I finally sat down last weekend and compiled all my videos and pictures and created a comprehensive display of my trip. Don’t worry if it is a little long, I put shortcut links so you can just jump to a particular interest point. You can check out the video here:
I apologize that this is a lengthy post, but I hope to be able to weave together a narrative of my trip with helpful tips and facts on how I made this trip happen and how you can do it as well.
This trip was more of an experiment more than it was a vacation for me personally; yes it was probably the most fun I’ve had in a 2 week period, but it was an experiment nonetheless.
I wanted to test a few things: first, I wanted to test my limits. I’ve always been one with thick walls around my self-imposed limitations, and I’m slowly starting to push back and see where my potential truly lies. I also wanted to test what is my truly purest way to “vacation.” I have always felt this tension when on vacation that I was being pulled into “vacation” and not truly feeling the freedom of a personal holiday. If I was going to be by myself, I was going to do what I want when I want, and my theory was that I wanted to stay in one region and spend most of the time reading and thinking, then splash in some excitement to keep the momentum going. Finally I wanted to test my budgeting. I have a unique opportunity with still working at FedEx part time that I get a lot of employee benefits, one of them being crazy good discounts on standby ticket flying. I wanted to see if it really was possible to have a completely fulfilling vacation experience while still working on a very conservative budget. (Spoiler alert, I was only $50 over my budget.)
But let’s get back to the trip.
I was able to make all my flights out to Zurich without a problem. In fact, there were so many open seats that I was bumped up to the Delta Comfort+ seating which came with extra leg room (not that I needed that), eye shades, and complementary beer & wine, oh and it was an aisle seat. I only rested my eyes for about an hour during the whole trip so that I could easily adjust to the new time zone (Switzerland is 9 hours different and if you can function while pulling an allnighter, I have found it to be useful to not to have jetlag for the next couple days.)
I had bought what was called a Swiss Travel Pass which gave me access to all public transportation for 8 non-consecutive days and 50% discount on any private transportation, which cost about $425. I probably could have saved some money buying a smaller pass or just bought individual tickets, but since it was my first time doing this, I rather pay this premium to only have to deal with knowing what train or bus to get on.
I landed in Zurich at around 10:30am and checked into a hostel downtown. That is another thing that I was a little scared of but was really impressed with: hostels are fantastic! If you’re trying to save some money while travelling, I would highly recommend looking into hostels. Even for a semi-antisocial person like me found it not that intimidating and I felt like I was paying for the only essentials I require from a lodging.
Since I don’t think that many Americans are that familiar with hostels, I’ll give a brief description of them. Hostels are basically a dorm version of a hotel. You check into a dorm room that has typically 4-16 beds and the people in your dorm are the only ones with access to that room. There are private lockers that you can store all your stuff during the night, and there is a bathroom and shower either in the dorm or on that floor. Most dorms have a cafeteria with complementary breakfast, and they usually will have a public kitchen for you to cook your own food. So ya, basically just take your college freshman living amenities and that is what a hostel is. When you check out, you just strip your bed and the staff will just put folded sheets on the bed for the next guest.
What is great about all this is that hostels provide only the essentials for what you need for lodging; it isn’t another experience of being pampered, but just a secure place to crash and restart without boring a hole in your wallet. I paid $20 at the lowest, and $55 at the highest for hostels during this trip, and to be honest, my favorite hostel was the $20 tent village hostel in Interlaken. It was a quiet location with a very chill atmosphere. The tents looked like mini circus tents, but was totally fine inside. I had to layer up a bit at night, but it wasn’t that cold. They had hammocks and a hot tub and a small bar, and it was just a nice place to just relax.
So ya, check out hostels, or Airbnb if you’re doing a family trip or with a larger party since the per-person costs will come down.
Anyways, back to Zurich. I spent the day mostly just wandering around the town while trying to not look completely like a tourist. In that attempt, I may have been successful in convincing someone that I was possibly German, but if I did, then I also probably came across as a complete jerk as well. I stopped by this trendy espresso bar called “La Stanza” and I didn’t know at the time that it was a bar style cafe, so when the barista just handed me my espresso and walked away I felt uncomfortable. So I got the barista’s attention and talking over the loud ambient noise said, “Ich Bezahle jetzt.” Which with the little I have learned in German, I believe that comes across as a stern statement more than an inquiry like I was trying to do since that is translated as “I pay now.” I think I was supposed to swap the first two words around to make a question, “Bezahle Ich jetzt?” Which would then be “Do I pay now?” (Post edit: ya that isn’t even right either. So I’m completely lost now on what you’re supposed to say in this situation).
The next day I headed to Interlaken, but I stopped into the capital city of Bern to go visit Albert Einstein’s old apartment. The first floor has now been turned into an Einstein-themed cafe and I loved their corny slogan: “Relatively the best.”
After spending the night in the tent hostel, I went to another hostel by the same organization called “Balmers Hostel” which is supposed to be a famous hostel in Switzerland. It definitely was a more rowdier crowd and much more active. The basement was a night club and so most people would head down there an party during the night, but thankfully you couldn’t hear it from my dorm.
I then headed up to Harder Kulm, which is a mountain that overlooks Interlaken. There is a restaurant up there and I so I just got a table by the edge and just sat there and read books and ate Schnitzel for the first time (breaded pork). That is another thing about Switzerland: it is quite expensive, especially going to out to eat. I didn’t think the groceries were that expensive, but there is a noticable cost increase for dining out. I went to McDonalds once (yes only once and it was on the last day) and just ordering a McRoyal (all you wonderful Pulp Fiction fans know why it’s called that instead of a Quarter Pounder. For those who don’t know, the answer is simple: They’re on the metric system, so a 1/4 pound has no referencial value to them) cost me $13!
The weird thing was that while the floor price you’d be paying to eat out was high, it really didn’t have the same scale of price premium when it came to finer dining. When I was at the restaurant overlooking Interlaken, my meal there was only $26. Which with the location premium and the sit-down setting of the restaurant, paying only double for the food is a far smaller price hike compared to American dining. In fact, $26 doesn’t even seem to be that expensive for American prices for that setting. I mean I did end up paying more since I was there all day, so I got a couple of beers, a Coke, and I think some espresso while I was there and paid $40 at the end of the day.
The next day was the big adventure day. I started off doing the Canyoning hike, which was AMAZING! I cannot explain properly how incredible that was, and what is crazy is the fact that I now know that I had selected the shortest and easiest course provided there. But the one I did was nonetheless one of my craziest and most exciting things I’ve ever done tadalafil generique. For those who would be adverse to this kind of excursion as I was, just know that this one I took was the perfect balance of doing “crazy” while still being in what felt like a very controlled and secure environment. After seeing the videos of the higher levels, I can’t give that same assurance, but I’m totally going higher next time!
The crew I went with on the canyon hike also joined me as I went to Kandersteg to ride the Rodelbahn, or also known as the Mountain Slide. We all were shocked at how out in the middle of nowhere Kandersteg was, but yet it was a lively and peaceful town. If you wanted to get a more secluded sense of Switzerland but also be part of a fully connected town, I think Kandersteg would be a beautiful place to stay.
Afterwards we all headed back to Interlaken, and I took all the guys to a pub I had found when I was in Interlaken last year (Ok, I think David and Jason had found it first initially. P.S. Miss you guys!). There we had gotten Swiss style burgers and they were definitely a unique burger. Just because I have a very selective and limited palette, I would prefer a normal American burger, but I do acknowledge that it was a higher quality burger than an American burger.
The following day I headed to Gimmelwald, which is a tiny town up in the Swiss alps. I think there is only like 200 residents there, and the main occupation is hay production. There is a road that connects the town and the road goes to the next major town of Mürren, but there is no road up the mountain to get to these towns. The only way to travel up is by gondola.
The great thing about Gimmelwald is that even though there is very few accommodations (I heard there was a grocery store, but I never saw it), it is a great starting place for amazing hikes up in the alps. The other thing is it is even more extremely quiet there. That is one thing about Switzerland that I noticed: it is so quiet! Even in the airport there isn’t much of a noise pollution, but in Gimmelwald, you truly get the sense you’re alone on the mountainside. I was walking on this trail and then I heard some people talking at a normal conversational volume, but I couldn’t see anyone anywhere. Then I looked up and there was a hang glider overhead and I could hear the guide talking to the tourist.
I went up to Piz Gloria a day earlier than I had planned since the weather report showed that it could be all covered up by clouds the next day. Where my Swiss Pass came in handy was the half off price to ride the gondola up to the mountain peak. I could have hiked 4+ hours to the top for free but I wasn’t that dedicated. But it cost me $40 instead of $80, and this is the cheaper mountain peak. Going up to Jungfrau would have cost $200+! (I heard someone claim it was going to cost them $400, but I didn’t really look that hard into it because even the claim of $200 is too much just for a ride, let alone $400!)
I hung out and took in the view for a couple hours before going up to the restaurant. It’s just like the Space Needle in that it does a revolve around in a 360 degree panoramic view of the mountain peaks. Again wasn’t that pricey relative to the cost of getting up there. About $25 again for a meal. I decided to get my money’s worth and sat there for like 4 hours and read books while taking in a beautiful view. By the time I paid, almost everyone had left the resort and I had to wait 90 minutes for the next gondola out. I used that time to explore and explore I did!
I found this trail out of the resort that took me across the mountain peak ridge of Schilthorn and the only thing I have to describe it as is majestic. It is a further validation that true expirience requires you to leave the comfort zone step beyond the crowd. I was already at the mountain top, but yet to truly grasp the majestic view that this elevation provided, I had to venture beyond the contained safety of Piz Gloria.
On my final day I decided to do one last hike around Gimmelwald. The clouds came in low and it gave a totally different perspective of the environment. I had always felt like Switzerland was very similar to the Pacific Northwest, but this cemented those conclusions. It was so green and beautiful and the lighting changed the spectrum from a lively spring green to that deep forest green that only an evergreen trail tainted with the murky overcast sky.
I then took a few trains for three hours to get to Zermatt, which is the nearest town to the Matterhorn. I only got to get a clear view of the Matterhorn for a couple minutes before it was covered up by clouds. But it was a view that was worth the three hour trip nonetheless. It does have a similar eye-popping stature like Mt. Rainier, but it is still noticeably different. In a way I feel like the two mountains should have swapped places, because Mt. Rainier has this peaceful (except for the hidden terrors of its destructive potential it yields) and stately, while the Matterhorn has a very rugged and jarring demeanor. Not to call us in the PNW jarring, but Mt. Rainier truly is too nice for us. We’re a bunch of hipsters and like to fight the status quo. The Matterhorn seems like it would fit more with us that would say, “ya it isn’t pretty, but that’s because you’re too “basic” to see how great it is.”
The final morning I set out for the airport. I was cutting it kind of close because I had a 3.5 hour train ride and it would only give me 2 hours before my flight left. But one of the many things that the Swiss are excellent at is their public transportation system. Not only is it super efficient and convenient, but it is also very clean. Trust me, it was a real reality check going from the Swiss trains to the NYC subway and the NJ transit the day following.
An example on the Swiss efficiency is that they are almost always on time. When I was getting on a connecting train in Bern, I was supposed to arrive at 10:23am and the next train was to leave on track 6 at 10:32am. Well I happen to be on a train that got held up longer than it should and arrived late. I didn’t check the time until I got off the train and saw it was 10:31am! I was sure I wouldn’t make the train but the station was set up so conveniently that I made the train in that one remaining minute. I was shocked by this because I was able to obtain all the critical information and act on it all within a minute. There is no way I could have done that currently in the states.
I spent the last few days of my vacation in Brooklyn and in Princeton, visiting my closest friends in the world, Cubby, Kristi and Jairus. What was great about that time was it was much more relaxed and chill than the rest of my trip, so I had a nice transition from “vacation” back to a normal routine.
So that was how the trip went, lets now talk about what went into the trip and what came out of it.
I had said earlier that it was an experiment, well one thing I was testing if I could handle being completely independent. The answer is a resounding yes. I absolutely loved it! I think it would have been helpful to socialize a bit more than I did, but that’s just refinement. But being on my own allowed this switch to happen where I was in complete control. One of the issue of traveling in groups is the anxiety of being separated from the group. When you’re not hands-on with all the details, it is much more problematic when you’re disconnected, but if you are on your own, you have all the details. It is weird how being alone somehow relieved me of the fear of problematic situations like getting lost. I was able to go at my own pace, which sometimes we’re very fast, and sometimes we’re very slow. Sometimes I was very efficient, sometimes I was very inefficient (like walking into downtown Interlaken three different times in a single day). But I was going in a way that was purely at my own intrinsicly-motivated pace.
Another thing I theorized is that I needed extensive time to read. That this trip was more about finding a scenic place to read and contemplate more than it was to go on an adventure. Surprisingly, that didn’t really end up being the case. Yes I read 3 books during my trip, but most of the reading was done during flying or other traveling. I actually did a lot of activities. I’m still processing if that was an internal pressure to accomplish something and feeling like I wasn’t utilizing my opportunity if I didn’t go out and do something, but I don’t know. But one thing I have discovered is that I don’t need a poetic backdrop to spur deep contemplation and bring me closer to my internal self. I tried to go find a remote place on a hillside that looked out over the mountains, and it was a absolute beautiful view, but when I tried to soak up that scenery and read a book to bring out my thoughts, I instead was more focused on how hot the direct sunlight was, paranoid of bugs crawling all over me, and the pressure that I have to think of something profound to justify this special place.
Where I found myself unlocking my most creative and contemplative thoughts were actually on the airplane. So now I have a new theory: Go out and explore, be in the moment of the experience and be free to just receive and be at peace and full of joy. Then you can go retreat to a windowless room in isolation with no other stimulus to distract you, then the impressions of your experience can start to come out and have been filtered from its purest intangible form to then be expressed in a form that is tangible and connects the right contexts of your personality to produce a true and lasting memory or thought.
The final thing I experimented with was the budget. Here I am, a broke college student and yet somehow I want to go on a vacation to Switzerland. Could I do it? Even with my benefits, are the elements that I haven’t accounted for and I really can’t have a quality vacation while being fiscally conservative? The answer is yes!
I have laid out a handful of details that I learned that helped me prepare financially for this trip, but the one thing I did that helped me to have a realistic plan on how much this was going to cost was a daily projection. I let myself walk with an open hand through my schedule, and so I wasn’t bound by this plan, but what I did was do a mental walk through on how every day would go. I imagined where I would go, and what I would do. I would read up on the area and see what would be things I would be interested in doing there and how they all would fit together. But I also thought about the mundane things: am I going to eat out or cook something? If I eat out, am I thinking I’d want to eat nicer or something fast and cheap? Is this a day that I’m going to relax and hang out in a cafe and get coffee or am I going to use my aeropress and be on the go? Is this a place that I’m probably going to go shopping? What kind of things would I want to get?
All these questions allowed me to see passed the idealistic envisionment of the plan and to think more realistically on how it is going to go. By following my itinerary on a map and envisioning that experience, I made one change to my initial plan in that I thought I would do the RodelBahn on my way from Bern to Interlaken, since I could just take a different train at Spiez. But then I realized that I wouldn’t have checked into a hostel yet at that time, and would have both my bags with me at that time. So figured a new time on where I was going to do it.
All in all, that exercise allowed me to see it was going to cost me a couple hundred dollars more than I had initially planned and I planned accordingly. When I compared my budget to my actual expenses after the trip, I was only over by $51!
Hopefully this works, but here’s a link of the excel sheet if you want to look at how I planned and how my daily actual spending contrasted from it.
I highly doubt much of anyone actually will read this whole thing, but if you have, I hope the message is clear that the opportunity is out there for you to do what you want. By typical standards, there is no way I should have done this, either because of my personality type, or my income, but I did it. You can do it too. I said this in an earlier post, but most of unrealized potential is not that it wasn’t given the chance more than it was not seeing the opportunity. I work for FedEx and one of the perks is discounted flying tickets. The fact is very very few employees take advantage of it. Yet this one action could unlock so much potential for new experiences and a further enrichment of their lives, yet they will never take it. But that is only one of my unique angles. What opportunity is left dormant in your life? What narrative have you spoken over your life that has held you down from opportunities? Trust me, I’ve been on a quest for the past 26 years to boil down my personality and identity to a single point so that I can be clear what I like and don’t like, and yet here I am back from a solo trip from the other side of the planet. That doesn’t fit the description of what I had made for myself, and yet I’m better off because I challenged it.
The number one lesson I’ve been learning this year is being truly present in the moment and to focus on intrinsic value. I have worked so hard to manufacture an identity, a career, a relationship, a life all from a state of depravity. I have been obseving myself as less-than and I need to learn how to equip myself to compensate for that depravity. I’m learning now to be present with myself in my current reality and realizing that the most important thing is that I stay true to myself. I must do what I do because it brings value to my soul, it brings joy to my soul, it brings peace to my soul. It is a very fine line to draw, in fact, not much has changed in my external state. I still am doing a lot of crazy things and pursuing a lot of the same projects, but the source has moved from an extrinsic state to an intrinsic state. I’ll have to talk more about that later, because that line is so thin that I’m sure anyone who is still reading will have brushed passed that distinction. But believe me, the gap between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can be a hairline thick, but the path between them are continents apart.