2020 is now in full swing but I still wanted to write a post to reflect on my winter break trip for 2019-2020. Posts highlighting each place I went are definitely coming, as well as vlogs where I documented my trip. However, now that I’m back in my routine of work in Spain, I wanted to write down my thoughts on how everything went overall. So if you’re interested in how I spent winter break (17 days) solo traveling around Europe during the holiday season, keep reading.
Planning the Trip
Because I am currently working in a school, I knew the exact dates of my winter break vacation at the beginning. Thus, I was planning my trip back in September. But let me tell you, even that didn’t feel like enough. I traveled from the mid/end of December until the first week of January. Many people enjoy traveling for the holidays, so this is a popular time to travel. Therefore, accommodations in some places were hard to find or super expensive.
For example, Prague normally has plenty of beautiful, spacious accommodations available for really good prices. But since I was spending New Year’s there, everything was booked or triple the price. This led me to spending less time in Prague, one of the cities I was most looking forward to seeing, and adding on days to a city that I knew wouldn’t have much to see. I stayed in a hostel, Sophie’s Hostel, which was great but normally it costs $12 a night. During New Year’s weekend? $63.
I stayed in Ostello Bello in Milan.
Quick sidebar, my time at Sophie’s Hostel wasn’t great. The hostel itself looked really awesome, but I had some quite an… interesting roommate. Let’s just say that although I loved Prague, I was ready to go because I felt really uncomfortable. Goes to show that even with an amazing hostel, the people you share your room with can really make or break the experience.
Going along with planning early, I was so happy that I reserved my Rome Airbnb early. Even when I looked the selection wasn’t great. But prices only increased from there and I ended up finding a private apartment with a kitchenette, nice bathroom and 15 minutes from the Colosseum for around $350 for 4 nights. Good deal!
Along with accommodations, I tried booking my major flights early. Due to finances, I wasn’t able to buy everything at once and I felt reserving accommodations took precedent. However, of course the earlier you buy the better. My favorites websites/apps to find flights are Kayak, Skyscanner and Hopper. Typically I use these sites to find the flights but purchase directly through the airline.
Because Europe is quite compact, I tried organizing my trip so I wasn’t constantly at airports. Thus I took trains and buses as well. These you don’t have to buy as early as the flights and many times the prices don’t increase unless it’s the day before. I should also note that geographically my route didn’t “make sense.” I flew one way then another but in the end I didn’t feel like it mattered. If I found a cheap flight going to a place I wanted to visit I took the bait. Who cares when you’re in the same time zone?
For buses and trains I either used Omio or went onto the local train/bus company, TrenItalia in Italy or České Dráhy in the Czech Republic.
So where exactly did I go during my 17 days of winter break travel? All I knew when planning my route was that I wanted to spend Christmas in Rome and New Year’s in Prague. The rest would have to sort it out around those two dates. I definitely could have tackled more places during my time. But as this was my first time traveling Europe and in countries where I knew zero of the language (in Czech Republic and Poland), I wanted to take it easy. Plus, whipping around from place to place would get tiring and I feel like you don’t get the full essence of a destination if you’re constantly in airports/train stations or tired from bad sleep.
So, my route was as follows: Barcelona — flight to Milan, Italy — train to Rome, Italy — flight to Marseille, France — flight to Prague, Czech Republic — train to Krakow, Poland — return to Barcelona.
I decided to spend four days in Krakow. Although I knew I didn’t have four days worth of things I wanted to see there, I figured I’d want to take it easy the last few days of the trip. This I think was a good idea. I didn’t spent many days in each location (besides Rome) so it was nice to relax, have a day where I did absolutely nothing and just enjoy my nice room in the Airbnb I reserved. Could I have added another location? Sure, but that wasn’t a big priority for me.
Luckily, I’m not a huge foodie, so going to the nicest restaurants and trying all the local cuisines isn’t high on my priority list while traveling. Besides flights and accommodations, a huge expense people have when traveling is food and eating out. While traveling, I hardly ever eat at formal sit down restaurants and instead go to cheaper spots. But it’s not just to save money, I have no interest in going to super expensive or fancy restaurants. But if you do, I’d recommend to save that as a treat once or twice during your trip instead of for every meal.
Also, try only eating out at a sit-down restaurant for one meal, not every meal during the day. Go to grocery stores (checking out foreign grocery stores is so fun) and save money that way. Especially when you need water. Don’t buy water from restaurants or stores near tourist spots, grocery stores are like a fraction of the price. Try finding cheap or free things to do.
Also, when planning where you’re headed, take into account how expensive that place is. Rome is expensive to stay in but food can be as cheap or expensive as you choose. But with all the museums, tourist sites, tours, etc. it can be quite expensive. Or if you choose to go to Paris which is more expensive, enjoy your time there, but then make your next destination a cheap one like Poland.
I think I did a great job not spending my money frivolously and I’ve grown out of my younger habit of buying T-shirts or mugs from every place I travel to. Instead, I buy a flag from each country I visit and I plan when I have my own place, to display them all on a wall.
Final Thoughts: Places I Liked, Places I Didn’t
Leading up to my winter break trip was so stressful. Being an expat comes with plenty of ups and downs and for a while I felt down. However, traveling for the 17 days reminded me of why I’m doing this. Traveling makes me so happy and I loved the entire experience. Of course there were destinations I liked more than others, but honestly it went quite well.
I will have blog posts going into more depth of each specific place, but I will rank the places I visited from favorite to least favorite. This doesn’t include the two places I went for day trips, Bergamo, Italy and Oświęcim, Poland (to see the Auschwitz Concentration Camp).
Which of these cities have you visited? Let me know in the comments below.