Current location Asheville, NC, USA
Current occupation Travel Coach & Business Operations Analyst
Describe your trip in a few lines – give us your cocktail party versionIn 2007, I was burnt out by my job and recent divorce. I packed all my stuff into a storage unit and backpacked around part of Europe for 3 months getting my sparkle back.
When did you take your trip? September to November 2007
How old were you at the time? 37
Share a little bit about what prompted you to travel? I was recovering from a divorce and after 7 years at the same job, I felt burned out. I started out planning a 3 week trip, realized I couldn’t see what I wanted to see in that amount of time and started asking myself “why not make it 3 months?”
Where did you travel? Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Greece and Paris.
How long were you gone? 3 months
Did your travel have a theme (ie language classes or RTW travel or deep sea fishing)? I wanted to practice Spanish so I spent a month in Spain. Otherwise no theme – just the cheaper European countries because the value of the dollar was in the toilet and the dollar:euro exchange rate was brutal at the time.
Did you go alone? If no, who went with you? I went alone. I had a friend in Valencia, Spain and my sister met me in Paris for a week, but otherwise I was alone. Of course I wasn’t really alone because I met friends (and lovers) along the way!
Did you speak the language before you went? I could speak basic Spanish and I had 7th grade French, which didn’t help all that much. But no Portuguese, Greek or Dutch. Dutch and French weren’t really needed but Portuguese and Greek would have been helpful. Portuguese turned out to be similar enough to Spanish that I could pick it up. And in Greece I was generally with a group and we just fumbled along. I had a multi-language electronic dictionary that helped a lot. That and my awesome pantomime skills!
After? My Spanish definitely improved. A lot of small Spanish towns there aren’t many English speakers so I got to practice. And I still remember how to say Thank You in Portuguese (obrigada)
When did you first start dreaming about the trip? I met a British man named Vincent at Ojo Caliente hot springs in Santa Fe, NM who told me about his travel adventures. He was very resourceful and traveled on a fairly small budget. It was then I started thinking that maybe I did have enough money to travel for a chunk of time.
How did you choose where to go or your theme? I had been planning a 3 week trip to Spain with my ex-husband, who’s father was from there. I became really intrigued with the sound of it and decided to go on the trip anyway. From there it just grew into a multi-country, multi-month adventure!
How long did it take you plan it? I decided to quit my job and do the extended trip over July 4th weekend and flew out September 10th of the same year. I had done some research on Spain prior but most of it was researched in July & August.
How far in advance did you start preparing? As soon as I decided to go. But the timing was good because my apartment lease was up in late August so I was already preparing to move.
Were people supportive or did you have nay-sayers? How did you handle them? Incredibly supportive. I was a software developer living in Austin, Texas at the time, and the economy hadn’t yet crashed, so I didn’t have many people freaking out about me quitting my job.
What did you do with your home while you were gone? The home I owned was already rented and I was a renter myself. My lease ended right before I left.
What did you do with any pets while you were gone? One cat had died the year before and one stayed with my ex, so I didn’t have any pets.
What did you do with your “stuff” – furniture, books, clothes, kitchen stuff, art, music, electronics, etc? I sold some, gave away a lot, left the valuables with friends & family and put the rest in a storage unit. When I opened that storage unit up after living out of a backpack for 4 months, I could only slam it shut in horror. That moment changed my life. I’ve been downsizing and simplifying ever since.
How did you handle any jobs you had? Quit? Leave of absence? Work from the road? I initially asked for a 3 month sabbatical. They said “no, sorry”, so I quit. Then they said “eh…maybe” but I was already mentally done. I had a great team, but I had been there for 7 years and it was time for a change. It was the right decision for me.
What was your budget? I had $15k in the bank and I wanted to come home with $5k (which I did). My daily budget averaged out to $100/day including travel. I spent a lot on actual travel – planes, trains and buses – because I moved around a lot. I would say I really spent more like $60/day although it really depended on where I was at the time. And in Euros that was about 35-40 Euros a day. I stayed in hostels unless a private room could be had for 25 Euros (about $40). I ate what I wanted but not many fancy meals. I didn’t drink that much because I was traveling solo. And wine in Spain is cheap anyway 😉 And I couldn’t spend much of souvenirs because I had no way to carry them.
How did you fund it? I got half of the savings when my husband and I split, so I had about $10k in the bank already. I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment and cut my housing expenses in half, saving about $700/month for 8 months to get me up to the $15k.
What modifications, if any, did you make to your lifestyle to save for the trip? I moved into the smaller apartment, I didn’t buy anything for my house, clothes, etc for the 6 months before – because I wasn’t going to use it anyway. I ate out less too.
How long did you save/prepare for the financial piece? It took me 8 months to save the final $5k. During that time, I didn’t buy anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary or for the trip.
Talk about your trip style – budget, luxury? I’m not always a budget traveler but this particular trip was pretty budget. Europe was very expensive at the time. A 300euro withdrawal at the ATM cost me about $450. I stayed in hostels (nice ones) about 75% of the time and cccasionally splurged on private rooms at small inns. My sister and I got an apartment for a week in Paris and I stayed with a friend once. I utilized buses and trains and cheap airlines like Ryanair and EasyJet. I got grocery store food and had picnics and ate at small family places. Tapas are awesome for fun budget dining! I drank house wine. I looked for free days at the museum. But I also went on tours and day trips, visited bath houses, enjoyed some music and nice meals and rented a car in Andalusia. I never felt deprived, although I could have used a good massage a couple of times.
How long did you typically stay in one place? After being on the road a couple of weeks, I made a “3 day rule” – no place for less than 3 days. 5 was better but sometimes that was too long. I stayed on the southern coast of Portugal for a week, Paris for a week and Amsterdam for 2 weeks. I also spent a full week on a small cruise ship touring Greek ruins. Otherwise, I moved around quite a bit and it did get tiring. Luckily I was traveling light.
Did you have everything mapped out or did you wing it? I had a high-level idea of what I was doing in Spain and I knew my sister was meeting me in Paris. But otherwise I kind of made it up as I went along. I always booked a hostel for the first night I was in a place and I was most comfortable planning 2 places ahead until towards the end of the trip. I learned to trust travelers advice but I also had certain things I wanted to see – and I tried to do the high points of a place, even if they were touristy (ie the Eiffel Tower). We did skip the Louvre though.
What type of activities did you typically enjoy on your trip? I walked a lot – just took it all in. I was using public transport and stayed mostly in cities/larger towns. I ate a lot of food – very enjoyable – did the museums and walking tours of the towns. If I could do something cool and outdoorsy, I did. And I saw live music wherever possible.
What type of gear did you take? Any recommendations? I use a fairly small backpack that converts into a duffel style bag, which is awesome for plane travel. Clothing-wise, I had 1 pair of jeans, one pair of pants, one skirt, one pair of shorts, 8 tops, 1 fleece, 1 pair of yoga pants, a bathing suit, a sarong, 2 bras, 5 pairs of socks and 10 pairs of underwear. I brought 2 pairs of shoes (chacos & trail runners) then bought some boots in Paris, ha. I had to buy gloves and a jacket along the way when it got colder than I expected. I had a digital camera and an iPod nano, which I rarely used. I did not bring a cell phone or a computer, although now I probably would bring a netbook and definitely my phone. Toiletries, journal, book, glasses, money. That’s about it.
My advice would be: travel light. You can buy almost anything you need on the road (unless you are in a remote area or a 3rd world country). Obviously don’t take anything you would be devastated losing, including your laptop.
Which guide book(s) did you use and would you recommend them? For Europe, Rick Steves books were amazing. His tastes jive with mine, he give you history and cultural information and they are kept up-to-date. He covers food & lodging from luxury to budget. Highly recommended.
What did you do when you returned? Where did you live, what type of work did you do? I landed at my parents house, where I sat around missing Europe and muttering about at how fat and loud we Americans were for at least 2 weeks. I had sold my car, quit my job and let my lease run out. It was a little much, honestly, not having a car, a job or a place to live. I updated my resume but I had my $5k cushion so I didn’t look for work until January. Unfortunately that is when the recession began so I did contract work for almost a year before going back to work full-time.
Were you ready to return? No although I was ready to be in one place for a while. Had I not bought a return ticket, I probably would have continued but not in Europe (too expensive and it was getting cold). I would have rented a place for a month and chilled.
Did the trip change your life? How is your life different because of the trip? Yes! I came home braver, more flexible, completely unattached to my stuff and with my mind and heart opened quite a bit more. I have amazing memories and gained a lot of knowledge about traveling, about the countries I visited and about myself.
Did anything notable happen while traveling? Every single day, ha! Actually one thing is that I appreciated World War II on a whole different level being there. The evidence is all around you – buildings often had plaques and old photos of the building after being bombed, etc. Ditto for the Spanish Civil war, which I knew little about before going. This appreciation was really special and totally unanticipated. I’ve heard the same thing from other Americans.
What was your favorite part of the trip? Too many to mention but Spanish tapas are definitely on the list. And the people I met, of course.
What was your least favorite part? Paris, believe it or not. I just didn’t connect with the city and the aloof Parisians were jarring after being around friendly Spaniards for a month.
Do you have any regrets? Not really. Maybe skipping Italy. I stayed in Portugal longer than expected and ended up flying to Athens. So I decided Italy needed to be it’s own trip.
What advice do you have for would-be travelers who want to take an epic trip? Just do it! You will not regret it.
Do you have a travel blog people can visit? You’re on it. I also blog over on my personal planning site: audrey-reynolds.com/blog
Any other thoughts or comments?
- Don’t buy a bunch of travel gear that you aren’t sure you need. Depending on where you are going, you can easily buy it along the way if you find you want/need it. And don’t buy a bunch of travel clothes if you are doing an urban trip – whenI first arrived, I landed in fashionable Madrid, where I felt like the Crocodile Hunter’s daughter in my brand spankin’ new quick-dry khaki gear. A lot of that got mailed home or given away almost immediately…
- Carry a small notebook and pen to capture ideas, directions, advice quickly.
- If you are traveling alone, consider staying in hostels. They are very social and it’s easy to make a friend for a meal or an activity. I looked for well-located, non-party hostels (ie a 21 year old said they were nice but boring). And sometimes I needed space to spread out/chill out and would rent a private room. Learn to recognize and honor those times.
- **Learn to sleep in earplugs.**