Chapter 3: The Blank Spaces on the Map

You’re Not in Costa Rica Anymore; The Thing About Eurotrip Planning

I’m not a planner.  I always make things up as I go along and I’m a stellar improviser by default.  This worked great for me in Latin America.  If I got tired of a place, I hopped on a bus.  I relied on tales of what other travelers had just done to decide where to go next; once, I even changed destinations in-route when I met another backpacker on the bus.  The extent of my planning–which I considered ample–was spotting out potential places so I would have a contingency plan in case I didn’t meet any interesting people.

So when I read in a couple of blogs that while it is important to plan shorter trips to Europe, trips of a month or more don’t require much planning, I was content.  So we mapped out a circuit of countries, bought Eurorail passes and travel insurance last minute, and hopped on a plane to Barcelona.  On the way to the airport, I had this nagging feeling that I had missed something.  Truth is, I was apprehensive of backpacking Europe because I didn’t know what to expect.  Drop me in Latin America, I bet I could find a bus or a hostel without too much trouble.  However, I didn’t know what to expect from trains and non-Spanish-speaking countries and expansive cities.

Even as we were still fighting off the jet lag, sister and I came to realize that we did not do the right amount of planning.  It was either too much or too little, depending on your perspective.  Because here’s the deal: for a month (más o menos) in mostly western Europe, it’s probably best to either build the skeleton of your trip by reserving train seats and hostels before you go, or to go in with the attitude of letting the wind blow you wherever it will, as long as you don’t stray too far from your return flight.

We’ve ended up with a bit of a quandary because we have a couple of places we have to be on specific dates because we booked a tour of the Vatican and are meeting up with sister’s fiance in Prague, so our travel dates aren’t as fluid as would be ideal.  The problem we’ve run into is that trains may be booked on days we want to go, or distances are longer than expected (ahem, Rome to Prague).  Also, in places like Cinque Terre in Italy, there seem to be a limited number of hostels and a lot of demand.

We’ve managed to mostly figure things out and make sure we’ll be where we need to be, but it took a couple of evenings and one or two arguments to do research and make arrangements that we could have done more easily at home.  Most countries require that you have your train reservation sent to a physical address, meaning you can’t book online for something within the next week.  A Eurorail pass is only useful as long as there is space on the train, which is why we’re staying a couple of days longer in Barcelona than expected.  Not that I’m complaining–tomorrow is election day, which should be interesting.

But, we’ve had to cut a couple of places out of our itinerary, which hurts because we were already set on them.  We may add a couple of new, more conveniently-located places, which I’m sure will also be interesting, but still.

However, Barcelona has already turned out to be fabulous and not really what I expected, so I’m stoked to see what else will turn up.  I’m starting to get back into the backpacking groove, and I’m already starting to feel a little limited by my return flight.

However, for now, we’re in Europe, we’ve walked down a road older than Jesus and explored a basilica that has been under construction for more than a hundred years (and isn’t finished yet). Also, I’m looking forward to a longer period of quality time with my sister than we’ve had since she graduated high school.

I could think of worse ways to live.

(P.S. I’ll include more details about Spain later, don’t worry. Mom.)


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