Song of this Article: Dancing On My Own by Callum Scott
"Stilettos and broken bottles, I'm spinning around in circles"
What a week it's been. Besides my Croatian pants peeing incident (you can read more about that here), I got to accomplish a major goal of mine.
A few years ago, when I began traveling, I silently vowed to myself that one day I would visit every single country in the European Union. As of Tuesday, April 5th, 2016, that goal was accomplished. At 10:55pm, I stepped off my RyanAir flight onto Croatian soil, and successfully completed my mission.
What constitutes Europe?
Europe has a million different definitions depending on how you break it down. Some view Europe as the entirety of the European Union (and nothing else), while others want to include the Slavic and Russian states. Others hardly include former Yugoslav states and Turkey. There are also a bazillion little dependent territories (Gibraltar, Isle of Man, Andorra, Channel Islands, etc.)
The way I decided I could count the countries in an undebatable fashion would be to count Europe as member states of the European Union. There are currently 28 member states of the EU: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom (try saying those in one breath).
I've been to several countries who aren't a part of the EU, but are considered a part of Europe, such as Norway, Montenegro, and Iceland, but in order to set a measurable, attainable goal for myself, I settled on the 28 member states of the European Union.
As I wrote about in my post called "Counting Your Countries Doesn't Make You a Dickhead," everyone has their own definitions of what it takes to 'visit a country.' Who cares about the industry standard? I didn't necessarily set strict rules for myself in terms of what I defined as 'visiting a country,' but I ended up spending at least two nights (minimum) in each of the countries on my list.
The simple answer is: I don't know. I love traveling, and after a while of traveling through Europe, it suddenly became an attainable goal for me. And to be completely frank: there is nowhere on this planet where I don't want to go. Safety aside, I can't think of a country on this planet where I would say no to going. Although perhaps I won't visit Syria in the near future, if (hypothetically and hopefully) the political climate were to drastically change, I would absolutely go.
Europe stuns me. The fact that there are so many different languages being spoken and cultures existing in such a small geographical location is unique and eye-opening. Not to generalize, but there is so much to be learned from the European way of life. I love the diversity here, the point of view, and the lifestyle. It's completely different from home.
How did you do it?
Patience, saving, planning, and always saying yes.
Patience: I'm not a delay of gratification kind of a gal. Meaning when I want something, I don't want to wait. I'm impulsive and stubborn, and have a hard time holding myself back from doing something if I want to do it. And once I get an idea in my head, I run with it. With traveling Europe, I had to hold myself back (sometimes unsuccessfully). It took me several years and lots of money to accomplish my goal. I gave up opportunities at home in order to live in London and Madrid so I could be close to traveling with accessibility. Being patient was worth it in the end, even if I hated it for a while. Slow and steady wins the race. Also, patience in the actual travel process. I frequently get frustrated when things don't go how I've planned them, but teaching myself to calm down when I'm not thrilled with what's going on has been essential to my success as a traveler. It'd be easy to throw in the towel and say 'it's just too hard.' A whole lot of patience has been necessary, with myself, with others, and with the process.
Saving: 'But doesn't it cost you a ton of money?' is the most common question I get. I've written on this quite a bit before, so I ain't gonna beat a dead horse. But the answer is yes. It did cost me a ton of money. I'm not going to sit here and say the cliche "THIS COULD BE YOUR LIFE. YOU CAN TRAVEL THE WORLD FOR FREE IF YOU WANT TO!" Because that's a bunch of BS. Sure, this could be your life. You could travel the world for free if you want (I've even written an article about it, which you can find here) but it often takes an extreme amount of sacrifice and investing time and money in other aspects of your life to get that benefit. I save. Admittedly not very well sometimes. But I like to think of travel as another monthly expense, like bills or rent. To me, it's not a luxury item or a monthly splurge, it's an essential. Setting aside money each month and any extra unexpected income goes directly to travel, always.
Planning: I hate planning. I always buy cute planners and daydream about how I'm going to fill the pages with appointments and cute little doodles for events and it never works out. They always end up at the absolute bottom of my junk drawer. Traveling has benefitted me greatly because it's improved my ability (or lack of) to plan ahead of time. I'm impulsive by nature, and don't overplan by any stretch of the imagination, but traveling through Europe with a goal in mind has taught be that planning is necessary. Sometimes it takes me sitting at a computer for hours trying to figure out the logistics of taking the train from Salzburg to Munich in two days and back in time to fly out of Salzburg again, where we're going to store our belongings at the train station, and how much it's going to cost us. It's not easy. It's 99% of the time completely unenjoyable and a pain in my ass, but it's necessary and worth it in the end.
Always Saying Yes: I'm actually good at this one. After a while, I stopped making excuses about why I couldn't do something or why I couldn't go somewhere, and started trying to say yes. If the opportunity arose where I could go to Germany for $50, then hell yeah I'm going to take it. I can always prepare ahead of time so that I don't miss too much work or class work for my masters. But saying yes has been the best thing for me since I started traveling. There's nothing impossible in this world if you always say yes.
No but actually HOW did you do it?
Ohhhhhh! You mean logistically!? Gotcha.
There's a lot of logistics that go into traveling throughout Europe, but a mixture of planes, trains, road trips, and coach buses. Many countries in Europe are easily accessible and well linked to the other. It's the perfect continent for a backpacking trip, as you can jump pretty easily from country to country.
Of course, the kindness of strangers is a huge plus. Throughout the past three and a half years, I've met countless incredible people all over the world who were willing to help me read a map, communicate with the locals, and find the nearest bus station. The world is good people. Above all else of what I've learned, the world is damn good.
It'd be a shame to write this without an inadequate thank you to all the phenomenal people I've met through this journey, and also the people who supported me in this crazy dream and have been extremely patient with me throughout the past several years. From my best friends from home to my parents to my incredible boyfriend to countless sorority sisters, not to mention all the people who have lived with me (besides that one crazy girl), housed me, and taken care of me throughout the past few year, I won't name all the names, but you know who you are.
Who knows!? I've got some more of Europe to explore, but for now, I need some ideas. So hit me with em in the comments down below.
To Lizzy: I've lit a candle for you in every country I've been to so far. Please know your light and love are now shining in each and every country in Europe. I've written your name on the John Lennon wall in Prague and left an EAS bracelet in Poland. You are the driving force in everything I do, and I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for you. Miss you every day.