As travelers, how we see and interact with the places we visit matters! It informs our perception of a culture and its people, it teaches us lessons about our own lives, and also what we tell others about our experiences.
In our Wandering Soul Sisters community, we were recently talking about our favorite ways to get to know a new destination. There were a couple of activities that came up repeatedly as great ways to get a sense of the everyday life in a place. Not surprisingly, these are a regular part of our lives, but probably given little thought.
This is my personal favorite! I absolutely love going into a grocery store or open air market in a new place and seeing what’s on offer. Besides the fact that I love food as a general concept, it provides a better understanding of the local culture to see what people use to sustain themselves everyday. You get to observe what kinds of flavors they prefer, which ingredients are readily available, and even how the presentation varies from home.
You’ll notice interesting local trends too. For example, in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (possibly Finland, but I haven’t been yet) they seem to love gummy candies. Every grocery store has a fairly large wall of different sorts of gummies, especially black licorice flavor. You see locals of all ages grabbing them as a treat. Obviously I had to try some myself, and I’ll say it was a mixed bag, but overall interesting with varying levels of enjoyment. Why is this a trend? I don’t know the answer to this, but simply noticing it gives me food for thought. (See what I did there?!)
One of the food items I love to explore is the different flavors of potato chips! It’s fascinating to see what they come up with around the globe. I’ve seen everything from Prawn Cocktail (not my favorite) to Rotisserie Chicken with Herbs (hands down my favorite of all time!) and so many other options in between. Now I made myself hungry and am noshing on a bag of my favorites from the UK, Walkers Cheese & Onion, while I write… (I have a secret stash!)
What have been your favorite cuisine discoveries from your travels?
One of our community members pointed out how liberating it is to figure out the public transportation system and be able to get around on your own. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but it’s totally true! Not only does it give you the freedom to explore on your own terms, but it also gives you insight into how the locals move about.
One of my absolute favorite methods of travel is by train. With comfortable seats and big picture windows, you have nothing to do but watch the world go by. I usually get my Spotify going and make myself a playlist that I’ll listen to as a soundtrack to remind me of the experience. You see people traveling from one part of the country to another to visit family or on business. This is a much less stressful way to get around – just sit back and enjoy the ride. 🙂
On the Norway train trip with my mom from Oslo to Bergen this summer, we saw everything from graffiti on the concrete barriers as we left the city to majestic mountain lakes and forests. It was hands down one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever experienced!
In the big cities, using the subway or tram system is not only interesting, it’s a much more efficient way to get around! When I go to London and am above ground, there’s always a moment where I remember how many thousands of people are moving around under my feet and it totally trips me out! For a city with more than 8 million people, they do a pretty good job of managing traffic so it doesn’t feel like a chaotic frenzy. Plus when you ride the Tube you see all of society together — from business men in suits to unconventional types with tattoos and piercings (my people!).
What are your favorite ways to connect with the places you visit? What have you learned about the local culture or yourself from these experiences?
One of the sneaky side benefits of independent travel is the insights and lessons I learn from my surroundings. During my recent trip to Norway with my super awesome mom, we had three days on a ferry from Bergen to the Lofoten Islands. There wasn’t much to do on the ship so the majority of our time was spent finding the best seats for nature watching, reading, naps, and going onto the outdoor decks for photos.
The ship’s course was primarily along the coastline, passing little villages of brightly colored houses and mountains rising from the depths of the ocean. All of the landscapes were breathtaking, but one of the highlights was going all the way into the Geiranger Fjord for some seriously epic scenery.
During those moments that leave you in complete wonder, there’s something else that creeps into that silence. It’s almost as if those ancient rock formations had something to share. Here’s what they told me.
This was like a 2×4 to the face, and this lesson was repeated over and over again during our time. As we approached the fjords from the sea, the mountains around would appear as simple, two-dimensional peaks rising out of the ocean or coastline. The closer we got, the clearer the true shape and magnitude became.
Suddenly it was a three dimensional living landmass and I could see the ridgelines connecting other peaks or falling away again toward the water. I discovered so much more depth and detail than I ever imagined on that first glimpse. As we passed and put more distance between us it would return to a two-dimensional peak again, but with a different shape and grandeur from the other side.
These moments were a great reminder of how many times in life circumstances hold more than meets the eye. When pursuing a dream, you know, like starting a business or seeing the world, it starts as a vague shape in your mind. As you start taking steps to make those dreams reality, you start to see new aspects that weren’t there when you were so far away. Once you’re right up next to it, you find more opportunities and ways to navigate the landscape and reach your destination! All it takes is moving toward your goal and the patience to let the scenery unfold around you.
Our first real glimpse of the majestic fjords of Norway was in Flåm. We’d had some delays in getting there – broken down trains and such, but arrived in the evening with enough time to wander along the waterfront. The next day we hiked to along the fjord to the next town over, enjoying the breathtaking views the whole way.
Throughout our hike over, this particular cliff face kept catching my eye and in my imagination it was some kind of watchman or guardian of the fjord. It struck me that this particular mass of rock had been standing watch over this fjord for actual millenia! How many boats have passed under its shadow over the centuries? How many civilizations have risen and fallen along its shores? All the while, it stood silently watching.
It struck me that the strength of this “watchman” was partially from its solidity, but also from its stillness. All these movements of humans and nature surround it constantly, yet it continues to stand firm and silent.
There are times in life when everything around us feels chaotic and it’s easy to get swept up in the emotions and energy of it all. This was a perfect reminder that sometimes the best answer to the chaos is to be still and simply stand our ground. Sometimes you can’t change the chaos, so instead it’s better to not engage. Stand solid in yourself and your knowing, find the stillness within and the storm will pass.
There have been some serious twists and turns on my path lately so these lessons hit home hard! There are many days where I don’t know which way is up or where the fuck my next step is supposed to be. More than anything, I want to help you change your life through the experience of independent travel! No biggie, right?! With that sort of massive mission as my goal, the self-doubt kicks in and I wonder how on earth I’m going to do it. What I know is that it’s my heart and there’s no other choice but to keep moving forward.
All of these lessons from Mother Nature helped me put things into perspective. The clarity and next steps will come as I keep moving toward my goals. When I find myself getting overwhelmed, it’s time to pause and be still until some of the internal chaos settles. Some of my favorite travel moments come from these unexpected lighting bolts to my soul that help me be better prepared for whatever Life throws my way next. There’s much brewing here at Beyond Reservations, so stay tuned for some big shifts coming up! <3
Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.
What challenges are you facing that have you feeling the need for some perspective? Have you had moments like this where your surroundings suddenly provide insights for your life? Where are your favorite places to enjoy the natural wonders on offer?
Before you can start planning any type of travel, you have to answer the hardest question of all. Where do you want to go? If you’re anything like me, you have a long list of places calling you to explore! When I’m trying to decide where to go next, it’s usually a combination of three things:
This one is a long post and full of info, so stick with me. 🙂
Europe is what I know best, and there are so many iconic places we’ve grown up hearing about and seeing in the media (for my US-based readers) – textbooks to movies and everything in between! If you’re trying to decide where to travel in Europe, it can be tempting to try and see it all, or so much that you run yourself ragged on what you would like to be a semi-relaxing vacation. You’re not wrong, but there’s something to be said for slowing down a bit. Your best memories usually aren’t from your list of planned activities, it’s from the unexpected, surprise moments of awesomeness you’ll encounter when you give yourself some extra time in each place.
My goal is to help you see and enjoy as many international destinations as possible–part of that process is about taking some of the stress out of planning your travel. In this post, we’re going to take some of the stress out of choosing a European destination.
When I’m ready to start planning my next trip, I get out my ever-growing list of destinations and pick my top five. Even narrowing it down to five is tough so I ask myself, “If I only get to take one more trip in this lifetime, where would I most regret not seeing?” Morbid? Maybe, but it helps me put things into perspective.
Last summer my husband and I both did this exercise when we were trying to decide where in Europe to visit next. We made our lists and both had our top choices as Denmark and the Netherlands. That time was easy, but it’s not always that simple. Sometimes it’s the right confluence of events that has you choosing somewhere that’s a little further down the list, and it just might be magic…
In 2017 we were already planning to visit Ireland with friends who were getting married there. Side note: We had SO much fun! If you get a chance to travel with a group of friends, do it! Anyway, we had the ability to add a couple of extra weeks to our trip and Europe was the obvious choice since we would be there anyway.
Our budgets were limited so we needed to go somewhere that our dollars would stretch. That knocked places like Denmark and the Netherlands out of the running for this particular adventure. We decided on Romania because we both had been wanting to visit certain areas and, through our research, discovered that it’s super affordable. It hadn’t made it to the top of the list yet (it should have been higher up, I know that now!), but this was the perfect opportunity to make it happen!
In Europe, it’s pretty easy to stay in the same budget range and see a number of different places because they’re usually clustered together. It tends to be this way because of their shared history, economic systems, infrastructure, etc. The borders of today weren’t always that way so there’s some overlap from country to country. I’m going to provide a break down of the different countries based on how much you can expect to spend. I hope this will make some of the harder decisions a little easier!
Here are the budget ranges per person:
Budget Travel: Less than $50 per day
Won’t Break the Bank: Between $50 and $100 per day
Bring Your Wallet!: $100+ per day
These categories are based on:
Pro Tip: If you like to camp, you can turn nearly any European country into a Budget Travel destination! I love it, but I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂
Here’s the list of European countries categorized by budget. I didn’t want to write you a novel about each, so I’ve only left comments on places I’ve visited or have done a fair amount of research about. I left off commentary on the major places most people visit, just because there’s SO much to see and, if they’re on your list, you probably already have some specific places in mind.
Good to Know: I’ve based these on High Season prices (June – August), when the most tourists are visiting. Some of the places that are currently in the “Won’t Break the Bank” zone, may drop into the Budget Travel grouping during other parts of the year.
I’ve listed these in alphabetical order, just to keep things simple for you. There are some I super love, so I have to put my pitch in for those places. 🙂 Most of these countries are located in Central and Eastern Europe, so it’s easy to stay in the same budget from place to place.
There are a few places that have some overlap, even within the country. In certain areas, you can totally live the Budget Travel life, but major cities might have you closer to Won’t Break the Bank.
These are probably the places you typically think of when it comes to Europe and how much it will cost to visit. Most of the major cities can be done in this zone, if you don’t go too crazy with your splurges. Certain cities or activities might push you into the Bring Your Wallet! category, depending on your preferences. Other areas can totally fall into the Budget Travel zone, so do your research.
Because these countries have such a variety of things to see and do, they’re difficult to categorize. I’d have to write a novel for comments, so I’ve skipped it for this group! Basically all the things you want to see here are awesome and you should totally go! I’ll refer back to my post about Affordable Destinations in Europe and say anywhere CAN be affordable, but that’s up to you. 🙂
These are the places that, even if you’re super careful, are just more expensive. It’s primarily Scandinavian countries, which do their economics and politics a little differently than the rest of Europe. It’s more expensive to visit, but you’ll see that the locals live really well. They’re some of my favorite countries to visit with absolutely breathtaking scenery, great food, and friendly people!
Helpful hint: buy your booze at the duty free shop in the airport for Scandinavia! Bottle shops are SUPER expensive (a box of wine cost more than $50 when we were in Iceland! – yes, a box because I’m classy like that), open short hours, and not particularly easy to find.
I think I’ll make this into a series of posts for you and talk more about each category. There’s so much awesomeness that one blog post isn’t sufficient, but I hope it helps! 🙂
Now get out there, the world is waiting for you.
It’s no secret, I love Europe. From the West Fjords of Iceland to the Black Sea coast of Romania. There’s a HUGE variety of amazing places to see and quite a range in affordability as well. Sometimes the whole continent gets lumped together as “unaffordable” because some countries and major cities can be pretty expensive if you don’t know some money-saving tricks.
Scandinavia is one of the more expensive parts of Europe to visit, and cities like Paris and London can get pricey, if you’re not careful. However, there are plenty of places on the continent that are perfect if you’re on a budget! Here are three of my favorite affordable places to travel in Europe.
It only takes about five minutes of talking with me to find out this is one of my absolute favorite places in the whole world. I love it so much that I’ve returned twice, for a grand total of about two months, and can’t wait to go back!. It’s one of the smaller capital cities in Europe with about 450,000 residents. Besides the fact that it’s crazy affordable, I absolutely love the pace of life. It’s where I go when I need some perspective and to remember what’s really important. The whole country is incredibly affordable, but the city of Sarajevo is where I’ve spent the most time.
Most of us tend to think of the war-torn 90’s, and the scars are still definitely visible. What was the most striking to me on my first visit was how open and friendly everyone is, even though they have every reason to be cold and wary of outsiders. It’s BY FAR the most hospitable place I’ve ever been! Check out the Destination Sarajevo website to learn more about the city and all the amazing things you can see!
If you’re not convinced yet, I’ll tell you how much you can expect so spend. I went last summer with a friend and we rented a little apartment with a little outdoor picnic area. We spent a whopping $37 a night. That’s total, not per person! It was one of the more expensive options because I wanted the terrace. And damn, let me tell you about the food! Everything is made with super fresh local ingredients, because that’s all that’s available. Čevapi is probably my favorite thing to eat while I’m there and I can’t get enough. It’s little lamb & beef sausages with amazing fresh bread with a pile of raw onions on the side. I like to add a salad, since it tastes like everything just came out of the garden. I can get the whole meal for about $3!
There is so much to see in Romania, from wondrous nature to cute Transylvanian towns. The Black Sea coast, Danube Delta, Carpathian Mountains, and Transylvania all have jaw-dropping beauty. My husband and I spent two weeks traveling through the country by rental car in 2017, and still had to skip parts because we ran out of time.
The Danube Delta had been on my list since I saw an Instagram series by National Geographic a few years ago, and it didn’t disappoint! It’s the largest reed bed in the world and home to so many different water foul. We took a full day tour that included lunch at a family home and took us all the way to Sulina. I believe the grand total for the two of us was 60 Euro. It was definitely the most expensive activity during our time in Romania.
The Romania Tourism Board’s website lets you see the different regions and all of the awesomeness on offer. You can find homemade wine at road side stands and I believe we paid about $5 for a gallon! Our most expensive room was about $35 for the night, and came with a beautiful balcony and view of the mountains. We stayed mostly in B&B or family run hotels, all of which were clean and comfortable! My favorite meals were filled with smoked meats, potatoes, and good beer. An amazing dinner consisting of soup, entree, beer/wine, and their local plum brandy that left us both so full we needed an evening walk, usually cost about $20! Can’t beat that!
The only reason this is lower on the list is that it’s a little more expensive than the other two, but still significantly cheaper than other parts of Europe. Personally, of the three listed, Slovenia takes the cake for absolutely breathtaking nature. Lake Bled is what comes to mind for most people, and it’s everything you imagine and more. However, there’s so much more to see in the Julian Alps and the country also has a little strip of coastline on the Adriatic sea! Lubljana is a lovely city, right on the river with a castle on the hill and cafes to sit and watch the world go by. On my six-week solo trip, I had planned to spend just two nights passing through Slovenia on my way to Croatia, but absolutely loved it and stayed for five. It’s high on my list of places to explore more!
The prices are still really reasonable. For dinner, I rarely spent more than 10 Euros and, like Romania, was full to the brim! I was camping most of the time, but looked at a few different accommodations so I could sleep in a real bed for a night. Most of what I found was easily under $50 per night for a private room, and much less for a hostel dorm! You can see what else Slovenia has to offer on their Tourist Board website.
Truthfully, you can make you budget stretch anywhere you go, if know what to do. These places are amazing because you can have a super vacation – eating out, seeing all the attractions, “splurge” on souvenirs and still spend so much less than you think. I always browse the websites from the Tourism Boards as well. They’ll tell you what’s happening in the area and provide great information for planning your trip!
I hope this gets you dreaming of new places to explore! Flights to these places can be a little more expensive because they’re less popular and touristy, but here are a few ways to help you save on those as well.
Now get out there, the world is waiting for you!