Iceland, Scotland, Wales, England by plane, train, and automobile
A couple months ago, my wife and I took advantage of some cheap flights to Iceland and turned them into a two week trip to four countries. It was really helpful for us to take rest seriously and get some time away from work together by exploring new experiences and places.
Deciding where to go
Like anyone else on the face of the planet right now, we decided, “Hey let’s go to Iceland!” After getting some cheap tickets from WOW airlines, I checked on how much it would be to fly from Iceland to the UK. Turns out its cheap. Like, really cheap. Depending on where you fly into.
Our plans quickly changed and we decided that our two-week vacation to Iceland would be sliced up a bit. We planned to be in Iceland for 4 days, Scotland for 4 days, Wales for 3 days, and then England for 3 days.
First things first, we needed to book our flights. It mainly revolved around finding the closest airport that WOW airlines flew out of, which was SFO for the day we wanted to leave. WOW flies a few times a week from there so we were somewhat at the mercy of that schedule. We booked a quick Southwest flight from Phoenix to SFO and had a short layover.
Originally we were going to fly round trip with WOW until we decided to head to the UK as part of the trip. I’m so thankful we did this because flying WOW was, hmm, an experience. It’s a budget international airline, so what are you going to expect? Seats weren’t great for an 8-hour trip, no screens for movies, limited refreshments and food options. However, the staff was great and helpful.
On our flight back from the UK we decided to take another budget airline called Norwegian out of Gatwick airport. Such an amazing airline. We were shocked at the difference. Tons of space, even better service, free meal and refreshments, really great in-flight entertainment. We found it using Google Flights, which in my opinion has the easiest to use low fare finder calendar. Quick side note, I was really impressed by their screen UI and UX. When we fly next time to Europe, definitely going to try and book with them again.
Now that we had our flight to Reykjavik, Iceland booked, and our flight home from London, we could start to fill in the rest.
Wed — Flight to SFO and then Reykjavik, Iceland
Tue — Flight to LAX and then PHX
Flights from Iceland to Scotland were limited so choosing was easy, a flight early in the morning on the 5th day of our trip seemed reasonable. We booked one way with EasyJet, which was really cheap and a pretty quick flight into Edinburgh, Scotland. From there we decided we wanted a whole day to explore the city of Edinburgh and then we wanted to take a train up into the Highlands as far north as we could, stay one night, and then take the train into Glasgow for the night.
So, we had the Scotland portion planned and moved onto looking at how we wanted to get to London by the end of the trip. We had about 5 days to work with and knew we would have to be traveling a bit each day while also getting to see the places we had wanted to hit.
We booked a 6-hour train trip from Glasgow to a city in the northern part of Wales and then decided that the next morning we would rent a car and return it when we got into London. Looking at how long it would take to get to London, we broke the rest of the trip up accordingly.
We planned driving to the southern part of Wales and to see a lot of the country by car, staying the night there, and then staying one more night somewhere between the south of Wales and London. We both had wanted to see Oxford and it was pretty close to halfway between the two. We wanted to leave one full day for London so we only stayed in Oxford one night and planned on returning the car the next day in London. So we had the bones of our trip pretty fleshed out.
Wed — Flight to SFO and then Reykjavik, Iceland
Thu — Iceland
Fri — Iceland
Sat — Iceland
Sun — Scotland
Mon — Scotland
Tue — Scotland
Wed — Scotland
Thu — Wales
Fri — Wales
Sat — Oxford
Sun — London
Mon — London
Tue — Flight to LAX and then PHX
Where to stay
We felt pretty confident that if we planned out the when and where of our trip, we could find a place to stay almost anywhere. Doing this through Airbnb was our primary option. We chose to go through Airbnb because of how easy the booking process is, ability to communicate easily with hosts, and knowing what to expect when booking based on photos and descriptions and reviews. One of the main factors was that we wanted authentic experiences where people live instead of in some random hostel or hotel.
We managed to stay in an Airbnb every night except for one, which was mainly due to the price of the options in Malig, Scotland, where it was pretty expensive to stay. There we booked a room in a hostel through Booking.com.
We had one or two regrettable bookings and some amazing diamond-in-the-rough bookings. Overall, 90% of the Airbnb stays were as expected and really great. It seemed like the hosts that understood what AirBnB is for and what kinds of people are booking through it were the better experiences. Whereas a few of the other hosts had also hosted their space for years through their own website or other services, and then had recently thrown their space up on Airbnb for more visibility.
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Best ways to enjoy a trip
Pretty much every day we took a run through the town or city we were in. This is one of the best ways to see a city. Faster than walking obviously, you get some exercise, and it’s free. On our day in Edinburgh, we ran/walked 13 miles throughout the city. Even hiking up to the top of Arthur's Seat.
Another great way to travel is by train. We took 4 train trips throughout the UK and got to see so much more of the country because we didn’t have to fix our eyes on the road like we would have with one of us driving and a lot of the time the train is going through beautiful countryside. You also have the option of walking around, eating, and stretching as you travel.
Finally, don’t forget that coffee. We knew that traveling meant that we couldn’t enjoy our favorite coffee from Cartel, and that we’d probably only have espresso-based drinks to choose from. That’s even if we could find coffee shops. We brought along an AeroPress to make coffee with which was very light and small enough to pack. We pre-ground the coffee, which I know lost some freshness, but wanted to save on weight and space even though I have a small hand grinder that would have been available to bring.
It was a packed experience but well worth the time and effort we put into planning. There’s so much more about the trip that would take forever to write about. We had a great time and highly recommend Wales and Scotland as two underrated travel destinations. Reach out if you have any questions about the places we traveled to and the places we stayed in through Airbnb.