Last weekend, on a sunny Saturday morning at a local Seattle-area library, I kicked off the first of several ninety-minute “Travel talks” I plan to give this year. The seminar-style presentations, which I call “Traveling The Best of Europe Independently & On A Budget” will be free, presented at assorted libraries in the Seattle metro area.
I began doing these talks several years ago after answering the umpteenth question about how to travel independently in Europe (since that’s my specialty), how to plan it, and where to go. I realized there was a hunger for this type of straight-up advice from a trusted source. Since then I’ve done several, and I’m always stuck by audiences’ desire for useful tips and, more importantly, a much-needed infusion of “Hey, I can do this!” confidence.
Some have asked why I bother doing these talks when it’s basically free work and free advice. My answer: Sharing my hard-won tips on budgeting, itinerary-crafting, and other how-to essentials is a joy. Moreover, it’s a public service. More than just the mere nuts-and-bolts information, I’ve found that it’s the message of “you can do it too!” that is truly valuable, no matter what destination you’re discussing. Any guidebook will have a chapter on the basics needed to plan a trip and where to go, but it’s a presenter’s confidence and palpable love for the subject that can inspire someone to finally book that plane ticket.
So, if you’re inclined to spread your knowledge and love of whatever destination you choose, please consider offering a ninety-minute “how to travel independently & on a budget to…” presentation at a local library. Impart your wisdom and fill the room with your enthusiasm for the places you’re talking about. You might just motivate a reluctant adventurer to take the trip of a lifetime, and that is time well spent indeed.
One of the great things about Europe is its magnificent Christmases, when the frosty air is infused with a spirit of joy and celebration. From Scotland to Slovakia, a smorgasbord of culture is on display as each country celebrates with its own unique traditions.
This is the second in a series about the Continent’s various subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) yuletide differences that make each culture uniquely fun.
Some of France’s yuletide traditions have spilled over to the US, where we associate the word “Noel” with the holiday. In fact Noel is the French word for Christmas, stemming from the French phrase les bonnes nouvelles, which means “the good news”.
Paris, the City of Light, celebrates in a less red-and green-light gaudy way than big US cities. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a realm of secular Scrooges: its neighborhoods often host popular Christmas markets that are as festive as any scene in New York City. The shoppers bustle under the glow of the light-strewn Eiffel Tower, radiating light like a beacon against the cold night sky.
In the countryside, where the culture of any people really resides and thrives, the traditions are stronger and richer. The warm tones of local choirs singing medieval carols can be heard emanating from candle-lit, thirteenth-century churches. Soaring abbeys host more elaborate performances of ancient music under their arches. The smell of burning wood emanates from the fireplaces and stoves of old farmhouses in the chiller Normandy and Brittany regions, while the southern areas of the country enjoy the more moderate temperatures afforded by their proximity to the Mediterranean. Epic manger scenes crowd around the courtyards in front of the great cathedrals, uncomfortably close to the commerce-heavy outdoor markets where locals score the freshest chestnuts and tastiest red wine while shivering carolers entertain with the old favorites.
In this strongly Catholic country, many families will attend the midnight Mass and return home to enjoy le réveillon, or the “wake-up!” meal.
And that meal is fantastic. Being France, the food is an integral part of the celebration—in fact it’s the culinary high point of the year for many. Delicacies like foie gras, oysters and escargots are popular aperitifs, while the entrée tends to be more straight-forward dishes like goose (popular in Alsace) and turkey (more popular in Burgundy).
Meat (including ham and duck) is paired with a good red wine and served with the ever-popular chestnut stuffing, a French favorite for generations. Chubby truffles are another beloved feature of most dinners. While the use of the actual Yule log has diminished somewhat, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Noel. It’s a sugary delight of chocolate and chestnuts.
After the Mass and le réveillon, the children put their shoes in front of the fireplace hoping that Pere Noel (Father Christmas) will fill them with candy, nuts, fruit and gifts. As the kids drift off to sleep, the adults sit up late, hang goodies from the tree and polish off the Yule log. Before they turn in for the night, a softly burning candle is are left on the table in case the Virgin Mary passes by, a long-standing custom of this Catholic country.
From Bayeux to Arles, France revels in its ancient cultural traditions as it celebrates the Noel with that classically French combination of style and joy. Gift giving is less emphasized than the act of gathering and celebrating simple rituals with family and friends—and sharing a fine meal with good wine, of course.
Flying with your Service Dog takes a bit of pre-planning. Most airlines require 48 hours advance notice about your canine partner. Initially tickets can be booked online through a collective search website like CheapOair. Before purchasing tickets, check out the Airlines direct website for Service Animal rules. Under Federal Law airlines are required to allow Service Animals but a few are friendlier about it than others.
For example: Delta Airlines states on their Special Concerns page “We welcome trained service animals in the aircraft cabin. Trained service animals are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained to perform a particular function or service to assist a passenger with a disability in the management of their disability. Under most circumstances, we do not require passengers using trained service animals to provide additional documentation. However, it is expected that a service animal behave in public and follow the direction of its owner.”
Special note: If you have an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal you must provide documentation from your Mental Health Professional.
Before finalizing travel plans take into account if your dog will need to relieve itself during a layover. Allow yourself as much time as possible in case you’ll need to exit and re-enter a security check point.
Two days before, call into customer service and follow the extensions for an existing flight. Have your ticket conformation number handy. Let the representative know you’re traveling with a Service Dog and at this time you may request a bulkhead seat. From experience, I’ve found that the bulkhead window seat provides the most floor room for my dog to curl up. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll ask the breed and size of your animal and also what tasks it preforms for you. Any airline staff or airport personal are allowed to ask what tasks your dog preforms for you. They can NOT ask directly what your disability is. Answer them nicely. They only do this to confirm legitimate Service Dogs.
Navigating security isn’t as horrible as the media advertises. Liquid restrictions and the taking off of shoes is a pain; but it’s just part of the process. On the upside you don’t have to stand in those long, long security lines. Look for a sign that says, “Crew or Passengers needing extra assistance.” These lines are generally shorter and will help accommodate your needs. To enter, hand them your boarding pass, ID and Service Dog Handler ID. That last one isn’t required; however it helps to have one. Mine is plastic (size of a credit card) has my countries flag, the names of myself and my Service Dog as well as our photos. On the back is printed the U.S. Federal Law about ADA Act, along with phone numbers and website address for the Department of Justice. Occasionally this ID has been photocopied, along with her vet papers, when we’ve flown internationally.
Generally, I opt for the old fashion metal detectors and put my dog in a sit-stay on one side. Pass through myself, and call her through to me. Do not remove your animals harness or vest. Only their packs need to go on the belt. If possible I take extra care not to “beep”, but my dog always does. Her working harness, collar and leash all have metal buckles—no avoiding that. This does mean TSA will pat down and search your dog. I use a stand-wait command for my Service Dog. That way she can be searched without interaction with the agent. The process doesn’t take long. They feel her harness and usually swab her for explosive residue. If you need to hold your dog during the search, they’ll swab your hands too. In the event your dog is uncomfortable being handled by strangers with rubber gloves, get a thin cape with plastic buckles and a rope leash to avoid them “beeping.” Place their normal working gear in the bin with your shoes.
When at your gate; take advantage of pre-boarding. You can get yourself and your animal settled before the wave of other passengers. I take along a small blanket to place on the floor so she doesn’t leave fur behind. It’s also good practice to find out if the fellow passenger beside you likes dogs once they sit down. I’ve personally never had an issue with anyone not.
Flying international with your Service Dog requires extra paperwork and attention to detail; as well as, traveling with mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair. I’ll address that in another post.
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
Chartering a boat isn’t cheap. If you are lucky and know the right people you could however, get a job as crew, stewarding, cooking or being a deck hand if you don’t have sailing qualifications. If you are not working then watch out for hidden costs such as moorings, docking, water and tips for the crew which may not be included in the bill.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
There is an excellent musician in St.Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, called Kurt Schindler, he has a catamaran style boat which he uses as a stage. He parks it a few meters off the beach in Cruz Bay, St. John or off White Bay, Jost van Dyke and plays his gigs from there. I saw this rickety contraption with only an outboard motor, no sails and with banners flying in the wind, making it’s way considerable distances between islands.
This article is the fifth in a series of posts explaining how to bring your music on the road and get to travel with it. Read the series’ introduction , Post#1 , Post # 2 , Post #3 , Post #4, Post #5 and Post #6.
After a few posts explaining and suggesting how to get out and play your music travelling the world, I decided it is time to bring up a real example: The Blues Against Youth. This one-man band comes from Rome, Italy, although upon hearing you may think it is some piece of lost blues from Mississippi… nevertheless, it is a perfect example of how an independent musician has overcome its national boundaries and brought his music to a wider audience by, obviously, touring and travelling.
I asked Gianni -the guitarist and one man drummer – a few questions regarding the management of life on the road, wishing they may be useful and inspiring for others looking to expand their musical activities to the next level.
Do you think your dream of playing music around the world has fully realized?
Tough question In the last two/three years I have been to many European countries. I like to play my music wherever there are people willing to hear it. “Playing my music around the world” is not exactly the main goal, as there are places I would like to go to, and others that do not appeal to me at all.
How do you manage to spend so much time playing music on the road?
Behind these long tours there is a massive booking work which is mainly conducted by myself without the aid of any agent. I have to write many emails and make infinite phone calls, and I get through a lot of stress trying to create a geographically logical route… however, once the tour is scheduled and I’m in the car ready to go, I just do it and feel free.
Do you think you can travel in the traditional sense of the term -seeing places and experiencing different cultures – as a touring musician?
Many times I don’t get the chance to see much of the cities I play, and it’s a pity; when other times it happens, I enjoy it very much. Anyways, by talking with people I meet on the road, sharing time with them, visiting their houses, their bars and knowing their friends I can usually have very mind-opening experiences. I realized that there are many ways of living, and mine constitutes only one of the many limited points of view. This confuses me at times, but by the end of my tours I feel much better.
How did you start getting shows outside of your home country?
I started by emailing people, telling them about my music and waiting for answers. It took a while to get a real response.
Is the logistic organization of your travels hard?
For me, the logistic organization is the most important thing. If everything is set at best, I get stressed out less. I generally travel on my own, and if something unexpected happens (which is usually a bummer), I have to make something up. By being well organized, it is easier to overcome such situations.
How are you received in the communities/cities/countries you visit?
It depends on where I go and what people I meet. In general I am received pretty warmly. I like when there’s some “love” behind any organization. I like to taste local food and drinks, to know about traditions concerning what I eat or drink. I like when there’s a cultural exchange. It also happens to play in colder environments, but luckily much fewer times. When it happens I get an instant feeling, and I get the blues. This may sound bad but on the other hand gets me in the right mood to write new songs.
The Caribbean isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. Most of my money went on beer and bus tickets.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Three men waving a live lobster, barracuda pizza and and an Ugly Man competition.
Cost: £20 per day. It’s not cheap here and a bad case of inflation means that prices can change weekly, but it’s defiitely possible to live on a budget. I’m renting a room in an apartment shared with an Argentinian girl in Palermo for £250 a month. You can find cheaper options further out of the city. I also bought a monthly yoga pass (£80), and I eat out about twice a week. The rest is spent on groceries, hot drinks in cafes and the odd glass of wine.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Buenos Aires is one of the world capitals for plastic surgery. It’s even included in most health plans. Everywhere you go, you see women with slightly rigid looking faces.
On the other hand, if you asked an Argentine person the strangest thing they saw lately, they may well say me – I have a hole in one of my shoes and this is deeply uncouth for style-conscious porteñas – especially in trendy Palermo. People look at my shoes and then at my face – eek!
This includes $27/day for living and exploring, plus an additional $8/day to maintain full connectivity with my business remotely.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Dozens of giant statues and chapels made completely out of salt. Yes, I licked one. And yes, it was salty. The Wieliczka (pronounced Viel-eech-ka) Salt Mine, just outside of Krakow, is a seemingly endless underground labyrinth of tunnels and chambers built in the 13th century. Excavated by hand, it is over 300km long and over 300m deep. The miners used the salt as their canvas in their free time and carved statues of important Polish heroes and chapels that are still being used to this day.
Guyana isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. I worked at Dadanawa Cattle Ranch for two and a half months in exchange for food and board. Most of my money went towards toiletries, insect repellant and beer. Being frugal was easy because the nearest town was 4 hours drive over rough savannah roads away.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
“ GET OUT OF MY GARDEN” yelled Dani. A chicken was destroying the shallots and was being nonchalant about it too. Duane Defreitas, ranch manager and adventurer, shot at it from the balcony with a Ruger 22 handgun. “Oh scunt!” Winged it. Chung, a Chinese anthropologist, chased after the feathered fugitive with a machete. (more…)