Sunday, January 4, 2009

Things I learned on the road...

So, after a few days to recuperate from my trip, I thought I would discuss some of the lessons I learned along the way.

  1. Be flexible - Plans will change, flights will be delayed or missed, you'll meet people and want to stay an extra day somewhere. Develop the ability to just roll with it.
  2. Book flights in advance - Flights are more expensive at the last minute through discount airlines like Ryanair, BMI and Aerlingus so if you want to book a cheap flight, do it in advance.
  3. Book all other travel once you're at you destination - The Internet is a great resource, but it is not the be-all, end-all of travel information. A lot of the time you will be able to find cheaper transport by asking around, booking through the offices at the train station, etc. The people there are probably used to backpackers and are more than willing to help you out if you are willing to smile, be patient, and say thank you.
  4. Do not take the night bus - A baby will cry all night, the person sitting beside you will snore or want to chat with you, the bus will be cold or break down. On the up-side, the night bus is usually cheap.
  5. If you ARE taking the night bus pack earplugs and take a sedative - You will also want to book an extra day at your destination because you will lose at least one day to "bus-lag."
  6. Trains are usually comparably priced to buses - For the couple of dollars difference, if you can afford it, take the train. It is much more comfortable, faster, and they don't hassle you about your luggage. If you can carry it onto the train under your own power, you can bring it. Buses sometimes have baggage limits.
  7. Trust the hostel reviews online - This does not mean you are bound to only staying at hostels with 90% ratings, but when places are described as damp, dirty or cold you should probably at least take that into consideration. Location is not everything, so if you're on a tight budget, take a hostel with a less central location rather than damp, dirty or cold.
  8. Hostel chains are a totally different experience than privately run hostels - Chains will generally be more organized, checkout times will be firm, they will have luggage store and usually free guided tours, pub crawls and recommendations for what to see and do. Privately run hostels are generally trying to build a reputation and are very eager to please, but because you're generally paying less, expect a little less in terms of amenities. I spent about half my time at each type and have likes and dislikes for both.
  9. You are not required to see everything that everyone recommends - See what is going to make you happy, see family if there is any in the area, and catch a few of the major sites. It's your trip, so do it your way.
  10. Do not book certain things into certain days unless an exhibit is closing - You will, without a doubt, meet some fellow travellers who want to hook up and see certain things and you might want to tag along. That's part of the experience, so do it. The London Tower has been there for a long time, it can wait until tomorrow, but your new friends might be moving on to another city tomorrow.
  11. Pub crawls and having a few drinks is fun - flying, riding a train or bus, however, is not fun with a hangover, so keep that in mind. Also, different countries have different alcohol contents in their drinks, so the beer may be stronger or weaker than you are used to. I noticed in England, liquor is served in 35ml shots rather than 27ml shots at home. It doesn't sound like much but after a few drinks that adds up rather quickly. Keep that in mind.
  12. Take lots of pictures - This means bring lots of batteries, and a few extra memory cards. They are generally expensive on location, and you don't want to run out just as you see the most amazing ________ ever. Also, always take photos at the highest quality your camera can produce. I would rather have 1000 excellent pictures than 10,000 pictures that can never be turned into prints.
  13. Post some photos to a website while you're away - This lets everyone know that you're still alive, what sites you're seeing and that you're enjoying yourself. Some people like Facebook, but keep in mind that they then hold the rights to your photos and the quality will be greatly reduced.
  14. Remember to eat reasonably - Yes, you're on vacation or backpacking or whatever. Yes there is lots of new food to try. This does not mean that you shouldn't eat a vegetable every now and again.
  15. Some tours are worth going on - If you want to see a remote area and you have a limited amount of time, or if you're not sure how to get there, ask at the hostel. If they recommend a tour rather than trying to get out there on your own, there is a reason. Take the tour.
  16. Not all tours are worth going on - If you are at a museum, site, in a castle, etc, it may be in your best interest to get the audio guide, or the book, rather than hooking up with a tour. You get to see the things you want to see, get some information, and if you want to stop and take photos etc then you won't have a thousand other people in your way.
  17. It is cheap to travel once you are outside of North America - So book a longer trip than you normally would because once you're there you are not going to want to come home after 10 days.
That's all I've got time for just now but I'll update later.

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