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News & Advice

What to check before you check-in

There's a lot to remember before you head to the airport. Simon Calder offers his advice

1. Your papers, please

If you have the good fortune to be travelling abroad this year, check the family's passport expiry dates now. For most holidaymakers – including those going to any EU nation, or the US under the "Esta" visa-waiver scheme – the only requirement is that the passport is valid to the day of departure. But many other destinations stipulate a minimum of three or six months' validity remaining.

2. The name game

With society changing, rising numbers of parents and children do not share the same last name. Many countries are also increasingly alert to the risk of child-abduction and people-trafficking, and are bringing in ever-stricter rules about the documents needed. The parenting website, Mumsnet, has produced a useful online guide, available at bit.ly/RedTapeKids. You can check specific rules with the consulate or tourist office of your destination country. As a minimum, if only one parent is travelling and has a different last name to the children, take an original birth certificate for each child.

3. Sort holiday money

The worst way to get foreign currency is to turn up at a UK airport and buy it. Far better to shop around in advance – on the high street and online – or, for simplicity, pre-order through a foreign-exchange provider such as ICE, MoneyCorp or Travelex and pick it up at the airport. Also expensive is to use an ordinary UK debit card in an overseas ATM.

4. Get virtual back-up

To ensure you have the essential information to hand if your important documents are lost or stolen, take decent-quality snaps (eg with a mobile phone) of the relevant information – such as the business end of your passport, your European Health Insurance Card, pre-paid card numbers and your travel-insurance policy. Upload them to a free "cloud" storage service, such as Dropbox .com. Then you will be able to retrieve the details even if everything you own, including your phone, is lost or stolen on holiday.

5. Better without baggage

If you can avoid checking in bags for a flight, then do. In particular, British Airways has very generous limits: you can take a 23kg limit with a maximum volume of 72 litres, as well as a handbag or laptop case. It will give you a head-start at your destination, with no need to join the dejected crowd around the reclaim carousel. There is far less chance of your possessions going astray (a particular problem if a change of planes is involved) and you will also avoid any problems at Gatwick's North Terminal, where deliveries from some holiday flights have been held up for several hours according to some reports on social media.

6. Extra charge needed

New rules make it theoretically possible that passengers on any international flight to or from the UK could be asked to demonstrate that mobile phones, laptops or e-readers are what they appear to be, by powering them up. Anyone who cannot do so will not be allowed to travel with the device. It is most unlikely that holiday flights in Europe will be affected, but the possibility cannot be ruled out. So, ensure any battery powered devices have plenty of juice. If you have no choice but to check in luggage, pack into it electronic devices you don't need on the journey.

7. Lug your pluggage

In the olden days, the only electrical power issue that most travellers faced was making sure they had the correct mains adaptor for an electric razor or hair dryer (plus, for some parts of the world, an excessively heavy transformer to step up a 110v supply). Today, the right-shaped plug is still essential – but you might also need a distribution board with half-a-dozen 13-amp sockets to power up your Kindle, smartphone, iPad, etc.

8. Heathrow's terminal confusion

When Heathrow's Terminal 2 opened last month, a new round of musical chairs began at Britain's busiest airport, with airlines moving location. The new terminal is slowly becoming home to Star Alliance, with carriers such as Air Canada and United already installed, but some of the planned changes have been delayed: Thai and Turkish Airlines will now not move until next month. And, talking of Turkey ….

9. Turkey's border skirmish

For endless summers, British visitors to Turkey have simply turned up at one of the country's airports and handed over their passport plus £10 in order to get an entry visa for their holiday. This year, the red tape has become a lot more tangled and a bit more expensive. You must apply in advance at evisa.gov.tr – at least 24 hours before travelling, but no earlier than three months ahead. The fee of US $20 works out at £12.50.

10. Succinct and swim

The Royal Life Saving Society has teamed up with Abta, the travel association, to provide a timely and succinct guide to keeping safe in the water (abta.com/swimsafe).