Tour Packages: Are They Worth The Costs?

glasgow-cathedral-and-infirmaryIt’s a month out from your trip and you are contemplating your very tight budget. Some of the considerations are that you really want to see a bunch of castles near where you are staying, but can’t do a hire car because of the cost. That will leave you with a tour option. However there are so many tours, how can you find one that fits your needs and well, isn’t too touristy?

Hint: For larger cities like London, you will always find a tour. But really good ones can fill up in advance. If a tour has really good ratings, also check for complaints against in a search. You may want to book a few weeks out, especially in high summer, August.

I don’t know about you, but I really am not a fan of traditional tours. Tourists can be so distracting and well, in some cases, behave poorly when on a trip. When I am traveling, I usually avoid the traditional tourist traps if I can, or try to see them at off times, and visit spaces like someone who may live there might. However, if you really want to see a land feature or castle and it’s out of city limits, you may have to resort to a tour.

Commercial Tours €£€£

If you really have limited time and want to pack in as much as you can, the commercial tour companies that depart from most city squares are your bet. You will pay between £30-50 for these tours on brightly colored buses from most metropolitan squares. Then you have to deal with densely packed buses. You can get to a great many sites in one day. I find if I do use these services, I will plan one day to be used up, and of course get back into town and head for a neighborhood I like, just to get some sense of people and community. They are noisy, smelly affairs.

Avoiding Commercial Tours: Compromise €£€£€

There are smaller, more intimate tours for the areas you may be visiting. These are usually smaller vans and smaller bus affairs. They will, however, cost more than the massive tour bus companies. You are paying for a smaller comfort and more intimate and personal tour. Sometimes these are run by smaller family businesses, groups of friends. You can even get specific tours that may follow a theme. Keep in mind that these can cost over €75-200 per person, but may be over several days. Also, check Twitter. Some smaller companies have accounts and you can check out their feed and see what tours are going on and what people are saying.

Walking Tours €0-10

Finding walking tours in cites whether guided or self guided means doing some research. If you check out a tour guide like Trip Advisor, you can get a good selection of these tours along with paying tours listed. There are tours operated by independents that may involve a small group that hires themselves out. These can be really entertaining as many of the guides are locals and you can contribute what you like and tip them. You may find that it is easier to meet groups of other travelers and then have a meal afterwards. Check for local online and hard copy community newspapers and magazines. They will have a good listing of these tours. Also, research alternative tours of the area.

Public Transport Tours – Self Guided £5-10

If you have a few days in an area, using public transit and getting around on your own tour can be done. Most local cities and towns even have maps and bus route information on their city websites with tourists in mind. There are also many touring apps that have city walking tours and tours that venture out. Now, these are free for the most part, and may not be up to date. There may also be roadworks and improvements going on that may delay you, you will need to check local information. I did quite a bit around Inverness last year via this route. You do not get as much packed in as an organized commercial tour, but it can be much easier on the budget.

There are many guided tours apps created by enterprising individuals or tourist boards. If you visit the App Store, you can find many of these. Also check online for local What’s On publications for the city. There may be an app they have created. And don’t forget local book stores. They carry these things called maps that fold out.

Booking

Trip Advisor/Viator are the same company, just different formats. One is the classic Trip Advisor green and the other is a bit more supped up and takes more bookings.

https://www.viator.com

Tour Radar

http://www.tourradar.com/d/europe

City Specific

London

Manchester

Cardiff Wales

Glasgow Tours

Edinburgh Tours

Dublin Tours

Belfast Tours

London Pass

Articles and Resources

https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/choosing-the-right-tour-company/

http://www.scotlandmadeeasy.co.uk/

http://www.irelandmadeeasy.eu/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/12-of-the-best-self-guided-tours-of-scotland/

https://www.myirelandtour.com/travelguide/solo-travel.php

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/the-50-best-travel-websites-8646338.html

 

 

Travel Apps Round Up 2 and Clearing Space for Snaps

ayrshire-antique-county-map-parishes-ayr-kilmarnock-scotland-lizars-1885-2-207660-p

Room for Your New Travel Snaps

Grab your smartphone and hang on. You are going on your trip in a month or less and getting extremely excited about everything your will do. You plan on taking snaps everywhere and wonder about the fact you already have a zillion photos on your phone. You have you hard copy itinerary and have booked on a travel app you are sort of liking but not sure is really your thing. There is so much to see and do, and you will get a hundred brochures on sites when you hit the hotel. Overload awaits you. Not if you start planning and clearing out the old, and setting the stage for the new.

Clear out the last years photos from your phone. Sounds easy right? It actually is, but we tend to hang on to every picture of our cats doing weird things, and foodie shots. If you are on iPhone and have iCloud account, you should back up your photos to the cloud regularly and there is a feature that lets you do that. So, check that you have uploaded and backed up your camera rolls then clear off your phone. But with all the sharing, images keep popping up on all devices and can be annoying. You need to do a two-step process with iPhone:

How to Set Up iCloud Phone Library and Optimize Storage

Then take the extra step to get the photos off your iPhone after you have verified that the photos have been backed  up in drive.

Clearing iPhone Photos

So if you are an Android or Google Phone type, you will need to check out these ideas to help save and clear your stash of snaps. Many of us use Google drive and this should be easy but you will need to take a few enabled steps.

Clearing Photos and Images on Android Using Google Drive

Travel Apps

Now that you have freed up some space on your phone, and checked what apps you can get rid of because you don’t really use them, you can now start looking at some travel apps. There are many websites that help with booking, but there are some apps that make travel more fun and organized if you try them out and get used to the interface before hand.

Google Trips v Tripit

I have just started using this little gem. If you have a Gmail account, any of your booking confirmations that come in can be automatically added for your trips. I just started my trip planner for July and started manually putting my flight info in. It would be handy if Justfly.com did an export to the app directly. You can access off line as well through your Google account in case the phone is not available, like at at hotel lobby.Google Trips

I can manage my hotel and accommodations on Booking.com easily enough, and export confirmations to my Wallet app so I can just walk in and show it as confirmation. Sometimes it’s good to have a mobile app that has a very user friendly interface. You may have to try a few to see which one has the ease of use that works for you before you hop your plane.

Tripit is a similar program but you can send your itineraries from any email to it and it will add automatically, Google defaults to Gmail of course. It’s a bit more involved, has a few more features. I say try both out for bit before your trip and see which you prefer.

Duolingo

Traveling to France or another tongue you do not speak? Try an app for translation on the fly. Gone are the days of flipping through a translation book, plonk in you language and ask it to translate. There are short lessons in this app that will help you a bit with the language basics. For more in depth in a language, search for that particular language app at the app store. Try it free to see if the interface works for you.

Citimapper

Free alternative to Google Maps with transit mapping included. Works in most major cities. Warning, data hog.

XE Currency

Check all the currency exchange rates at a glance. Smartphone app and web site conversion. This has been a go to standard for years. Currency converter. You can check their rates, look at world currency values up to date by the minute.

Easy Currency Converter

Great little app, available on Android. Includes bitcoin.

My Currency Converter

iPhone app, very clean and easy to view, use design. I always go with easy of use, otherwise it’s smash the app time on the phone.

Travelex Money App

Need to top up your Travelex money card while traveling in Europe, you can do it through this app. What I don’t like is it default loads to try to get you to drop $1k on it immediately as they do make money off you. But being able to slip the currency in on the phone when getting money from your bank while abroad may have even high fees is a good idea.

Usage Hint: Data suck is high in these cities, download travel map apps that allow for offline use when necessary, WiFi doesn’t follow you around, you have to find it. Good WiFi finder app is a must. Live GPS will kill your data space.

More

 

Hopper

Yelp

Skyscanner

Spotted by Locals

GoEuro

WiFi Finder

Atlas Obscura

UseIt Europe

Local Apps

Check out the city you are going to for their local tourist apps as well, usually on the city website or local tourist board site. Some of them have great walking tours and information about smaller museums and sites that you would otherwise have to dig through Trip Advisor for. Don’t forget the What’s On sections of most online newspapers. There will be links to all local attractions and advertising for apps.GL_ipad

Local Apps Ireland

http://www.ireland.com/en-us/what-is-available/articles/apps-for-ireland/

Belfast

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/visit-belfast/id405725557?mt=8

Galway

https://galway-app.droidinformer.org/

http://townapps.ie/project/galway/

http://www.loveconnemara.com/french/things-to-do-t46565

Scotland

https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/visiting/getting-around

http://everyedinburgh.com/8-essential-edinburgh-apps-you-need-to-download/

http://www.travelinescotland.com/apps

Glasgow App Developers with local apps http://appdeveloperscotland.co.uk/

Articles

http://budgettraveller.org/20-best-free-travel-apps-travelling-around-uk/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2016/jan/02/10-best-travel-apps-free-paid-for

https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/best-travel-apps/2/

https://www.danflyingsolo.com/best-apps-for-travelling-2017/

 

Travel and Transport Strikes: Irish and UK Strike Actions

2481070295_9f838571bb_bSome travelers have all the luck, eh? Last summer in 2016 I had to work around rail strike actions in Scotland. ScotRail was pretty good about finding solutions for when an action took place last July and I got stranded briefly in Oban, ended up on luxury coach instead. Interesting change in plans that was. Saw Loch Lomond on a luxury coach I didn’t pay extra for. Oh, and the Clockwork Orange tube in Glasgow was being worked on as well, so I just lucked out on missing that fun underground and picking random neighborhoods to pop up into. I will be back this summer and remedy that. 

Bus and Train Strikes in Ireland and UK This Spring

This season, I plan on the loop to Ireland being a serious treat. However, it looks like the mass transit concerns of Ireland have been threatening a strike action for the last few weeks. You wonder why the concern? Well listen up. Ireland and the UK have union actions that may not just involve the union that has the call to strike out. Sisterhood and solidarity abound in this region and that means that other related unions may wish to go out on strike action for in support. So if the bus lines of Ireland strike, it is possible that railways will be affected. In the US we have seen a heavy decline in unions in the last decade. A call to action happens less frequently, and with our heavy use of cars here in the United States, transit strikes can be avoided more readily than in the UK and Ireland, where car ownership is a very costly affair and frankly better transit services than the US exist so a great many use it. Add to the fact you are in the tourist and festival season, and you can expect delays. The Irish bust company, Bus Éireann, is in it’s fifth day of strikes. Dublin bus is threatening to follow suit and so is Irish Rail.

So what do you do if you are planning a trip and need to use bus/train/ferries and want to book in advance due to heavy travel from tourists? You should still plan on booking via computer or app a few weeks out to guarantee seats. There are usually some walk on pay-as-you go seats, but this can be really hampered if you are going during festival week. If your train you have booked and paid in advance for, and a strike action takes place, you can either get a refund or there will be provided alternatives. Read the local papers and check the website frequently of the railways and bus lines. Latest news will be posted. Need to check into a hotel later than usual, most of the time you can just call. This becomes a bit dicey if you have rented on AirBNB or other sublet/service apartments, since you usually have to arrange pickup of a key.

You can always look at it as experiencing real life along with the people whose culture you are visiting. Really in the great scheme of things, these are trivial compared to some other more exotic locations where transport can be really interesting at best. If it happens in the UK or Ireland, there is always a watering hole around to hang out in and commiserate with others.

Articles

Ireland

Irish Rail May Join Action

Bus Talks

UK

UK Rail Strikes this year 2017

Rail Strikes this Weekend


Connolly Station Photography by William Murphy at Flicr

Art Walks: Amazing Spring Entertainment and Culture in the Isles

FullSizeRender

Mural on the Clutha Pub, Bridgegate Street, Glasgow Scotland Summer 2016 J. Canning

I have always enjoyed a good street art walk. Murals and sidewalk art have become extensive, massive canvases to showcase local artists and get up close and personal with art. This summer I will be hitting more mural walks. I was reading one of the people I follow on Twitter, Travels With a Kilt Blog, and a recent article caught my eye. It’s a great art walk in Glasgow and I will be following it this summer and adding some of my own discoveries.

Got one of those super saver early flight arrivals like I always get? It’s one of the best things to do when you just get to a city, especially if you are walking off the jet lag. Get a taste for the city you are exploring, grab coffee or tea on the way, walk a few hours, then have a meal. Great way to meet people.

Since I won’t be going until summer this year, I thought I would link you up with this article so if you happen to be going to Glasgow this spring, you should read this:

Glasgow’s Street Art Article

Planning on going to a city or two this spring summer that may have street art? Seek it out and take your own shots of this amazing public art form. Share them on Instagram or try a street art app that you can share with the world.

Just a tip: You will find many official street art tours. They cost money. You can find maps for free online and also some walking tours with local historians, a bit less money. If you have a budget, small tours with locals can be a blast as you can meet with others traveling and have great convo. But sometimes creating your own tour is great on the budget, look for Street Art Tour Maps online. There are apps online and phone apps for tours as well. Remember this will eat up your power and many places are charging money now in cafes to recharge your phone.

Links

Apps for Street Art Worldwide Directory http://geostreetart.com/

For great walks and place in Scotland to take your snaps, check out http://www.photowalkscotland.com/

More at these cities:

Edinburgh 

http://www.walkingheads.net/pride-of-place-street-art-in-leith/

Glasgow 

https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/things-to-do/visitor-itineraries/city-centre-mural-trail

http://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/glasgow-mural-trail

Ireland

Belfast 

http://free-belfast-tours.com/tours/the-free-original-belfast-alternative-tour/

http://www.seedheadarts.com/street-art-walking-tour/

http://www.belfastartmap.com/places/belfast/public-art/street-art-north-street/

Dublin 

https://www.joe.ie/life-style/spend-a-day-taking-in-some-brilliant-dublin-street-art-377646

http://www.dailyedge.ie/best-irish-street-art-1627974-Aug2014/

Galway

https://www.facebook.com/galwaystreetart/

https://oddballtours.com/tours/

UK

http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-tours/walking-tours/london-graffiti-and-street-art-tour/

https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/the-street-art-walk

Coming to the PNW, Portland PDX?

http://www.pdxstreetart.org/