It's hard to believe almost two decades have past since my wandering spirit first set foot unto European soil. Those past decades have brought much adventure, challenges, culinary delights, and experience. I have watched my company and tours grow in the ever changing realms of travel. I have used each tour as a way to better myself and my tours to create an unbelievable travel experience.
To say that I think about travel constantly would be an understatement. My thoughts recently were drawn to the topic of why we really travel? The reasons some it's purely for relaxation, a release from the monotony of work and schedules. While for others it's an appeal to their adventures side that is craving some form of a thrill. The list of reasons could possibly run on and on, but there has to be a core reason at the root of every avid traveler and those who have been bitten by the travel bug.
There is something to be said when I first step off a train and into a city center I have never seen. The unfamiliarity and since of exploration seems to be so intoxicating. Our normal life is often ruled by schedules, routines, and consistency. We are by nature creatures of habit, yet so where in the midst of the daily grind we crave something new, something foreign to us. I believe our minds are constantly wanting to learn, to grow, and to evolve.
That rush of experiencing a new land involves a wave of endorphins that speeds up the synapsis of our brain. Suddenly our small world of routines and schedules become much larger and much more unfamiliar. There has been so many times I have felt overwhelmed as I stood in a large city center surrounded by people, buildings, smells, and languages that I did not know. That unfamiliarity one would think could cause panic or discomfort, but for the true traveler it is the exact opposite. It is a chance to learn something new, to experience life a new. I long for those moments, they give me the possibility to grow, to learn, and to live.
Children experience this exact same phenomenon as they grow because the world around them is new and full of exploration. In essence travel brings back the excitement we had as a child, making the world around us new and exciting!
Whatever your reason maybe to travel from relaxation to exploration, may it bring you happiness and joy!
Ask any travel agent or tour operator the most common word they hear from people about travel and it will unanimously be- “someday”. This word has become synonymous with travel and people use it so freely when discussing this topic. Why has this one word become so prevalent in the industry of travel? “Someday” is a very safe word, it implies that you would like to do something-just not right now. Unfortunately, the word is also used within the context of a conversation to imply rejection without having to be overly harsh or negative to the other person.
The real question that most people within the travel industry would like to have answered is whether or not that “someday” will ever happen. That is the million dollar question, does “someday” really mean “someday”? With several years behind me as a tour operator I have found that only a very minute number of people every make it to their “someday”.
Over the past few years I have offered countless travel presentations on my tours to Switzerland and Germany. These presentations allow me to address large groups and ultimately have a lot of face to face interaction. I thoroughly enjoy giving these presentations-they have afforded me the opportunity to speak with so many people about travel, giving me new insights to why people never make it to their “someday”.
Here are the top reasons or excuses that I have heard from fellow travelers:
By far the most commonly used excuse above any other is money. If I received a penny for every time I heard someone say they would love to travel but can’t because it’s too expensive I would be a retired wealthy man! I can understand this excuse- it is safe to say the economy is in the dumps right now, trust me I feel it on my end tremendously! Travel is usually the first thing that is thrown out of a tight budget and quickly replaced with the old adage of “someday”.
Is this excuse really valid? Absolutely, we do not all have money flowing out our pockets. However, this excuse is worn out over the years and years that it has been exhausted. Money is needed to travel but those who really want to travel, save. If travel is important to you then you will make it a priority, you will scrimp and save even in the hard times, so you can enjoy and experience the world of travel. Even changing the smallest of money spending habits can quickly add up toward your next vacation.
I hear this excuse a lot which makes it come in number two on the list. I just don’t have the time for travel. We have somehow become a nation that is non-stop and seem to be perpetually on the go. Between our jobs and family commitments it can be hard to find time to catch our breath. One of the biggest social concerns our society has constructed is the idea that we cannot be away from our jobs because we might lose them, most people fear that too much time away from work could equate to someone taking their place. Travel once again is quickly put on the back burner.
Studies have shown the necessity of making time for a vacation. The results emphatically point to higher production at work, along with a healthier physical and mental state. Time can really fall into the same solution as money, you just have to make the decision it is an essential aspect in your life and it will happen.
Did anyone think the excuse of age would come in number 3? This is commonly used for both young and old. Couples with young children have decided they will have to wait until the children are grown and out of the house before they can entertain the idea of travel. Older people often don’t travel out of fear of the possible uncertainties.
For the couples with young children, I am in the same boat as you, but that has not stopped me from traveling. There are two solutions, one-find a family member or friend you can trust to stay with your children or two-bring them along. We have taken our children to Europe twice with us and both times have been rewarding and memorable.
I am not quite in the category of older or retired and still have awhile to till I reach that status. My tours however are dominated by people in this chapter of their lives. Older people often do not travel out the fear of the unknown. The easiest and quickest solution for this fear is traveling with a tour company. Let the tour operator worry about everything from hotels to food- that is ultimately their job to eliminate all the stress and nuisances that come along with travel.
Travel is important in all stages of life from young to old!
Mark Twain said it best, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Don’t allow the unending list of excuses stop you from making your “someday” really “someday”.
We are planning a summer vacation in Europe and are wondering about travel insurance. Is it really necessary to have or is it a waste of money? –Brian-Portland
The standard for many years was the thought if losing your trip to a cancellation would be a financial hardship than you needed to insure it. Times have changed along with travel insurance since that attitude once dominated the industry. Now with affordable travel insurance policy there is no reason not to purchase coverage. I have to admit however that in spite of this change I still followed the old model up until a polarizing event that changed my perception of travel insurance.
While guiding a group in the Alpine village of Grindelwald, Switzerland I turned them loose for a few hours of free time. Several people chose to go souvenir shopping while others wanted to stroll down the streets of this small village nestled in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps. One couple wanted something more adventurous and decided on a popular activity that resembles a scooter with mountain bike tires called Trotti Bikes. In Grindelwald you can take a gondola up the side of an Alp and then ride your Trotti Bike down a paved path back into the village. In comparison to other adventure sports it is a very safe activity. Nearly an hour after I had left this couple at the Gondola station to begin their adventure did I received the message that one of them was being rushed off to the hospital. I managed to catch this couple right before the wife was being taken into surgery. The unfortunate accident happened after she applied the brakes on her Trotti Bike to firmly - flipping over the handlebars and somehow cutting her leg on the side of her Trotti bike. Tearing several tendons in her leg she would require immediate surgery. Right before wheeling her out to the operating room her husband looked up at me and asked “is it too late for travel insurance?” In that one moment my entire perception about travel insurance changed.
With today’s travel industry there are a multitude of affordable options for insuring your vacation that range from trip cancellation to medical coverage. Choose a policy that best fits your needs, but be sure to read the fine print of the desired policy– you need to know what is covered in case you have to use it. Purchase your insurance through a reputable company that is a fully licensed travel insurance company. Once you have purchased your insurance be sure to carry the documented proof while on your vacation. With the low cost of today’s insurance take the worry out of travel so you can enjoy every minute of your vacation!
Glancing at the large clock in the rafters of Zurich's main train station, I
notice there is less than a minute until my train is scheduled to depart. I
punch my day pass in the validation machine on the track platform quickly; after
15 years of train travel in Switzerland I know my train will leave on the exact
minute with or without me.
Stepping into the second-class car, I survey the cabin and soon find an open seat. I've learned to identify where tourists are from, and it's obvious the couple across from me are American.
They share with me their vacation plans: cramming seven European countries into two
weeks. That entails 11/2 days in each country and nearly a full day of train
travel between destinations."We left Paris earlier this morning and are now
heading to Milan," the man tells me. "We've been riding the rails for over five
hours today, and still have another four to go."
When I question their motives for such a vacation, the couple respond with the overused answer: "This
will probably be our only chance to vacation in Europe, so we need to see it
But by attempting to see it all, they will miss experiencing the
real Europe. Much of their vacation will be spent on a train.
If you share the view of these tourists, consider a couple of options that will
make your trip more enjoyable. First, change your mindset about seeing all of
Europe in two weeks. Narrow your list of countries to two or three, based on
your "must-see" list. That allows you more time in each country, and less time
on the trains.
Then, if the countries you have chosen are a great distance from one another, look into flights. Take the example of traveling from Paris to Rome. By train it takes roughly 15 hours and costs over $245, but by
air it takes only two hours and can cost as little as $60, leaving you more time
and money. Making a few simple changes can transform what would have been an
exhausting vacation into a memorable one.
We are planning a two-week vacation in Europe and are wondering how much money we should take to exchange? Should we worry about pickpockets?
-- Della, Newport
Every time someone books one of my tours, this is one of the first questions they ask. What type of vacation you are planning can make a slight difference, but overall there is a general rule -- not too much and not too little. What exactly does that mean? I tell those traveling to Europe to exchange anywhere from $100-$200. There is no need to carry any more cash than that -- both for safety and the convenience of using your debit and credit cards.
Use cash for small purchases like street vendor foods, open-air markets, and small items -- use your debit and credit cards for everything else. You can easily withdraw more cash from an ATM while in Europe -- they are everywhere just like here. Just make sure to notify your bank and credit card company about your travel plans.
There are pickpockets in Europe -- the same as anywhere else. I recommend keeping the same habits and routines you use to avoid theft at home. I have watched too many people lose their wallet or purse because they have changed their routine.
This may come as a shock, but I dislike money belts. I have stood in countless lines while in Europe and watched as grown men and women pull up their shirts and unbutton their pants just to pull out a credit card or a few euros.
This distraction is a pickpocket's dream, because while you're busy fiddling with your money belt he is stealing your camera or other items. By sticking with your normal routine you can devote more time to being vigilant. If you are traveling as a pair you can also split the cash and cards, so in the unlikely event one of you falls victim to a theft the other will still have means to purchase goods.
Try not to stress out too much -- remember, you are on vacation.
I am a bit of a foodie and will be traveling in Europe for two weeks for the first time -- can you suggest any foods or restaurants in Europe? Are there any restaurant etiquette tips you can offer?
-- Brent, Portland
Unfortunately there's not enough room to list every restaurant I would recommend. I can, however, give you a little insight into European dining that might make your culinary experience that much richer.
There is definitely a distinguishable difference between dining experiences here and those in Europe. One of the most common complaints I hear from U.S. tourists about dining in Europe is how slow the service can be. U.S. waiters are paid on an hourly wage including tips, which gives them the incentive to turn a table in hopes of making more tips during a given shift. European waiters are on a fixed salary, which reduces the pressure of subsidizing their pay with added tips.
That's not the only reason the service is slower. Dining in Europe is a social event, and it is not uncommon to see people sitting for hours at a table enjoying not only the food but also the company. We tend to rush our experience at restaurants because we are a nation that seems to be perpetually on the go. Don't become upset if they are not serving you fast enough: trust me, this will only make things worse. My advice is to sit back and enjoy the experience.
I am often asked about tipping. You will want to do some research on the countries you will be visiting because they are not all the same. Most Western European countries do not require a tip because it is already built into the meal's cost. But even in those countries it is common practice if you were satisfied with the meal and service to leave a little something extra, although it is not expected. Most people will round up to the nearest euro and leave that as a tip.
Another common dining complaint is about water -- yes, water. In most U.S. restaurants a waiter will quickly fill up a glass of ice water before you even order your food. This is not the case in Europe. In fact, if your waiter asks "what you would like to drink?" and you reply "water," be prepared to pay for a very expensive bottle of water. You have to specifically ask for tap water, but be forewarned: not all restaurants will bring you tap water.
Restaurants are not the only place to find Europe's culinary delights -- some of my best meals have been on the street. Not only can you find some of the tastiest foods there, but also some of the cheapest. A similar scene can be found here in Portland with its vast number of food carts.
Lastly, savor every bite. Who knows the next time you will be in Paris eating a crepe in front of the Eiffel Tower, a bratwurst in the Swiss village of Zermatt, or a gelato on Rome's Spanish Steps?
Q: My wife and I are planning a vacation to Europe but are struggling with accommodations. We have found most hotels to be fairly expensive, and my wife does not want to stay in a hostel. Can you suggest any other European budget accommodations?
A: Most people who have vacationed in Europe have asked this very question after seeing the cost of hotels or the conditions in the hostels.
After almost two decades of living and traveling in Europe, I have stayed in every type of lodging imaginable. Some have been great, others an absolute nightmare. Some of my favorite lodging types have been both affordable and enjoyable. Each category can easily be found online.
Often overlooked by American tourists are vacation apartments. Found throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, they are family-owned and operated. Vacation apartments offer all the amenities of home without the high cost of a hotel. I highly recommend this form of lodging: It takes you away from the tourist traps and places you among the locals. I prefer to deal directly with the owners instead of a second party when renting a vacation apartment.
Other unique lodging options are more country-specific. In Britain, I recommend staying in a bed-and-breakfast, where you'll find much more charm and enchantment than any hotel there.
Family-run guest homes called pensions are found throughout Western Europe, especially in Portugal, France, Spain and Italy. Although they may not offer a large hotel's amenities, they will more than compensate in hospitality. You'll get a good night's sleep and a home-cooked meal. Their presence on the Web is not as strong, but online listings are growing.
One of the newest lodging crazes in Europe is staying in a convent. They offer clean accommodations along with a quiet atmosphere away from tourist crowds. Most convents offer both room and board, with meals cooked by the nuns. The one drawback to most convents is a mandatory curfew, which if missed will lock you out for the night.
A last suggestion: Use the tourism Web pages created by the city you are visiting. Most will provide a list of lodging options to fit every budget.
Finding affordable and unique lodging in Europe requires time and energy, but the payoff is worth it.