Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a Frugal Traveler column about my New Year’s resolutions for 2010. Now, resolutions are not really my thing. Mostly it’s because I’m a self-satisfied jerk who doesn’t see any need to change or adapt as the years go by. In this case, though, I had an assignment and a deadline, so I had to come up with something: I resolved to travel lighter, put down my iPhone, learn to like buses and hostels, and learn Spanish and Chinese.
Of all of these, only the last held out any real appeal for me, and yet somehow I actually managed to fulfill my other resolutions, thanks to this new “Getting Lost” series, which has required me to put aside my iPhone entirely and to lighten my load in general. And, in a weird twist of fate, my recent “Lost in China” trip to Chongqing led me to embrace both buses and hostels (though I wasn’t consciously trying to). Here are the relevant lines on buses:
So one day, just before lunch, I rode the light rail 45 minutes to the end of the line and walked to a bus stop, where, after studying the route map (another breach of my rules, but it was in Chinese, hence unreadable), I boarded a bus that passers-by assured me would not go anywhere I’d been before.
Never have I been so relaxed on a bus. With no destination in mind and no timetable to keep, I simply rode and looked out the window at the gray sky and the towers topped with Italianate domes or mansard roofs (and sometimes, I think, with both).
And on hostels:
I found Tina’s Hostel, a warren of rooms an easy cab ride away, at the edge of the 18 Steps, an old, central neighborhood whose every building (I believe) bore the character “chai,” which means destined for demolition. My private room was acceptable, if small; there was a roof deck with a pool table, and an enclosed cafe space. Most important, there was the spunky crew of young Chinese men and women who operated the hostel, showed a genuine interest in its guests and invited me to join them that evening for what I’d been wanting to eat ever since I arrived: hot pot.
Funny how things work out, eh? Now, however, I must face 2011 and consider crafting New Year’s resolutions once again. If I follow the same strategy—that is, fulfill the resolutions by not even trying to fulfill them—then I should make them more ambitious. So, this year I resolve to sell a book for $1 million, launch a travel TV empire, and, I don’t know, sail around the world? Sure, why not?
I’ve learned to love bus travel as there are still no direct flights between Croatia and Serbia, and trains over there are a joke. These buses never have on-board toilets, so I’ve had truly bizarre experiences stopping at some cafe at 4 am on top of a frigid mountain. Even the buses between Split and Zagreb, though they seem just like the Hampton Jitney, but without the snack packet – and without the toilet – must make a stop at a highway cafe during the 5-hour journey. I’m too frugal to rent cars, and besides, I have never been more lost in my life than in Bosnia somewhere, on a crazy drive returning to Split from Belgrade. But I had no internet access, and I actually prefer using maps to GPS, which doesn’t exist in too many rental cars over there anyway. Somehow, I miscalculated some distances, and the drive became seemingly endless. But then, when had I first crossed into Bosnia, I had no idea what the currency was!
I’ve been considering an iPad primarily to lessen my technology load. A laptop, an iPod, a camera, phones and chargers and cables – I’m sick of lugging everything around with me. But I am not someone who has difficulty “unplugging”.