With eight weeks in, six countries down, and fifteen cities visited, it's hard to believe that I'm about halfway through my massive trip around Europe, and even harder to believe that I’ve still got eleven more weeks to go! And what an incredible journey it’s already been! I've found myself making new friends from all over the world, exploring so many spectacular places, and eating so. much. good. food! As I have been moving from city to city and sharing much of my travels on Instagram, I've received countless messages and emails with questions about just how, exactly, I am doing this whole traveling for 4+ months thing... especially solo and as a woman. So I’ve gathered alllll of your questions, put them into categories, and and will attempt to answer them for you right here!
MONEY + BUDGETING
How did you budget and how did you know how much to save?
This is such a loaded question, because no joke, I’ve got like three budget sheets going right now. First, I made a proposed budget (link here) when I started saving for the trip, on which I multiplied my proposed numbers for food, lodging, etc. by the amount of days I was going to be traveling, and I have used it as a guide ever since. Once I had a total number I was looking at, my goal was to save around that amount, and adjust it as necessary. I think the number $10k was always in my mind, so that’s what I stuck with. I have two working budgets on Google Sheets now: an overall budget that includes lodging, transit, food, and fun things — complete with formulas that add them together to show what I have spent and what I have left to spend, plus my income and minus my monthly bills — as well as a food/travel budget sheet for each city that I visit, after which I enter those numbers into the overall budget. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. If you want to see any examples, let me know.
How long did you save?
For about a year. I finished paying all of my debt in December 2017, after which I filled my emergency fund to $8k. Then I began saving for this trip. It definitely helped that I moved in with friends for my last two months in Nashville and then moved back home for a few months to save on rent, not to mention I was still hustling hard with all of my side jobs. On the flip side, though, I didn’t have a full-time job for the last six months of saving, so I still had to sacrifice quite a bit to save it all.
What are you doing about work?
I quit my full-time job in Nashville back in October, moved home shortly after to save money, and ended up getting a remote job in December that I love. The team I am working with allowed me to take my job with me while traveling (10-15 hrs/wk), which has been a huge blessing for a few reasons: 1. Having some extra income rolling in while I travel is awesome, 2. Doing something productive is helping to keep me grounded while traveling, and 3. It has helped me realize just how much I love the remote work life. I’m definitely planning to continue to do this once I am back in the states, when I will hopefully add another client or two to get closer to a full-time income.
TRANSPORTATION + LODGING
Did you rent a car or travel other ways?
Truthfully, almost all of my transportation has been determined by price because I’m 100% a budget traveler. That means that most of my transit has been bus and train travel, apart from when a flight made more sense, like getting from London to Lisbon or Amsterdam to Dublin. I’m actually only renting a car in Ireland for the freedom of being able to see as much as possible, but it’s reaaaaal pricey because they all drive manuals... but ya girl here isn't too confident driving a manual on the other side of the road AND the other side of the car, and they charge almost double for automatic transmissions.
How Did you figure out the best modes of transportation?
I almost always searched for transit options on Rome2Rio or Go Euro. They both operate online and in app form, and it’s so easy to search every mode of transportation and price range! More often than not, I booked what was cheapest or made the most sense, usually meaning a bus or train, which has worked out mostly fine. But I also now know that it might be worth it to pay more for an easier/faster travel experience. Trust me, after a few hellish overnight busses, trains, and ferries (don’t even get me started on that one), I would likely be more tempted to fly next time. Another amazingly cheap option in Europe is BlaBlaCar, a ride sharing service. I used it in France when the transit strikes were happening and had a great experience.
How did You decide where to stay (hotel/hostel/airbnb)?
First things first, I searched for hostels on HostelWorld (website or app). My biggest advice if you choose to do this is read the reviews, because people are real honest, and I'm a little picky about my experience. For example, I almost always opt for a female-only room, and I’m not much of a partier (seriously, I did one pub crawl in Lisbon and had one late night in Sorrento and felt like ish after both) so I wanted to find hostels that were more geared toward my style of traveling. When I couldn’t find that, when prices seemed high, or if hostel options were few and far between (like in the Alsace French Region or Dubrovnik), I went with an AirBnb. Truthfully, I looked into AirBnb frequently just to compare prices and amenities. I’m also an introvert, so I made sure to include a few of them in between long hostel stays. As for location, I tried to choose areas that were: a. safe, and b. close to my incoming and outgoing transportation. This can sometimes be a gamble, considering spots around public transit can sometimes be sketchy, but I tried to keep everything within a 20-30 minute walking distance so that I could walk with my luggage, or at least hop on a metro or bus to get to my hostel or AirBnb. And then I would either walk to the places I wanted to see, or use public transit.
What apps are you using?
For transit: Rome2Rio, BlaBlaCar, FlixBus, Loco2, GoogleMaps
For lodging: AirBnb, HostelWorld
For budgeting: xCurrency, GoogleSheets
For language and journaling: GoogleTranslate, GoogleDocs
PLACES + PACKING
How much research did You do to prepare?
Probably not enough for some places, but enough to have the majority of my lodging and transportation between cities booked (up through mid-July when I get into Ireland, which I’ve been continuing to plan while I’ve been traveling). I’ve found it’s been the “what to do in each city” that I kind of skimped on, likely because I was overwhelmed by the already large amount of details. There are some things I wish I would’ve been more prepared for — like buying a ticket to La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona — but other times I’ve been glad I barely had a plan because it’s given me the opportunity to be more spontaneous, like when I decided to take a private boat tour around the island of Capri in Italy. I also read a good chunk of Rick Steves’ “Europe Through the Back Door” while I was still in the states and in planning mode, which helped a ton.
How did You decide what was important to see and do vs. what was skippable?
This is a great question, because there are literally so many things to do and see in each new place… and I am visiting over 30 European cities! If I tried to do all the things in each city, my budget would have been shot weeks ago, and my sanity would probably be gone as well. So yes, I’ve had to prioritize the things that I’ve felt were must-do’s. First things first: I’ve been trying to do as many free things as possible. For example, in London, most museums are free, so I visited quite a few of those. Other free things have been: Park Guell in Barcelona (minus entrance to the town area), the Trevi Fountain in Rome (go early morning or late evening for less crowds), St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Piazza Michaelangelo in Florence for amazing views, etc. I’ve also searched for the cheapest ways to do things, like opting for a 3-day metro pass in cities and using the hell out of them or getting to the Colosseum (way too) early to buy a ticket at the gate in order to save €4. I’ve definitely skipped some things that others would think was a tragedy (like The Vatican, The Duomo in Florence, the entirety of the Amalfi Coast, Plitvice National Park in Croatia), but I’m constantly reminding myself that those places will always be there, and so I can always come back. I think that’s an important balance I’ve been learning: knowing when to slow down and give myself permission to not do or see all the things while still trying to soak up as much of the culture in each city as I can.
Best places so far?
All have had their own amazing aspects for sure, but my favorites have been Barcelona, Cinque Terre, and Dubrovnik.
Where else are you going?
In a few days I head north to Munich, Germany, from where I'll be making a few days trips and a short trip to Verona, Italy (and hopefully Venice!). Then: Switzerland (Bern), back to France (Alsace region, Lyon, Paris), Belgium (Brussels, Brugge), the Netherlands (Amsterdam), Ireland (Dublin, Galway, Belfast, Clifden), Scotland (Edinburgh), and then back down to London before heading back to the states.
HOW DID YOU PACK FOR THIS TRIP?
Carefully. I bought a 26" Away suitcase prior to my trip (just a bit bigger than a carry on), determined to fit everything in that I would need for 4+ months of travel with a strict weight restriction from the get-go (44lbs/20kg). For more info on what I packed, check this post. I've also already tossed or donated a few things to lighten my load, or make room for new things when necessary.
How are you handling traveling, seeing sights, and making memories alone?
Simply put, I think, like a champ. I don’t mind being on my own, so traveling solo hasn’t been terribly challenging. Of course, there are always those moments that I wish I had someone to share a particular experience with, but I also realize how fortunate I am to be experiencing it regardless of whether or not someone is next to me! I've been thinking a lot about this question, and I think that knowing yourself is the most important pre-req for traveling like this, because chances are you will be on your own quite a bit. You will absolutely make new friends while traveling, but you will also have a lot of alone time, and if that scares you, I want to challenge you to go deep and figure out why that may be. I will say that I have learned so much more about myself and how I've been made, as well as gone deeper in my relationship with Jesus as a result of traveling solo, and I honestly believe that those things make this trip more than worth it. Here's the thing: loneliness is a human thing, not just a traveling thing. I can be just as lonely sitting on the coast of Italy watching a sunset as it might be sitting on the couch at home... and I hope I will always choose to be out there doing the things that I want to do, whether or not I am doing it on my own.
Have you met any cool people, and how did you meet them?
Absolutely! Staying in hostels has been super helpful in making new friends, especially other badass female travelers! I can now say that I have new friends from California, NYC, Canada, Australia, Germany, and more! I’ve found, more than anything, that we all want to connect with others while traveling, so it’s been super fun to explore some of these incredibly beautiful cities with new friends while making amazing memories!
How do you stay safe while traveling alone, especially avoiding dangerous areas?
Two words: common sense. Sounds simple, but that’s because it is. The thing is that a “bad” things can happen at anytime, anywhere. Whether your in Europe, Egypt, or your hometown, the potential for danger is present, and I don’t think that the fear of something maybe happening is a good reason to not do something, especially travel. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, here are the things I always try to do: be aware of my surroundings at all times, look like I know where I'm going (aka not looking at my phone all the time), and looking people in the eye. I know from a few self-defense courses that these things are the most important preventative measures a woman can take, whether or not she’s traveling. I also try to rarely be on my own late at night, but if I am, I walk on well-lit streets and keep my head up with my resting b-face on. Lastly, I always have my cat self-defense keychain with me in my bag, which I keep in my hand any time I feel uncomfortable (which hasn’t been often).
Are you embracing feeling like a tourist or trying to be more like a local?
Both. Obviously I want to do some of the “tourist” things, like visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but I also want to live like as much of a local as I can. I always ask the hostel staff or my AirBnb host for personal recommendations of places to go for food or coffee, as well as for the coolest areas of their city to explore. I’ve also loved free walking tours in some of the cities I’ve been in, because you get a feel for the history and the neighborhoods, which has helped me know where to explore further on my own.
What about your phone and laptop?
Another great question. For my laptop, all I need is wifi and I am good to go to get some work done or watch a movie on Netflix (no Hulu in Europe, unfortunately). When it comes to a cell phone, many people travel without international plans by either connecting to wifi whenever possible or purchasing a European SIM card once abroad, which usually costs around $30/month for a certain number of GB of data. I did a lot of research on this before leaving, and decided to switch to T-Mobile about a year ago for their ONE Unlimited plan that includes international features. This plan, which only costs me $70/month, includes unlimited text and data internationally (up to 3G speeds), and non-wifi calls cost $0.20/minute. It's definitely a slower connection than back home, but it works great! I can use GoogleMaps at anytime, which is really the biggest selling point when exploring a new city, or even scroll through social media. It's been amazing and so easy!
What about travel restrictions?
Every part of the world has their own regulations for tourists, so be sure to do your research before embarking on a trip like this. For example, the UK allows tourists to be there for up to 6 months without a visa, whereas the rest of the Schengen area only allows tourists to travel for 90 days in a 180 day period. It's also a good idea, though not always necessary, to have proof of a return flight and bank funds when going abroad. In my case, when I landed in London they didn't ask for either, but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry. It's also a good idea to obtain an International Driving Permit before your trip if you plan on renting a car, because, again while not necessary, it can make renting a car much easier.
How do you Go with the Flow?
You absolutely have to willing to go with the flow on a trip like this, because things will never go exactly the way you want or have planned for them to. I’m a planner by nature, and this trip has taught me the importance and freedom that come with learning to be flexible and go with the flow. I’ve had more than a few transportation hiccups in my trip so far (hello french transit strikes!), but in those moments I just remind myself that there’s not really anything I can do, so I stick it out and make the best of it, whether that means making new friends who are in the same situation or sticking my nose in a book for a few extra hours. I’ve also woken up many mornings with absolutely no plan for the day, and while that may have caused me some anxiety in the past, it has made me appreciate the freedom that plan-less days can bring. I can just wander the city streets or make plans as the hours pass, and I’ve truthfully almost always had the best time on those days when I had no plan going in.
I hope that this post has answered some of the questions you may have about traveling, especially solo and/or as a woman. I hope that you are able to follow those crazy dreams in your heart like I have, and that you get to see more of the world than you ever thought possible.