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Play the holiday rep this summer!

by Clive Jewell features@algarveresident.com

British Consul to the Algarve Clive Jewell will be sharing with our readers interesting aspects of his job as well as important information for those living, working or holidaying in the region.

This month many of us will welcome friends and family for their summer holiday, and they will face some tough decisions. Beach or pool? Sardines or chicken piri-piri? Green or white wine?

We all relish the chance to slip down through the gears, leave work and responsibilities behind and relax on our hard-earned holidays. That is when we can become vulnerable. Sensible precautions and daily routines that we carry out at home can melt away when we are on holiday because our minds are in a different space. It is easy to do, and we all do it. But for some of us it results in the very thing we are trying to avoid – stress!

Before joining the FCO, I worked for many years in the holiday business. As a young rep in Spain, I used to dish out the standard advice to newly arrived guests: don’t drink the tap water; hire a hotel safe; avoid the sun in the middle of the day; beware the larger measures in the bars; agree taxi prices before you start the journey; and absolutely do not approach or stroke stray dogs!  

I was offering this priceless guidance to my customers in my first summer season in Menorca 31 years ago and most, if not all of it, remains valid today. Friends and former tour operating colleagues still give this and other relevant advice to their customers today.

The Travel Advice section of the FCO website (available on ukinportugal.fco.gov.uk) also offers comprehensive advice. It is there because we all need reminding of things before travelling, when we are about to get into some serious relaxation.

If you are welcoming guests, why not help them by finding yourself a clipboard, mocking up a name badge and playing holiday rep for half-an-hour with some valuable hints and tips for your nearest and dearest? Here’s your starter for 10

Passports

Your passport is valuable and expensive to replace. Keep it safe when you don’t need it. Unlike other European citizens with an ID card, we Brits have to use our passport as official ID when abroad.

One way of complying with this is by obtaining a certified copy of your passport, something that can be done cheaply in many UK Post Offices. It can also be done here in the post office, Junta de Freguesia or the British Consulate, but costs vary. A certified copy is not valid as a travel document but if stopped by the police, they will accept it.

Safeguarding your belongings

Statistics (consult the Safe Communities Algarve website) show that crime in the Algarve has been on a downward trend in recent years, but the fact is that petty crime happens everywhere.

Opportunist thieves operate in all popular tourist destinations and Portugal is not immune to this. Do you really need to take valuable items on holiday, especially those of sentimental value? If you do, keep them in a safe when not being used.  

When you are soaking up the rays by the pool, is your property secure in the areas you can’t see? Lock all doors and windows and activate the alarm, if there is one, when you go out. It takes minutes. Best practice will help you avoid becoming a burglary victim.

In cafés and bars, don’t leave your bag on the floor or hooked over your chair. Crowded public transport gives thieves the opportunity to dive into your pockets or grab your bag. In the street, beware of scams involving distraction and be wary of ‘helpful’ passers-by. Thieves often operate in groups.

When out and about in your hire car, try not to open the boot to reveal all its contents in a car park in view of anyone who may be watching. It can be irresistible to nip into a favourite beach location on the way to or from the airport, but leaving your car unattended with all your luggage in it, especially personal or valuable articles, or medication, even in the boot, is risky anywhere and should be avoided.

Beware of scams where you appear to suffer a flat tyre and an apparently helpful stranger stops to help you change the wheel, or a fellow tourist appears lost and asks you for directions in a supermarket car park. An accomplice could be rifling through your belongings while you are distracted.  

Awareness of local surroundings

It is important to be aware of local laws and customs, and of what’s going on around you, especially in unfamiliar places, and late at night in bars and clubs and particularly when drinking alcohol. This is when we can be at our most vulnerable. Be street-wise, not street-prey. Be prudent late at night and avoid walking along unfamiliar, unlit routes, especially alone. Taxis operate 24/7 and are inexpensive, even in the very small hours.  

The lure of the beach is irresistible in summer, but this is not the place to leave your wallet, keys and iPod unattended when you go for a swim or a stroll along the beach. Swim only at beaches with a flag system and lifeguard, as you may be taken by surprise by unfamiliar rips or other sea conditions. Death by drowning occurs every year on Portuguese beaches.    

All of these hints and tips are based on common sense values that all of us employ under normal circumstances. But on holiday they are often filed under F for forgettery! So, when your house guests have made themselves comfortable, badge-up, uncork their beverage of choice and give them the welcome they deserve!