A Quick Run Through European Rail Passes.

Where I’m not averse to rental cars, I like to use public transportation when traveling in Europe. There are two big reasons for this. One, things in Europe are closer together than they are in America. You can get from place to place in a practical manner. Two, the train system goes almost everywhere. If you add a bus and a plane, here and there, you can get around pretty easy.

Types of Tail Passes.

You can buy your train tickets each time you want to travel or you can invest in a rail pass. Rail passes save you considerable money and effort, but they need to be purchased before you leave the USA to travel. This will require a little planning.

As far as type, there are a lot of them. There are single country passes, multiple country passes, and (basically) all of Europe passes. They also encompass all different number of day options. There are many forms, from two to three day continuous use tickets, to fifteen days or more scattered over a couple months. Once again choosing the right one will require a little preplanning.

All of that being said, there are really two different vendors to choose from for US based tourists. They are EURail, and Raile Europe. They both have pluses and minuses. They both can also help with planning and rail reservations.

I suggest you look at both. I have used both. As a rule, I use EURail. I like the service they provide, and have had good luck using them. Also, they have a great timetable app.

What You Get in Your Pass Package.

Your (multiple country) rail pass will come with three main items.

My current rail pass that I’m using to travel around Europe. It’s an EURail pass for 2019.

First, the ticket. It’s two piece and will need to be filled out as you go.

Second, you get a rail guide. The guide explains how to read the rail pass, and what different terms means. Importantly, it also tells you what rail companies in each country are included in your pass. Not all rail companies in an included country are always included. It will depend on the country you’re traveling in.

Third, you get a rail system map of Europe. It gives you basic touring information. At this point in technology, it’s really just an addition to the timetable app.

Rail passes used to come with a timetable booklet that allowed you to figure out if you could get from one destination to another. To be honest, the app is incredibly easier to use, and just better. It also updates with changes, where the printed book did not.

How to Use It.

The ticket will Need to be validated before you can take your first trip. You can have it validated when it is sent to you or you can just get it validation stamped at the train station you happen to be at, when you’re ready. The ticket needs to be validated for use within a certain amount of time after purchase. I believe it’s six months. You should check before you purchase your pass.

Now that you’re ready to go, the ticket has boxes for the first use day and for the last use day. Fill these out as appropriate. There are also boxes for each travel day (if it’s a five day ticket, then there will be five day of use boxes).

Attached to the ticket is trip worksheet to show each individual trip you take during a travel day. It’s important to remember that a day is 24 hours. Once you start a day, you can travel as many times as you want during that day. You just need to annotate each trip BEFORE you get on the train. The ticket voucher needs to be filled out to be valid.

A Thought About Reservations.

The major routes (busiest) and high speed rail systems (fastest lines) among others require an addition reservation from the train station before you travel. This is basically done to make sure they don’t oversell seats on the heavy routes.

Reservations require an addition charge on top of the rail pass. They should also be handled in advance of when you want to travel. Once all seats/sleeper sections are reserved, that’s it. Reservations on popular routes do and will run out. If you wait until when you want to travel to get your reservation, you may not be traveling that day. This has happened to me in more than one occasion. (When reservation start to go, they cascade from one time to the next, and soon there are none for a whole day. When you’re standing at the station with your bag and this happens, it sucks.)

The app will allow you to only see options that don’t require a reservation. This can be very helpful, if you’re a spontaneous person. Keep in mind that these options usually take longer to get where you want to go.

I hope that this may have helped to answer any questions kicking around. If you have a specific question, drop it in the comments and I’ll take a run at it. Some time on the internet will also help. The EURail.com website is super easy to navigate and understand.

Now, get out there and explore! Oh, and try and enjoy yourself while you do it. That really is the point of it all.

Advertisements

Generally … Good Advice.

As the title eludes to the topic, this blog post is just a collection of things I have learned from traveling. I usually learned them all by doing. So, it seems like a bad idea, it was a bad idea. I find experience to be the best teacher. Here are some things that everybody should consider when traveling the globe. These ideas apply whether you’re 25 or 65. They are just pieces of good advice.

Always change your money either in your own country or your destination, not in-between

 

On one of my random trips to Europe, I forgot to change some money at the airport before I left. I figured, no problem, I’ll do it when I land in London. I have a good layover there. There will be plenty of time to find a currency exchange. I landed, I found a currency exchange, and they fleeced me. I ended up changing my Dollars to Pounds, and the my newly acquired Pounds into Euros. Each time taking the appropriately reduced exchange rate, and the added transaction fee. Needless to say, I flew out of the airport with less than I flew in with. This taught me to always handle my transaction either in the original currency or the end currency. And let’s be honest, everybody anywhere that deals in currency will take the US Dollar.

If you plan on taking a hit on the exchange rate, right from the start, things will be better

 

Everyone on the internet (myself included) throws out advice on how to maximize your exchange rate. You can use bank exchanges, use your debit card at ATMs, do major purchases on your credit card for better rates, and a host of other ideas. They are all solid pieces of advice. But, let’s be frank, sometimes you want to go for a week or so and not deal with the front-end planning. You want to pull some money, grab your passport, and hit the road. I have been here many times. If you just factor the lesser exchange rate into your thought right out of the gate, it won’t hurt as much. Once you stop thinking about it, you start thinking about your vacation instead. This, after all, is why you walked out the door in the first place.

Things won’t actually be as expensive as you think they will be, but you’ll end up spending too much anyway

 

I work with a per-day budget when I travel. I take whatever I managed to bring along, and divide that number by the number of days that I plan on traveling. This tells me how much I can spend each day. Normally, I tend not to spend it all. At the mid-point in a trip I may have double the daily amount in my pocket, because the scraps from each day get added to the next day’s available cash. This excess generally leads me to spending extra time at the bars or buying things I wouldn’t normally buy. So, it all ends up getting spent anyway. That is when I find something else I can’t live without or change my plans in mid stride, and wished I hadn’t of spent so much. I say, don’t worry about a couple extra dollars here and there. Money comes and goes, whereas time just goes. You may never find yourself there again in your lifetime. And, you can’t take it with you. Spend the money and be happy.

Almost all airport food is bad

 

I’ve been in a lot of airports. I’ve eaten in most all of them. Airport food may seem new or exotic, because you may have never been to that particular local before. I find that if you find the same meal out on the economy, it will always be better. Sometimes, it’s a matter of timing. Early flights or long connection can facilitate the need for eating at the airport. As a rule, I say eat downtown somewhere, then go.

McDonalds is the same … even at the airport at Bangkok.

Whenever possible, don’t check any bags.

 

Okay, I’ll preface this one by saying that I’m not a girl, and I have no need for multiple changes of clothes when I travel. I’m your standard t-shirt and jeans kind of guy. I throw it all in a backpack and head out. I’ve checked bags a several times with good success. I’ve also checked my dive gear, snowboard, and golf clubs with equal success. Then again, there are times when I made the other end and my bags (or golf clubs) did not. I find it to be completely aggravating. If it will all fit in a carry-on, then definitely carry it on. Carry-on bags almost never get lost (at least I haven’t lost any yet), and they are no more of a pain than waiting in some throng of people who think that their bag is somehow more important than yours. I avoid the carousel at all cost.

Airports make us walk through the Duty Free Shop because they know that we’re weak-willed

 

It’s just a simple truth, you show me booze and food, and you have my undivided attention. Airport planners know that we are inherently weak-willed. They put the booze and the shiny stuff right up in our face, so we must have it. The cologne and perfume, the Cuban cigars center stage in the walk-in humidor, the shiny bobbles and watches, all right in front of us for the taking. They know we are already on vacation mode and are unconscientiously spending money. They want some of that money. And, they usually get it. At least, the booze isle in any Middle Eastern airport has my full attention.

Getting to the airport early is a waste of time.

 

I tend to not plan my exit very well. I get the flight out that I want, and then grab whatever return flight they recommend as being the cheapest. If it fits into my general return timing, I’m almost always cool with it. This, almost always, leads to me having time to kill. This killing time, almost always, leads to me getting to the airport earlier than I need to. This leads to me playing Boom Beach or Doom on my phone for hours, until I can check-in for my flight. This time can always be put to better use. Find a hotel with a bag check, so you can go out before you must check-out. Plan ahead with better return flights. Whatever works, wasting time at the airport is just wasting time. (I have wasted time at many airports and train stations, as well as ferry docks and bus terminals. Once your phone goes dead, you’re just sitting around bored as hell.)

Screenshot for one of my epic Boom Beach battles while killing time.

Don’t panic, you will most-likely have money left over

 

With an homage to point number three, don’t panic about the money. I’ve travelled to expensive places around the globe, and I’ve travelled to cheap places around the globe. AT the end of my individual journey, there was almost without exception some money left over. Sometimes, it was cab fare home from the airport money. Sometimes, it was put it back into my bank account level money. I say this because there was pretty much always a time during each of these trips where I spent too much on something, or didn’t think I was going to make my budgeting amount. My advice, don’t panic. Just keep loving your trip and let the money do what it is going to do. That’s what I try to do, and there is usually always money left over.

My bag of random currencies leftover from this year’s excursions.

That is that, as they say. I find from talking to people as I travel that people have the same experiences, given enough time. Maybe, these thoughts will help you out at some point along the way.

Now, get out there! Go do travel stuff!

Unemployed Nomad or Sabbaticalled Worker?

One of the two real decisions to be made once you decide to travel the globe for an extended period of time is that of employment. Most notably, do you attempt to keep a job while you are gone or do you step away from work and worry about the consequences later? If we were 20, this would be an easy decision. When you get to the middle of your life it becomes a little more daunting.

 

For most of us in the first world, by the time we have reached middle age, we have invested a certain amount of our life in establishing a career. If you have a decade with a company and are entrenched in healthcare and retirement options, the decision to leave that comfortable place can be a hard one to make. If you are at a point in your professional advancement where you are acquiring company bonuses and profit sharing plans, it can be even harder.

 

Most travel blogs would offer the advice of: Go Travel! You can find a new job when you return to your home country. While I completely agree with this mindset when it comes to someone just out of school, I would say to the middle aged crowd that you may want to consider it further. There are a great many things to consider for people that have invested time in establishing careers. The most important of which is, will it be there when I return home?

 

The job market in the United States in definitely in a better place than it has been in some time. That being said, work availability for different skill sets and sectors of the population, not to mention age brackets, is still in a great deal of flux. If you are in technically specific industry or are coming up on that age where employers view you as more of a health risk than an asset, you may want to consider staying put. Also, if you are a family person, this is definitely a family decision. If you can escape the confines of your cubicle, then I would say that you have better options at hand.

 

It should be noted here that I have had one of those jobs where I traveled for work. I mean I travelled extensively for work. All across the continental United States, 40-50 weeks a year on the road. It’s easy to say go, when you go all the time. When you are entrenched in the corporate 9-5 it is not as easy a decision. It’s also one that needs to be substantiated by rational decisions.

 

Is the experience of traveling worth the time you invest in it? In my opinion, yes. Experience is much more important, and practically useful, than the acquisition of material goods. At the end of the day, stuff is stuff. Experience is something else. It’s knowledge of places. It’s new and rekindled friendships. It’s acquired skills. It’s a host of life’s moments stamped indelibly into your being. (Okay, that last one was a stretch – but also probably true.)

 

If you find that leaving your current employment to travel is not something you are comfortable with, then take heart. Most rational people aren’t comfortable with it either. It’s Okay! When you have invested sufficient time in a career to be in a comfortable place, wanted to leave that place doesn’t make a lot of sense. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options available. One of them might be the previously mention route of the Ex-Patriot. It can be a solid move for some people.

 

Another option to consider would be a sabbatical. Sabbaticals are usually thought of in the context of teachers and other academic professionals. While this is true, there are other industries where it can be an accepted practice. These areas include technology sensitive and highly skilled companies. Many companies would rather offer things such as sabbatical than lose employees to burnout and sector pressure. They also would many times rather accommodate an employee than spend time and money training a new one.

 

Sabbaticals are surprisingly available in the corporate world. They are also not spoken of, because companies would rather have employees producing for the company. They keep them in their back pocket and pull them out when they are needed. This being said, you may want to investigate your company’s own policy regarding sabbaticals and extended periods of leave. You may find that your employer isn’t completely hostile to the idea.

 

It’s my own personal opinion that experience is what we are. The sum total of one’s own experiences define who that individual is. Experience is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you, and is the only thing that you take with you when you leave. Experiences can be as small as the time spent studying the spring flowers in your local park or as large as studying the expansive mountain views from atop Machu Picchu. (I have done both with, what I would like to think is, equal merit.)

 

Since this is theoretically a travel blog, we are going to try and focus on the far flung. The getting out there and experiencing the world part of life. The small journeys have great merit. The large journeys also have great merit. Being able to disconnect from your routine life and become absorbed in another setting or situation is what travelling is about. The longer you spend doing that, the better and more worthy experiences you will come away with.

 

So, for the mid-lifer’s out there, think it through. Career stability is a worthy goal at our age. The experience of life is also a worthy goal. Someone once said; “To live is rare. Most people simply exist.” Whoever they were, I think they were right. But, that just my opinion.

 

Now go! Get out there. Life is waiting for you.

Aaron.

 DSCF8642

 

 

The inside of the Convent of Christ, Templar Stronghold and later home to the Knights of the Order of Christ. Tomar, Portugal, fall of 2009. Just one of the places you might end up.