We all long to travel but, when we take a look at the headlines about travel chaos around the world, particularly in Europe, it’s disconcerting to say the least. Although delaying your travel is one option, it’s not the most exciting one, nor may it even be possible for many of us. What if you’re travelling right now?
The key is: Be prepared, be on time and be sensible!
1. Don’t leave visas to the last minute
Visa applications and appointments are taking longer than usual so make sure you allow enough time to apply for and receive your visa. Check the turn-around times for the particular embassy, which could be up to several weeks. And make sure you have enough time remaining on your passport (expiry date should be 6 months after your planned return home).
Note: Be careful as there are many scam artists ready to make a quick buck off people desperate for visas. Apply through a reputable visa specialist (we recommend Visas Unlimited) or directly through the embassy.
2. Pre-book as much as you can
The days of ‘going as you please’ are pretty much a thing of the past for all but the hardiest of backpackers. Since Covid, most things must be booked in advance, from accommodation and car hire to events and attractions. What does ‘advance’ mean? It depends on what you’re booking, where you’re going, and when. For example, if you want to travel to Europe during the European summer or over Christmas, expect things to be booked up several months in advance.
It’s a good idea to check what’s happening at the time you’re there. For example, if you decide a week before that you want to go to Ireland and it happens to be St Patrick’s Day, chances are that most accommodation will be fully booked – and what’s left is very expensive. Look if it’s school vacations or public holidays, are there any major events or festivals, religious occasions, etc.
With fewer staff everywhere, things take longer than they used to and book up much faster, so don’t leave things until the last minute.
If whatever you’re booking provides a fast-track option and you can afford it, this can be helpful too.
3. And make sure it’s flexible
Yes, those super-cheap rates are tempting but, when you read the fine print, they are invariably non-refundable and non-amendable. Which means that, if a flight is cancelled or changed, you won’t be able to change any of the other bookings and you could be out a great deal of money.
3. Have travel insurance
Look for options that cover as much as possible, including lost luggage, changes and cancellations, etcetera. This way, if something does go wrong, you have back-up. This is particularly important if you haven’t booked flexible rates for things. Travel insurance MUST be purchased BEFORE you leave so be sure to put this on your travel to-do list. Your travel agent can assist you with this.
4. Use online check-in
Airlines generally allow online check-in so that you just have to drop off your bag at the airport. Check your ticket to see how far in advance you can check in and, the moment it opens, go for it. Increasing numbers of hotels are also offering contactless and online check in. The more you can get done before you leave, the better as it reduces queue times.
5. Be early (but not too early)
We all know by now that sprinting in to the airport 5 minutes before your flight departs and hoping for the best just isn’t going to fly (if you’ll excuse the pun). But when should you get there?
It’s best to check your airline’s rules – in general, 2 to 3 hours prior to the flight is recommended, depending on where you’re flying from/to. However, avoid being there too far in advance. You can give yourself a few minutes extra but not too much. If the airline says to be there 3 hours prior to your flight, don’t get there hours beforehand! This can result in people who are on time missing their flights (because they’re stuck in a queue behind people with plenty of time) and swells the crowds at the airport, making everything more chaotic.
6. Pack sensibly
With the vast amount of luggage getting stuck at airports, it’s a good idea to pack carefully. Ensure that everything important is in your carry-on bag (just make sure it’s the right dimensions for the airline carrier, and that your ticket actually permits carry-on – low-cost carriers may require an additional fee for this).
Any medication, money, chargers, and electronics should be in your carry-on bag. We also recommend packing a change of clothes, or at least underwear, and a few toiletries in your cabin baggage so that, if you get stuck without a bag, at least you can freshen up and have your necessities with you. We cover the subject in our blog on Our top in-flight must-haves.
Note: Avoid putting any perishable food items in your check-in baggage. This is becoming a serious problem at airports where left luggage containing perishables is becoming a smelly health hazard due to rotting food in the bags.
7. Be ready for security
Security checks are possibly one of the most tedious, stressful parts of travel – and now that there are fewer staff members, it takes even longer. Make 100% sure that your baggage complies with all the rules. Weigh everything before you go so that you aren’t stuck at the check-in counter trying to lighten your overweight suitcase (while the queue builds up behind you). Don’t be ‘That Person’ who gets to the front of the security queue and hasn’t organised anything – adhere to the liquids rule (see below), make sure you don’t have prohibited items like scissors, take your laptop and other electronics out of the bag, empty your pockets (yes, even tissues and lip balm), take off your belt and jacket, etcetera.
European regulations state that you cannot bring any gels, liquids or pastes over 100ml in your hand luggage, and everything you bring must be able to fit into one clear plastic bag (about the size of a sandwich bag). This must be taken out of your bag and placed separately in the security tray for scanning. Yes, we know it’s a schlepp, but that’s the way it is so ensure that you’re ready for it in order to reduce unnecessary stress.
8. Carry a credit card
Being able to swipe your card in an emergency, be it for food, a taxi, alternative accommodation, or just a change of clothes is invaluable, particularly in times when things change rapidly. What if your flight is cancelled and you have to purchase a new ticket immediately? What if your suitcase gets stuck at the airport and you can’t wait for it so you need new clothes? What if you need to book yourself into an airport or train station hotel because your transport changed at the last minute? Now, more than ever, it’s important to have this option. We cover this in more detail here: Why you should travel with a credit card.
9. Keep contact details
Make sure you know exactly who to contact and how if things go awry. Hotels, transfers, flights, tours… Anything that may need to be changed. If you have a travel agent, then this makes it easier as you only have one person to call who can sort it all out for you.
10. Pack snacks
With many airports and train stations being somewhat underprepared for the influx of travellers and long wait times, you may find yourself hungry and thirsty. This is particularly problematic for those with conditions like diabetes, or people travelling with children (nobody wants to tell a tired, hungry toddler there’s no food). Given the heat wave Europe is experiencing, it’s best to avoid anything perishable and, instead, go for things like snack bars, crisps in tubes, crackers, dried fruit, and popcorn.
Of course, you can’t take liquids through security but you can take empty bottles for refilling at water fountains in many airports. Check out the website Water At Airports or follow their Twitter account to find out where you can find air-side water fountains.
11. Consider alternatives
The biggest headache is currently flights so look at alternative options, like trains, buses, and ferries. Bear in mind that these are also booking up rapidly so, as with everything else, don’t leave it to the last minute.
Here’s how to travel between France and the UK without flying: England to France without flights? Here’s how!
12. Last but most definitely not least: hire an experienced, reputable travel agent!
A travel agent is a skilled professional who aims to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the travel world. A good agent will go out of their way to help you if things go awry. They’re there to handle issues, facilitate your travels, help you plan the most efficient itinerary, and advise you on how to proceed. They will advocate for you when needed.
Will you pay a fee? Of course – just as you would for any professional expert. But, when the chips are down, a good travel agent is worth their weight in gold!
Please note: this article is meant to inform and inspire. Travellers are responsible for ensuring they meet all the requirements for travel. British TIPS will not be held responsible for missed connections, flights, etc.