"I haven’t actually found logistics to be the most challenging part of travel—I’d reserve that instead for the subtle work of staying emotionally centred as regular signposts and support systems are removed and replaced with an onslaught of new experiences."

How to Transform Yourself into a Savvy Traveller

I moved to Europe this year. (And only for a year- I can’t leave my beloved TO behind for long). Now, the day I moved to Europe happened to be my first time ever being in Europe. And as you can imagine, the learning curve from there has been fairly steep—culturally, linguistically, and in that (albeit cliché) way travelling has of removing known contexts and leaving you alone with yourself. Woof.

But more than that, from the relatively central locale of Berlin, I have also had the pleasure of travelling a tonne within Europe; during which time I have felt myself grow from Total Novice Traveller—about as savvy as a 15-year-old in a tour group-—to the *much* savvier Total Novice Platinum Traveller (ie. not Crocodile Dundee, knives blazing, confidently tearing into the outback; at the same time, not the ol’ Croc, comically blundering around in the big city). And it is from this vantage point that I offer up, modestly, a few tips and tricks for fellow travellers! I’m going to be honest with you, most of them are apps. Turns out travelling is all about APPS! These are some of my faves.

My #1 if-you-read-one-tip-make-it-this-one-tip is: Download CityMaps2Go. It is freefreefree (or go nuts and get the Pro version for about a buck) and available for Androids/iPhones/iPads. The app is, at its most basic, an offline map resource, meaning that you have access to a functional digital map of most major cities, in your pocket, sans data or Wifi, at all times. And with your Location services turned on (find these, appropriately, under Privacy), you’ll still have access to GPS, and able to locate where you are, on the map. But more than being a handy resource for not getting lost-in-a-Bad-way, the map is also packed with helpful information, including restaurants, bus stops, and tourist attractions—all downloaded and available offline. 

Before embarking on a trip, I’ve made it a habit to download the map for my destination city, and amass as many recommendations from friends/guide books/websites as possible. I then pin them on the map—using the handy Pin feature that colour-codes pins into categories such as restaurants, tourist attractions, etc. That way, when I find myself wandering the streets of a new city, getting lost-in-a-Good way, and am suddenly, say, STARVING, I have only to glance at my position on my map to see my location, and my proximity to a number of colour-coded Blue pins, for my own hand-picked, researched, and recommended restaurants close-by. I know this doesn’t necessarily seem spontaneous, but—Friendly Mom Reminder!—having the app does not limit spontaneity as an option.

CityMaps2Go also works in tandem with Wikipedia, downloading full Wikipedia pages on numerous noteworthy sites right into your phone. Find yourself walking by an interesting-looking church? Locate it on your map and there may just be a full Wikipedia entry attached, with history of when the church was built, when it was destroyed in a fire, when it was rebuilt, when it was destroyed in fire #2, and when it was rebuilt again, this time out of the flame resistant concrete you now see! In effect, the app enables you to become your own tour guide, unearthing the stories behind your surroundings, as you walk through streets hitherto unknown to you.

Rick Steves Audio Europe
Speaking of tour guides, y’all know about Rick Steves (hint: he does not have a weekly Top 40)? He’s the author of a number of travel books, as well as the host of a TV series called Rick Steve’s Europe… and he’s an app! A free app! Appropriately called Rick Steves’ Audio Europe, the app features, amongst other things, guided personal walking tours through many museums, attractions, and neighbourhoods in numerous European cities. And as the tours are simply in the form of an audio track, you are free to experience them completely at your leisure; no need to buy tickets or fight for space with 20 other tourists huddled around one guide. Although the walks are fairly conservative in their content as well as their strenuousness, in a new and/or overwhelming locale, Steves’ wealth of knowledge is impressive and helpful, and his pun-tastic dad jokes (Whither you may ROME, he BuckingHAMs it up, etc), are oddly comforting.

This App should be in a Spy Kids movie (the highest compliment)—it is so sleek, simple, and impressive.  Available for Android and iPhones,WorldLens instantly translates printed words using the built-in camera on your device. And again, it works without requiring access to the internet- meaning that you need not find WiFi nor use data should you find yourself say, in Prague trying to translate the label of the fun candy (?) you just bought to see if it contains shellfish (??). You can just pull out your handy-dandy WorldLens and it will do the translation right there using fun offline (and probably Spy Kids-related) technology.

Eat Fresh. That’s all. Just kidding. So, turns out, Toronto’s Subway map is not that complicated compared to that of many other cities (or, let’s be honest, compared to really any shape that isn’t a line and a U). Most Metros/Tubes/Bahns that I’ve encountered have an offline app with a Routing function, enabling you feel like a local as you zip around from place to place, with all the money you’re saving from using public transit merrily jingling away in your pocket.

The site is no hot-tip-hidden-secret at this point, but I just wanted to throw my weight behind it as a resource for places to stay on almost any budget. Not to depreciate the hostel experience, but my partner and I were able to stay at a lovely little apartment in Paris—kitchenette, et al included—for about the same price as a bed in the nearest shared-bathroom, six-bed-per-room hostel. A friend also once stayed on a houseboat in Amsterdam thanks to AirBnB—and if that’s not living the dream, I don’t know what is.

Go inside as you get outside
All of the above is, of course, delightful practical advice for making the ins and outs of travel smooth, affordable, and enjoyable. Fantastic. There are many many guidebooks and websites (and apps! I love an app!) out there which serve a similar purpose. However I haven’t actually found logistics to be the most challenging part of travel—I’d reserve that instead for the subtle work of staying emotionally centred as regular signposts and support systems are removed and replaced with an onslaught of new experiences. Managing and juggling these as any semblance of routine disappears can be tricky, but I’d like to offer a few suggestions, based solely on experience:

Every couple of hours, check in with your needs*
I’d define these loosely as: food, hydration, physical comfort, safety. And pooping. If any of those are not met, assess accordingly, and formulate a plan i.e. “I’m beginning to feel hungry. When will my next opportunity for food be, how will I get there, and how much would I like to spend?” It sounds so “doy-yoy” simple, but actually took me a few trips and meltdowns in public places to figure out. The “need” language is also great for travelling with others. Before waiting in the hour-long line for the Louvre, for example: “How are everyone’s needs? Oh, two of us have to pee, the Group Vegan is fainting, and I have sunstroke? Cool, let’s do this tomorrow.”

Go easy on yourself.
Be open, and don’t worry if everything doesn’t go according to plan. There’s no one right way to experience a city. If you end up playing cards with a 7-year-old French boy at a cafe in Paris for 3 hours, instead of seeing the Picasso Museum (as happened to me last week), don’t sweat it. Enjoy the dinosaur you drew together and let the Blue Period go. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was it meant to be seen and understood in one.  Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel has some beautiful musings on a traveller’s inner life as they explore the outer world, and I’d recommend it as necessary reading for before, during, or after your trip.

Bon Voyage, lovely readers!

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