52 Days, 5 Countries, 14 Airbnb’s, countless trains. A grand European adventure.
The email came from the lawyers in late January. After lots of legal jargon I filtered out the important news- you cannot work until October at the earliest. Urgh.
While it wasn’t a total surprise, I was hoping I could be back to work in the Summer. So here I was with another very long stretch of doing nothing ahead. So I settled into a bleak February in Portland and the envitable Winter depression. I was paralyzed by overthinking “You should volunteer again!” “Take cooking classes!” “Gym everyday, oh how fit you’ll be for Summer!” and of course my body responded by curling up in a ball over a heating vent and watching Sex and The City re-runs. When your whole self worth revolves around work, it’s crushing when it’s taken away.
In those hazy and sometimes snowy February days I found my escape via Pinterest and the thing I found myself pinning most was Europe.
Last year I had started to make a list of the places I wanted to visit in Europe if I ever moved back to England. All these places seemed so exotic since I was now living in the US.
Oh Paris, how beautiful you are! A few years ago it would’ve been “Yeah, that dirty town we visisted that time in college and my boyfriend back home was cheating on me with those goth chicks” or “Spain so pretty and full of drunk Brits fighting between the girls flashing their boobs”
All the tackiness forgotten, I decided that if I couldn’t work I was going to use my savings to see Europe, see those pins in the flesh. Paralysis lifted.
I settled on May and June as a good time to visit Europe. Not crazy hot, not freezing cold and hopefully less touristy then the expensive Summer months. Just far enough in the future not to be scary and close enough to be excited about. I already was planning to visit NYC in April, from there I book my flights back to London then hot foot it to Paris.
Where (the hell should I go?)
I was having a really hard time matching up my wish list with a feasible trip around Europe. I wanted some sun, some culture and a little beach time. Not impossible for Europe, just an overwhelming number of options.
After a week of getting frustrated at trains and destinations not matching up I moaned to Nilesh “You don’t understand” I’d jabber, there’s no direct trains from Barcelona to Lyon! How effing ridiculous!” and the classic ” I want to go everywhere but I cant decide where to go!”
So one Saturday sweet, patient Nilesh said ” I know! Let’s get a map, that will help you visualize it”
Of course Portland, Oregon has a dedicated (and awesome) map store in the SE Neighborhood From this simple map and some numbered pins the journey started to piece together.
Through just looking at the map, looking at my pins and recommended places from friends the journey planning was finalized at:
1. London to Paris (1 night)
2. Biarritz (2 nights)
3. San Sebastián (3 nights)
4. Madrid (4 nights)
5. Sevilla (4 nights)
6. Barcelona (3 nights)
7. Aix en Provence (5 nights to relax)
8. Nice (4 nights)
9. Cinque Terre (4 nights)
10. Florence (via Pisa) (4 nights)
11. Rome (3 nights)
12. Sorrento (via Naples) (5 nights, relax/day trips)
13. Venice (2 nights)
14. Salzberg (3 nights)
15. Munich (2 nights)
16. Paris (3 nights)
As I hate to fly it was a really easy decision to train it everywhere. The European train network is fantastic and has endless travel possibilities if you look hard enough. I booked all my trains online and in advance as it worked out cheaper than buying a Europe Rail Pass, which happens to be quite expensive for a British girl spending dollars.
I was careful to make sure that most of my tickets could be printed in advance to avoid having problems with my credit card abroad and seat61.com was an absolute winner in helping me figure out how to book it all.
Day by day I tackled one or two destinations, booking trains and then then Airbnbs as I’ve mentioned before, my favourite was to stay in new places. I tried to stick to a budget of $50 a night for rooms, however in most places that was pretty impossible so I inevitablely spent more.
What (if?) -
It took until the end of March to have everything booked and as I wasnt leaving until April that left plenty of time for doubts to seep in. What if I miss my train? What if the room I’ve booked in Venice is a scam? How am I going to get a taxi from Aix TGV to my Airbnb at 11pm?
Enough time for me to take all those worries, sit with them and then think about how being out of control can be a good thing, stop worrying!
How (to pack!)-
How the hell does one pack for 2 months (and then a whole separate trip to England) away from home? Especially in those late spring early Summer months?
I tried, I tried very hard. Colour co-ordinating my dresses and jumpers to my shoes, trainers for hikes, little boots to liven up a pretty dress, you name it, it was on that spare bed of ours waiting to be packed away. Then comes the sad relaization as you fill your back pack that it just aint all gonna fit. In fact you can only pack half of what you have and then see what beauty products you can live without. Half of my main bag is filled with a toiletry bag of goods, first aid kit, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, Sunscreen etc etc. Pack wisely, be ruthless and remember you can buy things as you go along, budget allowing.
So far, my favourite little booties snapped a heel one night in Madrid. I cant tell you how upset I was over something so trivial, but these boots were the best. What I’ve learnt (the hard way) is bring things that are not new , but not well loved. Spending an afternoon in Barcelona shopping for boots when I could’ve been seeing some cool things is crumby.
Above all remember that you’re carrying this on your back and you’ll need to be able to lift it above your head. Travel light!
Why (are you doing this alone?)
Is the question I’ve been asked by everyone.
My answer is always a different version of this. Sometime you just need a moment to look at your life and how it runs. What’s going well and what can you improve. I guess I’ve always been lucky enough (in my adult life) to have people to look out for me. To cook for me when I’m hungry, to find fun things for us to do when we’re away from home. So much that I relaized that I’d become lazy. Letting others take the lead, doing all the hard work while I took a back seat
I’ve always been happy in my own company and the thought of being alone doesnt scare me like it does others. The option is always there for me to walk into a bar and start talking to a stranger, but only if I feel like it.
I intended to get a little lost, get sad and uncomfortable and then realise that I can take care of myself and that everything will be fine. Even if I come away changing nothing I believe that traveling alone makes you:
1. Appreciate what you have.
2. Realize you’re a badass.