One of the things I learned about travel this summer is that it’s 100% not about the destination but about the people.
Dublin was our first stop in Europe and we had no idea what to expect. We weren’t sure about this whole hostel thing and when we saw our first dorm, we didn’t think we were going to be able to last all summer. But when we started laughing at the awkwardness with our male roommates from Kentucky, comfort started to set in. I don’t think Chelsea and I would have stayed at that hostel, and thus gotten used to backpacking, if it weren’t for the incredibly welcoming college football players we called our roommates. Meet our first roommates here.
London is a pretty dreary place. It’s a huge city, a lot like New York, but incredibly expensive with pretty crap weather. It’s not a place that I could see myself living.
However, London ended up being a favorite stop of mine because it’s where Chelsea and I met Mel and Mackayla, two Aussies who were our first friends and who will remain friends for life. Mack told me even if I land in Australia 10 years from now, I’ll always have a place to stay with her! For more on our three nights in London, click here.
Chelsea and I spent a lot of time on trains this summer. But the people we sat with were what made our travel time actually enjoyable. First, it was two 18-year-old Brits on a search for decent weather who we laughed with as cultural differences kept us from understanding each other while playing Heads Up.
Then came two 18-year-old Canadians who told us we were the easiest girls in the world to make fun. They laughed with me (and at me) when I got confused about pounds, kilos and liters and asked one of them how many liters he weighed. The jokes continued to a bar later that night and brunch our last day in Prague.
One of the things on Chelsea and my European bucket list was hang gliding over the Swiss Alps. I am pretty terrified of heights so I was a little nervous to be jumping off a mountain.
But our guides Toby and Peter were really laid back and put us at ease. Toby even bought us beers that night to celebrate our new friendship! Peter was a great instructor and made me smile during my entire flight. See photos from my hang gliding flight here.
After getting robbed on a sleeper train from Switzerland to Croatia, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to continue our trip. I was scared and nervous and felt incredibly exposed. But when a Croatian woman entered our compartment a few hours later, my emotions were calmed. She gave Chelsea and I muffins she had baked for her family and later bought us bus tickets to our hostel. She reminded us that there are beautiful people in the world and gave us the strength to continue on.
Hvar, Croatia is a beautiful island but what made our stay even more beautiful were the times spent goofing around with a group of crazy Brits fresh out of uni and mornings spent listening to two hilarious Aussie guys recount their mission to pick up the hottest girls in Croatia. It was getting delicious late night food at our local friend Bojana’s favorite spot and spending the Fourth of July with an Aussie and a Canadian who just didn’t understand when we would say “America!” obsessively with our friends Gina and Emily who came to see us from back home. Read a recap of Hvar here.
Our friend Adam from Semester at Sea knows how to push my buttons and drive me nuts like only a family member does. But with him as our guide of the best gyros and beaches (the two of us bickering the entire way), Mykonos came that much more alive. Plus, it’s always fun to experience a new place with a SAS-er by your side. We travel in a way that only Semester at Sea alums know how. Getting to spend the day on the catamaran he works on was a nice perk as well! Read more about our week in Mykonos here.
Chelsea and I couldn’t really get ourselves together to work out a plan before we left the States. Our SAS friends Meghan and Caitlin really wanted to join us for Greece and Italy but we just couldn’t figure out when exactly we’d be there. But they waited for us and finally booked flights so they could travel alongside of us. It really revived Chelsea and I to travel with faces from home and people who had a fresh energy for exploring.
Our sunset cruise in Santorini was out of a movie. The afternoon was spent jumping off the boat into crystal blue water and tanning our skin under scorching hot sun. With our Semester at Sea friend Caitlin by our sides, it was very “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”
But the reason we enjoyed it so much were our new friends from Kentucky who we instantly clicked with and a 60-year-old man from Austin who was more than willing to rip shots of Absinthe with us. It’s not the beautiful sunset we remember, it’s the couple from Houston who told us they would not be getting engaged on the catamaran and laughed along with us when I begged them to so I could watch. The company we had made the 95 Euro sunset cruise even more worth it. More about our time in Santorini here.
Florence stole my heart. The cobblestone streets, beautiful architecture, to die for food and delicious wine had me the moment I stepped off the train. We got to stay in the heart of Florence for free thanks to an amazing ex-pat named Dan who was far too nice to us and even cooked us dinner! The best part of Florence was walking the streets with his friends Ricky and Luca, two Americans living in Florence who know the best restaurants off the beaten path and can actually follow their noses to find secret bakeries. Experiencing Florence with semi-locals made my love for the city even stronger.
Sure, Corfu, Greece is a beautiful island and The Pink Palace is an adventure in itself but the adventure wouldn’t have been the same without Brooke and Katie, our new friends from California we met in the Amalfi Coast. Brooke and I are scarily similar. She is the definition of my kindred spirit. Chelsea and Katie are both Cancers and their relationships to myself and Brooke are eerily similar. It actually felt like we had cloned Chelsea and I and Katie and Brooke were the result. While Corfu was fun, the best part about it were the moments of uncontrollable, stomach aching laughter with Brooke and Katie. Read more about the ridiculous week spent in Corfu here.
You can’t go to Barcelona and not rave about it. It is truly beautiful with a great vibe. But experiencing Barcelona with a group of the sweetest Aussie girls you’ll ever meet is what really made our short, three-night stay there. We all bonded over our love of salacious celebrity gossip and bottomless sangria.
If you met Mel and I in Spain, you would never have known that we only met two and a half months prior in London. We hopped around the country discussing life, love and travel like lifelong friends. We experienced our first organized hitchhike together in which she died of laughter at my fear and I reveled in her lack of Spanish as I told her inappropriate things to say to strangers. She wasn’t afraid to call me a dumb American and I was constantly referring to her as my crazy Aussie. I wouldn’t have enjoyed Spain as much as I did if it weren’t for Mel by my side.
And from what I hear Lisbon Surf Camp became a second home for Chelsea thanks to Pedro the owner, the surf instructors Josue, Pierre and Filipe, and all the Brits, Russians, Italians, Germans and Romanians who became cherished friends along the way. It seems her six night stay (that turned into nine) was filled with lots of learning, laughs and positive vibes. She actually cried when she had to leave…and I’m not just talking a few glistening tears. For anyone interested in a refreshingly active and adventurous holiday check out the new surf camp Pedro’s opening in Cape Verde. You can click here to learn more.
So to all the friends we’ve met and who’ve met us along the way, I just want to give a huge round of thank yous. You all truly made our trip that much more memorable and it seriously wouldn’t have been the same without each and every one of you.