two months solo through europe
🇪🇺 some general experiences and feelings. skip to the end for pics :-)
mindset expansion and letting go of expectations
over my trip i interacted with a lot of different travelers from different backgrounds as well as observed small encounters of locals daily life. i gained perspective along the way but also learned that these perspectives are only single representations.
the biggest thing i came to incorporate is when meeting others, to let go of expectations and stereotypes. everyone i met was their own individual from a single country/city which didn’t represent the breadth of the experiences of that region and it would be disingenuous to assume so. i could only treat them as their own. just like my experience as *insert traits about me, my background, and where i’m from* doesn’t represent the prototypical person from the united states or even california, neither did anyone i met. sometimes it’s hard not to introduce personal bias but meeting so many people helped me curb that.
i wasn’t fundamentally changed by this trip like i was wondering if i would be but the trip did help me to see how alike i am and also how different i am from people that grow up in entirely different environments. my expectations were broken and shifted to recognize that i will never really truly understand other people but they also won’t understand me and that’s pretty cool.
“european” life and culture can’t be wrapped up in the name of a continent but it doesn’t feel worlds away anymore. i can never fully understand and empathize with every person i will meet but i can be open and receptive to wanting to learn more about others.
the little things of everyday life
the trip opened my eyes up to see awe in everyday sights. at first, i was awe-struck by normal reasons to travel somewhere — the amazing landscapes of the swiss alps, intricate architecture and paintings like the sistine chapel. but then it became the little things — the way different pothole covers from different cities were decorated, where trash cans were placed and labelled.
by the end of the trip, i was kinda over taking pictures of myself. i wanted to take random pictures of local things. unique or clever design. interesting stickers on lamp posts. neighborhood layouts. because i eventually focused less on myself and what would look good for a picture, i had room to focus on the things around me.
i saw famous buildings through so many cities that i kind of became desensitized — i realized fine palaces and amazing paintings are great for pictures but found don’t really care about some king’s house built on the backs of marginalized people. i’m more interested in the lives of those common people. the rich will always be rich but what about those that contributed to their greatness?
i started to wonder what the rural areas and countryside of each country was like. cities show off their most prized architecture, infrastructure, and people living urban lives which is not representative of most of the country. it made me curious about the rest of the world. i saw quite a bit but there’s so much more of the world to see. i didn’t have the time to see all the nooks and crannies but i thought to myself, ‘i’ve never wanted to live forever but if i had the time to experience every town and learn about it’s history, i could spend my life doing that’.
gaining self-confidence and becoming a better self-advocate
partway through my travels someone pointed out that solo-travel makes you more self-confident: that you have to do so much on your own and it shows you what you’re capable of.
within my first few days i found i did feel more confident realizing on my own i was able to or learned to:
- navigate and land in new places on my feet
- plan my own housing, food, and sightseeing (saving a lot of money compared to organized tours) on the fly on my phone
- self-advocate for my needs and not let people step over me
- not let sexist, racist, and unwanted comments ruin my trip or perspective
- meet new people while staying safe and having fun
i came in thinking i could do this all but it was another thing to have done. i soon realized i wasn’t saying any self-deprecating comments or being hard on myself for not having all the knowledge. i simply focused on working my way through getting around and experiencing things as they were.
on a solo travel note, it was honestly scary realizing i’m on my own. but my increase in confidence also made me rise to the occasion and become a better self-advocate. for instance, if i something was missing that i paid for, i let someone know and made sure it was corrected. i’ve been someone that kind of lets things go, feels like i’m inconveniencing someone, or has to have someone else (my mom lol) ask for it but since i was the only one to self-advocate, i went ahead and did it. while being entitled can be an issue, it’s important to meet your own needs that you deserve. :-)
the alternative paths of others
traveling is difficult to make happen. flights are hundreds of dollars, gas is expensive and erosive on a car one relies on for daily things, and time off of work is limited. while i met many well-traveled people abroad, as one person from europe put it “it’s easy to visit other countries on the weekend when the train tickets are only 30€.” in traveling, i’ve met people that took non-standard paths to making things happen and it showed me there’s no one way of going about life.
i learned some hostels provide housing and meals in exchange for work so as long as one has money to go from city to city, one can travel indefinitely. i read about someone who door-dashes in multiple cities then car camps to explore the united states. everyone’s circumstances are different but i’ve been in awe at the lengths go to make their dreams come true as well as understanding for how travel is oftentimes not possible nor necessary due to responsibilities.
while my trip gave me a lot of fun and fulfillment i also came to appreciate that everyone’s values are different and they make their own fulfillment. in hindsight, this all seems obvious but when in college surrounded by other students my age, of course it felt like everyone was taking the standard path because that’s who i had around me.
solo-travel was freeing — i could go anywhere i wanted! but also stressful. making sure i got to the right train, bus, and plane, protecting myself from pick-pocketers, unwanted advances from men, and making on-the-fly decisions for two months all without someone to have my back was both over-saturating and left me sometimes feeling empty.
it was sometimes hard because solo travel feelings are valid but you’re the only one there to validate your own feelings. at some point i wrote:
europe has been rly been amazing, lesson-building, culture-shaping / expanding, self-confidence boosting but i’ve also faced language barriers, racism, sexism, lack of understanding of systems, and definitely had hit-the-wall want-to-go-home moments. as much as i wanted to do the whole “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” it’s still rough sometimes. i’ve been running on adrenaline and time zone changes and hardly eat bc being always on alert has killed my appetite. solo travel is great but it’s also rly ******* hard and i can’t let my guard down bc i’m the only person within 8000 miles that’s going to be there for me.
but there was also really incredible moments where i had the space alone to soak all the beauty of the places i was in. i walked peacefully through so many parks and open spaces with the sun shining and springtime breezes blowing. art and architecture surrounded me so many moments. i felt comforted by the people from different places that i’ll never know but we’re all existing in the same space just for a moment. there was so much time to have so many feelings that were indescribable buteveryone can relate to the feeling of living them.
in this moment everything is good. everything is equal and admirable.
i didn’t realize it while traveling but just a day after got home i thought to myself, “i missed being able to drink water and have a restroom whenever i need it.” all the familiar orange county asian foods i craved were within reach. it was nice to have a computer and move things across the screen with a mouse. a full sized bed felt so large i thought i’d get lost. i went to mcdonalds and the employee asked me what flavor i wanted my cappuccino: vanilla, hazelnut, caramel, or chocolate and after two months of plain cappuccinos i was like…this thing comes in different flavors?????????
returning home made me grateful for all the things i didn’t know i missed
and just like that everything is back to normal
acclimating back to everyday life and all my creature comforts was good for the most part. i continue have my trip on my mind a lot of times. it made me realize how free my mind was to wander in thought since now my head is in the tasks of everyday life rather than being able to stretch anywhere with no deadlines to hold me down.
when in europe 🇪🇺 i discovered an affinity cappuccinos, nutella biscuits, hazelnut gelato, and margherita neapolitan pizza 😌☕ i sometimes look on social media at places i said i wanted to go to and knowing i’ve been there is an amazing and surreal feeling. after my trip i’ve also stopped considering whether i do things solo or not. i just do. i’ve found i really am made for solo travel. i’m happy on my own and can land on my feet.
looking back on it, some of the things i learned seem obvious and i didn’t need to travel to learn them but i’m really appreciative for the experiences i’ve had and the circumstances in my life that made it possible :-)
via trains, planes, and buses
i knew i couldn’t keep up with editing photos, blogging, and writing summaries everyday to my family but i could commit to selecting and editing 3 photos from every country with a short caption description.