Thursday's Child: Backpacking in Europe, part 2

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bruges, Belgium
This week, I wanted to share a few final memories from my backpacking days.

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.


30 comments:

Ruth said...

Hear hear. :)

Rosemary said...

I often wish I would have done what you did . . . reading your tales of backpacking through Europe makes me truly wish I had. Sounds like wonderful growing experiences to cherish.

Kittie Howard said...

Oh, Beth, you captured so much. I wouldn't trade our youth hostel days for anything. Thanks for sharing! (You've got a book hiding in this post, girl!)

CJ - Food Stories said...

What great experiences you've had ... I'm so jealous :-)

artofnaturalliving.com said...

My daughter just got back from a junior year abroad. Great experience!

Valerie said...

Sneakers, always a dead giveaways to one's identity. :D

What a great way to wrap up May. You always offer such sage advice..."Where is...?" So, so crucial.

Belinda said...

Those are the best meetups. Some you hope will be friends for a long time. Social media has certainly made this easier. That shower dude...nice line!

Belinda said...

Those are the best meetups. Some you hope will be friends for a long time. Social media has certainly made this easier. That shower dude...nice line!

Lynne said...

I visited Bruges last Spring and loved it! You've had a wonderful time visiting all these places while you were younger! Great posts!

Claudia said...

Loving these memories - and the unexpected - that sometimes is the best part.

Claire Davis said...

You were so brave to travel alone, and how awesome that you kept a journal and recorded everyone's names!

Carol said...

LOL about the shower :) Reminds me of the coed floor in college! You were very adventurous to travel alone, such great memories, I enjoyed your stories.

gobakeyourself said...

Your experiences should go into a book my friend, I love reading about them :D

Cheers
Choc Chip Uru

Rita said...

What a great adventure you lived that will stay with you forever; really enjoyed reading about it. You made us feel like we were there with you and it was fun.
Rita

backroadjournal said...

I agree with learning a few words of the language of the country you are visiting. Instead of where is...I ask in their language if they speak a little English. When asking "where is" in their language, they presume I speak their language and give me directions in their language. That is OK sometimes if they do a lot of pointing.

yummychunklet said...

Looks like a great time!

Barbara said...

Lovely post, Beth. I was going to ask if you stayed in contact with anyone, but it sounds as though you were friends in passing only. Still, such an education you had!
Love the shower story....sneakers, my foot!

Bonnie said...

Beth, Some of my favorite moments are those shared with perfect strangers. Thanks for sharing your memories. Bonnie

Cucina49 said...

You make me wish that I had traveled more when I was younger! That photo of Bruges makes me want to go back to Belgium--all I've seen of it is Brussels.

Jess said...

Love the photos! I'll echo Cucina49 above~ you make me wish I'd done more traveling in my youth :) The shower situation must have been awkward, but what a story! I wonder if your daughters will be traveling much on their own, and what advice you'll give them :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes! I'd have freaked out in that shower situation! :)

Medeia Sharif said...

This makes me wish I'd traveled more when I was younger. I need to play catch up in my older years.

Have a great weekend.

profiterolesandponytails said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Our travel experiences are enriched greatly by the people that we meet along the way!

Monet said...

I have no doubt that these experiences enriched your life in wonderful ways. And I must agree, travel is not about just seeing sights or trying food. It is about opening your heart to people around the world.

Miriam said...

So true!! The people make every place magical (scary shower though *wink*:)
Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm so thankful that I traveled while in university. It's the best time to do it. :) I even spent a semester studying in Finland while in grad school, and worked one summer in a different Finnish city (Helskini) while living with my grandparents. I didn't know much Finnish and they didn't speak English. Somehow we survived.

Janet Johnson said...

I love hearing your stories! And we would make great travel partners. My weakness is friendliness and my strength is navigation. :)

I love that you did this and are now sharing!

Vicki Bensinger said...

It truely sounds like a wonderful experience. It would be fun for many of us who blog to travel together to Europe to visit all the wonderful foodie places and sites and get to know one another.

Just curious how many years ago was this because I know you've talked about your children as well and my goodness your memory is so vivid - as though you were there yesterday!

Beth said...

Janet, I would travel with you any time. (And I think you're pretty friendly!)

And Vicki, that would be wonderful, wouldn't it? I made this trip in the late 80s, but my memory is greatly enhanced by the journal I kept. I am so grateful that I recorded all these memories!

Angela Felsted said...

I took a trip to Europe shortly after I got pregnant with my oldest son where I rode the trains and stayed in youth hostiles. It was really fun, but also so many shades of culture shock. Amsterdam was particularly interesting. I'm glad I had my husband with me.

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