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Happy travels

Planning for a holiday can be half the adventure, but it's not always plain sailing.

As you read this, I'll be part-way through a family trek across Europe. I'm the obsessive travel planner of the family, so took great delight in spending months researching options for every step of the journey. And while I enjoyed the process, it wasn't without its pitfalls.

Despite having carefully chosen the flights we wanted based on the timing that would work best for our family, a few months out from our departure I received an email asking me to agree to a schedule change. It was a yes/no choice – if I'd said no, there was no guarantee of getting comparable flights at the same price.

Then came the challenge that every family who has taken a long-haul flight with children understands: trying to ensure you are seated together. Apparently airlines don't think that kids under the age of 12 need to sit with their parents, even if you have booked as a group. Another few hours of online wrangling hopefully sorted this out.

I booked most of our accommodation through sites like Airbnb because when travelling with kids, we find it better to have some space. I was really taken by one apartment that seemed perfect for a family. But I got a bit suspicious when the owner asked to communicate via email, then tried to push me to pay a deposit outside the system. A Google Images search for his profile photo revealed that it matched the corporate photo of a German football star, which was when I realised I had been about to fall for a scam.

When it came to booking train travel in Spain, some advice from CHOICE campaigns director Matt Levey came in handy. The website of the rail operator Renfe is geoblocked in Australia, forcing you to go through travel agents who charge an outrageous mark-up. But with the help of a VPN and an online translator I was able to book like a local, at local prices.

I didn't have to be convinced of the need for travel insurance but choosing the right policy took some work because travel insurance can be full of little traps that you'd never expect. Like the fact that if you're travelling as a couple, some policies require you to be together 100% of the time. If, like me, you think that's a recipe for relationship breakdown, CHOICE's travel insurance policy reviews can help you to find something more appropriate.

Hopefully all of the preparation has paid off. It won't all go to plan – that's part of the mystery and delight of travel. But I do hope to come back unscathed by any major scams or rip-offs.

Wherever you may be travelling this summer, I wish you similar luck – and if in doubt, this edition of CHOICE is packed with tips to give you the best chance of a happy holiday.

Alan Kirkland, CHOICE CEO
Email: alan@choice.com.au
Twitter: @AlanKirkland