Do you like hiking? Camping? Biking? Do you like myths and legends? History? Macbeth? Harry Potter? James Bond? Beautiful landscapes? Have you ever been on Pinterest and wondered if the Fairy Pools of Glenbrittle are real? Perhaps you saw this list and you were like, “How do I meet the little ponies wearing sweaters?” Do you want to meet incredible people while you sip on a wee dram of peaty scotch?
If so, I suggest you visit Scotland.
Scotland is not exactly top of the “Cheapest Countries to Travel” list, and I think it often seems like a pipe dream to those who want to travel on a budget. But it is possible do on your own, especially if you love the outdoors.
In my opinion the best way to travel Scotland also happens to be one of the cheapest ways to travel Scotland: rent a car and go camping. Depending on the dollar, you could get away with spending about $100/ day and go up from there. I’ll tell you where, when, and how to go and what to do in order to keep costs down on your tour of this stunning country.
WHERE TO GO
I love the Highlands, the West Coast, and the Islands. If you have two weeks, you can easily spend some time hiking in the Highlands and then go island hopping. Make sure you carve out some time for Skye as it has some of the best trails and the most beautiful scenery.
WHEN TO GO
The Scots joke that they don’t have bad weather, they have all weather. And it’s true. In one day, you could have cold, fog, clouds, cold winds, clear skies, and high temperatures. It changes from moment to moment and from town to town so don’t let Scotland’s soggy reputation stop you from exploring!
May through August is when Scotland has its best weather, which makes it peak season for traveling, so prices are steep. You’ll also get very long days, which means that you don’t have to worry about getting places before dark. For me, the 17.5-hour days were key: I didn’t have to worry about racing the sun to find a campsite or getting lost. If you plan on camping around Scotland, this is the time to do it.
That being said, the cheapest time to go is during the rest of the year. There are major discounts on accommodation, transport, and activities for off-season travel.
The cheapest way to sleep in Scotland is wild camping or couch surfing since they are both free. Scotland has a huge camping and outdoor culture and some of the best places in Scotland aren’t anywhere near a major city.
- Wild Camping/ Car Camping: You can camp almost anywhere in Scotland as long as you camp responsibly and get permission from landowners. Be sure to check out the Access Code for guidelines and see their advice on Wild Camping.
- Couch surfing: This is great option for meeting locals. The site recommended to me is Couchsurfing.com. I know a number of solo traveling ladies who’ve used it with great success, and some who’ve had some less favorable moments, so always do what feels comfortable.
- Caravan Parks: These cost anywhere from $10-$45 for tent pitching. Most parks have running water, hot showers, WiFi, and some have laundry. It’s a great place to set up for a couple of nights, get access to amenities for cheap, and check in with people if you start feeling lonely.
If you’re ever unsure about whether or not you can camp or park somewhere, just ask! If you can’t find someone to ask, you are probably okay to camp there.
All that being said, it’s not as easy to camp when you are in major cities… To keep your trip cheap, it’s best to keep your city touring to a minimum.
- Airbnb is my favorite option. It’s also a great way to meet locals who might be able to give you a few tips!
- Hostels range from $30-$100 depending on if you get a private room or not. I love using Hostelworld.
Despite the winding, single lane highways and the meandering sheep, the roads are in great condition and the country is small, which makes it quick and easy to cover great distances and see more places. If you aren’t an experienced driver or you don’t have your license – not to worry! There’s an excellent bus system that gets you around the country.
- Car Rentals: $30-50 USD/day is a great option especially if you want to go car camping.
- TRAVEL TIP: While some UK rental companies are beginning to carry automatic cars, they can be more expensive and hard to come by. I spent $80 learning to drive manual before I went. It will save you a lot of money in the long run.
- Buses: This is a great alternative to the road trip and an inexpensive option. The routes are very comprehensive and there are lots of discounts for hop-on hop-off passes. You can find more options for bus travel on Visit Scotland’s website.
- Campervan/ Caravan rentals: Most start at about $3,000 for two weeks which is a bit much for one person to handle on their own, but they can be quite luxurious. I once went to Scotland with my partner where we filmed an ad for a travel caravan company about our trip. It always gets me pumped up about traveling Scotland.
- Ferries: You will need to take ferries if you are visiting any islands (which I highly recommend). If you plan on visiting a few, check out Calmac’s Hopscotch Ferry Tickets. I recommend purchasing your ferry tickets online before you get to the ferry. In summer, tickets are about $10-$25 per passenger and cars are about $70-$100 round trip depending on the island.
Food is by far going to be your biggest expense and in my humble opinion, it isn’t great. I don’t know how the Scots aren’t all vitamin deficient.
The pubs have the best and cheapest food at about $20/meal. I did a mix of cooking my own food and eating in pubs.
**Note: Scottish cuisine is not kind to vegetarians, vegans, or the gluten intolerant.**
There are so many free outdoor activities! This was one of the main motivators for my Scotland trip in the first place and why you can travel for cheap!e Walk Highlands website. My favorite routes were Storr and the walk to the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye.
Hiking & Walking: There are tons of beautiful (free) hikes with routes for all levels. You will never run out! I found th incredibly useful for planning my walks and hikes. Make sure you check the weather before you venture out. You don’t want to get caught in fog or a thunderstorm up a mountain.
- Museums: Many museums and galleries have free admission on certain days.
- Castles & Heritage Sites: Some castles and historical sights you have to pay for, but Scotland has so much history you may just stumble across some unprotected ruins.
- MONEY SAVING TIP: Buy a heritage pass to get you into all the cultural sights around Scotland at a discounted price!
Scotland has so many beautiful things to offer and it can be done safely and without having to spend an outrageous amount of money. If you want to travel, you will make it happen. No matter your budget, there’s always a way to see the world, as well as an incredible international community of people who are always there to help you on your journey. Traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to figure it all out on your own.
Happy travels and lang may yer lum reek!
About the author: Avalon McLean-Smits produces commercials and travel films for resorts, hotels, and outfitters around the world. She writes short stories, goes on lots of adventures, and has travelled to at least one new country a year since 1990. You can read her travel diaries on her Tumblr or catch up with her on Instagram @mcleansmits.