Ask Simon Calder: Holiday money - Live coverage - The Independent

Ask Simon Calder: Holiday money

Ask our Senior Travel Editor your holiday money queries.

  • We'll be starting at 13:00, but feel free to ask questions ahead of time using the `Make a comment` button above, which we'll then answer in the main chat.
    4/5/2011 9:00:45 AM
  • Simon: What's the best value holiday destination in the UK?
    4/5/2011 12:05:36 PM
  • Good question - if I can begin by answering the opposite, the most expensive destination in the UK is London (followed, in hotel-rate terms, by Bath). But for bargains you don't need to forsake the capital; there's a good-value campsite at Crystal Palace. Anyway, in my experience for the totality of holiday spending - transport, accommodation, meals, attractions - you need to look to the less touristy fringes, such as Northumberland, Lincolnshire or Argyll.
    4/5/2011 12:08:23 PM
  • I'm heading off round Asia and Australasia in a months' time. My folks at home can monitor my online account but can you tell me any best practice on managing money while away for a long break?
    4/5/2011 12:08:30 PM
  • For your trip, pre-paid MasterCard looks the best bet, but only with a good wodge of US dollars for the Asian stretch. My preferred prepaid cards are FairFx for euros, Phones4U for sterling, and Travelex for US$. You can make reasonble-price withdrawals from ATMs with these. But once you get to Australia, if you're there for a long stretch then opening a local bank account will help make up for the present punitive AUD rate.
    4/5/2011 12:11:32 PM
  • Hello Simon. I have always used my credit card when making any major purchase abroad - and have been reasonably happy about the exchange rate? Am I missing something or is it really not a bad idea?
    4/5/2011 12:12:17 PM
  • Martin, it's a good idea; I do exactly the same. But let me emphasise that it's a CREDIT, not a debit card. That means it is governed by Visa/MasterCard policies that basically mean you get a not-too-bad exchange rate, and no charges (unless you make the mistake of using an ATM or you don't pay off in full before the deadline). But with a DEBIT card, even if it's still a Visa card, your individual card provider takes a huge rake-off; for a typical €20 lunch, you'll pay an extra €2 or more for using your debit card. I take mine abroad, but only for use in ATMs when needing an emergency cash injection. And one more thing when using any plastic abroad; NEVER take up the option of settling in sterling. Example: yesterday, at a Spanish airport, I spent €27. I was offered the chance of paying just under £25 in sterling which meant a rate of about 1.08.
    4/5/2011 12:17:40 PM
  • Spending money in Argentina, Buenos Aires to be precise. How much should I take to live well (large steaks, red wine etc)? I like to think I could have a really good time on around £200 for a week? Am I correct, or am i over/under budgeting. I'd rather spend as little as possible of course. Gracias.
    4/5/2011 12:17:53 PM
  • (Apologies for the first two answers, which will have appeared as if answered by Jack Riley - they were in fact posted by Simon but misattributed thanks to a technical issue)
    4/5/2011 12:19:12 PM
  • All depends, Miguel, on where you will be staying. If you choose one of the cheap hostels (my favourite is Hostel One at Bolívar 1291) then you'll be paying as little as £80 for your accommodation. That leaves £120 for large steaks, red wine etc. Buenos Aires on less than £20 a day? You can do it, but you won't be making the most of a great city - and missing out on the expensive but worthwhile trip across the River Plate to Uruguay. (
    4/5/2011 12:21:26 PM
  • What's the best deal at the moment caused by twitchiness resulting from the Arab Spring uprisings? Must be some bargains for the brave, I guess.
    4/5/2011 12:21:30 PM
  • Undoubtedly Tunisia, where tour operators haven't cut back much on capacity, where Air Passenger Duty is only £12, and which looks fairly serene at present. Good question, Peggy Sue - because it has had some significant impacts elsewhere. Egypt prices haven't fallen far because so much capacity has been taken out of the market. Demand for "safe" destinations, notably Portugal, Spain and Greece, is rising sharply, pushing up prices. Morocco is going to be amazing value this summer, but not because of the uprisings; it's because BA and BMI have decided to join the scrap between London and Marrakech, along with easyJet, Ryanair and Royal Air Maroc; for the second week of May, Ryanair is offering Luton Marrakech return for £64.
    4/5/2011 12:24:46 PM
  • We're on holiday in Turkey later this year and looking forward to shopping in the bazaars. But I'm worried about carrying loads of cash in the crowds. Do I just have to confront the fear, or have you any canny suggestions?
    4/5/2011 12:24:55 PM
  • Don't fret! In my experience Turkey (along with Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia...) is one of many places in the world where you don't need to worry about pickpockets. The places I worry are in Europe: Barcelona, Rome, Prague are the risky locations, with rogues also in Krakow, Paris, Seville and anywhere else with high tourist populations. So relax and enjoy your trip.
    4/5/2011 12:26:53 PM
  • What's the DEAREST country you have ever been to? Then I'll know where to avoid unless my lottery ticket comes up. At least I can dream...
    4/5/2011 12:26:58 PM
  • Bermuda. I went there a few years ago for the Independent and loved the archipelago, but not the prices. First, there's the air fare; even though it's almost the same distance as New York, fares are often twice as high because BA has a monopoly. Next, accommodation is universally (a) high quality and (b) high priced, with no single rooms available for under £100. Enjoy your lottery win!
    4/5/2011 12:28:53 PM
  • This is not really about holiday money, but more about saving it? Do you use a dual-sim phone on your travels or do you have any other advice for avoiding ridiculous charges?
    4/5/2011 12:29:00 PM
  • Very good question, Martin, and I'm constantly appalled by the ludicrous and unjustifiable roaming rates imposed by mobile phone providers. So that the office can keep in touch, I leave my mobile switched on (and therefore take a hit for incoming calls), but to make calls I always use Skype, offering free calls to other Skype subscribers or very low-cost calls to other numbers. And you can find free WiFi in all kinds of places; last week I sat down beside a beachside restaurant in Western France and communicated freely for ages.
    4/5/2011 12:32:06 PM
  • Hi simon, wd appreciate your advice. Driving through france for 2 weeks in September. I have an M&S credit card and a reward a/c with Halifax. Usually I get euros commission free from M&S (they usually seem to have good rate) for incidentals and pay large bills in shops, restaurants, hotels with credit card. I’m sure you can give me a better way to do it!
    4/5/2011 12:32:16 PM
  • The only change I would make is searching for better value for cash euros. M&S is good, but not the best. Working in central London, I cycle around all the backstreet bureaux de change and get a few cents better rate (currently the string of about 8 bx de ch in Queensway W2 seem to be offering the best deals). If that's not practical, and you're using the Chunnel, order euros online at and pick them up at the Folkestone terminal.
    4/5/2011 12:35:15 PM
  • Does any country actually encourage low-budget tourists? You know, the old Woolworth's principle of maximising the footfall to make the most of small spends?
    4/5/2011 12:35:17 PM
  • Margaret, five years ago I would have said "Australia" - a country that, to its great credit, has always welcomed backpackers. But the rate of exchange that was once as good as AUD 2.70 to £1 is now almost half that, which for us long-suffering holders of Sterling means prices have effectively doubled. Still a great country to explore, but closer to home I'd say Bulgaria - only because you don't need much money to live like a (probably deposed) king in this beautiful Balkan nation.
    4/5/2011 12:37:53 PM
  • Is it worth getting a prepaid travel card before I go away?
    4/5/2011 12:38:20 PM
  • Pre-paid money cards are great, John, so long as you manage them properly. That means not loading them with funds which you then forget about. The first role is to avoid the ludicrous £6 per person, per flight charge for using a debit/credit card on Ryanair; whenever I'm buying a flight, I load my card with just the amount I need. Then, for spending abroad, keep an eye on your account online, and perhaps towards the end of your trip empty it of euros/dollars at an ATM. You can keep it dormant until next time, and keep the cash in your drawer with the socks until your next foray to the appropriate destination.
    4/5/2011 12:42:05 PM
  • Hi Simon, this is such a great idea! I will be travelling to Kaula Lumpur Malaysia, and Bali Indonesia from next week - would you advise taking a local currency, or US$? Thank you, Kevin.
    4/5/2011 12:42:09 PM
  • Take sterling! Any "exotic" currency, such as Malaysia's ringgit or Indonesia's rupiah, is always going to have a lousy rate in the UK, but a good rate once you touch down. If you've a few spare USDs then take them for emergencies, but don't change specially.
    4/5/2011 12:43:22 PM
  • Ignoring flights (I have a lovely auntie who has volunteered that), what's the best value spot in the world to spend a month? Happy slumming it within limits, and really want to get somewehere unusual. Thanks Simon
    4/5/2011 12:43:24 PM
  • India by a mile; I've enjoyed reasonable accommodation at less than £1 a night, eaten all day for the same, and travelled thousands of miles on the finest transport enterprise in the world, Indian Railways, for a pittance. And you've also got 1 billion friendly people to brighten your trip. Happy travels.
    4/5/2011 12:44:49 PM
  • And that concludes our live Q+A. Thanks for commenting, everyone, and look out for the next one soon.
    4/5/2011 12:46:05 PM
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