Tips for Planning your UK Vacation, Part 2

In my previous post, I discussed making arrangements for travel to the UK and pointed out several reasons why I prefer to make my own reservations rather than booking through a travel agent or with a pre-planned group excursion. In this post, I will share my thoughts on how to make those reservations and list a few things to watch out for.

First of all, let me remind you that I am not a travel agent nor travel writer. Nor do I get paid to expound on the virtues of any particular booking company, airline or other entity. I am simply someone who loves to travel, and especially when that travel is to the United Kingdom and Ireland. For those of you who aren’t certain what is meant by Great Britain vs United Kingdom vs British Isles, or just how Ireland fits in, here is a great little Venn diagram to explain it.

Venn Diagram Map created by Anna Debenham (

Now that you understand where I like to travel, let’s talk about how I make my plans.

I have found to be invaluable, because…

  1. I get what I consider to be very good rates
  2. there are hundreds (even thousands, depending on your destination) of listings
  3. the site gives accurate user reviews of listed properties based on several criteria:           
    1. staff
    1. facilities
    1. cleanliness
    1. comfort
    1. value
    1. location
    1. wifi
  • and (for most properties) you can reserve now and pay later, in case your plans change.

Additionally, the site lists property-specific information about facilities, distance to public transportation and airports, distance to major attractions, local restaurants/pubs/shopping, parking options, languages spoken by staff and direct contact information including phone numbers, which can be invaluable if you are in-country and face a delay.

When choosing a property, items c, e and f above (cleanliness, value and location) are my first priorities, and I know in advance what level of cleanliness I am willing to give up for value and location, and vice versa. Depending on where we are going, location may be more important than value, or less important than cost or cleanliness. Regardless, I always have my lower limit on cleanliness, and no amount of value and location can entice me to go below that point.

Also very important to me are the comments of other people who have stayed at the property. I take most of those very seriously, though I sort of take over-the-top and bottom-of-the-barrel comments with a grain of salt. The general opinion matters much more than one ecstatic patron with no standards or one disgruntled patron who had a single hair in the tub (ok-maybe that is pretty icky). But I think you get my point.

Keep in mind— does not own any of the properties, and some properties have their own rules. Always be certain to read all of the specifics for each listing, as there are a few deviations from the norm, and is very upfront about them. These specifics are typically found at the top of the listing under tabs labeled “House Rules” and “Fine Print.” You will want to read these details before you book.

Having said that cautionary bit, I have used to book lodgings in England, Ireland, Scotland, Rome, Paris and the United States – virtually every place I’ve stayed over the past 5 years — and I continue to use them. That says something about my past experience with this particular company.

I have already pointed out that I do not get paid to promote That said, we can BOTH get a $25 reward if, in fact, you open an account (they are free) and use this link ( to book a stay!

Here are links to some of the places we’ve stayed after booking through in case you’d like to have a look! Our requirements were a good record of cleanliness, good location (determined by various requirements) and not a national or international chain hotel. Only once did we have to settle for a chain hotel, and it was a unique experience, but that’s another story.

The Swan Inn (now Swan Inn and Backpackers Annex) was the first property I ever booked overseas and I used ( We stayed in what is now probably called the annex – a room above what was once the stable, and which might have once been the coachmens’ lodgings.

The Swan Inn

The quiet neighborhood around the Swan Inn

The Inglewood Boutique B&B in Chorley, England, is still one of our family favorites from all of our travels. Chorley is a charming little hamlet just off the M61 about midway between London and Glasgow. We used it as an overnight stopping point on our journey north from Oxford to Scotland, and were disappointed to have only one night there. The staff was amazing, the breakfast was first rate, and the accommodations were very clean and super comfy. (

Where Fancy Wanders, Feet Should Follow

 A Castle Old And Grey

by Alexander Anderson, Scottish Poet

I never see a castle 
    That is gaunt and grey and grim, 
But my thoughts at once go backward 
    To the past so misty and dim.

To the time when tower and turret, 
    Kept watch far over the vale; 
And along the sounding draw-bridge 
    Rode knights in their suits of mail.

I see the sunshine glancing 
    On helmet, pennon, and spear; 
And hear from the depth of the forest, 
    A bugle calling clear.

I fill the hall with visions 
    Of ladies rich in their bloom; 
And stately knights in armour, 
    And waving with feather and plume.

If I climb the broken stairway, 
    Where the stone is smooth and fine, 
I hear a rustle and whisper, 
    And footsteps in front of mine.

Whisper of youth and maiden, 
    As they met in the long ago; 
His deep and strong and manly, 
    Hers tender and sweet and low.

But maiden and youth have vanished, 
    Away from the scene and the light; 
Gone, too, the high-born lady, 
    And the plumed and armoured knight.

Only the grey old castle, 
    Of crumbling stone and lime, 
Still stands to speak of the ages, 
    And the iron footsteps of Time.

Where Fancy Wanders, Feet Should Follow

Tips for planning your UK vacation, Part 1

In the next several months I plan to do a lot of traveling, some with family and some on my own. Much of this traveling will be to one of my absolute favorite places: The United Kingdom. Scotland and England, in particular, seem almost to call to me. Maybe it’s my Scottish heritage My maiden name is Wallace. My father was John Walter Wallace, his father was John McClure Wallace, his father was Walter Betel Wallace, and Walter’s wife [my great-grandmother] was Marie McClure. That’s a long history of Scots!

Maybe I’m drawn to the UK because of the beauty. Or the long (long) history. I suspect, though, that it has as much to do with castles. I am absolutely, unnaturally enchanted by castles. Aren’t they romantic? Even a castle ruin can ignite my imagination and set my thoughts to the proverbial flights of fancy. Whatever the reason, I’ve spent several weeks in the UK over the past few years, and plan to make a couple more trips this year.

Alnwick Castle:Northumberland, England, Seat of the 12th Duke of Northumberland (Also the place where Harry Potter learned to fly a broom, and the castle Lady Edith’s husband inherits just before they marry in the last episode of Downtown Abbey).

Many people prefer to travel with organized groups or to book flights, lodging and rental cars through travel agents when touring overseas. I get that – making long distance plans can be daunting at best and nerve-racking at worst. But having someone else make your plans can also be restrictive and expensive. Really expensive.

Personally, I prefer to make my own travel plans. In fact, I tend to kind-of obsess about it. I can be certain I get the flights I want departing the airport I want. I can stay for a day or a week and I don’t have to stick to a prepaid itinerary. I get to choose where to stay, preferring small apartments and family-run inns over more prestigious hotels with well-known names but little character. I decide when I want to take a short flight from one place to another, and when I’d prefer to drive my own car or maybe catch a train.

I am not a travel agent nor a travel writer, and I’m not even a member of a frequent flier club, but I have had some amazing trips and—with the exception of that time when we set-up our GPS incorrectly and drove for over a hundred miles on a mountain strewn with dead sheep—I have never had a single plan go awry (more about the dead sheep some other time). Over the next few weeks, I will share with you my travel tips for touring the UK. I originally put these thoughts on paper for some friends who were planning their first trip to England. I hope they find my tips helpful, and I hope you will, too.