While abroad, no matter how much you research your destination, you will eventually make a decision you will later regret.
Later on, if somebody in your family or at work, is going somewhere you have already visited, most likely you will tell this person all you now know, including anecdotes, so they avoid making the same mistakes you made.
Well, I am the person who has been there before and is willing to tell you what worked and what didn’t while in Scotland, including the possibility of renting a Volvo for less money…
1. Only Edinburgh?
If you are planning on visiting only Edinburgh, first of all, no car is needed. If you are planning to visit a bunch of other cities, especially in the highlands, renting a car will be much needed.
Some places, like in the Isle of Skye, buses are scheduled twice a day only and public transportation is hardly ever seen. While staying in Dunvegan, we met two French girls who were planning to go to the Storr the next day. Because of the bus schedule, they were only aiming at that. However, we offered them the possibility of going with us to the Storr by car, and also do a bunch of things they wouldn’t be able to if they had taken public transportation.
2. You don’t need a car in Edinburgh?
Having said that, unless you are planning to visit Roslyn Chapel, or Blackness castle, to give you an example, (though there is public transportation which takes you there from Edinburgh), you don’t need a car. In fact, it is a waste of time and petrol.
Ale and I thought it was a good idea to drive downtown on our first day. That was such a stupid thing to do! We spent almost 45 minutes trying to find a parking spot, and when we finally found one, it was a bit far from the city centre. Then, in the afternoon, we got stuck in a terrible traffic jam for like 40 more minutes.
3. Buy tickets at the tourist information office.
It doesn’t matter how much I read about the country/city I am visiting, I always go to the Information centre once there. While changing money there is a rip-off, they usually have great tips to make the most of you visit.
At Edinburgh’s information centre Ale and I bought cheaper tickets to Edinburgh Castle, which also let us avoid the entrance queue the next day. However, we didn’t get to have the map of the castle, but that was fine for us.
4. Maps and Wi-Fi connection.
All tourist information offices around Scotland (except in small towns, because there aren’t any) have free, decent maps for sightseeing. Some gift shops also sell maps, but supermarkets have tons of free dossiers and fliers you can take depending on the destination you are aiming.
You will have Wi-fi connection on the other hand, only at the Tourist Information Centre, museums and some restaurants, where of course you will have to buy some food. Some buses also have wi-fi connection, but it doesn’t always work.
5. Pack for the weather.
I mean, all kind of weathers. There is a very popular saying in Scotland; you can have the four seasons in a day (yes, even in summer), so bring a raincoat and sunglasses!
If you are heading to the highlands, it is a good idea to invest in a high quality waterproof jacket (You’ll totally need it).
6. Wild guide Scotland.
Wild Guide Scotland is a must if you are planning a road trip and want to stop at all those hidden places each country has. It is very clear, though sometimes the places they describe are so hidden, the paths that are supposed to take you there are not even in the maps!
But Scottish people love talking, so they won’t mind giving you directions. It is up to you if you can get the Scottish accent!
You can buy your Wild Guide at most gift shops, or online, before travelling. I bought it through bookdepository.co.uk and it took 2 months and a half to arrive, so don’t leave for the last minute!
7. Add at least 30 minutes to every time estimation given by Scottish tourist guides.
Either we are really slow (which I don’t think so) or Scottish people visit places in a hurry. For each walk, hike or visit we took more time than the one we were supposed to. For example, people said we could visit Dunvegan castle in one hour and 30 minutes, but instead we took 2 and a bit. It is true we like taking photos, but we do think their schedules are a bit tight.
8. Where to change money.
The best changing rate we found in Scotland was in Inverness. We didn’t know that at the time because Inverness was the second city we visited (out of 7 cities). The second best changing rate was in Edinburgh, at the end Leith walk. There are three changing houses at the end of Leith walk, one very close to the other. Just ask the three of them. It won’t take you more than 10 minutes, and there is also public transport to the city centre.
9. Bus drivers keep the change.
If you are taking public transportation, save the coins whenever you break a bill, since bus drivers will never give you change if you do not pay the exact amount of money.
10. The currency!
This is very important. Though in Scotland they use the sterling pound, like in the rest of the UK, there are three banks which have a special licence to print bills, which are useless outside the country. So, if you are planning to visit Wales, for example, avoid changing money in these three banks: The Royal Bank of Scotland, The Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.
11. How we managed to get a Volvo instead of a Ford Fiesta.
My boyfriend and I are from Chile, and of course things in Chile are very different from Scotland. When we first planned our trip, we decided to rent a car, but since we are budget travellers, we rented a mechanic car. After some weeks of having made the payment, we thought it would be much better to add a GPS to the car, so, we contacted the car rental and we added a GPS to the plan.
If you do this in Chile, when you get to the car rental office, they would just install a GPS to the car you rented. Well, in Edinburgh, the thing was quite different. The GPS system they offer is a feature of the same car, not a gadget you can install later. As we had already paid for the GPS and our car model didn’t include one, we were given an awesome upgrade.
We ended up driving a Volvo instead of a Ford Fiesta!