Okay, so if you remember from Part 1, we've booked our flight--now what? What am I going to do with myself and make sure I get the most out of it? After going back and forth between a DIY-self-planned trip or a guided vacation, here I share how I ultimately decided on how to spend my time in Scotland.
I knew from the get go that I wanted to attend the Highland Games. However, that was one day out of the seven that I needed to book. I wanted to go to Culloden and the Clava Cairns, because 1) Culloden is basically the Gettsyburg of Scotland, and 2) Outlander. I didn't think that would take me all day to visit a battlefield and standing stones, so even with that I still didn't have 75% of my trip booked. What else? Loch Ness, of course. A whisky distillery, because what's the point of going all the way to Scotland and not trying their famous whisky? A couple of castle tours, perhaps. Ooh, the Hogwarts Express train! That'd be fun!
My list was growing pretty rapidly, but then I had to ask myself, how am I going to get everywhere? Scotland is interesting, because it's not necessarily the typical tourist trap. Everything is spread out, and the only thing connecting one tourist spot to another are narrow, long, winding roads. Roads where people drive on the opposite side of the road and sit on the opposite side of the car. Roads I have never driven before. During my research I read this blog post from Sugar and Soul and my decision was made--no cars.
So my options were either miraculously find public transportation to all these incredible places I wanted to visit, or find a tour group. Since I am traveling solo, going with a group could provide some safety in numbers, and I realized I could book my lodging through the right tour company. Tour group it is!
I began my research (where else?) on Pinterest. Seriously, I cannot reiterate how useful Pinterest is. I know there's an ongoing joke about Pinterest fails, but if you stay away from the DIY projects and stay on top of the helpful tips on life, you'll find yourself with access to a wealth of knowledge.
After searching for random topics on tour groups in Scotland, I stumbled upon this post:
I was intrigued by the "Wild & Sexy" sprawled on the side of the bus, and she looked like she was having fun. I read her article and doggone it, I was sold. I hopped over to Trip Advisor to read some reviews and get an idea of what kind of company they were. I also scanned over the top rated tours for Edinburgh to see what other options were out there.
Haggis Adventures seemed to be the only tour group I found that had the Hogwarts Express, Doune Castle, Culloden and Clava Cairns and they offered multi-day tours. They happened to be having a sale (still going on if you book before March 31st!), and when I went through the booking process just to see what it'd be like, I found I could book lodging, Hogwarts Express ticket and round trip train tickets for London to Edinburgh. That was a whole lot of my expenses list checked off at once!
One down side of booking through Haggis Adventures is the lack of PayPal. I always, always, always use PayPal to make purchases if it's available. My financial information is secure and I know I can always rely on PayPal's customer service if I ever have a problem with my purchase. However, Haggis Adventures does not accept PayPal, so I had to take the risk and checkout with my credit card.
Two good things about Haggis is that you don't have to have an actual credit card for the purchase (they accept Visa and MasterCard) and you can put a down payment on the trip and pay off the rest in a couple of months. I had been saving ahead of time so I was able to purchase the full ticket right away, but this is a great option if you aren't quite done saving up but want to book your spot early.
I received my confirmation of purchase right away, and was able to download my receipt and my itinerary. This is great, because I have something to give my family when I tell them about what an incredible trip I'm planning!
So we've reached the end now. I've booked my plane ticket, and I've booked my tour. My lodging is taken care of for the duration of the tour, but I still have to book lodging for the nights before and after the tour in Edinburgh and London. Next time, I'll share my resources I used for my research, pros and cons, and what I ultimately went with. Stay tuned!
* * *