Not every travel experience is great. Sometimes it rains your entire trip or your travel companion sucks or every mode of transportation is delayed. It happens – and when it does you just have to power through and make the most of it.
When I think of some of my favorite and my least favorite travel moments, I am reminded of my trip to London and Edinburgh in the spring of 2016. As one of my many short trips through Europe while I studied in Sweden, the trip included a few days in London, an overnight bus to Scotland, a few days in Edinburgh, an overnight bus back to London, a day in London, and a night in the airport before an early morning flight. As twenty-somethings trying to save money, we thought using our transportation hubs as ways around paying for hostels would be ideal – spoiler alert: it was not.
By the time we took this trip, my friend and I were well seasoned travelers who had learned quickly what was needed and what was not when hopping Ryanair flights around Europe. So fortunately, we only had light backpacks to lug around with us for most of our adventure. The first few days in London were fine, we checked into a hostel that I have no memory of positive or negative, and we explored. (This trip played a huge part in my desire to move to London for grad school a year and half later.)
Then came our trip to Scotland. Due to the travel distance and time restraints, we made a compromise to spend time in Edinburgh and explore the city, rather than spending our time moving from sight to sight. To save money, we chose a night bus, rather than a train or a plane. (We used Rome2Rio to plan our transportation and sometimes it gave us cool routes for cheap and sometimes it failed us.) So, we had an eleven hour bus ride from London to Edinburgh that made quite a few stops on its way up. Unfortunately, as this all occurred at night, we saw nothing outside of the windows. It was freezing and with the frequent stops, the doors opened to let in the outside air regularly. Sleeping wasn’t really an option – and it was eleven hours on a bus. Not ideal.
Then came the great part: seeing Edinburgh. Genuinely one of my favorite cities I’ve visited over the years, Edinburgh is the perfect mixture of old and new. We mostly stuck to the old, because ya know, history, but found ourselves thoroughly entertained. (It was also apparently a very popular place for hen parties – we saw way more bride-to-be sashes than we did kilts…)
We stayed at Castle Rock Hostel, which was one of the best hostel experiences we had, literally within sight of the Edinburgh Castle. We walked everywhere, including on a free walking tour of the key sights. We wandered through Princes Street Gardens and stopped by St. Giles’ Cathedral and Greyfriars Kirkyard (I love a good cemetery), and visited the Scottish National Gallery. We wandered over to the castle, but didn’t go in (though we stumbled upon an exotic car event). We made our way down the Royal Mile to visit the royals at Holyroodhouse.
But our big triumph of the trip involved venturing a little further from our hostel home. We decided to climb Arthur’s Seat. And fortunately, we got good weather for our hike. Unfortunately, it’s a hell of a climb and it was muddy. It was a breath of fresh air.
After such a pleasant time in Scotland, it was time for another eleven hour bus ride (still not fun) and another day in London. Because our flight was early the next morning, we had figured we would skip a hostel and sleep in the airport. Simple, really. Except that meant we had a full day to fill on next to no sleep. Except that meant dragging our bags with us for an entire day after sleeping on a bus. Not great.
To finish a long day of exploring London, we decided to see a show – there was no rush to get to Stansted, so we might as well enjoy our wait. The show was wonderful and we hopped a bus to the airport arriving (unfortunately) after security had closed. So we (and many other like minded travelers) were stuck in the lobby on chairs with individual armrests and a man who paced past the automatic doors every fifteen minutes letting in the cold air. Seemed fitting to round out our trip this way…
We did survive the night and we did get on the plane and we did leave with positive memories (and books written in English bought from the airport bookshop at 3 a.m.!), but we also learned never to take a hostel for granted.