My brutally honest experience backpacking solo across Europe for 35 days
Travelling around Europe has been my dream ever since I was in high school. It is something that I have fantasized and talked a lot about with my friends over the years.
When I got my Schengen visa after a long and anxious wait, I was so happy and emotional that I cried.
During my Euro trip I travelled for 35 days and visited 9 countries. Once I was in Europe, I travelled from one country to another by Flix Bus (a popular low cost-bus operator in Europe)
These were some of the countries I visited during my trip.
Italy – Vatican City - France – Netherlands – Germany – Poland – Czech Republic – Hungary – Austria
Travelling Europe isn't cheap, so apart from the money that I had saved up from work, I also borrowed money from friends to make my dream a reality.
I was fortunate to have friends living in most of the countries I visited, so in many places, I stayed with them. This helped me gain a greater understanding and insight of what it was like to live in these countries.
Here are some of the that I loved and disliked about Europe.
What I loved
It’s Always Happening
One of the things that makes travelling around Europe enjoyable is that there are always some live music events, performances on the street, busking, DJ parties in parks etc. to keep you engaged.
And the great thing is that many of these are completely free. During my trip, I randomly stumbled across many such events and performances and it was a pleasure to witness and be part of these.
For example, when I was in Vienna, there was an Open Piano lying next to one of the most visited streets in the city, where anybody could come and play.
People of all ages stepped forward to play, and soon many joined and started singing together. It was beautiful and it was a wonderful example of the power of music to bring diverse groups of people together.
The buskers (street musicians) especially in Italy were on a whole other level. Some of the music was so beautiful and moving that it bought me to tears.
In Vienna (click on the video to play)
One of the reasons I have felt drawn to visit Europe has been because of it’s incredible and beautiful architecture.
I feel it’s a pity that in spite of all the advancements that we’ve made in terms of technology, modern buildings simply don’t compare in terms of beauty to ancient architecture.
In Rome I was in awe of the grand and monumental structures that the Romans had built over two thousand years ago. I also loved the architecture of the old churches, castles and houses that I saw around Europe.
Wow! was my first reaction when I saw the Duomo in Milan.
Something I thoroughly enjoyed during my trip was cycling. Europe is cycle friendly and the streets have designated lanes just for cycles unlike in India.
In fact, cycles are so common in the Netherlands that there are more cycles than humans.
I cycled in Netherlands, Bremen (in Germany) and Budapest. My favourite cycling experience was in Bremen, where a couple of friends and I cycled around this big beautiful park with a lake at the brink of sunset. It was a scenic ride and an extremely gratifying experience.
Some of the most famous paintings and artworks in the world are in Europe.
During my trip I went to many famous art galleries such as the Louvre in Paris, Uffizi in Florence, Albertina in Vienna and the Vatican Museum.
However, my favourite was the lesser-known Capitoline Museum in Rome. Some of the paintings there were mesmerising and being there flooded me with a sense of peace and inspiration.
(A Painting displayed in the Capitoline Museum) The young women under the pretext of reading the knight's future, takes him by the hand, and with a quick gesture slips the ring off his right ring finger.
Europe is rich in history and in most of the cities that I went I took a free walking tour with a local guide. Free walking tours are not exactly free but work on tips. At the end of tour, you can pay what you felt it was worth. (Walking tours are also a great way to meet people when you are travelling solo)
Taking these tours not only help you learn so much about the history of the place but it also gives you context that makes you appreciate what’s around you so much more.
Moreover, the stories behind the purpose and construction of some of the magnificent structures such as the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican were fascinating to hear.
I also found it particularly amazing that virtuoso artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael all lived during the same period and trained in Florence at one point or the other.
Inside the Colosseum
The Huge Public Parks
I love the big green public parks in Europe and how there are plenty of them in the cities.
These are great places to have a picnic with friends, have food, wine, conversations, watch people or just lie down and have a good nap.
The Villa Borghese Park in Rome
The Public Transport
The public transport system in Europe is excellent and well connected. I felt that if you lived in the city and didn't own a vehicle getting around wouldn't be an issue.
With a single ticket/pass, you can travel in multiple modes of transport like metro, tram, bus, which is convenient. You can even take your cycles and and pets on the buses and the trains which I thought was fantastic.
What I Disliked
People are generally not friendly
When I was solo travelling around India for three months, I was used to encountering so many kind, approachable and warm people.
A motto of Indian culture is “Atithi Devo Bhava” (a guest is equivalent to God’) and this is an attitude displayed by many Indians.
However, one thing that put me off while travelling in Europe is that some of the locals lacked warmth and sometimes even lacked the desire to help someone in need.
I found this disappointing because before travelling to Europe, I had met many European travellers, in India and abroad that were warm and friendly, so I guess I had expected them to be nicer.
I had heard a lot about how French people can be mean and rude, and not speak to you in English even if they know the language. But interestingly, my experience with French people was all positive, except for one rude French waiter.
However, in Germany, I felt that some people were rude for no reason, and this was an opinion echoed by many of my friends who were living there.
In the past, I’ve heard many foreigners, especially Europeans say Indian people are so friendly. After travelling around Europe, I could clearly understand why this was something that left a big impression on them. There is a saying in Europe, "people from the warmer countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy) are warm and the people from the colder countries are cold."
When I spoke with some of my European friends regarding my experience, they said Europeans tend to be closed and reserved with strangers, and they would find it weird even if a local they didn’t know tried to strike up a conversation with them.
I did experience excellent European hospitality thanks to my friend, Andrea (who I had first met in Udaipur 5 years ago while travelling). He showed me around and I stayed with him for a couple of days in a small town in Italy called Busalla,
The cities Look and Feel Alike
I love European Architecture and think it’s beautiful. But within a couple of weeks, the charm and awe of seeing many of the buildings, though there were beautiful, began to fade.
I was surprised by how quickly my mind got desensitized or rather felt numb to the beauty of European visual landscape.
I felt that the visual landscape in many European countries looks and feels very similar, especially in the cities.
Had I known about this while planning my trip I would have prioritised picking places with more natural beauty.
Prague is a beautiful place. At night it looks as if it's right out of a fairytale. But at that point in my trip, my mind was desensitized (numb) and I wasn't in awe of its beauty unlike my friend back home whom I had video called to show what Prague looks like.
Pickpockets & Theft
Before I stepped foot in Europe, and during my time there, I heard so many stories about people having their belongings stolen from them in metros, supermarkets, and even from the hostels and hotels they were staying.
My friends said thefts and pickpockets were quite common in Paris and Italy.
Because of this I felt I needed to be constantly on guard with my belongings and I felt a bit paranoid. I even felt unsafe wandering in Paris & Milan at night, which is something I have never really experienced before while solo travelling.
Travelling around Europe was an eye-opening experience. Immersing myself in a culture and place completely different from India was mind-expanding and has given me lot to ponder and reflect.
It was great to catch up with so many of my friends (spread across Europe) with whom I had a great time and had meaningful conversations.
During my trip I also met so many wonderful people from around the world and made plenty of friends. (The chance to meet so many new people has been my main motivation to solo travel)
Although travelling around Europe was something I had wanted to do for a long time, I must admit that on some levels, it didn’t quite match my expectations.
Were my expectations too high? Haha, maybe.
I guess it's hard not to have high expectations about something you have wanted to do more than anything in this world.
It came as a bit of a surprise to me that I got numb pretty quickly to the beauty of European landscape and architecture. I sure didn’t expect so many of the countries to look and feel so similar.
Towards the end of my trip, I was tired of eating out, craving Indian food (I didn’t know just how much I loved it until then) and my excitement to explore new places had significantly diminished.
My recommendation for anyone travelling to Europe would be to mix up the landscapes, terrains and pick places with natural beauty and not pack too much cities into your trip.
Europe is a vast continent and I am aware I have only seen and experienced a tiny portion of it. I hope to come back some day to explore places like Spain, Portugal, Croatia, Ireland, Switzerland…..
(If you are taking a Euro trip, feel free to get in touch with me if you need any help, suggestions and recommendations. I'd be happy to help. You can leave me a message here)
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