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

Plan your luggage needs carefully

Giving lots of advance thought to your baggage is becoming more and more important for airline travellers.

The number of airlines charging for check-in luggage has accelerated the trend toward flying with carry-on bags only.

And that, in turn, has led to passengers stuffing as much as they can into overhead cabin bins.

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Carry-on bags have got bigger and bigger, stretching cabin luggage limits.

Even in new-age planes with particularly big overhead bins –  it isn’t certain that you can stow your cabin bags near your seat.

To overcome this problem, travellers are tending to rush onto the aircraft leading to unsightly jostling for prime positions at the boarding gate.

On some of our most recent flights, we saw people literally running down the jetway to board early, just to get overhead luggage space near their seats.

So, it’s wise to prepare for the liklihood of your cabin bags ending up at one end of the plane, while you are seated at the other. This is important to consider if you need to get to medication, iPads, laptops etc during the flight.

If you are like us and usually opt for multiple airlines, it’s also smart to examine check-in baggage requirements across all companies – even it you have a single ticket only.

For example, in Spring we flew from Sydney to Athens with Scoot Airlines, which had a generous baggage allowance.

However, we had to keep in mind the fact that, on alighting, we were off to Crete with Aegean Airlines, which wasn’t as generous.

It’s also common sense to make use of the discounts for paying online.

This doesn’t stop with baggage fees. With some airlines, it can be cheaper to print your boarding pass at home, instead of the airport.

Travel packing

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.

Finance Personal travel planning Technology on the road Tips

Travel tips feature: Favourite technology

Technology and travelling light often seem contradictory.

However, in recent years, we have developed our own list of essential gadgets that we take with us on our travels.

  •  Two iPads and at least one iPhone – for writing reviews, social media, using Apple Wallet and keeping in touch via FaceTime.
  • Two wifi cameras – for illustrating reviews and social media updates.

  • Portable digital scales. With excess baggage fees today, these scales are essential.  We hook them to our bag handle and lift the luggage for an LED weight read-out.
  • An all-in-one powerpoint adapter. After years to carrying one for European powerpoints and another for the US, we were thrilled when all-in-one devices appeared.
  • Power bank. These are extremely handy, especially if they have enough juice to charge two devices.
  • It’s almost a hotel truism that there are never enough powerpoints in your room. We use a multi adapter which combine extra power points, USB points and a surge protector.

  • Bags may have individual locks, but we keep hearing about people who have lost their entire luggage on ferries or buses. So we take a retractable cable lock with a 90 cm steel cable for wrapping around a pole or rack.
  • An ‘under the door’ alarm and a range of anti-theft bags and clothing.
  • To complement hotel wifi, we adapted an old Apple Express music player to serve as a travel router and plug into high speed internet cables available in most rooms. Time will eventually catch up with this old technology, but at the moment, it works well.
Technology on the road Tips

An ace of a flying tip

Here’s an interesting tip: travellers are being urged to take a tennis ball on long-haul flights – even if they’re not planning on playing a match at their destination.

We’re yet to try it, but a report out of the UK claims that running the tennis ball over your skin while flying can help keep blood flowing to the heart.

There’s no denying that long flights can often cause your feet to swell; muscles to tighten and the body to generally feel bloated and gassy.

And regardless of the mode of travel, sitting motionless for long periods may also increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the muscles,

DVT is a serious issue and it’s also important to keep moving your legs – even when waiting in the airport terminal – wear compression stockings to put gentle pressure on leg muscles and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

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The tennis ball technique is a somewhat logical extension of the usual precautions,  according to the UK’s Daily Star newspaper.

The UK report suggests that the ball be rolled over areas of the body that become uncomfortable on a long trip.

Think about the soles of your feet, the small of the back, the ankles, legs and arms.

The Daily Star quotes consultant orthopaedic surgeon, Ali Ghoz, from the London Orthopaedic Clinic. as saying that massaging in this way could help boost circulation.

He also suggests massaging lower legs from the ankles upwards.

By pressing down slightly and moving the ball, you can soften knots and tight areas.

It all sounds feasible – and we’ll certainly give it a try.

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We’re also great believers in  feet exercises and getting up and walking  down the airplane aisle at least once per hour.

See more tips:

Read a passenger’s experience of getting DVT.

Tips travel

Reading signs and menus you can’t understand

Visiting a country where you don’t speak the language can be awkward.

Luckily, there’s now a range of translation apps for mobile phones that can help you read those menus and reduce the chance of being misunderstood.

The most comprehensive app we’ve come across is Google Translate, mainly because it has a feature called Word Lens.

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If you’re puzzling at a street or building sign or a menu written in a language that you can’t understand, simply point the phone at it – and the words should change to English.

The feature currently supports about 30 languages – and Google says more are increasingly being added.

Free to download, the app also has speech translation that converts your words into a language you select from a library of more than 50.

For example, if you are visiting France, you can ask for directions in English, hold up the phone, and it will repeat your words in French. If someone replies in French, the app is designed to convert that back to English – and so on.

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It may sound like something out of Star Trek, but we’ve found that although the translation system understands English, it doesn’t always grasp our Australian accents. And it can also be confused by background noise – and doesn’t seem to grasp tenses yet.

Another drawback would appear to be human nature: not everyone appreciates having a phone pushed toward them – and we’ve heard stories of people simply declining to answer questions.

There are alternatives available for those who don’t want a Google app.

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We have used one called iTranslate, which is free to download from Apple’s App Store in its basic form, but has an impressive word-recognition feature available for a small fee.

Other popular apps include SayHi Translate; Universal Translator; Speak Text; and Jibbigo Translator, which doesn’t necessarily require an internet connection to work.

Technology on the road Tips