The first time I left the country, I was 19 years old. After graduating high school, my only focus was to work my butt off, save every dollar that didn’t go towards fresh out of high school bills, and backpack Europe. I wore a necklace with an Eiffel tower hanging from it everyday as a reminder that I would see that landmark one day.
It took me about a year, but I saved everything I thought I would need to make this adventure happen. Leading up to Eurotrip, I packed and unpacked my 55 liter backpack over and over again.
I just reread my opening page of my journal on my flight, flying over Greenland. It cracks me up to feel my uncertainty all over again. This trip was my ONLY goal during that time. I didn’t know what my plan would be after I reached my one and only goal. Get another job to save up again for my next adventure? Go back to school? Move out of Idaho? I’ve always been one to overthink and over plan. Luckily once the plane reached ground in England, all my worry left my body. Until going through immigration and realizing I was underprepared. I had forgotten to print out my return ticket and had no proof that I was going to leave the country. I ended up having to prove that I had efficient funds in my bank account and wasn’t coming there to stay. After about an hour and a half of convincing the immigration officers that I was just passing through, they gave me a huge stamp with the date I needed to leave by on it, and sent me on my way. Suckers. I live in England now. Kidding.
I stayed in a hostel in Piccadilly called “Backpackers”. This was my first hostel experience and I oddly learned to love them from that point forward. I went out and explored London and all of the touristy sites. I was so in awe of the architecture, cars on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, accents, all of it!!
When I returned to my hostel, I met my bunkmates. One guy was from France and was on the rather odd side, and the other, a friendly guy from South Africa. Frenchie made a habit of going in and out of the room door all night long. Honestly, he had to have done this about 40 times. Needless to say I didn’t get a lot of sleep, and safe to say I was glad he left the next day.
After a couple of days of site seeing, taking advantage of only needing to be 18 to consume alcohol, and making new friends, I hopped on a train to Paris!
This was me the second I came up the stairs from the train, arriving in Paris. I couldn’t gather myself. I wore that necklace for years leading up to this moment. Paris isn’t my favorite city by any means, but I think during that time, I was convinced it would feel like the “city of love” as it’s described to be, and would captivate my heart. Little did I know what was yet to come.
I stayed with a lovely woman named Wilma, who was my “Couch Surfing” host. For those who don’t know, there is a site called couchsurfing.com where you can make a profile, and stay with verified users in the area you are traveling to, who have an extra bedroom or couch to crash on. FOR FREE! Sure, this sounds a bit sketchy, which is why I recommend women stay with women offering up their space. I have been nothing short of lucky when it comes to the hosts I’ve had. Wilma was patient, kind, and informative. Patient meaning, she offered up her kitchen, (specifically her wine to me), which I consumed all of, (And replaced), and then I drank the replacement wine. Before you judge me, remember we were all 19-year-old wine lovers, right? Anyway, she was kind, and didn’t mind too much that my blood type was wine.
I ate my weight in cheese in that city. But also walked it off. I saw all the things one might want to see in Paris: The Louvre, Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, Arc De Triomphe, wine bars… All the things. While walking to Notre Dame, I was alarmed by the flailing arms of a homeless looking gentleman approaching me. I hugged the buildings as closely as I could to escape any possible situation. He walked past me and I sighed in relief. Until he U-turned, and punched me in the back of the head and shouted, “Les incompetent!” And that was the moment I knew I needed to get some more replacement, replacement wine. That was also the moment I knew I didn’t feel pressured to wear my Eiffel tower necklace any longer.
The next morning, I headed to the train station, purchased a “Euro rail pass” and was off to Rome, Italy! I bought a 3-country pass. Meaning, it started in France (country 1), took me to Italy (country 2), brought me back through France, and final destination, Netherlands (country 3). It was a 16-hour train ride to Rome. Luckily my compartment was well equipped with a bed, table, sink and bathroom. I slept most of the way, and woke when the sun greeted me through the window.
Rome was everything you could imagine and then some. You can FEEL the history there. It’s almost a heavy feeling. (Could have also been all the bread and gelato I consumed.) Again, did all the touristy things: The Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Spanish steps, and the Vatican. It was so beautiful and quiet in the Vatican. The Sistine Chapel took my breath away. The only noise you could hear in there was the security guard yelling at me for taking a picture of the ceiling. I don’t know if I even need to leave a note here for future visitors of the Vatican, but to save you from breaking the silence, do NOT take pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
I stayed in another hostel in Rome. This one was called “Los Angelo’s”, and was particularly expensive for a hostel. I think it was 80 euros a night? I had checked on couch surfing hosts in Rome, but they either weren’t friendly or were in sketchy areas, so I bit the bullet and stayed at a beautiful hostel. It truly was beautiful. I didn’t have to bunk with any other travelers, and had a TV. My favorite part of staying in hostels is the hostel bar. For no other reason other than you get to meet other travelers from all over the world. (And you develop a strong liking for Baileys, or so my 9-year-old journal says I did?)
On my way to the train station, where I would go back to Paris for a connecting train to Netherlands, I found out that France went on strike. No trains, planes or buses were going in or out of France. I finished an entire book I had bought at the train station while waiting for something to happen. I was informed that an overnight train would make its way into Nice, France and that was the closest I was going to get to Paris. At this point in my trip, I had about $300 USD’s and a week of traveling left.
I finally boarded a train leaving for Nice. The train ride was 8 hours and was traveling overnight. The windows wouldn’t close, causing freezing air to blow through. Complete 180 from my train into Rome. I shared this compartment with 4 other men. One who was flatulent the entirety of the ride. It was so uncomfortable and ridiculously expensive for what it was. When I got to Nice, there were riots in the streets. My only option at this point was to rent a car and drive to Paris and I had no money. Family ended up having to wire me funds, which bruised my ego a bit after thinking I had this whole trip in the bag.
The drive to Paris was incredibly beautiful, but so brutal on almost 30 hours of no sleep. Once I arrived in Paris and hustled to return the car, I went to the train station where hundreds of other stranded travelers were sleeping on benches or the floor, waiting for the strike to lift. I found myself some space on the floor and fell asleep. Not too long after getting cozy on the concrete, I was awoken by a barking German Sheppard and a French guard shouting and pointing at the station doors, demanding I leave. I realized that because I was the only one with a backpack that I appeared to be homeless. I tried to explain that I too was a traveler, but the language barrier sent me on my way. As soon as the station doors slammed behind me, I kid you not; rain came pouring down out of nowhere. It was 1 o’clock in the morning, I had nowhere to go, next to no money, and I developed a terrible cold from no sleep and being on a horrific train with windows that didn’t close.
I couldn’t help but start to cry. I ran into a scary situation where a drunken guy with a black eye kept insisting he would help me and give me shelter. He kept putting his hand on my backpack trying to lead me to his car. I finally was stern and told him to fuck off. I picked up my pace and went into a nearby 24-hour café. I ordered a hot chocolate because I would have been kicked out if I hadn’t purchased anything, and soon after finishing it, was kicked out anyway for falling asleep at the table. Once again on the streets, I went into a hotel across the street from the train station. It was 2 o’clock and I decided to over draft and get a room for the night. My check out was 9 am so I was at least guaranteed 7 hours of sleep. My hotel room had a window that also wouldn’t close, so rain blew in all night. What’s with your windows, France?
After a cold nights sleep, I sat on the floor of the bathtub and let hot water just run on me. With wet hair, I left the hotel and walked back over to the train station, where I was greeted with good news that the strike was over. I soon boarded the next train on its way to Deurne, Netherlands! I was going to be staying with new friends the next few days, thankfully.
Holland was to die for. Thatched roofs, deer, so much green, roundabouts, little bridges over streams. It was so peaceful after the last few days of chaos. After a good nights sleep, I boarded another train with the friend I stayed with. We headed to Amsterdam!
He had asked some of his friends if we could crash there for a couple nights. They humbly accepted me into their home. As we left the train station and wandered into Amsterdam before going to his friends place, I demanded that we go to a weed shop!
I had never experienced legal weed before and I was determined to make that my first stop. I probably went a bit overboard buying a box of joints and an edible. I smoked a joint to myself, developed the munchies, and devoured the weed muffin. When I say I was the highest of all highs, that’s an understatement. I couldn’t stand up straight without rocking back and forth. It was time to go drop off our stuff and meet the people we were staying with, and I truthfully couldn’t open my mouth or speak words. I got panicky as we approached the door of their home. Two lovely people opened the door, reaching their hands out for a handshake. Bummer I couldn’t lift my arms or speak! I sort of pushed past them without saying a word and plopped onto their couch. Melted into their couch, more like. I stayed in that exact spot for the rest of the night until waking up the next morning. I apologized the next morning once I could form words again, at least 100 times. I don’t think I’ve ever felt ruder in my life. And that’s saying a lot after drinking a French woman’s wine and then the wine I replaced it with as well. I’m lucky people still welcome me into their homes, now looking back.
I did some wandering around Amsterdam. The Anne Frank House is devastating, but something you must see. I had tears down my cheeks the entire time I was in there. Another moment in history you can feel from being in that home. It will shake you up, surely.
The next day I got on a train to Brussels, Belgium. I wish I had had more time to adventure there, but sadly it was my last night in Europe. BUT, what I can say is, Belgian waffles and chocolate are totally worth the hype! I sat in a bar with not so good beer, and wrote in my journal the remainder of my last evening. I was really struggling with the idea of coming back to America.
At that moment, I made a promise to myself, to never let this spark for wandering the world dimmer. I love reading back through my journal, now laughing at all the hiccups and shortage of money in another country. I have learned so much from that trip about the safety in traveling alone, and the importance of having backup funds in case of an emergency.
This was only the beginning of dropping pins on a map for me. 🙂
What crazy happenings have you experienced while traveling?