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:
- Travel days are like fingerprints – no two are alike. They can go well or not, and attitude is everything.
- 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).
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.