2 weeks in Europe

I recently spent 16 days traveling solo around Europe. I visited Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Copenhagen.

I didn’t bring my laptop with me, and “lost” my phone on day 2 to a couple muggers (more on that later) so to me it was almost like a full technological detox since I usually spend the majority of my time in front of a computer.

Prior to this trip I had never been to Europe (aside from Paris when I was ~10, but that doesn’t count) and hadn’t left the country in something ridiculous like 10 years, so this trip was long overdue.

I did absolutely no planning aside from booking my plane tickets and my hostels in Stockholm and Amsterdam.

The following is a detailed account of my experiences:


Stockholm, Sweden

I arrived in Stockholm in the late afternoon on Friday, May 22nd.


Here were my impressions:

  • Mostly Swedes
  • Cold (why did I decide to go to Sweden in May again?)
  • Sun is up early in the morning, and doesn’t set until 9–10pm
  • Everybody speaks perfect English (which I’ll eventually find out is the case for most European cities)
  • Sweden is expensive as hell. Hard to find a dish in a restaurant that’s under $20.
  • Swedish women don’t live up to the hype. In America I was led to believe that Swedish women were all blonde bombshells. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I found them on average to be plump with average faces.
  • Swedish men on the other hand are tall, handsome, and impeccably dressed. Half of them look like they’re on their way to a Calvin Klein model shoot.
  • All the beggars seem to be middle eastern refugees.

I stayed at Interhostel. It was easily the worst hostel of my trip. My room was a mixed 8-bedroom with no windows. Half the people in my room were older guys who seemed to lay in their beds with their headphones on all day (making me question why they were in a hostel). The shower room was tainted with the faint smell of barf.

On the bright side, there was a weekly pub crawl organized by the hostel that was meeting at 8pm in the lobby. I got there and saw a ton of people in the common era on their laptops (again, making me question why the hell they were in a hostel since it was a Friday night), but only two other guys were actually there for the bar crawl. It was all good though because the two British friends traveling together were super friendly and cool.

The Australian tour guide first took us to a bar with $4 beers (an absolute steal in this expensive city). We were joined by some local guys and an American — maybe the first I’d seen since leaving the airport — who’d moved to Sweden a year ago to live with his Swedish girlfriend, but had just broken up with her so was on his way back to the U.S (he was an underwater construction worker). One of the locals worked at a restaurant (in Europe people have regular jobs), and another was a screenwriter.

Afterwards we went to a couple more bars, and then to a club recommended by the screenwriter. The club felt like any other American club, just with mostly Swedes and an above-average DJ. Aside from one song, all the music was the same type of pop music that you’d hear in America.

Afterwards we got food at a McDonald’s, and the cashier was pretty cute. I told the British guys that you would never find a cute McDonald’s cashier in the US, and they assured me that the fast food workers in England were also “ugly as fuck”. I’ll believe it when I see it.

random guy posing for my photo in the Royal Palace

Getting Robbed

The next day I was walking alone into a park at 10pm (which is dark, but the sun doesn’t start setting until 9–9:30pm, so not pitch black) when a guy immediately ran out in front of me and turned around to face my direction. I thought it was a bit sketchy, so I turned around to see another guy on the sidewalk checking to see if the coast was clear. I’ve never been robbed before, but I immediately knew what was about to happen.

The two of them — skinny middle eastern teenagers who looked 16–18 years old — whipped out some pretty big knives and directed me into the park.

First they said “Phone”. I yelled “Ok, ok” in an attempt to draw in any passerbys who might be within earshot, but one of the robbers gently slapped me on the cheek with the knife handle saying “Quiet”. At that point I dropped my phone on the ground.

“Cash” they demanded next.

I gave them the Swedish Krona I have, luckily only ~$20. Then he reached into my pocket and took out my wallet and passport. I had about $60 (American dollars) in my wallet, which he took for himself. Miraculously, they decided not to take anything else, including the debit card and two credit cards I had with me. Had they taken that, I would’ve been fucked because those were all the cards I had with me.

They then ran off. I ran to the edge of the park and watched them go, seriously contemplating chasing after them and yelling for the police while keeping enough of a distance to make sure they wouldn’t be able to turn around and get me. But that seemed too dangerous and they were nice enough to let me keep my cards, so I let them go.

Around the corner I found three Swedish women hanging out and having a drink. I told them what had just happened, and they called the police. The police came and took me home.

Although Stockholm is mostly full of Swedes, all the beggars appear to be refugees from the middle east. My guess is that the robbers were sons of those beggars, and just needed money to get by in this expensive city.

Despite the fact that it sucked big time to lose my phone, I’m actually glad I got robbed the way I did because it was a valuable lesson. Now I’m super cautious when walking alone at night (at least in foreign countries) and never carry all my cards at once.

Not having a phone or laptop in a foreign country really sucks. It’s not even about calling/texting, the phone was my watch, GPS, camera, keeper of all plane tickets and hostel booking info, alarm clock, trip advisor, translator, etc. And internet cafes aren’t really a thing anymore.

Thanks to the generosity of one of the British guys in my hostel, I was able to use his iPad to deactivate my phone account and find out where I could potentially buy a phone the next day. I marked all the places on a physical map (fyi AT&T doesn’t exist in Europe), and went to sleep hoping I’d wake up on time (no windows in my hostel room) because all the stores carrying phones would only be open from 12–4pm.

The next day I bought the cheapest smart phone I could find, a Samsung Fame. It’s a complete piece of shit, the type of phone that takes 5 minutes to load a web page. I immediately wanted to exchange it for a better phone, but because I had already opened the box the store wouldn’t accept it.

In America, that would never happen. On top of that I live 3 blocks away from a Best Buy that’s open 24/7, so I would’ve been able to buy a new phone immediately after having been robbed. At this point I was missing NYC, but in a sadochist way I was glad that I’d have to deal without the luxuries I’ve become accustomed to in order to make me appreciate things more.

I got locked out of my Facebook/Instagram account (Facebook even went as far as to “hide” my account) because Facebook decided I’d need to verify my account through my phone number or by logging in through my previous phone that had just been stolen.

I figured I could just get Whatsapp, but apparently it requires a phone number. I’d imagine it’s the same deal with Snapchat and most other apps. No worries.

Stockholm is a fine city, but I found it cold, expensive, and kind of boring. Unless you have a specific reason to be there, I wouldn’t spend more than two days.

Out of pure idiocy, I missed my flight to Amsterdam. I arrived at the airport 20 minutes prior to my flight’s departure, but they were no longer accepting passengers on that flight. There was only one other flight leaving to Amsterdam that day, and it would cost me $480 (would’ve been $50 more, but the lady kindly told me that I’d save that money by not booking through her) and I’d have to transfer in Copenhagen. Wtf? But I really wanted to get the hell out of Stockholm, and it didn’t seem that buying a plane ticket for the following day would’ve saved me anything, so I obliged.

Hostel Review: Interhostel

As I said earlier, this was the worst hostel of my trip. No windows in my bedroom and the shower room smelled weird. It was probably the only hostel I stayed at that wasn’t serviced 24/7. If you’re checking out before 8am, you need to hand over your keys the night before to get back your 100 Krona (~$12) deposit, meaning you’re keyless for a night.


Amsterdam, The Netherlands

On my way to my hostel, I already knew that I was going to love this place. I finally felt like I was on vacation, unlike Stockholm where I felt like I had just switched cities.


Amsterdam is a very fun and unique city. It’s red light district is like no other in the world, and you can smoke weed anywhere. But there’s more to Amsterdam than it’s vices. It’s actually a beautiful city, with it’s canals, cobblestone streets, and scenic parks. Walking through this city feels like walking through the video game Fable or Skyrim.

someone tell me how they do this

I stayed at The Bulldog, conveniently located in the red light district. It was a definite upgrade from my previous shitty hostel. The room key was a card, and the hostel had its own bar. Unlike Stockholm, everybody seemed to be here to party.

I entered my room and introduced myself to an 18 year old Belgian guy who was just stopping by in town on his way back home from Spain. We then grabbed food and weed (actually I didn’t get weed because I’m not a smoker…). He was a bartender, had no plans of going to college, and wanted to move to Costa Rica. His English was very poor, but we talked about various interesting topics. He claimed that there were no virgins in Belgium above the age of 14. Also I learned that the age of consent in Spain is 14, and that there are clubs in Spain that let those 14 year old girls in while imposing a minimum age of 18 (or was it 16?) for the men. I found that pretty hilarious.

smallest truck I’ve ever seen

The next night I went out to some bars with three others from my hostel room — two American girls on vacation who happened to live in my hometown, and a solo traveler from Portland. It was a good time, but it was a bit disappointing that there were so few bars open late. I mean it was a Monday night, but still. (To be fair, maybe we weren’t looking in the right places.)

The next day the Portland guy ate some weed-infused truffles and went to the Van Gogh museum. I’ll have to try that next time.

Westerpark
Westerpark
Westerpark

Hostel Review: The Bulldog

Great hostel conveniently located in the red light district. The people staying in my room were generally social and looking to party. There’s a bar on the first floor with a pool table. My room had a bathroom and a separate shower room. In the hallway, there are two additional bathrooms. Free breakfast from 7:30–10am (no other hostel I stayed at had free breakfast).


Berlin, Germany

I was surprised at how ugly the city was. The buildings are basically Communist cement blocks covered in graffiti. Of course it’s cleaner in the city center, but there’s also very little to do there aside from seeing historic buildings and museums.

The city reminded me of DC (outside of Georgetown) in the sense that everything is very spread out.


North of the city center was kind of nice. Drinking in public is legal in Germany, so you see a lot of that which is awesome and completely changes everything.

people drinking by the river
There are cool historic buildings in the city center
statue of a man making love to a lion
East Germany
streets are wider than most European cities :-(

The nightlife is way out there in the east. I walked there from the city center (maybe a 30 minute walk), and there’s practically nothing to see along the way. It actually felt like I was walking through the ghetto, so I had to reassure myself that Berlin is a safe city.

The nightlife areas in the east have a very grungy, underground feel to them. A lot of the venues seem to be located in old abandoned buildings. If I could equate Berlin to an NYC borough, it’d definitely be Brooklyn.

^street performer in Berlin named Beranger Gras (apologies for the terrible video quality, just picture a cool German guy performing in front of a bunch of drunk people)

Berlin is famous for its nightclubs, particularly its techno clubs. Some of them literally don’t close on the weekends. I even heard that there’s a club that hasn’t closed in 30 years.

The most famous of the Berlin clubs is Berghain, and it’s probably the most famous techno club in the world, in large part due to its notoriously stringent door policy. Unlike your typical posh nightclub, admittance isn’t about dressing up, having hot girls with you, or dropping thousands of dollars on a table. You can’t be too dressed up, shouldn’t smile, shouldn’t talk too much, shouldn’t be in a big group, shouldn’t look like a tourist, shouldn’t be on your phone too much, should speak a little German, and probably most importantly need to look the part. It’s best if you’re dressed in black, don’t look too young, and look like you fit the scene.

Berghain is located in an abandoned power plant that’s really far away from anything. After walking for 30+ minutes through what felt like some sketchy areas and finally arriving there (at least according to Google Maps, nothing is marked on the building and it’s in the middle of nowhere), I finally saw what appeared to be a bouncer and a guy waiting in line. I waited behind him, and the line continued to grow behind me.

After what seemed like an eternity, the bouncer motioned for us to get in. I passed. This was it. I was in the famous Berghain. I paid my 20 euros and was handed a large bag. I pretended to know what the bag was for and proceeded inside, only to be greeted by a bunch of guys taking their clothes off. Fuck. I ask one of the workers if this is Berghain, and he says “no this is not Berghain” in the most fabulous, feminine way imaginable. I peace the fuck out of there. Apparently Berghain has a hardcore gay club called “Lab.Oratory” right next to it, and Berghain wasn’t open yet.

I took a cab back to where I was before and explored the nightlife there. There were a tons of people on the bridge and lots of live musicians who were pretty good. I loved the feel of the area because it felt very authentic.

Around 11:30pm I returned to Berghain. There was no line, just a group of 5 dressed up dejected looking American girls (who at any American club would be escorted to the front of the line and given free drinks). I walked up to the entrance. The huge German guy asked me something in German, to which I idiotically responded “English?” and accidentally smiled. The other bouncer then told me that I wouldn’t be entering.

I took a cab to Sisyphos and was turned down at the door in a similar fashion. Like Berghain, it’s in the middle of nowhere, so I took another cab to Chalet. I was turned down again, but at least this time I was given a reason (“sorry man there are too many dudes in there already” — woa this feels like America now).

I walked past a ton of partiers leaving the Berlin music festival and lined up for a club called Watergate. After witnessing a bunch of dudes get turned down in front of me, and then hearing the bouncer ask the group of two in front of me who the DJ was that was playing that night before rejecting them, I was sure I wasn’t getting in. Like all the other bouncers, she asked me something in German. By this time I knew that she was just asking if I was alone, so unlike the other places I just nodded rather than ask for them to clarify in English. I was let in.

It was two floors and felt like any other American club. There were lots of tourists. Both floors were playing techno music. I remembered that I hate techno music.

The German Doner — best late night food ever

On the way home I ate a doner. They are DELICIOUS. It’s like a falafel, but bigger and better. Also at 4 euros it’s a bit cheaper. Eating that doner was probably the best part of my night.

There’s a train that leaves every 2 hours from Berlin to Prague. I showed up 20 minutes before the train was leaving, bought a ticket, and set off to Prague. There was no WiFi, so the train ride felt like solitary confinement.

Hostel Review: Baxpax Downtown

It was fine. Rooms were fine, and mine contained a private bathroom and separate shower room (just like the Bulldog). Common area has a pool table, pinball machine, and a decently large and comfortable seating area. Hostel is located in Mitte, which is close to the center of Berlin, and a 15–20 minute walk from the nightlife in East Berlin.

Mitte is an ok area, but there’s not much going on there aside from a few bars/restaurants and a street that lines up with street hookers at night. Next time I go to Berlin, I’ll most likely stay further east where all the bars and nightlife are. Those areas are more exciting.


Prague, Czech Republic

After clarifying with the train conductor that Praha is indeed Prague, I stepped off the train.

Prague is stunningly beautiful, probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to in my life. The city itself is a work of art. Every corner I turned I had to resist the urge to pull out my camera (which was a total piece of shit now due to my cheap temporary phone). The local women were in my opinion the most beautiful out of all the cities I visited.


this place was empty, I took a nap on the grass nearby

But I had arrived without any accommodation and needed a place to stay, so I used the central station’s WiFi to search for hostels. 5 minutes after leaving the station, the map decided to refresh, wiping out all the hostel info (should’ve screenshotted it).

I stumbled into a hostel and lined up behind two Americans from Raleigh, NC who were asking the receptionist if there were any available beds that night. There weren’t. The Americans — who’d also just arrived from Berlin — were extremely friendly, and offered me to tag along in their search for a hostel. Some friends they had met in Berlin were staying in another hostel nearby, so we walked there and booked a room together.

Their friends - three American guys who had just graduated college - were staying in a room down the hall. Upon meeting them I was amused by their “bro-y-ness” (if you’re reading this, that’s not an insult!). They were also very cool and friendly.

$1 beers and $6 dinner — when in Prague

We got dinner at a place down the street that served $1 beers, the norm in this city. The food came out to 148 Koruna, or 6 euros. I found Czech food to be a little bland, but at those prices I wasn’t complaining.


We ended up going on the pub crawl, which consisted of 100 mostly American tourists. Any time we’d enter a bar, our sheer size would dominate the whole place, so unfortunately it didn’t feel much different from being in American bars at home (just with more Scots, Brits, etc.).

The final stop in the pub crawl was a 5 story club called Karlovy Lazne. It was huge, also seemed to be dominated mostly by tourists, and a bit of a sausage fest. At 3:30am we were on our way out when we discovered that there was a basement with another dance floor. That dance floor was the best part of the night. It was small, most people had their shoes off, and there was a large group of pretty Czech women dancing.

Upon leaving the club, none of us had any idea how to get home. Furthermore, the city felt very sketchy at night largely because it’s like a maze of narrow alleyways. We could’ve just taken a taxi, but decided against it. After maybe 30 minutes of wandering around and walking through the shadiest alleys, we found a McDonald’s, and then our hostel. I bought a $2.5 sausage from a street vendor that tasted incredible. We arrived home around 5am and it was already light outside.


I spent the next day exploring the city.

guy trying to look big

At 2:30pm I randomly stumbled into a club that was filled with cute locals dancing to trance. No tourists were in sight. That was a pleasant surprise, but unfortunately I wasn’t in the dancing mood so I wrote down the spot’s name and kept walking.

so peaceful. I took a nap here

That night (Sunday) I went out again with the Americans. We left at around 10–11pm. Maybe it was the area we were in, but everything seemed to be dead. We were constantly hounded by street promoters competing with each other to lure us into various strip clubs. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would go to a strip club and pay for blue balls in a city where prostitution is legal, but it seemed like we had no other options.

Around midnight the others wanted to go home, but me and another guy weren’t ready to call it a night yet. So the two of us found a nearby club on our phones and set off in that direction. We arrived to find the place completely empty, aside from the bartender and two dudes flirting with each other. I asked the bartender where we could go at this hour that wasn’t dead and preferably filled with locals, and she said that most places were dead but recommended a club nearby.

We arrived at the club and were not disappointed. It was fairly packed and people were dancing. Unlike all the other bars I’d been to the night before, it was actually filled with locals and there were very few Americans. The only Americans I saw were a couple of American football players who lived there.

4 Koruna for a croissant at a supermarket. That’s about 16 cents!

I noticed a group of girls taller than me and stroke up a conversation with one of them. Turns out they were on the Czech women’s basketball team and celebrating a win. The girl I was talking to, Kateřina Elhotová, was a two time Olympian and the same age as me. I felt like a plebeian amongst the gods, but she was extremely cool. She told me that the Olympics isn’t actually a huge orgy, and that she doesn’t really enjoy playing pro basketball anymore and wanted to be a psychiatrist. Grass is always greener I guess.

Czech dumplings / creepin on a date

Pros

  • Aesthetically beautiful city
  • Cheap prices
  • Local women are pretty

Cons

  • Charge for water
  • A little shady at night
  • Central station and some tourist spots charge for the bathroom (just 1 Euro, but still)

Hostel Review: Hostel Ananas

Rooms were actually fairly large, air-conditioned, clean, and the beds were very comfortable. No private bathrooms. Unfortunately there’s no real common area. Although the location was definitely fine during the day, at night it felt a little seedy in that there are a lot of questionable looking people on the streets, mostly strip club promoters. Also the entrance isn’t off the street, but inside what appears to be the entrance to a mall that’s open 24/7. But there are street vendors and a major road nearby, so it’s at least safer than being alone in an abandoned alleyway.

Next time I go to Prague, I’ll probably stay a bit more north because I feel there’s more action there.


Vienna, Austria

I decided to go here on a whim. It’s between Prague and Budapest, so it felt like a natural pit stop (in hindsight maybe I should’ve visited Krakow, Poland, but no regrets).

It was the first city I went to where everyone didn’t speak fluent English and the music wasn’t the same as in America. There were a lot of middle easterns.


The city was nice and clean. My favorite part was the huge museum quarter, which is always packed with young people just chilling and drinking.

Live music at the museum quarter (FYI the square is much bigger than this)

Aside from that the though, the city wasn’t that interesting to me. I left after two nights for Budapest, which would luckily only be a 1 hour 45 minute bus ride.

Hostel Review: Wombat

My 4-bed room had a private bathroom. The air conditioning was weak so the room was kind of hot, but at least there were big windows. There’s a lounge area, a large seating area, and a bar in the basement with another seating area and a pool table. Breakfast is served every morning, but it costs like 2 euros. Location was fine, but I wish it was closer to museum square.


Budapest, Hungary

I had heard a lot of great things about Budapest. It seems to be the hot city in Europe right now. I’d say that it lived up to the hype.

Unlike Prague, the city is structured more like an actual city. The roads are laid out in grid fashion, typically with width only for one car unless it’s a major street. That makes it easy to walk everywhere (unlike for example, Berlin).

Aesthetically the city is pretty good looking with some picturesque buildings and a fantastic view across the river.


streets are much more pleasant without cars
Erzsebet Square
Erzsebet Square

The city was full of life. In Erzsebet Square, there were always tons of young people relaxing, drink in hand. I took a walk that Thursday night, and there were people everywhere as though it was a Friday night. The “ruin bars”, which are large pubs in abandoned buildings, are pretty cool and unique to Budapest.

There was a music festival going on the whole time I was there, so there were constantly live bands and singers performing on the streets.

long tunnel of ruin bars on a Thursday night

Summary

  • Weather was 85 degrees
  • Prices were as cheap as Prague, maybe marginally cheaper.
  • Hungarians look sort of like a cross between Europeans and Turks.
drinking by the river

On Saturday I went to a bath party with about 10 people from my hostel. Despite it being expensive (by Budapest standards), packed primarily with tourists, and a bit of a sausage fest, it was pretty wild and definitely a unique experience I’d recommend doing once.

Essentially it’s a party in one of Budapest’s famous bath houses. It goes from 10:30pm — 3am. There’s one DJ and two large pools. The water temperature in one of the pools is lukewarn, and this is where the DJ and the main party is at. The other pool has water nearly as warm as a jacuzzi, and is more relaxed.

Erzsebet Square at night — people chilling/drinking around a pool. You can’t swim in it, but the floor is transparent so you can see people under it
Erzsebet Square (I took a lot of pictures in this park)

Thai Massage

At one point I ended up getting a Thai massage (they seem to be on every street corner in Europe). At first I was just comparing the prices to Prague (Budapest is marginally cheaper, at 14 euros for a 30 minute massage), but the attractive woman outside sold me on the idea. Unfortunately my masseuse ended up being a much less attractive woman, but I figured it was probably for the best because massage skills are probably inversely proportional to beauty.

Halfway through the massage, my masseuse left the room and in came a beautiful blonde. She offered to give me an “erotic massage” for an additional 15,000 HUF (50 euros). Of course me being the stand up guy that I am, I declined.

eating dinner. that’s Ludacris on the poster
cool grafitti

Hostel Review: Central Backpack King

Great hostel. Location is absolutely top notch. The hostel itself is very small, only consisting of about four rooms and three bathrooms (the rooms aren’t small though). This gives it a bit more of an intimate feel, and the common area feels like a living room. On Saturday night, 10–15 of us played Kings in the living room (just like college) and went out together to the bath party. I had to leave the next morning, but my Facebook feed shows that the same group of hostelers (who’d met through the hostel) continued to hang out and do a lot of cool stuff over the course of the week.

Other perks are that you’re given a free lock for your locker (admittedly not the strongest lock), and that the staff are extraordinarily friendly.

statue of what appears to be a female lion by the Opera House
inside Buda castle
the Buda side

Copenhagen, Denmark

I had a 6 hour layover in Copenhagen on my way home. At the time I was regretting having intentionally booked my flights in this manner for the sake of squeezing in another Scandinavian city. I was tired, didn’t think that Copenhagen would be that interesting, and annoyed that I wouldn’t be arriving in JFK till 10pm.

I seriously contemplated staying at the airport during those 6 hours to sleep and make sure I don’t miss my flight again, but eventually decided to suck it up and check out the city because it’s only a 10–15 minute metro ride from the airport. And I’m definitely glad that I did because the city was pleasant and exceeded my expectations.


Unlike Budapest the weather was chilly and prices expensive (maybe double the prices of Budapest, but still cheaper than Stockholm), but the city was walkable, aesthetically pleasing, and had a good amount of life. There were a lot of street performers and people out and about.

After scoping out restaurant menus in search of a deal, I ended up going to a buffet that cost me $15. Afterward I had a couple scoops of ice cream that ran me something like $5 (unlike the $1–1.50/scoop in Budapest and Prague). After 2.5 hours, I headed back to the airport wishing that I would’ve had time to see more.

New York, NY

Upon arriving to JFK, the biggest difference that stood out to me (aside from everybody speaking American-accented English) was the amount of black people, Asians, and other non-white people. Also people are noticeably shorter. I expected to see fat people everywhere (which is what happens when you come back from Asia), but didn’t.

Best in-flight meal I’ve ever had. Asian chicken from Norwegian Airlines

Travel Reflections

  • Missed my laptop and phone
  • I had romanticized travel. It’s like switching places. “Now what?”. Still need to make your own fun
  • I had romanticized Europe. America is fucked up, but it’s also great in many ways. Grass is not necessarily greener.
  • Most cities/towns in the world aren’t really that exciting after a couple days
  • Weather is huge (to me)— don’t visit Stockholm when it’s cold
  • Walkability is important to me

NYC is still my favorite city. Although I loved a lot of the cities I visited and could definitely see myself moving to some of them temporarily (particularly Budapest, Prague, and Amsterdam), I’d still pick NYC if I only had one choice. Even barring any language barriers, NYC has an energy, density, diversity, and sheer size that is unparalleled in my book. The cities I visited were comparable more to neighborhoods of NYC than to the entirety of NYC itself. As cool as Budapest was, next to NYC it’s only like a Williamsburg, East Village, and LES.

Most of the cities I visited were main capital cities, and yet most were small and could be traversed in a day. Of course most 2nd tier cities have even less going on. This reinforces my belief that most cities/towns in the world are boring. Not that I’d never want to visit or live in a 3rd tier city, just that I’d probably die of boredom after a couple months unless I had some specific reason to be there (eg. be immersed in their culture, learn their language, escape from civilization).

I had definitely romanticized travel. In reality it’s just switching places. When I first arrived in Stockholm and got settled in, I thought “now what?” You’re still the same person. Teleporting somewhere isn’t going to magically make you happier. You still have to make your own fun.

If I’m traveling for less than 2 weeks, never again will I waste any of that precious time in cold weather (unless I’m skiing in the alps or something). Cold weather just flat out sucks, and travel magnifies the suckiness of it because you know you literally could’ve gone anywhere else in the world.

On Traveling alone

The main advantage of traveling alone is freedom. Disadvantages are safety (robbers don’t target groups, they target people alone) and no guarantee of having someone to go out with.

Being alone in your travels is like being alone anywhere. Sometimes you want to be alone, sometimes you don’t. But in general, you’re probably going to want at least some friends to hang out with in each city. Luckily hostels enable you to meet other like-minded travelers.

Travel tips/clarifications

  • Your phone’s GPS works anywhere in the world
  • Just bring a backpack. Anything more is a hindrance. I recommend getting a larger backpack though. I only brought a regular backpack, and it was way too tight.
  • Going between nearby countries in Europe is super easy and cheap. Bus/train works.
  • Personally I find 2–3 nights is enough for most cities. Smaller cities you could even do in a day. Most cities in the world aren’t as big as NYC, Paris, or London.

Europe Insights

  • People have “normal” jobs (eg. restaurant worker)
  • Music is the same as in America (though not as much the case for Vienna and Budapest)
  • In most cities, nobody checks ID when entering bars/clubs. Stockholm was the only city I was carded.
  • Many of the travelers in hostels, maybe 50%, are fresh college graduates. There are also a decent amount of high school graduates.

Advantages of Europe

  • Not having to tip
  • Sales tax seems to be built into prices most of the time.
  • McDonald’s workers aren’t ugly. Some of the people working those jobs (eg. serving ice cream) straight up look like models.
  • no AM/PM (5pm is 17:00)
notice the beggar on the top right isn’t shaking a can of change in people’s faces (taken in Prague)
  • Beggars are more respectful. Often they’re literally bowed down with their head on the pavement. I’ve never seen anything like that in the U.S. In NYC, beggars obnoxiously shake a can of change in your face and yell “Change”.
  • Drinking in public is legal in a lot of cities. That was the case for Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. This totally changes the dynamic of partying and brings the party onto the streets, in parks, etc.
  • Clubs don’t close till 6am, and sometimes they don’t ever close. This is city dependent, but it’s far more common in Europe than the U.S., where even in NYC practically all bars/clubs close at 4am.
  • Metric system

Disadvantages of Europe

  • Customer service sucks. Cashiers rarely smile and generally don’t seem to give a shit about you. I’d say it’s as bad as America, maybe even marginally worse.
  • Getting charged for water — In America, you don’t pay for tap water at a restaurant. When you sit down, the first thing they do is give you a glass of water. In Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, and Budapest, you don’t get free water in restaurants. They’ll only give you water bottles that cost $1–2 for 250 mL. This is infuriating not only because every restaurant has perfectly fine tap water that costs practically nothing, but because it’s such a waste of resources.
  • Excluding bars/clubs, everything typically closes early. On Sunday in Stockholm, most stores were only open 12–4pm.
  • Safety. Given Europe’s welfare state and lack of guns, I thought that it was going to feel much safer, but it didn’t. Amsterdam and Prague were straight up seedy at night. Most of these countries, including the Scandinavian ones, seem to now have sizable middle eastern immigrant/refugee populations who are generally poor and not culturally integrated.

Prior to the trip, I didn’t feel that America was that safe because (1) there are a lot of poor people, and (2) any crazy person can get a gun and shoot up a movie theater. But I actually felt less safe in Europe (compared to NYC at least, of course I’d feel less safe in Baltimore or Compton) because aside from guns, it has the same problems, just with the addition of being closer to a lot of other poorer countries, most notably the ones where batshit crazy terrorists reside and come from. America is lucky in that it’s a lot more sheltered from that nonsense.

Brief Tangent On Technology — “Worlds” speech

I really missed my laptop and computer. It was probably exacerbated by the fact that I was particularly motivated to work on one of my projects, but nevertheless it made me reflect deeply on what reality is in the modern world.

Being cut off from the grid felt like being a heroin addict in rehab. But unlike heroin, I’m finally convinced that life with internet is magnitudes of order more stimulating, interesting, and fulfilling (at least after you’ve been exposed to it, ignorance could be bliss).

We all live in our own worlds. Before computers, one’s world was generally confined to his/her immediate geographical surroundings. But because of the internet, our worlds can literally extend across the entire connected human population.

Of course like most people I took this for granted, but being cut off from it has really made me appreciate how incredible it is and how lucky I am to be plugged in.

Through the internet, my ideas and my community can reach people all over the globe.

For instance, while traveling I can get travel recommendations from thousands of people I don’t know at the click of a button (that’s what I was doing right before I got robbed).

After I lost my phone, I was essentially just relying on word of mouth to find things to do and places to eat. It’s nice to get input from real people, particularly locals, but at the same time the internet gives you a hell of a lot more data to work with.

As interconnected as we are now, there’s still a long way to go. We’re heading towards a world where everyone is going to be biologically interconnected, where something like Google Glass will be embedded in our eyes, and where a Google Search will be a biological function integrated into our bodies. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will make life more interesting.

Digital World vs. Physical World

I used to think there was an inherent superiority to the physical world. This would lead me to be a bit condescending towards things like video games, which I deemed as a waste of time. But how is being a “gamer” any worse than being addicted to a game like chess or poker? Something being digital doesn’t necessarily make it worse. Our reality can live in the physical world or digital worlds, and more so than ever it’s residing in the digital.

I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history more exciting than now.

The Future

It definitely feels weird to be back home and resume the same monotonous weekday routine of spending the good part of 8 hrs/day in an office and barely seeing the sun. On the bright side, my sleep schedule has mysteriously been fixed now for the first time in forever.

Although I was missing NYC towards the end of my trip and looking forward to returning home, I attribute that more to missing my laptop and phone. Although it’s nice to be home, I already miss the excitement of being on the road.

I love NYC, but I hate cold weather, and thus NYC is only good to me 4 months out of the year. I think my next travel move (aside from a potential long overdue Korea/Japan trip this summer) is to learn Spanish and explore South America while it’s winter in the northern hemisphere so that I can escape the cold and experience another continent.

My next Eurotrip will definitely include Barcelona, London, and the more mediterranean destinations like Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Croatia. Also I want to visit the eastern European countries like Estonia and Ukraine. But I think I may go somewhere more exotic first like India or the Philippines before I finish off the rest of Europe.

I wanted the trip to answer the questions of whether I could continue to be productive while traveling and whether I enjoy traveling. The answer to the first question is a definite yes, and the answer to the second is a yes as well, but with the contingencies that (1) the grass is probably not greener, NYC trumps most cities, and (2) traveling itself will easily get boring and start to feel meaningless after a while without some sort of greater purpose (even if it’s just to blog out about it). I hate to say it, but partying 24/7 does eventually get old.

I used to glorify retirement, and of course I still hope to achieve it, but I now know very well that I will always be doing some kind of “work” (ideally not under a boss of course) because otherwise life is too boring.