I blame my ex. Had he not completely traumatised me by dumping me in June 2013, I would never have decided to go interrailing, and I’m pretty sure I would never have become completely obsessed with seeing as much of Europe as is humanly possible on a temp’s budget. We’re talking hours wasted staring wistfully at Google Maps, hours spent feverishly seeking the cheapest flights to the continent on Skyscanner, hundreds of Excel documents planning out hypothetical trips that I’ll probably never take (recently consigned to the Recycle Bin: plans for an Eastern European bonanza from Istanbul to St Petersburg, via Ukraine. Maybe in a few years, if Putin stops being an imperialist helmet). Not to mention a few grand less in my bank account. Damn you, Bellface.
It’s nearly 6 months now since I flew home from Sofia, the last stop on my last Eurotrip – a whirlwind 5 weeks through the Balkans – and I have itchy feet. Weekend trips to Milton Keynes, Leeds and Oxford aren’t quite the same as breaking into a ruined spy tower in Bosnia, exploring ancient Greek and Roman ruins in Greece or discovering an amazing new cake in Macedonia. The problem is, amazing as the Balkans were, it’s hard to explain how great it is to other people when they haven’t heard of half the countries, let alone the cities, you’ve been to. This has a tendency to make you sound like a massive travel hipster, ergo dickhead.
Fortunately my travel dreams post-Balkans have centred around Northern Europe, an area I’ve heretofore missed out due to Scandinavia being famously expensive. A beer in Oslo costs around £8. A BEER. I nearly had a breakdown paying £10 for a double vodka and Red Bull in London; Christ only knows how expensive that would be in Norway. But this time my love of Swedish pop music and underdog fondness for Finland (let’s face it, it’s easily the most overlooked Scandi nation) wins out over the cost.
But the Balkans and the Baltics are very different, and – while I had an incredible time in the Balkans and had no major issues – Here are 3 things I’m doing differently, and 3 things I’m doing the same:
1. DOING DIFFERENTLY – Taking socks: This may seem obvious – I’m going in April, when these countries are still fairly cold, whereas last time I went at the end of the summer. But no. In Ohrid, while the weather in the daytime was fairly warm, the night was freezing and so was the hostel. My feet were so cold I was unable to sleep until a kind American lent me her socks. Not making that mistake again.
2. DOING THE SAME – Planning everything in advance: Some people, when they travel, make it up as they go along. No itinerary, no plans, no bookings – just doing whatever they fancy that day. If that works for them, great! It doesn’t work for me. I book all my accommodation in advance after researching the location and reading reviews on Hostelworld. As a female travelling alone, I refuse to compromise my safety for a bit of added whimsy for my trip. I also prefer being organised – it takes so much hassle out of the trip itself, means I can budget more effectively, and allows me to enjoy myself rather than stressing over transport, accommodation and finances!
3. DOING DIFFERENTLY – Eating out less: My previous trip took 33 days. During that time I made my own dinner ONCE. As far as cheap restaurants go, the Balkans are the biz. I had a look into cheap meals out in Copenhagen and was forced to concede defeat upon seeing that TripAdvisor’s budget options were still £18 for a main course. No, thank you. I’ll learn to cook.
4. DOING THE SAME – Taking advantage of free walking tours: Admittedly I only did this near the end of my trip, but it reminded me what a great thing they are! The guides are invariably cheerful, funny and friendly, not to mention insightful and knowledgeable about their city. Although they’re not really free (you’re meant to give a donation at the end), you can pay what you want and you’ll never begrudge your guide the cost.
5. DOING DIFFERENTLY – Researching more places to visit in each city: It’s great walking around a city not knowing what the beautiful buildings are, getting a feel for it and picking up little bits of context from plaques, but you need to balance it out with having some idea of what you want to see and do, and knowing more about the place you’re visiting rather than just guessing. Buying a Copenhagen Card for when I visit Denmark has given me a much better idea of what the city has to offer, and meant I can plan my time out there better.
6. DOING THE SAME – Writing up my adventures: What’s the point of having this blog if I don’t? 😉
Watch this space!