The Best Way To Book- Travel Agents VS Online

With the advancement of technology and a major push for getting the best deal available, it’s no surprise that people have begun orchestrating their own holidays. However, there are still some who wonder which option would be better for them as a whole; a travel agent or online? I am a very big advocate of using the travel agent and in this post I will list why.

Using a travel agent is way more convenient. Imagine how many hours and how many different websites you will use in order to find the best deals for each different aspect of your holiday. How many different companies you give your credit card details to. It becomes repetitive and exhausting. The best thing about using a travel agent is that they do all the hard work for you. All you need to do is give them the basic information and they give you some feasible options. Too easy.

They use trusted companies. With so many different options for holidays, I personally find it difficult to know which companies to trust. Which airline in value for money? Which hotel will have the best amenities? That’s why I use a travel agency, because they have already found the best options and have tried them. Now, I know that this is not infallible. There will be those who have horror stories about the hotel a travel agent recommended them, however it’s as simple as contacting your travel agent and they will fix the issue (to the best of their ability, naturally). It’s not on you as it would be if you’d booked online.

Most travel agencies have a guarantee on quality. Because the travel industry is such a competitive industry, you will most often find that each travel agency has some kind of product guarantee. They are pretty much asking you to test them because any fault you find will only help them improve. To date, I have never found fault with any travel agencies I have used. That’s why I go back.

They have the knowledge. Whatever grievance you may have against travel agencies, you can’t dispute the fact that they are paid to have a complete knowledge of the travel industry. They, therefore, do have the best deals. You may want to dispute this by pointing to a website that has cheaper options, however, have you read the fine print? Because your travel agency will have done and has made a similar deal to counter the void. Also, as I mentioned before, when booking online, you don’t have anyone to run to should there be any issues.

They think of everything! I’m not even joking. There have been many times where the travel agent has suggested adding something to my holiday that I hadn’t even thought about. Insurance is a big thing I forget but it’s something I would never travel without. I’m one of those overzealous planners so the fact that my travel agent can still be able to surprise me with her suggestions is kinda amazing.

So, those are my personal reasons for using a travel agent over the internet. In all honesty, it comes down to what will give me peace of mind and what is easiest. Like most people, I barely glance over the fine print so using a travel agency makes sense. They read the fine print and summarize it in layman’s terms. I hope this post is helpful.

Happy travels!

 

Travel On A Budget

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. I do not earn big bucks. In fact, if I earn $400 in a week, I get super excited. Now I bet you’re wondering how I have afforded to travel when I earn so little. This is what I want to discuss this week; how you can afford to travel no matter your situation.

The first thing that is necessary is self discipline. You need to learn to prioritise your spending, both at home and whilst on your trip. This is not easy. We all have bills and necessary expenses that cannot be cut out. The best thing to do is make a list, one for expenses and another for your income. Once you have listed the absolute essential expenses, you can then decide which of your other expenses to cut out. For myself, I don’t go out every weekend but I do choose which activity to splurge on. The exhilaration that you feel when you visit a far away land is worth every sacrifice.

Whilst on your trip, you must also prioritise your spending. There is nothing worse than splurging on the first portion of your trip and having to scrimp on the second part. Think about where you will be going before leaving and decide if there is a particular purchase you wish to make in that region. For example, if you are visiting Florence, you may want to purchase a leather handbag as Florence is the top producer of fine leather. Always leave room in the budget for something extra (as there is always something else to buy) but stick to your budget as much as is feasible.

My next point follows the same line as prioritising. Once you know what you can save for your trip, you can then set a limit on your spending. First, you will need to determine how much the actual trip will cost (flights, accommodation, insurance, etc). From there, you can determine how much spending money you will have and set a daily budget to follow whilst you are away.

In all things, you must be practical. Remember that everything you buy must be carried home. If you want to mail souvenirs home, you will have to factor that into your budget. Know what your limits are. When it comes to packing, try not to take the biggest suitcase you have. It will be bulky and cumbersome. Do you really want to lug a massive suitcase throughout the trip? The answer may be yes whilst you’re at home but I can guarantee that you will regret it at some point on your trip. The best advice I can give is to write a list, pack that list, then remove all those extra things. Do you really need four different jumpers when you’re visiting Scotland in spring? No, one will be enough. Trust me. Try to assemble a wardrobe that is both comfortable and practical. Mix and match is your best option. There will be washing machines wherever you are heading.

Finally, you must always remember reality. When you are on holidays, the everyday grind of life seems so far away. Life is fun. It’s almost like there are no limits. However, you must remember reality. There will be bills to pay when you return. This is why budgeting is so important. If you overspend whilst on holidays, you return home to a big ball of stress regarding money and bills. This causes you to resent some of the purchases you made whilst overseas. The holiday loses its magic. You don’t want that. Budgeting is key!

Some of what I have said may seem harsh, and you may think that thinking this way will cause you to stress whilst on holidays. I can assure you, however, that being prepared will ensure you have the best time overseas. You prepare so that you can have a stress-free holiday. You’ve already worked out all the boring details. You can relax and enjoy yourself.

I hope this week’s post has helped. My suggestions are basic but they do work. Anything worth having requires sacrifice and patience.

Happy travels!

A European Christmas- The Things No One Tells You

Everyone dreams of seeing Europe covered in a blanket of snow, of visiting the famous Christmas markets in each prominent city. For myself, I was more than willing to brave the frigid weather if it meant I could experience a European Christmas atmosphere. For the most part, visiting Europe during Christmas was as magical as I had imagined, however, there were drawbacks. This week I want to discuss some of the issues you will encounter in Europe over the Christmas period.

The first myth I wish to dispel is the one involving crowds. There is no doubt that Europe  is overcrowded during the warmer months. It is then said that winter is the better time to visit if you are not fond of crowds. In my experience, I would agree, mostly. However, Europe is still very much a tourist hub during the colder months. After all, there are people just like you, who wish to experience the continent at Christmas. Italy, especially, will remain overcrowded, for the simple fact that Italy can be quite warm in comparison to the rest of Europe. If you are visiting Italy, you can expect to have a great amount of sunny days (which is perfect for exploring).

Next I want to discuss outfits. Anywhere you find an article on winter travel, they recommend layering. This is exactly what you should do for though it will be bitterly cold in the elements, every building you enter will have their heaters up unbearably high. If you have layers, you can simply remove the most bulky ones to enable your body a measure of comfort. Be warned, however, that no matter what you think, wearing those thick coats and layers is not flattering on anyone. I found that I looked like a big, black marshmallow and felt like one.

Winter is actually considered the slow season to most any place you visit (except, of course, snow-related activity). As such, you will need to prepare yourself for the reality of many attractions being closed. Most of the major attractions tend to be open, if only for a portion of the day, however the lesser known ones will likely be closed for refurbishment. I would advise you to research the attractions you want to see and make sure they will be open when you are there. You may be disappointed otherwise.

As to the actual week surrounding Christmas, you can expect an amazing array of Christmas spirit and festivities. Christmas markets will be everywhere and super busy, as both locals and tourists gather to shop. On Christmas eve, however, you will find that the city shuts down mid-afternoon. Why is this? Well, in European culture, Christmas eve is the major family celebration. They all gather for Christmas eve dinner and basically drink and be merry. Christmas day is more of a recuperation day. As such, you will need to plan to spend these days either travelling or relaxing. Your meals may become an issue, too, as I was being quite literal when I said the city shuts down. I couldn’t find anything open in Budapest after 3 p.m.

So there you have it. A few tips to keep in mind when planning a Christmas trip to Europe. Don’t let these put a damper on your excitement, however. Europe is absolutely stunning in winter (even with those awful temperatures!). I find it’s just always best to be prepared for every aspect of your journey. I also want to point out that yes, no one told me about these (not my travel agent, not Topdeck and not my tour leader). I was totally unprepared for what awaited me in Europe. I have endeavoured to ensure others don’t face the same problem. I hope this short post has been helpful!

Happy travels!

Four Reasons to Visit the U.K. On Your First Trip

In last week’s post, I suggested tips that might prove useful to those contemplating their first trip overseas. Within that post, I mentioned that the U.K. is an ideal destination for first-time travellers. This week I want to expand on that and list exactly why I love visiting the U.K.

Reason #1: They speak English! Going overseas for the first time can be a big bundle of stress. If you are anything like I am, you will have every minute detail planned out to ensure that nothing can go wrong. The one thing you can’t plan, however, is what it’s actually like to be in a foreign country. Confused? I’ll explain.

Before I travelled to Europe, I was very concerned about the most basic thing in travel; communication. How was I going to order food, find the bathroom, ask for directions? No matter what you read or how reassuring everyone is, there are some things that you have to experience for yourself before you grasp the situation. When you are planning your first trip overseas, try to take this unnecessary stress out of the equation. You are going to have so many other things to deal with, both emotionally and physically, that it’s best to simplify the situation, for your own good.

Reason #2: Their culture is similar to Australia’s. Being as Australia was settled by the British, our cultures are very much intertwined. Things such as eating a hot meal at Christmas (even though we’re melting in our summer heat) and drinking tea originated from our Motherland, Britain. A great deal of our cockney language has been passed down, and altered, from the Brits. Therefore, it is a good deal easier to adjust to the culture of the U.K. whilst on holidays than if you were to visit Africa.

Now, I am not saying that our cultures are the same. I find that British culture is a lot more refined than ours here. Along with those gorgeous posh accents, the people are more courteous, in Scotland especially. Added to this is the vast amount of history and heritage that the nations contain. No matter what era of history you enjoy, there is a village, museum, exhibition or experience that caters for this. London has amazing musicals and play and some of the best shopping. Glasgow is a city that is humming with culture. Edinburgh is a history-lovers dream come true. Love walking, horse riding, mountain biking? They’ve got trails, tours and farm stays to satisfy your every whim. The U.K. is swimming with endless possibilities.

Reason #3: The weather. I think I may have just confused everyone reading with this one but yes, the weather is a major attraction for me. Now, let’s forget about the stereotypical rain that does plague the continent. I was born and raised in Queensland,  the sunshine state. As such I’m used to heaps of sun and a bucketful of humidity. The sky is rarely grey where I live.

When I visit the U.K. I find the weather to be pleasantly mild. If you have ever spent the day sightseeing in Brisbane in January or February, you know that it heats up before 9 a.m. and there is no respite. Even in the middle of summer, Britain has a milder climate that allows you to sight see without wanting to strip your skin off. If you love interesting contrasts in your pictures, too, the more miserable days make some beautiful photos as a result of the darkened skies.

Reason #4: The Scenery! I know that many Brits head overseas to visit stunning beachfront and architecture, but I believe that Britain holds some of the most beautiful sights in the world. I have been raised watching classic British dramas, comedies and documentaries. It seemed only natural that the U.K. would be my first overseas trip. On my first visit, I saw historic castles, lush gardens, beautiful monuments and breathtaking scenery (and I only had a glimpse of what Britain had to offer). The best part is that there are four different nations you can visit and each one has their own unique attraction and culture.

 

So those are my top  four reasons to visit the U.K. for your first overseas holiday. I could list boundless more reasons but they are of a more personal pull. The U.K. has multiple rich cultures to immerse yourself in and I found that I learnt more about Australia’s culture throughout my journey. I hope this short post is helpful in some way.

Happy travels!

Top Tips For Your First Trip Overseas

After a very difficult week battling with my internet connection, I thought it would be prudent to post a blog without too many pictures. Therefore, I decided to do another “helpful hints” post. This week I’m discussing some tips to consider when taking your first trip overseas. This may not seem as interesting as raving about the places I explore but, for those who are contemplating their first trip, it just might ease some worries you are having.

Tip one: Choose a safe destination. No matter if you are travelling in a group, as a couple, or on your own, safety is a big thing to consider whilst overseas. What do I mean by a safe destination? I’m talking about not venturing into the war-torn middle east for your first trip. Many people, myself included, opt for destinations such as the U.K. and America when dipping their  toes in the ocean that is international travel. The main reasons are because the cultures in these destinations have a fair similarity to Australia but are also different enough to be refreshing. I visited Scotland and England for my first trip. I did go alone, however I also met up and stayed with friends whilst in these nations.

What makes these destinations safer than others? Well, for starters, they speak English! This is honestly the biggest plus. My first trip, I was anxious and nervous. I had no idea what to do, despite having researched thoroughly. It was a weight off my mind that I was able to walk up to someone and ask for directions (something that is a terribly convoluted action in Europe). Also, The U.K. and U.S.A both have very low risk warnings posted on government websites. I mean, they have crime like any other country but you are unlikely to be thrown in  jail for looking at someone the wrong way. If there happens to be a terrorist act or natural disaster within the months leading up to your trip, be sure to ask your travel agent if this will affect your holiday.

Tip Two: Prepare for your trip. No matter if you are booking online or visiting a travel agency, you should always research your destination before placing any money down. There is nothing worse than booking a hotel before realising it’s not as centrally-located as you desire. Buy a guide book, visit the websites of the sights you are thinking of visiting, read blogs from fellow travellers. All of this will ensure you are as prepared as you can be for your holiday. For me personally, I don’t visit a travel agent until I have had the chance to go through a guide or three. This gives me a rough idea of what I want out of my holiday, how long I want to be away and areas I do and don’t want to visit.

Tip Three: Once you know what you want out of your trip, don’t allow yourself to be persuaded to pay for something you don’t want. Travel agents are not out there to rip you off, guys. They don’t even charge you their commission. However, they are still sales people and they will recommend travel add-ons such as tours or sight-seeing packages that you may not want. If you decided you do want to book a tour, no problems but grab a bundle of books and research all the options before making a choice. Only you know what you want and it is your money that is paying for the holiday. Be certain that what you’re paying for is really what you desire.

Tip Four: Prioritise! This is super important if you are on a budget. You need to know if you are willing to stay in a hostel if it means you can afford to travel longer. Also, know that you are not going to be able to see everything on your first trip. For starters, you will be distracted by every new sight you see (trust me, I’ve been there) plus there are not many destinations that require one trip to slake your curiosity. Therefore, make a list of which sights are a must and which are a kinda bonus. Look into sight-seeing packages and passes. Things such as the Hop-on/Hop-off buses are great for seeing a heap in a short amount of time and many major cities offer a city pass that have amazing discounts on sights.

Tip Five: Don’t be afraid to try something new! Make your lists, guys, but be prepared to be spontaneous, too. Travel is about exploring and absorbing other cultures so try not to be overly touristy. Eat out at smaller restaurants not chains, start a conversation with a local on the bus, visit a marketplace for local products. Some of my best memories (and purchases) came when I ventured away from tourist traps.

And, Finally, be safe. Get travel insurance. I cannot stress this enough. That peace of mind, especially on your first trip, is priceless. Use your common sense when travelling. Don’t take dangerous risks that are unnecessary. Definitely attempt to fit in and watch your belongings. There is no need to be paranoid but a healthy amount of caution will save you from becoming one of those travel horror stories.

I hope this post has been beneficial to all those first-time travellers. No matter how anxious you feel before your trip, I promise you that it will all melt away when you reach your destination. You will enjoy your first trip and it will fill a void that you didn’t realise you had. Just know, however, that once you start travelling, there is no going back!

Happy travels!

Practicalities Whilst Overseas

Since I just finished detailing my adventures through Europe, I thought it would be a good idea to do a different kind of post this week. Even in this modern world, where a ton of information can be found through Google, it can be hard to know exactly what to expect when visiting another country, especially when the country has a foreign language. This week I’ll be going through some of the most important aspects of travel that I myself feared.

Language

Spoken

One of my biggest fears was being unable to communicate, whether it was with store staff or bystanders. I read blog after blog on each of my destinations in an attempt to put my fears to rest. Many didn’t actually mention the language barrier, which was crazy in my opinion. In the end, I was able to contact a past traveller with Topdeck who answered all my questions. She assured me that, in the major cities, language was not a big issue. Call me skeptical but I was still quite wary until the day I arrived in Paris.

If you are travelling to any major city or tourist destination in Europe, I can guarantee that there will be English-speaking people. Whether it be a restaurant, shop or attraction, the staff will speak, at the very least, broken English. Many will even be international staff.

In smaller towns and roadside stops, you will have to be prepared for non-English speaking attendants. Just remember that you are in their country. Attempt to at least greet the attendant in their native tongue and work from there.

Written

As I mentioned above, if you travel to a major city or tourist attraction, you can pretty much guarantee that the signs, menus, etc. will be in English, as well as a number of others. In Austria, Germany and France, there are quite a few common words that you will recognise even in their foreign tongue.

Manners & Customs

You will find that many of the things that you find rude, the Europeans will as well. The best way to ensure you don’t offend anyone is to attempt to learn a bit of the language. The Parisians are especially rude to those who fail to attempt their language. I would personally always address the person I was talking to in their language before admitting I was a foreigner. Many will appreciate your attempt at fitting in, trust me.

One of the hardest things to get used to in Europe was the fact that you had to pay to use a public toilet. It  can be especially hard when you don’t have the right amount as often there is no chance for change. If you can’t find a public toilet, you can always use a café or fast food restaurant’s toilets but you must buy something first (this seems totally fair to me, to be honest). In Paris, you can sit in an establishment such as a café all day as long as you purchase something. This is great if you need WiFi.

If you plan on seeing any churches, cathedrals or other religious buildings, make sure you are covered from your neck to your knees. I went in winter so this wasn’t such an issue for me personally, but if you visit Europe in summer, make sure you pack some modest clothing.

Money

Let me put a major issue to rest straight away. There are ATMs everywhere in Europe. Even small villages will have at least one ATM somewhere (usually at a shop). There is no need to carry all your money on you or exchange in every stop. In fact, you’d get better exchange rates from a bank than an exchange.

However, this is not to say that you shouldn’t use the local exchange. There can be times where you accidentally withdraw more than you are able to use, especially in places like Hungary and the Czech Republic. When using an exchange, shop around for the best price because some of those places like to rip off unsuspecting tourists.

Having said that, never leave anywhere with your wallet or money out. Always put it back in a safe compartment of your bag before leaving. Thieves target those who are careless. I would also recommend hiding a stash of money and a spare card in a secret spot in the event that you are robbed.

Transportation &  Getting Around

In every city, it is always best to use public transport. It will be cheaper and go to all the sights regularly. Taxis can, of course, be used when needed but I usually use them as a final resort (for when I get lost and have no idea where I am. Just be aware that a taxi will not be cheap.

My top tip for getting around, however, is to buy a map. Maps are the greatest resource a tourist can have. Yes, it will mark you as a tourist, but it will also enable you to mark out your plans for the day. I found I often used my maps when I had no idea where I was or where I was going. The few times I refused to buy a map, I seriously regretted it. The best thing is, they’re not expensive. For a couple of Euros, you can save your data and learn the city easily.

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I hope this short post will help you in your travels. Please let me know if there is anything I have missed. Just remember that there will always be the fear of the unknown. The best way to enjoy Europe without worry is to be prepared. When you are prepared, nothing will faze you.

Happy travels!