Our favourite destinations

People often ask about our favourite travel destinations.

And although such things are extremely subjective, we don’t hesitate to nominate our six favourite destinations. Here’s a summary:

  1.   Italy

From the glorious lakes of Lombardy; to the north-eastern romance of Venice; the splendour of Tuscany and Florence; the majesty of Rome; the excitement of Naples; and the beauty of the Amalfi, Capri and the Italian riveriera, we simply cannot go past Italy. For us, it’s a no-brainer.

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And our favourite of this wonderland: the largely unspoilt Lattari Mountain villages of Tramonti.

See our report on one particular village

2.      Austrian and Bavarian Alps

For sheer scenic beauty, these areas cannot be beaten. The memories will never leave you.

Again, our favourite location: Schafberg mountain, in the Austrian state of Salzburg.

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Situated within the Salzkammergut Mountains of the Northern Limestone Alps, the Schafberg rises above pristine and magnificent Wolfgangsee Lake.

3.      United Kingdom

Our love of cultural experiences in small village communities, makes the UK a special destination for us. 

We’ve spend time at the villages of Denham, in the county of Buckinghamshire; at Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire; at Kings Cliffe in Northhamptonshire; and at Painswick in Gloucestershire.

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As well as these village experiences, we are particularly fond of the Gower area of southern Wales; Dorset and the city of Bath in Somerset.

And, of course, London never leaves your soul.

See why we keep returning to the Capital of capitals.

4.      Catalonia

Sit in a tavern or coffee shop in a mountain village and watch the Mediterranean shimmer on some of the world’s finest beaches.

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Body clocks are wound a little slower in this lovely part of Spain, where culture, food and wine are the foundations of a wonderful lifestyle.

See our report of a village stay in Catalonia.

5.      Greece

Wander across the hillsides of Crete; watch the famous sunsets at Santorini; stand beneath the Acropolis; or explore ancient Delphi at Mount Parnassus – and you will never be the same again.

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And, did we mention the food?

6.      Slovenia

This tiny Central European country has a lot going for it: from the medieval charm of Ljubljana, to the Adriatic coast at Piran and stunning Lake Bled – surely one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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Tips travel

Interesting tool for finding well-priced flights

We’ve been hearing a lot about the AirWander website for finding well-priced international airfares.

This site is for travellers who want to include stopovers in international flights.

Stopovers tend to be particularly attractive to people who are not necessarily on a tight schedule.

The principle is simple: you take a round-trip itinerary and split it into multiple bookings with multiple tickets.

And then you add a stopover, which is a break of more than 24 hours between your origin and your destination.

This allows you to visit two or more locations on your journey at a cost that can be similar to the original point-to-point round-trip.

We’ve heard of travellers adding a stopover and saving money, although Australia’s isolation makes us sceptical.

Type a proposed destination into AirWander and it offers possible stopover locations and fares. Then fiddle with cities and dates in a bid to get the lowest fare.

When doing your sums, costs such as accommodation at the stopover site obviously need to be taken into account.

AirWander then refers you to third-party booking websites, in the same way as sites like Skyscanner and Momondo.

And, of course, there is always some connection risks – such as flight delays and missing luggage – with buying separate tickets from separate airlines.

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In a blink, here’s the future of travel safety

We tasted the future of travel during our latest European trip after encountering expanded eye-scanning systems at international airports.

It’s all part of Biometric E-gate changes being introduced or trialled at some airports around the globe.

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Thanks to the Apple iPhone, most people seem comfortable with fingerprint identification – and we’d come across this technology at US border checks for many years. 

But, in the past year, we noticed a variety of other biometric screening systems appearing at some airports in Europe and the UK, to verify the identity of travellers.

The systems we encountered seemed to work hand-in-hand with boarding passes and passport checks by airlines themselves, but some of the trials have apparently tested whether scanning could replace such traditional systems altogether.

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At the same time, iris scanning is appearing at more and more airport security lines – sometimes on a voluntary basis as an alternative to lengthy passport-checking queues.

From our experience, the use of biometric systems seems a fairly unobtrusive extension of automation at airports.  Things do seem to move faster, which is always a big plus.

Logically, the scans should also help improve security.

The downsides?

Like every new system, there are hiccups. We came across scanners that didn’t work and others that were confusing to use.

And, we heard the occasional grumble among fellow travellers about data security and privacy.

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However, that aside, it looks like biometrics is the way airports and possibly even airlines are moving, with the aim of improving and speeding-up the experience for travellers.

Now, if only they could find a way to replace the ancient airport baggage carousel!

Personal safety Tips travel

Travel tip: carefully select an arrival airport

Travel is personal. 

For example, we try to avoid all-inclusive offers – opting instead to forge our own travel paths, which we believe gives us flexibility and competitive costs.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we try never to pay anyone for doing anything that we could just as easily do ourselves.

And, of all the tricks we’ve learned for keeping travel expenses down, one of the best tips involves careful airport selection – especially if you are flying into Europe.

In choosing an airline, we also take care to also select an arrival airport with both lower taxes, fees and operating costs, where the savings are therefore usually passed to travellers.

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Heathrow Airport, London

For example, if  possible, we avoid Heathrow airport in London, sometimes described as one of the most expensive airports to fly into.

Instead, we’ve flown into London Gatwick and to Manchester – as well making Athens, Rome and Berlin our European entry point –  from where you can usually get plenty of low-cost fares to the UK.

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Athens airport

Colleagues also recommend Warsaw, Dublin and even Moscow.

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Berlin Tegel airport

We use websites like Skyscanner and Clever Layover to carefully compare airline prices at various European airports – and work it out from there. 

It isn’t always feasible; is usually not the fastest option; and sometimes the savings can be small. 

But, over the years, we’ve found that every saving, regardless of the size, is important in an overall travel budget.

Of course, the same benefits – or more – can sometimes be achieved by flying into one of the less-costly airports and then completing your journey by a transport network like GoOpti – or by coach or train.

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Moscow airport

You can also reduce costs by spending a little time to make wise accommodation choices.

Although it is not always the case, accepting accommodation in the heart of popular cities often brings a hefty pricetag. 

For example, last year we were back in Venice, Italy, for a brief one-day stay en-route to Central Europe.

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Venice

Rather than arrange accommodation near the gorgeous Venician canals for one night, we decided instead to stay on the mainland at Venice Mestre – a 10 minute train trip from the beautiful waterways. 

Good quality accommodation at Venice Mestre  – in this case The Plaza Hotel – was about one-third the price of the equivalent on the island.

And, we were also only a few Euros from the Marco Polo airport by local AVTO bus.

We enjoy using public transport, so this proved a smart option for us.

This saved a substantial amount of money for spending later – and gave us a good quality of accommodation only two train stops from the heart of the beautiful Italian city.

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Tips

Smartphones making travel easier

Technology is continuing to make travel easier and more accessible.

And, undoubtedly, one of the more intriguing developments in travel has been the move toward replacing credit cards, passports and hotel keys with a single device — the smartphone.

Some industry pundits have suggested that the smartphone could do it all in as little as five-10 years.

That certainly seems feasible.

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Cards on the way out

The way credit cards are used is changing fast because of services like Apple Pay.

It’s becoming common to see people holding their phones or watches next to the card reader at shop check-outs while their identity is verified.

The days of carrying a wallet or purse full of credit and loyalty cards certainly seem numbered.

On our most recent European trip, we had all our loyalty cards, Seniors Card, Driver’s licences etc stored on our phones using the Stocard App. It worked well, however we still nervously took along our actual credit cards. Perhaps next time!

Hotel room entry

Hotels world-wide are gradually testing various methods of keyless entry where a smartphone will open and lock room doors, instead of using cards or, in some cases, actual keys.

It’s just another way in which hotels are streamlining traditional processes to improve the process for guests.

Wireless phone charging

The industry is also moving to introduce wireless charging to reduce the need for charging points in hotel rooms. The latest phones can be charged wirelessly

And cheap international telephone roaming is now common in much of the world. Our charges were pegged at three Australian dollars a day – if we made calls. We send to use Face Time on free wifi.

The European Union has, also made cheap roaming mandotory in its member countries.

Boarding passes

Of course, using a phone as a boarding pass is now common at airports.

The movement to electronic Passports is probably a little way off yet – and may be governed largely by political and immigration issues.

However,  steps in that direction are still being taken in preparation.

Security booths

There are also automated security booths appearing at the departure area of many airports.

So, depending on destination and hotel, it’s already possible to:

  • buy aircraft tickets online and store them on your phone
  • board a plane using a pass and the tickets on your phone.
  • pay for your hotel with your phone
  • enter your room using your phone
  • pay for meals and purchases using your phone
  • book Uber or similar transport to and from airports.

And, thank goodness that today’s smartphones have ever-more-strict security features to prevent misuse.

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More airlines offering stripped-back fares

More airlines are offering stripped-back fares to help compete in the growing market of budget-conscious travellers.

European airlines, KLM and Air France are the latest so-called legacy carriers to introduce a reduced fare that doesn’t include seat selection, check-in luggage or the ability to change a booking.

Reports from the UK say that the fares – scheduled to start in April on transatlantic flights – are part of a growing trend among European airlines.

Alitalia is also offering an Economy Light fare that limits passengers to one piece of hand luggage and does not offer booking amendments or ticket refunds.

Lufthansa also offers a similar fare.

A few months ago, we were charged a fee to slightly amend two tickets on Aegean Airlines.

American, Delta and United airlines also offer basic economy fares – some of which do not allow use of overhead lockers.

And British Airways made headlines last year after it announced that people who bought its basic fare would board its planes last.

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Arranging travel – and saving money doing it

Our latest European jaunt covered eight countries – and here’s a few tips that helped us organise the trip and ensure everything ran smoothly.

For a start, we were flown to and from Europe courtesy of Scoot Airlines, to review how ‘Age-Friendly’ its Sydney-Athens link is. Read our review of the ScootBiz service here

For the remainder of the extensive trip, we used the Internet to book almost everything, to give us maximum control. This included;

other airlines
inter-country shuttle
Greek Island ferries
rail trips
couriers
bus tickets
accommodation
city cards
individual tours

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Booking flights

Flights were generally booked about 90 days beforehand because we believe that ensures the best deals.

In all, we used four airlines – Scoot, Aegean, Eurowings, and EasyJet. ‘Age-Friendly’ reports will be forthcoming on each.

All have easy-to-use websites and apps for managing your flights; getting boarding passes, selecting seats etc. An important tip is to make sure that the names you book are identifical to those in your passport – as changes may cost money.

We saved money and made it easier on ourselves by packing light – one 22kg bag between us and a carry-on bag each.

Accommodation

Accommodation was chosen at the same time as flights – also with the aim of doing extensive  ‘Age-Friendly’ reports on each.

We used numerous websites to compare hotel and Airbnb prices, with emphasis on central location – and proximity to public transport.

Once selected, we pre-paid accommodation – avoiding ‘cancellation-free’ booking. This can be a little risky if the entire trip falls over, but we prefer to take the chance for a lower cost.

Almost all our accommodation was paid well before we left home – although there’s always the occasional hotel that reserves the booking but doesn’t actually take the money until later.

And once booked, we followed up with at least one confirmation email close to the date of leaving.

Ferries

Ferries were reserved at least three months ahead of time, as we believe that prices for moving between the Greek Islands can increase as trips get closer.

And again, our aim was to see how the ferries catered for travellers of all ages …… and pass on our information.

We booked directly with the companies involved – and double checked by email.

International courier

We trialled an international shuttle service, Go-Opti, to travel from Venice, Italy to Ljubjana in Slovenia.

What could have taken most of a day by train or coach, was reduced to about three hours.

The service collected us and our luggage from one hotel and delivered us in comfort to another, at a lower cost than alternatives.

Watch for our upcoming review of Go-Opti. It’s an eye-opener.

All other bookings were done in the final month, including courier services at Santorini and London – which both worked out cheaper than using taxis – and train trips in Slovenia and the UK.

Public transport

As always, we also saved substantially by using public transport where possible.

For example, we were quoted $80 for a taxi from Changi Airport, Singapore to our hotel in the heart of the city. We had deliberately selected a hotel near a bus stop – and used a public bus that covered the same trip for about five dollars.

In Austria, Germany and Italy, our travel was kindly provided by close friends who took us to some wonderful sights.

In London, we chose a hotel within two minutes walking distance of Victoria Coach Terminal, from where we could get a bus to Gatwick Airport for about seven pounds – far less than any alternative.

Where possible, we always avoid airport trains – and usually save substantially by doing so.

For example, in Greece and Venice, we caught local buses to and from our attractions – and the airport. In each case, we emailed various bus services beforehand – and negotiated prices ourselves until we were happy with the quotes.

The only time we used a taxi was late at night in Athens – and, again, we emailed several companies beforehand to lock in an agreed price.

If you must use a cab with a meter, contact people like us to find out the exact distance you want to travel – and photograph the meter as you start the trip

Discounts

Before deciding on any travel, accommodation or attractions, we always make a point of checking whether the provider offers discounts. There’s nothing to lose in asking, and  it can sometimes save money.

For example, on this trip, we visited the massive Skocjan Caves in Slovenia – and were delighted to find substantial discounts offered for NSW Seniors Card holders.

We have a host of reviews coming from this trip, so stay tuned.

Personal travel planning Tips