Thursday, August 1, 2013

Traveling Abroad and Tips from the Jaunt

1. Pack Light
When roaming the world for six months, you can look cute or you can pack smart, but you can’t do both. Compression is the key. Like most things in life, clothes are mostly air. Place garments in a special plastic bag and vacuum the air out. After you have done this, your wardrobe is reduced to a manageable wad that looks like shrink-wrapped food. Easily packable!

2. Guard Valuables like the Hope Diamond
Locks – you can’t have too many. Secure your luggage on racks while riding a train, fasten zippers on your backpacks or purse, and lock your things up at hotels and hostels. Following our incident in Rome (camera stolen on train to Pisa), we learned to guard everything we had like the Hope Diamond.

3. Meet People
Over the last months, we’ve toured countless castles, cathedrals, temples and ruins. Yet our memories of these historic landmarks and edifices have faded quickly. Instead, we are filled the vivid memories of the people we encountered along the way. From Jordan to Poland, Mexico and India, it is the faces of these newfound friends that linger in our minds, not the buildings or statues.  When traveling, do yourself a favor and meet people wherever you go. Broaden your horizons and open yourself up to the possibility of meeting lifelong friends.

4. Challenge Yourself
Throughout our travels on the weekends, most of our days revolved around coffee and food (the good, bad, and unrecognizable), interspersed with periods of strolling, sightseeing, sunbathing and reading. But mostly… food As finding something edible several times a day is a key part of world travel, Juston and I were motivated to learn a bit of German, among other languages. While there was a brief period of adaptation and frustration, we are happy to have given each language attempt an ample shot – awkward Texan pronunciation and all.  We now realize that learning a new language means experiencing a world of epic failures and it’ll-be-funny-later humiliations. But overall, it’s totally worth it to enhance your cultural experience!

Whether it’s trying a unique cuisine or learning to speak a foreign language, challenge yourself to try something new DAILY.  American food will always be there when you get back, and I promise you will not forget English if you attempt to learn other languages.  There is no growth if there is no change, and who doesn’t want to experience personal growth? (“ME “- Said no one ever)

5.  Stray into Hostel Territory (perhaps a pun here)
Each weekend as we would seek out places to rest our heads, we were always pushing for the economy option, preferring to rough it a bit if it meant we could save some money to spend elsewhere. So, we bedded down each weekend in a series of crowded, his-and-hers stacked bunk beds. Although to be fair, not all of the hostel rooms we stayed in resembled a jail cell, illuminated by only a hanging bare bulb. In fact, some were quite nice. And every experience added to the adventure we were on.

Let’s be truthful here. If you were traveling abroad to exotic places, I would hope that you would only want to spend your time in a hotel room to sleep - if you even make time for that. Therefore, why spend oodles of money on something you only plan on using for a few hours? Exactly. It’s pointless. Skip the Hilton Hotel and attempt to “rough” it a bit. (But stay safe, duh!) You will be returning to your comfortable beds soon enough. Use that extra money for admission into an awesome-sauce museum or a nice dinner in the Italian countryside. Priorities, people!

6.  Don’t Hate, Appreciate
Travel has challenged our assumptions. Besides revealing the fundamental similarities of people around the world, travel has also exposed us to our fascinating differences. Whether or not we realize it, Americans, even in the poorest among us, are born with advantages most others will never know. Now, more than ever, we take NOTHING for granted. No matter how small it is – our own room, our own cars, a hot shower, plenty to eat, and loving family and friends.

Appreciate where you come from and the conveniences you are blessed to have, but respect the lives other people and their cultures even though they may live in a way that differs from your beliefs.

7.  Use Free Transportation
When Juston and I set out around the globe, we knew we’d spend a lot of time getting from point A to point B, and beyond. What we didn’t foresee was the myriad modes of transportation we would use. Transportation included, but was not limited to: cars, trains, planes, buses, metros, ski lifts, skis, boats, ferries, and our good old-fashion two feet.

Again, save your money and just WALK! You will not only get to see parts of the country you probably would have never been able to see sitting on a bus, you get a burn a few extra calories before downing a German beer or an entire bowl of Italian pasta. Once more – priorities, people! (Read: Food)

8.  Be Aware of Peddlers/Gypsies
Sadly, whether warranted or unwarranted, suspicion had become second nature on our trip after the Rome incident. If someone on the street was trying to sell us something, saying “no” was merely a starting point for negotiation.  In Rome, the only way to end the exasperating entanglement was to ignore the man in your face, or shout at him. Not much choice in the matter. They treat sales as a blood sport. Politeness is a sign of weakness. It’s not that we were cruel and unsupportive of peddlers on the street trying to sell trinkets to support their families, it’s just that neither Juston nor I had been in the market to really shop, especially since we were acutely aware that anything we purchased would then have to be carried on our backs for the rest of the trip. Keep this in mind and don’t fall for crafty ploys.

9.  Jot it Down
Start a blog to keep everyone back home apprised of your travels and your “I Continue To Be Alive” progress

10. Have a Good Travel Partner
Lastly, and most importantly, have a good travel partner!
Traveling with Juston was like being alone, in the sense that we could happily sit next to one another for hours on end, reading, thinking, or writing, and saying no more than the odd, “Isn’t this view just amazing?” We could spend (almost) every minute of every day together and not feel even the faintest whiff of annoyance. (Ok, perhaps a mild exaggeration, but we were a good travel duo throughout our jaunt)

Our Final Count and Parting Advice

By our count, we traveled to 13 different countries, twenty-two different cities, attempted to speak four languages, took ten modes of transportation, and exchanged the American dollar for six different currencies. 

Countries Visited:
  • Germany
  • Sweden
  • Denmark
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • France
  • Holland (Netherlands)
  • England
  • Ireland
  • Austria
  • Switzerland
  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic

We have concluded that our Eurotrip was nothing short of a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey and period of our lives where we felt intensely attuned and engaged in the world around us.

For six months, we greeted the uncertainty of each new day with the sole mission of getting dressed and trotting the globe in order to experience moments of wonder, adventure and awe. It was an exhilarating and life-enhancing time, that decades from now, we will flash back on profound and poignant moments from our trip we have yet to realize.  It will take awhile to grasp the all the lessons we’ve learned, and although we may not know the meaning of it all just yet, we can look back on the opportunity we had and know that it will be something we cherish forever. So, as our parting advice to you, we urge you to take that trip you’ve always wanted to go on. Sure, postcards are nice, but there truly is no substitute for laying eyes on God’s wonders in person. We honestly had no idea parts of the world are so staggeringly beautiful. If you don’t believe us, we hope you go find out for yourself! Stop saying “one day” and pack your bags, book that ticket, and take that trip! And remember to bring our tips along!

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