The floodgates opened once we booked the plane tickets. Planning a month-long trip is a theoretical exercise until you’ve committed to plane tickets. Now, it’s real.
Except for what seem like minor details right now, the first 10 days of the trip are mostly booked. Most hotels, transportation, and tours are confirmed. The next 17 days, not so much. Remember, Kevin’s in charge of planning that portion. While we have an intended route for our motorcycle portion, we plan to book our evening stops the day before, or maybe even at lunch the same day.
We’ve left enough unstructured so we can get lost in the adventure. That’s a great idea, right? The unplanned portion goes against most fibers in my being, but Kevin says it’ll be alright, so it surely will be.
The testing phase is a doozie but fits our personalities to a T! We’ll each have our own backpacks to carry almost everything we need for a month. Given the limited space, we have to be thoughtful about what we take. So, I test. I make Kevin test. I test everything I can think of. There are Sharpies around the house so I can make tick marks on stuff to see if it will last for 30 days.
- How much can you fit in the backpack?
- And just because it fits, can you carry it for any length of time?
- Can you wash the clothes well enough in the sink, and if you can, will they dry overnight?
- How many uses do you get out of a travel sized deodorant?
- How many squirts out of a toothpaste tube?
- Will the collapsible water bottles leak in our backpacks?
Don’t let me fool you, we’re using our 4 checked-bag allotment for our motorcycle gear. Shipping our gear to Italy would cost nearly as much as our plane tickets, so we are figuring how to get it in suitcases.
We might as well set a place at dinner for the UPS guy. Trying to figure out how I can pack only 2 pairs of shoes, I was on the Zappos website, acting like Oprah – “You get a pair of shoes, you get a pair of shoes, EVERYONE gets a pair of shoes!” Each day, more shoes were delivered and each pair got a workout on the treadmill. I had to figure out if I would walk in them for any length of time. 🙂
Every day tasks can be turned into a training exercise. Friends invited us to their vacation home for a week, so what better time to test our packing and carrying ability than this? We tried to pack the exact clothes we would take to Italy. Funny enough, we discovered that we overpacked. A good lesson. Our morning walks are done in the shoes we will take and carrying our packs.
And…we’re learning Italian! We’re not taking many tours, we’re not planning a lot of time in touristy areas, so, we had better learn. One at a time, we’re on the treadmill, doing our Italian lessons. I lovingly call Kevin “The Angry Italian”. As he’s walking on the treadmill, he has to yell in the microphone so the app can pick up what he is saying. It’s a real crack-up. I hope it is not so ingrained in him that he yells at everyone while we are in Italy! 🙂 We pray that if we string enough verbs and nouns together, they’ll get the gist of what we’re saying and they’ll be gracious enough to forgive poor conjugation.
The great part about all the planning, testing, and training is that it’s not stressful or overwhelming. It’s funny actually. Just please forgive us if you come to our house and we greet you at the door with our backpack on and clothes hanging about, having just ‘done’ laundry.
If you’re looking for potentially useful
research and travel tips, read on:
Chip & PIN credit card – American credit cards aren’t quite up to speed with technology. While they have a chip, you still have to sign for the transaction. The only use for a PIN in the US is for a cash advance. Some terminals in Europe don’t have signature pads, so your only option is to use a PIN. First Tech Credit Union is one of only a few US banking institutions to offer a true chip and PIN card. To obtain a card, you must open a checking account (requires a small minimum balance), and since they’re a credit union you may have to jump through a few hoops (we became members of the Computer History Museum). Walmart is one of the few US retailers that currently use the Chip & PIN technology – to test our card, we made a credit purchase of more than $60.00, and we were required to enter the PIN. Hopefully it works just as well in Europe!
International Driving Permit (IDP) – AAA is the main US representative to issue an IDP and you do not have to be a AAA member to obtain one. Researching online, some say you don’t need one in Italy and some say you do. For $20, it’s worth not having an Italian policeman yelling at us in a language we (mostly) don’t understand because they don’t like our documentation.
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STAR) – We are enrolling our trip with the US Consulate. It lets them know where we will be and they can alert us to any travel advisories in the region. It will also help others contact us in an emergency.
TripIt – Free app to organize travel plans in one place. Besides plane, train and tour confirmations, you can easily add points of interest and maps, so you can remember what you wanted to do in each city. It makes a nice calendar and has everything in one place!
Organized tours – There are many different tour operators in the places you want to go. I charted the time, cost and sites from 3 different tour companies. With this, we could could see which tours offered the most sites we wanted to see. Took a bit of work, but made the decision quite easy.