I board a bus headed to Pristina, Kosovo, and as the vehicle rumbles to life, I plug my ears with headphones and cue “America” by Simon and Garfunkel. It breaks down, and the drivers pull of some wizardry, because I cannot explain how they got the wheels replaced with, and I’m not joking, no tools or lifts or anything. Magic. What a way to Leave Serbia.
Nostalgia: this one word can accurately sum up the after effects from my time at Goodbye Lenin Hostel. Like a dream that I’ve just woken from, I wonder, “Did all of those things really happen? Is it possible that I could have met so many people, and have done so many things?” Of course the answer is yes, but sometimes it feels as if my life is completely fake. Am I really this adventurer, or am I somehow a child playing Make-Believe?
In any case, my plan has burned down to one priority: Escape Winter. Life has become a larger version of Hide and Seek- me hiding, and Winter finding everyday; it bites at my fingertips and toes. If only these roles were reversed, I would feel no guilt playing the bully that leaves the Hider alone forever. Can you believe that it can get down to -35 degrees celsius? Cold enough to die, seriously.
With this in mind, I have put both hitchhiking and camping in the garbage bin of activities until my world, and my body, thaws out in spring; this leaves me the duty of finding refuge for 3-6 months.
Bad news: I have been going over my budget consistently for the past months. I plan on putting to use some strategies to quell my spending and get back on track… We’ll see.
More bad news: I got a workaway in Romania, but it turned out to be terrible! So I left because, hey, I’m traveling dang it! And I can do that sort of thing. Peace out! Shout out to the other two amazing volunteers Faith and Beverly for keeping me sane in that spot.
Good news: finding work in the Balkens is easy. Sort of. And I also purchased a full size Guitar- zero self control, but I feel so remorse or regret!!! Actually, I went into the guitar shop and saw this beauty. A friend was with me, and he asked the owner how much it cost. I was sure it would have been 300-400 USD, but to my complete shock it was 90.00. I thought it over the night, and decided to get it. the price was lowered and when I asked my friend Illia how he got it down, his reply was,
This is Ukraine, you can do this sort of thing.
I flew through a few more countries: Ukraine (not as scary as I was led to believe), Moldova (the poorest country in Europe), Romania, Serbia, Kosovo, and now I am volunteering in a beautiful hostel in Albania. I certainly underestimated the challenges that Winter brings, but certainly this has been a learning experience.
Speaking of experiences, I’ve been able to help out a little at the LGBT center in Kiev, I’ve been followed by numerous stray dogs for hours because I pet them a little, people have thanked me in Kosovo because I am American, and I climbed up cranes in an abandoned theme park. So! Just letting you all know that I’m still kicking, and hopefully I can go North slow enough for Spring and Summer; I’ve got my eyes on the National Blue Trail in Hungary!!
I’ve heard it said that a person is never their true self unless they are sure they are alone; if this is true, then I must truly be a lunatic.
I have found myself, when walking in fields completely absent of others, reciting and reenacting whole musical scores such as “Jack’s Lament,” from The Nightmare Before Christmas or “If I Were A Rich Man,” from The Fiddler on The Roof. I leap from fences and logs and stumps, thrusting my hands to the sky, becoming quite animated- which made it all the more embarrassing when I walked right past someone I hadn’t seen. C’est la vie.
The Netherlands was a fun country. Rotterdam was cool, Amsterdam was overrated and smelled like tourism, marijuana, and sex but it was the ghostly sound of Dutch that seduced me. I love the way they say good morning, sounding like “Huda Morgen,” with a windy whisp of the throat and tongue on the R. And oddly enough, I thought I could understand them, even though mentally I knew that I didn’t. Such were the similarities between our respective languages.
It was in Amelo, far east, where I met someone that ended up more than a traveling acquaintance. Linda became my friend, and I actually spent more time at her place than I planned!! A first for me, as I am usually constantly moving. She introduced me to her Italian friend, and I cooked spaghetti with my homemade vegan recipe. Frederico said it was perfect, a great feat apparently, that a real Italian enjoyed a traditionally Italian meal prepared by an American.
As I live and breath, my favorite part of traveling is meeting new and interesting people who are willing to share their life with me. I have felt this multiple times with many, a sort of vulnerability that makes possible the great connection I feel- like a secret knowledge we share together. This is still somewhat of a mystery for me, however, and maybe I can understand it as I grow.
I have felt the first pangs of loneliness while sitting in a campsite in Amsterdam. I knew they were destined to come sooner or later- you can´t expect to uproot one`s entire life and not feel even the least bit lonely. But come the morning, I felt quite alright, and ready to take on the world once more. I regret nothing of leaving. I truly feel alive, a little anxious, but blessed all the same. Solitude is a gift, and I recieve it gladly. But it is still okay to miss people now and again.
I walked across the German border and took a train to Munster. Not sure where I should stay, I began walking towards a green splotch on my map (a possible Forrest?) and took a small break in a thrift store; I hoped to find a book in English, as the one I had was almost finished. In broken German, I tried to ask for one when a woman of about 50 or 60 spoke. “I have a book in English in my home if you’d like. It’s one of Steinbeck’s, but it was too complicated for me.,” she said. Of course I accepted. I made myself comfortable and waited for her return. A bad smell lingered on my clothing, and my thoughts were filled with doubts- “where would I sleep? It was getting late. What would I eat? Where can I clean my clothes” and so on. Upon returning, the woman gave me not Steinbeck, but a small collection of short stories, and then offered me a bed for the night.
“I invite you in because you have a good energy in you, and I hope that somewhere someone will help my own traveling son as I help you,” she explained. This isn’t the first time I’ve been told I had “Good energy.” A French man asked me where it came from and I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about. The woman gave me beer, cheese, bread, and other food that night. She helped me clean my clothing, and I slept like a baby.
Hannover was amazing: I met a group of couchsurfers and found a place to stay there after my CS plan fell through. Tip for anyone wanting to use it: Make sure you confirm everything so you don’t misunderstand like I did. All of them were interesting, to say the least. Garret, the guy who helped me, had hosted hundreds of people. There was a Frenchman who, “Didn’t know why he was in Germany.” He was quite hilarious, with a snarky and sarcastic sense of humor. Rebecca, a German shoe maker who invited me for tea the next day was an intelligent and kind woman. Upon meeting her she said, “You’re English is very good!” Which gave us all a laugh because I should hope it’s good- it’s my native tongue!!
I made my way to Berlin to meet with Claudia, one of the coolest, most chill persons I’ve ever met in my life. Actually, she reminded me of my dear friend Alex, and I told her as much. She took me to “The REAL Berlin,” where tourists don’t often go… Ever. This tour included three spots: Tippie Land- a homeless community where you can set up a tent and stay in, Kopi- a punk rock squat, and Yaam an African hang out. Kopi was amazing. The sign on their door read:
“We will not tolerate Facists, Racists, Sexists, Homophobes, Tourists, or Cameras.”
There was a drunk Italian man, fat, with a head too large for his body equiped with a winter hat way too small for his head. Other memorables would be the loud American girl, pierced to the nines, who sleeps in graveyards for their cheap and peaceful qualities, and a Finnish rock musician traveling around Europe.
After playing music with Claudia the next morning, swapping the guitar back and forth, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore and bought my self a small guitarlini. Decked me 130€ but if I play on some city streets… 😀
I gathered by things and made my way to Karstadt, where, after missing my train twice, I met my first workawa hosts! They took care of six horses: Santos, Argus, Akazie, Arik, Abbe, and Aiva. I spent the next two weeks (ish), shoveling horse crap into buckets, painting doors, cleaning stables, and antagonizing the pet dogs (Not really, but come on, faking fetch throws is classic). One of the dogs, a black and white poodle named Nemo, seems to have taken a liking to me; whenever I would play the guitar, he would find a way to stroll over and lie down next to me. This, as you can imagine, made me feel quite cool. The other dog, Mahjo, was far too cool and highclass for my rugged ways. But after sneaking her some delicious treats, she warmed up to me.
At one point, I was playing the guitar and this huge, fat cat waltzes right up to where I am. It looks at me, and I look at it, and this must have signaled the creature. It jump upon the table in front of me, and steped right over the guitar and found its way comfortably resting in my lap, purring loudly, rubbing its head against me. Thanks a lot, cat. What did I do? The same thing any one who has been chosen by a cat does- pet the crap out of that thing and earn more purs. Teddy was his name.
Steffi, the daughter, works with training horses via positive reinforcement: a system of training that I can definitely support, with no beating, whipping, or otherwise painful wazs of mistreating the animals. She uses a clicker strategie and took the time to give me some basic lessons. I now feel quite confident that I can teach a horse (or any other animal) that a click means a treat, and a treat means I liked what you did, which then causes the action to resurface again and again. I learned so much from this workaway, that I am quite excited for the next ones. You can see her website here. Its in German so beware.
I am back in Berlin, spending a few days here before I head towards Poland and the Zakopane mountains. Packed up my bag again, ready to hit the road once more, only this time I am a little more musical, and know a little bit more in this world of endless knowables. Till next time, share this post, subscribe, comment below.
Hello, people! Sam here- and wow; these keyboards are killing me. The layout is completely different, ah well. I do apologize for any mistakes made.
I got to France and it has been quite the sight indeed. I went to a hostel and completely crashed- sleeping for 12 hours straight; explored the city, ate bread, wine, and cheese in scenic view of the Eiffel Tower with a woman I met named Orsola:
And I later met up with a group of vegans who were having a pot-luck dinner in which Couchsurfers could join- so of course I did! and I met some of the most amazing people there like the Woman who collects peoples love stories around the world, the Ballet dancer, and others. Everyone was truly great, and it has been my favorite CS event to date.
The next day, I began walking North towards Belgium and every French person I met was quite kind, contrary to what I was told by many, but perhaps this was because I was trying to speak in French.
But France had a sort of creepy vibe to it. There was a three day period in which I saw very little people. All shops were closed, all doors shut, it was very strange. I would walk into a forrest and get the most peculiar feeling, as if I zere being watched by something in the trees. And I woke up once and had two mysterious bite-like marks on my neck-
In 30 years from now, I will realize that I havent grown a day- Vampires anyone? At one point, during the weird three day period, I got lost and walked up a mountain and found some cool stuff, like this super great ravine/fire pit/cliff, that, to add to the creep factor, had about 50 condoms thrown everywhere
And then I came across this water fountain- it was so truly refreshing after being lost in the mountain for days that I drank and drank, and afterwards I felt very sleepy. I wanted to take a nap, but I was still feeling that strange, almost fairy tale-esque thing, and I remembered a story of the Hero that took a nap but woke up years later- well I didnt want that soooooo, I left.
And literally every church here has a chicken on top of the cross. You all think that I am playing, but no; I am totally serious:
After walking about 100 Miles, I began to hitchhike. Because I was sleepy. Oh, and because of a night of uh, lets say fun. I was sleeping in my tent when I was suddenly awoken by the distinct sound of walking. A deer, perhaps? No. No sooner had I begun to wonder did I hear three very clear and unmistaken sounds- Sniffing, Snorting, and then Squealing. Pigs. Or more concerning, Boars. I clentched my knife and waited for about 15 minutes before they left me alone. Maybe they were just curious.
I have been couchsurfing more often, and everyone has been so kind, generous, and interesting. I ended up singing Karaoke- Disney songs dubbed in French, with another group I was playing guitar and singing in a park picnic. One guy there started playing In The Jungle The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and while they sang their version, I sang mine.
“In english the Lion is sleeping?” they asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“In the french version, the Lion is dead!” and a hilarious laughter followed before one man chuckled, “eternal sleep,” and more laughter ensued.
I realize now that the Vagabond life is not separate from a simple one. Everyday I wake up and follow the same routine of 1. Pack up, 2. Eat, 3. and begin walking. Everyday I ask myself the same two questions: What will I eat today; and Where will I sleep. And in this way, complications have virtually vanished from my life all together. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the differences between a homeless person and a worldly vagabond. I had gone to a church and during the service I smelled something terrible and after investigation realize embarrassingly: It was me. A man had been standing next to me, but moved his seat hahaha. Both I and the homless, we smell the same, look the same, do the same things, sleep in the sane unorthodox areas, and very often I feel that passer-bys think me to be some sort of drugged and dangerous hobo. Tell me in the comments what the differences are, because I’m having a hard time figuring it out.
Bonus round: Notre Dame Catherdral in Amiens:
I eventually left France and headed into Belgium. I tried hitchhiking, but the Police said that I was reported by people and was not allowed to do it. Darn. So, I have been taking the train- an extra 6 Euros per day. The Dutch don’t joke with their sweets either!! My goodness, chocolate for breakfast. I ordered a croissant and bit down into it, but to my surprise I discovered it to be filled with nutella!
But if France felt like a fairy Tale; Belgium looked like one.
While walking in the city of Ghent, I took a break in a small stadium wherein there was placed a piano locked inside of a cage. Some children were playing it rather obnoxiously, and I began to eat my lunch. As I consumed peanuts, Nutella and more, an elderly couple, I would guess around 95 for they could barely walk, slid past the instrument while it was unoccupied. The woman led the man to it, and he must have been slightly blind as he stumbled quite a bit. He sat on the bench and rest his hands on the keys- I watched curiously. He at once began to play the most beautiful piece of music I have ever heard in my life, and with such grace. His playing must have had a profound effect on my soul, for no sooner had he begun did I find myself weeping; not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. Such was the complete and utter perfection that came from that piano, and from such an old person- weak and fragile. I quite shocked myself- I didn’t know why I was crying so.
A crowd had gathered, and when he finished, we gave a great applause to which he jumped in fright- he did not know there were so many. He bowed, and played a few more. Many people played that day- all beautiful to be sure, but none as near perfect as the old man.
On a more joyful note, I finaly ate a real Belgium waffle with the help of Sarah!- Life goals hahaha
And with the help of my friend Dylan, I was able to meet these guys, who helped me out a ton and were honestly so great:
But right now, I’m taking a train into Rotterdam in a few minutes so, until next time. Thanks for reading, leave a comment below, share and subscribe- See you!!
Everything I needed to know before traveling! This list is specific for citizens of the United States in relation to other countries.
- A list of Visa free countries, or Visa upon arrival.
- Staying in an area for more than a month? Try Workaway! Lodging and Food in exchange for honest work!
- Just passing through? Use Couch surfing to avoid hotel and hostel costs!
- Use Gmap Pedometer to track distance and mileage.
- If you’re just going to one country, VisaHQ is an excellent website that helps explain what you need to visit. They also offer services to get you there.
After a lot of frustrating calls to embassies for EU countries and mixed answers from all sides- I finally got an answer to my questions on how to travel through Europe long-term. Drum roll please:
You Can’t! Ta-daaaa
Unfortunately, you can’t as far as I can tell. If any country is apart of the Schengen, Agreement- The countries in Blue-
– they share one Visa. However, they don’t all share the same entry prerequisites. Let me break it down for y’all:
If you are an American Citizen (and some other countries, but I’m focusing on me here), you may:
- Enter the Schengen Zone without a visa for up to 90 days. You may travel throughout the entirety of the Shengen area wherever your feet take you. Yay!
- If you wish to stay longer, you must apply for a Long-Term Schengen visa which is specific for each country, not the entire Schengen zone. This means that you can enter, say Germany, for up to a year (or if you are a student, longer).
- But! If you would like to go to France with the same visa, well tough luck. You can’t. You have to apply for a specific French Schengen visa from your home country. Not cool.
In my opinion, this defeats the entire purpose of the Schengen visas. But whatever, rules are rules and I’m just a lowly foreigner, who am I to disagree? I’m nobody. SO! It’s up to me to find loopholes… as best I can. I have created this wonderfully professional photo to explain what I’m thinking:
I would spend 2-3 months in both Ireland and the United Kingdom because they’re rebellious and at this point in time unconnected to the Schengen Zone. Once I hit France though, I’ll have three months to get through it, along with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. After that, I can spend 2 months or more in Belarus, Russia, and the Ukraine in order to spend the 6 month required absence to RE-ENTER the Schengen territory. I can run through those bottoms ones, and exit into the lower European nations. I can use another 6 months rummaging in them until I hit the 6 month mark for a second, giving me permission to obtain an additional 3 months in Schengen.
I would have to really book it to get down to the port and catch my ferry to Morocco, but I can do it. This isn’t ideal, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
Any article of clothing that you have not put on yourself in person. This includes:
- Shoes (VERY Important)
- Socks (With Shoes)
DO NOT buy these items online, it will save you a lot of money. For example, I had bought some shoes for 109.00 but when I put on my hiking socks, I realized they were far to small. For those of you who are familiar with hiking, small shoes can result in loss of toenails, blisters and more (For a great guide to buying the right size shoe, click Here).
I strongly suggest, in order to keep from wastefully spending like I did, to go to a store like REI and try on your stuff before you actually buy it.
Planning. And more planning. And if you aren’t planning and would rather be uber spontaneous, guess what? You’ll end up spending more than you would have if you had thought it through. I am learning this first hand.Take for instance my water filter. I hadn’t thought to much about it and naively purchased the Life Straw.
It’s light, its effective, it’s going to save me from the terrors of the Hershey squirts– Seems like a good choice, yeah? Wrong actually. Turns out that the Life Straw is only good if you have a constant supply of water! And if you bring a bottle, the opening must be long enough to fit the straw through, however bottles like that are often heavy or expensive.
I have since changed my stance and purchased what’s called a Sawyer Mini. It lets me screw on the filter to a variety of multi purpose bottles, or just a plain old plastic thing that you get in water packs. Point being: you should really consider planning your gear way in advance. What if I had already gone to Africa with that other filter? I’d be screwed, that’s what.
With this in mind, I took to the woods with my friend to test my rain gear. True to it’s claims, my rain cover protected my precious cargo on my back, and my lightweight coat and pants shielded my body. It is always a good idea to test your gear before you need it. My own backpacking checklist has changed at least 4 times! I ditch things that I don’t need, I add more on, I weigh and reweigh (new word?) until I am perfectly satisfied. I book my flight in advance, waiting for the cheapest options to save money (So I can travel further), and I can save cash, time, and headaches simply be planning.
Here’s the moral of this story:
Be spontaneous in your travels, but always plan your gear far before you leave.