I’d been contemplating a trip to the UK. Not just a stopover in London (which can be awesome) but a visit to some places off the beaten track, particularly the crown dependencies. If you have no idea what they are, you’re not alone. Three islands, Jersey, Guernsey and Man have this rare title. They aren’t part of Europe and they’re not technically the UK. They are connected to Britain (who protects them) but each has its own flag, currency and parliament. The Isle of Man sits halfway between Liverpool and Belfast in the Irish Sea. Guernsey and Jersey are off the west coast of Normandy, France. Often overlooked, all three are very interesting destinations.
The first step of my adventure was to get to England. I plugged in a round trip flight from Houston to London in May through my favorite airline booking app, Skyscanner. The cheapest option was about $850 and required flying to Istanbul on Turkish airlines from Houston and then backtracking 1800 miles.
I love Turkey but 10 extra hours of flying was a little too much for this trip. I decided it might be better to deconstruct the trip using different hubs, alternative airports and changing dates until I found the perfect itinerary.
New York City is often one of the cheapest airports to get to Europe and this case was no exception. I was able to get a flight from JFK to Gatwick for $402. This was with no-frills Norwegian Airlines who charges extra for every amenity including soft drinks, headphones and a personal item over 22 lbs. Yes, only 22 lbs! It was challenging, but it could be done. It was less than half the price of Turkish Airlines. I just needed to get to New York.
Newark, NJ is connected to New York’s JFK by inexpensive transport and Spirit airlines flies there cheap. For $125, I was able to fly to Newark round trip, have a day to run around in New York and still catch my London flight late in the evening. I was saving money and getting a free stopover in New York twice. Win win.
I found a great deal on an Alamo rental car in London for $195 for 9 days (around $22 a day) using carrentals.com. I have learned to go with a name brand company in the UK since I’ve had some unscrupulous British no-name agencies try to exploit me with add-on charges in the past . Even with English high gas prices, having a car is still a cheaper option than the train in England. You also have a place to leave your baggage and more options of places to stay than having to tether yourself near the station.
You can fly from Liverpool to Isle of Man with EasyJet for $70 round trip or take the 4 hour ferry for around $100 each way with your car and 2 people. You can get along without a car pretty easily in Man. There’s a cheap reliable bus and train system that can get you almost anywhere. I opted to park the car in Liverpool and take the cheap flight over. The Isle of Man was amazing. It’s a beautiful island with waterfalls, castles and the most famous motorcycle course in the world, the TT. A few days in IOM was long enough to see most of the sights. Back in Liverpool, I drove the 4 hours back to London, There’s several great towns in between including Chester and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace.
I discovered that i could fly from the tiny LCY London airport to Jersey for $65, then from Jersey to Guernsey for $35, and finally for $50 from Guernsey back to London with Flybe airlines. To get the cheaper fares, there’s certain times of the day with lower prices. The flights were less than ferries from France and much more convenient.
Doing the math (with 2 people sharing the car) I got 9 flights, a rental car for 9 days, a stopover in New York, and was able to visit all 3 crown dependency islands for $842. That’s $8 cheaper than the inconvenient flight from Houston to London (via Turkey).
If I haven’t lost you with accounting details, I’ll give you a few more tips about how I was able to make the stay affordable as well as memorable.
I’ve always wanted to stay in a Scottish castle. With a little research and my hotels.com app I got a night in Lumley castle for $95. It was a better deal than the local Sheraton and a much cooler option. Who doesn’t love a 700 year old castle? Breakfast would have cost nearly $50, so we decided to give that a miss. I found a mansion house in Edinburgh the next night for about the same price with breakfast included. Edinburgh downtown hotels are expensive, so driving the 20 minutes outside of town brought the price down considerably as well as making for a much more interesting experience. It’s places like these that the rental car really pays off. My final hotel hack was a stay at the only Beatles hotel in the world: A Hard Days Night in Liverpool. I discovered that I could stay at this lovely hotel during the week for $95. Weekends were $250-350/night. By adjusting the day I’d be staying there, I saved $200. My last night in Liverpool I found a pub/hotel in the neighborhood where Peaky Blinders is filmed. It had free parking and was also next door to the venue where The Beatles played their first gig together with Ringo. For $65, the pub stay was a fantastic bargain compared to staying in downtown Liverpool.
I’m always looking for unique experiences when I book my hotel as well as reasonable prices. Sometimes the planets just don’t align and that’s when Airbnb comes in handy. All three islands were expensive compared to the mainland and choices were fewer. So, we found ourselves changing from castle stays in Scotland to sharing a tiny 2 bedroom house with a couple in Guernsey who loved to talk travel. The price was $45/night compared to the alternative hotels starting at $150/night. Staying in someone’s home is a great way to get a real feel for local life, and the price was right.
Wherever you’re traveling, there’s almost always different price options if you know where to find them. Making hotels and flights affordable allows the possibility of traveling much more often without feeling like you’re scrimping on experiences. If you’re lucky, you might even wake up in a castle.