Europe: Should I Just Go?

I know last May I doubted if I was going to be in the financial or head space to realize my long-held dream of going overseas (for the first time in my life) and seeing Europe come 2024, but now in August of 2023? I feel so ready. So ready I’m having a hard time working up interest in my upcoming trip to the Northeast, even though it’ll involve being in New England over Halloween and completing all 48 contiguous states! So ready I almost feel up to just up and leaving right now. But first things first: New England calls, along with those last 10 states. I’m sure that despite mentally jumping the gun to daydreaming of overseas destinations I’ll thoroughly enjoy a taste autumn in the land of the Yankees.

These are all the states and provinces — and all the parts of the world — I’ve ever stepped foot in.

As yet I’ve displayed all the intrepidness of a Nazgûl: I can range overland thousands of miles, but at the water’s edge I just stop, dismount, and stare at the horizon. Well, excepting that one time I hopped on a sunset cruise on a sailboat (Classic Harbor Line’s “America 2.0”) off Key West, where I went several miles offshore, setting my personal record for southernmost reach in the process: 24°32’04” N.

My northernmost reach? 48°43’57” N, set on Highway 2 in Moyle Springs, Idaho. Westernmost reach? 124°43’36.0″ W, set at Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States, as well as the westernmost point you can drive to. Easternmost reach? Set somewhere in Maryland not far outside of Washington when I was a child, though I’m not sure of the exact location; in any case, this autumn I’ll be ranging into Maine, considerably further east. I’m toying with the idea of driving clear to Lubec, Maine, the easternmost point in the contiguous United States.

That’ll be it for 2023’s travels, at least as far as record ranging is concerned, but come 2024? I’m so in the mood for something much bolder. That forty-eighth state isn’t going to be the end of the line for me.

Already I’m fairly well-traveled by domestic standards. Only 18% of Americans have seen so much as 30 states; only 5% have crested 48, as I will have by the end of this year (source). By international standards, not so much, though even there my record isn’t exactly embarrassing. I have at least left the United States at some point, which 27% of Americans can’t say for themselves. Still, 73% of Americans have matched or exceeded my number of countries visited: 1, in my case Canada. Only 54% of Americans have been to more than one other country, and only 11% have visited 10 or more countries (source).

Well, I’m going to be joining that rarefied group soon enough: Europe calls to me, and the Schengen Area alone has 30 countries. I personally find air travel and international border controls to be harrowing, so I like to keep it to a minimum; alas, to answer the call to Europe I feel within me, I must run that gauntlet. But I could potentially stay for months in between arrival and departure, which is plenty of time to see everything I’d like.

What would that consist of? My tentative plan calls for taking a direct flight to London, where I’d emerge in the United Kingdom. From there I go to the continent, and make use of the train system to visit every country on the mainland west of Turkey and the Russia/Ukraine/Belarus trio. That group includes 39 countries, and ranges over a rather wide area. Ireland would be a fortieth country, and if I decide to visit Iceland on this particular trip as well that would make 41. Will I visit all of those places on my 2024 trip? I’m honestly not sure if I’m up to all that, but I’m of a mind to rack up a count in the dozens if it’s feasible while I’m over there. Of course I’ll take the time to enjoy the sights and sensations along the way.

I’ve weighed the various times of the year I could go, and I’m leaning heavily at this point toward doing it in the summer. Yes, it’s peak tourist season, but the days are long at Europe’s latitudes, and the weather clement; even in the hotter sections the sun angle is so low compared to what I’m used to it shouldn’t present a problem. One showstopper I thought was that summer would preclude exploring winter sports such as skiing…but turns out that was mistaken!

Europe has surprisingly robust offerings of glacier skiing as far south as the Italian Alps, which run during the summer; most spectacularly, in Scandinavia there are places like Riksgränsen, where the ski season runs long enough and the location is far north enough to permit skiing under the midnight sun. I’ve never skied or snowboarded before in my life, so for all I know I might be jumping off the deep end (update: it would seem not; the place has beginner-friendly terrain and a ski school with private lessons, including for first-time skiers), but skiing under the midnight sun sounds like such an ultimate experience I just can’t resist the thought.

I simply must do that! And see the midnight sun in Europe’s northernmost reaches in gorgeous Norway, which range as far as 71 degrees north. A side trip to Svalbard, the northernmost place in the world accessible to normal tourists, might be even more compelling: this High Arctic archipelago sits at a studly 78 degrees north.

Similarly impressive are the options for companionship. In Amsterdam and across the Netherlands the high end of escort girls are hot, high-class, and surprisingly affordable…oh, and did I mention completely legal? The Dutch are even the world leaders at offering a “virgin experience” package, an option I’ll likely avail myself of when I go over there.

I always wanted losing my virginity to be something special and magical: a fun date with a girl who’s beautiful, intelligent, classy, and who I really loved, or at least was attracted to, while I’m still young. But it’s clear to me at this point that it’s very unlikely I’m going to get that experience unless I pay for it.

I’m not an unattractive sort to say the least, but I’m deathly averse to dating locally; I fully intend to permanently extricate myself from my geographic situation, and becoming attached to anyone who has anything to do with my region is too great a risk for me to bear. Unfortunately, extrication is on track to happen for me perhaps at the age of 40, too late to get the experience I need for my life to feel complete and fulfilled.

Even if I wasn’t, the pickings are rather slim. I get out and socialize a lot, but in all my years I’ve met a grand total of one person who I could fall in love with, namely my best friend, but she’s already married; she’s a better girlfriend to me than a lot of people’s actual girlfriends are, and I adore her for that, but as far as I’m concerned anything sexual is off the table.

As an aside, this sort of thing is a surprisingly ubiquitous issue in my life; I’m flirted with by a lot of women, and get no shortage of indications of attraction and interest, but all of these women (yes, all of them) are already married to other men! Many of them even have children! My morals don’t make me categorically opposed to being the spear counterpart of Lady Hamilton, but I really think it would be less dangerous for all concerned if I went to Amsterdam…

Over the years I have met several women who, although I’m not prone to really fall in love with, I wouldn’t mind losing my virginity to; I hit it off well enough with them and they’re physically attractive. Classic girlfriend material; not the love of your life, but a good companion for fun (and even hot) dates once in a while. But again: I’m not fishing in local waters. And even if I was, I’m actually not sure of their romantic status; for all I know every last one of them might have a husband, or at least a boyfriend. The latter wouldn’t present too formidable an obstacle; no divorce, no children. But why go the extra mile to pry from someone else’s arms a girl who’s anything short of soul mate material? For me at least, it’s just not worth the effort.

And even leaving all that aside, at the age of 29 I’ve waited so long I don’t think I’d be truly satisfied with my first time being somewhere mundane, like my home region or frankly anywhere in this country. No, a high-end Dutch girl while on vacation in Europe is not only the most legal, obvious, and accessible option to get what I want, it will also satisfy that craving for my first time to be something really special. Later times? We’ll see.

In light of how my top priorities, at least at this stage of the brainstorming process, would be to see the world-class city that is London, go on a hot date in Amsterdam, and then go ski under the midnight sun in Scandinavia, it strikes me that a minimalistic trip would be to fly there, hit all three of those destinations, and then leave for home. That would be the bare-bones version of the sort of trip I’m after. Now, that would entail only seeing eight countries, and only the northwestern section of Europe, but it is an option if I’m under more severe financial (or even time) constraints than I’m anticipating.

Perhaps how I’ll arrange it is to go on this minimalistic track first and then double back southward, perhaps through the Baltic area, beginning my tour of the rest of Europe. That way my top priorities are taken care of in the early stages and everything else is more flexible and optional. I’m not sure how long I’ll see fit to stay over in the Old Continent.

The countries are small and densely packed with points of interest compared to American states, but 39 countries is a lot to cover. A month’s trip would entail an average of one country a day, which seems brisk. On the flip side, I usually blow through states and cities in a pretty short time when it comes to sightseeing, so that may well be ample time. Alternatively, if I really like it over there and don’t feel like blowing by these areas or going home too quickly, a rate of even one country every two days would stretch out my stay to two months.

Two months starts to approach the 90-day limit an American citizen can stay in the Schengen Area without a visa during any 180-day period. Or with a visa; it seems that there is next to no legal avenue for general-purpose tourism that extends beyond 90 days, which is a bit surprising. I’d expect the policy would be something like “after the visa-free period, you can get a tourist visa to extend your stay for up to another 90 days if you can prove you have means to support yourself during that time”, but nope, it seems to be either visa-free or vamoose! No in-between. Curious.

Not that it’s of much practical relevance to me; even economizing a great deal, even one month in Europe will be fairly expensive for my budget, let alone more than three months. Still, like my big road trip to California last winter, it’s something I feel I must do, and soon. You’re only young once, right?

For travel that’s really congealing into my big goal for 2024. Alaska and the Caribbean stand as the most obvious follow-up destinations, but I care to eventually see a broad cross-section of the world: Japan, Bali, the South Pacific, Argentina, Africa, Singapore, New Zealand, Arabia, Russia (if relations ever improve…), and even Antarctica. But that all starts to sound expensive, and frankly, compared to Europe, those destinations can wait.

Still, it gives me goals, hopes, and dreams to strive for. Even if, after 2024, I just venture to one of those destinations a year (a relatively brisk pace for someone with a modest nest egg), that takes me all the way to 2034. My traveling thirties await, it seems…

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