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The Secrets To How I Traveled Western Europe on The Cheap

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I had two equally important advantages on my side: extraordinary friends and disposable time.


 

The strategy was to hold off a few years before I traveled through Western Europe.

At least until I saw less developed parts of the world first. Backpacking through much cheaper countries, like the bulk of Southeast Asia for example, awarded me the experience I needed and more importantly the lasting friendships I made with fellow travelers I met mostly in hostels.

Most of the travelers I met were European (or Australian) which as an American, was in my favor. These European backpackers I met became natural companions of mine who I keep in touch with to this day. Social media works wonders for keeping the world connected. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t travel, I more than likely wouldn’t have a Facebook account. It was travelers I met in Costa Rica that suggested that I make one to keep in touch with them. I reluctantly created an account right in front of them. My very first profile picture is a photo of me buried underneath the sand at the beach in San Miguel, Costa Rica.

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Backpacking isn’t the only way I met all of these Europeans. Most of the ones I met have come through volunteering.

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Myself, along with most of those other backpackers and volunteers possess what some in the globetrotting fold call a travel mentality. We are all used to meeting all sorts of people from all over the world in the strangest of places. It’s fairly common that if any of those people popped up in each other’s neck of the woods, we would more than likely offer a hand to show them around and even invite them into our world without question.

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When I felt the time was right to backpack Western Europe for three months, I let many of them know I was coming and most, if not all of them gladly welcomed me into their abode, hence I got a variety of authentic European lifestyles outside of the world of hostels, hotels, and tour packages. There were some who were so busy with real life, but still made an effort to meet up for a bit to reminisce and share stories.

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During that three month trip, I’ve visited Iceland, The Netherlands, Ireland, England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria and I only stayed in two hostels, for one night each during that entire stint! One was in Amsterdam when a Dutch friend of mine and I decided to explore Amsterdam for a day or two off the whim. The other was in Belgium when my buddies in Groningen (northern Holland) wanted to show me a little of Antwerpen.

It was especially convenient during Oktoberfest. I just so happened to have two friends who lived within walking distance of the festivities. One of them even had an extra Lederhosen for me to wear. If I’d done what traditional tourists do, staying in hotels/Airbnb’s and renting/buying the costumes, it would have cost me a fortune!

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As for me of course, I pay it forward when foreign friends decide to visit and stay with me at my home. I always look forward to showing them Detroit’s legendary eateries, some hot spots here and there, and time permitting, a trip to Cedar Point amusement park, the roller coaster capital of the world that I’m lucky enough to live near. Plus, my friends back home LOVE meeting my foreign friends. They dig the accents.

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So the accommodation was practically pennies, but what about actually traveling around Europe? Doesn’t that put a dent in the budget?

Traveling, especially flying, can be costly and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but I had the luxury of time on my side.

I gave myself three months to travel around Western Europe, but I also kept my agenda open. I only knew where I would begin, The Netherlands, based on prior arrangements I made with friends who lived in a small town there called Ede. From there, I didn’t really know who I would see next or where I would go next. Since I had the time, I found Flixbus and Ryanair Airlines to be my go-to’s for getting around. Ryanair is stupidly cheap and often post last minute deals which I took fair advantage of. The buses generally take longer to get to places but they are also an affordable means of getting around if you have the time, in which I did.

Because I gave myself plenty of time, I bused all over Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, and England with no stress.

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In addition to the buses, Germany is where I discovered something called Blablacar. It’s basically a carpooling service handled online. It goes like this. If I were driving from New York to Chicago on a certain date, and had extra room in my car, I would post my upcoming trip on the Blablacar website and offer a ride for anyone it would convenience, for a fee of course. The fee is usually much cheaper than trains or buses in some cases. It’s like a premium version of hitchhiking! Unfortunately, its only available in Europe as of now. I used that a few times in Austria and Germany as well.

I flew cheap tickets to Ireland and back to Germany. If I was on a clocked limit, certainly I would have flown more often to save time, which equates to more money spent.

How much did I spend?

For three months, without a solid plan, lots of time, and an abundance of incredible European friends, I spent just under $4000 USD. I would say most of it was spent on booze and food. Everyone I visited wanted to go out and celebrate our reunion, which was always fine by me. Plus, I did everything I wanted to do. I wasn’t on a complete shoestring, but I was mindful. I splurged every now and then on stupid (but fun!) things. I also didn’t buy any souvenirs.

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Hmm, what else?

That euro trip I took was three years ago (2014). I’ve learned quite a bit since then, which in turn would have saved me even more dough if I traveled with the credit and atm cards I have now (travel perks, air miles, no foreign transaction fees and less atm transaction costs!). And now with services like Uber more available than ever, I could have saved on those ridiculous taxi fares in certain cities. Another thing–I did not book a single one of those ridiculously expensive packaged tours where you go to a city for one or two days before you have to move on and zip through the rest of Europe without soaking it all in with a large group. My friends there were the best tour guides I could have asked for.

To sum it all up!

Get your feet wet and travel around much cheaper (and more adventurous) places first like Southeast Asia and Central America (they are stupid cheap), gain some useful travel experience, make some awesome friends (I guarantee you’ll meet a ton of European and Australian travelers), create the time, don’t plan too much ahead, and bada bing bada boom, your western European galavanting has suddenly become that much more of a reality, as opposed to some farfetched dream!

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-Any questions? Feel free to ask me- 🙂

-Daniel Adventure Born-

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Beer Culture in Europe: The Germans and Dutch Always Try To Destroy My Liver

I don’t drink alcohol…but I do. But I don’t. But I do. Then I won’t. But then I will.

My friends back at home in Michigan know for a fact that I’m not at all a big drinker. However, I’m pretty sure my family thinks I’m a borderline raging boozer. I’m not sure how that happened? I can attest that both sides are somewhat correct. I wouldn’t say “raging” though; that’s a bit excessive. Back home, I don’t drink often, only on special social occasions. Yet, when I’m traveling, all bets are off. One significant and extremely entertaining reason as to why I consume tons more during my travels than at home is because of my crazy European friends. Specifically the ones in Germany and ESPECIALLY my Dutch buddies in the Netherlands.

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My previous visit to the Netherlands back in 2013.

Americans think they can drink. And they can. But, until you’ve been to Germany and The Netherlands, where beer culture is so infused into everyday life, then you will see that the Europeans are in an elite class of their own. Knowing this, I prepared myself mentally. I knew exactly what I was getting into. As my prior experience in Groningen, Netherlands was one of the most toxic experiences of my life. But in a very fun way! I also attended Oktoberfest a couple years ago for three days. To this day, I don’t know how I survived that one. My friends who I planned on visiting in first in Germany were just as nuts as my Dutch comrades, but on a somewhat lesser scale.

I left Nepal, a bit rejuvenated and ready to continue my quest to the seven continents and resume back in Europe for a few weeks to visit some friends of mine scattered across the eastern and northern board of Germany, and then to my amigos back in Groningen. This was going to be a quick trip before I moved on to Africa, so I couldn’t contact many others that I knew, otherwise I could have easily stayed in the area for months! I flew from Kathmandu to Oman, and from Oman to Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt is where I met up with my friend and fellow camino pilgrim, Nic.

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He showed me around town and then introduced me to a drink, popular in the area: Apfelwein Cola. It’s apple flavored white wine mixed with cola. Sounds danky, but it tasted quite alright. We had a few of those. He gave me a few canned versions for the road ahead.

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I stayed with him for a couple days before I went up to Bielefeld (the city that doesn’t exist) to meet up with Eric. As soon as I arrived to his house, he welcomed me back with a beer. He invited me along on a local road rally using electric cars to take around the region, particularly Düsseldorf, for the weekend. I was game, although I was of no help because everything was spoken in German. But on our downtime, he took it upon himself to show me around the town, particularly the night scene, which involved giant mugs (steins) of beer, one after the other. We’re gonna lose the road rally…

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Eric is in the center goofing off, along with other participants from the road rally.

After a few days with Eric and his friends, I took a Flixbus down to Cologne (Köln) to visit another friend who would actually give my liver a brief break. Tarek breaks the typical German mold because he doesn’t drink at all. Not a sip! Praise the Lord because I needed to recoup knowing that the biggest hurdles lie just ahead!

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Myself, Tarek, and his younger brother in Cologne.

On the contrary, he is a giant fan of hookahs (shishas), in which I’ve tried only a handful of times throughout the years, but not to the extent which I was about to endure. Tarek’s buddies are hookah enthusiasts and took me to a few hot spots that had the best in Cologne. You ever heard of an iced hookah? Me neither until someone handed me one to try. It’s a handheld, miniature hookah that’s iced and serve chilled. By the end of the night, I felt the urge to vomit! I’ve never hookah’d like that ever in my life!

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Tarek and I rented a car and drove to the north of Germany, just beyond Hamburg to meet up with Luca and Mahid, two other backpackers that we met while in Melbourne. We drank a shit ton back on the Great Ocean Road in Australia. They lived in Lübeck, just to the northeast of Hamburg where Tarek and I paid a visit for a few days. They did a great job showing us around…with drinks!

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Mahid’s mother is a teacher in the city and invited me to come speak to her class early one morning, with Mahid driving me there. However, we were both late because I tried my best keeping up with his friends at the local pub the night before, even to the point of falling asleep…beer in hand. Regardless, I had a great time speaking to her students. They asked so many questions about my travel life!

Germany was short and sweet, just like I wanted. Next up, I took a quick bus across the border over into The Netherlands where I was greeted by my friend Fridse of Groningen.

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Funny story about Fridse. He and I barely met in Thailand (2013) for only a couple of hours among our traveling companions at the time. It was Thailand, so of course, we were all beered up. We must have friended each other on Facebook because the next year when I was backpacking Europe, he invited me up to Groningen to visit for a few days. I barely remembered the guy at the time, but I thought “Why not?”. I made the trip and had one of my drunkest, yet most fun few days in Europe. Knowing that, I was ecstatic and my liver was ready for the return.

Fridse still resided in the college town of Groningen along with a few of his friends that I met on my previous visit. Most of his close-knit group moved away, but he still had a whole crew of other buddies around that I’ve never met. Like the old days, I was greeted with beer on beer and was offered even more once we visited another friend of his. They even gave me freshly prepared food, without me even asking. This is why I love coming here.

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Fridse, myself, and Sjoerd reunited.

That night, we had tickets to go to a concert that Fridse warned me of beforehand. He told me it was the hardcore rock type, which in turn, I told him I wasn’t really a fan, but I could become a fan of any genre with the right amount of beer. It happened before in Mexico, after all. He promised plenty of it.

The rest of the night became a bit blurry. Those guys in Groningen were generous with the rounds of beer they would go to the bar during the show to retrieve for us. I paid my dues and did the same. To be honest, as I’m writing this, I’m a bit fuzzy jogging my memory. No, I wasn’t blacked out, but the order of events that occurred afterward is not coming right to me. I don’t have any photos of the night either. I’m sure I was hungry and got food somewhere because that ALWAYS happens. I’m also sure we went to another bar or two or three and even a “coffee shop” for shits and giggles. I’m also sure that I fell asleep in public somewhere because that tends to happen as well. The only thing that usually breaks my stride is when there is someone else who is more obnoxiously drunk than I am. There weren’t any cases that night. The Dutchmen can handle their booze like no other.

Lately in my life, I haven’t been getting hangovers too often anymore. Water truly does work wonders! Those who say they lose their drinking edge as they get older, I’d say I’m living proof of the opposite. I can handle it MUCH better than my younger days. With that, we felt well enough to try our hand at one of the best go-karting tracks I’ve ever been to!

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Afterwards, unsurprisingly with these folks, we continued our drinking efforts at other local bars around town, and even on the train on the way to Amsterdam to visit Fridse’s girlfriend.

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Amsterdam would complete my rather short return in Europe. Yet, it was just what I needed; to see old friends again before I made my way to new playgrounds in Africa. I also had no desire to drink for a long while.

After going over this, I really do sound like a complete boozer. But it’s only when I travel, I swear. 🙂

Walking Across Spain (El Camino de Santiago): Week 4

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Continued from previous post Walking Across Spain (El Camino de Santiago): Week 3

7 June

Day 22: Astorga to Rabal

Easy 24 k day today. Weather was perfect, although it was a bit chilly in the morning. Passed by a dude dressed in medieval garb who had a pet falcon that I had to take a picture with; the highlight of the day since the rest of it was pretty uneventful. It’s getting down to the wire. A little more than a week left. We have the highest point to climb tomorrow; higher than any point so far on this camino. Have I changed since the beginning of the camino? I’m not sure. I don’t think so. If anything, I’m not wowed by much. I have no desire to see the cathedrals or the towns like everyone else. You’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all.”

What I Honestly Think of The Camino So Far: Random Blurbs

  • The first week was great! I really enjoyed that.
  • This is becoming a chore now.
  • Too many gross, old people.
  • A rare sort of them are very cool though. (Toronto Ladies)
  • Why am I not getting physically wrecked like everyone else?
  • Earplugs are my new best friend.
  • I would never do this again.
  • The other pilgrims are very odd…or maybe it’s just me.
  • The old, run down villages are very interesting to me
  • I will remain sober until Santiago (to keep costs down).
  • The camino is fine…I just wish there was more variety of scenery
  • Lots of Americans and Italians here

 

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8 June

Day 23: Rabanal to Colombrianos

Today was mostly a great day! We reached the highest point of the entire camino, whilst walking through the awesome scenery. And for the first time in days, the three of us (Jon, Ethan, me) stayed together…up until we reached our destination, Ponferrada. Ethan had his lost baggage shipped to a donativo on the outskirts of the big town. I was sure if I followed the seashells, it will lead me to an albergue in the city center (they usually do). Instead, they led me straight out of Ponferrada and a couple of kilometers out into Colombriana, a much smaller village. No turning back now. I stayed the night there and told the others that I would meet them tomorrow in Villafranca. My blister bubble was bigger than ever!”

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9 June

Day 24: Colombrianos to Villafranca

I left around 6:10 with my bubble blister slightly paining. The walk today was easy, but I had a slight limp the last half of it. Still, I made it to Villafranca very early before Ethan and Jon arrived almost three hours later. Using Jon’s medical kit, I was able to pop the blister and seal it. Hopefully, it doesn’t cause me any more trouble, as I hear tomorrow is a lot tougher. Not sure why. There’s an old man who looks like Mick Jagger, but with ivory-white hair who always happens to be in my dorm. Problem is, he snores SO LOUD. Also, there is this guy from Texas who is super obnoxious and he’s stuck in our same dorm. He talks just for the sake of talking. My group decided to leave early the next morning. Should be our last hard day tomorrow. I must stick to a 25 euro per day budget to avoid going to the ATM again.”

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Today, we met two other pilgrims in our albergue, Wyatt and Kyle, who would soon join our party, unbeknown to all of us. It just happened naturally.

10 June

Day 25: Villafranca to O Cebreiro

“Alright, today was on the more difficult side. I attribute that to the continuous inclines and the beating sun. We left around 5am up and down a mountain and along the side of a surprisingly peaceful highway. As usual, I was the first one to arrive at the destination. O Cebreiro is a cool community on top of a mountainous hill, so the efforts made today was worth the rewards. Our hostel was so-so, but it was the only hostel in town. Also, there is no wi-fi here, which may be a good thing. I’ve been keeping under my budget of 25 euro, even staying under 20 euros. No more hard days. Smooth sailing to the end. Also, my blister pain was absent today. Thank goodness or else it would have taken me forever to get up here.”

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Yes, today was the first day that I actually absorbed my surroundings and chilled. It helped not to have any wifi and it also helped to be with fresh people, along with my usual crew.

More Random Thoughts

  • There is ice cream everywhere, but they’re always all the same.
  • The Francis Route is commercialized.
  • Red chairs in the distance are great for attracting weary travelers.
  • The beat down villages are cooler than the big towns IMO.
  • I recognize many people along the route, always saying hi, but I never know their names.
  • Northern Spain is super scenic. Most of it anyway.
  • The yellow arrows lead you in the right direction, but sometimes Google Maps takes you in a faster direction.
  • The one day I was without wi-fi, was the one day I just sat outside and enjoyed my surroundings (O Cebreiro).

11 June

Day 26: O Cebreiro to Triacastela

“Today was a great day. The weather was foggy, so we were never hot. We also joined groups with a few pilgrims we met a couple of days ago in Villafranca (Wyatt, Kyle, Zanny, and then Izzy). We got a nice albergue in Triacastela and enjoyed the relaxing day. Zanny made dinner for all of us at the albergue’s kitchen. Jonathan made plans to get an Airbnb for the seven of us at the end for Santiago. Might be a better option because then we will have no curfew and can celebrate freely. Sounds like a good idea.”

Current Party:

Me, Ethan, Jon, Wyatt, Kyle, Zanny, Izzy

12 June

Day 27: Triacastela to Sarria

“Today, another easy, yet foggy day. Our group of seven marched at their own pace as the sun came up to our early approach to Sarria. This town would be the starting point for many new pilgrims who start here to do the last 100 km of walking to Santiago. Sarria is a bigger town with plenty of amenities to pick up. The receptionist at out albergue suggested we reserve from now on. But a man who is on his fifth camino said that we should have no problems without reserving. I think we’ll just roll with it for now. It’s still relatively early in the season. I bought three bottles of vino tinto for 3 euros total and shared it with the others. Had a great night with shots supplied by the albergue, but I went to bed early.”

 

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13 June

Day 28: Sarria to Portomarin

“I woke up a lil later because my earplugs work so darn well. I didn’t hear the others, sans Ethan, get up and leave. When I caught up with them, they thought I had planned to sleep in because normally I’m the first one up. It began to thunderstorm as we walked. I used my poncho for only the second time on this whole camino. We arrived easily to Portomarin and plopped into the coziest beds we’ve had thus far on this camino. There weren’t as many new pilgrims in sight, probably because we were still so early in the trek. The end is near and man am I looking forward to it. The others in our group, except for Ethan and Jon, don’t want it to end because they will have to go back home to real life. Me on the other-hand, I’m ready to be done because I have so many more countries to explore, new and old!”

14 June

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Day 29: Portomarin to Palas de Rei

“Wyatt, Kyle, and I left early in the morning, with the others trickling in later on. We made it to our destination at eleven on the dot. Wyatt and Jon both suspect they have bed bugs, so proceeded to clean everything they have. I gave a passerby my walking stick earlier today. She needed it more than me and I was glad to get rid of it. I missed it for a few minutes, but I’m glad that my right hand is now free.”

15 June

Day 30: Palas de Rei to Arzua

“Today we meant to go to Rivadiso, but the albergues were full, so we went onwards about 2 km more to Arzua. It’s exciting knowing we only have two more days of walking! Frankly, I’m over getting up at 5:30 am every morning and walking miles upon miles. Another easy day checked off. We decided as a group that we really don’t care for the food on the camino. It’s all the same!  Boccadillos, pilgrim’s menu, salad, raciones. All day. Everyday. We are all looking forward to some other international cuisine! Almost done with this shit!”

 

16 June

Day 31: Arzua to O Podrouza

“Quite possibly, the easier day on the whole camino. Kyle, Jon, and I were ahead of the pack. I walked fast again and ended up splitting off the camino way, but I ended up taking a faster route along with a stray dog that followed me all the way to O Podrouza. Eventually, the others caught up, sans Zanny and Izzy, who went further ahead. We stayed in the IKEA of albergues. How am I feeling now? Great because this thing is over tomorrow! Spain’s great, but I’m over the crap food, the walking, and the commercialized camino. Bye Spain bye.”

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17 June

Day 32: O Podrouza to Santiago!

I didn’t write anything this day.

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I didn’t write anything that day. I think we were too busy celebrating and I was mentally checked out. From what I recall, it went something like this. We all went our own pace and one by one arrived in Santiago! We got our final stamps in our passport and received our Compostella, a certificate indicating that we successfully walked 799 km and completed our pilgrimage. We spent a couple more days in the city, reuniting with other pilgrims we came across along the way. It felt almost like a high school reunion and we all just graduated. One by one, I said my goodbyes to Jon, Wyatt, Kyle, Izzy, Zanny, a few of the other pilgrims including Christina and of course to Ethan as we all went our separate ways. Some were going back home, and like me, some were continuing their trip.

As I’m writing this, it’s already October. So I had plenty of time to reflect on my experience on the camino. And while typing up what I wrote in my journal, I realized “Wow, I’m complaining a lot about the camino”. But now that I had time to let it soak in, it really wasn’t all that bad and I’m glad that I did it. But would I do it again? Heck no!

Many pilgrims say that the camino changed their lives and changed them for the better. As for me, I wouldn’t say the camino changed my life, but I will say it helped me learn how to be a little more patient. Walking with Ethan almost every day helped me deal with that, as he and I have almost completely opposite personalities and opinions on life, but I learned about him more as the camino went on and I can say that I definitely ‘get’ him tons better than I did before the camino began. He has become a good friend of mine and we are already making plans for our next trek somewhere in South America in the future.

I do recommend the camino if anyone is remotely interested. It is a unique experience and I think if I came straight from home to Spain, and went straight home afterward, it would have been a bit more special for me. Don’t go with a group initially. Go alone or with maybe one other person and then meet all sorts of random personalities along the way.

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On another note, if I seemed uninterested in seeing the sights like the cathedrals and the towns…well, it’s because I was. And it showed. The others thought I may have seemed bored but I will tell you, I’m over cathedrals and temples.  I’ve seen hundreds. Just like how the safaris I went on in Africa, completely ruined zoos for me. Traveling everywhere all the time kinda does that to you.

Rant over.

I flew back to England, back to Lucy, to chill there and retrieve the rest of my belongings. Plans have changed. I meant to continue backpacking through Europe, but instead, I decided to return back to Nepal for a little r & r.