EuroTrip 2017: Lessons Learned and Favorite Photos

A list of the places visited, organized by day.

In case you missed them, check out all of my Europe recaps!

Learn from your (or my) mistakes! And your (or my) successses! Learning is an important part of life. Here are my top 5 lessons learned from EuroTrip 2017.

  1. If you REALLY want to do something, try not to save it for the last day. Paella was probably the one food that I was most excited to try in Barcelona, and we saved it for the final day, a glorious finale. But due to unforeseen circumstances (in this case, a restaurant whose Facebook page said they were open when they were not), we were denied our paella and now must wait for a return trip to get the real thing. Although Ox and Stone‘s paella is pretty damn good in the meantime…
  2. Check the local news. We had stayed well up to date on the Catalonian political situation leading up to the trip, so we were aware that we might have to be flexible if any craziness started to go down. Knowing this coming in, we did not get overly frustrated when the pro-independence crowd shut down every major roadway back into Barcelona. OK, we did get a little frustrated, but we did not panic. We rolled with the punches and had an exciting road trip through the Catalonian back woods instead.
  3. Have a backup plan. Related to the point above, I also needed a separate backup plan just for myself. I had planned to propose to Rachel in Girona on the day that we were stuck in traffic! But, knowing that transport might get tricky, I had made a backup plan to propose in Parc Güell later in the trip. Unfortunately, that plan did not work out either for other reasons. But the point is, it’s good to plan ahead for things that might go wrong, so that you don’t waste too much time scrambling or panicking when things don’t go exactly as planned.
  4. Learn some of the local language, and don’t be afraid to use it. I had previously learned French in high school and some Spanish in college, but I was a little rusty. It was fun to dust off my skills using Coffee Break Spanish and French, and Duolingo leading up to the trip, so that I could execute some basic conversations in the local language. Although almost everyone knew English, it did come in handy in a few situations, and the locals generally were appreciative of the effort. I even learned a few key Catalan phrases as well, to try to win over some of the Catalans in Barcelona.
  5. Work some relaxation time into the itinerary. I am always guilty of violating this one, as you may be able to tell from some of my jam-packed trip recaps. I won’t lie, the last day of this trip was pretty rough. It was our fourth day in the same city, and the travel time finally caught up to us; we were dragging for most of the day. Luckily we summoned some energy for a great final dinner, but working in some more down time, especially after 24 straight hours of travel on the way to Marseille, might have helped us keep the energy up consistently throughout the trip.

With that out of the way, now for the fun stuff! Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip. Let me know what you think about EuroTrip 2017 in the comments! Where should I go the next time I visit Europe?

A small church and a cross on a rocky cliff by the water.
Collioure, France
Collioure, France
Three people on the sidewalk of a windy road overlooking water and cliffs.
Les Calanques, Cassis, France
Three people walking down colorful stairs with graffiti.
Cours Julien, Marseille, France
A man and a woman posing in front of a building with colorful graffiti.
Cours Julien, Marseille, France
Orange and pink sun setting over a busy street.
Cours Julien, Marseille, France
A cross and bushes in the foreground overlooking a city and mountains in the background.
Marseille, France
Two women walking up a dirt road toward the setting sun.
Mirabeau, France
Four people bike down a wide street toward a large building.
Barcelona, Spain
Four people on bikes pose in front of a monument.
Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona's skyline, with a pink chapel in the foreground and mountains and water in the background.
Barcelona, Spain
Stand in a market with a display case full of ham, and ham hanging from the ceiling. One worker is helping a customer.
Barcelona, Spain
A list of the places visited, organized by day.
The complete EuroTrip 2017 Steintinerary.

Surviving a Long Flight – Top 5 Watch List

view from a plane descending into San Francisco

Sometimes it’s difficult to choose how to pass the time on a long flight.  I often go into a flight with grand plans to get a bunch of work done, or read a book, or listen to a few albums I’ve been wanting to check out.  Or maybe just sleep and get some rest.

Sometimes those plans work out great – maybe I’ll get some work or planning done, get through a good book, or even catch some 😴.  But usually I find that I’m either too uncomfortable and cramped, or too restless to really focus on being super productive or get quality sleep.  I always have some TV episodes at the ready for when I run into this dilemma.

For in-flight viewing, all else equal, I tend to prefer shows with shorter episodes, shorter seasons, and fewer seasons.  These tend to be comedies.  It can be a looming source of stress if you find a show you really like, watch a couple of episodes on a trip, and then return home feeling obligated to complete 58 more hour-long episodes to finish the show.  But using, say, a 6 hour flight to get through over half of a more snack-sized show?  That can feel downright productive!

Here are some of my favorites that I’ve watched over the past few years that I think lend themselves well to travel viewing.  If you happen to see any of these on your complimentary in-flight entertainment list, be sure to check them out!  Or if you’re more determined, download some episodes to your device for offline viewing – I personally never bank on (or want to pay for) in-flight wifi.

Master of None, Netflix

screenshot from Master of None on Netflix
Master of None (Netflix)

This show is my latest obsession.  The writing, directing, and cinematography are all superb.

One of my favorite things about the show is that it’s almost like the episodes are at times only loosely tied to a forward-moving plot.  Aziz Ansari’s main character, Dev, is pursuing a love interest in each season, but there are many episodes that feel like they are independent experiments – whether they are dedicated to a specific issue, or trying a new style, or just having fun.  Fun is really the main reason I love this show.  It’s just fun to watch.

Also, if you’re looking for some in-flight music to listen to, definitely check out the soundtrack 👌.

Veep, HBO

promo image for Veep on HBO
Veep (HBO)

This highly acclaimed and decorated show is what you want to watch if you’re looking for fast-paced, non-stop laughs.  Each 30-minute episode is filled to the brim with snappy, fierce, and utterly hysterical dialog and situations.  The casting is incredible, let by Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer.

Especially in today’s political climate, I honestly think that this might be an outsider’s most accurate look into what Washington D.C. is actually like (including cable news shows).  Some may think that is depressing, but I still think it’s hilarious.

Atlanta, FX

official poster image for Atlanta tv show on FX
Atlanta (FX)

Another critical darling, Atlanta follows the story of two cousins and a friend in, well, Atlanta, trying to make it in the rap industry.  Creator and writer Donald Glover also stars as Earn, a Princeton dropout trying to escape poverty and make a living to support his young daughter by managing his cousin’s burgeoning rap career.

The show feels different than any show I’ve seen – it tackles a number of issues, and often can be all at once serious, unsettling, weird, and hilarious, all in the same scene.  B.A.N. is one my favorite episodes of any show, ever.

There is currently only one season of Atlanta, so you may be able to get completely caught up in one long flight!

Fargo, FX (Season 2)

characters from the Fargo tv series on FX
Fargo Season 2 (FX)

Fargo, though its episodes are an hour long, is good in-flight viewing because each season is a standalone entity.  You can start and finish season 1, 2, or 3 in no particular order, and feel no obligation to watch the others.

My personal favorite, by a lot, is the 2nd season, which is in my personal top 3 seasons of television that I have seen. It covers a turf war between a mob family in Fargo, North Dakota and a syndicate from Kansas City, and a husband and wife who inadvertently get themselves caught in the crossfire.

The show is delightfully odd, dark, and funny, and the casting and acting performances are amazing.  And speaking of soundtracks, this one has some gems as well.

Maybe the more bite-sized series aren’t your cup of tea?  If you’re looking to use this opportunity to start a longer journey that will continue upon your return home, here are some of my favorites:

The Wire

DVD cover for season 1 of The Wire on HBO
The Wire (HBO)

I don’t think I have to say much about The Wire, which is pretty much unanimously regarded as one of the top 3 television shows of all time, if not the best.  What better time to start than on a flight?

Breaking Bad

promotional image for Breaking Bad on AMC
Breaking Bad (AMC)

(See my blurb above for The Wire – it also applies here.)

Game of Thrones

promotion image of characters' faces from HBO's Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones (HBO)

If you haven’t started Game of Thrones at this point, it may feel a bit overwhelming.  Not only are there already 60+ hour long episodes to catch up on, but the expansiveness of the Game of Thrones world is tough to grasp if you are only a casual watcher.  I was highly skeptical when Rachel made me sit down and watch an episode (I was “not into dragons and fantasy stuff”), but I was hooked about halfway into that first episode.

Start catching up now, and you’ll have plenty of time to get to the point where you can watch the final season in 2019 along with everyone else!  But maybe make sure there aren’t any little kids around on the plane for this one…

OK, so I cheated, I know that’s more than 5…I’m going to force myself to stop there, although I could add 10 or so more easily.  What are some of your favorite TV shows?  Other good ways to spend flight time?  Add a comment!


How to Plan Ahead for Vacation Time

view of Manhattan from the World Trade Center observatory

Friends and coworkers are always remarking about how I am “always” traveling.  They constantly ask how I have enough vacation time to take all of the trips that I go on.

Well, the answer is simple – I plan ahead!

I like to use a simple Excel file to keep track of my PTO (paid time off) hours, and at the beginning of the year I take time to really think about how I want to use it.

Excel grid that is used for planning vacation time, filled in for 2017
Simple Excel file that I use to help plan my vacation time for the year

Now, obviously plans will change as the year goes on.  But when plans do change, now you have a quick and easy way to see how those changes affect the rest of your plans.  Having a planning tool like this also allows you to play the “what if” game, and evaluate your options!

Download my Excel file HERE, and start planning out your own vacation time!

Here are some of the basics:

At the top of the sheet, fill in the yellow cells with whatever numbers apply to you.  You can also change the “Hours” to “Days” if that is how your company keeps track.

For me, I get 14 days of PTO per year, and that amount is earned at the end of each month spread out throughout the year.  This means that on the last day of each month, I receive 9.33 hours in my “bank” of time to use.  I think this is a fairly common way that companies do this sort of thing, and I have set up the spreadsheet to take this into account.  In an example with easier numbers to think about, say at your job you receive 24 days of PTO a year.  Typically you would not be able to use all 24 of those days in the month of January.  Instead, you would earn 2 days at the end of each month, and depending on how much time you take off during the month, at any given time you have a running balance of time to use for doing fun stuff!

This is the way my spreadsheet is set up to calculate and predict how much vacation time I will have available to use during each month.  On each row the number on the far right represents how many hours I have available at the end of the month.

On the main table, use the middle 3 columns to experiment!  The column on the far right has calculations that will update to show you how much time you will have left to use at the end of each month, based on what you enter into the rest of the table.

One dilemma that I often think about is: what if I get sick and need to use PTO days for recovery?  Well, you can use this spreadsheet for planning out only the time that you plan to use traveling.  Maybe you get 15 days of PTO but you want to save 3 of them to use as sick days.  Then as you plan, just make sure your available time remaining on the right side of the table doesn’t dip below that number.

It doesn’t have to look exactly like my spreadsheet, but the idea is that as long as you take the time to think about planning out your vacation time for the year, not only does it get you excited for the adventures to come, but it also makes you more likely to actually follow through!  Writing down your travel plans is a way to hold yourself accountable for actually doing it.  So plan away, and get out there and explore!

Anybody out there have a different way of planning their vacation time?  Let me know in the comments, I would be interested to hear it!

Southeast Trip 2016 – Lessons Learned

written list of the places we travel to for Southeast Trip 2016 in Nashville, Chattanooga and Asheville

Every time I research and go on one of these longer trips, I learn a ton.  Here is what I took away from Southeast Trip 2016 – hopefully these takeaways will help you plan for your next travel excursion!

  1. Just because you’ve never heard of a place, doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring.  While I had heard of Chattanooga before researching for this trip, I knew almost nothing about it.  In fact, I faced some backlash for even including it in the trip at first!  “Why are we going there?” they said.  It turned out that we had a great time and found some really cool places to hang out there.  If you’re going to be in area for a somewhat long period of time, check out the map and look up some of the surrounding towns and cities.  Checking out a place that may seem random at first could yield some great experiences!
  2. Work in some time to explore the great outdoors.  This is something that, admittedly, most people probably already do.  I have never been a big hiker, but this trip certainly changed all of that.  Hiking and exploring the great outdoors is a great way to break up a longer trip, and gives your body some variation instead of eating and drinking all day every day.
  3. Search for destinations that mirror your interests.  Vary your search for travel destinations by searching for something like “cities that are great for (insert your interests here).”  Asheville would not have been on my list of places to visit if I hadn’t randomly heard about it being a great craft beer town.  Everyone has a list of the major places they want to visit, but take some time to look for lesser-known areas that might be perfectly suited to you!
  4. Eat/drink regional specialties.  This is rocket science in some places with well-known “known for”s, but if you’re following my #1 and #3 tips here, you may need to do some further research.  Look up what a city is known for, and eat it!  Hot chicken in Nashville, Mission Burritos in San Francisco, Cubanos in Miami, Garbage Plates in Rochester…you get the idea.  Some places may have more than one, like coffee and seafood in Seattle.
  5. Take some extra time to search for different lodging options.  In some cities, certain lodging options may be much cheaper than others, so don’t limit your search to only hotels!  In Chattanooga, hotels were somewhat reasonably priced, but Airbnb had a number of very nice apartments available at a much better value, and in great areas.  Search the hotel sites, search Airbnb, look for hostels…you may find that a particular city’s market skews favorably to a certain type of lodging over others.

Another great trip in the books!  And in case you missed it, here are the top 5 lessons that I learned from West Coast Trip 2015.

Let me know what you think in the comments!  And if you need some help planning your next big trip, be sure to check out my travel planning gig on Fiverr!

West Coast Trip 2015 – Top 5 Lessons Learned

The full Steintinerary travel plan for West Coast Trip 2015

So, the trip recaps are great and all, but what are some tips that you can actually use as you try to plan your own vacation time?  Beyond a sweet list of places to check out in each city, here are some other takeaways from West Coast Trip 2015:

  1. Investigate all modes of transportation.  The pricing dynamics of various modes of transport may be different where you are going compared to where you live.  For example, the train ride from Seattle to Portland was a great cheap option, and allowed us to see some beautiful scenery along the way, which we would have missed with a higher priced flight or a rental car.
  2. Talk to people!  Trick Dog was not on our list of places to try in SF until we talked about our trip with our waiter in Portland.  If you find a friendly server, bartender, Uber/Lyft driver, or any other friendly person, ask for recommendations!
  3. Explore multiple neighborhoods/areas.  Don’t get sucked into spending all of your time downtown, or in the first area of a city that you like.  Cities are big, and different areas can have completely different vibes.  Rather than looking only for specific businesses or activities, have an idea of how the city is laid out, and what areas have the kinds of things you like to do.
  4. Pick a date and commit!  Especially when trying to plan a trip with a group of friends, it is tough to actually find the time that works for everyone.  Nowadays, everybody’s schedule is constantly in flux.  Sometimes, it is best to just put the date on the calendar, book a flight or lodging to make real, and tell everyone that it’s on.   People will make it happen!
  5. RESEARCH! RESEARCH! RESEARCH!  An easy way to avoid stress is to have a plan, especially when you only have a limited amount of time at your destination.  Plan your trip out, identify some must-sees, and have some backup options in your back pocket in case not everything goes exactly to plan.  Or, get yourself a Steintinerary…😉

What are your thoughts on these guiding principles?  Do you agree/disagree?  What are some lessons that you have learned when traveling?  Don’t be scared – post to the comments!