Warning: this is super long, but since I wrote all of my trip prep entries before I actually experienced the trip, I wanted to make sure I shared how well (or in some cases, not well) they worked. I’ve been so jet-lagged that I haven’t started working on photos yet, but I’ll be sharing them soon. It’s not too late to enter your guess (or, if you’re Erica, to enter another guess — 1723? really?) and win a package of trinkets from Europe.
Shoes, bag, and gear
These all ended up being excellent purchases. My shoes were always comfortable. Although my feet did still hurt from so much walking and standing, I never had any blisters or areas where the shoe rubbed wrong. I basically wore my Ecco shoes every day and only wore the TOMS twice. Those did pinch on the sides of my feet on the day that I wore them. So much so, that I had to return to the hotel room just to change shoes.
My camera bag was perfect! Well, mostly perfect. I have one minor complaint – when I adjusted the over-the-shoulder strap to a comfortable length, the buckle for the strap sat right against my neck and rubbed wrong. I ended up lowering the length just enough that the buckle wasn’t bothering me. But the size of the bag was perfect for me. It held whatever I needed – from cameras to shopping purchases to a towel for the beach.
Despite being mocked for carrying around four cameras, I was pleased with the camera gear I took with me. I loved snapping polaroids to stick in my journal. It even became a point of conversation with some Italian businessmen near the Eiffel Tower. They were fascinated by it and wouldn’t let me leave until the photo was finished developing. My little Canon S100 was so convenient to carry around. I kept it in my pocket most of the time so it was readily available. To be honest, I sometimes wondered if it was worth bringing my Canon Rebel. There were many times when preparing to leave for the day that I debated whether or not to bring it. I wasn’t sure if the weight of carrying it around all day would be worth it, and I often left it at the hotel. I was, however, terribly glad I had it on one day in Prague when I realized that the back-up battery for my S100 wasn’t charged and the current battery was out of juice. And I was really glad I had it when I got the dreaded lens error message on the S100. Miraculously, the lens error resolved itself somehow but I was glad to know I had a backup. I was also happy to have my Rebel in various dark cathedrals and when I wanted to play around with focusing and depth of field (I haven’t quite figured out how to work the focus on the S100). So altogether, I was glad that I had it, but I was also happy to have the more convenient S100.
Travel essentials, packing, and smart phone apps
My travel essentials mostly came in handy. We didn’t quite have enough time to explore all of the interesting places written about in the Herb Lester maps and were incredibly disappointed to find the one vintage shop in Paris closed, but I think they will definitely come in handy for future trips. I didn’t end up needing quite as many memory cards as I thought, but I was really glad to know I had them. I may end up selling them on eBay or Craigslist. As for my stashable tote – well, it never quite got stashed. I ended up using it the entire trip to carry souvenirs or whatever I couldn’t fit into my backpack or camera bag.
Let’s talk about the Travelex Cash Passport cards. All in all, I was very glad to have one of these for train and public transport tickets. It made it possible for us to use the automated ticket machines so we could skip the long lines to speak with a person. This saved us tons of time. However, the card didn’t work at all for the toll booths. Luckily we always had cash with us so we didn’t run into any problems. The only real complaint I have with the card is that their website is impossible to use. It is not mobile friendly at all, so I gave up trying to register my account on my iphone during the trip. This made it really difficult to check my balance. I tried using the website when I got home and kept getting errors and time outs and try again laters. That is frustrating, but I would still use it again.
I debated the benefits versus the pitfalls of using the Kelty backpack throughout the entire trip. I honestly still don’t have a conclusion. I’ll just present to you my pros and cons.
It was awesome for stairs. And there are a lot of stairs in Europe.
It was also great for trains. And we took a lot of trains. It just made it easier to walk down train cars and heft it up to the luggage rack above. Since I get anxiety, I liked being able to keep it in sight on the train so I didn’t worry about someone taking off with it if I had to leave it at the front of the car.
It forced me to keep my packing light. In fact, if I were to use a backpack again, I would try to pack even lighter. I feel like I did a good job with packing, to be honest. I used everything I took with me, and then I washed it all and used it again. But I still think that next time I could pack smarter.
It forced me to keep my packing light. I didn’t buy souvenirs that I now wished that I had because I didn’t want to carry it around and there wasn’t room for it in the backpack. I did have the stashable tote, obviously, but I really, really hated that stashable tote. It was the most annoying thing to carry around the entire trip. And I had to because I couldn’t fit everything into the backpack.
There are also lots of escalators and elevators. This isn’t a con for the backpack, of course, but a justification for a suitcase. Most of the metros and hotels had an escalator or an elevator so that it didn’t matter if you had a suitcase. Plus, there were many times that Cristen was able to simply roll her suitcase behind her while I was hefting an extra 30 pounds on my back. I’m thinking particularly of getting lost in a park on the way to our hotel in Hamburg. I really wished I had a rolling suitcase at that point.
People always helped with the suitcase. We stayed in a few apartments through AirBnB on our trip. These apartments were always up several flights of stairs. The owners of the apartments were very kind to help with our luggage. Guess who got help with her luggage (hint: not me). It was just easier for the owners to take the suitcase rather than transfer the backpack from one back to another, so when I was hiking up the 63 steps to our apartment in Berlin with a 30-pound pack on my back, I was cursing the backpack.
It needed constant repacking. Honestly, using huge Ziploc bags to organize my clothes was incredibly helpful, but I still felt like I was constantly repacking the backpack and it was harder to keep organized so I ended up with my stuff all over the place.
Even though it may look like the backpack has more cons against it, I think overall, I was still happy to have used it. I would be willing to do so again in the future, depending on the type of trip I’m taking, but I would probably pare down what I take with me so that I didn’t worry about space as much.
As for the iPhone apps, the best one hands-down was the All Subway app. It was so helpful to have all of the maps in one place and so easy to use. The most disappointing apps were the Best Travel maps and the Free Wifi Finder. As for the Best Travel maps, I was under the impression that the maps would find your location even if you didn’t have wifi. This didn’t end up being the case for me. It constantly told me there was an error finding my location. Plus, the maps didn’t always zoom in or out as needed. Or rather, they didn’t always load correctly. They did come in handy sometimes, but in general, we used whatever map we got from the Tourist Office. Those were much easier to use. As for the Free Wifi Finder, I had a similar problem. Because I wasn’t online already, the app didn’t know where I was at and thus couldn’t show me locations with free wifi that were near me. It required me to enter an address, but I rarely knew my address. Plus, the user interface was really awkward to use. I hated it. To find wifi, we usually just looked for a Starbucks or (in London) a Pret a Manger or we would just check our phones to see what networks appeared.
Writing it all down
Keeping a journal during my trip was probably the best thing I did. Cristen also kept a journal, so we would spend an hour or so at the end of each night writing our “dear diary” entries. I loved reflecting on our day and talking to each other about the funny things we saw or the differences between cultures that we noticed. It definitely helped me remember the small things in a way that I don’t think I otherwise would have. I will confess that there were a few nights that I missed writing. I came down with a pretty yucky cold the last week of the trip and there were a few nights that I just went right to bed. I was glad that Cristen had written in her journal, though, because then when I tried to catch up, she was able to remind me of our experiences. Before the trip, I imagined I would mostly be putting snapshots in the travel journal and not writing much. By the end of the trip, I didn’t want to waste space with snapshots because I had so much that I wanted to write.
Phew… sorry that was so long. Congrats on reading the whole thing! I hope that the series (and the update) was helpful for you.