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First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 8:28 AM

Hi there! I will be spending 2 weeks traveling around Scotland alone. I've rented a vehicle and have plotted out most of my trip so far. I would like to know several things from first hand experience:
1. What gadgets / adapters will I need to bring in order to use my electronics from the States?
2. Are there any places in Scotland that a female shouldn't travel alone? I know Scotland is relatively safe, but common sense should prevail.
3. What are the absolute BEST SCENIC PLACES to visit?
4. Is there anything I should absolutely know about the Scottish culture - for example, things that we do or say here in the States that could be potentially offensive to Scots?
5. I want to pack super lightly - one backpack light. I'm going in May and I understand the weather averages in the 50's. Any tips for what to pack?
All of your responses will be greatly appreciated! Thank you soooo much!

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37 Answers
  • Redang's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Redang Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    1- gouk.about.com/od/tripplanni...
    2- I don't think so, just, as you said, common sense.......
    3- Edinburgh, Inverness, Highlands; I liked Stirling, E. Donan Castle and area, beautiful landscape all over Scotland

    5- Umbrella or so, warm clothes

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  • Redang's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Redang Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    I forgot, sorry, another palce I liked, Oban

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  • tango_jd's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by tango_jd Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    Although places like Edinburgh and Aberdeen are on the East Coast, my personal favourites are on the West Coast.
    Depending on where you are starting from I can recommend a route that takes-in the border region around Ettrick Valley, Loch Lomond just North of Glasgow, Fort William and definitely worth travelling the (A87) "Road to the Isles" to Kyle Of Lochalsh in order to cross-over to the Isle Of Sky.
    This road goes-past the famous Eilean Donan Castle (Google it - you will know which one I mean!) and is a wonderfully scenic route.
    Weather? well, my in-laws used to go to Loch Duich in May and would come-home sun-tanned. I've been a few times to various places in Scotland - at various times of the year - and it pi&&ed down with rain an awful lot!
    Fort William to Kyle is a fantastic scenic route though - take-in Glen Coe on your way to FW!
    Here is a link about plug-adapters:
    travel-images.com/electric-p...
    What to pack? Waterproof clothing!

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  • tango_jd's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by tango_jd Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    Oh, and the Mull Of Kintyre is THE most boring place on earth!

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    1. In the remoter areas, there are often 'black spots' for electronics i.e. mobile phone, gps........not everywhere has internet coverage.

    2. No advice other than to follow what you would do at home - no alleyways after dark, park beneath a street lamp, lock your car when you park it......

    3. How long is a piece of string? What is your itinerary?

    4. Just don't be loud!

    5. Clothes you can layer. i.e. peel off or add as the weather dictates. Waterproof outwear. Sensible shoes, not canvas topped. Do not bother with an umbrella - useless in a wind. Some jacket with a hood.

    Oh yes, a facecloth. Not supplied in 98% of UK accommodation.

    Make sure you know where the petrol (gas) stations are if you are travelling in remoter spots. Do not let the tank become less than half full. Supermarket petrol stations are usually the most economical places to fill up.

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  • pamelam321's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Thank you. All the places you mentioned are on my list. Can't wait!! Even Oban!

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  • pamelam321's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Thanks for your response. I do have the west coast on my itinerary - Skye, Mull, Oban.

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  • Redang's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Redang Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    I only picked a few places, but there hundreds! (how will you move around?)

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  • pamelam321's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Redang, hawkhead, tango - thank you all for your responses. My itinerary has me arriving in Edinburgh, heading up to Dundee, Carnoustie, onto Inverness, up to Orkney Islands, the heading west to Assynt, Ullapool, Portree on the Isle of Skye, Ben Nevin, Glen Coe, Mull....lots to do!!

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  • pamelam321's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Redang - I have rented a vehicle for greater flexibility in my travels!

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  • Redang's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Redang Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    Gosh, plenty of possibilities then! I envy you!

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  • Redang's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Redang Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:32 AM

    Have a look, if you don't mind at Inverness Off The Beaten Path Tips by Redang

    written by myself

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by leics Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    1. Try to bring only things which need plug adaptors. Things which use a lot of power (e.g. hairdryers/straighteners) will require converters and they are 30v in the UK..there should be a label to tell you.

    2. Nowhere, except normal common sense everywhere as notrmal. Exceprt: do *not * be misled into thinking that because the UK is small and our mountains noit especially high there is no danger. The quickly-changing weather makes our high land very treacherous indeed and you *cannot* rely on getting a signal for your phone.

    If you intend to walk far on high land then make sure you have the right equipment (proper footwear and clothing, emergency food/drink, compass and map, whistle) and (most important) that you tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

    The advice above applies to all weathers and all times of year.

    http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/safety/

    4. Don't be loud, as noted. In the UK is more likely that you will hear words which *you* may not be used to hearing.

    5. Clothes you can layer, proper rain gear (not just jacket but trousers as well if you intend to do any walking), hat/scarf/gloves (assuming you will be going into the higher parts), sensible footwear (not just sports shoes, which are horrid when it rains).

    I have needed hat/scarf/gloves in Scotland in August. the UK is not an easy country for light packing, I'm afraid...we can get all four seasons in one day, and it is not at all unusual; for both weather and temperatures to vary hugely within any 24-hour period.

    Remember that climate averages *are* only averages...they do not tell you what any one day will be like.

    6. Avoid buying petrol at motorway service stations; they are always expenisve. Small garages in remoter places will also be more expensive. Aim for supermarkets where possible, as Hawkhead says.

    Expect to pay around 1.40GBP per litre. Not cheap.

    Always make sure you have a good selection of coins (pound coins, 50p, 20p and 10p) kept in your car to pay for parking (you'll find it charged for in many/most places). Most parking machines do not accept cards but no UK machine of any type will accept cards which do not have chip & PIN.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by mccalpin Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 10:03 AM

    Some observations on things you haven't asked about...

    1. Most rent cars are manual, not automatic. Many Americans can't drive a manual or not terribly well. Even if you can, you may want to ensure that you have reserved an automatic, not a manual, for your trip...unless you already know this and have it all worked out... ;-)

    2. Roads in Scotland can be narrow...like one lane...roads may come disturbingly close to walls and buildings...and you're driving on the wrong side of the road anyway. Hence, you have a better than usual chance to do minor body damage to the car. Either make sure that your US auto insurance covers rent cars in the UK (it likely doesn't), or plan to take all the coverages from the car rental agency.

    Oddly, the last 2 or 3 times I was in London, the Avis people explained to me that if I reserved these insurances in the US, I would pay through the nose, but if I added a package at the Avis desk at Heathrow, it was something silly like a few pounds a day (3? 10? I don't remember). Whatever the amount was, it was far cheaper to pay for it in London than in the US...which is pretty weird. Anyone else know about this?

    3. Road signs - give yourself a quickie course on the road signs used in the UK. The first one you will run across is the little rectangular box with a downward arrow to the left. This sign reminds you to stay ON THE LEFT SIDE of the road or traffic island or whatever heh heh heh. My wife's family lived in the UK when she was a girl, and she and her mother remember merrily singing to her father, "STAY ON THE LEFT!!!" as he drove their huge American car there...

    4. Other traffic practices - when you are merrily driving down the street, and someone on the sidewalk (confusingly called the "pavement" I believe in the UK) comes up to a marked crosswalk...you are supposed to stop. Period. Nope, don't keep driving through the crosswalk even though you know that since the guy hasn't stepped off the sidewalk yet, you couldn't possibly hit him - just stop. Otherwise, you will learn new and colorful - excuse me - "colourful" words.

    After living for a number of months in Rome, where chaos and anarchy reign supreme, one day I was in London and while walking around, stopped for a moment just to get my bearings. I stood next to one of those barber poles with a yellow light on top - I had no idea what it meant at the time. A driver in the street came to a complete stop. I just stared at him, not having any any why he in the street was stopping just because I was standing on the sidewalk...oh, I am standing next to a crosswalk...oh...duuuuh... ;-)

    Bill

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by leics Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Good points from Bill.

    Yes, automatics are very unusual and you will pay extra for hiring one. Book well in advance.

    Yes, take all the insurances you can get.

    The law *requires* you to stop at pedestrian crossings if a pedestrian is waiting at the side of the road.

    You *cannot* automatically turn left if the lights are on red. You will see a green filter arrow showing if this is allowed.

    There are may roundabouts and mini-roundabouts. Learn the rules for negotiating them before you come. Give way to the right.

    Read up on laws and signs before you come. Here:

    direct.gov.uk/en/TravelAndTr...

    driving-test-success.com/uk-...

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 11:08 AM

    Crikey, your itinerary is very ambitious and imho, too much. Looking on a map, somewhere may be "only" 150 miles away but it can take you all day to reach it. Also, there are great expanses of 'desolate' but stunning scenery and I would be a trifle apprehensive about doing it alone. However, you are going in May, so there will be other traffic around, even if the weather is not on your side. If and it probably will, the weather turns, you will find yourself driving for hours in the mist and rain and not seeing anything. You must book your ferry to the Orkneys, not just turn up. Ditto for any other trip involving a ferry, especially to Mull. You must be prepared for the fact, owing to adverse weather, that the ferry will not be able to dock at Mull.

    Are you spending any time in Edinburgh? If so, do not rent the car upon arrival. Cars in Edinburgh are totally redundant, difficult and expensive to park and quite frankly, a right royal pain. Better to rent the car at the airport and head straight off. If it is too late to change, then make sure that your Edinburgh accommodation has parking, either off-street or a private parking facility. There is a good and frequent shuttle bus from the airport, that has several stops on the way to the final stop at Waverley Station.

    The point Leics makes about your credit card is important. In addition, especially for the more remote places, some petrol stations will be cash only.

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Yes, as well as familiarising yourself with the street signs, best you also familiarise yourself with some of the other rules and regs of the road. As Bill has mentioned Zebra crossings, I will mention Pelican crossings. Also, there are sundry road markings that anyone who has passed a UK test will know. Perhaps you should go online and look at the Highway Code.

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by leics Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    It is *essential*, imo, that you thoroughly familiarise yourself with signs, rules and relevant laws before you come.

    Your safety, and that of others, depends on it.

    Hawkhead is quite right that you will need to book ferries in advance. Whilst there *may* be space if you just turn up you cannot guarantee it. The ferry from Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope

    http://www.pentlandferries.co.uk/

    or from Scrabster > Stromness, or Aberdeen>Lerwick:

    http://www.northlinkferries.co.uk/

    can be quite rough, even in the summer, so you should allow for that.

    Double-check that your car hire company will actually allow you to take the car onto ferries. You may have to pay an extra premium.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by mccalpin Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    heh heh, Hawk, here in the US, we have deer crossings and school kid crossings, but zebra and pelican crossings? ;-)

    Bill

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  • leics's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by leics Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    We also have Toucan, Puffin and Pegasus crossings but the poster is unlikely to come across these on her travels:

    devon.gov.uk/index/transport...

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  • travelmad478's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by travelmad478 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 12:10 PM

    Lots of important points made by the above posters but I did not see this one:

    In the less populated areas of Scotland, which includes much of your route, the roads are single-track. That means there is room for only one car--not one car in each direction, but one car total. There are pull-outs every few hundred yards or so for drivers to pull off the road and wait for the oncoming car to go by. It takes some getting used to, and people are generally very polite, but you have to learn the etiquette of what is essentially a perpetual game of chicken.

    I did a trip like this, also solo, about 9 years ago. I rented the car in Inverness and went to Ullapool, Lewis/Harris (via ferry), Skye (ferry to get there, bridge to leave), Applecross, Plockton, and back up to Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. See my Scotland pages for tips. Also, last September we did a little road trip that took us from the northwest of England through Glasgow, around the lochs to Fort William, and back again to Drumnadrochit. Scotland is a fabulous place to tour around. You'll have fun.

    As others have said, packing very light is a challenge in Scotland. You have to be prepared for really cruddy weather no matter what month of the year it is. Waterproof everything, and dry shoes to change into, are a must.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by mccalpin Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 1:42 PM

    In terms of the weather and staying warm in 40F temps with a 30mph breeze, I would seriously consider long underwear...no, not the thick, wooly stuff, but the thin stuff used by athletes (think, cyclists). Wearing a layer of even a thin material on your legs and over your torso will make a world of difference when wearing jeans and a blouse over them.

    The light-weight material won't take up much space, and if you avoid sweating in it, you can wear it every day. Really, it's not sexy...but if you're wearing pants and long sleeves every day, why not?

    Bill

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 2:15 PM

    Now, come on folks, let's have a bit of reality...... it's not the Arctic we are talking about!! Also, bear in mind that Scotland in May can and does have the most fabulous weather..... almost worth not mentioning that fact in picturing the OP in long silk underwear trying to peel off layers!! Yes, it does rain and yes, it can be cold-ish but as long as you dress appropriately in layers, minus the long underwear and survival gear, you will be okay.

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  • pamelam321's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    Wow! You are all awesome to provide such detailed information for me. Thank you! I know my itinerary is ambitious, to say the least, but I am a woman on a mission! I have already visited the website for the highway code and that was helpful. I can drive manual or auto so I'm not worried about that so much, but I believe I requested an auto anyway. I also paid for insurance while I am there and it added about120 to my total rental bill. The tips on the one lane roads are helpful. And please, I live in the sunshine state of Florida so 50F can feel like the Article for me. Thermal underwear seems like a grand idea...probably have to mail order those since they usually don't stock them next to the bathing suits! Keep the tips coming. They are appreciated and so helpful!

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  • Flying.Scotsman's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Flying.Scotsman Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    It's amazing how much advice you've received in such a short time, and the only comment I would question, is about the Mull of Kintyre being boring; and this coming from someone from Solihul! (Sorry Tango, I couldn't resist that, Solihul is actually quite nice.) Having said that, Kintyre is a long way and as it is at the end of a peninsula takes you away from most other sights. Certainly take clothing you can layer and that way you don't have to pack as much - plus you'll probably be wearing all of it most of the time! You probably don't need more suggestions about things to see, but my favourite part of Scotland is the East Neuk of Fife - see my travel pages on Fife. There is a collection of little fishing villages if you take the coastal road from the Forth Bridge to St Andrews, so it can be part of your journey from Edinburgh to Dundee. Hope these points help, and enjoy Scotland. Bruce

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    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by pamelam321 Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    Where is the best place to get on the ferry to Orkney? I will be staying in Kirkwall for a couple days. Do I need to bring my rental car with me or is travel around the island pretty easy without one?

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 4:50 PM

    And can I put in a promo for the Border Country. Often, usually, overlooked by visitors to Scotland. But you won't have time for that. You will be going lickedy split in any case, without adding anything else to your itinerary. Woman on a mission - what mission? To see as much as you can in as short a time as possible? You won't really see but you can say you've been there. I don't care where you are from, you will not need thermal underwear in May. Enjoy your visit.

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  • hawkhead's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by hawkhead Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 5:01 PM

    You have a choice;

    Aberdeen to Kirkwall
    Scrabster to Stromness
    Gills Bay, Caithness to St. Mary's Hope, South Ronaldsay - this is by far the shortest and therefore, quickest route.

    You should be aware that not all ferries operate the routes on all days of the week, so you will have to schedule your travel accordingly.

    I personally would not take my car but would use the local transport. That said, you are a woman on a mission, so probably have not allowed the time in your schedule to use public transport. Pace of life is different in the islands. Expensive to take your car, check with the rental company to see if they actually allow it. Petrol is even more expensive, so make sure you have a full tank. Might be better and cheaper to hire a car on the island or else hire a taxi for a daily rate.

    I would have thought that you would want to use the ferry route that is the most convenient for your itinerary, both before and after the Orkneys. Perhaps leave from one port, return to another.

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  • mccalpin's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by mccalpin Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    Yep, I knew you were from Florida where 50F is considered to be akin to a blizzard ;-)

    Seriously, the Official Spousal Unit tells me that even hose (like clear stockings) can noticeably keep the legs warmer, and when you're hiking across the moors in your sweater, blouse, and blue jeans, it'll keep the wind from knifing through you...or you could try my strategy of carrying excess weight to stay warm...naw, I don't recommend that...

    Bill

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  • Roadquill's Profile Photo

    Re: First time overseas travel and traveling solo!

    by Roadquill Online Now Feb 9, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    Hi Pamela, welcome to VT, Make sure your phone will work in Europe, you may have to order European roaming, and even then it is expensive. Make sure you cancel once back home. Bring a waterproof shell that covers the back of your butt, and also has a full hood. As mentioned the weather varies every day no matter what time of year, and the rain seems to be able to blow up, sideways, and you need good coverage. Then plan on having wool gloves and a good scarf, and garments where you can layer up and down as the weather dictates. I would also suggest waterproof boots, especially if you do any hiking, even short hikes. We loved Skye, Portree, and the West Coast through Gairloch and Ullapool. The Corrieshalloch gorge 12 miles S of Ullapool is a nice 30 minute stop. By Gairloch there is the Inverewe Gardens and the Rugh Reidh Lighthouse, which has some of the most spectacular rock formations going into the sea. I would suggest you stick with the local ales and avoid ordering say something from the Continent or that area S. of Scotland. :-) Endear yourself to the locals by ordering an extra helping of haggis.... Karl

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