For the next installment of our “Love of Travel” series, we caught up with Josh from Aim To Travel Blog (www.aimtotravel.com). We were lucky enough to meet Josh at the TBEX conference in Toronto last summer. He was embarking on an epic adventure backpacking through Europe for the next 3 months! Josh recently returned from his whirlwind trip, and we wanted to catch up with him to get the scoop.
So you recently did one epic European solo trip. Can you give us the run down of where you went and how long you were gone?
I traveled just under 100 days outside of the United States this summer. I spent my first few days in Toronto at the TBEX conference after flying from Atlanta to Buffalo, New York and also checking out Niagara Falls on the way there. Battling through a compound tibia and fibula fracture I suffered in Breckenridge in February of this year, I walked on foot into Canada on the Rainbow Bridge. It was a big psychological win for me as my leg was (and it turns out is still) very broken.
Then I spent the remainder of the trip backpacking through Europe. From Toronto, I flew into Europe via Dublin, Ireland and from there took basically a big “U” throughout Europe. Below is a picture of my EURail Pass Map in which I tracked my actual route in real time on trains, planes, buses, and boats. All in all, I was in 18 total countries from the time I left the United States in late May to when I got back in early September.
Can you tell us what made you want to start travel blogging and go backpacking through Europe?
It’s funny how life works out sometimes. A quote that comes to mind when you ask this question is: “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” While studying at the University of Georgia, I obtained B.B.A. in Risk Management and Insurance. After graduation, I worked as commercial insurance broker in Atlanta for six years. I also purchased a house there in 2009. In mid-2011, I knew in my heart that I wanted to get out of Georgia and see more of the world. I was born, raised, and got my degree all in Georgia. I had been chasing the American dream, achieved it, and quite simply, didn’t get fulfillment from it.
After spending some time in Colorado for work, I still wasn’t satisfied. So I ended up putting my house in Atlanta up for sale and resigning from my job, with intentions of opening my own agency in Colorado. As life would have it, the afternoon before I signed the lease on my new place in Colorado, I suffered a compound tibia and fibula fracture in my right leg while skiing Whale’s Tail in Breckenridge.
After surgery that same day and a few recovery days in the hospital, I came back to Atlanta where my house sold the next week. I had a moving sale where I sold pretty much all of my possessions except for some clothing, my vehicle, my PS3, television, and some high school and college memorabilia. So, within 13 days in February of this year, starting on the 6th and ending on 19th, I quit my job, broke my leg, and sold my house and possessions. Whoa, talk about a bunch of major life changes in a short amount of time.
With a broken leg, no job, and now no place to live, I was left with little choice but to move in with my family as I wasn’t able to drive or take care of myself. Those next three months were a blessing in disguise because it gave me time to really step back and evaluate what I wanted out of life. After much thought, as well as reading numerous books and watching travel and wanderlust documentaries, I decided to formally leave white collar America behind and chase my own dreams of traveling the world. A commonly used quote stood out me as I researched my new vision:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain
What was your biggest surprise while solo backpacking through Europe?
There were so many surprises solo tripping through Europe. Wow, it’s tough to name only one but it was really amazing to see just how different cultures can be in just a two hour train ride from one country to the next one. 100 kilometers away from wherever you are, you are lucky to find a different language, currency, political structure, culture, and religion.
Another thing that really surprised me was the level of animosity different areas of countries like Spain and Italy have for each other. In Spain, the Catalunya region, which includes Barcelona, wants to break away from Spain and that has a lot of potential to it. Northern Italy and Southern Italy despise each other. Scotland is voting next September for independence from England.
Where was your favorite place that you wish you could have spent more time in?
Wow these are hard questions! I really loved Prague, Czech Republic and didn’t get to spend near as much time there as I would have liked because I was trying to squeeze in a couple of days in Vienna, where I was flying out from. Edinburgh is also a place that I am dying for more of. I went into it with very little expectations and was just wowed by its scenery, architecture, history, and overall vibe. It is the one place I tell everyone to go to if they are going to be anywhere near the United Kingdom on their trip.
The one place that I only passed through on a bus and didn’t have the opportunity to spend any time there at all was Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I went through there on a bus from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik and was absolutely blown away but its scenery and landscaping full of mountains, rivers, and lakes.
What’s one thing you wish you knew before going on your trip that you found out on the road.
I have to go with logistics details here for both trains and planes. I bought a three month EU rail pass for $2,189. This was by far my biggest single expense and I don’t think I got my money’s worth out of it. The pass is also a headache. You have to validate it at a specific location in the ticket office of the first train you plan to board. This took over four hours in Amsterdam and was the reason I got stuck in Karlsruhe, Germany one night. The pass is no good in the United Kingdom and I wasn’t taking the train anywhere in Ireland anyway. The problem is that in the countries of France, Spain, Italy, etc. you still have to make a reservation with your EU Rail Pass. This can only be done in person at a ticket window. In the peak season of Summer, this event often takes an hour long.
When arriving in a new city, I usually didn’t know what day I would be leaving, and I’m certainly not making a trip to the train station just to get a ticket. If I’m headed to the train station, I’m getting on a train. Also, each train is allotted a very small number of seats for EU Rail Pass holders. This often gets booked up in advance and you are stuck sitting around at the train station for hours on end. They also make sure to charge you a reservation fee that is usually between 8 and 20 Euros, depending on how many different trains and countries. If I had it to do again, I would skip out on the rail pass. This allows freedom, especially if all your new friends are bussing somewhere and you have to flake out and take the train.
In regards to planes and flying within Europe, don’t use sites like Orbitz or Travelocity for these type things. They are geared towards airlines operating out of the United States. For Europe, use www.skyscanner.com and also check out airlines like Ryan Air and Pegasus. Be sure to check flying in or out through Dublin, Ireland and Reykjavik, Iceland. The two big airlines there are Aer Lingus and Iceland Air, respectively. It may be cheaper for you to fly in and out of Washington DC, Boston, or New York and then get a flight to home from there.
What’s the one major piece of advice you would give to someone that is planning on backpacking through Europe?
I talked a good bit this topic on my recent blog post, Tips for Backpacking through Europe, and I’ll focus on one of my main point of that article here. That is tip is: don’t rush! When I was doing my planning, I planned to hit 28 countries in Europe in three months. HAHAHA, yeah-right Superman!! In reality, you could do it if you really wanted to, but I guarantee you would regret it. My first month on the road, I was hauling tail across the continent like my hair was on fire. While I knocked out a bunch of different cities, I wasn’t there long enough to get as true a feeling of the city as I would have liked.
If you will be traveling any extended amount of time, this rapid place will burn you out after a month. Seeing the sights and sounds of city will rapidly lose its luster if you must breeze through and head out to the next. Packing and traveling, then unpacking, starts to get really annoying if they’re being done every three days. Also, I found that I spent the most money on travel days. You also need to figure out transportation, and everything is much more expensive at or near the train stations.
I just had surgery on my leg again, evidently I damaged it running with the bulls (see Mark Twain quote above) and will be out of commission until February or so when I plan to embark on a 6 month solo trip across Central and South America. On this trip, I won’t be stopping at any one location less than a full week. That way I will be fully able to soak it in and enjoy the sights, while not having to worry about rushing through and missing anything. I’m looking forward to enjoying a slower pace of travel. Traveling is much more fun this way. All you need to do is Aim to Travel!
** All photos were kindly provided by Josh from “Aim to Travel Blog”
We would like to thank Josh from Aim to Travel Blog for sharing his stories about backpacking through Europe. He has some awesome tips on his website from his lessons learned, so if you are planning to backpack Europe, be sure to check out his site at: www.aimtotravel.com. It was great running into him at our hostel in Toronto, and funny to learn that he actually lives near our neck of the woods here in Atlanta! We wish him the best in healing that leg and look forward to catching up with him in person somewhere in town for a few drinks.
Cheers & Happy Travels!
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