There’s genuinely no better way to explore the UK than on a road trip across the UK.
A road trip is by far the best way to get an authentic taste of British life as you get to see (and do) so much more than you would if you explore the country any other way. Taking a train, flight or coach will take you to pretty much pre-defined stops where everyone wants to visit but on a road trip, you get so much more control, which in turn means you have the best experience possible in the UK.
This being said though, planning a road trip does take a tad more effort than just hopping on a train. The effort of course becomes minimised the more informed you are and so, to help you with planning your own road trip, we figured we’d pull together a guide to help you see more of our home country along with tips and tricks to help you along your way and in particular, show you how we did the exact same thing too! (More on that last one further down!)
Let’s get started shall we?
How To Get Around?
A road trip pretty much implies every thing the name says, travelling by road i.e. by car. The UK has one of the best transport options available in the world so you would be forgiven for skipping the stereotypical road trip model and creating a hybridized version instead.
There are some journeys that might just be faster and more convenient if you combine the car option with a train, bus or flight. Case in point, travelling within London – there’s just no point driving around London. Instead, park your car and use the tube instead.
You’ll find that this can apply for other transport options as well so its worth looking at other options if you find a specific car journey starts to seem like a bit too much effort.
Where To Stay?
This is a key one as accommodation costs will be one of the more significant costs on your road trip budgets. We’re always on the lookout for ways to save money and one way we found recently was to book directly with an old favourite IHG (the family of hotels that includes the Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza…etc).
To be honest, it wasn’t until we were introduced to the IHG #WhyOverpay campaign that we realised that the cheapest way to get your hotels for IHG is to book directly through the IHG Rewards Club rather than on price comparison websites (except for Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts). I’d just always assumed price comparison sites had pretty much the same, if not cheaper, offer for the IHG hotels but it turns out, that’s not the case at all when you’re booking IHG hotels.
You can make saving of up to 10%, which (depending on how much time you plan on spending on the road), can add up to hundreds or even thousands of pounds – money that can be spent on so many other road trip expenses (fish and chips for one!).
When To Get Accommodation Sorted For?
It is worth noting though that before you start your trip, you should book accommodation for the start and end of your road trip as well as the midway point. You book the start and end because you know what these are in advance and you book the midway point(s) in advance because this helps keep you on track.
The accommodation for the rest of the time can be booked a day or two in advance and this way; you have flexibility when it comes to planning your route as you might find that you want to spend more or less time in certain places as you go along your road trip.
Where To Start And Where To End?
First off, you’ll save yourself quite a considerable amount of money if you book the same start and end destinations. You’ll save money on return tickets (as it tends to be cheaper when booked from the same destination) and on car pick-up and drop-off fees which can double your costs if the pick-up and drop-off locations are different.
We started off in London and finished off in London but for instance, when picking up a car to move my things from Uni in Cambridge (pick up) to our home in Wales (drop off), it costs like £300 extra just for the different locations – a cost that would effective have been £0 otherwise. (The same happened in the US, picking up a car in Florida and dropping it off in California added an easy $500 to our rental cost).
As a rule of thumb though, the further away you drop off the car, the more expensive it becomes.
What Stops Should I Make?
This one’s the trickier one and one that’s entirely driven by self-interest. There genuinely are no right or wrong answers here.
Our road trip was all about seeing old historic parts of the UK so our focus was trying to cram in as many cities, towns and villages with beautiful historic sights as possible in a 4 day period. There were so many potential stops we could have made on our route (you won’t be able to see them all) so our advice would don’t try to see everything – you’ll just drive yourself nuts if you attempt to.
Instead of trying to cram it all in, I decided to focus on key areas I’d wanted to see (we’ve got a few places in this link here to get you started on potential UK road trip stops). The places we couldn’t visit are just another excuse for another road trip in the future.
The best strategy to have is to have two layers of planning:
1.) The 1st ‘layer’ is to define a general route along with the major stops where you plan on spending the night before you start your road trip. This way, you have a goal as to where you should head to every day. We decided to do London -> Bath -> Oxford -> Cambridge ->London over 4 days.
2.) The 2nd ‘layer’ is to decide on stops you want to make in between the ones above, a day or two before. This flexibility is important as you don’t want to pigeon-hole yourself and create a plan that you can’t keep up with. The plan is there to help you and you don’t want to find yourself a slave to your plan.
What To Take With You?
In truth, asides your clothes, medication and electronic devices – there’s not really much you ‘need’ to take with you. Everything else is just a ‘want’ really… The UK has so many options when it comes to the stuff you can buy on the road so my best advice is to pack as light as possible and get the non-essential stuff as you go along (e.g. toiletries). Even things like drinks and food are easy to find as you drive across the country so you don’t have to stress too much about other road trip essentials like this.
What Other Costs Should You Look Out For?
1.) Extra car rental costs – Sat Nav, Full Insurance, Car Breakdown cover…etc
2.) Toll costs. There aren’t that many in the UK (there are a handful) so it’s not a major concern but still worth paying attention to.
3.) A local sim card (unless you already live in the U.K.), there can cost as little as £5 so its worth getting one to stay connected while on the road.
4.) Entry into local attractions. A lot of monuments are free to visit in the U.K. but some charge a fee so its worth looking into this in advance (also you might be able to get a discount so there’s that too).
What did we do on our own road trip?
Okay, so I’m going to have to cover this in a lot more detail over the next few weeks but seeing as we had just 4 days we had to limit ourselves to Southern England. In truth, there are so many places in Southern England I’d wanted to visit for quite some time so when IHG Rewards Club gave us the opportunity to try out their promise that it would always be cheaper to book with them directly rather than on price comparison websites (#WhyOverpay after all?), this was the perfect opportunity for us to finally go on that road trip we’ve been talking about wanting to go on for years.
Travelling abroad really does make you appreciate the amazing gems back at home so this one was one that I’d wanted to do for quite some time! Here’s how our time went –
We set off from London in the pouring rain and seeing as we live in the UK, it strangely didn’t bother me as a forecast for the next few days. The weather here is so unpredictable anyway that us Brits just get on with it. Luckily though, by the time we hit the road to Bath, the sun came out and pretty much stayed for the entire road trip!
Stonehenge was one of those places we realised fairly last minute that we would be going past on the trip up and figured it made sense to pop in to see it properly. In the past, you would walk right up to it but these days, the entrance point has been moved further away so you can’t really see it without paying the fee.
Stonehenge was only a 15 minute drive away from Salisbury and although this wasn’t on our road trip, a quick Google and Wiki search (along with recommendations on Snapchat and Instagram) showed Salisbury was most definitely worth a visit and boy am I glad we did! Salisbury is a medieval old town, home to the Magna Carta and absolutely charming!
To be honest, in the past, I’d taken Bath for granted. I’ve spent a few nights here and partied with friends here but never really visited it for its sights.
One gifts travelling definitely gives you (which I mentioned in this post here) is how it makes you appreciate the things at home a lot more – Bath is a prime example of this as this ancient city has so many amazing sights to see, the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent and Bath Abbey to mention but a few.
Accom: We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Bath which turned out to be 9% cheaper via IHG Rewards Club (i.e. £11 cheaper).
Lacock is one of the sleepiest and prettiest English villages out there. It’s your quintessential Cotswolds village and is so small, quaint and filled with little delights at every turn.
Castle Combe has been a big one for me and seeing as this is close to Lacock (and Bath) we knew this had to be added to our list of stops! It’s another amazing Cotswolds village and has been the scene of many a TV series (including Downton Abbey).
Bibury is home to what is thought to be the most photographed street in England – Arlington Row, where you’ll find many stunning rambling Cotswolds cottages.
Banbury was one of those places that ‘just happened to be on the way’ to Oxford. There was no real plan to visit, we saw a sign that said Banbury and decided to pop in. This is one of those moments where it definitely pays to wing it.
Despite how easy it is to get here, we’ve never really visited Oxford properly. I’d been a couple of times when trying to decide between Oxford and Cambridge for University but this was the first time we’d actually visited to see the city properly.
Oxford, by the way, is absolutely stunning and chock-a-block with lots of amazing historic sights to see and without a doubt, a great place to visit when you visit London.
Accom: We stayed at the Holiday Inn Oxford which turned out to be 4.5% cheaper via IHG Rewards Club (i.e. £8 cheaper).
Blenheim Palace looks like it’s straight out a classic British movie. This stately home is the birthplace of Winston Churchill. You can still visit the room he was born in – which comes complete ringlets of his hair from when he was a child (not entirely sure why that’s on display there). Blenheim Palace is without a doubt one of the grandest old homes you can visit in England and definitely worth popping into when you’re in Oxford!
Going to Cambridge was like a homecoming of sorts. Since my graduation, Lloyd and I hadn’t been back but more importantly, this is the birthplace of Hand Luggage Only! We visited my old college, where we started writing the blog just over two years ago and popped into some of the other colleges and sights in the city!
Time studying here means you kinda take sightseeing here for granted so it was quite fantastic to visit the grand city and see it in a different light.
Oh and if anyone asks, Cambridge is much prettier than Oxford (though I am biaised).
Accom: We stayed at the Holiday Inn Cambridge which turned out to be 4.5% cheaper via IHG Rewards Club (i.e. £10 cheaper).
Our return to London was exactly the same as our way out – rainy! Like seriously, as soon as we arrived back, the skies opened and poured out heavily. It seemed quite apt, especially considering the amazing weather we’d had for the last few days.
All was not over though, to celebrate the end of the road trip, we met up with friends for dinner and drinks in Central London and partied till late at night before rolling up at the final hotel, merry and thoroughly happy with the road trip across Southern England!
Accom: We stayed at the Holiday Inn Regent’s Park, which turned out to be 7.7% cheaper via IHG Rewards Club (i.e. £14 cheaper).
Our road trip on this occasion was only across Southern England but the same rules apply wherever you decide to go on a road trip in the UK. This road trip has been a HUGE goal of ours for a while and a huge thanks to the IHG rewards club (available at www.ihg.com) for collaborating with us on this, for helping us seeing so much more of our home country and for showing us a great way to save money while travelling across the UK. Over 4 nights, we saved £42 on hotels.
On our road trip across the US we spend about 5 times as much time (20 nights) compared to what we did on our British road trip (4 days). When you do the math, you soon realize how if, for example, we made the same trip across the U.K. for a similar duration to the US and stayed in exactly the same IHG Hotels,you would save yourself over £210 just by booking it via IHG Rewards Club directly! #Win 🙂