Ever needed a break to recover from your break? Take a load off your mind by following eight steps to a hassle-free holiday.
Tickets - check. Passports - check. Shades - check. Silly hat - check. Prozac - right here in the hand luggage.
Travelling, particularly in pursuit of leisure, pleasure and relaxation, can be one of the most stressful activities ever dreamed up by marketing executives to sell suitcases, hangover cures, sunscreen and T-shirts. Going on holiday can leave you needing a holiday. But there are ways of ensuring you return home without having gone postal in a car-rental office, hijacked a banana boat or sold the children into slavery in Africa.
1. Do your homework Before running headlong into a Maoist Kalashnikov party in Kathmandu, check the latest safety advisories. You can do this at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (www.fco.gov.uk/travel) whatever your destination. Ask a travel agent or the appropriate local embassy whether an entry visa is required and make the effort to read at least a little about your host country - it is unlikely to have avoided the attentions of Lonely Planet - lingering over those sections marked 'etiquette' and 'local customs'. For instant new friends, buy - and use - a phrase book.
2. Take cover! Insurance is really boring and the last thing that enters any normal head filled with thoughts of azure seas and desert islands. But although largely neglected by Hong Kong travellers before September 11, the idea has since caught on and might just save you from financial catastrophe. A spokesman for insurance company Blue Cross says the terrorist attacks, predictably, 'had a strong impact' on travel insurance and that 'people travelling to Europe and North America want protection from high medical expenses'. Nevertheless, 40 per cent of Blue Cross payouts are made in settlement of minor medical claims - 15 per cent cover lost luggage, followed by payments for flight delays, cancellations and loss of passports. Remember that sporting and other physical activities are often excluded from standard policies; specialist cover should be purchased for the likes of bungee jumping, scuba-diving, mountain biking, parachuting and rock climbing. Multi-trip insurance will save you money if you travel abroad more than once a year.
3. Don't hang about If you're flying, particularly in economy class, set off for the airport early. Sod's law of universal conspiracies states that there will be a motorway lane closure and a railway signalling fault on the day of your flight so leave plenty of time to make it to check-in and you won't have to stand there hot and hassled. And you are unlikely to want for amusement after checking in: thanks to the edict requiring tourists to start spending their holiday cash before take-off, large areas of modern airports are, in fact, shopping malls featuring diversions such as video-game parlours and restaurants.
4. Match that holiday cash and itinerary Travel need not break your bank if you give yourself a holiday budget - and spend most of your money after arriving at your destination. It sounds ridiculously simple, but why not decide first how much you can afford and then make your travel plans accordingly? Package deals abound and bargains can be had at all times of year, as a cursory cruise around the Web will show you. (Or why not take the quaint route and ask your travel agent?) Credit cards can be your best friends but also your worst enemies. If they lead you down the path of temptation too often when away, consider opening an account and squirrelling away a small, regular sum to pay for your next trip.
5. More boring stuff: documents Don't wait until you reach the airport, ferry terminal or border before discovering your passport is not valid for the duration of the trip - or, as specified by some countries, six months after the return date. A couple of passport photographs and your driver's licence might also prove essential, as might photocopies of both sides of your credit cards in case of loss or theft (if reporting their disappearance, you may have to reel off assorted codes and other numbers). And depending on age and the issuing authority, individual passports for children might be required.
6. Little treasures All going to plan so far? Super. Have no doubt that if you are travelling with children they will, at some point, chuck an entire toolbox in the works, never mind a spanner. However, parental stress can be cut with a degree of planning, starting with consulting your children (if they are old enough) on what they would like to do and see on their holidays. And once at your destination, remember to build into the schedule some family activities and child-friendly diversions to keep them entertained - as well as down time to avoid exhaustion. An agenda stuffed with galleries, museums and the ruins of antiquity is unlikely to push many youngsters' 'co-operation' buttons. Website Travel for Kids (www.travelforkids.com) and the Lonely Planet guidebook Travel with Children are both packed with ideas on where to go, what to do and how to do it.
7. Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... Having come this far, whatever your destination, you don't want to be panicking about whether your window bars are tough enough to repel prospective intruders at home. Avoid alerting them to your absence in the first place by asking a neighbour to keep an eye on the place and to collect your post. An overflowing mailbox is an effective invitation to passing burglars, as is a stack of unread newspapers. Automatic timers for lights and other electronic devices such as radios and televisions make a place look and sound lived in, especially if they are programmed to operate randomly.
8. Cool it! Having covered all those bases, don't neglect the important business of unwinding and taking it easy. Relax - you're on holiday, after all.