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Adventures In Scotland Tips and Thoughts

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Even though my husband and I are both decently traveled and good planners, 16 days in Scotland will teach anyone a few things. With the help of my brood, I’ve compiled a helpful list of tips and thoughts for anyone planning a trip there.

Accommodations 

Self Catering – This is renting an apartment, cottage, guest house, or house.

Usually all the basics like towels, a full kitchen setup with utensils, dishes, pots and pans, a refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot, and tea kettle are included. Sometimes local information is put together for your use as well.

Questions to ask:

What supplies are included in the rental?  

  • Dish soap
  • Dishwasher detergent
  • Cooking seasonings and oil
  • Laundry detergent
  • Body wash or soap
  • Paper towels 
  • Napkins 
  • Toilet paper
  • Foil, baggies, plastic wrap
  • Hand soap
  • Trash/Rubbish bags

What amenities are included?

  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only)
  • Internet wi-fi)
  • Cable or satellite 
  • Radio
  • DVD player
  • Hair dryer
  • Parking (Street, private parking garage, private space)
  • Elevator/Lift if on upper floor
  • Trash disposal and recycling location
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Inn or Bed and Breakfast

What supplies are included?

  • Soap
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Coffee/Tea service in room

What amenities are included?

  • Refrigerator in room or one available to store items
  • Microwave in room or available for use
  • Laundry (washer and dryer or washer only). If not on premises, is there easy access to  a self service laundromat/launderette?
  • Parking  
  • Portable crib
  • High chair

Access and Proximity to:

  • Public transit
  • Airport
  • Train station
  • Stores
  • Restaurants 
  • Attractions and places of interest

Are pets allowed?

Renting a car and drivng

Scotland is a right hand drive, left side of the road using, roundabout infused country with narrow roadways. We drove more than 2,000 miles and have little doubt why natives travel outside their local area very little.

  • Does your regular automotive insurance cover rental vehicles 
  • Do you know how to drive a stick and shift with your left hand? Most rental vehicles are a manual transmission. Automatic transmission vehicles are at a premium fee.
  • Is your driver’s license legal to drive with in Scotland?
  • Diesel fueled vehicles are popular. Be very aware of which pump you are using.  
  • Petrol is sold by the litre and is quite pricey.
  • A sat nav unit is absolutely necessary and worth the money whether you add maps to your own and bring it or rent one with the vehicle. Navigating roads are terrifically difficult without one because signage is near useless to the non-local.
  • Knowing the basic road rules and signage prior to visiting is immensely helpful. 
  • The Scottish Mile takes much longer to drive than the American mile due to road conditions, lower speed limits, weather, and the dastardly roundabouts (even on the motorways). 100 miles can easily take 3.5 hours to drive.
  • Expect to get lost often.
  • Parking within towns and cities is almost all for pay and difficult to come by.
  • On single lane roads that abide two-way traffic there are cutouts for each direction to pull over to allow for passing.
  • In unsigned areas the speed limit is 30 MPH. Some may be 60 MPH but be wise.
  • Buses local and tour types are everywhere.
  • People jaywalk constantly. Awareness is  critical.
  • Be cautious of rental car companies upselling you extras you do not need.

All of that said, it was totally worth the stress and frustrations my husband and I each experienced behind the wheel being able to drive ourselves everywhere.

Of food and beverages

Dining out

  • American fast food chains are ever present in the mix if you desire.
  • Water must be requested. Servers would bring us a pitcher. 
  • Coffee comes white (with milk) or black. Thankfully the coffee is quite good, even in petrol stations.
  • Take away is the verbiage for take out.
  • All types of cuisine are available, but interpretation of each cuisine of the non-Scottish variety is highly variable. Stick to regional foods.Though I’ve been told Italian and Indian food are very good in Glasgow.
  • Chips are served with almost everything.
  • Foods are minimally salted.
  • Cups and glasses are small. 
  • Get local recommendations to have the best culinary experiences.
  • Do try a full Scottish breakfast or at least all the components.
  • I liked the haggis, the husband did not.
  • I liked the black pudding aka blood sausage, the husband did not.
  • The porridge is good, if you have a penchant for it already.
  • In pubs that serve food, you place the order at the bar and a server brings it to your table.
  • 5-10% is the going rate for tipping.
  • Most places are family friendly.
  • If you like a burger less than well done, you must request it.

Grocery Shopping

  • Stick to non-American products for the best prices.
  • Food labels are different and lack complete ingredient listings.
  • Jams, juices all have added sugar in them.
  • Deli meat is a very different purchasing experience.
  • Eggs are not refrigerated. They come in 6, 12, and 15 count. Caged and free range. Uniform or different sizes.
  • Fruits and vegetables are overall well priced and delicious.
  • There are small, medium, large, and even Walmart type superstores. Something for everyone.
  • Many items do not come in the variety of sizes and options Americans are used to.
  • Costco is in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We were thankful for inexpensive dinners there a few nights. 
  • There are small natural grocers a la Whole Foods around.
  • Cheese comes in number grades the higher the number the more sharp it is.

Communication and Connectivity

  • Buy a local throwaway phone that uses purchased minutes and data upon arrival at the airport or in any of the bigger grocery  stores. 
  • If your phone’s SIM card is unlockable (contact your cellular provider to find out), you can purchase a local SIM card that makes your phone usable.

Either option is more affordable than adding a temporary international  plan to your existing service.

Free internet wifi hotspots are available in many pubs, restaurants, museums, however, they are not secure servers. Do not do banking or purchasing through your phone. Internet services should be secure whenever a password is required. Internet is slower than what is usual in the US.

Power

  • A converter unit can be purchased locally at a store such as Maplin for items that require a two or three pronged plug for safe charging at a reasonable  price.
  • Cheap adapters might cause damage to your tech.
  • USB rechargeable tech can be plugged into your rental car’s USB charger. 
  • A portable charging brick is also an option.
  • Do your own research as to what you ought buy before leaving your own country.

Money

  • Change dollars into Scottish Pounds at a bank to reduce service fees.
  • The exchange rate changes daily.
  • Carrying coins are a must for parking payment.
  • Your debit card is usable pretty much anywhere.
  • Scottish Pounds may be refused if you go to England though effectively it is the same currency.

Quirks and Unique Flavors

  • Grilled haggis and cheese sandwiches are popular.
  • Trash cans or bins tend to be small.
  • Traffic cones when utilized are abundant.
  • Locals are terribly apologetic over anything.
  • Politeness seems to rule common behavior.
  • There are signs warning of elderly people crossing.
  • Only 7 cities exist in Scotland. The rest are towns.
  • Sadly, very few kilt wearers exist.
  • Instead of government holidays, they have bank holidays.
  • People say “cheers” often.
  • Crappy American beer sells for a premium.
  • Black currant flavored drinks and foods are everywhere.
  • Bring layers to wear. The weather is erratic.
  • Depending on your ear for accents, you may or may not understand what is being said to you.
  • Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig) appears on the street signage alongside English.

Bottom line, go and have an adventure. It is a lovely country, with great people, and terrifically moody weather,  Our next trip is already in the works.  We really enjoyed visiting the Historic Scotland and National Trust for Scotland locations. Passes can be bought at Tourism outlets or online to give a considerable savings per place to visit.  Visit Scotland  is a wonderful resource as well.

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14 thoughts on “Adventures In Scotland Tips and Thoughts

  1. Peigi says:

    Rental car tips from an about to be retired travel agent:

    Besides online, check prices at AAA or from an American Express affiliated travel agent. It’s good to have someone with clout to go to after the fact, should you have problems. (membership and/or use of AX credit card not necessarily required)

    Ask if pre-paying is cheaper. Paying in advance in dollars can also save you extra international charges on your credit card.

    Check again intermittently and about a week before travel. Rates change all the time.

    When signing the contract on arrival, do NOT accept when they ask if you want to pay in dollars, rather than the local currency. Another gouge.

    After reserving, go online to the car company involved (note your confirmation number and look for view/manage/change my reservation tab) Read all the fine print, if your eyes don’t cross first – Car rental companies can be worse than airlines for dinging you, and that is saying a lot!

    When picking up the car, take cellphone photos all around, including the tires, to prove state of the car.

    Check your credit card info to see if you have any discount numbers (known as CD numbers) You might have to pay with the credit card involved to get their rate.

    Citibank often has the lowest international credit card charges. This is hard to compare, since the exchange rate charged is another factor.

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  2. Julie says:

    Great list – a couple of things to add – Beans on toast is a great breakfast option. ATMs are good to use to get cash as well – the exchange rate will be really low – the same rate the banks gets when they order $$ and no service fee (don’t request a receipt though). Using the word “ta” – means thanks.

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  3. Gosh, how thoughtful of you to compile this list. I’m sure it will help many travelers who are planning a trip to Scotland. I just wish I were going. 😦

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  4. Maria says:

    Absolutely love this! Funny to read as a Scottish girl seeing tips and quirks that you have picked up whilst you are here. Made me laugh (in a good way!)

    Only one wee correction: Roads without any visible speed limit signs have a speed limit of 60mph. If it less than 60mph there are always speed limit signs. It is only really residential areas that are 30mph. When you leave those areas there is a sign which is a white circle with a black line going diagonally across which essentially means – return to national speed limit (60mph). Did you have long lines of traffic behind you when you were in Scotland? 😜

    As for men in kilts: you will see many men in kilts if you go to a Scottish wedding or any formal occasion for that matter. It is what Scottish equivalent men wear to ‘black tie’ events. You will also see men in kilts a lot in the summer in Edinburgh during the festival. And at national Scotland rugby games. 😄

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