One thing that I have realized in the past couple years is that this generation of 20-30 year olds are putting more of an emphasis on enjoying life rather than simply working a 9-5. This is the exact mentality that I have been focused on since the pandemic. If that pause in 2020 taught us anything, it was to stop and smell the roses. We don’t have to give in to the hustle and bustle lifestyle that we tend to get so caught up in. Since then, people are looking more towards experiences than the corporate climb. Nevertheless, everyone is different, and if that lifestyle is for you, kudos. But for the individuals who felt mentally rerouted in the past couple years, you might want to know about one of my favorite endeavors: a six-week trip to Europe.
Let me offer some context… I made a promise to myself during my senior year of high school that no matter what was going on at that point of my life, right after college graduation, I would leave and travel to Europe for three months. Well, budget and nerves came into play and that dwindled down to six weeks. Nevertheless, it was still one of the best experiences of my life. As I came to learn, many people might have a lot of questions about what goes into planning a trip like this — such as: how much to plan, what to take, where to go, and when is the right time. Well, I have been back for almost a year now and am finally able to share my biggest takeaways and hopefully impart some guidance to those who aspire to take the same leap of faith.
Here are some tips from what I learned during my six week trip around Europe:
Plan Where To Go
Now, you could simply buy a ticket to any country and let the wind take you. I, on the other hand, am a control freak. My excitement for the trip wouldn’t permit me to do that and I wanted somewhat of an itinerary to go by.
To start off, when I say I traveled around Europe, I mean it literally. I basically did a whole circle if you look at a map of the continent. Honestly, this is probably one of the best decisions I ever made. For example, I started in London, then in chronological order, traveled from Paris, Belgium, Amsterdam, Interlaken, Nice, Tuscany, Rome, Positano, Seville, Madeira, Madrid, and then ended my trip in Barcelona. This allowed me to shorten any travel time and take trains to each place, which was also the best option when on a budget. I highly suggest choosing the places you know you want to visit and trying to make some sense of the route to avoid any stress later on.
Now, we get to the worst decision I made… As I was packing for Europe, I was thinking about outfit inspo and what I wanted to wear in each place, which resulted in me bringing a 70-pound bag of luggage. At this moment, I want you to imagine lugging that bag on and off trains, walking it to a hotel, and getting it up the stairs in hotels (most European hotels don’t have elevators). There was a point when I was going to dump everything. I get it – you want cute pictures for Instagram, but I’m sure you can get just as many amazing photos with great neutrals. Those are the outfits that you probably won’t regret once trends fade anyway. If all else fails, there are incredible boutiques in Positano, and you’ll actually be happy that you had an excuse to shop.
Research The Places You’re Going
I really can’t stress this enough. This will help you choose your activities and plan how much time you need in certain places. The last thing you want is to have craved more time in a city and feel like you didn’t experience it to the fullest. This is the exact reason that I will be planning a trip back to Paris before the end of the year. It will also help when searching places to eat and possibly finding your best meal, (shoutout to TikTok for showing me where I had the best pasta I have ever had in my life, Osteria Da Fortunata in Rome.)
This will also prepare you for inconvenient circumstances. I will give you just one example of what I wish I knew before packing a 70 POUND BAG OF LUGGAGE. I’m sorry, I still have PTSD. As the ferry approached the city of Positano, I was in absolute awe of its beauty. My mouth dropped for a good 2 minutes before I came back to reality. However, that feeling of pure bliss evaporated as I realized that the reason you can see all of the colorful houses from the ocean is because everything is literally standing on top of each other by flights of stairs. If you didn’t like the menu at one restaurant and wanted to see another, be prepared to walk up and down stairs to get to the next one. I also didn’t know that there’s only one road that goes through the city so I couldn’t simply call a taxi to come pick me up where the ferry left off because it only visited the middle of the town, which I discovered was about a 15-minute walk uphill. It’s safe to say I will be doing a lot of research before my next adventure.
Prepare For Culture Shock
Personally, I didn’t think I would have experienced any culture shock, especially compared to the conditions in other continents and countries. However, Europe is still an entirely different place than good ol’ Jersey. I didn’t experience this in every place but once I did, I was completely caught off guard and it did make me feel somewhat uncomfortable. I only experienced this in one city, which was Amsterdam. Let’s just say that it seems like laws are reversed in the Netherlands. Now, don’t let this stop you from visiting the country since I genuinely did love the city and do plan to return to its beauty later in the future. Not the near future but eventually… My best advice is no matter what trip you embark on, remember that the environment and customs you grew up with might not be the same somewhere else.
Don’t Plan Everything
Although I did say I am a control freak, there were activities and days when my boyfriend and I had no idea what we were going to do. Those days enabled us to explore unseen adventures that wouldn’t have presented themselves if we had a full agenda for the day. This is a trip you’re going to remember for the rest of your life and although you want to make the most of it, the best activities might come from something you didn’t see coming – like canyoning in ice cold mountain water in Switzerland or basking in the sun at the Tuileries Garden in Paris. Those spontaneous moments are the ones I remember the most.
Things Will Go Wrong
Even if you don’t take my previous advice, I promise things will go wrong. Maybe you’ll miss your train or one of the activities you wanted to do will be fully booked during the days you’re there. The most important thing to remember is to not get worked up on it. You’re in a new, unfamiliar environment. It’s understandable to get lost or get caught in a hail storm on the way back to your hotel (speaking from experience). There will be circumstances that throw your day off-schedule, but that’s okay. You’ll look back and laugh once you realize that it’s not that big of a deal. Besides, it’s not like that city is going anywhere and it creates an excuse to return and visit again.
When Should I Go?
As I plan my next adventure, I am conflicted with this question myself. The best answer is: there will never be a perfect time. There will always be work, school, kids or events you think you can’t miss which will make you feel stationary. Unless you carve out time in your schedule, you’re not going to have these memorable experiences, and you’ll just continue to work-to-live, as the French say. As for money, it’ll come back but the time doesn’t. Before I leave you with these pieces of advice, I have one memory to share that will hopefully help you in this decision.
While I was in Europe, I was talking to a friend from back home who told me she just received a job offer in California and was moving within the week. During that moment, as I was sitting in my hotel in Paris, I started comparing myself to other people my age who probably just landed a job, and wondered if I was doing the right thing. I thought the trip might have stunted my career growth and didn’t know if I made the right decision.
After having a moment to think and a well-needed conversation with my boyfriend, I realized that my story doesn’t need to be like everyone else’s, and I need to do what makes me happy. We are each on our own unique path. For me, traveling sparks happiness, and I would rather spend my time sightseeing on the French Riviera than typing behind a desk back home. Job opportunities, family, and other parts of our regular lives will always be there when we come back from a perspective-broadening trip. With that said, I think it’s time for my (and your!) next adventure.