Scotland came onto my travel radar when I was 18 years old and dying to travel for a year after my high school graduation. My idea was to hike and hitchhike around Scotland, drop my bag wherever I liked it most, find a WWOOFing host and just enjoy life. Without a doubt did I think of lush green hills, gorgeous lakes and never-ending sunshine – rain was certainly not on the agenda. Of course my parents did not agree with my aspirations to become the family hobo and I ended up doing a year of voluntary work in Denmark through the EU-programme European Voluntary Service instead.
Had I only known back then what I know now, I might have found it easier to convince my parents of the flawlessness of my backpacking plans. There are so many hidden gems in Europe, and Scotland is one of them!
I firmly believe that Scotland it THE perfect destination for solo travellers and female solo travellers in particular. Here are a few reasons why that is so…
1) Scotland is full of young internationals
Strength in numbers, right? Scotland is becoming increasingly popular, not only because its beauty is being featured in more and more big studio films, but also because people realised that Scotland is a great place to be for young people. The universities in Glasgow and Edinburgh are bustling with international students who spread out to explore the rest of the country. Hostels and budget accommodation are popping up everywhere, public transport is great and there are a lot of things to do for young people – therefore all you really need to do is set out and you will bump into many other young travellers. August is probably the best time of the year to get the full picture of how international Scotland can be – during the Fringe and International festival in Edinburgh.
Read more about experiencing Edinburgh during the festival month in my blogpost for Travelettes.
2) The country is all about women’s rights
As of April 2016 the Scottish prime minister is a woman, the government made up of 10 cabinet secretaries is 50:50 men and women, there are government-funded initiatives to close the pay gap, to support women’s businesses, to ensure women’s rights at home etc., and just recently hundreds of men and women gathered to protest against a planned event by misogynist Roosh V. In short, Scotland is all about women’s rights and female solo travellers should come here to embrace this.
3) Street harassment is rare
Call it a form of British politeness, but the Scottish people are just the most friendly people you will ever meet. And not only friendly, but also polite. In the years I have lived in Glasgow I have been catcalled on the street one single time – that’s about as much as it happens every 5-10 minutes in my home town Vienna; and let me not even begin with the two days I spent in Nice… On that one occasion in Glasgow I was riding a bike, it was around 1am and a drunk guy shouted a ‘compliment’ at me. But that’s about it.
Maybe I’m lucky for not having more issues with street harassment, but actually I think the reason is the general level of respect for other human beings in this country. In a society with so many strong women in significant political and public positions, it is no surprise that people show more respect for women as well. While I would certainly not walk around the parks after dark and prefer to pay for a taxi instead of walking home at night, I can still walk down the street in peace and safety.
4) Friendly Locals
Back to the friendly locals though. Whether you need help finding an address or just fancy a chat in a local pub or in a shop – Glaswegians will talk to you with an open mind; sometimes more often than you’d wish. If only they were easier to understand… The Scottish folk I have encountered were always intrigued to speak to me about my reasons for moving here – again and again I can only tell them that its the people who make this place so special. Of course there are plenty of a**holes around (like everywhere) but in general, female solo travellers are in good hands here.
5) It is super easy to get around
Travelling on your own you might be hesitant to rent a car, especially if you want to stay on a budget or if you have never driven on the left side of the road before. The good thing is that public transport with busses, trains and ferries is really good in Scotland and you get get to many places along the coast, in the Highlands and on the Isles without the necessity of your own wheels. You can read more about getting around in Scotland by public transport and rail passes in my basic guide to planning a trip to Scotland.
6) Thriving Hostel Culture
I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of hostels. There are great value-for-money hostels in Glasgow and Edinburgh, but when traveling to cities I prefer having a bit of space to myself by renting a private flat. However, when I travel alone through the countryside and I feel like connecting to other travellers, hostels can usually be a great place to start meeting folk.
The Youth Hostels Association has a branch in Scotland (SYAH), but there is also a Scottish association of independent hostels called Hostelling Scotland. Through this site I found the Glencoe Independent Hostel, which is set in a traditional highland croft the forest just outside of Glencoe village. It had a fire place and I met some nice other travellers which both made it one of my favourite hostel experiences ever.
7) Great tour companies to join
If you want to visit Scotland on your own but not travel alone all the time, there are some great tour companies to join for female solo travellers. They offer trips all over the country for just a day or multiple days in a row. I personally made very good experiences with Rabbie’s* on several day tours (find them all here), but I’ve also heard great things about Haggis Adventures which is particularly aimed at young travellers and tours the country in their yellow busses.
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8) There is so much to do
Whether you are into historical buildings and cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, city travel, a good road trip, island hopping or simply want to taste as many whiskys as you possibly can you will find what you are looking for in Scotland. Cool cities to explore, breathtaking road trips, thrilling adventures, relaxing hikes, island hopping, wild swimming, golfing, castle touring, a vibrant foodie scene and gorgeous beaches – there really is something to do for anyone in Scotland!
One of my favourite solo adventures in Scotland was a 2-day sea kayaking course I did in Oban. I hitched from Balloch (near Glasgow) all the way to Oban on a Friday afternoon, stayed at a local hostel, learnt the basics of safe sea-kayaking and enjoyed a glass of beer in the sun. The perfect weekend for a female solo traveller in Scotland!
With all this in mind I wish my 18-year-old self would have stood up for her dreams and insisted on becoming one of many female solo travellers roaming Scotland. I love what Meg from Meander With Meg says about solo travel – it’s not something you need to be afraid of, or be particularly brave to do: ‘Travelling is a desire I wished to act upon until it became tangible and I could hold the experience of it in my hands.’
All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.