Anyone’s Alternative Destinations – Bratislava

Europe is a MUST DO for most travelers from all corners of the Earth. There are so many different cultures mashed right next to each other, creating a unique opportunity to experience several cultures in a relatively small geographic space. I’ve personally always been obsessed with this continent, so getting to actually SEE the real deal behind all the maps and books was a life changing experience. When you hear “Europe,” you might think of drinking wine in Florence or taking a walking tour along the streets of London. Sure, the big sites are absolutely amazing, and you should make them a priority at some point in your life. However, we are not limited to the major tourist attractions. Europe offers a plethora of cultures that each have something to offer. Sometimes it is far off the beaten path where we find our little slice of heaven. Welcome to Anyone’s Alternative Destinations. Throughout these articles I will be revealing some of Europe’s lesser known traveling spots that may come as a surprise to you.

The first destination I am bringing to light is Bratislava, Slovakia. Most people would never think of this as a major spot to explore, and some haven’t heard of it at all. The reality is that Bratislava or “Blava” crams a mix of vibrant culture, friendly locals, and rich history all into one pint-sized capital. And speaking of pints… Slovak beer is absolutely delicious, and most places sell for less than 1 euro. This city is among the most affordable in the entire continent and will cost you only a fraction of the price of going to Rome or Paris.

Bratislava is the capital and largest city of Slovakia, formerly Czechoslovakia. Because of its past political issues and unrest, this city is rich in history and has a story all its own. Situated right in the heart of Europe, it embraces one of the most central-European, hearty landscapes in the entire continent. Many travelers are turned off from visiting this city because of its rough past and poor economic situation, but that is exactly why you should make it your next destination. You see, there are no hoards or crowds of tourists in this city; you will spend next to nothing during your stay and find some of the most welcoming people along the way. There are also no shortages of things to do in this beautiful place.

As soon as you enter the city, you are overwhelmed with a sense of opportunity. Most travel destinations have a strong itinerary of activities one must do when they visit. This is not the case for Bratislava. You can make this trip exactly what you want. Strenuous, action-packed hiking trip? Go for it. Cultural exploration filled with museums, music, and history? Absolutely. Relaxing vacation along the banks with amazing coffee and local food? Why not? I got to experience a little mix of everything during my stay.

For about 2 euro, take the city bus to Castle Devín to see a middle-aged castle storied with the history of Bratislava and Slovak culture that has survived centuries of battle. It overlooks the vast Danube River and provides a beautiful view from overhead. More adventurous travelers can even strip down and take a dip in the river while enjoying a gorgeous afternoon. Roadside stands pepper many Slovak streets selling fresh wine for less than a euro a liter. On the opposite side of the city, take the tram to the massive Lake Piesky (zlaté piesky) that serves as a hangout spot complete with authentic food stands and bars for locals, especially during the warm summer months.

The Slovaks are among the kindest and most welcoming people in the world. Some might even invite you to their table as guests to talk about their culture, as they are not very accustomed to tourists. This will make your vacation more memorable and more concrete than ever! If you have some time in the country, get out of the city and take a bus to the Tatras Mountains for some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful views in the world! The country is small, so getting around is easy. Finally, end your night visiting some of Blava’s old taverns alongside the cobblestone streets in the central city, or catch the sunset from high on a hill on the edge of town at Bratislava Castle for an amazing view of the entire city. And don’t miss out on the food. The city’s best local food is served at around 6 euros so there’s no point in cutting yourself short and passing up the best Halusky you’ll ever have.

This city is truly a diamond in the rough. I went there on the flip of a coin, and it has become perhaps my favorite place in Europe. Only a short train ride from major cities like Prague, Vienna, or Budapest…Bratislava is worth a stop, and it might just take the cake as the best spot along your travels. Like I said earlier, check out the big destinations in Western Europe. They’re amazing, and people go for a reason…but if you want to break from the crowds and street vendors, take a chance and find your Slovak paradise!

Have an Experience: Travel Solo

“Things fell through and I can’t go…”

“I couldn’t get time off work…”

“Things are looking a little dangerous there, and I’m having second thoughts…”

Excuses. Everyone has them and we’ve heard every one in the book.  I’ve heard countless times about how a traveler’s plans have been delayed or terminated because of another person involved in the trip. Look, life happens and I completely understand that. The lifestyle of a traveler is not always easy to plan, but it has to be held together by determination. Of course, when you announce plans to camp in the Sahara Desert or backpack through Southeast Asia, everyone who hears will immediately fill the conversation with their intentions of joining your journey. Regardless of these intentions being met or falling short, you must never lose sight of your goal. As an individual with a need to achieve personal satisfaction through exploration of new and different places, you CAN NOT base your ability to do so on anyone but yourself. This is why I am stressing the values and experiences associated with Solo Travel.

Traveling can be one of the most beneficial learning experiences possible for any individual. Speaking from my own experiences and those of my close acquaintances, the more one ventures off to explore, the more satisfied and confident they feel in their everyday life. There certainly are things that one truly cannot learn in a classroom. This untapped wealth of knowledge that one uncovers while traveling is usually the root of the “Travel Bug.” Once you see the world differently for the first time through traveling, the craving to see and learn more only grows, leading to a drive to explore exotic and interesting destinations. I find it absolutely amazing to see the different ways people live whether it is in Sub-Saharan Africa, the islands of Polynesia, or the coast of Greenland. When exploring these distant places, I always strive to completely immerse myself in the local culture. Culture is perhaps one of the most important aspects of life that this world has to offer. There is beauty through individuality in every corner of this planet and every different place has something truly unique to offer to the way of the wanderer.

We all get frustrated with everyday life now and again. Sometimes escaping this repetition is the best medicine a doctor could prescribe. Knowingly or not, you are constantly surrounded by forces that are trying to change the way you think, do, and dream. Whether at school, home, or the office these forces are always present. Society has a way of hinting to you what you should strive for and what is important. Traveling offers a relief from this judgmental prison.  Once you take the step and get out on your own, you will realize that every pressure that has tried to shape you up until this point in your life is gone, and you are left with an empty slate. A fresh story is there waiting to be told in order to make your journey something unique.

Traveling by yourself will teach you things that cannot be otherwise learned. Because you are alone in a very unfamiliar place with no one else to lean on, you must learn to become completely self-sufficient. No one is going to help you. You and only you are responsible for your safety during your time wandering. You will become a problem solver. If you talk to anyone you know who shares a love for traveling, they will assure you that nothing ever goes exactly according to plan. Often, society shields us from ever having to handle things on our own. Parents, teachers, friends, employers, doctors, and neighbors are always there to offer advice and guidance in times of distress. What happens when all of that suddenly disappears, and you have no one to rely on but yourself? What happens when you miss your flight, and there isn’t another one for the rest of the week? What happens when your passport fell out of your pocket on the way to the beach last night? What happens when you get pick-pocketed and are stuck without money? My point is that being able to think on your feet and to be versatile in harsh times are some of the most valuable skills you can have. You will learn, and you will grow to become more responsible and independent than you ever thought possible by traveling solo.

In all of this I am trying to promote taking risks. Do what everyone else doesn’t have the guts to do. Step outside the comfortable box that is normality and have an experience. Also, just because you begin your travels by your lonesome certainly does not mean that they will end this way. In fact, they hardly ever do. No matter how far you go, you will always run into other people traveling toward your destination. You will find that these people are the best and most interesting company one could ask for. Travelers from all corners of the Earth—no matter how different they make appear—share a common love for exploring. They have gone through the same experiences and hardships that you once faced and they love to share their stories, tips, and future plans. Traveling solo gives you the freedom to meet these new and exciting people. You will make life-long friends and have amazing experiences which never would have been possible had you not made the risk of traveling without accompaniment. Keeping up with the people you meet on your adventures can be a valuable resource on your next trip and will fuel your thirst for more traveling.

As different as we all may appear, there is one uniting quality that all humans share: desire to achieve self-actualization, or to reach one’s full potential. Satisfaction in this sense can be achieved in many different ways, and everyone has a different approach. However, some methods have a finite value. For instance, it is possible for you or anyone else to buy the most luxurious and sought after house in any country across the globe. You can fill that house with the finest furniture and park your collection of Italian sports cars in the garage. All of these things come at a monetary value. A price. Can you price the first time you see the sunset behind the Taj Mahal or camp underneath the endless canopy of the Amazon? How much would you pay for the first time you realize just how beautiful this world really is, that there is something unique and special about every corner of the planet and all those who call it home? My point is that you simply can’t put a price tag on a life-changing experience, and that these priceless experiences lead to a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. So take the risk and start your adventure. Don’t count on anyone but yourself. The adventure is there, you only have to start it and let the rest carve its way out. We only have one life to live, so why not spend every second enjoying it and seeing it all?