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Amsterdam Calls Time On Staggers

Be warned staggers, Amsterdam has had enough of you. The City’s tourism body, council, police and hospitality industry have all clubbed together to mount an ‘Enjoy and Respect’ campaign.

Their targets are the hordes of partying tourists that descend on the capital and their message is clear, ‘respect our city or pay the consequences’.

In some cases, those payments could be quite steep; urinating in a canal, for instance, risks a fine of €140; public drunkenness will cost €95. Disturbing the peace in public places or dropping litter could also cost €140. To reinforce the point – and collect the cash – police and enforcement officers have been issued with mobile, on-the-spot payment equipment.

Those involved have collectively raised €225,000 to pay for a campaign that rams home the message via online adverts on booking and weather websites, plus physical adverts at airports. It even includes alerts being sent to this group’s mobile phones on social media when they enter the red light district, central train station and nightlife streets.

Clearly the Dutch, who have a well deserved reputation for liberalism, are fed up with being taken for a ride. This campaign forms part of a wider reaction to push back against what the Dutch perceive to be the ‘Disneyfication of Amsterdam’.

Other measures have included banning touring cars and Airbnb-type rental in certain areas as well as diverting cruise ships. They have also raised tourist taxes to 7% to pay for the extra  €105m a year needed to put more police on the streets.

Pim Evers, the chairman of the Amsterdam branch of the Dutch Hospitality Association, KHN, whose members contributed to the campaign seemed to encapsulate the Dutch view of life when he said, “Yes, you can look at the ladies and buy some sex; you can have a joint and alcohol. But please be quieter, and don’t leave rubbish or urinate on the street.”

 

Gita. Carry My Bags Please

Right. Suitcase packed. Now all you need do is carry it. The trouble is, it weighs a ton and its very hot. If only somebody – or something – could carry it for you.

Well, now there is. Welcome to Gita.

Gita is a small blue robot on wheels that follows you around and carries your stuff. (We kid you not. See accompanying photo).

Its been invented by the Italian car manufacturer Piaggio which knows a thing or two about making cool things on two wheels; it invented the iconic Vespa scooter.

Gita (it’s Italian for ‘outing’) won’t be available until next year but we’re predicting it will cause a storm when it arrives. It can hold up to 20kg of luggage – although it’s unclear yet whether she’ll be allowed to follow you onto a plane, for example.

But never mind, just think of all the things Gita could carry for you?

20kg translates into a lot of wine. Or barbecue items (OK. Gita may need to be fitted with some half tracks to help her get over the sand, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here).

20kg also translates into a lot of baby stuff. (Maybe even the baby as well?) and given how much plumbers charge, could we see Gita being asked to to carry tradesmen tools into your house?

 

“It’s Your Boss On The Phone. Are You On The Beach Or In The Pool?”

How far do you need travel before your boss can’t reach you? According to a new survey most of us think it’s over 1,000 miles. That length of journey puts it comfortably into the long haul travel category.

Or put another way, any holiday short of the magic 1,000 miles and there’s a good chance that your boss will ping you while you’re downing a pina colada.

Admittedly, the survey was commissioned by British Airways who just might have an interest in persuading you to leg it to New Zealand rather than a weekend break in Bratislava.

But their survey did throw up some interesting findings. Nearly a quarter of those polled (22%) ‘thought they were more likely to reply to work emails or take calls from their boss, colleagues or even clients if they stay close to home’.

On the face of it this seems illogical. Why should we feel we can be contacted when we’re geographically closer to our work during our down time?

And some of us have obviously been bitten by the work bug quite badly. Almost six in 10 admitted to checking their emails from their hotel room, almost one in four admitted to having a look by the pool and one in five took a peek while at the beach.

But spare a thought for these workaholics; ‘three in 100 workers had even gone through their inbox while in the swimming pool’!

Thanks to the internet, freely available wifi and smart phones, most of us are – theoretically at least – always available. And for our own health’s sake, this probably needs sorting out.

According to one expert on the subject, Andrew Pullman, the Managing Director of HR consultancy People Risk Solutions, it all comes down to being reasonable. He suggests that ‘the test for working out whether or not a company is asking too much of their employee during a vacation all comes down to ‘Reasonableness’.  He added: ‘As long as an employer behaves reasonably, the reasonable requests should be responded to’.

But is contacting an employee on their hols, reasonable at all?

The French and Germans don’t bother with tests of reasonableness. They use corporate protocols or even legislation.

German car maker Daimler has implemented an company email policy where employees have the option to set their emails to autodelete while away from the office. No overflowing inboxes for them to deal with then. In fact, nothing in their inbox at all!

Meanwhile France recently passed a new law giving workers the ‘right to disconnect’. This offers them the legal right to avoid work emails outside working hours.

For us Brits, unfortunately, it all comes to fair play and whether our boss is a good egg or not.

 

Everything Runs Like Clockwork in Switzerland. Including The Trains

Travelling by train with a pet? Best choose a UK train company. But anything else, stick to a Swiss one.

According to the just released ‘Great Train Comparison Report’, Switzerland’s national railway offers the best overall service in Europe and took the top spot in no less than four categories. These were ‘disabled passengers’, ‘cyclists’, ‘families with kids’ and ‘winter sports’.

Those travelling with children this weekend in the UK probably won’t want to read this, but the Swiss Federal Railways offers it passengers family-friendly zones and carriages and has even created play areas for children on the top deck of its inter-city trains. And just to make you even more envious, second placed Deutsche Bahn ‘offers the services of experienced child-minders’.

Backpackers please note. The German operator together with Austrian Railways (ÖBB) came first and second respectively for backpackers, with neither operator requiring seat reservations or charges for those travelling on Interrail or Eurail passes, as well as offering free wifi and plenty of space for larger rucksacks. Cool, huh?

For the disabled, the Swiss operator, along with Spain’s state rail company, Renfe, offered the best service providing, what the report’s authors called, ‘a sophisticated and carefully coordinated assistance to passengers with a range of needs’. Meanwhile Eurostar – which gives a complimentary upgrade from standard class to standard premier to wheelchair passengers – came third in that category.

And Britain’s rail industry take note, passengers on the German railway get a discount on hot drinks if they provide their own cup. Sensible thinking.

But we Brits smashed the pets category. Virgin East Coast (soon to be renamed London and North Eastern Railway) came out top in this category, followed by Great Western Railway in second place and Cross Country Trains in third, all of which allow passengers to bring their pets at no extra cost.

 

 

 

Cripes. Crypocurrencies Are Coming

Despite many naysayers, cryptocurrencies are here to stay. For travelers in particular, they look to offer many advantages over traditional currencies.

After all, today’s international travelers are faced with lots of costs including exchanging one foreign currency into another plus credit card charges, etc, as well as other multiple hassles, eg, making sure that the various cards they carry are accepted wherever they happen to be.

Blockchain technology, on the other hand – and on which cryptocurrencies are based -makes it much easier to keep track of payment histories and currency exchanges.

And as all transactions are recorded on a transparent public ledger and time-stamped, users never have to worry about an oversight or keeping track of multiple documents.

Finally, if an institution claims a discrepancy, travelers can hold them accountable and prove that their purchases are legitimate and verified. Looks appealing, huh?

So is this happening today? Well, yes, it is. Admittedly, it’s not widespread, but it is happening. Check out the following.

For travelers heading to Australia, AiRstayz is a crypto-friendly mobile app for booking into hotel rooms. According to their marketing blurb, ‘guests can check in after hours, access their rooms without physical keys, and utilise a range of concierge services’.

Some online travel agencies, like CheapAir.com, are now accepting Bitcoin payments for booking flights. Again, their blurbspeak says, ‘CheapAir.com was the first in the world to do so in 2013, so it’s familiar with the process and works with customers to legitimately buy tickets’.

Shift Card is the first bitcoin debit card that 38 million merchants now accept globally. Admittedly it’s a US card, but it allows users to access their crypto accounts at Bitcoin’s rate at any given time. So if Bitcoin is worth $700 one day and $900 the next, Shift Cards ensure that Bitcoin holders can take advantage of the currency’s true value when they need to.

So, ready to start travelling with your newly minted cryptocurrency? Then check out Coinmap which connect users with stores, restaurants, and other institutions that are near an assortment of destinations. Users can leave ratings, too, so future travelers are not trapped in frustrating experiences.

And before you ask, no, Explorer Travel Insurance does not accept payment by a cryptocurrency – yet.

 

 

‘Catch The Night Train To…Anywhere’

Being able to do things twenty four hours a day is getting easier. Five of TfL’s Tube lines now run all night and most of us live within easy reach of a supermarket that’s open 24×7. Night birds looking for entertainment will also know of bars, cafes and clubs that will cater to their insomniac tendencies.

Now it looks as if the train companies might be considering running all night train services too. Good news for those looking to get home at some unearthly hours but less so for those that live near a train track.

According to a recent report in the Independent newspaper, Mark Carne, the chief executive of Network Rail was reported as saying “Over time what do people want from a railway? They want something that is more relevant to their lifestyle and today people’s lifestyles are 24-hour…“I am anticipating that my customers – the train operating companies – will come to me in the not-too-distant future and tell me they want to run 24-hour trains.”

Several overnight sleeper services – although much diminished from their heyday – still run, the three most famous being the Night Riviera between London Paddington and Penzance, the Highland Sleeper connecting London Euston with Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William, and the Lowland Sleeper linking Euston with Edinburgh and Glasgow. Plus all-night trains have run on the main line from London to Gatwick Airport to Brighton since the 1970s.

But the train operating companies (TOCs) are envisaging providing services that are more frequent and cover less distances. For instance, Virgin Trains recently added an 11pm departure from London Euston to Manchester.

However, rather than the journey time taking just the two hours achieved by earlier trains, one departure took over three-and-a-half hours due to delays and diversions due to engineering work!

And that could be a problem for the TOCs as the night time is when Network Rail carries out many of its track repairs and other essential maintenance. (plus giving all the animals and birds who live near the tracks a chance of getting a decent night’s sleep).

For the TOCs struggling to provide a service that meets their customers’ changing demands these are problems that they need to overcome. Competitors, in the form of the bus companies such as Megabus and National Express, currently run many overnight links at low fares, such as the midnight Megabus service from Glasgow to Birmingham, which takes almost eight hours but at a typical last-minute fare of £18.

For those fortunate enough to be be able to sleep anywhere, these long journeys could be a boon – and save on a night’s accommodation if you’re a backpacker.

Theatre managers and event organisers might also welcome the news. They’re the ones faced with sections of the audience having to leave before the end so as to avoid ‘missing the last train home’. From now on these people will be able to sit back and watch the encore.

Beach Lovers To The Left, Orca Swimmers To The Right

Manufacturers of sun tan lotion and lilos can breathe a sigh of relief. The British have not fallen out of love with beach holidays. Just yet. New figures contained in a travel report issued by the Association of British Travel Agents for 2017 show that 41% of holidays that we took last year were the beach version, while activity holidays comprised just 7%.

In fact, beach holidays were up on the year before (38%), while activity holidays had fallen from 9%. Clearly, collapsing for two weeks into a sun lounger only to emerge each evening for a well deserved sundowner is still how we prefer to spend our leisure hours.

But a splinter group is emerging, made of those seeking ever more active and adventurous ways to spend their non-working time. Largely comprising millennials, these holiday-makers are challenging travel companies to come up with yet more exotic ways of being out of the office.

Responsible Travel is one that has risen to the challenge. It has recently reported a 700% increase in the number of people booking to swim with orcas in Norway, and a 300% increase in people wanting to go on a survival course on a desert island.

We had to reread these statistics just to absorb them as our minds here in the Explorer Travel Insurance office fairly boggled. Admittedly, explore is in our name, so should be part of our corporate DNA, as they say, but swimming in Norway? With orcas? (more commonly known as killer whales when we last looked). When we could be downing pina coladas and fighting off suitors for our sun lounger that’s already located in a prime pool-side position?

We’re sorry but we’re with the majority on this and that’s the beach brigade.

 

Nice And Steady; You’ll Get There Soon Enough

It had to happen. This growing preoccupation at doing everything as fast as possible has caused a backlash. So more people now want to do more things more slowly again. And that includes travel.

Yes. Slow travel is making a comeback. Admittedly not at great speed – but that’s the point. People don’t want to do so many things as fast as possible anymore. Fast living, fast lane, fast food. You name it, and people are are slowly pushing back on it.

Word has it that a group of Italians invented the term ‘slow food’ when McDonalds sought to open an outlet in Italy in the mid 1980s; they took affront to the idea of being served ‘fast food’ as they thought it ran counter to everything they associated with food; conviviality and the pleasures involved in the buying, preparing and sharing of food.

Clearly not all Italians agreed with them as the outlet they were complaining about went on to become one of the company’s top 10 franchises worldwide! But the idea grew as more people realised that preparing, serving and eating food slowly means the meals are being created with greater precision, care and, dare we say it, love.

Slow travel then, joins a growing list of other slow things. We’ve seen references recently to slow science, slow gardening, slow cities, slow fashion, slow education and even slow parenting. This last one concerns us. Toddlers have been known to move at great speed and usually in the wrong direction – so slow parenting may not always be appropriate.

And slow travel may not either, especially when you just want a quick weekend break or a dash to New York for some Christmas shopping.

But consider just how many holidays you can have that constitute slow travel. You can’t get much slower than a walking holiday which involves simply putting one foot in front of the other for miles and miles. Depending how fit you are, then a cycling holiday can get pretty slow, especially going up hills. Canoeing, kayaking and sailing probably count as forms of slow travel – especially when the wind drops. Lots of train journeys definitely count as slow as do coach journeys that involve motorways. And let’s add river cruises here too.

So there you have it. Lovers of slow travel unite. But don’t rush.

 

 

Cruise Ships Put Safety First

Planning your first cruise holiday but worried about falling overboard? Well you needn’t. Since 2000, reports say roughly 300 people on cruise ships have fallen overboard. There were 17 cases reported in 2017 and so far in 2018, there have been five.

Tragic for those involved but when you consider that more than 20 million people take cruises each year then, all things considered, a fear of going overboard shouldn’t be used as an excuse not take a cruise.

Of course cruise lines are aware of these concerns and take strenuous steps to prevent them from happening. High railings on public decks prevent passengers from getting blown or swept off accidentally, and security cameras record what’s going on in public places.

Overboard incidents are usually down to reckless or deliberate accidents induced by drunkenness so cruise ship bartenders are trained to see when someone has had too much to drink and, like their colleagues on land, will stop serving them. Cruise ships also have on-board physicians and security officers to monitor people who might be at risk.

Of course given the age profile of many cruise passengers, deaths do occur onboard but again these are relatively rare, all things considered. In fact, the odds of dying on a cruise ship are roughly 1 in 6.25 million. It’s much more dangerous to drive in a car, where the odds of dying in a crash are about 1 in 645.

The biggest risk to your safety on a cruise ship is not falling off it, its the spread of diseases. Contact with ship railing, bathroom doors, and open food buffets can quickly spread contagious viruses like norovirus, which plagued hundreds aboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise in 2014. But here again, cruise companies have worked hard in this area and most routinely sanitise railings, handles, and other objects with virus-killing alcohol.

Still not convinced? Well consider a river cruise instead, as, in terms of falling overboard, river cruises are far safer than their open water counterparts. River ships are smaller than traditional ocean liners, so the chances of a deadly fall are slimmer and as river cruises go on much tamer waters, and sail closer to the shore then your chances of survival are much higher.

But consider this fact too. Out of all the holiday options out there, cruise ships are still among the safest. Heli-skiing? Now that’s another matter.

The Brighton Belle Glides Back

Why do historic trains have such emotional appeal? Say the words ‘Orient Express’ to most people and their eyes glaze over at the thought of elegant soirees. The words ‘Flying Scotsman’ will conjure up in most people’s minds dramatic images of speed and steam. Now another formerly famous train is hoping to capture our imagination again.

The Brighton Belle was once one of the UK’s most famous electric Pullman trains that journeyed daily from London Victoria to Brighton. Although it was withdrawn from service fully forty five years ago, its memory refused to die and, after a nine year fund raising campaign,  £6 million has been raised; enough to restore five of the coaches to their former glory and enough to launch a new rail service sometime next year.

The 5-Bel Trust, the organisation in charge of the restoration project, (Click here to watch a short video about their restoration efforts) is hoping to launch a new service sometime in 2019. Only it won’t be for commuters but day tripper who’ll be able to enjoy rides through Kent, Dorset  and Sussex.

In its heyday the Brighton Belle’s luxury Pullman service was renowned for its top quality service and art deco style, with avant-garde designers and famous furnishers like Maple fitting out the interior. It was also known for its celebrity passengers including many famous actors and actresses who lived in Brighton. Lord Olivier was one of them who, when discovering that his favourite breakfast kippers  had been removed from the menu, kicked up such a fuss that a petition was organised calling for their reinstatement. (And today’s celebrities consider themselves divas!)

Although absent for nearly half a century, the Brighton Belle was considered the flagship of the then Southern Railway’s mass electrification project, which began in 1931 and which carried on until April 1972 when it was withdrawn on the grounds that it was too expensive to run.

Which is not surprising if they had to serve fresh kippers every day.