Thursday, January 28, 2010

Start Your Own Adventure! Part I


I'll never forget stepping off the plane at Athens International Airport. I remember feeling the thrill of excitement even though the journey there bordered almost 14 hours and I'd had little more than a couple hours of sleep. Here's what went through my mind those first few seconds.

First things first...wait...what was the first thing I had to do? Money...yeah money...where was I going to get money? Wait...where do I pick up my bags? Okay, one thing at a time. Just follow where everyone else is headed...and I'm sure that's where you'll need to go to.
Oh my God.
What the hell was I thinking. I don't even know a lick of Greek. And I'm here all by myself. IDIOT!
Okay, don't hyperventilate. Predators and thieves can smell fear. Don't you DARE act like a victim.

So as you can tell, I wasn't really mentally prepared. I'd never traveled on my own before - let alone ever gone to another country whose language I'd never spoken in my life. This was going to be the challenge of a lifetime. Luckily, I'd chosen to have a travel agent book everything for me which included transportation to and from the airports and ferries. This wasn't the cheapest - so it's not something I recommend for those who want to travel on a small budget.

I remembered realizing as we drove down the highways and I stared at all the signs, billboards, and buildings...that I was very, very far from home. People in Greece drove like they raced for a living and the humidity (or complete fear) was choking. It wasn't until I arrived at the hotel that I felt the overwhelming sense of...loneliness and severe homesickness.

Before I get carried away, I want to let you know that I overcame those feelings and had the adventure of my life. It was addicting...Leading me to want to explore more. So I planned my next trip as a backpacking expedition - once again deciding to travel alone.

In the next few blogs you'll get a variety of information to help you plan and prepare for your own affordable travels. Some do's and don'ts and additional things to consider, best sites to get more information and everything else I happened to pick up on the way.

The first thing to consider is of course, the length of time you can get away. Then plan a budget. To get an idea on how much you'll need to save (or beg your family to gift you with) plan a budget ahead of time. Consider the following: Airfare and intercity/country transportation, for the cheapest stays consider Hostels (or go native and camp out!), and Food (you can save a lot of money purchasing fresh foods and cooking your own meals at the hostels).

Here's some sites you should visit to plan your stays and purchase the best ticket prices.

1. Airfare: Kayak.com & TruFares.com
- When traveling between countries you can check out RyanAir.com (traveling by plane - where you can pay as little as $10 - $15 depending on the flight fees) or when traveling by train, EuroStar/Rail Europe, Renfe (Spain) etc. (check sites like RickSteves.com - for more info on ways to travel). Train travel can take a couple hours and you don't have to deal with the hassles of Airport security. A train ride from London to Paris can take just a little over 2 hours!
2. For Hostels you can check out the following websites to book your next hostel stay. You can book as late as next day stay if your plans change.
Hostelworld.com - shows rates, customer ratings, locations, pictures, booking availabilities etc.
Hostelbookers.com
You can consider camping at specified camp sites but remember that camp gear can get heavy, so if you're traveling alone, best leave the tent at home and stay at a hostel.
3. Food: Plan to eat at least one meal out. Somewhere around $10 - $20/meal. To save money, consider hitting the grocery store and stocking up ingredients to make your meals at the hostel. Even pack a ton of Cliff bars or ready to cook instant noodles. They have everything you need (make sure to read that the Hostel you'll be staying at has a full kitchen). You can cook simple meals like pasta, sandwiches, and easy grillers.

I never thought I'd stay at hostels, especially with the fears I had about traveling alone as a single woman. But after my experience in London and San Sebastian, I decided to cancel the rest of my Hotel stays and opt for the cheaper and more lively stays at the local Hostels. They've definitely come a long way. Most have WiFi, a fully equiped kitchen to store and cook your food, events planned to mingle with other hosteliers, and an opportunity to make new friends. The beds are clean and many have a youthful and fun atmosphere with the sense of security that most paranoid travelers like me need. And thanks to sites like HostelWorld, they're easy to book, easy to get to - with a detailed list of ways to get there, and most are located in prime locations that make it easy to visit the must see sights.

For women considering traveling alone, there are options in many hostels to book "women only" rooms, which is something I chose to do.

Of course, backpacking isn't the only way to get your travel fix for a low cost. Something I seriously considered was volunteering abroad. It comes with a fee of course and you'll have to pay for your own airfare. "A Fee? To Volunteer?" you ask. Well, the fees cover your night stays and meals. You can volunteer at orphanages in Cambodia, teach English in Greece (on an island), save sea turtles in Galapagos, or be a part of the forest preservation activities in Costa Rica. There are many, many options. If this is the kind of traveling adventure you're interested in, check out the following sites I used.

1. RealGap.com
2. UnitedPlanet.org

Both sites also offer opportunities to Work abroad and Teach Abroad with options to combine various types of excursions from volunteering to cultural immersions, and working for pay.

There are plenty of ways to get your travel fix. Whether by trekking on your own backpacking to the top countries you've always dreamed of visiting, or making an impact by volunteering and working with the locals, or even just giving yourself the relaxing vacation your work-a-holic ego needs - there's plenty of ways to travel even on a small budget.

In my next blog, I'll give you some tips on how to make your backpacking trip (or other forms of travel) go smoothly.

Thanks for stopping by!
<3 Anna
Here are the images from Greece that made me hunger for more!

This...is...SPARTA!! Okay..just kidding. Totally not Sparta but I had this momentary delusion that I had stepped onto the movie set for 300.

So I decided to drive like the Greeks do...For the day I got to experience the thrill of a NASCAR driver. I'd like to see the one police car on the island of Mykonos try and pull me over.

Complete with gladiator style sandals...hahaha

No words can express the emotions that go through you when you're seeing something as beautiful as this for the first time.

Once again, thanks for visiting! Feel free to ask any specific questions to the points addressed above. Otherwise, stay tuned! I'll get you traveling in no time! :)

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