“I open at the close” – Golden Snitch, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Back home, feeling melancholic, bursting with memories of the awesome summer that was. What better way to start the series of travel posts than here, sitting alone in my room on a Friday night, sorting out photos of the biggest trip of my life that sadly ended exactly 10 days ago. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Last year, I quit my job, took on a new career and booked a ticket. Yeah, a $1,100 ticket to Amsterdam. I basically had no money but what the hell, I was 28 and suffering a case of burnout. I thought, “if not now then when?”. I had exactly 6 months to save up for my “Before 30 Bucket List”. That meant a gazillion projects, teaching full time, a whole lot of jeepney rides, saying goodbye to Starbucks, eating out and going out in general. No birthday trip, no short vacations, no new stuff. Scrimp and save was the name of the game. It was all worth it.
So from May 7 – June 17, I finally did what everyone with a case of wanderlust dreams of. I spent the summer in Europe (well spring over there but you get the picture). It was fvcking amazing. Nothing comes close. Well, until the next adventure of course. There will be more. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me.
People tell me, you’ve already been to Europe, traveled solo before etc etc. It’s not the same. Not only did this trip cost me all my life’s savings, it was just different. Why? I have no idea. That’s what makes it awesome right?
Here’s what I learned from last summer’s Trip. It’s a mix of the good, the bad, the ugly, survival tips and just about anything. Enjoy. Be inspired. Bon Voyage!
1. Just Do It
Don’t be afraid to take the leap. Book that ticket. Get on that plane. See the world. Experience something new. If you have been planning to travel, don’t wait for anybody or anything. It’s scary but totally exhilarating. If you’re worried about eating up your savings and having no money, just remember that money comes and goes. Your experience will last a lifetime. Traveling puts things into perspective. Sometimes what you’ve always wanted in the past will no longer be important to you. You will never be the same again.
2. Pack Light
Bring a backpack. Wear comfortable clothes and your favorite pair of shoes. Leather shoes, dainty ballet flats and especially any type of heel or wedge will feel like hell when walking around cobblestones or hiking up paths and steep stairs everyday. Live simply. You don’t need a million outfits and things. Nobody expects anything from you. In fact, nobody cares about you. So leave your heavy luggage behind. Literally and figuratively.
Like Erykah Badu said “Bag lady you gone hurt your back dragging all them bags like that
I guess nobody ever told you, All you must hold on to is you, is you, is you”
3. Be Prepared
Research. Ask for advice. Read up. Don’t go to a foreign country flying blind. Make sure you know where to go, what to do. Making an itinerary saves time and money. Booking.com is the best website for hotels, hostels, apartments and any kind of accommodation. Plus, you pay only upon check-in. Trip Advisor is also your ultimate travel buddy for things to go, places to see, where to eat and everything else.
For fellow Filipinos, you need a Schengen Visa to enter Europe. Visit the embassy of your entry or longest stay to apply. You may or may not need to schedule an appearance. It’s easier but more expensive to go through a travel agency. I went straight to the Netherlands Embassy with all my requirements and photocopies of all documents. Be organized and don’t wait until the last minute to do all that needs to be done.
Make a checklist. Trust me, it helps.
4. Wing It
Once you’ve got your basic itinerary planned out, stop right there. Save room for last minute stuff. Be spontaneous. The best plan is to have no plan. Give yourself time to wander and get lost. Take a time out. Sure you can reserve one day for museum tours but the next day, explore the city, stray from the tourist spots. You’ll never know what amazing things you will discover and find.
Did you know that Amsterdam has a cool flea market that occupies one whole warehouse? Exactly.
5. Stay Safe
Although most countries are pretty safe, don’t go looking for trouble. Use your common sense. Don’t go wandering down dark alleys at night. Stay away from creepy and dubious-looking guys. Don’t accept anything from strangers. Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t look lost, unsure and out of place. Don’t wave your money around. Con artists and criminals prey on innocent tourists who are oh so easy to fool. Be smart. Look tough. Be observant. If you think someone is following you or trying to rob you, scream your lungs out. Have you seen the movie Taken? We can’t all have Liam Neeson as our dads.
When in doubt, stick to the men in uniform.
6. Ask for Directions
If you’re lost ask for help. Even if you have a map, it’s not easy to find your way. Even if you have Google Maps, you’ll still get lost. More often than not, locals will not be helpful. That’s because they can’t understand or speak English. Chances are the people along the street are also tourists like you. Go inside a restaurant or shop, find a Tourist Information booth or ask people who work at Museums and other tourist spots. There are also police officers everywhere and they are super friendly. Don’t be shy. Asking for directions is a great way to strike up conversations with people.
7. Make New Friends
I repeat, don’t be shy. Be open-minded. Most Europeans are friendly, especially those who can speak English and are used to tourists. Sometimes fellow tourists are also just looking for kindred souls. Mingling with the locals is the best way to expand your horizons and learn more stuff that you won’t read about in the guidebooks. Some are even nice enough to act as a tour guide. When someone strikes up a conversation, flash them your biggest smile. Who knows, you might get a free beer too.
They say it’s about the experience. Living like the locals do. But we have to remember that some things are worth spending for. It depends on you. Some people like to shop for designer bags, some buy expensive trinkets, some spend on pure Italian leather. Whatever you desire, at least once in your whole trip, go for it. Why? Because years from now, you will look back and think ‘ Thank God I tried that once in my life’. Go for it because regret comes way after. Go for it because you should live in the moment. It’s not everyday you get to your dream destination, so fulfil that wish and splurge.
A platter of pasta and the finest Venetian seafood ? How about a tea service at the famous Ladurée right along Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris? Why not.
9. Taste Everything
If you want to know more about a country, taste their food. Let your senses experience the cuisine. You will be amazed at how different the flavors are, how rich and decadent. That’s what travel is about – Experience. Each dish tells a story, of a country’s history, of the cook’s life, of the ingredients. Take in all that and just savor.
Italian pasta, Viennese cakes, French champagne, Belgian chocolates. Try it all.
10. Have Fun
Travel is equal parts excitement, disappointment, getting lost, finding yourself, being surprised, expecting the unexpected and most of all just enjoying yourself. Get drunk, laugh out loud, panic, walk till your feet ache, hold hands, take a nap in the park, go dancing, have 3 scoops of gelato, misplace your things, make passionate love, take a selfie. Whatever you wanna do, do it. If you wanna scream “Are you not entertained!” in the middle of the Coliseum, then go ahead. Life is short. No regrets. Have fun.
Netherlands • Belgium • France • Italy • Germany • Austria (May – June 2014)
Amsterdam – Antwerp – Paris – Milan – Venice – Florence – Tuscany – Rome – Amalfi Coast – Münster – Hamburg – Berlin – Vienna – Munich
Whatever comes, bring it on. I will always have this summer. Dank Je, Merci, Grazie, Vielen Danke, Salamat!