Planning An Epic (International) Road Trip // SCOTLAND

Trying to plan road trip can be intimidating for the uninitiated.  But planning an international road trip can be downright terrifying.

There are so many unknowns when hitting the open road in a foreign country that it can paralyze even the most seasoned traveler.

So I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned over the years about road trips, and more specifically now, road trips on foreign soil.

If you haven’t read them yet, I have created a lot of content on planning epic road trips, so if you’re new to the subject, I would recommend checking out these posts:

Planning an Epic Road Trip // Intro

Planning an Epic Road Trip // The Destination

Planning an Epic Road Trip // The Plan

Planning an Epic Road Trip // Equipped

The road to Glencoe and surrounding mountains

The road to Glencoe and surrounding mountains

1.  Know Your Destination

First thing’s first.  Research the heck out of the country to which you’re traveling.  Whether your final destination is South Sudan or Norway, put in the time and effort researching the country’s customs, laws, and even safety for drivers.  If it’s a conflict zone, I would  recommend having a guide/ driver, getting the max amount of insurance, or not going all together!

For up to date travel safety info, check out The U.S. State Dept. Website.  Also, your local AAA office has a massive wealth of resources when entering into the initial planning phase.  You can also obtain your international driver’s license from AAA for $15.  It’s generally not necessary, but could definitely come in handy in certain places, so why not.

the road to Glen Afric, Scotland

the road to Glen Afric, Scotland

2. Know Thyself :)

Be honest with yourself.  Set yourself up for success and a good time.  If you’re the type of person that get’s stressed and loses it when road tripping in the States, your style may not be to hit the open road in a foreign land.  And that’s okay!  There are plenty of fantastic options for travel that don’t include the adventure (or headache, depending on how you look at it) of renting a vehicle, driving on the other side of the road, navigating round abouts and/or one lane, windy paths, and mapping routes in a different language.

Wildflowers in spring bloom along the east coast of Scotland

Wildflowers in spring bloom along the east coast of Scotland

3.  Prep, prep, prep

There is so much prep work that goes into any road trip, much less a trip to a different country… much less a road trip in a different country!  Here are a few things I know will help.

Call your car insurance company to see if you are covered in foreign countries… typically you are not, so I would go ahead and get secondary insurance either through the car rental agency or through a trusted international travel insurer.  There is nothing worse than having an accident.  Oh wait, yes there is!  Having an accident while on vacation.  Trust me, it’s worth the extra cash!

Get all the necessary maps, and actually look at them before you’re in the driver’s seat!  Make sure you can adequately read the maps.  They may be in a foreign language.  But don’t just look for the English maps, because it may confuse you even further when you’re on the ground…  The local signage will often not include the English :)

Learn a few key phrases of the local language.  You’re definitely going to have to stop for directions at some point (just get over it).  And I cannot tell you how much of an icebreaker it is to at least try to speak to folks in their native language.  They always appreciate it, and often, people speak enough English that you can communicate with one another, albeit primitively.

Leave your itinerary open for minor changes.  Definitely have a master route planned.  And book a few hotels ahead of time in key spots you know you’ll visit.  But don’t create such a rigid itinerary that you’ll annoy any travel buddies to death or even miss out on unexpected opportunities or adventures!  That’s what travel is all about, after all.

the cliffs near dunnet head

the cliffs near dunnet head

the main road through Dunnet

the main road through Dunnet

The River Abhainn An Lethuillt with wildflowers and dramatic morning light and clouds

The River Abhainn An Lethuillt with wildflowers and dramatic morning light and clouds

The Northern edge of the Totternish Range on skye

The Northern edge of the Totternish Range on skye

A dramatic sunset over he Isle of Harris from Rubha Hunish

A dramatic sunset over he Isle of Harris from Rubha Hunish

*Other Highly Recommended Preps:

Call your cell phone provider and consider a temporary international plan ahead of time.  If for nothing other than texts and data, this might be the way you want to go.  You can communicate with family and friends cheaply and easily via text, and use your data to navigate and locate yourself or hard to find destinations.

Know what size car you need!  You may not have as much gear as me, and I would always recommend getting the smallest, most fuel efficient vehicle possible… just make sure you have enough room!  Most other countries do not have the huge cars and roads we have in the U.S., and gas prices can be way more expensive.  The smaller the car, the better.  I find there are many more “tight squeezes” while driving over seas.  It’s also common to have to pay a lot more for automatic transmissions.  If you’re comfy with manual, save the money and go manual.  However, be aware that the stick shift may be on the left side instead of what we’re used to on the right.  Be a smart, savvy traveler!

A Renault Captur hatchnack navigating the dirt trails of Dunnet Head

A Renault Captur hatchnack navigating the dirt trails of Dunnet Head

Along with currency, be prepared to convert gallons to liters. If you’re like me, you’re thrifty, and you track every dollar when you’re traveling.  Well, in case you were unaware like I was the first time, the rest of the world works on the metric system, so it can be a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out how much gas mileage you’re getting, when everything is in liters per kilometer.  There’s an app for that!  Actually several.  Find the one that works for you.

Don’t forget your chargers and cords.  Nearly all cars you’d drive will have the traditional “cigarette lighter” outlets you’re used to.  This could be your best (or only) way to charge your devices!

Use google maps, or other software like it, to plan your route ahead of time.  And now with smart phones, you can take it with you to help along the way.  This was our route in Scotland…

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

A855 leading up to Storr and the dramatic Totternish Range on the Isle of Skye

A855 leading up to Storr and the dramatic Totternish Range on the Isle of Skye

Moon and stars as cars passing on A82 near the River Etive

Moon and stars as cars passing on A82 near the River Etive

There is so much beauty out there to see, and often times, the only way to see it is behind the wheel.  So don’t be afraid, just educate yourself, use every resource possible before and during, and get out there to find your adventure!

All in all, try to have that good blend of laid back/ adventurous mixed with some detail oriented/ planner, and your trip will be glorious.  Oh yeah, and be a courteous driver… it goes a long way… just about everywhere.  **Just don’t ask my wife if I am one… she’ll probably lie and say I am, fingers crossed behind her back. :)

— andrew

P.S. If you’ve learned anything during your travels that you think might be helpful to others that I’ve left out, please let us know in the comments!


 
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