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RS Best of Scotland Tour....Independently

I am going on a golf trip to St. Andrews in May 2020 and my wife is joining me after we are finished for another 10 days or so. We looked at the RS Best of Scotland tour, but neither of the departure dates before or after my golf trip work for us. We have also spent four nights in Edinburgh several years ago and there are only a few things we want to go back and see. I do like the tour itinerary and would like your thoughts about trying to follow it independently starting at St. Andrews and finishing back in Edinburgh. I have driven in Scotland between Edinburgh and St. Andrews and will again for the golf trip, but I don't know anything about the roads in the highlands between cities. I'd appreciate any suggestions, experiences or advice you'd like to share about the above, and in particular anything you did not like on the tour (or on your own) that perhaps I should consider omitting. I'm also going to post this on the Tour Travel Forum as well, but thought I might benefit here from anyone who may have done this route independently as well. We have done four trips to Europe but never on a tour, although on a solo trip last year I followed his Venice/Florence/Rome tour itinerary. Thank you.


Posted by
2949 posts

I haven't been on the tour, but following a tour itinerary isn't a bad idea. Only keep in mind that a tour may be able to move faster because the guide has done all the logistics ahead of time. Driving on roads in the highlands is not too much of a challenge; I would just try to avoid being out there after dark, but in May that's very easy to do.

For other itineraries -- if only just to confirm that you're making the right choice in following in the footsteps of RS Best of -- take a look at the Secret Scotland website or

Posted by
5766 posts

I have (more or less) followed some Rick Steves tour itineraries on my own over the years, although always modified to some extent for my own tastes (sometimes highly modified). It generally works fine, with a few caveats:

You won't be able to manage the same pace. On some days you will be able to, on others that could easily wear you out, make you miserable, or simply be impossible. You need to look at each day separately, and factor in that you will be less efficient (the tour driver knows the way, doesn't get lost, doesn't have to negotiate with your spouse, has a clear plan, etc.). OTOH you will have the freedom to skip things the tour does (if you can't/don't want to do them), and of course add your own. You need to be careful to be realistic with what you can accomplish in a day and still enjoy it (and stay married...).

The small hotels that the tours use are often booked up solid, a year in advance, guessed it, a Rick Steves tour. This can wipe out a lot of the best lodging options (especially in small towns), so be more flexible and be prepared to cast a wider net when looking for accommodations.

More than once, I have found myself competing for space in a small town with a Rick Steves tour. They're pretty easy to spot wandering the streets and dining in the recommended restaurants...

Posted by
524 posts

My thanks to both of you. Good suggestions for me to consider. This will me our first European trip as a couple and I'm 74. We started this Europe thing in 2007 while watching a RS television program on Italy. at my 82 year-old mother-in-law's home. I'd never heard of Rick Steves, but she commented that she had always dreamed of going to Tuscany, but when she was younger had two many responsibilities and not enough money, and now she was too old. On the way home I concocted a scheme to take her to Italy, and a few months with the help of Rick's guide book, DVD and this forum I was able to pull it off. Twelve years later and two, two-week trips to the Scotland and England, Normandy and Provence and two with her to Hawaii she has decided to stop 95 (she retired at 90 after playing the organ in her church for 60 years). Traveling with my MIL taught me to pace myself and only plan about 2/3 of each day, leaving time for the unexpected "back door", and to rest. I appreciate your pointing it our, though, because this whole area is all new to me. Only Rick's DVD so far. Thanks


Posted by
4184 posts

When we were there a number of years ago, we had no trouble on any of the roads, and on that trip the rental car company gave us a mini-van sized vehicle. Our rough itinerary was Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Elgin, Portree and Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, Glencoe, Oban, then over into England Harrogate, York, and back to Edinburgh. The only narrow road I recall was on the Isle of Skye. It was one lane, but had many pull outs so cars can pass.

Posted by
5536 posts

You can follow the itinerary, but I have to tell you that you can't replicate some of the things that make a Rick Steves tour unique. I like independent travel and do so often. However, I also know that there are some elements of a tour that don't translate. I enjoy both ways of travel.

The group dynamics are a definite plus on a tour. Traveling with and sharing experiences with a friendly group of people is a different experience and surprisingly fun.

The smooth logistics and educational value of the guide can't be overstated. The guide brings so much to the tour in terms of education and experience.