Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Airfare Woes

This is most unfortunate news.

Delta is raising fares on domestic travel. I fly this airline frequently, although I have many, many issues with them. It usually comes down to they actually fly to the random places I decide to travel. And I like getting frequent flyer miles, so I try to stick with a handful of airlines and their partners.

Travel is one of the best ways to experience life in my opinion and not enough people do enough of it. But raising airfare won't encourage people to travel, unless they have to. It seems to me that if you lowered the fare and made it easier to travel, maybe more people would do it. Although, I admit, that might be wishful thinking since most Americans still don't have passport, but those numbers have gone up in recent years. If you don't have a passport, get one!

I'm about to buy a ticket to the Baltic states and almost did yesterday. But a lot can happen between now and September, or October (might have to shift my plan ever so slightly) and I hesitated. I'm hoping to chat with a friend who is an expert on the region first and then click the purchase button. I'm thinking I'll have my ticket by the end of next week. Sure it's expensive, but I've never once looked back at a trip and thought, gee, I wish I'd bought an iPhone instead.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dots on a map.

To get an idea of where I'm headed next, here's a map of Estonia and also the Baltic states.

Uh oh.

While doing a quick search about Estonia travel, I came across some quick facts. Kind of a bummer when this one jumped out at me: "The Estonian language is a nightmare to learn."

Oh joy of joys.

I learned some Slovene (about five words) and that was a tough language. Did I mention I was chewed out by a Croation woman (in Croat!) for not knowing Croat? The gist of it, from what I could tell, what that I was a stupid American who didn't know anything about her country. Well, that's fine. But I wasn't in Croatia! Anyway.

The incident may scar me for life, so I will always try to learn at least a few words. I already bought the Baltic phrasebook since my trip plans include Latvia and Lithuania, but even the Estonians say their language is nightmarish, well, this should be interesting.

For kicks, here are some examples that I borrowed from their national tourism site:

Tere - Hello

Aitah - Thank you

Palun - Please

Ma armastan sind - I love you

Sa oled vaga ilus - You are very beautiful

Kus on... - Where is...

Kui palju... - How much is...

Uks kohv, palun - (I'd like to have) a coffee, please

I find some of these very amusing as being listed as useful phrases. I usually like to learn things like where's the train/bus/taxi/boat, the time, is there room in the hostel, how do i get to... I'm not especially concerned with telling strangers they're beautiful or professing my love to them, but that's just me.

Learning a few words, especially greetings, thanks and apologies have always been very useful to me.

I remember a Peruvian taxi driver giving me an impromptu Spanish lesson and hugging me when he gave me my bag and I came up with the proper response. There was also bartering with local artisans in my incredibily limited Spanish, meaning a lot of using fingers to count. A favorite was a game of charades at about 6 a.m. with a hostel owner in Aguas Calientas as I got off the train and had no idea where I would stay. I paid far more than I probably should have but it was the small town at the base of Machu Picchu where your options are sort of limited anyway. She brought me tea and food and was the sweetest women depsite my complete lack of comprehension of anything she said.

Between now and my trip in September (dates to be determined) I'll post updates on travel planning and also fun facts and news about Estonia and the Baltics. Until next time, I have a nightmare of a language to learn.

Happy Friday everyone!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Estonia: The adventure begins.

No, I haven't booked a flight and I'm not posting this from a random Internet cafe in the middle of nowhere.

I'm sitting on the deck at my parent's house in Yorktown with Grover. (Finally, some spring weather!)

But, I've been getting very restless lately and I can only post so much on a travel blog without actually traveling anywhere. I've been talking about Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but talking about it doesn't typically get a person very far. Plus, I started reading this book, The Art of Non-conformity by Chris Guillebeau. As if I needed any more motivation to jet off to random countries or make what some might consider outrageous life decisions. Grandma was right when she saw the book last week and said, "Oh my, what is she going to do now?"

So, I've decided that I'm going. In September (on the advice of a friend who knows the region well, he says April and September are best).

All great adventures start with the decision to go. Then you have to follow through. I know a lot of people who have trouble with that part. I don't usually. Sometimes I waffle a bit and I hate that, so then I do something crazy. Like buy plane tickets.

Several people of asked me how to plan a trip like the ones I take and I'll walk you through the process from beginning to end.

Starting now, I'm trip planning. And I'll write about it every week until I have my boarding pass in hand. Then I'll write about the trip on location in some random cafe in the middle of nowhere.

To start, pick a destination. Obviously. But the destination choice is crucial. Think about what you want to do and where you want to go and why. Everyone wants to go to Paris or Rome or Athens, and I do too, but honestly, anyone can do that and everyone does. I much prefer to travel not tourist. I choose places that not everyone goes to, sometimes places that people couldn't even pick out on a map. You'd be surprised how many people didn't know where Slovenia was. Really? It became a country in the early 1990s. Not yesterday. But in all fairness, I couldn't name all the countries in Africa to save my life.

I also really enjoy having some crazy story to go along with why I picked a country. I picked New Zealand for my semester abroad because it was so far and not as many people went and bottom line, my friend said do you like the beach? Me, not really. Well, go to New Zealand then. (He spent nine months in Australia after college graduation before starting his real life, meaning, getting a normal job.)

I went to Peru because I was looking for volunteer vacations and found one in Cusco working as a journalist for an English language publication there. Doing the math, I figured out it was about a quarter of the cost to go on my own and do whatever I wanted for two weeks in Peru.

While in Peru, I met an English guy who suggested Slovenia. I went to the bookstore when I got back, camped out on the bookstore floor and read all about the former Yugoslavia. The next year, I was getting chewed out in a cave for not knowing Croat. Note to self, learn a few words in the language of neighboring countries for next trip so as not to be verbally assaulted by angry woman on a train in a cave. Just saying.

Honestly, I don't remember how I chose Estonia, but I'm pretty sure I was again camped on the floor of the travel section, flipping through the guides. My criteria include lack of tourist mobs, out of the ordinary location, decent exchange rate or tanking local economy so a) it's cheaper for me and b) I can support them with my American dollars. I also seem to tend toward Eastern Europe. Can't explain it, but find the region interesting, beautiful, challenging and evolving.

Esotnia isn't too big, might as well go to Latvia and Lithuania while I'm there. It's perfectly logical really.

Next step, buy a guide book of some sort. I don't base my trips entirely on what Lonely Planet says, but a guide in an unfamiliar land is not a bad thing. I read the highlights, things to avoid, must sees, culture, food, language, etc.

Then I start mapping out the places I want to include on my trip. That's where I am now in planning. By next week, I should have a rough outline that will change about six gazillion times before I ever set foot on a plane and then it will change again once I'm in country. Always have to have a plan. Mostly so I can change it.

Check back soon to follow Jenn goes to Estonia. If you've been, feel free to share experiences and suggestions!