Plans for my upcoming British Countryside Literary Tour are definitely progressing!
I have booked accommodations for my two nights in Oxford, and found something that looks quite nice, reasonable and convenient via Airbnb. A few years ago, I would never have thought of staying in someone's home, but now having used Airbnb as a host, and seeing the sort of checks and balances their system provides to help you ensure you will get what you pay for, I now think it's an excellent way to find inexpensive places to stay when traveling on a budget. For starters, while they billed my credit card for the full price of the room, the homeowner doesn't receive that money until the day AFTER I arrive, which means if I get there and there is any sort of problem, I can contact Airbnb immediately to stop the reservation and find myself another place to stay. Also, you can select locations where the homeowners have received multiple good reviews from past guests (hosts can also have their Facebook friends enter positive remarks about them, but these are counted separately from actual guest reviews, and frankly I wouldn't book a room solely on the say-so of someone's Facebook posse). For both the rooms I have booked in Oxford and Bath, the homeowners each had more than 15 positive reviews, a number of them very recent. They were also very prompt and efficient in responding to me when I contacted them. I'm renting from a couple in one instance and from a woman in the other; as a woman traveling alone, I wouldn't rent from a man living alone. So, I feel confident it will work out well. And I'm an easy guest to have around, and the hosts can also leave me reviews as to how clean and well-behaved I was when staying in their home; those will be added to my overall Airbnb profile. Everything balances out.
Today I sat down and finalized the times of day I want to travel by train from place to place, doing my best to estimate how much time in each city I want to allocate for sight-seeing. I am resigned that in such a short time, I have to be choosy about what I see and do, and I won't be able to see and do everything I would ideally want. I went to TheTrainLine.com web site, and for each step of the trip, plugged in the details and was given the best possible rates; they ranged from as little as £5.00-6.00 to as much as £30.50. In total, for 6 tickets (one of them a round-trip between Oxford and Stratford, the rest all one-way) it came to £100 which includes taxes, booking fees and the shipping costs to get me the tickets (I could have printed them from a machine when I arrive in London but figured if there were any complications I might miss my first train to Oxford).
Compare this price, and an hour or so of my time to get it all worked out and booked using the web site, to the cost of a Britrail pass (about £150) or renting a car (more than £200) and clearly I chose the best deal. For some of the tickets, I'm limited to that exact train, no flexibility and no refunds if I change my plans; for others, especially on the last day when I've got a tight schedule from Bath to Salisbury to Winchester to London complete with sightseeing in Salisbury and Winchester, I chose the more expensive tickets with more flexibility -- just in case.
I expect to be exhausted but happy by the time I stumble onto the Eurostar that last evening at 8:01pm for the trip back to Paris.
Next up: booking one of those open-roof buses in Stratford to get around more easily and quickly; figuring out exactly what DO I want to see while in Oxford; making a reservation for tea at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and sorting out when to see the actual baths in Bath; and getting down to the final details. The "details" include figuring out how to pack with only a smallish backpack for luggage, where I must leave space for my Macbook Air (and charger and UK-France plug adaptor) so I can offload photos from my camera every day.
I have three weeks before the school holidays begin and we head to Saint Raphael, and everything has to be ready to go before then. So I have at least a week before I go into full panic mode, worrying about if I've forgotten anything important in planning this trip. But mostly I'm still just EXCITED!
Read all the posts for my 2013 British Countryside Literary Tour: