Monday, June 16, 2014

So, you wanna travel, huh?

pssst: Landed myself in Thailand! So for the next two weeks you get some travel-related posts - hope they get you in the mood for some Thailand picture over-load once I return!

I LOVE Traveling. In 2009, amongst the dust and roaring sirens of Athens, I fell in love. I fell in love with being out of my comfort zone, trying new foods, wondering around unfamiliar cities, and diving into new cultures. I love getting lost (literally) in cities, sometimes on purpose, sometimes on accident. I truly believe that is where you can see a city in it's purest form - it's where all the amazing-fun things happen.

Athens, Greece (Hadrian's Library), doing illegal things :)

 My first trip was to Greece and Cyprus for a month my Junior year of college. I was fortunate that my first trip was not only with a large group, but with two awesome professors who knew the country like the back of their hand. They taught me so much about traveling, navigating a city, and how to embrace it all.

Nicosia, Cyprus (trying Sardines for the first time) 
Paphos, Cyprus (Where Aphrodite was born)
Athens, Greece (Acropolis)
After college, a good friend and I bought a few backpacks and ventured through Italy. It. Was. Amazing. This trip was two years after Greece, and since then every 2 years I have been fortunate enough to go on another adventure. My last was to Spain and France. And this year? Thailand & Cambodia. Still in shock about that one.

Hiking to Postiano, Italy
Boat tour around Capri, Italy
Florence, Italy
Thankfully, I have some amazing people in my life who see the same value in traveling as I do; and we do pretty well navigating the world together. In my past few trips, planning has become increasingly easier. I thought i'd share a few tips on how to plan for a trip abroad with a group of peeps!

Grenada, Spain (Alhambra, my 'must see' on the trip)
Decide on the country/s and key spots to hit
When we started planning for Thailand (which was chosen on a mere suggestion), we each set out to research some 'must see' items. Each person brought to the table a few places/cities that they couldn't leave that part of the world without seeing. This helped us pick the cities we would stop at, and made sure everyone got out the trip what they wanted. If you don't know what you want to see, ask an Architecture student - we will have a list a mile long :)

Paris, France
Pick a timeline and cities
We had two weeks to work with (PTO Hoarders Unite!). We then mapped out the trip according to where each spot was located, so that transports between was as efficient as possible. After looking through our 'must see' items, we could determine how long we should stick around each stop. In our previous travels, we enjoyed staying in smaller cities longer than larger cities, and rotating large and small/beach cities to not be so overwhelmed and allow us time to relax. Do not consider travel days as a day in the city. They are often longer and most exhausting than you think :)

Italy in 10 days: Venice, Cinque Terre, Florence, Rome, Sorrento (Train)
Spain/France in 2 weeks: Madrid, Grenada, Barcelona, Nice, Paris (Bus/Flights)
Thailand in 2 weeks: Bangkok, Siem Reap, Chang Mai, Phuket (Taxi/Flights)

**If you are planning a trip to Greece, Italy, Spain, France or Thailand and would like itinerary suggestions let me know!**     
Paris, France
Divide up the research
One thing we did differently with Thailand was fully divide up the tasks to be done. There are 5 of us going, so each took one of the 4 cities, and one took transportation days. This allowed us to know much more about each city, and made it much more manageable to plan. There are SO MANY sites out there to help with travel research. I love ALL of Rick Steve's books and TripHacker's website for initial research. Make sure to check multiple sources for your information, and check the dates at which they were written. Things can change drastically year to year, and just because one person had a bad experience and wrote it on the interwebs, doesn't mean you will!

When choosing a place to stay, know that some hostels are more like hotels and others are more like campsite! Look at ALL the reviews and amenities (make sure there is a place to lock your pack, AC and...running water). We have found it to be fun to stay in a mix of larger roomed hostels and private hostels. If you are staying in a city a bit longer it might be nice to meet people, but not having privacy/quiet can get exhausting, so switch it up a bit.

Planning for Thailand (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Gorman!)
Prepare for the worst
Before you head over there, go over every logical horrible situation, and plan what you'd do.  Lost your passport? Stolen credit card? Whatcha gunna do?! Scan important documents and leave them at a safe place. Have a back up hidden credit card for emergencies while abroad. Print out your full itinerary prior to leaving (and leave one at home). This includes addresses (in English and native language) and phone numbers for hostels with a small map. Watch the news in that country beforehand and have a few back up plans. When we were in Italy, other tourists were warning us about pickpocketers in Naples (which was our last stop). Half way through the trip we cancelled our hostel and continued south to Sorrento (which was the best decision ever). Have flexibility! Finally, enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program this way if the US Embassy needs to contact you and send over Liam Neeson, they'll know where to find ya.

Covering all of your bases prior to leaving leaves out SO much of the stress during the trip; and will leave more time for these moments:

Poros, Greece
Happy Traveling!






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