It is hard to believe it is that time again, another three months passed thus a Shanahan Quarterly is due. Each quarter of our trip has been drastically different and the third quarter is no exception. It has been the first time we have returned to the western world, spending all three months in Europe. We started the quarter in the Czech Republic with my new-found family, headed over to Italy to meet up with Devin’s family, spent one month on the coast of Albania, a music festival in Hungary, and finished off the quarter in charming Croatia.
As you can imagine, life for us over the past three months has pretty much returned to our definition of “normal”. There are a few major aspects of international travel that make you feel far removed from everything at home, which is how we felt in Asia and Africa. Travel through Europe however, is quite similar to life at home. This post is going to share our experiences since being in Europe and contrasting those with our previous six months. For those who have lived or studied abroad in a European country, you will definitely be able to relate to our new, laid-back Euro-lifestyle.
One very crucial piece to planning a trip through Europe is the understanding of the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area is comprised of 26 countries that have agreed to allow free movement of their citizens within this area as a single country. What this means for U.S. and Canadian citizens is that you can only stay 90 days in any 180-day period within the Schengen area. Every time you enter a Schengen country the clock starts and when you leave it stops. So if you have been following our travels you will see we have had to strategically plan our trip to not overstay in the Schengen Area.
Of the final five months of our trip, only three could be in the Schengen. This took some serious research and planning on our part, but with a few longer stops in non-Schengen European countries, we were able to make it work. Albania and Croatia are not included in the Schengen Area, but Czech Republic, Italy, and Hungary are, all which we traveled to this quarter. So once you have an understanding of the Schengen Area, you can start mapping out your trip and tally up the days both in and outside the Schengen countries.
The New Normal
Our idea of normal has constantly changed throughout the past nine months, but I can confidently say we are now officially back to normal life. By normal life I mean, we have been spending extended periods of time in one city, getting back into a routine, cooking our own meals, monthly gym memberships, grocery shopping, working, etc. While these things may seem trivial at first, they are game changers in terms of how “easy” day to day life is.
Even though English is not the first language in any of the European countries we visit, it is widely understood and spoken. This has a drastic impact on the ease of everyday interactions which was one of the most challenging aspects of our previous six months. Since we do not stand out as foreigners as we did in SE Asia, Africa and India, we are not harassed by taxi drivers, store owners, and every other person we encounter. Most of the time we are now spoken to first in the native language and once we sheepishly admit to only speaking English, they switch to our language (I am not proud of this). While it has been nice being able to speak to the locals, it is also a lot less adventurous as it was when we had no way to communicate.
More time to settle in
Moving cities and countries every few days is great to maximize how much we saw but with that pace, you sacrifice the feeling of ever settling in. That is an aspect of our new travel style that I absolutely love. As we now stay longer in each location we can arrive in a city, take our time exploring, find our favorite cafes, restaurants, parks, etc. and feel as though we are connected to each place.
I am not sure if this is unique to Europe, or it is just because we are slightly memorable because we don’t speak the local language, but we have developed this real sense of belonging in the places we have been. Here are just a few examples of the warm welcome we have received throughout Europe. In Vlorë, we frequented the same few restaurants surrounding our gym and our order never waivered from greek salad and gyros and the staff would always welcome us with a smile and recite our order by memory. At our gym in Zagreb, after only a few visits I gave my last name to check in and the guy responded: “I know”. Our favorite local sandwich shop owner asks: “the regular?” when we arrive. These simple occurrences that have happened to us in Europe have warmed my heart and brought me an unsuspecting amount of joy.
The much appreciated European pace
As any American or Canadian can readily admit, we are workaholics who devote our lives to being as busy as possible and squeezing every ounce of productivity out of each day. This is no secret, phrases like the rat race, keeping up with the Joneses, get rich or die trying, all perpetuate this self-fulfilling prophecy. Whether we want to accept it or not it is our North American reality and having spent three months in Europe, I can already see they have a much different outlook on work and life.
I cannot speak for all, or even pretend to understand the complexities of the Euro vs American economy but I can say I have observed first hand the difference in pace. The focus seems to be on family, social interactions and enjoying life, rather than early mornings and late nights grinding away at the office. The extended lunches spent at a restaurant with friends, family or colleagues can be seen throughout Europe and almost non-existent in North America unless it is a “working lunch”. It is not uncommon for us to eat at our desk for fear of decreasing our productivity.
Instead of sitting in rush hour traffic for 60+ minutes to and from work, many Europeans utilize the state of the art public transit systems that connect the city. The very idea of “to-go coffee” aka Starbucks is non-existent. They do not even have takeaway cups anywhere we traveled in Italy, a nation that worships the coffee bean. This just goes to show that sitting, or standing at the espresso bar, is more important than rushing off to run your next errand. I found this so incredibly refreshing. There is no sense of urgency like there is at home and I have learned to slow down, enjoy that cappuccino and take time to truly let the gratitude sink in.
Life after Travel
Throughout this journey I have tried to be open and honest in all my posts, so as we enter the final three months I want to share some of my feelings. Those closest to me will already know that I have been getting more and more concerned about the end of this trip and what the next chapter entails. At first, it was just that ugh feeling, comparable to the dread of Monday mornings, but I easily brushed it off and moved on. But now that we have officially planned and booked our final three months plus our flight home, the reality is starting to set in that this travel dream is ending.
I am not sure if it is the sadness that we will not continue to travel around the world as we have or the fear of the unknown after it ends, but there are a lot of emotions. The past nine months have flown by and the thought of not having the new adventures to look forward to scares me. This trip has fundamentally changed who I am, what I believe, and what I want for my future and I am not sure how that will affect life after travel.
Currently, we do not know what city we will live in, let alone country. My permanent residency puts restrictions on my ability to travel as freely as we have been so some serious decisions are going to have to be made over the next three months. Even though I am having these “holy shit” moments as we approach the end, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! Aside from marrying Devin, traveling for a year is the best decision I have ever made! As with every crazy risk we have taken, things always seem to work out so here is to embracing the changes the new chapter will bring.
In typical Shanahan fashion, Devin’s parents created a betting pool with friends and family of when Devin and I would return from the trip. They started it right after we left, having each participant write their guess of the date of our return and $10, submit it to Laura and the closest guess wins the pot.
The only stipulation was that we had to be back in the U.S. within one year from the date we left, November 29. This is for immigration purposes so it was non-negotiable. There were a few who had no faith and had us return way too soon (Terri), and others who thought we would run out of money (Ed) but now that we have booked our flight back, the winner will be revealed!
The Final Stretch
Now that we have specific dates for when we reunite with our families, I am getting really excited! One year without my sister and nephews is one year too long. As more time goes by on our trip, the time seems to go faster so I know the final stretch of the trip will be gone before we know it.
We have so much to look forward to in the last quarter and I don’t want to miss out on any of it because I am worrying about life after the trip. So we are both going to soak in every minute of our last three months and continue to check things off our bucket list!