Friday, July 13, 2012

The First Big Trip

Jeanine Ertl is a rural, mini-homesteading mother to three young children on the Lost Coast of California. She blogs at RosieDreams. She loves writing, gardening, travel and following her ever-changing passion for learning-something-new-until-thoroughly-sidetracked.

I’m gonna backpack through Europe this summer, I told my boyfriend that day as I watered my mom’s sun parched lawn.

We were twenty years young, in college, living at our parents’, and in love.

I wanted to see with my own eyes one of the many famous landmarks imprinted from years of text books and television. I wanted to venture away from home on something bigger than a road trip.

But on that balmy San Diego evening I was met by a dreadful silence. Honestly, it hadn’t occurred to me that he might not be interested. When I’d heard about “backpacking through Europe” my mind had connected with it immediately.

But now my heart raced, my thoughts canvassing the little I knew about actual “backpacking.” I had many questions, and now, the thought of a solo adventure left me a little worried.

So I re-stated my plans, preparing my thoughts better this time. Don’t you wanna see the Eiffel Tower for yourself? Visit the Louvre? Ride trains around the countryside and feel like you know what lies beyond the USA?

I was holding my breath now. Hoping with all my might that he’d be interested.

Now’s the time. We’ve got nothing holding us back!

The idea hung in the world of anticipated dreams for a few days longer. I thought about it obsessively while batting it down into my subconscious. Midterms were at hand.

A few days later, when it was obvious that I wasn’t changing my course, my boyfriend changed his. And it was with a deep sigh of relief that I set off in research- planning-mode for our first overseas adventure. Backpacking Europe.

I like to hear about people’s first travels. The journeys that pushed them beyond. To soak up more than they’d expected. To go a bit further. To step out of a comfort zone they didn’t know existed.

And Europe was ours. It was our big First Trip. My boyfriend and I had road tripped already a handful of times, borrowing a car and heading off for a few days to check out the coast, mountains, desert.

But Europe taught us to travel.

It was the trip that taught us to breathe in life.

To stop and taste the gelato, on a curb, in the heat of the Italian afternoon.

To sleep with our heads twisted up, one eye open as the train swayed through the night.

To put up with a fresh or stale baguette--morning, noon and night.

And most importantly, Europe taught us to revel in the art of serendipity, both in everyday life and especially in travel. Because truly there is an art to beginning one’s day with an open heart and a willing mind.

Europe started like this for us…

Bag won’t zip shut. Analyze contents again in search of unnecessary items.

Drive to airport late and realize Eurorail Pass tickets are in photocopy machine at local drug store.

Fly across the US and Atlantic, curious how life will shape up for the next six weeks.

Find ourselves safely delivered to England’s doorstep. Heathrow International.

Fifteen years ago that summer, my now-husband and I stood looking at each other, said backpacks claimed from baggage and now teetering on our backs. We stood quietly for a few minutes, watching as families and passengers confidently strode by in a current of togetherness. Our backpacks loaded and our travel know-how at point zero, we were felled by the very first move.

Umm, how do we get to London? we contemplated, not knowing precisely where we were.

Hmmm. Do we want to take a taxi? I don’t think there’s a train station at this airport. I suppose we should exit that way and look for a bus?

Yeah, that would be the cheapest. Definitely a bus.

So off we went, integrating into the lifeblood of flowing busy moving people exiting airports at all hours, our feet moving at last.

And that’s the way it all continued rolling those first few days. After waking at noon to the darkness of velvet wallpaper and tiny beds, crackers neatly waiting at the door, we’d ask each other “What should we do? Bus? Tube? Walk? Where to?”

We were new travelers in every way, in awe of the simple existence of this foreign-to-us-reality--double decker buses, red telephone boxes, the Queen’s guard in all their seriousness.

We rose late, which we learned was our typical style and not actually jet lag. And we walked until way past dark each day. Flipping through our guide books at times and wandering at others, the magic of the day tumbled out at its own pace.

And our trip continued on for six more incredible weeks. Including of course, new friends along the way and missed trains, late night drinks under lit verandas and plenty of stomach ailments, crazy dormitory hostels and tiny, stuccoed apartments, non-admittance to countries we had no visa for (bad planning on my part) and sleeping in train stations and on sidewalks when those closed. And the insanity of finding peace in simply not knowing; a first for me at the time, but a lesson I’ve continued to learn over and over since.

We fell in love with the whole process of traveling. The not knowing where we’d stay that night. What we might see the next day. Who we might meet. What deliciousness, or not (let’s be honest), would fill our bellies when our feet finally stopped walking.

After traveling Europe that summer we were hooked. We felt ready to take on any of the continents. Eager actually. And to this day, though we’re much more homebound with three little children under the age of six, we love the thrill of driving into the night, pulling over to a hotel that fits the moment’s need rather than having a stringently organized itinerary. For as much as I love making an itinerary, they leave our trips feeling too much like a “to do” list and less like an adventure.

So, if you’ll humor me now. Comment with your First Travel? The trip that hooked you? And if you’re so inclined, what moment stole you away to being forever torn between home and craving the next journey?


  1. Backpacking Europe was definitely mine too, started with hearing my dad's stories of backpacking around Europe in 1969.

    And I see Suriname hooked you on hammocks for life.

  2. Thanks Edith, for the opportunity to share here a love I do hope to instill in my own little family. I love that your dad was a backpacker in '69. Those are likely the same type of infamous stories I was hearing when we were preparing to go. Such a fun, relatively safe and similar way to learn to live abroad. Similar enough while offering so many differences.

    And yes, hammocks, hammocks, hammocks! The kids love them too.

  3. Amazing. I hope that someday I can travel! :)

    1. Sabrina, I do hope that someday you will travel where your heart desires. Though intimidating just slightly, dousing yourself in the unknown makes for a whole lot of amazing fun.

  4. Europe was ours too. I'm always amazed to see how young we look in those pictures. I had no idea at the time that I was just a kid. I love the one of you in St. Mark's Square!

  5. Oh boy, we were such kids. And yes, we believed ourselves to be so much older at the time. I love that you guys backpacked Europe too. I can just picture it!

  6. I backpacked in Europe, too. And such memories: people who invited us to set up our pup tent in their back yard then brought us raspberries and cream to supplement our dinner; and those who moved us from our tent to their sofa then took us to visit site of the Battle of Hastings; and the joy of being invited to take a shower in a real bathroom after many days of sponging off; and lunching on pear yogurt in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower; and....

    1. Love it! What wonderful memories, Patricia.

  7. I've been traveling since the age of 2, and I'm hard pressed to think of a single trip that hooked me. But my mother used to tell me how, during that first journey as a toddler, I was so fascinated by the airplane I couldn't sit still. So maybe that was when the travel bug bit. Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jeanine!

    1. Thank you, Heidi for having me. It was fun to think about some of the more free flowing travel days pre-kids and to settle in my own mind what it is specifically that I love so much about traveling. Spontaneity and newness.
      My last few family road trips have left me in love with a loose itinerary and lack of plans. And writing this reminded me that I loved that from the beginning of my own discovery of "travel." Cheers!

  8. Europe gave me a taste, but it was Australia where I dove into the adventure of travel... Living and breathing in spontaneity, welcoming the unexpected, learning that 'going with the flow' was a new freedom beyond the edge of my comfort zone of agenda. Thank you for sharing, Jeanine! Much love & hugs to you and yours!

    1. Kelly, your name literally just came up today as I ate lunch with H & A. We miss you guys and look forward to our next visit.
      Thanks so much for commenting. I love that Australia is where you found your groove. Because it's really about the first trip that you found your style with. Hugs!

  9. Love these special memories, Jeanine, thanks for sharing with us! I really remember traveling all the time as a young kid, and it's not just the destination that stands out in my mind, but those transits and airports and interesting adults all around us, speaking in so many languages, going some place that looked important, and to me, it was just the future. What adults do. Oh, I so wanted to keep traveling!