The Back of My Car
A little over a year ago, I decided that I had had enough of sitting in one place, and I was going to travel. But given the effects of the pandemic on the ease of backpacker travel in Scotland, and my desire for the freedom to roam, unhindered by availability of affordable hotel rooms and limited Highland bus schedules, I decided that I was going to buy myself a car.
It had been a few years since I had driven, let alone owned a car, and I’d certainly never had to go through the process of searching for, researching and purchasing a used car, never mind in a foreign country. First I had to navigate the ins-and-outs of MOTs and vehicle tax (both things you don’t have to do in Canada). I test drove a good number of rickety, second-hand cars at sketchy dealerships in the East End of Glasgow, before ending up with a pretty good deal on a third-hand automatic Ford Focus from East Kilbride.
Within a week of buying my car, I set out on a three-week road trip with only a marginal plan of where I would end up. I was hardly used to driving on the left side of the road as I headed up the M8 towards the Erskine Bridge and off into the Highlands. I remember the sense of freedom as I left the city behind and headed into the hills, brown with early December.
And here’s where we get to the best part of my car. Aside from needing a car that’s automatic (I’m not allowed to drive manual with my converted Canadian license), cheap and dependable, my main concern was a car with a boot big enough to sleep in. If I was going to experience the true freedom of roaming in the wild, I couldn’t be limited by needing to pre-book accommodation, let alone staying in places that had affordable guesthouses (which are not terribly common in the Highlands). Car salesmen laughed as I tried to fold myself into trunks and across backseats. One did go as far as sending me pictures of a blanket and pillow set up in the back of a car he just got in, but the car was missing its registration papers so possibly was stolen.
Finally I figured it out. If I pulled up the bottom cushion of the backseat, the back cushion folded down almost flat. A pile of foam blocks in the boot levelled it up with the height of the folded seat back. A mattress pad on top makes for a comfortable(ish) bed, and an extra warm duvet keeps out the chill. All my supplies are organized into two big plastic bins - one for clothes and supplies, and one for food and kitchen utensils. Fabric velcroed up against the windows allows for some privacy at night, and the rest just falls into place.
Life in the car does have some limitations. For example, in the morning, all the condensation from breathing means the windshield takes a few good wipe-downs until you can see through. Things don’t dry, so the wet hiking socks pile up, and of course the boots. In the summer it’s hot, and in the winter, the condensation freezes the doors shut from the outside, so it sometimes takes a few good whacks until you can get out in the morning. Cooking outdoors in the freezing rain is a no-go, so I learnt to cook cross-legged in the backseat.
After a while I really began to settle into it. The first night is always uncomfortable, but by night 3 or 4, I never want it to finish. It’s really quite comfortable for what it is, and there’s nothing like a night tucked cozy into the backseat, enjoying some fresh-cooked spaghetti with some fairy-mood-lighting and Taylor Swift playing in the background.
But the best part of everyday is the morning. I wake up before sunrise, and there’s nothing like rolling out of bed, stretching out and breathing in the fresh air, opening your eyes onto majestic scenes that very few people get to wake up to. I’ve woken up beside countless beaches, and watched the sun rise right from my bed. I’ve slept in the middle of Glen Coe, on the beach near Arisaig, looking over McLeod’s Tables on the Isle of Skye, and so many more beautiful places that I would never get to see that way if I slept indoors.
What’s more is the freedom it offers. I drive wherever I want to. I look at my roadmap, and follow whichever roads seem right at the time. There is no destination, no plan, only what’s right in front of me. And I’ve seen incredible parts of Scotland because of it. I’ve visited the backroads of Argyll, and driven all the way around the Isle of Skye. I’ve been to England and Wales, down to the most Southern tip of Scotland in Galloway, and along the northern Moray coast. I stop where I want, whether it’s a picturesque creek to swim in, an off-the-beaten path craft shop, or simply to pull over at an incredible viewpoint to make myself a quesadilla.
Since I bought my car a year ago, I’ve spent 38 nights sleeping in the backseat. I’ve also developed an immense love for Scotland, built through the process of slow and open exploration. I’ve become a walker, a roamer, a camper, and also a little bit crazy, but I’ve loved every second of my crazy Scottish road trips.
To celebrate a year since I bought my car, I’ve put together a short film about my first road trip and how special it was to experience that freedom for the first time. I hope you enjoy!