When I said goodbye to the United States on June 1st with nothing but a backpack, a passport, and a boyfriend, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We had nothing planned, no idea what we wanted to see, or what the next three months would bring.
Fast forward to today, where I have a solid month of frolicking, hiking, and sweating across 8 countries now under my belt. The time has flown by, and slowly passed at the same time.
First, I’ve realized I’ve finally become accustomed to backpacking (and Europe)
It took a few weeks, but I am no longer taking pictures of every building in every city. I have become used to being spoiled by fresh bakeries and tiny cups of espresso. Mountains, seas, lakes, and train stations are my new norm. I’ve adjusted to living without a home and have learned how to repack my backpack at least a hundred times.
Trips to supermarkets are done in routine: chips, bread, granola bars, chocolate, meat, cheese, and ice cream to eat immediately. We set up camp each night, and take down our home each morning to spend our days ending up in who-knows-where looking for the next settlement.
It’s annoying, amazing, stressful, spontaneous, and spiritual all at the same time. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.
I’ve learned to never take pillows for granted
My pillow is a smelly sweatshirt. Every now and again we stay with locals in their homes, and when this happens the pillow is one of the main perks. It’s a soft and squishy heaven.
Oh, I’ll also never take hot showers, ovens, power outlets, refrigerators, or the dollar menu and Mcdonald’s for granted either.
Or chips and salsa. Why does Europe hate chips and salsa?
I’ve learned I love Austria
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect, but everything about Austria already has me thinking about a return trip. The people are awesome, the water parks are legit, the mountains are gorgeous, and the prices are reasonable.
It’s been my favorite country on this trip so far, and that’s saying a lot since I have yet to not love one.
It’s true: pasta is better in Italy
For the love of all things carbs. There are two foods I could live off for the rest of my life. One, ice cream. Two, pasta.
We’ve only eaten out a few times on this trip, but I knew I was going to make Josh hate me in Italy. It’s the motherland. It has gelato. It has pasta. It has cheese. It has bread. It has ALL THE FOOD.
So we might have went a tad over budget a couple days in Italy. No regrets, just a couple extra pounds.
It’s not all cupcakes and butterflies
I’ve had more blisters than I can remember. We’ve missed trains, and fought, and ran out of water. I knew coming into this that travel isn’t easy and backpacking is even harder. I dreaded the first weeks carrying a heavy backpack, knowing that even though I was in shape, there was no way I was prepared for that.
Things get easier, and we learn from our mistakes. My feet are still sore every day, my stomach still rumbles for warm food occasionally, and we still must be frugal with water. But with that I have become stronger, a pro tent setter-upper, a budget shopper, a backpacker.
But really guys, if you want to get in shape, try this.
I’ve learned I’m spoiled by the scenery
There is never a dull sight. I’m currently sitting at a picnic table overlooking Lake Bled, Slovenia (pictured above) at sunset. Like what? This is my casual Thursday night?
It’s okay to be a little homesick
I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss home at all. I would pay big money for a triple-scoop of Hudsonville Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and a day on Lake Michigan with my friends sounds like heaven.
But it’s okay. I’ve learned that just because I’m homesick doesn’t mean I’m not having a good time. It just means that when I get home, I’ll appreciate the little things more.
Lastly, I’ve learned I love Europe
It’s a bit of a dream, actually. I’ve been waiting for the moment this trip hits me because it still hasn’t. In the past thirty-some days I’ve made my way through 8 countries, 31 cities, and did it all on less than $500. People tell me I’m living the dream, and sometimes it actually feels all unreal.
Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia have made so many impacts in so many ways.
I’ll never forget the Spaghetti dinner overlooking Mont Blanc with our host Mona and her neighbors in France. I’ll smile every time I remember swinging at midnight next to one of Gaudi’s most magnificent creations in Barcelona. I’ll laugh every time I remember attempting to play beer pong in Austria with dice and Dixie cups. It’s the little things that tend to make the best memories.
So a month down, two months to go. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I think I’m up for the challenge.