Turning 30 was an important step for me. It´s a magic number. Somehow it means the end of a carefree youth when things start to get serious. Ouch! I felt like I wanted to do 1000 things before and started to think on a 30 bucket list plan. Some of my friends already were married, had children, built a house or even were already divorced. I couldn´t be more far away from that and I also was not ready for it. All the responsibility scared me. I had a good job, was earning money, was living in Cologne since a few years and was free to do what I wanted. Why to complicate my life?
When I started to work, I also started travelling. My parents couldn´t enable me to see the world, so I wanted to be able to do it by myself. There was a strong need in me of exploring the unknown. By the end of my 20ies, at the age of 26 ~ 27, I realized that the scary 30 is not far away anymore. Somehow I needed a goal, a project, a purpose, a little extra that makes me feel that I reached something by getting 30. Slowly a plan came up to my mind. What if I would visit all the European capitals until my 30th birthday? My 30 bucket list was born.
Of course I already saw some of the capitals at that time already. But I was missing a lot of them.
My bucket list of all European capitals
The capital list
There are different lists if you consult the internet about the correct number of all the European capitals. Well, here is my personal list:
|San Marino||San Marino|
|Sarajevo||Bosnia & Herzegovina|
Now that I am writing all of them down, I am realizing it is a really long list. It´s 46 capitals in total. I had 26 vacation days per year and of course I was not rich. So I needed to be creative and organize my trips well to be able to achieve my 30 bucket list goal.
How I managed to achieve my 30 bucket list
Finding cheap flights & accomodation
I became a master of finding cheap flight combinations. For going to Eastern Europe I used Wizzair a lot. I remember for example flying for 40€ return to the Ukraine with Wizzair. Other airlines that I frequented often were Ryanair, Easyjet and Germanwings (now Eurowings). I registered for all the newsletters of low cost airlines to receive their latest offers. There were not that many good vacation deal services back then (like Urlaubsguru or Holidaypirates now), so the hard work was on me. My preferred flight comparison pages are Flugidealo and Momondo.
In terms of accomodation I also became creative. I stayed in countless hostels, apartments, hotels and also did couchsurfing a few times, whatever was the best and cheapest option. I could tell some funny stories about my couchsurfing experiences, but I will leave this for another article ;). Luckily I also had some friends and colleagues that were living in some of the capitals of my bucket list, so that I could combine it and visit them.
How I financed my 30 bucket list
I lived in a cheap small 1-room apartment in Cologne and I kept my fix costs at the lowest level possible. That means I had only the minimum of insurances and tried to avoid unnecessary costs. For 3 years I didn´t even have a TV nor internet at home. I was not sleeping in my bed often anyway ;). To finance my trips I was doing everything possible. I became the flea market queen and did one flea market almost every 1-2 months and literally sold everything that I didn´t need. Some of my friends joined me and also sold stuff and it was always a fun event.
For some extra money I also rented my apartment when I was travelling. Since I didn´t have anything of value at home, that was a perfect deal for me.
Also I am lucky to have a job where I am travelling a lot. I was organizing many events in Europe at this moment, sometimes up to 20 per year. If I had an event in Milan for example I used the weekend to visit San Marino by train. The good thing was that if I combined a work trip with my bucket list I could save the flight costs and only needed to pay my accommodation.
Who I travelled with
I was mostly travelling with my friends and with colleagues, sometimes with one, often also in a groups up to 6 people (Moscow). I´m grateful to have many friends that also love to travel as much as I do and also are adventurous enough to join me :). On occasion, if no one had time to go with me, I also travelled alone (for example to Ljubljana, San Marino and Sofia). Nothing could stop me of working on my plan.
I want to thank each of my dear friends here for making every single trip so special. For sure I wouldn´t had such a great time without you. Last but not least I want to to thank you for trusting my crazy travel plans. I know sometimes I took it to the very limit ;).
My top 3 highlights of the European Capitals
If I tell the story about my 30 bucket list, people always ask me “What was your favourite capital”? Well, that´s not an easy question to answer. Of course many of these cities are beautiful such as Paris, Vienna or Rome. They definitely deserve a spot on the top capitals. But I would rate my top 3 with a slightly different criteria. I would rather ask “Which of the capitals touched you the most?”.
If I answer that question my top 3 are the following:
Sarajevo really touched my heart. I did this trip together with my friends Crisi and Manuel. One of the first things I remember is that we landed in the dark on fresh snow. You couldn´t see the runway, only a white nothing. It was really cold and the whole city looked sad.
We rented a beautiful old apartment on Airbnb. The owner, Timur, is an artist and the whole flat was decorated with his work. Dark and expressive paintings that have stories to tell that we could just imagine. Timur told us that one day soldiers came into his family`s house and woke him and his father up. They managed to escape to the attic and barricaded himself. His father had a gun and told Timur “If they get to open the door, I will first shoot you and then myself”. They survived just because they were lucky. The soldiers got distracted and left. He also told us that he saw his friend dying. He was hit by a grenade while waiting at the bus stop. Timur got injured and has metal in his whole body, but again, he survived.
We heard some more stories like that during the Sarajevo trip. You can see the sad history on every corner. Some of the buildings have bullet hole signs and you can spot many memorials. But especially you see it in people´s eyes. For most of Sarajevo´s population the war is still present in one or the other way. They all experienced horrible things and for them it feels like yesterday. That´s why there is a special atmosphere in Sarajevo that is hard to describe. People started to talk to us about it without even asking. I remember an old man that heard us speaking German while we were walking in the city. He came to me and told me what happened in this street particular street during the war. I will never forget the expression of fear in his light blue eyes when he remembered.
We also visited the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics in the mountains. The same place was occupied by snipers during the war to shoot people within the city from far distance. Another historic important sight to see is the Tunnel of Hope which is an underground tunnel that was constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War. A lasting impression.
I can strongly recommend to read the book Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini if you are interested in the topic. One of the few books that I made me cry.
Reykjavik was my last capital on the list before turning 30. I managed to complete my 30 bucket list 3 months before my birthday. It was a great feeling, to tick off this last city.
Iceland was one of the best trips I ever did. Not in particular the capital itself (which is also a great alternative city) but the whole experience. I travelled with my friend Bea and Andrea and we did a 10-day car trip. One of the things I remember is that we were so enchanted by the beautiful landscape that we stopped the car, started to run into the wild nature, waving our arms, turning around ourselfs and screaming of joy and happiness. We didn´t care that it was raining heavily and that it was windy. It´s one of these rare moments, that I only experienced 2 times in my life. Definitely Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have seen.
I visited Nicosia together with my father. We stayed 5 days in Cyprus and of course I had to pass by the capital. Nicosia is not the nicest city to be honest. But it is the only last divided city in the world (Turkey / Greece). I am born in East Germany, behind the wall and I was 6 years old when the wall came down. No surprise, that I wanted to understand how it must be to live in a divided city. That´s why Nicosia was especially interesting to me.
But it´s not only the division, it´s 2 cultures in each part of the city. There is the Greek and the European part. When you cross the border (walking!) you are in Turkey and there are mosques, people speak different and the atmosphere completely changes.
Travelling is freedom for me. It makes me feel alive and expands my horizon. My parents always told me that I should save money and not spend so much in travelling. Ok, probably I could have bought a nice car or invest in an apartment. But that would never give me the satisfaction of travelling, this pure joy. Travelling made me rich – in a way. I have learned so much and I have so many good stories to tell.
Why I am glad that I did my 30 bucket list
I am really glad that I decided for the 30 bucket list and that I was able to achieve it. When I turned 30 I was really proud of myself and I will still tell my grandchildren all the crazy stories that happened.
More reasons why I am glad:
- I still got to visit Kiev before the war started.
- I made new friends on the way. For example I met Serhat during my trip to Kiev who lives in Ankara and I visited him there and had a fantastic weekend!
- I learned not to give up even if it seems impossible.
My next goals
Of course it was a great feeling to complete my 30 bucket list. But as always in life: Once you get what you want, you always want more :). That means of course I didn´t stop travelling. I started to travel more far instead, to Asia and South America for example. My new goal now, but a lot longer one, is to reach 100 countries. For now I didn´t set a time frame for that (maybe that could be my bucket list until 40 ;). I visited 69 countries already and will get to 70 with Japan coming up next. The new bucket list is clearly harder to achieve since I have to fly long distances. Europe is already covered as you know. Let´s see how it goes…
Last but not least, what is your favourite capital in Europe and do you also have a travel bucket list?