Here I am blinking and staring stupidly at my computer screen in some coffee shop in the Atlanta airport after taking the redeye from Guatemala and sleeping somewhere between 1.5 hours & screaming baby. It’s so early that Starbucks isn’t even open. I’m hoping that the coffee in this white, unfamiliar “Illy” cup with an extra shot of espresso will give me some sort of caffeine-induced inspiration to finish my first blog post in nearly 3 months.
It’s been pretty quiet around these parts lately, and that’s for various reasons. But if I’m honest with myself (and you all) the biggest reason for my absence has been due to recently getting out of the most serious relationship I’ve ever had. Many of you know Gio, or maybe felt like you knew her after following our travels the past few years. The story of the rise and fall of our relationship is another story for another time, but it goes without saying I have been in a transitional phase the past few months and haven’t felt like doing any sort of work. Particularly when that work involves reliving hundreds of photos/videos & attempting to recreate moments that today hold different meaning.
For this reason I’ve been taking some time for me, and plotting my next step. For this reason, I’ve decided to shift gears and choose a different route this summer. And also for this reason, I’m attempting to write my first blog post at perhaps the worst time I could have picked within the past 3 months to write one: last minute during a rushed layover at the airport, with mediocre coffee as my only hope to rise above the zombie-mode exhaustion. This is going to be raw.
A layover? I thought you were driving the Pan-American Highway?
I was. I mean, I still am. But I’m taking a little break from driving the Americas. A much-needed detour to a different land. A land of unparalleled diversity, eclectic cultures, world-class cuisine, and progressive thought. It’s the cradle of modern day civilization, and the scene of my first backpacking trip that changed my life years ago. Yep, this summer, I’m heading back to Europe!
Europe? Why Europe and why now?
I agree it doesn’t seem too logical to hop over the pond to Europe while I’m in the midst of a 2-3 year trip driving down the Pan-American Highway. But it actually makes a lot of sense in my head right now. Here’s a few reasons why I’m making it happen:
- I’m escaping the rainy season. Between the months of May and November, Central American weather can be brutally wet. I never learned what rain really was until I moved to Costa Rica in October of 2013. I’m talking torrential downpours, for 4 hours straight. That doesn’t bode too well for my camping lifestyle.
- I’m doing it for cheap. I always thought that Europe would be the last place I’d return to because it’s so expensive and there are so many other, cheaper places around the world that I want to see. But I’m actually getting away with it quite cheaply. For starters, my friend hooked me up with a buddy pass from Delta. Then, for my month in Spain, I’ll be staying with one of my best buddies from college, my Spaniard friend Marco and his amigos the entire time. His madre fed me like a king last time I was there, so I assume she’ll still enjoy cooking up some paella for her adopted gringo son :-). The rest of the time, I’ll be roadtripping with my friends Lucho & Laura from Argentina in another friend’s Mitsubishi L300 outfitted with a spacious camper top complete with beds, kitchen & bathroom. We’re going to continue the roadtrip vagabond lifestyle in Europe and sleep in the car & cook all our own food. Yea I won’t be partaking in the delicious cuisines found across Europe as much as I would like, but sacrifices must be made. Besides, spaghetti fills up me belly just as well as Soupe à l’oignon. Furthermore, it certainly helps the budget when the US dollar is flying high and almost on par with the Euro.
- I need this. Gio and I’s relationship started, blossomed, and ended all on the road. I met her in Costa Rica, then traveled with her through Brazil, Argentina, Panama, Cuba, Mexico & the U.S. over the span of 2.5+ years. We planned to drive the PanAmerican Highway together, started the trip together, and then mutually decided to end our relationship a few months ago. The change is a positive one, but put simply, I still associate this trip with her. I probably always will to a certain extent, and that’s okay. I’ve accepted it. But that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like a breather from everything. A change of scenery. A change of pace. A reset button. And what does that look like? An epic summer with some of my best friends in Europe.
- I found a cheap & secure way to leave my car. Maybe the biggest obstacle of an international roadtrip is finding places to park your car on a daily basis. So you can only imagine how difficult it could be to find a place to leave your car in another country for 3 1/2 months. It’s not just a matter of finding an affordable & secure place to park it, but also dealing with all the bureaucratic paperwork that’s involved. For the longest time I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave my car in Guatemala without paying federal impound fees or steep fines. But after about 3 weeks of traveling to/from the immigration office in Guatemala City, and lots of arm twisting, I finally managed to extend my vehicular permission to allow me enough time to pull this off. THEN, I made friends with some local police officers & worked out an agreement to leave Cielito Lindo in a place that is under 24/7 surveillance, FO’ FREE. Oh the joys of speaking Spanish!
- The timing couldn’t be more perfect. During the month I have planned in Spain, 2 of my Spanish buddies are getting married and another turns 30 years old. Fiesta, anyone? Then, for Día de Santiago, a national holiday on July 25th, everyone goes to the beach for a week. After I leave Spain I may or may not check out some little event in Germany called Oktoberfest…
- I’ll be with Spanish speakers the whole time and won’t backtrack on my progress. I totally forgot to include this part while rushing to get this article posted, so I wanted to add it and understate it’s importance. Yet ANOTHER reason why I hadn’t planned on returning to Europe soon, and a main reason that I’m traveling through Latin America is to learn Spanish. But my goal is not just to become conversationally adept, but completely fluent. Like, mother tongue fluent. As hard and slow as it is to learn a language, you lose it that much quickly. “If you don’t use it you lose it” they say, and I have experienced the anguish first hand of returning back to Latin America after 3 WEEKS ONLY in the U.S. to find that I have backtracked 3 months in my Spanish progress and fluidity. It’s the most frustrating thing, and is the main reason why I hardly ever stay in the U.S. longer than a month when I go back home. I set out with this goal to learn Spanish thoroughly when I moved to Costa Rica 2.5 years ago, and my goals for fluency level have evolved over the years with the “more you know the less you know” realizations. The fact that I’ll be spending a month in Spain, and then traveling the rest of Europe with 2 Argentinians was actually a huge factor in tipping the scale to decide to go to Europe. If I would travel the next 2 months around Europe speaking purely English, it would have been catastrophic for my Spanish progress, which is of utmost importance for my goals and the bigger picture of what I’m doing. Entonces, ¡me gustaría agradecer mucho a mis amigos Lucho y Laura otra vez por darme la oportunidad de viajar con ustedes por este continente lindísimo! ¡Nos vemos en el futuro, mOp!!
Ok, so you’re decided on a Eurotrip, but to where exactly?
Eurotrip 2016’s itinerary will go something like this:
Spain > France > Germany > Czech Republic > Poland > Austria > Croatia? > Italy > France > Switzerland? > Spain > Morocco?
The ? countries are still up in the air. I’d like to fit them in, but I want to make sure and not commit the same crime I did during my Eurotrip 2008 (It turned into a numbers game & I tried to “check-off” as many countries as I could).
It will be a mix of some old and new countries. Just like in 2008, I’ll be starting off Eurotrip 2016 with about a month in Spain, except this time we’re going to see much more of the country (think Galicia, Mallorca, Sevilla, Cadiz).
Next, I’ll ride the train up to Paris to meet up with Lucho & his wife to begin the roadtrip portion of the trip. We’ll hit the Autobahn over to Berlin, then snake our way down through nations like Czech Republic, Poland, & Austria on our way towards Italy (we’ll see if I can convince them to go to Croatia!) before heading back up towards France.
At this point, Lucho’s parents arrive to Europe to take my place in the car, and I’ll have about 2 weeks to spend before flying back to the States on September 25th. I have a choice to make – will I head north to through Switzerland on my way to Oktoberfest in Munich? Or will I head back south down through Spain to do Morocco for a few weeks?!? Decisions, decisions…
Why I’m looking forward to returning to Europe:
Besides the obvious reasons…
- I’m not a 21-year old knucklehead anymore. Remember the ramen-noodle head, Sublime shirt, loud mouth who got punched in the face in Barcelona? I look back at him with a chuckle. I’d like to reach back through time and help him…..by punching him in the face again.
Now I’m a little older & more mature, and have a better grasp of what actually matters. For example, I remember out of my 24 days that I spent in Spain in 2008, I probably saw around 15 sunrises (but that wasn’t coffee in my cup). I slept many precious daylight hours away in the name of Madridleño nightlife. And that’s fine. That’s what we wanted to do back then. But now I’m looking forward to trading the parties and clubs for more sightseeing & tours.
- I speak Spanish now. In 2008, my Spanish was limited to the “Como estas? Muy bien, y tu?” variety with a lot of broken conjugation & forced/failed attempts to communicate. I’m sure my Spanish buddies appreciated the effort, but it was much easier to switch back to English & say what I needed to say. Now I’ll be able to keep it strictly Spanish, and as I found out while traveling through Latin America the past few years, being able to communicate in the local language really helps you connect and dive even further into the culture. It’s crazy to think about because all of Marco’s family and friends only know me in English. I can’t wait to flip the script on them entirely. Even though I stayed at their house for 3 weeks in 2008, it’ll be like really getting to know Marco’s parents, who don’t speak any English, for the first time. It will be fun to actually pick up on & be a part of the subtleties, cultural nuances, and social dynamics that were lost in translation last time.
- Overlanding with your own vehicle is THE best way to travel through foreign countries! This is something I’ve learned firsthand the past 8 months since pulling out of my house in October to start my drive down to Argentina. With a set of wheels, you’re the master of your own destiny. It blows jumper flights, buses, & trains out of the water. I’ll admit, some lines on the Eurail pass are scenic and amazing, but in the long run, the freedom and independence of having your own car is priceless. With your own car, you don’t have to worry about rushing to the bus stop just to sit next to that crying, spoiled toddler, always keeping an eye on your stuff, or going through airport security just to travel with it. Hear about an interesting town in the mountains that has no public transportation access? We may just go and check it out!
- I’m a much better photographer these days – Don’t you look back on certain photos from 6-7 or even up to 10 years ago on Facebook and cringe sometimes? I know I do. But I’m not just talking about those photos from the CEOs and Hoes party in college, I’m also talking about the quality of my travel photos from Europe.
Over the past few years I’ve really developed a passion for travel photography. I absolutely love capturing what I see and do on the road, whether it be beautiful landscapes, interesting people, impressive architecture or things I eat and drink. In 2008, I went to Europe strapped with a Sony Cybershot 3 megapixel camera. That’s equivalent to me traveling with a crappy, modern-day flip phone to capture my adventures. Maybe more importantly, I still hadn’t developed my love for photography back then, so the inspiration is clearly lacking from my old Euro photos albums. I’m no expert now, but let’s just say I won’t be running around Europe this summer with a point & shoot & pocket mentality!
- Euro Cup 2016. Just like in 2008, I’ll be in Europe when the UEFA Euro Cup is in full swing. For those unfamiliar, it’s a soccer tournament between the European nations that takes place once every 4 years. In terms of importance of international soccer, the Euro Cup takes a back seat only to the World Cup.
Europeans, like most of the world, are crazy for their soccer, and even if you’re not a fan yourself, the passion, energy, and patriotism on display is something beautiful to behold. In 2008, Spain won the cup, bringing home their 1st major international trophy and ushering in an era of dominance that saw their side win the 2010 World Cup & repeat victory in the 2012 Euro Cup. Let’s see if they can keep the streak going this year for EURO 2016! ¡Yo voy con la furia roja. VAMOS ESPAÑA. PODEMOS!
What I’m Not Looking Forward to:
Getting caught up in discussions about U.S. politics, once again. During Eurotrip 2008, everyone wanted to talk about Bush’s failed policies, and if I was going to vote for Obama or not. This go around, I’m sure all the talk will be centered around the November elections and the national embarrassment that it is Donald Trump. It seems that Europeans, more than anyone, want to talk about U.S. foreign policy & how it affects the rest of the world. And it’s important to discuss, but it can be tiring as an American traveling abroad. After all, I’m traveling to enjoy other cultures & countries, not to talk about my own. Hopefully this go around the political roundtables won’t be so common.
1st World prices. I’ve become so spoiled with the cost of living in Latin America the past few years that I even complain about prices when I come back home (as if I forgot how much things cost). People honestly don’t understand how cheap countries like Mexico, Guatemala, or Bolivia are. A main reason that I can continue to travel for so long is the benefit eating $.50 cent tacos and staying in $5 hostel rooms.
I’m going to have to re-accustom myself to prices in the most expensive continent in the world. Every museum entry, nice meal, tour cost, etc. will need to be calculated knowing that I still have a 2 year trip to Patagonia waiting for me when I get back. It will be a challenge to balance the budget without cutting out too many things in the name of long-term travel.
What you can expect from me this summer:
To be honest, not much activity on the blog about what I’m currently doing.
It’s so damn hard to discipline myself to sit down & transfer my life onto the internet. By the time I do, I’m almost certainly months, if not a year late (anyone notice how my last post is from Cuba aka April 2015?). I’m going to do my best to create & upload content as I’m on the road, but I’m not going to promise any sort of consistency with the actual website. You’re more likely to see some pending podcasts, videos, articles etc. from Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, or roadtrip USA appear on the blog before Eurotrip content does.
I will, however, be regularly Instagramming, Facebooking, and Snapchatting (username: fordq) my way through Europe as it comes at me, so if you’ve ever wondered what a summer Eurotrip is like, I’d love for y’all to join the ride!
What I expect from YOU! (pretty please)
Everyone knows someone in Europe, right? Or at least, everyone knows of something to do in Europe, right?
If you’ve ever been to, know someone in, or simply know a lot about any of the countries that we’re going to this summer, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share any recommendations, tips, suggestions, places, or contact details you may have gathered along the way. They would be much appreciated! It could be anything from a tour you recommend, to a scenic, lesser known town, or someone who would want to meet up for a beer.
And now that we’re on the topic, if you guys know of anyone who would let us park/stay in front of their apartment (we can sleep in the RV, remember?) that would be HUGE. Europe is pretty urban, so we’re working out where to stay in the main cities.
I asked for your help with tips and connections when I first published about my PanAm trip and got loads of awesome advice, so I’d can’t wait to hear what you guys have to say about Europe this summer!
So now I’m on a Trans-Atlantic flight somewhere over the ocean
My parents surprised me on my layover and took me out in Atlanta today, so I’m putting the finishing touches on this rushed, but necessary blog post. I hope it serves as decent explanation of why I’ve been so silent on the blog lately, a preview of the summer adventures ahead, and justification for why I’m putting my PanAm trip and all volunteer projects in Latin America on hold.
I can barely contain my excitement! What will it be like going back to the scene of my first, life-changing backpacking trip? How will Spain be, now that I can speak Spanish and really immerse myself in the culture? What challenges will Eurotrip road life bring, and what type of adventures will we get ourselves into with the map and open road before us?
But most importantly, how will the trip shape and change me as a person, like every trip I’ve ever taken has. Will I emerge from this summer revitalized and ready to re-start my trip down the PanAmerican Highway and open the next chapter of my life?
Only time will tell, but I hope you’ll join me for the journey as it all unfolds here on the interwebs! Here’s to a great summer!