Posts Tagged ‘europe’

Did you catch the travel bug along with the stomach bug in Mexico?  If you’re addicted to travel, I’m sorry to say, there’s no cure. It’s like heroin. You’ll need more and more just to feel normal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that others around you might not be so enthusiastic about your obsession as you are.


Signs you’re a travel addict:

  • You read guidebooks for fun
  • Your friends flee when they see you coming, because…
  • …you begin every sentence with, “I remember one time in…”
  • You become offended when someone thinks Aussies actually drink Fosters
  • Your passport is with you at all times, just in case.
  • You feel strange not wearing flip flops in the shower
  • A room full of twenty drunk snoring people no longer fazes you
  • After more than a month without traveling, you get the shakes
  • While websurfing, you find yourself on a travel site 10 times out of ten, with no memory of how you got there
  • The vast majority of your Facebook friends live across the world
  • Your bookcase is half-filled with beat up travel guides. The other half has Bill Bryson.
  • When entering public bathrooms, you automatically do a scan for the possible places a flusher could be hiding, and another scan for the person trying to charge you to use the toilet.
  • There are at least twenty euros in your wallet at all times. Just in case. (See passport.)
  • When people ask what your hobbies are, you can’t say a sentence not containing the word travel.
  • You have detailed critiques of the world’s major airlines and judge them by the quality of their in-flight food.
  • You wake up in the morning and you can’t remember where you are.
  • You’re talking to somebody and you can’t remember what country you’re in or what the last country was
  • Kebabs.
  • A hostel shower big enough to turn around in is enough to make your entire day better
  • And…
  • You spend hours every day daydreaming about trips you’ll never take, trips you’ve taken, and people you’ve met on the road.  Doing almost any daily activity (laundry, driving, listening to music) can give you a flashback to a random moment on the road.

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Unless you’re Dire Straits, and then you get your money for nothing and your chicks for free.

Luckily most of us aren’t Dire Straits.

A dingo ate my baby...random but I found it and couldn't help myself.

What does it really cost to travel? To do anything?  There’s money, but there are also the other possibilities/situations that you sacrifice in order to travel.  I remember talking about this concept in ninth grade economics. It’s not complicated. (I’m not talking about free chicks.)  Everything you do is a choice, and making one decision will instantly make the myriad other possibilities impossible. You pay a price – whether in time, money, or emotional attachment – and those resources can’t then be used in other ways.

“I’d love to travel but I can’t afford it.”

I’ve been to, I believe, seventeen countries.  I’ve paid for all of them myself with the exception of a family trip to Mexico.  And I do not have well-paying jobs.  They’re your typical summer tourist-town service industry jobs.

I think a lot of people assume someone else is paying for my trips, because I have traveled so much at such a young age and in such a short period of time.

But that’s not true. And there isn’t a secret to how I pay for anything.  I work my ass off, save everything.  I sacrifice my time here so I can spend time there.

And sometimes, when I’ve been working double shifts for nine days straight, I haven’t seen the light of the sun in at least two weeks, don’t own my own car, and haven’t seen any of my friends in a month, it does seem like a pretty large sacrifice to make.

But for me it’s worth it. I’d rather spend a few months here just earning money and then travel for a few months and spend all my time enjoying myself, as opposed to working less but being stuck here and only having a low-grade kind of enjoyment after work and on the weekends. After all, you can’t get very far away from home in two days.

So if you’d really like to travel – or do anything, really: buy a DSLR camera, open that antiques shop you’ve always dreamed of owning, etc, then don’t think you can’t afford it.  Re-evaluate what you’re spending time and money on now and see if you can’t make the short-term sacrifice for the long-term gain.  Sacrifice your weekends to work a second job and pay off your mortgage or car payment early.  Put your resources where your priorities are.

Looking at something as insurmountable is the wrong way to think.  Break it down into smaller steps.  Get a concrete goal in mind.  The first step, you know you can accomplish. i.e. get a second job so you can start a travel fund, or cut extraneous expenses out of your current budget. Go out less. Buy coffee less. Stop eating out so much.  Carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Trade in your new car for a used one with no car payments. Forgo a weekend trip now in favor of a month-long trip in a year.

The next step you can accomplish.  Set a goal to when you will have the money you need. And then find a way to meet that goal.

For example, I want to leave the US for Budapest on October 19th at the latest, because there’s a CELTA course starting on the 26th that I want to make.  To make enough money to do so, I’m going to have to save about $1300 a month.  I know I’m going to have to work two jobs: I have one for the weekdays, and I have to find another one for the weekends and possibly nights. It won’t be fun.  I won’t be able to afford to move out of my parents house or do anything except work.  But it will be worth it to know that I’ll be back in Budapest – permanently –  in a few months.

When you write that last check, click “purchase” for your plane tickets to Brazil, or take home the camera that will allow you to start your own professional photography service, think about the sacrifices you made in the meantime.

Were they worth it?  And I know the answer, at least for me, is a definite yes.

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Jim Morrison, lead singer of the sixties rock band The Doors (if you haven’t heard of them I don’t know where you’ve been living but your existence is flat and empty) once said,

“The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”

So what is he talking about and how does it relate to traveling, life, or karate?  Let me explain…

I brought this up specifically because of a post I saw on Facebook the other day.  A friend is doing quite well and moving up in the state/national karate championships.  He’s up to nationals now.  And his aunt posted on his status with words to the effect of “Congratulations, but we love you so don’t go too far because we want you to be around here.”

I know she was well-meaning and everything, but the basic message she was sending there was, “You should sacrifice what you want so that you can stay here with your family and make us happy, even at the expense of your own happiness.” (There’s my karate reference.)

And this kind of situation happens all the time.  Family and friends aren’t trying to be malicious, but by being thoughtless and putting their own wants in front of your own, they can be very effective at sabotaging your dreams. (Jim Morrison quote.) It’s the famous guilt trip of the mother on a huge, subtle scale.  It’s your family, thinking they’re doing what’s best for you when really they’re trying to do what’s best for them–all they’re doing is holding you back, making you doubt yourself, making you fear, keeping you from achieving what you have the potential to achieve. And because this “advice” is coming from people you care about, you naturally respect and value their opinions, making it even harder to look at them dispassionately to see the truth behind the words.

And to go further into this, what is an appropriate sacrifice to make for the people you care about?  Would they be willing to make the same sacrifice for you?  Say, for example, that you wanted to move to New Zealand, about as far away as you can get from the United States and still be on Earth.  It would be pretty common for your family and friends to try to talk you out of it, or at least try to get you to come back and visit them as often as possible.

But is anyone offering to go visit you in New Zealand?  Or, if they’re the ones trying to talk you out of moving, would they be willing to move as well?  To go with you?  Because what they are, in essence, suggesting is that you should sacrifice what you want (to move to NZ) in order that they should have what they want (for you to stay close to them.)

And if they’re not willing to go the distance for you, but expect you to do for them what they would not for you, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your relationship.

And when people give you advice about a big change you’re considering in your life, examine their motives behind the words, even (especially) if it’s your own mother speaking. In the end, you have to listen to yourself, do what you want to do, and not be swayed by people trying to change your mind.  (The reference to life.)

In my not lengthy life so far, the majority of the people I’ve talked to have or have had some kind of dream to go on a big trip.  But almost none of them think of this as a realistic dream–they immediately come up with excuses: work, family, commitment, money, etc etc.  And these people regret not achieving their dream.  (My travel reference. Title is accurate!)

So are you going to be the person who listened to everybody’s advice and stayed home and is now regretting the choices they made for other people, or are you going to be the person who takes personal responsibility for what they do and lives a rich and fulfilling life because they’ve properly recognized and made the appropriate choices to achieve their goals and dreams?

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View of the Duna (Danube) river from the Citadella on Gellert hill. Buda is on the left, Pest to the right.

This wasn’t the loveliest day–in fact, it started snowing while I was out–but this is what Budapest looks like in the winter.

This is probably “the” shot of Budapest.  Most cities have one photo that is the stereotypical image. Paris–Eiffel Tower; Prague–Charles Bridge, possibly, although Prague has so many great things it’s hard to pick just one; Rome–the Coliseum; etc etc.

The second bridge is the famous Chain Bridge, the first bridge to connect the separate cities of Buda and Pest.  Until 1849, the two cities were quite different: hilly, stately Buda on the west side of the Danube; and flat, industrial Pest on the east bank of the river.  Then the chain bridge was built and they were finally connected permanently, only a hundred and sixty years ago.  That’s quite recent as the history of this city goes.  The first settlement on the current site of the city was built by Picts before 1 AD and called Ak-Ink, which allegedly means “Abundant Water.” Later, the Romans occupied the area and called it Aquincum.  Later still, the Bulgarians took it over when it finally became the two cities of Buda and Pest.

Then the Hungarians occupied it and in the 10th century officially founded the Kingdom of Hungary.  In the 1500’s, the Ottomans took over and occupied the city for nearly 140 years, during which time they constructed the Turkish baths that are still popular today.

The Austro-Hungarian empire was formed in 1867.  But it wasn’t until 1873 that the three parts of the city–Buda, Pest, and Obuda, or ancient Buda, were combined officially into the one city of Budapest–long after the chain bridge was built.

In 1918 after WWI ended the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed and Hungary declared itself an independent republic.

After many complicated fiascos through WWII, which you are welcome to read about somewhere else if you are really interested, Hungary became a Communist People’s Republic.  However revolts and more shenanigans soon followed.  The Soviets rolled some tanks in and managed to kill over 3,000 people in the confusion.

While in the Eastern bloc, Hungary apparently became known as “the happiest barrack” due to lighter restrictions than most of the other satellite nations of the USSR.  Stubborn Hungarians being stubborn, they managed to rebuild most of the city in this time.

In 1989 Communism fell and Hungary developed a capitalist economy, representative government, and other trappings of the free Western world.

Budapest is also notable for building the second underground train system in the world.

Imagine if New York had a history like that.


Today, Budapest just so happens to be the best city in the world.  if you like coffee, Budapest has great coffee from the Austrians.  If you like Turkish baths, it has those.  If you like drinking, you’re definitely in luck.  If you like delicious food being delivered to your door for convenient nomming, you got it.  River cruises?  Got it, if you can stand the bajillions of other tourists.  If you like cool old buildings, you will be happy.  It has an outstanding cathedral replete with the mummified hand of King Saint Stephen, founder of Hungary (overachiever) on display, and for 200 forints you can get the lights to turn on in the case for two minutes.  W00t!

If you enjoy climbing stairs then this city is really your dream city.  Caving, really good caving where you get to squiggle through cracks the size of a toaster, is also of course available (these caves under the city are some kind of record, but I don’t remember which one and I’m not going to look it up. They’re memorable, so remember that.)

Plus, Budapest is cheap.  Quite cheap.  You can always spend a lot of money, but it’s easy to live well on a very reasonable budget.  It’s definitely not as cheap as Latvia, but if you’re just coming from Western Europe you will be quite pleasantly surprised.

Special note for Americans: Communism and other evil things died in the city twenty-one years ago.  It’s a lovely safe city and you’re not going to die or get robbed unless you’re extraordinarily stupid.  I mean really, really extraordinarily stupid.  This is not some bombed-out ruin of the former USSR. This is a European capital, part of the EU, and boasts 1.7 million people in the city proper.  It is generally considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Hungarians may be reserved, and sometimes may even seem slightly distasteful of you non-Magyar speaking foreigner, but I have found that a winning smile and a badly pronounced “kőszőnőm” is usually enough to at least get them to stop glaring at you long enough to roll their eyes.

No, really.  I like Hungarians.  I’m delighted by them.  Their language is so foreign, their history and capital city so interesting, and their sometimes disdainful-seeming attitude somewhat misleading.  Hungarians probably aren’t going to run up and be your best friend right away, but they’re good people, solid, down-to-earth, and they’re not going to waste anyone’s time being fake or flippant.  Not to make generalizations or anything *cough cough* like I just have most certainly not been doing, but I’d trust a Hungarian over an Italian any day.

Of course, I’d probably trust just about anyone over an Italian.  But that’s a different story.

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Eating out in Europe is almost never cheap and generally not in a backpacker’s budget.  Of course, there are those times when you really just want to try the local cuisine, and that’s important, but you can eat cheaply and conveniently without going out every meal, saving your money for that one splurge at a nice place.  Here are some tips for eating well on a budget in Europe.

Carpe Noctem and an American Thanksgiving in Buuuudapesht

1.) Stay at hostels. Don’t be afraid.  Hostels are almost always clean, safe, and fun places to meet other travelers like yourself–and best of all, they usually have a fully-equipped kitchen.  Buy food at the supermarket, and cook it in the kitchen.  There’s generally a fridge as well where you can store your (labeled and dated) food for consumption the next day.  Sometimes, hostels will even have a free food shelf.  People  tend to leave behind pasta and other non-perishables that they don’t want to carry with them, and you may be able to snag this for free!

Protip: Stealing other people’s food is a jerk move and will instantly give you bad traveler karma.  DON’T do it.  DO get together with other travelers and plan a big group meal if the opportunity/group is right.  It can be a lot of fun, it’s cheaper than buying food just for yourself, and have everyone cook their local specialty so that you get to taste food from all over the world.  Mmm.

2.) Street food. Namely kebabs.  And, in the British isles, fish-and-chip shops.  There usually isn’t room to sit–they’re take-out hole in the wall establishments.  But you can get a filling, greasy kebab–which is strips of chicken, beef, or lamb, cut off an enormous hunk turning on a spit, and put in either a pita or rolled burrito-type of deal, along with lettuce, tomato, onion, and yogurt sauce–for two or three euros.  If you’re in a hurry, your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, or you’re just in the mood for some greasy street food, kebabs are the way to go.  You’ll find them all over Europe.  Germany and Spain have the best kebabs, although for the real deal they originated in Turkey.  I haven’t been there so I cant judge the quality of Turkish kebabs–yet.

Protip: Kebabs are really good drunk food, and best of all, most kebab shops stay open late.

3.) If you want to eat out, ask your hostel to recommend a place. Guide books are out of date by the time they’re published.  In Spain, we spent hours looking for a bar recommended in the Lonely Planet, only to discover that even the building it was in had been torn down.  Restaurants can change ownership and quality quickly.  The hostel employees will know the cheapest and best local places to eat.  In Rome, I ate a four-course meal with a carafe of wine at a nice Chinese restaurant for 6 euros.  Not a bad deal for enough food to keep me filled for the rest of the day.

4.) Go to an outdoor market and pick up picnic supplies. This is probably my favorite option.  Many European cities have a central farmers market on certain days of the week, or sometimes big, permanent open-air markets.  Budapest has a colossal two-floor structure; Barcelona has an open-air market filled with every type of seafood you can imagine and some you can’t, along with fresh fruit, cheeses, sausages, Iberian hams, baked goods, coffee, wine, and confectionary.  Fresh, authentic food sold by locals, often lower prices than in the supermarket–what’s not to love?

delicious Iberian Ham. Don't be put off by its appearance on the leg, so to speak.

Protip: Pick up a friend or two at your hostel, grab a bottle of wine, some chorizo, a loaf of crusty bread, and some cheese and go to a public park to enjoy your fresh purchases together.  A toast to traveling!

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“It’s no coincidence that in no known language does the phrase, “pretty as an airport” appear.”

~Douglas Adams

Almost everyone has flown at least once in their lives. The first time or two is exciting.  But when you do it a lot, there are certain things that just become obnoxious–and I’m not talking about airport security.

1.) The person in front of you in the security checkpoint line that takes years to remove their jacket, clean out their pockets, undo their briefcase, take out their laptop, take off their shoes, and then load everything appropriately into the bins.

No, I don’t care how much stuff you’ve got, have it all ready to toss in the bins when you get to the conveyor belt.  It’s not really that difficult.  Most people manage it.  Why are you flying again?

2.) The person who sits near you on the flight and complains incessantly about everything.

When you get offered, “chicken or beef,” those are your options.  No, the flight attendant does not know where this chicken was slaughtered and what its living conditions were like. No, there are no seats with more legroom. No, you are not any more special than any of the other people shoved into cattle class.  Yes, those are the only movies on offer.  No, if you wanted the vegetarian option you should have requested so BEFORE you got on the flight. Yes, the seats are cramped.  Yes, this is a seven-hour flight. I hope you get deep-vein thrombosis and die on the flight. At least then you would provide me with some mild entertainment.  If you wanted better conditions, you should have upgraded to first class.

3.) The person who sits next to you and then tries to convert you to Christianity/Tupperware/Disneyland.

Guess what? I really don’t care. You’re annoying.  And if I sense what your mission is before I’ve spoken, I might just pretend I don’t speak English.

4.) Ryanair.

I just hate Ryanair. With a passion. They should be bombed off the face of the planet.

Ryanair logo

Ryanair's new logo.

5.) Homeland Security–TSA

In no country that I’ve ever been in has airport security been so insane as in the United States.  I know, 9/11 and then that attempted bombing over Christmas, but let’s face it guys: you are NEVER going to be able to stop 100% of the people who are determined to hijack a plane for whatever nefarious reason.  Even if you really went gung-ho on this, the bad guys will find ways to get past security.  But the thing is, it’s just security theater.  I’ve taken contraband items through security before and haven’t been caught. (Oh no! A bottle of liquid over 100 ml!)  The “enhanced” security is just there to make the mass of sheep-like citizens feel more secure, much like lock-down drills in public schools that appeared after the Columbine tragedy.

Guess what. It doesn’t make me feel safer, it just takes up more of my time and irritates me. I might even enjoy flying if it wasn’t for insane Homeland Security and the TSA…

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For your viewing enjoyment ladies and gentlemen, I present to you weekly Friday photos.  Please don’t make me explain. They’re photos. One a week. On Fridays.

This is a canal. In Venice. It really is this color and no it didn't smell bad. There were no gondoliers, this being December and bloody cold.


And this week’s feature is Venice, that rotting heap that took all my money and in exchange gave me a moldy pizza.  Don’t be fooled by the pretty pictures, Venice is just trying to lure you in so it can beat you with a lead pipe, take your wallet, and leave you gasping in some smelly alley (that probably smells like moldy pizza.)

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