10 Life Lessons I’ve Learnt From Eurailing
Most of my trips start out on a superficial level. Visas, flights, tickets, and potential destinations all compete for my attention in the months and weeks building up to a new adventure.
But at some point, often midway through the journey – or sometimes, only once I’ve returned – I stop and realise just how much I’ve learnt from my time away. I’m not sure just how permanently travel can change habits, beliefs, and outlooks, if at all. But these are some life lessons that I encounter on every Eurail trip that I take.
Eurail life lessons
1. It’s important to be spontaneous.
Spontaneity and learning to live in the moment is the holy grail of life lessons and stress-free travel. Excess planning and overthinking itineraries is not only a waste of time, but it also removes you from your immediate surroundings. Unfortunately, for many of us, it’s also easier said than done. A journey abroad will slowly help you break down your desire to plan and consider all eventualities. Which means, just maybe, you’ll find yourself boarding that early morning train to Warsaw at the last minute, against your own wildest expectations.
2. Some planning goes a long way.
It’s easy to say “Live in the moment” or “Follow the fun” or any of the other travel platitudes floating around on the internet. However, it’s also important to know what to plan and when. The beauty of a Eurail Pass is that it finds the perfect balance between these two worlds. When you feel like being spontaneous, you can change your plans and adjust your itinerary. And if you feel like sticking to a routine, then you can set target destinations every few days, weeks, or for your last stop, and fill in the gaps along the way.
3. Stay open minded.
Another famous axiom: travel broadens the mind. But don’t dismiss this idea just because you’ve heard it hundreds of times. On a single day on a Eurail trip you may cross several borders, encounter multiple languages, currencies, national dishes, architecture, customs, and traditions. I’ve always been pretty determined that my way is the right way. But learning that there’s no universally correct way to cook a chicken, dance in a nightclub, dress, show appreciation, or even to greet your AirBnb host has taught one of those huge life lessons: the importance of being open minded.
4. Face my fears and leave my comfort zone.
When you’re on the road there’s no support base for you to fall back on. You may have to face your fears, big and small, multiple times a day. Missing the last train out of town, standing on the edge of a sheer cliff, needing to ask strangers for directions in a foreign language… A single trip won’t change your deep-seated fears or reservations. But the good news is that by leaving your comfort zone, you’ve already taken the first step.
5. I don’t need a lot to survive.
I can now fit everything that I need to survive indefinitely into a small carry-on bag. And if that went missing, I would still be comfortable for a lot longer than I used to be. Learning how to live and travel in a minimalistic fashion is an ongoing process. Every time I travel, I pack less and return home more determined to eradicate unnecessary possessions from my backpack, and my daily life.
6. You’ll never regret that occasional splurge.
I once paid €40 for overcooked pizza and a few glasses of mediocre wine in Tuscany. But the memories of eating it in the late afternoon sunlight with half a dozen new friends will be with me forever.
As tempting as it is to keep your Eurail trip as cheap as possible, at times it pays to splurge on experiences. Some will create lasting memories. I’ve learnt to not feel guilty about spending a few extra euros when the right moment arrives. Those football games in Barcelona, dramatic rides in aerial cable cars, or scenic train trips in the Alps aren’t going to follow you around the world.
7. To make new friends.
New friends are everywhere you look on a Eurail trip. Sitting opposite you on the train, around the hostel breakfast table, or standing next to you on that free walking tour. But new friends are also everywhere you look back in your everyday life. Traveling puts you in a mindset that makes it easier to let go and embrace new friendships and relationships. It’s one of those life lessons that’s harder, but not impossible, to put in practice when you return home.
8. Appreciate my own company.
If you’d put me alone in a restaurant or bar before my first Eurail trip, you’d have found me mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed attempting to avoid eye contact with anyone but the waiter. It’s true that many experiences are best shared with friends, new or old. However, traveling has taught me to appreciate my own company. These days I find a solitary morning hike or sipping a cappuccino in a busy coffee shop by myself not only a comfortable experience, but a thoroughly rewarding one.
9. Appreciate home.
As fun as it is being an independent traveler on a foreign continent, there’s something rewarding about coming home. Every trip I’ve taken I’ve returned home more passionate about my country and more determined to appreciate my friends and family, than ever before.
10. Croatia will always be there.
On my first Eurail trip I found myself in Zagreb. I had wandered off course, and I chastised myself for getting caught up in the moment and not sticking to my original itinerary. The Croatian coast, everyone said, was where I should be. But irregular trains, limited time, and too few options to get back on track with my original itinerary meant I’d only made it to the inland capital – far from the beauty and tranquillity of the Adriatic. I explained my inability to get to the coast and back to a fellow traveler. He didn’t even look up from his book: “Don’t stress about it, man,” he said. “Croatia will always be here.”
He couldn’t have spoken a more obvious yet reassuring statement. There’s no such thing as the perfect trip or the ultimate itinerary. If you work hard enough at it, you can always return. So I let go and vowed to return when the time was right. As it happened, in 2016 I spent 3 weeks working my way down the Croatian coast. Each time I thought of those words I couldn’t help but smile.