Dan and I have been enjoying a really nice time in Nice, France this week (okay, okay…only one cheesy joke!) and are soaking in the first spring-like weather of our trip. In true DeRose fashion, we have continued our theme of eating well in a country that is known for its food; we lunched on mussels drenched in arrabiata sauce in the Old City, we cooked fresh filets straight from the local butcher, and we sampled our fair share of Niçois sweets from the many pâtisseries along the way. But while I could go on and on about our culinary tourism (and the beautiful sites!), I’ll spare you my shameless bragging and share a bit of the not-so-glamorous elements of long-term travel: the planning of travel and more often than not, the actual travel itself!
Tomorrow evening, the dynamic Bray duo, my parents Dave and Wendy, arrive (the former’s behavior proudly earning him the catch phrase “Dave Bray happened” on a Wittenberg father’s weekend a few years back…this could get interesting…). Since we have had some protected free time before they rendezvous with us in Spain, we have allocated some of our free afternoons and evenings to planning what’s to come after we bid them adios! We are excited to already have an Italy trip planned with the DeRoses for the first week of May, but between these two parental “goal posts” we have (had) a wide open calendar…you can guess whose idea that was!
One of the joys of marriage is compromise. And while I’m grateful there’s no score card in the compromise department (have I mentioned Dan’s a saint?), our build-it-as-we-go calendar was one vision of my go-with-the-flow husband’s that I have been trying my best to embrace. He wanted the advantage of flexibility and opportunity and I no longer wanted nice finger nails (I kid, I kid!). And while this laissez-faire approach has given us some great freedom when we arrive at each cross roads, it has required us to do the hard work of planning our next steps while already on the road and it has reminded us just how much work it takes to plan travel. Especially when you have never been there, don’t speak the language, and are working with spotty wifi!
Earlier this month, our friends, the Matejaks, who are globe trotting for 9 months (!!!) and have a 6 month lead on us since they left the day after our wedding, posted on their blog that in order to plan the second half of their trip, they invested a week’s worth of 10-12 hour “planning” days while on Christmas break in the UAE. When we read that, we were relieved to know that we weren’t the only ones who required so much time to plan things out!
So while admittedly, we have felt more trapped by the question “where in the world do you want to go next?” than liberated at times during the planning process, we have taken this week to reflect on the gift of this season of travel and are taking it one step at a time.
All that said, we have accumulated a little sage advice (mostly the hard way) and thought we’d share it for those of you considering a trip like ours…feel free to skip this section as it’s a bit long!
- Don’t stay in hostels unless you are under the age of 25 or are cooler than me.
- Always check to see if there is working wifi.
- And always load your directions on your phone before you leave said wifi!
- Double check the itinerary before you click ‘book’!
- Things to look out for…is this the right direction of the flight? Is this the city’s main airport? Have I correctly calculated military time? Is this in the pound sterling when we thought it was in dollars? Is this train really a river boat? How long is this train/bus/flight/tram and are there hidden transfers?
- When trying to find the correct train platform, always know the last stop of the line your destination is on. Oftentimes, this is how the signs will be labeled and it will save you a trip to the information desk where you will have to showcase your blonde hair and American accent…again…sigh.
- If booking an Airbnb (which we would HIGHLY recommend for affordable travel and the access to household creature comforts), always take notice of the following:
- Check In/Check Out time
- Location: Is this neighborhood the ghetto? How far is it from public transportation? What floor is it on?
- Does this apartment allow smoking or pets?
- When you can, pick a place with a lot of good reviews. The ones that are run as businesses are the best!
- Ask your host for local information whenever possible. Restaurants, transport, sites to see, etc.
- NEGOTIATE! Airbnb prices are not set so I send out 6-10 inquiries at a price 30-40% lower than asking. I usually get 2-3 back that are willing to work with me on price and they usually meet me in the middle. If it’s last minute or for longer stays, they are more willing to work with you!
- Don’t forget, it’s ALWAYS okay to ask for help! Maybe since I am a girl I am more inclined to lean on the goodwill of others to guide the way than my male counterpart is, but asking for directions has prevented us from making a big mistake a time or two. I’ve only heard “stupid American” muttered once so far..but in my defense, that ticket machine really did seem to be broken!
- Book in advance when you can! We paid almost twice the fare for a Berlin>Amsterdam train ticket because we purchased upon arrival.
- As a result of lesson #7, the internet café (and its printers) is your friend. Most train tickets need to be printed in advance and all bargain air carriers will charge you a fee to print your tickets at the airport. Boo 🙁 Thankfully, Europe is filled with hip cafés that will save the day! Yes, internet gamers live here too. And no, they are not any cooler.
- European train economy tickets (the cheap seats) sell out fast and often require your ticket to be mailed to your house (say what?!). Book ahead of your trip as much as possible and you can avoid having to lean so heavily on bargain air travel…or get a Eurail pass if you’re moving around Europe frequently enough to justify it!
- Remember to charge your electronics (and pack plenty of snacks!!) before boarding a leg of travel.
- And to piggy back on that, be warned: a bus does not always have a toilet. This can be bad. Very, very bad. I don’t wish this unfortunate revelation on my worst enemy.
- And finally, remember to have fun, take in the scenery, and be thankful! This is what I try to tell myself in the midst of the bumpier days (see #11)…
With these tips in mind and a desire for a little Vitamin D, Dan and I successfully booked a two-week retreat to the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory off the northwest coast of Africa; albeit in a ground floor unit of an apartment complex with a distant view of the ocean….whoops! See #5.2. After which, we will begin a tour of Central Europe when we land in Prague. But from there? We shall see! The world is our oyster…
And before I go, here are a few pictures from our week!