I'm an American who visited Scotland for the first time. Here are 8 mistakes I made.
I recently visited Scotland for the first time and made some mistakes as an American tourist.
I didn't pack a waterproof coat or realize I needed exact change to pay for some public bathrooms.
I almost got stranded in Glasgow because I wasn't aware that railway workers were striking.
I recently went to Scotland for the first time and made some touristy mistakes.
I grew up in the Midwest and have now lived in New York City for 10 years, but I had never been to the UK before until January, when I took a vacation to Scotland.
I swapped my New York apartment with a friend who lives in Edinburgh. I also traveled to Glasgow and Inverness by train.
I was aware of major differences between the US and Scotland, such as driving on opposite sides of the road, but I still made some mistakes as a first-time visitor.
I visited during the off-season, when some of the sites I was looking forward to seeing were closed.
I'd heard that the visitor center at the battlefield of Culloden Moor does a fantastic job at portraying different perspectives of the 1746 battle where British forces wiped out the Jacobite army. As an "Outlander" fan, I was looking forward to learning more about the actual historical events that inspired plotlines in the show.
Unfortunately, because I visited in January, the visitor center was closed. I did get lucky and run into a group of National Trust tour guides who let me tag along for their training session, so I managed to get a partial tour of the battlefield even though the exhibits were shut to the public.
Visiting in the off-season does have some advantages. On the Isle of Skye, our tour guide said that she loves leading bus tours during the winter months because there are no crowds or traffic, even though many of the shops and sites are closed.
I didn't pack a waterproof coat and ended up buying a new one there.
I knew it rained a lot in Scotland, but I made the mistake of prioritizing a warm coat over a waterproof one. My trip involved a lot of walking around outside in rainy weather, and the down coat I brought with me would soak through to my clothes after just a few minutes.
I'd meant to buy a new jacket before leaving for Scotland since holes had started to rip in the pockets anyway, but I hadn't had time. Ahead of my visit to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye, where I knew it would be colder and rainier than Edinburgh, I stopped at a nearby mall and bought a waterproof winter coat. I immediately felt warmer and more comfortable in Scotland's rapidly changing weather, and I donated my old one to a local charity shop.
I went to stores in the middle of the afternoon without realizing some would be closed for lunch.
Most stores in the US cities where I've lived don't close for a lunch hour, so I hadn't anticipated finding closed shops in the middle of the afternoon in Edinburgh.
I almost got stranded in Glasgow because I wasn't aware that railway workers were striking, causing train stations to close early.
ScotRail's website said that the last train from Glasgow to Edinburgh usually leaves close to midnight, which would have given me plenty of flexibility on my day trip to Glasgow. However, I hadn't been following the local news about striking railway workers.
While perusing exhibits at a museum around 4:30 p.m., I was shocked to see that the last train to Edinburgh was leaving in an hour, not 11:53 p.m as I had previously thought. I rushed back to the station, booking myself a ticket as I ran, and snagged a seat on a crowded car.
I later learned that an industrial action held that day by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) was part of a months-long dispute between the union, the government, and rail companies over salaries and working conditions.
In a classic tourist mistake, I had missed the company's memo advising people to only travel if necessary during the industrial action due to "very limited services."
"If you have to travel, you should expect disruption and plan ahead," ScotRail's website said.
I didn't keep change on hand for public bathrooms.
At the Glasgow Queen Street train station, bathroom access cost 50 pence (about 62 cents), and they only accepted exact change. I don't think I've ever had to pay to use a public bathroom in America, so I didn't have the right coins on hand.
I looked the wrong way to cross the street. Every. Time.
No matter how many times I tried to remind myself that oncoming traffic was coming from the opposite side than I was used to, I reflexively looked the wrong way before crossing the street in Scotland.
I forgot to bring reusable bags with me while running errands and had to pay for plastic bags.
This is a mistake I often make at home in New York City, as well, where plastic bags are no longer offered and paper bags come with a five-cent charge. In Scotland, each bag costs 10 pence (about 11 cents).
I took out too much cash.
I stopped at an ATM at the beginning of my trip, just in case I'd need cash at some point, but I never did because my credit cards were accepted everywhere (aside from the occasional public restroom). I tried to spend it on souvenirs during my last few days in Scotland, but I ended up with leftover pound notes and coins.
I still think it's a wise idea to keep local currency handy while traveling, but I'd withdraw less money next time.
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