Sounds pretty obvious but check that:
– you’ve got one;
– that it is still in date (remember some countries require you to have 6-12 months validity left);
– there are enough spare pages in case you need to get visa stamps.
If you need to get a new passport, for whatever reason, make sure you leave enough time to apply. The new biometric passports have stringent rules – particularly with regard to the photos (if, for any reason photos do not conform to the guidelines, they will be sent back and you’ll need to submit fresh ones).
Tip: it’s a good idea to take a couple of photocopies of your passport – one to take with you, the other to leave with your emergency contact.
British passport holders don’t need visas for short stay holidays in many destinations but always check (some countries require you to have a return or onward ticket and / or proof of sufficient funds or a political crisis may trigger a sudden change).
The US has a visa waiver scheme for UK nationals but is implementing a pre-arrival registration scheme. Post-911 the US introduced a number of strict requirements (like hold luggage had to be unlocked or using US-approved locks).
If you're planning on doing any work or earning money while overseas you are likely to need a work visa or work permit. Otherwise you could end up being fined and deported. This is something you are likely to need to organise before you leave.
An often neglected part of people's travel plans or dismissed as an unnecessary cost – nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, no serious traveller would set off without it. Especially if you're travelling outside western Europe.
There are literally hundreds of policies. The cheapest is not always the best.
Medical repatriation can cost tens of thousands of pounds (possibly hundreds of thousands, depending on the nature of your condition and the amount of medical attention you'll need). It’s better not to skimp on this expense or you or your family could face the bill for chartering a specially equipped jet to fly out, pick you up and fly back; along with the exclusive services of highly-trained medical staff for the duration of the flight. This will not be cheap. So it is best not to skimp on this – as people have found out to their (considerable) cost.
Recommended levels of protection (in 2011):
Ensure you have at least £2 million for medical cover; £1,500 of cover for baggage and personal belongings; and £3,000 for cancellation or curtailment.
Things to check for:
– Travel abandonment
– Missed departure
– Stolen money
– Stolen property
– Lost or stolen baggage
– Compensation for cancellation or having your holidays cut short
– Excess limits (usually, policies require you to take the hit for the first part of the loss, the size of this can vary but you can pay extra for an 'Excess Waiver'.
Read the fine print and make sure you are covered for all activities that you could end up doing (even though you may think you don’t want to do things – like ballooning, riding a camel or donkey, white water rafting. You may change your mind when you’re there – especially if everyone else is going). Do not assume that because you bought the insurance from the same company all activities are automatically covered.
Some policies, like Post Office Travel Insurance, offer an add-on ‘hazardous activities’ cover but expect to pay extra.
Tip: if you’re likely to travel more than once or twice a year consider buying an annual policy (there are at least two types of annual world travel policy – one includes travel to the US and the other does not). These often also cover you for travel within the UK. But check the policy carefully if you're on a long trip as some only provide 60-days continuous cover.
Also, know the requirements for claiming before you go – in case of theft you may need to get a copy of the local police report (which means you need to log an incident while you are there).
Some medical conditions – like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – may only show up after you return. If you’re travelling in a package holiday, make sure you mention any events like accidents, spills or bites in your trip feedback form – it may be useful later.
Please remember: insurance companies are businesses – give them a half decent reason to refuse paying out on a policy and they probably will (you may still have the option of going to an insurance ombudsman but that will mean additional delay / cost / hassle). Also, they are awake to people who think they can recover the cost of their holiday by making fake claims.
Tropical climates have exotic flora and fauna – and an equally exotic range of disease-causing organisms. However, wherever you go, particularly if using airports, there's always the risk of picking up some sort of infection. So always observe good hygiene standards wherever you are.
Keep an eye open for developments in the country / region you are visiting for any disease outbreaks or health risks. If there is a serious epidemic or pandemic you may be best advised to reconsider your plans – delaying or changing them.
Travelling to Asia, Africa and South America usually means you’ll need vaccination against some nasty and life-threatening diseases. However, the situation is constantly changing and even for travel within Europe it may be sensible to get immunity from diseases like Tetanus. So wherever you decide to go best check what the current advice is.
There is an NHS website that offers information on the subject:
Please note: courses of certain anti-malarial prophylactic treatments need to be started at least two weeks before departure.
Tip: your local GP can give advice and administer vaccines (depending on the type either free or a lot cheaper than travel clinics) but they may need to order stocks in, so allow enough time.
Replaced the old E111 form, which entitles EU nationals to certain free medical care. A must for travel to continental Europe. Free to obtain but only available to British and EU nationals.
Please note: it is supplement to – not a replacement for – travel insurance.
Also, it is worthwhile remembering that STDs (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) may be hard at work even if you are on holiday. In fact, they may be even more prevalent in certain areas. Usual precautions apply, like the use of a condom (however, some infections can simply pass through body to body contact, so it is not complete protection). You don't want to end up with an unwanted holiday souvenir.
Generally, regardless of whether your main mode of transport is by plane, ferry or train, there are discounts for purchasing well in advance (Apex or Saver tickets).
However, be warned that these discounted tickets often have strict restrictions on them.
Certain fares / ticket types or offers – like Euro Passes and internal flights – are specially tailored for the tourist market or a specific sector of this market, and need to be bought outside the area ie. you have to buy them before you go as you cannot get the same deal inside the country / region.
Tip: it is a good idea to photocopy your tickets – take a copy with you (but keep it separate from the actual tickets) and leave a copy with your emergency contact. Or, if they're electronic documents, leave the details with them and keep a note for yourself.
The rest of this section relates mainly to flight tickets; however, some general principles apply to all tickets.
Varies according to duration of flight and length of the delay.
If you are delayed for more than three hours, you will qualify for compensation – starting at an entitlement of 300 euros for a short haul flight and 400 euros for a medium or long haul flight. For long haul delays of over four hours, you are entitled to 600 euros. They should also pay for meals and phone calls. If the airline does not pay up, you can get in touch with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
Cheapest option may not be the best – charter airlines may not be as reliable as a scheduled operator or have spare planes / crews in case of any breakdowns.
A full fare ticket is expensive but it's usually valid for a year and allows you to change carrier or routing, and gives you a much better chance of a 'free' upgrade to Business Class (if there are seats available). However, there are are open tickets that are restricted to a particular airline (or group of airlines, if they are code-sharing) but be careful as there may be restrictions to the number of changes / rerouting that is allowed. Also, while some airlines may fly to certain destinations they may not have the rights to carry passengers. For example, if you're flying from say London to Australia and the plane makes stops in Dubai and Singapore. If you were to decide to stay in Dubai for a while it could be that when you're ready to resume your flight you find out that the airline may not be able to fly passengers on the Dubai to Singapore sector (ruling out a stopover there, even though the plane stops at both). This could be a problem if you've got a discounted ticket that only allows you to fly on that particular airline.
On some airlines, particularly operating outside Europe, you may have to reconfirm your intention to fly on the date on your return ticket (usually 72 hours ahead of the flight). Check whether this applies when you buy the ticket or you could find your seat on the return flight has been allocated to someone else. If you're travelling in a group, the tour leader will usually take care of this (or will do it for you, if you're booked Land Only and you ask nicely).
Tip: check whether the airline (or group of airlines if they have a code sharing arrangement) operates a loyalty or frequent flyer programme. For some long haul trips – like an Australia return – you may clock up enough points to get a free trip to a European destination later on. But you'll need to join or be registered BEFORE you buy your tickets to qualify.
Some companies impose a surcharge if you pay by creditcard, so it’s cheaper to pay by cash / cheque / direct debit or other electronic transfer (but avoid using money transfer firms as these are a favourite of fraudsters). However, if a company folds and you’re not covered by insurance (especially, if you did not have a policy in place), you’ve probably got little or no chance of getting your money back. With a creditcard payment you should be able to get a refund (and there may be additional benefits if your card offers cashback, airmiles or other incentive).
It’s probably better to save up for your holidays in advance – you’re almost certainly likely to spend more than you budgeted for (not all the optional activities are listed in the brochure – and you never know when you‘ll be in that part of the world again). Otherwise it won’t help the post-holiday blues or getting the travel bug if you have to come back and pay it off before even thinking about your next trip.
Travellers’ cheques used to be an essential but their use is diminishing (plus, in some places it’s a hassle trying to find a place that takes them or there‘s masses of form filling and you need to carry your passport).
Tip: it’s worth remembering that some companies, like Explore, offer a loyalty discount once you’ve completed a certain number of holidays with them – currently 5% off after four, and 10% off after nine. However, their pricing structure tends to build in these discounts.
These days most countries have ATMs, at least in the major cities / tourist areas.
Avoid changing or getting cash at hotels or airports as usually the exchange rates are poor compared to elsewhere in town.
Nationwide Building Society does not charge for using their creditcard / debitcard in overseas ATMs. However, some foreign banks may build in a charge when you use their machines – check out the country on the travel guide sites for tips on which ones to avoid (and UK banks and building societies can vary their terms and conditions).
Consider a prepaid creditcard (like Tesco travel money) – useful in limiting potential losses if it gets cloned or stolen abroad but you have to balance that against any possible need to buy air tickets or other emergency purchase.
As an added precaution it may be worth taking two cards (in case one gets stolen or swallowed by an alien ATM) but keep them separate.
As ripping off tourists is a global pastime, it may be worth doing some research on the web to try to familiarise yourself with a country’s notes and coins to avoid being handed outdated notes or foreign coins.