Sunday, May 27, 2007

7 Things I Would Do Differently Next Time

So I really am having a great time, and we're already talking about the things we want to do next time, but we're also learning some things about how we could do it better.

1) I would NOT try to see 3 countries in two weeks.
Even though everything is closer together than in the states, it still takes time to get from place to place, and those travel days left me pretty tired to do much at the end of them.

2) IF I really wanted to see 3 countries in two weeks (or a lot of one country in a short amount of time) I would pay for a tour.
It seemed like we'd be saving so much money by doing it all ourselves, and I'm sure we did, but what with getting lost, trying to find food, the right money, bathrooms, being on our own time table (which includes waking up late, missing the early bus into a place and therefore getting there right before/as everything is about to close down) it feels like we are missing out on actually exploring the inside of castles and churches and such and just getting a lot of pictures of the neat architecture. I'm pretty sure a tour would get you to a lot of the highlights in an efficient manner, and while we might be giving up a little bit of choice, it would also be nice to be taken care of when there are so many new experiences to process. And it wouldn't have to be a glossy packaged tour, just someone who knew their way around - like when Jyoti took us around San Francisco, or when I went on my school block to Switzerland. Someone who had done it before and figured out the details and travel timetables, but we'd still have tiny chunks of flexible time to explore each place.

3) I'd rent a temp phone once I got here.
If I really felt like I needed a phone. Much less need for one on a guided tour of course (probably no need at all), but for all the trouble we went through and money we paid to get the phone we had to work here, we would have been a lot better off to just get a temp phone here. Now the only thing I'm not certain of is whether you need an address and a landline to get any type of phone, so maybe that plan wouldn't have worked either. I think our phone company also told us we could rent a phone, and to be sure whatever phone we used was unlocked... we paid for a UK phone chip and an unlock code, but turns out it only had bands for the Caribbean and US, so by the time we'd spent that much money we'd kinda blown our phone budget to buy a whole new phone over here.

4) Sleep in the city we want to tour the next day.
I guess this applies more to the self-guided driving tours. It worked out really well to sleep at a B&B about 5 minutes drive from the Blarney Castle itself and then go there in the morning and spend a few hours there. But then trying to drive to Killarny AND do the Ring of Kerry that afternoon was nuts! It actually worked out because with less time we only did about a third of the ring and then turned around to come back, and we quickly realized that trying to do the whole ring in less than a day would have been pure insanity. It supposedly takes 3 hours to get around it, and that's without stopping. However the roads are bumpy and winding by the ocean which makes it physically exhausting for anyone in the car, but especially the driver. If we'd had 1 or 2 whole days to do the ring, we could have gotten out and stopped at every spot which would have helped to break up the driving, but as it was we would have just made ourselves carsick if we had done the whole thing.

5) I would always be sure to eat something before it got to dinner time
On our first drive from Dublin to Blarney (with a quick stop in Waterford) we somehow managed to not eat anything but granola bars and dried fruit, an apple and some string cheese until a late dinner in Blarney. Woke up too late for breakfast and then got lost trying to get out of Dublin and didn't ever feel like we had time to stop for a proper meal. Unfortunately this made me pretty cranky and also gave me a headache and I was probably not a fun person to be around.

6) I would budget more time for getting from place to place.
This applies more to the self-led driving tours again I guess. We just looked at the mileage on Google maps and based our timing on how long it takes us to drive places in Iowa. We didn't take into account getting lost, rough and tiny roads that didn't allow you to drive full speed, needing to stop for food and gas, a minimal amount of small road signs that were easy to miss (especially in roundabouts), trying to find parking, one way streets, big slow tractors etc. We also pretty much threw out our Google maps on the first day and just went with the road map from Hertz Rental Cars. MAYBE if the maps had been from actual addresses they would have helped, but since they were probably just from city centres, the detailed instructions about how to get to the big main roads were actually confusing.

7) I would try to bring less stuff
Now, I feel like we actually did a pretty good job of keeping things to a minimum - we even made a spreadsheet to list each item of clothing to be sure we wouldn't over pack, and to be sure everything we brought could be washed together without ruining the colors, but even our two small suitcases and big backpacks each have been a bit much to haul around when we are moving from city to city so much. Plus on our first day in Edinburgh, we found a "Left Luggage" (this does not mean, as I first thought, luggage that people never picked up after a flight, it means a place you can pay someone to watch over your bags) place in the train station, but it was 5.50 pounds per bag, and at four bags that seemed ridiculous, but at the same time I wasn't up just leaving the suitcases and lugging the huge and heavy backpack around the castle. When we went back by bus the next day, we saw storage lockers in the bus station, where we could have easily left all four of our bags in one locker for 5 pounds, and probably could have even fit them all in the 4 pound locker! I'm not sure what less we could have brought, I personally can't wear a shirt more than once without needing to wash it, and trying to take the time to find a place to do laundry would have eaten into even more touring time. We're lucky Brooke & Rynny have a washer in their place so we can just wash and air dry while we're here. Otherwise in order to bring less clothes I guess we would have had to rinse out our clothes from the day in the sink as soon as we got in and pray they dried overnight...

All in all though, these are really more just little annoyances than big deals, and we're learning as we go. Even though I've traveled before, and I've even traveled overseas before, I've never done it outside of a school group, and it's a totally different experience. I just keep checking in and reminding myself to soak it all up and enjoy and then I find some little amazing and wonderful thing to notice and shift into that wonder. And even though sometimes the accents are more thick than charming, or they use words in a slightly different context, I realized that it's SO much easier to travel in a place that speaks/writes signs in my first language. There's a whole level of brain exhaustion that doesn't come in to play.