We’re a little over halfway through our trip. Here are a few important lessons we’ve learned so far:
1) Don’t go to Europe in August. We were told this before the trip, but didn’t think the mass exodus from European towns would be as pronounced as it has been. We’ve missed out on a lot of the places we were most excited about. In many cases, it is the restaurants that need to stay open that do stay open in August that do stay open. Those are not the places you want to go to.
2) Plan ahead. Really well. Our biggest stressor so far in Europe has been getting from one city to another. We’re using Eurail to get around, but it was more expensive to buy once we got to Europe than it would have been had we got it online in the States. Additionally, it was a massive pain to actually figure out how to buy the Eurail pass at the train stations. Additionally additionally, Eurail is not very good.
3) Stop converting from euros to dollars in your head. If you’re constantly calculating how much a beer would cost you in dollars, you’ll never be able to enjoy the experience and understand the different way of life. And you definitely won’t get drunk.
4) Accept that things will be difficult. Part of traveling is experiencing different cultures and different ways of life. The key word is different. So when you travel, things definitely won’t be as you’re used to. It will be really hard, at times, to do seemingly very simple things. It took us two entire days to figure out how to get from Madrid to San Sebastian. As such, we didn’t see the Prado museum, didn’t experience flamenco dancing, and missed our reservation at Asador Etxebarri, a restaurant near Bilbao that we were really excited about. But we learned a ton in the process. It’s all part of traveling. Prepare to be stressed out. Prepare to be really frustrated with whomever you’re traveling with. Prepare to feel like a fool. It’s all part of traveling.
5) Use airbnb. It’s been amazing to think about the diversity of places we’ve stayed. From hostel-type places, to our own apartment flats, to a beautiful house of our own in the Tuscan hillside–our experiences have been far from predictable. And it’s always been for about the same 30 euros each per night. It really has been so easy to work out lodging.
6) Be willing to do things you wouldn’t normally be comfortable with. Call me antisocial, but I (Julian) don’t really like interacting with people I don’t know. But one of my favorite places to stay was San Sebastian, where we were in tight quarters with backpackers from all around the world. The people we met there made our stay so much better (and allowed us to meet up with friends in other places around Europe).
7) Don’t assume that an area’s specialties will be good everywhere you go in that region. In Bologna, we figured we could stop in at any number of restaurants and get the best bolognese we’d ever had. Not true. Similarly, we were in Modena and had balsamic di Modena that was “USDA organic.” Meaning the balsamic we were having was processed or distributed by an American company, then shipped back to Modena. You don’t need to fly halfway around the world for that crap.