Sorry I haven't posted in a while but there's been a couple major curveballs affecting my travel plans for next year that I've had to deal with!
So first of all, has anyone ever heard of the Schengen agreement? Nope? Well that makes two of us. So basically, an American is allowed to travel freely within the Schengen Area without a visa for up to a max of 3 months. The Schengen Area includes the majority of European countries excluding the United Kingdom, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Ireland. So my initial plan of staying in Germany for the year wasn't possible without a visa. In order to get a visa you either have to have proof of enrollment as a student at a European school, proof of a source income in Europe or proof of marriage to a European citizen, all of which I do not have. And since the Schengen Area includes so many countries, not only am I unable to stay in Germany for longer than 3 months but I'm also unable to stay in Italy, Denmark, Germany and nearly any other European country collectively for longer than 3 months. Well crap... What am I supposed to do then? My plan was to go to Italy for a couple weeks, Denmark for a couple weeks and then Germany for the rest of the year... Now I can only stay in those three countries for a max of 3 months...
After closer research I discovered that all I have to do is leave the Schengen area for 3 months and then I'm allowed to come back again for another 3 months! I looked over the non-Schengen countries and realized that leaving wouldn't be impossible. My boyfriend, Mihai, has relatives in Romania that I could stay with for about a month or so and I could come home to Ohio for Christmas and spend another month in either Ireland, Croatia or the U.K. doing a Workaway program (hosts give you a place to stay and food in exchange for around 25 hours of work per week). Problem solved! I began buying plane tickets and getting into the details of my trip. I'm leaving on August 5 to visit one of my prior host families in the Southern Italian city of Brindisi for 3 weeks, then off to Copenhagen, Denmark to stay with a friend for another 3 weeks, then stay with another friend, Paula, in Central-Western Germany for another month and half, then go to Brasov, Romania for a month and a half, then come home to Ohio for Christmas and New Years then to Ireland for a month and lastly return to Germany and stay with Paula for the remaining 3 months! Sounded like a perfect year, I couldn't wait! I bought the first few plane tickets up until the one that would take me from Denmark to Dusseldorf, Germany.
Well thank goodness I never bought that plane ticket because a few days ago, Paula messaged me saying that her and her family would be unable to host me at all next year in Germany. Well CRAP... now I'm really in a pickle... I was supposed to spend half of my year in Germany...
My entire year revolved around Germany, the only reason I was going to Romania and Ireland was to essentially kill time until I could come back to Germany. Germany was supposed to be my "home base" next year since I had a good friend and welcoming family to stay with. Now I questioned all of my plans. I mean I could just do a bunch of workaways in Germany but that didn't feel right. The main reason I wanted to go to Germany was because I had people I knew there who could host me, instead of strangers. It felt like I was back at square one again. Besides Italy and Denmark the entire year was pretty much a clean slate.
I began thinking of every single possibility. A new opportunity opened up that I had never even thought of: I could stay with my distant relatives in Japan! I talked to my Obachan (grandma in Japanese) and she said her sister would happily host me for a couple months in Tokyo! My Obachan even said she would meet me there and take me sightseeing all around Japan! I've never been to Japan or met any of my relatives there but I've always wanted to! I studied Japanese for two years when I lived in Australia, I'm beyond obsessed with sushi and Japanese cultures in general, so I was exhilarated by the possibility. There were so many options; I was overwhelmed. I could volunteer with IVHQ? Stay with friends in Australia? Still go to Romania? Do a bunch of workaways all over Europe? Volunteer in Ghana, Madagascar, the Philippines, Nepal or Vietnam? There were also doubts and worries. Did I have enough money to go all the way to Japan? Did I still want to stay in Europe for a while since I already bought my plane tickets to Italy and Denmark? Did I want to visit Mihai in Germany? Would our relationship suffer if we didn't see each other at all for an entire year? How long did I want to stay in each destination?
If you know me at all, I'm an extremely indecisive person and all the questions had completely consumed my mind. I wanted to be able to do it all: Visit Mihai in Germany, go to Tokyo with Obachan and volunteer with IVHQ. However, I didn't think it was financially possible to travel to 3 continents in one year. I thought I had to give up either Japan or volunteering but I couldn't decide for the life of me. I drove my family and Mihai crazy with all my deliberations and uncertainty. I spent two days thinking, looking up flights, researching and calculating hypothetical budgets to see what was possible. It was easy to eliminate the Philippines and Vietnam because they weren't the safest of countries. Madagascar has a really cool scuba diving program but it's nearly double the price of other IVHQ programs so I eliminated that as well. Nepal made the most geographical sense since it's near Japan however my parents were cautious of more earthquakes so I finally decided on Ghana. I'm not sure if you remember my first blog post, but I mentioned Ghana as an option. I've always wanted to see Africa. It's really cool that all these challenges and changes in travel plans led me back to Ghana!
Anyway, I discovered it would actually be possible to do everything I wanted: go to Europe, Tokyo AND Ghana! However, I would be on a very tight budget so my parents decided to help me out a little bit. I'm so lucky to have such supporting parents that allow me to accomplish my dreams.
Now I'm just hammering out the final details but I'm so happy to have the main itinerary figured out! After Italy and Denmark, I'm pretty sure I'll spend a month in Germany, then 3 months in Japan, 2 months in Ghana and lastly 2 more months back in Germany! But who knows, from experience, everything could easily change again and those timeframes may become completely different (but I really hope that doesn't happen)! I can't believe how many times my plans have changed. Back in April I still thought I'd be going to South Korea with NSLI-Y, then I thought I'd be spending the year in Germany, then I thought I'd travel throughout Europe and finally I'm traveling to three different continents! Every curveball has brought me here to my final plan, which I think is the best one yet! I have such an amazing, life-changing experience ahead of me, I can't wait for it to begin!!
Stay tuned for updates from around the world ;)
P.S. I'm not sure if I should change the name of my blog since I'm not really going to be just in Europe anymore? Opinons?