Thursday, March 17, 2011

How to Travel?

As our excursion to Europe draws nearer, increasing numbers of responses I receive toward our plans go something like this:

"I envy you!"
"I wish I could do that!"
"You are so lucky!"

The fact remains: Luck has nothing to do with executing a trip. Envy gets one nowhere. In order to travel, one must bring together the correct ingredients which, when subjected to a precise amount of pressure, coalesce into a successful trip.  Now, don't get me wrong. I am perhaps the farthest thing from a travel guru. Mine is not the only way to do things.  However, having been given the opportunity to travel abroad, I realize that it is possible for anyone.  It's truly a far more accessible dream than you may realize.

Ingredients in the Execution of a Successful Trip:

1.) Motivation
Nothing can be built without a foundation. Travel is no different. Many people who say they wish they could travel unfortunately lack the most fundamental component: Drive.  Any number of things can keep one from believing that travel is available, let alone attainable.  You may understand that you desire to experience what faraway places have to offer, but feel as though the things in your life do not allow for it. Life gets in the way. You may be in college with an insane schedule, you may be a parent with a spouse and family to take care of.  Whatever your situation, though, there will be a time for you. The old adage "if you want to do it, you'll find a way to do it" comes into play here. Whether it is now, or several months from now, or ten years from now, as long as that passion still resides in you, there will be a right time. 

2.) Planning
Understandably, this is the most daunting phase of travel.  When you are at a point where you know you want to go somewhere, but aren't quite sure how, it can be very discouraging. However, one must remember that there is no rush. You have all the time you need to plan the crap out of your trip.  Goodness knows that all the components of planning can be overwhelming, but if you break down your planning factors and look at them one at a time (while keeping the big picture in mind), this phase becomes much more manageable. 
The subcategories of the planning phase are most likely unique to every excursion, however I will list those that I feel manifested within the planning phase of our own trip (a separate entry on this phase will be posted later for expansion):
Note: I highly recommend Google Maps/Earth for deciding itinerary and sight grouping. These tools have been invaluable to us. 
Note: Networking is also important.    

 Research is  only a matter of a funnel system.  You begin with a broad problem or question, solve it, then as you go, you move to smaller more detailed issues.  It may seem intimidating at first, but in reality it is a great deal of work but it can also be very enjoyable if you let it!

• Decide which country(ies) you wish to see.
• How long you wish to stay (entire length of trip).
• If possible, decide the exact dates you would like to go. This will not only allow you to get accurate quotes on apartment and transportation costs, but it provides a framework for your research.
• Narrow down the cities you wish to visit (and in which order).
• Decide exactly which sights you would like to see in each city.
• On a calendar, make a rough outline of your itinerary (decide how many days per city).
• Group sights together according to their proximity, then designate each grouping for a day. (Google Maps/Earth is great for this)
• Gather information regarding the cost, times, and restrictions of each sight. is recommended.
• Find accommodations for each city (easier said than done—will be expanded later) For Italy, BB Planet is great.
• Scrounge for cheap flights- book before accommodations.
• Confirm accommodations.
• Decide on your method of travel between cities. (Trains are the way to go).
• Research costs of such transportation. (Ex. Would it be more cost effective to buy a EuroRail pass or to buy individual tickets?) RailEurope and TrenItalia were great for us.
Note:  Traveling between countries? Flying is often cheaper!
• Decipher inner-city travel.  This can tend to be daunting and at times frustrating, but not impossible!
• Both for fun and preparation, in Google Maps, perform walking directions from your apartment to sights/transit stops for each day.  Walking Rome
More can be added, there is no end to the research which can be done before traveling.

3.) Funds
Fortunately, we are at a transitional point of our lives in which we are not yet paying rent or expenditures of that sort, so a large majority of our income is funneled directly into our travel fund, or 'war chest' as my dad fondly calls it.  I like to think of it to more closely resemble the Paradise Falls change jar from Up...
But anyway, I realize that many people are unable to directly stack up their funds as Erik and I have been doing, but then again, many people earn more than we do. At any rate, I believe that putting away funds for a trip is of vital importance.  Even if it's a few dollars every time.  Eventually, it will be sufficient.  To give you a perspective, Erik and I are spending 30 days in Italy and Paris for a little over $5000 each.

4.) Actualization

Obviously, this is the most difficult yet rewarding step.  If you have never traveled before (most likely if you are reading this), (though everyone is different), I can safely say that it will change you.  If you have the drive for it, it will open your eyes and help you see things in ways you have never even considered before.  Travel gives us a greater perspective not only of our world as it is today, but how it once was.  To stand in the vast, monolithic nave of St. Peter's Basilica, watching the shafts of sunlight filter earthward through the soaring windows of its massive dome, is to stand in the present, but become conscious of the centuries upon centuries of history which permeate the very atmosphere of the place.
You may see these places in photographs a thousand times, but nothing on earth compares to witnessing them with your own eyes.
That is why we travel.