I’m Dave Cousin from the UK and there’s nothing I love more than travelling the countries of Europe: from ground level ideally.
You miss so much travelling by plane and just visiting big cities, the slower you are travelling the better and I love cycling tours and hiking though with a car you can get around to a lot more places.
The important thing when driving around though is to be willing to stop: so build time into your schedule to stop and look around whether it be to take pictures of a scenic village or relax by a peaceful stream.
Though my travels have mostly been limited to Europe thus far I still feel well travelled as I’ve had time to take places in properly and seen more of the countries I’ve visited than most .
I have travelled my own country the UK much more than most people I know who are often sadly ignorant of the beauty England, Wales and Scotland have or the vibrant and historic cities there are to visit here apart form London.
I have also travelled a lot in France: as a child on family holidays, on my own and now with my wife. France is a beautiful country with a lot of history and almost every town, city and village has something to see. A couple of years ago I headed down to Montpellier by car but avoiding all motorways, the road signs drove me to distraction but I took in a lot more of the country and saw the landscape, architecture and culture change as I headed south.
Montpellier is a great city and one of my favourites the heart of the city within the old city walls is packed with history and great food and drink too. Food and Drink are an important part of travelling for me and I love trying new dishes, not just national dishes but local specialties too and as for the drinks: wine, beer, liqueurs: they all seem to taste better when locally made.
If you think driving is a good way to see a country then cycling or even walking are even better, I cycled to Paris a little while ago, using a ferry a long the way, and not only did I take in more of the countryside, towns and villages I passed but I actually found my spoken French improving dramatically as I talked to people in many of the places I went through: this is also an advantage of travelling alone.
I have travelled alone and with other people and enjoy both in their own ways, lately holidays have mainly been with my wife and though I love the company I can’t wait to go cycling across Belgium on my own later in the summer. The freedom to go where you want with no limitations is great for your mind and wellbeing: not least if your life is usually controlled by work and family: whether you travel alone by bike, car or foot I would recommend it to anybody.
I have of course travelled by plane at times and by train, travelling by train has its own advantages as you meet people on the train itself though don’t expect to see much of what you are passing, especially if travelling by night; then again there are of course a lot more places you can stop off than if you were travelling by plane.
On one trip I flew out to Istanbul, another of my favourite cities, along with a friend, we then after a few days in the city backpacked travelling by train and by foot through Turkey and Greece to get to Athens: stopping along the way and getting the ferry out to a few Greek islands as to where we spent some time working. I then spent two months working in Athens and that really is something else if you want to get to know a place.
Sometimes when you first visit a place it can be hard to interact with people, the places in the guidebook are all tourist filled so where do you go to meet locals, and how do you communicate with them? Generally I find people in all of the countries I have visited are very welcoming and interested by people from other countries and so be it on public transport, in a café or in a bar you can just try and strike up a conversation, even if you start it off by asking them for some local information. Most of Europe speaks English but make an attempt first to speak their language, the French especially are receptive to this effort and may refuse to speak any English unless you make an effort first.
If you do like to have a few drinks of course then a bar is an ideal place to meet people, large groups especially are often easier to talk to than individuals or one or two people but I normally play it by ear. This part of a trip meeting new people is certainly one of my favourite parts of travelling and is actually easier when travelling alone or with one other person normally.
I have been on trips with larger groups as well mind you and though these were fun you don’t get to take in as much as you would like or at least not what you would like. Having said this in both Amsterdam and Prague with large groups me and one or two others broke off to take in some history and museums while others nursed their hangovers: so just because you are travelling with others doesn’t mean you are completely tied down, unless you are with one other person.
I like travelling with one other person but its important to choose carefully, they should have similar interests but you also need to be both willing to compromise and give and take a bit: travelling with another person on a road trip also means you can share the driving of course.
Although I do want to travel beyond Europe I ideally want to drive still; my next few trips I have planned though are in Europe and perhaps North Africa. As well as cycling in Belgium this year I hope to take in Denmark and Sweden for the first time as well as seeing more of Belgium, Holland and Germany on the way: this I will be doing by car rather than cycling though.
Talking of Germany I’m also looking forward to going to Munich for Oktoberfest this year, going to a major festival or event is also great for getting into a city or a country and finding opportunities to meet people: this can include music festivals, cultural festivals, food and drinks festivals and sports events. I’m personally a big Formula One fan and my cycle in Belgium will be taking me to Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix.