Europe was my first experience with fast paced travel, and what a different experience it was from our South American trip! In short, our summer Euro trip can be condensed into 11 countries, 7 flights, 16 trains & buses, 13 apartments, and 1 mansion. 80 days and 80 Instagram posts. And several lifetimes worth of memories and experiences.
I can vividly recall the day I flew into London as a wide-eyed wanderer, and how I ooh‘ed and aah‘ed at everything. As the days, weeks, went on, and our list of countries visited ticked higher and higher, my eyes became a little less wide, and I don’t dole out the wow‘s quite as generously. Traveling so fast is undoubtedly more stressful and more exhausting. But at the end of it, when I had packed up my bags one final time, I found myself not ready to leave and wondering how the hell this summer went by so quickly?!
And this is what strikes me with fast paced travel. We’re so much on-the-go that memories of faces and places are constantly being replaced with new ones, and before I knew it, we were sitting on a plane flying home. And sometimes, I’m shocked to think back on our trip and realize that I have actually forgotten about certain places we visited. The time has truly flown by in the blink of an eye, and most of it in a hazy blur. But at the same time, when I really think about all that we’ve seen and done, it feels like that I’ve lived several lifetimes.
I guess I will still need to sit down at some point and commit all these memories unto paper (or, errr…unto blog). In the meantime, here are some lessons learned from 3 months of fast paced traveling through Europe.
1. D and I are definitely not hot-weather people.
This was a nasty lesson learned. When the sweat is dripping off our backs and our skin is disgustingly sticky, our heat-fueled fights are vicious. Like, “maybe we should break up” vicious. So ummm… remind me again why we’re chasing summer? I only hope we’ll stay sane in Southeast Asia.
2. And yes, Europe gets freaking HOT during the summer.
And most of the continent is very ill-prepared for the heat (made even more intolerable by added humidity). The best way to cool down is in the refrigerated section in a local grocery store. And it’s also the best place to get the cheapest bottled water.
3. It may be helpful to learn a little of the language.
It’s not OK to default to Spanish every time you’re spoken to in a language you can’t understand. I admit I was bad and didn’t really try to learn a little bit of the local languages (let’s face it, it’s hard to when you’re in a different country every week). But for some reason, my first reaction is to always start speaking Spanish “si, si” in response. (Anyone else do this?) Maybe because we had previously spent 3 months in South America, and maybe because that’s the only other foreign language I know. But yeah, that doesn’t help with the communication.
4. It’s OK to not do what everyone else is doing.
We went to Paris and didn’t go to the Louvre to see the freaking Mona Lisa, because I just don’t care. We didn’t go to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam because we didn’t feel like standing in the huge line in the heat. We didn’t go to Pamukkale in Turkey (even though it was *right there*) because it was expensive and we were too tired. Maybe we missed out on some amazing things, especially since we probably won’t be going back anytime soon, but I’m perfectly OK with that and have no regrets.
Having a roller carry-on does not mean that I get to stuff it to the brim with heavy, useless stuff. Trust me, it is not fun lugging it up 6 flights of stairs, or rolling it over cobblestone for a straight mile. And really, I could have survived just fine with half the clothes and only 1 pair of shoes. It’s amazing how little you actually need on the road.
6. Keeping yourself healthy is no easy task.
Don’t assume that walking miles a day will automatically keep your weight in check. Long term travel is not a vacation, and there is no binge period and “undoing the damage” period. You’re going to be faced with new, interesting food to eat every single day. And so it’s important to actively choose to be healthy every single day by committing to some sort of exercise regime or diet. But that said.. this lesson is definitely learned too late, and I still came back wearing a few extra pounds.
7. On a related note, accept the fact that you just can’t eat everything you want to too.
This one is especially hard for a couple of foodies to grasp, because we truly live to eat. But then I realized that I don’t want to gain 20 pounds. Yes, all the countries have a few “must eat!” specialties that can’t be found anywhere else. But if you know it goes against your diet guidelines (like gluten for D) and you’ll feel like a blob afterwards, then don’t eat it! In all honesty, you’re probably not missing out on much.
8. Learning to read metro/bus maps will be your most useful skill.
I kinda learned how to get around if a city has a decent metro system, but I honest to god cannot read bus maps. We ended up walking a lot all over town, which was good for exercise, but obviously limited our sightseeing options based on how far we were willing to walk. I can’t help but think that we must have missed out on a lot of sights.
9. You will really appreciate the little things that makes your life easier.
Having to do laundry by hand in a sink is a b*tch, and neither of us wants to do it (even though I always end up with that chore… begrudgingly). Our relationship greatly improves whenever our apartment comes with a washer. Oh washer… you are a wonderful invention and I will never take you for granted again!
10. Allow time to relax and simply observe life.
When you only have a few days in a city, you may be tempted to run around and see all the major sites. We did that in Paris. We exhausted ourselves, but really, only a couple of sights stick out in my mind now. It’s the classic case of seeing a lot, but at the same time, seeing nothing at all. Personally, my favorite travel moments are when we’re not doing much. One of my fondest memories of this trip is one afternoon in Istanbul, when we allowed ourselves to be persuaded to take a seat at a random alleyway shisha joint. We spent the entire afternoon blowing smoke and chatting with the waiter while he taught us how to play backgammon. Those are the kind of memories that last the longest.
11. But it’s still necessary to plan a little bit.
For me, planning is my most dreaded task. I just don’t have the patience to do research. But this is necessary, especially when you have such a limited time to soak in a new city. Since I was so lax on the planning, we often arrived at a new place with no idea of what things to see. I just figure that we can aimlessly wander around and come across cool things… except this isn’t really a solid plan when you have no idea which direction to head off in. Needless to say, this resulted in a few wasted days and a few arguments.
12. You may get tired, but you will never get tired of travel.
Fast paced travel can get tiring, and there will come a time when you’re just not as excited anymore about seeing another church or the sights in a new city. But it does not mean that you’re no longer excited about travel. The pure act of travel – of hopping on a train, of arriving in a new city, of trying a new food – will always fill you with a sense of joy and wonderment. Maybe you just need to slow down a little, or spend a day doing nothing, but the more you travel, the more you know that you will never want to stop.
What are some of the things you learned while on the road?
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