Now that the Europe on Foot Adventure Challenge is over I thought it would be apt to write a second, 'post-trek' FAQ article based on many of the questions I received during the walk from people I met on the way, and from folks online.
1. Was it what you expected?
Honestly I wasn't expecting much at the beginning except that it would be hard and my feet would hurt; but also that it would be an incredible experience. Fortunately this was an accurate estimation, but it is so high-level that it doesn't capture the essential essence of the walk at all. I say this because the real experience came down to all of the little moments that occurred each day. When you're walking, moving at 'human pace' (which is nice and slow), unexpected things occur all the time. Granted, there were days when not much happened at all other than simply trudging along, but most days were filled to the brim with interesting moments. Encounters with wildlife, friendly/odd/crazy/loud/suspicious local people, unpredictable weather and trail conditions; I could go on. Through much of my meditation training I've learned that it is very important to let go of expectations in all aspects of life. Of course at the outset of this challenge that was nearly impossible, but I'm getting better.
2. What was the biggest challenge?
By far the biggest challenge was the hot summer weather, in Hungary and Romania in particular. It was between 34 and 43 degrees celsius every day for over 6 weeks of the walk, with very little in the way of cover from vegetation or cloud. I'm not a summer person, I never have been - so this really tested me. I got heatstroke twice, and almost felt like quitting on some days. My mental fortitude was really under siege during this time, and I lost a lot of motivation. Interestingly, the physical challenge of walking itself didn't present many issues, just sore feet from time to time. If it was 20 degrees every day I would have cruised to Istanbul without many thoughts of hardship at all.
3. What was the biggest highlight?
There are far too many profound and wonderful highlights to list here, but at a very high level, the best thing about this whole experience was knowing that what I was doing was helping to rebuild the Women's School in Nepal. The single largest source of motivation for me to keep walking was when a donation for the school came through. I really hope we can continue to raise funds for this extremely important project.
Related to the hiking experience itself, the best part was the sense of pure freedom I had every day. Knowing that I could eventually get anywhere just using my own two legs, and had the equipment on my person to eat, sleep, and survive anywhere I pleased was incredibly liberating. I recommend setting forth on a similar adventure to anyone, if you want to experience both a lofty sense of freedom, and a grounded connection to the immediate environment.
4. Did you have a lot of spare time?
Absolutely not! Most days I would walk 6-12 hours, which on average equates to a 'full time' schedule - then in the evening (when I was often exhausted) or on rest days I had online admin work to do, social media posts to write, donor emails to send, and so on. Finding Couchsurfing hosts and writing hundreds of requests took up a lot of time, as did poring over maps and sattelite imagery to find hiking routes and hidden places to wild camp. I definitely anticipated this as part of the challenge, so I was happy to put the hours in!
5. Did you ever 'cheat'?
Before setting off I made up two 'rules' for myself - which were to cover the entire route on foot, and to not pay for accommodation. The route was jeopardised three times - once for 10km when I was arrested in Romania, once when I hitchhiked for 10km to get to a town for urgent medical reasons, and once for 15km in Turkey when I accepted a ride from a couple because they spoke English and I just really wanted to have a conversation with someone! So yes, due to some unfortunate circumstances, and once due to my own laziness, I missed one days' worth of the hike.
As for accommodation, I bought 2 nights at a hotel in the town in Romania I hitched to when I was sick - I really just needed a space to recover. I had had diarrhea and vomiting as a result of food poisoning and heatstroke and needed to hydrate and rest. I also paid for a night of accommodation at a seedy motel on my last night in Bulgaria for safety reasons - I was so close to the Turkish border and there were police there, with dogs, actively searching for refugees; so camping was not an option. So in total, three nights of the walk were at cost.
6. How much money did you spend?
I spent almost exactly $1,500 AUD. That's less than $10 per day. Not bad for five months in Europe. Of course as I head further East, things got much cheaper, and I was often spending less than half of what I was in Western Europe. Note that this figure does not include my insurance or initial transport costs. If I'd made my own food and not eaten at so many restaurants and bakeries it would have been significantly cheaper as well.
7. Did you ever feel unsafe?
The only times I ever felt unsafe was around the dogs in Eastern Europe, and when forced to walk on busy roads. Almost every day in Romania and Bulgaria I was attacked by dogs. Most of them weren't strays but were owned by farmers and people in small villages. Unfortunately many dogs in that region are chained up, mistreated, and bred to be aggressive. I always had to keep some rocks in my hipbelt pocket and my walking sticks in my hands. It began to get quite frustrating after so many weeks of daily attacks, but mostly I just felt so sorry for the poor dogs, who never seemed to receive any affection from their owners. I also came up close and personal with wild boars twice on the trek - which are known to be dangerous.
One of the challenging elements of this trek is that I was most often walking in places where nobody usually walks, and that are not designed for walkers in the slightest. This meant I had to walk on main roads from time to time, which was often unsafe. Especially in Eastern Europe, where many drivers are totally insane, I had several near-misses from cars and trucks. I never felt unsafe around any other people, or in any specific places, though.
8. Were you ever bored?
Not at all. Sometimes I was struggling a little physically and mentally, or was frustrated at the daily dog attacks, near misses from trucks, or the weather; but 99.9% of the time, I was in great spirits and having the time of my life. Walking is such a pure and perfect mode of transportation - you have everything you need right there with you, and you experience everything in minute detail, because you are moving at 'human pace'. Every flower, stone, tree, cloud, person, animal, gust of wind, sound, etc. can perceived deeply because you are moving slowly enough to see and feel everything. This alone kept me entertained as I rambled along. Sometimes, however, to vary things a little; I would listen to music or podcasts.
9. Would you do it again?
Absolutely. Journeys of this magnitude are always a pleasure to undertake, and the slowed perception of time you get (the five months felt like two years, at least) is worth the effort and taking the first step. That being said, I would do things a bit differently next time. Namely, I would try not to make it a 'challenge' for myself but rather just head out on foot or on a bicycle with no rules, no end goal, no route, and just TRAVEL. This way I feel like it would be a more relaxing and liberating experience, and I could be far more disconnected from social media, electronics, and online obligations. I could spend more time in one place rather than moving around most days, and spend more time really connecting with people.
I would also love to undertake more long journeys like this with another person, or a small group. I think sharing all of the ups and downs of grand adventures with others would be wonderful.
I'm hoping to get a bicycle sometime soon and make that my new home, so I can carry more, cook more of my own food to save money, and of course, move a little faster.
Thanks for reading this article, and I hope it cleared up any questions you may have had about the Europe on Foot Adventure Challenge. As I mentioned earlier in the article, the most important aspect of this challenge by far is raising funds for the Women's School in Nepal. So please, if you're inspired by my effort of crossing a continent on foot - please donate to the Women's School at www.thisworldexists.org/walk.