30by30: Travel Solo Internationally (Edinburgh)
This past April I decided to cross another item off my bucket list. "Travel Solo - Internationally".
I chose Edinburgh, Scotland for several reasons. 1. My heritage is partly Scottish 2. Edinburgh is known for it's safety 3. Scotland has always been a magical romantic dream for me. 4. I enjoy whiskey.
I found an awesome AirBnB hosted by a girl from California right on the Royal Mile. The room was tiny with a single bed but it had a big beautiful window and high ceilings. It was a perfect spot for napping and planning out what I wanted to do next. My biggest thing with AirBnBs is cleanliness. The entire apartment as clean and welcoming and the single bed was actually really comfortable. Bonus points for the adorable details of this historic building like the winding stone staircase up to her apartment, the wide panel wood floors and the built in fireplace in my room.
Getting to Scotland was an ADVENTURE! As an airline employee, I am able to travel "non rev" or "non revenue" on several other airlines. That means that I travel basically for free or very cheap + taxes & fees. Free travel is an insanely amazing perk of my job. I feel like the whole world has been opened to me. However, this perk has it's challenges. We fly standby. That means, once everyone who has paid for a ticket gets on the plane, we have the chance of getting onboard. The biggest flight challenge I had for this trip was getting out of Dallas - believe it or not! Once I made it to NYC I had several options to hop across the pond.
The first lesson I learned this trip was patience. I am not the most patient person. In fact, on a scale of impatient to patient I would lean much more towards impatient. Part of that is because I have so much passion and so many things I want to do that it kills me inside to have to wait to do them. Another part is that I simply don't like being inconvenienced or thrown off my original plan. So many opportunities for self awareness when traveling solo. ;)
None of the original flights I planned on ended up working out. So I phoned a few friends with more non-rev experience and they helped me plot a new course. My refreshed plan involved a flight from DFW -> LGA followed by a cab to JFK (a TIGHT window - thank you TSA pre-check), then a flight from JFK to AMS overnight and a few hour layover around 4 a.m. in the beautiful Amsterdam airport then an early morning flight to Edinburgh!!! I experienced some incredible customer service on airlines and so many welcoming people. I even got upgraded to a row by myself and a glass of champagne on my overnight flight to Amsterdam. It pays to be friendly and a part of the airline industry. ;)
When I finally arrived in Edinburgh around 7 a.m. I was exhausted, excited and a little out of it. I couldn't sleep on the plane because I was so excited for my trip and I didn't want to take any sleep aids because I was traveling solo and I wanted to keep my wits about me. So after being up for over 24 hours in a row I wanted food, sleep and shelter. My AirBnB wouldn't be ready for several hours and I was cranky. Also my international data plan hadn't kicked in so none of the maps I planned to use worked. This was the part of the trip where I missed my dad the most. My dad would know where to go and how to get there. He would have purchased a physical map and made a game plan for a morning of time to kill. I hadn't planned that much because I honestly didn't know if I'd even make it to Scotland this long weekend.
I gave myself a pep talk I figured out which bus to take to the city center. From there I found the lockers for luggage. I locked up my backpack and rolling carryon and just kept my cross body purse with the essentials. I started wandering around town in search of some way to kill the time before I could finally nap and of course, stumbled upon a beautiful department store. I met some adorable girls working the Chanel counter and we became fast friends. I told them about my journey and they gave me some tips for the best sightseeing in Edinburgh. (Which I quickly learned, the locals pronounce, Ed-IN-BRUH. As in "Get off my back, bruh!" Not ED-IN-BORE-OH as I'd been pronouncing it my entire adult life. Leave it to a Texan to milk a word for as many vowels as possible. ;) I treated myself to a new lip color and another tube of my favorite CC cream and they gave my tired face a little Chanel makeover!
The best part of solo travel is that you can do what you want - when you want. I loved being able to take a nap, eat, and explore on my own terms. Some days I felt more like talking to people than others. The Scottish were very friendly and welcoming. It was also so fun to see so many curly redheads all around me. I almost joined the family below the day of my hike. :) That dog's name is GRETA and I love her.
Enough Narrative! You are probably reading this because you'd like to go to Scotland too! Here are the BEST things I did on my 3 day trip to this beautiful city.
1. Explored the city on foot. Learning my neighborhood. Shopping! Pub crawling. I found macarons and The Cambridge Satchel Company so I was a happy girl.
2. Hiked Arthur's Seat! This was on my list of Must Dos for the trip. I walked about a mile outside of City Centre to the base of the hill. Arthur's Seat is the peak of a set of hills that measures about 822 ft high and offers panoramic views of Edinburgh. It's not to be missed. Make sure you wear mud-friendly gear. With all the rain in Scotland, it's a muddy and slippery hike but so worth it.
3. Enjoyed local music and nightlife! From a chill pub with some awesome traditional Scottish musicians to a louder more vibrant pub with dancing and an American 1960s cover band. I made new friends, had a great time and felt safe. Walking home I was stopped by a group of men from Spain to tell me my teeth were shockingly white. It was probably the best cat call I've ever experienced. When they invited me to go to the next place with them, I kindly declined and again felt completely safe walking back to my AirBnB. I also went to a comedy show at Monkey Barrel Comedy and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I even introduced myself to to performers after as a fellow improv comedian and talked shop! Edinburgh nightlife is very active and the streets along the Royal Mile were filled with people in and out of bars.
4. I spent one morning touring Edinburgh with a local guide from Minimack Tours. Seriously, this was the best money spent all trip. Rowan was so friendly and knowledgeable and I got a private tour in an awesome mini cooper, The Red Rocket. It felt like I had a friend in Edinburgh and this was the perfect mid-trip pick me up I needed. Some of the most beautiful spots in town he showed me, I never would have stumbled upon on my own. I appreciated his sense of humor and historical knowledge of the area. I can't wait to go back and do a Loch tour with them when they expand. I felt safe on my own after reading all the great reviews of them online. If you get to Edinburgh don't skimp on this - they have several different price options. Yes, a tour bus is cheaper. But a tour bus also means you are trapped for most likely a full day with strangers. This was perfect for my style of travel. www.minimacktours.com
5. I wined and dined myself like I was on the best Bachelor date you've ever seen. I'd get by with a power bar and coffee for breakfast but make sure I enjoyed one full meal a day. Scotland had such a surprising variety of quality food choices. I remember being very bored of the local food in Ireland but I didn't experience this on my Scotland trip. The seafood was so fresh and incredible.
I loved my first trip across the pond alone. I had a lot of time for listening, learning and thinking. It felt like life slowed down for those five days total (2 travel days and 3 days of exploring). I'm so proud of myself for being independent and resourceful. I can't encourage you enough to take the leap and get out of your bubble to experience the wonders of the world.