Two months, a backpack, and the Mediterranean

Hi Everyone, I have a few months off next Spring and want to travel near the Mediterranean. I'm torn on how ambitious a trip I should plan. In particular, I'm not sure if I should somewhat follow Paul Theroux's path in the "Pillars of Hercules", starting off in Spain and ending up somewhere in North Africa; or perhaps Spain to Turkey; or even just settle on one or two countries, say Italy and Greece, and just spend my time there. My question is: If you had a few months to travel around the Mediterranean, would you (i) go the whole distance (i.e., Spain to Morocco, avoiding "trouble spots") or (ii) choose a shorter distance? What would be your dream itinerary? Any ideas will be greatly appreciated, as I will be spending the coming months putting together an itinerary. Craig

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Craig. What sort of budget do you have for this trip ? A person could travel to many places in two months. At the top of the list of places, I would put ITALY, GREECE, TURKEY. In Turkey, American people like to go with a guided tour group. At Greece, I recommend going to two islands in the Cyclades islands group.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

One place it's two months, another a few. I'd enjoy pillar to pillar clockwise with a bit of head scratching approaching Syria. That'd save the best for last. If I had to cut something, I'd invent a ferry that ran from Cartagena to Naples. If I needed another ferry, it'd go from Bari to Dubrovnik. If I thought I might run out of time or money, I'd start at the south pillar and plod along counter-clockwise until it was time to quit. This is one of the best questions I've seen. Can you carry an inflatable kayak on a bike, or fit a bike in a kayak? How many people would you meet if you just walked the shoreline and how long would that take? Darn!

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Hi Ron and Ed, Thanks for the info. I'll stay clear of any tour groups. I hope to keep the budget around $15k-$20k, but at this point have no idea how far that will get me. Craig

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4862 posts

Craig, can you be a little more specific than "a few months"? What does that really mean?

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Hi Andrea, At this point, I plan on spending 2 months traveling. My thoughts are to have modest accommodations along the way. Again, at this point nothing is set. I'm just debating on how ambitious I should make the trip. Craig

Posted by Lee
Dallas
898 posts

With the time and budget you have, you can do the circle of the Mediterranean. I suggest a counter clockwise route starting in Morocco. Spring is a good time to visit N Africa before the temperature climbs. Tunisia and Egypt should be on your list as well. I would plan an itinerary which includes all the spots you want to see and have a plan B for places that may have to be cut because of risk at the time. A great thing about solo travel is the ability to change plans on the spur of a moment. Have a general itinerary, but give yourself flexibility to take side trips or stay longer in places than originally planned. This sounds like a fun trip to plan.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

Tex's idea makes as much sense as mine. My only quibble would be the notion of planning. This ain't the kind of trip you plan. What you do is put your head down and flat-out charge. Full steam the whole way. Slam on the brakes when you see something. Get right back at it. Check for visas, grab a clean pair of socks, load the money gun and go until you're shooting blanks. Lurkers take note: good ole Craig has broken the code on how you're supposed to travel.

Posted by Lee
Dallas
898 posts

I understand what Ed says. There's nothing quite as fun as unplanned travel. Go where the wind blows; stay as long as you like. Presumably, though, Craig has more than a couple of places he wants to see on this trip. Say e.g. it's Marrakech, Cairo, Rome, wherever. My suggestion is do what you want along the way but get to the places you think you'll regret not visiting on the trip. btw this is what a buddy and I did on our 2 month backpack trip to Europe after college too many years ago to count. It was the best trip of my life.

Posted by Thomas
Vienna, Austria
502 posts

Totally agree. Am thankful somebody is breaking the mold.
Many moons ago, I also did the two-month all over Europe trip with no reservations and nothing but a back pack. It was a blast and reworked my worldview. Highly recommend it. The pillar to pillar plan sounds good. I hope you find the time/money to "take a vacation within a vacation" and just chill on some Greek beach for a week. I confess to being envious. You will likely never be so free again (who knows?) Good luck. Enjoy!

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Thanks everyone for your comments. The information you are providing is very useful. Let me throw this out there...I also have taken up photography over the past few years, which means rather than carrying one backpack I will actually be carrying two. If you had to pick areas to travel with "extra weight" attached to getting great landscape photos, what spots would you pick around the Mediterranean? Although I've been to Italy many times, I've not been to Cinqui Terra and have that on my "bucket list". Also, I'm thinking Cappadocia would be great to photograph, and I have always dreamed of getting some photos of Petra (Jordan) as well. Thanks again for your suggestions. Craig

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8731 posts

Craig, sounds like a cool trip. Ed mentioned visas, and if you are heading around counter clockwise you will need some for North Africa and the Middle East. Be careful about what you do with your Israeli visa or stamp if you will visit an Arab country after Israel, even on another trip. You have said you are now planning on 2 months, but perhaps you or another reader will want to stray into a longer time. You should be aware of the 90 days in any 180 cumulatively in the Schengen Area of Europe restrictions. If you need more info on that, ask.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7954 posts

Nigel makes a good point which I skipped since I started day-dreaming: visas. It can be a problem no matter which direction you're going: Arab to Isreal or Isreal to Arab. Jordan and Egypt are pretty much okay. Others can get tricky, and the Isreali immigration guys aren't dopes: they know you can get an arab visa on a separate chunk of paper, but they'll be looking for other things as well. Folks get flat-refused. The work-around, and it's completely legal from a US standpoint, is to have two passports (I do for other reasons than are completely non-nefarious). I'd rank Isreal as being a the highlight above any of the nations that might whammy the deal . I won't lie to an immigration agent, but I'll bet you'll be asked. This isn't the best discussion, but it's pretty close: http://igoogledisrael.com/category/getting-to-israel/passport-visa/

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

I know Ed's been here and has probably encountered more issues going through passport control than I have (I just do the biometric palm-identification, no passport required). Israel doesn't refuse entry because of where you've been, but if you've been traveling in Arab/Muslim countries, they may ask more questions, especially if you are young and traveling alone. Except for Egypt and Jordan, those countries are liable to deny you entry if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. I don't believe there is any problem with Muslim countries in Europe, like Azerbaijan and Turkey who readily admit Israeli tourists. For scenery, I have heard that the Adriatic coast countries, especially Croatia, are very scenic. Petra is interesting. But if you want gorgeous red rock photos head for the Colorado Plateau. . . Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef . . . I could go on and on. Compared to that, the scenery of Petra and Wadi Rum pale (literally and figuratively) by comparison. With a few rare exceptions, the western part of North America is far, far more beautiful and varied than anything in Europe. And you live smack dab in the middle of it. Go to Europe for the culture and history. Get in your car and drive in any direction for a day or less to see the glory of nature.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Hello Craig. I have more than one reply to your question about landscape photography. 1) An island of Greece is a good place for outdoor photography, because of the special light in the sky there. 2) If a traveler is obsessed with taking perfect photographs, that would cause his travel experiences to be less enjoyable. A good photograph on a post card or wall calendar may be the result of the photographer taking one hundred (or more) photographs of one object. He may have stayed at one spot all day, taking photographs in different light, as the sun moved. And waiting for people to move out of the way. I bring a camera to Europe. I primarily take photographs of people in Europe. For getting good photographs of landscapes and buildings, I buy picture post cards, and a small wall calendar, and a small book that has good photographs (rarely). And some good photographs are on brochures for tourists, available for free at a tourists Information office. Carrying a big bag for your SLR camera and its paraphernalia and a tall tripod can be a hassle when traveling through several countries. And, do not put your expensive camera in a bag that will be checked in to an airplane's baggage compartment. 3) I agree with all that Chani said. Go to Europe for the culture and history, and people. You can take great landscape photographs in California and Oregon and Utah.

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Thanks for the comments. You're right, I think I'll leave the expensive camera equipment at home and focus on other aspects of the trip. Craig

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

(Edit) In an eight weeks trip, I recommend being at islands of GREECE, at the Aegean Sea, one week, for relaxing and resting. A good place for that is the island Naxos. It is a big island that has olive tree groves, fruit tree groves, big hills, atmospheric villages, donkeys, goats, trails for walking, and good beaches at the west side of the island. Going to those beaches is easy, via busses from Naxos town. Fly from the Athens airport to the airport on the island Naxos. (Olympic Airways). And you might like to also go to the island Mykonos. Ferry boats go from the island Naxos to the island Mykonos. It has the traditional small white buildings, and windmills. Mykonos was trampled by Millions of people vacationing there, and its beaches and streets are crowded (jostling), and it has "night life" that I am not interested in, but I think Mykonos is worthwhile visiting for two or three days. Mykonos has an airport : Fly from Mykonos to the Athens airport (Olympic Airways). Go to PORTUGAL. Portuguese people are friendly to American people. The city in SPAIN that I would go to is Seville. I heard that the bus ride from Faro at southern Portugal to Seville in Spain is pleasant.

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Thanks again, Ron. That sounds like a pretty good itinerary. I was initially thinking of starting in Spain, but maybe Portugal is a better starting point, or perhaps go counter-clock wise as others have suggested. Craig

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

PORTUGAL, SPAIN, MOROCCO, FRANCE, ITALY, GREECE, TURKEY, ISRAEL Israel The only way to get here is by air. The cheapest is usually from Istanbul, around $350 roundtrip, unless you find charter flights. Do not plan to be here between April 14 to May 6, 2014. There are holidays, prices are sky-high and the whole country is on vacation and sightseeing, along with hordes of tourists. Or spend more time in 7 countries and come here for 2 weeks some other time. Do you want to lock into an itinerary, or be spontaneous? You can get cheap flights if you buy no-exchange, no-refund flights well in advance. That's probably your best option for going to Morocco, for example. You can go by ferry from Spain, but it will take a lot more travel time. The Med coast of France doesn't "speak to me" so I'd just fly over it from Spain to Italy. An easily overlooked destination is Malta. I think there are ferries from Sicily, which is also well worth seeing. Malta's not expensive; it is an absolute jewel: 5,000 years of European history in two small, picturesque islands. Italy to Greece needs a flight. Greece to Turkey - depends. Maybe a one-way cruise from Athens through the Aegean, or DIY with ferries, then work your way north to Istanbul.

Posted by Lee
Dallas
898 posts

I assume you shoot with a DSLR. If you take it and a good "walking around" lens, such as a 17-85 mm telephoto, inside a holster case it won't take up too much room in a backpack. If you decide not to take it, check out the Panasonic Lumix Z20 compact which takes great shots. With a mini tripod you'll be set. Great pictures start in the eye. Study the work of Ansel Adams if you haven't done so. He found emotional impact in a deserted Nevada highway and a sand covered stretch of railroad as well as majestic Yosemite. Everywhere you go you'll see worthy scenes to capture. Then it's up to you and your equipment. So don't scrimp on that. The suggestion to skip France highlights the fact that travel choices are personal. Pick the places that appeal to you and ignore the tastes of others. The Camargue and the harbor at Cassis are just a couple of noteworthy places in France to consider.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

One more suggestion. When I travel at other countries, I bring a small audio tape recorder (using audio tape cassettes). For recording the sound of people talking in various languages including English, and recording the various sounds that I hear at those places. After I return from my travel, I show to people the photographs of the people at the foreign countries, and I play sound recordings of those people talking. A digital audio recording device could be used. Or, a person could bring a small digital video camera with sound. I prefer the simplicity of printed photographs. Augmented by bits of audio recordings. Looking at printed photographs (in a big scrap book) does not require the use of a video player or computer or other electrical equipment.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

I can't sleep because I keep thinking about and visualizing Craig's trip. LOL!! Ron raises an important point -- do you have a set budget that you're willing to spend for the 2 months, or do you have carte blanche, meaning money is no object? It seems the answer to that question could either narrow or expand the degree of freedom of movement you would have to just be footloose and fancy free, following your heart and being open to things as they present themselves. You know, waking up on a rainy early morning in say, Monte Carlo, and thinking, "The weather's better in Sicily; when's the next flight?" Or is this more of a 'try to manage on €150-a-day' kind-of trip? Just saying...

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2600 posts

Sounds like an amazing adventure. If this were my trip, I would have a flight in and out, a rough idea of what I might like to do, and I would leave home my clothes before I would leave home a decent camera. If you are passionate about photography there is no better place to immerse yourself in it than while on an incredible trip. When I travel I do not want to be loaded down with a ton of equipment so I carry a Nikon DSLR with an 18 to 125 zoom lens..no tripod. If I can't get a good image with that, so be it. Only you will know if you would be happy coming home with a bunch of picture perfect postcards, but I would not. I want images of 'my' trip, but that is because I love photography. The longest I have been able to manage this kind of trip is 3 weeks. I much prefer the spontaneous, unplanned, adventure over a scheduled itinerary... and yes, I might miss something, but that pales in comparison to what I have found on my own. Some of us want to be you:))

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. This is great help. Keep the ideas coming! Your comments are all very useful. Craig

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

Craig, At this point, you should give us some feedback. Based on what we've suggested, what is your general plan now? What is your budget? When do you want to go? There's a difference between March-April and May-June. Do you want to lock into an itinerary, or wing it?

Posted by Craig
Sacramento
8 posts

Hello Everyone, Given your comments, I think starting in Portugal, then heading to Spain, followed by Northern Italy (I'll probably by-pass France), Croatia, Greece, Turkey, and Israel is what I'm thinking could be the itinerary. But then again it may change as I spend more time this summer researching. Budget wise, I'm looking at anything between $15k and $20k. I do face a limited budget, but because of flexibility with my job I can travel anytime between Jan. and Aug. of 2014. I don't want to deal with the summer crowds and associated higher costs, and so April-May is my preferred time period. And I don't plan on completely winging-it, but will have some general dates for countries I'll be visiting. Craig

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

"starting in Portugal, then heading to Spain, followed by Northern Italy (I'll probably by-pass France), Croatia, Greece, Turkey, and Israel . . . April-May . . . I don't plan on completely winging-it, but will have some general dates for countries I'll be visiting." Excellent, Craig. Even though your itinerary is likely to change considerably, it's so much easier once you have a plan to start with. Winging it vs. fixing it - you can save lots of money by buying tickets well in advance. Cheap train tickets go on sale 90 or 120 days in advance and are sold out pretty quickly; air tickets, perhaps even sooner. At least you can get an idea of prices by going to the various websites (renfe.com for Spain, trenitalia.com for Italy, Ryan Airlines, etc.). If you are planning to stay in dorm rooms in hostels (or similar), prices tend to be the same all year round. If you want cheap single rooms, you need to book well in advance. The good news is that most places allow you free cancellations up to a week (or less) in advance. You would have to make reservations if you wanted to be somewhere during a special event, like Holy Week in Seville. There will probably be lots of crowds during that week (mid-April in 2014) just about everywhere except Turkey. Have fun planning!

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3496 posts

Israel - a friend of mine has written a short (maybe 50 pages with photos) personal travel guide based on his dozen or so visits. It's an interesting read and a good start for planning time here. It's in pdf. If you send me your email in a PM, I will be happy to zip it off to you.

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1359 posts

Craig, I am glad to know that you did not neglect PORTUGAL . Cartographers do not include Portugal in the countries at the Mediterranean Sea, but I think your decision to add Portugal to the countries in your traveling across the north side of the Mediterranean Sea coasts is a good decision. In Portugal, go to Lisbon, and Salema in the Algarve. When you are at Lisbon, go to Sintra, as a day trip. Avoid going to Sintra on a Saturday or Sunday (crowds of people). Salema, at Portugal's south coast, is a 15 - mile bus ride west from the train station in Lagos. Read about Lisbon and Salema, in the book "Rick Steves' EUROPE THROUGH THE BACK DOOR". An other place in Portugal that is liked by Americans is the medieval city Evora, located east of Lisbon, in Alto Alentejo.