Travel Essentials – EHIC & Travel Insurance

Posted on: March 28th, 2011 Posted by

Imagine the scenario. You’ve waited all year for your week or two in the sun with the family, and are enjoying a relaxing time, free from the pressures of work. Everything is marvellous until a) you slip by the pool-side and hear a nasty crunch from your ankle, or b) your child gets horrendous food poisoning from a dodgy BBQ sausage, or c) your husband’s back tooth breaks when eating sweets and he’s in agony. What happens now? Do you grab your EHIC and travel insurance documents and head off to get medical treatment, or do you panic and wish that you’d spent time arranging those two essential details when you booked your tickets? Nobody likes to think about what might happen if they fall ill on holiday, but a few minutes planning can save you stress and money if you do find yourself in a difficult situation.

Anyone who is entitled to NHS state healthcare in the UK can, and should, apply for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). The EHIC replaced the E111 form in January 2006, is supplied free of charge and is valid for five years from the date of issue. Carrying an EHIC allows the holder to access free or reduced price medical treatment in the European Union’s 27 member states, and it is advised that you carry your card at all times while travelling in Europe. In practice, this card means that if you or a family member (who must have their own card) is injured or falls ill, they can use the public health services available in the country they are visiting, allowing them to continue their stay and not need to return to the UK for treatment. The process to order EHICs for your family is perfectly straight-forward. Simply head over to the EHIC website , where you can apply online or by telephone. You’ll need to have the relevant NIE number, surname and forename, as well as date of birth for each applicant handy before you get started.

Although your EHIC is a vital part of your travel kit, it is not interchangeable with travel insurance. To be totally secure and covered, you must have BOTH. The EHIC does not cover repatriation costs, and in most countries it does not cover full costs of medical care, only a contribution to the final amount. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website , this could mean that you find yourself with hefty bills if something does go wrong : an air ambulance from the Canary Islands could cost you anything between £12,000 and £16,000(figures from FirstAssist Services Ltd).

If you want to avoid the added worry of how you’ll pay if something did happen to go awry, you absolutely must buy a travel insurance policy which offers complete cover for your needs. It is well worth shopping around for your travel insurance as prices vary between brokers, but bear in mind, what each policy includes can also vary dramatically. A standard travel insurance policy will only include 24 hour service and assistance, medical and health expenses, personal liability and cancellation cover, as well as cover for loss or theft of your possessions. While standard policies may be cheaper, take some time to consider whether it is worth spending the extra few quid for the extra security of personal accident cover and legal expenses. Remember that if you plan to participate in activities such as jet-skiing and paragliding, you may need to add extend your policy to add additional cover as these are often excluded. If you travel frequently, look out for money-saving deals on annual or multi-trip travel insurance, and NEVER travel without insurance.

With your EHIC and travel insurance arranged, you’ll be able to rest assured that things will be taken care of if you do have a problem. We’ve all heard stories of people who don’t buy insurance and end up with sky-high bills and a struggle to get home – don’t let that be you!

Don’t Be A Pickpocket Victim!

Posted on: March 21st, 2011 Posted by

Holidays are a relaxing time, and it is all too easy to be lulled into a sense of security by the sunshine, sea and sand. Unfortunately, holiday resorts and busy tourist attractions tend to be magnets for thieves and scam artists, who take advantage of crowds, distraction and use the opportunity to relieve you of your hard-earned money, mobile phones, cameras and jewellery.

Pickpockets frequently work in gangs and have numerous distraction techniques designed to extract your money. Often as simple someone resting a map over your table as they ask directions(and steal your phone) or bumping into you in a crowded street(and whisking away your purse,  if it happens, it’s likely your money will be the other side of town before you realise it has gone, with little chance of getting it back.
So what can you do to protect yourself?

•    Don’t make yourself  into vulnerable victim – flashing wads of cash around will attract the wrong sort of attention. If you are going to a  local souvenir market for example, it’s sensible to get small change before you set off – rather than pulling out huge notes to pay for small purchases.
•    On the subject of money, it has long been recommended that you take a mixture of cash, credit cards and travellers cheques when you go on holiday. Obviously this comes down to personal preference, but remember whatever combination of spending money you take – don’t carry it all round with you, and keep the excess in a secure place such as a safe in your accommodation.
•    Wallets that peep temptingly from your back-pocket, and handbags which gape open to reveal their contents are just asking to be stolen. Switch over to a money-belt or “bum bag” for your valuables, and ladies, if your bag is vital, choose a style which hangs across the front of body and has a concealed zip. You may even like to use safety pins to secure your bag and make it more difficult to open. Never leave bags sitting on the floor or hanging over the backs of chairs, and maintain physical contact with them at all times. If you are asleep on public transport or relaxing on the beach – do yourself a favour and pop your belonging under your pillow or behind your back.
•    When you are out and about, think about your behaviour and how you might appear to potential thieves. Try to look confident and make eye contact with people around you to show anyone watching you that you are aware of your surroundings and what is going on. If you are going to an area where pickpockets are a known issue, make sure that your clothing and actions don’t scream “tourist” – swap those designer sunglasses for a cheapo pair, leave your Rolex at home and don’t keep your camera in your hand all the time etc. Be alert if anyone you don’t know approaches you or tries to touch you, and feel free to shout and make a fuss if you see someone interfering with your belongings! Remember, if something seems suspicious is probably is!
•    If your passport is lost or stolen during your holiday, don’t panic. The first point of call is at the police station to report the crime, and then you should visit the local UK embassy or consulate who will issue travel documents to help you return home. Super savvy travellers recommend sending a colour scan of your passport to a secure email account, as this will come in handy – just in case.  Other valuables that are stolen should be reported to the police, although  of course it is better to prevent the crime rather than deal with the consequences.

We hope that these tips will be useful to your for your next holiday, and will keep your valuables safe. Have you got any anti pickpocket tips you’d like to share with fellow travellers? Comment, and let us know!

What To Eat In March

Posted on: March 14th, 2011 Posted by

Birds are singing, bees are buzzing and flowers are bursting into bloom. March is finally here, heralding, we hope, blue skies and sunny spring days. It’s at this time of year that we start thinking about lightening up our diets, moving away from the hearty stews and stodgy puddings of  winter, and a fantastic way to do this is to use the abundance of delicious seasonal ingredients available now. We look at some of our favourite March ingredients, which are at their best at this time of year and bring a fresh flavour to your kitchen.

Asparagus

A delicacy which has been enjoyed for centuries, asparagus has a delicate grassy flavour and succulent, juicy texture. The stalks are picked when they are young and tender, as older plants become woody and unpleasant. Asparagus is a healthy ingredient, providing an excellent source of B vitamins, iron and folic acid(perfect if you are trying to get pregnant or suffer from anaemia) and are best cooked by steaming or stir-frying to preserve these precious nutrients. Less healthy are the classic accompaniments which are served alongside asparagus – butter and egg rich Hollandaise sauce for example. However, we recommend that you make the most of the short British asparagus growing season and indulge yourself while you can – there is nothing quite like eating fresh asparagus stems, dripping in melted salty butter or dipped into the golden yolk of a softly poached egg.

Sea Trout

Sea trout has a more subtle flavour than salmon, and orangey pink flesh. Despite it’s name, sea trout is actually caught in inland freshwater lakes and rivers. Trout is best cooked whole – either roasted in the oven , or over a BBQ if you fancy making the most of the spring sunshine and eating al fresco! Most fishmongers will happily gut and clean the fish for you and will even take out the bones if required, although the meat separate easily with a fork when it is cooked through. Season with crushed salt and black pepper, and perhaps a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little parsley, and wrap in aluminium foil to preserve the mouthwatering texture. Any left over trout cake be flaked and mixed with mayonnaise as a tasty and unusual alternative to tuna for a baked potato topping or sandwich filling.

Rhubarb

Rhubarb has a sharp, tangy flavour which lends itself well to spring-time desserts. Baked slowly with sugar and cinnamon, and topped with crumble, it is a tasty homely pudding, while when combined with champagne and gelatin, it makes a sophisticated jelly to serve at dinner parties. The best British rhubarb is said to grow in the “Rhubarb Triangle” of Wakefield, Rothwell and Moreley, where it is cultivated in darkened sheds to produce a sweeter flavoured stem. Rhubarb grow in the Triangle was awarded with Protected Designation of Origin in February 2010, and is really worth trying for it’s superior flavour.  Surprisingly rhubarb is an excellent source of calcium, so is excellent for growing children, as well as providing a good supply of dietary fibre.

Wood Pigeon

If you have never tried game birds, don’t miss out – the season for pigeons ends on 31st of March. Buy fresh, wild pigeon from a specialist butcher to discover the true flavour – although some supermarkets now sell pigeon all year round it is likely to be farmed and no real comparison to a wild bird. For an alternative to your usual chicken roast on a Sunday, why not try pan-fried pigeon breasts, cooked in butter and served with fluffy mashed potatoes and spring greens. On colder days(because sometimes the spring weather will let us down) why not try a traditional pigeon pie cooked with meaty gravy for a warming treat.

Spring Onions

Spring onions are referred to various names depending on where you live – salad onions, scallions, onion sticks and green onions are all names you might hear used. Spring onions are actually onions, which have been harvested when they are still very small and have a mild flavour. Sold in bunches, it is best to eat spring onions within a couple of days of purchase as they will start to lose their texture. You can use spring onions in many different ways – sprinkle slices into a Chinese style soup, stir-fry them, add to a spring salad or add them to a sandwich filling. You might even like to try roasting them on the BBQ – dress with olive oil and coarse sea-salt for a wonderful Mediterranean inspired side dish.

Packing Light

Posted on: March 7th, 2011 Posted by

Over recent years airline regulations for baggage weights and sizes seem to have reduced dramatically, and we are all being faced with the challenge of having to pack more lightly. We’ve gathered a selection of the best trips and tricks to help you streamline your packing to avoid excess weight charges at the airport, while ensuring you have all the essentials.

Personal Grooming & Beauty Products

· Look out for multi-purpose grooming and beauty products to avoid the need for multiple bottles – two in one shampoo/shower gels are great value and come in handy if you need to wash any small items of clothing while you are away.

· Minimise your load by looking out for sample sizes, which are often given away free with with purchases, or buy travel sized products. These are great for short breaks because they hold just enough for a long weekend or so – you can even buy empty plastic containers and bottles and transfer your favourite brands to create your own personalised travel collection.

· Ladies – if you are going on a beach or active outdoor break, you won’t need the entire contents of your make-up bag/drawer. If the bare-faced look doesn’t appeal, try assembling a “skeleton” collection of cosmetics : waterproof mascara, bronzer and lip-gloss go a long way and weigh hardly anything.

· Unless your destination is somewhere very isolated, remember that you’ll probably be able to purchase any products you need at local supermarkets or beauty counters – so think twice about taking anything with you at all.

Clothes

· Experts say that with clever packing, for ever 7 garments packed, you should be able to create 14 different outfits. Think basic combinations of plain trousers, skirts and shorts, with different tops for variety. It may help to pick a colour range that is harmonious, to avoid finding yourself stuck with the Christmas elf look of bright red t-shirt and green shorts.

· Think about what you are going to be doing during your holiday and the type of weather conditions that are likely. You probably won’t need to wear full evening dress if you plan to cook in your accommodation every night of your holiday, but you’ll regret it if you forget to pack a light rain-proof jacket and end up getting drenched by an unexpected summer storm.

· Choose clothing which is light-weight and not excessively bulky. This saves space, especially if you roll the clothes rather than folding them and stuff small items such as socks inside shoes.

Entertainment & Souvenirs

· If you love to read on your holiday, consider getting an e-book reader and downloading enough books to keep you occupied during your break. This makes a huge difference for a voracious readers baggage weight, and is brilliant if you find yourself delayed on long journeys.

· Think about leaving space for any souvenirs you pick up while you are away. And avoid the trap that many travellers fall into – don’t be seduced by a bargain buy which you’ll never be able to fit into your bag. If you find something huge that you genuinely want, consider having it shipped home to save airport worries.

Packing Lists & Other Useful Tips

· Making a packing list may seem a little over the top, but it is worth spending the extra time on. Write down exactly what you will need to take, including passports, holiday money, tickets, driving license and insurance documents. When you have a complete list, assemble all your items in one place and tick them off as they are packed. Remember to take a spare list so you can double-check you’ve not left anything behind on the return journey.

· If you are really struggling to keep your bag weight down, be strict with yourself and remove everything that is not truly essential. You’ll probably only use about half of what you are left with : if you don’t believe us, make a note of what you do and don’t use during your next trip, and use it as a basis the next time you pack.

· Travel irons and travel kettles are great gadgets, but if you are staying self-catering you may well find that these are already available in your accommodation. Phone or email to find out for sure – you may save yourself several kilos of excess luggage in the process – yes, ladies, that means more room for shoes!

From Trunks to Super-light Suitcases

Posted on: March 2nd, 2011 Posted by

The funny thing about humans is wherever we go, we seem to need to cart a load of belongings around with us. This (usually) practical need is not a new one, and since the early days of travel, we’ve found ways to make sure wherever we go, everything we need is close at hand. Over the centuries, baggage has developed to suit our needs and fit in to modern travel situations.

During the Victorian era, as travel became more widespread amongst the rich upper classes, baggage came in the form of magnificent trunks and elegant hand-luggage. Victorians were known for travelling well equipped, even on the shortest of journeys and would prepare for almost any circumstance. On longer overseas voyages which were often quite social events, with balls and gala dinners taking place, women would pack dozens of fancy garments, jewellery and books into heavy wooden or leather covered trunks. It would be considered normal for these trunks to weigh so much that would need two men to lift them. In addition to these hefty trunks, Victorian ladies would carry a lighter case made from Morocco leather or crocodile skin, containing personal belongings and cosmetics. Luggage during this era was ostentatious and a way of flaunting wealth.

In the early 20th century, travelling with unwieldy trunks lost its attraction and travellers started packing the first suitcases. Early suitcases were often made of wool or linen over a frame, or wood covered in leather. These suitcases were the forerunner of the bags we all drag out for our annual holiday, and were usually a rectangular shape with a handle on top. Over the years, all kinds of materials have been introduced to make baggage easier to handle and lighter including polycarbonate and ABS plastic. The development of wheeled suitcases was a great move towards better manoeuvrability, although the first of these did not appear until the 1970s.

In 2011, the trends for luggage are focused on innovation for practicality and style. Anyone who travels frequently will be well aware of airline restrictions for baggage sizes and weights and understand the need for a suit-case which doesn’t weigh a ton, especially if they want to avoid extra costs. Prestige baggage manufacturers such as Samsonite have set out to tackle the problem by offering extremely light-weight cases which are also durable enough to withstand rough handling. More and more designers are choosing to go with the sleek, futuristic look which seems popular with business travellers and frequent flyers.

Many high street retailers are now in on the luggage act and offer some well priced budget bags which are perfect for family holidays. Gone are the dull coloured bags of yesteryear, replaced with eye-catching neons and graphic prints. Bright baggage which stands out from the crowd helps to avoid those tense moments of stooping over trying to read luggage labels as they spin past on the baggage conveyor – and saves the embarrassment of you lunging for someone else’s bag.

Backpackers have not been forgotten and the modern rucksack is designed to be carried in comfort. High-specification materials which suck moisture away from the skin are incorporated in shoulder straps to eliminate chafing and blistering, and ergonomic principals are used to reduce strain and promote better balance. These expensive bags are made to cope with more extreme conditions that the typical sun, sea and sand holiday and are aimed at the committed adventure traveller.

And what about when the worst happens and your luggage goes missing? Global Bag Tag and Trace Me Tag are just two companies which can help – but only if you plan ahead. Travellers who sign up with these companies receive tags which can be used by airport officials, local transport or the police to reunite luggage with it’s rightful owner. OK, so it might add a few extra pounds onto your holiday budget, but potentially save hours of stress when you should be enjoying your holiday.