2017 Travels – UK Edition – Lessons Learned

This post was supposed to go up last Tuesday. However, I very cleverly hid the notebook in which I had written the post by tidying up my room so that I overlooked the notebook when packing for my road trip. Thus, I had to wait until after to get the post up.

This is what I wrote a couple weeks ago…

Several weeks have passed since the trip, enough for it to pass into memory and make me wonder if we actually got to do all that. This trip fulfilled all of my expectations and then some.

I should have had this post up last week (aka the last week of June) but this is the summer of travel and distraction. I thought I had a different post scheduled for that week and thus chose to enjoy the beach rather than check to be sure.

On to the lessons learned:

Lesson #1 Book as much ahead of time as possible.

I learned my lesson through my mistakes in earlier trips like Italy in 2015. For example, I did not book tickets to the Vatican ahead of time. We ended up in a massive line which led us directly to getting suckered into a guided tour with a sub par guide that we lost less than halfway through the tour. (We were relieved though.)

Booking ahead of time has two primary benefits. First, online advance tickets often come with some sort of discount. Even if the tickets cost the same online as in person, booking ahead of time helps budget planning, both setting and maintaining. Second, advance tickets usually come with the added benefit of a formal or informal skip-the-line status. Several times we arrived at a particular stop and found a long queue but got to jump to the front.

For example, on one day we skipped the line twice. At Westminster Abbey we got in the one line. I took the tickets out of the folder and held them face out in the hopes that an employee might see and invite us to the front. That move paid off mere minutes later. When we arrived at the War Rooms after touring the Abbey, I was surprised to see a line down to the street and around the corner. I spotted a separate skip-the-queue side. We got to go inside minutes later.

Lesson #2 Factor in the exchange rate.

Of course, I knew that our dollars would not go quite as far-although father than my dollars went six years ago-but I neglected to take a look at the average exchange rate and calculate how many pounds roughly equaled the $100 a day I budgeted for us to spend. Each night as I entered the charges (something I learned in Chicago) the total usually reached $10-20 above the $100 threshold. That’s not much, of course, just enough to cause mild frustration but not a budget buster. It could, however, easily become a budget buster depending on the exchange rate and record-keeping diligence of the traveler.

Lesson #3 Communicate with your travel companions about the budget and the plan.

While Mom and I have similar tastes and methods, I have been to England before and brought back souvenirs. I forgot to ask Mom what she planned to purchase. Thus, I neglected to factor that into the budget. Complete information makes for easy budget planning.

Lesson #4 Plan for navigation needs.

Unlike six years ago, I printed out no maps. That trip took place pre-smartphone for me. We did not have too many issues and none of the ones that we did have were significant. However, things could have flown a lot smoother had I made better navigation plans. The biggest oops moment for me came when we left the train station in Edinburgh and headed to the bus station to store our bags in secure lockers. I took screenshots of the directions from the bus station to the meeting place for our tour and from the bus station to our airbnb but neglected to screenshot directions from the train station to the bust station. I mistakenly assumed that the information stating the closeness of the two stations meant that the bus station would be easy to locate upon leaving the train station. We made it to the bus station with the help of an employee of a restaurant in the train station. Once we stowed the bags int eh lockers, we picked up a map and were good to go for the rest of our time in Scotland.

Possible solutions include the low-tech paper map to the high-tech European sim card or international plan. I have yet to explore the latter.

Lesson #5 A good tour guide can make or break a tour.

We witnessed this first hand, starting with our tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath. Our guide started to rub me the wrong way from the beginning thanks to her tabloid-focused speech and glaring historical inaccuracies. I ended up putting my headphones in and listening to music whenever she started to speak. For example, she described Stonehenge as being built four to five million years ago based on the carbon dating of the stones. No, that’s how old some believe the stones to be, not the structure. Both Mom and I laughed when we got the official brochure which stated that the structure was estimated to have been built three to four thousand years ago. Slight difference.

Two days later, our tour guide on the Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour, Oz, impressed us, especially Mom, so much so that she made sure that we were in his group when we split in Oxford. Then there was Martin, our guide on the Loch Ness, Glencoe and the Highlands tour. He did such a good job that I gave him the remainder of our cash as a tip. (That would be even more impressive if we had had more than a mere two pounds left.) Although application of this lesson is a bit more up to chance than the others, careful perusal of reviews helps select the best tours. I remember reading high praise for our guide, Martin, before purchasing tickets. When I found out that we were on his bus, I was very happy.

Lesson #6 Airbnb is the way to go.

Laura has long been singing the praises of this service. I finally had my first personal experience on this trip. I loved having access to a full apartment. Not only did it feel more like home, it also made it easy to save money on food. We stocked up at the local grocery store which kept costs down and saved space in our backpacks, crucial for a frugal minimalist.

Lesson #7 Minimalist travel rules!

I could not have done this six years ago on my first self-planned international adventure. Experience and a growing propensity towards minimalism helped significantly. I had everything that I needed and only a small handful of things that I brought but ended up not using. Although for the first several days Mom and I wished that we had brought more than one plug adapter, I realized shortly before we headed to Scotland that the adaptor I brought had two other plug-in options available; I had simply overlooked them for several days. We had plenty of laughs about that.

I loved traveling with just the backpack. Several times Mom expressed her gratitude by commenting on how difficult various treks would have been if we’d had a rolling suitcase of any size with us.

We also made a tight-tightest I’ve ever had-connection that we likely would not have been able to do had we had to wait for a checked bag like Dad and I did coming back from Italy. (Our bag was the last to be unloaded which delayed us a good forty or so minutes.)

Now it’s time to apply these lessons to the next trip, wherever that may be!

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