Travel Days

It doesn’t look like much, but it feels like a lot when we have to move it around.

We have traveled between different locations thirteen times since we left Kaua’i back in August. We have of course picked up a few things along the way about how to best get through travel days, but two of the most important are:

  1. Travel days are like fingerprints – no two are alike. They can go well or not, and attitude is everything.
  2. Travel days are not a good time to be cheap. It’s OK to spend a little more to make the experience easier and less stressful.

We found that traveling by train was our favorite way to get between places in Europe, if possible. There were no long security lines, and we didn’t need to be as careful about the weight of our luggage. Watching the  scenery out the window was delightful. The high-speed trains through France were smooth enough that I could fall asleep, something I’m mostly unable to do on an airplane. Train travel was also usually more economic than flying, but not always – sometimes between destinations train schedules took longer and used up valuable time, or cost more than flying. During our time in Europe we took the train whenever possible, but flew when that made more sense both in time and money.

Although we flew from Rome to Lisbon, we had a good travel day yesterday. A driver picked us up at our apartment in Rome and took us out to the airport. We had a nearly six-hour wait before our flight departed, but the airport was organized and clean, we read our books or played games on our phones, had a nice meal in the airport restaurant, and the time felt like it went by quickly. Our Ryanair flight left on time and chased the most incredible sunset I have ever seen for well over an hour, and a taxi driver in Lisbon got us to our apartment on time so our hosts didn’t have to wait. The total travel time yesterday was 10 1/2 hours, and while we arrived feeling tired we were not exhausted (even though we are both suffering from colds).

The beginnings of an amazing sunset as our plane headed out over the Mediterranean Sea. It went from orange to the deepest red I have ever seen in nature, and everything in between. It also lasted for over an hour.

Compare yesterday’s experience though with our day traveling from Bordeaux to Florence back in October, another 10 1/2 hour day. We started with a 20-minute walk to the tram station from our apartment, carrying 20+-pound backpacks and pulling 44-pound suitcases through torn-up streets and over gravel paths and cobblestones. We then took a crowded tram to the Bordeaux train station where we boarded a bus for an approximately 40-minute ride to the airport. The Bordeaux airport was, to be generous, a nightmare, and we were already pretty worn out when we arrived. There were no signs for where Ryanair was located, and once we finally found them, after walking back and forth through the airport a couple of times, their desk agents had no idea what was going on, where to send people or when to have them board the plane (one woman actually passed out in the line while we waited like cattle in an overheated room). The flight ended up leaving late, but we eventually arrived in Bologna, picked up our luggage (which we had feared wouldn’t make it) and then boarded another bus for the Bologna central train station. That station was another crowded nightmare and we had no idea what to do. We eventually got in line at the ticket window but thankfully an employee came up to us and sold us tickets on the spot; signs told us to go to Track 19 to catch our train. We ended up descending three long escalators along with our suitcases and backpacks into what felt like the bowels of the earth to find Track 19. Our train arrived a bit late, but we boarded, found our seats and around 35 minutes or so later we were in Florence. We hired a taxi and were soon at our apartment. However, the word exhausted is inadequate to describe how we felt at that point. We’ve since joked that the only forms of transportation we missed that day were a boat and a donkey – neither would have surprised us.

Spending a little more to make things easier can make a big difference in whether we arrive tired or arrive exhausted, or whether we have a good travel day or a miserable one. This does not mean purchasing expensive seats in first or business class (although they were often well within our budget on the trains we took), but using more personalized local transportation whenever possible. Our driver yesterday morning took us by and through areas filled with wonderful ruins that we hadn’t been able to see, and he drove down the old Appian road for a while which was quite amazing. That trip to the airport was worth every extra euro we paid. Our taxi driver in Lisbon was a champion – our apartment is on a very narrow street that only taxis are allowed to enter, but it took him, a seasoned local, several tries to figure it out. He worked hard to speak English with us the whole time and let us know what was going on. We could have taken the Metro and a bus in Rome to get to the airport and saved quite a few euros, and the same upon arrival in Lisbon, although we would have had to walk four blocks up a steep hill wearing our backpacks and pulling our suitcases. Every time we’ve tried to scrimp on travel and tell ourselves we can walk or use public transportation though we’ve ended up paying for it with sore muscles, bad tempers or upset stomachs, and losing a full day to get our strength back. As long as the extra cost for taxis or drivers doesn’t take us over our daily average we’re willing to pay for it.

We have been very fortunate and had wonderful taxi drivers (well, except for that weird old guy in Bordeaux) who have shared great tips about what to see, where to shop, where to eat, and so forth. They have been worth every extra penny we paid to use them.

Everything we’ve learned about travel days will be pulled together for our big return trip to the U.S. from Lisbon – a journey that will actually take place over three days versus one. We fly to Madrid in the late afternoon on Day #1 (meaning a long wait in the Lisbon airport prior to our flight since we have to be out of our apartment in the morning), and will spend the night at a hotel near the Madrid airport. We have an early flight up to London Gatwick where we have a 7 1/2 hour layover before a 7 1/2 hour flight to Boston on Day #2 (Note: we have placed a bid to upgrade our seats to premium on the Gatwick to Boston trip, but chances for that are slim. Seats in economy are exit row though with lots of legroom, so we will be OK if our bid isn’t accepted). WenYu will meet us when we arrive in Boston and will spend the night with us at a hotel there, and then we’ll (finally) meet her boyfriend for breakfast the morning of Day #3 before departing in the afternoon on a six-hour flight to Portland (those seats have already been upgraded).

We’re going to use all we’ve learned to make our upcoming return to the U.S. as good of an experience as possible, keeping the most important thing of all in mind: travel days aren’t permanent, and we always eventually get to our destination. Attitude is everything.

20 thoughts on “Travel Days

  1. Tamara R / My Retirement Project says:

    ‘Attitude is everything ‘ . . . yes, absolutely. We plan for the worst even while hoping for the best each time we fly. It’s the only way I know how to deal with the inevitable stress of travel. The disasters do make for great travel stories, however!I

    I am so curious to hear how it feels for you both to transition from Europe back to the USA after being away so long. There are things I appreciate each time we return home, while there are other things I most definitely do not!I

    Enjoy your time in beautiful, affordable Portugal, and be sure to add afternoon sangria breaks to your schedule. Probably our favorite memory. 😊

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    • Laura says:

      We always plan for the worst too. Yesterday was a pleasant surprise, and everything went off as expected. The airport (Ciampino) was very clean and modern, and not at all crowded and crazy.

      We are very homesick for some items – I have been craving tacos, and Brett misses peanut butter. I think we will go through a bit of adjustment as we settle in Portland, but we have about a week or so on our own before the girls start arriving for Christmas. It’s been nice to be away from politics as well.

      I’ll say Portugal is affordable – we went grocery shopping today and brought home three bags of food and supplies. It cost half of what it did in Rome – we were very pleasantly surprised. Hopefully the rain will be gone tomorrow so we can get to exploring this town – we plan to ride the 28 tram from one end to the other (one end is just a short distance from our apartment).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tamara R / My Retirement Project says:

        Oh my gosh, I almost forgot the most important thing to remember in Portugal – whatever they put on your table in a restaurant that you did not request/order is not free!!! If you touch it you buy it! So send away, or don’t touch, any small bites they bring you that you do not wish to have added to your bill.

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  2. Laurel Hill says:

    A lot of wisdom in those two bullet points. We have also taken taxis into Paris, out of Rome, etc., and it’s always worth the cost, since we’re normally tired by then. I’m sure several arguments have been averted by taxi ride. 🙂

    DH and I both traveled a LOT for work, and we both like to stay at an airport hotel the night before a flight unless it’s an evening flight. We tried to check in early out of Rome the night before and weren’t allowed to do so. So we were at the airport at 5:45AM (DH is a bit of stickler for early arrival), but the gate agents at Alitalia didn’t “open” until 6AM, and although they were standing around chatting together, they were adamant they wouldn’t check us in. Oh, well. I am pretty laissez faire about that type of thing, since there is nothing you can do. And DH has always lived by the motto “the gate agent has all the power, therefore never get into an argument with him/her.” I will say it’s lucky he’s no longer traveling every week, though, because the way air travel is now, he would surely be on the 6 o’clock news sooner than later. LOL.

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    • Laura says:

      We learned very quickly that when we were stressed, especially on travel days, we got snappy with each other. So now we use taxis and/or drivers to get us to and from airports and train stations.

      I was very pleasantly surprised by Ryanair yesterday, especially after their performance in Bordeaux. We booked priority boarding and reserved seats and it made a big difference (although not in Bordeaux – the gate agents there mixed everyone up in one big crowded group). Your husband is exactly right though – you do not want to argue with a gate agent. Ever.

      My dad flew weekly for work too, and I think he would be appalled by what has happened with air travel. It has become an exceedingly stressful experience now (although safer). And the food hasn’t gotten any better either (if you get any, that is).

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  3. Alicia McWhorter says:

    Have loved your travel posts! Hubby is retired military (USMC), too. Admire you for your multi week multi country plan – definitely must take some stamina. We try to do one area at a time. We took the Leonardo Express from Termini to airport – 35 minutes and guaranteed to get you there even in a strike! Enjoy Lisbon and look forward to your posts as our next plan is Portugal in the spring!

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    • Laura says:

      We’ve always done one place at a time travel before now, but wanted to try to do a long period of travel to see how we liked it and how we did with it – so far so good. We have enjoyed our long stays in Strasbourg and Florence and are looking forward to being back in Portland next month with our daughters.

      Our ride out to the airport took about 40 or so minutes. We could have taken the bus from Termini, but then we would have had to get ourselves there! The walk to the nearest station, dragging suitcases over cobblestones, would have taken about 20-25 minutes. Anyway, when we ran all the scenarios and costs, the best deal for us was a driver taking us directly to Ciampino. It was a wonderful ride too – so many interesting things to see that we had not had time to visit.

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    • Laura says:

      I start to get a knot in my stomach about two days before we travel because I start to worry about everything coming together. Of course, it always does but I still worry. Some of that knot is caused by dread – travel days are just stressful, even when we traveled by train.

      We’re looking forward to being back in Portland for a month, and being with the girls and getting together with friends. But then we get right back on the road again – we leave January 6 for India!

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  4. Joy Franks says:

    I can’t believe you’re on your last leg of this part of your journey. Where has the time gone? You’ve had some great experiences!!!

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    • Laura says:

      Hi Joy – hope you and Les are doing well!

      We’re looking forward to being back in the U.S. for a while, but we have had a wonderful time. For us, everything has moved at just the right pace, not too fast, not too slow. We did wish for a few more days in a couple of places (Normandy and Strasbourg) but otherwise we spent just the right amount of time in each of our destinations.

      Did you see that our scummy landlord sent us a refund. It really came out of the blue so now all we’re waiting for is for the check to clear. If it doesn’t, I’ll be back on Kaua’i in May or June to go to small claims!

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      • Laura says:

        He kept 10% of the deposit with no explanation for why. But, it’s more than we thought we would get back and we don’t want to deal with him anymore, so we’re calling it the price of doing business with him. We don’t think he ever had any intention of ever giving us back ANY of our deposit based on his actions and communication, but something triggered the return. So now we’re waiting to see if the check clears.

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  5. Snoskred says:

    I personally am never travelling on a plane without wearing a surgical mask. That is something I see people doing a lot over here, mainly people who hail from Asia, and I think they have got the right idea on that.

    Sitting in germy air for hours at a time, and that air is just being recirculated the entire time, that seems like a Bad Idea to me now. I’d rather get weird looks from the people around me than catch their colds. 🙂

    My Aunt visited us for long visits twice in the past few months with a short trip back home in the middle. Every plane flight she caught a cold, and then we all caught it.

    I’d probably apply the same principle to trains but we don’t travel much on those in this country. Trains are not really a thing in Australia for the most part, other than things like the Ghan which I think you are taking, but that is a different kind of thing altogether.

    It takes an hour to fly from Melbourne to Sydney, it takes 11-12 hours on the train, and it actually tends to cost more on the train, so most people fly.

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    • Laura says:

      Both Brett and I are somewhat surprised that we haven’t been sick more considering the amount of travel we’ve done and everything we’ve touched that has been touched by thousands of others, some most likely sick. We wash our hands as much as possible but can’t always, so that fact that we’ve each only had a cold once or twice is sort of a miracle in my book.

      Trains made a lot of sense in countries like France and Italy – they’re just not that big like the U.S. or Australia. Flights for those distances were always more. But, for the big distances, unless you LOVE train travel, flights make more sense in both time and money. Unless it’s a speciality trip, like the one we’re taking from Perth to Sydney with its two stops a day for tours, luxury berthing, three meals a day, wines, etc.

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      • Cindy in the South says:

        I love to travel by Amtrak, especially from Mississippi to Chicago to Salt Lake City. I always go first class with a sleeper car though, so it is not cheap. I love doing it in the winter and seeing all the snow going over the Rockies.

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      • Laura says:

        We have done winter trips by Amtrak, from Denver to Seattle back when the Pioneer route was still operating. I remember going through the mountains in eastern Oregon – it looked like a Christmas card come to life! Like you, we had a first class sleeping compartment (with bathroom), and back then it was cheaper than flying!

        We’re greatly looking forward to our trip across Australia by train (which includes a private en-suite compartment, all meals, wines, and two tours per day). We loved our train journeys across France and through Italy (and love taking them in Japan as well).

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    • Laura says:

      The next trip, back to Portland, is going to be a long one. We are trying not to think about it now so we can enjoy our time Lisbon. You just have to go in with a good attitude, and know you will get to destination eventually.

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