European Autumn tips

Autumn has arrived in Europe and cheaper holiday deals are opening up during the shoulder season. 

Here are a few suggested European destinations that you should be able to consider without battling the crowds and breaking the bank – especially if you avoid the Euro countries.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic – a picturesque walled city, with attractions galore and remarkably reasonable prices. The nearest airport is probably Prague and a bus or train trip to Cesky Kromlov takes about three hours.  Attractions that caught our eye included the massive Ceský Krumlov Castle — the biggest in Eastern Europe; the striking church of St. Vitus which can trace its origins back to the 13th century; several museums; and the view from Mount Klet on the city’s fringe. There are plenty of budget hotels.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Sofia, Bulgaria – regularly rated as Europe’s most affordable capital, Sofia can be a base for visits to the Black Sea. Although more and more people discover the city each year, it is  still known for cheap accommodation, food and public transport; exquisite Ottoman churches, buzzing nightlife; pretty city parks and budget flights from the UK.

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Athens, Greece – it’s amazing that one of the world’s great destinations should remain such a  travel bargain. Like most of Greece, the capital city is eager to attract travellers, especially during the off-season. There is so much to see and do at Athens – and most of it is particularly well-priced. We always recommend the Pan Hotel, which provides excellent accommodation in the heart of Athens at an attractive price.

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Ljubljana, Slovenia – also no longer a hidden jewell, this picture-postcard, affordable city sits beneath a backdrop of snow-capped Alps, close to the stunning beauty of Lake Bled. Ljubljana has a compact and beautiful Old Town area, free of traffic and complete with a beautiful castle, stunning medieval architecture, a winding river and a host of restaurants and coffee shops. Scenic trains link the city with the Austrian and Bavarian Alps, neighbouring Italy and the Balkan countries. We found budget accommodation in the Old Town.

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Brasov, Romania – another beauty for the penny-wise, this quaint town is set in the heart of Transylvania and boasts colourful houses, charming cafés and a fascinating mixture of history and local legend. Romania remains one of Europe’s cheapest destinations, so just about everything here is attractively-priced.

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Belgrade, Serbia – with relatively well priced accommodation and cheap attractions, public transport, food and beer, Belgrade is also known as a bargain destination. The city is easy to navigate on foot and many attractions are free.

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Tenerife, Spain – although Spain is a Euro country and not generally considered a cheap destination, Tenerife is in the Canary Islands and is generally well priced at this time of year. Delivering a blend of Spanish culture and African sun, Tenerife is one of the darlings of international travel – and is fast becoming an international hotspot. It is the biggest of the seven Canary Islands and its many features include stunning beaches, abundant wildlife and astonishing volcanic rock formations.

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Naples, southern Italy – also a Euro country, but a vibrant city of art, history and awesome food. Naples is one of the least expensive Italian destinations and has a rawness and gritty beauty all its own. We love the city’s narrow, busy streets and find it a warts-and-all snapshot of Italian passion and colour. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Edinburgh, Scotland – the UK doesn’t usually make our lists of reasonably-priced cities, but we fell in love with this awesome city at first sight – and its charming cobblestone streets, storybook castle and spectacular views are even more attractive than usual amid the leafy hues of Autumn. If you don’t mind cooling temperatures and are prepared to do a bit of research to keep the price down, this beautiful Scottish city could be an enticing Autumn destination. 

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Photo courtesy Pixabay

Aix-en-Provence, France – The South of France may be on our list for a visit we’re planning in 2021. And, during initial research, we’ve been astonished to discover that Provence currently offers good value for an Autumn break. Temperatures are still quite warm in this beautiful region and the area is also keen to attract visitors in the off-season. We’re yet to test it, but this part of France looks both beautiful at the moment and financially attractive.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at @memorable_destination; @memorable_travels;  @memorable_ hotels and @ww_australia.

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One-way airfares: the dilemma

As more countries crack down on illegal immigration, one-way airfares are becoming a big talking point.

Many travellers were accustomed to flying into countries on a one-way ticket, then buying  a fare for the next leg of their journey later.

Often they needed to show an itinerary or proof of funds in the bank before they were allowed in.

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However one-way fares, increasingly, have come under scrutiny as countries move to prevent people ‘over-staying’.

There have been reports of some airlines refusing to board people with one way tickets to certain countries – and of customs refusing entry on arrival.

This has particularly affected Travel Influencers and digital nomads who are often flown from country to country for years at a time.

A entire industry had grown up offering cheap one-way airfares primarily for these people.

But, as countries cracked down, there were many stories of nomads side-stepping regulations by buying online refundable return tickets — and seeking a refund of the cost as soon as they passed through immigration.

No matter how you look at this practice, in essence, it is misleading – and we wouldn’t do it.

And. it ’s a similar situation with websites like onewayfly.com which appear to charge a fee for renting travellers a return ticket.

We gather that the websites later seek a refund on the ticket.

Personal travel planning 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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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

Excess baggage: couriers may offer an answer.

It’s rather embarrassing  – and can be quite costly – to reach the airport check-in counter only to find that your bags are too heavy.

These days, airlines strictly enforce the amount of checked baggage and carry-on luggage on international flights; and any more than your ‘free’ baggage allowance may incur additional charges.

It happened to us once at Berlin – causing us to frantically re-pack our carry-on bags and jettison heavy paperwork.

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Photo: Pexels

However, the silver lining behind all this may be the advent of so-called ‘Delivery to Door Couriers’.

These services apparently collect baggage from your door and deliver it to your destination – leaving you to enjoy a hassle-free journey.

It’s an interesting idea, especially if you are travelling in Europe where distances between destinations can be short.

Firms operate in Europe and the US; we know of at least one that sends that type of box by air or sea from Australia; and there are operators that advertise a world-wide service.

What’s involved?

The service generally includes air freight, customs clearance, terminal fees, and local delivery costs to your international address.

Like normal airline baggage, there are, of course, restrictions on dangerous goods.

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P{photo: Pexels

But it does avoid the hassles of being laden down with back-breaking baggage; constantly weighting your load in fear; and the boring ritual of standing with crossed fingers at airport baggage carousels.

We’re yet to try one of these services but, like everything else, it seems that the widespread adoption of the idea would probably have a lot to do with cost and convenience.

From all reports, it appears that the cost, naturally, depends on how much luggage you want shipped and where.

And, ‘Delivery to Door’ couriers certainly seem to have convenience covered.

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Photo: Pexels

So, if you are are concerned about the possibility of excess baggage, these couriers may be well worth a look.

If you do use one of these firms, let us know how it works, so we can share details of the experience.

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Do and don’ts of free wifi

We’ve never paid to use the Internet while travelling.

We rely on Internet access for reviewing; booking accommodation; organising travel and attractions; translation; currency conversion; keeping calendars; social media; and calling home.

But, for most of the time, the Mobile Data setting on our iPhone and iPad is switched off and we rely solely on wifi – making sure that we stick strictly to a few basic rules.

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How do we do it?

Firstly, we try to only book accommodation that offers free wifi. In the past, it wasn’t easy – but things have changed dramatically in recent years.

We also make a concerted effort to work out in advance where free wifi hotspots are located.

One good way of doing this is to download and use the Wi-fi Finder App.

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When you install and first run this app, it downloads a database of free and paid Wi-Fi hotspots around the world – so you can then open the app when you don’t have an Internet connection.

And, of course, there is a fast-growing trend of cafes, pubs, restaurants, airports and shopping centres offering free wifi – some with time limits.

For example, here are some UK and European hotspot examples we are aware of:

  • London – a public network called The Cloud offers free wifi in the CBD and in scores of pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants
  • Paris – ‘Paris Wifi’ offers 296 hot spots, including parks; gardens; libraries; and museums.
  • Edinburgh – free system being installed in city centre. Numerous cafes.
  • Barcelona – free connection at museums; parks; markets; libraries; shops; and the beach.
  • Rome  – ‘Roma Wireless’ free wifi throughout much of the city.
  • Vienna‘Freewave’ service across the city.

OK, so how safe is free wifi?

Security is the big downside of free wifi, so we find it vital to follow a few key rules.

We DO treat all free wifi as probably being unsecured.  If they are secure sites, that information is usually found in a security clause of the ‘terms of use’ that you typically have to agree to before use.

We DON’T do any form of Internet banking over a free wifi. If we need to do this, we make sure that we find a secure site.

We DO make sure that every website we use on free (or otherwise wifi) has an address or  URL that starts with HTTPS and not just HTTP. The S shows that the website is using a secure communication.

If a website isn’t using HTTPS then we don’t enter any information into it on the Wi-Fi hotspot. We just browse it and leave.

We haven’t done this, but we have been told that, as an extra security precaution, you can install a plugin for Firefox and Chrome browsers called HTTPS Everywhere.

This apparently encrypts communication with those websites.

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How about mobile hotspots?

We’re keen to trial the new generation of mobile wifi hotspots, such as Tep Wireless or Xcom Global, that rent a mobile Internet connection that fits in the pocket.

This gives you wireless Internet access for a number of devices wherever you travel.

 

 

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Avoid paying for phone calls while travelling

When travelling, we make a point of never paying for international phone calls.

This can be done easily – without worrying about getting local SIM cards; racking up expensive roaming charges; or puzzling over country codes and the like.

We are free-wifi junkies  and we also make use of apps that allow you to make calls at no cost.

Instead of using traditional phone networks, these apps  rely on the Internet to transmit your voice, so all you need is free wifi – widely available with accommodation and in cafes, restaurants, pubs, airports, train stations etc.

FaceTime for video or audio

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Our favourite app is Apple’s FaceTime.

Most people know FaceTime as a video-calling service, but it also has an audio only button. We’ve used it to make calls  – both video and audio – from our iPad and iPhone across Europe and the US.

As long as the person you are calling also has an Apple device with FaceTime turned on in its settings, the calls are simple, fast, free and crystal clear.

One of our most memorable calls was back home to Australia while we waited for a train in Chicago. We had free wifi – and made the most of it.

WhatsApp

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If a person you want to call doesn’t have an Apple device, you can use the popular WhatsApp.

Free to download, this is a favourite for both texting and calls across the globe.

We’ve never tried it, but some travellers have told us that they also use Facebook’s Messenger app for free telephone calls.

Another that we haven’t spent much time on is Viber, which seems particularly popular for sending free text messages.

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Naturally, you need to remember that, for these calls to work, the person you are ringing also need to have the app that you are using.

 

 

 

 

 

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