Back when we all used travel agents or bought all inclusive vacation packages for travel overseas, sorting out all the loose ends was easy. Either somebody else who was calm and experienced helped us do it, or there weren't any loose ends.
But the trend for independent, online travel booking keeps growing. In 2009, according to the U.S. Travel Association, 93 million Americans used the internet to book their travel - an increase of 3 million over 2008.
The Pros and Cons of Independent Travel
Taking charge of your own travel planning is liberating, but can also be complicated. What's the best way to arrange travel money? Will an economical car rental be available at the train station? Which travel insurance is the right one? Where will you kill all those hours at the airport between connecting flights. And how do you get from the airport to your first destination?
For UK travelers going abroad, the problem is often planning time to get to their international departure airport. If you live in York and you are flying out of Manchester Airport for example. Or traveling up from the West Country to fly from Gatwick or Heathrow.
My own personal bugbear is having to arrive at Gatwick at the crack of dawn for international flights that depart early. Gatwick may be only half an hour from Victoria Station in Central London by train but if you have to leave for Victoria before the London Underground starts running the whole business of leaving becomes stressful and exhausting.
I'd been hearing about Holiday Extras.com for a long time. This is an online service that promises to sort out all those little bits and bobs (from UK airports and stations at any rate) that help a vacation get started - or finish - without too much drama. They'll book airport or station hotels, arrange travel money and insurance, organize entry into airport lounges, sort out car rentals or find hotel and airport parking packages.Their services are available for all the UK international airports, Eurostar stations at Ashford and Ebbsfleet, Eurotunnel at Folkestone, and the ports of Dover and Southampton.
If Only I Had SatNav
I decided to give it a try. Booking a hotel and parking at Gatwick was easy online and seemed cost effective. The paperwork, with confirmed, prepaid hotel and parking reservations was duly emailed to me. At the hotel and at the parking area, my reservations were recognized and honored with no fuss. In the morning, before my unbearably early departure, I simply dropped off my key at the airport hotel and walked through a passageway to airport departures.
If I have any little quibbles at all it was that the parking selected was miles from the airport terminals and difficult to find on country roads in the dark. The directions, which were emailed along with the reservation, were complicated and confusing and, if I hadn't asked directions of an airport employee met by chance and going my way, I might still be lost in the wilds of Kent. Of course, if my clapped out old Ford had been equipped with SatNav that would not have been a problem since SatNav coordinates are provided with the directions.
All in all, it was a good experience. I would recommend Holiday Extras.com and use the service again myself. But I would advise that if you are planning on driving to one of the UK's larger airports at night for an overnight hotel stay, pay a little bit extra for a deal that combines a hotel stay with on-site hotel parking. Off-airport parking is cheaper but can be stressful to locate.