Monthly Archives: April 2015

Not Your Normal Travel Advice

There is No Better Travel Advice Than This

The best travel advice is, learn how to find your own information. Only you can know what is best for you. I am an Information Technology teacher and I believe in the old saying

If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

While checking for the source of this quote I found some interesting takes and adaptations of the quote.

The Need to Check Things Out

Spiderman and TruthInformation technology is about Information first and using technology to process information. Some people think that because it is on a computer it must be “true”. I am reminded of a Spiderman comic, where the Daily Bugle said Spiderman was a criminal sand because it was in the newspaper people believed it.

A lot of travel advice is a “re-hash” of what other travel writers have said, and I see nothing wrong in taking ideas from other people, but if the first information is wrong and you re-work it you end up with “Chinese whispers” and if you act on it you could regret it.

A lot of my ideas come from surfing the internet, we are all influenced by others. This is not your normal travel advice because I was influenced by one of my lecturers, Bernard Burgoyne. He had a saying on his wall “If it moves criticise it. If it doesn’t move, kick it.”

When I taught KS3 ICT one of the key topics was teaching the students to find information and check it against other sources.

And I do not just accept what people write on travel blogs, travel advise sites or even holiday and hotel booking sites, I check it out. The hotel might be miles from the beach but the information misses out this important bit of information. See a Cheap Package Holiday Story

Bias is in Built In to All Advice

Bias is when the information is slanted or refocused by the writer, perhaps intentionally or perhaps because we are human.

Personal Bias

You just cannot help seeing the world through your own eyes. I eat pizza but I would never advise anyone to eat it because I think it’s over-rated as a food. I read a blog the other day that suggested getting a “down-town” hotel was not a good idea, they suggested the saving was not worth the extra cost of travelling, I disagree, I like hotels away from city centres, I like to see where real people live but that is my bias. The first thing you need to do is work out what you like, do not accept advice from aliens.

Commercial Bias

A lot of travel advisors are suggesting “Frequent Flyer” rewards as a way to cut travel costs or “Hotel Loyalty Schemes” some are just re-directing you to other websites, where they get a commission. I have no problem with that, it is the basis of how Google makes money and I am grateful for their search engine. Some of my links are “affiliate links”, I might get a commission and it will not cost you a cent more but any money is an added extra not a reason for the web site.

Do Not Believe My Advice

I try hard to check all of the information on this site but sometimes I will get it wrong because I have made a mistake, missed some important information or misunderstood it or things might have changed. Please feel free to tell me when I need to change things by posting a comment.

But more importantly check all information, from every source, before you act on it and end up making a travel mistake, based on the wrong information. Check out my post on Knowledge, Information and Data.

 

Cornflakes

Cheap Holidays

Cheap Holidays are cheap for a Reason
Cornflakes are Too

It came as no surprise to me to read in The Sunday Times that

POUNDLAND, which consistently promotes its “amazing” everyday value, is selling some grocery products at up to 50% more than those sold in the leading supermarkets, a Sunday Times analysis reveals.

Sunday Times

I warned against searching for cheap holidays in Do Not Search for Cheap Holidays. So what was going on at Poundland and how it is the same with holidays? The Sunday times gave several examples to support their research, I will take just one, you can read the rest on their website if you are interested.

The Sunday Times was Unfair to Poundland

Here is the advert from Poundland’s website

£1 Cornflakes PoundlandAnd here is the price comparison used by the Sunday Times from Tesco

Tesco Corn FlakesWithout going into the maths it is obvious that you get 3 times more cornflakes from Tesco for less than twice the price. Now I shop in Sainsbury’s a lot so I thought I would check that shop too.

Sainsbury's CornflakesTesco Corn Flakes 250gFirst I can see that the 750g in Sainsbury’s is 2p more expensive than Tesco BUT the 250g packet is 40% more expensive than Poundland. The Sunday Times was even more unfair to Poundland because the Tesco 250g was the same price as Poundlands’s price. To play fair in price comparisons you need to compare like with like.

 

Smaller Can Make More Sense

The Telegraph offers a quote from Poundland

A spokesman for Poundland said: “We conduct price surveys every two weeks against the supermarkets and we believe we are 40 per cent cheaper or more against 1,000 branded products.
“Comparing either supermarket promotions or larger pack sizes with our prices is not a meaningful comparison.
“With larger pack sizes you have to spend much more to get any better value.”

The Telegraph

Do Not Buy Cheap Holidays Buy Holidays Cheaper

If it is cheap you want, you can get cheap cornflakes. £1 for 250g Kellogg’s at Tesco and Poundland but 500g for 25p at Sainsbury’s for their Basics Brand, that is a 75p saving for twice the amount.

Sainsburys Basics Cornflakes

I do not buy Basics Cornflakes from Sainsbury’s and I do not trust every review of holidays or other products, people have different tastes in holidays and food. But I would advise a note of caution about searching for cheap holidays, read my Illustrated Story of a Cheap Holiday Package to see what I mean. I would advise you to, find the holiday you want and try to get it cheaper and that might mean having a little less but keeping the quality, as in the case with cornflakes.

The Guide to Booking Hotels

Booking hotels is easy,
getting it right takes a little more time

Some things worth knowing
about booking hotels

It really is worth understanding about how hotels and booking sites work, before you start dashing off and searching for a hotel.

Before you start searching for hotels

Ask yourself is it a hotel room you want or would you be better in a hostel, apartment or renting a room?

Not all hotels are listed on internet booking sites. I can show you how to book hotels not on booking.com . Booking sites charge a commission of about 15% on bookings made, which is a lot of money for smaller hotels. Small independent hotel websites are difficult to find on Google, because they do not rank on the first few pages, and most people only look at the first page of results, it is worth going deeper into the search results page, to find independent hotels.

If you are really “footloose and fancy free” or a hardened traveller prepared to chance it, Tourist Information Offices often have a wider, cheaper selection of rooms to stay in. I have even found police stations to be a good source of information but tend to avoid taxi drivers recommendations.

Search Google for hotels

How to search for hotels on Google

There is an art, or perhaps science, to searching for hotels on Google and it is a whole topic, so read the general principles here and then I will explain “How to Search Google”, later

Booking Hotels

Be flexible when ever you can

  1. Do not get sold on a particular hotel just because it has roof top pool, you might have a dip once and it could be nice too cool off in after a long days exploring a new place but is it really that important?
  2. Unless you really must be there on set dates, consider trying different dates, you can often get rooms cheaper. Hotels that cater for business travellers are cheaper at the weekends and tourist hotels in the week.

Room prices go up and down with the weather, well not quite but with demand, and the weather affects demand. If you find an hotel that meets your needs AND has free cancellation, then book it and then search for a better deal. That could be a different hotel or even the same hotel with another website. I have even re-booked the same hotel with the same dates a bit later.

Warning, If you book a non-refundable hotel room you will not be able to cancel it if you don’t turn up you will still be charged. Check before you click the “Book Now” button. If you are sure that is the hotel for you, and you will be there to use the room, non-refundable hotel rooms are often cheaper. Book with free cancellation, fix your other travel arrangements and see if you can change to a non-refundable room.

Do not search on one hotel booking site and while price comparison sites claim to do the checking of “thousands of sites” for you, they do not show all booking sites, some independent chains, independent hotels, and, they don not always compare like for like.

If you’re looking for a specific hotel, I cannot see a lot of reasons to do that, and it is full on the nights you want, then you should check other websites just first websites’ allocation of rooms has sold out it does not mean the hotel is fully booked.

See if it is cheaper to book directly with the hotel. Most branded hotel chains have a price promise for customers booking direct through their own websites. One or two offer not only a price match but an added discount if you find the same room cheaper. Some offer loyalty rewards for repeat bookings. Use the hotels own website or if you can phone the hotel direct, especially if it is a short notice booking. As the advert says, “no hotel wants empty rooms” and they may be able to offer you a better price or they could tell you about special deals they are running for specific dates, that hotel booking sites may not be aware of.

4 Reasons why Booking Hotels direct is not best

  1. Some hotel Booking sites have rules about hotels offering lower prices than those published on their booking site, punishable by death, or some such clause in the contract.
  2. Hotels often sell blocks of rooms to booking sites, at a lower price to make guarantee their income and once that is in their pocket, they want to make the most income from what is left.
  3. Booking sites often offer special “value” deals, such as room up-grades or breakfast included because they have pre-booked hotel rooms ( 2. above) and need to sell the rooms. Look for the “last room on our site” notices.
  4. Some hotel staff have no discretion about room prices and insist on using the “Rack Rate”, the asking price for a room. In some European hotels, this is printed on the back of the hotel room door. Generally, if you paid this rate you have over paid.

Say What You Want

Be specific about your room type. If you want twin beds or a king sized bed, if you need a bath rather than a shower then either check out the room type or fill in the special request box. Do not assume anything. Read the room description and if it matters to you, and it matters to me, watch out for shared bathrooms, it is often the case in cheaper hotels and they hide the fact.

Now you have done the “Booking Hotels”
What next?

Print your confirmation email to show at reception. I have only needed to show it once in my many travels, and has it happened it was in England, but I was glad I had the proof because the hotel said they had no record of the booking.

Phone the hotel direct after the booking is confirmed, it makes sure they have got the booking and sometimes you get a better room. I booked one hotel on a booking site that only offered a family room and I needed a twin. Phoning the hotel after the booking and explaining my situation, got me the twin room which had more space.

Re-Confirm with hotel directly a day before arrival by Email or phone. Then you will not end up in the room that is left, because the hotel let your room to another guest, thinking you were a no-show, because you were late. It happened to me in Florence.

Check the method of payment. Not all hotels accept American Express. Not all small hotels deal with credit cards, they like cash, it keeps the books straight or closed to the tax man. I prefer to pay cash, it not only helps the hotelier, my bank charges for foreign currency transactions but not for cash withdraws!

Hotels Not on Booking.com

Off the Radar Hotels
Hotels Not on Booking.com

Not all hotels are on booking sites. Booking sites like booking.com offer a wide range of hotels throughout the world but they charge hotels for the privilege of advertising with them, thus many smaller hotels on tight budgets cannot or will not pay for the advertising, preferring to rely on passing trade or “word of mouth”.

Booking direct with a hotel can be cheaper but not always. Read my Guide to Booking Hotels

An Example from “hotels not on booking.com”

I chose a two night stay, for two adults arriving on the 26Th July 2015, a purely random date but I search for hotels in York, because I know York and filter for price “low to high”.

Search on Booking.com

 Most days of the week I pass a hotel on Heslington Road, which goes from the university to the City Centre. I looked at the Booking.com map of hotels in York.

The Map a aotel is missing

The “Hotel” is actually a guest house called the Fourposter Lodge and Booking.com did show a guest house

Guest House

So that was not the reason, neither was it because there were no vacancies, I checked.

Fourposter lodge

 So I could get a double room, with breakfast for two nights @ a cost of £116. Booking .com offered me a room for £100 but it did not say it included breakfast but it did say it has “a self-check in service” and that Towels are available to rent. Always assume nothing, so for an extra £16 I get breakfast and towels at the Fourposter lodge.

How to Find Hotels Not on Booking.com

Firstly don’t start with Booking Sites or Price Comparison Sites listed in Google, when you search for hotels. Try using the Tourist Information for your chosen city.

Visit Yor and Bookk

Visiting the Tourist Information website gives you a start but they are not always very efficient, you can see sorting by “price ascending” did not put the Fourposter lodge in the correct position.

Search Google with a Hotel Name

Once you have a name you can search for that hotel in Google.

Search by hotel name

Sleeping on Planes

Sleeping On Planes

Sleeping On Planes

Business ClassSleeping on planes is not just about long haul flights and up grading to business class. If you have to get up early to catch a flight, it can ruin the whole day, so being able to catch-up a hour or two’s sleep can add to your holiday pleasure. Though I can sleep almost anywhere sleeping on planes requires a good seat or a good pillow.

Where to Sit for Better Sleep

SeatsA window seat gives you two advantages, the cabin wall to rest on and no one disturbing you by asking you to move so they can go to the lavatory. Some people say that the window seat of an exit row is the best because there is added leg room. While it is true there is extra leg room, I do not think it makes much difference, I am average hight and can always get my feel under the chair in front of me. The extra space in front of me is a decided disadvantage, because of the way I sleep, if I cannot get a window seat.

Where Not To to Sit for Sleep

Where Not to Sit To SleepAny seat that is against a bulkhead should be avoided. At the front of the plane, you cannot get your legs stretched out and at the back you cannot recline your seat, and the back seat by the window always seems to be cramped and confined. Disturbed sleep is guaranteed in the seats near the Galley and the toilets.

Buying a Better Seat on a Plane

But if you want to be sure of a certain seat, book your tickets early so you can select the seats during booking, then you can choose where to sit, if you want a window seats or extra leg room but this comes at a price. Easy Jet and some other airlines price their seats by how much leg room they offer. On my trip to Paderborn, booked without a reserved seat, checked in early for both outbound and return flights and was offered a window seat for both directions and by not paying extra to reserved a seat I saved about £20.00.

Legroom Is Not The Holy Grail of Flight

Boeing has filed a patent on an upright sleep support system,’Cuddle Chairs’ aimed at making flying more comfortable. You just have to wonder where they get their ideas from.

Girl asleepThis woman has the right idea. Perhaps Boeing got the idea from watching me sleeping. If I cannot get a window seat, I fold the table down, put my bag on it, make a pillow from my fleece, and I am asleep in no time. If you learn forward and rest on a “pillow” you don’t need the legroom. I looked at some travel pillows, from the old school to the new and here are the four main types.

Travel Pillows

Amazon has a variety of travel pillows, from the around your neck (£7.99) to on the side (£17.98) to the J Pillow,Winner of British Invention of the Year 2012/2013 (£29.95 to £14.95) You can click the image for more details.

Pillow1pillow2J Pillow

Rest AssuredBut The winner for me, an average person who finds leaning back to sleep nearly impossible,  has got to be the Deluxe Inflatable Travel Pillow (£10.99) because you can lead forward to sleep, again you can see more by clicking on the image but you had better be quick, when I looked there were only 3 left!

The Philosophers Way by Bus

Philosphenweg The Philosophers Way Paderborn

I first wanted to visit Paderborn because of an article in the Guardian but then the spirit of adventure and discover took over. See Reason to Visit Paderborn. I thought it would be good to see where the BAOR were stationed using Google Maps I found Barker Barracks and zooming in around the area I found a pathway called Philosphenweg, You just have to walk a path called the Philosophers Way, well I had to. I don’t want to bore you with the walk because it did not live up to it’s name but I did find out 3 interesting or important things.

Walk Anywhere – Route Maps

Tracks for vagabondsTrying to find a rout I stumbled on a website called Trips for Vagabonds. It is in English, and you can search by country and town, and here is the route they suggested.

I didn’t expect to get into the barracks but the walk took me around the perimeter and at 6 Km was a nice half day stroll BUT the weather had been really odd, tee-shirt sunshine one day and snow the next. I thought I had better look at buses back to Paderborn, in case I had to cut the walk short. That was the third and Important lesson. I understood the problem with buses. But first the second bit of fun.

Google Earth

I have toyed with Google Earth but I have never found a practical use for it, and given I had a map for the walk, it was just a bit of fun. If you have never used Google Earth here is an example of a route from Google Earth. With this example you do not need to install anything, just allow now, you don’t need to let Google remember.

If you found that fun too perhaps I have given you a new thing to waste your time with.

The Problem with Buses

When I went to Malaga, I had it all sorted with the buses, well at least I thought I had it all sorted but ended up at the bus terminus not at the stop I wanted and had to get a taxi to my accommodation. Because of this walk I learned, why mistakes happen.

Bus From Barker Barracks

 

I used Rome2Rio to find a bus back to Paderborn, should the snow happen again. The advice was to catch a return bus from Ludwigsfelder Ring and the red square showed me where it should have been. THERE IS NO BUS STOP THERE! The bus stop is on Dirburger Strasse, where the green square is and you cannot see it from the red square, AND there was no one to ask because it was a footpath on a ring road. When I eventually gave up and walk to the cross roads I saw the bus stop to return to Paderborn.

Computer Generated Route Information Uses Guesses

The bus stop on Dirburger Strasse is not called the Dirburger Strasse Stop but the Ludwigsfelder Ring Stop, it says it on the sign. You cannot blame Rome2Rio, it had read the bus timetable database and matched it to the road name, it had guessed at where the bus stop was but it was wrong.

If you do not know the name of the bus stop, near to where you want to get off, life is very difficult.

 

American Holidays

Travel vs Vacation

 Vacations and Holidays

VacationsI do like the way Americans call holidays, vacations. They reserve the word holiday for its traditional meaning of “Holy Day”, In England we have lost that sense of a holiday as being a special day and have to tag the celebration to the word, such as Christmas Holiday. Wiki has an interesting insight into this, it is here if you want to look.

Travel vs Vacation (Holidays)

Dine in for TwoAn holiday is when you go somewhere to have as much fun as you can, with as little effort as possible. “All Inclusive” holidays are bit like having a meal at a restaurant, the food comes to your table and you just eat. Package holidays are more like buying a “Dine in for Two” for £10 from Marks and Spencer. You can pick and mix the starter, the side’s and the main and choose the wine to go with them but you have to put the stuff in the microwave or oven before you can enjoy the eating. There are some cheaper holidays that are more like a ready meal from Sainsbury, the starters and wine are optional extras and you still have to stab the plastic before you “ping and pong” it in the micro before eat it. Depending on what extras you choose it could be cheaper than the “Meal for Two” but it might not be.

Rick SteinTravelling is when I go to to a destination but want more of a challenge and be less of a tourist. This is the “cook it yourself” meal. Get the recipe, go to the shop buy the ingredients, peel, chop and prepare them, and then do the cooking in a pan. While it is more work and my cooking does not always work out the way I intended, it does give a sense of achievement when you come to eat it. When I go travelling I try and experience living in that place. I tend to book hotels away from the centre, eat in local restaurants and use public transport.

But a holiday and travelling could be in the same place. I went to Torreblanca for an all inclusive holiday and took a day trip to Malaga. I found it such an interesting place that I travelled to Malaga a few months later. The two trips were very different but both rewarding in their own way.