Several months ago, I planned out my sabbatical for October through November. I would fly in and out of Amsterdam, and spend the final couple of weeks in Portugal, scoping out the potential real estate situation, before spending the final couple of days back in Amsterdam.
I am using an Eurail pass to get around, and was planning to book hotels as I move along, booking the day of arrival or the day before to capitalize on the last minute deals. I did all my paperwork with my employer to make sure that I am doing this properly, and would have a job to come back to.
Now, it is only a week before my departure, and I am getting a bit nervous. Specifically, for the first four weeks, when I am in Europe on my own, not knowing the language, and basically being a nomad living out of a suitcase. It’s not like I know anyone over there, would I just be in complete social isolation for four weeks? Being a hermit though, that actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea, and, honestly that is how I normally live post pandemic, with my only real social contact being my wife. However, a week before departure, that even she wouldn’t be there, at least for the first four weeks.
In addition, the situation in Europe has gotten less stable than it was previously. There is now a war going on in Ukraine, and there are questions on whether or not Europe is going to have a massive energy crisis in this coming winter. That has made my trip somewhat cheeper, given the value of the dollars I will be paying for my trip with vs the currencies over there I will need to convert to.
I have now booked the parts of the trip in Amsterdam and Portugal that I will be spending with my wife. However, those are at the end. On arriving in Amsterdam a week from today, I will need to catch the train to Rotterdam, where I have the one hotel reservation I made for the hermit phase of the trip.
The Hermit Phase
The hermit phase consists of the first four weeks of my trip, where I am on my own. Although this is the phase I am probably most nervous about, I also realize this could be the great ‘self exploration’ phase of the trip if I do it right.
It was a ‘hermit phase’ of my first trip to Europe that caused me to fall in love with international travel. That was a day I was with my parents on a ski trip in Austria. I was in my late 20’s and should probably have been traveling out on my own at this point, but was not mostly because I was a poor 20 something, and international travel is expensive.
Adding additional stress on this vacation was the fact that my parents were taking this trip together, even though they had been separated for several years at this point, and probably shouldn’t have been in the same room as each other, yet alone spending a week together on a trip with the kids to Austria.
For our off day, my sister and parents did activities around the resort. However, I took off on the train for a day trip to Salzburg. I had taken some high school German, but for the most part, I took off on this trip really having no idea of the language and what I was doing. Additionally, this was the week that the United States invaded Iraq. Austria was officially neutral in this war, but none the less, there were massive anti war protests happening in the city in response, and being American wasn’t exactly something you wanted to broadcast out at this point.
Anyhow, it was the freedom of this day going out on my own and exploring the town that got me to first realized my love of travel, and how I needed to spend more time out of my home country, even if it can be a bit uncomfortable at times. I have since done hermit international travel to the UK, France, Ireland, and New Zealand. Though, with the exception of France, those places all tend to be English speaking.
Over the past several years, I have also found the joy of traveling with someone that I love, and it helps having that one person I can converse with, bounce ideas off, and talk me back from the ledge of going crazy, which has allowed me to expand my travels beyond the English speaking world. Hence, this is going to be the first time since my trip to France back in 2004 that I will be traveling outside the English speaking world, without an English speaking person to travel with.
For this trip, although I initially vowed I would not make plans beyond Rotterdam, somehow, over the weeks, plans have developed. After my initial two days in Rotterdam, which I intend mostly to get over jet lag, my plan is to go to Cologne, or somewhere else in northern West Germany. I would spend another couple of days there before heading to Berlin, which I feel is the first significant destination of my trip. Also, hotel rooms in Berlin appear to be cheeper than in Cologne or Rotterdam.
On this trip, after three to four days in Berlin, I would head to Prague, possibly stopping in Dresden on the way, and spend another three or four days there.
So at that point, I would only be about a week to a week and a half into my four week hermit phase, and from there, my plans become less concrete. I could head west, back towards Spain, ultimalty catching a bus to Lisbon to meet my wife at the end of the hermit phase, or I could head east, further behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ that I remember from growing up in the 80’s. Another option is to catch one of the cheep flights and go to Ibiza or one of the Mediterranean islands. I think that would be more of an option if I found central and Northern Europe to be cold, and haven’t packed enough appropriate clothing.
Speaking of packing, I have done none of that. My plan is to do this whole trip with just a carry on. For the final two weeks of the trip, this shouldn’t be a problem, as we will be staying in AirBnb’s with laundry in unit, however, I will need to figure out for the first four weeks what to do about laundry. I will likely need to do laundry at least once. Sure, I can rewear cloths for multiple days, but that only gets you so far. After wearing the same cloths for an entire week, I would likely smell a bit. So, I will probably bring a few cloths, hoodies, tshirts, and coats, as well as jeans, enough to get me through a week.
This creates a bit of a problem if the weather ends up colder than I expected. After all, trying to pack for multiple climates ends up taking a lot more space in my suitcase, which, I don’t have. If the weather does become too cool, I will either have to go to an H&M and stock up on winter clothing, or head to a warmer climate on the Iberian Peninsula before I was expecting to.
Lastly, there is the issue of where I will stay. I had initially though of mostly using the last minute apps of Hotwire and Hotel Tonight to get last minute loading throughout my trip. However, I have since shifted my thinking to using the Hilton and Accor apps to stay in hotels of those two chains. Mostly because I know what I am getting with those two chains. There is a level of consistency in staying in chain hotels as opposed to choosing random hotels from an algorithm. Additionally, I have what I think is a pretty good budget for this trip, so I can afford to stay in something other than youth hostels. Hilton or better is my motto. Though, I would probably be ok staying at an Ibis as well if the price is good enough, so perhaps my motto should be Ibis or better.
After planning to take my European Train Sabbatical months ahead of time, then doing essentially nothing in planning other than the bare minimum, the time is finally creeping up on me to depart. This trip should be interesting and give me some time for self exploration, perhaps a few decades overdue, but better late than never.