An American in Edinburgh: Tips for a Great Adventure

I just returned from an amazing trip to Edinburgh that was part vacation and part location scouting for a future writer’s retreat.

With years of passport stamp collecting under my belt, I consider myself a seasoned, experienced traveler. More of a passionate journeywoman than an expert – which is exactly what I prefer. I love the unexpected quirks and twists that come with traveling abroad. Especially knowing that learning to adapt and problem solve on the fly ultimately makes me a better strategic thinker in my day job.

Navigating the differences in life, culture, and language (even in English-speaking countries) is always a high point, and a great way to stretch the mental muscles. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of the fun, quirky, and important things to know before your next trip. Enjoy!


  • Limit liquids in carryon luggage. Security in European airports is strict about both the 3.4-ounce limit for containers and the quart-sized bag requirements. Everything has to fit in a quart-sized bag that can be zipped closed, so be prepared to downsize.
  • Passport stamps are being phased out in many countries. A bummer for those of us who consider them a cherished souvenir.
  • Drinks are served deconstructed if the mixer is not on the bar’s soda gun. For example, a gin and tonic will be served with gin on ice and a bottle of tonic on the side. A vodka seven is served normally, but they refer to 7Up or Sprite as lemonade. Specialty cocktails like a margarita or mojito are also served normally. I haven’t been to a bar yet that free-poured alcohol. It’s always measured.
  • Speaking of beverages, ice is not as prominent in Europe as it is in the US. Drinks are served with very little and finding ice cube trays in the refrigerators of rented flats or apartments is uncommon.
  • Grilled sandwiches are called toast or toasties.
  • Waiting lines are called queues.
  • A lift refers to both an escalator and elevator.
  • Taxes are included in all listed prices, so no surprises
  • Gratuities are commonly included automatically at restaurants. Check the menu or bill to see if service is included. If not, a tip of 5-10% is normal.



  • Scotland is part of the United Kingdom. That means pounds, not euros, for currency and an outlet adapter specific to the UK. It also means left side of the street driving, so be careful crossing.
  • Old Town is full of narrow passageways called a close or a wynd (pronounced “wined”) that are hidden gems definitely worth exploring. Some lead to courtyards with cafes, bars, or museums while others are just a walkway between buildings.
  • Old Town is also full of steps and inclines. A day spent walking around is a great workout.
  • Admission to museums is free – donations are encouraged. My favorites were the National Museum of Scotland and The Writer’s Museum in Old Town
  • Fans are rare in bathrooms, flats, and many businesses
  • Plumbing can be tricky. Toilets can be hard to flush – hold or push the button and be patient. The upside, though, is warm water in the sinks.
  • Some over the counter purchases are age-restricted: 16+ for ibuprofen & 18+ for energy drinks