We spent 9 days road tripping around the UK in a campervan. It was an experience of a lifetime and one we’ll never forget! However, when we first started we were a little lost on how to pull something like this together; especially as we were coming from out of country. To others interested in doing a similar adventure, here’s our guide to planning a UK road trip.
Develop Your Itinerary
To begin, start by creating a list of everywhere you want to go or activities you’d like to do while on the trip. Consider this your “pie in the sky” wish list. Anything and everything should go on here. Don’t leave something out just because of potential cost or location; that will come later.
Once you have your ideal list of destinations, plot them on a map. This will help you visualize where everything is in relation to one another, which is important because you’ll ultimately need to drive from point A to point B.
We recommend using Google maps to pin your destinations. It allows you to create a custom map to save for later. You can also add notes or a link to the Pinterest/article you found on that destination.
ProTip: Save time by combining these first two steps together. While doing your research, just pin directly to the map instead of creating a separate list.
Select Your Initial Route
Using the map you created, determine a rough itinerary for the trip. You’ll be refining everything later on, so for now just cut any destinations that seem like obvious outliers from the path you’d like to take.
If you’re lost on where to start (because who doesn’t want to see it all?), then a good rule of thumb is to go where you’ve pinned clusters on the map. This will provide the most bang for your time and money. Having to travel far away for one activity will eat into your precious schedule. Now that’s not to say you shouldn’t go to those further away destinations, just make sure the detour is worth it to you.
Calculate Transit Time
It’s important to understand how long it’ll take you to get from one destination to the next. This will not only influence how many days you can spend in each spot, but you may also realize you need to add in a layover somewhere in between to break up a long travel day.
ProTip: Plan to do shorter days of driving over really long ones. This allows you to take your time and make stops along the way as you drive through new destinations. It’s one of the best things about road trips! It also gives you some breathing room on reaching your destination for the night, should something go awry (like getting lost).
Decide on Your Accommodation
Once you know where you’re going, next step is to decide your accommodation for the trip. Will you stay at hotels, B&B’s, hostels or camping? This will largely be determined by your desired comfort level, budget and availability in the places you’re headed.
Make sure to research your options for each destination in case you need to alter plans. For example, on our trip around the UK we initially planned to just rent some camping equipment and pitch a tent in each of the national parks we visited. Not only do we love to camp, but we assumed it’d be the most low-budget option as well. Oh were we wrong!
During our research we learned that wild camping (the act of camping on public land for free), is illegal across most of the country. This new information meant we’d have to pay to stay in a designated campsite each night. Additionally, there was the logistics of renting equipment in one city and returning it in another. Taking these new factors into consideration led us to renting a campervan instead of using a tent.
Finalize Your Route
Now that you know the travel distance and accommodation options for each destination, it’s time to finalize how long you’ll spend in each place.
Have you ever gone on vacation and come home needing another one because you were so busy? We have, so trust us when we say you’ll be better off cutting a few more items out of the itinerary than trying to jam them all into a whirlwind trip. Driving to a new destination each day will get tiring, fast. Instead give yourself the ability to sit back, relax and soak up the surroundings around you.
Choosing Your Road Trip Vehicle
After you’ve determined where you’ll be going, it’s time to select your road trip vehicle. If coming from out of country, there are three rental options to select from:
- Campervan, which has the added bonus of doubling as your lodging
- RV, which is essentially the same plan as a campervan, but with more bells and whistles
We initially planned to just rent a car since we hoped to tent camp in each destination. However, after deciding it’d be logistically challenging and expensive to return camping equipment from a different city (we were starting in London and ending in Edinburgh), we opted for the next best option of a campervan. Sure, it was more expensive than our planned budget allowed for, but we had our hearts set on staying in the UK national parks. Extra costs be damned!
Finding the Rental Company
The final step to planning your road trip is to determine which rental company to go with for the vehicle. We recommend making a list of what you’re looking for before reviewing companies. That way you can quickly determine if a company will meet your needs or not.
For us the four most important things we were looking for were:
- Budget friendly
- Included all the camping gear we’d need (bedding, cookware, etc.)
- Offered good insurance options
- Allowed us to pick-up in London and drop-off in Edinburgh
After reviewing multiple options online, we ultimately decided upon Spaceships Rentals. Not only were we drawn to them because of their name (who doesn’t like the idea of traveling around in a spaceship), but their basic package ticked all the right boxes. They also had good reviews from previous renters online, making us feel better about choosing a company we’d never heard of.
Here are a few reasons why we chose Spaceships over the competition:
- They offer a no-frills campervan, making it one of the cheapest options we could find.
- It was free to add up to four additional drivers for the trip. Tom did all the driving during our adventure, but had we originally planned on taking turns.
- There’s no mileage limit.
- Their rentals automatically included cookware (a stove, dishes/utensils, a kettle, etc.) and a collapsible shelter for when it was raining.
- For an additional cost we were able to add on everything else we needed, including sleeping equipment (sheets, pillows, comforter), camping chairs and gas canisters (rental includes the stove, but gas is an add-on).
- All rentals come with their 24-hour roadside assistance should an emergency occur.
- Lastly, for only a nominal charge, they offered the ability to pick-up and drop-off from different locations, with offices in both of the cities we were headed.
Go, See, Explore!
With everything finalized, all that’s left is for you to go out and enjoy your trip. Sure, there will likely be some hiccups and unforeseen challenges along the way, but that’s part of the road trip adventure.
UK Road Trip Budget Breakdown
Here we’ve provided a breakdown of the costs associated with our UK road trip. However, since everyone has their own preferences on what to see and do while traveling, the one thing not included is our entrance/activity fees. This way we’re providing the best comparison for renting, lodging and food costs.
In total we spent $1,411.92 USD over 9 days, or $156.88 per day. Yes, it was more expensive than we originally hoped, but the memories that we made are priceless.
All costs are listed in USD and GBP. At the time of the trip (May 2019) 1 USD = 0.77 GBP.
Campervan Rental Total = $730.74 / £562.67
The Campervan Rental Itself: $447.62 / £344.67
We went with their basic, bare bones ‘Voyager’ model. This meant it was a manual drive, no air conditioning, and no side windows. If you’re looking for more luxury, then we recommend upgrading to a more premium model.
Insurance Coverage: $207.79 / £160.00
We opted to get the full insurance coverage with $0 excess, meaning in an accident we wouldn’t have to pay for anything out of pocket. It was nice having the peace of mind as we headed into the country and national parks. There are cheaper insurance options available though for those preferring to take the risk and save.
Comforter Rental (x2): $38.96 / £30.00
Having just come from SE Asia, we were already cold wandering around London and knew it’d only get worse out in the wilderness. This led us to rent the basic sheets set plus an additional comforter. Thank goodness we made that decision! Those first few nights, with no heater in the campervan (and no insulation), were freezing. Even with the extra blanket we regularly slept in our clothes to stay warm. During the height of summer just one comforter and sheets set would be fine, but otherwise we recommend paying for the second set.
Gas Canister (x1): $3.89 / £3.00
The campervan rental includes one gas canister to begin. It may be enough if you’re taking only a weekend trip, or just heating water for coffee each morning. We planned to have about every other meal be hot, and so purchased one extra canister for the trip. Our rental agent then threw in another one last minute for free, bringing our total to three. This worked out perfectly, as we were almost out of fuel by the time we returned the vehicle.
Our rental agent did say they’ll give you money back for any unopened fuel canisters, so it may be worth ordering more than less if you’re unsure how many you’ll need. However, when we dropped off the vehicle, there was no one in the office that day, so coordinating a refund would have been difficult. Personally I preferred our method of skimping on the fuel and just eating more shelf stable foods to compensate.
12 Volt USB Charger: $6.49 / £5.00
Since none of the campervan pitches we booked included electricity, we knew we’d need a way to charge our equipment during the week. Renting this USB charger was supposed to be our solution. In practice, it barely worked. The plug regularly popped out of the charging socket and only gave a small trickle of power when navigation was running (which was always). Thankfully we carry an external battery pack with us and was able to use that to keep things properly charged to full. We also made sure whenever we dined out that they had power taps we could plug into.
Camping Chairs (x2) and Table Set: $25.97 / £20.00
The campervan comes with a small fold-up table that can be setup inside the vehicle. It’s comically small though, and not really large enough to do much work on. Unless you want to be hunched over, cooking on the ground, opt for the chairs and table set. You’ll be able to sit out in the sunshine and watch the clouds roll by while cooking or sipping a gin and tonic.
Nightly Caravan Pitch (a.k.a. Lodging) Total = $228.84 / £176.21
This was the cost for staying at designated touring pitches throughout our trip. To ensure we didn’t pay outrageous fees each night though, we did our best to locate budget options and book them in advance. This meant we only had access to the basic amenities (toilet, shower, drinking water) and no additional luxuries (such as laundry facilities). We recommend using campsites.co.uk when looking for places to book. They provide pictures of the site, information on the amenities and general rates.
There are more high-end touring locations available, with recreation facilities and the like. These, however, are often through campervan clubs which require an annual membership fee, on top of a nightly (albeit reduced) rate at the parks. After looking into the cost for these memberships, we found it was not worth the buy-in unless you plan to go touring for two or more weeks throughout the year. As such, all of the places we stayed were independently run.
It should be noted that some of the membership sites allow non-members to stay if there’s room, but you will be paying a more premium rate. We decided the extra cost and amenities weren’t worth it when compared to the savings we could get from the independent sites. It also meant we went over a week without washing our clothes.
We’ve also included our Edinburgh hostel in this price. Although it wasn’t part of the rental itself, Edinburgh was our final stop in our road trip itinerary, so we felt it worthwhile to include in the total.
Petrol (a.k.a. Gas) Total = $138.56 / £106.69
One local told us that the cheapest petrol is often found at grocery stores, which we found to be generally true. Because of this, we regularly timed our fill ups with grocery purchases. In general though the van was decently fuel efficient (it was diesel) and we only had to fill up three times, which was nice considering how much we drove.
As with many rental companies, we were required to return the campervan with a full tank, or otherwise face an additional charge by the company. The site in Edinburgh has a petrol station about a block away.
Food Total = $299.10 / £230.31
Groceries: $148.49 / £114.34
Our campervan had space for only a few days of food in the pantry, and hardly any cold supplies. The cooler they provided was tiny and required the car be on, which of course wasn’t functional once you parked for the day. As such, we kept to shelf-stable foods. If you want to do more cold-item cooking, we recommend either planning to purchase the refrigerated items on the day it’s needed or bring your own cooler to keep in the van.
When we cooked hot food it usually involved more pre-made meals (like canned chili or soup) to reduce fuel consumption. Otherwise, our shelf-stable breakfasts usually involved cereal (with boxed milk), and lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Car camping isn’t quite the same without a little alcohol. Instead of purchasing beer, which would have required refrigeration, we went with a bottle of gin and some shelf-stable juice boxes. It was a nice nightcap, warmed us up on the coldest of days and tasted good even though it wasn’t chilled.
Dining Out: $150.61 / £115.97
Part of traveling for us is getting to experience the local foods, so we opted to eat a few meals out along the trip. However, if we had only cooked during the trip, we likely could have reduced our overall food budget closer to $200 USD total.
Miscellaneous Costs Total = $14.70 / £11.31
This covers a few random expenses that occurred during our trip, such as parking, toll bridges and bathroom fees. Although a very small portion of the overall total, they were unforeseen expenses which everyone should be prepared for when undertaking a journey of this type.
Spaceships has a policy where they will charge an exorbitant rate if they have to take care of a toll payment on your behalf. Thankfully we were able to call in payment the one time we accidentally drove over a toll bridge. If you want to avoid these situations, our recommendation is to set your navigator to avoid tolls and it’ll direct you around them accordingly.
Would We Rent Spaceships Again?
Yes, most definitely. However, there are a few things we’d recommend to future renters:
- First, we would not pay to rent an additional USB charging cable. As mentioned earlier, it was flimsy and barley worked. We felt we could have purchased something better at the local pound store.
- Consider renting a larger campervan. While the basic van package worked for our needs, it felt a bit cramped and we quickly became tired of converting the back from sleeping to driving mode each day. It’d have been less of a problem if we stayed in one place for longer, but as we were moving regularly, I would have preferred a vehicle that allowed us to keep the bed made while still having room to access our cooking equipment.
- We each travel with approximately 40 liters of gear and found everything fit just right into the van. If you travel with larger/more luggage than this, you may have difficultly fitting it all into the basic campervan and should consider one of the larger models. Or, find somewhere to leave your excess gear for pickup after the road trip is over.
- Always make sure that you’ve received everything you paid for in your booking. We almost left the lot without our second comforter set and would not have been able to pick one up once on the road. The person who helped us was very kind, and quickly corrected the supplies once we mentioned it. It was clear though that whomever prepared our vehicle didn’t fully read the booking details. To be fair, it probably also didn’t help that we requested a second comforter, which is likely an uncommon occurrence.
- Lastly, Spaceships operates their offices on the outskirts of cities. We personally had no issues using public transit to get to their London and Edinburgh locations, but it did involve extra time and walking with all our gear in tow. If this does not sound feasible for you, then either arrange transport to/from the destination or pre-book a pick-up through their service (it’s one of the addons you can choose during booking).
Ways to Save Money on a Road Trip
Bring Your Camping Gear from Home
The cost to check a piece of luggage is much less than renting the camping equipment while in the UK. It’d also allow you to go with a car rental instead of the campervan for your road trip, which is a big savings. Unfortunately we didn’t have this option, but is one we’ll consider for potential road trips in the future.
Bring Your Own Campervan Equiptment
If you do decide to rent a campervan, then one way to cut costs is by bringing your own extras (such as bedding, camping chairs, and fold-up table). Since we didn’t have easy access to them in the UK, nor the time to go purchase used equipment from a charity shop (a.k.a. a second-hand store), we opted to rent. Bringing your own though will always be cheaper. While the cost for these items might not be much compared to everything else on this trip, it adds up, and every dollar saved can be spent towards another activity or meal on the road.
Cook for Yourself and Forego Alcohol
Although we chose to enjoy some drinks and go dining out, our food costs could have been much lower had we just done our own cooking the entire time.
Fill Up Your Gas Tank at the Grocery Store
We received a local tip that the grocery store gas stations were cheaper, and found this to be generally true. Typically we timed our fill ups with grocery store runs to be more efficient with our limited schedule.
Understand the Local Driving Laws Before Hitting the Road
The UK uses traffic cams and other ways of ticketing that’s different from the US. You’d hate to accidentally break the law and get hit with a fine after your road trip has ended. This article, by Finding the Universe, provides a good overview on the rules and what to watch out for.
Consider Purchasing a National Trust Touring Pass
A National Trust Touring Pass gives you access to over 300 National Trust sites across the UK for free. Make sure to review the list of places you plan to visit to determine if it’s worth the investment.
Travel in the off-season or shoulder-season
We had the fortune of taking our trip in May, just before high season was about to begin. This meant many of the touring sites we stayed at were still offering discounted rates