The Scottish Perspective
Scotland is a small nation. Just look at a map of Europe and compare its land area to, say, Finland. But while we’re pretty tiny compared to a lot of other places, there’s one major advantage: it means that if you want to become a traveller, you don’t have to go all that far and you’re on foreign soil. Even a relatively short flight can take you to places that have a massively different language, culture and cuisine. The same time in a plane across the US and you’d barely have crossed three or four state lines!
Being from a small nation is also interesting for another reason – since there are fewer people around the world who share your nationality compared with the bigger nations, it makes you feel that little bit more unique. And of course people the world over do seem to know a bit about Scotland, due to the high profile of our country’s unique national symbols – the kilt, the haggis and the whisky. Not to mention the deep fried Mars bars and the square sausage!
Breaking language barriers
Being an English speaker can be a real advantage when you travel. In quite a few countries (for example Germany and Holland), it seems that most people not only speak English – they’re also more than happy to converse with you in it and not be offended that you aren’t speaking their language.
The downside of being an English speaker is that – due to the language’s popularity worldwide, it often feels as if there’s a reduced need to speak foreign languages while overseas. In one notable example, I tried ordering in Dutch from the menu while in a restaurant in Amsterdam. The waiter (without being rude about it) instantly steered the order back into English – probably because it was going to be quicker and easier all round!
However, despite English almost being a global lingua franca, and that a small amount (or more, if you can manage) of the local language seems to go a long way. Just those few key phrases in Italian or Portuguese (or Russian) have worked for me as a kind of social lubricant – a sign to native speakers that I am fully engaged, paying attention, and culturally immersed in my location.
Staying safe and healthy
Okay, so you won’t run into any deep-fried haggis while overseas, but there are a number of very important health points to note. (This is kind of the dull-but-must-know stuff so I will keep it brief!)
1. If you’re out and about in Europe, get an EHIC. They don’t cover everything though, so make sure you also have the right travel or international insurance. For an idea of the cost of certain operations if you were going to pay upfront, check out this infographic. In other words, not cheap!
2. Research your destination. If there are scams or pickpockets (or anything else we’d all prefer to steer clear of) then the chances are there will be some information online. Travel sites, Rough Guide type traveller resources and online forums should be a good help here.
3. If you have dietary restrictions – or if you take prescription medicines, it’s important to check with your doctor before you go overseas. Don’t be shy – your doctor is there to help!
Making the leap abroad
While there are plenty of us who are seasoned travellers, with dog-eared passports and a whole suitcase of stories to tell, I’m sure there are also likely to be some people out there who have never travelled. If this is you, I have two pieces of advice: the first would be (of course) Just do it! And the second would be: don’t be scared.
Whether you’re heading off on an extended round the world trip or are just heading to an unknown destination for a short break, it’s worth remembering that line about journeys starting with the first step. And even a short trip somewhere can mean making new friends and seeing new things, which can in turn lead to life-changing inspiration. And even though I am safely ensconced back in my Scottish city, I am all the richer for having taken the plunge and gone off on my occasional international adventures!