#NoRegrets? My first and last Contiki 

#NoRegrets? Maybe just a few.
Contiki was a whirlwind to say in the least. I can’t believe how fast two weeks have flown by. The motto of Contiki is No Regrets – a good one, but I definitely regret not looking into the cost a bit more. The only thing that is actually included with Contiki, out of 14 days, was breakfast, accommodation, transportation to and from each city, and 4 dinners. The rest of the dinners, tours, boat tours, and other cool shit you saw me do, were not included and posed a high price. I opted in for most of the optionals the first week, and opted out of most the second week because I was already hundreds of dollars over budget because of dinner, alcohol, taxis back from clubs, and probably too much gelato to admit. That’s all my doing – but I definitely didn’t budget enough, especially because some of the prices of the optionals had gone up since I saw them first. The boat tour up the Almafi coast originally said 48EUR, and when it came time for it, it was 60EUR. That’s close to 70USD. 
Wifi on board. More like, your first ten minutes of Wifi is free and then you have to pay for the rest, that burns out quick. I paid over $11USD for 288MB of data that seemingly disappeared after barely using it. I even kept my phone on airplane mode and suddenly it wouldn’t let me log back in. 
7 countries, 14 days. More like, 4 countries with a few stop overs. We had literally 10 minutes at a bathroom station in Bosnia, 2 hours for lunch in Montenegro, and because there was an optional dinner in Split, we had about an hour in the town itself. No one forced me to do the dinner and go to the hotel right away… but I still did. For something called “Adriatic Unearthed” I felt a little jipped at the whole “unearthing” concept. Our hotels weren’t exactly central, so going out required a taxi. If you didn’t do the optionals, you were either stuck in town, or stuck at the hotel with not much to do. So in total, without the airfare flying into Europe, I spent over $2500 for two weeks. That amount of money would have stretched me a whole lot farther if I had done the two weeks on my own, but it wasn’t all that bad. 
I met amazing people. I can honestly say I think I made friends I will stay in touch with for years to come. I made friends who really lived up to the #NoRegrets feeling that I was able to be completely myself with. I got drunk and wandered and yelled in the streets of Rome with two girls I had barely known at the time. I created inside jokes that I will look back at and laugh at. I did the traditional tourist thing in each city that I wouldn’t have spent money on otherwise. Everything was organized and I didn’t have to worry about getting anywhere for two entire weeks. It was a lovely break from organizing, despite spending more time than preferred on a bus. I fell in love with places I never, ever would have imagined. Ljubljana is one of my favorite cities I have been so far and Contiki brought me there. The tour manager organized a cheap little boat tour around the small town. I don’t want to discredit the tour manager here, either, I mean we are friends on Facebook, but he really did go above and beyond to make this trip more tolerable and easy for us guinea pigs. Another place I never would have imagined going was Albania. The second we crossed the boarder and our tour manager was giving us some insight into the corruption of this country, I was pulled towards it. Drawn to it. I know with all of my heart that I will go back to that bleeding, corrupt country to further explore it. So it wasn’t all bad. I found my “places” in this world and I fell in love with them. I don’t regret my experience with Contiki at all, but by the 3rd to last day, I was pretty done with it. I was ready to get back on my own. I was checked out mentally and done with spending money. 
Would I do another Contiki? Probably not. I like the freedom of wandering on my own and being in control of my own travels. Some people need the organization – but I prefer to organize on my own. It wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t for me, and it was just too damn fast paced. I need more time to let cities sink into my skin. I need more time to feel and enjoy. I need more time to fall in love and explore. 12 hours in foreign places just isn’t enough sometimes. I give myself two nights in every place while traveling alone, two nights at LEAST, never just 12 hours. I need more time than that. 

Ramble and Reflection

I guess some mornings after you go out in Barcelona you wake up at 8am when you only went to bed less than four hours ago. I have a nasty cough and I knew that going out last night would not be good for being sick but I wanted to go out in Barcelona at least once in my 4 nights here. Today all I have planned is to do laundry and visit Sagrada Familia. 
I think I planned my trip well in a sense that I am definitely ready for my Contiki tour to start. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically an organized tour for 18-35 year olds. So for two weeks out of the 13 that I am traveling, I won’t have to worry about a single thing in terms of transportation or accommodation. I think it will be relieving to give my mind and body a rest from the stress and always being on alert. And I’ll be in some really amazing places, too. 
I think if I want to promise myself anything for the rest of my trip, it is to write a poem each day, and to take at least an hour everyday to reflect – no cell phone, no data, nothing. Paper and pen. I think I really missed out on that these first few weeks but I am happy that I have been taking the time to write on here. 
I’m sitting on a balcony at my hostel on a cloudy day. The sun is poking through the clouds, shining its light on me and the balcony, but it keeps disappearing. 
I have learned a lot about myself so far on my trip. I don’t have to spend time with anyone that I don’t want to and I think that is refreshing. Sometimes it can be a little awkward to try and get away from people and to purposefully isolate yourself. Some people don’t understand and consider it to be weird or rude or offputting, but that’s just me, it is who I am. Sometimes you meet people you can’t wait to get away from. And I know that sounds kind of mean or unaccepting but I don’t think everyone is designed to click with everyone all the time. I do my best to understand people for who they are and what they have experienced but I struggle to resonate with people who refuse to learn about themselves. People who cannot grow from their experiences. A lot of the time that isn’t their fault. They just haven’t read enough. Or haven’t been low enough to have to crawl their way out of a hole, fingers bleeding. People are often shaped by what they experience but if they don’t understand how or why they are the way they are then they can’t better themselves. 
Sometimes you get caught up in other people’s twisted games or immature behaviors and you want to ask the universe why did it have to be me? There never is an answer to that question. So the only thing to do then is to move on. 
Sometimes you meet people who you feel like you have known for a long time. I am playful, I joke, I can be sarcastic and an asshole, some people don’t enjoy my humor and others only know how to enjoy it without interacting with it. But sometimes you meet people who can give it right back to you without it being uncomfortable. The banter is organic. The conversations are honest. It is the people like this that I have met along this journey that have made it all worthwhile. To serve as a reminder that… there are people in this world who will make you feel like you belong without even doing it on purpose. And those are the best people. The ones who make you shine. And the ones who make everything worth it.
I am officially one month into my trip. I can’t believe how fast time has flown by. Two more months to go. 

I didn’t want to leave Sevilla 

I feel incredibly lucky to be in such beautiful cities. Every place I go is more beautiful than the last. Something different to offer, different to see, more to fall in love with… Sevilla is no exception. Sevilla is definitely the most beautiful city I have been to so far. The bus was over four hours with a pit stop and my hostel was only about ten minutes from the bus station. I walked on the main roads and made my way to the narrow streets of the historic district of Sevilla and fell in love. The architecture on every building, even the main roads, was beautiful. I was pretty exhausted upon my arrival in Sevilla, but I was also starving. 
I got settled into my room and one of the guys asked me and the rest of the bunk mates whether we were hungry, so we all decided to go out to eat. The guy who asked brought a ukulele along with him to travel and I soon found him to be unbearably annoying. No offense to him, I just don’t get along with 28 year olds who act like they’re 12 and require constant attention. The girl I was with was from Belgium and we got along very well, and this was my first taste of Spanish tapas so I wasn’t going to let some annoying, immature, ukulele playing Canadian ruin my meal. 
We all ate. I ordered manchego, olives, and grilled octopus, along with a glass of Sangria. The food came out all separately and it was exactly what I wanted out of life in that moment. I came back to the hostel and took my very first Spanish siesta that lasted a few hours and I was out cold. When I woke up, my Belgium roomie was not in her bunk so I wandered off to buy some clothes to better suit me for the weather. Because Sevilla. Is. Hot. I knew it was going to be hot, and the temperature really was not that bad in comparison to Florida, but going from Ireland to Portugal and then to a drastic increase in temperature was almost too hot to handle. 
I changed my clothes and ended up walking to the river for sunset. The bridge was beautiful at night and the park was covered with the same purple trees as Portugal. I walked along before making my way back to the hostel while waiting for the pub crawl to start. The pub crawl that night turned out to be canceled because not enough people signed up so some people from the hostel just went to the tapas bar next door for drinks. 3 euro wine and 1,30 euro beer. No complaints from me. A group of us ended up going elsewhere. This was the night that I learned how heavy of a pour the Spanish do for liquor… in a big class, nearly half of it was gin and half of it was tonic. No 3 second pour. It was 9. Some US college student attempted to hit on me and tried awfully too hard, sorry pal, so I went back to the hostel to sleep. 

The next day was the free walking tour that started around 10:30 and was supposed to last for about three hours. The huge group was divided by language and just about everyone in my group was paired off or apart of a family except for one guy. He turned out to be from Switzerland and working towards being a doctor. We chatted throughout the entire tour that took us to the Cathedral, a castle, the walkway across from Tirana, and ended at Plaza de Espana. We took a 30 minute break at one point and the Swiss guy got to watch me spill ice cream all down my shirt like a four year old. I claimed it was hereditary because seemingly everyone in my family has a problem spilling shit down their shirt when they’re eating. We agreed to get tapas afterwards and we shared garlic potatoes, sliced tomatoes, olives, tuna with roasted red peppers, and goat cheese. It was exactly what was needed after a long, hot few hours of walking. 
We were going to go to the Cathedral but the line looked dreadfully long so we passed and agreed to meet up later at Plaza de Espana or for a drink. I went back to the hostel, showered, and got ready to meet my penpal Manu that I have been talking to since October. He was actually my first penpal from a website that a friend had recommended. Exams are approaching in Spain so I was surprised he even had time in the first place but after all, I was in Sevilla. We met in Plaza Nueva by my hostel before heading over to PLaza de la Encarnacion where the “mushroom” was located. It is basically a big structure and you can take the elevator up to the top for a cool view of the city. Sevilla looked beautiful even at night, and the prettiest buildings were all illuminated. After that, we went for cheap beer and cheap food and drank and talk while I slowly lost my voice more and more. I had done a lot of talking that day already, and with a nasty cough, my voice was only getting worse. I ended up meeting with the Swiss guy from the walking tour again for a drink after Manu and his friend had to turn in for the night. It was definitely a perfect day in Sevilla. 
The next morning was hotter than the last, but I knew that I wanted to go to the Cathedral and climb up the tower, so I waited in line and got drenched with sweat. There is nothing weirder than the feeling of sweat dripping down your back and into you’re buttcrack. That’s all I’m saying. The Cathedral itself is the largest gothic cathedral in the world, I think. Rightly so. It was stunning. The ceilings were so high and the organs were the biggest I’ve ever seen. It was so easy to get lost in there. I’m not entirely religious so my main motivation was the tower. It was over 30 “flights” high but there was no elevator nor stairs. There were ramps. Apparently, back in the day, rather than walking up the ramps or creating stairs, donkeys used to pull people or be ridden up the tower. It took a bit to climb up to the top, especially because I kept getting stuck behind old people. Why do people love to stop in the middle of narrow hallways? Or walk directly in the center? People… 
The view from the top of the tower was really cool and you could get up on any ledge for a different view. Some of the views led into the courtyard, some were just of the city, or other parts of the cathedral itself. After the Cathedral I went back to the hostel, got made fun of for my rapsy voice, and then headed to get some Gelato before I showered. 
For dinner I treated myself to some Spanish tapas with a gin and tonic. I know, weird combination, but I was not in the mood for beer anymore. I ordered the gin and tonic and the waiter brought the bottle and a glass to the table. He filled my glass, a large glass, half way with gin. As he was pouring, I asked if he was trying to kill me because he didn’t stop for at least ten seconds and he just laughed as if it was totally normal, while dramatically shaking the bottle up and down to make more come out. He put the tonic on the table next to my glass and when he realized how much he actually poured he grabbed the tonic and started pouring it, laughing. “I don’t want my boss to see!” He exclaimed before he walked away. A fifth into my gin and tonic, I was drunk. I didn’t plan on eating any bread, but I soon realized I needed it with my cheese, ham, and mushrooms, and even put the rest of the bread in my purse like the grandma I am to save for later. After, I ordered dessert and got a 5 layer chocolate mousse cake thing that was drool worthy. I wandered back to my hostel and found my friends while they laughed at how drunk I was from only a single (triple) drink.
Later on I went to Plaza de Espana aftr the sun had set because the tour guide told us that it was beautiful at night and he was totally right. It was magical. Part of Star Wars was actually filmed there but that wasn’t something I knew. I had a random stranger take a picture of me in front of the magic and found my way to where all of my friends were on the pub crawl. The pub crawl was pretty unorganized but I was just happy to have found my friends and get another drink. I had another gin and tonic with an insanely heavy pour before we headed to a different bar, and another, and another. At the last one, I actually got carded. ID’d. The only one. I seriously must look 16 years old to get carded in Spain. 
After the last bar, most of us wandered back to the hostel while drunken food was made before we went outside, loudly talking / yelling / laughing. Most of us headed up to the roof top to smoke before I turned in for the night. Though this explanation of the night was a little vague, it was probably the best night I have had out in my entire trip so far. I will never forget Sevilla or the people I met there and I couldn’t be more excited to return. 

waiting is the hard part

I’m sitting in bed, watching The Office, in my last hour of being home. I wasn’t really sure how I would feel in these final moments.

I’ve never been away from my family for an extended period of time like this. I’ve never been that far from the comfort of my own home. I think this is the hard part – being here, knowing what’s about to come, but not being there quite yet. This small waiting period counting down the actual beginning of my trip is grueling. Making sure I have everything, worrying about forgetting something. Goodbyes are weird. It’s not that long of a time, but it’s the longest amount of time for me.

I feel overall excited, blanketed with a sheet of nervousness and topped with a small combination of fear and sadness, but even with all of that, my mind can only focus on the future and what I have to look forward to. I have been planning this trip for over six months, and now it’s just a matter of living out all that I have planned. Getting from place to place. No expectations. Just living each day. I am yearning to be there, to start. Waiting is the hard part.

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.