10 things to do before you go on holiday

2 May 2013

Before you head of for some summer sun this year, make sure you plan your holiday finances first.

1. Sort out your travel insurance

Ideally, you should buy insurance the moment you book your holiday as it'll pay out if your travel firm goes bust before you go, or you have to cancel your trip if you fall ill. Travel insurance is remarkably cheap, especially when you consider it covers you for expensive medical treatment overseas and getting you home in an emergency as well as lost or stolen belongings.

A by comparison website moneysupermarket.com found that a family of four spending two weeks in Spain could buy cover from just £9.99 with OUL Direct's Silver policy, which comes with up to £10 million of medical cover, £500 for baggage loss and £750 for cancellation.

The excess - the first part of any claim that you pay - ranges from £250 to £200. Alternatively, InsureandGo's Single Trip Light Basic policy charges £11.37 but its cover limits are slightly higher and the excess is lower at £100.

If you're planning on taking more than one holiday this year, an annual policy often works out cheaper than buying cover for each trip. And couples and families can save by buying a combined policy.

For those planning to take part in adventurous sports, such as scuba diving or paragliding, make sure your policy covers them or see if you can add it on. And don't forget to take the insurer's contact details with you - just in case.

The dos and don'ts when taking out travel insurance

2. Passports, VISAs and vaccinations

Check your passport. Most countries want you to have at least six months before it expires. And if you're planning your honeymoon, don't forget the name on your ticket must match the name in your passport.

Sort out your visa if you need one. It can take several days - or even weeks - for the embassy to issue one, so don't leave it to the last minute.

Also check if you need vaccinations and arrange them with your doctor a few weeks beforehand as they can take a while to take effect.

3. Get your papers in order

If you can, try to check in for flights online and print out your boarding pass before going to the airport. Budget airlines, and even some larger operators, now charge if you don't have one with you.

Take all your travel documents with you - tickets, car hire, hotel and insurance policy - including any emergency telephone numbers in case anything goes wrong. And if you'll be driving abroad, don't forget both parts of your driving licence - the photocard and paper counterpart. You can always take copies and leave them with family as a back-up.

4. Get an EHIC

If you're travelling to Europe, it's a good idea to apply for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) - which has replaced the old E111.

It entitles you to the state healthcare available in your holiday destination either for free or cheaper than private treatment. It is valid in all European Economic Area countries, including Switzerland.

It's not a replacement for travel insurance but your insurer may waive the excess if you have one and make a medical claim, while others could turn down a claim if you don't have one. It's free and valid for five years. Apply online at ehic.org.uk.

5. Travelling to the airport

You can make savings on getting to the airport by booking train or coach tickets in advance online. Also by using the local service, which stops along the way, rather than the airport express service you can often halve the cost.

You can also save on airport parking by doing a little homework before you jet off. Apart from onsite, long-stay car parks, there are lots of firms that will take your car and park it offsite. Find one near you at parking4less.co.uk or purpleparking.com.

Hotels near airports may also let you leave your car there if you book in for a night before you fly. Alternatively, some people living near airports rent out their driveway to travellers. Check out parkatmyplace.biz and parkatmyhouse.com.

6. Holiday money

These days, credit cards are accepted virtually everywhere unless you're going totally off the beaten track. Even so, it's good to have some local currency with you before you go.

Don't leave it to the last minute, though. Research shows exchanging money at the airport, ferry terminal or train station means you'll get the worst rate. Since nearly everyone offers commission-free foreign exchange, it's the rate that counts. You can compare rates at mytravelmoney.co.uk.

You can take money out when you're on holiday with your debit card but you'll usually be charged a fee ranging from 1.5 to 3% of the amount withdrawn, with a minimum charge of around £2.50.

Don't forget most debit and credit cards add on a foreign handling charge of typically 2.75%. Some credit cards, such as those from Saga and the Post Office, waive this fee. And just like you do at home, avoid taking out cash with your credit card as you'll be charged interest from the date you make the withdrawal - even if you pay off your bill in full by the due date.

Prepaid cards that you load up with spending money in the local currency beforehand are good for those who want to keep to a strict budget but do check out the fees for using them first. The Caxtonfx Global Traveller and Virgin Prepaid Travel Money Card Dollar cards have no monthly fees or set-up costs.

7. Avoid nasty shocks on your mobile phone bill

Making and receiving calls and texts, checking emails and websites and downloading data from the internet will all cost far more abroad.

Even though the EU has brought in caps on call and text charges, they can still add up. Since last summer, the cap for making a call is 29 cents a minute, receiving one is 8 cents a minute and sending a text is 9 cents. It's free to receive a text, but this only applies in the EU.

Meanwhile, listening to your voicemail counts as making a call - some operators will charge you even if you don't pick it up. But you can ask your provider to switch it off while you're abroad and you can also turn off data roaming by altering your phone's settings.

If you want to keep it on, however, it's often cheaper to buy an international roaming package for while you're away. For instance, pay monthly customers can get the O2 Travel bolt-on, which costs you £1.99 each day you use data in Europe and gives you a data allowance of 15MB.

There's a connection charge of 50p when you make or receive calls (including voicemail) between countries in Europe, then it's free to talk for up to 60 minutes.

Alternatively, you can buy an international calling card that will have a set number of minutes or an international SIM card to put in your phone. These cost around £15 and are preloaded with a fixed number of minutes.

8. Sort out car hire

It's best to book your car online before you set off. If you've already got transport from the airport to your destination covered, look to hire a car locally as it'll be cheaper than a rental from the airport. You can use a broker such as comparecarhire.co.uk to find a hire car rather than going direct to a hire company such as Hertz.

Costs can vary hugely depending on the model you go for and where you're travelling. A week's car hire in France (picking up from Toulouse airport) for a compact Renault Clio is £120.24 on comparison site carrentals.co.uk from eCarz, or £134 for a Peugeot 208 through carhire3000.com.

Don't fall for the sales talk at the pick-up desk. While collision damage waiver is usually part of the contract, there's still a large excess of up to £2,000 to pay if an accident is your fault. And rather than buy car-hire excess insurance from the rental company, take it out from standalone specialists such as protectyourbubble.com and icarhireinsurance.com.

9. Let your bank know you're going away

Tell your bank you'll be away as well as your credit card company. Sudden spending abroad will alert banks' anti-fraud departments, which can stop your debit and credit card if they think your card has fallen into the wrong hands. This isn't failsafe though, so make sure you have back-up cards with you in case one doesn't work for whatever reason.

10. Make your home safe and secure

Lock all your doors and windows before leaving and set the alarm if you have one. Unplug electrical items such as TVs, though you can put a timer on light switches so your home looks occupied while you're away. Cancel deliveries such as newspapers and milk - a tell-tale sign to thieves that you're on holiday.

Don't advertise your absence on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Your home insurer may not pay out if you do and you're burgled.

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