Dan and I have been traveling now for over one month, so it seems fitting to pull together some thoughts and observations that have not found their way into any of the location-specific posts. It is simultaneously hard to believe that we have already completed one month of our trip and that we have only completed one month of our trip. We have found our groove as (relatively) long-term travelers, but have been so fully in the Europe zone that it feels a bit surreal to think that we’ll be trekking through SE Asia in the not-too-distant future.
With a trip of this length, we’ve had to figure out how to pace ourselves. Looking back on our first week or so in Copenhagen and Budapest, we can’t believe how much we set out to do and see each day. Further on into the trip, we’ve realized that two sights is our maximum in one day and we need to save some time each day for just chilling out. Whenever we haven’t followed these guidelines, crankiness has ensued (usually mine). So we’ve developed a good routine that allows us to make the most of each place we visit, but also not feel like we have to do/see absolutely everything. We’re often happiest when we feel like we’ve gotten a taste of everyday life in a given place — whether that be staying for four nights in a local Budapest apartment, being the guests of Croatian soba hosts who spoke no English, experiencing the kindness of a stranger in Tuscany, or finding a spot at a barrel table in a tapas bar that is occupied only by Spaniards and serves delicious cured jamon that is hand-cut from the leg of a pig right after you order it.
In no particular order, here are some of our observations at the end of Month One.
Things we are glad we brought:
- Laptop. My MacBook has proven totally useful for working on the blog during train rides, getting the most out of any free WiFi (pronounced “WeeFee” in many parts of Europe) we can find, and most important, providing a soundtrack via iTunes in our various hotel rooms.
- Rick Steves Guidebooks. You’ve seen his name pop up in previous blog entries and let me now take a moment to introduce you to Rick Steves, if you haven’t already met him. Rick was our travel companion from Budapest to Arles, in the form of three different guidebooks. We were very sad to part with him when we left France and still can’t remember why we chose Lonely Planet over Rick for Spain. Anyway, he provides great advice, history, self-guided walking tours, etc. We refer to each book as a person. “Where’s Rick?” and “What does Rick say about this place?” are two common questions. In Italy we even said hello to a few other people that we saw carrying Rick around. He proves to be a common bond between travelers, as anyone else that we approached shared our enthusiasm for Rick and his frank advice.
- Packing Cubes. We will now add our voice to the choir: these things are a godsend when traveling with a backpack. They basically function as dresser drawers and make packing and unpacking so much easier and efficient. Our friends Casey and Mike use them regularly when traveling and we’re thinking of following their lead when we get home.
- Chacos. Although not the most stylish footwear choice, these functional shoes are comfortable, airy, and sturdy. I brought these, a pair of New Balance sneakers (which I also feel passionate about), and a pair of plain black flip-flops for those “dressy” occasions.
- Zip-off Pants. While I drew a line and did not bring these, perhaps I should have. Dan reluctantly bought a pair before we left and now admits they were a great idea. They proved handy when we visited the Vatican — and now he’s taken to wearing them on a regular basis. As relatively long-term travelers, we’ve had to let our vanity go and we’re fine with that. Usually. I must admit to having a bit of a tough time amidst all of the fashionistas in Rome and Milan.
- We have not taken one taxi yet. We have only traveled via foot, rental car, and public transportation.
- When fully loaded, my pack weighs 10.9 kg and Dan’s pack weighs 11.2 kg. We know this because they were weighed prior to our RyanAir flight to Malaga, for which there was a 15 kg limit for checked bags.
- The European version of zip-off pants often feature the zip-off at a capri length instead of shorts length. We’ve even seen pairs with two sets of zippers — one at capri length and one at shorts length.
- You feel really foolish accidentally saying “Grazie” or “Oui” to someone in Spain. Yet we managed to do so on several occasions.
- If you want to feel mature in age, a good plan is to book a room in a hostel that is ranked high in the “Fun” index on HostelWorld. We found our average roommates’ sleep schedules to be offset from our own by about three hours (and we weren’t going to bed that early).