Monday, November 24, 2014

Where to Stay

Sleeping is one of my favorite things in the world, but that doesn't mean it is an easy thing to make happen. It can be tricky to find a place to sleep that meets all your expense, comfort and location standards. There are many ways to meet these needs, it just depends what you are looking for.

Overnight Trains
One of the most efficient ways to sleep, overnight trains allow you to sleep while you travel. Prices are pretty close to what you would be paying at a hotel, but are usually more expensive than a hostel. Sleeper cars always require the purchase of reservations, even if you are using a Eurail pass.

A Friend of your Friend’s House - 
If you are humble and are ok in milk awkward situations, this can be a great way to not only save money, but to have a great time. People are weary of “inconveniencing others” by staying at their house, but especially while traveling around the country as a kid, I realized how much more fun it is to stay at people’s houses, and I’m sure a good portion of them enjoy it too. Building connections and relationships is a great way to enable this methodology. It’s a favor based thing, but can lead to great friendships and great times. Plus, you automatically get a turgid who know the area and can (hopefully) help you out if you run into problems. The some ways to pay someone back are 
1. Cooking dinner.
2. Buy them a case of beer.
3. Inviting them to stay at your house sometime. 
Give it a shot. I can guarantee you will have some great times and stories.

Couch Surfing - 
This is an emerging, yet slightly sketchy way of spending the night. Its a completely favor-based system that is cheap and interesting, but slightly dangerous. The idea is that you spend a night or two at a registered person’s house, they are rated by people on the site as good or bad hosts/hostesses. You would then also be registered as a good or bad tenant and/or host. So basically its a crowd-sourced hostel. I would personally think of this as a last minute solution. I have never used this method myself, but I have heard from a few friends that it can be a cool experience.

Hostels - 
The cheapest and probably most popular method of spending the night, hostels can range from a terrifying, to quite pleasant experience. Hostels are different from hotels because they are lower quality, you usually share a room with other tenants. NOTE: Many hostels operate on a per-person basis, so its a big deal if you try to cram more people into a room. Many hostels and hotels will require your passport to be copied for some reason. If you happen to be one person over, many places will give you a cot for that person, but some places will make you buy an additional room. So its important to find out how many people will be traveling with you.

Hotels - 
Usually the most expensive option, but most luxurious, hotels are generally the same across the board. Hotels are nice, if you can afford it and if you don't want to worry about anything going wrong. Of course, there is no promise of disaster not striking, but chances are, if you are willing to shell out the money, you can avoid the headaches. I find hotels unimaginative, and a very lame answer to the call for adventure. If this is the way you travel, good for you, but in my mind, I see it as a cop-out.

Apartments - 
Definitely my favorite method of obtaining rest. Apartments can be very affordable depending on the weekend you book it for and how many people you are traveling with. I have had both good and bad experiences. My best experience was in Barcelona, where were in a 5-person apartment that had everything we could possibly need. It was a 10-minute walk from the largest supermarket I have seen in my life. Once we figured out that the hot water heater had to be turned on, the shower was nice too. Unfortunately, the same didn't happen in Paris. We talked with the landlord at 6pm, letting him know that we would be in at about 10:30PM. Upon arriving in Paris, I called him, to confirm our arrival. He didn’t answer. I called again. Nothing. 57 calls and 4 hours later, still nothing. Worst night of my life. We had been traveling for close to 24 hours straight. We were beyond tired. Luckily a nice Parisian girl invited us into her apartment, gave us some tea and helped us call a taxi for the train station. We got to the train station at about 3am, and non of us were happy at all. Tension was high.

And another thing, you can save money on breakfast, if you try to find hotels or hostels that provide breakfast. Every once and a while you might even find a place that includes dinner too. It can range from free to cheap to expensive. It's worth looking into as you try to find your lodging quarters for your trips.



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Figuring out Food.

Food. Man’s best friend. While traveling, food can be your best friend and your worst enemy, ranging from delicious gnocchi in Venice to some much regretted McDonald’s on the go. Food is a hassle regardless of where you are traveling. Where do we eat? What do we eat? When do we eat? How much should we spend? There are many questions that make such an enjoyable experience very overwhelming.

Order a water. One of the best ways to save money is to order a water as your beverage, in most restaurants the tap water is free, and while it may not be half as exciting as a cool, sophisticated glass of beer, it is much cheaper than said beer. Especially over a period of a couple days, this trick can add up pretty quick to a hefty amount. In addition, staying hydrated while on the go makes you feel better and can help you feel more satisfied after a meal.

Super-markets. Even though its totally not what you want to do, going to buy food at a supermarket is honestly the greatest way to save money. When I was on a ten day trip through Europe, me and 3 others bought enough food for all of us to eat for 2 days, for the amount it would cost just to eat one meal out at a restaurant. If you plan on doing any cooking, make sure you get the hotels or apartments that have a kitchen of some sort that includes kitchen supplies as well.

Find The Outskirts. If you are in a prime tourist area, like a hotel overlooking the eiffel tower, you are going to be spending a lot of money ion food. There is no way around it. That is why finding smaller cities or staying outside of the city center may be worth it because food will be much cheaper in those areas.

I will admit, when ever I am trying to decide on food, I find myself making decisions based on money more than anything else. Part of it is just way I think, the other part is that I usually don't have tons of money to spend. I will say there were a few times that I spent more money than I wanted to a restaurants, but it was totally worth it. I definitely encourage you to eat out a few times, especially if you haven't eaten the local food. The same goes for trying out local beers and wines, especially while traveling through Europe, a large part of why we go to Europe is to try the different selections of food and drink. So don't miss any opportunities by being to stingy with the pocketbook. Live a little.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Friend or Foe? (Finding the right people to travel with)

Traveling can be exponentially more fun if you get to travel with people. That being said, it can also be brutally more horrifying if you travel with the wrong people. Having traveled Europe with numerous friends I personally not only love traveling with friends, but traveling by myself has really proved to be a learning experience, one that should not go untested.

There are certain people who are not open to new experiences. They may deny it, and have no problem trying out the same thing over and over, but at the end of the day they are just going to hold you back and prevent you from living in the moment and taking in all the raw culture you have at your fingertips. Most of the time any opportunity to travel will be rare and brief. Don’t let someone mess it up for you.

1. Beware the Friends. Friends are great, but that doesn't mean that they are all good to travel with. Everybody has a different personality and thats okay. That’s the way we were made. Not to mention sometimes it’s healthy to try traveling with new people. Traveling is a chance to throw yourself into something new, so don't suppress it with old habits.

2. The half-friends. You don’t always have to travel with just friends. Traveling is a great opportunity to invite all those “half-friends” (people who have not yet made it into that inner circle of your life) and helps bring them to the next level. I enjoy meeting new people and traveling with someone builds powerful bonds. Some of my best friends were made traveling abroad. I can’t imagine not knowing them now.

3. Coasters. There is a certain breed of individual, that feeds off the hard work of others. Assuming this isn’t you, you are probably not looking to travel with people like these. Be aware of the personalities of the people you plan on traveling with, some really great and amazing people may not make the best traveling buddies. So take into account the potential overall dynamic of the group, before you jump into things.

4. Travel Alone. Some of my best memories are traveling alone from Barcelona, to The Netherlands, and then back to Austria. There is something very resilient in going out on your own and pushing yourself to be independent. Of course its probably going to be much more intimidating, but in the end it will be worth it, because it gives you a chance to do exactly what you want to do, without pressure from somebody else.

Regardless of who you end up traveling with, you learn from every trip. Thats the beauty of traveling. Everything can work out perfectly and you can have a great time. You can make plenty of mistakes and have crazy stories to tell. Even if its absolutely miserable, you will always remember that trip and (hopefully) you won’t make the same mistake twice.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Assimilating to Airlines.

Traveling by plane is usually a necessity to get to Europe, especially if you are coming from a place that is not Europe. Tah-dah. The international flight was the most overwhelming to me, just because I always had the fear that I would somehow not make it to Europe. And dying. There’s always fear of dying. All joking aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my international flight, despite it’s length and bad reputation. The Austrian Airline attendants were super hospitable and the food was not half bad. The plane also had movies, as well as a USB Charger port for my phone.

Once in Europe, I initially wasn't too crazy about traveling by plane, mainly because shooting through the sky in an unpredictable metal tube is pretty terrifying. On the other hand, taking a plane can be much faster. You already knew that. But did you know this?

Flying is (usually) cheaper.

I had no idea this was possible. If you're smart you can maximize you travel efficiency (in regards to money and time). 

Trains can be very expensive, and especially if you are traveling over night, reservations and sleeper cars get pretty pricy. Granted, trains are nice because they are almost always on time and you don't have to wade through the waves of security for hours before departure, but sometimes it might be worth it. Of course, flying is not allay the least expensive route, it all depends on the airline and where you are flying to. RyanAir has super dirt-cheap flights, that are much faster than a train. Even if you train to a city and then fly back, it saves you a lot of time and can be worth it. Here are some tips you may find useful.

  1. Don’t bring more than you need. Checked bags will be the bane of your existence. Don’t do it. I have found that I can bring more than enough in a single carry-on bag. If you are looking to buy a nice travel pack, there are plenty that are specifically designed for maximizing carry-on capacity. I bought one from for like $100 that worked perfectly. I never had a problem with not having enough stuff or my bag being too big. Also, it really helps to organize what is in your bag. That way, if you get randomly selected for a humiliating security check, it will be mildly less unpleasant.
  2. Early flights aren't always the best flights. Sure its nice to hit the road early, but you might want to think twice before booking that 7am flight. I have made the mistake more than once of leaving early, thus having to wake up at 2:30am, take sketchy night busses for the 2 hour trip to the airport, only to be exhausted for the rest of the day. Most metro systems don't open until 5am-6am, so night busses or overpriced taxis are your only option. But that’s your call.
  3. The earlier you book, the better. I could be wrong, but in all the scenarios i’ve encountered, the price shoots up as you approach your departure day. Just be aware of this as you plan out your trips.
  4. Printing tickets can be a hassle, be aware of smartphone “digital tickets” and hotels and libraries that will let you print tickets. RyanAir, which is the cheapest airline, charges you for printing your tickets, and it usually means you will be standing in line behind someone for a little while. In, addition for all you Americans and other non-E.U. members, you must get your ticket and passport pre-approved at the ticket desk before going through security, this is a pretty easy process, but finding the right desk can be a little confusing. My best advice would be to look for signs and ask attendants for help, most of them will know enough english to help you out.

Take all of this with a grain of salt, seeing that I haven’t flow excessively in Europe. All of those trips were with RyanAir as well, so the amount of data is rather small. That being said, my point is mainly to make you aware possibly pitfalls, so don't disregard everything I say.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

All About Trains.

Trains are the epitome of traveling. They have been getting us from one place to another ever since covered wagons were in style. Now with the emerging technology of Mag-Lev (Magnetic Levitation) and other high-speed trains, trains still remain the king of efficient and fast transportation. 

Unfortunately, in the United States, trains are not at all used like they should be. One of the main lines is Amtrak, which tends to be rather expensive. It’s usually cheaper than air, but quite a bit more expensive than driving, and some bus lines. Most of this is due to limited regions of train stops, and American’s desire to drive their own cars whenever humanly possible. In Europe, on the other hand, train travel is much more common and heavily implemented. Here are some reasons that train travel may be for you.
  1. Trains are on time. Except for a few instances and places, trains generally pride themselves on being on time. Unlike the air industry, there is a strict adherence to the clock and you can usually rely on it being there when you need it to.
  2. Trains are easy. Gone are the days of intrusive security measures and awkward baggage checks. All you have to do is show up at the station and hop on the train. Your ticket is checked once on the train, and possibly before you get onto the terminal, but other than that, you could show up ten minutes before your train leaves and have nothing to worry about. Now with digital tickets, I don't even have hassle with printing tickets. I can keep it all on my phone. Most trains also have electrical outlets, snack carts and occasionally Wi-Fi.
  3. Trains are fun. I personally love trains. The seats are generally comfortable, and if you are lucky, you might get one with a table. My favorite is getting a six-person room with a bunch of friends. Taking a train can be like getting a bonus tour of the countryside that you would normally never see. I will never forget the amazing ride along the French/Spanish coast, on my way to Barcelona. Absolutely amazing. Looking out those enormous windows was like being inside a national Geographic magazine.

In terms of prices go, it all depends on where and when you are going. I have found that the earlier you reserve/buy tickets, the cheaper then tend to be. Keep an eye out for discount memberships, such as the VorteilsCard that I got while in Austria that took 50% off train tickets  in Austria and 25% on participating trains outside of Austria. 

In addition, there are rail passes, that are great for extend stay trips or long distance travels. I used the Eurail Pass while in Europe. There are numerous options and plans available. I purchased the “15 days of travel within 2 months” plan, I didn't end up using all of the days, but it definitely was a great purchase. 

One word of WARNING: Just because you have a Eurail, doesn't mean that you can travel wherever you want for free. Many times the high-speed trains will require a reservation ahead of time, which usually costs money, especially on over-night trains. I found that both France and Spain were especially difficult about making reservations and were pretty expensive, even with the Eurail pass 

PRO-TripTip: Use Trains in junction with planes. I found that it was MUCH cheaper to train to cities that had cheap flights to other cities. For example, I took trains from Austria, to Paris, to Barcelona, and then took a $55 flight to Brussels and then trained back to Austria from there. Not only did I save TONS of money, but I saved time and got to see cities that were farther away from each other. Definitely worth looking into. I will be discussing air travel next week, so stay tuned!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tripping for the First Time.

Going on a big trip is intimidating. Almost any time I travel to a new place I get stressed. It's part of the experience. At first it used to annoy me, but then I started to realize how it is okay to be stressed. It's just our body's way of coping with the unexpected. For me, traveling has always been a thing, my family would take trips across the country to New Your every single summer. Traveling in Europe. I’ve just always been accustomed to being in new places and having to deal with possibly difficult situations.

The first thing to know about traveling is that you need to be organized. You need to have your ‘ish’ together. Every trip is going to have it’s share of surprises and things you didn't expect. 
  1. You can’t control the variables.
  2. You can control your own variables.
Making sure you have a place to stay, money to spend, and things to do is something you are responsible for, and if you do everything right, you can save yourself a lot of unhappiness. Traveling Abroad is probably the most difficult, mainly just because the language and culture is quite different than out own. There are many online resources for planning a successful trip. Here are a few that I found particularly useful while in Europe:


Trains and Buses




For traveling in the United States, things are usually quite different and much less intimidating. Taking a car may be the norm, but you never know when a train or flight could be cheaper and/or faster.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Trouble with Tourists.

Hello, my name is Patrick. I am by no means an expert traveler. I have traveled often and relatively far, but I still have much to learn. I do, however, enjoy paying attention to detail, and finding ways to live my life more efficiently. At this point, I figured I would share some of my findings with my fellow travelers, as traveling is one of most time consuming and usually overwhelming activities we get ourselves into.
One of my pet peeves is being considered a tourist. I hate it. I refuse to ever stoop to that level. I am sickened by the loud, obnoxious, shutter happy, poorly dressed, social invaders that plague most famous sights in the world. Now I’m not judging everyone. Just some people. The people who don’t have respect for the homes and cities of others. Those who are only looking out for themselves and disregard any kind of laws or rules to put in place for their protection and the protection of others. There is a human standard that is being broken here, and it’s sure time it was fixed.
I just recently got back from Europe, but that doesn't mean that our troublesome tourists are not among us as we speak. They loiter and wander in our very own towns and local establishments, feeding into the vicious love-hate relationship between the tourist’s pocketbook and the local business owner’s income statement. Have you ever stopped to think that you may be one of those people? This may be you. You may be guilty. You can still repent. You too can travel and remain invisible to the wonders of the world. 

Whether it was from online resources, people I met, or just good ‘ol trial and error, I hope to share with you all the tips and tricks that I have learned, so that you can have the best travel experience possible.