“Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” – J.R.R Tolkien

“Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you travelled”
– Mohammad

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Livin’ it up in Burano!

It’s been exactly three weeks. Yes, a mere 21 days since my return. What ‘return’, you ask? Well, I feel like I’ve kept you in enough suspense, so here it goes. It’s been 504 hours since I returned from the greatest learning experience of my life. I thought interning and university were stepping stones in learning about the leaps and bounds of opportunity and experience; however, I have come to realise that such a belief is far from the truth.

They were all right. All of those esteemed writers who wrote about the suaveness of travel making it seem too good to be true. C’mon, we’ve all imagined ourselves being whisked off to Tuscany for a new life  (Touché, Under the Tuscan Sun), or reminisced about a spontaneous trip to Italy, India or even Bali (You win this time, Elizabeth Gilbert). But, who would ever think that such stories would be, dare I say it, realistic? Well, apart from the falling in love part, trust me, it’s true.

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Using my telepathic skills to push down the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Okay, okay, I’ll reveal the point of this lengthy introduction.
I was lucky enough to travel to a whopping 13 European countries over a period of six weeks.
How did a 21-year-old poor student do it, you ask? Well, lucky for me, I was given the pleasure of going on an Insight Vacations tour with 27 beautiful people and an enriching tour director, across the gushing countryside and cities of some of the most beautiful places in the world. Seriously, describing it as ‘amazing’ would be an offensive understatement. It was extraordinary, phenomenal; there really are no words that could possibly encapsulate the wonders of this experience.

However, it wasn’t just the great jewels of each destination that inspired me to write this post; it’s the wondrous learning experience of the vacation, as a whole. The histories and cultural intricacies of each country allowed an enriching immersive understanding of the complexities and underlying standards of living within each town, city and state. From the eye-opening modes of transport in Amsterdam (bikes, bikes, everywhere!) to the windy-roads of the Dalmatian Coast, to the overemphasis of wealth in Monaco; it’s honestly been an experience of an absolute lifetime. Of course, there were times of mere relaxation and calmness, such as our cruise along the beautiful Greek Islands or our scenic drives across the mountainous hills of Bavaria, but it was the cultural extremities of each country that struck accord in me.

Albania. Yes, Albania really opened my eyes to the sizeable divide between rich and poor. Having grown up in a mid-high socioeconomic suburb of Sydney, I’m lucky enough to admit to never having experienced poverty firsthand. So, obviously, Albania was a momentous, yet unexpected cultural experience. From the moment we drove into the city of Tirana, I was not only shocked by the dangerous drivers, but the impoverished. In particular was a young girl with a baby in arm, who I presumed to be her younger sibling. She confidently walked up to each and every car stopped at this traffic light, as she hoisted the baby up against the windows of the cars, literally begging for some spare change. If this happened in Australia, there would be news reporters and authorities there, pronto. As I sat on our luxurious coach, watching this arresting situation, the concept of poverty was made ‘real’. No longer was it just something I saw on the nightly news: it was something I was witnessing firsthand.

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Albanian ‘Beggar’. And, yes, she is a child.

As mentioned before, the ever-growing gap between rich and poor is what was of great impact to me. After passing all of these people who are evidently experiencing life as third-world citizens, we arrive at our suave ‘Americanized’ hotel. Without a doubt, this hotel is one of the nicest places I have ever stayed at. Despite everybody’s relief at staying at such a nice place, I was disappointed. Yes, the hotel was absolutely divine, but it just further emphasises the country’s massive gap between rags and riches.

Another thing I realised was that Albania is the perfect example of the overpowering effects of globalisation. Ultimately, what I witnessed was the blurred lines (No, not Robin Thicke this time) between traditional American culture and customary Albanian customs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to truly explore such a theory in utmost detail as we only stayed a night in this wonderful city. Unlike my companions complaints about the country, it was one of my highlights. Who would have thought you’d realise so much in under 24 hours?

Now, I know you don’t want to hear about every nook and cranny of my six week adventure, but I do want to reiterate how rewarding travelling actually is. Yes, there’s a tinge of homesickness mingled in with a bit of restlessness, but the positives most definitely outweigh the negatives. I mean, not only did I get to witness the making of clogs, but I was lucky enough to experience a traditional Viennese concert – and that was only in Austria! Who else can say they swam in the Adriatic Sea in Croatia? Or visited the ancient ruins of Pompeii, Ephesus and the Acropolis? Or went to a cabaret in Paris? I can. And trust me, there’s so much of the world on offer at only a short (… or extremely long, in my case) plane trip. Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s a tiring journey. But, it’s more than worth it.

The Gang in Dubrovnik.

The Gang in Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik brought out my fangirl instincts (Um, hello, King’s Landing … Game of Thrones, anyone?), while Italy brought my tastebuds back to life. Croatia’s enriching Communist history opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations of the human race, while Montenegro’s dreamy coastline swept me into a world of absolute beauty. But, a special mention has to be given to our wonderful tour director, Joey, and brilliant (and quite handsome … and Italian!) coach driver, Piero. They were the perfect team in putting together this trip of a lifetime. Whatever questions you needed answering, Joey was at your call. Oh, and you know those bumpy, unpaved roads of Albania? Piero had them covered in no time! We were happy campers, indeed. And last but definitely not least, my fellow travelling companions. I feel blessed to have met some of the nicest people in the world. They were not only great to be around, but were outrageously hilarious.

And there’s 1000 words. Sorry if I bore you to death. I find it reassuring writing down my experiences knowing that people can learn and possibly travel (… I hope I’m not pushing it) without being confined to a chair and table. I can honestly say that I have learnt more about the world from this trip than I have in school. Mark my words. Because, before you know it, you’ll be saying the exact same thing!

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