Some more things I have been thinking about that I want to pass on:
- If you are older like me and sitting in an airplane seat for 8-12 hours is difficult for you, choose an airline that offers "premium" seats. These are a class of seats that are better than coach, but not quite business class. Generally, instead of the three-across coach seats, you get a seat that is only two-across and is very similar to a domestic first-class seat. It will likely be wider than a coach seat by about 4", have a wide arm rest between seats, recline a little farther than a coach seat, and cost about 20-30% more. (Check out the photos on my 5/27 post.) Typically, you also get to check two suitcases, and carry one on with you.
- Also, check various airports to try to get a shorter or non-stop flight. I once flew from SFO to London and ended up very uncomfortable during the 12 hour flight. Better to fly from an east-cost airport and have only a 7-8 hour flight!
Transportation at Your Destination
- Except for when you are in a big city, rent a car so you can really see the countryside. Yes, you can see the countryside from the windows of a train, but you really will not be able to experience driving through tiny towns and being able to stop at scenic places.
- Also, especially in the UK, you will want to rent an automatic because even if you can drive a standard transmission, you will need to focus on reading road signs and following different driving rules, like driving on the wrong side of the highway.
- Get the smallest automatic rental car they have and don't let them upgrade you to anything bigger. Roads are narrower in the UK and parking places are tiny, so you will want the smallest vehicle you can get. A serious bonus is a backup camera, but a lot of cars come with those anyway.
- However, it pays to do some checking on rental car prices. On my recent trip, I checked prices for a 25-day rental at three places: Heathrow Airport was $4,000, Edinburgh Airport was $2,500, and York was $1,167! Guess which one I chose?? I spent 5 days in London, took a train to Edinburgh, where I spent 3 days, and then took a train to York, where I picked up the rental car.
- There is no one to help carry your luggage in train stations and from parking lots to hotels, so you need to be able to handle your luggage yourself. This means a small, carry-on suitcase with a minimum of clothing and a backpack or smaller case for electronics and things you cannot lose, like medications and cameras, etc.
- London has a fantastic subway system, so while it is fun to take a black cab once in a while, rely on the Tube to get you where you want to go. You can use your credit card to enter and exit each station, but I MUCH prefer to buy an Oyster Card and put maybe £20 on it to start. The reason for the Oyster card is that it is easy to drop and lose a credit card while you are pulling it out and walking quickly through the exit machines. If you lose an Oyster Card, it is not as big of a deal as losing a credit card!! (You just tap the credit or Oyster Card on the top of the gate machine as you enter and exit, and the gate will let you through.) Also, if you are traveling with kids, you need a separate card for each, and giving kids an Oyster Card is safer than giving them a credit card!
- If you really want to experience another country, avoid the Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, and other hotel chains and stay where the locals stay. (The exception would be if you positively cannot do stairs and need an elevator and someone to handle your luggage.)
- There are some great budget chains in the UK. My favorite is Premier Inn, which is similar to a Holiday Inn Express, except nearly all of them have restaurants. Other budget chains I have stayed in are Travelodge, Ibis, and Holiday Inn Express. If you are really on a tight budget, there are bed and breakfasts, even in London, or you can try a HUB hotel that is a subsidiary of Premier Inn. HUB hotels have a very nice queen-sized, bed, place to put your luggage underneath, a bathroom with a shower, excellent large-screen TV and free internet, and a narrow walkway along the bed. (Check out the photos on my 5/27 post. I have paid as little as $100 per night for a HUB in London. Try that in any big U.S. city!)
- In choosing a hotel, don't get so carried away with price that you end up too far away from everything. I try to choose a budget hotel that is no more than two blocks from a subway station and that is also near restaurants and shops. The HUB I like best in London is on Tothill Street, near St. James Park Station and only 2 blocks from Westminster Abbey. Being close to things will save you a LOT of walking!!
- The above mostly pertains to large and medium-sized towns, but in small towns and villages, you will mostly have a choice of bed and breakfast lodgings or small hotels. Mostly, a bed and breakfast consists of a few rooms in a private home that are rented out to travelers. Often, a home has been specially built to be a B&B so that all bedrooms have private baths and the owner's areas are very separate from the guest's. You used to be able to get a very nice, private room and bath for as little as £40-60 per night, including breakfast, but I found the prices have increased with the recent COVID issues. There also can be problems with quality and cleanliness of B&Bs, but there are regional sites that rate these, plus you can use online sites like TripAdvisor to view customer comments. Try VisitScotland or VisitEngland for ratings.
- Another type of lodging available in resort areas are what are called "self-catering cottages." These are nearly always rented by the week and may not exactly be cottages, but may be a part of an attached structure, like the two-story part of a stone barn I rented in Danby, or even a "glamping" unit. If you rent one, just make sure what they include and do not include. The one I rented in Danby had a living room, full kitchen with washing machine, upstairs bedroom, and full bathroom. It came completely furnished with linens and cooking stuff, and it was spotlessly clean!!
What to Bring
- England and Scotland are WET and COLD, so bring a good raincoat and a sweatshirt, preferably a hoodie!!! (Maybe buying the hoodie there as a souvenir is a better idea.) You can bring a pair of shorts and a t-shirt or two, but bring at least one or two pairs of long pants.
- A couple of cheap washcloths. UK hotels consider washcloths personal items, not part of the linens that they provide. I usually take ones that are not white, so I can identify and remember to take them with me when I change hotels or B&Bs.
- Maybe a couple of small bars of soap and little bottles of shampoo. Most hotels and B&Bs provide large wall-mounted containers of liquid body soap and shampoo, but I prefer bars of soap and my own brand of shampoo, so I either take some with me, or stop by a Boots pharmacy and buy some shampoo I put in a ziplock bag as I travel.
- You will also need some packable laundry detergent that you can use to wash things out in the hotel sink and maybe some folding hangers to hang things up in the shower. British hotels almost never have self-service laundromats, and it is very hard to find one within walking distance, so you will have to wash and dry things in your hotel room. (Option is to have someone do laundry in hotel or B&B, but cost can be as much as £15-20 per load. I liked these laundry sheets because you could tear off as much as you needed. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B075JMVPQ3/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
- Ziplock bags in large and small sizes. These are handy to put things that might leak or melt when you pack. Good for organizing things, as well. They also saved my hotel room and nightgown when I got food poisoning and was sick all night in a hotel room!! I took about 5 large bags and maybe 25 medium ones, and used nearly all of them.
- Slightly more prescription medications as you think you will need, plus some things like tylenol, cold meds and such in those little capsule packages, etc.
- You can buy almost everything else you need, but you will want a few critical things for times when you do not want to hike to a store. There are lots of small and large grocery stores and pharmacy chains like Boots in major towns, and Coop grocery stores in small villages.
Where to Eat
- Bed and breakfast lodging obviously provide breakfast, usually a full English or full Scottish breakfast. Many hotels also provide these, but charge for them. My choice when it was not provided by the B&B or hotel, was to find a Pret a Manger or a Starbucks and grab a almond croissant and an orange juice or lemonade tea and eat on the subway or as I walked. (Most fast food chains like McDonald's do not serve breakfast in the UK, by the way.)
- Some small and most large hotels have restaurants, which solves the problem of where to eat, but I find I do not always want a large meal every time, so I eat a lot at takeout places.
- Take-out is very popular in big cities, and even smaller ones, in the UK. Overall, they provide much fresher and better food than what you can find in the U.S. My favorite is Pret a Manger, which is a chain that advertises all organic food. They also give away all leftover items in the evening, so everything is made fresh the next morning. They have all sorts of juices, pastries, salads, sandwiches, and snacks, all at reasonable prices. (Note, however, that some Prets charge different prices for items depending on whether you want to eat it there or take it with you.)
- Almost all grocery stores and even some department stores also sell take-out food. Even small-village Coop stores will have an area for take-out. I often would stop there and buy a small bottle of milk or a soft drink, some fresh raspberries, a sandwich or salad, and take it home to the hotel for dinner.
- WARNING! A few years ago, the British government passed a sugar tax on any drinks that contained more than a certain percentage of sugar. To avoid the tax, manufacturers added artificial sweeteners to replace some of the sugar, and did NOT note it on the label, so you have to read ingredient lists carefully. This also applies to bottled tea and fruit drinks that were not 100% pure fruit juice.