Brave? 20 days, 20 hours and 35 minutes. . .

Slide1Inevitably, when I people have found out about my travel plans they have immediately asked “who are you going with?”

When I say no one, it is almost predictably followed with “are you going on a tour” or “who has planned it” – When my answer to those questions is no, and myself – the reactions have an interesting range. Amazingly, these reactions are not predictable in any way. People I would have expected to be absolutely shocked that I would even entertain an idea like this have been excited for me and very positive, folks I would not have expected to be phased by the idea of me traveling alone have been almost comically shocked. Others are a bit terrified by the idea, but all have been excited for me to have the experience, I think.  The reaction I get most often, however, is that I am very “brave” to be doing this. . . and honestly, that is the reaction that I haven’t known what to do with.

Crazy – certainly, insane – a bit, wild – of course, adventurous – maybe a little, stubborn – YES, independent – obviously you have met me, geeky – yes, smart – most of the time, and so on. . . but BRAVE? I’m just not making that leap. To me, brave has a different meaning. . .

In my book, bravery is risking it all to save others – or to make the world a better place – – no matter what the cost to yourself  may be – people like Harriet Tubman, Irena Sendler, Desmond Doss, Nelson Mandela, MLK and Aung San Suu Kyi –  and this list can go on – while these are extreme cases of bravery – there are millions of less- well-known examples that happen everyday- the soldier who enlists, the child who stands up for a friend being bullied, the employee who risks his job to do what is right. . . but, honestly – Bravery is not hopping on an airplane to go on a dream vacation.

I agree with Confused Julia – for me traveling alone isn’t brave, it is just common sense. This is the right time for me to take this trip – and solo is the way that it makes the most sense.
I am not brave – I am independent, stubborn, bold, and a little adventurous – and hopefully – when it all comes down to it, I will be smart and have a great time on this adventure. 🙂

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My Tech “Travelosophy” ~ 39 days 3 hours and 41 minutes to go

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Everyone that knows me, knows that I am a bit of a gadget geek. This has caused me to spend a bit of time planning the technology part of my trip. There is something to be said about just being completely disconnected and enjoying an unplugged trip (one of my favorite things about a cruise, honestly), but there were lots of reasons why being completely “unplugged” for this trip wasn’t going to work.

1 – Safety and peace of mind as a solo traveler

Yes, I am traveling alone for much of this trip, except when I am visiting friends. People have a lot of different ideas about this “brave”, “crazy”, “stubborn”, “independent”, “adventurous”, “insane” plan of mine (I will address this in a later post – :-)), but I do acknowledge that there are certain precautions I need to take as a solo international traveler, and an option for emergency communications is certainly one of those precautions.

2 – People genuinely care and want to know what I am doing over there

Almost from the moment I began telling people about my adventure, I got the “will you have a blog?”, “will you send me pictures?”, “will you let us know what you are doing on Facebook?”, etc. I would need a way to connect to the internet periodically and update a few key services.

3 – I take pictures – lots of pictures. . .

I am a bit of a nature and architectural photography nut. . . I take more pictures than any device will hold in a week just exploring a hiking trail or cool building– a month in Europe? I’m not sure I could buy enough memory devices for my camera for that. Add to that the concern of losing a memory card with photos from my time in London before it made it to the cloud? NO WAY! I was going to have to have a way to get pictures off of my camera and to the cloud for safekeeping.

All of these things in mind, I was going to need #traveltech that was powerful enough to handle what I needed to do, wasn’t going to add to much bulk to my suitcase, and allow me to get the most out of my experience.

Staying semi-connected and keeping people updated:

Staying connected was a problem with 2 levels. I knew I needed some sort of mobile communication option, and I also knew that I needed a way to communicate with folks back home. I weighed the options from buying sim cards in each country I visited, buying a global sim card, buying a prepaid phone etc. . .

Because I was going to SO many different countries, some of which don’t play nicely with the rest of the EU regarding telecommunications, I finally realized that going with an international plan for my current phone was going to be the best bet. Each carrier is different, but my plan with ATT gives me VERY minimal data (hello wifi!) but the tradeoff is unlimited texts both sent and received, and a reduced rate for any phone calls that might come through or need to be made. If you are on AT&T, the Passport program is worth a look for international travel – just don’t be tricked into thinking the data will be sufficient for use like you do at home. http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/international/roaming.html

I will disable cellular data during the trip, unless I have an urgent issue and have no Wi-Fi to be found near me – but that will be rare, I think/hope/pray. I will also reset my data statistics when I get on the plane to make sure I don’t go over my data allowance.

For updating my blog, sharing on Facebook and emails, I plan to rely on Wi-Fi – all of my lodging locations have access – I will have some access on trains with my 1st class rail pass, and there are always hot spots if needed.

Obviously Facebook is a way to update some folks, but not everyone is on Facebook, and I didn’t want to be THAT person – you know, the one that constantly floods Facebook with every little step of their vacation, and admit it or not, you have thought about, (if not actually) hidden or defriended. I knew a blog was the better choice. I chose to use WordPress for my blog, because it is easy to update – works with lots of types of media, and is very mobile friendly – I was setup and ready to go in about 10 minutes – the worst part was picking a blog name!

However, I didn’t want to make people remember to check the blog, especially those that are my Facebook friends and twitter followers, so I knew I would want to have some cross posting capabilities. One way to do this is to go into Facebook and Twitter individually and post the blog updates, but that is tedious, and a time waster when I could be out wandering through Paris with a Baguette in hand – so, I decided to enable a service called IFTTT (IF This Then That). On http://ifttt.com I set up 2 if/then statements related to my blog so that when I do a new post (like this one), IFTTT will automatically post that to Facebook, and tweet it to my followers. This post will be the first test of that, and hopefully I won’t have to tweak it at all. (If you aren’t on twitter or FB, or you just want to receive email updates when I post, you can subscribe to my blog in the sidebar.

By leveraging the power of the internet to do more steps with less time, I can spend more time enjoying, and less time updating – a win for me.

Taking pictures and videos:

I have 3 methods I use to take pictures – my iPhone (I have a 6+, so it takes some pretty great pictures), my GoPro Hero – cool fisheye lens effect, and my trusty DSLR Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT. The GoPro is truly a “pocket” camera – but the inability to see the shot without killing my phone battery is a huge issue. The 6+ has come a long way from the original iphone camera, but as my friend Simone reminded me – if you don’t use the camera, why do you have it? I trust her international travel credentials, so, since she says I’ll want to have it – it’s getting packed (minus the extra lenses (I think)).

Traveling solo in amazing locations does offer a bit of a photography challenge – what if I want a picture of myself at the Tower Bridge in London, or at the top of the Bernina Diavolezza? I am not a fan of the perpetual hand in selfies, and the idea of handing my expensive camera or phone over to a stranger for a picture just doesn’t do it for me. Enter the piece of equipment I swore I would never use. . . The selfie stick. . . I don’t want to be that tourist – and I promise I will not walk around with my camera or phone on the pole throughout Europe, but at certain locations, the ability to pull it out and take a quick, decent shot has appeal – so yep – I did buy one – let your laughter commence. . . .

Managing and backing up pictures and videos:

Taking my DSLR makes the backing up process a bit more complicated. If I wasn’t taking the DSLR, I could back everything up using my phone on the cloud, and wouldn’t need a laptop, but the DSLR needs to connect to my laptop to pull the pictures off. That means my trusty MacBook pro will be accompanying me, since it is my lightest laptop.

Backing up my pictures to the cloud is important – what if my laptop is stolen (eek!) or crashes – it could happen! – so I need a plan B (and C).

For now, my plan is to use my Amazon Prime storage to back-up pictures and videos. https://www.amazon.com/clouddrive/home/

If my videos are in excess of 5GB then I will store additional videos on my OneDrive (https://onedrive.live.com) or Dropbox (Sign-up with this link & we both get free space: https://db.tt/XICPo111).

Keeping Up with my itinerary and electronic documents:

I needed to focus on a way to store my itinerary and copy of documents that did not require an internet connection to retrieve, so I made a OneNote Notebook (Thanks Sandi and Freda for making me LOVE OneNote) which has directions, documents, copies of reservations, rail passes and my passport, as well as sights of interest in each location. This notebook has been a great tool for planning, in the event something bad happens, a way for me to securely retrieve copies of my stuff.

Electricity Issues:

Ok, so this was much less complicated than I thought it would be – I think the electricity puzzle has been simplified over time. Yes, the different voltage is important – but every device I am taking is already dual voltage ready – no need to pack a converter! What I did discover is that a lot of places have limited plug space, and I would want multiple things to charge during the night, so I did my research, and purchased an international travel powerstrip from Amazon: http://amzn.com/B005ZIM73A – with this Powerstrip I will only need to bring my adaptor for England and Europe – and can plug all of my devices in with one adaptor– sweet! J

Batteries die – and sometimes traveling you don’t have access to a plug. I will be taking my MyCharge Power Bank so that I can get extra juice when I need it most.  http://amzn.com/B00CMNZEIQ

The final verdict:

Considering space in luggage, and balancing that with needs, this is my technology arsenal for the trip:

  • iPhone
  • Macbook Pro
  • GoPro Hero
  • Canon DSLR
  • The dreaded selfie-stick
  • Powerstrip
  • plug adaptors for UK and Europe
  • MyCharge Powerbank

All of this will fit nicely in my compact luggage, and I will be able to stay connected (as much as needed) or disconnect a bit as well.

Making an Itinerary ~ 41 days, 2 hours and 23 minutes

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Perhaps the most daunting task in planning for this trip has been setting an itinerary. Possible locations in Europe abound, and the logistics of staying with friends in some locations (Vienna, Oldenburg and Paris) and the reality of the amount of time I really have is the grounding force. As a solo traveler, I am trying to balance the idea of being uber safe (with a thoroughly planned itinerary), and being a bit more impulsive and spontaneous. In many areas (like lodging), being more planned is winning out – but I am leaving some wide open days to just see where the day (or my rail pass) takes me. I have figured out where I am sleeping each night, and do have some tours, experiences and reservations booked, but other days are wide open – so I can hop on a train and have Pirogues in Poland for lunch, or stay in Berlin and explore Museum Island; on a day while in Vienna, I could explore Budapest, Pannonhalma Abbey, Győr, Sopron, Salzburg or . . .? There is something completely liberating, but a little out of my comfort zone about this whole process, but I have made my over prepared, planning self make sure not to “over schedule” and leave some openings for new chances I haven’t even considered as an option.

So, for all those that have inquired – here is my itinerary (as of this second. . . ). 🙂

  • Days 1-7 – London – with trips to Bath, Isle of Wight and of course the Harry Potter Studio Tour at Leavesden
  • Night 7 – Night Bus to Brussels
  • Days 8 – 12  – Rail to Vienna, Austria – with some possible trips to Bratislava, Slovakia; places in Hungary; or other places in Vienna
  • Day 13 – Day in Munich; Dachau?
  • Night 13 – Night Train to Berlin
  • Days 14 – 16 – Berlin (possibly a trip for lunch in Poland?)
  • Days 17 – 19 – Days Oldenburg, Germany (Bremen? Hamburg?)
  • Days 20 – 22 – Amsterdam (Brugges?)
  • Night 22 Night Train to Zurich
  • Days 23 – Bernina Pass (Stop and ride funicular at Bernina Diavolezza)
  • Night 23 – Tirano, Italy
  • Day 24 – Travel to Paris
  • Days 25 – 31 Paris

WHEW! What an Adventure! 🙂

Merry