The Final Score

Well I crunched the numbersWe stayed in 12 hostels, 2 houses, 1 hotel, 1 apartment, and 1 bed and breakfast. We shopped at over a dozen different grocery stores, and ate at many restaurants.   I added up the plane tickets, Eurail passes, lodging, sight-seeing tickets, the restaurants, cafes, and bars. The total amount of money that we spent was $5,641.18. That’s only $2,820.59 per person!

How did we manage such a low budget? Above all else I would say that the biggest financial aid was being able to stay with our friends in Germany and Austria. Their generosity couldn’t be overlooked, they not only let us stay with them for free but they also took us out to eat and cooked for us free of charge. This cut a huge amount of money from our total cost. Thank God German people are so awesome!

Secondly, we limited the amount of times we went out to eat. As I said before, we limited the amount of times we went out to eat by designating one meal to be a grocery meal. By going to the supermarket instead of the nearest tourist trap restaurant we were able to decrease the money we spent on food by almost half. Definitely worth waiting in the checkout line.

Thirdly, we booked our plane tickets 6 months in advanced. We were able to get a great deal on our round trip tickets. For the two of us it was $1,200 to fly into Dublin and out of Madrid. An offer we couldn’t refuse.

Lastly, we split the difference! Since there were two of us we cut the cost of traveling through Europe in half.

Since traveling through Europe was a priceless experience all of this money talk seems useless to me. I would have paid double to have done all that we did together. But just so that you don’t use money as an excuse not to travel, I wanted to tell you all how cheap a 35 day trip through Europe really can be! If you follow some of the tips I gave, you’ll have no money worries.



Day 34: Bittersweet 

When I set out on this journey my goal was to experience Europe and to change my perspective on how I viewed the world and the United States. There were many things that we saw in Europe that really made me question the way we do things back in the states. The subway system in London made me question why we don’t have them everywhere in the US. The highly efficient recycling system in Germany made me wonder why we don’t separate our trash. The music of Austria made me question why we don’t embrace our traditional music culture more. The way the sinks are operated by foot in Italy made me wonder why we don’t use more innovation in our plumbing. The quietness of Sunday in France made me question why we don’t honor the lord’s day. The siesta in Spain made me wonder why we work so hard in America without giving ourselves any time to relax.

The way I view tourist has changed as well. Being from the Niagara Falls myself, tourist have always had a bad reputation of being a nuisance to us all. But after traveling for so long in a foreign country my perspective has changed. I can’t help but be much more compassionate to travelers. It is so true that you don’t know anything about a stranger until you take a walk in their shoes. And trust me, we’ve put a lot of mileage on our traveling shoes.

Even if you have no desire to change your perspective on how you view the world, there is another perspective that changes when you travel that I haven’t mentioned yet. Facing the challenges that you have while you’re abroad changes you’re perspective on diabetes. Going through tough times managing blood sugar in unfamiliar circumstances makes daily diabetes management a walk in the park. No strange serving sizes on the nutrition labels, no endless nights of low blood sugar after a crazy active night, and no waterlogged insulin pumps. By comparison, diabetes back at home seems as simple as breathing.

Although traveling has made me see some of the things that are “missing” in the U.S. It has also opened my eyes to the great things that our country has. Drinking fountains, free bathrooms, and a familiar weighing system. Although it is bittersweet, leaving Europe means coming back home. To a place where I can call the bed I sleep in my own. A place where I go to sleep without locking up all of my belongings. The time I had in Europe is something I will never forget, but I am happy to be back on the soil of the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Day 33: OSSD 

During the very last days of traveling you subconsciously become aware that your wonderful vacation is drawing to a close. This sad reality causes you to spend a lot more time awake than asleep. You want to savor every single second you have left, so you give up on trying to get a full night sleep and wake up early even when you stay up late. I like to call this strange desperate behavior, Obsessive Sight-Seeing Disorder (OSSD for short). A disease very common to travelers short on time. And as a matter of fact these last days in Spain aren’t the first days on this trip that we’ve experienced this disorder. The cities where we’ve only visited for 36 hours caused similar symptoms of OSSD to appear.

OSSD has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that you are so much more aware of how precious each moment is. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got til it’s gone?” When you have OSSD you’re willing to give all you have left to make sure that you truly are making the most of your experience. Money, energy, and luxury are all pushed aside so that you can soak it all in.

Like I said in a previous post, going out to restaurants and pubs at midnight in Spain is simply tradition. It happens everyday for locals. For the past couple of nights Ari and I have been going out to dance and have a good time with hostel friends. Our OSSD has kicked in and we don’t want to miss anything. It’s certainly has made it difficult to get much sleep. But being up at all hours of the nights makes it possibly to give yourself your own midnight and 3am glucose checks. Besides, in the end we know that we can catch up on sleep on the plane ride home.

The down side to OSSD is that you are not very concerned about rest. This may be a good time to mention that many sleep disorders are linked to OSSD. The other problem is that you want to see everything in such a short amount of time. There are so many beautiful sights to see in large cities like Madrid, but each one has so much detail and history. Fully appreciating all the detail takes time. Just as the old adage says “you can’t rush art”. But that was precisely what we did on our last full day in Europe.

We woke up at 830 after going to bed around 330. We started the day off with a walking tour and then walked around on our own. All in all our day included Plaza Mayor, Madrid Cathedral, Madrid Palace, Puerto del Sol, Retiro Park, the Prada Museum, and a Flamenco show at El Carbonero. We came to the Prada museum at 6pm. There was massive waiting line that stretched down the street and around the corner. Although we were short on time my OSSD made me determined to see the museum. After a half hour of waiting in line we had to rush through the exhibits of painters like Ruben and Francesco de Goya as if we were shopping for clothes and not looking at momentous art. We have had many times where we rushed through a beautiful scene on this trip because we had those short 36 hour visits. Next time we go to Europe, we will try to visit less cities, giving more time to each one. It takes time to appreciate beauty, don’t let OSSD stop you from taking your time while you’re abroad.

Day 32: You Can Handle the Heat, But Can Your Insulin? 

It is hot here in Spain. Not that we’re complaining. After all of the cold rain storms in North Western Europe, it’s nice to have a change. 32 degrees Celsius is roughly 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though the temperature may feel balmy to you, insulin has a different set of standards. According to health officials, insulin needs to remain under 82*F in order to maintain its full power. It was a major concern as I packed my bags for the trip. How can I possibly keep my insulin cold when it’s so hot out?

The problem of keeping insulin cool is much more real when you’re abroad. This is because when you’re traveling around and walking everywhere, there aren’t as many opportunities to be in a cool place with air conditioning. Unlike the United States there are many buildings in Europe that don’t have air conditioning because they are so old.

If you are using a pump, it is especially important to remember that the insulin in your pump can lose its strength if it’s left out in the sun for too long. I learned the hard way. Neither the pump nor the insulin is immune to effects of the sun. The longer the insulin is in the sun the weaker it gets an the higher your blood sugars go. So take care to not be out in the sun for too long.

I made the problem much more complicated in my head, than in reality. All it really takes to keep insulin cold is a lunch box and some ice packs. If you stay in hostels, nearly all of the have a common refrigerator for everyone to use. Keeping your insulin in there over night will make it possible to make it stay cool all day long.

Lastly, be sure to give yourself a break from the sun every once in a while if you’re a pump user. Having a pump or blood glucose meter over heat is frustrating and raises your blood sugar, a recipe for disaster.

Day 31: Darling You Give Pumps A Bad Name

There were times as I was packing for the trip that I began to doubt that I would need to pack syringes and Novalog (long acting insulin), but I’m certainly glad I did. Our final day in Valencia we were on the beach. It was hot and sunny. About four thousand people were lying out on the beach and playing in the water. The warm waves pushed themselves against the sunny shore, and naturally I decided to go into the water.

I had learned my lesson in Montpellier, so I clipped my inset clip on and dashed into the water, it was so refreshing. About a half hour passed and then I retreated back to my towel on the fine dry sand. I laid there for nearly an hour. Being out in the sun for so long I became like a sunflower seed, salted by the sea and roasted by the sun. So I decided to run back into the water.

But as I search for my clip it was no where in sight. It must have flown off my towel as I shook the sand off it. I decided the alternative to the clip would be to go in the water with the pump still on. After all, the website says that the pump can stay under 12 feet of water for over 24 hours. I figured I had nothing to worry about. I swam out to sea for another half hour or so.

When I returned to the shore and laid down I felt my pump vibrate. Then it made four loud beeps. I looked at the screen, but couldn’t see anything. I figured it was because the sun was so bright, but when cupped my hands over my eyes and took a closer look, I saw that the screen was entirely black.

I rushed to take my poor pump to the nearest shower to rinse it off with some fresh water. But that didn’t seem to do anything. I took the battery out of the compartment several times and put it back it, trying to give it electronic CPR. Minutes later the screen flashed on and I was filled with hope. But only a few moments later after vibrating and beeping several times the screen flashed a few times and then went completely black and never turned on again.

Seeing my pump go hang wire was more than just heart breaking, it was nerve wreaking. Here we were 4 days before going back home and my pump now decided to lose its marbles. It has been 9 years since I’ve had to use syringes.

But I was grateful that I had brought my syringes and Novalog otherwise we would have had to go home immediately. Thank God it happened so late in the trip and not in the middle. I had packed just enough syringes to make it through these last few days. Although it has been a rough transition, it’s kind of good to be using needles again.

Shots in my arm and you’re to blame. Darling you give pumps a bad name!

Day 30: Now We’re Talking

Never underestimate the power of words. They can make or break your trip. Just by talking with someone on the street or in your dorm, you can learn so much and sometimes even make a friend. Both Ariana and I have a limited, yet somewhat functional Spanish vocabulary. No enough to understand it all, but enough to understand enough. On this trip not only has talking to locals been a practical way of exercising foreign language skills, but also a necessity when trying to find our way in new city. Although we’ve been traveling for over a month now our sense of direction is still far from perfect.

In Valencia, we were in desperate need to find a supermarket before entering into the Aquarium. An elderly couple was walking down the street with a stroller and some children. I must have had a very concerned look on my face because as soon as I said “Perdon…” the lady put her hand gently on my back and looked me in the eyes. As I continued to speak I could by the way she smiled that she genuinely wanted to help us. “Donde esta alimentacion?” She said “Ahhhh!” as soon as she concluded from my broken Spanish that we were looking for a grocery store. “Supermercat! Una Carrefour Es allí”. She pointed down the street to a large mall. Ari and I ran with excitement to the mall, so happy that she was able to help us.

The experience taught me three things. First, there is a lot more to communication than talking. When you’re abroad, you’re often times limited in your ability to speak to people, especially if you’ve never spoken a foreign language. You begin to realize the important role that body language play in communicating. Facial expressions, hand gestures, and emphasis on certain parts of phrases all become clues that make it possible to interpret a language you don’t speak.

Secondly, I learned that a couple words are all it takes to get a the point across. When you’re asking someone on the street for directions, keep it simple. Playing charades can help get the point across, but it’s not very efficient. So instead, try learning a couple key words in the language of the country you travel in. It can really get you out of a bind.

Lastly, ask. When you’re in a foreign country, you may be very hesitant to approach someone on the street to ask for directions. More often than not its because you’re worried that the person doesn’t speak English. For Ari and I it was very hard at first to approach people, because no one seemed to speak English. But that is the wonderful thing about Europe, nearly everyone is bilingual. Around 80% of the people we’ve asked for directions spoke English. The odds are in your favor, so ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find that a lot of people are more than happy to give you directions. All it takes are a couple of words.

Day 29: Do It Yourself

Some people are afraid to travel because they feel that when they go abroad they will be incapable of finding food that fit their dietary needs. In case any of you have some very particular problems in addition to diabetes, such as allergies, siliacs, or other diet needs, I have good news for you. Every hostel that we’ve been in throughout our trip has had some kind of open kitchen where backpackers can cook their own food.

It can be a God-sent blessing at times when you’re not able to go to a restaurant, but still dying to eat. All you need to do when you’re abroad is find the nearest Supermarket and buy the  ingredients you want for the meal.

Our first evening in Valencia we were very hungry since we ate a small lunch four hours earlier. So while walking admist the shops on the street, a fresh fruit shop caught our eye. I bought some carrots and piñones pasta. The total came to €1,24.

When we got to our hostel I darted up to the kitchen to fix us some dinner. I was astonished at how much was available for use in the kitchen. Stove tops, pots, Pans, strainers, knives, plates, mugs, cups, silverware, wooden spoons, spatulas, ladles. Everything you could think of needing in the kitchen was there in abundance. And like most hostels, the kitchen had a cabinet filled with free food left over from other backpackers. So we didn’t even need to buy salt, pepper, or soy sauce, it was already there  I boiled the carrots and piñones we bought, and the two of us ate a half decent meal together for only €1,24. By far the cheapest dinner we ever ate in Europe.

If you’ve ever had trouble going out to eat with your family because there’s nothing on the menu that fits your diet, don’t worry. When you’re abroad you can find all the groceries you need in the nearest super market and cook them yourself. But be earned that most me mets close around the time that the restaurants open, at 8pm. Be sure to get your groceries before the markets close. It’s by far the cheapest way to eat and if you have dietary restrictions it’s the most certain way to be sure that the food is “done right”. So if you want something done right, eat cheap and do it yourself.

Day 28: Napping Makes You Stronger

It is unbelievable how tiring traveling can be. It is deceptively exhausting. Because even though you are enjoying yourself, your body is expending a lot of energy on getting from point A to point B. Because there is so much going on throughout the day, you don’t realize that you’re tired. The other challenge when traveling is that you’re sleeping in an unfamiliar place. No matter how cozy your hostel room is, it takes some time to get used to the particular mattresses, the massive pillows, and the lack of sheets. This whole process of getting acclimated to a bed can take up nearly 30 minutes of your rest time. Even if you’re are completely comfortable in a hostel room, you’re room mates may be up at all hours of the nights rustling plastic bags and slamming doors. But like any problem on our trip, we found a solution.

9 out of 10 train rides the two of us take naps. It’s the only logical thing to do when you’re on a train for hours and have nothing else to do. Why not catch up on all of the rest that we’ve been missing out on?

As a diabetic, rest is super important. Health experts say that sleep deprivation can lead to a lack of absorption of insulin. Losing sleep puts a lot of stress on the body and can make your glucose readings spike. I can say first hand that the days of this trip where my blood sugar was the highest were the ones where I had lost the most sleep the night before.

So when you’re abroad take naps. There’s not a whole lot you can do on a train anyways (besides snapping photos of the person napping next to you). In the end, napping will help keep your readings under control and make you stronger for the journey ahead.

Ariana: Photographer- James Bobak

Day 27: ¡Delicioso!

When you’re traveling abroad there’s no end to the amount of food available to try. While you’re abroad you want to try every little bit of foreign cuisine that you can possibly fit in your mouth. After all, you may never get a chance like this ever again.  But sight seeing takes a great deal of time and often there hardly is enough time to eat three times a day.

In addition to the amazing meals that you can find in Europe, dessert is a speciality not to be missed. German cake, Austrian strudel, Swiss chocolate, Italian gelato, French pastries, Spanish churros. It’s all so enticing, but when are you supposed to find time to eat it.

I’ve found while traveling that the days that you eat on the run are the ones where you find a chance to get some sweets. Because even though delicious food is always surrounding you in Europe, your appetite is finite and your stomach can only handle so much. There are times when even the most appetizing dessert doesn’t look so appealing.

But when you’re eating on the run, you don’t tend to eat as much because you simply don’t have the time. There are some days where there is just too much to see and not nearly enough time. So on days like these you may find yourself wanting to get a little dessert after a long day with not a lot of food. I certainly did.

We had been traveling around to the beach and La Sagrada Familia the entire day in Barcelona. It was late and we had a few hours until dinner would be served. So we went for a scavenger hunt though the city to find a chocolate shop we had passed by a couple days earlier. We had tried a free sample there and the taste of the honey almond fudge was lodged in my mind. It took nearly an hour to relocate the shop but when we saw the “Torrons Artesans Vicens” sign we knew it was the right place. Massive bars of chocolate and fudge lined the shelves of the shop. The fudge was creamy and sweeter than anything I had ever had before.

We left the Vicens shop and later walked around the city some more. We hadn’t eaten much at all that day and as we headed back to the hostel I found that my body was trembling from low blood sugar.

At the corner of the street I told Ari to stop for a moment. I busted my sweet almond honey fudge bar out and broke off chunks of it and placed it in my salivating mouth.

I really wanted to save the bar for after dinner. But since we were in a hurry to get back to the hostel in time for dinner I had no choice because I couldn’t go on without sugar. That fudge bar did the trick, but I certainly wish that I ate it when I sitting down and actually able to enjoy the rich creamy taste.

So when you’re abroad try to make time for sweets. It may seem like you’re on a tight schedule, but never forget you’re on vacation. Relax and enjoy the sweetness of the trip.

Day 26: Stay Up, Eat Late. Welcome To Spain

Like many Americans, I tend to eat dinner around 6 or 7pm. This gives my body plenty of time to digest the food before I head off to bed. This way my stomach is grumbling and growling while I’m trying to fall asleep. Many American doctors recommend eating at least four hours before going to bed. But we’re not in America anymore, are we?

In comparison to the Germans, the Spanish are always taking things slow. Starting late is just part of living in Spain.  The people of Spain are so relaxed and friendly that punctuality isn’t as much of a priority in Spain.

Evidence of this is that breakfast doesn’t really exist in Spain. Throughout the streets of Barcelona you can see thousands of bars and cafes advertising “Tapas” on a sign the outside of the restaurant. Tapas is eventually a smal snack to hold you down until lunch time. Usually it will be something small like a tortilla, callas, or a coissant. A small snack is all a Spainaird needs to get through the morning, and a lot of people won’t even eat until lunchtime.

Dinner follows suit. In most cases dinner is typically eaten around 9pm or later. When I read the sign in our hostel saying that dinner was at 9pm, I began to wonder how on earth Spanish people ate so late.

The answer came when we spent a Wednesday night out in Spain. At around 10pm we shared  a wonderful Fideulá meal with about forty dorm mates in our hostel. Afterwards, shortly before midnight we all went out to a pub for about an hour. The bar began to fill up with more and more people. At 1:30am we all headed out of the bar and marched as a mob to the dance club down the street. We had a great time dancing for a couple hours and then Ari and I left at around 3am. The club was still full when we left!

This is simply how it’s done in Barcelona and many parts of Spain. Stay up late, wake up late. Eat late, drink late. Since everything is so belated here in Spain I’m sure that the Conquistadors had way less trouble adjusting to the “boat lag” when they first came to America.

But seriously, in terms of diabetes, you need to adjust yourself to the Spanish schedule and make sure that your blood sugar isn’t spiking when you eat later than usual. Keep an eye on your glucose as you eat late and stay up in España.