To me, travel is planning and spontaneity in parts – the dosage metered so that I can handle it. This time around, I stretched my comfort zone by starting with just one planned week and then using a day each week to plot the next one (places to stay, see, side-trips, all of it). Part of the planning process was also a lot of homework about packing and budget; in this, my bible was Rick Steves’ “Europe Through The Back Door”. So I can’t help but recount a few things I learnt along the way :) Of course, this is a self-serving post!
I read like a maniac on the essentials required and the best way to pack for two months on the road. The night before my departure, I was almost in tears struggling to zip up a 22-pound-55L backpack and buckling under its weight. Two months later, everything I had fit neatly into the same backpack and I was walking with a (umm, relatively) straight back. So what changed?! For the most part, I had followed instructions; but I added more books and food than advised. Ten days into the trip, I ruthlessly downsized the books and a few clothes and sent them all home.
So pack light! An easy to carry backpack (or carry-on roller for those whose backs refuse a pack) is the best friend you’ll have if it is the right size!
I stayed in a mixture of different accommodations – one apartment, one big-chain hotel, four hostels and five B&Bs – each with its own character. An apartment was the best way to begin the trip, being by myself. The big chain hotel had a gym attached with classes that I loved. The hostels were vibrant and they reminded me that people have so much to offer only if I am willing to reach out and ask. The B&Bs were little laps of luxury – I met VERY friendly hosts who were great guides and offered excellent food!
Youth hostels are part of the “it’s a culture thing”, so don’t shun them. They are amazing to meet new people, swap stories or just eavesdrop and play “guess the accent” with yourself. And oh, the sheer energy!
I was on a budget on all vectors, food included. The best part about a food budget is that I ate more fruits and drank more soup in two months than I ever had in the four months before that! Both are amazing on the island, and the bread is just melt-in-your-mouth fresh. It was such a joy to discover that the portion sizes can actually be finished in one sitting without feeling like a bloated balloon! With the hostels and apartment, it was easy to whisk up a quick (and healthy) stir-fry and call it done. But, it was equally important to try the local cuisine and so I ventured out looking for something every now and then. Sadly, the Scottish veggie haggis was a let-down and the English afternoon cream tea did not do much for me either. The local markets made up for this is whooping style – everything I’ve eaten at a market was amazing, some even healthy. From wheat-grass juice to salads to Ethiopian street food to dosas to baked apricot sweets and homemade chocolate, I’ve been left wanting more each time.
Always visit a market – you never know what you’ll uncover, but you can be so sure that it is all VERY local and VERY in-budget!