When my good friend, Julia, told me she was planning on studying abroad in France for a semester, my first thought was “cool, when can I come visit?” – a natural response for someone who had never been to Europe. Soon enough, Julia left for France and months passed by. She finished her courses, started a summer internship, and I still had no plan to visit. During one conversation, she told me she was planning on traveling after her internship was complete. In my typical fashion, I decided to join her very last minute for 2 weeks of her 1-month adventure. I booked my plane tickets and then spent hours Facetiming with her to plan out the trip.
The first step was deciding where to go. Since I only had 2 weeks, I had to narrow down my massive list of places I wanted to visit (SO hard for your first Europe trip!). Ultimately, I decided to visit places with very different characteristics. I also wanted the places to offer active activities for us to do (not exactly a museum person). We decided on Venice, Croatia (Dubrovnik, Split, and Zagreb), and Budapest.
How we picked these places:
Venice – we both wanted to go before the city sinks into the sea.
Croatia – this was my pick thanks to another friend’s suggestion. She figured the photographer in me would love it.
Budapest – Julia and I had heard great things about the city.
Since I have been back in the US, many people have asked me “what was your favorite place” and “what was the best part?” I really can’t pick a favorite place because I liked different parts and activities from each city. If you want to hear an in depth explanation of my trip or have questions, just ask – so much easier than writing everything!
Overall I think this trip was really eye opening for me. I haven’t traveled much internationally and I thought Europe would be pretty similar to the US (after all it’s not a third world country). While things weren’t THAT drastically different, I am writing a list of trip takeaways below to help others if you plan on visiting!
What I Loved:
Seeing all the sites and taking photos 🙂
We toured so many beautiful buildings, basilicas, old palaces, the gorgeous parliament building in Budapest, etc.
Gondala ride in Venice
Yes, this is SO touristy but you have to do it. It’s actually worth the 80 euros. Besides enjoying the views and ride, talking to our gondolier was very interesting. He spoke 5 different languages so he could converse with many different tourists. We learned it cost 100,000 euros to build his boat and it took over one year to complete since it’s handmade. Apparently not everyone can be a gondolier. You have to be from Italy and also need to attend gondolier school for several years (yes this sounds crazy but makes sense… the boats are very heavy!).
Enjoying the Adriatic Sea
The water is absolutely gorgeous and is quite the relief from the blazing Mediterranean sun. In Dubrovnik we went on a cave/snorkeling boat ride tour that was a lot of fun (shoutout to the Canadians if you are reading this 🙂 ). We also explored Lokrum Island and swam in its salt water lake.
Krka National Park
I thought this was fun. Julia wasn’t too impressed (yes they don’t have Niagara Fall sized waterfalls) but I enjoyed swimming here and it really is a beautiful park.
I don’t even think this needs an explanation. It’s just so so good & also cheap (typically $2ish) Funny enough my favorite gelato on the trip was probably in Budapest… not Italy.
Clean Public Water
You may have to pay for bathrooms in Europe, but one thing they do well is the clean tap water that can be found around the cities. I extensively filter my water in the US, but in Europe I barely bought any bottled water.
Gourmet Meals for Affordable Prices
Ok this all depends where you decide to eat, but overall I found the food to be affordable in many cities – especially Budapest. For instance I ordered this nice chicken dinner and goulash soup for about $10. In the US you would spend at least $15 for your main dish alone.
What I Did Not Love:
If you visit Southern Europe in August prepare to melt (i.e. Italy, Southern Croatia, Greece, etc). We had a couple 95 degree days (felt hotter with humidity). Europe you need to learn how amazing air conditioning is… specifically central air because it actually works well!
I Was Injured for a Few Days
If you plan on swimming in Croatia bring water shoes. Otherwise you might end up like me and hobble around for 3 days on an injured foot.
Maybe Don’t Pick Venice as your Starting City
Apparently the entire airport shuts down at Midnight and airport staff are not very fluent in English. Public transit does not run all night and you might be out of luck if you stay on Murano (an island) instead of Venice. After my long, exhausting 24 hours of travel, I wandered aimlessly around the airport for an hour before I figured out transport (a 120 euro private water taxi for a 15 min ride…. yeah good times)
Buy a SIM Card at your First Airport Layover!!!
Seriously I can’t stress this enough. If I hadn’t purchased a SIM card in London, I’m not sure what I would have done… slept at the Marco Polo airport?? It would have been awful.
Europeans Need to Learn the Glory of an American Breakfast
Ok so this might be a personal issue but I live for breakfast and Julia can attest to this. To me, breakfast is not a croissant & coffee!! I learned how much Americans value breakfast while I was overseas…it’s just not the same. In Italy I struggled the most. You know you are in rough shape when all you can find to eat is insalata, pizza, and pasta. After extensively looking around, I had a sad omelet from this one restaurant; they even named the meal “International Breakfast.”
Figuring out Public Transit
Yes I might be slightly navigationally challenged, but public transit was confusing – especially in Croatia. It was also pretty unorganized compared to the US (**cough cough their bus stations**). Shoutout to Julia for making sure we didn’t get lost on this trip. 🙂
All in all, I had a great time. A trip like this really is a once in a lifetime type of experience. After all, I may never go back to these places. I feel like I am just getting started with traveling. Thanks to this trip, I learned so much about how I should structure my next travels to minimize exhaustion, what to bring, when to go, etc. If you are planning on visiting any of these places soon I hope you have a great time & find this post insightful! Check out some of my favorite photos from the trip below.