As I write this post I am sitting in the Caltrain, passing through various suburbs of the San Francisco Bay peninsula on my way to the city. It’s comforting to be surrounded by so many familiar sites once again.
My wife and I have had quite a journey: 17 countries, dozens of cities, and countless airports/train stations/bus stations. We’ve witnessed both staggeringly beautiful phenomena (Northern Lights in the Yukon Territories) and horrifying moments (a mob beating up some dude in the streets of Istanbul) along the way. Fortunately, my wife and I came out the other end of our trip completely safe and with a lifetime of memories.
I’ve delayed writing this post as long as I could; it’s been taking me a while to process what I’ve learned from this trip. The short answer is: a lot.
I may not be able to cover all the lessons I’ve learned in a single post, but let me share eight things that I discovered from long-term travel:
Travel achievement: unlocked!
With this leg of our European journey, I can now say that I’ve personally visited 30 countries. I’ve been really excited to reach this milestone for quite some time.
Why 30? No reason, it just seemed like a nice round number. Now that it’s done, 40, 50, or even 60 countries seems so possible. There’s still so much to see in this world!
The past week in Croatia and Bosnia was really fun. My wife and I, along with our travel buddy Jennifer Hu, treated this journey more as a vacation. It was less about Airbnb and more about treating ourselves to resorts and cocktails. We can’t afford to do this kind of travel long-term but it’s nice to splurge every once in a while to mix things up.
Croatia and Bosnia offer a lot for the traveler to take in. Here are some of the highlights of our past seven days in Croatia:
I’ve been looking forward to Berlin for quite some time. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about Germany and the German people that fascinates me. Maybe it’s their tragic and resilient history; or the Germans’ ability to making fabulous meats in tube form; or maybe it is the incredible German language, where there is a word for even the most nuanced thing like: “walking in a forest alone thinking about how you treated your dog from childhood.” (note: not sure if that’s an actual German word)
For this leg of the journey, my wife and decided to slow down a bit and spend two weeks in the city of Berlin. We landed a cheap apartment in the suburbs, cooked at home, took public transit like Berliners, slowly explored the town, and made a few German friends in the process. It was mostly mudane stuff but some of the most satisfying travel we’ve done so far.
Here are just a few highlights from Berlin:
Krakow, Poland was described to me once as “Prague, like ten years ago.”
I have no idea what that means. But I love how pretentious it makes me sound when I say it to my friends. The truth, however, is that Krakow is way cooler than Prague.
My wife and I had low expectations when we decided to visit this city on a whim. It’s not discussed much as a European travel destination (at least in the US); but now, I would say that this city is a must-see destination for anyone visiting Central and Eastern Europe.
Some highlights from our six days in Krakow:
If you close your eyes and try to imagine the quintessential European city, then your mind will probably come up with something like Prague.
Praha—as the locals call it—is a great town full of winding alleys, beautiful buildings, and fascinating history. This place felt different from the other Central and Eastern European cities my wife and I have been visiting over the past few weeks (more on that below). Prague is a bit more touristy than I would have liked, but at least it didn’t feel too overpriced or artificial.
Here are some of the highlights from Prague:
I’m getting lazy.
Before this trip I promised myself that I would write a dedicated, individual blog post for every country that I visited. Today I break that rule.
This past week and a half, my wife had a great time toeing the border between Central and Eastern Europe by visiting Budapest and Vienna.
Each city was quite pleasant yet somewhat unremarkable at the same time. I will consolidate this leg of the journey into a single post; after all, both places were controlled by the Austro-Hungary Empire not so long ago.
Here are some of the highlights from Budapest and Vienna:
The landmarks are unremarkable. The food sucks. And the Romanian people themselves are depressingly down on their own country (but still nice).
Bucharest was a bore, except for the one terrific evening where we re-connected with an old friend living here. Transylvania was pretty, but relatively uninteresting. If you want nice views, castles, and charming villages, I would probably go a little more west to Austria.
Glad we tried Romania, but we just weren’t feeling it. I suspect most travelers won’t find it that great either.
Next stop: Budapest, Hungary.