Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Trip abroad: Planning and Money

We are back from 11 fully filled days to the UK. That said, we didn't see everything, not even everything on my much shortened list. However, we did have a good time.

So here are my first thoughts on planning a trip such as ours.

The first suggestion is to plan lots. Have a flexible schedule with options. In a few places on our trip, notably London, which we did at the end, I was woefully underprepared. I didn't have a reasonable top 5 list, and perhaps more importantly, I didn't know how we were going to get around. So we struggled a bit with Tube tickets before buying an Oyster card (still not sure if that was the right decision), and we struggled with finding a double-decker bus going where we wanted to go, although that was successful in the end.

Money: If you can, you and your travel partner (even if it's a spouse) should carry different credit cards so that if one disappears or get stolen, you have the second to fall back on. We ran the last day and a half of our trip on the cash left in my wallet. We didn't see the Tower of London for this reason, although there weren't resounding cheers at the idea of going either, so we might have skipped it anyway.

The less money you have, the more you should plan. If you're trying to keep to a budget, it's going to be less stressful if you know where you can eat and sleep each day. Don't forget to budget for sights – we were told this is an affordable option in the UK). We only visited a service station once, and we did quite a lot of driving. We were lucky to be able to travel without counting too many pence, although we did have to budget at the end when we didn't have plastic anymore.

Speaking of driving, it's pretty challenging. First there's the driving on the left side thing. Then there's the fact that the roads are narrow (really narrow, and they sometimes get narrower for no other reason than to slow you down) and the Brits drive really fast. Then there are the hedges blocking your view around any bends – and everywhere there's a bend, so don't plan on seeing the road ahead (except for motorways, of course). And because of that you'll whiz right by your turns. If you're lucky there will be a roundabout where you can turn around, but if not, plan on going miles before the driver gets up the nerve to turn around. And speaking of roundabouts, feel free to go around more than once if you need to to find the correct road. It's way easier than turning around later.

I scheduled our flight on Iceland Air through Iceland. It was cheaper than anything else I could find. The flight over is a bit brutal, leaving Boston at 9:30 pm and getting off the plane for an hour at 2am our time, and on another plane for another 3 hours. I don't regret that choice at all.

I was very happy with our lodgings. The first place we stayed was a wonderful little cottage at Merkins Farm near Bradford-on-Avon (which is near Bath). It has three bedrooms and a wonderful view, and was just perfect for us. There was a delicious cake awaiting us after our hard drive from Heathrow (see section above on driving in Britain!). It was worth the difficult drive, and we stayed there three nights.

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