In just thirty-nine short yet impossibly long and drawn-out days, I will strap myself into an uncomfortable and smelly seat inside a flying metal tube and be catapulted across 3,000 miles of deep, deep ocean water, surviving on gummy airline food and weak coffee. Actually, I love airline food. It’s completely disgusting but there is something so retro and cool about having a tray of sodium-laden foods all bundled up in their saran-wrap-cocoons that appeals to me. There’s no logic in it, but I like it. The coffee is a different story. Why even try?
Yes, I’m just nine and thirty days away from a much needed, much anticipated vacation. To say I’m excited is an understatement.
I was originally going to strike out on my own – which would have been fun. There’s something very liberating and free about exploring a new place by yourself. It forces you to step outside your comfort zone and strike up conversations with strangers. I’ve done it twice before and lived to tell about it. However. The huge drawback is that there is no one back home to talk about it with. Sure, most people seem excited to hear about the trip and where you went and what you saw, but you only get a small window of time. They didn’t share those experiences. They aren’t quite as excited to hear, yet again, about how you left your luggage on a train while you went to grab lunch and then saw a train pull out and thought it was the one you left your luggage on and nearly peed your pants in the middle of the station. And rightfully so. They weren’t there. Why would they want to talk about that story a hundred times? But, if you’re traveling with somebody and that happens, seven years later you can randomly say, “Hey, remember that time the train pulled out…” and they’ll immediately get it and you’ll share a laugh remembering what a horrible, horrible feeling that was. (Believe me, Megan and I still talk about it.) All that to say, yes, I would have had fun on my own, but I’m so happy I found a traveling companion to go with! (Thanks, Ashley!)
I don’t see myself as a huge planner. Sure, I go through about four planners a year but only because I get bored with the colors or the layout or I’ve spilled coffee on one-too-many pages. I always hope that “the next one” will really help me organize my life. I spend hours salivating in the office supply aisles of Walmart and Target or pinning every single customized, glitterized, fancified idea on Pinterest. I’ve yet to find one that really works. But, you only get out of it what you put into it, and well, the biggest thing I put into them is, in fact, the spilled coffee, so I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my life is still, seemingly unorganized.
When it comes to traveling, however, I am mean-supreme-planning-machine. I’d love to be one of those types who can fly by the seat of her pants, hopping from train to bus from city to site without any sort of an idea of where they’ll be sleeping that night. But I’m not. I like to have everything – most everything – mapped out and sorted ahead of time. Partly because I really do enjoy it. And partly because it’s too dang expensive to drop that much money on a plane ticket and not have some semblance of what you’ll be doing when you land. Especially if you’re landing in London, where the conversion from US Dollar to British Pound is obscene and it’s near impossible to find a decent hotel room that doesn’t require you to sell an organ on the black market in order to pay for it. And since I haven’t stumbled upon a winning lottery ticket or married an oil sheik, I travel with a budget in mind. Planning ahead and paying ahead are key.
In order for a hotel in London (or anywhere in Europe for that matter) to earn the title of “decent”, in my humble opinion it really comes down to the following two words: Private bathroom.
Whenever I book hotels in America, I never have to stop and double check if my room comes with its own bathroom or if I’ll be sharing it with eight other people on my floor. It’s just assumed. However, it’s often a different story overseas where the communal-facility-phenomenon isn’t limited to low budget youth hostels. It’s kind of the norm for many places. Some rooms have just a shower but no toilet. Some have the toilet, but you have to hoof it to the end of the hall for the shower. At the very least you’ll have your own private sink. Oh, the luxury!
In my “youth” I stayed at a fair share of dumpy hostels and hotels while exploring Europe. While each had their own sort of charm, the one in Rome stands out in my memory the most vividly. It wasn’t the poorly lit street or the sketchy neighborhood. It had little to do with the “most-likely-gang-members” loitering outside during all hours of the night or the mysterious packages being passed from palm to palm. It wasn’t the lack of an elevator or our fourth floor room reached only by a terrifyingly narrow and steep staircase. And it wasn’t the probably well-meaning yet still creepy front desk clerk who offered to bring us breakfast to our room each morning even though there was no mention of it in the hostel’s description. It stands out because of the shared bathroom. One bathroom.
One bathroom for me, for Megan, and for twelve Chinese men. It was in that moment that I vowed, never again…NEVER AGAIN. It was a long and disgusting five evenings and six mornings.
Hence, the importance of planning ahead. We’ve spent many long hours scouring travel sites and Trip Advisor to sniff out the best deals for the best decent hotels. And we’ve made out pretty well. (Traveling during the off-season does have its perks.) And so, with thirty-nine days to spare, we have secured and paid for all our train travel, eight day-long tours, nearly all our admission tickets to the sites we plan to visit, and fourteen nights’ stay in England and Scotland. And NONE of them have a shared bathroom. Victory.
(On a side note, I am in the midst of typing up our itinerary…15 pages so far…and am fantasizing about going to Staples and having it printed and bound into book form. Maybe I AM organized.)