Our Traveler this week is Gene from San Francisco who grew up in the Midwest. Hi, Gene!
This post is part of our YouPaca The Bag Traveler Series. This series looks at how people from all walks of life travel. We analyze what works for them and what doesn’t, their travel planning strategies, obstacles they’ve encountered, destinations they enjoy, their future travel goals, and more. We hope you enjoy reading this series as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together!
Did you grow up traveling? If no, when did you start to travel?
My family did not travel much when I was a child. I started traveling when two friends of mine moved to London in the year 2000. I wanted to take the opportunity to visit them while they were there. A planned 10-day trip to only London turned into a 24-day trip to London, Berlin, Vienna, Prague and Budapest.
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of being in Europe without seeing four of the cities I have most wanted to travel to. It was my first time traveling by myself in a foreign country.
What is your favorite trip you have taken?
My favorite trip I have ever taken was my first trip to Europe. Prior to that trip, I never did anything by myself. During that trip, I had no other choice. If I wanted to see the cities I have always wanted to see, I had to do it alone. It was scary at first, but on the first night all that went away and sheer excitement took over!
Now, I love traveling to Europe alone. It’s tough at dinner time, but I love exploring a city by myself and doing whatever I want. The best way to see anywhere is to walk, walk, walk, and then walk some more. You see so much more than you would otherwise see. I don’t like traveling with people who don’t like to walk (a lot). Also, getting lost is the best! It takes you to places you might not otherwise see.
How do you normally plan your trips? (you plan them yourself, join a group tour, hire an agent, etc.)
I like to go to Mexico in the winter and Europe in the summer.
For Mexico, I always pick an air and hotel package on expedia.com. I stay at an all-inclusive resort and don’t plan any excursions until the second day of the trip. It’s all about relaxation.
For Europe, I plan everything myself. I want to choose my flight times, my connections, my intercity travel dates and times, and my accommodations. I always buy intercity train tickets and public transportation tickets (if possible) before I leave, then I do not have to worry about it when I am there. It’s all about being on the go and seeing as much as possible, without rushing through everything.
I do not like to participate in tour groups of any kind, because you have no control. These are good to get a taste of something, but can leave you disappointed and wanting more.
What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome while traveling?
The biggest obstacle I ever faced was language. Specifically, I was trying to buy a train ticket from Prague to Vienna on Saturday, June 3rd. The agent only spoke Czech and German. I was doing my best in German, but could tell the agent was confused. A woman behind me came to the rescue. She spoke to the agent in Czech, then said to me, “You want three train tickets to Vienna on Sunday?” I was relieved she was there to straighten it out.
Best travel tip you have ever received?
The best tip I ever received was to notify your banks and credit cards ahead of time of your travel plans.
I did not do that on a trip to London. I arrived and took out 200 Pounds at Heathrow airport. A few days later, I went to take cash out of an ATM machine and my card was blocked. After calling my bank the agent asked me to verify what I had taken out at Heathrow.
I said, “200 pounds.”
She said she needed the amount in US Dollars.
I said I didn’t know what the conversion rate was at that moment.
After several minutes of back-and-forth, she said, “What is this Pounds thing you keep talking about?”
I replied, “It’s the currency of the United Kingdom.”
She replied, “No, that would be the Euro.”
I, of course, argued with her for several minutes before she put me on hold to check that I was right. After all that, I had to call the bank every time I needed cash, and they would unfreeze my account for 20 minutes.
It’s so much easier to notify banks ahead of time, although I think everyone knows that now.
What is a travel essential that you must travel with and why?
Aside from your wallet and passport, the most important thing to bring on the plane with you is a pen. Traveling internationally always requires forms to be completed and flight attendants are not going to let you borrow their pens. I am always surprised at how many people fly without them. It’s also handy to carry around if you want to jot something down on your guidebook or your arm.
If I’m going on a beach holiday, I always make certain to carry on sandals, a swimsuit, and a t-shirt. In the event your luggage gets lost, you won’t miss out on that first day at the beach!
Where do you want to visit in the future, why?
I am so passionate about wildlife and I think seeing African wildlife in their natural habitat would be a life-changing experience.
Sign up for our newsletter to receive regular travel tips!