Whats The Deal With Guided Tours?

Guided tours are a controversial topic in the travel blog world because “if someone just shows you around, r u even travelling?!”. But screw convention, I’m going to talk about one particular tour company here, because they definitely deserve some recognition & I’m a massive fan of a guided tours!

I’m especially a huge fan of free walking tours, I find that they are the perfect way to orientate yourself when arriving in a new city. You get to know your way around, learn some history about the city, hear some interesting stories and best of all, if the tour guide was a bit pants, you aren’t obliged to pay a penny! Having said that, I have never not tipped a guide!

Another tour style that I’m a big fan of is a well structured day trip. As I have to plan my travels around work and study commitments, recently I have been going on a lot of city breaks rather than extended travels. Sometimes it’s great to escape the city and take a day trip to somewhere new.

You can read about a few of my guided day tours here:

  1. Alpine Fairytale – Slovenia – Roundabout Travel 
  2. Karst And Coast – Slovenia – Roundabout Travel
  3. Countryside & Windmills – Netherlands – Tours & Tickets

So Who Are The Hairy Coo? 

The Hairy Coo are a tour company operating from Edinburgh who take tourists around the Scottish Highlands in a manner that combines my two favourite tour structures. Yes, that’s right, they offer whole day tours including transportation for FREE.

Our tour guide stressed the fact that The Hairy Coo company was set up to provide anyone, of any budget range, the opportunity to explore the beautiful Scottish Highlands. Something that I very much agree with – everyone should visit!

Is It Really Free?

You enter the coach without having paid a single penny. Of course, a tip to the tour guide is expected at the end of your tour, however, you are free to pay the amount that you believe the tour is worth.

I would highly recommend that you book your tour online in advance. When I booked our tour, we only had the choice of one day during our stay in Edinburgh as the others had all sold out. There were only 2 spare seats on our coach once all of the pre-booked passengers were on board, these were swiftly taken by two girls who had turned up hoping there would be spare spaces.

On booking, you are sent an email stating that your card will be charged £17 per person if you fail to turn up or cancel your place less than 48 hours before the tour is to take place. This is quoted as being the “cost” per person. Further to this, the website claims that the tour has a market value of £37, so bare these figures in mind when you determine your tip!

So What Was Our Day Like?

We were only in Edinburgh for 4 days and were dying to get a glimpse of the Scottish Highlands, so this seemed like the perfect way to do it. Ideally, of course we would have road-tripped the area over a few days, but time was not on our side!

We met at Deacon’s House Cafe at 8.30am. We actually ate in this cafe twice during our stay in Edinburgh (once for lunch and one for breakfast) and would highly recommend it – great food in a cosy setting!

After being greeted by our tour guide Don (one of the founders of The Hairy Coo), we knew that we were in for a great day! Don was hilarious, well-informed and you could tell that he had a real love for Scotland. He wasn’t afraid to give his stance on current affairs and since he grew up in the areas that we were visiting,  his anecdotes were funny and a great addition to an already great factual & beautiful tour!

You can view the entire itinerary for the trip on their website here. But I’ll talk just explain the two highlights for me and let the photos do the talking for the rest of the trip (because those Highlands are blimmin’ beautiful)!

Highlight #1) BABY HIGHLAND COWS

Yes, you read that right. You get to meet baby highland cows. The Hairy Coo have a “top secret” spot where you can feed a small herd (3 adults & 3 calves) and learn more about these gorgeous creatures.

Even the bus used by The Hairy coo is disguised to look like a Highland cow – it’s orange and has a little fringe across the top of the windscreen – adorable!

Highlight #2) Loch Katrine

Many of the larger tour companies will take you straight to hunt for the Loch Ness Monster. Loch Katrine is lesser known, but it is beautiful and definitely shouldn’t be missed! Enjoy a leisurely walk around the beautiful loch and spend lots of time taking photos!

Would I Recommend?

Without a doubt, yes. This tour was well constructed and I can’t sing Don’s praises enough – one of the best tour guides I’ve ever experienced! I’ve paid around £50 for similar style tours in other countries, and if the tour/guide was rubbish, that’s £50 down the drain!

They also offer a paid tour (£45) which visits the Loch Ness, Glencoe and a Whisky Distillery. If I had longer in Edinburgh, I would have most definitely paid to take this trip too! After taking the free tour, I know I would have been in good hands!

The Hairy Coo are a small business and many of the larger companies would like to see them shut down as they are rightfully gaining more custom. When you book your tickets, you have to provide your debit/credit card details to ensure that you are a real person as other tours have been known to fill the seats with fake customers – it breaks my little heart!

So, if you’re in Edinburgh any time soon and want to explore the Highlands (duh, who doesn’t), give these guys a shout!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own. I rightfully paid the tip that I felt appropriate for my tour like all other customers.
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If I had to name one place that has captured the heart of travel Instagram accounts over the past year, it would be Hallstatt. I can’t scroll through my Instagram feed without seeing at least one photo of Hallstatt per day.

After booking a weekend away in Salzburg with two of my friends, I decided that we definitely needed to visit Hallstatt during our short stay in Austria  (lucky, they were easy to convince!).

Getting to Hallstatt from Salzburg was one of our main stumbling blocks as we tried to travel on a Sunday. We asked the receptionist at our hotel (Cityhotel Trumer Strube) to explain the best way to access Hallstatt and she said that the Sunday train/bus service is limited, particularly on the day we wanted to travel as there was some construction work taking place.

I found that the internet wasn’t particularly helpful on this topic, so hopefully I can shed some light and make the trip a hell of a lot easier for you!

Option A) Public Transport 

Length of Journey: Approx 3 hours each way

Price: 34.8 EUR for a return journey

Overview: If you are looking to use public transport, I found this webpage very helpful. Broadly, from Salzburg, I would have taken Bus 150 to Bad Ischl, then the train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt railway station and finally used the ferry  to cross the lake to the village.

Pros: By far, this is the cheapest option. For an overview of costs and times, I would recommend this post by Travel Timo. You can also plan your day according to your own schedule,

Cons: As with any public transport system, you can face delays or inconveniences such as limited services on a Sunday or construction works. Also, if you’re looking to relax and catch up on some sleep (I wouldn’t recommend sleeping as the countryside is so beautiful), you might end up missing your stop with 3 changes in your journey. This is also a lengthy  journey, you may therefore wish to consider an overnight stay in Hallstatt rather than a day trip from Salzburg.

Option B) Use an organised tour 

Length of Journey: Approx 1 hour 15 mins each way

Price: 55 EUR for a return journey

Pros: You get an insider’s knowledge on Salzburg, the surrounding area and Hallstatt. There are also often chances to stop off at towns on the way to Hallstatt for photo opportunities, we stopped at St Wolfgang and St Gilgen (both gorgeous). If you’re looking to relax, not have to use your brain and navigate public transport, this option is for you!

Cons: Much more expensive than taking public transport and you only get a limited amount of time in Hallstatt (we had just over 2 hours).

Verdict: We took a tour with Paramount and would recommend this option if you aren’t worried about time or money restraints. Our tour guide was super knowledgeable and had a real passion for Austria and it’s history. We learnt a lot and enjoyed our time with him immensely! He also took a different route home than on the drive to Hallstatt, so we got to see more of the gorgeous Austrian countryside!

Option C) Use a Shuttle Service

Length of Journey: Approx 1 hour each way

Price: 50 EUR for a return journey

Overview: When searching for options on how to access Hallstatt, we came across the company Shuttle Cesky Krumlov (which is also the same company as Bean Shuttle) .They offer a few shuttle services between Salzburg and Hallstatt throughout the day.

Pros: Depending on what time shuttles you pick, you can spend a lot longer time in Hallstatt than you would on a guided tour. It is also a cheaper option (although not as cheap as using public transport).

Cons: You need to book this service in advance. We were looking at our options the night before our trip and as such, we weren’t able to book the service. You submit your request for the shuttles online and then wait for an email from the company confirming that those slots are available. Our confirmation email had a mistake (they had quoted Cesky Krumlov rather than Hallstatt)  and therefore we weren’t happy to hand over a deposit before they corrected the booking information. As we were emailing them at around 6pm, the office soon shut and we were not receiving any responses to our emails. We therefore didn’t complete our booking and can’t comment on the reliability/professionalism of this service.

Option D) Take a Taxi (If you’re rich)

And the final option is to take a taxi. Whilst I wouldn’t consider this option due to how expensive it is (Rome2Rio currently estimates that it would cost £150 – £180 each way). But I should include it anyway as it is a feasible option if you’re not travelling on a budget (I don’t think there are many landing spots in Hallstatt for your private jet after all)!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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So part two of my “budget airline” series is here! You can see my thoughts on RyanAir here.

Where Do They Fly?

Wizz Air has been gaining more and more popularity in the UK as they now have plenty of flights departing from various airports in the UK. If you’re flying from London, the closest airport that Wizz Air use is “London Luton” (about a 40 minute train ride from London St Pancras station).

They have been great for me because of the extensive network of flights to Eastern Europe. It’s no secret that I absolutely love Eastern  Europe and many of the places I’ve fallen in love with have only been accessible through Wizz Air. I visited Ljubljana last year with them and will be flying to Ohrid at the end of the month – two places that have no other direct flights from the UK at budget prices!

A complete map of where Wizz Air operate can be found here.

Be Aware! Additional Charges! 

Now in my previous post about RyanAir, I emphasised how much you shouldn’t be put off by the bad press that RyanAir receive. I have never paid more than the amount shown on any flight comparison website (such as Skyscanner) for a RyanAir flight.

Wizz Air on the other hand are one of the worst airlines that I have ever flown with for additional charges.

With my flights to Ohrid at the end of the month, I got VERY excited about the fact that Wizz Air were offering return flights to Macedonia for £23.98 (normally they are much higher than this).

I then decided on the exact dates with my friend and got incredibly excited to be getting back to former-Yugoslavia (in my opinion, one of the most beautiful areas in Europe) for a budget price!

I was paying for both my and my friend’s flights and accommodation as this was her birthday present. Return flights for 2 people should have therefore cost £47.96, however the total cost ended up being £102.96 – more than double the advertised price! Why? £24 worth of administration fees and £31 for a checked in 23kg bag.

2 x Return flights (2 x £23.98) + admin fees (£24) + baggage (£31) = £102.96

I am quite aware that £102.96 for two people to have return flights isn’t expensive by any means, but it’s never good for a company to double their prices during the booking process!

Baggage

You might be wondering why I have paid £31 for a checked in bag. I am a huge advocate of not paying to check in luggage, hand luggage is the only way to travel! It’s generally free, you don’t have to wait for your baggage to arrive at each destination and there’s no chance of it getting lost – perfect!

So why have I paid for check-in baggage? Because it was actually cheaper than using hand luggage.

The standard cabin bag size is “55cm x 40cm x 20cm”, yet Wizz Air only allows a free cabin bag to the size of “42cm x 32cm x 25cm” and boy are they strict about that measurement (every bag was checked on my flight to Slovenia).

To upgrade the free “small cabin bag” to the standard “large cabin bag” for 2 people costs more than paying for checked in luggage (for our route, one person’s upgrade to standard luggage size is £25, therefore £50 for both of us). Which in my eyes, is absolutely ridiculous.

I have invested in good quality standard size hand luggage and I don’t want to go an purchase a new bag to suit their rules. You also aren’t allowed to carry a small hand bag (for your phone/passport/boarding pass) with either the small or large hand luggage. Time is wasted before boarding making people put their tiny hand bags into their hand luggage.

Customer Service

I’ve never had any issues with customer service, but I am a pretty low-key passenger, as long as I arrive safely, I’m happy!

Comfort of the Planes

The planes are much more attractive than Ryan Air – I won’t lie, I was excited to fly on a predominately pink plane (how sad). The comfort of the planes isn’t anything to write home about, however on short haul flights, this isn’t something that really bothers me!

Overall Rating

2/5. The additional admin and baggage costs and sub-standard quality of their baggage policies compared to the other major budget airlines is a real issue for me. When I’m planning a trip, I want the price shown as advertised to be the price I end up paying.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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Photo credit: RyanAir

So, I have become quite familiar with three of the main budget airlines in Europe. I live fairly close to London Stansted, London Luton and London Southend airports and there are the three main airlines that operate from these airports – RyanAir, EasyJet and WizzAir. So over the next few weeks, I will be posting reviews of each one, you might be surprised to see which one I despise and which ones I love!

Without further ado, lets get started with my most used airline – RyanAir!

RyanAir gets a lot of bad press, especially in the UK where many people deem it to be the worst of the budget airlines. I on the other hand absolutely love RyanAir and don’t have many bad things to say about them at all.

Avoid “Extra Charges”

Now you may have heard that RyanAir add lots of “extra charges” to your booking. This has never been the case for me. You just need to know what you’re looking at.

  • You will be presented with lots of pages after you have booked your flight asking you if you would like to have these “optional extras” such as car rental, travel insurance etc. Just answer no to each of these and use your common sense. Of course it’s going to be cheaper to look for travel insurance through websites such as  MoneySuperMarket. Nobody is forcing you to take the optional extras!
  • Do not use websites such as “edreams” to book RyanAir flights. My mum had quite the shock when they wanted to add £80 to her flights just for booking through them! I tend to look at the flights through SkyScanner which then re-directs you to the RyanAir website where you will book the flights directly.
  • Food and drink will cost you extra on the flight. Is it really neccessary to buy that sandwhich and drink? Most RyanAir flights are around 2 hours long, so by the time they have taken your order for the panini, then been down the rest of the plane collecting orders, then prepared the panini and delivered it to your seat, you now only have 20 minutes to eat the food before rubbish is cleared away and the flight lands. Plan ahead, buy food at the airport which will be cheaper and can be eaten at your own leisure, or even better – bring a sandwich from home to save money! Obviously the same can not be done for drinks due to liquid rules.

Baggage

  • Large cabin bag – size 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm- FREE!
  • Small cabin bag – size 35 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm – FREE!
  • Checked in baggage – Subject to charges.

Now baggage is where RyanAir absolutely tops the list of budget airlines for me. Not only do you get to bring on a cabin bag (size 55 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm) for free, you can also then carry on a smaller bag (i.e. a handbag up to the size 35 cm x 20 cm x 20 cm) for free too!

Checked-in items will have a charge and the price currently depends on the popularity of the flight, the location etc.

However from June 2016, the current system of 108 charging brackets with 6 different price bands will be replaced with a fixed fee of £30 for a 20kg bag.

A lot of people moan about this, but if I am using a budget airline, it’s because I’m going somewhere in Europe for a few days and therefore only need a cabin bag. If you’re going somewhere for longer and need a larger checked-in piece of luggage, you may wish to shop around for the best deals.

However, I found that in most cases, having a cheaper airline and paying for baggage still worked out cheaper than flying with some of the more expensive airlines with free baggage!

Customer Service

I have never had any issues with the on-flight customer service. The flights are short and the drinks/food trolleys have a lot of people to see within that time, things are busy but they have always remained professional.

The one area where RyanAir exceeded themselves for me is their online webchat. A few of my friends once gifted me a RyanAir voucher (best birthday present ever!) and I completely forgot to redeem it when making  my next booking. I simply gave them my voucher reference and within a week,the £50 had been refunded to my bank account – brilliant!

A lot of people moan about the large fees if you have to change a name on the booking. This is something that I recently looked into as one of my friends isn’t sure whether he will be able to make my planned trips later this year. The fee for renaming the boarding pass is £110 – yes, that’s steep! But I read into it more and the reason behind this makes sense to me! If there was no fee, people would buy up the ridiculously cheap flights (Ryanair often sell off £10 tickets in sales etc) and then re-sell these for more money like people do notoriously for concert tickets. The £110 renaming fee stops this and I’m okay with this!

Comfort of the Planes

Let’s not beat around the bush, the inside of RyanAir planes are UGLY. The dark blue and yellow colour scheme is not a good combination, the material of the chairs looks horrible and the uniform of the staff isn’t flattering at all.

But you know what? I don’t care! The job of an airline is to get me from A to B, not to aesthetically please me the entire way! The planes are relatively comfortable for a short haul flight (they only do short haul flights, so don’t worry about that!), nothing to write home about but nothing to complain about either!

Overall Rating

4/5 gold stars from me – thanks for feeding my cheap flight addiction RyanAir!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.
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