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The aim of this section is to help fellow independently-minded travellers by sharing inside knowledge on how to get the best deals without cutting corners on your stay (unless you want to).

I have to confess up front that this is not directed at real bargain-hunters. The last time I travelled on a severely tight budget was to France ’98, when I rang round the budget hotels in Lets Go France 98. These days we specialise in getting a lot for not much outlay, and this is where I can share any tips I have picked up along the way.

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Travel Tips

Planning your trip

Time is of the essence if you are looking for a choice of flights and hotels at a price you want to pay. Keep your ear to the ground for upcoming trips (check the SFA site for confirmed fixtures and the TAMB and the NATA Travel Details page for idle gossip) - this includes not only finding out when the qualifying draws are made, but when the relevant Football Associations meet to set the dates. Both of the North Atlantic in 2002 trips were booked within an hour of the fixtures being announced.

I'm a big fan of Lonely Planet books (a less-comprehensive, but still useful, website also exists), and usually buy this prior to booking if possible. This can be a big help in deciding where to stay and how to get there, and the bar section is usually pretty reliable.

Another essential source of information for Eastern Europe is In Your Pocket, again the website is not as useful as the booklets (available in most hotels and at airports), as after all, it doesn't quite fit "in your pocket" (unless you've got a PDA, that is).

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Finding and booking flights

Whenever a trip date is known, one of the first places I head is Expedia to get an overall idea of flight options (another handy source is Opodo). These two sites can give you an idea of which airlines fly to your destination - you can then hit their websites directly, and in most cases you will be able to save money by booking direct.

Note that this is not always the case - we saved £100 each on our flights to Turkey by booking through Opodo as compared to the Turkish Airlines web price.

One other thing to bear in mind - Airline websites (such as BA) are not always geared up for offering "open-jaw" tickets (in one airport and out of another) - this is one area both Expedia and Opodo excel in.

All in all, we probably fly BA more than any other - this is mainly due to how close we are to Gatwick. One thing to consider when looking at so-called budget airlines is how much it will cost you and how long it will take to get to the airport they fly from. The other big disavdvantage of the no-frills brigade is that low prices equals low service values, and as they are at the mercy of airport authorities who look after the big carriers first (less so at Luton, which Easyjet practically owns) - this can lead to short-notice changes to schedules.

Finally, a quick word about Trailfinders - they found us a very reasonable Cathay Pacific fare to Hong Kong and South Korea, and were very helpful and friendly on the phone. They may come in very useful if Bert continues his quest to play every side on the planet!

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The Expedia/Opodo trick can also be used with hotels, but there can also be some very good special rates (you pay in full up front for these with Expedia).

Helen (who often takes on the hotel booking duties) swears by Hotels Central.

Ibis Hotels (Travelodges with bars) have a presence in most large towns and cities in Europe, and Best Western hotels have very cheap early rates for high-rated accomodation.

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Package Travel (& City Breaks)

Does all the above sound like too much hassle? Well, you can always pay extra towards subsidising a tour rep and generating profit for a travel agent by taking a package deal. The most reputable company that specialises in these deals is Passport Travel, who are based in Clydebank, although Reds Travel of Aberdeen have recently moved into Scotland trips – both often use chartered flights from Scottish airports, which obviously adds convenience. Keep an eye on the TAMB 6-9 months before travel.

If package travel is what appeals, then I cannot recommend highly enough joining your local ATAC Club. These clubs regularly organise travel for members, often at a discounted or subsidised rate, and you can be assured that no-one is skimming the profits.

City break brochures are readily available from most high street travel agents. One company that deserves special mention is Regent Holidays, as they specialise in city breaks to less well-trodden destinations (e.g. Baku, Tblisi, Minsk and even Seoul).

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