I learned a lot about driving the Scottish Highlands during my 10 days in the country, as well as put a few of my favourite road trip tricks to good use – but a number of these items could have proved useful before I set out!
First off, should you drive the Highlands?
Yes, yes, a million times yes. I definitely recommend driving the Highlands. Honestly, I cannot even imagine trying to see it any other way. You’d miss so much!
The only reason not to would be if you’re quite a nervous driver by nature, perhaps. I think in these instances, regardless of what you learn, a bit of comfort and confidence behind the wheel is pretty key.
There were some tough bits, things I didn’t realize, and a few things I wish I had been privy to (or researched) before setting out, so I opted to combine those and my own budget/road trip tips here for you to make sure you get the absolute most out of your driving experience.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and is mostly my take on the subject matter, so take from it what you will!
Signage throughout the Highlands is super good…
…but you may want to brush up on your understanding of the road rules. The signs, while plentiful and often clear, didn’t do me as much good when I wasn’t sure what they meant. Stands to reason, no?
Here’s an online guide to traffic signage in the UK, courtesy of their government!
Drive on the left.
But you knew that one, right?
Yes, well be super duper careful with the sides of your car. Nearly everyone I spoke to had had an encounter with the left side of a building or parked car and dealing with police reports and insurance are no way to spend your vacation!
Acquaint yourself with double (or even triple) lane roundabouts.
While signage is very helpful and drivers are quite generous and calm, they can be tricky if you’re not accustomed! There are so many that feeling stressed out each time you have to go through one could really alter the mood of your drive. A quick refresh on the rules and you’ll be fine!
Many of the highways are single lane – meaning ONE car. Not one car on each side. No no.
This presents two “issues”, if we’d like to call them that.
One, the driving is not always super relaxing because playing chicken with oncoming traffic for hours on end is a bit nerve-wracking. For us mere mortals, anyways.
Luckily enough, there ARE pullouts. So pay attention, look ahead, slow down for curves, and when the pullout is on your left, it means it’s your turn to pull off.
Two, Google Maps seems unaware that these roads are barely more than a goat trail and as such, cannot accurately predict the amount of time until your next destination. In fact, most of the time it took us at least 50% more time, if not double what Google predicted, to reach our desired location.
You have been warned. Plan for more time, extra stops, and choose to take it a little easy on the narrow roads.
You will not always have cell service, so download your maps ahead of time.
Or get crazy, and buy a real, old-school paper map! Relying on cell service will probably find you lost, delayed, or both. Which you know, isn’t always the worst thing either, depending on how much time you have! 😉
A smaller car is best here.
For all of the reasons listed above – frankly, the odd time I had to pass a large vehicle it got really dicey and I was grateful over and over to be in something small. Though the roads are tiny (and sometimes there are potholes or the odd gravel stretch), they are mostly well maintained and you won’t struggle in a small car.
Bonus: they’re cheaper to rent and better on gas!
If you do rent a car, they will try to talk you into the “everything” insurance.
You should probably do it. Getting a flat tire or a little dinged up, whether by your own hand or someone else’s, seemed pretty likely. It didn’t happen to me, but it was so close a number of times.
Petrol stations can be a bit few and far between in the highlands
Take your opportunities to fill up when they present themselves.
Further to that…
Expect to pee outside
A lot. There aren’t always gas stations or toilets along the way and, as you know by now, the drives can get a bit long. I’ve never used one personally, but I found myself repeatedly wishing I had a she-wee throughout the entire trip. It may be a worthwhile investment, ladies! Going out in plain view without being actually seen was quite the trick in some spots.
Watch out for sheep!
They are quite literally everywhere, all throughout the Highlands, often meandering on sides of roads and straight across them. I happened to be there in the spring, so there were tons of lambs, too, bounding around without much care and it would have been so sad to hurt one.
scotland has zero tolerance for driving under the influence
Their limit is so low that it may be risky even to have one beer and then drive afterward. According to various websites, including a governmental one, getting caught can mean any combination of being banned from driving in the UK, an unlimited fine, or even imprisonment.
Ya, I didn’t find that out until about a week into a road trip – makes me think that having a drink with lunch while on the go was not the smartest idea! I just feel lucky nothing happened that could have made for problems with police.
Pack a water bottle and (maybe) a refillable travel mug.
You’ll find you may end up going long distances and water is always a good idea. The refillable travel mug is nice because most of the hotels and even AirBnBs will provide you a small kettle and tea or instant coffee so if you have a travel mug you can take one on the road! Saving you a ton of money, as the cafes are quite pricey.
Hope you find these tips helpful! Enjoy your trip and drive safe!