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#DestinationUnknown – Independent short-haul travel – getting started.

#DestinationUnknown – Independent short-haul travel – getting started.

It’s surprising, in the age of the budget airline, how many people find the prospect of independent travel a slightly scary undertaking, overwhelming even. The seasoned traveller may not benefit a great deal from much of my advice, but many people still travel under the comfort blanket of prearranged packages and it is they whom I hope to inspire. Package holidays aren’t a bad thing and can often be almost as cheap as a decent flight to long-haul destinations, Thailand from the UK is a good example of this, but if you’d like to get out there and explore more with some shorter breaks then hopefully you might find this useful.
I’m not an industry travel “expert” but I do have plenty of experience, I’ve visited in excess of thirty countries predominantly as an independent traveller, and I have made plenty of mistakes along the way. This isn’t going to be one of those silly “Tourist v Traveller” things either. We are all, by definition, tourists.
With this series of blogs I’m going to attempt to dispel a few myths and, hopefully, open up a little world of opportunities for you to go and explore.
Over the next few weeks and months I will be writing about how to get started, how to avoid a few of the common pitfalls, and hopefully encourage at least a few of you to take that step into the unknown. Once you’ve made that first step you may be surprised at how empowered it can make you feel and the freedom that it brings.

Planning and doing.
Firstly scan the budget airlines for availability well in advance of when you want to travel. Ryanair and easyJet are the obvious ones but there are plenty of others out there too. Have a look.
Budget Airlines are not the demons that the popular media have lead you to believe, yes they are cheap and cheerful, but they are also efficient.
Ideally, in order to maximise your available time, you want to be flying from your nearest airport; a three hour drive to begin with is going to erode in to your trip at both ends.
Unless you have somewhere specific that you’d like to visit then the destination is unimportant; find flights that fit into your available time slot and just book them. Don’t hesitate if you see a good deal, book it there and then, because if you don’t then someone else will and as availability reduces the price increases. It doesn’t matter where you are going, but that you are going. Spain, France, Poland, Latvia, or Timbuktu; the world is a beautiful place full of beautiful people. In the words of Peter Kaye – “Booked it, packed it, f***ed off!”
In an ideal world you will get a morning flight to your destination and an evening flight home giving you half a day or so extra at either end.
The one thing to be aware of is the transit time from the destination airport. The budget airlines often fly to the cheaper provincial airports and it can be misleading. Barcelona can take upwards of three hours, Oslo an hour and a half. Malaga in southern Spain is an excellent choice with a short 15-20 minute bus journey into the city centre. Malaga is also served with excellent transport links, rail and road, and makes for a great hub.
Once you have a destination secured it is time to start researching things to do. 
Buy a guidebook and/or peruse the travel forums for hint’s, tips, and advice on your destination. The Thorn Tree Forum at Lonely Planet is a good starting point.
A guide book is always worth the investment.
Budget Airlines: Stick to the rules!
I often hear people complaining about the airlines and it’s always because they didn’t stick to the rules.
If you want to enjoy the benefits of a £50 return flight then you will need accept that anything other than complete self-sufficiency is going to incur a charge. Get used to it and don’t waste your breath and energy complaining about it.
Make sure that you have completed the online check-in and printed your boarding passes. If the airline has to print you a boarding pass they will often charge you for it. For short trips you can usually check-in online, at home, for both your outgoing and return flights. Some of the airlines now offer digital boarding passes sent directly to your smart phone.
If your carry-on luggage is too large or too heavy you will get charged. Baggage sizes for carry-on are fairly similar across the airlines but the weight allowance can vary. It is usually between 7kg and 10kg depending on who you fly with. Check.
If you need more than 7kgs then you are carrying way too much stuff. Pack what you need not what you think you might need. Don’t pack for your fears. I have yet to find a destination where I couldn’t buy anything extra that I needed, you can always pass it on to a fellow traveller at the end of your trip. If it’s going to be hot you won’t really need an overcoat.
If you’re on a flight longer than a couple of hours it is wise to pack something to eat, bring it from home rather than purchasing in the airport or on the plane, doing this will save you enough money to buy a couple of beers when you arrive 🙂
Despite what you may have read in the newspapers you will not be charged to use the toilet.
You will love walking through the baggage hall with your little carry-on bag past all of the holiday makers waiting for suitcases, 

The Bullet Points

  • Book early, the earlier the better.
  • Check-in online and print the boarding passes, or use the mobile app. 
  • Don’t pack for your fears. Have the correct size/weight luggage.
  • On many flights laptops, guide books, and coats, can be carried on separately.
  • Pack a snack.

In the next post I will looking at Airport transfers and booking your budget accommodation.
After that I will look at pack  (carry-on luggage) and packing solutions along with some essential items that should always be in the bag (and some that shouldn’t!).

You can read Part 2 here
And Part 3 here

Pocket maps and mini City Guides are particularly useful.

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Consume less, live more. Plant more trees.

About The Author

Neil Cottam

Neil is the founder of Chase The Rainbow. He has spent a lifetime exploring the outdoors, from a childhood climbing trees and scrambling his bike around old pit heads to hiking in the Himalaya and backpacking around Europe and Asia.

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