January has been exceptionally cold, even by the usual standards.

So it’s not exactly a surprise that bookings for foreign holidays are through the roof at the moment, as people flee the miserable weather for a bit of winter sun.

If you are planning a getaway, here’s my checklist for last minute bookings, from avoiding emergencies to staying sane at the airport!

Travel insurance

It’s vital to have a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy before you go on holiday. Get the best policy you can afford now, and check for the following things:

  • Excess fees. This is the amount you have to pay towards a claim. The higher the fee, the worse value the policy.
  • Policy limits. These are the maximum sums your policy will pay out for claims, on everything from lost property to hospital treatment. Aim for the best limits you can.
  • Adventure/winter sports cover. If you’re taking part in anything even remotely exciting, from horse riding to paragliding, you can ‘add-on’ this extra level of cover cheaply. If you take a spontaneous but ill-advised ride on a banana boat, you’ll be grateful you did!
  • Strike cover. Consumer Association Which? found 40% of policies didn’t cover strike action last year. Strikes by airline staff are covered by existing laws, but other industrial action may not be.
  • Personal property. Don’t take ten tons of tech, like tablet computers and laptops, on holiday if you can. Most insurance policies have strict limits on pay-outs for lost, stolen and damaged items.

Planning for the airport

Airports are likely to be rather busy, so if you’ve got kids, take along plenty of things to keep them occupied.

The most important thing to bring to the airport is a phone or gadget charger. There are loads available online so buy a few, charge them fully and keep them in your bag. Last-minute announcements about your flight tend to arrive by email or through your app – and your tickets are likely to be on your phone too. So don’t get caught out by a flat battery.

Remember that once flights are delayed longer than two to three hours depending on the flight duration) then you might be entitled to vouchers for food and drinks. Don’t get too excited, these are quite low value, but they are better than nothing.

Airport charges

You are a captive audience at the airport and they know it. So watch out for ever-increasing charges. The cheekiest, in my opinion, is the ‘drop off’ fee (what the French fabulously call the ‘kiss and wave’). You could be billed a seven quid or more just for dropping someone off outside the airport! Short stay prices are rising too.

Car park costs are something to look at pragmatically. They are pricy, but don’t be tempted to use one of the non-airport affiliated parking services. I’ve heard horror stories about cars left parked in dodgy areas, being taken for joy rides and getting damaged. Don’t be fooled by flashy websites.

Currency

You don’t need to be solely reliant on buying currency any more as most countries accept card payments. I take a combination of cash and use some cards. But do your research beforehand.

Some digital banks don’t charge commission or excessive interest on payments made using their cards (high street banks do, generally) and some credit cards do the same and give you the best daily rates. There are also free cards that give you the best rates available that link your existing cards too, like the Currensea card, which provides the best value I’ve found.

Above all else, don’t buy your currency at the airport. This is traditionally where the worst rates are.

One last tip

Save vital info like your travel insurance emergency number on your phone and photograph documents like booking confirmations so you have them to hand in emergencies. You might want to email them to yourself too, but use a crafty subject line – like ‘granny’s birthday pics’ – just in case a fraudster manages to hack your emails!

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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