My Travel Regret
In this post I want to talk about something a little different: one of my biggest travel regrets. I came across a random U.K-based American travel blogger on Instagram, which made me think back to my time living in Scotland and the opportunities I both made the most of and missed out on.
That Time I Lived In Scotland
A year after finishing college, I decided to go to graduate school across the Atlantic. I’d wanted to spend some time living in the U.K. since I was eight years old on my first international trip, and I didn’t get to study abroad during college, so graduate school seemed like a perfect chance.
I settled on the University of Edinburgh. I was studying history, and their history graduate program offered resources that would help me in my research. But almost more important than that, everything I knew about Edinburgh made it look like exactly the kind of place I wanted to live. It had a large student and academic population, incredible old world history and architecture, phenomenal pub culture, and, thanks to Europe's low-cost airlines, easy access to the rest of Europe (only sometimes requiring a stop in Dublin, London, or nearby Glasgow). I applied, and after working and saving for a year and a half I moved over.
So here’s what I regret: during the year I lived in Edinburgh, I didn’t really travel further. At least, not internationally. To many Americans living abroad, particularly undergrads, the greatest perk is that getting elsewhere is so cheap and easy. Besides carrying your passport, maybe dealing with the occasional currency swap or visa purchase, going to another country is as easy as flying from New York to Miami.
I had seen this firsthand. During college, I flew to London to meet up with a friend who was studying abroad in Seville, Spain. We spent a couple of days there before flying on to Amsterdam, Prague, and Berlin. It’s insane how easy it was, and he did it pretty much every weekend! Sure, we were within the European Union (if not the eurozone), but it was still all but effortless, and the flights and trains were incredibly cheap! Remembering that trip, I packed for my move to Edinburgh with vague but thrilling plans of weekends in Barcelona, quick trips to Rome, a few days of cut classes in Oslo, and so on, taking complete advantage of continental proximity.
But when I landed in Edinburgh and moved into my first of two flats, those plans flew out the window (which, by the way, looked out onto Arthur’s Seat). As I settled in, made friends, found my local pub, and got used to the city and country, I was enjoying life in Scotland too much. It wasn’t a conscious decision, I just ended up not really making plans to go too much further. When I was an undergrad and friends were studying abroad, I was always so jealous at their weekly adventures. Turns out, I was pretty happy having my own adventures in Edinburgh.
Of course, there's another side to not traveling internationally. The benefit was that I came to feel at home in a new city, something that, no matter how often you move, you don't get to do very often in life. More than just assembling a knowledge of the shortcuts, or the good, cheap, or weird places to eat, it was developing a sense of home, comfort, ease, and friends. It's the reason that I go back to visit so often: to see friends, and also the place.
The other thing: as much as I thought I wanted to blitz through Europe, I had a finite amount of time living in the U.K., and I travelled a lot more than I make it sound. I just stayed within Scotland and England. To start, my studies brought me to Glasgow and London a handful of times to visit archives and libraries. I also went to London to visit friends and see football matches, and a few of us took the quick train ride to Newcastle for some matches at Saint James Park.
During one school break, a group of us spent a few days seeing other sights in Newcastle, Manchester, and York.
In Manchester, we watched an FA Cup match at Old Trafford, memorable only because we sat next to Reading's away support. The next day we toured the historic stadium (our tour guide was a Spurs supporter, at least, which made it much more enjoyable).
I took a half-day to wander around Berwick-upon-Tweed's incredible Elizabethan walls, and we took day trips to Saint Andrews.
During a long weekend I went to Cambridge to stay with a friend at his parents' home, and to visit a branch of the Imperial War Museum which held collections relevant to my dissertation. We also stopped by a cemetery where American soldiers killed in World War Two were buried.
When my parents flew over to visit me, we spent five days driving around the Scottish Highlands and Isle of Skye, spending nights in the towns of Portree and Ullapool.*
And, I spent an incredible afternoon in East Anglia touring the place where my grandfather's bomber crew was based during World War Two, visiting the museum and heritage society that was built on the site. Thanks to incredible luck, the heritage society was hosting its annual reunion when I went. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever experienced.
So in reality, I was incredibly lucky to travel so much within the United Kingdom, not to mention getting to live in a foreign city for a month. My regret, which I recognize is almost greedy, is that I didn't explore internationally in Europe when I had the chance to do it for cheap and without jetlag.
While it's a regret, I definitely wouldn't call it a mistake. It just means that now when I go on vacation to a new place in Europe, it's more of an investment of time, vacation days, and money (or points) than it would have been, so I can't approach it as casually as I would have. I also have to balance exploring new places with visiting and favorite spots and friends. A problem I'm incredibly lucky to have. 😃
Thanks for reading this rambling reminiscence. Check back soon for my next post, a much-delayed review of Norwegian Air. Coming up later: a post about how my fiancée Reni and I used points to book our honeymoon flights in first class — a first for both of us!
*If you're interested in exploring the Highlands and don't want to drive on the wrong side of the road, nor be stuck on a massive 60-seater tour bus, I highly recommend Rabbie's Tours. There were maybe a dozen of us, we got along really well, and our guide Richard was happy to tweak plans when the group requested it.