An Ode to My Weight Gain

“You’ll lose so much weight when you’re in Europe” said every single person I told that I was traveling to Europe. 

My response? “Do you know how much I intend on eating?” 

I wasn’t kidding.

Who comes to Europe and doesn’t plan on eating EVERYTHING? Seriously. My budget for food per day was more than my budget for accommodation per night. That isn’t a joke either. I average about $20-$25 per day on accommodation. My budget for food was $30. I know. It’s a little much. But how can you go to Spain and not eat as much ham, olives, manchego, and tapas as you can? How can you go to France and not marvel at the amazing cheeses and breads and pastries? The pasta, meats, cheeses, pastries in Italy? The feta, grape leaves, gyros in Greece? Those little pancakes and stroopwafels in Holland? Pastel de natas in Lisbon? Ugh. I miss it all already. I’m getting sad. 

My plan for my trip was to eat my way through Europe. I succeeded. Without a doubt. If I were graded, I would have gotten an A++. Would have finished with a 5.0GPA. If it had the word “traditional” and was served with Nutella, I bought it. If the waiter recommended it, I bought it. And I finished it. Almost always. At home, I’m spoiled. I know that. I don’t really have to spend that much money on food because I live at home. Dinner and groceries are on my mom’s tab. Spoiled. I know. So when I have to buy my own food, it better be worth it, and you better BELIEVE I’m going to eat every last dollar’s worth. And I did. 

I don’t understand why anyone would come to Europe on a diet. Or would actually follow their whole “gluten free” or paleo shit. I’m sorry, but fuck that noise. You’re in Europe. Eat it all. Get a tummy ache. Shit your brains out. YOU KNOW IT WAS WORTH IT. Do you know how much gelato I ate? Too much for any lactose intolerant person to live through. 

When I’m home, I eat generally pretty healthy (besides the fact that I eat loaded nachos at my job once a week… but they’re really good…) so this vacation was a time for me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. And then it’s back to my American life. Back to my “healthy” eating. Back to boring. 

I’m not kidding when I say I planned my trip in accordance to where had the best food. That’s why I skipped Germany, no offense, but I was already going to Austria, specifically Vienna, so I figured I’d get enough Schnitzel and sausage there to last. I have literally fantasized about eating olives and olive oil in Spain, the pasta and pizza in Italy, the mass amounts of cheese in France, and all of those food porn videos you see on Facebook of specialties from different places around the world. 

I have gained 10lbs. Averages out to only 3.3lbs per month, so when you look at it that way, it’s not that bad. I have probably consumed more wine and beer on this trip than I have in my entire life. I have never had to force myself to finish a cheese plate and then voluntarily order dessert. And it’s all worth it. I regret nothing. Not a single bite. 

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1 week left in a 3 month journey 

Being in places you’ve only ever seen pictures of is surreal. Being on a different continent for 3 months and living in hostels has been surreal. I already miss the places that I visited 2 months ago. I miss the places I visited a week ago. And in a week, I’ll be missing it all. 

3 months has flown by. I have learned more about the world and myself in three months than I could have in a lifetime. I have learned to depend on only myself. I have learned to trust my instincts. I have learned that people in this world are generally kind and willing to help you. I have learned a lot about patience. I have learned a lot about pace. Moving at the right one. Giving myself time to enjoy and take in my environments. I have learned to value myself.

If I can make any promise to myself, it is to not let myself become distracted or to distract myself in unhealthy ways. I want to live for myself and improve myself. I want to create strong bonds built on realistic expectations rather than weak promises by people who just don’t care. 

I think I know exactly what I want from my life. It’s hard to not let people, their beliefs, and their opinions get in the way of what I know I want. It’s hard not to let the meager prospect of love or a relationship blind me and erase my dreams. Everything that is meant to happen will happen and one day I will find exactly what I’m looking for.

When I graduate from university in December of 2018, I want to move to the south of Spain and teach English as a foreign language for at least a year. I want to do that for myself. To learn Spanish. To be where I want to be in a country that I know I loved. I want to live in a beautiful place without living out of a backpack with packing cubes and dirty clothes. 

Traveling has made me realize how big this world is and how much there is to do in it. It’s overwhelming. How many opportunities there are and how much I can do. I love where I live but why stay in one place? 

I think the reason I miss home so much is because it is what it is – home. I know its quirks. I know where to go for empty beaches. I know the traffic times to avoid. It’s home. But I can make a home anywhere. I have moved from where I’ve grown up thinking I would never be able to start over. But I started over in New York. I started over in Florida. And in those moments, that was the best thing for me. The only way to see how far you can go is to go somewhere. Test yourself. Don’t let anything get in your way.

The Simple Moments 

I have always lived a simple life. And the moments I enjoy the most while traveling are the most simple, living the way the locals live. Sipping on a flat white in Dublin, while eating a mile high lemon meringue tart and writing. Walking in the rain in Killarney National Park and finding myself in the greenest of woods. Eating a monstrous fish n chips in Dingle with a girl I had just met on the bus, overwhelmed at the portion of food in front of me. Sitting in a square full of students, cheap sangria in hand, feeling no different than the people I was surrounded by. Scarfing down a warm pastei de bellum after tearing packets of powdered sugar and cinnamon with my teeth in the middle of the street. Sitting in a bar where the students go in Sevilla, eating cheap appetizers of ham, cheese, and calamari, drinking endless supplies of cold, cheap buckets of beer. Sitting in the street at 4am drunk, talking and laughing with fellow hostel mates. Sipping wine and writing while waiting for my truffle risotto in Rome. Being determined to finish every ounce of cheese on my first cheese plate of France, taking my time while sitting next to the port in Marseille. Standing at the top of Notre Dame after a miserable walk up hill in Marseille to witness a magnificent view, wind blowing, of the entire city and sea. Falling asleep on an outdoor sofa on a vineyard in Brignoles, listening to nothing but the chirping of birds and cicadas under the shade of a tree. Sitting next to the dolphins and watching them swim by in the aquarium in Genoa. Sipping wine and watching the sun melt into the mountains in Kos. Wandering the isles of Naschmarkt in Vienna, tasting the foods that the vendors urge me to try, spending 8euro on nuts without a single regret because they were that damn good. Sitting in the streets of Brno with the cheapest craft beer I’ve ever came into contact with, jumping over language barriers with locals. Sipping even cheaper beer in a bar no tourist would have ever found on a random side street. Nothing but a small sign on the door to even let you know there was a bar there. And now, sitting in a local cafe with Barbora, me writing, her painting, sipping coffee and eating bread with different spreads.

These are the moments I will remember most. The most simple. The ones that require no thought. My entire life is nothing but an accumulation of simple moments of food, drink, nature, and laughter. And the simple moments will always be what I remember most because they are what I miss the most at home. Drinking shock top and eating nachos and wings where I work. Playing board games at my sister’s with my niece and nephew, making inappropriate jokes and watching them get emotional from winning or losing. Sitting for hours and hours on the beach while the sun sets, reading and smoking, and making my mom mad from all of the sand I drag back into the house. Simplicity is all I need in this life. And the simple moments are what I always remember. 

The Paradox of Vacation

49/90 days.

More than half way through.

It would have been a boring summer.
I would have taken a class or two. Maybe three. Probably as many as I could have. I would have worked the same schedule. Lived in the same routine. My “summer vacation” would have been a week between the end of my spring semester and the beginning of the summer semester. It would have been boring and miserable and hot in the Florida summer sun and humidity. The tourists would have been frustrating and the roads would have been cluttered and at a standstill for more hours of the day than anyone would ever want.

I don’t miss what I’m missing back home. But in a weird, unexpected kind of way, I’m looking forward to being back to it. Not the summer time of Navarre, but I’m looking forward to the fall semester. To working. To earning money. To working out 5 days a week. To being back in the same routine. To sitting on the beach, reading for hours until sunset. To academics, believe it or not. Challenging my mind in a different kind of way. I’m glad to be missing out on the tourist trap of a summer vacation in the panhandle of Florida. But I never expected to be looking forward to being back home and living the same boring life.

Maybe it’s because I have so much of my degree left to complete. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I’m excited to finish my BA so I can come back here and live somewhere in Spain for good. So I can start a routine there instead. So I can weekend in France and take a short flight to Ireland when I’m craving a taste of nature.

I’m not done here yet. I still have less than half way to go. I have a lot to see. And I’m looking forward to it all immensely because each place is different than anything else I’ve seen. I was talking to one of my best friends, Casey, about this today, and he said, “A long adventure like this is what you need to appreciate your day to day life. And your day to day life is what you need to appreciate an adventure like that.” The paradox of vacation. Who knew?

One Month Countdown

The one-month countdown has finally begun. I still can’t believe I’m doing this – and it doesn’t seem like all that many other people can believe it either. I can sense the doubts of others as I tell them my plan, I see their reactions when I say the word “hostel,” and I can feel their concerns when I say I’m doing this alone.

I have had my doubts, though very few. As time keeps passing and the day of my departure comes closer, my excitement churns to nervousness and sometimes even I wonder if I’ll really be comfortable being completely alone all of the time.

But then I remember who I am. I remember what I’ve been through. The hardest moments of my life I have lived through alone. There have been so many times in my life where I thought, “How am I going to be able to move on from this?” or, “How am I ever going to be okay again?” and I remember what is most important: the idea that everything in life is temporary. Fear, pain, confusion, yearning, joy, illness – everything is temporary. Feelings, both good and bad, rise and fall, and that is what life is all about.

This is what I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember and I have always imagined myself being completely alone during the journey. Maybe not completely, but at least without the company of someone I actually know. If everything I have ever experienced has led me to anything – it is this summer.

I’ve got it all figured out. I have my support systems. I have my friends, my family, my penpals in multiple countries of the world to reach out to if I’m in a bind, or just need someone to talk to that’s somewhat close by. And to be honest, I’ve planned this trip rather strategically, though of course, I know that nothing ever goes as planned, and I’m ok with that. I know that the stress will only be temporary, too. The scary moments will dissipate. Every moment of my journey will be fleeting – and that’s why I have to appreciate every single moment. Every landscape. Even though I’m traveling often, I have to allow myself to soak it all in, no matter where I am.

I start my trip with family in Ireland. I’ll be in Ireland for two weeks before heading to Portugal, and then Spain, each for about a week. I have no doubt I will be able to get through my trip. I have so much to look forward to, every day, every night. Once my first month has passed, I get a two-week break with my Contiki tour, so I’ll have some time to breathe and not have to worry about getting from place to place.

Time is ticking… and I’m ready.

Narrowing it all down

With only 74 days (!!!!!!!!!!) before I leave, I have a LOT of work to do. Working on the last six weeks of my trip is a lot more difficult than the first six.

Booking Ireland, Portugal, and Spain was fairly easy. Though Spain has a lot to offer, I knew more or less what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go (Sevilla, Madrid, Barcelona). The last six weeks of my trip have a lot more countries to book, the countries themselves are a lot bigger and offer a lot more, and I generally know very little about them all.

My Contiki tour ends in Rome, and from there is where I pick up my final 6 weeks. In my last six weeks I will be roaming around France, Italy, Austria, Czech, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

France is posing a lot more difficulty than I originally intended. I am beyond excited for Paris, but it is so far up North and generally isolates me from the rest of France that I want to explore. I’ve made the decision to let Paris be my final destination before I head to the U.K. in the beginning of August, while touring the south of France after my Contiki tour.

From Rome, I’m thinking I’ll fly into Marseille, travel to Aix-En-Provence, then head over to Nice for a bit before I head back to Italy for some solo-exploration. I have been using Rome2Rio.com to sort out the vast majority of where I’m going and how I’m getting there and it’s proven itself to be highly beneficial, as it displays every possible way of getting there and its cost.

Here is where I’m having trouble. Contiki already takes me through a great bit of Italy, including: Florence, Venice, Rome, Bari (barely), Salerno, and Pompeii. From Nice, I’m thinking about traveling to Genoa, then Milan, then Verona, before I head up to Innsbruck, Austria. It’s difficult to say I want to go to all of these places prior to looking into accommodation, because a lot of where I decide to go depends on the safety of where I am able to stay during my time. Peak-season will be apparently over in Austria and Czech in the summertime, though I’m sure there will still be plenty of traffic all over. In Austria, after Innsbruck, I will probably go to Salzburg, Vienna, and then head up to Czech where I will go to Brno, Prague, and other places that I still have to figure out.

Now, it’s just a matter of taking the plunge and getting things booked. I take a lot of time looking into each city. I compare every hostel and I always have to take into consideration the times at which I can fly/bus into certain areas. I avoid, at all costs, arriving anywhere at night. Booking does provide a lot of anxious excitement. I know that I can cancel without penalty, but saying “this is where I’m going for sure” gives a very strange feeling. I wanted to go into this trip with a lot of my decisions ‘up in the air’ but it just isn’t realistic for someone my age, doing what I’m doing. If I had been to Europe before, I think I could have more confidence in “winging it.” Everything I do, I do for a reason, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

Thanks for reading! And please, if you have ANY recommendations or tips for France, Italy, Austria, Czech, throw them my way – I love and appreciate any and all input.