True to upper-middle class form, my parents sent me on a little trip to Europe for the past three weeks. Ah, backpacking Europe–a classic 20something rite of passage. Although my glory days in college have come to an end, that doesn’t mean my education has. Yes, between hiking around the Colosseum, eating wiener schnitzels, and dodging drunk Croatians, I learned a thing or two about life.
1. Eliminate excess baggage.
There’s a reason why they call it “backpacking” Europe, and it has nothing to do with school-aged kids going there. Several people emphasized the importance of packing light, which I genuinely tried to consider–but at the same time, I was super stoked to go to a place where combat boots, crushed velvet, and leather shorts are considered cool. Needless to say, dragging around a 50-lb rolling suitcase was a little more than a pain, especially when one of the wheels broke the second day I was there. The bag would still be pushable if not for the textured streets found literally everywhere in Europe. There was one point, after walking around half a mile, that I literally threw my head back and arms in the air like Charlie Brown and shouted “F&$K COBBLESTONE!!!!!” in the middle of a town square in Madrid. No wonder everyone there hates Americans.
2. Appreciate the little things.
…like glasses of free water in restaurants. And ice. And bread before meals. And butter. And airplane seats that recline. And air conditioning! I was mentally prepared to part with ice for a while, but in sweltering heat hostels offered no air conditioning. Our last night in Europe, we stayed in a hostel in London that had no AC and no breeze whatsoever, and it was 32 degrees Celsius there–90 degrees Fahrenheit. Just in case you were wondering, yes it’s impossible to sleep in a 90 degree room. My friends and I arose from our restless zombie-like state drenched in sweat, dehydrated, and with sore throats. If you are ever traveling to Europe during the summer, invest in a small fan you can clip to your headboard.
3. Make new friends.
Hostels were the best place to meet people. Everyone I met in a hostel was young, educated, and a lot of fun. Even more interesting than other travelers were the people running the place. Often, the receptionists at hostels also organize pub crawls, walking tours, and other kinds of entertainment. The ones we met in Madrid were going to school and learning the language while getting a free place to stay and got paid to party 3 nights a week. Every now and then you run into creeps (ask me about the Rome pub crawl–I actually Barbie slapped a guy) but for the most part, everyone you meet is just out to have a good time and learn a little bit about the world.
4. Clean your plate–when you can.
When you find a decent meal overseas, eat until you’re stuffed silly. Not only is everything really expensive, but it was hard to find a good meal in some places, namely Spain. I’ve grown up trying crazy foods, so it never occurred to me that this could be a problem, but finding a simple ham and cheese sandwich was nearly impossible (and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were nonexistent). Instead, they had white bread sandwiches everywhere with the oddest combinations, like shrimp/eggs/mayonnaise, or cucumber/butter/imitation crab.
One of the best meals I ate overseas was a home cooked Italian meal. Thanks to my friend’s mad chugging skills, we won a free tour through EF worth around 200 euros. A tour guide, translator (named Guido!!), and a 3-man camera crew followed me and my friends around all day, taught us how to buy food at Italian markets, and took us to the country home of an Italian family that cooked for us and told us stories. It was crazy, the old lady that did most of the talking with us was around when Mussolini was in power, and has only been to America once (oddly to visit Midland, Texas). I dream of their freshly marinated olives, Asiago cheese cubes, fresh made pomodoro sauce, and prosciutto with melon. Delicious.
5. Take it slow.
In Germany, beer is literally cheaper than water. And you don’t get pints of beer…it’s only served in liters. And no matter your size or tolerance, quantities that large are bound to make everyone you’re with a little loopy.
I could go into specific stories, but I’d rather spare the innocent. Long story short, Germany was a blast.
To summarize, I’m super thankful that my parents sent me on this trip, and cliche as it sounds, it really was a great stepping stone from college to adulthood. I move into my big girl apartment at the Mayo this weekend, and then on with the rest of my life.