As a young person making my way through Europe, I had plenty of company in the “lots of dreams, no money” category. So when I wasn’t attending free concerts, I was staying up late, chatting with newly-made friends or playing cards. And it’s amazing how many short and intense friendships I fell into. When I chatted with other travellers, one of two things happened. Sometimes we were going in opposite directions, in which case we shared travel suggestions. And sometimes we were going in the same direction, and decided to travel together for a while. Having a buddy to chat with en route to the next destination was always fun, and having someone to help find the hostel in the next town was a godsend. (My strengths are friendliness and trip research; my weakness is navigation.) I mention literally dozens and dozens of people in my journal, most of whom I can’t put a face to anymore, but all of whom I spent a few hours or a few days with. And the experiences I had with the travellers that I do remember – an impromptu trip to Luxembourg with Ellen, the Rodin museum with Jon, talking baseball with Mark outside the Pompidou Centre – were some of the highlights of my trip.
|Seeing Luxembourg with Ellen|
Sometimes those new friendships got off to a rocky start, though. I had my first experience with coed washrooms in a youth hostel in Paris. Somewhat dubiously, the shower curtain didn't completely close. In fact, you couldn’t really call it a 'curtain'; it was more like two boards that didn't quite overlap. When I stepped into the bathroom, I realized quickly that the occupant of the other shower was male, so I kept my shower as brief as possible, while simultaneously hugging the walls of said shower. Later, in the common room, a guy came up to me and said, "Oh, hi, you were in the shower next to me." I literally had no idea what to say, so fortunately he filled in the rest of the sentiment: "I recognized your sneakers."
Admittedly my travel style has changed a little since the backpacking and youth hostel days. But I learned some valuable lessons. The key to success in finding my way around every city in Europe is still exactly the same: learn a few words in the native language, the most important phrase being, “Where is?” If you know that, and the name of your hotel, you will never truly be lost.
The other lesson I learned from this trip was to keep my heart open to the people I meet. My most special memories involved the people I shared my time with. And although I've never travelled by myself since then, the same is still true. The cities may be fabulous, the countryside may be breathtaking, but every new place I visit is made most precious by the people I have met.