People always ask me how I did what I did: travel Europe by myself for 90 days. They ask what motivated me, why I wanted to do such a thing, by myself. I always dreamed of going; I never really believed it would happen. Whenever I imagined myself traveling, I pictured doing it alone. My friends didn’t have the interest nor the ability to travel alone for an extended period of time.
I grew up in a wealthy community in Northern New Jersey. My peers were incomprehensibly rich; I literally could not comprehend the amount of money their families had and how they could spend what they did. I understood from a young age that my family was not as fortunate as others, but also that we were not poverty-level poor. I can remember my parents getting frustrated at the bills and hoping that during every thunderstorm the basement wouldn’t flood or that there wouldn’t be any other problems with the house because we didn’t have the money to fix anything.
Family vacations were never luxurious. They were more frustrating than anything else, often crammed into a single minivan while we drove all the way to Florida from New Jersey. As I grew older and my parents separated, vacations never really occurred beyond what I could plan or pay for myself.
I started working at 14; “Eat, Pray, Love”, the movie, came out when I was 15. I remember being infatuated with the scene in Italy, where the main character made a meal for herself in the apartment she rented in Rome. I remember watching her eat and live in Bali and experience these things as a woman, by herself, and was amazed. It was the first time I experienced wanderlust.
As I grew older and social media rose, I would watch my peers go outside of the country, eat incredible foods, see sights, study abroad, etc., all on their parents’ tab. I don’t mean to generalize, here, but my friends’ parents were able to provide them with these things; mine could not. This did not and does not upset me – I just knew that I had to work in order to live out my dreams.
I had my first consistent job when I was 17 where I started to make “real” money with real hours. I took a “gap year” after I graduated high school and worked the entire time, and then I moved to Florida in August of 2014. I started school by taking one class at a time because I was paying out-of-state. I continued to watch my friends travel extravagantly and the following year was when I really began to take note of all of my peers who studied abroad. They were “on their own” in a way, not just on vacation with their families anymore. It fueled the fire that was slowly burning inside of me.
While a majority of my friends were going to college, not working, maybe getting into debt, spending their own and their parents’ money on the “experience” of college life in a dorm and off-campus apartment, I was living at home with my mom and commuting to school. I was working part-time while I was enrolled in classes full-time. I honestly had no interest in the traditional college experience. I had no interest in sharing a dorm with the same person for months, or living in a shitty apartment and blacking out around a bunch of frat boys on a regular basis. I had no interest in joining a sorority and beating myself to death in socialization with people I didn’t care about. I lived at home for free, financial aid covered the cost of my tuition, and I worked as often as I could. I am fortunate to have been able to live at home throughout my college experience; I still live at home as I wait for my next trip to begin.
Everyone knows that I love my money. As my boss likes to say, I’m a cheap ass. I’m ok with that. I’m fiscally responsible. I’m good at not spending money and penny-pinching. I like deals and free stuff. Who doesn’t? I never wanted to not have the money for something I needed because I didn’t have a fall-back or a trust fund to depend on. I liked knowing that it was there: MY money. Between 2014 and 2016, I just kept saving. I knew I was saving for something: traveling Europe. I told myself, “once I have $10,000, I can do this. I can start to plan my trip. $10,000 is more than enough to do this for 2 months.”
I think it was in the early summer of 2016 that I hit that financial goal. I had $10,000 in savings. It dawned on me that everything I had been saving for could be a reality if I wanted it to be. I wasn’t dreaming anymore. So, I started to plan. I thought about all of the places I really wanted to go. I looked back at all of the albums on Facebook that my friends made from their study abroad programs. I started looking up travel advice, videos, recommendations, routes, etc. I figured out that I wanted to start my trip in Dublin, Ireland, and end it in London, England; these are also two of the cheapest places in Europe to fly in/out of. As I started to plan where I wanted to go, I realized that 2 months was not enough time. 2 months quickly became 3 on roughly the same budget. I applied for my passport in October. In November, I booked my round-trip flight from Dublin, Ireland, on May 10, 2017, and out of London, England, on August 8, 2017. I had officially booked my 90-day trip and I knew that there was no turning back.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I reached out to anyone I knew who had traveled. I had so many questions. I didn’t plan on planning my entire trip – but I did. Down to every last night of accommodation. Every night was booked. It was just a matter of getting from place to place. I wanted to make sure that I saw everything that I wanted to see and that’s why I planned it. I wouldn’t ever do it again like that, but I think for what I wanted to accomplish, it was right at the time. It was also the first time I had ever left the country and I wanted to make sure that I always had a place to stay.
I had always dreamed about traveling Europe by myself. It seemed so unattainable. Impossible. Dangerous. But it’s not. It’s so attainable, possible, and safe if you have your wits about you. I did it all on my own. I was patient and prepared as I could have been. I have learned to live with the notion that everything that is supposed to be, will be. Everything always works out in the end. I will always get to where I need to be, and nothing is ever as bad as it really seems.
People always tell me that I’m lucky, or that they’re jealous, or that they wish they could do the same thing. It’s frustrating to hear that because anyone could do what I did. I’m not lucky. I am merely taking advantage of the opportunities that are in this world and I’m not afraid to experience things on my own. I stopped dreaming and started planning.
I understand this isn’t attainable for everyone, but I just want to tell you, it isn’t impossible. You are capable of so much more than you think, and there are so many benefits to traveling and immersing yourself in different cultures.
Stop dreaming, start planning, and as always…
Get out of your comfort zone!