By Sally Ross
Like me, you may be of an age when backpacking and last-minute hotel reservations are fond memories. My friend, Marilyn, and I recently spent three weeks in Budapest, Vienna, and Prague and consciously considered how to cut the stress of independent travel. Our thoughts:
Take a buddy.
I am a brave, single traveler, but Marilyn’s companionship was a joy. A partner can watch bags while you run to the restroom, share common interests, and celebrate new fascinations. Long hours of al-fresco dining led to sharing life stories.
Make reasoned choices about where to stay.
For our cities, where we did not know the languages, boutique hotels made sense. Our hotel staffs found an Apple store when my iPad died and procured taxis and dinner reservations. Our basic requirements were an elevator, to alleviate carrying bags up stairs; air-conditioning – Prague steamed in June; and Wi-Fi for communicating back home.
Devote day one to getting perspective.
In Budapest, we took the local Hop On – Hop Off bus immediately and quickly fell in love with its grandeur. In Vienna, we were subway experts in an hour. Arriving later in Prague was more challenging, but after the bus tour on day two, we understood the city and walked our hearts out.
Plan enough time to be in a place.
It takes time to arrive, unpack, explore the neighborhood, and immerse in tourist activities, but 5-7 days allow for serendipity. Trust that things will come at you and be available when they do. Marilyn learned we could hear the Vienna Boys Choir at Sunday mass, and I wanted to see the Lipizzaner stallions. Arriving an hour early for mass, we got free, standing tickets. Next door, we lucked into standing tickets for the last Lipizzaner show of the season, with 15 minutes to spare!
It took two hours to buy an international train ticket from Budapest to Vienna. Wiser in Vienna, we went a day early, strategically bought tickets, found our gate, and learned how to get about on escalators and elevators so that we never lifted a suitcase. Departure was a breeze.
Manage your stuff.
Each traveler needs to manage her own bags, tickets, and necessities. Rick Steves’ video helped us shrink to a roller bag and carry bag each. Zippered, outside pockets allowed for quick retrieval of documents. We hand-washed clothes. Shoes – at least two pairs, both of which are comfortable – were essential.
Guides and tours are good.
Alternating walking days with bus/boat/guided tours allowed us to relax and let others take care of us for a day! Friends recommended a foodie tour, and for four hours Anna from Taste of Prague showed us six venues for nouveau Czech dining, beer, and wines, none of which were in guidebooks.
Listen and make choices that support your body, mind, and soul.
At our age, we needed to attend to the physical, sitting for long periods or even taking naps when aches and pains claimed our attention. We challenged our minds through galleries and tours as well as free wheeling adventures encouraging creative thinking. And we soothed our souls through parks, art, and window-shopping. Sometimes good choices meant going our own ways to give each other a break.
And finally, when frustrated or tired, just step back and breathe.
We realized daily how blessed we were to still be doing this.
Sally Ross creates fine art photographs that soothe your soul. Retired from UGA’s College of Education, Sally travels widely, especially in Scotland, China, Italy, Russia, and South America. Her painterly images appear in juried exhibitions, galleries, and public art spaces across Georgia. Visit Sally Ross Photography at www.sallyrossphoto.com & http://sallyross.artistwebsites.com