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  • Writer's pictureStephen Hart

10 Things I Learned in Europe

After 2 full months of travel, 10 cities, 6 countries, 13 hostels, 3 soccer games, and 0 regrets, I am home. And what an adventure it was. I followed my heart from place to place and was led exactly to where I needed to go, met the people I was supposed to meet, and faced the things I needed to face.

My path was: London -> Amsterdam -> Rotterdam -> The Hague -> Copenhagen -> Malmo -> Gothenburg -> Copenhagen (again) -> Munich -> St. Gallen -> Ruschein -> London


Each day along my journey I reflected on the prior day, what happened, and how I was feeling. Below is my account of 10 things that I learned or confirmed about myself along the way.

  1. I am a nature boy. I tried to be a city boy, but it’s not me. Being in nature lifts me up, while too much time in the city starts to weigh me down. I feel at home in the trees or by the water. As I went from city to city, I naturally found my way to the parks and gardens, where I felt the most joy. As I sit amongst the trees, I remember one of my favorite ideas- the apple tree never stresses about how many apples it can produce. With multiple projects on my plate, and a never-ending to-do list, this reminds me that everything will come in time; there’s no need to stress about how much and how quickly to produce. I can feel the weight slip off my shoulders, and my breathing becomes more free. Nature is my greatest teacher.

  2. Spontaneous level 10. I love freedom and flexibility. During this trip, I never booked anything more than three days out. Not having a plan allowed me to follow my heart and stay open to experiences. It was a test of my ability to let go of control and trust that everything would be okay, that I could listen to my heart and be led to the right places. My itinerary changed more times than I can count, and it always worked out for the best. Some of the most memorable moments were the most spontaneous.

  3. Into the deep. I find so much joy in an open and meaningful conversation. I don’t care much about meeting people at a bar or party because conversations are shallow and often hard to hear. I am much happier sitting in a park and having a deep conversation with one or a small group of people. My most fond memories of this trip were profound, hours-long chats about all things life and death.

  4. Water, please. Alcohol just doesn’t do it for me. I didn’t drink for several years, and this last year I tested myself with alcohol to see how it affects me these days. There have been a couple of occasions where I enjoyed the experience, mostly at events like a bachelor party, but casually, I don’t like it. I won’t say I’ve had my last drink ever, but it is definitely very low on my priority list. I found myself at a drinking-focused event in various cities a few times, wanting to enjoy it as I did in my 20s, but it was not as fun as I wanted it to be. Accepting this allowed me to avoid FOMO and prioritize things I actually do enjoy, even when everyone around me is focused on the party.

  5. How do you feel? Karina used to ask me and others this question all of the time, and I find myself doing it more and more, and it leads to such open and honest conversations. Karina always appreciated how easily people opened up to her; she was proud of that quality in herself, and I’m finding this is now true for me. On this trip, I sat with many different people of different cultures, ages, and genders and had deep conversations where they told me things they’d never told another person. They trusted me with their deep insecurities and trauma, and I held space in a way that would have made Karina proud. I shared tears with several people on this trip, each in such a meaningful way that I will never forget. I cherish those moments.

  6. Freedom vs Love. I spent a lot of time contemplating the balance of freedom and love in a committed relationship, especially in the realm of travel. On my trip, I could eat anywhere, sleep anywhere, and do anything I wanted with complete freedom, with no one to answer to or consider. Changing my mind several times in a day may have driven a companion crazy, but solo, it didn’t matter. As much as I appreciated that, I often recognized in myself a desire for someone to share a deeper experience with, even if that meant sacrificing my spontaneity. Having traveled with Karina for years, and now alone, I’ve experienced both sides of the coin and discovered I am more drawn to sharing with a companion.

  7. Emptying my cup. When I am distracted for too long, focusing on other things like travel, work, etc., slowly, my cup fills up with unprocessed grief. It largely goes unnoticed until it starts to get full. When that is the case, things that don’t normally trigger me begin to strike me. For example, I am used to seeing Karina’s picture every day. My iPhone reminds me constantly of all the memories we shared together with daily cute photo albums from our seven years together. I’ve seen it enough that it doesn’t affect me and largely brings me joy. But when my grief cup is full, I see a photo and my gut clenches, energy moves through my body, and I can feel the tears start to creep up. Often this is in a public place where it wouldn’t be appropriate to grieve, so I take it as a signal that I have some work to do. I’ve learned to shelve the emotion until I have some alone time to sit and grieve it fully, emptying my cup. Though an unpleasant process, it leaves me feeling light and grateful again. This is much easier to do at home than on the road, but I’ve learned how important it is and thus had to intentionally give myself space for this work as I traveled.

  8. I am awesome. I’m no better than anyone else, everyone is awesome, but most of us don’t recognize how awesome we truly are. I define Love as the recognition that we are all one of the same, and I can only love others as much as I love myself. The deeper I love myself, the deeper I can love those around me. Part of loving myself is to embrace the amazing things about me as well as appreciate the imperfect aspects of myself, and hold myself in a compassionate embrace for who I am and what I’m doing in this life. Time and again, I felt proud of who I’ve become as I enjoyed connecting with new people and cultures as I navigated the ups and downs of spontaneous solo travel.

  9. Health is power. Food, exercise, and sleep are so important to my mental and emotional well-being. My most challenging days on the road came when I struggled to sleep, find adequate food, and access the type of exercise that feels best in my body. When I don’t get what I need, the voice of anxiety is louder and harder to ignore. When rested, well-fed, and exercised, I feel I can take on the world. Recognizing this, when anxiety crept in, I shifted my focus to meet these needs. That might mean taking a day off adventuring to find a gym, booking a nice hotel for a better night's sleep (and some privacy to grieve if needed), and treating myself to a healthier meal. These health breaks in my travel were paramount to my well-being. But more importantly, the ability to recognize “I am feeling anxious, and it is due to lack of sleep” and then make an effort to solve that issue is a very valuable tool in my toolkit.

  10. Home. I love my home. And I was excited to come back. I honestly was a little sad to leave in the first place. My dog, my dad, my friends, my community, my apartment, my beach, all provide so much joy in my life. Traveling is amazing and I enjoyed the experience so much, but I am so happy to be home and inspired to jump back into my work and routines. I have big plans for the rest of this year, and I’m excited to move forward with it all.

Favorites of my trip:

Favorite Food: Dishoom, London

Favorite City: Amsterdam

Favorite Moment: Arsenal soccer game

Favorite Surprise: Munich, Germany

Favorite Nature: Switzerland

Favorite Park: Vondelpark, Amsterdam

Favorite Garden: Gothenburg Botanical Garden, Sweden

Favorite Accent: British

Favorite Yoga Studio: Kula, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Favorite Conversation: Tie between a Ukrainian refugee and an Indian theoretical physics professor


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