The following list includes just some of the good (the majority of sites, tours, etc.), the bad (all things hostel), and the ugly (the current state of my feet). While this isn’t everything, it’s a bit of what we learned about travel, ourselves and our marriage – which we boldly put to the test by embarking on a journey of spending 118 full days together, rather than the traditional week and then back to work. I know there’s much more to be realized, but this feels like a good start. Enjoy!
1. Go. Now. Before it’s too late.
2. Make a budget. Try to stick with it, but don’t miss a great experience because of a few dollars.
3. Never think about your bed before the here and now. It’s not worth the anxiety. Also, don’t let that blanket touch your face.
4. Talk to other people. Once they know you’re American (if it’s not totally obvious already) they’ll assume you’re loud and hate Obama, but you should still engage with them.
5. The price you pay for a room determines almost nothing. $30 could lead to a mediocre room full of sleep talkers and snorers, but a fantastic bathroom. $60 could lead to a comfortable bed and a delicious, hot breakfast. $90 could lead to a terrifyingly uncomfortable bed, a shared bathroom, loud noises or bed bugs.
6. On that note, bed bugs happen. The stages of grief include anger, frustration, itchiness, anxiety and, if you’re lucky, eventually acceptance that you have live insects crawling all over you in the night, injecting you with something numbing and sucking your blood. Also, never let anyone see your 3 day old bites… You look diseased and it scares people.
7. It’s okay to put the map down. (Unless you’re in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Florence, Amsterdam, Oslo… Never mind. Keep the map.)
8. Try new food. Don’t be afraid of it. But also fear it. You never know. It could cause havoc or bring happiness.
9. It’s okay to eat food you recognize. Even McDonald’s. New decisions and new languages can be overwhelming. Just don’t eat McDonald’s when you get home. There’s no excuse for that.
9a. (<– this because I’m too lazy to renumber everything…) Drink their coffee! It’s espresso. Grab it, throw it back and keep moving. It’s okay, and it certainly makes you appreciate American coffee.
10. When it comes to trains, try to be at the station early. It’s never fun to run through the station.
11. Don’t get off at the wrong station, especially if you’re in the middle of Poland. If you do, it’s okay to cry about it. But really, don’t do this.
12. It’s okay to cry about anything. Really. Travel doesn’t always equal fun and it rarely equals easy.
13. If you travel with another human, show them patience. You’re both lost, no matter how insistent someone is. Show yourself patience, too. This is all new.
13a. You’re not you at 3am. Dead-of-the-night you is angry. Dead-of-the-night you spends time considering the best way to get people to be quiet… Yelling? Violently tossing in bed to show frustration? Strangulation? Throwing things at them? Murderous thoughts come to dead-of-the-night you. Even your dead-of-the-night husband will shush people when they’re eating a bag of cookies at 3:19am. Dead-of-the-night you wasn’t always this way. You started with compassion and empathy for the drunk people stumbling in. You felt bad for them. Now, dead-of-the-night you feels bad for only yourself and your dead-of-the-night husband, as you both experience your 43rd night in a row of terrible sleep (easily noted by the movement of the bunk bed as you each toss and sigh loudly for others to hear). The important thing to remember is that dead-of-the-night you is not you. Forgive and forget. You are better than the dead-of-the-night version of yourself.
14. Tell the people at home how much you value them! Travel is fun but having a place to call home is funner.
15. Your English skills matter. DO NOT dumb down your English to talk to other people. Also, don’t raise your voice. You look like a jerk. (This is allowed if nothing is working… But don’t start a conversation this way.)
16. Do the touristy things! That’s why you’re traveling. But, don’t miss out on the hidden gems… Usually found by accident or scouring travel sites.
17. Use the phrase “hidden gems”. It’s fun.
18. Go to the bathroom every. single. time. there is an opportunity. There’s no guarantee you’ll find another or you won’t pay a pretty penny to pee.
19. Stand up for yourself. You paid just as much as the next guy to see the site, sleep in a bed and sit on the train. Someone else’s bad attitude does not have to be your problem.
20. Take lots of pictures. You’ll be glad to have them. However, remember that the Internet has a way better picture of everything you visited, except you actually visiting. Get yourself in a few pictures! But never with a selfie stick. That’s embarrassing.
21. Don’t let street vendors hassle you. Or get bothered when you try to be polite and they just don’t get it.
22. Get used to zero privacy. It simply doesn’t exist and there’s no way to make it.
23. Before you begin your journey, become an expert on making little face tents with your bedding to keep the light out. Refer to #3.
24. Don’t bring more than you need. If you can barely lift your bag, you’re in trouble. You’ll be especially glad for this when your train is getting ready to leave the station and you’re still looking at the departures to find your platform.
25. Get used to shoes. There are very few places you’ll want your bare feet. You can actually count on your toes the number of times you’ve been without shoes, excluding your bed.
26. Make up is optional. Celebrate this! Europeans don’t wear much, if any. You’ll actually stand out if you put too much on.
27. Try not to be the obvious tourist, but nerd out over the super cool stuff! You will probably never see that again.
28. Buy supermarket food. Eating out gets old.
29. Don’t overextend yourself. It’s good to set a goal and have a plan, but it’s okay to just accept you won’t see it all.
30. Naps are good. You really won’t see it all. So if you had a sucky night of sleep, take a nap! You’ll better enjoy the next adventure.
31. Enjoy the moment. You’ll never have this experience again. (Mainly because you’ll never choose a hostel if you have any kind of money and “experience” is just a nice way to recap the hostel misery.)
32. Washing your clothes in the sink sucks. A lot. Washing your underwear in the sink sucks even more.
33. Air conditioning is not a thing in Europe. Don’t travel in the dead of summer. You will hate it. Sleeping 4 floors up in a room with 11 other people and no moving air at a balmy 95 degrees is absolutely hell. Also, you’ll still hate it even if you get a private room. Just don’t do it.
34. Keep a travel journal. You’ll be glad you did, especially when the events start to run together.
35. Stay with people in their home. These will be some of the best memories you make and you will never be more grateful for a home cooked meal.
36. Say “thank you” often. Whether it’s to the person you’re traveling with, the guy that handed you some kebab, the 24 hour hostel receptionist, or after a 3am speech to strangers about not having sex in your shared hostel room, say thank you. It’s tactful and does wonders in easing tension.
37. Plan to pamper yourself when you get home. It will help you get through using men’s body wash as shampoo, conditioner and body wash. Also, your hairy legs and dead looking feet aren’t forever. Push through.
38. Speaking of dead feet, enjoy walking. Embrace it. You were created to walk. You are capable. If you don’t walk 5 miles in a day, you’re doing it wrong.
38a. If walking isn’t an option, there are at least a million others: airplane, ferry, air gondola, metro (not to brag, but we’re pros at this), taxi, water taxi, water gondola, tram, bus, train, rolling down hills, Segway, bicycle, Chunnel, row boat… Maybe not a million, but at least 15. A regular car is also an option, and can be driven by the most charming Danish lady you’ll meet or your dad. If it’s your dad, it’s only fun if he’s driving in the UK. Here come the tourists down the wrong side of the road!
39. Go. Now. Before it’s too late. If you want to go, make it a priority. Don’t be like the people that finally get there and are too old to walk halfway down the Eiffel Tower or ride their bike around the Irish coast. Don’t miss out on the chance to sunbathe topless in Barcelona (although plenty of old women do that) or run through a train station like a mad person. Don’t risk waiting until your body won’t allow for a 4 course Italian meal or a full day of not eating. You don’t want to get here and be the people that have only 1 hour to enjoy the most beautiful scenery on earth and 20 hours to travel home. Don’t wait until the dream trip just presents itself… Luck will not get you here. Hard work and planning are necessary. Disclaimer: We wouldn’t be here if we had let the fear of unemployment (shout out to Amazon for keeping us from this!), no savings and no place to call our own win over the desire to go and do. Even if travel isn’t for you, you can’t let fear of the unknown win in your life.
40. Make your advice list between the hours of 3am and 5am when you can’t sleep because all your drunk roommates are just now wandering in. It’ll entertain you when you wake up. But, wait to post it until you can be sure you wanna be vulnerable about the Barcelona beaches. Also, a list is a great way to thinly disguise how excited you are to be home, while still being happily overwhelmed and grateful for the adventure you had while you were away.