Don’t jet off this summer without a little bit of financial factor 50 protection. If you're counting down the days until you go, while sun cream and clothes may top the list, with a little bit of pre-prep action you can save serious cash and prevent problems, leaving more money and time to spend on the enjoyable bits…
Urgently check if yours is one of 4m EHIC cards expiring this year
The free European Health Insurance Card gives you access to EU (plus a few other) state-run hospitals or GPs like a local. If it's free for them, it's free for you. Even if you've travel insurance, if going to Europe, get one and make sure you… - Check the expiry date. 4m expire in 2014, renew or they're invalid.
- Keep it on you. Everyone (including kids) needs one. It helps if you can show it.
- Do NOT pay. Beware Google. Many shyster sites disguise themselves as the real thing and charge c.£20 for bogus "fast track" applications. EHICs are always free, just go via www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC.
Slash the cost of airport parking
Public transport usually wins, but not always, especially for families/groups. As my user forumite Bigdaddy1210 says: "Got a brilliant deal following your tips using for a 4-day break - it's costing just over £40 instead of £115."
He booked very early, but even now, not leaving it until the last minute will save you. The speedy easy way is to check on comparison sites like HolidayExtras or Skyparksecure, or go via my full www.mse.me/airportparking guide - which has discount codes for comparison sites so your price is reduced further; as well as information about hotels where if you stay a night you can park for a week.
Don’t get your foreign cash at the airport, get cheapest holiday cash in seconds
They know you’re a captive customer and charge you far more because of it. If you’ve left it too late, at least pre-order online for airport pick up and you will get a better read. Or use the www.travelmoneymax.com comparison tool which finds you the best rates.
If you’ve more time the very cheapest way to spend abroad is on a specialist credit card. Once you’ve got one of those you get perfect exchange rates every time you go away (do pay it off IN FULL each month to avoid interest). Full rundown of the latest best buys at www.mse.me/travelcards.
Free holiday sat-nav and other quick tricks
The www.navmii.com free iPhone/Android app turns your phone into a sat-nav. You can download maps for about 50 countries – though do it before you go so you aren't charged data roaming costs once there.
I’m also a fan of the free WordLens app's where you can hold your phone over text and it auto-translates within the image – great for checking you’re not being ripped off.
And if you want accessories like travel plug adapters, neck cushions and eye masks, don’t leave it until the airport where they cost a fortune, take a quick trip to your local pound stores to see what they’ve got.
Sort travel insurance NOW (it can be as little as £6)
A quarter of people travel overseas without insurance, a terrible number and a huge risk both to your wallet and your health. Even of those who do get it many leave it too late. You should always book insurance as soon as you book the trip, or if it’s cancelled you won’t be covered.
If this trip is your only holiday of the year, then the two firms with reasonable cover levels vying to be cheapest are www.uk.protectyourbubble.com Economy and www.holidaysafe.co.uk. Cover for a week in Europe (age under 45) is as little as £6; rising to £54 for a fortnight in the US for a family (max age 55).
If you travel away more often than that, go for an annual policy that covers all your years trips, these can be as little as £13 for a single traveller in Europe, a full list of top picks at www.mse.me/travelinsurance guide.
Warning. Drinking can invalidate travel insurance
Losing something or having an accident after drinking - sometimes even just being merry - could kibosh medical and possessions cover. Don't take unnecessary valuables out and be careful.
Book car hire ASAP and save £100s
If you've left it late, booking a couple of days in advance rather than doing it once there, can still save you large. Three quick steps:
2) Hire for three or more days and some firms make you pay for a full tank and return it empty, that can be £100 extra if you don't drive far. Both www.auto-europe.co.uk and www.travelsupermarket.com let you filter by fuel policy to avoid this
3) When you pick up the car, the hire firm will try to fear sell you to get up to £20/day excess cover on top of the standard insurance. Instead, you can get cheap excess insurance before you go for as little as a few quid a day (though you will need leave a hefty deposit on your plastic) full best-buys at www.mse.me/carhire.
Don't wait until touchdown to turn off smartphone data roaming
Even if you don't use the web, apps can download data in the background, racking up bills, especially outside the EU of £100s. So turn off data roaming before you go (it's in 'settings' on most phones) and only turn it on if you specifically need it.