An inspiring journey made by an American Professional Basketball Player as he backpacked all of Europe

I figured if I got 100 bucks for every flight, train, or bus I missed, I’d be a rich man by now. Goodness, you’d think I’d learn my lesson, but I guess as the languages change, my ability to catch transportation continues to diminish.

Anyways, I thought my recent backpacking trip came to its conclusion at the end of May 2022. I also thought it had come to its conclusion when I had an allergic reaction in Amsterdam — oops. But yes, I hit 2 continents and 11 countries with one backpack in about a month’s time. While the actual traveling in an overstuffed backpack part ceased, I recognize that the liberation of self-discovery, new relationships, purpose achievement, and fantasy fulfillment — let alone sippin’ on small coffees in cafes for hours — may never come to an end. Suffice to say, it’s been quite hard for me to wrap up my insights on this “trip;” because in a sense, I’m incessantly still backpacking. I am forever discovering myself daily in different countries.

As I most recently moved from Montenegro to Albania to continue my basketball career, I am still exploring different people with a whole new distinctive culture and identity. Guess my life is continuously “on-the-go,” but it’s been an apparent trend that I will continue to embrace.

The Initial Allure of Europe

To begin, it is commonly known that Italy has been a birthplace of inspiration for the many individuals that have navigated the allure and enchantment of its natural and authentic beauty. The circumstances were no different for me.

I met some amazing individuals from all over the world during my 2021 trip there. The memories of off-pitch karaoke sessions at the hostel, as well as our uber scooter adventures to secret clubs in Rome will always hold dear to me. What I observed from them, and the other solo travelers I encountered, were many distinguishing factors that came with backpacking as a lifestyle. For one, there was a lack of connection to material things; a sense of an uplifted soul, as well as a unique trailblazing and pioneering vibe and vision. I detected an ultimate sense of confidence and independence. They were on an enhanced and inspiring adventure, where you were more naturally forced to embrace the moment — and I wanted a piece of this experience.

Truth is, I’m a notorious over-packer; I even hate to admit that I used to be concerned about the perception of my trip to others. How much fun did it look like I was having? How engaged was I with all the cool touristy spots? Was I fitting into the local scene stylistically? I very quickly determined that focusing on a few possessions really forced me to live in the moment (it also made it easier to catch another flight, train, or bus).

During my journey, I also began to identify that backpacking reveals layers of yourself to yourself — like it or not. It’s your bare-self immersed into someone else’s world as you find your position in it. You must be flexible, quick on your feet, and accept your surroundings and circumstances. Honestly, bringing an oversized backpack was a liberating action for me.

Last Minute Planning and Travels to Europe

Before I embarked on my journey, I was able to take a successful last-minute trial backpacking trip to Barcelona, Spain, and Budapest, Hungary over the 2021 – 2022 New Years. Both destinations were absolutely amazing, but I will touch upon the latter further down.

On the lead up to the Spring of 2022, I had a good idea of where I wanted to explore; yet still, there were so many moving pieces. I was attempting to align my trip with certain events and friends along the way. Most importantly, there were some national holidays taking place around the continent, and I knew I would regret missing them; it was going to be the “Day of the City,” in Split, Croatia, and “King’s Day,” in the Netherlands.

The trips greatest aspect, was that I literally traveled from the most Western point of Europe to the most Eastern part. I was able to trace the heritage of the many extraordinary cultures of Europe in trends. Over the course of time, I identified how so many countries and their pasts were connected. Might I add, I can easily say more than 50 percent of my time was dedicated to visiting museums, both mainstream and lesser-known.

My travels began in the sunny Lisbon, Portugal; I then stopped in Madrid, Spain; popped up in Paris, France; proceeded to Amsterdam; journeyed to Berlin, Germany; immersed myself in the sensational Prague, Czech Republic (the greatest museums I’ve ever been to); made a pit stop in Vienna, Austria (4 museums in 10 hours! Guinness record for sure?); navigated through Split and Zagreb, Croatia; departed for Ljubljana, Slovenia; came around to Istanbul, Turkey to see the Eastern/Western civilization “collide;” and I ended up in the breathtaking Tuscany region of Italy — discovering new cities and statues by the day.

 Heroes’ Square (Hösök tere), Budapest, Hungary, Europe

Heroes’ Square (Hösök tere), Budapest, Hungary @Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

Hungary

Although not as recent, I can say with confidence, that my favorite destination was Budapest — nearly beating out Prague. I often feel like there is a negative perception on many Eastern European countries; maybe due to the recency of the conflicts, because many of these countries are only newly independent. But in my personal experience, nothing will beat the pure delight of feeling and seeing the recent cultural and societal shifts, in addition to the countries’ slow acceptance of western societal influence while maintaining their individual identity.

To put it in perspective, after immersing myself for hours in the long and varied history of the Hungarian people at the Buda Castle, I desired to see “Heroes’ Square.” The square was the location of many recent significant events that led to the liberation of Hungary from the Soviet Union. Keep in mind, it was wintertime, and my inner Floridian was exposed by the lack of sufficient warm clothing I brought. So safe to say: I was freezing! I couldn’t feel my fingers as I marched for miles down Castle Hill and across the city.

As I finally walked into the square and saw the famed Millennium Monument and surrounding statues — time seemed to stop.

I was left speechless.

I felt in that moment like I arrived — my desire to further encounter other countries’ national identities in this way was augmented entirely. It seemed as if the country itself put me in a warm embrace. I forgot about the cold. I forgot about my freezing fingers. The proud history, combined with the Christmas-time atmosphere was sensational. I distinctly remember the incredible smell of lángos (traditional Hungarian food) reaching my nose and also hearing the joy of kid’s ice skating in Városliget (City Park) nearby. The energy was completely pulsating, and that memory will continue to fuel my ambition to travel.

Furthermore, while I did hit some major “touristy” cities; in my eyes, the real cultural experience is in interacting with the locals and hearing the stories that they have endured. You can go to all the big cities in the world, but until you either sit down and engage with someone from the area or even go to a smaller town nearby: you are missing the real authentic moment.

Upcoming in part two, follow Jakobi as he further discovers the true meaning of the travel fantasy…

Written by: Jakobi Bonner

 Jakobi picture
Jakobi is a professional basketball player and freelance writer from Orlando, Florida. He also has played for teams in London, England, and Montenegro. While playing, he created his own blog, aiming to give honest, relevant, and holistic self-growth reflections based on common events and personal experiences. In addition to this, he authored a thesis rooted in original research evaluating inadequate ethical leadership and historical discrimination affecting black artists in the American music industry. Besides playing basketball, he loves to read, check out museums, DJ, explore new environments, and of course, give back to the community — he recently started his own basketball camp in Orlando, aiming to empower the youth in his local community.

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