The Perfect Shortcut Guide to Planning a UK Road Trip

The English countryside is absolutely stunning – especially if you are planning on a road trip! The quaint towns and villages you pass through, the countless sheep you and the green of the hills will take your breathe away and makes for the perfect road trip around the UK.

When planning a UK road trip there are many things to take into account, continue to reading for the shortcut guide to the UK road trip essentials.

Whether you are driving Land’s End to John O’Groats, getting a tan (more likely a cream tea) in Cornwall, exploring the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, spotting Nessie in the Scottish Highlands or exploring the city of London, you are in for a treat!

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Essentials for a planning a UK Road Trip

A small red van pulled over in layby with mountains behind and coast on the side

Getting around the UK

As the name might imply, the best mode of transport for a road trip around the UK is to hire a car. However, the UK does have some amazing transport options so if you would like to the benefits of a road trip without actually having to drive you can!

Depending on the amount of time you have, you might need to combine driving with taking a train or flying. For example, you might enter the UK in London but you fancy doing a road trip around the Highlands of Scotland, it would make sense to fly or take the train to Inverness rather driving the 12 hours.

Planning when to go

The sunsetting over the mountains on an Irish beach

I like to say that any time in the UK is a good time to go. However, this not always the case.

Despite the summers not getting as hot as other European destinations in the summer it is still a very busy time in the UK. In the winter, you may have to tackle more snow on the roads and if you are not keen on attempting to drive in the snow you might want to skip this time of year.

However, the UK has some fantastic places for New Years Eve and the Christmas markets are beautiful, so you might want to take this into consideration.

My favourite seasons in the UK are the spring, where the weather is warming up and the flowers are beautiful but you still have a chance to see some snow or the autumn, where the tourists have started to leave but the autumn colours are amazing!

Shoulder seasons (before or after, the summer and major holidays) are the best seasons to travel, places are less busy and things are often cheaper.

Choosing your route

Cliffs jutting out in the ocean on the Isle of Skyle

One big money saving trick when completing a road trip around the UK (or anywhere really), is starting and ending in the same place.

If you return your car to a different place to where you started you will be hit with a one way fee. Depending on the company you are hiring your car through this can be around £75.00 (or $105USD) or in some cases up to £300!!

The cost of the one way fee really depends on how far away your drop off location is from your pick up location.

The UK is made up of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, this leaves a lot of scope for when deciding on your route.

Do you have a few months where you can cover all four countries or are you just interested in visiting the South of England?

I recommend looking at a map and choosing a few places that you are interested in seeing. Sometimes, using Pinterest and Instagram can help you with some inspiration for choosing your route.

Planning your stops

A steam train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct

Once you have decided on a rough route you need to plan your stops. This can be tougher than choosing the route itself.

Some of the stops you make will be spur of the moment, you might see a sign to a cool stop off the highway or you might drive passed something that peaks your interest and this is what makes a road trip so much fun!

However, you need to plan for this happening. If Google Maps says your trip will take four hours, it may in fact take eight hours by the time you make stops.

The other stops you make are your planned stops. These are cities, towns and villages that you would like to see but its not worth staying overnight here.

For example: On our latest trip (we were road tripping for 5 weeks!!) we were heading from London to Cornwall but we really wanted to see Brighton Pier so we decided to drive from London — Brighton Pier — Cornwall.

Adding in this stop added on time but the time was worth it because we didn’t want to stay in Brighton over night!

Make sure you are familiar with the road rules

A road lined with stone walls

Ensuring you know the local road rules is super important because the “I’m not from here” excuse does not work so well.

One of the major road rules to remember is that in the UK they drive on the left-hand side of the road! They also use miles per hour to determine distance and time.

When planning your route it is important to take note of any toll roads and to see if you can find an alternate route to save yourself a few pounds!

Use your phone as a GPS

Honeystone cottages on the banks of a river in the Cotswolds

Rental car companies still charge a lot for to hire GPS – some times it is more than the cost of the car! I recommend using your mobile phone as a GPS.

Even if you do not have a data plan you can preload your maps before you leave the free Wi-Fi of your accommodation, screenshot your maps or you can use google maps offline.

Book your accommodations

Boat sailing at sunset on lake Windemere

Aside from hiring a car, your accommodations are going to be some of the biggest costs on your road trip. Finding ways to save money on your accommodation will help give you extra beer (or shopping) money!!

You may want to have some dates booked in, maybe in the busier places during the summer but to also allow some flexibility for those unplanned detours.

I recommend booking at least the first two or three nights of your trip. This allows you comfort that when you are arriving you have some where to stay. Then if you choose to you can book a few nights in advanced, or on the day if budget is not a huge consideration for you.

There are plenty of accommodation options around the UK from old English B&Bs to fancy hotels and everything in between. Price does not always give you an indication of the accommodation! We paid £26 and ended up in a hostel with the best views I have ever seen in a hostel!

Make sure you read the reviews on TripAdvisor and Booking.com to make sure you know what you are getting.

If you prefer apartments, Airbnb is always a good option or if you are flexible and looking for a slow travel type road trip housesitting is a fantastic option and its free.

Just be mindful that in the winter, some accommodation close after Christmas until the end of February.

Use the Ferries to Cross to Ireland and Northern Ireland

When crossing between the mainland UK, Ireland and Northern Ireland you can use the ferry services that department from a couple of different ports:

  • Holyhead, Wales to Dublin, Ireland
  • Cardiff, Wales to Waterford, Ireland
  • Belfast, Northern Ireland to Liverpool, England

You can take your cars on board the ferries, park and then head up on deck to enjoy the ride.

Snacks, Snacks, Snacks

A bread roll being help up in front of a waterfall

Hit the local grocery store or market to grab some snacks before you begin your road trip. Don’t forget to pick up some fruit to offset the salty crisps and sweets. You will be very glad to have these to munch on along the road.

If it’s a nice warm day consider packing a picnic – it’s a lovely way to break up the drive and to enjoy the scenery.

Don’t forget your camera

Whatever you do, do not forget your camera! You’ll see many views that are much better than the view before. The UK and Ireland are beautiful with many beautiful views, villages, and landmarks.

Don’t forget to pack the essentials

The Derry Girls mural in Londonderry
  • Drivers license (check if you need an international drivers license)
  • Passport
  • Water – don’t forget to hydrate
  • Snacks
  • Camera
  • Map
  • Phone/GPS
  • A travel diary

Some tips for planning your UK road trip

One night does not equal two days

Our latest road trip was at the beginning of a four month euro trip and we certainly learnt a lot along the way. One of these lessons was that staying some where for two nights gives you two half days (if you are lucky!) and not two full days.

If you would like two full days some where you need to stay three nights.

Take breaks

As you will find out below when I give you a brief overview of our road trip route, we travelled very quickly!

Driving takes a lot out of you and you need to give yourself some rest days. Try to aim for one rest day every five or six days. Pick a place where you have some nice accommodation where there are plenty of cafes or gardens and just relax.

You don’t have to jam pack every day of your trip! Unless you’re on a super short trip of course.

You’re not going to love every place

When we travel we assume that we are going to fall in love with every place we visit and sometimes we just don’t and that’s okay!

If you are travelling on a flexible schedule, you can simply move on. If you have booked all of your accommodations and you can’t change them, try to find one area that you like or use these places as your rest days!

Fiona xoxo

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My BEST Travel Resources

Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro

Flights: To find the best flights I always search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. For even cheaper flights, fly mid week and pack in a carry on!

Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.

If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link

Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.

Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.

Train Travel: If you are planning on taking the train in Europe, I cannot recommend the Eurail enough! Check out The Ultimate Guide to the Eurail Pass to find out why

Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!

Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany

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