Category: Land travel

What to Expect from This Giant’s Causeway Tour

A visit to Northern Ireland would not be complete without a trip to the Unesco World Heritage Site, The Giant’s Causeway. Flanked by a rugged coastline and stretching out into a tumultuous Atlantic Ocean, the causeway is an awe inspiring site. Formed by 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, it is over 62 million years old. Science tells us that it was formed during a volcanic eruption, but those of a more romantic nature prefer to believe the mythical tale that the causeway was laid by the Giant, Finn McCool.

If you choose to take the award winning Giant’s Causeway Tour, organised by Allen’s Tours, here is a little of what you can expect from your day. The tour begins at 9:30 am in Belfast. You can choose to depart from one of the convenient pick-up points dotted around the city. Alternatively, it is possible to pre book a complimentary shuttle pick-up from your hotel or guest house.

Once on board your bus, sit back and relax knowing that you’re safe in the hands of your knowledgeable driver and tour guide. As you make your way out of the city of Belfast, prepare to enter another realm as you experience some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

“I wish I was in Carrickfergus,
Where the castle looks out to the sea.”

The lyrics of this famous Irish folk song couldn’t be more appropriate as you make the first stop on your journey. The gateway to the beautiful Causeway Coast, Carrickfergus is home to a stunning Norman castle that you are free to explore. Take the opportunity to step back in time and stroll around the castle walls or climb the winding stairwells and take in the magnificent views across the harbour.

Back on board and it is time to head north. Look to your right and the Irish Sea stretches eastwards to Scotland. Look to the left and the Nine Glens of Antrim are laid out in all their emerald beauty. As you travel along the winding coastline the gorgeous views change constantly, quaint villages, historic castles, seascapes, waterfalls, bridges and stunning glens take the breath away.

Moving along the coast you may feel the scenery becomes more familiar. This could well be the case if you watch the TV serial Game of Thrones. Used as a backdrop for some of its scenes, the tiny village of Ballintoy is famous for another reason too. Stopping in the village, you will be given the opportunity to cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. The infamous rope bridge spans the gap between the mainland at Ballintoy and the tiny island of Carrickarede. Not for the faint hearted, it requires some daring to make the trip across this bridge. For those who would prefer to keep their feet on terra firma, there is the opportunity to take in the lovely views and fresh sea air.

A short drive down the road and it is time for lunch at “The Giant’s Causeway Cafe”. Lunch is not included in the price of the tour and with only 30 minutes to stop and grab a bite, it may be worth considering taking a picnic to eat at a more leisurely pace.

With one more stop before your destination, those who enjoy a tipple will appreciate the next part of the excursion. Established in 1608 The Bushmills Whiskey Distillery is the oldest working distillery in Ireland. Priding itself on its local roots, generations of families have worked here producing fine Irish whiskey. As well as the opportunity to tour the distillery, there is the chance to sample the wares in the tasting room before buying your very own drop of Ireland in a bottle.

The afternoon is spent at the outdoor museum, The Giant’s Causeway. Once there you can choose to pick up a hand held audio guide and explore at your own pace. Alternatively, you can take a tour with one of the rangers who will explain the history of the causeway. The indoor Visitors’ Centre allows you to discover more about the mythology and science of the area through interactive displays. Other facilities include a gift shop, toilets and a coffee shop.

Whichever way you choose to explore, there really is something for everyone. An area of outstanding natural beauty, you can investigate the basalt polygons that rise from the ground, follow the coastal paths in search of flora and fauna or spot the many varieties of birds and wildlife. For the true believers search instead for Finn McCool’s Cave, the Giant’s Boot or the Wishing Chair.

The end of the day and time to climb on board the bus for the return trip to Belfast. But just when you thought Allen’s Belfast Bus Tours had shown you all there was to see, they have one more surprise stop.

The ruins of Dunluce Castle perch precariously on the cliffs of Antrim overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Joined to the mainland by an arched walkway and built above a secret cave, it is hauntingly beautiful. Woven into its long history are tales of mermaids, smugglers and piracy. A fairy tale castle, it provides the perfect backdrop for those keen to catch a romantic image of Irish history.

While the sun sets on what is hoped was a perfect day, it is time to head homeward to Belfast. As night falls you just have time for a nap before reaching your destination. Perhaps if you are really lucky you will dream of castles, mermaids and returning to The Giant’s Causeway, one day very soon.

Road trip that covers all 50 states

Here’s a short story with a big map.

Randy Olson first used his algorithm to develop a Where’s Waldo search. In the story I link, Olson uses his algorithm to route a road trip that hits all 48 continental United States. In each state you get a national natural landmark, national historic site, national park or national monument. They estimate under 10 days with no stops, 2-3 months with stops.

Cross Country National Park Trip: towing and route advice

Question: Have some time off from work, planning a cross country road trip. 25 years old and not sure when else I would have this kind of opportunity. Plan on hitting a few of the big national parks over a 6 week period (Glacier, Tetons, Rushmore, Yellowstone, Arches, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, etc.)

I will be towing my friends 17′ travel trailer. It has a weight of 2850 lbs dry, about 3500 gross weight. I have RV/camping experience. Unfortunately my CRV will not tow that (its also brand new not trying to destroy the transmission). I am looking at buying a used suv/truck putting a transmission cooler and brake controller on it (maybe a V8 Explorer) then selling when I get back. I looked into renting but most rental companies do not allow towing and it would be cheaper to buy and then sell a couple months alter than to pay the $45 a day for a car.

Any recommendations on reliable tow vehicles with decent mileage (all things considered)? What advice would you have for towing, and towing long distance. Any other advice regarding the trip route would be greatly appreciated!

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As always, reader comments are most welcome. I actually got some good towing advice from someone who just went through a similar scenario. Sadly he said there is no good answer currently available.

The first thing that you need to know is that tow ratings are usually given for an empty tow vehicle with a 150-pound driver. The weight of all optional equipment and any other payload (other people, luggage, tool box, etc.) must be subtracted from the tow rating. So that will lower your effective tow rating from the opening number.

Also travel trailers are boxy and have a lot more wind resistance than something like a boat trailer or a even a streamlined snowmobile trailer. And you also want a good margin of reserve over the minimum tow rating to make up for loss of performance at altitude (3% loss of engine power for every 1,000-feet above sea level), to give you some extra margin for passing situations, and to keep you from outright abusing the tow vehicle by overworking it.

Although you can tow with a front wheel drive vehicle, it isn’t the best thing to do because the hitch weight (should be 8 to 13% of the trailer load rating) will be pushing down on the back end of the tow vehicle with takes weight off the front end. So rear wheel drive vehicles with a full frame are the preferred tow vehicles, although really solid unibody models like the Jeep Grand Cherokee can get the job done pretty well, too.

So, you probably need to look at vehicles with at least a 5,000-pound tow rating. That eliminates virtually all the 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder cross overs that are so popular now.

The Chevy Traverse is right there at 5,000-pounds tow rating, but it’s a Chevy and a front-wheel drive one at that. Don’t know how you feel about them but personally I wouldn’t touch one with a ten foot pole. Ditto its butt-ugly GMC cousin. An old style Nissan Pathfinder would work, but they are pretty crude vehicles in some ways and new ones are fast disappearing. The new Pathfinder is only rated to tow 3,500-pounds, which is par for the course for most of the cross overs. Same for the mid-sized Toyotas, and towing reports on the big Nissans and Toyotas (Armada and Sierra) are not very good.

There isn’t anything that will handle your trailer properly that will give you gas mileage like you are accustomed to. But the full sized GM SUVs (Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon) seem to do a little better on gas than most of the others. The Durangos are not as good, although the new ones should be better than the old ones. The ’99 Durango that I had was optimized for towing in winter was bad on gas. On one multi-day, multi-state trip I noted that my buddy’s Tahoe got a mile or two per gallon better than I got despite the fact that his truck was a bit bigger. My ’06 Explorer rear wheel drive V-8 does somewhat better, but this vehicle is no longer available new. Current Explorers are front wheel drive on what is essentially a Taurus chassis.

The Ford Ecoboost twin-turbo does get around the altitude problem, and they get very good gas mileage when running light without a trailer, but suck gas like crazy when towing because they are working hard. And I think the only rear wheel drive choice for this engine is a pickup truck although it might be available in an Excursion.

But a 4-door pickup might be your best solution, if you can live with it. GM, Ford, and Ram all offer diesels now, too, and the mileage with gas engines from all of them is better than it used to be.

Good luck with the towing business. Personally, I’m not sure towing a trailer is the way to go. You get to take your home with you and don’t have to pack/unpack, but you’ll spend on gas and camping fees, and the trailer will be a major pain when you’re navigating the switchbacks (and there will be a lot of them in your trek)

Let’s talk about your route. It’s awesome but here are some ideas:

1) Drive back on a different route – no use seeing the same thing twice. Consider coming through KC, St. Louis across KY and WV, and then up through Shenandoah NP.

2) Buy a National Parks Permit for the year.

3) Check out the Navaho Nation Parks, namely Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley when in Arizona/Utah. Two of my favorite experiences from the trip.

4) After Rushmore go to Devil’s Tower, it’s not too far out of your planned route and it’s cool. Also, Rushmore on July 3rd is Fireworks – totally worth it.

5) Glacier is amazing, and I thought it was worth it to go into Canada to Wateron Lakes park too. Depends on your time. Also, I don’t know when you are going, but make sure the Going to the Sun rd is open. They are usually plowing snow off until late june.

6) If driving across Iowa, and you are a baseball fan – Field of dreams is pretty cool.

7) Invest in a good camera and learn how to use it.

8) When driving across Minnesota on I-90, if you see a sign for a 55 ft tall Jolly Green Giant, get off that exit and see the darn thing. Biggest regret was missing that.

9) The Michell Corn Palace however wasn’t really worth the stop.

10) Looking back I’m upset we didn’t do more of the Utah national parks, so I’m jeaolous of that.

11) I would strongly suggest the Henry Ford Museum and/or Greenfield Village. Very family oriented and a historical gem. Located in Dearborn and it seems you are passing it anayway.

12) Although it’s slightly West of your current route, Death Valley is amazing and may be worth a few extra miles.

On the Road for 17,527 Miles

Here’s a funny one: Would you follow the exact route Jack Kerouac took in On the Road?

I loved On the Road (the book, not the movie), but when I look at these directions I think there is no possible way I would ever follow them. Sure, part of me thinks it would be cool to follow Jack Kerouac’s route across America. But part of me would hate that the road trip lacked the improvisation that made On the Road fun and unpredictable.

Anyway, what about you? Would you use these directions for something?

Car travel in the UK

When my wife and I moved from Korea to America, one of the things we were looking forward to were the road trips. And after driving from Orlando to Boston and few lesser road trips around the South, we have managed to put more than 11,000 miles on our 6-month-old Honda CR-V.

So what if we wanted to do it again? I mean we could move to New Mexico and drive around the Southwestern US, but what if we really did it again – just moved to a new country, bought a car, and started driving? Sure I might need to work a little bit to save up for such an adventure but what would it cost to buy a Honda in the UK. Our CR-V has been good to us on our road trips but we could go more economical too. Car deals from Honda UK seem comparable to those in the US. I’m not sure about taxes and insurance though. I know gas is going to cost more, and I know diesel is more popular in Europe than in the US for passenger cars. The new Honda Civic Diesel sounds like fun. Or stick with what we know and like, the CR-V.

But in exchange for the money you could take some nice, long road trips. I know I have seen tons of self-drive tours in Ireland where you drive yourself from one tourist attraction to the next. I haven’t heard of as many self-drive tours in England, but I know they have lots of bus tours (I went to Canterbury on one) so driving has to make some sense for seeing England.

Just looking at the map, and thinking out loud, here’s one possible drive around the UK.


I don’t think I’ll attempt a summary here. I spent a week in London, but there’s plenty left for me to do, I’m sure.


Long-time readers may remember that I have a friend studying at Oxford. He’s still there and I’m still looking to visit him before he finishes his PhD. Known as the ‘city of the dreaming spires’ – a term first coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the gentle spires and harmonious architecture of the city’s university building, Oxford is most famous for its big university. It’s not bad for literature or movie fans either, with lots of links to both. Candlelit evensong in college chapels reminds me of my time in Westminster Abbey in London. Shakespeare in the park reminds me of my time in NYC. And being a college-town, you know there will be stuff to do.


Bath is a World Heritage Site, developed around its hot spring waters discovered by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. Most people go to see the famous Roman Baths that remain. Thanks to the tourist trade, there are a good number of museums, galleries, gardens and other tourist attractions.


A short drive from Bath, and still not very far from London, we have Bristol, the capital of the South West of England. This historic maritime city has different festivals and events depending on what time of year you’re in town. The most famous are probably the waterfront regattas and the ballooning. There’s shopping at Cabot Circus,fresh food markets in the medieval Old City, restaurants and cafes on the Harbourside and theaters and concert halls. Nearby is Gloucestershire and The Cotswolds.

From there you’d probably want to drive along the coast and visit some nice coastal towns in Wales, but I’ll need to do a bit more research before continuing the particular trip.

Will the great American road trip get more expensive as fuel efficiency increases?

Here’s the Yahoo blog entry that inspired this post. The article describes the American political movement to require us to pay by how many miles we drive in order to overcome a problem – revenue from the gas tax has declined substantially. As cars’ fuel efficiency has gone up the government has lost income it relied upon to maintain the roads. The easiest solution would be to simply increase the taxes on gas to cover the difference. However that doesn’t work anymore since we have electric car drivers using the roads without sharing in the costs to maintain them.

It seems hard to believe this could happen, but it seemed even more improbable several years ago. Besides – less motivation for fuel efficient cars, loss or privacy as the government tracks how many miles you drive (and presumably where you drive them, more tax for us – seems pretty likely really.

I-95 weather conditions and planning a trip from Boston down to Florida

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas and is gearing up for a happy New Year. In our case, Christmas in Boston was a real treat and well worth a tough drive to be with family.

And the drive was tough mostly due to poor planning so we’ll drive back south a little bit wiser, if not smarter.

For one, we will be leaving during the day, not long after we wake up. Last time we left at midnight and even though I had taken a nap, I was driving sleepily by 6:00 am.

And we will plan our trip according to the weather. I found this Weather webpage to be a hugely useful resource, so I hope anyone planning along trip along Interstate 95 finds the same page.

And we might try to plan where we’ll be stopping Sunday night (since we leave Sunday morning). We have a few spots where there’s something to do. Do we want to make it half way on Sunday or split the trips into thirds? On the way up to Boston, we just stopped in any old fleabag motel that advertised a cheap price on the side of the road. We might not do that again…

Driving up I-95 from Florida to New York & Massachusetts

Having lived in Korea for a while, it’s been a long time since I’ve driven more than 4 or 5 hours. In the last day or so I guess we drove about 18. It was tough.

Part of that is probably because I’m out of practice. Part of it is probably because I’m 12 years older than I was last time I made a long-haul drive. And part of it was probably bad planning.

We left home around midnight and had no traffic driving through Flordia in the middle of the night. Even construction in Jacksonville on 95 couldn’t do much to slow us down.

But we began to flag as the sun came up and by 8 or 9 in the morning we stopped at a rest area to nap in the car for a couple of hours. We then drove until about 5:00 PM. We were tired but I could have kept going. The only problem was comfort – our backs and necks hurt. We got a hotel room and figured we’d sleep from 7:00 pm to 4:00 am. Then we’d finish off Virginia and get through DC before morning rush hour.

We ended up leaving at 2 am (my wife couldn’t sleep so she woke me up to let me know and then told me to go back to bed while she ate and watched TV – even when she finally went back to bed I couldn’t go back to sleep.) Even going through Washington DC at 5:30 we saw that 95 was getting crowded. Leaving at 2:00 wasn’t so bad. The problem was with three hours of sleep, we were still tired.

So after DC and Baltimore we took a nap at a rest area in Maryland, about 6-9. Then we drove the rest of the way to my friend’s house in Queens (a silly way since my cheapo Garmin navigation things shortest driving time includes going through the Lincoln Tunnel and driving through the hear of Manhattan on 42nd street to the Queens Midtown Tunnel and then onto 495 – at least the dogs got to see Times Square).

In conclusion, I am wiped out. I think my days of driving all night and then all day are done. But the real conclusion is that we’re with friends now and we’ll be with family tomorrow.

Where are you going for Christmas and/or New Year? Are you driving?

“The year-end holiday season remains the least volatile of all travel holidays as Americans will not let economic conditions or high gas prices dictate if they go home for the holidays or kick off the New Year with a vacation,” say AAA president and CEO Robert Darbelnet.

Based on interviews with 655 Americans, AAA is predicting that 93.3 million Americans will be driving for the holidays, 400,000 people shy of the 2006 record. That’s about 25% of Americans on the road in two weeks or less. I’ll be one of them.

AAA estimates gas prices between 3.20 and 3.40, record high for the season even though gas has dropped 50 cents a gallon on average since September. I was thrilled to pay 3.13 today. I’m a little scared of driving up I-95 through DC and NY on my way to Boston.

Road trip: Florida, Alabama, Georgia

So moving from Seoul to Florida was crazy. The move involved some last minute packing and shipping so we now have 7 boxes waiting for us in Atlanta, Georgia.

The shipping company said they could send them to us for $600. I said for that money I’ll just pick them up myself and use that 600 for a nice little road trip.

So looking at the map, here’s what I see. It’s a pretty straight drive from Orlando to Savannah. Then Savannah to Atlanta. Then a pretty long 8 hour drive from Atlanta back to home. And I get to see two popular cities I’ve never seen before.

But what if we took a more circuitous route? What if we went to Tallahasse (if there’s anything to do there – I don’t really know but it sure stands out on the map), then DeFuniak Springs (small town with a lake, a vineyard, a heritage museum in an old railroad depot, and Victorian architecture), then Mobile, Alabama (again I know nothing except it stands out on the map and I’ve never been), then Birmingham or Columbus, then Atlanta. Maybe stop in Savannah on the way home.

So what do you think? Of the following, which cities are must visits? Am I skipping something very cool and somewhat nearby these places? I know Huntsville is not too far off course, but it is north of Atlanta so i might save it for another time, like when I drive to Boston for Christmas.

DeFuniak Springs

I figure I’ll hit Savannah, which I’ve heard lots of nice things about, and I have to be in Atlanta to get my boxes sot hat’s 100% for sure. The big decision is Savannah only, or the long way? And where to stop on the long way.