435 Select Photos From My European Walkabout

Croatia - Alex Berger

Hello all,

This has been a long time in coming and I apologize, but after months of struggling with software issues, my webhost and a crazy-busy life I’ve finally sorted through the 1,600 photos I took on my recent Europe trip and have uploaded 435 select shots. They are sorted by geographic region/the part of the trip (eg: Italy) and added to my own personal photo gallery hosted here on the site. There is also an Album that contains all 1,600 photos for those of you who want to see what didn’t make it into the 435 select shots.

In addition to the recently uploaded photos I have also created an Album with select shots from my 2004 study abroad trip to the British Isles with shots from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England.

As I find the time I will continue to add albums with new photos, retouched photos, and some of the very best shots that I’ve taken over the years.

Croatia - Alex Berger

To view the photos visit my photo-gallery here.

Let me know what you think =)

Could You Do It? Analyzing Travel Costs.

It’s a Sunday…everything is closed…and I have some extra time on a machine so it’s time to write on something I’ve been itching to explore.

When I told friends of my plans to backpack for several months across Europe, one of the most common questions was how can you afford it ? It must cost a fortune? The truth is, I couldn’t without the help and support of my parents, extended family and friends. That said, as I look toward the future and start preparing for trips, I’ve taken a close look at comparable costs. This post is geared towards those of you who are about to graduate college and are toying with the idea of a backpacking trip, but are afraid of the cost or… going for it.

I’ve been incredibly lucky as both of my parents have always placed a heavy emphasis on travel as an educational tool. I know those of you who have traveled a bit agree. When you travel and immerse yourself in the cultures, it is every bit as educational as the college experience. In fact, dollar-for-dollar, hour-for-hour, I feel I’ve been changed more as a person and learned more in my 3 months traveling than I ever did in a college semester.

To set the stage – I pulled up ASU’s website and looked at their cost of attendance calculator. After making several basic selections for an in-state, undergraduate, living off campus, the cost (COA) estimated by the site is $17,211 for the year. Broken down… $13,331 of that was listed as “direct costs” (room, tuition books, etc.) and $3,380 of that was “in-direct costs” (personal and transportation). Taking the $17,211 and dividing it by 9 to determine the cost/per scholastic month leaves one with $1,912 in monthly expenses. Looking at the breakdown, I would say this is a low estimate, as many college students spend significantly more…especially those who drink or smoke (two major expenses not included in the estimate). The estimate notes $71 a week for board based on an average meal price of somewhere between $6.50-7.50 at on-campus establishments, this also seems a bit low. I imagine most people spend more than $10 a day on food –breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cell phone bills are also worth noting as a major expense. Computer maintenance, fees and software are often high.

The key to making travel affordable is length of time on the road. Sound odd? The reason is living expenses. Most Americans, especially students, travel/backpack for 2-4 weeks. Americans also typically hit major destinations known to Americans. In the hostels, I noticed that I would either be surrounded by Americans (in places like Rome, Florence, Berlin), or would be the only American in the hostel when I was off the typical American traveler’s path. I’ve noticed that Canadians typically travel 3 weeks to 2 months and Australians typically start at 3 months and can travel for years pausing to work as they go. Perhaps short trips to high cost locales is why we view travel as such an extreme expense. If you leave for two weeks you are forced to double your expenses. You have to maintain your apartment, park your car, leave your cellphone on, and pay the utilities. If you plan for, and schedule a longer trip, removing those expenses becomes a viable option. In turn, those expenses can be re-distributed toward travel costs.

Exploring my daily travel costs. (Keep in mind that the dollar is currently in horrible shape and as I write this every Euro I spend costs me about $1.50.)

Daily Hostel Cost – $19.50 (13 Euro) – $34.50 (23 Euro) – Average nightly cost: $30 (20 Euro) X 30 = $900/month.

Daily Food Expense – $22.5 (15 Euro) X 30 = $675/month.

Travel (average costs) – Predicting $75 (50 Euro) every 3 days. Cost: $25/day. (Train, bus, air – Easyjet.com and Ryanair. etc for long distances. Train costs vary by country. Bus is always cheaper. In Italy, Croatia and Greece the average cost was 20 Euro max for a long day’s travel. Most of the Croatian and Greek trips cost between 5-10 Euro by bus.

Museums/Entertainment/Attractions – $10.50/day (7 Euro). Churches are typically free, museums cost between 2-12 Euro (student card makes a HUGE difference), natural parks typically cost 15 Euro max. Most people will only do one or two museums a week.

Beverages (don’t drink the tap water) – $10.50/day (7 Euro) – 2 bottles of good wine or 7 66ml beers purchased at the supermarket. Of course, the alcohol expense is optional and often not elected on a daily basis.

Changing money by using an ATM may cost as much as 6% of the amount plus a $3 “not our ATM, fee”. Credit cards are more economical, but many businesses do not take them.

Initial transport cost to Europe – $470+$860* (*poorly timed return) = $1330 (If I had planned my return better and booked round-trip this could have been as low as $600 total.

Internet – For booking hostels (www.hostelworld.com/www.hostelbookers.com etc.) – $1.50-$4.00/hr. (Many hostels offer free internet)

So, $1575 for food and housing, $750 for travel (high estimate), $315 for fluids, $150 for museums, $20 for heavy internet usage. Total monthly cost = $2,810 (I can’t check my personal figures but depending on region this is a high estimate).

Total cost for 3 months on the road: $2,810 X 3 + $750 (initial airfare) = $9,180 total. 3 Months at ASU (using ASU’s cost break down) $5,736. With a more realistic cost being around $8,000. So the planning question is, do you spend more than $100 a day now when you include all of your background expenses?

These figures may be a bit deceiving because of differences in regional expense – e.g. cost of travel in the Czech Republic (non-Euro, $3.50 for an entire meal) vs. England (British pound = $2 and daily costs soar by nearly 100%). As a snapshot, my expenses for yesterday in Crete, Greece show the benefits of traveling off the main path. I bought a 4 Euro bus ticket from Kissamos to Chania. 30 Euro for a hotel room with kitchen split between two people – 15 Euro personal cost. 2 Euro for a bottle of wine. 2.50 Euro per gyro X 3 gyros for lunch, dinner, second dinner -7.50 Euro total. 1 Euro for the Chania archeological museum (student discount). Total cost: $44.25 for the day.

A few important things to keep in mind:

  • The expenses listed are for my September 12 through December 12th trip and take advantage of off-season travel.
  • All of my travel has been in Europe.
  • Travel expenses increased because of my spur of the moment travel style which meant no advance rail passes (Eurail type), and 1-2 day’s notice for booking rail and air tickets which results in premium prices.
  • I have had an incredible nightlife. I pub-crawled or went out almost every night with fellow hostelers and partied hard despite keeping my cover and alcohol expenses to a minimum.
  • I eat limited amounts of pasta and I avoid dairy for health reasons.

I hope this helps shed light on the nature of budget travel especially in comparison to the average 2 week power trip and encourages you to consider giving it a try. The experience is awesome.

Backpacking Packing Tips & Basic Hostel Information

Today was a special day. It was the first day in over 2 1/2 months that I used a number of the heaviest items in my pack. Initially I was going to wait to make this post until I got home, but – there’s no time like the present. It’s no secret that people always over pack. Even the best travelers do it, it’s just human nature. That said, I also feel like I need to preface this post with a disclaimer. Those of you who know me well know that I can be a bit of a clean freak. At home it’s not unusual for me to take two showers a day and to only wear clothing once before I wash it.

When I left, the combined weight of my two bags was around 30 pounds. Not bad for 3 months right? Well, the truth is I over packed. Majorly. There may be a few things I’ve forgotten about but off the top of my head I packed the following:

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.
  • 2 Pairs of jeans. Both in the modern style with slight damage/darker coloration.
  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.
  • 2 $13 Polo shirts. One black, one Maroon.
  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.
  • 1 Pair special thick hiking socks, 3 pair normal black socks.
  • 2 Pairs of ExOfficio boxer briefs. These are lightweight, hygienic artificial material and dry in under 2 hours.
  • 1 Northface windscreen fleece vest.
  • 1 Marmot waterproof jacket w/ hood.
  • 1 Black wool sweater.
  • 1 Longsleeve silk underwear top.
  • 1 Canon G6 Digital Camera with 1 2gb memory stick and 1 512mb memory stick.
  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.
  • 2 Books to start me out. One fantasy, one business reading.
  • 1 Dopkit with toothbrush/toothpaste, razors, nail clippers & two small vitamin containers filled with a mixture of centrum multivitamin, crushed ginger root capsules, equinacia capsules and a bunch of super B/C vitamins (200-2,000% the normal recommended value depending on which vitamin).
  • 1 Country Gentleman old style hat. A great alternative to a baseball cap for going abroad and something that packs easily w/ a tiny bill on it.
  • 1 Pair of cheap plastic flipflops for the shower.
  • 1 MSR microfiber travel towel ($11 online).
  • 1 Inflatable neck pillow and eye mask.
  • 1 Portable extending umbrella.
  • 1 Plastic airtight soap container w/ bar of soap.
  • 1 Pair of sports/gym shorts.
  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.
  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).
  • 1 Large duffel like bag (for air travel to protect the backpack & it\’s straps)

There may have been one or two other items, but to be honest I can’t remember them right now. I shouldn’t have packed them either. My gear was divided into my main Osprey pack and a smaller school-esque day pack. When backpacking I simply strap the small pack over the large pack and carry it on my chest. Not the sexiest looking combo ever, but super effective. During my time on the road I’ve picked up the following items:

  • 1 Pair of black gloves.
  • 1 U.S. Airways plane blanket (I was flying Delta, the blanket they gave me had a US Airways tag & their service sucked and though I don\’t condone lifting it, the small, blue 100% polyester blanket has been my scarf for the last 2.5 months).
  • 2 Pair of cheap socks.
  • 2 Oktoberfest souvenir shirts.
  • 1 Bag of replacement razors.
  • 1 Tube of toothpaste.
  • 1 Combination lock.

Of all of the original things I packed, the following were unnecessary (with explanations as to why):

  • 1 frying pan with portable handle.
  • 1 Lightweight cooking pan, with salt, small tin can top and gas burner head inside.
  • 1 fork, 2 spoons, 1 cup.

I spent the bulk of my time hosteling. In most hostels you are either provided with the kitchen (less common) or placed in a room with 8 other people in which case there is no private space where you can secretly spirit off to cook your dinner. It’s possible in some locations you could cook outside, but it would still be iffy at best. If you are doing hotels however, these are a viable option.

  • 1 Casual button-up dress shirt.

I would have worn this more often if the shirt had been better. The shirt I packed wasn’t the best choice and I managed to get blood on it the one time I wore it. I stuck mostly to casual clubs, bar crawls and pubs. If your intent is to be a bit more flashy and or hit up higher ends nightclubs you might need a dress shirt. As it turns out, despite non-stop partying all trip I only wore mine once.

  • 1 Pair black dress slacks with wrinkle resistant fibers.

I packed these thinking i’d wear them while traveling and or might need them for the opera, ballet, major shows or big events. As it turned out I wore them once – in Venice for Halloween. I attended major musical performances and Opera in London, Prague and Vienna without any problem. I may not have looked incredible, but the jean-polo combo worked.

  • 1 Black wool sweater.

Between my vest, custom scarf and jacket I was almost never cold. While not a major American fashion item having a scarf makes a huge difference. Keep in mind however, that I also followed fall down. As I’m writing this, sitting in a computer cafe in Crete, Greece on the 29th of November I’m wearing the same basic outfit I wore in the Isle of Skye, Scotland September 15th.

  • 1 Long sleeve silk underwear top.

I’ve had one or two nights where I could have put it on, as well as a day or two where I almost wore it but I’ve yet to use it. I also typically sleep shirtless and pant less and wearing only my boxers. In short – most places I’ve been are not freezing.

  • 2 Pairs of shoes. 1 pair of worn Sketchers leather shoes for nightclubs, 1 pair of Keen walking shoes for everything else.

While not necessarily unneeded, I’ve only worn the pair of Sketchers 4 or 5 times. Of those 3 were for night clubs where the ugly Keens wouldn’t fly, the other two were simply because I felt like airing out the Keens. A pair of waterproof hiking/walking shoes are a MUST. If i had to do it again, I’d probably leave the Sketchers at home just to dodge the weight. That said, I was only turned away from one club during the trip because of dress code and typically have an easier time than some people gaining access to nightclubs (possibly because of my height?)

  • 1 Under-your-shirt money/passport carrier.

I’ve worn the vest almost every day that I’ve been over here because of the weather. The vest has a Napoleanesque zipper pocket on the chest in which I store my mini calculator and passport. The only time I’ve actually used the carrier was in the airport.

  • 1 Pair of board shorts (swimsuit).

Never wore them. If you end up at a Jacuzzi wear your boxers. If you end up in that rare hostel with group showers skip the shower or tuck your stuff & shower naked. Also, I was traveling during the Sept-Dec period in Europe, not exactly swimming weather.

You may have noticed I only started with 2 shirts, no shorts and 2 pairs of boxers. In regards to the shirts – I made it to Oktoberfest before picking up two Souvenir t-shirts which I have used to supplement my two polos, giving me a grand total of 4 t-shirts. I run the smell test on the shirts and make sure to wash them whenever I’ll be at a place long enough for them to dry. The two pairs of boxers are easy in that the artificial nature of the material makes them easy to wash and their fast drying qualities means I can wash them the night before and be in a clean pair the next morning. They also don’t hold scents or dirt so they do not need to be washed as often as normal boxer-briefs. For the 3 month period I’ve been traveling, shorts don’t make sense. Jeans are not much hotter in the sun (I’ll wear jeans in 115 Degree heat in the Valley and honestly believe they are not much hotter than shorts as they keep your legs shaded) and it’s simpler not to pack extra crap.

As far as pants – they are the hardest item to wash. This is the slightly nasty part. I’ve washed my jeans a whopping 2 times and worn 1 of the two pair a good 80% of the time. Jeans are a difficult thing to wash, because they take so long to dry. The good news is, a darker colored pair of “vintage” looking jeans is designed to look dirty. So, unless they smell, you have an unfortunate spill or you decide to go sit in a mud puddle you don’t need to wash them nearly as often as other clothing (just for the love of God, change your boxers often). The pair of Levi jeans I purchased before leaving now have a hole worn through them after nearly 2 months of constant wear. I made it 1 month the first time before washing them and switching to the second pair (I found I didn’t like to travel in the second pair as they had a looser fit which gave me less contact with my wallet in my front pocket — they were a bit too large) and despite what you might think, to look (or smell) me most people would have thought that the pants had only been worn 2 or 4 times max.

Worried about clothing diversity or people seeing you wearing the same thing over and over? Don’t be. 1) You’re traveling. 2) They’re traveling. 3) No one really cares, and if they do you probably have stayed in the same place too long or they don’t belong in a hostel.

General Hostel Notes:

  • All of the hostels I stayed at in Eastern and Western Europe provided sheets – on the rare occasion it was a few Euros extra.
  • I never camped. There was no need and it would have dirtied my stuff.
  • I had my own towel – the micro towel is incredible – but most also offer towels for rent/free.
  • I never had any need for a sleeping bag. Additionally, many of the better hostels forbid their use as it’s one of the main ways that bedbugs are spread.
  • If you are a light sleeper, get earplugs. Hostels are like college dorms.
  • In cases where the hostel provided a kitchen area, they also had an assortment of banged up pots and pans and usually offered some form of refrigeration/storage compartments.

Questions, curious about something? Ask it in a comment and I’ll let you know!