How Not To Travel

Usually, when I decide to travel to a new place, I do fairly exhaustive research.  I look at information about what other people like to see in the city.  I check for walking tours or hop-on/hop-off tours.  I confirm information about the public transportation.

Most importantly, I do something that I’ve been doing before trips to new places for many years.  I make a list with three categories:

  1. Stuff I absolutely must see while I’m in this new city.  This category is the stuff that I’m most excited about. This category often includes the reason I went to the new city in the first place.
  2. Stuff that I really want to see.  This stuff isn’t quite as important as the MUST SEE category, but it usually includes a lot of interesting things that I’m glad I saw after the trip is done.
  3. Only if there’s time.  This is stuff that seems interesting to me, but if I don’t get to it, I won’t be too sad about it.

I’ve been using this three tier method for a lot of years, and when I’m traveling with a friend, I have them do the same list.  More often than not, we manage to get ALL of the must-see stuff, most of the really-want-to-see stuff, and occasionally, we even get to the only-if-there’s-time level.  Having things tiered this way makes it very easy to figure out a day by day plan without it becoming too overwhelming or stressful.   This planning method has always worked very well for me while traveling, and I should know better than to stray too far from it.

Yesterday, I tried something different.

I’ve been feeling kind of stuck lately- I don’t travel as much in January and February because it’s fricking cold and I don’t usually want to go take pictures of things when the sky is full-gray and I’m bundled up like the Michelin man.  Climbing hills to castles is not fun on snow and ice.

In order to combat the feeling of stuck-ness, I decided recently that I would try to visit some of the really close towns, places that I can get to in about an hour on the train.  A Bavaria Ticket costs me 22 Euros, and that covers the train there and back as well as any bus lines or public transportation in the destination city, anywhere in Bavaria.  The idea here is that if I day-trip to a new place, I don’t need to muck about with getting a hotel, packing a bag, and so forth.  I just go, wander around a new city for the day, then come back.

Why did this backfire?

  • It failed because I chose Ingolstadt as my first foray out this way.  Ingolstadt is perhaps the most boring city in Bavaria.  The most interesting things about Ingolstadt are that the Illuminati was founded there and the monster was created there in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Neither of these things is easy to see in a touristy way on a day trip.  Oh, and Audi has a factory and tour there, but I didn’t think to get information about that before I left Regensburg.
  • It failed because I went on a Sunday.  Everything is closed on Sundays.  Bus routes are cut down to once in hour in many routes on Sundays, which made getting around town kind of a pain in the ass.
  • Above all else, this little day trip failed because I didn’t prepare for it.  It failed because I didn’t do my list this time.  Ingolstadt doesn’t have many old buildings because it was significantly bombed out in World War II.  The few remaining old buildings look pretty nifty, but since I didn’t do my research before the trip, I didn’t know where to look.

This is the most interesting thing I managed to see in Ingolstadt yesterday:


That’s directly opposite the Bahnhof.  I spent the rest of the day using the tediously slow Sunday bus routes to try to find cool things to see.  I didn’t even manage to figure out where Ingolstadt’s “Altstadt” or Zentrum (city center) was.

I did have a successful conversation with a passerby who spoke no English, so I feel like that was a win, but I learned a great deal on this trip about what doesn’t work for me when I travel.

What lessons have you learned in your life about what NOT to do when traveling?


11 thoughts on “How Not To Travel

  1. I always think planning is the most important aspect of travel – I solve all the headaches prior to leaving so that I can enjoy my trip while I’m there. I like your 3-tier system – it would definitely come in useful to determining priorities when sightseeing.


  2. HA. Some of my students had told me that Ingolstadt was nice, so when my friend was visiting last summer, we stopped there on our way back from the Weltenburger Kloster. Total Fail. Since we just had a little more than an hour, I thought we’d just hop off, look around, and hop back on the train. So naturally it’s the only city in Germany where the Altstadt is about a 30-minute walk from the center! We did find it, but it took forever to get there and by the time we made it, it was time to go back and get our connecting train. Not to mention that was post-walking around the monastery and so we were already a bit tired. Definitely took a taxi back to the station on that one.


  3. I usually love the Bavaria Ticket (well, BW Ticket in my case), but that is such a bummer. Usually, I use it for the Black Forest or something so things being closed isn’t such a concern, but that all sounds really frustrating!


  4. When something says “close to” or “conveniently located,” check the actual mileage. Typically, we’ll pick a place to stay that is right in the center of things, and then walk everywhere. Well, in Charleston, “close to” was an HOUR walk to where everything was. After the HOUR walk back to the b-and-b, I called a hotel that I’d seen when we were downtown and rebooked us. I couldn’t do an-hour-each way in July.


  5. It’s the worst when everything is closed. I went to this one place where everything was closed on Monday. Sundays are tourist days. Mondays are off. Who knew?
    The most important thing I’ve learnt about what NOT to do when traveling, is never look inside a public bathroom.


  6. Sorry about the Ingolstadt. I’ve been to our factory there a couple times on business — arriving by train and by car — and both times I had the distinct impression that place sucks.

    Your tiered lists surely would have helped you here. What MUST you see while in Ingolstadt? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.


  7. tg

    I am sorry you did not like your excursion to Ingolstadt. It is as boring (or interesting) as most other german towns of that size on a cold, grey sunday in Winter would be. It has a small but charming old town, a castle, some old fortifications and what you call “a factory” is acutally the Audi worldwide headquater ;-). So it does have some things to offer for tourists. However, you are right, it might not be a touristic hotspot but just more a sort of everyday German life kind of town (and maybe even interesting for that as you yourself are not really a tourist anymore but more part of that every day life). Winter might not be the best time for city-tourism, although some city parks can be wonderful in winter. But winter is time for nature and snow related activities outdoors. I live in Munich, where people go ice-skating and do bavarian curling on lakes, or cross country skiing (in the parks or in the hinterland) and so on. Cross country is easy to learn even if you have never been skiing before. No interest to try something winterly?


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  9. I understand Audi will build a new train station, perhaps closer to the Altstadt. But, yeah, Ingostadt doesn’t have much to offer except a factory outlet mall for shopping…Try any of the ‘au’s’…Murnau, Lindau, Passau…


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