Late last year I made my second trip overseas and my first trip to Europe. After finding affordable airfare, three destinations were selected: London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Over a course of two weeks, I dove headfirst into experiencing three vastly different countries, and wildly varying cities. Months of careful planning meant an (almost) perfectly executed trip, with few hiccups. Armed with charts, spreadsheets, folders, and pre-purchased tickets for museums and attractions in each city, I felt as prepared as possible while simultaneously facing the unknown.
When I travel, I typically don’t take the amiable “take me where the road leads” approach. Part of the fun of being in a new city or country for me is soaking up the knowledge offered by the area, so museums, libraries, iconic historical areas and tours are all a top priority. This means full speed ahead – while there is time for leisure during certain times, I much prefer exploring a museum to window shopping. To maximize the amount of time available in each location, tickets were purchased in advance, transportation researched and acquired, timetables were created, and maps of each city were carefully tucked away in my bag.
All of this preparation served me well; however it didn’t adequately ready me for the experience. It is one thing to plan for an adventure or vacation, but another thing to experience it entirely. Especially when, admittedly, knowledge of each city I visited was superficial at best. While I figured out the financial and practical logistics of each facet of the trip, I spent little time actually researching the country and city itself. There were many times where I found myself ashamed at the lack of knowledge about a particular place, especially as I stood in awe of icons I had only dreamed of: Notre Dame, the Effiel Tower, Tower of London, Big Ben, King’s Cross Station, the Catacombs, the Anne Frank Haus.
Not having extensive knowledge about each place actually enhanced my experience. While gasping at the murals on the ceilings of the palace of Versailles; or watching trains depart from Kings Cross Station; climbing the narrow set of stairs behind the hidden bookshelf in the Anne Frank Haus; and being surrounded by six million skeletons in the catacombs under the streets of Paris, I was fully immersed in each incredible experience. It was almost impossible to sleep each night, my head buzzing with the experiences of the day mentally reviewing notes and pictures from each amazing point in the journey.
Coming home to The United States, in midst of a frenzied presidential election almost caused depression. To go from walking along the Thames to be shuffled back into everyday regular life was a solid, abrupt adjustment. It only has increased my thirst for travel, and strengthened my resolve to continue to step out of my comfort zone. As I struggle with recently lost friendships and continuely battle to lose weight, I am comforted by the lessons I learned abroad.
Join me as I write about my experiences in England, France, and The Netherlands. Share my excitement and wonder at the opportunity to visit and learn more about these amazing places. Do you have travel tips for future trips to London, Paris, or Amsterdam? Share them in the comments below!