Some college graduates go right from school to their first “professional” job.
Not Laura Muren – she’s taking a trip to Europe – by herself – for 5 1/2 weeks – carrying nothing more than a backpack and a curious sense of adventure.
Muren, a Wayne High School graduate, recently finished her degree in business administration at Wayne State College and found that she had some time to kill before she begins work this March as manager of a Target store in Des Moines, Iowa.
So, with two months between receiving her degree and starting her new career, she figured now would be a good time to do some traveling and see the world.
“I did the travel abroad program at Wayne State College and went to Greece two years ago, and it was an amazing experience,” she said shortly before taking off on her journey. “I wanted to go back to Europe again and travel after graduation. I didn’t know where or with who, but I knew I wanted to do it.”
Muren saved up to pay for the trip, using quarters she would get from tips from her days working at The Max Bar & Grill in downtown Wayne. By the time she cashed in the quarters, she and a friend had to literally roll two large plastic jars into the bank to cash in $2,358 worth of quarters. (Doing the math, that amounts to 9,432 quarters, weighing almost 118 pounds.)
She did a ton of research to figure out her itinerary and found some low-cost air travel that will take her from Omaha to Chicago, then overseas to Kevlavik, Iceland before arriving at her final destination at Heathrow Airport in London, England.
The journey starts in England and will take her to about a dozen stops over the 38 days she will be in Europe, carrying only a backpack with a couple of changes of clothes and the basic necessities – including powder detergent to wash clothes by hand.
As she was figuring out her itinerary, she said she became overwhelmed when trying to list all the sites she wanted to see while she was there.
“I wanted to make a huge list of every place I wanted to see in every country, and I started with Brussels, Belgium, and my list there was two pages long,” she said. “I decided to just plan the trip and be spontaneous as far what I’m going to see. They have pamphlets in the airports and train stations, and the people I’ll stay with will be able to suggest some things as well.”
Muren will travel on the EuroRail and used the Airbnb website, which is a network of home owners who rent rooms or entire houses out to travelers, to line up her stays along the route.
“People rent out their homes for the weekend or will rent out a room, so I’ll be staying with some families and some different people, old and young,” she said.
While she’s on her journey, Muren will update the folks back home with a website she built called “My European Adventure” that she will update at each of her stops. She is staying at homes where wi-fi is available, which was more challenging to line up than it might be back home.
“I had to make sure every place I stay at has wi-fi so I can update the website,” she said. “It’s not as accessible in some countries as it is here, but every place I’m staying at has it so I’ll be able to do my website.”
She said she also plans on updating her social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so friends and family back home will be updated as well.
“I’ll blow up everybody’s news feeds with it,” she said, laughing.
Her trip will take her from London to Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Zurich, Venice and the Austrian cities of Salsburg and Vienna. After that, she’ll visit Budapest, Prague and Berlin before flying to Kevlavik and then traveling to Reykjavik, Iceland before returning home.
While there are countless sites she will be able to visit, she’s also going to take in the culture and visit with the people in the countries she will visit.
“I’m going more for the culture,” she said. “I want to see how people treat each other, what they eat, how they dress. I think you can learn so much about other people and respect their cultures more by going there.”
Family and friends are worried about the 23-year-old traveling across Europe by herself, and while she said she’s thought about it, she believes she will be safe on her journey.
“It would be silly not to be a little anxious about being a young American girl traveling overseas, but I’ve been to Europe before so I know what to look out for and how to carry myself, so hopefully it’s not something I’ll need to worry about,” she said. “As long as you’re smart over there, you’ll be OK.”
When she returns home in mid-February, she hopes to bring back not only a lot of memories, but a better understanding of people whose lives are different from what she is used to back home.
“When I came back from Greece a couple of years ago, I felt different about people and understood and respected them more, and my sense of adventure grew as well,” she said. “I’ve always had the travel bug, and this is a chance to get some of that out of my system before I start my career and eventually settle down and get married and have a family.”
“This is something that’s outside of my comfort zone,” she added. “But that’s when you really grow and really learn about yourself and others, when you do something that’s outside your comfort zone. It’s kind of crazy that I’m doing it alone, but it’s something I’ve always had on my bucket list so I’m looking forward to it.”