STAFF TAKE: Lessons learned from a year of travel

This past year I was lucky enough to travel to six countries in Europe. I traveled to the far reaches of Jupivogur on the west coast of Iceland to the hot sands of Palma de Mallorca in Spain. I learned not only about each region’s respective culture and history, but also a lot about how to get the most out of my travels. Below are my top three tips for maximizing the value gained from traveling abroad.

1. Embrace the unexpected

Eagle’s Nest

Not everything goes according to plan, especially during the tourist season in Germany. The weekend plan seemed flawless. We took our rental car and drove from Stuttgart to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. There we had plans to climb the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak standing at 9,718 feet (2,962 meters).

On the morning of our ascent it was raining heavily and we couldn’t even see the summit. However, we sent it off and made our summit.

The real fun started when we traveled from Garmisch to Berchtesgaden. Our plan was to have a relaxing day sightseeing. This included a bus trip to the top of the Eagle’s Nest, a secret Nazi hideout built in the German Alps and a symbol of Allied victory.

Upon our arrival, we did not know how to get to the top as minimal research had been done prior to our trip.

Ditching the bus, we decided to take the supposed “short hike” to the top.

Our hike ended with 2,300 feet of climbing over four miles.

Already exhausted from the summit the day before, we surprisingly caught up in expeditious fashion.

Although it’s not perfect, we get to see the sights in a unique way that most don’t experience. At the end of the day, our weekend turned out to be more memorable than if we had just taken the bus to the top.

2. Make plans for the shoulder seasons

The Dolomites and Iceland

Travel is expensive. The best way to keep costs down is to go when no one else is, also called “shoulder season.”

The shoulder season has some drawbacks, including less favorable weather and facilities being closed for the season. But that also means lower prices overall and smaller crowds.

As a student, I take full advantage of our generous vacation schedule. The entire month of May, right after the end of the spring semester, is an excellent time to travel.

Last May, my friends and I took the time to go on a road trip to the Italian Dolomites. This spectacular circuit is a UNESCO heritage site and is often quite busy from June to September. It was a bit cooler and still early spring, but we had the whole place to ourselves.

Another great time to travel is right after summer ends. Our fall vacation is conveniently right after all the season’s busiest trips are over. This fall vacation we escaped to Iceland.

Mid-October is definitely on the edge of winter at 65 degrees north, but our trip cost about half of what it would have gone in the summer. Cost savings and minimal crowds definitely add value to any trip abroad.

3. Calculated spontaneity

I think spontaneous ideas are usually fun ideas. But there is a difference between good spontaneous ideas and bad spontaneous ideas.

I found that difference came from planning for spontaneity and not planning it.

There will always be places to see or things to do that you only find out about when you get to said destination. No amount of pre-trip planning will prepare you for all the things you really want to do when you’re in the country.

But I’ve found that planning spontaneous ideas leads to a winning scenario.

For example, I’ve started planning a buffer day or two into all of my travel plans in case something gets canceled or we’re delayed. This spring we planned an extra day on our trip to the Dolomites in case we had problems with a rental car or bad weather.

We ended up going through the entire route on schedule so we had an extra day at the end. At this point, our group decided that it was quite possible to visit Venice in 16 hours, although no one had planned this before.

Our buffer plan allowed for an extra stopover on our trip without stress. It also turned out to be one of the best highlights from Italy.

We hope these travel tips are helpful in planning your next adventure. Happy trails!

Andrew Gottschall is a photographer for The Beacon. He can be reached at [email protected].

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