A little hometown Southern charm, big city smarts, planning and a travel strategy are all that were needed for a successful summer trip to Europe.
Those are a few of the things Raegan McKenzie, a 2017 Williamsburg Academy graduate and King’s College (NYC) student, had going in her favor this summer when she and two friends traveled aboard. After three to four months of planning, McKenzie said, and with only what she could carry on her back, she and college friends Paris Welker-Widell from Florida and Sydney Powell from Arkansas took to the sky to arrive in London.
Seven and a half weeks later, the trio flew back to New York from Amsterdam, after taking in 23 European cities in 12 countries. Along the way, McKenzie wrote about her travels and made videos of her trip, posting when they could find free wi-fi, to her Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts. (For more of her chronically of her life as a “South Carolinian in New York City,” find her online.)
Staying only in hostels each night, once with as many as 18 others who shared the one bathroom and no air conditioning, McKenzie offers the following tips now that’s returned.
Pack more socks. Wear the Dr. Scholl’s tennis shoes; Pack fewer pairs of shoes and less make up.
Stick to the budget and make purchases with an internationally-friendly charge card.
Don’t carry cash. Be aware, but not afraid.
Pack extra glasses. Though she wore contacts most of the time, just a week and a half into the trip her prescription, designer glasses were stolen.
“Apparently that’s a thing,” she said, telling the story. “They steal them and put new lenses in them.”
“We chose the cheapest option,” McKenzie said about choosing which hostel to stay in. In one, they encountered bed bugs. They left that hostel to find another, so staying flex-ible is a must when travelling hostel to hostel.
Washing their clothes in tubs or sinks was a new experience for McKenzie, as well. And while London and Paris were modern, like NYC, other places they stayed were not as sophisticated or modern.
In another hostel, something was stolen from them. They left that hostel a bad review online. Another time, in Portugal, the hostel was overbooked and they were the ones asked to leave.
The travelers also made good friends along the way, McKenzie said, with others traveling as they were, some from Australian and South Africa. English was spoken nearly everywhere, she said, so language was not a barrier.
In Spain, McKenzie said, they each used their Spanish skills to order food and make a little conversation.
To do things cheaply, be prepared to walk. “We walked at least 10 miles a day,” she said, adding that they didn’t pay for tourist buses or lifts.
The trip was “one big, giant circle,” McKenzie said. And went something like this: London, Paris, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, Sinatra, Pizza, Florence, Rome, Venice, Lucerne, Interlaken, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Berlin and Amsterdam, give or take a city.
That’s England, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland (which McKenzie called “magical”), Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands, give or take a country. Traveling from country to country by train, with their unlimited Euro-rail pass, took at most four hours, McKenzie said, much like going from state to state in America.
“I wish we had a train system like theirs,” she said.
Fifty-two days. She could have been in South Carolina, but instead chose to travel. McKenzie sent photos and made sure her family and friends knew she was safe and happy. She was having the time of her life, checking off countries on her travel bucket list, she said.
To communicate with family back home and to post online with their phones required wi-fi. Free wi-fi. For that, they looked for McDonald’s, she said. One big surprise to her, on the trip, was the number of Kentucky Fried Chickens in Europe.
“They’re everywhere … they love them,” she said. The girls tried to eat locally, at least one meal while in country, to taste the cuisine, but mostly lived off peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars, she said.
Experiencing the beef stew and potatoes of Budapest and Italy’s pasta are two of her favorite memories.
Hollywood’s, and thus, America’s influence on the world is one thing McKenzie said she became more aware of while traveling. She was able to avoid a pick pocket in Paris, she said, by staring him down, and came to a better understand along the way of just how young America is.
“We are only 200 years old,” she said. “Rome, and those places, … are thousands of years old.”
You have to do these things, McKenzie, like travel with a backpack through Europe, while you’re young and you can. She said once she graduates in May, 2020, she’ll have to get a job and then travelling will become more difficult and less often.
Traveling is such a good experience, she said. “Do your research ... Do it for cheap … It’s not as hard as you think.”
What’s next? McKenzie said she’ll likely start taking in the states, now. She hasn’t been to Boston, a two-hour train trip from NYC, and she’d like to see the west coast states.
Remember, she said, after suffering from blisters in the beginning of her trip, to pack the comfy shoes.