I Went On A Road Trip Around Europe For 6 Months, Here’s What I Learned
Lessons from life on the road.
I have just got back from driving around Europe for the best part of half a year.
Starting in Ireland on 31 March, we drove over 22,000 miles around Europe in 6 months visiting nearly every country on the continent!
The trip has been eye-opening in many ways. From the logistics of driving around the continent, to the culture of the various countries and the people I have met along the way, it’s been an experience I will never forget.
Europe is a beautiful place and it has been a pleasure to travel around and see more of it. I believe road trips are the best way to travel as you can choose your own pace and travel on your terms.
While the trip had many brilliant moments, there were also times when events did not go according to plan. There were moments where tensions between those of us on the trip reached boiling point.
Whenever you undergo a long trip such as this, there are always periods of soaring highs and times when you plummet to low depths. The important thing is to learn from these moments and use them as lessons.
Below are a few things I learnt from six months and 22,000 miles of driving around Europe.
If there is one thing I have learnt after travelling on and off for seven years, it’s that even the best-laid plans often fall apart. This trip only confirmed that.
Due to the nature of the trip, we didn’t plan it extensively, but there were times when we had a plan in place and it fell apart for reasons outside of our control.
Upon arriving in Valencia, the power steering failed and after inspecting the car, it turned out the auxiliary belt had snapped, which meant we had to spend more time in the city than we originally planned to get it fixed.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we met some great people in Valencia and made the most of a bad situation.
Towards the end of the trip, we needed to change the tyres after they had been worn down from months of driving. You would think this would be easy to do in Munich, home to car giant BMW.
Well, you would be wrong!
We struggled to find the right tyres for our car and had to pay over the odds for winter tyres to get us back on the road.
But when we took the car to a garage to fit the tyres it turned out there was a problem with the suspension and we had to spend an extra few days in the city while it was addressed.
In a chaotic world, the only constant is change. We can plan all we want, but sometimes shit happens and we have to adapt to this new reality.
We Are Not So Different
I learnt while I was travelling around the Philippines and Thailand, but travelling around Europe has only rammed this point home.
What struck me the most about travelling around Europe was how similar the cultures of the various countries are. Granted, there are differences between Spain and Bulgaria for example, but they are not as great as you would imagine.
The clothes we wear are similar, our aspirations are similar, we all want the best for those closest to us. We often hear about the glaring differences between various nations, but these are often exaggerated.
These differences are being placed under a microscope when they need to be looked at in the cold light of day. We may have different languages, different customs and different ways of lives, but the similarities vastly outweigh this.
In a world where nationalism is becoming ever more rampant and the need to assert one’s national heritage seems paramount, this trip was a timely reminder that we have more that binds us together than sets us apart.
Money Is A Tool
Early on in my life, I had a strange relationship with money. I was averse to spending and hoarded it as much as I could for no other reason than I wasn’t sure what to do with it.
It got to the point where I had a lot of money, but no clear idea of how to best utilise it. I knew nothing about investing or saving, so the money just sat in my account, doing nothing.
Once I started I began to realise that money is not something to be collected and stored, it is a tool that you should use to better your life. Travelling has been the single best thing I did and changing my attitude towards money helped me do this.
Had I maintained my old mindest, I may not have started travelling in the first place and I could have been stuck in a job I detested for years.
During this trip, I spent a lot of money, I have a rough idea of how much, but I don’t know the exact amount. However, I’m not too fussed.
This money has allowed me to have a fantastic trip around Europe where I have learnt a lot about myself, Europe and the people that inhabit it.
It would not have been possible had I not learnt to manage money and make it work for me, instead of just steadily accumulating it with no plan.
Changing your attitude towards money is something that will stand you in good stead no matter what path you go down in life.
Obstacles will Always Crop Up
If there is any guarantee when it comes to a road trip, it’s that obstacles will always crop up.
This trip was no different!
An example is the story of our tyres that I mentioned above. We thought we were going to change our tyres and be in and out of the garage quickly. It turned out we would need to wait another three days before the issue with the suspension was dealt with.
You have no way of knowing that these issues will crop up. They just do, when you least expect them.
Another example is when we came to cross the border from Kosovo into Albania. From the previous crossings into Kosovo and Montenegro, we had to pay €15 to get insurance when we entered the country as our policy didn’t cover us.
We had €30 between us, so we thought this would be enough to cover this, it wouldn’t be more expensive would it?
Well, to our surprise, the insurance cost €50! With no ATM nearby, nor the ability to pay by card, we had no choice but to drive to the capital, Tirana with an uninsured car.
Had we been stopped by the 12 police cars we saw along the way, a hefty fine would have been accrued. Thankfully, we were lucky, and the next day I went to a booth in the centre and bought the insurance hassle-free!
Life is always throwing obstacles in your way. Instead of dodging them, we should face them head-on. They are a test of character that we should relish not fear.
For it is in these moments that we find out who we are.
Life Is About Compromise
During the trip, I got to see many places I had long wanted to see, but there many more that I did not get to see for one reason or another.
The basis of the trip was to climb the highest point in each European country. Two of my friends were undertaking the challenge to set a new world record. Unfortunately, one of them had to pull out of the attempt to a long-standing back injury, but he still stuck around for the trip.
The nature of driving to every country is difficult enough, but when you need to visit every high point in each one, it becomes harder, especially with three people in the car who each have their idea of what they would like to do.
The European Peaks took priority due to the record attempt, which was something I knew going into the trip. I knew I would be making compromises from the off and had mentally prepared myself for this.
In the end, we all had to compromise one way or another. There were many places I didn’t get to visit, many that I didn’t stay in long enough, while my friends had to compromise on where we went and what we did.
Throughout your life, you are never going to get your way all of the time. Life is a constant compromise, we need to accept that making sacrifices is simply part of being human.
You Can’t Be Happy All of The Time
When I first started the trip I was excited to get on the road and see all of these new places that I had longed to see. As is the case with most long-term trips, you start off a bundle of energy, and it slowly dissipates over time.
While I was still enjoying myself towards the end of the trip, the excitement that I felt at the start had been replaced with a melancholy attitude to the process.
I noticed that my friends were a lot enthused about the trip than they had been at the start too. It’s only natural to feel this way when you’re on the road for a long time. It’s impossible to be happy 100% of the time.
This is what a lot of people who haven’t travelled for a significant period don’t realise. Despite the endless Instagram photos and stories, travelling does take its toll.
Most of the time, you are either doing nothing or in the case of a road trip, you’re driving somewhere. Looking from the outside in, you never get the full picture.
This is true in all walks of life. There will always be ups and downs. No marriage is a cakewalk. There are moments of bliss, moments of stress, and moments when you can’t stand the sight of your problem.
This is all part of being human. We can’t be happy all of the time, we’re just not wired that way. Accepting that we will have ups and downs and we have to ride them out when they come is the best way to happy over the long-term.