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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    The Great Midwest, Illinois to be precise

    Default Tips on Traveling the British Isles

    I've just recently returned from a bus tour around the island of Britain. I made a few notes about the experience that might be of help to any other RTA people visiting there.

    1. Look Right! Anywhere in the UK, its a good idea to "Look right, look left, and then right again" before crossing the street. They drive on the otherside of the road and Americans are like deer in the headlights looking the wrong way. In London, many intersections have Look Right painted right on the street. There were major delays one day when an American stepped out in front of a bus. I didn't see this warning on the pavement in the smaller towns. It's best if you look both ways all the time.

    2. Hotels. We never saw anything called a motel, no matter what the size, they are all called a hotel, Figuring out how to operate the lights can also be fun. In one hotel, you had to insert your room key card to get it to operate.

    Outside of London, we didn't stay at any hotel that had room airconditioning, a problem compounded by the fact this was the hottest its been there in 90 years. Usually the lobby, restaurant, and hotel bar would be airconditioned.

    Most hotels are rather expensive. A room for 50-60 pounds is considered a great deal. That's $100 to $120 US. Ouch!!!! There were a lot of bed & breakfasts.

    3. Pubs. Many have the traditional facade with the name running across a ledge above the door and windows. Many have lots of hanging baskets and window boxes and are quite beautiful. Don't expect to find any airconditioned either. I strongly suggest a visit to any of these.

    There were many, many White Swans, perhaps a chain. Some of the pubs are owned/sponsored by a particular brewery and only sell their products. Some are called freehold (or something with free in it) and will carry brews from anybody.

    Of course, I strongly suggest that you drink the local brews which were quite good and I never had any warm beer, always at least cool, but usually cold. Their beer also has a higher alcohol content. Why would you go somewhere and drink or eat what you can get in the US? Two different pubs hand pumped the beer out of the tap. The bartender would pull the tap down several times in filling the glass.

    4. US money. I regard it as being essentially worthless. By the time you get through converting it, it is essentially two US dollars for one pound. That wouldn't be so bad if prices were in half, but everything was more expensive, partly because of the 17 and a halfpercent Value Added Tax that the EU puts onto everything. A Big Mac goes for 2.5 pounds. Bring lots and lots and lots of money. It's a great trip, but will be very EXPENSIVE.

    4. Drinking. In most pubs I visited the price of a pint (which I believe to be bigger than a US pint) ranged from 2.8 pounds to 3.5 pounds, that's $5.60 to $7!!! Ouch!! Needless to say, I didn't drink a lot. The Ivanhoe Pub in Edinburgh did have a 1.8 pound special on a Thursday night (along with a trivia contest). Even pop will run you 1-2 pounds.

    Prices for a case in grocery stores were about 15-18 pounds, $30 to $36. I wanted to buy some good Scotch whisky (no e in a true Scottish whisky) but they were 20-25 pounds!!

    5. Back to the Value Added Tax (VAT). It is great to buy something and not have tax added onto the price, but you're already paying the tax. Visitors can get a form to fill out to get the VAT back at the end of the vacation. However, it is your responsibility to ask for it and fill it out. It was suggested not to hassle with it for less than 30 pounds.

    6. Petrol, as they call their gas, goes for around a pound a liter, with four equalling a gallon. That's $8 a gallon for any of you counting. Perhaps we ought not to complain so much about $3 plus gas. But I still will, as things are not as far apart as they are here in the US.

    7. In the UK they don't take vacations. They take Holiday. It is not A holiday or THE holdiay, just Holiday. "I'm going on holiday." British schools get out in the middle of July, when the biggest part of holiday begins. Finding rooms, especially at seaside resorts, might be very difficult. Students are off for six weeks.

    8. They drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheel is on the rightl. However, distances are measured in miles. In the rest of Europe, they drive on our side but measure in kilometers.

    Which side of the road you drive on goes back to history. Part of this goes back to the old French-British rivalry. I heard that when Napoleon took over most of Europe and determined the side of the road you traveled and how you would measure it, England decided to go differently. The American Revolution is the reason we drive on the right like the French and not like the British.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Great Tips

    Thanks for the updated tips sheet. There are plenty of hotels in the USA that use the key-card for electric power in the room -- it helps keep electric costs lower.

    Now you can get a sense why our British cousins alway seem gleeful when they hear us Yanks complaining about the high cost of gasoline.


  3. #3


    Yup, the exchange rate and gas prices make traveling from the UK to the US a much better proposition than the other way around, especially for a road trip.

    The light switch comment made me giggle: it took me about four hours to figure out in a motel in Fresno that the switch that looked like a light switch just inside the door in fact turned the electricity to the wall sockets on and off, so I spend ages assuming my television was broken.

    Air Con would be used so seldom here that most places don't fit it: this year the summer in Britain was very unusual and yeah, I coulda used it at times, but the cost of fitting it to be used for two weeks a year would put prices up even higher I suppose. Grocery stores always have AC and are usually the most pleasant places here when it gets hot!

    Alcohol prices can vary a lot, There are several pubs and clubs here that'll sell all drinks (beers & spirits) for £1 each on certain days but local knowledge is obviously the key.

    I'd never noticed the missing article in the phrase "going on holiday" but you're right, it does sound a bit funny! Schoolkids do indeed get 6 weeks of but for University students it's usually more like three months from mid-July to mid-September, which can have a profound effect on University towns and cities, making some seem eerily quiet. (As an example half of the population of St Andrews is students.) It often means that you can stay in University halls of residence as a servicable (if basic) and very cost-effective alternative to a hotel during summer months.

    All in all though it does seem that someone going to the States from Britain gets a better deal in most respects than the other way around. Good news for me as I start planning next spring's road trip through New England!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    The Great Midwest, Illinois to be precise

    Default That Will be a Great Trip

    We've driven up the coast from Boston to Campobello and really had a great time. We especially liked Bar Harbor, and definitely eat the lobster. Lobster Pounds are great places to get them. Hope you like lighthouses.

    I did find one bar in Edinburgh with 1 pound 85 pence which was a bit better. I had hoped the expensive prices were just from the tourist thing. I definitely want to go back, but will wait for a better exchange rate. I did realize this was a bit of a very warm summer. Normally, I'm not an ac guy either, but I was with Southerners, and they absolutely have to have it. I liked the on holiday phrase.

    With the name dj toast, are you a disc jockey, and if so or not, what do you know about Northern Soul? I hear a guy here on the Endless Summer Beach Network by the name of Kev Roberts and really like what he plays.

    Keep on Down that Two Lane Highway. RoadDog

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    The Great Midwest, Illinois to be precise

    Default Some More Tips on the British Isles

    Some more Observations:

    9. Best London deals: 9 pounds on-off boat trip on the Thames River. This goes all the way to Greenwich where you can see where longitude originated and the Cutty Sark. You can also visit the Tower of London and Tower Bridge.

    3.5 pounds for on-off 24 hour pass on the city buses.

    10, Bathrooms referred to as "toilets", or slang "loos." When they want to rent something, it is "To Let" which always reminded me of toilet.

    Yield is "Give Way. Traffic jams are "queues. "Humps" refer to traffic bumps.

    11. Good deals for phone calls back to the US: Go to Car Phone Warehouse, we saw them quite often. You can buy a cell phone for 15 pounds and stock it with 200 minutes for 10 pounds. You can also replenish the minutes, but you have to go to one of their stores and there are a lot of them.

    12. The Royal Mail is different from the Post Office. Generally, we found that the post offices were the best place to exchange you money. There are no charges and you get a better rate. Generally, I would say to charge all that you can. Master Card charges a small fee and gives you a good rate.

    13. Ice. I refer to this as the "Ice Wars." They do not give you very much. Even the fast food places only give you two or three cubes. Most hotels did not even have ice machines, and when they did, you got a small styrofoam cup to put it in. I went to one pub and had a mixed drink. It came with two cubes. I asked for more, and got another. I asked for more and got two and a grimace. I finally had to say, "Look, we could be here all night, and I'll keep asking for more ice so you might as well fill it up." I got my ice.

    14. Service Areas on the Motor and Autoways: Advertise "Water Closets" or "WC"s. This means bathroom. Also, they have a fast food place called Little Chef and Burger Kings.

    Keep on Driving Down the Other Side of the Driveway. --RoadDog

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default A truly awesome site for photographs!

    Quote Originally Posted by RoadDog View Post
    I've just recently returned from a bus tour around the island of Britain.
    I received a request for a referral link for a web site that has awesome road shots taken around Britain -- Not exactly something that is "on-topic" with our focus on North American RoadTrips, but, still this is a beautiful site that Terry Walsh has created. So take a look -- almost makes me want to go!

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