This is Ted coming to you from Naples, Italy.
Sara’s done a great job narrating the trip (and has posts for Rome and Sicily coming) so in the meantime, I figured I’d share some of the random insights and lessons learned over the trip thus far.
Topic #1: Gear
Some of you may know my motto: crap-free lifestyle. Basically, I try to avoid anything that might be given away at a conference or referred to as a “free gift.” Nobody needs that junk. However, I do like stylish, and sensible stuff so when it came time to plan for this trip, we considered carefully what we’d bring and how we’d cart it around. We can go into a lot more detail on gear if people like, but for now I’ll share just a few of the home runs and a few things we didn’t realize we needed until we got here.
Gear we did right:
- Backpacks. If you will be moving more than once between European cities, consider packing all your clothes in a backpacking-style backpack. Sara used a 60L Gregory and I used a 65L North Face. They’re secure, easy to maneuver and can be made waterproof. Packing cubes make it easy to categorize and store lose items like clothes. Spoiler alert: Large roller bags don’t exactly roll over Roman cobblestone streets.
- Internet/Data. Internet overseas is enormously complicated and expensive. There are tons of ways to handle it: SIM cards, rented phones, etc, but we found a solution we really loved called Skyroam. Skyroam is a mobile hotspot AKA “MiFi” that, when turned on, will provide an internet connection to up to 5 devices. Typically, you’ll pay a monthly bill for a MiFi, but that’s where Skyroam is super awesome. You pay just $5 per 24 hours that it’s activated, no matter where in the world you are. Each time you activate it, a 24 hour clock begins. This allowed us to have internet on 2 iPhones, 2 iPads and a Macbook Air (all at once if we wanted it) and it worked everywhere. It’s not blazing fast (Sharks live HD streaming was not happening) but you can listen to music and do just about anything else online including voice calls using Skype and FaceTime audio. All in all, we used it about 8 times, when no other WiFi solution was possible, for a grand total of $40 plus the $100 initial purchase price. Not bad! Also, SkyRoam is a Bay Area company so plus +100 California points.
*Photo from Skyroam’s website
- Fitbit. Tracking our steps and sleep each day was fun and helpful. We knew when we needed to take a rest day or when we just needed another café.
Gear we did wrong:
- Slippers. Shoes take up a ton of space, but do yourself a favor and bring a pair of slippers on your next trip. Sara and I both left the US with a pair of athletic shoes, a pair of nicer casual shoes and a pair of sandals. These served us well for just about any activity… except the time spent around our AirBnBs. At home, I don’t mind walking barefoot or in socks, but in a rented space, it’s really nice to have clean slippers. Thankfully, the good people of IKEA #1 in Stockholm Sweden have enormous bins full of slim black slippers, for roughly $4/each.
- Reusable shopping bag. It can double as a beach bag, a large purse or a grocery bag. We left San Francisco with a medium sized backpack that we intended to use for day trips. However, we also used this backpack to transport and house all our electronics, passports and other valuable gear. We quickly realized unpacking and repacking this pack daily would be tedious and risk leaving something important behind. Enter the “Puppy Purse.” Named for obvious reasons, we picked this up in Prague for about $4 and it became invaluable.
Topic 2: Packing
It may seem obvious, but when traveling as a couple or group, it can be handy to consolidate shared items like toiletries. Taking it a step further, early on in the trip Sara and I defined who was responsible for the shared items. Sara took responsibility for the toiletries bag and I took responsibility for the bag with electronics, passports and tickets. From that point on, there was never any question who would pack and transport that gear, which simplified things and made it super easy to find whatever we needed. Also, pro move: a hanging toiletries bag frees up counter space.
Topic #3: Try to speak the language
Ok, so basically everyone in Europe speaks better English than I do, but attempting to speak in the local language goes a long way toward positive interaction with locals. We probably sounded ridiculous attempting to speak in Swedish, Czech, German, etc. but it was almost always positively received. Well, actually, just I sounded ridiculous. Sara’s accent is always perfect and resulted in many impressed expressions from locals but I digress… In contrast, we saw so many Americans speak to locals like they were at home, using colloquial terms like “yah” and “sure” instead of saying “Yes/Si/Ja” etc. Not to be all uppity about it, but it was embarrassing and Trump is already embarrassing enough for Americans. (Sidebar: Everyone in Europe is terrified that Trump will win. Seriously, everyone. The 18 year old guy who gets free rent on the Husky farm for taking care of the dogs was legit concerned and asked how this whole situation has come to be. We sadly had no satisfactory answers.)
Topic #4: Insights into Sara
As Sara mentioned in a previous post, part of this trip was to see how the two of us would get along without the shared experience of working together. Working in separate, but closely related groups afforded us endless topics for conversation and a rare mutual understanding of workplace dynamics. Spoiler alert if you didn’t read that post, but we get along great even in the sometimes stressful travel environment. That said, I have learned a few important insights that should serve us well in the future:
- Laundry Machines: Sara has extreme anxiety around laundry machines. All are guilty of destroying her clothes until proven innocent. Each time we had to use a new machine, she did her best Border Collie impression: staring at the machine, ready to liberate her clothes at the first sign of trouble. Lesson learned: All future washing machines in our life should be in perfect working order with clear English language instructions.
- Temperature: Sara is one of the most productive people I know. As she’s written in this blog, it’s a struggle for both of us to slow down and relax (we’re working on it) because our natural tendency is to go go go… except when it gets hot. When it’s hot, Sara shuts down. It’s not a linear relationship, so I drew the graph below to help illustrate things. Lesson learned: Above 90F, time to hang in the garage.
Well, that’s it for now. Ciao!
Posted from: Fly Boutique Hotel, Naples Italy