Surrey's leading travel experts recommend best holiday spots

It's time to escape the madness and take a little time for yourself in some exotic, faraway place. But where to go? Debbie Ward speaks to some of Surrey's leading travel experts to find out the places they recommend

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine January 2011

It’s time to escape the madness and take a little time for yourself in some exotic, faraway place. But where to go? Debbie Ward speaks to some of Surrey’s leading travel experts to find out the places they recommend, and their top tips on everything from how to find the cheapest airport parking to getting the best deals on the Eurostar

With the Christmas festivities over and winter still stretching ahead, our thoughts inevitably turn to holidays at this time of year. Thankfully, Surrey is particularly blessed with travel options, with the UK’s two largest airports, Eurostar and more, all within easy range.

“A lot of Surrey is obviously on great routes into Heathrow and Gatwick, then there’s the A3 and M3 down to Southampton and Portsmouth,” says Gemma Antrobus, the managing director of award-winning Surrey agency Haslemere Travel. “You’ve got the cruise ships of course from Southampton, and some from Portsmouth now too, as well as the ferries, and Southampton also has a lovely airport. 

“If you’ve not got big bags and the kids, London City Airport can even be a good option, as it’s just into Waterloo then the Jubilee Line and DLR.”

The majority of Haslemere Travel’s bookings are for long-haul, tailor-made holidays, with Australia, New Zealand, India and Africa popular for culture and adventure, and the Indian Ocean and Far East for the beaches.

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“Our customers like cruises or luxury beach or city breaks, but we’ve also had lads coming in saying ‘we want a stag break for three nights, �200 a head’,” says Gemma.

Island lifeOne of the UK’s biggest tour operators, luxury and long-haul specialist Kuoni, is based in Dorking. Traditionally, the Maldives is Kuoni’s biggest seller but it says interest in the islands increased further this year thanks to new all-inclusive hotels. Meanwhile, Thailand has been boosted by two-weeks-for-one deals, and exotic Sri Lanka shot up must-see lists after its civil war ended last year.

Kuoni tips India and Oman among future high-flyers. It’s also seeing more requests to get under the skin of a country. “It’s often the experience rather than the geographical location that travellers are looking for,” says vice-president of market management and pricing, Tamara Diethelm. “So, for instance, we now offer horseback safaris in Kenya, Bollywood dance lessons in India and even astronaut training at Cape Canaveral, Florida.”

Haslemere Travel’s Gemma has particularly noticed families branching out: “They want to have more of an adventure these days rather than just go to hotels with a good kids’ club.”

For future trends, Gemma tips Mexico, which recently gained a Gatwick to Cancun British Airways flight, and Abu Dhabi, which has been adding luxury hotels recently.

The personal touchWherever you’re thinking of, with plenty of good travel companies based in Surrey you don’t have to look far for great advice. Gemma stresses, contrary to popular belief, you don’t always get a better deal on the web, either.

“It doesn’t cost more to come to a travel agent and if anything goes wrong, like the ash cloud and strikes, you need someone you can rely on,” she says. “Agents also have a network of contacts; I spend most of my time forging relationships with hoteliers so we can ask for favours like connecting rooms, upgrades and VIP treatment.”

Did you know…?

You can visit Kuoni’s headquarters in Dorking (Deepdene Avenue on the A24) to browse brochures or destination videos and have an appointment with a sales consultant. www.kuoni.co.uk The Orient Express now runs selected day trips from Chichester. orient-express.com Surrey has its very own Arctic specialist. Discover the World in Banstead books the Arctic, Antarctic, Iceland and Greenland as well as more mainstream destinations such as Scandinavia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This winter, it suggests an ice hotel stay and husky sledging, bear-watching in Finland or seeking the beautiful Northern Lights. discover-the-world.co.uk Eurostar runs ‘ski trains’ in the winter months, connecting to Bourg-St-Maurice, Aime-la-Plagne and Moutiers in France. eurostar.com New Gatwick routes include British Airways to Cancun, Air Seychelles to the Seychelles, easyJet to Antalya and Luxor and Ryanair to Seville.

Top travel tips...

We asked Surrey travel companies, airports and Eurostar how to save cash and hassle on your holidays. Here are their top recommendations

Air

Book far in advance for the best chance of grabbing the cheapest seats, advises travel agency chain Flight Centre, which has head-quarters in New Malden. Being flexible with travel dates also helps. Consider hassle-free Southampton, says Haslemere Travel. You can reach France, Spain, Majorca, Portugal, Croatia and more. Shop around; Gatwick’s budget airlines aren’t always the cheapest, especially at the last minute. Fly indirect to save cash, suggests Flight Centre. You could also get a cheaper second leg of your trip if you stop over for a night or two en route. Airport shopping can be cheaper than the high street and Gatwick offers a ‘shop and collect’ service, allowing passengers to pick up their purchases on their return. Book airport car parking well in advance to get the best price, advises Haslemere Travel. Early departure a better deal? Weigh up an airport hotel to save you stress, advises Kuoni.

Eurostar

From many points in Surrey you can save money by buying a through ticket. “From Guildford, a round-trip starts from �74 and as our fares start from �69 that’s just �5 return between Guildford and St Pancras,” says a Eurostar spokesperson. See Connecting Services under Travel Information on www.eurostar.com For the best fares, avoid Fridays, Sundays and Monday mornings and book early; tickets are released four months ahead. Check lowest fare availability on the calendar under Latest Deals on the website. For perks like two-for-one exhibition entry and reward points, see www.eurostarplus.co.uk