Day Trips – to go or not to go?

Caribbean, Cruising, europe, France, Ireland, italy, mexico, Scotland, Throwback Thursday, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

There are times in life where preconceived notions have to be put to the test and nothing has challenged me more than the subject of day trips (in regards to travel anyway). Well before I started venturing into the world on my own I had in my head that the best way to travel was to travel with no rules, no script, and no one telling you where and when to do things. I thought of all the school trips and family vacations I had been dragged around on and knew that there was no way I wanted to travel in a massive bus with less than knowledgeable guides trying to sell people on things. No, I wanted to explore on my own and find the best things without rules. I wanted to wander and forge my own path and take the path less taken and be amazing! All without any knowledge or experience!

In 2010 I obsessively made my own plans and scheduled in times to pee and blow my nose and shove an apple in my mouth. Read more here. Which in reality all went to shit within one week, because of nature, thank you Icelandic Volcano. The truth was that I had no idea how to plan or manage two months, let alone a week, or a day traveling because I didn’t have a clue. My trip went okay, I saw plenty of things, but I also learned where to worry and what to forget, and how to get help when I needed it.

Fast forward to 2013 and a study abroad trip opened my eyes to the value of guides in foreign countries, especially when you don’t speak the language. What I realized is that no matter how many signs or guide books or snippets I read, I was missing valuable information whenever I looked around at the world, the castle, the street, the odd carving in a wall. I missed the stories, myths, and legends that made different corners of the world remarkable. It was then that I realized that, in fact, guides are invaluable and important people when visiting a city for the first time.

Even in a day of endless information and content, guides offer insight, and an intimacy that no amount of paper and signs can ever give to an experience. Having a guide walk you around Florence will allow you to truly experience the details of the experience, versus aimlessly wandering trying to make sense of everything that is around you. Having a guide takes you to the best gelato, or the tastiest lunch in a town, and it lets you better understand the people that are hosting you in their home. Since 2013 I make sure every trip has at least one tour, but I am very selective on how and where I take these tours. Here are some of my fast tips on selecting the best tour for you and your travel companions!

  1. Start with researching and finding as many tour providers as you can that will cover what you need. This includes group and private tours, and companies like Viator, or independent companies that you find.
  2. Review all of the itineraries and inclusions, then figure out what seems like a reasonable price for the tour either for a large, small, or private tour and then decide what is friendliest for your budget.
    1. For private tours you will likely need to email guides, and explain what you want. However, they will be able to fully customize your adventure from the locations seen, the time spent in each place, and the routing taken. This is definitely worth paying extra for, if you can afford it.
  3. Read up on the vehicles being offered. This seems silly, but sometimes something will be listed that won’t actually work with your family of six, and two car seats. Read up, email with questions, and call if you have any concerns.
    1. My husband can attest to the discomfort of small Mexican vans for 5 hours of driving to Chichen Itza, I majorly failed on researching that one. My short self is now much more mindful that 6’4” doesn’t fit in cars as well as 5’2”.
  4. Read as many reviews as you can, either through TripAdvisor, Facebook, viator, etc. this will give you a better idea of what to expect and what to watch out for. Remember, most people will complain before they complement, but it’s important to check all the resources for consistency and safety.
  5. Ask your travel companions about their preferences. Sometimes they won’t care, but brain storming may mean they think of unforeseen issues, or other ideas to make the trip better.
  6. Ask an expert for advice! This is especially important if you are working with a travel agent for your trip. They will likely have direct connections to some of the best guides and experts in an area, and if they don’t they will know who to ask for help.However, experts can be other people like friends that know the region, a hotel concierge, or your credit card concierge and travel departments!
  7. Make a choice – yes you have to pick. It’s far better to pick SOMETHING and not have the best tour, but get to SEE something versus never going at all. I say this because so many people hesitate to take a tour and then they don’t ever get the experience they should have tried for. It’s scary to put trust in another company or guide, but I promise that it’s worthwhile more than staying behind.
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For Castles, Head to Scotland

History, Scotland, Travel, United Kingdom
Edinburgh Castle, 2010 trip

While England is well known as a hub for centuries of castles. And while it holds some of the finest examples of castle and manor architectural wonders, it lacks the density of castles that most visitors dream of, at least in modern visibility.

Since the pesky Normans invaded (1066, look it up) castle sprouted all over Britain and some 4,000 were in England at one point. However, time, and age, and people like Oliver Cromwell destroyed many of the finest castles Britain had. Today England has around 1,500 castles that are registered landmarks. Scotland has over 2,000 castle examples.

Scotland (30,090 sq mi), by comparison in land mass and distance to travel, is significantly smaller than England (50,301 sq mi). Scotland also has the benefit of some of the best castle examples being within a remarkably short drive or train from Edinburgh, Scotland. This reason alone is one of the many reasons why I have continued to return to Scotland for a taste of magic, history, and escapism. 

Scotland is a major location to film historical and fictional movies due to its plethora of castles. Movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Harry Potter Franchise, those which don’t tell particularly Scottish stories, are prime examples of the beauty of the region providing a great backdrop. 

Thus, dear fellow travelers, Scotland is a prime spot for pulling on your wellies and tromping through some highlands to see some great Castles! Here are some of my absolute favorites. 

Edinburgh Castle – You can’t visit Scotland and not stop at one of its main historical attractions. Not only is it the heart of the city, the entirety of it is surrounding by the stunning features of the city’s old town and views of the new town. The museums at the castle complex offer an unparalleled starting point into Scotland’s history. 

Edinburgh Castle, 2015

Stirling Castle – Stirling is a fantastic neighboring city of Edinburgh, and only around an hour away by train or car. The city also boasts its own castle, built over the end of the 15th and into the 17th century, and a shining example of early modern period tastes and designs. I love the layout of this castle as it has dedicated itself to being an example of 16th century life in Scotland. 


Doune Castle, 2010

Doune Castle – Just outside of Stirling is the city of Doune, and one of the better loved castles for movie locations. Doune Castle was originally known as the “Holy Grail Castle” where one could take a photo with coconuts and run around pretending they were horse hooves. In the last five years or so it has become best known for some lusty shots from Outlander. For history geeks, this castle also boasts some great restoration and it is set among some stellar hiking trails and views. 

Playing Monty Python, 2010

Eilean Donan – As the most photographed castle in Scotland this one has to make the list. However, to many peoples’ surprise, this castle was not built long long ago in a land far away. The castle isn’t even 100 years old and was built by some scenery and history loving architects and owners who chose to celebrate the locations heritage. The spot of Eilean Donan was a hot spot for groups until the 1700s when most of the 13th century castle was restored. 

Eilean Donan, 2015

DirletonCastle – Just a short trek from Edinburgh this greatcastle offers a lot of exploration and fun on one small location. If you’re upfor a game of hide and seek, this castle is the perfect one to get lost in andrevel in some history at. 

Tantallon Castle – If you love ocean backdrops then thesea swept cliffs by Tantallonmake a visit worthwhile. Important historically, this castle is one of thefinest examples of medieval design and castle living, providing not onlyamazing views, but rich educational opportunities. 

There are so many more to explore in Scotland, and more I have had theluxury of seeing. Where are your favorites? What do you want to see?

Happy Travels!

platform 9 3/4

Hidden London, the city that you need to see

Travel, United Kingdom

London, as many great cities are, is full of your typical tourist spots, and one can spend plenty of time hitting museum after museum, and visiting royal sights.

Yet, there is a lot more to see in London, such as unique and vibrant culture in the pubs and waterways that are away from the tourist trail.

Such as the Dickens Inn at St. Katherine Docks. That is an old haunt of, you guessed it, Charles Dickens and in the area that so often found itself in his stories. 

Or haunt around Kings Cross and check out Platform 9 3/4! Along with the Harry Potter shop.

Even at the big tourist spots there are magical places that sometimes get missed. Such as the 13th century reconstructed palace at the Tower of London.

The reality of London is that wandering gets you to some neat places. Some cool shops, some exciting places, interesting people and unique sights. If you can, make a connection with a local, because they will always know a place or two worth exploring.

Happy Travels!

~Rebecca Lee Robinson

Little Fish, Big Pond- from country girl to world traveler

musings, Travel, United Kingdom, United States

I grew up in the Pikes Peak region, very rural. Where the closest neighbor we had for many years was about half a mile away. Where the roads were dirt for three miles back to my childhood home. Where you could hear traffic from a mile away if you listened hard enough. Where big horned sheep hung out in their back yard and mountain lions were a real threat.

When going to school as a kid we literally lived at the LAST stop on the school bus route, for either school we went to either in Cripple Creek or Woodland Park. Both of which were a 30 minute drive in either direction.

When I was 19 (in 2010) I decided, while taking a gap year and a half, to take a trip. By myself I would go to Europe. I started in Germany and France with some dear friends that lived in Stuttgart. By the time I got to traveling alone I was in the UK and that meant a wakeup call on public transportation and how much of the world lives.

In London, I rode on my first subway, real subway- not one at an airport.

Out of London I rode on my first public train, not just a touristy trip through the Royal Gorge, to Diss in East Anglia.

In Edinburgh, I rode in my first cab, EVER….I kid you not.

Out of Stirling, Scotland I took my first public bus to Dirleton, Scotland, which quickly turned into a mess because I didn’t understand bus schedules…anyway.

Out of Holyhead, Wales I would take my first ferry and land in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.

As a trip of firsts in public transportation and seeing the world it was a wonderful experience and preparation for moving to the city for college.

In January of this year I took a third trip to the UK with my aunt, from Kansas, who had:

  • Never been in a cab
  • Never been on a commuter train
  • Never been on a subway
  • Never been on a public bus.

It was strange to think that someone in their 60s could just be experiencing these things for the first time. Yet, when I think about how strange the mid-west and western United States could be for people, it’s kind of a weirdness that is unique to that part of the world. Growing up in rural environments means that we have some experiences with raising farm animals, or hiking hidden trails. Yet we miss out on more urban pursuits. Which, when traveling have an interesting way of sneaking in. All part of the experience.