Europe, Volcanoes, and the Current Travel Climate

by Nora Dunn on June 10, 2010

volcanoes

Earthquakes in Chile. Volcanoes in Iceland. Riots in Thailand. It’s a big bad world of travel unknowns out there.

As you read this post, I’m on a series of flights (business class flights no less, due to my Frequent Flyer prowess) to Europe, where I’ll spend the next four months.

Planning my European trip has been very easy in many ways, as I’ve left myself open to various volunteer and house-sitting jobs (of which I have at least three lined up), and managed to fit visits with friends and family all over the place into the cracks. It’s amazing how quickly a time as large as four months can fill up.

But having watched the volcano in Iceland wreak havoc with flights, intermittently closing airports all over Europe for the past few months, this trip hasn’t been without its stressors. I have no idea if – or rather when – the volcano will act up again, and how it will affect my own travel itinerary over the next four months.

Add to that the stress of having an overnight layover in Bangkok, where there has been more than Thailand’s fair share of unrest, and I’m realizing that traveling the world has lots of unexpected twists and turns. (Like I haven’t figured that out already, with my proximity to Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 and the Victorian Bushfires in February 2009 – both of which I was somehow involved in).

Despite the recent political unrest in Thailand, I’m not too worried. It appears that the worst of it is over. However a few weeks ago the Canadian consulate discouraged all travel to Bangkok. When I contacted them to ask what I was to do with my scheduled overnight layover, they said that often travel agents and airlines have measures in place to re-route passengers. But unfortunately, the folks at US Airways (with whom I had collected my frequent flyer miles to book the Star Alliance flights), said that they hadn’t “gotten the memo” that two thirds of Thailand was in a state of emergency, and unemotionally informed me that if I wanted to reroute my ticket, I could pay $250 for the privilege.

Knowing how arduous it was to initially find reward business class tickets that suited the route I needed, I didn’t bother. I figured that if I’m uncomfortable with what’s going on, I’ll simply sleep in the airport instead (for the duration of my – sigh – 15 hour overnight layover). At least I won’t find myself in harm’s way or get stuck behind a line of protesters as my onward flight takes off.

Europe is another story. The volcano could hit at any time, and although I have no fear of coming to personal harm with my distance from Iceland, it will simply be a matter of mass inconvenience (as we’ve already seen happen) should I have a flight booked out of or into a closed airport.

To combat this, I’m doing all travel possible my favourite way – overland. I’ve already booked a number of buses and trains to various destinations, and in some cases I might consider a car rental as well, especially if I can share the expense with other travelers who are headed the same way. Although there are a number of inexpensive budget airlines that could undercut many overland fares, at this point I don’t believe it’s worth the risk to book a flight too far in advance.

So as it currently stands, here is my European travel itinerary:

Spain: June 11th–July 2nd

I’ll be volunteering two of my three weeks with Vaughan Systems, where I’ll receive accommodation, transportation, excursions, and 3-course meals (with wine of course) in exchange for helping to immerse a group of Spaniards in English. And anybody who knows me knows that I have a knack for talking and performing, so I’m quite looking forward to it.

In between my volunteering weeks, I’ll head to Alicante to celebrate the summer solstice festival Hogueras de San Juan.

Germany: July 3rd-July 8th

This is a short and sweet visit to the south of Germany to my friend Tanja, who I met at Mana Retreat and had a great connection with. I won’t be covering much German territory on this trip, but I’m looking forward to what I’ll be seeing – all overland of course.

France: July 8th-July 25th

My Mum and her partner are flying from Canada to Paris, where we’ll meet (how chic!), and travel around France for three weeks. We have friends to stay with and accommodation booked in two southern towns, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with my family.

UK: July 25th-August 25th

This is the first of my house-sitting jobs that I have lined up in Europe. My Mum’s partner will fly home from Paris and Mum and I will carry on to London where we’ll catch a train to Hampshire and take care of a home and three beautiful doggies for two weeks. Many wonderful walks and relaxing down-time is expected.

After my Mum flies home, I’ll have two more weeks to travel around the UK, and I’m not currently sure what I’ll do or where I’ll go, but I’m juggling a few offers for couch-surfing and visiting around England and Scotland.  I must remain in the UK for at least a month so as not to violate my Schengen area visa, which only allows me to travel through Europe (minus the UK) for 90 days out of any six month period.

Italy: August 26th(ish)-September?

This part of the trip is still very much up in the air. A fellow traveling writing friend contacted me a few weeks ago to say she and her hubby are house-sitting in Italy for two weeks, but that the owners are looking to be away for three weeks. She asked if I could mind the house for the extra week, and invited me to house-sit with them for some of the time they are there too. Whamo – Italy may have made my itinerary!

If this option doesn’t transpire, I’ll simply extend my stay in the UK a bit, and move straight on to The Netherlands. Geographically, I’ll admit this does make more sense than a “side trip” to Italy! (Then again, who knows. Anything can happen. Gotta love traveling).

The Netherlands: September?-October 6th

I have a number of friends in the Netherlands who I’ve met on the road, including a beautiful couple I met while taking a cooking course in Thailand, and a girl I hiked the Tongariro Crossing with in New Zealand. Both have invited me to stay with them for a time, and I’m excited to reconnect with them all on their home turf.

October and Beyond…

In October, I’ll hop back on a jet (volcano-permitting), and cruise on back to Australia, where I’ll spend the next two months. I have a few adventures up my sleeve (hint: one of them involves long train trips through the outback). But that’s still four months and many adventures off, and so I’ll keep you in a bit of suspense until then.

Getting around in the current travel climate is a reminder that nothing is for sure. Although I initially wrestled with stress around the idea that my “plans” could be turned on their head with an unforeseen wrench in the works, I realized that it’s the same for all of us – everywhere – regardless of whether or not we travel. It was an interesting reminder that we are best to love what we have, and live in the moment. Although we must plan for tomorrow to an extent, it doesn’t mean we have to live in it or anticipate it to the detriment of the present.

Happy travels, everybody – past, present, and future!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jen June 10, 2010 at 8:18 pm

Your plans sound like they’re well thought out. I’d almost expect a detour. Deviation is part of the plan, I feel. Great things happen when you let go. Good luck.

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theprofessionalhobo June 10, 2010 at 8:56 pm

@Jen – Amen, sistah! Although there are parts of these plans that are pretty firm, there is flexibility within them, and I’m also a big fan of rolling with the punches. Heck – My first travel destination was supposed to be Central America…and more than three years later, I’ve still yet to go there! Talk about deviation…(smiles)

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Eli June 11, 2010 at 12:40 am

So much unknown and uncontrollable factors in the world. Planet Earth is a constantly changing place, both physically and politically. Isn’t that what makes traveling so interesting?

Your itinerary for Europe sounds terrific. It’s cool that you’re leaving October and beyond a little in the dark. Go with the flow!

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theprofessionalhobo June 12, 2010 at 4:48 am

@Eli – Indeed it’s the unknown that make travel interesting…I think that’s what travel is all about – launching ourselves into a world of unknowns.
Speaking of October…you must be getting excited about your upcoming departure…

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Lilliane/the wanderlass June 12, 2010 at 11:27 am

Congratulations! i’m so stressed always to come up with an itinerary. That’s why I’m still here and not already on the road. hehe. I like the flexibility of (ish). :)

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theprofessionalhobo June 13, 2010 at 1:14 am

@Lilliane – I actually don’t like planning out itineraries or (booking travel arrangements) much either! It takes a lot of time and effort. But this trip to Europe really fell into place quite nicely. It’s a sign I’m doing something right, I think!

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Kate June 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm

This is such a wonderful festival, that you would be crazy to miss it! Especially if you are in the UK! Edinburgh is a stunningly beautiful city and the vibe in the city during the festival is not to be missed, especially for someone who is so close to the Arts (like you!) :)

http://www.eif.co.uk/

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theprofessionalhobo June 15, 2010 at 2:56 am

@Kate – Sweet, thanks for the tip! Wanna go together? :-)

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Kate June 17, 2010 at 9:06 am

i am sure i can manage a day in edinburgh! it is such a beautiful city

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Joost June 24, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Hi, as a Dutchman, could I drop some lines about the Netherlands.

Firstly, don’t go to Amsterdam, stay away form that expensive overhyped city. Please prefer smaller towns such as Leiden, Haarlem, Delft in the West aka the Randstad. We’re a very small country, outside the Randstad many other areas are well worth to visit. You’re mad if you drive, our roads are very busy especially during rush hour and many local goverments and stupid politicans are car-haters. Better, you can buy an off-peak rail card who gave 40% discount on off-peak train travelling and you can go everywhere with fast frequent trains. September and October are good periods, despite autumn it can be good weather with 10-15 degrees Celsius, sometimes even 20 degrees.

English is widely spoken, but often as Dunglish. Dunglish is bad English contains English words and Dutch grammar. See http://www.dunglish.nl for terrible examples. For the television, English television shows and series are subtitled, so you can follow them in your mothertongue. Outside foreign subtitled television our television contains too many Dunglish.

Yours, Joost

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theprofessionalhobo June 25, 2010 at 12:14 am

@Joost – Great info, thanks! I wasn’t planning on driving anyway, as I tend to find the trains and buses give me a better chance to soak in my surroundings.

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