📆 Days in Europe
Dan's curiosity of Europe's history and culture began in high school when he took his first trip to Europe with his class. The adventures and heartbreak of this first trip helped him discover himself. It also sparked a lifelong curiosity with travel and experiencing foreign places.
After high school Dan went on to study in Rome for a semeter, falling in love with the Eternal City. Getting lost in Rome's streets and Italy's countryside has been some of Dan's favorite experiences. Today Dan avoids getting lost with the help of his smartphone and travel apps, but misses the days when wandering through an unknown city was part of the fun and adventure.
European travel gives me everything! Adventure, excitement, new experiences, new cultures. In a word: Perspective.❞
Hello! What's your name, where are you from, and where have you travelled to in Europe?
My name is Dan Giacomini. I am from East Aurora, NY. I have travelled to the British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales), France, Italy, and Portugal
In one sentence, why should someone travel to/through Europe?
There are a million different reasons, but to boil it down to a single sentence: to discover the world and discover yourself.
What motivated you to take your first trip to Europe?
I was in a high school program called "International Studies" that culminated in a 3 week trip to Europe. I was already pretty curious and interested in European history and culture at that time, but the real motivation was probably more about experiencing that adventure with our class.
What went into planning your first trip to Europe?
Almost none. It was a tour company that had the itinerary already pre-determined, so all I did really was show up.
If you had to plan one final, perfect Eurotrip, what would the itinerary look like?
Without any restrictions on time and budget, I would think the perfect Eurotrip would be as long and include as many different stops as possible. I'd want to revisit some of my favorite places (Rome), and also some places I've never been but have been wanting to travel to: Chiavenna (Italy), where my dad's family comes from; Germany, France, Eastern Europe, and more.
What's your advice for first-time Eurotriprs who are just starting to plan a trip?
Obviously clarifying your goals (what you want to do/see on the trip) and your budget are two key factors. I would start there. Maybe plan a dream trip, understand how far over your budget that would be to actually achieve, and then scale back your itinerary accordingly until you're within a healthy budget range.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced when planning your Eurotrip?
I've honestly never really planned a trip. My first trip was the high school tour that was all pre-planned, my second was studying abroad in Rome, my third was a work trip to the Azores, and my fourth was a honeymoon to Italy that my wife planned.
In your opinion, is Europe an expensive place to travel? Why / why not?
I've never really experienced travel to other continents, so it's hard to compare with alternatives. In general, I would say travel to/from is pretty expensive, but almost everything else is basically as cheap or expensive as you make it.
Because all of my trips have been "pre-planned" in a sense, I've never really done any planning -- much less budget-conscious planning -- so I'm not really an authority here. But if I were forced to give advice about this, I would say try to trim budget where it gets most expensive: transportation, lodging, and food. So opt for a Eurail pass instead of renting a car. Choose hostels instead of more costly hotels. Choose cheap grocery stores and even petty theft over eating at restaurants every meal.
These choices are sure to diminish the quality of the trip somewhat, but the experience of walking the streets and experiencing the atmosphere or Rome, for example, is much more valuable than how you get there, or where you stay when you're there, or even where you get your food and drink (the food and wine at cheap corner stores is still going to be incredible, just less incredible than eating at fancy restaurants).
What are the 3 most important things to consider when packing for a trip to Europe?
I honestly have no idea. I would say chargers/adapters, weather, and I can't think of a third.
I say these things just thinking about what are important things to pack for any trip anywhere, not specific to Europe. I can't really think of any packing do's or don'ts that are specific to Europe. But just generally, you need chargers and a way to plug them in (adaptors), and having the right clothes for different weather situations will be key especially if you are going the hostel, backpacking, on-the-cheap route.
How would you pack differently for a 1-week trip to Europe versus a 1-month trip?
For the one week trip I wouldn't bring as many outfits.
What is your favorite destination in Europe? Why?
Rome. It's the Eternal City. It's where I lived when I studied abroad. It's the coolest place I've ever been.
The fabric of the city is an incredible, almost unfathomable blend of ancient structures, medieval relics, renaissance masterpieces, and everything in between. It's the least symmetrical city I've ever been to, which makes spending an afternoon getting lost wandering narrow winding streets among the most fun things you can do there. It's a much grittier city than a Florence or a Milan, but to me that only adds to its appeal.
There are endless nooks and crannies to explore, but then just as quickly as you get lost in the maze of winding alleys, you take one of them and it opens up onto places like Piazza della Rotonda, the incredible town square before the Pantheon, a majestic 2,000 year old building whose dome is still to this day the largest unreinforced solid concrete dome in the world. There are at least a dozen similar "must-see" attractions within the Centro of Rome (Colosseum, Roman Forum, Piazza Navona, Spanish steps, St. Peters Square, etc etc), but the real joy of Rome, to me, is the space in between each of those, and the experience of taking one's time navigating that space on foot.
What was your first trip to Europe like?
It was amazing and awe inspiring and heartbreaking all at once. It was my first time traveling out of the country and was life changing from that perspective, and sparked a lifelong curiosity with travel and experiencing foreign places. But my wife also left me on the trip, which was a terrible blow.
It was an EF tour that was pre-planned and jam-packed with visits to famous destinations. Every day, sometimes multiple times per day, we'd stop to tour a famous cathedral, or castle, or battleground. It was a sensory overload of new experiences. I can still smell the peaty aroma of the "Bog village" we toured in Ireland; I can feel the texture of the stone wall I tried to climb up at Beaumaris Castle; I can taste both the salty tears of heartbreak after my wife left me, as well as the sweet intoxicating flavor of the Guinness pints, Smirnoff shots, and other alcoholic beverages I used to numb the pain. At only 16, these were not only my first legal drinks but really some of my first times ever drinking.
My only regret from that first trip (other than behaving in such a way that would result in my wife leaving me, of course) is that I really lacked any historical or cultural literacy about the places I was visiting, especially compared with now. I went on to major in European history with a focus on early modern British history, which was no doubt inspired in large part by the experiences I enjoyed on this first trip to Europe, and I'd love to take the trip over again armed with the knowledge I now have about the region and its rich history and culture.
Can you tell us about a funny story/situation you've been in when traveling in Europe?
I was training for a marathon while living in Rome, and our class took a weekend trip to Tuscany to stay in an agriturismo. I went for a run one day, basically just ran down a single street to the nearest town and back. But this was before the days of cell phones and GPS, so I had to navigate with my sense of direction. Well, my sense of direction is extremely poor, and as I was running back I realized that I had been running a lot longer on the way back from the town than I had on the way to the town, so I must've passed the agriturismo. It was then that I realized I didn't know the name or the agtriturismo, or the address, or what street it was on, or even what town it was in. I was alone on a deserted tuscan road with no idea where to go. So I flagged down the first car and even though they spoke no english, I was able (in my broken italian) to describe the physical appearance of the owners of the agriturismo, and that was enough for them to connect the dots and drive me back. It was a fun adventure!
How do you find social connections while traveling around Europe?
The only social connections I made in europe were with teachers and other students that studied at the Scuola where my group took classes.
This probably would've been different if my trips hadn't been with large groups of friends, which scratched the "social" itch in such a way that I didn't really need to build many relationships with locals.
In general though, I believe that it is easier than you'd think to strike up conversations with locals, even in foreign languages that you might be less than fluent in. In general, my experience with locals is that they reciprocate politeness and enjoy talking to/helping travellers with questions. Even just thinking about the above story with the old man in the little buggy in Tuscany. He had no obligation to even stop, much less try to communicate with and help me, but he was more than willing to without any reward or incentive.
What tips can you give Eurotriprs for finding great food while travelling?
I would say do what you do at home -- use online reviews.
If you've travelled through Europe more than once, what has changed in how you plan your trip now from your earlier trips?
Having smart phones is a complete game changer. I didn't have one the first couple times I traveled to Europe. Now I can't imagine doing so without one.
The most helpful aspects of having the phone while traveling are obvious enough -- being able to google things on the go, using online maps to navigate, having a way to call others to check in or coordinate plans. I didn't even have WiFi in my apartment when studying abroad, and the curriculum was extremely "online." So I had to rely on internet cafes (remember those??) and restaurants with free WiFi to complete my coursework, not to mention do all those other things above.
I do wonder if having phones does also offer some downsides, though. I wonder if the phone takes away from experiencing the environment. Looking around instead of googling directions, choosing restaurants based on what they look like rather than what the internet reviews say, etc. But certain aspects of travel would undoubtably be made easier.
What does travel give you that everyday life doesn’t?
Everything! Adventure, excitement, new experiences, new cultures. In a word: Perspective.
When you come home from a trip to Europe, has it changed you? How?
Absolutely. It sharpens your understanding of yourself and the world around you.
What do you wish you knew before your first trip, that you know now?
That acting like a dickhead would make my wife leave me in Europe, but it's ok because we'd eventually get married someday.
Where can we stay up-to-date with and learn more about you and your travels? What can we expect from following you?
I'm not a very interesting follow on social media, to be honest. I had a travel blog while I was in Rome that would be a pretty cool thing to check out but I don't remember the URL 😓.