As I begin writing this, I can hear the familiar gentle lapping of waves hitting the shore and pulling back, repeatedly. It's one of my favourite sounds. Except this time, it's not coming from the Rain Rain app, so I can drift to sleep, or a video that I took at the beach on my travels; it's the sound of Loch Lomond right outside my window.
You know how Colin Firth goes to a lake to write while sat in a cute cabin in Love Actually? Yeah, that's me right now. But whether or not you're a writer, illustrator or working in finance, it's important to treat yourself on your solo travels. It is perpetuated far too much that to be a proper 'traveller' - solo or otherwise - you have to don a backpack, sturdy shoes, and go on relentlessly about sticking your budget. While I'm donning the first two and usually guilty of the latter, I broke the mould with this trip to the village of Luss on the west bank of Loch Lomond in Scotland - without breaking the bank too much.
The early bird always gets the worm, hence all the so-called early bird offers. I had my heart set on a particular hotel, the Lodge on Loch Lomond, from the very start of planning this trip. From its close proximity to the Loch to the brilliant reviews from previous guests, all the cheaper hotels, B&Bs and even the gorgeous waterside hostel didn't compare (though the latter was a close second, but had no availability - see, gotta get in quick!) I booked around eight weeks in advance and got discounted rates, as well as breakfast included, and I was able to specify that I wanted a loch-facing room. Don't get me wrong, it was still the most expensive room I’d stayed in for a night, but I got a good rate and, boyyyy, was it worth it - more on that later.
Train tickets are another thing that are hella cheaper when booking advance. Yes, flights might have been quicker than the five-hour ride (plus the rather scenic hour's bus ride from Glasgow to Luss), but at just over £30 each way, I couldn't go wrong. Virgin Trains are pretty good when you're lucky enough to catch the deals. If you have an unreserved ticket, get there half an hour before, so as soon as the gate is open you can bag a good seat. There are one or two reserved cabins, depending on the size of the train. I hopped on the U cabin and managed to bag a full four table to myself in a forward facing seat, next to the window. However, if I was a little smarter with it, I'd have gone with the C cabin for all this, plus all the snacks...
Choose one thing you're happy to properly splash all out on
For me, it was the hotel. The boujis-ass hotel with the award-winning, two AA Rosette restaurant, Molton Brown bath amenities and a location right on the water's edge. Hey, if you're going to splash out on something, it might as well be the place you'll retreat to at the end of the day (or in my case, all evening because I couldn't tear myself away from the window). With its panelled wood interiors from floor to ceiling, gorgeous water and mountain views from the large windows and the soothing soundtrack of the waves, I felt like I was on a luxury boat.
Room service was all part of this indulgence: a two-course dinner, with prosecco - garnished with a raspberry - plus Scottish shortbread biscuits, which I'm not ashamed to say I ate in between my meal, not after, then finished off in the bath just because. Doing it for the 'gram (except I didn't cos I was #livingmybestlife in REAL life). I have never felt so happily stuffed, apart from on Christmas Day. While the deep bath was something, the bed was something more. I'm a petite gal as it is, but I've genuinely never slept in that huge a bed. I have no regrets.
Remember that some experiences are priceless...
I have never awoken to a more beautiful sight as I did in the morning (hotel windows and male suitors inclusive). I naturally woke up at around 7.15am, my body probably anticipating a day of work, and watched the sunrise over Loch Lomond from my bed.
Even as a writer, I don't think I can adequately put into words how content I felt for that hour or so. I did a Ross Gellar and stayed until the very last minute of my check-out, wanting to soak in every minute of this view that I could.
Other wonderfully free and freeing moments on this trip included seeing a pretty rainbow over the rolling countryside green on my train journey up, and strolling through Luss, sheep to the left of me, chocolate-box houses and mountains to the right, feeling like I was in the village off Postman Pat (the original, not the new computer-animated version, urgh).
... And get the most out of the ones that aren't
I told a lie earlier as I actually do have one regret from this trip: the hotel had some great spa facilities included in the room price that I didn't make the most of. However, breakfast I most definitely did, piling my plate high with hot Scottish breakfast goodies, including tattie scones and black pudding. I'll also only mention it one more time - promise - but I defo made the most of the view from my bedroom...
However, it's worth saying, that you shouldn't do yourself a disservice by forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do just to get your money’s worth. After all, the whole joy of solo travel is that you don't have to stick to a plan you previously committed to with someone else; you can do as you damn well please.
Loch Lomond and Luss are also a nerve centre for a whole host of activities from water sports and cruises to hikes and wildlife excursions. While I had plans to take advantage of the activities here, in the end, I didn’t - and that’s okay! I will on my return.
Don't let anyone make you feel bad
Personally, I never drop big sums of money on the likes of clothes, shoes or bags (or anything less archetypal of a girl either - whoops, sorry PC police). Instead, trips abroad are my vice and, even then, I always make sure I have a good deal for what it is. Still, in flip mode to how people used to flash the cash, I genuinely feel there is a kind of millennial competition at times for who's the worst off in some circles. Don't fall into that. You work hard and save hard day in, day out - you can afford yourself a treat, so go ahead and do it!