So today is officially the day that is 2 weeks away from the beginning of my first solo trip! When I booked my flights 6 months ago, I never thought this day would ever come — the day that I would be able to count in weeks instead of half-years.
Btw, the featured image of this post was taken on the ride back from the Grand Canyon! (I haven’t really had the time to make a custom image for all my “TIPS” posts, but that’s on my to-do list ^^;).
SO let’s get into the nitty & gritty of planning a trip like this. I will talk about calendar, trains, and couches, but if you want other details, read my other post on Eurotrip planning!
CALENDAR: Not screwing up the time zones
There IS a way to have everything be amazing by planning all your travel events in your calendar IN the actual time zone that you will be in for those events… but I’m going to be in many time zones, so I used ONE time zone for my entire calendar. I will keep my calendar IN that time zone while I am traveling. All the event times on my calendar were created on the assumption that they are in the time zone of that city. So if I wrote “Event A at 3PM” for something in City A, and then wrote “Event B at 5PM” for something in City B (and City A and B are in different time zones), I’m assuming I will do Event A at 3PM when I am IN city A, and do Event B at 5PM when I am IN city B. But all of this is in my current time zone. Capiche?
So I have a Macbook, and I created ALL my calendar events (the trains/planes I will take, what days I’m in which city, what places to visit at which time of day, etc.) in my current time zone (Toronto). All my life, I’ve used Google calendar and synchronized it into my Mac calendar so that all the changes I make on the Mac calendar sync with Google & thus also my phone (which used to be Android). Now that I have an iPhone, I don’t really need to do that. So I removed the Google calendar off my calendar for several reasons.
First, I’ve been trying to figure out for a few days how to make sure that the time zones of all the stuff on my calendar don’t get all screwed up. If you use Google calendar (which I did until today), I *think* Google automatically updates time zones to the zone you are in on that date. So if you put a bunch of crap on your calendar in Time Zone A (because that’s where you live), when you go to Time Zone B, your calendar might get all weird. I went into Google calendar -> Settings. I played around with the time zones, and I figured “hey, I’ll just GO to Europe and set this time zone to Toronto!” But I just couldn’t be sure whether Google would automatically change it back.
So I just copied all my Google calendar events into my Mac calendar, and removed Google calendar. On a MAC calendar, you have to do two things:
- Open the Mac calendar on your laptop. Click Calendar (top toolbar) -> Preferences -> Advanced. Check the box that says Turn on time zone support. Then, on the top right of your calendar, you should see a dropdown menu of different time zones. Basically, when you’re traveling, you should always keep your time zone active.
- Go to Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendar on your iPhone and scroll down to Time Zone Override. Switch this ON, and set it to your current time zone. Make it so that the time zones are not going to automatically change when you’re abroad.
This way, the calendars on both your laptop & your phone will not change AT ALL when you travel.
TRAINS: How to make your itinerary and deal with reservations
I bought a 1 month Global Eurail Youth pass from eurail.com. There is also Rail Europe, but I did some research and ended up selecting Eurail. If you bought any Eurail pass & if you will be taking multiple trains in Europe throughout your trip, you should create a reservation account with Eurail. It has a really good platform for creating and keeping your itinerary there. You can add New Trips, and put in your Departure/Arrival cities, as well as the date & time, and search for all the trains that leave after that time on that date. It even tells you which trains require reservations (as well as the recommended reservations/no reservations) and the prices!
These websites recommend that you make your reservations at least two months in advance. Since reservations become available three months in advance, you have a 1-month window of opportunity. I haven’t purchased any reservations yet, especially because Eurail actually charges a fee per reservation per train. But there are other (cheaper) ways to make reservations – and I will probably be using the phone option. The phone option does not charge a fee for the reservations. It only charges a flat fee for shipping the actual reservation tickets to you!
Also, you should make sure to order your pass and your reservations enough time in advance so that they arrive before you depart to Europe! E-tickets are not always available, and getting tickets shipped to addresses you’ll be at in Europe will likely be a hassle.
COUCHES: How to optimize the experience
So when I first started on Couchsurfing.com, I was getting rejected by all the hosts – of any gender! Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Make your profile. Include enough information, especially if this is your first time. Take a look at other people’s profiles. Here’s mine.
- Get verified. It’s pretty worth it to get your account verified. It’s a small yearly fee. These hosts are taking you into their home for free. It’s easier for them to do this if you are verified. This pretty much just means you’re giving Couchsurfing.com more information about yourself so that they validate your identity.
- Get references. It’s hard to get references if you haven’t used the site. So here’s what I did: I asked a few close friends to create their Couchsurfing accounts (very easy for them to just log in with their Facebook – they don’t even have to fill in their profile) and leave my a nice reference about what kind of person I am. I tried to ask friends whose couches I happened to have stayed in at some point!
- Post public trips. You don’t have to keep searching for hosts and requesting with them! Post your trips on your profile and the hosts will contact you!
- Don’t request too early. Many hosts don’t know what they’re doing 2 weeks in advance. It doesn’t hurt to message them anyway and just get to know them first, and then request to stay with them closer to the date.
- Do your research. Hosts appreciate when you’ve read their profile. Also, make sure these hosts have references! I’ve gotten requests from some pretty creepy people.
Let me know if you have any questions!!! Best of luck. 🙂