Year 2011 treated me very well. It was indeed the year of travel. Come to think of it, I was home for only about a quarter of the entire year. So how did it end? Just how I imagined it… TRAVELING!
The recent holidays have been my most memorable ever. Aside from the fact that it was my first time to be away from family and friends back home, it was my first time to spend the season doing what I love the most. In a span of nine days, I have been in ten different cities. I met so many amazing people along the way, experienced a lot of different things and saw a bit more of what France’s neighboring countries have to offer. Here are just seven things I learned during my first backpacking experience in Europe:
1. Never refuse an invitation. When you are invited by someone to their family, don’t be shy. Just say yes! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Would you really rather spend the holidays alone or with a family/a group of friends whom you’ve only met for the first time? Consider it as a gift for being invited to see their homes and a part of their personal lives. You have the opportunity to get to know them so seize it!
2. In Europe, Christmas is for family. While Filipinos are generally known to be very hospitable, I experienced the same level of warmth with Europeans. I had a very traditional Christmas eve dinner with a French family (of 22 people), had Christmas dinner and welcomed by a Belgian family into their home. Despite being away from my family, I never felt homesick at all. For me, this just proves that no matter where you celebrate it, as long as the spirit of family is alive, Christmas will never be lonely.
3. In Europe, New Year is for friends. Berlin was not in my original plan but when a classmate of mine suggested that I go there and spend the New Year with him and his friends, I agreed. It was a great choice to celebrate the New Year – had dinner at an Argentinian steakhouse, got drunk with different German beers, went to a houseparty, drank wine while watching fireworks, fired my first rocket (which I swear could have injured someone). We didn’t join 1 million other people to celebrate the countdown (note: this was the largest open-air party in Europe) . All we needed was each other, a company of good friends to enjoy the season!
4. Travel cheap across Europe with carsharing/carpooling. Contrary to popular belief, you can save on transport costs if you are adventurous enough to try carsharing. There are budget flights, buses and trains which are more comfortable (possibly cheap if you have booked them in advance). However, if you are into roadtrips, you might want to give Mitfahrgelegenheit (Germany) or Covoiturage (France) a try.
5. Meet and gain new friends via CouchSurfing. In Cologne, it was my first time to surf a couch and it was a great first experience. Members of this online community share things in common – the passion for traveling, adventure, meeting people and learning new cultures. From one traveler to another, you just pay things forward. With the very little time I spent with my host, I got to know a guy who has very inspiring and remarkable life achievements.
6. Stop worrying and learn to appreciate things around you. I used to plan each detail of my trip every time I travel. This time, I saved myself from being too OC about things. As long as I have a map and a way to get to and out of a city, I was fine. I wouldn’t recommend this though for someone who has a bad sense of direction. I just went wherever my feet took me. Lose yourself! I’m sure you’ll find your way back.
7. Travel often… more often. Need I say more? You will never run out of beautiful places to see, amazing people to meet and memorable things to experience. There is more in store out there for you!
Thank you to all the people who made 2011 my biggest adventure yet! Here’s to hoping that 2012 will even be bigger!
Gutes neues Jahr! Meilleurs vœux!