You know that saying how there are two sides to everything?
Well, this is side one…
the “good” side…
the blissfully unaware of what the other side would be like side.
So, as I mentioned in another post, I’m a meticulous planner. Being such, I wanted to know every in and out on transportation in Scotland, before giving myself the greenlight.
After researching extensively, I concluded that Scotland is best seen when traveling by car, simple. It just seemed like the most logical thing to do. (never mind that I’ve never driven on the left side of the road before.) You just have to wing it sometimes, right?
A few pros of renting a car in Scotland:
- You’re on your own schedule. Which means you can stop as many, or as few times as you like.
- It is much easier to get off the beaten path and see the “real” Scotland, the less touristy one.
- You can cover more ground, which equates seeing and doing more.
These all sounded like top selling points to me. So I dived straight into my preparations.
How I prepared myself
- I bought a Garmin GPS.
- Read up on official rules and regulations.
- Watched videos on YouTube of first-timers driving in Scotland. (My focus was primarily on Americans, trying it. As opposed to someone from the U.K., who would obviously have more experience.)
- Visited Visit Scotland’s page more times than I can remember!
After comparing different car companies, I decided to reserve an automatic Vauxhall Corsa with Enterprise. I definitely wasn’t feeling that crazy to improvise driving stick. And voila! All I had to do was wait for the appointed time, and try to keep my anxiety in check until then!
Remember how I was just talking about sides?
Well, here is the other side.
The side I can only imagine was looking at my beginner’s optimism like this:
The appointed time of
doom arrived… Triumph, of course I meant triumph…
I arrived in Scotland with major jet lag, forever hungry, and in desperate need of coffee. You wouldn’t know it though by my huge smile, and what I can only imagine were “sparkly eyes” I felt I was glowing with delight, like a kid on Christmas morning. I was finally here! Six months of planning and it was just as beautiful as I had dreamed it would be. In great spirits, with less than an hour of having set foot off the plane, I headed out to pick up the car rental. (are you already getting a bad feeling?)
At Enterprise, I was given no hassle. The lad I was dealing with was nice, friendly, and efficient. If anything, I went over-prepared. (Their website mentions specific types of documentation to bring, but all he asked for was my driver’s license.) I thought, surely this must be a great sign from the heavens that everything is going to go smoothly, that everything is going to be just fine, right?
There was however, one very simple, but important matter I had not accounted for. Even until today, I keep asking myself how I was able to plan everything down to the T, and yet miss planning for the most obvious thing.
As I tentatively took the car out of the lot, my plan was to go park it, and then go exploring the city by foot. (I was supposed to leave very early the next morning to Loch Lomond and The Trossachs. Which is why I got the car first.)
Using my phones GPS, I made my way to the hostel I was staying in. (Never again btw!)
I was driving so well, that I was gradually able to relax my grip on the steering wheel. I was so damn proud of myself! My triumph however, was short lived, when my problem suddenly became apparent.
I was driving in circles. For what seemed like hours. Looking for parking.
“Where the bloody hell do I park? Was my tormenting question.
I live in Miami. So I know how areas like the downtown and South Beach are a nightmare to park in.
How then, could’ve I missed that logical fact for Edinburgh. The capital city of Scotland, on a Friday, at peak hours of the day? 😒
I kept driving up and down the streets, around neighborhoods, trying to find any type of parking. Even if only so that I could get down to ask, if and where I could pay for parking. However, every place was packed, so I just kept driving, looking.
After probably almost two hours, (maybe more, honestly, at that point I could barely tell.) Whether it was due to lack of sleep, pangs of hunger, or just my high level of frustration that the day was getting away from me. I ended up taking a cobbled stone curve, a little too sharply, when I suddenly felt and heard the most horrendous crashing sound.
I almost lost control of the car at that point, and stopped immediately where I was. (Thankfully, there weren’t a lot of moving cars in that area, just parked ones.)
When I got out to survey the damage, I saw that the whole tire had almost entirely come off the now dented rim. I lost it, and the tears began to roll.
In all my extensive planning, I had not prepared for this scenario, and didn’t know what to do. All I kept thinking about, was how the employee had asked me if I wanted to put any extra coverage on the car. Which I over confidently declined. (Without coverage, an automatic £1000.00 fee would be incurred for any damage.
Frazzled and panicky, I called Enterprise and told them what had happened. They sent a tow truck out to pick me up, and said that I could still take the car once fixed, BUT they needed to charge the £1000.
As a reminder, I was there on a very tight budget, and spending $1,295 on my first day there, was a big blow to my trip.
As I sat in the car, teary eyed, waiting for the tow truck. I made up my mind that my quest had been a mistake. I was so disappointed in myself, that I began looking for a flight to leave the next day.
This may seem a bit dramatic (very!) but with how high my emotions were strung at that moment, you could hardly blame me for not thinking optimistically.
This was my first attempt at solo traveling, and I honestly felt like a failure.
How could I possibly risk trying again? I was supposed to be driving to Fort William and Skye in the next few days. What if something worse happened there?
Would I be thrown into a dungeon if I totaled the car, and couldn’t pay on time? (Okay, now that is dramatic! 😅)
I needed to tell someone, so I turned to the only person I ever turn to for guidance, my sister. (Aww)
After being assured that I was okay, she promptly told me that I was not coming back, accidents happen, and that I couldn’t give up. After multiple encouraging messages of this sort, the embers of hope began to stir in me.
Then the tow truck showed up, just on time, as the rain began to let up into a light drizzle. I didn’t want to be seen crying, so I tried putting on my bravest face. It was to no avail, because the moment I got out of the car, the tears began to roll. (Damn my emotions sometimes!)
A tall and brawny man walked towards me. After inspecting the car, and seeing me all teary eyed, he said with that warm Scottish lilt,
“Och, lass wa ur crying fur?
We’ll fix it in nae time, dinnae fash yerse.”
He thought I was just crying for the tire, so I began explaining the whole ordeal to him. Ending with my plan to quit my holiday, and just go home.
After patiently listening to me, he expressed his distaste towards Enterprise for charging me a ridiculous amount for a tire. (strongly worded I might add, in traditional Scottish fashion.)
He then proceeded to give me a most endearing “pep talk”
He began to tell me stories of himself, imprudent things he’d done, getting himself into the worst of predicaments.
After a short while, he had me laughing and smiling from ear to ear with his tales. (probably blushing too ☺️) He finished his stories by telling me that his mistakes had taught him valuable lessons, and he was better for them.
He also told me that if I gave up right then and went home, I would regret never knowing what would’ve happened if I’d stayed.
My sister of course agreed completely with him, and to my utter surprise, also sent me the money for the fee (which I ofcourse returned when I got back)
But it was the sweetest thing, and so encourging to remember that no matter how far away I was, she was still there, cheering me on. ☺️
With remewed spirits, and feeling much stronger after my “pep-talks” I was ready for the adventures to begin.
It is said that the sun always shines after the storm.
That a rainbow will always appear after the rain.
Were my troubles finally over then?
Alas, this was Scotland, and it is always raining here.
The next morning I set out on my journey again.
However, on my way I tried using the $200 Garmin GPS I had brought with me, and guess what? It didn’t work.
No worries I thought to myself, my phones GPS was still working, so I used that instead, and guess what? After a few hours driving, I suddenly realized that my phone had been taking me in circles.
Then guess what? A warning light came on the dashboard!
I decided that a car was not going to work this time; I was going to spend the whole trip tense, worried, and unable to enjoy anything at that rate.
A Silver Lining
Holding on tightly to my renewed determination and optimism, I headed back to Enterprise to return the car. Deciding to figure out another way to travel. With a mix of Ubers, Taxis, and Trains, I was able to concoct the most amazing trip!
Why do I find these series of unfortunate events, so fortunate?
- Because once I made it to Fort William and Skye, I would lose my phone signal often. (If I had driven there, this would have left me without a GPS, lost, and unable to call for help.)
- When I later joined a 2-day tour, I realized that the winding and narrow roads to Skye are no joke, and if I had been driving there, the constant stress would have probably ruined my trip.
Would I ever rent a car again in Scotland?
Absolutely! I would just be smarter about it.
– I would rent the car once I’m already in the highlands (or at least very far from the main cities).
– Learn to read an actual map, or use a gps from the rental company.
– Fix minor car troubles without involving the rental companies. (Duh, although I probably shouldn’t even say that…)
I still think a car is the best way to see Scotland. If you know how to drive on the left side, and know how to read a map. Go for it!
But if you don’t, or this is your first trip, I would honestly just skip it. There’s a good enough transportation system that you can have a wonderful trip without the added cost and stress of driving.
A special thanks to that dashing Scotsman, for his words of wisdom, and for making me laugh when I so desperately needed it.
Also, to my wonderful sister, for always believing in me no matter what. For reminding me when my belief faltered, that I am brave enough. 💛
My first time attempting to drive abroad didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped. However, a most valuable lesson was learned. As it is in life, traveling doesn’t always go as planned. Even though it’s not easy staying positive, when things go awry. We should never give up.
We must not only be brave enough to try in life. We must also be brave enough to try again.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed!
Au revoir for now – Suzie
Have you ever rented a car abroad? Did you have better luck than me? What has been your most challenging experience when traveling?