Haggis Adventures, the longest running budget tour company in the UK for backpackers and independent travellers, is a fantastic way to see Scotland, England and Wales - especially if you are on limited funds.
They are not your usual tour company as they do things a little bit differently.
What you get when you sign up with them is the freedom of choice.
Why pay for a meal you don't want or entry to an attraction that's not for you? Accommodation, meals and entrance fees are not included in the package, and this allows you to keep your options open.
You can buy or cook your own food, give an attraction a miss, or treat yourself to a hostel room upgrade. Accommodation is guaranteed but you have to pay the hostel directly for whichever type of room you choose.
What's included are transportation in a cute yellow coach and a local tour guide who doubles up as the bus driver. The tour guides are young, well-trained, highly entertaining and knowledgable about the local history and culture.
Haggis will take you to some of the best and least known places in the UK. A walk to the top of a wild mountain, a stroll through a stunning glen or magical forest, a visit to ancient battlefields or a cruise on the mysterious Loch Ness - it's really a tour off the beaten path for tourist-phobic travellers.
Their tours are flexible so you can change your plans depending on the weather, the groups' preferences and the time of the year. If you see something you like along the way, let the driver know and he'll be more than glad to make a few extra stops.
Your travel mates will most likely be youths 18 to 28 years old on extended breaks, covering several countries during their journey. You get the occasional older travellers but they tend to be young at heart and usually fit in perfectly with the rest of the youngsters.
Haggis is also renowned for their reliability as they have never cancelled a tour.
|From left: Mike Konopinski and Brandi Redfern from the US, and Emily and Paul Mead from Australia at Doune Castle.
Brandi Redfern & Mike Konopinski, both 27
"This is actually my second time on this tour. My first time was in 2002, and I loved it so much that I wanted to share it with my partner Brandi.
Some of the activities have changed and the route is slightly different. It's better the second time round as Brandi is here with me," said Starbucks system analyst Mike Konopinski, who was travelling with his partner of seven years, Brandi Redfern, an accountant with Ernst & Young.
They were in the second week of their six-week holiday in the UK, Eastern Europe, Italy and Prague. It was Redfern's first time out of America, and she was enjoying herself.
"I like the camaraderie of the group. I especially like the pub night which featured a boys' choir. The accommodation wasn't the best but it was a cool concept nevertheless," she said.
"It's fun to learn about other people's culture and to learn about the history of the place. Greg, our guide, does a great job with his information and funny jokes. I think we made the right choice with this tour as it shows you the best parts of Scotland, especially the non-touristy places. The Faerie Falls were the most memorable of all," smiled Konopinski.
Emily, 25 & Paul Mead, 24
Emily Mead, a nurse, and IT Consultant Paul Mead got married seven weeks prior and were in the fifth week of their six-month honeymoon covering the UK, Europe and parts of the Middle East. They said they heard about Haggis Adventures through friends who had been on the tour.
"Staying in the haunted castle was the most memorable part of the trip, and we got to be with nice people and learn about their travels from them. Going to the highlands by ourselves would have been quite expensive, so it is better this way.
"Greg is an awesome tour guide and it's nice to have someone else driving for a change," said Emily.
Before the Haggis tour, the couple travelled on their own in a car, covering France and south England.
"Travelling with Haggis takes the stress out of driving. It allows us to see sights which we would not have known about otherwise. The Faerie Falls were fantastic and the hunt for Nessie on Loch Ness was great. I enjoyed the haunted castle too and, fortunately, the only blood- curdling scream was from me hitting the cold showers in the morning," joked Paul.
The Meads said they would continue the Europe leg of their travel with Busabout, a hop-on, hop-off bus network.
Greg MacBride, 28
As the tour guide and bus driver for Haggis Adventures, Greg MacBride's job is perhaps an enviable one.
"I love my job as I love showing Scotland off. Although I'm on the road most of the time, from one-day trips to half-month tours, I don't feel homesick because I like being on the road.
"It's a lifestyle, not a job. I like meeting people from all over the world and going for walks in the highlands. I still remember the first time I stayed in the haunted castle. Lots of ghost stories flying around then!" recalled MacBride.
MacBride joined Haggis four years ago because he wanted to learn more about his homeland.
"I had travelled to Central America, Asia and Australia, but sadly I hadn't seen much of Scotland. Joining Haggis was a great opportunity to see the land I was born in and learn about our proud Scottish history."
MacBride said that a Haggis guide must be friendly, sociable, relaxed, easy-going and, most importantly, have a sense of adventure.
"It's a tiring job but extremely rewarding. I've never regretted my move and I look forward to more adventures with people I will meet along the way," he said.
For details, visit www.haggisadventures.com
A highland adventure