In Search of Nessie- Scotland Day 6

Standing on rocks in the loch, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nessie…

I am not going to lie, it was difficult to leave Skye with so much unexplored. However, today was a new day! We were off to the opposite side of the country, from Skye to Pitlochry. As we made our way down the winding roads, we couldn’t help but be in awe of how different each part of Scotland is from the next! Our first view of Loch Ness made us feel like we were in the PNW, not at all like anything we had seen in Scotland so far.

We ended up stopping in Ft. Augustus, partly by accident, but it was on our list of places to go. We are glad we did! Works were being done on the Caledonian Canal and we got to see it in operation. There is also a good amount of history here, old fort works, construction of the canal and the Clansman Centre. While it is a popular tourist stop and you can definitely feel that here, it is a charming place to visit. We enjoyed our fist bit of tourist shopping so far and scored a made in the UK wool cardigan on sale for 10 pounds.

From Ft Augustus, we made our way to Urquhart Castle. Urquhart Castle is part of the Historic Scotland Pass and has excellent presentations. We participated in the history talk with an overview of the castle and area as well as the Historic Reenactor talk. He was quite humorous and very informative. He gave a display of traditional highland weaponry and dress. He also pointed out some things of significance to do in the area. The castle itself is magnificently perched on a point near the deepest part of Loch Ness. It makes for a beautiful place to try to spot Nessie from. The castle’s old water gate takes you right down to the loch and is a fun photo op.

Loch Ness is one of those places that instills a sense of wonder in you. It is shrouded in a sort of mythical cloud that makes you want to never leave until you have solved all of its mysteries. From the clan fighting along this all important watery highway to stories of a monster in the deep, it’s no wonder that so many people visit this area. Urquhart is an excellent starting point to launch an exploration of this beautiful and mysterious area.

Control of this castle meant control of the watery highway through Loch Ness…

From Urquhart we made our way north to Inverness. We stopped for a late lunch and met up with some local geocachers. This was our second time to briefly be in Inverness. We realize now, after the end of our trip, that Inverness and Loch Ness deserve more attention and we should have taken a day each to explore them both.

From Inverness it was on to Pitlochry. The part of the Cairngorms we drove through was beautiful, even though not as dramatic as the Great Glen landscape we had grown familiar with over the last couple of days. We stayed in the Atholl Palace Hotel, a 19th Century Estate built specifically to be a hotel. We appreciated it’s lovely architecture and luxurious feel. We could have spent an entire weekend at this retreat without ever leaving the property. Happy to have two choices for on-site dining and laundry facilities, we were ready to take a slower pace here over the May bank holiday weekend.

The view from our room in the tower…

One of our “ I hope this happens while in Scotland” items was crossed off in the pub situated in a tucked away corner of the hotel. We had a sing a long! Over a pint of Magners cider and a venison pie, we sang many songs with the entertainer who happened to be from Dunoon and was very familiar with the US Navy’s time in Holy Loch. His wife actually served up our fish an chips at Anselmo’s. We shouldn’t have been so surprised, it is a Small world, after all.

Tips for Packing (Planning)

Honestly, however you pack has to work for you. Because everyone is different, there is not one tried and true way to pack.

One thing I always do is start with a few good lists. One for clothes, one for all other items, one for last minute items and one as I pack each suitcase.

My clothing list consists of activity, each person’s outfit and PJs, miscellaneous items and accessories and a column to check for socks and underwear for each person. Writing it out by hand helps calm me down from my usual pre-trip anxiety.

I also create a list for which items are in my checked luggage, in case a bag happens to get lost, stolen are delayed. I send a picture of this to myself.

When it comes to what actually goes into the bag, that depends on what kind of trip we go on. When we flew to Arkansas via 36 hours in Denver, my husband and I shared a carry-on for 5 days. Going to Scotland for 10 Days we each checked a bag and had a carry-on. It’s all up to you and what you feel like lugging around.

Less is more.

  • Less is more freedom.
  • Less is more mobility.
  • Less is more thrilling.
  • Less is more bragging rights.
  • Less is more kind to your back.
  • Less is more blending in. Nothing screams tourist like someone lugging their huge suitcases through the train station.
  • Less is more awareness and safety. You are a lot less likely to be targeted for theft when you have less baggage.
  • Less is more time saved not wanting for a checked bag.
  • Less is more money saved if your checked bag isn’t included in a ticket.
  • Less is more creativity needed when packing.
  • Less is more organization when packing.
  • Less is more time spent packing your bag.
  • Less is more restrictions on what you can and cannot bring.
  • Less is more time spent doing laundry during your trip.
  • Less is more frustration when you don’t feel like wearing anything you brought with you.

It all comes down to your individual packing and travel style! If you want tips on how to pack less for your trip, follow my blog! That post will be coming soon!

These Things are a Must for International Travel by Plane

Finding the “Best” Flights

If you do an online search for “best flights”, “flights to”, “cheap flights”, “airline deals”, or something similar, you will be inundated with dozens and dozens of websites that will advertise their cheapest flights. Once you get on the site you will realize there are a very limited selection of flights that are actually that cheap.

Story time! Our best flight finding tip came from getting stuck flying standby from Asia to the US. We were returning from a mission trip. There had been a typhoon that disrupted hundreds of flights and thousands of people. This led to no empty seats on any flights. The airlines began to get people out of Asia to anywhere they could in the US. This led to a majority of those stranded being dropped off in Honolulu with no prospective flights to the mainland. Bit by bit, a group of 30 found themselves stuck together in the airport. Some of us had been shuffled from one airport to another, many had been stuck for a week or more. One of these stranded airport campers told us they had broken down and purchased a flight to the mainland using the “On the Fly” App.

While the mobile app that saved us from further airport camping no longer exists, the main software that was the heart of the app still does. It should come as no surprise that the king of search engines, Google, is one of the best when it comes to searching for flights. Enter Google Flights. It offers a multitude of tools and customizations for finding flights. Below is a walkthrough of the most basic of searches from a smartphone. http://www.google.com/flights

Tips for Finding the Best Flights

  • Start searching as early as possible. Don’t purchase right away.
  • Flexibility= More Options and More Options usually equals cheaper or better.
  • Cheaper does not always mean best. The best for you, may not always mean the cheapest.
  • Often better flights (not basic economy, or better layovers, less connections, preferred airline, etc.) are only slightly more expensive than the cheapest of fares.
  • Prioritize what is most important to you when searching through all of the details.
  • Use filters to narrow results to what fits your needs.
  • Subscribe to price alerts and watch the prices over time to make sure you are getting a good deal. This requires patience.
  • Open your options to other airports, sometimes driving a bit farther will make it worth your while in over all price. Sometimes it doesn’t.
  • Read the fine print before you book!
  • Booking directly with the airline is usually best.
  • Sign up for the free version of loyalty points, even if you don’t use that company very often.
  • Flying very budget friendly may mean long layovers or less comfortable seating or no overhead bin access.

 It all comes down to how you like to travel and what is most important to you. If this process is too involved, but you are afraid of missing out on a good deal, try one of the sights that agrees to reimburse you if the price drops. 

For me, the less money I spend on getting there, the more room in my budget I have for being there. 

Small Things can Lead to Big Adventures

Even though I have those familiar places you will never see me turn down, whenever I am asked “What do you want to do?” my answer is almost always “Something new!”.   Traveling is one of the easiest ways to experience something new. 

I can’t pinpoint when my passion for travel began. I can tell you that my dad has an occasional streak of wanderlust that is better described as cabin fever, so at least I know I get that honest.  I can also tell you that my sense of adventure and desire to experience new things was sparked and fanned into a flame by my Mama.  It was often the little things she did that shaped this in me.

She fostered a spirit of discovery in me.  Without ever leaving my home city, we were able to experience a plethora of international cultures.  We explored their food, their culture and their languages.  The international corridor meant yummy treats, friendly people, vivid sights, strange words and beautiful colors.  International festivals were part of our homeschool curriculum.  We even adopted a country booth every now and then at the kid’s festivals.  She taught me to have an open mind and respectful heart. 

My Mama loved to clean the house with the TV on.  So, I grew up watching Samantha Brown travel the world, among other shows entirely dedicated to travel. I was transfixed by all of the places in the US and abroad that just cried out to my young little heart “come see me”.  As I grew older, I longed even more to see the beautiful buildings, try the foods, meet the people, but most of all I longed to see the natural places.  I wanted to stand in awe of the masterful creation.

So I explored! First with my family and then as an adult.  Moving around during my high school years was tough, but I experienced many parts of the country you wouldn’t go out of your way to visit if you didn’t live there.  We saw what the locals appreciated and experienced the “bucket list” places too.  I went to some of those places I never thought I would get to see.   Those little things she did led to pretty big adventures!

                     Sometime the small things make a bigger impact than things you would expect to.

The  “top 10 places to (insert here)” are great, and some are a must see, but often it is the small things you remember the most.  On a trip to Mt. Ranier, the vast wilderness and the mountain itself were very impressive, but the memory that I treasure the most is walking the nature trail beside the hotel.  We found an old cabin and pictured what it would have been like to live there ourselves.    

the small cabin that was a small part of our trip

Whether you explore your own neighborhood or travel thousands of miles, the unexpected is often found in the nooks and crannies and usually just off the beaten path.  Take time to slow down and enjoy the “small things.”