Welcome to WordPress.com. Thank you, WordPress! This is my 2nd post, not the first. Still, WordPress wants to welcome me and I want to learn and write more!
Re title, “Bus, Book, and Hostel”: This trip is being undertaken over a period of 3 to 6 months to, possibly, a year, depending. Three essential items for this journey are buses (and a few selected plane) tickets, something to read, and hostels for lodging.
My journey across America is necessarily not going to involve expensive forms of travel! Travel agents and tourism promoters will not be pleased. Instead, I’ll travel by bus, a few times by air, and, when possible, other transportation if it conveniently shows up.
I had to go to Europe to learn to travel “off the grid” so to speak.
Europe Travel I: My first trip to Europe was a short 2-week trip in the summer of 2007. I flew to Frankfurt, bused to Strasbourg, and attended a conference on the history of rhetoric, and met up with my Bulgarian friend, Donka, at the conference.
Donka then invited me to come to Bulgaria right after the conference, but already had her own return plane ticket. So I employed the services of a French travel agent for train travel to Venice immediately after the conference.
In Venice, I stayed one lovely night at the small but elegant Belle Epoch Hotel located a short distance from the train station.
My budget only afforded me a small but well-appointed “attic” room, with barely enough space to turn around in, with a very clever tiny-but-efficient, corner shower in an adjoining closet-sized bathroom. Still, I was comfortable and the Belle Epoch staff were warm and friendly.
I used my two days and one night in Venice to see as much as possible, taking inexpensive water transport through the canals to the Grand Canal and St. Mark’s area.
I also followed the advice of an American couple met on the t rain, who were teachers, to “get lost” in the byways and alleyways of Venice. I enjoyed this brief stay immensely. Still, the train and even the tiny hotel room put a a bit of strain on my small resources.
Next, I bought train tickets at the station to go through the former Yugoslavia (now, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina) to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, where I would meet up with Donka, my gracious hostess.
I flew home to Texas after a brief visit of only one week in Bulgaria, psyched to return the next year.
Europe Travel II: The next summer, on my way to Bulgaria once again, for a planned longer stay, via Paris and Europe, I was more prepared. I had 2 train passes–a Eurail Pass and a Rail Europe pass–to cover 4 countries I would need to pass through on my way.
Hostelling International Membership: I also bought an inexpensive but priceless membership with Hostelling International (formerly American Youth Hostel).
For an extremely nominal yearly membership, HI hostel membership allows advance reservations at their hostels across the U.S. and Europe, and even includes a basic health insurance that can be augmented if you want to buy additional services.
My current membership in HI costs me $18 as a senior. Typical hostel stays range in price from $20-25 in the U.S. and 20-30 Euro in Europe per night.
Breakfast is included, as well as showers, often wifi and/or computer use, local bus schedules and activities, as well friendly, well-informed staff. In some hostels, you may keep your own food in comunity refrigerators, cook your own food, and enjoy community rooms with television and other amenities.
If you live in Austin, Texas, I recommend checking out the variety of programs at the Hostelling International hostel on 2200 S. Lakeshore Boulevard (78741) right on Lady Bird Lake just east of I35 and off Riverside Drive.
Check out local programs at Hostelling International Austin, Programs or view their web site at hiaustin.org.
HI holds travel education information classes, some at REI and other locations, and hosts other activities that bring hostellers and travellers together from both the local community and those passing through from all over the world.
I stayed in HI hostels in Paris and in Florence, Italy, and visited the HI-affiliate hostel in Sofia, as well as staying in the HI hostel in Dublin on my way home. I was impressed with my stays in each of these HI hostels and the affiliate in Sofia was one of the most charming. Though I did not stay, I enjoyed visiting.
Overall, I found HI hostels to be clean, well-managed, and a ready source of both local and further travel information and a staging area, sometimes, to form small-group survival bonds among fellow travelers for the next leg of the journey.
Breakfast was always free and lively interactions took place with people from all over the world coming together briefly before setting out once more on individual quests.
Ferry Pass Included in Eurail Pass: The train pass included an overnight ferry trip from Baria, Italy to Patra, Greece, where I again picked up trains, including a commuter train from Patra to Athens, and then regular rail to Sofia.
Once in Bulgaria, another kind of adventure ensued–the effort to “find my own spot” in a foreign land.
In sum: The trips to Europe both emboldened me and provided priceless experience and knowledge about travel-on-the-cheap that is safe yet adventurous.