Buck the Summer Holiday Trend and Plan a Long-Haul Fly-Drive in 2012

With January blues now in full swing, over a million Brits* will book their next break in the sun this month and, according to independent car hire price comparison website carhiremarket.com, it looks like most will be jetting off to Spain and Portugal come Springtime. Based on last year’s booking trends, Ibiza, Palma de Majorca and Faro were the top destinations for a sunny break, but car hire bookings for locations further afield look to be on the increase, suggesting Brits are becoming a bit more adventurous.

Around £500 million will be spent this month* on holidays, but instead of following last year’s trend, why not think about heading further afield? A fly-drive vacation promises independence, freedom and the ability to explore an abundance of landscape and scenery. Carhiremarket.com has put together its top five destinations for a fly drive holiday outside Europe in 2012:

1.) North America – What better way to explore the states of the USA or Canada than with your own hire car? The sheer size of the states and provinces lend themselves to being explored with the ease and flexibility of your own vehicle, and with wide, well-signposted roads, the superb scenery and sites can easily be enjoyed.

2.) Australia – In such a vast country like Australia, a fly-drive holiday is the ultimate way to be in full control on your holiday and ensure you experience the very best that a huge, dramatic and varied landscape has to offer. If some of the drives do seem just that bit too far, why not arrange some inbound flights in-between so the wonders of the Blue Mountains, Ayres Rock, Sydney and The Great Barrier Reef can all make an appearance on your itinerary. You can even drive on the left hand side!

3.) New Zealand – Known for some of the best and diverse scenery the world has to offer, a fly-drive holiday in New Zealand is a fantastic way to embrace the stunning views and explore the uncongested open roads. Rugged mountain ranges, fresh flowing rivers and deep blue oceans can be etched in your holiday memories and in just a two week holiday you should be able to see many of the beautiful main attractions on both the North and South Island.

4.) South Africa – If you fancy a holiday filled with beaches, huge open spaces, mountains and of course, game parks, a fly-drive holiday to South Africa might be just the get away to book this January. Visit some of South Africa’s highlights including Victoria Falls, Swaziland, Kruger Park Cape Town and Garden Route at your own pace. Add to this the fantastic weather and extensive road network and you have an out-of-the-ordinary fly drive destination perfect for the avid traveler.

5.) Malaysia – If you are looking for a more culturally-diverse break, then the architectural history, heritage and lifestyle of Malaysia could be just what you are after. The energetic capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the stunning east coast are definitely worth a visit; and with modern highways, English road signs and driving on the left you’ll soon be familiar with your surroundings. There are good links to key destinations and by making your own way round you are much more likely to stumble upon sites that most tourists never see.

For more information on travelling abroad and great value car rental, car hire comparison or for more information on car hire destinations or airport car hire, visit www.carhiremarket.com.

Spain is cheapest place to holiday in Europe

 Holiday prices to Spain have dropped by up to 40 per cent at some resorts in Spain, research has revealed.

In the last five years the price of holidaying in Spain has dropped dramatically. A range of standard get-away items, such as sun cream and drinks, totalled less than £38 on Spain’s Costa del Sol.

Making Spain the second cheapest destination in a survey by Post Office Travel Money.

Another major factor was the rising value of the pound, up 6.4 per cent against the euro in the last three months.

If you want to get a bit further away, you can see even more value for money in Sri Lanka – where the same items cost just £28 – making it the best value for money place to holiday. However getting there is obviously rather more expensive.

The survey also showed the more expensive places to holiday, with the eight standard items costing £113 in Barbados and £115.69 in Brisbane (the most expensive destination).

The eight items in survey included; a cup of coffee, a local beer, a can of Coca-Cola, a bottle of sun cream, a bottle of water, insect repellent, a pack of cigarettes and a three course meal for two adults with a bottle of house wine.

Other value destinations included: Prague, Bulgaria, Cancun and Budapest.

In comparison more expensive destinations included Singapore, Auckland and Costa Rica.

Post Office Travel Money head Sarah Munro said: ‘The message that came out clearly from our holiday budgeting research was that 2012 will be all about affordability.

‘Holidays may still be a priority but they are not a necessity and people will not knowingly get into debt to fund them.

She added: ‘The winning destinations will be those that offer good value, not just for flights and accommodation, but for tourist staples like meals out and drinks.’

Top winter destination 2012: Mayrhofen

Mayrhofen in Austria makes a wonderful choice for your 2012 ski holiday as it has a perfect balance of traditional Austrian buildings and cuisine.

But venture out at night and you’ll find the liveliest après ski scene in the region, with an abundance of bars and clubs for you to enjoy yourself after a long day on the slopes.

If however, you are wishing to avoid the après ski hype, this versatile place is still perfect for you as the bars are present but not dominating and if a nice meal and a bottle of wine is more your thing this Tyrolean town is more than happy to oblige with the abundance of fine eateries in the town.

There are three main ski areas for you to explore including the Hintertux glacier which guarantees somewhere to ski all year round.

There are plenty of pistes perfect for beginners but also enough to satisfy the intermediates and for the experts among you what a treat; if you think you can handle it you can test your skills on the famous Harikri run which at a 78% gradient is the steepest piste in Austria and translates as ‘suicide’ in Japanese!

Mayrhofen has been the first choice for skiers and boarders for years due to the endless pistes, Austrian charm and in some bars in the high street you can buy a pint for €2 but there is also plenty to do for non-skiers as well. Think horse drawn sleigh rides, tobogganing, ice skating and there are plenty spa facilities, for those who fancy a bit of pampering.

No matter what your age, the charming Austrian resort of Mayrhofen has something offer for everyone and will make the perfect choice for your 2012 ski holiday.

Article by Lauren Probert

Pound continues to fall against the Euro

Thousands of families will be abandoning their European holiday this summer, as the ailing pound continues to fall against the euro.
The two week summer holiday to Europe is as popular with Brits as fish and chips, but millions of tourists will be put of this year as value for money on these holidays shrinks.
More expensive than a year ago, cash strapped Brits are struggling to afford their usually yearly holiday, over the past four years the pound has fallen more than 20 per cent against the euro.
Popular destinations such as France, Italy and Spain will see a large decrease in tourists as the weak pound pushes up the cost to European destinations.

Figures reported by the Post Office have shown that a typical family holiday to Italy has gone up by some 80 per cent in just four years.

In 2007 Brit’s were able to get approximately 1.3-1.4 euro’s to the pound, but today the figure is hovering just above one euro.
The extra holiday expenses come as well as furl surcharges, the increasing price of package holidays and budget airline tickets.
ING Direct’s Richard Doe said: ‘It’s clear that a tough economic climate is causing consumers to pull-off a very difficult balancing act – cutting down on debt while dealing with rising prices – so it’s not surprising that the summer holiday is often being sacrificed.’

Summer school holidays could be cut to just four weeks

Michael Grove, Education Secretary, has this week called for drastic changes to the current school holiday system. The changes would see families given just a four week summer break to take a holiday.

Mr Groves reforms could lead to British children havign the shortest summer holiday in Europe. Traditionally state-educated children have had a six-week break between July and September.

The changes would include changing from three to six terms per year, with schools possibly lengthening their hours. Those serving large numbers of working parents could stay open for 51 weeks a year, closing only over Christmas.

Compared with school’s across Europe, British children already have one of the shortest holidays. In America they get between 10-12 weeks, in Greece and Italy it’s 12 weeks, in Austria and France it’s 9 weeks. Only Germany has a 6 week holiday the same as he UK.

Powers granted by Mr Gove to free schools and academies last year saw them take control of their own pay, conditions and term dates, and would allow them to change the traditional school timetable.

In a speech to the Policy Exchange think-tank in London, Mr Gove highlighted the Norwich Free School, where ‘the school premises will be open for six days each week, 51 weeks of the year’ from September. It will close only for bank holidays and the week of Christmas, and adopt a six-term structure with a four-week summer break.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, hit out at Mr Gove’s latest plans. ‘For schools to be open six days a week, 51 weeks of the year, is not what we need,’ she said.

‘Children and young people are after all entitled to a family life.

‘It is also essential that they have time to relax and recharge their batteries after a long and often intensive week at school.

‘This idea, although not new, is ridiculous.’

Brits most clueless about tipping abroad

A survey of over 5,500 Europeans has revealed Britons are Europe’s most clueless travellers when it comes to tipping customs. Britons are least likely to know tipping procedures and most likely to find themselves in a tipping confrontation.

The research showed that 60% of Britons do not know what they’re expected to tip in foreign countries, compared to the European average of 45%. A further 16% have been confronted on holiday after not tipping, compared to just 11% of Europeans.

“In the UK tipping is relatively straightforward but that seems to have resulted in some British travellers taking other country’s tipping rules for granted. In some countries, such as the USA, staff often rely on their tips to make a living and in certain situations in Japan tipping can be considered rude,” commented Emma O’Boyle, TripAdvisor spokesperson.

The British resistance to tipping is so strong that nearly one quarter (22%) say American tipping culture puts them off holidaying in the USA, compared to just 11% of Europeans.

Despite admitting to poor preparedness and commonly causing tipping conflict, 45% of Brits claims they always tip when on holiday, compared to the European average of just 35%. In addition, 8% of Britons claim to have had a holiday “ruined” by a tipping situation.

The survey revealed a number of other interesting results:

– Almost half (45%) of all European respondents admit they are now tipping less or not at all because of the current economic squeeze. One-third (35%) of British travellers are tipping less due to the economic situation. The situation is most severe for Spanish travellers – 65% claim to have changed their tipping because of the financial crisis.

– When asked whether tips should be abolished altogether and service automatically added to the bill, 58% of Britons and 52% of Europeans do not believe tips should be added to the bill

“Just as you should check local customs and rules before visiting any country, you should also research their tipping rules to avoid unnecessary confrontation or embarrassment,” concluded TripAdvisor’s Emma O’Boyle.

Eurostar ups its game

Eurostar has revealed it will be changing its branding and introducing new service enhancements for its customers, with Eurostar wishing to reflect its plans and ambitions for the business in the future.

Over the last few years Eurostar has seen a big increase in the number of passengers choosing to connect through Lille, Brussels and Paris Gare du Nord to other destinations. This has been driven by shorter journey times and the growing desire among customers to travel in an environmentally responsible, sustainable way.

Whereas in the past Eurostar was an unincorporated partnership of three railways its business was transformed last year into one single corporate entity. Eurostar is no longer just operating in three markets – UK, France and Belgium – and its ambition is to broaden its reach and encourage customers to ditch the plane and travel further into Europe by high speed rail. Eurostar is looking to expand its horizons to the South of France, Germany and the Netherlands. To mark the start of this new chapter and signal the change within the business Eurostar has developed a new identity.

The new branding will be rolled out gradually over the coming weeks and months. The first changes will take place on the Eurostar website and on travel tickets, with it then moving on to logos within stations and on trains.

Over the coming months Business Premier customers will see a number of enhancements to the Eurostar service based on business customers’ feedback. These include guaranteed boarding, menus from Alain Roux and an onboard taxi booking service.

Eurostar leisure customers will also see a number of improvements. Eurostar staff have expert knowledge about the destinations and want to use that expertise to enhance the overall experience for the customers. To ensure that leisure customers get the most out of their trip, Eurostar is forging partnerships across cities which ensure that its travellers get the most out of their leisure time at no extra cost – be it art, music, sport, gastronomy or shopping.

The Eurostar Plus initiative, for example, gives customers ‘two for the price of one’ entry to the leading galleries and museums in London, Paris and Brussels and has recently struck a deal with Jamie Oliver whereby customers travelling from the continent can get a 15% discount at his ’15’ restaurant in London.

Eurostar will also be upgrading its fleet and purchasing 10 new trainsets which complement its existing fleet.


Canary Islands see sharp rise in popularity

Leading online travel agent ‘On the Beach’ has revealed that holidays to the Canary Islands are becoming increasingly popular with their customers. They have seen a significant rise in visits to Fuerteventura, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria in 2011. Alistair Daly, Marketing Director of On the Beach, comments: “In the past few months we have seen a surge in visits to these islands — we believe this was prompted by the poor winter weather as many of our customers were compelled to escape on last minute trips to get some warmth. Of course there is no denying the popularity of this great group of island destinations.”

These conclusions were given further weight by figures from the Airports Council International (ACI), the worldwide association of airports. They found that February saw a massive 34% increase in traffic to Fuerteventura. Tenerife and Lanzarote also experienced significant boosts with 13% and 11% rises respectively. The ACI placed these numbers in a generally positive context for travel as they found that international traffic grew by 4.5% in February.

According to Daly, holidays to the Canary Islands have continued to be popular in 2011. He states: “ACI’s numbers show that February was a great month, however, we have seen this surge all throughout 2011 and we expect it to continue. The Canary Islands are excellent for seaside relaxation, yet they also offer fun hiking and amazing cultural activities like Carnival — this combination makes it the perfect spot for couples and people on family holidays”.

Daly believes 2011 should see the Canary Islands rank amongst the most popular destinations for British travellers. He concludes: “We are excited by the numbers from ACI — 34% growth in visitors to Fuerteventura is very significant and we believe that the Canary Island may well be among the most popular destinations for British travellers this year.”

Cross-Europe Rent-A-Car Trips: How Should You Plan It?

It’s everyone’s travel dream – driving through Europe’s most scenic and historical countryside. For years the cost has deterred even the most affluent traveller from venturing towards the rental booth, asking for a high-end sedan, and venturing down the highway. But given the rock-bottom prices on offer from many of Europe’s top car rental agencies, is the dream holiday really an impossibility?

Two week vehicle rentals are available throughout the UK for approximately £500 – a cost that is similar to that found in other European countries. While taxes and other expenses can vary, what’s largely thought of as an unattainable expense is really quite financially possible. By using the right combination of savvy bargaining and booking tactics, cars can be hired monthly for under £700.

The first ‘law’ of car rentals is to book using an online comparison service, preferably one that is based within your country of choice. Local companies tend to be affiliated with rental providers within the country, ensuring that you have access to low-cost rentals. Experts tend to recommend independent providers over chains, largely due to their competitive pricing and superior service.

Insurance can be a tricky issue for renters, particularly when multiple countries are involved. It’s best to speak with your insurance provider in advance to ensure that your possessions and rented items will be insured in advance, leaving you free of worry if your rental agreement isn’t ideal. A detailed check of any rental insurance policies is also essential, as many are one-sided and unfair.

With a pristine road network and one of the most stress-free international rental systems, touring through the European Union needn’t be a headache. Although fuel prices have resulted in a large drop in the number of independent travellers touring Europe by road, it remains one of the most interesting and fulfilling ways of seeing the continent’s best cultural sites and historic areas.

Blade Runner Berlin: Night-time Sights in Germany’s Best City

There’s no doubt that Berlin is one of Europe’s top cultural destinations. Alongside an immense collection of classical relics, the megacity is home to some of the world’s most interesting and immaculately preserved Cold War reminders. From the small remnants of the wall to the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate, there’s little about Berlin that isn’t steeped in historical significance.

But there’s another side to Berlin – the Blade Runner, night-time intensity side. Underneath the city’s undeniable charm and beautiful scenery is a beating heart that’s rivalled by few places in Europe, particularly other major cities within Germany. We’ve surveyed Berlin’s best nightspots, finding the best places for a quick (or slow) drink and a pre-sleep midnight meal.

The city’s best bars are located around the Prenzlauer Berg district – a large entertainment and shopping area that becomes packed with locals and tourists alike from ten onwards. Most of the city’s early nightspots are built around the classic German beer bar template, drawing in visitors from across Europe and local workers from the inner city and its surrounding suburbs.

Interested in going clubbing? Berlin has one of Europe’s best club scenes, boasting a selection of late-night party districts that are rivalled by few other global cities. Take a cab to Mitte and browse the selection of nightclubs and late-night bars, most of which stay open until the early morning. A standard evening in Berlin kicks off around midnight, with parties lasting until the early morning.

Uninterested in music, beer, or cocktails? Take to the city’s streets and capture some of the amazing night-time environments. As one of Europe’s architectural centres, Berlin is a stellar city during the day and even more exotic at night. Budding photographers should check out the city’s ageing train network – one of the most eerie and photographable locales in Europe.