When we started planning our trip, i poked everyone i could, to obtain information. I asked people about best ways to save money, accumulate miles/points, itineraries, list making, what to pack, what to wear, what to carry, … etc. I want to write this down so that maybe i can help another person going through this phase. And keep this wisdom for our next big trip.
I am huge fan of every thing Nat Geo and Travellers on Instagram. A few of my favourite travellers on Instagram: Travis Bruke, Chris Burkard, Jason, Corrine Thiessen, Charles Post . Most of the guys listed here are nature lovers or culture lovers. Chilled back vacationers, don’t inspire me much.
I truly believe it is possible to make a great trip out of not so lavish budget. I have a cousin who survived 6 months in various continents on 13k dollars and had some left. I know a guy, cycling from Oregon to Patagonia on very little money and sleeping on the road, for the last 16 months. The world today lets you live any way you want embracing your quirks. It can be done depending on how badly you want to.
We did put some money away every paycheque so that we could go. Used tax returns. I know people at the university (ASU) who live in a squalor with 6 roommates and use all the money they can save to go travel. Going away when you are single is much cheaper, from what i was told. I think its true.
I was having this conversation with this Indian guy who wants to go backpacking. And was convinced he can never do that with a girlfriend/wife because it would require some amount of stamina and fitness. And he is heading towards an arranged marriage where he may not filter out his potential brides based on this criterion. I have to agree, its hard to travel if you are not fit. Vacation, yes. But to be constantly on the move, requires lot of energy and some amount of fitness. Carrying a backpack around is taxing on the shoulders. Falling sick in an alien place is not fun. I worked on mine, but had to struggle to keep up with Harsha. He has a lot of energy. On the other hand, yoga helped me strengthen my back and he was struggling with his backpack towards the end of the journey when the fatigue had set in.
Zeroing on the places
I have a list. He has a list. But we picked places based on the season, economy of flights, diversity in places. We had too many places on the list and were flexible. We were too happy to pick something off our list and go. We tried to fit in some city life, country side, some mountain side, etc.
Getting the mind ready
I have been subscribed to the show: Sonia travels for a while now. She covers a lot of aspects of travel and makes beautiful travel videos. Travel videos on vimeo like: A tribute to discomfort are a great source of inspiration for me.
Make a list of what’s important and do the research. For me, i did not want to go to see the buildings or go on a vacation. I wanted to do what the locals do. Eat where they eat. Shop where they shop. Do the activities they do on an everyday basis. Understand life out there as much as i can in my limited capability. Or atleast try. My list was as follows:
Flea markets ( learn some history ) & Farmers markets (eat some local fruits and veggies ). I wanted to look through old stuff. Own something from the history. Wander a little. Look at old objects.
Town Plazas/Centers ( history, architecture, lots of working people, people watching) : We did not read up extensively on the history of the countries we visited. But every time we saw an old building, wiki told us the significance of it and the changes that occurred as civilizations went to war or modernized. End of the journey, we knew a little on who invaded whom, changes in perception of art over the years, etc.
oh well… I did not go out shopping to buy stuff. Partly because i dreaded the idea of carrying a backpack that was even a little heavier. Partly because we didn’t want to spend when not needed. But i was hearing myths about Europe Vs America Vs Asia when it came to consumerism and quality of objects. I had to check it out to see for myself.
A Grocery store (learn mundane everything things) : Again, when you live in America and read about health, there is quite a bit of bashing that American people and food take. For the commercialization, for the amount of processed food, for the size of people who eat such food, for the cruelty of animals, etc. I am very interested in food and i had to check it out for myself. Also, we wanted to pick up some local food to snack on when on the go. So it worked out fine. We also got to pick up food to snack on like local fruit and nuts.
Pry a little
A local kitchen (learn something about everyday life): Living with a family is the only way this can be done. Renting a room in a local home is a good way to go about it. Again, i love cooking and food history, and hence this was on my list.
Climb a little
A Mountain: A new place is not just the people but nature too. Difference in flora and fauna interest me/us. Its easy to drive by a place but going on foot/bicycle makes you notice things that you don’t otherwise. And having a camera trains the eye to see more. We always make it a point to bike and hike where ever we go. Harsha takes it a step further by going out to get a paper map with topology of the place. And as we wander, figures out where we are and tells me interesting things about the location like the elevation, faults in the tectonic plates, etc. He is a great travel companion.
Youtube is a great resource. It is good to show up in a new place and explore without a map or a plan. But when it comes to street food, i think its good to go with some knowledge. Else, its very easy to miss out on trying new food. Videos were better coz they helped us learn to say the words. And made us more confident to ask for it in places. A few of my favourite street food channel’s: Anthony Bourdain (whom i would like to nominate for Wonders of the World). Street food India. Tastemade.
I was really excited to go dancing on the weekends. And check out the music in the clubs that are different from the American/Indian club scene. But we never did made it. We would wake up early morning to catch the sun rise in the Alps or head out someplace. And be exhausted by end of the day and fall asleep. And one day, we did make an effort to make it to the meatpacking district, but the clubs posted the music list to attract the tourists. And it felt like America. So we skipped it in favor of sleep.
Decadent stay and an epic dining experience: I have to credit Harsha for putting this on the list. We balanced our hostel stays, over night sleeping on trains, etc with treating ourselves to nicer stays and a few fine dining establishments, from time to time. We are older (read old) and we needed some slow days to reboot, stop running around, slow down and spend time with each other. We celebrated an anniversary by staying on a vineyard in Krems and sampling Chef Patrick Friedrich’s creations. We wanted to stay on the lake in St. Gilgen which meant having to pick an old aristocratic establishment full of 50 year olds in golf attire. We stayed with a 100 year old manor converted into apartments and run by a hostess, in Prague. Looking back, we could have done without it and been fine. But it was a good balance.
These websites have reviews. They have itineraries. They have pictures. They have essays on places. Between these three, there is plenty to make an initial outline and start working upon. Harsha things the forums on Tripadvisor are the most valuable resource.
Travel bloggers who write day to day accounts
There are quite a few people in the world who travel for a living. Or live in different places and when its time, move on. Their accounts i found, were more helpful for me when i was trying to figure out what i wanted to do in the new place. Locals may take a few things for granted about their home land, tourists may do way too many popular touristy things. But the ones who live for short periods of time in a new place seem to have found a way to balance both. Google blog search was very helpful in connecting me with people who could also answer my questions.
We noticed that lots of people walk up to the ticket counters in train stations and obtain a list of hotels in the city. We met people who were biking from town to town and would knock on hostels whenever they were too tired to ride for the day. I do admire the ones who just showed up and found a place to crash. We picked ours before we landed. And close to the train stations.
This is my favourite way to choose where to stay when travelling. More than hostels. The hostels are great places to meet people from different countries but living with a local family is better, in my opinion.
“This is how we found all the awesome hotels we stayed at” – Harsha.
An app i wish we had known about: Tripit ! We were carrying a stack of papers that were printed confirmations of train tickets, hotels, flights, insurance, etc. And it was no fun trying to find what we need from the stack when situation demanded it. And i would do anything to have a lighter backpack. Tripit has a free version that aggregates all the confirmations in one place and makes it easy to pull up when needed. All you have to do is sent confirmations to a certain email address and the app takes care of the rest. I find this better than my making notes in EverNote.
I wrote down my itinerary and shared with my dad. I knew if something went wrong, i could call him up and he would help us. And he wanted to know enough details so that if we went missing, he will have something to work with. Dads can be such dads ! and are totally awesome. “We are not running off to the South Pole, why is he so worried?”- Harsha.
This was the most useful application during our trip. As it turns out, we did our research on the places we were visiting over a period of time. When ever we found something interesting, i would clip it into a notebook in Evernote. We would do individual research and later discuss and narrow down our options. I have all of this stored in my notes. And I used this application to create a packing lists, to-buy lists, schedules, to-photograph lists, etc. This app can be used offline and we could reference it when needed.
We used the local trains a lot. A euro rail pass would have been a great choice. But we got local passes everyday in the train station. And got our inter country tickets in person. We recommend getting tickets ahead of time if possible, so that they dont sell out.
Our travel research told us we can find water everywhere and American tourists are the only ones walking around with watter bottles. Boy were we wrong. We had so much trouble finding water. And water that wasn’t sparkling. And not having water by bed side in hostels or during inter country travel. Or during long bike rides. We did have to carry some along if we wanted it.
Offline Google Maps
We did not opt to enroll in a data plan, thanks to AT&T’s ridiculous pricing. We knew we would be in places that might require us to use the GPS and maps. Google maps can be downloaded to the phone: tutorial. I think this is one of the best hidden features. And the one that helped us the most in terms of tools.
With the conversion rates, being away from home, being hungry/thirsty, etc factor into slipping away from having a set budget. We did not do this but i wish we did use an app like Mint or iXpenseIt to keep track of our expenses. We ended up spending 20% more than what we intended.
There is no one way to carry money that i know of. If someone has advice for us, please let us know in the comments below. We both carried our credit cards and some cash on us. We prepared a family member to wire us money incase of an emergency.
Each new country we went to, we would find the friendliest and most cheerful person in the train station/help desk/information, and ask them to translate a couple of phrases for us. We would record it and try learn from it during our stay. It not only helps with the language, but everyone we stopped to asked this liked doing it for us, and we had a good excuse to interact with them. We also used iphone apps to pick up some phrases.
We tried to be mindful of the place and not act like gawking tourists. We did not carry easy to snap bags. On that note, i think ONA’s Bowery bag is the perfect bag to hide a DSLR, has a thick strap with good weight distribution, is unisex and looks good with most casual outfits. We were also mindful of our alcohol consumption. It was not only about safety or being in control. But being dehydrated the day after, when travelling is not fun.
This is something i wish we did. But we are now looking into credit cards that will give us miles based on everyday spending. I now know we will be doing this a lot and are looking into it.
Flexible Ticket Finder
I have head stories of people finding great travel deals and taking them up in short moments notice. And folks pick places on the go while on the move when they figured out a good route at a great price. I wish we could do that in the future. I have head good things about websites like Travelocity, Jetsetter, etc. And Travelzoo keeps sending me great deals weekly. Something to keep in the loop for the future.
We did our best. We, by no means are seasoned travellers or experts at this. We did what we could. I would love to learn from someone who has more experience doing this. We will get better at this the next time, i hope. Start from here. Anyone reading this and with travel wisdom, please share. Thank you !!