When planning two summers ago for our round-the-world honeymoon, we had two main constraints: the size of our carry-on luggage and the portion of our savings we could spend while still being able to start life over again after the trip. Although we put a lot of time and effort into researching how to conserve space in our packs, once we hit the road it was relatively easy to maintain our pack size.
Our budget, on the other hand, never went away. With every new country we set foot in, we had to re-strategize the best way to save money while still doing everything we wanted to do. Would we be able to eat out or would we have to do our own cooking? Could we book a private room, or was it another few weeks in dorms? How would we transport ourselves around the city and country?
Within a couple months, though, we better at sticking to our budget than Ron Burgundy was at sticking to his teleprompter. There couldn’t possibly be a world where someone cleans your room for you and you could eat all you desired… until now.
As we mentioned in our last post, my parents invited us along on their 30th anniversary Mediterranean cruise. I honestly didn’t know how to prepare for something like this. I’m going to have to pack a suit. I can no longer use the “it’s too expensive” excuse to Zhou. We’re going to have to look into group tours. Heck, we might even upgrade from hostels to Italy vacation home rentals. For those of you who haven’t been on a cruise before, imagine being in Cleopatra’s shoes back in 45 BC. If you want another bunch of grapes, someone will give them to you. You can hop in the baths (now known as pools and hot tubs) whenever you want. Your room is always made up and a (towel) animal is always waiting for you. It’s incredibly difficult to describe how awesome they are. Suffice it to say that my brother gained over 4% of his body weight in the week we were on the ocean. And this is a guy who has a harder time putting on pounds than Kirstie Alley has taking them off.
I’m thankful that my parents hit their 30th anniversary the year after our big trip. It’s very easy to adjust from budget travel to luxurious Royal Caribbean cruises, but MC Hammer tells me it’s not so easy going the other way around. Plus, we saw some fascinating, historical places; and best of all, we were able to share them with Mom, Dad and Steve.
Eventually though, they all had to go back to their jobs, leaving Zhou and me stranded in Italy with a couple more weeks to kill before heading home to get ready for classes. The trip had gone so smoothly up until that point that something was bound to go wrong. Sure enough, no sooner did we say goodbye to Mom and Dad in Venice than did we find out about an Italian train strike, stranding us in Florence for the night.
It’s these types of unforeseen circumstances that used to lead Zhou to title a post something along the lines of “Worst Night Ever.” However, this year-older, year-wiser Zhou took the change in plans in stride, found an internet cafe and booked us a cheap hostel within walking distance of the station. Unfortunately, the directions made one small error: the first turn out of the train station said left instead of right. Thus our 15-minute walk turned into an hour-long trudge from one set of bad Italian directions to another.
It’s these types of unforeseen circumstances that used to lead Zhou to title a post something along the lines of “Worst Night Ever. II.” However, this Zhou held up surprisingly well. She arrived at the hostel in as good of spirits as I could have possibly asked for. Her eyes were still dry and my arm wasn’t bruised, so I’d call that a victory.
Anyway, as I stood there to check us in I heard Zhou let out a little gasp next to me. (Notice the all-important ‘p’ in the word gasp.) She tapped me on the shoulder and told me to look down. In her hands was a book she’d picked up off the book exchange called “How to Teach Your Dog Quantum Physics.” But perhaps even more exciting than that was the folded-up 50 Euro bill tucked into the book! She mouthed “what do we do?” to me, all while the receptionist was looking down at her computer. She then put the book back in the exchange, I immediately picked it up pocketed the cash.
Look, I have morals. I’m all about giving money back when we know who it belongs to. But one of the first rules of hostel traveling is “What you find in a book on a book exchange is rightfully yours.” We even went back later and exchanged for the book!
But the best news came when we got back to our room. I explained my actions to Zhou and then pulled the Euro note out of my pocket. Lo and behold, it wasn’t just fifty – we had found 200 Euros!
There are several morals to this story. First, if you’re reading this and you remember leaving 200 Euros in a Florence hostel, sorry, but we’ve already spent it. Second, as I was quick to point out to Zhou, the travel gods love flexible travelers who do not complain about changes in plans. Third and finally, Florence is one of the best cities in the world.