A year ago today, I was nervously clinging to my boyfriend as he drove me to the airport. It was four in the morning and I felt like I was going to throw up. Just three weeks earlier, I’d informed my school that I was dropping out for the quarter so that I could accompany my sister to Europe for two months. The advisors, like my friends and family, were rightfully confused.
It was the craziest, most spontaneous thing I’d ever done — to this day, I’m still half-convinced it was all a dream. But if it was a dream, then I wouldn’t have experienced any of that personal growth that only comes from travelling. Cheesy as it sounds, those two months abroad meant the difference between a scared, content girl and a driven, adventurous woman.
Our plan was simple…mostly because we didn’t have a plan. As far as schedules go, we had a one-way ticket to Athens and, in December, a flight home from Toulouse. The two months between were supposed to be spent travelling through the Greek islands, the Italian coast, and the French countryside.
Sounds charming, right? Ha.
Athens was my first experience outside of North America, so the loudness, the smells, the diferent alphabet, and the awe-inspiring Acropolis had all my senses in an uproar.
But political strife in Greece quickly drove us to Santorini island, where the same turmoil caused the ferries and airports to strike (alternately). We were stuck for a week, but with no complaints. We had a beautiful hostel room, a friendly neighboring restaurant, stray kittens galore and the black sand beach all to ourselves. Once, when our ATV broke down, the kindest locals promised to take care of it and drove us all the way home (laughing the whole time about our “kat-a-strofe“).
When we did finally catch a flight out of Greece, Rome just couldn’t stand a chance. So after some bad experiences in Italy (I’m looking at you, you dirty Napoli boys who jumped on our beds and shoved pastries in our faces while we slept! I’m also looking at you, flooded Cinque Terre!), our nice three-country plan got completely derailed.
So we hopped on a nine-hour train to Munich, where we spent Halloween with a couple 17-year-old Canadians in a jazz band, went to a real European rave, spent a sobering day at the Dachau Concentration Camp, retraced Hitler’s steps through the city, and ate so much Döner and streudel. I could’ve stayed in Munich forever, but Berlin was calling us North.
In Berlin, we tried mulled wine, shuffled through bazaars and stayed at a club until six in the morning. We walked home as shops were re-opening, and I lost my voice for a week and a half because of the smoky dance floor (IT WAS SO AWESOME!). Berlin was also one of the hardest cities to visit, because it’s violent history was unavoidable. I remember sitting in a dark room at the Jewish Museum and feeling a century’s worth of pain hit me very suddenly. Berlin was hip and crazy and traditional and just heavy, all at once.
And then we decided, last minute, to book a flight to Dublin. Immediately, I fell deeply and irrevocably in love with Ireland. The Guinness Factory alone could’ve evoked those feelings in me, but travelling all over the Irish countryside with the sweetest Irish bus driver certainly didn’t hurt. There was so much green, as far as the eye could see. After weeks of travelling and feeling lonely, I remember suddenly feeling so at home — but then, maybe that’s part of why I loved it so much. The night before our flight back to Rome (we had booked one random flight from Rome to Nice), my sister and I just looked at each other and knew we couldn’t leave yet. So we skipped our flight and stayed for another week!
After a stint in London, and another in Paris, we headed to the south of France, to a village of less than a dozen stone houses. We stayed with our spunky French Grandmother, who drove us all around a myriad of historic cities. We met all her hip grandma-friends, saw random castles just chillin’ in the middle of the woods, visited countless holiday bazaars, and even tried Pate (I almost died…how do people eat that?!)
Writing about all of this makes me wonder why I was so excited to come home. There were times when I thought I wasn’t going to make it for the whole two months, as pathetic as that sounds. I started a lot of fights with my sister — the result of being homesick and stuck together too long (sorry Lauren!!), and I missed my friends and family. I even missed school. But when I finally landed back in Seattle, it was so hard to reconcile where I’d been and what I experienced with the luxuries of home and familiar faces.
It was hard talking about my trip, too, because nobody could relate.
“How was the trip?!” is more of a statement than a question, and “good“ isn’t a real answer. But it’s impossible to convey the sheer enormity of the Parthenon, the hilarity of chasing sheep off an Irish road or the stoicism of the fog at Dachau properly, so I can’t blame anyone for not being more curious. I realize that those two months abroad were strung together by you-had-to-be-there moments.
Maybe “trip” isn’t the right word to describe it, either. Anyone who has traveled long-term knows that it’s no vacation. Sometimes it feels more like a chore, something you have to do for yourself. Not that it wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had…but I guess it was also some of the worst times I ever had.
But even when I can’t talk about it, I can feel the experiences inside me. I feel a new sense of independence, a larger tolerance for when things don’t work out, patience, the ability to be very very frugal, and, most of all, a renewed spirit of adventure — and that’s only from two months! (Can you imagine what the long-term travelers experience?!)
This post hardly does our two months justice; I really wish I had a more eloquent way putting it in writing.
So at the expense of sounding trite: is there anything better for the soul than traveling?
So, for any of you Lovelies still with me after that essay: I want to hear about your travel experiences!
Give me all the details, the little funny stories…I’m going to try to live vicariously through your tales as I type away at work!