My first trip to Europe
Okay, I know. This post is WAY overdue. But better late than never, right?
Last October, I took my first solo international flight to Barcelona where I spent my 21st birthday. While I was there I spent (what was supposed to be) a day in Paris...we'll get into those details later.
I had the time of my life and fell in love with Europe! Before I get into a list of things to do, and things I wish I would've done differently, I want to summarize my overall experience.
If you've never been to Europe and have dreams of doing so, I definitely recommend that you find a way to make it happen! A lot of people told me that I shouldn't go by myself. But I knew that I didn't have anyone to go with me, and I didn't want to let that stop me from chasing a dream of mine.
Barcelona has so much to offer and I know that I barely saw half of it! It is SO beautiful. City life with a Spanish-European flare.
Even though I did lots of research on my different options for accommodations, I decided to go with a private room in a hostel. It was my first trip, my 21st birthday, and I wasn't on too tight of a budget. But still, my room wasn't that much. I paid $200 for all 4 nights. The room was simple, yet gorgeous! It was European style and had its own private balcony. It also had a little TV in it, and a wardrobe. I chose the room without a bathroom. I had to use the shared bathroom, which worked out fine for me. The time that I was there, the hostel stayed pretty empty, and the owners were always coming in to clean.
I didn't do a whole lot of sight seeing in Barcelona, or at least planned sight seeing. I saw one of the main attractions, La Sagrada Familia, which happened to be only a couple blocks away from my hostel. I mostly just ventured around the city, in awe of all the amazing architecture.
My last day there, I visited Las Ramblas, the shopping district of Barcelona. I wish I would have had more time there! Las Ramblas is basically one busy street with vendors lined down the middle, and TONS of little side streets connected to other little side streets. It's almost like a maze!
Okay, let's talk about Paris
My plan was to fly in to Paris Friday morning, and fly back in to Barcelona Friday evening. Some may say that's crazy (I'll take it). But that's what I wanted to do. The thought of staying in Paris overnight honestly didn't really cross my mind.
My flight in to Paris was horrible. Not because of the service or anything, but for some reason my ears popped REALLY bad, and they never do! I literally thought my head was going to explode.
Yes, I flew RyanAir. Which means that I didn't actually fly in to Paris, I flew in to a little town outside of Paris. I had to take a bus (€ 15) in to Paris. The bus ride was fine. Even though I was a little hesitant about falling asleep at first, I did anyways.
The main reason I wanted to go to Paris was to see the Eiffel Tower. After arriving in Paris by bus, I had to take the subway to the Eiffel Tower.
I've never been to NYC, but I can imagine that the Paris subway station was worse as far as how crowded it was. Probably 10 times worse. You could barely move. There were people crowding the subway map on the wall, trying to find their next destination. The lines to purchase tickets all ran in to each other. And there were random people who looked up to no good asking people did they need help.
It took me what felt like an hour just to find out which subway I needed to get on and what ticket I needed to purchase.
But that feeling when I got off the subway, took the escalator from below the city, and was greeted by the beautiful sight of the tower, was all worth it.
I walked up to the Eiffel tower, under it, around it, and touched it. I stood and stared, and then my stomach started growling.
I saw the Eiffel tower and was satisfied. I hadn't really planned on what else I would do for the rest of the day. But what I did know was that I needed to get some food and some heat. I hadn't prepared for the abrupt cold and rainy Paris weather.
I ended up walking around Paris, catching different views of the Eiffel Tower, and then going to visit the Arc De Triomphe.
It was getting darker, and I knew that it was about time for me to head back to the port where I would catch the bus to the airport.
After catching a running-late subway train back to the port, I walked up to the bus ticket booth only to find the lights off and the attendant packing up for the night.
Yep. I made probably the stupidest mistake that one could make: I didn't check to see what time I should catch the bus back to the airport. I just assumed that since my flight was late at night, and they had buses running every hour, that I wouldn't have a problem catching one back.
My flight was the last flight that left out of the airport for the night, and the bus actually leaves a few hours before the last flight is supposed to take off.
The airport was so far away, that it would have cost €100 just to get there. I didn't have too much money in my checking account, I had only saved enough Euros to get me a ticket back to the airport, and had left the rest of my cash in my room in Barcelona.
So I was stuck in an unknown place, at night, away from the place that I was actually visiting, barely any money, can barely speak the language, and it was freezing cold.. Let's also tack on the fact that I had to pee like crazy!
I'm not going to get in to all of the details of the night because it was a little traumatic for me. LOL. (But seriously, it still gives me a tad bit of anxiety)
I ended up hustling and trading two dresses I had brought for €50 each for a taxi ride to the airport. Only to get to the airport and had JUST missed my flight. Had to pay €200 just to get a new flight for the NEXT morning, went back to Paris, and payed €200 just to sleep in a hotel for 4 hours. (I ended up getting money by having my bank make an emergency transfer from my savings account to my checking account. Got the tip LATE from my mom Lol)
So yeah, Paris wasn't that great of an experience because of a series of unfortunate events. After I got back to Barcelona, I was so traumatized that I didn't want to leave my room until I was supposed to leave for the States the next day. I did end up leaving my room though. LOL.
What I would do differently
- Obviously I would have been smarter about my trip to Paris. I wouldn't have made that REALLY stupid mistake of not checking the bus times.
- Planned a little bit more. I would have planned more of what I was going to do each day. I had a general idea. I knew that the first day in Barcelona I would spend exploring the area around my hostel. The second day I would branch out and visit La Sagrada Familia and venture out more. The third day was supposed to be spent in Paris, and the fourth day I would spend shopping in Barcelona. I pretty much stuck to that plan, but I think I could have seen more in Barcelona and Paris if I would have decided specifically where to go and what to see.
- Tried to make friends. Yeah, I didn't really talk to anyone. After reading a lot of these travel blogs, I was too scared someone was going to try to snatch something from me while I was talking or distracted. But it would have been great to make some international friends.
- Dress for the weather (changes). Noooo! I wasn't ready! *Kevin Hart* voice. The weather in Paris was NOT like I thought it was supposed to be. It was a little less than 60 degrees, breezy and rainy. Make sure that you frequently check the weather, and that you pack appropriately.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are SO many resources out there for anyone who has never traveled internationally or hasn't traveled to Europe. I researched everything from 'what to pack,' to 'how to not look like a tourist.' Know the area that you are visiting. Whether you decide to stay in a hostel, hotel or Couchsurf, use Google Maps to see what is in close proximity to where you will be staying. See what the outside of the building looks like.
- Be fearless. You cannot go on an international trip by yourself and be a scaredy pants. It doesn't work that way. A lot of people tried to scare me out of going. "Have you seen the movie Taken." Why yes, I have, thank you for asking. But I didn't let that stop me. And I'm so glad I didn't! This trip was something that I will never forget.
- Pack an adapter converter. I am SO glad I thought of this. The outlets in Europe are NOT the same as they are in the US! (For a full list of what to pack, The Savvy Backpacker has a great list! Even if you're not backpacking, it helps a lot!)
- Keep emergency money. Because, Paris.
- Use your social media. Your friends and family are going to worry about you. Make sure that you are using social media to keep in contact. You can also use Facebook to make free voice-calls to another Facebook member. But you both have to have the Messenger App downloaded. Skype also allows you to make phone calls to any number by purchasing minutes.
- Take advantage of cheap European travel costs. Traveling between countries in Europe is SUPER cheap. If you have time, go to another country while you are visiting. Don't limit yourself.
Traveling to Europe alone is not for everyone. It was a decision that I had to think about and make for myself. I didn't want to have to worry about not being able to do something because my traveling companion didn't have the money, or just didn't want to...on MY birthday. I also knew that none of my friends would be able to pay for the trip in such short notice (I planned it in a month and a half). I'll admit that there were times when I wish someone was with me to enjoy those moments, and it did get a tad bit lonely sometimes. But I still have no regrets.
If you have any questions, or if I failed to cover something, please let me know! (: