A Teacher's $5,931 Trip To Scotland With Her Sister & Their Husbands

Welcome to Away Game, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real millennial women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 30-year-old teacher takes a couples' vacation with her sister in Scotland.
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Age: 30
Occupation: Teacher
Salary: $58,000
Husband's Salary: $70,000
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Trip Location: Scotland, UK
Annual # Of Vacation Days: In general, I get the months of June and July off, as well as two weeks in August.
Husband's # of Vacation Days: It varies, but he has a lot of flexibility with his schedule and was able to take off two weeks without an issue.
Trip Length: 12 Days
Travel Companion: Husband
Flight: $1,896.92, United Airlines from STL to EDI
Rental car: $509.84, Stirling to Glencoe, Portree, Oban and back with insurance for nine days
Total: $2,406.76
Edinburgh Airbnb for two nights, cost shared with my sister and brother-in-law: $114.78 for our portion
Clachaig Inn in Glencoe for two nights: $317.96
Airbnb in Portree for four nights: $514.08
Glenbervie Guest House in Oban for two nights: $295.74
12 Picardy Place Hotel in Edinburgh for one night: $203.71
Total: $1,446.27
Pre-Vacation Spending
Cat sitting: $300

Day One

7:30 a.m. — After a nearly 8-hour flight, my husband, S., and I land in Edinburgh and deplane. We grab our bags (we each traveled with one large backpack) and head towards the tram station that will take us to the city and our Airbnb. I contacted the host yesterday, and she told me that we could check in early. Thank God. I try to pack light, but the thought of lugging around my giant backpack for extended periods in my jet lagged state is less than pleasant. We purchase our tram tickets, opting for day passes so that we can use the tram again to get to downtown Edinburgh, and catch the next one heading into the city. $24.06
9 a.m. — We navigate to our AirbnB, which turns out to be in a really nice neighborhood. The walk from the tram station is nothing short of idyllic: We use a biking path that’s lined with foliage and flowers to get to the apartment. The space is also adorable: cute decorations, tons of light and, best of all, it’s quiet. We toss our backpacks down, and I send our host a message, letting her know we found everything okay. S. and I decide to shower and, contrary to our jet lag philosophy of “just push through it,” we end up taking a nap.
2 p.m. — We’re up, and we’re back on the tram. My sister and brother-in-law, who live in Germany, are flying in to Edinburgh this evening to hang out with us for a few days, so S. and I have some time to explore the city while waiting for them to arrive. We decide to enjoy high tea at Eteaket, a tea house recommended to me by a friend. We stuff ourselves with sandwiches, scones, and a myriad assortment of pastries, plus a pot of tea for each of us. It’s just what I needed after suffering through airplane food. We walk it off afterwards with a stroll up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle, stopping to peek in the numerous shops selling kilts, Scottish tablet (a candy that looks a little bit like fudge) and, of course, whisky. $42.64
6:30 p.m. — My sister and brother-in-law are here! We meet them at the tram stop next to our Airbnb, get them settled, and immediately head back out for the evening, riding the tram to Princes Street. They’re hungry and suggest Nando’s, which is apparently a fast-casual chain in the UK. We’re down. S. and I both order spicy grilled chicken with chips, and I get a bottomless drink. $29.61
9:30 p.m. — More exploring. It stays light outside for much later in Scotland, I’m realizing — 9:30 and no signs of it getting dark any time soon! We stop and hit up an ATM for some cash and walk up towards to Scott Monument, a neat Gothic-style structure, and S snaps some pictures (he’s into photography and can usually be found with a camera in hand on our trips). We walk across Waverly Bridge and take turns snapping couple photos with the pretty sunset in the background. My sister’s husband suggests grabbing a drink at a pub, so we wander around until we find one that actually has room. My sister and I find a table while our husbands get drinks for us. S. pays for our drinks (a Scottish cider for me and a local beer for him) with some of our cash. While waiting for our drinks, my sister and I take a selfie and text it to our mom, who basically cries when she sees us together. We finish our drinks, tram it back to our Airbnb, and fall asleep after making plans to wake up (sort of) early. $135.00
Daily Total: $231.31

Day Two

9 a.m. — We head out to breakfast, but we cannot seem to find the spot I picked, despite marking it out on the map before we left. We wander down the street a bit and find a place called Coates Cafe that looks cute. I order a hot chocolate, eggs, and toast; S opts for the same, except with a flat white. We discuss our plans for the day with my sister and brother-in-law, and we decide to walk up to Edinburgh Castle and tour it. We figure we might beat some of the crowds if we head up now. $24.26
10 a.m. — There’s a huge crowd of people at the entrance, and we can’t really figure out what’s going on...until soldiers and a band walk out and put on a little show. We’re far back and can’t really see what’s going on, so we decide to change up our plans — there’s no getting into the castle anytime soon. We walk back down the Royal Mile (I stop to snap a picture of a store named Thistle Do Nicely — I’m a sucker for a cheesy pun) and head to the trailhead for Arthur’s Seat, a hike that promises to reward us with great views of Edinburgh.
11:45 a.m. — I’m sweating, but we made it to the top! All the travel guides were right: the views are great! Rolling green hills, the beautiful Edinburgh skyline, and a nice’s pretty perfect. S. takes some time to take pictures, including one of my sister acting like she’s pushing me off a rock. Typical. After spending 20 or so minutes up top, we head back down. At the bottom of the hill, we buy drinks from a street vendor: a bottle of water and a bottle of Irn-Bru, a florescent orange soda made in Scotland. We pay with cash. We all try the Irn-Bru, and S. and my sister’s husband like it, while my sister and I agree that it kind of tastes like the flavored fluoride treatments we got at the dentist as children. Oh well.
12:30 p.m. — We’re sweaty and still full from breakfast, so we decide to skip lunch and head back to the Airbnb and shower. Before hopping on the tram, we duck into Primark, a clothing store, to look for some shorts for S., who forgot to pack some. He finds a pair, and I buy a cute yellow top. $21.39
3:30 p.m. — We get back on the tram and head back to Princes Street, intending to attempt to tour Edinburgh Castle again. This time, we are able to get in and purchase tickets. We spend the next hour and a half touring the castle. My favorite part ends up being the prisons, which have lots of first person accounts complete with creepily posed dummies and detailed descriptions of torture devices. I’m fascinated by the macabre. $49.46
5 p.m. — A drizzle that started at the end of our castle tour turns into a full-blown downpour. I’m glad for my Marmot raincoat — it’s waterproof and I stay dry as we search out an early dinner. We end up at Byron Hamburgers because I’m low-key obsessed with chips and I figure a burger place will have some good ones. I order fried pickles to share, a chicken sandwich, and chips. It’s all delicious. We pay with cash.
7 p.m. We decide to head back a little early tonight since we need to wake up earlier tomorrow, but we need provisions. We stop by Sainsburys, a grocery store, and pick up snacks and drinks: a lime and cranberry cider, a premixed Jack and Coke, two cans of beer, and some crisps. We take the tram back to our apartment and spend the rest of the evening playing Heads Up and drinking. $12.77
Daily Total: $107.88

Day Three

8 a.m. — We pack up to head to our next stop: Stirling. We’re picking up a rental car that we’ll be using for the rest of the trip. We buy one last set of tram tickets (my sister pays) and head to the train station and buy our tickets to Stirling ($45.45). Before we get on the train, my sister and I decide we need breakfast, so we set off on foot to a Krispy Kreme we see in the distance. I buy three donuts to split with S. ($6.62). We loop around and start walking back towards the train station, but I spot a Tesco (a grocery store) and we detour to go in there to see if I can find a breakfast with a little more protein. I grab a ham and cheese baguette and a large bottle of water ($5.28). We meet back up with the guys, board the train, and head to Stirling. $57.35
10 a.m. — An Enterprise employee picks us up at the Stirling train station and takes us to get our car. S. is excited to see that we’re getting a Volkswagen — he drives one at home. He decides to take the insurance (even though he’s the most careful driver I know), but I think it’s better to spend the money and have a little peace of mind. After all, he’ll be driving on the wrong side of the road! Once he gets the keys, we hit the road to Glencoe, our next stop.
1 p.m. — We arrive at our home for the next two nights: the Clachaig Inn. It looks like a postcard: surrounded by mountains and a babbling stream. We’re too early to check in, but we decide to eat lunch at the inn’s pub. S. and I split an order of fish and chips, and he gets a coffee. After eating, we walk down one of the hiking paths right next to the inn. We meet a Scottish couple and their dog along the way, and they ask us how we’re liking Scotland so far. Two thumbs up all around — minus the midges, which are basically teeny tiny biting gnats. S. and I vow to get some spray ASAP. By the time we make it back to the inn, it’s time to check in, so we do so and make plans to meet back up in an hour or so for another hike. $21.25
4 p.m. — After a consultation session with Our Lord and Savior Rick Steves (only kind of kidding — S really loves Rick Steves), we decide to give an ominously-named hike a try: the Devil’s Staircase. It’s a short drive to the trailhead, and we stop along the way to take a quick picture of a waterfall. Despite the looming rainclouds, we decide to go ahead and begin our ascent. The hike is aptly named: there are a ton of switchbacks, and it’s a pretty steady uphill climb. We make it to the top in about 50 minutes, and I agree to take a picture of a group of German women. S. wanders around and starts snapping pictures. My brother-in-law decides to climb higher to try to get inside a low-hanging cloud. Rain is pretty imminent, and we’ve resigned ourselves to a wet hike down, so my sister and I follow him up a little bit higher. Being inside the cloud is crazy! We’re surrounded by fog, and we joke that we’ve just experienced a spiritual cleansing of sorts. We climb back down and meet back up with S. and begin our descent. As expected, it starts raining five minutes later, increasing in intensity every few minutes until we make it to the bottom. My sister, S., and I all have rain jackets, but my brother-in-law gets soaked. We make it down otherwise unscathed and head back to the inn for showers.
7 p.m. — We meet up for dinner in the pub, and after waiting patiently for a table to clear, we snag spots and order at the bar. I try the Clachaig chicken, which comes in a delicious mustard sauce, while S. opts to try the day’s special, a beet burger. Boy loves his beets. I think he’s a little disappointed when it ends up being a burger made of beets, not a beef burger topped with beets, but he eats it anyway (Clean Plate Club for life). We end the night by splitting an order of sticky toffee pudding with cream, a Scottish dessert, and a shot of whisky. $40.03
Daily Total: $118.63

Day Four

8 a.m. — We meet up with my sister and brother-in-law for breakfast, which is included in our stay. I fill up on fruit, bread, hard boiled eggs, and Earl Grey tea. After finishing up, we’re back in the car once more. We’ve got a long drive today — nearly three hours — but we’re doing the most touristy thing of our trip today: a visit to Loch Ness in Fort Augustus. Thankfully, the drive is beautiful. Scotland really is gorgeous.
11 a.m. — We arrive, park, and head towards Cruise Loch Ness to pick up tickets for our tour. We’re going Nessie hunting! I know, I know. This is pretty chintzy, but truthfully, I love the tour: Loch Ness is eerily beautiful, with its black water (due to the presence of peat) and craggy bluffs. The guide is extremely entertaining as well, filling our time with Nessie theories and pointing out blips on the sonar screen that tracks depth and objects below. I didn’t see Nessie, but I believe. $38.86
12 p.m. — After we disembark, we walk around the town and watch the loch open for a boat to go through. It’s such a slow but fascinating process. We browse through a few souvenir shops (you would not believe how many different types of stuffed Nessies there are) and eventually wander into a pub (The Bothy) for lunch. I get lentil soup with bread, while S. decides to order a bacon baguette and a serving of haggis for all of us to try. I’m pretty hesitant, but with my first bite, I immediately associate the taste with something from my childhood: beef ravioli. Not sure why, but my sister agrees. We all decide that haggis isn’t that bad, but we aren'’t clambering to eat it again. We pay with cash before getting back into the car to start making our way back towards Glencoe.
2 p.m. — We stop to tour Urquhart Castle, a crumbling structure that sits on the end of a jutted out piece of land. We buy tickets and watch a short movie detailing the tumultuous history of the castle — at one point, the owners burned the castle down to avoid giving it over to approaching enemies. We spend time wandering the ruins and reading about what used to be in certain spots: a pigeonry, a bakery, and stables. It’s sad to see something with such a long history fall into disrepair, but regardless, the experience is cool. $24.12
5:30 p.m. — We’re back around Glencoe, but my sister and brother-in-law are parting ways with us tonight. They’re catching a bus to Glasgow, while we’re staying in Glencoe for another night. I’m sad that our time together went so quickly, but I’m so glad I got to see both of them. They’re moving back to the States in September, and I seriously can’t wait. We decide pizza for dinner sounds good, so we head to Quarriers Kitchen, which has pretty good reviews on Yelp. S. and I split a Hawaiian pizza and an order of chips, and even though it’s delicious, I declare a moratorium on chips for the rest of the trip. I’m all chipped out. $21.44
6:45 p.m. — We still have some time to kill before dropping my sister and brother-in-law off at the bus stop, so we decide to walk down by Loch Leven for a little bit. Finally, after a little confusion about where the bus will be, we send my sister and brother-in-law on their way, feeling a little like parents waving goodbye to their kids at the bus stop before school. We head back to the inn and turn in for the night.
Daily Total: $84.42

Day Five

8 a.m. — We eat breakfast at the inn before checking out and hitting the road once again. This time, we’re headed to Portree, which is in the Isle of Skye. Another long car ride, but I listen to three podcasts on the way up (Forever35 and Fat Mascara) and the time flies.
11 a.m. — We stop at another castle, Eilean Donan, on the way to Portree. We decide not to pay for tickets for a tour; S. really just wants some pictures of the castle’s rugged exterior. He takes a few while I wander around in the gift shop. We decide to grab a light lunch here. My stomach is bothering me, but a cheese scone sounds good. S grabs a pre-made sandwich and a latte. Once we’re finished, we get back on the road. $16.36
2 p.m. — We make it to Portree and park in the free parking lot. It’s too early to check in at our Airbnb, so we walk around and explore in the adorable shops that line the cobblestone streets. I buy a small notebook to use as a journal, since I forgot mine at home (I like to write about our days when we travel), plus a bag of mints and some salt and vinegar crisps. $9.79
3 p.m. — We stop at The Granary, a restaurant that’s pretty well-reviewed on Trip Advisor. They’re in between lunch and dinner right now, so they’re only serving tea and cakes. We decide to share a slice of lemon cake, and it’s heavenly. While there, we check out a dinner menu and decide to book a reservation for a few days later, since, according to our Airbnb hostess, things fill up pretty quickly for dinner in Portree. We pay for our cake in cash.
4 p.m. — We drive two miles out of town to our accommodations and meet up with our hostess, who is so sweet. She shows us our place for the next four nights, and she’s really gone above and beyond in making us feel welcome. She’s got the cupboards stocked with items for breakfast, a little candy dish with chocolates, and two adorable stuffed seals on the bed. She lets us settle in, making sure to remind us to just knock if we need anything — she’s right next door.
6 p.m. — We head back into Portree. After a failed attempt to get takeaway from a Chinese place (they’re closed on Tuesdays), it’s pizza for dinner again, this time from a place called L’Incontro. We share an order of cheesy garlic bread (amazing), a salad (a little dry — they were out of balsamic) and a small pizza. We can’t finish the pizza, but S decides to get a takeaway box and bring it back to our Airbnb. He’ll eat it for lunch tomorrow. $28.57
7:30pm: We decide it’s essential to get some midge spray. We’re going hiking tomorrow and don’t want to be eaten alive. We walk to a Co-op store (a grocery chain in Scotland) and find some (fairly expensive) spray along with a few snacks. $14.74
8 p.m. — It’s early, but I’m tired. We head back, climb in bed and turn on Food Network. Despite it still being bright outside, I fall asleep to Jamie Oliver making something delicious.
Daily Total: $53.10

Day Six

6 a.m. — The sun sets late and rises early, so we’re both ready to go despite the early hour. We eat breakfast from the spread our hostess thoughtfully provided (Greek yogurt and granola bowls plus toast) and hop in the car to head to The Fairy Pools. Though this is an extremely popular destination according to Trip Advisor and Rick Steves, it’s so early that the car park is basically empty, save for two guys who are snoozing in their car. We cover ourselves in the midge spray we purchased yesterday and hit the trail.
7:30 a.m. — The Fairy Pools are lower than usual, but despite this, they’re still pretty magical: small pools of water that trickle down into the next, creating a sort of slow waterfall situation. S. takes a ton of pictures while I climb up some rocks; he ends up getting a few silly shots of me doing warrior pose on top of a boulder.
8:30 a.m. — We finish our hike and drive over to Carbost, a small town nearby. We stop at a small inn for breakfast ($13.44) before walking over what we came to see: the Talisker Whisky Distillery. We buy tickets for the first tour of the day ($26.89) and read signs about the distillery’s long and storied history while waiting for the tour to begin. $40.33
9:45 a.m. — The tour begins. Our guide, Gordon, does a great job of explaining the whisky-making process. I learn that whisky must be at least 40% alcohol and aged for at least three years to be considered a whisky. The tour ended with a “wee dram of Talisker Storm,” their signature whisky. Gordon described it as having a lot of smoky, fiery notes, due to the peat that is used in the malting process. I’m no whisky aficionado, but I enjoyed the peppery burn I got from my pour. After the tour, S. and I browse the gift shop and decide to buy two sampler packs: one for ourselves, and one for his parents. $34.96
12 p.m. — We’re back in Portree. S. fills the car up and we get a little sticker shock at how much diesel costs. The town is extremely busy: the tour buses are here. Free parking is full, so we pay for two hour parking with cash. We browse around downtown Portree again, and I spot a Christmas ornament I think I’d like to buy later this week. We don’t really do souvenirs, but we like to get two things on all of our trips: a magnet and a Christmas ornament. They’re small and a good way to remember a place. $75.06
1 p.m. — We walk down by the water after browsing, admiring the pastel houses that line the shore. S. and I can’t stop laughing after a particularly aggressive seagull swoops down and steals a guy’s fried fish fillet right out of his hands, but I make a mental note to guard my food if I’m in a similar situation.
2 p.m. — We have a fancy dinner planned for tonight, and I’m not too hungry, so I decide to skip lunch. But I’m never too full for ice cream — I get a scoop of sweet cream and honey on a waffle cone from a shop downtown. We pay with cash, and I sit on a bench to enjoy my sweet treat, being sure to keep an eye out for hungry gulls.
3 p.m. — We head back to our Airbnb so that I have plenty of time to shower and get ready for our dinner tonight. We’re going to The Three Chimneys, a very small restaurant that’s gotten a lot of press for its fine dining experience in the middle of nowhere. I shower and put on a nice black dress. It’s the only time I’ll wear it on this trip, but I wanted to make sure I dress accordingly for such a fancy occasion, so it earned a spot in my luggage.
6:30 p.m. — After about a 45-minute drive down several one-lane roads, we arrive at The Three Chimneys. We’re immediately seated, and we both decide to do the three course meal: a starter, an entree, and dessert. I start with a glass of sparkling wine while we browse the menu. A server brings us out some bread and takes the time to describe where the different grains are sourced from. It’s served with a sesame honey butter and a seaweed butter, both of which are delicious.
6:45 p.m. — A server comes by with an amuse bouche: a beautiful cold pea soup with shrimp, creme fraiche, and toasted sesame seeds. Totally out of my culinary wheelhouse, but it’s amazing.
7 p.m. — Our starters arrive soon after: roasted mallaig cod with tomatoes, dill, and chorizo for me; miso glazed pigeon with cauliflower and kimchi for S. We share bites with each other, exclaiming about how delicious it all is. I’m still thinking about that cod.
7:30 p.m. — The service is top notch; I’d almost liken it to choreography. Our entrees are perfectly timed — we have just enough time to enjoy what we just ate without getting too antsy for the next course. I went with the wild halibut, which comes with scallops, asparagus, and a stack of thinly sliced potatoes. S. has wood-fired Skye red deer with potato risotto, and roasted butternut squash. We both savor everything, and I of course take pictures of all of our food. I don’t care if it’s not proper etiquette; I want to remember this meal!
8 p.m. — I still have room for dessert, of course. I choose the hibiscus and crowdie cheesecake, which has rhubarb in it. It’s beautifully presented, with the cheesecake in deconstructed rolls arranged on the plate. S. has the roasted milk chocolate, which turns out to be a chocolate log of happiness. It has hazelnut and whisky flavors in it, and he devours it.
8:30 p.m. — One last treat: two house-made fudge bites to round off our experience. I choose lemongrass and strawberry; both are exquisite. S. orders a latte, and we relax as we digest before finally asking for the bill. It’s the most we’ve ever spent on a meal, but it was worth it. $269.57
9 p.m. — We’re both coming down from our post-meal high, but we decide to ride it for a little longer and go watch the sun set at Neist Point, an overlook at the most western point of Skye. The sinking sun looks almost otherworldly as it lowers into The Minch, the strait that we’re looking out across. S. does what he does best and takes dozens of pictures. I climb down on rocks and watch sheep start to walk up the hill to turn in for the night, all the while dancing around so that midges don’t land on me and spoil the moment. We linger for a bit longer then head back home for the night.
Daily Total: $419.92

Day Seven

8 a.m. Another early wake up, another hike. This time, we’re hiking The Storr, which features an interesting vertical rock formation called The Old Man of Storr. It’s a ten-minute drive from our Airbnb, and when we arrive, it’s easy to find parking.
8:20 a.m. — The hike is pretty strenuous. It’s all uphill, but thankfully, we’re distracted by the beautiful scenery and quite a few sheep that are grazing peacefully near the trail. Since it’s still early, the path is basically empty.
9 a.m. — We reach the end of our climb and are rewarded with stunning views of the Isle of Skye. S. starts taking pictures, and a nice couple from Canada notice his fancy camera and ask him to take a picture for them. He does, and asks them to do the same for us.
9:30 a.m. — We explore the rock formations around The Old Man and watch some other (braver) hikers climb higher up on to the craggy peaks. S. takes some artsy shots while I amuse myself by trying to climb up the smaller boulders that surround the area.
10:30 a.m. — After a rather slippery climb down (there is quite a bit of loose gravel on some parts of the path), S. and I reach the trailhead and are shocked to see how many cars are parked in the lot and on the side of the road. +1 for getting up early. As we head to our car, I see a roadside stand that wasn’t there when we began our ascent. Since everyone else is just beginning their hike, no one is in line. He’s selling hot dogs, which sound pretty perfect right about now. S. and I split a foot long, which is served on a crusty baguette with English mustard and fried onions. I don’t know if it’s the hike, the Scottish countryside, or my hunger, but it’s the best thing ever. We pay the friendly chef with cash, dodge day-trippers and head back to our Airbnb for showers and relaxation.
3 p.m. — We head back to downtown Portree, this time with a mission. We try to do laundry at least once while traveling because there’s nothing better than clean clothes! Since we pack so light, it’s kind of necessary at this point. Our hostess tells us the local hostel has a laundromat that’s open to the public, so that’s where we head. We park in the free parking lot, and right at that moment, we both realize we totally forgot to actually grab our laundry bag. Facepalm. At least we’re only 10-minutes outside of town. I tell S. to go back and grab our laundry while I figure out how much the machines cost and walk to the Co-op to get some detergent (I pay with cash). Our timing is perfect: He pulls back into the free parking lot just as I’m walking back. We start a load and decide to explore the town while waiting to switch it over. We go back to the store with the Christmas ornament and end up buying it, along with more postcards. $17.38
5 p.m. — Laundry is done. We have dinner reservations for The Granary for 7 p.m., but we’re both hungry now since we skipped lunch again. We decide to see if they’ll let us eat a little bit earlier, and thankfully, the hostess tells us it’s no problem. I eat a bowl of lentil soup and a chicken dish. S. gets a beef dish that comes with deep-fried haggis balls. Their credit card machine is down, so S. runs over to an ATM to get some more cash. This should be enough for the rest of our trip. We pay and head back. $134.45
9:30 p.m — S. talks me into hiking The Storr again so that he can get some sunset pictures. I’m game. The crowds have left at this point, so we have another quiet hike up. It’s still light enough to see, but I can tell that a lot of people hiked today: it’s even more slippery in areas. We hike quickly because if we stop for too long, the midges attack us, despite covering ourselves in the spray we bought earlier.
10:15 p.m. — We’re back at the top, and the sunset is the prettiest one I’ve seen in awhile. S. takes more pictures while I try to keep moving to avoid becoming a midge buffet. We hike back down, and besides one scary moment where I totally lose traction and slide down a hill, we make it back to the carpark unscathed.
Daily Total: $151.83

Day Eight

10 a.m. — If you haven’t figured it out by now, we like to hike. Today’s hike is The Quiraing, another gorgeous hike comprised of ridges, plateaus, and boulders. We opt not to do the entire 6 kilometer loop since our legs are pretty sore from the past few days of hiking. The path is narrow and a little challenging, but as always, the views distract us from the difficulty. We hike for about 45 minutes on the path, taking our time and enjoying the cool breeze (no midges!) and lush greenery. We follow a smaller path off of the main trek that wraps around a larger group of boulders and hang out there for awhile before hiking back the way we came.
12:45 p.m. — We stop for lunch at Skye Pie Cafe (a Rick Steves recommendation), which ends up being a great decision. Along with the cute decor (teacups suspended from the ceiling! A make-your-own pom pom station!), the food is fantastic: We share a chicken and mushroom pie and a raspberry and almond tart with frangipane. $26.75
2 p.m. — We’re back, and it’s time for a nap. I’m feeling a little burnt out, and since tomorrow is another travel day, we decide to take the evening off and pick up takeaway from the Chinese place we scouted earlier (we pay cash) and take it easy for the rest of the night.
Daily Total: $27.75

Day Nine

9 a.m. — Back in the car. We’re headed to Oban for two nights. Along the way, we stop at a war memorial (Scotland has many) and to eat lunch at the Bridge Cafe. $27.89
1 p.m. — We make another pit stop to take pictures at “the Harry Potter bridge,” which is actually the Glenfinnan Viaduct. A Jacobite train does still run on this track, and when we check the schedule, we realize that if we stick around for a little bit, we’ll see the “Hogwarts Express” train go by! I can tell S. wants to get these pictures, so I talk him into hiking back up to the viewpoint and waiting.
2 p.m. The train is late, but we’re determined to see it, so we stick it out. Finally, thirty minutes later than it’s supposed to, the train comes chugging along! It’s a little smaller than I expected and not as epic as the movie made it out to be, but it’s still cool nonetheless. We take our pictures, hike back down and resume our drive to Oban.
4 p.m. — Perfect timing: we arrive at our accommodations right when we’re able to check in. We’re spending the next two nights in the Glenbervie Guesthouse, an inn that’s a stone’s throw away from downtown Oban. Our hostess is so welcoming (Scotland’s hospitality is really top notch, I’m realizing), and our room is comfortable.
6 p.m. — We walk to downtown Oban for some food and, after skimming a menu, settle on Cuan Mor, a local place with a wide variety of dishes. The service isn’t as good here (they’re really busy), but the food is delicious. We share an order of crab cakes, and I select a za'atar chicken dish with chickpeas for my entree. S. goes for a Scottish steak and ale pie. $42.97
8 p.m. — We stroll around the seafront of Oban, but most of the shops are closed at this point. We need to go to a grocery store to get snacks for our day trip tomorrow, so we head to a Lidl on the other side of town and stock up on beef jerky, protein bars, pistachios, and shortbread cookies ( $18.58). We walk back to the harbor and people watch for a bit before walking back to our inn for the evening.
Daily Total: $89.44

Day Ten

8:30 a.m. — We head down to the breakfast room (the meal is included in our stay). I help myself to the fruit that’s already laid out and nibble on the toast a server brings out to us. S. orders from the hot breakfast menu: roasted tomatoes, bacon, potatoes, and eggs. We have a big day ahead of us: a wildlife tour of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, home to PUFFINS, which I’m super excited about seeing!
9:30 a.m. — We arrive at the ferry terminal and check in with our tour guide company. They take payment for our ferry tickets and tour at that time. We board the ferry and begin the 50-minute journey to Mull, an island near Oban. $190.86
10:30 a.m. — We disembark and connect with the tour company. S. and I, along with a few other people, pile into a van for a 40-minute drive to the other side of the island to Ulva Ferry, where we board a small boat with other day trippers and head to Staffa.
12:30 p.m. — We near Staffa. Our captain tells us a little bit about the island’s formation (it involves lava, which resulted in column-like clusters of dark rock) and how it was seen as a holy place by many due to its unusual form. He drives the boat up close to Fingal’s Cave, a deep cavern in the side of one of the bluffs, and then heads back to the drop-off point. We have instructions to be back in an hour, so we disembark and begin exploring the small island.
1 p.m — S. and I walk to the cave first. Up close, the rocks are dark with shots of purple through them, and the water is turquoise blue where it runs into the cave. It’s very pretty. The captain warned us not to go far into the cave, but I sneak in a little bit because it’s so cool. There are hand railings in there, so I don’t feel unsafe.
1:10 p.m. — We head back towards the stairs that go up to the top of the bluffs that make up the island. There are puffins on this island, but the captain tells us that the next island, Lunga, has a lot more. We seek them out anyway, and, as predicted, they’re adorable and entertaining. The puffins’ burrows are close to the path, so we can get extremely close — some are only a few feet away from us! We watch them fly, dive in the ocean, and squawk at each other until it’s time to head back and board the boat for Lunga.
3 .m. — We disembark at Lunga for more exploring. The captain tells us not to get distracted by the “first batch” of puffins; there are way more birds if we just keep walking. We take his advice and arrive at what I dub the “bird party cove,” a rock island that is literally covered with birds. Thousands of razorbills, puffins, gulls, and more hang out on the rocks, and more birds fly around overhead. They’re loud, too! S. and I hike a little higher away from the party, but end up coming back down so we can sit and watch the birds until it’s time to leave. They’re fascinating.
4 p.m. — We board the ship again to go back to Mull. Along the way, we see playful sea lions and a pod of friendly dolphins, which is exciting!
6 p.m. — Back on Mull. Back in the van, back on the ferry to Oban. I buy a Sprite on the ferry (I pay with cash), and we use the free Wi-Fi to upload some pictures on Instagram (me) and scout out dinner options (S.).
8 p.m. We’re back in Oban, and I’m starving. Back on the ferry, we decided to go to Oban Bay Fish Bar & Restaurant, solely based on the fact that they served deep-fried Mars Bars, another Scottish dessert I want to try. S. gets fish and chips with mushy peas, while I opt for a personal pepperoni pizza (I’m a little surprised at how often I have eaten pizza on this trip, as I never eat it at home!). We round it off with the aforementioned Mars Bar, which comes with ice cream and is deliciously indulgent. We pay and call it a night. $28.97
Daily Total: $219.83

Day Eleven

8:30 a.m. — Another lovely breakfast before packing up our car and saying goodbye to our hostess. She graciously allows us to leave our car at her inn while we do our last activity in Oban: The Oban Distillery tour! S. purchased our tickets online in advance. $27.69
9:45 a.m. — The tour begins, and it’s pretty similar to Talisker’s tour with some significant differences. This distillery is much smaller, and the whisky they produce has four key flavors to it: smoke (from the peat), sea salt (from the ocean air), citrus peel, and honey. Our tasting at the conclusion of the tour confirms that this whisky isn’t as “peppery” as Talisker’s, but I enjoy it. Our guide gives us some crystallized ginger in between sips; he says it will intensify the flavors, and he’s right. We end up purchasing a small bottle of whisky before leaving. $22.18
11:15 a.m. — On our way back to the inn to pick up our car, we swing by the Oban Chocolate Company because chocolate. We can’t say no to a set of six chocolates (whisky, pistachio, sticky toffee pudding, creme brulee, raspberry cheesecake, and orange toffee) to munch on during our drive back to Stirling. S. gets a mocha, and I get a chile hot chocolate, which has cinnamon and a lot of spices in it (at this point, we’re trying to get rid of our pounds, so we pay in cash). My drink isn’t too overly sweet, which I like. I sip it slowly as we head back to the car.
3 p.m. — Back in Stirling. We drop off the car and take a taxi to the train station, which Enterprise foots for us. Once at the train station, we purchase tickets back to Edinburgh ($24.47). I’m hungry, so I walk across the street to a McDonald’s and splurge on some fries and chicken nuggets ($5.96). It does the trick. $30.43
5 p.m. — We’re back in Edinburgh. We hoof it from the train station to our last hotel of the trip, 12 Picardy Place. It’s easily the fanciest place we’ve stayed in Scotland — a beautiful bathtub, a fancy skylight that closes to block out the sun, and a gorgeous view of Edinburgh.
6:30 p.m. — I talk S. into ordering room service to share (we’ve never done it before) because I’m way too tired to move at this point. We share roast chicken with butternut squash and a side of bacon mac & cheese. The total is added on to our room bill.
8 p.m. S. decides to hike up to a viewing point for one last picture, but I decide a bath sounds better. We split up for the rest of the evening and turn in early since our flight home is tomorrow morning.
Daily Total: $80.30

Day Twelve

8:30 a.m. We check out of our hotel and head to the tram stop, which is thankfully pretty close. We buy one final set of tram tickets and head back to EDI. $16.11
9:45 a.m. — We get through security pretty easily and grab a quick breakfast before boarding our flight home. This trip has been amazing, but I’m ready to see our three cats ASAP. $15.16
5:30 p.m. Back in St. Louis. We pay for parking, load up our car, and head home. $162.11
Daily Total: $193.38
How did you prepare for this trip?
My husband planned the majority of the trip. He enjoys reading up on the country we’re visiting and planning the best course of action. He used Rick Steves Scotland to figure out our overall trip layout. This plus Trip Advisor reviews helped him make most of our booking decisions. He also had a Google Map with location tags for the different places we wanted to visit, which was handy when it came time to navigate to a new place.
When did you book your flight? Do you think you got a good deal?
We booked a couple months in advance. My husband watched fares and purchased when they were below $1,000. I think we got a good deal since we only had one connection and the layover wasn’t horrible.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation?
No, we paid our balance off in full after returning from the trip. Our major expenses (flights and hotels) were spread out in the months leading up to our trip. Also, I get my entire summer paycheck in May (a blessing and a curse), so we had plenty of funds in our joint account to pay this trip off.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Definitely our day trip to Staffa. Seeing the puffins and the remoteness of it all were unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
That’s an easy one — our dinner at The Three Chimneys. It was a splurge, but we’re still talking about it, so I’d say it was worth it!
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Buy midge spray and rent a car! The former is essential if you want to experience Scotland in the summer without constantly swatting your face, and the latter allows you to see more of this beautiful country than you would otherwise.
Would you stay at your hotel/Airbnbs again?
We were really pleased with all of our accommodations except for one. The Clachaig Inn in Glencoe left a bit to be desired (hot rooms, service wasn’t great), but its location made up for it.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time?
12 days is perfect for me as a traveler. It’s long enough to get acclimated to a new place and to really enjoy the experiences without cramming too much into our days. We also had plenty of down time, which, as any experienced traveler knows, is essential. I’m a big fan of the two week(ish) trip.
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