Backpack through Europe for at least three months.

Backpack through Europe for at least three months. (Life List #1)

Writing something down next to number one on your bucket list can be daunting. It’s the one item everyone is guaranteed to read and it just sits there like a sore thumb waiting to be bandaged. Waiting to be ticked off. It has to be something big. Something worth kicking off a list of life goals. Something that, when crossed off, will be impressive. When I first started my list, officially on January 1, 2009, I added “backpack through Europe for at least three months” as my number one goal. And today I crossed it off.

Life List: Backpack through Europe for at least three months. Val photobombs Jaime in Valencia, Spain.

I’ll tell you a secret. When I first added “backpack through Europe” to my Life List I originally had it as backpacking across Europe 6 months or a year. Some number that I thought was impossibly long. Some time frame that I determined was too impossible to travel for. So I quickly changed it to a manageable three months. But even the idea of a three month Europe backpacking trip seemed impossible.

In order for me to ever travel for three months I’d have to save a lot of money. I’d have to quit my job. I’d have to travel for four times longer than I’d ever traveled before. Besides, backpacking was something for people in their early twenties. People in high school or college or just out of college. And definitely not for someone like me.

As much as I wanted to travel long term, logistically, it seemed impossible.

And then I decided to make it possible. I decided that I was going backpacking around Europe.

In February of this year I bought my one way ticket to Berlin, planned a tentative European itinerary, and quit my job to travel around the world.

I’ll be the first to admit that this trip around Europe didn’t start off well. I had set myself up for failure before I even got on the airplane. I was scared. I was sad to be leaving everything I ever knew behind. I was stepping way out of any comfort zone I had ever had. I wasn’t sure if this was really something I wanted to do anymore. I was going to Crate and Barrel and picking out couches.

There wasn’t a day in my first five weeks traveling through Europe that I didn’t cry, that I didn’t want to give up, that I didn’t want to buy a return ticket home. Everything was hard. And I was lonely and not bonding with people. And I just wanted to take the rest of my savings and go home and buy a condo.

Three weeks into my solo backpacking trip I convinced myself that I just had to make it to three months. I just had to travel Europe for three months. Then this trip wouldn’t be a failure. Then I could cross the number one thing off my bucket list. Then I could justify giving up my apartment and job. Then I could go home.

And then, after five weeks of traveling, I got to Spain. And something finally clicked.

Backpacking, traveling alone, was still hard. I couldn’t understand when the lady at the supermarket was asking if I needed a bag. I was sold a train ticket to the wrong city on the wrong day. I still got lost trying to find my hostel. I was kept getting sick. I was still alone.

But I was still there. I was still traveling. I was still doing it.

I found my way to the hostel. I got the correct train ticket. I forced myself into the heat of Sevilla even though I could still hardly breathe.

It’s so easy to concentrate on how hard something was to get through. And so hard to remember that I got through it in one piece and probably, all the stronger for it.

On Sunday, after a month in Barcelona, after two months in Spain, after three months backpacking around Europe, I boarded a plane.

To Istanbul.

My three month travel goal is past me and I now have no intention of stopping any time soon. I plan to spend about the next four weeks in Turkey. And then another four months or so in Southeast Asia. And then, if things work out, a few months in India with Jaime and Jess and Dani. And, if they don’t work out, maybe the UK or Australia. And after that, I plan to return to America. Not to stop traveling, but to continue on a Great American Road Trip through the summer.

I’m happy that I changed my goal from 12 months or 9 or 6 to 3. Not because I don’t think I could have continued backpacking Europe for any of those lengths of time. Believe me, I never wanted to leave Spain. But because Europe is just one part of the world. And I’m ready to take on the rest and too keep ticking off 999 more things on my bucket list.


p.s. Life can’t possibly be bad when this is the view I have while writing this post.

Life List: Backpack through Europe for at least three months.  View from my hostel in Istanbul, Turkey.


p.p.s. I thought I’d also share a wrap up of some of the highlights of my trip thus far…


Highlights from three months of backpacking through Europe

I had to kick off my ’round the world trip at one of my favorite events of the year: the July 4 hot dog eating contest. Extra bonus that that night Joey Chestnut told me he doesn’t hate me. Extra extra bonus that the awesome Rob and Amber took me in for a few days.

After leaving Brooklyn I boarded a plane to my first European stop: Berlin. I had a hard time getting settled, but on my last night I had fun!

I was proud of myself that I was even able to get to Poland in Eastern Europe, I was still having a hard time, but had one night of clarity in Warsaw. Of course, then I had a bitch of a time getting to Krakow and some really hard days. So hard that I decided to scrap my plans to go to Budapest. Krakow wasn’t all bad though, Auschwitz-Birkenau was a powerful experience and it was a pretty gorgeous town.

From Krakow, I took a flight to Brussels where I met up with Jaime for the first time! While I was still having a hard time, it was nice to have a friend. We next headed to Bruges, which was a truly beautiful place.

And then I went to Paris, where I took a bubble bath and spent an entire day at the Louvre.

After hemming and hawing about where to go next I ended up in Spain. Sevilla, Spain. Where I got tapas and got in a hot tub full of boys. And where I probably should have made out with a 20 year old.

Sevilla was also where I had my turning point and decided that I never want to go home.

I did, however, go to Granada, because everyone told me it was beautiful. And they were right. It also didn’t hurt that the tapas in Granada were amazing.

I arrived in Madrid at the wrong time. But still had fun (even if I spent a day in the hospital).

In Valencia I had one of the weirdest nights ever (that involved paella, 21st birthdays, stolen wine, and cocaine…).

After that I said goodbye to hostel life for a while and met up with Jaime, Ali, and Andrew for a week in an apartment. Most of the week, we did nothing

Except for the most awesome thing I’ve ever done: La Tomatina, the world’s biggest tomato fight! (Not to mention, what happened later that night…)

Then it was on to Barcelona. Where I stayed in an awesome apartment for a month. I saw a lot of beautiful Gaudi buildings, finally (mostly) got over my sickness, learned to make Tortilla de Patatas, met up with my friends Ian and Adam, and attended an amazing festival of fire parades and human tower building.

Backpack through Europe for at least three months was #1 on my Life List.



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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Jen
    October 5, 2011at8:54 am

    I wanted to cry at this post, but was at the bus stop and didn’t want to look silly. I’m so proud of you. I made a bucket list inspired by yours. Number 1 was move out of Illinois. 2 is quit my job. 3 is get my college degree. Hopefully number 2 will happen this year.

  • Scott
    October 5, 2011at11:29 am

    good for you!

  • Sarah
    October 5, 2011at3:59 pm

    Congratulations on achieving one of your goals and sticking with it despite the tough days! Fingers crossed for the rest!

  • Heather
    October 5, 2011at9:11 pm

    Congrats on meeting the number one bucket list item! I know things were difficult in the beginning but saying “just three months” was a perfect way to get past that hurdle. My one month meltdown wasn’t fun but a necessary experience I suppose!

    Wish I was in a position to join you all in Spain.

  • Ali
    October 6, 2011at1:08 am

    Val, I’m so glad you stuck it out, started enjoying yourself & are continuing with the trip! Congrats on crossing off your #1 bucket list item!

  • Tricia(Geeky Explorers)
    October 8, 2011at8:52 am

    Congrats on not only crossing off a big item off your bucket list, but being honest with yourself and dealing with the ups & downs. So awesome you have decided to keep traveling!

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