Archive for the ‘Holiday Planning’ Category

A cheap day-trip to Glasgow

Stenaline extended their £10 return day-trips to Glasgow throughout the summer and indeed the closing date quoted is now well into November so we were able to get the day-trip with the kids last week.

As with all day-trips involving any kind of boat or plane, there’s an early start. In this case, you’ve to be there no later than 7am and, of course, allowing for parking and whatnot that really means more like 6.45am. The ship doesn’t depart ’til 7.30 but the cheap trips over the holiday period are very popular so there was quite a line to checkin and it was quite a crowded trip. Arrival in Cairnryan is a little before 10am.

The ship is the quite nice Superfast, although with the trip taking almost 2.5 hours, it doesn’t seem that fast. Food in the restaurant isn’t cheap but the prices aren’t too over the top and the portions are ample (the childrens’ ones were fine for me). It’s best to grab a seat as soon as you get on as the available seats are taken up really quickly on the more crowded crossings. There’s the usual arcade games and small cinema (aimed mainly at the kids) with a spa along with assorted treatments for the adults. They’ve a small number of suites (for up to five people) which, at £25, are worth it after a tiring day though, of course, you only have use of it for a couple of hours.

The coaches set off not much after 10 with arrival in Glasgow scheduled for noon. However, in practice, we didn’t arrive at the Buchanan Street bus station until 12.30 which means that we only got four hours in Glasgow. The bus station is quite central though getting around Glasgow takes longer than you’d expect i.e. don’t try to be too ambitious if you’re intending to use public transport to get around.

What’s to see? It’s very much a Victorian era port city so there’s a focus on things along the docks although there are a number of things dotted around the city of course. All of these are covered in sufficient detail in the What to See and Do guide although the guide covers everything and for a day-trip is just too much.

Highlights suitable for a day-trip include:

  • The Science Centre, accessible from the Cessnock stop on the underground (allow 40 minutes each way for travel as you’ve to walk to the Buchanan Street stop and have a 15 minute walk from Cessnock). Mainly aimed at 7-14 year olds; it seems to include almost all the science gimics that you’re ever heard of. Quite expensive and very overpriced for adults considering that they’re mainly just accompanying their children.
  • Glasgow Police Museum is merely one of a range of museums covering different aspects of life in the city. Choose one that you’re interested as you won’t have time to do justice to more than that.
  • And, of course, the shopping of which the Buchanan Street area is well served.

The fledgling underground covers the city but allow for long walks to and from the stations as they are none too plentiful at the moment. There’s the usual open-top bus which takes about two hours to get around the city so you can’t really use it to get from A to B on a day-trip.

Is it worth it? I have to say, “no”, basically because four hours in Glasgow just isn’t enough and especially so as you spend eight hours travelling there and back. If the time there were a couple of hours longer, it would make an enjoyable day but with only the four hours, it’s all to easy to feel that it’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of trip. So, lots of stuff to see, but ruined by being there just too little time.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Assumptions that people make which aren’t quite right for their holiday accommodation

When they’re booking a place for their holidays people often make assumptions about what that place will be like not so much from the description (which few seem to read) but rather from the place that they’re booking it through.

For instance, we’re in that hazy middle ground between B&B and hotel which means that we’re listed on a wider range of sites than a place that fell exclusively into either category would be. As a rule those coming to us from the hotel listings tend to expect a level of services that we simply can’t meet at busy times when we’ve found that some expect a level of staffing more appropriate to a 50 bedroom place than our own humble 10 room place. So, for example, we’ve found that some people can’t understand that we’ve only one internet terminal when “hotels” always have three or four. Well, 50 bedroom hotels might well have three or four but since we’ve only 1/5th of that number of rooms we obviously have to scale other things down too. On the other hand, those coming to us via a B&B listing sometimes have the expectation of encountering a cute country cottage which we aren’t and don’t claim to be either.

However, perhaps the most peculiar expectation we encountered came from one couple who were looking for a “country retreat”. It took us a while to work out what they were looking for but apparently it came from an Australian listing that we have which is one of many created by asking us one set of questions and producing a listing that answers an entirely different set of questions. In this case one of their questions was “is there a nudist colony nearby” to which the answer is “yes”. However, on their site our answer means that we’re listed as being a “nudist retreat” which we’re definitely not. It seems that “country retreat” is one of those ways of referring to nudist retreats, hence the confusion from that particular couple!

Thanks to the way that listing sites group properties by “resort” (usually the nearest large town) it’s quite important to check just where your holiday property actually is. For instance, we’re generally listed as being attached to Perpignan yet we’re actually 25km outside it. That’s not a problem if you’re coming in a car as it’s only 20 minutes drive but clearly more of an issue if you’re relying on public transport to get around. There’s not really a lot that holiday properties can do about that on the whole as if listings sites simply listed only the properties within a town then it would be next to impossible to find accommodation outside a town. After all, would you know the name of all the little villages within 10 miles or so of your home town? Even if you did, would you have the patience to look up each one in turn in search of accommodation?

To avoid making assumptions that don’t fit with the reality it’s best to have a good read of the description of your holiday accommodation. Most owners spend a fair bit of time to get their description as accurate as they can as it’s obviously much better to have people coming who want to stay in the type of place you have. Despite that it sometimes seems that potential guests don’t even read the first line and go purely on price then complain that, for example, a place billed as being in the country isn’t in the city (yes, we’ve had that).

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Are direct or indirect flights best?

In an ideal world, a direct non-stop flight is definitely the way to go. One check-in and you’re gone.

However, the growth of discount airlines means that in many cases an indirect route is considerably cheaper and can also offer you a lot more choice in the way of departure times. The downsides are that you generally need to collect your bags and check-in for the second flight and you run the risk of a delay on the first flight knocking you off the second one.

The bags sure are a hassle but if you’re travelling light, it’s a manageable one. Where you do need to be careful about is the time between arriving from the first flight and departing on the second one which needs to allow for delays. You could go with the minimum time between flights in a terminal but are better to add an hour or two (possibly more at peak times) to be sure of making the connection. Actually, at peak times I’d be inclined not to risk it if the second airline is a discount one (“normal” airlines will let you go on the next flight, discount ones will sell you another ticket).

Funnily enough you seem to get these flights cheaper. So, for example, my flight next week is around £70 for a direct non-stop one vs £50 for the two stage one. Not only that, but the £70 flight gets me here after midnight whereas the two stager gets me here for teatime which is always a lot easier on the system.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

What should you pack for a short-break holiday?

What should you pack to go on a short trip?

One thing’s for sure: don’t think that you can just replicate your packing for a full-scale holiday because you’re just going to run up a bill for excess baggage for no reason at all. If you’re going for a long-weekend it’s just being silly to even consider a full-sized case that needs checked in: carryon is the only way to go.

What should you bring though?

In terms of clothing, that depends on the temperature difference between where you live and where you’re going. Clearly if it’s Winter at home and Summer at the destination (or vice versa) that will dictate you having an extra change of clothing above what it would otherwise.

Essential items should be trimmed down to the minimum. That minimum should include:

  1. passport;
  2. credit card, debit card and cash card, all international versions (ie with a Visa/Mastercard on the credit/debit cards and Plus/Cirrus on the cash card). Make sure one is Visa and the other Mastercard as acceptance isn’t equally widespread in all countries and max three cards in total in case they’re stolen.
  3. driving license (even if you don’t plan on driving);
  4. plane tickets (or their electonic equivalent ie the booking number);
  5. electical adaptor for foreign electrical sockets (get a “world” version rather than just a “european” one to cover all the bases);
  6. guidebook (sometimes they’re not available locally in English)

And, of course, personal items such as contact lens solutions, glasses, sunglasses, womens items, and the like.

Ideally, all the stuff you’re taking should fit in a supermarket carrier bag. Any larger, and it’s definitely too much for a weekend break!

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

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Planning a short-break holiday

Short-break holidays tend to be quite different from normal holidays in a number of key areas and hence it’s best to plan them differently too.

By “short-break” we mean a holiday that is anything from two to five days in duration. Less than two days and you’re talking a day-trip which is quite different; more than five and you’re edging into the territory of normal holidays.

In that they’re short, clearly any time lost in getting to and from your destination should be minimised. There’s little point in considering a short-break holiday that involves a flight of more than a few hours as that will mean that your first and last day will be lost in travelling to and from your holiday location.

Ideally, you should choose somewhere that you can get to by way of a morning flight and return on an evening flight as this can add up to a day to your time at the holiday destination at no extra cost. That’s not possible for all destinations and therefore should be a factor in your choice of holiday destination.

Where should you consider going? Clearly in a short-break time is of the essence and you should avoid places that would require long journeys when you get there. So, regional holidays are out. Yes, you could fly to Rome and do Florence, Pisa and Venice at the same time but you’d end up travelling between the cities all the time. Bear in mind too that chances are you’ll lose most of the first and last days so your notional “5 days” is really only 3 days.

This being the case, it’s usually best to look at holidays based in a single location. In many cases you can easily fill three days in a single city: Barcelona, Berlin, London, Paris, Prague and Rome are ideal for this. Don’t rule out travelling out of the city though as, for example, Versailles is an easy day-trip from Paris. Likewise, if you just want to hit the beach, do that rather than trying to see the whole region.

In that the flight times are a critical factor in the planning, it’s best to get a regional guide book such as the Rough Guide Europe or Lonely Planet Western Europe to begin with. However, once you’ve chosen your destination, the best guides for cities are those from the Eyewitness guide series or, where they don’t cover the city/region, get the Lonely Planet guide covering the region you’re going to. It’s always best to get the guide covering the smallest possible area so, if you’re heading for Montpellier, get Lonely Planet Languedoc-Roussillon rather than Lonely Planet France.

As far as choosing flights go, SkyScanner is by far the best tool for the job. To get some ideas, you can put in point of departure as UK, “London Any” and click search. This will pull up a list of all the flights departing from any of the London airports in ascending order of price. Outside of the main holiday periods, you’ll usually find that return flights including taxes start from around £20. Whatever you do, don’t continually check prices on the Ryanair site as this will cause the Ryanair computer system to raise the ticket prices (checking via SkyScanner doesn’t do that unless you click “up to date price” constantly).

What about somewhere to stay? Before you book the flights you should investigate the accommodation options. For instance, whilst flights to Venice cost as little as £30, accommodation there can easily run to £200 per night. On the other hand, flights to Berlin are similarly priced but accommodation can be had from £30 per night. Don’t overlook apartments as many are quite cheap and, of course, it’s usually a lot cheaper if you do your own cooking or get takeaways.

For accommodation, I find that Booking gives pretty comprehensive coverage but you can sometimes get lower prices on HostelWorld (which covers B&Bs through to five star hotels these days) or on HotelClub however of these only Booking doesn’t have a booking fee.

If at all possible, it’s best to avoid car rental on a short break as that adds even more lost time in picking up and returning the car not to mention parking and, of course, all the costs associated with those. However, if it can’t be avoided, HolidayAutos always seem to have the best rates if you book a few days ahead (more in peak periods).

As far as packing goes, forget the suitcase and think carry-on only. That saves you more time on packing, you avoid the lengthy wait for luggage too and it’s cheaper as well. We’ll be covering what to pack in our holiday planning series shortly.

Money? You’ll certainly need some; see our holiday money guide for a comprehensive review of how best to take it with you.

We’ll be covering a number of short-break suitable destinations on Whole Earth Guide over the coming months.

This is part of our series on holiday planning.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.