Life Abroad,  Travel,  TravelTips,  Vagabond Days

travel bests & worsts

hey er’body! this weekend has been all about SERIOUS relaxing in preparation upcoming weekend jaunt to linz, austria.  park days saturday, sunday, and even today before the nice weather goes away. also, finishing the wire’s last season (incredible: one of the best TV shows of the 21st century thus far for sure). today my class was canceled so i had a nice sit….

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seeing how’s i’ve spent over nine months “on the road” and have lived almost entirely on things that i brought with me when i packed all my belongings up last july. it sure is daunting to pack for over a year, and i’m surprised it went so well. shocked and amazed with myself for being such a great and resourceful packer of things. my past travel experience  has helped me realize what things are truly necessary and what isn’t, but that’s not to say i haven’t learned a few lessons in the past nine months.

the top best three things i brought with me……

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1) fo’ real, my doc marten boots. or a good sturdy pair of weather-proof boots. i am not the kind of gal to buy shoes only for traveling that sort of look ugly. functional, but not fashionable. no, it must be both. and i also have a history of wearing the crap out of any shoe that i own, and i knew whatever i brought had to last through the winter, through tromping around farmlands and sheep poo, and still be waterproof and lovely. alex has his own pair of dude shoes (asolo brand) that he swears by. sure, boots are big and clunky, but i would always wear them on travel days, and my three other pairs of shoes (chacos, black flats, and rugged looking mary-janes) are small and compact.

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2) my iHome portable speaker. essential for listening to tunes out loud. i realized the need to invest in this during my time living and traveling in berlin. i went to a best buy type store and bought these really crappy bug plastic speakers with meh sound quality that take AA batteries. this time, i did my homework (cnet and youtube reviews galore) and found one with excellent sound quality for a great price (less than $20) that happens to be rechargeable through a USB port. since alex and i both enjoy listening to music out loud: while cooking, cleaning, hanging out, etc this is a must. i even bring it to my lessons when i need more volume for audio or video.

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3) has to be our shared gateway netbook 10″, which is basically our child. you really can’t go on a long trip without some computing device these days, whether netbook or ipad. internet cafes are mostly a thing of the past and wireless is king. it has held out wonderfully so far. we went with a netbook over a tablet because we wanted to have the most natural typing or computing experience possible, but nowadays tablets have pop-out keyboards, so there are more and more options.

runners-up: nintendo ds, my infallible northface rain jacket, samsung focus S mobile phone (unlocked)

the top three worst things i brought with me…

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1) this green raggedy coat circa 1999-2000. found it in my closet while i was packing and decided it would be a good enough coat for late autumn/pre-winter. the material seemed waterproof enough, it was light but not too light, and most importantly, i could squish it down in the bottom of my backpack alright. i barely ever wore it until about mid-october and after a few wears sadly the green material on it started crumbling. by paris it was a downright embarrassment and it was time to trash it and buy a new, substantial winter coat.

what i learned: bring quality clothing only– nothing questionable or untested. bring a good quality warmer coat and wear it while traveling to avoid backpack bulk, or better yet: buy one abroad only when you absolutely need one.

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2) an expensive full size hair straightener. it pains me to report this to the internet, but that thing fizzled out the moment i plugged it in on day 1 of the adventure. it was too wimpy for powerful UK sockets, i’m afraid.

lesson i learned: purchase a mini hair straightener instead if you must, like me, utilize this hair tool. it takes up half the room in your bag, it’s much cheaper, and although the iron part is over 50% smaller than the old one, turns out i don’t need a huge iron. i will never go back to full size.

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3) a dinky-ass little flashlight keychain. of course i knew having a flashlight would be very useful. but not one that has no power whatsoever. this took up space in my bag for way too long.

lesson learned: if you will be outdoors a lot, just bring a thin compact high quality flashlight. if it’s not that kind of trip, don’t bother. (i had a heavier metal one back home that was super high quality but didn’t bring it because i suspected it would weigh me down)

the top three things i obtained while in europe…

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1) kindle paperwhite. this device has truly been a godsend. i brought three paperbacks with me, alex brought three of his own, and after that….. it was like….. now what? i found myself in prague unemployed in the middle of winter with a lot of time on my hands. although i was never keen to join the kindle movement, as soon as i received one for valentines’ day (thanks mom!) it has been truly the best. and it is the only way to go on long-term backpacking style trips. you can’t afford the  book space. also, it is absolutely impossible to find english books of a decent price in the czech republic. now i check out books all the time from good ol SPL and they arrive wirelessly to my kindle. whoa……

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2) my scottish-icelandic sweater. i had wanted an icelandic sweater for over a year before i got this one in armadale on the isle of skye. it was expensive, as it was hand-knit by a woman named mrs. davidson in her own living room in edinburgh, but sooooo worth it. for a whole week after if i was not wearing it, i layed it out near the bed so i could look at it. it was a very welcome addition to my meager cold-weather wardrobe and i always wore it on travel days to cut down on backpack bulk.

3) maybe it will be my new guitar? beautiful zara winter coat? this beautiful apartment we live it? my TEFL knowledge?

top three ways i have saved $$$ on this adventure…

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1) shopping at discount supermarkets like LIDL. i first found out the genius of LIDL while living in berlin. EVERYTHING is so cheap! and shopping is a breeze because there is pretty much only one kind of item to buy. one spaghetti, 5 different cereals, 2 different spaghetti sauces, one kind of apples, two kinds of dish soap. (similar in a way to trader joe’s, who actually is owned by aldi!) we tried out german chain kaufland a week ago and it was a near disaster. there were too many kinds of everything, more expensive, and it took us an hour to go through all the aisles to make sure we didn’t forget anything. it was terrible and all i wanted was to be at LIDL. i’ve calculated that we spend roughly $60 per week for the two of us, sometimes less. of course there are certain things i go to other stores to find (lime juice, kombucha, tofu, avacados, decaf instant coffee) but the lot of it is all discount.

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2) we cook a lot. (above, my lunch last tuesday: open faced salmon sandwich, couscous n’ snap peas, almond milk) although the price of going out to eat can be ridiculously low (our favorite local czech lunch joint, u tri sedlacku, costs us about $5 each for a drink, a soup, and a large entree). we usually go out only once a week. and cooking really helps offset other costs while on the road. in vienna where we stayed for three nights, one of the nights we cooked tortellini and ate leftovers. this helped with the cost of having a delicious sushi dinner at one of my favorite restaurants the next day.

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3) we have our own video entertainment. (ahh a cozy fire and the office in knipoch, scotland) alex is smart and loaded up a ton of TV shows and movies on the netbook. i have quite a lot on my portable passport hard drive. we don’t need to pay money to get TV shows or go out to the movies, which can save a lot of money. all you need is an internet connection, my friends. although the cinema is worth it sometimes if you wanna be fancy… like seeing skyfall opening week with a theater full of germans who got along perfectly without subtitles. amazing.

and lastly,

a few ways i learned the hard way…

1) not printing out my train ticket. i was silly enough to think that deutsche bahn (german national rail system) was hip enough to the times that i could show the conductor a PDF of my ticket on my computer or mobile. no siree, he made me pay over $100 on the spot for two more tickets, much more than i had paid for the original tickets! this was the lowest point for me.

lesson learned: do yourself a favor and take the time to print out your documents. even if you have to go to a print shop and struggle with the local language.

2) not validating my tram ticket. czech bus and tram tickets are pre-purchased at a kiosk and you must validate them immediately when entering your transport. my very last day in prague (after my monthly transit pass expired and i had no intention of renewing), i had my ticket but forgot to validate it. sure enough, the controller told me i had to pay a 1000czk fine. i only had about 300czk in my wallet at the time and feigned confused american tourist. he insisted we go to an ATM so i could pay the rest, and there was no way i was letting that happen. he reluctantly let me off with confiscating only my 300czk.

lesson learned: never “schwarzfahr” or ride without a validated ticket or pass. always get a ticket, always validate it. that one time you don’t will likely be the time you get caught. ‘cause that’s just how the world works.

3) paying for cab fare and getting ripped off twice. czech cabs are expensive as it is, and even more so when they realize you’re american. however we made a couple poorly estimated decisions on how long it takes to get around prague when it mattered the most.

lesson learned: don’t take cabs unless it is an emergency. always give yourself plenty of time to get anywhere– being early never hurt anyone. use public transportation!

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(on a thames cruise…. that unexpectedly went for three hours all the way to greenwich! whoops.)

really, that’s it. i’ve had pretty great luck so far. doing your research, being flexible, being diligent with your budget, and having a few czech speaking contacts willing to help will go a long way! also, knowing how to speak german has helped me on more occasions than i can count. with every trip that passes, one becomes a better traveler through learning from past experiences both good and bad.

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