Starting Off


How do you plan an adventure?


When I decided to go travelling this summer, it was a little overwhelming at first.  How will I get from one place to another?  Where will I stay?  Which route will I take?  Will I go alone, or with a friend?  The last question was the easiest to answer – my friend Jordan loves travelling too, and he was itching to get back on the road after returning from India.  After that, it was a case of working out the details.  Like all stories, we needed a starting point.

The first thing to decide was the route.  I have friends in several countries around Europe, some of whom I hadn’t seen for over two years.  Meeting up with them again would be amazing – and of course, it was a great excuse to finally get back out there.  Initially, I picked three places – Barcelona, Berlin and Prague.  Each city was home to one or more friends, but a new dilemma arose – they’re quite far apart!

My first stop was that staple of old-school explorers, adventurers and fantasy novel writers – the map.  I drew a straight line from Barcelona to Berlin.  Then I decided to change the end point to Copenhagen, a city I’ve wanted to visit for a long time.  Seeing new places, after all, is part of the joy of travelling!

The straight line had to be adapted.  Several times.  You’d be surprised to discover that you can’t really travel in a straight line from one place to another, even if you own a plane.  Undeterred, I started to build up an ideal route.  We would see Munich on the way, and possibly Lyon too.  We would stop off in Zurich, and see the soaring mountains of Switzerland.

Around this time, I picked up a nasty chest infection and had to postpone the trip.  At this point I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go at all – however, Jordan kept prompting me and we decided to meet up to finalise our plans.  This involved switching the route around – from starting in Barcelona and ending in Copenhagen to starting in Copenhagen and, well, finishing in Barcelona.  We decided to change it for two reasons: firstly, the timing of catching up with friends while they were free, and secondly – it was simply cheaper to fly to Copenhagen.  Now that we had a rough route we needed to decide how we were going to travel.  Originally, I thought a road trip would be fun.  When it became apparent that it was just going to be the two of us, and only one of us can drive (not the writer of this blog I’m afraid!) we realised we would have to find other means of transportation.

This was where we hit our first obstacle.  Years ago, I had planned to travel by train around Europe.  I’ve always liked trains (when they’re on time) and it seemed the ideal way to see the rest of the continent.  Back then, a train pass for a month cost around £150.  Yes, we’re talking ancient history here!  Somewhat naively, I had assumed the price wouldn’t be much higher now.  It was.  A second-class Global Pass for those of us over the age of twenty-six will cost you £488 for a month.  That’s considerably more than £150.  Jordan, being younger, would be paying a respectable £359.  Quite a lot of money!  Our aim from the start was to do this on the cheap.  The train option was discarded.

Fortunately – or not, as it later emerged (but that’s another story…) we discovered an alternative.  A coach pass.  Eurolines does a fifteen day deal which, when we looked at our route, we realised would suit us perfectly.  For just €225 I could travel around Europe!  Once again, Jordan’s pass was cheaper, a mere €195.  When we realised we were getting the low-season prices instead of the mid-season, we decided to book quickly.  At this point I should mention that there’s a lot of small-print for the Eurolines Pass.  Certain destinations that Eurolines coaches normally go to are magically off-limits with your pass.  In addition, you can’t travel between cities in the same countries (with a few exceptions).  I’d encourage anybody thinking of buying a Eurolines Pass to make sure they read up on all the terms and conditions before they commit to it.

Of course, we didn’t do that and spent a considerable amount of time trying to book journeys we couldn’t actually go on with our pass.  Mistake number one.  Nonetheless, we had committed to doing the trip now.  There was no going back from here!  Well, eventually there would be, but we didn’t worry about the return journey – not yet at least.

Our next step was to book the accommodation.  One of the first decisions we made when we abandoned the road trip idea was to stay in hostels as much as possible.  We both had very limited experience with hostels, and we both greatly enjoyed those limited experiences.  I wanted to meet new people – fellow travellers – and of course, it’s one of the cheapest options when you’re looking at somewhere to stay.  From here, Jordan took over most of the legwork, tirelessly searching through Hostelworld‘s website and suggesting a series of hostels, many of which sounded amazing.

Around this time we hit our second obstacle.  Timing the coach journeys with the available accommodation wasn’t easy.  In fact, some coaches only ran three times a week.  Zurich was out – the pass didn’t allow us to go to Switzerland at all – and Munich became difficult.  We also had to switch a few days around – only two nights in Copenhagen, which meant an extra night in Berlin.  Some of the problems were caused by bad luck – a festival on the wrong day meant we couldn’t find a free room in our chosen hostel, or even in any hostel in the city (Lyon, I’m looking at you!)

After much hand-wringing and frantic internet searches, we found a solution.  Courtesy of the kind fellow behind Seat 61  we found a train from Strasbourg to Lyon that would solve all of our problems.  At £15, it was a bargain compared to any other options.  Unfortunately, this meant we would only be spending a few hours in Munich.  Another snag was that there appeared to be no hostels at all in Strasbourg.  Luckily, Jordan managed to find a cheap hotel with decent reviews.

This was it.  Finally, everything was booked.  The flight to Copenhagen, the accommodation, the Eurolines Pass.  Everything except the flight back home.  Who needs to go home, right?


Next time: we fly out to Copenhagen,  and the adventure begins…

Writing the World


“The Road goes ever on and on,”  according to J R. R. Tolkien.  Some of us feel compelled to follow the road wherever it goes – to learn, live and explore.  Being on the road isn’t a literal path.  It doesn’t mean we’re pursuing the same road eternally (wouldn’t that be terrifying?) but it’s more of a yearning to travel; to see new things and seek out new experiences.

When I went on holiday as a child, the most exciting part was the day after we arrived.  Typically we would arrive at night, too exhausted to do anything except collapse into bed.  The next day, however… there was a whole new house to explore, and the surrounding area too.  Anything could be around the corner.  A newborn foal, a crooked tree with a crude rope swing, a little stream nestled away from the road.

I read adventure books too, and in my naivety the idea of having an adventure was so glorious, so enthralling that I began to imagine my own.  Perhaps I was a character in my own early adventures, but as I grew older I found myself designing my own characters.  Often they had ridiculous names and personalities as two-dimensional as my rough sketches of them.  The plots were riddled with clichés and almost everyone involved was either divinely heroic or monstrously villainous.

As I began to mature, my writing did too and so did my taste for adventure.  At one point I realised that what I really needed was to see the world – or at least, as much of it as I could.  The idea of immersing myself in another culture, living out of a backpack or suitcase started to become more and more appealing.  As I finished university, I had an opportunity to get out there and see a little bit of somewhere else.

In 2008 I went on a road trip around Europe.  It was both magnificent and ridiculous.  The first thing I realised as we arrived in France, packed into an old van bought on eBay was that there is nothing more liberating than escaping your life.  Days were not defined by their usual restrictions.  We went to places, we saw things, we met people.  I soon forgot I’d ever been unable to function without a daily dose of the internet.  Through the windows of our van I drank up the new terrain of a Europe I hadn’t experienced before.  We had our own adventures, through foolishness, inexperience and bad luck – and they were all vital parts of the trip.  We met people – many were friendly, polite and kind; some were not.

By the end of the trip I realised that what I’d long suspected was true.  I had an urge to travel, and I would never be quite content to remain in one place forever.  The word wanderlust is overused, but it describes a unique feeling.  A restlessness, a readiness to hit the road at any available opportunity.

It would be several years before I travelled again, and it wasn’t until very recently that I was able to plan my own adventure around Europe – this time, I picked the route myself.  No vans to dump my belongings in, but a series of hostels, weird and wonderful.  Over the following posts, I will be detailing my second trip around Europe.  There were ups and downs, beautiful beaches and gloomy skies, cramped coaches and disastrous ferry journeys.

Little by little, this blog will be my attempt to write the world – or at least, my experiences of it.  It may be a small voice in an ocean of chatter, but that’s how we all start out as travellers – curious children lost in a very big universe, driven by some odd compulsion to turn over rocks and walk to the end of the horizon.