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Scotland – Intro and Equipment

Introduction

For my first overseas trip, I elected to see Scotland on a tour. Specifically, the Globus Scottish Highlands & Islands tour, or as our tour guide would say, the infamous GJ tour. GJ is the tour identifier. He warned us on the first day that this is the most unpredictable tour due to the remoteness of the locations and the weather. But I digress.

There are many companies that offer tours, but this was the most extensive I could find and visited the places I wanted to see. Talking to other people on the tour, they said the same thing, so I felt I made a good choice. There are also not many tours that will take you up to Orkney. Why a tour? While Scotland is not a large country, especially compared to Texas, to tour the entire country takes alot of driving. This tour covered about 1300 miles over 2 weeks. Driving that much, on the left side of the road, on rural roads, on single track roads, with loose sheep and other livestock did not sound fun.

I think the tour was also reasonably priced considering it included 2 meals a day and lodging and bus services. If you look at the prices now, you might not think so, but the prices for the 2012 tours are 20% higher than ours. There’s the weak dollar for you.

We reserved our flights directly through American Airlines. This probably cost more than having the tour do it, but at the time, Continental was the only option and I did not want to fly through Newark. And their departure/arrival times did not mesh with my plans.

Equipment

Obviously, I was going to take lots of photography equipment. Frankly almost everything I own came with. The major stuff:

  • Canon 40D
  • Canon S90
  • Canon 17-55
  • Canon 70-200 f/4
  • Canon 1.4x
  • Canon 400D (backup)
  • Western Digital Passport hard drive
  • iPad
  • Netbook (Asus 1000HE)

The last two were the ones I struggled with. I really did not want to bring my netbook. It’s bulky and heavy (relative to the iPad). The problem is the iPad doesn’t do USB hard drives and even if it did, there’s not a cheap, guaranteed way to read data from a CompactFlash card. Whatever backup method I did, I wanted to have two copies of it. The only way that was realistically going to happen with the iPad was to use the products from HyperDrive. But once I factored in cost, it just did not make sense. I wasn’t going to spend a few hundred for a stopgap solution (the ultimate is a tablet that can use USB hard drives). The netbook was my original stopgap solution anyway!

Option 2 was to replace the netbook with a new, lighter netbook. But I could not find any good ones that met my requirements. The final option was to get a good, cheap ultraportable laptop. A month ago there was only… one. The 11.6″ Samsung 3 Series. Only available at Staples and so new that it does not exist on Samsung’s site. But again, same problem. I would be spending hundreds more for something I would only use a couple of times a year. So in the end, everything came. I can only hope that soon there will a tablet no heaver than the iPad that will do USB properly.

Anyway, all this entailed a vast number of different batteries, cables, and adapters. It was utterly ridiculous. I hope to revamp and simplify my system next year. Unlikely, though, given that Canon doesn’t seem interested in standardizing components.

Currency

Quick note on currency. I had planned on using my Schwab debit card as it does not charge a fee for international use. Unfortunately, as I had never used it, it expired in July. I discovered this 2 days before we left. It was too late to get a replacement, so I took my normal debit card, which only charged a 1% fee.

I did ATM transactions twice. Once in Heathrow and once in Edinburgh, I believe. I was charged a 1 % fee, no more. No commission; exchange rate was spot on. I did one or two USD to Pounds using an actual person to compare. NEVER do that if you can help it. They will charge a large commission.

One thing I will look into next time is the chip and pin debit card. That way you don’t have to carry around as much cash. Not sure how much they are.

Cell Phone

Last item. I purchased a SIM card for my phone so I could make and receive calls in the UK without paying horrible rates or have a fear that I would come home to thousands of dollars of charges. I’ve read too many horror stories about that. I was going to get Telestial’s UK SIMple calling card. The rates were good, but the amount it cost to get it shipped here would have negated the cheap rates. Instead, I ordered their Passport Lite card through Amazon with free shipping. It only came with $5 so I added $30. I only used it for a few minutes so I have about $30 still on it :P. But I would rather have too much than actually need it and not have minutes. The card worked fairly well. But the first time I used it over there, it kept disconnecting me several times. After that it worked fine.

That’s all the formalities. My plan is to do one post a week, each post covering one day of the trip. With any luck, I’ll be finished by the end of the year!

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