Two years ago when I planned my first trip to Scotland, I had the average international traveler’s to-do list: Currency Exchange, Transportation Requirements, Accommodation Bookings, etc. But planning a trip with COVID-19 lurking around every corner requires a bit more thought than your average hop across the pond. Two weeks ago, when the United Kingdom opened up to American tourists for the first time in over a year, I made the executive decision to make a leap of faith and hop a flight–or three–to Great Britain. This is the first of many blogs I plan to post about my visit to Scotland, but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to take a moment to tell you some of the things you may not know if you’re thinking about following in my footsteps.
It’s a necessary evil, I’ll admit — especially if global tourism is ever going to get back on its feet. Leaving the politics of vaccines and mask mandates out of it, I’m aiming to simply give you the facts. As an American citizen travelling to the United Kingdom you will need to go one of two routes.
- If you have a FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine, you will need to present your vaccination card and a negative COVID-19 test result to the gate agent prior to boarding your international flight. The British government also requires you to take a PCR COVID-19 test on or before Day Two of your visit to the United Kingdom.
- If you are not vaccinated at the time of travel, you will need to present a negative COVID-19 test result prior to boarding your flight and quarantine upon your arrival in the UK. You will need to take COVID-19 tests and have corresponding negative results on Day 2 ad Day 8 of your trip in order to be released into the general populace.
Regardless of your vaccination status, at this time, every US citizen is required to have a negative COVID-19 test result to reenter the United States. You will be asked to present this result at Customs when you arrive back in the country.
I am already vaccinated so I need a total of three tests. For convenience, I order a test kit through AZOVA, a UK based testing company that has partnered with Ellume here in the US to provide all three of my tests needed for entry into the UK and reentry into the US. The Ellume kits need to be completed via a telehealth call with a licensed medical professional to ensure the test is done correctly and verify the results of the test. The AZOVA kit is self-administered and comes with thorough instructions on how to complete the test and mail it to the lab. I received my kit via UPS in less than a week, and it comes in suitcase friendly packaging.
**my entire kit including all three tests cost $189**
At the moment, international air travel into Great Britain is extremely limited. Prior to COVID-19 the major Airlines in the US (United, American, and Delta) all offered service to either Edinburgh or Glasgow out of major hubs like New York JFK, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Nowadays, the only option for transatlantic air travel is London-Heathrow (LHR). There are still several flights a day from the US over to London, but it makes travelling to Scotland much more difficult and time consuming. There are flights on British Airways that will take you from London to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness, which may be the best route for you.
Travelling standby, I was unsure what time I would arrive in London, and border patrol at Heathrow is spotty on any given day. Case in point: On my first trip to London in 2016, my friend and I waited over three hours to get through the customs line. When I arrived in London in 2019, it took my mom and I a mere thirty minutes. For all of these reasons, I decided to take a train up to Scotland. A one-hour ride on the Piccadilly Line of the London Tube will take me straight to London-Kings Cross Station where, after a brief visit to Platform 9 ¾, I can hop a train up to Edinburgh!
In most major European Cities, walking between attractions is easy, and you get more of a feel for the city and the country you’re visiting that way. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do. For this reason, I don’t have a plan on the day I arrive in Edinburgh. I have a few locations I would like to see, but I’m going where the wind blows me! However, if you’re a fan of rideshares or if you’re staying in New Town and don’t feel like making the steep climb up to the Royal Mile, there are no shortage of UBER drivers who can give you a wallet-friendly lift to the top.
This is a pretty straightforward process that can be done at several locations. If you’re like me and prefer to enter a new country with as much preparation as possible, you can exchange your currency at a number of location in your connecting airport’s international terminal. Most banks can also help with currency exchange, but if you bank at a smaller institution, they may need a few weeks or months to order the currency you need. If you don’t mind exchanging your good ol’ USDs for GBPs once you arrive in the UK, or your layover isn’t as long as you would like due to a flight delay, there is a currency exchange vendor in baggage claim at London-Heathrow for your convenience!
Particularly in larger cities such as Edinburgh and London, there are no shortages of lodging accommodations. I prefer to stay in hotels, but on my last trip to Edinburgh I stayed in an Airbnb on the Royal Mile and loved every second of it (other than the fact that I’m pretty sure it was haunted, but that’s another story entirely haha). On this trip, I have elected to stay at a locally owned Boutique hotel near the train station. It’s also a five-minute walk from the pick-up location of my tours, which is a MUST. I’m speaking from experience on this one folks. You don’t want to be stranded on the side of an Italian Street when the train workers are on strike and your bus gets hit by a car *cough cough.
Another option, one which I’ve heard rave reviews on, is the Bed and Breakfast. Especially in the Highlands, B & Bs are extremely common, and I plan to try one out for myself on this trip when I spend the night in Inverness. Rest assured, I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes! But in the end, no matter where you stay, make sure to do your research. Look at the reviews for whatever lodgings you choose, and also make sure you’re staying in a safe neighborhood if you are visiting an unfamiliar city! If you do all of that, you’re almost guaranteed to have a good night’s sleep in any set of accommodations; be it hotel, bed and breakfast, or rental.
Well folks, that about wraps up this segment on Planning Ahead. Make sure to check back in a week or so to view my tips and tricks on packing as well as an abbreviated version of my packing list!