CategoryTravel

Something new in Salt Lake City transit

This is the fourth year in a row I’ve visited my mom in Salt Lake City and there’s a new transit line to gawk at. Three years ago it was the FrontRunner North commuter line between SLC and Ogden. Two years ago it was two new light rail lines (with new Siemens S70 vehicles). Last year was FrontRunner South to Provo (where my brother lives), and this year it’s the S-Line streetcar line.

On Wednesday, on my way back to SLC from Provo, I took a bus from my brother’s office to the Provo FrontRunner station, then the FrontRunner train to Murray station, where I switched to TRAX to ride up to Central Pointe station where the streetcar line terminates. A test vehicle was stopped at the single-track platform.

I wanted to see the route, the stops it makes, the station design, and the adjacent biking and walking path so I started walking up and down and across the blocks to check it out. I ran into two train several times while UTA staff tested them and made the video above.

San Francisco is an expensive place to get around

$8.15 if you want to exit the San Francisco airport via public transit.

In June I visited friends in San Francisco and attended the State of the Map US conference. I spent a lot of money on transit and bicycle rentals. This doesn’t exclude the cost of driving to Davis, California.

BART

Airport to 16th/Mission: $8.15
Union City to North Berkeley: $4.10
16th/Mission to Berkeley (roundtrip): $7.60
16th/Mission to airport: $8.15

I needed to travel from Stanford University (where my friend Stefano does research) to Berkeley (to visit Rock The Bike) and the cheapest and soonest way to get there was to take the Dumbarton Express bus across the lower San Francisco Bay to the Union City BART station. 

Dumbarton Express
Bus from Stanford to Union City BART: $2.10

Caltrain
22nd Street to Stanford (Mountain View): $7.00 (Google Maps says it would cost $21.99 to drive this trip)
Stanford (Mountain View) to 4th/King: $7.00

Total for 8 transit trips: $44.10

In Chicago, if I had taken all trips individually (no transfers), my cost would be about $31.75. To compare Caltrain to Metra, I calculated the cost of a trip from downtown Chicago to Geneva, which is $6.75 each way. This includes the $5.00 trip cost to get out of O’Hare airport, significantly less than BART’s $8.15.

I didn’t ride Muni trains (they’re kind of slow compared to bicycling) but I took a lot of photos of them arriving at Duboce Park. 

Bicycling

Bike rental in Davis, California for 3 hours: $10
Bike rental via Spinlister for 4 days: $72

This is the Surly Long Haul Trucker I rented via Spinlister, seen on the BART train in the roomy bike spot. For the most part, the bike can rest here without any securement. 

This is the charge I’m least concerned with, except that Spinlister charges me a 12.5% service fee). I also picked it up in Stanford because that’s where the bike owner lived; it was the best alternative of the available bikes for people my height as it was a bike I liked (Surly Long Haul Trucker) and it was $16 per day, the cheapest by $9 per day!

Part of the OpenStreetMap conference included a trip to the California Academy of Sciences on the Friday before the meetings started. The SCUBA diver on the left is cleaning the glass while the diver on the right is talking to the museum worker outside the pool. 

Not having a bicycle in a place I visit makes me feel naked. Having the bicycle reduced my potential fees on getting around. I had to move from my friend’s house to the OpenStreetMap conference (which would have required two transit trips or a taxi), between the conference and downtown for the World Naked Bike Ride, and between the conference and Sunday Streets in Dog Patch and Mission Bay. I also biked to Golden Gate Park to visit the California Academy of Sciences, pedaled over to see the Aether shop made with three shipping containers, joined SF Bike Party on Friday night, and biked around Berkeley to see Paul Freedman at Rock The Bike.

I left the OpenStreetMap conference during Sunday’s lunch to check out Sunday Streets. Even though I sold my Yuba Mundo for a WorkCycles Fr8, I love seeing families on cargo bikes.

Berlin day 2 itinerary during my 2012 trip

Olympic stadium, as seen from the entry plaza. View all 88 photos in this set.

A Chicago friend designed my two-day Berlin itinerary, whether he knew it or not. He visited Berlin in March 2012 and sent me an email a week before I left for Europe describing in detail the various facets of the city, including transportation, I should visit. This itinerary is a mesh of his suggestions and what I actually did on Friday, August 31, 2012.

Take the S-Bahn to Olympiastadion. Make sure you note all the unused, but remarkably nice platforms. On exiting the station (toward the east) you get some great views of S-Bahn tracks and covered third rail heading into the city. Walk around the east side of the stadium (and think about how this is a place where Adolf Hitler opened the Olympics and the first television broadcast was done of, making a major plot point in the movie Contact).

Olympiastadion S-Bahn station platforms. The U2 line continues, but some trains may terminate at these platforms for events. 

I walked into the Olympic Stadium, walked 80% of its circumference, and noted all of the statues, some of the stelae, and read most of the historical information stanchions. I saw the swimming arena, which is still in use today (it seems to be a membership club, although not exclusive). The diving platform’s stair design has changed noticeably. The stands haven’t changed: they are covered in what looks like moss.

Disqus throwers statue by Karl Albiker. The accompanying sign said it was sculpted to show how powerful and masculine German male athletes (and Germans in general) were.

I then made a long walk to the north and west, past a Berlin football club and equestrian areas, towards the bell tower and Langemarckhalle (which is partly a memorial to the Langemarck battle in WWI, but now an exhibition about how that memorial was a myth and propaganda to encourage students to join the military). The ticket to get into Olympiapark also gets you on the elevator to the top of the bell tower (Glockenturm), giving you splendid views of the city in all directions. In the Maifield between the bell tower and the stadium, men were playing cricket. This humungous grassy area was used for youth rallies during the Nationalist Socialist (Nazi) era. From Wikipedia: “Maifeld (Mayfield) was created as a huge lawn (112,000 square metres, 28 acres) for gymnastic demonstrations, specifically annual May Day celebrations by Hitler’s government.”

Playing cricket in Maifield.

After another long walk, I exited the park and made my way to the U2 Olympia-Stadion station (note how the S- and U-bahn stations have slightly different names). This is where the U-Bahn museum is (it has weird hours, don’t expect it to be open), but before you enter, you can walk around the station house and get some INCREDIBLE views of an U-Bahn rail yard and shops facility.

The dreary-looking Olympia-Stadion station east of the Olympic Park.

Next, my friend told me, ride the U2 inbound to Eberswalder Straße (toward Pankow from Olympia-Stadion on the U2 line), and walk under the tracks a half-block south to the little stand with the tables outside. He wrote to me, “Have a spicy currywurst and a beer. You won’t regret it.” I ate it and drank a Berliner Pilsner and I didn’t regret it.

That spicy currywurst and beer under the U2 tracks. 

Next, walk back up to Danziger Strasse. Get on the eastbound/southeastbound M10 tram toward Warschauer Strasse U+S-Bahn stations. But get off at Frankfurter Tor, not the terminal.

Then, do this walk:

View recommended walk in a larger map

You’ll get a good view of some Soviet architecture on Frankfurter Allee, a cute walk through a gentrifying neighborhood with tons of lovely little shops, then see the massive, gritty S-Bahn station, the M10 Tram terminal, and the U-Bahn elevated terminal. (You’ll also walk past the hipster hotel my friend stayed in, Hotel Michelberger.) Then, you’ll end up seeing the Berlin Wall and East Side Gallery just before you cross the water from East Berlin into West Berlin – a profound act, to my friend, considering that it was not possible when we were born – and have a nice walk under the U1 el tracks up to a great elevated station.

Soviet architecture.

The beautiful Oberbaum Bridge taken from the north bank of the River Spree, near the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. 

I didn’t walk under the U1 el tracks, but instead walked west along the East Side Gallery and then north on Andreasstraße. I stopped at a grocery store to get some grub and then boarded the U5 at Strausberger Platz, changing at Alexanderplatz U+S Bahnhof to the U8, getting off at Pankstraße and walking a block to the apartment I was staying in.

Artwork on the Berlin Wall. 

The name “Pankstrasse” written in a cool typeface.

N.B. I bought a day pass to use all transit minus Regio, IC, ICE intercity train service. I could use buses, trams, U-bahn, and S-bahn. I never waited more than 9 minutes for a train or tram. The average wait was probably 3-4 minutes. The day pass cost me $8.20. I was given access to a bicycle, which I rode on Thursday night with my hosts, but after walking around and taking transit all day, I declined to get it. I felt that I would be able to get around the city just as fast (or faster) by taking transit (yes, shocking, I know). I also wanted to ride lots of trains. Here’s the full gallery of photos from the day.

Video of the South Shore Line train at Chicago Botanic Garden

I took the UP-North Metra train to Braeside and biked ~1 mile (less than that on city roads) to the Chicago Botanic Garden. I saw a sign for “Model Railroad Garden”, asked a staffer where it was, and immediately made my way there to pay $6 to see the most wonderful garden in the region.

I was here for four hours. Four of my friends then showed up halfway through (they biked from Chicago and had equipment troubles). Afterward, we biked on the Green Bay Trail and Robert McClory Bike Path north to Lake Bluff, Illinois, to eat at Pasta Palooza and drink three growlers from Lake Bluff Brewing Company next door (I added it to OSM today). Their beer is good and it only costs $15 to fill up a growler! (Don’t forget to bring more beer for the Metra ride home.)

The state of bike path signage in Illinois is pretty abysmal and that was made very clear when the RMBP transitioned from the southeast side of an intersection to the northwest side of an intersection (see it on OpenStreetMap). What happened? Well, we were traveling northbound and a sign said “Robert McClory Bike Path; Ends”. This is patently false. The named path keeps going north. There was barely enough visibility to see that there was a “Bike Route [this way>]” sign on the opposite corner of the intersection. Google Maps for iOS verified that this kept us going to our destination.

View more photos from the Model Railroad Garden.

Amtrak “speeding” down the track. This was an interesting model: it’s articulated and electric, a trainset type that Amtrak doesn’t run. 

N.B. This trip is telling me to expand the Chicago Bike Guide map to include at least this far north. The map currently extends to Wilmette. However, there’s a tradeoff: when I extend the map, the file size increases.

Tidy bikes on trains: a trip to Den Haag, and Thursday in the Netherlands

Two WorkCycles bikes stand tucked out of anyone’s way in a Nederlands Spoorwegen (NS) train to Zandvoort aan Ze. See all photos from this set, and from Netherlands.

60% of people arrive to train stations on bicycles.
A third of the country commutes by train each weekday.
Passengers, in a departure from American transit policies, must pay a fee to bring a bike aboard trains. (Bikes are not allowed on buses or trams, though.)

In August, my friend Brandon Gobel and I took a trip to Copenhagen for 7 days and Amsterdam for a little less than 3 (when he returned to Chicago I kept going to Munich and Berlin). We arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, August 22, by overnight train, walked to the WorkCycles Jordaan shop and picked up our reserved rental bikes. Brandon got an opafiets and I a Fr8 (the same model I bought two days later).

Bicycles are accommodated at every point in a Dutch resident’s journey – and for visitors, too! I don’t know how it would have been possible for us to do so much in the Netherlands without the bicycles.

In Latin: A wise man doesn’t piss against the wind. 

On Thursday we had breakfast at some place with a surly waiter that old pancakes near the Apple Store and this funny slogan written in Latin. We then ambled to Amsterdam Centraal Station to buy tickets for our short train trip to Zandvoort from where we’d then bike to Den Haag (The Hague; I just love pronouncing Den Haag). The station never stops bustling. We walked our bikes to the desk to buy one-way tickets, including all-day bike tickets. I never set a PIN on my credit card so the NS ticket vending machine wouldn’t accept it; I had no idea that you could set a PIN on credit cards, thinking that was something only debit cards had.

The train station at Zandvoort. The train is a DD-AR.

A lot of people were traveling to Zandvoort: it’s a beach resort town less than an hour from Amsterdam and the weather was atypically wonderful, warm and sunny. We rode in the direction of the water until we found the infamous red and white bike wayfinding sign pointing to Den Haag. It hugs the sea for a short distance. Before deviating, though, I wanted to jump into the North Sea.

There are no photos of me swimming in the North Sea, but here’s a photo of my rental bike on the beach. 

We got back on the route to Den Haag. I didn’t bring my GPS logging device so I can’t say for certain where we got off the route, but we kept going south and on the advice I got from a local, “kept the sea to our right”. We eventually drifted inland and started riding through towns and along highways (Americans: in the two-lane, rural sense of the word). There was separated infrastructure for most of the journey. When there wasn’t, the roads and laws were set up to prioritize bicycle traffic.

Welcome to South Holland province. Holland ? Netherlands. Do not call the Netherlands “Holland”. 

At one point in our “off the route” cycling, the off-street path ended. That didn’t seem right. I didn’t notice a sign indicating that we should turn off prior. We backtracked a little an then found a different path (still no directional sign). But we kept moving south. Neither of us had a map, nor data connections on our iPhones. I was confident we wouldn’t need one. I have a pretty good sense of geography, even in a foreign country. This one’s so small and I memorized some of the names on a map before we left.

I will admit that I was getting nervous. I didn’t want to “get lost”, even though I completely disbelieved that “getting lost” in the Netherlands was really possible because of its small size and extremely well-connected towns, trains, and roads.

One of the signs that eventually popped up along the bike path that pointed us towards Den Haag. 

“Huzzah!” A red and white sign saying Den Haag is 17 km thataway! After this sign, every proceeding junction had one pointing to Den Haag. It’s still weird that we got off the route for 30-45 minutes (it seems longer).

The last part of the route before entering Den Haag is along a motorway. This is kind of awkward. Think of biking along any interstate. The only separation between the bike path and the road was a strip of grass and some trees (I didn’t take a picture of it). This is the complete opposite of American motorway design (Americans: motorway is “European” for interstate): here, if there’s no concrete or metal barrier on the outside, then there’s a 50-feet wide cleared right-of-way, often with a ditch.  But we know that while clear areas mean less colliding into stuff, it means faster driving!

Pretty much any city greater than 200,000 people in Europe has trams.

Anyway, back to the bike route. We arrive in Den Haag. We head toward the train station, in the center of town. We’re hungry but there’s nothing around here (which is unexpected, as this is the center of town). But the center of Den Haag is very modern and “business oriented”. Maybe the restaurants are inside the office buildings where the plebeians can’t find them.

Expansive plaza outside the Den Haag train station. View of the opposite direction.

We bike north a little towards what looks like a residential area and find what could be a dive bar. Whatever, as they’ve got cheap beer and food. The menus in Dutch, neither of us read Dutch, and the proprietors don’t speak English, but we recognize the word “hambuger”. That’s what we order. I order mine “deluxe” – I can’t remember how it was described; it came with an egg on top! Hamburgers don’t automatically come with buns, apparently.

We ate weird hamburgers at Café Locus. 

I turn on my iPhone and find that the restaurant has wifi. I’m having a hard time recalling how I asked for the wifi password. A patron (who seems like a regular) knows English and passes this along to the proprietor and tells me the wifi password. After a few attempts it works. I needed it to try and contact someone in Delft whom I wanted to meet but it wasn’t to be. We pay up and depart the restaurant for the Den Haag train station, saying thank you and goodbye to the owner and patrons.

A low volume neighborhood street between Café Locus and the Den Haag train station. 

The bike ticket we bought (€6 each) is good for the day. We return to Amsterdam, tired. It was a smooth, fast train ride  on a VIRM (my favorite).

The return train to Amsterdam (which leaves pretty much every 30 minutes) had seatbelts for bicycles. 

We return to the apartment on Bilderdijkstraat we rented through Airbnb. The lovely bakery across the street, Cake Loves Coffee, is still open so we talk to the owner and sole employee, Nicole. I get a slice of berry sponge mascarpone (photo). We can’t subsist on sweets and fill up on fast food pizza restaurant across the street while we gulp beers sitting outside on the sidewalk in front of the apartment, watching nearly a hundred people bike south after work.

Beers in public. Yes, it’s allowed. Yes, it’s a very civil and normal thing to do. No, it doesn’t lead to the downfall of society. 

View Street View of apartment/bakery neighborhood larger. This image was taken over 3 years ago and the street has been redesigned. Instead of having door zone bike lanes, there’s now a proper cycle track. The bakery wasn’t built yet.

It eventually comes time to head out and visit the Red Light District. What a fun place to visit. If you don’t like seeing real live topless women, or stag parties (Americans: stag is British for bachelor), you should probably avoid it. On our way back to the apartment we stop at a nice bar down the street (between it and Vondelpark). I had noticed it the previous day and finding it reminded me of something peculiar: I never created a turn-by-turn route for any journey we took but I was able to get Brandon and I to any destination in Amsterdam, and “home”, without too many deviations (one of my goals is to never backtrack). I think half the money we spent that wasn’t on trains was spent on booze.

Hash Marijuana and Hemp museum in the Red Light District. 

A group of guys carry the bachelor in the Red Light District. Prostitution is legal in this area of the city. It’s impossible to photograph Amsterdam without a bike in the shot. 

Enter the Houten Fietstransferium, and other bikes and transit commentary

Video by Mark Wagenbuur, aka markenlei on YouTube. See his original blog post about it.

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that “Fietstransferium” means “bike transfer building”. It’s a structure underneath the train tracks at the Houten (in the Netherlands) main railway station (it has a secondary station on the same line a little bit south of the main one). You roll in directly from a car-free street in the center of a town, park your bike, and walk up to the platforms. Also available in the Fietstransferium are bike rentals (likely OV-fiets) and bike repair. It wasn’t open when I visited Houten in January 2011.

From the video (and from other sources) 60% of NS passengers arrive by bike. Good connections between bikes and trains helps maintain that access rate, but probably also helps increase it. Bike connections to major train stations in Chicago is woeful, even at the stations that are new enough to support a good connection. Let’s call Houten’s bike to train connection quality “roll in, walk 100 feet, service”: you roll into the bike parking area, and walk upstairs to your train (there’s even a ticket machine in the bike parking area). This differs from “roll on service” as that means you roll your bike into the train.

One shot from the video was taken from this vantage point, showing the bike parking, the staircase, the platform, and a train. Photo by Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten VNG (Dutch Association of Municipalities). 

Chicago

The LaSalle Street Metra Station got an upgrade in bike connections this year when the “intermodal center” adjacent to it on Congress Parkway and Financial Place was added. It came with bike parking, an elevator, and a staircase with bike ramp. The station has other access points, which are very well hidden. Unguarded.

The LaSalle Street intermodal center. 

Northwestern Station lacks indoor and guarded bike parking, and any that’s available is far away from the tracks. The sheltered bike parking is very undesirable, dark, and dirty; I don’t recommend parking on Washington Street. Nor do I recommend parking on any of the sidewalks surrounding the station block.

Union Station is similar to Northwestern Station: all bike parking is unguarded and far from the tracks. Millennium Station. Same problems.

The nexus of bikes and transit is something I enjoy planning, and talking and writing about. Read my past articles on the subject. I’ve created the biggest and best collection of bikes and transit photos in the eponymous Flickr group. It’s an important part of the Chicago Bike Map app. You can load train stations on the map, search for them, and get information about when and how to board a train or bus with your bike. Coming soon is information on accessible stations (which have wide gate turnstiles making for self-service bike entry) and stations that aren’t accessible but have the same wide gate turnstiles (called TWA, or turnstile wheelchair accessible).

Additionally, none of these stations are accessible by good bike lanes. Only Union Station and Northwestern Station have adjacent bike lanes, and then only ones that are north-south (Clinton and Canal). As the Chicago Department of Transportation noted in its multiple presentations about the upcoming installation of the Union Station bus intermodal station, biking on Canal Street is not good and the bike lane will probably be reconfigured during the Central Loop BRT project. To summarize, the connection quality that Chicago’s downtown train stations provide is “confusing service”: where does one park? will the bike be safe? how does one get to the platform now?

Biking on Canal Street outside Union Station. It has multiple entrances and access routes but which one is best?  Another photo from biking on Canal Street.

Near Northwestern Station, the Washington Street bike lane ends abruptly three blocks away at Desplaines Street. The Madison Street bike lane doesn’t reach Northwestern Station, nor would it be effective with its current design, as it would constantly be occupied by things that aren’t bicycles.

Biking on Washington Street, a very wide fast street, whose bike lane ends very soon (in the middle ground) where then you find yourself competing for space with buses and right-turning cars. As soon as one is “competing” on a street, the street fails to provide good space for either mode. 

Harrison Street just south of the LaSalle Street Station is usually a good street to bike on, but it lacks the kind of bikeway infrastructure that attracts new people to transportation bicycling, and more trips to be made. (I’ve lately been thinking of ways to synthesize the argument about why protected and European-style bikeway infrastructure is necessary, so here goes: Bicycle usage will not increase without them.)

San Francisco

Photo of a man walking with his bicycle in a BART station by San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. 

BART in the San Francisco Bay Area tested in August policy of having no bike blackout periods on Fridays. That meant people could bring their bikes on the trains at all times on Fridays in August, and not just outside rush periods. Showing their high level of attention planning and policy, the agency evaluated the program with a proper survey. There’s a meeting tomorrow with the BART Bicycle Task Force; Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority should have such a group!

Traveling to Portland on July 18 through July 23

My favorite photo from my first (and only) trip to Portland, Oregon, in April 2010. 

Things I want to see or do:

  • New Sellwood non-car bridge
  • South Waterfront
  • Bike on a trail outside of town
  • Visit the ocean (this won’t happen as it will take too much of my short time there)
  • Buy a WorkCycles Fr8
  • Any other urban design, urban planning stuff that’s gone in since April 2010
  • Bike in Sunday Parkways
  • Take more photos of curbs

People I want to meet:

  • Jonathan Maus
  • Will Vanlue
  • Travis Wittwer
  • EthanPDX
  • Joel (at Splendid Cycles)
  • Metrofiets people
  • Mia Birk
  • Kelly C. and Jennifer D. at the university
  • Mayor Adams
  • Roger Geller
  • I want to interview some people about Sunday Parkways
  • Toni and Candace from Women and Women First bookstore

Over here in Richmond, Virginia

My first trip of 2012 was to Richmond, Virginia, to travel with my friend who is racing (in 60 minutes) in the North American Cycle Courier Championships (NACCC, see more photos).

I went for a two hour walk today (got a haircut, too) around Carytown and neighboring districts. The homes here are beautiful.

The photos are actually from yesterday. More will come later.

Europe: A year ago at this time

A year ago during Christmas, New Year’s, and today, I was on my 18-day trip through Europe. To share that trip (again), I’ve been uploading more photos from the trip to my Flickr. I’ll double the number uploaded in a couple of days. A year ago on January 3rd, I traveled from Bremen to Wuppertal, Germany, and then to Amsterdam, Netherlands, with train transfers in Venlo (at the border) and Eindhoven.

Italy

I added a bunch of new photos from Italy, mostly from the mountain bike ride I took in Como and Brunate with my friend’s brother. This was December 27, 2010.

Matteo and I on a mountain above Lake Como and very near the border with Switzerland on Monte Boletto. View on OpenStreetMap

A panoramic view of Lake Como and central Como. Brunate is a village on top of the mountain in the middle. We took the funicular up there

Germany

I also uploaded new photos of Bremen, Germany. I added many more pictures of the Valentin submarine pens, the ferry ride across the Weser River into Vegesack, and the trams that run constantly 24/7.

The tram station in front of the Bremen Haupthbahnhof (central station). Notice how familiar the people are with walking near and around the trams. View this on OpenStreetMapThis was January 1, 2011. 

What the submarine pen looks like from the land side, south of it. Read more about these storage facilities of Nazi submarinesThis was January 2, 2011. 

From the Weser River ferry into Vegesack I saw this enormous shipbuilding facility with a yacht parked out front. It appears comparable in size to the submarine pen. This was January 2, 2011. 

More photos

The list above contains the dates for which I uploaded many photos recently. Here’s the full set of photos and here’s a collection of the different topics.

Past posts about this trip

I’ve written many times about this trip. If you want to read more, I suggest you go to my index of all trips I took in 2009 through 2011. The different cities and countries are linked there. But here are a couple other posts that are more than photos:

How do you enjoy the roses: Smell them or photograph them?

A tram in Milan, outside the Castello Sforzesco and near the Milano Cardona train station, where I arrived from a short trip from Como.

My mother is one to consistently tell me, a communications and photography obsessed traveler who bikes 60 miles per week with a camera around my neck, to “stop and smell the roses” instead of “stop and take their picture”. My 18,208 photos taken in the last 12 months are probably a testament that I’m doing more clicking than sniffing. But the photos I take are there to enhance my stories when I come home. I feel I enjoy my trips even if half the time my eyes are looking through the lens.

On my trip to Europe this year, I made a commitment to myself to not worry about costs – I had money to spend on a wonderful trip. This came after I spend 10+ hours calculating on the value of a Eurail Pass that would give me unlimited free trips on all local trains and discounted trips on high-speed trains. A simple rule eventually made the decision for me: the ticket took two weeks to mail and my trip was in five days. After all those calculations, and understanding the pass’s restrictions, I was moving towards a decision to buy my tickets à la carte, or as I needed them. I kept all of my receipts to monitor the cost of my journeys. Guess what? They came out the same: I spent $512.55 on 19 train trips (including metros; conversion made on January 25, 2011)*. A Eurail Pass that would have gotten me the same trips (and more if I wanted to) was $716 or $771. By keeping my mind focused on enjoying the trip instead of analyzing my costs.

Why do I bring all of this up now? Wired’s October issue has a “travel optimization” article and I love that the author was in a similar quandary:

Halfway through my visit I missed a text message that cost me $5,000 in lost income. At the moment the message arrived (or didn’t arrive), I was enjoying a eucalyptus steam bath with an old laborer who’d belonged to the Solidarity Union, which had helped defeat communism in Eastern Europe. His stories were thrilling, but were they $5,000 worth of thrilling?

Of course they were, I concluded on the flight back. When the mind of the traveler grows overly preoccupied with estimating opportunity costs, the capacity for discovery diminishes, displaced by the obsession with efficiency. The voyager may as well have stayed home, since he’s not really on a voyage anymore; he’s researching economics in the field.

That is exactly the state of being I wanted to avoid. And I did a pretty great job.

I’ve got another example: When it came time to pay the bill after dinner and drinks in Copenhagen, I opened my wallet and said (mainly because I was unfamiliar with how to convert kroner to dollars), “This is what I have”. Thankfully it was enough, although I had to visit the ATM a couple times per day in Copenhagen.

*Add on $85 for a flight from Milan to Hanover. I rode on trains operated by at least 10 different companies and agencies – it was one of the most splendid journeys of my life.

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