This post happens to be unique as it is the first I am writing outside India! I have been backpacking alone for a month in Western Europe- a long vacation (not so long in non-Indian SI units, of course) that has been full of many new experiences. While a detailed post and/or photo album will follow, let me first talk about how I ended up planning this trip, the challenges I faced, etc.
A difficult decision:
To be honest, I was intimidated, right from the beginning till I checked into my first hostel. I had my reasons. First, I had never stepped out of India before, and suddenly I was thinking of traveling alone for a month. Most Indians at my age have had been to foreign places because of their job, an internship or with their family. These are much ‘safer’ or ‘easier’ ways of traveling abroad as compared to what I had in mind. Second, I had no idea of how to best manage/get foreign currency, travel inter/intra countries, etc. Third, security concerns. For example, I was somewhat scared to visit Amsterdam, given its reputation.
Last November, I begun toying with the idea of traveling abroad. The initial inclination was to do a trek, such as Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountains in Africa and Europe respectively. But when estimated the costs, I realized that I could go much higher in India itself, such as to Stok Kangri, in less than one-fifth the cost. It was then that the idea of a Eurotrip stuck me. I got excited, and here I am!
Moreover, I was pretty sure I would travel alone. When you go with folks, you end up discussing the pros and cons before doing anything. Everyone has an opinion, and what you end up doing is a sum vector of what everyone wants. No judging, but that is how things are. On the other hand, traveling alone gives you complete freedom, something I wanted to have while spending so much money.
Oh, the things I had to go through to get the visas! In spite of no prior experience in these matters, I thought I could manage it on my own and didn’t consult a travel agent. What it eventually lead to were six (yes, six!) trips to VFS, the firm that acts as a middleman between you and an embassy, for two visas: Schengen and UK transit! It was incredible.
I initially thought that I would first get the Schengen visa and then chart out details of the trip. I applied to Portugal, as it was my port of entry, without any accommodation proofs. But when they asked me to visit their embassy in Delhi for an interview, which was mandatory as I never had a US, UK or Schengen visa, I decided to wait and see if I could leverage some other option to save at least 15k for a visit to Delhi. I found out that Germany and France have their consulates in Bangalore. I ended up applying to Germany as it turned out, on actually planning the trip, that I was spending most days in Germany. Last, I applied to UK for a transit visa.
Arranging currency turned out easier than I expected. I stumbled on a website, BookMyForex, that promised better rates than HDFC or Axis bank. I gave a shot at using their services. The process wasn’t smooth, but they eventually got everything in order before I caught my flight. I took little currency and an Axis prepaid travel card. I mostly used the card because there was no additional charge on swiping it, that in turn meant I could roam around with less cash in my wallet.
Phone calls to India:
There were majorly three options: Viber, Skype and Nymgo. I eventually went with Nymgo for two reasons: it was cheaper than the others and I had heard good reviews about their call quality from a friend who had widely used it while he was in Ukraine. During the trip, Nymgo betrayed me for two days in Bruges- otherwise it has worked great.
I purchased a EURail Global pass with a validity of 24 days of continuous travel. It cost me about 500 EUR, a price that well worth it given the exorbitant prices for train tickets in Europe.
The trip has turned out well till now. Photos, with detailed captions, coming soon!