It’s been 10 years since my first big trip. Since I packed a backpack with the essentials, booked my Eurail pass, and hopped on a plane to London to start a 30-day adventure through Europe. Now 10 years later, I look back on that trip and 23-year-old me and think of how it shaped me.
When I finished grad school and then a TV internship in August 2009, I couldn’t find a job in media because, well, it was 2009. Not sure what else to do, a friend (who was in the same predicament as me) and I decided now was the time to have the adventure of a lifetime.
I had no job, no kids, no partner, and six months before I had to start paying off my student loan debt – this was the right time to go explore a world I’d only seen in movies or magazines. It’s so hard to believe this was 10 years ago that we kissed Toronto goodbye and said bonjour to Paris and London, and so many places in between.
We started out in London where we had family friends living so were lucky enough to kick off our trip in style (aka a beautiful flat in Sloane Square) before giving ourselves over to a string of crowded hostels for the other 25 days. From London, we made our way to Bruges > Amsterdam > Berlin > Nuremberg > Munich > Lausanne > Venice > Rome > Florence > Nice > Paris.
I remember people would ask me what my favourite city/experience/moment of the trip was and I couldn’t answer this then and I still can’t answer it now, even with 10 years of reflection behind me. What I can say with 10 years of reflection is that this trip helped shape me in three important ways.
1. Be comfortable outside of my comfort zone. So many moments of this trip forced this on me. We shared hostel rooms with strangers (hundreds of them, in Munich’s case), we stayed out late at clubs in foreign cities where we didn’t speak the language, we got lost on buses and public transit, we ran to not miss trains, we bartered with local sellers, we wore the same clothes for 30 days with only a sink to wash them in.
For this fresh-out-of-university grad from the suburbs, this was unlike anything I’d ever done and I learned to be comfortable in my discomfort. I learned that there is a world of fun and wonder to be discovered when you leave what you know behind.
2. Embrace spontaneity. We planned our hostels in advance and had a general idea of what we wanted to do in each city, but we still allowed ourselves room for unknown changes to our itinerary. Sometimes these were in our control, sometimes not. Like when we planned to spend a day in Nice — enjoying the beaches of the South of France — and then take the overnight train to Paris (bonus, we’d save on overnight accommodations this way!) But when we arrived in Nice, the train was sold out. This meant a last minute call to book the next train out of Nice and hope that we could check into our Paris accommodations one night early.
The type-A planner in me wouldn’t let me go into this trip completely winging it, but moments like this definitely taught me to lighten up and “just go with it”, just a little. There is beauty in accidental discoveries and the unexpected that can happen in everyday life too, when you leave yourself open to it.
3. Be open to new experiences, cultures, and people. Everywhere we went we made an effort to embrace the local culture. Whether it was food or drink (we drank a lot of litre beers in Germany and ate a lot of cheese fondue in Switzerland), or experiences that the city is known for, we wanted to experience the local culture as best we could. This also meant making friends with the locals and other travellers. When you’re thrown into the world of backpacking – a world full of hostels, organized walking tours, and hanging out in train stations – you’re bound to connect with new people over shared experiences.
Leaving yourself open to those exchanges and friendships (forget #nonewfriends) will open yourself up to a whole new world. I learned not to be afraid to make friends with strangers, to be humble, curious and inquisitive, and to welcome new perspectives.
Most importantly, it sparked a love for travel in me that has carried on for the past decade. I truly think that if it wasn’t for this one trip I wouldn’t have such a thirst to explore – there is a whole world outside of my own and I want to soak up as much of that as I can. Travel is worth it. It’s worth spending your money on experiences and moments. These are the memories you’ll have for life, and you’ll be better for them, I promise.