Before I get too far into Europe, I wanted to document my thoughts at this point. So, I’ve reached the end of my 2012 US summer tour. I feel like a kid who has reached the end of a roller coaster ride, and just wants to jump back in line and do it all over again. It’s been a blast. Two and a half months with a total of 12 states plus 1 Canadian province, not including the states I passed through on trains and buses. Someone I couchsurfed with recently asked if it’s been what I expected, and that got me thinking…
Things that went as expected…
Budget – I’m giving myself a B grade on this. I did exceed the budget a bit, but it was mainly because I wasn’t initially thinking about things like rail passes and last minute bus tickets when I set my goal. In terms of accommodation, food, public transit, and entertainment, I didn’t do too bad.
Public transit – Worked out great. I got more and more comfortable in each city with just hopping on the bus or train and figuring out my way. In some cities, like DC and Portland, I felt like a pro by the end of the stay.
Meeting locals – Definitely an A+ here. Couchsurfing delivered. Even if I didn’t surf as much as planned, I still met a lot of cool people to hangout with.
This blog – I kept my blog up-to-date like I told everyone I would. It was hard sometimes. I always wanted to wait till the end of my stay before writing about it. But then I would be without internet during my transit to another city, and the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write about a place when I had a brand new city to navigate.
Things that did NOT workout as planned…
Surfing couches – Although I surfed quite a bit the first three weeks, I found it really hard and incredibly time consuming to constantly send out the necessary volume of requests in order to find couches. I’d send out 10 requests and get 1 or 2 “no’s”. The rest wouldn’t even bother replying. For me, CS was never about a free place to stay, so I mainly used it to meet people.
Research and reading – I had hoped to read a book a week and also do some research for a business idea. I only read 4 books which is more than I would have if I was working, but I’ll try and get better.
Travel clothes – Whether it was a CS host’s place, hostel, or laundromat, I found a way to wash my clothes like I would if I was home. So, no need for special travel clothes that you can wash in sinks. Half way through the trip, I just wanted regular clothes… jeans and even a sweater for cold San Francisco nights. This might change in Europe because I hear washing machines and especially dryers aren’t as prevalent, but I don’t care. I just want regular clothes.
Things that went better than I hoped…
Hostels – I’ll do an entire post on my hostel experiences at some point, but just have to say they’ve been great overall. Some are more low-key than others and you don’t meet many people, but that’s the worst experience I’ve had.
Amtrak – I was fairly certain I would ride the trains around the US. However, I quickly learned that if you try and schedule a train ride last minute it can be more expensive than flying. Someone mentioned the USA rail pass to me, and after looking into it, I found it to be a smart move. For only $830, I traveled all over the US for six weeks by train. I was even able to schedule all my trains with just a few day’s notice, so the trip had an ad hoc feel to it.
Outdoor adventures – Boulder, Arches, Joshua Tree, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier. I never would have thought I could get out of the city to see places like these. I’ve blogged about each of these experiences. They all came about in different ways… some through Couchsurfing, some through hostel meetups, and others with just friends letting me borrow their cars (Thanks again Miguel).
Final Prep for Overseas
I definitely planned a lot for overseas so here it is what I did if anyone reading this is thinking about their own vagabonding adventure.
Clothes and gear – I switched out shorts and t-shirts for long pants, shirts, a fleece jacket and even one sweater. Also added casual street shoes because I’m tired of only wearing hiking shoes around. I bought a power converter with adapters for overseas plugs. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same
Visas – Almost every place I’m visiting grants a tourist visa on arrival to holders of a US passport. Most of Europe has something called the Schengen zone that should make it super easy to move between countries. I did have to get a visa for India prior to arrival. I procrastinated a bit here, and almost missed out on getting this. A couple weeks ago, I learned of a place in NYC that will do in-person, same day Indian visas. Since I knew this would be my last stop, I made an appointment and downloaded all the forms. It was pretty easy, but I did have to wait over the weekend to pick up the visa since I applied on a Friday. I’m so relieved. I would hate to miss India.
Immunizations – I had heard of people getting shots before going to exotic places, and I was going to pass on this, but several people told me to rethink this approach. After some research, I went to a clinic specializing in immunizations. I gave them my general itinerary and they recommended five shots… tetanus, flu, typhoid, hepatitis, and polio. I got all the shots, and also got prescriptions for malaria pills and cipro. I’ve heard the malaria pills can have horrible side effects, so need to research that a bit and weigh the consequences. I have a while before I would need to take those anyway.
Travel Insurance – Another thing I was going to bail on, but thought otherwise after talking to other travelers over the summer. A company called STA was highly recommended by an English guy I spoke with, and after looking into it, I liked the coverage. The price wasn’t too bad either considering how long I’m traveling for.
Bank Cards – After my credit union failed me when I needed cash in Vancouver, I knew I couldn’t rely on it alone for overseas travel. I opened another account with a major bank, and got a second debit card. They also recommended I get their credit card that’s ideal for overseas travel since it doesn’t charge you fees for international purchases.
Starting my adventure in my own country turned out to be a really good idea. I feel like my travel senses are more developed at this point. It will definitely get a lot harder out of the US, but the idea of navigating a new city every week is something I’m used to now. I’ve become extremely adaptable, and will change this as needed to get around.