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Be warned! This post is personal. On this blog, I want to be honest and open with you guys, and that means discussing my first solo trip: a 14 day tour of Scotland.
Oh, and before we get down to the story, I wanna let you guys know that this post is 110% sponsor free. Haggis Adventures didn’t magically discover my site two years after this magical trip and request me to promote them. I promise.
Anyway I already know well-worn travelers on the internet are rolling their eyes to infinity and back. I get it. A 14 day – mostly guided tour (AHHH!) – of Scotland doesn’t sound like a life-changing experience, especially for those of you who’ve roamed Kazakhstan alone on horseback for a month, lived in the wild jungles of Brazil, couchsurfed the entire Middle East, and swam icy waters from Chile to Antarctica on a social media dare.
Blond Wayfarer focuses on a love of literature and travel, but this space is also safe for nervous travelers. These are people who are still scared to tackle more challenging destinations, who worry about forgetting to lock the door, who are dealing with anxiety or depression or lack of self-esteem, and may even experience a fear of flying.
I WISH I was a daredevil. I WISH I was less scared about my life, my future, my inevitable death. However, I’m not the impulsive and wild adventurer that my family and friends have apparently created in their minds. I’m scared of a lot of crap. And although the travel community seems laden with daredevils, I’m willing to bet the meager cash in my savings account that many people harbor the same similar and nervous feelings I do.
So, without further ado, here’s how Scotland changed my life.
Before Leaving For Scotland
The second half of 2013 was the worst time of my life.
I was stuck in a teaching job I didn’t particularly care for. Actually, that would be a brazen lie and I promised honesty: my teaching job wasn’t even a full time teaching job. I was a replacement substitute, covering for a teacher on maternity leave, and when you’re a replacement teacher, you have less than zero protections (at least in the USA). You are granted no benefits, given a pay cut if you take one sick day (known as a ~break in service~), paid near poverty level wages, and unfortunately taken advantage of by being asked to perform extra tasks that full time teachers would be paid for doing.
My co-workers were all incredible people, eager to teach me the ropes and help me grow as a professional, but all in all, leave replacements are thankless positions often outsourced to staffing agencies (which explains the lack of real benefits; most school districts would be more generous otherwise). My masters degree felt like a gigantic waste of time.
Then the month of May approached, and another professional nightmare hit me in the gut.
After working at this school district for 3 months, I learned that I wouldn’t be offered a full time position that had opened due to a retirement. Here I was: 26. Still at home. About to be booted from my family’s health insurance. Skipped over for yet another job.
At this point, I’d been searching for a teaching job in New Jersey for close to two years. I had been on approximately 40 interviews, all with the same answer: you’re qualified but we went with someone else! Well, that was the answer I got if I even received a reply. Most schools never told me the interview’s outcome.
I don’t care how much of a tough guy you say you are. In New Jersey, we’re known for our rough edges and our uncaring gruffness toward other people’s thoughts about us. But when you’ve been rejected for THAT many jobs and never given tangible reasons for said-rejections despite asking for help, your self-esteem takes nosedive bigger than Mount Everest.
I was disgusted. I was angry. I was depressed.
A popular internet quote says “comparison is the thief of joy.” Despite being a pinterest-y cliche, this quote speaks the truth loud and clear. I compared myself to my facebook friends. I graduated high school and/or college with the majority of them. All of them seemed to have their lives in tip-top shape. They had great jobs. They had their own apartments or houses. They had successful relationships. They were in much better physical shape. Etc etc etc.
Okay, I know that people present fake personas on facebook. We only see the good stuff. Still, logic tends to fly out the window when you’re hopping mad about the lackluster state of your life.
My Role Models
If you’ve read my biography, then you know that I was obsessed with travel for many years before setting out solo to Scotland. I promise that I’m not trying to suck up to popular travel bloggers to earn more traffic, but, by and large, the “major” players in the travel blog community were role models for me.
After long days at work, I’d cuddle up in bed, drinking some chai or green tea, and read about their adventures and tips for traveling alone. I already knew my friends weren’t too interested in traveling with me. They had their reasons and I’m not judging them. But, despite blog posts clearly spelling that solo travel was fine, even for young women, I hesitated to book a trip.
1. If I left in the summer, schools would be pissed off that I dared to leave the country in the middle of prime interviewing “season” and I’d never ever EVER find a job. Ever.
2. A co-worker was diagnosed with stage iv bile duct cancer at my former school district. There were very few symptoms. It blew my mind that this poor man, who was younger than my parents, could jump from slight indigestion to death’s door. Unsurprisingly, this event kicked off a severe bout of health anxiety, and I was convinced I’d get super sick if I ventured beyond the United States.
3. My parents wouldn’t want me to travel alone. Okay, I know that this sounds stupid. At 26, you’re an adult and can make your own damn decisions, but I still lived under their roof. Plus, they had paid for my university and their generosity gave me a complex about earning their approval at all times (sorry, mom and dad; I know that wasn’t your intention).
4. I’d waste my money. Sad reason, I know.
Again, since we’re all about honesty, I’ll admit that I still don’t know how I exactly mustered the courage to book my tour of Scotland. But it happened.
Amanda, over at “Dangerous Business,” wrote this post about her experiences with a company called “Haggis Adventures.” I’ve followed Amanda’s blog for a year, and her excitable description of her tour stuck with me. I trusted her information. I found myself clicking on Haggis Adventures’s website multiple times a day before I told my parents that I decided to travel to Scotland in July.
They were incredibly supportive. It’s so weird how we build up our family’s disapproval in our heads, huh?
Nonetheless, I waffled for about a week and then booked my flight to Edinburgh. Why the wait? I hate flying. But if I wanted to get to Scotland, I had to gather my fragmented courage and board a plane. Sure, the ticket cost a decent bit of my savings and my control freak nature demanded to know why I lost my mind, but I was determined to make this solo trip work for me. I was scared. So scared.
The Trip Itself
“Why did I do this?” I thought as I boarded my United flight to Edinburgh. It had been two months after my job had permanently ended. “I’m so stupid. I’m all alone. I’m flying on this stupid plane, which only has one aisle, across the Atlantic Ocean, and oh god, we’ve been delayed due to THUNDER storms? No, no, no.”
My mind is a melodramatic beast, sometimes, and that evening in the Newark airport, my brain was spitting frightening scenarios in overdrive. On board, I sat next to a kind Scottish gentleman who was around my father’s age, and he told me that landing in Edinburgh promised a pretty view. I smiled, hoping I’d be alive to see said-pretty view.
Of course the plane safely touched ground.
Though here’s the funny part: upon landing, my stomach wasn’t tightly wound and my palms had no sweat. I simply grabbed my backpack, smiled and chatted my way through customs, and headed out to the airlink bus stop. For reasons still unknown to me, my anxiety departed from my body and left me to my own devices. Experience was less scary than imagination.
Roughly halfway through the bus ride, we turned around a corner. And there was Edinburgh Castle looming above me. A single word, “wow,” raced through my head, and this “wow” was repeated a million times the next 14 days.
Then I checked into my hostel. I walked around the cobblestone streets and to the castle. The world’s biggest smile spread across my face. I was free here. Totally free.
Among other backpackers, my home life and anxiety didn’t matter. We were all here to enjoy this wonderful fairytale country together.
On my Haggis Adventures tour, a 10 Day Compass Buster around the entire country and its islands, I met some of the most gracious, outgoing, amazing people ever. My fellow travelers and both tour guides were beyond fantastic. I couldn’t even begin to believe that such great people existed in the world. It was my first time truly making connections with non-Americans.
Oh, and I learned sharing bedrooms and bathrooms with strangers wasn’t so torturous either!
A couple fond memories:
- We totally got lost on Orkney. If you’ve ever been to these northern islands, you’d know that there’s a brewery, lots of cows, fog in every direction, and narrow roads. Oh, and don’t forget wind! Our awesome guide (and I mean that, no sarcasm here) decided to take us on a spin to find a water source known as The Gloop. Instead we drove in circles for an hour. And it was hilarious.
- The barbecue on Lewis and Harris. Instead of splurging for a pricey dinner, my travel companions and I had a barbecue in the hostel’s backyard and exchanged cooking tips and stories. The meal was cheap. The experience was priceless. (Ohmygod, sorry for that cliche).
- I twisted my ankle at Loch Ness. How the hell is that a fond memory? you might ask yourself. Well, it forced me to limp to a local pharmacy and buy medication. Instead of fretting and creating catastrophes, I was forced to take action and lo, my ankle pain cleared the next morning.
- I went to a cabaret show in Edinburgh. The show was a blast, and I ate chocolate cupcakes. The icing stained my Coach purse. I didn’t care. This trip forced me to leave my materialism at the door. Experiences trumped things in my mind.
- We danced in parking lots, looked at puffins at Dunnet Head, drank from a waterfall on the Isle of Skye, learned about Scotland’s dark history at Glencoe and the site of the Battle of Culloden, listened to bagpipes in a bar at Inverness, and hiked the Highlands.
How I Changed
Although my self-esteem still struggles and uncertainties still plague my life, I try not to allow insecurities pull me into a deep depression. I remind myself that the pathetic economy and US politics, not my teaching abilities, are to blame for my slow-moving career. Personal determination, a strong support system, and reflection can lessen my fear of flying. And for god’s sake, facebook’s representations are nothing except lies and I shouldn’t care so much about so-and-so’s swanky new urban apartment or engagement ring. Their lives are not mine. I don’t want to marry their boyfriends. So why should I care? That’s right. I shouldn’t.
I was capable of solo travel. More than capable. After returning home, I knew I could travel again and again.
To summarize, thank you, Scotland and Haggis Adventures, for changing my life.
Tell me about the trip that changed your life.