1: a respite or a time of respite from something : intermission
2 a : a scheduled period during which activity (as of a court or school) is suspendedb : a period of exemption from work granted to an employee
3: a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation <had a restful vacation at the beach>
From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
I haven’t had a proper vacation since—well, it’s been so long since I’ve had one, I can’t even remember the last time.
Because of the ever falling economy, financial constraints, and a general lack of time, I’ve had to content myself with STAYCATIONS.
A staycation (also spelled stay-cation, stacation, or staykation; known in the United Kingdom as a stoliday or holistay) is a neologism for a period of time in which an individual or family stays and relaxes at home, or vacations in their own country, possibly taking day trips to area attractions. Staycations achieved popularity in the US during the financial crisis of 2007–2010.
But sometimes, staycations aren’t enough, and the need to get away, to see new sights and experience new things is stronger than the need to save money.
So I’m happy to announce that after years, I finally get to go on a real vacation—meaning one that is far, far away from home, and one that is longer than a weekend.
Thanks to some money saved up over a period of years and very generous help from the best ever friend in the whole wide world Maiko, I’ll be going to England next month.
Why England? Well, for one reason, I’ve always wanted to go there. The bigger reason, however, is that I want to walk the roads and streets my own characters from URTH travel in their everyday storybook lives.
Of course, finding funds was only part of the problem. The biggest hurdle was actually planning the trip. Fortunately, I love organizing anything, so the task wasn’t all that stressful. Well, okay, so it was VERY stressful, but I enjoyed it anyway.
I discovered many useful online sources in the process of planning for my trip to the UK. I’m going to share them here along with a list of steps I took in order to plan my vacation.
HOW TO PLAN YOUR VACATION TO THE UK
1. The first thing to do when planning a trip, is to find out what documents you need for traveling. If you’re a US or Japanese citizen, and you’re only going to the UK for less than three months, then all you need is a passport.
But if you’re a US Greencard holder, aside from your country’s passport, you’ll need to get a UK Visa.
If you wish to expedite your visa process, you can use Passportvisasexpress.com. I’ve used their services, and they’re pretty good.
2. While waiting for your UK Visa (if you need it), you need to do a little reconnaissance on the area you wish to visit. You can’t plan your itinerary unless you know what attraction sites there are in London, for instance, or what activities you can do while you’re there.
Here are some books/websites to help you find out about London in general.
Daytrips London by Earl Steinbicker
Rick Steve’s England 2010
3. Once you have an idea of the places you wish to visit and the sights you wish to see, and the activities you’d like to do, you can start planning your itinerary.
One very useful online source for planning any trip is Tripit.com
From their website:
TripIt turns chaos into order by making it easy for anyone to:
- Organize trip details into one master online itinerary — even if arrangements are booked at multiple travel sites
- Automatically include maps, directions and weather in their master itinerary
- Have the option to book restaurants, theatre tickets, activities and more right from within the online itinerary
- Safely access travel plans online, share them, check-in for
Using Tripit.com, you can add all the activities, booking references and whatever other information you might need for the trip. Once you’re done planning your itinerary, you can simply print a copy via the website, or if you have a smartphone—you can easily download the Tripit app and carry a digital copy of it on your phone.
4. After planning your itinerary, you need to start looking for proper accommodations. I used booking.com to book all of the hotels I’ll be staying at. With Booking.com, you can use specific categories like price range, hotel type, ratings, even hotel facilities (like internet services, fitness rooms etc), to search for available hotels in whatever area you wish to stay in.
5. After booking all your accommodations, you can either plan your own trip routes, or book a standard tour with a reliable tour company. I decided to save myself the headache and booked several pre-planned day tours. Booking pre-planned tours not only saves time (especially if you only have a week or two to explore the UK), it also saves money on transportation.
Booking the tour with a company also allows me to hit up three places in one day with ease. I had no desire to drive around the UK and wish to avoid hopping from one form of public transportation to another as much as possible.
I booked daytrips to Warwick, Stratford Upon-Avon, Oxford and Leeds Castle, Dover, & Canterbury using Premiumtours.com
They also offered a cheap half a day trip to Windsor Castle, and Runnymede which included a traditional Fish & Chip lunch at a local pub, so I booked that as well.
The most important part of my trip is seeing Stonehenge, as it is where my story unfolds. Londontoolkit.com has a Special Access Tour that allows tourists to go within the stones after hours.
Of course, being a Harry Potter fan, I had to have some kind of Harry Potter tour. Londonwalks.com offers many thematic walking tours around London for as low as 8 gbp. Naturally, I signed up for the Harry Potter walking tour.
6. There might be days where you wish to explore London on your own. In this case, you would need access to public transportation.
Transportdirect.info, much like mapquest or googlemaps, gives you directions from one place to another. However, unlike the other two, Transportdirect.info gives you step by step instructions on how to get from your hotel to the attraction sites. This includes how many miles/minutes you have to walk to the train station, what time the bus/train comes, and your ETA at the station and so on.
Raileurope.com and Londpass.com are two very helpful sites in terms of transporation. These sites allow you to purchase a prepaid travelcard which you can use to pay for your passages in various trains, buses and railway lines throughout the UK.
The London Pass Travelcard, which you can buy from either webite, not only pays for your underground train/bus/tram/railway fares fora specific number of consecutive days, it also allows you to get into many of the popular tourist attractions sites around London for FREE.
The Oyster card, available on Raileurope.com, is an electronic, prepaid, pay as you go card that calculates the cheapest fare for your journey and caps when a daily limit is reached. The great thing about the Oyster card is that it never expires and you can easily reload it with more funds.
I ordered my London pass travelcard and Oyster card from Raileurope.com and (with free shipping) received it within four days.
7. Another thing you have to think about when going there, is how you’re going to keep in touch with your family members back home.
If your SIM-card based phone (Meaning you’re an AT&T or Tmobile customer) is unlocked, then you can easily buy a SIM card when you get to the UK and have your own number.
There’s no need to worry if your phone is locked. If you’ve been a customer for at least a month, simply call AT&T or Tmobile, let them know you wish to unlock your phone.
When I called Tmobile and asked for an unlock code, they asked for me to first of all, verify my account. Then they asked for my phone’s IMEI number (which you can find at the back of your phone underneath the battery or through the About your phone tab in your smartphone’s settings menu) and email address. They emailed me the Unlock Code along with instructions the following day.
Once you get to the UK, you can buy a SIM card from a vending machine at some of the airport terminals, or at a phone store.
But if you want to get your UK SIM card before you leave for the trip, you can purchase one online through Britishsims.com
8. The very last thing to do is to purchase your roundtrip plane tickets. Make sure you have all the necessary travel documents (ie passport and visa) and the necessary funds before you purchase your plane tickets, as airlines don’t exactly give out easy refunds.
Kayak.com is a great website for finding the lowest airfare. It has a smartphone app as well, and is the only site I actually use to book flights.
Well, there they are– the steps to planning a trip for the UK. It may seem like a lot of hard work, and indeed, it is; but it’s always better to plan ahead. You can always be flexible and spontaneously rearrange your itinerary once you get there, but if you go there with absolutely no idea of what you want to do–you’ll be wasting valuable time figuring out where to go, instead of actually going there.
I’ve been planning my vacation for about two months now. It’s a lot of hard work but I think it’ll pay off in the end.
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