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Experts answer your questions on booking summer getaways

Our panel of travel industry insiders answer nine key questions about booking summer travels this year, providing vital tips and insights into destinations, booking, safety and more.

Published 19 Mar 2021, 20:00 GMT
With many 2020 trips postponed, and domestic breaks set to be the hot ticket while international ...

With many 2020 trips postponed, and domestic breaks set to be the hot ticket while international travel remains uncertain, you’d be advised to book as soon as possible for seaside staycations this summer.

Photograph by Getty Images

Is it safe to book a trip overseas this year? 
 

With the exception of a brief period last summer, when travel was allowed to a few destinations in Europe, the Foreign Office (FCDO) has advised against all but essential travel for more than a year. Understandably, many of us are desperate to get away and when travel restarts, bookings will go through the roof. However, when this will happen remains uncertain, so should you risk booking now? Currently prices are low and availability is good, so it makes sense to book. It’ll also give you something to look forward to. However, you need to protect yourself in case circumstances haven’t improved by the time you’re due to set off. 

ABTA recommends the best way to do this is to book a package holiday. Due to the pandemic, many tour operators have radically altered booking conditions, allowing a great deal of flexibility to amend for a later date. And if the FCDO is advising against travel to a destination, ABTA Members will also give you the option of a full refund. So, book now with confidence and, with a little bit of good luck, you’ll be the envy of all your friends as you head off on your dream trip later this year.

Sean Tipton, Association of British Travel Agents

Read more: Five things you need to know about travel insurance in the age of coronavirus

I’m due to fly later this year but am concerned about the risk of coronavirus transmission. Do you have any advice on staying safe on a flight?
 

The risk of catching Covid-19 on a flight is very low. The characteristics of the aircraft cabin naturally limit the spread of droplets — everyone faces forward, the seat backs act as a barrier between rows, people generally don’t move around very much on a flight, and the air in the aircraft cabin circulates from the top to the bottom of the cabin (instead of along the length of the fuselage). Cabin air in modern aircraft is 50% fresh air from outside the aircraft and 50% recirculated air, which goes through High Efficiency Particulate Air filters, which are over 99% effective in removing bacteria and viruses, such as Covid-19. 

Besides wearing a face mask throughout the entire travel process, it’s important to practise good hand hygiene. That means washing your hands regularly with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially after contact with commonly touched surfaces on the aircraft, such as seatbelts and table trays.

And while boarding in today’s context tends to be done in an orderly manner with physical distancing, do also take precautions when disembarking at the destination. And most important of all, don’t fly if you’re unwell or experiencing any symptoms.

Dr David Powell, medical advisor, International Air Transport Association

Read more: Everything you need to know about travelling in the age of Covid-19

If you want to bag a beautiful beachy spot away from the crowds, the key is to avoid the usual destinations. Here, walkers enjoy Blackpool Sands, near Dartmouth, in Devon.

Photograph by AWL Images

Where should I go for a quiet coastal self-catering break in the UK this summer?
 

With many 2020 trips postponed, and domestic breaks set to be the hot ticket while international travel remains uncertain, you’d be advised to book as soon as possible for seaside staycations this summer. If you want to bag a beautiful beachy spot away from the crowds, the key is to avoid the usual destinations.

“Devon and Cornwall and the Isle of Wight are often people’s first thought for a coastal break, but the British Isles has many lovely spots in other coastal regions,” says Matt Brayley of holidaycottages.co.uk. The company has almost 3,000 coastal properties on its books across the UK. For May half term, around a quarter are still available; while just under a third are available over the summer holidays. “We’d recommend areas such as North and West Wales, Kent, Sussex and Scotland for a coastal holiday a little off the beaten track,” says Matt. “Properties sleeping six or more are booking quickly, although we’re seeing strong demand across most properties from the end of May onwards.”

Matt suggests Ayrshire for a stay at Coalhill Farm Byre (sleeps four), with views towards the Isle of Arran, within easy reach of sandy beaches. A week’s stay arriving 6 August costs £381 per person (£1,523 total).

“Many people who were due to travel in 2020 have deferred to this year,” says Beth Bailey, of Premier Cottages. “And our bookings are up 53% on the first three weeks of last year. The result is very limited availability for peak summer.” The operator reports that properties sleeping four-eight people are 75% sold out, and larger properties (10+) are close to booked out for peak season, too. “Though not on the coast, the Peak District is still showing some good summer availability, as are Cumbria and Wales.” 

The operator suggests a stay in Pembrokeshire, at Atlantic View, near Broad Haven Beach in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park. These three plush, glass-fronted holiday cottages, and one penthouse apartment, have panoramic sea views, all within walking distance of the coastal path and Broad Haven’s restaurants. Each has en suite bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens and patios with barbecues. Sandpiper cottage (sleeps four) costs £1,430 for a seven night stay in June; £2,200 in August.

Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Read more: Staycation ideas for 2021 and beyond

Gliffaes Country House, Brecon Beaccons. 

Photograph by Jaime Pulido

I’m considering a UK walking holiday this summer. Are there any hotels you’d recommend?
 

If it’s coastal rambles you’re after, try The Lugger, in the unspoilt Cornish hamlet of Portloe. The whitewashed inn, dating to the 17th century, has 24 subtly nautical-inspired rooms, as well as private cottages to hire. It’s at the heart of the Roseland Heritage Coast, meaning bracing walks and wild, windswept vistas at every turn. Take the 15-mile hike along the South West Coast Path to the Lost Gardens of Heligan, making pitstops and Porthluney Beach and the pretty seaside village of Mevagissey. Doubles from £166 B&B.

Meanwhile, in Wales, the elegant Gliffaes Country House Hotel is cradled in the rich green landscapes of the Brecon Beacons, and is perfectly placed for tackling the Black Mountains, including the much-climbed peaks of Skirrid and Pen Y Fan. As well as its own arboretum, the hotel also offers plenty of game fishing along the River Usk for a full immersion in the Welsh countryside. Doubles from £212, B&B.

In the Lake District, Gilpin Hotel & Lake House’s HRiSHi restaurant retained its Michelin star this year thanks to its innovative modern British-meets-Asian cuisine. Rooms are classic contemporary in style, and there are Scandi-inspired spa treatment rooms, too, though the local hikes are as much of a draw as the hotel — be sure to tick off the fairly gentle ascent of Orrest Head, where the views of Windermere inspired a young Alfred Wainwright. Bowness-on-Windermere, with its shops and watersports, is also just a short ramble away. Doubles from £195 B&B.

Connor McGovern, commissioning editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

What happens if I can’t travel before my airline voucher expires?
 

Flight vouchers, given as an alternative to a cash refund for a cancelled flight, usually valid for a year, have been frequently issued by airlines during the pandemic. Some airlines, such as Ryanair, allow you to exchange vouchers for cash. In practice, many passengers have found this a difficult process.

British Airways and EasyJet do not exchange vouchers for cash refunds, but the former has extended the validity of all vouchers to 2023 and the latter has said it will also offer an extension. Less well-advertised is that these airlines let you transfer the voucher to someone else. That’s useful if health prevents you from travelling, or if the route you want doesn’t return to service. 

Some passengers who felt forced into vouchers for cancelled flights or received one even though they requested a refund have appealed through alternate dispute resolution bodies (ADR; most airlines are signed up to one) and won their money back. For a list of the airlines signed up to ADR schemes, visit caa.co.uk.

As a rule, with cancelled flights it’s better to ask for a cash refund rather than a voucher, because if it expires or the airline goes bust, you probably won’t get your money back. 

Rory Boland, editor, Which? Travel

Read more: Are your refunded flight vouchers still valid for travel?

At Borgo Egnazia, in Puglia, six restaurants specialise in regional and Italian cuisine.

Photograph by Borgo Egnazia

I’m hoping to book a summer mini-moon within easy reach of the UK — are there any destination hotels you would recommend? 
 

How about Puglia, in southern Italy? As well as heating up to beach-bathing temperatures by early summer, it has a string of hilltop villages to explore inland and a distinctive food culture. What’s more, it’s served by regular flights from the UK. Along with its celebrated conical trullo houses, Puglia is home to a burgeoning number of luxuriously reimagined masserie (farmhouses) and plush resorts. Surrounded by traditional drystone walls and fragrant, Arabian-style gardens, Borgo Egnazia, in Savelletri di Fasano, comes with four swimming pools (including one that appears to melt into the Adriatic), an expansive spa and six restaurants specialising in regional and Italian cuisine. The La Egnazia Suite starts at €1,499 (£1,330) and standard doubles start at €289 (£260), both B&B.

Alternatively, Marrakech is home to some of the most luxurious five-star hotels within short-break distance of the UK, such as the newly restyled La Mamounia. The opulent 1920s palace, with its art deco pavilions and richly perfumed gardens, has been given a much-needed revamp while retaining its original, ornate charm. Spaces have been thoroughly revitalised, including the four restaurants — two of which are now led by chefs Pierre Hermé and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

 A three-night-minimum-stay Romantic Escape package costs 9,800 dirham (£810) per person, based on two sharing a Deluxe Parc garden-view room, B&B, including cocktails, two dinners, one lunch, a spa treatment and airport transfers. Double rooms from 6,900 dirham (£570) per night. 

Sarah Barrell, associate editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

I'm looking for an unusual and active summer break in the UK. What would you recommend?
 

It might surprise you to hear that the UK offers an excellent array of dive sites. Thousands of miles of coastline, a wealth of marine life and a rich maritime history mean there’s plenty to explore — and as an added bonus, it makes for a great socially distanced activity for adventurous travellers. 

For new divers, the clear Cornish waters at Falmouth Bay and Porthkerris Cove make for a great day out —if you’re lucky, you may spot basking sharks and dolphins. More experienced divers, meanwhile, will love Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. One of the world’s most famous wreck sites, its seabed is the resting place of German battleships and cruisers dating back to the First World War. 

A key consideration when planning any diving trip in the UK is kit: the waters are cooler than popular spots abroad, so proper exposure suits (thick wetsuits or drysuits) are needed. Your experience will be enhanced by receiving proper guidance from a professional at first. Many novices begin training at the numerous inland sites around the country, including lakes and reservoirs. To find out about the best diving opportunities near you, connect with any of the 200 PADI dive centres across the UK.

Rich Somerset, PADI territory director EMEA

The King Henry VII suite in The Mitre, a 36-room boutique address just a stone’s throw from Hampton Court Palace.

Photograph by Adam Lynk Photography

I’m in the market for a luxury hotel escape in England. Where would you recommend?
 

You’re in luck. There’s no denying 2020 was a difficult year for the hospitality industry, but there’s still been a heartening number of new openings in spite of these tricky times. London, perhaps unsurprisingly, has led the charge with a flush of new hotels, including The Mitre, a 36-room boutique address just a stone’s throw from Hampton Court Palace. With a quirky, classic-yet-contemporary design, it’s perfectly placed for exploring the Tudor residence, as well as for riverside rambles and deer-spotting in Bushy Park. From £178, room only.

Just outside the capital, in Hertfordshire, is Birch, an opening that’s attracted lockdown-weary Londoners in their droves. It’s little wonder: set on the grand Theobalds Estate, it’s a welcome antidote to the winter blues, with an on-site farm, two restaurants, three bars and a bakery, as well as ceramics workshops, yoga classes, a screening room and a cultural events programme. Factor in the amount of space to unwind in (55 acres, no less), and your front room will feel a million miles away. From £150, room only.

But if it’s the sea air you’re after, then look no further than The Pig at Harlyn Bay. Hotel group The Pig’s latest addition has all the hallmarks of its porcine cousins — elegant furniture, a stately setting, farm-to-fork dining — with the added bonus of being a bracing clifftop stroll from the pretty town of Padstow on the Cornish coast. Want to indulge? Book a massage in one of the treatment rooms, housed in cosy, former potting sheds. From £150, room only.

Connor McGovern, commissioning editor, National Geographic Traveller (UK)

I’d hoped to spend my 2021 gap year backpacking on a different continent. Do you have any suggestions for equivalent adventures closer to home?
 

Firstly, don’t give up on your dreams of a far-flung gap year. Borders will reopen, and when they do there’ll be great deals to be had. We find many gap-yearers like to kick off their trip with a group adventure, followed by working and exploring independently, so for 2021 we’re offering working holiday visas free with certain trips to Australia and New Zealand to facilitate that combination. 

But there are also many options closer to home, and operators are increasingly flexible in terms of the experiences they offer and booking terms. This is due to both the current uncertainty and the projected rise of the ‘micro-gap year’. Contiki offers the Ultimate European plus Greek Islands (17 countries in 45 days), or there are shorter trips such as the Scandinavia & Russia Tour, or Italian Escape & Sicily Tour, which take a deeper immersion into the destinations.

For independent travellers keen to meet new people and learn something new, then adding in a three-or-four day mini adventure (such as Truffle Hunting in Italy, or Surf & Yoga Retreat in Morocco) is a great way to get off the tourist trail.

Donna Jeavons, sales and marketing director, UK & Europe, Contiki

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