In May 2011 Joey (Joanna) Shuker learned she had won a European Adventure which included 2 tickets to La Tomatina and Oktoberfest festivals and 2 Europe hop-on hop-off bus passes, not a bad way for a student to spend their summer eh?
We caught up with Joey when she got back to find out all about her trip, and how she felt about winning such an awesome prize.
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The Story of Joey's European Adventure
How did you hear about the competition and what made you enter?I saw the competition on Facebook – I’d already “liked” STA Travel UK and although I don’t tend to enter competitions like this, it was a prize I really, really, wanted and it seemed easy enough to enter, so I did! I never thought I’d actually win.
And how did it feel when you won?It was incredible! Originally, I didn’t believe that it was true. When it eventually dawned on me that it was for real, I wanted to go straight away. I found out in May and since I’m at Uni I knew I had the whole summer ahead of me, so could get planning straight away.
Have you travelled before?No – I hadn’t done much travelling, but I’d been researching STA Travel for ages as I’d been looking into the Busabout and InterRailing options. It’s so funny that I’ve always wanted to do this trip, and of all the competitions, I won this prize!Joey has always been keen to explore the famous sights of Europe
What made you want to travel around Europe so much?
Living in the UK, we have this amazing continent right on our doorstep and so many people prefer to go further afield on their travels. I’d been on a few family road trips in Europe before, but had never been able to do a proper route around the continent. We have such easy access to continental Europe and I wanted to make the most of cheap flights and travel and see loads of places in one go.
Who did you take with you and how did you make that decision?
To be honest, it was purely a case of working out who was free and who had the funds to come with me. I emailed all my friends and it just worked out that one girl was free to come with me for my first two weeks in Italy, and another girl was free to join me for a couple of weeks for La Tomatina. We got on the whole time, even on those long bus journeys – so I definitely made the right choice!
Joey and her travel bud soaked up the sun in St Tropez
You won an unusual prize in that you were able to choose your own destinations. How did you plan your route, or did you make it up as you went along?
Well, the first deciding factor was where I could get a cheap flight to. That made the decision of my starting point. I also knew I had tickets to the two festivals, so I had to make sure that I arranged the route in such a way that I could get to both of them. In the end I decided to do 2 weeks in Italy, then come home for a while before returning for 4 weeks in other areas.
There were some places that I’d always really wanted to go to, such as Milan and a few cities that I’d been to before that I wanted to return to. It was easy to arrange the Busabout pass so that I could have shorter periods of time in the places I’d been to before, and longer where I wanted.
The route I eventually went with was: Venice – Rome – Florence – Milan (2 weeks)
Valencia (La Tomatina package) – Madrid (where my friend flew home and left me alone) – San Sebastian – Bruges – Amsterdam – Berlin – Prague – Vienna – Munich – home. (4 weeks)
Theb collosseum was a particular highlight.
You were travelling with friends for some parts of your trip and alone for other parts. Which was better? Was it OK travelling alone?
I really enjoyed travelling with the 2 different girls and it was great to have constant company. Although when my friend left me in Spain it was a shock at first, I got used to it after a couple of days. At first I felt a bit lost and didn’t really know what to do. But I soon met people, both on the buses and in hostels. Some were also travelling with Busabout and others were just staying in the same accommodation. It was good to meet people from Busabout but I didn’t let meeting people affect my route. I had a strict schedule to keep to and had already booked my accommodation from the UK, so I tended to meet up with those I’d met further along the route, rather than change my route to stick with them.
Did planning the route and booking the accommodation in advance help?
Yes, it was a great help to know exactly where I was going and how long I had in each place. Not only did it help with the whole trip, but in each place I could plan my days, knowing how long I had. Also booking accommodation from the UK was great as it helped me budget along the way.
Joey tested her sea legs on the canals of Venice
Speaking of budgeting, did you find Europe very expensive?
Not at all. People speak all the time of it costing a fortune to travel in Europe, but I found it really reasonable. When I got home I was actually really surprised to see how little I’d spent! Being a student, I was used to finding the cheap places to eat and you can always find free things to do in cities.
Did you meet some nice people along the way?
At La Tomatina I was really lucky as the girl I was travelling with speaks Spanish and she was able to get chatting to some locals who took us to a local bar to watch some Flamenco. They explained the history of the dance, too, which was brilliant.
What were the most memorable places you visited on the trip?
I absolutely loved San Sebastian. It was great to feel that we were breaking away from the big cities. Even though we had bad weather, the place had a great feel to it – quite different to the rest of Spain. I also really enjoyed Bruges – it is such a beautiful city, with canals everywhere and gorgeous buildings. I also had the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had there!
The beautiful view of Valencia, Spain
How were the festivals you went to?
La Tomatina was incredible. It was a very strange experience, but a complete once-in-a-lifetime. A lorry comes down the road full of tomatoes, and everyone takes one and throws them at each other for an hour! By the end of it we were knee deep in tomatoes, with them all over us, and with sun-dried tomatoes in our hair! I’d recommend it to anyone; you can do it on a tour or on your own – being on a tour was great as we didn’t have to worry about transport at all and felt completely safe.
Did you have any memorable food or drink (apart from that hot chocolate!)?
All the food in Italy was incredible – I had so many carbonaras while we were there, but the best by far was in Venice. I also had paella in Spain, which I’d never tried before, and some great Czech hot dogs in Prague.
Do you have any useful tips for people who might be planning a trip around Europe?
There are quite a few cheap things to do in European cities, but you will have to look for them. One cool thing we did was a visit to a theatre in Venice which had a play in English about the history of the city. I’d really recommend it to anyone visiting – and would suggest that people go on their first night as it is a great insight into Venice.
We also wanted to go to the opera in Vienna, but the cheapest tickets meant standing up for 2 hours. We didn’t fancy that, but soon worked out that if you sit outside on the grass you can watch it on the screen for free! I’d really recommend that to anyone going as it was a really unique experience.
Free opera in Vienna
Do you feel that this trip has given you the travelling bug?
I’d always wanted to travel and now I definitely have the bug. I know I’ve just been to Europe for 6 weeks, but I actually think that Eastern Europe might be the next destination on my list. Having said that, I’ve only been outside of Europe once and I’d love to work abroad for a year, maybe in the US or South Africa.If Joey story of her trip through Europe inspired you, check out our immense range of awesome Europe adventures including hop-on hop-off bus passes and festival trips and get your travel plans moving.