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my goal of being a world traveler

Marc and I have noticed that just saying the phrase "we're not having another baby" is SO LIBERATING. What will we be doing in three years? Whatever the hell we want! We'll have two kids who are able to stay overnight at someone else's house - we can go on float trips, weekend getaways, conventions. In five years, they'll be old enough for some kind of summer camp! At least that's my fantasy.

So something I feel like I've missed out on in life is world travel. I really feel downright bad about the fact that I've never been off this continent, I feel like it limits my perspective. So I'd like to get away someday. And Marc just likes adventures so he's totally down.

I have no idea how to go about this, except to start saving money for it. I'm always neurotic about travel because I'm obsessed with the idea of getting the most for my money and time - I hate getting lost, hate wasting time, hate the idea of someone asking how our trip went and we say "Well I saw this big building that I could have seen better with google image search."

I want to get off the beaten path - but not so far off that I actually get beaten, that's another fear.

Our destination list:
1) Europe - I'm not sure where. Maybe amsterdam because I used to love van gogh so much and we could see that museum, maybe Belgium? or spain, because we love nightclubs and spain I've heard has amazing ones.

2) India - maybe Goa. I want an adventure and I've heard India has it.

3) Japan - I bet tokyo is amazing but I've also heard everything is really expensive so this one might have to come last so I don't waste my money being an idiot at international travel.

I might try to go places where I have online friends because my favorite part of any trip has always been meeting up with someone, touching base for coffee and getting tips. you don't screw up, waste time, or get lost when you have an excited local friend.

maybe I just need books to pre-research this stuff.

it's a mess, i don't know where to start, all I know is that I'm 33 years old right now, and if I turn 43 and STILL haven't ventured outside north america I'm going to be really disappointed with myself.



( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 12th, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC)
so having studied/worked abroad 3 times (costa rica, israel, the uk) and traveled a fair amount beyond that, i have the following small bits of advice. you may want to work on re-aligning your expectations somewhat before you head out. if you want adventure, getting lost is part of that. part of the charm of travel is wandering around and seeing things that you wouldn't think to look at on Google image search, and that's what makes it more special. the only way to have an experience that isn't replicated with books and Google is to make time to sit in a cafe and observe how people interact (with or without a local), ride the metro or bus (this will result in getting lost - guaranteed), go to the local market or grocery store, etc. If you view these things as just part of the cultural experience then they stop being a "waste of time" and start being an anthropological fun part of travel.

The other thing I will say is about money. I live in an east coast city but my husband is from Missouri and we make trips to visit his folks fairly regularly. I think what we've concluded over the years is that it's much easier for us to travel to expensive places like the UK or Belgium because we're used to paying that much for stuff in our daily lives. A mixed drink in my city costs $10 or $12, pretty much what it costs in London. However, if you're used to paying $4 for a cocktail then this seems like a HUGE waste of money. I think, *especially* if you want to go to Tokyo which is just plain expensive no matter where you're form, you have to just accept that this is how much stuff costs there. I too am quite frugal in my daily life, but part of the cost of travel is the time it takes to plan, the time it takes to get somewhere far, and yes - the monetary cost of existing in that new place.

My advice for a novice traveler abroad is to start by going somewhere where you'll have a relatively easy time communicating with the locals and getting around. Examples would be Iceland (plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities there but almost everyone speaks English), the UK, Denmark (never been but I hear there's good night life there too)...
Jan. 12th, 2014 04:23 pm (UTC)
very good advice...
Jan. 12th, 2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
Spain is amazing, and traveling there has been pretty cheap. I went in 2010 and we stayed in an apartment on the costa del sol, and it was literally one of the most relaxing vacations ever- and I wasn't even expecting to really like Spain. Highly recommend.
Jan. 12th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
metcondon1 has good advice there, I'll add that I love planning trips so when you get to actually wanting to plan something hit me up. We usually get a couple of guidebooks which you can do some pre-reading at the library. We usually have good luck with Rick Steves' books but also get some other ones. Fodor's been good to us and one other. Lonely planet doesn't usually do it for me but you can check it out. Having a couple gives more than one perspective and more "off the beaten path" things.

We went to France for our first trip and took an 8 class community ed French class before going. It was enough, and people were very nice and helpful. And we've been to Italy, Germany and Ireland. These we had not much trouble communicating since most people except in Bavaria speak good English. (My husband speaks enough German to get by in Bavaria)
Jan. 13th, 2014 12:12 am (UTC)
Rick Steves's books are awesome. The first time I traveled outside Europe, I was like, "There's no Rick Steves for Egypt? WE ARE DOOMED!" What I love about him is that he gives opinions about what is worth it and what's not (and why), so you can make decisions about how to spend your precious time and money. And he's great at giving a variety of options based on budget, and telling you about those experiences that will really give you a taste of the local culture. But by all means, get another guide book with pictures. :)

I think Europe is a great first trip abroad because it will definitely feel foreign, but not so foreign it will freak you out and overwhelm you. And you can eat the food and drink the water without worrying about spending your precious vacation time in the bathroom.
Jan. 12th, 2014 04:22 pm (UTC)
If you ever go to India, you have plenty of free places to stay! :) Really. Of course, assuming you would go to South India. Usually most tourists go to North India - the usual triangle that includes Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur. They are, of course, beautiful places, but South India would be "off-the-beaten" path with as much beauty and history! Personally, we are far more friendlier and smaller chances of getting Delhi belly. I might be a tiny bit biased. ;)

But hey, you will have free places to stay (whether I am there or not)! India hotels are as expensive as US hotels and that's a big bite out of your travel budget!
Jan. 12th, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
I can give useful advice for Amsterdam, parts of Spain, parts of India (that don't include Goa, but I know who to ask about Goa), and lots of other places.

I have the best luck with doing multiple things at once - researching online or in books, asking people for advice/opinions and deciding how much unknown I'm ok with.

I rarely choose where I go, either - it's generally work travel or visiting my overseas partner wherever he is - but that's lead to some of the most amazing experiences. I wouldn't have thought to go to Rwanda, but am so glad I did. I never imagined myself in Amsterdam - and now it's one of my favorite places ever.

Remember to plan in down time. Jetlag is real and I've seen a lot of (mostly American) tourists looking like they're doing a death march through museums and other things - I've done it a time or two myself. Yes, you want to see as much as you can, but not so much that you're miserable.
Jan. 13th, 2014 01:00 am (UTC)
We loved Eastern Europe- try Slovenia and Croatia for great outdoor experiences and lots of lesser known history. Getting between Slovenia and Italy is a bit annoying but if you look at it as an adventure (or rent a car!) its quite easy as well!

Ireland and the UK were great. Beware of sticker shock though- London was EXPENSIVE, mostly because we'd been traveling in countries not on the euro and living on five American dollars a day. I imagine coming from the Midwest would create similar sticker shock!
Jan. 13th, 2014 01:19 am (UTC)
I think that idea of going where someone you know can advise you on what to see/do/experience/keep in mind is somewhat wise. But it's also fun to just explore a place and see what you can find...

I'm sure there's some good guides out there too (I think I've heard of ones called Lonely Traveler or something like that).
Jan. 13th, 2014 01:46 am (UTC)
"Marc and I have noticed that just saying the phrase "we're not having another baby" is SO LIBERATING. "

Amen to that.

I want to go someplace warm. With a beach. And not move for about 7 days.
Jan. 13th, 2014 02:49 am (UTC)
I second the advice that if you are a novice traveler outside the United States, I'd recommend starting with English-speaking countries. It just makes it a tad more easier, especially if you hate getting lost, hate losing time, etc.

I would also advise you to have realistic expectations of what you can achieve on a vacation. Keep in mind jet lag happens. And delays will happen inevitably. Don't try to cram 10 hours worth of sightseeing in 2 hours, because then you don't get to see much and I find it to be pointless. Concentrate on what you are interested in, plan 1 - 2 activities a day, and the rest leave it free-ended. I find those are the best trips.

Think about what you like about traveling in the US: do you like beaches? Metropolitan cities? Vast open farm? Music? Theater? Dance? That will help you get a better idea of what countries or cities to visit...

On a separate note, leave the kids behind!? WHY!? (I feel like screaming "why oh why, the humanity!) I am so thankful my parents instilled their love of wandering in us from a young age. My favorite childhood memories are those moments spent with my parents, as a family unit, exploring some new city, exploring some new country, trying some new food, trying some new experience.. it was fun and exhilarating and eye-opening. It has shaped how I view the world, how I treat others, and how I think more Americans need to form their opinions and viewpoints. Travel is good for children! Start them young!!
Jan. 13th, 2014 04:36 am (UTC)
I have to disagree with this re: leaving the kids behind. I would absolutely leave my small children behind on any foreign vacation, and I probably don't need to detail the reasons why (but I could, I've got several big ones).

I'll let you know when we get to an age where I would feel like whatever my kids would gain would be worth the expense/effort, but right now (the oldests are 4.5), any foreign vacation would be vastly more enjoyable without them. But I totally admire you, Claire, for taking Erika with you everywhere, and also very interested to see if your opinion changes once you have two. :)

That said, we're all booked on flights to Scotland this summer! But that's to see family, not really "vacation".

Edited at 2014-01-13 04:36 am (UTC)
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:39 am (UTC)
It may change when we have two... never say never, right? :) I did hear the similar statement from parents when Brian and I were child-free and they said "get all your traveling done before you have kids" or "you'll never travel again after you have kids for the first 10 years" and when I said we'd continue to do so with kids, they'd say "wait till you actually have kids, your opinion will probably change".

We have taken trips (domestically and internationally) with and without Erika. I dont' think every trip needs to warrant bringing your kids on it (for example, when we went on a 5-night trip to Sipadan Island for an exclusive SCUBA diving trip, we left Erika behind) nor does every trip warrant a blanket statement of "I'll always leave my kid behind". I think there are good options and compromises in both situations, that's just my two cents.

I feel similarly about children at weddings and funerals, for what it's worth. Erika is 3 and has attended 1 funeral and 1 wedding, and she goes to 5-star restaurants and museums, and if she starts to misbehave or get bored, of course we remove her right away... but I just hate blanket statements like "kids dont belong on airplanes" or "kids dont belong in museums".
Jan. 14th, 2014 03:10 am (UTC)
Yes to all of this. :)

You will probably continue to be the awesome travelers you are with two kids. You are realistic about it, you have a nice spread between them (part of my reluctance probably has a lot to do with having twins), and Erika is a pretty great kid (probably partially because she has pretty great parents).
Jan. 14th, 2014 11:41 am (UTC)
I'm with ya then :)

and zomg, whenever someone told me "you won't have time for that when you have KIDS!" I took it like a challenge. see me blogging! I think you can do just about anything that's high on your priority list.

Kids probably don't belong at five star restaurants at 9pm on a Saturday night, but when in doubt we should err on the side on including them, definitely. As long as Marc and I get a trip to spend some us time in the next few years, we'll bring the kids on the next one.
Jan. 15th, 2014 01:23 am (UTC)
Kids may not belong in a 5-star restaurant on a Saturday night, probably because the clientele at that hour are mostly romantic couples, and because they are cranky and missed bedtime; but we've taken Erika to 5-star restaurants for their lunch menu or a 5 PM dinner!

I think it's important that kids recognize that their parents are not just their parents, but also a couple... that's why date nights are crucial! We're not just a mom or a dad, we're a husband, and a wife, and a friend, and a sister, etc..
Jan. 13th, 2014 06:22 am (UTC)
Yeah, we've brought Will on various domestic trips (incl NYC 2x), starting when he was just a few months old (and he was a colicky baby and quite "high needs" - but he did great on the flights!), but we've also taken him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, at 14 months and to France (Paris, Normandy, and Alsace ... 3 week trip) when he had just turned 2. I know he won't remember a thing about the trips, but **I** will always remember how we were absolutely doted on and welcomed in Buenos Aires because of him, and **I** will always fondly remember him playing on the playground right by the Eiffel Tower, him eating his first macaron, making friends with a little French boy, etc. Certain parts of our trips would have been easier without him, but I can't say that any of our trips would have been "better" if we'd left him home. I just couldn't leave him, with an ocean between us, even if I knew he was staying with someone I trust 100%. I would have had a panic attack.

Now that we have 2 kids (Lia is 4 months, and Will is now almost 3.5 years), we do plan on leaving them with the grandparents to have a couple of long weekends away in Chicago or other places that are within a direct flight or <8 hour drive. But I'm not prepared to be much further away from them than that. I think in a few short years, when Lia is around 3-4 and Will is 6-7, it will be the perfect time for family trips abroad. We probably won't wait that long, though. We love traveling so much and even if it'll be harder than if we waited, I can totally see us going to Italy or France in about a year. Right now the only trip on the books is to Hawaii for 2 weeks this August, and it's killing me not to have something else planned. I'm not really a beach/pool kind of person, but there's enough to do in Hawaii other than lounging by the water and it seems really kid-friendly, so we're doing it :)
Jan. 13th, 2014 12:49 pm (UTC)
I love my kiddos, but dang it whenever marc and I leave wichita we must hit up nightclubs to hear some good music, which is a no-go if someone has to watch the kids. They'll get bored by the museums, won't let us sit peacefully at a restaurant for two hours trying wines... we took Josie to buffalo and had a fun few days of kid-friendly sightseeing, didn't mind carrying her around the paths to Niagra falls, we went to a cool aquarium and loved the natural history museum with her. But some time to ourselves would have made it a totally different trip, the type I think we need.
Jan. 13th, 2014 09:53 pm (UTC)
If you go somewhere where you have friends you may get to have more trips like that: where you do some kid friendly stuff and friends watch the kids for a bit while you do some adult stuff (or the friends organize a local babysitter so they can do the adult stuff with you).

P.S. come to New Zealand.
Jan. 14th, 2014 01:34 am (UTC)
I agree with you 100%. I think traveling with kids and traveling without kids are totally different types of vacations. Brian and I have taken both. But my "why" comment was more for the decision to never travel internationally with kids. I mean, shouldn't they get a chance to see the world too?

If you're comfortable with it, a lot of major resorts have babysitting services, and many major metropolitan cities have babysitters, if you're kid is not too fussy and you're not too worried about the idea.

Erika loves museums, but I'm figuring maybe she's just a weird kid, then...
Jan. 13th, 2014 11:25 am (UTC)
I'm a pretty relaxed traveler generally. I tend to buy a guidebook to the city/region I intend to go to and flick through tripadvisor; make notes on the "must see" places, pick out a nice hotel and some really good restaurants and then just go with what happens.

Western Europe is very easy as an English speaker. Most people in the tourist industry speak enough English that you can get by, and many museums and etc. have English guide books/audio guides (Amsterdam even has English announcements on the tram). I don't know how easy Japan is in English; I expect the different writing system makes it much harder.

I've tried the "we are moving to a different city every three days" type holiday and mostly find it exhausting. But of course you want to get good value for the transatlantic flights! You can get between most of the major European cities easily by train or plane so if you had the energy it wouldn't be too hard to manage, say, Belgium and the Netherlands in one trip.
Jan. 13th, 2014 05:16 pm (UTC)
A friend of mine from high school who is ridiculously well-traveled (Europe, middle east, Asia, Caribbean, you name it) has a travel agency called Curious Tourist. So even if you just want someone to give you practical advice about traveling, bounce budget numbers off her, or just throw around ideas, she's really really good.

Besides the shameless plug, hubby and I have also been throwing around bucket-list-type travel ideas. We are not seasoned travelers and while we feel we could go to many places and have a good time by ourselves, we feel like in order to get the "off the beaten path" experience but not be scared we're going to be victims of some sort of tourist crime we'll have to go with someone who's been there before or at least knows the culture/language in places like Asia and South America. On the other hand, there's a lot of research you can do online (not just commercial websites but travel blogs and such) where you can get a feel for what a particular place has to offer and how difficult it might be to have a similar adventure.

To me, Europe is a relatively safe bet, especially the UK Germany, Italy, and France (outside of Paris). Most people speak English, they're accustomed to American tourists. I would have a much harder time in Japan/China/India without a guide or a TON of research just because things are SO different. You might consider something like a Mediterranean cruise that goes to several countries, skipping the touristy cruise ship activities, and finding your own adventure in port. Or, because Europe has such a great train system, you could do several countries that way over the course of a week or two. Just some thoughts.
Jan. 13th, 2014 05:58 pm (UTC)
Currently living in Nagano, an hour and a half from Tokyo by Shinkansen. (Oh, and I totally recommend Karuizawa, which is on the Nagano shinkansen-- very accessible, and everyone you'll there is a Japanese tourist from Tokyo who's there for the food.) I have never visited Tokyo not knowing Japanese-- my Japanese was pretty good by the first time I went-- but just being white there, lots of people will talk to you in English. Plus, the subway maps are all bilingual, and anyone who works in a train station or department store speaks English. English is mandatory for all middle schoolers, and high schoolers take it too, so they all know some. There are lots of guides here available in English too. My recommendation, if you want to visit Japan, is to just take a couple hours going over the Japanese sound system, so you won't mangle the Japanese names, and so you'll understand their English. As for the price, well, there are lots of crazy expensive places but plenty of crazy cheap places too.

As for beaten path, well, pretty much everything in Tokyo is on the beaten path, at least for Japanese people and for an increasingly big number of foreign residents and tourists. It just depends what you want to do. Do you like tall buildings? There are lots you can go up. Do you want to see fish being auctioned by restaurants and also eat some of the best sushi in the world? Go to Tsukiji. Museums? Swords? If you can't find it in Tokyo, you probably can't find it anywhere. Getting to Tokyo might be a bit expensive, but it doesn't have to be expensive to check it out.
Jan. 17th, 2014 04:21 am (UTC)
Sam & I went to Japan in 2012. We went for 2 weeks, enjoyed ourselves a lot, and spent just under $5k, total. If you want to see pictures or get info about our trip, just ask Sam. He will talk your ear off and probably teach you a ton about what to expect. You could probably even spend less than that and enjoy yourselves. We were thrifty, as is our nature, but we could have scrimped even more.
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