Switzerland has been by far the craziest adventure I have ever experienced. With absolutely nothing planned, I visited three cities in the past 24 hours with less than 60 Suisse Francs (around $65) in cash. I knew absolutely nothing about the cities that I visited; I knew no one in Switzerland; and I was homeless for the night. Yet, I managed to make it back to France safe and sound.
So, for those who want to have a crazy and cheap way to travel to a foreign country, here’s my “10 Steps to Surviving 24 Hours in a Foreign Country.”
TOTAL SARCASM INTENDED, kind of.
Step 1. Don’t make any plans–be spontaneous.
I’ve traveled enough in my life to know that having itineraries only limit your possibilities. When you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing or where you’re going, you have no expectations. No expectations = no disappointments. Frankly, the best part of traveling is having the flexibility of being spontaneous. I can’t do that kind of thing for work or school. So when I get a chance to just pick up my bags and go somewhere I’ve never been, I’ll take it without a second thought. So for instance, this weekend I didn’t even know that I was going to Switzerland until Friday.
Step 2. Hitch a ride–transportation is expensive.
I found out on Friday that my friends in the GEP Program is driving to Geneva for a Scouts reunion. So, of course, when I found out that he’s going to Switzerland, I had to tag along. If I was to book a last-minute train ride to Geneva, it would have cost me 50 Euros (around $67) one way. When I drove with my friend, I only paid around 20 Euros ($27) to split for gas and tolls. Besides, I probably would not have gone if I had to take the train.
Step 3. Follow the crowd–safety first.
Once I got to Geneva, I had no idea where I should go or what to see. All I knew about the city was that it’s the worldwide center for diplomacy. So once I got into Geneva, I just walked to wherever there was a big group of people. Every time I got to an area where there wasn’t anyone, I turned around and went right back towards where I saw people. Eventually, I ran into an English-speaking tour group, and just sort of tagged along with it for awhile until they noticed some Asian girl was following a group of white tourists.
While in Geneva, I saw the Jet D’Eau, which is the world’s tallest fountain, the UN Building from the outside, went through the Parc de La Grange and walked through the Old Town. It was nice, but I was able to do all of that in an hour or so.
Step 4. Pick a spot on the map–every city has its charm.
I think my problem is that I get bored (with anything) too easily. I was only in Geneva for about 2 hours before I decided to just hop on a train and get to the next city in Switzerland–Lausanne. I think I got there around dinner time when everything already closed.
Lausanne was such a beautiful city to see by foot. I went to the old Cathedral at the top of the hill, went down to the Ochy lakeshore, explored downtown.
Step 5. Talk to strangers–people are the best resource.
At one point while I was down by the Ochy lake, I thought about hopping on a train and going to Zurich. It’s only about 3 hours away from Lausanne and I figured that I probably would have more things to do/see there. I was just sitting by the rocks thinking this when Tupac sat beside me to introduce himself (of course, it’s not the real Tupac, but the guy was pretty much his carbon copy). He spoke almost no English, but I was able to talk to him with my “Franglish.”
I was just about to tell him that I preferred to sit and stare at the city of Evian (yes, the French city that makes the water) by myself when it started to rain cats and dogs out of nowhere. I started to panic a little on the inside–I had nowhere to stay, it was dark, it was freezing cold and I was soaking wet. All I wanted at that point was to snuggle up in my own bed back home in North Carolina.
I guess Tupac sort of read my worried face. He offered to let me stay at his place for the night if I wanted to. I said no at first, but he simply would not take no for an answer. I know that it was not the smartest thing to do, but I eventually said that I’ll go over to his place just until the rain stopped.
Tupac actually lived in a nice part of Lausanne. Not only that, but he was also a great host–he cooked a delicious meal, let me nap and shower at his place and he even took me out to party in Lausanne.
Step 6. Dance until the sun comes up–lodgment is expensive.
The funniest thing I am still trying to wrap my head around is Tupac taking me to a politician’s party. He told me when we left his apartment that we were just going to say hello to one of his good friends before we go to a club. He ended up taking me to this art museum-looking place (which is apparently just an apartment), for a party thrown by a Suisse politician (I wast even sure if he was even well-known in all of Switzerland or if he was just a local politician). I felt so out of place though, in my shirt and jeans in a party full of mid-40s and 50s people dressed in business-casual attire.
We left after going around to say hello to everyone. That was definitely interesting to say the least. Anyways, the next place that Tupac took me was horrendous. It was such a psychedelic place with trippy photos and videos all around its walls with hippie music and people just standing around wobbling. I honestly thought that was how Suisse people partied. I didn’t say anything to Tupac because I thought he would get offended, so I was surprised when he said that this is the worst place he’s ever been (good, he agreed).
The next place we went to was also the last place that I ended up going in Lausanne. It was a bar/club called Darling. It was a small club, but they played some great music. I had so much fun dancing and meeting new people there. I ended up dancing in the club until 5am. I was too scared to leave the place late at night to go searching for a hotel, which I also didn’t want to pay for. I also did not want to go back to Tupac’s place even though he was a very nice guy.
Step 7. Sleep on the train–optimize your time.
The best kind of sleep I get are on transportation. I frankly cannot stand sleeping in hotel beds no matter how nice the place is–I itch/scratch, twist and turn all night until I can fall asleep.
Lausanne was a beautiful city, but I only needed a couple of hours to see everything. After I got out of the club, I took a shower at Tupac’s and then headed out again to the train station. Next stop: Montreux. I slept for a little bit on the train, but the scenery between Lausanne and Montreux was too beautiful to miss. On one side of the train, you can see staircases of farm land with little prairie-like houses. On the other side, you can see the beautiful Lake Geneva with the mountains behind it-simply A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
Step 8. Ask for directions–you never know where you’ll end up.
Once I got off the train at Montreux, I was not impressed. It looked like an old dirty town with no views of the mountains. I looked up for places that I can go and the first thing that popped up on my search was Chateau de Chillion… looked good enough for the day.
I kept looking around for a bus stop or taxi or something, but there weren’t any guides or maps that pointed out to where I need to go. Eventually, I got frustrated with my attempts and turned to the first people I saw to ask for directions. I asked them in French and they gave me the weirdest look before answering, “Sorry, we only speak English.” I was SO happy–not only did they speak English, but they spoke American! They were both from the United States, one from Pennsylvania and the other from North Carolina (Pineville, NC which is only like 20 minutes from where I’m from! Such a small world). They too were heading to Chateau de Chillion so we decided to grab a cab together.
For the rest of the afternoon, we ended up touring together. Chateau de Chillion was beautiful. It’s an old castle built in the 11th century. It’s famous for the imprisonment of Francois de Bonivard. He was a 16th century monk who was a prisoner in the castle’s dungeon for 6 years. You get a really bad eerie feeling when you’re in the castle because it’s so hard to imagine having prisoners and executions in the basement while people upstairs were joying big feasts and celebrations.
Step 9. Play Dumb–sometimes ignorance is a bliss.
After the tour, I went back on the train to meet up with my friend in Geneva to get a ride back to Lyon. On my way though, I got caught by the train patrol person for not having a ticket. This whole time when I was hopping from city to city, I never purchased any tickets–I figured I could buy them on the train. Anyways, he said that the fine is like 100 Euros or something, but he ended up just giving me a slap on the wrist.
Step 10. Get your ass back home safely–nothing is better than your own bed.
The past 24 hours was a lot of fun, but I did have a moment where I actually flipped and freaked out. I was at the Geneva International Airport, waiting for my friend to come pick me up. He was supposed to come get me at 4pm, but for a good hour, I had no response from him. I began to worry because 1) I knew that my friend was up in the mountains and I thought that maybe something had happened to him–I started searching the news to see if there were any reports of an accident; and 2) I did not have my passport with me, so there was no way to take the train back to France. I FREAKED OUT.
He did get a reach of me in the end… an hour later. I think that was the worst 60 minutes of the entire trip. Other than this little bump in the road, the trip was overall probably one of the best I’ve ever had in the past year. I had a great time, I got to see and experience so much, and all for under $80 total.
In closing words, as fun as that was though, nothing tops traveling with friends. I wish I had gone with someone else because that was frankly too much adventure for one person to enjoy on her own.
xoxo from Geneva,