My early days of adventure travel were bolstered by slim travel volumes, such as those from Lonely Planet. Among the best of my resources was the thin tome, “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring.” The finest travel advice, though, came from a friend just before Jim & I set out for our year of wandering: “Tips from other travelers are like dancing lessons from the gods.”
Indeed. At the hostels we frequented in those days, we compared notes with people traveling in the opposite direction. The result was fresh word-of-mouth insights and important travel tips, and often, new friends. I miss that serendipity.
The digital age, with its risks and benefits, has really changed things. Nowadays, it’s barely necessary to look up from your screen for travel information. Indeed, one can “know” about places far from the comfort of home before ever setting out. Where’s the adventure in that?
The loss of interpersonal connection saddens me. At the same time, there are some fine benefits (if you can avoid the time-crushing digital rabbit-holes that inevitably present themselves). The abundance of the internet yields many excellent browsing and informational opportunities. I swallowed my age-related stubbornness and tried embracing what’s good about all this when taking advantage of four websites this summer that I’d like to share.
1. Air BNB: My three travel buddies and I shared Air B&Bs in three European cities for four nights each in August. Wow! It’s not a bad way to go, as long as you plan carefully. For example, I think we were all a little surprised by the 56 steps up to the first one (Budapest), and the grafitti on the entry door of the second (Prague—but it was a fabulous and, as it turned out, safe location). In Split, Croatia, we got suspicious of the bed arrangements (there was some…unclear, okay, not quite honest information on the website). We troubleshot that suspicion a few days in advance and the folks at Air B&B upgraded us to a fabulous, modern, clean place near the one we bailed out of. Do your homework, and when you arrive, check for safety things such as extinguishers, CO alarms, and emergency exits.
2. Taxi alternatives (Lyft and Uber): I’ve now used both and like the systems very much. They are very similar. Just make the pick-up location as precise as possible to avoid missing your driver (you’ll be charged for that). A couple of safety notes: the driver’s name and license plate/vehicle ID will appear on your reservation. Check the arriving vehicle to be sure you’re getting the right ride. Also, never offer up your name. Instead, ask the driver, “who are you here to pick up?” Be sure to follow the prompts for the tip and rate the quality of your experience at the end. The drivers I’ve met have wanted (and earned) that perfect score! Be aware, too, that they will also be rating you. It’s a true social media experience all the way around.
3. Eatwith: One of my travel buddies found this site, and we tried it in Prague. What a great, fun, delectable evening! Many of these events occur in homes, but in our case, it was in a private room at a hotel, with a couple from England and three hotel operators who were scoping out the opportunity to tell their guests about. The idea is to experience authentic local cuisine, and browsing the site shows there is a range of how people interpret that. Our host was a wealthy man with a country estate, and all the food was grown or raised there or nearby. He was a gourmet cook, and knew his wines. A fun evening! (Sadly, there are no EatWith hosts at my next international stop, but I’ll keep looking on future trips.)
4. Tours by Locals: We landed a fabulous local guide for four hours on our first day in Budapest. Sandor showed us the city’s highlights and how to use the public transportation system. I loved the personal touch. He was nicely knowledgable (and a professor of history, I think it was, at a local university. His guide license lent legitimacy, although not all guides are licensed. Make sure your guide speaks your language, and arrange to meet in a public place, just for safety. And if you’re going to Budapest, seek out Sandor Doman at Inspiring Budapest. Tell him I sent you.
Remember those dancing lessons from the gods and share your own tips with others. Safe and happy travels, wherever you go!