“Just one drink,” I say, as I’m looking at myself in the mirror of my tiny cabin on board an overnight ferry. My face is sunburned and my hair is frizzed, I had just spent three very hot and exhilarating days in London. I expected to fall deeply in love with London, for reasons I couldn’t really explain, and London certainly delivered any preconceived expectations and then some. My final day in London consisted of riding the tube to Camden, browsing all the open air markets, and then finally settling down on a grassy hill in Greenwich Park with a bottle of wine and friends. My new friends. People whom I’ve met about a week before in Dublin.
After spending a few hours lying on the grass, talking, drinking, observing, and laughing, we force ourselves out of London and onto a ferry bound to the Netherlands, where we will continue our adventure together in Amsterdam. I’m tired, and already feeling a little boozy from my wine. While already declaring that it will be a quiet night on board, I make no effort in my appearance, and I sheepishly leave my room in a t-shirt and yoga pants, wearing no makeup. I see some familiar faces, and we convene by the bar in the lounge. Someone remarks that the bar drinks are overpriced, and it makes more sense to buy bottles of liquor from the duty free shop on board. I shrug and buy myself a glass of wine, as I don’t expect to hang out for very long before returning to my cabin.
As we were one of the first passengers to arrive, the deck is completely empty. The chairs and tiny tables are strategically attached to the deck with wire, but we figure out how to arrange a little sitting area for all of us. Slowly, my travel mates find their way to the deck and we begin to chat about what we all did in London. Soon, everyone becomes generous with their bottles, and paper cups filled with nothing but alcohol are passed around. I can’t tell if it’s from drinking or being on open waters, but I start to feel dizzy. As I sit around and look at my little group, I am taken over with pure happiness and amazement at how well we are all getting along, despite being strangers just days prior. Somewhere along the line, I relent and buy myself my own duty free bottle and have been taking swigs out of it for who knows how long? How long have we been out here? What time is it? Don’t we have to be up pretty early tomorrow? Who cares? It’s a vacation, dammit, and I’m enjoying every second out here on this boat deck. Tomorrow morning can wait.
After a while, I worry if we are being too loud and disturbing the other passengers. I turn my attention away from my crowd, only to see that we have become the center of a ring of other passengers, who have been happily watching our antics for god knows how long. Instead of the scowls I expect, I only see people drinking and smoking while shaking their heads and laughing at my crew. A few eventually decide to come join us. An employee makes his way on deck, but instead of telling us to quiet down and go back to our rooms, he exchanges smiles with us and asks if he can take any garbage or empty glasses.
The night carries on, people keep coming and going to the duty free shop to replenish, regrettable photos are snapped on smartphones, and I sit there thinking how I’m so glad I decided to come out for “just one drink”, instead of curling up on my cot and catching up with my friends and family on Facebook. Somewhere, on that ferry, mid-transit between London and Amsterdam, I fell in love with everyone I was traveling with. I felt so lucky that somehow, by fate, we all unknowingly decided to travel together. We crossed the boundary of simply being companions while abroad, and were now, undoubtedly, friends. No more awkward icebreaker conversations, we were instead freely conversing and divulging; without worry of any judgment from someone you don’t quite know yet.
It was that night when I had my first “travel epiphany”, where the profoundness and magic of travel really came flying at me and hit me in the face. It wasn’t when I saw Big Ben and the London Tower for the first time in person, nor was it when I had my first pint of Guinness at Temple Bar in Dublin, as wonderful as those moments were. No, it was there, on the deck of that ferry, sitting in a metal chair, resting my elbows on a table littered with paper cups, empty bottles, and ashtrays, that it really hit me that I was in the midst of something truly special that will stay with me forever.
I got up from my chair to stretch my legs, to prepare myself for what was already making itself into a very long night, when I looked over the railing and noticed that we hadn’t even left port yet.