Monday, March 1, 2010

Making Your Travel Dreams a Reality, Part III

If you're just coming to this series now, I'd recommend getting caught up by reading Part I, which debunks some common excuses not to travel, and Part II, which talks about the money aspects of traveling. Today in my final installment, I'm going to discuss a few destinations that are great for families or for those who are new to traveling abroad and are seeking destinations that are less hectic than say, Rome or Tokyo. I'll also cover a few other things to consider when planning a trip.

Parisians enjoying a beautiful fall day at the Jardins du Luxembourg

Destinations for Families and Travel-Newbies

Not having kids myself, I'm obviously no expert on the family aspect of traveling, so I'll leave it to my awesome readers who have kids to stop in and share their tips and experiences. I have, however, been to many destinations that struck me as just perfect for families or for those that may be new to overseas travel; laid back, low-stress destinations that would be great places to find your traveling legs before you take on some of the more challenging locations. Today I'm going to share a few of those places with you.

Destination: Salzburg, Austria

Austria is one of my favorite European countries to visit, and Salzburg and the surrounding area tops my list of great family destinations. From the medieval fortress that looms high over the city to the towering alps that surround the valley, Salzburg is a place for magnificent scenery, clean air, and quaint, quiet streets. And who can beat the fact that it was the setting for The Sound of Music? Watch the movie at home to prepare for your trip, then tour the locations when you get there. There are several organized tours that are offered, some of which can get quite boisterous and silly, with a whole busload of people singing the songs en route to each location.

For the adults, there are also excellent regional wines to be sampled, as well as several breweries (including one operated by Augustinian monks) and beer gardens. And since Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, musical performances abound. A concert up at the Festung is a one-of-a-kind experience; nothing beats listening to classical music in a great medieval hall. There are also several interesting destinations that make great day trips from Salburg, including the Eagle's Nest, which was Adolf Hitler's remote meeting place during WWII, and the salt mines in nearby Bavaria. Not to be missed is the charming town of Hallstatt, accessible only by boat and containing a fascinating ossuary, where due to the limited space in the churchyard, people were dug up after 10 years and their bones placed in the charnel house.

The view of Salzburg from the Festung Hohensalzburg

Fuel your love of all things morbid at the ossuary in Hallstatt, Austria

Destination: Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is another of my favorite European cities, and nothing sums it up better than the Danish concept of "hygge" (also written as huggelig). Though the word is translated as "coziness," it really means much more than that: it's the feeling of being in a welcoming environment with good friends, good food, and plenty of good cheer. Copenhagen is loaded with charming boutiques, snug coffee shops, and cobblestone-lined streets and alleys that bring this concept to life.

Families will enjoy visiting several nearby castles, such as Frederiksborg Palace and Helsingør Castle, the inspiration for Elsinore Castle in Hamlet. Nearby Roskilde has a magnificent cathedral as well as the outstanding Viking museum, where you can see several Viking longships that were recovered from a nearby fjord. Copenhagen, and actually all of Denmark, is also an excellent place to rent a bike and go exploring; with its bike-friendly streets and flat landscape, there's really no better way to get around than on a bike, and it's also a great way to experience something that is an integral part of Copenhagen culture.

Fall colors at Frederiskborg Palace; Hillerød, Denmark

Destination: Krakow, Poland

Krakow is a charming city, and one that is rich with history. Though stifled under Soviet oppression for decades, Krakow is now a vibrant and lively town, where the old town square is still the actual city center, rather than strictly a destination for tourists. Here among the grand buildings and shop-lined streets you'll see couples walking arm in arm, and groups of friends headed out for an evening of fun. Surrounding the heart of the city is the wooded Planty, a narrow green belt where the old city wall used to be. While in town, be sure to ask a local to tell you the story behind the bugler who plays from the tower of Saint Mary's church in the old town square.

Though the experience is sad beyond belief, a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is a must, if only to understand the scale and importance of what happened there. As most of the WWII generation grows old and passes on, it's a way for the rest of us to maintain our perspective on the horrors of war and the dangers of allowing prejudice to become policy. Though it's certainly not a "fun" activity, it's an enriching and a necessary one. I think many kids in the US could benefit by seeing something so haunting and so sobering. We have so very much that we take for granted here; Auschwitz is a monument to sadness and loss on a scale that's hard to imagine.

The Krakow old town square at night

Planning for Time Off

You already know from Part I of this series how I feel about people who use work as an excuse not to travel. Sure, you might be busy at work, and perhaps you're even quite an important person at your company. But unless you're the sole owner and operator of your business, your colleagues can hold down the fort for a few weeks while you take a vacation. But of course there are other aspects of taking time off, which I'll discuss here.

  • Don't put off big things until the last minute. Make sure you've arranged for pet care, a house-sitter, and time off from work at least a couple months in advance.
  • Make sure you've arranged your finances well in advance so that money is accessible. Find out about credit card fees and ATM charges for oversees transactions, and if need be get a new credit card and/or transfer money to a different account. Don't let your financial institution hold your money hostage while you're away. It's also a great idea to carry a backup credit and/or debit card, which should be kept locked in your luggage just in case your wallet ends up in the hands of a pickpocket.
  • Plan for bill payment while you're gone so that you don't incur late fees. If you're going to have someone drop off a rent check or other payment for you, be sure to make arrangements for that in advance.
  • Before you leave, shut off and unplug as many appliances and other electronic devices as you can. Shut off the water valve to your washing machine too; what could be worse than coming home to a burst pipe and a floor covered in water and mildew?
  • If you're worried about the security of your house, consider leaving your most precious items with a friend or family member for safe keeping. Better still, have someone house sit for even more peace of mind.

A picturesque canal in Bruges, Belgium

Other Considerations for Planning a Trip

An important aspect of travel which many people fail to consider is, what type of traveler are you? Are you a planner, who prefers to have a strict itinerary, or are you seeking spontaneity? Would you rather spend quiet days perusing ancient libraries and museums, or is it nightlife you're after? Do you like big cities, quiet countrysides, the major tourist destinations, or the places no one's ever heard of? How you prefer to travel is especially important in determining who you want to do it with.

I often prefer to travel alone because I have a fairly haphazard approach, often changing flights and other arrangements along the way, or arriving in a city without first booking lodging (do NOT do this if you travel in the high season!). Many people aren't comfortable with traveling that way, and for myself I feel bogged down with having to adhere to a schedule. Don't be afraid to go it alone if you can't find anyone to go with you, or if you're not sure of a potential travel mate's compatibility with your style. And unless your traveling companion is just as committed to taking the trip as you are, there's a chance they may keep you waiting indefinitely and in some cases forever. I love the freedom and flexibility of traveling solo, and I find that I meet many more people that way.

Remember also that it's perfectly fine if it ISN'T your dream to travel; the important thing is to recognize it and be ok with it. You might be surprised to hear that Mark isn't a big traveler; for him a trip once in awhile is fine, but it's not something he's passionate about. It actually works out great for us because he takes care of my apartment and pets while I'm gone; he's happy to see me doing what I love and I can travel with greater peace of mind, knowing he's at home taking care of everything. So don't just travel because you feel like you ought to; if it's not your cup of tea then don't go, or consider just spending time exploring your local area instead.

Finally, here are a few other random things to consider:

  • Many countries require that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after the date you're planning on departing, so make sure you allow plenty of time for a renewal if need be. On a similar note, find out about visa requirements far in advance. Always leave a copy of your passport at home, and take a couple extra copies with you to keep locked in your luggage or some other secure place.

  • Vaccinations may be recommended depending on where you're going (typically jungle areas or third world countries), so be sure to find out.
  • How far in advance you book your airfare and lodging depends on many factors: how locked in your schedule is, what time of year you're going, and whether you're using frequent flyer miles to book your airfare. I'd say 2-3 months in advance is sufficient unless you're doing something like going to Munich for Oktoberfest or to Rio De Janeiro for Carnivale. If you're planning your trip around a major festival or holiday, you'll probably need to book it at least 6 months in advance, especially your lodging.

  • Always check the current TSA regulations to find out what can be carried on. Also check the rules for whatever country you're flying in and out of. For instance, Mexico requires that you're checked in and at the airport an hour before your flight, and they also do not accept boarding passes printed at home. Knowing the rules before you travel saves you a lot of stress later.

  • Another great resource for American travelers (or travlers to the US) is the US Department of State website. There you'll find info on passports, visas, and all sorts of info on different countries.

    I hope this series has inspired you and answered whatever questions you may have. Now let's talk travel! Stop in and comment, ask questions, share ideas for destinations or tell me where you're going next. I love talking travel even more than I love talking fashion!


Dawn said...

Great post Audi, you're bringing back many wonderful memories of my school trip to Salzburg and my study abroad semester in Kraków.

I absolutely adore Kraków after living there for six months in 2007/8, and would recommend that people also see the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz which is much more quaint and run-down than the old town. It's filled with old houses which were never reclaimed after the Holocaust, flea markets, basement vegetarian cafés, etc. There are so many great photographic opportunities there. I would also recommend that it be visited during autumn rather than during the summer. And of course, if possible, the tower in the Old Square should be climbed. It costs about 5zl and the view is amaaaazing! I miss Poland. :-(

Anonymous said...

So glad you included Krakow in your list..It was a huge favorite of my teenagers and I. Wawel castle is amazing , with it's cobblestone courtyard and medieval balconies, and it's underground tunnels, supposedly inhabited by the dragon named "Smok" We loved the beautifully restored buildings in the Jewish quarter, where there are fantastic restaurants with original Jewish art and food and were amazed by St. Mary's church from the 1400's. It is a really beautiful city, and incidentally the only one where my kids found american style pizza! ~ Madeline

Alison said...

Awesome series! Many great things to think about. I've traveled in the US quite a bit. Great info on some of the places you have visit as well.

a little sewing said...

I've enjoyed your posts on travel. I just returned from a trip to Korea to visit my daughter who is an American teaching English there. She loves it and she travels A LOT.
I was intimidated but I went and I had such a good time, I will definitely travel more. Even though jetlag sucks, it was exciting to go so far away and I want to see more far away places.
Great posts!

Anonymous said...

These are a lovely series of posts. It is totally worth it to go after your travel dreams. A couple of other destinations that I think are really family-friendly (or that I particularly love):

Edinburgh. I love the city, the people are really nice, there's a castle, and a mountain to climb right in the middle of the city, and it's very very accessible to the new traveler. Plus, I used to live there and am incredibly fond of it!

Marrakesh. People are very nice, and really seem to love kids. I saw a ton of tourists there with young kids, and just walking around and looking at all of the sites is an activity in and of itself. Plus they have a lot of gorgeous parks where kids can run around. It's perhaps not the best place for kids who are a little too old to be attached to you and a little too young to be willing to hold your hand.

Languedoc. A couple of years ago we rented a wee house in a tiny village for a week, and it was fantastic. Rented a car, and drove places looking at castle ruins (Cathar country--really really incredible) and Carcassonne (a little Disney-fied for my tastes, but should be a HUGE hit with kids) and so on and so forth.

As a matter of fact, that method of traveling is great for families. Pick a reasonably central location and, if you're in a city, rent a flat, if you're in the countryside, rent a house for a week or two, and use it as a base while you explore the region. You can get great deals on car rentals with (I've always had good luck with naming my own price) and being able to cook is both great for dealing with kids (you can still make the grilled cheese sandwich) and for the wallet. Plus, when you go to places like France or Italy or Spain, you can get such awesome produce (and wine! oh the wine! Not kid-friendly of course, but verrry nice for the adults) that cooking is a pleasure. Some places

Some other places where that I have personally found that style of travel to work: Portugal, Spain (driving in Barcelona is a pain, try to avoid that, by say, picking up the car at the airport), Scotland (although we did change lodgings there, every few days), London (we rent a flat, and it's fantastic--we can do laundry, make our own breakfast, have peace and quiet, and really enjoy the city.)

Caveat: I do not have children. When I do have children, I fully intend to cart them around with me, just like my parents did with me. They survived, I survived, and I have really fantastic memories of travels when I was young.

Oh, and one more note for parents, and this one comes from a friend of mine (with kids): Your kids may be miserable on a plane. This is true. But that is a really short part of a trip, and don't let it prevent you from going.

Enjoy your travels! (I'm currently planning my next trip. I'm considering Siberia.)

mockingbird said...

I loved this series! I have always wanted to travel, but so far the only place I have been is Belize. I would really like to travel alone or with a close friend, but after seeing the movie Taken and learning about human trafficking I'm not so sure. Do have any advice on safety? Thanks!

Erica said...

Another great post! Once more, I completely agree with you - I have been in Salzburg before I had a child and it is certainly the first city in Europe I would go back with my toddler. Wonderful people, delicious food and perfect environment for families. We also went to the lakes just east of Salzburg and this is also a great family destination.
And I will have to cite camping again: we went to Tarifa - the southernmost town in Spain, from where you can travel to Gibralta and Tanger, Morocco in less than an hour by ferry. We camped over there and I remember seeing families from all over Europe with their RVs at the campsite and thinking "we WILL be back here with our own children!". Note that I mentioned RV's... I obviously do not recommend tents for young children!
Actually, as I wrote I figured that many beautiful small-to-medium-not-so-tourist-y cities in Europe can be great family destinations. As you very well said, things can be pretty hectic in cities such as Rome and London, whereas in less mainstream destinations, you are more likely to have a quieter time with your family.
Thanks again for the wonderful series!

Anonymous said...


Thank you, Audi, for the great series of posts abiut travel. I'm really glad you included Kraków here. I live in Poland (though not in Kraków but in Warsaw) and have been to Kraków many times loving it more with every visit. I would also recomend seeing the Jewish destrict - it has a great atmosphere. As a student of the history of art I want to encourrage all the visitors to Kraków to admire the medieval, reinassanse and baroque pieces of art: all the churches, their altars (the altar of Wit Stwosz in St.Mary's church is widly known in Poland as a masterpiece), the Wawel castle, the Czartoryski Museum (there is even a painting by Leonardo da Vinci) and the architectural details of the building in the Old Town.
For other destinations in Poland I would recommned visitin Gdańsk which is the most known city at the Baltic Sea. It's great because it combines all the fun things you can do and see while traveling. Actually there are three cities joined together: Gdańsk, Gdynia and Sopot. Gdańsk is almost as old as Kraków so you have the Old City there, lots of museums and nice places to vitis. Gdynia is a new, industrial city build after IIWW, famous for the strikes in the shipyard that begun the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. And Sopot is a typical small village for tourists that like lying on the beach during day and going around some cafes and clubs by night.

Ps. Do you travel through United States also? I'm thinking about going there and I would appreciate cosme advise on where to go, how to prepare and so on.

Peacock's Hat said...

Me and my family have been going to Austria for several years now. We tried Italy and Hungary as well, but found that nothing was quite so lovely as the picturesque Austrian mountains and beautiful towns and cities, although Switzerland came close. We visit Salzburg every time we're there if we can- my personal memories are of running along the arches in the Mirabell Gardens singing Do-Re-Mi at the top of my voice with my sister. I also insist we visit the amazing seafood fast food chain Nordsee whenever we're there! W'ew going back to Austria in the summer for the 5th time, and I couldn't be more excited. You've given me the urge to visit Copenhagen now- I must admit this is partly fuelled by watching Hans Christian Andersen quite a lot as a child. Thanks for this series- being a second year student, I'm thinking I should maybe start planning now for next year, these posts have come at a great time.

Ashe Mischief said...

Audi, I just wanted to let you know how much I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. Traveling has been on the minds of the beau and I for quite some time, so I've been emailing these to him as they've come out... any extra inspiration is a great thing in my book!

Anonymous said...

Like others, I've really been enjoying your travel posts. My husband, 72, and I (58) travel as much as possible, while we can. At first, he was not so enthusiastic, but now he enjoys it. Although Paris is our favorite, where we always rent an apartment and shop at the outdoor markets, we are now more into Exploritas (formerly Elderhostel), which is not just for old people. It allows for wonderful experiences that we could just not duplicate on our own, and at a very reasonable price.

One thing I didn't see you mention was the use of a moneybelt. We never travel without one.

H to the izzo said...

Great series. This made my travel bug come alive again (which honestly has been mostly dormant since college, getting its fix from watching Anthony Bourdain and the Travel Channel--that's the way I'd like to travel, honestly, his way).

Any tips on countries/locations where it might be cheaper than normal to go (ie, our exchange rate is good there, it's a steal during certain times, it's underrated)? I'm late 20's and no kids and would travel alone or with a companion.

MBZ said...

Travel Talk! What could be better than this?
We're off to Switzerland in May to hike the Bernese Oberland. Can't wait :)

OK, forget Mexico. Next time you guys want to rent a beach house try Costa Rica. Substitute Flor de Cana rum for the Tequila and you're all set. Gorgeous scenery, mucho bang for the buck, spectacular people. We have direct flights from Houston, just love the place.

Istanbul, the most beautiful city on the Planet. Yes, even prettier than Paris which we adore and visit regularly.

Adventure cruising. Ridiculously expensive, but what an experience if you're a wildlife person. We sailed to Antarctica last January and are booked for an Arctic sail in Spring 2011. With your love for all things Iceland, check out Quark. They sail the Akademik Shokalskiy out of Reykjavik, exploring Greenland. Perfect trip for a solo traveler. The group is small and intimate.

Just a few quick ideas..... I could go on and on.....

Unknown said...

Hello, here the Peruvian again. Great idea of posting about trips. I would like to add something related to visa stuff, since I am Peruvian I need visa for every little corner of the world. Please look for information and ask lots of questions. I spend one year in Europe and I found out after having bought my plane ticket that Romania is part of the European Union, BUT is not a Schengen country, which meant that I couldn't enter without a visa from Romania...on the other hand it was cool to know that Switzerland is NOT part of the European Union, BUT a Schengen country, so I took my train to Geneva right away! :D

Traci said...

Just got to this after reading parts I and II and was thrilled to see a couple of my very favorite places!! I absolutely LOVED Salzburg and Copenhagen! And yes, I've never seen a city other than Copenhagen where biking was so popular or easy. We had bike envy there, as the bike lanes were practically as large as car lanes and people watching was so much fun - people commuting by bike in their suits or women in skirts and high heels! We were even lucky enough to be sitting outside at a cafe right beside a church, so caught an entire wedding party leaving by bicycle rickshaws - it was so cool and we took photos :)

One tip I'd add for Salzburg is to look for a B & B just outside the city, since hotels right in the city seemed very expensive. We stayed with a wonderful woman and her husband and had a large bedroom and bathroom with a cute balcony and an amazing view of the mountains just a few miles from the city center. The bus stop was just about 2-3 blocks away and it took only approx. 10-15 min to get into the city. Much less expensive - the hosts spoke excellent English and gave us great tips for sightseeing, etc. A funny story though was us seeing a hedgehog one night as we walked back to the B & B from the bus and we asked her if she'd seen many around there. She had no idea what we were talking about when we said hedgehog, but finally realized what it was and said, "oh, it was an Igel!" (German for hedgehog!). She said seeing them is supposed to bring good luck since they usually stay hidden :)

Jael Paris said...

Canada is also packed with great cities. My husband and I spend 5 days in Toronto every summer. Theater, great food, museums, shopping and the locals are fabulous.

Breathless Ms. Seberg said...

Thanks for posting these tips and suggestions! The mister and I are itching to go somewhere this coming fall, and you gave me so many ideas!


Eyeliah said...

I think I will be going solo on my trip, as there are so many places I want to go I think i'd be happy with just about anywhere. Thanks again for all the info, I will be rereading it over a few times. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Audi! My husband and I could really use some inspiration. If you had a small, small budget (of about $2,000 total) and could only travel from January to March, for about a week to 10 days, where would you go?

I appreciate any suggestions!

Mary said...

Thanks so much for the travel series and please, if you are so inclined, write more.

A couple of comments - I would definitely encourage women to take solo road trips - I have traveled all over the West by car when my husband was unable to go with me - many of my friends and family were horrified and quoted "Unsolved Mystery" episodes, but I met with friendly and helpful folks, could mess around with my camera for hours, etc.

Also, I went to Iceland in 2003 and have wanted to return ever since - I hear 2011/12 will be a peak for solar activity that causes the Northern lights, but I'm not sure I can wait that long. Anyway, I also recommend Iceland!

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Properties in Samara Costa Rica said...

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Meadow Walk said...

This was a really inspiring series to read -- thank you.

Maybe you could post about what it's like to travel alone as a woman in the world. I went to Europe once and the guy I travelled with made the whole thing so miserable. But I am not good at striking up conversations with strangers so if I went alone I'm afraid I would feel lonely and disconnected. Some tips or your experiences would be so enlightening.

Audi said...

Meadow Walk: That's a great idea! I will most certainly work up a post about traveling alone.

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Jessie said...

Frequent mini vacations may sometimes cause a dent in the wallet! Therefore having a budget plan for a mini vacation is of utmost importance.

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