It all started with an email. After four months of sharing political opinions and the need for democratic societies in an online seminar, my friend and colleague Nimrah and I were chosen to attend a seminar in Germany organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. Of course, the opportunity to meet like-minded liberals from around the world was an exciting prospect but nothing could overshadow the fact that we would be making our way to Europe! The trip had to be extended, more cities added to the list. There were plans to be made, shopping to be done and my brain was already working in overtime attempting to compress the maximum amount of sightseeing into the limited time we had.
However, the first order of business was acquiring a visa – no easy task when you have in your possession a green passport that is 3 months shy of its expiry date. Apart from the usual documents you would expect for a visa application, obtaining a Schengen visa requires a fully-planned itinerary including copies of your tickets and hotel bookings. It’s a risky bet considering there’s quite a bit of money you stand to lose on cancellation charges in case your visa gets rejected. Needless to say, this was a risk we were willing to take! Standing in line outside the German Consulate at 5 am in the morning with stray dogs scavenging for food around us and other applicants nervously tapping their feet while swapping stories about the number of trips they had already made with no success was nothing short of intimidating. For us though, nothing could put a damper on the high we were already experiencing. Long story short, despite some hiccups along the way, we finally collected our passports (with the visas) and it was time for the shopping to begin. Our itinerary consisted of three countries:
A lot of compromises had to be made, cities crossed out and travel plans re-structured before we finally settled on these three but considering the scarcity of time we were pretty pleased with our choices. We would have a total of 19 days in Europe and we were prepared to make the most of them. For the first part of the trip, we would be staying at the International Academy of Leadership. After the 10-day seminar, we would have 9 days to visit the other cities on our list while attempting to stay within a tight budget. I did a lot of research to find the cheapest transport and accommodation options that would leave us with some cash for sightseeing expenses and, of course, food! While Europe has a treasure trove of budget hotels (read: motels) for travellers like us, we had a lot of lessons in store for us as we made our way through the continent. In retrospect, having the knowledge I do now, I may have made a few different choices but I can happily say we came back with no regrets! And as I pen down my experiences, I hope they’ll help you guys make wiser choices when you plan your own trips.