As the new year starts in earnest and memories of Christmas fade, it is time to look to brighter, sunnier times ahead and share all the travel trends, tips and tidbits to help curb the worst of that winter gloom.
1. According to flight booking site Skyscanner, Agadir in Morocco is likely to feature very highly on many Irish traveller’s plans for 2019 which has seen it take the top spot on the site’s list of hot spots for 2019. Greek destinations also ranked highly in Skyscanner’s list with Paphos in second and Mykonos in eighth position. The Croatian city of Split was third on its list and is likely to be even more accessible than ever this year with Ryanair starting new direct flights from Dublin to compete with Aer Lingus.
2. TrekSoft – a company which manages booking engines for tour operators – has analysed all the data it has to hand to declare that the three biggest trends this year will be unique experiences, ecological ones and immersive ones. It is anticipating a surge in bookings from travellers – most notably millennials – who fancy doing once-in-a-lifetime things and then posting the pictures on Instagram. Ecological tours are also in demand as are immersive holidays which see travellers embed themselves in the local culture so they can do what the locals do and eat where locals eat.
3. Adventure tour operator G-Tours has also mined its data and married it with customer insights to forecast the 10 hottest spots for those with an adventurous spirit this year. Among the countries it has highlighted is Uzbekistan which relaxed its visa entry requirements last year by introducing an e-visa for 51 countries including Ireland. West Africa is recovering from a lapse in tourism following the Ebola breakout of 2014 with Senegal in particular looking to stimulate tourism with a new airport near Dakar opening up. It also points to Jordan, Iceland, Ethiopia and Patagonia.
4. If you’re looking at fantasy hotel stays, Condé Nast Traveller has you covered. It recently published a list of 78 of the best hotels in the world. Only one Irish hotel made the grade. Ballyfin Demesne was said to have unbeatable “unabashed gilt-framed grandeur”. The magazine quoted a room rate of about €550 a night, although the cheapest weekend rate we could find was closer to €800.
By comparison, the Kensington in London, described as “one of the loveliest places to stay in the capital”, seemed reasonable with a listed overnight price of €285. Soho House in Barcelona is “pocket-sized and seductive [and] already buzzing and as fun as a packet of sparklers” and better value with a nightly rate of €240. Big spenders should look at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, said to be France’s “best-loved palace hotel although you’ll need a budget of around £1,400 a night.
Further afield, we loved the look of the Umaid Bhawan Palace in the Indian city of Jodhpur which Condé Nast tells us is the “largest, most magnificent, most dramatic, most otherworldly palace in the land”. The price of a double room is around €300.
5. Ahead of making your holiday plans either at home or abroad, it may be worth recalling a survey from last summer which found that Irish people are woeful at keeping an eye on the price when it comes to overseas travel and the financial headache we bring home can last a whole lot longer than our suntans. According to the people at switcher.ie, we have a real lack of understanding about the fees that can be attached for using plastic. Most people either don’t know or aren’t sure of the charges for the likes of ATM withdrawals with a debit or credit card or using them in shops or restaurants. Do bear in mind that if you are in a non-euro zone country, you’ll be charged a percentage of the transaction value each time and may have to pay foreign exchange fees too.
6. Turkey was back on the menu in a big way last year thanks to a slump in the value of the lira and while prices have climbed, there is still good value to be found there in 2019 with rooms in decent four-star resort hotels available for not much more than €30 a night and the cost of food and wine at bargain basement prices for euro-carrying tourists. Turkey does need a decent bounce after losing a huge amount of business to Greece and Spain in the wake of terror attacks and a coup attempt in 2016 which sent holidaymakers packing.
7. Don’t let Dublin Airport stress you out too much this year. Beat the queues at security with a fast track pass. For as little as €6.50, it will get you passed the worst of the security queues through the channel reserved for those flying first and business class. Even at quiet times, it can shave 20 minutes off your waiting time and when it’s busy the time saved can be a lot more.
8. Checking in bags can easily add €70 per person to the price of a return flight to Spain at the height of summer – that is nearly €300 for a family of four. Not only that but it wastes time, and waiting for bags at the other side can see you fall well behind in the taxi or car hire queue. Only ever bring carry-on luggage by being ruthless with your packing. Lay everything you want to bring out on your bed. Pack half of it. Rolling things rather than folding them saves space and pack fewer shoes. Be ruthless. Always ruthless.
9. Paris, London, Rome and Amsterdam are beautiful cities with lots to see and do but they are not cheap and can be kind of mental at the height of the tourist season. Kraków, Lisbon and Athens – to name just three easily accessible European cities – on the other hand are cheaper and more relaxed. Poland’s second city is its first when it comes to beauty and it is full of ancient squares and rambling markets. It is also close to Auschwitz – surely one of the most important sites in Europe. A decent hotel is €45 a night while a meal for two costs less than €40. Ryanair flies from Dublin to Kraków with return flights in May available for not much more than €200. Lisbon is always among the cheapest capital cities in the EU and one of the easiest for Irish people to get to. And Athens is among the cheapest cities in Europe with a meal for two, with a whole lot of wine, costing little more than €40, with an apartment within walking distance of the main tourist attractions on Airbnb going for about €30 a night.
10. If you are looking for a cheap long-haul holiday, we recommend Sri Lanka. Five days in a suite in a very good beach resort is less than €100 while a four-course meal in a decent restaurant with beer is not much more than €20 per person. Return flights via Dubai with Emirates were available towards the end of last year travelling towards the end of May for less than €800, so two people could travel somewhere wonderfully exotic and live like royalty for a week and still have change out of a couple of grand which sounds grand to us.
11. Flying long haul and looking for an upgrade? Well, the bad news is the odds are not on your side. But if you want to improve them, here are just a few top tips. If your flight is overbooked, the airline will first look to upgrade frequent fliers; if the computer tells them you fly with them a lot and spend a lot of money doing it, then you’re in with a shout. How much you pay for your ticket also matters with those who book at the highest prices most likely to get the nod. Solo fliers are next in line to get lucky – an airline might bump up one person, they’re not going to upgrade your whole family. And you stand a better chance if you are relatively smartly dressed and not wearing torn shorts and flip-flops.
12. Looking for a cheap, if perhaps slightly suspect fare? Check out the secret flying deals website secretflying.com. It has a great “error fares” section, which points out mispriced fares with airlines all over the world. We have heard neither good nor bad stories about the site but if you are an adventurous soul and looking to get somewhere lovely for a song it might be worth a punt . . . but please don’t come to us if everything goes pear-shaped.
13. There are all manner of safer specialised search engines which can help travellers find the cheapest seats. The biggest player is Google, and its flight search facility allows people to select a destination and a date and work out which airline will get them there for less. Other options worth exploring are Skyscanner and Momondo. If you don’t care where or when you go, you can use the “anywhere” and “any time” options on these sites to get the really cheap flights. The randomness of it is appealing, if nothing else.
14. If you hate airports and want to make the experience of travelling better, then LoungeBuddy might be your best buddy. The app is crammed with information about airport lounges across the world and also has a booking facility to allow you check into such a place while on the move. As most airport lounges offer free refreshments, free wifi and take you away from airport shops, investing a little in a lounge pass might actually save you a few bob.
15. Another thing which will definitely save you money while you are on your holidays this year is public transport. Not only is it much cheaper than taxies, it is also a sure way to make you feel like you have conquered your holiday destination and are living like a local which is, as we know, very on-trend this year. Working out how public transport in a foreign land worked used to be a challenge but thanks to Wikivoyage it is easy peasy. The site can tell you everything you need to know about the transport options in whatever city you are in. It will save you money and enhance your experience.
16. They have become overly familiar which is why most of us now ignore the deal sites – such as Living Social and Groupon – when we are at home. But if you are canny, they can offer real value when you are on your holidays . Sign up to whatever ones are operating in your destination – Google will point you in their direction – months ahead of your departure date and keep an eye out for discounted activities and restaurant deals that take your fancy. Only sign up to the big multinational players to reduce your chances of getting ripped off. Using Google Translate means you won’t even need the local lingo.
17. Always remember that if you decide to start your holiday on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you always pay more. On the other hand, if you fly from a Monday to a Monday, you might see prices tumble by as much as 40 per cent.
18. If you are flying out of Dublin Airport, always pay for your parking online and in advance. It will save you as much as 40 per cent on the cost of parking. Also ask if there are options to driving to the airport. If you have packed light and are not flying out at ridiculous-o-clock in the morning, you might be better off taking public transport to the airport.
19. Travel insurance is always good value for money even if you are just going on a mini-break, and an annual multi-trip travel insurance policy for an adult can be bought for less than €50 while a family of four can take out a year-long policy for not much more than €100. Do remember to take it out as soon as you book a trip and not just before you leave. As many as two-thirds of all claims made by Irish travellers are as a result of changing family circumstances or a bereavement. And you have no idea when such things will happen. And, remember, when you are shopping around for your policy to pay attention to the small print. Download a PDF version or copy the text into Microsoft Word and search for “not covered”, “excluded” and “exclusions” to get a sense of what you can expect when making a claim.
20. Take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you. When travelling in Europe, you get access to the public health services at no cost and, as most of the countries in the EU have a better public health system than we do, you should never worry about using it. Remember, the card needs to be renewed every five years. And don’t ever pay for the card. Some sites will try charging for the service, but it is free through the official site which can be found at ehic.ie
21. Check your passport and all those of whom may be travelling with you today. There is little worse than discovering it is or is about to expire days before you are due to fly off on your holidays. And take advantage of the online passport application service if you need to renew your passport. It is cheaper, easier and much, much faster than the old school postal route. And last November the online application process was opened up to minors too.
22. Matera in Italy and Plovdiv in Bulgaria will both be wearing the European Capital of Culture crown this year. Matera, in the Basilicata region of south Italy, is carved into a splendidly resolute rock face and is home to Sassi, a complex of prehistoric cave dwellings set beneath the mountainside. It is also where the Casa Grotta di Vico Soliatario museum can be found. The weather there is lovely too. As is the food.
Plovdiv, in southern Bulgaria, is an ancient city you may not have heard of. We certainly had not. But it sounds lovely and is built around seven hills, with a theatre and stadium dating back to Roman times. We are told the wine is very cheap there too.
23. Japan is going to be big this year and next. And there’s a lot to love about the place with its beautiful landscapes, amazing architecture, breathtaking cities and a public transport system that we in Ireland could scarcely even dream of. There is no country on earth that better fuses the modern and the historic and East and West. It might also be home to Ireland’s Rugby World Cup triumph – no counting chickens though – while Tokyo is also hosting the 2020 Olympics. If you do make it there try to get to Okinawa, a remote southern island rich with marine wildlife (look out for manta rays) where travellers can ride in glass-bottomed boats, learn karate and take cooking lessons. Sure where else would you get it?
24. If some news reports were to be believed, the Middle East would be a complete no-go area. But it isn’t, which is why tourist numbers to the region have been climbing in recent years with countries such as Jordan and Oman leading the way. Jordan, in particular, is worth considering for the more adventurous out there both for the archaeological site of ancient Petra, which dates back to around 300 BC and its ready access to the Dead Sea. Flights via London or Amsterdam are readily available for about €500. The weather there is lovely too.
25. Places fall in and out of fashion, with over-tourism most frequently touted as the cause for over-crowding at top spots such as Iceland’s Blue Lagoon or Dubrovnik’s walled city. If you would like to check out new places while avoiding crowds, you could visit Tbilisi in Georgia for a spectacular Old Town, plus Persian and Soviet architecture reminiscent of the country’s complicated past. The Irish soccer team will be making a visit there this year too so if you want to cheer on the boys in green, you could link the two. Riga, in Latvia, is also home to its own Blue Lagoon, while Sintra nestled in Portugal’s Sintra Mountains is a forested terrain studded with pastel-coloured villas and palaces and a nice alternative to bustling, buzzy Lisbon.
26. Just before Christmas, Emirates Ireland published details of a travel survey which revealed that Graham Norton was the celebrity most of its passengers would like to sit beside on a long-haul flight followed by Holly Willoughby and Stephen Fry. We are not entirely sure what we can do with that information, but there it is.
27. More depressingly, the same survey found that 45 per cent of holidaymakers said they had been contacted by work while on their holidays although an impressive 69 per cent said they managed to totally switch off when on leave with 30 per cent saying they could not resist checking their work emails on holiday.
28. The people at booking.com cobbled together the big trends for next year; they are not alone and virtually every travel agent and online tour operator has done the same. But booking.com is a big player so we thought we’d pay attention to what it had to say. First, it suggests this is the year of “bite-sized travel”. With more routes to choose from and more cheap flights and accommodation available via the sharing economy, micro trips are set to become more popular and random. The booking engine also says 2019 will be the year of the Conscious Traveller with human rights and equality and better working conditions for locals as well as environmental issues influencing where people go on their holidays.
29. This year also might mark the moment when artificial intelligence, virtual reality and speech recognition make their mark with hotel rooms accessed with your phone, real-time luggage tracking and personalised travel tips based on where you are at any given moment. And if you think that is terrifying, just wait until you meet your robot concierge, although that may be a top trend for 2020.
30. Finally, booking.com suggests that experiences which try to ease the burden of adulthood will be big with hotels and resorts adding more childlike and playful touches such as ball pits and bouncy castles for adults. And yes, we agree, that does sound ridiculous.