“Backpacking Europe” used to refer solely to travel with an oversized canvas sack strapped across your shoulders, with nights spent in a youth hostel bunk bed. Today, “backpacking” is more of a mindset than an actual act, says James Feess, author of the book “The Savvy Backpacker’s Europe on a Budget.”
Originally from the U.S. Midwest, James and his wife Susan have spent time living in Paris and traveling throughout Europe. Their website The Savvy Backpacker offers advice for independent travelers who literally backpack across Europe and those who apply a backpacker mentality to travel comfortably yet budget-consciously.
We recently chatted with James and Susan, who are now in New York City.
IndependentTraveler.com: Is there an age limit on backpacking?
James and Susan Feess: No way! We’ve seen backpackers of all ages. The last time we were staying in a hostel in London we met a 70-something Australian man who was traveling around Europe for multiple months.
IT: Why do you think most people outgrow the backpacker mindset?
JF & SF: It’s no secret that most backpackers tend to be young and broke, so they do everything as cheaply as possible. It’s natural for people to upgrade their travel styles as they get older, start earning more money and get accustomed to a better standard of living. However, a lot of people maintain the backpacker mindset regardless of income level or age.
IT: You’re now in your early 30s. How has the mindset changed for you both since you first started backpacking?
JF & SF: We find now that we focus on value and not cost — and that’s a big difference. For example, you can take a bus across Europe very cheaply. However, it takes much longer than the train. So it really isn’t a great value because it’s costing you time, which is more valuable than money. Now we take the train whenever we travel because the extra cost is a good value. The same principle applies to food, lodging, entertainment, [almost] everything.
IT: What are some of the non-monetary benefits to traveling like a backpacker?
JF & SF: Traveling on a budget helps get you closer to living like local. Staying in a five-star hotel and eating at high-end restaurants is about as far away from local living as you can get because most locals don’t do that. However, budget travelers have to stay in more modest accommodation and eat where the locals eat because that’s the best value and cheapest option. Personally, we prefer renting a modest apartment. This gives you an instant connection to a neighborhood.
IT: Do you travel like a backpacker 100 percent of the time? Any indulgences you want to confess?
JF & SF: We try sticking to our backpacker roots but we do “splurge” a bit more these days. Back when we were in our early 20s we would try surviving on as little food as possible, but now we have a nicer meal once or twice. Sometimes we’ll go really crazy and buy the $11 bottle of wine instead of the $6 bottle!
Having a little more money does open new doors to better experience a culture. For example, we’ve taken a few cooking classes in France, and this is a great hands-on way to experience the culture that we couldn’t afford on a backpacker’s budget. Another possibility: specialized walking tours. They can get a little expensive, but they give you so much information that you’d never know otherwise.
IT: Tell us about some of your favorite places you’ve visited over the last year.
JF & SF: While it isn’t Europe, we actually just got back from traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. It was an amazing trip and we were able to “live it up” since everything is really cheap there. It was probably our most luxurious trip. For example, we got a really nice steak meal for $15 and alcohol was only $3 to $4 in a restaurant. We ended up staying nearly two weeks.
IT: Aside from occasional trips elsewhere, you tend to focus on Europe. Are there any spots in Europe you haven’t visited but want to?
JF & SF: We still haven’t visited Iceland. It’s at the top of our list. Unfortunately, Iceland isn’t cheap. So we’ll keep saving until we have enough. We want to spend a lot more time in Italy and Spain. And Croatia. And Berlin in the summer.
This Friday’s challenge is a photo of an unidentified place somewhere in the world. Can you tell us where the photo was taken? Leave your guess in the comments below — and check back on Tuesday to see if you were right!
Hint: This castle is located in the same alpine town as a more famous royal residence.
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, June 6, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com prize. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Jeff McDowell, who correctly guessed that this week’s mystery location was Germany’s Hohenschwangau Castle. Jeff has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Stay tuned for more chances to win.
Check out the travel news and features you might have missed this week.
Park Service Considers Visitor Caps, Expects Record Crowds
The U.S. National Park Service is examining ways to better control crowds in the most popular parks, the Associated Press reports. “We realize that currently we’re on an unsustainable course in terms of demands for visitation,” one Yellowstone National Park official said.
America Issues a Travel Alert Covering Europe
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel alert for anyone planning to visit Europe. The Economist questions the sensibility of issuing an alert for an entire continent.
Strikes in France Causing Major Rail Travel Disruptions
Nearly half of all high-speed and regional trains in France didn’t run June 1 because of a strike that could last well into next week. Rail worker unions are protesting working conditions and changes to labor rules, Travel Pulse reports. The strike is also affecting trains to Spain and Italy.
World’s Longest and Deepest Rail Tunnel, Through Swiss Alps, Opens
On the same day France suffered from train troubles, Switzerland celebrated the opening of the world’s largest and deepest rail tunnel. Seventy years in the making, the Gotthard Base Tunnel stretches 35 miles through the Swiss Alps and is expected to speed up travel times through Europe, the New York Times says.
7 Travel Apps for Making Your Summer Vacation Plans
A handful of smartphone apps will make summer travel a lot easier, Mashable suggests. They include an app that maps out a route based on your interests, an electronic travel journal and an app that keeps you updated on airport security wait times.
Rule No. 1 of traveling with a baby: Don’t lose the baby. So says a New Zealander dad in his amusing video “10 Ways to Travel with a Baby.” The video was filmed in Rotorua on the North Island of New Zealand, with the Museum of Art and History, geothermal pools, redwood forests and Mt. Ngongotaha as backdrops.
Maps are a classic and captivating gift for avid travelers. Stylized maps as art are popular, as are classic, National Geographic-style maps tacked to an office wall or speckled with pins indicating where you’ve traveled.
But if you’re looking for something a little different for your travel-happy dad, here are eight non-traditional maps that would make great gifts for Father’s Day in just a few weeks:
Wall decor: Here’s a gift that provides a surprise twist: Etsy vendor Bombus cuts letters out of solid wood and then lacquers onto them maps of locations of your choosing. Select maps that have personal meaning to your Dad — he probably won’t notice them at first but then will likely be touched by the personalization. Cue the watery eyes.
Smartphone case: This iPhone holder is a beauty — it’s a thin polycarbonate case with a world map cover made of hand-finished, sustainably sourced inlaid wood.
Clock: Art vendor ArtPause puts a modern spin on the world map by rendering it in watercolor and then digitally manipulating the design. The result is a sleek, colorful map that looks vibrant against the white background of this circular clock.
Corkboard: This is a cool gift for an office: A cut-out corkboard in the shape of a map. It stretches more than three feet wide.
Luggage: If Dad’s always grabbing the wrong ubiquitous black bag from the luggage carousel, this three-piece set will make baggage claim a lot easier. The hard-sided cases are adorned in brightly colored, classic maps.
Cufflinks: Sterling silver-plated cufflinks depict a rendition of the historic “New and Accurate Map of the World,” which dates back to 1626 and is thought to be one of the first ones published in English.
Beer stein: Nice to pair with a six pack of brews from different countries, this hefty stein with a green world map and gold trim holds 22 ounces.
Tie: A Father’s Day shopping list wouldn’t be complete without a tie. This one isn’t a cliche, though: It’s a tasteful ivory-colored silk tie painted with a vintage map.
This week’s travel puzzle is part of our ongoing Flag Friday series of challenges. Can you identify which nation the following flag belongs to?
Enter your guess in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 30, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Nathan Lorenz, who correctly guessed that this week’s flag was from Barbados. Nathan has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations!
Catch up on the travel stories you may have missed over the past week.
Iceland vs. Tourists
Thanks to the popularity of “Game of Thrones,” Iceland is now seeing more tourists than it can handle, The Atlantic reports. Last year, 1.26 million visitors went to the European island where only 330,000 people live. Some hotels are completely booked for the rest of the year.
Mexico Meets the Med: Tijuana’s Blossoming Gourmet Scene
Would you ever have guessed that Tijuana would become one of the hottest foodie destinations in North America? The Independent features the Mexican city, just 15 minutes south of San Diego, as a burgeoning hotspot for Baja-Med fusion cuisine, craft breweries and more.
For Some Flight Attendants, Shtick Comes with the Safety Spiel
Some flight attendants have gone viral with recordings of their Elvis impersonations, song-and-dance routines, stand-up comedy talks during the safety demo and other high-flying hijinks. Travelers either love it or hate it—the airlines too, according to The New York Times.
Secret Hotels You Probably Don’t Know Exist
Some hotels have exclusive, hidden hotels embedded within them. Who knew? CNN lets the cat out of the bag by revealing eight upscale hotels within hotels. They’re like concierge floors, but better, says a rep from The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida.
‘Digital detox’ Vacations Unplug the Mobile-Fixated
People are starting to admit they’re missing out on real-life experiences because of an obsession with mobile devices, says Travel Weekly. Several companies are creating travel experiences in response, including device-free vacations by Intrepid Travel and Digital Detox’s “Camp Grounded” woodland camping experience.
26 Affordable Alternatives to Pricey Vacation Hot Spots
Before you book a trip to a pricey destination, consider the comparable, inexpensive alternatives offered by Budget Travel magazine. Among them: Croatia instead of Italy; Krabi, Thailand instead of nearby Phuket; and Warsaw instead of London.
HomeAway Invites You to Spend a Night in the Eiffel Tower
What would you do if the Eiffel Tower was all yours for a night? Submit your answer to that question, and you could win a night in a special suite inside the famed Parisian landmark, Creativity Online reports. The competition is open until May 31 for U.S. residents and June 5 for Europeans.
The unofficial start of the summer is upon us, and this ad will get you in the right mood. Sure it’s a beer commercial, but the ad is a gorgeous and sensory delight.
Last month, we gave our readers a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card by submitting a review of a recent trip. We loved reading their submissions, which inspired us with tales of volunteering with elephants in Sri Lanka, cruising around the Mediterranean and tasting wine in South Africa.
“As we arrived at the secluded farm and looked up into the clear sky, glimmering with thousand of stars, the performance above us was extraordinary. Green lights seem to sway above us in a movement I can only compare to the inside of a lava lamp, slowly wavering across the night sky.” Read the rest!
While we only had one prize to give away, we also wanted to recognize a few runners-up whose reviews are also well worth a read:
Anything for the Elephants! by TS Buchanan: ” Let me introduce Ranmenika. She’s a 40-year-old beauty (elephants can live as long as 80 years) who fell into a well when she was just six. … Ranmenika is currently one of seven elephants under the care of MEF.”
A Third Roman Christmas by Host Ciao: “I walked to visit the Pantheon and then on to Piazza Navona where I planned to wander the huge Christmas fair held there. What a sad sight I found! Instead of booths offering all kinds of food, Christmas decorations, Nativity set pieces, and games, I found exactly six booths of games and a merry-go-round. No one was trying to win a huge stuffed animal at the games or enjoying the ride. A few people were wandering around the famous fountain and only a few were at the restaurants that border much of the square.”
How to Spend Three Perfect Days in Cape Town by Rachael Taft: “Excuse me while I gush, but South African wine is to die for! I wish America would figure this out and stock more of it in regular stores! If you’re looking for a classic South African wine to try, the Pinotage (a red) is a great place to start.”
Two Weeks on the Mediterranean: The Vision of the Seas by Justin Boot: “Montenegro took me by surprise in the best way. The Bay of Kotor is one of the most naturally beautiful and serene places I’ve ever seen. Coming from someone that lives in California and has been to Hawaii multiple times, that’s really saying something. The cruise ship had to navigate a narrow inlet for over an hour, passing by numerous small villages and hills that gracefully sloped up into mountain ranges. The water was clean, calm, and looked almost like a perfect mirror. It’s as if we’d somehow traveled back in time, to a medieval European era.”
We’ve all been there: You take the time to carefully plot out your transportation during a perfect trip. You get everything lined up and it seems like nothing could go wrong.
Or so you think.
As the following travelers prove, despite the best possible planning, something can always go wrong when you’re far from home and trying to find your way.
Train Track Trek
During a Europe trip, Nicky Sundt of Washington D.C., kept all his important documents together in a plastic pencil case to ensure they were protected from wear and tear. While on a train in Grecce, however, a friend accidentally tipped his bag over, and the pencil case slipped between the baggage rack slats and fell out an open window.
The conductor and engineer stopped the train to let him and his friend out. They retraced the route and found his travel documents. It was perilous, however, because it was a single track route, and he had to cross a narrow bridge.
“Let’s just say,” Sundt explained, “that sprinting on railroad ties across a trestle bridge with a train bearing down on me was one of my greatest athletic achievements.”
An Uphill Battle
On the first day of a meticulously planned, two-month, 2,300-mile bike trip last summer, Paige Metzman of Ithaca, New York, cycled 30 miles up a rather steep hill in Washington state, believing it would lead to a mountain pass.
“We got nearly to the top before a kind stranger informed us that in fact there was no ‘down’ side. At the top of the mountain was just a ski resort and a U-turn,” Metzman said. Apparently, she missed an important turn just five miles into her epic ride.
Seeing how dejected she looked, the stranger crammed Metzman and her friend, plus their gear and bikes, into his car and drove them to the starting point.
Colin Birge of Vancouver remembered seeing a warning in his guidebook: “Eventually, if you are driving in Provence, you will end up in a ditch.” Near the village of Lacoste, that very thing almost happened.
He and his wife drove up a hill to catch the view, and the narrow lane simply stopped with no warning. “I tried a three-point turn,” he explained. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the road clearly, and the back wheels slipped off the road bed.” The rear-wheel-drive vehicle ended up with the rear wheels dangling off the ground.
Who came to his rescue? Oddly enough, a group of American muscle car owners, who heard the commotion from their gathering in a nearby park. “Of course we stopped by the show afterwards to thank them,” Birge said. “My favorite was the guy with the ’60s Mustang who had reupholstered seats wrapped with the American flag.”
Missing the Boat, Part I
During a trip to Italy, John Rega of Brussels planned to meet several cousins. His ancestors had emigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, and this was the first time that any family members were meeting in person.
Rega and his wife spent the night in a hotel less than an hour away from a port, where they’d catch a boat to his cousin’s village. They woke early, packed and proceeded to the lobby to check out and get a cab, with ample time to spare.
Yet the hotel desk remained unattended all morning, and they couldn’t find a taxi. They ended up missing their boat and showing up four hours late. “Lesson learned: Pre-arrange any tight logistics, especially if someone is waiting on the other end,” Rega advised.
Agie Yatsko of Alexandria, Virginia, dutifully packed her GPS unit to prepare for a driving trip across Costa Rica. After picking up her rental car and heading out of San Jose, she and her friend realized the GPS wouldn’t work. After a few days, they returned to San Jose and tried to find the car rental agency. They got so lost that they had to pay a taxi driver $20 to lead them to the agency — which was less than a mile away.
Missing the Boat, Part II
Usually conscientious when it comes to small details, Robyn Porter of Rockville, Maryland, admitted that she misjudged her cruise’s departure time from Puerto Rico. “We ran up to the ship screaming as they were pulling in the gangplanks. Luckily they allowed us to board as they were pulling in the last gangplank.”
Beached on the Wrong Beach
Marsea Nelson of Falls Church, Virginia researched in advance New Zealand’s best beaches before she and her friend settled on the one they wanted to visit. They purchased bus tickets, packed a bag and embarked on their trip.
“Except there were TWO beaches with that name, which we learned because we got dropped off at the wrong one,” Nelson said. “They weren’t close enough to each other to correct our mistake. We were bitterly disappointed.”
But they decided to make the best of it. Following a hike to a waterfall, some great meals and a night in a spectacular hostel, Nelson said the unexpected detour led to “one of the best and most memorable experiences” of their New Zealand trip.
“That’s one of the things I love most about traveling,” she said.” Mishaps can turn into the greatest adventures.”
This week’s puzzle is a word scramble. Below are the jumbled names of four major cities from around the world, followed by the country where they’re located. Your job is to unscramble them. For example, “IALM, EURP” would be “Lima, Peru.” Identify all four mystery cities to win.
Enter your list of unscrambled cities in the comments below. You have until Monday, May 23, 2016, at 11:59 p.m. ET to post your response. We’ll keep all comments private until then. On Tuesday we’ll choose one winner at random to receive an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Note: Although all are welcome to play, we can only ship prizes to the Continental U.S.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner is Shoba, who has won an IndependentTraveler.com logo item. Congratulations! Check out the puzzle answers below.