Have you considered a climbing vacation in Europe? CTT Athlete Katie Jo Myers is currently on European tour in Greece, the UK, France, Spain, and Switzerland. See below for Katie Jo’s personal story, plus tips for planning and enjoying a European rock climbing trip. You can also read about Katie Jo teaching herself how to drive a manual transmission vehicle through Paris. Hopefully we can borrow her California sailboat while she is away climbing in Europe…
Tell us about yourself!
Katie Jo: Hi Everyone! My name is Katie Jo, and I was born in Valencia, California. I’ve lived in Michigan, Missouri, Virginia, Australia, and France, and finally moved back to California a few years ago. Due to my dad’s job and eventually my own schooling, I’ve spent most of my life moving from one place to another. Currently I’m in the midst of a three-month solo trip through Europe. When I’m home, I live in Marina Del Rey on my sailboat.
How did you first get into climbing, and when did you become serious about it?
Growing up, I loved the outdoors. When I wasn’t in school or at gymnastics practice, all I ever wanted to do was be outside, horseback riding, hiking, and camping! Upon moving to Los Angeles after graduation, I had a hard time adjusting to the big city, so I began searching for ways to escape traffic and be in the wilderness more often. There happened to be a climbing gym a mile from my work, and climbing sounded like the perfect solution! Being a competitive gymnast all the way up through college, I fell in love with the acrobatic and flexible nature of climbing, and started taking it fairly seriously right away, sending my first 5.12’s outside within a year! About two years ago however, I realized I wanted to make climbing my lifestyle and not just my hobby, so I became serious about training, getting stronger, and being more involved in the climbing industry and community.
You are on a three-month solo climbing tour of Europe! How did that come about?
Last year, after a series of pretty rough events, I decided it would be good for me to do something different for awhile. I had recently partnered with a UK based clothing company, 3rd Rock, and that put the thought in my mind that maybe I should head to Europe for a bit. Europe also has great transportation options, so I thought it would be the perfect place to visit lots of different climbing locations in a relatively short amount of time.
To be perfectly honest though, I think I’d been subconsciously planning something like this for a long time. I had already been saving money, saving up vacation days, and making connections with companies and other outdoorsy people around the world. By the time I decided to go to Europe, most of the pieces were already in place. When a friend needed a short-term place to stay, and expressed interest in renting my boat for a few months, that was the final nudge I needed. It felt like the universe was telling me to go!
I think I’m a pretty responsible person though, so I definitely didn’t make the decision lightly. Leaving for three months meant leaving my full-time job and the security I had established. So before leaving, I made sure to have some safety nets in place. I had plenty of money saved up, I had support from companies I’ve been involved with, and even had some freelance work lined up for on the road, and for when I returned home.
How much of the European climbing trip was planned ahead of time?
Well, when it came to actual trip planning, I did the opposite! I went into this trip with almost no plans whatsoever. I knew I was going to do a few European climbing competitions, and first stay with one of my 3rd Rock teammates in England. Other than that, it was all up in the air! Things started to quickly come together once I was overseas though. I connected with people, both online and in-person, and also heard from a few friends who were also climbing in Europe. I started making plans to meet up with folks at various points throughout the three months, and that gave me a rough itinerary. In between, I would make decisions based on weather, budget, and opportunities as they arose. Some of the greatest days were when I was invited somewhere spur of the moment and I would just say yes, pack up my things, and go!
Can you tell us about what you packed for three months of climbing overseas?
Besides climbing, I’m also a paraglider pilot, and Europe has amazing places to fly! I wanted to bring my paraglider with me, but I knew that would be difficult to manage, along with climbing gear and personal belongings while traveling. I also realized there was little point in bringing a cache of climbing gear if I wasn’t bringing a climbing partner, so I left the rope and quickdraws at home! It was sort of an exercise in faith for me, trusting that I would meet people to climb with.
In the end, I decided to go as minimal as possible! I packed one small backpack with my computer, camera, clothes, and toiletries, plus a second backpack with my paragliding gear (it folds up very small!), climbing harness, chalk bags, and one pair of climbing shoes. And that’s it! Taking only what I can carry makes it pretty easy to move around. It does mean wearing the same clothes over and over again though! Haha.
Speaking of logistics, do you mind telling us a bit about your financing and budgeting?
As I mentioned, before this trip I had saved some money. I also had some freelance work lined up along the way, so that was helpful. Besides that, with renting out my boat, all of my expenses back home were covered, so I didn’t have much to worry about besides trip expenses.
Despite those financial preparations, I still wanted to do everything as frugally as possible. Excluding my flights to and from Europe, I budgeted $1,000-$1,500 per month to cover lodging, food, transport, and some gym time. I kept costs down by staying in hostel dorm rooms mid-week, and during the off-peak season when prices are lower. Most of the time I cooked for myself, and walked a lot whenever I was in a city, rather than using public transport. I also stayed with friends several times. In some locations with friends, I was able to split the costs of Airbnbs and car rentals. I also take buses whenever possible to get from location to location. Buses can be slow, so I know people don’t love them, but they’re also inexpensive and hassle-free. In the midst of traveling, I find it nice to have long days where I can hop on a bus and catch up on work, or listen to music, or just relax and watch the scenery go by.
Where have you been thus far?
Climbing wise, so far I’ve bouldered in England’s Peak District, Fontainebleau, France, and Magic Wood, Switzerland. I trad-climbed at Wintour’s Leap in South Wales. I have also sport-climbed in Siurana Spain, and in Athens and Kalymnos, Greece.
Besides climbing, I’ve spent time exploring London, Paris, Cardiff, Annecy, Barcelona, Athens, and Zurich, as well as smaller towns and villages and in the UK, France, Spain, and Greece. I have also been paragliding at several locations and enjoying amazing views from the sky!
You’ve been to several world-famous climbing locations! Is it easy to train and climb consistently while traveling, and do you feel you are becoming a stronger climber?
I had a lot of climbing goals going into the trip. I thought I’d have three months just to train hard and climb all the time. However it almost immediately became a challenge. With the wet weather, my constantly moving from place to place, long travel days, lack of transportation, lack of partners, and cost of individual day passes to the gyms, I wasn’t able to climb as much as I had initially hoped. One of the first things I learned on this trip, is you have to be flexible and adapt your expectations to the reality of the situation. Otherwise you’re going to have a negative experience. I do my best to keep fit and keep climbing hard, but for me, rather than chasing grades, this trip quickly became more about the opportunity to visit new, amazing places and share experiences with new friends.
On the flip side, however, rather than training in a gym, I’m now climbing outside much more than I was back at home. I am constantly experiencing new types of rock, and new styles of movement. I can now say I’ve stemmed between two tufas, and wrapped my body around a stalactite! I’ve done some daunting run-out slabs in Spain, and learned to trust friction on sloping gritstone top-outs in England. For the first time I’ve juggled twin-rope traditional climbing, and learned to keep my cool (kind of…) while sharing routes with giant spiders, crickets, and wasps in Greece. In the end, these experiences add up to make me a stronger climber. Whatever I might lack in physical fitness at the moment, I can make up with technique and experience. I’m still on-sighting and red-pointing at the same level (sometimes even higher than at home), and am ecstatic to gain these new climbing skills!
That’s fantastic! But you are unable to climb everyday, so what do you do on rest days?
Well, I spend a lot of time on trains and buses and planes! Haha.
One of my favorite rest day activities is just walking and being a tourist. In almost every city and town, I make it a point to spend one day, without a map, wandering around and exploring for hours. I take lots of photos, and try to learn something about the history and culture of the place.
Whenever weather cooperates and I’m in an appropriate location, I also try to paraglide!
Do you have a favorite place or experience from this European climbing trip?
That is really hard to narrow down! I’ve fallen in love with practically every place I’ve visited, and had so many great experiences overall.
The common thread that runs through each of those experiences though, is definitely the people! People seem to have a lot of compassion for solo travelers, and I’ve been shown such incredible amounts of kindness! I’ve had complete strangers open their homes to me, pick me up from train stations, treat me to coffee and dinners, and take me out climbing and paragliding. Once, a person drove me across an entire country! It can be hard to accomplish a lot while traveling solo, so it is the people I’ve met along the way that have made my trip so wonderful.
What about difficult experiences, have you had those?
This is a little easier to pin down! The most difficult experience for me was traveling from London to Fontainebleau. I missed my train due to some track delays on the London underground, and had to buy a new ticket. Shortly after arriving in Paris and picking up my rental van, I was struck by a hit-and-run driver. Even though I had paid for extra insurance on the van, it was excluded because the other driver failed to stop and claim fault. I had to pay out of pocket for that, though I am trying to get it covered by my travel insurance. After the accident, I lost a travel day while exchanging vans and ended up having to teach myself how to drive a manual transmission through the streets of Paris, which was incredibly terrifying as I kept rolling backwards and stalling on the hills. Then, when I finally made it to Fontainebleau it was pouring rain! It was a really rough two days, to say the least.
In the end though, I was pretty excited to learn how to drive that manual transmission! That was super fun, and I’m a little bit addicted to it now! Haha.
Where will you head next?
I am currently planning a five day trip to Prague, after which, I’ll return to Fontainebleau for another go at bouldering, hopefully without the rain! After that I’ll have about two weeks left in my trip that aren’t planned yet. I really want to visit Scotland, as my father’s side of the family is Scottish, so I think I’ll head there before I leave. But who knows?! My plans constantly change, so it’s possible I might end up somewhere completely different instead. It is funny how, when I first set out, I felt three months was quite a long time. I have quickly realized there are so many amazing places to explore, that three months isn’t nearly long enough. But that’s okay, I’ll just have to soon return!
Do you have additional tips for anyone looking to travel and climb solo?
1.) Be prepared!
Setbacks and extra expenses will happen. Though I only had two truly difficult days, I also came close to missing a ferry, and missing a flight. I ended up having to take a few Ubers and taxis, for which I hadn’t budgeted. There were also crazy toll roads in France and Spain that I failed to take into account! So do your research ahead of time as much as possible, give yourself plenty of buffer, and just be mentally prepared to roll with the punches.
2.) Be flexible and adaptable.
Embrace the situations that come your way, and make the best of them! There were a few times when wet weather had me frustrated. I would sit in my hostel thinking,”Oh it was a mistake to visit this particular place.” The truth is, it is impossible to know what is going to happen until you arrive somewhere. So even if it doesn’t work out the way you had hoped, you’d best put on your jacket, get outside, and play in the rain! It’s funny, every time I forced myself to embrace a situation like that, it turned into something great! In Cardiff, Wales for example, it was cold and wet for several days, and I was regretting my decision to go there. That stated, I gave myself an attitude check and headed out to explore in the rain. Later, I made an Instagram post about the city, which was noticed by a climber in Cardiff, who ended up contacting me. We met up to climb at the gym and, sure enough the sun eventually came out, and the next day we went trad climbing! I had two similar experiences with paragliding as well. It goes to show how important it is to make the best of every situation.
3.) Going solo can be challenging, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!
Introduce yourself to people along the way, and make use of technology! Social media is an incredible resource for making connections and meeting climbing partners. Other than a few friends I knew from back home, almost everybody I spent time with on this trip was a connection from either Facebook, Instagram, Couchsurfing, or paragliding websites. I was pretty nervous to reach out, but quickly learned that people are generally interested in your travels and happy to meet up and help out!
4.) Enjoy your own company!
5.) Have fun!
6.) Read the fine print on insurance!