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Savvy travellers stretch their cash

WITH Christmas gone, bills to pay and half of winter still to come, many of us will be dreaming of getting away from it all as the dark days of January take their toll.

That is why it is no coincidence travel agents target the post-festive season for heavyweight advertising campaigns.

Research from Sainsbury's Bank illustrates the importance of January to the travel market. Of the 22.8 million Britons it estimates will holiday overseas this year - an anticipated rise on the 20.6 million who did so last year - 15% will have booked by the end of this month. And 25% had already booked a 2014 holiday before the new year.

Yet the survey also highlights that people are being canny about the cost of their travel plans. Nearly one in four (24%) said they will book their holiday independently, dealing directly with their chosen airline and accommodation providers to reduce costs. Some 15% said they plan to stick to a strict budget when on holiday, while 13% said they intend to holiday somewhere in the UK to limit their outlay.

According to the eighth Post Office Travel Money holiday report, prices have fallen by up to 32% in 70 resorts and cities across the world. The biggest falls - of 30% to 32% - were found in Jamaica, Japan and the Gambia, but there is no shortage of destinations where your pound is now going a lot further.

The report's worldwide holiday cost barometer - which charts the price of a three-course meal for two with wine, a cup of coffee, bottle of local beer, sun cream and a pack of cigarettes - identified the Algarve as the cheapest destination in Europe. With prices down 18%, it has trumped the Costa del Sol in Spain to top place. Resorts in Cyprus (Paphos), Greece (Corfu) and Italy (Sorrento) are also now cheaper, though Italy remains the most expensive in the eurozone.

Non-eurozone countries are also vying for UK holidaymakers' attentions. A doubling of kuna currency sales in the past two years has led the Post Office to make Croatia one of its 10 holiday hotspots for 2014, while a five-year low in the value of the lira means holidaymakers will pay 19% less in the Turkish resort of Marmaris than a year ago.

Other hotspots highlighted by the report include Vietnam. Thanks to direct flights from the UK, cheap resort prices and a new crop of boutique beach hotels, there was a 94% rise in Vietnamese dong sales last year - the biggest growth for any currency. South Africa has also been touted, with the death of Nelson Mandela expected to spark a growth in visitor numbers.

But the title of best-value destination in the world has gone to Bali, where the price of goods charted by the barometer came in at £31 - more than one-third cheaper than Sri Lanka. Thanks to the slump in the value of the Indonesian rupiah, the country is now 19% less expensive than it was a year ago.

Paul Havenhead, head of travel at the Post Office, said: "Holidaymakers will be spoiled for choice this year with better value for money in most destinations worldwide. To cash in on this, UK tourists should do their homework before booking to find out where the pound is worth most and where resort costs are low."

There are factors beyond the price of goods in holiday destinations that travellers are urged to consider, including travel insurance.

Scott Gorman, head of Sainsbury's Travel Insurance, said: "We'd encourage anyone planning a trip to shop around for their travel insurance policy at the same time, or even in advance of, booking their holiday. Comparing policies on a like-for-like basis, as well as on price, will give you peace of mind.

"It's also worth ensuring your policy has travel disruption cover as this will cover you for incidents such as airline failure or cancellations. Without insurance in place, you may be left out of pocket."

Costs associated with foreign currency exchange and using plastic cards are also worth bearing in mind.

Most high-street banks and credit card providers impose charges on credit and debit cards when withdrawing money or making purchases abroad.

But alternative foreign exchange providers are entering the market pledging to help consumers minimise such costs.

These include WeSwap, which bills itself as the first peer-to-peer currency exchange website.

The website works by allowing people to deposit money from their bank account into a WeSwap account online, and matching them with a fellow member abroad which holds the currency they want, and wishes to change their currency in the opposite direction.

The currency is then swapped at the real-time wholesale ­interbank rate, which guarantees value. Members then access their funds by using a WeSwap pre-paid Mastercard, which can be used to withdraw cash from ATMs without fees.

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