Travelling as a young European

shinoukMany young people love the idea of traveling (without parents/guardians), but have no idea how to realise their dream. Planning a trip requires a lot of organisation, dedication and sadly, also money. But how do you plan a trip without using your whole bank account? And what are the best ways to plan and book?

At first, if you don’t want to travel alone, find a group of friends who are quite flexible and have the same expectations. Many plans end forehanded, due to different views.

With that done, you are able to start finding a nice destination. In order not to spend way too much money, you can think a little out of the box. Instead of going to Adriatic coastlines, you could also go to Croatia. If you want to go skiing, don’t go to Lech, you can also ski in the Czech Republic. For the citytrippers among us, go to Budapest instead of Stockholm or London.

Think also of the manner you get to the place of your choice. If you decided to travel a little bit farther from home, is can be cheaper to go by airplane. is a great site for booking cheap tickets. If you want to see more than one place, book an Interrail Global pass. This is a special train ticket for young people, that allows you to travel by train through 30 countries in Europe! They also have One Country passes, so if you’re just traveling through one country, that might be the best option for you.

After having found your dream destination it is time to book your accommodations. The best advice for young people is to stay in hostels. Hostels are not that expensive, mostly quite central and above all, they are great places to meet other travellers. Especially if you are a solo traveller, it is amazing to meet new people. But even if you are with a group of friends, if you meet other persons in your hostels, they mostly become instant friends.

Try to book early, most hostels offer early bird deals! If you have any doubts, just call them, most of the times they take away all of your doubts. If you are under 18, some hostels only allow you to stay in their hostel if you have an allowance letter from you parents/guardians with a photocopy of their ID or passport! Many hostels don’t have this clearly written out on their site, so pay attention if this is necessary.

You can always just go with the flow and don’t plan anything ahead. The risk with this method is that you miss some amazing this your place of choice has to offer. I prefer to have some sort of planning, so I’m sure I don’t forget things. For me, the fun of planning a trip is almost as nice as the trip itself.


About the author:

Shinouk EttemaShinouk Ettema (17) took part in the Dutch edition of “My Europe” in 2014. When coming home from Vossius Gymnasium in Amsterdam, she loves to go horse riding, play the guitar and do fun things with her friends. Shinouk is not quite sure yet what her profession should be, but it should involve making contact with other cultures, lots of travelling and writing.

For me, My Europe is…

…a place where everyone can interact with each other to achieve more together than they would have on their own.

A Helping Hand for the Refugees

1The closing of the Serbo-Hungarian border in October 2015 caused a massive influx of refugees seizing their last chance to make it into the European-Union through Hungary. Katharina* (54), housewife and mother of three children in Munich decided in October 2015 to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border to offer her help to the refugees.

She agreed to share her experience with us in this interview.

YCF: What motivated you to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border?

Katharina: I decided to go there, when the refugee crisis and particularly the position of the European-Union at its borders were at the center of media attention. The spotlight was put on the Syrian refugees and their struggles at the borders to get into the European-Union by land or by sea. When I saw these people in Hungary walking by feet on the streets direction Austria I couldn’t stop thinking of them.

Furthermore, there was a wave of solidarity coming up in Munich, the city in which I live, as well as in Germany in general.

But the thing, that pushed me the most, was the urge of the situation and the will to face it. I mean, there was a huge humanitarian crisis just about 500 miles away and I couldn’t stand it, just to stay in my comfort zone and not do anything about it.

YCF: How did you go? And who did you take with you?

Katharina: I got in contact with a small group of people in my neighborhood who also wanted to do something. Most of them helped by donating stuff and/or money, but two of them were willing to come with me to the border to help the refugees there – a German architect who was about 40 years and a Syrian man who has lived in Munich for over 40 years.

Once the group was formed we decided to rent a truck and fill it with the donations. We even got supported by a charity organization which gave us among other things strollers and baby-carriers.

We first arrived in Budapest, where we originally wanted to help, but we were quickly told that there were enough people willing to help in the city. However, there was a huge lack of people at the Serbo-Hungarian border.

YCF: Once there, what was your first impression?

Katharina: I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure when we arrived. We first had to clean the surface to even think about creating a kind of infrastructure where we can welcome the arriving refugees. Then we distributed tents and made a plan to create a structure.

I was also surprised, that there were just very few people who came for humanitarian causes and a lot of journalists. I even felt, that there were more journalists than volunteers that came to the border. And there were quite a lot of Hungarian policeman at the border as well.2

YCF: What were your main activities at the border?

Katharina: Well, the activities varied. As already said, we installed tents to welcome the refugees, but we also gave them dry clothes when they arrived wet from head to toe because of the heavy rain. And we gave shelter and information to the disoriented refugees. We even gave money once in a while when they lost everything on their way. We also gave the often terrified children some toys and brought families to main train stations so that they could continue their way from there. As you can see, we always had something to do.

3YCF: What impressed you the most?

Katharina: I think it was to see so many families. Of course, I expected to see some families, but I was surprised to see that many families with small kids I thought meeting a lot more young to middle-aged men, who made the way to get their wives and kids later.

I was also surprised by the dignity and the decision of the refugees. Some of them had made very tough ways to get to the border and most were very tired. But all people were incredibly respectful and helpful one to another. I’ve never noticed a violent skid or even a feeling of aggressiveness.

Last but not least, I was surprised by the fact that there were not only Syrians trying to cross the border, but also a lot of Iraqis and Afghans fleeing terror and war.

4YCF: What was your most shocking experience

Katharina: One evening we were looking out at the border, if there was anyone who could need our help. We noticed someone hiding in the bushes, so we went a little closer. It was a young woman with a newborn in her arms. The young mother just gave birth a very few days ago in Serbia. But she didn’t have the time to recover from the birth. She had to continue her way direction Hungary. Once they arrived at the border, she sat down in a bush and stopped moving. She stayed in a severe state of shock with her newborn for one day and one night. The baby was almost not dressed. He wouldn’t have survived one more night like this in the cold.

At the example of this woman you can see how the refugees are going to their extremes. There is no going back for them.

YCF: Are you still active in the help for refugees today?

Katharina: I am indeed. I joined an organization in my city that offers different types of workshops for the refugees. The aim is, to integrate them and to offer them something to do during the long days. The workshops vary from German-classes and help in the bureaucratic steps to sports and cooking workshops. I personally lead a painting workshop with another woman. With this workshop we try to give them an opportunity to show their artistic skills and to express their experience. At the end of the workshop we’ll expose the paintings in a gallery to show it to a broad public.

* name changed as requested

Interview: Clara Hachmann

About the author:

Picture Clara HachmannClara took part in our “My Europe”workshop in Munich in 2013. She is one of the winners of the international writing contest from the workshop and has been actively representing the voice of young Europeans through the “Youth Council for the Future” (YCF). Read more…

Europe should have open borders for all Syrian and Afghan refugees


Since 1970 Syria is under the dictatorship of the al-Assad family. Bashar controlled the country until 2011, when the Syrian Civil War broke. Violent repressions against activists demanding economic prosperity and political and civil liberties started. Several sides are disputing the territory and fighting among themselves and against Assad. The most dangerous is the Islamic State, the “successor” of Al-Qaeda. The conflict has claimed more than 230000 lives, has generated 11.5 million displaced persons and a total of four million refugees had to leave Syria. The situation of Syrian refugees is Europe’s biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II. Tens of thousands of people try to escape the war raging the Middle East across the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe. Thousands have already died trying to reach our continent, and those who succeed face with the lack of reaction from the European Union. Never before 2015, when the EU began to receive large numbers of immigrants called by the promise of a better life, had this situation been of any serious concern. This has become a problem for countries of this continent, as the uncontrolled movement of people at the borders is causing problems due to the lack of resources. The current refugee crisis is, perhaps, one of the most widely debated issues, generating controversy among the European population. Should Europe maintain an open border for all Syrians or reinforce them? Why is the EU struggling with immigrants and asylum seekers?

First, Article 14 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to seek asylum, and to enjoy in other countries. It is more than enough reason to open Europe’s borders to immigrants fleeing their countries because of war bombing, seeking a better life. An example is the death of Aylan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian boy drowned off the coast of Turkey, following a shipwreck, which shocked the whole European population and gave evidence to act. More than 432.761 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean since January, and 2748 are dead or missing. Also, the decision of Hungary to erect a fence along its border with Serbia, blocking the Schengen area is benefiting people-trafficking mafias. It is necessary to promote a profound reform of the European migration policy and asylum, including the opening of legal channels and a fair distribution of the burdens of refugees, underlining if these people could come without resorting to traffickers and risk their lives, the flow would be much neater.

On the other hand, the uncontrolled opening of European borders creates various conflicts in countries of this union. When Europe has not yet emerged from the crisis, it is preparing to welcome more than 500000 Syrian immigrants, also Afghans fleeing violence, Eritrean dictatorship and abuse and poverty in Kosovo. Are all the people coming to Europe refugees fleeing political persecution? We must also bear in mind that many immigrants are illegal and others, almost two thirds, do not come because of necessity but also to find a job and improve their quality of life. Immigration is equivalent to an increase in unemployment among locals. Vast numbers of people coming into the EU seeking for asylum would result in higher taxes placed on European citizens, social expenditures would rise to service the new millions of poor, crime would rise, racial tensions intensify, budgets fail, currencies fluctuate. The southern countries like Italy and Greece, have seen themselves overwhelmed by the large numbers of immigrants. Meanwhile, richer northern countries receive relatively few, except Germany. For instance, Italy is providing $ 9.7 monthly in the programme; Denmark and others make it clear that they will not offer help for rescue operations. Another big problem is the international mafia which moves refugees and illegal immigrants from one place to another.

We do not want to see people suffering from hunger, lack of shelter, thousands of deaths, desperate people fleeing war in their country with their children in their arms, agglomerations in Hungarian train stations, border crossings full of mafias and the cheating of innocents. Sad is to say that to stop this there are two ways, let them all in or stop them trying to come. We can conclude by saying that borders should be open, not only European, but global, to solve this serious humanitarian problem of migration crisis. And also do everything possible to solve conflicts in the countries of origin so its inhabitants do not have to travel because of wars. Having non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, etc., it would be possible to contribute with international assistance in the refugee camps, providing basic needs.


About the author:

Irene Herruzo VillamorIrene Herruzo Villamor (16) is a student from Spain and enjoys expressing her opinion during debates at school.

One Social Europe: Discovering Europe in a van (part 3)

Taking a break from studies and work: Viktoria and Felix travelled through Europe (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe & Felix Junker)
Taking a break from studies and work: Viktoria and Felix travelled through Europe (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe & Felix Junker)

Here is the last part of our mini series on Viktoria’s and Felix’ initiative “One Social Europe”. In their van, they crossed 21 European countries and visited social projects. In part three of their exclusive interview for Spotlight Europe, the two young Germans speak about surprises, challenges and lessons learnt in six months.

What surprised you most during your trip?
Felix: The hospitality we received nearly everywhere! Let me give you an example: On our first day of the trip we’ve been invited to the house of our first host. She went to sleep on the couch and somehow “forced” us to go and sleep in her bed. And the next day she invited us to a family dinner at her aunt’s house. It was the most fantastic start you could have imagined for our trip.
Viktoria: I think it was myself, who surprised me the most. At the beginning of the tour I’ve been extremely nervous, but after a while I realized, this was simply not necessary. I learned to face challenges and keep calm in difficult situations.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face?
Viktoria: Well, the car….
Felix: Yes! We’ve been to the garage a few times. I think it was five times during six months.
Viktoria: Everything just turned out so well, that there were not really big problems we had to face. Of course there were some learnings about living the moment and take it as it is. But we never had the feeling of being absolutely overwhelmed by a situation.

If you had to pick one particular social project to present, which one would you choose?

Discovering Europe's people, landscapes and social projects (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe & Felix Junker)
Discovering Europe’s people, landscapes and social projects (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe & Felix Junker)

Viktoria: This is one of the most difficult questions you could ask! It’s the same with “Which was your favourite country?” Because there is not only one answer. I have been deeply touched by the animal welfare projects, because this is something which is very close to my heart. And of those I think it would be either the Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland or the Fundacja “Pod Psia Gwiazda” in Poland.
Felix: I think there is not one to point out. They all have a very important reason to be there. All their work is necessary for the community they are set in.

 What is the most important lesson you have learned about Europe?
Felix: Freedom is not only a word! Freedom is something that is lived within Europe. Here you find humanity and you can realize how important it is to get involved in campaigning for each other.
Viktoria: Europe is simply a wonderful continent. A place of interesting cultures, unbelievable socially engaged people and there is no other place in the world, where I would have loved to spent these six months, than Europe!

What would you say to other young Europeans who are planning a similar adventure?
Viktoria: Just do it! And that’s it.

Thanks for the interview, Viktoria and Felix! It’s been a pleasure to follow you on your adventures.

About the interview partners:

IMG_3725 Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) are inspired by the idea of Europe: peaceful coexistence of different countries and cultures, the cooperation of the European countries, the freedom to travel – to experience Europe as a social continent.

With the project ‘One Social Europe’, their goal was to inform how Europeans are involved in social or non-profit projects and how they bring their country, their society or Europe further – on the way to become one social europe.

One Social Europe: the donkey sanctuary (part 2)

Donkey Maureen is being looked after at the Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)
Donkey Maureen is being looked after at the Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)

Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) take you on a trip to a social project in Ireland – the Donkey Sanctuary. With their initiative ‘One Social Europe‘, they travelled Europe in their van for six months and presented charitable initiatives on their website. The two young adults drove 17,212 kilometres in 172 days and visited 21 countries. Among the projects they discovered are fair trade campaigns, activities for elderly people, youth organisations and volunteer opportunities in rural areas. Spotlight Europe had a tough job to pick just one project, but in the end we decided to take you the place where donkeys find a new home in County Cork, Ireland.

Maureen takes a look through the fence with her big brown eyes. Cautiously her flour-white muzzle comes closer and she touches us gently, calls for attention and cuddles. Maureen is small, brown and has quite long ears. She is one of over 100 donkeys in the Donkey Sanctuary in Liscarroll and we like her immediately.

Here in the sanctuary old, sick, neglected or simply not wanted donkeys find a new home – or a transition home until they can move into a permanent new one. Overall, more than 4,000 donkeys were rescued from bad posture, nursed and brought to a new home by the establishment.

Maureen can surely expect a new donkey-friendly home, which she will share with at least one other donkey. The animals are herd animals, an exchange of individual animals is not possible. If new donkeys come into the system, they often bring their “partner-animals”, such as cats, sheep or horses with them. Donkeys have a high need for social contacts to other animal partners.

But not all residents of the large, beautiful area will leave the farm one day. Some donkeys remain all their life on the farm – partly because they have experienced so much that it would not be possible of sending them into a new home, partly because they were raised by the employees of the farm with the bottle and you do not want these animals to be forced leaving their home, if it is not absolutely necessary.

One of these donkeys is Richie. Richie is large, brown-spotted white and has beautiful black-brown eyes, which look friendly at everyone in the area. His mother died of blood poisoning, when he was 10 days old. Since that day, he has been living at the station, first as a bottle-fed baby, now as a fully integrated member of a group of quieter animals.

If you want to learn more about the Donkey Sanctuary there is a lot of interesting information on the website of the sanctuary.

About the authors:

IMG_3725 Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) are inspired by the idea of Europe: peaceful coexistence of different countries and cultures, the cooperation of the European countries, the freedom to travel – to experience Europe as a social continent.

With the project ‘One Social Europe’, their goal was to inform how Europeans are involved in social or non-profit projects and how they bring their country, their society or Europe further – on the way to become one social europe.



One Social Europe: an extraordinary journey of discovery (part 1)

Road trip through Europe in search of social projects
Discovery of Europe and its people through social projects (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe & Felix Junker)

Having finished their studies, Viktoria and Felix decided to start an adventure: In a 6-month trip they wanted to visit all 26 navigable countries of the European Union with their van. During this period, they presented different social or charitable projects on their website and via their facebook page. Spotlight Europe is happy to present an exclusive interview with Viktoria and Felix about their project ‘One Social Europe’, and congratulates them on their adventurous and social spirit.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves please.
Felix: Hi, I’m Felix. I’m 26 and for the past years I’ve been living in Cologne. I studied Eventmanagement and I am working on different projects round the world.
Viktoria: I’m Viktoria, 25, and I came to Cologne for my studies, as well. I’m a freelance cultural educator and last year, Felix and me both finished our studies . We decided not to start working directly, but to do a big trip through Europe. We started the project “one social europe” and are very proud to present it to Spotlight Europe today!

Can you briefly describe your project One Social Europe?
Felix: The idea was quite easy: in a 6-month trip, we wanted to visit all 26 navigable countries of the European Union. During these 6 months, we wanted to present different social and charitable projects all around europe.
Viktoria: We wrote a blog on our website and got in contact with our followers via Facebook, as well. In the end, not everything turned out, as we planned it, but still we are happy how the project developed.

One Social Europe brought Viktoria and Felix from the seaside to the Alps (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)
‘One Social Europe’ took Viktoria and Felix from the seaside to the Alps (copyright by Viktoria Hautkappe and Felix Junker)

How was the idea of One Social Europe born?
Viktoria: The very first idea was to have a time-out after our studies. But soon we realized that we wished to have some more value in this time. We did not only want to travel, but get in contact with the locals.
Felix: As the idea of Europe was inspiring us, we mixed this inspiration with our joy for travelling and our long-term social commitment in a Catholic Youth Organization: and one social europe was born.
Viktoria: Our goal was to inform, how Europeans are involved in several social projects. We wanted to find out, what motivates them and what kind of projects are spread throughout europe to form one social continent, which means to form one social europe.

What was your motivation to drive through Europe in a van?
Felix: Freedom and being indepent.
Viktoria: Yes, and to be able to get as close to the locals as possible.
Felix: The van we used, was often the first thing we talked about with other people, because most people connect these old cars with freedom – and we did so, too.

How much preparation did you need in advance?
Felix: Not much.
Viktoria: In fact we didn’t have the time for a long-term preparation. We decided around February to do the trip and started at the 2nd of August. And Felix went to Brasil for three months in this time.
Felix: So we needed a good schedule and a lot of help from friends and family.What about logistics?

Was your trip prearranged or rather spontaneous?
Viktoria: Rather spontaneous!
Felix: We had an idea about the route and we prebooked some ferrys. But we had to change these bookings after the first problems with the van.
Viktoria: And in the end, we didn’t take any of the pre-booked ferrys.
Felix: Even the route changed. For example we didn’t make it to Greece and some other countries.

Thanks for the interview, Viktoria and Felix! We will present one of your projects in more details next week, and the interview will be continued as well! If you cannot wait, you can already have a look at their website:

About the interview partners:

IMG_3725 Viktoria (25) and Felix (26) are inspired by the idea of Europe: peaceful coexistence of different countries and cultures, the cooperation of the European countries, the freedom to travel – to experience Europe as a social continent.

With the project ‘One Social Europe’, their goal was to inform how Europeans are involved in social or non-profit projects and how they bring their country, their society or Europe further – on the way to become one social europe.