Thursday, May 30, 2013

Puzzled About What to Bring?

What to bring:
* A Good Attitude!

·       *Pack LIGHT – you will have to lug your own bags ….. if you can’t carry it (or roll it easily), don’t bring it. One bag (with wheels) and one day pack will be more than sufficient. We will be carrying bags on subways and at least a block walk in London. It is ok to wear the same outfit twice.
·       *There won’t be easily accessible laundry until you get to the castle, so you will want enough to wear for the first week (it is OK, if you wear the same jeans twice!!)
·       *The baggage maximum will be 50 pounds, and a combined width + height + length of 62”, to avoid excess baggage fees. The excess fees are VERY high, $100 if your single bag weighs between 51-70, and $175 for bags over 70 EACH way. A second up to 50 pound bag weighs $100. 
·       You are only allowed to lock your bag with approved TSA locks. You might want to get one, as they make locking up valuables in the castle a little easier (using your suitcase as a safe).
·      * Put BOTH your UK address (Castle with dates) and US addresses on BOTH the inside and outside of your bag, in case it goes astray.   
·       *You can take one carry on and one “personal item” on the plane. Usually just one is a good idea. A backpack should be more than adequate, though your carry on CAN be as large as 45 linear inches (Length + width + height), but don’t overdo, you need to bring back “treasure”… The ‘personal item” can be a purse, briefcase, or camera bag or 1 laptop.

Travel Tips:

·       *A day pack – for day trips or even an overnight sojourn is a pretty good idea – bring it collapsed down in your suitcase or use it as an airplane carry-on. If you ‘over shop’ you can check it through on the way back, if you have to (you might bring an extra bag in the suitcase anyway for this purpose if you are prone to over-shopping, but be aware that checking an extra bag is at least  $50 and overweight or odd size costs even more). Information from the airlines will determine what you can carry on. You can also use it for your groceries once you reach the castle. 
·       *Absolutely NOTHING that is sharp or metal (no nail clippers, etc.). Likely to limit liquids, gels, aerosols (3 oz containers, all must fit in a single 1 quart clear zip lock bag). Note: this means no drinks carried onto the plane from outside the airport. To (legally) get around this, you might want to bring an EMPTY drinking bottle and fill it after you get through security (and even bring drink mixes in the single bottle size powders). You DO NOT want to get dehydrated on the flight, it makes you much more miserable.
·       *Taking money to spend in England/Scotland is actually very easy. While you CAN pre-order English pounds (don’t order Scottish pounds, long story), it is costly. You can also take over travelers checks (safe, but costly to exchange to pounds as the rate is awful). You can also take cash (DON’T, it is risky and you may be robbed). I have had the best luck with my ATM card. You MUST however notify your bank (including the banks of any credit card you wish to use) when you will be in the UK! If you do not remember to do this, they will quite likely turn down the charges and cancel your card on the assumption that the card has been stolen. 
·        *If you normally wear contact lenses, WEAR GLASSES ON THE PLANE – the air is very dry and you will get serious dry eye if you try to wear contacts. Carry contacts/small solution in your carry on.
·       You might want either hand sanitizer or sanitizer wipes – especially for the plane. There are a lot of sick people that fly and the air is very shared – so you end up with everyone else’s germs.
·       Bring all prescription meds in your carry on – with the prescription bottle it came in.
·       Bring spare medications in your suitcase, for common maladies like a cold/cough, tummy trouble, etc.
·       *Leave enough room in your suitcase to bring home ‘treasures’ that you buy. Remember that the people you buy stuff for won’t have the same attachment to those things that you would, so consider ‘under shopping.’
·      * Bringing your own shampoo, etc., is a good idea as these sorts of toiletries are quite pricey in the UK (and you can leave them or throw them away to make room in your suitcase on the return trip).
·       It has been said that Melatonin taken while traveling can reduce the effects of jet lag, I have never seen really any difference, but that is what people say.
·       *Your carry on should have something to do during the flight – there will be ‘in flight entertainment’ and you should also try to sleep, but it can get pretty boring. Also, consider bringing some food (maybe purchased at the gate) on board as the airline food is typically dreadful.
·       *Airplanes are usually too hot or too cold. You might want to wear layers or have a very light sweater/sweatshirt in your carry on. Wear comfortable clothes on the plane – this is not a fashion show. Also note that you need comfy shoes – old people like me tend to have their feet swell on a plane so wearing your roomiest shoes on the plane is a good idea. Realize that security will require you to take off your shoes, belts and jewelry as you go through security. And, um, don’t wear a padded bra or underwires (the X ray machine).
·       *The plane ride is boring and NOISY – bring ear plugs (and maybe a neck pillow and maybe eye shades)… you will thank me if you use them. If you don’t use ear plugs you will discover that your ears will ring for hours after landing.
·      * We will have customs/immigration upon arrival in the UK and again when we return to the US. Please keep your passport with you and accessible at all times when traveling (and it is a good idea to keep it safe even when in the castle – there are a lot of folks wandering around the castle – workers, other student groups, etc. – and the last thing you want to lose is the passport)
·       Your carry on might also be a place to stash a spare set of clothes (like t shirt and shorts) for emergencies – like a food spill on the plane or delayed luggage. You might feel fresher by the time you arrive if you change your shirt and bring just barely enough stuff to freshen up before landing (comb, maybe toothbrush).
·       *You will need a rain jacket – with a hood, umbrellas are a pain on a walking tour as they tend to poke people in the eye. You were warned. Waterproof shoes might not be a bad plan either.
·       Most places we go will have wifi – but the hotels will charge for it. There will be internet cafes that are pretty cheap for a half hour of computer time and the castle will have free wifi. The castle will have a couple of computers we can use, but you might want a tablet or if you have a buddy on the trip the two of you could share a laptop.

While There:
·       *Be open to new foods – like curry (beware of food labeled ‘hot’ – it will likely cause you to scream, they like their ethnic cuisine very, very spicy as a rule). Think Haggis, look it up before you try it. Try Irn Bru – the ‘national’ drink of Scotland kids – very high in caffeine and smells like bubble gum. 
·        *Make sure you have your own travel book – you will have some free time, spend it wisely. You will also be able to make use of the maps. I will have maps for you of most of the places we visit.
·       *Keep change around – we will be taking local public transport and you will need exact change – also be aware that the laundry at the castle needs coins (20p and 1 pound pieces the last time we were there).
·       *There won’t be much use for US $, and it is easy to steal. On the other hand, if you only have once debit type card that too can get lost. You might want some combination of free debit card, credit card (maybe one debit card for your bank and a credit card with a PIN number), and a little US cash (it can be converted to pounds, but at a pretty awful rate. Make sure you alert these companies that you will be out of the country and where you will be and understand their fees.
·       *BRING YOUR DRIVERS LICENSE AND YOUR STUDENT ID CARD. You will sometimes need two forms of government issued picture ID, you will, of course, have your passport, but these others can help. Often, also you can get a entrance fee reduction with your student ID card.
·       *Take any necessary medications with you in your carry-on – the airline might lose your bag and you don’t want to end up without your meds.
·       *In order to adjust your time you will need to stay awake from the time we arrive in the UK until regular time to sleep – so be prepared (maybe try to sleep on the plane).
·       *Keep your cash/credit cards, etc., safe. Having a waist (or neck) pouch that you wear under your clothes for your valuables is a good idea when you are in transit. In the castle, you might want to use your suitcase with TSA lock as your safe. The crime rate is lower in the UK, BUT what criminals there are tend to target foreigners… especially sight-seeing foreigners.  You will be an obvious tourist, believe it.
·      *The weather will be everywhere from 40 degrees and rainy to 85 and humid… hard to predict. Think layered clothing (even on the plane). A rain jacket with a hood is a good idea.
·       *Good, sturdy, comfortable walking shoes are a must. We will be walking all over the place… keep it in mind.  You might want waterproof walking shoes or two pair of walking shoes so if one gets wet you have some to wear the next day.
·       *There are washing machines in the castle – and usually the previous students leave plenty of powdered detergent there that we can use, but not necessarily. If you are going to bring detergent, bring the ‘pods’ or something NOT white powder in a baggie. The machines are coin-operated and fairly expensive, with rather small capacity, so plan on washing often (save change, 20 p coins, as I recall). Also, consider NOT packing red clothing so you don’t have to do a separate red (bright color) load… it gets costly.
·       *The bathrooms in the castle (and elsewhere) are usually “down the hall” -  the castle and hotels we will be using provide you with a towel (and sheets) but only one towel (ladies you might want a ‘twisty towel’ or something for your hair). One year the castle didn't do laundry for either sheets or towels and you got to keep them clean on your own. Taking your own “bathroom basket” (for carrying toiletries) is a good idea. Bring your own soap, shampoo, etc (of course).
·       *Don’t bother with an iron or any other electrical appliances you can possibly live without. Electrical converters are fairly expensive and don’t work all that well (especially for hair dryers or irons – last time there were BOTH hair dryers and irons at the castle we could use).  For camera chargers, etc., that are unavoidable perhaps some of you can team up and so not everyone has to bring his/her own converter and plug adapters (note that I said BOTH converter for power, as the UK runs on 220, AND plug adapters as they don’t use the same shape plugs we do). Dual power appliances (there are a few) STILL require plug converters (they don’t have the two prong thing like ours). Warning: if your electrical appliance is NOT dual power you need a CONVERTER as well as a PLUG ADAPTER (these are not the same thing).
·       *Bring slippers, flip flops, or even shower shoes – the castle can be rather strict about no bare feet anywhere in the castle.
·       *There is a computer room in the castle – with internet. However, the computers are very dated and they rather expect students to bring their own laptops. There were some wireless ‘hot spots’ in the castle so there is not wireless in every room.
·       *Bring a good quality tour book or two – you might well find that on the weekends and other free time you want to go off on your own – and having your own books are indispensable for planning purposes. Always a good choice is “Lets Go: England and Scotland.” You will be in Edinburgh (Mid-Lothian, Scotland) and York (Yorkshire, England) and Cambridge (Cambridgeshire, England) and London (Londonshire, England). Easy trips will include places like St. Andrews, Glasgow, Newcastle, etc. You might be adventurous enough to strike out further – like to the Highlands (Loch Ness, for instance) on a bus tour (there are several good ones, we recommend ‘McBackpackers’), but very far may require you rent a car….Train travel is reliable around the cities and England but the Highlands are not so densely populated. There is a wonderful tour group called “McBackpackers” that takes bus tours throughout the area that are highly regarded. I have a site on the D2L for the course that has a place to share extra travel plans, if you like to plan in advance with a travel partner.
·       There was a library in the castle, but bring your own copy of the text books, they will not have them there. There is a small lending-library for paper backs for light reading.
·       *Dance clubs in Edinburgh can be very picky about clothing – oddly enough especially about shoes. If you intend to go dancing, you might want one pair of good shoes (not athletic shoes). The local pubs are not choosy – jeans/tennis shoes, whatever. The locals like US students and you will have many chances to interact at the local pubs they are good places just to sit and have a soda to talk to people – drinking is optional though the beer is good (and strong). If you wish to drink, I believe the legal drinking age is 18 or 19: have a good time, but know your personal limits. Public (and not so public) drunkenness WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. Remember, you are representing not only yourself, but the school, the entire university system, and even the entire US to the locals.
·       In the hotels, we will have complimentary breakfasts, but lunch and dinner on your own. You will be ON YOUR OWN for food in the castle – we expect to be able to cook in the castle but you must clean up after yourself or we will all lose the privilege. Last time we were there, we could keep a limited amount of food (from the local grocery) in the rooms and had access to a small refrigerator (but it could be pilfered by others). The local grocery is a pleasant walk into town (or a bus ride to a bigger, but cheaper place).  Most of the food will look familiar, but there are a few different things.  Look up Haggis – and decide if you want to try it. We were also allowed to cook in the castle for dinners and we have had many ‘group meals’ where students got together to cook, charged ‘admission’ and those that RSVP’d ate together (it was fun and MUCH cheaper than eating out, like $1.50 for a complete spaghetti dinner with garlic bread). There are ‘fast food’ places in town that were fairly cheap – though the ‘fast food’ isn’t always what you think it is. Beware of the ‘battered burger’.  The Indian food – curry, doner, etc, is excellent and cheap. The fish and chips are excellent (chips are fries, by the way and crisps are chips). There is a Subway Sandwich place in Dalkeith an easy walk from the castle, for cheap food you are familiar with. There are also nicer restaurants. In town, you could get a HUGE baked potato smothered in cheese for under $2, fish and chips for $4, and a rather odd pizza for $5 or so (the fast food burgers in Dalkieth are really strange, stay away from them until you are SURE you know what you are getting). In Edinburgh you can find most anything, from Indian food to Burger King to Pizza Hut to pubs to elaborate restaurants in every price range. To Edinburgh by bus is about 1.50 pound, 20 minute or so ride, just don’t miss the last bus back (check for last times), the taxi ride gets pricey.
·      * Pub food – ordering does NOT happen at the tables (or at least almost never at the tables). You usually order at the bar and it is brought to you at the table (usually the tables have numbers and you sit down, get the table number and go to the bar to order). Pub food can be very good and is usually fairly inexpensive and often what the locals choose …
·       *The Beer is stronger in the UK. You have been warned.
·       *I will be doling out some £ while we are in Dalkieth to be used for things like the required bus transportation, so budget for the required day trip transportation fees also (one way trip to Edinburgh is around £1.50 or less).
·      * The castle has a workout room, bikes to borrow, golf clubs to borrow, walking/running trails, a great playground inside the castle grounds, etc. Work out clothes might get used. You may be able to go fishing in the river (it is private property, so ask politely), though it is too cold to swim (as I recall). I think there were horses to rent for riding on castle grounds as well.
·       There was a ‘public’ pay phone in the castle in the dorm area – you could receive and make calls. *Buying a phone card (a UK card, about 5 pounds sterling, got you about the equivalent of 10 US cents per minute to the US) was a cheap way to keep in touch.
·       *There will be many opportunities to shop – make sure you have room in your bags for what you buy (excess baggage on the return trip is VERY costly). Keep your receipts and if you are buying very much, ask for VAT receipts that can be turned in as you leave the country in order to get the VAT tax back from the UK government (as their taxes are rather high, this is a good deal). Often, you can only get the VAT back from ‘certified sellers’ (meaning, usually not at fairs or small shops), so ask first AND make sure you get the VAT refund receipt. I have tried to get the VAT back every time I have travelled there and have never managed to get it – either I keep making mistakes or it takes more time that you can imagine to get the refund.…. What are the specialties in Scotland? Scotch (the alcohol), but you can only bring back one liter without tax so choose wisely. Wool (the sweaters, scarves, even kilts are very nice). Silver jewelry. “Heather gems.” In England, the specialties are similar, though more eclectic as they have larger markets.
·       Reread all the stuff you got at the official orientation – you will need to register your passport number and info (get hotel info from the OIE website) with the
·      * Consider getting an insurance rider from your homeowners policy to cover your laptop if you bring it.
·       You might want to have a photo copy of your passport in the bottom of your suitcase, and/or bring your birth certificate (if you lose your passport you will need such documentation to get an emergency replacement). If you wish, I could carry a photo copy of your passport – but this is NOT required.
·       *Lee and I will have our US cell phones – that you can borrow to phone for pick up on our return, you likely won’t want yours with you. If you know that your phone can get service in the UK, BE CAREFUL – the charges can be horrendous (like $1.99 a minute and $.50 for texts, even incoming – think how many incoming texts you get…. You might not want to even bring your phone, or at least keep it off while over there). Even the so-called ‘international’ phones (IPhones, for instance) that take SIMS can get pricey, make sure you know what you are doing before incurring expenses. I will also have a cell phone that works in the UK while over there for emergencies.

·      *You will need some sort of travel alarm clock – maybe to share with your roomies. There will be NO tolerance for missing events because you overslept and using your phone alarm could lead to a lot of unwanted charges on incoming calls/texts, unless you use it in ‘airplane’ mode with no incoming calls, texts.

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