Trip Planning Made Easy
Is trip planning daunting to you? I recently took an amazing trip to Scotland that I planned all by myself. After seeing my posts on Facebook, I had tons of people ask if I planned it myself and how I did it. You asked, so I will use this recent trip to show how I did it.
Research, Research, Research
So you know where you are going, but where are you going? Why are you going there? Is there a particular place that you want to visit? Is this state/country just on your bucket list?
The internet is out there and it is chock full of information. Use it! Pinterest, Trip Advisor and Loney Planet were my go to for trip planning. I searched for “Top places to visit in Scotland”, “Most beautiful places in Scotland” and “Things to do in Scotland.” This opened me up to places that I did not know existed, like the Kelpies in Falkirk.
I knew that there were a few places that I really wanted to go to. Edinburgh was a given as it was the airport we were using. Inverness, Dunvegan and Fort William were top on the list because of favorite TV shows and movies. These locations are hours apart and lent our trip a loop pattern that I could fill in with other sites on the way.
Make sure that you pick the right time of year to go. We went to Scotland in May which is the shoulder season (in between high and low season.) It was perfect for us. May is one of the drier, cooler months and the midges (evil biting bugs) have not come out yet. High season is July and August. It’s warmer, wetter, and infested with midges and tourists. August is also when they have a weeks long celebration call the Fringe Festival and the Edinburgh Military Tatoo and it’s supposed to be SUPER CROWDED. Not for me.
How do you want to travel? Establish a hub city and spoke travel from there? Point to point trip, arriving and departing from different airports? Make a loop, starting and ending in the same city/airport?
I hope to do a hub city trip someday. Stay in one city, no packing and changing places. You get to know a city better, like the amazing coffee shop down the street and that cool bar around the corner. You can explore all the great places in that city and that can take plenty of time. I could spend an entire week in Edinburgh, there is so much to do.
Depending on the city, you may be able to get by without renting a car, especially since depending on where you are staying, parking may be an issue. There may be trains or buses from the city for day trips. Lots of companies offer excursions to popular tourist sites that you can plan throughout your stay.
Point to Point
This one did not work for us because we were doing a strictly Scotland trip and Edinburgh is the most economical choice for airports. If we had planned a Scotland/England we could have flown into London-Heathrow and out of Edinburgh and done a point to point trip.
This was what we did as there were locations that were too far for day trips and Edinburgh was the most economical airport to go through. We rented a car and drove a counter-clockwise route; Falkirk, Stirling, St. Andrews, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dunvegan, Fort Williams, Glasgow and back to Edinburgh.
Next, you need to know how long and when you are going. Due to our work constraints, I knew that I had a window from the 19 of May to the 30th of May. As it turned out, since our flight was an overnight flight that didn’t leave until 3pm, we were able to leave on the 18th. I started searching for flights in that time period, originally planning just a week long trip. Flying on the weekend can be quite expensive and Memorial Day was May 28th. I also knew that I would be served well by having a day of rest on the back end would help tremendously with jet lag. We settled on the 29th, which was a Tuesday and gave us the 30th to rest.
Once you figure out an exact time frame, you will have the information needed for your next search.
Lodging-Hotel or Airbnb
Hotels can to be more expensive than Airbnb but if you’re staying in one place for your whole trip, Expedia, Travelocity and other travel sites have bundle pricing where you can get a pretty good deal. I’m a map nerd so I always pull up the map view to see where my options are in relation to the things that I want to do.
We used Airbnb for the entire trip. This was one of the things that helped us plan where we were going. Some areas do not have as many options for Airbnb. For example, I found a Pin listing the most beautiful villages in Scotland. There was an absolutely enchanting village but there weren’t ANY Airbnbs close. I went with a different route.
Now, there are different types of Airbnbs from which to choose. It’s kind of a personal thing, whether you want to interact with your host and other guest or you want to be on your own.
This can be a bunk room or a room with two beds. I found some that were single rooms but you almost surely are sharing a bathroom. There are two reasons that this is not for me. First is that we were traveling as a couple and I thought that would be weird and second is that I sleep with a CPAP and I am rather self conscious about it.
A private room is just that. You have the room. Some places have a kitchen available or common sitting area for use and others do not.
There are two different kinds of private rooms – a private room with a shared bath or a private room with an ensuite or private bath.
We actually did both on this trip, two shared bath and one ensuite. It really didn’t matter that all we had was our room because we were there for such a short period of time. We didn’t spend much time sitting about in the flat.
This is by far my favorite but they do tend to cost a bit more. Sometimes a lot more. You have an entire home whether it be flat, apartment, loft, house, what name you. For me, this is a must if you are going to be somewhere for several days because you feel like it’s your home away from home.
Our last place was a flat in Edinburgh in the Grassmarket for three nights. It was awesome. We had internet and and a full kitchen so we were able to relax and make breakfast in the morning and watch something on the computer or Kindle.
We had plenty of room to do our packing for the trip home which included finding room in our suitcases and securing three bottles of scotch.
At this point, I started mapping my route. I needed to know how much time would be spent driving between locations. This in turn will help you focus on on where to book your Airbnbs.
Google Maps is excellent for this. You can link multiple destinations. For example, we left the airport in Edinburgh, stopped in Falkirk to see the Kelpies, drove a little farther to Stirling to the William Wallace Monument.
From there we drove to Saint Andrews to buy a tie at the Old Course because my husband’s handicap was not appropriate enough to walk on. Finally, we drove to Aberdeen where we spent our first night. This was mapped out with estimate for how long we would be visiting each place and we had about five hours of driving time.
I would not recommend doing so much driving on the first day of your trip when you had an overnight flight and a six hour time difference. Big mistake.
So once you have your route all mapped and estimates of time spent in locations, ruminate on it. Let it sink in. Visualize it and then pad the time because the next tip is true.
In order to have a successful trip, this is crucial. You can’t be too rigid in your planning because something will pop up. There are must do’s for every trip.
Mine was the Jacobite Train, aka the Harry Potter Train. Now, this wasn’t necessarily a must do and I would have preferred the flexibility of doing the train on one of two days BUT the tickets sell out fast. I had to make a commitment and buy the tickets and risk eating $100 if we didn’t make it.
Another high priority of ours was to climb Ben Nevis, the highest point in the U.K. but enroute, we came across a really cool castle.
Right then and there we made the decision to tour the castle even though it meant that we would not have time to reach the summit of Ben Nevis. Totally worth it. I saw (and have photos and video of) a lone piper playing with the castle in the background. It brought me to tears.
I would have missed that experience if we had been inflexible and stayed on course to the mountain. It paid off. There was no way we were going to make it up that mountain. Too fat, too old.
Yes, we could have beaten ourselves up about it, but you know what? It was a big goal for the trip and we told everyone about it. But. We were on vacation! We weren’t at work or doing chores at home.
It’s your vacation. Roll with the punches and enjoy your trip planning success!