Booking a last-minute holiday can get the blood pumping with the sudden thrill of adventure, but it also makes it easier to overlook things. If you’ve suddenly been overcome by the itchiness of your feet and need to jet away somewhere new, don’t make these simple mistakes that can ruin holidays.
1. Don't forget to buy travel insurance
If you're a UK citizen travelling to an EU country and have a European Health Insurance Card (Ehic) that's still in date or a new UK Global Health Insurance Card (Ghic) for UK citizens, they'll let you access emergency and state healthcare there for free or at a reduced cost.
But the Ghic and, in most cases, the Ehic can no longer be used in this way in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, which aren't part of the EU. Find out what’s changed..
It’s important to make sure you have robust travel insurance with appropriate health cover for trips to the EU – or to any country or territory in the world, for that matter.
Good health insurance should provide ample cover for any emergency medical care you might need to call on while you’re away, including repatriation back to the UK if that’s required.
Without such a policy in place, the direct and associated costs of medical treatment can soon add up. Could you afford to pay thousands of pounds (or more) because of a small oversight like forgetting to buy travel insurance?
It’s not all about medical care, either. If you buy your travel insurance when you book your holiday and then something prevents you from going, such as an illness or a death in the family, you could make a claim for having to cancel.
And if your luggage got lost, stolen or damaged, your hotel cancelled your stay or your possessions were stolen on your trip then you could make a claim too.
2. Buy holiday money before you get to the airport
Get your travel money in advance to lock in the best rate you can. If you get a prepaid travel money card you can top up well in advance, before you’ve even booked a holiday, while the rates are good and lock in the saving.
3. Don't pay on your debit card
Find out from your bank what the rates for withdrawing money abroad are, and how much card transactions will cost in fees. Some credit cards won’t have fees for overseas transactions, while some will be very high – particularly for debit cards.
This is doubly important if you’re travelling to major cities in more cash-free countries like Denmark and Sweden, where some establishments no longer accept cash. The spend can quickly add up beyond your budget if you’re paying a percentage of the spend amount plus a set fee for every card transaction.
Don’t withdraw cash on your credit card, however, as this can be an expensive way to withdraw money.
4. Avoid paying in pounds when abroad
Paying in the local currency when using a card means that your UK bank works out the exchange rate. Paying in pounds means that the local bank does the conversion and is likely to offer a less advantageous exchange rate.
This is often a choice you’re asked to make when you withdraw money at a cashpoint or use a card reader to pay for something.
5. Don't take part in activities not covered on your insurance
It might be tempting to buy a cheap travel insurance policy without really paying the policy document much attention. This can be risky, as cheaper policies might not offer the coverage that you’re after.
If you know that you’re going to be taking part in certain activities – particularly adventure activities – while you’re away, then look at the insurer’s policy document before you buy to check whether the activity is covered.
You might have an activity planned that you'll need to buy an add-on for. Skiing, for example, may not be completely covered on a standard policy but ski cover can get you up to scratch.
There could be caveats attached to your cover, for example you are covered for cycling as long as you don’t ascend above a certain altitude and you always wear a helmet. Make sure to adhere to these requirements to maintain your cover.
Spontaneous activities can be great fun, so take a copy of your policy document with you to check your cover. There are activities that are unlikely to be covered at all – quad-biking is a ready example – because they are simply too dangerous. It’s never wise to jump into a situation like this and think about checking your policy when it’s too late.
6. Don't forget any of your travel documents
It can be really easy to overlook important documents, especially if you’re in a hurry. We’ve got a list of the documents you may need while away and advice on how to back them up online in case you lose anything.
Never forget that if you’re taking prescription drugs overseas you’ll need a prescription as well as a doctor’s note.
Check the destination you’re travelling to for whether you need an International Driving Permit. Some countries allow you to drive using just your UK driver’s licence, while others will require you to have an IDP.
Obviously, if you’re leaving the UK you’ll need your passport. Check that it’s in date for the destination you’re travelling to – countries differ on how much validity they require. It may be enough to cover your stay, it might be six months from the end of your stay.
7. Don't forget about visa requirements
You may need a visa to gain entry into the country you’re visiting. But countries differ on how you get one.
It’s perfectly possible that you can fill out a tourist visa in transit or upon arrival, but don’t count on this. Always make sure you understand the process. For instance, tourists travelling to the USA will have to apply for an ESTA and must do so before departing. It can take up to 72 hours to be given one and in rare circumstances may be denied (however it’s often instant), so don’t leave it to the last minute.
8. Don't bring items unsafe for hand luggage
Whether it’s a bottle of wine or 150ml of your favourite perfume, the temptation to bring commonplace things on short flights to Europe can mean having to sacrifice them at security. Even hastily packing a wash bag can lead to having to bin mouthwash or deodorant at the airport.
The requirements around laptops and tablets when travelling to some countries has changed in the last year, so always check on the FCDO page for current restrictions.
If you do find yourself at security with an item that can’t be taken in hand-luggage, download your airline’s app and see if you can buy hold luggage for a reasonable price. Alternatively, go over to the airline’s check-in desk to see how much it would cost to get your hand luggage placed in the hold.
There will be a time-limit on how close to your flight you can do this, so it’s best to know what you’re going to do well in advance.
9. Don't run out of juice at the critical time
If you’re a tech-savvy person who likes to do things quickly, there’s every chance you’ve got your airline’s app and downloaded the digital version of your boarding pass to scan on your way through security.
Disaster can strike if your phone dies just as you arrive at the airport. It’s always sensible to have a spare, portable battery pack in case of such an emergency. Especially when you’re abroad, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to find somewhere to charge your phone and you may not have the right adapter on you. Having a portable battery can save some of this heartache.