For the past 8 or 9 months, Brandon and I have been doing something called "travel hacking." Essentially, we apply for credit cards, use them for our everyday purchases, pay them off in full each month (so as not to ever pay any interest), and then reap the large rewards they offer for meeting a certain "minimum spend" within the first few months. This has allowed us to acquire hundreds of thousands of airline and hotel points, making travel much more accessible to us. You can read more about travel hacking here.
After a couple of months of travel hacking, two of my sisters joined in the fun of it. Brandon and I had been planning a trip to the UK for March/April, and travel hacking allowed these two sisters and a niece to join our party as well. I, as is my custom, researched the heck out of different options, and we ended up deciding to rent a motorhome to take us around Scotland for a week, with yours truly driving. You can read more about my experience and tips for driving in the U.K. here.
Because we all purchased our tickets at different times, we weren't all together from the get-go. Brandon and I met up with Sarah and Kaisa in Chicago, and then Emily in Frankfurt. We arrived in Scotland around noon. Most people wouldn't recommend doing this, but we went straight from the airport to the motorhome rental company just west of Edinburgh. I was far too anxious about driving a 23-foot long, 8-foot wide, manual transmission motorhome on the left side of miniscule roads to let my jet lag keep me from being anything but a wide-eyed, white-knuckled driver in hyperalert mode. The motorhome company let us know to be wary of lorry (truck) drivers swiping off our side-view mirrors, as they cost $500 each, and in July alone they had lost seventeen of them. Gulp. To add to my anxiety, we spent about 20 minutes going over how to empty the waste water and grey water, how and when to use the various power sources, which keys opened which cabinets, what to be wary of, etc. etc.
Pulling out of the motorhome parking lot was one of the most nervewracking moments of my life. I was sure that I should have kissed the $3000 deposit we had just put down (!!!!) goodbye. I didn't even get the chance to practice driving on lesser-traversed roads, as we drove straight through the city to the grocery store to stock up the motorhome.
Every time we passed by another vehicle--especially large lorries and buses--I nearly wet myself, wincing from the anticipated contact between our vehicles. I can only imagine how nervewracking it was for Brandon in the passenger seat, with no control but a clear view of just how close each call was.
Thankfully, we made it to Lidl (a discount grocery store in Europe) in one piece, which meant I was rewarded with participating in a favorite activity of mine--grocery shopping abroad. After joyfully perusing the store and purchasing what we thought we would likely need and use over the next few days, we headed on our way to the northwest.
I, personally, had a very polar experience in those first few hours of driving. I was torn between excitement at all the beautiful vistas surrounding us and utter terror at driving on small, two-way raods and single-track lanes where meeting a passing driver essentially feels like trying to fit two marshmallows through a straw hole. I wanted so much to stare at all the amazing lochs and villages we were passing through (perhaps having the photographer drive was not the best idea), but I knew that, even with my eyes on the road, a lost deposit, injury, and death were never further than a couple milliseconds away. I would ask Brandon over and over again, "What does it look like? Is it pretty?"
After a solid hour of driving on a road barely big enough for the motorhome, I needed a break. Luckily, driving through the Trossachs means that you're either in an adorable village or on the edges of lochs and hills, so we stopped at a loch to let everyone out for a stretch and a breather, skipping rocks and admiring the beautiful views. We even arrived on a sunny day!
We continued on our way, with the loosely-defined destination of Glen Coe for the day. The last thing I wanted to do was drive the Scottish roads at night, especially as it was looking like rain. We ended up stopping short of Glen Coe, but still found a place with a magnificent view of a loch and snow-capped mountains.
I couldn't have been more excited, despite the terrors of driving, to be in Scotland. I had been to Edinburgh twice before, but had been wanting to explore more of the country ever since my first visit in 2009. Scotland is truly stunning everywhere you look. Wild daffodils were EVERYWHERE we drove, bringing such a lovely pop of yellow to the moody color scheme of Scotland in early-April.
Our first night in the motorhome, we had plans to make broccoli soup with mature Scottish cheddar cheese using the smart stick Sarah had brought. We connected it to the converter and started blending, only to have it begin smoking and blow out. We got quite a laugh out of the whole situation, ending up with what looked like broccoli and onions in water. It actually tasted quite good though, especially thanks to the cheese.
We also discovered that we had been given one-too-few blankets and pillows, leaving Emily with nothing at all. We had to get creative for that night but bought a duvet and pillow the next day to ensure a more pleasant sleeping experience for all.
Honestly, our first night in the motorhome, I asked myself, "What did we get ourselves into with this thing?" The driving struggles plus the close quarters (the shower/toilet situation in particular) plus the inconveniences it entailed made me second-guess our decision. But it allowed us so much freedom we wouldn't have otherwise had. We truly got to pick and choose wherever we wanted to stay at night--stopping as early or as late as we pleased, sleeping next to lochs, fields of sheep, and the ocean. It was such an adventure, and looking back, I wouldn't trade it for anything!