My trip to UK and Ireland – Itinerary, Visa and other Stories
I have always been the kind of person who loves planning more than the travel. That’s why, at any given time, I have folders for at least two different destinations filling in with snippets. I plan almost every second of a day, filling them up with sights to see and things to do and hate it when they threaten to derail!
That’s why it hurt a lot when last year my detailed plan of a trip to Netherlands, Belgium and Germany fell through due to unforeseen circumstances. Flower Show, King’s Day in Netherlands, following the trail of Tintin in Belgium, hike in the Black Forest region of Germany, Berlin Wall – they sat perfectly researched on my laptop as I saw scores of my friends uploading pictures of exactly those places on Facebook with jealousy and regret filling my otherwise-gentle heart!
So this year I refused to plan too early. And to ensure that the trip does not get jinxed, I asked MH (aka My Husband) to pick a place of his choice.
Pushed to a corner by a determined me to make the trip happen this year, MH picked London. I told him I was ready to go to London if he would go to the other places I was going to include in the vacation.
Which prudent man will say no to a tailor-made itinerary with all research done by some one else?
MH also gave me the window when he could take leave – the two weeks starting from 31 May. If we missed this, the next opening was in August. No, MH is not any CEO or the President, in case you are wondering. But he has a full calendar of meetings, deadlines and projects like every other corporate slave.
All this happened in the last week of April, with only a month to go. Quickly, like all smart travelers, we applied for visa.
Here’s a fact I want to share. I wanted to visit the whole of UK and Ireland and found out that Indians can travel to Ireland on a UK tourist visa as per the BIVS Scheme. I completely missed the point that the reverse was also true! One should apply for visa of that country where one plans to enter first. Since we planned to visit London first, we applied for the UK Visa, whose charges are approx Rs. 8000!! If we entered Ireland first, an Irish Visa would have cost us only Rs. 4000!! So, if you want to save some grand in Visa fees, you know what you have to do.
Then we got down to applying for the visa. The application is online and it’s very easy, so no agent is required. But they ask for tons of information, collating which took 3 days! We finally submitted the application on 3 May and to our horror, got a slot at the VSF Global office on 11 May!
Another thing to keep in mind is one does not need air tickets to apply for UK visa. They ask for the itinerary but it’s not compulsory. However, showing them that you have a solid plan helps in getting a favourable decision.
In the one week between deciding on the place and visa application, I had fixed up an itinerary with the help of numerous travel blogs, travel agency portals and the like. I will give details a little later in the post.
The document submission and bio-metric recording at the VSF office in New Delhi went very smoothly. 10-15 working days from the submission of documents was the time to be taken for a decision, which made our timelines very tight. We didn’t know whether or not to buy tickets because cancellation/amendment charges were quite high.
Amidst all this worry, we received inside intel that UK Embassy had a huge backlog of applications and they were taking a lot of time to decide! My dreams of a vacation were again on the verge of being resoundingly shattered.
I was determined not to be heartbroken this time. So I stopped looking at pictures of places I wanted to visit and things I wanted to see. I stopped thinking I had a trip to look forward to. With each passing day, my heart sank bit by bit.
Imagine my joy when I received an email from the Embassy on 19 May saying decision was made! We got the visa! They gave it within 5 working days! I must give credit to MH’s previous UK Visa which may have had some bearing on such a fast decision. I would advise everybody to plan a bit in advance and you will be spared the nail-biting suspense we went through.
Now came the first big spend of the trip – air tickets.
As per our itinerary, we were going from Delhi to London and returning from Dublin to Delhi. I read on more than one blog that one should search for airfares on incognito mode which is normally used for private browsing. This would make it hard for the airlines who track cookies of your search to increase the prices when you constantly search for a particular leg.
So I researched for airfare on Skyscanner on the dates and found very good prices on Etihad Airways. Air India had a direct flight from Delhi to London but had nothing from Dublin, so we settled for a journey with a short layover at Abu Dhabi.
I must also mention a surprising fact. We booked our tickets practically one week before our journey, but didn’t have to pay astronomical prices. We only paid approximately Rs. 82000 for return airfare for two people! In fact a day or two earlier, the fare went as low as Rs. 74000 but I am sure the airline somehow knew that I had gotten a visa and jacked it up the day I booked the tickets. The fact that we were going during shoulder season (July-August is season in UK) might have also helped the prices since the same journey was costing us Rs. 1.2 lakhs in August.
So, I had the visa, got the tickets, applied for and got leaves and I was ready to travel. But I was unprepared! My research was incomplete! I hurriedly replaced some of my Booking dot com reservations with free cancellations with Airbnb bookings but couldn’t do any more! I had to take care of a huge workload in office and ten thousand things at home before I could embark on a 15 day vacation, which left me with very little time to research.
So that was how I boarded the aircraft on 28 May – unprepared about the next 15 days! It was a first for me and thankfully, the excitement of the trip overshadowed the nervousness I felt at my lack of research at that moment.
There is one very important aspect of foreign travel I want to write about here – foreign currency. These days, all banks offer Travel Cards pre-loaded with foreign currency which can be used at the ATM and merchant establishments. We had so little time in our hands that we grabbed the first one we saw, but please do a good research on this. These cards will come with a PIN, which one needs to use only at the ATM while withdrawing cash. When you swipe it at any merchant establishment, the amount will get deducted without entering any PIN! So if you lose your card, you lose all the money! We took a card from Axis Bank but the whole purpose of it was lost on the first day of our London stay! First it didn’t work on the ticket vending machines at the tube station. Then it didn’t work at the EE store where we bought sim cards but 120 pounds got deducted from the card! Frantic phone calls to their customer care proved very little help since they stated categorically that we had to wait for 5 working days for the money to be credited! If it didn’t happen, then we had to take a print of the charge dispute form, sign and submit a scanned copy via email!!! Not the best situation to be while on a trip abroad! The money was credited but after we left UK, so we couldn’t use it! What a mess! So, please be careful about this aspect.
About sim card – we each took an EE pay-as-you-go sim card with data, because we needed to consult Google Maps and research places on the go. My experience hadn’t been good so I would not recommend it. I am told there are other better, cheaper options, so please research about them. I didn’t plan about these two most important aspects of any foreign travel and suffered in both cases. Or to be less harsh on myself, I gathered important experiences to share on my blog.
Now to my itinerary. I was more keen on Scotland and Ireland so I slashed our time in England.
London – 4 nights
Inverness – 1 night
Isle of Skye – 1 night
Glencoe – 1 night
Edinburgh – 3 nights
Dublin – 4 nights
I will write separate posts to describe what we did at each place.
See you at London next 🙂