I came back from a UK road trip with about GBP400 lesser in my pocket, but gained experiences that are worth many folds more. This budget is exclusive of the air tickets, so add in the cost of airfare from which ever country you are flying from to the UK. The cost of traveling in the UK is definitely not on the cheap side as compared to backpacking Southeast Asia or South America. This can put a big dent in any budget traveller’s pocket. In view of the significant drop in sterling pound against major currencies, it makes a trip to the UK less expensive. My advice is to get away from the big cities and you would not just feel friendlier prices, but people too. Before you carry on to read the breakdown of the road trip cost, I need to emphasise that SCOTLAND IS BEAUTIFUL.
The Old Man of Storr
Rough pit stops of the trip
This is the most important part of the journey and you would want to get this cost as low as possible. I rented a 2016 Alfa Romeo Giulietta S with a 2.0 diesel engine from Sixt at GBP270, with pick-up at Birmingham and drop off at London. This comes to around GBP27 per day. I chose the cheapest of the automatic cars and was absolutely blessed to get this sporty hatchback. The optimum number of people sharing the car is 2-3, depending on how much of space is a priority to you. Also, try to get cars with diesel engines because they are more fuel-efficient. I spent about GBP200 for 2100 miles driven. Gas prices are not cheap compared to the US. It is at an average of GBP1.1 per litre, similar to Singapore. I went with the basic insurance that was included with the price, those extras could add up significantly. Most of the cheap car rentals that you can find provide manual cars. This appears to be the case in UK, Europe perhaps. For manual car drivers, you are in luck because automatic car rentals can cost almost twice. This is in contrast with car rentals in the US where they provide mostly automatic cars. I got an automatic one because there are heaps of hilly terrains in the UK. There are not much toll roads in the UK except for the congestion charge in central London. Parking cost can add up and is unavoidable in big cities. Always spend some time to look for free street parking because they might be just one street away. The shortcut is to ask the local residents.
Baysbrown campsite, Lake District
For these 9 nights, there were 3 days of camping, 3 days of Airbnb and 3 days of my dorm. The cheapest form of accommodation is camping. The average cost for camping is around GBP15 a night for a tent and a car. I highly recommend camping because you get a chance to experience the wilderness. The average cost of Airbnb is around GBP30 a night for two person. Consider putting Airbnb nights in between camping days to freshen up. One big advantage of this is that you are able to do your laundry at the host apartment instead of paying for it at public areas. My camping experience in Scotland was ruined by the ridiculous sand flies attacks. Apparently, they are dominant in summer months, especially in Isle of Skye. You may want to take this into account by preparing full clothing or sand flies repellent.
Sunset at Ambleside, Lake District
Trail at Honister Pass
Places to go
The highlights of my trip are mainly the great outdoors and brief visits to the cities. Snowdonia National Park in Wales is recommended for hikers because it has an extensive network of trails. Lake District in North-West England is one of the most popular parks in the UK. It is huge so be prepared to spend a few days exploring there. On the way up to the incredible Isle of Skye, spend a night exploring the Fort William/Ben Nevis region because it is absolutely beautiful. Visit Glenfinnan Viaduct to catch the famous Harry Potter Jacobite train passing through. There are some nice hiking trails to get different views of the train tracks. Once you get to Isle of Skye, the landscape changes to National-Geographic-like. You need at least 3 days to get a feel of the Isle of Skye. One of the must-go is the Old Man of Storr. The trail up is moderate but the view from the top is breathtaking. There are lots of sand flies near the parking area and the starting part of the trail, so wear light coloured clothes and cover yourself up. Set up the base in the Portree because of its central location. It has a photogenic harbour with nice restaurants. The nice cities among these national parks are Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York, Oxford and of course London. If you are itchy for some cheap outlet shopping, head to Bicester Village or Cheshire Oaks. My advice is to stick to European brands instead of American ones.
The trail up to The Old Man of Storr
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
Summer night at Lake District
Eating out is definitely not cheap in the UK, an asian takeout is about GBP 6-8. If you are running longer camping trips, it pays to cook at the campsite. Groceries are cheap at supermarkets such Tesco and Sainsbury’s. I cannot emphasise further how much these supermarkets helped in reducing food cost. Look out for the deli section, they have reduced roasted whole chicken at GBP 2-3. If you take the public buses around in the UK, there are fast food outlet coupons behind the ticket which will help to save some money. These outlets are such as Macdonalds and Burger King. It costs GBP2 for a Big Mac and regular fries with the coupon, definitely a steal.
If you are looking for a data card, think about if you really need it. Most of the highways and national parks have no reception or just support calling, at least for Giffgaff and O2. I paid GBP15 for 4GB of data and 1000 minutes of talk time. Places with wifi are plentiful in cities. Affordable camping gears can be bought from stores like GO Outdoors and SportsDirect. Sleeping bags and tents are crucial to protect from the outdoors elements and cold nights, even during summer months.
Final breakdown based on per person (twin sharing)
Gas for 2100 miles: 100.20
Airbnb for 3 nights: 44.5
Camping for 3 nights: 24.15
Data plan: 7.5
Tent and sleeping bag: 15
This is the rough breakdown of my spending that I deemed crucial to my fellow travellers in planning their budget for a UK road trip. Take note that 3 nights of my accommodation was spent in my dorm as a base to explore London and Oxford. Meanwhile, enjoy some of my pictures from the trip before my photography post.
Eileen Donan Castle, Isle of Skye
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye