Monday, 15 November 2010

Travel Tools Page to research your trip have created a travel tools dashboard providing a huge range of  tools for independent and business travellers, backpackers and those on gap year or career break trips.  You can now conduct much of your travel planning and research from one page:
  • Travel advice, vaccination and malaria information, by country. Travel related feeds from USA, UK, Australian & Canadian Governments + UK Civil Aviation Authority passenger news (covers issues affecting holidays like volcanic ash & ATOL).
  • Weather forecast, currency converter, world time difference calculator, Embassy locator tools.
  • International Dialing Code tool that also tells you the international dialling prefix for the country you are telephoning from.
  • Two flight airfare price comparison engines selected to complement each other. Both search over 600 airlines and major agents like Opodo and Ebookers. One includes 100 low cost budget airlines many excluded by other search sites because they don’t pay commission. Its search routines are very good at identifying connecting flights for a cheaper airfare, and it is good for single tickets.  The other provides greater search flexibility on dates and covers more agents/booking sites.
  • An hotel price comparison engine that searches 33 major booking sites (e.g., LateRooms, Expedia, Priceline,) and hotel chains.
  • Car Hire, and Travel Insurance price comparison (UK residents only – US and international versions to be added shortly).
  • Direct links to the relevant pages on and for your country travel guides, maps and phrasebooks.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Blogger Travel Gadget tweeted by UK Foreign Office

I'm delighted to say our travel advice by country widget has been tweeted by the UK Foreign Office, and that Directgov Innovate are listing it.

Unfortunately, as discussed in this Blogger Developer forum post: currently no new gadgets are being added to the Blogger Gadget directory, so you cannot select it from the Blogger directory.  Our original post explains how to add the gadget to your site.  Some widget developers suggest the following method (no need to cut and paste the gadget URL) which you may, or may not, find easier:
  • Ensure you are logged on to your Blogger/Blogspot website;
  • Click THIS LINK (it opens Blogger's gadget installer with our gadget in "preview" mode)
  • Customise the widget (see 3 examples on this page). Note the default colors should match your site style, so we suggest you don't enter anything in the color boxes at this stage.
  • Click "Save" (this places the new widget in the primary sidebar of your site)
  • Leave the gadget where it is, or drag it to the gadget column and position of your choice.
  • Click Preview to see how the gadget will be displayed on your page.
  • If necessary, fine tune the look of the gadget (click the "edit" or "screwdriver and spanner" button next to it) to alter width, height, colors and justification etc.
If you are using it let us know via the comments here, and like SpecialBaggage.Com we may include your site, as an example, with a dofollow link here and on our main site. If you've tried it out and decided not to use then post some constructive comments, and we may change it.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Flight Prices - some general tips

If you are using a flight search engine to find an airfare, the following "rules of thumb" may help you identify the cheapest flights:
  • Early morning/late night flights will often cost you less (don't exclude these from your search).
  • Enter dates for cheap days of the week. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be cheapest. I’ve also been advised that Saturdays can be cheap.
  • Be flexible with your airports, it may be cheaper to fly from a neighbouring airport, rather than your first choice.  Ideally, the site you use should at least have the option to include all airports for a major city, such as New York, in your search.
  • Carrier pricing policy usually means that booking early is cheaper than booking late.   It is now very difficult to get a late booking bargain on a scheduled flight. 
  • However, if you are flexible on where and when you travel, you can still bag a bargain booking late. More in my next  post.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Feedback on Travel Advice Widget - dofollow link on offer!!!

Hopefully you will like the  Travel Information Widget offered in my earlier post as much as I do.  If you decide to install it, please let me know. I may include you as an example site with a "dofollow" link.

Friday, 17 September 2010

A bit about me:

I've noticed I've written 2 entries, but nothing about me, and this is supposed to a personal blog!

I'm very old, divorced, and brought my son up as a lone parent :

I have worked in IT most of my life. Enjoy independent travel, including taking a year career break, when despite being "old" I stayed in hostels.  My favourite destinations are:

  • Spectacular scenery: Golden Circle, Iceland (preferred their ice laden falls to Niagara)

  • Historic monuments: Pyramids, Egypt

  • Club: The Cross.  A little bit "counter culture and grungy" full of weird Heath Robinson type art.  Away from the tourist traps of  Prague, near Holesovice Railway Station.  I went in 2005, the few foreigners who went then, were like me, staying at a near-by hostel.  There are now hundreds of entries for it on Google, hopefully it hasn't lost its character.

  • Culture - Turkey, among the most friendly people I've met, and lots of East/West history, and if you go  you have to visit Istanbul.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Travel Advice by Country Gadget/Widget

Edit  Non Blogspot sites: Widget for Wordpress via the plugin directory; HTML, and PHP versions via our trip planning site.

I hope you like my new Travel Information widget. I'd be grateful for any feedback before I "officially publish it". 

It uses up to date quality advice from the UK Foreign Office (FCO).  Although some information, such as visa requirements, are specific to UK nationals; the majority of information would be of use to any visitor to a travel site.

The FCO has provided a data interface to developers, such as ourselves, to trial and add value. As we use their country index (not a diy mash of feeds) the drop-down list in your widget will always be up to date.

The widget is available as a blogger/blogspot gadget, as HTML, or a PHP "include".  The blogger widget is installed on this site ( in 3 places !!! during demo).

You are welcome to try it on your site. Its plain and simple (no fancy graphics) I'm afraid; but it should blend in with your theme. Width, height, button text and colour are all configurable.  I've tested it on various themes but would appreciate the comments of  other blogspot/ users.

Blogger/Blogspot users can install the Travel Widget like any other gadet (when adding a gadget click on "add your own", and copy and paste the following URL into the box provided:

Common Travel Scams

(an updated version of an ezine article I published):

If you are a regular reader of travel forums you will know that many people fall victim to travel scams. With some of these con-tricks you not only run the risk of not getting what you've paid for, but may also end up having your details sold on to other unscrupulous companies in what the industry term 'sucker lists' that are used for spam emails and telemarketing.

Some of the later scams listed below are targetted at UK citizens, however similar tricks affect travellers of all nationalities.

The pay your bill in your home currency scam
When paying by credit or debit card whilst abroad you may be asked if you would like to pay in pounds. This makes more money for the hotel, restaurant etc. If you do agree a hefty exchange rate over which you have no control will be applied to your card.

TIP 1: if you do use a card it is normally best to pay in the local currency (normally Visa and Mastercard provide the best exchange rate you can get)

The Compensation emailThese emails claim to come from an official source, state you may be entitled to compensation and request personal details. Their purpose is to obtain information for credit card and bank account fraud or identity theft.

An example in July 2010 was one falsely claiming to be from the UK Civil Aviation Authority asking passengers who had their holidays disrupted by volcanic ash, for personal information including passport details.

TIP 2: never respond to emails and provide personal information.

The Job Offer and Work Permit Fraud
Often targeted at active job searchers by email. Offers a lucrative job abroad but requires a payment for them arrange the work permit. See this U.S. advisory for more information.

The Fake Ticket or Travel Site
Fly-by-night sites that take your money for Disney Tickets, Concerts, Festivals, and package holidays are common all over the world. This page helps you check for warning signs of a web-site's trustworthieness.

EHIC Website Scam
The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) enables those eligable to get free or reduced cost medical treatment within the European Economic Area. As a British Citizen, resident in the UK, you can order one for free. Do not pay for your EHIC.

Websites listed by Google offer an online service to get your EHIC in 7 days. All they do (if you're lucky) is supposedly "check" and forward your information to the Government site and charge you a fee. They cannot provide a faster service than ordering online through the official Government website.

TIP 3: for information on ordering your EHIC for free see this UK Government page.

TIP 4: UK Government websites providing official information on travel documents such as passport, International Driving Permit and EHIC always end with "".
Tourist Visa/ESTA Website Scams
A visa is required to enter many countries countries, or, in the case of the US, British and certain other nationalities can apply for an ESTA to enter under the visa waiver program.

The Visa application process is quite simple for most tourists; but there are some countries where application can be complex for an independent traveller, and paying for services may be appropriate. However, many websites offering tourist visa/ESTA services do no more than provide information available on official sites or merely "forward" your application. Some of these even warn you to look out for fraudulent sites!

The ESTA was free until 8 Sep 2010, but the first page of  a Google search for ESTA was mainly made up of companies charging for it including the top link ($45).  The US Gov have now introduced a charge of $14 for it. Since these companies are offering a service of dubious benefit it is reasonable to assume that even some of those operating within the law may sell your email and address details on. Others may not do anything but take your money and sell on all your details including Credit Card number.

The introduction of  a fee for ESTA registration ironically has a benefit - it has reduced the number of  "scam" sites operating within the law as they now need a processing system that will forward $14 of your payment to the US Govt! .
TIP 5: Use the official ESTA registration site.

TIP 6: Investigate visa arrangements on the appropriate Foreign Embassy website before parting with any money. A list of all foreign Embassies and High Commissions located in the UK can be found via this Embassy Directory.

TIP 7: Check the relevant official sites first e.g. US Government sites end in ".gov" and Australian "".