Dropping the ball
A life of travel isn’t all fun and games. Just like everything else in life, it comes with its highs and its lows. After having been on the road for nearly six months, it’s time to reflect back on the things that went awry and look at how we could have done better.
Long layover without food
This was less of a mistake and more a product of circumstance. When you fly the cheapest route available, you find yourself at the airport during the most obscure of hours. Time slows to a crawl while your stomach continually reminds you how dumb you were to not bring any food. Note to future Tyler, plan accordingly.
Abusing my gear
I quickly learned that my really nice camera bag wasn’t uncrushable like my Valium and red wine induced state of mind tried telling me. On our flight to Portugal, I went to jam my camera bag in overhead storage and promptly received a protesting cry that sounded like breaking glass. As it turns out, the ‘is my bag uncrushable?’ test failed with a capital F. Thankfully, the damage was minimal and I only lost a $20 filter rather than my entire lens. Needless to say, my camera bag now takes precedence to my own personal safety and comfort on travel days.
Staying too few nights in places
It’s hard to strike that sweet spot where you spend the exact amount of time you should in a place. In the beginning, we were hopping cities at least twice a week in hopes to ‘see it all’. With so many days traveling there is little room for much else. Establishing any kind of routine is impossible. I think this had more or less to do with us being incredibly green when it came to traveling. Shockingly, the preplanned study abroad trips and itinerized cruises of the past didn’t help us become the world travelers we thought we were.
Some of you may recall our original plan. It went something like this: in our first 90 days we were going to see Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, and possibly Netherlands. From there we were going to see England, Ireland, and Scotland before heading back into the Schengen region where we would tour all of Scandinavia, Germany, Switzerland, and finally Italy. Man, if we had kept that plan, we would be broke, dead tired, and back home. I’m glad March Tyler and Christy decided to derail that train of insanity and slow their roll considerably.
Our new itinerary became Portugal and Spain for three months with a short weekend spent in each France and Italy en route to Croatia. I’ve found that by abandoning the notion that you must see it all or that you must check off a long list of top destinations from the bucket list is far more rewarding. You actually have time to immerse yourself in the culture of each place you visit.
Is spending time enqueue at the Sagrada Familia giving you a taste of Barcelonian culture? Certainly not. It is found at one of the hundreds of Meetup’s for language exchange. It is found spending an idle day wandering the streets, learning what each district has to offer.
Not packing properly
Who shows up to Europe, in February, with no coat? This guy. My February necessities in Florida consisted of sunscreen and rollerblades, not scarves and coats. Surely, Europe wouldn’t be as cold as the weather pages were telling me. I’d be fine. Fast forward to Tyler at the end of February and you will find him wearing his entire pack of layers shivering under the blankets. A massive cold front blew through the Iberian Peninsula and it was here in Porto that I really saw just how unprepared I was for any kind of elements. Wet, cold, and chapped I stubbornly plodded along, refusing to buy a coat on the pretense that it would be getting warmer ‘any day now’. I fought the system until Barcelona, when I finally broke down and bought a coat. A piece of advice to anyone traveling in Europe any time that isn’t May-August: bring a damn coat!
As you travel, your gear will inevitably suffer damage and loss. The goal is to minimize this. Back in the states when were in that wonderful state of buying frenzy, we dropped a couple of bills on a really nice and beautiful leather backpack for Christy that would double as a purse. It was tight, small, and designer. Today it is loose, stretched out, and busted looking. Fashion over function lost big time here. We have since purchased a backpack for $9 that is great and will last us the remainder of our journey.
Ditch your international cell plan
This is one that didn’t really sink in until we started talking to some friends about their cell plans. In the land of the free, you are shackled to your cell provider and it is commonplace to shell out over $100 per line for your data and 4G privileges. We thought we got the hookup from Sprint when we found out we could unlock our phones and use international data for free. Our phone bill has been a whopping $220 per month! We have since stripped everything and cut it down to $100. If we weren’t locked into a contract, we could be using in-country sim cards that have access to better service and data for as little as $25 a month. There are some times you need to plan ahead and then there are others, like this, where things are best figured out in-country. Also, data and international data are not the same thing. We were paying for 8gb of data under the assumption that is what we would be using. I checked my bill last week and we have used 0gb of data since landing in Europe despite having been all over the internet on both of our phones.
Blew the budget in Barcelona
I think this was the hardest hitting mistake we have made so far in our travels. Before we left the states, we booked our first month of lodging and had paid it off before we landed in Lisbon. This was great and all, but we continued on with the same mentality that our lodgings were excluded from the overall budget. The result? We far overreached and our savings felt the blow. We booked two months in Barcelona in a beautiful penthouse (granted we got a HUGE discount for the two month booking) that was situated in uptown. We spent the next two months living like kings in a very expensive city. They say ignorance is bliss and in a way I’m glad we didn’t realize what we were doing until right before we left.
City life is expensive and Barcelona wouldn’t have been the same if we were on a tight budget.
It was definitely a wake up call and reminder that if we wanted to see our 9 month journey to its end, we needed to tighten up. There is a positive takeaway though: by wrecking our budget we were forced to reevaluate our itinerary and this is what led us to Croatia, one of the most beautiful countries we have ever seen.
Didn’t factor transportation into the daily budget
All of those train and bus tickets have to come from somewhere and it wasn’t until very recently that we fully realized this. Theoretically speaking, if our budget was $100 a day and we were coming in close to that, everything would seemingly be even keel. However, drop in a few hundred dollars here and there for buses and trains and the next thing you know, your bank account looks much different than you might imagine! The new strategy is to first slow down more. Those tickets add up quickly, especially when you are jet setting all over the place. Fewer tickets means fewer travel expenses, duh. And that doesn’t even consider the fringe costs either. Travel days are always more expensive anyways since we are forced to eat on the road and abandon cooking staples as well (we started in Portugal, trying to bring our oils and vinegars with us, and we’ll just say it didn’t go well) Secondly, we now just adjust our daily budget until the ticket has been paid off. In hindsight, this advice is glaringly obvious, but when you first arrive in a foreign country, there is so much sensory overload and confusion, it is easy to neglect simple rational thought.
Buying transportation ahead of time
Here is another opportunity we have only recently seized. The romantic idea of traveling on impulse, buying train tickets as you need them while you flit about comes with a steep price tag. Not surprisingly, bus, train, and plane companies like knowing in advance their expected occupancy and oftentimes offer deep discounts for that information. Buying your plane ticket far in advance is a no brainer, but we have found that even bus companies offer discounts ranging from 5% (Croatia) to 30% (Portugal)!
Traveling on Sundays
Transportation schedules are always lighter on Sundays and as a result, you find yourself with fewer options, layovers, and longer travel times. Since there are fewer buses, they literally stop at every station which means you’re stuck in your seat that much longer. Our new favorite travel day? Tuesday.
Spent a record time in Venice
People often give advice on how long we should visit each city and more oftentimes than not, we listen and add in a few extra days since we are working and not just sightseeing. Everyone said one day, two max, is plenty for Venice and I made the bold choice to book 6 nights! My intent was to get caught up on a ton of work, exercise a lot, and more or less relax.
What instead happened was we found ourselves isolated from the rest of the world. The campground had horrible internet, one meager store that offered little more than apples bananas and oranges, and an overpriced restaurant whose daily specials were saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and a big fat fuck you and your diet.
Now, by no means am I complaining, we still saw Venice in all its splendor and still made our budgetary goals, but we certainly didn’t leave Italy feeling refreshed, fit, and caught up on work.
Where we nailed it
I don’t want to leave you with a series of down-endings, so how about we take a look at where we nailed it? Yes, yes, let’s look at the things we did right and feel damn good about.
Avoiding the summer heat
Do you like baking in the sun? That’s baking, not basking. As in, a potato in the oven baking. Near 100 degree temperatures are nobody’s idea of fun and we are no exception. What do you do with July and August fast approaching? You get the F outta Dodge, or in our case, Croatia.
Croatia is beautiful but it also gets quite hot. We felt the flaming heat of summer lash out at us while we were there in June and decided to avoid all of that sweaty discomfort by making our next destination somewhere much cooler.
Estonia. What do you know about it? Nothing? Yeah, neither do we. As it turns out, the internet doesn’t know much about it either. All we knew was the weather ranges from 72-78 during the day with lows at night dipping into the high 50’s and low 60’s. Score one for Estonia. Did I mention they also have 18 hours of daylight in the summer? We bought the first two tickets outta Croatia and are now relaxing in Tallinn sans swamp ass. This brings me to my next point:
Kept some essentials in our carry on bag
Everyone’s worst nightmare flying is the airline losing their bags and this just happened to us for the first time ever. Luckily, Christy planned ahead and was smart enough to keep some essentials in her carry on. Fortunately, the bag was returned to us, but it did take them 48 hours.
Remember me telling you how I didn’t bring a coat? Yeah, big mistake there. I didn’t completely drop the ball with my pack though.
This outrageously expensive clothing line is worth every penny. Form fitting, anti-stink (yes, their clothes are woven with silver fibers that repel stink and it actually works) and all purpose, their clothing is a travelers dream come true. Washers and dryers are not easy to come across so I often just wash my clothes in the shower with hand soap, dish soap, or whatever else I can find. Everything cotton that came with me can’t handle the abuse and has since abandoned me for more loving homes while my masochistic Lulu welcomes the pain and begs to be boiled with vinegar on the stove.
Scoring a sweet return ticket home
We know that we will be traveling through Thailand before returning to the states. Every day I have been checking airfare prices from Thailand to Atlanta and every day I have been getting the same expensive results. Then one day everything changed. I was scanning the prices and I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, tucked away on December 20th, all by itself, was one lone airline with two tickets from Chiang Mai to Atlanta for the low cost of $330 per person. And the best part of it is the airline we are flying is a super premium company. That’s right, no Spirit Air for us! We will traveling home in style aboard one of Qatar Air’s newest vessels. The meal selection isn’t your standard options of vegetarian, fish, or meat either. No, no. They include raw-vegan, vegan, gluten-free, ovo-lacto vegetarian, you name it, they offer it.
Cooking for ourselves
You know by now that I love to cook. This passion of mine has turned into a vital survival skill useful in combating the onslaught of cheese and dairy-derived dishes served at restaurants. Salads are a serious after-thought in Europe and by being able to make them at home, we can stay healthy while on the road.
So there ya have it. It’s been an incredible six months full of growth and lessons. As we continue our journey across the globe, I am sure we will come face-to-face with even more adversity. The Baltics are really cool for sure and I have to admit I am really intrigued and a bit jittery when thinking about our next destination this fall: Southeast Asia. Stay tuned!
Did you take pleasure in my suffering? Or perhaps you learned something from my mistakes. Sharing this post is the best way to keep us motivated to produce more content and keep growing. Thank you!