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50+ Overseas Travel Tips

Tricks to bag cheap flights, hotels & more

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Rose | Edited by Steve N

Updated July 2017

If you're planning a trip overseas, don't just wing it. Whether chilling in Chile or roaming in Rome, there are loads of hidden tricks to save cash and ensure you're Havana great holiday.

A weak pound at the moment means paying for anything abroad will be costlier. To help, we've 59 travel tips, from finding the cheapest flights to top overseas spending cards.

And while this guide focuses on overseas travel tips, if you're travelling within the UK we've tons more help in other guides, including UK Hotels, Cheap Train Tickets, Motoring MoneySaving and Cheap Petrol & Diesel.

Pocket a super-cheap overseas spending card

Most cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can avoid this by packing a specialist card that doesn't add this 'load', meaning you'll get perfect exchange rates which beat even the best bureaux de change. Pocket one just for spending overseas (always repay IN FULL to avoid interest). You'll need to apply at least three weeks before you go.

pocketcard

Our long-term winner is the Halifax Clarity* Mastercard credit card. Use it to spend and you get the same perfect exchange rate the banks get and it's has low ATM withdrawal fees. Plus apply before 3 September and get £20 cashback on your first purchase abroad before 30 September 2017. The cashback will be credited to your card account within 90 days.

The Barclaycard Platinum Visa* is our top pick for cash withdrawals as it has no fees, and charges no interest on overseas withdrawals if you pay IN FULL every month. There's no cashback though.

Before applying, we've a canny eligibility calculator, which leaves NO credit file mark and lets you see how likely you are to get 'em.

Always pay both cards off IN FULL each month, or you'll pay 18.9% rep APR on each.

For other options including prepaid travel cards, see the Cheap Travel Money guide.

Turn your phone into a free worldwide sat-nav to avoid hefty charges

If you've a smartphone with GPS, such as an iPhone, there's a nifty, free way to turn it into a sat-nav you can use abroad. Simply download one of the following free apps to your phone (if an Android user, you may already have Google Maps).

While the apps won't have the bells and whistles of a traditional sat-nav, they will do the job for occasional use and get you from A to B.

Crucially, you won't have to use any data when overseas. Download the apps and maps before you go and then they're stored offline in your phone – the apps use your phone's built-in GPS to locate you and you don't need data or Wi-Fi.

That's particularly handy if you're going outside Europe, where hefty charges can apply. Within the EU, data's now usually free – but not always, so to be safe you may as well download before you go anyway.

Here are our three top-pick sat-nav apps – all free to download and use:

  • Google Maps works offline too – so download before you go: The Google Maps app (available on Android or iPhone) is the one we've all heard of (and it's on many Android phones by default). Easy to use, it works much like its desktop counterpart and includes restaurants and reviews. You can use it offline, as long as you download maps in advance. It also offers real-time traffic and train info, though for that you'll need a Wi-Fi or data connection.

    How to download Google Maps to use offline

  • Great for driving and country-by-country apps: Navmii is free for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone (though the Blackberry and Windows Phone apps are no longer being updated). It comes with pre-loaded maps, route planning, voice prompts, mileage tracking and real-time hazard reporting.

    Navmii has maps for 196 countries, including the UK – to find them, search in your phone's app store for Navmii plus the country, eg, 'Navmii France'. If you prefer, you can download a worldwide app to cover the lot. Navmii has adverts but you can go ad-free for £1.49.

  • Top for detail including hiking trails and ATMs: Maps.Me allows users to add data to maps – such as places of interest or trails, for example. It works in a similar way to Wikipedia in terms of users making contributions, which is why its maps are so detailed. It also includes islands in addition to whole countries – great if you're going off the beaten track. It's available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

By contrast, paid downloadable maps from sat-nav maker TomTom started from £17.99/year (or £4.99/month) at the time of writing.

Use the right cheap flight-finding site

Freeze! Don't search the first knock-down flight site. You need to use the right type – here are our top pick comparison sites:

  • Kayak for a comparison incl baggage and payment fees. We argue within MSE Towers about the very top pick, but Kayak* is Martin's favourite, so it wins. Not only that but it also allows you to filter options based on credit/debit card fees and whether or not you want to check in bags so you can compare costs more accurately.

  • Skyscanner for the very cheapest time to fly. Another MSE Towers favourite, Skyscanner* gives you fare options spread over a month to find exactly when's cheapest. It has particularly strong coverage of budget flights, searching over 1,200 airlines and travel sites in total.

  • Momondo for its flight data info. We like Momondo* for its nifty tool that tells you the cheapest and most expensive dates around your flight, as well as helpful insights such as the cheapest airport to fly from/into. It doesn't do it for all destinations, but it has the biggies – New York, Dubai, Sydney, Cape Town.

See the Cheap Flights guide for more tips on finding cheap flights.

The codeshare trick: where two airlines sell the same flight

If you like flying with a specific airline or know the exact flight you want, 'codesharing' could be a way to get a flight with that airline, via another one. It's when airlines buddy up to sell seats on each others' flights, sometimes at a different price.

For example, when we looked in May 2017, we found a Delta London to Las Vegas return flight in June for £830 booking via Delta. But exactly the same flights booked via Delta's partner Virgin Atlantic cost £750, saving £80.

This works best on popular medium or long-haul routes – simply book via a partner airline to grab a seat on the same plane for less. For a full 'how to' and list of codeshare partners see the Cheap Flights guide.

Beat price hikes with Easyjet's Flexifares

flexi

We've found a clever way to bag cheaper flights using Easyjet's 'Flexifares', which let you switch dates by a few weeks without paying anything extra.

It only works with 'Flexifare' tickets, but once you've booked you can switch dates by a few weeks without paying more. It works the whole year round – but it's particularly useful when prices shoot up during the school holidays. This means you can bag a cheap term-time flight, then swap for your chosen school holiday dates.

Full details and more tricks to flying with the orange-loving airline in Easyjet Flexifare Trick.

Many airlines let you take child car seats and buggies for free

prampushchair

If you travel in a car when you're on holiday – whether you're hiring one for an epic road trip or making a quick dash to the airport in a taxi – then if you've young children with you, they should be in a car seat.

Renting one can be pricey though. It can add around £5/day to the cost of hiring a car, and hike taxi fares sharply too – for example, we were quoted an extra €12 for a one-way journey from Barcelona airport to the city centre.

There are alternative options – for instance, some airports have stalls like Malaga's Tots Store where seats can be rented at half the cost. But your best bet may be to take your own.

Many airlines let you check in a car seat and pushchair for free, in addition to your usual luggage allowance – and best of all you know your child will be safe and travel well in it. The rules on precisely what you can take with you vary though, with some airlines insisting you buy a separate seat for your child or reduce your luggage allowance accordingly.

See airlines' car seat and buggy policies in full

It's worth noting some car seats can also be used by children on the plane (if you've bought them their own seat). The car seat'll have to meet certain criteria though and it depends on the plane you're travelling on, so check in advance.

Ethnic travel agents may be cheaper

The UK's a melting pot of different immigrant and ethnic communities, and this can be used to great advantage for a cheap flight booking. Niche travel agents often specialise in finding deals to the relevant communities' linked countries.

For example, Shepherd's Bush in London and the surrounding area has some Caribbean specialist tour agents, or buy the Jewish Chronicle, which has firms advertising cheap flights to Israel. You've also told us about Chinese travel agent Omega, which has branches in London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester and Milton Keynes.

Don't forget to check prices elsewhere before you buy, to make sure you're getting a good deal. If you know of a cheap specialist travel agent, please add them here.

Get free airport lounge access and avoid the chaos of the airport

Airport lounges aren't just reserved for first class, business class or elite frequent flyers. Access can be free with certain credit cards or bank accounts, or you can get it cheaply via frequent flyer schemes such as Virgin Atlantic's Flying Club.

One-off passes start from around £13.50 per person via. Given you could pay that for food, drinks and snacks alone at the airport, it can be good value, especially when you usually get a comfy seat in peace, and a newspaper or magazine thrown in too. See Free or Cheap Airport Lounge Access for full tips.

How to find FREE water at airports for your flight – and avoid rip-off prices after security

prampushchair

Restrictions on taking liquids in hand luggage mean passengers often shell out for pricey bottles of water once in the departure lounge, or they may have to pay for expensive drinks on the plane, particularly on shorter journeys.

But many airports have water fountains after security where you can fill up an empty water bottle or Thermos flask for free – you just have to know where to find 'em.

To help, we've compiled a handy guide to exactly where you can find free drinking fountains at 10 of the UK's biggest airports. Simply take an empty bottle with you through security – the Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed this IS allowed – and fill it up before getting on the plane.

Where to find free water fountains – airport-by-airport:

Heathrow

Gatwick

Manchester

Stansted

Luton

Edinburgh

Birmingham

Glasgow

Bristol

Southampton

Sadly not all UK airports provide free drinking water – Belfast, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds Bradford, Aberdeen, Cardiff and London Southend airports all told us they don't have any water fountains for passengers. We asked East Midlands airport but it hasn't got back to us yet.

A number of them said you're welcome to ask cafés and restaurants to fill up bottles for free however, even if you're not making a purchase. It's always worth asking, in any airport you visit – you'll boost your chances if you're extra polite and give 'em your best smile.

Is your EHIC still valid? Almost 5.3m expire this year – check yours now

EHICIf you're off to Europe, ensure you've an up-to-date European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

Here are the key need-to-knows:

  • It's valid across the EU. A valid EHIC can get free or discounted medical treatment in state-run hospitals in any European Union country, plus a few others.
  • It entitles you to the same treatment as a local. This is extremely useful in emergencies, and means if it's free for them, it's free for you. Keep it on you at all times when you're away to ensure you're covered.
  • It doesn't cost a penny. Don't just google 'EHIC', as there are a host of unofficial sites that charge a fee of about £20 to do it for you – see our 60-second guide on copycat websites for more details. Apply via the official link, www.ehic.org.uk, to ensure you get yours for nowt. For a full rundown see the Free EHIC guide.

An EHIC isn't a substitute for travel insurance – while very useful, it's only for medical cover. See Cheap Travel Insurance.

Got your heart set on a destination? Check out our new guides to NYC, Paris & more

Give your trip a MoneySaving head-start by brushing up on how to stretch your holiday cash before you begin booking flights, accommodation or days out.

We launched our first destination guide, New York, in January last year, and since then have been stopping off at popular travel spots around the world.

All the guides include how to bag cheap flights, the top 10 free things to do and where to stay without breaking the bank. But they also have a host of MoneySaving tips unique to the place:

  • Amsterdam: Including free concerts and half-price hen dos. 26 Amsterdam MoneySaving Tips
  • Barcelona: Including how to spot Gaudi's greats for free, Nou Camp discounts and where to find 'free' tapas. 36 Barcelona Tips
  • Costa del Sol: Including Marbs, Malaga and Torre del Mar and how to bag a three-course meal for €15. 43 Costa del Sol Tips
  • New York: Including how to sail past the Statue of Liberty for free and bag cheap Broadway tickets. 34 New York Tips
  • Paris: Including cheap Disneyland Paris tickets and £58 Eurostar returns. 30 Paris Tips
  • Rome: Including how to beat Colosseum queues and where to find all-you-can-eat buffets for the price of a drink. 21 Rome Tips

While it's not overseas, we also have a brand-new guide with 35 London MoneySaving Tips – including how to bag a free guided tour of the Houses of Parliament or a flight over the Thames for £3.50. We're hoping to add more destinations in the coming months, so watch this space.

Free app translates 52 languages offline – download it before you go

overseas travel tipsIf you're travelling to a country where English isn't widely spoken, here's a handy trick to turn a smartphone into a personal translator for free – without the need to use any costly data or even Wi-Fi abroad.

The Google Translate app's available on Android and iPhone. It's free, and lets you translate words and phrases to and from your chosen language. You can do this by typing the text in or using your camera to take a photo.

Even better, the app has a whizzy feature that lets you automatically translate text via your camera in real time (though this works only with a select 37 languages – 30 on iPhone – including Chinese, French and Spanish). Just point your camera at the text, give it a second and it does it before your eyes – magic!

Download it before you go

The real boon though is that you can download not just the app but also free language packs in advance, which means the app will then work offline overseas. Each language pack is about 150MB, so ensure you download it in the UK before you leave as part of your standard data plan, or via Wi-Fi.

To get these, open the app, press the menu button and select "offline languages". Then tap the pin button for each language you want to download. There are 52 to choose from, including French, Spanish, Greek and Thai. The app actually covers 103 languages in total, but only 52 work offline.

You can download as many languages as you like, depending on how much free space you have. If you try it, please let us know what you think in the forum discussion.

More info:

On Android

On iPhone

How to bag the best plane seats

Once you've bagged flights, use specialist sites Seatguru or Skytrax to check the plane's seating plan and see whether 18E beats 19C. If it's a budget flight with unassigned seats, turn up early and lurk by the boarding entrance.

For 2+ trips abroad each year, get annual travel insurance from £9

Get travel insurance as soon as you book. If not, you won't be covered for cancellation or changes. Plus if you go away two or more times a year, annual policies are usually cheaper.

Here are the cheapest under-65s' picks which hit our minimum cover criteria:

  • Cover all a year's trips from £9. If you travel at least twice in a year (incl weekend breaks), an annual policy usually wins. Holidaysafe Lite* cover is from £9 in Europe and £19 for worldwide cover.

    We found the cheapest insurance for a family travelling was also from Holidaysafe Lite*. It starts from £17 for cover in Europe, and from £37 for worldwide cover.

    For more choice, including top value picks which have strong feedback and payout record, see Cheap Annual Travel Insurance.

  • Going once? Single trip cover from £5. Leisure Guard Lite* tends to be cheapest (eg, one week in Europe costs from £5 or £10 for families) while winter sports starts at £11 (£22 for the family). If you've time, always check Holidaysafe Lite* – it can be cheaper with certain combinations of age and destination.
  • Over 65 or pre-existing conditions? It's all about the right specialist. Full help in our new Over-65s' Travel Insurance and Pre-Existing Conditions guides.

Correct at July 2017 – always check before you book. See the Cheap Travel Insurance guide for full best buys and help.

Don't pay airport prices for travel accessories – try pound shops

travel kit

Pick up travel accessories such as adaptor plugs, eye masks and travel cushions at the airport and you risk paying inflated prices for last-second shoppers.

So plan ahead – you can often bag 'em cheaply at pound shops, while Mysupermarket* quickly compares prices across the major supermarkets, plus Boots and Superdrug.

If you're buying adaptor plugs so you can charge gadgets abroad, note down which type you'll need before you buy. The Travel Adaptor website has useful country-by-country info.

Liquids are banned through airport security – but not food

Airlines make extra cash by flogging snacks to hungry flyers at sky-high prices – a splurge on airline snacks could easily undo the savings on your ticket.

Yet as it's only liquids that you can't take through security, you can plan ahead and bring your own snacks and sarnies with you. For example, just the £2 spend on a single airline muffin can often buy eight of 'em in a supermarket, making it nearly 90% cheaper to bring your own.

This tip's long applied to those flying on budget airlines, but it now applies to some other airlines too – for example, BA has now ended free food on short-haul flights.

More info:

Tips on the perfect picnic at 35,000 feet

Check airline and airport restrictions

Don't trust the hotel star system

stars

The star rating system isn't standardised worldwide, and it's usually just an indicator of facilities, rather than quality. A 5* may not live up to its hype – it just means it has extra facilities, so don't just rely on this if you're after a swanky getaway. Plus the star system differs within countries, never mind worldwide.

Stars may be given by governments, review organisations or even the hotel itself. Package tour operators tend to be overly generous, often a star higher than independent reviews.

To uncover a real gem, use TripAdvisor* feedback to help you find a hotel. It isn't perfect, but ignore the very best and very worst feedback and it's a handy gauge.

 

Flight delayed in last six years? £100s in compensation possible

A blockbuster European Court of Justice ruling means some can net up to €600 compensation (around £520 based on the exchange rate in June 2017) for flight delays if the airline was at fault.

You can claim back to February 2005, but it's harder for flights before 2011. If you don't remember whether or not your flight was delayed, check using FlightStats (register for free to use it).

Under EU rules, you may get compensation for delays of three or more hours. In some instances you may also get your ticket money back, plus other costs such as meals and accommodation. See the Flight Delays Compensation guide for full details.

Use TravelMoneyMax for the best rates

You're a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal, so you'll probably be lumbered with the worst rates. If you must get your travel cash from the airport, order ahead then pick it up to get a better rate.

Use our TravelMoneyMax comparison site to instantly uncover the best possible deal, including all fees and any commission.

The tool lists all the big currencies, and also lets you see who's cheapest for exchanging unused currency back to pounds when you get back (if you've any left!).

Wear your luggage!

If you're flying with a budget airline and want to stow luggage in the hold, expect to pay a hefty whack. Plus the weight allowance for budget airlines can be lower than elsewhere, at roughly 15kg to 20kg. Yet there are nifty ways to get round this.

Most airlines will give you a free 10kg hand luggage allowance (except Thomson, which only gives you 5kg). It's amazing what you can fit in – use your home scales to help.

To minimise weight, wear your heaviest clothes and shoes. If you're near the weight limit, put heavy gear in your pockets, then stow your jacket under your seat on the plane.

Another option is a specialist big-pocket jacket. One popular with forumites was the Rufus Roo, but unfortunately it's no longer available.

Instead, you could try to look out for any jacket with a poacher's pocket – a deep lower pocket at the back where hunters keep game. These are common at outdoor or survivalist stores, but eBay and Amazon may sell them cheaper so try searching for terms like 'survival vest' to see if there's something suitable for all your travel essentials.

Always turn your sun cream bottles around

sun lotion

That's right... simply turn your old sun cream bottles around and you should spot a little number on the back which could save you big.

Many automatically buy sun lotion every time they jet off, but there's often no need to shell out – open bottles can still be effective for up to two years. The number you should find on the back of the bottle is a period after opening (PAO) number, which tells you how long you can keep using it for.

It'll normally look like a tub with an open lid and a number next to it (eg, 12 or 24) – that's the number of months after opening during which it should be OK to use.

The British Skin Foundation says: "Sun tan lotions may, given time, start to separate and become less effective, so it's always worth noting down on the bottle when it was first opened."

It also recommends storing your sun lotion in a cool, dark place, and avoiding leaving it in direct sunlight.

It's worth noting the PAO number isn't the same thing as the best before date, so check that too. The British Skin Foundation says you should always throw away sun cream which has passed its best before date.

Package holidays can undercut DIY bookings and you get protection if things go wrong

The internet's great for flights or DIY city breaks. But if you're going away specifically for seven, 10 or 14 days to a traditional holiday destination, then good old-fashioned package holidays can often come up trumps.

sand

A package holiday is an all-in-one, where the tour operator provides flights, connections and accommodation for one price. They're best suited for standard breaks of standard length. So if it's a traditional holiday destination like Florida or Crete, it's worth checking to see if you can get a package for less than the DIY route.

  • When to book. Massive savings are possible in the late market, which are deals done within eight weeks of travel, yet of course there's restricted choice & you may need to be flexible. So if you need special facilities (eg, for families) you're going to have to book now and try to cut prices down.
  • How to cut prices. Tour operators make holidays while travel agents sell 'em. Therefore, many big tour operators' holidays are sold by multiple agents. If you're booking one, once you've found a specific deal, try calling up different agents and getting your haggle on to see if they can beat the price. You could save around 5% more. See Cheap Package Holidays.

Package holidays also usually have added ATOL and ABTA consumer protection (though always check when you book).

Get ATOL protection by booking flights + hotel or car hire

Package holidays have long been protected under the ATOL scheme, so if something goes wrong you get your money back or help getting home.

Yet it's often forgotten that if you book a flight, plus a separate hotel or car hire together (or on two consecutive days) from the same travel website then you'll get ATOL protection too.

Once you've booked your trip you'll get an ATOL certificate – keep it safe as you'll need it if anything goes wrong.

Dress kids in bright colours to stop you losing 'em at the airport

If you have kids (or you've ever seen Home Alone), you'll know what a nightmare it is to keep an eye on them in crowded places – especially if you're hurrying to catch a plane or transfer. So one way to keep tabs on the tiddlers is to dress them so they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

MSE Andrea uses this trick every time she goes away with her family.

I pop my kids in bright coloured hats or clothes with spots on so they stand out when we're travelling. We also take a photo of them on our phones in what they're wearing before they leave. If they get lost, we can show someone the photo – much easier than describing them.

Check out more, ahem, bright ideas in the Tips to keep kids safe when travelling discussion.

Turn off mobile 3G/4G and data roaming to avoid shock charges

New rules which came in on 15 June mean that the cost of using your mobile phone in most parts of Europe have been slashed. See our 10 things you need to know about 'free' EU mobile roaming news story for full info.

Outside the EU, providers are free to charge what they like – some as much as £8/MB – so if you're not careful, using the web abroad could rack up an eye-watering bill.

The most sensible plan is to turn your phone off completely (or put it in 'airplane' mode) while you're on holiday abroad. If you can't, there are ways to slash costs, including data-roaming add-ons, free Wi-Fi hotspots abroad, and even switching your Sim. See the Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming guide.

Before booking, check entry requirements and ensure your destination is safe

safemap

Many non-EU countries specify entry requirements. Some countries offer visas on arrival, others require visas in advance – sometimes a costly and lengthy process. If you're heading to the USA, you may be eligible for the ESTA visa-waiver scheme – though you'll still need to pay and hold a 'chipped' passport. For more, read the ESTA guide.

Besides keeping yourself out of harm's way, it's also important to check if your destination is considered safe to ensure your holiday is covered. Many travel insurance providers will refuse to pay out for issues – including cancellations – at destinations that have been declared unsafe to visit.

To check entry requirements, destination safety and other information, refer to the Government's foreign travel advice.

Ensure your passport's valid and in good condition

If you're jetting off, remember to check your passport's expiry date before you book. Some countries demand your passport's valid for at least six months from arrival. Likewise, if your passport's worse for wear, some countries may refuse you entry. Check the Government's foreign travel advice before you go.

Renew your passport in plenty of time and it'll save the hassle and extra cash needed for an urgent trip to the passport office. A standard adult passport is £72.50 if you get it send by post and can take three weeks to get back. Yet leave this until the very last minute and you risk having to pay £128 for its premium service.

To renew yours, go to Gov.uk. Don't just google it – we've had reports of some being caught out by unofficial websites which charge extra, so always use the official Gov.uk link above to ensure you aren't caught out by a shyster site. Full help in 60 seconds on passport renewal.

Always double-check everyone has their passport before you leave (not when you're halfway down the motorway!).

Pay the right way for extra protection

If your flights or package hols cost over £100, pay by credit card to nab extra protection. This is because when the transaction's over £100, Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act means the card company's equally liable if owt goes wrong.

This means if the airline goes bust and you've booked directly with it, you can at least get your money back from the card company. Always pay your card off in full at the end of the month so you're not charged interest. See the full Section 75 Refunds guide.

More info:

Watch out for travel exceptions, including booking via a travel agent

Debit card payments get some protection too

Beat budget airline check-in fees

Sadly, budget airlines can charge up to an eye-watering £100 per person, per return, just to check in at the airport. So do this free online first. See the Beat Budget Airline Charges guide for more tricks to avoid check-in fees.

Always book car hire BEFORE you go

calendar

Holiday car hire can save a hefty whack on taxis to and from the airport. If you're going to need it (see below for alternatives), book the right way to grab it as cheaply as possible.

There's one golden rule to remember:

The earlier you book car hire, the more you'll usually save.

You can find full details of current deals and tips 'n' tricks in the Cheap Car Hire guide. Here are the key points:

  • Work out what you need. There's often a mass of costly add-ons on offer, including air-con, sat-navs and extra drivers. Before you book, work out what you need and ditch the rest.
  • Quickly compare quotes. Next, take the legwork out of your search by using the right comparison sites to grab the most quotes in the least time. Our top picks are Skyscanner*, TravelSupermarket*, Carrentals* and Kayak*.
  • Check for extra discounts. See if you can squash the price further via fly-drive package deals, cashback, specialist travel brokers and online vouchers.

It's important to note that if you are planning on booking a car, you'll need to get a code from the DVLA before you go. It's part of the new Share Driving Licence online service which you can read more about on Gov.uk. You'll need to get the code in advance but bear in mind it expires after 21 days.

Uncover secret bargains on 5* hotels

The secret hotel section at Lastminute.com* has bargains on four and five-star hotels worldwide (including London), because you only know the description and star rating before you pay. This can mean rock-bottom prices for classy establishments.

Yet often you can cut and paste key phrases into Google to discover which hotel it is. Once you know the hotel's identity, check reviews on TripAdvisor* and whether it's really a bargain compared to what you can get on the top comparison sites. See Secret Hotels for how. Some inspiration from MoneySavers:

I booked the 5* Grange St. Paul's Hotel in London for £109 (rack rate £215). OH YEAH BABY.

I booked the Hilton London Paddington for £69 for a double room. I had a look on the Hilton website and the equivalent cost would be £205 – bargain!

Driving abroad? Check if your UK licence is valid

IDPA UK driving licence is accepted throughout the EU, but if you're planning a road trip further afield, check if you'll need an International Driving Permit (IDP).

An IDP is required or recommended in about 140 countries, including the USA, Thailand and India. Drive without one where it's needed and you risk trouble with the authorities, and may be refused a hire car.

It's in booklet format and there are two types, known as the 1926 and 1949 Conventions (they're the same price). Which you'll need depends on where you're off to.

Beware websites selling 'international driving licences' – these aren't legally recognised documents so don't get caught out.

Book a cheap package just for the flight

Scheduled flights to tourist places, such as Orlando and Sri Lanka, can be silly money, yet packages there can sometimes come in much cheaper.

If you only need the flight, check if there's a cheaper package holiday, then grab it but DON'T stay in the hotel.

Martin once helped a friend book a £300 Sri Lanka holiday for the flight when the cheapest scheduled deal was £1,000+. See the Cheap Package Holidays guide.

Check if you can save by splitting your ticket

It's easy to search for flights from A to B but don't assume it's the cheapest way. It's commonly associated with trains (see TicketySplit and our Cheap Train Tickets guide) but it can work with flights too, if you're willing to do the research.

Use multi-destination options on screen scrapers mentioned above (top picks are Kayak*, Skyscanner* and Momondo*) to see if you can save by flying to one airport and returning from another.

Open-jaw tickets – for example (London Heathrow to Los Angeles and San Francisco to London Heathrow) may be cheaper than bog-standard returns. They can also eliminate the need for backtracking if you plan to visit more than one city. For more flight tricks, see the Cheap Flights guide.

Don't assume a pricier sun lotion is safer – you can get it from as little as £1

Sun lotion can cost up to a whopping £25 for a 200ml bottle on the high street. Yet it's possible to grab sun lotion for a quid in pound shops. We've found some great products for a £1 each, when they usually retail at £6-£12. Plus, skin care experts say they check out on skin safety.

Try using Mysupermarket* to quickly compare the price of sun cream in the big supermarkets, plus Boots and Superdrug.

sun lotion

The British Skin Foundation told us: "When choosing a sunscreen, rather than price or retailer, the two most important factors to look out for are its SPF and UVA rating.

"Firstly SPF, or sun protection factor, is the level of protection sunscreen gives against UVB radiation, the type that causes sunburn. This is usually on the front of the product. We recommend choosing one at SPF 30 or higher.

"Secondly, check the UVA rating, which tends to be on the back. It may be a circle with UVA inside it, or star rating from zero to five. Ideally, aim for four or five stars."

Beware car hire firms' pricey excess insurance

If you're hiring a car, hopefully the closest you'll come to crashing is post-holiday ice-cream withdrawal. But if the worst happens, bear in mind that while there's some cover for hire car damage, there's usually a big problem:

Check the 'excess' – the amount which you'll pay towards any claim. If it's high (£500ish), any scratches or minor damage will be expensive.

To get round this, hire firms try to flog costly excess insurance at pick-up. This is usually a costly extra at about £20+ a day, especially with cheap hire companies, as often their profits come from the insurance.

Yet it's possible to grab cheap excess insurance for less than £2 a day via comparison site Money Maxim*. See full Cheapest Excess Insurance info.

Always book cheap airport parking

Airports often make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave the car there without booking first and you risk sky-high rates, so don't just turn up. Booking first, even on the day, could save money.

See the Cheap Airport Parking guide for the full technique, plus safety tips, how to snaffle hidden local discounts and more.

Posh villas and apartments can cost £1,000 less than posh hotels

villa

If you don't fancy battling for a sun-lounger each morning, villas offer space for large groups of friends, or families with kids who need to let off steam.

As a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the bigger the per-person saving, so they're great if there's a party of you going. When we checked, we found a three-bedroom villa in Malaga priced at £352 for a week's stay in mid-August, compared with a nearby hotel costing £1,420.

Direct booking sites let you quickly search for holiday rentals. Our top picks are HomeAway.co.uk* for global reach, Clickstay* for easy payments and TripAdvisor* for search. Be careful how you pay. You book directly with an owner, so there's less protection. Plus check it's not a fake villa – see Cheap Holiday Rentals for safety tips.

Alternatively, you can rent out whole villas or apartments or just a room in people's homes on Airbnb. The idea is hosts put you up in their spare room or rent out their whole home to earn cash on the side. You can stay everywhere from swanky LA lofts to houseboats in Paris, and it's a great way to meet locals.

Avoid the 'perfect trip' trap

For many of us, a holiday's an invaluable way to relax and unwind – or gear up and party. Yet before you splash out, remember, the holiday industry is a beacon of commerciality. Travel marketing is honed to make you spend more and more, using emotive language such as "precious moments" and "magical memories". Don't be sucked in.

Too many plan a dream holiday, then only consider later how they'll actually pay for it. That's a sure-fire way to end up disappointed or broke.

Instead, ask "what can I afford to spend?" then work out how to have the best trip within that budget. A holiday lasts a week or so – don't ruin the rest of the year for it.

Use the free Budget Planner tool to help plan. If you're saving for the trip, the Boost Your Income guide's crammed with tips to make extra cash.

Get local travel info for free before you go

If you plan to explore beyond a trip to the pool, pick your must-sees and transport before you go (see Car Hire Alternatives below).

Forget to do this and you risk shelling out on pricey last-minute trips, or ending up stranded at the hotel.

For ideas, TripAdvisor* has a handy 'things to do' section with reviews of holiday attractions, activities, nightlife and shopping. Travel guidebooks can also offer valuable local knowledge on the go. Instead of buying, try your local library.

If you'll need a phrase book, try the library's language section – basic numbers and phrases such as "How much?" can be a huge help when haggling (see How to Haggle). If you're going to buy a guide or phrase book, use a shopping comparison site – our handy MegaShopBot tool instantly compares the best results, or try eBay* and Amazon* for second hand copies.

Know your rights if something goes wrong

Our Holiday Rights guide explains all you need to know about delays, cancellations and more. We hope you won't need it but you may want to bookmark it in case it comes in handy.

Bag 'free prints' promos for cheap holiday snaps

snaps

Once you're back, there's a quick trick to grab massive savings on getting holiday snaps turned into glossy photos.

Many photo printing sites offer a set number of free prints to entice new customers. By playing the field, you can use different deals to get loads of holiday snaps printed free, though you'll need to pay delivery.

To help you sort all the top offers at a glance, we've built a Cheap Photo Print Finder tool. Just enter the number of prints you're after, the size and the type, and it'll find you the cheapest deal. It also includes 'free prints for newbies' offers.

Going outside the EU? Tell your mobile provider

Taking your mobile outside the EU can turn it into a cash assassin in some places, costing as much as £2.50/min to receive a call. Of course, the easiest solution is not to take your phone with you but it is possible to cut the cost if that's not a realistic option.

Many providers have special packages to use abroad, but unless you call to let them know, you won't get 'em.

These packages slash the price of calls, and they're the easiest, no-fuss option, though work best if you'll make few calls. Some are free, others have a daily or monthly fee. Remember to cancel when you're back. See Cheap Mobile and Data Roaming.

Receiving texts is always free worldwide so get friends to text, not call.

Don't get stung by luggage fees on the way back

Many people jet home from a holiday with more than they took. Yet if you plan to shop, ensure you leave space in your luggage for the return journey when you pack. Forget to do this and you may be forced to pay extra charges to get it all home, or risk having to ditch your sombreros and straw donkeys at the airport.

Off to the US? Beware unofficial ESTA sites

Everyone going to the States by air or sea needs to fill out an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) form.

Applications cost $14 each, yet beware googling it. Do this and you may be directed to sites that pretend to be the official web page, and charge an additional fee to process your application. More details in 60 seconds on copycat websites.

Always apply via the official ESTA web page. See the ESTA guide for full info, including renewal help and safety tips.

Hidden loophole gets up to 60% off posh hotels

picture of key

Giant US site Priceline* flogs posh hotel rooms at colossal discounts, and it's especially strong for US hotels.

On Martin's own US trip he got even better than 60% off. He got a nice hotel for 63% of the comparison sites' cheapest price, but even he was beaten by one MoneySaver who got the Times Square Sheraton for £55/night rather than the listed £200.

It's all about Priceline's "name your own price" function, where you pick a city area and star level, name your price and see if any hotels accept it. Of course the aim's to find the minimum acceptable price, so start low, then keep raising your bid till it's accepted – but you can ONLY bid once a day.

There are also techniques to get more bids per day, including bidding with a partner, or adding more areas of a city. See the Priceline Hotel Bidding guide for full help.

Max Avios points for flights 'n' more

Avios is the points scheme formed from Air Miles and BA Miles in 2011 – you can use it to grab flights, upgrades and more (you still need to pay taxes and charges).

Many mistake it for a frequent flyer scheme. It's actually a points scheme like Nectar and Clubcard, and there are loads of different ways to earn them – in Shell, Tesco and by spending on credit cards.

Unlike the old Air Miles system, Avios charges passengers taxes and fees on flights. But it has some benefits over its predecessor. Avios customers can book one-way and 'open-jaw' tickets – eg, London to Vegas, then LA to London – and can use points to upgrade cabin class. We've a full list of tips in Ways to Boost and Max Avios.

Asked to pay in pounds or euros? Say euros

Many overseas banks or shops ask this, especially in Spanish tourist resorts. If you choose pounds then the retailer does the currency conversion – rates are often poor compared to letting your card do it (by choosing the local currency), although things are closer than they used to be.

If you've a top overseas card, always opt for the local currency as your card does the exchange and it's unbeatable.

If you don't, it's touch and go, but it's still safer to go with euros, as the vendor can set its own rate if it wishes, which will usually be worse than the credit card rate. See Martin's blog: Using plastic overseas? Always pay in euros.

Try hostels for cheap accommodation

Don't think hostels automatically mean dorm bunks. Many offer singles, twins and doubles, and they can offer massive savings over hotel prices.

While a few may be squalid, many are clean and friendly, even offering free internet access and breakfast. In the UK, Youth Hostel Association (YHA) and Hostelling Scotland properties include fabulous castles and mansions.

To check out prices and availability, use Hostelbookers.com* and Hostelworld*, both of which give hostels a percentage rating based on visitors' experiences. To read more reviews from past hostel guests and compare prices, try Hostelz.com.

Make your own travel-size toiletries

travelsize

Travel-size lotions and potions can be pricey. Retailers know they're convenience goods and charge accordingly – but you don't have to pay through the nose to smell like a rose.

When we checked, a 75ml travel size Sanctuary body lotion was £2.50 in Boots, or £3.33 per 100ml. Yet the full-size version worked out at £2.60 per 100ml, a third cheaper if you'd buy a full bottle anyway.

So instead of buying pricey travel size versions, grab some small empty bottles, then wash and dry them carefully. Then just fill 'em up from your everyday toiletries (this is where complimentary mini-toiletry bottles from previous hotel stays come in handy).

Driving in Europe? Check insurance, breakdown and road rules

Caron MapIt's easy to get caught up in the excitement of planning an overseas road trip, yet forget these tips and your dream drive may look more like a Mad Max outtake.

Here are our top tips:

  • Car insurance. Most comprehensive or third party, fire and theft policies become third party outside the UK. They'll pay if you damage another car but not your own, and there's no cover if your car's stolen abroad.

    You may need to notify your insurer of your trip, so check your policy or call to confirm. See Cheap Car Insurance.
  • Breakdown cover. Go outside the UK and often your breakdown cover isn't valid. Check and if it's not, you can either upgrade to a European policy or buy special one-off temporary cover. See Cheap Breakdown Cover.
  • Driving rules. Check country-by-country driving regulations on the AA website to ensure you're familiar with local rules before you go.
  • Do a maintenance check. Do all maintenance before you go, and ensure you've got manuals and the numbers to call if your vehicle breaks down.

Don't waste cash on energy while you're away

Don't just turn off the biggies like lighting and heating before a big trip – also ensure you remember to turn off any TVs and gadgets on standby too.

Many devices draw power when plugged in and not in use, so turn switches off at the wall if you can. See the Energy Mythbusting guide for more tips.

If you know you'll forget to switch off unused appliances, set a reminder on your phone for 10 minutes before you leave. It's also worth noting in winter you'll still need water to go through pipes at a minimal temperature, or you risk burst pipes.

Compare travel meds prices to get 'em for less

If you're jetting abroad, ensure you're vaccinated against any nasties before you go. Your local GP will offer some vaccinations for free, but others can cost around £50. Some even require more than one dose, meaning costs shoot up quickly.

To find out which you need, the NHS Fit For Travel website has a handy country-by-country guide, while the NHS Choices site lists which vaccinations are free and which cost.

If you need to pay for travel meds, NHS prescription prices are fixed, but pharmacies can set their own for private prescriptions. These are given when you want a drug not covered by the NHS in your region, such as Malarone, which prevents malaria.

Costs can vary hugely. A few to try are Superdrug, Asda, Lloyds Pharmacy, Tesco* and Boots*. Find the full list plus more tips in the Medicine Savings guide.

Check big excursion ticket prices before you go

clown shoes

Whether it's Disney, Universal Studios, a balloon trip or an aqua park, search early doors to see if there are web vouchers or cheap tickets. Specialist ticket agents can undercut buying direct, so use the theme park's own prices as a benchmark to beat.

For full details see our Cheap Disney Tickets guide.

Use a free app to keep track of your travel plans

If you're planning a big trip, don't just let a mass of disorganised booking confirmation emails pile up. These could include car hire, flights, accommodation, travel cash pickup, pet kennels, transfers and more. Fail to keep track and you risk a nightmare finding it all before you go – or worse, forgetting 'em altogether.

If you have a smartphone, you can download the handy app TripIt – available free on iTunes and Google Play. Simply forward all your confirmation emails to it and it'll automatically sort them into a smart itinerary. You can also try Remember The Milk – free on iPhone, Android and Blackberry – which helps organise travel to-do lists.

Other tips:

Create a separate folder for crucial booking info

Print essential docs before you go

Nab cheap France day returns for under £25

If you're hopping across the Channel, it's often possible to get super-cheap day returns for under £25, sometimes even with a free case of wine thrown in. You can even swap £10 in Tesco Clubcard vouchers for £30 in Eurotunnel* vouchers.

Driving to France? Check if you need this sticker to avoid £100+ fine

If you're driving through Paris, Lyon or Grenoble, new rules mean you're likely to need an emissions sticker to avoid risking a £100+ fine.

The three cities have introduced the Crit'Air scheme to tackle pollution, which means if you're driving through certain environmental zones during restricted times (which can be subject to change depending on that day's pollution) you'll have to have a sticker on your window.

The stickers cost €4.80 (about £4) and are colour-coded depending on emissions, but some vehicles are excluded from the scheme and so can't be driven where there are restrictions, including cars registered before 1997, motorbikes and scooters registered before June 2000 and trucks and buses registered before 2001.

Here's how to apply for the sticker (known as a vignette):

  • Check your emissions on the RAC website.
  • Go to the French Environment Ministry website to see which sticker/vignette you can apply for. Only use this official site, don't get caught out by a shyster site which is likely to charge more.
  • Fill in the online order form – you'll need your licence plate number, date of first registration, fuel and vehicle type, serial number (VIN), a digital copy of vehicle registration documents, name and address and payment details.

This is the only way to apply for a sticker – you can't apply once you're in France – and it can take up to 30 days to arrive so get it well before your holiday.

Consider car hire alternatives

Before you book car hire for your hols, don't forget to consider the alternatives. Unnecessary car hire can be an expensive, unused hindrance.

Car swaps, public transport and even taking your own car may work out cheaper for some destinations. Go through this checklist first:

  • Look into public transport. In Florida or LA, pretty much everyone needs a car for the huge city distances. But in New York you can't park anywhere, so the subway wins. Many European cities have great public transport, so always check.
  • Check taxi prices. If you plan to spend most of your time topping up your tan rather than travelling, a few taxi rides may be cheaper. International taxi fare calculator Holiday Taxis* gives an estimate of what journeys might cost.
  • Take your own car. If venturing onto Europe's winding roads, it may be possible to take your own car. All UK car insurance policies automatically provide the correct minimum cover required by law in all EU countries, but check if the full cover extends to Europe as well.

Add your travel tips on the forum

Picture of people chattingThe Overseas Holidays and Travel Planning forum board is a great place to share your travel experiences with others. Whether you want to natter about MoneySaving in Las Vegas, What to do near Calais or tips on Singles' holidays, it's well worth a visit. Plus share your tips in the 50 Travel Tips discussion.

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