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Scotland itinerary help - to group tour or not to group tour?

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Hi everyone!

I’ve wanted to see Scotland since I was a romantic teenager, yet I’ve never been, despite all the trips I’ve taken over the years. And so here I am, planning my trip to Scotland for summer 2014.

I’ve been reading and researching for a couple of months now, and I’m more torn than ever, so I’d love some honest opinions, tips, advice, anything really.

From everything I’ve been able to glean, public transportation in the highlands of Scotland isn’t exactly awesome and since I’ll be travelling solo, renting a car for the whole trip would be quite expensive. I looked into various small tour options, and found one I quite liked with Rick Steves. I enjoyed a tour I did with them a couple of years ago in Tallinn, Helsinki and St. Petersburg. Bunking with another solo traveler to save pennies was a plus in my book, and I’m still in close contact with my roomie and several other tour mates.

But I have problems with the Rick Steves itinerary and their tour dates. While pretty comprehensive, the Rick Steves itinerary doesn’t include the Isle of Skye or Eileen Donan, both of which I would really like to see. I could do an additional tour there with a company like Rabbies, but most of the sights included in the 4-day Rabbies tour, except Skye and Eileen Donan, will have already been covered in my Rick Steves tour and it seems quite a large expense just to see those. Glasgow isn’t included either with Rick Steves, but that will be very easy to do on my own after the tour. And then there are the dates. I want to go in August so I can see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, but between family and work commitments around that time, my departure and return dates are pretty much set in stone. While I’m across the pond, I was hoping to go to London again, see a couple of the sights I missed my first trip and one that was covered in scaffolding (I’m looking at you, or wanting a look at you, Tower of London), then go north to York, explore the Yorkshire countryside, its ruins, moors and dales, stop very, very briefly in Durham and then hike along Hadrian’s Wall before taking the train to Edinburgh. I’ll be rushing to see all that I want to see in England and make it to Edinburgh in time for the tour departure date.

So, what should I do? I could start with the Rick Steves tour of Scotland and then go south, freeing up a bit more time for England, but I’m thinking I’d like to build up to Scotland, my dream destination. I’m afraid London would just feel blah after that, especially since I’ve already been there and I’ll be tired from a long trip. Or I could not do the Rick Steves tour at all. I could instead do a couple of Rabbies tours. There may be a bit of overlap here and there, but it won’t be as drastic as after a Rick Steves tour. Or should I try to go it completely alone? Or maybe the Isle of Skye and Eileen Donan aren't worth a look, I should bone up on vitamins to get it all done and stop worrying? What say you all?

And thanks in advance! (Especially for reading my endless post, if you've made it this far.)

Julie

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