Hostels often offer private ensuites for a fraction of the cost, especially in off season, that one could find at a budget hotel. Staying in dorm-style rooms is inexpensive, at the cost of your privacy. You will make friends.
Hostel proprietors often provide: trip itineraries, night-life recommendations, walking tours, pub crawls, and bike hiring, to name just a few possibilities. This is an excellent opportunity to leave your comfort zone, in a friendly atmosphere.
CouchSurfing, and AirBnb offer a inexpensive, or free in the case of Couchsurfing, opportunity to meet and hang out with the locals. Gaining this sort of perspective on a new city is worth more than money can buy. Additionally, while some scoff at the idea of couch surfing, I have to report that a couch in a private home can be a welcome respite from the otherwise terribly low hotel standards of some countries.
Perhaps we’d like to rough it even further, to the edges of civilized comfort. Why not explore Camping ? One of my favorite European adventures revolved around camping out at night, providing an unforgettable, mostly positive, experience. More on this trip in later features.
If you MUST have a hotel room, there are tons of sites devoted to finding them. Booking being just one.
As the year 2006 reluctantly gave way to the rule of 2007, I accepted a job as a Pilot for my first airline. Instantaneously, I ceased to be of any use whatsoever to the throngs of friends & acquaintances who directed their air-travel-fare questions toward me.
No matter. Though I now travel for free, the process of finding a ticket over-seas is actually rather simple. It involves hard work, perseverance, and long obsessive research. Yes. I’m deeply sorry. There are no secrets to reveal here.
Fret not, however. Technology comes to the rescue, and we can do this together.
The rules seem to say that we should check early, check often, and compare such sites as these:
Where possible, we’ll start our search a few months in advance, if “cheap” is our goal. Once we see a slight downward trend in fares, we will choose our fare, but we will not choose the least inexpensive fare. We are looking for the best.
Our flight sets the tone for our travel experience, correct? Arriving in good shape will give us another day to enjoy our destination, rather than wasting one day in a stupor. Let’s do it right.
Modern air-travel is comparatively better, and more comfortable than ever before. Let’s face it; it’s a marvel of modern technology. Still, cabin altitudes remain above 7,000 feet (2,100 meters.) Humidity remains low, seats are somewhat smaller than we’d hope, and cleaning isn’t always as perfect as we’d wish. It’s up to us to take care.
We’ll treat our body well before departing, catering to our essential needs with a bit more attention than usual.
Also, we’ll hydrate copiously while en route.
We’ll rest on the schedule of our destination, at least a few days in advance, and do our best to keep it up while in transit, despite the distractions we are bound to encounter.
We’ll download our airline’s travel app, or use a substitute, and stay on top of delays in the system, arriving to our assigned gate of departure no later than 45 minutes prior to our scheduled departure time.
These basic search tips, and means of conducting ourselves will put us on point to start our trips properly, & stress free.
Thanks for reading!
Next, we’ll discuss where to stay once we’ve arrived at our destination of choice.
Crashing through salty, towering waves, we were collectively sure we’d soon be dead, or at least irreparably maimed beyond recognition. If we, each one and all, were not soon permanently expired and dismembered, resting eternally at the bottom of the sea, we would surely be shamelessly vomiting over the sides of the good ship…whatever.
Yes, we had all come quickly to terms with the nature of our predicament on the most turbulent waters of the near-shore Mediterranean. Some made peace with the inevitable, some sobbed hysterically, becoming inconsolable, moistened heaps of sorrow.
“For what?” One or two of the hundred souls present were forced to wonder.
A trip to paradise, no less. A voyage to a true earthly paradise.
Since the dawn of the modern era, an idyllic, tiny island has stood guard over the space some 14 brief kilometers off the western coast of Sorrento, Italy. That distance could be covered in short order by a small, fast boat.
The realities of this important detail were completely lost on we, poor, souls committed to the slow boat from Naples. The idyllic, virtual garden of Eden that was named Capri, for one reason or another, lay invisibly off the bow, yet it might well be 10 years distant to the wretches now clinging to the pitching bowels of this hopeless, lurching ship. We, now twice that distance north from Capri, suffered through the roughest, of rough seas.
While pondering my mortality and the mortality of my surrounding neighbors , I attempted to remain on the bright side of life. I scanned the cavernous hold of the big ship for signs of optimism, ignoring tears, vomit bags, and the oppressive resulting languor of fear from imminent shipwreck. Just then, I noticed a boy of perhaps eight or nine years seated in my row.
Only six seats distant, he appeared affected, but not by the foaming waves crashing urgently over the bow of the big groaning ferry. There was something else. Something more compelling. It became all too obvious that this tiny boy was consumed by the spirit of the music reaching his tiny head through his tiny ear-bud headphones.
In the subsequent moments, as the ship threatened to flounder on the crashing sea, he mustered his passion into the best rendition of Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball” that a boy of his age and experience could possibly muster under any circumstances, let alone those experienced on desperate seas.
Regrettably, we arrived in an earthly paradise some thirty minutes later, safe and sound, unharmed, but changed forever.
Capri is a lovely place to arrive in peace, or desperate circumstance. On this particular day, we came into port, and we came in like a wrecking ball.
Does this story contain a moral? The moral of this story is simple. Take the fast boat from Sorrento to Capri, if the seas be high, and in situations beyond your ability to control, perhaps it’s best to focus on your music.
In my last, and first, feature;
I wrote to you regarding my first experience wandering solo across “the pond.” While the trip was a rousing success by my own account, I quickly found room for improvement within the gaps of my own technique. In this piece, I’d like to speak a bit on the topic of planning a better solo trip, specifically geared for the brand-new traveler, based on my own mistakes.
You may have read, In Part I of my Munich tale, that I had done no research prior to the moment of my trip, and had only begun my research on the flight to my destination. I visited a bookstore on my way to the airport, where I procured an analog travel guide.
While I wouldn’t rule-out this method entirely for the benefit of an adventurous individual with generous savings, the rest of us might benefit more from what resources we may find simply lying around in wait, for free, on the Internet.
PHASE ONE: DREAMING
The Internet. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? As Homer Simpson once wisely proclaimed; It’s on computers now.
You are here, reading my writing. I venture to believe that you are comfortable navigating the interwebs on, at least, a rudimentary, basic level. It’s also presumably safe to believe that you’ve “googled” something in your internet-experience.
I feel that researching curiosities, which occur spontaneously to us, in basic Google terms, will be the best starting point for trip planning, and brainstorming.
If I had simply fired up my computer, typed “www.google.com” pressed enter, and typed a search term into the window (something similar to “Budget travel destinations” or “Best destinations for solo travel”) I could, in short order, discover some interesting ideas.
Becoming more specific, I’ve had incredible luck with websites like:
These sites offer free, user-generated itineraries, walking tours, maps, traveler reviews, message boards, and real-time information which is often more relevant, and current than a printed guide. Moreover, unlike printed guides, this information is free. These sites also offer offline maps, and guides, which can be printed or used on your smartphone.
A WORD IN FAVOR OF THE DEVICE
Life became a LOT easier and cheaper for the traveler with the advent of the smart phone. One can download offline-maps, travel guides, itineraries, a reference for basic phrases, cat videos, and personal notes to a device that is capable of gps positioning, web searches, camera functions, phone calls and messaging, as well as a whole host of other functions.
Please remember to pack your charger.
One can virtually tour their destination, and place-mark points of interest for later, offline, recall on Google Maps, or the Google Earth standalone program. Cross referencing other sites for information, and compiling it here, is a fool-proof planning method. Google earth goes as far as to recreate a 3D rendering of many major cities.
Youtube similarly offers an endless supply of occasionally pertinent travel guides, and basic phrase pronunciation guides. Once again, free of charge.
A FINAL WORD ON THE ANALOG-OPTION
There is still a place in our individual travel-kits for some analog planning resources. While I personally wouldn’t purchase another location-specific guide book, I would purchase a copy of 1000 Places To See Before You Die. A brief hunt on Amazon will reveal other resources, although I’ve had great luck with this particular one. No, they aren’t paying me to say so.
For the inevitable moment when we forget our phone, or charger, I’ve found it absolutely necessary to carry and do some planning with a paper map. These can be had for no cost from many hostels, hotels, tourist information centers, and of course; online. http://www.Use-it.travel offers some great examples for travel in many northern European destinations.
In the next installments, we’ll discuss researching flight options, lodging, transportation, and entertainment. Thanks for reading!
My widening eyes peered into the steeply slanted ceiling above me as I awoke in unfamiliar surroundings. I felt genuine excitement and curiosity welling up uncontainably inside me, as I realized where I lay.
The evening light spilled into my room through the skylight overhead. I reached for my map, and quickly improvised a wandering route through the early evening Munich streets. I aimed to find the people, and the beer, where they naturally occurred.
Choosing just one of Munich’s six traditional breweries offered a daunting challenge, but I chose to wander to the tourist-centric Hofbrauhaus. Cobble-stoned streets lined my path, some vacant, some bustling. I paused at Odeonsplatz, where the streets opened into a wider, sprawling square, to consider the modern lively nature of the platz, and reflect on the historic events which unfolded there.
The Hofbrauhaus was founded in 1589, and is now owned by the state. The walls are delicately frescoed, and reverberate with the live music of a Bavarian brass band, playing traditional music for rows of red-faced tourists, seated communally at large wooden tables. A centralized court (Hof) features a large beer garden where all walks of life, from all over the world often succeed in getting sloppy drunk. The experience is worth a trip.
I was seated among the ranks of a visiting group of Italians, all strangers, and quickly joined in on their fun. Holding a dimpled clear glass maßkrüg of Dunkel beer, I did my best to follow the conversation through body language, laughing, dancing, and clinking glasses where appropriate. I don’t speak Italian, but it didn’t present a problem.
No worse for wear, earning the grid on my face, I bid “Ciao!” to my new friends, and left the beer hall behind me to discover a more authentic Munich experience, in the maze of winding Schwabing side-streets.
In no time, I met four new friends from Munich and Prague respectively, at a dimly lit cafe bar on Turkenstraße. We discussed travel, and agreed that it was the thing most worth doing. I gave my oath that I’d put Prague on my travel agenda. It was here that my new friends introduced me to European hosteling, which would open up ever-widening horizons to me and my travel experiences going forward.
The next morning, with time to spare, I walked the morning streets in search of coffee and pastry, taking one last long deep breath to seal the memories of the experience. I had taken a chance, and threw caution to the wind in search of adventure. Circumstances had rewarded me with the pleasure of new experience, and a new story to tell. I had found a path to adventure which was simple, and could become even more simple with a bit of tinkering. A unseen passion had been revealed.
As I fastened my seat belt on the big jet that would eventually take me home, I felt that I had found a whole new world of possibility to discover. In fact, that is literally what I discovered.
I had become a traveler.
Next: Practical advice for first-time solo travelers.
I lay there, with wide eyes, watching the ceiling fan revolve slowly above my bed, just a moment after waking from a deep sleep. The indistinct rumbling of Chicago’s police sirens, car horns, and people accompanied an odd realization. A subconscious decision had been made in my slumber. My mind was now making me aware of its plans for the day. We are going to travel to Europe.
I had not yet traveled beyond the confines of my North American continent. Yet, I had seen it done, and had heard the resulting tales from my traveling peers. Certainly it could be done, I decided. I would guess my way through the process, and learn by doing. Moreover, my field of employment had equipped me with the special privilege of free, unrestricted, world travel.
Why had I not thought of it sooner?
With these tools in hand, I decided: No use in wondering. Let’s go.
Unsystematically, I packed a backpack with clothing, and a toothbrush. This adventure was going to design itself, i hoped, as I improvised the details of the scheme’s conception. I visited the essentials as they occurred to me, in my mind. Food/water, shelter, clothing, entertainment, transportation, people. Surely Europe had those things.
Before the advent of smartphones, portable answers could be found in few places. In short order I found my local bookshop, right where I had left it, on my way to the airport. The love of all things German ran warm within my veins for as long as I could recall, it should be mentioned. I came fortified with a few years worth of German language study, which certainly couldn’t hurt matters. The destination thusly chose itself, but was reinforced by the only remaining travel guide on the bookstore shelf: Munich, Germany.
Reaching the airport, I was given a ticket to Munich, and tucked-in for a short transatlantic flight. I paged through the travel guide i had purchased, finding answers to my predetermined essentials, and closed my eyes.
Some six hours later, the 767 jetliner began smoothly descending over Paris, as window shades were thumbed opened by curious hands, spilling the French dawn onto the sleep-deprived, huddled masses, of coach class.
The Line forming at Customs & immigration moved speedily after deplaning. “Hallo.” said the customs official, crisply stamping “✈Flughafen München,” with black ink onto a blank blue page of my passport, with a smile.
Signs overhead spoke promisingly of trains to the city. These signs were my guide, and I followed them. Automated kiosks took my money in exchange for a ticket, pleasantly offering to communicate with me in my native language.
Aboard the S-Bahn, My sleepy eyes widened further, recording the view of rural Bavaria, along the banks of the Isar River, onto my memory. Somewhere between an international airport and the city of Munich on that fall morning, my trip began in earnest.
I wandered away somewhat aimlessly from the central train station, destined only for east, to see what could be seen. After just a few moments of following the main street which I had emerged onto from the station, I discovered a crowd gathered around Munich’s famed Glockenspiel, which was beginning its show. Wooden figurines danced and twirled to the chiming bells. Consulting my bookstore guide, it seems I was catching the only show of the day. How lucky i am.
In the next hour, I pleasantly wandered the map held in my hand, comparing the record to what my senses could describe. Meandering the banks of the Isar, my feet lead me through the Englischer Garten for a tall Munich Weissbier, and a fresh Weisswurst breakfast sausage. I sat with other Munich-wanderers, considering the magic of the endeavor I had undertaken, then. The same eyes that had traced the path of the whirling blades of yesterday’s ceiling fan were now counting the spires of Munich’s churches at the foot of the rolling green lawns of English Garden.
Somewhat exhausted, but glowing with passion for the newness of everything, I exited the garden, no longer wandering, but aiming for a point on the map denoting a budget hotel. Finding a nice spot on the top floor, replete with a nice skylight window overlooking the trendy Schwabing district, I found the place to be better than adequate, (hardly the budget hotel an American would recognize) and settled in for a nap. As I focused on a new sort of urban soundscape, with foreign sirens, and a din unfamiliar to my experience, I drifted into Eurodreams.
On the pages of a pocket-sized artificial-leather-bound journal, I purposefully scribbled the words:
Find the like-minded. Laugh. Write. Be uncomfortable. Be delighted.
Travel. Travel. Travel
I sat alone in the wee Belgian hours, nursing a Dubbel at a hostel bar. A bar cloaked in rich aged wood, adorned with all varieties of dreary-eyed hostelers, as the waves of travel-day fatigue ebbed and flowed through me like a rare and delicious drug. The memories of a day well lived lingered richly in my mind. Waking in a familiar country, in familiar surroundings often falls short of inspiring valuable insight. To taste the utterly unfamiliar, an ocean or two distant, is sweet poison.
As I relished the medieval view, seen through sagging, distorted window panes, I wondered what undertaking could be more valuable, rewarding, or outright worthy of launching one’s self into without second thought, or fear.
If you share this view, literally or figuratively, I hope you’ll come along for the ride. My name is Douglas. This is the ongoing story of The Nominal Wanderer. These are my wanderings.