November 29, 2018
When my fiancé, Al, and I were sick of our jobs and ready for a change, we decided there was no better time to travel. Our apartment lease ended and we quit our jobs, so while we had no rent to pay, endless “vacation time,” and a never-ending bucket list, we took advantage.
The biggest question we were ask when we got back was, “What was your favorite city?” Over the span of 3 months we visited 20 cities in 6 countries with vastly different cultures, scenery, and weather so needless to say this wasn’t the easiest question to answer. I did my best in narrowing it down to my top 3 cities we “lived in” (no day trips).
Nice, France. This was the first of the more colorful coastal cities we visited, which just automatically bring me joy. We were also here for the longest period of time (10 days) since there were many day trips to take from here. Our airbnb, while tiny, was only a block from the beach so we’d take a run along the promenade first thing in the morning, explore some of the city after that, and then spend the afternoon relaxing at the beach with the occasional beer or pizza. It was such a fun relaxing change of pace that I didn’t want to leave.
Barcelona, Spain. I had visited Barcelona for a weekend while studying abroad in college and loved it, so I couldn’t wait to go back with Al and spend more time there. To me, the city covers everything I could want, from the incredibly artistic architecture, to the energy of the restaurants/nightlife, to the gorgeous beachfront (give me a body of water and I’m sold). It helped that we happened to stay during the city’s biggest festival, experienced beautiful weather, and were visited by a couple of my best friends. Hard to compete with that.
Porto, Portugal. While I was excited for this one, I was still surprised by how much I enjoyed it. This was the last city of our trip and we just spent every day along the river drinking port wine (paired with the most amazing chocolate mousse cake), exploring the beautiful blue-tiled buildings, and trying out the many cool (and extremely inexpensive) restaurants. This city has truly embraced the recent burst of tourism and, while old traditional restaurants and shops can be cool for a while, as a designer I really appreciated the updated brands within restored old buildings.
And Salzburg was an incredibly close 4th (I’m not good with favorites!).
Though they weren’t considered in this list, basically every one of our day trips was amazing. None of them needed more than the day that we were there, but were well worth the trip. My favorites were Füssen, Hallstatt, Cinque Terre, Monaco, and our drive along the Portugal coast to Sintra.
Berlin, Germany. I think my expectations were way too high for this city. From photos I was focused on the vibrant murals and graffiti around the city, which existed, but it was shadowed a bit by it’s dark history. The history of it was interesting, and it’s really incredible what they’ve been able to do in such a short amount of time, but it just didn’t compare to other cities on our trip in any other way.
Florence, Italy. I don’t know that I’d actually put this one as far down as Berlin, but it was interesting experiencing this city again in a different way. My study abroad in Florence 5 years ago was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for a better city (or better group of people to be with), to spend the days painting in the streets and visiting art museums. It was completely different visiting more as a tourist and seeing the city through Al’s eyes. Our biggest mistake was staying a bit too long, considering we saw the most important attractions between 6am when our night train arrived and 1pm when our airbnb was available (we did not start out on the best foot, which didn’t help).
Colorful Buildings. I was always in awe, especially in the second half of our trip at the color in the buildings. The bright colors were so joyful in comparison to a constant palette of grays many cities are filled with.
Lack of Modern Appliances. This trip made me appreciate the many luxuries we have now that we’re home. While I know this sounds like a first world problems kind of moment, things like incredibly slow wifi, or the lack of a clothes dryer or dishwasher became frustrating on occasion during the span of those three months.
The History. It was so cool to see the incredibly intricate detail of the old buildings around Europe, especially when we would remember that some were older than our entire country. The amount of history in each building and monument we saw was hard to fathom.
Restaurant Aesthetics. I mentioned this a bit in my Porto section, but the old mom & pop style of every restaurant became unappealing so fast. I’m sure this is an unpopular opinion, and maybe it’s just because of my design background, but by the end of the trip I couldn’t look at one more menu with terrible, unappetizing photos of the food. I know there can be charm in tradition, but I just wanted to rebrand and redesign every place I went into (ya know, maintain the charm but in an updated way).
The Trains. Aside from one terrible night train, being able to travel by train to each city was so easy and nice. I so wish it was that simple and inexpensive to travel around the US without a car.
In the process for planning the trip, I started looking for airbnb’s a little less than a year before the trip. You’re usually not able to book one more than a year out and a couple places that I booked very early on end up canceling because the host didn’t know their schedule that far in advance. I found the best availability and certainty booking places closer to 6 months out. When looking for an airbnb in each city, I’d start by researching the neighborhoods there to see which areas seemed the best for us. Sometimes we’d stay right downtown near the main attractions, while other times we’d stay a bit farther out and take public transportation everywhere, so we wanted to be sure the neighborhood we were in was lively, nice, and safe. Then I’d just look in those areas for a place that looked nice in the pictures, had the amenities that were necessary for us (like a kitchen and washing machine), and were within budget.
Living in airbnb’s for 3 months was the right choice for our trip for many reasons, but there are definitely things we learned and things we would do differently. For our situation, living in a full apartment meant we were able to unpack, cook our own food, and make a home for ourselves for a week. Staying in local neighborhoods helped us immerse ourselves in the culture, which was very cool although occasionally more challenging with things like language barriers. The only downside to an airbnb was the varying reliability of quality and service from hosts. Some of this could have been partially due to us trying to keep costs low, but unlike a hotel that’s run like a business, I found some hosts were a little too relaxed and unprofessional in things like check-in or helping with any problems. And the photos and reviews were occasionally misleading. It basically seemed as if nobody died, the place received five stars haha.
Overall, the trip was an amazing experience. Not every day was perfect or easy, but I’m so grateful we were able to visit so many incredible places and take a 3-month adventure together. We’re already trying to decide where to go next year- just for a shorter period of time!