Thursday, January 15, 2009

Europe on $5 a day?

It's really possible. $5 a day.

These days when people say they backpack through Europe, there's an implication of Eurail Passes and youth hostels, and it costs more like $45 a day. To actually backpack through Europe, though, by walking, not taking the train, is not only fully do-able, but it's a terrific experience and low cost.

For pilgrims to Santiago or other major traditional routes (Rome, Mont St Michel, among others) and for Boyscouts and Girlscouts, it is entirely possible to walk through Europe, from small town to small town, to discover the places and the people for very little money.

In many towns, local residents put themselves on a list at the mayor's office or tourist information center to host such a traveller for a night and give them dinner and breakfast at no charge. 'Chez l'inhabitant' is the designation. They're often retired couples with empty bedrooms since their kids have moved away. It's a win-win convention, like the modern 'couch-surfing' idea. In larger towns, where there's a priest in residence, checking in at the parish office, is another place to find a place to sleep for the night - the priest knows a lot of people.

I highly recommend travel for anyone who's interested in expanding their horizons. Walking not only allows for an intimate discovery of the land and people, unachievable by car or even bicycle, but is terrific for fitness. In summer, for those who can tolerate the heat, a light sleeping bag, a change of clothes, some basic personal items, and a few odds and ends in a small backpack, is easy to manage.

I send out an appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and a little time on their hands to give this a try - in France, in Spain, in Italy... wherever. Students - step up, show some courage, set off and learn about life. Language teachers - what better way to keep up your language skills on your summer holiday. History teachers - walk the walk, don't just talk about it in the classroom. Architects, engineers, artists, musicians, journalists... who couldn't benefit?

What are the arguments against this? It's dangerous. Life's dangerous, get over it. The chances of encountering some nasty diabolical person are no different in the French countryside than in your own hometown. Don't understand the language. What better way to learn? It's far away. Bah... just an excuse.

There are people who want life to be multiple choice - a list of all the different things to do with everything explained in detail, and after thorough evaluation and consultation of appropriate guidebooks will select from the list with full expectations and no surprises. How safe. How unrealistic. Others just open the door and start off without any preconceived ideas. What's the worst that can happen?


Tara Jerry said...

Sounds exciting, but sorry, my Europe trip won't be a pilgrimage. (Doubt Mom would let me anyway!)

Compostelle 2008 said...

Hi Ann,

Now this describes how I felt walking my pilgrimage! I cycle a lot in Europe and though it is a pleasant way to travel, there is nothing like walking through the countryside and villages to learn about the life of those who live in that region.

Thanks for the memories!

Michèle (Canada)

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