If you have read any of my other posts, you will know that whilst I love to travel, I hate to fly. I have flown many times in my life and I completely understand the benefits of air travel and how it has made the world more accessible for everyone. For me, to travel is a pleasure, an adventure; something to look forward to. But the moment I book a flight, the feeling of dread and fear descends on me and can overshadow any excitement I may have for the journey ahead.
So I have found a balance, a way to see new places and explore a pocket of the world but by travelling with my feet firmly on the ground. Obviously, this can restrict the places I can travel to, living in Spain it would be impractical to try and visit Bali, for example, via coach. But I bought a map and stuck a pin in my location and I saw Europe spread out around me.
Sometimes it is very easy to underappreciate where we live, the local attractions, nature and historical landmarks in our hometown can often lose their appeal when we see them every day. And it’s not uncommon to only see going on holiday, as a real holiday when we have to show our passports and depart from our own country. But I was surprised when I thought about how easy it can be to undervalue our own continent.
Many of my friends have taken on epic journeys; backpacking around Asia, fruit picking in Australia, sky diving in New Zealand, dancing in Mexico, Disney in Florida, saving turtles in Costa Rica. But other than a beach holiday or a weekend break, none of them have travelled Europe. In fact, the only people I have ever heard mentioning a European trip are Americans and that’s usually through ignorance that all of Europe is the same…
I understand I am generalizing and that many Europeans travel around, in, and through the continent. But I felt almost ashamed that I myself hadn’t considered my own continent, as a place to take on an epic journey and so my challenge was born.
“I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from.“Eddie Izzard
For around 38,000 years humans have wandered the European continent, but a lot has changed since then. Now with a population of 741 million, 44 independent countries and 24 official national languages, it is often credited as the birthplace of the ‘west’ as European influences have spread to every corner of the world.
Geographically it is the second smallest continent and yet has the highest number of UNESCO sites. It is the home of the smallest country in the world: The Vatican, and also the largest: Russia.
It has over 800 hundred cities, and the continent with the highest population density in the world meaning there are plenty of people to meet. And five out of the top ten tourist destinations in the world are located in Europe, so there are plenty of things to see and do.
With a range of climates, landscapes, topography, religion, languages, and culture. Europe really is a dynamic, continent worthy of an adventure.
44 independent countries are listed in Europe by the United Nations. Now, I know that there are some debates over this list and that based on different metrics you could have up to 60. But after a lot of consideration, I decided that the UN was a pretty dependable resource of information and my challenge was set: To visit all 44 countries in Europe.
I am aware that as far as challenges go, it is pretty tame. But I wanted to feel like I was taking an epic adventure of my own. And whilst I have already visited many countries in Europe, I decided to wipe the slate clean and begin again.
I had actually watched a youtube video recently of a girl completing a similar quest, although on a world scale and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. For me, the challenge is not about ticking off a name. I really wanted to appreciate each country for its own identity as well as what its traditions bring to the European stage. That for me meant simply passing through a country was not enough to consider it as ‘ticked’ but in the same respect, I don’t feel like a capital city is always the best place to see in a country.
So I didn’t impose any restrictions as to where within a country I would need to visit. My only requirement would be that I would spend enough time within a country to be able to see some of its sites, taste some of the food, watch the world go by and most importantly buy a fridge magnet as they are my go-to collector’s item.
I didn’t set a time frame for my challenge, after all, I have a job and I want to enjoy exploring Europe. And as I am not flying, I will definitely visit some countries on numerous occasions but I wanted to aim to see different towns instead of always connecting in the same place.
I am a little into my challenge now, but I still have a way to go. I will write a separate post for each of the countries I have already visited and, hopefully, continue to add more as I keep navigating my way around.
I also have another blog post with some material you can use if you want to join me on the European challenge, and if you are already completing something similar I would love to hear from you, and maybe I will see you in my next country on the list!