Europe is unbelievably small, especially for someone who’s traveled to most of the Midwest by car. I’ve taken two road trips from Chicago down to Austin, Texas. The first trip, my dad drove my entire family the twenty hours straight, we only stopped for gas and food. So, justifiably, to me, Europe is unbelievably small.
Europe is so small that from Florence to Pisa, it’s an hour and a half drive. Think of driving that same amount of time from any direction out of Chicago. You would end up grazing the outskirts of Champaign or just making past the Wisconsin border. You’d definitely wouldn’t make it to another major city.
I’ve officially been in Europe for two months. In these two months, I’ve done a lot of traveling in and out of Italy. The first weekend, my friends and I took a regional train to Cinque Terre, which is a coastal town three hours from Florence. The train ticket to Cinque Terre cost 50 Euro round trip. If it sounds like a lot to pay for a day trip to travel an hour away, trust me, I already know.
I’ve learned a lot the intricacies of traveling within Europe since that weekend. Now, I can somewhat tell what constitutes as expensive or an amazing deal, whether to take a plane or train or taxi, or if a hotel is worth the extra 70 euro or if a hostel would cut it. I’ve also got down my packing and unpacking ritual after a weekend away. What used to take me a fortnight and several repackings to get right, I can now get my overnight bag packed two hours before I leave the house.
For example, it’s actually cheaper to travel by plane from Paris to London, because train tickets on the Eurostar, which is a high speed train that takes you through the English Channel are ridiculously expensive. However, take into consideration that the Eurostar brings you directly from the center of Paris to the center of London. If I booked a plane ticket, I would’ve had to wake up hours earlier, pay for train fare or the Uber/taxi ride to Orly or CDG, and then land an hour away from actual London—then plan for transportation into the city all over again in reverse order.
On the opposite spectrum, traveling on regional trains within Italy can sometimes be amazingly cheap. Florence to Milan is an hour train ride, which cost less than 30 Euro both ways. You have to compromise with the speed of the train, because the fast trains cost about 20 Euro more.
Of course, this is all rambles to someone who hasn’t experienced continuous travel within Europe. I acknowledge my privileged position in this world to be able to whiz to Spain one weekend and Amsterdam the next. It’s been a huge learning experience for me to be able to plan and execute travels throughout a continent independently. For anyone who has the similar privilege to do so, I highly recommend planning trips independent of travel agencies. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, book the wrong dates, lose deposits, miss your train–these are faults that have ingrained themselves in my mind, and so far, I’ve only booked the wrong date once, lost my deposits twice, and missed my train thrice.
Lastly, I’d like to thank the resources of Google Maps, omio.com and Rick Steves for all their help.