The next 2 weeks of my life involved acclimating to the traveling lifestyle, figuring out trains, metros, flying, learning where to put things in my backpack, what to get rid of, what to keep, and how to blend into the chaos of hostels and Couch Surfing.
During this phase of my journey, I saw the Netherlands, Sweden, and entered Germany for the first time. Along the way I shared more laughs, heard more stories, and grew happier than I could possibly explain. The immense freedom that came with traveling continued to make me feel more alive than I had ever felt. Some call it the “travel bug,” others say it’s a “calling” … I just call it an addiction. It’s my dirty secret that I I’m not sure I will ever get out of my system.
And so I began; departing from Paris, adjusting my straps, fine-tuning the contents in my backpack, and jumping on a train pointed towards Amsterdam. When I arrived, I worked my way towards “The Flying Pig” hostel and checked in with no major issues. For the next few days I experienced the good, the bad, and the crazier sides of Amsterdam. As a general rule, Amsterdam must be put on the same level as Las Vegas … what happens there must adamantly stay there. I maintain some foggy snippets of what happened in Amsterdam and those snippets are unforgettable. The bars, red lights, and semi-legal drug activity serves as a blinking light to most backpackers in their mid 20s … but I would recommend splitting your time between those illustrious appeals, and the other half venturing off the beaten path to discover the impressive history and art that Amsterdam has to offer. The people in Amsterdam are extremely hospitable, generous, and likable… meet them if you get the opportunity.
At this point, I now had a couple hostel experiences under my belt and I was growing extremely fond of the hostel mentality. People in hostels are one-of-a-kind and they share some very common similarities. Typically, they like to have a good time, like to party, sleep late, and enjoy life in the now. Apart from just going crazy and partying though, I found that the average person I met in a hostel was insightful, unique, conscious, adventurous, and intelligent. It was rare that a hosteler was ever stressed, anxious, or angry for long periods of time; and you can’t help but let that laid-back mentality wear off on you. There is just something about the hostel environment that suppresses negative emotions. It is similar to the typical college experience and yet; there is no homework and these people seemed to have made a living out of it.
From Amsterdam I worked my way south to the train station in Eindhoven in order to catch my flight to Stockholm, Sweden. I had to go to Eindhoven because I booked a cheap flight with RyanAir (quick note: Ryan Air is awesome and cheap, but they have a strange habit of forcing you to catch flights from airports in the middle of nowhere. Then, they will most likely drop you off at another airport in the middle of nowhere as well. Keep this in mind when budgeting because you will usually spend more getting to and from the airports, than you will spend on the flight itself).
On 3 hours of sleep, I bumbled my way to the train station in Eindhoven, took a bus to the airport, flew to Stockholm, took another 80 minute bus ride to the metro station in Stockholm, then a short metro ride, a city bus, and finally met up with the Couch Surfer I was meeting outside of a bar. Fortunately, before getting there I met up with a guy named Peter on the bus and we struck up a good-natured conversation. He had traveled all over the world back in his day and he vowed that he was going to personally make sure that I got where I was going that night. “It’s my own little way to give back, for all those who helped me on my travels … You would do the same,” Peter said. He is right.
My new friend went over an hour out of his way to help me, let me use his phone the whole time, and once I met up with my Couch Surfing host he left. I owe Peter a lot and I know it would have been profoundly more difficult, had I not met him on the bus. As he walked away, I couldn’t help but think of the travel memories and countries that must have been buzzing through his head.
My new Couch Surfing host and her 2 room mates were awesome. I spent the rest of that night hanging out, meeting locals, and experiencing the Swedish culture. The Swedish culture is fun-loving, generous, sincere, and capable of living life to it’s fullest. I saw these traits in almost every one of the 50+ people I met over the next few days. Stockholm is an amazing city to wander around in, and they seem to speak english as commonly as they speak swedish.
I did laundry in Stockholm for the first time and got my first experience of hanging laundry rather than putting it in the “dryer.” This may seem ignorant of me at the time but I remember being very curious why they wouldn’t have a dryer in the apartment. What I came to find out later was that dryers are extremely rare across europe and electricity is expensive. The vast majority of europeans air dry their laundry… keep that in mind if you are headed out backpacking in europe and think you can do laundry in a couple hours. Typically you will need at least 24 hours.
After Stockholm, my next stop was Hamburg, Germany. An 80 minute bus ride, a flight, another bus ride, and a metro ride later… I found my hostel (The Generator Hostel). My original thoughts of Germany did not live up to my expectations. I found that they were abrupt, short-tempered, and I was slightly intimidated by trying to ask for directions, let alone practice any German.
It didn’t take long though, to come to understand the German culture. Today, Germany remains the top country in the world that I could see living one day. I remember one of the guys from the hostel on my first night was one of the funniest guys I have ever met! Once I got to know him he was absolutely hilarious; I mused at the time that he seemed to be a German who was just tired of being serious all the time.
My original perception of the culture was bordering on the opinion that they were rude; but in the coming weeks I came to understand it as a simple cultural difference. Once again, traveling opened my eyes and made me aware of how our differences are not so different after all. Where I thought Germans were slow to laugh and rude, I began to realize that they just don’t share laughs with strangers on the street; and they value their seriousness. If they are laughing then it is real laughter! … not just a polite smile to avoid the awkwardness of a bad joke. You always know where you stand with a German and I grew to love their culture and efficiency. The trains, metros, subways, shops, stores, hostels, and people in general, are almost ALWAYS on time, methodical at planning, and efficient in day-to-day tasks. Needless to say, it was harder to get used to NOT being in Germany than it was to get used to being IN Germany.
I stayed with another extremely generous Couch Surfer during my 2nd night in Hamburg and he ended up helping me line up a ride to my next destination, Berlin! The ride I we set up was through a popular German ride-share website adn made use of carpoolers who were driving similar directions. I finalized my plans last minute and organized my pack one more time. (It would become a trend that took getting used to; but once again my plans were finalized within 24 hours of my next big trip.) Always give yourself the flexibility to bob and weave with the flow of traveling. Don’t restrict yourself so much that you may miss out on that next great experience!
My Couch Surfing host had to work the morning I left for Berlin, but his girlfriend was nice enough to walk me to the place where I needed to meet the carpool. Sure enough, the car pulled up precisely at the meeting time! A short formality of introduction was made in crisp English and we were off to Berlin (there were 2 of us getting a ride and the 3rd was the driver).
As the car sailed down the autobahn at 200km/hr the 2 germans talked casually in the front seat while I gazed out the window at the cold scenery of northern Germany. They were lively, enthusiastic, and rather-business minded characters, and after 30 minutes or so we all seemed comfortable with each other. They switched back to english every once and awhile, so I didn’t completely drift into my own thoughts and the drive proved to be quite pleasant. They dropped me off at the main train station in Berlin after a 3 1/2 hour drive and the car disappeared into the streets of Berlin.
Once again, I tightened my shoulder straps and eagerly awaited my next adventure. After about 5 minutes of wandering around though, I realized that I was not at the right train station. I was suppose to be meeting another Couch Surfer at the “main” train station, and it began to dawn on me that this was not the “main” station. Come to find out, he was waiting for me on the other side of Berlin and I had no phone and no immediate way to tell him I wasn’t at the right location … talk about a great 1st impression! There is a unique feeling of being in a new city, alone, with no phone, and watching the warmth of the sun hanging on the horizon for it’s last few minutes. Berlin would not be on the top of my list for a first time go at this… but like it or not, it was time to pull out some street smarts, come up with a plan, and figure out what I was going to do.