Finally Nailed Down, Travel Plans for 2014

Planning next year has been a long and drawn out affair. I’ve cycled through probably a hundred different ideas. I’ve researched and contacted people in areas where I wanted to go, asked about opportunities galore and looked up flight costs and cost-per-day averages and border crossings and visa restrictions in what feels like half the world. And then I’d fink out on my plans or stumble onto something else amazing, and change my mind. And then I did it all over again.

It’s now less than a week until Christmas and less than two weeks away from the new year, but finally, FINALLY, I’ve figured it out. And booked the flight. And I feel so relieved and happy and excited, because this time, my plans fit like a glove and I don’t have a gut feeling holding me back on a single thing.

Before I reveal anything, let’s take a moment to mourn my discarded travel plans that weren’t able to come to life, at least not yet.

RIP

Backpack & Volunteer Around Mexico

This was plan numero uno, and after plenty of research, I came up with very little to actually do in Mexico. Well, there was one place on the West coast where I could work at an orphanage, and there were about a million opportunities in the city of Oaxaca, but the in-between was dark and unpromising, volunteer-project-wise. I’m sure more opportunities would have opened up once I got on the ground, but then idea numero dos popped up.

Backpack & Volunteer From Costa Rica to Mexico

I was alerted that an old family friend worked for an NGO in Nicaragua. Perfect, an in with a reputable place to volunteer. I also thought about the weather and that it would be a good idea to follow the warmth, so to say, and start South, instead, ending in Mexico during the summer months. My biggest dilemma in planning this was just how much I wanted to see in merely 8 weeks. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize AND Mexico? That’s only one week, per country. Impossible. And for some reason, I just had a weird feeling that kept stopping me from booking my flights.

Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.
Sad but true: no Costa Rican monkeys for me, this February.

Volunteer in Tanzania

Then I found a really cool volunteer project that was both local, cheap-ish and had a wide range of really inspiring projects I could work in. This plan died when I looked up how much all the vaccinations and visa costs were, though. I’d still love to volunteer and spend some time in Africa, but I need more than a month to get my ducks in a row, first. This is on my radar for the distant future. I’m 100% sure that at some point, Sally in Africa will happen.

Backpack The Balkans

I’ve always wanted to head through Eastern Europe, and with my parents relocating to an area near Berlin, the timing seemed perfect. The only thing about that same timing, though, is that I only have 10-11 weeks to do this and almost twice as many countries I want to visit. And if you know me, then you know that I can’t stand rushing from one place to the next. But deadlines are deadlines, and I need to be in Germany in April and the USA in July for some non-negotiable events; that’s just how the cookie/my Balkan-backpacking plans crumble into little tiny dead pieces.

So… what have I decided?

Did you catch what I just mentioned about Germany in April? (Now you did!) My parents are relocating to Germany for my dad’s work. So to figure out my plans once and for all, I went back to basics. I want to practice my Spanish. I don’t want to spend a million dollars on flights; I want to be closer to where I need to be for those big fixed events. Which led me to the conclusion that at the beginning of February, I should get on a plane headed for:

Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)
Just gonna torture you with this unrelated photograph. (Or is it?!)

Germany!

Only long enough to settle my junk into my dad’s nice new place (he’ll arrive before me, my mom will arrive later), because booking round trip tickets is a lot less of a headache than two one-way. As soon as any jet lag has passed and I’ve had a dark beer and some bretzel, then I’ll be taking a train to:

Spain!

I’m sure you figured that out, right? Where else in Europe can I practice my Spanish? I have about two months before my mom arrives in Germany and I want to be there to help her settle in. So I’ll be… around Spain. I haven’t made those plans very well yet. But I’d like to spend the majority of my time outside of the city, as living in rural Korea has turned me into a little bit of a country girl. On my way back to Germany at the end of my two months, I want to make a stop in:

[February 2014 edit: These plans have already changed again! I’ll be spending only one month in Spain and then heading outside of the Schengen Visa Zone to Ireland and the UK for another month.]

Paris, France!

How could I not? If I had another two months on my Schengen visa then I’d spend it exploring France, as well. Unfortunately I have to choose, so I’ll just spend a few days in the big city, take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and get even fatter than I already will be from eating tapas all day. Solid plan, I know.

Back in Germany…

I get to watch the shock on my mother’s face as she discovers all of these things about Germans are actually true. And pressure her into eating deli meat before 10am. I’ll probably just be doing a lot of boring things like visiting the post office and mapping the way to the local train station, but because it’ll be with my mom, in Germany, it’ll be kind of fun. I’ll also get a taste rural German life, because my parents will be living out in the countryside, thanks to my dad’s work.

Oh, and I’ll say hi to some friends along the way (Vienna, anyone?), but before long I need to head out to my next destination:

Parry wants to know... is this suspense killing you?
Parry wants to know… is this suspense killing you?

Somewhere in Eastern Europe

So vague, I know. Basically I want to be outside of the Schengen zone and not moving around too much, but still in a good place to take some two- or three-day trips. Bosnia, Serbia or Romania are all good contenders at the moment. We shall see! My trip will come to a close at the end of June, I’ll fly back to the USA for a wedding the second week of July, and from there, it looks like a return to Korea is in my future. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, planning until July is good enough for me!)

Wait, so… what will I be doing exactly?

Other than eating everything I can stuff in my face? Brushing up on that Spanish that I’ve let deteriorate a little too much. I’d also like to volunteer and maybe also work for accommodation, so I won’t say a WWOOF is out of the question. I would love to make some new friends, using Couchsurfing. And perhaps even run into an old friend or two, reunion-style. Whatever I end up doing, I don’t want to be living with my face in a Lonely Planet book. Sightseeing is great, visiting new cities is great, but I’m interested in a more culturally involved experience. Where will that take me? Well, who knows.

If I could know, maybe I wouldn’t want to find out. It’s the journey, right?

And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.
And perhaps part of the journey will involve wild goats. That would be nice.

How You Can Help

Seeing as I haven’t planned out my time in Spain or Eastern Europe yet, any knowledgeable input would be really appreciated. I can use all the info you can throw at me!

What do you suggest I see while I’m in Spain? Do you know of any volunteering opportunities that I could be a part of?

What’s a good base in Eastern Europe that you would recommend? What was your favorite country, there? How about volunteer projects in the area?

Trip insurance suggestions?

If you can’t tell, folks, I’m excited! And so glad that this plan is complete and set in plane-ticket stone; it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to have this settled so I can sit back and relax this holiday season.

So with that, I wish you guys a wonderful end of the year full of cookies, happy memories, things with bright lights all over them and as many laughs as your diaphragm can stand. I know I’ll be doing the same.

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38 thoughts on “Finally Nailed Down, Travel Plans for 2014”

  1. Hi Sally, good travel plan and i cant wait for the upcoming posts with your personal experience in these places.

    No plan for Asia? Come visit us:)

    Happy Holiday,
    Simon Lee

    1. Hi Simon!

      I’d love to visit the rest of Asia. It was my original plan, but my teaching contract ends the day before Christmas and it would be mean to not go straight home and spend time with my family.

      Thankfully, I have plans for a return to Korea, so I’ll have another chance in a year or so. 🙂

      Happy Holidays!!

  2. I’m so excited for you — Yay Spain! (and France and Germany!)

    Have your parents been abroad much? Do either of them speak some German? That’s big, a move to Germany. Will you no longer have your home in the USA then? I wonder what that feels like.

    Feel free to pick my brain on anything Spain related – travel how to’s, anything at all. Do you know about <a href="http://www.madridnt.com/p/helpx.html"HelpX? I did it over my winter break the year I taught in Spain — you volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation, but unlike WOOF the task isn’t limited to organic farming. It could be construction, gardening, working on a farm, running a ski resort, camel farm, looking after kids — there’s a huge variety! So I’d highly recommend HelpXing to keep costs down. (That’s actually what I’m planning to do once my contract is up next fall…)

    1. My Dad speaks some German but hasn’t expat-ed since he was a teenager. My mom speaks no German, has never lived abroad and is going to have the time of her life. Thankfully Germany isn’t like France or some parts of Spain; pretty much everyone speaks at least some English and can get by in it. That’ll make it easier for them. They’ll rent out our house for a few years while they’re gone.

      ^^That helpX looks awesome! I’m not really that into farming, but a camel farm?! I could make an exception. Incredible. Thanks so much! I’ll sit down in January and map out where I want to go, etc.

  3. My absolute favorite city in the world (currently) is Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s an hour away from Vienna (closest two country capitals in the world) and is the quietest city I’ve ever seen. Slovakia has a national soft drink I live, Vinea (wine without alcohol), and one I don’t so much, Kofola (black licorice).

    Outside the city are the beautiful Tatry Mountains and Slovakia is known for its pottery. Like most European countries, you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a castle, and there are many opportunities for hiking, camping, and riding ski lifts up and down the mountains (snow or no snow).

    The food in the area is heavily influenced by the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and their national dish is halusky bryndzove, a potato noodle dish covered in goat cheese and bacon.

    If you end up going, try and find a restaurant called The Three Musketeers. All the dishes are named in this theme, like “Under the Corset”, my favorite, a chicken breast coated in almonds and topped with a delicious cranberry sauce, or Dartagnan’s Sword, which I remember being skewered meat of some kind.

    Somewhere, there is the cutest tea shop I’ve ever found. It’s in the basement of one of the buildings in Old Town Bratislava, with several tables nestled close to the floor with pads for sitting, and a color scheme that makes one think of gypsy caravans.

    1. Wow, it sounds absolutely enchanting. If only it was outside the Schengen visa zone. 🙁 But with my parents living nearby, maybe I’ll get another chance and can spend some time there, once those 180 days reset. If I can slip in a visit, though, that would be fabulous!

  4. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain and I absolutely LOVED IT!! Southern Spain is absolutely gorgeous and I would recommend for you to visit La Alhambra in Granada, El Balcón de Europa in Nerja, and La Plaza de España in Sevilla (They filmed a Star Wars movie there if you are a fan!). I don’t know of any volunteer programs off the top of my head, but I do know they have a government sponsored teaching program similar to what we’ve been doing in Korea. This is the website if you are interested: http://www.mecd.gob.es/eeuu/convocatorias-programas/convocatorias-eeuu/auxiliares-conversacion-eeuu.html. Also, if you are interested in practicing your Spanish, I would highly recommend you live anywhere in Spain but Barcelona (they speak Catalan- a mixture of Spanish & French). I know they speak Gallego in Galicia and Vasco in el Pais Vasco, Spain, but I don’t think those other languages are as prevalent in those areas as Catalan is in Barcelona. (They are all, however, also official languages of that country.)

    1. I just Google Imaged those places and I’m blown away. So. Gorgeous.

      And I didn’t know they have an English teaching program! That’s really cool. Definitely something to remember for the future.

      I wish we could have hung out more because I’d have loved to hear about all this in person, too. Time flies too quickly, though. Sigh.

      Take care Vivi!

  5. Fantastic! You will love Spain. I have spent a lot of time there, particularly in Madrid – that is where my heart is. I have blogged lots about it, but if you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to ask. Also, I have some friends there I could connect you with if you’d like. Hugs! Merry Christmas. x

    1. Merry Christmas Colleen!!

      I’ll have to comb through your old posts and check out what you’ve written about Spain. This January is my trip research month, so I’ve got a lot to do! 🙂

  6. I’ve actually not been to Spain but I’m so excited for your plans! 😀

    And I’m also going to be super selfish and say, Sally!!! You’ll be in Europe!! Make a weekend trip to London and come visit me before I leave for Korea, girl!!! 😀 Hahhaha.

      1. Spain! It is GREAT/BRILLIANT/EXCELLENT for relaxing! As France is more out and about like sisntgeeihg and you can’t relax in France! I live in the UK you have to go over France to get to Spain but I would still say Spain!There is lots to do in Spain:- Sunbathe- Swim- Go to the beach- Tapas restaurants- Cute gift shops- Waterparks!AND LOADS MORE!!!Hope this helped

        1. I LOVED Spain, I really did! And relaxing was at the top of my list, which was very dutifully completed. 🙂

          Tapas were amazing, especially in Almería and Granada, the beaches were beautiful, and the gift shops were great! I bought my Mom a really cool multi-colored mosiac bull for the new house in Germany and they adored it. Hopefully I can make it back again soon!

  7. Except for Spain, we have somewhat similar travel plans for the new year. It’s awesome that you will now have a second home in Germany with your parents there. I’d love to have more family abroad.

  8. Sally, Where will your parents live in Germany? We’ve lived here almost two years and love it! I’m sure you will enjoy it as well.

    1. They’re moving to a small town West of Leipzig and will pick an apartment next week or so. Where do you live? I spent some time there this past summer and really enjoyed it!

  9. Go to Albania!! Definitely outside the Schengen and completely different from anywhere else you’ll go. Excellent food, safe and inexpensive…oh and beautiful beaches in the south (same water as Greece)…

    1. Oh awesome! Actually one of my friends will be there as an assignment in the Peace Corp. So I was debating it, but now I think I will! 🙂

  10. Wow, looks like an awesome plan, I’m more than sure that you gonna love all those places and you’re going to have lots of fun! Eastern Europe sounds cool, I haven’t been there that much, but I would love do explore it. For me it seems to be exotic place, because not many tourists go there and it’s not so modern.

    Keep up the good work! 🙂

    1. Thanks Kadri! I’m a little over a week into my trip to Spain and so far, so good. I’m also especially looking forward to Eastern Europe! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  11. Sounds great, I love Europe, it’s great for travelling and so accessible. I’m just leaving Poland today and would definitely recommend it seeing as you’re in the neighbourhood. I volunteered on the Angloville programme (http://charlieontravel.com/how-to-get-free-bed-and-board-for-a-week-in-the-polish-mountains) where you get free bed and board in the Polish mountains in exchange for just speaking English – I heard there are similar but better programmes in Spain doing the same thing. I haven’t researched them so I don’t know the details but I reckon a google search would easily find them. Looking forward to reading about your travels this year!

    1. I wish I had the time to go to Poland! Well, I technically have the time, but I don’t have the free days in my Schengen visa, unfortunately.

      Don’t worry, though, I have Poland on my list for an eventual trip, for no other reason than because PIEROGIES!!! 😀

      1. Ah that is unfortunate, Poland is a surprisingly beautiful country. Pierogis are so delicious!!!

  12. First comment here. I’ve never been to Span though, but I heard so much about Barcelona and Tuscany. I speak German. I have to warn you that if you guys are relocating to Germany, you might wanna pick up some survival German to. Germans are known for their national pride. I personally like Salzburg, the birth place of a bunch of music composers. Latvia located in the Eastern Europe zone offers great scenery and a lot of historic attractions. It’s a growing middle-income nation, travel expenses may be cheaper. If you’re on budget, youth hostel may be a good place for meeting up travel peers. Enjoy your trip!

    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment! Spain was a great place to go, I’d definitely recommend it even if you don’t speak Spanish, as people are just nice and the tourism infrastructure is well set-up. Hope you can visit sometime soon!

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