Traveling for a month: Lessons learned

 

It’s been over a month since we hopped on that first flight to Paris and began this crazy adventure around the world. While it’s been incredible, it has also been a bunch of *facepalm*s, “time to reroute”, and “we’ll just have to make this work”.

While Carl has traveled extensively with his family, prior to our dating I had only visited Canada and Hong Kong. My inexperience made me feel wholly inadequate as the planner, and though I love planning, I now understand the luxury of booking tours and having someone else sift through all the research and handle every detail! There are just so many variables that I don’t even know that I don’t know – it is often completely overwhelming. And despite all the planning, it turns out my biggest lesson this month is how to let go of my original plans! So nowadays, I’m trying to catch myself from dwelling on anything out of my control and adopt a “let’s not stress this” policy: focusing on the positive or the potential allows me to keep enjoying the trip, otherwise any change could totally sink my joy.

AirBnB is not the Same as a Hotel

Which is honestly what we love about it, but we got a reality check when we had to cancel our trip to Luso literally last minute and remembered that most AirBnB hosts are not tourism professionals. Some are great and begin communications the moment you book your stay even months in advanced, while others won’t initiate any sort of conversation and you’ll need to confirm with them check-in times yourself. This is a much bigger deal in Europe as most check-ins are in person. So we’ve learned that it was up to us to proactively communicate with them and to check on the status of attractions and weather ourselves.

All Aboard Train Travel

Because train travel is not as common for us Americans, a big part of trip planning and stress for us was figuring out the Eurail pass and getting comfortable with trains. Some of the train reservations use paper tickets and require enough time to mail them to you so we weren’t able to book online, and by the time we got to a station to try to book them, they were completely full. We ended up needing to book for a day later and had to adjust our AirBnB reservations.

One time I mistakenly thought an email confirmation I got included the e-tickets (it was only the invoice that was attached) – so the morning of we went to the station and had no tickets and had to book a later train and couldn’t get a refund for the original tickets. This is when we discovered that booking online was not as convenient as we thought; no one at the train stations would help because our tickets were booked through the Eurail portal. Now we’ve started to go directly to the train stations as early as possible and book out all the trips we need to with a person and that way we’ll get a printed boarding pass in hand each time.

checking train tickets
checking train tickets

Once you get accustomed to train stations (some of them are just like airports!), then train travel is pretty great since you get way more leg room than on a plane, you’re not limited on luggage, you don’t usually have to go through much security, and there’s the view. All in all, things have worked out fine and we thank God for that.

 

Backpacks vs Luggage

We debated the double backpack versus a backpack and a roller combos for a long time before we took off. We decided on the double backpack thinking this would help us avoid checking in bags, we could use the hiking backpacks on all of our hikes, and I really loathed the obnoxious sound of roller bags over cobblestone. Indeed the backpacks were much easier to maneuver up and down all those stairs we had to take and allowed us ninja stealth on travel days. However budget airlines have recently changed their luggage policy and now most of them require you to pay for a second cabin bag: meaning we were going to have to check in one backpack anyway.

The very start of our trip: double backpack combo
The very start of our trip: double backpack combo

Also, the traditional double backpack of traditional backpackers works best when the main backpack contains the majority of the weight and the front backpack contains little to none. Our front backpacks contained all of our electronics and weighed more than the bags on our backs. We also didn’t consider how much walking around we’d be doing with both backpacks on – typically 1-1.5 miles from a train station to our AirBnBs.

This made for hellish travel days; the two of us trudging up hills and sweating buckets while trying to figure out our way through a new city, hoping to make it on time to meet our host and check in. After a month of these physically trying travel days and the fact that we were checking in a bag regardless, we decided to switch to roller luggage. Our first big extra cost was buying the luggage and mailing back our backpacks and Carl’s drone. I do still cringe at the noise they make, but it’s made a huge difference for our travel days.

Backpack & luggage combo
Newly purchased luggage for a “Backpack & luggage combo”

Remember Actual Luggage Constraints

Speaking of luggage, while packing we worried about having adequate supplies for the year and as it totally slipped our minds that we would be mostly checking in a bag and traveling by train so we could have brought full-sized supplies. Instead we had packed only travel-sized items and had to restock on lotion and toothpaste pretty quickly.

“Is this a drone, do you have a drone?”

Going back to Carl’s drone, it was also a lesson learned that it was just too big of a bite to chew bringing the drone along to a worldwide adventure. While he had done tons of research on all the countries we were going to, laws for drones are still being developed in many countries. Even as the new year arrives some of those laws will be altered. This means that we’ll have to constantly check as we travel along and will have to figure out where we can mail it to and coordinate with either our AirBnB host or a mailing company.

And while we were anticipating some trouble mailing the drone around, we didn’t realize how bad it would be. According to our research, lithium batteries were allowed in packages under a certain weight or certain charge, but when we went to mail the drone we were told that no lithium batteries were allowed at all. So at that point we were already mailing our backpacks home, we were heading to Morocco next so we couldn’t hold onto the drone at all, and with the winter weather Carl had barely been able to fly the drone. He made the heart wrenching decision to call it and just send it home (sans batteries, we’re still lugging those around).

And yes, at every single security check in Morocco, both Tangier and Marrakech airport, we were stopped and our camera gear searched. The questions are always related to a drone: “Do you have a drone? Are you sure you don’t have a drone? Is this a drone? What is this?”. They thought we were journalists with all of our electronic equipment, but they didn’t detain us or anything.

Figure out a Routine

Once we realized that travel days were our biggest pain points, we sat down and made a game plan. We hashed out logistical responsibilities; like Carl would handle navigation and figure out how to get us from one train station to where we were staying and I would handle AirBnB bookings and communications. We decided that every night we’d set aside time to go over the logistics for the next day; double check times and tickets and look at the map together.

Carl's running shoes a couple months into our trip
Carl’s running shoes a couple months into our trip

With all the moving about and the inconsistent schedules, we knew we needed to create some habits and routines to help us stay sane. We had originally planned to go for a run whenever we got into a new city, but it’s either been rainy or so cold and now Carl’s running shoes have tears in them (just from all the walking, it’s that darn cobblestone!) that we never quite made it happen. Now it’s a little more passive, like every morning I’m the one out of bed first and I like to put the water on for some tea and just savor the quiet a bit before waking Carl. In the evenings, after we’ve gone over logistics, we get ready for bed and read a little before sleeping. Sometimes it’s just the little things that help your internal clock tick and your mind feel some semblance of normality.

Leave Room for the Un-planning

By the time we left we had the first two and a half months booked. As we were trying to save on budget, we grabbed what deals we could and didn’t worry too much about cancellation policies — a risky move. While things worked out for us, it’s definitely important to know what your options are just in case plans need to change.

With the couple of times our train could not get booked or the time we discovered the Luso forest was closed, we were lucky the AirBnB policies allowed us to change (minus service fees). But I remember the panic setting in while we were standing at the counter of the train station deciding to buy tickets for the day after, without any WiFi and not able to check if we’d be able to adjust our AirBnB reservations. Luckily we’ve found that AirBnB tends to have better flexibility than hotels, especially if you’re booking on Hotels.com or some similar site which tends to have very strict cancellation policies.

Another thing: triple check your reservation details before booking, it’s never safe to assume anything! Some “hotels” are pretty much hostels and they have shared bathrooms or maybe a riad claims to have valet parking but if only you’d checked a Google terrain map to you might notice there’s not even a street leading up to it… These are real things folks!

Carlienne at Bunker del Carmel, Barcelona, Spain
Carlienne at Bunker del Carmel, Barcelona, Spain

experience is the very best teacher

We’re glad that we’ve learned these things now and are more prepared as we plan the next portion of our trip. Hopefully these lessons learned can help you as you start to dream and plan your very own adventure. Did anything surprise you or have anything else to add? Please leave a comment below!

comments

  • As I was reading your experiences, fears, mistakes, and quick resolutions to a problem, I cannot fathom all the feelings you felt during all these. To top it all, traveling in the bleak of winter and rain. I have much admiration and pride for the both of you for traveling in winter.
    I admit, winter season has its own beauty. That is when and if you are settled in an abode before night so that in the times when it is too cold in the dead of the night and you are freezing, there is somewhere to go home to and have that hot cinnamon-ginger-lemon tea. Oh how inviting.
    When we (Carl’s Dad and Mom) plan for an out of the country vacation, it takes me 8-12 months to check places and calculate expenses and sometimes we would rather take a tour due to time constraints (work). During those tours, there are side trips or excursions offered and Carl’s Dad and I would choose a tour where we (especially the boys) would benefit the most in education and experience.
    You both have learned so much in such a short time that it only takes a few days to plan. It takes a youthful mind and earnestness of heart for your courage and perseverence. Continue your expedition, always follow your dreams. Experience is the best education but never forget those descriptions written in posts, pictures, and inscriptions because a few letters can mean a lot. Example: etc… hahaha
    This is also the greatest test of your commitment to each other. A spat or a sulk is a spice of life. The best one is the salad. It is always healthy and exciting. Don’t forget the protein. These two makes up the “communication”.
    I say salad means COMMUNICATION. If there is no communication, relationships crumble. If there is no salad, health suffers.
    I went through a lot of feelings as I read your encounters. It has also taught me a lot about the future of our traveling as we are not in our youth anymore. I love your messages. Truly I am learning. You will encounter more experiences: disappointments and happiness but always remember, have a Plan B as you go along life.
    God bless you both in all your journeys and endeavors. Always start and end the day with praises to God.

    • Indeed, thank you mama bear for taking the time to read and also encourage, we would never have taken the leap of faith for this journey had you and papa bear not instilled the value of travel and experience in Carl – and in turn me. We love you!

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