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?