What Traveling Alone Through Europe for Two Months Taught Me

What Traveling Alone Through Europe For Two Months Taught Me

A 20-year-old woman's thoughts on history, the importance of not working too much, and rediscovering one's joy.

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At the start of this past summer, I, like most other college students I know, found myself in a state of utter burnout. I had been devoting every ounce of my energy to my studies, working, fighting for a turbulent relationship, applying to internship opportunities, and trying to find even a moment of free time for myself—an often-futile task. I had been willingly pledging myself to helping others with errands, babysitting, and offering physical and emotional support whenever I could, and as much as I was happy to do it, it left me with nothing for myself, until I one day, feeling both defeated and exhausted, knew I needed to be the one to make a change.

My mother is from Germany, so I had spent much of my childhood summers running across the fields adjacent the Rhine River, playing for hours on end with my brother as my grandma and mom watched over us. That feeling of spending time in a different place with different values, customs, and culture resonated with me, even at a young age, and made me always have a longing to get away from the familiar. Upon finding that I needed a break from my day-to-day, I worked and worked to save up as much money as I could to spend an indefinite amount of time abroad in Europe.

After a four-month work binge, I had saved about $2000, booked a one-way ticket to my first destination—Copenhagen, Denmark—and decided to plan the trip as I went along for the rest of the way. Although an undoubtedly risky decision, I could take my schooling with me online and I had several family friends living in various countries with whom I could stay, so my biggest concern became learning how to get from Point A to Point B wherever I ended up.

Two months later, I had explored the hip, yet history-laden, streets of Christianshavn and the anarchist republic of Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen; I had marveled at the picturesque castles of Sweden, and danced down the street to the tune of ABBA's Arrival album; I had learned how to country-hop by train, how to survive on fifteen euros for a week when my debit card was stolen and no ATM would accept my credit card, and where to find food when restaurants and supermarkets were closed on Sundays in Germany; I had hiked up one of the tallest mountains in the South of France to a town established at the turn of the century, swam in ice-cold rivers that flowed through steep gorges, and fell in love with La Socca, a thin, airy bread made of chickpea flour, water, and olive oil that is an essential (and indescribably delicious) part of Niçoise cuisine.

The places I visited themselves were beautiful beyond compare, but it was the people that allowed me to live a thousand lives in a limited number of days that were the most bewitching of all. I dined on roasted vegetables with Danish hippies on a patch of grass beneath the shade of one of the commune's lush oak trees, discussing the beauty of nature and man's over-complication of life; I was spontaneously educated by a retired German art dealer after staring at a painting I couldn't quite understand for the better part of an hour; I partied poolside with the crew members of a mega yacht docked in Antibes, listening to stories travels to exotic islands around the world with neurotic celebrities and impossibly wealthy public figures; I laughed with an English-Ukrainian physics teacher beneath a statue we did not know was famous until a group of tourists started taking what we thought were pictures of us; and I watched from a cozy window seat as hundreds of mothers and fathers took their children to school each morning on foot or by bike, relishing in that quality time.

"This. This is what life is about," I thought, almost daily.

I returned home completely out of money and exhausted, but what I took away from that trip was worth more than any amount of money could ever buy. After visiting countless churches and cathedrals with needle-like spires, intricate stained-glass windows, and almost unbelievable murals, I began to wonder how many souls had passed through those doors, had lit a candle for a loved one, or had prayed for a miracle on those pews. Walking down cobblestone alleyways and up steep, cliff-side steps I dreamt of the journeys of billions before me, just trying to survive and thrive in their own times. What had it taken back then to be great? Did they know something we don't? I imagined the simple, handheld tools and countless hours spent toward constructing the elaborate roofs that sloped almost poetically. How is it that modern structures crumble more in one decade now than others have in one century? Where did such skill, craftsmanship, and, most importantly, patience go?

Despite several places back home in America having these ornate features too (for example, St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City), what is it about Europe that keeps even the families who have lived on the same streets or in the same houses for hundreds of years always in awe of these commonplace things? I noticed most locals never lost that glimmer in their eyes of love for their home, their history, and their future…so why do we? Has The American Dream really become just about materialism and having everything the way we feel it should be or want it to be? Why can't we accept and love things for how they are? When did enough become never enough?

Another aspect of European culture that struck me as beautiful and missing across the pond, is the recognition that prioritizing working over everything, although it may provide a living, is not living. In Copenhagen, fifty percent of the city's working population bicycles to work, rain, snow, sleet, or shine, every day so that both taking in nature and one's own health can be among the morning's first priorities.

Most Danish employers allow their employees to adjust their work schedules to better accommodate their families' needs; both the father and mother are granted one year of ma/paternity leave if the couple has a child on the way; and during the summer, on days where the sun is shining and a slight breeze billows over the harbor, you'd be hard-pressed to find people indoors, even after a long day's work. Similarly, in Germany, government and regional holidays or days of observation mean both working adults and school-age children are given the day off to spend time with their families; as aforementioned, most shops and restaurants must be closed on Sundays for the same reason; and every employer is required to give each of their employees a minimum of four weeks paid leave.

So why do all of these statistics matter? Simply because a level work-life balance enables people to live, to enjoy their lives on their own or with those they care about, while also not having to sacrifice basic human necessities. Some rightfully argue that Europe isn't all joy and butterflies, and that's true. I acknowledge that each individual country, people, and culture have a plethora of issues, but who or what doesn't? Another argument is that what "they" have could never work here in America because of scale or deep-rooted value/cultural differences or practices, but has anyone really tried some of these centuries-old practices here for a long enough period to see what the result(s) could be? When did the importance of the pursuit of things overtake the pursuit of happiness?

Creating excuses is a mechanism that helps downplay one's fear, and most often of the unknown. I left America to escape my excusing others' inexcusable actions and feeling like I had been pouring from an empty cup for too long in a place I felt stuck in. This trip was me looking myself in the eyes and declaring, "No more, you deserve to be happy too!" It was not until I took myself by the hand and lifted myself out of my rut that I was able to finally fully embrace that truth. No one thing, feeling, or person is going to swoop in and save the day unless we can acknowledge that everything we have needed to walk forward has been here with us all along. Of course, however, it was the kindness, simplicity, outlooks, and laughs of each person that I met along the way that made the fear of taking those first steps, and the subsequent joy found, all the more worth it—fueling my growth, shifting my perspective, and encouragingly nudging me farther down my life's path, ever-toward the things that set my soul on fire. Find what ignites you, and do not be afraid of it. Run toward it.

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11 Must-Go To Day Trips In North Carolina

For the wanderers and curious...
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It's finally summer, classes are out! There are so many things to do in this beautiful state. There are many small towns to visit. These towns are perfect day trips. From the mountains to the beach and everything in between, there is something for everyone! Pack your car up and get ready for a summer of adventure.

1. NoDa

This is a small hipster district right outside of Uptown Charlotte. Music and art paint this town and it has a very creative energy flow. Amelie's Bakery, a 24/7 french bakery, is located in this district. There is always something fun and new to try in this cute, artistic town!

2. Asheville


This town is known for the beautiful scenery and historic importance. The Biltmore Estate is located here, and it is open for tours every day of the year. It is the biggest estate in America. The downtown area is very artistic, and the mountains make for a gorgeous hike. This is definitely an adventure you don't want to miss.

3. Boone

This small town has a lot of outdoor activities. It is perfect for hiking and whitewater rafting. If you love nature, this is a must see. It is a college town where Appalachian State University is located. The downtown area is very old school and for modern hipsters.

4. Crowders Mountain

This is located in Gaston County. Once you reach the Pinnacle, the peak of the trail, with clear skies you can see for miles. It is a quick four-mile hike for the short one, the view is amazing.

5. Wilmington

This city is known for the beachfront. It makes a perfect day to hit the waves. There are many beach fronts to visit, such as Carolina Beach. Cape Fear Ocean runs through this city. White sand, waves and the boardwalk. If you are a fan of One Tree Hill, it was filmed here.The small restaurants and characteristics give this town a vibrant energy.

6. Serendipity House

This house is from the movie Nights In Rodanthe located on a beach in Avon, North Carolina. It has been remodeled, but the amazing characteristics of this make it a sight to see.

7. Linville Falls

This is located in Linville, North Carolina. Attractions close by are also the Blue Ridge Mountain. To get to the main fall, it is about a mile hike.

8. Outer Banks

Small beaches on the outer banks of North Carolina have wild horses. Corolla Wild Ponies run free, and you can even take a ride on them in the water.

9. Sliding Rock

Located in Brevard, this rock is actually naturally made from a small waterfall. You can actually go sliding down it. It is in Pisgah National Forest also near Asheville.

10. Devil's Tramping Ground

This is located near Bennett. It is a 40-foot circle that cannot grow life. If you leave something or sleep in the circle, the rumor is it will be outside of the circle the next day.

11. Land of Oz Theme park

Located in Beech Mountain, this theme park that was once full of life is now closed and for the most part abandoned. It comes alive for one night a year for an event. This is definitely a place to take a night adventure to...

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10 Vacation Destinations That Are Worth Hopping Over To During Easter Break

Colored eggs and chocolate are not the only treats you can get for Easter Break.

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Easter is a time to spend with family, have time away from school, go out with friends, and remember the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, it is also an opportunity to visit many fun and exciting locations. Whether you love swimming, dancing at clubs, indulging in five-star restaurants, or getting a massage, there are a variety of activities that will make anyone's Easter more enjoyable. Here are 10 vacation locations that will meet the needs of any family this Easter.

1. The Royal Hawaiian

Hawaii is one of the best places to visit for vacation. Families will love walking along the shore, getting delicious food or drinks at one of the many bars, and even stopping by the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for a massage at the Abhasa Waikiki Spa. If you are courageous enough, head out to the beach for surfing or just to relax. With so many sites to explore, this is a vacation that will bring lasting memories.

2. Berry Springs Lodge

Here is a nice and quiet location that is definitely a treat if you want to experience a less hectic vacation. The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee is great for anyone who loves taking photos or exploring landscapes. There are two Whirlpool Suites with a fireplace, deck, and whirlpool that gives you an awesome view of the mountains. Activities include playing a game of pool and going on a mountain bike through the nearby trail, so try to stay observant and take in the environment.

3. Lake Austin Spa Resort

If you plan on traveling to a much warmer state for the holiday break, then this would a good choice. This resort is just a short drive away from Austin and is an excellent place to take it easy. Here you can stay at one of the cottages, take a nap by the fireplace, stroll through the outdoor garden, get a massage at the spa or have a seat in the hot tub. This is a vacation that will certainly take your stress away.

4. Fredericksburg

This is another city located in the state of Texas that features a special Easter tradition that families will love. Dress up for the Easter pageant and have a fun time. Visitors can see the Easter fires in the surrounded area that light up the night. There are plenty of food, drinks, and activities to keep everyone occupied, and ensure that they will have a happy Easter.

5. Bay St. Louis

Here is a vacation spot in Mississippi to celebrate Easter. All families will enjoy watching the sunrise and hunting for Easter eggs. Other activities to check out include the Stella, Blues and Barbecue festival for some tasty food and fun. There is also a yelling contest in which participants scream "Stella!" which is a reference to "A Streetcar Named Desire." No matter what you choose to do, this location will result in plenty of excitement, laughter, and possibly a sore throat.

6. Flagstaff

If you are traveling with a small or big family and do not mind the heat, then head down to this destination located in the very hot state of Arizona. The land is beautiful and gives photographers a chance to capture the amazing forests and mountains there. If you are feeling adventurous, check out the Snowbowl Ski Resort or if you want to take it slow, there is always Humphreys Peak where you will see gorgeous landscapes. Lastly, make sure to visit one of the restaurants that they have to offer for a delicious breakfast for an amazing start to the day ahead.

7. Lake Powell

This destination features cool rock landscapes and is located on the border of Utah and Arizona. Despite the place being surrounded by boulders, families can still have a fun time. You can take photos of the environment or visit a petting zoo. Take a walk around the land, find a spot to catch some fish for dinner, and you will agree this vacation definitely rocks.

8. Santa Monica

Here is an awesome vacation spot for anyone who loves working out and engaging in various outdoor activities. This is the place where you will find the Half Marathon for Easter. There are other options like the 5k, 10k, or 15k run, as well. The weather is sunny and it's a nice place to go for a swim, visit a farmer's market or participate in other Easter themed events.

9. Savannah

Do not let the heat discourage you from visiting this location. There are multiple gardens and parks to check out, along with markets and a music festival. If you are looking for additional fun, there is a Savannah Riverboat Cruise for families to travel around the city. There are a variety of delicious options for brunch or dinner, and other surprises for your holiday.

10. St. Augustine

During Easter vacation, there are so many things to do with family and friends. If you decide to travel to this location, you will enjoy the Easter parade known as the Parada de los Caballos y Coches or the Parade of Horses and Coaches. If you are looking for a nice family event, head on down to the parade and listen to the music. The horses and carriages are great to see as well, and there are multiple restaurants located around the city when you need a break from the festivities.

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