Laurie Goodlad.
Laurie Goodlad.

Life With a Scottish tour guide: ‘Shetland runs through my veins, we have to protect places from mass tourism’

Scottish travel writer and tour guide Laurie Goodlad on writing for Lonely Planet, being snubbed by a Hollywood celebrity, and filming with Ben Fogle who turned down a lovingly hand knitted jumper from her mum. 


I wake up at 7am, enjoy a cup of tea in bed from my husband (thanks Aaron), before getting my two children up and making pancakes for them before school. I wish I could say that I wake up, meditate, journal and do yoga – but what business owner with children actually has time for that? I’m sure they exist only on the well-curated feeds of Instagram. 

My mornings involve lots of shouting, odd socks, lost shoes and a rush of dirty dishes and washing as we all try to get out the door unscathed. Some days I go for a quick walk around Lerwick’s beautiful waterfront with a friend to blow away the cobwebs before hopping on a Zoom calls with itinerary clients who booked me to help them design their Shetland adventure – this is something I love doing. I work 9-3, and try to get a quick walk in at lunch time. I then take a few hours away from the computer in the afternoon before getting back to it in the evening after tea for an hour or two. 

West Voe, Shetland

Before I started tour guiding, I worked as the curatorial assistant at the Shetland Museum & Archives for 10 years after completing my degree in history and politics. I loved my work at the museum and, to be honest, never thought I would leave. History is what I’m passionate about, and telling the stories of the past is something that still acts as a major driving force in my work. 

I love that I am my own boss. I set the rules, deadlines and expectations. Being self-employed allows me to spend more quality time with my family, and although I work harder and put in longer hours, I’m there when it matters and I can often take them with me.

‘It’s not all travel and steaming cups of tea in cosy cafes’

I have met some incredible people along the way. I’ve appeared alongside Ben Fogle as part of the Sacred Islands TV series, although he did ask my Mam to knit him a Shetland jumper and then decided it wasn’t quite his style after she lovingly hand knitted it, so you do come across all sorts.  

I was once asked to lead a vow renewal for a couple who loved Shetland and wanted me to lead their ceremony. I’ve met celebrities, explorers, and been snubbed by a Hollywood celebrity who had booked a tour with me before deciding to take his multi-million yacht elsewhere … he didn’t even pay the cancellation fee.

But it’s not all travel and steaming cups of tea in cosy cafes, and I think people assume I get to travel around for free, writing little stories as I go, but that’s not the case. It’s a lot of hard work, long hours, email inboxes that could drown you, overwhelm and imposter syndrome. I have definitely struggled with it at times, the to-do list never gets any shorter and I push myself too hard sometimes, which invariably leads to burnout. I now have to really make sure that I allow myself time off and do things to protect my mental health. 

‘Shetland runs through my veins’

I adore Shetland; it’s my island home and it literally runs through my veins. On the one hand, I want to scream from the rooftops about my love of home, and on the other hand, I worry about the changes that mass tourism can bring. I think that we sit on a knife edge, we should promote our beautiful places, but we must also encourage and educate to ensure that those visiting our islands do so responsibly.

Hermaness, Unst.

The things that I love most about Shetland are those that are most susceptible to human activity; our wildlife, our landscapes and the deep sense of peace that you can enjoy whilst out walking on a windswept coastline. I sometimes feel a real responsibility to protect these things that we hold dear, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve written a guidebook. I want to share all the places I love, but I also want to educate and help people access the outdoors safely and responsibly.

‘I deleted the Lonely Planet email when I got it, I thought it was fake’

I was incredibly privileged to get the opportunity to be one of the writers for Lonely Planet’s last two Scotland guidebooks. It was an honour and a huge milestone in my career. I have spent my life carrying Lonely Planet guides to every destination I visit, and it really felt like the pinnacle of my career – an ambition I would never even dared to dream. When the email inviting me to work for them came in, I deleted it as I thought it was a joke. After it sat in my junk box for a few days, curiosity got the better of me, and I recovered the email and replied – and the rest is written in words on the pages of those two publications. I still pinch myself when I think about it.

I relax by walking, reading and playing the piano – my New Year’s resolution three years ago was to read two books a month for pleasure and learn to play the piano. I recently passed my grade two exam, which I’m immensely proud of. I spend a lot of time in the bath, and also drink too much wine and whisky.

Read more from the Life With series here.

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