I am not usually one to brag about my achievements, but perhaps the most important experience I have lived to date was one year ago when I studied abroad on the European island Malta for six months. Initially, I didn’t think I could afford it and therefore studying abroad did not interest me. It wasn’t until I realized the infinite amount of ways to afford a semester abroad that I found out I could actually find a way to afford it.
That’s what sparked the interest for me. What happened when I finally got there and did it is beyond what I can explain. It’s where I realized couch hopping Europe isn’t as intimidating as it sounds!
The experiences I got to live and the friendships I got to make were worth any amount of money. Had I known I would get to live through what I did, I would have blown my whole bank account just to get the opportunity. Hell, I’d do that now if I got another opportunity to study abroad. It is something I can’t recommend enough and I know I am not the only one with this type of experience. However, this is not about studying abroad. It is about making international connections and the factor that they play into being a perpetual traveler.
After that semester, I decided to travel around Europe for two months. I know two months is nowhere near the dramatic length that some people travel a continent, but to me, like studying in Malta for six months, backpacking for two more months was a feat I was proud of.
Afraid of what was to come, I left Malta without any idea of what to expect. I had been in Europe for seven months at this point, but I was rarely anywhere besides the tiny island in the Mediterranean that I called home for a semester. I knew the culture in Malta was nothing to compare to other countries in mainland Europe. Even the language barrier would be different as English is a national language in Malta.
I knew I’d meet up with some friends, but had no clue what to expect. That’s when I realized what a crucial role they played in my travels. Everywhere I went, in TEN different countries, I had friends − there saving me money, giving me advice, fixing my problems, and even giving me a home. It was an incredible thing.
The Eurotrip began in Ghent, Belgium
My journey started in Belgium where I lived with a host family in the city of Ghent a part of a program called Workaway. I stayed there for upwards of a month. I had several Belgian friends scattered across the country. Three times, friends hosted me in their cities. My friend from Ghent lent me his bike for a month so I was able to easily access the city while saving money on transportation and letting me experience a part of the culture that is so prevalent in Ghent which is bike riding.
In Belgium, I hung out with groups of Belgian students my age every single night, I attended closed concerts, I saw a majority of the country and was even specially announced as an American visitor at a university function in front of 1,000+ Belgian students that my friend was in charge of.
Couch Hopping Backpacking Through Europe: Dusseldorf, Germany
I continued onto Germany where I met my friend from Dusseldorf. Within a few hours, she saved my entire Eurotrip. I left my luggage holding all of my belongings (including my laptop and passport) inside the locker of train station storage room. However, since I like making travel as difficult as it can be, I left my locker unlocked and unattended.
When I returned to the station, everything was gone. My heart sank. I would have dropped to the floor in despair if I was alone. However, my friend was there and she wouldn’t let me do it. Without missing a beat, she took me directly to a train station employee, spoke with the man in German after he struggled to speak to me in English, and discovered there was a lost and found for this type of situation.
Luckily, an angel found my belongings and took everything to the lost and found and that’s where I found it; untouched and everything still there.
Without my friend, I would have been hopelessly lost in that moment.
She took me to her home where she hosted me for three nights before touring Cologne and Hamburg with me, as well. Cologne and Hamburg; cities she has seen dozens of times before, but she still took a week off from her busy life to show me around. For that, I’ll be forever thankful.
Traveling Countries in Europe: Poznan, Poland
After leaving my friend in Hamburg, I traveled to Berlin and then to Poland where I met up with another local friend. Even amidst starting a new job and exam season at the university, my friend found time to host me and show me around the city of Poznan, Poland while showing me the in’s and out’s of a beautiful city. I stayed with him for four days in which we actually got ourselves arrested during one hell of a stay.
I attended a student party in which I was the only foreign attendee, I climbed WWII tanks and even got a haircut in which I interacted with the barber purely in Polish language.
Backpacking Europe Routes: Budapest, Hungary
After touring a few more Polish cities, I met yet another friend that I met in Malta in Budapest, Hungary. After a seven-hour bus ride from Krakow, I couldn’t wait to meet up with her and see Budapest. She was a German girl who was studying in Budapest at the time.
Within a half an hour of being in Budapest, I had already met 50+ foreign students at an international party on Liberty Bridge hovering the Danube River. It was one of those surreal moments in a fairytale setting that I couldn’t re-live in an entire lifetime of searching for it.
Afterwards, we stumbled to one of Budapest’s infamous ruin bars which were a clubbing experience I’ve never had before in my life. With different design and genres of music in every room, it’s impossible to not find a vibe that fits your fancy.
I spent the rest of the week exploring Budapest with new friends. I was even fortunate enough to meet up with a group I had met a few months prior in Bulgaria from Brazil. It’s a small world and even smaller when you’re on the road.
Couch Hopping while Backpacking Through Europe: Austria
After Budapest, my friend from Germany came with me from Budapest to Vienna, Austria where we saw back-t0-back nights of concerts from a few of my favorite bands.
Although Vienna isn’t my favorite city I’ve ever visited, we sure did make a hell of a lot of memories at those concerts. However, after a few days, I was departing my friend and on a train to Salzburg, Austria.
In Salzburg, I was to meet up with one of my best friends in Europe. We hadn’t seen each other in months. A reunion was long overdue. He and his family spent a week of their time hosting me and showing me around the best of Salzburg. I was able to experience places that he talked about during our semester in Malta the entire time. I met his friends whom I had already felt like I knew from all that he talked about them.
I got to take home a small part of his life which was the most important part of visiting Salzburg. It was an incredible time and I learned so much about his culture. I owe him and his family the world.
Couch Hopping to Milan, Italy
This may sound repetitive, but I was traveling to Milan to visit yet another friend whom I had met in Malta. Also one of my better friends, he was on an internship in Milan but originally from Slovakia.
I had 24 hours with him and the ride there was 13 hours long, but I thought it was necessary. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my travels; it’s not about what you do and see – it’s about who you see and do that stuff with. And I was very fortunate to have friends so willing to meet up with me during my Eurotrip.
I met up with my friend at the train station which was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We boarded the subway at rush hour to get to his flat. WOW! I’ve never felt more like a sardine in my life.
I think it was my first true experience with big city rush hour traffic on public transportation. I didn’t enjoy it. We made it back to his place and immediately had a few beers.
We had the sudden inspiration to make a side trip to Como, Italy, but with limited time, the decision would have to be spontaneous. After debating for ten minutes, we decided we’d leave immediately which would put us in Como by late evening.
We stopped at a market for some wine (too much wine for two people), filled our backpacks with wine and no other gear that would have come in handy, and took off. My friend and I were known for spontaneity involving drinking, so the idea fit our friendship perfectly.
We hiked a mountain at midnight in the rain until we got to the peak. With each view that opened up to the beautiful stars, we’d stop and drink red wine in the peacefulness. We didn’t even speak much, but it was a moment we will take to our graves.
Rain gear would have been helpful, sleeping bags seemed like a luxury – but a blanket could’ve been nicer than alcohol to rely on to keep me warm, and I’m still bugged that I couldn’t get more photos of one of the most galvanizing starry skies I’d ever seen. But it was a hell of a night.
In the morning, we took the earliest train back to Milan, checked out the infamous Duomo Cathedral, and before I knew it, I was saying goodbye as quickly as I said hello and I was on my way to the airport. I was London bound.
Last stop on the Eurotrip
I was nervous for London. But, luckily I, again, had a few friends to rely on in London to get around. My best friend I made in Malta had a brother living in London whom I was able to reach out to. He gave me a night-long tour around one of the craziest cities I’ve ever visited.
Later, I met up with a friend who I met in Malta who was from the Czech Republic. He was coincidentally visiting London at the same time so we saw a few of London’s most popular attractions together and spent the afternoon getting lost in the big city.
I wasn’t in London long, but long enough to meet up with a few friends. I’m so grateful to travel an entire continent across the world from me and never feel lonely. It’s an unbelievable thing to me.
International Couch Hopping
People from halfway across the world, some whom I had not met but a couple days in Malta, showing me around in their city, attending concerts with me, letting me sleep on their sofa. It is hard to explain the type of impact that had on my courage during the entirety of the trip. In unknown countries of which I didn’t speak the same language, I had locals guiding me around, showing me the ropes of a place that I would only be in for a matter of a week.
Sure it made things easier and I didn’t get the full experience of learning things on my own, but I still had plenty of opportunities to explore on my own while still feeling like I wasn’t alone no matter where I went. It was the reassurance that there was someone there to help me out that made me feel comfortable wherever I went. And let me tell you, it’s a beautiful thing to feel comfortable in a city away from home. You feel like you really get close to a place. You learn the culture easier, you fit in more, you even make a ton of new friends through your friends and your international network grows.
It is a beautiful thing to have friends across the world, in dozens of countries, on numerous continents, no matter where you are. It makes roaming Europe just that much easier and may be the push you need to get out of your comfort zone.