2020 has been a tough year for holidaymakers with so many of us having to cancel dream holidays abroad. Some of us have been lucky enough to claim money back for cancelled holidays but I think all of us have heard heartbreaking stories of less fortunate people who didn’t receive a refund and lost £1000s. The current climate is putting a real damper on holiday planning but the urge to get away and escape is not going away!
Staycations in the UK are becoming increasingly popular but with a rise in popularity, the prices are also rising and make it less and less affordable for a lot of us. Having to pay £600-700 for a small basic cottage for a week in the Lakes District or £300 just so you can pitch a tent in a campsite didn’t seem like a reasonable price to me so this made me think. Is it possible to have a dream holiday in the UK without having to fork out a small fortune? Where would I go and where would I stay? Surely it wouldn’t be as good as a holiday abroad?
The short answer is YES! YES, you can have an amazing holiday in the UK! YES, you don’t need to spend a lot of money! YES, you will have the time of your life!
So, where shall you go?
One of the biggest costs of any staycation is accommodation so let’s try to avoid paying for it altogether.
Ok, that makes sense- let’s go on a camping holiday instead-but wait, we still need to pay for campsites right?
Whilst wild camping is illegal in England and Wales and you have to stay in a campsite, Scotland is the perfect destination for an adventurous wild camping holiday. Wild camping is legal in Scotland and actually heavily promoted as one of the best ways to explore the most stunning and remote scenery.
Got it! You are nearly sold on your next holiday in Scotland but it’s huge and where best to go? If this is your first time, I highly recommend North Scotland, particularly Wester Ross, Highlands, North coast and Isle of Skye. The best way to explore these parts of Scotland is by completing NC500 Road trip. There are so many wild camping spots everywhere so you don’t need to worry about not knowing where you are going to camp each night in advance. Spontaneous looking for the best spot is part of the fun!
I completed NC500 in September and there is so much to cover about planning the best NC500 trip so in this post I will talk about how to prepare for a wild camping holiday and some of the essentials you need to have. I will also include a breakdown of how much it cost for us without having to count every penny.
First things first- decision time! Sleeping in a tent vs. sleeping in a car
Both options have pros and cons. Sleeping in a tent, you don’t need to stick being near a road and can find some really pretty spots in the middle of nowhere. Having said that, the weather can be unpredictable in Scotland with rain almost a guarantee at some point during the trip. Pitching a tent and packing it every day, especially in bad weather conditions, can certainly tip some of us over the edge. You also don’t appreciate how loud the wind and rain can be until you spend a windy night in a tent!
The comfort of sleeping in a car does depend on the size of the car you have. If you have a bigger car, and an inflatable mattress then it can be as good as your bedroom plus you will have some pretty amazing views. Whilst you do need to stick to roads, these are often very quiet with many lay-bys overlooking some of the most stunning scenery in Britain. It also feels cosier and warmer as you are not sleeping on the ground. Insulation is better too so the weather is less noisy and you will sleep like a baby after a day out hiking.
We packed a tent with the best intentions to use it but slept in a car every night. It used to take us about 15 minutes to get ready to drive after waking up. Both options are great, but I would recommend a car. Whichever option you choose, do a test run and see if it’s comfortable sleeping in a car, or pitch the tent before starting the trip to make sure it’s not broken (ours hasn’t been used in four years).
Right, now that you decided on your sleeping arrangements, let’s talk about some essentials that are an absolute must-have during the trip.
- 3 Season Sleeping Bags– we travelled in September and were very warm during the nights so you could get away with a 2 season sleeping bag in summer months.
- Self-Inflating Mats– if you want to get any quality sleep no matter if it’s a tent or a car these are a must. I would advise having a patch kit as well, or another spare mat incases something happens.
- Midges are the dark side of holidays in Scotland that no one talks about so make sure that as a minimum you have Midge Face Net, Midge Spray and if they managed to get to you, a Bite Relief Click.
- Waterproofs- it goes without saying that some days, you will experience all four seasons, especially if you are in the mountains so waterproof Boots, Jackets, Over-trousers and Rucksack cover are essential.
- Head Torches and Camping Lantern for those late nights. Oh, and don’t forget some batteries.
- 2 Sporks and a Pocket Knife– that’s all you need from the cutlery draw.
- Cooking Stove and Gas Cartridges. We have Coleman Firestorm and used up nearly 2 Cartridges cooking breakfast and dinner every night plus hot water for the flask and drinks. Whatever you have, make sure that gas cartridges fit the stove ( we had to do a last-minute run to Argos as we bought the wrong cartridges first).
- Water Bottles and Travel mugs.
- Vacuum Flask– we have Lifeventure Vacuum, and it kept our drinks hot for up to 24 hours).
- Power banks– a couple of good power-banks to keep your phones/camera charged.
- Toiletries and Microfibre Towels.
Important! Parts of the Scottish highlands are really remote with long distances between villages and poor signal so a car breaking down can be very expensive. I would highly recommend to complete a major service on your car before the trip or at least a car health check and if there are any major recommendations or red flags, sort them out! Having a spare set of car keys and tyre replacement kit would also be a good idea as well as breakdown cover.
Total Spend- £200 door to door from Manchester. We have done a lot of detours to explore the areas during the NC500 and also made a few wrong turns. We then drove to the Isle of Skye after finishing NC500 clockwise in Inverness. Most people complete the route anti-clockwise if they want to travel to the Isle of Sky, saving 2.5 hours of driving. Whilst it does save a lot of miles, the drive to the Isle of Sky is amazing, and you pass Loch Ness and some truly beautiful valleys and castles along the way. With better planning of the route we wanted to take, we could have saved a further £30 on petrol, but I don’t regret taking the route we did even if it meant getting lost a few times!
Breakfast: Tesco Instant Oats Original Porridge 55G, £0.50 x 12 days x 2 people. These are not the biggest portions, so we added Aldi Peanut Butter and Bananas. This is a great option, as it’s a hot meal which is quick and easy to prepare and you can add other things to make the portions bigger. Total Spend- £15
Lunch: Always a sandwich. We used bread, spread cheese or hummus and sliced cheese with Quorn vegetarian chicken/ham slices. Total spend £30
Snacks: We had lots of homemade granola and flapjacks, chocolate bars, nuts and oranges. Total spend £30
Dinner: Naked Noodle Big Eat is a great option. They come in 4 different flavours and only cost £1 in most supermarkets. We loved these as we only had to add hot water, and it filled us up with a nice hot meal. Total spend £30
Water: we have used 10 x 5l bottles of water in total. Total spend £15
Just like everyone, we also had a few cheat days and ate out. When the weather was bad, we ate three times in a pub and once had a chippy in Ullapool. This could have been easily avoided, as we had plenty of food, but it was nice to eat out knowing that we barely spent anything this far. Total spend £100
Also worth mentioning that we had a good amount of food leftover from the trip!
Total Food/ water Spend- £220
Mountain Lakes and wild rivers are still 100% free!
Baby wipes: we had Aldi 100% Biodegradable Baby Wipes, £ 0.65 Per Pack and we used up x3 packs. Total spend £1.95
We also paid for a shower in a campsite once, it was £3 per person. Total spend £6
So in summary, we spent a total of £430 between two us and our dog Summer, and that’s including 3 really good meals in the pub. It didn’t feel like a budget holiday and has been one of the most memorable holidays I have ever had. You could easily spend a lot less and still have an amazing experience.
I can’t wait to share my next posts about the trip and if you have any questions, leave a comment below. You can also read my Most Memorable Hikes in North of Scotland here.
Stay tuned and don’t forget to subscribe for my next posts on how to make the most of your NC500 trip.