It’s Week 3 of my journey throughout Europe. This is the most traveling I’ve done on my own in my life, all within this short period of time.
Earlier in the semester, I went some places as well, but those were more of the easy weekend or day trip variety. I’m used to this kind of trip. Back home I’d often got to LA or Sacramento (my hometown) for the weekend. I’d leave San Diego Thursday or Friday afternoon, escape the daily grind of college for a bit, and return Sunday night ready to resume the normal routine that is life.
Here I’ve followed that same formula for a while; the only difference were the destinations: Ireland, Scotland, Manchester, London, among others. Those trips were the same as back home. Easy, efficient, short. With a familiar bed to look forward to at the end.
Now it’s April, and we have five weeks off of school to travel.
“The key to truly enjoying yourself on long journeys like this one — and I cannot emphasize this enough — is who you’re traveling with.”
With that five weeks (UK universities give you this time after the end of classes, but before exams in May) comes opportunity. We’ll be hard pressed to ever find this amount of time to travel like this again. We don’t have to worry about school or work or anything besides taking advantage of our time and enjoying ourselves. Moreover, we have to take advantage of our time and we have to enjoy ourselves. Otherwise we’ll have wasted such a prime opportunity — an opportunity that may never be available again.
That creates a type of pressure in itself. It creates a journey that isn’t always quite so easy or efficient, and certainly not short. My bed still awaits, but it’s not until the last day of April when I return to England.
Wanting to take advantage of our time presents a few different challenges. For one, it means doing something every single day we have free. Whether it’s exploring a city or traveling to a new one, we are always up to something, and will always be up to something until the end of April. There are no real openings to just kind of sleep in and lay in bed all day, or go back home for a few days.
For you Fitbit/heath app fans, I haven’t had a day under 15,000 steps since March 25th, including multiple 30,000-plus days. We are certainly on the move a lot.
On another note, the financial toll of “taking advantage of our time” can hurt as well. It’s expensive finding transportation that fits our game plan, and allows us to have the most time we can in each place; whether it’s picking the slightly more expensive flights over buses and trains, or giving in and calling an Uber or taxi instead of walking.
Additionally, the idea that we need to see everything and do everything while we’re in these locations is taxing. The old “maybe we’ll never be back here again” type of thinking (that could very well be true) means paying for every museum and tour you can. You start to feel like you’ll regret it if you say no — to anything.
“Enjoying ourselves” is the other part of this. I’ve only been traveling for a few weeks and my experience is still quite minimal. However, what I learned immediately is that the most important thing while traveling is not where you’re going, or how you’re getting there, or how nice your accommodation is. The key to truly enjoying yourself on long journeys like this one — and I cannot emphasize this enough — is who you’re traveling with.
This isn’t a weekend trip, where if something happens or you just kind of get tired of somebody, you will be home within a day or two and can take a break from that person. In this case, not only are you “stuck” with them, you are spending endless hours with them that are filled with pressured decision making (tied to taking advantage of time) which can lead to friction, along with continuous days of exhausting travel, walking and, well, just kind of keeping up conversation.
This may all seem obvious, but I have to say it: Surrounding yourself with good people will make your experience a million times better, no matter where you are. Luckily, I have been able to break up my trip (in terms of who I’m traveling with). And so far, I have experienced all sides of the spectrum.
At the beginning, I was with someone who was consistently negative, dull and cynical. Although the places we saw were amazing, I felt like the entire time I was just looking forward to moving on and being with other people. It was mentally draining.
I then traveled alone for a few days, and traveling alone is great. You get to move at your own pace, see what you want to see, and spend what you want to spend. However, I have found it really does get lonely — and sometimes boring. You want people to talk to, and more importantly, people to share these experiences with. There’s no shame in traveling alone and I respect people that do it and enjoy it, which is why I wanted to try it. But in the end, I need people around me, and I think everyone else does to. Otherwise it just doesn’t seem quite as special.
This is what I’ve determined in recent days, as I’ve now joined a better group, made up of positive people who bring energy and enthusiasm. It’s a whole different world from the beginning, and way more fun. Europe is awesome, but the memories I’ve made and will make with these people while traveling are what I’m going to remember the most. Being able to connect with them later in life and reminisce about these experiences is something I look forward to.
This post may have sounded kind of negative and critical at times, or like I’m struggling to make it through. But I want to clarify that I am having an amazing time and couldn’t happier, seeing the world day after day. Think of this more as a gathering of thoughts and observatuibs, rather than a critique.
I just got through Iceland, Luxembourg City, Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris. Italy is on deck, followed by Croatia, Budapest, Prague, Munich, Berlin and Copenhagen. I am 100 percent enjoying myself, and am certainly taking advantage of my time. Although it is draining and there is some pressure to do it all, I don’t know if I’d have it any other way. Because even the stress really is a part of the experience. I certainly understand that I am beyond blessed to be in this situation, and I’m sure someday I’ll be dying to be doing this again.
Who knows, when the trip is over and I’m back home in my own, familiar bed in England that I miss so much right now on the last day of April, maybe it’ll be that uncomfortable hostel bed — and all the difficulties that come with traveling — that I end up missing the most.
In closing, here are some pictures of delicious local foods I’ve been trying, just because that’s way more fun than boring, touristy pictures of me.
Davis Elgin is a second year applied mathematics major. He is studying at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom for the entire spring semester.