Thanks so much, Vonda, for having me here, and thank you for allowing me to share my daughter’s rather unusual travel experience to Scotland.
Even as I put this together for you, I had to giggle. It seems like yesterday, even though it happened a long time ago! (No, it was not that long ago, there’s no way she’s that old! Impossible. That would make me…never mind… I’m not old enough to have a daughter that age.)
When my daughters were in the fifth grade, they had to do reports on a European country. My oldest got the Netherlands. The teacher asked that they do something beyond just a report and they were expected to read the report to the class. Well, a friend of mine had the little Dutch cap and some wooden shoes, and I made my daughter a traditional-looking dress. Wearing her costume, and a few extra pairs of socks so her feet would stay in the oversized wooden shoes, she added to her report by bringing a copy of Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland, and taking some Dutch chocolate for everyone to sample. With her blonde hair, she looked adorable and got an A for her report and presentation.
But when the younger child was assigned a country, she got Scotland. We were living in a different school district and this teacher said no general report, they had to do something that showed they had researched the country, and it had to be presented to the class. The younger one whined because she didn’t have the same access to things such as clothing as her sister did. Not a kilt in sight! Oh dear.
No home access to the Internet in those days (and it wasn’t then what it is now), so I suggested she get on the phone, call a travel agent, and ask if they had any brochures she could have for her report. She called several. We got wads of stuff in the mail! Mixed in with the normal tourist stuff and airfares were several brochures on biking and youth hostels. Her little mind went into overdrive! A trip to the local library yielded books such as visiting Europe on ‘X’ dollars per day.
She decided to write her report like a diary, as though she had visited the country. She figured out how fast she could ride her bike and how many miles she could travel in a day by riding around our neighborhood for an entire day. With a good road map of Scotland, she planned her trip, stopping along the way to sightsee, watching for Nessie in the lake, and doing all the important tourist stuff including visiting castles and museums. We also put her on a tight budget, which meant she couldn’t use fancy hotels.
|Loch Ness (where Nessie lives) photo by Vonda Sinclair|
She did some careful calculating. It was very meticulously mapped out in a loop of the country. She’d sit there with a ruler and worked on it every night. Didn’t get to do everything she wanted because she couldn’t bike that fast!
All of it was worked out on 3 x 5 cards, and believe me, she worked on it! What she thought she could do, she soon discovered she really couldn’t. She had to modify that trip several times until she managed to stay within budget and time restraints. We did suggest to her that things don’t always go as planned and she needed to make allowances for it. After some groaning, she went back to her cards and made some careful changes.
It rained and she didn’t get as far as she hoped. Then she caught a cold and wound up staying an extra day in a small town. She counted her money and took the train, a very expensive luxury, to make up for lost time because she wanted to see a particular castle (Dunrobin) in the far north. (Rumored to be the one Walt Disney used as inspiration for his castle.) She couldn’t afford a sleeper car, which meant she slept in her seat and was “surprised” that she had to pay extra for her bike.
|Dunrobin Castle photo by Vonda Sinclair|
Each day, the diary had an entry in the margin of money spent, including stopping at banks and getting her American Express Travel Checks cashed with conversion rates, etc. And most importantly, how much she had left.
Using a theoretical amount of money, she “bought” round trip airfare, including special fees (and that box) for the bike to fly, which dropped her to a very tight budget, and she spent about two weeks in Scotland.
As she wrote her little log of her “journey”, she cut up those brochures to show the places she visited, gluing it next to the entry for that day. She carefully made a map of Scotland and her journey. She used real hostels that were advertised, and it was quite accurate, including the fare for the train.
She began her diary when she left Washington, DC with her bike packaged for air transport and saying an excited but tearful goodbye to her family. After arriving in Glasgow, she wrote about renting a locker in the airport to hold the box so she could package her bike for her return trip.
With her bike and backpack, she “visited” Scotland. Each entry was a different day. Some of the hostels required extra money for things such as showers, including additional money for hot water for those showers. She wrote about not washing her hair or being able to wash her jeans. She wrote about food, what she had bought along the way, what she was fed at the hostels, other “children” she had met at the hostels, and the places she had visited. She “bought” souvenirs for herself and her sister.
|Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Vonda Sinclair|
It included things about the weather, traffic, getting lost in the city, getting soaked in the rain, as well as all items in her backpack, whining about things that had gone wrong, such as a flat tire that she had to get repaired, body parts that ached, and anything associated with traveling, such as seeing the stacks from a nuclear power plant. Her whole report was sprinkled with emotions, from feelings of anxiety to being totally enthralled.
Within the brochures, there was a town with a calendar of events. One of the events was a street fair and carnival. She planned that into her trip. Gathering her courage, she bought blood pudding from a vendor at the carnival and tried it. (I let her see a recipe for it and she decided there was no way she’d ever eat it!) Another place talked about a special bed and breakfast, so she treated herself to a nice comfortable night, complete with a hot bath and high tea.
|Pitlochery, Scotland, photo by Vonda Sinclair|
The diary was well written and her map showed where she had “traveled” and spent the night.
After neatly transcribing everything into a new composition book (the kind of notebook that is bound with sown string), she took the book outside and scraped it on the sidewalk to give it a well-used appearance. Using a spray bottle, she misted it to make it look as if it had gotten wet in her backpack.
She marked a road map, showing her route, attractions she visited, and where she had stayed, and made a key of the places. Then she very carefully drew a smaller map that fit on a single page. Her father took her map to work and made black and white copies. She glued her colorful copy into the back of her notebook. She went one step beyond and typed everything into a neat report, minus all the pictures.
When the day came to do her report, I fixed her a tureen of Scotch broth (a hearty soup made with lamb and barley), and she took a box of Walkers Shortbread cookies for everyone to try. She ladled some soup into plastic cups and gave her teacher and classmates a taste of soup, along with a plastic spoon, napkin, cookie, and a copy of her map so that they could follow along. She handed the teacher the typed “diary” and she read her “diary” to the class. From what she had said, no one stirred in their seats. She handed her picturesque diary to her teacher.
The teacher asked her a few questions. She just smiled and answered as if she’d really taken the trip. (Little actress!)
She found the whole thing to be funny when she realized that everyone believed that she had gone there, except she never got her report back. But she did receive an A. According to her, the rest of the class had the usual boring stuff.
The afternoon of her class presentation, I had a phone call from the teacher. I thought it was a joke, so I played along. “Of course I let her go, why not?” It was all in her mind. “Kids over there stay in youth hostels all the time. It’s a great way to travel!” Yeah, if they are eighteen!
That night was a PTA meeting. I went and the principal collared me. “Did you really let her do that?”
Again, I laughed it off. “Yep, she had to keep very careful track of her money. Planned the whole trip by herself.” (Technically I wasn’t lying. She did plan the whole thing, and she did have to track her money to do it.)
I’m probably darn lucky Social Services didn’t come knock on my door. Really, does anyone seriously think I’m going to allow my young daughter to run around Scotland by herself at that age? She was eleven years old! I wouldn’t let her jump on her bike and travel two miles to a friend’s house. And I certainly wouldn’t have allowed her to travel there alone!
|The road leading into the Scottish Highlands. Photo by Vonda Sinclair.|
Anyway, that report must have been passed to every teacher in the building. It was several weeks later when a friend, who was a teacher at that school, called me about something unrelated, and then sheepishly asked me about my daughter traveling alone.
“Heavens, no! Think about it. If she went in the summer, she would have been ten. The child owns a two-bit used clunker, not a lightweight mega-speed touring bike. And can you even remember a time when my daughter wasn’t home? And what were the odds that she would have gone to a country that she had to do for class?”
By the way, my daughter is now a grown woman, and she’s never been to Scotland. At one point, I expected her to run off and do it, for she had talked about it several times while in her mid-teens. But instead, she married young and had a child. It wouldn’t surprise me if she took off one day for an extended visit. I don’t think she’d do it by bike or stay in the hostels, but she fell in love with the country as she wrote her diary. And she loves the Walkers Shortbread cookies! (Who doesn’t?)
But the really scary part of all of it, for me as a mom, was the fact that I believe she really could have made that trip. And if I had even hinted that she could have, she probably would have taken off and done it! She might have survived, but I doubt I would have.
Both of my girls did well in school, especially if it required a report or writing. I can’t imagine where they might have gotten the gift of putting words to paper, but they did. Yet, neither one has ever expressed any interest in writing. But there’s still hope for my youngest one, who wrote a book, To Catch a Unicorn, in the first grade, and won a literary contest in her school, and then convinced an entire elementary school that she spent two weeks alone in Scotland when she was ten with only a handful of money, a bike, and a backpack.
E. Ayers is a multi-published and Amazon best-selling author of western and contemporary romances. Her books are never too sweet or too hot. She writes down the middle. She is proud to be part of the Authors of Main Street, an elite group of award-winning and best-selling contemporary authors.
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