Preparing For Your Trip

Time to start getting ready!

Once you have booked your flight, accommodations and planned your itinerary, there are some things you will need to do to prepare for your trip. If you are a seasoned traveler, then you’re already aware of what you need to do. Either way, it’s always handy to have a checklist to make sure you remember everything! 🙂

When we were preparing for our trip, we did a lot of internet searching and visited a couple of dozen websites to gather all the details needed for international travel to Scotland. Hopefully, this information will help answer some of these questions for you as well as save time and frustration. Compiled below are some guidelines and checklists:

REQUIRED IDS – Make sure your driver’s license (or another legal form of ID) is current as well as your passport and resident card (if you are a legal resident from another country).

TRAVEL INSURANCE – A travel insurance policy can be picked up quite inexpensively and provides protection for unforeseen events. The travel insurance plans we purchased were independent of the airline, offering more advantages. Our plans included trip interruption coverage – hotel and other expenses covered for flight interruption, as well as lost luggage coverage. Most importantly was medical insurance coverage, in case of accident or illness while in Scotland. We found very generous plans that were reasonably priced. With most insurance plans, there are different types of coverage, so just read up and pick the one that best fits your needs and budget. I don’t normally purchase travel insurance, but I had a lot of money and time invested in the trip and had booked seven months in advance. Make sure to take a picture of your luggage before you check it at the airport. It helps if you need to report it missing or if you have an insurance claim.

CELL PHONE & Wi-Fi – Check with your cell phone carrier to see if there is a plan you wish to add for the duration of your trip. If you don’t have an international phone plan, be careful of roaming charges. Setting your phone to airplane mode should stop any roaming. Wi-Fi service is available in Scotland, but if you are traveling, it is very spotty. If you don’t have a phone plan, and Wi-Fi is available, you can use internet-based communications, such as messenger, to call, video chat or email. If you need reliable access to your phone, then a phone plan is recommended. If relying on Wi-Fi-based communications, you will be at the mercy of having service.

ELECTRICAL APPLIANCE CONVERTERS & ADAPTERS – The plug-ins on the UK electrical cords not only look different and fit differently from the ones in North America, but they run on a different voltage. I found that the adapter plug was all I needed and it costs much less than a converter. A converter is only needed for larger appliances or for smaller appliances that aren’t rated as dual-voltage. We brought adapters that had the electrical plug-ins as well as USB ports.

UK small appliances run on 220-240 volts, whereas North American small appliances run on 110-120 volts. Your current electrical devices may already be dual-voltage and can easily be switched over – such as hair dryers, curling irons, and shavers. Some appliances switch voltage automatically, while others, you have to physically flip the voltage to the 220-240 UK voltage setting. My hairdryer had a conversion switch on the handle, and my curling iron adapted on its own. You can look at your electronics for the switch, or see if it discloses “INPUT AC100-240V”.

Important: You must run your hair dryer on the low setting, even if you have set the voltage for UK voltage. If not, you could spark your device or worse yet, set the outlet afire (eek!). The same hazard applies to any electronics that aren’t on the 220-240 volt setting required in the UK.

No worries for your laptop, camera, cell phone, music device, electronic reader or camera battery charger. These items most commonly adapt on their own and only require the adapter to plug-in. Many hotel rooms and some train seats provided USB outlets to charge your phone or other USB devices.

Make sure you bring your proper charging cords for any of your electronics and any extra batteries you may want for your camera. We found that portable battery chargers were nice to have, especially on long train rides and airport layovers.

CREDIT CARDS – It’s a good idea to bring a couple of credit cards in case one is lost, stolen, or has an issue. I opted to get an international travel credit card that had no foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, most regular credit cards will impose a 3% international transaction fee on your purchases. If you apply for an international credit card, read the details of the program. Many have steep annual fees. I was able to find one with no annual fees, no international charges, and offered a nice travel rewards program.

Important: When making purchases with your credit card in Scotland, you will be asked if you want to pay for the purchase in US currency or pounds. It’s almost always best to choose pounds. If you choose to pay in US dollars, you are at at the mercy of the merchant’s exchange rate and likely to get a poor rate, even possibly gouged. If you choose to pay in pounds, you’re likely to get a better rate because your bank determines the conversion rate.

Not to further confuse matters, but there are times when your bank might impose an additional fee for your international purchases. Besides a 3% international fee (unless you have an international travel card), your bank may charge a DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion) fee on top of that. The DCC is a middleman service between the merchant and the credit card provider that charges an additional fee of around 3%. So, a 3% DCC fee on top of a 3% international fee could result in a total of 6% in fees. Some credit card providers choose one or the other, while others may charge both. If paying both of these fees, you may not be gaining the best value by paying in pounds. It’s best to check with your credit card provider to determine what specific fees you should expect.

Note: DISCOVER Card is NOT accepted in Scotland. VISA and MASTERCARD are widely accepted in Scotland and AMERICAN EXPRESS is accepted very little. You may be in some small villages or secluded areas where no credit card is accepted, so it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand. Before you depart for Scotland, you will need to contact your credit card company and let them know the dates and locations of your travel. If you don’t, your card could get denied or suspended for being out of your normal purchasing territory.

ATM CARDS – There are no ATM fees in Scotland (in our encounters, anyway). You will need to check with your bank to find out what ATM fees they may charge. Your bank may impose a foreign transaction fee as well as your normal transaction fee. If you plan on using your ATM card for the majority of your expenses, limit your transactions and take out larger amounts, to avoid accumulating a lot of transaction fees. Since the exchange rate is calculated by your bank, you do tend to get a better exchange rate, compared to converting cash at a facility in Scotland.

CASH – We were able to covert our cash at the airport in Edinburgh, although I did read where the best rate is at the post office. Not knowing where the post office was, once we got to the Royal Mile, we decided to convert some money at the airport. We needed some money anyway, to pay for our bus ride to Waverly Station. Money can also be converted at Waverly Station.

EMERGENCY CONTACT – You should have an emergency contact back at home. Leave your contact a copy of your itinerary as well as lodging information, flight information, and a copy of your passport.

PAPERWORK TO TAKE WITH YOU – Although I had the flight, hotel, and tour confirmations stored on my phone, I did take hard copies, just in case!

When clearing through customs and immigration, you may be asked about your itinerary and people you are traveling with so you may want to jot it down so it is readily available. Also, make note of your emergency contact’s information.

If you purchased travel insurance, keep the policy with your paperwork so all of your emergency information is together.

On the back of your credit card or ATM card, there are customer service numbers for lost or stolen credit cards. Jot the phone numbers down because if you don’t have your card, you won’t have your numbers. It might be a good idea to write down the last four digits of your account as well, especially if you have more than one card at the same bank.

THINGS TO BUY BEFORE YOU LEAVE – You may have to shop for some of the items you plan on packing for your trip. You can visit our PACKING FOR YOUR TRIP section for some of our ideas that might be helpful to you.

Laws and regulations change all the time so you may need to check for any updates on any questionable regulations before you leave. Our experiences are from traveling from the US and may vary from other countries. Regulations can frequently change.