I know the shortcuts. Actually you may be surprised to learn that would rather pay a little extra to have my own arrangements insured and with the peace of mind of knowing that I have somebody to contact in resort and that I haven’t exposed my credit card to a possible fraud so there are very few occasions where I would actually book directly.

If you want the reassurance of a holiday that may or may not cost a few pounds extra but with the added layers of proper 24/7 support, financial protection and the advice of an expert email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com or call 020 3432 4740

How to make the most of your business trip

If you are paying yourself, can you use Easyjet or similar low cost airline and save some money. Sometimes if you need luggage a bundle can work out cheaper than the lowest plus luggage. If your plans are likely to change

If you are paying yourself, it is also worth checking whether a package will reduce the cost of the trip as ATOL holders often have special IT air fares which have to be used with accommodation and it usually also means you don’t have to stay a Saturday night. You can also benefit from paying just a deposit if it more than 12 weeks ahead, early booking offers, free night offers etc. The exchange rate at the time of booking will apply so there are often savings on this too.

As an example I can currently do a business class return with 7 nights in Hong Kong for a single person 4* for £2600 and in Economy this would be around £1100

It is worth remembering that a Saturday night stay can also reduce the cost of your flight and staying a Sunday night is often cheaper if you stay the weekend so it might be worth extending your trip to explore the place you are visiting or else go to another nearby destination without using up your own annual leave eg conference in Zurich would give you the options of flying into another Swiss destination eg Berne, Geneva or Basle or even Milan in Italy, staying there a night or two and travelling up by train in time for the meeting. You can often use low cost airlines, rail fares or if you for instance having a meeting in one city you can use an indirect flight which allows you to stopover in one or both directions eg a meeting in Hong Kong might allow you a couple of nights in Dubai or a meeting in San Francisco might allow you a couple of nights in New York, obviously at your own to expense but still cheaper than buying an entire package to that destination from London.

Do you have airmiles or Avios points? First of you might already have enough points to cover your trip

I can arrange car hire or local flights for you as well or if your company has organised your trip and you want to extend it get your company to organise a flexible ticket or if possible get them to book you the dates you want to extend the trip, I can then organise hotels, local transport, transfers, local tourist cards, tours, and skip the line tickets for various museums for you and in some cities I can get Dine4less cards which offer up to 25% off meals.

If the conference are not supplying your hotel, as long as I have a reasonable amount of notice I can often find a cheaper hotel or apartment for you within a few minutes walk or within easy access by public transport

If it’s a conference they might already have a pre negotiated  group  rate. It is first of all worth checking this as the public rate for that hotel will probably go up. The rate for any extra nights will often be cheaper

I have special rates on airport hotels at all UK airports and if you choose one with a club lounge eg Hilton Gatwick you can then take advantage of free snacks and drinks.

If you have a frequent flyer card on let’s say BA you can use Qatar, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, JAL and a few other airlines to get mileage points, similarly Virgin will also allow you to travel on Delta in the USA and Star Alliance will allow combinations on United, Air Canada, Luthansa and Thai amongst others. It is worth keeping an eye on seat sales to get the best airfares and if you travel in business class you can use the airport lounge and also accumulate your own mileage points. If travelling in economy I can often book a public lounge for you so that you can work in peace and have a snack and some drinks before you go for instance No 1 Lounges are pretty good at Heathrow and Gatwick

If you have the budget for a good hotel in your destination you could book the club floor.  Most of the chain hotels and larger hotels do these. Particularly useful in Middle East and Far East destinations. You can then prepare work on your laptop and have snacks or drinks included at odd times. I have often found this useful as the club lounge is usually brighter than the room and I can work over a few drinks and a snack with reliable free wi-fi and have power points in accessible places without having to unplug the telly or the lamp.

We have the TCAPP available so that you can contact me by phone or email just at the touch of a button and you can also view all your documentation on your phone once you set up an account. It is all free of course

Buy a multi USB plug with European and US attachments, they are currently £12.99 on Amazon and that will save you plugging in one thing at a time like I did last year in Greece, lesson learnt, you can charge your smartphone and tablet at the same time without having to unplug the lamp and TV in your room

I am looking for small businesses and sole traders who need to travel regularly. Who do you know who might need my services?

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.