ONLINE BOOKING OF FLIGHTS AND ACCOMMODATION
How to get the best deals)
Great link to visa needs, mileage calculator, and checking flights (Star Alliance)
Star alliance lounge finder
Aircraft codes used in online booking systems and timetables
(Large) Detailed rail map of Europe (small TGV only version)
Airline fare classes and codes
Check who has the best foreign exchange rates in Australia (for cash)
OzForex are great for international money transfers (not cash), and I've used them quite a few times.
Example: July 2014: Paypal 400EU cost $A605, Commbank was $A614+25=$A639 and Ozforex were $588.
Ten popular travel scams
The golden rule is to book flights early and hotels late
Use a travel check website to make sure your flights haven't been changed since you booked,
and (memo to self) change the dates of travel to make sure that hot and busy Europe in July and August is enjoyed by others other than moi :)
Travel check sites for the various booking engines (although these may work only for international flights; if in doubt which one to use, try them all, and Thai is often problematic):
Flights and cars and trains
Airlines, trains, and ferries sell the cheapest tickets first, then crank up prices as seats are sold. Hotels are different.
The golden rule is BOOK FLIGHTS AND TRAINS EARLY AND HOTELS LATE
Travel agents Ever since booking flights online became possible, people feel less and less inclined to talk to a travel agent. The exception to this rule must be a complicated itinerary that involves multiple connections or open-jaw tickets. The most sophisticated online system cannot deal with a complex multi-stage booking, and according to my insider mole in Qantas, it'll be years before it can. It seems that it is not that the computer are too stupid, the problem is with the people pushing the buttons..... . I use my travel agent a lot for international trips, maybe I am a problem button pusher but it makes things a lot easier.
Booking airlines direct - Virgin Australia www.virginaustralia.com and Qantas www.qantas.com.au and SAA www.flysaa.com. Otherwise a great booking system for online flights is this one: http://www.helloworld.com.au/flights/ and they have a low-cost carrier booking engine included as well. The Skyscanner service is pretty good and shows the cheapest (but not the convenient) flight prices over the month, but their iPhone app is totally awesome! And to find low cost airlines from obscure place to obscure place, lowcostairlineguide is great. Then find the best seat before you fly at http://www.seatguru.com/ with seat advice for 700+ seat maps, backed by 25,000+ flier reviews. And then check the seat quality (especially of the lie-flat seats) at http://www.flatseats.com/ If you ever get lucky enough to fly up the front of the plane, there is a listing of all the business class seats at: http://www.seatguru.com/charts/longhaul_business_class.php
And for a stopover on the way to Europe, here is an article about long haul stops and the hotels at stopover airports.
Hire Cars Book Avis at least 3 days in advance - and it can be cheaper by phone in Australia 1300 137 498 (I can't believe this is still true in this day and age) www.avis.com.au Mind you, in Germany, Avis seem to be a little unwelcoming of Australian travellers and to my mind, there is a lot to recommend using Sixt instead.
Flights: for links to the many low cost carriers, see the List of online sites below. Thai have just announced that Royal First Class is available on all flights between Sydney and Bangkok and on flights between Bangkok and Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Rome and Zurich and if I save all my frequent flyer miles for 31 years I can get a one-way trip in first class with them. I'm saving hard, and only have 26 years to go.
Trains: The German Deutsche Bahn is an excellent source of timetabling (even outside Germany), and it has an English interface http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/bin/query.exe/en? In France, the SNCF site is very good, and has just upgraded so you can print your own ticket. Regrettably you still have to pay for it. And for a rail map of the fast TGV rail lines in Western Europe (and travel times) rail map For journeys across several countries TGV Europe have a website in English; they'll post tickets all over the world, and you also get an e-mail with the reference number so you print the tickets yourself at the station (book with the credit card that you'll be taking on the trip). For the UK, the golden rule is book early because the fares go literally crazy (the Brits have really thrashed 'yield management' - their ferries are the same). The Raileasy site is very good for UK rail bookings, and you can book from overseas and pick up your tickets at the station when you travel (only using the same credit card though).
Hotels work differently to airlines, particularly in the five-star sector. First, hoteliers try to fill their rooms at the published rate, then will off-load the remainder at any price, sometimes slashing rates by as much as 70% as arrival day approaches. They do not like to advertise these discounted rates, so they give them to last minute booking sites. But never think you can get a bargain room in Paris - the French are too tourist-savvy for that.
For all hotel bookings in Europe (and most other places), if you want some precision in the matter, then both Booking.com and the German hotel reservation service HRS http://www.hrs.de are great; they work in many countries around the world. Both sites can be accessed in a variety of languages. I paid via HRS $A415 for a Paris hotel booking compared to $A351 I found on one of the last-minute booking services, and I was very happy. The cheaper last-minute booking service website fell over a few times as I tried to book, and a few days later, it became clear that I never got the booking after all. And it would have been not refundable. I didn't fancy turning up in Paris and find no booking, then have to drag my suitcase around looking for a hotel through the summer heat, tourists, etc, and wind up paying $1000+ at the only hotel with a room left. So I left the cheaper last minute booking services alone.
I especially like booking.com because they give access to a range of room types, and HRS scores highly for many because they find the cheapest rooms. Both work straightway, are usually changeable online (even part way through my trip, I can change or cancel it provided I haven't taken a non-refundable special). Worth the slightly higher cost IMHO. Wunderbar.
Booking at the last minute - in Australia use http://www.needitnow.com.au/NeeditNow/NeedItNow.asp For Asia, this website seems to offer access to travel agents rates (which is industry code for cheap!) http://www.asiarooms.com/
Researching the trip
Tripadvisor is the number one place to go: http://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ (they'll redirect to your local Tripadvisor server).
Before you book, check the climate www.worldclimate.com, or see what the UK Foreign Office says about your destination https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice# (if you check the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, it simply says that everywhere is dangerous). If you do come adrift, doctors in Bavaria , hospitals everywhere , chiropractors in Paris , Frankfurt and Meersburg Lake Constance. Then, before you set off, pick up maps and driving directions www.viamichelin.com and a currency converter chart www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet
Throughout Europe, treaties determine who must show a passport at which borders. Eastern Europe is following Western Europe's lead by opening up borders. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic countries and Slovenia - but not Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania - have joined the Schengen Agreement. That means you can freely pass between these countries, and existing Schengen countries (such as Germany, Austria and Italy), without stopping at any borders. Passport stamps will become even more rare, and you'll get a better night's sleep on international overnight trains. Great link to visa needs, mileage calculator, and checking flights (Star Alliance)
For deciphering travel within Germany and France, here are handy maps of the various regions, as well as of the Schengen countries:
What to bring with you
If you will be on the move a good deal, pack as lightly as possible. Some people say that you should try to stay under 14kg as an upper limit, but I never can get close to this :) In most places, you are expected to carry your own luggage. So well before the trip, absolutely check your suitcase rolls along smoothly. If not, go fix it or buy another. You'll be so glad you did. And buy one of those lighter-weight ones - it makes a difference.
Travel documents: passport, visas, travel insurance, air tickets, voucher
Money: cash/credit card/debit card, money pouch [and don't think your Commonwealth Bank cards, cirrus, maestro, etc will work in Europe at ATMs because they often don't and I've been caught so many times that I now use an ANZ Visa debit card for European ATMs and it works well]. TAKE AT LEAST 2 DIFFERENT CREDIT CARDS. I take 3 plus a debit card. That way, when one gets compromised and cancelled, I can still keep travelling. My worst moment was sitting in the airport near home waiting to take-off on 4 weeks holiday, and the phone range from the bank saying my card was compromised and so I cancelled it (I hadn't even taken off yet!!).
Call your bank credit card department beforehand and let them know you're travelling otherwise they'll try and cancel your card halfway through as the overseas bills start rolling through. Most banks let you do this online now (Commonwealth Bank 13 2221 or the emergency collect call is +61 2 9999 3283).
Photocopies of all documents
First Aid kit and personal medication
Alarm clock or cellphone+charger+adaptors and torch/flashlight
Comfortable walking shoes with good grip
Swimming costume and towel
Sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
Medicines (including some in your day pack for the aircraft)
Hat, scarf and woollen beanie
Warm clothes as weather is sometimes changeable
Smarter clothes for nights out
Turn 'find my iPhone' on if you have one - very handy if it gets lost or stolen.