Update: I am now back in Huntsville, Texas, USA…safe and sound, very happy but a bit weary from my travels. Good to be home.
I left Prishtina on July 20 and began a slow, three-week trip back to the U.S. For me, this has been a “working holiday”: I am visiting many of the cities and sites that I teach in my theatre history classes. All of the cities I’m visiting are new to me and places that I long have wanted to visit. I made my travel and hotel reservations back in April and got some really great deals.
Note: My flight back from London is covered by my Fulbright grant; however, all other expenses incurred during these three weeks are covered by me personally.
What may be difficult for most Americans to realize is how comparatively small European countries are. Examples: Texas is larger than France; Montana is larger than Germany; New Mexico is larger than Italy. For me going from country to country is like going state to state back in the U.S. Many major cities can be reached by train within hours, and my longest flight (Barcelona to Berlin) took a little over two hours.
I am posting photo albums (with descriptions) on Facebook. If you do not have a Facebook account, you still can access these albums by clicking on the links.
Advice & Tips
Book in advance and shop for the best deals.
If you want and expect the comforts and attitudes of “home,” then there really is no point in traveling. The key to being happy when you travel is to expect and embrace difference and be flexible…and travel as lightly as possible.
Always check into city passes for tourist sites and museums as well as for public transportation. Buy tickets online whenever possible. During peak tourist season, you don’t want to spend hours (and I mean hours) waiting in lines.
Day passes for public transportation often provide scenic passages (such as boat rides) in addition to usually being the fastest mode of transportation.
The best way to experience small and medium-sized cities is on foot. Get a good map (if available) and start walking. For me, I always rely on a “northern star” approach to any new city: I learn 2-3 visible, key landmarks that provide the reference points for my walking.
Rarely should you ever need to take a taxi. Most of Europe’s airports are located long distances from city centers, but there are affordable public transports to get you to and from. When in doubt, go to the information kiosk at the airport and ask about public transport to the city.
If you are flying on EasyJet, you should pay the extra for speedy boarding: this saves you time checking in and boarding the planes. Also, pay for extra baggage in advance to save money.
Whenever possible, get your local currency from ATMs rather than exchange booths. Have a simple mental system or cheat sheet for easy conversion.
Note that some American debit and credit cards may not work. I always travel with cash, a debit card, and a credit card. If I had a PIN number for the credit card, that would have helped in many situations.
Expect everything to be smaller and more expensive. If you are tall or obese, you will have a much more difficult time traveling. Beds and showers are smaller. People are leaner.
Expect more walking and climbing. Wear sturdy shoes that can handle days of walking on cobblestones. People with mobility challenges and seniors will have a very difficult time in most of southern and central Europe and particularly the Balkans and Greece.
Keep a small umbrella or rain poncho accessible. Unfortunately, they cannot prevent the real tragedy of rain: wet shoes.
Do not be surprised to see animals in public places you wouldn’t expect or mothers nursing their babies in public. Don’t be shocked if women arrive in the men’s bathroom if the women’s is full. Occasionally, men will pee in public (but behind a bush or tree or car).
Expect to pay for any public bathroom you use. Be prepared in the event that there is no tissue, soap, or even running water. In some places, there is no distinction between male and female facilities.
Bidets and squat toilets are foreign to most Americans. I’ll leave these to you to figure out.
In general, the further north you go, the more welcoming people are of LGBT persons. The opposite is the case the further south you go (toward and into the Balkans) with the exception of urban Greece.
Expect your presumptions about foreign countries and peoples to be as faulty as their presumptions about you and the U.S.
Your smiles and kindness usually will be returned with smiles and kindness.