My good friend and fellow European-nation-explainer Jessica Spiegel posted something over at Italy Explained that I would recommend anyone interested in travel to read. “You haven’t seen Italy until you’ve seen…” is a wonderfully ranty response to a whole genre of travel snobbery. It got me thinking.
I’m not going to rehash that same point here. Sufficed to say, the same applies to Scotland. If you hike the Highlands for two weeks and don’t make it to Edinburgh, you’ve seen Scotland. If you never leave Glasgow, you’ve seen Scotland. If you drive up from London to the Borders, take a few pictures, have a dram and head home, you’ve seen Scotland. In all of these cases, you’ve seen a different part and aspect of Scotland than in the others. But in none of these cases have you seen it all.
If I was in charge of writing commandments to Scotland travel, that might be the first. Thou shalt not expect to see it all. Whether you have a day in Scotland or a month, you are going to have to make choices and not every great thing about the country is going to get ticked off your list.
This feels obvious, but I think it’s worth stating consciously, because too often travel becomes something like a job, a to-do list longer even than the one that waits on your work desk when you get home. If you don’t climb the stairs of every castle, stare over every loch, drive every mile and shop every street, you’re somehow missing out, or worse, wasting a rare opportunity. I want to take that idea of wasting travel time while you’re traveling and beat it over the head until it stops kicking, because as long as you’re doing what you want to do, something you couldn’t do at home or maybe just something that feels different when you do it someplace new, you’re doing fine. Great in fact. You’re doing it absolutely right.
Scotland is a small country. In land area, it’s just slightly smaller than the U.S. state of South Carolina. Maybe its smallness contributes to the problem. No one travels to China or Brazil or the U.S. and says “If we don’t see everything here, we’ve wasted our chance.” But look at Scotland on a globe, the top half of a fairly small island, and it can seem like a place that you can see and know in a single trip. That’s an illusion and, I personally think, a harmful one.
So when you’re planning your Scotland trip, by all means make a list. Make priorities. But don’t treat your trip like a job, a list where unmarked squares denote failure or that dubious sin, sloth. If you want to visit ten castles in ten days, do that, but do it because you want to, not because it would be a waste to miss any. The only waste is taking someone else’s vacation with the limited time you have to take your own.
One thing that can help you on your way to deciding what is going to fit in your trip and what is not is to decide whether you want to settle in one base and make small trips out from that, or live on the road and go town to town each day. Luckily, we have a post devoted to that very subject here at Scotland Explained.