The Isle of Man.

I’d been contemplating a trip to the UK. Not just a stopover in London (which can be awesome), but a visit to some places off the beaten track, particularly the Crown dependencies. If you have no idea what they are, you’re not alone. Three islands—Jersey, Guernsey and Man—have this rare title. They aren’t part of Europe and they’re not technically the UK. They're connected to Britain (which protects them) but each has its own flag, currency and parliament.

The Isle of Man sits halfway between Liverpool and Belfast in the Irish Sea. Guernsey and Jersey are off the west coast of Normandy, France. Often overlooked, all three are very interesting destinations.

The first step of my adventure was to get to England. I plugged in a round-trip flight from Houston to London in May through my favorite airline booking app, Skyscanner. The cheapest option was about $850 and required flying to Instanbul on Turkish Airlines from IAH and then backtracking 1,800 miles. 

I love Turkey, but 10 extra hours of flying was a little too much for this trip. I decided it might be better to deconstruct the trip using different hubs, alternative airports and flexible dates until I found the perfect itinerary.

New York's JFK is often one of the cheapest airports to get to Europe from, and this case was no exception. I was able to get a flight to Gatwick for $402 with no-frills Norwegian Airlines. Granted, they charge extra for every amenity including soft drinks, headphones and a personal item over 22 pounds— yes, only 22 pounds! It was challenging, but it could be done. It was less than half the price of Turkish Airlines. I just needed to get to New York.

Newark, NJ is connected to New York’s JFK by inexpensive transport, and Spirit Airlines flies there cheap. For $125, I was able to fly to Newark round-trip, have a day to run around New York City and still catch my London flight late in the evening. I was saving money and getting a free stopover in New York twice. Win-win.

I found a great deal on an Alamo rental car in London for $195 for nine days (around $22 a day) using carrentals.com. I've learned to go with a name brand company in the UK,  since I had a few unscrupulous, no-name British agencies try to exploit me with add-on charges in the past. Even with England's high gas prices, having a car is still a cheaper option than the train. You also have a place to leave your baggage, and more options for places to stay, since you don't have to tether yourself near the station. 

TT racing.

You can fly from Liverpool to Isle of Man with EasyJet for $70 round-trip or take the four-hour ferry for around $100 each way with your car and two people. You can get along without a car pretty easily in Man. There’s a cheap reliable bus and train system that can get you almost anywhere. I opted to park the car in Liverpool and take the cheap flight over. The Isle of Man was amazing. It’s a beautiful island with waterfalls, castles and the most famous motorcycle course in the world, the Isle of Man TT. A few days on the island was long enough to see most of the sights.

From Liverpool, I then drove four hours back to London, There’s several great towns in between including Chester and Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace.

I discovered that I could fly from the tiny LCY London airport to Jersey for $65, from Jersey to Guernsey for $35, and from Guernsey back to London for $50 with the carrier, Flybe. The cheaper fares go live during certain times of the day with flights that are less than the ferries traveling from France and much more convenient.

Doing the math, I got nine flights, a rental car for nine days (I shared it with a traveling partner), a stopover in New York, and was able to visit all three Crown dependency islands for $847. That’s $3 cheaper than the inconvenient flight from Houston to London (via Turkey). 

Lumley Castle.

A few more tips about how I was able to make the stay affordable as well as memorable:

I’ve always wanted to stay in a Scottish castle. With a little research and my hotels.com app I got a night in Lumley Castle for $95, a better deal than the local Sheraton and a much cooler option. Who doesn’t love a 700-year-old castle? A breakfast there would have cost nearly $50, so we skipped it.

I found a mansion house in Edinburgh the next night for about the same price with breakfast included. Edinburgh's downtown hotels are expensive, so driving the 20 minutes outside of town brought the price down considerably, and it was an interesting experience— having the rental car really paid off.

My final hotel hack involved my stay at Beatles-themed hotel, Hard Days Night, in Liverpool. Rooms are $250 to $350 per night on the weekend, but only $95 during the week. By adjusting the day I stayed, I saved $200. Another night I found a pub/hotel in a neighborhood where Peaky Blinders is filmed. It had free parking, and was next door to the venue where The Beatles played their first gig with Ringo. For $65, the pub stay was a fantastic bargain compared to staying downtown.

I’m always looking for unique experiences when I book my hotel as well as reasonable prices. Sometimes the planets just don’t align and that’s when Airbnb comes in handy. All three islands were expensive compared to the mainland and choices were fewer. So, we found ourselves changing from castle stays in Scotland to sharing a tiny two-bedroom house with a couple in Guernsey who loved to talk travel. The price was $45 per night compared to the alternative—hotels starting at $150 per night. Staying in someone’s home is a great way to get a real feel for local life, and the price was right.

Wherever you’re traveling, there’s almost always different price options if you know where to find them. Making hotels and flights affordable allows the possibility of traveling much more often without feeling like you’re scrimping on experiences.

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