Some of our trips require you to take public transport, particularly our Rail & Hike Discovery trips. So, if public transportation is a rare encounter for you, then you might have a few questions. I found this to be the case when I booked The Highlands & Isle of Skye Rail & Hike trip. Here's a glimpse into the insights I gained from my unforgettable journey that might just answer some of your questions.
Preparation is key!
As a Customer Experience Specialist at Macs Adventure, I’m well acquainted with supporting travelers before, during and after their trip. Yet, I was surprised by the extent of planning needed for my own trip, which included trains, buses, and ferries. Prior to setting off, I researched the processes for each mode and how to find information en route. The info pack Macs provide after confirming your booking will spotlight the transport companies overseeing each leg. I downloaded company apps, so I had easy access to details while on the move. For payments like bus fares, I checked what was best - book beforehand or settle onboard. While the itinerary gave comprehensive day-by-day details, I included my own extra notes which saved time and helped avoid confusion during my trip. While this step isn’t necessary, a little legwork upfront ensures smooth sailing, taking pressure off for a more enjoyable trip.
Navigating the Tracks: All About Trains
The stations I encountered had excellent signage. Buying tickets, finding and boarding the correct trains was simple, and station staff were happy to help. For larger stations, ticket machines accept both cash and card payments. This is when you pick up tickets if they’re provided by Macs Adventure. A quick swipe of your credit card (solely for identification purposes - no charges incurred) coupled with inputting reference numbers (found in your itinerary), is all that’s necessary for collecting your tickets. Smaller stations lack these amenities, requiring online or onboard ticket purchases. During my journey, I utilized the ScotRail app, which made buying tickets and checking timetables easy. The train included charging outlets and bathrooms. Overhead compartments accommodated smaller luggage, while designated spaces stored larger bags. Each station stop was announced which eliminated any chance of disorientation.
Ferries: Sailing the Waves
My trip had a ferry from Armadale on the Isle of Skye to Mallaig on the Scottish Mainland. Ferry terminals are well sign-posted, with ticket counters, restrooms, waiting areas, and other facilities. Tickets can be bought at the counter, though some exclusively accepted cards. Macs supplied me with a Calmac Ferry voucher, which was in my documents in the app. It listed check-in and departure times. I simply showed my phone to the worker, and he exchanged it for a paper ticket. The multi-tiered ferry included a cafeteria and lavatories. I took a seat at the top where I was treated to stunning views. My 30-min journey was even joined by dolphins, rendering the experience truly remarkable.
Buses: Cruising the Country Roads
I found the buses I took in Scotland to be large and comfy. Bus stops always had signage, with route info and timetables. Using the bus company's website or app, I made sure to check timetables and find which bus I needed to board. You can buy tickets directly from the bus driver using cash or card, but I recommend buying in advance when possible. When the bus came to take me to The Isle of Skye, there were so many travelers that those who didn’t purchase a ticket in advance couldn’t get on the bus, so I recommend prebooking. Luckily, I’d purchased mine and was good to go. There were plenty of spots to store luggage, either beneath the bus or in overhead storage. The icing on the cake - some buses featured charging ports for personal devices.
Navigating the 'bumps in the road’
Embarking on a journey using public transport requires staying up to date with information. Rail strikes and time changes are quite common. While Macs always try to notify travelers of any itinerary changes via email, keeping up with it yourself can save you a headache later on. This is where knowing who you’re traveling with and how to find their timetables comes in handy.
Liberation from Luggage Transfers
For most Macs trips, luggage transfers are a daily occurrence. However, Rail & Hike journeys typically require you to take your bags with you on your travels. When I last visited Scotland in 2022, I found it difficult to maneuver my wheeled suitcase on and off trains and through cobbled streets. This time around, I chose to travel with a large backpack instead. I was glad I did, as it was a breeze to take along with me. I also took a foldable backpack as my day pack if I wanted to leave my larger one in the accommodation. I did cross paths with other Macs travelers who opted for wheeled suitcases, and they were happy with their decision too. It boils down to personal preference, but it’s something to think about.
No luggage? No problem
While I enjoyed carrying my bags, there were days when I wanted the weight off my shoulders. Most accommodations happily accept luggage drop-offs before check-in, but it’s always good to ask them first. Some days, I didn’t want to walk to my accommodation to drop my bags, and instead wanted to explore right away. Luckily, many larger cities offer luggage storage options. Train stations often have ‘left luggage’, or you can search online for other options. In Edinburgh I left my bag at a hotel for a small fee, and in Inverness I left it at an electronics shop. I loved this option and felt it helped me make the most of my time. It's important to note that independently booked luggage storage is done at your own risk. As such, the best and safest option is to leave it with your accommodation.
Don't Let Apprehensions Deter You: You’ve got this!
For those grappling with concerns surrounding public transportation, rest assured. Signs help you navigate most of the time, and when in doubt, a friendly transport worker is nearby to help. You'll find yourself in good company! Public transportation is the lifeline for countless individuals, particularly tourists, ensuring you'll encounter kindred spirits en route. If you can’t find anyone to ask, Macs also provide a 24/7 phone number for on-trip assistance.