It started when a few of my friends asked me to join them for a trip around Europe. I said no! Instead, I wanted to explore the continent by myself. I wanted to find out whether it’s true that (solo) travelling could change my perspective of the world by meeting new people, getting in touch with the local culture, tasting the local cuisine and leaving no corner unexplored. I wanted to see how travelling would make me understand more about the world and especially myself. I wanted to be surprised by spontaneous moments that I would encounter from what Europe had to offer. Even though I come from a part of the world which is extremely different – Indonesia, I wanted to experience something new. To my great delight, it turned out to be more breathtaking than I ever imagined it would be.
I intentionally didn’t plan my trip. Instead, I wandered around Europe aimlessly, like a fish in the stream of a mighty river. I purchased a train pass allowing me to travel the whole continent anytime I wanted. That way, Europe was mine to explore. This gave me an empowering feeling and an unparalleled sense of freedom. I then began to feel incredibly excited for the upcoming journey.
The story about meeting people started from the first time I stepped foot on train. In the train I met other passengers who were mostly solo travelers like me. I was pleasantly surprised that I could meet so many interesting people from different parts of the world within a blink of an eye. It gave me a chance to start conversations about various topics, from what to eat and visit, to exchanging personal and deep experiences.
I remember one day I missed my stop in Hanover and instead continued on to Hamburg. This was due to a beautiful and profound conversation I was having with a Ukrainian father, who told me a story about how he survived the war and moved to Germany. The other day I had a conversation with a lovely Italian Grandma on the way to Roma from Firenze, where we talked about how different our families, cultures, religions and lives are, even though she didn’t speak English. Yes, we spoke in different languages, but thanks to my electronic dictionary we could still manage to communicate in that six-hour trip. It made me fully aware that a smile is universal and I’ll always be able to talk to nice people even if we don’t share a common tongue. It ended with her giving me a box of Tupperware full of cookies for my ‘travel company’ she said. It was really sweet of her.
Another time in the train I met a professional Swedish photographer on the way to Zagreb from Split. He inspired me with his thirty-year experience of travelling around the world for his photography projects. That overnight train was not enough to share the laughs and entertaining stories of our different cultures and continued by having a cup of Coffee in Zagreb Glavni Kolodvor station. I also met a cool scout group from Antwerp on the way to Prague from Zakopane. We didn’t sleep at all as we were having so much fun.
These are the kinds of moments that I will never forget for the rest of my life. All of those are just small examples of the pleasure of meeting new people. I haven’t yet included the various times that I met individuals in hostels and places I visited. It’s true that I travelled solo but surprisingly I never felt alone, which was my greatest fear before I left.
From the people that I met on the train, I knew that almost every city in Europe has a free walking tour. It quickly became the first thing I would do as an introduction to the place that my feet came to stand on. The local tour guide told me everything about the city and anything I wanted to know about the city and country, such as the history, culture, must-do activities and must-visit places. I came to appreciate the long way in which Germany became as big as it is now, I also learnt how Warsaw became as pretty as it was when I saw it. Not to mention the interesting story behind the art and buildings that I had snapped with my mirror-less camera, how pleasant Easter is for Slovakian guys, how happy Slovenian shepherds after summer and so on. I even got information about where to have the tasty all-you-can-eat traditional Italian seafood, pasta and bread with a glass of fresh orange juice for just three euro in the most touristic place like Venice.
It’s true that the journey was about how nice it was sunbathing in Cinque-Terre, Nice, and Lagos; or how refreshing it was swimming in Bled lake, Aare river and Peneda Geres waterfall; or how fun it was hiking in Zakopane and Kandersteg; or how enjoyable it was walking on the Berlin, Granada, and Paris pavements; or how chilled it was being in Seara Velha, Nassington, Utrecht and Hradec Kralove; or how delicious it was eating pasta, pizza and gelato in Italy as well as Kibbeling and Patat in the Netherlands; or how unnecessary it is to travel with friends to enjoy all of those activities.. But actually it wasn’t only about exploring and finding the world, but mostly about finding myself. Maybe this journey would end differently if I chose to travel with friends.
I felt like the beautiful places and the rich cultures anywhere on earth will always stay there living with the people surrounded, waiting for me to explore them one by one. Even though I’m from a small village called Sarilamak, I know that the world is mine. As long as I have the opportunity, I have to check every inch of it. If I don’t have one, I must create one. What about you?