11 Lessons Learned Towards Becominging a Flexible Traveler

Monday, we celebrated two months of travels abroad and our plans laid out for another five. Evo and I have always been pretty flexible travelers, what I like to call "shiny bunny travelers". We typically don't make many rigid plans and prefer to be open for opportunities that presents themselves. Recently, we've started calling ourselves The Opportunistic Travelers, which sounds better than "shiny bunny". For us, constant adjustment is the right way to travel.

If you're anything like me, you've built up some habits over the four decades you've been on the planet. Those habits can get in the way of optimal fun while becoming an opportunistic traveler. Here's a list of things you'll need to get over, give up on, or just stop expecting while you're away:

  • Sleeping arrangements - I've had to sleep on bunk beds at a hostel (I claimed the top bunk), a recliner when I couldn't figure out what in the bedroom I was allergic to, and even a couch or two along the road.
  • Signs, signs, everywhere are signs - But you probably can't read them. And even if they are in a language you understand, dialect and different meanings can produce some pretty funny -- and downright confusing -- results. Worst case.
  • Hidden timetables - Trains and busses in Europe have been quite reliable, but holiday schedules, outages, and just little oddities crop up that can really screw up your day. Pay attention to the announcements, and always ask the driver/operator to make sure she's going where you want to go.
  • Truncated transfer times - Don't wait for the bus/train to stop before you gather your things to move. Some of the transfers last single-digit minutes, so you need to be ready to hop off as soon as the doors start to open. Move!
  • Food and drink - Over these two months I've been mostly cured of my picky eater syndrome. I'm still able to maintain a vegetarian diet, but I rarely ask for special preparation and have been pleasantly surprised at how many new things I'm enjoying.
  • Clothes for all occasions - Short answer: prepare for everything. I might be warm in the morning, cold over lunch, raining by three, then quite dry all evening, only to discover it snowed overnight. You must be able to adjust at a moments notice, even when it looks bright and sunny. Because it likely won't last.
  • But don't over pack! - You simply don't have room for a dedicated weather outfit for each of those. I've already gotten rid of several items ... and will be shedding more soon!
  • Luggage tyranny - Big bags sound like a good idea... until you fill them to the brim and discover your bag is now overweight. And bigger bags themselves weigh more, reducing what you can carry. I've already changed to a smaller bag. It's not quite carry-on size but does make a significant reduction. Evo? He downsized so much he no longer needs his dedicated carry-on.
  • Drugs - Do not assume the legal, over-the-counter drugs you rely on at home are available at your destination. Tylenol? Alleve? Not in Europe. In some cases, you can find a substitute by thanks to Doctor Google. Paracetamol, for example, is acetaminophen. But naproxin, the active ingredient in Aleve, is only available here with a doctors script. If you really need, consider stocking up. But beware of baggage constraints. It may be better to have a care package sent from home. (Note that I'm not completely sure of the legality of that, but...)
  • Hours of Operation - Those ever present letters on the door in The States aren't so popular over here. Or you may find an establishment that says it's open... only to find no lights and the doors locked. France and Brussels, for example, seem to be generally closed on Sundays and Mondays. Inquire about hours when you find a place you think you might want to return. And always have a backup plan, like snacks stashed away in your bag to get you through the day.
  • Cash or charge? - Don't assume one -- or the other -- will be taken. We found out the hard way that most shops and restaraunts in Germany don't accept credit cards. Some ticketing systems have refused to take our card. On the other hand, some hotels will only accept cards, even if you're carrying the right form of a cash.

Planning around these issues can only get you so far. What you need is flexibility. I'm learning every day how to be more flexible in my expectations, and it's making me a much better opportunistic traveler.