How do we decide where to go when we’re out exploring? This perfectly practical question was posed to us after a two-hour recounting of our adventures with Carol’s dad’s neighbours. They listened attentively as we waded through four years of our sailing itinerary. But when the question arose, we didn’t really have a good answer. Here’s an attempt at a better one.
Our travel process can be visualised as three concentric circles, each becoming more detailed the smaller it gets. Let’s call them, TL;DR (too long;didn’t read), blog-worthy experiences, and lastly, the devilish details.
We’re traveling around the world, so we stop along the way as winds, weather, and our whims dictate.
Any segment of our adventures that make it into the blog are ipso facto worthy. Those segments often begin with (internet) research. Articles from Lonely Planet or the New York Times outlining the 10 best places to see in [insert country here] encourage us to dig a little deeper into a region.
We talk with marina and restaurant staff and get their opinions. They may recommend visiting the area they grew up in, or in some cases, to strenuously avoid the area they grew up in. Pilots, those travel guides for seafarers, inspire us when we’re not straying far from Aleta or the dock. A good pilot not only explains how to get in and out of harbour, but describes the local environment with highlights of things to see and do.
We rarely plan more than a day ahead, often booking hotels or rooms for the same night. Sometimes mere minutes ahead. Once out and about, applications like Tripadvisor, AirBnb, Booking, and Google Maps are surprisingly rich resources, especially in their mobile versions. With tourism as depressed as it has been in the last couple of years, this approach has proved effective. We don’t have to be in a particular place at a specific time. Rather, we follow our noses and stop when we get a better feel for an area. It helps we have common interests like hiking and history.
In larger, heavily touristed cities more forward planning is useful, but not essential. Assuming we have a rental car, sometimes the better option is a rustic farmhouse bed and breakfast a few miles beyond the city limits. Google is now so comprehensive, and English so widely spoken, we almost always find at least two or three alternatives.
On the road the job of securing accommodation falls to the passenger. In Europe the high cost of adding a second driver, and preponderance of manual transmissions, means that task usually falls to Carol. And she’s good at it. Using a combination of intuition and customer ratings, she homes in on comfortable, affordable locations with character. Pre-paid mobile internet services blanket Europe. Unlike large swathes of the United States, I can’t recall being out of cell service range anywhere in Spain for more than a few minutes.
Luck of the English
We are fortunate: English is spoken almost universally. Where it’s not, translation apps now work so well that with practice conversation flows almost naturally. Should we find ourselves off the grid, Google’s free translator has downloadable dictionaries. If all else fails, the general waving of hands and smiling breaks down any remaining barriers.
Get a smartphone and fit it with a prepaid SIM card with at least 10 gigs of data, hop in your rental car and start exploring the places you’ve so far only read about.