Scotrail Disruptions, Again and Buying Train Tickets Well in Advance for Best rates


Just my luck. Looks like my main hub travel plans out of Glasgow will be impeded yet again this summer. Not a rail strike, but line improvements. I just have all the luck. So the 6 hour trip turns into 7 hours. At least it’s through the Highlands and can make up for delays once I get going. Unless clouds of midges take over the tracks.

To economize on travel, I was buying my train tickets for my journeys as some of the dates had finally opened up at Scotrail booking and I could purchase two months out. I learned long ago that sometimes the rail cards just don’t help if you are coming from another country, you pay a lot of money for something that is supposed to save you fare money and during festival season, it’s hard to just walk on and get a seat. Everyone else pre-books, so do as the natives do. Set up a free account on rail lines ahead online and you can manage your journeys.

Warning, when reserving online, not all rail stations have a machine where you can retrieve your pre-bought tickets. Check the messages you get while purchasing and make note if you will need to pick up ticket at a larger station like Queen Street or Central on your way out for other trips you are taking.

Why the concern? Rail journeys are not as economical as they used to be. In some cases it is cheaper to drive by car for most residents of the UK. But if you don’t have the luxury, and that is what it is in the UK and Ireland, of having a motorcar at your disposal, you are dependent on public transit.

However, for the most part, public transit is in far superior shape in the UK and Ireland than in many parts of the US. You may not know the routes but you can figure them out with many city routes apps that are available. Printed time tables can be difficult to read coming from the US as the format is a bit different than we are used to, so grabbing a free transit App map is convenient.

The cost of train rides can get high. I did some research on buying tickets 2 weeks out on Scotrail going from Queen Street Glasgow to Inverness/Kyle of Lochhalsh, £73.00. Yikes. Adding in the trip back out to Edinburgh at around £43.00, it was getting expensive. I remembered some train chats I had last year with some frequent travelers in Scotland. They said book online 1 to 2 months out if you have set travel days, and you could get a deal. So after waiting for the schedules to get a few months out, I finally did my round of bookings and saved heaps. What was getting close to £115.00 is now about half that. I also was able to splurge on a first class in the Virgin East Coast line for less than Edinburgh usually runs on that line. Wow, I get to see what their tea trolly looks like, or do they have a bar? Hmmm, mimosas?

Delays Expected on These Trains in Glasgow Through 2017

Bad news, there will be delays. At least the Clockwork Orange subway will be running this year I hope. Last year it was under improvements. Yeah, I geek on the weirdest things. I like subways sometimes. The Clockwork Orange is one of the oldest subway systems in the world. It runs a circle under Glasgow, making it very convenient for a hop on and off to neighborhoods. There is also a student pub crawl that uses the system for a ripping night out. Bring plenty of coin, bills don’t do so well with the public transit systems in Scotland. They have an app, so download it at Google Play or iTunes. Nice thing about a loop is you can always get  back if you miss the station. Try to get a day pass if you can.

You can now buy tickets with a phone app, pilot program.

Now if Iarnród Éireann would open up their bookings a for July, I could get set.


Photo ©2011 by Greg Neate


Political Tourism is the New Eco Tourism


When you are traveling to another country, you should always make yourself aware of what is going on before you get there. We all want to have a blissful vacation, and leave politics behind, but some go to actually experience politics and the real experience of being in a local situation. It’s your cuppa. Now is definitely the time.

The world is currently erupting into civil rights marching, and we must celebrate and participate where we can. Currently the “travel ban”, which is heading for part doux, in the US airports for certain countries in flights is causing airport protesting and delays. This backs up planes and flights from originating countries. Keep abreast of the news on the countries you are passing through, have they a relationships with the US at present? But, if you want to say go to Dublin and march in the next protest for women’s rights, check out Twitter and local papers on women’s rights in Dublin. There is nothing wrong with feminism tourism, it’s a great way to really experience how others live and view their world. Just be aware how travel may go, and you may have to land in another area and take other transport to get there, like ferries. The protest map is changing our world.

Women’s Rights Ireland

You should always start reading the local papers of any of the cities you plan to visit. Look for what’s on, and anything like the festival season can bump into your plans. They will affect your travel plans greatly, I know this as the trains got insane last year due to summer festivals and strikes by Scotrail for me. I expect it to be just as crazy this year.

Plan in Advance

Traveling by rail or using ferries this trip, I advise checking the paper for rail news. Before I left last year, I checked Scotrail and found there were planned strikes during my travels. Most of them seemed to  be on bank holiday or something, and sadly all fell on my travel days. Don’t panic, they provide alternative transport like buses. I had a luxury bus tour around Loch Lomond down to Glasgow courtesy of this last year. And that was and interesting adventure, very narrow and crazy roads through Loch Ness and highlands. However, the striking systems in the UK and Ireland follow a solidarity movement in some cases. If one goes out, the rest of transport unions may follow. So keep in mind that your transport may have to change. If you are traveling with a group, you may opt to do a car hire but keep in mind it’s the high season so it is best to do this well in advance.

For example, as I write this and looked at the National Rail site for the UK, I noticed a “Industrial Action” or strike highlighted affecting a particular line. And if you opt to go Virgin Rail, be aware that they use the same tracks and train lines as the national companies, so they will be affected. There is no perfect situation, build in travel time in your itinerary.

Note: High tourist and festival season means crammed trains and buses. Book ahead online and be aware that if you buy a railcard, you may not always be able to reserve online for fixed seats. If you want to see the Munros check a topographical map,  then reserve your seats, near luggage wracks if possible to keep an eye on things. Most of the time people are courteous about luggage, but I do remember when I spent a few minutes rearranging luggage so that myself and everyone behind me could actually use the wracks. Got thanked by a Scotsman for that one.

News of the World

Also, something to keep in mind. If you haven’t read a paper from the UK or Ireland before, I would suggest that you do. Get used to the format a bit. The UK has always had a reputation for in-your-face news coverage. The tattler style magazines and papers are more brutal than in the US. It’s not the US, where we often get very filtered news. The UK can be quite sensationalized. We have crime reports in our papers, but if you see some of the writing and reporting from these countries, take it with a grain of salt. Every city will have it’s dangers, and as a tourist you are a target. But don’t let that deter you. People are just much more open about news and how they live in Europe, that’s what is so great about it. Watch the news if you can, you can get a feel for what is important to the locals and if anything will affect your day. Check the local sports teams playing. In the US we get traffic jams due to games, in Ireland and UK they can get more intense about their sport supporting so game after flow can be treacherous to navigate, so you may wish to reroute before you leave your hotel or restaurant.


Remember, it’s all a journey, that includes the compromises. Don’t be a typical American tourist, don’t have a tantrum. There will be no sympathy. You will  be avoided like plague. Adapt like the Europeans do.

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