“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” -- Mark Twain
Advice For Your First
Plan in Advance
The book "" by Rick Steves is one of my favorite travel books of all time. Rick has a great outlook on travel. I hope you have time to skim through it or read it before you go. I gave up giving advice to people on where to go, where to stay, etc. Everyone discovers their own little treasures when they travel. I would advise looking through Europe Through the Back Door and consider going where Rick recommends.
It is important to plan in advance. Planning ahead means knowing in
advance how to avoid the headaches of finding a nice, cheap place to stay, how
often the , the cheapest way to go, etc. I would encourage you to buy
a good guidebook (or check one out of the library). The best places to go
when you travel are the out-of-the-way-non-touristy-small towns (although some
Do not try to follow a pre-set itinerary. Changing your plans to see things you had not planned on usually turn out to be the best part of your trip. Listen to other travelers you meet. They always have the most current and reliable advice. Always be on the lookout for people to meet. I often buy some disposable cups and a bottle of wine or some food to share before getting on the train. Nothing will allow you to meet people faster than sharing a bottle of wine or some food. Rick Steves also has some recommendations on how to meet people in his book.
Do Not Over Pack.
Do not over-pack. There are very few things you have to take that you
cannot buy in
Take an ATM card. When I get to a new country, I just find an ATM and
withdraw cash. The last few years I have found ATM's within minutes of
every train station in every big city. You avoid the hassle of banks and
you get a good exchange rate. Just make sure your password is only four
digits long (some ATM’s in
Take pictures of everyone you meet. In a year or two, the only pictures you cherish will be the ones with people in them (even yourself). Scenery and buildings are nice, but you might as well buy a postcard. Speaking of pictures and postcards, buy nice postcards to supplement your pictures. Put the postcards in your photo album when you get back, along with your pictures. The photographers are usually professionals, and have access to places and views you do not. I also pack one of those wide-angle disposable Kodak cameras. Some pictures really look better in a wide-angle lens, but carrying a heavy extra lens for your camera is not worth it.
Buy souvenirs. If you see something you think you like, buy it. You usually cannot go back after you leave. What do you do if you bought things that you do not want? Give them to someone as a gift. They will feel good that you remembered them (even if you didn't). Consider the $20 an added expense of your trip, small when considering the grand scheme of things, and the things you really don't want make the best gifts. What is a drag is when you find something cool, buy it for someone, and then wish a few months later you had kept it for yourself.
Almost everyone that travels to
The most obvious advice is to keep your valuables where they can’t be stolen. This means the hotel safe and a good quality moneybelt. What might not be obvious is that you should also carry a wallet. Imagine that every time you want to buy an ice cream cone or board the metro that you have to dig under your clothes into your moneybelt, showing everyone around you exactly where your valuables are. Moneybelts are also susceptible to things falling out as you retrieve your money or ticket.
Every morning decide about how much you will spend that day, and transfer that to your wallet along with your metro/bus multi-day pass, and phone card. The idea is that when you get pick-pocketed, your day will be ruined, not your whole trip. Never put more than you can afford to lose in your wallet (and never more than $15-$20). If you plan on spending a lot in one day, put a little in your wallet in the morning and then transfer more at lunch or as needed. Always keep your wallet in your front pocket. There is no reason to be foolish, even if you only stand to lose $20.
Take overnight trains whenever possible, and occasionally pay for the couchette. You will arrive at your next destination early in the morning, and you will have saved travel time and hotel expense for a night. It is possible to sleep on a train without paying the couchette supplement, but you usually do not get a real good nights sleep. As far as hotels go, youth hostels, traveler's hotels, and one star hotels are good. They are made for the traveler, usually safe, and a good place to meet people. Even better is to sleep in someone’s home, and observe the culture first-hand. I am a big fan of imposing on people that I have met in the past that offered me a place to stay when I visit. Sometimes they did not really mean it, but usually it turns out to be wonderful. I also heartily believe in trying to keep a spot on the floor or room on the couch available whenever anyone visits me in the states, because, as they say, what comes around goes around.
A good alternative is to pay for a private room in someone’s house. In the summer, many people will hang around the train station trying to find someone to rent an overnight room in their house. It seems a bit suspicious at first, but most of them are literally “little old ladies” trying to earn some extra cash. It is great if you can get a meal included in the price, even if you have to pay a bit more.
Take a so you can sleep in the train station if you have to, even to rest a few hours before catching a 2:00am train. If you are going to get on an overnight train that did not originate from the city where you are boarding, pay the extra money for a reservation. The beauty of a reserved seat is that you can kick someone else out of your seat if you need to, but you do not have to sit in it if you do not want to. For example, many trains will only be half full, but the reserved cars are usually packed, because they do not space out the reservations. If you find a car without many people in it so you can stretch out, just forgo your reserved seat.
In addition to a Therma-Rest, I think a very lightweight sleeping bag is also
nice, but probably not a necessity. Forget about camping in
Most countries now have good rates on prepaid phone cards. There are two
kinds of cards. The first kind has a
smart chip that keeps track of your use.
It actually is physically inserted into the phone. These are easy to use and available at most
newspaper/tobacco kiosks. The second
kind of card is similar to what we have in the
e-Tickets or Paper Tickets?
Many travel professionals will advise you to carry paper tickets rather than e-tickets. They base this on the notion that if your plane flight is canceled you will have an easier time getting a flight on another airline if you have a paper ticket (e-tickets are not negotiable documents while paper tickets are negotiable documents). Although technically this is correct, they are wrong in their advice to carry paper tickets. You are thousands of times more likely to have your tickets lost or stolen than you are to need a paper ticket to catch a flight on another airline. Their advice is equivalent to saying, “Instead of driving in a car, which is very dangerous, always travel by motorcycle.”
When you arrive in
When you return home, repeat the process. The only difference is that you will need to take the sleep aid 30-60 minutes before you go to bed, as you might have a problem falling asleep. Use an alarm clock to make sure that you do not sleep in too late, but usually this is not a problem. Repeat this process the second or third day as necessary.
What To Do
There are four different types of trips I like to take. The most obvious
one is to be a typical tourist, travel around and see a lot of sights, take
tours, etc. I call this a “museum, castle, and cathedral tour.”
Another way to go is to try to take in as many festivals and events as
possible. In this type of trip you travel from event-to-event, seeing
sights along the way depending on how much time you have. The book
entitled "" has a list of global events worth checking out, but there
are numerous smaller festivals and sporting events that are equally
enjoyable. Here are examples of some of the larger and quirkier events
that take place every summer in
Ascot Races (
Oil Wrestling Tournament (
Day (Fête Nationale) (
of the Bulls (Los Sanfermines) (
Marta de Ribarteme "Near Death" Pilgrimage (
Palio di Siena (The Palio) (
Herri Kilorak (Rural Sports) (
Bog Snorkeling Championships (
Birdman Championships (
of Vilafranca Del Penedes (
One summer I went to Wimbledon, the Worlds Fair (Expo) in
The third way I like to travel is just to have fun and relax. This
involves hitting the beaches during the day, going out a lot at night, doing
some diving and snorkeling or whatever. I only advise this if you go to
The fourth way to travel is to try to live in one place long enough to really
understand the local people. This involves trying to stay with a family
or friends in the country, and not move around too much. My first trip
(1983) was this way; I stayed with one family for five weeks in
For your first trip, I recommend the “museum, castle, and cathedral tour,” but
fitting in some large festivals and events along the way will enhance your
experience. For many people, their first trip to
Where To Go
I think there are
My first few trips were to countries like
I think some people waste money by going somewhere in Europe and doing what
they could do cheaper in the
Please note that the total cost for your trip can vary widely based on where you live (airfare differences) and how you travel (sleeping in hotels vs. sleeping in train stations). The expenses below are for a one-month trip, following my advice above:
WARNING!! The dollar is near recent record lows against most European currencies and high oil prices have added significantly to the cost of flying – these estimates may no longer be valid when you travel.