A Travellerspoint blog

Cheap trans-atlantic flight - the follow-up

I survived the el cheapo Thomas Cook flight relatively intact. We left essentially on time. They did have the advertised leg room, and the seat-back screens - although the non-premium passengers had a very limited selection, and no one had control of starting or stopping the films as one does on the larger airlines.

The service on-board was slow. By the time they had slogged through the long non-premium cabin trying to sell us snacks and headphones, and then again trying to sell us alcohol and more snacks, it was a good three hours before they got the dinner handed out. My seat-mates and I were starving by the time it arrived. And then it was just barely two hours before they woke us up to try to serve us breakfast.

Also, my seat-mates reported they had paid the extra fee to book two aisle seats opposite each other, but hadn't gotten them on either their flight out or their flight back. On the flight out, it was because an aircraft had been swapped out, but I believe on the flight back they were just given away. So it seems you have to check in early, even if you have reserved your seats, which is annoying.

Overall, I can't say the experience was comfortable, but nor was it unreasonable. And for $240 including taxes (one-way) I can't complain. I'm willing to fly with them again on the way home.

Posted by kithica 17:13 Archived in Canada Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

packing and prepping and shopping, oh my!

sunny 32 °C

I have made a radical decision: I'm taking a suitcase, not a backpack.

I know! It's freaking me out a little, too. Here's the thing, though - I'm not going to be moving all that much. I settle down in Edinburgh for six weeks, and then I rent a car to do my touristing. The suitcase will give me a little more room, it'll be more practical while I'm living in Edinburgh, and it's got wheels so it's pretty mobile.

Let me say, though, trying to pack a sleeping bag into a suitcase? Really, really weird.

All other aspects of the pack are going well so far. I've almost finished running my errands, and as soon as the laundry is done I can work out whether it's all going to fit and whether I can keep my bag under the weight limit.

I have this feeling like I should be crazier or busier or more worried, but this is the third trip I've taken in the last nine months, so I pretty much have everything to hand.

Not to mention the fact that my trip mostly involves big western cities. Quite different from my last two trips into the wilds of Morocco and Thailand. It's nice not to have to worry about toilet paper and water purification tablets and diarrhoea medication.

Posted by kithica 20:33 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

pre-booking jitters

sunny 35 °C

It happens to me every time.

I've worked out where I want to go and what I want to do. I've researched and priced everything out. I'm ready. And yet, I'm terrified of actually taking the step and booking my arrangements.

What if something goes wrong? What if I calculated the dates wrong? What if I change my mind? It's ridiculous. And yet, I always have a moment of paralysis.

This trip was no different. By yesterday morning I had worked out the cheapest car rental in Scotland, gotten availabilities from B&Bs in all the towns I want to stay in, worked out the best train routes and fares, sourced travel insurance, the whole lot.

But did I book any of it on the spot? No. I had to let it all sit while I wibbled for a little while. Every single time, this happens. And I can't be the only person who does this, can I? And you'd think I'd learn. It has bitten me in the butt before. I've ended up paying more for train fares, car rentals, losing out on my chosen B&B. And yet.

I think what I really want is to be able to book it all the day before, as I go, but for those same cheap advance prices. I can be sure of what I need a day in advance. Sadly, the world doesn't work that way. Or, at least, it doesn't work that way on the cheap.

I got my dithering down to a little more than 24 hours this time. This afternoon I sat down and took the bull by the horns. I e-mailed the B&Bs and asked for reservations. I will be spending three nights in Stirling and two nights in Fort William, and hopefully those two are sorted now. I will also be spending five nights on the Isle of Skye, but I'm still researching B&Bs for that one.

I'll be renting a car in Stirling and driving around Scotland for a week. I usually go with Easycar (a relative of Easyjet), because if you can book far enough in advance, they are crazy cheap. I did a little shopping around this time, though, and found that Enterprise Rent-a-Car beat their price by about £20, so I ended up going with them. I booked that this afternoon as well.

Reading through my Lonely Planet Scotland, I found something called the Jacobite Steam Train. It runs from Fort William to Mallaig, across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and you can take a day trip out and back with an hour and a half stop in Mallaig for lunch and sightseeing. This was also the train (and the viaduct) featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. Now, while I'm not a huge fan of those movies, I do remember the train and the stunning scenery it passed through, and I decided I wanted to go. I booked myself a ticket this afternoon.

The only thing I'm still dithering over is travel insurance. I don't know why. I've decided where I want to buy it, found a decent rate, I'm definitely going to get it... and yet. Apparently my nerves need me to leave that one for tomorrow.

Posted by kithica 22:41 Archived in Scotland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

prep and planning - flights

booking my Scotland trip on the cheap

After nearly two months of going back and forth about whether I could make this happen, it's finally beginning to come together. This next bit is going to be the crazy part, because I'm now scheduled to leave a week today.

Based around a six-week work contract in Edinburgh - which was only finalised today - I'm extending my trip to nearly ten weeks in order to spend some time with family and to travel around Scotland.

I took a gamble and booked part of my flight before things were confirmed. There is a website, Canadian Affair, that offers cheap flights to the UK from Canada - sort of like a transatlantic EasyJet. And we're talking true bargain basement here. They offer flights with Thomas Cook and AirTransat, so it's essentially going to be a charter flight where you're lucky if there's room enough in the seat for you and your knees together. When I flew with them six years ago, there was no assigned seating (it was first come first served), and I think there was a charge for the in-flight meal. There was an option (which I took) to upgrade to what would be economy class on any other airline (assigned seating, free food, etc). The check-in line at the airport was huge, and the flights were delayed by at least two hours both going out and coming in.

That said, they're very cheap if you have some flexibility in your travel plans. I have to be in Edinburgh on the 19th of July. And there was a seat sale on - I could fly to Manchester for $49 (all figures in Canadian dollars) one way if I left on the 13th. Instead of dithering and hoping that the deal would still be there when I was ready, I just went ahead and booked it. With all the taxes and charges it came to $240 for the one-way flight.

(At that price, I could swallow the cost if worst came to absolute worst. And being able to book one way at a time - not having to commit to a return date - was a huge bonus. If the job had fallen through, there was a back-up plan; I'd find the cheapest possible flight home, and spend whatever time that gave me in between with my family. A low-cost vacation option.)

Now, according to their website, things seem to be a bit more civilised. I haven't gone for the upgrade this time since it would have doubled the cost of my flight and money is the primary issue, but I was able to pre-book my own seat (for a charge of $17) and they do seem to be offering a complimentary meal. They also make a lot of claims about leg room and seat-back video screens (on certain aeroplanes only), but I'll wait until I've suffered the flight before I comment on those.

I've also found that their flights seem to be cheaper if you book them one way at a time. For one of the itineraries I was looking at, the same flight was $50 cheaper if I booked it as a one-way than if I booked it as part of a round-trip. I don't know that this is always true, but do explore your options when it comes time to book flights.

Another trick is to check the prices flying into various airports. The $149 flight to London I had been counting on disappeared, but the $49 flight into Manchester made up for it. As it turns out, I have family near Manchester that I can stay with, so it was even better for me than London (which is usually a cheaper flight), but had I needed to get down to London, the UK has excellent rail links, and if you book in advance the tickets can be quite cheap. (Although the UK rail system has been privatised and different routes are run by different companies, you can still book all your travel through the National Rail website.)

I haven't booked my plane flight home yet. The end of my trip is still a bit fuzzier than the rest, and there's a certain part of me that wants to explore the possibility of not coming home at all. I could, if I wanted to, arrive in the UK on a one-way ticket alone and sort out the rest of my plans at some point during my trip, because I have a visa that allows me to live and work there. I may, in fact, end up doing that, gambling that there will be another seat sale to get me home closer to the date. If you're just travelling as a tourist, though, you will need to have a return ticket, a one-way ticket home, or a ticket for an onwards journey that will take you out of the country. Immigrations officials don't like it when you turn up with no plans to leave.

I'm waiting on one last piece of information before booking my train tickets, and once those are in place I can start looking at car rentals and accommodations. I'll keep you posted as things progress.

Posted by kithica 13:40 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

the last of the tall ships

a summer evening in Toronto

sunny 27 °C

Sometimes you don't have to go all that far to go sight-seeing. Today, on a beautiful summer evening, my parents and I headed down to Toronto's Harbourfront area to have a bit of a wander.

Toronto_-_CN_tower.jpg

The CN (which stands for Canadian National) Tower was, for many years, the world's largest free-standing tower. (I believe there is now one in Malaysia that has outstripped it.) The rest of Canada likes to accuse Torontonians of believing our city is the centre of the universe. So we built a large tower to mark the spot. Makes sense.

The CN Tower is visible from large chunks of the city, but is usually seen from the North. This shot was taken from the South, however, as the Harbourfront runs between it and the lake.

Toronto_-_pirate_ship.jpg

Toronto is situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the five great lakes. The lakes all eventually drain, via the St. Lawrence river, into the Atlantic Ocean. Clearly, that's how the pirates got in.

Toronto_-_tall_ship.jpg

In honour of Canada Day weekend, we had a waterfront festival where the tall ships came in. This was part of our reason for heading down to Harbourfront, but, it being Sunday evening, all but one of them had gone. We did get the pleasure of seeing this last one sail off into the sunset, though.

Toronto_-_tall_ship_2.jpg

All in all, it was a really beautiful walk. Next time we'll have to go earlier and see the market and maybe have dinner on one of the lake-front patios.

I got a couple of last shots in on the way home.

Toronto_-_downtown.jpg

This is the downtown core in the twilight. A quick shot I caught from the window of the streetcar.

Toronto_-_ROM.jpg

And this is a shot of the Royal Ontario Museum at night. It is absolutely nowhere near Harbourfront, but it was on my way home, and it's awfully pretty.

Posted by kithica 22:42 Archived in Canada Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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