As told to Dave Odegard
As told to Dave Odegard
You know the movie The Sound of Music? The 1965 Academy Award-Winning musical based on the Von Trapp family singers and starring Julie Andrews? Well, that’s one of my favorite movies.
So when I took my first ever trip to Europe in December 2015 and spent 9 days backpacking on my own through Austria and Germany, there was no doubt that I would be visiting where the Von Trapps lived and where they filmed some of the movie.
I personally got to overlook the small lake at the Leopold Palace where the Von Trapp children fall into water, jump in front of the Pavilion in Hellbrunn Palace where Captain von Trapp and Maria finally confess their feelings to each other, and sing the classic Rogers & Hammerstein songs like “My Favorite Things”, “Do-Re-Mi”, and (of course) “The Sound of Music” while riding a tour bus with about twenty other Sound of Music super fans.
And because I’d previously visited the Von Trapp lodge in Vermont (which the family opened after settling in America), those moments in Austria were the perfect completion to my “Sound of Music travel bucket list.”
But those weren’t the only cinematic-inspired stops on my trip.
In Vienna, I visited the Wiener Riesenrad (“Wonder Wheel”), which held the record as the world’s largest ferris wheel for over 60 years and where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy share their first kiss in Before Sunrise, the hit romantic drama from 1995. I also stood on the statue terrace overlooking the Vienna State Opera where the two, who play twenty-something travelers sharing a night together in the city, talked till dawn. It was sweet with a hint of bitter sadness…just like Austria’s famed chocolate cake.
While Austria was everything I expected from the movie screen (and more), Germany actually surprised me. I used to have a stereotype of Germany, that everything was “by the book,” and kind of cold and boring. But turns out it’s not. I found a country filled with unexpected romance and enthusiasm. From the smiling faces of all the friendly locals who offered to give me directions, as well as jokingly photobomb my selfies (including two Santa Clauses at the same time), to the enduring and dramatic vision of Bavarian King Ludwig II, who was known as der Märchenkönig (“the Fairy Tale King”) and built some of the most breathtaking castles in Europe. Visiting Germany really broadened my mind, which is one of the beautiful things about travel.
And another thing: the hot wine was so good, especially after a long day of winter sightseeing. Hey, I was visiting in winter and needed to keep warm!
In fact, I got a little bit too comfortable after a cup or two on my last night in Munich that I overslept the next morning and left much later for Füssen than I had planned and ended up missing the morning tour to Neuschwanstein Castle — Ludwig II’s most famous castle that was the basis for the castle at Disneyland.
But because I was late, I was able to meet two young women from China at the bus station to the castle (Yes, I still decided to go despite missing out on the tour). One was studying in Vienna, the other in Barcelona. We explored Füssen together. I’d had nothing for breakfast that day so I might have been a little grumpy — hopefully, I didn’t leave a bad impression on them.
Oh, and speaking of others I met on my trip: In Hallstatt, this beautiful (and small) lakeside town in Austria, I befriended another solo traveler. Her name was Eri and she was from Japan. She told me that after her long trip through Europe she wanted to study in Australia. And guess what? We’ve stayed in touch and true to her word, she’s now studying and traveling in Australia. Meeting people like her really inspire me to find a way to accomplish my dreams. It’s a beautiful feeling.
Obviously, I met a lot of other people too, but I remembered those three the most.
When I think back on my trip, I can’t help but remember how carefree and thankful I felt. I guess “carefree” is that secret recipe that makes traveling solo so attractive and tempting. When you travel by yourself, you really don’t need to worry about anything. You make your own schedule. Your stops, whether they’re planned or spontaneous, are your own. You get to wander around Lake Hallstatt in the rainy drizzle for hours without worrying if your travel partner will feel bored in the first 30 minutes.
And I couldn’t help but feel thankful. Thankful for the beautiful landscape, thankful for the friendly strangers, thankful for the new things I tried, and thankful for the hot wine and dark beer.
If there’s any downside I’d warn someone taking the same trip about, it’s: don’t expect the bed in the hotel to be the same size as in the US. When I checked into my hotel in Munich, I found something about the size of a daybed in my room. I was so surprised that I had to call the front desk to make sure I was in the right room. You should also double check the wi-fi policy of the hotel. It’s not included in the booking fee for most of the hotels in Germany and Austria.
I guess “carefree” is that secret recipe that makes traveling solo so attractive and tempting.
But despite all that, I found that most hotels were really solo-traveler friendly. They allowed me to leave my backpack or use the restroom even after I’d checked out. It was so great to not have to carry any big luggage during a last minute city tour before hopping on the train for the next destination.
If there’s an opportunity in the future, I’d love to go back. Maybe even with friends. For anyone considering or planning to visit Austria or Germany, I’d say: Just go, even for one week. It’s totally doable.