How to Plan a Trip to Scotland Pt. 1
I love it when people ask me for tips in planning Scotland vacations/holidays. I've been to Scotland seven times in ten years, but I have only scratched the surface. I enjoy learning new things each time and challenging myself. I haven't been everywhere in Scotland and I haven't tried everything. Each time I go for research, I want to visit new places and experience different things than I have before.
A lot of people think planning a trip is difficult. At first it can seem that way, but the more you explore online, the easier it becomes. I plan my trips now 100% using the internet. I book everything online. Anyone with internet and a credit card can do this. There are hundreds of little details, so it's important to keep good notes and records.
First, get a passport. Even if you already have a passport, check the date to make sure it will be good during your trip.
When I begin planning, I decide when I want to go, how long I'm going to stay, how I'm going to get around, and who's going with me.
WHEN: High tourist season in Scotland is summer--June, July and August. Everything during these months will be more expensive, especially lodging. But these are also the warmest months. With Scotland being so cold or cool most of the year, a warm or mild temperature might be important to you. On the other hand, if you want to save money, go before or after high season. May and September are fantastic times to go, too. The time I went in May, I experienced some extreme weather similar to a tropical storm, but that's not the norm. The three times I have gone in September have all been nice weather for the most part. Of course, there will always be rain in Scotland. It has been reported that Scotland has between 170 and 250 days of rain per year, depending on where you are. If you're going to the western and northern Highlands, expect more rain. There are also periodic gale storms that blow up quickly, and disappear just as fast.
Be prepared for tempestuous weather especially if you're going to be walking outside. Make sure you take a rain jacket which can also serve as a windbreaker, waterproof shoes, and some warm clothing to layer. (Because of the wind, umbrellas are not recommended.) On a weather app, check the forecast before you go to see what the temperatures will be.
As I mentioned, hotel, cottage and B&B rates will be higher in summer. That will be the main difference in cost overall. Also in summer, the tourist attractions and the roads will be more crowded. If you're going to stay in Edinburgh, check to see when their festivals and events are. If you want to go to these, book accommodation early and expect to pay more. If you want to avoid huge crowds in the city, book at times other than at festivals.
I love driving around Scotland in May or June because all the hills are so vibrant green in the late spring/ early summer and lots of flowers are blooming. Scotland is so far north that, at midsummer, around June 21, it's only pitch dark for a few hours each night and dawn comes early. If you have a difficult time sleeping in the daylight, this might be a reason to avoid Scotland in June. Or if you like going outside and exploring in the twilight (or gloaming) around 10 pm you might enjoy this time of year.
Other months I've visited were July and early October. Both were great months. July was nice and warm. When I was there in early October, we had about 25% rainy days and mostly nice weather, but maybe that was atypical. You cannot really predict how the weather is going to be, so be prepared for anything.
HOW LONG: When deciding how long to stay in Scotland, you will have to consider how long you can take off from work, your budget, how many places you want to visit, etc. The way I see it, airfare is the largest expense, and I want to get my money's worth. That's why I usually stay 10 – 14 days. If you're planning a guided bus or coach tour, then the dates you choose will need to conform to the tour company's schedule. Again, the high-season or summer tours will be more expensive.
HOW MANY: The number of people traveling with you will determine various other things, such as how many plane tickets you're buying, how large of a place you're going to rent (or how many B&B rooms), and what kind of transportation you use once you're in Scotland. For instance, if I plan to drive a regular sized, low-priced rental car, then I know I can take one or two people with me. Three people plus luggage fills up an average sized compact car. (Cars in the UK are generally smaller than those in the US.) If four or more people are going, then you'll need to rent a larger vehicle, such as a van, or use a different mode of transportation.
HOW TO GET AROUND: There are many ways of traveling around Scotland—guided tour bus, rental car, train, public transportation buses, and ferries. You could hire a driver or private tour guide if you're not concerned about prices. There is also the tram (in Edinburgh), walking, and 1 day (or more) guided tours from some cities. For those who have never been to the UK before, I usually recommend either a guided tour or another option where they don't have to drive.
The type of transportation you choose will determine which sites you can easily visit. If you choose remote sites that don't have regular bus service, then you would need to rent a car or hire a guide/driver. Tourism is one of Scotland's main industries, so they offer tourists a lot of services and tons of options. Search online for your preferences. I'll do a separate blog post about the various types of transportation I've used and my thoughts on each.
I'll continue this series of posts next time with more trip planning ideas. Please let me know in a comment if you have questions or suggestions.
Be sure to check out my next post, How to Plan a Trip to Scotland Part 2.
A Highland warrior and future chief, Colin Cameron has no intention of becoming entangled in the whims of another highborn lady. However, upon witnessing Lady Kristina being held hostage by the enemy, a knife to her throat, he resolves to rescue her and bring her to safety.