What’s different about traveling this time?

October 20, 2011

We continue to notice differences between traveling in Europe and our last major trip through the Middle East, Africa, India, Nepal, and South-East Asia.  Here are some of them:

  • We’re traveling in developed countries, so we don’t have to be quite so self-reliant.  For example, we weren’t quite as particular about getting our clothes and gear exactly right this time, on the assumption that it would be relatively easy to acquire or replace things as needed.
  • We can almost always find an English speaker and most of the countries in Europe use the same alphabet as English.  This means that we can at least recognize and roughly pronounce many of the words.  We can write down what we’re looking for.  Things are much harder when you can’t understand any signs nor communicate with people.  We’re doing a lot less pointing and travel ‘charades’.
  • Because we’re traveling by vehicle, we could bring and also now have access to more stuff.  In addition to bringing an extra backpack full of clothes, we also brought hiking boots, gortex jackets and pants, a second (larger) laptop, an external hard drive for backup, etc.  We also have access to all the furnishings of the RV including dishes and utensils, a tool box, maps and reference books, etc.
  • We needed no vaccinations for this trip and we don’t need to take anti-malarial drugs.  Yeh!  We are not constantly at risk of catching a host of tropical and hygiene-related diseases.
  • Because we’re traveling in the Northern Hemisphere in the fall and don’t have a specific itinerary, we packed everything from beach wear (swimsuits and sandals) to hiking and skiing clothes (fleece, down and gortex jackets, gortex pants, gloves, toques, etc.)  Although we plan to head south, it will be colder on average and the weather more variable than on our previous trip.
  • We’re doing more driving ourselves rather than taking public transit everywhere.  Although arranging planes, buses, and trains is initially more work, once this is done, one can relax  and sleep, read, write, etc.  Our experience with driving in Europe so far is that it requires the constant attention of two people (driver and navigator), so there is less ‘down time’.
  • We don’t need to pack up every day.  It’s nice to have our clothes in a closet and drawers, albeit small ones.  We packed our backpacks hundreds of times last trip, a constant overhead activity.
  • Everything is much more expensive than in the Developing World where we spent the majority of the time on our last trip.  Surprisingly, if one stays away from the tourist traps, many things cost about the same (and some even less) than they do in Canada.  Gasoline is much more expensive.
  • We experienced minimal culture shock on arrival.  Austrians and Germans are just regular folks who like to smoke and to drink beer.  In our experience most have been very friendly, nothing like the stereotypical cold German personality.
  • So far, the focus seems to be more on the history and less on the culture.  In Africa and India, the current environment and present culture were overwhelming.  Here it more about the monuments of history, great works of art, and the food.
  • We are much less worried about crime and corruption.  Although there is still a small risk of minor crime (e.g. pickpocketing, automobile break-ins), the risk of crime is low.  Also, for the most part, the police and legal system can be trusted.
  • Things are clean, much more so than in the Developing World.  It appears that most public washrooms here are even cleaner than in Vancouver.
  • There is good Internet service available.  Fast and reliable, unlike the trials and tribulations we experienced on our last big trip (especially in Africa).
  • There is terrific public transit — trains, subways, street trams, and buses.  Far more transit than we’re used to at home.  All very clean and efficient.
  • We have a smart phone with us.  Not only does this allow us to stay in touch with family and friends, but there are many ‘apps’ that can help us while traveling (e.g. GPS navigation while walking through cities, downloadable travel guide books and walking tours, etc.)
  • We can drink water right out of the tap!  Paradoxically, despite the fact that we’re carrying a huge water tank with us in the RV, we seem to drink less water than we did when backpacking, where we were almost always carried a water bottle on our persons.
  • We can always find food!  Food is plentiful with restaurants, grocery stores, and shops almost everywhere.  Too plentiful for my rapidly expanding waist line!
  • There are public washrooms in most public spaces.  Although some charge a fee (shouldn’t defecation be added to the UN’s list of human rights?), there is no more need to plan our potty stops than during a day out at home.  Also, no more need for Diane to hoard toilet paper.
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