Saturday, September 8, 2018

UK Trip Summary + Debrief

Apologies for the extremely late—3 months later—trip summary. My trip to the UK wasn't as exciting as I hoped it to be, thus I have procrastinated writing this. It's only now, when I've booked my next vacation, that I realised this needs to be written. So without further ado, let's get to it.


I had high expectations for the UK. It's the land of Harry Potter after all! Alas, it didn't quite meet my expectations. But before I continue, I must say that this is a personal statement—there's just something about England that I didn't quite enjoy. I did, however, like Scotland very much. It has been months, but I'll try my best to recall the entire escapade.

Edinburgh Castle
Day 1: It was the longest day ever. The UK is 7 hours behind Malaysia, which meant that I had 7 extra hours upon touchdown. So after travelling from Malaysia to London and then to Edinburgh, I was feeling light-headed—unsure if it was the result of exhaustion or jet lag. It was also very cold in London as it was raining, and cold in Edinburgh too as I wasn't dressed appropriately. Temperature in May in Edinburgh was below 10°C. As my family and I were tired and couldn't adapt to the weather yet, we did a little sightseeing before calling it a day.

Day 2: Moving a few of the places in the itinerary around, we hit the major locations we wanted to visit before randomly strolling in search for evening tea. This way, we found hidden gems and dining places including MUM's Great Comfort Food where I tasted haggis for the first time—don't quite like the intensity of the spices though.

Day 3: It was a rainy day. We hiked up to Arthur's Seat before it started pouring on our way down. By the time we reached ground level, we sought shelter and conveniently found refuge in the Scottish Parliament Building. When the rain stopped, we peeked through the gates of Holyrood Palace before heading to Carlton Hill where the sky was finally blue. Yes, a blue sky!

Day 4: We picked up our car from Hertz—got an upgrade for free—and headed to Aviemore. We made a stop at Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery and had some cocktails. After which, we arrived at Aviemore and checked-in to our awesome Airbnb—more on this place down below.

The Breath-Taking Scottish Highlands

Day 5: We spent the day in Cairngorms Mountain. We did the Windy Ridge Path and the Coire an t-Sneachda trails. Windy Ridge Path lived up to its name, so don't be fooled. I had to cup my hands over my ears to stop the wind from hurting my eardrums. It was a good day though. The landscape is unforgettable.

Day 6: As my family and I love cycling, we rented bikes for the day and cycled around Glenmore Forest Park. We were done by noon and did some walking at Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. We also stumbled upon an ice-cream shop in town called Miele's Gelateria. There was a queue right out their door, so we decided to give it a try—pretty good, though the money could be better spent on discounted Häagen-Dazs from the nearby Tesco.

Steall Falls
Day 7: It was another travel day—Aviemore to Glasgow. Along the way, we stopped at Fort William for the Steall Falls and Nevis Gorge trail. We spent quite some time there, trudging through mud to see Steall Falls up close, before continuing our journey to Glasgow. 

Day 8: We had little interest in Glasgow, so it was another travel day for us. We headed for Grasmere in Cumbria, did a little walking in the rather small town, then dropped by Rydall Hall Garden, before checking in at our Airbnb in Ambleside—I actually enjoyed my stay in this Airbnb, but the host made some accusations on how we treated the home which... well... more on that later.

Day 9: The Old Man of Coniston was the hike of the day, of which we didn't complete. It was brutal because of the constant gradient. We made it 80% of the way before heading back down. We also did the Tarn Hows Circular Walk which was, honestly, boring.

Day 10: We tweaked the itinerary to go with the flow. After seeing Stock Ghyll Force Waterfall, we decided to push forward and ascend Wansell Pike. When we got down, we had lunch at The Apple Pie as planned, before visiting Holehird Gardens and Lake Windermere. 

Day 11: A five-hour journey from Ambleside to London. 

Day 12: Let's just say that all of us didn't quite enjoy touring the city of London. We live in a city ourselves and nothing about walking 35,000 steps around a bustling and crowded city was fun. I now know what to omit in my future itineraries—more great outdoors, less cities.

Day 13: In comparison to London, our day trip to Oxford was slightly better. The main downside about Oxford was that there was a graduation happening, which closed off some of the places of interest. It was also raining that day, so it was gloomy and we didn't bother taking much pictures—yes, the weather assumption of this country is a fact.

Diagon Alley isn't always this vacant.

Day 14: This was the day I was looking forward to. I had high hopes. I was so excited. But let me just say... if you're looking for a truly immersive Harry Potter experience, the Warner Bros Studio tour is not the place to go. If you want to play pretend, head to Universal Studios instead. I had a much better Potter experience in the Wizarding World Of Harry Potter Osaka then I did at the studio. But for what it's worth, I have some pretty cool pictures.

Day 15: We ditch the itinerary and decided to do some last minute Primark shopping. Why? Because I couldn't find a single Potter item I liked during my entire trip—the Primark at Oxford street was a downer—and dropping by one more Primark was my last shot. I did get some stuff which you will see below.


Note: We removed Wildlife Highland Park from the itinerary because there was no payment confirmation and the bank could only confirm purchase at the end of the month. So we decided to skip the place and cancel payment.

Update: Our 12-day car rental—free upgrade due to the original rented car not being available—was RM707.50 per person (instead of the initial estimate of RM726 per person).

As for our in-hand budget, we had an extra £313 which converted to RM1690.20. Once split amongst the four of us, we had an extra of RM422.55 per person.

So, did the budget work? Yes it did. In fact, the cost of the trip ended up being less that RM8K total!


(FREE CREDITS! Click HERE for $25 off your first Airbnb stay now!)

It doesn't look like much but
the Aviemore Airbnb is something!
To make things easy, here are my Airbnb reviews with a few extra notes.

Edinburgh: This place was a lovely, city-centered home—ideal for exploring Edinburgh. The host waited for our arrival to check us in and explained everything in the home. However, at the time we were staying, the windows couldn't open (due to a recent paint job), and the washing machine was moldy. I'm sure the host solved these two problems by now, so it's definitely a place worth considering if you plan to explore Edinburgh on foot. 

Aviemore, Cairngorms: This is a place I would book again should I return to Aviemore. The home was fully-equipped, having almost everything I needed. It was also clean and cosy, and the host was very responsive too! I rarely give 5-stars on Airbnb, but this... this deserved it—a 5-star accommodation worth the price.

Glasgow: The house was a little run down with a lot of non-functioning things. However, the host was very responsive and apologetic during my overnight stay when things weren't in order. I can't say much about everything else since I was there for only a night.

Coniston, Lake District: I was looking forward to this place and it delivered. It was a lovely home, though a little difficult to get in and out of—single, narrow road. However, I was offended when the host wrote an accusing review on our stay, claiming we broke their heaters and spoiled the windows. If only she asked before accusing she would've known that the heaters fell off the walls due to lose hinges and the windows... well, God only knows what she was referring to when we didn't even open them. 

London: Upon my arrival, I had to wait about half an hour for the host to arrive—she could only check us in after her work, which could be an inconvenience for some. The home is in a great location though, and is definitely worth considering if you're looking for a place in London. I also have to add that the host said I asked too many questions—is it just me or are English Airbnb hosts a little nitpicky? I might have met a minority, because my English friends aren't like that.

Primark Loot

Yes. I brought Roses and Quality Street chocolate home and snagged some Primark stuff. I was hoping to spend more, but there was just nothing more to spend on.


Scotland was great. The people were nice. The scenery was amazing. But England was... underwhelming. My expectations had been set too high from all the British dramas and movies that it I was quickly let down. The question is: would I go back? To Scotland, yes. It isn't rated as a top destination for nothing.

So, where to next—where have I booked a flight to that spurred me to write this post? Well, I can finally say, New Zealand. Yes... New Zealand is happening. It's not being put off any longer! So stay tuned for my upcoming posts, because I'm working on the itinerary and budget as we speak!

(For more pictures of my UK trip, head over to Instagram! I have an instastory collection of my vacation, and I'll be posting a whole lot of #throwbacks gradually.)

Check out my other posts on the UK:

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Budgeting The UK - 15D/14N

How much does it cost to visit the UK? Coming from a 'poorer' nation, I've tried to make this trip as affordable as possible--taking into account the currency exchange and how I can be as budget-friendly without completely sacrificing comfort and convenience. What you'll find below is my best attempt at doing so.


*Ringgit is estimated based on currency exchange. Refer to £ for budgeting accuracy.
**Also, cost has been divided by 4 pax.

Transportation: RM 3806.45

KL to Heathrow (return) via British Airways: RM 2577.40
12 Days Car Rental: £527.22 (pay @ rental location - RM 726* per person)
Train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh: £18.5 (RM 103.05)  
Misc transport, parking, and petrol: RM 400

Entry Fees/ Activities: RM 540 
Edinburgh Castle: £17 (RM 95*)
Highland Wildlife Park: £15.90 (RM 87*)
Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio: £41 (RM 229.41)
Tower of London: £22.70 (RM 127.50)

Accommodation: RM 2065.33
Edinburgh: RM 428.98 (3 nights)
Aviemore: RM 370.20 (3 nights)
Glasgow: RM 95 (1 night)
Coniston: RM 475.18 (3 nights)
London: RM 695.97 (4 nights)

Food: RM 2000
(Daily budget of £24)

*At time of cash conversion, currency rate fluctuates around RM 5.50 = £1

Estimated Total Per Person: RM 8412

To view in-hand cash breakdown, scroll to the end of the itinerary in the itinerary post. What you see above is the breakdown of the complete budget, without going into the minute details. Also, as a group, we rounded off our in-hand cash conversion--the number you see above excludes that.

Personally, I've converted some cash for my own expenditure--I intend to buy all the Harry Potter things I can find. I might just dedicate a post to all-things Harry Potter. But of course, I'll be sure to address the more important question once I return--whether this budget worked--in the trip summary.

Check out my other posts on the UK:

Post-trip posts:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Airbnb Scotland & England

"Will you be staying in hotels?" you ask.

"What is a hotel?"

When there are Airbnbs, why bother with hotels? Airbnbs are homes away from home. And though some of them suck--based on past experiences--most of them are decent, with some being the best places I've stayed in. So, no surprise here--all my lodging in the UK are Airbnbs. And if you're looking for places to stay during your upcoming trip to the UK, here are my picks that may be favourable to you too.

(Want to give Airbnb a try? Click HERE to sign up and get 20$ off your first Airbnb stay!)

Note: As I'll be driving to Aviemore, I've filtered my search to include free parking on site, and a washer/washing machine from Aviemore onward.

Edinburgh: I chose this place because it was close to Edinburgh Waverley Station. My initial plan was to rent a car from Europcar, located in the train station itself. But after a change of plans--car rental company--it is no longer as ideal as before. The location also makes this Airbnb one of the priciest in Edinburgh. With a strict cancellation policy, I can only hope it's worth the cost.

Aviemore, Cairngorms: Definitely looking forward to this little getaway from the city. Cosy, homey, and cheap, what more can I ask for?

Glasgow: Talk about a fancy bathroom! As an overnight stay, I chose the most affordable and clean-looking space I could find.

Coniston, Lake District: I stumbled upon this place while hunting for a convenient Airbnb in Lake District. It's a little out of the way, but with a car, the location isn't really a problem. Also, I kind of like the seclusion.

London: You probably already know--London is an expensive place to stay in. Being able to find a cheap and well-located Airbnb is a challenge, and I'm glad I managed to find this one. It's right outside the congestion zone, and the host is communicative even before my arrival.   

So, how much do these picks cost? The group total for lodging is RM8261, making it RM2065 per person for 14 nights. This averages to RM148 a night per person. Do note that I had some Airbnb credits that gave each person a RM150 off the entire lodging cost.

The nightly average in the UK is definitely higher than my previous trips. But, I still managed to keep the lodging cost to around 2K. When I get back, I'll be sure to review each of the Airbnb. Hopefully, they are worth the amount I paid.

Check out my other posts on the UK:
Unexpectedly UK - Itinerary
Post-trip posts:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Unexpectedly UK - To Scotland & England I Go!

I know I've mentioned of my plans to visit New Zealand, but somehow--when it was time to decide--another country diverted my attention. But... that isn't such a bad thing--the UK is awesome too. After all, it's where all the Harry Potter-y is! And to be honest, I never thought I'd ever get a chance to visit the UK--this trip is almost a dream come true.

In comparison with my previous trips, this will be my longest one yet--15 days and 14 nights. The first half of my trip will be in Scotland, while the second half will be in England. So feel free to scroll through the entire itinerary. Upon my return, I'll write a summary addressing the feasibility of my hard work below. 

*All dates, maps, and accommodations have been removed. I'll list the Airbnbs of my choice in a separate post.

Check out my other posts on the UK:
Airbnb Scotland & England

Post-trip posts:

Saturday, January 20, 2018

I Travel But I'm Not Rich

Just because I travel, it doesn't mean I earn a hefty paycheck. It doesn't mean I come from a wealthy family. And just because I travel, it doesn't mean I'm secretly a rich and famous author.

I feel like I have to say this - to clear this up - because often times, people assume my bank account is overflowing with ka-ching. Friends imagine I'm paid highly at my day job, strangers are quick to conclude that my parents are sponsoring my trips, and extended family assume I'm earning thousands in book royalties. But here's the truth: I'm not earning a lot from my 9-6 job, I pay for my own escapades (and then some), and the last time I cashed in a royalty cheque - of a few US dollars - was over two years ago. I'm not wealthy. I simply choose to invest in experiences rather than possessions. #TypicalMillennialRight?

To some, this might sound silly. Wouldn't I need a house one day? Shouldn't I be saving for my future children? Why am I investing in a holiday, instead of a retirement plan? Very legitimate questions. And yes, I do have a retirement plan and a savings account. But... I don't have the money to buy a house, nor do I have any cash prepared for my future children. Why? Because if I die tomorrow, I can't take my deeds or bank savings to the grave. But if I die tomorrow, I can take my memories. I can take the experience of sinking knee-deep into snow, the sight of a glorious mountain range, and the understanding of another culture, beyond my death. In my final moments, I wouldn't be thinking of a life I could've lived, but I would've actually lived it.

Of course, I know that growing up means more responsibilities. I'm aware, that if and when I settle down to start a family, I may not be able to travel as frequently as I do now. I'll experience another facet of life, with a change of priorities. And I'm fine with that. But for now, in this season of my life where I have the freedom to explore, learn, and encounter, I'm going to invest in experiences... and do so wisely (always on a budget). After all, I didn't inherit a million dollars from a long lost relative. I have to make the most of what I have for a world beyond my own. And until the road ahead requires me to turn, I'll be charging forward.

(P.S I'll be heading to UK next! So stay tuned for the details in the coming months.)