Simon Calder's holiday checklist: A&E for your summer break
Too busy to plan your holiday properly? Here is the information you need to try to rescue your trip, and restore your credibility.
Saturday 23 July 2011
I'm off to France on Tuesday. I've just started packing, and noticed that my passport has expired.
Yikes. In normal times, you would be able to pay £ 129.50 (an extra £52) for the "Premium One-Day Service": book an interview at a Regional Passport Office with the Identity and Passport Service (0300 222 000, press 0 then 2). As long as your case is straightforward (as renewals usually are), you can collect the passport four hours later. But right now there are so many urgent cases that the waiting time for an appointment, even at a Regional Passport Office many miles from home, is five or six days.
In the past, some travellers to France using ferries or Eurotunnel shuttles from Folkestone have travelled on expired passports, relying on only superficial checks in France and explaining themselves to UK Border Agency staff on the way home. The Independent Traveller cannot condone such behaviour.
Everyone else: go and check now that your passport is where you think it is, and that it is valid.
We're off to Italy tomorrow, and haven't got our foreign currency.
The worst policy is to change sterling into euros at a UK airport, ferry port or Channel Tunnel terminal. You're unlikely to get better than parity (ie £1 = €1). The best policy is to take sterling notes to a London bureau de change: I often use Thomas Exchange, though sometimes other specialists do better. But, failing that, go online to a company such as Travelex or ICE and buy at preferential rates using a debit card. Your bank may well take a 1.5 per cent slice, claiming it is a "cash advance", but you should still get around €1.10.
If your bank account is sufficiently healthy, you could also take your debit card and use it in an ATM – but be warned that you will be hammered for charges: when I mismanaged my finances in France earlier this month, and had to use an ATM, the rate was only €1.05.
You can also, of course, use plastic to pay for purchases when abroad. Unless you have one of the rare debit cards which apply no charges, you will face a "foreign exchange fee" of up to 3 per cent plus a transaction fee of around £1.25 – meaning a €40 lunch will cost you almost £40. (Credit cards avoid the flat fee.) Opt for "Dynamic Currency Conversion", where you pay in sterling at a set rate, and it will be even more expensive. Next time, plan ahead and consider taking a pre-paid card loaded with foreign currency.
I haven't yet booked a hire car, and a colleague says that there's a shortage of rental vehicles that's pushed up prices. Is he right?
No, not this summer. In 2009, the credit crunch led to a big shortfall, which pushed up prices to three or more times the normal prices. There was also the odd squeeze last year. But when any travel enterprise is seen to be making excessive profits, rivals pile in with loads of capacity hoping to cash in – only to see prices fall. Checking Holiday Autos for prices for the first week in August: an Opel Corsa costs £135 at Alicante airport, which is less than £20 a day. Florida is equally cheap.
How do I avoid losing my luggage?
1. Don't check it in; BA and easyJet have very generous allowances.
2. If you must check it in, make sure your name and address is inside the case. Exterior tags could be torn off during baggage handling. Putting your details inside means the airline can trace you.
3. Tie a colourful scrap of material to the baggage to identify it as yours, and stop a fellow passenger inadvertently walking off with it.
I'm flying Ryanair, "hand-luggage only". Do they really enforce the rules strictly?
I'm off to Bali, where apparently my mobile phone may not work. What are my options?
Get a local SIM card, or take a laptop and a headset, then use Wi-Fi hotspots to hook up to Skype. Or, recall that we all somehow coped with travel before mobile phones, and happily leave it at home to enjoy the island in disconnected bliss.
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