About the Author
Revised June 30, 2020
Good travel is a combination of knowledge and openness.....an understanding of what there is to do and see and a willingness to try as many new experiences as possible. The best travel starts with a general plan that is flexible and allows for the unexpected.
I have traveled alone, with friends and family, and as the leader of student groups....each way has its challenges and its rewards. Alone, there are issues of safety and loneliness, especially when traveling in a place where few people speak your language, but you are most approachable when you are alone and this allows you to start conversations and meet new people. If you are traveling to experience life in another culture, the solitary adventurer will probably have the most opportunities to spend time with the natives. But if you remain open to strangers and try to strike up conversations with local people, even as a couple or a family, you'll get some insights into life in the place you are visiting. As a group, however, my experience is that the group is the adventure, that it is time to be with people you enjoy and keeping the group together and entertained becomes the focus of the trip so that travel is more about seeing sights and getting to attractions than it is about meeting the natives. Even when you aren't getting to know the locals, travel is fun and almost always worth the time and energy it entails.
Our last trip included our small dog, who we brought because we were going to visit friends in Copenhagen who loved our pup, because we realized on other trips that most of the hiking we did during the year was while we were traveling and we wanted to include him on those hikes, and because, a young woman returning from Paris with her toy poodle described her dog as the best conversation starter. That was great advice for someone with a dog like ours and that trip was a great adventure for my husband, my dog, and me.
I have been taught travel and tourism for more than 17 years, starting when aspiring travel agents learned special codes for airfares and made a commission from booking travel. Teaching experience combined with a background in the hospitality industry and a passion for travel led to a position teaching adults seeking careers in hotel management and travel operations. As a result, I learned about the great places to visit and lots of ways to travel on a limited budget. Those tips, and new ones I've learned on the road, are the things I want to share with you through this website.
If travel were nothing but a checklist, I could count 45 of the 50 states on my list of been there's as well as most of the national parks. I've hiked into some of the country's most beautiful places and sailed into some others. I used to tell my students in southern Oregon that if they haven't been to Yosemite and the Redwoods, they should head to those places before they take off for other countries. There is much to see that inspires awe in North America and some of the world's most spectacular scenery is less than a day's drive away from many of our homes.
But when I finally reached Europe, many guidebooks and videos after I started teaching about it, I realized that we come to know ourselves better when we immerse ourself in another culture. I discovered the ways we are different....our values, our pace, our interests....and the ways we are the same.
And sometimes, in very rare moments, a place creates a primordial response--an unexplainable feeling of connectedness so poignant that you are overwhelmed by the sensation. What is most surprising is that there is no rational reason for the feeling...no family history, no prior expectations, nothing in which those feelings are rooted. I have experienced it twice in a lifetime of travel. The first time was at Mesa Verde, the cliffside ruins of the Anasazi people in southwestern Colorado--a feeling so powerful I was moved to tears for no reason but that I was there. The other occurred as we crested a hill in Brittany and spotted Mont St. Michel in the distance...I am not French and can not trace any family connection to the region but something inexplicable told me I was "home." While I was actually 4000 miles from the center of my universe, there was this feeling of calmness and belonging that seemed to make the farmland near Mont St. Michel feel like my own backyard.
I travel to learn, mostly about the country I am visiting, its people, culture, and history, and that often gets me far from the cities and famed destinations. I find I've seen parts of countries that many natives have never visited and have driven many backroads to spots that the locals treasure. But the cities have things to offer--the top of the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican museum tour, and the canals of Venice. I research, and I've created this website, which began almost two decades ago, to share what I've discoverd in the process. I've met kindred spirits from the USA, while having experiences few Americans visited when they took a package tour; Rick Steve's often laid out the basics of my itinerary but our quirkly interests had us veer off course. And I brought a passion for photography and cross-stitching with me, which inspired me to spend a day in Chartres watching how the color of its glorious glass stained the stones of its ancient labyrinth and to scan great architecture with thoughts of how it would look sewn onto a canvas.
Brave travelers may still hitchhike around the planet....but travel can be comfortable without costing hundreds of dollars a day. My advice will try to steer you away from places that aren't clean. Years of teaching about the hotel industry, and now concerns about Covid-19 and an increased awareness of novel infections, makes me look for clean places to lay my head. You can find clean affordable hotels, throughout Europe, though options may be different as the travel industy adapts to changes that have come with Covid-19.
I'm also cautious about food and the potential illnesses you can get from eating various items but love great food. It means you need to use good judgment when you buy your meals. I can only count one bout with food poisoning in my many trips, perhaps exacerbated by my imagination when a squid ink entree was too salty and not what I had expected. The great meals are too many to list, from wonderful picnics assembled from farmers' market delights or local grocery stores discoveries, to fast food that showcased the best of Greek cuisine at a small take out in Athens (Oven Sesame), and a multicourse meal at Michelin-starred restaurant in France that was just under $50/per person including wine and dessert.
I know you've come to this website because you are thinking about traveling to Europe. My hope is that you follow the tips about cutting costs, consider camping and know that the places I recommend are in this website because they were exceptional values. I also hope that as you plan your trip you take the time to think about what you'll really enjoy and that if you are traveling with friends or relatives you will all take the time to discuss what you want to see and how you want to travel. It will make the time on the road easier. Finally, I hope that you understand that foreign travel isn't about keeping a tally of what you've seen: you will remember the moments you spent chatting with strangers as much or more than a race through the Louvre or the Roman Forum. Slow down, savor the moment, wander down city streets and along country roads. Adjust to the pace of European life, and have the triip of your lifetime. Then start saving for the second trip.