50 hacks to make this the best holiday of your life – and avoid the travel chaos – The Telegraph

Finally, the summer holidays are here. For many of us, this will be our first family trip abroad in two years – we can almost taste the gelato and feel the sand between our toes. But before you apply your base coat of sun cream, take a few moments to make provision for travel disruption and plan your day trips and activities in advance. Knowing how to navigate airport chaos and other hurdles as they crop up will allow you to maximise your time away, whether you are holidaying at home or abroad.

In case you have missed the news, there are rail strikes taking place in Britain this month and in August, plus a series of airline walkouts over summer in Europe across multiple airlines (including Ryanair and easyJet). Combined with delays and cancellations as a result of post-pandemic staff shortages and a lack of support in the travel industry, there are plenty of reasons to feel exasperated before you have even left the house. 

Inevitably, there will be some issues that you simply can’t avoid, and some risks that you have to run when travelling this season. However, our experts are here to help keep your journey as trouble-free as possible with their sound advice. 

Our experts are here to help keep your journey as trouble-free as possible with their sound advice

Credit: Davide Erbetta/4cornersimages.com

In our bumper guide you will find dozens of cunning tactics and brilliant ideas to supercharge your summer break, from tips about the best cancellation cover to hacks on saving you money when eating out on holiday, and strategies to help you find the best restaurants. We can help with everything from getting a room upgrade at your hotel to extending your check-out times.

And we have advice, too, on the best activities to try on holiday, on keeping the children happy and on making sure inter-family relations run as smoothly as possible while you are away. After all, we all know holidays can be stressful – and the trick to making them a success is knowing how best to smooth over the bumps. Read on for our top 50 tips to help you do just that.

Pre-trip planning

Delays, cancellations, strikes – this summer is shaping up to be the most stressful summer in living memory, but you can still make a success of it with these practical tips.

1. Monitor your emails

Airlines and tour operators will normally use email (and sometimes texts) to update you on changes to your flight or holiday. Information about rescheduling or cancellation could arrive at any time and at short notice, so if you aren’t in the habit of checking regularly, it might be worth keeping a weather eye out. If you suffer a change, you may well need to react quickly – to make new arrangements or rebook flights. Note that some email software allows you to set certain senders as “VIPs” so their emails pop up on your screen as soon as they arrive.

If you aren’t in the habit of checking your emails regularly, it might be worth keeping a weather eye out

Credit: Getty

2. Keep up with the news

While the prospect of a strike by British Airways employees at Heathrow has been headed off, at the time of writing there were UK rail strikes planned for July and August. Keep an eye out for anything on the news which might affect your departure or return. Even if you aren’t planning to use the railway to get to the airport, you may be affected by a sudden increase in demand for parking, airport hotels or coach travel (see below).

3. Book your airport arrangements

Airport parking has gone up in price this year as airports try to recoup some of the revenue they lost during the pandemic, but it will always be much cheaper if you book it in advance. The same is true of airport hotels. And if you are thinking of booking both parking and an overnight stay (because of an early departure or late arrival) then it’s worth checking for deals which combine the two – holidayextras.com and parkbcp.co.uk are worth trying.

4. Travel with hand luggage

If you can possibly refine your packing so that you travel with hand baggage only, you will win on three counts. First, you will avoid the queue to check-in hold baggage, which will probably be the longest and most chaotic line at the airport. Second, there will be no delay while you wait for your bags at the arrivals carousel. And third, you won’t risk losing your luggage altogether. If there was ever a year to travel light, this is it.

If you can possibly refine your packing so that you travel with hand baggage only, you’re already winning

Credit: Getty

5. Time your arrival

If you do have hold luggage then allow extra time to check in. The airport website should give guidance, but this summer it is probably best to arrive three hours ahead of your flight departure – any earlier and you may just be adding to the congestion. If you have hand baggage only, then you only have to contend with the security queue and two hours should be OK. Some airports – Stansted for example – allow you to pay for fast track to avoid the security queues (typically £7). But book early – some dates/times for later this month have already sold out. Note: Heathrow has suspended online booking for its online fast track service.

6. Be ready for delays

Having been caught in several delays this year including one of 19 hours, I can’t emphasise how important it is to be as self-sufficient as you can. Travelling with sandwiches and a water bottle will mean you can avoid the high cost of food and drink both in the airport and on the plane – and the risk of refreshments selling out. Currently, many passengers are spending their delays not only in airport lounges, but sitting on the tarmac after boarding. I’ve been on a flight that ran out of most of its meals before it had even taken off. 

7. If you haven’t booked, time it carefully

If you are still planning to arrange a holiday this summer, choosing the day and time that you travel carefully can go some way to minimising the risk of delays and cancellations. At Telegraph Travel we crunched the data to identify the points of lowest risk. The worst time to fly is the evening (between 6pm and 9pm) and the best time is late morning (between 10am and 1pm). You will also do better to fly later in the week (from Wednesday to Saturday) rather than between Sunday and Tuesday.

If you are still planning a summer holiday, choose the day and time that you travel carefully

Credit: Getty

8. Buy high-quality insurance

This is not a year to skimp on cover in case you get delayed or your holiday is cancelled at the last moment, or something else goes wrong. I have stuck with PJ Hayman’s Travel Plus policy (pjhayman.com) over many years.

9. Book a package holiday for greater security

If you do decide to book, you will have much more security if you make the arrangements through a tour operator. The operator has a duty of care to look after you and make new arrangements if anything goes wrong and your flight is cancelled or the departure time is delayed, or if you fall ill. All tour operators must also be licensed and bonded, so in these uncertain economic times, you know that your money is safe in the event of a financial collapse (see caa.co.uk/atol-protection).

10. Tread carefully with independent bookers

If you do decide to book your travel, car hire and accommodation separately then be very wary. Make sure you can change or refund the arrangements without penalty if your flight is cancelled and book with an airline with a good record of avoiding cancellations. Ryanair and Jet2 look like the best bets this summer. Be sure also to book with a credit card – that will give you some financial protection in the event of a company failure.

By Nick Trend

Hotel hacks

There are a number of ways to make your accommodation booking stretch even further, from checking out late to asking about free activities.

11. Check in later to get an upgrade

Check in early, and the odds of an upgrade are not great, since another guest might yet arrive and pay full whack for the honeymoon suite. On the other hand, suggests David Vaughan, general manager of contemporary family hotel Another Place: “If you arrive at the hotel late it is an opportunity for us to upgrade your room, as it’s unlikely anyone else will be able to book it.”

Check in later for a better chance to get upgraded

Credit: W Rome (Marriott hotel)

12. Get the app

Booked a hotel that’s part of a major chain? Download their (usually free) membership app and earn freebies during your stay. Marriott Bonvoy (Marriott’s membership app) has just been redesigned. Use it whenever you spend money in your hotel, then instantly redeem points for anything you can charge to your room (cocktails, meals, spa experiences). Shangri-La Circle allows members to collect points that pay for dining experiences, spa treatments and more while Hilton Honors members currently get up to 25 per cent off all food and drink in Asia Pacific hotels.

13. Get your own room service

Room service is often a rip-off, with hefty surcharges often applied to already pricey menus. Two thirds of hotel guests have now used a delivery service to order food to their room, instead. Deliveroo has even partnered with some hotels. Elsewhere, the brazen can order deliveries and meet their driver in front of their hotel (though it’s worth checking the official policy if you are fearful of a confrontation over your chicken burger). Once in your room, an ironing board makes a surprisingly decent dining table. Height-adjustable, too.

14. Make the most of what’s on offer

Andrew Stembridge, executive director of Iconic Luxury Hotels, has this advice: “Speak to staff and establish exactly what’s included in room rates. At Chewton Glen, we have a complimentary kids’ club. Sports such as croquet, table tennis, putting, golf and outdoor tennis are free, too. Bikes and helmets can be borrowed with no charge. The children’s menu is even free for under-12s. Swot up on these options and you can enjoy a more economical stay.”

At Chewton Glen, there are plenty of activities included in your stay

Credit: Chewton Glen

15. Tell the hotel if you’re celebrating something 

Mark Williams, general manager at Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall, says his team love to know about special occasions so that they can plan little surprises. Obviously, it would be very conniving indeed to invent a birthday. Or an anniversary. Or wedding proposal …

16. Make the most of the breakfast buffet

Surreptitious swiping from the breakfast buffet is a divisive issue, as proven by a legendary Mumsnet thread in which responses ranged from: “Hoif it into your handbag … you’re doing your duty to stop food waste,” to: “It’s all you can eat, not all you can fit in your handbag.”

The answer? Ditch the stealth, and be brazen. Ask a waiter if you can take a couple of pastries for the children, as a mid-morning snack. This works best if you have breakfast towards the end of their service, when it is evident that lots will imminently be going to waste.

Ask a waiter if you can take a couple of pastries for the children, as a mid-morning snack

Credit: Getty

17. Befriend the concierge

Hotel concierges have near-magical powers, and are usually under-used. They can do so much more than score you tickets to hit shows; they can save you from a fleecing by telling you the going rates for a taxi, point you towards the best free sights and activities, and tell you how to get to them by public transport. The tip (which you really must give) will always be worth it.

18. Use the shuttle services

Before you jump in that airport taxi, though, check what transport your hotel provides on the house. Lots will offer airport shuttles for free (or at radically reduced rates). Ditto rides into the city centre, to nearby theme parks or even – if you’re lucky – water taxis to a chilled glass of wine on a beach.

19. Stretch your stay

Enjoy the facilities on the day of check in and check out. Mark Williams, from Watergate Bay, advises: “Get a full 36 hours for the price of one night. Check-in is at 3pm, but arrive as early as you like to make use of our Swim Club, the pool, sauna, hot tub and sports lessons.”

Make the most of the facilities on the day of check in and check out

Credit: Getty

20. Forage the freebies

As Ross Geller said, in a memorable episode of Friends: “You have to find the line between stealing and taking what the hotel owes you… The salt shaker is off limits. But the salt… [decants the lot].” Ross’s money-saving moves win him an armful of complimentary apples, a suitcase over-brimming with toiletries, some lightbulbs and the batteries from a TV remote. Nor does he stop at his room – the welcome desk, restaurant and other public areas are all fair game. You’ll draw your own line, I’m sure (hopefully somewhere before the lightbulbs …).

By Hattie Garlick

Family fun

Spending quality time with loved ones on holiday can be some of the best memories you make together, but there are tricks to keeping both children and parents happy at all times.

21. Pack practically

You, parent, are not a donkey. So make sure that the burden of packing – the activity itself, and the schlepping – does not lie entirely in your realm of responsibility. Each person able to should carry a backpack with their personal items (books, toys, water bottle, toiletries). It is worth investing in good cases on wheels: Eastpak makes affordable and durable options. As a treat for children aged three to eight, use scooter suitcases – when deployed responsibly they make airports a breeze (those made by Flyte are durable and fun).

22. Follow the leader

Give everyone – from troublesome toddler to grumbling grandpa – at least the illusion that she or he has a moment to be in charge. Passing the leadership baton around the group – an afternoon at the petting zoo courtesy of young Delilah, Mum’s morning ramble to the lighthouse, Granny’s visit to the local gallery – will allow all players to feel seen and heard. This rotating directorship should be extended to mealtime plans, too, even if that leads to fish fingers one night and caviar the next.

Passing the leadership baton around the group will allow all players to feel seen and heard

Credit: Getty

23. Be flight focused

If you are flying with children, ignore the naysayers: it is actually not such a big deal. Make sure you have enough nappies, a few changes of clothes (for you and the baby!), and appealing snacks for young children. Ensure that older children’s devices are charged and have age-appropriate headphones (no one should have to overhear your child’s Peppa Pig ever; this also applies on trains and in restaurants). Pack sweets, or breast/bottle feed during altitude changes to help small ears. Bring new books or surprising games to play in-flight and be sure to book seats together on budget flights.

24. Edit your equipment 

If you are crossing time zones, have a rigidly scheduled child, or a young person who has difficulty sleeping, pack blackout blinds. If you have picky eaters or children with dietary restrictions, think in advance about whether there is a particular food you will want in your holiday location that might be difficult to find – then pack it.

25. Book things early

From Center Parcs to Disney, it can pay to reserve everything from rooms to activities in advance. If you are renting a villa, you may want to book boat hire for a day, for example, or a local cooking class. You will have better options on availability if you plan in advance. Cycle rental is a good one to sort out early, too. Pick up bikes on day one, so you maximise their benefit. Do a bit of restaurant research ahead of arrival. The Fork (thefork.co.uk) for example, is one of the most useful apps for booking tables across Europe.

Cycle rental is a good one to sort out early

Credit: Getty

26. Establish the rules

Going away with family friends or cousins in a group villa hire can make for a very jolly time. For single parents, especially, it can help lighten the stress, and for everyone it guarantees on-site entertainment. Make sure you set the financial and chore ground rules in advance. Establish a shared budget for food and drink, an expected balance of dining in and out, and a rough idea of activities. A family of early birds can quickly tire of a group of night owls if they haven’t managed expectations in advance, and you are not obliged to do everything together. Agree dishes, cooking and tidying rotas. 

27. Pre-plan a device deal

Agree with tweens, teens and parents in advance how much screen time is acceptable on holiday – and then stick to it. If you are sharing with another family, see if you can align on this for the whole group. Parents, this includes work time; help your children manage their expectations by being open about how much you expect to check in with work, and then ringfence that time so that you can be in “holiday mode” the rest of the day.

28. Learn together

There is no shame in putting your collective feet up for a week or two, but you will bask in group smugness if you come home having accomplished something together. This could be navigating a challenging walk or cycle route for children aged five and older, or it could be a family pottery class, or a fossil-hunting lesson from a local expert. Apps like Withlocals (withlocals.com) allow you to experience the local culture – it’s worth checking out what is available in your destination. Apps like the Cycling UK journey planner (cyclinguk.org) are game-changers. Put the kids in charge of selecting the skill you would like to acquire, and make sure you can squeeze in a wine tasting to balance the SUP lessons you may all have to do.

Put the kids in charge of selecting the skill you would like to acquire (and make sure you can squeeze in a wine tasting to balance it out)

Credit: Getty

29. Change the game

Board games aren’t boring: simply match the game with the crowd. For young children, go for puzzles, pick-up sticks or Jenga. From ages seven up, the following are fairly accessible yet still challenging enough for adults: Apples to Apples, a hilarious game of arguments; Carcassonne, a brilliant strategy game; and a deck of cards for gambling, with local currency (ice creams are on the winner!). Three-generation groups will easily be drawn together with charades – everyone contributes a few films, books or song titles to keep it fair.

30. Document everything

Parents, you are in charge of making sure you bring all the official IDs – passports, medical cards, etc. But to keep everyone from toddlers to teens engaged, make them the documentary directors. Give them access to your device, or have them use their own, to take photos, make videos, and gather all of the material needed to reflect what your family does on holiday. Award yourself extra points if you pack watercolours for some creative interpretations.

By Sally Peck

Keeping boredom at bay

From wild swimming and raining-day activities to eating with locals and ways to avoid fighting over the restaurant bill, read on for our practical guide to holiday entertainment.

31. Go to market

How can you really cook like a local? First, ask your villa hire company: outfits like Tuscany Now & More (tuscanynowandmore.com) and Oliver’s Travels (oliverstravels.com) are well tapped into the local culinary scene. Hotels are also happy to oblige. At a boutique hotel in Naxos (naxiancollection.com) a guest asked about local cuisine so the well-heeled owner rang his mother-in-law and quickly laid out a step-by-step guide to moussaka and more – followed by dancing lessons from the head waiter. And if lessons are not forthcoming, just ask locals for the best food market nearby and feast in the surrounding restaurants.

Ask locals for the best food market nearby and feast in the surrounding restaurants.

Credit: Getty

32. Eat with a local family

Connecting you with peers around the world, Eatwith (eatwith.com) shares typical menus, drinks lists and the option of private dining, meals with local families, and details on key things like languages spoken. Seasonal Japanese tasting menu in Brooklyn? Buffet dinner party on a Roman terrace? It’s all on offer, along with food tours and cooking experiences in major cities. This is the best way to avoid local tourist traps and get beyond the tired trattoria aimed at the British market.

33. Swim, everywhere

Tis the season for swimming. Whether you’re of the wild or urban variety, looking for waves or for the stillness of an alpine lake, there are myriad ways to get in your strokes. Wild Things (wildthingspublishing.com) offers apps to find great secret wild swimming opportunities in the UK and around Europe. Swimming can also help you work off having had one too many ice creams this summer – try the MySwimPro app (from £25/month, myswimpro.com), a one-stop tracker and trainer, which you can customise with your personal goals.

Whatever the type of water you’re after, there are myriad ways to get in your strokes

Credit: Getty

34. Indulge in cocktail hour

My family insists on strict observance of the aperitivo hour (6.30pm-7.30pm). All family members – whether Aperol or apple juice types – come together at an agreed upon time for snacks and drinks. It is a moment to pause, review the activities of the day, plan for the next day, and enjoy the setting sun before we all muck in for dinner prep. We have a pretentious habit of reading poems aloud during this time, which you can take or leave; charades also works well.

35. Keep everyone happy

Whether it is the dinner bill or the breakdown of the bill after the champagne tasting, if you are travelling in a group, maintain unity and serenity with the Splitwise app (splitwise.com). It’s a handy way to keep tabs on what you are spending, so no one ends up feeling that they have unfairly funded the gang’s activities. Make sure there is a settling up deadline, too, so that no one ends up bearing the brunt of the costs.

36. Get into your stride

The benefits for mental and physical health of walking and hiking are myriad and well documented – but how can you find the best local trails? The All Trails app (alltrails.com) wins regular praise for its geographical diversity and clarity. Working from your given location, it can recommend paths for walking, running or mountain biking, and also routes that are accessible for wheelchair users. If you are worried that you will lose connectivity, the app allows you to download an offline version of the map so you won’t get lost.

37. Rent a boat

As with swimming and walking, every good summer holiday deserves at least an afternoon at sea – or on the lake, or meandering along a river. Crucial to successful boating, however, is decent weather. An app used by everyone from paragliders to pilots to yachtsmen is the straightforward Windy (windy.app), which charts wind, temperature and forecasts around the world. This way, you won’t be caught out.

Every good summer holiday deserves at least an afternoon on water

Credit: Getty

38. Hire a bike 

First of all, don’t turn your nose up at e-bikes: they are wildly popular in China, Germany, Spain and Denmark, and for very good reason: you can still get a workout on one, but if you are in hilly terrain or covering long distances, or if you have troublesome knees, this may be the help you need to get back out on the road. To hire e-bikes or classic bicycles, you will have to search locally. To navigate in Britain, the charity Cycling UK’s journey planner (cyclinguk.org) and Euro Bike (eurobike.at/is) are my go-to apps. And if you find yourself in a bit of trouble on the road, check out the repair tutorials on Bike Repair (bikerepairapp.com) which also shares riding tips.

39. Decode exotic nature

Want to impress your travel companions with your encyclopaedic knowledge of flora, fauna and everything in between? You can decode mysterious shapes in the sky with CloudSpotter (cloudspotterapp.com), identify the beast bugging you with Picture Insect (pictureinsect.com), put a name to a flower face on Seek (inaturalist.org) and use leaves, bark and blossoms to determine the species of tree with the ID app (woodlandtrust.org.uk). Those are the visual crowd – perhaps even more exciting, you can identify bird species through their song, via ChirpOMatic (chirpomatic.com).

40. Have a rainy backup plan

Summer 2022 is so far bringing waves of heat around Europe; North America, too, is sweltering. Even if you don’t require a rainy-day plan, you may want a cool-down fallback should all that fun in the sun become too much. My family’s air conditioning back-up plans include bowling, museums and shopping. Netflix travels better than many streaming rivals, with a varied and interesting amount of local programmes per country – don’t call it “binge watching”, call it “cultural appreciation”.

By Sally Peck

Eating and drinking

For most people, good food and drink are a big part of a holiday – here are some ways of getting better value and enjoying it even more.

41. Step into the back streets

Restaurants and cafés away from the big sights or the seafront are not only invariably cheaper but likely to be better than those whose main trade comes from passing tourists. Good signs include lots of locals, menus without an English version and blackboards, which are re-written each day. In short, a 10-minute walk can slash your bill and get you a much better meal.

42. Linger over lunch

You are on holiday. You have time to linger, and you could even indulge in a siesta if you feel so inclined. So if you are keen to try some special restaurants – perhaps bag one or two Michelin stars – but are worried about the cost, book a table for lunchtime. Set menus are always far cheaper than in the evening and you’ll probably drink a little less too, which will keep the wine bill down. Be sure to book in advance though, even for lunch.

Keep costs down by booking a table at lunchtime

Credit: Getty

43. Pick the menu

For some reason, in English we have adapted the word “menu” to mean the full list of dishes available in a restaurant. The French would call that the “carte” and in most European countries the menu is a (usually) fixed-price selection of courses which offers the best value for diners – menu del día in Spain or menu fisso in Italy. In a good – especially a good local – restaurant the menu will also feature the “plat du jour” or dish of the day, which is often a more affordable option. 

44. Choose local wines

Many holiday destinations are in wine producing areas – it seems that grapes enjoy the same climates that we do. And that is a big plus for holidaymakers whether you are in Turkey or Greece, Tuscany or Provence – as long as you stick to local producers. The Telegraph’s wine correspondent, Victoria Moore, says, “the best match for traditional local cooking is usually a locally produced wine – they have been developed to complement each other over generations. And in most restaurants the local list is far better value than wines imported from elsewhere.”

45. Drink from the tap

More and more restaurants in France serve mineral water (at around €6/£5 a bottle) by default. But if you ask for a carafe of tap water most will accommodate you. In the hot south where two people can very easily get through two bottles over a meal, that could represent quite a saving. Especially if you are eating out every day. In Greece and Turkey, and some other southern Mediterranean countries, where the tap water is not so good and bottled water is cheap, this obviously doesn’t apply.

Restaurants and cafés away from the big sights or the seafront are not only cheaper but likely to be better than touristy ones

Credit: Michael Jonsson/plainpicture.com

46. Lean on the bar

Food and drink in a Continental European café is nearly always much cheaper if you sit at the bar than at a table. An espresso in Rome, for example, might cost €1/80p at the bar, but €3.50/£3 if you take a table. It’s not so good for people-watching perhaps, but you are much more likely to end up chatting to one of the locals. And you will also get served much quicker.

47. Don’t bottle it

In many bars, draught beer is up to half the price of bottled beer. Ask for une pression in French, birra alla spina in Italian and cerveza de barril in Spanish. And, as with wine, go for a local variety. It is likely to be much cheaper, especially in destinations outside the Eurozone, such as Turkey where a weak currency and high inflation mean that all imports have become much more expensive than locally produced food and drink.

48. Tip the staff

It is starting to become more standard in this country, but continental restaurants have long tended to include the service charge in the bill. If you want to be sure, look for servis compris in France, servizio incluso in Italy and servicio incluido in Spain – or just ask. This means that most waiters are not expecting a tip. However, that is certainly not the case in the US, where 15-20 per cent is now standard.

49. Be sandwich savvy

If you prefer not to indulge too much at lunchtime, then skip the restaurants and cafés altogether and head for the bakery and then the market. You will be able to put a delicious seasonal picnic together at a fraction of the price of eating out.

To save money, skip the restaurants and head for the bakery and then the market to make a picnic

Credit: Getty

50. Grab breakfast in a café

Hotel breakfasts are getting more and more expensive and room-only pricing much more common. As a result, a simple continental breakfast in a top-end establishment can easily cost you €40/£33 or more. So if you haven’t been able to negotiate a rate which includes breakfast, nip out to the nearest café instead. It will be much cheaper and you will feel much less like a tourist and more like a local.

By Nick Trend

Do you have any hints, tips and tricks for making your holidays better? Please share them in the comments below

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