How to plan your own UK Tour

For so many of us travelling the world is no longer an option, it's absolutely essential! Exploring the globe has never been so easy and with the travel bug well and truly embedded under our skin, we're left with no option but to spend our time planning, our money saving and our holidays making incredible memories.

LewisThe problem that lots of us face is the slightly daunting decision of what type of holiday do we take. We want to be bold, we want to explore, we know what we want to see, but trying to find a tour package at the right price, on the right dates, to the right destinations is an incredibly frustrating and time consuming process. Even when we find something that looks just about right, we still have to make compromises don’t we? It’s a little bit faster than we would like or includes destinations we’re not interested in or misses out some things we would like to see altogether? There is an alternative to all of this, planning a tour yourself.

Steps to plan your own tour of Britain

The Research
For some the research stage of planning your own tour is as enjoyable as the holiday itself and for others of us it’s a time consuming, frustrating, confusing and scary process. Here are the first questions to ask yourself.
  • Who is going on the tour and how might that effect where we go?

The more people travelling with you the more factors you will need to consider. Are all members of the group fit and healthy, can they walk as much as you are hoping to? Do the group have the same expectations in terms of pace, quality of accommodation, budget? Are the group all happy to go to the same places each day or do you need to book in some ‘free days’?
  • Do we feel confident to self-drive (on the left) or will we use public transport?

rail travelThe UK has a great public transport system. Trains run throughout most of the country and for the most part they are clean and comfortable, fast and fairly reliable. It’s not the cheapest way to travel but there is an array of options in terms of Britrail passes for overseas visitors which make it very economical and a great way to see the country. You can spend a long time getting to grips with the routes, timings and best tickets for you using the National Rail Enquiries website. Alternatively specialists with the knowledge can organise all of this for you.

Self-drive tours are extremely popular in the UK and a great way to see the country if you have the confidence to drive. The roads are generally far easier to drive than many parts of Europe and a decent GPS make self-drive tours very easy indeed. I would recommend avoiding London with a hire car however, the transport system there is so good there is simply no need and driving into the city also incurs a ‘congestion charge’.
  • What destinations and attractions are on the essentials list?

fort williamMaking a quick list of your top attractions and places you would like to see is a great place to start. A quick search on google maps will show you the proximity of these places and the essentials will make a great starting point for looking at what else is in the area and what other places you can see between those places. For example, a list which includes Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Edinburgh Castle is a great starting point for an incredible tour.

Buckingham Palace sits in central London along with many many landmarks and incredible attractions. From here you could take a trip out to Stonehenge which is perfectly situated to spend a few days in the area seeing the Cotswolds and the ever-popular city of Bath. Travelling north to Scotland from London, the Viking city of York is an ideal stop off. Here you can visit York Minster - Britain’s largest (and most spectacular) gothic cathedral as well as learn the fascinating history of the city. Local tourist information websites can be useful to let you know what else is in a locality. The Great British Trips destination pages contain information on over 60 destinations as well as maps and attractions so this can be a great way to choose all of the places you want to see without the need to surf the entire web.
  • Do I understand the geography of the country and distances/travel times?

A massive error when planning your own tour is to underestimate travel times and try to pack too much in. Balancing the desire to see as much as you can with seeing places properly is a really tricky one. Travel times can vary wildly depending on rush hour traffic and there is no substitute for local knowledge on this one. I always advise travellers to the UK to go slowly, take your time and enjoy places! All of our major attractions have cafe’s, gift shops and visitor experience centres and these are usually great places to browse and learn a little more about the attraction or area! Getting to grips with the geography and careful route planning is vital to the smooth running of a self-guided tour. Websites such as google maps are a really useful tool for this but if you can speak to a local or trust a local to plan realistic routes and schedules for you this could save you lots of time and hassle!

The Bookings

Once the research is complete, your detailed itinerary has been approved by your group and you know where you want to go, it’s time to start pricing it all up!

Booking your accommodation

hotelSelecting your accommodation is one of the most stressful aspects of planning your own tour. It’s back to looking at maps, trawling booking engines and trying to work out if a hotel’s claim of being ‘5 minutes from the train station’ is really 5 minutes at a walking pace whilst lugging a big suitcase, or it’s 5 Lewis Hamilton minutes in a Formula 1 car!

It’s worth bearing in mind that many hotels use the booking engines to sell their less ‘desirable’ rooms at a cheap rate so even if a hotel has good tripadvisor reviews, your experience may not be quite what you expect. It’s also worth noting that it’s in the booking engine’s best interests to sell the hotels so really bad reviews never actually make it onto their website or count towards the ‘rating’ of a hotel. The independent review sites are usually far more reliable but remember, anyone can post a comment so it’s not unheard of for hotels to post positive reviews ‘posing’ as customers. When reviews vary wildly between very bad and very good it’s hard to know what to trust!

However tricky and challenging it can be organising your own tour, the chances are that you will still end up in better suited accommodation than that of a coach tour. Many tour companies have their own hotels of questionable quality and the best prices are found at motorway service stations, business parks or remote locations so passengers are stuck in the hotel overnight.

If possible you can’t beat a personal referral or recommendation. If you’re not booking directly with a hotel but going through an agent you should ask yourself what the agent stands to gain by using that particular hotel - are they choosing the best hotel for your needs or are they choosing the hotel that provides maximum commission for the wholesaler or agent?

Booking your transport
transportSelf-Drive - With a non-UK driving license you can only rent a vehicle with a maximum of 9 seats. There are lots of self-drive companies out there and again lots of booking engines that compare the prices of many companies. Whilst these companies can often save you money, they are not always the cheapest way to go. If the hire company is specified it’s worth running a comparison through the car hire company’s website. Automatic cars are usually far more expensive in the UK and GPS are usually not included. Whilst you may believe that everything is included in your car hire, on collection of the vehicle you will probably find that the sales person will try to sell you insurances, add-ons and extras that can be twice as much as the car hire in the first place. Think carefully about what you really need and don’t be ‘scared’ into paying more than you really need to. More on Self-drive.

Rail Tours - If you’re making a number of number of train journeys then a Britrail pass is definitely the cheapest and most convenient way to travel. UK train journeys can be extremely expensive so do take advantage of the foreign passport! What many people don’t know that if you have British friends who want to travel with you they can also travel with a Britrail pass as long as they are with you. Their are many different types and lengths of Britrail pass so it’s worth consulting with an expert with your itinerary to work out what’s best for you. It’s also worth mentioning that Great British Trips tour planners actually automatically plan rail tour itineraries around the most cost effective Britrail pass option so you don’t need to give it a thought.

For individual train journeys you can’t book a ticket more than 3 months in advance but the longer you leave it the higher the prices. Travelling during rush hour is considerably more expensive (and busy!) and there are considerable savings to be made with off-peak tickets.

Attractions and events tickets

Many attractions now have on-line booking systems and there are often savings offered for pre-booking online. The advantages of this are that it saves queuing and assures you of quick entry to busy attractions. The dis-advantage is that if you want to change your itinerary or miss the attraction on the day tickets are usually non-refundable and non-transferable.

national trustThere are a number of multi-attraction passes available in the UK which represent excellent value for money. These include the Hudson Heritage Explorer Pass, the London Pass, the English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass and the National Trust visitor pass. The disadvantage is that it can take many many hours to go through the lists and locations of attractions to work out what attraction is on what pass, which to choose, how it could effect your itinerary and what savings can be made. Again using a tour planner like Great British Trips saves you time and money as they already have the knowledge to hand and immediately know which pass it most appropriate (if any!) by glancing at a travel ‘wish list’.

Other factors to consider

Other questions to ask yourself when planning your own tour:

  • What are the visa requirements?
  • When are the public holidays and school holidays (this can dramatically affect prices and availability)?
  • What type of weather can be expected and how does this effect what I pack and what I want to see?
  • Are there any major events taking place when I plan to visit that could affect prices and availability?
  • Do we know what happens when we arrive at the airport?
  • Do we have contact details for emergencies, problems, questions etc?
  • Do I have a basic understanding of the cultural differences that could effect me (what time people eat, social etiquette, accepted payment types etc etc)

There are plenty of books available such as Lonely Planet guides that can help to answer some of these questions and of course internet research that will help with some of this. Great British Trips provide a thorough and in-depth information pack containing local and helpful information, destination guides, maps, hints and tips as well as a detailed itinerary to save having to do that research yourself.

Taking an independent self-guided tour of the UK is without a doubt the best way to see Great Britain. It is an incredible country and I think it is totally ruined by having to see it on someone else’s agenda. There are so many gems to be discovered, you can only do that if there’s not a coach load of tourists following you up to the romantic look-out point that a local suggested you visit to watch the sunset. However, to plan properly and book your own tour you need to be prepared to do your homework and this takes a lot of time. If this is something that excites you and you have the time then have a wonderful time planning your tour! For those who feel a little daunted or simply don’t have that much time, the only way around it is to let a company like Great British Trips plan it for you. Through our website we have tried to provide you with all the tools you need to create your own tailored tour and we sort out the rest for you. You get all the best bits of planning your own tour without any of the stress or confusion. For more information on planning your own tour click here.


By Ruth Lancey

Date: 2017-11-28 13:23:02