Driving? Is it really necessary?

I’ve been driving in the Middle East for about a week now, and I can testify that it is not what I remember the driving in Europe to be like in the late 80s. In a word, its awful.

I would say that it’s been almost 30 years since I have driven in a country other than the USA. I have driven in Canada several times, but growing up in a border town, I don’t view that to be a different experience from American driving. Sorry Canada.

I do remember it taking a while to find a comfort level with driving when I started driving around Germany. Getting used to the traffic on the Autobahn as a teenager took a few days. Everything in Germany either moved fast or slow. But, as all things do, soon enough it was old hat. I was driving everyday just said it was home. 

That being said, I’m pretty sure the same thing will come of the hellish traffic over here in the Middle East. They say, if you can drive in NYC or L.A. you can drive anywhere. I’d say that’s about half right. Having driven in both cities, I would put the difficulty factor at about 2x NYC. Its either okay or its REALLY not okay. 

Which I guess, brings me to my question of the day. Do you feel that you need to drive when you’re traveling or do you use local means of transport? How do you get around?

Personally, I normally use local transport to get from A to B. I have found that it is usually not difficult to get where you’re going without driving. 

In Europe its particularly easy to get around without a car. Trains and taxis will get you almost anywhere you want. Those to are supported by the occasional bus trip to get to the very few places the trains don’t go. Its really super easy. 

In Central American I have used a car service to get off the beaten track. Trust me, there’s not much beaten track in Central America. In South American, planes, trains, and taxi cabs got me anywhere I wanted to go. That included all the way up to Macchu Picchu. Getting to the mountain city was as simple as a train ride and a short bus ride. It was a harrowing bus ride on a switchback dirt road straight up the side of a mountain, but it was short. 

I did resort to renting a bicycle in Ireland so I could get around the site on the southern side of Galway Bay, but that’s probably as extreme as my travel needs have been. The train and the bus got my across Ireland in fine fashion, and the bike ride through the countryside was actually very nice. 

My current need to drive is promoted by my work. Having a vehicle is necessary. That being said, there does seem to be a reasonable bus system in place, and countless taxis cruising the streets. Movement options are available in the area. The closer I get to a city, the more numerous the transport options become. There doesn’t seem to be a commuter train system in the Middle East, or at least not in the area that I am in. Still, if one wanted to venture out into the dunes, I’m sure local guide services are available for day trip options. I haven’t been in the area long enough to seek those out, but I may later on. I spent enough time in traffic now.

So do you feel the need to drive when you’re traveling? Most American naturally answer yes. Its just part of our culture. But, when abroad to you search out easier or alternate means to get around? I definitely do. Local transport options can be useful, and can save you money. European rental prices are a lot if you don’t use the vehicle every day. And many cities require that you pay to park as well. 

Whichever way you choose to get around, it should be enjoyable and as easy as possible. I’m hoping that I get used to the awful traffic soon, and things become a little more enjoyable. And wherever you travel, be safe when doing so. It can be a mad, mad world at times.

Enjoy, and get out there!

Sunrise over the Persian Gulf. Taken today. 


Seven Continents or Bust!

I’ve been watching a lot of travel shows lately. I find it helps to keep my wanderlust up during periods where I’m not actually traveling. They also provide me with ideas on where to go next. I like finding ideas on new and obscure travel locations, and then daydreaming as I might actually get there one day. It’s a good use of brainpower.

It seems that, as of late, all the travel shows seem to have converged upon a theme. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or if it just happens as a matter of volume. The longer one travels, the more of the hit list locations get checked off, and the more one needs to move farther afield to find new travel destinations. I suppose it’s a natural side effect of longevity.

The theme that I am alluding to is the need to visit all seven continents. Stepping foot on all seven continents is seen, in some circles, as the mark of a real traveler. In other circles, a real traveler is someone who has gone to a new land and learned how to live in a new culture. In other circles, one who has thoroughly explored a region is considered a travelers. Everyone uses the definition that best suits the way they view the world.

So, I guess my question of the blog post is this: Do you need to step on every continent to consider yourself well-traveled? Where I would think the answers are either yes or no, there are as many justifications for those answers as there are people answering. And that, is the beauty of individuality.

My personal answer to this question is no. I am also sure about my answer. Let me explain why. In my experience, travel is NOT a collection of places. A bunch of pins on a map, or stamps in a passport, without the experience of those places, is just a bunch or pins or stamps. When you go someplace new, you learn. You may learn about the difference in how people travel from point A to point B. You may learn about other people history in a specific country or region. You may learn how people get on with other people, or the things they hold sacred, or the way they grow food, or the things they teach their children. But, above all, you learn something. If I have gone somewhere and learned only that I didn’t want to go back there (Which has rarely ever happened), I still learned something. That something is the thing that give travel meaning. It is the thing that you try to pass on to others. Travel stories and barroom tales are all just collections of you telling someone else your lessons learned through traveling.

Here’s a small diversion to maybe help prove my point about a collection of pins. I have managed five of the seven continents. They would be North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Australia. I have spent excessive amounts of time in North America, and Europe. Would I say that I have traveled through them enough to know them and learned what there is to learn? Absolutely, no.

I live in the US, and have travelled to all but five of the states. Yet, there are still probably over a hundred things still on my US to-do list. Places I want to go and things I want to do, before I stop travelling around the US and call it seen. Obviously, those hundreds of things don’t all hit into five states. They are still scattered all over the US.

As I said, I’ve been to Africa. It was in 2000. I took a Contiki trip to see Egypt. The trip was excellent and I saw a great deal of Egypt. I definitely did things that I would not have done if I had solo traveled around the country. (I am not necessarily endorsing Contiki. I’m definitely a solo traveler by nature. BUT, if you’re not the go it alone type, I will say that if you’re 18-35 and want to get out and see the world, Contiki is an excellent company to utilize. I have countless good things to say about my experience travelling with them, and the people I met.) Did I see all that Egypt had to offer, no. Did I get to plant my pin in the African continent, yes. Because I’ve been there, and planted my pin, should I not go back? I say, no. There are a whole list of places I want to visit in Africa as well. I plan to have grand adventures in and around the African continent.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the idea of saying you have been to all seven continents, as if you’ve accomplished some great task, means you’ve missed the point of travelling to begin with. Travel is supposed to enrich your life. Travel is supposed to open your eyes to new cultures and to new ideas. Travel is supposed to be – rewarding, not simply a collection of pins.

I have met people that have spent all of their time simply travelling their own country. They never escaped to farther fields, yet they are definitely more travelled than I am. They went out and saw something new, and with opened eyes were rewarded with new experiences. Those are the people I love to talk to. Their passion for places just over the hill or across the state make me want to go to those places too. To experience the same things they did.

That, in my opinion, is why we all travel. Not to collect pins (Though we all collect pins), but to have new experiences.

Now get out there. Go.


Two good friends of mine I was motorcycling around with, somewhere in the US Southwest. I’m thinking sometime around 2010 or 2011. Even though I had been to the southwest several times before, I had never been there – until then.



Life Beyond Europe

Is there more to life than Europe? I guess the answer to that depends who you ask. I say, absolutely. Others say, probably not. There was a time when, if someone said to me that I needed to go abroad, I thought of Europe. No, not just Europe, but Western Europe. Now days, I’ve managed to expand by horizons a bit, but Europe still has a powerful draw to it.

I have some friends that travel exclusively in Europe. I consider them tourists, not travelers. Tourists get packages and then go out and see what they have been told is not-to-be-missed. They are most likely itinerary driven people. I hate itineraries! All of the things that you will remember about a trip ten years later will not be in the itinerary.

If this is your lifestyle, that’s cool. Go, and enjoy. There are an INFINITE number of tour packages that cover Europe. And, there are a large variety of travel shows that cover Europe. It is easy to travel in Europe. The network of auto routes and trains is almost all-encompassing. More importantly, Europe has all the stuff people expect when they go somewhere that isn’t there home. It has deep, deep history. It has world class museums. It has excellent food. It has the sun-washed beaches and snow covered mountains. There is little that you can look for that isn’t there, somewhere.

It can also be easy to go to Europe and then just keep going to Europe. That’s what happened when I started travelling again. I had lived in Germany for several years when I was just out of high school. It was those in-between school and college years. Germany was a wonderful place. It was magical. It had mountains, and snow, great beer, and awesome food. The discos were loud and awash with people. There were festivals in every little town. Is was just a great experience. SO, when I decided to get back out on the road it seemed like the place to go. Quickly however, I decided that as much as I liked Germany, I also wanted to see other places. So I went to England. Then, I went wondering all over France. Then, I set down in Portugal, took the train across country to the channel, a train across England, and a ferry to Ireland. Needing a change, I spent weekend in Rome one winter, and Walked around Monte Carlo during the Grand Prix one spring.

I had settled into Europe. Why? Simple, it was easy. A quick flight from the east coast of America to anywhere in Europe isn’t hard to find. Hotels are on some lame similar standard with the States, and you can normally drink the water. It’s just easy. It was at his point that I went, what am I doing? Isn’t there more to life than Europe? Isn’t there a whole other planet out there?

The answer is yes. Yes there is a whole other planet out there to adventure around. Peru is fascinating. Australia is large and wonderful, sun-washed and hectic. Egypt is lost in time and antique. Costa Rica is jungles and surf. It’s all out there somewhere. All you have to do is go looking for it. Personally, I’m happy that I went to see other places.

Now, one could say that you can also find all of those things in Europe, if you look. That would be absolutely true. You can find pretty much everything above, save the jungle. That’s okay too, they really don’t need any jungle. But, back to the question: Is there more to life than Europe? I guess the answer is: do you want there to be? I would say that if you are happy doing the European shuffle, then do it. If you long for foreign lands and mysterious tongues, then do that. I like the second option, but I’ve already done the first one. Think about the way you travel. Think about the things that make you happy. Think about the types of activities you like to do and the excitement that drives you. Then, when you’re done thinking about it, go do it. If wondering the beaches of Europe makes you happy, do it. If wondering the bazaars of Cairo makes you happy, then go do that. I’ve done both. One experience isn’t better than another. They are individual experiences that I enjoyed completely.

So, I guess the answer to the question is – maybe?

Now, go on. Get out there.



The old fortress in Lisbon, Portugal. Taken from the rooftop terrace of my hotel, somewhere around 2009.


Ways to cut some cost

Now that I’ve brought everybody down with the actual price of travelling Europe as an adult, let’s take another look at the actual travelling expense. There are ways to minimize what you pay while abroad. My favorite cost saving idea is timing. I travel off-peak whenever possible. Travelling outside of the natural high-travel period, or off-peak, is a blessing in many regards. First, if you aren’t too far outside the normal travel high-period the weather will not have changed drastically. This is important if you’re chasing the sun.

If you’re chasing architecture and museums, off-peak can be a true blessing. The normal travel crowds diminish significantly once you pass out of the high-travel seasons. Sites will have far fewer people to content with. Hotels and restaurants will also be less populated. This bit is important, as they want to fill space. Off-peak hotel and restaurant prices tend to drop, as to entice travelers. This ….. is good!

I travel off-peak whenever it’s good to do so. You will find a lot of the Mediterranean area of Europe is more temperate than North American travelers would think for. I visited Rome, in February, and the weather was quite pleasant. I pack the big coat and didn’t need any of it. It was a great change from the Chicago winter I had flown out of.

So, you say you can’t travel off-peak? Kids school breaks, or work high periods don’t allow for vacation. That being said, there are still ways to save a little cash. These things are all things that you have read about on other sites. There really aren’t too many NEW ways to save cash while abroad.

The real way to save cash now is to shop well. And by shopping well, that means shopping many website to see who’s really selling things at the lowest price. No one website will always have the lowest price. It’s just the way it is. Frankly, I don’t know how they decide how to price things. I think there actually might be a crystal ball involved somewhere. What I do know is, one website will always be slightly less expensive than another or several others.

I tend to use several sites for airline flights. My standbys are,,, and I like to fly American Airlines as too keep my travel miles in one place. If you go straight to the actual carrier for any specific flight that you find on a flight search website, it will almost always be cheaper straight from the actual carrier. That cheaper rate may be 10$ or it may be 100$, but money is money.

Kayak is a great site for seeing multiple options for individual flight options. Cheap-o-air is another great option for seeing flight options. They both have easy to use search engines and are very easy to navigate. I use mobile apps for all of the above options as they are all good browsing options.

If you are searching for cheap flights inside Europe, I would suggest you take a look at the Easyjet website. They are limited in the amount of airports that they fly in and out of, but they are cheap. I also wouldn’t let the limited number of airports get you down. The price of the flights are low enough to usually offset the cost of a train ticket from your city to the city that easy jet is flying out of. And really, you traveling, aren’t you?

For full disclaimer I also use quite a lot. The site a bigger and clunkier than the ones mentioned above, but it does cover a lot of ground. I tend to keep its use to domestic travel as that’s really where it works best for me.

On the logging front I tend to use, and regularly. I like staying at the Best Western chain, so I use the Best Western app also. I find that when staying in a new city, it nice to have a known hotel chain. Once again, domestically speaking Travelocity works well here.

If you want to stay local while in any particular city you are traveling to there are options for that as well. Both Frommer’s and Lonely Planet have great references for this. Their guidebooks break down each location’s dinning option and lodging options by dollar amount. They will give you a number of lower cost options, moderate cost options, and higher end options to choose from. This allows you to look at the actual locations and see what your money is buying. This is VERY important, IF you don’t travel much. European standards, and South American standards and their rating systems are different than those used in North America. Understanding how their rating systems work will go a long way to helping you have a better experience when you get there.

As with anything else in life it comes down to doing your homework. You need to search out the travel deals and look at all the options available to you. I can guarantee one thing, if some travel company says they have a great deal for you – It’s almost always a great deal for them. It’s sad but true. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t look at them. I have used several collected travel options in the past. I’m saying that you should understand what you’re buying. You’ll find that shopping it around will provide you with savings options and sightseeing options that you can’t find in packaged vacations.

Get out there and look around. You’ll have a good time!

(Honestly, sometimes just planning a new adventure will give you a great amount of enjoyment.)



A view from the steps of Saint Peters. In February. The Med had good weather.


West-to-East, or some other route?

If you are traveling to see the world, which way do you go? Can you call yourself a traveler if you only stay on the main route? Do you need to venture farther afield to see it all?

The majority of people take, what I like to refer to as the East-West route. They basically go from east to west, or the other-way round, along the equator of the planet. The America to Europe travel. Or the America to china and South East Asia. Some People are adventurous and extend or connect the two lines together, adding stops in the Holy Land, India, and the like.

There is a valid reason for this seemingly straightforward route choice. It’s called history. The expansion of the European Renaissance, the Crusades to the Holy Lands, the conquests of Alexander, The Great Silk Road, they all go basically West-to-East. The majority of the great civilizations are located along the wider part of the equator. The desire to explore and expand boundaries have historically been along this path.

This means that most all of the old, cool stuff that travelers want to see and experience are also located along this wider path around the equator. This being said, the answer to the original question can probably be answered as yes, you can call yourself a traveler if you go this way. A person can see a great piece of the world going this way. They will end their journey with stories to last a lifetime.

For full disclosure, I have spent a large portion of my traveling life utilizing the West-East route. Normally, exploring Europe and the North African area. I like the Old Masters and the great stone cathedrals of Europe.

Recently, however, I have started to expand my horizons. I added sections of the globe that were farther afield. I did so, because I wanted to see other cultures and old stuff not found in, what I like to call, the historic belt. Trips to Central America, and South America, and most recently out to the Land Down Under (Australia). There were new things to see in these places; like rain forests, the great lands of the Inca and the Nazca, and natural wonder like the Great Barrier Reef.

I would submit that travelers should add diversion to their standard routes. Going north to south can add new favor and excitement to traveling. The regions outside the equatorial belt offer many natural and cultural highlights that should be added to any traveler’s agenda.

I am happy to confess that a person can spend the majority of their life traveling around just one continent and not experience everything it has to offer. I have been traveling around the continental United States for over twenty years and still haven’t seen all of it, by any stretch of the imagination. If you enjoy Europe and the experience you are having there, then by all means continue to go. But, if like me, you like to see what new things the world has to offer, I would say that you should spend some time going North-to-South.

Lawrence of Arabia made a lasting name for himself by traveling the Silk Road. Doctor David Livingstone did the same thing by exploring the darker parts of the African continent. I give you these two examples to show that, in my opinion, there is no Right Path. Travelers travel, and explorers explore. It’s the quest that makes it all worthwhile. The going and seeing, not what way you took to get there.

Yes, you can be a traveler going around the globe from west to east. Yes, you can be a traveler going around the globe more north to south. I can guarantee that there is a never-ending host of things to see along the way.




The Monkey. The Nazca Lines, in the deserts outside Nazca, Peru, 2012 range. Taken, obviously, from the air.