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A “green festival” combining music and outdoor activities is taking place near Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands from 22 – 24 June 2007. The main attractions are JT Tunstall and Crowded House. There are wildlife walks, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing and rafting. A weekend pass ticket costs £65, there are additional charges for some activities. There is a car sharing facility online and the venue is within 2 miles of a railway station. There is a designated quiet camping zone for families or those who are looking for a peaceful night’s sleep away from the main camping area.
Does this sort of event appeal to you? I am not convinced that it is possible to have a gathering of 10,000 people and call it environmentally friendly. The food served there will be free trade, organic produce in biodegradable packaging. They encourage festival goers to use public transport. I think erecting the stage and toilet/shower blocks etc won’t be good for the environment. Are they jumping on the green bandwagon? Personally if I want to enjoy the countryside I don’t want another 9,999 people in close proximity.
Here are my seven tips for planning an independent trip to Europe.
One: Do not try to see and do too much.
You may end up actually seeing very little. I think it is better to see more of fewer countries/regions and see them properly. You may not want to stay in one location for your whole trip. However if you choose carefully it may be possible to do several day trips from one central location. If you do decide to tour, consider spending at least two nights in some of your destinations. It can be quite tiring being on the move every day, packing and unpacking.
Barcelona waterfront, Spain
Two: Decide on mode of transport.
Driving will give you more flexibility but can be daunting at times and is not recommended if you mainly wish to visit cities. You may decide to take your own car if you live in Europe. If you fly you can hire a car. Beware of extra charges for additional drivers, insurance excesses, airport charges, out of hours charges etc. I always book a hire car through a UK company, with no excess payable. Rail travel can be a good option as trains in many European countries, (not the UK), are reliable, efficient and reasonably priced. If you use a budget airline try to only book direct flights. If you book a two leg journey, the budget airlines will not assist you, as they only operate a point to point service. There are many budget airlines operating in Europe e.g. Ryanair, Jet2 and Easyjet.
Malaga airport, Spain
Three: Be aware of security of possessions.
Use a money belt, hotel safe etc. Do not have all your money/cards in one purse or wallet. If you lose it you are in trouble. This happened to me when I was in Milan: I was travelling alone and was left penniless. My credit card company did transfer funds to me but it took 24 hours! I had to borrow 10 euros from the hotel receptionist. Make sure you have travel insurance and if there is an incident get a written report from the local police station, to enable you to make a claim.
Four: Try to learn at least a few words of the language.
This will be greatly appreciated. My French is what you might describe as school girl (that was 25 years ago) but I do try when in France. Often I receive the reply in English but at least I tried. I always apologise if I cannot speak the language. I don’t assume that the person I am talking to should speak English, I ask in their language if they speak English. As I do have a Scottish accent, I try to speak more slowly and clearly than usual, certainly not raising my voice.
You should allow some time just to wander around, enjoy a leisurely lunch. You do have to plan an itinerary, or you can just waste a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be written in stone! Allow yourself the opportunity to be spontaneous.
The view from The Square, Brussels, Belgium
Six: Don’t just stick to tourist traps.
Try to visit some authentic local restaurants, markets, villages, etc. where you will meet local people, rather than just other tourists. Surely part of the reason for going abroad it to experience at least a little of the local flavour, not just spend all your time with other tourists.
Kylesku Bridge, The Scottish Highlands
Seven: Book your accommodation in advance.
This may mean that you miss out on a charming establishment you come across in your travels, (you could always stay there on your another trip). However it will mean that you don’t waste precious time going from hotel to hotel trying to find a room, having to arrive early enough at your next destination to look for accommodation. I am not even convinced that you save money by last minute searches, I’ve always found great prices using the HotelsCombined metasearch which quickly trawls through the inventory of more than 30 accommodation suppliers to find the best price for you.
Radisson Hotel Blu, Rejkavik, Iceland
I hope that my tips will assist you in planning a fantastic trip in Europe. Do you have any tips you can offer prospective travellers?
According to an online poll of 1400 air travellers by Trip Advisor, 75% would be willing to pay up to 10% more for more comfortable and spacious onboard seats. I suppose it depends on what you pay for your flight in the first place. If I am paying £30, before taxes etc, to a low cost carrier for my ticket, another £3 would be nothing to have more space. I’m just not sure if it would be cost effective for the airlines to lose 10% of passengers to give you 10% more space. I think some airlines may make more profit from passengers buying accommodation, car hire etc through links on their website plus from selling you food, drink etc on board. The extra revenue from fewer passengers paying a bit more may not make economic sense for the airline.
The second most popular thing that would make flying more pleasant for 30% of respondents is clean and roomy toilets. I must admit my pet hate is going into airline toilets where guys have missed and showered the floor with urine. However I imagine that having separate male and female toilets would only lead to long queues at the female toilets.
I think that a lot of the comfort issues about flying depend on the length of the flight which is why I like a flight of 2 – 3 hours to Europe because then if I can travel cheaply and safely, I can tolerate a bit of cramp and wet shoe soles.
Hoseasons online poll of 200 holidaymakers suggests that a higher proportion of the UK population are taking holidays at home. Concerns about the environment, airport hassles and the recent warmer Summers have prompted more people to consider the UK as a holiday destination.
I don’t think that an online poll of 200 respondents is very statistically significant but it does all point to a shift in attitudes. Mutual friends discussing holiday plans brought up the topic of their carbon footprint and one was taking the train to go on holiday for this reason. Have you come across any evidence of changes in holiday plans in your family or circle of friends?
The AIr Transport Users Council has concluded that British Airways are more likely to lose your luggage than many other European carriers, with at a rate of 23 bags per 1000 going astray. To be fair BA was the only British carrier included in the study, there were no figures from BMI, Easyjet, Ryanair or charter airlines.
However it’s still a pretty poor show by the national carrier. Yesterday BA scored pretty badly in comparative flight delay tables, in 19th place with an average delay of 19 minutes. Then there was recent proposed strike, called off at the last moment. BA could really do with some good publicity.
imagine how quickly you could reach your destination by rail if you travelled on this TGV? Two supercharged locomotives pull three double decker carriages with extra large wheels along a line constructed for the sole use of high speed trains.
What a difference between here in the UK and in France! Although the trains on the West Coast Mainline, from London to Glasgow are capable of 160mph, they are limited by track and signaling inadequacies to 125 mph, no faster than trains in the 1970s.
Surely there is a strong case for more Government investment in the UK rail system? Fast reliable intercity trains could greatly reduce the number of domestic flights which would be good for the environment. I read on the Eurostar website that flying can generate up to ten times the amount of C02 emissions than travelling by rail.
According a to a survey by Travelcare, Prague is the cheapest destination for a short break in Europe. The cost of £204 was based on costs such as a stay at a four star hotel, a three course meal, museum entry fee etc. London came third at a cost of £267 with Paris the most expensive at £577. I was surprised by the fact that Dublin at £385 was slightly more expensive than Copenhagen at £380. Yet Scandinavia still has a reputation as a pricey destination.
I think that if you shop around a bit, stay perhaps slightly outside the city centre or trendy areas and don’t travel in peak season you can get a good deal in most European cities. This survey doesn’t appear to include transport costs to your destination so that could have quite an impact on the overall cost of your trip.
I decided to have a quick look at the price of hotel rooms for a weekend in April Friday 13 – Sunday 15 April. I found a superior room in 4 star hotel in Prague with Laterooms for £47 a night. The cheapest four star I came across in Paris, the Champs Elysees Friedland cost £101 a night for a standard room. It is quite a difference in price. However I don’t think I would always choose one destination over another solely by price. I haven’t been to Prague but I’ve been told it is a beautiful city. I’ve visited Paris once, thought it was a wonderful city and would like to return.
BMI regional was the most punctual UK scheduled airline out of Heathrow during 2006, according to figures publshed by the Civil Aviation Authority. The average delay was five minutes BMI started flights from Aberdeen to Kristiansand in southern Norway on 30 March and will fly from Manchester to Lyon from 25 May.
I have only flown with BMI once on a domestic flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow around 6 years ago. The reason this sticks in my mind was because they were very strict about hand luggage and made me check in my one bag intended as carry on luggage due to its weight. I’d bought the suitcase the week before specifically as it was the maximum size allowed for cabin luggage. What’s your experience of BMI?
A new Festival of Food and Drink runs in Newcastle from April 6 – 15. There are loads of events such a “Wines of the Times” tasting on the evening of Wednesday 11 April, special offers on meals, afternoon teas and a guerilla restaurant. I plan to visit the Local Heroes Tasting Market during the day on Friday 13 April.
Laterooms have a fair selection of accommodation available during this period with prices for double rooms in a central location starting from £60 per night
Some of you may know Darren of Travel Rants. Darren’s business is the online UK based Worldwide Holiday Homes.
1 What is the aim of your business?
I think the aim has probably changed over the four years that I have
been operating Worldwide Holiday Homes, but primarily the aim is to
offer something different than the traditional holiday package, by
allowing holidaymakers to rent a private villa, or luxury apartment or
holiday home and then book their own travel insurance, flights, etc.
2 What prompted you to start your own business?
Before starting the business, I’d had very little interest in the
internet or travel, and in 2002, my parents bought a holiday home in
Spain which they wanted to rent. I visited the internet and at the
time found few choices, and the choices available were expensive, so I
got this mad idea in my head that I could create a website, and ask
holiday homeowners if they were interested in advertising.
At the time it seemed so simple.
3 What has been the hardest aspect of having your own business?
In the start it was creating an attractive website, and getting
advertisers wanting to pay to advertise, then the next challenge was
learning about how the search engines work, and then getting the site
seen so that advertisers would receive enquiries.
Nowadays, the biggest challenge is the sheer number of accommodation
sites on the internet, so marketing the site on the search engines is
hard work and very time consuming. In the past 12 months I have had
to look at how I market the site and introduced a holiday forum and
blog to attract holidaymakers and keep them on the site after
searching or renting a holiday home.
4 What is the funniest thing that has happened to you running your own
I get some very strange requests for accommodation, ranging from mud
huts in Kenya to houses made out of Bamboo in Costa Rica [which I
actually found them!] I have helped arrange honeymoons in the Bahamas
and stag parties in cities across the World.
5 Is there anything you would do differently with the benefit of
Good question Karen. Oh yes, there are many things I would have done
different with hindsight, including the choice of the business name
and domain name, down to the actual niche of accommodation. Four
years down the line its very difficult to change, so my advice to
anyone starting up a travel business is to plan, and research before you
jump in with both feet.
Thanks very much for taking part, Darren. It’s interesting that you mention the importance of niche markets, I agree that this is the path a small travel business has to follow. I would have given my business a different name too, with hindsight. I thought that Europe a la Carte was a good name because you could be more flexible in your holiday choices rather than the set menu of a package holiday. However Europe a la Carte doesn’t mention travel in the title and people can think it is a catering business.
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