Scotland Travel Tips + Calendar Contest
I love visiting Scotland! It’s my favorite vacation destination. But it’s far different from heading to the beach here in the Southern US, although I love that too. For those planning to travel to Scotland for the first time, I hope these travel tips will help. I learned some of these the hard way. :)

If you’re jetlagged or weren’t able to sleep on the plane, give yourself a day or two to rest up. Most flights from the US to Scotland are at night. And you lose five hours in the transatlantic flight. Going for 36+ hours with no sleep is exhausting and makes it difficult to enjoy sightseeing the first day. But if you CAN sleep on the plane, you’ll have fewer problems. Allow a few days to get fully adjusted to the time change and be aware that in summer there’s very little darkness.

Any time you visit Scotland, especially the Highlands, from spring to fall, you should probably dress for late fall/ early spring in the US. Forget the sandals, shorts, Capri pants or any other type of summer clothing, unless you’re staying in Southern Scotland. I’ve heard of some people having to buy a whole new wardrobe once they arrived because they misjudged the weather. The further north you go, especially into the Highlands and Islands, the colder it gets. The weather in Scotland is unpredictable and can change in five minutes. It rains A LOT and the wind is usually cold and brisk, even in summer. In certain areas, it can snow any month of the year, although this is probably rare in July and August. But I have seen snow in June. I’ve found it easiest to layers of sweaters and jackets that I can add to or remove depending on the temperature. A good rain jacket or rain coat with a hood is a must. Not only does it protect you from the driving rain you might be caught out in, but it also acts as a windbreaker. Umbrellas are useless most of the time because of the wind. Ski hats can even be worn in June. Sure, the Scots might laugh at you, but you will be warm. LOL Some especially cold and windy places are coastlines and the tops of mountains.

For your first visit to the UK or any country where they drive on the opposite side of the road, it’s probably best to let someone else drive you around until you learn the flow of traffic. Once you’re ready to tackle driving on the left, go online and learn British road signs. These signs might be on posts or they may be painted on the road. Online, you can learn how traffic circles or roundabouts work, if you’re unfamiliar with them. There are tons of them in the UK. Watching videos at YouTube can help you get used to both roundabouts and driving on the left.

While driving in Scotland, watch for red deer, which could be on the road.
Ditto for the sheep.

Making use of a pull off or passing place.

Unless you like driving 80 MPH on narrow, curvy roads, on the wrong side of the road, cars will likely ride your bumper. It’s probably best to pull over into the pull-off or passing spots, marked with a sign--a “P” on a blue background. Or a different sign that says "Passing Place." The Scots will appreciate this and show it by honking their horns briefly.

If you’re going anywhere away from the large cities of Scotland, remember to take food and water with you. In some of the smaller towns and villages, you should be able to find restaurants open at reasonable hours from mid-spring to mid-fall. But if it’s after hours or mid-fall to mid-spring, don’t expect many restaurants to be open. Your options may be limited. This is a good thing. It simply makes you appreciate the food you find that much more. LOL One night we had planned to eat at a pub, the only restaurant in the area, but there was a power outage. Good thing we had snacks.

You want to have phone service here.
Unless you already have an international calling plan, the most economical and easiest way to call back to the US is to buy an inexpensive mobile phone in Scotland at Tesco or similar store. This will be around 20 GBP. And then you can top-up the minutes 10 or 20 GBP at a time, depending on how much you plan to call and how long you’re staying. The per-minute charge is low (around 7 cents per minute when I was there) and each top-up is good for a month. You can buy top-ups at most stores, even gas/petrol stations. If you’re traveling in the Highlands or in rural areas mostly, Vodafone will give you the most reliable service. Some of the other carriers work fine in the cities but rarely in the Highlands or even a few miles outside the cities.

Scotland’s superstores or supercenters are Tesco and ASDA. They’re similar to Wal-Mart in that they sell food, clothing and a lot of other necessities at low prices. You may find you need an extra jacket, batteries, a phone, food or something to drink and these would be a good place to find things like that without breaking the bank. They rarely sell souvenirs or cool things made in Scotland. Go to smaller shops for that. Scotland also has Coops which are similar to superstores in that they sell a wide variety of things, but they’re smaller and will be found in the smaller towns that don’t have superstores.
No superstores out here.
If you’re driving yourself around, it’s easiest to plan out beforehand the sites you want to visit and directions for getting there or the location so you don’t waste time getting lost and trying to find your way around. You can use Google Maps online for planning. This will also give you information about driving time. For me, using a GPS with the UK card was the best way to do this. I’ve found mine to be accurate most of the time. Before you leave home, you can type in the addresses or postal codes of the hotels, B&Bs, castles and other sites you want to visit. Of course you’ll also want to allow for some free time to rest, or for spur of the moment exploring. If you're anything like me, you'll need to figure extra time into driving time because of stopping a lot and taking pictures. :)
Kilt Rock. Definitely a place to stop for photos.

If you’re going with your spouse or significant other, be aware that most Scottish beds for two people are double, which to me is way too small. Queen-sized or king-sized beds are difficult to find unless the hotel or B&B has been recently renovated. Single beds are also plentiful.

I’ve found National Car Rental to be the most economical for car rental or car hire. We were able to get an automatic for around 400 GBP for two weeks. Automatics are hard to come by in the UK so if you can drive a manual, shifting with your left hand, the cost should be even less. If possible, reserve one ahead of time, but this doesn’t guarantee your car will be there when you show up. Don’t you just love surprises like that? :)

Gas or Petrol in the UK is more expensive than it is in the US but most of their cars get far better gas mileage. The last one we rented (see photo above) got 50 miles per gallon.

Some people like to look for B&Bs or hotel rooms wherever they happen to be that day. I don’t like the uncertainty of this. I like to book rooms ahead of time so I’ll be sure and have a bed for the night in a place that has received good reviews. In summer, or high season, (or in popular tourist areas like Isle of Skye) rooms could potentially all be booked by the time you arrive. There are many ways to book rooms. If you have a phone plan that allows you to call the UK, this will be the easiest way. If not, you can book some hotels and B&Bs online, either through emailing the owner direct, or booking online via a form and secure credit card payment. Not many Scottish businesses accept Paypal, but you will find a few that will.

Do you have any Scotland travel tips to add to my list? I'm still learning so I'll take all the tips I can get.

CONTEST: each person who comments will be entered into a drawing for a 2012 Scotland calendar made with my photos. You can either leave a travel tip, a suggestion for a must see site, or the place you most want to visit in Scotland. Be sure to leave a way for me to contact you. This contest is open until Dec. 1 and the winner will be drawn at random.

Thanks for checking out my post!!
35 Responses
  1. Terree L. Says:

    We were all set to go in July... then something came up... now I have to find another good time! Your travel tips were GREAT!! Thanks!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    If you go in July and your hotel room is hot and NOT call the front desk to tell them the a/c isn't working. I would love to know what she told the others after she said "Madam we do not have air conitioning". Probably something like- 'what a bunch of idiots these Americans are'.


  3. Chrisbails Says:

    I would love to go to Scotland, but not something I could afford. Maybe I could win a trip to go. That would be awesome. I live in Iowa and we have tons of problems with deers, my husband has no put himself in the ditch twice to miss dear. You see them dead on the side of the road all the time or running in the fields. Scotland is a beautiful country and would love to go there someday. If not a calendar would be the next best thing. I love the pictures that you post on your blog and love checking them out also.
    Thanks for the giveaway and the chance to win.

  4. Great post! Your travel tips were wonderful!!

  5. derekd Says:

    Thanks for all the great info Vonda. The pics too. You left me hankerin for a trip. Cold and wet, sounds like my kinda place.

  6. I'm sorry to hear that, Terree! I hope you get to go soon!

  7. Anonymous, yes, I've heard it can get pretty warm in Edinburgh and Glasgow and other places in the south of Scotland during July and August. I'm sure they get several Americans asking for AC then. LOL! Further north you're probably less likely to need AC. I've never been to Scotland in July or August, nor have I ever been hot in Scotland. On sunny, calm days it can get warm in May, June and October (the months I've been) but these are kinda rare. Of course this is because I'm from the southern US. People from Canada or Alaska, etc. are not likely to notice it being any colder than where they come from.

  8. Chrisbails, I hope you do win a trip! We're also starting to have more deer around here. I love watching them! Thanks so much for checking out my pics! I'm glad you enjoy them!

  9. Tamara, thanks so much! I hope you get to use them! :)

  10. Derek, LOL that's what my husband says. He also likes cool or colder weather. But the wind bothered him. Hope you get to go soon and wear your kilt. :)

  11. I have no travel tips to offer, but I can tell you Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I was born in Scotland but haven't been back since I left. I'd love to go back to my home town, and also to go to the Shetland Islands and visit my bil, who moved back there a few years ago.

  12. Margery, I agree with you about Scotland being one of the most beautiful places on earth. How cool that you were born there. I hope you get to go back soon!

  13. Oh, those roundabouts! Air conditioning in Ireland used to be "open the window (yuh stupid Yank)." Now the newer hotels are air conditioned, but I doubt rural Scotland has become so decadent. I've visited Edinburgh briefly. Your post has left me longing to see more. Maybe I will!

  14. You really spin those words and photos to make a girl homesick, Vonda. I am ready to go packed or not. You with me?!

    One thing we found was using the ATMs as they are everywhere and you get the correct currency. We didn't get any money until we hit the airport in Glasgow.

    If you are lucky as us, you make friends with someone in the breakfast room. We met a couple from England and they asked us to join them on a bus trip to the Isle of Mull out of Oban. It included a ferry trip and then a bus ride on a road that in the states would be for bikes. ;) The whole day was great because they were seasoned travelers and knew the ins and outs of getting to the interesting places.

    If you get to Eilean Donan castle, you must have a Million Dollar Bar treat at the store/eatery there. It is worth a trip back for a second one...right Vonda?! This castle has to be one of the most photographed castles and has a great tour inside.

    There is never a dull moment and I cannot wait to return. I left my heart there someplace and must go back to find it.

  15. Sheila Mulholland Says:

    Don't expect ice in your Coke, you'll be lucky if it's even cold. the local soft drink is Irn Bru- neo orange with more carbonation that I have ever had in my life. But you do need to try one. Good food, best dessert is cranachan- oats,honey,cream,whiskey with raspberries..something else but it's like a pudding, wonderful, and I don't even like raspberries.

    I felt like I was home.

  16. Maeve Says:

    Two weeks is NOT long enough. If you can swing it - stay longer. I wish I had. I'm ready to go back right now!


  17. Thanks Pat! I hope you get to visit again. I haven't yet had the need for AC in Scotland. I would think opening the window would do the trick. LOL

  18. Paisley, yes, I'm ready to head back to Scotland!! :) How wonderful you met new friends and went to Isle of Mull with them. The Million Dollar bars are scrumptious! The ones at Eilean Donan are better than the ones elsewhere!

  19. Sheila, that's true about the ice! I think I drank water mostly the last time I was there. I have tried Irn-Bru before at a Highland Games. I'll have to try that dessert next time! Sounds yummy!

  20. Maeve, I agree that two weeks isn't long enough! I'd love to stay for a month!

  21. Cathy Stewart Says:

    Loved your post and photos! I'm headed to Scotland in April, so your tips are so timely. Everyone says to dress in layers and to wear the coat you love since most of your photos will be made with you wearing it :)

  22. June M. Says:

    Your pics are beautiful. I would love to go and see some of the castles. I would love to be able to walk through them and really would love to be able to stay in one.
    June M.
    manning_j2004 at yahoo dot com

  23. That's true, Cathy! Wear a rain jacket or coat you love. Enjoy your trip! Also don't forget the waterproof shoes.

  24. June, thanks! That is one of my dreams... to stay in a castle for a week! I checked one (Dornoch, but it was booked up. I also want to stay in a thatched roof cottage for a week. :)

  25. Joanne Says:

    You have shown us beautiful pictures of Scotland. I always wanted to see where my ancestors came from. Thanks.


  26. Carly Carson Says:

    Great tips. I don't do the driving on the wrong side myself. That's what hubby is for. (How unenlightened of me, but he doesn't let me drive on either side if he's with me so I might as well embrace it.) I love the weather in Scotland. They have the cozy clothes to keep you warm anyway.

  27. Cyndi Tefft Says:

    What beautiful pictures! I couldn't agree more with your travel tips. Those roundabouts nearly killed me. *shudders* We went to Scotland last May and are headed back next May. I would go twice a year if I could. I love that place!

    Here is a video I made of last year's trip:

    Eilean Donan Castle and the Clava Cairns were my favorites, though I would highly recommend staying at Dalhousie Castle if you can afford to. The night porter, Peter, gave us a fantastic tour of the castle. Not to be missed!

    cynditefft at gmail dot com

  28. wanda f Says:

    Scotland is the place id love to travel to if I could go anywhere .

  29. Joanne, thanks! I'm glad you liked the pics!

  30. That's true, Carly. You can wear all sorts of neat wool sweaters, hats, and scarves in Scotland. :) Driving on the left is an adventure. Hope you get to try it sometime.

  31. Cyndi, thanks! I wish I could go twice a year too! I'm a huge fan of Eilean Donan Castle. I enjoyed your video! I simply have to stay in a castle at some point. Good thing several have been turned into hotels.

  32. Wanda, I hope you get to go to Scotland soon! It's amazing!

  33. I used a random number generator to choose the winner... June M.! Congratulations! I'm emailing you. Thanks again to everyone for reading my post and commenting. Happy Holidays!

  34. Scotland is a beautiful travel destination. It offers lots of different attractions to visit and activities to do. No matter if you visit the country with your family or with friends, you will always have a great time.

  35. Renting a car certainly gives you freedom and flexibility when traveling in Scotland as you're not tied to a timetable and you can go to almost anywhere of interest. Just make sure, however, that you know your route before you start so you can have a safe and enjoyable journey.

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