I'm leaving the country and scared witless; care to help with the particulars?
June 25, 2006 9:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm twenty five, divorced, done with school, and finally able to get out and see the world. There's just one problem: logistics.

As I said: I'm twenty five years old and I've just finished my undergraduate degree in English, which was the last bit of personal responsibility tethering me to any specific place. I've wanted to backpack / travel Europe since I divorced three years ago, but the idea gets a little less sexy with every year that passes. It's time to leave.

I'll have saved approximately 10k (USD) by the end of January, which is when I'll be quitting my job and flying to Dublin to start my trip. However, I need some help with details / general travel rules. I've gotten my passport, my copy of Europe on a Shoestring, perused the usual literature, (lonely planet, couchsurfing, etc.)...but I'm still terrified.

Why? I'm leaving the country of my birth to see what else is out there. Go ahead and make the sighing noise, because yes, it is that "finding yourself" routine I'm doing here. The truth is, I might never come back. I'm open to the possibility. Maybe I'll fall in love with a place and decide that's where I want to stay. For good.

Places I plan to visit include (but are hopefully not limited to): Ireland, England, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Japan, China, Tibet, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting as I type this.

Are there general rules for travel that should be observed besides "don't be that guy?"

I'm fully prepared to live the hostel life. That said, how long can I realistically expect that 10k to last? (P.S., I like to consume [sometimes ridiculous] levels of alcohol.)

Any experienced, traveling MeFites out there who'd like to drop some real-life knowledge?
posted by damnthesehumanhands to Travel & Transportation (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Small tip here - don't be afraid to work in stints here and there to stretch that 10k out with periodic injections. All the best travellers I've ever known have found a way to think on their feet, earn money as they go (in official and unofficial capacities), and keep having such interesting travels. I say jump in feet first, baby. Let it happen and surf on the uncertainty.
posted by kookoobirdz at 9:17 PM on June 25, 2006

This site was an awesome resource before I did that. Otherwise, just fly over there and figure it out. It's not that hard, you'll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

I've backpacked through Europe, Southeast Asia and China by myself for exactly the same reasons, so feel free to email me if you'd like any advice (I'd rather not write out pages upon pages here).
posted by borkingchikapa at 9:22 PM on June 25, 2006

Depending on how long you travel in Eastern Europe and Asia, you can stretch that 10K out for a year or more. I traveled for six months (and drank a lot) on under $7,000. The biggest chunk of money was spent during the first five weeks in the UK and Ireland.

And believe me, traveling by yourself is wonderful and so much easier than people think.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:34 PM on June 25, 2006

I was 20 when I left the country of my birth for the first time, alone, with only $600 to my name, and boarded a boat to Venice, Italy for "an open ended trip", without knowing what I'll do or what I'll find or how I'll survive or what I'll become...

This was the best move I've ever taken in my life. It was in June 0f '73. Since then, I lived in almost 50 addresses, changed a few careers, learned to speak 4 additional languages & acquired many skills, I've transformed my life at least a dozen radical times, and most importantly, I stayed young & open-minded. I attribute much of it to being away from the comfortable surroundings of the familiar.

Don't be afraid. The chances that something good will happen to you, if you want it, are very high.
posted by growabrain at 9:40 PM on June 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Your story is very like mine, 15 or so years ago. Travel-lust and a Big Thirst.

Here’s a rough outline of my travel thing (repurposed from a comment made recently elsewhere because I'm lazy):

I've travelled almost nonstop from university graduation until… well, until now (I still live overseas). That’s 17 years, if you’re counting.

I left the first time, to Europe, with a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe in hand, and a few grand left over from my student loans. I lived on the cheap in a major way, sleeping rough where I could, got some jobs under the table where I could, and came back to Canada a year later, after an irate boss in Greece threated to sic immigration on me.

I taught high school in my hometown for 6 months on a temp contract, paid off my loans (only about 8 grand — I worked in the sawmills during summer vacations to pay for my education, with some top-ups from my folks), and hit the road again, back to Europe.

A year or so later, I was back, and some friends I’d met in Europe hooked me up with work in Whistler. It wasn’t travel, but given that I lived with Aussies and Kiwis and stuff, and hell, it was Whistler — it felt like it. I was there a couple of years, I guess.

I headed down to Mexico with a couple of grand in hand after that, crewed on sailboats for my room and board. Spent almost a year there, met some amazing people.

Back to Whistler for a while, and I came into a $10,000 inheritance, so it was off again. This time to NZ, then Fiji, then Oz, then Asia. I worked with Working Holiday visas, and ended up leaving Oz with more money than I arrived with. I continued around the globe. That trip was more than two years all in.

Back to Canada, eventually, to Whistler again, then back to Mexico for about 8 months, working with a friend in Cancun.

Back to Whister: short stay this time — ended up getting a job teaching in Korea through a friend. Three years there, then another friend offered me IT work in Sydney, so I went there for about 2 and a half years.

Back to Korea after that, where I’ve been since, with short forays out.

I had almost no savings or possessions of any kind until ‘99, when I went to Sydney. I’d worked hard, saved, then travelled, then done it again.

Since then, though, I’ve continued to live frugally, gotten spoused up, and cut back on the travelling, and I have more money in the bank than most of my friends because of the frugal habits I developed on the road, no debt, and am still living abroad (which is good, mostly), and have had one hell of a good time.

The theme, of course, is how much friends I made have helped me over the years, and that’s one of the real joys of travel — meeting folks.

I wouldn’t have changed anything (except maybe I’d be doing more travelling still, but you’ve got to balance these things, and I’m gettin’ old at a rate of knots).

Do it. You’ll never regret it. Have a little money in hand, make friends, and it’ll all work out. I guarandamntee it.

My advice, then?

I'd say that it's wise to stay out of the more expensive northern European countries, unless you can find some work, above or below-board to pay for your basics.

Be a good guy. Make friends. Never be afraid to change your plans at the drop of a hat -- it doesn't really matter in the end where you go, just that you go. Help others as much as you are able -- it comes back to you.

I didn't have the internet for much of my travels, and I think it's probably changed things a lot for young people hitting the road these days. Par of me would be inclined to use it sparingly -- I'd want to have that feeling of being lost again -- but part of me would have loved to have had an online journal of those times. Most of my writing from back then has gone AWOL over the years.

Don't eat in restaurants unless you're in countries where it's extremely cheap. A loaf of bread and a hunk of cheese a day will keep you alive. You can use the leftover money for beer and wine and the really important stuff. Bars are harder to stay out of, or were, for me.

I don't know if it's still being published, but the Hitchhiker's Guide had a wealth of tips on doing it on the supercheap, for Europe at least. Even an old edition, if you can find one, would be useful.

Don't feel like you have to stay on the road constantly. Zip back home for a while every once in a while if there's a good chance of making some quick money for more travel, and to recharge your batteries.

When you find a place you like, stay for a while -- weeks, months, whatever. Most of my travel has been shortish bursts of wandering punctuated with longish stays in places I liked, or where I found work (usually they were the same).

Don't necessarily poo-poo big resort areas -- most of the temporary work I found during my wandering years was in resorts. And they're there for a reason -- they're damn nice places, and a whole heap of fun for the young drinking enthusiast.

Good luck, and don't worry about nothin'. Have fun, embrace the world. I envy you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:56 PM on June 25, 2006 [5 favorites]

Get out of Ireland asap, it'll suck you dry! No really Ireland is awesome but soooo expensive that maybe it's a place to stay when you've made some contacts and can work for a while at a hostel or bar?

Probably the biggest trap people fall into when traveling is hanging with the hostel crowd. It's easy to do, hosteling is an endless party and you will meet lots of cool people but leave yourself time to meet locals and do things by yourself too, especially on an extended trip. Hostels often offer jobs to older travelers like yourself or check out WWOOF for places to stay, most importantly find opportunities to do what you enjoy at home. If you're into diving, go diving if you're into running bring your shoes. Once you meet some kindred spirits you'll have way more fun and get to know a place better than the average tourist.

If I had a bunch of money and time to travel again I'd think about buying a touring bike and toting it around with me on the trains so I could do some long bike trips and also to have transportation when I stayed in a place for a while.
posted by fshgrl at 9:58 PM on June 25, 2006

Looks like the guide is long out of print -- maybe you can find a copy at a used bookstore somewhere. I must have bought a copy of the last edition.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:08 PM on June 25, 2006

Just go. You don't need many plans. Don't get bogged down with all the ins and outs you can find online. Just leave with a decent guide book.
posted by gaspode at 10:42 PM on June 25, 2006

You should be able to travel a year or more with your budget. If you'd like to travel for a longer time, get your feet wet in Europe and then, yeah, head to other, less expensive lands.

I think one of the harder things to do when trying to stretch a very thin budget is knowing when to splurge. Pace yourself, but don't deny yourself some awesome experiences because you're trying to save yourself a few euros here or there. Spend less on beer and more on museums, excursions, activities, etc that don't exist back home.

Otherwise, just keep your wits about you and don't be afraid to ask people questions - even if you don't speak their language. The thing with travelling is that it's easy - easier than you'll ever believe. After the first week or two, you'll get everything down.

Have a great trip.
posted by Staggering Jack at 11:29 PM on June 25, 2006

Just to echo some of what has been said and add a couple thoughts: there isn't that much you need to know - start somewhere cheap and hang around in hostels, and you'll soon find your legs. There is little to know, in terms of logistics, that you will not learn quickly and easily; everywhere sells toothpaste and underwear, a lonely planet europe will give you all the phrases you need to move around and buy stuff, and many fellow travellers will be helpful people who can clue you in about local customs and places and so forth.

Other random tips: Once you're booked into your first hostel, you will easily find information about your next steps. Pace yourself, but be realistic about your minimum spending. Don't spend too much time in capital (or even large) cities, to get variety and different experiences, and not to spend too much money. If you are trying to find a job in an expensive city, like London, try to find it as speedily as convenient, or watch your money evaporate.

Also, relax, take it easy, and generally be open to happenstance, and interesting things will happen. And the number one rule... have fun!
posted by MetaMonkey at 11:59 PM on June 25, 2006

1. Since you're planning on travelling for a while, try to spend some time in smaller cities where there are fewer tourists and you're likely to get a better feel for the local culture.

2. Arrange travel so that you arrive in a new city during the day when possible. Arriving at night can get you in trouble if you don't already have accomodations lined up.

I came to Europe with my backpack almost 6 years ago, and I'm still here. If you make it to Vienna, drop me an email and we can meet up for a beer / coffee and swap a few war stories.
posted by syzygy at 4:01 AM on June 26, 2006

You will spend on living expenses in Europe at least ten times what you would spend in Asia. Think about that. You can get lodging and food for $2.00 a day in Asia. TWO DOLLARS. The most expensive part is getting there. That'll cost you, perhaps a thousand dollars. Once you're there, you could stay for years with your nest egg.

Oh, one tip: don't carry $10 large on you. And don't keep it all in a single bank account (credit card fraud, etc.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:47 AM on June 26, 2006

"Work your way around the world" is a long-standing, informatice and inspirational guide.
posted by rongorongo at 4:48 AM on June 26, 2006

Try a little time in eastern Europe. Bulgaria in summertime is beautiful, it's cheap, and there's very few Americans about.
Do your best to accumulate language skills. Even if you're main phrase in any language is "I don't really speak your language but..." remember that you are the foreigner and trying to speak the language of the country you're visiting is only polite.
Instead of keeping all the cash on you, just use ATMs. Cheaper than travelers checks, safer than cash.
posted by Sara Anne at 7:57 AM on June 26, 2006

Response by poster: Wow!

Thanks to everyone for the words of encouragement. It makes me feel exponentially better to hear so many people tell me this is do-able, and to hear from so many who have already done the same thing.

Also, thanks for all the links, tips and offers for coffee. I'll look you up when I get there, syzygy!

fshgrl: The bike question was something I needed to ask, but forgot. I've got a pretty new Trek that I purchased for commuting / exercise / fun, and was wondering if it would be worth it to take it along. I'm also saddened by the fact that my guitar is a pretty hefty bit of luggage, and will probably have to be left in the States.
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 8:08 AM on June 26, 2006

Response by poster: P.S., I haven't marked any of these as "best" because I'd have to mark them all...
posted by damnthesehumanhands at 8:15 AM on June 26, 2006

I lasted 6 months in Europe on $3000 US, about half of that in the expensive areas, half in cheaper places like Turkey and Bulgaria. That was -- holy crap I'm getting old -- about a decade ago, when you could buy a chocolate bar for a nickel and so on, but $10k is still going to take you a very long way.

I'd (strongly) recommend getting an unlimited-travel Eurail pass to start out with: first off it lets you wander where whim takes you, which is great, but also it'll hook you up with hordes of other people your age who are doing exactly the same backpack-and-hostel finding-themselves you are. (This is not a bad thing: it'll help you ease into the life, and some of those people are going to become fast friends. There's a lot to be said for finding a society of like-minded individuals -- the sort who aren't going to make that sighing noise when you use the phrase "finding yourself".)

After you find your feet and get used to the rhythm of travel, you can start branching out beyond that, find your comfort level for foreign-ness. (I found Turkey to be an ideal jumping-off point: Istanbul is still kind of western and relatively familiar, and the further east you go the more rich and strange it becomes.)

Pack less than you think you'll need. Then unpack half of what you packed and put it away. Spend an afternoon carrying your backpack with you all day long before you leave. You'll still wind up mailing home a lot of crap you thought was going to be essential, but the more you can pare things down from the start, the better.

Leave the guitar. Leave the bike. You don't want to be hauling that thing with you everywhere you go, and you don't want to worry about it getting stolen. If you really want to ride a bike somewhere, you can rent one.

Don't sweat the language thing too much; when you can't find people who speak english, (which in Europe won't be often) sign language and smiles will get you a long way.

Meals: bread and cheese are your friend. They're available anywhere, they taste good, and you can't afford restaurants. Splash out now and then on a tomato or some fruit, but you'll learn to always have a chunk of cheese stashed away somewhere for those Sunday afternoons when there seems to be no food for sale anywhere. This will allow you to spend more money on beer.

And -- good for you, man. This'll change the way you experience the whole rest of your life, no exaggeration.
posted by ook at 8:42 AM on June 26, 2006

i recommend trying to find open air, non-touristy markets wherever you go.

When I lived in paris, there was this wonderful open air market 6 days a week where you could buy great, cheap fruits and vegatables direct from the farms. Kept me from starving.
posted by milarepa at 9:08 AM on June 26, 2006

If you want to see an inspirational "finding-yourself" travel movie, go and see Barry Lyndon. It's my favorite movie and it is truly great.
posted by crazy finger at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2006

Re bikes and guitars: the type of trip you are able to take is determined by the type of luggage you carry: there are suitcase travellers and backpack travellers with very different attitudesfor example. If you are going to carry a guitar or a bike around with you it makes you more of a specialist: great if you are planning to make making music or travelling by bike a major aspect of your journey but a hinderance otherwise.

You can normally pick up a reasonable second hand bike or guitar for $200 or so if the want and then sell it later. I would do that. Airlines will often carry a bike for free on international routes if you are really interested.
posted by rongorongo at 9:35 AM on June 26, 2006

I would buy a bike when I got there and not plan on taking it on any airplanes. It would be killer to have say, out on the Greek islands or in rural East Germany because you can see so much more on a bike. If you stay a while in one place and work you'll definetely want transportation of some sort so that might be bike-buying time.

It's amazing what you see once you get even a few miles off the beaten path! I biked a lot in Greece and once you got even half a mile outside the villages you didn't see another tourist anywhere.
posted by fshgrl at 10:50 AM on June 26, 2006

FYI: According to German common-law (at least, in Munich), it is legal to camp out and sleep on the banks of a river. Just so you know.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:14 PM on June 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I traveled around the world for five years. Stayed in places like Japan where I could make a lot money, and then went to cheap places like Napel to spend a lot of time. You find everything you need to know in travelor hotels.Stay away from people who are too cheap or spend too much. Gets to bea bit of competion of who can spend the less and have the most miserable time.
posted by zackdog at 10:43 PM on June 26, 2006

travel light. smile. don't carry a lot of cameras around your neck. avoid fanny bags. there are a few assholes everywhere but the general population tends to be decent wherever you go. don't ask for it by posing as a tourist. blend in. leaning on a wall and grumping "fucking tourists" works everywhere.

no, seriously now. you can get away with a lot of things if you don't think about the possible hazards in advance. just go and do it. trust me, you will be fine and if all goes well, you'll have a lot of great stories to tell.

I did the exact same thing five years ago only that the country I picked out was the good old US of A. I got to LA in november with nothing heavier than t-shirts and shorts because hey, it's california and california is palm trees and blue skies all year round, right? I got out of a 90m/ph speeding ticket on the 405 simply because I was a dumb tourist who knew there was a limit but not what exactly it was ("be careful son. we have cows here." the cop said).

people in general are pretty damn nice and unless you are really unforgiving and uptight (a good indication would be if you were really really bothered by my mild expletives in this post), you will have heck of a time.

and I do want to see your flickr stream when you return.

posted by krautland at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

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