Travel Planning – At it Again

So for the last few years adventuring around the world has been on hold as I became a graduate student at University of Toronto in Mechanical Engineering. However with that wrapping up and the prospect of re-entering the workforce its time I sneak in a “small” vacation before life gets busy once again. Which comes to the topic of travel planning, as I’m a bit out of the game and the board has changed quite a bit since my last great adventure involving an airplane.

A bit to small for my current journey but none the less effective

For one, I used to use a travel agent, Megan Weir, at Ottawa Adventure Travel before they got bought out by Merit ( ) and she was able to help me plan trips as she understood the market offerings and my highly spontaneous travel hijinks. Conversations like “I know it’s Thursday but find me a trip to the tropics leaving tomorrow afternoon/evening” and tight budgets… $1000-1500 / week + flights top (with the exception of the Africa Trip which was closer to $2500/week). And being last minute there were always deals and not being too picky we would navigate the current offerings and land at a suitable action/culture/relaxation balanced adventure.

The London Eye

This time I’m alone in the planning department and mainly using the internet (vs. all those brochures which I got constantly piling up on my kitchen table when I was always travelling). A few things are different, first I don’t have the same access to travel agent’s resources, and I’m hopefully flying using points (that I have amassed over the last decade or so… being last minute traveller I’ve never actually managed to use them before).

Now if the London Eye photo don’t give it away, my destination is again the United Kingdom, an odd choice given they are currently embroiled in Brexit, but my brother is currently working over there and I want to go visit. Also on the potential docket (because I’ve been to London twice now) is popping in an Ireland Island or Scotland trip (or both!) depending on how flights work out and tour dates.

Back when I travelled with Contiki across all of Central Europe, however being +35 now they are off the list of potential tour operators.

Why Tours you ask? Well I’m again travelling solo on this trip, and I’ve found when doing so its best to travel via tour. The main advantage is you can enjoy the trip and let someone else deal with all the logistics. There is also the safety aspect, on a tour you are travelling with others and if you go missing someone will notice (I use the analogy of walking in the woods and breaking your leg… although now I just point to the movie 127 hours as a reason not to “go it alone” in unfamiliar locations). vs. travelling alone where no one really knows what you are up to on your adventures. So I’m leaning strongly in that direction for part of the trip.

Fun side note: I get lost a lot, because I tend to walk/hike/bike around locations and “tourist” maps are not particularly accurate… although for this trip my brother is going to set me up with a UK Phone plan for the time I’m there so I’ll have GPS and with luck enough data to send a play by play over instagram/twitter @EmberSkyMedia

Copenhagen Mermaid
Copenhagen Mermaid

When travelling with others we tend to free-style trips where we decide in the moment where we want to go and what do we want to see. This method requires a bit more work (split between 2 or more people) but allows for changes in the plan to adjust on the fly which comes in handy when weather and outdoor activities are involved. My most outrageous free-style trip was with my younger brother and I traveled 2 weeks in Europe with little more than 3 flights booked and accommodation on the first and last day of the trip. We ended up backpacking / hostel across three countries. You can relive our adventure starting here. We will be freestyling the Southern England portion of the trip and the current plan is to See London/Brighton/Salibury and maybe squeeze in Bath.

Tower Bridge in London

But back to this current planning… Ireland/Scotland. Well to put it mildly I am currently the only family member who hasn’t traveled to Ireland at some point and time. Similar to my Master Degree with me being the last one in the family to get an advance degree I though the symbolism would be fitting. Also the fact that I’ll likely not be travelling to this part of the world in the near future with sights on Thailand / Indonesia once I have some funds saved up from working at whatever new job I find… yes planning for the future.

The Dark Hedges (ooooo… spooky!) near Monea Castle in Northern Ireland

Scotland on the other hand is where my family originated before emigrating to Canada (Donaldson / Hay / Raw Clans) with the rest being from Ireland – Trust me, we have quite a “family tree” archival scroll stashed away. While I have been to Scotland before with the family, that was almost 20 years ago, and I was not of legal drinking age despite everyone insistence that I could actually order a drink (my parents LOVED that…). So going as an adult will be I feel a different experience, not that I plan to drink myself under any tables… but I’d like to taste some Scotch Whiskey in actual Scotland.

Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban, Scotland from my Father’s Walk of Offa’s Dyke

Besides those two destinations there is England, or London/Southern England to be perise. For that portion I’ll be visit my younger brother and bouncing back and forth to various day trip destinations that he is recommending to me; he lives there so I’m relying on his advice as he and his fiancee have been doing various weekend getaways. So locations like Brighton, Stonehenge, and some stuff in London are on the list to be negotiated in the coming weeks via Whatsapp.

There is a reason I’m the Photographer and not the Model… LOL

So for travel planning my starting steps is to check out websites, now I have travelled with a few companies before;
– Contiki but they have a 35 year old cap, and I’ve unfortunately crossed that threshold.
– GAdventures (back when they were called Gap Adventures) but they don’t really have the tours I’m looking for and seem to be a bit more pricey then I last remember.
– Busabout has a few plans, looks like they may be cooperating with Haggis and Shamrocker depending on the country. Its not quite like their Hop-On Hop-Off tours but there is some promise.

I’m sure there are other companies as I broaden my initial search, with luck I’ll find something that is enjoyable and a bit active without requiring a marathon-esque training program beforehand. Of course it doesn’t matter what company I pick I’ll likely end up with my usual hijinks of taking the road less traveled and try to experience the “true” essence of a location; local foods, and not just what they sell to the tourists.

I’ve also need to contact the flight point people and determine the ideal arrangement of flights. Fortunately I have some flexibility in that as I can stay with my brother for free in south London (or south London?… not entirely sure on where his new place will be). But I do need to make some choices “now-ish” as a few things are dependent on when I leave and return; but the plan is to be back home in Canada before any potential Brexit occurs… just in case.

Kingdom of Osgoode 2012

Kingdom of Osgoode 2012

Well, it’s July of another year and once again Graeme and I were able to travel to a mystical place (location) to enjoy the dancing, the sword fighting, the jousting and the many other things that were happening this weekend (July 6-8, 2012) at the Kingdom of Osgoode.

The King was there and was kind enough to inform me that some of his normal entourage were unfortunately detained and not yet present. Some mention was made of a dungeon but I cannot divulge more. Continue reading


The Soft Drink of Choice - ScotlandThis was our day to leave behind the hills and sights of Glen Coe and Oban and return to Stewarton. After a few days of drinking diet IRN BRU in our caravan park, I was beginning to get attached to this soft drink. It might be billed as Scotland’s soft drink of choice but I guess, like that other Scottish product – fine whiskey, I would need a few more weeks of it to really develop a dedicated taste for it :-).

Dustaffnage Castle and Oban, Scotland

Waiting for the Next Meal

Dustaffnage Castle and Oban, Scotland

Aside from a shout in the dark sometime after midnight, when I thought that rain might be coming in the roof hatches of the caravan (it wasn’t), I slept well and entered the morning , ready for the next adventure. Jim had another little walk in mind – along the coastline to a place called Dustaffnage Castle.  Jim hadn’t been on that path before so off we went with a trail guide and no map.

Continue reading

Caravaning in Scotland

A Touch of Scottish Yellow - Benderlach, Scotland

Caravaning in Scotland

Jim had planned for us to head north in his truck hauling his caravan to a caravan park north of Oban, Scotland.  He felt that he could handle the preparations quite well without me :-), so, while he was getting things ready for the trip, I had a few hours to travel to Eglinton Country Park near Irvine, Scotland to meet up with another photographer, Stevie Manson to photograph the flora and fauna of the area. Some of the birds that Stevie had hoped to show me didn’t materialize and it was a bit breezy for insects but we did manage to have some fun shooting what we found.
Stevie and his damselfly technique The bugs forced him to his knees Continue reading

A visit to Stewarton, Scotland

Frequent Train Service

A visit to Stewarton, Scotland

Following my hiking of the Offa’s Dyke Path (177 miles): Offa’s Dyke Path June 2009 , I traveled by train to Glasgow, Scotland to visit with a relative of mine (artist Jim Wylie: )

Continue reading