How to travel around Scotland on a budget

Save £££’s with our money-saving Scotland travel guide


The Old Man of StorrSo you want to visit Scotland and travel around all the amazing tourist attractions that this amazing country has to offer? Well, why not? Year-on-year the number of global tourists visiting our shores has been increasing steadily, with a 15% increase in overseas visitors in 2018 alone. This may be partly due to the weakening pound meaning that overseas visitors have got more ‘bang for their bucks’, but it’s also no doubt helped by the surge of visitors wanting to get new experiences that they simply can’t get anywhere else in Europe.

Vast, snow-capped mountain ranges? Check. Unspoilt wilderness and crystal clear lochs (some with monsters in them)? Check. Some of the most beautiful and fun-filled cities on the planet? Yup, check again. Clearly, Scotland has plenty of sights and activities to attract wealthy tourists coming from all over the planet, but what about those of us who have to make our money stretch further than most?

While Scotland has plenty of cheap, and even free, activities to enjoy, travelling around to visit them all can be a huge pain in the wallet. This isn’t necessarily because the cost of public transport is particularly expensive, but when you’ve got a country the size of Sweden and a population smaller than the city of London, you know it’s going to push transport prices up. The infrastructure is there for sure, but there are fewer people paying for it compared to many other countries which in turn pushes prices up, even with the additional 14 million tourists that come into Scotland each year.


So what can you do to save a few pounds while you’re here? Well, a little bit of common sense and taking heed of the following travel tips will go a long way to making your Scottish holiday just that little bit less expensive. Who knows? You might even be able to save enough to put towards another holiday here next year…


Travelling by car

By far the most popular form of transport in Scotland is the car, with around 65% of all journeys using this form of transportation. Generally, the Scottish road network is excellent, with well-maintained surfaces, easy to understand signs and a populace that has had to pass stringent tests in order to drive their cars on the roads in the first place. The downside is that running the things costs an arm and a leg. So what money-saving tips are there if you want to get out on the open road?


Tip 1: Beware hire car Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) costs.

Most car rental companies will feature their website prices in big bold numbers in an attempt to appear to be the cheapest for the unwary traveller, but 9 times out of 10 they’ll then hit renters with extortionate fees when it comes to insurance. One of the biggest complaints is the cost of the CDW, a contractual term where the rental company waives its right to claim compensation from the customer for damage to the rented vehicle.

Scotland Mountain and Car

Unfortunately basic CDW cover usually excludes damage to tyres, wheels, wing-mirrors, windows, hub caps, the undercarriage and even the roof of the car. It also frequently excludes towing costs in the case of breakdown and clutch failure, and these policies often only cover damage to another vehicle, so if you’re subject to single-vehicle damage (such as driving into a wall), then the CDW won’t cover you and you’ll still have to pay the excess (anywhere up to £2000). The rule here is that before you pay for CDW insurance make sure you take the time to thoroughly read through the policy paperwork, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t like what you see.


Tip 2: Don’t use a rental car broker.

Car hire is big business and a new niche has opened up with car rental brokers advertising low prices on comparison websites, whereby they offer to act as the middleman between the car hire company and the renter. However, the broker is only a sales agent and the customer’s contract is always with the car hire company, so many customers find that when things go wrong their brokers just wash their hands of the problem and tell their customers that they must deal with the hire company direct.

Avoid the problem by doing your own research on several well-respected hire car companies and making your own comparisons. You’ll often find that the saving you make from not having to pay the broker commission fees beats the ‘offer’ that they were advertising anyway. So stick to the big guns in the rental business like SIXT, Hertz or Avis, and others who are members of the BVRLA, and be safe in the knowledge that should any problems arise you’ve got a trade body who will attempt to resolve the issue on your behalf.


Tip 3: Watch out for sneaky upgrade offers.

Rental pick-up desks will often try to sell you an upgrade to a bigger car by hard-selling you the advantages of a larger vehicle over the one that you’ve already pre-booked online. Many of these agents are working on a commission basis so it’s in their interests to make you spend as much money as possible, but frequently these ‘upgrades’ are completely unnecessary.

Quite often customers from the U.S. are picked out for these upgrade offers due to the fact that the cars over there are generally larger than the small compacts that we tend to drive in the UK. But there’s a reason we love these compact cars. They’re easy to park in cities, they’re economical and they’re perfect for our narrow roads. Before you fall for the hard sell think about your situation. If you’re only going to be driving in Scotland for a week and there are only 3 or 4 of you, plus suitcases, do you really need a 9-seater Mercedes minibus? Whole families of Brits quite happily spend years zooming about in Minis and Ford Fiestas, so there’s no reason why you can’t cope with a compact car for a fortnight’s vacation.


Travelling by bus

Tip 4: Use trams and buses whenever possible

Edinburgh BusBoth Scotland’s capital city and it’s larger cousin to the west have excellent bus networks that will get you to anywhere in either city for a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi. Edinburgh, in particular, has a world-leading bus and tram network thanks to the services provided by Lothian buses, with cheap public transport available on clean, well-maintained vehicles. The bus network extends right through Edinburgh and out to the surrounding areas, while the trams provide a fast mode of transport over 14km from the airport to the city centre.

Visit Transport For Edinburgh for more information on Edinburgh’s Trams and buses or download the Transport for Edinburgh App. To help you find your way around the bus network more quickly you can get real-time information on the web and on your smart phone.

To find out when your bus is due go to:

If you’re going to spend some time in Glasgow and want to use public transport then the main bus operator is First Bus, which provides a regular bus service throughout the city with over 100 routes to choose from. Most locals prefer to use the bus network as it’s one of the easiest and cheapest options for getting around the city centre and the outlying districts, and they also have regular links to the airport and train station.


Tip 5: Use coaches for journeys between cities

If you need to travel between cities on a budget then the coach company Mega Bus has got you covered with a transport network that not only connects the cities of Scotland but also includes England and Wales. As an example of the savings that are possible, while a train ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow can cost upwards of £15 depending on the time of day, a cheap-rate Megabus ticket will only cost you around £4, and you can occasionally find one-way journeys on special offer for £1!

While some people might turn their nose up at travelling ‘cattle-class’ (it’s not, they’re actually really comfy), you can upgrade your bus journey by choosing the Citylink Gold service instead. This luxury bus service operates from Glasgow to Aviemore and Inverness, Glasgow to Aberdeen, and Edinburgh to Ferrytoll, Kinross, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen, and offers a variety of upgrades over other coach operators. Onboard you’ll find coach attendants, leather seats, Wi-Fi, and complimentary snacks and refreshments during your journey, with coaches leaving regularly from the main city centre bus terminals. 


Tip 6: Don’t buy individual bus tickets. Buy a day ticket instead

Edinburgh Tour Bus

This is a great tip and one that you’ll find Scottish locals using all the time. While there’s no doubt that using the bus is a quick and cheap way of getting around the big cities, you can save even more money as a tourist by buying a day ticket. These bus tickets can be purchased for as little as £4 (Lothian Bus in Edinburgh) or £4.50 (First Bus in Glasgow) and will let you take as many journeys as you like in one day.

Let’s face it, you’re a tourist and you want to see as many attractions as possible, so you’ll no doubt be hopping on and off buses at every available opportunity. The beauty of a day ticket is that once you’ve bought it all you need to do is keep it in your pocket and present it to the driver each time you want to head somewhere new, so there’s no need for the embarrassing fumbling around in your pocket for the correct change with a bunch of tutting locals waiting in line behind you.

Taking this even further why not use a city tour bus as your main form of transport for one of the days you’re in the city? While these buses are a little pricey (upwards of £15 per person in many cases) you’ll get the benefit of open-top travel with an experienced tour guide telling you all about the amazing attractions that the city has. Where most people fail is that once they’ve done the tour they get off and go somewhere else, never to use it again. But us savvy travellers know that these tour buses are hop-on/hop-off services, so once you’ve done the main tour you can use it again as many times as you like whenever it passes your location. Bonus!


Well, I hope these tips have at least given you a few bits of useful information that you’ll be able to take with you when you come to visit us in Scotland, and perhaps you’ll be able to save a few pounds over what you’d originally budgeted for as well. That, of course, means that not only can you come back and visit us again next year, but you’ll have some extra money in your pocket to purchase extra essentials while you’re here. Time to stock up on the Irn-Bru and Tunnocks Tea Cakes!


Personal finance blogger who's fanatical about financial freedom, investing and making money in the UK

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