Doc Holiday answers your top travel questions

  • Anthony Dennis
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“THAT’S a very good question…”

It’s something I find myself saying to myself week in, week out, dealing with the weekly deluge of reader letters seeking travel advice.

I’ve been trawling through my columns that have appeared in the Escape lift-out each week to form some sort of idea of the most commonly asked questions by today’s travellers these days.

Based on the many reader queries sent to Doc Holiday travel advice column week to week I’ve compiled the following top 10.

Agent or online?
Travel agents, under pressure from the internet as an alternative holiday booking tool, haven’t done their cause much good in terms of providing sometimes poor and ill-informed service.

It’s led travellers to become their own agents, planning their own itineraries on the internet and buying and paying for travel.

But nothing compares to a professional, knowledgeable travel agent, especially if you’re caught out in a crisis overseas.

Guided or go it alone?
Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older but I’ve become a convert to organised, guided tours, having generally resisted them.

The trick is to choose a professional one with no hidden extras or surprises along the way. After all, an organised tour is designed to take the hassle out of having to do it all yourself.

Why do they single out solo travellers?
It’s not that the industry automatically discriminates against single people.

It’s simply that couples are where the profits lie because they are charged on a per person basis (hence the imposition of the dreaded “single supplement” for solo travellers).

Many tour companies match travellers of the same gender on tours so they can share a room while others are even working with dating services to provide trips for singles only.

Organised holidays designed for women-only are also becoming increasingly popular.

How do I get ship-shape?
Cruising is the fastest growing sector in travel, but the choice and range of destinations can be confusing for first-timers.

The good news is that there tends to be a cruise to suit every taste, and you don’t have to take to sea to experience it since river-cruising in Europe and Asia is becoming just as popular as the ocean-going kind.

An experienced, licensed travel agent will be able to supply you with all of the myriad options.

Cash or card?
How much cash do I take, and in what currency? How many credit cards will I need? Can I rely solely on pre-paid cash card?

Travel money is an area which has seen significant change in recent years, particularly with the advent of pre-paid cash-cards, which allow you to deposit and top-up funds without the excessive interest rates of credit cards.

My preference is to simply have a mix of options when you travel according to what suits the nature of the trip.

How can I keep roaming the globe but avoid global roaming?
“Bill shock” – it’s that outrageous phone bill amassed during your travels that you receive well after you’ve returned home.

Watch how your bill skyrockets if you get stuck on hold waiting for an airline to answer, as I found recently.
It’s getting to the point where it’s almost worth leaving your phone behind when you travel and relying on other forms of communication, such as Skype.

If not, consider buying a SIM card at your destination or within Australia.

What’s the right time to go and/or book?
I’m an advocate for travelling out of season when the prices are cheaper and the locals more chipper (since there are fewer tourists to drive you and them mad).

In general tour companies like you to book early so they can fill up, and will often provide discounts to “early-birds” while, of course, the further out you book your flight the more options and the better range of deals.

However, some travel operators – such as European rail companies – offer deals on how far out you can book.

How do I get on the right track?

Long-distance rail travel, including luxury train “cruises” recalling the golden days of rail, is another boom area with a dizzying variety of options both in Australia and around the world.

Rail passes offered by the major operators in Europe, Asia and North America, allow you to travel for weeks and even months. These can represent some of the best bargains in travel.

Even though a lot of train travel can be booked online, the best advice for more complex itineraries is to seek the counsel of rail travel specialists.

I’m plane scared – what can I do?
Despite air travel being the safest form of travel, with few crashes each year when compared to the number of air-miles flown, there are still many people who find flying a terrifying experience.

A great book I often recommend for nervous flyers is Ask the Pilot by Patrick Smith. Patrick is a US-based airline captain who methodically deals with all of the most common, and unfounded, fears surrounding flying.

What’s the right policy on travel insurance?
It may be a product of a rapidly aging population, and the greying of those most prolific of travellers, the baby boomers, but if there’s one dominate query in the Doc’s inbox it’s matter related to travel insurance.
A regular gripe among senior travellers is the “pre-existing medical condition” rule that excludes many travellers from obtaining cover.

Unfortunately, aside for shopping around, there are no easy solutions to this dilemma. And it’s area that the already beleaguered insurance industry is reluctant to publicly address and properly clarify.

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