Woman, 24, Gets Sick During Trip to Europe. Unable to Fly, She Boards Boat Bound for Florida (Exclusive)

Claudia Larson embarked on her European adventure two months ago

<p>Claudia Larson</p> Claudia Larson on the boat.

Claudia Larson

Claudia Larson on the boat.

When Claudia Larson embarked on a solo European adventure two months ago, little did she know that her journey would take an unexpected turn.

During the initial leg of her trip, Larson, 24, was in Athens, Greece, when she developed a head cold. Brushing it off as nothing serious, the Orlando, Florida, native, despite feeling extremely congested, decided to press on with her journey and board her next flight to Lisbon, Portugal.

But once in the air, Larson quickly realized her illness was more severe than she thought.

"I got on the flight not really thinking anything of it, and then while flying, I experienced the worst pain of my life," Larson, a freelance photographer, tells PEOPLE exclusively.

"I realized when I got off the flight that all the pressure from the airplane had worsened my sinus congestion," she adds. "My ears were so clogged that I couldn't hear for about two weeks."

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A few days after landing in Lisbon, Larson made an appointment at the local hospital, Hospital do Litoral Alentejano, where she was prescribed antibiotics to help clear her sinuses, alleviate the constant crackling in her ears and ease her headaches.

However, as two weeks passed and her symptoms only worsened, Larson sought help from another doctor. Despite receiving a different set of antibiotics and additional medication, her condition did not improve.

"Then I went to another doctor in Lisbon who spoke English, and she said, 'Okay, well, I'm going to give you this medication and if you're still not better in five days, then you need to see an ENT,' " she recalls.

"Nothing helped for those five days, so I went to see an ENT. He basically said he's rarely seen this happen," she adds.

The ENT suggested Larson undergo medical exams to figure out a diagnosis, but the appointments were a month out, and her visa was nearing expiration. She also lacked the funds to stay in Portugal without working.

Larson made the decision to return home to Orlando. The only problem? The doctors told her she couldn't fly.

"I got a little creative about it," Larson says, explaining how she decided to get back home to the United States by boat.

To Larson's surprise, her parents were supportive of the adventure across the ocean.

"They were like, 'We just want you home, so do what you need to do,' " Larson says. "They knew I'd traveled around Europe for months and that I was capable of doing this. My friends, on the other hand, all think I'm crazy, but I think it's the coolest thing ever."

<p>Claudia Larson</p> Inside of the boat

Claudia Larson

Inside of the boat

As Larson started to plan her journey, she realized the only boat she could find from Europe to America left from Southampton, England, in 10 days' time on June 9.

Racing against the clock, she took a 10-hour bus ride to Madrid, another 10-hour bus from Madrid to Bordeaux, a two-hour train to Paris and then a 3-hour train from Paris to Calais, France.

From there, she took an hour ferry to England, where she boarded a Transatlantic Ocean Liner. The ship will drop her off in New York City on June 15.

"It's incredibly fancy. It's crazy. I kind of feel like I don't belong, especially walking up with my big backpack," she tells PEOPLE from onboard the boat.

"When I was planning this whole trip, I was prepared to spend $800 on a flight back when I thought that I could fly," she adds. "But now that I'm taking a boat since I am one person in a two-person room, they have to double charge you. So basically, my ticket was $1,400."

Since leaving Portugal, Larson has documented her journey on TikTok. Her first video explaining her situation went viral with almost 400,000 views.

"There's actually one guy who commented on a video, and he's like, 'Hey, I'm on the same cruise. I hope you have a good cruise.' So that was funny," she says.

"Being sick has been really lonely at times, but people are being so nice and supportive, and I think it's just a really good thing for me right now," she continues of her TikTok videos.

<p>Claudia Larson</p> View of boat

Claudia Larson

View of boat

Once Larson lands in New York, she says she plans to get an Amtrak train ticket from Penn Station all the way to Orlando, about a 22-hour train ride.

"I looked at it as an adventure. It wasn't the adventure that I had planned, but it was an adventure nonetheless and I'm always up for an adventure," she says.

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