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It’s over.

September 2, 2010

from Split to Sarajevo

Thank you for reading my blog, if you’re my mom, one of my friends,  one of my parents’ co-workers, or one of my co-workers. It was nice knowing that I had people following along! If you keep reading after this, it’s going to be a lot of semi-informed rambling, a potpourri of topics.

Anyway, so. I made it through the whole trip without getting scammed, pick pocketed, lost, or losing my passport. I read 5 books and used 5 currencies in two months. I learned a lot. I’m not qualified to write advice for solo travelers, or advice for first time backpackers, or anything like that, and really, you don’t need much advice. You read some pointers on what to pack, and then you pack, and then you just go. It only seems daunting. Once you’re doing it, it’s easy.

I mean, yes, getting from Budapest to Split to Sarajevo to Thessaloniki seems impossible when you’re trying to plan it from this side of the Atlantic. But when you’re there, you pretty much say to someone at the hostel, or someone at a train station, “hey, I want to go to Split tomorrow. Can I do that? How? Yes, in that case, I’d like to book that ticket, thanks very much,” and then you show up at the right platform at the right time, and you’re in business.

Anyway, because blogs are for unqualified amateurs with opinions, here are some of my opinions  (and before I get to them, BOY, there are some unqualified opinions floating around on blogs. Like the food blogger who went on and on about how Mad Men is boring, unoriginal, and full of mediocre acting, while Lost is apparently the pinnacle of the medium. You’re wrong, but thanks for the curry recipe).

Bring a netbook. This was the best decision I ever made (I’d waffled about whether or not to bring one). Also, get a Skype account for calling home. Your parents will be pumped.

Maybe only bring one moderately-long book. I don’t think you should bring a stack of books, or you will tire of carrying them. And I don’t think you should lug Infinite Jest around, either, for the same reason. You can always track down some English books. Hostels often have book exchanges.

If you stay in hostels, hang out in the common room and be more aggressively social than you would be at home. Yes, it would be forward or weird to do these things at home, but you’re not at home! When someone new walks in, ‘sup them, ask where they are from. If someone says they are going out, invite yourself along, or announce that you are going somewhere, and invite others. Be convivial, have a drink!

Talk to the  hostel staff, they’re all cool and full of good information and can help you with anything you need and probably wouldn’t mind going out with you for some drinks later (But first make sure to avoid large, lame hostels with hundreds of beds. These are not cool, and the staff are likely to be harried and uninterested in hanging with you).

Don’t wear performance wear. Like those tear-away swishy waterproof pants.

Give everyone a winning smile and a big “thank you! have a nice daay!” , everywhere you go. The lady at the ticket window in the Budapest rail station really visibly brightened when i said this, even though moments prior she’d been scowling at me for asking so many dumb questions. Surly to charmed in mere seconds.

Take fresh wipes (however much you may hate the phrase fresh wipes/moist wipes/wet wipes), you will be glad you have them after overnight train rides, or when you are invited out but havent had time to shower but are still greasy from sunscreen and salt water, or when the lavatory in the train has no toilet paper.

Take a tiny notebook, jot things down there if you dont want to look all conspicuous with a guidebook or map. Bonus, at the end of the trip, you have all the names and addresses of places you visited, people you met, thoughts you were thinking, train platforms, hostel names, and shopping lists, all in one place. Obviously, you will want to take some pens. I was glad I had two, because the window on the Sarajevo-Belgrade train didn’t want to stay open, and we used the pen to prop it open.

have money. Seriously. I mean, not millions, but don’t be totally broke, if you can help it. I only say this because it’s nice to be able to afford a proper meal or beer in each city, rather than living on pasta and tomato sauce that you cook every night in the hostel. And it’s nice to be able to afford to go out, or to visit attractions that cost money, or to tip your really great tour guide. It’s also comforting to know that if something goes wrong, if you miss a flight or lose a passport or have to book a hotel room or something–whatever–if something goes wrong, you’re covered. And most of what is likely to go wrong on a backpacking trip is not murder/kidnapping/crazy stuff, it’s stuff that is going to be inconvenient/expensive, like changing flights, re-booking trains, etc.

And finally, my number one tip: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO WRITE ANY FICTION ABOUT THE TIME YOU WENT BACKPACKING IN EUROPE. You will end up writing a dull story that does nothing but communicate to the reader what a privileged, sheltered life you lead and what an unoriginal author you are; the world is already full of bad fiction about undergrads who went backpacking in Europe; the world is also already full of really good travel writing and stories about things that happened to people in other countries.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. kristingoeswest permalink
    September 5, 2010 5:44 pm

    this is all so true. especially performance wear. add unnecessarily tall/thick hiking socks to that. they are in overabundance among santa fe tourists — why would someone need really need serious hiking socks for getting a coffee in the plaza?

    • September 8, 2010 7:38 pm

      exactly. why do you need super high performance outdoor all weather gear to wear in a European capital? what do Europeans do when it rains? use UMBRELLAS.

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