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I spent an entire month in Scotland, and I didn’t see Loch Ness. Or go to any of the isles. Or go to a music festival, or see a puffin, or camp out in a tent, or go to a Highland Games, or go whale watching, or any other the other things I eagerly bookmarked in my guidebook on my flight over. I gave a miss to the Edinburgh Castle, I didn’t see a golf course, and I didn’t take a whisky tour. I failed at Scottish tourism.

scotland road trip

But you know what? A month, which can seem like an eternity when you compare it to the average American one-week vacation, is not actually that long. And this was no average vacation. We came here with the primary goal of my boyfriend Mark spending time with family and friends he hadn’t seen in over two years and sorting out several lingering life issues (banking, selling old stuff, health, etc.). Once you pencil in the doctor’s appointments, the boot sales and the real life stuff like celebrating Father’s Day, you have few uninterrupted stretched of time in which to rent a car and do a tour of the highlands.

Then there is the human factor. It’s not easy coordinating with large groups of people, but sometimes it’s hard making a decision even between the two of us. With Mark as a jaded local and me as a wide-eyed tourist, we often clashed on how to spend our time and money. Whereas I listed Loch Ness as Number 1 on my Scottish To Do list, Mark insinuated that frankly, that was a little lame. When Mark wanted to take a daytrip to Belfast to see another country, I balked at spending so much cash to be in a city for a few hours when there were so many places to go in Scotland!

Scotland souvenir tshirts

Which brings me to the final nail in the coffin of my Scottish guidebook fantasies: budget. More than anything, this trip convinced me that Europe, and the rest of the First World, is not for me at this time in my life. (Exception: I would gladly return to Scotland again with Mark). I truly wonder how so many young people afford to backpack through Europe for months on end! Perhaps if this was my first experience abroad I wouldn’t have anything to compare it to and would just accept the prices, but I simply cannot enjoy traveling here the way that I would in Southeast Asia or Latin America, due to the constant hemorrhaging of my bank account. I have started to warm to the continent I once claimed was dead to me, but I think I will have to wait until my golden years (Everyone is magically rich when they are older, right? Right?) to explore the rest of Europe.

Yet what I did get out of my month here was something even more valuable than spending thirty days and a small fortune ticking off my list of top Scottish attractions: I lived like a local. I took day trips to tourist seaside towns. I painted a shed. I attended a wedding. I picked up Scottish phrases and started to note regional accents. I became intimately familiar with British brands of ice cream. I spent a lot of my time in places that didn’t warrant a page in Lonely Planet. I even holidayed the way the Scottish do: I spent a week in Ibiza.

Rest and be thankful viewpoint, Scotland

I also grew to know and love the family and friends of my partner in crime, two years running. I got to see the streets he used to play football in, sleep in the room he grew up in, and meet the characters behind the endless stream or mischievous youthful tales he tells. I haven’t felt hospitality so warm since my high school student exchange in Costa Rica.

I’m sure this is the first of many trips to Scotland, between Mark’s trips home, my parents’ love affair with the country, and my own heritage here. While I may not have seen everything, I got a great taster for what lies ahead of me and a greater understanding of the Scottish spirit. I have some regrets, but they are far outweighed by the happy moments I had here in the land of Scots. One thing I know for sure? Next time I’m in town, the Loch Ness monster better watch out.

Loch Ness Monster Souvenirs, Scotland

Stay tuned!

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18 Comments...
  • Dad
    July 21 2011

    Getting older and being richer are not linked the same way as getting older and losing your hair

    • Alex
      July 21 2011

      I am losing hair all the time… not figuratively. I mean it really falls out when I brush it!

  • Margaret
    July 21 2011

    You magically get richer when you are older because the older peple magically leave you an inheritance.

    • Alex
      July 21 2011

      I shouldn’t have laughed, but I did.

  • Kris Koeller
    July 21 2011

    That’s a bummer you didn’t get to see everything (especially the Loch Ness monster), but sounds like you had a great trip nonetheless. Europe isn’t cheap, but doesn’t need to be expensive. It can be work to find the deals, but well worth it.
    Kris Koeller recently posted..A Hazy New York City Sunset Timelapse

  • Camels & Chocolate
    July 21 2011

    Truth? Loch Ness was a little overrated. You didn’t miss much. Then again, my one visit there was half spent in an ER in Inverness, so that could have swayed my opinion =)

    Also, I spent five months in Scotland and many subsequent visits and holidays and have never done any of the isles either. I always look at it, though, as needing to leave something new and fun for the next return, right?
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..A Walk in the Treetops

    • Alex
      July 21 2011

      That is so true. The “next time….” is the only thing that allows me to ever mentally leave a place, because there is no way to do it all. I am dying to do a road trip next time though!

  • Kaitlin Fisher
    July 21 2011

    We’re finishing up our last day in Scotland right now and your post couldn’t ring more true for me. We rented a car to get out into the countryside, and we also opted out of the Edinburgh Castle, The Loch Ness Exhibition, etc. We did, however, meet incredible people and took a lot of walks in the incredible mountains. I don’t think you “failed.” I think in all reality, you probably saw more of the real Scotland than most tourists ever will.
    Kaitlin Fisher recently posted..Celebrating Two Months on the Road | Joys and Challenges

    • Alex
      July 21 2011

      You’re right, I only think I “failed” in the sense of traditional tourism. I did get a much, much more homegrown experience, and it sounds like you did too! Congrats on two months traveling!

  • Sarah
    July 22 2011

    Dude, by the sounds of it, I don’t think you failed Scotland! Like, at all.

    In fact, if I was the teacher of all things tourism in Scotland (which I’m clearly not but whatevs) I would give you an A+!
    Sarah recently posted..The Time I was a Really Awful Tour Guide

    • Alex
      July 22 2011

      Thanks for the good grade 🙂 Yes, I do believe that while I failed at tourism, I won, (and got a great grade!) at something bigger and better.

  • I think you saw Scotland Alex’s way and there ain’t nothing wrong with that!!!

    • Alex
      July 29 2011

      Thanks Andi! I like that phrase… Alex’s Way. And might I add, or the highway? 😉

  • Grandma Burr
    August 8 2011

    Did you get the name of the people in Greece that were from Homosassa? I don’t know anyone on that trip right now, but I’d like to know the name. This is a real small town

    • Alex
      August 10 2011

      Was there a family from Homosassa? I don’t remember… I’ll have to ask my mom. 🙂

  • Savvy Scot
    July 20 2012

    I cam across your blog a few months back and have been making my way through your archives! Imagine my excitement to hear that you had visited Scotland!! And then the disappointment to hear you didnt visit the Isles – THE BEST BIT!!! Disappointed 😛 – One day you must return!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..Growing Older

    • Alex
      July 20 2012

      I absolutely plan on returning to Scotland! I did manage to make it to Millport — that’s on one of the isles, right? 🙂

      • Savvy Scot
        July 20 2012

        I’ll let you off then 😉 – you just saved yourself a reader!! Jokes

        Yes I am impressed actually – Millport is one of the more southern isles but still counts! I am very jealous you are about to do your DM.. I am a newly qualified Rescue Diver and am counting down the days until I can get going with my DMT! 😀
        Savvy Scot recently posted..Growing Older

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