3 Things to Remember When Country Hopping in Europe
For some of us expats it can be pretty difficult being away from family, and not all of us have the luxury of flying home for vacation breaks. So usually this means that it is time to stuff way too many clothes into an oversized hiking backpack, deplete our bank accounts by purchasing flights, buses and hostels and set off on a short but long, chaotic adventure. Here's what to know when planning a EuroTrip.
This year I had the pleasure of visiting five different countries during vacation. The only irrational part of it was that I had to complete this mission in 11 days. I planned on visiting Amsterdam, London, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest in 264 hours and let me tell you...it was no easy feat. I was bitten by a horse in Vienna, dropped my passport under a bus in London, missed at least one bus and at the end of my trip one of my hands started bleeding randomly for two days straight from a gnarly hangnail/frostbite situation. Jesus.
The reality is that traveling to different countries in a short amount of time is not exactly a walk in the park. If you are not aware of the difficulties, it’s like having a cold glass of water splashed in your face while sleeping. It’s like before the trip, you dream sweet dreams of tasting rare foreign cuisine and exploring dozens of museums and absorbing each and every facet of information. But in actuality, you’re struggling to make it to at least two museums in each country and remember the name of at least one painting. And also during your eager exploration thoughts are racing through your mind like: Who the hell was that artist again? Where am I even? The Netherlands? Czech Republic? What language do these people speak? Where´s my phone...?
It’s honestly almost a chore to keep up.
So here I give you a few tidbits of advice to take into consideration if you plan on traveling to more than 3 countries in a few measly days while living abroad. Some of these tips should help you avoid some of the inevitable battles of cross country skipping.
Print out every single travel document before leaving home
We all know printing bus, train, and plane tickets can be time consuming and kind of a pain in the butt abroad. When you are living abroad, chances are you didn't spend the little money you have in your bank account to invest in a printer (and its outrageously priced ink). So usually in this predicament you take advantage of your place of work and print it from those computers or you key in locutorio into Google maps and cross your fingers. Locutorios are tiny shops in Spain that are usually filled with computers and printers so you can really print to your heart's content.
Be forewarned, because most are privately owned by locals, a good chunk of them may not even show up on your search. Occasionally, you may luck out and one will be located right outside of your front door ; Other times however, you're stuck with a 30 minute long trek where you have to keep your eyes peeled because these suckers are usually tucked away in some dark corner on a random street or the middle of a busy traffic circle. Thanks Google.
I’m also assuming that if you want to spend as little money as possible for transportation, you will be using Ryanair, Easy Jet, and WizzAir type companies. With these companies, you pay basement bottom prices for cheap flights that are only slightly terrifying during turbulance. If you do decide to go this route, many of these airlines require a printed ticket and if you don't meet this requirement they may charge you a barbaric amount of money that would make you feel like you should've just paid for the more expensive flight (where people don’t clap because you’ve landed safely).
For buses or hostels, print absolutely each and every document you can. Print a copy of your passport, NIE identification, work contract, Highschool diploma, AOL message history... I don't know these people can be pretty serious when it comes to ticket and identity verification and a smart (wo)man takes no chances.
Plan, Plan, Plan
When you have a big travel plan, I'm sure you will have every intention of getting a ´taste´of each country you visit. Whether it be visiting famous monuments or trying out well-known street food venders, it´s always a good idea to utilize your time wisely. But you have only so many hours in each country and I’ll be honest, they really do fly by.
During my trip, I failed to do this effectively and missed out on plenty of things that I later wished I´d seen. At the beginning, I was adamant about visiting everything on my monstrous list of activities and succeeded in Amsterdam and London but by the end of my trip when I was in Budapest I was lucky to even find the metro station to get back to the airport! When you set out on a big trip you start off with the kind of optimism meant for the blissfully ignorant. This is just my personal experience but by the end of my trip I was so exhausted (and a little hungover) that many of my previous plans were set off by the wayside because I grudgingly opted out of putting in the necessary effort. When it comes to traveling, you have to plan out the days you will explore, celebrate and rest. And when it comes to 5 countries in 11 days it´s nearly impossible to find even a few hours of downtime because the ´traveler's guilt´ starts to set in.
‘Travelers guilt’ is a term I coined in Budapest and it is when you start to feel regret for laying about in your room alone while everyone else is out enjoying the world outside. Even if this does happen, remember that your bodily health should always come first and if you push yourself past certain limits you may not be prepared to enjoy the rest of the trip to the fullest. So in retrospect, write a list of things that you absolutely want to do first - allow yourself to pencil in downtime - then follow that list with secondary options if you don´t make it to the first ones. You'll thank yourself later for being so organized and adjusted because everything else about your trip just might be a madhouse (but an enjoyable one).
The people you meet could be ‘your people’ for a lifetime
Within the 11 days I was traveling I stayed in five to six different hostels and went to about 20 different bars and restaurants. In these places, there was friendly love in the air and I was able to meet the most amazing people that I continue to stay in contact with to this day. It’s always a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and make personal connections because you never know when you may need some companionship on your next travels or a place to crash for free. Make conversation with someone in your room, invite strangers (not creeps) to have a beer with you, make an effort. You never know if this person is traveling alone as well and they may be your next best friend.
My close friends have made a habit of calling me the ‘struggle bus’ because I usually find some way to make every trip just a little bit more of a endeavor for myself. But be aware that that is just my periodic bad luck traveling. I still find ways to smile and make the best of any situation and more than likely you will have much more luck than me and not be bitten by animals when it comes to country hopping- regardless, it was one of the best times of my life. So pack well, explore thoroughly, drink plenty and have bountiful feasts because this expat life is temporary and you owe it to yourself to live it to the fullest.
Kala is a proud and true southern girl and alumni of Indiana University, Bloomington. Dedicated and curious world traveler with an aptitude for engaging in conversation with anyone who's willing to listen. Listening to music, riding horses and laying on the beach is some of her favorite past times. Hand her a violin and she'll play you a nice and complicated little tune, with a beer on the table beside her. She is a writer, broadcast journalist, musician and 'enjoyment of life' enthusiast. Follow her on instagram @kala_kz