The great Scottish road trip | Powell’s Travels

by W. Andrew Powell
Scotland Borders

Growing up in New Brunswick, back in the 80s, road trips were a staple of my family’s summer vacation plans. We had short trips, with a few days in Bouctouche or Fundy National Park, and we had longer trips down Maine’s Route 1 to stay in Machias, Jonesport, and Bar Harbor. And every time, it felt like a new adventure.

We always found new places on each trip, different views, experiences, even with the same route.

Since then, my wife and I have made road trips one of our favourite ways to travel. We’ve driven thousands of miles, in a few countries, and it never gets old.

Years ago, when we had just started travelling together, we planned “7 States in 7 Days,” driving from Toronto, across to the 1000 Islands region, crossing into New York state, and then stopping in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Road Island, and Connecticut.

Calton Hill in Edinburgh
Calton Hill in Edinburgh

We drove in Aruba, and in France, and in 2007 we flew to Scotland, and spent ten days driving around almost the whole country. Starting out in Glasgow, we drove to Edinburgh, up to Aberdeen, then Thurso, ferried to Orkney island, then back down the west coast to Eilean Donan Castle, Fort William, and finishing in Inveraray and back to Glasgow.

That trip is–to this day–still one of my favourite travel memories, and we’ve been on a lot of trips since then. I’ve always loved New York City, we honeymooned in Italy, I still dream about going back to Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos, and I proposed to Aisha in France, on a trip that took us driving to Carcassone and Bourdeaux. We’ve even road tripped in Newfoundland.

But Scotland is special.

When it comes down to it, not every road trip works out the same way, for good and sometimes for bad. Some end up just a bit rushed. Sometimes you just plan too much. And other times, weather and circumstances just don’t work out the way you hoped. I’ve had surprises along the road that actually made the trip better, too.

For a lot of reasons, our road trip around Scotland was just about perfect, and it was filled with a few surprises. We only had a few hours of rain, and that was in Edinburgh. We booked with Royal Scottish Tours (also known as Royal Irish Tours), and our self-driving tour included one night at a castle–Dalhousie Castle near Edinburgh–and the rest of our trip staying at quaint bed and breakfasts.

We drove through the Highlands, and forests, saw red squirrels, and Loch Ness. I ate a lot of haggis, drank whisky and epic Scottish beer, and we just happened to be in Orkney during the Orkney Folk Festival, and somehow got into a sold-out performance.


For ten days, we saw castles, sheep, ancient cathedrals, and it felt like we ate some of the best food ever. A stranger in Glasgow took us out to a dance club, just to show us what a great city it was, and we drank just a bit too much.

The whole thing was incredible, and I think one big reason that it worked out so well was because we had the time to do it all. We weren’t rushed, and we didn’t have a big, long schedule we felt we had to accomplish. Our only schedule was getting from town to town, and then we often just walked around and did a few things.

We definitely had plans throughout the trip, but unlike some of our road trips, we didn’t have full days planned. I am all for planning things–for sure–and that’s made every trip work out better since the first one, but I do think it’s easy to get carried away when you’re planning.

Our “7 States in 7 Days” trip is mostly hard to forget, but if I could go back and do it again, I might have gone for “5 States in 7 Days.” There were points on that trip where we barely stopped, because we had so many miles to drive in a day, and I can safely say that we barely saw Connecticut or Rhode Island.

Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle

It feels so easy to book vacations to the point where every day is stuffed with activities. Taking a vacation feels like an opportunity, and sleeping in or taking it slow can sometimes feel like wasting time, but my best vacations–the ones that stuck with me and felt the most fulfilling while I was travelling–have always been the ones that balanced the schedule with time to explore, rest, relax, and just take things in.

Scotland had that going for it. We lucked out, and we also just happened to plan just enough, to keep it interesting.

Now, perhaps that’s just me, and the way I like to vacation, but I’d recommend it to anyone on your next trip. When we can travel again, it’s going to feel very compelling to try and pack vacation time with activities and schedules, but I think it’s going to be important having that time to breathe on vacation.

This goes back a bit to my last travel blog post, too. My favourite travel memories are often the little moments when I wasn’t even doing all that much. In Vatican City, I will certainly remember the first time I stepped into St. Peter’s Basilica, but sitting at a cafe in Rome on that trip, sipping espresso and eating dessert, also really stuck with me.

Plan your next vacation the way you’ve always been dreaming, but definitely also give yourself the chance to take it easy, slow down, and discover things you just can’t plan for.

Every month, I’ll be rounding up travel thoughts, inspirations, and eventually, travel ideas in Powell’s Travels. I’d also love to hear about some of your favourite travel memories, so tell me all about them in the comments or on Twitter.

Orkney Island
Orkney Island

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