Pondering a Visit from Afar?
As a student in Edinburgh, I spent more hours than was perhaps needed in student travel agencies awaiting my turn to address the modest requirement of booking a cheaper return flight from Edinburgh to Dublin. In these web-enabled days, that way of doing business has been consigned to history so long as you have either a debit or credit card. Ironically, my bank refused to give either and it's one of the ones that got sucked into the recent and now exhausted credit frenzy. Thinking about it now, I wonder if it has returned to that straitjacketed mindset or whether snaring the new generation remains important.
The primary cause of those lengthy waits was the booking of long distance trips by what often were twosomes. If you got wind of the mechanics of booking long haul flights and other travel arrangements, you knew that your business was going to take a while and it often did on those Saturday afternoons. Amazingly, I used to just placidly set aside whole afternoons for what were simple transactions because of this. I wonder if I would be as patient these days and another question that arises pertains to how much has activity on the web replaced those lengthy offline trip preparations that I witnessed all those years ago.
Of course, the counterpoint to all that planning is the actual trip itself and my longer outings in Scotland have had me encountering those engaged in driving holidays throughout Scotland and Ireland too. That they were Americans of a certain age is besides the point, the planning of those escapades cannot have been a walk in the park either. Then, there's the challenge of driving on a different side of the road and encountering road conditions that may be very different from home. Add to that local customs like "Bank Holidays" and you have unsure folks asking anyone nearby for explanations like someone asked me at breakfast one morning in Aberfoyle; for those not in the know, a bank holiday is a type of public holiday.
You could get away from all of this by choosing a package holiday with someone else doing all of the donkey work. There are disadvantages to that too and it just may not suit you. Speaking for myself for a moment, I have a more self-reliant independent streak that has me going the DIY approach for nearly all of my excursions and the worlds seems to be full of people like me too. Anyone coming from overseas to walk or cycle from Land's End to John O' Groats or vice versa would fit into the same category and TGO challengers do so too. You could always get someone local to where you are headed to help but that's all they can ever do, as useful as the assistance may be.
Mulling over the planning of that big faraway trip yourself doesn't make me envy anyone who takes on that task but many do and do so successfully too. My approach tends to be more iterative and that certainly looks like it will be the way with the Isle of Man and it's not unprecedented either. The granddaddy of such an enterprise for me would have to be getting to explore and know Scotland. It looks amazing now but I actually arrived in Edinburgh not knowing very much about the country and I was on a learning curve straight away. It was to take a few years before I ventured beyond Edinburgh and Loch Tay to engage in independent travel to Oban, Mull, Fort William, Inverness, Loch Ness and it was crowned with a few days on Skye followed by a driving tour with my brother. In truth, those outings only scratched the surface but it laid the foundations for further trips since then, a very useful outcome.
Having a limited budget as a student meant that the Internet was used in place of guidebooks from the likes of Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. It worked well but the "dead tree" route came into play for my early explorations of England and Wales. You have to start somewhere but, once you're started, then ideas beget ideas as you get to know an area. Those who travel from afar do not possess and may only have one chance so they may only ever get a shallower feel for somewhere while they are hopping from place to place, maybe only seeing the honeypots. It is as if they may only make a start and never get to take it onward from there.
Despite my misgivings, introductions can be satisfying and my week spent exploring Scotland's Western Isles last year is a case in point. A certain amount of research was in order before an itinerary could be constructed, accommodation booked and travel arranged. Once there, plans were refined or had to work differently but that's often the way of things. Books and websites all had their place in turning a nascent idea into a delightful visit with the weather coming just right.
It never ceases to amaze me how things come together when they do and that any apprehension turns out to be misplaced. Saying that, my escapades are tame in comparison to anyone from the U.K. planning to complete one of the major American hiking trails or a photographic wildlife safari in the Serengeti. They take a lot of planning and that takes time. Even with my deciding where to go for a day's walking at a weekend can take a few hours to set in place so these longer stretches must take weeks to set in place. More adventurous schemes like tackling Everest of Aconcagua must take a while and you need a goodly number of helpers too. Reaching the South Pole and other such feats sound too dramatic to contemplate.
Thankfully, a lengthy visit to Britain isn't so taxing. The main trick remains the same as those adventurous ideals: planning. If it's your first time, it might be best to use your stay to get to know the place. You can do a certain amount of that before leaving home with a website like Visit Britain, Heritage Britain, Britain Express or UK Series being good places to begin and there are those guidebooks along with more specialist websites like Britain's Heritage Cities (limited to just six in England at the time of writing) too. As would be expected, Visit Britain features Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland but surprises me with sections devoted to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands too, even though they are strictly part of the U.K. proper; they may have the British Queen as their head of state but they are otherwise independent. In contrast, Britain Express sticks with the British mainland in the main and has some good introductory pieces too. Between both of these websites, you should be able to find out what you need about accommodation, attractions, etc.
The trouble with Britain is that there's far too much to see. You probably need more than a single visit to do justice to the conglomerate of nations. In fact, there is some sense in picking an area an sticking with it and websites for the individual tourism agencies for Scotland, Wales and England can help but there are others for localities within those nations too. Whatever approach you take, research is needed because it can be hard to see the wood from the trees. I reckon that any pre-work has to be rewarded because I don't think that I'll ever exhaust the possibilities offered by the U.K. and I have lived here for longer than I now care to admit. Ireland's nooks and crannies call too for a spot of variety. In truth, there is so much to see that I have decided to concentrate on my usual haunts with the occasional foray further afield rather than flying all around the globe. In summary, Britain can't really be "done" in a single trip but, if that's what you got, make the most of it.