As anyone who follows me on social media has been able to tell, I took a little trip recently. After I was laid off from my job, I knew I needed to take advantage of having a little bit of time and having received a generous severance package. So, enter a two-week solo trip to Europe!
My itinerary was London, Edinburgh, Berlin, and Reykjavik, in that order. Two cities I’ve been to, two I haven’t. And my first backpacking trip. I was super excited!
Planning was highly stressful and a lot of work. Normally, my wife and I travel together which means we can split some of the planning. She typically handles figuring out where we’ll eat. I typically handle travel and accommodations. Activities are a joint effort. Doing a solo trip meant it was all on me to figure out. Not only was it all on me, but I only planned the trip about five weeks ahead of time. And, of course, most of my time in those five weeks was taken up with job interviews and such. So there was a lot to plan with not much time to do it.
The first thing I did was pull up every list of half marathons in Europe in late-July and August. Because of course I’d be running a race on this trip. Of course! Because it’s summer, there weren’t many in the major cities.
I had a rough list of cities I was considering for this trip so was able to match up the races I found with the cities I wanted to travel to. This left me with either Berlin or Reykjavik, both on the same weekend. If I could have done both, I would have, but without at least a full day between them, it wouldn’t have been possible pull off without race day packet pick up.
I ended up going with the Reykjavik Half Marathon between the two. I enter the Berlin Marathon lottery every year so sooner or later, I’ll be running a race in Berlin anyway. (Spoiler: after the trip, I feel like I need to go back to Reykjavik to run the full marathon some time.)
With that decided, I knew Reykjavik would be the last leg of my trip. Given geography, it had to be either first or last and with the race being August 19th ending there was the only real option.
At this point, I opened up Kayak and Google Flights and just started trying out different flight options and moving cities and dates around to see what happened. Given that train travel costs don’t vary the way flights do, I knew it would be the flights that would decide things. This is how I ended up with my exact cities, dates, and order.
After finding a few flight itineraries that felt reasonable, it was time to pull up Airbnb. I didn’t want to do straight up hotels, but I also don’t feel comfortable with staying in hostels as a trans women. Having been to London and Berlin before, I already knew roughly where I wanted to stay in the city so it was easy to find a few options there. A few Google searches helped me figure out what parts of Edinburgh and Reykjavik to stay in. Edinburgh Airbnbs were surprisingly expensive, but I later found out why (look for my Edinburgh post for that).
Eventually, I found the right combo of everything that fit a reasonable amount of money to spend and started booking stuff. Once I started, I flew through the bookings and did it as quickly as possible to make sure nothing filled up while I was in the process of booking (which did happen for one of the Airbnbs I had picked).
With flights and accommodations done, I just had to add train travel from London to Edinburgh, but that was quick and easy. I now had four flights, one train ticket, and four Airbnbs booked.
Next, I focused on the whole backpacking thing. I’d never done this before, I’d always taken a regular suitcase traveling with me so I wanted to spend some time reading tips and advice for doing this successfully. The Savvy Backpacker was great for this!
With some research done, I started making purchases—many of which I agonized over which options to go with. I bought a new backpack that was just a bit bigger than the largest one I had. I also got a ton of packing cubes—holy shit, why have I never actually used these before, they’re a game changer! I also got a bunch of little things like a travel umbrella, a packable day backpack (I already had packable bags, but not a backpack), TSA locks (I usually don’t bother locking my suitcases because if someone wants in, they’ll get in, but the locks were more for when I’d be walking around with my bag on my back), and a travel towel (just in case, since I wouldn’t be in hotels). We travel a few times a year, but this was the first time I had to really think about each and every thing I was bringing with me.
Finally, I started actually looking at what I’d be doing in each place. I’m terrible with this part of planning trips and always leave it to a few days before I go. In London and Berlin, there were some things I already knew I wanted to do, either because I liked them a lot previously or because I didn’t get to do them when I was there last. Still, I Googled for a lot of articles about traveling to all four cities and asked on Twitter and Facebook for recommendations. And I heavily scoured my friend Ashlea’s blog A Globe Well Traveled.
With lists of stuff to see, places to eat, and things to do, I got to work plotting where things were on the map and figuring out what I could logistically fit in. I booked all my tours ahead of time, and there were a lot of them), and added everything else to both Google saved places and Foursquare lists. I downloaded each city for offline use on Google Maps and Google Trips even though I knew I’d have data on my phone thanks to a T-Mobile plan that includes (very) slow international data for free.
I made rough itineraries for each day in my Google Calendar, but I didn’t want to get too serious about them because things never go according to plan and you don’t usually know how long most things will take. Tours and things that were booked in advance were easy to put on my calendar and I just filled in spaces between them with the things that seemed most interesting to me while keeping everything else on my list easily accessible while on the go.
Lastly, I had to make a meticulous packing list. I’m always a last-minute packer, but I make up for it with detailed packing lists so I can just grab stuff and throw it in a bag. Needing to pack as light as possible meant having to really think about every single item. I only brought stuff I knew I would need or wouldn’t make sense to buy while on go. I looked at weather forecasts and packed as much versatile clothing as possible. Layers that could be reused and combined (especially necessary for Iceland) were a big key. With the exception of one dress and one romper, all of my clothes were picked out so that anything would match with anything.
This part actually wouldn’t have been hard at all if not for needing my dilators, needing warmer layers and hiking shoes for Iceland, and being a runner. I knew I’d be able to do laundry in every Airbnb I booked so I packed with that in mind. I really only packed five-ish days of clothes (with extra underwear and socks). Running stuff, I packed the bare minimum with the plan of being able to wear each of my two pairs of shorts and two sports bras twice before washing. Still, needing walking, running, and hiking shoes is what killed me the most. The running shoes were obviously non-negotiable, considering I had 10 runs planned during my trip. And the glacier tour in Iceland required hiking shoes so those were non-negotiable as well. As for my walking shoes, I like to explore places on foot and it’s not abnormal for me to walk 10-15 miles a day while traveling. Good shoes are a must.
I debated bringing my DSLR at all and, if so, which lens/lenses to bring. I have a Canon 6D which is more on the professional end of things and weighs a ton compared to smaller DSLRs that are more common. I decided I’d really hate myself if I didn’t bring it, but compromised by only bringing a 50mm lens, the smallest and lightest lens I own. Of course, the focus ring on my lens got jammed on the first leg of my trip and I couldn’t fix while on the go so I spent most of my trip lugging around a heavy camera that I couldn’t use.
I think that about covers planning stuff. I’ll be, hopefully, writing up posts recapping each city for next week!