Why I Mostly Travel to Europe
If you’ve been around here before, you know that one of my favorite pastimes as a blogger is calling out people who judge others for their travel decisions.
I’ve called for an end to judging people who don’t travel (whether they don’t want to or can’t), because they don’t owe us any explanation.
I’ve written about the fact that some people have a different travel philosophy than I do, because there should be space for all of us.
I get direct about the fact that bashing people who need to or choose to work in a cubicle instead of quitting their job to travel is stupid.
But there is a group I haven’t addressed yet: those who have some type of problem with where other people choose to travel.
I guess it’s time for another “let’s be adults and mind our own business” post.
(Who am I kidding, y’all know these are my favorites.)
Why I Mostly Travel to Europe
I get asked questions about why I choose to travel where I choose to travel surprisingly often. When people find out that I have more experience traveling in Europe than in other parts of the world, I’ll inevitably end up having to field some commentary about how I’m at best stuck in some type of Europe rut and at worst not really traveling since Europe is “easier” or “less extreme” than other destinations. After years of biting my tongue, I’ve decided that it is finally time to address this commentary directly.
Let’s start with my answer. Why do I mostly travel to Europe?
Because I like Europe.
So… end of post?
Unfortunately, I don’t think the “I’m an adult who makes my own decisions about where I want to go in the world and how I want to spend my money” argument is going to appease the naysayers on this one.
So here are some reasons I love traveling to Europe and intend to keep doing so.
1) Europe and I go way back.
The first international trip I ever went on was to Europe when I was 17 years old, and I fell completely in love with the countries and cities I visited. I returned to study abroad in London when I was 20, and became obsessed with European culture, politics, economics and history. I think the European Union is fascinating, so like the nerd that I am, I wrote my undergraduate economics thesis on Turkish accession to the E.U. In preparation for that thesis, I traveled to Turkey when I was 21 to learn more about the country in person.
Put simply, Europe was the reason I started traveling internationally. It has inspired my own academic work and a lot of the writing here on this blog, and it is a huge part of my travel story. I’ve been traveling to Europe for the past 12 years at this point, and I don’t see myself giving up on my favorite continent (or giving up being a nerd, for that matter) anytime soon.
2) I feel comfortable traveling in Europe solo.
Since I have the most experience traveling in Europe, I feel the most comfortable traveling solo in Europe. My first “official” solo trip abroad was to Europe in the fall of 2016, but even before that, I was mostly on my own when I studied abroad in London in 2010 and for a bit in Vienna in 2011. Recently, I spent six weeks traveling through Europe solo in the fall of 2018 (my longest trip since graduating from college, and my longest solo trip ever).
Does the fact that I feel safest traveling in Europe solo mean that I think other places in the world are unsafe for solo female travelers? Absolutely not. When it comes to traveling solo, a large component of safety is feeling comfortable with your surroundings and situation. To be clear, I do see myself expanding my solo travels to a lot of countries outside Europe as I get more comfortable with traveling alone. But I’m relatively new to solo travel at this point, so I’m going to follow my own advice to solo travelers: always trust your gut. Right now, Europe is where I want to go on solo trips... so I plan to continue doing so.
3) Europe has a lot of what I’m looking for when I travel.
I am a city photographer with a serious love of art, architecture, music and history. I’ve taken some great pictures while traveling elsewhere in the world, but Europe is where I’ve taken most of my absolute favorite shots. A few other personal preferences that make me a big fan of traveling in Europe: I prefer train travel to any other form of transportation, I like to stay in nice hostels, I want to meet people from all over the world when I travel, I prefer cooler weather, and while I can bum on a beach with the best of them, I’ll generally choose a café in the city over sun and sand. I’m not making an argument that Europe is the only place in the world that meets these criteria, but it does meet all of these criteria... which is probably the reason I enjoy traveling there so much.
Although this is where my travel preferences stand currently, I know as well as anyone that travel chapters change. Ten years from now I may refuse to set foot in a city and only be interested in hiking through the mountains, visiting unknown beaches and photographing waterfalls. Stay tuned!
4) Europe isn’t all the same country.
If you’re thinking this statement is too obvious to warrant its own section of this post, I agree with you... but based on what even some of my well-traveled friends from the U.S. have said to me about Europe in the past, I think this section is necessary (just in case).
Let’s start with some data: the European Union includes 28 of the 50-ish countries located in Europe. Apparently there is some argument about the total number of European countries, so I’m going with EU data for that 50-ish count. There are 24 “official, working” languages spoken, with many more unofficial languages spoken in Europe. There are 25 currencies in use today, even with 19 of the European Union countries using the same currency (the Euro). If you’re a fan of history, you know that Europe’s current residents came from quite a variety of cultural backgrounds. If you’re a fan of geography, you know that Europe includes quite a variety of climates and terrain. Today, European countries have different food, local culinary traditions, and agricultural variety, distinct art, music, and architecture, and a wide variety of philosophies on work, money, leisure, family, relationships, and religion.
I’m going stats-heavy in this section to address a common misconception I run into about Europe: since I’ve been to London five times, I must have seen all there is to see, right?
Wrong. Very wrong.
That primarily just means I like London... but I have a LOT of Europe left to see.
5) Traveling to Europe makes sense in the context of my life currently.
This wouldn’t really be my blog if we don’t throw in a section about balancing work and travel, right?
In this current chapter of my life, I work full-time in finance and have three weeks of vacation time off work each year. This has been the reality of my situation for the past six years, except for that one six-week sabbatical I took between jobs last fall.
A few years ago, I used one week off work to take a 10-day trip to Japan and Korea... and I'm not going to lie to you, it was tough. 15 hours in the air and a 12-hour time difference - there and back - is fine if you are staying overseas for a month. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.
In this current chapter of my life, I don't have a lot of time to travel. If we’re just going on logic, it makes sense for me to travel somewhere closer with shorter international flights (that also happen to be more affordable). Later, when I have more time, I can go hang out in some countries with longer (more expensive) international flights. More time to recover from jet lag and make the price tag on that flight worth it: win-win.
Finding Common Ground
To be fair, there are a few things I agree with my Europe naysayers about. I agree that learning is an important component of travel, and it happens to be one of the primary reasons I love to travel. If there comes a point in my life when I’m not learning anything about myself, others, or the world in general by continuing to travel to Europe, then my personal beliefs about travel would dictate that I need to go somewhere else. I’m not sure a lifetime of travel would be enough to get to the point where I’m not learning anything from traveling to any of the countries in Europe...
But I’m willing to give it a try over the rest of my life and report back.
In fact, my intention to keep traveling as much as I can for as long as I can - up to and including the entire rest of my life - is the underlying reason that I wanted to write this post.
I didn’t write this post because I only intend to travel to Europe and never go anywhere else for the rest of my life. I wrote it because a lot of the arguments I hear against me traveling to the same continent or country more than once are built on the idea that there is some arbitrary travel expiration date. You know that argument: the one that says I need to see as much of the world as I can while I’m young... because when I’m “older” I won’t travel anymore.
But how much older? And who decides?
Society? Social conventions?
(In case you’re new here, society and social conventions don’t tend to have much impact on the way I make decisions.)
To be clear, I fully acknowledge that something bad could happen that stops me from traveling before I want to stop. But I don’t really want to structure my life or my travels around the fact that something bad might happen in the future. If something bad were to happen, I think I’ll want to know I lived and traveled exactly how I wanted to while I could.
If you’re not planning on giving up travel at some arbitrary point in your life, when society or a timeline dictates that you should be “done traveling”, it doesn’t matter as much if you go where you want to go at this point in your life then go wherever you want to go next when your preferences change. Personally, I’m not in a rush to get “done” with traveling (whatever that means). I’m also not in a rush to get “done” with Europe.
The reason I wrote this post (and the reason I write in general) is because I want you to live the life that makes you the happiest and most fulfilled, no matter what society or social conventions have to say about it. If your ideal life includes travel, then travel. And travel where you want to. You only get to do this once, and there’s only one person’s opinion that really matters on how you should do this travel thing.... and this life thing.
Is there a certain area of the world you are specializing in currently as a traveler, or do you mix it up? What do you look for when you choose a place to travel? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.