My husband and I just returned from a ten day trip to Scotland this week in honor of our dating anniversary (crazy to think we’ve been together for 12 years!)
I’ve always considered Scotland to be my favorite country, so I was excited when we found affordable tickets to Glasgow from the US a couple months ago. Every year we try to take a vacation during the week between our dating anniversary (August 25th) and the American holiday of Labor Day (the first Monday of September) because the timing works out beautifully for his job.
We both had separately been to Scotland before, but both only for long weekends. The thrill of planning this trip was that we had a much longer amount of time, and we wanted to see as much as we could! Probably sounds familiar to most travelers, no?
Although we had both been to Scotland in the past, it had been so long that we needed fresh information. When I logged onto Google to start our research, I was immediately struck by the number of options we had for our itinerary. CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW MANY CASTLES THERE ARE IN SCOTLAND?! TWO THOUSAND!!!!
By using a variety of planning resources, we were able to hone in on the best options for our ten day trip, and have a truly amazing time! Below I’ve outlined the list of tools we used, and the order they were leveraged:
- Friend Recommendations:
Before starting our research, we first emailed three close friends that we knew had gone to Scotland recently and asked for their highlights from their trips. We ended up using at least one recommendation from all three people, despite the fact that many of their trips were during different months and with different purposes (i.e. one person did a whisky tour and one person did an Outlander tour!) Their insights were invaluable to help us determine how many days/hours were needed for certain destinations – but most importantly, we must tip our hat to our friend Dustin for telling us to rent the smallest car possible for our road trip through the Highlands!
2) Paper Guidebooks:
“You use guidebooks?!!” – you
“Yep.” – me
I don’t always purchase a paperback guidebook, but the longer the length of my trips, the more helpful I typically find them to be. For this trip we ordered the Rick Steves Scotland guidebook on Amazon and began by reading the intro section, where he recommends specific routes based on the number of days you have. The reason I chose Rick Steve’s guidebook over others like Lonely Planet was because his word choices often make me chuckle at their honesty or silliness – which adds some incredible levity to our trips.
Once Rick helped us decide which towns we would visit and for how long (yes, I personified our guidebook as if it were Rick Steves leading us himself!), we then read through his hotel suggestions for each location while cross-referencing their latest reviews and prices on TripAdvisor and Hotels.com. Sometimes we used his suggestions, and sometimes we chose ones we found on the booking sites.
3) TripAdvisor and Hotels.com:
I cannot emphasize enough how helpful TripAdvisor was for our trip! I’m not always the biggest TripAdvisor advocate after I had to write a glowing 5-star review of my favorite restaurant in my old NYC neighborhood in order to counteract some goober’s negative review that the place was “too nice for the area.” (TOO NICE? You gave a 1-star review about a restaurant being TOO NICE!? Ugh, some people.)
That being said, while planning, I found it difficult to obtain information about restaurants and hotels in small Highland towns through Google searching because the towns were so rural that many of the business websites were inadequate or non-existent. By scanning through TripAdvisor’s and hotels.com’s user-submitted photos, as well as mining through reviews by like-minded travelers, we were able to consistently stay in hotels and eat at restaurants during our trip that were perfect for our taste.
Lastly, I must mention that we also used the TripAdvisor app in real-time when we arrived in Edinburgh to help determine the best option free walking tour option after feeling overwhelmed by choice. Since our priority was to use a tour to get our bearings and get a deep dive on the city’s history, the stellar reviews of the Little Fish walking tour helped us find a terrific guide.
As many fans of Means To Travel know, my husband and I are really into Instagram (@meanstotravel and @mr.meanstotravel). We specifically loved using it for our Scotland trip planning because the interface makes it simple to find the most photographic locations as well as popular meal choices.
For example, before booking a table at restaurants that were well-reviewed on TripAdvisor, we’d do a quick Instagram search to learn the most popular menu items, make sure the recent food photos looked fresh and delicious, and lastly try to determine the typical clientele. Huge bonus points if the restaurant had its own Instagram account!
Instagram was also amazingly helpful at advising our packing decisions. During the last few days before we left, I did an Instagram search of many of the towns and restaurants that we were planning to visit in order to understand dress codes and weather needs. Needless to say, I spotted a lot of wind and raincoats, so I thankfully packed a lot of necessary sweaters, hats, and waterproofs!
Overall, I’d advise that it is important to diversify your research tools when planning a trip to make sure you have the best mix of information available. For my husband and me, it was helpful to combine our research resources across word of mouth, print, digital, and mobile platforms in order to get the latest and greatest details and tips.
Lucky for us modern travelers, we live in an era of crowd-sourced traveling, which puts SO MUCH power in our hands. Creating a meaningful and memorable trip has never been easier!