How I travelled solo in Europe for a year
Well well well…it’s been more than a year since I left home! When I said goodbye to New Zealand I was only planning on being away for a few months for the European summer, but the longer I stayed in Europe, the less I was ready to return home. It’s been a little over a year now and you’ll find me chilling in sunny Sagres, Portugal and having visited 21 countries since I started travelling Europe.
A two-part journey
Just a disclaimer, I wasn’t on the move for the whole year. I think I could split my trip up into two categories; for the first four months I was “travelling” non-stop and for the rest of the time I was based in Denmark, and from there I was able to earn a bit of money and do some travelling. I want to make that clear right from the beginning, so nobody feels mislead into thinking that I was able to sustain a year solely on the road.
The first four months
Let’s talk numbers, because one of the questions I am most often asked on Instagram is “how much did you save for your trip?”. The short answer is about 10,000NZD. This much allowed me to travel for about 4 months and have a bit left over to set myself up in Denmark.
How I travelled
I would consider myself a backpacker, but not to the extent of couch surfing, hitch hiking and camping every day, so maybe the correct term would be glampacker? For the bulk of my trip I was staying in hostels, travelling by bus, train or planes when applicable and I would make my own food as much as possible, with the odd local restaurant thrown in. And maybe a little bit of fast food. OK…maybe a lot of fast food, but I have my reasons for that which I will explain later.
I went to Greece twice, and both times were very different. The first time was with my friend for our birthdays and there were three of us splitting a very nice villa in Santorini, so that was a bit above my usual budget. The second time I couch surfed in Mykonos for a few days then I did a youth tour on a boat with Topdeck, thanks to Flight Centre New Zealand. This tour took me around six of the Greek Islands and there was a fair bit of partying involved, but also a decent amount of sightseeing and information about the islands. Another time I visited a friend in Gibraltar to be her assistant for a fashion show, Runway Gibraltar. I was able to stay with her in the Sunborn, Gibraltar, which is a luxury cruise ship converted into a hotel. A huge change from the usual backpacker digs; the breakfast buffet alone probably cost more than a night in a hostel.
Then I also stayed in Croatia and Denmark for three weeks each working in hostels, through Workaway. There were also a couple of times where I stayed on couches, both a stranger’s and my friend’s. So all in all, I didn’t just do one style of travelling during summer. If you love lists, then this next bit is for you!
Where I travelled
During those first four months this is where I went:
Amsterdam (NL) - 2 nights, hostel
Cologne (DE) - 3 nights, hostel
Aarhus (DK) for 3 weeks, working in a hostel
Copenhagen (DK) - 2 nights, Airbnb
Reykjavik (IS) - 4 nights, hostel
London (GB) - about 7 nights, stayed with family and a friend
Paris (FR) - 2 nights, hostel
Greece - Santorini - 2 nights, Athens - 2 nights, Mykonos - 3 nights (one on the Topdeck boat and 2 couch surfing), Paros, Naxos, Ios and Ano Koufinisi - each 1 night on the Topdeck boat
Budapest (HU) - 2 nights, hostel
Croatia - Fuzine - 3 weeks, working in a hostel, Pula - 1 night, hostel, Opatija - 2 day trips, Split - 3 nights, hostel , Zadar - 2 nights,hostel, Brac - day trip, Zagreb - day trip
Ljubljana (SI) - 2 nights hostel
Spain - Barcelona - 2 nights, hostel, Valencia - 2 nights, hostel, Alicante - 3 nights, hostel, Granada - 2 nights, hostel, Seville - 2 nights, hostel, Estepona - 1 night, hotel
Gibraltar - 3 nights, hotel in a retired cruise ship
Portugal - Lagos - 2 nights, Lisbon - 2 nights, Porto - 4 nights, all at hostels
Italy - Sorrento 4 nights with day trip to Positano and Amalfi, Rome - 4 nights, all at hostels
Gothenburg (SE) - 1 night, hostel
After moving back to Denmark and establishing a base for myself there I went to:
Flensburg (DE) - day trip
Krakow (PO) - 3 nights, hostel
Helsinki (FI) - 2 nights, couch surfing and hostel
Tallinn (EE) - 3 nights, hostel,
Vienna (AU) - 3 nights, hostel
Bergen (NO) - 3 nights, Airbnb
Tips for travelling Europe
I get asked for travel tips a fair bit and I love giving people advice, that’s a huge reason why I blog. So if you have something specific you want to ask, please leave a comment or hit me up on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter :) Here are some general tips though:
Check the visa requirements
This one is a long one, but I struggled with this soooo much when I was planning my trip so I want to be as helpful as I can…
If you’re not one of those lucky people who have dual passports and can stay in Europe as long as you like, make sure you check the visa rules for the places you’re visiting. For Europe, you will often hear about the Schengen zone (SZ). If you haven’t heard of it yet, it’s a free travel zone that includes most of the countries of the EU, so once you’re inside it you can travel across borders with relative ease. Some borders may check your passport (from what I can remember I only had mine checked on the bus and train between Germany and Denmark), but usually you won’t be checked and the rules for the tourist visa for this zone is that you can spend 90 days within the SZ out of 180 days. So basically you can be in it for three months but then you have to leave for another three months before you come back in.
It gets a little trickier still, but beneficial to some, because New Zealand still has some old bilateral agreements with certain countries that were established before they joined the EU (sorry Australia, I don’t think you have any left) where we can stay for up to six months in that country. But again, double check all of this because I have heard many things from many different sources, it’s all a bit vague, and this is all just how I’ve managed to decipher it.
Tip: if you get a Working Holiday Visa at the start of your trip you won’t have to worry about this as much. Apparently you can apply for the German one and they might issue it to you on the day!
McDonalds is your friend
This is not a sponsored advertisement (but if you want to send some free nuggets my way Maccas, don’t hesitate to get in touch ;)) and I am not trying to promote bad eating habits, but when you’re a poor traveller, fast food joints can be lifesavers for several reasons.
Firstly, they’re everywhere. Apart from Iceland, every city I visited had a McDonalds.
Secondly, free wifi. If you’re a muppet like me and don’t get a European sim card (see below), it’s really easy to get access to the internet at fast food joints like McDonalds.
Thirdly, aircon. When you’re carrying about 30kgs on your back and front because you can’t stop shopping, and it’s over 35 degrees with blazing sun, and you’re lost because you forgot to download the map to your next location, and need wifi because you’re a muppet like me with no data, stepping into Burger King to grab a soft serve cone and enjoy the aircon might just save you from a mental breakdown.
Fourthly, bathrooms. When you’re out exploring in Europe, 90% of public restrooms require a fee to use them, so why not go to Micky Dees, get some nuggies and then use their bathroom. Sometimes it’s free, but if you need to buy something at least you’re paying for food and the bathroom, not just the bathroom.
Get a European sim card
I’m a muppet, I should’ve done this much earlier in my trip. Most of the time you can just use your regular plan anywhere in Europe so find a cheap one somewhere and you’re set. In Portugal I got one with 10GBs for I think maybe 10 Euros, but in Mykonos it was 35 Euros for a similar plan so don’t get one from a super touristy place. Weirdly enough, data in Denmark is SUPER cheap. Monthly I pay 99DKK (13 Euros) for 60GBs. I had to ask the man at 7 Eleven three times before I was satisfied it wasn’t a miscommunication. It’s so cheap that in my old apartment we all just hotspotted off our phones, rather than pay for an internet plan.
Buses are a great way to travel
I know that Eurail is a really popular way to travel through Europe, but long haul buses in Europe are really affordable and easy. The most popular company is Flixbus, they cover all of mainland Europe. There are a lot of other bus companies that offer similar services, I really liked RegioJet but they’re more central, and you’ll see the green Flixbus buses all across the continent.
The thing about taking a bus is that usually the stops are right in the centre of a city so you may only have to travel 5 or 10 minutes to reach it. If you’re flying, often it takes a lot longer to get to the airport, then you have to go through security etc, you have to pay extra for your luggage, then there’s the stress of flying, and once you reach your destination there’s more travelling. Add the carbon emissions of flying to that as well! So, it may take 8 hours to get somewhere by bus, but when you tally up the total travel time involved in a flight, in my opinion it’s better to take the bus if possible. Plus you can go on the internet because you weren’t a muppet like me and bought a sim card, or even use their free wifi (Flixbus wifi is limited and not always reliable, but it’s there).
Pro tip: make sure to subscribe to marketing emails for companies like Flixbus, because sometimes they have super good deals on and you could find yourself paying only a fraction of the usual price.
This is one that I struggled with a lot, but I think it pays off. You can meet some really amazing people on your trip, and some that you might even travel with, if you’re brave and put yourself out there. I made so many friends on my trip, but there were a lot of times when I was sick of talking to people and just wanted to be alone. It was a double edged sword because those were the times that I became more lonely and didn’t have as much fun, so I recommend getting out of your comfort zone as often as possible. That’s the best part of travelling after all! Europe is such a popular destination for young travellers, especially in summer, so you’re bound to meet people from all over the world in your hostel, even in your dorm.
If you’re on an open ended ticket, it really pays to be flexible and go with the flow. I had planned the first couple of months of my trip in advance and there were a few things I had to work around, but later on in my trip I had to book stuff on the fly. This was really fun because it meant I could change my plans last minute, make new ones, stay somewhere longer if I wanted or skip somewhere entirely if I changed my mind on it.
Pro tip: be flexible but also keep in mind that during peak season, a lot of places will be fully booked, especially in touristy areas, so there is a downside to playing it fast and loose.
The whole point of travelling is to get out of your comfort zone and experience different places and cultures, right? So be open-minded about the experiences that are offered to you; try the local cuisine (be careful with saganaki in Greece though, that shit is highly addictive), go out with the people you meet at the hostel and chat with locals everywhere you go.
I would also recommend couch surfing! Staying the night at someone’s house whom you met on the internet sounds like your parent’s worst nightmare (sorry Mum) but using the Couchsurfing website is actually a great way to find a local to stay with and learn about their hometown. Be smart about it and be respectful. Make sure you read plenty of reviews about the host to make sure that they haven’t been rude or weird towards other surfers, and make sure you pay it forward when it’s your turn to. Don’t treat them like a free hotel either, this should be a mutually beneficial thing, so take a gift or offer to cook because you’ll be the one getting the most out of it but that doesn’t mean it should be one-sided.
You could also try meeting people through dating apps! Some, like Bumble, actually have a BFF mode so you can actually just look for friends. There are heaps of other apps that help you connect with people in the area, Couchsurfing has a similar function on its website too.
I could talk about Europe until the cows come home but I’ll leave it on that note. If you have any recommendations for Europe, or have a question about my trip, please leave a comment or connect with me on one of my social channels!