I’ve been back for a month from the greatest trip I have ever taken. I went backpacking through Europe for three weeks by myself and there is not a thing I regret about this decision.
Now, I did a lot in these three weeks. Starting in London, I made my way from Paris to Barcelona to Madrid and over to Italy. In Italy, I went from Rome to Florence to Venice, then back up to Paris, and then flew home from London. There is no way I could write about all of this in one story so I will give you the highlights – and some lowlights – of my journey.
Before I get into the adventure I had, let me mention why I went in the first place. On January 5, 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had Squamous Cell Carcinoma on my tongue. I got lucky, and thanks to a biopsy the cancer was removed. But in the two full days from when I was diagnosed to when the doctor told me there were no signs of it left were the most difficult days in my entire life. I went through surgery two months later so they could look at a larger sample of my tongue to make sure it was completely gone and– good news– it was! I have no idea how it appeared and no idea if it will come back, but there’s always a possibility. I have to get it checked every three or so months just to be safe and, over a year later, so far so good.
On the night I found out the news, after crying intermittently for roughly four hours, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish. Graduate, travel to Europe, get a job, and hold my first niece or nephew were all on this list. I have now accomplished the first three, and here’s hoping the fourth will happen sometime soon.
I got a job later that month; I graduated in May; I left for Europe on January 5, 2016. Yes, that is one year to the day of the big news, which was no accident. And in that one year, a lot of good and bad things happened to me that I will not get into detail on, but what I will tell you is that when I found out I was diagnosed I had never felt more human. It changed my life and how I want to live. I will only do things if they make me happy, a better person, or if I am having fun. Otherwise, I don’t see the point.
Now, I would not have made this trip without the countless amount of help, support, and encouragement from my friends and family. I am not an openly sentimental person, but without some specific people who were, are, and always will be there for me, I cannot thank you enough. You know who you are.
Traveling to Europe began with my flight from Phoenix to JFK for a layover to London Heathrow. Converting my money was a struggle, I was sick, my ears popped on the flight, and I could not hear for about seven hours, including when I was trying to figure out the London Metro my first time ever setting foot in Europe.
After some struggle, I finally started my adventure, but not before getting a much needed push from a really close friend in Phoenix who became an important part of the trip. She told me “stop texting me and go explore,” and she was absolutely right. I left my hostel to go see Big Ben. I took the metro to the correct stop, got off the train, walked outside, and looked up. There it was, all lit up and beautiful, and it hit me. Hard. I started to cry. I did it. I made it to Europe all by myself. I beat cancer. It had been a full year and I had accomplished far more than I thought I could. It all became worth it in that one split second.
The next night I decided to fulfill a childhood dream of mine. I needed to see Abbey Road. I had just got back to the hostel after a Harry Potter studio tour and from seeing Buckingham Palace and I went to eat some fish n’ chips and plan my route to Abbey Road. My phone said it was going to take about 50 minutes to get there. I left for the station, which is when the first bad thing happened.
It turns out the train I was on wasn’t going the full route, so I got off when it told me to and waited for the next one. The next train ended up being the wrong one, because I took the counter-clockwise circle line instead of the district line. I got off at the next stop, which was Liverpool Street. Since The Beatles are from Liverpool, I guess it was kind of a happy mistake. I then asked an employee what the fastest way to go was and he helped out, saying he was actually going there later!
So I chatted with him for about a minute then was on my way again. Took the next train that was beneficial for me, and then took some sort of rail one stop to my destination of Abbey Road. For the record I was obviously listening to The Beatles the entire ride over so I was in a good mood despite the mistakes. Just when “Ticket to Ride” came on I came across this sign:
I legitimately laughed my ass off at the situation, but also WHY THE F*** IS THE BEATLES’ ABBEY ROAD NOT AT THE F***ING ABBEY ROAD STOP? CLEARLY ENOUGH PEOPLE MAKE THIS MISTAKE IF THERE IS A WHOLE F***ING SIGN TELLING YOU IT’S NOT THE RIGHT ABBEY ROAD! I was mad, if you couldn’t tell from my cursing and the caps. The next song that came on was “Help!,” which was appropriate because I obviously needed help. I followed the sign’s instructions, it said it would take another 25 minutes to get there.
I finally got to the correct station, which was a lot closer to my hostel, and I got off and saw a Beatles cafe! I opened the door and they screamed, “We‘re closed!” I then proceeded to ask a rail worker where the actual Abbey Road was in relation to the station and he directed me down the road said “about 100 meters and to the right.”
I followed, but nothing. Nada. Zilch. I finally found it and then my phone succumbed to its low battery. I had my rechargeable battery with me, but it usually takes about 5 minutes to revive the phone, so I just “let it be.” I stared at the street for a quick second before going back to the station to charge my phone. It was pretty cold outside and I was still sick, so it was just not meant to be.
The good news is, I went back the following afternoon on my way to the station where I would be headed to Paris, I walked across a few times, went outside the actual studio, and signed my and my friends’ names on a graffiti wall before leaving for good.
I traveled to Paris where I also accomplished some dreams of mine that I set when I was 13. I had been obsessed with Paris and the Eiffel Tower for nearly 10 years and I got to see both. I became friendly with two brothers from Brazil and went to the Louvre for seven hours. When my new friends left for their next destination, it was just me with my thoughts. So, I did what any insane movie fan would do and that is everything Gil from Midnight in Paris did. That means Shakespeare and Company where I took pictures even though I was not supposed to (a common theme), I bought a few books all the while getting a Shakespeare stamp, and I walked around the store where Hemingway, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce wrote. I then went next door to the café and bought an espresso and a macaroon. I saw Pont Alexandre III at night and listened to the movie soundtrack as I walked over the bridge hoping for it to rain like in the film… it did not. I saw the Saint Etienne du Mont steps at the stroke of midnight, Quai de la Tournelle, and finally, Les Bouquinistes, which had some amazing things I bought for friends and family. Paris was my favorite city and I will have to write a separate piece on that because I can talk about Paris for days.
I then traveled to Spain where I met some of the best people on this whole trip, some from Australia, some from the USA and some from Iceland. I partied until 7 am one night and stayed up talking and watching movies (including Midnight in Paris) until 8 am another. At one point I was “hit on” by a prostitute, who was at least kind enough to give me directions to my hostel (that’s all that happened!). But then leaving Madrid for Rome was the worst traveling experience of my life.
I was all checked into my flight on Ryanair, took an easy taxi to the Madrid airport to save a lot of time, and things were going well. I asked a few people where the check-in desk for my airline was and they instructed me to go to the other end of the terminal near the food court area. I walked over, got in line, and before I knew it I was next up.
I told the lady working that I just needed my boarding pass since I’m not checking a bag. I showed her my confirmation and she looked it up and said, “you haven’t checked in.” I replied, “yes I did, this is the check in confirmation, I even upgraded my seat and everything.” I got the email to check in the day before and it took roughly 30 minutes to do so, so I definitely checked in.
She told me I was wrong and that I had 20 minutes to check in otherwise I would have to pay about 40 euros. Luckily, I arrived early enough where I still had a manageable window.
After some struggle, I finally connected to the awful airport Wi-Fi and with my minimal Spanish knowledge, navigated through the site, and checked in (officially this time). Then the site said I needed to print my boarding pass since I did not have a European passport. I asked someone how to do this and they pointed me in the direction of a kiosk that did it for you. Easy enough, right? WRONG! It was completely in Spanish and I was struggling and just wanted to sit down because my bag was heavy.
So, there I was trying to use the kiosk and asking people for help and all they would tell me is that I “have to use the kiosk.” They wouldn’t tell me what I had to do and it didn’t have instructions in English. I knew I had to use the damn kiosk, so they were clearly not giving me any new information. I literally asked people for help using it and that was their reply. More than one person, too!
Finally, I found someone to help. It turned out I had to pay to use the machine, only I didn’t have any coins. So I had to go to currency exchange downstairs just to break a 20 and get change, then go back to the machine where the lady was nice enough to wait for me. Keep in mind that I had a very limited amount of time before my gate closed and I still needed a boarding pass and to pass security. We soon realized that the Internet wasn’t working properly on the kiosks, or more specifically, Ryanair.com. Of course, this was the only site that I needed to work. So, I spent 4 euros to be in the same situation I was already in.
Now, I had about 50 minutes before my gate closed and no boarding pass. The lady told me I could go to the major terminal, which would take 15 minutes to get there then 15 minutes back, but if there was a line or if it was slow, I would miss the flight. Or, I could ask the check-in desk to print.
I walked back to the desk, waited in line, which was at least 15 minutes, and in that time I started to break. I forced my face into my pillow and let out a cry in the middle of the Madrid airport because so many negative thoughts were going through my head. I am going to miss my flight, which I paid for. I am going to miss my check-in at the Roman hostel, which I paid for. I am going to be stranded in Madrid with no place to stay because the hostel I was just in is fully booked.
I asked if they could just print me a boarding pass and told them the reason why (they thought I was lying) and they said no, unless I wanted to pay 15 euros just to print it. At this point I had no choice so I agreed and then had to go to a different area for the payment and finally got my boarding pass and made it to the gate in time. The flight ended up being delayed for a bit, anyway, and I don’t even know if I was relieved or upset. I made my flight and got to Rome safe and sound. I told everyone there my story and his or her reaction was just “typical Ryanair.” Glad the airline’s reputation precedes them.
I saved most of my money up until this point and ended up spending it all on nice wine and dinners and gifts for friends, family members, and myself. Best food I have ever had at every single place in Italy. I won’t order any pasta at a restaurant in America maybe ever again, it was that good. I also met some great people, from Lebanon, New Zealand, and more from USA and from Canada.
I would go into more detail, but I’m sure only five people who aren’t my Mom actually made it this far and, let’s be real, even she stopped about 10 minutes ago. Also I’m hoping to write some sort of screenplay on everything I went through on this trip, so I can’t reveal all of it now.
I did take my first overnight train for 14 hours from Venice to Paris. It did not have Wi-Fi and I was NOT happy. I was attacked by a homeless man, almost witnessed a bomb attack, and eventually made it back to London where I flew back home the next afternoon.
Moral of this story is that it took me getting sick to realize I needed to take the trip of a lifetime. Don’t wait. Go somewhere. Anywhere at all. Here’s a cliché quote from Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and few words have ever been truer than those. I can’t force you to travel somewhere – nor should I have to – but if you do go, I can definitely promise that you will have the time of your life.