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Cross-border Journey and the Magic Behind It

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Most probably you don’t know me. but I’m gonna talk to you like you are my friend, because sometimes a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet, isn’t it? long story short, my name is Emilia and I love life.
a girl writing in a journal with an open mape of Rome and a book with pencils next to it
Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

most probably you don’t know me. but I’m gonna talk to you like you are my friend, because sometimes a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet, isn’t it? long story short, my name is Emilia and I love life. I’m human, so not every day is pink, but I try to make the most out of it.

 

what about you? do you like to travel, to have fun with your friends? do you like to meet new people, to try new food? do you like to read, spend time in nature, to have a walk by yourself? I’ll go first and maybe at the end you will tell me something about yourself as well.

so, let me tell you the story of my first solo trip. pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, because it might be a pretty long story. In this article, I will explain everything and I will share some experiences, hoping that it will help and inspire you to plan your future trip. so enjoy it!

firstly, I started my trip from Zagreb and I travelled by train. I visited Salzburg, Stuttgart, Brussels, Dijon and Torino with two little stops in Lyon and Paris. I stayed two nights in each main city, except in Brussels, where I spent three nights. in the beginning, I felt like I was in a treasure hunt, running and catching trains every day, but once you get used to it, it’s really fun and the rhythm is quite good. for smaller cities, two nights are more than enough, while for big cities like Brussels, I really enjoyed a full city break.

Cut letters put in a phrase "Ready for Adventure" on a map
Photo by Damaris Isenschmid on Unsplash

it was my first time travelling by train such long distances and, honestly, it was easier than I expected. many thanks to Interrail for the flexible interrail pass I received. it is valid for seven days of travel within a month and all you have to do is create an account in the Rail Planner app and activate it. now you are ready to go! you can search for the trains you want to take, you can add them to your trip and all you have to do is show the QR code in the app. it’s easy and flexible. I had days in which I waited until midnight to search for trains for the next day, which really made me feel free. I do not recommend always waiting though. sometimes, you have to take a high-speed train for which you need a seat reservation, which means you have to pay an extra fee and it’s better to plan it in advance, just to be sure there are still seats on that train.

anyways, now that we’ve established that, let’s move on to the next organisational thing: accommodation. for this trip, it was provided by the ESN team, as this journey was a part of the “mobility is my lifestyle” competition, and they did a really good job. I had a combination of shared and private rooms, with a perfect balance. one of the best hostels I stayed in was Jacques Brel hostel in Brussels, a part of Hostelling International, so many thanks for the good experience! If you plan to travel solo, I really recommend staying in a hostel, so you can meet new people. it might be weird at the beginning, but every great story starts with only a “hello”. people are open to conversation and willing to share their experiences with you, no matter where they come from or how old they are. it’s really interesting to sit at a table with people aged from 17 to 40 years old, erasing the age barrier and talking freely about life. in my last hostel in Torino, I met an American man in his 40s. he used to be a lawyer, but because he didn’t really enjoy his job he quit and sold his house. he said that for the moment the plan was to travel and hike around Europe for a while and after that, he will see what the future brings. and this is just one of the many lessons you can learn as a traveller. it’s never too late to start doing what you love and the most important thing is your mental health, so take care of it.

A group of young people hanging out, sitting on the grass in the park with a city behind them.
Photo by Shannia Christanty on Unsplash

and speaking of experiences, maybe you want to hear some of the things that happened to me, so let’s go.

in Salzburg, my first destination, I had an activity organised by ESN Salzburg. it was called running dinner and honestly, the name describes it perfectly. the mechanism is that you have a partner and the organising team assigns you a course to cook. after that, you and your partner have dinner in 3 different locations with different people at every course. I was assigned the dessert and I prepared a tiramisu with a local guy in Salzburg. the funny part was that my partner couldn’t make it for the starter and I almost got lost because I didn’t understand their bus system, so at a certain point, I was in a station just hoping for the best. Google maps weren’t helping me at all and I realised that I was all by myself, not knowing what to do. and this is the point where you have to take decisions and find solutions. at that moment it might be scary or overwhelming, but if you see the big picture, you understand that these experiences are just helping you to grow and that’s amazing!

after all the running, the next day I took some time to rest, so I enjoyed a coffee by myself, admiring the people and writing in my journal. It was the first time I could stay alone at a table and it was the best thing. I felt like, I have time and I can do whatever I want. sometimes, it is good just to take a deep breath and to be grateful for every heartbeat.

 

this trip was like a rollercoaster of chill and crazy moments, sometimes a perfect combination of both.

 do you know that moment when it’s neither red nor blue? when it’s purple and you can’t really do anything about it? just to enjoy the present. in Stuttgart, my second destination, I had some problems with my internet. I arrived at the train station, in a new country, a new city, and my internet wasn’t working at all. I had my hotel’s name in an e-mail, which I couldn’t open, so I really didn’t know where I had to go. try not to cry in this situation. I stopped on a bench and I waited around 20 minutes until I got some signal, I don’t know how. in the end, I arrived at the hotel exhausted and I ordered a pizza, which happened to be the worst one in my life. life is still good.

the next day I was convinced that everything would be solved with a phone call to my internet provider, but it didn’t help, so all my stay in Germany was on public wi-fi, which meant I couldn’t use Google Maps. so all I did was visit around the city centre. I was a little bit sad that I couldn’t visit more, but I read in the park, I enjoyed a wonderful sunset and I had a delicious dinner.

 

in Brussels, I didn’t have any big stressful events, the only bad thing being that I had to leave. each city was wonderful in its own way, but Brussels has my heart. as soon as I arrived there, I sent a text to the Erasmus group and an Italian guy answered. so we met, we had a Belgian beer and he took me to the Cinquantenaire Park, where I admired the best sunset of this summer so far. also, that night I met two boys from America in the hostel, having their first interrail trip. we talked and we visited the city together on the following day.

another highlight was that in Brussels I met all the participants and the girls that organised this trip for us. we had lunch and a meeting, and we talked a lot about everything. the energy was amazing and I really hope we will meet each other again. I spent the last night on a terrace with the Italian guy and his Erasmus friends and I appreciated once again the power of having good people around you. I had fun, I felt the international vibe, and at the same time, I realised that there are no real barriers between us.

the next day, I had a train very early in the morning. at breakfast, I was very tired and in a hurry, so I dropped the tray. the coffee cup and the orange juice glass broke, so their contents ended up on my pants. I know I said nothing bad happened in Brussels, but I just remembered that. life isn’t perfect, so it’s up to us to see the funny part in an uncomfortable situation. I had literally five minutes to change my clothes and I ran to the train station.

 

Facades of the Grand Place, Brussels
Photo by Jonathan Ricci on Unsplash

I spent that day mostly on trains, with a couple of hours in Paris. when I arrived in Dijon, my fourth destination, it was raining hard, so I had to buy an umbrella. I had dinner and I washed my pants by hand in the sink. adapt, improvise, overcome.

The next day I met an ESN member who showed me around and we talked about all the opportunities and benefits you have as a student in Europe. sometimes we take them for granted, like the discounts we have, and sometimes we don’t take enough advantage of this bidding age at which we can get involved in so many projects. this is your sign to take a step outside your comfort zone.

and talking about leaving the comfort zone, in Dijon I tried snails for the first time! I know that maybe for some people this is normal, but for me, it was a milestone. and I loved them so much!

 

the last stop was Torino, in Italy, where the hostel was very pretty. when I arrived, there were a couple of people at a table and I asked if I could join them. they were very nice and friendly and we had a pizza at midnight because that’s what you do in Italy. the next day we visited the city together and even though it was raining slightly, we enjoyed the best gelato I’ve ever had. life is better in Italy, for sure.

Galleria San Federico, Torino, Italy
Photo by David Salamanca on Unsplash

and this was the end of my trip. I was tired but so full of energy if that makes sense. some empowering energy. this trip made me realise that the barriers are only in our heads. that we can do so many things and that life is so beautiful if you try to live a little. to do what you love, to try something new, to overcome your fears. nobody says it’s easy but it is so worth it. when you accomplish challenge after challenge and find solution after solution, that’s the moment you feel free. even as a solo female traveller. don’t be scared to dream and don’t be scared to do things. of course, take as many safety nets as you need, but don’t let anything stop you from making your wish come true.

 

the only regret I have after this trip is that my phone broke before transferring the pictures into my laptop, so I lost 99% of the photos and videos I took during the 11 days. but you know what? I lived. I lived so much and nobody can take the memories away from me. it’s nice to record everything, but don’t ruin the moment trying to take the perfect shot. because you can’t take the perfect snap with your phone, but with your heart. don’t forget to live in the moment and to enjoy every second of your life. you will forget the bad days eventually, but you will always remember the moments of pure joy you had while doing what you love.

 

hugs and kisses,

E

 

The Mobility Is My Lifestyle is a competition organised by ESN,  under the Erasmus Generation Participation & Engagement project, funded by the European Parliament, aimed at raising awareness among young people about the work of the Parliament and the opportunities offered to them in the EU, while simultaneously promoting EU’s diversity and cultural heritage, as well as active citizenship and volunteering.