My recommendations for travel, accommodation, planning etc.
06.04.2012 - 30.04.2012
My trip is over. I’m back in Australia. So how do I think it all went?
I had been planning this trip for about eight years. There were so many things I wanted to see but knew I just wouldn’t have the time. I was right about that.
Here are my tips for anyone planning on travelling. Bear in mind that I’m not a seasoned traveller but have learned a great deal from this trip.
Planning - Flights/travel
Definitely use a travel agent for air fares, rail passes and things like Oyster card for London. It’s much simpler. They have some great advice. I checked out the planes and airlines on www.geekabout.com. This gave me a list of top airlines, seat widths and leg room, service and rating. I picked three airlines, which my travel agent also recommended. In the end I travelled with Singapore airlines as I’d heard very good reports about the service.
I had plenty of room for my fat rear end in the seats, without impacting on the person next to me. Service was great and the trip pretty good. I’ll travel with them again. They also offered the flight times that I wanted. Cost was very reasonable at the early bird price and they offered an extra 10 kg of luggage.
The travel agent organised the British rail pass - $500 AUD for eight trips over three weeks. I got much more than $500 worth of travel and the trains in Britain are great. Roomy, power points for laptops and rechargers. Tables at some seats and big windows. I got great photos from the train. The trains also travel across country, providing great scenic routes between destinations. I really recommend this travel. I used the long trips as my rest day, catching up with my travel blog and just watching the changing scenery.
Planning - Currency
One of the first things I did, six months before I went, was to obtain a cash passport card (a debit credit card that converts your money into the currency of choice). I converted my travel money into British pounds and paid for all my accommodation, tours and anything else pre-paid, with this card. It saved me money on transaction fees and currency conversion fees. The card is active until 2015, which will be great for my return trip. Easy to use, easy to manage and it’s not linked to your usual bank accounts. You can even use it in Australia, although there are conversion fees.
Planning - Accommodation
I used www.booking.com and www.tripadvisor.com to trawl through dozens and dozens of accommodation options. I realised that accommodation was pretty reasonable in the UK and ended up staying in hotels and B&B’s. Most offer breakfast, although I often left too early to take advantage of the meal.
Booking.com was good as I used a price range to search for hotels. You could also refine the search into areas, which made it easier. I then looked at the photos and reviews. The reviews let you know the demographic of the person posting eg single traveller, older, business person, family etc. This gives you a more balanced view of the posted reviews.
To double check, I also looked for photos on Google of the hotel as people often post photos of terrible/dirty rooms etc on the web or blogs.
I then booked the accommodation on line. It took a lot of hours, but I was pretty happy with the outcome. I stayed in great places, except London. The hotel was okay, nothing fancy. The people were nice, but the rooms were so small you had to move your suitcase to the bed to be able to get past it. I should have booked a double room for more space as I felt very cramped. However, the hotel was situated in a great spot in Earl’s Court.
On my return trip to London I’ll be booking into a more expensive hotel, just for the sake of the space.
Planning - Tours
I knew what I wanted to see and made a list of things by priority. I searched the internet and booked a number of one day tours, leaving from Inverness or London.
I can recommend the following:
Premium Tours - Sunset tour of Stonehenge - inside the stone circle
Premium Tours - Lunch in the Cotswolds
* Anderson Tours - Avebury, Glastonbury Abbey, Chalice Well
Scottish Tours - Loch Ness, Eilean Donan Castle and the Isle of Skye
Scottish Tours - John O’Groats (nothing much at John O’Groats, but the trip up is lovely)
*This tour didn’t go to the advertised schedule but the places visited were wonderful.
Air Travel - jet lag
I had no jet lag coming from Australia to London. I boarded the plane at midnight in Australia and slept for a few hours. There was a four hour stopover in Singapore which was great to stretch the legs and iron out the kinks from all that sitting. I then slept for an hour or so on the long haul from Singapore to London, arriving mid afternoon. By the time I got through customs, travelled to the motel and settled in it was time for tea and then bed.
Plan the flights so you can sleep when you get to the destination, letting your body adjust to the time zone.
One the way home I thought I would be fine. I didn’t sleep much, only about three hours for the whole 23 hour trip. I arrived home at 8.30 pm in Australia. Very surprised at how hard the jet lag hit me. Took almost two weeks before I felt fully connected to local time and space. Other travellers have said that coming back to Australia is terrible for jet lag. I wholeheartedly agree.
Don’t over do it!
I had a full itinerary. Whilst staying in London I booked a number of day tours around the countryside which usually left around 7.30 am to 8.30 am and returned anywhere from 6.00 pm to 7.30 pm. You might not think it’s going to be tiring, but it is.
Allow for a couple of rest days on your trip. This gives you the option of catching up with laundry, going on another tour if you are up to it, or just resting up to get the energy for the next few days of camera clicking and exploring.
There were a couple of things I had planned to do that for one reason or another, didn’t get done. Don’t despair. Do what I did. Add it to the list of things to do when you return. One trip just isn’t enough, particularly when it comes to the UK.
I realised that I should have spent more time in Wales, but had not realised how lovely the place would be (preconceived, misinformed ideas about dirty mining towns). This leads me to my next point.
Be prepared for amazement and disappointment
I was stunned at how wrong I could be about Wales. I’d not had the forethought to investigate the country more thoroughly as I had only planned a quick trip to check out the Dr Who exhibition. I was disappointed I hadn’t allowed more time as the place was lovely, full of history and very welcoming.
I was disappointed with Bath, Edinburgh, Stratford on Avon and the Tower of London. They felt very commercial and very ‘touristy’ to me. I had felt so fully immersed in the past with every other location, but the shops and tourist cafes, souvenirs etc overrode the ambience of these places. I found the Royal Mile in Edinburgh a bit trashy. It’s a shame because it’s a wonderful city. Too many buskers and shops which seemed to be right on top of the things you were trying to see.
I’m a bit picky I suppose but my trip was to experience the past, not the present. I loathe shopping and hate trashy souvenirs, so these places really irked me. I found that everywhere else, there was a nice balance between the tourist shops and cafes which did not overshadow the attraction itself.
Best Value tour?
All of them! I had a wonderful time and found that the day tours gave you enough time to have a good look. No feeling of being hurried along. The tour guides gave some very good information, although I found the information varied from a number of sources.
The On and Off bus tour is a definite for any city. London in particular. Very good value. I obtained fabulous photos and video footage from the bus and got to see where everything was in a geographical sense. Go around more than once as you can catch the things you missed the first time. So much to see!
I loved travelling by myself. I could do as I pleased, change my mind and take my time. Never once in England, Scotland or Wales, did I feel unsafe. Of course, I do not trust anyone and looked after my valuables etc, but I used the underground and public bus systems to get around and found no issue with safety. It was often dark when I got back to my hotel but there were still plenty of people around and in London, Australians will notice that there are police everywhere compared to here.
I met so many people, in pubs, cafes, on buses, trains, on the tours etc. I think they were more inclined to talk to someone on their own. I learned a lot from the locals and recommend that you seek out the local pub or shop and get talking to the workers. You may be surprised at the knowledge you get from them. I was given some great advice about things to see and do, all because I talked to the locals.
Enjoy your trip!
I’ll be re-writing my blogs, which were written late at night when I was very tired. They will include a lot more information about what I see and the history of the attractions. Hopefully that will be done in the next couple of months.