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World Traveler Training Wheels

O Internets! We need your advice!

So Kevin and I have this goal in life. We want to travel! We want to not be insular Americans! We want to have our minds broadened in terrifying new ways!

We have never done this before. (Ok, I was a world traveler before I was three, but my only memory of the whole escapade is a few fragments from what was apparently Barcelona.) I have been to Canada and Tijuana. Kevin has been to Tijuana, at the age of fifteen. He reports this as an eye-opening experience.

Next year, we want to get our feet wet. We were thinking of doing something in the British Isles for a week, since, y’know, baby steps, no new language required, but that’s just an initial thought.

Does anybody have any advice? Not necessarily specific places to go, (although if there’s a place you can recommend for World Traveler Training Wheels, I’d love to hear it!) but…err…do we use a travel agent? Do we book it all on Travelocity, show up, and hope not to die? Good resources for suggestions on where to go? We’re more interested in wandering around and eating (we do love the eating) than in getting on tour buses, but we’d also hate to miss the amazing landmarks, and we find so much delightful in even American cities that we could probably kill a week just about anywhere…

Advice greatly appreciated!

Originally published at Tea with the Squash God. You can comment here or there.

My dad is the real world traveler in our family-- my brother and I just sort of tag along and do what he says-- and he swears by Rick Steves' guides to places. He mentions all sorts of little things like good restaraunts and hotels, has little guided tours, and brief summaries of places you can go that should tell you whether or not you'd be interested.

Seconding Rick Steves. Also, yeah, book your own stuff. Frommers isn't bad for looking for travel deals.

I strongly recommend packing carryon luggage. Tom Bihn makes a great carryon bag, the Aeronaut. I just did a week and a half of business travel in Europe with just that bag and a shoulder bag. No worries about losing luggage, backpack straps for easier carrying, etc.

Start by making sure your passports and immunizations are up to date. That makes thinking about everything else a whole lot easier.

Yes, do this now before you start getting tickets and stuff. Passports are handy and last a perfectly long time.

Go to London. Book through Travelocity, flights and hotel. That's all yhou need. Day-trip to Oxford, another day get out into the country - villages, country houses, pubs, like that - but mostly just walk around London. Be flaneurs. Look at the people, look at the buildings, see the sights. Go to the British Museum, the V & A. You'll love it.

He doesn't mention his hometown, or where he was writer in residence.

USE FRIENDS. Desperance could show and tell you more about any point of England than any book, and if he couldn't he knows someone in love with the local area. Do Day-Trip Oxford, or perhaps Bath for the Cotswolds, good inspiration in both places. You could spend a month in London for the Theater, the street scenes, the museums...but if you're in London, visit Kew gardens for at least an hour.

Couchsurfing works but is work, you need to correspond a lot.

Desp is a cityboi...if you want to see the countryside, and birds, etc, that's easily enough done too. I'm sure he knows some people, right?

Re: What! (Anonymous) Expand
travel (Anonymous) Expand
You might try the book festival in Hay-on-Wye in Wales. The whole town turns into a giant book fair for two weeks.

This.But remember - if you buy lots of books you're going to be either shipping them home or paying extra for baggage.

I recommend either a discovery cruise http://www.expeditions.com/ (Galapagos or Antarctica) for ecotourism, or Amsterdam. The former for obvious reasons, the latter if you favor architecture and human subculture. (:

Oh wow, I can only imagine Ursula in the Galapagos. BIRD! BIRD! BIRD! BIRD! :D

I've found that the absolutely best way to explore a foreign city is with a friend who already knows the place as your guide. So my actual recommendation would be to find some acquaintances who live in your target area, and ask them for suggestions. Or even to hang out for a day.

I've had a marvelous time in Tokyo and London both, this way, and never would have managed it trying to plan the trip myself. Sure, I probably would've worked out how to get to the Greenwich observatory and the ninja restaurant anyway, with some guidebook help, but I never would have found that little pie and mash shop, or the basement fusion food restaurant with the elderflower soda, or the best hamburger place tucked away in residential twisty streets of Tokyo, if it weren't for people who lived there going "And I need to take you to this great place!"

My Mom did all of this in Hamoi / Cambodia / Korea last year. She had a great time and it was crazy cheap: http://thatursula.livejournal.com/244051.html

I think most places are pretty easy to get around even if their native language is not English. As long as you have a guidebook, can gesture, and/or meet the local expat population it's do-able. Obviously there are moments of stress but that's kind of a part of the whole deal!

Out of the places I've been, I really REALLY enjoyed Hanoi, Viet Nam. The food there is amazing, the city is just gorgeous, and everyone was nice. It was also pretty safe. I don't recommend spending under 2 weeks there tho, there is so much to see.
My least favorite place to visit was, oddly enough, Paris. Meh.

But yes...tips? Get the cheapest ticket possible on Travelocity in advance, do a TON of research, buy a guidebook to carry around, and just GO. Travel very lightly. Don't stress out too much about seeing "everything", since that's stressful -- ask people who have been there before what is worth seeing and what is not, and make your own decisions. Definitely spend some time relaxing, and if there is a huge time difference, getting used to the jetlag.

Watch the gestures when traveling. Some American gestures translate to something extremely rude in other cultures.

Then again, as an anthropologist, you may already know this....

Eating in the UK huh? I'd suggest a curry in Bradford, a Devon cream tea, fish n' chips anywhere on the coast. Oooh, Bakewell for the tart, of course.

Don't forget a curry in Birmingham. Where, incidentally, there is going to be a Discworld Convention net year. Just saying.

As you know I travel extensively and highly approve of your desire to open your eyes to the rest of the world. My very first trip abroad was Japan and it was quite the culture shock. I also would highly suggest the Bristish Isles. No language barrier, amazing history and sights. Some wonderful food and freindly people. I love it there. I have been over a large part of it: Scotland (amazing and an excellent first choice), England (London is pretty damn cool), Wales(Lovely and relaxing),and just recently, Ireland. I highly suggest renting a car so you can get out of the cities. You get used to driving on the left side of the road surprisingly quickly.Europe is amazing too, especially the Germanic countries. I am strongly inclined to the wilder and more boony parts of any country I visit but your mileage may vary. I'm excited for you!

I must admit I had a language barrier in Scotland - at least among my long-lost relatives, as opposed to the people whose jobs had them interacting with tourists. :)

Sign up for Couchsurfing.org! You meet cool people, get free places to stay, and the locals know the best places to go. =)

You can also post on the boards for the region you're planning on visiting and get lots of good tips that way, too.

*Do* research visas! I know many places don't need one if you're American, but some do, and travel agents don't necessarily know. catvalente and her guy had a honeymoon-turned-nightmare over sudden visa issues.

And honestly I think the best place to go is somewhere you know someone, esp if they have the time to show you the stuff the normal tours miss. Because every place is weirder than the tourist-version.

UK doesn't, though I believe there is a form to fill in at some point, I've only done it the other way around. Either way, US and UK have mutual visa waivers.

Oops more thoughts. I've done tours and I've done my own planning and much prefer the later. With two people it is surprisinly easy to just rent a car, make some loose plans and stop randomly each night. We've had great success doing this and because of that have stayed and eaten in some really funky places. We usually pick a country, get multiple guide books and make with the post it notes on places to go, things to do, places to eat. Make a rough itinerary but don't be chained to it. Be flexible and open to new experiences. Talk to the locals, talk to other tourists and please don't wear Canadian flags if you're American:)

HA! Is the wearing Canadian flags a real problem?

Echoing the Rick Steves recommendation - had one of those in Venice and really liked the restaurants it recommended. (And yeah, we just booked through Expedia or whichever was cheapest.)

I can honestly say that in having been to Italy twice (the second time with a very rudimentary command of the language) virtually *everyone* spoke English fluently in the major cities, and usually had a command of another Romance language to boot. It was impressive to this (mostly) mono-lingual American, I can tell you...

As a UK resident, I'd say we're a pretty safe place to just book a bunch of hotels online and turn up on a plane. Our train network might be a bit pricy but is reliable and will take you anywhere you want to go.

Travel books are always good places to start - they'll usually recommend a few must-see cities and recommend a few others to visit if you're interested in particular things. Ones like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide guides will also usually give you little local tips, like a small bakery that actually does amazing pasties (seriously, if you're coming to England, DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT TRYING PASTIES), and will sometimes recommend itineraries of easy ways to travel between must-see places.

As for places to visit... London is a must, of course, with the British Museum and such awesome places, and I must recommend Durham if only because I went to university there. That could be a good place to stop off on a trip to Edinburgh, because Edinburgh is GORGEOUS and AMAZING and would be right behind London on my must-see list. Also, Dublin in Ireland if you can make it over there, and the Giant's Causeway.

I heartitly agree with the Giant's Causeway but Dublin was meh. Though the chance to see the Book of Kells was amazing. I much prefered the West for the wild areas, megalithic sites and wonderful traditional music.

Edited at 2011-10-02 05:52 pm (UTC)

If you go to museums in London don't miss the V&A or the Natural History Museum!

I think I had the best time (other than the British Musuem) at the National Portrait museum and the Tate(not the Tate modern!