Over the course of my life, I’ve visited sixteen countries. I had the goal of visiting 30 countries before my 30th birthday, but with the onset of pandemic travel restrictions, I switched gears to visit 30 states before my 30th, which I’m happy to have accomplished! Maybe one day I’ll share the list of states I’ve visited, but today, I’d like to tell you about my sixteen countries. Who knows? I hope in ten years’ time, I can tell you the 40 countries I visited before my 40th birthday!
United States- I was born and raised and have lived here all my life. I’ve lived in Oregon, California, Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado, and Missouri, and most recently have returned to the state of my toddler years, California. As for states I’ve visited, well… as I just mentioned, I’ve been to over 30 of them (33 to date), so we’ll save that for another time!
Mexico- For many Americans, their first time out of the country was a trip to Mexico. That was true for me: when I was 14, my family went on a cruise with stops in Ensenada and Cabo San Lucas. I’ve been to Mexico many times since, including a couple of mission trips. I currently live 30 miles from the Tecate border, so sometimes I go for a few hours just to enjoy the food! My most recent trip was similar to the first: a cruise with my coworkers to Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, and Cabo San Lucas.
Peru- I took two mission trips to Peru with my church youth group. We partnered with Posada de Amor Children’s Home and Eliel Christian School in Cieneguilla. On both trips, we also spent a day in the capital city, Lima.
Canada- Despite being the world’s second largest country in size and one that’s fairly easy for Americans to access, I’ve only visited a small piece of this country. While on a trip to Niagara Falls, I crossed the border a couple of times and even spent a night there.
France- My first European nation! I started off my first overseas backpacking trip in Paris. After a detour into Spain, I returned to see the southern part of this country in Nice.
Monaco- My main reason for going to Nice wasn’t to see France, but to see the world’s second-smallest country. There are no hostels or any sort of affordable accommodation in this country, so I settled on a day trip. As it turns out, a day is all you need to see pretty much everything in this nation.
Italy- I’ve spent more time in Italy than any other European country. For nearly a month, I explored cities such as Venice, Verona, Florence, Pisa, and Rome. And I saw just about everything there was to see in each of these places! But I still have a list of more places I want to go to and see if I ever get the chance to return.
Vatican- No trip to Rome is complete without venturing into the world’s smallest nation. I border-hopped several times, and saw the Pope on two occasions!
Greece- From Italy, I took a big, long ferry to Greece, then rode buses and trains around, so I saw a lot of the countryside. But I spent most of my time in Athens and Thessaloniki.
Turkey- Although I only visited Istanbul, this city allowed me to be in both Europe and Asia! In fact, to date, it’s the only part of Asia I’ve been to. (For those of you counting, that’s a grand total of four continents.)
Ireland- Several years after my first European trek with no international trips, I was itching to get back to Europe. I spent a week headquartered in Dublin, but took side trips throughout this beautiful island country.
The Bahamas- Before my trip to the British Isles, I was doing savings challenges to get enough money for that trip. While doing so, I stumbled onto a great deal for a Carnival Cruise. I chose to go to The Bahamas, with an itinerary that included Princess Cays (Eleuthera), Nassau (New Providence), and Freeport (Grand Bahama).
Germany- I started off my third European adventure in Munich. From there, I explored Bavaria in places like Fussen (home of Neuschwanstein Castle) and a national park resort where I volunteered in an English immersion program. I had planned to do more around the country, but ultimately, the only other place I ended up visiting was Frankfurt. I’ll explain why with the next country…
Austria- The first time I set foot in Austria was when I was on foot from Germany. I was in Fussen and decided to walk across the border through the beautiful German-Austrian Alps. A couple of weeks later, I got to visit Austria “for real” by going into Salzburg. However, even that was short-lived as coronavirus was quickly shutting everything down; I had to cut my trip short after barely escaping Salzburg!
It’s been a sweet life traveling to a sweet sixteen countries. What will be number seventeen? I’m looking into a few options for my next overseas trip that will include visiting a different country. I hope to update you on that soon. I only have nine years to check off 24 more countries if I want to reach 40 before 40!
How many countries have YOU been to? Even if it’s only one, share in the comments, and let me know which country you’d like to visit next!
Backpacking Europe on the brink of a pandemic sure brought on a lot of interesting travel experiences! I think the most unusual was what was supposed to be a week-long trip to Salzburg, Austria: home of The Sound of Music.
My original plan was to start in Bavaria, Germany, then go to Salzburg, Italy, Switzerland, and back through Austria on my way to seven other countries. When I realized that Italy was no longer a possibility due to safety concerns, I restructured my time in Switzerland and Austria, including adding a sixth night to my five nights in Salzburg. A week later, the seven other countries I wanted to go to were no longer an option due to border closures. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would go to a different part of Europe, explore Germany, Austria, and Switzerland more deeply until the borders started reopening, or fly home early, but since Salzburg was next on my schedule and still available, I would head that way and figure out what to do from there.
I had literally just checked out of a Munich hostel and was headed to the bus station for Salzburg, but decided to check my email while still connected to the hostel WiFi. I’m glad I did, as the Salzburg hostel sent me an email at that exact moment! It read:
How are you?
Unfortunately we have to cancel your bookings from the 16th of March till the 14th of April 2020.
So that means that you just can stay two nights with us!!
The hostel and actually all of the accommodations in the county of Salzburg have to shut down due to safety precautions. The parliament decided to take stricter measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus.
We are very sorry that we can’t accommodate you this time.
Thanks for understanding.
We hope to see you another time here in Salzburg.
I considered turning around and checking back into the Munich hostel. But what good would that do? I decided to make the most of the two nights I would have in Salzburg. After the bus left the Munich station, I reconnected to Flixbus’ WiFi and started researching what to do.
With all the museums in Salzburg closed, I wouldn’t need the three-day museum pass that I was planning to buy. That meant I could do everything else I’d been planning to do in two nights, or three days. I decided to stay as long as I could on the last day and take the last bus back into Munich unless I could find another destination from Salzburg. Flixbus ran the Munich-Salzburg route back and forth several times throughout the day. So once I talked with the hostel about how late I was allowed to check out on March 16th, I would figure out which bus to take then.
Flixbus actually dropped us off a few miles outside away from my hostel. I asked a young, English speaking local how to take the city bus to Mirabelle Gardens, which was the bus stop closest to the hostel. She told me the bus number to take and even saved me money by telling me to buy a ticket from the kiosk instead of from the bus driver.
As I rode into town, I enjoyed the scenery. The scenery on the ride from Germany into Austria was beautiful the few times I looked up, but I was so busy stressing out and researching ideas that I hadn’t had much time for viewing then. But now on this short ride, I saw the mountains, the castle, and people filling the streets. When I got off at my bus stop, I walked in the opposite direction from Mirabelle Gardens, knowing I’d go back there as soon as I checked in and dropped off my suitcase. And that’s exactly what I did.
The Hills Are Alive
While many Austrians hate “The Sound of Music”, it sure does a lot for the tourism industry in Salzburg. That’s because it’s the setting for the classic movie, and some scenes were even filmed on location. There is a Sound of Music Tour that seemed to be the only tourist activity that was still running during my weekend there, but in order to practice social distancing (and save some money), I decided to see the sights on my own.
Mirabelle Gardens, just a short walk from YoHo Hostel and thus my most-visited site in Salzburg, can be seen toward the end of the famous “Do Re Mi” song. Julie Andrews and the seven Von Trapp children run through a garden tunnel, march around a fountain featuring a pegasus statue, and then hop up the famous unicorn-guarded Do-Re-Mi Steps before finishing the song on a literal high note. I got to see all these filming locations, plus step inside parts of the Mirabelle Palace.
The Hills surround Salzburg. Although I didn’t hear the sound of music while hiking them, I enjoyed spending several hours walking around the city from this height. I found some art pieces, churches, and even a green grassy hill that looked similar to the opening scene of “The Sound of Music.” (The real location for that scene is on private property in Germany.)
The Castle makes a couple appearances in establishing shots of the film, but its history and magnificence are so much more. While home to several museums that were all closed during my visit, I did get free range of the castle grounds, including walking around inside its walls. It was my final destination uphill, but I walked down to a fabulous area.
Saint Peter’s Cemetery, just downhill at the foot of the castle, seemed oddly familiar, even though I knew I hadn’t seen it before. It turned out that it served as inspiration for the cemetery where the Von Trapp family hid before escaping to the mountains. However, that scene of the movie was played out on a film lot instead of on-location. The real site is even more beautiful, filled with miniature gardens tended by the survivors of the departed. While the cemetery is clearly named after the adjacent Saint Peter’s Church, it is surrounded by a total of three churches.
Downtown Salzburg was an interesting place to take a Rick Steves audio tour. Naturally, most attractions in this area were closed during this time, but even the shops that were open were closing down as the sun set. Still, lots of people were walking around just because it’s such a fun place to explore. The Von Trapps enjoyed exploring this area too. In the movie, just before the kids learn how to sing, the explore their town in their play clothes made of curtains, including buying produce from the downtown open-air markets.
Toscanini Hof is the festival hall where the Von Trapps sang “Edelweiss” before escaping the Nazis. I should use this moment to point out that “Edelweiss” is not a true Austrian song and was made just for the musical. But this festival hall is really real and really historic.
YoHo didn’t come along until long after everything else I saw in Salzburg, but it’s worth mentioning since it was where I was staying. This hostel offers a free apfelstudel shot, free salad in the evening, and free toast in the morning. But they’re best known for probably being the only accommodation in the world to show “The Sound of Music” every single night in their theater. I settled in to watch the 3-hour movie while stress-eating a chocolate bar and casually researching what to do once I got back to Germany, which was where I decided I was going to go when I got kicked out of the hostel. But it was fun to watch the movie with a new perspective, noticing all the locations I had been to earlier, and getting ideas for where else I still needed to go. When the movie ended, I went to bed. I was in a six-bed female dorm, but it turned out that I was the only one staying that night. Maybe that should have been a sign to leave sooner.
Nonnberg Abbey involved another hike up the hill first thing in the morning. But since I decided to better practice social distancing on this day, I wanted to go to more out-of-the-way attractions. While this wasn’t the abbey used in “The Sound of Music”, this is the real-life abbey that the real-life Maria was a novice at, but then left to go live with the Von Trapps. It was the perfect place to social distance: the entire time I was there, I only saw one nun who came into the sanctuary, set up some things, and then promptly left. And this was a Sunday morning! I considered joining this abbey like Maria did, just as an attempt to get away from all the crazy going on in the world!
Schloss Leopoldskron was one of the mansions used in the movie. The Von Trapp mansion from the movie is actually three different locations: one for the front, one for the back (which is up against a lake), and then the interior which was actually just a soundstage. This mansion is the one used for the front exterior shots, making it our first view of the Von Trapp property in the movie’s runtime. It was a nice, sunny walk out there, but the property was only open to guests of the hotel.
Hellbrunn Gardens is pretty far outside of the main part of town, but I enjoyed the nature path to get there. Although the gardens and palace are not featured in “The Sound of Music” there is a very important movie prop located there. The song “16 going on 17” takes place in a gazebo that the movie producers gifted to Salzburg. The city of Salzburg decided to place it in Hellbrunn.
Villa Trapp was the final Sound of Music-themed location I visited, but it was not featured in the movie at all. Even the star, Julie Andrews, hadn’t seen this location until just a few years ago. This is the mansion that belonged to the REAL Von Trapp family. It’s not as big and flashy as the other mansion was, but this one is also a hotel now, and I was able to sneak onto the grounds for a few minutes. The movie took a lot of liberties when compared to what happened to the family in real life.
More Music with Mozart
Salzburg was a musical city long before the Von Trapps came to town. Globally, Salzburg is even better known as the birthplace of the classic composer Mozart. Mozartplatz is a big centrally-located pedestrian square with a statue of the namesake’s likeness. I walked by his birthplace downtown, though with the closures all you could really see was the place where you could normally buy tickets. I also went to another house where he lived until he left Salzburg. Unfortunately, he left his hometown in bad circumstances. Come to think of it, the Von Trapps left under bad circumstances too. And as it turned out, I also left Salzburg under bad circumstances.
After a long day of walking, I settled back into YoHo for the evening. I was trying to decide what Austrian food to order from the hostel restaurant when it opened, and looking forward to another night featuring “The Sound of Music.” While I waited, I figured this would be a good time to schedule my return trip to Germany.
There were always several buses between Salzburg and Munich, and my double-decker ride there only had seven passengers. But when I opened the Flixbus app, there weren’t any buses scheduled for the next day. Or the next. Or the next. In fact, there was only one ride available at all, scheduled for that evening.
I quickly searched the news to see what was going on. Germany was closing their border with Austria with only a few hours’ notice. I had to get back that night, or else I’d be a homeless refugee!
The Flixbus app was having some issue where I couldn’t book a seat on the remaining bus. I tried on my phone’s browser, and I had the same issue. I even tried using the hostel’s desktop computer, but the problem was with the website itself. When I finally could get through, even that one remaining bus ride had disappeared. I would have to take the train, for more than five times the price of a bus ticket. I’d also lose out on what I spent on that night’s booking and have to pay for an additional hostel back in Munich, but it was a small price to pay to escape the crazy situation.
I hadn’t been to the train station yet, but it wasn’t too far from YoHo, so it was easy to walk there even with my luggage. A receptionist at the hostel had told me the best kind of ticket to buy to get back to Munich, so after entering the large, modern-style station, I found a kiosk and did as he told me. But I was confused by the ticket and where to go to catch my train. I found two cute Germans who also spoke English to help me out. After a while of waiting and worrying, I was soon on the train and zipping out of Austria, just in time.
I had already stayed at two different hostels in Munich, but that night, I checked into yet another hostel. I only booked one night, but in reality I had no idea what I’d be doing the next day, or if I even could extend my stay. But I knew that it was time to start figuring out how to get home early, even if it cost me a lot extra in buying a brand-new ticket. It turned out that many of the guests at this hostel had also just rushed back from Austria and were stressing out about what to do. Instead of figuring out how to rearrange our travels as we had previously done, we were now focused on getting back to our home countries.
Relating to the Von Trapps
On the train ride, I realized that my experience escaping Salzburg was similar to the Von Trapps. Now, the real Von Trapps and the movie Von Trapps both escaped Austria in very different ways, but somehow I related to both of them.
In the movie, when Captain Von Trapp is hiding his family in the cemetery and speaking with the nuns about what to do, he looks out to a distant mountain, and declares that his family will climb over it to get to Switzerland. Unfortunately, Switzerland is pretty far away from Salzburg, and you can’t see the Swiss Alps from this city. If that was the mountain they climbed, they would be headed right into Germany! That would be a terrible idea for them at the time, but escaping to Germany was the best option for me. (I had to cancel the Switzerland portion of my trip that day since Germany was also closing borders with them.)
The real Von Trapps’ actual escape wasn’t quite so dramatic. They left their mansion with backpacks and went to the train station. It wasn’t the same train station I went to. In fact, I saw where there used to be a stop very close to their house. That train thankfully didn’t take them into Germany, nor did it go to Switzerland. It went to Italy. Italy was originally going to be my next stop, but in my situation, going into Italy would lead to more danger instead of taking me away from it. I probably relate to the real story more because even though it’s urgent, scary, and stressful, it isn’t too dramatic. So you’ll probably never see my Salzburg escape on the silver screen. But at least I didn’t have to climb every mountain!
I had to start this post over and over again. Every day, there were new developments announced in the news, and what I had previously saved in drafts was no longer applicable. But here’s what happened: I started what was supposed to be an extended European trip in late February.
Just a couple days before leaving, I heard that the coronavirus, which previously was only really an issue in China, was now infecting parts of Northern Italy, particularly the two cities I was going to visit: Milan and Venice. Thankfully, I was landing in Munich, where at the time there had only been a few cases that were already treated. I left on my trip, knowing that I would need to keep an eye on the news to see if I needed to rearrange my plans with Italy. But since my time in Northern Italy was a month away, I was hopeful that the coronavirus outbreak would be taken care of by then.
I wasn’t even one week into my trip when I cancelled all my plans in Italy. The numbers kept on growing every day, with no sign of an end. But I was only going to be there for one full day, so it was easy to rearrange my plans
I continued traveling Bavaria, Germany. There were no signs of an epidemic there. No one was wearing gloves (other than winter gloves on cold days) and the only ones wearing masks were extra-cautious foreign travelers. But obviously they were still traveling, and so was I. I spent a week seeing so many of the open museums in Munich. Then I went to Fuessen, where I walked right up to the ticket counter and got tickets to see the famous Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles. (It should have been a clue that the ticketing office was set up with really long queues, but I just figured that I arrived early and it was still off-season.) I went back to Munich for two more nights before heading to the Bavarian countryside near the little town of Eichstatt to volunteer with the Englischhausen language immersion program.
Before the program, the director e-mailed us all asking if we had any of the common symptoms of coronavirus. During the program, we chose to bump elbows instead of hug or shake hands. But we weren’t really concerned with catching it from our small group or the staff at our hotel, so even though it was an intense immersion program, it was fairly relaxing compared to everything that was going on in the rest of the world that week.
Since the native English speakers’ job at Englischhausen was simply to speak English all day, we started the week out by talking about our jobs, our families, and topics like that. While the WiFi was spotty, I and much of the rest of the group made sure to read the news each day, and in the middle of the week we found out that the virus was now considered a global pandemic. By the end of the week, every conversation, no matter how many times we tried to change the subject, always went back to the coronavirus. When Trump announced that the US would close their borders to Europeans, I knew things were going to be different for the rest of this trip. However, since I am a US citizen and could still return for as long as planes kept flying, I thought I could still continue on my journey. I started making back-up plans; perhaps I could go to Eastern Europe or maybe even the UK if my original route didn’t work out.
On our last night there, someone announced that the Czech Republic closed their borders for a month. I was bummed; that meant I couldn’t visit the Prague Easter markets. I figured maybe I could extend my stay in Slovakia, or maybe go from Slovakia to Hungary instead. But with a Google search, I found out that Slovakia was no longer an option either. I didn’t know what to do for the rest of my trip, but my next stop of Salzburg, Austria was still open.
Arriving back to Munich seemed eerie, like it was just a shell of the city I’d seen six days prior. When I checked into the hostel, the receptionist recognized me from when I had stayed there two weeks ago. “Nothing is different,” he told me. While not much had changed within the hostel, the city definitely was different. People were still out and about, but none of the tourist attractions were open anymore. There were government notices on all the church doors saying that individual prayers and visits were okay, but services were discouraged. A couple chain stores were closed, and for the first time ever, I saw hand sanitizing stations in Europe. But no worries for me; I was headed to Austria and then Switzerland.
Going to Salzburg was actually the second time going into Austria on this trip. Since Fuessen is on the border of Germany and Austria, while I was there I enjoyed a lovely hike across the border. I saw where the border checkpoint used to be, and at the time thought how awesome it was that the European Union has such open borders between countries.
But as I headed to Salzburg, I got an email from the hostel there saying they could only host me for two nights instead of the original five. On Monday, all of the accommodations in their county had to close. I stressed out the entire bus trip there to figure out what to do after this shortened time in Salzburg, but I was determined to make the most of the time I had.
I have an upcoming special post that describes my adventure in escaping Salzburg much like the Von Trapps had to, but long story short, I ended up having to leave even earlier to avoid becoming a homeless refugee. But by this time, with all the countries that had announced border closures, in addition to all events cancelled and attractions closed, I knew it was time to start planning how to cut my trip short and go home early… if that was even possible.
I definitely didn’t expect half of this trip to be spent in Munich, but I ended up there yet again. I spent two nights there figuring out a game plan. I compared flights going out of both Munich and Frankfurt, and Frankfurt seemed to have more reasonable options. Through a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend connection, I contacted someone who lives in Frankfurt just to see what they recommended about traveling there. In turn, they offered to let me stay in their guest room for as long as I needed! While I had already cancelled all my bus trips out of frustration, I now had hundreds of dollars worth of FlixBus credit, and used some of that for a day-long trip to Frankfurt. Little did I know that the day I chose to take the bus ride was the last day that FlixBus would be operating in Germany.
My original schedule did take me through Frankfurt toward the end of my trip, but I wasn’t planning to spend too much time there. So I definitely didn’t know how I would spend several days there in the wake of the coronavirus. The recently-implemented laws in the state of Hesse definitely weren’t tourist friendly. Museums were closed. Stores and bars that didn’t sell food or other essentials were closed. Restaurants closed by 6 pm (that rule became even stricter the day I left). But I still enjoyed my time there seeing the architecture, going into the churches that were still open, and going on long walks and bike rides.
Finally, the day of my new flight arrived. I was impressed by the Frankfurt airport, except for at a security checkpoint they didn’t have a place for me to empty my reusable water bottle, and thus I had to chug the entire thing! I was trying Condor Airlines for the first time. This one-way ticket home cost me more than my original round-trip ticket with Delta. While the no-contact guidelines meant there was limited food and beverages, it still had the amenities of seatback entertainment screens and, the always hoped-for but especially appreciated when everyone’s concerned about a contagious virus, my own row with empty rows in front and back of me! I finally knew that I would make it home.
I had a six-hour layover in Seattle. I heard that the health screenings for European travelers the previous weekend took at least seven hours, but now with fewer travelers, I got through both the health screening and immigration in just minutes. The health screening seemed kind of like a joke. We just had to fill out a couple forms with our contact info and checking off where we’d been, and then someone asked me how I was feeling. They didn’t even take my temperature. So I had several hours to wait around in an airport where half the shops were closed until I could finally take my late-night flight home.
Now I’m approaching the middle of my two-week quarantine in what I call the plastic bubble, named so because there’s plastic sheeting separating my bedroom and bathroom from the rest of the house. I’m taking quarantine seriously. I even drove my own car home from the airport by myself. I went from being able to explore an entire continent to only being allowed in two rooms. But I have been keeping busy with a variety of things, including thinking about how I’ll finish my original itinerary when I get to go to Europe again!
I Didn’t Get to…. BUT
I didn’t get to see the 11 countries I came to see… but I got to see two countries that I hadn’t before.
I didn’t get to go to Milan and Venice… but I had a delicious authentic Italian pizza made by Italians at a restaurant in Fuessen. Plus, I’ve been to Italy in better times.
Christmas came a few days early for me this year! Delta Airlines sent me a check for $685.03. That extra three cents seems odd, but that’s because it’s an exchange of 600EUR, which I earned just for filling out a form and having a flight delay in Europe four years ago.
I only just found out about an EU law that says if your flight is delayed for mechanical reasons in Europe, you can request that the airline compensate you up to 600EUR. I wasn’t sure if my flight from Paris back in 2015 was outside the statutes of limitations, but I decided to check it out and fill out the form anyway. Sure enough, it worked! Part of me is kind of hoping that my flight home from my upcoming European trip will have a mechanical delay; this reimbursement check would end up being more than what the flight cost me!
While my first flight delay for a Eurotrip ended up paying me royally, I had another experience with delays on my second trip to Europe that was a nightmare. But first, since this is a Christmas blog post, let’s talk about popular movies for this time of year.
Home Alone and Home Alone 2
Oh, that Kevin! Most of us remember these Christmastime movies for the booby traps a lonely boy pulled that should have killed the two robbers multiple times over. (Remind me how this puts us in the holiday spirit?) Like many Americans, I spent part of this December watching Home Alone and Home Alone 2, while pretending that Home Alone 3, 4, and 5 never happened. (And now Disney+ is making a sixth movie? I don’t think I ever got around to seeing 4 or 5.) But this time around, something struck me in the earlier scenes of the movies.
In the original Home Alone, Kevin McCallister’s family forgets him at home on their flight to Paris. As soon as they get to Europe, his mom doesn’t even get a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as she immediately tries to turn around and go back home. Since most flights are fully booked, she has to bribe passengers and go to places other than her hometown airport in Chicago. She ends up in Scranton, which at the time was a mostly-unheard-of city, but now is pretty well-known thanks to The Office. While I spent a few more hours at the Charles de Gaulle airport than I would have liked, I’m thankful that most of my time in the area was spent enjoying Paris. I knew I couldn’t accidentally leave anyone behind because I was traveling solo.
In the sequel, the family manages to make it to the airport with Kevin, but then immediately loses him. Thanks to being a decade before 9/11, Kevin accidentally hitchhikes on a plane to New York while the rest of his family headed to Florida. Were my mom and I supposed to bring Kevin on our Christmas trip to Florida earlier this month? Oops.
What do both of the McCallister’s horrific flight mishaps have in common?
I never had a problem with American before my flight to Dublin this past May. Then again, I can’t specifically recall any flights I previously took with them before this. Now, in their defense, when everything goes exactly as planned, flying on American can be pleasant. I even got ice cream on my flight from London Heathrow to Phoenix, Arizona. But if one hiccup happens, you have to deal with their customer service. That’s where the problems happen.
I had a Chicago layover, but my flight there couldn’t land on time, supposedly due to weather. (If there’s a delay they can blame on weather, airlines aren’t entitled to compensate you anything. However, if it’s solely the airline’s fault… see my beautiful payout above.) However, I’m not entirely sure how weather-related it was because my flight to Dublin took off on time. So of course, I missed that connection.
The captain told us that if we missed our connecting flight, our new schedule would be emailed to us. The problem was, when I was boarding that plane, the gate agent took my carryon from me without any warning and told me it would be checked all the way to Dublin. Unfortunately, I had packed my charger in my carryon so I really had to conserve my cell phone battery. I hesitantly turned on my phone and checked my email, but I had no email from American Airlines.
I went to the nearest American Airlines gate agent and asked what they could do. They told me to check my email, duh. They seemed completely uninterested in helping any of the stranded passengers. But eventually, they gave me a phone number to call. At least they pointed me to some payphones when I explained my carryon and phone charger were taken away. (When I asked if I could get my carryon back, they told me probably not, but the only way to find out was to leave security and ask at the check-in desk. But, because it was so late the desk may already be closed and I wouldn’t be able to get back into the secure area.)
I called the customer service number and the first person sounded really helpful. He told me a flight was currently boarding to London Heathrow, and he could get me a ticket that had a layover there on the way to Dublin. I happily accepted, and he told me I could pick up a boarding pass from the gate agent. I dashed over to the boarding gate, but when I got there, the two gate agents said I couldn’t board. I explained that customer service just sent a ticket for me, and they said that wasn’t possible, because my original ticket was going to Dublin, not Heathrow. They told me I would have to wait until the next night for the next Dublin flight. I still wonder what really happened between that customer service agent and those gate agents.
I ran back to the phones and called customer service again. That representative confirmed that they weren’t allowed to reschedule me on the Heathrow flight and didn’t know what the other customer service rep was talking about. This rep apparently tried to find a better flight for me so I didn’t have to spend an entire day in the Chicago airport, but instead hung up on me. During the third call, after I explained how rude and unprofessional his coworkers had been, this representative finally figured out that if I flew to Philadelphia the next day for another layover, I could catch a flight that would arrive a few hours earlier than if I waited in Chicago. I would be missing my first day in Dublin no matter what at this point, but I was ready to get out of Chicago as soon as possible. I still had to spend the night inside that airport. That was incredibly miserable. (I would rather sleep in the Chicago Greyhound station than the Chicago airport, and this is coming from someone who’s slept in both!)
The worst part? My original plan was to arrive in Dublin the day before my birthday. Instead, my 28th year started out on a cramped plane with hardly any of my personal belongings and no sleep or showering for days. Due to the time change, I also lost 6 hours of my birthday. I’m not sure if I fully turned 28 if my birthday was only an 18-hour day.
Of course, I still had a great time in Ireland as well as England later in the trip. But my American Airlines flights home experienced delays as well. I decided on this trip to no longer support this airline. While some of the events were out of their control, friendlier customer service would have made this ordeal a completely different experience. Even before I found out about compensation for my Delta flight, this company provided extra in-person customer service reps to answer passengers’ questions as well as extra snacks. I could easily spin my Delta delay into a positive experience, while American Airlines’ indifference kicked my trip off with a nightmare.
Watching Home Alone will Never Be the Same
Guess what airline the McCallisters took in both of their Home Alone movies? That’s right, American Airlines! While the airline obviously agreed to this product placement, these movies will now forever serve as a reminder of how horrible their customer service can be when things go wrong. I can’t blame the airline for leaving Kevin at home, granted. But as I watch the ticket agent shrug her shoulders and tell the mom no to her requests to get back home, I’m reminded of how little the customer service reps cared when I was alone and needed help.
The funny thing was, I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Chicago airport that I was stranded at was the same airport that started both of the McCallisters’ misadventures. (At least they just barely managed to make their flights at this airport… well, everyone except Kevin, that is.) Maybe Chicago O’Hare and American Airlines together create the perfect epicenter for travel mishaps, whether real or fictional.
Whether you travel this season or having future trips on your Christmas list, I wish you the best of travel. Merry Christmas!
Have you ever experienced a flight delay, cancellation, or missed connection? Share how it turned out in the comments!
It’s finally happened: the cruise I’ve been planning for months! Although I didn’t get the chance to send postcards even to close relatives, here are a few “Christmas postcards” I hope you all can share. Wish you were here!
It’s been a fun time in Florida. My mom and I arrived to our beachside hotel, and the next morning, we walked the less populated section of Las Olas, and the afternoon was spent at the beach. The food’s been good too: a French cafe, Pimenti Brothers sandwiches, and Bubba Gump’s! As much fun as we’ve had, I bet the cruise will be even better.
The newly remodeled ship, Carnival Sunrise, was packed with so many great things, like a minigolf course, two waterslides, and a high ropes course overlooking the sea. I spent my time onboard playing games, eating from several restaurants, watching ice carving and other art, going to great performances, and just relaxing in our stateroom or on the Lido deck. Our cruise director was The Flying Scotsman, so we were always in for a treat of his singing and kilted comedy.
This exclusive section of the island of Eleuthera, The Bahamas, is only available by cruise ship. As the name implies, the resort is owned by Princess Cruise Lines, but since Carnival is owned by the same company, we were allowed to enjoy. Most of our first day in my 14th country and my mom’s 4th was spent relaxing in lounge chairs on the beach, enjoying a barbecue buffet, and snorkeling with the tropical fish.
Prior to our day in the capital city of The Bahamas, I designed my own walking tour. It was fun to follow the sites I’d been planning on seeing plus a few more surprises along the way! We went to places like Fort Fincastle, the Queen’s Staircase, Government House, a chocolate factory, a church, and so much more! And since the cruise port is right in the middle of downtown, we could easily get back on in the middle of our time there for a free lunch, which was good because I started feeling landsick while at the Straw Market! (Okay, it was actually vertigo, but it’s funny how being on land can start to feel strange after a couple days at sea.) It was also pretty neat to see so many flowers in bloom at the same time that Christmas decorations were being put up! Overall, it was a jam-packed day exploring all over (the safe part of) Nassau on foot.
Our last stop in The Bahamas involved an incredible shore excursion. We boarded a glass-bottom boat and saw the city from a unique point of view. Below us, we saw yellowtail and blue tang. Then when we went to deeper waters, I saw a shark! Pretty soon, dozens of sharks were swarming the boat. When we safely returned to shore, we spent some time at Port Lucaya and picked up a souvenir or two before bussing back to the cruise port.
Just because our cruise ended doesn’t mean that the shore excursions had to end! Our last trip before headed to the airport for our flight home was my first visit to the Everglades. They were a lot different than I imagined! First, we had an hour-long airboat ride where we learned about the local flora, fed the birds, and saw two wild alligators. We saw even more gators, all of whom were rescues, at a gator show where a handler stuck her head in one of their mouths! Last on the schedule for me was to order alligator tacos, which tasted like chicken. It was a fun time in Florida and on this whole sunny vacation!
I hope you enjoyed these “postcards”. Of course, you can read even more like this when you follow me on Instagram.
A lot happened in September. I paid off the remaining fees for my upcoming cruise to The Bahamas. I worked on another book (which releases today). And I bought a ticket to Europe! Unbelievably, these were just a few of the many things that happened this month, and I’m excited to share how they happened and how I saved money for travel.
As I try to build up my writing career, I released my second book today! This is actually a collaboration with two other writers and is the first book from my publishing company, Girlz 4 Christ Publications. While it’s not a travel book, it’s full of interviews from inspirational people (including an entire chapter dedicated to girls living in different countries around the world), and I hope it will be a nice addition to my traveler/writer lifestyle.
A fun thing I got to do in September for this book was a feature on the morning news for theDove TV.
Now that this book is out, I’ll be doing some promotion for it, but now I can work on my next book release. The Ultimate Survival Guide for Camp Staffreleases in late November. I also started a new writing project the other day. Most of it’s under wraps for now (I’m not even entirely sure what will become of it), but it does involve a lot of travel!
Couponing to The Bahamas
Admittedly, I am a bit disappointed in how little I couponed this September. My couponing total since July for this trip is $368.08, which means I added barely over $30 this month. But I do have a pending rebate where I’ll end up earning more than that in just one transaction.
With the cruise and flights paid for, all that’s left to cover is the expenses for the two nights in Fort Lauderdale before the cruise. So I do still have some couponing to do, but with an unexpected offer this month, I’ll be switching the focus of my savings goals!
I’m keeping track of my earnings from things like book sales (Girls Around the World as well as Uncommon Adventures), selling things (when I pack everything into a carryon, who cares about the stuff back home!), and other moneymakers like Swagbucks and working extra hourly shifts. So far, that’s netted me $111.12.
Saving money isn’t the only way to prep for travel. I’ve been watching a lot of Rick Steves Best of Europe travel shows and checking out travel books from the library. I have a general route planned out that I want to backpack, and am trying to plan out how many days I should spend in each place and what activities I want to do there.
Many of the countries I want to visit are German-speaking. While I think I’ll survive in English, I do want to be able to speak a little German out of respect and be able to read signs, menus, etc. So I’ve been learning with Duolingo and FreeRice.
This is my last full month to get ready for The Bahamas cruise. I’ll have fun getting ready for that!
I’m trying to dedicate Tuesdays to my business. Working multiple jobs outside the home while building a business at home isn’t easy, but with a dedicated day (plus a few additional hours spread throughout the week), I hope to increase book and article sales.
But I am totally excited about Europe. That’s not just an October thing; I’ll be dreaming of and working toward that until I leave in February!
What are you currently saving up for? Let me know in the comments!
I started this blog when I first had the inkling that I wanted to backpack across Europe. A year later, that dream became a reality. But I wanted to take my time exploring, so I planned to see Europe in (at least) three trips: one trip for the Mediterranean, one for the British Isles, and one for Central Europe. My first trip trekked across the Mediterranean four years ago, and just this past May, I got to see a few pieces of the British Isles. I didn’t want to wait another four years to see Central Europe, but I certainly didn’t expect it to come this soon!
Ever since I scored a $30 flight from Dublin to London for my last trip on Kayak, I’ve loved playing around with that site. In addition to regular flight searches, you can input your home airport and see the cheapest options for flights in various destinations around the world. With more typical flight searches, when you select the dates, the calendar will show days in green, yellow, and red, based on how much flights cost on that particular day. You can also search up to three days before and after your intended departure dates to see if it would be a better value to leave earlier or later. I like to play around with these features just for fun, and just the other day, it happened to find me a $524 round-trip flight to Munich!
Yes, that’s a real-price $524 flight. No frequent flyer miles. No credit cards. No hacks at all. A true $524 US dollars.
Now, if you live in Europe, or even on the East Coast of the US, this may not seem like such a great deal. But it is a big one for me! My last two Eurotrip flights have been around $1500- nearly triple this! My local airport is pretty small so there are limited options. And being on the west coast, $600 is usually only enough to fly within the continent. Also, this isn’t some budget airline. I’ll be flying both ways with Delta, an airline that includes most flight perks like meals and entertainment. I flew Delta on my first trip to Europe, and it was way better than American Airlines!
Where am I Going?
Obviously, I’ll be going to Munich. This is my first time doing a round-trip flight to Europe instead of open-jaw, so I’ll be seeing Munich twice! (Typically I fly open-jaw so that I can go into one country and leave from another without having to worry about getting back to the original airport. But in this case, flying out of a different airport would have added several hundred dollars to the cost of this flight. So I’m okay with making this backpacking trip a loop route!) I haven’t seen any of the Central European countries at all yet, and in addition to Germany, I want to visit sites in Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic. I’d also like to visit the tiny countries in this area if I can afford it, Liechtenstein and San Marino. If I go to San Marino, that means I’ll be returning to Italy too!
So far, I’ve been researching Munich and side trips, Interlaken, and Salzburg. I’ve looked up other cities and regions, but with these three I’ve done enough research that I could go there tomorrow. I’ve found hostels to stay in, sights to see, and food to eat. I also applied to volunteer at a Diverbo program in Germany, which altered my last trip!
How am I Affording It?
In the past, international trips have been a once-every-few-years treat. But now, in a twelve-month span of time, I have the privilege of going on three international trips! My last Europe trip to Ireland and England was full-cost, but I was able to coupon my life ahead of time to cancel out the expenses. I’m continuing couponing for my next trip to The Bahamas, but the reason I booked that trip at all was that I was able to get the cruise for free. Obviously, the reason I booked this flight to Germany semi-spontaneously because of how low the airfare was.
Last night, I looked at the cost breakdown of my flight, and guess what the base fare was? Eleven dollars! There’s a $350 carrier-imposed international surcharge, and the rest of the cost is taxes and fees. I don’t know how Delta can afford to transport someone nearly halfway around the world and back for $366, but that’s the kind of deal I like. And I’ll be getting Delta Skymiles for my next two trips too!
The flight was a good deal, so now the task is to find good deals within the continent. I’ve been looking up hostels that have included freebies. Many include breakfast, one includes dinner, and a couple include a free visitor’s pass to the city. If I’m accepted into Diverbo’s program, that will be one cost-free week of travel, cultural exchange, and delicious food! Since the time of year I’m going is the shoulder season or off-season for many destinations, accommodation prices do seem to be lower. But I’ll still need to save up some money, right?
My rough budget right now for the total trip is $4000. I’m almost done couponing to The Bahamas, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to coupon an additional $4000 on top of that, even if I do have five months until my departure date. Instead, I’ll be looking into extra work I can do, like:
Book Sales: I’ve published two books so far, with another coming in November. I may release an additional book or two before leaving to Europe. Here’s my Amazon Author page so you can keep up-to-date with books I’m releasing. I’m hoping this trip will inspire ideas for more books to come!
Swagbucks: I use Swagbucks for a bulk of my couponing, but this website also offers other ways to earn money. Another way I like use Swagbucks is to use it as my search engine, and I get paid just for looking things up that I’d otherwise Google for no profit. I can also take surveys, watch videos (some may even help me with travel planning!), and even play games! Join me on Swagbucks so we can earn together!
Writing: I’ve written dozens of hostel reviews for Hostelz.com. It doesn’t cover the cost of travel, but it sure does help! I used to do a lot of product and accommodation reviews. I don’t do that much anymore, but I may do a couple on this trip if I feel it would be something beneficial to you readers. There’s also normal writing for normal magazines, and, like I said before, maybe another book!
Extra Hours: Unless I get a part-time online job, I won’t be able to work for an hourly wage in Europe. That’s fine for me; it means my time can be better spent exploring. But until then, I can trade time for money by accepting extra hours. I am trying to balance that better right now, though. I worked a lot of extra hours in the summer, and it did take away from my time working on my book business. I need to prioritize books because, even though that’s less lucrative than my hourly work, it has the potential to become more sustainable. But when I can, I will take on an occasional extra shift. And you’d better believe that I’ll be cashing in all my paid time off when I head to Europe!
Now it’s your turn… help me plan this trip! Do you have any must-see sights in Central Europe? How about money-saving tips? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate your thoughts into this trip!
With a wonderful trip to Ireland and the UK in May, June was a time to transition back into saving for travel. Here are a few things I did, as well as what I’m looking forward to.
The Pacific Crest Trail
I only took one overnight trip this month. Although it wasn’t too far from home, I got to experience a new campground, new friends, and a new learning experience. Best of all, it was FREE!
The Pacific Crest Trail Association is a nonprofit organization that maintains the long National Scenic Trail that goes from Mexico to Canada while crossing through California, Oregon, and Washington. Since a section of the trail goes through the mountains near me, I was able to attend one of their Trail Skills College weekends this past month. Most people traveled a lot farther than I did to attend- some people traveled seven hours! Although Trail Skills College is offered in several spots along the Pacific Crest Trail, a lot of people like Southern Oregon’s “Big Bend” section or the classes that the PCTA offered here.
I joined this two-night weekend camping trip at Hyatt Lake. On Saturday, I spent the day taking the “Cooking and Camping with the Crew” class, where I learned some planning, cooking, and hygiene skills that could be used in all my travels, but particularly when I volunteer with the PCTA in the future. Although I didn’t sign up for any Sunday classes, I was able to take advantage of kayaking on the beautiful Hyatt Lake.
The next weekend, I found myself back on the PCT! I haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer on a trail project with the PCTA yet, but I did lead a hiking group around the Green Springs Loop outside of Ashland, Oregon. So all of my June travels involved this little slice of the Pacific Crest Trail.
Sick Days and Syria
To be honest, my PCTA Trail Skills College experience wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. Sure, everyone was nice, the food was good, and I learned some good skills. But I ended up with some GI troubles. To make matters worse, the campground we were using had its water shut off, so no bathrooms or running water! Not the best way to spend a sick weekend, but I was just well enough that I didn’t want to go home and miss out.
A week later, I made sure that I was starting off healthy, because I was going to do an eating challenge. I took The Ration Challenge, which meant for one week, I would eat the same food distributed to Syrian refugees. I had to make two substitutions. (Since I’m soy intolerant, I replaced the vegetable oil ration with coconut oil. I also exchanged sardines for a vegan protein alternative since I don’t eat seafood.) I learned to get creative with the little I had. With only a few ounces of flour, I learned to make really thin crepes. With rice outweighing the rest of my rations combined, I learned to make congee, rice milk, puffed rice, and extending everything else by sneaking in some rice. I enjoyed the lentils and think I’ll start adding more to my regular diet. Although I prefer to add tahini and spices, hummus made out of just chickpeas and oil is still delicious. But most of all, I gained empathy for these hardworking people and joined a global movement.
All was going well until my second-to-last day of the challenge. As recommended, I limited my physical activity that week. However, I still went on three walks, the last one was to get to a CPR and First Aid class I had to take. I had only eaten a few spoonfuls of congee for breakfast that day, and I brought some crepes with a little protein spread on them. One hour into the class, I wasn’t feeling well. I felt like I was going to pass out. That would have been super embarrassing for me. My classmates and instructor would have thought I was being squeamish over the course material, when in reality I used to be an EMT. It was just that I didn’t have enough sustenance. As my table partner wrapped the fake injury on my arm, I used my free arm to pull out my crepes and eat them. I also drank my water. It wasn’t enough. I excused myself to the bathroom, still feeling faint. I found a roll of Lifesaver mints in my purse and ate half a roll of them. The fast-acting sugar made me feel better within minutes, so I decided it was safe to continue with the Ration Challenge. Later that day I attended an evening church service where I took communion without thinking, but that was my only “cheat” day, and even then I had two ounces of oil and two pounds of rice left over at the end of the challenge!
But sickness seemed to be a weekend theme this month. The last Saturday of the month was also spent in sickness. On a positive note, it means I wasn’t spending all my money on weekend adventures!
Restarting the Savings
From January to April of this year, I kept a log of my savings. I took a break in May so I could enjoy the fruits of my savings with half the month spent on a trip to the British Isles. Although I got back to saving this June, I ended up not keeping a spreadsheet. My plan is to modify my old spreadsheet and start using it again this July. But just because I didn’t record everything doesn’t mean I didn’t save!
I didn’t really spend any money on travel. Two nights of camping with the PCTA was free, as was the day hike on the PCT. Before the camp, I stopped in Ashland for their free First Friday Art Walk. I just had to cover the cost of getting to these places in my car. I’d say that was a good deal!
When I wasn’t sick or on the PCT, I enjoyed my hometown. I did two other hikes, one up Table Rock and the other through Denman Wildlife Area and Touvelle State Park (I visited on a free admission weekend). The Medford Parks and Rec department hosts summer movies, and I attended the first two. The first movie was a drive-in, which was extra fun!
I’ve also been walking a lot. One day, I walked 15 miles! That day included a walk to a beauty college to get a discount pedicure. Unfortunately, two days later I got a blister on my toe while walking, so I didn’t get much time to show off the pedi! I try to replace driving with walking whenever possible, even when it means coming home from the grocery store with a bag stuffed full of collard greens that were on clearance for fifty cents a pound! Walking is my main form of exercise, but I also got in some free cross-training!
Although I don’t have any gym membership, I did end up getting a good workout at two YMCAs. I was recently contacted by two young adults that used to live with my friend’s family when they were little girls, and they asked me to visit them since they recently moved to Grants Pass, Oregon. It’s been nine years since we last saw each other, so it was awesome to reunite. We went to their local Y, and they were nice enough to give me a guest pass so we could all go swimming. A week later, I went to my own YMCA for their free Family Night.
From now through November, my savings focus will be on my cruise to The Bahamas. I’m flying out on Thanksgiving evening for a week of fun in Florida and three Bahamian islands. I’ll be keeping track of my savings and should update you at the end of the month with a savings spreadsheet. Since I got such a great deal on the cruise, there isn’t much that still needs to be paid for on this trip, so I might need to set another travel goal in the next month or two! Where should I go in 2020?
I also joined Plastic-Free July. As I travel, seeing garbage where there should be beauty has been discouraging. Pollution is a global problem, and reducing single-use plastic is a visual and effective way we can all work to combat this. I’ve been working on reducing my footprint for a while, but maybe this month will give me new ideas and inspiration. I think it might help grow my travel fund, too.
As far as travel, I don’t have anything set in stone for July, but I know that will change soon!
A great thing about the travel community is that people are always happy to share their advice. However, sometimes people give travel tips about a place they’ve never even been to, or haven’t been to in several years. This is the 21st century! The world has changed, but people are still spreading these totally-outdated travel tips.
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“Make sure to bring traveler’s checks!”
I made the mistake of taking out a traveler’s check. Once. Never again.
I was moving and needed to close my local bank account. They gave me the option of getting my money in cash or traveler’s check. I chose the check just because it seemed safer than driving with a dozen Benjamins over 800 miles to my new home. This was silly thinking because, A) I had all my worldly possessions in my car anyway, and B) if I lost the traveler’s check, it would be just as devastating as losing the equivalent paper money. And once I did arrive in my new hometown, I had the hardest time finding a place that would convert it back into cash.
This experience was from six years ago. Traveler’s checks would be even more difficult nowadays, and especially in foreign countries. Skip the checks altogether and just bring plastic.
“Bring enough money to exchange!”
Currency exchange booths are the worst. It’s a guaranteed way to lose money. I still bring some US bills tucked away in case of some sort of bank emergency, but as mentioned above, I now rely on plastic.
I bring a debit card for when I need to withdraw cash from an ATM. Many ATMs offer free withdrawals, though your bank will still likely charge you. However, depending on the amount you withdraw, this will probably cost less than exchanging money. (Talk with your bank before you go to make sure that you have the best kind of card they offer for international travel.)
On my most recent trip, I only used my debit card once in the two weeks I was there- and that was on my last full day! Credit cards are becoming the global currency. If you find a credit card that doesn’t charge an international conversion fee, this is the only way to use foreign money without losing money. And using your credit card wisely can even make you money!
Just about everyone who’s gone to Europe for a length of time has been asked by well-meaning older folks if they’ve bought a rail pass yet. On my first trip to Europe, it seemed like it was a requirement for any cross-continent backpacker. So I bought my two-month, ten-trip Eurail pass. What a waste of money.
While they may have been great for backpackers in the 70s, rail passes are no longer the best for saving time or money. I still had to wait in line to ask a desk agent which trains I could ride with my Eurail, and if I needed to make reservations to go on those trains. (Reservations were usually 10 euro extra on top of the price of the Eurail pass.) If I ride the rails again, I will just buy point-to-point tickets in advance, or even at the kiosks in the train station. However, for my first month of European travel, I booked long-distance buses instead of trains. That cost a lot less than the trains did, and in some countries was much more practical. On my most recent trip, I found a cheap flight from Ireland to England, and I’m not the only one taking advantage of discount European airlines whose city-hopping fares are less than the train.
“Bring an adapter and converter so your electronics don’t blow up!”
A quick explanation on adapters and converters: an adapter makes your plug fit into a differently-shaped socket. A converter changes the amount of currency that flows into your charging electronic. There are some bulky 2-in-1 adapter/converter combos, but nowadays I only bring an adapter.
Most modern electronics are made for international distribution, meaning they have built-in converters so that they can handle whatever current they’re connected to. I only travel with a phone and compact camera, neither of which requires an external converter. Even larger electronics like laptops and tablets are fine without a converter. High-voltage items like hair dryers do need a converter. (It will fry if you try to use it without, but I don’t think it will blow up!) However, most accommodations have hair dryers available, so don’t bother bringing your own from home. If you don’t see one in your room, they may be kept at the front desk.
I still bring an adapter, but within a few years, I can see that being outdated as well. On my last trip, I saw planes, bus, and even hostel charging ports for USB cords. USB ports are becoming more universal, and I’m looking forward to the day when I can just bring a USB cord and leave the wall adapter and international adapter at home.
“Only drink bottled water!”
In many places, there’s nothing wrong with the water that flows straight from the tap. Check to see if your destination has safe drinking water, and pack a refillable bottle to avoid wasting money and time searching for overpriced bottled beverages.
Even in countries with unsafe tap water, you may still be able to avoid the single-use plastic bottles all the time. When I visited Istanbul, there was a reverse osmosis filter tap where I was staying. If you’re given drinking water at a restaurant, you can use whatever you don’t drink there to refill your bottle. You can also clean the tap water yourself by bringing a Lifestraw or purification kit. If all else fails, buy your water in bulk instead of little bottles. Simple refill your reusable bottle from the larger jug, and that way you’ll still save money and plastic!
“Don’t eat street food!”
If you skip the street food, you’re missing out on some of the best culture! With the rising popularity of food trucks (formerly dubbed “roach coaches”) in the US, I haven’t heard as many complaints about street food around the world in recent years. But wherever you go, remember that street food vendors have government-regulated cleanliness standards that they have to keep up with, too. In fact, seeing my food prepared right in front of me often gives me a better peace of mind in how it was made.
“Hostels are creepy and disgusting!”
Stop watching horror films! Okay, I’ve never actually seen that movie before, but if I made a movie called “Hostel”, it would be about a traveler who has a great time in a new destination, gets insider tips from her roommates and the staff who work there, enjoys freebies like breakfast, internet, and city maps, and leaves paying only a fraction of the cost that the people in the hotel next door paid. But I have a feeling that Hollywood isn’t interested in this story that millions of travelers live out.
Hostels are great! If you’ve ever been to summer camp, you’re already familiar with the dorm-style lodging. Basically, just imagine an indoor summer camp in the middle of the city. Or picture renting a twin bed in a hotel instead of a room. It’s really not that bad, and can actually enrich your experience. Along with the low cost of admission, you’ll also get a free cultural exchange with other excited travelers from around the world.
I’ve had an occasional run-in with a hostel that didn’t live up to my expectations, but I’ve experienced that with hotels as well. In fact, some of the hostels I’ve stayed in have been more unique than any hotel. Since most hostels have some sort of online presence, go ahead and check them out ahead of time. You’ll see that they have security measures, cleanliness standards, and a welcoming atmosphere. And if you’re still not sold on sharing a room with strangers new friends, many hostels offer private rooms.
As I prepared to travel to London, almost every blog post I read told me to get the Oyster card. “It will save you so much money when riding the Tube” they said. Even on my first day in London, when I was checking into my hostel, the receptionist asked, “did you get your Oyster card yet?” He then pointed me to the nearest tube station and told me how to get one. Since I wouldn’t be taking the tube that day, I decided not to get one that day.
Or the next day.
Or the next.
I was staying in the Westminster area, and I could walk to so many of the attractions I wanted to see. But I did have a bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge scheduled. When I boarded that bus, the Mary Poppins-esque guide gave us some travel tips for London, including, of course, to save money on the tube by getting an Oyster card. “Or, if your credit card has what looks like the WiFi symbol printed on it, you can just tap your card when you get on and off the tube just like the Oyster card, and you’ll pay the same price as the Oyster card.” I checked, and my credit card did have that symbol. That would mean no waiting in line to buy or return the card or worrying about running out of credit. Score!
I actually didn’t take the tube at all until my last day there, when I headed from Greenwich to Heathrow. So I only spent about $7 in tube fare. I got to see a lot more of London by walking, taking the hop-on hop-off bus, and taking a river cruise. I’d encourage you to explore above ground as much as possible, no matter what city you visit.
“Always wear a money belt!”
I recently was watching a travel lecture where Rick Steves himself mentioned that even he doesn’t wear a money belt all the time anymore. I used a neck stash for so many international trips, and it was uncomfortable, sweaty, and looked weird underneath my clothes. If you don’t like the feeling of your money belt and instead opt to put it in your bag or leave it in your room, it’s kind of pointless.
There are so many travel security items on the market today, you can find one that’s right for you. I use a combination of items. I wear a scarf that has a hidden zippered pocket. It’s big enough to fit my passport and money. I also use my Lewis N Clark convertipack, which has locking zippers and a strap that you can secure to yourself , a chair, bed rail, etc. Even attaching your luggage zippers together with a carabiner can deter thieves. If your accommodation seems safe enough, leave valuables in a safe or locker there. Zip-up pants pockets can prevent pickpockets. There’s also bra stashes and even underwear with hidden pockets! Use what works for you, but remember that the best way to make sure your items don’t get stolen is to minimize what you’re traveling with and keep an eye on what you do bring.
“You’ll have to learn a foreign language!”
I’m visiting three different countries this year. (Four if you count the USA.) All of them are English-fluent countries. But even in countries with another national language, you’ll find an abundance of English speakers. If you used Google Translate to read this blog post, I would encourage you to learn English, as that is the global language of business and the go-to language for travelers. But if you are fluent in English, learn how to simplify what you say, and you should be able to get along fine.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying to expect everyone to speak English to you or to refuse to learn another language. The more you know in a local language, the more you’ll be able to talk about, and you definitely will have an advantage over English-only speakers. But if you’re visiting multiple countries that all speak a different language, don’t stress yourself out or worse, cancel your trip due to not knowing how to speak. If you learn how to say a few courtesy words (like “hello”, “thank you”, or “do you speak English?”) you’ll be more than fine. And may I remind you that we are in the 21st century? Most people carry devices capable of translating languages around in their pockets!
“Your phone won’t work outside of the country!”
This one may be true, but only sort of. My phone service only works when I’m within the United States (though I was able to make a phone call from Niagara Falls, Canada once). However, I still bring my phone with me everywhere I go. WiFi is increasingly abundant, and you can use apps to text and make international calls for free. I brought an international phone on my first trip to Europe, but my regular smartphone provided me with all my communication needs.
There are other ways you can communicate, too. Sending postcards is still a thing, but Instagram is a more instant method of sending the same type of message. You can find pay phones in some areas (those red London phone booths are still abundant despite hardly anyone using them). Be creative and you won’t even miss your phone service.
“Bring extra film for your camera!”
Okay, I’m not sure if anyone actually says this anymore. My mom always asks me if I brought enough film whenever she drives me to the airport just as a joke to make me feel like I’ve forgotten something. (I return the favor by letting her know her car’s low on blinker fluid.) Your camera’s SIM card should be big enough to take at least a thousand pictures, but if you do run low on space, upload some of your pictures to an online cloud as you go.
What totally outdated travel tips have YOU heard? Let us know in the comments so we can all have a chuckle!
April had a lot going on. I worked a ton of hours, but I also traveled a ton of days. And yet I still had time and energy to focus on saving. In fact, I far surpassed my goal of couponing $2000 this year! How did I do it all?
My main job doesn’t usually allow us to work overtime, but I was given a few exceptions this month because there were shifts that no one else was available to cover. (Like me, pretty much everyone who works there has multiple jobs, and some take time off to travel too.) Yay for extra hourly pay! I also got paid time-and-a-half for working several hours on Easter evening. Since I did all the Easter activities in the morning and afternoon, I didn’t miss out on the holiday while earning holiday pay.
Besides the pay and knowing that my work makes a difference in the world, another perk to working more hours is that I’m not tempted to spend money while I’m at work. Still, I’m excited to turn the pay from this work time into fun during travel time!
Travel, Travel, Travel
To be honest, I thought I’d be further along in preparing for my trip to Europe. But here I am, just a week away and I haven’t even packed yet! (On my last trip to Europe, I was all packed over a month ahead of time.) But other travel opportunities kept popping up, and I wanted to take advantage of them all! I don’t think there will be any more travel until I head to the airport on Wednesday, so now I’ll be able to focus on getting ready to go. But everything else was definitely worth it!
I mentioned last month that I got a super discount on a cruise to The Bahamas. My mom and I decided to buy our plane tickets to the departure port a few weeks ago. While that would normally cost less than the cruise itself, because of how much I saved, the plane tickets will be the biggest expense! I also purchased two excursions through the cruise line and saved a total of 19%. (That’s 10% off during a sale weekend, and another 10% back for using the cruise’s credit card.)
But the real fun was all the travel I got to do in April. The first weekend was sort of a camp weekend, except it didn’t take place up at camp. It was my first time participating in the annual coast trip. Even though it rained the entire time, we stayed in a cool rental home and did get to go out a little.
It felt more like camp last weekend when I went up to the mountains on my own. I visited the church we attend during most weekend camps, and afterward, I went a few miles up the road to hike a bit of the PCT. Despite being a native Oregonian, I don’t have much experience with the Pacific Crest Trail. This was the longest I’ve ever hiked on it, and my first time hiking it in the state of Oregon. It made for a pretty good day trip, all for the cost of just a little gas in my car!
That wasn’t my only hike this month. I spent one of my days off hiking on Roxy Ann, which is just a few miles from my house. I went up to the summit of the peak and then explored a new trail I hadn’t been on before.
Another outdoor adventure was a day trip to the Lava Beds National Monument. While this normally isn’t a cheap excursion (it’s now $25 dollars per vehicle entry), I time my visits to Lava Beds around the National Parks Service’s free entry days. With a free entry day to kick off National Park Week, I got to explore about a dozen lava tubes for just the cost of getting there. I also made short stops at Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge and Valor in the Pacific’s Camp Tulelake on my way there and back.
Pear Blossom is my city’s annual big festival. Although I ended up working the morning of the parade, I did attend the street fair the day before while I was babysitting. I actually walked there with the kids, which was an adventure on its own. While they each bought a snack, we mostly walked around to snag freebies from some of the booths. I got some good stuff! Some of it, like a travel tube of sunscreen, will be useful on my trip to Europe.
I housesat for a few days. It was just while my parents were on a camping trip, but being in a different environment (and using their hot tub) is a change of pace.
But my biggest trip of the month was at the very end, and actually went into May. I knew I’d have to go to a passport agency if my passport didn’t come, so I made an appointment in Seattle. It did end up shipping, but I decided to head north anyway. Like March, I was invited to another advance screening of a Christian movie. However, they didn’t offer this screening in Medford. Although know I spent more in gas to get there than what a movie ticket would cost, I did get to see the upcoming Kendrick Brothers’ movie Overcomer. I took a friend along, and we both really liked it.
Portland was just supposed to be an extended day trip, with me driving there while my friend slept and her driving home while I slept. However, shortly before we left, she decided to get an AirBnB reservation. This extended our trip by a day and allowed us to pack in more adventure. (Since May 1st involved travel up until my scheduled work time, and then I went to bed immediately after work, that’s why I’m posting this update late.)
Save, Save, Save
I’ve saved $2,243.91. I also made a lot of extra money working, but I decided to stop counting that as I’ve already met my earning goals and it was getting difficult to keep track of all the extra time I worked.
One fun way I saved this month was while babysitting on National Pretzel Day. After picking the kids up from school, we all headed to Wetzel’s Pretzels to grab a free soft pretzel.
Overcomer wasn’t the only movie I saw this past month. I saw Unplanned during my local theater’s discount Tuesday. I used my Cinemark Rewards to get a $3 off coupon for my movie snack pack. My local library also had a free movie day this month, and they provided popcorn and soda for free! The library was also a good place to borrow materials and attend a lecture about a local historical area.
I bought a Groupon last year that I wasn’t able to use, but Groupon allowed me to exchange it for another one. I used it towards a massage and used a coupon code on top of that. So I got a super-inexpensive-yet-quality massage!
Lowe’s had a spring sale a few days ago. When I first saw someone post about it on Instagram, I thought it was a scam. Why would they send you a gift card just for texting them that was good for one day only? Later when I found out this was legit, they had already run out of coupons. However, I’m a part of a few Facebook saving groups, and someone from one of those groups gave me a $10 code that she wasn’t going to use. I used it to buy potting soil (for free seeds I got at Pear Blossom) and some spinach seedlings. I’m now growing a variety of herbs and veggies in containers on my front steps.
I was a little lacking in Swagbucks this month, but I did end up earning enough to get a discount Visa gift card as well as a discounted gift card to Domino’s.
The biggest savings was using my Carnival credit card towards my cruise. Not only do I get savings when I book shore excursions, but I also got a $200 credit with my first use! Two of my credit cards actually owe me money right now due to rewards.
What May Will Look Like
I’ll still be saving money, at least for parts of May. It’s my birthday month, so of course I’ll be redeeming a few birthday freebies! But since I’ll be on my trip for the majority of the month, I will also be taking a vacation from tracking my savings. I may travel frugally, but am willing to spend money if it’s worth it. At this point, my savings have added up to a big amount. With it, I’ve been able to pay for my flights, hostel reservations, and packaged attractions. Basically, the only extra expenses will be food, ground transportation, and maybe a souvenir or two. I’ve been working so long for this, but I can’t believe that it’s finally here!