Now that we’re back home, I wanted to reflect on our epic Scotland trip and share some final thoughts and recommendations. In no particular order:
Castles Galore. I speculated in this blog posting that Scotland has more castles than whisky distilleries. Turns out that’s a true fact. We saw and/or visited twelve of them—almost (but not quite) one per day, though well short of the more than 2,000 castles in Scotland. The ones we checked off the list: Balvenie, Doune, Duart, Edinburgh, Eilean Donan, Glengorm, Inverness, Midhope, Mingary, Stalker, Stirling and Urquhart.
Miles Galore. With a ton of sightseeing packed into most days, we did lots of walking—we couldn’t avoid it. I tallied the number of steps and miles recorded by my phone over the course of our two-week trip, and the total number is astounding, considering that a six-year-old child walked every step with us: 182,381 steps, or nearly 73 miles!
Packing Cubes. We moved around quite a bit on this trip, staying in six different B&Bs. That made packing—and the ability to quickly and easily unpack and repack—very important. We followed the common advice to use packing cubes, which made it easy to stay organized and keep from having to unpack half the suitcase to find one shirt. We bought Pro Packing Cubes, which I’d definitely recommend.
Explorer Pass. If you plan to visit more than a couple of castles, by all means check out the Explorer Pass. This gets you into more than 70 of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland. We paid the family rate of £84 for the seven-day pass. If we’d paid separately at each of the castles we visited that were covered by the pass, we would have spent £122.
Offline Google Maps. I used Google Maps everywhere we went, and though I am generally excellent with navigation, I probably would have gotten us horribly lost every day without GPS. We didn’t want to get gouged by our cell phone provider for data, so we kept our phones in airplane mode the entire two weeks. But Google Maps allows you to download maps to your smartphone and then use the app offline as you normally would over a cellular network. This was a lifesaver for us.
Single-Track Roads. Two lanes constitute a major highway in Scotland, and most highways are only one lane. When you get away from highly trafficked areas, however, most roads are single-track: that is, a single car-width lane used by cars going in both directions. This sounds daunting, but “passing places”—a widening of the road where cars can pass each other—are generally placed every few hundred feet. It took a little getting used to, but didn’t end up being a big deal. Here’s a video showing how to drive on single-track roads.
Average Speed Cameras. Speaking of driving, the UK has speed cameras. This isn’t new, but what is relatively new is “average speed cameras.” I kept seeing “average speed” on the road signs that noted speed cameras, and eventually learned that these cameras record your license plate info at each checkpoint and calculate your average speed between two or more checkpoints. If your speed averages out higher than the speed limit, congratulations—you just earned a fine. This prevents abuse by people who would slow down for the camera and then speed up again. I learned this rather late in our trip, so I’d be surprised if the rental car company doesn’t forward some fines my way.
Photography. Speaking of cameras, all of the photos you see in this blog were shot with the iPhone 8 Plus. I hauled my DSLR along when we went to Iceland, and frankly I find it annoying to carry such a big piece of equipment. These days, smartphones take great photos, and the iPhone 8 Plus has one of the best cameras of any smartphone. And it’s really easy to carry!
Top Sheets. We noticed in Iceland and again in Scotland that people don’t generally use top sheets (I’m not sure whether this is a general European practice). The beds in our Airbnb rentals had fitted sheets on the mattresses and then a duvet on top. This confused us the first time we encountered it (“where’s the sheet?”), but I think it’s way more efficient than including a top sheet. First, you don’t have an extra piece of bedding to arrange or get tangled up in. Second, you avoid the debate of which side of a patterned top sheet goes face up. Third, it’s simply more cozy. Note to future guests: the Strickland household may adopt this practice.
Roundabouts. Speaking of efficiency, roundabouts get two thumbs up from me. They get a bad rap from Americans who are too dumb to understand how to use them, but they do a much better job at regulating traffic than traffic lights.
Contactless Credit Cards. And one more observation under the theme of efficiency. It’s no secret that the US has long lagged behind Europe in terms of financial technology (and in many other areas, but I won’t start a political debate here). They’ve had chips in their credit cards for ages, while we just got them in the last few years. They now have “contactless” credit cards, where you simply tap your card on a card reader and then go on your merry way. No insertion or swipe of card, no PIN to enter, no slip of paper to sign, no waiting for the transaction to process. Just tap and go. We’ll get there. By the year 2030, I’m sure.
We had an amazing trip. Thanks again for coming along with us.