How to make sure you have a stress-free holiday

From taking the hassle out of car hire, to suggested pool-side reading, Merryn Somerset Webb gives her top tips for a stress-free holiday.


Give yourself more reading time

If you follow me on Twitter or any other social media you will see a change in my posts in the next few weeks. There will be nothing more on interest rates and cyclically adjusted price/earnings ratios and very little on investment trust premiums and discounts.

Instead there will be pictures of various UK beaches and the odd tip about what to serve with mackerel sashimi if your village shop doesn't stock wasabi. I'm taking four weeks off from this column. But before I go, I want you to know that I have been thinking a bit more about your holidays.

I wrote last week about the awful excess waiver services that we all tend to get from car hire companies and their middlemen. This generated a veritable avalanche of correspondence and I want to pass on the useful information that came in from readers as a result.

If you visit, you can buy annual multi-trip excess insurance for a mere £39.99 for Europe and £49.99 if you are likely to travel further afield.

Better still, this includes all the things that most waivers do not tyres, wheel rims, the undercarriage, windows and even mistakes with fuel. Go to and Europe is a little cheaper at £35.99, while worldwide is a little more (£59.99).

Readers assure me that both are perfectly straightforward to claim on so there seems little reason not to sign up. The other option, suggested by a few more readers, is to get a Platinum American Express card instead.These come with automatic excess insurance.

I like this idea, but it isn't for everyone. The card costs £450 a year, so you had better be sure of getting another £400-worth of value out of its other services: worldwide travel insurance, Rewards points, a concierge service, and for some people at least, the warm glow of holding a high-status credit card.

So, that's that taken care of. Next up, luggage. If there is anything more boring than standing in car hire queues it is standing in airline bag drop-off queues.

When I lived in Japan 20 years ago, no one lugged suitcases around. Instead, we dropped them off at our local convenience store and had them sent ahead of us, using a service called Takkyubin.

In my many conversations with readers about car insurance, I find that you can now do this in the UK. Go to and you can have a bag picked up in the UK three days in advance and delivered to France for £29.

That might not save you money (unless you are flying Ryanair), but assuming you don't have to make special plans to be at home for the pick-up, it might save you some of the boring bit of the airport. does the same for £34.

If you get both of the above sorted you might find yourself with rather more reading time than usual. If so, then do pick up a copy of Felix Dennis's How to Get Rich.

Dennis, the publisher of Maxim and The Week, died earlier this year. He was very rich indeed (worth around £500m) and the distillation of his thoughts on how the rest of us can get rich too is well worth reading for its honesty and clarity.

In a nutshell, you don't have to be clever, but you do have be canny and not share anything; you'll need to have a "sliver of ice" inside you and be capable of being quite nasty.

If you want to follow the theme of not particularly nice men making a mint, you could move on to Ian Fraser's impressive new book Shredded: Inside RBS, the Bank that Broke Britain.

Fred Goodwin, the bank's chief executive during the go-go years, had some "decidedly odd behavioural characteristics" reports Mr Fraser. He was "deliberately confrontational"; "had a habit of verbally tearing people apart"; and "bordered on the psychotic". The book is worth reading for the bitching alone, but the detail on the crisis is a nice bonus.

Goodwin made a lot of money, of course: he left RBS with a lump sum of £5m, all his past bonuses and a pension of "£6,586 a week".

If you are already Felix Dennis rich, or have what it takes to become thus, you should steel yourself and move on to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty First Century. This is long, boring, and much more bought than read. Feel free to drop it in the pool around lunchtime on day two. But if you haven't yet, you should at least skim it.

The general theme is well-known: the rich are getting richer; the distribution of wealth is far too unequal; and the best way to sort the problem out is to introduce a global wealth tax.

The first two clauses may be true and a problem; they may be true and temporary, a result of the redistribution effects of quantitative easing; or they may be no more than partially true. That depends on how you interpret an awful lot of statistics.

But the key point here is that most people, including almost all politicians, now believe them both to be true. That means a wealth tax is inevitable. You might as well come back from holiday with a sense of just why that is.

Finally, if you want to read what I think will be a good rebuff of the idea that the rich usually just get richer, you might join me in one of my own summer books. It was a favourite of City grandee Siegmund Warburg's too: Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family.

Thomas Mann's first novel, it was published in 1901 and describes the collapse (financial and otherwise) of a once hugely successful merchant family. It will leave us with the not particularly happy reminder that, wealth tax or not, once the member with the sliver of ice dies, it's just as hard for families to stay rich as it is for them to get rich in the first place.

This article was first published in the Financial Times.



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