Today marks the 10th anniversary of one of the biggest adventures I ever embarked on, an unforgettable trip that would greatly define the decade to follow; in fact, that would greatly define me, period. I always knew at some point or another I would put that whole experience in writing, and I can’t think of a better time to do it than now. Of course, I want to take you all with me on this trip down memory lane with a series of tales and anecdotes from this life-changing travel experience. And so it begins…
It was May 2004, I was barely 20 years old, had just finished my sophomore year in college, and was more than eager to materialize my summer plans to spend the next 2 months in Europe…backpacking…by myself.
I had been planning this trip for about 6 months, and dreaming about it my whole life. I had worked as an au-pair for a year when I was 18 and all of my savings from that experience, a modest $3,000 dollars, became my travel fund. The traveling-all-on-my-own part wasn’t necessarily planned, but everyone I invited to come along on this adventure couldn’t make it, and I decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me from fulfilling this life-long dream of mine.
By the way, saying I had been planning the trip for 6 months might be a bit of an overstatement as what I really did for 6 months was hunt for a reasonably priced roundtrip airplane ticket to Europe. Other than that I didn’t do much planning at all. I did widely search the internet for ideas on hostels and their pricing, but never actually booked one. I knew I would only concentrate on visiting Western Europe, specifically France, Italy, Spain and England, but never set up predetermined dates on when I would be going where. I had also talked to a few acquaintances that were living in Europe about the possibility of crashing at their pads for a few days while I was there, but never made any formal arrangements. I was just gonna fly by the seat of my pants, although at the time it wasn’t so much about a conscious decision to do it that way, and more about me just being a naïve and careless 20 year-old.
Also, when I say backpacking, I mean that in the most literal way possible. It was just me and a backpack, one bigger than your average backpack but fairly small for a trip like this. While traveling, I met many backpackers who traveled with backpacks that could stand as tall as they were, big enough to pack a blanket, a towel and even a pillow along with all the rest of their belongings. But not me, my backpack could only carry about 10kgs/22lbs worth of stuff, which amounted to a week’s worth of t-shirts and underwear, a pair of jeans, a pair of black pants, a denim skirt, one swimsuit, a pair of flip flops, a poncho and basic toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, moisturizer and hairbrush). No fancy clothes, no accessories, no pretty shoes, no makeup…heck, not even tweezers for my eyebrows, which I’m not proud to confess. Also, no jacket, which wasn’t very smart and had to be my first purchase and also first lesson (of many!) when I arrived across the pond. I did carry another average small backpack that would serve both as my carry-on on the plane and my companion during my days of endless exploring thru Europe.
So on May 30th, 2004, I wore my favorite pair of jeans, a green message t-shirt with “the only people who never fail are those who never try” printed in bold yellow letters (’cause of course that was and still is one of my mottos), and an old pair of black and beige sneakers; carrying my little blue backpack on my shoulder, I stood in line at the airport’s security checkpoint, with my boarding pass and passport in hand, waving my family and friends good-bye, while barely able to contain my excitement that this was finally happening, yet completely oblivious to just how major it would really be in my life.
To be continued soon…