What to Pack for a Trip to Scotland

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As you know if you’ve been following my blog this past year, I studied abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, for my final semester of undergrad, from January to the start of May. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to explore much of the nation and the United Kingdom as a whole, so I wanted to share a little insight about what you should pack if you’re planning a Scottish vacation. I also rounded up some of the outfits I wore while abroad to give you a lil’ inspiration! 

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Weather in Glasgow 

To start, let’s talk weather. I was in Scotland for four months, and the weather was pretty consistent during that time—highs in the 40s (sometimes in the 50s, as we entered April) and lots of rain and overcast skies. The difference between the high and low temps was never that much, so while it felt cold outside, it was never really a frigid temperature. Twice there were light dustings of snow, and my Glaswegian friends were very excited by it.  

Unlike rainy places I am familiar with, such as Seattle, I found that it rains in Glasgow rather sporadically. It could start downpouring and last 20 minutes, followed by a few hours of sunshine, followed by an early evening drizzle. It rarely rained all day like I remembered happening when I lived in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, I can only speak on my own experiences in Scotland during the winter/spring, but I know it never gets that warm—peaking, on average, in the 60s in June, July, and August. 

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Waterproof Clothing and Shoes 

It probably goes without saying, but you’ll want some nice waterproof gear if you’re planning a trip to Scotland. It’s also important to recognize the difference between waterproof and water-resistant. Waterproof pieces wick away water and are theoretically impermeable, whereas water-resistant clothing only resists water to a certain degree. After a while, especially in Scotland’s downpours, water-resistant clothing will become soaked. 

For example, I was aware of this difference but brought a water-resistant puffer coat to Scotland anyway (I just didn’t want to buy a new one). It would only keep me dry in light drizzles, but if it poured at all, the coat would be soaking wet and would smell like a wet dog for a few days. What worked much better was my bright blue waterproof shell from REI, which I bought when I hiked the Camino de Santiago. It wasn’t particularly warm, as it’s just a thin jacket, but it was the perfect top layer to keep dry. 

I also brought short rain boots with me to Scotland. I didn’t end up wearing them as much as I expected, as I turned towards my black knee boots more often. But even my knee boots were waterproof and perfect for being stylish and functional. I don’t recommend bringing any suede shoes or shoes made of a similar fabric—the water will likely stain and ruin them. While I brought running shoes for exercising, I hardly wore them, as they would have been soaked through in the rain. I highly recommend boots. 

Something else I thought of while I was abroad that would have been useful to pack was the rain cover that came with my backpacking bag. Since I was attending classes while in Scotland, I often walked to campus in the rain, and my school backpack would get wet. Having my rain cover would have been helpful in that scenario. I know that’s a rather niche packing list item, but depending on what you plan on doing in Scotland, it’s helpful just to consider what other waterproof accessories might come in handy. 

I will say, however, that umbrellas are a sure sign you’re a tourist (or at least, that’s what I was told). I found that if it started raining, people would take cover in a coffee shop or doorway for a few minutes to wait for it to pass, rather than whipping out an umbrella. Glasgow can also be quite windy, so for that reason, I was told many natives don’t use umbrellas at all.

While on the topic of wind and rain, you can probably leave your hair styling tools at home. I brought a curling iron and hardly used it, after learning that some combination of wind or moisture would ruin the curls almost instantly anyway.

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Lots of Layers

Because of the sporadic weather, layers are key in Scotland. As I already mentioned, I brought a lighter rain jacket and a puffer coat. If you’re going to Scotland in the winter, or just don’t fair well in the cold, I highly recommend a long coat that covers your butt. That extra length surprisingly adds SO much overall warmth. In addition to my functional coat, I brought two pleather jackets (a black one and a burgundy one) that I wore all the time. I also packed a cute puffer vest, gloves, several sweaters, a beanie, and a scarf. Admittedly, I only wore my scarf once—it was too bulky and awkward to tuck into my coat, but the alternative was that the scarf would get wet. Just something to keep in mind while packing (although my friend swears by a scarf and wore hers nearly every day). I also packed a few pairs of tights/long socks, which I wore quite a bit with my skirts and dresses. I hardly ever saw Glaswegian girls wearing anything on their legs, though—they just embraced the cold. 

Something else I noticed was that even though it was fairly cold outside, I almost always arrived at my destination hot… It’s just the nature of Glasgow (and probably most European cities?) that people walk a lot instead of driving. For me, walking everywhere meant that I would leave the house quite cold with a bulky sweater on, only to arrive at my destination a sweaty mess, regretting my outfit choice. I never quite figured out how to account for this while getting dressed every morning, but again, being able to strip off a few layers as you’re touring the city is helpful. 

Leave the Heels at Home 

As is the case with lots of old European cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh (the places I spent the most time) had lots of uneven walkways and cobblestone. That didn’t stop natives from rocking their stilettos (I was always so impressed), but it’s not something I would encourage for a tourist. If you plan on dressing up for an event, I recommend either wearing flats and changing into heels at the destination, or sticking with chunky block heels/wedges. Even those are hard to walk in, so cute booties with a little height or flats are best. Don’t need to be rolling (or breaking!) an ankle while abroad. 

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Style Choices 

When it comes to the style in Scotland, I imagined a cozy preppy vibe—lots of sweaters, plaid skirts, riding boots—so that’s what I decided to pack for myself. However, I can’t say that what I imagined was very accurate, at least not in Glasgow. You can check out my Glasgow Fashion Scene blog post to read more about the kinds of fashion I saw while there. Overall, I thought Glasgow had a really fun, funky sense of style—lots of printed pants, bold colors and patterns, overalls/overall dresses, faux fur coats, etc.  

I would say Glasgow definitely had more of a casual vibe. I brought lots of skirts and dresses with me, but I wish I had packed more jeans instead. I know some European cities have a fancier dress code or require long skirts to enter churches or other places of reverence. I never really experienced anything like that in Scotland, but to be fair, it’s not like I was wearing booty shorts in winter anyway.  

On the other hand, I saw lots of women wearing long fabulous coats. I would have loved to pack my camel coat, but I didn’t have room for both a long puffer coat (functional) and a wool coat (stylish). Not to mention, I don’t know how you can wear a coat like that with the risk of rain (wouldn’t you just get drenched?). Don’t get me wrong, I really wish I had packed a long stylish coat because all the women who wore them looked so chic… Plus, then I would look cute in all my touristy vacation photos. But I just don’t know if they’re the most practical—you can be the judge of that. 

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Leave Room in Your Suitcase!

I suppose you should always leave a little room in your suitcase for souvenirs, but if you’re going to Scotland, I think you should reserve even more free space—the thrifting is just so good! In the UK, thrift stores are generally called charity shops, and a lot of them are named for the cause that they support. For example, British Red Cross and Save the Children were ones that I frequented. (If you’re in Glasgow, Byres Road near the University of Glasgow has lots of great charity shop options.) The thrifting culture seemed a lot more popular and normal in the UK than in the U.S. If you saw something you liked, you had to buy it right then and there because it would be gone by tomorrow. To give you an idea of the popularity of shopping secondhand, some of my favorite stores changed their inventory once a week! I ended up leaving Scotland with four pairs of thrifted shoes, a handful of dresses, two jumpsuits, and then some… I was very grateful my parents visited and brought me an empty suitcase, lol! 

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I hope you enjoyed this blog post and found it helpful if you’re preparing for a Scottish vacation! If you have ever been to Scotland before and have some packing tips of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below. You can also read more about my time in Scotland by clicking the new Study Abroad category in the bottom of the righthand sidebar or browsing more of today’s outfits in the posts below. 

 

Miles of smiles, 

Grace 

 

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2 comments on “What to Pack for a Trip to Scotland”

  1. Very cool post! Interesting fact about umbrellas! I bought a waterproof light jacket for Costa Rica since it is the rainy season on our little trip there and am bringing water shoes. Not sure which sneakers to bring for activities like our night jungle walk. Thinking my hiking ones should work unless it is raining. I love the charity store finds you picked up while traveling: a lot of really original pieces!
    http://www.chezmireillefashiontravelmom.com

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