That's why the EU is investing in Europe's future by creating opportunities for young people to integrate and feel a sense of their European identity.

DiscoverEU is a European Union initiative that allows 18 year olds to travel - for free - around the continent and across the channel for up to thirty days. The project started in 2018 with 12,000 tickets, but has proven so popular that 12,000 more were offered out the following spring. The eventual aim is to give all 18 year olds access to a pass.

By providing a borderless travel experience across 30 European countries, DiscoverEU enables travelers to meet and connect with people from different backgrounds, new cultures, and uncover more about the abundant history, diversity and shared values of Europe.

One such participant was Lithuanian Patricija Gedaite who used her ticket as an opportunity to explore Italy in-depth. Delivered. talks to Patricija about her travelling experience, the challenges, the surprises and what she learned.

Is there much integration between cultures where you live?

Where I grew up in Lithuania, the population is a little diverse. Lithuanians and people from neighboring countries such as Poland and Russia all live together in the same towns, we go to the same schools and do extracurricular activities together, but people tend to stick with their own cultures.

Before you went travelling with DiscoverEU, had you had much experience travelling around Europe?

I'd been travelling with my family on vacations and I'd been to six or seven countries with Erasmus+ projects too, but I hadn't yet had much experience travelling solo.

What made you want to go travelling around Europe?

What I wanted from this trip was to learn how to be a bit more self-sufficient. It was the first time I was completely free and independent in deciding where I was going and what I was doing, so I needed to know how to properly navigate. I also wanted to learn about another country on a deeper level. I chose Italy as I'd been before for skiing and beach holidays, but I wanted to go out and see things tourists don't usually get to experience.

Where did you visit and how did you plan your trip?

To get there, I took a route through Poland, Austria, and the Czech Republic before arriving in the North of Italy. From there, I travelled southwards through a total of 18 different cities and villages including Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre, Rome, Bari and Matera. My favorite spot was Valle d'Aosta, a park full of lakes and beautiful mountainous landscapes.

I was on a gap year so I had plenty of free time and I planned to make the most of it by going for the whole month of September. It was perfect because the climate was not too hot and there were not so many crowds of tourists. For cheap accommodation, I used couch surfing websites and it was a great opportunity to meet interesting and open-minded local people.

All-in-all, I found that the way I'd imagined the journey was completely different to how it actually went - there were so many unexpected struggles and funny surprises. It felt adventurous to always be planning in the moment, changing destination last minute, but it was easy with Europe's infrastructure. The trains were super convenient and comfortable so I barely noticed time flying by when I was travelling between places.

 

Did you learn about any cultural differences that you found funny, surprising or interesting?

I learned about cultural differences, particularly about food. Italians take the rules very seriously! For example, I was told it was wrong to drink a cappuccino late in the day and the Italian family I was staying with were shocked when I wanted to drink tea with my dinner instead of wine.

I also learned about communicating using tone of voice and gestures as, quite often, when I was looking for directions, I ended up talking to people who couldn't speak English. It made me learn about my own culture, too. I realized that, while Italians are very open and passionate with the way they express themselves, Lithuanians can be a little more to-themselves, a little cooler. The people I met were very warm and willing to help despite being complete strangers.

What, for you, is the benefit of travelling and experiencing new cultures while you're young?

I believe it's so important and relevant now for young people to go out and see the world - it gives you perspective, so when you return to your environment, you realize your problems aren't so big. It doesn't happen in one trip, but over time, so it's important to stay curious and open to meeting people from outside of your circle. This trip was motivating as it made me realize that we Europeans have so many opportunities, we have the freedom to choose how we live, where we want to go, who we want to become.

What do you think about the fact this program is funded by the EU?

Of course I'm very grateful. It's a brilliant idea because if it wasn't funded, so many people who don't have the means to travel wouldn't get the benefits of this opportunity.

What do you hope from the EU of the future?

I hope we grow to become more tolerant as a society and I hope that young people take the opportunities available to them to travel and be open to new people and experiences.

Where in Europe would you like to travel to in the future?

I'll be going to Greece for a while to work this year but in the future I'd like to save up some money to travel around Scandinavia. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is also high on my bucket list.  

The European Parliament election takes place on the 23rd to the 26th of May, 2019. To find out more information on how to vote, click here. —  Giorgia Rose

Published: May 2019

Images: Patricija Gedaite