A trip to the Parthenon…what does this make you think of? For most, that would involve heading to Athens, Greece. That was one of my Parthenon trips. But my first Parthenon trip happened three years before I ever even set foot in Europe. And my last Parthenon trip happened over three years after I left Greece. What an uncommon adventure! To understand the full significance and beauty of this historic architecture, I believe it requires three trips to three different countries.
Nashville: Discovering the Former Glory
While not a primary reason to visit Tennessee, I loved visiting the world’s only fully intact Parthenon and saw it almost every day while in Nashville. While it doesn’t have millennia-old history or fine material craftsmanship, this is one of the best places to go to visually learn about the Parthenon.
The exterior is a spitting image of the Parthenon in its glory days. You can walk around and see each piece of art. You can even walk up and touch the columns or sit on the steps, something you absolutely cannot do at the Acropolis. Another thing you can only do here is step inside the Parthenon. While the lower levels definitely look modern-day, the top level features a giant statue of the Greek god Athena, the namesake for Greece’s capital. While a similar statue used to be housed inside Greece’s Parthenon, no one knows what happened to that behemoth. So not only is this the only place where you can see the Parthenon in its intended glory, but also the only place to see this statue and what it looked like inside.
At the time of my visit to Nashville, I had never been to Europe. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to Greece in my lifetime, but I recorded in my travel journal that if I did make it there, I might be disappointed at the real Parthenon.
Athens: The Real Deal on Location
A few years later, I found myself in Greece! And I recorded in that travel journal that I wasn’t sure if I liked the Greek or American Parthenon better.
The center of Athens is the Acropolis, and the centerpiece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. This is the original. It’s a special experience to be able to walk among the ancient buildings atop this mountain. The ruins are preserved as best as possible there, but the art is better kept in a different home. Just downhill, the Acropolis Museum recreates the Parthenon indoors with the friezes displayed in their original order. Other Acropolis archaeological finds are on display here as well. But not everything from the Parthenon is housed in this museum.
The Parthenon is in ruins, partially because of its age, and largely because of an explosion when it was being used to store British military ammunition. If you speak to a local Greek about the Parthenon, they will be sure to include blaming the Brits. Not only for the explosion, but also because they “stole the original art off the Parthenon and refuse to give it back”. The Greeks’ relationship with the British might be strained because of this, but for me, this international argument was mostly just a call for me to take another trip.
London: Rounding Out with the Lost Art
After seeing the Parthenon in Athens, my next trip to Europe had to involve Great Britain. While an expensive city, London can be done on a budget, especially when you visit the free museums! One of the best museums (that also happens to be free) is the British Museum, oddly named since it consists entirely of artifacts taken from other countries. An entire section of the museum is devoted to ancient art from Athens.
Stepping into the Greek section of The British Museum almost felt like being teleported back into Greece. The room appeared to be the Acropolis turned outside-in. Each end of this room displays the Elgin Marbles, the statues that originally adorned the Parthenon. They are displayed in the same order as they were intended to be, so you can easily imagine the Parthenon’s roof topping just over their heads. Other statues are bookended by this art, along with a message of the United Kingdom’s stance on why they believe the Parthenon pieces in their collection should remain under their care.
The British Museum had a lot of other fascinating artifacts, such as the Rosetta Stone. London itself had even more to offer. But the feeling of being among the Parthenon’s marble statues was uniquely satisfying. After many years and a worldwide search, I had finally come full-circle with seeing every element of the Parthenon that began with an unlikely trip to Nashville.
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!
I had a great time in Ireland and England! I took a break from writing here so that it could truly be a vacation, but now that I’m back, you can expect a lot of posts with advice for the British Isles in the coming weeks. To start out, I’d like to go back to the very first item I purchased for this trip. I bought it before I bought plane tickets, or even knew what time of year I’d go to Europe: it’s The London Pass.
What I Did With My London Pass
I bought a three-day pass, and those three days were packed! Here’s a quick breakdown, along with the approximate normal price in pounds:
Tower of London (normally 28, but the pass also includes a skip-the-line at the entrance)
Tower Bridge (normally 10)
HMS Belfast (normally 16)
The View from the Shard (normally 32)
Churchill War Rooms (normally 22)
Westminster Abbey (normally 23)
Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off (normally 34)
St. Peter’s Cathedral (normally 20)
Royal Mews (normally 12)
Kensington Palace (normally 20)
City Cruises (normally 19)
The Fan Museum (normally 5)
Cutty Sark (normally 15)
Royal Observatory (normally 16)
National Maritime Museum (admission is free to everyone, but passholders get a free book worth 5)
Feel free to use my itinerary on your own trip or tailor it to fit your personal preferences.
Although I met my goal of doing an average of five activities per day, I did feel rushed in some areas. A lot of the attractions have fairly short hours (10am-6pm seemed common), so I was never really sure what to do early in the morning or late in the evening. If opening times were longer, I would have been able to see more, plus spend more time in places like Tower of London.
What About Other Cities?
The London Pass is just one item sold by The Leisure Pass Group. They offer passes similar to The London Pass in different cities around the world. The only time I ever considered another one of these passes was when I was heading to Paris. It offered admission to a lot of the museums that I wanted to see. However, so did the Paris Museum Pass, which was just a fraction of the price. The Paris Pass did offer a few extras, but none that I was willing to pay the extra price for.
To sum it up, out of all the city passes sold by this company, The London Pass seems to offer the best value.
How to Save Money When Buying the Pass
The London Pass is a huge expense. The per-day cost was more than my hostel bed and meals combined. Currently, a three-day pass is 125 pounds, which exchanges into more than the $50-a-day that many modern urban backpackers try to budget by. Even the cheapest-per-day pass for 10 days is more than $25 a day, which doesn’t leave much room for housing and food in one of the world’s most expensive cities. So many of us budget-conscious travelers will have to accept the fact that if you really want to experience all that London has to offer, you’ll have to spend more than your usual per diem. You can always balance it out later with some less expensive trips. (I’ve got nearly-free camping trips planned out this summer.)
However, spending money in an expensive city doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to save where I can! The London Pass often offers some money-saving options.
For starters, decide how many days you want your pass to last. Obviously, the more days your pass is valid, the more expensive it is, but the less it costs per day. As a first-timer to London, I found that a three-day pass was perfect for my one-week trip. I fit in everything I came to see (plus a couple pleasant surprises). That left me with a few days without a pass, which were still chocked full as I spent those visiting free attractions (like parks, free museums, and iconic places like Abbey Road), and well as some attractions that weren’t part of The London Pass, such as London Eye and Up at the O2.
If you plan in advance, you can keep an eye on The London Pass’ website to look out for sales. I bought my pass during a sale, and ever since then, I’ve noticed that they often offer online sale prices.
You can also find discount codes online. I won’t share any here since they’re always changing, but a quick search on Google should give you the most up-to-date promo codes. You can combine a promo code with a sale for maximum savings.
One more way I saved with The London Pass was by using The London Concierge. The London Concierge is a discount ticket purchasing website exclusively for people who have purchased The London Pass. You can buy tickets from The London Concierge even before you activate The London Pass. This is where I bought my bus trip to Bath and Stonehenge, making it a good deal.
But Is It Really Worth It?
If you total up the amount I could have spent at the attractions I went to during my three-day pass: 86+131+60= 277. Even at the normal retail price of 125 pounds for a 3-day adult pass, I got more than double my money’s worth. Or did I?
As I mentioned before, there were a couple of attractions I would have liked to spend more time in (namely Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral). However, I felt pressured to rush through these a bit so I could fit more attractions into the day and get my money’s worth. If I had been paying directly for these attractions, I would have spent more time at them. There were also a couple attractions I went into just because I had the pass. Although I ended up enjoying the HMS Belfast, I never would have entered without The London Pass.
There were some attractions that I didn’t feel were worth it. The View from the Shard was little more than a rooftop bar with a big cover charge (and it wasn’t even on the roof). Touring Westminster Abbey was okay, but I had a much better time at the free Evensong service I attended there a few days before I started using The London Pass. Of course, every person’s opinion is different, so I didn’t know how I’d personally feel about these attractions until I went there myself. Now that I know, I know not to go back to those places if and when I return to London.
In fact, while The London Pass was good for a first-time visitor to London like me, I don’t think it would be a very good value for a returning traveler. Some of the attractions were one-and-done deals. For those that I would be interested in seeing again, I would plan out my visit ahead of time and try to find discount tickets specifically for those attractions. Or I would just enjoy the abundance of free museums, church services, and parks available to everyone in London. Although you might miss out on a few must-dos, it is possible to spend nothing on attractions and still have an enjoyable time in London.
Conclusion: For London first-timers who are spending several days or more in the city, go ahead and buy The London Pass. Buy a short-length pass (three days seemed almost perfect), and supplement your non-London-Pass days with an abundance of free attractions and sites not included in the London Pass. If you’ve been to London before or are only going for a very short trip (say, a weekend getaway or a business conference where you won’t be available during the daytime), try to find other ways to save on the attractions you want to visit.