At some point last year, I realized I was too involved. Too involved with work. Too involved with personal drama. Too involved with my daily routine which was boring me to tears. I was in a rut, and focusing on things that either I couldn't control, or at the end of the day weren't super important. I needed to escape for a little while, to refocus on the things in life that really mattered. Husband and I needed a vacation. It had been three years.
Deciding where we wanted to go was easy. One of my best friends lives in London, and came all the way to California to be in my wedding five years ago. I needed to repay the favor with a visit. I knew that if I was going to spend 10 hours on a plane, it wasn't going to just be for the weekend. We wanted to see the UK. We wanted to see Ireland. And we wanted to see as much of these places as our time and money would allow. I had no idea what I was doing, so I decided to ask for some help.
I found a travel agent. How did I do this? I looked on Yelp for someone with great reviews. I found a dear woman named Evie, who I spoke with over the phone for about 30 minutes about the kind of vacation we were trying to plan, our budget, where we wanted to go, and the like. We agreed to meet up that weekend, after she had time to compile some information for us to look over. Her services were free (she gets paid via the companies we booked through), which was a nice surprise. I know that there are also travel agents who charge for their services, and I can't speak for the difference. I can tell you that everything we told Evie we wanted, she made happen. Even the part about staying overnight in a castle (but I'll get to that in another post).
We ended up planning a three part trip. The first part was a coach tour that took us through England, Scotland, and Wales. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a coach is a bus. There are tons of companies that run these tours, and the length and type of activities varies. We chose one that took us to a lot of cities, and also offered us some free time to do things on our own. The second part of the trip consisted of a four night stay in London, in order to do some touring around on our own, and spend time with our friends. The final part was a self drive tour of Ireland, where we (bravely) decided to drive a tiny car around an unfamiliar country on the wrong side of the road. We had quite an adventure.
Aside from our travel agent, I found these things very helpful when planning our trip:
Rick Steves Books: London and Ireland were especially helpful when planning this trip. Not only did it help us plan out where we wanted to go and what there was to see, it also gave practical tips that were especially useful for first time visitors. These books go into specific destinations in great detail, and even recommend what is worth seeing and what is worth skipping. There is even a lot of information preparing you for things that you will find different from the states (such as the debit/credit cards that are used over there and their road signs), which was good to know ahead of time.
Top Ten Books: The books on London, Scotland, and Dublin were the opposite of the Rick Steves books, but just as useful. These are great when you just need an overview and city highlights. Not a lot of detail here, but the pictures are worth 1000 words.
Trip Advisor and Yelp: I found these websites invaluable when trying to decide on hotels, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. Trip Advisor also has some great boards that discuss the best on and off bus tours and places to buy discounted tickets.
Tube Map: Getting around London on the tube is pretty seamless, and definitely the easiest way to get from place to place. Yes, there are apps for your phone, but it was always nice to keep a hard copy on hand. You can't beat it for $1.75. Note: I also purchased maps of Ireland, Dublin, and London, but didn't really use them at all.
I also want to add that advice from friends and co-workers who had either lived or traveled to where we were going was priceless. Two pieces that stood out that I want to share with you are this: 1) When traveling to cities with a broad array of climates (such as the UK and Ireland) don't bring a lot of anything (but a shower-proof jacket is a must). It was hot. It was cold. It was often somewhere in-between. I packed for a little bit of everything, and was always prepared. 2) Exchange some money before you go. You are going to need it to tip the airport shuttle or to buy a pack of gum at the store. You are especially going to need it for toll roads, if you are driving. We needed both the Euro and GBP for this trip, so we started out with a little of each. We were glad we did.
|So different than US Dollars. It kind of reminded my of Monopoly money.|
One more piece of advice I wanted to share was to be aware of the foreign currency charges your debit or credit cards may charge you for using them abroad. I highly recommend Capital One because they do not charge these additional fees.
I am still trying to compile my thousands of pictures I took on the trip to posts that may be of interest to you. Please feel free to ask me any questions in the meantime about the trip planning process.