When I started traveling, I knew it in my heart that one day I will be able to pay for my own passage to Europe and live it like a dream. This trip was a lot like that. Call it building ground up, if you will!
I read pages and pages on Google until I nailed the visa application process down to the last letter. I worked long, unrelenting hours so that I didn’t have to scrape through the bottom on my trip. I promised myself, that if this is a budget trip, it sure as hell wont be shoestring, and it wasn’t.
Planning a solo trip out of India is like thrusting yourself beyond your comfort zone. I wanted to keep an open mind so I threw planning out the window and took it as it came. My experience taught me a lot, the good and the bad. A month long travel alone may have taught me the tricks of getting backpacking right, but it was also enough for my European bubble to burst. In that instant, my love-hate relationship with this mesmerizing continent began. While this list is mostly personal experience, I believe that most travelers will relate to it, one way or another.
The things I loved and hated about Europe:
Quintessential European Summers
Love: Summers are such a splendid time to visit Europe. The days are usually longer, sometimes there is daylight long after 9 PM! Longs days mean you can take some exceptionally awesome free walking tours, connect with fellow travelers and also learn the local culture in a fun way, because there is so much happening!
Hate: Quite naturally, this is also the time when most tourists visit this awesome continent. Hence, be prepared for crowded city squares, expensive hostels/hotels, expensive food and basically, everything expensive.
My Tip: travel in the shoulder season when you can enjoy the best of both worlds. In the months between March and May, you will still experience good weather, receding winters, lighter crowds and of course, cheaper too.
The Much-Talked About Culture
Love: Europe is so rich in history and cultural heritage that it will never fail to amaze you. You will see each and every country drenched in their own unique flavor. Every corner has a history and every sculpture has a story. There is a very refreshing vibe to this amazing place attracting tourists from all over the world, and rightly so.
Hate: Over a period of time, this part of the world has learnt to mind their own business. While they may invite tourists with open arms, their troubled past from the two world wars has left them scarred for life. When you are in Europe, you will pretty much be on your own and the most action you will find is with travelers from other parts of the world who are looking for the same things as you.
My Tip: keep an open mind. You will naturally find many locals who are willing to go beyond their call of duty to help you out and keep you company, but there will also be days when you are all by yourself, in a new city/country without so much as an interaction. The trick is to embrace both.
The local cuisine
The best Spanish dish, ever!
Love: Food has to be the best part about Europe. There is something for everyone. Right from local food stalls to burger kings/McDonald’s at every bend of the road. You can feed yourself sumptuously without breaking a bank.
Hate: I am a non-vegetarian, but still the lack of veg food was overwhelming, even by my standards. At some point, I thought that there is almost inhuman availability of meat! I was actually missing vegetables!
The jam lady at the local farmer’s market!
My Tip: if you are a vegetarian in Europe, your best bet is to look for food options in grocery stores. They have the freshest and the widest variety of fruits and vegetables. Besides, their breads and cheeses are to die for!
35,000 ft in the air, I get a bird’s eye view of Azerbaijaan
Love: when I was traveling from city to city, and country to country, I was almost never without internet. There are free Wi-Fi hotspots everywhere. You will find them in restaurants, on bus stations, in the bus, on the plane even! 35,000 ft in the sky and I could Facebook! Good internet connectivity meant that you do not have to buy a local SIM that will become useless once you leave one country, anyway. The Wi-Fi is free to use and can save you good amount of money that you would otherwise spend on a recharge.
Hate: I like challenges in my travel. When I was traveling to Europe, I wanted it to be something that would test me at different levels. But it turned out to be the safest solo trip ever. I was so well connected the whole time that I never once panicked, never once had a sticky situation and was simply breezing through from one location to the next! Not that it’s a prerequisite but it is fun to have such stories!
My Tip: none, actually. I cannot ask you to throw yourself in harm’s way for some cheap thrill :P. This one, in a way, is more good than bad.
Love: One simple stroke of pen united a continent as one big nation, making 27 countries borderless to the locals and travelers alike. Needless to say, it is one of the best things that ever happened! Europe’s Schengen zone is a traveler’s dream. Just hop from one place to the next, see all you can, see all the countries in a single trip. Just keep moving!
Hate: We, by our ultimate nature, are greedy beings. We want to do more in less. Schengen zone is not so much a blessing as it is thought to be. In a bid to see more, we end up losing the essence of this one place we are in. All the travelers I met along the way were not stationed in a place for more than two days. They always had plans to cover more ground before their permit expires. I was tempted one too many times when I thought I should squeeze in just one more country into my tight schedule. But I overcame that, and I am glad I did.
My Tip: Every country in Europe is unique. It has something different to offer. Don’t be greedy and give yourself time to experience the place in its true nature. Hopping from one place to the next is robbing travel of its real flavor.
Meeting so many people
Met these amazing girls at the top of a castle!
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Love: this is more to do with travel in general than Europe. But thanks to all the travelers this amazing place attracts, it became a Europe thing. I met some of the best people along the way, made some friends, had some crazy evenings. Hostels are a hot bed of interaction with people from different parts of the world. You will certainly love how easy it is to make new friends while you are on the road.
Hate: you meet new people, hit it off instantly, do some crazy shit together and then it is time to go. I simply hate goodbyes. They are the most heart wrenching aspects of making traveler friends.
My Tip: be in the moment, savor the interaction and rather than saying bye, conclude your chance meeting with a “until next time.”
My European experience was a learning in itself. I started trusting more, believing more and giving more. But is this the kind of travel I would repeat? Who is to say? Until next time.
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