The Beauty And Freedom Of The Unknown
Updated: May 10
“Some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost.”
Two weeks ago, my husband and I spontaneously decided to go on a road trip across Europe, discovering countries that we hadn't yet visited in the past. The idea sparked during a conversation we were having on what to do for the summer holidays this year, and our minds were set in just a few minutes: We wanted to do something “great.”
The next two days were spent gearing up, preparing the car, and making arrangements to work on the go. This one-month trip was also going to be an opportunity for us to see how our two-year-old toddler would respond to longer travel, which was something we were quite excited to experience, seeing as we’re aiming for an annual live-aboard lifestyle sailing the Mediterranean Sea next year.
We decided to take our vehicle for this trip. We drove from place to place during the entire month of July and slept in small campsites here and there, because the weather has been blissful. We prepared a small budget, listed a general itinerary the night before our departure, actually switched it up last-minute the morning of, and decided to hit the road! We made up precise stops as we went along, relied mostly on cellular roaming, online maps, and last but not least, asked locals for recommendations.
I am now writing from Prague, halfway through this trip, and it has been a breathtaking journey to say the least.
The first thing I’d like to point out is how easy and quick it is to travel in Europe, between countries, whether in the European Union or not. Well, once you’re here at least, depending where you’re coming from. In just a few hours, we were out of Romania, had crossed a somewhat invisible border (resembling a road toll) with Serbia and plunged into a completely different culture. And the same went on for all the other borders we crossed.
Even if the continental landscapes are relatively identical all throughout Europe (it’s the infrastructure that mostly differs), what amazes me the most is how the cultures differ so greatly. It’s rare for me to find myself in a place where I don’t feel at home and capable of communicating with ease. My multitude of origins and all the languages I speak fluently usually come in very handy. This time though, aside from a little history, we chose an itinerary of countries we knew very little or absolutely nothing about. We wanted to face this trip as going into the unknown. We didn’t look up any information before we left, we didn’t book any accommodation or attraction ahead of time, and we certainly didn’t ask for anyone’s advice nor opinion before leaving. We wanted to build our perception from scratch. We discovered these exotic places through our sensations, unique experiences, and local interactions.
I’m very European at heart. I’ve always admired the freedom of thought, speech, and the rich intellectual cultivation of the majority of people in advanced democracies, as comparatively opposed to the mentality I was confronted with while growing up a part of my life on an island. The openness of territories and the respect for human rights; all of this is relative depending on context and perspective, of course. But let me tell you that I never thought I’d feel so foreign in Europe as I did on this trip, and I write this in a good way!
We chose Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovakia. Additionally, we visited a bit of Austria and Germany that we had already seen. I spoke none of the languages of these countries, and I still can’t entirely express the freedom and fulfilment I felt discovering things I had never seen, heard, or felt before, especially in the first set of countries. I might be addicted to discovering new surroundings, foods, music, languages, landscapes, architecture, places, people and their ways of living, especially because it's often as pleasant and as rewarding as it was here. Nothing else in life beats the joy I feel when living these moments of pure enlightenment to the fullest.
Curiously enough, I grew tired of the very “big” and industrialized countries much faster. I enjoyed more of my time, discoveries and experiences within the “smaller” ones.
Being so close to home (currently Romania), and yet so far, because everything around us is so different, I just loved every second of it; this was my ultimate thrill. Waking up in the morning, not knowing what to expect from the place you’ve just arrived in the night before. Tasting a sumptuous local dish that was recommended to you by the enthusiastic waiter without knowing what it was you were ordering minutes before. Not understanding anything people are telling you before they realize you’re a foreigner and switch to English (in most cases), getting lost because you can’t interpret the local road signs and finding that perfect quiet little green campsite with a magical sunset on the lake after a long tiring day. Or bonding with the charming guesthouse owner over breakfast on a rainy day. Seeing new places and learning new things you never knew existed nor even thought were possible.
Of course, not everything is all sunsets and rainbows. We also face a lot of unforeseen events. Our car broke down in Serbia. We ended up stuck on an overly crowded campsite one night in Germany. And we found out the hard way that certain products and services are very costly in a few countries. It rained several days in a row in one area, too. Our toddler hated leaving some places more than others and easily tired through visits on other days, causing us to rest more or shorten our tour.
But overall and so far, we have fueled up on amazing and over-the-top experiences. Since the beginning of our trip, we easily fell into a smooth traveling rhythm, working around our toddler’s meal times and sleep hours. And even more so, we’ve very much enjoyed seeing how comfortable, curious, and excited our son is as he grows and develops on this wonderful trip with us.
For me, traveling in unknown territory allows me to lose myself, to let go of everything I know, to accept that I can’t control everything. Traveling takes openness, kindness, trust, humility and a great sense of freedom. I love everything about not knowing. I find freedom in the beauty of the unknown.
Sarah the Digital GypSea
Czech Republic, July 2019