Ever since I visited Europe last year in the winters, I promised myself that I’ll go back there again for a longer duration. I wasn’t sure when that’s gonna happen though.
This year I had absolutely no plans on visiting Europe. I was going through a bad phase in life and I just started working in a startup (and was managing some freelance work as well along with blogging of course). For some reason, it felt like I’m stuck, and didn’t really have anything exciting going on, so I decided to do the sure-shot thing that always gets my mojo back – traveling around the world.
Initially, I had plans to visit South America but then South America would require a lot more planning than I was prepared for. Also, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull off solo as a female traveler there. So decided to take the safer option – travel in Europe.
Europe is my favorite continent I’ve visited so far. I like that it has a lot of culture, great transportation, and very friendly hostels. Also, traveling to another country is always just a road trip away. So I decided to continue my tryst with Europe albeit for a longer time this time around.
Applying for Schengen Visa
Then, it was time to execute my planning starting with applying for a Schengen visa. Since I had already applied for a visa and helped dozens of people to score a Schengen visa, the process seemed quite simpler this time. I didn’t want to waste money on tickets in case my visa gets rejected, so booked everything refundable – from flights, accommodation, and travel insurance. Find out how to apply for a Schengen visa here.
I applied for a visa through Germany as they are pretty lenient for freelancers. I showed more than enough bank balance and applied for a 2-month long Schengen visa. In the cover letter, I mentioned that I might be visiting the Schengen region again for Christmas, so I requested to grant me a year-long visa.
While I remember it took me a week to collate all of my documents, and understand the Schengen visa process better a year ago, I was happy that the whole process was much faster this time.
However, instead of a year-long visa, I received a 6-month (180 days) visa, which isn’t too bad either. The thing with a Schengen visa is that the duration is pretty random. It could just cover your travel duration, or it could be a year-long visa.
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Schengen Visa Restrictions
Also, there’s a rule that you cannot stay in the Schengen region for more than 90 days, so even if you get a 6 month or a year-long visa, you will have to exit the Schengen region within 90 days to avoid penalty. Also, not all countries in Europe are under the Schengen region. So travelers usually alternate between Schengen and non-Schengen regions and travel longer.
While countries like Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, and 22 other countries fall under the Schengen region, most of the Balkan countries like Bulgaria, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina are not part of the Schengen region. However, most of these countries have a free visa on arrival with a Schengen visa. So, while you cannot stay in the Schengen region for more than 90 days in a 180 day period, you can visit these non-Schengen states as long as your visa is valid.
Booking Flights and Accommodations
Once I received my visa, the obvious thing to do next was to cancel my existing Etihad Airways flights and Booking.com accommodations. I made sure that all of these were fully refundable as I planned to cancel it without any penalties once I received my visa.
My initial plan was to start off my trip from Istanbul since there were decent 20k one-way flights in the coming month. That’s a decent price for a last-minute flight. While I can avail e-visa with my Schengen visa or 10 year-long US visa (which I procured last year), visiting Turkey would only let me visit Europe in mid-September by then the weather could already be chilly. And I desperately wanted to visit Europe when it’s warm enough at least this time because it was the dead of winters when I visited last time in Feb.
So, I started searching for cheap flights to Europe from Bangalore through Google Flights and Matrix – ITA Software by Google (pretty good for more complicated routes). And it seemed like Bangalore was quite expensive and Mumbai had decent flights to Eastern Europe within 2 weeks or so.
Also, I wanted to avoid flights like AirArabia (due to bad reviews) and Kuwait Airways (I’ve had a bad experience on this airline personally), and with all the filters, I finally found a flight to Sofia, Bulgaria from Mumbai through FlyDubai. I was looking for one way flights in the 25k range but this turned out to be a little expensive but I wanted to start this trip ASAP, so decided to go for it. Since I already had a visa with me, I had one less thing to worry about while executing my plan.
I’ve had a great experience with Workaway last year for about a week in Europe when I volunteered with an Italian family in the countryside near Rome . So I knew I wanted to try more of it in different locations possibly for longer durations. The whole process takes time, so ever since I applied for a visa, I started looking for relevant jobs (mostly blogs or social media or marketing) in different locations that I could try. Slovenia, Estonia, Portugal, and France were major contenders. But unfortunately, I didn’t have time to accommodate all of it, and I didn’t get many replies from France either, so decided to drop it for now.
As of writing this post, I successfully finished Workaway in Slovenia and Estonia (one week each), and have one more in Portugal, (possibly two if I have the time), in a couple of weeks.
For the uninitiated, Workaway is a work exchange program where you volunteer at the host’s location in exchange for food and accommodation. Usually, there’s no money involved, but there are cases where they offer money as well. But you need to make sure you have an appropriate visa for that purpose since working for money on a tourist visa is illegal.
If you prefer watching a video, here’s a rundown on Workaway[yotuwp type=”videos” id=”vgEseDb7mm8″ column=”1″]
Flying Out of Europe
While I know a lot of westerners, who book one-way flights, I wasn’t really sure if they are going to let me enter their country if I don’t have a flight booked out of Europe. As I wanted to visit the US next, I started looking for flights from Western Europe as the flights would be cheaper from there considering the distance. I found one from Madrid to New York for about Rs. 15000 with check-in bags and I booked it right away.
Update: When I landed in Sofia, the immigration officer asked me when I’m going to leave Sofia. But they didn’t seem to care when I’m leaving Europe. After landing in Sofia, I’ve only done overland journeys so far. So no official really asked me about my flight out of Europe.
Once I had my Workaway confirmed, I started planning my itinerary accommodating these locations. I had also booked my flights going out of Europe – Madrid to New York (for 15k INR), so I knew I’ll be flying into Sofia and flying out of Madrid.
Starting from Eastern Europe, I had to find my way through Western Europe. While flight tickets are relatively cheaper in Europe, I wanted to avoid flight travel as much as possible. One thing is it’s a hassle especially if you have check-in luggage, and mainly to avoid my carbon footprint.
45 days so far, and I’ve been successfully able to carry out my overland journeys in Europe so far, without having to take a flight after landing in Sofia which I’m glad about.
While I assumed transportation would be a breeze throughout Europe, it hasn’t been so in the Balkans, especially. I’m going to write a separate post about it. So stay tuned.
Once I had the cities I wanted to visit shortlisted, it has been quite straight forward. Sometimes, I had to accommodate some transit cities as well if the distance between the places I’ve wanted to travel were quite far since I was doing an overland journey.
Here’s what I had in mind when I started planning.
Bulgaria. Montenegro. Bosnia. Croatia. Slovenia. Hungary. Poland. Estonia. Sweden. Denmark. Germany. Portugal and Spain.
While I booked hostels through hostelworld.com for the first week in Europe, I didn’t have any other accommodations figured out except for the Workaway of course.
Also, I thought of finally trying Couchsurfing for the first time during this trip. I’m happy to announce that Couchsurfing has been quite good to me even in this age when all I hear is bad news.
I did a combination of hostels, Airbnb, Couchsurfing, and Workaway for accommodations so far.
Ever since I started sharing my stories on my Instagram account, people have been asking me how am I managing everything on my own. Now that I think about all the buses and trains I’ve taken so far, it seems quite overwhelming even for me.
But like everything else, I took it one step at a time. I usually only book buses or trains a few days before the trip. And since I’m flexible on my dates, it’s easier to find cheaper fares. And most of it, I book online through various bus operators mostly FlixBus.
I only book high ticket items like flights at least a couple of months back. Except for the flights, I didn’t have any other transportation booked as well. I wanted the flexibility to change my plans as and when needed, and stay longer if I feel like it.
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I heard it from quite a few people that Indian women are ADORED in the Balkans. And I personally had many interesting encounters in Montenegro.⠀ ⠀ Montenegrins watch a lot of Bollywood movies and soap operas and their faces light up with familiarity whenever I used to say I’m from India.⠀ ⠀ I received compliments (mostly from men) ranging from I have beautiful eyes, to if I want a husband 😄 That escalated pretty quickly 🤣⠀ ⠀ Honestly, I loved the attention initially (well, who doesn’t), but it got weird pretty soon when I got more than 6 people (mostly men) approaching me on one day, and someone even shouted “I love you” and blew a flying kiss.⠀ ⠀ But nowhere during this time, I felt unsafe though. The men were quite expressive but mostly in a way that didn’t make you feel bad about yourself. That was quite refreshing, really!⠀ ⠀ I feel bad for not making good use of the opportunities that was presented to me though 😄⠀ ⠀ #wheretogonext #cntgiveitashot #tripotocommunity #theexplorersdiary #30xthirty #wandeleur #condenasttraveler #travelblogger #indiantravelblogger #indiantravelbloggers #indiantravelblog #travelbloggerslife #asianblogger #fiftyshadesofnature #gomontenegro #montenegrowildbeauty #VisitMontenegro #montenegro #skadar #skadarlake
Packing from varied temperatures from -10 to 35 degrees isn’t easy either. I packed some clothes for summer, some for winter, and thought I’ll buy more if needed. Packing took a terribly long time and I almost missed my flight to Mumbai because of it. Well, that’s a story for another time.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you had a good read, and hope it gave you insights on planning your own travels. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have. Drop-in a line below 🙂
Until next time.
More about my Euro Trip coming up soon. In the meanwhile, you can follow my updates on Instagram where I’m sharing daily stories.