Risks and Rewards

Hooray for beautiful Swiss trains!

I have always had an affinity towards transportation. Whether it’s plane, train, car, bus, boat, biking or simply just walking, I enjoy the excitement of going somewhere new and taking in the experience along the way. Even if human teleportation existed, I’m sure I’d find something alluring about the journey it provided.

For my walkabout I was venturing into a relatively blank chapter of my transportation book. I had a Eurail Global Pass for two months that worked in 23 countries and the only real train trip I’d ever taken was from Boston to NYC on Amtrak. Needless to say, I was planning on learning on the fly, or, err, rails.

There were things I knew, things I didn’t know, and things I thought I knew, but definitely didn’t know about train trekking around Europe. Before the trip I had fantasized about going everywhere and seeing everything so I could, as it’s commonly phrased, “get it out of my system”. I quickly learned how erroneous that idea was.

In Melbourne you don't have to be scared of Graffiti. In fact, it's quite nice.

Not only will I, or probably any travel minded folk, ever get “it” out of my system, but also, the sheer idea of thinking you could somehow see “everything” is completely absurd and naïve.

Yes, I had traveled before, but in those past expeditions my itineraries were strictly regulated and planned by someone other than myself. In those experiences I didn’t have the opportunity to break away and see outside the trips constraints, and instead was left living in a travel bubble. I’m guessing these past experience are what lead to my rather narrow-minded expectations.

Don't worry about those Berlin bullet holes. They're from a bygone time.

I have now happily accepted I will NEVER see everything and will NEVER get traveling “out of my system”. Perhaps that’s lesson number one from the walkabout.

Another lesson I had to quickly pick up was minimizing risks while basically living on trains.

It’s not so much I expected something bad to happen, or even that it was a large possibility, but more about reducing my “harass-ableness ” in general so as to ward off any potential harassers.

For instance:

I always did my best to keep my two backpacks as close to me as possible, my passport/money belt on me at all times, and to set an alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep through my stop1. I like to think I did my best to minimize all risks which, is part of the reason, among others (including luck), I had zero safety problems2.

Let’s be honest, are there risks to riding around by train almost daily for months? Absolutely. But, to put it bluntly, who cares? There are risks involved of every part of daily life and the risks in this sort of excursion are minimal at best and will provide great rewards. If you’re not at least a little scared, you’re not pushing yourself far enough. Plus, even if you do get gassed to sleep and have all your belongings stolen, or have bodily excrements deluged all over your stuff, as long as your not permanently scarred in some manner, at worst you’ll have a great story to tell. And what more can a traveler ask for than great stories to write in his blog?

If I had been attacked on that dark Budapest hill, the attacker would have shown up here...

-Phil

1Examples of why these methods may help will follow soon. This includes the “pissa” story. [It might be worse than a Tuesday night sitcom, but I’m not sorry for the double cliffhanger.]

2If you consider walking through the center of Naples after midnight with all your belongings on your back and hookers by your side while trying to figure out where some hostel you know little about is located and that hostel happens to be located in a relatively sketchy dark and dirty alleyway, OR walking up a dark densely forested hill path by yourself in Budapest late at night with only a camera at your side while feeling like you’re being watched classifies as some sort of safety risk for you, then perhaps my safety record isn’t completely clean.

Warm Up For European Train Travel

Well I’m finally restarting this blog… again. I’ve had some post ideas I’ve wanted to get out but hadn’t quite got to it recently. But wait no more. Unintelligible, disorganized, gobbledygook, resembling something akin to chicken scratch (can someone tell me if that font exists?) has been assembled and is currently on the editor in chief’s (my) carving table.

That's just the front side of all the trains I took...

The general gist of the aforementioned “writing” is all about train travel in Europe. There are tips on how to do it, safety maneuvers, pricing, and numerous other juicy tidbits, including behind the scenes stories of the Walkabout previously untold that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Let’s leave it at, if you want to learn what the word “pissa” means in Swedish in regards to my train travel, you’ll most definitely want to stay tuned.

-Phil

Weathering the Weather

Snow in Sweden

When you experience four seasons in four months, you’re bound to have bad weather. During my walkabout, I had winter in Scandinavia, spring in Southern Europe, fall in Sydney, and summer in Los Angeles.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to change the weather. Complaining about it, worrying about it, and being victimized by it will do no good. The path to good weather is all about outlook.

Thanks for the great weather Oslo

In almost all situations the weather could always be worse. For example, throughout my trip, whenever I thought it was cold outside I just remembered a few months back when I went skiing in Winter Park, CO and looked at the car thermometer reading -27 degrees. That was before we took the chairlift above tree line with a sharp wind whipping across our bodies.

There were times on the chairlift when it was so cold, the only exposed part of my body, my nose, started stinging so sharply that I thought Old Man winter had cut it off.

Sun in Sydney

Knowing that my upcoming travels would take me to some harsh climates, I took a moment to remember that sense of extreme cold. Therefore, every time from there on out I thought it was cold, all I had to do was think back to that abrasive chairlift ride and remember, “Oh yeah, this 10 degree weather is really not bad at all”.

Most importantly, do yourself a favor and plan ahead and be prepared for any weather change. If it could get cold, carry extra layers. If it might rain, bring a raincoat. If you’re in the Sahara, some water, a hat, sunglasses, and some sunscreen might help… and maybe a ticket out of there too. If you don’t know what the weather is going to be like, either look it up or prepare for the worst.

When you are traveling, hiking, or just plain living, there aren’t many things that will get your mood down faster than being excessively hungry, thirsty, tired, cold, or hot. Those last two are where your weather smarts come in.

Rain in Prague couldn't stop my tour

Whether it’s snow in Sweden, cold in Copenhagen, wind in Venice, rain in Rome, heat in Cyprus, or just sunny in Sydney, it could always be worse. Take advantage of every travel moment you have because they are the best of times and there’s never a good reason to let a rainy day keep you down.

-Phil

A Fleeting Stay vs. An Extensive Foray

So much to see, so little time to see it

There’s a lot of hubbub in the travel ranks about whether it’s better to embark on a whirlwind tour of many places or hunker down and engulf yourself in one area for a prolonged foray. Well, ladies and gentlemen, as one who has recently ended a tumultuous three-month, 17 country renegade jaunt through Western Europe and around the world, and also had relatively lengthy stays in a few different countries, I feel it would behoove the yearning public to remain unacquainted with my completely subjective two cents. As my lawyer turned Latin teacher used to tell us, whenever there is a highly disputed and intricate question at hand, the answer is remarkably easy, and that answer is… it depends.

I know, I know, a complete copout answer designed to release me from my responsibility to answer the delicate question. As my rather ridiculous English used to say, “If you don’t get off the fence, you’re liable to have your balls cut off”. Now, which teacher, Latin or English, is correct, that’s a different topic. But putting all academic advice aside, let’s dig into this considerably intriguing dilemma.

First off, this is a good problem to have. As I’m sure someone wise and perhaps related to Alfred Lord Tennyson once said, “‘tis better to have traveled and left than to have never traveled at all”. But how to travel is the crux of this issue.

When I look back on my walkabout through Europe I can’t say I had a moment I didn’t enjoy. The challenges I faced while trying to navigate through so many different places so quickly were certainly rewarding, but at the same time potentially tiresome. You have to pick your battles and accept it’s impossible to see everything on one trip. I had three wondrous days in Rome, but could have easily filled up thirty. I spent one night each in Brussels and Naples, didn’t get a very good impression of either, but felt as though if I had the opportunity to stay longer, I could have easily given in to the cities’ charm.

My time constraints lost me the opportunity to really dig deep into any of the cities I visited. But at the same time, those same time constraints allowed me to become more efficient and productive with my time in each city. When you know you will be in one area for an extended period of time I think we naturally tend to put off visiting or doing things we believe we’ll have enough time to do later. But suddenly, one thing leads to another, then the time comes to leave, and you’re left thinking how did I manage not to do x, y, or z. You took time for granted, something someone with little of it would be sure never to do. I witnessed so many different and exciting places, and met so many new and enchanting people simply because I supplanted myself into a situation where it was required.

Naples could have been even better

On the flip side, just as some people thrive on moving around every few days, some thrive on just the opposite, immersing themselves into and country, culture, and community with satisfying ease. It doesn’t matter how many places you’ve visited, but rather how you’ve visited them. The personal prize that comes with truly learning a people and place can create an everlasting bond of appreciation. Weaving yourself into the fabric of a community allows for a deeper understanding than anything you’ll ever get in a few day stay.

There can also be great challenges starting anew in an unfamiliar place. New foods, languages, etiquettes, social, religious, and political perspectives all dare you to move out of your comfort zone. With each uncomfortable step you gain the ability to learn about yourself and others. It’s an outstanding method for ripping back the superficiality of being just a tourist and really getting at the heart of your environment.

So, here we lie. Stuck between superficial, yet spontaneous and efficient fleeting stays, and limited, yet profound and eye opening extensive forays. The answer to which reins champion is truly up to you. It depends on what you need, who you are, and why you’re traveling.

To save my balls, I must admit that for me, fleeting stays float my boat. I love the unpredictability, the constant change, and the environment that forces me to act. There is no right or wrong choice, and I would never say my preference will not change, because in the end, travel is all about change. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing the new and different. Meeting new people, coming across new places, and learning about yourself and others comes with either method. If you boil this battle all the way down, you’ll always be left with one fact; it depends on you.

-Phil