This time last year we were on the Isle of Man for the motorcycle racing. I really can't believe that it is twelve months since our trip.
At the time, I blogged about our week in Wales and our time on the Isle of Man, but I never did get around to blogging about the final part of our trip. I think this is a good opportunity to finish that off, before I forget all about it. I know I have already forgotten a lot of the little details, so I'll have to look a few things up.
To start off, I will do a bit of an overview of our holiday - travel tips for my future reference - things that worked well, things that didn't. Please bear with me.
When we travel we only tend to plan a framework, not the minute details, although Mick wouldn't believe me - he reckons I have it micro managed. OK, I did do some reading up and found interesting things in Pinterest, so I was at least aware of what there was to see in Wales and roughly where things were, but that was all. If we saw it, we did, if we didn't, it didn't matter.
Before we left home for or our UK trip last year we booked our flights, a one way train ticket to Cardiff, our first night's accommodation and a hire car to be dropped off at Liverpool several days later. We had our accommodation in Liverpool booked, foot passenger ferry tickets to and from the Isle of Man, our accommodation and hire car on the Isle of Man and our flight home. OK, that is quite a bit, but there were a lot of gaps in between.
I made sure that I had hard copies of all travel documents in my travel folder, all were saved on the laptop and I had emailed them to myself before leaving home, including copies of our passports. (I could have probably used Dropbox or similar, but I didn't bother).
Our itinerary consisted of - have an afternoon in Cardiff, collect our car, explore Wales for a week, spend two weeks on the Isle of Man, collect another car, drive for a few days across England to Heathrow, from where we would fly home.
This is where our flexible planning came into its own. As I shared in my blog in August last year, we only got a couple of days into our trip around Wales when we realised we weren't going to be able to see very much at all in our allocated time frame. We therefore decided that rather rush Wales and then drive across England (we had no plan in mind anyway, keeping it flexible) we would see half of Wale in the first week and return to see the other half of Wales after the Isle of Man, ending up back in Cardiff before catching another train to Heathrow. That was the best ever decision.
Whether we like it or not, technology requires some planning when travelling. When you want to blog as you go along, it adds yet another layer. Previously, we have taken our phones and not had very successful access when in the UK. We have also previously taken a small laptop for blogging, once again, with not a lot of success at accessing wifi. On the Isle of Man we have also sometimes used the computers in the library. On the whole, the process has previously proved rather frustrating. Since I've had my ipad I've tried to blog using it, once again with little success and it has just made me cranky - not a good way to be when you are supposed to be enjoying your holiday.
So, what did we do differently this time?
We both wanted access to our normal phone numbers while away for work and family reasons, so we went to our provider to set up overseas access. Yes, it costs, but we were prepared to wear that. I then cancelled all those annoying SMS ads that come up on my phone, as they would cause unnecessary costs. Most importantly, we turned our mobile data setting to OFF.
We took both my ipad and Mick's laptop.
When we arrived in London, we purchased a local SIM card and installed it in my ipad. I don't normally have a SIM card in my ipad. That way I could use the ipad on the fly and also use it as a hot spot for our phones and the laptop. I bought plenty of data, more than we needed, but we didn't have to think any more about it.
It worked beautifully......except on the Isle of Man. We find that we continue to have dramas there. Fortunately, the cottage we rent does now have wifi. I now know that when we get there in future to just go and get a SIM card from their local provider. Really, I should know this by now, we've been there often enough.
Also, when on the Isle of Man, Mick and his mate are in constant phone contact. Al set Mick up on Whatsapp, which we hadn't used before and it worked really well, rather than international SMS messages. They continue to use it all the time.
Back in England and Wales, having the ipad linked to the internet all the time was perfect for using it as our GPS. The ipad was so good for navigating, being a bit bigger screen than a phone. I also used the ipad while travelling along to arrange accommodation.
We still carried Mick's DSLR camera and my little point and shoot, but realistically, we mainly used our phones. The photo quality is so good now. The only drawback is that they don't zoom well. That is where my camera still tended to come out.
Other than our first night and the night in Liverpool, we had no accommodation booked in Wales, rather we just winged it. This was fine, even though it was school summer holidays. Previously, we had visited the "Visit England" information centres to find local accommodation, but not all B&Bs were listed with them, as the registration costs were quite high. Just knocking on doors worked OK, but you were unsure of costings or quality.
This time, after seeing many ads on TV for Trivago we gave it a try. It worked brilliantly. Once we worked out where we expected to be that night (we generally had a good idea by late morning) I would get onto Trivago and look for accommodation. Our criteria was generally fairly central in a town, so we could walk to get dinner, and that it had parking. We didn't look for parking at first, but it didn't take us long to make that a priority. Trivago then gave prices from Wotif, Expedia and Booking.com. There were also plenty of reviews to have a look at. Only in St David did Trivago show the town to be booked out, however, we luckily found a very central and reasonably priced B&B with a "Vacancy" sign out the front. We stayed mainly in B&Bs, with a couple of pubs thrown in. All our accommodation lived up to expectations, some were better than others of course, but that is half the fun of it. We aimed for mid priced accommodation.
We haven't ventured into Air B&B while in the UK, but there are lots of options there as well.
We have only used trains a couple of times previously in the UK. We found catching the train to Cardiff on our first day worked so well. Mick was not having to drive while tired after a long flight and we didn't have to combat the busy traffic around London.
We used Avis hire cars in Wales and England, as their depots were the most convenient for us. We had a Suzuki Swift, which was my favourite, then a Nissan Micra on the Isle of Man, which was the best looking, and then a Hyundai i20 on our final leg. That size works perfectly for us. Anything smaller would be a bit too cosy with our luggage. Likewise, you only want a small car on their narrow roads.
I know you aren't meant to, but I have previously mainly used cash while in the UK. When funds needed replenishing, I would take out my daily maximum allowable at the ATM, therefore just one exchange fee and only exposing your card at a minimum of locations. By using cash, it was also easy to keep an eye on our spending.
This time I used the Cash Passport, loading it up with GB pounds before we left. You have an app on your phone, so once again you can keep an eye on spending. It worked really well. The convenience of a credit card, without paying for the currency conversions, and the only fees from my end was the conversion commission for the initial loading up of the card. We even had a bit of credit on the card left over when we came home, so through the app I just converted it back to Aussie dollars and spent it on our last trip away.
We also made sure our bank knew of our travel plans.
We did still carry some cash for those occasions when you couldn't use a card.
We always make sure we each carry some cash and we each have a couple of different credit card options, just in case something doesn't work, or gets stolen. On that note, with the latest skimming fraud that now happens, both our wallets have the built in anti-skimming protection.
I think that about sums everything up. Rather long winded, but handy for my future reference. Next, I will actually get into the travel side of things.