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April Bradford

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Holiday Hints (Part 2): UK Holiday Hindsights

Note from the Editor:
This article was kindly written for the SDC by member Alan G.

Now, before you get stuck, you might like to catch up on Part 1: Things to consider before your next trip. Then, come back and enjoy Part 2 to see what did and didn’t work out!


Having just returned from a six-week holiday that included the UK, Singapore, and Copenhagen, I thought it might be helpful for other people to know what ‘mistakes’ I made and hopefully help anybody else considering such a trip.



As I approach 80 this year, and my body keeps reminding me of this, I realised we only had a finite time in which we could comfortably make a long-distance journey, and a last visit to friends and family was what we both really wanted.


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Are you jetting off on a holiday anytime soon? Image Credit: Shutterstock



Flights:

We planned the trip, I thought, very carefully. All the flights were made via a well-known travel agent because I’d found that in the past, they had certain ‘tricks’ they used to keep the price down for the airfares, about which most people are unaware. That was probably mistake No. 1.

One of our criteria was to try to keep the fares for both of us under $10,000 to give us a fighting chance of paying back the credit card upon which our holiday finances were based (following an investment scam a few years ago when we lost our life savings of over $25,000 – you can read more about it here). To tolerate a long flight, we wanted to fly Premium Economy – we’d tried Business Class in the past and were simply unable to sleep anyway, so why waste the extra money?



Bangkok was our desired halfway point, but unfortunately, it didn’t fit with Premium Economy (PE) travel. We would have to leave from Sydney since (we were told) there were no PE flights out of Brisbane. The agent arranged a domestic (REX) return flight to Sydney based on our desire to stay three nights in Sydney near the airport to get over jet lag on the way back and a chance to see our children, who live in Western Sydney.

From Sydney, the agent suggested Singapore Airlines (SAL) to London Heathrow via Singapore and Copenhagen. We’d arrange accommodation at Heathrow for several nights and at Singapore on the way back, once again, to alleviate jet lag. It was about an 8-hour flight to Singapore and about 13 hours from there to Copenhagen after about 5 hours at Changi (Singapore). The mistake was that we didn’t check closely enough, and the flight from Sydney necessitated four nights there, not three.

The other ‘mistake’ was to allow the agent to book a flight from Heathrow that left at 6:30 am for a long flight. Airport shuttles don’t run at 4 am, and we found that in the UK, Uber costs a lot more than in Australia – more about UK prices later.

We’d hoped that our PE tickets would give us free access to airport lounges. Not so, apart from the inbound ticket to Copenhagen, when our SAL boarding pass gave us that privilege. Coming back? Not the case.

At Changi, they seemed to look down their noses at anybody who didn’t have some sort of Gold Kris Flyer status. (Ours was only Bronze – and yes, we did make sure we joined any and all of the relevant frequent flyer programs – just ‘in case’). We weren’t even allowed to pay for using the lounges at Changi.



I was quite disappointed to find that the travel agent did not give us any warning or advice about selecting our seats on the aircraft. Luckily, I was in time to do that and managed to secure ‘extra legroom’ seats on all the international flights. We felt the cost was worth it in the end.


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Do you prefer to pay for PE or extra leg room? Image Credit: Shutterstock



Accommodation and bed sizes:

My wife and I prefer single beds. Since we sleep in King-sized beds, even a Queen-size seems too small. We searched long and hard for decent, well-priced accommodation in the UK, Sydney and Singapore, and our mistake (No. 2!) was to assume a single bed was what we have come to know in Australia. When a bed is 2’6” wide, it’s not just uncomfortable, it can be quite dangerous! If you can, check bed sizes before you book.

We were lucky to have nice centrally heated accommodation in the UK – more by luck than good management. We stayed in an Air BnB at Sovereign Harbour (excellent); with my wife’s sister at Ginger’s Green (near Hailsham) (more than excellent); Thatcher’s Hotel near Dorking (good); Felpham Air BnB near Bognor (awful); Ellington Lodge Eastleigh (good); Travelodge Mascot (small room – not good); Holiday Inn Express at T4 Heathrow (good); Sheraton Hotel Heathrow (excellent); Meriton Suites Mascot (excellent).

Tip
For the little extra money, we found that the Meriton Suites was way better than the Travelodge at Mascot. Better location, huge rooms, a full kitchen, and our room even had a balcony.

You can’t possibly get everything right regarding accommodation choice, but perhaps we should have set our criteria a bit tighter: ‘Is there somewhere to charge phones?’; ‘Is there a desk and chair?’; ‘Is there a microwave oven?’ and so on. We did, however, always check for on-site parking and avoided places that required street parking.



Telephones:

I hate paying roaming fees, and I think this is my third mistake.

I have an app called ‘Toolani’ on my mobile phone, with its companion called ‘Toovoip’ for overseas calls. Toovoip was supposed to allow me to make calls in the UK to other UK numbers for very little cost, by simply using a WiFi connection. I put funds into this accordingly. (My mobile is ‘locked’ to Optus so I couldn’t use a local sim card in the UK.) I managed to get a local sim card for my wife’s phone that we used for nearly all the time we were there, but I was unable to get Toovoip to work at all! I’d emailed their helpline many times and got the same promises to ‘return my message in the next few days’. I think it was a big mistake to rely on them, and I now wonder about their legitimacy. They ignored my request to reimburse the funds I’d put in, especially for the trip. There are many ways to use phones when you travel overseas, and perhaps, I was just trying to be a bit too clever for my own good.

Sat-Nav Reliance:

When you travel by car in the UK (or any country overseas, I suppose), you need a Sat-Nav. To hire one from the car rental company costs about $10 a day, I think. I took my trusty TomTom 6200 – I like the way the woman pronounces ‘kilometre’ correctly (not ‘Kill Ometer’) – but I soon found that I simply couldn’t trust it to take me down decent roads! Many roads in the UK are very narrow, to say the least. Cars are generally parked on either side of the road, and there is one lane left for buses, trucks, and YOU! With your pristine and protect-from-scratches-at-any-cost rental car!



Going down ‘Priory Lane’ with high hedges and a single track is no joke when the locals tear around the next blind corner, taking years off your life! And why ‘Priory Lane’? You might have been happily motoring along the A21 when you get the instruction to ‘turn right’, so like an idiot, you assume this must be the best way to get to where you’re going in the shortest time. Well, Mrs Sat-Nav didn’t reckon on potholes, garbage collection, huge farm tractors and BMW driven I’ll show-‘em-all country squires and their ‘What’s he doing on our road anyway?’ attitude. It was a while before I realised I should have chosen the ‘Fastest’ route, not the ‘Shortest’.

I also found out that it is possible to buy a Sat-Nav that has a ‘truck’ option in which you will only use roads wide enough for that type of vehicle – a great idea if you’re trying to protect the duco on your hire car. I learnt to ignore my Sat-Nav for the most part – it soon recalculated my route.

Oh yes, and those potholes: there are many, many of them, especially since all the rain they’d been having since leaving the EU. I will NEVER moan about Australian roads again!


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Be wary of car rental age restrictions. Image Credit: Shutterstock



Not a mistake, but just a ‘heads up’ for you potential travellers. I hired a manual car, as small as possible, that would carry our two medium trolley cases and two carry-on bags. It was a Vauxhall Corsa and was very well-priced from Thrifty. It has a thing called ‘Lane Guidance’ built-in – quite disconcerting when you suddenly feel the steering wheel try to steer you in a different direction! It had sensors all around, making parking a lot easier. Like the other good companies, Thrifty doesn’t have an age limit. Qeeq, Ladybug and so on limit the age of drivers to 75 or less.

You need a small car for the small roads – you’re not on the motorways all the time.



UK Prices and Weather:

UK prices, we found, were generally higher than those in Australia, unless you use Tesco or the Poundland shops for foodstuffs. (I really wish we had Poundland shops here in OZ – our $2 shops are nothing like them.) We just doubled the pounds and added a bit to think in
Aussie dollars.

Regarding the weird and changeable British weather, in Eastbourne in late April/early May, the wind had an arctic blast to it, and I was so glad we’d taken warm clothes, although my wife did have to buy a heavy woollen jacket for £10 at a bargain store. I wish that I’d packed some shorts for Singapore, though. If you think you know humidity – try Singapore in May!

Final Thoughts:

I made mistakes:
1. In assuming a travel agent knows what they’re doing and not checking their choices;
2. In not checking bed sizes for twin rooms and included facilities;
3. In assuming that an overseas phone app (Toovoip) would work the way it was stated;
4: In putting too much trust in a Sat-Nav.
In addition, I think I should add that jet lag can be absolutely awful for us oldies. Our ‘body clocks’ don’t recover as quickly as they used to, and as I sit writing this, getting over a bad cold I must have caught on the way home, I am ready for another nap – and I only got up a few hours ago!

So my advice: a driving holiday sounds good, and perhaps no travelling beyond New Zealand, despite the nostalgia of a UK trip. The UK isn’t the same place we used to know anyway – not bad, just different.

Note from the Editor:

Love Alan’s writing and want to read more? You might also like to read:

Members, do you have any useful travel tips or stories of travel gone awry? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

We were only able to create this content because of the financial support of SDC Rewards members. If you'd like to see more of this (and a lot fewer ads!), please consider supporting us and signing up for SDC Rewards today—it starts at just 14 cents per day.
 
this is the reason always do my own organising. Greece, Islands Turkey, China, Singapore. Cruises. So far so good no hiccups. Just my time.
 
As l only ever go to the UK in the summer time l need less warm clothes. It can get quite cool some days so instead of taking a coat l go the Oxfam
charity shop and buy one then return it or give it away when l am leaving.
Some good tips in this article though as far as phones go l think l will buy a cheap one over there and a sim that allows me to phone home.
 

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