The Travel Agent Kiss of Death

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

Greek Helmet, British Museum, London

This is *not* a rant about travel agents. I’ve mostly always had very positive encounters with these knowlegable and lovely people that help me book trips and hotels. I do like to do my research online and I will often book things myself but if I have a larger combination of things to book, I will drop in to an agency and use their expert services. It’s done me well in the past, too. They have obtained some good hotel deals and can get flight bookings in combinations that the airline and booking sites don’t always present  after a search.

No, the “kiss of death” is me.

Over the past 25 years or so, I can tell you that nearly every travel agent I’ve ever used leaves me one way or another. They change branches, they retire, they just disappear and most recently, the whole agency closed down. I’m telling you, I’m getting paranoid.

Some people tell me they’ve used the same agent for decades. Lucky them! I never have managed to built up a rapport with a travel agent. I have a cousin that was a travel agent but I didn’t dare use her services for fear of her losing her job! I think the most I’ve ever used any individual agent was twice. The third time I went to book something, I hear “Oh they don’t work in this office anymore”. Of course they don’t.

I really don’t think it’s me that drives them away. Most of my bookings are straight forward. I’m not forceful, or pushy and I’m always polite. My credit card has never been declined (yet! knocking on wood just to keep the Travel Gods on my side).

I’ve been using the Flight Centre branch near my office over the last few years even when one of the agents I’ve used has moved on. I came into the shopping area at work one Monday morning a few weeks ago and the whole office was closed and the glass storefront papered up. There was no warning sign that I remembered seeing. I just shook my head, not really very surprised.

There’s still an agency in the shopping area and another one across the street. I’m going to be planning a trip for late this year. Do I dare? In fact, I probably won’t need flights booked because I’m going to be using Aeroplan points for one of the main flights and my best friend’s husband who works for another airline, offered to try to get us tickets on our other flight at a discount. All I need from there is deciding when I will need hotels and possibly a rental car for one or two days. Still, they can find good deals on hotels that may not be available online. That’s happened to me before.

We need a plan first. Then we will have to pick the hardiest looking agent, not one too near retirement age and not one too new. Someone tenatious, someone “hard”, someone with staying power. A Warrior.

The quest continues.

I’m a Tourist

See the people in the yellow caps? That's a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

See the people in the yellow caps? That’s a tour group! Piazza Rotunda (outside the Pantheon). Rome, 2012

“Tourist trap”
“Too many tourists”
“I’m a traveler, not a tourist”
The word “tourist” seems to have a lot of negative connotations. The definition of a tourist is one that travels for pleasure. Where did the negative come from? There’s a long tradition of people traveling from their homes to far off places. Maybe the religious pilgrimages could be considered early tourists. In the glory days of empires such as the Romans, Egyptians and Greeks, it’s likely people went to the major cities and centres to see the sights, perhaps get a glimpse of the ruler. These ancient sites continued to draw visitors all through the centuries. Explorers could be considered tourists, too, even if they didn’t know what they were going to find before they got where they were going.

The word “tourist” was first used in 1772. That’s just about the time that wealthy gentlemen began taking Grand Tours around Europe and some of the sites of the more ancient civilizations. They became tourists. Baedeker published guide books and maps to assist building an itinerary. At first, tourism was mainly something that you did if you had money or if you were poor and wanted to go on a pilgrimage. But soon, there were more means of transportation available which got cheaper and cheaper, chiefly train travel which linked widespread destinations. Organized tours companies sprung up. Local people made money guiding visitors. The industry flourished.

The crowds became thicker. And it seemed people in them started to be less inquisitive, more interested in the status of being able to say “I’ve been to…”. They were rude to the locals, didn’t try to speak even a few words of the local language or observe some of the customs. They complained because things weren’t the same as they were at home, as if they should be. That one always baffles me. Even today you hear people whine. If you want things to be the same as they are at home, stay home. The tourist gained a bad reputation even if it’s the case of a minority ruining the reputation for the whole because let’s face it, there are millions of tourists. They aren’t all rude and they don’t all complain. The crowds can be off putting. The attractions and the souvenirs become tacky, with too much corporate influence. But sometimes, corporate sponsorship is the only thing that helps keep them open. That’s not always a good thing but mostly, it is, especially in the case of historic sites. And “tacky” is often a personal opinion. Others might call it kitchy or fun. Everyone has different tastes.

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

Our tour group from the UK tour 1993

People are becoming proud of bragging that they are a traveler, not a tourist, and they go to places that are less popular, more remote, and “live like the locals” as much as they can. That’s great if it’s what you want to do. If you want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Great Wall of China, or the Pyramids of Giza and elbow your way through the crowds, that’s great, too. There’s always a way to avoid the more crowded times if crowds give you the heebie jeebies. You can still living like the locals and see the famous sites, visit the galleries and museums, shop and enjoy a wonderful meal with local wine. Locals do that, too.

As for me, I’m a tourist. I really enjoy historic sites, museums (especially quirky small ones, but any will do), galleries, cathedrals and other religious buildings (because the art is usually superb). I shop a little, take a huge amount of photos and like to try local beers and wines along with my food. As far as the major class “attractions”, I find a large majority of them are over-hyped, over-expensive and end up a disappointment. “Is that all there is?” I pick and choose, depending on the value that I perceive it to have for me.

The White Tower, Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London

The Tower of London is expensive, but it’s very historic. The Crown Jewels? I’ve seen them but I found the armoury and museum far more interesting. I’ve been to the Eiffel Tower but I haven’t gone up to see the view, which is a bit odd for me because I usually like going up high places like that. I do, however, think it looks amazing now that there’s a sparkly light show at night every hour. The Roman Colosseum was all the better because we booked a tour and heard about the history behind it. That really added to our experience.

It really does come down to personal taste as far as what you would enjoy, what you feel is worth the money and effort. Be polite, be curious, be open minded and be flexible. Go with the flow and be on your toes, too, because another down side to being a tourist is that you might be a target for petty crime, especially in crowds.

Whether you consider yourself a tourist or a traveler, you’ve journeyed away from home to experience new things, different cultures, or just a change of scenery. Whether it’s around the world or a day trip to a nearby location, being a tourist means new memories. That’s never a bad thing.

More views on being a tourist on WordPress’s daily challenge, here.

 

 

Daily Post: Middle Seat

It’s not all too often that the WordPress Daily Post writer’s inspiration is a topic I can relate to travel but this one certainly is travel related from the get go. It’s called Middle Seat and they want to know how you handle a very chatty stranger that you’ve been seated next to en route to your destination.

As it happens, I don’t often seem to get caught with a very chatty seat mate on a plane. I’m a large person and I try to pick a seat that’s next to an empty one, hoping the plane doesn’t fill up. It makes things more comfortable for me and the person beside me. Sometimes I get lucky and the empty seat stays that way and sometimes it’s filled. The odds seem to be about 60/40 in favour of a seatmate on the long haul flights. Never, ever do I sit in the middle seat of a 3 or 4 seat section and in general, prefer the aisle so it’s easier for me to get out.

I do remember one flight where I had a very nervous seat mate. She jumped and squeaked and fretted at ever sound the plane made. She was white, she was fidgety, most definitely a nervous flyer. When the landing gear thumped down into place, I thought she’d lift right out of her seat. I joked, “Ok, if you *didn’t* hear that, we’d be in a lot more trouble !” I chatted to her, make a few jokes, and I think I distracted her enough.

One other time I sat beside a tiny French-speaking nun. She didn’t say too much and her English wasn’t too good. When she did make the occasional remark, mostly I just smiled and nodded because her accent was very strong and I couldn’t make out what she said. My French is very much limited to what I learned in school, 35  to 40 years ago! I can interpret numbers, food, directions but it’s not really up to holding a conversation and I suppose her English was about the same.

The last really enjoyable conversation I got into with a fellow traveler was in the summer of 2014 with my friend. We were heading to Montreal to see Queen in concert. She sat in the row behind me and got into a conversation with her seatmate about music and concerts and drew me in as well. It’s a bit more awkward, trying to talk to someone in the row behind but we managed. He turned out to be a Jimmy Buffet fan of great stamina, belonging to an online fan group whose members follow the singer religiously and travel around to meet up and attend his concerts. I can identify with that in my own way, since I have been known to travel under the same sort of circumstances to hang out with my online friends who are fans of Coronation Street. Fandom has given me lots of travel opportunities and has expanded my circle of friends enormously.

I have had lovely conversations with occasional seat mate but I’ve never got “stuck” with someone that prattled on and on endlessly, annoying or boring me to tears. When I have had  a seatmate that wanted to talk, they were friendly, and congenial. Mostly, though, whoever is beside me in the middle of the three or in the other seat, if it’s a “two-fer”, keeps to themself as do I. I am not a shy person but striking up a conversation under those circumstances seems to bring out the shyness in me more. It’s more than just small talk isn’t it, when you’re on a 6 hour+ flight somewhere. I am, however, pleased if my seatmate does want to talk and it all turns out ok.

I shouldn’t have jinxed myself like that. I’m flying out next weekend to the UK on the overnight flight. If I get a seatmate, it could be a disaster now that I’ve said I am usually lucky! Oh dear.

When plans change

passport_leafOff to the UK on Friday night and I’m not looking forward to the flight. I do love to travel but the process of getting there is not a lot of fun. There’s small, cramped seats. I can’t afford to go business class and these days, what you get there is a little individual “pod” which doesn’t really look that comfortable, either, except it can recline and there’s nobody squashed up beside you. The width of them doesn’t look all that much wider than a standard seat. Before these came out, business class seats were like big comfy lazy-boy chairs!

And I’m getting a cold. I have the sniffly stuffed up nose stage at the moment. If the travel gods are with me, it might not get worse than that, but I doubt I’ll be that lucky. Flying with a head cold will be awful and I figure I’ll end up spreading the germs and making a number of other passengers ill too, even though I try to keep it to myself. All that recycled air, though, isn’t condusive to health.

The other reason is that my plans have changed. We have had to cancel Paris. My partner’s father is very ill and we really can’t be out of the country. We don’t know how much longer we’ll have him so every day counts. We might get to London on Easter weekend depending on how things go but as I’m due to fly back out of London, I will have to go. If he comes with me, at least he can be back in Manchester by train in a couple of hours if need be. That’s easier than trying to get home from Paris.

Again, though, that still depends on the situation. I may need to change my ticket and extend my time in Manchester. I did get cancellation and interruption on my flight to the UK so any costs incurred in changing should be covered by that, at least. I didn’t get insurance on anything else because I’ve been burned on the “pre-existing condition” clause before and even though his dad seemed to be stable when I booked the France part of the trip, he did have a “condition” and I more or less figured a doctor could cite that when filling out a form.

That’s what happened to me the last time I tried to recover the cost of a cancelled flight. The doctor said the patient (my father) was not stable at the time I booked the ticket. That was news to me! While he was recovering from major surgery, we all thought it was just a matter of time. Turns out it was, but not what we thought. Looking back, the doctor was right, and looking back, we can see it but at the time, we didn’t know any different. We thought he was just longer recovering than expected. So after that, I’ve been reluctant to trust buying the insurance. I did this time because everything seemed like things would be ok to get to the UK and back. And this time, if I have to use the insurance, it will only be about changing the return date and those costs associated.

Having said that, I did or will get 3/4 of the money back for the pre-paid hotel in Paris and that will cover the cost of the flight and Eurostar which were also prepaid. That’s a break-even there. There are a few other things that got cancelled that were non-refundable but they won’t add up to a lot. Extending the rental car in Manchester an extra week didn’t cost me double, either, which was a nice surprise, it’s only costing another 50% and that wasn’t prepaid.

This will be a vacation from work, and we’ll be spending our two weeks together which is important when you live 3000 miles apart for the moment. I hope we’ll be able to get out for a day trip or two just for a drive somewhere. We’ll need that to recharge our batteries.

It’s the way life is. We help each other, support each other, and get through it. Paris can wait.

Inspiring Travels from Women – the Travelettes

Ana, The Habitual Runaway, posted a link on Facebook to a blog article on five films that make you want to travel. Of course that caught my eye, since you all know I like to post “Traveling through the movies” type things. These are all new indie films that the writer saw in a couple of film festivals in Berlin and Glasgow. The blog is a collaboration of a group of young women that call themselves the Travelettes with a great tag line, “Backpacking in heels”.

It seems their main objective is on backpacking adventures but they have loads of other posts about their travels and they encourage contributions from the outside world as well. I’ve already found their huge list of posts on London and more than a dozen on Paris, particularly timely as we’re heading there soon. I think I shall be spending a lot of time over the weekend having a good look through their site and maybe making notes for future trips!

Travellers know this thing is true

St. Augustine's Chair, Canterbury Cathedral

St. Augustine’s Chair, Canterbury Cathedral

The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page. – Saint Augustine

We got Day trips

Day trips, we got day trips. Now that we have a rental car booked for my trip to Manchester, we are starting to think about day trips to make. I fancied seeing Chatsworth house again. I visited there with a group of friends back in September, 2000 on a rainy day. Wasn’t very good for walking in the gardens, just the house and a quick trip to the cafe. It’s a beautiful manor house, home to the Cavendish family, the  Dukes of Devonshire. In recent years, it’s been featured in both the movie about Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire (“The Duchess”, played by Keira Knightly), and in two recent appearances, it has represented Darcy’s home Pemberly in a remake of Pride and Prejudice (also with Keira Knightly) and in a television series, Death Comes to Pemberly.

There’s been a house here since Tudor times when it was first owned by “Bess” of  Hardwick from 1549. The house that’s there now dates from around the turn of the 18th Century. It’s pretty spectacular inside, with painted ceilings, elaborate plaster work and the gardens are extensive, with fountains and outbuildings. The stables and greenhouses can be visited (I believe the cafe and gift shop are now in the stables as well as some little shops).

I fancy another visit to see it again and update my photos and it isn’t that far to drive across the beautiful Peak District from the Manchester area so, weather permitting, I think that’s on the cards. We can go in the morning and find a nice country pub on the way back for lunch. In fact, I did some judicious Googling, as you do, and found one called the Royal Oak near Buxton that will suit requirements perfectly.

Not sure yet on other day trips though we’ve discussed taking the train over to Liverpool perhaps. I thought about Ripon and Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire region or maybe just another visit to one of our favourite cities, York. We’d like to find somewhere where we could meet up with friends that might come from the Sunderland/Newcastle area.

We have pretty much everything booked for the France/London trip. The rental car is reserved, the theatre tickets for The Mousetrap are bought, the tickets/voucher for the Tower of London also bought and printed. We thought we’d stay at an airport hotel the night before we have that really early flight to Paris so that’s booked, too. Maybe we won’t have to get up *quite* so early though it still won’t be much more of a lie in. Every little bit helps and we can drop off the car at the airport the night before as well, after we check in with the luggage.

Worst Travel Advice

London from a different perspective. Looking up!

London from a different perspective. Looking up!

I read an article this morning written by a Lonely Planet journalist called “The World’s Worst Travel Advice”.  It was actually published a few months ago but I hadn’t seen it before. In a nutshell, the list goes like this:

1. Women shouldn’t travel alone
2. Don’t eat the street food
3. Take traveler’s cheques for emergencies
4. Italy has the best pizza in the world
5. Plan everything/Don’t plan anything
6. You can’t get on Facebook in China
7. Bringing more clothes means less laundry
8. Bring enough contact lens solution/sun block/tampons/over-the-counter medicine for the entire trip
9. Bring a knife for protection when you travel to (xxx)
10. Don’t bother with a travel guide, you can find what you need online.

The author goes into a bit of explanation on each one. Some of these are common sense, some are myths busted, and the one about Facebook and China doesn’t even seem like terrible travel advice at all, just a statement of more or less fact.

Is this the “worst” travel advice? I probably wouldn’t classify it as such though number 9 might be kind of sketchy. Bringing weapons anywhere in this security conscious day and age will probably bring you a lot more trouble than safety. If you’re worried about your safety somewhere, don’t go!

My own opinions of most of these:
1. I would travel alone to places where I think I’d feel comfortable. I don’t tend to go out at night when on my own though could if it’s a bright, busy place like a tourist area. You take precautions no matter where you are, with or without someone else.
2. I would be cautious about street food as well but apparently in most places, it’s perfectly fine. Maybe I’ll bend on that one a bit. As the author pointed out, you can get sick from food in perfectly good restaurants just as easily.
3. I don’t take traveler’s cheques with me anymore. I take my ATM card and two different credit cards. If the ATM card doesn’t work, one of the credit cards will and most banks will give you cash advances on credit cards like Visa and Mastercard. If you make a payment before you go, putting the card into a credit amount, you won’t pay interest on the cash advance. It’s an option.
4. Does Italy have the best pizza in the world? Maybe, and I’ve had some pretty good pizza there. I’ve also had some “meh” pizza there. It’s like anywhere, I’d say.
5. Now this one speaks to me. I do a lot of planning. I like to know where I’m staying. I like to make sure the rental car is booked and I like to pre-book things like theatre tickets. I know reservations and bookings can still be messed up but at least I’ve got the proof I made the booking. I make lists but I’m also willing to jump off them if something interesting shows up as far as things I want to do.
6. China is bound to be very interesting, even without Facebook. Seriously. Yes, the government there has cracked down on internet access. That shouldn’t stop you from going.
7. It stands to reason, the more you bring, the heavier your bags are. Soap weighs a lot less.
8. Yeah, I agree with the author on this one, you can get most of your basic needs and over the counter meds most places you go or you’ll find something similar. It might not be a familiar brand but a pharmacist won’t steer you wrong and it’s an adventure trying to cross the language barrier. Now that sounds like it adds an element of risk but if it’s really something you need to be careful of, see a doctor.
9. Knife? No, If I feel that uncomfortable, I won’t be visiting there.
10. The author does have a bit of a conflict of interest here. He writes for Lonely Planet, after all. I do love travel guides, though, and I like to buy them for new destinations. There’s so much information, history, hints and tips and it’s all in one place. Scouring the internet can be pretty overwhelming sometimes. I generally use both.

I don’t think I’ve ever been given terrible advice aside from someone once telling me not to eat pasta when I went to Italy. Their reasoning had to do with my taking a bus tour, and the garlic in the pasta would recirculate through the air system on the bus and offend others. My reasoning is that everyone else on the bus would be eating the same thing! Problem solved!

Have you ever been given advice for travel that turned out to be unfounded or untrue? Mythbusting? Or given great advice? Pass it on!

Canadian Passport-to-go

passport_leafI’ve been the owner of a Canadian Passport continually since the early 1990s. I would take it with me into the United States even before they insisted Canadians must have a passport to enter the U.S.A. Up until recently, we had to renew our passport every five years which always seemed ridiculous to me. Most other countries’ passports were good for 10 years and for an adult, that’s sufficient. I’ve always said I’d pay a little extra for a 10 year passport and now it seems I’ve finally got my wish!

My coworker is renewing hers this year and told me that we now have the option to renew for either five or ten years! The current passport fee is a stinging $120 (it was just under $100 last time I renewed, about 3 and a half years ago) but for only another $40, it’s good for ten years (plus the cost of the photo, of course, so you can add another $20 on top of that.). That’s great news and about bloody time, Canada!

Little by little, over the years, the Canadian government has started changing their requirements to make it simpler to get or renew a passport. You used to have to have a guarantor that could only be someone of a specified list of professions like doctors, lawyers, politicians, teachers, dentists, pharmacists, clergy, etc. who have known you for two or more years to certify that you are the person who is applying for the passport. Now, the guarantor just has to be a Canadian Citizen who has a valid passport or one that has expired less than a year, though the two year familiarity rule still holds.

The next change was not really for the better though it’s an understandable one. The technology is changing and many aiports now use retinal recognition so now, if you wear glasses, you must take them off for the photo or ensure that the frame doesn’t cover any part of your eye or eyebrow whatsoever. Easier just to take them off. Avoids glare as well. The part I really hate is that you can’t smile in the photo anymore. I really hate that. Passport photos are bad enough without being able to at least attempt to soften the “Prixoner in Cellblock B” look with a smile. I suppose, again, it’s to do with your eyes needing to be completely visible. Still sucks though.

My passport isn’t expired until, I think, next year so I will definitely be going for the ten year option.

Online forms to download here
Canadians should probably register here before they travel out of the country. Helps if they need to contact you in an emergency.
Here’s a general “dashboard” for links and resources for Canadian travellers.

Itinerary building – Accommodations

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Abbesses Metro, Paris

Step one: Book the main flight to the U.K. ….. check
Step two: Book the one way flights to Paris….check.

LeavingParisEurostarStep three:  Pick and book a hotel in Paris (five nights) and one in London (two nights).
Step four: Book the Eurostar Paris to London.

The Eurostar website won’t let me book their own hotels with the ticket as a package unless I book a return ticket. Too bad because you can get some very good package deals from Eurostar with a return ticket.

Requirements: Location, and budget. Budget is very slightly flexible, depending on what’s included we could go a little bit over if necessary. Wi-fi is a must and having a safe deposit box in the room that will fit the laptop is desireable. Breakfast included would be nice but not a deal-breaker.

In Paris, we were thinking of staying around the Opera district, the 8th or 9th district. We want it to be fairly central and we don’t want to be right on top of the train stations (Gare du Nord and Est) because I’ve heard that area is a bit rough even if the hotels are cheaper. Probably a good reason for it, you get what you pay for! The right bank of the Seine will be more convenient this time because we’ll be using Gare St. Lazarre for our day trips and leaving via Gare du Nord on the Eurostar.

I did look on the British Airways site to see if I could get a deal on Paris hotels with the flights but they were still all very expensive. Fail, B.A.

For London, I thought either near Euston station or Bloomsbury might be the most convenient as we’ll arrive at St. Pancras and G. leaves from Euston to go back to Manchester (oh, note to self, make sure he books that train ticket, too!) I will probably get a taxi to Paddington and then the train to Heathrow from there. The Canadian Dollar has taken a hit against the pound lately so hotels are going to cost a bit more than usual but the Euro is still a good exchange rate at this moment in time.

I have been scouring websites like Expedia, Trivago, booking.com and hotels.com, making notes of likely candidates and making the mistake of looking up the TripAdvisor reviews which only further confuses me unless overall it’s generally not so good. Reviews, as I’ve said before, are so subjective and you really have to read between the lines. A lot of people whine about small rooms. I can handle small rooms unless they’re like a closet. Were the rooms as dirty as some people complained when others have found it spotless? I am a bit skeptical of that one as am I about scattered reviews about rude staff. In my mind, it takes two and in general most hotel staff are professional, sometimes a bit business like, and often very friendly,  but never rude.

Yesterday, I visited the hair salon and after that, post-coffee break with some relatives I bumped into, went to the travel agent. The woman I usually deal with wasn’t in and I wanted to get this sorted so sat down with one of the other agents. I have her the list of possibilities but told her I was open to anything else she found that was in the budget range and location. They don’t always have the access through their booking agents to everything you could find online but often they can sometimes get better deals with their sources.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It's on the left bank near Odeon stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

The Welcome Hotel, Paris. It’s on the left bank near the Odeon Metro stop. Rooms were small, but not closet-sized and it was in a great location.

One of the Paris hotels I’d noted was in one of those sources and she also found another one not far from it which I think I’d seen on my web surfing. She couldn’t book straight away. Some hotels through her booking system are “On Request”, that is, she has to request the availability and wait 24 hours or so until the hotel replies so she’s put in for that for these two hotels: My Hotel Opera St. George, and Hotel Opera Lafayette. I gave TripAdvisor a cursory glance and overall either sounds ok, they’re in our budget range albeit very slightly over the top end. Breakfast is included in both so I think that makes up for the little over-budget because you’d have to buy it anyway. I think we’d be happy with either one.

Ok, so we’re waiting for availability on those. Crossing my bits that at least one of them will be a go.  Next step: Eurostar. That’s pretty straight forward. I knew the time and the class of the ticket we wanted so it’s booked and pre-paid. Check.

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

Melia White Hotel, London. We bagged a great rate that time. Possibly through the Air Canada website, I seem to recall

On to London. Here’s where I ended up being delighted I had gone to the agent because what we ended up booking was far nicer that I would have found on my own.  I had given her a few names for hotels I’d chosen including one, a Hilton, that had been in the budget range earlier in the week but which, I thought, was a sale that had just ended. She came up with another name, and said it looked like she could get a very good rate. It was just a little over our budget but  it had free cancellation (barring a fee of one night’s accommodation and taxes) and a full breakfast buffet. The location is perfect, the hotel is a luxury four star and I didn’t hesitate. We’re staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton. I looked at the cheapest room through the website’s booking widget and we’re paying almost 25% cheaper than that. The equivalent booking on Expedia was a little more expensive again. Result! I never would have considered this hotel otherwise. Booked and prepaid! Check.

Yeah, that’s the other thing, most of the time you get the best rates if you prepay the whole thing. Often you still get free cancellation, sometimes with a fee of one night’s accomodation or even less. Sometimes, though, it’s non-refundable. If you have trip cancellation insurance that will cover you.

Once the Paris hotel is booked, we can book a rental car for the week I’m in Manchester because we like the flexibility for day trips, visiting mates and getting groceries and shopping. That’s pretty much the main items on the list, then we turn to a new list, our itinerary, both in Paris, the Paris day trips, London and things we might do while in Manchester. But that’s something for a future blog post!