I daydream about quitting my job and becoming a travel journalist. The blogging version of Rick Steves. Of course I’d not only have my travel expenses paid for my journeys but also earn a fairly impressive wage as well.
I returned from Europe 5 months ago, and I’ve yet to put fingers to keyboard and write out my journeys. Perhaps I should rethink this daydream?
Today, Kelly’s Friday Five link-up is all about new experiences. What better time to write about camping through western Europe than now?
When my (then) boyfriend Jay and I went to New York City on our first vacation together, I had the moments scheduled down to the half hour. I’d visited the city before, and he had not, so I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss anything.
The only thing I hadn’t counted on is that he wanted to ask me to marry him while we were there. What a sweet man to overlook my control freak tendencies and still manage to find a way to surprise me with a proposal.
Hello, my name is Brooke, and I am a control freak.
When Jay’s buddy Chad called last year and asked if we wanted to join them on a trip overseas, we both jumped at the chance. His girlfriend Caroline had already researched and found the travel company as well as the sites we’d hit along the way.
She sent emails of different sites she thought would be interesting, as well as a list of optionals the tour group provided. I figured between her and our host, this would be a great time for me to sit back and let other people plan.
Shockingly, I didn’t have to be in the driver’s seat in order to enjoy myself. I kinda like the absence of pressure and expectation. Well, mostly.
I’ve slept overnight in a tent a time or two, but Europe was the first time I felt as if I got the true camping experiencing. We stayed in designated camping sites, and our tents and air mattresses were provided by our travel company. We had to take down and put up camp every couple of days as we moved to the next new city.
Backpacking through Europe sounds exotic and chic, but for the queen of over-packing it caused a lot of stress. 17 days in 1 bag? More accurately, 1 bag + a carry on + a purse, but still. I typically pack in multiple suitcases large enough for me to crawl inside. Such condensed packing presented a challenge.
Thankfully several sites offered laundromats, and we took advantage at every opportunity. Before the trip I scoured Pinterest for how to make as many outfit combinations with as few clothing pieces as possible. For the most part, I would say my limited wardrobe was sufficent. The one exception to that would be our stay in the Swiss Alps.
While the rest of Europe had temperatures ranging from humid to sticky, Jungfrau and the surrounding area felt fridged! The thin jacket I’d worn on the airplane didn’t warm me as we hiked the glacier, and the gauzy scarf I’d packed to accessorize barely kept the chill off my ears. Doing it again, I’d make room for a warmer base layer, but as it was, I still rank it as the #1 stop on the trip.
The trip also included a couple of hostel stays. The London hostel, our starting point, housed us only a couple of blocks from the tower bridge. Not knowing anyone in the group yet, it was odd to be sharing a common sleeping area and bathroom with them. I did, however, enjoy the conversation we had with the worker who also was staying in the hostel while he found a place to live in the city.
We also stayed in a hostel in Barcelona, but roomed with our travel-mates Chad and Caroline. Having read plenty of “what to pack” suggestions, I slept wore ear plugs and an eye mask. Of course I also slept with the ear plugs in the tent, because even after 6 years of marriage I don’t sleep well with Jay snoring in my ear.
Despite all the family and friends who cautioned me not to get killed by a psycho, like in the movie Hostel, I found the experience to be fairly normal. I enjoyed the common rooms with couches and comfy chairs for non-sleeping hours, something I missed in the camping portions of our trip. The linens weren’t the cleanest I’ve ever seen, but after sleeping in my sweaty sleeping bag for 2 weeks, my standards had lowered a bit.
This is a real thing. European travel tip #1 – always carry coins. Many had turn-style type doors. Also, don’t expect them to be any more clean than the free ones in the US. I found myself not drinking nearly enough water in an attempt to save the 1-2 euro fee.
A hot water shower in the Lauterbrunnen campground also set us back a couple of coins. To the best of our collective memories, half a franc bought 4 minutes of hot water. Additional time could be bought in 4 minute increments.
My showers typically lasted 6 minutes, and for the remaining time I just stood under the water enjoying the heat.
Many of the restrooms in Europe were unisex. Despite being a prude of epic proportions, they didn’t really bother me. Unlike stalls in the United States, each stall was totally private with no looky-loos where the hinges moved the door.
Also, a couple of French campgrounds had the shower stalls combined. The shower stalls were standard issue, as was the dressing area before leaving the stall. I didn’t uncomfortable, except for the touch of awkwardness knowing that some of the dudes on our bus sing in the shower.
I ended up getting a nasty respiratory virus the last few days of the trip. Then I drank too much Roman water and had tummy issues. I had a mini-panic attack on the crowded streets of Rome, and am so thankful to have Jay working to ground me.
We were sleep deprived, exhausted, but wouldn’t trade the experience of those 17 days for anything.