Monday, November 28, 2011

Reader Question: To Tour Group or Not?

The Netherlands
[Courtesy of Amy Richards]
In an ideal world we would all be able to travel through Europe for a couple of weeks with our best friend. Unfortunately sometimes both money and time can be tight and you are faced with the choice of either traveling without anybody you know or not traveling at all. Since the opportunity to travel Europe is one that doesn't come around very often, many people decide that it's better to simply travel without anyone they know.This is when the question arises of whether to take a guided tour through Europe or travel alone. I have done both and I want to stress that neither are bad choices, nor are they mutually exclusive. The truth is you can do both if you please. There are pros and cons to each aspect.

From personal experience, traveling alone has its benefits, the first and foremost being independence. You will not have to compromise your sightseeing throughout Europe. You can travel where you want, when you want, and you only have to be concerned about your own budget. It's easier to get into some attractions, such as plays or take a night off if you're feeling worn out. However, sometimes it can get lonely without someone to share the experience with. You might not have someone to take a picture of you at a famous landmark, eating alone at a restaurant can sometimes be awkward. It's slightly more dangerous to travel alone as well. Having an extra set of eyes will give you more protection against pickpocketers and other dangers. 
Falvian Amphitheater Rome
[Courtesy of Amy Richards]

Tour groups on the whole tend to be more expensive, however  it'll be nice to share your world experiences with someone. Different tours vary on length, age range, activity level, and price, so you can definitely find something that fits your touring needs. Another benefit of tours is that they are likely to get you into places that it would be hard to get in yourself, and tickets places may be discounted because the touring company will buy them in bulk. One of the biggest benefits of going on a guided tour is getting more information about the place you're visiting than if you were to travel alone. Tour guides often know fun facts about different places in addition to a general overview of the area.

Want to know more about both options or have your own questions answered here on my blog? You can either e-mail me at or post a comment here. 

Happy Travels!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Top 5 Things to See and Do in Edinburugh

While tips and tricks about traveling through Europe are incredibly useful, I'd like to take a moment to explore some of my favorite cities throughout Europe, starting with Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and home to many historic sites such as Edinburgh Castle and St. Giles Cathedral. I would suggest taking a stop by Edinburgh on your travels through Europe if you're a fan of both history and natural beauty. Since the city is relatively small, it is best to tour by foot so that you are not restricted by bus routes. Here are my top five things to do in Edinburgh and why!

Edinburgh Castle [Credit: Julie Wagner]
1. Edinburgh Castle: Edinburgh Castle has over 3000 years of history, with the earliest record of human habitation dating back to 900 BC. That being said, it would be almost impossible to list all the great things to see inside the castle in this one blog post. My recommendation is to visit their website and read through the highlights yourself to see if any of it tickles your fancy. Tickets are 16 euro and walking through the castle will take you around 3 hours. If you only have a little bit of time and like me were overwhelmed by the vastness of the castle, I would suggest seeing my personal favorites - the Great Hall, St. Margaret's Chapel, and the Scottish National War Memorial.

2. Arthur's Seat: There are many places in Edinburgh to view the skyline such as the National Library of Scotland or Edinburgh Castle, but none of them nearly compare to Arthur's Seat. Located next to the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood Park, Arthur's Seat is the highest hill in a group of hills It will most likely take you around 3 hours to climb to the top of Arthur's Seat and back. Helpful hint: Don't be misguided by the word "hill" - the inclination of Arthur's Seat combined with thinner atmosphere make this a sight better suited for those who are fitter, but not impossible for those who are not.

3. Shop along the Royal Mile: Any shopping you might want to do can be done along the Royal Mile. The  Royal Mile is a stretch that connects Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Park, so even if it's not one of your must sees, you'll probably run into it sooner or later. While you're strolling down the Royal Mile, make sure to look in the local shops for both cashmere and wool. Despite its small land area, Scotland is still home to a large amount of the world's cashmere production.
St. Giles Cathedral
[Credit: Julie Wagner]

4. St. Giles Cathedral: St. By far one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have seen throughout all my travels in Europe, St. Giles is a Protestant Cathedral located along the Royal Mile. Even though the church burnt down in 1385, St. Giles still has four central pillars dating back to 1120. Between the rebuilding of the cathedral in 1385 and the present day, there have been a number of milestone events and additions. In 1633, the church was declared a cathedral, major restorations were done between 1872 - 1883, and the newest additions were added on in 1985.

5. The National Museum of Scotland: I was debating between the National Museum and the Royal Botanical Gardens as my number five must see in Edinburgh, and while the Royal Botanical Garden is absolutely beautiful, it's really not much different than any other botanical garden so I decided to go with the National Museum of Scotland. The newly redone National Museum is a total of five stories high, complete with a cafe, and is free to the public (although donations are appreciated). With a vast variety of subject matter, from animals to space to art and more, you can make your visit to this interactive museum as brief or as involved as you want. You can also even just stop in for a good, climate controlled place to relax. You can visit the National Museum's website here:

Happy Travels!


Monday, November 14, 2011

How to Contact Home

At some point during your trip you're going to want to contact home, whether it's to tell your friends what a great time you're having, talk to your bank in case of any problems with money, or simply to wish a family member a happy birthday. There are multiple ways to do that, but since you’re probably on a budget, you’ll want to know the cheapest way.

The first way to call home doesn’t require a laptop. It is a phone card. In some countries you can purchase a phone card that has 500 minutes for only five euro. It won’t cost the person you're calling anything so it’s a great way to contact home.

Example of what a MajicJack
looks like [Credit]
The next couple of ways to contact home require a laptop. Some of you might have seen the infomercial for MajicJack, a device that you hook up to the jack in a corded phone and the USB port in your computer. MajicJack costs 40 USD for one year of unlimited calling. With MajicJack you can call any number in the United States just as if you were right at home. I have found this most useful for calling home and letting home call me due to the fact that I didn't have to worry about the time limit of the conversations. The only downside to the MajicJack is the fact that it requires a steady internet connection. Without a stable connection, your will be unable to hear the person on the other line.

If you’re more into face time, I would suggest using Skype, a free software that you can download to your computer and make video calls as well as three way calls with a webcam and microphone. You can also call overseas fairly inexpensively. This mode of communication also relies on a reliable internet connection, so while it may not work in some cases, it’s a great way to see your friends and family’s faces back home.

Once you are in your Facebook account, go to the top right
corner and choose account settings. From there follow the
instructions to forward Facebook to your mobile [Credit]
Lastly, you might want to consider buying a European cell phone. For 10£ a month (and more importantly without a contract), you can get around 200 minutes of talk and unlimited texts. Often times you can text regardless of the country you're in. Now, you're probably thinking right about now, how does that benefit me if I don't know anyone in Europe? Something that people rarely realize is that you can route Facebook messages and wall posts to your phone via a SMS text. That way whenever someone messages you on Facebook you have the ability to message them right back, almost as if it were a text. This is great in keeping in constant contact with people, in that it doesn't rely on internet, and is a flat fee so you don't have to worry about breaking the bank.

To those readers who have been abroad, what do you find is the best way to contact home? Remember you can always e-mail me with any questions you have about traveling abroad at

Happy Travels!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Reader Question: How Much Money Do I Need?

Ferris Wheel in London
[Photo courtesy of Amy Richards]
While writing my blog, I found the most common question asked by readers was "How much money do I need to travel through Europe?" Like everything on your trip, this will depend on your personal preferences on how you want to spend your money and what's important to you. For example, some people will think it's worth it to spend the extra money to get an authentic taste of the local cuisine, while others would rather travel around with a peanut butter sandwich so they can spend money on tours and local attractions. Because of these individual variations, I broke down a budget and offered variations, ranging from scraping by to splurging.

Your basic budget, not counting travel is 45 - 60€/day. Add your travel on top of that (averaged in) and you'll probably end up spending a total of 80€/day, multiplied by 30 days is 2400€ total. Here's how I got that number:
  • Hostels cost anywhere from 15 - 20€/day. Earlier in the year I wrote a blog about hostels and how you can save money when booking your hostel, so make sure to check that out if you need some extra tips.
  • Food will cost you anywhere from 10 - 20€/day. Your 10€/day budget will consist of sandwiches and pastries, and while it's doable, it probably won't fill you up. 20€ is a better budget if you want to stay full and try some of the street food in the area. 
  • Your mode of transportation will be the biggest factor determining your budget. Some places you visit, you will be able to walk everywhere, others you will have to take a bus (about 3€ round trip depending on the the place you're visiting. Traveling from country to country depends on whether or not you fly or take the Eurail, as the prices will differ greatly depending on how many countries you plan to visit. For tips on the best mode of transportation to use, you can look at my blogs about rail systems within a countrythe Eurail, and plane travel in Europe
  • Lastly, you have to take into account that it will cost money to do some touristy things. For example in Scotland Edinburgh Castle is 14£ and a bike tour in Amsterdam is 20€. Experiences like these are often worth the money, so make sure you include this in your budget. Also keep in mind that you might encounter more than one tourist opportunity in one day, or you may want to buy a souvenir from your travels.
Edinburgh Castle
[Courtesy of Amy Richards]
There are items outside your budget that are important to consider too, like bank fees (see my blog about money in Europeor what to do if you find you've been pick-pocketed.

Have any questions of your own that I could answer? Feel free to e-mail me at or post a comment below. Click the "Follow" button on the top left hand corner of the blog to keep updated on trips for traveling through Europe.

Happy Travels!